Thursday, September 30, 2010

car, finally

Yes, we finally got a car. Indecision on our part led to 2 weeks of riding public transportation. Two weeks was enough. We needed to make a decision.

Here were some of our choices

1. Rent from the big car rental companies, like Avis. Too expensive for 10 months.

2. Buy a used car from a dealer here. We decided this might be troublesome. What if the car broke down? What if we had trouble selling it at the end of the year.

3. Rent a car from the grocery store. There are 2 big grocery stores in town, Hyper U and Leclerc. They both rent cars on a monthly basis. They are cheaper than the big car rental companies.

So that is what we did. We went to the grocery store and rented a car. That sentence probably sounds funny to us Americans!

We chose Hyper U because we were told by the British expats in the area that Hyper U has an English person who works at the service counter. These British expats have quite a little network here.

Managing a car contract with someone who speaks the same language is quite handy. So we met Rachel at the Hyper U and she was very helpful. Now we have a car for the rest of our time here.

The car says RENT-ME on the back. I don't even care.

Riding the bus was a lesson I won't soon forget. Lugging groceries home on the bus - no thank you! And it never even rained. I was dealing with the bus in nice sunny weather.

I think I sound like a spoiled American.

So the pictures on this post are pictures of the car. The kids barely fit in the back but I am enjoying have a little stick shift car to drive.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Joey after he helped trim the bushes and blackberries from around the clothesline.

I knew that this house didn't have a dryer. Most people around here don't seem to have dryers. I see lots of clothelines. Even outside the apartments.

When we first got here and the weather was beautiful I thought it was nice to hang our clothes outside on a nice sunny afternoon.

I am over that.

Last week I did a load of laundry in the afternoon. I think it takes the washing machine about 2 hours to do one load. The clothes do seem more dry than our clothes . . but still, 2 hours?? By the time the clothes got on the clothesline it was was late afternoon. By sunset, the clothes were not dry. Not big deal, I thought. The sun will dry them in the morning.

Umm, no.

It rained overnight and the wet clothes were so heavy that they snapped one part of the clothesline. My clean clothes were laying on the ground. Whites. On the ground. Great.

I had to get the kids off to school. Ellie's teacher wanted to talk to me. By the time I got back home it was 9:30.

I did not feel like putting the clothes back in the washing machine. I just sort of shook them off. They were really heavy and wet, but I just hung them back up. I somehow managed to fix the clothesline.

And I had more laundry to do. One load takes up almost the whole clothesline.

I heard a rumor that the grocery store has dryers in the laundromat. 10 minutes is 2 Euros. I am going to have to look into that.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Chateau Terre Neuve

On Wednesday, Sept. 22 we went to the Chateau Terre Neuve in the afternoon. Katie is the only one who goes to school on Wednedays but she gets home about 12:30.

Chateau Terre Neuve is our local chateau. It is not a major chateau by French standards. It was built in 1580 and it is privately owned.


On Tuesday, Sept. 21, I went to the zoo with Ellie's class.

First of all, let me explain that they didn't ask parents to go. Ellie was crying about school and said she wanted me to go to the zoo with her, so I asked the teacher if I could go. The teacher told me I could go and then told me some other stuff I couldn't understand. Rapid fire French coming straight at me.

I really didn't want to get it wrong. I looked for the principal (who speaks English) at pickup time and made sure I could go. The principal just looked at me funny and says "of course you can go if you want, why wouldn't you be able to go?"

Ok. Good. I even understood the sheet telling parents to send a pique-nique with the kids. Yeah, I get it, that one isn't too difficult to figure out.

So off to the zoo we go.

We spend the whole morning walking around zoo. There is no snack time. Ever. You wait until lunch to eat. Ellie and I both had trouble making to lunch.

After lunch the kids played on a playground. After about a half hour, the teacher told me that children were going to nap. I assumed that we were going back to the school. No, she just told the kids to find a patch of grass in the shade and lay down.

Another class had arrived at the playgound. They were playing. Ellie pointed to the kids playing and said I want to play too! Her teacher told her to lay down and take a nap. But she said it in French and Ellie didn't understand a word of it. I told Ellie that all the kids in her class were taking a nap and she needed to lay down. But I was really thinking, yeah right, these kids are NOT going to lay down.

