Saturday, 29 September 2012

A night out

Last night James and I had our first night out in France without kids.  We had organised a babysitter through a great facebook site for expats in Toulouse.  James had been offered tickets to the opening of the art exhibition "airbus through the eyes of Tony Soulie".  It was part of the arts festival and quite a big event.  We arrived and were greeted with Champagne and nibbles and then wandered around the exhibition looking at photos of planes.  We got our free poster and got the artist to sign it and then wandered back to the car.  We had decided to go out for dinner after the exhbition but discovered that the area where the gallery was was not that nice and so got back in the car and drove to the centre of Toulouse 5 minutes away.  We parked in a very cool car park that was just a spiral that went higher and higher with very tiny parks.  When we came to park our 7 seater we discovered why some cars had taken up two parks.  Car parks in Toulouse are generally fairly small but these were narrow and short and angled so needless to say even though James parked perfectly we still took up two parks!

We walked down the stairs and came out onto this very busy, bustling street crammed with cafes and bars.  James thought he knew of a square we were near so we headed for that.  After walking past numerous delicious looking cafes we found a town map and got chatting to a lovely French guy who said the square we were heading for was a bit of a walk and suggested we go back to the street we had just walked down.  We turned around and found a lovely cafe right outside the car parking building!  Everyone eats very late in France so finding food at 9.30pm was not a problem.  The cafe was very French, straight out of a movie and the waitress spoke great English, but when she found out we were living here she said that next time I go back I need to be able to order my meal in French - so that's a good challenge.  The food was beautiful, I got the Southern France speciality which is duck and James had a steak (the best so far in France). A lovely evening out.

We decided that we would just have a quiet day today, so spent the morning chatting to people back home via the telephone and skype.  After lunch we headed for a local forest for a walk.  It apparently has lots of good mountain bike tracks in it so I think James was wanting to check them out for when he gets his bike in five weeks.  The walk was pretty boring really and we headed back to the car feeling a bit dissappointed and then we saw a sign to a lake so decided to take a look.  Even though the lake was not for swimming it was still a lovely little spot, and we walked right around the lake and walked back to the car feeling like we had had a successful outing after all.

We then had a bit of a drive around some local villages went to the supermarket and headed home.  James has gone out to the rugby tonight.  A work colleague from New Zealand is travelling around France with his wife and has been in Toulouse.  James got tickets for the rugby from work so has taken them with him, which should be fun.  It is raining so I am very happy to be at home.

Our other news is that we have found a lovely lady to be Hannah's teacher aide.  She is a mum who is looking to get back into the workforce and is keen on education.  She seems very suitable so fingers crossed that the school now accepts Hannah's application and she can start as soon as possible.  Hannah will just do mornings to start as the school wants a full time teacher aide which would be too expensive plus we think it is unnecessary as Hannah has never had full time support.  Once she starts hopefully the school will see how good she is and we will be able to extend her hours.  Hannah enjoys the homeschooling and is such a hard wee worker but she misses Jasper and Penelope terribly and is quite lonely.  I am getting a car (yes it's just little) next week so hopefully that will help as her and I will be able to go out on adventures together.  Toulouse is a city where you need a car as the public transport system is quite poor.  It is a bit like Auckland where everyone drives everywhere and there is heaps of traffic.

We have recently installed BBC TV onto our computer so we can watch English TV so I might check out what's on tonight.  The screen is very small but better then watching tele in French.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The letter I wrote to Hekia this morning

