Family, friends and football

Not quite a year yet in our new location and we received our third international visitors last month (with the 4th due next week from California!). It must be the year of travel.

Just short of 80 years of age and with no signs of slowing down, my Aunty Marg and Uncle Rob dropped in via Spain on their way to ……..the Arctic. And one of my old high school friends and her lovely daughter (whom my daughter had been impatiently waiting for) visited on their voyage between Scandanavia and Paris. These visits were an excuse for lots of talking, drinking wine, eating croissants (which we never do otherwise) and exploring more of what this ‘south-west’ region of France has to offer.

DSC_0233We visited Samatan in the Gers (the department to the west of the Haute Garonne where we live) which holds a traditional live poultry market every Monday. And ‘poultry’ includes rabbits here! My relatives pointed out that tying the chickens together by their legs would not be allowed in Australia. It got me thinking about the treatment of animals here (especially as this market also had a section dedicated to the controversial foie-gras) and that made me think back to a classic French cookery book that my gastronomic mother (who is in my thoughts daily) kept on the top of the fridge.


The rather kitsch (but real!) wrapper from a local butcher’s market stall (rugby is the local sport!). There is no hiding where the products come from, although its perhaps not entirely representative of farm practices.

As I child I was horrified to see photos of dead animals next to the corresponding recipes….but the relationship between the meat on the table and the animals from which it comes is not avoided in this country – as it tends to be in Australia.

DSC_0262Another day and we were off to The Tarn (the department to the north-east). First to wine region of  Gaillac for wine tasting and visiting the quaint (narrow) roads and then to the hill-top village of Cordes sur Ciel.DSC_0271 We ate lunch in the old ‘halles’ (where markets are conducted) and I wondered how the people managed to carry their wares up such a steep 30 minute ascent all of those years ago.

As my friend Geraldine and I explored the center of Toulouse on another day we could ‘hear’ the French football/soccer team playing in one of The World Cup matches (the football World Cup is held every 4 years and is followed closely by fans and non-fans alike): at each French goal there were loud cheers pouring from all of the bars and cafés. It was a festive moment and although I’m not a football fan, I do hope that France gets to the final (only now that Australia has been eliminated). I’m sure it would pick-up the French spirit – at least for a little while.

Geraldine had the ‘honor’ of witnessing the dance routines at my children’s school fete – in the scorching sun – and of the process of resigning my daughter up in an extra-curricular activity for the next academic year: this is something I dread each year. This particular time it involved completing 17 pages of paperwork, attaching numerous documents including a photo, 3 stamped envelopes, medical insurance.. and then standing in a long queue only to be told in the end (as is very often the case) that something was missing or incorrect! Argghhhhh!

We also had two families that we’d met in Shanghai – and who now live one hour away (one to the north and the other to the south) – come over for an Aussie BBQ (although it couldn’t really be called that as there was no beer and we didn’t ask the guests to bring their own meat as Aussie tradition would have it).


Grilled nectarines – with brown sugar, orange juice and Cointreau

Reconnecting with folk is a wonderful means of sharing and reminiscing about the past but also of exploring and creating new memories……….and of course eating.

Thank you folks!


Back from The Spanish Pyrenees

One definite plus of our new location is its proximity to the Spanish border. We took advantage of this fact and spent one fabulous week on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees mountains – in the Aragon Region -in the Province of Huesca- and also in the bordering  Catalonian Region (which is, incidentally, hoping for a referendum later this year in order to leave Spain). The weather was great, the landscape magnificent, the locals very friendly and the food was delicious. Cod, calamari, mushrooms, dried meats (for example the longaniza sausage), red peppers and summer fruit featured regularly:


The children particularly liked the tradition of tapas and one of the cepe/porcini mushroom dishes was sooooo good that our formally mushroom-hater son asked for a second helping!

DSC_2635The food was far more popular than the mountain hikes …at least according to our kids, despite the stunning beauty of the Aigues Tortes National Park and surrounds and the numerous 12th-century churches that are listed as World Heritage Sites.


