Today is the first of May! All over the world people celebrate Labour Day and here in France it is a bank holiday accompanied by demonstrations by all the labour unions. But in typical French fashion, politics are mixed with romantic gestures…
It is customary here to give ladies a small bouquet of Lily of the Valley (known over here as le muguet) on the first of May. It dates back to the court of Charles de IX who decided to present every lady at his court with a bouquet of Lily of the Valley to celebrate the end of winter. The tradition stuck and, being a republic now, the custom is not reserved to the fine ladies of the court but to the fine French ladies everywhere! It is so lovely to walk around Paris on the first of May and see Lily of the Valley being sold on every street corner. You suddenly realise that spring is here and summer is just around the corner….
Holland will be dressed in orange today! Because of the origins of our queen (she’s from the House of Orange), our national colour is orange. Not the deep terra cotta kind of orange, but just plain, nice and bright orange! And once a year, in honour of the queen, we celebrate Queensday. We take the day off, dress in the appropriate color (ALL of us!), and hit the streets to find treasures at the many flee-markets on the streets. Amsterdam’s biggest park, the Vondelpark, is dedicated to kids today.
Even Dutchmen abroad will wear something orange today, so see if you can spot them on the streets!
My 3-year-old is a lover of books and her personal book collection is threatening to drawf mine. A week ago I decided it was time to take action so I took her to the local library. I have been kicking myself ever since that I had not thought of this before!
I had completely forgotten about public libraries. I vaguely remember going with my mom when I was a kid, but the thing I remember most is the musty smell of old, humid books in a scary Victorian building. My more recent memory of a library was a place to whisper sweet nothings and flirt at university; not much book reading was done.
Our local library here in Paris is a very distant and very modern cousin of the libraries of my childhood. Clean, bright and organised, there is a huge children’s section with little tables to sit at. All the books are kept at ground level so kids can browse through them all by themselves. I didn’t realise how much my daughter would love it — she was in heaven, discovering old favourites and new treasures. There is even a small international book section with English children’s books. Membership is free for anyone, so my daughter is now the proud owner of her first library card. (more…)
Here in France a lot of the songs the children sing have been around for generations. It’s quite cute actually — my daughter is now singing songs that my grandmother sang with me, which have been hidden somewhere in a forgotten part of my brain and which I am now remembering.
So I have picked up a couple of CDs and we listen to them loads and have a bit of a dance-off (though the CDs we have are fun, I have not as of yet found a CD that is outstanding and that I could recommend). I was being a bit slow on the uptake and it is only after a while that I started to tune in and realise that some of the songs are not really politically correct in the world of 2009… (more…)
We have a tradition here in the Netherlands: we put up an Easter tree. It’s not really a tree, merely a couple of curly willow branches put in a vase. We hang colourful eggs from lovely ribbons in the tree, which have the symbolic meaning of new life on earth. Which reminds me – my neighbour just gave birth to her third child yesterday, a little girl weighing 5195 grams… NATURAL BIRTH!!!
Back to the Easter tree… it’s great fun to decorate it with the kids. They can paint their own eggs, or maybe sew little birds like the ones pictured (I found them on Flickr). And it makes such a lovely centerpiece on the Easter table!
So, I have finally made the decision… I am going to go back to work! We have 2 wonderful daughters and I have taken almost 3 years off, with a little bit of freelance work here and there. It has been a great time but I really feel like I am ready to get back amongst it. I already know it is going to be incredibly hard not spending my days with the kids, but in theory I am really looking forward to getting my teeth back into a project and being ‘Emilie, the professional’ instead of ‘Emilie, the mom’.
So why am I finding it so difficult to actually get going, instead of only talking about it? I have even gone as far as getting a totally new wardrobe to turn myself into this self-confident, go-getter. I thought that maybe if I looked the part, I would be the part. For obvious reasons that was a bad idea… I now own some pretty, new dresses but it still has not made me get in touch with my inner professional self. (more…)
After being completely refurbished, the Forum des Images finally reopened its doors a couple of months ago. Founded about 20 years ago, the Forum is Paris’ premier film library and cultural cinema venue.
