You are my sunshine…..

Big surprise this week: my first blogging award. Thanks to drive thru man for nominating me, I was most honoured to know that my first blogging efforts have been read and appreciated. Ok, I know, it could be seen as a chain letter, but it’s also a great way for us to get to know new blogs out there in cyber space, so let’s go…

I’ve been told to do the following:

  1. Include the award logo in a post or somewhere on your blog.
  2. Answer 10 questions about yourself.
  3. Nominate 10 to 12 other fabulous bloggers.
  4. Link your nominees to the post and comment on their blog, letting them know about the award.
  5. Share the love and link the person who nominated you.

I’ve done all bar number 2: I can’t see any questions anywhere, and it seems a bit self-opinionated to make them up:-)

The most important seems to be to nominate ten sites for the Sunshine blogger Award, so here goes. These are all blogs I have enjoyed visiting, which I hope will rock your boat too:

1. tata20’s, all about a nanny with great writing style, zipping back and forth between the Southern hemisphere and Europe with a two-daddy family.

2. Caramelize life, full of cool recipes and beautiful photos.

3. The unpredictable life, a refreshing, optimistic and uplifting blog which motivated me on a down-day 🙂

4. igame mom, a great informative site with suggestions for child-friendly use of ipads and apps.

5. Turn around and swim:  positivity, family, fun and workingmotherhood!

6. 52 brand new: A great blog detailing a family’s decision to try something new every week.

7. Mommy Man: the adventures of a gay superdad. A fab read.

8. Faemom: posts on being a mum, written in a way that makes other mums crack a smile.

9. Mixed baby greens: a mum addicted to cycling in the English countryside; this blog makes me realise how easy it actually is to get off my backside, get outside and enjoy life.

10. The man of the minivan: discovered on the “freshly pressed” page, and haven’t regretted it since.

Thanks again, drive thru man, and happy blogging!

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Procrastination: A waste of time?

As I patted the loose earth around the newly planted inhabitant of my garden, I feebly reassured myself that tomorrow would be the day I finally completed my tax form. Just like I had decided yesterday, and all the days before. Tomorrow, voted “day of the week” by Procrastinators Anonymous.

Procrastination, which could be termed “the art of putting off until tomorrow what you should have done yesterday”, has been around poisoning people’s lives for a fair while. Way back in 1st Century BC, Publilius Syrus noted: “Deliberando saepe perit occasio”: “the opportunity often slips away whilst we deliberate about it”. Numerous authors and politicians mention the big P in their works and speeches.  It seems to be part and parcel of human nature, handed out to Adam & Eve whilst He Upstairs was distributing the less charming human attributes like farting, hairy legs and addictions to peanuts.

So is procrastination really a waste of time? Not in my book. Since the infamous annual tax form arrived, I have successfully accomplished many other activities that I had been actively avoiding until then. Apart from the unavoidable issue of bringing home the bacon, P.F’s shirts have been impeccably ironed, the dump has been run done on a regular basis rather than waiting until there is a skip load of rubble in front of the house, the fridge-freezer has been defrosted and cleaned. Even my usual Vesuvius of dirty laundry diminished to a point where I was practically ripping the dirty clothing off my family’s backs to have a good excuse for a machine load.

So we can safely say that in my case, procrastination is part of the equation for getting things done, but in a very twisted kind of way. Not wanting to fill in “The Form” pushed me to do other necessary things that suddenly appeared much more exciting. Even cleaning the family car with my own toothbrush seemed an attractive activity in comparison. There are so many other valid excuses to use as an avoidance tactic as the clock ticks and counts down to that “last minute” crisis situation which becomes inevitable, although it could just as easily be avoided.

So why do people procrastinate? Isn’t it easier just to do things as they come up? Curious to know, I cleaned the earth off my hands, left the tax form growling dangerously in the drawer along with my Filofax and went for a wander on Internet.

If I believe the hype I found, people who procrastinate love contact with other people, and escape the “boredom” of work via the more immediate rewards of social contact. Not really negative in itself.

However, the plot then thickened. Other authors claim that procrastinators seek an immediate fix of happiness. They do not understand or enjoy delayed gratification, have little self control, and apparently also lack in self-esteem such an extent that they avoid difficult tasks simply because they are either scared of not succeeding, or of succeeding so well that others could expect too much of them. They put off the work for longer and longer, until the final date rolls up and the mission is so impossible that even James Bond would burst into tears and throw in the towel. Ah, now things are looking decidedly more morose.

