Never in a million years would I have ever expected to use a Ricky Martin quote for the title of a blog post, but it seemed the most fitting for what I had to say! As you may know, we are lucky enough to have two beautiful children who keep us on our toes 24/7 and they are the driving force behind what we are trying to achieve, here in the Aveyron countryside. We are trying to become as autonomous as possible and teach our children the skills and knowledge they will need to thrive in an ever-changing and uncertain future.
Now our two terrors absolutely love eating fruit. Given the choice between a packet of sweets and a pineapple, our daughter would pick the pineapple every time! Our son is banana-mad and goes crazy for olives. Day in, day out, they eat fruit at breakfast, lunch and dinner time and often in-between. It is the one and only ‘snack’ that is accepted in our house and what makes it even better, is that the fruit harvest is already underway, which means it doesn’t cost us a penny.
Yesterday, after dinner, the four of us went out in the garden and spent half an hour picking up plums from the ground, while Papa shook the tree. We then moved on to the first of at least five hazelnut trees, which have produced far more than last year. At the weekend, the damsons should be ripe…and so it will continue until the winter.
The kids absolutely love it, they understand exactly where their food comes from and they get to taste fresh fruit straight from the tree. Harvesting our own produce is one thing, but having the pleasure of eating it is another. We’ve already enjoyed two batches of homemade basil and walnut pesto (walnuts we are still using from last year’s harvest!) and the cucumbers are starting to come in thick and fast. The peppers are nearly ready and we have a steady flow of ripe tomatoes, despite our big tomato faux-pas which I’ll talk about later. We eat fresh salad nearly every day and I’ve really got into making homemade bread, with sun-dried tomato loaf, rosemary and garlic focaccia, and cheese and onion baps being the most popular favourites to date.
I recently came across an excellent article on Parenting.com, Get Your Kids to Eat Everything, the French Way, about how children brought up in France are much more accustomed to eating everything that is put on their plate, but I think there are a number of factors that have made our children good eaters:
- The biggest breakthrough has to have been ‘Baby-led weaning’. My mum gave me a parenting magazine to read just after our daughter was born and it came with a free book, which Pete read out of interest and then passed on to me, telling me it was the way to go. Imagine being able to give your child the best introduction to food tastes, textures, colours and smells…well you can, through baby-led weaning. I have no regrets about adopting the Baby-led weaning technique with our two children and I would encourage every parent to do it!
- We have always given our children the same food as us. I must admit, we now cook with less salt and spice than if we were cooking just for ourselves, but we simply add these elements to our own plates upon serving. It makes mealtimes much easier, enjoyable and stress-free.
- We adopted the ‘either eat what’s on your plate or go hungry’ approach to mealtimes, similar to what was used when Pete was brought up. It sounds severe but if you start giving in to your child’s mealtime strops, it will soon spiral out of control and create a fussy-eater who picks and chooses what he eats. The parent should be in charge of food education, not the child!
- We send our kids to bed early if they don’t finish their dinner! Even writing it makes me sound harsh, but kids go through phases of not wanting to eat, playing with their food, being easily distracted and testing your limits. You have to put a stop to it at an early stage. I can confidently say that this approach works because we have a growing six-year old who loves her food and eats absolutely everything we put in front of her (and quite often asks for second helpings) and we have a slow-eating four-year old, who is often lazy when it comes to picking up his fork…but give him time and encouragement and he does eventually finish his plate and shows us his growing muscles with pride at the end of every meal!
“To be in your children’s memories tomorrow,
You have to be in their lives today.”
– Barbara Johnson
At the beginning of the month, I thought it would be an experience to take the children to watch the Tour de France pass through our local town, Lanuéjouls.
Being a quiet, little town, there were no crowds like you see on the telly, which meant we could collect all the freebies that were thrown at us from the publicity caravan. I managed to keep them entertained on a step on a stretch of pavement for just over two hours, until the cyclists passed by in a matter of seconds. My daughter summed it up nicely when she questioned why we were leaving so soon when the whole purpose was for us to watch the cycle race pass us by. When I told her it had already been and gone, she looked at me bewildered, like I’d just wasted two hours of her life, but hey, it didn’t matter, she had a lovely bright green Skoda hat, a packet of crayons and some free samples of washing detergent to take back home with her so it must have been worth it after all! Some kids are easily pleased!
