Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Mini GBBE: Chocolate brownie muffins - and a new recruit!

Matilda is obsessed with brownies at the moment which proves she is a) my daughter and b) human.  We have made brownies, peanut butter brownies, chocolate brownie cake, coconut brownies, and today her choice was chocolate brownie muffins.  Recently we have been sticking to the old favourites baking-wise but I think we may have found a new recipe to add to our list.  We didn't bother with nuts, used greek yoghurt instead of sour cream and added many, many, many white chocolate chunks.

Today was extra special because for the first time Nell joined in the fun.  She was so excited when Matilda tied her apron on and she got to sit on the work surface.  To my great surprise and huge relief, she was a very careful and conscientious little assistant, undertaking every task with total concentration.  The kid understands the seriousness of cake.  Though she proved herself entirely in tune with the spirit of the Mini GBBE team by delighting most in the post-mess spoon-licking.

Baking has become less a hobby and more a way of life round these parts.  In this one small way at least, my life is everything I hoped it would be.

Friday, 24 April 2015

3 really is the magic number

So I'm not saying that everyone who has three kids has got life sussed.  That those with fewer are deficient or enumerate.  That those with more have overachieved, overshot the mark.  It is to be hoped that everyone has the brood that suits them.  And there are problems with three.  Namely the noise.  Oh my god the noise.  Sometimes everybody needs and nobody gets.  Somebody you get what somebody else has already had, and if you're number three sometimes you get what everybody else has already had.  Sometimes you just don't fit.  People think twice before having you round.  Travelling is complicated.  Keeping up with school timetables is a nightmare.  Social lives and activities are a complex network of intermeshing cogs that at best grinds creakily along and at worst crushes everyone in its rusty maw.

And yet, I think the trio is brilliant.  So many possibilities.  I've heard a number of people say that with three, one always gets left out.  But in my experience, three means that any time you need to, one of you can take a moment for yourself, it's not so full on, being three diffuses tension.  Being three means points of view are multiple, not a head-on battle.  Being three means when maman and papa are busy, you can muddle through together, make breakfast, get dressed, decorate the walls with your artwork...  We spent an afternoon in the sunshine this week, we just hung out on the grass together.  We didn't really do anything but it struck me: we are a party all on our own!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Now they are 40

<< Pascal


Last weekend we went up to the tiny village of Cambon, and beyond, into the green fields of the Parc naturel régional du Haut Languedoc to celebrate the joint 40th birthdays of my belle-soeur, Anne, and my beau-frère, Pascal.  Green.  It was all so green.  In the sun, in the rain - there was plenty of both.  Everything was green and beautiful.  It felt like England.  Slightly parochial that that should be my ultimate reference for beauty but there you go.

La cabane (ou 'tente en bois de princesse' - Owen)

It was a party very much in Anne and Pascal's image.  Down-to-earth and generous.  Many good things to eat and drink, live music (provided by Pascal's band) and, as the rain battered down on us, increasingly muddy.  We arrived on the Saturday in glorious sunny weather but by Sunday, the day of the party, those cats and dogs were running amok.  There was a brief moment of light and calm, in which Steph and I set off for a walk through the forest and, much to everyone's great surprise, including our own, managed not to get lost.

I'm all for 40th birthday parties.  This is my second, and whereas my experience with weddings (be it good or bad) only ever confirms by horror at the very idea, I think 40ths are rather splendid .  All the fun, none of the outrageous fuss.  You are still young enough to enjoy yourself but old enough to know that all the flim flam of weddings is unnecessary.  You can invite who you want, you can do it whenever and wherever you want, there are no ridiculous expectations, but you still get presents.  The older you get the harder it is to gather friends together, at 40 you are both nostalgic and mobile, people seem only too willing to reconnect after the fug of the baby years.

Both my lovely belles-soeurs

So watch this space, maybe in two years' time Fanf and I will be inviting you to a muddy green field in honour of our own aging process...

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Bloke in a dress - the story continues...

The beady-eyed amongst you, and anyone who has had any kind of contact with Owen recently, will have realised that his penchant for dresses has not abated in the slightest.  That's going on three years now.  I think we can safely say it's not 'just a phase'.  And I considered it was time for an update.

Last time I mentioned that Owen had worn a dress to school.  He did it maybe three or four times and then didn't ask again and we never forced the issue.  At home, and out and about, he continued with his dress-wearing.  When we were in Blighty in February I said he could choose his own dress.  I was sick and tired, and I think so was he, of having to always borrow dresses from Matilda.  This is the dress he chose:

Alien in a dress.  Only Owen!

