Friday, 22 June 2018

Make your own baguette




6 g salt
500 g plain flour
7 g yeast
450 ml warm water
...and that is it!

When we moved back from living in France to Australia, there were many things that we missed. So many, in fact, that it was a difficult period for us all. But, let's not dwell on that today. Instead, close your eyes and breathe in, listen to the crunch and taste the, nearly authentic, French bread that made us feel a little closer to our French home. Of course, you'll need to turn on the oven to as high as your oven will go, and chances are you'll look more longingly at the long, cylindrical shapes you create if you have on hand the nifty baguette trays (as ordered on line by yours truly). Don't forget to divide the dough into 3, score each loaf, set your timer for 18 minutes or so and then ahh..Miam! Miam!

One more hint: how to know when your water is warm enough? You can count to ten with your finger in the water and it doesn't burn. Like the precision of the technique? Let me know how you go.

***Purchase your copy of 'But you are in France, Madame', which takes you with us on our French adventure, at Amazon, here ***

Salt, flour, yeast and water and you are ready to go

Combine ingredients in order listed

After leaving to rise for a couple of hours
Flour your board, scoop out your risen dough
Ready to go
 knead away
and away
and away
and away
divide into 3 
shape, stretch and score
Taste test anyone?

Thursday, 14 June 2018

A pizza-vending machine out here?

Out and about in France, in a small village, not at all on the beaten track, we came across...a roadside pizza-vending machine. We were curious. After all, this wasn't the usual fine, fresh French food that we had grown to love. 
Article in France Today magazine. Would you have stopped to give it a go?


I don’t remember the exact moment that my husband and I decided that we should leave Australia with our three young children and try out France for a year, but I have no difficulty recalling our arrival in France with only one and a half of us speaking French (myself and our six-year-old son) and a burning enthusiasm for our new adventure. We had no family or work to go to, no friends to call on and no knowledge of the place that we had chosen to live (Giez, 22 km from Annecy in the Haute Savoie) and it is an indisputable truth that it was tough, in a gentle sort of way. After all, for each new discovery and surmounted challenge, we not only felt more settled, we also felt proud of what we had achieved, and that is always a good thing.
Alongside the difficult (finding accommodation, buying a car, understanding the school stationery list, driving on the right side of the road (but the wrong for us), doing research without an Internet connection), came the delightful. Our flat, bayside Melbournian suburb had been replaced by mountains; real mountains, not Australian-sized ones, in the middle of which was a lake and a town with canals, old stones, disorder, colourful markets, strange opening hours and different light and smells.
Shopping was no longer a thing to tick of the weekly to-do list. Buying food from the market, queueing at Carrefours or enjoying a stroll around a vide-grenier (village garage sale) became excursions and mostly the children enjoyed them as much as my husband and me. 
Years into our French living (one turned out to not be enough), there is no doubt that the supermarket has lost its novelty, but we still look forward to our market and vide-grenier outings. To know what it is on and where, we take a look at vide-grenier.org. Sometimes, our findings are not altogether expected, as was the case recently.



Monday, 11 June 2018

A Parisian Life - Part Two


I hope that you enjoyed Part One of my interview with Tahnee (@treasuredjourneysin which she talks about the decision to move her family from Australia to Paris for a year and gives many useful pointers regarding the preparation phase of this family adventure. If you missed it, you can find it here.  

In today's blog, Tahnee continues the story. Even though we haven't met, I have so enjoyed hearing about her family's experiences; many of which brought back memories of similar triumphs and struggles for my own family. 


You chose to live in Paris. This sounds very romantic and exotic. I’d love to hear why you chose Paris and some snippets from your Parisian life?

We chose Paris for our love of the city and, yes, it is so very romantic. There is beauty everywhere you look. There’s a village feel in each arrondissement so, even though it is a big city, it can feel intimate too. Every member of my family loves this city and, in my humble opinion, Paris truly is the most beautiful, wonderful, enchanting, interesting, history filled city. I have traveled a bit and Paris always takes my breath away. I never took it for granted, and every day we lived there I would reiterate this to my children. I would say to them as we walked around to breathe it all in and soak in all the beauty. Even in the car we looked at everything, as if it was the first time we were seeing things. Having a sunroof was awesome for being able to look up, too! Paris is everything you read about, every cliché, it is also what you want it to be. I believe that you make it yours, and if you have eyes of appreciation and a spirit of positivity, then the way you view things really reflects what you’re giving out. In effect, we saw Paris as food for our souls, so we were very well fed!

