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Month: February 2016

A day in my life (last week)

I wake up with the sun shining brightly in my face. There was a point in my life that I hated that, and I probably will again in the summer, but for now it doesn’t make sense to close the shutters every night just to open them back up in the morning. I have two large windows and the shutters are the “modern” rolling (read:squeeky) kind. It’s a few minutes before 9am which means I got to sleep in, but it also means the kids have been on their ipads for around 2 hours now, yikes. My eyes have barely adjusted to the light as I shout “Ok guys, time is up” The kids come barrelling into my room for 30 seconds of cuddling before they start to wrestle right on top of me, this is why I now wear pajamas to sleep. I wonder for a moment if we sound like elephants to the poor souls in the apartment below us. The first two weeks here I tried my best to make the kids conscious of all the noise the floor made as they ran around, but I gave up. Six months of nagging sounds like a lot less sanity than introducing myself and apologizing for the noise. My neighbours so far have been elusive. I hear there is a girl who lives below us who is Kaylee’s age, but we have yet to see her. They wrestle each other for a minute as I try to pretend I’m getting some weird form of Swedish massage.  They quickly demand that I make them breakfast. “Go pour some cereal” doesn’t work here like it does back in Canada, they can’t stand the taste of the milk. We’ve tried six different brands now but none seem to have worked. I wonder if I could just quietly replace dairy milk with almond milk, would they notice? I bet it would taste ok, I don’t drink dairy milk in Canada, I just haven’t bought any almond milk here yet.  Kaleb has been trying new tastes and asks if he can make us eggs, sunny side up, I agree. The first thing I do as I climb out of bed is throw on slippers and a sweater and crank up the heat, it’s cold in the morning and I’m still not used to living with radiators, five throughout the apartment all of which have their own temperature settings, none of which I can seem to set with any sort of regularity. I miss setting the heat to 19.5 degrees and never thinking about it again. Kaleb screams something about being a chef.  He does a great job, he just needs me to turn on the pan, check the heat, crack the egg, check for doneness, use the spatula, plate the eggs and carry the plates to the table, he’ll grab the forks. Thanks for breakfast, Kaleb.

I ask the kids to clear the dishes as I go get dressed. Dressing myself starts with my new knee brace, that mountain climb somehow managed to completely ruin my knee and it is painful everyday, too early to tell yet if that brace helps. Finding the brace was a treat. There are pharmacies all over the place here, and I have made myself look like a fool in a lot of them. Everything is kept behind the counter, right down to Advil. The children’s Advil I packed turned out to be baby Advil, about 1.5 doses for my kids, my mistake. I had to go in one day and ask for children’s Advil. It doesn’t sound intimidating, but I got asked about dosing, syrups vs chewables vs tablets (I think) and container size. Why on earth can’t you just keep this stuff on the shelf? I know most of these words, I swear, but using them unexpectedly on the fly with a native speaker is something I’ve never done before. Luckily, I have learned saying to people that I am still learning french makes people a lot more patient than just saying that my french is terrible. Plus there was that time we needed nail polish remover. No, not fungal cream, not a manicure set, no, not nail polish, yes, dissolvant! Inside the third pharmacy that day I decided they must keep them behind the counter, since I hadn’t seen anything even close in any stores yet. I brushed up on any words I thought I might need for the conversation. I went to the counter and asked if they had any braces for knees. The dude looked at me in a way I could tell I’d already made a huge mistake. Ok, Do you have any wraps for knees? Umm, do you have any sleeves for knees? No luck. Ok, let’s try this. My knee hurts, what do you have that can help? Once his eyes lit up I knew I was getting somewhere. He led me over to a shelf filled with brown paper bags and pulled one down, he reached inside and pulled out a wrapped bunch of herbs. Wet it, he says, put it on your knee, wrap a towel around it and watch a movie. Ummm… no, thank you. Wait, he says, smell it. Yep, that smells like a leafy A535, I get it. Merci, Bon Journee. This was going to happen, my knee killed me with every step and I lived in a fourth floor apartment, I wasn’t climbing those stairs again without a brace. I walked a few blocks away and tried again. This pharmacy had a slightly larger storefront but still nothing that was going to help me. I walked to the counter and was greeted by a lady twice my age, she had such a kind face. Do you have sleeves for knees? No. Umm, do you have a brace for a knee? No. Alright, do you have any products for the knee? She turned and disappeared behind a wall for only a few moments. Oh look, an identical bundle of the dried, leafy, smelly stuff. She looked displeased that I was wasting her time so we left. Whatever, this is exactly why I have an amazon account out here, even if I do have to wait three days and go pick up my package at the post office. 60 seconds later I had one ordered. I only had to stop 8 times on the stairs up to our apartment that day. So I get dressed in my limited wardrobe that has become even more limited by my slightly bulky, but badly needed brace. I’m sure walking around on it up and down the stars and around town for a week after I hurt it hasn’t helped anything.

I go to make coffee with my Aeropress, I love that thing. There is a coffee machine and a french press in the apartment but I haven’t used either of them yet. As I grind my beans in my hand operated mill I glance at the table and notice places with egg goop all over them, I ask the kids again to clear the table. I boil water in a pot on the stove. There is an electric kettle that is much faster and more convenient, but 80% of the time I use it, it trips the breaker and I lose power to the apartment, which means I have to go around resetting things afterwards, so I’ve long since packed it up and retired it at the very back of the highest shelf. I don’t like boiling water in a pot on the stove, but I’m not going to buy a kettle. I also hate my pots and pans, but it’s only for six months. I don’t have a single butter knife in the apartment, I’ll just have to live without. We only have three bowls, whatever, there’s only three of us and nobody eats cereal anymore. I will however, be buying a cheese grater. Turns out I can’t live without one of those. Coffee is made, complete with the gorgonzola flavoured milk that is only tolerable in my coffee, surprisingly enough. I glance at the sink and notice plates with egg goop and pieces of egg white on them, I inform the kids that this morning, they get to clean the kitchen. Kaleb doesn’t mind, for some reason the kitchen is his favourite chore, but Kaylee groans and protests.

