Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Expat Halloween

Happy Halloween!

This post is dedicated to Sara Louise in Le Petit Village who woke up this morning with a bad case of the expat blues on account of the fact that she's not expecting any Trick or Treaters to come knocking at the LPV tonight. We happen to be on vacation in Sara's neck of the woods down in Provence right now so we celebrated Halloween early with all our expat friends last week, much to the bemusement of the French neighbours in our Paris suburb!

Trick or Treat 1
On the last day of school before the Tousaint break, the girls were all allowed to go to school in their costumes (even sixth grader India) for a musical parade through the corridors and a craft party in the classroom afterwards. I somehow managed to find myself responsible for Georgia & Savannah's third grade craft. After a bit of online searching for the perfect craft that could be completed by 46 third graders with minimum mess and maximum success in less than half an hour, we decided on this simple and effective idea from the craft blog Skip to my Lou. Orange, white and black tissue paper, decoupage glue and some empty jam jars are all supplies easily and cheaply found in France (unlike many of the requirements for other Halloween crafts out there in Blogland) and the pumpkin and ghost lanterns were a huge hit with the third graders. They particularly enjoyed putting into practice the art teacher's advice to apply the glue with their fingers. I was skeptical but it actually works much better than paintbrushes and is so much more fun!

As you can see, they added the perfect touch of friendly spookiness to our front porch to welcome all the trick or treaters we had that night.

Trick or Treat 2
Trick or Treat 3
The pumpkins that Florence and I picked the day before were carved into Jack O' Lanterns by Georgia and Savannah and their friends with minimum input by me. Apart from cutting off the tops, they scooped, designed and carved everything themselves. A welcome exercise in letting go on my part and an activity that kept them entertained from the moment they got home from school until it was time to go out and trick or treat.

Trick or Treat 4
The trick or treating itself was a huge success. Just like last year, we joined with our expat neighbours to hand out candy to all the girls' school friends. Kids in the USA tonight may not need a map to make sure they trick or treat at the right houses, but I doubt they will collect much more candy than our kids did! There were ghosts, cowboys, vampires, Disney princesses and ballerinas swarming the streets as if it was a regular American suburb creating such a fun and friendly atmosphere that we all quickly forgot that we were out begging for candy a week early! I am sure our French neighbours think we have lost the plot but it was worth it to re-create our favourite American Holiday here in France.

Trick or Treat 5
Back home for the traditional candy count. Watching the kids absorbed in this activity is my favourite part of every Halloween night.

Trick or Treat 6
A traditional Franco-American candy haul.

Trick or Treat 7
I love celebrating Halloween with my girls. I didn't grow up trick or treating in Britain so I have no pre-conceived ideas of how it should go, unlike Christmas or birthdays, leaving the girls free to create their own traditions. At it's best in the States it's simple and fun and rarely frightening when little ones are involved. After eleven years my girls are yet to choose to wear a spooky costume. This year, Georgia & Savannah were '80s Girls' circa 1984, India was an 'ironic' Disney Princess and Florence was a little artist. More on the costumes tomorrow...

Monday, October 29, 2012


Citrouilles 1
Citrouilles 2
Citrouilles 3
Citrouilles 4
Citrouilles 5
Citrouilles 6
Citrouilles 7
Citrouilles 8
Citrouilles 9

Last week, Florence and I headed over to Les Fermes de Gally to pick out some pumpkins for our neighbourhood's early Halloween Celebrations. It was a foggy, damp morning and we had the place to ourselves. When we discovered that Paris had it's very own Pumpkin Patch last year, Florence still wasn't walking and had to be carried around in the baby carrier. What a difference a year makes! This year she revelled in the chance to pick out her own pumpkin and stomp around in the mud.

I'm not sure when the next Love the Place you Live link up will be over at Design Mom, but Les Fermes des Gally is a definite contender in the Berry household. It really is just a ten minute drive from our house and only half an hour from Paris, yet it's such a wonderful country experience. You can pick your own produce year round. Apples are in season right now if you don't need a giant pumpkin and the farm also runs fun classes for kids and has a wonderful café and shop complete with live laying chickens that Florence loves to visit. It's one of those places we don't always remember is on our doorstep, but this year I am going to try and get there as often as possible. Without doubt we will be back in time to pick out a Christmas tree.

P.S. My photographs of Florence (and the big girls) are getting better thanks to another photography class I've been taking over at Nicole's Classes this month. Babies, Toddlers & Kids. I am so thrilled that one of my homework submissions made it onto their blog this week. Florence enjoying ice cream for breakfast. One of my most treasured photos that I could not have captured before I started taking the classes. (She was in the shade, I had to adjust the exposure big time. Photography geeks reading this blog will get it!!)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Avant Après

So, it seems the sewing blog I thought I would always start one day has turned into a travel blog recently, but there has actually been quite a lot of sewing going on here behind the scenes. I just have a hard time finding time to sew and then blog about it and feed my kids and get the laundry done and call Darty to come out and fix the dryer the day before we're supposed to leave for a trip with no clean dry know how it goes!

