Thursday, 28 April 2011

Bex's Bookshelves: How to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

As I have mentioned before, I am not one for reading parenting manuels. I prefer to get on with it and listen to my instincts. However, I came across this book in several different contexts and decided that maybe I should make an exception. That maybe I am not so instinctively brilliant that I couldn't do with a bit of helpful guidance.

The book was great, partly because it agreed with my instincts. Partly because it's just so clear and down to earth. The first chapter on listening skills all seemed familiar to me from my years with the Samaritans. But I wouldn't necessarily have thought of applying those skills to my kids. So that was the first revelation. I think I have fostering autonomy pegged, "toute seule" is Matilda's mantra. Although as one parent pointed out it's nice for kids to know that they don't always have to manage on their own it's ok to ask for help and it's nice to have adults do things for you sometimes. I feel the same way!

The chapter on praise was also an eye-opener. According to the authors, words that evaluate, like good, beautiful, fantastic, are unhelpful. They suggest it is better to describe what you see and what you feel, be as specific as possible. And give the praiseworthy behaviour a name. They like giving things names. As a lover of words, I like this too. I can't get rid of my goods and brilliants, they come too naturally to me, but I am trying to go further and give more engaging praise. And I do think that Matilda appreciates it.

The final chapter on freeing children from playing roles made me think about my own childhood and how many of the labels I put on myself now: clumsy, untechnical, impatient come from things that were said to me growing up. (Ok, ok, there might also be a grain of truth in some of them...) I already have labels for Matilda and Owen, positive and negative, stubborn, charming, nice, weird, I don't think it's possible to avoid labelling people, it's how we arrange things in our heads. But I will beware of defining my children by their labels.

I think the application of the principles the book extols will be more useful as the mini-beasts get older. Problem-solving through discussion is not something I think I could do with Matilda yet although describing the problem and letting Matilda find the solution works. Rather than telling her to stop mauling Owen, taking things from Owen, carting Owen about I have started saying "Owen doesn't like it when you pull his arms", "Owen isn't happy because you've taken away his Marsupilami", "Owen doesn't like it when you try and sweep him up with the dustpan and brush" or simply "Owen is crying" and she usually does whatever needs to be done to fix things. I realised after a couple of attempts at leaping in too soon that I need to give her time to do the right thing. That said, with a two year old, safety considerations sometimes mean that you can't wait for them to find the solution to the problem, not if you want to avoid a trip to A&E.

Here, courtesy of Michaela, is a photo of me trying to put my skills into action when Matilda didn't want to leave the park just because mummy had randomly decided it was time to go home. It's hard being two.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

An open window

When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window. So says Julie Andrews. I'm not a great believer in the Lord, but I am a firm believer in Ms. Andrews. Simon's blog Tough Cookies has shut up shop. Sob. But lo and behold this morning I discovered Bayberry Moonrise, a brand spanking new blog from the incisive and hilarious Ju. So that's very exciting.

I am also aglow today after having spent Easter with the lovely Katie. I can't think of anything to say about Katie that wouldn't sound trite and gushing so I'll settle for (in the immortal words of Danny Dog - sorry we're steeped in Peppa Pig in the Canteau-Pilbeam hovel): brilliant.

Owen tried strawberries. Mostly as facepaint but I think some went in his mouth.

And as if that weren't enough to see my daily cup runneth over, I also received this in the post:

In fact I received two of this. Thank you Jen! So now I can finally make that tasty looking recipe for Christmas Chinese Chocolate Cookies you sent me.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Friday in photos: the window cage

Simon recently asked on his blog for ideas on how to occupy mini-beasts. Easy: a window cage. We had the good fortune to buy a house with window cages already in place. Hours of endless fun. Especially if, like us, you happen to live next to a school.

Actually, Simon came up with the much less silly, much more salutary option of bird watching. Although I think people watching is also a great pastime.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Happiness is...

Today, in a rare moment of peaceful reflection, I realised I love being a stay at home mum right now. I love it so much I haven't seriously worried about what to do when school comes along for a while. And I think this is probably a state of mind to keep and savour. I want to enjoy my stay at home mumness, it's brilliant. I get to share in all the fun of being a kid during the day, and all the fun of being an adult at night. I'll have plenty of time to worry about being miserable and unemployed when I am. If I may blow my own little rusty trumpet, just for a second, people are always telling me how polite, bright, beautiful (ok, I don't have much to do with that) and friendly my children are. Several people told me today. I am with my kids practically all the time so, if I may be so bold, I take a lot of credit for that. Of course none of this would be possible without the wonder that is Fanf. Together we are a parenting powerhouse. Or at the very least a Tuscan villa.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Bex's Bookshelves: Hetty Dorval, by Ethel Wilson

This is another Persephone book that I bought with a thoughtful gift voucher sent to me by Jen. I chose it because it's by a Canadian author. I loved it. Fresh and interesting, about how our pespective changes as we grow up and how we interact with those around us. Hetty, who does not like people to "complicate" her life, is fascinating. As is the narrator, Frankie's journey from starry-eyed teenager to a strong young woman. What I like so much about the book is Wilson's refusal to judge. Frankie recognises that there is something pure about Hetty and the way she chooses to live her life. I don't feel that the reader is meant to condemn Hetty for her choice not to conform.

