Thursday, 31 May 2012

Birthday card doings

I decided this year Matilda and I would try and make all our own birthday cards. As I've said before, I'm not crafty in the slightest, but I'm having so much fun making these cards with my enthusiastic 3-year old. The designs and drawing are Matilda's own and she is increasingly doing her own cutting, sticking and glitterglue tube squeezing as well.

The cards were made using only what I could scavenge in the house: old baby clothes, packaging, recyled gift wrapping, cotton pads. The glitter glue was purchased in Oxford nearly ten years ago. And the card itself is recycled dividers from old folders. I'm expecting our Blue Peter badges to arrive any day now.

There are many things I love about Matilda's cards. The bright, bold colours, the happy little faces, the hairdos. But what I love most are the legs. Those fine energetic sidesways swipes which make it look as if all her creatures are leaping for joy (or suffering from a muscle wasting disease).

"Elephant with balloons" for Nao

"Margot and Jen waving in a boat, Simon swimming" for Jen

(I like Simon's mohican.)

"Coccinelle and flower" for Margot

"Coccinelle in the sunshine" for Nana Wendy

(Those things on the side of the ladybird's head are ears. What, ladybirds in your country don't have big glittery red ears? I also like the ladybird's mohican.)

"A princess and her castle" for Alex

(Alex is not fifty, that is a door and some stairs on the castle. Obviously. I like the princess's mohican.)

"A red king and his red castle" for Julia

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

(Mini) Greedy Bird Baking Enterprise: Nutty banana choc chip chomps

Dedicated to Uncle Martin, Auntie Jenny and "cousin Emma who says whoopsie". Many thanks for the wonderful new baking book and the top-hole patriotic cupcake cases.

"Throwing a handful of white chocolate chips into this old favourite adds a spot of wicked indulgence just where you need it."

So says the recipe.

And so say all of us.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012


I am completely, utterly, head over heels in love with my little girl at the moment. Now come on, be honest, although you always love your children, with the power and intensity of a thousand screaming monkeys, you're not always in love with them. Sometimes, given the choice between the two, you'd take the monkeys.

My mantra, inherited from my mum, is "It's just a phase". "A phase" being generally a bad thing. Well Matilda's current phase is lovely. No doubt it too will pass but I shall celebrate this loveliness while it lasts.

This morning when she got up we gave each other what is known round here as a "big squeezy hug". I told her I loved big squeezy hugs in the morning. She said, so did she. And kisses. And caresses. Both of which she proceeded to lavish upon me.

Truly blessed am I.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Like the good old days

Two theatre festivals in one weekend: Saperlipopette a festival of children's theatre at Sortie Ouest and Foire des Grenouilles, a festival of street theatre and popular theatre in St.Geniès-de-Fontedit. OK, so where do I start telling you about all the RTBCs to be had over a weekend of theatre? Actually the best thing about Saperlipopette was the array of old wooden games under the leafy alley outside the theatre. You want to see? Oh here you go then.

So simple, so enjoyable, so sociable. Why do we not have these games any more? I also went to see Le Petit Poucet with Matilda. It was a piece of theatre designed to showcase sign language, which is fine, but rather lost on small people. I'm not sure Matilda would even understand the concept of deafness. And Le Petit Poucet is one of the more horrific of Charles Perrault's tales. I'm all for a bit of horror, after all fairy tales allow children to come to terms with the fact that bad things happen and help them deal with fear. But I find Le Petit Poucet grim even by Grimm standards.

The Foire des Grenouilles, theatrically speaking, was much better. I love popular street theatre. Everyone piles in, there's no hierarchy; performance feels unpredictable and alive. In a rare "what about me?" moment I ditched the minibeasts and took myself off to a show for grown-ups. I felt vague pangs of guilt, but then realised that was ridiculous and that "what about me?" moments should be far less rare. Hooray for epiphanies. Afterwards I met up with Fanf and the minibeasts to see a beautiful puppet version of The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway and a circus in the trees.