Of course they did. A nice little half hour resting in the shade.

Then we all got back up and carried on with our zoo visit.

Monday, September 20, 2010


The teachers have sent notes home with the kids informing the parents that the teachers are participitating in the strike on Thursday, Sept. 23.

Strike? Advance notice of a strike? Hmmm.

I was wondering if that meant that school was open.

On the way home from school Joey was all excited to tell me that there would be a strike on Thursday and he could go to school only if he wanted. Yeah, just tell a kid that school is optional.

Gabi had some questions. If she went to school, did that mean she wasn't supporting the strike? But then the people who were supporting the strike wouldn't be there, so they wouldn't know. She had a lot of things to think about.

I found out from Ellie's teacher that the school is open but it isn't a normal school day. It is just open for parents who work and need their kids watched. (At least I think that is what she told me!)

Anyone think that I can convince the kids to go to school on Thursday?
Nah, me either.

The elementary school kids already have Wednesday off. Every single Wednesday.


I got back from Paris on Tuesday in time to pick the kids up from school. Unfortunately, Ellie was crying when I picked her up. All the other kids were fine. Just Ellie had decided she didn't like school. At all. She would like to be done. NOW. And to top it all off, she doesn't have a special stuffed animal for nap time. Her teacher is mean. And oh yeah, she doesn't speak French. (I loved how that little tidbit came last!)

The only part I could remedy right away was the stuffed animal. So on Wednesday (the kids don't have school) we made a special trip to the store so Ellie could get a new stuffed animal. Meet bear-y.

Thursday morning Ellie went back to school with Bear-y. Tears the whole walk to school. I might have caved and let Ellie stay home but I had a miserable cold. When I picked Ellie up Thursday afternoon, her teacher said she had a better day.

Friday morning, once again, more tears. When I picked up Ellie on Friday she was all smiles and told me she had a good day.

So for the moment we have tears in the morning and a smile in the afternoon. That is how it is working for now.

quick trip to Paris

On Monday, Sept. 13, Rod needed to return to Paris so he could catch his flight back home Tuesday morning and return the rental car. I went with him. (who says no when asked to go to Paris?)

We decided to leave early Monday so we would be able to spend time in Paris. We got the kids off to school Monday morning then we got in the minibus thing for the 5 hour drive up to Paris.

The plan was to park on the outskirts of Paris and take the Metro into the center of town.

We found a parking garage, pulled in and started going down a ramp. At the bottom of the ramp was a low ceiling. Too low for our minibus. Yikes! We did not need to take off the top of our rental car.

I hopped out in the hopes of trying to find a parking attendant and Rod had the pleasant job of backing the minibus up. To my relief, I found a person who worked there. Rod was able to maneuver the minibus in reverse back up the narrow ramp.

I had to explain the problem in French to the parking guy. He told me it was no big deal and I should just pull over wherever I found room. I didn't trust my interpretation of what he said so I dragged him over to the car. He shrugged his shoulders and pointed to a wall. He told us just to pull up next the wall and park. Okay. They are a little relaxed about parking here. They will just pull up on the sidewalk park wherever they find room.

Once we got over the parking problem we spent the afternoon in Paris. Rod had a conference call at 4 pm. Here is a picture of him on his conference call in a park in Paris.

While Rod was on his conference call I walked around the outside of the park. It wasn't a big park. I found the house and museum of Victor Hugo. Just a little museum tucked in a corner.

After his conference call we went and found an outdoor cafe. It was a beautiful afternoon and the people watching was great. Really great!

Our hotel was up near the airport and we didn't want to look for it in the dark so we headed up toward the airport. We took our rental car back to Avis. We were so relieved to return the car intact. It had been a pain for Rod to drive such a big car around. We were all smiles at the Avis counter. The Avis clerk said she was going to check out the car and be right back. She came back in and told us there a scratch on the back and we had to pay for it. The scratch that was on the car when we picked it up!!! Are you kidding me? We almost took the top off the car and you are worried about a little scratch? (No we didn't tell her that!)

