Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Tribute to an Amazing Woman

Sometimes people say they are amazed at what I manage to do and they wonder how I cope.  I do have a very busy life, as I illustrate in this post A day in the life of a Mother in France.  However, I have the privilege of largely choosing the life I lead.  It’s stressful at times, sometimes I moan, occasionally I feel like I can’t take any more, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  A conversation I had recently really brought this home to me and reminded me just how lucky I am.

I was chatting to a couple of friends, the conversation went something like this:

Me: “Oh my god, I’ve just been so busy running around organising everything for Christmas.  My house is a mess, I’m so behind with the housework and no one can find any socks!”
Friend 1: “Oh I know, there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day.  I don’t know how I’m going to get it all done and I’m away next week.”
Friend 2: “I’m the same, I have piles of washing that need sorting and the house is in chaos . I haven’t even started Christmas shopping yet and can you believe there’s only two weeks to go!”

I’m sure many of you can relate to this as women the world over are running around like headless chickens trying to create the perfect Christmas for their families (just like the ad on TV).  But, although we were making the same noises, there were some big differences in the circumstances of the friends I was talking with.  Friend number 1 and I have fairly similar lives in that we both have children at school and we both work and are involved with lots of different activities.  We were running ourselves ragged because that is what we had chosen to do.  We set ourselves impossible tasks of trying to make everything perfect when we could probably cut out quite a few things and make life easier for ourselves.  Friend number 2 however, had recently come out of hospital, where she’d been for two weeks with her nine year old son who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis.  This is not a life she has chosen for herself, it’s just what has been dealt to her.  The previous day she’d spent the afternoon helping out at a local event raising money for the ‘Telethon’, a big charity event here in France and on this particular day she was helping out at the Christmas Fayre I had organised to raise funds for CF.  Here we were moaning about how little time we have to do the things we have chosen to do, but for friend number 2, there is no choice.  She has to cope with what life throws at her, try and put on a brave face and hold it all together for her family.  She battles on despite having to cope with more than most of us can ever imagine.

I really don’t know how friend number two copes with all that she has to and what is even more incredible is how she is always helping others without question or fanfare.  She even feels guilty if her own circumstances dictate that she can't help someone in need.  Now there is an amazing woman who has no idea just how special she is.

Next time you find yourself stressing about all you have to cope with, spare a thought for those who don’t have a choice. You can find out more about what it’s like coping with a child with CF in this post CF, How would you cope? written by another strong young women, my cousin Jess

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Water - Are we all getting enough?

I was googling “Water” a few months back, looking for the recommended daily amount.  I was aware that I’m probably not drinking enough and wanted to know the facts on what I should be drinking and the benefits etc.  But, instead of finding the information I was looking for, I got side tracked (as you do when surfing the internet).  I came across FRANK Water.  This is a small charity raising money to fund projects which help install water systems in some of the worlds poorest communities.   Communities where just to get clean water is a constant daily struggle.  I discovered some alarming facts:

Some of the nasties lurking in the only water millions of people have access to

Water, such a vital basic human need, we can’t survive without it and yet, did you know that more than 1 in 6 people worldwide don’t have access to the recommended daily amount of of clean water.

Yes, that's right, 1 in 6

Nearly 17% of the worlds population!

Surely in these modern times while the Western World wastes so much water (and money) it’s totally unacceptable to have 1 sixth of the worlds population without access to the recommended amount of clean water.

 WATER    A vital, basic human need.

3.575 Million people die each year of water related diseases!

More than 4,000 children die EVERY DAY from a lack of clean drinking water.

Here am I, worried about whether I’m drinking enough water to keep me in tip top condition, when across the other side of the world people are dieing from lack of access to clean water.  What a mixed up world we live in.

We often take for granted how lucky we are.  How lucky we are to be born in a part of the world where all the basic necessities are readily available. Next time you turn on the tap and fill the kettle, spare a thought for the millions of women and children who have to spend several hours a day walking to the closest clean water point.  Half of their day is taken up doing something that takes us seconds.  It just doesn’t seem right.

