Thursday, 31 January 2008

"Despite this, or perhaps because of it..."

There it is - the most annoying phrase in the english language. Could there possibly be any phrase more over used? If so, I have never heard it. This phrase is everywhere and it drives me nuts. What does it really mean?

Lets look at it in context. I just googled it and found amongst thousands, this example of its use

"Despite, or perhaps because of, the unusual format, the story is charming"

Come on...what are you really trying to say here? You cant have it both ways. Its one or the other, isnt it? Isnt using this phrase a bit like saying, "just ignore this next sentence as I really cant make up my mind which stand I want to take on this issue". Is the user of this phrase trying to say paradoxically? If so, just say it.

I have read this phrase so much over the last few years. Its just sloppy journalism in my view. Its filler when there's nothing better to say. I've even read it in french newspapers "malgré ça, ou peut-être à cause de cela". And just last night I came across it in a french translation of an Agatha Christie that she wrote in the 1930s so it must have been around for a long time.

Does anyone else find this annoying? *sigh* maybe its just me...

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

My first outing

I accompanied Lily's class today on a trip to the cinema. I'd been holding off putting my name down for any outings, although David has been twice. This last time I was going to wait and only put my name down at the last minute if there were no other volunteers. But the list of three volunteers filled quickly this time. I stifled a quick sigh of relief as I was still a little nervous about going along when my french is not fluent. But as luck would have it, one of the mums couldn't go and rang us asking if either of us could fill her spot. So I was up.

And in fact it went very well. I had a group of 5 kids that I was responsible for - Lily and four of her friends. Thanks to one of Lily's favourite songs I had some key phrases in mind "mettez-vous on rang" and David's favourite "sans courir!". But they were really well behaved, luckily, as we had to walk through town and catch a council bus there and back. It was interesting to observe Lily's teacher in action. She keeps them very well controlled but is also very kind. I think she does an amazing job - I was exhausted at the end of my three hour shift! But it was so nice to be able to be involved with Lily's class and to talk to her classmates, just as I would have been able if we had stayed in Australia.

Oh, and the film Plume, le Petit Ours Polaire (Lars the Little Polar Bear) was very good but a bit too scary for this age group I think. Fingers crossed we have no nightmares tonight

Monday, 28 January 2008

Happy first birthday soupe du jour!

I just realized that I've been blogging for over a year. Although I have a few posts here from 2006, I really got into this blog in January 2007 just before David was due to leave for his (ultimately unsuccessful) apartment-finding mission in Annecy. Its been heaps of fun documenting our journey, keeping up with family and friends and making some new blogging buddies online and IRL.

I've spent a fun hour or two reading back over some of my old posts and the one I like the most? This one. It was written during a really hard week, when we were living in a tiny hotel room at Sevrier and it looked like our lease application might be about to fall through. Back in the days before we had a home or friends, yet we still managed to have a great celebration for Lily's fourth birthday. Well, and maybe I like it because its got a photo of my old brown hat that I loved, that *someone* managed to lose as he lugged all the suitcases from the vielle ville to our new home when we moved in a few weeks later!

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Le piano raconté aux enfants

We went to a kid's piano concert today. It was held at a local music school in the vielle ville. Imagine a room full of 3-5 year olds and their parents or grandparents. The lights went down and the pianiste started to tell the children all about the grand piano and then told the story of a little boy's day using music to illustrate. There was a fair bit of interaction too with the audience and half way through all the kids were allowed to come down the front to have a dance. I was pretty amazed at how well these kids sat through a 45 minute piano concert. And then I realized that at that age they are all in maternelle and they are well trained at sitting still! In any event, it was a very pleasant evening and Jasper and Lily both enjoyed it. It reminded me of going to concerts as a teenager with my parents. Its certainly something I would like to do more often with the kids as they get older. Opportunities are limited here so its a matter of trying to keep my eye out for something suitable.

