Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Cheeky Dancers

The start of a new dance routine...

With the grass cut there was an inviting space for dancing, and the girls are all fired up after watching this clip from "Britain's Got Talent" which we found on You Tube.

Too bad that our girls haven't been doing dance lessons since they were two... I'm pretty sure none of mine would have the confidence to stand up and speak so confidently into a microphone either.

The Jungle

After my last post you will know that Roger has been busy studying, and he has not had any time to spend working outside in the yard. I have been too scared to take any photos around the house lately because I knew if I put them on the blog the Marcouxs would see and would likely be horrified by what is happening to their home. Of course if we were home at the farm there would have been a mob of sheep let into the yard by now - our four-legged lawn mowers. But in the absence of any livestock, and with lots of rain and plenty of sunshine the grass had begun to resemble a jungle.

But a man with a machine can tame any jungle, as Roger has proved.
Odette was happy that she could reach the tree swing again.

Jungle girl...

And if you are wondering why there have been no photos of inside the house?? Well I have had tendonitis in my shoulder, and had an injection last week, with strict instructions from the doctor that I should do no housework...
I am more than happy to obey!!!

The Assignment

Roger has been studying since we have been in France. It is basically his sabbatical year, so he took the opportunity to enrol in a course before we left Australia, which he could complete externally. He chose to start a course in Financial Services, which is an area he has always been interested in, and he has fantasised in the past about doing that sort of work if he wasn't farming. He enrolled in one unit, and he was behind in his study before we even got here. Then it took a while to get into a routine, which was soon interrupted by school holidays, and before he knew it the assignment deadline was looming.
Which is why I haven't been blogging much until today. I've been taking the kids to give Dad quiet time to study, and then any spare time we could get together last week was spent typing up the assignment. That was my job, as I can use most of my fingers and have a fair idea where the keys are on the keyboard. On Saturday the words were all down, with just a final check and some formatting left to do. So I emailed the assignment from my laptop to Roger's email address so he would have a back-up.
Sunday evening I found Roger at "his" (the Marcoux's) computer making some changes. Which meant I had to make some changes to get it back into line again. After persevering with the French keyboard it all looked fine, headers and footers in place, pages numbered, and printed out. I had been pressing "Ctrl + S" all the way through, which is a shortcut for the "Save" command, but when I tried to find the file on the hard drive to email it back again I couldn't find it. Not anywhere. Not in the "my Documents" folder, not in the "recent items" list, not through the MS Word "Open" command. Not even through a thorough search of all files changed within the last 2 days. Nowhere.
Where is it??? I hate to be beaten by a computer, and it doesn't happen very often - people usually come to ME for computer help. So if anyone thinks they know where Roger's assignment has gone please let me know. At least we had printed out a final copy, which we could duplicate before sending off to be marked. It is now on its way to Sydney to be marked, and if all goes well he will pass and we will never need to think about the assignment again.
Now for the exam...

Mothers' Day Photos

What I REALLY wanted was some great family photos like Stasha Ashton had taken by Nicole Hill, courtesy of her wonderful husband Dave. (Read this post here to see how thoughtful and romantic he really is. And then tell Roger that it is a fantastic idea, and does he remember when our wedding anniversary is?) Dave had Nicole fly to France from America to take their family photos as a special gift for their 13th wedding anniversary. I know all this because I read Stasha's blog "La Vie Échangée".
Anyway, what I got was at least a few photos which included me and all four of my children, so that if I die tomorrow we have a record to prove we were a family. I was inspired by this post by Maile Wilson on her "Daily Relish" photography blog.
Unfortunately we were all pretty tired and rather on the grumpy side for the "shoot".
Thanks to Roger for taking the pictures, even though he had absolutely no idea how to handle my Canon EOS 5D (for non photography-enthusiasts just read "camera").

Bonne Fête Maman

Last Sunday was Mothers' Day in France. "Bonne Fête Maman" is what was written on the cards the kids gave me. Odette had told me she had been making something for me at maternelle (kindy) so the secret had been out for weeks that I was going to get something on the special day. When she got off the bus on Thursday I was told to be careful as the wrapped package was fragile. Hmm, I started wondering what it could be, and settled on a mosaic photo frame. So when I opened the present on Mothers' Day I was surprised to find it was a ceramic-framed mirror. And I was even more surprised when I saw my reflection!!

Mirror, mirror, on the wall...

The safety issues of glass and small children had seen that a plastic mirror was used. Which is fine if the plastic mirror is stuck on a flat surface. Anyway, at least for once I can really blame the mirror for my appearance...
And then when I am sick of my reflection I can sit down and have a nice drink of water out of the decorated water bottle that Bonnie gave me. Obviously 7-year-olds can be trusted with glass...

