Let it go!

Upside Down

Last Saturday the girls and I went to a music festival; we listened to music, danced and had a generally great time. But we got home very late and the girls were tired, so after putting them to bed I decided to test something: the next day I was going to let it go! (Like in the freaking Disney song). I decided I was just going to let the girls chill out and allow them to dictate the rhythm of the day, and not take control! So I let them get up when they wanted, play as long as they wanted and move at their own pace throughout the day. And you know what? We had a fabulous day, but my gosh, it was hard!!!

Why? Because in my head I had activities planned: people to see, places to discover, things to do — things I personally thought are important and fun to do.  But obviously those decisions were taken without my daughters’ consent, and they weren’t a priority for them. We had planned to go to the swimming pool… and we got there 3 hours later than I had hoped because the Lego mini people were apparently having a music festival! I think part of the reason why it was so hard is because I project what I think is going to be fun on my kids, who, I sometimes forget, are now individuals with their own tastes and preferences.

But, I must say, we had a lovely day without any arguing or conflict.  The girls came to me when they were ready, they were happy to go out and ready to face the world, and for once I was not pleading and coercing everyone out of the door. Meanwhile, I tidied my desk and did things around the house that I usually don’t have the time to do. A win/win for everyone!

So I am going to make a conscious effort when I can (and when it is possible) to let go and let my little people be, even if we are not on holiday and even if I have in my mind projected many fun things that we could do.

Do you find it hard to let go and just let them be too?

– Emilie

P.S. Photo taking by the lovely Emily Ulmer a wee while ago.

Dr Hauschka Sage and Mint Deodorant

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For years I have been testing organic, non-toxic deodorants as I, like a lot of you, have been reading about how bad normal deodorants are for us. The problem is: I have never found one that actually works! And I do like smelling good, so that was a bit too much of a stumbling block for me. I have been testing and trying but ultimately have always returned to my unhealthy but very effective commercial deodorants.

But yesterday Esther, who was in Paris this weekend, and I might have found the solution: Dr Hauschka’s Sage Mint Deodorant. You have to understand that we are having a massive heatwave here in Paris, with temperatures going up to 41 degrees and no air conditioning, so it was the perfect time to put a deodorant to the test. And it worked! I am happy to report back that not only do we not smell, we even totally forgot that we were not wearing super strengh deodorant. So a bit thumbs up to Dr Hauschka for finally coming up with a natural deodorant that actually works!

– Emilie

Weekend Getaway: Warsaw

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I visited Warsaw once a very, very long time ago on a school exchange trip. It was in the mid ’90s and it was a fascinating place – full of Soviet-era architecture, but already buzzing with potential. Now 20-odd years later I am sure that potential has been fulfilled and I would love to go back and discover the city with my kids. Kristina, one of our lovely readers, lives in Warsaw with her family and was kind enough to put together a list of things to do, see and experience in Warsaw with kids!

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Kristina was born in a small, little town in between the Alps and the Adriatic sea in the North East of Italy. With a Czech–Bulgarian mother and Italian dad, she soon developed an interest in studying languages, cross cultural relations, travelling and different foods. After living in Paris, Prague, the English countryside and London, Kristina, her Anglo-Scottish husband and their two (soon to be three!!) children enjoy life in Warsaw. (more…)

Tuesday Tips: Traveling in Paris with kids

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Summer here and I thought it was high time to write down some random tips of what to do in my lovely city with kids. Paris is such a great place to visit and so easy to get around that it is a great destination with children, even young ones. But there are a couple of things that might be good to know:

  • Hilariously my very first tip actually has very little to do with kids and has everything to do with coffee and bars! Basically if you want to save a cent or two always order and drink a coffee at the bar in a Parisian café, not on the terrace. The price on a terrace can be more that double than the one if you sit by the bar. The same goes for most drinks. (By the way: a café is an espresso, a noisette is a macchiato and a crème is a cappuccino roughly speaking).
  • All neighbourhoods in Paris have little squares with play equipment (like place des Vosges on the photo above). They are simple, easy going and a nice way to get away from the crowds. If you are looking for a real park, go a bit further afield and head over to the Buttes de Chaumont, which is super French and has grassy areas, so a good place to go and kick a ball around.
  • My favourite Parisian street food is good old-fashioned crepes, and you can still find a lot of little hole-in-the-wall crepes stands that will throw together a “jambon-fromage-champions” (my personal favourite). My kids absolutely love them.
  • In restaurants do ask for a kids menu, even if it is not advertised. Especially less touristy places will often happily make a smaller plate for kids.
  • If you have the time to teach your kids just a few words in French, it is totally worth it. I have seen the sternest French waiter melt when he had been addressed in French by a little foreign tourist. Even “Bonjour”, “Merci” and “S’il vous plait” is enough.
  • When you ask for anything, be it a baguette in a boulangerie or directions on the street, start with “Bonjour” not “Excuse me”. It just the way we start a conversation over here. If not you might finish with your questions just to have a pointed “Bonjour” thrown back at you.
  • For me the best way to get around Paris, if you have a bit of time, is by bus. They use the same tickets as the metro, but are so much more pleasant and such a great way to see the city. The free public transport app is unfortunately only in French at the moment, but it is so easy to use that I think you could use it with even the smallest knowledge of French.
  • If you have even more time then the very, very best way of getting around Paris is to walk! Paris is much smaller than London and New York so it is actually easy to walk from one attraction to the next. On the left bank of the Seine a lot of the quays are closed to cars and are a lovely way to discover Paris. On Sundays the right bank of the Seine is also closed to cars.
  • As we now all know, French Kids don’t throw food 😉 which is actually only partly correct of course. But it is true that people expect children to behave in restaurants and will ask the waiter to ask you to be a bit quieter. Do not take it personally as it happens to French parents as much as it does to foreigners. I try to smile and apologise and that normally does the trick.

As I mentioned, this is a bit of a random list, but these are some of my top tips to visiting Paris. If you have any questions, I will do my best to answer them!

– Emilie

Pala Mino

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I now have a 9 year old who “hates” girly stuff. Now the problem is that it is very hard to understand what that actually means. When questioned the answer is: “Well, you know…. girly stuff!!!!”

What I have concluded is that it means pink and frills and nothing that is considered “not comfy”. The rest can be negotiated, like in politics.

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We recently were sent this dress by Pala Mino and to both mine and Coco’s relief it is on the thin cross-over line between what we both love. I love the beautiful cut and fabric and the fact that it is locally made in Britain. Coco loves it for the simple reason that it is, as mentioned before “comfy” and also funky.

Here are a couple photos of my Coco wearing her lovely Pala Mino Grecian Dress out and about in Marrakesh earlier this month.

– Emilie

Tuesday Tips: Girls and Math & Science

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Since my last post about multiplication tables I have been thinking about how similar one of my daughters is to me when it comes to learning maths and science. She lately has had a defeatist attitude pop up using the famous phrase: “je suis nulle en math”, (I am just terrible at maths). I think it is a ridiculous thing for a 9-year-old to say, as who knows how her talents are still going to develop. But, if I remember rightly, I said exactly the same thing. Turns out it was a self fulfilling prophecy: as a kid I was terrible at maths and only started to enjoy it when I began working.

I have been reading up on why girls are still under-performing versus boys in maths and came across this interesting article. Girls still seem to lack confidence when it comes to maths (and science), even in the year 2015, and I wanted to write down a couple of tips I am trying to use on how to counteract that!

  • I think, as a mother, being a role model is key. I don’t tell my girls that I was terrible at maths at school, but I tell them that I now love it and use it every day.
  • I also want to make sure that they know that a woman is as capable at using maths in an everyday situation as a man. Maybe this is a silly example, but say we are in a restaurant and the bill arrives, I don’t ask a man at the table to break it down or check it, I do it myself.
  • Make math fun, as solving a math exercise is like solving a riddle or figuring out the facts like a spy. When kids start understanding the logical patterns of math and how similar they are to a game, they seem to enjoy it more.
  • Buy science books for girls as much as you would for boys. Some of my favourites are Older than the Stars and Big Questions from Little People (though these are more science book than purely math books). For older children, a friend of mine recommended Feynman, a comic book about the life of the Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman. (I have not found any fun maths books).
  • Whatever job you have, you very likely use maths on a daily basis: a carpenter uses it to measure, a bookkeeper to balance his books, a scientist to figure out the beginnings of the universe, a ballet dancer to calculate the amount of steps it takes her to dance across the scene (I think ;)) so I try to see the numbers in everyday life and to play around with those numbers with the kids.
  • This is just for New Yorkers, but apparently the Museum of Mathematics is brilliant and every child walking out of it is convinced they want to become a mathematician.

This is all I can come up with, but I do think it is an interesting subject, so I would love to hear your views and tips!

– Emilie

PS. After re-reading this post, I do want to point out that though I am focusing on girls, but of course the majority of these tips are applicable to boys too. 

