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I am and have always been a very messy person. When I see the state of my older son’s bedroom, I feel sorry for him because he has inherited my genes. It is not due to education, because my mother was always a clean person, almost A type when it came to household organisation. She taught us to do many different household chores and I have memories of Saturday afternoon dining room furniture polishing. She would also write out letters addressed to her loving family with either very clearly stated family rules or just written complaints about how we don’t respect those rules and that she is not to be considered our maid. So, I really don’t know where my messiness came from! And since I have done the same for my son, yet he remains just as messy, it must be innate.

As a young adult, living on my own,  I got by all right when I lived with other people. The chores always managed to get done, some by me, many by others. I had a boyfriend at one point, when I was living with two other girls, who could come once a week and clean our bathroom entirely because we just never seemed to be able to do it! I was so thankful for that. We were pretty messy girls and even though I seemed to be able to handle it, I did get extremely disgusted when one day I realized that the awful smell that was developing in the kitchen was because my roomate and her buddies had been drinking beer in the evenings and instead of getting rid of the bottles, were stacking them behind the secret stairwell door (it was an old building with the servants’ stairwell leading to the kitchen). HUNDREDS of bottles with moldy beer that had been sitting there for months. To this day I can still remember the smell. It was one the of the most repulsive smells I have ever encountered. Even I felt like a neat, clean person after that episode.

When I first moved to France, I don’t think I quite adapted to this new life without a dryer, a dishwasher or a roomate. I didn’t even calculate the new responsabilities that were required of me and time passed. I never seemed to be on top of the laundry which piled up, then had to be washed, hung to dry and then ironed. Dishes washed by hand, bathrooms cleaned by me or not at all. Our house was not a disaster zone, but it sure wasn’t beautifully cleaned and organized. And when I had two children, a full time job and a part time job, guess what suffered the most!

Well, a few years later I married an officer in the army. I don’t think he realized what he was getting in to!!! Though I admit that I like to believe that when two people feel that they have so much in common,  fall in love, discover that they are good together, they often discover how they have certain qualities that are completely opposite. My husband has a rigid, highly organized side to him, while I am very free-spirited and together, we often influence each other. He is a complete neat freak and I am messy, so now after ten years, he has become more relaxed and accepts living in a “family” house (even though he still fantasizes about living in a minimalist, loft apartment – ain’t gonna happen honey) and I have been forced to become a much more organized, clean person. He influenced me quite a bit, mainly because I realized that if I didn’t change, our marriage might not last and also, three more children were added to the equation. Could you even imagine not being organized with five children??? Laundry, toys, school stuff, coats, shoes, EVERYTHING!!!! I once amused myself by counting the number of socks used in a week during winter (not counting when my older children think it’s great to wear TWO pairs of socks!) NINETY-EIGHT!!!! And I STILL don’t have a dryer, so those 98 socks are hand hung. Socks also get lost and so for years I had a box full of poor, single socks that I kept really believing that their partners would show up one day. I finally threw them away a few years ago, but now I have a new box with newer socks. We do have a dishwasher which we actually only got about five years ago.

About three years ago, I hopped on the SIMPLICITY bandwagon because I needed help and guidance. My youngest child was two, almost three years old, so I was no longer in the baby phase. I could finally get rid of all toys in the communal part of the house. I was starting to feel overwhelmed by the stuff that was accumulating in the house. I had kept all of Mathieu and Hélène’s clothes thinking the younger ones would be able to wear them, there were toys everywhere, cupboards were disorganized, books and magazines on every shelf and I just could NOT keep up with the housecleaning.

I followed the advice of a few different books on simplicity but also the wise words that my husband says very often : “L’organisation épargne la sueur” (organisation spares sweat). I figured that a well organized house with fewer things to clean up and better storage would reduce the amount of cleaning that I’d actually need to do! And so we started to get rid of a LOT of stuff in our house. About a half of the toys disappeared which was a relief. The children play outside so much that they aren’t very attached to their toys. We kept ones that are for building, Barbies and clothes, figurines and that is it. I now love walking in to their rooms and seeing an actual room. And it is much easier for them to clean up because they have proper storage spaces.

I also got rid of clothes. I tried everything on and got rid of about a third of my closet. I’m an avid second hand clothes buyer and so having less leaves me room for my small pleasure.

We finally sorted and got rid of most all of the kids’ clothes I was keeping. I just kept in mind as I filled up the boxes of stuff to be sent to our equivalent of the Sally Ann that someone else would make good use of these items instead of them sitting on a shelf! I kept one box of my memory clothes. Those outfits that reminded me of a child when they were younger.