So how do you define when you are doing something because you are avoiding something else, because it’s necessary, or simply because you enjoy it? Difficult to know.  Anyone who has filled in the French income tax declaration will perhaps understand my overt lack of motivation.

Now that I’ve spent an interesting afternoon writing about procrastination, I’m off to fill in that form. Once I’ve weeded the garden, that is……

A load of luscious old rhubarb.

I want rhubarb.  Since I came across the great blog Caramelize Life, I have been craving the stuff. I came across this post completely by chance, and Methowmama’s gorgeous recipe for rhubarb sauce got me salivating for my favourite fruit vegetable……. edible plant stem (I’ve never quite worked out whether it counts as a fruit, a vegetable or an alien life form, but I love the stuff). My childhood was marked by those beautiful purply-pink stalks and huge leaves. Rhubarb takes me back to that time where you rode life’s train rather than driving it, back when you kicked off your shoes and asked what was for dinner. When I used to watch a cartoon called “Roobarb and custard” on T.V. When my dad laughed during the BBC news and said “what a load of old rhubarb”. Yep, we can safely say that rhubarb rocked my childhood.

As an adult, I found my ultimate rhubarb heaven in the Alsace region of France: rhubarb grew everywhere, and for ten years, I shamelessly scoffed my way through pounds of the stuff when it was in season, then squirrelled it away in the freezer for ceremonious, special-occasion rhubarb-desserts to cheer us up during winter.

When we moved down to the South of France, I desperately hunted for my favourite stalks at the market, but my request was met with shrugging Gallic shoulders.  In the supermarkets, my failure was as dismal as when I tried to find Roquefort cheese, foie gras and rabbit in a Florida Wallmart 12 years ago. The only rhubarb I once found was thin, droopy and fibrous, hiding at the bottom of a crate. In comparison to the butch, chunky rhubarb I’d been accustomed to in the past, it was undeniably a flop, in every sense of the word.

The humble rhubarb had become unattainable. I  have since resigned myself to buying it frozen, and am currently impatient to see hubby arrive, any minute now, with some frozen rhubarb. I will be throwing myself at it to make my all-time favourite: rhubarb crumble. It’s a simple English pudding that sticks warmly to your insides and glues a smile on your face for hours afterwards. It’s even more fabulous with a generous dollop of custard, or a scoop of vanilla icecream.

For those who are interested, here is the recipe…. with a special thought for Methowmama, the blogger who, from somewhere out there in cyberland, managed to jettison me into the rhubarb addict’s equivalent of cold turkey.

 

Cut around ten stalks of rhubarb into thumb-sized pieces. Put in a pan, then add sugar to taste (between 50g and100g (2-4 oz), depending on how sweet your tooth is…) and a drop (3-4 tablespoons) of water. Simmer gently until the rhubarb is just cooked (cook too long at your peril, unless you like baby food). Put into relatively deep buttered, oven-proof dish.

In a bowl, rub 100g /4oz cold butter into 150g/6 oz of flour. Then gently mix in 100g /4oz of sugar (I prefer demerara sugar, but any sugar will do), and add a little powdered ginger if you like it; cinnamon is also an alternative. Sprinkle this mixture over the rhubarb. Put into the oven (thermostat 4, 180°C, 350°F) and cook for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is golden and the rhubarb bubbles gently around the sides 🙂 . Eat warm, with additional calories such as custard or vanilla icecream. In the unlikely event of leftovers…. it’s great cold too!

Bon appetit!

Bigfoot : a guide to the teenage male.

Last night, my 15-year-old, who I tenderly refer to as “Bigfoot”, offered to make dinner. P.F, impressed, said “Hey! Great initiative!” and my teen sloped off into the kitchen.

From my comfy spot in the sofa I could hear banging, clanking and slamming in the kitchen over a background of something loud and rebellious provided courtesy of Youtube. I glanced anxiously at P.F, who waved his beer bottle at me dismissingly and said: “Have a drink, cool down and enjoy it! He’s being helpful, so don’t blow it”.

He was right. I resisted the temptation to police the noisy events in the kitchen and nestled back into the cushions, relishing in the luxury of the moment. Twenty minutes later, Bigfoot shuffled back into the room and unceremoniously dumped a steaming saucepan onto the coffee table.  I peered into it and was not surprised to see P.F’s favourite meal: pasta. It was excellent, too; the plateful of carbs with its gooey topping of grated cheese and lashings of ketchup took P.F and I back to our student bedsit days.