 

Little Trip away: Marrakesh

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France has a funny school break at the end of April. It can be absolutely gorgeous or it can be dismal weather over here, so if you want some guaranteed good weather, you need to go South. Coco, who is nine now, and I skipped and hopped onto a plane and went to Marrakesh for a short break, and (not very surprisingly) it was amazing and just what the doctor ordered. Marrakesh is only 2.5 hours away from Paris by plane, so it is an easy escape.

I was not able to take much time off work and yet wanted a real break with sun, so I did something I have hardly ever done before and booked us into nice hotel. (You know one of those things where they cook for you and you don’t have to plan anything?). We stayed at the Beldi Country Club which worked out awesomely. It was about 15 minutes away from the airport, but a world away from our everyday life – we instantly felt on holiday.

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We spent some time exploring the hotel and its gardens, did some pottery and swimming and Coco instantly became friends with the whole gaggle of kids running round. In fact, one of my lasting memories will be the sound of a horde of sandals chasing each other around the gardens.

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We went for a full day horse ride around the foothills of the Atlas mountains, through villages and little creeks and hills – it was absolutely stunning and such a great way to explore the area.

We also visited Marrakesh, its souk, where we had lunch in the lovely Café des Epices, the palaces and the beautiful Majorelle gardens. We strolled around Jemaa el-Fnaa square, but I have to admit the people, the snakes and the heat suddenly got too much for Coco, so I picked her up and we jumped into a horse drawn carriage to take us around the old city, which worked out as the perfect way of discovering the sites. I get quite into bartering so the Souk was perfect for me and, though we only got tat, it was a lot of fun!

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It was absolutely amazing to pop out of our daily routine and suddenly be in a completely different place, with completely different sounds, smells, temperature, nature and architecture. We absolutely loved it!

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It was also very special to have a bit of time with Coco on my own as I realised how big 9 years is and how much she has grown and developed. So nice to stop, even for a short while, and be able to take in the important things in life!

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– Emilie

Tuesday Tips: Teaching Multiplication Tables

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After having finished with nappies, buggies, naps and mushy food, I have been confronted with a new challenge: homework, specifically multiplication tables!

Now, some children don’t seem to have to learn these by heart as they just know them (as someone helpfully pointed out to me), whilst other take a little bit longer, which is the case in my household. So I have become an expect of multiplication tables, though even I need to think a second when someone asks me 7×8 and 8×8 (they are the most annoying ones, aren’t they). Interestingly, I started trying to teach the logic around the multiplication table to my daughter until her teacher just told me that they need to be learned by heart, like a poem.

Here are some handy tips we’ve picked up along the way which have been helpful for us:

  • Tape the classic multiplication table up on the wall in front of the toilet and/or on the fridge (or other high frequency places in the home). I think everyone has one of these if they have a child around 8 years old. (Totally did not work for us, though it worked for some of our friends.)
  • Chanting and shouting the tables on the way to school. It’s fun and works really well, wether you are in the car or walking in the street.  The key is the rhythm, almost like singing a song!
  • That leads me to the most effective method I found: multiplication rap: We have been rapping ourselves through all the tables and with great success! I downloaded Multiplication Facts and Raps from iTunes but there are a ton of other options out there. The rhythm of rap and just the sheer fun of rapping, makes multiplication tables much more digestible. Again the rhythm is key.
  • Writing the table down, again and again and again. So painful, but if your child has a visual memory, it does help.
  • I also made a gird of 100 squares (10×10) and photocopied it a bunch of times. I then made my daughter fill in the squares (for the 3x table every third square and so on). With a child who has a visual memory it helps detect a pattern between all the numbers.
  • I explained that knowing and learning multiplication tables (and math in general) is just like solving puzzles or mysteries, just like a spy and an explorer. Somehow that helped 😉

That is all I came up with, but if you have any other tips on memorising, I would love to hear!

Emilie

A personal uniform

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I just read this article about a woman who has decided to wear a “uniform” to work everyday, which was originally written for Harper’s Bazaar. I thought it would be fun to share, just because this morning I had yet again the work clothes panic: what should I wear? My daily morning routine involves getting the kids up and dressed and fed and getting myself ready for work. The amount of times I don’t know what to wear while I am standing in front of a cupboard full of clothes, seriously running out of time, is ridiculous.

I really fancy the idea of a work wardrobe that fits everything! How much easier would my life be? A girl I once worked with had a similar idea: she always wore a black top and a patterned skirt come rain or shine. She always looked so put together and it worked for every occasion.

