Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Everyday Life - sometimes it's the same in France

Enjoying the everyday!

I was just thinking that I write a lot about how life here in France is different, new and sometimes pretty exciting.  I think  that's often the case when one moves to a new place, finds new friends, discovers new places and adjusts to new routines.  Especially with this overseas move, most things just seemed different; A new language, new schools, new systems all in a foreign country.  I think for most of the first year, I often compared my experiences here to my life back home in the States.  The girls often talked about how things were different  in the States.  What we failed to focus on or mention is how life can be the same or similar no matter where you are.

I look at our everyday routine and I see with the exception of me (as I used to work full-time), life hasn't changed too much for the girls.  They go to school, ride the bus, have lunch & recess with their friends and participate in several after-school activities.  Parent meetings at the beginning of the school year to meet your child's teacher and learn about the curriculum, basically the same as it was back home.  Same type of information presented and same type of questions asked by parents.

Parents registering kids for activities at the beginning of the school year was also the same here as it was in the States.  We just finished the registration period for summer camps, same.  Parents run their kids around after school and on weekends, going to different activities.  There is that same feeling of giving your children the opportunity and experience of  participating in various things.  We are lucky here in Bordeaux that there are so many choices - swimming, tennis, gymnastics, martial arts, dance, musics classes, circus class, soccer, rugby - just to name a few.  My children, along with their French friends, are all participating in several activities.

Weekends often mean one of the girls head over to a friend's house, or a friend comes here.  We have hosted our fair share of sleep-overs.  Birthday parties- every little kid loves to invite their friends over to celebrate their special day!  Just like in the States, we have been invited to plenty of birthday parties.  Kids here also enjoy playing their Wiis & X-Boxes, seeing a new movie, or just hanging out with each other. French pre-teens have cell phones, use instagram & have facebook accounts.  Other than listening to all of this go on around me in French, I could close my eyes and the same scenario would be happening in the States.  Kids being kids!

Food - we eat and I cook somewhat the same as I did back home.  Yes, I have added some new dishes to our menu, but I have always been one to try out a new recipe in a cooking magazine or enjoy the seasonal specialities.  But I have kept some favorite dishes that we have always enjoyed - Spaghetti & meatballs, Tacos, barbecued chicken and of course a good old-fashioned hamburger! The ingredients for these dishes are readily available at most super markets here and versions are also made by the French.  Having a pizza delivered or going to a Chinese buffet are also everyday options for families.  There are at least 3 pizza take out & delivery places located within a 1/2 mile of each other in my town here in France.  (Now, I do live in a bigger city, not in the countryside - but isn't that similar to the US too - more options in more cosmopolitan places?)

Presently, we have just started our two-week Spring break.  Yes, just like back home in the States, a lot of people are taking a vacation away.  But others, like ourselves are staying around.  Again, another similarity is there are a lot of special events, and family oriented activities available in this area - it's just the matter of deciding what you want to do.

There are many differences in how we live here, what we do, the rhythm of life and how things are done.  We have gained such a different perspective and we are still learning.  But sometimes it's nice to look around and realize how life is similar no matter where you live.   For that  reason I'm grateful and pretty content.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Meeting one of my Favorite authors - Tatiana de Rosnay!

Bordeaux, Mollat & a great evening!

In my last post, I shared some fun photos that I took during an evening trip into downtown Bordeaux.  What I neglected to elaborate on was the reason, my daughter and I were downtown.  We were going to see one of my favorite authors.  If you follow me on Instagram and facebook, you might have caught more about that evening.

Let me back up a little bit...I enjoy reading.  I don't always get tons of time to enjoy a good book - but when I find one I enjoy- I somehow always try to make time.  I also have to admit, it sometimes takes me weeks to finish a book - as I'm so tired as my head hits the pillow, that I only read a page or 2 and my eyes get heavy and off to dream land I go.  I have found over the years that even though I enjoy many different genres and authors - it's often a certain style of writing or how the author unfolds the story that will captive me.  For this reason, if I find an author that I like, I tend to find out what else he or she has written and devour all their books.

