Monday, September 21, 2015

Journees Europeennes du Patromonie - Heritage Days at Chateau La Brede

Home of Montesquieu
Each year in France, The Office of the Minister of Culture and Communication in France hosts a National weekend celebrating European Heritage. During this event, over 17,000 monuments open their doors with 25,000 festivals planned all over the country. This past weekend marked the 32nd edition of this National event.  It's a wonderful time to visit historic monuments, often for free or at a reduced price. There is so much to do and see, it's hard to know where to start!

We decided to visit Chateau La Brede - Home of the philosopher, Montesquieu, located just outside the small village of La Brede, about 20 minutes Southwest of Bordeaux.  An easy drive out to the country! It's a beautiful estate and has been kept relatively the same since medieval times!

This feudal castle dates back to the middle ages.  It was built in 1306 in Gothic style with a moat and an English garden surrounding the building itself. It is located in the center of a vineyard, which was very important to Montesquieu, himself.  Montesquieu's family owned this property and the philosopher was born, lived and wrote from this place.  He very much enjoyed his vineyard and would spend from March to October here overseeing the wine season. He loved this area as it was truly a "getaway" from the hustle and bustle of the city (both Bordeaux & Paris).  The property was kept by his descendants up until 2004, when it was then bequeathed to a Foundation allowing it to serve as a museum as a remembrance to the famed philosopher.
The fun part of going during the Heritage days is that they also had a medieval festival happening on the property.  This festival included entertainers, musicians and people all dressed in period costumes. There were snack to buy, music to enjoy and also a talk/lecture about this property and it's history.  In the evening, they were also putting on a theater event.  All of this for the special heritage weekend!
We chose to take the guided tour of the chateau to learn more about Montesquieu and his wonderful home.  There are no photographs allowed inside the chateau, but the tour is very interesting and its fascinating to see the how the building has been updated through the ages. I loved also hearing about Montesquieu himself and additionally of his daughter, Denise and her role as secretary to her father, which was truly modern in that time as it was traditionally a man's role.    

Many rooms are still decorated as they were in the times of Montesquieu, but others have been updated to show more modern use from the later family descendants.  Montesquieu loved to travel and often collected souvenirs from places he visited, many of these are still inside.  
The double entrance across the moat is very fascinating and quite unique as it's all still fully intact.  The girls had fun running around the bridges. The rose below was found in the courtyard just in front of the entrance to the castle. Such a delicate beauty next to the strength of a fortress chateau!
After our tour, which took about an hour, we continued to wander around the grounds.  It was a beautiful afternoon to enjoy some time in the country!

Now if you are a long-time reader of my blog, you might remember that back in May 2013, I wrote about Chateau La Brede, so yes, it was my second time visiting the chateau.  However, I remembered enjoying the visit and since the kids were now older - I thought they might get more out of it, especially with the medieval festival happenning on the grounds. Additionally 2 years ago, I took the guided tour in English and this time, we did the tour in French.  It's nice to be able to absorb so much more in my second language.  I know 2 years ago, I wasn't ready to truly understand all this history explained in the French language!

We are looking forward to the next "Journees Europeenes du Patromonie" in France - it's such a fun way to learn more about France's rich history.

For fun - I have shared a photo of us from this past Saturday and then one from 2 years ago!!  Yes, the girls have definitely grown a lot!!!
This weekend with my middle (11) and youngest (7) daughters
May 2013 - My three girls - 12, 9 & 5 years old.

Lou Messugo

Sunday, September 13, 2015

New Routines...Settling in after La Rentree - Life in France for Expat kids

Back to School - What does daily life look like for us 
Place du Palais, Bordeaux
La Rentree (or Back to School) in France was September 1st.  We have now just finished 2 weeks of school, new schedules, new teachers and new activities.  It's also back to work for most parents after having some summer time off.