After breakfast is cleaned up I mentally go through everything we need to get done today. If we want to make it to Monkeybrains Market we’ll have to leave soon, the merchants typically start closing up around 11. Tonight we’re having Pizza pinwheels for dinner. I got super tired of listening to the kids complain about every single meal I made, so I opened a new pepperplate account, imported some recipes and told them they could each pick a dinner a week, so long as they ate my dinners on the other days. Kaleb had picked pizza pinwheels. We bake everything in our microwave/toasteroven/convection oven combo. It’s tiny and weird, but we make do. I would need to pick up some pre-made pizza dough, cheese, sauce and maybe some meat. As the kids get dressed we talk yet again about what to do when we change. Pajamas go on the bed, I’ll change them every few days. Socks and underwear go straight into the laundry machine, and pants and shirts are looked over for marks, spots, spills and smells. Some=Laundry None=Hung on the back of the chair. I’m starting to think I should get it engraved on a plaque and hang it on the wall, though I’m not sure that would help, I do know that laundry is a giant pain my ass. My machine is tiny so I have to do loads often, and there is no dryer, so I hang everything so it can get nice and crunchy, despite going through fabric softener like a maniac.

Kids are dressed, my purse has extra bags, my wallet, phone and keys. Keys are important, my apartment door locks automatically when it’s closed, like a hotel room, and I’ve already locked myself out once. Thankfully my landlord gave me two sets and Kyla was at home with the other set when it happened. The markets only take cash, so I always have to have a bit on hand, unlike in Calgary when I almost never had cash on me. We head down our narrow, twisting staircase and I only have to stop because of knee pain like, five times. Again I wonder how the neighbours picture us, the kids have a habit of running down the stairs chuckling, I don’t know why, but they do and the staircase echoes like a canyon. By the time I’ve reached the front door the kids have checked the mail, hit each other a few times and have grown bored of waiting, they argue about who opens Theodore (get it?). I’m embarrassed to say that the first time we left the place it took us a minute to figure out how to open the door. I don’t know if we’ve seen a doorknob since we left the airport.

We head out towards the general direction of monkey brains market. The kids either don’t know or don’t mind that I can’t exactly remember the way, my guess is they have no idea. The roads here don’t run parallel and perpendicular to each other. If I had to liken them to any shape, I’d say close to a spiderweb, with a few centres instead of just one. It would be easier if I kept a mental log of which street lead where, but I’m finding that still difficult. It’s in that general direction, and finding new shops along the way has the potential to solve some problems we’re facing getting set up in our new home, so that general direction is the way we go. There are dogs everywhere we go, I’d say about 45% of them are on leash, the others just walk alongside their owners, and a few randoms just seem to do their own thing with no obvious owner around, but they wear collars and look fed so we assume they aren’t strays. About 95% of the dogs around here look on edge, they don’t look relaxed and happy to be out for a walk. Sometimes my kids will ask to “say hello” to a dog, but only if I’ve scoped it out and decides it doesn’t look totally freaked out, which isn’t that often. As a by product of all the dogs around here, there is dog crap EVERYWHERE. I don’t know why in the world people don’t pick up after their dogs, it seems so awful to me, but it’s a fact of life here, on almost every block there is dog crap somewhere on the ground. To counter that, every single morning men come by in tiny water trucks and hose down the street and sidewalks (where they exist). It seemed really weird to me at first that they would rinse the roads every morning, but as time goes by I’m starting to understand why. Beer and wine is splashed on the streets with all the public drinking, and most apartments around us just put their garbage, in bags, outside of the front door, leaking and all. So dog crap, alcohol and garbage slime is washed away down the street drains early every morning, readying the roads to be dirtied again. I understand now why I’ve heard so many visitors say Calgary is such a “clean” city. As we walk we do so in the middle of the street, if a car comes by, we do as the locals do and move out of the way at the very last moment, squeezing into the narrow space between the buildings and the road. When we first got here I had eight heart attack like events per day about my kids being so close to the traffic, and not paying attention enough to when cars are there or not, today we are a little more used to walking in the street, we understand the rhythm a little better and if we happen to misstep or don’t hear a car behind us, we understand a honking car does not equal an angry person here, it is a polite way of saying ‘excuse me’.

As we make our way through tiny streets, guessing which corner to turn at I realize I’ve gone a little too far in the wrong direction, I tell the kids I have to send a message and I pull up google maps on my phone. I don’t care if we take too long, the kids need to use their legs and it’s the difference between 5 minutes and 10-15. Ok, so go in that general direction. I’m not trying to memorize street names because my brain doesn’t function with the foreign names yet, and I’m not keeping my phone out because I’d rather look around and maybe get to know the area. Eventually I’m pretty sure at the end of this road we should turn left but when we get to the end of the road we find ourselves at the market. I wanted to come in on the other end, but that’s ok, we made it anyways.

I tell the kids that I will buy them absolutely any fruits and vegetables they would like and we make our way through. As we pass by tables people look me in the eye and say things, I hope they are offering me a good deal, I hope that my smile and silence isn’t somehow insulting but I don’t recognize any of those words, and they speak very fast, I don’t check with Kaylee anymore, she doesn’t know what they say either. Kaleb spots the clementines from six tables away, we pick out eight and not for a moment do I wonder if they’ll get eaten. Produce here doesn’t seem to last as long, actually nothing does. I’ve read in a few places that Europe has different rules about food preservatives and treatment, I don’t fully understand if/how that would affect produce, but I don’t mind. The clementines come from our neighbour to the west, Spain, and are the most delicious orange any of us have ever eaten, if I don’t ration we’d eat all eight before nightfall. I hand the bag over to the person working the table, this transaction is easy, they ask me if I want a bag and let me know how much I owe them, all those words I can easily deal with. I’ve brought two tote bags and another shopping bag, I try to make the two smaller bags light so the kids can carry them longer, but I typically end up with all three bags on my shoulders before too long. I don’t mind. Kaylee picks out lettuce and the vegetables she wants to put in the salads for the next few days. She’s decided to be the salad maker for the family. It’s awesome because despite feigning interest in cuisine, she’s never really done much around the kitchen. Kaleb on the other hand, is the ultimate kitchen helper, that kid knew his way around a chef’s blade before he could print. Yes, I am that parent. As Kaylee picks out salad fixings I try to understand the cured meats table. I love cured meats and really want to buy something, but I’ve had one or two different samples three times a week for two weeks now and it’s only my Canadian politeness that keeps me from sitting them out almost right away. I don’t get it, what am I eating? They aren’t labeled with the meat type and flavourings, that I could understand, I think. The woman working the cured meats table barely looks at me anymore. I bet she thinks I come to the market to lunch on samples, I want to give you money, I swear. I catch back up with Kaylee and she has an arm full of produce. Despite filling one of my shopping bags, we pay around 4-5 Euros for all of it. It’s all fresh, crisp and super yummy.