This is what happened a few years ago, when I found the book, Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.  I was riveted, captured and so drawn into the story, it's one of few books that I kept reading anytime I could find a few minutes.  I had picked it up as a summer reading book as we headed off on vacation (lucky for me, I wasn't trying to read this book, work full-time & juggle all the kids too!)  After reading that book, I looked for other books by her.  What I found out was she was actually a very well known European author, having been named one of the top 10 fiction writers in 2009 and currently, one of the top novelist of books read in France during the last 10 years.  I found her fascinating as she was bilingual having grown up in Paris & Boston and having both French & English parents. Even though, she had published 11 books in France since 1992.   At that time, her books were just starting to be published in the States and I would have to wait until 2010 for A Secret Kept & 2012 for The House I loved.  But wait I did and still find her stories and writing fascinating!!

So when I saw that she was coming to Bordeaux to speak at Mollat (Bookstore - equivalent to American -Barnes & Noble) I was thrilled.  I also decided it would be a great opportunity to have my oldest daughter meet a famous author too.  It worked out perfectly that she was speaking in the early evening - and would also be doing book signings.  So I picked my daughter up at after-school, and we headed downtown.

It couldn't have been a more perfect evening.  We were extremely fortunate to arrive early enough to meet her and have her sign a few books before she took a break to get ready to speak.

She was so easy to talk to - We spoke but French & English to her.  She seems happy to use her English, telling us that she usually doesn't get to speak too much English in Southern France.   Asked us where we were from in the States and shared with us she had lived in Boston.  Together, we all shared in our compassion for the people of Boston - knowing the bombing had taken place just a couple days before. She signed several books for us and even asked the sales person to find an English version of Sarah's Key for us.   Such a lovely woman and although brief, we will definitely remember our interaction with her.

We left her to go walk around a bit before she was speaking at 6 pm.  We then found out that the "salon" or living room where she was speaking was upstairs 4 flights.  Now, a little something about me - I don't like heights - well not exactly heights - that feeling of insecurity when on can see down too far.  I love beautiful views but - if getting up means I anything to do with an open staircase, or stairwell - I usually take an elevator!  I have narrowed this phobia down to it truly being a visual thing - I climb towers, I go up high buildings and look out, I have also been known to walk up bell towers - but in all of those cases - it was either an elevator or a solid - enclosed stairwell that got me up there.  So, as we entered the stairwell area to go up to the room where she was speaking ..this is a photo of the stairwell that I needed to climb up 4 flights!  It's a bit hard to tell from the photo - but it is only wide enough for 2 people abreast.   Deep breath, here.

Needless to say, I was really wanted to hear her speak - so I told my daughter - (who knows I'm uncomfortable, but doesn't really know that my feet sweat, my hands sweat, and I most often I just bow out gracefully in cases like this one.) that she was to walk next to me the whole way up to block my view of the center opening. She was just as happy as she finds it fascinating to look up, down & around as she climbs.  Thanks goodness for that!!

So we made it up and listened for about an hour - her talk was truly  fascinating.  We learned about how she started writing, why she writes in both English & French  (interesting to note she does not do her own translating).  A bit about her family heritage - French, English & Russian.  What she thinks about social media and staying connected with her fans.  She also spoke about making Sarah's Key in to a movie and the experience of working with the director and screenwriter.  She's excited about 2 more books being made into movies coming up.  She talked about being bilingual.  Even my oldest was glued to her chair truly enjoying the evening.

I have to say it was a wonderful evening to share with my oldest.  After the talk, my daughter & I headed out to have a bite to eat together.  I don't often get one on one time with my girls, so this was great.

Then to further confirm what a sweet caring person  Tatiana de Rosnay is...Click below and open up the comments for the photo.

americanmominbordeaux on Instagram

By the way  - if you are reading this blog with google reader - which will be stopping soon - You many switch over to Bloglovin.  This blog is now connected over at that site and they will also move all your currently read blogs over - once you open an account - it's free and easy and a way to keep reading up to date on all your favorite blogs in one place.  If you are already on bloglovin and do not currently follow this blog, feel free to click on the Eiffel Tower on the right side of this page to add it to your daily reads.  Thank you again for reading - until next time!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Bordeaux - A Spring Evening in Pictures

Evening in the City

The other evening I had the opportunity to be in downtown Bordeaux in the early evening.  I didn't think about it ahead of time, but the lighting providing some beautiful photo opportunities.  I'm posting these photos just to enjoy a few moments in time.