First for my oldest - She started 3eme (9th grade-US) this year. This is an important year in French schools.  It is the last year of middle school (or college in French) and at the end of this year there is a National exam called the Brevet.  What is the Brevet? - it's an assessment of knowledge exam.  This exam helps decide on which track or section one studies in high school.  It's important to do your best to be placed in the track or section that you want or the one that will prepare you the most for your future.  During this year, we will also decide if she stays at her current school to enter the Lycee or changes high schools for a school that might have a better fit for what she wants to study.  As a bilingual student, I'm looking for at least a lycee that has a European Section - in English or an Advanced English section, An International Baccalaureate American program is an option too.  All of these options, I'll share more on as we start our process later this year.  For now, it's just important to know that even though it's her last year in middle school it's an important one.

Juggling a schedule which begins at 8am almost everyday and ends between 4:30 pm and 5:30 pm, Her classes this year include: French, Math, History/Geography/Civics, Science(Biology& Earth), Physics, Advanced English, European Section-Anglophone Culture, Spanish, Italian, Technology, Music & Physical Education. This means there is not a lot of time for extra activities.  Like the States, it's important that kids do participate in some extracurricular activity. There are no clubs or school sponsored activities but their are many associations in town which offer lots of choices.  Most important also in France is to have continued with at least one activity for several years.  She's my dancer (having danced since she was 2.5 years old - every year).  She opted this year to stop ballet (or Classique in French) and focus on more modern dancing.  She is taking a Ragga dance class (modern dancing to music which has roots in Jamaican & reggae) for 2 hours each week.  She will also be trying Rock climbing. (She's my daredevil!) once a week.

For my middle daughter, she is adjusting to her new 6eme (6th grade-US) schedule.  Like the United States it's the first year that she changes classes and teachers.Her classes also do not all meet everyday or have the same amount of time dedicated to each.  So each day is different.   Her days, like her sisters for the most part begin at 8am and end around 4 pm.  Like all French children, Wednesday is also a half-day.  For her the adjustment has been planning ahead and understanding that what may seem like a lot of homework for one night, is actually for 2 or 3 nights. Similar to US schools, she is placed on the equivalent of a team (here they call it a class) where most all the kids have the same teachers and similar schedules with the exception of  which foreign languages and which level one takes in English (All students are required to take English in France).  Her classes are French, Math, History/Geography, Science (Bio/Earth), Advanced English, German, Art, Technology, Music, & Physical Education.

She's my tallest daughter, now almost taller than me.  (As of this post, I can still claim a couple fingers width in height over her).  Due to the fact that she grows so fast, she's often found herself uncoordinated and even though she has tried several different sports - gymnastics, circus class, ballet & last year horseback riding - she's never cared for them and it's not been quick for her to learn and master. In essence over the years, she has veered more and more away from sport activities. Keeping in mind that she needs to find her niche, we talked about the various choices she had for activities.  After much discussion - she opted for a modern street jazz class at a new dance studio that specializes in more modern types of dances (a different studio than her sister).  The other night was her exploration class to see if she liked. I was pleased and happy that she loved it!  So Friday nights, for an hour, she will be dancing.
My youngest daughter is reveling in the fact that she is the only one of my three in Elementary school.  For her this means there is no older sister there telling her "what to do" or "how to act".  She's feeling very independent as she's beginning CE2 (3rd grade-US).  Her day begins at 8:30 am and ends at 4:15pm.  There has been a little change in the school hours this year and she now ends at 4:15 pm instead of 4:30 pm.  Additionally, as of last year with educational reform, the town added educational workshops to their day.  Theses workshops are optional, but are financially supported by the town and give the children explorations to many different enrichment topics, including - The Arts, Sciences, Civics/Citizen, Health/Well being, Languages, & Constructing/Building.  The kids rotate through these workshops, which meet 2 hours/week throughout the year.  I think the hardest thing for me this year is the change in pick up time - there is something about 15 minutes earlier that is just harder for my mind to wrap around.  Her day includes French, Math, Science and History alternated, English (twice a week), and art/music once a week.  All classes are taught by her teacher.  As I said in an earlier post - she actually has 2 teachers - the director and another teacher who teaches 2 days/week (Allowing for the director to have administrative duties).  

