Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Another Day, Another Dollar

It's been 3 weeks since I arrived back on my doorstep and its subsequent 4 flights of stairs here in Aix en Provence.  Three weeks in which I've seemed to do nothing but sleep. Okay, the first week I had visitors so sleep wasn't an option but these last two I've been behaving like a teenager. Snooze till 11…3 hour nap….sleep till 9…2 hour nap.  I've spent several full days enrobed in my deliciously enormous, Memorial High School Baseball hoodie and my plaid flannel pajama bottoms. No exit…no reason to. It's been lovely.

I meant to come home in January. But then this happened.

Yes, my sister and I bought another house. Isn't it cute?

As I've mentioned before, my biggest dilemma in France is that I don't have the right to work. I'm a resident yes, but I cannot work. The only way that I've found to solve this is to get hitched and…um…well…I've already done my time. I can receive the right to work (and pay taxes in France) in another year but truthfully, my chances of getting hired here are dismal to none. The French system of employment is pretty linear. Employers want a CV (resume) that shows your field of study and that you've worked in that field. And that's where they want you to stay. Not a lot of coloring outside of the lines here. And to top it off, they simply don't seem to hire older workers. There is a very high unemployment rate for those over 50 and it doesn't look to be changing soon. So, a middle-aged woman who speaks French like a child with a mid-western accent to boot, who has a television journalism degree but hasn't been on camera for 30 years, but who has done just about everything else and can handle just about every situation thrown at her, is not a good prospect. Tant pis pour eux! Too bad for them.

But this situation obviously poses some big ol' problems. I have to earn my money in the states, which in turn poses a problem since I'm not there. Most of the time. So this time home, as the last time, my sissie and I bought a house to redo and rent. In fact, since this is our second, we ended up forming a business and not only do I now know how to tile a bathroom, cut copper pipe, rip a board and install a ceiling,  I also have to learn to be an accountant (what the hell is double-entry bookkeeping anyway?) and a business manager. Holy Heat Duct Batman, doesn't life just keep getting more interesting?

The sale was delayed and delayed and in the end we had 30 days to turn over the house before I had to leave.  The day we signed the papers, we were at the house in our well-used work clothes (winter models this time) and back at it again. Twelve to fifteen hours a day we worked. On the days she had to work at the fire station, I joined her there in the evenings where she has cable, and we watched DIY television, which is how I learned to cut copper pipe, by the way! My work clothes left my body in a heap each night and were pulled back up again very early each morning. And we had a ball. Seriously.

 I learned that 3 days without a toilet on-site is not a problem whatsoever.

This should say "pee bucket" but it was -15 degrees and the marker didn't want to work.

She learned that her new favorite tool is a grout mixer that attaches to the drill.

 I learned that mine is a tile saw.

We learned that you can, in fact, tile over old mastic…no matter what anyone says. Is this not the most magnificent, though elementary, tile job you've ever seen?

We learned that the best way to order plumbing parts is to just take a picture of the damned thing before you go to the hardware store. 

"I'll have one of these please!"

And this project brought home what we already knew. Your team is the most important thing!

So these are some of the before and afters.

I think we were destined to do this sort of work together. After all, we have matching roto zips!

On our last day, after we hung our sign and gotten ready for our party (of course we had a party there. Every house needs to be baptised!), we cracked a beer in the frozen garage and congratulated ourselves. And we both got all sad. Not because it was time for me to go but because this work is way too much fun and so rewarding. We not only were so much better at it this time, but we realized that the first house and our ability to work together was not a fluke. We're good at it!

We are "Sisters Saving Houses"
And we gotta get ourselves another one. Quick.

But first I've got to get out of my bathrobe and enjoy the life I'm working so hard to keep.

Happy Spring my friends,



  1. Grace and I read your blog together and enjoyed the journey through your house renovation. How about buying and renovating a house in Provence? Think how much fun that would be. You'd have so many volunteers to come over and help.

  2. Welcome back Delana.When I first started reading I was afraid you were saying that you were going home for good and giving up on the Frenchies and their ageism, outside-the-linesism, and not-by-rote-ism. Whew, thank goodness I was wrong. I need you here for inspiration, although you could easily inspire me from the frozen tundra with your copper pipe cutting and tile saw skills and fashionable construction wear.

    Congratulations! How great to have that time with your sis. BRAVA!
    Aidan xox

  3. I can't wait for the HGtv show of you guys to start. Needs a good name though, "Flipped over fifty" noo.. uh..

    1. I've actually already considered this idea after so many people brought it up. Geez, after watching a show called "Billy the Exterminator", I see no reason why sisters, one a firefighter and one an expat, can't be more interesting than that! Keep working on a name, my friend.

    2. Just what I was thinking!

  4. So first off, you're my idol. Next, here's my big idea for you to make some money in France. Teach women how to use tools. Seriously, a girls workshop...Tools 101. I know nothing and really want to learn. And I think there are others who feel the same. Do one in Aix...I'll come down. And I'd help you promote it with pleasure! xx

    1. The problem is Julie, I don't own ANY tools here. But it's still a good idea.

  5. So glad to hear from you again!
    And what a super post...I loved every word and photograph of it!
    Keep your money in the U.S. and live on it in France...ideal solution.

  6. Good job you two! What a difference. Maybe you could rent your services out to a local contractor. It could be a way around the system!

  7. Amazing job, Delana, and such a stylish look to the little house at the end. You have a useful set of talents there! :)

    The French don't use copper piping any more for plumbing. They use PVC. My ex-h and I managed to plumb a whole (new) house by ourselves with it. It was a pain, but not impossible. Actually, what was impossible was working with him. You and your sister seem to have much more fun. :)

  8. Hot damn Delana! You are tearing it up! The house looks AMAZING, great job! Best of luck with your new company, and that double-entry bookkeeping :)

  9. I'm so impressed! Next time you're in the States I'll have to have you come over.... :)

  10. Wow! You are amazing! How about renovating in France? There's got to be money in that - Americans would love to have you working on their home in France...right?

  11. Aren't you something? This post is so full of humour and poetry, but most of all is an ode to DIY on life managing. Good thinking and good work, Delana, you rock!

  12. Are you kidding me, with all you have to offer! Got to be someone in France to hire a multi talented American! You and your sis did a great job on renovating that house. Not a bad business, you sure have the talent! I enjoyed your before and after images..........
    Get some rest!

    The French Hutch

  13. Delana, so glad you are back...was beginning to fear something horrible happened. No wonder you are so worn out, sisters saving houses is no easy feat! I admire your courage to live out your dream in spite of all the obstacles and I know from my own experience the Catch 22 of living and working abroad.
    Love your ingenuity and courage finding a unique to way to reach your goal! You go, girl!

  14. I own two houses my husband and I built. One of them needs work which we hope to do this summer. What I'm really impressed with is not just that you did it yourself but that you had fun doing it!
    I have a friend here in the States who spent years in Grenoble and now plans to go back to France and renovate a house. I think you will find whatever work and opportunity you want in France or the US.
    Yes, teach women to build. In France or the US. You'll have a great new career.
    Best wishes!

  15. I am amazed by your DIY skills and also very glad you're back. And I agree, there's a reality show here somewhere.

  16. i cannot bl**** believe you!you rock big time.
    you'll get there no doubts.

  17. i cannot bl**** believe you! you rock big time.
    and i'm sure you'll get there.


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