lundi 29 octobre 2012

week nine - the ups and downs AND two months in

The start of this week greeted with much anticipation - the arrival of Treva and Jordon - yayy!
Monday was all planned as cleaning and sorting as I awaited our guests. Sadly, British Airways had other plans. Without spending too much ink on the ups and downs, my awaited guests were forced to fly into fogged out and frenzied Heathrow - the eye of the storm - which ground them to a halt. They did however get to spend a night with Denise in advance of 5 hours in line on Tuesday to determine that..... they would, in fact, fly to Toulouse that day, one day late and only 1 and 1/2 days to spend here.
We did make the best of it and as Wednesday was 25 degrees and gorgeous, we soaked it in.
Along side this, we are all fighting bits of cold or something, mostly, pre-holiday ready for a break-ness.
The girls were in full on countdown mode and as Geneva had bits of classes cancelled during the week, she realized she really only had 2 full days of classes this week. No bother.
My English class was another round of head shaking as I received a call on Thursday morning from Elena's teaching letting me know that the kids were all tired and it was a bit cool anyway so best we not take our planned walk in the local park for class that afternoon. But not to worry, she had an idea (not that she actually shared it with me). As I was running catch up errands that morning, after I finished cursing under my breath - still in English but did throw in a Merde! just for flavour - I looked down at all the lovely big leaves on the ground and decided on a project.
So the kids were treated to me talking about all the things we would have seen in the park - with their inputs, of course - and then writing the English names on the board, along with reasonable facsimile drawings of their likenesses. Following that, I pulled out my bag of leaves and tracing paper so the kids could colour shade the leaves under the paper. Think they thought that part was fun too.
Mme's game came last as we played "Qui je suis? Who am I" with me taking turns describing someone in class in English - what they look like, what they were wearing, where they sat - and the kids guessed.
Had thought about discussing Halloween in Canada but it's not so encouraged at our Catholic school so we just agreed that when we returned from two weeks' vacation, we'd discussed what everyone did.
Our Friday evening dinner plans at Geneva's friends' house were resurrected this week so we trudged over in the rain to la maison d'Isabelle, Serge, Constance et Alexandra - about a 15 minute walk from our apartment.
And my friends, you'll be pleased to know that the "Mariotti 15" - as in, we seem to arrive 15 minutes after the appointed/agreed meeting time - is in full effect here in Toulouse. And in fact, it's more like 1/2 hour, as in if someone proposes a time to come over, you can arrive within 30 minutes post - which is why the SMS message invitation said "aperitifs vers 19h30" - near 7:30. These people are our kindred spirits :)
We had an absolutely knock out evening - their house is lovely, they are spirited and fun, and they also invited their very good friends over, Olivier the lawyer and his wife (who we're all still debating what her name is as we can't quite remember but she was lovely and spirited too).
Everyone was super complementary of our French, as we did speak French all evening, and I got a big shout out for bringing along Maureen's appies (baguette topped with jam, basil, brie and proscuitto) which featured some of my homemade fig or pear jam.
The girls had fun with Constance and her twin sister so we all fully enjoyed - and stayed too late as Elena was a bear to get home. Woke up yesterday morning and I think my abs hurt from laughing - both good and bad as also shows how sadly out of shape they are!
This week also brought new boots for the girls as we start to get into real fall weather. Most aptly put by Denise - "freaked out that the girls have boots now that I would like to wear." Exactly!
So now we're into holiday mode - have rented movies from the library to have a lazy weekend and as yesterday + today are very cool - starting at 3 degrees in the morning and only getting up to 9 - we've been laying low and enjoying the spoils. I pulled off roasted curried squash soup + cabbage rolls on Sat night and magret de canard + potatoes fried in some of the duck fat last night - rocked them! - along with creme catalan for dessert (a southern - and tastier in my opinion - version of creme brulee or creme caramel).
They don't have Halloween here, save the candy stores trying to sell more goods, but the girls have put together some Halloween costumes from their stocks - Elena will be an angel and Geneva a devil - not sure where they will be wearing as we'll be here in Toulouse on Wednesday. Likely will have to wait until after our morning meeting at the Immigration office.
Ok, need to go decide if we're going to drive to Bordeaux to the north today or Pyrenees to the south for a road trip - we need to get out of the apartment as the girls didn't leave yesterday and by evening, it was getting ugly.
Later this week, will get onto more planning for Christmas - did I mention we'll be 11 all together and 15 for dinner? Oh you know me - I love a good party! More later. Til then
A la prochaine semaine.

dimanche 21 octobre 2012

week eight - the week of wind

It's interesting how weather plays such a part of our lives, even as modern and sophisticated as we are - how the day's weather plays out really makes an impact in large and small ways.
This week, we were introduced to the Autal wind, a Toulousian wind blowing strongly from the south. It began on Wednesday night and blew quite fiercely, though warmly, for most of the three days. We enjoyed gathering pieces each day, both Marco and I, from locals and those in the know, about its habits and legends. It's said to cause people to go a bit crazy, kind of like the full moon.
That said, there were some unpredictable bits - let's just chalk them up to the wind. And maybe the thought that it blew so strongly that we had some trouble sleeping so no wonder we felt a bit off through the end of the week.
I'm attributing the crazy wind to the miscommunication of my English lesson prep. I was under the very strict understanding that I was to get a recipe for crepes in English that I would help Elena's class make on Thursday - as this past week was some National Gourmet/Gastronomy week (as if they only recognize this for one week in France - ha!). Madame was pretty clear, as I'd suggested some no bake cookies, thinking it would be simpler - she said crepes. And oh, would I mind getting all the supplies plus ingredients together. Beh non, I could do this.
So on the appointed Thursday afternoon, I trundled in with all my wares, only to have Mme ask about the no bake recipe I'd found. Pardonez-moi? was my reply. Long to short, we improvised and switched to chocolate chip cookies, which the kids mixed the batter for and I took home to bake which became the class Friday treat. Crazy wind!
Also attributing crazy wind - though over by that time - to the Saturday last minute cancellation of Brazilian fellow students of Marco, slated to come over for dinner so I could meet the wife and see if I could tutor her in English - all my teacher friends, please laugh and shake your head.
Luckily, our French family friends were free and very willing to partake. So our first French family meal was had - tout ensemble et tout en francais. Think a good time was had by all.
Also the crazy wind made another French family's invitation to their house blow away on Friday (really, it just was a conflict). All to be resolved as we'll do-over this Friday night.
Geneva and Elena continue through school and they begrudingly look at me - Elena less, Geneva more - now when I say I think we might have rounded the corner to starting to feel like we get how this is going.
They're still just counting down to the two week Toussaint vacation which starts as of Friday.
And why not?! We've got lots of good stuff planned.
Starting with driving to Bordeaux at the start of the week for an overnight. Bring it! Yes, Ken, I mostly just drink wine here ;)
Have to be back in the city for a meeting bright and early on Wednesday with the OFFI (Immigration office) so they can formalize our visas. And ask for tax money, of course. I'm shaking my head as they've already indicated our annual contributions. Marco, as a student is under 50 euros. Mine, though they've politely but firmly stated I'm not authorized to work here, is in the hundreds. Hmmm.
Ok, more fun stuff... on Friday morning, the girls and I are off to tony London-town for some days with Denise. Ya - London, baby!
Will report after on merry making and Guy Fox fireworks.
Marco is laying low in Toulouse as he has to be back at school for the following week.
On our return, we've one more little road trip planned - just north of Toulouse, we'll be meeting our Irish/Spanish friends to tour a pretty little town near a regional park then do some cave spelunking - clearly, that needed to be said - and seeing some ancient cave drawings. Marco will be able to join at the end of his Friday, for the Saturday fun.
In all, lots of bon amusant to come very soon.
Starting with Treva and Jordon's arrival tomorrow for three days - yay visitors!!
Clearly, you can see where my head is at.
After all of this fun, it will be time to clearly focus on the next travel - when can I see Bobbi and family plus what fun travel are we planning for Noel with all our visitors?
It's a tough life I'm leading here.
You should join ;)
A la prochaine semaine,

