Sunday, December 25, 2011

I Hope It’s All Worth It!

Please tell me it will all be worth it…

This past week on Monday and Tuesday we were packed and moved into storage by another moving company. At the end of the job, after they had left, we realized that we were missing 3 things: S’s work iPhone, R’s iTouch, and my wedding rings. So upsetting. I am so distraught over losing my wedding rings, I don’t know what to do. We don’t have the $$ to replace them, plus their value is more sentimental. I can distinctly remember when S & I picked out the 2 sapphires, then had the ring designed by a San Francisco jeweler around those 2 beautiful gems. I can still remember the day he asked me to marry him and I replied “Let me see the ring!” - not because I was greedy but because I wanted to see the final design. How do you replace that?

It’s also been really hard to see my girls so upset over the move. I went to school the last day with them and it was heart-breaking seeing them say goodbye to classmates they’ve been with since they were 5 years old. Lots of tears and hugs – kind of harder than saying goodbye to my own friends! Which has not been easy. I have such a great group of friends here – how will I find people in France to have that same connection with? I’ve been building these friendships up over many years – I won’t be in France that long...

With all the headaches, troubles, losses, heartache, family drama (can you say many family fights?) – I can only say that I hope the whole thing is worth it…


Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Party is Over and Movin’ On Out

Crazy us had our annual Holiday Party on Saturday the 10th. Yeah, I know, more work we didn’t need to take on, but I wanted a last big shindig, and it was a chance for us to see and say good-bye to many of our friends. I made appetizers that I could freeze during the month prior to the party, and we tried to get the house as decorated and together as we could before S left to fly back to the Netherlands on Sunday the 4th. He flew back into San Francisco on the 9th, and we jumped into packing and getting the house ready for a party. Luckily we have our party set-up down to a science, so we were ready all set up around 12:00pm on the 10th. We were then able to spend the afternoon before the party doing a bunch of packing upstairs – getting through our bathroom and more clothing stuff. Girls were still totally fighting us on the packing but after I offered them $$ for every box they packed (double for the discard bags they filled), things moved along a little more quickly. J

We moved furniture out, ordered bar tables & tablecloths, put out wine, beer, a specialty cocktail (Pomegranate-Lime Fizz), music on the Sonos and food, and we were ready to go. 78 people were expected, I’d say about 70 or so came – all spread out, so it didn’t feel too crazy. It was so nice to see everyone – S and I both had a blast. It was a lot of work (& time that we probably should have been packing) but a lot of fun. And I’m really glad we got a chance to see so many friends to say goodbye.
Here’s the menu of appetizers I served at the party (I only do apps as it’s a 7:00 cocktail party):
  • Frank’s Meatballs
  • Asparagus Rolls
  • Chicken Pesto Bites (these I bought at Safeway)
  • Sweet Potato Dumplings with Honey, Goat Cheese and Thyme
  • Mediterranean Rolls
  • Three-Cheese Pastry Puffs
  • Tapenade Palmiers (I bought the tapenade)
  • Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Sliders
  • Sushi (ordered from Mollie Stone’s)
  • Spinach Dip, cheese and crackers

All in all, as “not fun” as Sunday, Monday & Tuesday were, I’m glad we had the party and I’m glad it seemed to be a successful one.

Packer/Movers (Crown Relocation Company) for shipping our stuff to France came around 9:30am Monday morning. Sunday was busy with cleaning up from the party, and then packing – I did the kitchen, dining room & living room, and S did the garage. We still weren’t as ready as we could have been for the movers when they showed up, but we got a lot done. Monday night we were up late after the movers left doing more packing, we pulled the girls out of school on Tuesday around lunch time to help pack up their rooms & bathrooms and packed until after 11pm. S had to leave Wednesday morning for a quick trip to Japan, but at least we were mostly packed by then & it was just me sticking around to watch over the movers. It was a very stressful time, but at least it only lasted 3 days. The movers were all loaded and gone by a little after 3pm. Farewell household items – see you in 6 weeks! They estimate that the items will be delivered around the end of January. We also air-shipped around 5 or 6 boxes that will get to the house on the 30th – mostly just more clothes and some toys for R&C.

The house is empty, but not too much as we are putting a fair amount of stuff in storage. Those packer/movers come on Monday and Tuesday to get the rest in storage. Then the house will be super empty. Our friend Amanda is a saint and dropped off 3 Queen blow-up beds and lots of bedding Tuesday night so we don’t have to sleep on the floor. We will need 1 more when S gets home on Friday (12/16) as I don’t see how you can sleep 2 adults in one of those beds – even though they are Queens. I want my own!

