Friday, 30 September 2011

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A Date with my Daughter

Today the grand spoilers whisked off Owen (it's Matilda's turn on Thursday) leaving me to enjoy the first tête-à-tête I've had with my little girl for (erm, how old is Owen...?) We went to Béziers' snazzy new Médiathèque to read books and then went for icecream. Her choice. But it might as well have been my choice. I love my mini me.

I think it's important, and fun, to woo your children individually. It's such a different experience only being with one of them. Matilda and I really got to talk and obviously we discussed all the important questions of the day.

Me: Which is your favourite, chocolate or icecream?
Matilda: Er, icecream, no chocolate... oh, I don't know, it's too difficult!
Me: I know!

Bex's Bookshelves: end of summer round-up

No, I have not been struggling through War and Peace, I have just not been taking the trouble to record my reads. I don't have anything excessively intelligent or interesting to say about any of them and I failed to note any quotes but I do like to record all the books I read. So, since the beginning of our summer holidays I have read:

1. A Gathering Light, by Jennifer Donnelly
I have a snobby aversion to buzz books. I tend to read them about ten years after the buzz has died down. Sometimes I kick myself because they're brilliant (The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen) and then sometimes, as in this instance, I feel vindicated in my snobbishness. A Gathering Light, or I've Done My Research I Have, was nevertheless hard to believe. And the woman should be given a lifetime ban on using similes, metaphors and symbols. Sometimes things just are, ok!

2. Parrot and Olivier in America, by Peter Carey.
I'd already read and loved Oscar and Lucinda and The Illywhacker so when I saw my uncle reading this while staying at my parents' house I dropped lots of heavy hints until he asked me if I'd like him to leave it behind. Yes please. The subject of what happens to master/servant relations when the concepts no longer exist is an interesting one but it's not really a "deep" book. I didn't care, it's a rollicking good read. And if for nothing else, I love it because it allowed me to use the word rollicking.

3. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
Another buzz book studiously ignored. In the middle of our ongoing economic crisis I raided my mum and dad's bookshelves (again... I forgot to mention but A Gathering Light also came from the parentals) and chose this on the basis that the entire world seemed to have read it, except for me. It was good. A bit too didactic and I got bored by the tying up of the characters' lives at the end but it was well written. I'd definitely like to read some more of her work.

4. Behind the Scenes at the Museum, by Kate Atkinson
I bought this for Steph for her birthday because, despite my recent disastrous encounter with Ms Atkinson, I had very fond memories of this book. Rereading it, I did feel it had something of the glibness which so irritated me in Started Early, Took My Dog but the characters are affecting and the story feels horribly real. Ruby is a brilliant creation. She doesn't let you feel sorry for her but makes you care about her deeply. A reminder of how thoroughly we are shaped by our families.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Other people's grass

I have several bad habits, some of them worse than others. One of the worst is a tendency to look around at the lives of my friends and allow my little green-eyed monster free reign to chip away at my own sense of well-being. When Katie was here last week she mentioned a few times how lucky we are. I immediately thought of something another friend once said to me: that she thought her life looked better from the outside. And then I thought, maybe Katie's right and I'm just not appreciating all the good things I have. Or not enough. I think sometimes our lives can look better from the outside and equally, sometimes we don't see the value of what we've got. What we, or I, need to do rather than looking across at other people's grass is to go and lie down on their grass, take my shoes and socks off, make myself a daisy chain and admire my own grass.

It was reassuring to hear someone else praise my life. It made me feel better about myself. As if Fanf and I had actually built something rather than just stumbling around in the dark, having mini-beasts thrust in our direction. Then I thought, I should make a list of some of the things I admire about my friends' lives. And be proud of them, rather than envy them.

Katie: the amazing range of activities and skills which you have tried/are trying and have mastered/are mastering and your wonderfully full social life.

Jen: your security, your job satisfaction, your ability to be happy.

Nao: your success in all things theatre, I know you don't necessarily see it that way, but I do, and I know it will only continue with your PhD.

Alex: your ability to be happy, your all-round general loveliness.