The kids no longer want to see the monkey brains truck (which actually contain sheep brains) and all of it’s oddities, Cow tongue, something lung, brains and other things I haven’t quite been able to translate. It’s just as well because it’s very busy today and I would hate to line up just to peek and have the kids say “ewww”. I make my way past the spice table, I have bought from here many times and the man working the tables offers me a nod, I nod back but pass right by, he’s too nice to the kids and gives them a scoop so they can smell every single blend he has, if I need spices, I’ll come back when the kids are back at school and buy them then. We make our way to the butcher, I tell the kids to look around the tables and not touch anything. I hang out and watch and listen to people buying meat. None of it is precut or labeled and I have yet to navigate the method in which one buys meat from this guy. I listen and watch for a few minutes, try to hear these foreign words in such a way I could at least repeat them, or see somebody buy a familiar cut so I could at least say I want the same thing, but no luck. Kaylee asked a week ago if we could have steaks for dinner, I said yes but since then have come to learn that going out and buying a steak isn’t as simple as I expected. One day. The kids have spotted a table selling Calissons, I explain to them that it is a locally made candy, contains candied fruit and tell them if they’d like, I can buy them some. We’ve been meaning to try them for a while, they are the pride of our city. I let the kids grab a piece from the sample plate and wait for their eyes to light up. Kaleb’s Canadian politeness is drowning under his gag reflex as he reaches for my hand. He spits the candy out, half chewed and covered in spit right into my palm. I no longer want to sample. I look at Kaylee and can tell she’s tough enough to swallow it, but won’t be sampling them again any time soon. The merchant at this table eyeballs me with utter distain. I shrug, as if to say “I guess it’s a good thing you have samples” and walk away to ditch the candy goo and wipe my hand.

We stop by the cheese truck to pick up cheese for our pizza dinner, I know from experience this guy will sell me anything, but doesn’t like my accent or the slow manner in which I order things, I don’t mind, I understand I sound funny, and can appreciate his frustration in me ordering at a snail’s pace. Maybe in five months time he’ll comment on how far I’ve come. I know what I want but don’t see if on any of the labels. I double check every piece of cheese to see if it even looks like mozza or cheddar, or something I’d want on a pizza. I have yet to find more than three cheeses with a name I recognize. It’s not like I never ate cheese in Canada, in fact I would often buy five or six different kids on a single shopping trip, but they aren’t the same here, and if they are similar, they certainly aren’t named the same. I don’t know how to buy french cheese at all. I see nothing appropriate for pizza and order a new cheese to try out at home, I buy something new from this guy every time in an attempt to familiarize myself with the cheeses, I likely butcher the name as I order and he wraps it up for me. He never says a word to me but again, I don’t mind. There’s plenty more we could shop around for but I know I’m going to need cheese on the way home, so we head out.

Which road did I come from? Which one did I mean to come from? Bah, whatever, home is thataway, and we need to check out the shops anyways. We walk by a fromagerie I haven’t been in yet. It’s isn’t bustling so it’s way less intimidating. I hate going into a busy shop, everybody (understandably) wants you to order fast and move along, and often I need time to look at the products, read labels etc. before I’m ready. I take a look at every single cheese in there, I think I recognize a few names, and I have definitely eaten a few already, but nothing I’d put on a pizza. I ask if she has any mozzarella, she says no. As I’m trying to figure out the proper tense and grammar to use to ask what cheese would be good on a pizza, others come in and quickly order. I’m intimidated so I walk out. I’m pretty sure Monoprix is right around the corner and they have a huge fridge full of cheese with no attendant where I can take my time and google things. Off we go. The kids, by this time are getting right sick of shopping. they don’t complain, they don’t whine, and they don’t ask to be finished, they just start to laugh loudly as they play pushing games with one another. I let it happen, they’ve been troopers so far. As we head into the monoprix I explain that it wouldn’t be appropriate to push or be loud inside the store, and ask them for their help looking for pizza cheese. We head to the cheese fridge and I look over everything, the kids help by pointing at every single cheese and ask “Is that it? Is that it? Is that it” I realize they need to amuse themselves, but I need to focus on cheese.  I tell them I’ll handle it and to just give me a minute. Enter loud laughter and pushing. It only goes on for a minute before we start to get looks so once again I explain that we are in an entirely different culture and we don’t yet know what’s acceptable. What if, in France, it’s ok to hit other people’s kids upside the head if they are acting inappropriately? Yes, I would get mad and ask them not to, but by that time you’d already be hit. I know it’s a large threat, but it works, and they go sit quietly on some nearby steps. I see some cheddar, but it’s sliced and long rectangular shaped (hmm, looks perfect to put on a baguette). As I’m googling cheeses and trying to figure out what the hell to do, I hear my kids again. they are wrestling on the floor. I grab some baguette cheddar, some emmental and head for my kids. This time I am a little more stern. Stop. Be quiet. Now, let’s take a look at this sign and see if we can figure out where we might find pizza sauce. Nope, but we head upstairs anyways. Of course, we take the tiny elevator because my knee is currently housing the devil of all injuries.