We are facing another one of those frustrating French Catch-22s as I like to call them. Of course the relocation company (Crown) waited until now, after our stuff has been all packed and gone, to tell us that we might have to pay taxes and duties on our household goods coming into France. What? They keep saying that S needs to provide proof from his employer that he is being relocated to France for a number of years, and that he hasn’t been living in an EU country during the last 12 months. It has taken us several attempts to make it clear that those requirements can NOT be met as S is NOT working in France, and he HAS been living in an EU country since September 1st. They seem to have finally gotten the message, but now are saying we face fees as I have no employment reason for moving to France. There’s the classic French run-around as the French government wouldn’t give me my Visa if I DO work in France. But now I can’t bring my items into France unless I work in France. What really chaps my hide about all this is that both Crown and Ernst & Young (who are also our advisers on this whole thing) have known the unusual circumstance around our situation the whole time. Why is this just now being addressed as a problem? Different decisions may have been made based on that knowledge if it was made clear to us. And there has to be a work-around – it’s all just so ridiculous. No, I’m not bringing all these goods into France to re-sell them. Give me a break. We’ve already decided not to risk shipping our new Prius over as they may make us pay all sorts of fees on it, now our house hold goods? Ridiculous.

We’ve also been busy dealing with Crown Relocation on what all their services entail. We asked them for some help in buying a washer and dryer (I want something better than the all-in-one tiny machine that is at the house and the website they directed me to is in French), renting a car (we will need one until we find something to buy), renting temporary furniture, and getting to the hotel from the airport. Seems like normal requests to me. All of a sudden we get an email from the head contact at Crown who states that these items are above and beyond the scope of their agreement with S’s company and that we would have to pay for them ourselves. What? Crown said that their agreement with S’s company entails:
1-day preview trip
2-day home viewing trip
1.5 days settling in

I immediately wrote back asking what exactly the “1.5 days settling in” entails since it seems like some of the above items I was requesting would be part of that. In addition, I pointed out that we never had our 1-day preview trip, so we are owed time for that. Now they are saying they will use the 1-day preview trip for buying the washer & dryer, and coordinating the rental car. The settling in will consist of check-in inspection of the house, opening utilities, airport pick-up and furniture rental coordination. I would love to know how some of these things take that much time. I am having my friend who speaks French get the washer & dryer for me (there’s a website in French where you just order them & then they deliver & install), and another friend of mine has contacts at Hertz in France so they are helping us with the rental car. So what else are you going to do for us Crown? Eh?

Good news is that we have our flights all booked and ready to go, room for the 3 animals down in Cargo, hotel in Versailles for 2 nights, and rental furniture being delivered on the 30th. We are looking good for when we get there. Just need to sort out this fee issue with our household items being shipped over - I have to have faith that we will be able to fix that. Someone pointed out to me at a holiday lunch today that in 2 weeks I will be there! Yikes! Time is flying by now & it’s just crazy. Oh, more good news – the gal from ASP that I’ve been emailing invited us to her house for a casual New Year’s Eve dinner. So maybe my social life won’t be in the dumps with the move! J

Speaking of social life, we are trying to get a chance to see all our friends, etc. before we leave – not enough time! We are going to miss everyone so much…and we look forward to many visitors…off now to B Street & Vine to have some dinner and wine with girlfriends…


Friday, December 2, 2011

We got the house!

Well, looks like we are finally set with our house in France. We are renting the one in Sèvres that we really wanted – or at least S & I wanted. R & C aren’t as happy as we are, but I’m sure they will come around. It really is a nice house in a great location. We are still negotiating details – apparently their wood floors are super special and can’t be replaced so they want a big deposit and all these requirements. We don’t understand as we have beautiful wood floors and they are fine. So we are still working that out as well as our move-in date – right now we are looking at December 29th. They had originally agreed to our request of 12/28 so we already bought our plane tix to leave SF on 12/27. So now we have to figure out what to do for the night of 12/28 – if it was just the 4 of us humans that would be fine, but we will have the dogs and cat with us. Could be tricky trying to find a place that will accept all that! We are renting furniture that will be delivered on 12/30, or 12/29 if we are lucky. Our packers are coming here 12/12 to get us packed up and shipped by sea – should arrive in France around January 26th. Looking forward to getting everything in and getting all settled! I’m pretty panicked about this whole packing thing, but somehow I’m sure it will all work out. It has to!

We found a renter for our house also, so that is great. One more giant thing off our list. We are decorating the house for Christmas (& our party) even though it’s only for a little over a week. When the movers come they’ll be packing up the Christmas ornaments and decorations we decide to take with us to France. Seems silly to decorate for only a week or so, but it’s important for the kids to enjoy some Christmas in their house – this is getting harder and harder for them, and they are clinging to any sense of normality and tradition they can find. I understand – it would be much easier to be doing this move at another time of year, but we want to get to France in time for them to start at their new school the first of the year.

I’m off to the city for my annual Christmas shopping & lunch trip with my friend Karen now – still trying to enjoy the season in spite of all the stress of the move!


Friday, November 18, 2011

Trip to Paris! Warning - long...

Well, we got the news we were waiting for. On Friday November 4, 2011 we got the phone call that our passports were already back at the French Consulate and we could pick them up. They didn’t mention if our Visas were in there, but we were hopeful. I was “dreaming” all week that they would be ready on Friday in time for us to join S in flying to Paris on Saturday for a house hunting trip. The call didn’t come in until Friday night though, and we could only pick up the passports Monday through Friday between 9am and 11am, so my trip up to San Francisco to get them would have to wait until Monday.