My problem is that I worry I might get quite bored… but perhaps the practicality of the “uniform” would outweigh my boredom. What do you think? Do you have a work uniform that makes your day easier or do you just freestyle?

– Emilie

Chateau Vaux le Vicomte

VauxThis weekend, there were a lot more smiles in Paris than usual – spring has finally arrived! The trees are starting to look just a little bit greener and the thermometer is slowly reaching 21 degrees – the magic number when it is possibly to sit outside in a T-shirt.

The terraces of all the cafés in Paris were packed this weekend, so we decided to venture a little bit further afield and jumped on the train for a day trip to one of the lesser known chateaux close to Paris, Vaux-le-Vicomte.

True, it is not the easiest chateau to get to. If you are taking the train, you need to jump on a commuter train to Melun (about 50 minutes outside of Paris) and then either take a shuttle bus or a taxi. But the trip is absolutely worth it.

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Vaux-le-Vicomte was build slightly before Versailles and the gardens were landscaped by the same landscape architect, Le Notre. Rumour has it that, when Louis XIV visited Vaux-le-Vicomte, he was so jealous of the beautiful chateau,  he promptly threw the owner, his finance minister Le Fouquet, into jail (arrested by no other than D’Artagnan, head of the Musketeers). Le Fouquet was then kept in prison for the rest of his life together with the Man with the Iron Mask. All pretty exciting stuff, don’t you think?

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Vaux2The grounds are very easy to explore and the highlight of the trip is the visit to the chateau, where you can rent period costumes for children. We just went up to the reception desk and rented the costumes for 4 euros each. There is truly nothing better than dressing up as a Musketeer or a Renaissance Lady whilst exploring a chateau.

It is a much more accessible chateau for families than Versailles is; it is so much smaller and there aren’t really any crowds. I really do recommend it, especially if you need to get away from the bustle of Paris!

– Emilie

PS. Apologies for the blurry photos, I just snapped these photos on my phone!

Tuesday Tips: Bringing up children Bi-lingually

IMG_8495Having bi-lingual children is great — it is so impressive to see them jump from one language to the other seamlessly. For our Tuesday Tips series I wanted to jot down a few things I have learned about bringing up children with two languages (though I am by no means an expert). I hope they help and I would love to hear your tips and your experiences!

I was born in Germany to a French mother and an Irish Father who had met in San Diego. So we were tri-lingual: I went to a German school, my brother and I spoke German together (and still do), but my father spoke English to us and my mother spoke French. It was a great experience and something I am so grateful my parents insisted on, because, my gosh, I really rebelled as a kid. We were living in this teeny village in Germany and I did not want to be different from all the other kids. But every time I answered back in German to my mother, she did not answer me until I repeated myself in French… so I did not have the choice!
Interestingly, I have always gravitated towards English. I moved to England to study right after finishing high school, so English is now my most dominant language and the language I naturally felt the most comfortable speaking to my children.

My two daughters are now also totally bi-lingual, but the circumstances are very different to my German childhood. We live in a huge cosmopolitan city and, though the kids go to the local primary school (and speak French, of course), they have always had at least two other Anglo-speakers in their class and numerous bilinguals from all across the world. It is so normal for them to speak two languages, they don’t even think about it.

So here are a couple of tips:

  • Stick to the one language you have decided to speak to your child – Of course there will be moments when you will have to switch (homework for example), but it is important to stick to one language and build up a relationship with your child in that language. I read somewhere that a child needs to be exposed at least 30% of their waking time to an environment where the foreign language is spoken to be able to learn the language properly.
  • Build a network – one of the things that has been really helpful for us here in Paris is to have an English speaking network of friends. Joining the local Anglo parenting Network helped a lot. The children have grown up together and still speak in English to each other, though, when they are with French friends, they will swap back to French. It means that it feels normal for them to speak to other children, not only adults, in English even when in their home city.
  • Don’t listen to and don’t worry about myths – I have been told that bringing up my children with two languages may delay their development or might even give them a speech impediment. Total nonsense if you ask me. As long as your children are thriving and happy, I don’t see a single reason why speaking two languages should harm them. And in all cases, the benefits outweigh any potential downside.
  • Books and Films – I mostly read books in English to the girls to counteract a whole day of French in the classroom. Again it is also interesting to expose them to a different culture via books. When we watch films, we watch them in the original language they were filmed in. We also have the international BBC Iplayer to watch nature documentaries etc. in English and Netflix if we want to have a movie night and watch a film.
  • Travel – We are lucky, as we are only a short plane ride away from my family in Ireland and a train ride away from all our friends in London. Traveling to English speaking countries is really helpful as there is nothing better than emersion once in a while to develop language skills. It also helps for my children to put their second language within a context. They read books about children wearing uniforms to school, riding double decker buses and eating fish and chips, but there is nothing like being able to see and understand the culture of the language you are learning with your own eyes.
  • Reading and Writing and Music – For Coco, who is nine now, learning how to read and write in English has opened a new world to her. Again so much of learning a language is also getting to know a different culture. Listening to the lyrics of songs, reading books and also writing has been a massive step. Interestingly she has never had a formal class in English but, because of learning how to read phonetically in her French school, she managed to teach herself how to read in English.
  • Ideally I would love to send my kids to live in a host family abroad when they are 16 or 17 for 6 months. I did this when I was 17 and lived in the USA for 6 months. It not only improved my English a lot, but also it was an amazing experience to get to know a different culture.