 

Upstairs I find pasta sauces and canned tomatoes. I’ve made my own pizza sauce before, but I don’t have the right ingredients at home, flashback to the nod I gave the spice merchant as I pass by everything I would need. The kids return to their game of “Is it this one?” I grab something that looks Italian and decide if I put it on super lightly, it won’t matter. Tomato sauce is tomato sauce. Back down the tiny elevator and back towards the cheese fridge, I forgot that the pre made dough was right beside it and the kids protest having to double back. As we get into line I rearrange the goods in my bags to make room for what I’m about to buy, my kids play the pushing game again, but they aren’t being overly loud, and aren’t taking up much space, so I let it slide, I don’t want to nag and they’ve been shopping and walking for around 2 hours now. We’re about 3 or 4 people from the till when I hear, in a very harsh and angry voice some rapid french words. What I did distinguish was something along the lines of “Arret de pousser, en ce moment” I lean forward to my children, who haven’t seemed to notice that they were being scolded by a stranger and explain the situation. They freeze in fear. We move one place in line and Kaylee asks if they can wait outside the store. I’m in eye’s shot of the door and I agree. I take a look back at the older lady behind me and she’s looking like I’m the one who needs a smack upside the head. Ok, I too just want to go home now. I pay, bag my stuff and go outside. The kids are looking at me in fear, like they are about to get beat for the first time. I kneel down and explain how I didn’t exactly think anybody was right in that situation, them for playing around in line, nor the woman for scolding them, nor I for letting it slide. I also explain how I understand they are tired and sick of shopping, but that’s no reason to horse around in a place that we are obviously expected to behave. Homeward bound and I let the kids skip and play the entire way.

Hauling three big bags of food up four flights of twisty stairs is hell on my knee. The kids are already in the apartment when I take my second floor break. It hurts, so bad. When did I get old? Why does my body hate me?The kids are kind enough to back track and each grab a bag to haul up the stairs. The two bags of food are put away by the time I make it to the apartment and I can’t help but feel like my kids are the best that ever lived. Kaleb asks if I need a foot rub (Yes, I do get them, they last about 10 seconds but make me feel like a queen anyways). I decline, I’m boiling hot, I rip off my jeans in exchange for yoga capris and turn down all the radiators again. I put away the rest of the food. The kids do a couple lessons on DuoLingo in exchange for some ipad time. I don’t think Dulingo helps much, but it helps me feel good about two weeks out of school for some reason. I make another coffee with my aeropress and sit down at the kitchen table, I’m tired and sore. God, I love this coffee.

The coffee goes down fast and I chase it with a giant glass of water, when we first got here I didn’t drink enough water and suffered from it, now I try to remember to drink, I’ve always struggled with drinking enough water. I sit on the most comfortable couch ever and curl up in a blanket. In the battle between caffeine and fatigue, the coffee losses. I wake up 28 minutes later with a bladder so full it practically hurts. I’ve been JICing for years, and this is life’s revenge. Every time we flush the toilet we have to wiggle the button a little bit or the flush goes on until the end of time. Only I have gotten used to this so far. I tell the kids their time is up, I’ll start on dinner if they start on some homework.

The kids have a TON of homework. We are certainly not used to this. We always considered after school time our own time to chase hobbies, participate in sports and follow other interests. Through the course of the two week break, Kaleb sat down for about 90 minutes worth of homework and Kaylee has spent about 4 hours working on assignments. Granted, my kids are a little slower than the other kids will be because of the language barrier and a lack of understanding certain things, but to us, it is a lot. I spend about one minute in the kitchen for every fifteen minutes at the table helping with homework or explaining tasks, or doing my own google-fu to try to figure out what the hell this assignment is about. All work is done in ink, black for the most part, blue for other things, pencils are only allowed to be used on Fridays. I don’t get it either. I totally timed this right and by the time the kids are allowed to re shelf their homework, I actually start on dinner. My Pasta sauce, weird cheese, no meats pizza pinwheels.

Kaylee works on chopping veggies and Kaleb put on a french TV show while he sweeps (He doesn’t really sweep so much as he pushes the broom around and stares at the TV). I can’t stand the shows I’m familiar with being on. At first I thought watching the Simpsons or Big Bang Theory in french would be fun, maybe even useful but I absolutely can not stand the voices. It’s not like they try to match Marge Simpson at all, and I can’t focus on the words, just the weird voices.  I blast through prepping dinner, despite having to awkwardly cut up cheese because I forgot all about buying a grater,  and put it in my weird toaster oven thing. I’ve heard the convection setting on these things is supposed to be some sort of miracle but I guess the holy ghost doesn’t live here, because every time I’ve tried it things come out colder and weirder than the regular oven setting, so I use that. I do a quick tidy of the apartment and draft a postcard while I’m waiting for dinner. I help Kaylee finish up the salad and pour a glass of wine. Yuck. again. Why is there so much bad wine around here, and why do I keep buying it?!? I really ought to switch to beer, I’ve always liked beer better but I was excited about all the local wines out here. Every glass I’ve had in a restaurant has been great, every bottle I’ve bought on my own has been awful. I keep taking pictures of the restaurant wine and not finding them anywhere. I pour the wine down the kitchen sink and pull the pizza out of the toaster oven. I would try the wine again tomorrow with lunch and decide the same thing, only then I’d pour out the entire bottle and add the empty bottle to my collection beside the garbage can. So many bottles, I think only maybe two glasses drank.

We serve the pizza and salad with water. I watch as Kaleb takes the first bite and my heart sinks. Kaleb picked this dinner and I really did want to make it ok for him, I wanted to be able to make my kids requests, we have a deal, I’ll make your foods, you eat mine. Turns out I’ve made some sort of monstrosity dressed up as pizza pinwheels. At least the dough is tasty. I make the kids eat one, we chuck the rest out and feast on salad, yogurt and toast for dinner instead. I feel defeated. I take a few minutes to go through our pepperplate list and realize how many recipes there are with ingredients I haven’t seen, or don’t know where to buy. I hate winging meals with a passion. If I don’t have a plan, I don’t shop properly, I get stressed out deciding what to cook, and my kids always try to convince me to do something else. But maybe a meal plan isn’t quite the way to go yet either. We talk about the food we’ve seen, and what can be made out of it. Too bad we can’t live on those clementines and baguettes.

The kids argue about who showered first last time, and whose turn it is today. I end the argument quickly when I say while one of them is in the shower, the other is doing homework with my help. Kaylee runs into the bathroom and closes the door before Kaleb even has a chance to speak. Kaleb thinks he was told to make twenty books. We talk a bit about what he may have been told instead but the kid is sure, he has to make twenty books. Not just write them, but bind them and everything. I ask if he has any written instructions, he says no. I tell him we aren’t making twenty books and we settle on reading one of the books he brought home from school. It was about a princess who acted a fool, and wasn’t very graceful so the king kicked her out of the castle and sent her to refining school. As she’s on her way to refining school, a photocopied page falls out of the book. It’s a home reading assignment, much like the ones he has to do in Canada, just a little more book report like. Could this be what the teacher meant? No, No, She said he had to make twenty books. I’m not helping you make twenty books, why don’t we just do this book report instead.

