Monday, 25 February 2013

The snow finally arrives

For the last two days it has been snowing lightly but not settling. Yesterday was freezing cold and did not get above -1. Penelope and James went for a walk and discovered this icicle at our front door. It had formed due to the steam coming out if the exhaust by the heating unit.

Last night we were watching French news and saw the weather forecast. It showed a large snow front directly over Toulouse so we were not surprised to wake up to a gorgeous winter wonderland.

The children had a quick breakfast donned ski gear and headed out.

James has headed off to work while we will stay home and keep warm thankful it is school holidays.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Six months gone

In some ways it is hard to believe that we've been here for six months already but when I think that we have experienced the tail end of summer, Autumn and experienced a northern winter it does feel like half a year.  It is wonderful to see the signs of spring in the air, daffodils in the park, buds on our trees and temperatures rising.  Although like New Zealand, Spring is never a reliable thing and it snowed today, just a flutter but it never got above 0c.  I am looking forward to a warm spring and a hot summer and vow never to do back to back winters again!  We have decided to escape the cold and have booked a trip to Portugal in April.  Chances are it will be warmer here by then but it is still something nice to look forward to.  In my head I love the idea of sitting by the beach for two weeks but the reality with three children and finding it difficult to sit still for very long I knew it wouldn't work.  Instead we are going to fly into Lisbon and stay there for a few nights then have a few nights in Ericeria (thanks to our friends Suzi and Coen for the recommendation) then carry on to Porto.  Our idea is to have a mix of sightseeing and relaxing so hopefully it works!

I have thought alot about home this week and especially Christchurch, firstly with the great news that the government has decided not to close the school that our children went to.  What a great relief it was to wake up on Monday morning and read that it has been decided to keep it open.  The children were delighted to learn that they would have a school to go back to if we end up back in Christchurch.  My heart goes out to those whose local schools are going to close, such a harsh result and surely there could have been a better way?  Christchurch was once again in our thoughts on the 22nd of February as the two year anniversary of the earthquakes.  It was strange not to be there but even though it was an event that changed our lives forever it is really encouraging to hear of friends in new homes and others with new businesses as well as new homes being built.  I watched two different videos about the earthquake.  The first was a tribute to all those that died and showed the harrowing day with collapsed buildings, liquefaction waist deep and huge cracks in the roads, as well as the despair and sorrow on peoples faces.  The second was a news item from Campbell live that was titled  "The best things about Christchurch".  It was so encouraging to hear people saying all the things they love about our beautiful city and how it is rebuilding, yet another reason to return to Christchurch.

Meanwhile our life in France continues.  The children are now on school holidays and I am looking forward to an opportunity for them to rest, have some adventures in Toulouse and further afield as we are going to Nimes next weekend.  The last week of school was much better for Hannah.  She was more settled and was listening and doing what she was asked.  The school educational psychologist is putting together some strategies to facilitate better inclusion so hopefully next term will start off positively and stay that way.  Our next step is for her to start staying for lunchtimes and some longer days so here's hoping.

Since it has been six months since we have been here I have put together a list of some of the things I love about France (I especially need to remember these things when it is so freezing cold outside!!!)
- The food.  Pastries, bread, all things yummy with pastry, chocolate, custard and almonds.  Even the gluten free products are great foccacia bread, baguettes and wraps.  We even had yummy gluten free burgers for tea.  Also the cheese is fantastic and cheap and so many different types.  Not so sure about the skinned rabbits with the eyes still on sitting in the fridge in the supermarket though!!!

-  The people.  The French are so lovely, kind and patient - especially with my very bad French.  I love the way when you go out for dinner often the waiter will sit down and have a glass of wine and a chat with you and then bring out the liqueurs after the bill has been paid.

-  Being able to drive to different countries in just a few hours.

-  The gorgeous villages and castles.

-  No Sunday trading, instead all the shops are closed and Sunday is viewed as a family day.

-  Great cycleways so you don't need to cycle on the road which is just as well since the roads are very narrow.

-  The shops.  I discovered Sephora today which is a cosmetic store selling all sorts of lovely beauty products - a great place for birthday and Christmas presents for NZ friends and family!