At the end of the day, Fanf and I hightailed it, leaving the minibeasts to spend the night with the grandspoilers. Ostensibly because I had a 40-page translation to work on today for Les Amis de la Terre (work - money - yay). But to round off the weekend in style we popped down to our friendly Irish pub for a pint and this:

Oh I could wax lyrical for hours, days, about the joys of whiskey (in this instance, Lagavulin). The warmth as it flows through you, the sense of comfort and well-being. It's elemental. But lucky for you, I have a translation to finish about palm oil plantations and land disputes in Liberia, which is doing a good job of keeping things firmly in perspective.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

My mini cinéphile me

This morning Owen got up, and so Matilda got up, at 6am. In this housebarelyholdingtogether this is NOT NORMAL. I will often rise early, but I do so alone. Faced with two groggy minibeasts I did what any sane parent would do, I suggested we put on a film. I gave Matilda free rein to chose whatever she pleased. She could have chosen Gone With The Wind (she could, it's been sitting on my shelf unwatched for about two years now) I wouldn't have cared. Her eyes skipped over Mary Poppins, Cars, Ponyo and came to rest on Fantastic Mr. Fox. And so we began our day in the weird and wonderful world of Wes Anderson. I love Wes Anderson. My daughter loves Wes Anderson. I love that my daughter loves Wes Anderson. My daughter's got taste. My taste.

If you haven't seen Fantasic Mr. Fox. Do. It's weird. And wonderful.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

(Mini) Greedy Bird Baking Enterprise: Cheddar scones

I wasn't going to write a post about today's GBBE exploits. And then I thought, oh what the hell. We had a lot of fun. And to make the post a bit proper, here are my top tips for baking with kids.

1. Keep it simple.
2. Make it varied.
3. Include ingredients that can be eaten raw.
4. Make it quick, bake it quick. And usually eat it quick, though that is between you and your love handles.
5. Keep it messy. If you, your child, your kitchen, any other children in your care, any pets/plants/passing tradespeople, your entire house, are not covered in flour by the end you've not quite wrung out all the fun.

Oh and my favourite...
6. If you want to feel healthy, just add some oats. Oh yes, it really is that simple. Whatever else is in the recipe, you add oats and - TA DA - healthy. Anyone fool enough to question the divine wisdom of this, tu sors.

The scone recipe brilliantly fulfilled all the above requirements. Only five ingredients, including grated cheese to nibble on. And there was grating, hand mixing (gloriously gunked up mitts), pouring, rolling (had to rein in Matilda a bit on this one to ensure she didn't flatten our work surface into the floor), cutting out and sprinkling. A quarter of an hour to make, a quarter of a hour to bake. Mini GBBE magic.

And if I may be allowed one further reflection (and as this is my blog I think I may) when we brought the dough together, it was a big old sticky mess but rather than panic I calmly threw some more flour in until the dough was soft enough to roll. And I'll have you know I hadn't touched a drop of the grape stuff. I am growing as a baker. Yes yes, I am feeling decidedly yeasty.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

(Mini) Greedy Bird Baking Enterprise: Sweet and Simple Strawberry Cupcakes

What to do? It's chucking it down and everyone's got a serious case of the couch spuds.

Cake and Disney.

We still have amazing strawbs on the market so we're still making the most of it. I've tried strawberries in cake before but this is the first time it's really worked well. You have to mush the strawberries before putting them in the mixture, which not only provides an always welcome opportunity to mush but makes the cakes a beautiful colour. And the mixture is so simple. Look how short is is:

This is my kind of recipe (from here). There were instructions to "decorate pinkly" and the photo shows glacé icing. I hate glacé icing. I need me some fat with my suger. So I made the strawberry buttercream from this recipe which is utterly utterly. There are few things I would not eat if they were slathered with this buttercream. I recently got myself a cheap and cheerful piping bag from Super U as well so I did some of that fancy swirly icing malarkey. Matilda was very excited.

Then we watched Peter Pan. I once again bridled at the way early Disney films portray women (virgins or whores) and then promptly fell asleep.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Bump and grind and cake

Yes, yes, it's all go around here. I like some go. Visitors. Two lots. Visitors' children. Two lots. Cake. Cake. More cake. And in between the cake and the visitors and the wine (oh, a goodly amount of wine) there has been some work. I like some work. Aurélie has been sending me a series of articles to translate about legal cases involving artistic copyright. The translations have been surprisingly fascinating as the key in each case is how we define art in a legal context. How do we decide what constitutes as art? What makes a performance original? Or creative? The texts have posed some interesting questions, to which I have no answers. But the issues seem to me to be highly subjective and rather beyond beyond the formal dictates of the law.