And Happy Australia Day to all. We celebrated with a lunch of roast lamb. What a long way we've come since this photo was taken at last years' Australia day Citizenship Ceremony where David got his Australian Citizenship. Lily looks so much younger (dont we all!) and Jasper was still in his cast. Fast forward one year and Jasper is walking and running, Lily's french is amazing. Right now they are playing Lily's favourite game - school - in the lounge room. She is the teacher, talking and singing non-stop in french to her pupils (Jasper and a select group of stuffed toys and dolls). He will have played so much school but the time he starts, he'll know the routine instinctively.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Just for you, Gran!

A few snippets of video of these fast-growing kids

At the Convent

Lily singing "Petits enfants mettez-vous en rang" - a song about getting in line to go back to class. The brainwashing starts early here :)

And another song "Savez-vous planter les choux"

Thursday, 24 January 2008

La grève

For the first time since moving here, we've been affected by the strikes. Four of the five maternelle teachers are on strike today, including Lily's teacher. We watched them march from our balcony. Reminiscent of many a Labour Day march, I kept waiting for them to break into that good old aussie chant "The workers, united, will never be defeated!", but they didnt. I asked David if he thought the french had a word for a "scab" - someone who goes to work during the strikes. According to Word Reference its briseur de grève. Briseur means wrecker. Hmmm, doesnt sound quite as good as scab!

Lily and I spent the afternoon putting her cutting, pasting and letter recognition skills to good use. She helped me organize about 10 years worth of recipe cuttings into my recipe folder. And Jasper slept the afternoon away again which means no doubt he'll want to stay up until 10pm again!

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

A record

It might not mean much to many people but I had four hours straight sleep last night - FOUR HOURS! I haven't had more than two and a half hours in a row for about three months and I cant remember the last time I had four. Its got to be six months ago at least. I've read before that anything less than three hours is not restorative and judging by how many colds I've had this winter, I'd agree. Maybe I'll get lucky again tonight.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

A few new words and phrases

For those who read this blog and are trying to master this wonderful language along with me, here are a few new phrases, I just came across:

Yesterday at school, I was telling my friend the latest in our neighbour saga and she was commiserating with me. But she kept saying casse-pieds. I thought, what's breaking feet got to do with it and I knew I must be missing something. A quick check of Word Reference revealed it means a "pain in the neck". Now, that's a handy word to know!

I also spoke to the mum of a friend of Lily's and she told me the girls s'entendent bien. I had no idea what this meant and, despite her pretty good english, she wasnt quite able to explain it. But David set me right when I got home: it means "to get on well with". Another handy phrase that I often say in english but have had trouble expressing in french.

But the funniest one I learnt was at the doctor's today. Jasper has a cold and conjunctivitis. The doctor was asking me all his symptoms and asked me about les selles. I couldnt understand the word (although I did know it a few months ago, I'd forgotten it). He tried a few times to explain what he meant, to no avail. Eventually, he had to dumb it down for me. La caca, he said in exasperation. Oh, right, now I get it - poo! Being the mum of two little kids, I'm much more familiar with the kid's word for it than the adult's!

And speaking of which, guess who has started to say a couple of words in french lately. That's right, Jasper now says caca and non in french. He still doesn't say no in english but he's got it down in french thanks to his big sister, who of course, says it all the time.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Good grief!

I just got a letter from our neighbour complaining that Lily was running around the apartment at 8am on Sunday morning for an hour. He was half right. It was Jasper too. I watched them as I lay on the lounge enrhumé and half-heartedly tried to get them to stop. But I'd been up all night with Jasper, whose own cold seemed to miraculously disappear for the hour it took to work Monsieur into a letter-writing frenzy. I've had it with this whole situation. I know it was too early on a Sunday but I've had enough of apologizing and compromising. I'll continue to try and keep the kids relatively quiet but other than that he's going to have to deal with it. And if any of them dare to complain to my face about it, that's what I'll be telling them.

enrhumé - with a cold

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Escargots farcis

For a while now, David has been checking out the display of snails at the Monoprix. You can buy tinned cooked snails and the shells in which to serve them. But today at the markets we saw the real thing - fresh. A farmer was selling cooked snails in the shells with garlic butter stuffed in too. All you had to do was reheat and eat. I would have preferred to put them in the oven but David insisted they used to heat their snails in Switzerland by balancing them in a dish in boiling water so I decided to steam them in the wok, as I would do with fish.