July was also a busy month because we had two birthdays to celebrate, which meant a lot of baking for me. We decided it would be easier to brave a joint birthday party for the kids and it went remarkably well. There were twelve children in all, including our two, and it was a beautiful, sunny day, so they played out in the garden and we did a few ‘typically English’ party games. I was particularly pleased with the cakes, even if the sugar content was ridiculously high! Food wise, everything else we made was relatively healthy: tomato and basil pizza, hummus dip, fruit cocktail kebabs and elderflower lemonade.
If you haven’t gathered by now, yes, like every parent, I am very proud of our two children. Not because they might do well at school or be better than other kids in any way, no, because they simply love being children and doing what children do. Moving to the country has brought out the best in them and I love watching them build dens in the garden or turn an ordinary quilt into a make-believe ocean.
Pete is particularly pleased of our kids but for entirely different reasons…they can both hum the Star Wars theme and already know all the characters. You see it was Pete that first introduced me to Star Wars, when I was 23 I think. He thinks it was wrong of my parents to have deprived me of Star Wars for so long and that it is every child’s right to know who Luke’s father really is. Of course this is all a bit of light-hearted fun, but it has led to the children questioning the universe and the stars…which has, in turn, prompted us to buy a telescope. We probably didn’t think the whole thing through, as we now have two young children who refuse to go to bed until the stars are out!
Now before I get carried away talking about infinity and external forces that I just can’t explain, I figure you’d much rather hear about what has been happening on the ground, back at Chez TêteBlanche…
Introducing Coco (short for Coconut) and Jay-Jay (or Jé-Jé in a French accent, short for Jaffa Cake) our newest family members. It is hard not to get attached to these two little beauties, but they are to be working cats, and at 8 weeks, we introduced them to their new home, Pete’s workshop, where they will hopefully keep the rats at bay.
As I mentioned earlier, we’ve had a bit of a problem with our tomato plants recently. In fact, we’ve lost quite a few and it’s down to human error…we made the mistake of transferring manure-rich straw straight from the chicken house to the soil in the polytunnel, without giving it time to breathe and break down…and consequently, the soil has become too rich for the tomato plants and all the leaves and tomatoes have turned black! We managed to save some of them, but we can safely say we won’t have enough tomatoes to make any conserves or sauces to freeze for future consumption, that is for sure.
With regards to potatoes, we’re thankfully doing much better. We decided to dig up the improvised straw bed we made on an old, rotten piece of carpet and much to our delight, we got just under eight kilos of potatoes. Now you have to remember, this was the experimental method of potato growing with a completely non-dug bed, so it looks pretty promising for the other four beds which were prepared in advance and that we still have yet to dig up.
We finally got the strimmer back from the repair shop, after a 5-week wait, but I’ve given up fighting a losing battle with the Husqvarna customer service department and settled for an extended warranty.
Our request for French nationality by naturalisation is proving to be very complicated and expensive, but you know we are not the type to give up at the first hurdle. Apparently my French degree is not sufficient to prove my competence in the French language, so I have to pay to sit the TCF (Test de connaissance du français) and, on top of this, we have to pay over 200€ to get some formal documents translated into French by a sworn translator (even though I am perfectly capable of translating them myself!). The Brexit vote is not only risking the UK’s economy, but it’s taking a huge chunk out of our wallets too!
Now for some inspiration. I have recently discovered the astounding music and story of the American singer-song writer, Rodriguez and wow, it’s hard to believe why his music never made it into mainstream. If you haven’t already seen it, you simply must watch the documentary about him, “Searching for Sugar Man”. It’s one of those real inspirational stories that make you think and reflect on life, and it comes with an amazing soundtrack. I would love to sit here and write pages about the guy but I don’t want to give too much away until you get a chance to watch it for yourself…Enjoy!