Helen Mirren, The Road Home and film star dreams!

Helen Mirren has been in town recently. She was here filming 'The Hundred-Foot Journey' a Dreamworks Studio production about an Indian family that moves to France to open an Indian restaurant, right opposite a Michelin starred restaurant owned by Helen Mirren. There's been quite a buzz about it in the area and many went and auditioned to be extras in the film. We tried but as we weren't yet registered to pay tax in France they wouldn't let us even hand in the form. They were filming in nearby St Antonin, a popular holiday destination and film location (part of Charlotte Grey was filmed there.) The centre of the town shut down whilst they filmed but we walked around before they started and tried to remember which shops/cafés were there before and which had been specifically set up for filming...like this Café Rouge!

Thus with film star dreams dashed we turned to a different film adventure. We were contacted by the film director Raul Gandotra who brought to our attention his Acadamy Awards shortlisted mini film 'The Road Home'. He thought it might be of interest to us as it dealt with expat themes. The film is about a 10-year old English boy who is sent to boarding school in the Himalayas by his parents. He is British, but of Indian heritage, and he struggles to accept that people may not see him the way that he sees himself.

There are themes that I identified with in the film being of mixed raced heritage myself. I was born and raised in London but my dad is Nigerian and my mum is from Yorkshire. Having been asked numerous times in my life 'Where are you from?' I know that people who ask are not looking for London as the answer. I am British and have found it mildly annoying in the past that because of the colour of my skin people expect me to be from somewhere else in the world. But I have never taken true offence to it and always been happy to tell people of my cultural background.

After watching 'The Road Home' Andrew and I discussed what nationality we thought our boys would grow up feeling. At 4, Reuben has memories of London life but how much of that he will retain as he grows up in France I'm not sure. 21 month old Jacob won't remember a thing, but both will be frequent visitors to the UK as we visit family and friends. I've read lots of stories about expat children from the UK feeling more British when in France and French when in Britain. One of the reasons for moving here was to give our boys the opportunity of growing up surrounded by the best of rural French culture, the language, the slower pace of village life, the freedom of the outdoors, but that doesn't mean we want them to forget where they came from or the culture they left behind. It will be up to us to remind them of the best of British, we won't be letting go of our Sunday dinners and we know of a good local (British run!) fish and chip van. As a mixed raced family living in rural France we know that we are in the minority. There are many other expat families in the area from various different countries and I hope that our boys will learn from the people we become friends with as well as from us.

Are you an expat family with children? How do you help them retain their home cultural identity whilst embracing a new one? We'd love to hear from you.

If you would like to watch The Road Home click here.

Becky x

Cette semaine...

1. We took a trip to Cahors and visited this school for English
2. We painted our bedroom this colour!
3. Becky added this top to her sewing wish list
4. We received our wood for the winter
5. Reuben has played this game every morning before school
6. We had a family picnic by the river in Varen

Hope you've had a good week!

Becky & Andrew x

Winter wood arrival

The sun may be shining this week but when the warm weather disappeared at the beginning of September we were cold! We have two options for heating our house, we can spend a fortune on electricity keeping our electric heaters on, or we buy wood for the wood burner. Having not used a wood burner before, when the cold spell hit we thought we better test out our fire lighting skills and found some old wood down in the cellar. I think it had probably been there for years as some of it burnt like paper. The time had come for us to source some wood.

Some of our French neighbours recently had their winter wood delivered. When it arrived Andrew was invited along to negotiate getting some for us. (I was busy biodancing with Reuben.) Having not bought wood before we were totally clueless as to how much we might need. Andrew took a look at how much our neighbours we're getting, thought it looked like a good amount, and said yes we'll have the same. We were sold wood by weight, though everyone we spoke to spoke in cubic metres. Either way it didn't help me understand how much we might need! We ended up with about 1520kg for 148€.

When it arrived this week on the truck it seemed like a lot. The truck parked outside and dumped the wood on the road. Reuben was most impressed by the pistons lifting the truck! Then it was all hands on deck to get the wood into the cellar. Only time will tell as to whether we bought enough. We'll let you know in the spring, and at least we have a back up if we run out!

How will you be keeping warm for the winter? 