I had many, many quotes noted down. I'll limit myself to one which sums up the book:

"She endeavoured to island herself in her own particular world of comfort and irresponsibility. ('I will not have my life complicated.') But 'No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe' said Mother's poet three hundred years ago, and Hetty could not island herself, because we impinge on each other, we touch, we glance, we press, we touch again, we cannot escape. 'No man is an Iland.' Who touched me?"

And so Uncle Ben knows that he has not islanded himself either, here is another little film. We all think about you Benj, all the time.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

"Michaela c'est really nice"

Thus spake Matilda this morning. And tis true. If the posts have been a bit text light this is because we have had the vivacious, audacious, loquacious, gracious and, in the privacy of our own friendship, amusingly salacious Michaela testing out our new guest bedroom. We laughed, we drank wine, we talked, we drank wine, we walked, we drank wine, we consumed inordinate amounts of chocolate, we drank wine. The best thing about seeing friends is that no matter how brilliant you think they are, seeing them always reminds you that they are just that bit more brilliant than you remember.

Anyway, here she is enjoying a Titanic moment with Matilda.

And here she is enjoying biscuits with the wind and the sun in her hair.

And here are her long lithe legs as they trail round endlessly after my keen to walk son. Those legs just ran the Paris marathon don't know you!

Monday, 18 April 2011


I don't often give parenting tips. But here's one: balloons. Always keep a bag in the house. Our current bag was kindly donated by Uncle Ben. And here, in his honour, and featuring his balloons, at his request, another little video.

Permanent disclaimer on all videos now and to come: no little brothers were hurt, badly, in the making of the film.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

For Uncle Ben x

Ben, I love you all the way to Guatemala and back for giving me an excuse to post random videos of the mini-beasts :) I promise there will be more to follow...

Friday, 15 April 2011

Bex's Bookshelves: The hand that first held mine, by Maggie O'Farrell

Ju gave me this book for my birthday. I'm so used to reading high-falutin', "I am writer, see me write" novels (which I love) that at first I was a bit taken aback by the clear fluid prose and the relatively normal story about relatively normal people. I missed the larger than life, eccentric oddbods that inhabit the pages of the tomes I usually read, and found it hard to feel attached to the characters. I also found some aspects of the plot hard to swallow. But I did enjoy O'Farrell's ability to capture the normal. Even if I didn't feel much attachment to the characters I could understand them. And O'Farrell understands human nature and emotion and describes both in a way that rings true. Her depiction of motherhood was sometimes a little too true for comfort!

A couple of quotes:

"She considers getting a ruler or a wooden spoon and hooking out all these things [from under her sofa] - she would if she were properly interested in keeping a nice house. But she isn't. There are better things to do with your life. If only she could remember what they are."

"Elina has said she doesn't understand why people dress babies only in white and pastels. She loathes pastels, Ted knows: the diluted cousins of real colour, she calls them, claims they make her teeth ache."

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Blighty ahoy

Yes, we're off to the Motherland. Excited doesn't even begin to cover it. Owen's playing it cool but he's excited too. My brother and his lovely lady have the excellent good sense to live on the outskirts of my beloved Oxford, I can't wait to take the mini-beasts to all my favourite haunts. And just soak up some Englishness with them. I foresee Cream tea. I love England, I probably love it more now I don't live there and it's really important to me that I share my love with Matilda and Owen.

Most of all though, I can't wait to hang out with my little bro and for him to have time with his nephew and niece. Dan and I shared a house together on the outskirts of Oxford back in the day. That was a good day.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

More odds and sods

I find myself strangely uninspired. Not that I don't have a million little reasons to be cheerful every day, but every day they are the same million little reasons and sometimes I feel rather self-conscious about just posting up random drivel. But anyway, a small selection of random everyday drivelling RTBCs.

1. It's hot. Hot means no socks. No socks means bare feet and no socks to wash. More precisely no socks to hang out to dry. Is not hanging socks out to dry one of the most tedious household tasks?
2. Owen is brilliant. He swing about the furniture like some miniature house-bound Tarzan, he climbs the stairs, he chatters and shouts and giggles and never shuts up, he rocks like a crazy person to any music I put on, and sometimes just to the music in his head and he still has that smile. The most amazing smile.
3. I have been asked to edit our local quartier's journal. It makes me feel like a proper person sitting down in front of my laptop and working.
4. Matilda's singing, particularly incy wince pider.
5. Fanf
6. Matilda and Owen. And the way they love each other. Fiercely. I'm not sure they'll both make it to adulthood. Or even next week.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Thursday, 7 April 2011


At the moment life is nice and mellow around here. We went to Anne and Pascal's on Saturday and they gave Matilda some old jigsaws. Jigsaws are my new favourite thing. I've always loved jigsaws and happily it turns out Matilda loves jigsaws too. They keep her quiet for ages! We've also played boardgames, done some painting, read books, made a birthday card, practised catching and throwing, sung songs, had cuddles while watching Peppa Pig and rolled around on the bed being silly. It feels like this is what being a stay at home mum should be about.