The new Forum is fantastic, and a stark contrast to the ugly Forum des Halles shopping centre that houses it. (The Forum des Halles is now also up for a major refurbishment, so hopefully what is known as the eyesore of Paris, will finally disappear). It does mean that the Forum des Images is right in the centre of Paris and very easily accessible.
One of the major attractions are the children’s film screenings. There are screenings every weekend and on Wednesdays. At the moment, during mid-term holidays, there is a very popular children’s film festival on. Films start from 18 months onwards. The choice varies from classic art school films to old classic Disney films. (more…)
ONE YEAR AGO WE WROTE ABOUT:• Red and yellow and pink and green…
In the US and other English speaking countries you had the “Breakfast Club”. In France we had a movie called “La Boum”, the ultimate 1980s teen movie. It was the movie that propelled Sophie Marceau into stardom. It had a very simple plot: teenage girl fancies boy and wants to have a party at her house and in parallel her parents are having marital problems… It all results in a happy ending. The whole package came with a catchy soundtrack and we all LOVED it.
Some clever French Film writer has revived the idea and a film called LOL just came out in France; this time casting Sophie Marceau in the role of the mother instead of the daughter. I went to see it recently with a girlfriend (we loved it) and it turned out to be a very seminal moment in my life. I suddenly realised that I was not identifying with the teenage heroine but with her mother!!! I don’t think that has ever happened to me before. Granted she is a trendy, good looking mother… but still, I think I have finally realised that I am not a teenager anymore. (more…)
Besides a few anonymous cards that were sent between secret lovers (mostly between smitten teenagers, to be specific), we don’t have an actual Valentines tradition here in the Netherlands.
The last 15 years however, it seems that Valentine’s Day has become a holiday celebrating love in general instead of the more mysterious anonymous love it was traditionally about. Lovely, of course. I mean, we can’t celebrate the wonderful things in life enough… but it’s all gotten a bit too commercial for my taste. All those bright red hearts and teddy bears around town are not really my thing.
The cute folded hearts by Martha Steward pictured on the left are, and I’m going to try to make some this week with my daughter. Because this year we are expecting some special and much loved visitors for Valentines day…
Last Sunday we spent the perfect winter day visiting the Natural History Museum. We met there quite late in the morning, with another family with two children.
We first toured the ground floor where the main attractions for children are the skeletons and reproduction of dinosaurs; there is a life-size triceratops that is really impressive.
Then we headed to the cafeteria, which is on the top floor with a gorgeous view over the roofs and trees of this very central neighbourhood of the city. While, as usual in Milan, the cafeteria does not cater especially to children, the staff there are really patient and will help you compose a plate for the little ones. I was not sure what my little daughter was going to like, so they let me pick and mix among the various foods available. The quality is good and the price quite reasonable.
Then we headed to the first floor so that the children could burn off some of the energy accumulated while sitting at the table. They roamed enthusiastically through the corridors, looking at wild animals set in nicely restored dioramas that really help them envision where lions, polar bears, elephants and the like live in reality. (more…)
I think I must have been a little know-it-all, as I would consequently lecture my little girl friends about how they should not play with Barbies: the dolls were an insult to feminist ideals…. imagine how popular that made me on the playground!
Now that I have two daughters myself, I have mixed feelings about Barbie. I am still ingrained with my mother’s zealousness, but I also come from a much less radical generation and cannot really see the harm in a doll. Actually my main gripe with Barbie is a lot more superficial: I find her kind of ugly….
Barbie is about to turn 50 and has survived all the polemic surrounding her and yet the pro and anti Barbie debate goes on.