Saint Quirc of Durro


Saint Climent of Taull

Although, there is a language known as Occitan (or ‘lenga d’oc’) which is spoken here in southern France  (with its roots in Latin, it sounds like a cross between French and Catalan – and  is apparently an official language in Catalonia), I am actually thinking of adding more Spanish to my limited repertoire in preparation for our next trip to Spain.

In the meantime, I’m training my ear to understand the local Toulousain accent: the “ai” sound, for example, is much more nasal and so the word for bread, ‘pain’=/pa~/ spoken with a Toulousain accent sounds more like ‘peng’= /pɛŋɡ/. Also, I found that the locals speak more melodically than other French; they seem to ‘sing’ as they talk.

They also use expressions and vocabulary that I had never heard before. One example is the local word ‘chocolatine’ for  ‘pain au chocolat’ (chocolate croissant). There are certainly many more examples but I haven’t deciphered them yet.

I hope that our two children – who will be starting at their new school next Monday – will be able to understand their teachers. And I hope that I too will be able to understand the locals and manage to build some friendships with other parents….like those below:

imagePlace Saint Georges, Toulouse: That’s where we and 3 other ex-Shanghai couples and kids – who have now relocated in and around Toulouse – reunited for an al fresco dinner (actually, it wasn’t very cool on the terrace but rather hot and sweaty). I couldn’t believe that the large Square – bordered entirely by restaurants – was completely full on a Monday… late into the night.  Toulouse has many universities and it has the reputation of being a ‘party town’.

Something to celebrate, I’ve just finished my 100th blog post!


First Impressions

After 5 hours of scrubbing and cleaning, I left ‘home’ (our home of 2 years to the very day) and drove past vast open spaces, sunflower fields, towns, and vineyards to arrive 6 hours later at our new pad. The next day our affairs also arrived by truck. Apparently, the 47m3 of ‘stuff’ (mostly toys) was under the average French load of 60m3, but it was still way too much and it took days to take it all out of the boxes.

348Just before leaving home, we had the chance to catch-up with some friends that we met in Shanghai (who now live in Paris but who were holidaying on the west coast). 382And then shortly after our arrival, we caught-up with some more ex-ex-pats.

That would surely have to be the biggest benefit of our expatriation experiences…the opportunity to meet (and re-meet) so many people from all over the globe.

Speaking of people, those that I’ve met so far here in Toulouse and the surrounding towns are pretty friendly folk.  363It’s been easy to strike up conversations at the markets and our neighbor has spoilt us with her homegrown produce. Martine even gave me a cooking lesson to show me how to prepare zucchini/courgette flowers the Italian way (she originates from Calabria).

As with many parts of France, the locals here are extremely proud of their village/town/city to the point that they can be caught down-talking the adjoining village/town/city. Generally they appear to have strong personalities, speak frankly, and have less concern about customer service than I’m used to: on numerous occasions shops have been closing well before their posted finishing time.

We are in the Haute Garonne department which is in the Occitanie Region (formally known as the Midi Pyrénées).

The capital of the Haute Garonne is Toulouse, which is also called the Ville Rose (Pink City) due to the color of the bricks from which it has been constructed….although my kids thought that ‘Orange City’ would be a more accurate name.

Even when buildings look like that might not be built with the famous bricks…it turns out that they are!

It makes for a very striking city with impressive squares and lovely little streets and passages.

447The city has the Garonne River running through it and the Canal du Midi runs around it. At the moment the Marie (mayor) has created ‘Toulouse Plage’ along the river which offers a multitude of free activities to the general public. In this photo, people are playing with board games that were on offer with volunteers mulling around to help with the rules. We played ‘Niagara’ which was a good mix of strategy and luck. Compared with Australia, board games seem to be more popular in Europe.

