Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Good Decisions, Bad Decisions

Our year is over, we leave France tomorrow. It has been wonderful, I'm so glad we took the opportunity to live in another country for a year. Here are some of our good and bad decisions over the course of the year.

A great decision was choosing France. We wanted to come to Europe but France wasn't my top choice. However, we knew that after spending a year in France, the kids would be able to speak French and continuing with French immersion at school in Canada after our return would ensure they didn't lose it. France has exceeded all of our expectations. We have found the French people to be very warm and friendly and unfailingly polite. Fiacra is a lot more polite when interacting in French than he is in English. We have seen a lot of Aquitaine and love it. We want to come back.  Bordeaux was a great choice for us.

Another good decision was putting the kids into public school. We considered a private international school where the kids are taught in both French and English, similar to the French immersion system in Kitchener-Waterloo, but in the end the cost was prohibitive. Fiacra and Ailbhe have instead been truly immersed in French and now can both speak French well. Initially, the school day seemed so long to us, from 9 to 5, but the kids love eating in the canteen and having a big break in the middle of the day to play sports and play with their friends. All the play time with their friends has probably been a major factor in them picking up French. Walking home from school, Fiacra will sometimes make a mistake in English, as he transitions from speaking French to English, using a French word unintentionally in the middle of an English sentence, or saying "the teacher of German" rather than "the German teacher".

A regret is that we didn't buy a dishwasher the day we moved into the rental house. A very bad decision. There is a spot in the kitchen all set up for a dishwasher so it would just have been a matter of quickly installing it. What were we thinking - would you pay $300 to not do dishes for an entire year? I think we were overwhelmed by how much we needed to buy and a dishwasher didn't seem like a necessity.

I'm undecided as to whether not buying a car was a good or a bad decision. It's been interesting to live for a year without a car. We walk, bike and take the tram everywhere. We often rent a car for a weekend of day trips or to go on vacation. I think we'll use our car less on our return. There were times though when I wished we did have a car, it can be just so easy to jump in the car and drive somewhere. I'm happy we didn't have to go through the hassle (apparently not insignificant in France) of buying and then subsequently selling a car.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Working Hard

Leaving Soon

We leave Bordeaux the day after tomorrow. We are back at the hotel we stayed in for a month when we first arrived. We return the keys of our house tomorrow, it's almost empty and almost clean. We have been busy for the past two weeks. I hate this part - the deciding what's coming back with us and what's not, the clearing out and cleaning up.

A few weeks ago, we still had a lot of furniture and a full kitchen and no plans for how we were going to get rid of them. I didn't want to dump anything that was still in good shape. And one evening our doorbell rang. Turns out, our fairy godmother is Irish and is actually a guy called Daragh - who knew!!

Daragh and his wife and kids are moving to Bordeaux for a year and had read our blog. Daragh was looking at a potential rental house and the rental agent happened to mention that there was an Irish-Canadian family living next door, he figured it had to be us, so he rang the doorbell. Daragh eventually managed to rent the house next door, after going through all the same hassles as we did. He got the keys today and we moved everything over. He has two little boys so we could also pass along any toys we weren't bringing back. So in the end, we threw away nothing. I am delighted. Daragh's wife Deirdre and the boys are coming over after Christmas, it's too bad we didn't overlap with them, it would have been fun.

Fiacra and Ailbhe left our house for the last time this morning on their way to school. After school we came to the hotel. They both waved goodbye to the house as we rushed out the door. Ailbhe, in particular, is sad about leaving. She loves her school and will really miss it.

Last night at home

 Leaving this morning for the last time

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The First of December

The weather has been fantastic this fall. It was 15º today and sunny. Finian and I go to the park almost everyday to feed the ducks and the ragondin.

Finian on his way to feed the ducks

The ragondin we see in the park everyday. The first time I saw him I thought he was a beaver.

Like a beaver but with bright orange front teeth and an ugly tail.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent Calendar

We always do an advent calendar with the kids. In Canada, we have a Christmas tree with little drawers that we fill with chocolates each year. When you open a drawer, you turn it around before putting it back in, gradually turning your Christmas tree into a Christmas scene.

This year, we are going to do Christmas envelopes as our advent calendar. Our friend Tricia has done this before, I will have to look back on her blog for some ideas. You make a garland with 24 little envelopes, each day you open an envelope, and there is a fun family activity described for the day.

As we are going to be waking up in 4 different locations over the course of the advent calendar, we are going to use a single envelope rather than a garland. I will pop a new activity card inside each night. Depending how busy we are, the activities may get a little lame from time to time, e.g. sleep on air mattresses, stay in a hotel, fly to Canada, but we'll do our best.

Here are some of our ideas:
  • Write a letter to Santa
  • Make Christmas Cards
  • Make sugar cookies
  • Decorate sugar cookies
  • Go for a walk in the dark with headlamps
  • Visit Benjamin Tree farm and cut down a Christmas tree
  • Decorate Christmas tree
  • Have a games night
  • Have a movie night with popcorn
  • Go out for dinner
  • Go to see Christmas lights (we may do this twice - downtown Bordeaux and around KW)
  • Take fun family photos
  • Have a lego building competition
  • Make mince pies for Santa (and mum, mostly mum)
  • Make a snowman and/or snowfort
  • Have a snowball fight
  • Take the tram across the river
  • Go ice skating at Pey Berland
  • Go sledding
  • Have a photo slideshow
  • Have a family game of rugby
  • Do a Christmas craft
Can you believe it's the first of December tomorrow? 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cute Poem

Fiacra does lots of poetry in school. I love this one.

Pomme et Poire

Pomme et poire
Dans l'armoire,

Fraise et noix
Dans les bois,

Sucre et pain
Dans ma main,

Et le faiseur de Bêtises
Bien au chaud dans ma chemise

Luc Bérimont

My translation - Apple and pear in the cupboard, strawberry and nuts in the woods, sugar and bread in my hand, and the mischief maker, nice and warm in my shirt.

We were talking about this poem this morning at breakfast. On the walk to school, Fiacra saw a boy from his class and said "he gets puitions (punishments) everyday, I think we're doing that poem because of him." I think this poem applies perfectly to every kid we know.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Working Weekend

We have exactly 2 weeks left in our house. I alternate between feeling like we have so much to do and will never manage to leave, and feeling like we have everything in hand (there may be a correlation with coffee consumption).

This weekend we spent a lot of time at home getting stuff done. We have gone through everything in the house. Anything we are bringing back and won't need in the next 2 weeks is in mine and Connell's bedroom, ready for packing. (Go Connell!!). We have cleaned the whole house, including dislodging our impressive resident spider population and all of their webs.

We are committed to throwing away as little as possible. There was a toy drive a few weeks ago and we dropped off a bunch of toys there. We have donated any clothes we no longer want. Some friends came by last weekend to look at the furniture and they are going to take the shelving units, the stove, our bed, and the outdoor furniture. Our bikes will go to Fiacra's friend's family who were thinking of getting bikes anyway. Which still leaves some furniture, the fridge/freezer, the washer/dryer, all of the kitchen pots and pans etc., and Finian's toys, all of which we will need for the next 2 weeks. If only someone would move into the vacant house next door with young kids and no furniture (more on this in a later post).

The weekend hasn't been all work - we went to our old neighbours' beautiful, newly built, modern style house this afternoon for crepes.

Fiacra and Ailbhe have been great all weekend. They spent all of Saturday morning at their desks  - Fiacra was working on writing math books and Ailbhe drawing and crafting as usual. Fiacra wrote 2 books, "Numbers - my favourite number is pi", and "Equations". I then had to write a report on each of them. The reports were, of course, extremely positive. However the report on the reports not so good, apparently my writing is not quite up to French standards.

This week, I am going to pack the kids' rolley suitcases, which they bring as carry-on. I was looking up our flight information last night and was fairly horrified to see that the flight from Paris to Toronto is over 8 hours. I guess I was thinking in terms of the Ireland - Toronto flight which is 6 hours. I think Fiacra and Ailbhe will be fine, Finian will be a problem. He's not a big fan of sitting still.

I would like to get everything pretty much done this week so that we can have a last fun weekend next weekend.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

4 Weeks To Go

We leave France 4 weeks today. I can't believe we have been here almost a full year already. Since we moved in, we have always referred to this house as home, partly because it felt like home and partly because we wanted Fiacra and Ailbhe to feel settled here rather than in transition for a year. As we get closer to leaving, the idea of home is starting to shift back to Canada for me. I am looking forward to seeing my very good friends dishwasher and van, as well as of course, all our people friends.

With 4 weeks to go, we have
  • Booked our flights back to Canada. We leave Wednesday December 14th. We fly from Bordeaux to Paris at 10am, have a 2 hour stop in Paris, and then fly direct to Toronto. So great flights - costly though. 
  • Given notice on our rental house. In France, rental agreements are typically for 3 years. In order to leave early, the notice period is 3 months. The notice period can be reduced to 1 month for a job transfer which is what we are claiming. To give notice, you must send a letter by registered mail.
  • Booked a hotel for the last 2 nights so that we can finish clearing out and cleaning the house. We will stay at the same hotel as when we first arrived.
  • Booked a van for the last few days to do the final running around and to get our 8 massive bags to the airport.
  • Started packing. All our summer clothes are packed and we are starting to pack items we think we won't need in the next 4 weeks. Of course once something is packed, we need it immediately. I have already pulled back out my running shorts, I had switched to half tights but it has been so warm. About a week ago, I mentioned to Connell that I was going to start packing, he seemed to think this was completely reasonably, so I know I am, in fact, starting WAY TOO LATE. We are rarely in agreement on when packing should begin.
In the next week, we are going to try to get rid of anything we are not using and not bringing back to Canada. There is a Kijiji equivalent in France "le bon coin" which we are going to use.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sunday Run - Churches

When I went for my run yesterday, I brought the camera in a tiny backpack. I decided to run past as many churches as I could. If I had planned a route in advance I think I could have done better, but 9 is pretty good for an hour long run.
Ste Geneviéve

St Nicolas

Ste Eulalie

Cathédrale St-Andre

St Michel

St Pierre

St Remi

St Louis

Notre Dame

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Our Week in the Périgord Noir in Pictures - Part III

Some of the paintings in the Grotte de Rouffignac from a photo found on the web. The majority of paintings are of mammoths. A train takes you 2 km into the cave. There are paintings along the way and a chamber at the end with paintings covering the ceiling.

Finian and I on the train - he started yelling shortly after this and continued for the entire time. 

Ailbhe and Connell on the train.

The village of Saint Léon sur Vézère.

Ailbhe on a walk by the Vézère river.

The Vézère river.

The kids and I on a walk - this was the first time they wore their wellies in France - they jumped in every single puddle and got completely soaked.

A model of the cliffside town of La Roque Saint Christophe, the city of troglodytes - before it was destroyed by the king of France.

The backs of the buildings went into caves.  There was a blacksmith shop, slaughterhouse, smokehouse, church and more.


 A gerbil wheel powered crane - with human gerbils.

Note the double pulley and two descending ropes on this crane. As one rope is pulled up, the other is let down.  This was used to raise water from the bottom of the cliff. (Connell did this section - can you tell?)

Two water buckets hanging from the previous crane.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Our Week in the Périgord Noir in Pictures - Part II

The Château de Castlenaud.

A closer view.

The view from the top of the castle.

 There is a museum of medieval warfare in the castle which was very much enjoyed by two of our party (hint - not by Ailbhe nor I).

 Fiacra loving some weapon.

A model of the 1442 siege on the castle, the French were attacking the English.

The medieval town of Sarlat - I think the nicest town I have ever been in.


The Wednesday market in Sarlat.

The market had the most delicious food including huge cheeses.

We bought the pear chocolate apéritif - Yum!

The market had an impressive amount of foie gras and other duck and goose products. I have to say, I love foie gras.



Fiacra and Ailbhe with some foie gras geese.

Ailbhe, Finian, and Fiacra in a bell tower. It's almost impossible to get these three looking at the camera with their eyes open at the same time.