After some arguing it all worked out. The scratch had been on the car when we picked it up. But she was a buzz kill after our lovely afternoon.
Tuesday morning Rod had to get on his flight and I had to catch a train. It was hard to say goodbye. Very hard.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Sunday drive to Niort and visit with neighbors

Sunday, Sept 12, 2010

On sunday morning we went to a local vide grenier (literally means empty attic). People set up tables and bring stuff they have cleaned out of their attics. Same thing we have in the states, we just call them flea markets. (Flea is the word we chose?) I only picked up a couple of things. Cloth napkins that the kids need for lunch at school and some childrens books in French for Ellie.

Then we made a quick trip over to Niort to do a quick visit of the town. Near the center of Niort is a 12th century dungeon. Joey was very disappointed to discover that it was closed. We didn't have a lot of time to spend in Niort because we wanted to get home for our visit with the neighbors.

Earlier in the week mom had been returning home from a walk when our next door neighbor stopped her and invited all of us for dessert on Sunday afternoon. We didn't know exactly what time we were supposed to go so we went over there at 3:30. We took a small bouquet of flowers. When we arrived, the husband, Frederick, was working in the garden but he quickly went in the house and changed his clothes. We were invited to sit at the table in their front yard under an umbrella. Pascaline, the wife, went into the house to get a tray with 2 desserts. Apple tart and chocolate cake. We were introduced to their 2 little boys. Roman is 3 and the other one is 6. They also brought out water, juices and an apertif. Pascaline was very curious about us and asked lots of questions. (I am really not sure if I am getting her name right). She told us that she works at an insurance office in Niort. Her boys go to the same school as our kids. Pascaline comes from Normandy and Frederick comes from Nantes. The kids all sat at the table and ate her yummy dessert but then they ran off and played.

While we were sitting under the umbrella, it kept falling over. Finally Frederick used a butter knife to try to stablize it. I turned to Rod and said, "that was a MacGyver move" Frederick smiled and was very flattered. He knew what I had meant.
They were so pleasant and gracious. I can't even describle what a nice hour and a half it was. I really hope we didn't make a faux pas. We tried not to stay too long. We are planning on inviting them over for a glass of wine.
Below is a picture of their house. And yes, I felt like a dork standing in front of their house to take a picture.

Dinner out

We told the kids we were all going out to dinner and they decided to dress up.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

To the Market

Saturday morning we went to the market. Obvious, I know.

You will not be surprised to hear that we bought bread, cheese, fruits and vegetables.

My favorite part was when Joey found a new fruit he had tried and liked at school. He wanted to buy more and he wanted the rest of us to try it.

See the green plum things under the sign Reine-Claude? That is what Joey wanted us to try. So of course we had to buy some. They are yummy little dessert plums. But if you already knew that then you are a foodie and I get to call you that. (Yes, Lesa, I am talking to you specifically, and there are probably other foodies out there)
Katie wanted us to buy grapefruit because she had some at school and loved it. (Really, grapefruit?)

I can't believe how well the kids eat as school. I will go to whatever tax office I have to in order to pay these lunch bills!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

boring forms and fun pool

Friday, Sept. 10 was the kids second day of school. They all went off to school without complaining.

While they were at school, Rod and I had a lot of kid school issues to deal with. Lots of forms to fill out. The forms are all in French so it is slow going.

To set up lunch accounts for the elementary school we had to go to the Mayor's office. Really. They want me to pay by check. But they don't want my American check so after some discussion it was decided that after I get a lunch bill in the mail, sometime in October, I have to go the place where people pay taxes and I can pay the lunch bills with cash. (It is easy to get cash here, I just go to the ATM machine) I will worry about finding that tax office in October.

At Katie's middle school, the lunch money is paid to the school. After I get a lunch bill, again sometime in October, I just have to go to the school and pay it.

The kids were enrolled in school before I even filled out any forms. They asked me where I lived but I never had to show any proof.

Also the kids will be eating lunch at school for a month or two before I pay any money.

On Friday after the kids got home from school we thought taking the pool cover off for the first time and going for a swim would be a treat.

The building you see behind the pool is the old gardener's house. I think a gardener used to live there. The little house has a fireplace. Now it is boarded up and the roof is falling apart but it does give a glimpse on another era.
In the picture below I am standing in the back of the yard (by the garden house) looking toward our house.

Our backyard has lots of different kinds of fruit. Pears, apples, grapes, blackberries.

First Day of School

I am already behind on keeping this blog up to date! Bear with me.

As you can see from the pictures, the kids had smiles on the morning of their first day of school.

I walked Katie to her middle school first. her school starts at 8:15. Usually I will walk her to the front gate but on the first day I took her to the principal's office. The principal thought Katie's backpack looked too heavy so she rummaged through it and gave me some stuff to take back home. She is a no nonesense sort of woman. There is not doubt who is in charge at that school! After that she led Katie and I to Katie's first class. Class had already started for the day. The teacher paused and introduced Katie. A boy was moved so Katie could sit next to Margot (the English/French girl). Katie turned back and gave me a look of desperation. My heart sank. Then the principal led me back to the front door and it was time for me to leave the school.

I walked back home and got there just in time to walk Ellie, Joey and Gabi to their elementary school. They start at 9am. When we got to their school, I walked Ellie to her class. The teacher grabbed Ellie's hand and off they went.

Back in the courtyard outside the school, Gabi and Joey found their teachers. The teachers collect the kids outside and then lead them to the classroom. It wasn't long before Gabi and Joey were walking with their classmates into the school.

All day I wondered what sort of drama and tears we would see at the 5pm pickup.

Finally, the time came and we went to pick up the kids.

Rod went to get Katie. He was surprised to see her walking out the school smiling. She was walking with a girl. Rod assumed it was Margot. Katie said it wasn't Margot, it was another friend. Katie had a good day. Her favorite class was English - where the French kids are learning to speak English.

Mom and I picked up the other 3. I got Ellie while mom waited for Gabi and Joey.

Ellie was happy and her teacher said she had a good day!

When I saw Joey and Gabi I also saw smiles on their faces!
Comments from the kids on the first day were amusing (to me anyway).

Gabi said she loved the lunches.
Joey liked playing soccer at recess. He claims that he has 5 recesses.
Ellie claimed she wasn't fed all day. (Later she talked about the food she had at lunch so she is not very reliable)

Big sigh of relief. I was really waiting for at least one of the kids to say "What the crappy crap? Do you really think I am going to school here?"
I just hope the smiles last.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

La Rochelle

After all the traveling and the school visits we had time for one day of fun before school started. The kids really wanted to go to the beach. We are about 45 minutes to an hour (I don't keep very good track) from La Rochelle, which is on the Atlantic Ocean.

Wednesday we drove to La Rochelle and stopped at the tourism office (they are really helpful here) and asked about the closest beach. A small beach is just outside of town so we went there. My mom was able to walk to an old tower on the harbor and take in some history while we were at the beach.

Even though it was a little windy and chilly, the kids loved the beach.

After the beach we went out to eat in La Rochelle. There are lots and lots of restaurants overlooking the harbor. It was a lovely evening. Definately a town I want to visit again.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

visiting new schools and school shopping

Tuesday was our first full day in France. We took the kids to visit their new schools.

Katie is the only one at middle school and we went there first. The principal gave Katie a big hug and welcomed her to the school. The principal doesn't speak English so she had an English teacher come to the front office. We found out that in Katie's grade there is a girl named Margot who speaks English and French. Her mother is French and her father is English. They put Katie in the same section as Margot. We got the list of school supplies needed. It was quite a long list! And it was specific. For example, a notebook needs to be a certain size with a certain number of pages.

Next we went to Gabi, Joey and Ellie's elementary school. We met all their teachers. Gabi and Joey have teachers who speak English. Ellie does not. Gabi and Joey also got a list of school supplies, but not nearly as long.

After the school visits we all piled back in the car for a trip to the Hyper U to get school supplies.

At the Hyper U were several large aisles of school supplies. 3 adults and 4 children should be able to pick out school supplies. After 45 minutes, we enlisted a store clerk to help us. She helped us for a little while. After another half hour we heard another shopper speaking English. Her and her son helped us finish up the list. They are from Wales and they have been living in France for a few years. When she saw us she said it reminded her of the first time she did school shopping in France. She is the woman who gave her phone number to Rod. She told us to call her if we have any questions or need help.
Joey is holding the reciept from the Hyper U to show how many items we bought.

The award for most school supplies goes to Katie!