lundi 15 octobre 2012

week seven - settling into routine

So I had set to start the blog this week with the thought that the family seems to be hitting a rhythm - that the girls are seeming to feel like they've got the groove, friends, school is starting to settle.
Then both girls had moments last night of telling me how much they wish they were back in school in Toronto and that they miss their friends. Well?
I still stand by the above statement - I think they're resigned to the year and are working at it - friends are working out and we're getting into a regular rhythm and routine to life.
Marco has made through week 2 with more comfortable thoughts about how his second week of work/testing turned out. Not exactly sure when he finds out his results so will update.
Toulouse is a city that seems to always have something going on. I spent a lovely fall Saturday wandering the outdoor market at the Capitole as the Festival d'Occitania moved front and centre - with lots of treats to eat and drink, traditional crafts and music, and general market merriment. Yes, the rest of my family chilled at home - we were all ok with this arrangement. I pulled them outside in the afternoon for the festivities going on at our local park. Along with checking out the outdoor displays and events, we got to meet the very good pen pal friends of Treva's cousin. Pascal runs an advertising agency in Toulouse so I look forward to spending more time with them when his works settles a bit. As he and his daughters speak English, we can have a break. As his wife Pascale speaks French, we'll let Marco do some practising. I was also very excited to find out that Pascal is originally from Narbonne, near our favourite Mediterranean beach, and his father is a local vigneron. He's offered for our next visit there to give me a detailed map, directions and invitation. Whoohoo!
On the note of visiting families, we have our first evening invitation to a French family home - on Friday evening, the whole family is invited to Isabelle and Serge's - parents of Geneva's friend Constance. I'll be interested to see how we make out as they don't speak English. More on that next week.
I also became a paid English tutor last week as I've been engaged by Laurence, mere de Thomas from Elena's class to spend an hour a week in English conversation. We had a good wander last Thursday afternoon, tout ensemble as Laurence, Geneva and Elena joined, pointing out things and naming them in English.
My non-paying English gig with Elena's class was focussed last week on having the kids tell me about their favourite places in Toulouse and then having them draw pictures, after which we named the colours. Finally, we talked Thanskgiving in Canada and fall colours - then I shared some shortbread cookies with maple syrup with the class. Fair to say they're enjoying my visits - blackmail cookies included.
I'm excited to start another one week countdown today to Jordon and Treva's visit next week. Also had hopeful news of a potential visitor in December. And TODAY - I will book our Toussaint vacation trip to London. As my girlfriend in Munich is there for longer than I understood, I can make this travel work. Only challenge is that the French Immigration Office now wants to see us to finalize our visas right in the middle of the first week of holidays - Oct 31 - nice! - so we might be around Toulouse for the start. But definitely off to London following and then hopefully more time with our Irish/Spanish friends before the two weeks is up.
And then it's November and only weeks to Christmas - yikes!! No plans yet but several hints for consideration. We'll see where things land.
On that note, I was shaking my head to see my local Carrefour market start filling today which Christmas chocolates. Really? On October 15th?
A la prochaine semaine, mes amis,

lundi 8 octobre 2012

week six - and we give thanks

On this Thanksgiving day in Canada - Bonne action de grace (mais pas ici) - it is a time I'm feeling thankful.
We have just spent wonderful times with Jennifer for almost a week and then Marco's brother and his family this weekend, both giving us the jolt of Canada + English which helps keep us grounded - as well as reminding us how lucky we are to have wonderful family and friends around us.
We are very thankful to be living out an adventure year while having lots of support to do it - and some visiting friends + family to share it with.
They don't celebrate Thanksgiving in France but I did manage to pull off a homemade pumpkin pie yesterday - first time with filling made right from the pumpkin - it's square as I don't have a pie plate. We'll get to enjoy it tonight with whipped cream as we got home quite late from our Thanksgiving dinner with Chuck, Lisa, Amina and Marcello so dessert wasn't an option as all the students have school today.
And what a dinner it was - not a turkey in sight but we thoroughly enjoyed our filet mignon, cassoulet, salade, magret de canard, burgers et tapas!
Highlights of our visitors' stays included a (rainy) trip to the beach, a picnic in the park with gorgeous weather then badminton, fall festival with everything a kid could want to play and lots of walking + sightseeing.
Also, I was reminded of my conversation with Susan W as we took the kids to the local pool on Saturday - first time for us however, Geneva goes each Monday for her Sports class to swim. We got hassles for bermuda shorts on guys, two piece suits on girls and we definitely had to buy swim caps to go in the pool - mandatory for all. I did some persuading on the swim attire that the visitors were Canadians and we would do better next time. So we were allowed to enjoy with proper warning. Lovely facility though - very clean and propre ;)
The downside of having Canadian visitors is that it makes the girls homesick when they leave. Luckily, we've got lots more good stuff to look forward to so we need to keep focussing on this.
More fun visitors next week and then two week Toussaint school vacation (1 week for Marco) so we have to sort our travel plans for this.
Last week also marked my debut as English teacher in Elena's class. I thought I was going to help out but it looks like I'm on tap to take the class for 1 hour each Thursday. As their English is still very basic, I think I can manage this one. Took advantage in the last 5 minutes of class to do some Canadian introduction - specifically Toronto and our lives there. Toulousians definitely know about Canada though Ottawa, Montreal and the province of Quebec centre prominently and Toronto is not very known at all. Most are shocked when I tell them it's both the largest city in Canada and has over 4 million inhabitants. Then they might remember something about a big tower. I made a quick powerpoint presentation with pics of map of Canada plus flag, Toronto skyline pic then pics of our house, our cottage and the girls' school. Elena was my assistant and walked the laptop around proudly. Kids were really interested to see a view of our life.
Marco's first week was a reminder of how school life takes over and he found it challenging getting back into the student studying routine. Friday exam wasn't as positive as he'd hoped but he's being realisitic and chalking it up to first week - all time forward to improve and refine.
Ok, as I'm still kind of in food hangover - not sure I'll adjust as quickly to 9 p.m. dinners - on our own, we're still Canadians eating at 6:30 or 7 - off to sort laundry and shopping ;)
A la prochaine semaine,