The photo above is of my kids on yet another little trip away to Ireland. The moment they get onto the plane, they start speaking English to everyone around them.

Why Do Kids Lie?

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Here is a typical situation in our household: I hear a little pair of feet running off toward the bathroom in a hurry and then there is silence. Approximately two minutes later the little feet run off again. I then yell: “have you flushed the toilet and washed your hands?” and the answer is inevitably yes. I then point out that I am going to check the toilet and the hands. There is a moment of silence and the little feet run back; I hear the toilet flush and the water of the wash basin run.

A similar thing happens with brushing teeth, where a cheeky little girl once told me that she had indeed brushed her teeth, but the reason her toothbrush was stone dry was because she had carefully dried it with the hairdryer. The same cheeky girl once blamed a pot of mayonnaise for having dumped a whole sack of toys on the floor.

Now this can either make me giggle or drive me to desperation (often depending on how tired I am),  but apparently it is totally normal and is actually an important step in a child’s development. It normally starts at the age of two when a child suddenly realises that her way of thinking is different from others around them and limits are tested. It’s also an age where the lines between fact and fantasy are still very blurred. When they get older the lines become clearer, but the moral priorities are still blurred. The importance to please parents is very important, sometimes more so than actually telling the truth. I thought this article and this article were really interesting.

What I need to remember is not to lose my cool when it happens, as it is definitely more counteractive than anything else! Also a recent study has shown how punishing lying in children actually pushes them towards bending the truth more.

I have to say, after researching this, that my admiration for school teachers has grown even more. Can you imagine the tales teachers must have heard in their life?

– Emilie

The photo above is of my girls which I took the other day. They look like butter couldn’t melt in their mouth. Rest assured, it can!

Tuesday Tips: Going back to work

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A few people have asked lately for tips on going back to work following the birth of a baby, because let’s face it —  leaving the baby bubble and heading back into the real world is a challenge for EVERYONE (I defy anyone who says that they did not have even the smallest bit of anxiety about this).
I went back to full-time work after my first daughter turned one and again after the second was one year old, and both times it was such a big change that came with its own set of new challenges.  (I am an animation producer during the day and do my best to write for Babyccino at night ;)). I am happy to be back at work; I enjoy my job and I enjoy earning my living and working with interesting and inspiring people. I did have to make some compromises, especially in the first few years, but in the end, I managed not to literally combust, which I am quite happy with!  So here are a couple of things that worked for me:

1. Be organised.  I am possibly the least organised person in the world but dealing with kids and work has made me (moderately) more so. Spending Sunday night planning out dinner for the week and making sure that everyone has a stack of clean underwear (including me) makes the rest of the week so much easier. Basically it eliminates a lot of stress.

2. Don’t try to be perfect.  Don’t worry about things not being perfect. Good enough is often absolutely enough. If you have forgotten to get wrapping paper and you have to wrap a present in newspaper, no one is going to care or suffer. If the flat is sometimes a bit messy just because you don’t have the energy, it is not going to have any long term damage on your kids.
Roll with the punches and don’t be too hard on yourself. I have decided that it is all about marketing: if you come home and announce that tonight is going to be super exciting because you are going to have cereal for dinner, kids will feel like it is a treat not a let down.

3. Stick with what you know (at least for a wee bit of time). Going back to work is going to be stressful, so if you can, it could be a little bit easier if you can go back to a job you know, with people you know and a routine you know. You will not have to prove yourself as everyone already knows what you are worth and it just take a bit of pressure off you.

