Thursday, December 31, 2015

Convincing the Children

Until about 9.75 years ago, I didn't have any parenting experience.  I've picked up a few skills along the way from on the job training.  When it comes to explaining things to the kids, I don't know if there is a common standard for communication that I should be adhering to.  In order to explain why we had decided to move to France, I opted to use a familiar tool:  PowerPoint.

The kids had no idea what was up.  I told them that we wanted to give them a PowerPoint presentation and asked them what characteristics they thought should be included in such a presentation. Without knowing the topic, they selected four items to include: a bagel, a ninja, an atomic bomb, and a shark.
Here is the presentation we gave to the kids.

Familiar Starting Point:  We started with a reference from Phineas and Ferb, a cartoon about two brothers who do interesting things together and are always there for each other. 

Premise:  Will and Alex have favorite things.

Premise:  We pulled in some of their Sunday School lessons to give them a spiritual point of reference and talk about how our family fits in with God's plan.

Premise:  Dad is uniquely skilled.  A satellite ninja even!

Advantage that we have:  Internet access helps us every day.
Problem: Not everyone in the world has internet access.
Solution: We pulled some parts of the website here.  They explain it succinctly.

How does this relate to me? Remember Tokyo?
Will knows that a long time ago he was born in Tokyo.  He has no memory of this as he was only there for about 10 days.  However, he also has no negative associations with the idea that he has lived abroad.  We talk sometimes about going back to Tokyo to visit and explore.  We wanted to provide an instance of something that we have done before that gives a positive anchor point for the next slide.

France - Here is a map of Europe.  Here is France.  The kids study Europe in school all the time.  They have some knowledge about it.  We wanted to inspire curiosity about the concept of being in Europe.

Reassurance: After Curiosity comes panic, or so we thought.  They didn't get to the panic during the PowerPoint presentation, so this slide wasn't quite needed yet.  However, we started to explain to them that their things and their comfort was not limited to living in Redondo Beach.

More Reassurance (and bribery): We wanted to let the kids know that we were looking out for their concerns and needs.  That while they wouldn't be able to visit France before moving there, that we would check it out for them.  We told them that they could finally design their bedroom from scratch.  Will could get a loft bed.  Then we moved quickly on to bribery, offering Will his own iPad and Alex a hand-held Nintendo DS.  We addressed language concerns for them, letting them know that there were places where they could speak English and that there was an international school that taught in English.

Humor:  After breaking this big news and causing many things for them to think about, we went for some humor to lighten the heavy news.  Back in May, Dan made crepes for my birthday.  They were fine crepes.  However, the kids had mixed reactions.  So, given that we were moving to the original land of crepes, we presented them with "The Crepes of Doom!"  With the reassurance that they did not have to actually eat them.

Advantage:  We had to include a shark in the presentation.  Turns out, there are no sharks in Toulouse.  It doesn't even touch an ocean.

Advantage: School Holidays.  There are lots of them.  This also gave us the opportunity to discuss how I would not be working while in France, that I was "retiring" for a bit.  So during those school holidays, they would not have to go to any camps.  Why is this an advantage?  You see, I am a terrible parent who forces her children to have fun.  Two spring breaks in a row, I signed the kids up for the local recreation camp.  They hang out and play on the playground at a rec center, play foosball, do arts and crafts. It's pretty low key.  However, on Wednesday of this camp, the kids do a field trip to Knott's Berry Farm Amusement Park.  Now, I've never actually been there.  But if I believe the kids, it's a terrible place.  So, advantage no break camps.  This is very important to the boys.

Back to Favorite Things:  We can take some things with us!  Also cementing the bribery of personal electronic devices in the kids' minds.

More Favorite Things:  Programming Classes since Will can't do Planet Bravo anymore during the summer.  Minecraft, because kids in France are into Minecraft too.

More Advantages:  Including the nuclear explosion.  Which, fortunately, is not a problem in Toulouse.

Some Disadvantages:  Because if I say only good things, and we encounter any bad things, the kids will be less likely to trust me in the future.  So, yes, there are some bad things, as there are in any situations that involve change.  Alex and pants?  You see, he was born in California.  He uses the word "Dude" and "Bro."  He's a California boy.  He only wears shorts, whatever the weather.  So, it's a bit colder climate.  He's going to have to wear pants.

Obligatory Question Slide:  Because PowerPoint.