MiK: your total engagement with life, and the way you always explore all your thoughts and impulses.

Ju: your engagement in your local community, your guts and determination in setting up your own business.

Obviously this is not an exhaustive list. And to balance it out, here is a list of some things that I appreciate about my life:

1. I live in an area of great and varied natural beauty, with vineyards as far as the eye can see...
2. I am surrounded by my extended family.
3. I live in a quartier where I know a lot of my neighbours.
4. I have lively, spirited children and a calm, accepting fella.
5. I have inspiring friends (see above).

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Joyeux Anniversaire Emile

Hooray. A trip out to the Lac de Vailhan to celebrate Emile's 8th birthday. The weather was glorious.

And then it wasn't.

So it was back to Anne and Pascal's for presents and (slightly soggy) cake. But the best cake is always (slightly soggy) cake.

When the sunshine came back we managed to get to the park. Here's them, all lined up and communing with the ducks:

And here's us, you don't often see us, all lined up and enjoying a child-free moment. Them were around. Somewhere. For any concerned readers, I promise we left the park accompanied by the same number of children with which we arrived.

A nice RTBC day. Although none of it made me as cheerful as switching on the laptop when we came home to find that Jen was online and available for our first ever Skype chat. I was so excited to see my dear friend's face and to manage the closest I've come so far to saying a proper hello to her delightful offsprung.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Greedy Bird Baking Enterprise #24 Lemon Drizzle Cake

I LOVE lemon. Capital letter and italicised love. I thought this was going to be total indulgence. Fanf doesn't like lemon and Matilda didn't like the last lemony thing I baked. O was uncharted territory but given that I'd doubled the amount of lemon, both in the cake and in the glaze, I was preparing to go it alone.


Matilda has decided she does like lemon and turns out (quelle surprise) so does Owen.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

(Mini) Greedy Bird Baking Enterprise #23 Chocolate Shortbread à la Matilda

With our favourite cake-making expert in residence (and a brand new apron, courtesy of aforementioned cake-making expert - thank you Katie) we could hardly not indulge in some baked chocolate yumminess. Matilda loved this recipe, which involved getting mucky, some good hard pounding, much prodding with a fork and Smarties.

O went completely mad for his sister's shortbread, scrounging for crumbs on the floor. He's a mini greedy bird in the making my little O.

In other news, today in school Matilda made "jus de raisin". The French clearly like to set their young citizens on the right path early.

Sunday, 18 September 2011


... I'm in heaven.

And so is my daughter.

Huge big-tummed thanks to Katie who arrived today bearing essential supplies.

Culture or Cookies...?

Back in the good old, young, free and single days, when Bex's life was all about Bex, I used to be something of a culture vulture. My idea of a good time was to head to the big city (fair London town or gai Paris) for a day of cull-cha. A gallery, a film and a play. Or a museum and two plays. Or, once, three films in one day. Resulting in the worst headache I have ever had in my life.

The closest I get to culture nowadays is listening to Front Row on Radio 4. And that always makes me a bit sad. But this weekend is the Journées Européenes de Patrimoine. A huge cultural event which sees France, and other Europeen countries (though not the UK) open their doors, for free, to all kinds of cultural and heritage sites. So yesterday was going to be a day to release the vulture from its playpen. Only it wasn't.

The day started with a trip to the swimming pool, which had just reopened for the new school year. We met up there with Vic, Tom and Theo. Vic and I are in a newly-established and highly exclusive mother and baby group of two, well, five if you count Matilda, Owen and Theo. And I suppose you probably should count them. Here are Vic and Theo:

After the swim Tom had to go to work so we invited Vic and Theo back for lunch.

At this point, still a whole afternoon left for culturalnulism. But it suddenly struck us, wouldn't it be nice to pop over and see the Stephs. To bring Vic and Theo along to meet some new people. To relax in the Stephs' lovely garden while the kids chase around Benny Hill style. So, revelling in our ludditism, we packed everyone into the car and headed off.

