Tuesday, 30 September 2008

School Meetings

On Friday I went to the last of the three school meetings, one for each school that the kids attend. The first, during the first week of school, was Odette and Hugh's school meeting for the start of the year. The parents met the teachers and cantine staff in the gym room for a general overview of the school, and then went to individual classrooms to meet with the class teachers. I couldn't be at both Hugh's and Odette's classrooms (and no point in sending Roger as he wouldn't understand what was said) so I went to Odette's classroom and had information relayed from Hugh's teacher via other parents. Over the ensuing weeks I have realised that I have probably missed some of the information which would have been useful.
On the second Friday evening of the new school year Sophie's school meeting was held. After the general whole school meeting I went into Sophie's classroom and sat at Sophie's desk, next to the mother of the girl who sits next to Sophie. Each parent sat at the desk of their child, and we learnt interesting things about the curriculum, the organisation of the school day and week, about excursions, teaching methods and resources.
Last Friday was the meeting at Bonnie's school, and it started off outside with parents sitting on the small school chairs in the under-cover area, shivering in the cold evening air. Once inside the classroom the temperature warmed up, and the discussion was mainly about discipline and the behaviour of students. I was sorry to hear that the teacher had resorted to handing out whole-of-class punishment when things get out of hand; but I was pretty sure that it wouldn't be Bonnie who was talking in class. There seemed to be much more emphasis on punishment for bad behaviour than encouragement for good behaviour, although some parents had some good ideas for helping to keep the class under control. I hope that some improvement is made and some of the ideas are implemented which could bring some harmony to the class.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Grandparents Arrive

Eating at the cantine is not one of the favourite school activities for my girls, so when I booked them in for an extra day this week they were not happy. But in order for both Roger (the driver) and me (the daughter) to go to the airport to pick up my parents it seemed the best solution. Hugh went with us, as two full days at school each week is enough for him - the other two days he goes mornings only. Besides we needed one grandchild to meet the grandparents at the airport.

The children took Nana and Granddad for a walk in the village.

Granddad taking a photo of everyone.

Mum and Dad had spent two nights in Singapore on the way to Lyon via Paris. I expect they will have jet lag for a few days, but hope they will be fine on Saturday night because we have invited some friends for dinner (I made sure I chose some who can speak English well.)
Sophie had organised for some "good" clothes to be left out so that when the girls got home from school they could change into something nice before surprising Nana and Granddad. She felt the sense of occasion, which the arrival of grandparents from so far away brings.

Hugh showed Nana and Granddad the drinking fountain,
and how to use it...

There were plenty of little fun gifts to amuse the children, acquired during the Singapore stop. And some chocolates to have after dinner which had been bought duty free in Paris. And my new Canon G9 was delivered so I now have a camera in my handbag again.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Where Does The Time Go?

I can't believe it is over a week since I last posted to this blog.
Where does the time go??
Well the first explanation is that for a few nights I slept downstairs with Sophie so that she could be near the bathroom (no stairs in the dark with her crutches). That meant I didn't have my computer begging me to play with it until nearly midnight.
The second is that I have started doing an online course through Education To Go, so I have been spending some of my computer time doing that. It is not very heavy - just a refresher really, as I haven't made any new web pages for a while. For those who are interested, the course is "Introduction to CSS and XHTML". If you don't know what that means you are probably not interested!!
The third is that I bought some new magazines and have been reading stuff on real paper.
The fourth is that my computer's external hard drive is nearly (very nearly) full and I had to buy a new one. I ended up buying one online, in France, and I hope it will be here tomorrow (PLEASE!! So I can download some more photos.) Interestingly after making the online purchase with a French company we had an urgent message from our Australian bank about a security issue with our credit card. They had flagged the purchase as suspicious and wanted it confirmed. They had blocked our credit card until we rang them, in case it was fraudulent. Thank you bank...
The fifth excuse is that my Mum and Dad are coming tomorrow (!) so I have been frantically trying to make it look like my house is spotlessly clean. (Why do I do that?? So I can be a perfect daughter?)
DO you want a sixth?? OK then... let me think. Oh yes... every day this term I have tried to have something ready for the kids to eat when they get home from school, so all except a couple of days I have baked a cake, some biscuits, scones, or pikelets or something in the afternoon so that I can be more like a perfect mother.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The Best Laid Plans...

