Friday, 30 March 2012

Not only, but also


A couple of conversations that made me smile yesterday.

Me: Let's tidy up the Lego.
Matilda, sitting astride the bannister: Knights don't rangent [tidy up]. Knights go only on horses.
Me: Do knights not play with Lego?
Matilda: A little bit.
Me: So, are you coming to tidy up Sir Matilda?
Matilda: Yes.

After both she and Owen splashed water all over the table by punching their fists up and down in their glasses.
Matilda: Sorry it was an accident.
Me: It was not, you did it on purpose.
Matilda: I'm sorry that it was on purpose. There was plenty of purpose.


I am trying to give Owen a bit more space. It's difficult to walk the right line regarding safety. How much supervision is enough without being smothering? How little supervision is sufficient without being negligent? I err on the side of danger, children need a bit of danger. I think the best way to make a child responsible is to trust them. So now I let Owen and Matilda go upstairs on their own to play (hope Fanf doesn't read this, I know he doesn't wholly approve). And I have started to leave Owen downstairs on his own when I have my shower. We have never baby-proofed our house, I hate the very idea, the minibeasts know what they can and can't touch. I usually stick some music or a story on (so I won't hear the screams...) and leave him to it. Earlier in the week I came down freshly abluted to find him sitting in the armchair just listening to the CD and today I found him like this:

On the sofa, surrounded by books and flipping through the pages. That's my boy.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

(Mini) Greedy Bird Baking Enterprise: Lemon Drizzle Cake

Matilda wanted to make lemon drizzle cake today. I know this because when I said to her: "Mmmmmm, lemon drizzle cake. I love lemon drizzle cake, it's so yummy. Do you want to make lemon drizzle cake today?", she said yes. So I know it's what she really wanted. As far as I'm concerned lemon drizzle cake is like carrot cake, you can never try out too many recipes trying to find THE ONE. How lucky I am that my daughter is so discerning (and suggestible).

Last time, I tried out Tana Ramsay's recipe that everyone raved about on the BBC Good Food website. But good as it was, there was definitely tummy room for improvement. Today we tried Linda Collister's recipe from The Great British Book of Baking.

The recipe states "Serve cut into thick slices". Yes! All you "Just a sliver-ers ~ Oh, juste un petit bout-ers ~ I'll just have a mouthful of yours-ers" out there, Linda Collister and I are on to you. Have cake or don't have cake. But if you're going to have it, HAVE IT, alright? I can't bear half-hearted, weak-kneed cake munchers.

Rant over.

You're bored. You want to know if it was any good. There was much anticipation.

And then there were second helpings (Owen), third helpings (Matilda) and undisclosed gluttony (me).

I wouldn't like to say it's THE ONE. To be honest I don't really believe in THE ONE. But for me it is the Fanf of all Lemon Drizzle Cakes. There might be other brilliant recipes out there; but I've found the one I'm happy with.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

A Cadbury's Caramel kind of a day

When it comes to filling our days with activities my eyes are bigger than my tummy. I woke up this morning feeling stressed because I wasn't sure how I was going to fit in all the fun things I had planned. Barmy, right?

So I decided that although the Mini GBBE usually takes place on a Wednesday, it wouldn't kill me to bake tomorrow. Or not. And maybe rather than getting out every single piece of art material we own I could let the minibeasts play together and I could take my time making lunch rather than racing around the kitchen like Jamie Oliver on speed trying to sort the paintbrushes whilst chopping pepper. I grandly announced to Fanf this morning that I was going to take it easy. "C'est bien, ma chérie, tu mûris." About time.

What is more, once I had pootled around making lunch I abandonned all formal activities to dance along with the minibeasts to the Disney CD Vic kindly gave us. I even danced along to It's a Small World. I love Disney but It's a Small World is a spoonful of sugar too much. And yet I danced, because that's the kind of mum I am. Totally dedicated to my kids' pleasure*.

The reason I had originally hoped to cram baking into the morning (which I've done before, and it does feel like a cram) was that I had planned to go to the beach at Valras this afternoon. This we did. The grandspoilers joined us for the first time ever and gamely occupied my water-crazed minibeasts. It was gloriously easy.

*Actually, like most other objects in our house, the CD player is dying a slow death and whenever I try to skip a track it just downs tools altogether. Hence submitting myself to Disney's chirpy melodic brainwashing. Now please excuse me as I rush out to purchase Bambi.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Warm feet, cold floor

I do not like hot. I hate hot. Today it is 24 degrees. Not hot hot, but the merciless south of France heat has started its slow blaze. Not only do I hate the heat but because my mind has never really escaped the academic year the summer signals the end of things for me. And when I sense the hot summer arriving I generally start to feel depressed. Languid and sedentary, listless and sticky. I don't like it, I tell you. I don't like it. What is more, despite another "ending" being round the corner this is yet another year which will draw to a close without change. And currently my stasis, my failure to embark on new beginnings for a new year, is combined with the heartache echos of having to change schools, finish a university course, leave a beloved city.