I scraped the melted cheese off my plate, glumly contemplating the fact that Bigfoot was now almost ready to fly the coop and step out into the world unaided. In the bat of an eyelid, the kid I used to play Lego with had become a giant, towering over me and cooking dinner. I am now dealing with an “almost-grown-up”.

Here’s how I’d write an alternative Encyclopedia entry to define the male teen:

The teenager is a life form occurring somewhere between the “child” and “young adult” stages of human development. Requires ample feeding and watering, and constant surveillance and reassurance.

Caring, helpful and fun, he attracts  the admiration of younger children who revel in the rough games and his thrillingly inappropriate vocabulary. A little like an over-boisterous St Bernard puppy, however, the teenager does not yet know how to measure his strength. Never underestimate the utterance “oops”, which is generally followed by screaming and indicates collateral damage and a possible visit to A&E with an injured sibling.

Habitat: Generally observed in bed (position A) or draped over a sofa (position B). Occasionally exercises thumb muscles with the aid of a TV remote control. Can be inexplicably held hostage by quilt and mattress (position A) until after midday at weekends. Migrates to chosen counterpart’s home by means of bicyle if taxi service (Mum) is unavailable or on strike.

Communication: Can be haphazard and difficult on occasions. The teenager generally communicates with low-frequency mutterings which are repeated once only before the individual throws its arms up in the air, grunts and resumes position B. Open discussion requires determination, an anti-tetanus shot against jawlock, and a good knowledge of teenish (teenage jargon), unless you have a trustworthy interpreter at hand (see “chosen counterpart”).

Diet: The teenager does not have the same concept of feeding as his genitors in terms of regularity or content.  It is not unusual for a male specimen to crawl out of his pit at 11a.m, appear in the kitchen in his underwear and immediately combine two eggs, a piece of rump steak and a bottle of soda for breakfast. Often, the teenager does not have any particular need for company at meal times, and sometimes only willingly communicates with his chosen counterpart. This communication preferably takes place via text messaging during family meals, and is accompanied by abundant fringe flicking and secretive smiling.  Parental intervention with a “what’s so funny?” results in teenager refusing to utter a single word, after rolling eyeballs and sighing “arrêteuh, tu me saoûuuuuuuules”. (“Give me a break, you’re such a draaaaaaaaaag”).

Emotions: Complicated. Any remaining maternal rights to hugs, kisses and I love you’s are temporarily (-I hope-) transferred to the girlfriend (chosen counterpart) who is bizarrely intelligent, beautiful, funny, caring and otherwise everything you could have ever hoped for. Nevertheless, the teen remains in reassuringly close orbit around the evil maternal planet Zorg, occasionally approaching for unexpected, quickly administered pecks on the cheek. Let’s hope it lasts….

Why do men have nipples?

We all know that fathers are only generally asked one question on a regular basis:

« Where’s Mum? »

It’s more complicated for mums. We get to answer practical questions, but also have the difficult role of being the Oracle for what I term “the biggies”. These include beauties such as  “Why does the sun rise?”, “How long does it take to become a skeleton after you die?”, “Why is the sky blue whereas space is black?”, “What happens if you keep your eyes open when you sneeze?” or “Why does poo smell bad?” Questions are fired at us throughout the day, sometimes requiring hours of reflection and research before we can give the right answer, and often meaning that we’re awake for hours wondering why on earth we’d never thought about the question in hand, whilst our offspring snore blissfully in their beds. Here is a typical day’s line-up of the most common questions. Please feel free to complete with your own personal favourites:

« When » (….. is Dad getting home/are you going to buy me a …..)?

« What » (…… are we having for dinner)?

« Where » (….. is my favourite t-shirt, I left it on the floor behind my bed last week and it’s disappeared)?

« How » (…… come he got to finish the pot of chocolate spread and not me? He ate it all on purpose so I can’t have any, life sucks, nobody understands me and I’m going to overdose on Fanta then run away to a good home….).

« Who » ( …. put my jeans in the washing machine, they were still clean, I’d only been wearing them for ten days) ?

My all-time favourite, however, has always been « WHY ? » This one has always given me multiple opportunities for a laugh, a cry or a moment of philosophic contemplation.

« Why do men have nipples? » my daughter demanded at the breakfast table yesterday. I put down my piece of baguette and grinned at her. I was relieved: at least she hadn’t asked why men had a brain. The question could have been justified given the behaviour of the males in our brood on occasions.