Dear Mrs Parata

I am writing to say that I think that your decision to close Ouruhia Model School in Christchurch along with many of the other schools you are proposing to close in Christchurch is wrong.  My family have recently moved to France with my husbands work but up until 5 weeks ago my three children were attending Ouruhia Model School.  Our contract in France is for two years and then we had been intending on going back to Christchurch and to Ouruhia Model School.  Our children aged 10, 9 and 7 all attended Ouruhia since they were 5 years old and we loved the small, family orientated rural setting.  I am a teacher and have taught in many schools in New Zealand and England and also taught part time at Ouruhia and I can honestly say it would be one of the best schools I have worked in.  It has kind caring staff and wonderful families who have all chosen to send their children to Ouruhia because it is small and family focused and the children get different opportunities to other schools.  As I'm sure you know Ouruhia goes right through to year 8 and at the first Christmas concert I attended the thing that amazed me was how every student in Year 7 and 8 was on the stage singing, acting or preforming in some way - part of the school culture and expectations.  What an amazing thing to have every 12 and 13 year old boy and girl up on stage and what an amazing role model to set.  Ouruhia children are special kids, every second Wednesday North Canterbury Sports would come out and coach the children on a variety of different sports.  It would often occur while I was teaching and I would get chatting to the coaches.  They said several times how Ouruhia was one of their favourite schools to come to as the kids were so well behaved and were great kids and always enjoyed the activities.

Personally, Ouruhia Model School has been a godsend.  Our daughter Hannah who is 10 years old has Down Syndrome and when we made the decision to send her to our local school, Ouruhia, we were delighted with the welcome.  Mark Ashmore-Smith welcomed us and Hannah and has always done all he can to get Hannah the best support possible.  Things that have been problems, such as .1 support, discrimination, segregation, for some of my friends with children with Down Syndrome at other schools have never been a problem for us.  A friend of mine who was having issues with her daughters school came out to Ouruhia to talk to Hannah's teacher and teacher aide to see how things could be done differently and was amazed with the support Hannah received and how beautifully she was accepted.  I would say that how Hannah was treated at Ouruhia was the perfect example of how inclusive education in New Zealand should work and was an example to other schools.

Part of Ouruhia's special character is it open, loving accepting nature.  It may not be a big school but parents deserve to have a choice where to send their children especially when for the majority of families it is the closest school to them.  Most children know all the other children and most parents would know the other families.  New parents are welcomed warmly and included instantly in all school activities.

No one knows better then the people of Christchurch the devastating affect of the earthquakes and how it affects every person every day in all that they do from not being able to open windows in your house to driving down bumpy, pot holed filled roads to no longer being able to go to the closest aquatic centre for swimming lessons.  The people of Christchurch are very aware of how the earthquakes have changed the city and live on edge every single moment of every day as to when or if another earthquake will come.  The first thing my children said when we told them we were moving to France was "Do they have earthquakes" then they wanted to know what other natural disasters France has.  It was nice to be able to tell them France has no natural disasters really.  For the National government to deliver another uncertainty, another change is cruel and unnecessary.  I know people have left Christchurch due to the earthquakes and like us for other reasons but the people that have chosen to stay and support our wonderful city deserve some certainty and normality.  Everything else has changed, the roads, people's homes, local shops, Churches have all been destroyed, lost or changed but the local school has been the constant and the rock for so many of our Christchurch communities. Please don't destroy this as well as I think if you do people won't return to Christchurch and will continue to leave.

My stand out memory among many wonderful memories of Ouruhia was on the first anniversary of the February 23rd when we had a minutes silence and the whole school stood in a circle and held hands.  After the minutes silence Jocelyn Murray the Deputy Principal said a prayer and was thankful for our wonderful school and the safe haven that it was for all the children and parents on that fateful day a year ago.  Such a precious place and such precious people.

Thank you for reading and hearing my concerns.

Yours sincerely

Rachel Lonsdale

Sunday, 23 September 2012

A weekend away

James and I thought that it would be nice to get away for the weekend, so after much researching on where to go and where it was going to be hot and sunny we decided to head to the Atlantic coast.  We were a bit unsure as google maps said it was 300km away and would take over 3 hours but in the end we decided that it would be worth it.

We headed off bright and early at 8am Saturday morning and got on the toll roads and arrived at our first town of Bayonne at 10.45am.  Such amazing roads and pretty cool to see all the gorgeous French towns as we're flying past at 130km an hour.