I have so many sewing projects I want to share, but I'll start with a quick and easy no sew one inspired by my recent trip to Montpellier and the lovely mercerie I saw there that was so cruelly closed on a Sunday.

I took this frustratingly blurry photograph through the window as a reminder of a cute idea that I might try myself one day. I showed my 'Dutch' friend Brooks the picture when she was staying with us last week and she suggested it would be fun to try something similar with the ubiquitous Eiffel Tower key rings you find on sale at every street corner in Paris.

An unexpected trip into the city gave me the opportunity to pick one up so when I got home I set to trying to recreate what I saw in Montpellier. A quick rummage through my Liberty scrap bag and I came up with this. Four half inch by twelve inch strips of fabric knotted over the key ring and individually tied at the ends. Brooks took this one back to Holland with her - it matches her cushion - and now I'm itching to make more.

The girls have a week off school next week and after that I'm really going to have to get sewing as I just agreed to host a booth at our school's Holiday Bazaar in December selling Eiffel Tower cushions and other knick knacks that I have been designing over the last few months. Quite a scary prospect, but something I've always wanted to try so wish me luck.

I have to come up with a name for this endeavour. I wish I had thought of Avant Après first. My best idea so far is Six Berries. A play on our family name I like that the word 'six' is the same in English and French. What do you think? A free key ring to anyone who comes up with a better name!!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Montpellier Marathon

Back in August when we were on holiday in Spain an email popped into my inbox from Aidan of Conjugating Irregular Verbs inviting me to a Blogapalooza in Montpellier. I had enviously read about these ex-pat gatherings before thinking how fun it would be to meet some of my favourite bloggers in person so I jumped at the chance to attend. I waited nervously to see if Aidan would choose the weekend I was available in October which she did, and then waited a bit more while Keith heroically adjusted his business travel so that he could be back in France to look after the kids. I booked a train ticket and a hotel room, arranged sleepovers for the big girls and childcare for Florence and packed my bags.

Montpellier 1
On the Friday morning that I was due to leave for my weekend away, Florence woke up with a temperature and my jaunt to the South of France seemed doomed. All was not lost however as my mother's sixth sense had caused me to book the more expensive train ticket, changeable right up to the minute of departure and I had followed Kirsty's advice to book the hotel through which also allows free last minute cancellations. Half an hour on the computer and I had rearranged my trip to start on the 8:06 out of Gare de Lyon on Saturday morning when Daddy would be home all day to look after the girls.

Chez Boris
It's an easy three and a half hours on the train from Paris to Montpellier so I was there in plenty of time for lunch at Chez Boris where I was reunited with Kirsty and Jennifer who I've met before in real life and met Aidan, Karen, Julie, Sarah, Heather, Jennifer, Abby, Meredith and Colleen for the first time. With Florence continuing to be sick all last week, I'm late to the party in posting about the lunch, but Kirsty captured the event perfectly and her photos came out much better than mine! Suffice to say I had a wonderful time and four hours never passed so quickly. It was such a treat to have been included and it was a pleasure to meet so many lovely ladies and hear about all their different yet similar experiences of living in France.

Montpellier 2
That evening after everyone else had gone home I went out by myself to find dinner. Montpellier is a university town and has a lively nightlife. I wasn't entirely comfortable being out on my own (which made me glad I hadn't also spent Friday night there alone as originally planned) and after a simple dinner I headed off for an early night.

Montpellier 3
I stayed in the Hotel Eurociel which just opened this year and was well reviewed as a place to stay for lone travellers. It was clean and comfortable and just a few minutes walk from Place de la Comédie, Montpellier's centre. Each floor was named after a different European country. I was on the Greek floor in the Kos bedroom. The next morning as I checked out I noticed that in addition to London, Cardiff and a few other well known British cities one of the rooms on the British floor was named Jersey. If I ever go back I will have to request that room and I'm sure I'll feel right at home!

Montpellier 6
At the lunch, Kirsty had tried to persuade me to get up at the crack of dawn on Sunday to make the most of the light to better photograph historic Montpellier. Having had to get up before sunrise the day before to make my early train, I didn't quite fancy another pre-dawn alarm, but I did get going quite early to explore the city by day. I set out to the sounds of church bells ringing for morning mass.