Having his own dress to wear, naturally he wanted to wear it out.  He started with dance class.  One girl made fun of him, he didn't care, "C'est pas grave" he told me, and the next week he wore a dress again.  Then he wanted to wear his dress for school.  So he did.  On Monday evening his teacher, Cati, waited for me and we walked home together.  She said two girls in Owen's class had made fun of him and Owen had got very angry.  Cati said she was cross because nobody else had made an issue of it.  She said she had proposed that Owen bring up the subject in the Conseil on Friday, the weekly discussion for the kids to air any problems or concerns they might have.  She said she would leave it entirely up to Owen whether he wanted to speak or not.  I agreed entirely.  I talked to Owen at home, he said he had told the two girls that they were not nice to make fun of him, that he had the right to wear a dress if he wanted to, and he assured me he had every intention of bringing up what had happened in the Conseil.  He also said that one of his friends, Cloé, had stood up for him.  I made a point of mentioning this to Cloé's mum, as I thought it was rather admirable on her part.

The next day Fanf and I decided to follow Owen's lead dress-wise.  With no hesitation he decided to wear a dress again.  As he did every other day that week.  Friday after school I asked him how the Conseil had gone.  He told me he had explained to everyone that he could wear a dress if he wanted to and the result was that the two girls had to pay a fine for "violence".  The Caladreta considers verbal bullying as violence.  Absolutely right.  Matilda said that during her Conseil she had also pointed the finger at some boys in her class who had made fun of Owen.  Owen is very lucky to have his big sister looking out for him.  One of my worries was that Matilda would also suffer for Owen's predilections but she seems every bit as capable as he is of standing up for herself and him.  Lucky Owen!

Now Owen wears a dress regularly and we have had nothing but supportive comments from other parents/friends.  Some, who were sceptical at first, have said that actually they realise they don't really mind.  Even Fanf's parents the other day told Owen how nice he looked all dressed up for Easter Sunday.  Wow!  I was both taken aback and touched.  When I spoke to Cati she said she felt people were becoming more conservative, less open to difference, that Owen was good for the school because he challenged people's attitudes.  I don't want to force Owen to bear the responsibility of being different for the sake of enlightening society, and we have never encouraged him to wear a dress, we've always tried to just follow his lead.  But he seems comfortable and happy and that's all we want.  So much the better if he can be comfortable and happy without feeling any pressure to conform.

When I grandly pronounced in my previous post that we aimed to give Owen the courage to be himself, there was still always the lingering doubt that we were merely setting him up for a fall.  The idea that self-confidence stops bullies is a shaky one.  But, halelujah, in Owen's case, for the moment, our support seems to have paid off.  He has proved he is capable of fighting his corner and quite honestly the occasional comments he gets at school (because obviously there are some) seem like water off a duck's back.

So hooray for Owen - I'm so proud of him, he's his own man.

In a dress.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Comedy Gold

I stick my finger up my nose. And - wait there's more - at the same time, I blow a raspberry.

High comedy indeed.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

A girl and her (sister's) sunglasses

Nell and I took a trip to the park last Friday, just the two of us.  It's quite rare now that we don't either meet up with or bump into friends.  But I realised we should ditch the crowd more often, we had so much fun.  In particular we talked much more and she picked up every word.  Her favourite being 'dirty', a word with which she is very familiar, and just saying 'dirty' makes her giggle.  No doubting her parentage.

She brought Matilda's new sunglasses with her and wore them for most of the morning.  However, no matter which way you present them to her she will very carefully ensure she puts them on upside down.  As you might guess from the glut of photos I am rather besotted with Nell in her sunglasses.  Or 'Tilda nette' (from "lunettes", French for glasses), as she calls them.

I was also mightily impressed, and may I say relieved, that after two hours in the park she managed to walk all the way up the very steep steps to get home.  That's my girl!  (Still wearing the glasses, note.)

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Are croissants animals?

Random picture of M that I like

Every Saturday morning I take Matilda to circus workshop and on the way we stop for croissants.  Matilda has, shall we say, a very robust way of eating and today as she tore into her croissant I observed that it looked like she was trying to massacre it.  Its buttery layers hanging in shreds, the sorry croissant looked, I further observed, "like it's guts were spilling out".  To which Matilda replied: "Are croissants animals?", which just made me giggle so much.  I'm still giggling now.

Friday, 10 April 2015

On chante!

(Not actual singing group)

Along with three other friends, Anso, Amel and Gégé, we have decided to form a singing group.  We have been talking about it for ages and now we have started meeting every Thursday morning for some "la, la, la".  I have so much fun, in fact we all do.  It's sans kids and everyone brings a song, so far we've had stuff in English, French and Portuguese.  I'm discovering some great music and getting to share some of the music I love.  Something about singing is so envigorating, and so unifying.  I think we all felt a bit stupid at first, but then the music grabs you and you just go with the flow.

Last week Anso brought along a French classic, L'amant de Saint-Jean that I didn't know but instantly fell in love with and have become (to Fanf's horror) slightly obsessed with.  Have a listen, sung here by the incomparable Edith Piaf:

But Fanf's horror doesn't end there because the mini-beasts have also become obsessed.  And here, for your listening pleasure, are there own incomparable versions of L'amant de Saint-Jean.  

