what’s so important about it anyway?

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The spring sun is dropping lower in the sky, the sunlight flickering on my table is lightly filtered through the birch tree outside. I can see the jar of fading tulips out the corner of my eye behind my computer, the smell of warm sultana scones is in the air and the children are playing nicely, happily and quietly, all four of them. Together.

I think they must be pleasantly exhausted and relieved. Today has not been a good day.


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Traces of the disaster lay on the table and floor. Frustratingly ripped scraps of paper strewn around. Worksheets angrily scribbled over, even the odd pencil thrown across the room, empty iced coffee glasses and bowls of unfinished lunch.

Today was Wednesday. A school free day in France and the day I’ve chosen to make our “English” day. The plan is to work together, reading and writing in different ways for an hour or two every week. The plan is that it’ll be fun, that we can learn new things and talk about things together and keep up with our English at the same time for a few hours before we go out, play or do some other jobs. That’s the plan.

Today the children didn’t feel like it. They couldn’t do it, they didn’t know how, writing is too hard, they would not do it, there was no point. There were tears, arguments, yelling, and criticizing. We had a refreshing break from not doing our work for lunch, and then we got back to working hard at not doing our work again.

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Generally there are two responses we get to taking children overseas, even to France. 1. You will have to make sure they keep up with their peers back home. And 2. Wow, they’re so fortunate, they will learn so much. When I have days like today I have both thoughts running through my head. I wonder if it’s necessary, I wonder if it’s worth it, they’ll learn it eventually anyway, and they’re already learning amazing different things, but what if they get behind? what if it’s too much for them when we do go home? I have to make them learn, isn’t it important? But they hate it. Surely it’s not that big a deal? So why are we going through this?

The truth is, it’s not super important. But it is good for them. And it will benefit them in many ways.  Many things are more important than being totally up to date with their English, like learning to try, learning to struggle, learning to be bored, learning to obey, learning to take responsibility, learning to encourage each other, learning to deal with frustration and anger, learning to work, learning to do different things, learning to be patient, learning to value knowledge and learning to love each other. Things that ALL of us learnt a little bit better today.

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And we all feel that our terrible day has been a success now that work sheets have been completed and afternoon tea has been eaten. The late afternoon sun provides a beautiful light to play under and ironically I get a chance to relax with writing my blog, as the tulip petals drop to the table. One child voluntarily approaches me and says “You know Mum, I think you’re right, learning to write is good for me, I could do it and I should have done a better job today.” I almost cried.

make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1)

 

P.S 
I wrote this post last week and just wanted to say this week was a whole different story! :
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winter to spring: the stability of change

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I love the colours of a French winter, the pale browns and tans of the cobblestone maze, the earth-red chimneys scattered among the greys and blues of the slate-tiled roofs. Spindly shadows of browns and white of naked branches and occasional splashes of green from a flowerbed high on the sandy old walls.

I love walking along the stone ground by the river, which flows by that ancient town in the motley shade of a great deciduous tree.

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Now spring is here. Everything I loved about winter is changing, but I love the changes too.

I love seasons. Each time the seasons change it reminds me that life changes, life continues and each and every one of those changes is good and necessary for me to grow and become the person God wants me to be.


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I love stability. I always have. For me change is scary. But when change, like the seasons, becomes a normal part of life, and is controlled by our unchanging, loving God, it becomes a new, wonderful and secure stability. After all, that which doesn’t change with the coming of the spring is not maintaining stability, it is just dead.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

From our perspective, change is a risk; sometimes a big risk, uncertain and unknown. But for God it isn’t. It just isn’t.

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Stunning winter into beautiful spring. The warmth of spring spreads through our life and I pray for change. Change us too, grow us too, always. Because in change there is life, love, security and true stability. And I want that.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

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painting france: five minute friday

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today’s word: Paint

We live in France, a country known for its countless rules and crazy bureaucracy but also for it’s amazing history of progressive art. Such an extraordinary mixture of rules and freedoms.

I don’t know how but the entire country seems to emit creative inspiration. (It seems so contrary to Frances modern culture. maybe in this way the country is stubbornly holding on to an era of kings, royalty, romance and castles.)

It’s an inspiration which we let effect us as much as possible.

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Watercolouring in Paris

We have one rule when we paint as a family: Be Free. There are no restrictions, there is no bad, there are no instructions or guidelines, There will be no criticisms, create what you want with what you have. Paint, draw, photograph the way you want. In our creativity we are free. The Freedom is the rule. Be Free.

