Bureaucratic Nutters

Stick ShiftI’ve been holding onto this post for quite a while. I was waiting for the dust to settle. Today, it has. I have picked up my French driver’s license! This all started back in early March of 2016. Here’s the story…

Recently, driving home from our local prefecture on a license exchange issue, my husband exclaimed, “There’s nothing scarier than a nutter with power”. He was referring to a woman at the prefecture who has been hell-bent on making my life miserable.

You see, certain US states have an agreement with France for license exchange. My state, Florida, is one of them. So, according to the Service-Publique France website, I can exchange my Florida license for a French one if I apply within one year of the date of my carte de sejour. So, I drove up to the prefecture to meet a friend and translator to make my application several days before the deadline.

Knowing from past experience just how French bureaucracy works, I made sure I was over-prepared. I had every single document listed on Service-Publique, in triplicate, translated when necessary, in addition to one or two other things I thought might come in handy.

Here’s how it went:

First, the woman to whose window I was called had to check that Florida was in the US (I’m not kidding). Then she claimed she couldn’t read the license (hence I pulled out my certified translation). Then she said it was too new (2013) and that the best they could do was give me a provisional license reducing me to a new driver despite 30+ years of experience and a spanking clean record. So then I explained I previously has a NC license which I exchanged for this FL one when I moved in the US. She said there was no note of that on the license and shook her head (at which point I pulled out a certified translated drivers record that said exactly that!) Then she said she had no history for my former license in NC (which I produced). Then she said, “We don’t have an exchange policy with NC.” No shit, Sherlock. But my license is from FLORIDA! She couldn’t have cared less.

She said all she could do (as it was out of her hands completely…forget the fact that the previous year this same woman somehow found the courage to make an executive decision and issue my husband’s license on the spot) was take half my application, tearing up the required form to request the exchange claiming it was unnecessary. Then she told me to return the following week if I didn’t receive a letter beforehand denying my request.

This did, regrettably, ruin my day. I was despondent. But after a night of very little sleep tossing and turning over whether or not to roll over and play dead over this or to go back and face her royal highness, I chose to go back. For one thing, it donned on me I had failed to ask for a recipisse or receipt for my dossier, something that the Service-Publique website clearly stated should have been issued. It took all my faith and courage but I was determined that A) this woman not determine my destiny and B) that I do something productive and healing with the toxic feelings in me.

I called upon my French teacher at the time who met me at the prefecture and filled her in. I went with the intent of asking for a receipt for my visit the day before because I didn’t get one, and if possible, to plead my case to someone else. No such luck.

Madame bore her usual sour expression, at first scolding my friend for skipping line (we hadn’t) and then rudely refusing a receipt when my friend requested it. That’s when Madame noticed my phone. It was like a light went off in her head. Yes, I was recording everything! Suddenly she smiled brightly. She said it wasn’t a problem that there was blue ink on my application (which yesterday she claimed was an issue), and she helpfully asked if I had with me a record that she refused to take yesterday. Imagine!! She still wouldn’t take my required form saying it wasn’t important “yet” and that I’d still have to go back next week…yes, with the very form she wouldn’t take.

I didn’t know what would happen next, but I was hopeful Madame would think twice about yanking this yank’s chain again. Camera-phones rock! She may not have given me a receipt, but I left with one all the same! It’s unfortunate. Miserable people spread misery. They can’t contain all that agony themselves. In believing in their powerlessness, they fail to see their true power lies in helping people overcome their difficulties, not in creating more for them.

Anyway, after three more appointments (one to turn in that form, one to pay for my license, and one to pick it up, in addition to the two already mentioned, for a grand total of 5 trips), I finally have my license in hand, and it only cost me just under 300 euros factoring in translations, administrative help, all that gas, and the actual cost of the license! I’m not complaining. I’m really one of the lucky ones not having to take French driver’s lessons! Do I hear angels singing???

Week One in France

I have been in France a whole week! Hard to believe. In that time, we’ve managed to accomplish quite a bit, but we’ve also encountered some challenges…like a gas stove that isn’t properly regulated and is turning pots, pans, counter-tops and fingers black with soot. The oven won’t stay lit either. I imagine Stuart will fix all this when he has time (and can figure it out). In the meantime, I am being very careful not to place pots onto the counters after cooking something and am turning them upside-down until they can be scrubbed properly lest everything turn black.

