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Yesterday I was at l’Arche de la solidarité, a charity shop in our town where locals bring their give away stuff but also to find treasures or great deals. I was there because I had seen some very cool lounging type chairs that I would like to refurnish and put on our terrace. Of course I had to take a look around the whole shop while I was there.

In amongst the kitchen wares, an old fashioned Fisher Price record player was perched up, all alone on a shelf. I had one when I was a child and I LOVED it. This one still has all it’s disks and works perfectly. I bought it without even asking the price because they sell stuff like that for pennies. When I got it home, the girls fell instantly in love.

This is Lou, dressed up as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, listening to Humpty Dumpty.

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When I hear the music, I am transported back many, many years to similar rainy Sunday afternoons, sitting on the floor, winding up the record player, placing the arm and listening to each and every song, humming away. Watching her is almost like watching a film of my own childhood.

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But I didn’t have these very fancy, sparkly shoes!

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Happy Sunday

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Over the last year I have been hearing a lot of talk about children being picky eaters and how to raise children that eat a wide variety of healthy food.

I’ve had many, many discussions with moms about this and I also enjoy observing children and how they eat. I noticed how North American children eat while we were there this summer as well. I have read different articles on the Internet or in magazines. I find the whole thing rather fascinating. Raising five children ranging from 5 to 17, means that I have been in that phase of teaching children to eat well for a very long time.

I think I can say quite honestly that they are all really good eaters. Margot, the youngest, is still in that little kid stage and can get picky sometimes, but I know that it will pass because it did for all the others. I think she uses food as a way to make a statement sometimes. But I won’t go there. My children will eat all types of food, veggies, meat and all the normal stuff, but also snails, oysters, frogs legs, duck hearts, parsnips, celeriac, smelly cheeses, you name it. Yes, they have their preferences and I know there are some foods that just won’t be eaten. Sean and Mat have an aversion to avocado. Sean doesn’t like red pepper, either. But he isn’t snubbing the whole vegetable group, so who cares? He still gets served these things and has to pick them off his plate.

 So, I have decided to write down a few of the principles I adhere to when it comes to children and food. These are MY opinions and so you may not agree! They are just things that have worked in our family.

  1. I never cook with the idea that it is “kids’” food and so the children will eat (at least not since they turned 3 or 4 and then I didn’t even really). I don’t like kids’ food like plain pasta and ham or breaded, frozen fish fillets, and so these things may show up once in awhile, but rarely. When they were very young, I would just adapt the main meal to their age, without actually making a special meal for the youngest.  I cook to make myself happy which is OK because I like most everything (that can be considered proper food).
  2. Snacks are ok when children are very, very small but from age 3 and up, the only snack that is ok is around 10am (if really necessary) and 4pm in the afternoon. The children accept this because they have grown up with it. Snacks are more often than not something that have been made, like a cake or cookies or something simple like a fruit or just a slice of bread with something on it. If, for instance, on a Saturday afternoon, we decide to get together with another mom and her children, inevitable we will ask each other what we should bring for the “goûter”. Making homemade snacks is just part of French culture. Ok, many moms are now buying mainly packaged cookies, but the tradition hasn’t fully died, especially on the weekends, and is actually probably going through a renaissance. Snacking a lot makes people fat and causes eating problems, it’s pretty simple.
  3. If a child doesn’t like a food, I keep serving it time and time again. It has happened to ALL of my children. They don’t like something, then they do and the opposite is true. They go through phases. So the best thing to do is completely ignore them. I just cook a wide variety of international dishes, making sure there are herbs, curry, veggies everywhere, your favorite home dishes, new recipes from a great cookbook and don’t even think about whether they will like it. If they don’t, they can eat bread and cheese, which is always on a French table.
  4. A child must try everything that is on their plate. One forkful. If they don’t like it, no big deal but I will never accept, “I don’t like that” if they haven’t even tried. HOW many times have they said that and then actually tasted something and realized, “Oh I DO like it!” and since the brain needs up to seven or eight times for a new food to be accepted, they need to have that taste sensation so that the new food is registered in the brain.
  5. No kid in a normal home has ever died of hunger. When they were younger, I never looked at my children’s food intake at just a meal. I looked at how much they have eaten over a few days. They would hardly eat at all at a meal and then make up for it the next day. That’s why I never worried about them not liking a particular meal. They would just eat more another time.
  6. I never force a child to finish their plate EXCEPT when I know they are just being picky and are not full. When they were really little, I just took the plate away and when they were a bit older (under 5) I never made a big deal about it. Now that they are older, I do say they won’t have dessert if they don’t finish their dinner but when they were younger, I never used that argument. First of all, we don’t often have dessert, except maybe a yogurt and secondly, I believe that making that argument can cause a warped relationship with food. People should enjoy eating without eating too much of one thing and without negative psychological connections to food.
  7. We always eat as a family. Our table is laid out every evening and the meal can last quite a long time. We talk, we eat, we even play games quite often. I know people, especially in North America, but here as well, that do a kids’ meal early on and then an adult meal later. That has never occurred to me since that meal time is one of the most important moments of the day. Not only is it when children learn about food but it also the cement of our family. We spend an hour just being together and talking about our day, subjects of interest, whatever.  This said, if one of the parents doesn’t get home until 8pm, of course the kids probably shouldn’t wait. Though I do know families where the kids DO wait and they all eat a light dinner together quite late.
  8. If you don’t want your kids to eat junk, don’t buy it.
  9. I don’t marginalize my children. They are attracted to McDonalds because it is quite popular. I don’t like McDonalds but I don’t want to fall in to the trap of being too radical about my food opinions. I don’t buy coke but if there is some at a party, I let them have a glass. I don’t like candy, but they are allowed some at a party. I’ll take them to McDonalds about twice a year. I don’t want them to grow up feeling “deprived” or brainwashed and then go crazy when they leave the house when they are older and then binge on junk. Our children know our opinions on that kind of stuff, we talk about the dangers of too much sugar, foods that aren’t produced under good conditions. They know where their food comes from and for me that is the most important. They have even been to the farms where our meat, cheese and milk comes from. We are lucky to be able to buy food with that quality and have the producers right near by. We hardly eat any processed food at home and most all of it comes from local, organic sources.
  10. And lastly, rules can be broken once in awhile without negative consequences.

