Saturday, 21 December 2013

Our Christmas Letter

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year


I am writing this from a very cold Toulouse thinking that it is hard to believe that this is going to be our second christmas in France.  We have been in France for 15 months now and have had an amazing experience so far.  We have been to many different places including Paris, Portugal, Switzerland, Amsterdam, Spain, London and of course seen lots of France - in fact I think our children are a bit over pretty medieval villages and bastide towns!!  We have also been very fortunate in having had many visitors from New Zealand.  My Mum came for the months of May and June and then James’ parents visited for the months of July, August and September.  I flew to London to collect my Mum and spent the weekend there with her which was wonderful and then when she left France she flew out of Paris and again we got to spend the weekend there together.  It was wonderful having my Mum here as she fitted so well into our everyday family life whether that be helping with laundry, looking after Hannah while I did the school run or going and getting some groceries.  The weather was not that great during my Mum’s stay but that didn’t stop us getting out and about and visiting some of the  
local sights.


James parents arrived during the long French summer vacation so we had lots of opportunities for weekends away and had a great weekend down on the coast of Spain in late July.  We also got to do a big road trip through Provence to Switzerland.  Friends of Sue and David’s have a lovely holiday home in Kloisters and we were fortunate enough to be able to use it for two weeks.  What a wonderful treat it was to be able to hike in the mountains and enjoy the beautiful Swiss countryside.  
We drove home through Italy stopping at Genona and then onto Monaco and Nice.  

The highlight of the trip for Jasper was seeing a Lambourgini as well as many Ferrari’s in Monte Carlo!

We have settled well into life in France and James is enjoying his job as Air NZ Technical Resident Manager.  He can be very busy at times especially when an aircraft is due to be delivered and is away a lot inspecting plane bits all over Europe, so that can be a bit tedious for the kids and I.  We have joined the Toulouse international Church and have made many lovely friends there.  Through friends at Church I have joined a jewellery group that meets once a month as well as a fortnightly prayer group and I also help look after some of the babies once a fortnight so the mums can go to the young mums group.  

Last year the children did not do any after school activities and as a result their French did not really advance so this school year both Jasper and Penelope are doing one activity each in French as well as out of school French lessons.  Jasper is playing football with the local club and really enjoying it and Penelope is doing Jazz and she also goes to Brownies and theatre club which are both in English.  Hannah has joined a lovely dance group which is taught in English.  She also goes to Girl guides which she just loves!!

It has been a huge adjustment living in a foreign country and even after a year of lessons my French is still very poor!!  I am starting to understand more and can have basic conversations which is an improvement!  

We have also had a difficult time with Hannah’s schooling.  We eventually managed to get her into the International School of Toulouse along with a full time teacher aide paid for by Air NZ - just for mornings.  In March I went in to school for the IEP and to discuss Hannah staying for longer hours and was instead told that they could not meet her needs and gave her two weeks notice!  We appealed to the board and she was allowed to stay until the end of the school year in July.  We registered with the French Ministry of Education and Hannah was given a place in the CLIN - which is a class in a nearby school for non-French speaking children to learn French.  She could only start in this class, however once a ministry appointed teacher aide was found.  Since then I have been homeschooling Hannah using NZ Correspondence School resources along with a teacher aide that came to our house.  The teacher aide finished on the 6th of December and then Hannah started in the CLIN the following Monday.  Unfortunately the CLIN has not worked out and has been too difficult for Hannah so we are back to square one!!  We had an IEP for Hannah last Thursday and the support worker said that the next step would be to try and get Hannah a place in a special needs unit.  Not sure why we could not have applied for Hannah to go there back in May when we first started this process - seems like a very long process and a lot of hard work.  So it looks like I will be homeschooling Hannah again next year and hopefully we will be able to get someone to help give me a bit of a break.

At this stage it looks like we are here till August which will mean we will get to enjoy some of the northern Hemisphere summer before heading home.  James’ replacement arrives in May but he will do a handover and help with the July A320 delivery.  We have a few more adventures planned before we leave and are trying to make the most of this opportunity by seeing lots of different places.  We went to London for the weekend last weekend as the girls and I are going to the Nutcracker ballet.  Then on the 31st of December we are going to Morocco for a week and are going to do a camel trek as well as a hike in the Atlas mountains.  No trips planned after that although Jasper wants to go to Greece and Penelope wants to go to Hollywood and Hannah just would like to go camping!

Hope you are happy and healthy.  Wishing you a very Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Love from Rachel, James, Hannah, Jasper and Penelope

Friday, 20 December 2013

Gluten free pizza and English TV

I had booked tickets to take the girls to the nutcracker ballet in London for the 14th of December. We decided to all go and have a weekend in London to soak up the Christmas atmosphere and take in a bit of sightseeing. We booked flights for Thursday afternoon and then discovered the children's school had their second Christmas show that night. We checked with the school and it was ok to take them out of school. James then found out he had an inspection in Nantes on Thursday. So I ended up flying to Gatwick with the kids on my own and then meeting up with him in the airport. So it was all a bit of an effort and we were very glad to get on the flight and be jetting our way to London!

We met James at Gatwick no problem and caught the Gatwick express into Victoria station. We had our first London experience on the way to the apartment by catching a London taxi!

We had booked our apartment through Airbnb and it was just off Oxford street so very central. We arrived in the early evening and after unpacking headed off to look for some dinner. There was a domino's pizza at the end of our road so we decided to see if they had gluten free pizza and yes they did!! James and the kids were so delighted and even more so when they got our order wrong and gave us a free pizza as they were so good that two pizzas would not have been enough!!!

The next morning the kids discovered English TV and were in heaven! They decided that they could happily stay home all day and just watch TV although would like to pop out to Hamley's toy store at some point!!

We managed to get them out the door and walked down to Hamley's.

Jasper with Prince William and Princess Kate at Hamley's.

The kids loved Hamley's and all managed to spend their pocket money. Penelope and Hannah both made teddies in the build a bear work shop and Penelope called hers Hamley of course!!

We then carried on down Oxford Street to Lillywhites enjoying the beautiful Christmas window displays on the way. We found a little cafe for lunch and then carried on our walk towards Trafagular Square. We decided to stop and watch some buskers and Jasper ended up getting pulled into the performance! He did a few dance moves but wasn't so keen on doing any flips!

Our plan was to go to the Tower of London so we jumped on the no 15 bus which took us past St Paul's and through the city and was a great way to do some sightseeing! There was no que at the ticket office so we got in really quickly but unfortunately we missed out on the Yeoman Guard tour by half an hour. We got a family audio tour and had a great look around. The highlights were the white tower with the armoury displays and then the display room for the Crown Jewels. Even though we missed out on going around with a yeoman, the tower was very quiet and there were no crowds so we got a fantastic look at the jewels and all the other displays.

By this time it was 4.15 and dark, so we got a lovely view of London bridge with the lights. I was keen to do a bit of shopping so James took the kids back to the apartment and I went to Primark to snag myself a few bargains! A great place for stocking fillers!!

I got home just in time to go out for dinner with our lovely NZ friend Mel. I had used trip advisor to find an Indian restaurant for dinner and apparently it is really good and popular but was also fully booked!! We went to another place instead and had a great meal, although the service was quite average!

The next day I awoke with a terrible headache, but managed to get up and get going hopeful that a bit of fresh air and a walk would help get rid of it. We caught the underground down to embankment and walked along the Thames past parliament buildings and 10 Downing Street towards the royal guards palace.

We had decided to go and watch the changing of the horse guards rather then go and see it at Buckingham Palace.

From here we walked over to Westminster Abbey for a look around the outside but decided not to go in. We came across a large group of Santas out for a march singing the song "what do we want, Christmas, when do we want it now!" One kind Mrs Claus gave the kids some lollies and when we asked what the march was about she said it was just a bit of fun.

We then went and had a look at Big Ben got some packets of chippies for a snack and went and sat in St James park. We walked down to Buckingham palace where we encountered the Santas once again. I'm not sure what the Queen would have thought of this morning chorus!

A squirrel in St James park.

We decided to head back to the apartment and have Dominos pizza for lunch and so the girls and I could get changed for the ballet. James spotted a Marks and Spencer's by Green park station so we popped in to see if they had any gluten free Christmas goodies and yes they did.

I had bought the girls new dresses for the ballet and so they were delighted with their new outfits! We were meeting our friends Wendy, Craig and their son Leroy at Planet Hollywood restaurant at 4.30pm so we decided we would have time to go to Convent Garden first. We walked through Soho and China town on our way and as it gets dark so early go to enjoy the Christmas lights. Covent garden was heaving but we had a bit of a look around and got to see the lovely Christmas decorations, a lego snow globe and some of Santa's reindeer!

London made with Lego

Is it Rudolph?

Trying to catch a reindeer to win a Minion in Leisceter Square.

Got them!

It was so lovely to catch up with our New Zealand friends Wendy and Craig and their son Leroy and we had a great meal.

After dinner we headed the girls, Wendy and I headed off to the ballet and the boys headed to Hyde park to the Winter Wonderland. The ballet was amazing, a visual delight with beautiful costumes, sets and a fantastic orchestra - plus the dancing was pretty good too. Hannah and Penelope were completely enthralled and Penelope said she could have watched it all over again!!

Waiting for the ballet to start.

Meanwhile the boys were being tossed and turned and having a great time on the rides at winter wonderland.

The walk home after the ballet was gorgeous under the Christmas lights although wee Penelope was very tired and not that keen to walk home. She can pull out the smile though even when she's feeling miserable.

Regent Street

Selfridges at night.

The next day we headed home and it was a bit of a stressful journey out to Gatwick as we had only allowed just enough time and then missed the Gatwick express and had to wait half an hour for the next one! A bit of a jog through Gatwick airport and we were very happy to be standing in the line waiting to board our plane heading back to lovely Toulouse!

Gpria from my iPad