We enjoyed a great dinner with a bunch of friends Friday night, and then S left Saturday afternoon for Paris. He had business meetings on Monday and Tuesday, and then had appointments set up with the relocation company for Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday to view houses. Because it seemed that our Visas had been approved, we decided to try to get the girls and I over to Paris in time to view the houses also. S checked with his company that it was ok for us to fly over last minute (though I’ve been bugging them for months to send us on a house hunting trip) on Monday afternoon. I would pick up the passports Monday morning, pick up the girls after school and head to the airport to catch a flight to Paris. Luckily it was conference week for R&C, so they were only missing three ½ days of school. S’s company gave us the approval, the Visas were indeed in the passports, so we were off to Paris!

The girls & I left San Francisco at 3:30pm on Monday November 7th, and arrived at CDG on Tuesday November 8th at 11:15am. Unfortunately I had messed up my ankle Monday morning right after visiting the consulate when I stepped off the curb wrong, so the flight was very uncomfortable with my hurt ankle – I barely slept at all. But we were on our way to Paris! We flew Air France on a nonstop flight, and they had individual screens with lots of movies and tv shows, so that kept us occupied.

I had arranged a shuttle to pick us up at the airport and take us right to the first house viewing appointment which was at 12:30pm. S had meetings in the morning, and then headed to the house on his own to meet the relocation person there. The girls & I made it at 12:45pm, so not too bad, though it didn't give us much time to look at it. Unfortunately the house just didn't do it for me and this was one I really had high hopes for. A family from ASP had lived their previously and really liked it. It was located in Garches - a town very near the school. On paper it seemed to have everything we wanted – location, a good stove/oven, 4 bedrooms, a yard, a TV room, etc. But in person, it just didn’t feel that great. It felt shabby and run down and slightly depressing – it was grey and drizzling, and my ankle was killing me, so that didn’t help. Not good. I was super disappointed as I really hoped that would be the one. We were only there for about ½ hour and then the agent had another appt so we were off to look at our next house.

Our next house was also in Garches. It was in a nicer, residential area. The house looked cool from the outside – the nice French stone type of house; very tall and a bit thin. The yard was nice and big with lots of room for the dogs and kids. It had nice woodwork inside on the 1st floor where there was the living room/dining room combo. The 2nd floor had 2 decent-sized bedrooms with no closets/wardrobes. The top floor contained a big open room with a bathtub and sink (in the open). The girls loved this room and said they would share it. That would allow us to have a guest room which would be good. The BIG drawback to the house was the kitchen – or should I say the lack of one! I was prepared for some houses to not be “fitted” – as in no appliances - but in addition, this one is down in the basement area. Though that part of the house had been fixed up so it didn’t totally feel like a basement, and there is a door and windows to the yard. The kitchen was teeny tiny – we would have to expand some work space out into the adjoining room (which I assume would be a kind of tv/hanging out room for us). It would also mean that when we would eat at the table we would be carting food upstairs to our kitchen table in the living room. A bit odd, would require a bit of work to get the kitchen set up (Ikea here we come!) and the adjoining room to feel cozy & not subterranean, but we could make it work. This house was a possibility – good location, nice (except for the kitchen), clean, felt good. But I love to cook and putter around in the kitchen, so that would be hard for me.

The 3rd house was our last one in Garches. And boy, this one was crappy. The minute we walked in it smelled musty and old, looked dirty and run down. We didn’t last long looking at this one. We were feeling pretty down, tired, hungry, etc. We drove around Garches a bit, stopped in a boulangerie to pick up snacks (quiche, bread, etc.), and then were onto Vaucresson to look at the next house. Vaucresson is a bit further from the school, but the neighborhood where the house was seemed nice. More suburban-like for some reason. It looked nice from the outside, nice big yard, and felt & smelled fine when we walked in. But the main living/dining area seemed super small. The kitchen was pretty nice and updated (especially compared to all we had seen thus far) which I liked. The bedrooms seemed decent, but the girls weren’t too excited especially as one was painted an awful purple/pink combo. R&C don’t seem to have the vision necessary to look past things that are easily changeable, and they form their opinions quickly. One little thing & they decide they don’t like a place. Even though the room could be painted, they decided this house was not the one they wanted. I liked the house except the living area seemed extra small, and it was farther out than I was hoping for.

5th house was located in Sèvres on the border of Ville d’Avray. We had some extra time so we drove around these 2 towns, and they were super cute and right next to the great Parc St. Cloud. We really liked this area, so we were hoping this house would be great. Nope. It was awful. Musty, old, run-down, dirty, crappy – none of us were into this house. Bummer. We were supposed to see another house at 5:15, but I had rented an apartment in Paris in the 16th for the week for us, and we had an appt at 5:45 to pick up the keys so we didn’t have time. We re-scheduled it for the following morning instead. We grabbed a cab at the Garches train station and headed into Paris. The cab drove us through Parc St. Cloud, and it is so huge and gorgeous – what a great park. And dogs are allowed off-leash in it! Woo hoo!

