Flowers on doorstep in Levroux, France

A Broad Travels Abroad

An American woman and her English husband living in central France

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Easter — Sunday 12 April 2009

Eating a big chocolate bunny before breakfast; colored and decorated hard boiled eggs; baskets filled with shredded green cellophane paper to simulate grass nests; a multitude of colorful jelly beans; a new spring dress and shiny new white shoes; a hat, gloves and little white dress socks; everyone at church wishing a "Happy Easter"; hunting for Easter eggs; sunshine and warm weather; these are my memories of Easter mornings as a child. Next to Christmas, this was probably the biggest celebration of the year.

Our Easter parade outside Granny and PawPaw's, 1960

Our own "Easter Parade" outside our grandparents' house, 1960

photo by our dad

Today, I am enjoying the spring warmth (in spite of the sporadic drizzle of rain) and looking forward to talking to my family back in the USA, but it's not quite the same without children around, laughing and running, trying to find the most eggs or discovering the sweet delights hidden in their baskets. Here in France my husband and I and our dog live in a little hamlet outside a small village; we have few neighbors and only one child nearby. Because we don't speak much French, we both feel a bit isolated.

Walking the dog and stopping by the local bar/cafe for a cup of coffee, seeing familiar faces and exchanging pleasant greetings, speaking to neighbors regularly, these are the things I miss most. I find I am really looking forward to selling our beautiful house in the country and moving into a town. Hopefully, we will regain that sense of belonging to a community as we become involved in local activities and interact more with people.

This spring holds the promise of regeneration and "new life" blossoming within us and all around us.

An April Day — Monday 6 April 2009

I'm up early today. The birds are singing loudly outside. The sun is up and the sky outside the computer room window looks clear. There's an airplane leaving a vapor trail high in the sky as it speeds south. I wonder how many people on the plane are heading for a warm Easter holiday vacation in the sunny south of France.

For several days our weather has been bright and getting warmer. Today the temperature is predicted to reach 68°F! The next couple of days look a little cooler, only reaching the upper-50s during the day, but staying in the mid-40s at night. Surprisingly, Thursday is forecast to be back to up 66°F, but only 39°F overnight.

Our fruit trees are flowering, so I hope we won't have a late frost as we did last year. Just as the fruit was setting last spring we had a one had any summer fruit or autumn nuts. Hopefully, 2009 will bring our usual bountiful harvests.

The daffodils and forsythia bushes are blooming throughout the garden, the roses have a multitude of leaves and the Virginia Creeper vines and various trees are about to sprout their leaves any day now. The grass will need its first cut of the season this week. Time to clean up the flower beds before the weeds get established, give everything a good fertilizing and watch it all come back to life.

Our little Jack Russell terrier is once again basking in the sunshine just inside the doors and running in the garden when we let him go outside. We'll soon be sitting around the garden table eating our meals or enjoying a good book and a glass of wine in the sun.

Part of our small front garden as seen from the spare bedroom window upstairs.
photo ©Sharon Attwood
Our front garden as viewed from the guest bedroom upstairs
Bird house with a view For Rent (Short or Long Term): Bird house with a view.
photo ©Sharon Attwood

The Garden in Spring — Tuesday 31 March 2009

It is finally beginning to actually feel like spring here in the Loire Valley! Although the nights are still down to just above freezing, the days have been getting progressively warmer and sunnier (for the most part). The birds are making a racket in the early mornings and there seem to be a lot more of them flying through our garden this last week. The little bird box near our front door seems to be attracting attention again this year. We put the box/bird house up not long after we moved in three years ago, but didn't have 'lodgers' in it until last summer. I expect they'll take up occupancy in it again this season.

A few days ago I awoke to what sounded like someone tapping on our front door at about 7:00 a.m. We don't usually have early morning visitors without prior notice and it sounded like something hard tapping on glass, rather than knuckles on our metal shutters. I ignored it, but heard it again after just a minute or two. Curious, I went to the door of the spare bedroom to look out (since the bedrooms are upstairs, I often look out the window rather than going all the way down to the front door). It seems I hadn't closed the shutter over the spare room door the night before and there were two little yellow birds trying to peck their way into the house through the panes of glass on the door. I suppose they think this looks a roomier place to nest than the tiny little box we provided on the tree.