We also had a mystery with the hot water which Stuart thinks he has now solved. The first night, we ran out around 6PM or so. We thought the hot water heater was busted and made plans for alternative showering, but the next morning, we had plenty of hot water again. Apparently, we’re on some kind of timer or something which has now been reset (so I’m told).

We’ve also had an upstairs bathroom sink leak through the floor to the dining area, fortunately caught early before damaging anything. Stuart says he can fix this too.

Otherwise, the house is quite comfy and embracing. Of course, our 50 degree sunny weather hasn’t hurt the last couple of days to make everything feel that much sweeter.

We knew we’d have lots to do and buy, so we’ve had to prioritize somewhat. Things related to food, sleep, and warmth come first: hence the fridge, bed, comforter, and fuel for the heater. Next comes the highly practical: power strips, trash bin, dustbuster, and things still to buy: hooks, bathmat, couch, lighting.  Eventually, we’ll start working on aesthetics: mirrors, more furniture, new towels. Then we’ll need to work on getting the gallery in order. And finally, we’ll get that guest room set up (we might just have to rent it out to stay afloat!). Then we’ll move outside, pretty things up a bit in the yard, and plant a garden.

A word about the gallery…

We have two rooms downstairs that we will devote to a gallery/studio. The plan is for Stuart to display his paintings (and mine too as I paint them) and be open perhaps one day a week during tourist season and by appointment otherwise. We’ll also use these two rooms to hold events. Stuart wants to start teaching painting again, and I plan to offer meditation and voicework. We might also sponsor house concerts or other creative events just for fun or rent out the space for others to use, although with limited parking, these will have to be small events. We drove around town a few days ago and came across another gallery near the lake, so who knows? Maybe we can make friends and have some kind of art crawl during the summer.

Image Source: Flickr Photo by: Thomas Hawk
Image Source: Flickr
Photo by: Thomas Hawk

For me the biggest struggle and greatest triumph happened at the grocery store on day one. I was feeling quite overwhelmed with the mass of decisions we were having to make, so I decided to buy myself some tulips. (Stuart offered to buy them for me, but I needed them to be from me to me…ya know?). The woman at the check-out was excruciatingly rude and impatient with my complete ignorance and scant communication skills. I became more and more flustered and felt about as big as a flea, shrinking with each roll of her eyes. So, after the transaction was done and I made my escape, I returned to her and pulled out one of my tulips…”pour vous madame”. That sweet, floppy tulip was too much for her pinched-up face to endure and a smile encroached. She thanked me. I got the sense no one ever does anything kind for her and that she doesn’t yet know how to do such things for herself.

I admit, her rudeness mixed with my exhaustion and anxiety had me fighting tears. Resolving my feelings in the moment and offering her that tulip took all of my strength. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Still, I broke down in the car immediately afterwards. It was a mixture of “Why are people so cruel?” and “How will I ever survive here?” but also of huge spiritual relief for turning the situation around for myself and who knows, maybe altering her life forever too with my gesture. I thank Matt Khan for sharing his perspective so that I had such a choice available to me when normally, I would have carried the weight of her for hours, making her wrong and wholly unlovable and hating my tulips for the memory attached. We’re all just human and in desperate need of kindness from others. In fact, the more cruel our behavior, the more love we need.Picture 69

Finally this week, I have set up my meditation room and office where I meditate and do my kundalini yoga every morning. I still need a few things to make the room fully serviceable, but the essentials are here. It is my retreat, my quiet sanctuary, and I am so grateful for it because the rest of the house is still a mess (and I’m not very good with messes!).

What will week two bring? Stay tuned…

 

 

The Hell that Never Was

This blog has been dedicated to my journey in a long-distance relationship and the challenges my partner and I have faced on our way to a life together. I’ve shared practical experience, frustrations, and deeply emotional stories , but it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. That isn’t because nothing’s been happening. A ton has been happening on so many levels!!! But it has been very nearly impossible to understand myself let alone write about.

Ever heard of Matt Khan? He’s an amazing being with a refreshing perspective that is a great relief to me. When he speaks, it’s kind of like hearing something that I’ve known all along and just couldn’t quite bring into consciousness. Matt’s most recent video had a big impact on me and helped me awaken to the realization that everything here in this blog is now part of the past. While it is recorded and here for others to read and perhaps glean from, it has nothing to do with me now. And that will be true of any post I ever leave here…even this one.