The apartment we rented in the 16th had a wonderful deck with an amazing view of the Eiffel tower. It was located right on the Seine across from the tower. It was great to go to sleep staring at the blinking lights on the tower. I know Parisians like to hate the Eiffel Tower, but to us visitors it really does just say “Paris” when you see it. We wandered to a local bistro and had a good meal – my salmon was yummy. We were doing our best to keep our eyes open as long as possible. In spite of staying up late, I woke up in the middle of the night and lay there for hours stressing about the housing situation. I was just really down that nothing seemed right. The 2nd house we saw was probably our favorite, so I spent much of the night trying to visualize how to create a kitchen and nice area in the downstairs/basement part. I also worried if the girls would really be able to share a bedroom – they fight so much and are no good at sharing with each other. Worries, worries, worries…

The morning came around much too quickly as I had probably fallen asleep just an hour before S woke me up. Bleh. I am totally not a morning person on a regular basis – add in jet lag, lack of sleep, and a bit of depression about how dismal the housing scene looks, and I was not a happy camper. But we had to get up as we were being picked up by the relocation person for a look at more houses and touring around towns. First house was the one we didn’t see last night – it was located in Sèvres right near the awful one we saw yesterday. As we walked in the gate, I just about gasped out loud. It was so nice looking! A long driveway with a big gated front yard and a pretty house at the end. I glanced at Sean and we exchanged a look that said “no way – I hope the inside is good too”. And it was. The family was still living there, so the house was still furnished which of course helps (or hurts) with the visualizing. It was open downstairs with a soaring ceiling open to a loft upstairs. There were 2 bedrooms downstairs, one big with an en-suite shower, and the other small and currently being used as a playroom. The kitchen was nice and actually had granite counters! It was small, but very functional. Nice backyard also with a patio. Upstairs was another large bedroom with a closet area, and another small bedroom. The girls immediately started fighting over the bedroom situation and decided that they didn’t like the house because of it. Me, I loved the house. So open, clean, good feeling, roomy, etc. The loft was huge – the girls could put a couch, their desks and play stuff up there. There was also a basement level that had a nice room that could be the girls’ tv room, an area for storage, laundry etc. S & I really liked the house and the price was right. The house is located right down the street from a pedestrian entrance to Parc St. Cloud where I could run with the dogs off leash, and we could also walk to the station to catch the train to Paris. We were very excited except that the girls kept fighting and R even started crying saying she hated the house. I couldn’t figure out if she was just being difficult and tired, or if she had some really valid objections. She would come around (I hoped). The house was very nice, the location was awesome – I wanted it.

Next we went to see a house in Saint Cloud. It was neat looking from the outside, and not too far from the school, but it was pretty old inside. It totally reminded us of an old San Francisco flat. Very cool, but not too practical. It had no garage, and was very thin and tall. From the top you did have a view of the Eiffel Tower far in the distance, which was cool, but it just felt too old for me.

The next house was even farther from the school and on a busy road, though it had new windows & you couldn’t hear the traffic when inside. Once again though it just didn’t have the feeling we wanted/liked. Felt a little too neglected and run down, and we didn’t like the location. I can’t remember what town it was in because I dismissed it from my mind quickly.

We had some time before our last appointment, so we drove over to Versailles for some lunch and touring around. I’ve never been to Versailles and enjoyed it. We ate downtown at a great patisserie/café which served the most amazing quiches. I’ll have to look up the name of it because I definitely want to go there again. Great recommendation by our relocation gal. Versailles (the town) was very cool – I can’t wait to go back for their amazing farmer’s market. It’s supposed to be very good.

After lunch we went to meet the agent to look at our last house. It was located in La Celle Saint Cloud which is further from the school than I wanted to be. But as the relocation gal kept telling me all day “everything is very close” – she told me this over & over again. I feel like she really wanted me to look in other towns further from the school. But that also means further from Paris! The girls loved this house though I’m not sure why. It was a nice house but nowhere near as nice as the first one we saw that day. They liked the “secret room” upstairs, and that one of the bedrooms had another loft area in it. The kitchen was decent, and it had a huge, cool living/dining room. But the bathrooms were blah, it was carpeted in this crappy, grey carpet, the “master” bedroom was not very nice, and the guest room/office didn’t have a very good feel. It has a nice yard, but is also right behind a pony farm. I can imagine that there might be some interesting smells come warm weather. :-)

This ended our house viewing part of the trip, and we just drove around through lots of the lovely towns (the West of Paris is beautiful – lots of impressionist painters have painted this area). We talked about our housing choices. Our number one choice was the nice house in Sèvres. Our next choices were the house in Garches (with no kitchen but nice) and this last house in La Celle Saint Cloud (those 2 houses came from the same agent/agency). Apparently you can’t put in your request for more than one house at a time, so we stated that we wanted the house in Sèvres. We had to get all our documents for the application to the relocation agency and they would present them to the agent for the house we wanted. In the meantime, there is always the risk that one of the other houses we wanted would get rented out as they would continue to be shown until rented. The housing market is very tight with very few options, and houses move quickly. We had all our documents ready to go and hoped that our dossier would be good enough for people to want to rent to us. We had to provide bank statements to show we have money, provide the letter from the company showing what they were paying for our rent each month, copies of mortgage statements, pay stubs, passport copies, letter from the company saying they were paying for the kids’ school…

Our agent dropped us in Versailles, and we caught the train back into Paris. Lots of fighting on the way as the kids (especially R) voiced their objections to the house in Sèvres, and said how much they wanted the one in La Celle St. Cloud. Fun, fun – everyone’s tired and cranky. We wandered around Passy in the 16th checking out shops and looking for a place to eat dinner. Ended up at another French bistro that was pretty good. I really need to find a better way to remember the places I eat!