Reaction: Resistance Initially Absent 
We thought that the kids would be more concerned and resistant at the initial news that we were leaving the country.  But they were actually excited.  One of the first questions they asked, "Can we go to Italy and have pizza and noodles?"  Yes.  Yes we can.  Then Will started asking the technical satellite questions, "With so many satellites, how do they keep from hitting each other?"  We also talked about getting a large wall map of Europe so we could plan trips across Europe during breaks and weekends.  And of course, we told them that, yes, we could go visit Lego World Headquarters.
After showing the kids the PowerPoint presentation, we decided to celebrate this wonderful new adventure and took them out for gelato.  Sugar is a positive association.

It wasn't until later that night, when he should have been sleeping, that Will wandered out of his room and asked, "Do we have to move to France with Dad?"  And, since it is our parental responsibility to be reassuring, we told him that yes, and we would do it as a family.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

"The only way out is through" aka "Be a warrior" #traveledition

I subscribe, more or less, to the tenant that one's body and mind are tools that be exercised by one's will.  I will, therefore, I become. When faced with a difficult situation, come up with a plan and push through.  Revisit the plan as required, of course.  In the past ten years or so, I've applied this strategy on a good numbers of occasions from working years long challenging programs, working night shifts, and evening losing weight.

I like sum up this strategy as "The only way out is through."  On joining the team here in Toulouse, a new co-worker summed it up in slightly different turn of phrase, "Be a warrior." Whatever you call it, I applied it to my recent arrival in Toulouse.  Traveling for 15 hours is a bit fatiguing, but here is what I accomplished immediately after arriving in Toulouse (1430) before hitting the sack at 10pm.

Productive arrival in Toulouse.
- Made it to my hotel without touching my phone or GPS for directions.
- Spent 30 minutes trying to find a parking space the stupid Fiat 500 El Grande would actually fit in.
- Acquired charging cable for iPhone (lost in the DTW Sky Club) 
- Acquired groceries (water, bread, cheese, yogurt) aka emergency rations
- Interfaced with the photo booth to generate acceptable identity photograph
- Acquired stored value metro card w/10 trips (required identity photo)
- Acquired bike share subscription to VélôToulouse (required stored value card)
- Acquired share bike and rode to Dardy to browse appliances
- Acquired scale (for cycling induced manorexia) and rode back to hotel
- Acquired another share bike and rode to the apartment to checkout the scene on a Saturday night. It's quite quiet. But discovered the rear entrance is now locked up... frown emoticon

- Walked to the Japanese restaurant a few blocks from the apartment. Learned that California Rolls are called inverted Maki here. Acquired beer, miso, and chirashi

- Acquired share bike, rode back to hotel, purchased batteries for scale
- Walked around Christmas market.

- Did a good job keeping myself awake. Time to hit some melatonin

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Oh, the French Food

In Tokyo, food wasn't really a challenge, but sometimes there were just things I really didn't want to eat.  Back then I had the excuse that I was pregnant.  Who knows what kind of crazy things a pregnant woman can't eat?  I milked that excuse for everything it was worth. 

France?  France is different.  With the exception of the superfluous fungus that was added to my salad on the first day, everything was great.

Breakfast Pizza
Jet lag and I don't agree.  A long time ago, back at summer camp, I didn't sleep for the entire summer.  (Robin, Tristan, Jim, Dave, and Leon may recall this time, or may dismiss it as a crazy dream.)  Ever since then, lack of sleep has made me either giddy or insane.  Day one of my trip, I spent doing things like forgetting how to say my phone number in French AND ENGLISH.  I went to bed kind of early that night, then didn't wake up until after the hotel breakfast was over.  Dan was at work so I was on my own.  

I braved my way out of the hotel at 10am and found the nearest cafe.  It had pizza.  I walked in and ordered one slice of cheese pizza.  The lady at the cafe asked me I wanted it to stay or go (in French).  I didn't know those words yet, so I looked confused.  She asked if I spoke English.  I do speak English!  She asked me if I wanted it to stay or go and I answered to stay.  She asked me if I would like anything else and I asked for orange juice.  Remember, it's breakfast time.  She looked at me like I was crazy and asked if maybe I would like some coffee or a dessert.  No!  I would like my cheese pizza and orange juice for breakfast.  

Breakfast of Florida Italian Champions!

Turns out the little packet next to the pizza is not parmesan cheese.  It's pepper oil.  I didn't realize this until after I dumped it on the pizza.


The dish of Toulouse is duck.  Dan has experienced various duck based foods such as foie gras and the ever popular fast food duck restaurant.