It’s stuff that no longer matters, really. The hardships, the traumas, the obstacles and frustrations…they are here for the world to read, but they are not here for me to cling to and relive. It has been difficult to remember that while things still felt close and very personal. But Stuart and I are totally different people now, having both grown so much this past year. We have many upgraded ways of thinking and feeling. We’ve both learned so much about ourselves and each other. And thanks to Matt Khan, I’ve come to realize that all we’ve been through is nothing more than “the hell that never was.” It may have felt like hell. And it certainly seemed like hell. But really, it was everything just as it had to be. It was just life…messy, surprising, unexpected, challenging and mysterious (and to be fair, some of it was “the heaven that never was” too…the unmeetable expectations, the bright-eyed fantasy, the blush of perfect romance and happily-ever-after).

Since my return to the states in August, I have been taking serious inventory. WTF happened? Why was I getting what I was getting? Did it actually have anything to do with me? Did I have control over anything? Where do I belong? What is it that I want? What’s my purpose? What must I change or simply accept?

For months, I’d been reliving that moment at the airport when I had to decide to stay or go within minutes. It was impacting my ability to make decisions, contributing to states of anxiety I hadn’t experienced in years, and set off all kinds of irrational and negative thinking that I have sometimes successfully and others times not so successfully managed. It had become the dark lens through which I began to see our future, too. Thoughts of, “this is never going to work” and “we just aren’t meant to be together” echoed in my head.

Matt’s words helped me to re-imagine that worst moment of my life differently.  After months of flinching at the memory, I was able to remember it all with new clarity what had transpired before and even after, with love in my heart and a deep knowing that is was perfect. I was able to celebrate everything I was feeling in those moments, to love the airport and the people there, to love the inner battle and confusion I felt then and ever since, to send love back through time and space to the me I was then, and to acknowledge that something not only survived to live on but was learning a great deal in the process…the dream hadn’t died. It was still breathing!

Having reframed that experience, there was no stopping me. I started reframing everything (yes, me the woman who wrote a book telling other people to reframe). I felt like a kid who had finally learned to whistle after trying and trying with no success. You won’t believe what happened. The very next day, Stuart put a deposit down on our new house! Just like that. After months and months of searching. After months and months of everything being so damned difficult. After months of feeling like I would never belong anywhere ever again, had lost all purpose, failed miserably, and didn’t know which way to turn.

I wondered when in the thick of it if I’d ever understand why things played out the way they did…if I’d ever feel gratitude again and come to recognize the gifts that came with the pile of crap. I told myself some day…maybe. Who knew someday wasn’t as far off as it seemed?

I entertain no delusions that going back will suddenly be a piece of cake. It’s going to take work, and there will be the same issues to face…language, bureaucracy, constant unknowns! But I’m a lot more sober now and about 10x stronger, and having laid the accumulated past to rest, there is a new lightness and breathing room once more to start over.

So to anyone who’s feeling like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, I can only say, “you’re in the hell that never was” and the way out is loving it all.

 

 

 

Crabby Cabby

This is the continuing soap opera (as one friend put it) of my return to the United States. If you’ve been following along, you know the turmoil I went through to make the plane home. I was so burned out at this point. By the grace of God, I made each of my connecting flights by minutes despite being directed to the worst possible customs line in Atlanta. I also managed to claim all my bags and wheel them over to be rechecked, despite an injured knee and toe, hobbling along at top speed.

On the last leg from Atlanta to Washington, I started to hallucinate. I’m not sure if it was the guy next to me wearing a bottle of synthetic cologne or the nasty food or just sheer emotional exhaustion, but I could have sworn the airline attendant said we’d land in Dulles. Wishful thinking perhaps. Around 11:30 PM, we landed and everyone piled off. Now I had to find my way around Reagan Airport and find out just how many hundreds of dollars a taxi to Dulles would be. I stopped the first airline attendant I saw and explained that I was expecting to land in Dulles. I needed transportation there. How far was it? She looked at me with a blank look and another attendant stepped in. He heard me asking my question, and with a rather interesting and somewhat fearful expression (Is this crazy lady for real?), he explained to me that I was at Dulles.