The sun is beating in at my open windows, the summer is coming and I am a bit miserable about it.

But this blog is not called Reasons to be Miserable so here's something I like about the summer heat: bare feet on my beautiful tile floor. I removed my socks today and the cool chill relief made me sigh.

It's not all bad, is it?

Friday, 23 March 2012

No couch potatoes here

Until last week we had downtime after lunch, when O slept, Matilda watched the demon gogglebox (well, a DVD) and I had just a small but important moment for myself. I could read, I could tap out a blog post, I could phone my fellow stay at home mums, I could write letters and emails, I could clean and tidy (I never actually did this, but I could have done). But this week Matilda has decided that she doesn't want to watch her DVDs anymore. She wants to play games with me, or read, or paint, or build lego. With me.


And at the same time...


Thursday, 22 March 2012

More amuséement for a rainy day

Rain again. I had planned to cart the minibeasts to the Médiathèque but a last remaining brain cell prompted me to check the opening hours, and the Médiathèque is closed on a Thursday. So I decided to cart everyone in the opposite direction to the Musée du Biterrois. I'm slightly ashamed to say today was my first visit, especially as it was rather good. I learnt a sum total of bugger all about Béziers. In fact, had gone hoarse and had a pounding head by the time we left due to a constant stream of "Don't touch that - Get down/out/off from up/under/on top of there - Don't run!" But there was lots of fun stuff to look at and both Matilda and Owen seemed to enjoy themselves. I like to think they absorbed some history and culture by osmosis.

Highlights for the minibeasts included:

1. A model of a Roman Villa. Matilda: "I'd like a house like that". Would you now?

2. A model of the Neuf Écluses with tiny working locks. They'd still be there now if they had their way.

3. A giant skull. I don't know of what animal. I told you, I learnt bugger all.

4. A car belonging to "Le Plus Jeune Chauffeur du Monde": a four-year old boy. Who? Don't know. When? Don't know. Not a thing, I tell you.

And lastly a message from my sponsor.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

(Mini) Greedy Bird Baking Enterprise: Black and White Biscuits

An offering for an afternoon chez les cousins (thank you Linda Collister's Easy Baking). Packed with oats (and the odd dark chocolate chunk), these are practically health food. Unlike last time, Steph did not keep the leftovers. Because there weren't any.

It was a rainy day. An incredibly rare occurence down the Mediterranean way. I haven't checked this, but apparently it hasn't rained here since November! I think I would have gone mad (madder) long ago if I was trying to be a stay at home mum somewhere I was forced to actually stay at home. My sanity level rises or falls in direct proportion to the number of minutes a day spent out of the house. I am constantly on the lookout for RTBCs that I live in Béziers... I need look no further.

The Stephs' house is bigger and has more stuff and more children than ours, so it is our first port of call in a storm. The kids threw themselves into that perfect rainy day activity: dressing up. Matilda informed Fanf over the phone tonight that she dressed up as a knight and as a princesse. Note the use of language here. She always says princess in French. I'll be honest, initially she was dressed up as a knight and she wasn't happy about it.

And swiftly exchanged costumes for the princesse.

But photos only tell part of the story, watch this and then tell me that my daughter's not a knight at heart.

Two swords, folks.

So proud.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Hello Spring!

Nothing - NOTHING - gives me more pleasure at the moment than O's hello. I think he sounds a bit like a muppet. Uncle Dan thinks this is a good thing. Whatever he sounds like, his cheery greeting always makes me smile.

To mark the beginning of spring - hello spring! - and in honour of O and his sunny outlook I have compiled Owen's Brief Guide to Life, containing all the wisdom of his one and a half years.

1. Always say hello as if you were greeting your best friend.
2. Always say please. With a funny accent is best. Make 'em laugh.
3. Play by your own rules. And if all you want to do is throw the dice, then throw away.

4. Enjoy simple pleasures.
5. Laugh along with yourself.

6. This above all: to thine Owen self be true,
And it must follow, that charm will win the day,
Thou canst not then be unloved by any man,
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Bex's Bookshelves: back from the grave

I know I said I would leave you in peace regarding my adventures in literature but I have just finished The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories and it was something of a revelation to me. A literary revelation is always a RTBC.

I have never been a reader of short stories but this book was a Christmas present from my Aunt Lindsay and Uncle Jacques, so on principle I had to read it. And thank goodness for principles, because I loved it. Almost all the stories were brilliant, but what I loved the most was not knowing what was waiting for me whenever I opened up the book. I knew many of the authors but even so I felt like I was reading blind, which was rather exciting. No expectations, only surprizes.