It is in that rule of freedom that the paint can truly flow, that the truth of our expression can be released, that the work we do can be enjoyed, that we can learn, that our artistic-ness can grow, that we can create.

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Rules are necessary and good in life but our painting paints a picture of how God has called us to be free. A good freedom. A Freedom for our faith to express itself through love.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free”

Be His.

Be Free.

 

(part of the five minute friday challenge run by one of my favorite bloggers over here)

 

 

Just write: five minute friday

I’ve decided to do a blog challenge run by one of my favorite bloggers. It’s called 5 Minute Friday. The aim is to follow a word prompt and write solidly for just 5 Minutes once a week. Kinda like those photography challenges that some people do, but with writing. The writing is spontaneous, and on any topic and not necessarily well thought out, (here I am putting a disclaimer- typical me) but I’m looking forward to doing it and at least it’ll help me keep a bit more up to date with my blog.

so here is todays:

I haven’t done this before. I’ve thought about it, wanted to, I think it’d be good, but I haven’t gone there. I’m scared. I don’t know if I CAN do it. I don’t know if it will work. I don’t know if it will be interesting. What if people think I’m stupid or, what if I think I’m stupid.

Just write, let it come, be honest, be open, write from the heart. Just for 5 minutes. Don’t worry, don’t keep back. Just write. Each week it’s a different word, often I think I’ll give it a go. Each time, a little fear takes over.

But today is different. the word: “It’s MIGHTY because you are” and I think…

I’ve done things before that I was too scared to do. I’ve stepped out and done them. My fear has been overcome and Mighty things have happened. What was it that made it happen? Am I mighty? CAN I do it? How do I do these things? What makes the change?

In a way I guess I am mighty. Because He made me. Because He guides me, Because he loves me. Yes I suppose I am mighty. When I follow him. When I obey Him, When I love him. But it’s not my might…

Yes, I can do mighty things because HE. IS. MIGHTY.

The Might you see, is His Light shining on Me.

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oh là là

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I realised a few weeks ago that i could share some of our language learning with you all via video. So here is a clip of the kids playing.

Some interesting language learning facts:
~As mentioned in the clip, the kids (mostly Tiggy) make up “french” words to fill gaps.
~the kids learn’t how to talk French in their context relatively well before they started learning how to translate.
~Nathan is better at speaking French and understanding the grammar
~I’m better at understanding a conversation, but can’t literally translate the individual words or respond very well unless it’s in Frenglish.
~We’re both quite good at speaking English in words and grammar that the French can understand. I’ve been told several times that my “English is very good”. Most people can understand my English-French style better than my poor attempt at French.
~I think our aussie accent is weakening. we have to speak so much clearer and without any slang here. The other day an British holiday-er thought I was from England.
~My first attempt at videoing the kids had to be rejected because of the high occurrence of the words “pipi” and “caca”
~The little kids don’t speak much of anything (including Kody) I don’t know if he’s partly slow because of the language exposure or if it’s just his personality. Here they are getting some Aussie language/culture learning. Thanks to old playschools on youtube.

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one year in France

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This month marks a year in France for our family. Yesterday we talked as a family about all the things we like and don’t like about France, these are some of our conclusions:

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What’s your favourite French season?
Tiggy: The one we’re in now because of the flowers (i.e spring)
Miles: Summer
Nathan: I think Autumn
Penny: Surprisingly, I like winter.
Kody: hah?

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What are our favourite French foods? Cheese (although we all like the Dutch ones better) bread (yes it really is WAY nicer, especially when you eat it on the way home from the boulangerie), fromage blanc, yoghurt, chocolate éclairs from the pâtisserie, pain-au-chocolat, beignet pomme, ratatouille, pasta (yes I know not “French” but Miles likes it when they have it at school) croissants and how could I forget brioche (Kody’s favourite).

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And our worst? Instant coffee (why is it that France does not sell Moccona coffee when it’s from practically next door in the Netherlands?) UHT milk  (I know they need it to make cheese and yoghurt and fromage blanc and crème fraîche but really, France does dairy so well but they don’t seem to appreciate a little plain fresh milk) oh and of course andouillette!

What do you like about French culture? Long lunch breaks, relaxed times for work and meetings, late evenings (I love being able to walk around town in the evenings with the kids and not feel guilty for missing their “bedtime”), large lunches-small dinner, clean town, nice gardens oh and the festivals, so many festivals and SO big and fun.