Duck Me!

From speaking with my friend Brent's wife, we learned that if you are ordering meat in France, it is difficult to get it Well Done as we understand the concept.  Being a person who likes cooked food, I felt disheartened when I heard this.  But, over the years, I have tried to eat more pinkish colored steak and do believe that it may have more flavor than my traditionally, completely cooked steak.  I prepared myself for whatever level of cook-ed-ness would come my way. 

When we went out to eat with Dan's co-workers, the moment presented itself.  One of the meal options was duck with pommes de frites.  I ordered it.  I was asked, "How would you like that cooked?"  I looked directly at the waiter and said, "Well Done."  He questioned, "Well done?"  I said, "Yes, I would like it cooked until it is dry and flavorless," and made a flourish with my hand. 

As a side note, the whole flourish with my hand really was a result of the way dinner seems to occur in France.  You must start dinner after 7pm.  Some restaurants don't open until 7:30.  Then you have an aperitif.  After a few sips or entire consumption of said aperitif, you actually order some food.  Then you eventually consume said food, but only with the appropriate dinner wine.  Then after dinner you have a digestif.  Then you have desert and coffee.  

I may have had a couple of glasses of red wine on an empty stomach prior to the actual ordering time.   But sure enough, dry tasteless demand along with hand flourish resulted in overcooked meat.  

Completely Tasteless

The French, they welcome me with giving into my demands of tasteless duck!

The kids think crepes are terrible.  Dan made me some for my birthday last May.  They were decent.  The kids did not like them.  Then they thought some more about crepes and considered them again.  We bought a crepe for Alex one day at the Manhattan Beach farmer's market.  It was acceptable.  Now they have a theory that crepes are better in France because Dad doesn't have much experience making them, farmer's market guy hasn't been practicing for long, but in France, they have been making crepes forever.  We felt that in order to be good parents, we should test this theory.  For the children!

First we found an appropriately cute, cave-like crepe restaurant.  Because crepes taste better when consumed with the proper ambiance.  

Dan in the crepe cave

We tried savory crepes. 

Goat Cheese and Tomato
The Toulousian

We tried sweet desert crepes.

Dan's chocolatey crepe

My crepe, on Fire!

We showed the kids the pictures later.  Alex was quite confused and against the idea of a crepe on fire.

Other Non-Flaming Desserts

We went to what we thought was a gelato shop for dessert although it actually tasted more like ice cream.  Ice cream scooped into amazing flower shapes.  

Flower Ice Cream - only looks like a flower

After dinner one night, we went to another restaurant for desert.  We found ice cream.  The interesting thing was that at 9:30 at night, there was a kid about Will's age who was out with his parents eating the same desert as us.  9:30 at night!  Our kids are typically asleep by then here in the United States.

Late Night Treat

Kids Food
We attempt to let the kids be involved in experiencing French food even though they haven't been to France yet.  One particular item that Dan brought back to the children were some Macaroons.  The children have been recently inspired by a blogger named Ebi-kun  who has been doing some taste testing videos of some unusual foods.  They have taken to mimic him and did a blog test of the Macaroons along with their reactions.     

Macaroons.  Will we like them?  To the youtube channel!

Dan Food
Look, there are even various sports bars for Dan to eat while he is riding his velo.

Chocolat Endurance Cake

Currently, the kids have been enjoying their once a week treat day by going to the McDonald's near their school and getting McFlurries.  They were encouraged to know that in France there is also a McDonald's near their school.  

McDonald's Ordering Kiosk
Fancy McDonald's Muffin wearing Oreo Top Hat

Boring American Food

From tasteless duck to boring American food, I think we will all be ok.  And maybe some day we will actually work up enough nerve to try the foie gras.  The boys and I, I mean.  Dan loves all foods.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

House Hunters International - Kroboths in France - Difficult Decision

After much deliberation, prayer, and consulting wise advisors (our parents), we finally decided on a living location.  Unfortunately, we are missing out on the pool, separate level for the children, large yard, and tons of storage space.  Fortunately, we get everything else.

We chose: The Apartment near Everything!

This was the last place that I considered Friday morning.  As of Thursday night, we were planning on moving into the quirky house near school.  So on Friday morning when I saw the apartment, I didn't think much of it.  It was pretty much what I had expected to look at originally before we found the perfect house near school.  It is not excessively big and is centrally located.  