 The view up to the Abbey
 Looking into the Abbey square at Bayonne
 Flags fluttering
Bayonne undercover market

Bayonne is stunning, beautiful cobbled streets all leading up to the abbey, with flags flying between the buildings, plus it is famed for its chocolate - which of course we had to try.  We found a lovely market where we bought some ham and then carried on to our next destination 5 minutes up the road, Biarritz.  Biarritz is a seaside town so we walked down the stone path to the sea and along the esplande to find somewhere for lunch.  We sat at a lovely cafe and enjoyed a spanish influenced meal and while we waited for our food the kids played on the beach.
 Walking down to the seaside of Barritz
 Waiting for our lunch
 Jasper with the sandcastle he built
James being clever with his new iphone!

We then walked along the town wall above the beach and walked over an ancient bridge to an island.  We walked back to the car via the main street which was crowded.  A lot of the shops had put their wares outside on tables like a market.  It was very cool and made it tempting to shop but with three tired children it wasn't worth it.  We discovered that this part of France love rugby and there were heaps of rugby shops.  we bought Jasper and Adidas All Blacks t shirt for 30 euros which was a bit of a bargain.

Finally to our destination, St Jean De Luz, another 10kms down the coast.  We had found a great campsite on the web so booked on Friday.  Unfortunately when we arrived we discovered that the email we had got back from them didn't confirm our booking as we had thought but instead had said that they were full and we were on the waiting list.  The joys of not being able to read French!  James managed to sweet talk the receptionist and she found us a cabin.  It was very hot so we all got into our togs and walked to the camp pool and jumped in.  the pool was awesome with water slides and was warm and safe.  James and I sat on the loungers and relaxed while the kids enjoyed the water - James even had a wee nap!

 Penelope and I on the water slides.
Penelope sunbathing.
After a dinner of baguettes we walked down to the beach.  Jasper still had his swim shorts on so took off his t-shirt and raced into the waves.  Hannah and Penelope then decided to go in as well even though they were in their clothes!!  It was so lovely and warm that it didn't matter they were wet and didn't have towels they just dryed off on the walk back to the camp ground.
Before the kids strip off and jump into the surf!
After a very hot night we got up early cleaned our cabin and headed into St Jean De Luz.  It wasn't as hot today but still nice enough for a swim and a play on yet another gorgeous beach.  I managed to zip away to get a coffee while the kids played in the water and James supervised.  The water here is famed for its theraputic qualities and therefore there were lots of older people relaxing in the water until our three noisy kids arrived at 10.30am and spoilt it for them.  One lady looked at Hannah with absolute disdain and then got out 10mins later!

It started to get a bit windy so we got changed and headed into the township.  Lots of shops were open which was nice since it was a Sunday and we had a good look around.  We walked right through the town to the fishing port where there was a Spanish band playing in the square - gorgeous!!
 Penelope in St Jean De Luz.
 Chocolate too good to resist!
The Spanish band.
The port of St-Jean-De-Luz
We could see a castle from the beach so decided to drive around to it and have our lunch there.  The castle was actually a bit rundown and probably more dramatic from a distance but  the view from it gave us an amazing view of the coast line right down to Spain.

Walking the castle wall.

We decided we had probably done enough so headed for home.  Such a big weekend with lots of walking and sightseeing as well as a long drive but the kids have done us proud.  So flexible and keen to look at new things and explore even when things don't work out quite as we might have planned.  I think it has been great to have a mix of things that James and I want to do plus things for the kids.  We have also started a list of things we need to take with us in the future.  We arrived home at 5.15pm, content, tired and fill of lovely memories.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Hannah's schooling

James and I seem to be having a crash course in French bureaucracy and French law with trying to get Hannah into the international school.  We received a letter last week from the school board saying that Hannah's application was rejected but we could reapply when we had suitable one to one teacher aide.  We thought that I could volunteer as the teacher aide until we found someone so wrote a letter back asking if I could volunteer.  We got another letter back saying that under French law even though IST is a school it is considered a business and under French law it is not possible for someone to volunteer in a school.   Both James and I thought this was rather strange as in NZ we have parent help and volunteers in schools all the time.  We have later found out that in France they do not have any parent helpers ever as the theory  is that if you need to get some to volunteer to do a job you could be employing someone so therefore someone is being done out of a paid job.  I think in NZ if we did away with volunteers in businesses the whole economy would collapse!

