Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Grandma's story : Life during WWII

Hubby's grandma is a very interesting person, she always have plenty to tell. She lived through the second world war. As an spouse to a marine, she had lived in many places in France and certain part of North Africa. I love her stories, so I decided to jot them down.

Grandma was around 12-13 years old when the Germany occupied France. She lived in a small village in Brittany. Her father was a baker. During the occupation, Germany sent their troops to cities and villages. Villagers had to go to the Town Hall to get food tickets. For each bread they bought, they had to give a ticket to her father. Her father would collect them, and exchange them with flour to continue making bread. As a teenager that needed more food to grow up, grandma was entitled to some chocolates and sugar. 

The German seized some houses and controlled all the supplies. However, according to grandma, the villagers managed to hide away some of their products : meat, wheat, they didn't actually go starve, compared to those who lived in the cities.

The German seized a room from a priest in the village. The room was given to a soldier and his French girlfriend. The priest jokingly said that he should had put a red lantern outside his house. 
Note : During the Medieval time the brothels were required to light a red lantern when they were open (from which is derived the term red-light district).

The German also utilized the existing shops / facilities for their own needs. For example, they baked their own breads by using her father's oven. They sent an Austrian soldier to work in the local carpentry, which was just next to her father's bakery. The Austrian and her family maintained a polite but distance relationship until one Christmas.

On that Christmas Eve, while the family was preparing for the feast, the Austrian soldier came to them to share a bottle of homemade Schnaps. She tried a drop and she remembered that her lips were burning. The Austrian laughed at her and told her that it was not meant for kid. Her father decided to ask him to stay for dinner. 

During the occupation, the villagers had not right to listen to the radios. German troops were patronizing on horses during the evenings. Her father would turn on the radio when he heard the horse going away, and she would help to spot when the horse came back again.

Grandma hates people wasting bread as she lived through a time where some people couldn't afford to have bread. She had to save up a lot of ticket for textile to eventually get her wedding dress done several years after the war as France was going through a phase of recovery.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Tears on cooking

Several months ago, on certain weekends, while preparing lunch, I almost burst into tears. I was very stressed out, thinking of what to cook for the next meals.

Here are some background stories. I started cooking when I moved abroad like 16 years ago. Efforts made, dishes tried, I didn't enjoy cooking, and most importantly, I didn't like what I cook. So, at one point, after several years living in France, I decided to stop. Hubby would be the chef in the kitchen and I would do the housework (he hates it).

Things changed after we decided to buy the land and build our own house. Due to financial constraint and the family culture of DIY, hubby was/is caught into many new tasks : getting quotations, applying for construction permit, making choices, calling different people, visiting forums for information...on top of a more demanding job, so the last thing I want to bother him was cooking. And, at the mean time, our second was born.

I picked up cooking as much as I can while dealing with a new baby. I cooked very simple meal : fried rice, curry chicken with roti canai, slow cooked pork, braised chicken with mushroom, quiche...On Mondays when there was nothing left in the fridge, I would just buy a flammekueche, or crêpe. Hubby and the kids would eat some cheese and dessert but I didn't make them. When the construction started in March 2015, We went there almost every evenings to check the progress and to make sure things were built as in the house plan.

The challenge started when hubby participated in the construction. My MIL took the girls, I helped when there were tasks I can do and every evenings after dinner, I had to think of something for lunch to feed three men (hubby, my FIL and a professional we hired). Since I was on vacation and the girls won't there, it was manageable even though I was getting tired to have to always think of meals to prepare especially now beside main dish I also needed to think of  cheese, dessert, coffee, chocolate. This stage lasted for a month.

The stressful moment came when the DIY phrases started. For about a month, my parents in laws came every week from Wednesday to Saturday for the tiling. Suddenly I had to cook real French meals almost every day. Both my in laws were good cook and they have their habits and preferences. Here the lists:

For breakfast, my FIL requests:
Brioche with certain brand
Orange juice with certain brand (I don't stock up this because I don't want my girls to drink too much)
Chocolate powder with certain brand (he switched brand so the one I bought for him in the past was sitting in my pantry untouched)
French baguette
Coffee with certain brand and brown sugar
Jams (he brought his homemade jams because I stopped buying since at one point nobody ate them in my household and they got spoiled)
Milk powder with certain brand (I happen to drink the same so ok)

Some snacks on a Saturday evening

For lunch & dinner:
French baguette is mandatory
Some snacks (preferable for Saturday evenings)
Wines (preferable for the men)
Meats (preferable for the men)
Salade (mandatory for my MIL)
Cheese (preferable for the men)
Dessert (mandatory for French meal)
Coffee (mandatory for everyone except me)
Chocolate (preferable for my FIL)

Some constraints:
Rice & cucumber (digestive problem)
No pizza unless homemade
No hamburger even though we bought fresh ground beef from the butcher
Flammekueche was considered junk food

Note : We lived in an apartment complex that didn't have elevator. So after every grocery shopping, I needed to bring up everything to the 4th floor, then brought silverware, plates, glasses and coffee cups to the new house for lunch. After that, I had to bring them back to wash at the apartment (after climbing up to 4th floor of course).

I shouldn't complain because it was very nice for my in laws to come help us out with the house. They live around 1h45 from our place and each time they came, they brought over a dish and a dessert, and some homegrown vegetables. However, I do not know how to meet their expectations. I was like a person who speaks only 50 Chinese words now having to please someone who speak 3000 Chinese words with idioms and expressions.

I struggled, I stressed out, I woke up during the nights thinking of what kind of dishes would please them, and I asked hubby to help, that he would cook one meal to release my stress. But he has a mountain of tasks waiting for him. I also needed to entertain my MIL, she got bored sometimes as some stuffs she didn't want / know how to do. My parents in laws go every places together, if she was bored and decided not to come, my FIL would be less motivated to come. She was nice and helped around the housework, but I was still the principal cook. 