It was cloudy this morning for the November 11th ceremony but the day ended sunny.

I have five kids, two teenagers (15 and 16) and three young ones (5, almost 7 and 8). When my older children were young, I tended to listen to what I thought were their needs and probably ended up protecting them a bit too much. I did teach them to be very independant, so much that now they have plans to leave France as soon as they can. But when it came to certain things, like starting school and their extracurricular activities, I was very sensitive of their fears, their likes and dislikes. This may seem normal and an attitude that makes a “good mother”, but over time, I realized that I was sometimes a bit of a pushover. When Mathieu started school at 3, he would cry and so what did I do? I took him out. Why? Because in Canada, we don’t put our kids in school every day at 3. When Mathieu and Hélène decided that they didn’t like their extracurricular activity anymore, I made them finish the year and then they chose something else the next year.

Now with the smaller ones, I have come to the decision that I need to be a little bit more cold and forceful. This year, they all had to choose an extracurricular activity and I  decided I was going to help them develop pleasure from their advancement in that activity. It means that I spend a lot of time driving back and forth to town because Lou has rhythmic gymnastics two evenings a week and on Wednesdays they all have either fencing or gym and Sean has climbing some weekends. They all LOVE their activites, though on some days, Margot will beg to be able to stay with me. Out of the question. She MUST go, even if I bribe her a bit by saying, Of course I am waiting just behind the closed door. I won’t leave! She isn’t stupid, though, and when she comes out she say, You weren’t there, were you? Well, no. I had some shopping to do. OK, no big deal. She had a great time.

Yesterday Sean went climbing and part of the afternoon included a small via ferrata where he was walking along small metal rods with NOTHING underneath him for 20 meters. It was very, very scary for him. Apparently he did a bit of crying, as did his good friend. But with the urging of their climbing monitor, Marco, they managed to advance and finish the trail. They both came home full of pride and really quite full of themselves. But today they had the possiblity to go on another excursion, this time to a much bigger via ferrata with parts that would be even higher, up to 200 meters off the ground. Both boys, to be perfectly honest, were scared out of their wits by the idea.