ONE YEAR AGO WE WROTE ABOUT:• Make your own caterpillar
A few days ago my husband was dropping our daughter off at school and was stopped by the head mistress. “Monsieur” she said, “your daughter has been singing a beautiful English Christmas carol at school. Can you give us the words to it, as we want to teach it to all the kids.” My husband was not sure which song she was talking about, so he asked our daughter to sing it for him. She very dutifully obliged and much to his horror launched into a complete rendition of “Last Christmas” by Wham…
I love the fact that an ’80s pop song got lost in translation and became, to the ears of a French person, a wonderful children’s Christmas carol.
What are we going to do? The head mistress is expecting us to turn up with some wise words about mistletoe, stars and angels. Instead we are going to turn up with a song that might be seminal to a lot of people of our generation, but let’s face it, George Michael is not famous for his traditional, child-friendly song writing skills…. I am not sure that the head mistress, who is a formidable old-fashioned lady, would approve!
ONE YEAR AGO WE WROTE ABOUT:• Learning French without French Class
Ice-skating has a long history in the Netherlands, and there is no child in this country who didn’t grow up learning how to skate! Of course this would happen the old-fashioned way: on ‘botjes’ (double-bladed skates) and holding on to a chair to remain balanced.
Traditionally, children living alongside the many rivers or canals in the Netherlands would be very pleased when they could skate to school instead of walk — it would save a lot of time! (And, of course, not everybody owned a bike like in modern times!) Their parents would strap on their wooden skates with leather thongs and skate for miles to go and see family they hadn’t seen in months.
On weekends big tours would be organized, and alongside the canal one could find little stands selling ‘koek en zopie’ — cookies and hot chocolate (or gin for the dads). After the tour, the family would come home to a big pan of ’snert’, the traditional Dutch pea-soup…
It’s been a while since it has frozen in the Netherlands, at least enough for all the natural waterways to freeze. In fact, the last ‘Elfstedentocht’ (Eleven Cities Tour), an ice-skating race that takes place in the north of the Netherlands and keeps every Dutchmen captivated as soon as the temperature drops under zero, was in 1997!
Thankfully every city in the Netherlands will make sure there is an artificial ice-skating rink in their centre. And in Amsterdam there will be five! (more…)
ONE YEAR AGO WE WROTE ABOUT:• Is there light (Starbucks) at the end of the tunnel?
Last Sunday we took our children to witness the arrival of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) here in Amsterdam. He traveled in his private steamboat from Spain, where he resides, and changed for horseback as soon as he reached the city’s shore. Escorted by over 600 ‘Zwarte Pieten’ (Black Peets) he rode through the city, waving at thousands of children and promising them to come by that night to put a small present in their little shoes. In return, the children sang loads of traditional songs (as did their parents), and many of them were dressed up as miniature Zwarte Pieten themselves (the children, not the parents).
If you don’t know what I am talking about, you can read more about Sinterklaas in the post I wrote last year. Also – the good man is basically the origin of the North-American Santa Claus!
So, if you happen to be in the Netherlands this time a year, and see a strangely dressed older man accompanied by an even weirder looking friend, don’t be in shock: this is Sinterklaas, the friend of every child!
P.S. Sinterklaas will be in the country untill December 5th, his birthday. After that, he’ll take his steamboat back to Spain.
ONE YEAR AGO WE WROTE ABOUT:• Thanksgiving
My Italian brother went backpacking through Ireland as a teenager and I will never forget how disgusted he was when he realised that the youth hostels he was staying in did not have a pasta strainer! Norwegian friends of mine just cannot get their heads around the fact that I do not own a cheese slicer, and my English friends are forever trying to find my potato masher in my cupboard when they stay with us. I do not understand how anyone could survive without a salad spinner, which is completely essential in my opinion!
I guess what we use in the kitchen reflects the way we eat and we are all pretty convinced that our national culinary delights and way of eating are the best in the world. In a time when you see Starbucks appearing on every corner in Paris and every other major city in the world, it is nice to see that we are still fighting for our own cultural identity, even if it is only in the kitchen!
