It’s the Grand Vacances!

Our first summer in France and also, because DD is at the maternelle rather than at nursery, our first year without any childcare all summer meaning we have a full 8 weeks to occupy DD. Eight whole weeks? Yikes! It’s exciting yes, but daunting too. I doubt I’d be nearly so daunted if we were still at our old place near Manchester. There was sooooo much to do there. We were close to so many places running child-friendly activities – whether they were small business, community run projects – and of course I also had all my friends around me, many of whom had children of a similar age and would also be swashing around at a loose end for the entirety of the summer holiday.

There’s plenty to do here you could say and you’d be right but we’re on a tight budget now and many of the places to visit –  castles, animal parks, and the like – are aimed at tourists and are expensive – which makes them out of reach except for maybe one or two days of the holiday. There’s plenty to do outdoors here, yes: the usual, walking, cycling, etc. plus water sports, etc. But my children are 3.5 and 1.5 years old. They can’t do the same things. They don’t have any sense when it comes to being in the sun. They can’t swim. Or ride bikes. They prefer to run in opposite directions, especially where water’s involved. They play together, just, but not for long. More often than not there’s screaming, given that the DD is at an age where she’s starting to create things that are meaningful, develop stories, be interested in projects, while the younger one is now totally mobile and is happiest when taking things apart and chucking them either down the stairs or over his shoulder. You can see how these two interests aren’t mutually compatible.

And there’s no backup. The grandparents are staying firmly put in the UK this summer. We don’t have any visitors, as we hadn’t moved into a proper rental house when people were starting to make summer holiday plans. So no friends are visiting, which is a shame. I was thinking to go back to the UK for a week (or more) but it’s high season so prices are high and after last time (I went on my own with the two smalls) the idea of it made me want to lie down! which means I’ve decided to put that off until later in the year.

What, then, is the plan? I need one, so I asked my friends on Facebook for tips on surviving the summer and got a few good suggestions including:

  • divide the day into three segments – morning, lunch, afternoon – and have an activity for each
  • make sure you get out the house every day (amen to that one!)
  • plan activities like messy play, crafts, etc.

And a few not so helpful ones, like:

  • Enjoy them, they’re only young for a short time.

Yeah, yeah. Something to remember when DS has just destroyed the train track that DD has spent the last 20 minutes constructing and they’re locked into a scream-in-your-face battle. Practical advice this is not!

Feeling at a loss I made a timetable and printed it out – thinking I could work with that three blocks every day thing.  It looked like this. When I started splitting the columns into three it became a tangled mess of boxes – all empty. I was starting to panic just looking at it.

2017 Summer Holiday Calendar

The blank and rather daunting calendar page

I tried to allocate activities to days with the day-into-thirds rule in mind but kept coming back to the fact that planning anything with a one-year-old and a three-year-old is as good as impossible, especially weeks in advance. The idea of having a timetable was itself stressing me out. The whole idea of having a holiday is to relax and not be rushing around or overcommitting to things. Plus it’s impossible to buy anything you actually need in France, so that ruled out pretty much any activity that needed supplies. Pinterest-inspired mummy I am not! So the calendar had to go.

Still on the search and a bit anxious about the long weeks ahead I took another friend’s advice and did some mummying homework (which also gave me the opportunity to reunite with Kindle), quickly reading these two books:

Both those reads helped to put me at ease. With those principles in mind I could handle it, for sure!

This all means that as far as holiday planning goes, the plan is to play it by ear depending on how well we’ve all slept, what sort of mood we’re all in (not always sleep dependent!) and the weather, of course.

My loose “schedule” – which is really just a bunch of things we might want to do – looks like this.

holiday planning page

My Holiday Planning Bullet Journal Page

New ideas are popping up all the time so it’s already grown since I took this pic. And the calendar is being used as a log of things we actually did so we can look back at the end of the holiday and think, “Wow! Look all the fun things we did!”

Holidays, here we come!!


Note: This post contains affiliate links. These are to books I’ve read that I recommend. I hope you don’t mind me including them. 