And they tasted, well, kinda like rubbery things in garlic butter. Lily wouldnt try them. I ate one and put them in the same category as mussels and oysters. I like the idea of them but for some reason I just dont really want to eat them. Luckily, David was hungry but even so 11 snails in one serve is a bit much.

All ready to cook in the wok.

Yum - using the fondue forks to dig them out!

Friday, 18 January 2008

Update on our neighbours

David ran into our neighbour and his wife today. And they invited us down for a coffee. So after dropping Lily back to school, we carried Jasper down asleep, and ended up spending half the afternoon drinking champagne and eating Gallette de Rois with them. Whilst the noise subject was touched on fleetingly, it was probably good just to sit down and get to know each other a bit. The last few days we've been making an effort with the noise. Maybe now that we all know each other even a tiny bit better, things will be a bit easier. Next they want to invite us over when the lady from underneath them is over - I'm not quite sure I'm ready to face her again!

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Changing the rules

Encouraged by a cyber-friend in 2006, I set myself a goal to read 50 books in a year. And, despite having a newborn, I did it - I think I read 51. Maybe they werent the most literary reading - my tastes are rather narrow. Give me a good thriller and I'm happy. In Brisbane I would always be reading a book, and I'd look forward to sitting down for an hour or so at the end of the day when the kids were in bed, just to read.

At the start of 2007, knowing that we were moving here, I set a goal of just one book for the year... in french. When we arrived, excited and optimistic as only a new expat can be, I boldly stated I would read one english book and then one french book and so on. And I did it for 3 books - two french with one english in between. And then I found I would start a french book and either find it too hard or not interesting and I'd give up. And then I'd guiltily sneak off and read an english one. Or worse still, not read any book at all. What I'd planned as a way to improve my french, turned into a type of punishment. Its fair to say that I am finding life a challenge, the last six months especially, and I could really use a bit of stress relief. But guilt has kept me from stocking up in the english section of the library. Silly, really but I havent been reading much because I feel I'm wasting time I could be otherwise using to learn french, either by reading french books or the newspapers or listening to the radio or watching French in Action at night.

It all comes back, I think, to having unrealistic expectations of what I should be achieving and thinking that I have to be able to speak french fluently within a certain amount of time. As David keeps telling me there really is no hurry. Maybe I somehow equate becoming fluent in french with really feeling like I fit in here when in fact one does not necessarily mean the other.

So, I'm going to try and lighten up a bit and read for pleasure again. My new goal for 2008 is to do one better than last year. I plan to read 3 french books. But I wont be starting just yet as I just got a really good thriller from the english language section of the library!

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

"Pensez à vos voisins, Madame"

I was quite calmly standing in our entryway, with David and our neighbour from downstairs. It took him a whole two weeks to come upstairs, after our return from holidays, to complain again. Our sins this time - me, wearing high heeled boots inside (forgive me for just wanting to get myself dressed in the morning, so I dont run outside in the rain wearing my ballerines as I have been known to do when we are late for school) and David for daring to vaccuum the house during the hours of midday and 1pm when Monsieur likes to have his lunch.

I was doing quite well with staying calm until he told me to think of my neighbours. I told him in a voice that quickly dissolved to near tears that I did think of my neighbours every time the baby woke at night (which for the record was 7 times last night) as I quickly tried to calm him and settle him back to sleep (Jasper, that is, not Monsieur). At that I left the room. If only, I'd been wearing my boots, I could have stomped out. Its hard to stomp in ballerines!

However, it seem that the latest faults lie not only with the kids (whom Monsieur is prepared to show a small amount of leniency to) but with the cumulative affect of all our noise. While David took him outside to pacify him, I fumed inside, wondering if he knew how lucky he was that he didn't have a family of loud-music-playing, TV-watching teenagers living above him. For now, David's words seem to have done the trick and we will add the above changes to the list of compromises we have already made. And wait for the next time...

Saturday, 12 January 2008

How bizarre!