At this point we were both getting fed up with email so decided to go and talk to the school.  Basically they said that we need to find a teacher aide, probably through an agency would be easiest then James' work can employ them through that agency and they can work at the school.  This is probably easiest for everyone as that way if the person doesn't work out the agency can replace them.  Also, I was worried about James and I employing someone independently when we have no idea how to do that in France.  At least with an agency they will handle all the taxes etc for us.  It was a good meeting and I feel we are moving forward.  The principal is lovely and I do think if it was up to her she would have Hannah there in a heartbeat but we just have to go through the process that has been set out for us.  We are use to this as in order to get funding for special needs children in NZ you have to also go down all the proper channels.   Apart from socially I don't feel like Hannah is missing out educationally.  The work from the correspondence school is fantastic and she works really well at home and is making progress.  She is such a hard little worker and is a bright wee button especially with her maths and spelling.  Yesterday when we were walking to school I asked her what her favourite part of the morning was Maths, spelling, reading or writing and she said morning tea - so she's just a regular kid really!!

There are still no guarantees she will be accepted into IST but if we find a teacher aide we like and then still get rejected we will use that TA to support Hannah at home.  It would be great if Hannah can go to school even just half days.  We are trying to get 15 hours a week and then hopefully when she's in the school and they realise she doesn't need full time support she can start staying longer.  We just need to get her in the door!!

It is another beautiful day here so I guess our PE lesson will be swimming!!  Hannah has come on so well with her swimming and is swimming lengths now - little superstar!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

A day out in Toulouse

After a few stressful days with finding out our lovely school back in new Zealand has been earmarked for closure as well as getting a letter from the International School of Toulouse saying that they can't offer Hannah a place unless she has a full time teacher aide - which we have to employ, we decided to head into Toulouse for some sightseeing.

We parked in an underground carpark right under the capitol square and then we walked out we came up into the middle of the outside seating of a cafe.

We had decided that we would like to go on a boat cruise down the Canal de Garonne which is the main canal in Toulouse.  We couldn't find a timetable on line so thought we'd go to the information centre.  The man said they went about every hour, so we headed down to the canal.  On the way we decided to have a look in the capitol building, which had the most amazing murals on the walls and ceilings.  We even found a painting of a sculpture we saw on our boat cruise later in the day.

When we got there at 10.50 we found that the next one didn't go till 2.30pm.  There were lots of people hanging around by the boats and when one came in at 12pm they got on.  We decided to act like good little sheep and follow them on.  Everyone else went downstairs but we thought we'd get a better view from the top.  We thought it was a bit odd so went downstairs to investigate and discovered that they were serving lunch.  We decided this could be fun so found a table and sat down.  On the table was water and wine in jugs and a big basket of bread.  We then got broguht a big bowl of salad (at this stage we had no idea how much this would cost but told jasper that we could always scrub the deck to pay for our meals - he wasn't keen).  After that the food just kept coming with duck and potatoes for our main, then chesse and dessert followed of course by coffee.  james has decided to start drinking coffee although he does put 2 large sugars in it.

Yes all that cheese is just for us!

Such a lovely lunch and such a neat thing to do - a fantastic french experience.   The captain of the boat was a real character and all the staff were lovely and friendly.

We then went on the cruise down the river and had our first experience of a lock and how it works which was pretty neat.  We went through some very low tunnels and did feel slightly anxious when the roof of the boat was lowered and we were sitting up on the top deck!
 Going into the lock.