Today Roger had organised to help his mate Fred do some building type work. He has already helped him do some concreting and putting some tin on a roof. Today they were doing decking, and rendering a wall. I hope he gets to build a swimming pool and a rock wall, because those are skills that he could really use when he gets back home!

Fred, who does marvellous transformations of house yards.

Roger, rendering a wall.

Hugh had a full day at school and all the kids were having lunch at the school cantine today. So I had a free day and was looking forward to reading some more of the book I started this week (La Rage au Cœur by Ingrid Betancourt), and then going out and taking some photos. First I dropped Hugh at school (it takes ages because he always has to "fait pi-pi" at the tiny little toilettes at school.)

Child-sized toilets at the maternelle (pre-school).

I wanted to take a photo of Hugh, but he was more interested
in me getting a photo of his backpack.

Then I bought a baguette and the local newspaper from the kiosque, before coming home and reading the paper over a cup of coffee. Haaaaa. Relax. That felt good...
Then the phone rang and it was Sophie's school. Sophie had fallen in the playground and hurt her foot. The teacher had put ice on it but she thought I should come and get Sophie and take her to the doctor. So I jumped in the car and found Sophie in tears in the office at school. We went straight to the doctor's surgery, and had a fair wait before we saw the doctor. But there was a nice man who was in the queue in front of us who let us go before him. Maybe Sophie's whimpering had got to him...
The doctor didn't think the ankle was broken, but he booked Sophie in for an x-ray to rule out any fractures. Then it was a trip to the pharmacy to get some crutches and a plastic and velcro cast. We had time to come back to the house for lunch before going to the radiologist for the x-ray. As predicted there was no fracture, but an ultra-sound showed the ligament was partially torn. So I learnt a new French word "une entorse", which means a sprain.

Sophie on her crutches.

We got back about twenty minutes before Hugh and Odette's school finished at 4pm, so we called in to where Roger was working and filled him in on the news. Then it was time to pick up the kids, and that was the end of my day to myself!

Monday, 15 September 2008

Foire de Beaucroissant

On Sunday we went for an outing to the Foire de Beaucroissant, not far from Grenoble. We missed out on our local Wagin Woolorama in March this year, so this was our agricultural show visit for the year instead. But whereas the Wagin Woolorama has been going for about 25 years, it was the 789th Show at Beaucroissant! If you can read French you can read about its origins here. Otherwise I will just tell you that the fair had its origins when a religious gathering in 1220 drew stallholders who wanted to take advantage of the crowds to sell their wares.
Unfortunately I don't have lots of (actually I don't have any) photos from the day, because I am still without a little camera (but be warned: I have ordered a new camera which will be coming with my parents in a couple of weeks time.) If I ever find out how to download videos from the video camera and put them on the web I would be able to show some hilarious footage of the girls on the sideshow ride called the "Palace of Laughs". I could hardly hold the camera steady as they got caught out by air bullets, moving walkways that changed speed, ladders that moved, rotating tunnels and all manner of tricks.
The fair at Beaucroissant is HUGE, with fifteen kilometres of alleys over forty hectares. There were about 1800 exhibitors of which 250 are agricultural machinery. A quarter of the stands are market stalls (you know the type? Amazing kitchen gadgets, microfibre cleaning cloths, knife sharpeners, orthopaedic pillows, strange looking massage implements, imported clothing, cheap jewellery, handbags, hats...), food stalls 12%, home and leisure 5% and livestock breeders 4%. There are 100 bars and restaurants, and between 800,000 and 1,000,000 visitors were expected over the three days.
Unfortunately the day that we were there was not the day when the cows and horses were there. After reading the above statistics I know why I got lost in the miles of alleys crowded with people. It was hard to find anything "agricultural" without a map.
The agricultural displays were somewhat different from what we see at the Wagin Woolorama, although there were the same sorts of tractors (well, not so big), combines, telehandlers, electric fencing supplies, prefabricated structures and animal feed troughs. Some of the different things are animal water trailers - no permanent water points in many places, so they use a water tanker with water trough attached in the field. A lot of wood handling equipment as firewood is a big industry. Lots of small tractors, trailers and machines for small landholders. Not many merino sheep.
The weather had been atrocious on the first day of the fair, but on Sunday, although cold, it did not rain. However the mud created from the rain the day before was shocking. We looked like we had spent a day on the farm afterwards, with mud up our trousers. Roger also had mud on his shirt because he ended up putting Hugh on his shoulders to get back to the car. This morning I was glad I got up one hour earlier than normal because it took me nearly that long to clean and polish five pairs of shoes/boots (Roger's are still dirty.)