For my youngest, her activity this year will be swimming lessons.  After many years of trying to get her into swimming lessons here in Pessac (Our local pool always has a wait list!!).  I found a new place with a small pool that does small group lessons - perfect for her to learn her strokes and work on techniques.  Ironically, she has always been comfortable in the water (I think it's just in her blood and the fact that since being an infant - we always taken vacation near or on the water.) and the past year or so has done her version of the "dogie paddle" and getting more and more confident about jumping in.  She's had 2 lessons so far and enjoys the small group of 6 students.  I can breathe easier now knowing that my youngest finally is going to know how to swim.  This is an important life activity for me and one that I am thrilled that is finally working out for her.  Unfortunately, most activities for elementary age children are on Wednesday afternoons - with swimming in the middle of the afternoon and my oldest having a dance class late in the afternoon - she will probably only be doing swimming lessons this year. However, over school breaks, there are often mini-workshops where she can explore additional activities.
In France, children are not "overbooked" with activities.  There is a cultural appreciation for "downtime".  The French value free time where children can rest and "do nothing".  A time to recuperate, rejuvenate and relax. School is the priority for children but also time to rest. I like the fact that balance is appreciated here.  When we first moved here and my girls were doing 2 or 3 activities each - like they were use to in the States, I remember many French women asking me "Is it too much" - "When do they rest", "Aren't they tired after school?".  Needles to say, as we begin our 5th year here - I have come to appreciate the balance and sometimes wonder why in American - we seemed "in a hurry" to have our children experience everything so young.  (But that is a post for another time...)

For me in the midst of it all - I'm grateful to be working part-time as a guide and growing this blog to be able to share more of our life here and expat life in this part of France. I, like many other adults am trying to balance my life with being a mom of 3 girls.  Being in my later 40's, I am also aware that its important to take care of myself and to also exercise to stay healthy. Last year, I began a new life living on my own and restarting and it felt good.  This year,  I will be adding more exercise to my routine beginning with playing tennis once a week and I'm also fitting in an aqua-aerobic/aqua-bike class once a week. My goal is to find balance between it all.

Additionally, I wanted to share that part of starting the new year included remodeling my living area in my home.  I needed more seating for friends and additionally, as I only have 3 bedrooms, I wanted a sofa bed for company.  This re-organization also created a beautiful reading corner under my stairs complete with an office nook for my printer/laptop.  This area has turned into a wonderful place for the girls and myself to relax and just hang out together. There is plenty of space to stretch out and relax.

The reading nook has become a great addition too - as it's across the room from the main seating area and allows for an individual to "get away" from the television or noise on the other side of the room, but also be comfortable.  I'm loving the "new" room and it feels great to start the year feeling more comfortable in our space. 

So tomorrow we begin week three - and the new routine for all of some ways it's similar to how our life would have been in the States, but at the same time it's a different lifestyle.  I hope this gives you, my readers, a sense of our days here and life in general with kids in France.  Happy end of the weekend to everyone!!  For those with school-age children, who are back to school - here's to a new school year and new experience for everyone!

Friday, September 4, 2015

French Lessons On-Line - Excited to announce a partnership with Frantastique!

Opportunity to Learn or Improve your French with

Being in the mode of Back to School or as we say here - La Rentree - I thought it would be the perfect time to add something new to the blog. An opportunity to learn or improve your French. I am really excited to announce this partnership.  I was first introduced to frantastique this summer when I was exploring different opportunities for my readers.

frantastique is an international company (a division of the language company Gymglish) who provide Online French lessons.  Their lessons are fun, practical, and personalized. The system also provides a revision schedule to help with retaining knowledge.

With Frantastique you receive a daily on-line email lesson. No classes to attend, no materials to buy. This lesson contains a selection of exercises, texts, dialogues, audios and videos.  They also include original stories and historical information.  Once you have completed your daily lesson (only takes about 15-mins) - you send back and corrections are received right away.  Your corrections come with personalized explanations and information.  This course adapts to your wishes, needs and learning speed.  As you proceed through more and more lessons, the program focuses on the points that you struggle with, as well as topics you have requested.