I am?

Yes.

Oh. Well, that’s good!

Turns out, the whole Washington/Dulles/Reagan thing at the Bordeaux airport had been one giant ‘lost in translation’ misunderstanding. No one with Air France seemed to know the difference, so they had no way of setting me straight…or maybe they were just having some French-style fun with me.

It was a surreal miracle that I was now in the airport I had originally planned with a free shuttle to my hotel just minutes away. However, by the time I claimed all my luggage with the help of a strapping young porter, when I called the hotel, the last shuttle for the night had already run. No biggie. I’d just take a taxi. At least it was a short trip.

The porter was awesome. He was friendly and energetic and just the energy I needed to be in. He wheeled my stuff out to the street and hailed a taxi. As it was raining, with a suitcase in hand, he opened the cab door for me. That’s when Crabby Cabby appeared. [Please read the part of Crabby Cabby with your best Indian accent]

“Don’t you dare put bags in my car! Leave them! Leave them! I’ll do it!”

“I’m not putting anything in your cab. I know better. I’m opening for door for THE LADY. It’s raining!” my gentle porter explained with a nice roll of the eyes in my direction.

“No one puts bags in my car! I put them in! You just bring them here!” Crabby Cabby insisted just in case he hadn’t been heard.

When I was in the cab, I handed the driver my hotel information. Remember how exhausted I was? Well, I told him it was in the opposite direction. He looked confused. I took this to mean he had no idea where he was going. I said, “If you don’t know where it is, I’m not sure I’m comfortable having you drive me.”

“It is over this way! I know exactly where it is! It isn’t over there. You confuse me!”

So off we sped.

Minutes later, I was at the hotel. I paid Crabby Cabby and tipped him. I could see a bell hop thingie (what are they called?) in the door, so I ran in to wheel it to the cab. But when I came back out with it, Crabby Cabby was already burning rubber–my five suitcases sat on the sidewalk getting rained on. I’d have to heave them onto the “thingie” myself. It wasn’t like I was exhausted or anything.

The hotel room was awesome. It was a rewards freebie. I requested a late checkout and slept like a baby after letting Stuart know I was okay and following a nice hot soak in the tub. I took another bath the next morning too..and one or more a day for the next two weeks; you see, Stuart’s place only had showers. It was heaven to have a bath again after three months!

The next day, my sister, her husband, and my mother came to pick me up and brought me to my next hotel…a long-stay for which my brother-in-law was able to get me a fabulous rate. I stayed there for two whole weeks decompressing; it was a huge blessing, as I had not just a mountain, but a whole range to decompress!

It’s all very dramatic, my story. I admit living it was a nightmare of multiple dimensions too. But in hindsight and after lots of self-nurturing and healing, I’m feeling quite strong and ready for whatever comes next. In fact, one of the very first emails I opened upon returning was a notification of a Bon Chod training I’d been waiting ten years to take. It was happening in New York state on my birthday, and here I was, a five or six hour drive away! I registered for it with hesitation. Some things are just meant to be.

In fact, I must say, the flow seems to have returned to my life. Though there are still many unknowns, even the immigration paperwork here is almost complete and rather effortlessly so…nothing like our experience with the French residency package we’d been working on for months. As Stuart said, “It doesn’t hurt that it’s all in English!”

So, we’ll see what happens next…

 

Test of Faith

This process of meeting Stuart, falling in love, getting married, and now moving overseas has been such an amazing journey. It has really been a massive dismantling of my entire life and identity…a letting go of incomprehensible proportions to even myself, let alone to those who have never gone through it themselves. It’s also been one hurdle after another with very little rest between.

Through it all, at many points, I felt so impatient. I just wanted to be there already and start living the next phase of my life. The lingering limbo seemed eternal. Now I see just how much coordination the whole thing really took, and I understand so much better why it did take so long. In fact, thank God it didn’t happen sooner! I seriously needed all the time I had…every second…and not just to learn how to and do all that had to be done. It took me all that time to let go and trust. And Life needed all that time to do what it needed to do, too…to coordinate what was outside of my control.

