dimanche 23 septembre 2012

week 4 - regular life stuff

We're into the weeks now that start to feel like regular sort of life - up and off to school, laundry, shopping, meals, errands, etc.
Though each of these in a bit different fashion in some ways.
Laundry is a much longer process - 1 hour for the "fast cycle" wash and at least 2 hours to hang dry on the balcony. Luckily, weather is lovely still. Waiting to see how strategic we'll have to be once it gets cooler.
Grocery shopping could be at the bigger market down the street for bigger shopping with my pannier (shopping trolley), quick trip down to the smaller market just down the street, splurge stop at Carmes market close to the girls' school - small version of St. Lawrence, or the Tues/Sat outdoor market stalls that set up in our local Place with farmers and their tables.
Joined one line on Tuesday at the outdoor market to see if they had spinach. I think I upset the regular order of some older ladies who must meet each Tuesday - happen to be standing in between a few of them and was more challenging for their conversation. Fun for me to be surrounded by this regular life and I worked to catch bits about their sons, the weather, what they were looking forward to making with their fresh purchases.
When I was somewhat scolded (politely) for asking for spinach right now - not the season - the farmer lady offered me another big green leafy bunch which she assured was similar and lovely. She and the lady behind me each offered their thoughts on cooking - one thought best wilted with pork drippings, the other with creme fraiche. I tried a bit of both as I made to accompany pork roast so that plus butter and light cream. Delicious! And on tasting, though I didn't recognize the name they offered (think it's called blutte), it's swiss chard. Girls less impressed but Marco and I are more iron fortefied.
Will be back to visit this week to see what treats are in season. Oh, and can't forget that I bought "confiture de pasteque" - melon jam - big yellow watermelon that they seem to have only for jam. Will let you know when we crack this open.
I am also debating whether I can pull of some jam here as I've not yet managed any this year with the move. Maybe just a few jars of figue - would be a new one for me.
Girls just a bit better each day at school.
Geneva is enjoying being a teaching assistant in her English class. And Elena has resumed similar duties as they've started English in her grade as well. Our purchase of a badminton set has also brought El added confidence in Sports and us some family enjoyment at the local park.
Marco has a few days of "vacation" left - he starts with one day this week on Thursday to get schedules set, paperwork completed, etc., and then in earnest the first week of October when his program starts.
I was femme au foyer a l'ecole this week. Starting with Elena's class visit with her teacher and other parents on Tuesday. Though kids not invited so what did everyone do with them while we had to be there at 4:30, half an hour after pick up? Guess they did like I did - leave them with Papa - as only les meres were in class. Sitting in Elena's desk in the front row to hear about all her subjects, days, activities, it was reconfirmed that at present, I have about 1 1/2 hours of attention for full on French immersion. I started to glaze over just as Mme was starting to talk about beginning English with the students and how she is not looking forward to it - then realized the Anglophone was sitting in the front row and apologized profusely. I was able to squeak out that I was certain that her English was at least as good as my French. At the end of all of this, I've found myself volunteering to come help Mme during English class. She and Elena's principal seem thrilled - to which I keep reminding that I'm not a teacher, just possess a reasonable grasp of the English language. Right, well not like I'm too busy right now. More on my teaching assistant duties when I begin.
That evening was also the Parent Council meeting which I attended at 8:30 - solo of course because again, no kids there so Marco got a bye. After my previous French focus in Elena's class, I was already a bit weary but soldiered on. Made it through most of the list of the activities and responsibilities of the Parent Council until it was time for budget discussions. Definitely followed the crowd as, outside of generally understanding their budget is around 30,000 euros, the Treasurer lost me for most of the rest. And during voting, I clearly just followed suit as the requests for "yay or nay" were neither words I could identify. As my vote with the masses would not have swung any decision (no "nays"), think I did my parental duty.
One good piece to this is I have my first mom friend - mom from Elena's class who is also new to the school - though not new to France or Toulouse. We have properly exchanged phone numbers, SMS and Elena now has been for lunch to their appartement on Friday - I sent along banana bread with chocolate chips for dessert which was properly enjoyed - they'd never had before. Also, Estelle - El's friend - has an older sister who is 2 years older than Geneva and Estelle's dad is an accountant at the university Marco will be going to. This might be a good connect for all of us. Onwards!
I also did my femme au foyer duties on Thursday by volunteering to "help" with picture day(s). This is a Parent Council activity, not school activity and the Secretary of the Council was in full charge. Not sure how much helping I did but did manage to try to keep the kids at bay as each classroom entered for individual pictures then trouped out to the courtyard for their group photo - I can hold coats and say "fait gentilement" and "pas trop fort" with the best of them ;)
My final school triumph of the week is hopefully helping to set up an exchange between Geneva's class with her English professor and Marco's sister's class in Toronto. Plan is to get the French kids writing in English and the Canadian kids writing in French. The Principal and English professor are getting even more excited, with visions of hooking up to have the Toulousian students travel for a trip to Canada some time. Baby steps - let's get this writing bit started. More on this to come.
Personal fun - I found the library, signed up for cards and we got some DVD entertainment for the weekend. I also ventured in to meet the local wine shop/restaurant which is almost just downstairs. Francois, the owner, has regular tastings with vignerons and is happy to have me pop in. Maybe this could be my volunteer wine job. More to come - will update.
We are excited by the flush of vistors coming our way. I'm typing this awaiting our friends from the summer - the Irish/Spanish who now live in the little village close to our vacation house. We'll be so pleased to have another set of people to speak English to - if only for today.
As much as we are managing well being our own company, we could also use some infusion of new faces.
Next up, Genevieve (Jen) will vacation with us for almost a week starting on Friday - yay!! Ready to paint the town just a bit more "rose". Following, Marco's brother and his family will spend Canadian Thanksgiving weekend here as stop between Sardinia and Barcelona on their family vacation.
Then maybe we'll plan some vacation of our own. More on that next week.
So lots of good stuff - continue to soak as much in as I can and enjoy this gift we're giving ourselves.
A la prochaine semaine,
p.s. Marco made a bang up chicken parm last night and due to our unreliable oven, we ate like French - around 8:30, between downloaded episode of this week's Glee and our new French reality fave, Fort Boyard. Fantastique!