The one that struck the most personal chord was To Room Nineteen by Doris Lessing. First published in 1963, it begins with the "logical" decision of a happily married woman to give up her career and stay at home to raise her children. The story dissects her subsequent disintegration which ends in suicide. Some of the feelings expressed in the story were frighteningly close to how I feel at odd moments. Don't worry, this is not a cry for help, I do not feel suicidal. The difference being precisely that I have chosen to be a stay at home mum, and my decision was personal rather than logical. It was bizarrely reassuring to me to find my darker feelings shared. But I am so grateful to have had a choice. Although I imagine the day to day trials and tribulations of dealing with children have always been roughly the same, the strength we have to deal with them is greater because, the world and its ineffable ways notwithstanding, as twenty-first century women we have much greater control over our life choices.

Of course the real RTBC here, in the aftermath of the Proust debacle (no, I did not buy A la recherche du temps perdu), is that I have changed my mind about short stories. I am not an idiot. Hooray.

Anyone got any good short stories to recommend?

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Normal service resumed

We got back from an unplanned trip to the Vendée yesterday for Fanf's grandpère's funeral. And today, after the excitement of all seven cousins under one roof (and all but one sleeping in the same bedroom) we returned to our little lives. It's grey and everyone's just a bit flagada so I decided to try and make us some comforting pudding. Chocolate Brownie Cake. I have a history of abject failure with brownies. I thought maybe a cake would be better. And the many comments on the recipe definitely stated that it was meant to be squidgy and collapsed in the middle.

And squidgy and collapsed it was. And a mess. What is it with me and brownies? Why don't they like me? [Thinks] Believe it or not I was a Brownie in my wild youth. A renegade Brownie. I used to steal beans I hadn't earned. I used to sneak out of the Brownie hut as soon as Wise Owl's back was turned. I had one badge. For drama. For performing the blasted heath, hubble bubble toil and trouble scene from Macbeth. I survived six months and left before they had a chance to suggest I might feel more at home elsewhere. A zoo, perhaps. Is this my comeuppance? Wayward Brownies out there beware, thou shalt ne'er make good baked chocolate squares hereafter.

Normally in our housebarelyholdingtogether pudding is yoghurt or fruit. I can't not do pudding. I just can't. But I hereby make a resolution that every Sunday I am going to try and make a real, proper not good for the heart or the pocket pudding.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Matilda and the Amazing Technicolor Nana Knit

Another fantastic Nana Wendy knit that I felt deserved a post of its own.

An action shot.

Accessorized with a little brother.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Greedy Bird Birthday Cake

Yesterday we had all the family round to celebrate my birthday. We... oh who cares what we did, I want to talk to you about cake. Normally when I make cake I take into consideration the tastes of those who will be consuming the cake. The one time when I can really be selfish is my own birthday. I don't care if anyone else likes the cake. Indeed, it is perhaps most devoutly to be wished that no one else likes the cake. Bearing this in mind, I decided to hunt down a recipe for Parsnip Cake, which I tried once years ago and loved. I found this recipe for Parsnip and Maple Syrup Cake, which sounded like a spiritual experience in the making for me. Actually the making was an olfactory delight. The cake contains parsnip, apple, mixed spice and orange (zest and juice), so the smells just as I was preparing the mix were amazing. Then the odours warmed and swelled as the cake baked in the oven. And the taste... hmmm-mmmm, delish.

In my haste to taste the cake I forgot to take a photograph before cutting. But here it is:

The recipe states that Parsnip Cake is the new Carrot Cake. What nonsense. The world and my tummy are big enough for both.

In other news, not that I want to gloat about how wonderful my fella is, but - what to do? - he is! On Friday night he took me on a surprise visit to the theatre at Béziers' most innovative performance space, Sortie Ouest.

We saw Copies (A Number) by Caryl Churchill. I felt smug because I saw and enjoyed the original production in London, with Michael "Dumbledore" Gambon and Daniel "Bond" Craig. I also enjoyed the French version. I love Caryl Churchill and A Number is a great play that explores identity, grief, the nature vs nuture debate, the ethics of cloning, but most simply and powerfully the father-son relationship.

Here are some quotes I like:

War's one of those things, don't you think, where everyone always thinks they're in the right have you noticed that? Nobody ever says we're the bad guys, we're going to beat shit out of the good guys.

We've got ninety-nine per cent the same genes as any other person. We've got ninety per cent the same as a chimpanzee. We've got thirty percent the same as a lettuce. Does that cheer you up at all? I love about the lettuce. It makes me feel I belong.