You may not have a lot to give, but every little helps

  • £10 can fund the training of a community member so they can maintain and operate the clean water project.
  • £50 can fund an awareness campaign about clean, safe water, engaging and involving the community
  • £100 can fund the Ultra Violet filter which ensures viral contaminants are removed before reaching the taps.
  • £200 can fund the sand and carbon filters used to remove the larger particles and ensure the water is safe.

I was really impressed with the projects Frank Water have funded and the difference they are making to so many peoples lives. You can find out more about Frank Water and the work they are doing here.  I would dearly love to go there and volunteer to help make a difference, but that’s just not viable for me in my current stage of life.  I have children of my own who need me, so that will have to wait.  For now, all I can do is help raise funds and generate awareness.  Over the next year I’ve set myself a target to raise 1000 euros – not a lot in the scale of things I know, but if I can raise more, with your help, I will. 

The first fund raising event I’m planning is on Saturday 24th November. I’m organising a Vide Grenier (the french equivalent to a boot fair or table top sale) at our Garden Centre in Boulogne sur Gesse.  All the proceeds from the tables and the sale of homemade cakes and refreshments are being donated to Frank Water.  If you live in the area and are able to come along, please do, or if you have any items you’d like to donate or can make cakes – any help will be gratefully received  Further details can be found here.  If you are unable to come, then you can always make a donation to my “Just Giving” Page which goes directly to Frank Water.

So please, contribute what you can to help me reach my target and be part of the solution!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Post About Gardening at Last!

It's strange, but despite the fact that I’m co-owner of a Garden Centre and Landscaping business and have been working with my husband in our various horticultural enterprises over the past 25 years, not one of my blog posts have ever been about gardening.  The fact is, I’ve always considered Gary to be the Horticultural expert – I’m the one behind the scenes, doing the admin, promoting, accounts, making tea (oh no sorry, that’s Gary...)  So when Janine Marsh from The Good Life France contacted me and asked me if I’d mind writing an article on British V French Garden Styles I panicked (just a bit).  “Yes I’d be happy to write the article” I said, then thought “What on earth am I going write?”.

Anyway, I started writing and it didn’t take long before I realised that actually I knew much more than I thought I did.  I could have written loads – in fact the first draft was double the size of the finished article.  It made me realise just how much we’ve learnt since moving here and are still learning.  I’m thinking I’ve got more than enough material  for another book (especially if I can get Gary on board– what that man doesn’t know about horticulture isn’t worth knowing!).  I just have to finish the four books that are in progress at the moment – they won’t be long now, promise! 

You can have a read of the article by clicking here and have a look round the site while you’re there – they’ve got lots of really useful information.

Friday, August 3, 2012

French Children Don't Talk Back!

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the behavior of French children compared to British. It's apparent when living here that French children are better behaved. They are more obedient, polite and respectful than the British youth. I’ve often marveled when seeing groups of young children out on a school trip. They all line up neatly, do as they’re told and often have far fewer adults supervising them than they would in the UK. I’ve been wondering why this is and examining my own parenting skills to see what we can learn from the French. There is no doubt you can always spot the British children in the supermarket (mine included). They’ll be the ones running about shouting and whining, while the French children hold onto the trolley and follow their mother around the shop like little ducklings. And if any of the ducklings stray, one stern look or sharp word from their mother and they stop what their doing immediately, eyes down and mouth shut.  There's none of that oh so familiar back chat "Oh but Muuummmm, why can't I have that....?"

So why are French Children better behaved? I've noticed that French parents are much stricter from an early age. Sit in any pediatricians’ waiting room (I've sat in many) and you will see toddlers being severely reprimanded for what seems to be very minor, normal toddler behavior (by British standards). I suppose it makes sense that if you nip any devient behviour in the bud, before it has time to develop, this will produce a better behaved child.

