Autumn 2017 at La Busaneth

A few remaining leaves cling to a tree outside La Busaneth

The crowds have left, the leaves and the temperatures are falling, and we are deeply into the changes of autumn. Finally Rick and Tanja, your erstwhile travelers at La Busaneth, can surface and report on the progress we have made and life in rural France in chilly November.

It has been months since we last reported on our journey. During that time we have been busy completing a large portion of the work on the gîte portion of our dwelling. Rooms have been replastered, painted and scrubbed. Furniture has been purchased from local brocantes and repurposed as newly minted creations gracing our guest bedrooms. Also, we have figured out how to get heat throughout the building, something that was last on our minds during the summer, but now has come to the forefront as nightly frost has come to stay.

Simon’s handiwork in process

Outside, our new Scottish friend and gardener, Simon, is completely redoing the front garden. Already it feels more inviting and planned.

We have had a steady stream of guests, including family and old friends. We even ventured into paying guests who helped us break the ice as innkeepers. Now that things have slowed down there is time to enjoy the season and to reflect on our new lives here.

Most noteworthy, one of the most meaningful events we participated in was this year’s Armistice ceremony in Eymet. We have joined a local French-English choir, Cantabile, and the group was asked to sing at the Armistice Ceremony.

We arrived at the monument on the cold and rainy 11th of November morning, dressed in black, umbrellas up, music at hand, on one side of the tiny memorial garden.   A band of young students was under a tent on the other side. At 10:30, they began to  accompany the group singing a ballad of a young soldier singing to his beloved right before he died at Craonne, a bloody battleground during the Napoleonic wars.

Armistice ceremony in Eymet

The band was out of tune but it didn’t matter. Then the pompiers came marching in dressed in their parade uniforms. Two older military veterans stood at attention. Families with young children crowded into the space as the mayor spoke about the war to end all wars. We then sang God Save the Queen and everyone sang La Marseillaise.

This was one of the most moving patriotic services I have ever seen. It was so obvious in everyone’s demeanor, in the words of the mayor, in the solemnity of the placing of the wreath on the monument, that the French never again want to experience the devastation two recent wars have wrecked on their nation and their countryside. Consequently it was a very simple and moving remembrance.

Four getting ready to bike
Marnix, Tanja, Tanja and Sebrand on their way to Duras for a picnic and coffee.

Today three of our five children and one significant other are enjoying a gorgeous late autumn day as they are here to help us celebrate our first Thanksgiving as French residents. So Tanja and the lads went for a bike ride to Duras.


Walking on the field toward home on an autumn afternoon.

The fields and forests have beckoned me to their solitude. I took the liberty to snap some photos to share the loveliness of the day.

Afternoon sun on the front garden view from the veranda.
Lonely berry bush











We wish all our friends and family all the joys and peace of Thanksgiving.


After feverishly working on the gite side of our farmhouse, we have finally gotten it presentable enough, and with adequate furniture, to have our first family guests.  Petra is a childhood friend of Tanja’s. She and her husband Hugo and son Just are staying with us and will be the first guinea pigs. There is nothing like having guests to spur us on to get some of the junk out and the gites ready. Here are the photos of what we have for them…..

Bedroom and shower
The renovated bedroom with new ensuite shower and wc.
en suite shower and WC
The en suite shower and WC in the gite.
Bed in stone bedroom
One of our gite bedrooms simply arranged for our first family guests
this is all ready for Just!

And as an extra added bonus, sunflowers!

The sunflowers have finally bloomed and brought their shining, happy faces to us.

Love to all from sunny France!!

Tanja and Rick


How to get lost in your own rural neighborhood

First, let me say that after a day of heavy rain, thunderstorms and blowing wind, it looked as though the day had improved enough for a walk while Tanja’s osso bucco finished working its magic in the oven; getting lost was the last thing on our minds. The sun had come out and the air was cool with a strong westerly breeze. The visibility was good. We plotted our route from our farmhouse – down the wooded trail to the south, eventually going east, coming back north and then walking west to our house. Simple enough.