It actually took concerted effort over months to sell all my belongings. (With the exception of the house, I’ve sold all my big items!) I It has taken months to learn some basic French. It has taken months to say all my goodbyes. It also took months for me to let go of some really old baggage that I simply didn’t want to have to ship! I can hardly believe that it’s all finally come together. I’m going to France!

Today, a neighbor and immigrant himself, asked me if I thought it would be “better over there.” Better? I hadn’t really been thinking about it in those terms. I mean, I don’t expect it to be better. I expect it to be different...very different. There are things I don’t particularly like about the US, and there will be things I don’t particularly like about France. Likewise, there are things I love about the US, and there will be other things I love about France. This is an opportunity to discover such things and discover aspects of myself as well.

To be honest, I don’t know what to expect. I’m simply following the call. It feels I have to do this…throw myself into the stream of the unknown. It brings to mind my favorite old testament story, the one of Abraham about to sacrifice his son, Issac. It was a test of faith. This is a test of mine. Most every step of the way, I have battled with great anxiety and fear. I have wrestled all kinds of negative thoughts and warnings thrown at me by a concerned sense of self. I have questioned my own sanity, too. I am quite aware there will be backlash and unexpected consequences to my actions, but of these I am no longer afraid. Or maybe I should say, I’m no longer afraid of the mind’s interpretations of them.

 

 

 

Lessons in Shipping Overseas

So, now that I’ve sold most of my belongings, I have been focusing my attention on packing. I’ve reduced a lifetime’s worth of accumulations to my one allowed check-in bag, 2 carry-ons, and Fed Ex shipment of 2 large suitcases, one smaller suitcase and a box. That’s it. That’s all I will own in this world…less than I’ve ever owned, and I used to brag about fitting my life into my car all but 11 years ago!

To say that I have been prone to freaking out this past week is a bit of an understatement. But I have my Bach’s Rescue Remedy at the ready along with a recording of the Moola Mantra which I’ve been listening to once or twice a day. I haven’t been eating much, but I think that’s probably good. My system has enough to process without a full belly. I have nightmares on a regular basis, too. Never experienced that before. It’s been an onslaught. One would think I’m making a huge, irreversible life transition. Oh…I am!

Which brings me to the topic of this post: shipping overseas. Forget the fact that I’ve had a recurring dream about a challenging flight overseas for the last 20 years of my life with the very suitcase I won’t be taking on the plane, thank you very much! That thing is going Fed Ex! I knew my options were:

  • luggage forwarding
  • freight
  • USPS
  • another shipping carrier such as UPS

I’m not even going to get into the whole translated inventory in triplicate piece of this. Needless to say, I’ve used a few trees to prove that I am who I say I am and that I have the right to move to France. My documents have documents. And I also won’t mention how the French Consulate failed to respond to my request last month for a document that would have made this all so much easier. So, back to shipping…

The first thing I had looked into early on was freight. I had this silly idea that I’d be taking more with me. I’m sure that would have been the way to go had I had at least 30 cubic feet of stuff. It would have run me about $850 to ship that amount. Alas, I only have maybe 20 cubic feet…maybe. So, it would have been a waste of space and money for me to go that route. Besides, I would have had to drive my stuff to a service center, the closet being an hour away. They would have picked it up, but that, of course, would have been extra.

So, I also looked at luggage forwarding. They do pick up. Some places price by weight and other places price per bag. Either way, it came out to be more expensive than I’d hoped. One carrier quoted me for $1200 and another for $672. That last number was looking pretty good in comparison to every other option so far. I especially liked that I could just send my suitcases without boxing anything, and that they would represent me in customs. It would be more affordable than checking bags on the plane as well what with the airlines charging what they do for extra baggage. Besides, I hated the thought of arriving in Bordeaux, exhausted, and likely terrified, and having to steer one of those luggage carts piled high with bags. I could just see myself breaking down at the carousel, a weeping heap of nerves.

Something prodded me to keep searching. So, I loaded the car and took a trip to the post office today. I wasn’t relishing lugging heavy bags back and forth just to get prices, but one must do what one must do. The post office offered me a great price. I would have been able to ship everything for around $350. However, once it landed in France, it would be a bit of a mystery as to what happened next. I’m sure it would have been fine, but…

My next stop was a store that represents several shippers. The guy at the counter was very knowledgable and helpful. He checked Fed Ex pricing for me, which was unfortunately even more expensive than the luggage forwarders and airlines combined! I was pretty sure at that point that I’d just go with a luggage forwarder. But as I mentioned, this guy was super helpful. He told me that we could ship everything as a “multi-shipment” and save. He called Fed Ex on my behalf and got a quote of $400! That even includes insurance!! So, that’s what I’m going to do. At that price, I may even add another bag. The great thing is that Fed Ex controls it in the US, and they also have some control in France. They’ll also work with customs and my triplicate documents.