This form of strict, zero tolerance parenting makes for an easier life for the adults, but I wonder how good this is for the children in the long run.  The lives of French children are controlled, structured and organized. They’re told what to do and when to do it and generally they dutifully obey. Their holidays are filled with organized trips and educational ones. The school life is very structured too and lessons quite rigid without much opportunity to make decisions for themselves.  As a result, French students are not as adventurous or independent as their British equivalents. Gap years between School and Uni are unheard of. Maybe this is just because it’s not fashionable to do this in France, but I wonder if it is more down to a lack of independence of the students and an unwillingness to let go by the parents. We have many 16-18 year old French students come to stay with us to learn English. Whenever asked why they have chosen to stay in France to study English rather than go to England, it’s always because they (and their parents) are afraid of travelling abroad and prefer to stay in France.

French children seem to mature later than the British. Our ten year old tends to have more in common with children several years older than him. Our older sons have observed that many of their fellow students are immature and find it difficult to interact with adults.  I think that because French parents are stricter, the parent/child relationship is more pronounced. This makes it easier to control them when they are younger, but the parents and the children find it difficult to know when and how to move into a more adult/adult relationship.

Many French, when attending University or Higher Education are more likely to choose a University close to home, which is not the case in the UK. They seem less willing to branch out and seek new opportunities. Is this down to a restrictive upbringing resulting in lack of independence? My husband would argue that it’s because there is more of a community spirit here, young adults are happy where they live and so less likely to feel the need to escape and move away. Whereas in the UK, community spirit is largely dead, no one feels particularly tied or rooted to the place they grew up and therefore can’t wait to get away. I’m not sure which is true – perhaps it’s a bit of both!

Looking at some of the behavior of youths in Britain, I suppose you could say the British have a lot to learn from the French. Maybe we do let our children get away with too much when they're little, making a rod for our own backs as they get older. I sometimes feel like a terrible mother when my willful four year old makes a scene in the supermarket, but then my husband will point out how often we receive praise for what lovely children we have. Having such large age gaps between them, we have the rare advantage of seeing whether our parenting methods have worked (or not) as our eldest two sons have now reached adulthood. Our children may be challenging to control when they are young, but so far, they mature into independent thinking, confident, polite and respectful adults and that’s all that any parent can ask. I think we’ll stick with our own formula, as it seems to work well in the long run.

If you live or have lived abroad, what do you think about the differences in parenting between your home country and your new one and have you adopted any new parenting methods as a result?

Please add your related posts below:

Monday, July 23, 2012

My Corner of France

I've talked a lot about different aspects of living in France, education, having babies, bringing up children, family life etc, but I've never actually blogged about what it's physically like here.  What are our surroundings, the countryside, the towns etc.  So, I thought it was about time I remedied that.

So, where do we live in France exactly?

We live in the Midi-Pyrenees which is in the South West corner of France.  An aptly named Region because it's situated in the middle section of the Pyrenee mountains which separate France from Spain.  We are within a one hour drive to the Pyrenees, which means that you are never far from a fantastic view of the mountains, making it a very beautiful place to live.  
A local view of the Pyrenees

We are situated midway between the Atlantic and Mediterannean coast, both being about a 2 1/2 hour drive, so we can always spend a day on the beach either sundbathing on the Med or surfing on the Atlantic.

The moutains look great at any time of year, but especially in the winter when skiing or toboganing make a great day out and there are many reasonably pistes to choose from.  

My youngest Luc, enjoying some winter fun in the mountains
The region the Midi-Pyrenees is split into several Departments (like Counties), we live in Haute-Garonne which has the Department Captial Toulouse as it's main city.  Toulouse is known as the Pink City due to its attractive pink brick built architecture.  It's a great city, not too big, only an hours drive from our house and our two youngest children were born there.  Nice if you need a city fix, but the real appeal of living here is the peaceful countryside.  
Place Wilson in Toulouse

We live in a tiny village and like many other villages it has no shops, only a mairie (Mayors Office), church and village hall.  Despite it's size, it has a really great community spirit and lots of functions throughout the year (The French Rural Village "En Fete").  It's strange how some of the smallest communities have very big and elaborate Mairies.
The Mairie of a local village with 128 inhabitants!