 Yes Penelope it will touch!

People sitting along the river enjoying the sunny day and the photographic exhibition on the walls.

 Well deserved gelato.

 The boat we went on for our lunch cruise.

A concert going on in the Capitol square.

A lovely day out and I even got to have 30 mins looking around the shops on my own while James and the kids got icecream.  

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Things I have learned about France so far

We have been here almost two weeks now and we are adapting to the French way of doing things.  I thought I would pass on some of the lovely, quirky and sometimes frustrating things we have encountered so far.

Pedestrian crossings at roundabouts and cars always stop and let you cross.  Jasper biked home on his own today and his first comment when I got home was "People are so nice how they always stop and let you cross the road".

Lovely gluten free bread in the supermarkets - yah, but no gluten free goodies at any of the gorgeous bakeries (I am on the look out though!!)  Our local bakery does do gf meringues and I have also seem macaroons.

Siesta from 12.30pm-2.30pm.  We went looking for cars today and we missed going to several as they shut for lunch at 12.30pm - have they not heard of staggered lunch breaks.

Cheeses, salamis, olives - beautiful food and soooo many varieties and choices!!

Everyone is so lovely and friendly and always say bonjour and au revoir when you buy something in the shops.

Hardly any public playgrounds - Hannah is struggling with this thankfully we have a swimming pool to keep her happy!!

Banks closed on Mondays.

Shops closed on Sundays - I actually quite like this.

Still can't find rice crackers.

Great coffee if you like espresso, not so good if you like flat whites like me - I guess my going out for coffee bill will be alot smaller.

Castles, abbeys and just amazing random old buildings in the middle of some tiny village - so wonderful to behold!

Magic moments - going into the abbey at Carcasonne and being amazed by its splendour and then hear the beautiful sound of a four man choir filling the whole building.

Buying things from the supermarket and then getting them home to discover they were not as they seemed - pasta sauce fill of olives (kids not so keen on this), gf crackers with cumin in them - I have eaten the whole box as again kids not keen.

Buying a box of magnum type icecreams on the way home after school when it's 34oC - yummy and very cheap.

Discovering that there is a reason why a bottle of wine (even French wine) is only 1.99 euros (about $3.50)! I think I will have to pay a bit more next time to get something decent!

Well that's enough ramblings for the moment.  I hope everyone is keeping warm at home as I read on stuff that the weather has turned quite wintry.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

A lazy sunny sunday

I discovered another thing other that the French do well today and that is markets.  After skyping James' family in Wellington we decided to head to the Tournefeuille market as we will be living near there.  We were expecting something quite small and organic, like the lovely farmers markets at home.  Instead we find this very crowded, busy hive of Sunday activity.  There were fantastic produce stalls and amazing fromage sellers as well as salamis, meats and bakeries.  There were also clothing, jewellery and toys.  I bought some fruit and vege and James had the full french experience by lining up for some cheese and getting the man to cut him off a piece from the round.  Jasper struggled with the crowds and smells so I ended up taking him and Hannah out while James and Penelope bought the salami and ham.

We decided to get in the car and explore and came across a river with a cycle track on it as well as a playground (haven't found many playgrounds in Toulouse).  It is quite close to where we will be living so will be wonderful to be able to cycle into the village along the river.

We then came home and had our yummy cheese, ham and salami for lunch.

It was very hot again today so the kids and James had a swim in the pool.  It got too hot for me so came back into our air conditioned apartment.

A full week of school for the kids this week so hopefully they manage with the long days in the heat.


Saturday, 8 September 2012

Crusade to Carcassonne

Bonjour, James here. Thought it was about time I had another go at writing a Blog.

I have started going to the Gym in the mornings to try combat the effects of all that great French food.  This morning I was joined by Jasper. It was great to have some company, but he would only last 30 sec before he got bored of that machine and wanted to try the next one. Luckily we were the only ones there, but it was hard to get a bit of a sweat on, stopping all the time. That was until he wanted to try the treadmill - this was my chance! "What you want to do, is try one of the programmes on the machine....say for 15mins!"  I suggested. It may be wrong to take advantage of his gullible youth, but I wanted to get a work out too.
So there he was on the treadmil, while I was beside him on the Exercycle. His programme started easy enough  but I had to try not to laugh out loud as the machine speed up and his little legs were flying with his eyes wide. To his credit he hung in there for the full 15mins and was ready to go home.

Today we traveled to Carassonne which has a well restored fairy-tale city in the middle of it. We decided to go on an adventure to get there taking in some of the sites off the beaten track. I loaded all the places we wanted to go into the GPS - it asked me if I was sure about this? Didn't I want to go the quickest route? (Yes even the GPS questions my requests - even though I have changed the voice to Ken the Australian, I think it must be Female!!) I gently promised the GPS that we would go the quickest route on the way back, which she accepted.

So our first stop was a village called Castelnaudary. We do not have a guide book! Google is all very well, but you can't take it with you (easily). We thought that this village must have a castle, but we did not see one. It was lovely though, and Jasper and I went into a little old Peugeot bike shop while the girls went to the bakery. We had morning tea down by the canal.

Back on the road and we weren't too sure about the route that the GPS was taking us, I thought that she may be getting me back for daring to suggest an alternative route. Rach thought that we should find an easier, not so turny route, I was caught in the middle, not wanting to upset either of them, but as the GPS had the power to get us lost, I decided to go with her. It paid off as we were soon making our way though the gorgeous, village of Saissac, with the main street following the ridge and the rest of village seemed to tumble down into the valley  below.

On we wound though the beautiful country side, we could only imagine what it would have looked like if the fields of sunflowers were still in bloom. Eventually we arrive at the village of Lastours, which had a number of old castles in various states of ruin.  It was a good climb up, but at least we got to pay for the privilege. The lady behind the counter looked at us and said that it took two hours. We felt very under prepared in our jandles as we saw the hikers coming down in their tramping gear. It wasn't that bad. We decided to split up, Rachel suggesting that I take Jasper on ahead. Jasper had obviously recovered from this mornings Gym session, as he bounded up, talking none-stop about how we were knights of the Crusade, attacking these baddies in the castles.

From our vantage point high up on top of one of the castles, Jasper and I proudly surveyed the destruction that we had caused by conquering the baddies and taking over the castles. 

We spotted a Queen and Princess in the distance, who were obviously impressed by our efforts.

Back down we went ready to get stuck into the Birthday lunch that we had promised Jasper. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, they had stopped serving food. We had a couple of drinks and made our way to Carcassonne. 

Rach spotted the Castle sticking proudly out of the surrounding city. It looked like something off a movie set. As we got into the city we couldn't find the way up to the old City. So once again we gently asked the GPS, and she was like, "Oh so you need my help now?" She helped us alright, took us through the narrowest streets she could find, I was driving in the gutter just to avoid the parked cars. I don't know how she did it, but the GPS also managed to get us into the middle of a wedding party who were obviously not expecting any vehicle to be coming down such a narrow street. Eventually we did find a carpark out side the old city, and it was even more impressive close up. Jasper said "Peter Jackson should use this in the Hobbit movie!"

Found this Princess out side the castle.
By this stage we were staving so, we were on the hunt for some food. Being touristy, there were plenty of places to choose from. We ended up having a good feed of Pomme Frites, salad, Pizza and I shared my Magret de Canard with the girls, not telling them that it was duck until they had told me how nice it was.

We explored the rest of this beautiful old city for another hour or so, but there was still more to see which we have left until we come back...hopefully showing some Family or Friends around.

As promised, we drove home using the most direct route, which was on the Toll roads which allowed us to cruise along at 130kph. Once home, we got in our togs and jumped into the pool to cool down as it was about 32C.