Wednesday, May 25, 2011


We hadn't planned on getting bikes, we really are trying to minimize what we buy, even though it doesn't seem like it sometimes. Recently though, Fiacra started asking for a bike and in the end we decided to get some. Connell got a little bike for Ailbhe from a colleague at work and we bought a new bike for Fiacra and a bike for Connell and I to share. We started to look for secondhand bikes but since we don't have a car, it seemed like it would take more time than it was worth.

Ailbhe had training wheels on her bike last summer in Canada but didn't really ride it very much. I wasn't sure how she would do with no training wheels, but when Ailbhe decides she is going to do something, there is no stopping her. She hopped up on her bike, biked across the courtyard, and hasn't stopped since.

Ailbhe and Connell bike to school and work everyday. We've biked to the swimming pool, the Sunday market, and along the bike path by the river. We definitely made the right decision on getting bikes.

The kids are so happy with their bikes. Fiacra's is shiny new and has gears which he loves. Ailbhe's is cute but not shiny new and has no gears. She has never compared her bike to Fiacra's and found hers lacking. In fact, she has said many times "I love my bike". If the situation was reversed I'm not sure we would be living in such harmony. She declared at dinner yesterday, "When we go back to Canada, I will be taking my bike with me."

I love my bike too and have been out for some long rides. You can go so much further on a bike than running and there are lots of bike paths here. There is a bike path from Bordeaux to Lacanau, it's about 70km, I want to do it by the end of the summer and have Connell and the kids pick me up at the beach. Summer visitors, who's up for it?

I went for a ride on Monday night, rode for about an hour, ended up on the bike path by the river in Downtown Bordeaux and then noticed I had a flat tire, totally flat. If it had happened even 20 minutes earlier it would have taken me forever to get home. I was close to a tram stop and just jumped on with my bike. I had no tram ticket but if an inspector tried to fine me, I was planning on using Ailbhe's respone when we ask her to do a chore she isn't interested in doing, "Oh no thanks".

Now we are thinking of getting a second bike for Connell and I and a bike seat for Finian.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


In the first quarter of this year, Bordeaux and the surrounding area has only had 26% of its usual rainfall. We found this out only the other day, but we have commented many times on the lack of rain. There are some things we have been saving for a rainy day, like the science center, that we just keep on saving. Fiacra is starting to get a little disgruntled at this stage.

On Friday afternoon, it made up at least a couple of percent of its rain. Connell and I (and Finian) were meeting for a beer. Just at the meeting time, the rain started, Finian and I were under an awning on one side of the road and I saw Connell run under an awning on the other side. The rain was torrential but Connell braved it to cross over to us. We were about 100 metres from the place we had planned on going but ended up staying under the awning for another half an hour, while the rain turned to hail, then bigger hail, then back to rain.

Sometime during the half an hour, I remembered I had a load of laundry "drying" on the drying rack outside, and the quilt from our bed was also outside "drying". Hmm. And I had left the bedroom windows open, and the sliding door in the front room wide open. There was quite a mess when we got home. This is what happens when there is 26% of the normal rainfall, you never expect it to rain.

First Fireworks

On Saturday I took Fiacra to see fireworks for the first time. Our kids usually go to bed fairly early, and so we had never gone to fireworks before. In fact, our kids are rarely outside after dark. The fireworks started at 11:00pm, just down the road from where we live.

We put the kids to bed and told Fiacra and Ailbhe that we would wake them for the fireworks. Ailbhe always takes ages to fall asleep and that night was no different. Around 9:00 she appeared and asked if it was time to go. Eventually though, she fell asleep.

At 10:40 I went up to wake them. It was hard to wake Fiacra; he kept lying down again. But I got him up. Ailbhe just couldn't wake up though. Eventually, I went with just Fiacra.

When we got there, we saw a tree with some coloured lights hanging from it. Fiacra thought maybe they were fireworks. I realized then, that he had no idea what fireworks look like. I told him that if he saw something and thought that maybe it was what we were there for, then it wasn't what we were there for; instead, when he saw the fireworks he would know that they were definitely what we had come to see. A rather abstract, vague description, but I didn't want to ruin the surprise then.

A few minutes later, there was a huge BANG and the first firework was launched. The noise scared him, but he liked how it looked. Then nothing for the next few minutes. When it started again, it wasn't as loud and went non-stop for 15 minutes. It was a delight to see how excited he was. Each different type was brand new for him. He loved it. And I loved that.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Before we left Canada, we called Visa to let them know that we would be in France for a year. We have heard stories of people on vacation who suddenly had their card cancelled because Visa deemed their vacation to be irregular activity, and we didn't want it to happen to us.