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Not an Easter post

We had a jam-packed, egg-filled, fun-stuffed Easter weekend but as I took zero photos I thought now might be a good time to finally share our experiences in Blighty from back in February.  We were received like kings, and indeed queens and most certainly princesses, at my parents' house near Lincoln and spent the week out and abouting with gusto.  I felt like a tourist.  A foreign tourist.  It was very odd to feel like a foreigner in Blighty but I realised that after nearly eight years of notre adventure Biterroise, and never having spent longer than three years anyway else before now, Béziers is really where I feel most at home.

So, during our travels we managed to get to two museums, the Museum of Lincolnshire Life and The Collection.  At Lincolnshire Life there was a mock-up of a Victorian schoolroom, with costumes.  Something tells me Owen would not have done well at school during the reign of Queen Victoria.

The Collection (a museum of Art and Archaeology) provided further opportunities for dressing up, and further proof of O's unsuitability for the Victorian schoolroom.

And why stop at one cross-dressing child when you can have two.

Museums in Britain are very much geared up for kids.  Everywhere there are activities and props and dressing up and treasure hunts, everything needed to make the exhibitions come alive.  It's sort of brilliant.  Sort of.  Part of me felt that the mini-beasts were so hung up on 'doing the kid stuff' that they forgot to follow their own instincts and interests.  Don't get me wrong, I think that making museums and the like open and accessible for kids is great but maybe it shouldn't be such an all-consuming and exclusive activity, separate from the experience of the adults.  In general, I sense that (sense, in the sense that I have not spent a great deal of time in Blighty so I don't know) the UK is very good at catering for children, but that children and their lives and activities are kept separate from those of the adults.  In France, children pretty much just rub along alongside the adults, the French do less to cater specifically for children, but they also just have them around more.  At least that's my impression in the south of France.  I'm not sure that one way is necessarily better than another (and I absolutely loved the backpacks complete with binoculars, compass, magnifying glass etc. the kids were given to enjoy exploring Lincoln cathedral) but I do love the 'everyone mucks in together' attitude that I find we share with most of our friends and family here.

Anyway, moving on!

For Nell, the trip to Blighty was all about her wellies.  Here she is showing off her brand new boots to the chickens (who to their credit look fairly interested) at Rand Farm Park  where we spent our last afternoon.

The boots loomed large in Nell's week as they were essential to her tireless quest to locate and jump in muddy puddles.  Every time she found a puddle she would attempt lift-off with both feet happily proclaiming "Pepp'Pip, Pepp'Pip!"

Matilda and Owen's favourite visit was Sherwood Forest, which they had been primed to appreciate by watching Disney's Robin Hood on a loop.  Matilda asked me, "Did Robin Hood really exist?", "Well, yes, I think so".  "Was he a fox?"  [Note to self: cut back on the Disney, has detrimental effect on perception of reality].  Owen's favourite character is, of course, Maid Marian, and they were both delighted to discover that Marion may or may not have been her name, it might have been Matilda!  Here they are in front of the Major Oak with their Robin and Marion (or Matilda...) puppets.

I loved all the crazy old trees.  So atmospheric, especially on a grey February day.

But my favourite visit was to see my nana, who had never even met Nell.  I've rarely seen my Nana so happy.

Owen was absolutely lovely with her, babbling on in his incomprehensible franglais, mostly about Elsa.  Nana didn't care, she was just happy he was talking to her.

Here they are sharing an ice-cream

I do think it's fantastic that it is possible to up sticks and move about the world but when I think of my nana, with her son and granddaughter and great grandchildren in France, her daughter in Belgium and her grandson in Malaysia, I feel sad at the thought that we've also given up something at the same time.  Not that I'm judging my family or anyone else who has the courage to strike out for countries new, and I have no intention of giving up my life in the south of France, but while it might be great for us, for our children, for the world in general that people from different places meet and mix, it might not be so great for the older generation.  We'll no doubt only understand the consequences of our freedom when we are old ourselves.

Gosh, after an almighty blogging splurge that was a heavy way to end an extremely ramshackle post!  So instead I give you: Nell's bottom :)

Trampoline = Mini-beast heaven

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Can you say... wrigglebottom?!

Ok ok, so to the untrained ear this just sounds like a lot of grunts and growls, but to the loving ears of her parents, those grunts and growls represent Nell's first foray into the wonderful world of words.  It makes me chuckle that one of her first words is 'cranberry', a child of the 21st century.  And like her brother, she refers to Papi Mike, as Mike.  Also totally hip, and modern and cool.  Or lazy.  I don't know if you noticed but frequently she just says the beginning of a word, showing a worrying tendency to half-assedness.  Her most common words are 'merci' and 'sorry'.  She is the politest child ever.  I love the way she says sorry, I'm half tempted to send her in to attack her brother and sister just so I can hear her say sorry afterwards.  But I don't.  Obviously.  What amuses me most about this little video however is her complete inability to stay in one place (as compared to O's calm and poised first efforts), the kid can't sit still.

Sweet as she is, Nell is quite a forceful little character.  I suspect her acquisition of language will mark her ascendency to top banana round these parts.