Montpellier 4
Quite a contrast to the sounds of busy nightlife that had accompanied my walk home the night before. Now the bustling, slightly seedy neighbourhood of my hotel was shuttered and quiet.

Montpellier 5
In the daylight I could relax and admire it's faded charm and gorgeous details.

Montpellier 7
I arrived in Place de la Comédie just in time for the start of the Montpellier marathon.

Montpellier 9
Once all the runners were on their way I found myself a café in the main square.

Montpellier 10
And sat down for breakfast and a spot of people watching.

Montpellier 11
Fortified by my café au lait, croissant and baguette slathered in Nutella I was ready to spend the rest of the morning exploring the maze of streets and alleys in Montpellier's old town.

Montpellier 12

Montpellier 13

Montpellier 14
A place where people grow oranges on their balconies.

Montpellier 15

Montpellier 16
...and lace.

Montpellier 17
The streets were deserted except for this man in a top hat carrying a bunch of pink balloons! Qu'est-ce qui se passe?

Montpellier 18
All the shops were shut which certainly saved me some money, but I wish I had found this lovely little mercerie 'Before & After' on Saturday.

Montpellier 19
Look at those gorgeous buttons!

Montpellier 20
As I had my nose pressed to the window of the fabric store I could hear the strains of organ music coming from the church of Saint Roch.

Montpellier 21
Sunday morning mass was nearly over in this nineteenth century church built along the route of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

Montpellier 22
French friends leaving church.

Montpellier 23
I spent the rest of the morning wandering the streets getting to know Montpellier and really starting to like it.

Montpellier 24
Stumbled across some fun street art. Maybe it was a sign as when I got home I discovered that Keith had spent the weekend buying Georgia & Savannah new bikes. Impressive on his own with four kids in tow!

Montpellier 25
More by luck than planning I arrived back in Place de la Comédie just as the first runners finished the marathon. Three hours pounding the streets of Montpellier and I didn't even break a sweat!

Montpellier 26
After my marathon photography session, it was time to find my way back to the train station and leave the tropical south for rainy Paris. I feel so lucky to have had this weekend away. Thanks so much to Aidan for inviting me to her gorgeous home town and to Keith for holding the fort back home.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dutch sleepover

Holland 1
Last weekend we all piled in the car, Alfie included, and set off on a road trip. Five hours later and a quick pit stop in Belgium we arrived at our friends' new house in Holland. These friends were our Paris BFFs last year. Pen pals before we moved and mentors once we arrived. They made the transition so much easier for us and the whole family got on so well - even the dogs! We miss them so much now that they have left Paris so we took the first opportunity we could find to go and visit them despite the fact that Keith didn't arrive back from a business trip in Australia until Saturday morning and we would have to be back in time for school on Sunday night! It was a long way to go for a sleepover but we certainly made the most of our 24 hours in Holland.

Holland 3
As soon as we walked through the door our hosts insisted that we had to go for a bike ride. When in Holland...

Holland 2
This was Florence's first ever time on a bike (and my first for a while I must confess!). After a nervous and frankly bemused start she loved it. In her words it was 'wow!'

Side note: Florence's seat was by far the most conventional device we saw for transporting little ones on bikes. There was no end to the ingenious contraptions the Dutch families were using to get their kids around, but the best we saw was an infant car seat attached (presumably securely) to the back of one mother's bike!
This is what we saw on our twenty minute ride from our friends' front door and back:

Holland 4
'Juice and moos' otherwise known as canals and cows.

Holland 5
Clever cows!

Holland 6
Enormous bunnies.

Holland 7
Lots of sheep.

Holland 8
And horses. All living in the prettiest lush green surroundings. The lanes (which are open to cars!) reminded me a lot of my native Jersey and I was so happy to have been persuaded to explore them that way.

Holland 9
The next morning we were up early to fit in another must do Dutch experience. A boat trip along the canals of Leiden.

Holland 10
This unexpected treat was the cause of much excitement for all the girls. Although I grew up a sailor's daughter my children haven't had much exposure to boats yet!

Holland 11
The adults spent the journey planning our next move. There were so many pretty houses to choose from. Perhaps this one?

Holland 12
Or what about a farm on the water's edge?

Holland 13

Holland 14
Everyone had a turn at the tiller.

Holland 15
And after an hour meandering we arrived in Leiden.

Holland 16
Such a pretty town and exactly as I had imagined Holland to look. We moored the boat and ate our picnic. Then stepped ashore for coffee and cake.

Holland 17
Boats and bikes and bridges everywhere.

Holland 18
By the end of our trip we had seen traditional Dutch architecture, spotted a few windmills, ridden a bike and sailed on the canals. We checked a lot of boxes but we still have to go back for the tulips. I can't wait!
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