We've been invited out to dinner tonight for raclette at a friend's house. I'll be interested to see how their authentic french raclette differs to what I serve up. Because our invite is for 730pm, the time that I am usually breathing a sigh of relief that both kids are asleep, I decided to make some scones for le goûter to keep us going until dinner.

I'm still working out my issues with the pre-mixed raising agent they have here. It comes in tiny little packets. I have no idea how much to use and usually end up guessing. I really need to find some cream of tartar so I can just mix my own with bicarb soda (which I have finally found!). Despite this, the scones turned out ok. I was not so lucky with the cream though. We have some yummy strawberry jam (I'm a big fan of the Monoprix Gourmet range of foods) so I started to beat up some cream to go with it. After about ten minutes of whisking, my cream was only slightly thicker. So, I got out my electric beater and after another five minutes, it was still only the consistency of melted icecream , you know slightly thicker than cream but a long way off standing up on its own. I checked the pack - nothing there to indicate it couldnt be whipped, in fact, there were even directions on how to make Chantilly cream, so it must be whippable. I perservered for a bit longer and then gave up. We ate our scones with jam and almost runny cream. If held at the right angle, you could even get the scone into your mouth before the cream slid off it. At least, they tasted good...

le goûter afternoon tea

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

I spoke french... in a dream!

I actually got to sleep in this morning after David got up with the kids to give them breakfast. And I managed to go back to sleep. I dreamed that I was in Sevrier and that I was heading back to Annecy on a trottinette (like lots of mums here, who ride their kid's scooters home after dropping them at school). In my dream I stopped to chat to two french guys on skateboards, one of whom looked a lot like the friendly electrician who came to fix our light switches on Monday. I cant remember much of the conversation but we came to a point in the road where I said goodbye and asked if they knew the way to Annecy (I distinctly remember saying saviez-vous - which I now realize is the imperfect tense - see I cant even get my grammar right when I'm dreaming!).

Now mind you, I'm not saying I dreamed in french like bilingual people do. No, my thought processes were definitely in english. I remember after I left the skater dudes, I went into a bar and there were some tourists loudly ordering coffees in english and I remember thinking "bloody tourists who dont even make an effort!". Still its a start!

Tuesday, 8 January 2008


I had a go at making sushi tonight. I've never made it before. I've never needed to as living right in Chinatown in Brisbane we were spoiled for choice in the amount of asian restaurants on our doorstep. That's something I miss here. There are some chinese/vietnamese restaurants here. I had a look at the menu of one in the vielle ville once, but it just didnt tempt me. There is a great looking japanese restaurant just around the corner, but its pricey. Maybe we'll try it on a special occasion.

So meanwhile, we have all been missing sushi which we used to eat at least weekly. Many times Lily has asked me to make it. But everytime I added up the cost of all the ingredients at Monoprix, it was about 30€ and I'd always be half-way through my shopping and not want to dish out the extra cash it would require to get set up. But today at the markets we stopped at the little asian stall and as well as lots of asian noodles, packaged soups and fresh asian vegies, they had almost all the ingredients I needed for sushi. And much cheaper too. So for 14€ I got nori, a bamboo mat, rice vinegar, sushi rice, a tube of wasabi and a packet of pickled ginger. All I had to get from Monoprix was some packet Miso.

The only bad move I made was serving it for dinner. It was more time-consuming to prepare than I had imagined. By the time we got to the rolling stage, I was tired and cranky. Jasper kept knicking all the avocado which he loves and Lily wanted to help smoosh out the rice with the palms of her hands! Lovely! Still the finished product tasted pretty good, even if it left a little to be desired aesthetically. We made three types of nori rolls - tuna, avocado and avocado and carrot. Not bad at all.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Off to a good start

It felt weird to be taking Lily back to school today. I'm used to January being a lazy month gearing up to a return to kindergarten or the like at the end of January. Nope, straight back into it today. Which is fine, as we have holidays again in February and we will be off to La Clusaz for a week. Have I mentioned already that we have demi-pension - no cooking for me for a week. That's what I call a real holiday!