4. Take it easy on yourself.  In my case, I started working full time when I was 25 and had my first child at 32 and the second at 34. Considering that I will be working until 65 (possibly longer) I still have the biggest part of my career ahead of me. So I decided not to stress for the first couple of years and take the foot off the gas a tiny little bit. If that means my career stagnated a bit when my children were small, then so be it – there is still a lot of time ahead of me.

5. Surround yourself with a good network. Again this varies so much from person to person, but if you have family you should not be ashamed of asking them for help. In my case, I live in a city far away from my family, so I worked hard to build up a strong base of babysitters and friends. Sharing a babysitter with friends who have kids the same age works for us; it’s cheaper and if one parent is late someone else can help out. With older kids, having someone who helps with homework is key and if you can, you should think about having a cleaner. There is nothing better than coming home to a clean house and clean children. Basically whatever works for you is good, but the network needs to be trustworthy and strong. It needs to survive the unexpected!

6. Don’t feel the need to over do it. A lot of women (myself included) feel like they have to compensate and almost prove that having a child has no impact whatsoever on their working schedule. Unfortunately that is not true, so it might be better just to own that than to try and make everyone happy. Sometimes it is inevitable when a deadline looms, but often people are happy enough to postpone a meeting or conference call if it concurs with your children’s pick up time or dinner. It will mean that you will be less frazzled and more concentrated and everyone is a winner. Chances are your colleagues have similar priorities.

7. Treat yourself. Be it a manicure, driving or walking to work with music on at full volume, an espresso in the bar around the corner, or an hour of yoga at lunch time – find sometime that gives you a chance to relax and re-tank. I go to the cafe around the corner from school after school drop-off and have a cheeky coffee or two. Mornings in our house are hectic and so it gives me 20 minutes to gather my thoughts, talk to friends and get on my way. It is a small thing, but it is enough to give me the energy to move on and conquer the world. ; ) I think us woman have a tendency to forget ourselves with all the demands from work and family. The key it to scrape out one little moment that has nothing to do with work or family and is just for yourself – it is all part of self-preservation.

8. Above all, do not feel guilty. Here is the thing: in most countries at least 60-70 % of mothers work, for all sorts of different reasons, but mainly to support their families. My theory is that women since the dawn of time have been working, so there is no way that that you going back to work is going to mess your children up. (Conversely staying at home is also not going to mess them up). Of course you will miss them and they will miss you but you being happy is, in the long run, going to make your family happy. If you don’t impose your guilt on your children the chances are, they are going to be fine (possibly after a bit of a readjustment period) and so will you! Let yourself enjoy being back at work; it is not hardship, but something that defines you as much as your relationship, your family and your friends.

These tips are just based on my personal experience by the way, so they might not work for everyone! Would love to hear if you have any insights, because there definitely cannot be too many! As I mentioned in a previous post, there is no right or wrong way of approaching going back to work or indeed deciding not to go back, for everyone the right choice is a different choice!

– Emilie

Instant Apple Crumble

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At the moment, mostly governed by the cold, dark nights, we feel like we deserve something nice and warm, and apple crumble is a firm favourite. I have developed a little technique about making a super easy apple crumble. We make a huge batch of crumble and then freeze most of it. Then it is all ready to use! We just cut up an apple or two into some ramekins, sprinkle on the crumble and bake them while we are eating – seriously simple.

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Here is my recipe (if you can even call it that):

300g of plain flour
200g of unsalted butter cut into small pieces
150g of sugar

Put it in a bowl and rub the ingredients together until it resembles bread crumbs (some people use a mixer but I use my children because they love doing this). You can also add 2 teaspoons of cinnamon or replace some of the flour by almond powder. Some people like adding oats to the crumble, though I am not such a big fan of this!
I bake my crumbles at 180° until they are golden brown. Honestly they are mostly golden just when we have finished our main course, it is almost like magic 😉

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Finnish Babies in a Box

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Have you heard of this custom in Finland? I just read this article and had to share it! Every baby born in Finland receives a box from the state full of clothes, a sleeping bag, accessories and toys. The box can then be used as a bed. Everyone receives it, so it has become part of the excitement of having a baby.

I thought it was really interesting how over the years the content of the box has changed. In the ’30s the box contained fabric as woman were used to making their own clothes… and now the box contains condoms! The Finns are certainly moving with the times, but the principle stays the same and so generations of children in Finland have started off their lives sleeping in a cardboard box — such a great tradition!