Thursday Nov 10th we went to visit the girls’ new school. We were very impressed – I think it’s going to be an amazing experience/opportunity for them. All the teachers and administrators seemed so nice and like they really enjoyed their jobs. There was an international volleyball tournament going on, so we watched that for awhile. Very fun. That night we relaxed on our deck with cheese, crackers, hummus, pita, olives, etc. and wine. Nice and relaxing.

To be continued…

Friday, November 4, 2011

While waiting...

While we are waiting in limbo land, I thought I would post a couple of recipes that I made recently that were pretty good - the kids really liked them also.

 Big Beef 'n Bacon Meatloaf
6 slices center-cut bacon or turkey bacon
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 1/4 lbs. raw extra-lean ground beef
1/2 cup canned crushed tomatoes
3 tbsp. hickory-flavored BBQ sauce, divided
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
2 tbsp. ketchup

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray and set aside.
2. Bring a large skillet sprayed with nonstick spray to medium heat on the stove. Add bacon and cook until crispy, about 4 minutes per side. Remove bacon and, once cool enough to handle, chop or crumble. Set aside.
3. If needed, clean and dry skillet. Re-spray skillet and return to medium heat. Add mushrooms and onion. Stirring occasionally, cook until completely softened, 5 - 7 minutes. Remove from heat and, once cool enough to handle, blot away any excess moisture with paper towels. Transfer veggies to a large bowl. Add about three-fourths of the bacon, and set the rest aside for topping. To the bowl, add beef, tomatoes, 2 tbsp. BBQ sauce, salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder. Mix thoroughly.
4. Transfer mixture to the loaf pan; if needed, smooth out the surface with the back of a spatula or spoon. Set aside.
5. In a small bowl, combine ketchup with remaining tablespoon of BBQ sauce and mix well. Evenly top meatloaf with the BBQ-ketchup mixture and sprinkle with remaining bacon.
6. Bake in the oven until meatloaf is fully cooked, about 50 minutes.
7. Slice, serve, and enjoy!
Serves 5
Notes: Serving Size: 1 slice (1/5th of recipe), Calories: 224, Fat: 8g, Sodium: 707mg, Carbs: 10g, Fiber: 1g, Sugars: 7g, Protein: 26, PointsPlus® value 5*
We made this as muffins instead of a loaf. The kids like them in this form, the muffins cook in half the time and are easy to freeze/reheat as individual portions.

Mongolian Beef
2 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons dry sherry
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon chile paste with garlic (such as sambal
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
1 pound sirloin steak, thinly sliced across the grain
16 medium green onions, cut into 2-inch pieces

1. Combine first 8 ingredients, stirring until smooth.
2. Heat peanut oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add minced ginger, minced garlic, and beef; sauté for 2 minutes or until beef is browned. Add green onion pieces; sauté 30 seconds. Add soy sauce mixture; cook 1 minute or until thickened, stirring constantly.
Serves 4
Source: Cooking Light magazine
Notes: per 1 cup: WW pts+=6, Calories: 237, Fat: 10.5g, Saturated fat: 3.5g, Monounsaturated fat: 4.3g, Polyunsaturated fat: 1.1g, Protein: 26g, Carbohydrate: 9.1g, Fiber: 1.7g, Cholesterol: 60mg, Iron: 2.7mg, Sodium: 517mg, Calcium: 67mg. Kids really liked this! They wanted more sauce - so maybe double the sauce.

Back to the move - this is where we stand:

  • Waiting to hear back from the French Consulate
  • S is going to Paris on Monday for a meeting & will look at houses & neighborhoods on Tuesday and Wednesday. There are very few houses available where we want to live & they go fast, so keep your fingers crossed for us. We really only have a couple of possibilities...
  • S needs to meet with his boss and HR guy to go over the bid from the moving company. I want them to approve this ASAP so we can get scheduled - it's a 3-week window to get scheduled. Since I want to move around the holidays, it could be a very busy time.
In the meantime just living life here. It was nice having S home for a week - he leaves on Saturday. We have our last sports event on Saturday, then will have more free time. Trying to see friends as much as possible while I'm still here, and looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with my parents and my sister & her family down at the beach.

Happy Friday all!


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Document Overload!

Around and around we go….