So, every Wednesday morning, after sending off my daughter to school, I went grocery shopping with Awena and constantly reminded myself that I shouldn't forget anything required for breakfast. Unfortunately, the shop I went to was going through renovation, so sometimes I didn't find what I wanted, and it was time to go home and started cooking, before picking up Aelig from school (she only has half day school on Wednesdays). The dish and dessert my in laws brought over were usually for dinner. I had lunch with them, and tried to help out but with Awena, it was very hard. I would have to keep telling her to not touch this and that, to not step on this and that, and at the end I just gave up. In the evening, I had to think of their lunch for the next day. And the next day, after work, I needed to rush home to pick up Aelig from school then cooked for dinner. Sometimes my MIL prepared dinner and I felt so grateful.

After our CNY trip, hubby requested that they come during the weekend so that he could participate into the remaining works. So they decided to come on Friday and leave on Sunday after dinner. This time they brought their own lunch. So every Wednesday, I woke up feeling stressful for the 5 means I have to prepare (Friday dinner, Saturday and Sunday lunches and dinners). After a week of working, I was hoping to chill out during weekend, but I had to cook. Every weekend when I woke up, I felt stressed.

One Friday, I took the day off, placed grocery order online, I planned to spend the whole day cleaning the new house as a worker just finished tiling the bathrooms and toilets. I wanted to leave at 6pm, pick up the grocery and started cooking before they arrived. Hubby came and announced that his parents were on the way to our new house and we should wait for them. I got home after 7pm and tried my best to cook as fast as I could. At one point, my in laws arrived and the first question my FIL asked : " Did you buy bread?" No, I completely forgot about it. Bakeries were not on my way so I don't usually buy them. So I replied : "No, but we have brioche at home". He looked at me, and said :" You are like Marie Antoinette, no bread, eat brioche (Qu'ils mangent de la brioche)". His words upset me but I know I was a failed host, bread is mandatory in this family, when they are here, we have to go to bakery every day.

My MIL is expert in homemade dessert. I don't really like traditional French desserts so I made this cake. They didn't eat it because they prefer something else.

My saver, BBQ! I'm happy we could do BBQ so that one meal less to prepare!

I think for someone who are talented in cooking, this shouldn't be a big deal. I have to admit, cooking is my weakness, I so wish that I could do just like in Malaysia : "ok everyone, it is lunch / dinner time, what do you want to eat, I will go pick up some food." Then simply go to any hawker center to get what they want.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

End of extra-curriculum activities

French school systems do not make extra-curriculum activities mandatory. Most of the cultural and sportive activities are proposed by government sponsored clubs. At the beginning of school year, we went for a Clubs Open Day where most of the clubs have their own stand and you get to ask questions and make enrollment on the sport. She participated in three activities on school year 2015-2016.

The city's swimming pool proposes swimming classes starting from 6 years old. After queuing for two three hours I finally managed to enroll her; Since then except school holidays, she went once every week. We are so please to learn at the end of the school term (classes run from Sept to Jun), she swims! Not for long distance, but it was still an improvement.

She continued her Chinese classes with Hua Yuan Chinese Club.

The classes were consisted of kids at very different levels, and keeping kids focus was a huge challenges. So, she didn't improve much in terms of writings, but the main goal was for her to understand that there were people speaking Mandarin just like her.

During the Club Open Day, she saw a bunch of female roller skaters rolling in beautiful costumes. She got attracted to it and had decided to enroll. So, a successful marketing from the club.

After 9 months of training (and all the round trips sending and fetching), they made performance during a Gala.

The first dance, her group dressed in pajamas, rolling and dancing with the theme "wake up".

The second dance, they dressed as crocodile.

 Other performers dressed as pirates.

The teenager group performing.

Before this gala she told us that she didn't want to continue next year as she wanted to have an the same activity as her best friend. However, after the Gala, she changed her mind. It was fun and she enjoyed it. So, we are sticking to it.

This is something I really like about France. There are so many clubs around that you have so many choices, and they are all being held around the communities (except Chinese classes I had to go to other community as there was non in mine). And the prices, are affordable since it is sponsored by the Town Hall. I think it was around 130€ per activity per school year, and our companies participated in paying the fees. At the end, it didn't cost us much, and she was happy, and we got to know new friends. Yes even me made friends with moms who sent their kids to activities. lol.

Monday, July 04, 2016

DIY or have it done?

French labor cost is expensive.
When something is broken in the household, we are anxious : how much would it cost to get it repaired?
Washing machine not working : a guy came for 5 minutes, 60€ gone.
Toilet tank running non stop : a plumber we know came for around an hour, 180€ gone.
No wonder French people in general are good in DIY projects. They are a lot of shops selling raw materials and DIY products such as lumbers, tiles, paints, plants...
I have heard some cases : some people try to build a room, a garage, a house, and it could last for 10 years.

There are two people I know building their garage at the same time. Their garages are attached to each other. In the photo, the one on the left have it done by a professional. The one on the right decided to do it themselves, and they just did the foundation. I see the difference day after day. The one on the left was done within two weeks, the one on the right, the owner doesn't know when it will be finished. There were discussions on DIY vs professional, and of course budget is the main consideration, but it is not the only one. Certain people prefer DIY because they could be sure on the materials being used, and they are proud to be able to build something themselves. Whereas for others, they just want to enjoy life and not tied to a project that will drain their free times.

And it makes me wonder, when you buy a house, would you choose one that was built by professionals (it doesn't mean it won't have problems), or built by the owner?