Sunday, December 6, 2009

Laundry Week

In France, "Laundry Day" takes on a whole new meaning. It can literally mean an ENTIRE day of doing laundry. And not because we get our clothes any dirtier here. Laundry day is the result of two-hour long wash cycles and an itty-bitty washing machine. In Colorado, our washer/dryer unit did not allow for the dryer and the washer to be running at the same time. So, we are used to long laundry days. But, even with this limitation, we could do 4-5 loads of laundry in a single day. And, unless we only did laundry once a month, we rarely had to do 4-5 loads at one time. In France, however, this is quite typical.

We have a fairly modern washing machine at the Maison Mercure, our temporary house. There are 12 different cycles to choose from. First, there are the hot cycles for whites. The shortest of these cycles, which heats the water to 90 degrees C, takes 2 hours and 17 minutes. My towels are washed at 60 degrees C, a cycle that can take 1 hour 40 minutes. At 40 degrees C, it takes 1 hour 18 minutes to wash my colors. Jeans and other cold-water clothes can be done a whole lot quicker on the "Time For You" cycle (30 minutes).

Then, like most French homes, we do not have a clothes dryer. So, there is the fun task of hanging the laundry on racks to dry. This isn't really a time-consuming task (though, I can think of better ways to spend this time) but it is space-consuming! Those clothes racks are BIG! And, unless it's a sunny day when I can put the racks outside, racks of clothes can fill my living room. And, indoors, it can take at least 24 hours for clothes to dry.

And to make the tedious task even more daunting, the feat of drying clothes indoors takes on a whole other strategy with a curious toddler around. Owen loves clothespins. Last year, he delighted in pulling them off the drying racks if I left them hanging on. This year, a little older and a little more mischievous, Owen likes to pull the clothespins off the drying rack while the clothes are still attached. And, if there is no clothespin, who cares! He’ll just pull the clothes off. It’s especially helpful, actually, when the clothes are dry and I want help putting the clothes away. Owen pulls the clothes off and helps me organize them into piles based on ownership. But when the clothes are still wet… well, then his fun is just a royal pain in my you-know-what.

So, I have been spending the last few weeks (and several loads) trying to perfect the system. I think I have it down now. The first laundry load gets started on the way out the door in the morning. Owen helps load the machine, we turn the 2 hour cycle on and go out for a few hours to play or shop. We come home for lunch and then Owen goes to take a nap. During naptime, I take the laundry out of the machine and hang it on the rack. Then start the second load. Owen usually wakes up as the second load is coming to an end. He helps me carry the wet clothes to be hung and I let him play with the unused clothespins while I hang the second load. We wait for the clothes to dry overnight. The next day, I get Owen’s “help” with putting the clothes away. The remaining loads are saved for another day. So, I tend to do 2 loads at a time so I never get to finish "all" the laundry in a single day. Laundry day has become laundry week in France. But, really, there's always going to be more laundry so what's the point in trying to get it all done in one day anyway?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Week 2

Sean got home from the Vatican surprisingly early on Tuesday. We thought, because his flight was scheduled to arrive around rush hour on the night before a bank holiday (Armistice Day), the traffic would be monstrous coming back from the airport. Everyone in Bordeaux complains about the traffic on the rocade, the highway that goes around the city. And we had our share of experiences with the traffic last year. But, for some reason, everything went smoothly and Sean was home much earlier than expected.

The weather on Wednesday was rain, rain, and more rain. Owen and Sean played in the puddles outside our house at the Observatory. In the afternoon, we took Luis (a new post-doc at the Observatory from Chile) and his wife, Elise (an American!) to Auchan for some shopping. Auchan is like the French version of a Super Target – a gigantic supermarché where one can purchase anything from tomatoes to televisions. And, in addition to Auchan, the complex is home to several other stores, a café, and a hair salon. Despite it being a holiday – or maybe because it was a holiday – the place was packed!

On Thursday evening, we ventured out into the city to meet the Bordeaux-USA club. The club meets every Thursday evening at their headquarters right in the heart of the city. This week was quiz night. We had so much fun! The people are incredibly friendly and welcoming. There was a good mix of French natives and Anglo/American natives present. The trivia questions were quite interesting, ranging in topics from literature (who was the last American and the last Frenchman to win the nobel prizes in literature) to film (movies directed by Quentin Tarantino) to geography (which presidents appear on Mount Rushmore) and politics (of all the US presidents since 1981, which one was right-handed). Our team one thanks to the Sean’s vast knowledge of Serge Gainsbourg songs and Asterix books. And Owen held up his sunny disposition thanks, in part, to a seemingly endless supply of popcorn provided by the club. We will most likely be attending their Thanksgiving feast in a few weeks.

Other than that, the week has been pretty quiet. We got cell phones on Saturday – that was exciting! We went to Auchan and But we are still trying to figure out how to get our email to work on the phones so it has also been a bit frustrating. Facebook seems to work so at least we can update our status and let people know how we are doing. :)

Words of the week:

un jour fèrié - holiday

volaille - poultry

gésiers - gizzards. Despite how appetizing the duck meat looks in the package, if it says gésiers on the package, do not be fooled - it will be tough and crunchy.

Rainbow over the River

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Week 1

The trip to Bordeaux was not uneventful but was nonetheless a success. Despite near-blizzard conditions, the movers arrived when expected, as did Salvation Army. We sold our condo and returned our car. Owen did not get a chance to say good-bye to all his friends at daycare since the school was closed due to the snow on his last day. Nor did we get to say goodbye to many of our friends. Though, in truth, I hate good-byes so it was probably easier for me emotionally.

There were some minor delays with our flights – a broken jet-way in Denver, needing boarding passes and having to check Owen’s stroller at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris– but we managed to make all our connections with only some minor stress-related sweating (mostly on my part) and running through terminals. The cab driver that picked us up in Bordeaux, Jackie, knowing that we were moving permanently and therefore would have baggage, brought his big car. Our stuff (6 suitcases, 1 stroller, and a carseat) barely fit. I had to direct him from the backseat on lane changes since he couldn’t see his passenger side-view mirror.

The Maison Mercure, our temporary house for the next three months has been upgraded with new furniture in the living room – new couches, light fixtures, coffee table, TV table complete with a multi-system TV, new bedding, and new locks. But nonetheless, it still looks the same – same twin beds in every room, same wallpaper, same peeling paint in the bathroom, same lack of internet or phone. So it has been quite easy to make the adjustment.

We arrived on a Saturday and by Monday we were feeling quite settled. Bags still need to be unpacked but that’s more out of laziness on our part – and the fact that we will be packing them again soon when we find permanent housing. Owen had some minor jet lag that lasted a few nights. Sean and I shared the twin bed in Owen’s room to help him with the transition. We went downtown to the Jardin Publique on Wednesday to check out the bus to the tram option versus the car to the tram option. Mostly so that I don’t feel pressured to drive the Saxo with its manual transmission. And, of course, we went to Auchan (think Walmart in French) to stock up on the necessities that include Honey Nut Cheerios, Nutella, wine, Giovanni Rana pasta. We even managed to find chicken hot dogs and fish sticks so hopefully the food transition won’t be too difficult for Owen.

On Thursday, Sean left for six days in Vatican City for a conference. Owen and I are on our own and we’ve been here less than a week. Fortunately, there is another new astronomer, Pascale, who moved here in September from Germany with his wife, Jasmine, and their 8 month old daughter, Amy. Phew! Another foreigner with a baby and an apartment with internet! Jasmine has already found several child-friendly activities on this side of town. On Thursday afternoon, Owen and I met Jasmine and Amy at La Maison du Soleil. Basically an indoor play gym for 0-6 year olds. They also have an outdoor area with tricycles and wagons so Owen was in heaven. Jasmine and Amy go every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon and Owen and I will join them. On Friday mornings, Jasmine takes Amy to a different indoor gym, Le Ludotheque. Owen had a blast here too. No outdoor area that we saw but they have a train table among lots of other toys. These places seem to be known only to a few and not well publicized. Their websites are only in French (probably why I couldn’t find them during all the googling I did) and even Valentine didn’t know about them and she is due with their first child in a few weeks so has been doing lots of research about baby-related things. The best part is that these places are FREE! We’ve been here a week and we have health insurance and free indoor play space for Owen. Gotta love socialism for some things. Some bureaucracy is not so good. For example, we still don’t have cell phones because you need a bank account to purchase a phone (even the pay-as-you-go kind). And opening an account is not as easy as going into a bank and saying, “here is some money, please open an account for me.” You need documents with proof of employment and address, plus our passports, then we have to wait several days to receive the bankcard and check book. Apparently renting an apartment and buying a car will be a task too but we’re holding off on those at least until Sean returns from Italy.

Ok, so new feature of this blog is the “Word(s) of the Week.” Owen and I (and Sean too to a certain extent) are learning new words everyday so I thought I’d share my favorites. Normally these will be listed on the side but for this first week, I thought I’d post them below too. My words this week are:

Paille – straw (as in the kind you drink with)

Assouplissant – fabric softener (this is a good one to know since we don’t have a dryer and, therefore, no dryer sheets with which to soften our clothes)

Bain Moussant – bubble bath

Owen’s words (aka the words I am learning for Owen’s benefit) this week are:

Tractopelle – backhoe loader. This is a very important word to know.

Montgolfière – hot air balloon.

Manchot – penguin (not to be confused with the French word, penguin, which, I’m told, are like manchots but can fly. I’m no polar bird expert but maybe penguin is a puffin?)

Nounours – teddy bear

Chariot – wagon

Back to Bordeaux

I can’t believe it’s been a year but, here we are, back in Bordeaux. Sean was offered a permanent position at the Universite and, despite my insecurities we have returned. I recognize that my lack of enthusiasm the first time around was primarily due to my self-inflicted hesitation to explore the city solo with baby in tow, lack of friends, and poor language skills. Like last time, I am starting this new adventure in the role of a stay-at-home mom – this time, with a walking, talking, energetic, one nap a day toddler. In our three months in France last year, I found two public playgrounds. Neither had age-appropriate equipment for a 9 month old. At the time, I don’t think Owen minded so much. He was just as happy with a cut-up cardboard box to use as a tunnel. But at almost 2 years old and used to spending all day outside at daycare in a yard full of toys and climbing gyms, Owen can’t seem to get enough time at a playground. Rain, sun, or snow, he wanted to go to the playground near our house everyday in Colorado. So, I am exceptionally nervous to find things to do with a toddler in Bordeaux. And I have to say that a search of the internet, granted it was done in English, did not ease my fears. Virtually nothing comes up other than references to the Jardin Publique, the site of one of the previously mentioned playgrounds.

So, here we are. Back in Bordeaux, temporarily in the same internet- and phone-free house as last year (this time there is a TV, though very few functional channels). But I promised myself and Sean that I will not suffer the same, depressed fate as I did last year. For the sake of my son and my own sanity, I want to make this experience as great as it can and should be. In telling people that we were moving to France, not one person said, “oh that stinks. I’m sorry”. Instead, we heard, “take me with you” or “I’m so jealous. How exciting!” And that is just the kick in the pants I needed to shake the blues off and jump in this time with high hopes.