It is very rural - lots of fields of corn, wheat and what is particularly notable here is the fields and fields of sunflowers in July.
Sunflowers with the mountains in the background, taken from the field next to our house

It's a very green area, despite the hot summers as we have many rivers and lakes with water coming directly from the mountains.
The River Save

We live in a watermill, so we are surrounded by water with a canal running directly through our house, a river running along the edge of our property and a lake, not forgetting the several hidden waterfalls - it really is a magical place to live!  

Our Lake

Although we are very rural, I don't consider our position to be remote.  We're 2 minutes from a main road (with lines down the middle!) and only 10 minutes drive to the nearest town with doctors, supermarkets, chemists, schools etc.
Our "main" road, lined with trees.

The houses are really attractive around here.  There are many old farm houses and tumble down barns and outbuildings which add to the rural charm.  There aren't many new buildings and most new build houses either tend to be made to look old or have a villa like design.
A veiw from one of our upstairs windows

We have many leisure lakes nearby, often with beaches.  They are fantastic places to visit with kids because they also have grassy shady areas, toilets and other facilities (inflatables, waterslides, lifeguards etc).
Leisure Lake at Saraman
Just 10 minutes away is the beautiful Gorges de la Save, which is a little known beauty spot where the kids enjoy playing in the river.
Gorges de la Save

There are some great markets nearby - the biggest being Samatan which is famous for its fois gras and is always bussling and full of wonderful stalls.
Spice stall at Samatan Market
The roads are really quiet as it's quite sparcely populated.  We're 30 minutes from the nearest motorway (A64).  It's very hilly with lots of little winding country lanes.  I love just taking a different route sometimes when I'm not in a rush and discovering tiny hamlets and beautiful views I never knew existed.
A lane, not far from our house
I hope you've enjoyed this glimpse of where I live.  It's good to sometimes take a step back from minutities of day to day living and appreciate what's around us.  I love where we live, it's a beautiful corner of France and I feel very lucky to have found it.

But shhhh, don't tell anyone will you!

I'd love to hear about where you live, if you have any related blog posts please add them to the linky below.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Moving for Good

People move abroad for lots of reasons – work, love, necessity, choice.  I hadn’t really thought much about it before, but we fall into the last category.   It was Vicki at www.vegemitevix.com who highlighted this difference in a recent interview with me.  Vicki is from New Zealand and writes about her life as an Expat living in the UK.  She’s currently running a series of guest post/interviews from other Expats living in different countries giving their “Moving Stories” – here’s mine Moving Stories - 10 Moving for Good Have a look at the others – it’s interesting all the different reasons for moving and ways of coping as a result.  

We chose to move abroad in search of a better life for our growing family and the decision was not taken lightly.  It’s something we planned for many years and when we moved, we intended the move to be for good.  I wonder if the decision of “Moving for Good” has actually affected how well we have adapted and coped with the move.  Maybe it’s given us an advantage in that we didn’t have any feelings of resentment from the start (as you may have if you’ve moved for work, a partner or because you had to for some reason).  Have we tried harder to make it work?   Does choosing to live in France mean we are more likely to choose to live there forever?  

Over at Windmill Feilds on her Expat Blog Hop, Rosalind is discussing the question “Will you, Could you, Do you want to stay where you are forever?”, so I thought it might be interesting to join in.  

Will I Stay in France forever?
Forever is a long time.  I don’t know if I will stay in France forever, there’s a big world out there and I’ve seen hardly any of it.  For the foreseeable future I’m here.  The children are settled and my youngest is only four, so I’m likely to at least see her through school before making the decision to maybe move on.  But you never know...

Can I stay in France forever?
Yes I think I could stay in France forever.  There are things that frustrate me about living here, but I am generally happy and I think the good things outweigh the bad.  