A Change in the Weather

I knew we were in for a change of weather when I got up one morning last week and saw this view out the window.

The summer seems to be fading fast. We had a lot of rain at the end of last week, and on Sunday it was cold. When we went out we all wore a jumper or a coat. But my toes were cold in my shoes and I wished I had some gloves on when I was pushing the pram and couldn't put my fingers under my arms for warmth. I've heard there is even fresh snow on the Belledonne mountains that we can see across the valley from our house. Actually I can't see them today, which is why I can't confirm the snow report; but on a clear day we have a beautiful view of the mountains.
Do they have Indian summers here? I don't know. But while I don't like the heat I wouldn't mind a few more weeks of being able to wear sandals.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Visit to Versailles

The second touristy thing we did in Paris was to visit the château de Versailles. Did somebody mention crowds?? We got to Versailles in time for an early lunch in the carpark and here we had some luck, being able to park (at a price) not far from the entrance, but only after much driving in circles. We had already planned our tactics, which was to split up with me going with Sophie and Bonnie to do some serious French history study, and Roger taking Odette and Hugh who have less stamina. But we didn't get to do any of that in the first two hours. That was spent queuing. First we queued to get tickets. It looked like we would be waiting for two hours, but after one and a half hours of people-watching a message through a megaphone called people who wanted to take a guided tour in English. Yes please!! So we swanned up to the front of the queue and were ushered through to the booking booth, where a lady kindly informed me that small children were not welcome on the guided tour and you couldn't even go to the toilet during the 90-minute tour. However, she said we should buy normal tickets, and we went straight through to get them without queuing further. Of course the first thing we needed to do when we got into the Chateau forecourt was to go to the toilet, and here we encountered another queue. SO twenty minutes later we entered into the actual chateau, and wandered around trying to find the right place to get the audio guides that we had paid for. After queuing for ten minutes we had the audioguide and could start our tour. Whew!
I didn't have my camera with me, deciding that it was not the place for a Canon EOS 5D. But I would have appreciated my little G9 if it hadn't been dead. Luckily Bonnie had her camera, so the photos on this post were taken with Bonnie's camera.

Sophie and Bonnie posing in the room next to the King's bed chamber -
we couldn't actually see the bed through the crowd, but the next room was empty.

Crowds pouring through the rooms at Versailles.

Sophie, Bonnie and I didn't look at every room, because there is only so much of a good thing that one can handle at a time. And the crowds and the stuffiness in the rooms were becoming too much for all of us. The gardens beckoned, and we even found an ice-cream down by the lake. I really wanted to see the domain of Marie-Antoinette, and as I had told the girls what a good thing it would be, they did too. But it is quite a way from the Chateau. We found a place to hire some bikes, and we rode on down to the entrance, to be told that we couldn't enter after 6pm. We were about twenty minutes too late. So we had some freshly squeezed orange juice that was being sold nearby, and took the bikes for a bit of a ride around the perimeter before returning them. What we saw made me want to make sure that I get there earlier next time!

Me with my girls at the Chateau de Versailles.

In the same place but looking the other way, over the gardens.

This is when I am glad of mobile phones. I was able to call Roger to find out where he was with Odette and Hugh. It was a beautiful time of the evening, and we would have liked to have spent more time in the gardens. But when the chateau closed so did the toilets. Yes, there are lots of bushes in a garden, but you only use them in a real emergency!

One Day in Paris

Look! There it is...

Hugh, Roger and Sophie.

Sophie at the Eiffel tower.

The Eiffel tower from the Seine.

We had to take the children to see the Eiffel tower, as before arriving in France it was the one tourist destination that they knew about in France. We were in Paris on the Saturday of the 15 August long weekend. Roger had been assured that Paris is at its quietest in August (all the Parisiens leave town for their August summer vacation) and that parking in the city is free. So we set our trusty TomTom to "The Eiffel Tower" and headed into the city. With a lot of luck we were able to find a park within 500 metres of the tower. We didn't need to resort to the tactics of some others, who had family members (with mobile phones) on foot finding a parking space and guarding it while they contacted their driver on the mobile phone to direct him to the sacred parking spot.
The most remarkable thing about the Eiffel tower was the crowd, with the queues having signposts with expected waiting times at intervals. We didn't want to wait two hours under the Eiffel tower for the privilege of paying a huge sum of money to ascend in a lift and admire the crowds from a higher point (well those in our group aged over 10 didn't want to.) So we went down to the Seine and took a boat ride, whereby we could see many of the sites without tiring out the little ones too much. The loud speakers on the boat were not quite loud enough so we didn't really hear all the details in three different languages.
Now please excuse me for posting so many pictures of our day in Paris...

Paris Landmarks


The kids are always happy to visit places with swing sets.

Two little boys, and lots of toys, to play with.

Visiting Olivier's farm was very interesting, as the agriculture is quite different from at home. Their farm is completely cropping, with no stock (although until recently they were breeders of Haflinger horses). The farm is quite large (for France) and so they have large machinery. The self-propelled sprayer was about to be fitted with a GPS navigation system. They share some things with Oliver's brother who farms nearby.
The wheat harvest was completed the week before we arrived, so the wheat was stored in sheds waiting to be trucked out. All their wheat is grown for seed. Other crops include potatoes and sugar beet.

Record keeping is a big job for farmers in France as in Australia.

Sophie examining the wheat seed.

The wheat stored temporarily in a shed.

A locked container...

Inside the container...

Hugh was impressed with the size of the sprayer.

Olivier showing Roger some sugar beet.

Roger with Olivier and his father.

The farmyard, with church spire in the background.

Their farm is on the edge of the small village of Eve, and Olivier was able to show us into the village church. It was very old - dating from the 12th Century - and some of its features are similar to Notre Dame in Paris. It was built just before Notre Dame, and so the features were tested out on this smaller church before being applied to the cathedral. Inside, the age of the building is apparent. It must be hard for a small community to find the money to maintain such a building. But the history is tangible. Statues, stained glass windows, plaques and dedications from throughout the centuries remind us of the passage of time. All of Olivier's ancestors have been baptised, married and farewelled in this church.

The village church at Eve.

Inside, the ceiling shows its age.

Stained glass windows and statue.

I think someone was buried under here...
If you can read it you might find out when.


Olivier and his friend Guillaume went to Australia in November 1996 after first trying to find some work for harvest. One of Guillaume's cousins had been in Jerramungup on an IAEA exchange and that is how Guillaume got our email address from the IAEA handbook. He had sent out emails asking for a job over harvest, but got no takers. We were not able to offer a job to the two French boys who had just finished their studies at Ag college either, but I told them that they would be welcome to visit our farm and once there I was sure they could find some work. So they arrived in November and helped Roger with some sheep work. We took them to Bunbury where they bought their "Bongo van". It was an old tradesman's van, complete with dents and rust, for which they paid $2,000. After a few days in the workshop they had it fitted out ready for a trip around Australia. A few phone calls got them a job picking strawberries out of Mount Barker (WA), which was the first of their three jobs, followed by picking pears in Victoria and then picking bananas in Queensland. They drove the Bongo van around the continent and once back in Perth they sold it for $3,000 (to another French backpacker.) We can only wonder how much further the old van travelled, and whether it is still going.
So now here we were visiting Olivier on his farm in France. He and his girlfriend made us a lovely dinner at his parent's house (his parents were away visiting their newly-born granddaughter.)

Olivier and Pauline served hors d'œuvres on the terrace.

Hugh was happy to find a toy tractor.

The girls were happy to act like Princesses in a house they thought
was like a château.