I know personally when I arrived in French 4 years ago, I hadn't had formal French review or lessons in years.  We talked about me taking French lessons, but with three very active children, it was hard to find the time.  I also had a good basic level - I could read most things, and with concentration understand most people.  Speaking was the hardest for me.  Acquiring new vocabulary was also needed for certain life tasks.

I have met many expats who arrived here in France for various reasons who speak very little or no French at all.  Yes, some take classes to get to a basic level of French but all of this takes time and lessons are often only once a week.  This is why I thought it might be helpful to provide these types of lessons for all kinds of learners - beginners, through more advanced learners.  This program can reinforce a class or just serves as a refresher course for more proficient speakers.  You can do it anytime you have 15 minutes available.

I was anxious (and nervous) to try out this program.  Yes, I am proficient in French - but I know I make grammatical errors and there are still words that I seek out to get my point across.  Not to mention my pronunciation - especially with word that are similar in both French and English. - Prime example - Yogurt in English - Yaourt in French.  My brain has trouble dropping the "g" out of the word.

So I began doing my lessons - This program uses the first 7 lessons to assess your knowledge and skill set.  You always have the option to say "Je ne sais pas" or I don't know.  or if it's something really easy - you can indicate "Je sais " or "I know".  The videos are cute - the audio is clear and I actually found it rather fun.  The best part - well actually 2 best parts - It only takes about 10-15 minutes to do a lesson AND you get instant feedback - INSTANT - once you send back your lesson - you receive an email less than a minute later with your corrections.

Yes - I learned very quickly where my weaker areas were and that was great feedback. It helped my grammar and also assisted with certain French phrases that are used regularly in daily life.  Like when do you say "Bonjour" versus "Bon Apres-midi"?  "Bonsoir" or "Bonne Nuit"?  I have been impressed with the little things that I had forgotten.  After your first 7 lessons, it will also tell you the level you are at and you proceed from there.

This is why I'm excited to partner with this company.  If you are planning to move to France - here's a great way to Kick Start your French.  If you are planning a trip - always good to speak some French.  Personally, travelling around France, I have always found clerks and service people to be fairly kind and helpful.  But then again, I have always started my conversations in French.

So to give everyone a chance to try out this program -and a little incentive to kick-start your French.
Frantastique and I are offering a one week - Free Trial.  This Free trial offer is only good for a little while, so check out the program NOW.  Just click on the Free trial banner below and you will be taken directly to the sign up page.  

Come have FUN learning French - Would love to hear feedback from readers, once you begin your adventure.  Feel free to comment on the Page marked "Learn French Online".  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

C'est La Rentree!! It's Back to School in France 2015

The beginning of another School Year in France!!

Yesterday marked the beginning of this school year for my girls.  For each of them, new adventures, new things to learn and a time to see their friends again after the summer holidays!  In France, I have to say it's more common that families go away together or go visit relatives for the majority of the summer - so other than summer camp, the girls don't see too many of their friends over the summer months.

Only one of them, my middle daughter (11 years old) has changed schools.  She's very excited this year to make the transition from elementary school or Primaire as they call it here to college or middle school, as she enters 6eme (6th grade equivalent).  She will join her older sister at the same private catholic middle school here locally.  The middle school's here are 4 years, so incorporate 3eme (or 9th grade).  This allows my oldest daughter and middle daughter to be in the same school.  They haven't been together since we first moved here 4 years ago.