Happy Weekend!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Finally Spring & Warmer weather in Bordeaux - Mid-week update

Ah, it's Wednesday - mid-week break as I like to say in France.  My two younger daughters get their day of R&R and I get some fun quality time with them.  I am so excited that the weather has finally taken a turn for the better.  It's been in the mid to upper 20's C (70's-80's)  and sunny since this past weekend.  We took advantage of the great weather and went for a couple of walks through two nearby (& favorite) parks.  It was wonderful to be outside, basking in the sun, frolicking in the grass and just taking in the gorgeous weather.

 First up is our walk through Parc Majorlan...this unique park is always fun to walk through and never disappoints.  I first blogged about it here.  This trip we enjoyed exploring inside the old grotto.

After we cooled off inside with the grotto exploration, we walked over to the playground and enjoyed a snack.

It's just always so nice to be outside and enjoying the wonderful weather.  On Sunday afternoon, we headed out to Le Site du Bourgailh, another fun walk.  This time the kids could take their bikes.  My oldest who is still recovering from her skiing knee injury even brought her rip-stick to fool around with...I guess nothing stops you when you just want to enjoy yourself!

After we enjoyed our super afternoon, we headed home to enjoy some market fresh food.  - White Asparagus, purple beets & a white bean & tomato salad.  So delicious and fresh on a warm Sunday evening!

So here's to Spring and the return of sunny warmer days!  Looking forward to exploring more parks and sites nearby!

If you want to read more about Le Site du Bourgailh - There are older posts - Spring Festival at Site du Bourgailh & Readjusting our concept of time.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Who's really riding in that bus....L'equipe de Football (Soccer) or Classe de Neige?

Being famous for a minute!

Good day everyone,

I wanted to write a quick post this morning about a funny story that happenned yesterday.  My middle daughter returned from her week-long Classe de Neige (Snow class) last night.  I will do another post and photos about this very fun & great experience shortly.

We received nightly emails from the teacher & even a couple emails from our daughter. The week passed quickly and I knew she was having a wonderful time.  We, at the same time, were very excited to see her again.   All the parents gathered at the school at 6 pm and we waited for the arrival of their bus.  It's always such a touching moment to wait for your child to return home after being away for a little while.  The following is a photo of the the bus they left on...(photo courtesy of another parent).  Typical tour bus chartered to take the students on their ski trip to the Pyrenees Mountains.

And as we were waiting....This is the bus that pulls up to the school.  Now, for the French who are reading this, you may recognize the team.  This is one of the official buses that the Bordeaux l'equipe de football (soccer) uses to travel.  The Girondins are the Football (Soccer) team of Bordeaux.  This is a team that would play the Paris team (which David Beckham plays on).  For Americans, the popularity of Soccer in France is equivalent to the popularity of Baseball or Football in the States.  So imagine a Boston Red Sox team bus, Cincinnati Reds team bus, Buffalo Bills team bus, or NY Yankees team bus.  You get my point, it's a pretty big deal.

And it stops and the doors open............

.and out pops all of our kids!!

The kids were so excited that they got to ride on one for the customized buses for the Girondins.  According to my daughter, the whole back end of the bus was sectionals and a living room area to relax.  Now, I' m not quite sure exactly why they got this bus, other than it's the same bus company who provides transportation.  The kids were thrilled.  I think the first thing my daughter said to us (after the hug) was "Do you see that bus! Isn't it cool?  Mom, do you know who rides in that bus?"

My daughter continued to explain that during the ride, on-lookers would honk, and take photos of the bus assuming it was the famous soccer team!  When they stopped at a rest stop, the kids again watched people "oo & ah" about the bus,  & take more photos.  Not too bad when your in 3rd grade!!

The bus experience was definitely a bonus highlight of the trip.  I guess we could call it one of their 5 minutes of fame in life - even though it actually lasted the 4 hour bus trip.  So here is my "famous" happy daughter with my husband - Very excited to have had such a great trip, but also thrilled to be back home.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Year Later....Ramblings on French paperwork

What a difference a year can make....

Yesterday, I registered my kids for summer camp through our town here in France.  Last summer, I posted a bit on this experience - Summer, Pessac Market, friends & Sailing Camp  & the day camp experience - Day Camp French Style-Centre-de-Loisirs.  What I didn't post was how frustrating, pain-in-the-neck, long process it was to register them last year.  Having been through many different registration processes in the states, this one had to be one of the worst.  This is also one of the tough things about being an expat...systems are different.