We loaned dozens of our books to our local library that I am in charge of so that they weren’t hoarding our shelves but we would always have access to them.

This has been going on for three years now and every couple of months, we either get rid of something or put something in place to make our lives easier, like these two pieces of furniture that Lio made over the holidays. I have been able to bring up all my nice, simple white dishes and glasswear from the cellier that I previouly had no place to put in the dining room. And we also now have a nice space for the incoming mail, Lio’s computer, our squeezebox, my purse, shoes, etc.

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I have come a LONG way but I cannot boast about having become a really clean, organized person. I still HATE housework and I have to force myself to sweep the floor, do the laundry, clean the bathrooms. I had someone come in and help with the cleaning up until last September but then she no longer had time for me and I decided that I need to learn to do without. I had this idea that since someone came in and did the cleaning once a week for three hours, the house was clean. But really, when I was honest about it, no one, not even superhuman, could possibly make my house perfectly clean in one afternoon! There were things that were not getting done, like getting rid of spiderwebs, cleaning the oven, wiping down cupboards properly, cleaning behind the sofa, etc. So, now I try and do a bit everyday because the idea of having a housecleaning day just depresses me. I have created a playlist on Deezer and crank up the music when I’m alone in order to motivate myself. And on Friday’s I try and make the house extra nice looking because I know how important it is for Lio to start the weekend in a pleasant environment. I like that as well, I admit.

But becoming a more organized and clean person has had a secondary effect on me that I couldn’t have imagined before. Every single time I clean something, clear out a cupboard, reorganize a space, downsize an area in our life, get paperwork done or get all the laundry folded and put away, I have this incredible sense of accomplishment or even relief. It brings HAPPINESS. It’s like taking a happiness pill! When Lio finished the cupboard and I could place all my nice dishes inside, knowing that finally this problem was solved, I got a wave of happiness.

This morning I finally attacked my fridge. I hadn’t planned on doing it which is probably a good thing because I would have dreaded doing it and that would have had the opposite effect of happiness! I just looked inside and realized that the bottle shelves needed wiping down. But then you know how it goes, you start by doing something small and then you look to the side and realize that the shelves are a bit sticky, so why not wipe them down, too. I ended up taking my whole fridge apart (which I didn’t even know was possible!) and cleaned out the whole thing. I admit to having found some pretty disgusting things under shelves I didn’t know could be taken out. It took me over two hours to clean!!! That fridge had been nagging me for months because even though I had regularly wiped down the main shelves, I think I knew in the back of my head that those hidden icky spaces were there and needed attention. I listened to my music, joked with Lio about how ickly it was, discovered what my fridge actually contained and when it was finally done and I got to close the door to a perfectly clean, newly hygenic fridge, I felt a wave of that happiness drug!!!

A few days ago, a friend and I were talking about what holidays meant to us. We both agreed that we weren’t in need of a beautiful beach, cocktails and massages. No. Our dream holiday was when were got things done in our home environment, while also having time with our family with no school schedule, time to sleep more, make nice meals and watching movies. We have fun but also finish the day with that happiness drug of having accomplished something to make our lives more confortable or easier. Lio and I plan in advance what we are going to do over the holidays to come. We accept that on weekends during school time, we aren’t going to undertake major tasks because we are a bit worn down by the work week, but holidays are that perfect time to go crazy in the house!

Later on today, we are going to go for a walk in the hills with the dogs. The kids love running around up there pretending to be adventurers. I’ll be feeling very content because my fridge is clean (and Lio washed all the curtains and hung them back up as well as tightening a loose plug that has been irritating me for months) and I feel like a more organized, clean person for it.

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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.

Here we are in 2013. I haven’t posted in ages simply because when my life gets hectic or I feel that I am on holiday, I don’t feel like writing. Well, I do feel like it but I don’t take the time. This month of December was so crazy with some catering jobs, baking for the marché aux truffes to raise money for the school, helping with some Christmas activites and swimming sessions at the school, extra cooking classes during the month and then of course preparing the Christmas festivities for my family. I started feeling a bit odd during the second week of December, sinuses bugging me, a bit of a cough. I was determined NOT to get sick because I couldn’t NOT do everything I had planned for the month. I made sure I was well rested, even taking naps once in a while. I felt well organized and not particularly stressed. By the 16, I was really fighting the virus and by the 24, I should have been in bed. But I was so excited about our Christmas Eve dinner planned with friends and I absolutely love Christmas with young children in the house who still wholeheartedly believe in Santa Claus. There was NO way I was going to get sick. My parents-in-law arrived Christmas morning for a lunch and afternoon together. When they left, it was like my body said, OK, now I can be sick and I literally sat on the couch and couldn’t get up again. I spent that evening and the whole of Boxing Day under a quilt. I slept and watched THREE films. We were invited to a Boxing Day party and Lio took the children, leaving me in a nice, quiet, warm house. I started feeling a bit better the next day and progressively got better over the week. I also started taking my supplments that boost my immune system. But now it is the 5th of January and I still have pain in my chest and don’t feel 100%. The virus this year is a doozy.