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Making Compote, Making Friends

The day after the incident with the text message and shortly after DS was stung by a hornet, I was chatting to our neighbour (voisine) – “M” – who kindly invited us to join her the next afternoon when she was expecting a visit from a friend. Together they were going pick the pears that had ripened and make them into compote. Would we like to help? Yes, lovely!

During this same conversation she’d been trying to tell me something (in French, of course, as  M doesn’t know English) about a congélateur. I was tired. She was saying something about putting pears in the congélateur for 12 hours then they would keep. Eh? I envisaged her friend coming down from Paris with some fancy processing machine I’d never heard of.

The next day, when James had to pop out on an errand leaving me with the two smalls who were keen to play outside, I saw M was busy preparing the pears with her friend so popped over to ask her about her congélateur and to help. What is it? Could she show me? She led me through to the kitchen to… the freezer, of course! Feeling a bit daft and with that cleared up we headed to the terrace to join her friend who was still busy chopping pears ready to cook down on the stove into compote. My French was sadly lacking that afternoon (it was about 5 o’clock already and it had been a looonng day after another not so great night) and while usually M and I can muddle along, I was really struggling to either hear or speak – but luckily her friend spoke enough English that between us we could manage a conversation. It didn’t take long before I was seated at the table chopping pears while the kids picked out and ate the juiciest ones in between bashing rocks with sticks. We’re quite easy to please really.

James arrived back just as the pear preparations were complete and bubbling away on the stove. By now it was 6pm, so what else to do but pop open a bottle of vin de noix and rest before continuing with our evenings. I think I’ve discovered a new favourite tipple. Maybe it was the booze, but somehow my French came back and I managed to join in the conversation with M, her friend and James. Since her friend is here to buy a house and has a similar remit to us we talked house prices, the English invasion (they’ve pushed up the prices here and aren’t popular for it) and how there isn’t any work locally to justify the high prices and then what can be done about all that. It was really lovely and just what I needed after the unpleasant encounter with Mr. Front National two days previously. Because M doesn’t speak English it forces me to speak French and she is so patient with me, as I try to wrestle words from the back of my tired brain, always telling me to take my time when she sees I am getting frustrated. I think she likes us and we all really like having her over the road, sharing her knowledge of the place, the people and the land. Even though sometimes I can barely understand half of what she’s saying we get the idea muddling along together, or we just give up with a shrug and a laugh and go on our way. Other times it all just flows and then magic happens – along with compote.

Wasp? Pft. Fear is relative.

The other day this not so little critter put it’s sting into the soft, delicate foot of my DS. Yes, there was screaming and also a small amount of panicking.

European Hornet

A Very Dead European Hornet

We quickly spotted the culprit  – a European Hornet (frelon, en français) –  as DS was standing right next to it when the screaming started). The quick-thinking James placed it under house arrest under an upturned PlayDoh bucket, where it would remain until one of us could get out to buy some RAID. It was a one way ticket.

We figured this was one of the two that we’d seen early today, sniffing around the main beam in the house. When we saw them thought, as it was from a distance, that they were two large wasps and, as we didn’t want them deciding to make a nest then heading off to tell mates about this fantastic new beam we’d found, we kept an eye on them then shut the windows when we thought they’d found a way out.

Or so we thought. There seemed to be a few flying around outside and another one came in but soon fled when confronted by an angry mummy (me) with a fresh can of RAID. That evening James found another one over by the fire (also dead – we had fleas a few weeks ago and the house is generally an A1 danger zone for insects, even before the RAID arrived) and DD spotted one on the windowsill. We dealt with those, figuring they’d come in with the one that stung DS or during the day, before we battened down the hatches, and went on with our lives.

The next morning I opened the door onto the terrace and another one flew straight in, like it had been waiting for the door to open. RAID to hand, it didn’t stand a chance and was soon under house arrest, this time under a large jam jar usually reserved for rescuing lizards the cat has brought in.

That put the hornet (in the house) count to four, which is exactly three more than I had seen in my entire life up to that point.

