Last year we spent a year beyond anything we could have dreamed of, living in the south of France, in the western corner near the Spanish border, in a town spectacularly placed 15 minutes from the Mediterranean and overlooked by Canigou, a Catalan mountain on the edge of the Pyranees. We’d chosen France for reasons relating to Tris’s real estate (link to come) but also because our kids were learning french at school, and then crucially because the area was described as the sunniest corner of France, with 300 days of sunshine per year. That was enough for us to poke our fingers at the map and cry “Here!” No freezing temperatures, the snow just for admiring on the mountain, decorative really, rather than for shoveling from underfoot. Sounded like a dream. The year before we left the snow fell on our Nova Scotian town like this:
The Fickle Finger of Fate
At the end of 2011 our lives hit a very low bottom. We were struggling on every front. We had leapt from our safe secure jobs as an Environmental Technician and Paramedic into real estate, moving 5 times in the process, by buying a 24 unit apartment in a small town in Nova Scotia. Being newbies in the field there was enormous pressure to learn and improve the building. We had 3 children in 4 years so clearly we were swamped there as well. Financially we were sweating. And renting out the basement to 2 students at a time. Our relationship lurched under the strain. And then, as the children hit ages 1, 3, and 5, it was all topped off when our 3 year old son padded down the stairs in his footed PJs on Christmas Eve morning with a badly swollen eyelid. His diagnosis that afternoon was high risk leukaemia.
Somehow we stumbled through that year, bouncing along the bottom of a dark time. Lost my father of a heart attack far too soon. We separated. And then, gradually the tide turned, and there came a long climb out. Over three years of chemotherapy and hospital treatments, which we will be forever grateful to medical science and the IWK hospital and Canadian health care for, that challenged us all in the grueling process, but gave our son his life back. An apartment building that was slowly transformed, and eventually, there was a lovely live-in manager to lift the daily burden. Two parents still trying together and three children chaotic and happy.
So as we finished leukaemia treatments (in the snowstorm pictured above in fact, wading to the hospital through the snow while backpacking children), we started finishing preparations for the family cure. We saw that homes were available in the off season (roughly the school year) in southwest France for close to our housing costs in Nova Scotia. Flights we saved aeroplan points for. We planned to let the real estate simmer under the care of the wonderful manager, now that the portfolio had grown under Tris’s passionate effort and could provide a baseline of income. And after a year of figuring out schooling, housing, and health care in France, agonizing over many details, finding a family to rent our home here furnished, and painting, repairing, purging, packing our house, we left, scrambling to finish up details up to the last minute (thanks for your help mom!).
And then there we were in France. This blog will tell what came next.