Becky x

Our first French doctor's trip

This recent spell of cold and wet weather has not agreed with our eldest son, Reuben. Unlike the rest of the family who can spend time indoors when it's wet and light the fire when it's cold, Reuben is exposed at school to all the germs that spread at the beginning of term and is out in the playground each day whatever the weather. So inevitably, last week, he came down with a cold and after a wheezy night we decided it was probably best to take him to the doctor.

Having only been here 2 months with sunshine and good health, what we would do when someone fell ill is not something we had given too much thought to. Our village however is lucky in that we have a relatively new (officially opened in 2010 but looks hardly used...or just very well looked after!) medical centre. With a pharmacy and surgery with nurses, dentist, reflexologist, psychologist, dietician and more we seem to be covered for most ailments!

We were expecting to have to register and book an appointment. To our surprise we were seen as soon as we walked in the surgery by the doctor, Veronique. I had my French all ready to go, cough...une toux, breathing...respiration. I started by explaining that we were English and had just moved to the village, at which point Veronique said that she spoke a little English. It turned out she is Dutch, lives in the village and her children go to the school with Reuben. She sat him down and checked his breathing and decided that the problem wasn't on his chest but in his larynx. She suggested we give him two different medicines and gave us an extra one in case he was in pain. The French are famous for handing out medicines and she did actually ask us if we wanted anything else!! Before saying maybe that was enough to get started with!

I've never been to a doctors before where you're faced with a credit card machine on the doctor's desk. Here in France you pay for your appointments and prescriptions upfront and can then claim money back through the national health system. We paid 26€ for the appointment and another 8€ for medicine at the pharmacy. Having only just set up businesses we have yet to register with the health system. For now I am just relieved that we had a positive experience, know that we will be seen quickly if our health fails us, and that the sun has decided to return this week!

Becky x

Cette semaine...

We've decided to start a new regular feature called 'cette semaine...' (this week) a round up of things we've watched, liked, experienced, discovered or added to our Christmas list (or in my case upcoming birthday list!) during the week gone by. Here's a glimpse into this week!

1. Andrew and I watched After Earth with Will Smith and his son. Apparantly 'fear is a choice'!
2. I was given some figs and turned them into 7 pots of jam
3. We had our first trip to the village doctor
4. I downloaded this app to help Reuben learn French
5. I signed us up to the 'show me your neighbourhood' project
6. I added this brooch to my birthday list

What have you been up to this week?

Becky x

Show me your neighbourhood

Yesterday I signed us up for the 'Show Me Your Neighbourhood' project. Hosted by The Piri-Piri Lexicon, people from around the world sign up to take photographs of their neighbourhood and share them in a post. There are 6 photos that have to be included (such as a school, typical house and mode of transport) and we can choose to take up to another 6 of our local area. People have signed up from all over the world, from countries such as Spain, China, Brazil, Zambia and Saudia Arabia to name a few. I can't wait for the project to kick off! It will be so interesting for Reuben to see what people's neighbourhoods look like from around the world.

Our neighbourhood in Parisot is totally different from our neighbourhood back in London. To move from a city to a small village has been a big change but one that we've adjusted to pretty quickly as a family. It's a much slower pace of life. In London we could walk down the road and be greeted by shops, a mini supermarket, people, cars and public transport. If we walk down the road here we're more likely to see a tractor! It's easy to forget that there is more out there than what is on our doorstep and it will be so important for us to find ways to teach the boys about the wider world. Which is why projects like this are so great!

If you're interested in signing up you can still do so here before the 22nd September 2013. (There is no one signed up from the UK yet!) The project starts in October and we are planning an 'Our Village' post on our blog so you can all see what Parisot village is like.

Becky x

No such thing as bad weather

Jacob quite happy wearing his coat and wellies,
in the house, all day!!
Before we moved to France we were told about how lovely and mild the weather would be in the autumn. I had images of us going to local markets and still being able to sit outside a café in the October sunshine, drinking our grand crèmes and eating croissants we had just bought from the bakery. There was even a story floating around about a family that once had Christmas dinner outside!! Well...I don't believe it. September arrived and the sun just ran away. We have a week of rain ahead of us. The duvets, winter boots and coats are out, and as I write the fire is blazing. It's cold, and yet I can't begin complaining as I know when winter hits it will get a whole lot worse. My uncle was out in the summer and he said something that is going to become one of my life mottos...there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. So true.