This is when, I feel, a parent’s guidance comes in. Do we decide that our boy is still young, with ample opportunity to grow up and decide to take part in such a scary adventure later on when he feels more mature. Or do we urge him to go for it because since he has started on this road of new experiences that test his limits of fear, it’s best to continue with the idea that the more he does something, the less he will be scared. They always say that if you fall off a swing, you musn’t walk away, but hop back on in order to erase the fear that could grow from that bad experience. Sean didn’t fall, but he had a catalyst of fear that could grow in him and so we decided to push him to go today. I know my son. He is a scaredy cat. But often when he feels frightened by something, he just needs a nudge to help him get over his fears. So, we decided to nudge him today.

I admit I was a bit worried throughout the day. What if he was in the middle of a bridge and couldn’t move anymore from fear and stopped the whole group from advancing? I have confidence in the monitor because he had Mathieu when he was younger and Mat had a great time with him. I knew he could get Sean to continue and to enjoy the experience. Well, I really hoped so.

This evening, when darkness had fallen and Sean had been gone for 9 hours, I went to pick it. I turned to him and said, “Alors?”

“Maman, c’était GENIAL !” (Mom, it was great!)

Right then and there I knew we had made the right decision.

A nice, sunny day today.

This summer our house was hit by lightening and some of our appliances were damaged, one of them being my iMac. I had a backup of photos from 2001 to 2008 but 2009 until 2012 were lost. I did send the computer off to a specialized Apple shop, but they got broken in to and my computer was stolen with about 60 others. How’s that for incredible luck ? No more computer and no chance of ever getting my photos back.

That was a huge wake up call for me and I decided to get my pictures developed. Just like people used to do way back when. Well, actually when my older children were young and now we have the single album problem. Their dad has the albums and both of us are too lazy to scan every single photo out of the three massive albums. So the albums travel back and forth, a few years here, a few years there.

Anyway, I took advantage of some GROUPON offers. If you aren’t subscribed to GROUPON, I do highly recommend it. You just choose your closest city and you get sent all sorts of deals. I don’t use it very much, but I have managed to get some great deals. I bought some offers on photo books which I used to create a book about our holidays and I’m in the middle of doing one with my family photos (my mom and dad young, me and my brother and sister, etc). I also bought an offer for the development of 200 photos. I had to spend about three hours going through all of our photos over a period of about 4 years. The problem with digital photography is that you can just snap, snap, snap away and nothing forces you to have to SORT through the photos. I ended up with over 15000 photos !!!!

But it was fun and I loved seeing the children so young, and they were all so cute as babies. I always forget what they were like and what they looked like. I had a great times sorting through the photos and seeing my babies, reliving moments in their lives.

This one made me laugh and laugh …

After losing my computer and my precious photos, I have an early New Year’s resolution of sorting through all my photos right away, backing up my computer regularly and making albums that people can actually look through because NOONE ever looks at photos on the computer. Nothing beats a cup of tea, a comfy sofa and photo albums.

I also finally invested in a great plug that saves computers from blasts of lightening.

I always, always underestimate the shock of when the three youngest children arrive home after a week of being at their grandparents’ house. My husband and I undertake some sort of project while they are away that usually has a goal of making our life easier, more organized or just more enjoyable. We get up early, start our activities, either together or separately, have quick but relaxed meals together, sometimes in front of a movie, invite friends over or go out. We run errands, do the laundry, clean up and just generally get on with all that needs to be done with no stress and no hindrance. A perfect blend of work, pleasure and relaxation. And every single time I have this fantasy that when the children arrive they will easily slide in to this Utopia of family life.
During the week that they are away, I always manage to forget certain details of our daily reality. I forget that at least one of them is asking for something every few minutes. I forget that more people means more cooking and more dishes. There is more noise, more movement, more opinions, more everything. I also forget that they have just spent a week being really well behaved for their grandparents and are therefore in severe need of letting off child steam. This can come in a tolerable form of going to run around in the yard or it may manifest itself in an argument over who gets to place a puzzle piece or something as trivial and inevitably ends in tears.
I haven’t yet learned how not to be exhausted, mostly mentally, at the end of the day, even the easy ones. I have one desire and that is to go to bed, read a book or just sleep. I envy people that manage to put the children to bed and then do something else, like work, watching a movie, even baking cookies. I usually feel pretty brain dead. So when the children are not there, I actually feel lively in the evening and don’t feel the need to run to bed. Which means I imagine all sorts of new projects or activities I’d like to start. And when they come back, I realize why I haven’t figured out how to find more time for everything I’d like to do. I am sitting in bed writing this blog post which is really surprising me and gives me hope that I will be able to achieve my goals. Sleep can wait a bit longer.
The children did calm down and the day ended with the three of them sitting at the table glueing pictures from the Christmas catalogues on to their letter to Santa. Who was I to say it was too early for that ? They were being so sweet and quiet ! It gave me a bit of time to prepare my class tomorrow and meander on the web a bit.
A long time ago, I came up with one of my own personal mottos. “It’s a state of mind” “C’est un état d’esprit” because I had realized that by just changing my view on something could completely change the way it affected my daily life. So, with the children back, I’m just going to get back in to my big family state of mind because life is so much better with them around, even though a break sure does feel good sometimes ! The children got to spend some valuable time with their grandparents, visit Toulouse, go for walks in the woods, play board games, learn their times tables. And we have our new shelves, a reorganized bedroom, a clean house and some great memories of evening with friends, plus quality, no kid time.
But now we must get on with real life !