We've also had tantrums, clonked heads, renegade wee, raspberry-propelled food, runny noses and many hot little tears. Which is what being a parent is about whether you stay at home, go out to work, or shut yourself a darkened room chanting Om (Jen ;).

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Potty Wars

I love how independent Matilda is and her independence is starting to help in the slog to go from nappies to knickers. This morning she informed me that she was going upstairs to do a wee, "toute seule, stay there mummy". Nervously, I agreed and let her go. A couple of minutes later she reappeared. I asked her if she'd washed her hands. Ah, no! She disappeared again upstairs. I heard scrapings (presumably her stool being moved to the sink), water gushing, more scrapings, strange and unsettling noises that I was unable to identify. After a rather longer period she reappeared again and informed me that she had not only washed her hands but cleaned her teeth. Brilliant, I said. What's the damage? I thought.

I mounted the stairs with trepidation to find the bathroom looking like this:

Notice anything? No me neither! There's a little bit of toilet roll unravelling going on next to the toilet but other than that it all looks pretty clean. No mess, no flooding, nothing broken. The stool, which I'd heard being scraped across the floor, has been neatly tidied away in its usual place. I can't be sure about what exactly brushing the teeth entailed but there was definite evidence of toothpaste in the vicinity of the mouth.

So a major breaththrough in the potty wars.

We also received a mighty battle weapon in the post this morning. Peppa Pig knickers from the grandspoilers in Blighty. There was much rejoicing.

Monday, 4 April 2011

You know when...

It's happened to us all. Today it happened to me. I found 25 euros tucked into my purse. And I found a 10 euro money off voucher for the supermarket. As I don't remember where either of these little gifts came from I consider that I have "won" 35 euros. That's quite a lot in my world.

Here's a picture of what I would buy if I had a lot of money.

And this.

And maybe this.

Although no money in the world can buy you this.

[I do realise that I cannot buy any of the above but I don't like to muddy my fantasies with realism.]

Sunday, 3 April 2011

(Mini) Greedy Bird Baking Enterprise #18 Jam Thumb-Prints

I finally managed to get round to doing a recipe from the lovely The Great British Book of Baking that Katie gave me. I decided to go for a child-friendly (rubbish baker-friendly) recipe. These were brilliant to make with Matilda. She enjoyed:

1. Getting her hands into the dough.
2. Squishing her thumb into each cake.
3. Plopping the jam into her thumbprint.
4. Licking the excess jam off the spoon, her thumb, any item that sustained collateral jam damage.
5. When she thought I wasn't looking, eating great spoonfuls of jam* direct from the jar.
6. The fact that the cakes were made and cooked within about 30 minutes. Instant results. I liked this too.

*We used Mamilo's homemade apple and quince jam so I understand her fixation.

The thumb prints in the book looked all neat and tidy. Ours looked like this:

But they were most exceeding yum.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Bex's Bookshelves: The Museum of Innocence, by Orhan Pamuk

I was quite excited when my aunt gave me this book for Christmas. A new author. A Nobel prize winning author. A big hunk of a book (over 700 pages). But.

It is the story of the wealthy socialite Kemal's obsession with a poor distant relation, Füsun. Call me unromantic, but obsessive love is a subject that leaves me cold. For me it has nothing to do with romance or love, nothing to do even with the object of that obsession. A shame in this instance, as I found myself far more interested in Füsun than Kemal. But sadly she remains a rather shadowy figure. The writing is good (in translation) and the evocation of life in Istanbul is vivid and fascinating. I admire the ambition of the novel, and if obsessive love is a subject that grips you then I doubt you could find a much better examination of its pathology but it's simply not my tasse de thé.

I do thank Pamuk for introducing me to Aristotle's theory of Time, which is a recurrent theme in the book. I like Kemal's interpretion of the theory and his decisions to live his life for the "moments".

"In Physics Aristotle makes a distinction between Time and the single moment he describes as the "present". Single moments are - like Aristotle's atoms - indivisible, unbreakable things. But time is the line that links these indivisible moments. ... A person can only try to be happy and forget Time, and this we all do."

"My life has taught me that remembering Time - that line connecting all the moments that Aristotle called the present - is for most of us a rather painful business ... As we get older and come to the realization that this line per se has no real meaning - a sense that comes to us cumulatively in intimations we struggle to ignore - we are brought to sorrow. But sometimes these moments we call the "present" can bring us enough happiness to last a century, as they did if Füsun smiled..."

Perhaps it's like looking after your pennies. If you look after the moments then Time will look after itself.