Looking at all our wardrobes now I know how ill equipped we are for the cold weather ahead. Reuben is already complaining about the cold mornings so an order is being placed this week for slippers and dressing gowns, jumpers, trousers and vests, wellies and raincoats. I'm even looking at hats, gloves and snowsuits (do you think the boys would look cute in matching suits? Daddy says no!) They are all coming from Next as I have yet to find here a good value children's clothes shop (remember these clothes will be worn by Jacob in a couple years time) and they do free delivery even to France.

Andrew meanwhile will have to wait until October to get his winter wardrobe as for some reason he decided to leave all his trousers (bar two pairs) and jumpers in a box in London. My dad has kindly said that if he gets cold he can borrow some of his clothing from their house next door. I know some people say you marry your dad but this is taking it a bit too far!!

Becky x

Reuben & Mummy do 'the dance of life'

Yesterday early evening I spent a good part of an hour pretending to be a penguin, horse, cat, dog, monkey (with noises,) elephant, snake (on the floor,) and holding hands with parents and children I'd only just met. After half term in Reuben's school they are introducing Biodanza to the little ones during school hours. Yesterday parents were invited to a free session with their children to see what it's all about.
Literally translated as 'the dance of life', when researching Biodanza words such as 'organic' 'emotional' 'intimacy' 'fun' 'pleasure' and 'relaxation' spring out of the computer screen. Are you sure this is suitable for kids?! It's all about dancing but without having to learn any steps, a relaxing exercise to music where you let your body decide where it wants to go. You're encouraged to be in the here and now and reconnect with your inner senses, whilst long term benefits can include being more creative and clearer in your decision making.

When we arrive at the class we all sit in a circle and the teacher, who I think I recognise as Reuben's teacher's partner, encourages us to introduce ourselves along with our favourite animal. I go for a rabbit, an animal I know in French that I think no one else will choose. Reuben decides to go for a kangaroo. What's kangaroo in French? I say it in English and it turns out (via Google translate) it's the same, 'kangourou'. We start off pretty simple, music is played and we march around the room. Reuben relaxes (though stays close by) and we march big steps and little steps. Reuben and I then have to hold hands and dance to a country and western track (high energy, think 'Cotton Eye Joe'.) It's getting a bit energetic now and I'm wishing I wore a t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms instead of jeans and a jumper. We're encouraged to swap partners but Reuben is having none of it. Then things get interesting. Based on what animals people preferred at the start of the session we move like these animals to different music including the 'Banana Boat Song' and Patsy Cline's 'Walking After Midnight'. Everyone gets into it and the kids love it! There's no embarrassment and even Reuben's teacher, Arnaud, joins in with the session.

To be honest, it was good fun. Reuben enjoyed it and it's important for us to do things like this with him so that he feels included at school and doesn't shy away from group activities, which he has often done in the past. There were a few moments where I caught the eye of another parent and we had a bit of a 'what on earth are we doing' moment, whilst waddling along like penguins or waving our arms about like the trunk of an elephant. The things we do for our children!

Becky x

The image above is from the Biodanza West London website which you can visit for more information about Biodanza!

Blackberry ice lollies

We've had rain this weekend but the sun is shining again this Monday morning and I have a brilliant blackberry recipe to share with you. This is another one for the kids and you only need 3 ingredients! All along the roadside around our village you can find blackberries growing. September is the month for picking and we're starting to map out our favourite spots. The boys love finding them, Reuben to pick and Jacob to eat! There are so many things you can do with blackberries but we decided to make blackberry ice lollies and these were Reuben's after school treat on his first day at school.

Ingredients: 2 handfuls of blackberries, 1 cup of apple juice, 1 tablespoon of honey

Mash the blackberries or purée with a blender. Squash through a sieve to remove the pips. Add the cup of apple juice, tablespoon of honey, and mix. Pour into ice lolly moulds and freeze. Simple!