But I do feel happy about having done most all of what I had hoped to do for our Christmas holidays. Our holidays have been really fun as well.

I spent from September until December being my usual busy self, but I admit I strayed from some of my 2012 resolutions. This may seem silly, but when we were in Canada and the States, I was really hit by the way North Americans have some aspects of their life that are quite ecological, but on the whole, compared to how we live in my area and in our home, they really aren’t at all. The supermarkets are overstocked and full of crap, I didn’t see many homes do compost (though most do recycling), I saw a lot of wasted water and electricity, the cars are gas guzzlers and the sizes of the homes are obscene. Stores and signs are everywhere and it was pretty evident that the society was based on consumerism. Now, everyone can shoot me. I’m just saying what I saw and I know that there are exceptions, espceially when you get out of the cities. I just happen to live in a place where many people are ecologically conscious, where organic veggies are often cheaper than supermarket ones, where people will bring you homemade jam or a big squash as a gift, people keep chickens and have veggie plots. Of course, not everyone, but a lot. So, when I started to get busy in September, I sort of slipped from my good habits with the idea that compared to elsewhere, I was a very ecological person. I started buying paper towel, something that hasn’t been in our house for a couple of years. I bought some canned veggies for easy dinners and supermarket cheese. We had been eating locally for eight months and I started cheating in order to make my life easier. We had also vowed not to buy anything new for the whole year and I started cheating on that, too. I bought some books and stuff for the kids and house. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, and really it isn’t. But after a chat with hubby the other day, I felt like we had strayed too far and really, it didn’t make our lives better!  At Christmas time I bought a raw duck liver and a breast from our local organic farmer and made my own foie gras and dried breast. Our Christmas Eve feast was two huge chickens my neighbor had raised. I bought the veggies from the organic market and my favorite cheese maker finally had her first wheels of the year for sale. The meals were delicious and it made us realize that the local food is just SO much better.

This afternoon we celebrated the New Year with the traditional breaking of the gingerbread house and tree. We usually do it on the 1st, but for some reason we didn’t. We worked like crazy today, doing about three hours of gardening, planting the bulbs we hadn’t got around to doing (mainly because I was waiting for my petunias to stop blooming, which they did until the beginning of December!). So, By 15h30 we were HUNGRY!!!

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Sean’s smile on command face

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Lou having a ball breaking the house

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Margot chose the roof that had the most smarties

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House destruction !

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Tree destruction !

After this luxurious snack, we took the dogs up to the hill for a run. It was 19°C this afternoon around here and the weather reports say that it will continue for a few days. I figure that if it won’t snow, let there be sun and heat!!!!

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  Fort Liberia

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 The Canigou peak

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  (A view of the Medterranean Sea)

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Our town is the one at the bottom of the picture

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I have been spending some time thinking about my New Year’s Resolutions and basically I will be returning to my old ones, accepting that we will always stray because we are human. We are NOT asking for wealth this year because the worldwide economy is not making that a good option. And really, we don’t need wealth. We do need health, as this December has taught me, and we always strive for happiness which I think we are pretty lucky to have most fo the time.  Who wouldn’t living in a place like this ???

But I’ll write more on that another time… as soon as school starts again.

I always have a lot going on. Probably too much. And before having my last three children, I admit I was downright DISorganised. I never managed to keep on top of laundry, bills, appointments, letter writing, etc. Having a lot of kids and being married to an officer in the army really pushed me to create more order in my life. It was no longer possible to miss appointments or meetings, not have everyone’s laundry in their cupboards or forget to pay bills. Not to mention maintain some order in the house.