Getting prepared for our meeting at the French Consulate required tons of organization, printing, emails and collecting. Lots of stress and a dining room table covered in papers…

 This was just the beginning - it was completely covered by the end

 Here is the list of documents required for a Long Stay Visa application according to the French Consulate website for each applicant (we needed 3 packets – 1 for myself, 1 for R and 1 for C):
  1. One application form (English version) filled out completely and signed by the applicant.
  2. One ID picture glued/stapled onto the application form
    1. Had to go to Walgreen’s to take new pictures with neutral facial expressions – no headbands, jewelry, etc.
  3. Original passport or travel document + ONE COPY of the identity pages.
  4. Letter promising not to engage in any employment in France (signature certified by a notary public)
    1. E&Y wrote it in French for me.
    2. Had to take it to UPS to get notarized.
  5. Letter of employment in the US stating occupation and earnings
    1. We gave a copy of S’s employment contract
  6. Proof of means of income - letter from the bank, investment certificates, pension slips…
    1. Gave copies of bank statements, added letter from S’s company that they are paying for housing & schooling in France, notarized letter from Sean saying he is supporting his family…
                                               i.     Official said to Sean “it is good that you will be supporting your family” with a smile.
  1. Proof of medical insurance
    1. This was a fun one we spun in circles for awhile trying to get. Luckily it ended up that S’s company was negotiating a new International contract with Cigna (which we currently have), so it all worked out at the last minute. We needed to make sure the proof of insurance from Cigna mentioned France specifically in the coverage.
  2. Marriage certificate or family book + Birth certificates for children
    1. We had to show the originals with the apostilles attached, and left them with copies of marriage certificate and birth certificates of all 3 of us.
  3. Proof of accommodation in France (title deeds, lease or rental agreement)
    1. This was the tricky one – why would we have accommodations in France now if we aren’t even sure if we are getting the Visa! So we had to figure out some work-arounds. We got an “official” letter from the relocation company saying that we had retained their services to find us a rental. We provided the letter from S’s company saying that they are paying for the rental. We also made a month-long reservation at a hotel in France. The official at the consulate hesitated a bit at this, but ended up seeming fine with the solution. This is just a really strange thing to ask for – I guess it’s mostly for people who are moving over the France to live with someone else.
  4. Processing fees
    1. It cost $138 each for the fees.
  5. One residence form duly filled out (upper part only) – also called the OFII form
    1. These will need to be sent to the appropriate place once we are in France in our residence.
  6. E-Ticket or reservation confirmation email showing the date of departure to Europe.
    1. Another strange request – why would we book a flight to Europe if we don’t even know if we an go! We booked 3 totally refundable flights so that we can cancel them. We booked our departure as of December 1st, since that was 1 month out from our appointment at the Consulate. In reality we will leave later than that, but we wanted to give them an earlier date to work towards.
  7. A self-addressed prepaid EXPRESS MAIL envelope from the US POST OFFICE ONLY - NO FEDEX / UPS / AIRBORNE EXPRESS accepted.
    1. We had this with us, but then the official asked if we would rather return and pick up our passports ourselves. Absolutely!

In addition to the above items, E&Y had given us a list of documents that we needed, which turned out to be useless. They sure didn’t add much value to the whole process, and in fact, E&Y missed many of the items that we really did need. Thank goodness we checked the Consulate website ourselves. Too bad S’s company has paid them a lot of $$ to help us though this process – we ended up doing most of it on our own!
  1. Long Stay Visa application to be completed, dated and signed (we also attach an English version for ease of reference only - please note that only the French version should be completed)
    1. We did not complete this form in French as the Consulate website specified English
  2. 2 passport size photographs taken within the last 3 months (loose not glued ) - (1.36 x 1.75 inches - on a white background, front view, neutral expression, bare-head and no dark glasses)
    1. We only needed 1 attached to the application
  3. Certified translations of our marriage and birth certificates.
    1. We hired someone to do this for us who was listed on the Consulate website. She was super fast and responsive. But they didn’t need these for this appointment at all. Maybe we will need them in France.
  4. A Letter of Motivation in French from me basically stating why I want to live in France.
    1. When we offered this to the Consulate official, he basically laughed saying “isn’t obvious why someone would want to live in France?” and refused to take it. Maybe I will need it in France.
  5. Letter of acceptance and Student registration at the American School of Paris
    1. He didn’t care about this at all.

We were very nervous for this appointment as our future kind of hinges on it, and we were probably over prepared for it - but that was much better than being under prepared. The official turned out to be very nice, friendly and helpful – he definitely appreciated how organized we were & that every time he asked for some document, we had it ready for him. He of course could not give us a “yes” or “no” right then, but S thinks the implication was that we will be approved. He also told us that our passports will be ready to be picked up in 1 week to 10 days! That’s way earlier than the month we were expecting. So all the drama about where we will be moving could be settled soon. Woo hoo!

We had to schedule 3 half-hour appointments at the consulate – one at 11:00am, one at 11:30am and one at 12:00pm. We pulled the girls out of school and headed up there around 10:15am. We were early for our appointment, but there was only one person ahead of us, so we got seen before 11am. He did all the documents at once, and we were done at 11:10am. Probably only took 20-30 minutes! He didn’t even speak to the girls, just took their pictures. While Sean & I were dealing with the documents, the kids got a kick out of watching the French show on tv that seemed to be some sort of crazy sketch show.

Since we were done early, we took a walk through Chinatown and then down to the Financial District to have lunch at a place where Sean & I used to eat (separately) when we worked downtown – a little French bistro named Cafè Bastille. We treated it as a bit of a celebration lunch even though there is nothing definite to celebrate yet. At least one big giant step is completed! Keep your fingers crossed, and you know I'll be jumping every time the phone rings!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Just keepin' truckin' along...