Closer to our new home there is a vast forest (la forêt de Bouconne) and quite a few lovely walking/cycling paths. However, apart from the few quaint traditional brick houses, the architecture is very uninspiring.

I’d say that the first impressions of our new surroundings are mixed but overall positive.

As for forging ahead with new habits?….well I decided to change the side of the bed on which I sleep… just for a change. So besides sleep deprivation, I’ve not made great progress on that front.

However, I have forced myself to go to different places every day and to take different routes whenever possible (my kids would call it ‘getting lost’) just to keep mindful of my actions.

On the move again

In my second ever post (June 4th 2013) I managed to come up with a list of some of the benefits of moving (a little shorter than the list of negatives). I have just read it again to remind myself that there ARE potential benefits of moving …..yes, yes, yes….even though it is typically a highly stressful experience. Benefits such as de-cluttering, discovery, the anticipation of meeting new people and the opportunity for self-reflection.

Having since read the book ‘Better Than Before’ by Gretchen Rubin (which I summarized in a post – Oct 2014), I’d also add to my list that moving also offers the opportunity to start new habits and she writes: ‘Pay close attention to the first few times you do anything because those decisions will shape your baseline habits‘. That’s pretty powerful – I’ll have to be sure to move around very mindfully in my new surrounds.shareasimage

Mental Note: It will also help to have the willingness to actually give up old patterns, and to enjoy the freedom that ensues (but to not be bogged down by the panoply of choices – see earlier post ‘analysis paralysis’ – June 2013). Start With Intention!

In the meantime, I’m still in Challans (in the Vendée département). I just bid farewell to my big sister and my nephew who were visiting for 10 days. My kids were ecstatic to play with their cousin (and he was very patient with them) and my sister was very happy to eat lots of seafood and visit the local area. Thank you Anne and Luc.

Now I’m surrounded by boxes – many of them empty! In the process of procrastination, I came across this clever poem by a famous French writer called Georges Perec, about moving (déménagement). It’s a long list of the verbs/actions that accompany the process of moving. However, George finishes the poem as he closes the door of the apartment that he is leaving. Therefore he omits the equally long list of actions that need to take place at the other end upon opening the door at one’s new home.

Here is the poem for the francophones.


Quitter un appartement. Vider les lieux.
Décamper. Faire place nette. Débarrasser le
Inventorier ranger classer trier
Eliminer jeter fourguer
Descendre desceller déclouer décoller dévisser
Débrancher détacher couper tirer démonter
plier couper
Empaqueter emballer sangler nouer empiler
rassembler entasser ficeler envelopper protéger
recouvrir entourer serrer
Enlever porter soulever

Georges PEREC
” Espèces d’espaces ”

I’ll be back,  posting from Pibrac (a village just outside Toulouse) once I’ve completed all of these actions (above) and more.


Bonjour 2017…where will it take us?



This cartoon sums up how I’m feeling as we start the new year – ‘My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane’.

So instead of ruminating ….my intention here is to write about something obscure: Rebuses. Rebus = a kind of word puzzle which uses pictures to represent words or parts of words. Perhaps they are used as often in Australia as they are here…but I don’t think so.

Children in France are usually very familiar with the concept of rebuses (and other word puzzles….I repeat what I’ve written in the past – May 2016 for example – that the nuts and bolts of language are an extremely important part of the French culture). Rebuses make regular appearances in school lessons, in books and magazines and next week-end, they will show up in my daughter’s 9th birthday party treasure hunt.


One of the rebus clues that the kids will have to solve in order to find the next clue:  r+oeufs+f+riz+jeux+rat+heure = refrigerateur (refrigerator)

French words lend themselves very well to creating rebuses such as this one above  (which uses pictures to represent each syllable) because the last sound in words is often not pronounced…so that a number of very different words end up sounding exactly the same (such as ‘vers’ – towards, ‘verre’ – glass, and ‘vert’ – green). And also perhaps because French is a syllable-timed language (a language whose syllables take approximately equal amounts of time to pronounce). That being said, I didn’t even try to make my own rebuses but rather I cheated and used this web-site to create the clues for the words that I wanted to represent. Out of curiosity I tried an equivalent site for English words and it generated such obscure puzzles for words that I doubt many adults (let alone 9-year-olds) would be able to decipher them. English phrases (which exploit whole words instead of syllables) rather than single words lend themselves better to rebuses. Here is a picture of one in English:








Look out! Big changes ahead…..(again).