(By the way, I would love to hear about other cooking utensils used in other countries…)
ONE YEAR AGO WE WROTE ABOUT:• Ex-pat moms
If you are ever in the 11th arrondissement in Paris, rue Keller is a great street to visit for a little bit of off-the-beaten-track retail therapy. It is lined with loads of cute autonomous boutiques, reasonably priced lively restaurants and bars, and little art galleries.
Anne Willi, the adult and children’s clothes designer, has her flagship on rue Keller. I especially love her kid’s collection. Her designs are not classically French — they have a very northern European feel to them, and every item is intelligently designed and crafted.
Another little shop I love is the design shop Lou Lou Addict. It is one of these shops were the owner has fantastic taste and has chosen each piece on display for good reason. (Even if you cannot make it over to rue Keller check out the Lou Lou Addict online shop.)
Dorothy’s Gallery is a great little art gallery which at the moment has a very topical exhibition on: an exhibition all about Obama in Paris!
And another one of my fav’s is Klok — a maternity and baby shop. They have wonderfully high-end maternity wear, and cute baby and toddler clothes. They are not exactly cheap but the maternity clothes are especially very well designed. They stock furniture like the Leander cradle and bed and beautiful baby bags and accessories.
I am noticing that in every magazine I read or newspaper I check online, everyone is writing tips on how to deal with the new downward spiraling financial situation. When I was walking past the newspaper stand the other day I saw that both Elle Deco and Marie Claire were spreading their wisdom on how to shop in style whilst keeping budgets low. So I am wondering: is cheap the new chic? (more…)
ONE YEAR AGO WE WROTE ABOUT:• Playground Rage
I do not know if you agree with me but I find that a man’s socks tell a lot about his style. I tend to be quite conservative on that front, but that is beside the point. Italian men are taught, from a very early age, that socks should match their trousers and they should be long, up to their knee. The idea, I guess, is that if they go up beyond the calf muscle it’s more difficult for the socks to slide down so that when a man crosses his legs no white hairy leg portion is on show.
While nowadays short socks are deemed acceptable with casual wear it would still definitely be a big faux pas if someone was caught with short socks while dressed up in a suit.
I remember how my poor husband, who worked in an investment bank in London, came home one day quite puzzled by all the comments that his colleagues on the trading floor made when they discovered he was wearing long socks. I think the most amusing ones were, “Do you come from Bermuda?” and “Are those hold-ups?”.
So next time you see a man in a suit with long socks, be kind to him. He is most likely just an Italian behaving like his mama told him to and not a cross-dresser in disguise!
I love reading magazines and I love being a parent, but I find that most parenting magazine are just, well, a little bit boring….. That was until I discovered Milk Magazine — a hip, French parenting magazine. It’s like a kids version of Vogue!
The articles are contemporary and cool and full of great ideas, and the fashion pages and photography rival any grown-up fashion magazine. Not everything is affordable and some things are over the top, but that is what I love about it — it makes me dream! The only slight hitch is that most of the magazine is in French, BUT for the non-French speakers out there, the most important articles are grouped together at the back of the magazine and translated into English.
Milk also has a great website full of ideas for toys and clothes, recipes, competitions, hot addresses and a regularly updated blog. And we are very honoured here at Babyccino to have been asked to contribute to it on a regular basis. On top of that, the Milk girls will be giving us a monthly update of some of their favorite little gems they’ve discovered. We hope you enjoy!!
Of course I don’t remember my first birthday, nor do I remember my second or third one. A child’s third birthday is, however, a special affair, because the kid now knows what is going to happen: he/she has seen it happening to friends, and he/she knows it involves cake, a party, and more importantly: presents!
Also, he/she will not be merely focused on the wrapping anymore, but will have a profound interest in the actual inside!
I personally still love receiving gifts, and I also love choosing and giving gifts. You could say I am a very ‘gifted’ girl! (Just kidding!)
Thinking of gift-giving, I thought it might be interesting to mention how, in the Netherlands, we give gifts. It is different from other cultures, and it goes like this: (more…)