I love days like yesterday that just sort of happen, without anything being planned. And turns out we were quite right to go to the Stephs because Steph made us cookies.

For anyone in any doubt then, the answer to my title question: cookies.

I also spent the day having fun with the camera recently donated to us by lovely generous Uncle Ben. The results (the more presentable ones):

Yes, those are O's legs waggling up top there.

And a little video, showing that O is capable of loving every bit as fiercely as his big sister. In fact, his urge to hug Theo is mildly obsessive.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Taming the Matildabeast

Methods are many and various, some work, some don't. Here's a couple that have been working of late. Hooray for that.

1. Use your imagination, or lie.

Following five minutes of whining. The kind of whining that's like keening, only less screechy. And all because we didn't walk on the right side of the street. She was lagging several feet behind.

Me: Matilda, please stop whining.
More whining.
Me: What's the matter?
No response. More whining.
Me: I can only assume you're very tired and we need to go home rather than go to the park.
... more whining.
Me: Oh my goodness, look, there's an elephant dancing. In a pink dress.
Immediate stop to whining.
Me: Quickly, come here and look. Quick.
The patter of tiny feet.
Matilda: Where, where?
Me: Oh no, you missed her. She headed off into the mountains.
Matilda (holding her hand over her eyes and surveying the horizon): I can see her. She has a pretty pink dress. Let's go to park, quick, she'll be there perhaps.
Me: Ok.
No more whining.

Is this approach good? Bad? Conducive to the healthy growth of a keen young mind? Don't know. But it works.

2. Mummy says...

At the moment Matilda rarely does anything without an enormous fuss. The simplest request is often greeted with tears of rage and flat refusal. The other day, I don't know why, desperation probably, I started to tell her to do silly things: Matilda touch your nose, Matilda flap your arms, Matilda stick your tongue out. And she did. She thought it was funny. So did I. I've tried it a couple of times and it always stops the tantrum dead in its tracks. And then we can continue with the real orders. Matilda clean you teeth. Matilda put your t-shirt on.

Agnès told me tantrums are simply a question of a build-up of nervous energy which needs to be released. This is why children can explode over what can seem like such tiny meaningless things. This makes sense to me. Whenever Matilda is having a tantrum I get the feeling that she is just screaming to scream, to let it all out. I understand this. If I can direct that energy elsewhere, into imagination or laughter, then so much the better. Sometimes I can't and then everyone just grumps around until the storm has passed.

Anyone got any tips on relatively painfree tantrum management? Any advice most gratefully received.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

(Mini) Greedy Bird Baking Enterprise #22 Carrot Cupcakes with Orange Zest


Even though I got the recipe a bit wrong. So what should have been carrot cupcakes with orange zest were more ZESTY ORANGEY ORANGE have some ORANGE with your ORANGE ZESTFUL ORANGINESS... oh and some carrot cupcake. Following previous bakers' advice I replaced half the sunflower oil with freshly squeezed orange juice (more healthy, more moist) and then, failing to read the instructions correctly, rather than saving half the zest from my two gigantic mutant oranges for decoration I gaily chucked it all into the mix. But who cares. They were yum to the tum. I attempted to make some cream cheese icing but it never works with the French cream cheese. It does make quite a nice sauce though, which I then liberally dribbled over my cupcake, my plate, my spoon, my tongue...

If you want the recipe, you can find it here:

In other news, Matilda spent the day carrying around a naked Action Man wrapped in a nappy "because he was cold". And O is clearly saying mummy and daddy. Well, papa and maman, but I know what he means.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Food glorious food

Radishes and baguette dipped in melted camembert. With a glass of rouge.

Simple, delish, Saturday night fare. The radishes make it healthy.

No photo. Who has time for a photo when there is camembert melting before your very tastebuds?

Thoughts of my beloved Nao...

Friday, 9 September 2011

Strong by name, strong by nature

Yesterday Matilda returned home from school with a bite mark on her back. Not just teeth marks, some little bugger had actually broken the skin and made her bleed. Part of me reared up on my hind legs, beat my chest and madly hunted around for the miserable creature that had dared hurt my first born. A saner, more reasonable part of me (luckily the part with control over voice function) reassured the extremely embarrassed maîtresse that these things happen. Which they do. But it had bloody well better not happen again.

