25 June 2007

The way it was supposed to be

Except for the occasional emergency, this is what life was supposed to become. It's the way I imagined it, the way I wanted it. We would retire from the work life and commuting hell in the big city (San Francisco, in our case) and go live the quiet life in the country. It was a choice. A plan.

Why France? Well, I lived here before, back in the 1970s and early 1980s. I "grew up" in France and lived through either my second childhood or my first retirement — I look at it both ways — in those years, before I went to Washington and then California to work for 20 years, to have a career.

I couldn't really imagine where in the American countryside two guys like us would settle and feel comfortable. I knew France would be fine for us. We would learn a lot, especially when it came to the language and the history. We might travel a little.

So what do you do with your time after you retire? That's the big question that faces you. You work on your house — cleaning, repainting, calling in contractors to do specialized tasks, and working out a list of priorities based on the amount of money you can or want to spend.

You garden. That's a seasonal task in the Loire Valley, there being five months out of the year when you can't really do much outside because of the rainy, cold weather.

But year-round, you shop and cook. Luckily, I love to plan meals, prepare fresh food, and cook. You try to stick to a healthy diet and not eat junk food. You go to outdoor markets and supermarkets and you compare not only prices but quality. You try to buy the best produce at the lowest price. You avoid prepared foods because you don't want to spend a fortune and you want to know exactly what there is in the food you eat.

You can spend a good part of the afternoon pitting the tiny
red plums you gathered for free in your neighbors' yard

You also look for specials on meats. You buy what you can when the price is low and put it into the freezer for later. You spend a lot of time learning how to prepare meats, and you spend a lot of time trimming, de-boning, cutting up, grinding, and cooking meats. You fall back on the French classics — boeuf bourguignon, boeuf aux carottes, coq au vin, lapin en gibelotte, blanquette de veau. You can't go wrong with the classics.

In the garden, you try to grow as much good food as you can. Tomatoes of course, eggplant/aubergines, cayenne and bell peppers, squash/courgettes, collard and mustard greens, okra, haricots verts/green beans, cucumbers, and pumpkins. Herbs. You take advantage of untended cherry trees out back and the generosity of friends and neighbors who have a surplus of plums and quinces. You pick apples in the yard and blackberries out on the edge of the road.

You make clafoutis, and if you can you make French-style tarts with apples, plums, pears, cherries, and blackberries. And you make jellies and jams and preserves. Even if you don't really eat that much jelly and jam, you make it anyway. You end up with a lifetime supply in the pantry. You try to give it away. You just hate to see the fruit go to waste.

You go and actually count the number of jars of jam and jelly you have in the pantry. There are about 30 of them, and some are quart jars. You think you ought to start selling the stuff at an outdoor market.

And then you make more preserves because
that's what you do with surplus fruit

And you blog. You write a blog. You read blogs. You leave comments and you spend a lot of time reading and writing e-mail messages. You read a lot of newspapers on the Internet, and you try to resist ranting too much about the current state of the world.

You only start the car and actually go somewhere a couple of times a week, especially since you get fresh bread delivered to your front door five days a week. That's the one thing you would have to go out for, or spend a lot of time making.

You get lots of visitors, especially from the U.S. You make some friends among the local people. But you don't seek out a busy social life, preferring to spend your time doing all the things you need to do to keep your life on track, as listed above. You never really have enough time, do you?

Voilà. A new life. Just as busy, but less stressful. That was the point, wasn't it?


  1. Yes! Reads like one of the conversations we had when I was over. :)
    I bet you missed not being woken by Callie in the wee hours ;)

  2. so do u both live on trust funds??? since I have thought many times about the possibility of living in France, I always wonder what the financial picture is.

  3. Melinda, as Walt says, we are just trusting that the funds won't run out! The secret is to find a place to live where your everyday expenses are very low. And to cut back on the extras...

    The biggest issue these days for people like us is the low low low value of the U.S. dollar.

  4. Claude, I slept in today. It was 7:30 when I woke up, without Callie licking my nose and ears to say bonjour.

  5. Our friends in the States are always amazed that we live here on so little. But we seldom go out to eat, buy locally and accept generous gifts of produce from our neighbors with huge, abundant gardens and look for the sales at the butcher's. Our friends are also very generous when they come to visit. They know we're on a budget so they buy us lunch if they want to go someplace we can't afford.
    The quality of life here is amazing!
    We just hope that someday soon the US dollar will regain some strength against the euro!

  6. And I'm very happy to hear that Callie is feeling better!

  7. I have a similar glut of preserves. Fortunately, Wendy loves my Santa Rosa plum jam and takes many jars home with her.

    And I use some of the jam--it's mostly sugar, right?-- as the sweetener when I make fruit pastries.

  8. We're in the same metaphorical jam you're in. More than half of last year's yield is still sitting in the pantry as this year's plum crop ripens. I can't bear to waste the fruit, so we'll make another batch this year. Luckily, our friends seem to like it. Obviously, we need more friends to keep pace with our prolific plum trees.

  9. Chris, you make fruit pastries? I will be right over! ;-)

  10. A good life...and I thank you for sharing episodes of it with us. Writing takes time...noticing the moments, savoring them, and documenting...another task, but oh so rewarding.

    I'm glad that things are going the way they are supposed to for you.

    Meilleurs voeux!!


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