We are going on vacation with my sister and her family next month. We will be staying in mobile homes in a campsite by the beach. My four year old nephew, Jack, has been looking forward to his two weeks off school since February. I booked and paid a deposit for both families 2 months ago but the final payments were due this week. I made both final payments by Visa one after another. A few hours later, I got a confirmation email that the our mobile home was fully paid for, but no email about my sister's.  I emailed them to ask about it.

At dinner that evening, Connell mentioned that his Visa card was refused twice during the day. We didn't think too much of it. Yesterday, my card was refused in the grocery store with a cart load of groceries and only 40 Euros in my wallet. I tried to take out cash using my Canadian bank card but the machine in the grocery store wouldn't accept foreign cards. I couldn't pay with my French bank card because I don't know the pin number. (I must actually open that envelope). So I asked could I return items until the bill was below 40 Euros. There was a lot of grumbling from the man in the line behind me. I can only assume he wasn't French. I chose what I wanted to give back and eventually left the store.

When I got home, I at least had the satisfaction of calling Visa to yell at them. It seems that having two payments so close together to the campsite was flagged as irregular and a stop put on our cards. I tried again to make the final payment for Jack's mobile home and this time got the confirmation email.

Visa, you were lucky this time. Don't mess with Jack's time off school again.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Our French

By the end of the year, I would like to speak fairly decent French. I have French language Cd's and books and there are tons of resources on the Internet, I just need to actually do the work. So, I am committing myself to at least half an hour of French study a day. I've done this for almost a week now and it is making a difference.

Last week, Connell and I started French lessons with a high school teacher. She comes to our house for an hour and a half every Thursday morning while Finian is napping (that's the plan Finian - napping on a Thursday morning from 10 until 11:30, okay?). These lessons will hopefully help us a lot.

I would love to spend some time in Fiacra and Ailbhe's classrooms and see how their French is. Fiacra says that he knows much more French now than when we arrived and that he can understand teacher almost all the time. He has started pronouncing his school friend Lauchlan's name with a French accent, presumably following how the other kids pronounce it, even though this is a name he is very familiar with. He seems fairly comfortable speaking French.

Fiacra had done 3 months of partial French immersion in school in Canada before we left. It will be interesting to see how his French compares to the rest of his class when he rejoins them. He will have spent a year in a French school but with no concessions made for his not speaking French. He learns what he manages to pick up himself. His Canadian class on the other hand, are immersed in French every morning, but with the understanding that they do not speak French, so their teacher puts a lot of effort into helping them understand what she is saying.

Ailbhe is now starting to say some words in French. Her teacher says that she is sure that Ailbhe can understand her, but that Ailbhe doesn't speak a lot. That's Ailbhe though, when she starts at a new school or daycare it takes her a long time to open up. I would say she is shy, but shy show how implies uncomfortable or ill at ease and she is neither.  She is very confident and independent and now (after 4 months) she is starting to speak more and play more at school.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I Knew It - Cleaning is Bad for You

Ailbhe, Finian, and I sat outside for lunch yesterday. When I started to clean up, I realized we were running a little late to get Ailbhe back to school on time. I rushed inside with an armload of dishes, dropped them in the sink, and ran to get the rest. Ailbhe was standing beside the large sliding double door. "We need to get going Ail..", CRASH - I slammed into the door. For some reason, Ailbhe had quietly slid the door closed. That hurt. I had obviously done way too good a job cleaning the glass in the morning. Sometimes a little dirt is a good thing.

Perfect Mother's Day

Mother's Day in France (la Fete des Meres) is actually the last Sunday in May but since Finian and I will be  arriving back from Ireland that afternoon, we decided to celebrate Mother's Day yesterday, as in Canada. I had a great Mother's Day.

The kids woke me up with presents they had made. When I came downstairs, they had breakfast all laid out. After breakfast, Fiacra and I biked to the Sunday market (we have bikes now!!) and bought fruit, vegetables, bread, and cheese. We had a nice lunch sitting outside on our new patio set (no end to the spending in this house). 

In the afternoon, we took the tram downtown. The Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle (Saint James Way) goes through downtown Bordeaux, passes the building Connell works in and continues to Talence, where we live. We followed it through the historic center of Bordeaux and had a really nice walk. We got home just in time for dinner which I had made the night before, delicious beef bourguignon.