Lac Cazoux - home of  the Nautical camp

Rewind to last April - we had only been in the country for a mere 4 1/2 months.  We had heard lots of great things about summer camps or "Sejours d'ete" as they call them here.  We had learned they were reasonable in cost, fun for the kids and parents spoke very highly about them.  Great, I started doing my research early and found out that our town offered 2 camps in the summer.  One was a sailing/nautical camp at a lake about 45 minutes away near the ocean and the other was a mountain/hiking/outdoor adventure-kind of camp in the Pyrenees mountains.  As I did my on-line research, I figured out when to register, what paperwork I needed to bring in, but nothing about the cost or if English paperwork (kid's health immunizations) were acceptable.
Departure day for camp 
I find this fairly typical about the way things are done here in France.  Information is often not succinctly presented as I've been use to from my American perspective.  Even though, all of this information was found on the town's website - one had to go through different screens to put it all together - and as far as cost - all it would say was it was dependent on your CAF.  CAF stands for  caisse d’Allocations familiales or money that the  government provides for families to supplement extra costs of children.  This allocation is dependent on your family income. So naturally, the lower the family income, the more CAF one would receive & additionally, the lower the family income, the less a family pays for town/school services relating to children.  Cost of camps, after-school programming, vacation programming, certain town-sponsored after-school activities & lunches at school are all pro-rated by one's income.  So it make sense to me that the cost of camp is dependent on one's CAF allocation - but there was no table, no range, Nada...This meant I had to email and ask for this information.

Now, at that point, I was less comfortable with my written French, so I had my husband email about a month before we were to start registering for camp.  The response back to his email, "We haven't set up the cost table, so can not answer your question at this time, we will send it out once we have created it.".  So we waited, I had heard that these camps have limited spaces and fill up fast so it's best to sign up as soon as registration opens. (No surprise there, I know where I lived in the States - same thing for a lot of summer programs).  It came to the weekend before registration and still no word on cost - so I sent an email in my probably, at the time, not so great French and asked for the cost - This was done the morning before registration was to open that afternoon.

Sending the big girls off to camp for a week
Surprise, they did send me the cost, & also encouraged me to register early.  But they didn't answer how this was billed, did they charge it all up front?  Was I to pay a deposit when I registered? How much of a deposit did they want?  I wanted both girls to attend the same camp, the same week - I was flexible on weeks, was this possible?  It looked like I could register them on-line but I had all these questions and others about our paperwork, so I opted to go register them in person. (As it was indicated, registration is first-come first served - with 1/2 on line and the other 1/2 in person).

So off I went that afternoon to the Mayor's office with paperwork in hand and armed with my questions.  As I got to the Mayor's office (Now, you have to remember that here in France, La Mairie (or mayor's office) is  the place to do all paperwork and anything relating to town activities - Think, School District, Town Offices & State Offices rolled into one..so it's a busy place on any given day!)  and went inside and noticed it was jammed packed - lots of people - all with paperwork in hand - all doing the exact same thing as me.  You are given a number in line and you wait until your called.  They were at number 104 and I was number 181!!  I glanced around to see that yes, there were many assistants open and taking people, so I hoped that this would move along at a decent pace.  This was not the case, it seemed to take each person 10-15 minutes each to do their registrations.  Another difference in France, people are not in a hurry, especially in situations like this.  The clerk works through the paperwork, talks with person but at their own pace.   Again, coming from the States, having been in registration situations similar, I was use to people speeding along - trying to get everyone through the process.  Here it's more about taking care of the people in the process, and there is always tomorrow.

I then realized that I had forgotten the registration form which I had printed out at home.  That's okay - I figured it wouldn't take me long to go home, get the form and return - I would probably still make it back before my number was called.  At least that trip took some time away from waiting.  I returned at 3 pm and they were only at 155.  I  then proceeded to wait until 4:40 and still being 10 numbers away from being called, I had to leave to go pick up my kids from school. There were still about 20 - 30 people waiting just like me.  Frustrated, no questions answered, no registration done, I headed home. This was ridiculous, I had wasted my whole afternoon for nothing.  I was not happy. I figured I would return the next day and start this ridiculous process again - hopefully with better results - if there was still room in the programs.