I sat on the terrace for a while to see whether any more were around and, yes, before long there was another. It seemed very interested in the wood around the upstairs window and at the top of the door but, after dabbing around for a while, it bobbed up the wall and made its way over the roof and was gone.

A short time after another one appeared but this did much the same. I didn’t see one go in anywhere and announced as much to James.

Because we didn’t want any of them coming in again but we’d decided to keep all the windows closed until we could get some mosquito nets up – a good idea even without the hornets as there are plenty of wasps around and also some very determined mosquitoes! Saturday came and our mission was clear. We left the house all sealed up and came back with the netting and some insecticide spray that would supposedly act as a barrier when sprayed around window and door frames. James wasn’t convinced it would work but bought it anyway, just in case.

So how was it that when we came in there were two more hornety house guests having a jolly old time in the bedroom? With sll doors and windows sealed it could mean only one thing, so where was the hole they were exploiting?

I sat outside with the littlies while James stayed inside to valiantly battle our foes. He’d said to wait outside making sure his exit was clear in case he had to make a run for it. He emerged a short while later telling me he was fine. It was quite comical listening from outside as the pshhhhhh, pshhhhhhh, pshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh of the RAID can gave a fairly visual picture of the state of play. They’re quite robust creatures but he got there in the end.

We gave those two (taking the hornet count to six) enough time to properly die then sent James in to block up what looked to be their entry point: a giant hole by one of the upstairs windows. I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before given it was large enough for a couple of cats to curl up in. Really it could do with being properly filled and sealed but, given we’re renting, we went for the bodge so one inseticide-drenched blanket later and the hole was no more – but, hang on, what was that buzzing noise!?

In the time between taking out the first two and having a breather outside, another one had made it in from somewhere. Maybe that wasn’t the right hole. Maybe there was another hole? Oh boy.

With the hole bunged up James turned his attention to the windows and got the netting sorted out. Surprisingly, the question, “what good is sticky-backed velcro that doesn’t stick to anything,” has not yet been asked on Quora. It should be. I mean… anyway. Wood glue to the rescue. Now we just had to hope that our 4 euro solution was going to be cat resistant.

With all doors locked and all windows either sealed to all airborne creatures or closed, now we could find out whether we were officially on hornet lockdown.

Day 1. No hornets. Not many flies either. Result.

Day 2. Still no hornets. A few more flies owing to our becoming more relaxed about leaving the doors open.

Day 3. Still no hornets.

And that’s it, maybe we’ve cracked it. But what has this to do with things being relative?

Well, in short, I’m no longer one of those people that jumps up and runs around flapping their arms and screeching when a wasp starts buzzing around. And I was that person. To my mind now wasps are teeny tiny little comedy bad guys with a silly high-pitched whine that barely registers. I first observed this change in perception while helping M prepare the pears while sitting in her garden (blog post on this to come). There were a fair few buzzing around while we chopped pairs and I was idly batting them away. Be gone, minor irritant.

Hornets on the other hand. My God, I am not happy about them at all.

And as for DS? He was lucky, we were all lucky; he’s not anaphylactic, thank goodness. We treated it with After Pick® and got him into a paddling pool filled with cold water and ice as soon as he was calm enough to leave my lap. Thirty minutes later he was laughing with his sister and splashing around. But it hurt him a lot. For him, having lived his first 16 months without fear, without pain (except for the odd toddler tumble or his routing injections) it was traumatic, to the extent that he now stops dead, points, and then screams his little head off if there’s anything unidentified – fluff, plant material, an insect – in his field of vision. It’s all relative and I feel terrible that he had to go through that. If only it had been a wasp.

A first taste of hate

It happened. James said it would sooner or later. I was always more optimistic but now the shine has come come off and I’m awake to it.

It started because I tried to buy a secondhand bike. DD is now well into her third year and I’m wracking my brains trying to think up interesting projects we can work on together over the summer holiday. The obvious one, given she’s not really old enough to sustain interest in the kinds of projects older kids could perhaps be persuaded to engage with, is learning to ride a bike with pedals. She’ll love that and I think in the 8 weeks we can get her really going strong. But first I have to find a bike.