Do I want to stay in France forever?
No, I don’t think so.  As I said before, there’s so many other countries to explore.  I could see us retiring and having a home in France and a home somewhere hotter where we can go in the winter.  I think it very much depends on where my children settle.  It’s likely that at least some of them will settle in France and then I will probably want to be around to help them out when they need us.  If none of our children settle here then I doubt we would feel the need to have a house here in the future, but who knows....

So, are we more likely to live in France forever because we chose to live here?  Possibly, but I think the answer, for us at least, lies in the fact that we chose to Move Abroad for good, rather than Move to France for good.  France was not our first choice, Greece was and it was only because of schooling difficulties for our children that we changed our mind.  So maybe in our case we should change the questions to Will I, Can I, Do I want to stay abroad forever?  The answer to all those questions is categorically yes....probably!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

French Music - Why isn't it better?

Music is so much a part of youth culture both in the UK and France,  but why is it that the French charts are filled with British and American music whereas in the British charts there is no French music?  My eldest son, Matthew is studying for his Masters at Bristol University in the UK.  He chose to spend his 3rd year studying in a University in Montpellier.  He has had a fantastic year and loves the lifestyle in France, however one of his pet hates is French music. It was a mission of his during his year studying in France to find some decent French bands.  He really wanted to and was constantly pleading with his French friends to introduce him to some. Unfortunately they failed miserably and had to admit defeat.  Most French bands are either europop or rappers and there are no really talented bands to match some of those on the other side of the water..    

I'm fascinated by the differences Matthew has found between his experiences of education and student life in the UK and France.  I've been waiting anxiously for him to finish the year so that I can complete the chapter on Education in the book I'm writing about our experiences as a family in France.  During one of our recent discussions, Matthew told me the following story which highlights one of the differences:

Sunday, April 22, 2012

7 Coping Strategies for Working Mums

Its not easy being a fulltime working mother - not only do we have to cope with the pressures of work, but we also have a house and family to run and we live with the guilt that we're not doing any of it well enough. I'm sorry if you think the title of this post is a bit sexist - don't fathers need coping strategies too? Yes I'm sure they do, but I'm not a father, so I can’t comment on that. My husband works incredibly hard and he has his own coping strategies which are very different to mine. He works long hours and often 7 days a week in a very physically demanding job, so the running of the household (cleaning, cooking, shopping, washing and finances) is down to me as is the day-to-day sorting of the kids (remembering things for school, lifts to parties, activities, doctors appointments etc). Being a mother of 5 and running a house the size of a football pitch (no really, I'm not joking) is a fulltime job in itself - you have no idea how much washing my family generate for a start, so its a small miracle I manage to fit in working full time running our garden centre and landscaping business too.  I give a snapshot of my life in this post A Day in the life of a Mother in France  Oh, and then there's the gardening club we run and the students I find host families for from time to time and then of course I have our 3 holiday apartments to manage.  No wonder I'm finding it difficult to squeeze a bit of blogging in too, oh and what's happened to my book… it’s a work in progress!

So, what's my secret? How do I manage to keep going without buckling under the pressure. Well I'm far from perfect and sometimes I do buckle - there are times when I snap and scream and very occasionally I get to the point where I think I can't take any more, but usually I carry on regardless and still manage to enjoy life on the way.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

So you think you want to be Self-Employed in France!

I know it’s been a while and I’m sorry if it appears I’ve been neglecting my blog, but I’ve been busy – even busier than usual if that’s possible.  This year, true to one of my New Year Resolutions at least, I’ve been putting a lot of my energies into the business side of my life.  It’s not easy being self-employed and although I have been for most of my working life (15 years in England and now 8 years in France), I find I’m learning new things every day.  I’ve been thinking recently about what it is that makes a business successful.  It’s not just about the business itself – of course you need to offer something other people want, but it’s also largely down to the individual.  