They come back - tanned, relaxed and thrilled about their experience.
After I got the kids off the bus, I figured I'd take a few minutes to look at the on-line registration process.  It wouldn't answer many of my questions, but I would see how it goes.  So I clicked on and began to register my first daughter for camp - name, camp name, which week  (so far so good).  Then it got a bit tricky - one needed to upload and attach the various documentation (this is where I had some questions) but I figured I would see what I could do.  So I scanned each piece - CAF verification, Medical/Social Security verification, copy of kid's immunization (now this was in English - but it's all I had), and registration form.  The only thing I was missing was a swim test - proof they could swim.  I attached what I could and proceeded. It confirmed what I attached, didn't seem to mind that I was missing the swim test & moved me on - The next part was a great surprise - There was a place where I could ask my questions!!  So I typed my questions in. I was still unsure about the billing, but figured I would see a screen later.  Again, I confirmed and moved on, it asked me to confirm the summary and then send.  What no payment?

But I had one done and  sent - so I went on to register my other daughter - I figured on her question section, I would ask about payment.  Her registration was a bit easier as I knew what to attach.  I asked my questions about billing and sent it in.  This whole process took me about an hour and a half.  But at least it was done...I was pretty sure I had registered them.  Happily the next morning, I received confirmation that my registrations had been received and accepted.  They were set.  They even confirmed that they would bill us on our monthly town bill in 3 payments.  Great, but this information could have been posted somewhere.

Fast -forward a year later,  Yesterday, was registration day.  This time, I was not going to go to the Mayor's office and waste my afternoon - Armed with the completed registration form,  I sat down at my computer at the 1:30 pm - the designated start time for registration and proceeded through the process.  In just under 10 minutes, I was done!  Within an hour, I received confirmation that they were all set.  Now, that was efficient!  Yes, what a difference a year makes - I have to say - the French love their paperwork and it's not always clear to know what exactly is needed - but it's improving.  With an Internet registration, this was about as easy as it gets.
I think we are finally understanding the system better here - but a little good luck helps too!
Please pardon my long post here - but one of the things about living in France is there many times there seems to be a lot of paperwork to hand in for lots of things.  The French love their dossiers!  But at the same time this is not always the case - other things, take a simple one page application and some trust that all will be fine - but that is a post for another time.

Have a great day!!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Week Wrap Up - American Mom in Bordeaux Featured on Expats blog-an Experience Shared

Happy Weekend Everyone!!

I can't believe Friday is almost over - at least in this neck of the woods.  I noticed tonight that since we just recently changed over to daylight savings time, it's staying lighter longer.  Now, I know that's a pretty obvious statement - but it's only the beginning of April and at almost 9 pm tonight it was still light out!  I'm so anxious for it to really begin to warm up and be sunny again.  Today was a good start  - we had sunshine - but it was still a bit chilly.  Then there was this random rain shower that blew through around lunch time for about an hour or so, but then the sun was out again for the rest of the afternoon.

It's been a busy week - my middle daughter is off skiing this week  (yes, now it's her turn) with her CE2 (3rd grade) class.  Yes, the teacher took 26 kids off to the Pyrenees to ski & snowshoe.  This is kind of trip is very popular among schools in France - it's called Classe de Neige (snow class) - they ski, snowshoe and do a little bit school work too.  I'll write more about her trip later - after she returns - I'm sure she will have plenty of stories!  We sent her off early Thursday morning - nothing like being at school at 6:50 am!!  She will return next Wednesday.

So a favor of everyone who reads this blog - we are now listed on the
Expats blog  - an Experience shared.
This marvelous site is for anyone worldwide who is an expat and blogs!  There are some awesome blogs on this page - I love it too, as you can check blogs by country.  It's designed to be both a sharing center and also a resource for anyone who is considering being an expat.

Hop on over & check out my blog there - please leave some love for this blog in their comment section - there is a section at the bottom of the page - they track those things - it's designed to give them feedback and also help new readers to see which blogs can be very helpful.  Another reason is they get to see which blogs readers have found and are reading.  You can find my blog here:

American Mom in Bordeaux - on Expats blog

Thank you in advance - Have a great weekend !

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