The text I was working on this morning is definitely the most fun I have had so far. It was to do with a case brought by Faith Dane, who created the role of the stripper Miss Mazeppa, in the original stage production and the film of Gypsy. She sued the producers for royalties purtaining to the use of her original idea for Miss Mazeppa to perform her striptease using a bugle. The text describes the choreography in fastidious detail. I spent half an hour this morning trying to translate "bump and grind" into French. I eventually gave in and asked Fanf. Immediately rising to the challenge, he offered to go away and do some in-depth research for me. Bless. In order to aid translation I gave Fanf a little display of what is meant by bump and grind, along with "derrière pointing skywards". Matilda thought all this was hilarious and copied me, doing her own highly inappropriate little stripper dance. Bravo maman. Should anyone care to watch the toned down version of Ms Dane's artistic, or not so artistic efforts (not so, according to the Supreme Court of the United States), this is the musical number in question, You Gotta Have A Gimmick, from the 1962 film.

After our collective exertions we had lunch, polished off the remains of my amazing (sorry but it was) baked raspberry cheesecake (with an infiltration of strawberries), went walking in the Bois de Bourbaki, came home, had an apéritif (a goodly one), ate tea and polished off the remains of another batch of brownies. With icecream. Now the minibeasts are in bed and Fanf and I are preparing to sit down and immerse ourselves in the fantastic act of escapism that is watching Game of Thrones.

Some days I love my life. And today was one of those days.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Because it's never too early for Julie

This post is based on the principle 'When in doubt, post a video of the minibeasts'. And if you're groaning at the prospect of two Julie Andrews' numbers, know that I filmed very, very, many more. In fact Matilda decided that not only did we need to film each and every JA song she knows but that each and every one needed to be filmed in various places around the house. Don't get me wrong, I thought all this hugely entertaining but those of you who find my kids less amusing than I do and who suffer from the strange and terrible affliction of not loving Julie Andrews, you had a narrow escape.

Let the show commence!

p.s. Talking of Julie Andrews, here is me climbing that tree:

[Photo courtesy of my nephew, Emile]

And if you're perplexed by all these references to climbing trees, and wondering where they come from, wonder no more:

Now I imagine you're wondering the hitherto unappreciated joys of perplexity.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

In the pink

I'm not feeling very bloggy right now. I go through phases when I feel extremely self-conscious about the piffle I arrogantly assume people are going to want to read. 'People' in itself is rather a grand word for the handful of faithful friends and relations who tune in. I go through phases when I don't want to document life, photograph it, write it. It seems to get in the way of actually living it. And I go through phases when I'm simply feeling cheerful and so don't need to find any RTBCs.

Whatever phase I'm going through I'm always buoyed by a few nice comments and I got a few today (thank you, and to all you other lovely commenters who make my blog feel like an exchange, which is what I'd like it to be).

So recently, as it happens, life has been pretty cheerful. May is the month of bank holidays in France, and we like it when Fanf is around to play. There has been walking, picnicking, beaching, and lots and lots of cousining. I even climbed a tree and scraped my knee (but wasn't wearing a dress and thus didn't get a tear) as part of Béziers' Jardins en Fête.

Today, for the first time ever, Steph left me the twins, Armand and Amélie, to look after. I was chuffed by this. I'm sure that from the outside, living in such close proximity to Fanf's sisters seems rather idyllic. And to be honest, mostly it is. But I do occasionally feel a bit left out because the two sisters, and the two brothers they are married to, seem so close knit. It irked me that they would leave their kids with each other, I could leave my kids with them, but they never left their kids with me. Well, now Steph has and I handed them back with a full complement of limbs, teeth, organs, and no additional bumps and bruises. Hooray.

However spending all this time with her cousins has sent Matilda over to the pink side. I say nothing. Actually if she asks me to admire her as she clips around in the ridiculous little pink heels, I do. I don't want to burst her pink bubble. There is nothing, technically, wrong with liking pink and princesses. I just try to provide a balance, through the books we read, and the films we watch. And in fact although she has requested a princess costume for her birthday (the one in the photos belongs to Amélie) she has also requested that the dress be red. This makes me happy. Even if she has entered the fold of her peers she's not submitting herself entirely to the herd mentality. She's fitting in. But on her own terms.

For someone that didn't have much to say I seem to have written rather a lot. The long and the short of it is, I'm in the pink, Matilda's in the pink. All is well.

I shall shut up now.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Friday in photos, Part le Ducks: Jules Verne Merry-Go-Round and Mare Nostrum

As a special treat Papi Mike and Nana Wendy very kindly took us all to the aquarium in Montpellier this afternoon.

We are all so tired tonight, I got no words. Only my usual terrible photos...

I love this last photo of Matilda. She was so happy today and this image captures her happiness for me.