Let the lessons begin! R&C started French lessons this week. A great Burlingame mom is teaching them so it should be good. I ordered the Fluenz French software for myself. Decided Rosetta Stone's immersion method isn't really my style - I'm much too analytical and like to know the rules behind things. Just got the box but haven't tried it out yet. I sure hope it's good after what I paid! When we get to France I'll be hiring a private tutor as I want to move as quickly as possible in my language skills. The 2 years I took in high school (waaaaay too long ago!) isn't very helpful!

I've been trying to read some books and blogs about people moving to France to try to get an idea of what I'm in for. You can see a list of blogs listed to the side of mine. Here are some of the book titles:
Friend or Foe - very interesting look at cultural differences and the thinking behind them
60 million Frenchmen can't be wrong - didn't get to read much of this one. Might need to check it out again.
Almost French - a woman falls in love with a Frenchman & moves to France. In the book she talks about her experiences acclimating to the French ways.
Paris with Kids - an American woman moves with her husband to Paris for his job. This wasn't a very well-written book, but still interesting in it's way.
These books have been very helpful in giving me some insight into why the French are the way they are. And how different Americans and French are! Hopefully some of this knowledge will help me from making major gaffes - though I'm sure there are plenty in my future.

I also bought a French cookbook that was highly recommended - "Around My French Table". Full of recipes for French home meals - I thought I might find these useful for when cooking at home. As you may know I love cooking, and am terrified about not knowing what ingredients are, how to use them, etc. But it should be fun learning!

No other real updates yet - still waiting. E&Y finished my Letter of Motivation, they are trying to get the proof of insurance taken care of by NXP, and also trying to come up with a list of what documents we will need to provide - I hope it's the ones we have! They are going to "present" all these things to the French Consulate here in San Francisco very soon hopefully. S has a call with E&Y and HR tomorrow, and he's going to try to get them to give us a timeline. They say they are shooting for December, but what does that mean? If the girls are to start school January 3rd, we need to get over there by around December 28th so they have a chance to get over jet lag. And that means somehow moving around Christmas which presents all sorts of problems. Plus we need to have a house over there to move to! So we need to make sure everyone is on board with the fact that we need to move ahead on some items before the Visa is finalized.

Good new is that HR mentioned a family house-hunting trip again today. I checked the calendar & the kids have conference week in November where they get out at noon every day & have Friday off. So that would be a good week to pull them out of school since they won't miss as much. I'm hoping S can get the ok for that trip so we can get a move on with the house stuff. When we find a house (& the town we want to live in), I'll have a better idea as I look around our house here of what we will ship over.

We are also hoping to visit the girls' school while we are over there. It would be great to see it, meet their teachers and fellow classmates, etc. I have been so impressed with everything about the school so far and am so excited for the opportunity for the girls to go there. The administrators and teachers I've talked to so far have been so welcoming, helpful and kind. It is an American School (ASP) so it is taught in English and the adjustment shouldn't be too tough on R&C. They are very nervous, sad and excited by the opportunity - as we all are I think!

ASP has a ski week in February and there is an organized ski trip sponsored by the school for 3-5th graders to go to the Swiss Alps! Nice. Both R&C have actually said that they want to go. So that means S & I will be able to take a vacation without kids in February! Got to start thinking about where we want to many choices...

No bites on the car yet as far I know. Come on, doesn't someone out there want to buy this beauty? We need to sell this one so that we can pay off the Prius so we can ship it over...

OK - off to enjoy dinner & drinks with a girl friend,


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Checking things off the list

Today was a busy, though successful day in terms of getting things done.

First was taking the dogs to have a temperament screening at a dog hiking and boarding place. With S away living in Eindhoven I need some back-up with the dogs. So we needed to check out the place and they needed to check out the dogs to see of it would be a good match. Seems good, so that's nice. The dogs will get picked up at my house and be taken on an all-day hike - good exercise for them. I just can't get to them every day of the week so this will be fun for them. In addition I will board the dogs there when I need to go out of town and my regular dog/house sitter is unavailable. Whew! Take that stress off and give me more freedom & flexibility - yay!

Next was going to an auto broker to sell the first of our 3 cars. The fun, hardly driven 3rd car is the first to go - the Porsche Boxster. So sad to say goodbye...what a great, fun car. So worth it to have them sell it for us since it's not an insignificant amount of $$ that has to be dealt with. We can effectively cross that To Do off the list. Keep your fingers crossed that it will sell quickly.

Met with the relocation company that will be handling our move. Went through every room and had to say what was being shipped over and what was being moved to storage. Not a small job! I'm starting to feel overwhelmed at the prospect. Though I know I have it way easier than most as this company will pack everything and the company is paying for it. Still, we have a s***load of stuff and we really should go through it all first! Exactly what we ship will of course depend on the house we get in France - which we probably won't know for awhile. Depends on how big it is, if it comes with any furnishings, will any of the bedrooms be big enough for our King bed, etc. We would love to have 4 different shipments: 1 sea shipment that happens sooner, 1 air shipment that happens right before we move, 1 sea shipment right before and 1 car shipment. The car thing is tricky as the EU requires that you own a car for at least 6 months before it can be brought in. We don't technically own the Prius at all - the bank does! Hey - they offered 0% financing. How can you beat that! But it looks like we should pay the whole thing off. If we ship it over, the sooner we pay it off, the less time it will sit in storage in France waiting. If we don't ship it we still need to sell it & that would be easier to do if we own it outright. to dig up that much $ somewhere...:-)

OK 3 big things off my list today. Pretty good. A little at a time and it will all get done. Right? S has an update call with Ernst & Young tomorrow - hope they are making headway on their end on getting those Visitor Visas for the girls & I. Still haven't gotten the apostilles for R&C's birth certificates yet. Any day now...