Matilda seemed rather sanguine about the whole affair at first but this morning when I went to rouse her from her bed she didn't want to get up. She said she didn't want the little boy to bite and hit her so she wasn't going to school. I told her I understood, I wouldn't feel much like going back if someone had taken a bite out of me. I suggested we go and talk to the maîtresse together to make sure it didn't happen again. She got ready for school without a fuss. When we arrived I took her over to the maîtresse, hoping a little chat would reassure her. I launched in but Matilda dashed off to join the other kids. I felt like a bit of a numpty for bringing the subject up again as clearly she had overcome her fear.

So, my RTBC today: my Matilda is a strong, confident, happy little girl. And it'll take more than some rabid pre-schooler to curb her spirit. I am most proud.

When I picked her up at lunchtime I asked her how school had been and she said: "It was good. The little boy didn't eat me."

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

(Mini) Greedy Bird Baking Enterprise #21 macadamia nut white chocolate crumbles

Well, firstly them there's not macadamia nuts, they're almonds. Nary a macadamia nut to be found in the fair town of Béziers. But I like almonds. Full of iron, almonds are. There is no school in France on Wednesdays so I've decided that Wednesday should be 'Mummy and Matilda bake up some yummy fatness' day. One week in, I'm not going to be too cocky about how we'll fare with this resolution.

In other news, the shoes arrived. They are the best shoes in the world ever. Apparently.

I don't know why I'm being all mocking and cool about it. I think they're the best shoes in the world ever too.

And if you're thinking doesn't this look like a nice day... it wasn't. O has been refusing to eat anything except yoghurts and fruit for about a week, and I'm being driven increasingly insane trying to come up with a savoury dish he'll even let touch his lips. Matilda is just... uuururguhghgruhghurhgur ruh. Let's put it down to school but everything is a crisis in her little world right now, the mildest request a gross imposition on her right to be Matilda. And I have had a headache since Sunday.

A blog can make things look pretty, when they're not.

Monday, 5 September 2011

School, the verdict: "It was a nice day"

Phew. I will not have to eat my words. There were no tears, no fuss, no problem. Armed with Flash McQueen on and in the rucksack Matilda took her first day at school in her stride.

When I arrived to pick her up she smiled in my direction and merrily carried on playing.

When I asked the teacher how the morning had gone she informed me that Matilda never sits still and is continually picking up things and exploring. Unless I am very much mistaken she intended this as a mild criticism. Ok, maybe I am deluded and Matilda is abnormal but I don't know many two-year olds who are skilled at stasis and I like to encourage curiosity. The teacher was quick to reassure me that Matilda will soon learn to sit still and behave. I'm sure she will. And hopefully her teacher will learn to be a tad more positive and encouraging.

To be fair, I imagine the first day of school is quite stressful for the teachers. Matilda wasn't crying but quite a lot of the other kids were, so I will withhold judgement.

Other than losing my gruntle a little bit with the teacher, I am happy and very proud. When I asked Matilda if she wanted to go to schoool again tomorrow, she looked at me as if I'd asked a silly question. Of course she wants to go again.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Romance lives

I know what love looks like.

Yesterday Fanf and I were invited by Helke to a surprise 40th birthday party for Stéphane at a little restaurant by the beach. Only sur-priiiiise!... it wasn't really a 40th birthday party. After the main course Helke stood up to make a speech. I approve. I like women that make speeches. She then asked Stéphane, in front of their two children, and everyone else gathered, to marry her. I approve. I like women that propose. She then told us that if we would just give them ten minutes to get changed the wedding would be taking place on the beach, if we'd be so kind as to join them.

The look on Stéphane's face, I will never forget.

What a beautiful, exciting, courageous, personal, romantic wedding.

And the cake was yum to the tum as well.

(Sorry for the terrible picture, I only had my phone to capture the moment.)