At the Hyper U my mom ran into another English woman who was giving her information about the town.

Another time, when the kids were at the fish counter they jumped because a crab started moving. They didn't realize how fresh it was. A British guy started talking to them.

I don't know if there are really this many English people in the area or if we just ran into all of them at once!

Does it sound like we spent the whole afternoon at the Hyper U? It certainly felt like it!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

phone number

A woman gave Rod her phone number at the grocery store yesterday.
Good stuff.

Monday, September 6, 2010


We made it safe and sound to France!
The flights went smoothly. The 7 hour flight to France was probably the easiest part. The kids had their own TV to watch and they watched movies the entire flight.

When we went to the airport in Michigan we needed 2 vehicles to get to the airport. (Thanks again Lisa DesRosiers and Paul Grusche!) We only rented one minivan in Paris and we were worried about 7 people and 9 suitcases fitting in the rental car.

Fortunately, the rental car was an easy part of our travels. After we landed in Paris and got our luggage, the rental car company brought the minibus thing right outside the door to baggage claim. All the luggage fit in the back.

The drive getting out of Paris was probably the worst part. It was 2am for us, but 8am in Paris. Rod was driving and I was trying to navigate us out of Monday morning rush hour. No more movies for the kids and they were tired. They were complaining and we were telling them to be quiet. It wasn't a pleasant combination. Eventually the kids fell asleep and we got out of traffic. It was probably only an hour or two but it definately felt like the longest part of the trip.

Another thing about Paris in rush hour traffic - motorcyles. I wouldn't be surpised if I had a bad dream about motorcycles in rush hour traffic. Motorcycles zoom in between cars. If you are sitting in traffic next to a truck and there isn't room for a motorcycle to zoom in between then they will honk at you until you move. When there is space for them, they fly right on past. It startled me every time. One time there was barely enough space for a motorcyle to get past us so he banged on the hood of our car. But I will admit that I understand why they are on motorcyles, it is easy to get through all the traffic.

The drive from the airport should have been 4 1/2 hours but it took us 6 hours. The kids probably slept 5 hours. We were so relieved to arrive at the house. I was glad that I had already visited the house because I already knew the odd location were they put the lockbox. The kids were pretty excited to start exploring the house and yard.
Since there was no food we needed to go the store. All of us piled back into the minibus and went to the hyperU (sort of like a meijers). We had forgotten bags and the store does not give out bags. In the check out line the cashier was trying to tell Mom and I that the hairdryer came with a warranty. Warranty is not a word that either mom or I know. After a minute or two the man behind us in line started translating for us. When the cashier held up the bag of peaches and told us she couldn't accept them, the same man helped us out again and told us that we had to get a sticker in the produce department with the weight and price.

We went back to the house and had our first meal in France. Bread, cheese, lunchmeat, coleslaw, some potato salad thing (with a cut up hot dog in it?) We were going for a sandwich and prepared salad meal. I think Joey ate half a loaf of bread. He loved the jam we had bought. (I think they sell the same jam at Busch's!)

After we ate we got a second wind. Rod and Joey played catch. The girls did some unpacking (except Ellie - she discovered the barbies I had secretly packed for her)

We took a walk in the late afternoon to help us stay awake.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Packing and paintings

This week is all about packing and saying goodbyes. I am thankful we aren't moving away for good because goodbyes are hard!
Packing is really about getting organized and remembering all the little details. So I am a little distracted. In the middle of our packing week Gabi has decided to start some sort of project. I am trying to ignore it but she keeps bringing it up. She spent last weekend at Grandma Fracassi's house. In the living room at Grandma's house is a lovely painting of a ballroom dancing scene. Gabi told me she wants to make a 3D version of this painting. From what I can gather I think she is making some sort of diaorama. She started requesting a box, paint, wood, and screws for the Barbie's feet. I gave her a long lecture on how this isn't really the best week to do this type of project. I think she just rolled her eyes and began trying to figure out how to gather the supplies by herself. She is a persistent little thing. This morning I overheard Gabi asking her sister if she minded that a particular Barbie doll would have her feet screwed to a board. Of course, a fight ensued and that Barbie became the most precious barbie doll ever.

Too bad Gabi doesn't have an artsy mom that would drop everything to help her out.