What made me think twice?  We went for a walk nearby.  We walked across the street to the park.  We walked through the park toward the Natural History Museum.  We walked down the street to the grocery and shops.  We bought chocolate and sugar crystalized violet petals from a chocolate shop.  We went into the market.  Think LA Central Market, but smaller and cleaner and more smelling of cheese.  The metro and the tram to the airport were both within a short walk.  It was exactly the vision of LIVING IN FRANCE.  

I was not sure, so the next step was to let Dan take a look.  Heather, our relocation specialist, called the agent and got a meeting at 6pm.  Unfortunately, Heather couldn't make it.  So Dan and I met up at our hotel and walked to the apartment.  Our hotel was centrally near lots of stuff.  It didn't take long.  We met with the agent, Dan saw the place and properly investigated the garage bike rack.  We managed to communicate the important information needed to the agent.  Mainly "Nous pensons avec un bouteille du vin."  

We were still not sure.  The house near school was perfect for the kids.  If we didn't have kids, we would not choose it.  If we lived in the city, we would have to drive the kids back and forth to school, in the car nearly an hour each day.  

So the next day we rented bikes and biked from the apartment out to the school.  We biked over to the metro and took that back to the city.  Then I drove.  It had been a while since I had driven a car with manual transmission, about two years.  I stalled in the parking garage.  I stalled in traffic circles.  I stalled at a stop light.  But we successfully made the drive!

We STILL didn't know what to do.  So we thought and talked. 

We STILL didn't know what to do.  So we thought and flew back home. On Sunday we called our parents to discuss.  Dan's dad used the useful technique of taking a position and having us argue against it, then once we defeated the position, suggested that clearly the other option was the obvious solution.  

So we picked the apartment near everything.  The kids don't need to know there was another option that they would have preferred.  Well, at least not until they are old enough to realize we talk about them on this blog and start reading it.  

So we don't have all of the massive space we would have had in the house, but we do still have space for visitors.  We've got 3 bedrooms.  We can even make the living room into guest space if we have multiple guests at once.  The kids will probably be able to walk over to the park by themselves.  When it comes down to it, I don't mind driving.  

We have lived in places where you can walk to stuff and places where you can't.  Each time we move, we keep wanting to living near things.  However, each time we move, we ultimately choose to live in exclusively residential locations.  We loved living on the Redondo Pier in 2004-2005 and in our Tokyo neighborhood in 2005-2006.  We have had regrets when living in exclusively residential, uninteresting situations such as Melbourne, FL and Rancho Bernardo, CA.  This time, we choose to live where we can walk to things.  

French Experience, here we come!

Saturday, November 07, 2015

House Hunters International - Kroboths in France - Home Choices

We have looked at oh so many places to live.  And there is quite a variety!  Which shall we choose?

Party House
Our relocation specialist, Heather, told us that finding a place to live in France is much like the art of spy craft.  Nothing is centrally listed.  There is no Craig's list.  You must contact various agents.  They will not tell you the location of the residence.  No!  First you must meet in a nondescript parking lot next to a common cafe and arrive wearing a white carnation in your lapel, or be sure to drive a car with a black and white checkered top, or bring along a confused americainne.

The first place we intended to look at we never actually got to see.  We followed protocol and met up with the agent.  Her meeting location was quite a bit out into the countryside.  Then, we followed her to a completely different house than expected which was even further out into the countryside.  It was on a hill and had an amazing view of even more hills.  It had about 4 bedrooms.  Lots of space for visitors.

This was not the house you were looking for...

Safely Contained Party Pool

Furnished Apartment near the end of the metro
There was a very nice furnished apartment.  It was not in Toulouse proper, but was very close to a metro stop and near lots of shops in a small city-type experience.  It had shared garage space where we could probably put all of the bikes.

Inside, it was quite bright.  The large balcony was just off the living room and the main bedroom.  I thought this would be a problem for sleeping, but learned something wonderful about France.  They like lots of dark sleeping.  The apartment had mechanical shutters that completely blacked out all light from the windows.  It was amazing.

Lovely view of the hospital (for Alex, just in case)

Furniture is here.  And a petit television.

Lots of light due to large balcony

Nice Kitchen that can be personalized

Quirky House 1km from School
There is a house available that is about 1km away from the kids' school.  We could walk or bike.  It is possible that the kids could walk on their own once they learn the route.  It is also about 3km away from Dan's work.