My kind of day.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Congested Baby

Finian has a cold, picked up from Ailbhe. For now at least, his cold has stayed a cold and for once not morphed into a chest infection or a throat infection. Yesterday, he was really congested so before he went to bed, we did everything we could think of to reduce the congestion. And what do you know, it worked, he slept really well.

We turned the shower on hot with the bathroom door closed and sat with Finian in the steam for 10 minutes. Straight after this, we used a saline nasal mist and then an aspirator. We rubbed Gardener's Dream Cream on his chest and the soles of his feet, and we put a flat pillow under one end of his crib mattress so that his head was elevated.

We did all of this again tonight, hopefully he will sleep well again.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Another Haircut

At last, I got my hair cut. I had an appointment for a haircut the week we left Canada, but I had inadvertently made an appointment for the same time with my dentist. The dentist appointment won and somehow, in the last four months, I just haven't had my hair cut.

I think it was partly reluctance to go to a hairdresser in France, and I did toy with the idea of waiting until I'm in Ireland in 3 weeks time, but in the end (and after using the kids as guinea pigs) I decided to get a haircut this morning. I'm glad I did and have to get better at just doing things here and using my crappy French.

Next up - a visit to the optometrist.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fully Moved In

It took a while, but on Tuesday, May 3 - exactly four months after arriving in France - we were finally fully moved in. Tuesday was when we finally got our poubelles. In Bordeaux, the city supplies a garbage can and a recycling bin (jointly called poubelles) for putting out on the street. These seem to be the proper way to get your garbage picked up.

It took us nearly a month to find a house to live in. We started to get settled and then went to Ireland for two weeks. So, it was about two months after we arrived when I finally phoned the central office to request poubelles. Unfortunately, all I got was an automated system that I couldn't understand. I randomly pushed buttons on my phone until it let me leave a message. I don't know who I left the message for, but he did not bring us any poubelles. Jerk!

A couple of weeks later, I went to the central office. It was a huge administrative building - they do more than just poubelles. Inside the main door, the security guard took my ID and gave me a temporary visitor's security pass. Then he walked me across the wide open atrium to an isolated desk with a receptionist. She heard my sad story, wrote a letter on my behalf and told me I would receive poubelles within 72 hours. No such luck.

Six weeks later, we returned from a week in the Pyrenees and found poubelles inside our locked gate. The gate and wall are six feet high, so I'm not sure how they got in. We rejoiced and started using them.

A few days later, a poubelle agent came to visit. Apparently, these poubelles weren't for us, but were for the new neighbours who had moved in while we were away. Eventually he left.

A couple of days later, the woman next door knocked, suggesting that we might have her poubelles. I gave them to her and she offered to phone the central office for us. This was terrific. After a few minutes she said the bins would arrive before the weekend - or Monday at the latest. No such luck.

On Tuesday they did arrive. Hurray!

When we read the labels on them, we noticed that the labels include our exact address and our name. And I'm sure the neighbours' poubelles had their address and name too. Whoops!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Baking with Boys

The kids were off school today. I wanted to make gougeres (cheese puffs) this morning while Finian was napping. I had assumed that Ailbhe would bake with me and Fiacra would play by himself, but it turned out that Ailbhe was busy working on Mothers' day presents and so Fiacra decided he would help instead. Ailbhe is a great baker, very careful, wants to follow the recipe exactly, and is quite neat. Baking with Fiacra is a lesson in Constance Vigilance. He always starts a science experiment on the side (today was inventing a type of mud no-one knows about yet - does the world need a new type of mud?). Every single egg in the box (regardless of how many we actually need) is tested to make sure it's not gone off and since he's so good at cracking eggs, he feels he shouldn't be restricted by the number of eggs called for in the recipe. I am generally okay for a while but when the mess starts getting too big and he is insisting on putting his concoction in the oven, I am kinda done.

The mess today was so big I didn't even insist on him helping to clean up, knowing that would inevitably lead to a bigger mess. Instead he leapt off his seat to practise battling and managed to convince Ailbhe to practise with him. I knew it would end badly (for Ailbhe) and sure enough after 5 minutes I could hear her say "I want to play by myself for a while, I WANT TO PLAY BY MYSELF". He moved seamlessly from practising battling to playing Harry Potter. "Who are you?" he said to Ailbhe, "I'm your sister", " no, you're Hermione". Next up, defense of the courtyard against Mum and Dad, the rallying cry "Ailbhe, gather as many weapons as possible" and so it continues all day. ALL DAY.

When we were in the Pyrenees, Richy, the owner of the place we were staying, was having a hard time remembering Fiacra's name, so was calling him Firecracker. It's a perfect nickname for him.