– Emilie

Some thoughts about the recent events in Paris…

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Last night, as the end of a long day drew to an end, I had the need to jot down a couple of thoughts about the events in Paris since Wednesday. It has been terrifying, horrific, violent, senseless on the one hand… and beautiful, peaceful and full of hope on the other hand. It is very hard to describe what has been going on in this beautiful city of ours over the last few days, so apologies if I ramble. ; )

I wanted to start off by explaining to the non-French contingent the importance of Charlie Hebdo and how much it symbolizes so much of French culture. Here in France, illustrated stories and cartoons are a huge part of our culture. Adults as much as children devour illustrated novels. (One of my 9-year-old’s after school activities is a cartoon class.) My generation grew up on the cartoon books by Wolinski and Cabu, so these guys were not just people working for a small satirical magazine that sometimes found itself on the fine line between offensive and provocative, they were illustrators that have formed the rebellious spirit of a whole generation.

The French are, on the whole, cynical, critical and irreverent (I mean this as a compliment). They are also, compared to all the countries I have lived in, the most politically aware and politically engaged. This is why the attack of Charlie Hebdo was so significant: it represents an attack on something us French hold the most dear: our freedom of expression. A quote by Voltaire has been repeated again and again this week: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to death your right to say it.” People here feel strongly that provocation by cartoonist are incredibly important, as the irreverence and humour is such a historic way in France to mock the government and society in general.

For most of Wednesday and Thursday, Charlie Hebdo was our main focus – Friday’s attacks irreversibly changed the scale of the attacks. “Je Suis Charlie” suddenly became so much bigger than it had been. It came to represent all groups targeted in the attack. “Je Suis Charlie” suddenly came to mean: I am a journalist, I am Jewish, I am the Police. The slogan became bigger than just France, it started to represent all the people targeted senselessly by terrorists.

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On Wednesday late afternoon, after letting sink in the terror of what had happened in my neighbourhood and in my city, I took the kids over to Place de la Republique. A spontaneous gathering was taking place and I felt like it was important to show the children (and myself) how a tiny little group of people can commit a senseless crime and how in the face of that, thousands of people gathered together peacefully to stand up against violence. The atmosphere on the square was so calm and strong and it was incredible to see how everyone needed to unite together and gain strength from likeminded people. I think, hopefully, that showing the children what was going on (both the good and the bad) was the best way for them to deal with the tragedies. The Charlie Hebdo shooting and the shooting of the first police man happened so close to us that ignoring it and protecting them from the events was not a possibility. But I do hope that by participating in the demonstration today and laying flowers down for the victims will give them an understanding of what happened and how important it is to stand up for our basic rights.

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– Emilie

P.S. For anyone living in France or whose children read French, I really liked the gesture by Le Petit Quotidien, a children’s daily newspaper who have made a version dedicated to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attacks downloadable free of charge.

Women: Are we our own worst enemy?

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The other day I was on the phone to my great university friend Suzie, who is a stay-at-home mom with four kids. In contrast I am a single, working mother of two, so our lifestyles are pretty different.

Now, what was very interesting about our conversation was how defensive we both were of our life choices and how we felt, both of us, that we needed to prove to each other that our life was hard and not at all an easy choice. Luckily enough we both picked up on that and had a really much more interesting conversation on how critical woman can be of each other and how much we each admired one another. Ha! (I think actually, it was our mutual admiration that made us feel we needed to justify our own choices. It’s almost a sort of insecurity in ourselves that leads us to feel we need to pick holes in the choices others have made).

Working mothers are criticised for neglecting their children and for putting work before family. Stay-at-home mothers are criticised for not contributing to the finances of the family and for having an ‘easier’ life. Seems like none of us can get it right! I sometimes have the feeling that women are so much harder on themselves – and each other – than men are. We constantly scrutinise each others appearance, ageing process, career paths and behaviour.  But why? Here is my theory: we are still very insecure about what is the right role for a woman in society, and to believe that the choice we have picked for ourselves is the right one, it is necessary to justify ourselves.

If it was just up to choice, it would be so much simpler. But the problem is, some women have to work to support themselves and their family, while other women have partners who have time-intensive jobs and so they themselves aren’t able to work and be away from family. Some women are simply more fulfilled by looking after their children, and of course there are others who simply cannot find a job at all! It’s not always an easy choice to make.

I guess what I am trying to say is that it would be great if we could avoid judging other women for their choices or look down on them. We should be celebrating individuality and accepting that different scenarios work for different people. If we did everything the same way, we would live in a very boring world. Life is so complicated anyway so why do we seem to be each other’s worst critics rather than enthusiastic supporters?

And we also need to learn to accept that the choices we’ve made are what work for us, for our lifestyle and our families. We shouldn’t need to feel we have to justify this to anyone. There really is no such thing as ‘having it all’; everything is a balancing act and we all balance our many roles in very different ways. Let’s make sure we stand up for ourselves – and all those other women juggling their lives too!

– Emilie (and Suzie)

Above is a photo taken a couple of years ago of mine and Suzie’s kids, who, though brought up very differently still get on like a house on fire!

Fish Cakes, an easy recipe

Fish Cake Recipe

I start the New Year every year with great resolutions, one of them being to always have a kitchen full of prepared, healthy, delicious food, so that I don’t need to think about cooking from scratch in the evening when we walk through the door at 6.30pm on a cold winter night. I manage to stay organised for about 3 weeks and then my enthusiasm starts to wane a little bit, BUT I have to say, for the first part of January, we eat fabulously well and early(ish)!

Fishcakes are something I have always loved and they are so easy to prepare in advance and freeze.  There is no hard and fast rule in making them; you can use any kind of fish (even tinned tuna or salmon at a pinch) and so the recipe is easily adaptable to each family’s taste. I served them with a nice green salad or peas or kale – basically anything nice and green.

Here’s what you’ll need:

-500g floury potatoes
-300g fish (salmon and cod are great, but you can even use a tin of salmon or tuna if that is all you have)
-1 leek or spring onions or chives or even capers (whatever your family likes, I like the little taste of leeks with fish)
-a handful of  chopped parsley
-salt and pepper
-table spoonful of flour (or a wee bit more)
-1 egg

Peel and boil the potatoes until they are soft. While they are boiling, gently fry the thinly sliced leek and let it cook down. Blanch the fish until it is just cooked and let it cool down, then put it in a mixing bowl with the leek and break it up with a fork. Add the egg and the flour, salt and pepper to taste. Once the potatoes are ready, make them into mashed potatoes with a potato masher. Let the mash cool off a little and add to the fish mix. Mix it all together with a wooden spoon. Put some flour on the kitchen surface and into a plate. start forming the fishcakes and once they are formed (you might have to add a bit more flour at this stage, depending on how wet the mixture is), toss them in a bit of flour on the plate until they are coated. (I like to make quite small cakes so this mixture makes about 16 cakes for me).

This is the point you can freeze the cakes (I lay them out on a small baking tray and freeze them like that so that they don’t stick together. Once frozen I then chuck them into a bag, which takes a lot less space in the freezer).

Whenever you need the cakes, defrost them, panfry them in a bit of oil and serve with a nice green salad or whatever you fancy!

– Emilie

Are We There Yet?

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Have you been following the Rosetta mission on the news lately?  I have been a bit obsessed in the last few days to see if the mission of landing an unmanned space craft on a comet that is about 6bn kilometres away from earth was going to work, so improbably and yet, somehow it landed! It took the space craft 10 years to reach its destination; insane, right?

As we were listening to an update on the radio in the morning, my kids were asking probing questions about the mission, which I have actually been at a loss to answer. Because, how do you explain comets, space crafts, 6bn kilometres and the universe to a 6-year-old over a bowl of cereal at 8 am in the morning? Not my strong point, and many of the questions, I have to admit, I actually could not answer.  So I discovered this little animated video  called “Are We There Yet” made by the European Space Agency. It is super cute and very informative, even for adults!

– Emilie

Rooftoppers

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Coco is at a stage now where she takes herself off to read her books and I am not part of that world anymore. It is kind of sad, but also such an important part of growing up and building her own world. I still remember the pleasure of getting lost in a book at her age and escaping reality and (occasionally) annoying siblings!

I also have to admit that a lot of books she reads frankly do not interest me at all! Let’s face it, a pack of mice solving mysteries is just not my thing…

There are some books though that she reads that are so well written and fun, that I sneak into her room at night to steal her book and read it myself. Her current read, Rooftoppers , is one of them. Written by 27-year-old Katherine Rundell, it is about a baby found floating in a cello case after a shipwreck in the English channel. The baby grows up to be a spirited little girl, who does not give up the search for her lost mother.

It is beautifully written and engaging and feels like a classic, even though it only came out earlier this year.

Both Coco and I highly recommend it! 😉

– Emilie

 

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