Thursday, 4 December 2014

Novel Writing Month is Over

Yes, I did it! I officially won NaNoWriMo! The little tree in the picture, stretching itself up to the light in the middle of those massive pines? That's a bit how I feel right now. There's a long way to go but I am so pleased to be able to say, I wrote my 50 000 words. 50 886 so far to be exact. Yes, so far, because the story isn't finished. Yet.

Here are my thoughts on the ups and downs of the NaNoWriMo experience.

The Pluses

  • It was amazing to be writing every day.
  • I finally got the story that Maya's been pestering me about on and off for over a year written down and nearly finished.
  • My family were really supportive.
  • I think my kids have finally got it, I'm no longer just mum who is really great and always available and does all this stuff for us, I'm, also that crazy woman who sits in front of a screen for a really long time doing her work - writing. Oh yeah and forgets important things like getting the lunch ready and keeping the fire going (ahem).

The Minuses

  • I neglected my poetry, I couldn't do both and I missed it.
  • I didn't blog much or journal a lot either, there was just no time.
  • I was antisocial, I didn't make any new friends, post on a single NaNoWriMo forum or go to any write-ins. To be fair there weren't any in my area.
  • See above about forgotten dinners, fires that went out etc. I really need to learn better time management, yeah and go to bed earlier and get up earlier without waking up my undeniably cute but bothersome two year old sleeping buddy.

There will be time for a little posting now so I'll be showing off how the apple bags turned out and hopefully telling you about all the mending which has been a big theme around here this autumn and will continue to be I imagine with five of us living and working and learning together in this space all the time. And finally a little peek into our library again to see our favourite Christmas books because yes we do start reading them from the beginning of December. On the flip side, there's a moratorium after the 25th and it lasts all through the next year!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Autumn Poem (or not Poem)

Autumn Colours

I was wanting to write a poem about Autumn. I thought about the colours of the leaves drifting slowly down. Persian orange, Bittersweet, Rosewood, Saddle brown. So many names, evoking. There seemed no more than this, a list of tones and hues. It said it all. But a poem is not a list, surely it is something more than Goldenrod, Honey and Papaya, Pearl copper and Fawn? Old gold seems stark alone on the page. And yet, as I read the lists of colours I had carefully gathered, I saw the leaves dancing across the lawn, swept up in a gust of wind, slowly floating down and up, drifting like so many light winged butterflies clustered. When all is said and done, what is a poem but a gathering of words.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Autumn Leaves and a Soup Recipe

At the risk of repeating myself, I love the colours of autumn! I like the crisp freshness in the air and the leaves swirling in the wind like butterflies caught in the air currents.

We collect a lot of those leaves every year. More leaves than I know what to do with. In the past we've made garlands to hang in front of our windows with torn up leaves, whole leaves, wool, felt and coloured paper. We've pressed leaves to stick in the children's nature journals and used them to garnish our seasonal table. Lots of leaves have been ground up into wooden tea pots and teacups to make fairy tisane and leaf cakes. Even more have been strewn across the floor in a way that infuriates me until I remember that I started this whole collecting thing.

This year I've been carefully pressing some of the loveliest leaves myself, Japanese Maple and Wisteria being two of my current favourites. My plan is to make our own inlaid recycled paper with them like this here. Maybe we'll make the sheets into notebooks and gift them for Christmas or maybe they'll just be for us. I don't know yet. This is going to be a big project.

In the meantime their our bouquets of leaves on our kitchen table and a whole bag full waiting for me to press. And the autumn colours have made it into the kitchen too with this amazing Tomato, Red Lentil and Lemon Soup adapted from the Convent Garden Soup Company's Book of Soups. Enjoy.

Lentil, Tomato and Lemon Soup

a good glug of extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
150g (about 2/3 of a cup) red lentils
570ml (about 2.5 cups) vegetable stock
1 x 400g tin of tomatoes
2 teaspoons of tomato purée
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly ground black pepper
lemon juice to taste 

Gently fry the onions and garlic in the olive oil until they are softened but not browned, about ten minutes. Add the lentils and stir well. Add the stock and raise the heat to bring to the boil. Skim off any scum. Add the tinned tomatoes, tomato purée, rosemary and bay leaf. Bring back to the boil and then simmer covered for about 20 minutes. Taste, season, fish out the bay leaf and the stem from the rosemary (most of the leaves will have come off). Serve and let each person add their own lemon juice to taste.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Scribbling my way through November

Since starting NaNoWriMo I have to admit I've given up on a lot of other stuff like a tidy house or our monumental laundry pile or being sociable. Because every scrap of my time which doesn't revolve around my three lovely but pretty demanding kids is spent trying to keep on the curve. The curve is the graph I look at daily on my NaNoWriMo dashboard to see how on track I am for completing my 50 000 words by November 30th. Somedays I feel like the gull in the picture sweeping out to sea, my heart swells with the thrill of seeing the numbers. Other days I want to crawl in a hole and howl as it seems I'll never get there. 

Writing the words is not the problem and I suppose I should be really pleased about that. Finding the time to write the words is more complicated. Perhaps if I didn't take out a couple of hours to watch amazing Shakespeare adaptions I'd do better and if I'd said no to playing Carcassone with my sleepless 8 year old I would certainly of got more done today. But you know it's okay. I'm writing pretty much every day and I'm having a lot of fun and even though I know today I'm below the curve I can turn it around tomorrow and I'm pretty proud of my nearly 20 000 words done so far.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Autumn Reading

We have a lot of children's picture books, they're one of my passions along with beautiful yarn and material, papers of every description and Japanese pottery. 