La Rentree is an exciting time for French students - unlike in the States where one knows their classes and teachers ahead of time - it's a big surprise here on the first day of school.  Class schedules, teachers and everything else is revealed then.
For my youngest, she's in CE2 (3rd grade).  For the first day of school in France, parents escort their child to school and for one of few times during the year - parents & children are welcomed into the courtyard.  On the side wall are the class lists and sections.  Each year depending on numbers in each class, there are solid one-level sections and also combined 2 level sections.  This year, my daughter is in a one-level section having 2 teachers - the director of the school, along with another teacher 2 days a week, while the director is doing administrative days.  She was happy to see her friends again and pleased with her teachers.  The Director opens the day with a welcome to all - introduces the teachers and then reads the class lists.  The teachers then take their respective classes to their she goes...another school year has begun - and the parents file back out of the school courtyard.  All of this happens in about 10 minutes.  It's nice to see the other parents again - although many, like myself were in a hurry to move on to work.
For our college, they choose to have each class start separately with partial days over the first two for each level - yesterday was 6eme & 4 eme (6th & 8th) - today was 5 eme & 3eme (7th& 9th).  This meant that my older 2 girls started a day apart. There is then a day of school orientation for the 6eme level which will be held tomorrow and officially all classes at all levels start on Friday morning.

It's a bit complicated and not at all like the American schools where when you start - you begin fully and you have been given your classes and teachers ahead of time.  I  think this makes it a bit hard to prepare and organize ahead of time but because this first week is slow - it does allow students to ease into the start of the year.

We did get the classroom supply list ahead of time, and that does ease some anxiety in the preparation process.  However, I have to add that in France the school supply list is very specific and often very long.  They have many different kinds of notebooks, sizes and types of very much depends on the teacher as to what each of them want and what kinds of pens, agendas, white board and glue...  We are slowly mastering this process as we start each new year.  I have finally learned many of the specific terms for school supplies - Like a "Lutin" is a notebook of clear plastic folders designed to place sheets of paper in.  Then there is the difference between the Cahier de Text & l'Agenda.  The former being a simplified daily assignment book for younger students.  
Because of this tapered start, it gave each of my older daughters an extra day off during this first week.  For my middle daughter, she started yesterday, but had today off.  This allowed me to spend the morning with her - as we ran final errands - like getting her public bus/tram pass and picking up any last minute items.   Always fun to have some special one on one time with each one of them.

We managed to get our school supply shopping done in early August and had time to find the "perfect" backpack for back to school.  My older girls each chose Eastpaks -and my youngest an adorable "Little Marcel" backpack.  In this sense - finding the right back pack and also a few new outfits for "Back to School"/La Rentree - France is very similar to the States. 

As we all had a busy summer traveling - I thought it would be lovely to take the final weekend in August and just rest and relax.  Rejuvenate- before the start of the school year.  Instead of just staying home, we headed out to our new favorite Chambre d'Hotes located near Agen (about an hour from here) - La Larroquinere (I wrote a post on this guest house -here .  The have a lovely pool, beautiful open space for meandering around - plenty of animals to enjoy - dogs, cats, chickens, sheep etc...and various amusements for families (ping-pong, trampoline etc..)

It turned out to be a beautiful HOT and sunny weekend and we so appreciated being able to enjoy a cool pool.  It was nice to disconnect from the Internet, relax out in the open sun and just enjoy some family time!!
I would certainly consider that plan again, as I know it did all of us some good.  It was a great time to relax and reconnect. I felt very refreshed upon our return to the city on Sunday afternoon.  The girls still had one more day to begin organizing.  For me - Monday the 31st of August marked my return to work.  Yes, I do work part-time, but often the days I work are long or blocked together - but so fun!!  It was nice to begin with some great energy after the summer vacation and the final weekend away!

These final 2 collages are from Google's new application of  "Revisit this day".  It's fun to see their old back to school outfits, smiles and hairstyles.  How much they have changed, how much they have grown!  Gone are the years of preschool or maternelle - this family now has 2 middle schoolers and one daughter right in the middle of Elementary school.  Where does the time go?  How fast they their styles and their smiles!!

Bonne Courage everyone who has their Rentree or Back to School happening now!!  It's a time of excitement and a time of nostalgia.  The years press on...each one starting with the renewed excitement of an new year to come!!  I would love to hear about your Back to School routine if you have one.

This post has also been included in a wonderful linkup with other bloggers who share posts - All About France.  Click on the badge below to check out other great writers

Lou Messugo

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