Lily went back to school with a huge smile on her face, as usual. Tonight she starts gymastics. This will be interesting. I cant quite get my head around kid's activities that start at 5pm. I'm used to scurrying home and starting dinner at that time. But she's very excited and will hopefully last the hour without a complete meltdown.

After a quick breakfast at my favourite patisserie this morning, David, Jasper and I went to check out the parent/kid playspace which was once again empty as a new course of toddler gym had started. So now that he has reached the age limit, we wandered over and joined the class and Jasper had a blast. He seems to be coming out of his shy phase and was very happy climbing and running around. So all I need to do is enrol him this week and we will be all set with a Monday morning activity. How hard can it be to enrol a 20 month old in toddler gym, you ask? I'll tell you on Wednesday!

As for me, in keeping with my plan to listen to more french, I bought a little transistor radio on the weekend and today found an interesting talk-back show. I got a bit lost at first but soon worked out I was listening to a sexologist - the woman who found out her daughter was a lesbian and the man who talked about going to the chemist to buy a patch de testo were a bit of a giveaway!

It could be a very interesting way to improve my french!

demi-pension - half board - 2 meals a day!
patch de testo - testosterone patch - I'm guessing!

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Back home

Or should I say our "home away from home" as I tease David with. He cant quite cope with using the word home and Annecy in the same sentence yet! Still, its nice to be back. Italy was wonderful and very exhausting. We started off at Bologna in Nonna Maru's apartment above her home. It was funny coming back there as a family of four having spent three months there, just the three of us, three years ago. For the first day, we both kept walking around saying, "who'd have thought...". It was also fun to see some things we'd left behind, just like all the other leftovers from other members of the family years ago. I found my old shampoo in the bathroom and had a giggle at the still almost full packet of Sogni Doro, a tea that italians give their kids to help them sleep at night and that I'd unsuccessfully tried on Lily last time we were there.

We had a wonderful Christmas with Toci, Sergio, Piero and all the family. Unfortunately all the tortellini had been prepared already so we couldnt help with that again. We had to settle for eating it - just like last time, first in brodo then in crema - so yummy! It was great for Lily to meet all the family again and for them all to get to know Jasper who got over his shyness pretty quickly.

We squeezed in a quick trip to see David's cousin Susy and her family for lunch. Like three years ago, we love to all cook together. This time we made baked semolina - we had lots of fun cutting it into shapes. We really hope that Martina will be our next visitor to Annecy - she gets on so well with Lily and Jasper.

Then it was time to head to the Convent at Lake Garda for a stay with Nonno Piero and Mamie Silvana and the rest of their community. Once again, it was a very peaceful place which we hope we didnt disturb too much. Lily and Jasper had fun running in the cloisters, feeding Loretto the parrot and the fish and ringing the bell in the church at midday. David did a reading at the New Year's Eve church service.

On the way home we stopped overnight in Turin to change trains. What a great place. We'll have to get back there to explore some more. We settled instead for a quick walk to our hotel at night and dinner in the restaurant downstairs.

Happy New Year everyone

Opening their Christmas stockings

Jasper loved tortellini en brodo

All the family (Sergio was so proud that he had to add an extra little table to fit us all - his family table has turned the corner and is heading off in the other direction!)

With Nonno Piero

My little man!

Getting to know Martina

At Rastignano (Maru's house)

Back in the Piazza Maggiore again- who'd have thought!

Wonderful Neptune - what a great fountain this is.

The famous sirens (a marvellous breastfeeding statue in my opinion) - check out Lily - and she says she doesnt remember breastfeeding!

At the Convent

Looking towards Gargnano

Lake Garda with its beautiful orange trees

Lunch in the Sun - a marvellous spaghetti marinara for Dav, lasagna for the kids and fresh grilled fish from the lake for me

Ciao Loretto

With Mamie Silvana

Lily on the way to Turin - she was such a great traveller

My dinner of ravioli de zucca en crema de parmigianno (pumpkin stuffed ravioli with creamy parmesan sauce - heavenly!)

Pizza for the kids and wildboar steak for Dav - which Jasper loved!

The Christmas lights in Turin were constellations

Lots of snow during the night in Turin

Seasoned train travellers - so long as its first class!

Relaxing on the way home