When the children were small, probably up to 3 years old, we allowed a couple of baskets and bigger toys in our main living space. But from the age that we considered them to be independent and no longer at risk of strangulation or electrocution, those toys disappeared from downstairs. We couldn’t put up with seeing loads of kids stuff when we walked in the house. So, in to their bedrooms those toys went. If they do bring something down, they have to clean it up and get it out of sight when they are done! Aren’t we mean? My husband has always been a neat freak and when he gets home at the end of the day, the first thing he does is a tour of the living space, picking up anything that looks stranded. It sort of irritated me at the beginning because I wouldn’t understand why he was like that and I also admit, it made me feel like I should have done it before. But I don’t notice very small messes. I even leave certain thing “undone” when I clean the house because it makes it at least look lived in. He has dreams of living in a stark, minimalist house with hardly any furniture. So, we have come to a compromise with a fairly clean, organised family house with no toys in sight. The kids seem to be fine with that. Kids are known to be adaptable which is helpful, too.

The other night, I was woken up by my son who needed to use the bathroom. I couldn’t get back to sleep afterwards because everything that I have to do in the next five weeks started zooming through my brain with an intense fear of forgetting the details. A few months back, I read an article about waking in the night and not being able to get back to sleep. It recommended just getting up and doing something for at least 45 minutes before going back to bed. I now do just that when I know sleep won’t come and I can actually take care of what is bothering me. So, up I got, at 2am, made a warm hot chocolate with raw cow’s milk (nothing better for inducing sleep), got my iPad, sat on the couch and got to work.

A few years ago, before I had an iPad (for me that means the stone age, I can’t live without it now), I had developed a daily planner page that helped me be efficient every day. I defined three main goals for the day and then listed anything I needed to do, appointments, calls to make, etc. It was a life saver and really got me into the habit of planning my time and getting things done. Tsh at Simple Mom has a great one and some other helpful downloads.

Now that I have an iPad, things are different. I actually went into a phase of so-so organisation because I didn’t want to use the paper planner anymore, but I didn’t know if I should use my iPhone, my iPad or an agenda for keeping things clear. What I have come up with now helps me stay on track with everything I need to do. It involves three tools or apps available on computer, iPad and iPhone. OK, yes, I’m a iFreak. I considered (for all of one minute) buying a PC and changing my four-year old iPhone 3 that does NOT, I repeat, does NOT have iCloud for a Samsung, but no, I just can’t. I prefer to wait until next June when I’ll get a changeover deal with Orange. So, my phone can only talk to my computer with a cable and sync. He can’t even talk to my iPad, poor guy. That’s OK, though. It’s the computer and iPad that matter. They can share everything !

I use iCal to mark EVERYTHING that is going on in different categories. I run the village library, am president of the parents’ association at school, take part in the Agenda 21 at the preschool, accompany the kids swimming every week, do my cooking classes at the biocoop and my house, have five kids in four different schools, and do try to have a social life. So, in iCal, there are different colors for the different activities and you can make it remind you for every event, so nothing is forgotten. I have been the champion at making lists and then forgetting to look at the lists. This way, I get reminded often by bells. I haven’t missed an appointment since I adopted this strategy. I also make sure it is all noted in my phone.

I also use Wunderlist. You make lists, in different categories, like dates or what the tasks have to do with. You can choose the date something must be done by and add notes concerning the task. There’s other stuff you can do but I admit that I use it in a very simple way and I always feel very relieved when I get to click on, and see disappear, those tasks! Oh, and it FREE. So, go check it out!

The other app I find absolutely incredible and has just recently been updated and modified, is EVERNOTE. I can’t even begin to describe all its capacities, so do go over to their website to check it out. It also is FREE!

Anything you write, take a photo of, capture on the net, can be filed away for easy access and any time. It is a fantastic tool for creating an interactive recipe book. Before the iPad came out, I fantasized of having a small computer-type accessory that had just a screen and could be installed in my kitchen, just so I could access recipes on the internet. When the iPad came out, BINGO! Except that it could do so many things there was no way it was going to live in my kitchen. Actually, it is usually living in the hands of my children who have become a bit addicted to it. But, I DO use it in the kitchen and I stock my recipes, especially the ones I’d like to test, in the Evernote app.

But think about it. There are a million different ways that this app can make our lives just that much more organized and fluid.

No, I’m not being paid to tell you about all this. I always imagine that anyone who has a computer knows about every single app available out there, but when I speak with people around here, in the Deep South, they really don’t. So, just in case they are reading, or anyone else who isn’t up to date with all the helpful tools out there that can make us moms be so incredibly efficient, this is for them!

After an hour of working that night, I went to bed and fell soundly asleep, relieved to know that NOTHING would be forgotten.

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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