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What don’t you like? The bureaucracy! Oh and it’s good and bad but the culture is so strong, deep and unbending. Coming from a “weak” culture/ multiculturalism in Australia, France’s “We do it this way; just because”, is a little difficult sometimes.

What we love about Orléans itself: We love the river, and the little stone alley-ways of the old town, and the ancient buildings so similar and yet all so different from each other. We love how it’s so sunny (mostly) and light and clean and even when it’s rainy it’s still so beautiful. We love the public parks and courtyard gardens, we love the trains and trams and the forest areas. We love that Paris is just a day-trip away. And we really love all the friends we’ve made.

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What we don’t like: That traffic rules mean so little and managing the busy roads and narrow paths as a pedestrian with the kids in tow. How few public toilets there are. And lastly perhaps to show some perspective, Miles doesn’t like that Orléans only has one castle. I think he wishes this one was closer than 45 minutes away.

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French Stuff #1

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Hi everyone, this is Penny’s husband Nathan at the keyboard. I finally got around to actually making a blog post; something I’ve been meaning to do for most of the last year. Well, now that we’ve been in France for a year, it’s really about time!

AZERTY Clavier

What is this…?

One of the first things that I encountered after arriving in France that I hadn’t even thought about beforehand was the computers. Once I started at work I realized there was a problem. What is this strange keyboard? Someone’s muddled up a lot of the characters! No, this is normal in France. They use an AZERTY keyboard here! Not only are the Q and the W moved but so are a lot of other characters for no apparent reason, strangely including that if you want to use any of the number keys on the top of the keyboard you must press shift or you’ll instead get a range of non-alphanumeric characters much to your surprise. Thankfully, my boss was able to find a QWERTY keyboard from the computer guy and so I only have to tackle the AZERTY when I’m not using my desk computer.
 

Now the main challenge is that almost all the software on my computer including Windows itself is also in French! Fun times!

some days

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I don’t often really miss Australia, but some days I do.

Several days ago, while walking through town with my little boys, after a particularly challenging French beurocracy day and difficult conversations in frenglish, I was thinking “God, I really would love to just talk English to someone, someone I can just talk to without feeling bad for using English. Many of my friends speak English, and that’s cool, but I’d love to be able to just talk to someone who has English as a first language, someone who will understand me, not just with language but culture too and the challenges” Sigh… Some day’s it’s just as well that Orleans is so stunningly beautiful!

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The next day, I huddled with the children in the corner of the bus stop, after a failed trip to town to get Miles a swimming cap (required) before his classes swimming lesson the following day. I was chatting with Miles about his lesson when I realised we were partially blocking a gentleman’s view of the bus timetable.

“Pardon”

“No, no” he said waving his hands and smiled. Nice man. Usually French people just expect me to move. In Australia, mothers and children are usually given preference in public places. In France it seems to be important to ‘respect your elders’ to the extent that if I’m with the children, we should move aside for others. Something I try hard not to be slightly annoyed about while trying to menouver the 4 children. When I was pregnant I was mostly given preference, but as just a mother- no. Even the “special” isles in the supermarket have a sign, “Disabled and pregnant people”, as opposed to Australia’s “wheelchairs and prams”. In fact the few times I have been offered a seat on the bus while holding a sleeping child, it’s been offered by foreigners or tourists, you can tell by their clothes… but I digress…

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The man checked the timetable than moved a few meters away. A little while later I heard his voice talk to me in perfect English. Friendly English. “You’re a long way from home”

I looked up astonished, but it wasn’t just the English that surprised me, I cautiously responded “Where are you from?” It was quite rude of me really, I don’t even think I said hello.

“Don’t you recognise the accent” he said with a smile.

“Yes. Yes. But… really? You’re an Australian? In Orleans?”

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So I think that unless you’ve lived a year without hearing your “mother tongue” you might not really get this. We’ve talked to French people who know perfect English, and English people and Americans, even Irish people. But the only Australians we’ve come across have been our visitors and the people in the Embassy in Paris on Election day last year. And once again, nothing really can compare to the weird and pretty awesome feeling of walking into a building in the middle of Paris to hear everyone automatically speaking in Aussie English.

“Wow! Where in Australia do you come from?”

Really I should have known the answer to this question too; because he had a very nice refined South Australian accent. And it was my turn to astonish him “Us too!”

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Slightly, ok make that very excited, I introduced the children. And we stood at the bus stop in the middle of Orleans and discussed the differences between Australia and France in perfect Aussie English or should I say SOUTH Aussie English, till the bus arrived and he offered to help me with the children.