At the grand old age of almost ten, she is in the starting blocks for puberty, and female hormones have already begun their stealthy, insidious attack on her mood and her physique. Questions about certain parts of her anatomy and why everyone is physically different are becoming quite a regular event.

It was a very good question, why do men have nipples? It’s not as if they need them for anything in particular, and I am surprised that Mother Nature didn’t get rid of them over the course of evolution. When P.F appeared with his coffee, I asked. “Dunno”, said our resident scientific boffin, ripping a chunk off his croissant and dunking it unceremoniously into his coffee.

I blinked. “I beg your pardon? Pull the other one, you’re a biologist. Come on, give us the low-down on redundant human accessories. Remember Little Red Riding Hood? The wolf had ears to hear you with, eyes to see, a nose to smell …. well, you know! Surely everything was put there for some reason; look at the appendix! Not useful for anything much now apart from being a potential time bomb that can send you to A&E, but it must have been put there for something! Even the belly button had a role to play once upon an umbilical cord ago!”

My daughter stifled a laugh and smirked. “So, Papa?” she insisted, but to no avail. Her genitor was absorbed by the amount of coffee his croissant could retain without falling into his cup.

“I can’t see how they can be of any use to men, but I’m sure that if you grab them and twist them around, like you do on the kitchen radio, your Dad will stay tuned in to all the recent events in his family”, I reassured her.

In the meanwhile, I’m still no closer to finding out why men have nipples….. Anyone got any bright ideas?

Hippo in a tutu.

For my three children aged  9, 12 and 15, my dress sense has always been a cause for concern. There seems to be a very fine line between unacceptably middle-aged clothing, and being considered a “cougar» by your offspring. Finding the right balance can be a delicate process.

As the sun poked its head round the clouds yesterday, I had a sudden irresistible urge to « slip into something more comfortable ». I had to admit that the manky black leggings, desert boots and shapeless cotton top that I had put on that morning were somewhat out of synch with the weather outside.

I saved my latest scientific editing efforts on my pooter, and scooted enthusiastically up the staircase. Rummaging in the wardrobe, I spotted the 1960’s dress I love wearing in hot weather. I wriggled it on and squinted at the mirror. Although I was more Kitkat- than cat-walk material, I was satisfied with the result. A pair of strappy heels later, I felt much more feminine, and swung down the stairs into the living room.

« Hey, kiddo, what do you think of your mum dressed as a girl for a change? » I proudly asked.

Number two son stared at me blankly, and peeled his headphones off his ears, embarassed. « Ummm….. I wouldn’t bend down in that dress if I were you », he muttered.

I looked down, wondering whether some kind of thermal time warp had shrunk the dress by 10 cm between the bedroom and the ground floor. The hem was still politely positioned two inches above my kneecaps. I looked back at my 12-year-old, half expecting to see him wearing a Lawrence of Arabia head dress, a list of forbidden clothing for females in one hand and a copy of « the beginner’s guide to stoning your hareem» in the other, but he had already snuggled back into the couch and was typing away on his father’s laptop.

At the school entrance at 5pm, I was reassured to see that I was not the only mother who had dared to bare. Other knees had come out for sun and fresh air: matriarchs sported shorts, miniskirts and dresses, pepping up their look with sunglasses and peep-toe shoes. I could feel the gentle warmth of the sun on my skin, and smiled to myself.

My nine-year-old tripped delicately out of the playground, flicking her long blond poney-tail as she said goodbye to her girlfriends. She is the kind of girl who could drag on a hessian potato sack and still steal the show, and I hope she will always remain that way. She planted a delicate kiss on my cheek, then wrinkled her nose daintily and said « Urr, don’t you think your dress is a bit short? ».

« No, not at all! My legs are just too long », I retaliated, feeling like a petulant teenager who had been caught in her mother’s Louboutin heels. She tilted her head sideways and looked at me sternly, pursing her lips.

My eyes saught salvation within the gaggle of mothers organising their battalion of pushchairs and schoolbags. «Look at that mummy over there, her skirt’s much shorter than mine! » I pointed out triumphantly.  It was indeed : it was so short it no longer qualified as a skirt, but as a curtain pelmet. «Just imagine if I dressed like that!».