Your father's not young when you're small is he, he's not any age, he's more a power.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

On ageing

Today I am... (quick bit of mental arithmetic) thirty-five. And I do have to think about it. I like birthdays. I like unwrapping things and cake and people being nice to me. I am not anxious about birthdays. I am not anxious about getting older. I am not anxious about being old. Sometimes I wonder if I am in huge denial. I try to hide behind the corners of my mind and leap out on my subconscious but no, in the deepest darkest recesses of my little brain, I do not yearn for eternal youth. I do not remember especially revelling in being fair of face (ahem) or lithe of limb (ahem ahem) or quick of thought (!) and equally I feel no despair that my life is etching itself on my skin with a visibly heavier hand with each passing year and that my brain function is increasingly erratic, eccentric, just plain inefficient. I don't think the way living wears out our bodies is a bad thing. It's natural. So let's enjoy wearing out our bodies rather than worrying about it. And actually I do revel in my increasing number of white hairs. I love a head of pure snowy white hair. I pray to Simon the God of Hairdos (see Eddie Izzard, Dress to Kill, 1998) that as I mellow into my twilight years my hair will be nothing less than Einsteinian.

Tonight, we celebrated my onward march through life with baked camembert, wine (two colours!), "Superb Carrot Cake" (thank you Mary Berry) and a boogie along to my new Big Bad Voodoo Daddy CD, How Big Can You Get? It just doesn't get any better than that.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

One Cheerful Minibeast

For months now we have been wolfing down the special Barbapapa Kinder Eggs in the hope of finding the favoured Barbidur. The red one. This has involved a gargantuan level of self-sacrifice on my part. As I'm sure you can imagine.

Today, I can exclusively reveal, Matilda found him.

And there was much rejoicing. Charlie Bucket eat your heart out.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Groundhog Day

Exactly two weeks after an afternoon at Tantine Anne's ended in a wonky ankle, an afternoon at Tantine Steph's began with a rewonky ankle. We removed the strapping on Friday. We managed one glorious day of Carnaval with a full complement of feet. And then spent Sunday afternoon at the hospital.

Keeping a sense of perspective, this is not bloody awful. It's just bloody irritating. Matilda can still get about with the strapping on, although often the other leg is aching by the end of the day and we can't get a shoe on so she will not be going to the ball, or anywhere too taxing for a thick sock. And with only a brief hiatus we have swiftly returned to disturbed nights, neither minibeast getting to dash off their boundless energy. Last night, determined to make the best of a rubbish situation, when they woke in the wee hours I sat down and read to them from Finn Family Moontroll. The company of the wise and wonderful Tove Jansson makes keeping watch at some ungodly hour almost pleasant.

This morning we sent Matilda off to school with a scarecrow foot. Fashioned from an arm I cut off a battered old cardi and some elastic bands. I'm expecting a call from Blue Peter at any moment.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Lo 28en Carnaval Occitan de Besièrs

Yesterday Helke and Stéphane invited us to join in the procession for Béziers' Occitan Carnaval. Occitan is the language of the local culture, a cross between French and Spanish. In Béziers there is a strong Occitan community and a school, La Calandreta, which teaches the children (including Helke and Stéphane's children) in Occitan. It is the school, along with the parents and students, which organises the Carnaval. The Carnaval philosophy is most salutary. Like carnivals around the world the order of the day is disorder; society is turned upside down and power is given to the people. Halfway through the procession the revellers welcome their sovereign, the Caramentrant. But as the procession continues there is a gathering rumble of popular discontent against the king. At the end of the procession he is disgraced and put on trial. For the Béziers Carnaval the jury is composed exclusively of children. The king is condemned, of course, and then burnt. And with him are burnt all the unhappiness, the failures and the frustrations of the previous year. Everything goes up in smoke and the year starts anew.

Despite the melancholy skies, being part of the procession was wonderful. We wandered through the streets of Béziers, dancing along to the elemental beats of the musique d'Oc, enthusiastically supplied by La Bande à Béziers, Matilda scattering confetti in our wake. Both minibeasts were enthralled.

Now, I don't want to sound crass (you can take the girl out of Blighty, you can't take Blighty out of the girl) but perhaps my favourite memory of the day was when, the embers of the Caramentrant still glowing, we all sloped off to the local Irish pub for a pint. Nothing beats the feeling, after an afternoon in the fresh air, of nursing a pint into gentle tiddlydom, and feeling the anxiety of the kids running riot slowly fade into the beerosphere. I have always been an amateur of the humble pub but it is only since becoming a parent that I realise its true worth.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Princesses vs. Witches

Yesterday Matilda asked for a book about (deep breath) ...

This evening Steph sent me this photo of my eldest niece, Elise, who adores The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy, which I gave her for her birthday.

When I was little I wanted to be Mildred Hubble too.

I may have lost the battle, but I am winning the war.