dimanche 16 septembre 2012

Week three - reality sets in


So though I post pictures almost daily on facebook of the beautiful city we’re enjoying and it all looks like rainbows and sunshine, there are clearly challenges.

This second week at school was the start of our daughters’ real, serious and heartwrenching concerns about being in a new school with no good friends yet and struggling to understand the language which they thought they knew well but realize it’s much more challenging in an all French environment.

Tuesday became the struggle day – Geneva woke up early both stressed and in tears. She refused to go to school that day. Elena soldiered on but then I got a call from school within an hour that she was “mal au vent” (stomache ache) and I needed to pick her up.

Lots of emails to friends for support/questions plus family discussions – with my “Keep calm and carry on” attitude, I often am want to push through and keep trying. Marco being the more thoughtful and patient parent was apt to give more space, time and understanding for this big transition we’re putting them through.

Needless to say, we both expected these bumps in the road – a huge move like this will not come without its challenges and growing pains. Hard to see our girls struggle with this but we are working to reassure ourselves that they are strong too and this is not beyond them – that this experience will bring them so much, including the knowledge that they are resilient and can work through tough situations.

By weeks’ end, it seems we’re baby steps further. Each day gets a bit closer to making better friends and a clearer understanding of their new school reality. We are also pleased to see that Elena’s teacher is recognizing her struggles in adjusting and has offered to stay with her one-on-one on Thursdays just to have some down time to ensure she’s feeling adjusted and confident. Geneva’s wins in English class also help bolster her confidence – she got 100% on her Friday exam (I smiled and said “would expect this”).

Ok, onto the rainbows and sunshine. Highlights of the week include Geneva having a field trip to the original “eglise” of her school’s order namesake – Saint Dominique (of the Dominicans). She said the church was really pretty however was miffed that they had to drive over 2 hours, almost to the Spanish border – on a luxury coach bus, mind you – and was less taken by the fact the original building dates to the 1100s.