To be self employed in any country you need to have certain qualities, but to be self employed in France (or any country other than the one you were brought up in), these special characteristics become even more important.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Losing Weight in France - Revisited

I’m guest posting at Mademoiselle Slimalicious, retelling the story of how I got motivated to lose weight after moving to France.  Mademoiselle Slimalicious is French and lives in Australia and has some great tips on weight loss the French way, so do pop over to her website and have a browse.  I’m sure you’ll find some good tips there and interesting interviews with Mireille Guiliano, author of “French Women Don’t Get Fat” and Sally Asher, author of “Losing It in France”.

It’s 14 months on now from when I first decided enough is enough and so I thought it would be interesting to review how I’m feeling about my weight now.  Well, the winter is always the hardest time for me (and just about every other woman I know), so I have gained a few pounds, but am still 1 ½ stone lighter than I was in January 2011 and I’m happy with that. 

My attitudes to food have changed for good.  The emphasis now is far more on eating healthily.  I do indulge myself occasionally, but if I have a treat of a cake or something, I’ll make sure to cut back on something else the next day to make up for it.  I’m aiming to have 1 week a month where I’m stricter with myself which helps to keep me on track. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

What's in a Dream?

Do you believe there are hidden messages in our dreams?  Do you believe we can find deeper meaning from the dreams we have which can help us understand what going on our every day lives, or do you think it’s all a load of hogwash?  I’ve always been curious, but very rarely dream anything interesting enough to attempt interpreting it.  However there’s so much going on in the depths of our minds, it makes perfect sense (to me) that we can learn lessons from what our uncouncious mind reveils to us in our dreams.

What’s got me thinking about this?  Well, I woke up from a very vivid dream the other day, which is unusual for me because I don’t usually remember my dreams and if I do they’re very mundane like what I’m going to make for dinner, shopping or talking with family (I kid you not).  In fact it’s probably because they are so boring that I don’t remember them. My husband on the other hand has had loads of dreams of flying and visits from celestial beings and aliens - all sorts of weird and wonderful things happen to him.  On the rare occasions I remember my dreams, I’m keen to share them in case there may be some hidden message which might make them vaguely more interesting.  I start retelling them to my husband “I was standing in the queue at Leader Price and ....” at this point he usually nods off or walks away.    However, the other day I woke up from a truly wonderful dream.  At last a dream that my husband actually found interesting and listened to and followed to the end.  Here’s what I dreamt:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

How to beat Lethargy

I am so brimming with ideas at the moment, I think I might burst!  It’s snowing outside and I’ve had an enforced stay at home this morning.  So, I’ve been taking this opportunity to make the beds and sort the washing (even managed to marry 25 pairs of odd socks, only another 25 to go!).  While my body has been catching up on some household chores, my mind has been brimming over with  ideas on things like – how to revitilise our gites, new business ventures, decorating projects, marketing plans, new chapters for the books I’m writing.  I’m going to have to write them all down while they’re fresh in my mind. 

It’s so strange because only a few days ago, I was the complete opposite, slumped in a chair watching dribble on TV feeling positively lethargic.  (Can you be positively lethargic?  I think perhaps negatively lethargic is more accurate a description).  We had just come back from a lovely couple of days away in Spain mixing business and pleasure without the children.  We visited new suppliers for our Garden Centre in the Spanish mountains and brought some new stock.  We took advantage of the fantastic deals in January by staying at a 4 star hotel with views over a private beach.  We watched the sun rise over the sea, relaxed in the spa, ate some wonderful food, drank some wine, had time to talk without the usual interruptions.  It was wonderful.

Monday, January 2, 2012

My New Years Resolutions for 2012 - Consolidate

Happy New Year!  Another year over and a new one just began and what a year 2011 was for me.  It was a year of some hardships, realisations and achievements.  I feel a stronger and more positive person as I move into the New Year and am looking forward to discovering what it holds for me.  I made so many positive changes in my life last year that I feel this year my focus is going to be on consolidating the advances I've made.  I've broken these down into 5 different areas of my life where I feel I need to focus most: