Archive for October, 2006

What’s she learning at school?

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

Kaitlyn has a French boyfriend.

When I pick her up at school, they are always sitting together in the window watching for their mothers.

Today, they weren’t sitting together. But when I went in to get her, he brought me her backpack. Then he and his friend stood there and just sorta smiled at Kaitlyn.

As we walked out through the playground, I asked her his name. She said she doesn’t know. (I bet she does) I asked her if he speaks French. She said yes. I asked her if she speaks French she said no. I asked her if that mattered. I didn’t really get an answer… but I didn’t really need one.

Airshipment

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

Today our air shipment came. All morning I sat by the window, listening for the truck to drive up the street. I was so excited when it got here, I rushed downstairs to open the door.

I’ve never been so excited to see ten boxes. Well, maybe at Christmas when I was little.

Our shipment included:

  • pots and pans

  • halloween novelties

  • Kaitlyn’s plastic pumpkin

  • big bin of Kaitlyn’s clothes

  • towels

  • sheets

  • thick blanket off our bed

  • alarm clock

  • my turtlenecks and sweaters

  • the rest of Bill’s hanging clothes

  • my hanging clothes I know I didn’t want airshipped (two sleeveless blouses? Please)

  • coats for each of us

  • two pairs of my shoes (including boots Kaitlyn now wants)

  • Kaitlyn’s second car seat, so both cars can always have one

What our shipment DIDN’T need:

  • towels (what was I thinking?)

  • sheets (what was I thinking?)

  • alarm clock (that needed to be in the suitcase. We ended up buying one at the Atlanta airport, and, boy, what a good idea that was of Bill’s)

  • most of the hanging clothes of mine that came

  • I’m undecided on that thick blanket

What our shipment SHOULD have included:

  • pillows. The pillows here stink.

  • Some of Kaitlyn’s toys

  • some of Kaitlyn’s books

  • another book or two in English I can read

  • Yahtzee

  • more dvd’s

  • more hangers (especially for Kaitlyn)

  • the rest of the extra soap and toothpaste and stuff I bought to stock up on that will be long gone by the time our sea shipment makes it here at this rate

  • pictures, to try to make us feel more at home. Thank goodness Chris gave me a picture of her and Bill before I left.. it is the only picture we have on display. And I love to look at it. It makes me smile

It’s just too hard

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

This morning, Kaitlyn would not let go of me when I tried to drop her off at school. When we first got there, she was playing around on a giant carpet roll and fell and she clung to me for dear life for every moment after that. It was so hard, tears rolling down her face and her crying “I want my Mommy to stay.” The teachers said it is normal for a child to go through this after about a week of class… adjusting to so many new things and all. They said if I could stand to do it, just leave her there crying. I couldn’t. Even if I’d wanted to, she wouldn’t let go. Finally, I took her aside so she could talk privately and I explained to her how much more fun she would have at school and how she should be a big girl and give it a try… that the teacher could call me at any time if she needed me. Kaitlyn sniffed the last few sniffles, wiped her nose with the back of her hand and kissed me bye-bye then turned and walked the slowest, saddest walk I’ve ever seen over to the reading area for morning songs.

I knew she’d be fine.

But I cried when I got to the car.

I rushed to the store to pick up the things I still needed to get her for school… paper and kleenex. While I was there, a few things I thought might make Kaitlyn feel better made it into the cart. In the checkout line, the man in front of me tried to say something to me – I think about how all the lines were long and slow. All I could say back was “je ne parle pas bien francais.” I felt like such an idiot. He kept talking to me, probably saying things he thought would be easy to understand, but I had no idea what he was trying to tell me. It made me cry when I got home.

I finally got signed up for French lessons. They don’t start until next Wednesday. I guess until then, we’ll eat a lot of baguettes (it’s all I can say at the boulangerie) and I’ll get the smile and nod I use when I don’t understand something perfected.

No school on Wednesdays!

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Wednesday. No school on Wednesday. That means I have to figure out how to entertain Kaitlyn. Ok.

We went into town (St Martin d’Uriage) and checked out the playground. It was teeming with kids, but no parents. And these were little kids… some I recognized from Kaitlyn’s class! The equipment on the playground paled in comparison to the parks we’re used to at home, but it was better than the stuff we had in our neighborhood. There is a teeter-totter, some of those bouncy metal animals, a small slide and one of those human-powered carousels. It’s the kind you run around pushing then jump on, if you can. Kaitlyn loved that. It didn’t love her. It got going too fast a couple of times and when she couldn’t keep up she fell. The second time she landed on her rear, she had enough.

I’d decided to hit the playground because next to in on Wednesdays is an open-air market. I don’t know if it’s always the same people selling things. There were two veggie vendors, a pizza truck, a fromagerie truck, a fish truck, and a guy making food. I think there may have been someone selling bread, too. We hit the first vegetable stand and picked out some things.

We parked by the town’s pool, so we could walk a little bit. (plus, the market takes up most of the town parking lot) On our way into town, an older lady smiled at Kaitlyn and said “bonjour, mademoiselle!” On our way out of town, an older gentleman sitting along a wall said “morning.” I’m really yet to encounter these rude French that all the culture books warn of. Maybe it’s an advantage to a small town…

Not ones to follow the “lower your standards” advice… we had a full afternoon.

Bill came home from work early so we could go look for car #2. Two hours later, we bought a Mercedes A180. Two hours and ten minutes later, I was hit with a horrible case of buyers remorse. But standing there in the dealer’s showroom debating what to do, Bill said he thought for the same price we could go get a Pugeout with more features. And I thought, but for the money, I don’t want a Pugeout, I like this car. So we bought it. Hasty? Probably. But as Bill has pointed out, it cost us a lot less than that Quest minivan we had that ended up being a big loser. What’s my new car like? It is silver (a negative – now we have two silver cars), four doors, really big trunk area (it isn’t a trunk, it’s kinda like a mini-mini van in the back… think RAV-4 or CR-V), you sit up real high which makes it easy for a short person to see, reverse is funky so you cannot put the car in reverse by mistake, the driver cannot control the power windows in the back (and hopefully a young passenger will not figure that out, or she will find herself riding in the middle back there!). We don’t get to pick up the car until next Thursday, so I’ll be able to point out every cool thing and every shortcoming soon enough.

While maybe we should have left the dealer to have our heads examined, instead we went to have our physical exams required for our cartes de soujour. That was at the French equivalent of the health department. It looked like you’d expect. Very bland. No magazines. Posters telling you things like “don’t smoke when you’re pregnant” and “eat fruits and veggies” and “practice safe sex.” We started with chest ex-rays. Then we saw a nurse who weighed us, measured our height then checked our eyes. Bill had on his glasses and I had on my contacts, but that didn’t seem to matter. Naturally, we passed the eye exams with flying colors. I apparently didn’t pass the weight/height exam because after checking some little wheel of fortune, she told me she had to test my blood sugar for diabetes. How accurate a test. (isn’t it supposed to require fasting?) She pricked my finger and measured my blood sugar. It’s fine. I knew that, I’ve had myself tested. I’m chubby but not diabetic. The last stop was with the doctor. He asked if we have any existing health problems, if we smoke (actually, he only asked Bill that), listened to our hearts, took our blood pressure, checked the ex-rays and sent us on our ways. I’m not sure just what would cause one to fail such a test.

paying bills

Monday, October 9th, 2006

We got our first electric bill today. We have lived in the house less than one week and already they are sending us a bill.

Naturally, the bill is in French. (all sorts of things one wouldn’t think of are in French besides bills and letters from the bank or insurance company: the oven, the washer/dryer, voice mail prompts on the cell phone, cooking instructions on food)

I think the bill is telling me that it is charging us in advance for electricity. How is that even possible?

Ok, time to get out the French-English dictionary.

facture contrat

bill contract (or invoice agreement)

montant preleve le 19/10/2006 41,47 euros

amount impose (deduct) the 19th oct 41.47 euros

electricite 27,45 euros

electricty 27.45 euros

abonnement

subscription

13,69 euros/mois du 3/10/06 au 25/11/06

13.69 euros/of the month Oct 3 to Nov. 25

consommation HC (heures creuses) du 3/10/06

consumption HC (hours ? Not in book) of the 3rd october

releve ou estimation en kWh ancien 04804

raise or (or where) estimate in kWh former 04804

consuommation HP (heures pleines) du 3/10/06 au 3/10/06

consumption HP (hours full) of the 3rd of october to the 3rd of october

releve ou estimation en kWh ancien 10787

raise or (or where) estimate in kWh former 10787

y compris le cout d’acheminement de l’electricite pour 48% (% moyen pour le Tarif Bleu)

there inclusive the cost of the ??(not in dictionary) of the electricty for 48% (% average for the Blue Rate)

autres prestations 14,02 euros

other ???? (not in dictionary) 14.02 euros

acces a l energie electricite

access to the electric energy

montenant HT 11,72 euros

amount HT (??) 11. 72 euros

oh, yea, now that bill is clear as day!

We’ll just pay it.

Next, I’ll translate the instruction book for the microwave I think is really a convection oven.

Sundays in France

Sunday, October 8th, 2006

Sundays here are family days. No stores are open (or hardly any… or not past noon, which is when I’m finally ready to go out on a Sunday). We thought we’d take advantage of the new lifestyle and take Kaitlyn to the park in Uriage with the carousel. She’d finally noticed the carousel last night but we couldn’t stop because at about the same time she saw it, she announced she had to pee pee in the potty, which required a quick trip the rest of the way home.

We arrived at the park to find it set up for some kind of horse competition. There were kids and their horses trotting around getting ready. It took some convincing for Kaitlyn to believe me that those were not horses there for her to ride. The only horses she could ride go around-and-around-and-around.

img_5951.jpg

There were no kids on the merry-go-round and no kids waiting to go on it. No obvious place to buy a ticket for it. We saw a couple of people who looked suspiciously like they worked there, so Bill walked up to them and did manage to buy a ticket. Kaitlyn and I climbed on, she picked a horse, the ticket guy came up and collected the ticket he’d just seen the woman next to him sell Bill, then he fired up the carousel. It went fast. And there are no straps to hold a child on the horse. You just have to hang on tight. Kaitlyn loved it. I got a bit sick, till I figured out to look in at her not out at the things whirring by.

img_5926.jpg

Behind the carousel are little surry type bikes – with fake horses on front. Kaitlyn is too little for even the smallest one so we rented the “grande”… for four euros, the three of us sat behind this big, plastic horse and Bill and I pedaled around the park. It was fun and we weren’t doing too bad until Kaitlyn took the reins (yes, you steer with “reins”) and tried to direct the horse. She directed us toward some stairs, toward some people, toward some trees. We made it back in one piece and got the horse close to where we’d picked him up. Then Kaitlyn demanded one more carousel ride. Well, she was demanding an endless number of them, we negotiated one.

img_5954.jpg

While they were riding, I watched the horse competition. It was a horse race relay. There were four lanes. The rider in each lane rode to the end, dropped a tennis ball in a bucket, rode around the bucket and had to pick up another tennis ball perched on an orange traffic cone on his or her way back… handing that ball to the next team member. It was the most unusual horse race I’d ever seen. I would have stayed to watch it but Kaitlyn wasn’t interested. She was tired.

A tired Kaitlyn and two frustrated parents usually ends in a car ride; that’s exactly what we did. We thought we’d explore the area while she snoozed. I couldn’t believe what we found. I looked up at a mountain and saw some two dozen parachutists making their way down to the ground. They had JUMPED off the mountain. Then we passed a sign pointing to this area… it’s ORGANIZED. We drove around until we got close enough for Bill to take pictures. We ended up right next to where these nuts land. There is a restaurant there, where you can sit and enjoy a glass of wine and the action. There are houses pretty close by, too. How weird would that be to have all these people jumping off the mountain over your roof. How do they get up to the top? There is a tram that goes basically straight up on tracks. We think that you can take this tram up and back down, rather than jump down. We may do that sometime.

We wrapped up the evening with dinner at another ISE family’s house. The Roeders. They’ve been here since January and I was just so impressed at how at ease Amie seems with just plunging into a situation and using bad French. She said she knows it isn’t correct grammar but people understand her and correct her to help out. She found a choir to join and said that has helped her learn a lot of French. I am going to have to find something interesting to take part in. To help my French and to get me out of the house.

McFrancais

Saturday, October 7th, 2006

From McTragedy to McTriumph! Today, I pulled up to the McDrive (yes, that is what it is called here) and using NO English successfully ordered duex frites grandes et un moyen coke light – c’est tout. I am just so impressed with myself. Now it is only fair to divulge the fact that the McDrive does not use the little box for ordering that we do in the US. It was a face-to-face order placement, which had to have helped.

We are still on the great car hunt for our second voiture. Today we checked out the Pugeout dealership’s selection of l’occassions and decided that on any given day you could walk onto that lot and find a car that would be ok. Not great. Not the best car you’ve ever owned. But ok. So that can be our backup. Now we’ve decided to go test drive the Mercedes A170. That’s either going to make me love it or hate it. We’ll have to see who wins the showdown between the Germans and the French.

Cooking dinner tonight we ran into a little snag. The power went out. Twice. We blew the breaker to the entire house. Twice. Yes, we had several things running: the washer and dryer, the cooktop, lights (yes, dad, the refrigerator was on). At home that would not cause a complete loss of power. Here, we had to go around shutting things off until we could maintain a level that allowed us to finish dinner! Not something I’m used to. We’ve decide that the cooktop is to blame. The big burner – which was on to boil the pasta – says right on it “3000 watts.” I’m not an engineer, but that seems like a lot to me. There was a bright side in the whole outage challenge. It caused the oven to flash a screen we hadn’t seen before… the one that sets the language. Voila! Our oven is now in English. (but still celcius)

I also bothered to translate the settings on the washer and dryer today. The washer is pretty straightforward, although it does ask you to choose the actual water temperature (in celcius) rather than just cold, warm or hot. The dryer lets you choose: super dry, very dry, ready to fold, or ready to iron. I’ve always thought those last two were the same as the first two. Silly me.

Surprise! first day of school

Friday, October 6th, 2006

No sleeping in today, it was up early to go to Kaitlyn’s new school to check in with the director and make sure everything is ok to start on Monday. Thank goodness for Cindy, the woman who teaches English at the school. She is an American who has been living here for 15 years now. She happily serves as interpreter for new parents who can’t get much past “bonjour.” (and even those who can) The meeting went fine; the director agreed that it’s best to send someone Kaitlyn’s age only for the mornings because the new place and the new language can be overwhelming. Always good to have someone with some expertise tell you you’ve made the right decision. Then Cindy showed us which door to go in, where to put Kaitlyn’s book bag, told us what to put in that bag and showed us examples (bag contents are to be: change of clothes, snack with her name on it, yellow notebook for teacher to leave us comments and vise-versa, slippers – which are more like keds – to change into after playing in the rain or snow outside). When we walked into the classroom, Kaitlyn sat right down at the little table, took out a pen and started drawing. The teacher walked up to her, and wrote her name on the paper. Kaitlyn was so thrilled. She checked out the little kitchen, the little house. And when the teacher rang her bell so the students knew to move to the reading area to start the day, Kaitlyn went right along with them. When we tried to leave and take her with us, she fell apart. The teacher offered to let Kaitlyn stay. So, just like that, we left our little girl at the French school with a, well, French teacher. Two and a half hours later when we went to pick her up, Kaitlyn was all smiles and chatter about how much fun she had. The informal report card from the teacher? “tres bien!” Naturally, the aforementioned book bag requirements, along with the bag itself, necessitated another trip to Carrefour. That guy with the microphone who narrates your shopping experience is going to start narrating my dreams.

The big event for the afternoon – the delivery of our washer and dryer. Before it arrived, Bill looked around the spot we’d designated (and measured) for it and pointed out there is only one outlet. I started to panic. Part of why we chose this house was because we thought we could cram in an ok size washer and dryer in this one spot that had the plumbing. Now, we’re talking about the washer in one place and the dryer in the garage… I’m moving from panic to complete blinding anger at the leasing agent. All I can think is: I knew we should have chosen the house in Meylan with the space for a full size American washer-dryer in the garage. If we have to have the dryer in the garage might as well put both out there and have room to wash lots all at once. When the delivery guys arrived, they asked where we wanted the washer. We pointed and said “ici.” He looked, nodded his head. Then the endless game of charades continued as he acted out placing the dryer on top and asked, in French, if that was what I wanted. “oui.” Then I left the room, unable to see the result of the discovery that we have but one outlet for two major appliances. Bill found one of those converter thingies that turns a single outlet into a double outlet and the delivery guys seemed to think that was a perfectly normal way to plug in a washer and dryer. I rushed upstairs and sorted out a week’s worth of dirty clothes… whites, super darks, sorta darks, tans, pastels. Sorta darks won the laundry lottery since it seemed Bill would need jeans for the weekend. Two pairs of jeans, one pair of corduroys, one button down shirt and a few of Kaitlyn’s things filled the washer. Filled it! That was ok, it’s better to sort laundry into more precise loads, right? A quick consultation of the owner’s manual (which is in French) to make sure I knew how to run this thing… and that’s when I actually looked at the bottle of detergent we’d gleefully picked up earlier this week at Carrefour. Right there is a picture of a front-loading washer, alright. With a red “X” through the door for the detergent dispenser. Oh, nothing is ever easy. Ok, how many mililiters does it say to pour in? 130. Our rental kitchen supplies include a measuring cup… with the smallest measurement of 200. Bill poured some water in that, then into a glass, then poured some out, then dumped that out and poured in a can of orange juice that was 150 mililiters… so we ended up with what he declared a good guesstimate of how much detergent to dump on our clothes. The whole time the washer ran, I pictured that episode of the Brady Bunch where Bobby decides to wash his own clothes to try to hide the fact that he’d gotten his suit all dirty and the soap suds fill Alice’s laundry room. Nothing like that happened. An hour and a half later, or so, the washer finished. I put the clothes in the dryer, guessed at which setting was “really dry, not sorta dry” and hit the go button. We didn’t stick around to see if it worked and I’m too tired now to check it.

The evening ended with a wine tasting party. It’s an annual tradition among the ISE’s and some of the French people from the office. That meant I had to be very careful who I spoke to, because I could not be 100% sure they’d understand me. Although we nearly didn’t make it to the party at all. In the middle of downtown Grenoble… the most confusing place to drive ever… (yes, worse than Burbank) the GPS system stopped receiving satellites. The screen went from telling us where we were and how to get where we were going … to showing our dot on a blank screen. Clyde, as we call him, was completely lost. And so were we. The streets are not labeled. If they are, you cannot see the sign in time to make a difference. We were pretty sure the river we needed to cross over was to our right, but when Clyde would grab a signal for a few seconds, it was always just long enough to tell us to turn left, then he’d lose us again. Somehow, we found our way to the river and to the correct bridge over the river and we made it to the party. There were 20 wines to taste, each brought by a party-goer. You tasted each one and rated it on a scale of 1 to 5 on a ballot. There was room for comments, but we didn’t really have any. Except for the one we noted “smells like sweat socks.” The three wines voted the best are awarded lovely prizes. The trophy for the one voted the worst is a toilet seat that the “winner” is to display at his or her desk for the next year. Good thing for Bill, the wine we randomly chose off the shelf of, you guessed it, Carrefour, didn’t come in last.

joyeux anniversaire?

Thursday, October 5th, 2006

This was not how I imagined spending my 39th birthday.

We met Nelly downtown at the Orange store where we could buy cell phones and sign up for a plan. This is not how Kaitlyn imagined she’d spend any day. After begging for the pink Hello Kitty phone, she started misbehaving just enough to win a trip out of the store to walk up and down the pedestrian street. Out there she’d be ok for a while then finally stop listening to me until I got fed up and took her back into the store where the whole cycle started all over again. Unfortunately, buying two cell phones took just over two hours. That is a lot of misbehaving and frustrating one’s mother. (especially on her birthday)

We drove past a couple of car dealerships while Kaitlyn napped. We cannot actually talk to any of the salesmen, which isn’t really such a bad thing. We just wanted to see what they had. I have a relatively short list of cars I want to consider for my voiture: Nissan Micra, Mini Cooper, Mercedes Benz A class and the Citroen C4. The Citroen dealership didn’t have any of the C4’s with the body style I like. Or the features Bill likes. Then we stopped at the Mercedes dealership. They seemed to have a few of the A170’s, so that stayed on the list.

Before it closed, we needed to stop at Carrefour, so that was our next destination. Again, not how I imagined I’d spend my birthday. Bill had to buy the router that someone had shown him to buy, even though it will be 10 days before our internet is working in the house. (so we’ve been told) I also had what I thought was a more practical shopping list. Ziploc bags (yes, they have ziploc), hand soap (Dove), tape (scotch), meat for dinner, more Pom Pods. I think that’s what they’re called. They are little foil bags with a spout that you suck applesauce out of. Rather astronaut-like. Kaitlyn loves them. Can’t eat just one at a time. I make her stop after three, but I should make her stop before then.

moving day

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

Today we moved into our new house. Well, we moved in along with some of our clothes. It doesn’t exactly look or feel like home without our stuff, but it is way better than a hotel room.

Kaitlyn seems to love her back yard. She also loves having a donkey living across the street. She likes to go out and look for it and yell out “I’ll save you, honkey!” Good thing the donkey isn’t noisy at night. I guess tomorrow we’ll find out how early he wakes up.

Our big adventure today was to go buy a washer and dryer. At home, we pained over it. Spent months researching it. Read Consumer Reports, read internet bulletin boards, memorized the rotations per second that the drum spins on its high cycle. (well, one of us did. The other said “I like the black ones”) Here, we went in, looked at the prices, let the saleswoman tell us which one was better and presto – we’re the proud owners of a matching set of French washer/dryer. It is being delivered on Friday. Not a minute too soon, with such a small capacity it will take me days to catch up on the last week’s worth of dirty clothes.

While at Darty, the appliance store, we went ahead and bought a vacuum, coffee maker, iron and hair dryer. Again, pretty much what the saleswoman pointed to, we bought. Except when I was checking out coffee makers. I said I wanted something simple, no need to make cappucinno. She showed me a little two cup pot… all I could imagine was my Dad when he comes to visit spending even MORE of his time making coffee. So, Dad, we got the 12 cup pot. Easier to use than the one at home, too.

Allegedly we now have phone service at the house. We don’t know our number. No one gave it to us. And we don’t have the right kind of adapter to even plug in a phone to see if it really works. It is hard not to be able to call anyone. And it apparently takes another 10 days or so for the internet to work. That’s a lot of catching up on e-mail and on “For Better or For Worse.”

We did have an adventure without leaving the house. I decided to cook dinner. Decided to keep it simple. Had some frozen chicken cordon bleu from the grocery store, boil in the bag rice (Uncle Ben’s even) and a can of green beans. Sounds so easy. First, I had to figure out the cooking directions on the package. That wasn’t so hard – 200 degrees for 10 minutes. Then I had to figure out how to turn on the oven. The owner of this house bought the most darn confusing appliances I’ve ever seen. The oven and the dishwasher are nearly impossible to decipher. Finally I got the oven to turn on. I tried to look up what the digital read out was telling me but the words weren’t in my French-English dictionary. Not promising. The thing beeped, I declared it pre-heated and stuck the chicken in there. So far, so good. Until we went to get it out. The rental furniture includes cookware but no hot pads. We had to use some of Bill’s undershirts all crinckled up to shield against the heat. Hot pads are now on our shopping list. I also couldn’t figure out the microwave. After messing with it, I’m not even so sure that the microwave we thought was a second microwave is a microwave at all. It is going to take a long time with the owners manuals and the dictionary to figure all this out. Oh, how was dinner? Not bad, really. Not bad at all.