lundi 1 octobre 2012

Semaine 5 - wow, we've been here a month already!
Sorry, friends, a bit slow on blog this week - good friend visiting (wheee!).
I digress.
So we had another week of Geneva hating French school and with some legitimate reasons. It really is different than Canada - teachers much more strict, difficult, etc. - and I sometimes wonder if they forget that she is French second language as her French is pretty good so she's tossed in along with the rest of the class to keep up. Which she does pretty well. However, one learning which is tough - on exams and marking and such, the incorrects are actually subtracted from the corrects so it's a double hit - both on mark and confidence.
However, she is doing swimming in Sports class and seems to excel beyond many of her peers. In fact, her Prof suggested she join the swim team, which practises Wednesday afternoons. She's not certain on this point. We're still discussing.
Win was in Espanol - which last week Geneva wanted to drop as it was too difficult - when after studying a moderate but regular amount over the weekend, she said she topped the class in answering the required questions/responses. Small victories.
Elena is getting there - hers were more social concerns as she likes her teachers - and friends seem to be coming so we keep breathing in and out.
Marco started school for two days last week to get settled, schedules, meet people, etc. He is excited and intruigued as his class is a world map - of course, students from France but also China, India, Mongolia, Nepal, Argentina and Russia. As he is the only English first language speaker, he may actually be at the advantage to his fellow classmates. Looking forward to seeing how this all plays out. Today is first day of courses. Go Marco!
I am adding bits of French each week - Marco has commented that he already notices my improvement - however one thing I know I'm weak at is identifying days of week/times in conversation - two cases in point: I had trouble making plans with my mom friend Helene for an after school date for our two families of girls to play badminton as I was unsure following our conversation of what I'd committed to. A quick text to Helene and her patience with me helps. She's actually started scolding me for saying my French is poor when I meet someone as she's impressed with how well I'm doing (she's just being nice, I know, but it's reassuring). Next, I was to meet Elena's teacher to discuss how I'll help in English class. In fairness to myself, I'm adapting to the 24h clock and when she said we'd meet at "une heure quinze" - this didn't make sense to me as it would be in the middle of the night so I was certain I'd heard incorrectly and translated to "onze heure quinze" - 11:15. Neither were correct as she'd meant 1:45, after lunch. Oh well, luckily I don't have a lot in my day right now so was flexible.
Good stuff now - we're all enjoying friend time! Girls each invited a friend home for lunch on Friday so we hosted Estelle and Constance for macaroni avec fromage, broccoli et homemade biscuits avec pepites des chocolats. Think all went well but Geneva was embarrassed by me. Hey, I can embarrass my pre-teen in 2 languages!
Best... la vacance en France avec Genevieve also began on Friday. Jen is here until Thursday and we're making the most of it. Which means we did drive to the beach for the weekend, even though it was 13 degrees and raining most of it. Still nice to get away and have some girlfriend time with wine, yummy food, random singing and silly English. Sigh....
Jen leaves on Thursday am :( and then I will have my first English tutoring in Elena's class in the afternoon.
Following, Marco's brother and family arrive for Canadian Thanskgiving weekend - no turkey in my little oven and as Lisa's vegetarian, better to find another option anyway.
Happy October 1st - I'm supposed to say "Rabbits, rabbits, rabbits" for luck says Jen so - "Lapins, lapins, lapins a tous!"
A la prochaine semaine,