Firecracker making mud

Sunday, May 1, 2011


A Day in School - By Fiacra

Fiacra was very happy with the blog post of his photos and wanted to do some more posts. He came up with this idea by himself, that he would describe a school day so that our friends in Canada would know what a French school was like. This is exactly as he dictated it. All I did was prompt him now and then with "and what happened next?". He is working on photos of Finian for another post.

Morning (9 - 12)
We played tag while we were waiting for everyone to come. The bell rang. We lined up. Our teacher came and we went inside. We got our coats off and sat in our desks. We practised our play. We got a piece of paper full of work to do. We had to read about 20 paragraphs in FRENCH, and then read the questions and find the answer in the 20 paragraphs.

We went outside and played Cache, Cache, Trap AGAIN, that means tag plus hide and seek. The bell rang, we lined up, teacher came, we went in. She told us what we were going to do today. Teacher said some equations, if she picked you and you answered right, you got to give out the red books.  We did our red book, we wrote the date, we wrote the time, we wrote the temperature, we did our writing. We got a little piece of paper that we had to do. Then we did the yellow book, this is our homework book. Then we read Justine which IS our homework.

Lunch (12 - 2)
The bell rings, everyone finishes their work. Everyone puts on their coats. The people that go to the canteen go outside and run to the canteen. We line up and then go in. We go down the stairs, take our coats off, hang them up and then go into the canteen. We get our trays and fill them up with our food and then we pick a chair, sit down and eat. When you're finished, you put your tray in the trolley and then line up. We go up the stairs, outside and then we play Cache, Cache, Trap for a little. Then an adult joined in and lots of other kids. After that another teacher came and we played Sharks and Minnows. We waited for the kids that went home to come, the bell rang, we lined up, our teacher came, we went in, and sat down at our desks.

Afternoon (2 - 5)
We got our workbook, did some stuff in that, got our main workbook did some stuff in that. Then we did a math page. There was a chicken split into lots of different areas like the head, the neck, the body, the feet, and in every spot, it had an equation. Then we had to do the equation and on the side there were lots of different numbers and colours that went with them. We had to figure out the equation, then find which number it was, then find the colour it went with and then colour in that part with the colour. We went outside, and played tag. The bell rang, we lined up, our teacher came, we went in, we went to our desks and sat down. We finished the chicken paper. We did our yellow book, we wrote down our homework. We went to the middle of the classroom and sat down. Teacher read us a story about the Romans that was real. Then we got our backpacks and went home.

Connell and I have been wondering how Fiacra is doing in school. We haven't really had any feedback from his teacher at all. When Fiacra described reading 20 paragraphs in French and answering questions, I was surprised. I'm not sure he would be able to do this in English. He was very vague when I asked him about it. I asked him if he was able to understand the story about the Romans and he said he was. He brought home a test he had done in school on Friday which had both French language and math and he had done really well. So we are assuming he is doing fine. I hope he is.


We have always taken Fiacra and Ailbhe to Cookie Cutters to get their hair cut. At Cookie Cutters, you get to choose something fun to sit on and a movie to watch. The balloon and lollipop afterwards are eagerly anticipated and are an extra incentive for good behaviour. It's not cheap though and having both their hair cut cost over $40.

Once Fiacra turned 5, we made the arbitrary declaration, "once you are 5 you no longer go to Cookie Cutters". Fiacra is generally accepting of these "rules" and so off to the barber shop Fiacra and Daddy go.

A week or two before this, Fiacra had fallen out of a bag of soil (a giant bag of soil), head-first onto the driveway and had cut his head. The barber, when combing his hair, must have accidentally lifted the scab. There were accusations flying that the barber had intentionally cut him with the scissors and our hothead stormed out. Unfortunately, this happened half-way through the haircut so our standard refrain of short at the back and sides, longer on top became, short on top and longer at the back and sides. He looked like Friar Tuck. I was a little surprised by this new style when they got home. I made a valiant attempt to finish the haircut but in the end, we sheepishly returned to Cookie Cutters.

There is no Cookie Cutters equivalent around Bordeaux and both Fiacra and Ailbhe desperately needed haircuts. We went to the hairdresser nearest us and they both had the works, shampoo, cut, and blow-dry. They were fantastic and never even mentioned the missing balloon and lollipop. The only thing they weren't crazy about was the big dog wandering around, until it became obvious that the dog was terrified of Finian's rattle and was hiding under Fiacra's seat to get away from it. They loved that.

Sorry Cookie Cutters, no more business from us.

Oh wait - we have a third child. He will probably need his first haircut in France anyway so we will wait and see how that goes.