Finally I love that I can be out for a walk listening to Christchurch more FM on my ipod and pass men wearing berets, walking their dogs with their baguette under their arm.  Viva la France.

Friday, 15 February 2013

In the system.

When we left new Zealand we were aware that once we arrived we would need to make sure that Hannah's medical needs were accounted for.  Not that she has any major medical issues but she does have a tendency to get glue ear and we had a stage at the start of 2012 where we were going into Christchurch Public Hospital once a week for about two months to have her ears cleaned out.  Her ENT specialist had recommended that when we arrive in France we get her into the public Health care system straight away and get a specialist for her.  Finally after six months she is now in the system.  There is a procedure for everything in France and getting into the hospital system is no exception.  She had to go to the doctor who wrote the name of a specialist on a yellow post-it note (this is the French system for referrals), then I needed to ring the receptionist of the doctor to make the appointment.   All sounds straightforward except for the part where even though the doctor speaks English, the receptionist doesn't.  Luckily our lovely French teacher was able to ring and make the appointment for us.

So on Wednesday we take the post-it note referral to the hospital and we desperately try to find the right floor and office.  Again the receptionist speak no English and just keeping pointing and saying ES, which I later find out means basement.  We wander around looking for the correct department or the Doctor's name and eventually I ask someone (well I show them the name on my post-it note) and she shows us where to go.

We arrive at the doctor's on time but then have to wait for an hour to be seen.  I am starting to get a bit frustrated and am aware of my car parked in the supermarket car park hoping it doesn't get towed away, also that Hannah needs to get back to school as the educational psychologist is coming to observe her.  Finally the lovely Dr comes and gets us and remarks on Hannah's blue t-tubes in her ears and says shouldn't they be black, isn't everything in NZ black.  Then goes on to tell me why the All Blacks are the greatest rugby team in the world.  He cleans her ears out then says that if we have any problems to ring the clinic and they will be able to see her any time - yah we're in the system!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

16 years

On Friday James and I had our 16th wedding anniversary. We had been out to dinner on the Wednesday night as we went to a welcome to toulouse evening at the town hall. The Toulouse town hall is the Capitol building which is a beautiful historical building in the centre of the town. It was a nice gathering with champagne and meeting other expats as well as being able to admire the beautiful surroundings without getting dragged along by children.

We decided to go out for dinner afterwards and so headed to the restaurant Le Bistrot which I had read about on trip advisor and it was highly recommended. After getting a bit lost initially we consulted google maps and found it. It was a small bistro run by a brother and sister. He was the maitre'd and waiter and she was the chef. It was a great find and had the best creme brûlée!

I had duck breast on aberguine and James had pigs trotters!

Then on Friday we went to the movies. It was the first time I had been to the movies in France and even though the movie was in VO (original version) the subtitles were in French! We saw silver lining play book which was great. Am looking forwards to going to see les miserables which comes out here tomorrow so much later then in NZ.

On Saturday James and Jasper had another go at skiing. They hired the gear locally then drove up to the field of Le mourtis in the Pyrenees just for the day. It is a much smaller field then Ax and very family friendly. The weather was good and Jasper had a lesson in the afternoon so James had two hours by himself. Jasper got going really well and enjoys skiing - he just needs to learn to turn and stop a bit more often!

The girls and I had a lovely morning at home mucking around then headed to an indoor playground after lunch. Very similar to ones in NZ and Hannah had a blast on the climbing frames and the disco! Penelope was a bit put off by all the French kids with their matching vests (if the children are in a party then they all have the same coloured vest). By the end of it though she had explored a bit and loved the little merry go round and elastic band tower.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 4 February 2013

James turns 40

To celebrate James turning 40, as well as having gone out for dinner with friends the previous weekend, we decided to go to the French Pyrenees for a weekends skiing. We took the kids out of school at lunch time and had a yummy birthday lunch at home and birthday cake of course.