Our decision to move relied heavily on finding the right school for our children. We knew that this could make or break the experience for them. They needed to be happy, as this would be the place that they would spend the majority of their time. I had researched schools in France and, after a very long process of elimination, chose either Lyon or Paris. My husband and I visited both cities in May 2015 on our reconnaissance trip, but when we walked into the school in Paris, we knew instantly that it was the right one for them.

Initially, we were aiming for 18 months away. This we felt was too short a time to put the children into the French system. It would have taken a good six months or longer for them to acquire the language- so they probably wouldn’t have understood most subjects taught. We didn’t want to potentially set them up for failure, as this would have had a negative impact on them emotionally. If we were moving there for a few years, then yes, we would have gone down the road of the French schooling system. Instead, we chose the British school of Paris, where the curriculum was in English, but they were taught French there too. Joining after-school sports clubs where all communication was in French was a good compromise for us. (Although our son’s soccer coach hailed from Manchester, so when he had trouble understanding, some English was spoken!).

I needed a city that could keep me busy during the school day. There is so much to do and see in Paris; one can never be bored there, there is always something new to discover. Even sitting on a park bench and watching the sun change the way the tiles on roofs look, and the buildings reflected in different light, is magical. Something as simple as this made me happy. I didn’t need to be in a museum or shopping: just being there was enough, hearing French spoken, the ambience, just everything about the city made me happy. That said, most days we would set off to discover new areas, and walk the streets. Our compromise after the terrorist attacks, though, was that we drove quite a bit more. We had arrived in October 2015, three-and-a-half weeks before the Paris attacks, and this really shook us up. I was a little hesitant at first to use the metro, as I felt very vulnerable. My thought process was that if something happened and I was stuck underground and couldn’t get to my children, I’d freak out, which made me a little anxious. So we drove a lot and felt more in control. This proved to be invaluable as, rather than traveling underground, we saw where we were going, and really got to know the city quite well. I’d even say we got to know some sneaky side streets!

Going to the markets to buy food, not being allowed to touch produce, but having it being chosen for you wasn’t my greatest joy. You are sternly told off if you touch any fruit or vegetable or pick it up to smell it. I never took to this, as sometimes I would be given produce that I wouldn’t have chosen for myself. Needless to say, the French all seemed to accept this and waited patiently in long queues to purchase. 

There is a real sense of village life within a big city when you use the local markets. I got to know the vendors quite well, as I bought everything from individual sellers; the fruit and veggie lady, the cheese man, the baker, the butcher, the fishmonger etc, so food shopping was an entertaining time for me and the shopkeepers were all very tolerant of my French.

After some time, it was nice to see people that I knew or recognized on the streets or in shops, and so nice when sales assistants recognised me and made conversation.

With children in school there is a certain routine that you need to adhere to. My husband and I would explore during the day but as soon as school finished we were back to routine: sport training, homework, just like life back in Australia. But nearly every weekend, if there wasn’t any sport on, we travelled. We drove to different cities and loved exploring the beautiful country that we were calling home. We’d involve the kids and ask where they’d like to go, and found by doing this that they had more of an invested interest in where we were going. Our eldest son became quite good at researching nice restaurants to go to as well!

If we weren’t traveling on the weekends, we would go into Paris and once again explore. The kids all had favourite areas and places to go, so they would ask to go to these.

One thing I would laugh at was when tourists would ask me for help, thinking I was French (which I loved). They were almost always relieved to hear me answer them in English!

Life wasn’t all roses though. The French are very good at making simple things hard to achieve and do. In fact they having a saying, for this - 'pourquoi faire simple quand on peut faire compliqué' (why make it simple when you can make it complicated). Paperwork, no one taking responsibility and passing things onto other people who then refer you back to the person you have just seen, waiting in hospitals whilst all the French people were seen before us even after they arrived after us, plus a heap more interesting times were all a test of our patience. If patience isn’t your thing, you sure learn to get some after living in France.

A major difference between Australia and France is that in France in order to enroll your child in any physical activity, you need a doctor's certificate, stating that your child is fit to play or participate in the activity. I found this quite amusing. So, for every activity, a new certificate was required, and once the year was up, you needed to get another one! Needless to say many trips to our doctor were made for the compulsory fit-to-play slip.

As for swimming lessons - just forget it! I went to the pool to enroll my youngest son. Of course, I was told he needed a doctor's slip. I made an appointment that week and got the slip. Back at the pool, I was asked for the slip. "Yes here it is." Oh, now he needs to have a test. Right. When can we do that? Any day is good and any time. Fabulous. The following week, we presented ourselves for the test. First question - did I have the doctor's slip. "Yes, I am here for the test." "Great."At this point, she phoned through to the instructor, to then inform me that she was sorry but all classes were full! Remember that I mentioned being frustrated with processes? This was just one example.



You have three children. How easily did they make the transition into French living? Can you tell us a bit about their experiences of school, making friends, adjusting to new routines, food etc?

My children have always loved Paris, so moving there was met with excitement. Yes, there were many tears when we left home and there was a period of them being unsettled, missing family and friends, missing certain foods from home, missing our dog, and just missing Australia. Certainly, the terror attacks shook them all deeply. Never had I ever had a conversation with them about what they would do if a terrorist entered their school in Australia. But, after the attacks, these were confronting conversations we had to have, and also to give them advice on what to do in the unlikely event of this happening. They were all very scared to begin with, my daughter in particular. She would become so anxious and teary when we were in the city. Slowly they all regained confidence in the city we loved so much. It was a tough lesson in resilience. I said to them “the Parisians aren’t going anywhere, this is their home, and ours, too, now. We need to stay strong and continue living and not let this ruin our time here”. And so this is what we did. We continued our journey.

Once they all made new friends, life for them became very settled. The thing about going to a school where the majority are ex-pats, is that friendships are formed very quickly. Friends become like family, and their school was extremely inviting, inclusive and welcoming. My oldest two children had the privilege of going on school camps: my son to the Hautes-Alpes, south east of France near the Italian border and my daughter to the Ardèche, south of France. Due to the terror attacks, they couldn’t take the train so the school hired coaches and the usual three-hour trip took them eleven hours. They both came back saying the seven-day camp was one of their school highlights, and one-and-a-half years later, they still talk of it fondly.

They also all loved the school refectory! Lunch each day was a cooked meal: a meat, fish or vegetarian option plus salad bar and yoghurts. Lunchtime was a lot longer there, and very social. They shared a meal with their friends and sat and ate all together. My children miss this, as they say here in Australia kids are quick to eat and go off to play. They miss the social aspect of enjoying a nice meal together. I, too, miss not having to worry about lunchboxes! The food in France in general was never a difficulty for the children as they are used to eating a broad variety of cuisines. There was a lot to offer if you looked for good bistros and restaurants, and avoided the typical tourist traps!

My oldest son loves to play soccer. His school team won the championship for soccer playing against many other schools, international as well as French. He also made it to the final 16 boys to be chosen for the Paris St Germain junior training squad. These are memories he will treasure, I’m sure. 

Australian kids are quite sporty in general, with a lot of healthy competition. Whilst never excelling in sport in Australia, my daughter managed to do really well in France. She was the fastest girl swimmer in her year group in France, something she had never achieved in Australia. In fact, she wouldn’t even try to compete in Australia. So her confidence really grew in France, where she also played soccer. She was fortunate to be selected to sing solos in music concerts, participate in drama productions, and play her guitar in music concerts.

The school was co-ed, something that all my children weren’t used to, as they were at single-sex schools in Australia. They all really enjoyed this, and found it balanced things out. My daughter would often have a kick about with the boys at lunch and recess, and my youngest son had an army of girls willing to look after him, which he loved!

When it was time to leave Paris, they were all devastated. They didn’t want to return home. The sadness was heart breaking. Such strong friendships were formed, it was very, very hard to say goodbye. They all asked us not to take them back to Australia, they really wanted to stay in Paris. They had all grown up in different ways, and we were really seeing them start to blossom when it was time to leave. This was such a shame, I felt like we should have stayed for another 6 months (at least!). 

In our next and last conversation (Part Three), I ask Tahnee about some of the funny experiences that they had whilst living in Paris and, now that they are back in Australia, how they view their French adventure. Tahnee also has a few words to say to anybody who might be dreaming of doing something similar. Once again, thank-you Tahnee, for sharing your experiences so generously. 

A bientôt! 
PS If you would like to read more stories from our family's French adventure, please don't hesitate to contact me on cb222@me.com for a print copy of 'But you are in France, Madame' or click on the following link for a Kindle copy.





Monday, 4 June 2018

A Parisian Life - Part One


Jardin du Luxembourg

A few blog posts ago, I re-introduced myself and explained that we are an Australian family who lived for several years in France. Back in Australia, and missing France terribly, I started to write about our France. The occasional blogpost on this forum came next and, after much hesitation, I made my first foray onto Facebook. With the tiniest bit of social-media knowledge, uploading photos to Instagram was then not as daunting and I could even admit to having a bit of fun with it.

Of course, I was hoping for some positive business flow-on, but what I had not anticipated was that through the tangle of marketing, superficiality and distance, personal connections could be formed. Many Australians, it seemed, were as curious and passionate about France as my family and I and, since our return, I have been involved in the planning of several family French adventures, including Jodie's, which I shared here.



Today, it is with great pleasure that I introduce another Australian family to you (@treasuredjourneys).  So please, take a seat and enjoy Part One of Tahnee's Parisian story, with many practical details for other families who might be considering, or starting to dream about, their own French adventure.

Tahnee and family


What was it that prompted you to head to France with your family?  


The first time I visited France I was 17 years old. Before visiting France, I had always felt a connection to this country (maybe because I was conceived in Paris!). Visiting Paris at 17 years of age really ignited a passion. I fell in love with the city, and it was a place that I would visit many times thereafter.

Before children, my husband and I had made a few trips to Europe and, once we started our family, we continued to travel, taking our children everywhere with us, showing them the world. Before our move to Paris in 2015, our children had visited France a few times, and they, too, felt a real love for France, and in particular Paris.

We have had a few ex-pat friends, who have left the safety of home for the adventures of a new country, and loved the idea of making this happen for ourselves. My husband, though, works for himself, and not being in a large company, we knew that it would be difficult for him to change working locations.

One day in April 2015, on a whim, I asked our children if they would ever like to live in another country. The answer was a very big 'yes'! They then asked where and I suggested France, which made them hugely excited. So, when my husband came home from work, we casually announced to him that we’d all like to move to France. Naturally this came as a surprise and he questioned where this idea had come from. We said to him that we felt like an adventure, we all loved France and thought it was a good idea! 

After taking this in, he was quite open to the idea; the plus side for him was that he could do some business there if he chose to. Immediately, we felt a renewed sense of living, a small fire within us all began to burn brighter. We didn’t want to be passengers on this train of life, we really wanted to live life to the fullest and share experiences together; to leave the safety of home and go to the slightly unknown, to meet new people, understand another culture, travel, explore, and have the children in a new school environment. 

In May 2015, my husband and I visited France for 10 days, where we arranged to view a few schools and get a feel for where we'd like to relocate. Upon returning to Australia, there was no doubt in our minds that it would be Paris. My spoken French was ok, so the language barrier wasn't very daunting for me. I also have family in Monaco, so we liked that we could see them more and if we needed help for anything, they weren't too far away.


Tahnee and her children in Paris

To undertake a trip such as yours there must have been a fair amount of preparation? What were some of the things on your pre-departure to-do list and do you have any hints for families who might be thinking of doing the same thing?

Visas, finding a home to rent, appointing a relocation agent in France, giving notice to the children's schools, making sure all the children’s immunizations were up to date, clearing out our home, selling one car, plus little things like informing our security company of our friend's phone numbers instead of ours, setting up a bank account with HSBC in Australia, but for an account in France...these were just a few things to start with.

In May 2015 we decided to move, and set a departure date in October.  This was a very small time frame to get things done, but with the desire to go we pretty much ran on adrenalin. There was a lot to do. Getting French visas was the biggest hurdle. There was so much paperwork involved. But first, I needed to get an appointment at the French Consulate in Sydney. The online visa application appointments weren’t set very frequently and I would log onto the French Consulate website to find none available. Plus there was no facility to call anyone; it was all done online, which was really frustrating. 

On top of the infrequency of appointments, you are not permitted to book them too far in advance of your departure date. I finally got 5 appointments, one for each member of the family. Yes! Done!  Now to book flights to Sydney for the appointments. Done! But within 2 days of making the appointments, they were cancelled, due to staffing issues in the office. This was incredibly frustrating, as we had booked and paid for flights and accommodation and, as non-Sydney residents, we didn’t have the luxury of just getting the next available appointments, hopefully all one after the other. I did email them to explain our situation. Thankfully, I managed to get a response and we were put near the top of the list for the next available appointments.

We were asked for information at our interviews that wasn’t outlined ANYWHERE on the visa declaration forms. So, being more than thorough would be my advice with this part of the process. I remember being asked for immunization records. This wasn’t on the application when we were applying for the visa, so we had to get our GP to send something through, and when we returned home, we had to send copies as well. On one of our bank statements, only my husband's name was listed. They asked how I would manage financially in France. Of course, I would be supported by my husband, which seemed rather obvious to us. But this assumption wasn’t enough for the interviewer, we had to get a statutory declaration signed by my husband and stating that he would support myself and our children for the duration of our stay.

As we had friends moving into our home to look after it for us, I had to empty our entire house, including cupboards, and remove furniture. This was a big job, but I tackled it room by room so it wasn’t too overwhelming, and started the process months before our departure, so it wasn’t left to the last minute. As simple and as obvious as it sounds, being organised was definitely the key.