Beautiful sun again today.

It was kind of cloudy today.

After two full days of sawing, assembling, sanding, cleaning and reorganizing, the living room is finally finished ! Every slot in the new TV stand/shelving unit was measured in order to hold certain items, electronics placed according to nearby plugs. That is the advantage of home made furniture.

But the problem was the color. We live near a very small city with only one DIY store when we went to get supplies the liquid oil tint colors were not in abundance. On one of the cans, the color looked like the one we hoped for but the result was completely different ! My husband started to get worried as I was wiping it in to the very light pine wood. It was turning dark chocolate brown. After a few seconds, there was just NO going back. Thoughts of hours sanding the wood down to bareness in order to ever get back to a light color seemed much too daunting.
We have children and have raised a couple of dogs from puppies. This may seem irrelevant, but it isn’t. You see, when the children were really small (and actually some of them are still small) and when the dogs were puppies, things would go seriously wrong, very often. Items of clothing, sunglasses, brand new furniture, really nice looking area rugs … almost everything is our house that I had special love for, was RUINED. When we moved in to our house, we bought brand new furniture for our living room and Tiguak, our puppy, would wait for us to leave the room and then proceed to chew on all the edges of the coffee table and the bottoms of the bookshelves. He also chewed up my beautiful prescription sunglasses. The children drew on freshly painted walls and even carved and dented the dining room table with knives. I found quilt covers with holes in them, chair cushions doodled on or cut up. My children aren’t demons nor the dogs abnormal. I just have too many of them. I have never been able to keep my eye on all them carefully enough to prevent permanent damage to our belongings. And I have shed tears, many times.

Fortunately, they have stopped. Well, almost. I have spotted Margot’s signature in some fairly odd places this week (like the dining room table) and I can understand that because she is five and wanting to prove that she can write just as well as her older brother and sister can. I don’t really understand the need to write in places other than a sheet of paper, but I guess graffiti desires are human. That feeling of I was there, here’s the proof! I don’t even notice the graffiti on the wall in the stairwell because I know it will be painted soon. We made a decision to wait until the kids were older and finally understood what was acceptable or not and that all the dogs were adult and officially non-chewers before trying to make our home beautiful.

I learned a long time ago not to become attached to my clothes, my glasses, my jewelry, makeup , shoes and belts (which disappears because I have a teenage daughter), my kitchen stuff, my furniture. I don’t seek to have a perfect style in the house, with items of furniture in precise, fashionable places. Colors just don’t matter too much. What is stylish today may not be tomorrow and , if someone gets pen happy on the walls, they’ll probably just need painting over soon anyway, so I can change the color.

So the shelving unit isn’t the “right” color. We have decided to make it the “right” color by changing our vision. We are viewing it as more sophisticated, nicely accented with the white wood wall behind it, making the room more cozy and less IKEA looking. We LOVE it!

It might be gone in a few years after the kids and dogs have taken care of it … or maybe we’ll be stuck with it for another twenty. I can always crack open a can of paint.

Jennifer is a Canadian/American, living in the South of France for the last 18 years. Married to a frenchman who's job forces him to spend a lot of his time overseas, she has learned to cope with all those everyday challenges brought about by her sometimes crazy life. Adapting to a new culture, raising children, taking care of animals, growing a vegetable garden, cooking for her family and friends, teaching cooking classes and trying to maintain a fairly organized and inviting home. Here are some of her thoughts about it all.

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