We then packed the car and headed off to Ax-les-thermes, which is about an hour and a half away. It was a beautiful day and we ended up driving straight up to the resort. It was lovely and warm and not very crowded. We found the ski school and booked the kids in for lessons the following day and then went and hired our skis and put them in the storage room at the mountain. Jasper wanted to have a ski right then but as we weren't in our ski pants decided not to.

We then drove down the access road to the village and found our apartment. It was modern, clean and tidy but was pretty much just a roof over our heads. We had to bring our own linen and had to clean it ourselves, which I knew, but it did surprise me that they didn't provide anything at all for cleaning and no toilet paper. Luckily I had learned this when we stayed at Roses and had put in spray and wipe and dish wash detergent plus tea towels. The other funny thing is that in every French motel room there is a coffee machine and a salad spinner but no kettle or toaster!

As it was a special day we headed into Ax and found a great restaurant which was empty when we arrived and full when we left ( we were put in the window partly I think to draw in the crowds). We had the speciality of fondue, and got a chesse and a meat one, which was fantastic. I don't know what OSH would say about the pan of boiling oil sitting on our table over a open flame for us to cook our meat in, but it was great fun.

The forecast had been for snow for the weekend so we knew that the weather wasn't going to be great but we hadn't really realised how bad it was going to be. On saturday we decided to catch the cable car up the mountain and got in the wrong queue for a start as we had to buy our tickets then queue up again to go on the cable car. We got a ticket lady who spoke English but she ended up selling us all gondola and lift passes and we only wanted gondola passes for the children - so it was an expensive ride up the mountain. When we arrived at the mountain, it was windy and snowing. The kids all put on their skis and Penelope and Jasper did really well but Hannah found it hard and cried.

They had a good play and ski and then we went and met some friends for lunch who were coming up for the day. We had a nice lunch although Penelope complained about having to have steak hache (hamburger) and chips again - the joy of being gluten free. I had an amazing tart, which was like a flat bread with onion, cheese and ham on it but the size of a pizza.

Penelope and Jasper had a group lesson at 1.30 so James took them to that then went for a ski and I stayed with Hannah. She had had enough of skiing so I cancelled her individual lesson. Hannah and I went and checked on Penelope after about 45 minutes and found her sitting in a heap crying and distressed. The instructor said Penelope had found the conditions a bit hard with being blown around and snow in her eyes. We went to a cafe and had a drink and recovered. She was such a brave little solider and got back on her skis for a bit more of a go. She has told me though that she is not a ski type of girl! Despite me not taking my cell phone and James searching for me for about half an hour with no joy we all managed to eventually meet up. James collected jasper from his lesson. He had done very well and the instructor said he was ready to go up on the chair lift the next day. James and jasper found us in the storage room and James had had a good ski although said that going up on the chair lift was the coldest he'd been in his life!

We headed down in the gondola after waiting in the queue for about ten minutes in the blizzard - not nice! Hannah cried the whole way down the hill and we all arrived back at the apartment very tired.

We woke on Sunday to more snow and decided not to go skiing. We still had our ski gear to return so James headed to the cable car to go back up the mountain at 8.30. The mountain was closed due to conditions however, so he went to the ski school office at the cable station and he was able to sort it all out there.

The road was very icey and we were very thankful for the snow chains we had borrowed from friends as we would have been stuck in the apartment car park otherwise. By 10am the wind had stopped and it was only snowing slightly so jasper, Penelope and I decided to walk into the village while James and Hannah drove.

On our walk in we had found a great hill for sledding so we met up with James and Hannah and went and hired a sled then headed back to the hill. We had a great time playing in the snow having snow ball fights and sledding.

We then headed back into town finding some hot springs on the way to warm our hands up in.

We found a great little takeaway that did hot frites and I had a kebab sandwich with frites which was a bun filled with kebab beef, salad and sauce topped with hot chips - yum! I think everyone else was a bit jealous but I shared my meat.

We headed home just as the sun was coming out and everyone was joining the queue for the cable car and got home about 2.30.

A great weekend although next time we will listen to jasper and ski when the sun shines even if it is at 4pm and we have to change into our ski clothes and just have a go on the learners slopes - free. By the way I didn't get to use my skis or lift pass - maybe next time!

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad