Thursday, January 31, 2013

Some Pro & Cons of life in France - in this moment.

Life  - presently..... 
I can't believe it's the end of January - (and my New Year's card are still not out!).  It's the end of January and we are still without Internet service, television and phone at out home.  It's the 21st Century and we are technology "free" by default.

Each week that goes by we are promised the next step, we wait, we call and another technical team shows up and "oops" it's the wrong team.  They can't do what needs to be done and will contact France Telecom to  get the right team here....and we wait, we call and repeat.  That is the short version of our technology problem - bottom line here is that a trench of about 4 meters needs to be dug from the base of our driveway (our connection) to the utility pole and then a new cable needs to be placed and attached to our connection.   (I won't go into the story of why this needs to be done, or how long and how many technicians it took to figure this out!)  Not rocket science here - but my goodness, one would think we live in a 3rd world country as we wait for this to get done.  Each week we are given a little hope and then it's dashed.  After the Christmas holidays, I began calling Orange/France Telecom and was actually connected to an English speaking help line (this is actually a good thing!) - and I keep calling.  Their customer service reps are wonderful on the English line and don't understand why the technician teams can't get it right....

This whole experience gets me thinking about the Pros and cons of living here in France.  It's not always a bed of roses or the romantic, beautiful place that people dream it to be. I often hear - oh, how wonderful - I would love to live in France.   It's actually rained here for the past 5-6 weeks non-stop and has been gray.  The field next to our house has been flooded for almost a month now, and our septic system constantly needs to be pumped out....This involves turning on a separate pump that we can only leave on for 20-30 minutes or it will burn out.  But this needs to be done several times a day...or the downstairs toilet doesn't flush well, the shower in our downstairs bedroom will begin to smell of sewage and even our kitchen sick will easily back up.  No, life here is full of little challenges that we are not use to.....

It seems everything here is full of bureaucracy and its overly complicated.  Like a couple of weeks ago, when I went to the Prefecture in Bordeaux (France's equivalent of immigration, DMV and governmental offices rolled into one..).  I had received a letter that I needed to present myself there to pay for my renewed VISA.   I needed to show up at 8:30 am - which I did - (along with the 200 other foreigners who needed to do something regarding their resident status) I waited in a long line for 2.5 hours to get to the window and present my letter and payment - only to be told here's your number - please go wait over there.  Luckily, it wasn't too much longer of a wait - but I loved the news that my VISA can not be completely renewed until I have my mandated medical appointment - my temporary VISA is good for 2 months...but it may take 3 months to get my medical appointment - if this is the case, I have to go back to the Prefecture and renew again - this is automatic but I would still need to wait in that line, come people, you think the 2 can be coordinated to save time...but not in France!  Lots of expats have many, many stories about their Visas and how frustrating the system is.

Then there is on-going strikes that will effect the trams, the buses and even the traffic.  French employees love to strike - it's how they air their grievances - how they show they are unhappy.  (They seem to be unhappy quite a bit!).  Never fails, a day I need to go downtown on the tram, there is some kind of strike happening...trams can spread out more, run late or even just stop and not run in certain areas.  Buses and trains can be effected just as much.  I'm sure many of you from time to time have heard when there is a strike going on at the airports or trains in France - that always seems to make the news.

And don't forget about the bus and cafeteria assistants - they love to strike too.  This means that on that particular day, one needs to go pick up their children at lunch-time and bring them home to eat and then return back to school 2 hours later.  That was today - a National strike - affecting most all schools.  For me, it meant rearranging my day to shuttle kids back and forth.  For families who have 2- parents working, this means readjusting schedules or relying on a grandparent or friend to take care of the kids at lunch time.    So at 11:20 this morning - I drove to the Maternelle to pick up my daughter and friend and then fought all the traffic in town and headed like everyone else over to the elementary school - and picked up my 3rd grader (CE2).

Life is life no matter where you live....I know when we lived in New York - we both worked full time.  I know it was a constant challenge to juggle kid sick days, parent/teacher conference days off and conference days where we had to work, but the kids didn't have school.  We had the challenges of trying to fit everything in and both of us working 50 hour plus work weeks.  Families have the same challenges here - work, kids & activities and then when certain events interrupt the normal flow, we all have to adjust.

However, I have come to appreciate quiet Sunday afternoons when everything here is closed.  Evenings together and not rushing around and feeling you have to do the last minute errand at 10 pm....stores close here in general by 7 pm!  I love how the French love to enjoy good meal with good wine.  I love all the choices of cheese!  I love how the French people love to have coffee together and chat easily for an hour over a small cup of espresso.  I love walking around with such history around me...I still feel an awe when I shop in downtown Bordeaux.  The beauty of all the buildings.  I love how we only live 45 minutes from the ocean.  I love also that I can drive 20 minutes and walk through a medieval village.

So life here, like anywhere has it's ups and downs - it's frustrations, its adjustments - but overall I would not trade this experience for anything.  My kids are now bilingual, my French has improved, we have met some wonderful people, and we have all learned to look at things differently.  The last few months without WiFi and television has meant more family games, family dance parties and DVD's on my laptop.  It is nice to have quality family time.  Look forward to postings about my daughters' birthdays, my recent trip to Vienna and hopefully good news that we have returned to the 21st century!