I don’t know who coined the phrase « Out of the mouth of infants and babes » (I suspect it’s biblical), but I bet he fell off my shoulder laughing at my daughter’s next comment. The one that slaps you in the face, hits home and wallops your ego into the middle of next week. She looked at me with impatience, a hiss of exasperation escaping from her lips. Her china blue eyes locked onto mine, and she said: « But mum, she can, she must be 30! You’re 43 : women your age don’t wear miniskirts ! »

Blam. As we returned home, I glumly imagined life in a burka. My grasp of the fashion world had always been tenuous; if I listened to my kids, my choice of clothing would henceforth be limited to grandma’s old curtains or an army camouflage tent. In their eyes, I had crossed the great age divide, and was now in the no-woman’s land where you transform from « mum in a mini » to « hippo in a tutu ».

I realised that whilst my children demand more and more freedom to choose what they wear, they are unbelievably conservative about the way their parents should appear. This is reassuring in a way. After all, I’d be concerned if they asked me to get tattoos and a ring in my belly button: for them, visual proof of the generation gap is necessary to show that we’re the grown-ups.

When I casually asked number two son today how he would like me to be dressed, he produced a gallic shrug and said « Well, as usual : a t-shirt, a pair of jeans and a pair of Converse lace-ups ». In other words, the mum image he’s most comfortable with: the real me. I can deal with that.  Time to become a closet dress-wearer, I guess…..

Anyone else out there had similar experiences with their kids ?

Doggy tales: une histoire de truffes.

When I arrived home from school with a gang of six children for lunch last week under a glaring springtime sun, they all inexplicably dispersed in the garden like cockroaches discovering the storeroom of a chinese restaurant, and started digging around under the bushes. Just as I was wondering whether hunter-gatherers had been on the school programme that morning, my daughter ran back to me. « Mum ! Mum ! » she squealed into my face. « There are two little dogs here, they’re trooooooop mignon, can we adopt them ? »  She beamed at me, flushed with the delight of finding two new furry friends right outside her own front door.

On closer investigation, I found two wiry-coated dachshunds, tongues lolling sideways out of their mouths. Admittedly, they were very cute, with their floppy ears and their stubby legs. One had been intelligent enough to find safe refuge underneath the neighbour’s tractor, whilst the other was quaking under a pile of empty fruit crates. Both looked exhausted and in need of calm and water.

I shepherded the children inside the house, bleating their arguments for two more four-legged friends in our abode, then successfully captured canine candidate number one. “Théo”, shaking and exhausted, happily licked me under the chin and held still until I’d dialled the number on his collar. His relieved owner lived a few streets away, and she explained that they must have run away whilst her husband was hunting for truffles. If I’d ever had any doubts, I now had confirmation that I was indeed in the South of France.

After Macgyver-style sliding on my stomach through pungent thyme and grass to retrieve Théo’s dad from his lair underneath the tractor, I put the two prison-breakers in the car and set off to return them home. As I was greeted by madame, a Citroën van halted suddenly beside me. Its driver stalled and leapt out of the driver’s seat, leaving his vehicule in the middle of the road with the door wide open. He ran across the road, took my hand, and pumped my arm up and down with enthusiasm.

After thanking me profusely for bringing his dogs home, he released my hand from his firm grip and examined my face, his eyes scanning mine. « I’m sure you’ve already helped me with my dogs once ». Confused, I dug around in the huge sweet jar I fondly refer to as my memory, and had a flashback to July last year, when I had stopped my car on a busy road to grab a puppy that had run across the road in front of a gravel truck. The puppy was indeed Théo, who was still faithfully following his adventurous genitor across the village a year later.

« I was sure it was you. I remember your accent. English? » Dammit, Janet. Given away by your accent once again, Miss Jelly. I made a mental note that if I ever planned a hold-up locally, I’d have to remember to keep my trap shut if I hoped to remain anonymous.

Théo and Sam were a father and son truffle-hunting duo, and they would make a bid for freedom whenever the door or gate was open. Their owner insisted on giving me something, to thank me. He was a bit nonplussed when I said that he just had to bring my dog back if he ever found it in front of his door.

Then he came closer, grinned, and prodded my arm.  « I know what ! Do you like truffles?»

Ah. Technical problem. I had seen truffles at the market. Wrinkled and dark, like fresh, compact, fuzzy earth brains for zombies. They were kept in jealously garded boxes whilst their price was negociated in hushed whispers.  But I have never tasted any, and told him so.

A flash of satisfaction crossed his face. « Eh beng, voilà! I’ll bring you some truffles round the next time I go truffle hunting and I’ll tell you how to prepare them. You have to make une belle-euh omelette-euh ».

On his return home, P.F looked at me incredulously, and shook his head. « Only you can manage that », he said, and smiled. “I’m looking forward to that omelette: make sure you don’t mess it up, l’anglaise”.