Becky x

Reuben's first week at French school

Reuben has just finished his first week at French school! I was so nervous the first day. He'd never done a full day at school before and 9am to 4.30pm seems a long day for a 4 year old. How would he cope with the French? Would he eat his lunch? Would he be confident enough to ask to go to the toilet? We'd been to look round the school before so he knew which toys he was going to play with first. We'd literally been building up to it all year and after a summer of mainly adults to play with I think he was after some kiddie company, he was so excited to go!

He went in on Tuesday morning smiling and my only hope was that he came out smiling when we went to pick him up...and he was! He told us bits about his day, he had played with the cars, had tomatoes for his lunch (which he would never usually eat at home) with yoghurt for pudding, and had some interaction with other children in his class. That evening he said that his new school was brilliant! He took out 2 French books to read at bedtime and informed me that if you don't understand what someone is saying in French you just say 'pardon!'

Reuben starting school was a big factor in our decision to move out here. Although we haven't had a choice of school here (kids just go to their local village school,) the Parisot village school is a lot smaller than any he would have gone to in London. He has a male nursery teacher Arnaud, which is a rarity in London, who has his guitar set up in the corner and is introducing Montessori methods into the classroom which Reuben is familiar with. Having two boys I think it's important that they have good male role models in their school and home life. The school is so close we can leave the house at 8:58 and still make it in time for the 9 o'clock bell.

Reuben's 3 course lunch menu!
School life in France...
To sign Reuben up for school, our first point of call was the mairie (mayor's office.) We filled out a registration form with our basic details. We were given details of what we would need to register him fully and the number of the headteacher who we arranged to meet the last week in August. We gave her...
  • a copy of Reuben's birth certificate
  • a copy of all his vaccinations
  • proof of our address
...and that was it, he was in! Kids at Parisot school attend for 4 and a half days a week. The day starts at 9am and finishes at 4.30pm. On Wednesday they finish at midday and then he's home for lunch and the afternoon. We pay for Reuben's lunches, 2€90 a day, and we bought tickets in bulk. We then give the teacher every Monday meal tickets for that week with his name and dates on the back. The lunches are amazing, it's like being in a restaurant with 3 course meals, but with water instead of wine!

We had to send Reuben in with a box of tissues and wipes for communal use throughout the year. He also has to take a cup, a change of clothes, and a daily snack box with fruit or bread and cheese, which they state very clearly is not a substitute for breakfast! He was also given a notebook which the teacher and parents use to communicate with each other. There have been various letters and notices stuck in it throughout the week and we've had Google translate out every evening. There have been parent detail forms, do we allow our child on school trip forms, when was their last tetanus injection, even though we'd already given them a list of his vaccinations with dates. It's been the first real test of my French!

We hope that Reuben continues to enjoy it, we will keep you updated about his French school journey. Have you had a child start school or nursery this year? How did their first day go?

Becky x

Courgette cake for kids

Reuben loves baking. I used to bake regularly with him back in the UK, usually cupcakes but occasionally we ventured into the unknown. At his Montessori nursery they used to bake every Thursday morning which became his favourite day. We've grown courgettes before and if you've ever grown them you'll know that they can completely take over the garden. You also end up with loads of courgettes and I used to search my recipe books to find new and interesting ways to cook them. This recipe is tasty and so easy for kids to do. I weighed out all the ingredients beforehand and then read the recipe out to Reuben who squashed, mixed and poured, before scooping into the muffin tin and baking in the oven. We used a muffin tin as we didn't have a loaf tin small enough. The results were eaten (mostly by Reuben) within a day!

Ingredients: 50g butter, 50g soft brown sugar, 1 egg, 90g self raising flour, 1 teaspoon mixed spice, 60g grated courgette

Brush a small tin loaf or muffin pan with vegetable oil and weigh out all the ingredients. Put the butter and sugar together in a bowl and squash together with a wooden spoon until they are both combined. Break the egg into the bowl and mix again until combined. Add the flour and mixed spice and stir again. Add the grated courgette and mix together for the last time. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin. Bake in a preheated oven 200°C, gas mark 7, for 20-25 mins or until golden on top!
If you make one send us a picture or post on our Facebook page for us to see!

Becky x
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