Monday, January 21, 2013

International Debate - Teenage make-up

My oldest and youngest during this past Holiday break!  
When to start?  How much is appropriate?

A picture taken just a few years ago...they change so fast!

Good morning,
I'm going to digress a bit for this post - instead of lovely images of life in France....I'm instead going to speak about a debate that is presenting fueling in my household - I'm sure it's not an uncommon one - but as a mother of girls - it's inevitable - It's all about teenage make up!  Yes, as a proud parent of an almost twelve year old (her birthday is in 4 days!), we have constant conversations about make up - can she wear it?  Where? When and how much?  Now, she is my oldest and of course the first recipient of the strictest parental rules...As she affectionately said to her younger sisters, you know, that you will be able to wear make up before  me, as mama & papa will be use to it by then.  She gave the example of having to wear an apron at the dinner table as her napkin until she was seven, where as her younger sisters didn't have the same rule.  Yes, she is right, we do mellow with age.  But, my first born is growing up - now it's make up, soon it will be boys etc...I feel like we are entering a new zone here.

Taken a few years ago, again they change so quickly!

As a parent, I find it a constant challenge to reflect on my childhood and think about when I started doing things and also trying to fit our views into this new generation.  I know I never wore a lot of make up - I do remember experimenting with some in early high school around 9th grade.  (Actually, I remember more, my father telling me at the breakfast table that I had too much blue eye shadow on and I needed to take it off before school!)  I also know I adopted make-up gradually - starting with lip gloss, blush, eye liner, eye shadow - my friends also used mascara early on...but it was gradual.  I also remember the fond or not so fond memories of trying mascara myself.  At the time, I didn't understand exactly why girls needed it.  I have beautiful long dark eye lashes that never needed mascara - when I would experiment at a friends house, I would end up looking like a clown.  It took me a long time to understand that my eye lashes were great naturally and not everyone had ones like mine.  My daughters have also inherited my long dark lashes, which I have begun to tell them, it's a good thing!

So back to the household debate.  Before having kids, I would have said, start wearing make up in high school.  After all, I worked for 18 years in a high school and even the youngest students in 9th grade wore some make up.  But what's appropriate in middle school?  It is 6th grade, 7th grade or 8th grade when they should be allowed to don on some make up?  Is it too early?  What's appropriate?

I knew even in 5th grade when we were living in the States some girls were beginning to wear a bit of lip gloss and even some had eye liner on.  Now, my personal opinion is that's a bit early.  Lucky for us, when we arrived in France, and my daughter started 5th grade here, that was never a conversation - girls in 5th grade just didn't wear anything.  (Sigh of relief here!).

Fast forward to this year, the big entrance into Middle School (or College as it's called in France).  Things change here, my little girl was no long a little girl, she was allowed more responsibilities and allowed to go off with friends alone walking, she has even ridden her bike to the bread store to get bread for us.  It's all about teaching responsibility. She was given her first cell phone this Fall.  So the first week of school, she comes home with "I want to wear make up, everyone does in College!".  Well, we did translate the "everyone" down to a lot of girls wear it, mostly in 7th and 8th.  However, some 6th graders are beginning to experiment with mascara and eye liner.  So what is the right age?

The new cell phone!!

I'm a believer in educating and discussing. I try not to jump right in my answer before looking around a bit.  I also believe that for teens, make up can be a gradual thing...start slow, little by little.  Is a little light lip gloss so wrong now?  I believe if you totally forbid it without any discussion, girls may just go into the bathrooms before school and put on "forbidden" make up.  I certainly remember seeing some of my friends do that in high school.  Girls that came from extremely conservative families.  I don't want to go that route.  But I also don't think a fully made up face at age 12 & 13 is also appropriate.  There has to be some middle ground here.

Yes, she has perfected the art of rip-sticking and texting at the same time!

Now the debate in our household is the obvious one, young almost 12 year old wants to wear some make up, I'm biding my time until I get more information and her father says "No way", she is too young, end of discussion. It's fair to say we both don't want her to look cheap.  I've try to tell her make up is to enhance her look - naturally not put a face on.  We due let her experiment a little at home, when she's staying home - I think it's our way of compromising a bit and also monitoring how much she uses.

When I say, I'm biding my time, I'm actually doing research, as I look around at her friends, I check to see who is wearing make up and how much.  So far the results are extremely varied - some friends do, some don't.  I've also seen some girls who are already 12 & 13 wear make up and they look pretty natural and not over done.  I have also seen the opposite with too much eye pencil and mascara.  Raccoon eyes or smokey eyes do not look good on young teenagers!  The results also seem pretty similar culturally - I have seen photos of friend's teenage children in the States, and looked around here in France - I don't think it matters where one lives it's still a discussion.

So, I would love any comments and advice on when "teenagers" should start wearing make up and how much?  Do you have a teenage daughter?  Does she where make up?  How old was she when she started?  Did she start gradually or discuss and let here decide?  They grow up so fast!