Time to take a break and enjoy a night out with S and our friends. I'm thinking something within walking (stumbling) distance to home. Probably brewery. Since I ripped my temporary crown off this morning and had to go back to the dentist to get it fixed (in between all these other things), I deserve a TALL beer! Though I'll have to sip it through a straw to avoid my tooth. :-)

Happy Thursday all...


Looking Like Paris!

It seems that S's company got a verbal "YES" from a Senior French Official about the girls and I being able to move to Paris! Yahoo! We  have moved from 70% chance of France being the winner, to over 90% chance. Now we need to go through the bureaucracy of getting residence permits for myself, R & C. S will just be on a tourist visa every time he comes to see us. There will still be plenty of hoops to jump through but it's looking good that we will get our 1st choice of living just outside of Paris!

Steps we have to take:
  1. Apply to the French Consulate in San Francisco for Visitor Visas.
  2. To apply, we need the following
    • Provide copies of bank statements showing I have sufficient means to live in France
    • Proof that I have private medical insurance for us
    • Proof that I have accommodation in my name in France
    • Proof that the children are registered for school in France
    • A "Letter of Motivation" from me written in French
    • Original marriage certificates and birth certificates with Apostilles on each
  3. Once we get our Visitor Visas we will then request a French residence permit
    • This process isn't entirely clear yet. My current understanding is that we can move to France when we have the Visitor Visa and then apply for the permit there.
    • Need to get a French bank account in my name.
Luckily for me, Ernst & Young's people are helping me with the whole process. I have given them the bank statements and the acceptance letters from the American School in Paris for R&C. NXP needs to provide the proof of insurance since we will be covered under S's insurance with them. We are not currently enrolled in his insurance as we are still in the US - we are doing Cobra here. So they need to enroll us. NXP also has to provide a letter about housing as we can't really rent a place there until we know for sure we are going & when! E&Y will be writing my Letter of Motivation - hope they make me sound great!
The apostille situation has been frustrating but we are almost there. First we found out that we were never officially married! Somehow the paperwork was lost. So we had to go to the County Recorder's office with 2 witnesses and our checkbook and swear that we were indeed married many moons ago. We then got our official marriage certificate. I sent that off to the Secretary of State of California along with my original birth certificate and the girls' to request an apostille for each document. About a week later they all got sent back to me because I had forgotten to include my payment of $20 each document. Dumb me! So I sent them all off again - with the $. Another week goes by and I get my birth and marriage certificates back with the attached apostilles, but apparently they couldn't verify the signatures on R&C's birth certificates, so those got returned to us with a promise that they would refund the $40 fee for those. We then had to go to the County Recorder's office again to request new "more official" copies of their birth certificates. Sent those off with another check for $40 - hopefully will receive good news in the mail any day now. S's birth certificate had to be sent to Massachusetts with only a $6 fee, and that came back fine.

OK, got to go off to get some sleep now. Update on the monumental task of moving soon...


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Living in Limbo!

Well, it's officially happening - we are moving to Europe! S accepted the new job, quit the old one, and flies off to The Netherlands tonight. It's been a frantic couple of weeks (after a great relaxing week in Hawaii) getting him ready to go. Lots of social activities, trying to finish up the remodeling project here at the house, taking care of "honey-do" stuff, figuring out what to pack, etc. The guest room bed is covered in things he has to pack. He's having a hard time figuring out what he'll need. S will be in a hotel until he can find an apartment in Eindhoven, so he can't bring too much stuff.

On Thursday he gets all his work permit stuff, residency, etc. - the company is arranging it all. He just has to show up and bring certain documents. Friday he'll look at apartments. Then the company will start working on getting the girls and I long-term visas for France. The French government may not approve our living in France since the majority of S's business will be done in The Netherlands. But they have approved it in the past, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that it will work out. The girls have already been accepted into the American School in Paris and we really want to give France a try. Learn a new language (no, none of us speak French), live in a different culture, eat lots of cheese...We know it's going to be VERY difficult, but we are up for the challenge! In the meantime we have started school here at home and are trying to just go along with our normal daily lives. It will be strange to be a single mom for awhile. Luckily Sean gets to come home once a month until we move over, so it won't be as bad...

If France doesn't work out, we need to decide between London and Amsterdam. Neither will probably happen until January as the girls are on the waitlists at the schools in those cities, and we have to wait until Jan 1, 2012 when England will lift the animal quarantine laws for America and other EU countries. Since we plan on bringing our 2 (big) dogs and cats with us, we will be hanging out here until the law is lifted.

So keep us in your thoughts & cross your fingers that France works out for us!

Au revoir!