My husband organized a nice vacation in a converted wind mill in Brittany for a few days between Christmas and New Year. He was able to ‘recharge his batteries’ which is just what he needed before heading off to Toulouse to start his new job in his own company (yes, he ‘received’ his Christmas wish!). Toulouse is about a 5-6 hour-drive south from where we are currently living. He plans to come back most weekends and then at the end of the school-year (in July) the kids and I will join him…..providing we find housing and schooling.

More about this to come as we discover the south of France.

La Toussaint (All Saints’ Day)


Florists and supermarkets were very colorful for the week leading up to the 1st of November

Forget Halloween! In France it’s all about La Toussaint: The first of November is All Saints’ Day. It’s a public holiday and a time when families visit cemeteries to remember and honour their deceased relatives. It’s traditional for families to put a pot of chrysanthemums on the graves of their family for la Fete de la Toussaint – (Chrysanthemums are indeed so closely linked to La Toussaint that the French never give them as a gift.). This holiday falls during the autumn (fall) school holidays which I mentioned in my last post and which just came to an end. 

Actually I really did forget all about Halloween and so when we received one random visit from a small group of teenage ‘witches’ we had to send them on their way disappointed and empty-handed (no candy/lollies/sweets in this house!) And to be honest, as much as I enjoyed celebrating Halloween whilst living in California, I think that it is a tradition that can stay in America.

We took advantage of the school break to head south towards Toulouse and stay with the family of a very good friend of our son’s (who returned to France from Shanghai in June). The region is very picturesque and we took advantage of the opportunity to visit some of the beautiful towns with our hosts (Puycelsi, Cordes sur Ciel and Albi) and to eat the local cassoulet (a dish of pork and beans…which is a very simplistic explanation of this complex and yummy dish).


On the way back we stopped for a short while to visit the town of Bordeaux which had some great public spaces including it’s famous ‘water mirror’ which the kids loved running on/through/in?


IMG_7299Then we were fortunate to receive a week-end visit from my dear former boss John (from my time previous time in France in the city of Grenoble). We all enjoyed his company and I remembered just how much I missed our regular chats.

There were a few family birthday parties, play-dates and day-trips thrown in there too.

The last week of the vacation was even more eventful: my daughter had to have an urgent ultrasound to eliminate the suspicion of appendicitis – and which uncovered that she actually had Mesenteric adenitis – the second most common cause of right lower abdominal pain after appendicitis which occurs more often in children than in adults and does not require any treatment other than rest and pain relief.

And then on the very last day of the vacation a (slowly?) reversing car knocked my son over and rolled over his foot – where it stayed until the driver realized (after much frantic yelling and tapping on the car on my part) and moved forward. I was completely horrified especially as I was crouching down right beside my son at the time (which is presumably why the driver didn’t see us). I’m not entirely sure of the details as we were actually on a wheelchair route at the time and facing the other way.

Anyway, the ambulance arrived and the assistants said that my son (due to his young age and hence flexible foot) appeared to be OK. Finding this too difficult to believe, we went to the emergency department of our local hospital to do a follow-up x-ray. After waiting for over 3 hours we decided to return in the morning as Antoine was suffering more from fatigue than pain. After a further 4 hours in the waiting room the following morning, it was finally confirmed that, indeed, there were no physical consequences! In fact, he was running, jumping and dancing by the afternoon. AMAZING and such… such a relief. Events like this undoubtably remind me of all that I am grateful for.