I’ve been using the minutes I grab at the computer to scour LeBonCoin for bikes. I’d really like to get her a nice, shiny one but we can’t justify that financially right now and since it’s not her birthday (or Christmas anytime soon) it’s not really the time to give her an expensive, shiny present, and a good secondhand steed will do perfectly well. I searched eBay.co.uk and there are tonnes of great bikes being sold in the UK but it’s harder to find one around here.

And then I found one. Two, actually, but the newer and slightly more expensive one has already been reserved so I continued my search and found another one, closer to home too; older but also a better make (Orbea).

We were heading that way the next day and, as it was the first chance I’d had, I dug out my phone and sent a text message. The owner had said no e-mail, which was a pain, but I can’t manage the phone without James’s ears as backup and James can’t manage it while driving – and he was driving. Text was the next best thing. A few minutes later I checked my messages and was happy to see that I’d just had a call from the owner. I’d missed the ring because my phone is often on silent but we were in the car so I wasn’t going to be able to manage a conversation and I couldn’t call back until we’d stopped. So I sent another text.

My French is now at a level where I can as least figure out what I want to say in French then put the English into a translate programme to see whether I’m anywhere near close. Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not, but I’m learning all the time and it works. Of course translate programmes don’t deliver perfect French and sometimes they get it quite wrong but as we were really close to the owner’s location I didn’t want to put off the conversation until I got home and then have to go out again. So I used the translate app on my phone and embarked on a conversation that went like this:

A screenshot of an SMS message between me and the seller.

IMG_9704

It all goes wrong fairly early on when I accidentally copy the English from the translate app instead of the French. I was in a rush, on the phone (small screen, stupidly small keyboard) and I didn’t notice until – after the question, “are you English?” and my answer “yes!” – he came back with this:

“Yes, and well go elsewhere, because once you spoke french and one other time English, so you don’t care about me.”

Er, WTF? Then I saw it – drat! But hey, it was an honest mistake! Foolishly I’d hoped that the question, are you English, would lead to a “hey, me too” – not this madness. One the first thoughts I had was, of course I don’t care about him – I just want to buy his old bike, not marry one of his children. Anyway, I really don’t have enough French for an argument and really, I just wanted to buy his stupid bike, so I tried to fix it. “I’m learning French, sorry”, I said, but it was too late. Monsieur Front National – as I’m calling him – was flying into one.

“Yes, and when I call I get you no.” 

Which I think means I didn’t answer when he called. Just to clarify, he goes on…

“I don’t time to write SMS all day – it irritates me, bye.”

At least I’m assuming that last bit was bye. It came through as baye, which I can’t find a translation for, so either he was so pissed that he could no longer be bothered to text properly or it’s some traditional insult that can’t easily be translated. If the latter, I’m happy not to know!

Honestly, it upset me. I’m nice! I’m here with my family to work, to pay tax, to start a new life! I don’t deserve shit from a nasty angry person who says the has an old kids bike to sell for 20 euros! So I block the caller and that’s that. I hope he spent the next 20 minutes writing a really long and insulting message that will never get to me. Hah.

And there it is. Just like the Polish, the Romanians, the Germans and many other EU citizens making the most of their right to free movement, travelling or working in the UK, or indeed anyone making a new life in a foreign land, I have felt the wrath of a bigoted fool. I guess it was my turn. At least it wasn’t a brick through the window or worse because there are always people capable of worse. It’s sad though because my parents – like many other Leave voters – don’t want all those other people coming to Britain and taking “our” jobs (never mind they’re retired etc.) so I wonder what they’ll make of their French equivalents having a dig at me for, assumedly, similar reason. I look forward to telling them to see what they make of it, how they’ll excuse their casual racism towards others but sympathise with my experience. Seriously.

As it happens, today I’m over it – and I still don’t have a bike for DD, which is a shame. Hopefully the other one I was interested in will become available again. I wouldn’t want my beautiful, innocent DD riding his racist old bike anyway.