Take over holiday break - Youngest and Oldest!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Epiphany - King's Day Celebrations


King's Day - a fun family celebration in France

January 6th is King's Day or Epiphany.  It is celebrated all over France - actually for the whole month of January.  Beginning in early January, all the bakeries and markets start selling "Gallettes" or King's cakes.  In general there are a couple of different kinds.  Either a layered pastry filled with almond paste - or frangipane or a lighter brioche or sweet bread ring sprinkled with sugar.  Years ago, these styles were more defined by region, one coming from the North and the other from the South.  However, now days you can get either throughout France, it just depends on your preference.  I have also heard of some regional specialities with added dried fruit on top.  Any way you slice it, there has to be a cake to celebrate King's Day.

The tradition here is that each King's cake is baked with a small "feve" or bean inside.  Presently, it's no longer a bean, but a tiny ceramic object.  The person who gets this in their cake piece is the King or Queen for the day!  For children, this is so fun, as most bakeries, if they know there is a child in the house, give you a crown with your cake purchase.  Now this cake can also be made at home.  But since, in general I am not a baker, and I feel the pastry shops would still make one better than I would, we just purchase ours!  Maybe someday I'll get brave.

The smallest child in the house is to get under the table and as the cake is cut, that child names who gets which piece.  Hopefully, as you cut the cake, no one sees the "feve" before everyone starts eating.  We shared this tradition with my mother who is visiting from the States and my 5 year old daughter was more than happy to jump under the table and dictate who gets which piece.

And guess who got the "feve" or in our case, 2 little horses?  Yes, it was Nana!  She got to be Queen for the evening!  We told her it meant she didn't have to help clean the dishes!

 Nana and her crown!
The bakery was very sweet and asked me how many children I had, so we got a couple of extra crowns!  That was very nice!  This was our second King's Day here in France and believe me, I have a feeling this will become a family tradition no matter where we live!  They even celebrate this tradition in the schools here in January by serving King's cake for dessert one lunch.    As I said earlier, even though January 6th is the official King's Day - France celebrates with this cake during the whole month of January - who wouldn't with this delicious dessert!  Enjoy your week!

Please pardon the photos - these were from my phone, as I didn't have my camera handy...but still wanted to capture the fun that was had!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Happy New Year 2013 from Bordeaux, France

It's 2013 - New Year - New Beginnings....

It's the New vacation is almost over....and Monday the kids go back to school.  It's been nice to have 2 weeks off to relax and rejuvenate - but getting back into the routine will be nice also.

You may have noticed that things have been a bit quiet on the blog front lately....we are still dealing with technical difficulties with WiFi at the house.  I'm hoping during this next week, we will be back up and running.  It's been a long saga...I won't take up space to detail all the ups and downs of trying to get our line fixed properly.  It's just fair to say customer service is not the same in France as in the US & then you throw vacation in the middle of things and we still wait.  Life is not always perfect here - we take the good with the bad.

The upside of a technology-absent household is that the girls (and us as parents) have had to find other ways to entertain themselves.  Lots of barbies, games and doll playing going on. I have enjoyed lots of books.  It's been nice to have more family game nights.  I don't think I remember playing so many games of Sorry, Monopoly, cards or Blockus in a long time. Sneaking off to the mall or the library for Wifi has been an interesting feat - but now I know where to go to get free Wifi and how to connect.  Right now I'm enjoying a quiet Saturday morning at Le Bois de Bersol in Pessac (new commercial centre or mall).

Looking forward to the New Year - finding more adventures to have, and settling into our life here in Bordeaux.  The holidays brought together our families.  We enjoyed Christmas with my in-laws and my mother who is visiting for the holidays.  It was fun to host the Christmas dinners and have it at our house.  We had a house full, but it's that part of the fun?  We also enjoyed holiday activities in Pessac prior to the holidays.  The town has some fun events, including children's games, music and reindeer.  We also enjoyed a Kid's Rock concert sponsored by KidsPalace - and danced for a couple of hours.  I have to say the French do know how to have a good time.

Here are a few photos of some of our holiday....

Buche de Noel - Delicious Chocolate and lemon mousse.

A walk along the beach on the 26th of December!

My holiday getting all festive!

Pere Noel arrived during the night.

Festive Pessac Centre

My daughter enjoying the Reindeer from Lapland!

Always a carousel to be found!

Love the Youth band!  The music was fun too!

You can even post your letter to Pere Noel - if you haven't done so already.

Old-fashion games were a huge hit with both adults and children!

The girls, my mother and husband all enjoying a new "old" game.

So it's 2013 - I'm hoping to continue to blog and share more adventures of our family.  Praying that we are back on-line soon as I have many posts that I wasn't able to share in December.    Looking forward to new themes and ideas to discuss.  Blogging has become a great outlet for me - memories to share, experiences to document and just new ways to look at life.  

Even though I have not been able to post this past month, I have enjoyed reading the blogs I follow from time to time.  It's so nice to compare every one's traditions, experiences and holiday fun!  Happy New Year 2013 - Hope for everyone it's a year fun of health, happiness and great experiences and I look forward to continue to stay connected!

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