The first floor has a large living room with a fireplace.  It has two bedrooms on the first floor, one being the master bedroom.  In a bit of a weird design, the first floor toilet is actually on the landing of the stairway.  Also on the first level is a large garage that has a storage loft.  Not that we have much to store.  There is parking either in the garage or outside of it between the gate and the garage.  There is a large yard.

Front of House - living room left, kitchen right

Large Backyard

Large Garage (and the kids' thought their school looked like a barn)

Friendly Neighborhood Snail on side of house

Functional Fireplace
Dan with Functional Fireplace

 The second story of the house was even more quirky than the first.  We went up the stairs.  One bedroom was present.  Then there was a second door to a room that had a slanted ceiling with a skylight.  It was fairly child-sized.  The bathroom was even more odd.  It was off the side of the top of the stairs.  The entrance looked like a crawl space.  You kind of had to duck to get into it.  Beyond that was an actual crawl space that was more attic-like.  In theory we would have our bedroom on the first floor and leave the kids to the second floor with their weird bathroom and secret playrooms.  The noise level wasn't great when I stayed downstairs and had Dan go walk around upstairs.  The pitter patter of little feet would need to be handled with some sort of antique french rug.
Skylight in low ceiling room
It's just like our current neighbor's Tesla!

Terrible House just inside the city
The location was good.  The house was not so good.  In addition to the crazy bathroom downstairs, there was an additional bathroom upstairs that had a half bath.  No, not a half bath, but a tub that was about half size.  This is because the room it was in was super small.  I actually hit my head on the ceiling.  The people waiting to look at it after us were kind of sketchy looking.  And not as tall as me.  Perhaps they will find pleasure in this unusual house should they want to invite over other not tall houseguests.

Seems Nice.  Look! A garage, what else do you need?

We present bathroom from the 70s!

Kitchen?  Rusty old falling apart one for you!

Fireplace, nice... Oh wait, it does not function

Feels like the countryside, near town center
This is an amazing house.

New House being Built
But wait, that is not the one for rent.  It is actually the other house, the one located behind the new construction house.  A couple had purchased the house seen below along with surrounding land.  Then they decided to build their own new house right in front of it.  They also decided to renovate the back house.  They split it into two apartments.  The second story has a large balcony.  The first story has a large yard.  And a POOL!  The children would have a great time swimming.  They could also explore the yard and the surrounding land.  It's not far from the small city of La Berge which has some quaint things including a large church.

This one (or two, rather)

Pool (stuff around still to be removed)

Nice, renovated kitchen

Strange two-level house near end of metro
This house was at the end of a little street, within walking distance of shops and the metro.  It had a strange setup.  The bottom level was more of a separate apartment.  Bedroom, laundry, bathroom.  The top level would be the living space.  More bedrooms, bath, kitchen.  In an interesting twist it has a well on the property that can be used for watering the garden.  There were at least 3 different cats nearby and a few dogs.  One of the cats looked like our current backyard cat, but fluffier.
Two levels

Bottom Apartment

Open Layout and Neat Doors

Amazing, Tall Kitchen Prep Area

Strange weasel decorations

Watched over by neighbor's cats
Look!  It's fluffy stripey cat!

Quiet Apartment near Everything in the City
This apartment was oddly quiet.  Once you went through the gate shown here, you were inside a quiet courtyard.

Entry way
The apartment itself was pretty big.  It had living areas off to the right including a large living room and balcony.  The balcony oversaw a quiet garden belonging to the apartment below.  The kitchen was kind of like a hallway, not terribly large.  The bedrooms were off to the left as you walk in.  Three of them, two with balconies.  We would probably put the kids in the non-balcony room.  

Large living room with Balcony

Decent Bathroom

 But where would we put bikes, you may ask?  We would be able to use the parking garage bike rack downstairs.  Or the extra bedroom until guests visit.

In the parking garage, bike rack

The amazing thing is that the apartment is immediately across from one of the largest parks in Toulouse.  There is a playground, cafe, and small stream with animals.  It's also right next to the Natural History Museum.  It is a short walk from all shops, metro, tram.  It is a 10 minute walk to the central square of Toulouse.  It is a 15 minute drive to school without traffic.

Near a large park that includes a narwhal sculpture and a merry-go-round

Near all shops and restaurants.  ALL OF THEM.

It even has chickens in the park

The most boring house
This house was large, out in the countryside a little.  Close to Dan's work and school.  It was fairly nondescript.  Although it did have a garage that included bike hooks.

It's a House

Modern Large Kitchen

Bikes go Here

Which shall we pick?  We cannot decide?  Help!