So, if I may say, “Hurray & Amen!”

UPDATE 4/19/14

I brought everything in to the shipping place. They boxed all my suitcases (safer that way). I also did add one other bag. So for all my bags, four of them, which came to about 150lbs., it cost me $550. Everything will arrive in just one week…a week before I do! That works for me, since I have an address to send it to and someone who knows it is coming.

 

Lessons from a Yard Sale

Things are finally warming up out there and yard sales are springing up like tulips. I just had my moving sale this past week. Since I’m not only moving house, towns, states, and countries, I really needed everything to go. This was no time to be sentimentally attached. Almost everything did go! In fact, the whole day was gloriously sunny, easy, and fun. I learned some things from this, my fifth or sixth yard sale, so I decided to share:

1. Enlist the kind assistance of a friend.

I had the support of the world’s best friend. I couldn’t have done it without him. There were way too many people, and they, of course, always arrived in pods. Plus, Marty kept reminding me that I wanted stuff gone at the end of the day. It helped me detach when offers were less than what I’d hoped. And that made me overall more successful in the end. Of course, the laughing helped.

2. Do it in one day.

The night before the sale, looking at my living room of “stuff”, I was actually leery of whether or not I’d be able to sell much in only one day, but thankfully, one day was all I needed. I made sure my signs and listings online said “one day only”. Thank God I still has my Sunday to myself!

3. Don’t pay the newspaper to advertise what you can advertise online for free.

My local newspaper quoted me $35 to list an ad. They only offered one package. All I wanted was a couple of lines running the day before the sale. Nope. Not possible. Good. I didn’t need them anyway! Instead, I created an event page on Facebook, shared the event on local yard sale group pages, used a yahoo group list I subscribe to, and posted on several free online sites like Yardsale.net. I had great results. And of course, two days before the sale, I put out a sign at the end of my block off the main road which screamed “One Day Only Moving Sale” with all the details in neon yellow and black. That was sufficient.

4. Don’t bother pricing anything.

Since I’ve been showing my house and having to keep it very clean and neat, I waited until the night before the sale to start pulling everything out of closets (though I knew what I was going to sell weeks ago). I was feeling very overwhelmed that I hadn’t really priced anything, let alone sorted it all out. I started to do what I could, first organizing items into categories and then pricing the bigger items. I just got so tired, I stopped. Something was telling me, not just my exhausted self, not to worry about it. So I didn’t.

Not having prices on stuff was awesome. I didn’t waste my time labeling, and instead of thinking up prices, I had people make offers. Oh, what ease! For me anyway. I did know what I wanted for certain items, but all the little stuff, heck, I just wanted it gone. People were fair in their offers, too. Some shoppers didn’t like that, and yet, no one shied away from doing so. 90% of the time, their offer was accepted, and whoosh went all my stuff.

5. Have a box of free stuff available.

I highly, highly recommend this. I had a small box of things that people could take for free. I kept refilling it with inexpensive items throughout the day. People loved that box, man! And maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed like once they took something from the free box, they were more willing to look around and spend. And if I raised their offer, they didn’t haggle me down. It was also a great way to make sure all those “little” things were gone by the end of the day.

6. Start early on social media and wrap up on social media.

I actually started my sale back in March with a virtual event on Facebook and a page here on this blog, so it wasn’t an overnight success by any means. I’d been putting energy into this for weeks. I took pictures of everything and kept a list with prices for people to peruse. I sold a few items early on, but most of my stuff went at the yard sale.

At the end of my one day sale, I still had a few items left, but now I could manage selling them item by item on Facebook and Craigslist. By the end of following day, Sunday, I only had a loveseat, a desktop computer, and a box of mostly linens and hangers (because I forgot to put out the rest of my hangers the day of the sale) left. Pretty darn good!

What are your best yard sale tips?