As Kaleb showers, Kaylee cries. We’ve both tried our best at a homework assignment and couldn’t do it. It doesn’t help that Kaylee was given a photocopied page with no instructions, just “This is your homework” She doesn’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do, and she’s scared of her teacher. Teachers here grab kids by the wrist and march them handcuff style into the corner and yell at them, this add to her fear. She’s worried, I have a few moments where I believe I’ve torn apart my family just to torture everybody and we put the homework away. It’s now thirty minutes past bedtime but I put on an episode of AFV anyways. We need a good laugh and there’s no school tomorrow. The kids wear the same PJs as last night and I’m still in my yoga pants. We chuckle a bit then head to bed. Kaylee reads her Kobo as I snuggle Kaleb and tell him how proud I am of him. He asks if tomorrow we can have a lazy day. No, If we don’t go but food we don’t eat. Besides, we still have one more park to scope out. Maybe this one will have green space, maybe this one will have other kids to play with. Maybe tomorrow nobody will be frustrated.

Lights out.

I collapse on the couch and wish I had some beer. Or some wine that wasn’t awful. Or a Manhattan. I put Big Bang Theory from Netflix onto my laptop and hook it up to the TV with the HDMI cord I was lucky enough to think to bring. The show is in english, the credits are in french. I zone out until I’m sleepy and I crawl into my rock hard bed with flat, crappy pillows and dream. I dream that I’m in Calgary getting ready to come to France, like I do every night. I dream about packing, about organizing toiletries and picking clothes to bring and about actually remembering my most favourite ever sports bra. At some point in the night the kids take turns coming into my room and telling me all about the creepy noises they heard. I heard them too, loud neighbours, creaking pipes, car horns. I walk them back to bed and tell them not to worry, we just aren’t used to them yet. We sleep.

I’d like to dedicate this post to Diana P. who is living vicariously through me, even on days we are doing NOTHING 😉

We climbed a mountain.

So with the kids on their first 2 week break from school Kyla and I got together to discuss what we wanted to get done, and of those things, what we should do together and when. It was Sunday and looking at the weather forecast we decided any outdoorsy things should be done the next day, on Monday. Something we both wanted to do with the kids was check out Montagne Sainte-Victoire and Croix de Provence so we quickly did some research, how do we get there, how do we get back, how long is the hike etc. The first decision we had to make was to go up the north or the south side. The north side was easier, but the south side was prettier. For those that don’t know me well, I love a challenge, which is stupid because I’m rarely fit to handle the challenges I take on (Yeah, screw you ski hill at mud hero), but I take them on anyways often leading to injuries, and a weird mix of regret and pride. South side it is. We figured out our route, decided to meet in the morning, grab enough food to last the few hours of our outing and head down to the bus that would take us out of town. All went well, we grabbed enough food for lunch an a few snacks, had plenty of water, a few first aid items, and were on our way. Navigating the bus felt like a great accomplishment, we made it to where we needed to be, on time with 4 kids in tow and were now leaving the city. We found our stop, found the trail head and started our day, it was around 10am and we knew it took about two hours for most people to get to the cross on the top of the mountain, but most people didn’t have 4 kids following behind. The first 45 minutes were awesome, the kids could actually run, jump and horse around, the weather was awesome and we had left the crowded city centre that was our new home. The smell of the unfamiliar foliage was amazing.

We made our way up to the first building an amazing view. We had a snack and water break, took it all in and we all felt really grateful for being there. Handed out some of the bribes (read: candy) we brought for the kids, adjusted our layers accordingly and moved on.

I don’t remember how long it was before we were faced with an option.

As mentioned before, I can’t ever bring myself to take the easy way. I always think I’m going to be filled with regret and wonder if I don’t go all in. Kyla made a good point, it had been pretty difficult (mostly very steep) so far, and we did have kids with us. I also made a point; We won’t know unless we try. Looking back on the day, this was the point that we went from a hike, to an adventure. We could have gone left, made it up to the top in two hours, had lunch and made our way back down, but we didn’t. We went right and did something else entirely. Not long after that we were looking up a rock face that was obvious we needed to climb. “we can do this” I said, and I went up first, took off my bag and stayed close to help the kids, for the most part, the kids were awesome little climbers, it took a little skill, but they pulled it off and we all went proudly on our way, feeling accomplished. Something I didn’t realize until later, was we just crossed a point of no return. It was a little difficult, but manageable getting up that rock face, it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible to go down without ropes.

We followed trail markers, which were not always obvious, occasionally we had to stop and send kids 20-30 feet ahead in a few different directions to find which way to go. It was a very rocky trail and so footprints or obvious paths were not always visible. We did cross the occasional hiker still, but maybe only 3 or 4 at this point.

At some point we hit an open, sunny slope. We basked in the light and had a bit of a snack. We packed up, and set out on our way to what we thought was the path. we were wrong. We did a bit of a scramble to cross the slope, and ended up on a lovely little cliff. We realized at this point we no longer saw trail markers, but there were a few flags around. I didn’t know what they were for. Alright, we stood on the cliff and tried to figure out which pass up to the ridge made the most sense. Couldn’t be that one, too much climbing, couldn’t be that one, it goes no where.  Must be around this small ridge. Let’s go. We tried all of them.

A few hours later we stood back on that same lovely cliff and tried to figure out where we went wrong. We carefully weighed all of our options. We realized we would be unable to help the kids down that rock face we climbed up, the kids were tired, sore and hungry (at this point, we’d fed the kids the majority of the food we’d brought). As I was studying the ridge absolutely baffled, I saw two heads poke out from the other side of the slope. They seemed to be headed back down the mountain, I carefully watched their path and realized that was where we needed to be. And at this point, it was our only option.

We crossed the sunny slope, scrambling on loose rock, skinning knees and cutting palms of hands ever so slightly. I was pretty sure everybody in our group hated my decision for taking the difficult side, I did too. Once across the slope it was painfully obvious this is where we should be. Not easy, still very steep and we had to use our hands as we navigated up towards the ridge, but way easier than the cliffs, bush rock faces and the hell we just came from. Plus, look at all those lovely little trail markers. I missed you little guys.

As we made our way off the slope and up the ridge, Kyla had some truly adventurous news: She’s left her vest back across the slope from hell where we’d eaten last. While it was an expensive vest, and much needed for our time in Aix, it was at this point, disposable. Her apartment keys inside the vest, were not. The kids and I continued up the ridge towards the cross and Kyla headed back. Being on the trail again gave the kids a new level of energy and excitement I was grateful for. They weren’t complaining or fighting, and were moving as fast as when we first started on the trail head. We reached the buildings very close to the top and stopped to catch our breath. Here were some amazingly breath taking views, a bathroom, some great history, and a chance for the kids to goof around and be kids without being in danger. We decided to wait here for Kyla and finish to the top of the mountain together. The kids played games, ran around and smiled. I remembered why we were here, apartment life was starting to get to us, and we needed to be outdoors, and being with nature was even better. We didn’t need to make good time, we didn’t need to challenge ourselves, we didn’t need to be the best hikers we could be, we needed to breathe fresh air, move our bodies and get physically tired. We had reached our goal.

Eventually Kyla made it up huffing and puffing, and totally red faced. I cant imagine how much that sucked, especially since her vest wasn’t where she thought it would be, glad she did end up finding it though.

We made our way up the steep incline and all the way to the cross. It was beautiful. We drank our tiny wine bottles, ate the rest of our food and were happy. After a while we headed back down the path, of course this time, we would take the easy route.

Or would we?

After descending down for about 30 minutes Kyla spun me around and asked me to look at the path we were on. We were NOT leaving the same way we came for sure, but we were also headed down the OTHER SIDE of the mountain. Well, we decided the trail has to lead somewhere, and wherever that was, we were sure to find a bus to bring us back to town.

We had gone up the mountain on the south side, and we were descending down the north side.  No longer a single file path, this path was wide enough to fit two cars (More than I can say for most of the streets in town), wouldn’t this be an easy way up the mountain? The kids ran, fell and hurt themselves, and I somehow managed to hurt my knee on the steep decline, I don’t know how, but it hurt like hell. I took some codeine and pressed on. I may have secretly shed a few tears from the pain, and I needed to slow down at some points, but we pressed on. After what seemed like another 3 hours we made our way back to humans. Farmland, anyways. We hit a few forks in the road and made our way, eventually using the help of some locals back towards the parking lot that had the trail head. We used our phones to try and figure out where we were and how the hell to get back to the city. Once we did that, we realized the bus was coming, RIGHT NOW or in an hour and a half. We rushed the kids up another hill, along a highway and towards the bus stop. Unsure if we had made it in time or missed the bus, we waiting at the bus stop full of hope (and a little despair).

Our hearts, our moods and our hope dropped into nothingness as we saw our bus speed by on the other side of the highway. We were on the wrong side of the road. I didn’t even think of that. Aix is thataway. Kyla and I were taking a moment trying to gather ourselves before we decided what to do, the next bus wasn’t for 90 minutes, we had to find the stop, the kids were tired, hungry (no more food left at this point), we could call a cab, but we were in the middle of nowhere, we’d have to figure out which of these properties had a house, and hope that somebody there would be willing to help us. Kyla said “The people in that car are looking at us like we’re crazy” I thought some very not nice things about them. After staring at us for a while, they turned around and parked in front of us. It was my Landlord and his wife. The only other people I knew in the entire country, and they happened to live at the foot of the mountain.

They rolled down the window and informed me I was on the wrong side of the road, and that the bus didn’t come for a long time. Thanks. He told us to hop in the back of the car, he was headed into town and could take us close to our apartment. What. A. Life. Saver. I’m not one to use the word fate, but I can tell you that was one of the most appreciated coincidences I’d ever experienced in my life.

We made it to the top of the mountain, and back home in well, I don’t even know how many hours. We left before breakfast and returned around dinner time, or shortly there after. We had a day full of fresh air and our muscles were properly used, all day long.

We grabbed some food from the patisserie (Guess who didn’t care about eating vegetables for dinner?) and headed home for the greatest sleep of our lives.

You know, maybe our next adventure we should go into the city.

 

 

It can’t all be sunshine and rainbows.

Wouldn’t it be great if the story ended at my last post? Stocked kitchen, great first day of school, happily ever after. Ah, but this is real life, so here’s a real update; Sometimes, this trip sucks.

Firstly, school. This is the real heart breaker here. The kids had a great first day, yes, but then reality set in. Teachers here are not the caring, empathetic teachers we are used to back home. The attitude conveyed is “I’m not here to teach you, I’m here to make you do it.” in fact, that comes very close to a quote from an actual teacher who said to one of my children “Don’t ask me for help, thats what your friends are for” Excuse us, but we’ve always believed that’s actually what teachers are for. Different cultures, fair enough, we are perfectly happy to assimilate, thats why we’re here, but it’s very difficult for my daughter to sit there and watch kids multiply (by memory) in the triple digits. That we can work on at home, no biggie, but calculating volumes when she’s never been introduced to the connects being used, a little harder. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m not saying we wont try our best, what I AM saying is it’s a very difficult thing to be the only one to feel totally lost in class, and when you try to understand, your teacher tells you to just work on your cursive writing instead, because you are so slow and awful at it. Not the kind, goal setting, encouraging teaching my kids have grown to thrive in. So, we try. Kaylee tries her best in school, has moments where she has to excuse herself to cry in the bathroom, and tries again. She comes home with regular homework, extra french homework (For students who use french as a second language), and then on top of that we work on math. I had fully intended to supplement Canadian Social Studies according to our Alberta curriculum, but honestly, that might end up being our summer homeschooling, as it is right now, schoolwork is taking up all hours of the weekdays and doesn’t leave much time for exploring, shopping and experiencing culture.

Kaleb had great feedback the first 4 days, I would ask how his day was, he would say good, or great, or fun, or awesome. I would ask about lunch, he would tell me about everything that he ate, and everything that he’d try, but not finish, who he sat with, what they joked about. I would ask about recess and he would tell me all the games he played, all the running, jumping etc. that he loved. Three recesses that are actually a decent amount of time has to be one of his favourite parts of school. His teacher let him have a few days to get to know the kids, and them let him pick who to sit with, of course he picked the other two english speaking kids in his class, he feels safe and happy with them, and the fact that the are fluent in both english and french is helpful. I thought maybe they placed him more appropriately according to his needs and abilities. Then, after a conversation with Kaylee one day I asked him the question I’d apparently missed all along: “Have you ever cried at school?”  “Everyday. Probably two, maybe three times a day” Enter chest pain and suddenly moist eyeballs. Well, he always has been an overly sensitive, hot headed kid, I never did get an estimate of how often he cried in his Canadian school, but I was under the impression it was not 2 or 3 times daily. He cries because he doesn’t understand things, he cries because he feels like he tries so hard (“harder than ever before”) and it isn’t anywhere near good enough. He cries because he fails to properly understand instructions and feels like he’s constantly messing up.

It’s interesting the wildly different feedback I get from my two kids who are experiencing the same things. We will continue to try and adapt and change with out new environment, school has never been a back burner priority for us, an dI imagine it will continue to be difficult. One thing is for sure, I can’t continue to allow Kaylee to push herself so hard. I don’t want to normalize the kind of pressure she’s currently putting on herself. It’s one thing to put in some extra effort and study hours to get “Caught up” It’s another thing completely to spend every waking hour consumed with “Not failing” at school. We’ll need to find some balance somewhere in that mess.

Another thing that sucks? Not having my husband as backup. I knew I’d miss him, that part is obvious, but the part that sucks is now it’s often 2 vs 1. I don’t have him there to say “No, this chicken soup full of vegetables is awesome, and it’s some of the best broth you’ve ever made!” instead I hear “Do I have to? I don’t like it” and so far, everything I have made for dinner, while I find delicious , the kids have whined and complained about. It sucks, I work hard in this place with weird shopping, crappy pots and pans and no oven, I need somebody to appreciate me, I never realized how far my husbands “MMmm”s at the dinner table truly went.

Want to know what else sucks? Apartment living. A few years ago Jason and I moved into our first house from a townhouse style condo. While Jason still loves it very much (ok, I still love it too), I realized pretty quickly we don’t need it. It was a lot of money, for a lot of space, for a lot of maintenance. I always said to Jason, I was perfectly happy to go old together in our house, and I loved our new community so, so, so much, but if he ever wanted to, I would move back into a townhouse no problem, as long as it had a yard and a garage.  I stand by that. Our little two bedroom apartment is all we need, ok maybe three (eventually my kids will be teenagers and I imagine the last night giggle fests will end) but it is missing one crucial thing, a YARD. Or even a nearby park, one that allows you to be on the grass! Wearing the kids out when it’s not a school day has proven an incredibly difficult task. We walk EVERYWHERE, we don’t bus (yet), but living in such a central area, the farthest we’ve had to go yet has been a 15 minute walk, so 30 there and back. Not enough, even three times a day. We do a bit of body weight exercises and stretching in our apartment on our yoga mat, but the kids hate it and to be honest, so do I. There are not a lot of green spaces nearby, the closest “Parc” is a few blocks away on a historical property, it would be an amazing space, if it weren’t for the fact that the grass (Read 90% of it) was off limits. So when the kids run there, they are confined to a tiny, single file dirt path that goes around the yard. Fun. Off the side of this property is a playground. The playground consists of 3 small rocking toys, two benches and a concrete area that is mostly used for soccer. Fun. The first time we went there, I couldn’t believe the confidence my son had. He walked right up to adult men with soccer balls and asked “Est-ce que Je peux jouer aussi?” And he did, he ran around with them, kicked, passed, showed off some moves and wore himself out, it was awesome and I was so proud of him. I decided to by him a ball and it took three day, yes THREE days of looking in every sports store, every toy store I could find on google before I found a small soccer ball. Uninflated. Where they didn’t sell pumps. And didn’t know where I could find one. Fun. I did find a bouncy style kicking ball, and bought it for him. This ball has brought out some interesting coping mechanisms in my son. He’s named the ball, he talks to the ball, he reads to it, tucks it in and doesn’t let anybody else touch his ball. It’s a cheap ball, eventually it’s going to pop and Kaleb’s soul will be completely crushed, but for now it’s his thing, and since I moved him to a new continent and threw him straight into an entirely different culture, I’ll let this one go. How do I wear my kids out when the weather sucks, there’s nowhere to play and we are still unfamiliar with the area? We find the local pool. After hours of searching I found ONE pool in the city. Open only during school hours, closed after school, weekends and school holidays, Fun. I asked one of the smoking moms at school (did i mention all the moms smoke, all the time? like, with their children? so weird) how she keeps her kids active, she told me they leave the city. Fun.

 

You know what? F it, we’re going to climb a mountain.

A quick update.

Yesterday, my kids had their first full day of school. I spent most of the day being nervous for them, new school, no friends is hard enough in your own city, never mind a brand new country with a different culture, I couldn’t help but wonder many times what I was putting my poor family through, why and would it all be ok in the end? When I dropped them off in the morning, they were scared, nervous, and physically stiff. One of the new teachers asked me if I would like to come inside for a moment, I knew this would be my only opportunity to be inside the school at the same time as the kids (Yeah, parents are NOT allowed inside), but I declined. My kids do not do well with long, drawn out goodbyes. I waved good bye and walked away. I hadn’t felt this feeling since the day I left my first born in preschool for the first time. I suddenly remembered how well that ended (Read: it did not, we left half way through the year and found another school the next year). Luckily, I had enough to do to keep busy and not focus on my anxious feelings.

The kids are in school from 8:30 – 3:45 (More if you want the continuing education hours that I’ve come to learn is just a homework hour and some playtime that costs a bit extra). This is about an hour longer than their days in Canada, and they are still suffering (though barely now) from jet lag. When I went to pick them up, they looked completely defeated. I thought for sure it was a rough day. I kneeled down and asked how it went, both of them suddenly lit up and and talked about how awesome this school was. Oh, thank god. They were VERY tired, Kaleb said he fell asleep at one point during recess, but not at all upset or sad.

A recess in the morning, and hour long hot lunch, an hour to play, another recess in the afternoon. Rabbits that live onsite that you can hold and cuddle during recess. They actually ate their lunches (something I thought would be a battle), yesterday they had Ham, mashed peas (Ew?) carrots, bread, cheese and crepes. The menus are available in advance, you can check them out here.  Each of them have another english speaking child in their class and there are a couple more throughout the school. A few of the teachers speak a bit of english, but never during school hours. Kyla got a supplies list from her super helpful english speaking principal (Yeah, I’m jealous of that one) so I went and got the same supplies, the kids were thrilled, they were going to tell me everything they needed for school and I had it waiting for them at home, score one for mom.

Kaleb spotted the Subway close to his school during an outing with his class, I was hoping to hold onto that one for when we maybe felt homesick, but instead it was our first day of school treat, they even had bacon to put on the subs!

All in all, they were happy to return today, and I feel so much better about dragging them to France. Wednesdays are half days here, so We’re going to do some exploring this afternoon. Everything seems good and peaceful today.

Reader discretion is advised.

This is not a blog for children. I fully reserve the right to swear, make bad jokes and complain about my kids.

It’s slowly coming together.

Yesterday I managed to register the kids into school. It was not the 30 minute visit I was hoping for. In fact, it took pretty much all day. Around 10am we walked into  l’Hotel de Ville (city hall) we passed through security, handed over our bags, went through metal detectors and fumbled a bit with the language barrier. Once we found the department we needed, we learned we had been mislead. A kind lady behind a desk fumbled with us and gave us directions to the education building which was actually quite a walk away (Ok, not really, everything is within walking distance). We made our way through a maze of narrow roads, checking out all the shops along the way. Once we found the education building (Not as simple as it should have been) we made our way inside and tried to decipher what to do and where to go according to all the signs facing us. We needed to see whatever person was in charge of our secteur (district). Ok, that was also not an easy feat to figure out. As we fumbled with our maps and addresses, an employee came to help. Sometimes in these situations if you are taken off guard you need to put the foreign words together in your head before they come out of your mouth. As I was once again fumbling with what to say and how to say it, my saviour daughter walked right up and told the lady why were there and what we needed. Phew, thanks kid. She took a look at our addressees, checked on a computer and told us who we needed to see. She also told us the first piece of news that would shatter us, Kyla and I, though close enough to throw rocks at each others apartments, did not live in the same school district. “Could we change schools and put the kids together?” She didn’t know, she worked with a different district. That part I understood.

 

We grabbed a seat and waited for the person we needed to see to be done with the person before us. The person before us was very interesting. Yelling, crying, hollering, crying and generally making a scene. I really couldn’t tell what all the fuss what about, but I took the time to imagine all the scenarios in which I myself would be so upset. I have quite the imagination.

After a while we met the gentleman who would be taking a large chunk of his day to register all 4 kids into the public school system. He was obviously a little stressed out from the people before us but despite being frazzled, he tried his best to speak english, some of which he has been learning from his girlfriend. We tried our best to speak french, it was a good compromise. Why don’t we have copies of everything, he asked. We sent in copies, we were told to bring in originals. Ok, so the poor dude spent at least 25 minutes just standing at a copier. We went over before and after school care (Of which we were not needing, but I was surprised at how much care was offered) and cafeteria options (Um, yes please! Hot lunches everyday, no more cold sandwiches? We were ALL on board for that). Then he said he wanted to go for lunch and asked us to come back in a few hours, he said he’d work on our files, probably. I’m coming to learn that attitude is king around here.

Ok, Walk back across town, lunch, coffee, laundry, DO. NOT. FALL. ASLEEP. Walk back across town, again. We asked again about having the children in the same school, again he said “Maybe” after a while he spoke with a lady and most of the fast paced, frustrated sounding conversation I could understand “There just isn’t room” “They can barely take the two in this district” “I will check in the other district” “No, there just isn’t room, maybe if they came at the start of the year” Damn. Kids, bummed out. As he was finishing up my kids registration he picked up the phone to call the principal and let them know about the 2 new students. Totally unexpectedly he turned to me and said “Can you please go meet him at 3:45?” Umm… I showed him the clock, it was 3:30. Yes, he said to the principal, he would send us. Here, take these papers and rush across town, RIGHT NOW. By the way, your new principal doesn’t speak a lick of english. No problem, that’s what we want to encounter. Rush, kids, rush.  “Bonjour, je suis ici pour M. Pxxxxx” his response was something along the lines of  “SATEAMNE ET BLOSEDUNC PROFA ICI” Oh, shit. I turned to Kaylee to see if she understood, she shook her head. “Attendez” he said. So I did. After a few minutes waiting at a giant gate he brought us back to his office and we exchanged words, slowly, and as clearly as possible. The children were quiet and didn’t move from hiding behind me. He gave me some paperwork he told me to bring back in the morning. He told me in France, it is NOT ok to be late for school. Since we’re still up wildly early and live 5 minutes away, I didn’t anticipate problems. I asked him if the children needed to bring things, he didn’t understand. I asked what the children should take to school, he told us to walk. OK, we’ll see… I THINK he told me the kids will be put into classes based on their year of birth and moved after a week of evaluation if necessary. He showed us the courtyard where the children played, he showed us the lunch room where the children must go each morning to tell the cook “Je Mange Aujourd’hui” I asked if the kids could eat lunch together, he said no, they eat with their class but for the first day only, pas problem. He escorted me back through the giant gates and said the teachers would greet the children in the morning. “Bon Journee”. And that was that.

Once I got back to the apartment I filled out the papers to the best of my ability. What the hell is student insurance anyways? I was sacred and nervous, the kids were tired and hungry. Thank god for pre-cooked rotisserie chickens. Ignore the fact that they have feet on them and just make a salad, pour a glass of wine (Booze, hella cheap here, it’s not a wonder we see so many day time drunks).

Today, the kids are at school. I found a supermarket and bought some pantry and fridge supplies, I got a pull cart. I got a french phone number so tomorrow I won’t spend all day thinking the kids may have cracked their heads open and the teachers have no way to get ahold of me (Getting a french phone number by the way, NOT as easy as my research lead me to believe!) . I’m going to try my best to stay up past 7:30pm so I’m not waking up so damned early, but we’ll see how it goes. Yawn.

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