Elena had a good Friday play time with the older girls in her class – she’s in a split class – and has maybe found her bosom pals in France – they played fashion show at lunch recess and took turns fixing their hair in different styles then strutting their stuff. She says they’re more kind and seem more her interest ;)

They also both enjoy the “canteen” – cafeteria lunch with full course meals at midday. We’re in trouble on our return to Canada.

Marco is still enjoying the vacation time he has before he starts his Masters program in the first week of October. We took a lovely fall bike ride on the local bike rental bikes to his university on Friday. It’s about a half hour leisurely ride across the parks from our apartment to the Canal and then the bike/walk path runs all the way south along the Canal right to his university. Not a bad commute.

We had the excitement of our first visitor – my dear pen pal girlfriend Masako who is Japanese but living in Stockholm on a year contract this year. She just happened to want to get back to Toulouse for a visit and we happened to be here. As we’ve only met in person once before, when I first moved to Toronto for university and she was visiting Canada, this was a real thrill.

Also worked well as this weekend is Journee de Patrimonie which is a celebration of history/historic sites. Bit of a Doors Open type weekend where lots of museums, churches and places of interest are open for free with special programming on in many places. We’re taking full advantage. Free is good.

Similarly, I went to a noon-time concert on Thursday at the Ostal d’Occitania (centre for the traditional Occitan culture/language, original to the Toulouse area) to see an accopella performance of Claude Nougaro’s poetry in song. The man who performed had an amazing voice and presence and kept us entertained for over an hour and a half.

Heading into week four, we are lucky that we have lots of visitors on the horizon – looking forward to seeing our Irish/Spanish friends next weekend, then Jen will grace us for a week (yayy!) then hoping to see Marco’s brother and family for the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

And my biggest concern right now… other than soon I have to figure out what I’m going to keep occupied with other than school delivery/pick up, market shopping and dinner prep – where do I get my hair cut. Missing my Analiese and walking past each Salon de Coiffure (and there are many!) to check out their prices posted on each door along with gut check on “does this look like a place who could do a good job?” I know, I know, if this is my biggest concern in life, I’m not doing too badly. But it is a stressor for me. Am meditating on it during my weekly yoga mornings as I look at the sun coming up stronger over the red tiled roofs.

Right  - onto the lovely fall day that’s coming our way. September is a lovely month for so many reasons.

A la prochaine semaine,



p.s. update on the mayhem that ensues on school pick up… add to the frenzy last Wednesday when the kids all walked to Mass for some special something for Mary/Madonna (we’re still not quite sure the occasion) and they arrived 15 minutes later than expected. Many parents in a full on lather as schedule was not to time and no one at the door as we awaited seemed to know when/when the arrival could be expect. Quelle moment!