We also packed some boxes of essentials that we wanted to use in our day-to-day life in France. The day after our departure, my parents sent these off for us. A company came to our home, weighed our boxes, and took them to be airfreighted for us, which was very economical. They usually arrive between 7 -10 days after they are sent, you get an email telling you what commercial jet they are on, their arrival date and time, and where to go and collect them.

We found a fabulous relocation agency that took care of a lot of the paperwork on the French side. The agency personnel also spoke fluent English, which was very helpful. I had found a home online, but they went and viewed it for us, plus a few others to give us some options. I had spoken with the owner of one house and we face timed so that I could look around. When we were doing this, I saw their car in the garage. As it was what we had been looking to buy once we were there, I asked if he would consider selling it to us too. He said 'yes', so we rented their home and bought their car! It was there waiting for us when we arrived, which was really convenient, as we hit the ground running, so to speak. We could go to the supermarket straight away to buy fresh produce plus everything else that we needed to set up our new French life. 

Our relocation agent helped us to switch the car to our name at the prefecture but, as just one example of the difficulty of everything administrative, we were told cash was fine, yet once we got there we were told payment needed to be made by cheque. So, our agent used her cheque book, as ours hadn’t arrived yet, and we gave her the cash. She also helped buy mobile phones, set up accounts, organise our gas, electricity and water for the home. Her assistance was invaluable.

Three weeks before our departure date, I flew to Paris for eight days to organize the home that we had rented and to buy all the things that we would need upon arrival (pillows, sheets, duvets, towels, soap, all kitchen things, plates, dish cloths, toilet paper...). I washed everything and put it all in our cupboards, ready for us to use when we arrived. This was really helpful, as we felt a little at home straight away. I even had some non-perishable goods in the pantry in case I needed to make something for us to eat upon arrival.

I ordered school uniforms online, so that they would be delivered after our arrival along with organising many, many other little details.

All the work-related business issues, I left up to my husband to organise, including the paperwork and financial requirements.

Phew! We were nearly ready to take off...

In Part Two, we will hear more about the family's day-to-day life in Paris, including how the children managed the transition. 

A bientôt!









Thursday, 17 May 2018

Marque my words


I am not a brand name person. It has never interested me to pay more for, let's say, an item of clothing just because it is populating the populace, might make me popular or, perversely, more easily non-identifiable. I'd rather stand out, or save my money; simple as that.

Perhaps this comes from being a second child. Perhaps it comes from my non-lavish and threadbare childhood where cents counted. Our family was no different to those around me, so, perhaps, it was just the way it was.

My husband, three children and I took one bag for our planned year-long French adventure plus a small back-pack each for our travel items. For the children, these smaller bags were to double as school bags and for me, as a hand bag. As much as possible, I packed with a practical mind. We were going to France, but I was under no illusions as to my capacity to slide gracefully in amongst the fabulously styled French women whom I was expecting to encounter. And, I chose to interpret the gift of a soft, long white scarf and matching gloves from my Melbourne French friends who farewelled me, as concern for my wellbeing in the cold climate of the French Alps rather than a start on a necessary new French wardrobe.

Fortunately, too, the children at 6, 9 and 12 years old were not at all demanding, and were more interested in having a supply of coloured pencils and their parents with them than the latest brand anything.

Used to wearing a school uniform in Australia, they enjoyed the novelty of being able to choose jeans and a jumper for school and were only momentarily bewildered by the need to wear slippers in the French classroom. But, the eminently practical and suitable back packs set aside for their school paraphernalia did set them apart.


What we discovered was that the younger children were either pulling back-friendly 'wheelie' bags - not out of place at Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport - or wearing brand items, such as the pleasing four-euro Naf-Naf one (see left) found at our first vide-grenier.


For the collégiennes, gone was the practicality and in was the style. I had forgotten about these little Vanessa Bruno school bag substitutes until last week, and when I saw them in Mosman at Montmartre Concept Store (see right), they brought back a whole host of memories.

My most favourite of which is that they all seemed to be carried identically, and in a very particular way; let's just call it 'the teapot tip'.

I hope you enjoy this musical interlude by legendary Australian group, The Wiggles, by way of explanation and if you haven't come across Jacqui's French Village Diaries, now is a good time to visit as in this entry, Jacqui herself is performing as a little teapot to groups of very appreciative schoolchildren in her role as librarian.

***Copies of 'But you are in France, Madame', which take you with us on our French adventure are easily downloadable at Amazon, here or send me an email on cb222@me.com if you'd prefer a print copy.***

"I'm a Little Teapot" is an American song describing the heating and pouring of a teapot. The song was originally written by George Harold Sanders and Clarence Z. Kelley and published in 1939