Bonnie and her decorated water bottle

Friday, 23 May 2008

Life Swapping

I just have to share this little bit of kid-speak with you. My friend in Australia emailed me and told me her daughter had been thinking about our exchange. Here is what she said:

K is home from school today & has been talking about your 'life swap' and isn't it funny how it rhymes with 'wife swap' but the kids would have to stay with their Dads......

Now that has got Roger thinking...

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Roger sitting on top of the lentil...

La Lentille was the name of the mountain Roger walked up today. The name means "lentil" in English, so it doesn't sound like a very big mountain does it?? The peak is about 1450 metres. He went with a friend named Frederick who had planned the route, leaving at 9am and returning at 4pm.
Frederick at the summit

I presume they were walking all that time, less half an hour for driving. It will be interesting to see if Roger can walk up the stairs in the house tomorrow... (fyi: he can, but has some swelling on one foot.)
Roger didn't take a camera, but Frederick had one with him so we have a photograph from the top. Unfortunately the weather was cloudy so there were no views. Roger thought it might have been a good thing because he is not very good with heights and there was quite a cliff apparently.
On the way down from the top they came out of the woods near a stream and saw a large fossil in the rock. Frederick took a photo of the fossil but it wasn't until afterwards that they thought that maybe they should have put the car keys down to give an idea of the size.

A palaeontologist could probably describe this better than I can...

Monday, 19 May 2008

Randonnée Gastronomique

The countryside along the route of the Randonnée Gastronomique

On the way up

A very cleverly executed self-portrait while being strangled by Hugh...

Nearly at the chateau for entrée

The randonnée gastronomique seemed to be a cross between a rogaine and a progressive dinner.
The event was organised by the APERP, which is basically the P&C committee of the schools. It involved walking through tracks, forests, fields and villages; and on the way enjoying a drawn out several course meal. We managed to make our lunch last for 5 hours!! It was a really enjoyable day for the family, and the weather couldn't have been kinder to us.

Some of the organisers got into period costume to serve the food.

Here are some of the sights of the countryside that we saw, and smelled, on our walk.

Caught in the Rain

Happily setting out for our evening walk

On our last evening in the Loire valley Sophie, Bonnie and I decided to walk to the Châteaux de Chenonceau from the other side of the river, so we could see a different view. We'd been told there was a path along the river that would lead to the château, so we headed off happily, hoping to take some photos in the woods along the way.

Posing for a photo by the river

Before long we became aware of the distant rumble of thunder. Then when we reached the woods by the river we became aware of swarms of mosquitoes (luckily they didn't seem to be hungry). It grew darker, the thunder grew louder, and light drops of rain started to stir the trees in the woods.

The darkening woods...

Without even a view of the château we turned back. By the time we reached the bridge over the river we were hurrying, but the storm caught up to us and so when we got back to the gîte we were quite drenched. The fact that there was a warm bath waiting for us saved the day.

Two wet girls...

Sunday, 18 May 2008


Sophie and I spent the morning visiting Chenonceau

The château of Chenonceau is built over the river Cher, and was within walking distance from where we stayed. On Thursday this was our destination, but we were not all up bright and early to visit. We decided to let the sleeping beauty stay in bed, as Bonnie needed some extra rest to avoid any bad humour that might arise if she were too tired. Roger stayed with the three younger kids, while Sophie and I had our breakfast and walked down the road to the chateau, intending to avoid the crowds by arriving close to opening time.
Well, how many tourist buses and motorhomes do you think were in the parking area when we arrived??? This was by far the most crowded château. The rooms were packed like the OBH on a Sunday evening on a long weekend in summer. Or like Carrefour the Saturday before Christmas. We invested in an iPod audioguide and braved the crowds to learn a bit of the history of the château and its occupants before heading outside. And indeed outside was a very pleasant place to be. The grounds were magnificent, and I decided I would need not only a full-time gardener but a team of florists too. The bouquets throughout the chateau were beautiful, and huge, and all provided by the gardens at Chenonceau.
Apart from the formal decorative gardens we were able to see the kitchen gardens (reminded me of my sister Fiona's garden) and the flower beds. Then a stroll in the woods rounded off our visit.

In the afternoon we swapped and Roger took Bonnie and Odette to visit the château while Sophie and I stayed at the gîte with Hugh. We were able to compare notes afterwards, and we all agreed that the playgrounds at the châteaux are far better than any we have seen so far in France. And can we have one just like that at home, please?

Just like Fiona's garden...

Saturday, 17 May 2008


The moat, the tower, and Sophie on the bridge

The second château on our list was Villandry, renowned for its formal gardens. Whereas some people might be inspired to do some gardening after a visit to a place like this, I am just left wanting to employ a full-time gardener.
For part of the time we split up, with Roger taking Hugh and the three girls going with me. We met up in the playground, and in the maze. Because the grounds are so huge - over 6 acres - a lot of people can be visiting at one time without the place feeling crowded.
For me the highlight was the chateau, which is just like a family home (well alright - not my family home!), and the atmosphere inside was very homely. I loved the layout of the rooms, and the way it was all displayed. I was interested to read that it was the wife of the purchaser in 1906 who provided the finance for the purchase - she was a rich American heiress.

Just some of the formal parterre gardens

Inside the Château. I LOVE the layout of this house...

Hugh, after being asked nicely to refrain from throwing handfuls of gravel into the moat...

Odette, trying to get lost in the maze

Over six acres of gardens...


The Chateau of Chambord

Bonnie and Sophie showing the vastness of a hallway

Bonnie and Sophie on the famous double helix staircase

The Château of Chambord is the greatest example of folly in the Loire Valley.
Commissioned by Francois I in 1519, 1800 men worked on the construction during a period of over 20 years. The structure, containing 440 rooms, 365 fireplace, 13 great staircases, and stables to accommodate 1200 horses, stands in a 5400 hectare park surrounded by a wall 52 kilometres long.

These figures are mind-boggling and the fact that it was designed as a hunting lodge rather than a permanent residence speaks of the excesses of French Royalty in the middle ages.
We spent hours wandering through the chateau, and apart from one incident with an official concerned about Hugh trying to climb through a balustrade everyone was fairly well behaved.
But by the end we were all pretty tired - "all château-ed out" as Roger said.

After all that we were "all château-ed out"


Making the most of the short week at school, we headed off on Monday for some serious tourism in the Loire Valley. It had taken much internet searching but I had found some accommodation in a "gîte" (a self-catering holiday home) in a village called Chisseaux, which is next to Chenonceaux. "La Longère du Vigneron" was comfortable for a family and had a washing machine and dryer, which I find essential on anything more than a one-night stopover.
Apart from the owner's mother, Madame Bourbonnais (a great grandmother) who lived downstairs, there was only one other couple in residence.
John and Marg were an expat British couple who were working for a company called "Headwater", organising cycling tours in the area.
One morning a group of middle-aged cyclists gathered in the courtyard and we heard familiar accents drifting up through the window. It turned out the group was from Perth and one woman was originally from Collie, only 60kms from where we live. That's the closest we have come to home since we've been here.

After dinner we had a walk around the village,
where we found this farm sign with a cow on it.
Odette and Hugh were in their pyjamas.


Eating our lunch of hot chips and hot dogs

The bar at lunch time

The Brocante stalls laid out on the grass

The annual village Brocante (well, more like a jumble sale really) was held on Sunday 11th May. The stall-holders were setting up early, but I made a more relaxed entry, just before lunch time. Roger had gone a bit ahead of me and he tried to buy a stroller. The stroller we have been lent is quite worn out and occasionally tries to fold itself up while there is a child sitting in it, so we are searching for another one. When he found one he tried to barter with his limited French, only to find that it belonged to another lady and was not for sale!
The kids all had a go at knocking down cans with balls, and won a prize which had been donated (Hugh was happy with his second-hand Duplo blocks) as well as a little candle jar made out of old jars painted by the local kids. One of the jars didn't make it home after a run-in with the pavement, but we were able to replace it to avoid a possible tantrum.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Funiculaire de Saint-Hilaire du Touvet

The Funiculaire de Saint-Hilaire du Touvet, or Saint-Hilaire du Touvet Funicular, is a funicular railway in the département of Isère in the Rhône-Alpes region of France. It links Montfort on the road between Grenoble and Chambéry, with the village of Saint-Hilaire du Touvet, located on the Plateau des Petites Roches 600 metres above.

Until the funicular was built, the village of St. Hilaire du Touvet was accessible only on foot, or by mule. The construction of the funicular was started in 1920 and it was opened in 1924, principally to serve several sanatoria built to house tuberculosis patients.

Until 1955, the funicular was served by two 40 passenger cars. These were replaced in that year by a more modern design of car, carrying 60 passengers each. In 1992, these were in turn replaced by new cars to a retro design, not dissimilar to the original cars.
We went in the afternoon on Saturday, and the attraction at the top was to see where the parapents launch. It all looks so lovely, jumping off a cliff and soaring in the sky...
Anothe rattraction was the icecream kiosque, but that is just the difference that about 40 years makes.