samedi 8 septembre 2012

week two - settling in

We're into our lives here and it's been a good week.
Girls have managed their first week in French (Catholic) school well. In fact, it's been much smoother than I could have anticipated.
Geneva is in 6ieme, which just happens to mean 6th grade which is the last of the "sameness" of 6th grade she would have seen back in Toronto. In France, kids move to College (their version of junior high) in 6ieme. The great news for our more serious and thoughtful daughter is that many of her fellow students are also new to the school too - it's a big transition year so all is new for everyone, not just us.
That said, our first morning at her school, sitting in for 2 hours listening to the Directrice/ Professeur/ Sujet introductions was way over our parent heads - thank goodness, Geneva's French is stronger than ours so she could fill in the blanks on the cursory bits we understood.
English is a big part of this school year, where Geneva seems in the first week to be deputy student teacher - at least here she'll feel like she's aceing something! That said, she's not yet felt like she's behind or missing out on any of her subject areas - relief! - save for Spanish which all students start taking in 6ieme and Geneva has opted to join.
As we left school that Tuesday morning, my heart ached a bit and I felt like a mom dropping her babes at JK again - knowing that they don't know anyone and hoping desperately for friendly strangers in their fellow Toulousian students who would immediately see how lovely my girls are and take them in as friends immediately.
Exhales as mostly, this seems to be the case - girls are making friends - fingers crossed that all continues to go well.
Elena also is adjusting well and from her reports, is well placed in her CM1/CM2 class (equivalent of Gr 4/5 split). She loves her teacher, is sitting beside the smartest girl in class who now is becoming her friend and loves the lunches at the school "canteen" - who wouldn't love chicken drumstick, noodles and a peach, cooked fresh for you and served on china plates?!
Both girls have had the "new girl celebrity" moments - Elena has been asked repeatedly to speak English as her French is so good, the kids aren't quite believing that she's an Anglophone from Canada and want her to prove it. Geneva has had kids she doesn't know come up to her to ask "Hey, are you, Geneva? Are you the Canadian girl?" Guess they don't have quite as many international students as the Directrices (Principals) might have indicated.
All in all, big sighs of relief and fingers firmly crossed as we move into week two of school and full 5 days of classes.
Now, I need to take a moment to paint a picture of after school pick up time at Ecole et College Saint Thomas d'Aquin. Being my first and only French school experience, I don't know if this is the norm however it is highly amusing to me.
The girls' school is on a narrow old street, at a small Place, meaning several streets intersect out of the street which goes past their school. In the afternoon, at the time for end of day at the Ecole, parents come to congregate at the front of the school. You are not allowed to enter past the front doors leading into the corridor of the courtyard so it starts looking like a mob scene - maybe free tickets to a rock concert or coupon day at Wal-Mart - anyway, the drill is that the Directrice stands at the door with the kids lined up behind her and grabs the first one in line firmly in her grasp. She then surveys the throbbing, waving mob of parents to find the match, and on doing so, thrusts the chosen student towards his/her parent - then on to the next. Adding to the frenzy is the fact that while many bicycles are parked to make the scene more cluttered, some parents who drive will actually just stop their vehicle on the street - a narrow, one car wide street - to step out and jump into the fray to await their child's delivery. Now comes a long, honking line of cars behind the select vehicle as no other car can pass through this one way street. Oh, it's a scene. I'm looking forward to further developments on this front.
The only challenge I've noted so far is that I don't know how working moms in France manage their lives. That is, how do they accomodate the different start/end times of various students school days? Geneva and Elena, being in College and Ecole, have different start/end times to their day - luckily only Mondays have a major discrepancy in the morning start time - we'll deal with that tomorrow. However, end times are at least 45 minutes difference and in some cases more. Plus Wednesday afternoons are off so kids are home by lunch. I am feeling very privileged to be a femme au foyer this year, to make this all work out. Will keep reminding myself (former A-type busy working self) of this as the year progresses.
So you have a touch of early school life. Now I need to do some minor airing of issues which are mildly irritating - you know, the things about a new country that we implants just don't quite understand, based on our previous life experiences:
1) Why is there a toilet room with only a toilet? And by that I mean, no sink. Yes, this is in our apartment. The toilet room is just that - well, that and the curtain hiding the hot water tank, various mops, brooms and the vaccuum. But again, no sink. You must exit to either the shower room around the corner - with two very lovely big basins side by side, or to the kitchen sink down the hall. This really puzzles my Canadian sensibilities.
2) On similar vein, why do French men find it necessary and even agreeable to pause when the call of nature strikes and relieve themselves on the side of street, in plain view? And not just the drunken mob from downstairs at 2 a.m. but perfectly respectable looking older gentlemen on their way home from the corner store in the early evening? Let me be clear that my girlfriend in Paris has assured me that she is not familiar with this regular practise and finds it quite odd - maybe a south of France thing?!
3) One more point on the delicate matter - why can't they stoop and scoop?? Again, my Parisian girlfriend has reminded me - and I commented the same - that Paris' previous reputation for la merde du chien has been roundedly cleared away and is not at all common anymore. Again, maybe it takes some time for this information to filter to the south? In the meantime, we are ever vigilant on our walks.
Alright, enough of those matters. Let's finish on a top note. It's been a stellar weekend so far as I've celebrated my birthday yesterday - in grand style, for certain... champagne, sushi, flowers, chocolate. Today, with the rental car, we'll drive to the Meditteranean coast for a day at the beach. All in all, a heck of a way to celebrate one's anniversaire. Also a bit of a reprieve (whether we can afford it or not) from living like poor university students and being much more cautious with our spending than we've been in a long while.
So as the lovely sun has well risen over the red tiled roofs of my newly adopted home, I will say, a bientot - a la prochaine semaine, mes amis.

dimanche 2 septembre 2012

la premiere semaine....