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Thankyou God!

seasons of home

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I thought it would be like an extended family holiday, away from it all, focusing on ourselves and growing as a family unit. I had no doubt about that when we moved to France. Afterall, we hardly even know the language. I knew we would make some friends, and that would be great, but I thought it would be just a minor part of our life.

But I was wrong.

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First,we made friends at work and church but then we started meeting school kids in the shops and walking down the streets. The men in the boulangerie smile when Kody and I get morning tea (not very frenchly of us) and correct my pronounciation. Tiggy writes and receives “letters” with her friends at school. My conversations with people have been more than superficial. We’ve been able to pray with and for friends.

This month we’ve had a few firsts: party invitations- 2 in one day, Kody and Ezra have had a few playdates, Tiggy played at a friends house for a few hours, we organised to invite another family from the school around in the holidays.

And this month Nathan started looking harder for work after we leave.

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Sometimes it hurts, I know our stay here is only temporary, I know many of the relationships we make are not going to last. Every time the children get invited somewhere, I know they will remember their time here fondly, but also with tears, just like they do New Zealand. I know in some ways it would be easier to keep our distance a little. But I can’t. For now this is their home. This is our home.

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And it’s hard work. Sometimes I want it to just be a great family European holiday. Oh to just be a tourist. To be honest, I resented Tiggy being invited to a friends house on my “forget-I’m-in–a-foreign-country-Saturday” But I still took her, because this is our home and those are our real friends.

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Sometimes we love it. I love hearing the children cheer France and Australia and New Zealand on in the Olympics, and any other country which happens to take their fancy. I love listening to the childrens friends after school. “à demain (see you tomorrow)”. I love being able to just chat with other mums outside school or over lunch, even if I do have to think hard about every sentence. I love listening to the older 2 kids talking in French as they play with the younger 2. because we belong here just as much as we don’t.

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This is our home for now and I love watching the colours of the river change through the seasons.

more than words

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    Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.

Antigone proudly says something to me in French. I ask her what it means she answers with a smile and a hug “It means ‘Do you love me?’” “Oui” I answer and smile back. And she dances off to repeat the phrase to Miles. 

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But Miles doesn’t answer. she questions him. “Why are you not saying anything?” and Miles, a little confused, responds “You just said ‘you’re my buddy’ I don’t have anything to say”

No longer dancing, Antigone comes, crying. Upset that she may have got it wrong. Upset that the kids at school maybe don’t love her after all. Upset that she might have sounded silly answering them when maybe they hadn’t even asked her a question.

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Both children had heard that phrase, had communicated with those words. Neither child has ever heard an English translation of those words, but both children had interpreted it themselves- differently. 

Antigone wants me to check what Google translate says on the issue, but I don’t. I kneel down to hug her and I try to explain something to her, because this is about far, far more than words.

To Antigone, younger, outgoing, transparent, who places great value on relationships and on being loved by others, the phrase was strong. “Do you LOVE me?” it not only showed that her friends care, it was also a question. It required a response. And it made her happy.

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To Miles, older, cautious, independent, it was a statement, “shallower” in a way, just a casual “you’re my buddy”. I’m sure he really appreciated it, but he didn’t feel a need to respond, It didn’t change him, it was just a nice fact.

I don’t know what the literal translation of the phrase is. In this case, I don’t think it matters. For now I think this phrase is about more than language, it’s about relationship. Antigone felt loved by what her friends said. It was special and she WANTED to respond, she wanted them to know she loved them too. I have no doubt that her “oui” was followed by a mutual hug and a few kisses on each cheek.

It makes me think more about what I hear.

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When Jesus says to me “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” What do I hear? Do I accept His love with dismissive caution, not really believing it, afraid of being hurt or maybe just not thinking about it at all. Or do I really listen? And understand? He loves me the way a father loves his child, more than that, the way a perfect father with unlimited love loves His perfect only Son. Think about it.

Miles and Tiggy relied on more than words to interpret what was said to them. The definition of the phrase was determined by the way it was said, who said it, who heard it, and how both friends responded. Unlike Tiggy with her friends, I don’t have to worry that maybe I misinterpret God’s love. God shows me His love in many ways. His words and actions make His love for me certain, if I listen well. Who Jesus is and the things He does proves and defines what He says.

If I do hear it right, if I do understand what He says to me, how can I help but respond when He asks “Do you LOVE me?” How can I help but “love Him because He first loved me.” How can I help but be changed “and even though I do not see him now, I believe in him and am filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy”

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