Everything started out well. We turned off the road and walked south through the woodland trail we have followed before. The smells and sites of the forest after the rain were absolutely glorious –  pungent mosses, wet leaves, moss covered trees. A vineyard came into view, seemingly far from any civilization. Yours truly suggested we turn east through the vines into another section of forest we could see. Tanja admitted that this was where she got lost soon after we moved into our house, but  we could see the highway in the distance and knew if we kept it in the right perspective we would be fine.

The sun grew warmer and we took off our jackets, wandering in the eastward direction, enjoying the vines and the plum trees, both full of new green fruit.

Cluster of green baby grapes
Green baby grapes
Cluster of green baby plums on a tree
Baby plums

So how did we get lost you ask? Think too much sensory input. The highway we used as a landmark ran in a different direction than we thought. So when we thought we were going east, we were actually going south. Streams popped out of nowhere that had to be crossed or circumnavigated.

Pastoral scene of young calves in a pasture
Young calves

Every pasture in France is electrified and takes great care to enter. The cows were fine, however. They watched us coming, we who had no idea where we were, they who knew exactly where they were: where the food was.

We came across a wheat field and decided we could walk along its edge. First of all, it was massive!

Wheat field to the horizon
Wheat as far as the eye could see.

And secondly, this was some of the tallest wheat we had ever seen, over a meter tall. We found out just how tall it was when we had to detour into its loveliness to escape brambles and wild roses that covered our path.

Tanja standing in wheat up to her elbows all around
Tanja in tall wheat
Rick standing in the wheat field
Rick in wheat

Eventually we saw a landmark near our house and were able to go cross country through vineyards, sunflowers and hay fields until we reached home sweet home. At that point we were perfectly done and the osso bucco was none the worse for wear.

Our Evening Walk

It had been a beautiful day, cool and breezy, with a few clouds skittering across the sky. The lads had tunneled hot water pipes through solid rock walls Jeff had made a new shutter door to replace the rotted one in what will be our new kitchen. The pool was a crystal clear light blue reflecting the sky, too cold to swim in, but reminding us that summer arrives soon. Four pallets rested randomly on the front yard containing 4 tons of travertine for the floor of our new kitchen and salon. They had been deposited there earlier in the afternoon by the grumpy truck driver whose delivery truck was so tall it trimmed several tall trees on its way in.

With this as backdrop, we decided to take a late afternoon/early evening walk instead of our usual early morning walk. Evening light lasts until 10:00 or 10:30, so why not?

Sunflowers obediently facing the evening sun.

We headed west up the slight grade past the sunflower field, with all the

Our farmhouse

small sunflower babies dutifully facing their Ra. (They are called Tournesol in French because that is what they do.) I always wonder how they get turned around, for by the time I arise early the next morning they are already facing east. Well, they were facing west this evening, All of them.

Hot air balloon in our neighborhood
Our house as seen from the road after our evening walk

We turned around to admire our farmhouse nestled among the trees and the hayfields, then turned back through vineyards and into the woods. As bright as it was in the evening sun, the woods were dark, full of birds calling out their evening songs.

By the time we emerged from the woods, the light had changed. A hot air balloon could be seen drifting above the campagne below. We walked past a hayfield in desperate need of a mow, and after an hour came round to the front of our house, complete with our little car out front and the pallets on the lawn. As the sun sets in the west and the cool of the evening settles in, here we are attempting against all odds to upload photos to our blog to post this for you, dear friends, before we retire for the night.

On getting a French car and cell phone in the rain….

Thursday, 18 May, 2017

Well, it sure rained today! We were out at the chambre d’amis talking with Eric and his sons about the car we had bought, when out of nowhere came a blast of wind and cold rain. This was not like the huge droplets we get in Kentucky. It was a torrent of tiny droplets permeating every corner of our bodies. We were huddled under the porch roof, and it provided little refuge. It was an omen, not necessarily bad, but an omen nonetheless of the day that awaited us. We had big plans to drive first to Duras to open a business checking account then to Bergerac to pick up our new (d’occasion = used) Citroën Berlingo van for which we had signed the papers a week previously, have a nice lunch somewhere, then switch Tanja’s French phone to a regular contract instead of a month by month prepay. That was a lot to try to do in France on a nice day. In bad weather, well, we knew it would take longer. But we had no idea how long it would be.

So, wet from running through the rain to our little rental Peugot, we drove to Loubes Bernac first to the recycle bins. Lot-et-Garonne where we live does not have garbage collection, but they do have excellent recycling and garbage centers, the closest of which is in Loubes Bernac, our village. We drove there with lots of cardboard boxes that had contained stuff we mailed over here and that were mutilated by French customs, plastic, wine bottles and garbage. Then on to Duras to meet with the professional banker.

We had met with the personal banker a week previously to set up our personal bank account, but that person could not open our business account. Today we met a very nice young woman who tolerated our poor French and who proceeded to request the exact same documents we had provided the previous week. Luckily we have finally learned that to do any business in France, at least for the first time, one must have many pieces of paper and information to placate the bureaucrats. So we pulled out our passports, factures showing our address and proving our residence, articles of incorporation of our little gîte business, etc. After close to an hour, we left with papers documenting a new bank account in the name of La Busaneth.

We needed some cash with which to pay the workers at our house. We were told to go downstairs to the person who mans the “teller” window. It is actually a small desk with a computer, sitting to the side of the lobby with no protection whatsoever. That is because this person handles no cash. Instead, after looking into our accounts, worrying, and finally deciding she could help us, gave us a debit card for the amount we wanted for us to use in the ATM to get our cash. Very interesting! I guess it is their way of minimizing bank robberies.

Next stop back to the house to pay the workers, then off to Bergerac. By that time it was – you guessed it – the lunch hour (2 hours!), so we could not transact any business. We found a nice small hotel and restaurant manned by a Frenchman and his partner just outside Bergerac. Of course we each had a glass of wine, a plat, and we shared a dessert. Very civilized.

When it turned 2:00 we drove to pick up the new car. There are many steps to buying a car in France, well documented through numerous horror stories published on the web. For us, it was relatively easy because we went through a dealer who, although it took a week, did all the dirty work and administrative stuff. So picking up the car was fairly easy.

Our new little Berlingo, the workhorse of the family

The Citroën Berlingo is the French people mobile, used for families as well as tradesmen, ubiquitous. It has no frills, a manual transmission, diesel engine, and, most importantly, massive amounts of cargo space. With all the renovation we will be doing, we will have to purchase and transport lots of stuff here and there. Plus, when our kids come, we need a vehicle that can carry lots of people and their luggage. So it made perfect sense to us to get a utilitarian van. It is actually fun to drive, if a bit bumpy and slow.

The next part of our day we spent at Orange, the home of French Telecom, changing Tanja’s phone. The woman with whom we worked was very nice, but with the language issues it took an hour and a half. I think we got what we wanted, but she sent me home with a list of documents I need to mail to them, including – you guessed it – passport, a facture showing residence, etc. I kicked myself for leaving the large expending file with all our documents at home. Oh well, some lessons are hard to learn.

By that time we were soaked to the bone from all our outdoor walking in the rain, hungry and tired. We arrived to a cold house, quickly warmed by the woodburner. (And it was almost 90 degrees two days ago!) Tanja made a great French Asian Salmon dish, which we accompanied with G&Ts, saw a great sunset, and now, with no internet, we are each doing what we can to stay sane. She is looking at places to find stuff for the home and I am communicating with all our friends about our lovely day. It doesn’t get any better than this!

Sunset after rainstorm, view from La Busaneth.

First Post from La Busaneth

Wed, 3 May, 2017 –

What I need to say tonight is that finally, after months and years of searching for a life in France, we are experiencing our first night in our house, La Busaneth, in Loubés Bernac, France. There is a fire in the wood burner, and we are finally able to start the process of warming up and drying the house that has been cold and empty all winter. The walls of the salon have been scraped by Tanja and still require attention from the wire brush before they can be painted. We have created a cozy arrangement of sofas, tables an lamps before the fire to make it feel like home. There are still dirty dishes in the kitchen after our first meal prepared in this house, but they can wait. It is time I started our blog about a journey that we together started six years ago, but that each of us started years before that.

I have hesitated to begin to write about what has been a deep, meaningful journey because the topic seemed way too busy and complex. I have dreamed of returning to live in Europe ever since I was a graduate student in England in the 1970s. Tanja has been itching to leave the U.S. as well, with her dream being to start a B&B.  We have visited France several times, the most recent this winter when we looked at many properties and eventually settled on the two property solution: one for a gîte business and the other for our dream home. We signed the compromis de vent in January and went back to Louisville to settle our affairs there.

Our three months in Louisville were very busy as we said good-bye to many friends and family many times and distributed our worldly goods to family, friends and complete strangers. We sold our house. We sold our cars. We managed to get many of our family heirlooms to our children while we are still living. We had a yard sale on a cold, rainy Saturday in late April, and we sold many of our earthly possessions to those who wanted them more than we did, and who were willing to part with small amounts of cash to own them.

We discovered that what we had thought would be easy, dismantling a life in Louisville, turned out to be much more difficult, emotional and complex than we had envisioned. Our family in Louisville especially, daughter Emily, son-in-law David and of course grandson Edwin, as well as Tanja’s son Marnix, all have broken generations of family wanderings and have returned home. We never thought we would be leaving them but expected the opposite. Fortunately they all have rich, full lives, so we don’t worry about them…too much. And we know they are keeping our Louisville alive by being there. Still the breaking away was more difficult than I had imagined. The others, Peter in New York, Saskia and Dan in Maryland, and Sebrand in San Francisco, have all separated from Louisville so it feels a bit easier with them.

So, what is happening here in Loubés Bernac? What happened today especially? We awoke at the B&B Petit Clos of our new friends, Cindy and Hank Petterman. They moved to Saint Jean de Duras seven years ago with their fourteen-year-old daughter to seek their new lives in rural France. They now have a B&B and Hank is spending most waking hours creating two gîtes for guests arriving this summer. Cindy is managing their website and keeping the place beautiful. And they both are exquisite hosts. We knew we needed to stay somewhere safe and friendly for the first few nights here. We had no idea how great it would be to stay with them. They have given us a warm welcome, have wined and dined us, and helped to create as seamless a transition as one could hope for.

So awoke to our fifth morning in France knowing we would be moving into la Busaneth. We had the usual delicious continental breakfast at Petit Clos and packed our things. I had discovered when mowing the lawn over the last two days that the ten-year-old Toro lawn mower’s transmission was not pulling its weight. So Hank offered to take it and me to the local repair shop of Ramon Miranda. We drove in his entirely functional ancient Land Rover to Señor Miranda’s establishment and left off the mower with this jovial, kind young man, who promised to have the belt replaced an the mower avancement functional by tomorrow morning. We drove back to Hank’s farm, and he gave me a bumpy tour of his hay fields and vineyard from the Land Rover.

Tanja and I packed up our car, said our good-byes to our new neighbors and friends, Cindy and Hank, and drove to our new home. We had several errands to run, so we dropped off our clothes in a pile by the front door and drove to Pineuilh. Unfortunately, the best place to shop is now a gigantic strip mall on the bypass around Sainte Foy la Grande, which runs right through Pineuilh. We found pillows at the bed store and lots of good stuff for the home. We got kicked out just after noon so the employees could go to lunch, a very cultured French custom, so we decided to drive into Sainte Foy for lunch.

Sainte Foy la Grande used to be a thriving market town on the Dordogne River, but is has seen better days. However, it has the region’s best Marché every Saturday. We had just been a few days ago, but we wanted to see it when the market was not present. The town was quiet. We found a small café for lunch and enjoyed the buffet. We walked through town and eventually back to the car.

Since we arrived a few days ago, we have been on a quest to ensure adequate internet service at la Busaneth. We drove to Bergerac and spent hours at the Orange Boutique to attempt set it up. Unfortunately, we discovered that internet is not provided to our area of Lot-et-Garonne. Being Americans and not taking no for an answer we decided to do some research. It took us to our new neighbors, Jean Louis and Thérèse and their daughter Marie Pierre. They have some sort of satellite arrangement, but it is not clear how effective it is. But Hank had told us of the helpful geeks at Expert, so we decided to pay them a call.

We were greeted by Nicolas, one of the owners, a gregarious, talkative young man who spoke fluent English (thank God for a change!) and who came up with some solutions. He recommended using the 3G cell signal as being a better solution than satellite, so off we went back home to try using our cell phones as WiFi hot spots for our computers. I spent an hour with poor download and upload speeds before I eventually gave up and started a fire in the wood burner as Tanja prepared dinner. By the time we ate we had a warm fire to set the mood for a lovely, quiet evening, where we are both typing away despite the late hour.

Friday, 5 May 17 –

Good Lord, two more days have passed and it has now been one week since we arrived. We have had to get so involved so quickly that it seems a distant memory when we had tables piled high with stuff for the yard sale and turned the keys of 621 Wataga over to the new owners. Now we are on our new quest of getting La Busaneth ready just to live in, let alone rent out. We have found it to be a much bigger job than we anticipated, so we are trying to be patient and to take our time. We met with Eric and his two sons, Mark and Nick, who will be doing the renovation work in the maison d’amis and the big house. We found huge cracks in the floor of the maison d’amis running up the back wall, so the job is going to be a bit bigger than we thought. They are going to have to shore up the back wall with steel and we will use wood on the floor instead of travertine stone. It was really nice to have some people who know what they are doing planning to start in a week or so.

To save money we will be purchasing much of the supplies, and that means buying some sort of transport vehicle. The best and hopefully most reasonable option will be to buy a small van such as a Citroën Berlingo or a Renault Kangoo. There are a few used ones advertised (les voitures d’occupations) on the French website, so we have to start looking. We have also been told we have to have a small trailer, so as soon as we get the van we will get a trailer too. I can learn how to back up a trailer as well as how to get around in French. New skills are very interesting at my age. Although I approach them with great zeal, it just takes longer to acquire the skills than thirty years ago. That’s OK. I really think it is good for the brain and good for the soul. Plus that is part of why we are here, to keep life from getting dull.

Today I managed to reclaim the lawn mower from the shop all by myself, navigating the French quite well if I do say so myself. Of course I didn’t understand all of the extremely rapid run-on sentences that Ramon hurled my way, but I got enough to have a two-sided conversation. I also traversed the French countryside without the GPS. Small victories! I met Hank on my way out as he came to pick up a sprayer he ordered for his vines. He was bemoaning the fact that while downshifting his Land Rover he bent eight valve lifters and shoed me one. He has ordered new ones from England. We both chuckled about the life we have chosen, full of twists and turns.

We restarted the process of looking for our dream home with Jerry this week. So far there has been a major deal breaker with each of them. One has been populated by an inebriated young caretaker who knocked holes in the walls and ceilings looking for leaks in the sewer drains. I don’t think he has mowed the lawn at all this spring either, for the grass was knee high and felt like an overgrown meadow.  Another was on a busy highway. One was on a steep cliff and had been renovated by a young man to his eclectic tastes. We found what he had done interesting, but when we mentioned to him what it must be like living in the middle of the mess, he told us no, indeed, he was at the end. The last one was a house beautifully renovated from a structural standpoint, but on the middle of vineyards for miles around. We found anothr house closer to us in the varied geography of fields and forests as well as vineyards, so the vineyards alone are a bit monotonous. Besides, we are growing fond of La Busaneth, and if it takes awhile to to find our dream home, we actually like it here more than we anticipated and we have plenty of work to keep us busy. So we have discovered it is better to accommodate the turns life brings rather than tenaciously clinging to preconceptions that just aren’t working out as we had thought. Welcome to France!

Tomorrow is Saturday, the beginning of another three day weekend. That means all stores will be closed Sunday and Monday. So when we go to the Marché in Sainte Foy La Grande tomorrow, we need to be sure to have enough food for a few days. It is a huge Marché covering the streets of several square blocks with vendors of all stripes, from fish to clothing cheese to beds. It is fun to be part of the swirling mass of humanity stuffing their baskets full of good things. I can’t wait to show it to each of you when you come to visit. It is so much fun!

We also hope to finish spackling and painting the walls of the living room this weekend so we can put the furniture back where is belongs and make it feel like our room. Who knows what or who will stop by to alter our plans? We don’t know, but chances are it will be great fun.

So we are having a blast, full of highs and lows, successes and set-backs, but over-all enjoying ourselves immensely. We miss you as our thoughts continually return to our fantastic children and grandchild. We send you lots of love and will send more news as it develops.  I am developing a blog, and if we ever get enough bandwidth I will blog all this. Until then, we have threatened each other to spend a couple hours with a cup of coffee at MacDonald’s the only place with reliable internet. Go figure!

Thunder rolling. Our first night at La Busaneth in a rainstorm. Oh boy!