As I sit to type my first blog entry - first blog, formidable! - I'm looking out over the red tiled roofs of Toulouse and it's still feels like a vacation. The reality of the year we are now embarking on isn't yet hitting us... we're feeling like we're practising living here.
Reality will definitely set in on Tuesday, when the girls start school and we really will be entrenching ourselves in this beautiful city pour une annee.
That said, we have a bit more reprieve as Marco doesn't start school until the last week of September.
What are we going to do while the girls are at school for the next three weeks? Figuring that out... adding to the list.
Yes, we have the running lists... what do we need to sort out in our lives - Geneva's cell (portable... a bb) is contracted with Orange so her birthday wish from July is now realized and she is connected. Sort of, as her plan is limited to 1 hr calling in France (who would she call right now except the friends we made in St Jean?!) and expensive to call/text Canada so that is off limits. Which means she can text (me, right now as that's all the live contacts in France she's got) and surf/email - though still sorting how to get gmail into her mailbox.
Oh, the demands of technology.
As I look around our 2 bed apartment, I see ample ways we'll stay connected. Two laptops with the free wi-fi (wee-fee, girls love the French pronunciation), 1 itouch (Elena's on it regularly - yay, facetime), 1 iphone, 2 landlines (fixe - white phone is French line and black phone is Canadian line) and when Marco's bb gets a French SIM, 2 bbs. Wow, then Geneva will be able to bbm too!
Facebook has been the daily photo album of choice - hope all are enjoying!
So what are my learnings of our first almost full week?
Lesson 1: The first fear when we saw this apartment about the bedrooms being noisy is completely the case. We've dubbed our part of the busy street noise at night the "drunken Muslim marakesh on motorcyles." Picture that as a scene - lots of boisterous embibbers - though likely not (all) Muslims, blaring Arabic music, 2 stroke screaming scooters and motorcyles plus the buses and delivery trucks as we are on a major street. Good news is, this noise mostly ends by 2 a.m. Then by 4 a.m., garbage trucks and morning delivery trucks start up in earnest.
We did realize on our return that the bar across the street is also a betting hall - lovely - it's right beside the all night epicerie - which serves the loud mob.
Saving grace? It's been unseasonably cool for the last few days since arriving - praise somebody for closed windows and shutters at night! And of course, the view from the open concept living room/dining room/kitchen is lovely and quiet, and the neighbourhood really is convenient and safe.
Lesson 2: I still buy bread like a Canadian. Which means too much. Which means the ladies at the boulangerie look at me funny when I ask for the whole loaf and following, I realize it's way too big to finish in one day. Which is how long it's supposed to last. Learning... will keep practising ;)
Lesson 3: You can find ways to improvise when you're living like poor university students. Case in point - you realize your double bed is really a futon and the mattress is killing you by night 2 (not just the drunken marakesh keeping you awake). Solution: Winter duvets double as mattress topper. Next...
Lesson 4: Three flights of stairs up to the apartment will eventually get easier. Especially if you have less than 8 bags between 2 people (duffel, shop or grocery, we've done all so far).
Lesson 5: Good wine is available for 4 euros 50. Yum!!
Looking forward to seeing what the next week brings.
The sightseeing walks each night have brought back to us the reasons why we're here - not that we need to escape the apartment which begins to feel small and close and we're sick of each other's company so fresh air is needed. No, it's the amazing opportunity to soak in a city with much beauty, history, culture, art and another language we may eventually speak properly (sort of).
A bientot,