That reminded me of a series of astonishing visits we've had from birds since arriving in France. Shortly after moving over from England in 2006, we were staying in Pouillé in a gite (a French short-term rental accomodation with self-catering facilities) waiting to move into the house we were buying. It was warm and we had the bedroom window open, just reading the newspaper or watching a DVD quietly, when to our amazement three Swifts flew into the room, circled around the center of the ceiling several times and flew back out again. My husband and I turned to each other and asked, "Did you see that?" Neither of us could believe it had been real.

About a month later we moved into our house in Faverolles en Berry and while relaxing in our bedroom, three Swifts flew in through the window, circled around the center of the ceiling several times and flew out again. The exact same thing happened again the next day. Neither my husband nor I had ever had a single wild bird fly into a house through an open window before, let alone three at a time. To witness it three times in a couple of months — and in two separate places — was remarkable and a little spooky for both of us!

I look forward to sitting outside in the garden and watching the birds as they feed on the bugs in the air, roost in the trees and bushes calling to one another, or hop on the ground looking for earthworms, seeds or gathering twigs to build up their nests. In the meantime, I look out of the windows at the daffodills and forsythia blooming and watch for leaves to reappear on the trees and the Virginia Creeper vines.

White dafodils in our garden 2009

White daffodils (and a few yellows) under the birch trees in our front garden - March 2009

photo ©Sharon Attwood

A raft of yellow daffodils blooming in our garden - March 2009

photo ©Sharon Attwood
Yellow daffodils near fence

Spring Has Sprung! GET INVOLVED! — Tuesday 24 March 2009

I came across an interesting article yesterday as I was perusing the online version of The Connexion: France in English. In the 'Letters' section was a headline from the November 2008 edition of the newspaper :

"Fight for UK carers' benefits"

That got my attention, as my husband receives longterm incapacity benefit from the UK and, when we lived in England, I received carer's benefit (CA), as his full-time, official carer. With our permanent move to France in 2006, we were informed that both my CA and my husband's entitlement to disability living allowance (DLA) would be terminated, as these were only payable to UK residents and were not 'exportable' even within the EU, as the longterm incapacity benefit is. We moved anyway and have lived on very reduced income since. So this letter/article was of potentially great interest to me.

Tina and John Hamilton had emailed The Connexion that, as the newspaper had pointed out in its October 2008 edition,

"..the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling on October 18 2007 declared that the UK had illegally stopped paying benefits, including CA, disability living allowance (DLA) and attendance allowance (AA) by over-riding existing exportability rules."

Their letter went on to note that anyone living in the UK at that time and receiving these benefits would be able to take certain components of these benefits with them if they chose to relocate to another EEA (EU) state or Switzerland. For expats who had already moved and sought to have benefits reinstated, the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) .."is 'still considering the legal implications'...". Readers of the newspaper affected by 'this discriminatory practice' were encouraged by the Hamiltons to approach their constituent member of parliament and ask for pressure to be put on the government to abide by the ECJ ruling.

In addition, the Hamiltons pointed to an e-petition that had been set up on the Downing Street website which any UK citizen can sign electronically. The deadline for signing on to this petition is 08 October 2009. Read and sign the petition here .

As the Hamiltons rightly point out, "After all, disabled people living abroad did not lose their disability at the moment of stepping aboard the plane/ferry/train." Read the Hamiltons' complete letter here, as printed in The Connexion in November 2008. It is important that any UK citizen who recognizes the injustice of this policy sign the petition now.

Have a healthy, happy, involved spring!

P.S.: I highly recommend The Connexion, a monthly newspaper, to any English-speaking expat living in France, as an excellent source of information regarding English and American government rulings, as well as advice on French financial and tax matters and new rulings that may affect expats in residence. The online version is good, but the print version is much better as it covers a broad range of subjects.

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