I love the season's too and so it made sense for us to have a seasonal library. A selection of books that come out to accompany the season they're suited to. This is our selection of autumn books in English and French...

Fall Book Rotraut Susanne Berner

    • Autumn (Rotraut Susanne Berner) This book has no words, (well just a few on the back) and is part of a seasonal series by the author. They depict the same town in the four seasons. You can see the same people and the same places but the activities vary. In this book everyone is taking their pumpkins to be judged at the fair and leaves fly all over the place. The littlest ones love it and we've made up lots of our stories about what's going on in the pages, it's a great conversation starter and a great book for spotting things.

    Tout sur l'automne

    • Tout sur l'Automne (Charline Picard et Clementine Sourdais) has answers to a lot of the questions my kids have about this season like why do the leaves fall off the trees and what do all the animals do when it starts to get cold? There are some lovely botanical illustrations as well as a funny cartoon series.

    Autumn [Board book] by Gerda Muller

    • Autumn (Gerda Muller), nothing to say just love love love Gerda Muller.

    • La fête de l'Automne de la famille souris (Kazuo Iwamura). We love this series and the autumn book is divine, full of the colours of the fall and the usual emphasis on a family having fun together surrounded by nature. The children love the mouse family and I like to imagine they'll remember these books fondly when they'll be all grown up.

    What autumn books do you and your family enjoy together? 


    That's it, it's finally confirmed - I'm insane. As if settling into a new home and lifestyle, trying to find a new working and homeschooling rhythm and living with three children and a husband at home all the time wasn't enough, I've decided to write a novel in a month. Yay!

    From the moment I first heard about the National Novel Writing Month project several years ago, I've wanted to be part of it. And as my other half put it, if you don't do it this year when will you? We don't know if in one year's time he'll be back in full time work or still out cutting logs in the garden so... This is it, this year, this November, I will write 50 000 words. Yippee!


    Sunday, 2 November 2014


    I love autumn. The slowly changing colours on the trees and the sudden bite in the air. Finding ourselves indoors more and the way the children turn to their long abandoned knitting. And the apples, picking them, cooking them, eating them and this year crafting with them! Thanks to Jean over at the Artful Parent we spent a great afternoon printing with apples.

    We began with Jean's bunting project. I used some Kraft paper and old brown paper bags we had in the art cupboard and some scrap paper from the printer as I liked the idea of the apple print being over text, as well as some plain white paper. We used windfall apples from the tree in our garden which are unfortunately not very tasty but perfect for printing. 

    All three children joined in (8, 5 and 2) and really enjoyed themselves. I cut out the triangles and provided red ink and red water colour paint (from a tube) as that's what we had in the cupboard and then let them get stuck in. 

    When they'd printed on every single triangle I'd cut out (and there were a lot) Noah still wanted to do more. So we decided to have a go at apple printing on fabric. I grabbed some thick white upholstery cotton I happen to have a lot of (in a previous life it was the tablecloths at our wedding supper) and some red fabric paint and the fun continued. The sisters were back now we were moving on to fabric so I cut each child 2 oblong pieces of fabric, in the back of my mind were visions of apple totes.

    I've long been a fan of Jean's blog which is full of really fun craft activities for children and parents - I had an absolute blast with the apple printing too!

    Thursday, 30 October 2014

    Photos from Paris

    Our life is a bit split between two places for the moment. It seems we just settle in here and find a rhythm to our days and its time to pack the suitcases again and head up to Paris. Seeing friends is our priority when we're in the city, the landmarks like the Musée de Moyen Age at Cluny or the Eiffel Tower are a bonus. And still, even in the city we tend towards the wild and time spent in the Fôret de Meudon surely helped create continuity between our two worlds.

    Friday, 17 October 2014

    Poem Published

    Back at the beginning of the year, which seems a very long time ago now, I hesitantly took my courage in my hands and sent off a very favourite poem of mine to an independent press' first annual writing competition. That press was Mother's Milk Books and a few months later I was over the moon when I found out that my poem had won! I remember dancing around the kitchen in elation. 

    As part of the competition's prize the poem has now been published in a small anthology. You can buy the book directly from the editor or here via Amazon. Earlier in the year it appeared in the summer edition of Juno Magazine.

    I feel very proud of my little poem making it's way out there in the world. It was a wonderful moment to finally see it print. A big thank you to Teika at Mother's Milk Books for running the competition and making all this happen!

    As both the poem and a prose piece I wrote which also made it into the anthology were inspired by carrying my babes, here are some of my favourite carrying pictures...

    Monday, 6 October 2014

    Why I love Libraires

    As homeschoolers and bibliophiles we spend a lot of time in Libraries. They're one of our children's favourite places. I love their potentiality. What treasures will we find? What new subjects will we decide to learn about? Will they have our favourites? Yakari, Sheltie, one of Kazuo Iwamura's lovely Mouse Family series? There are thousands more of course and so many waiting to be found and that's the wonder of libraries. What are your favourite books for children and for adults? What was the last great read you picked up? 

    Being new to the area our local libraries are completely new to us and so last week we spent a lovely afternoon discovering Pontivy's Espace Kenere. 

    A trip to the library is a long affair in our family. Each child heads off independently (yes even the 2 year old) to find their books. We do our own browsing, picking out things we find beautiful or think will interest the children or ourselves. We also guide the children towards the shelves that hold the books on subjects we know they're interested in. 

    Once they get them home, both our beginning reader and our 'non-readers' (I'm not convinced this is really an accurate term) spend hours with their books. Their noses stuck in them, right on the page, devouring them, this is their first fling with these new treasures. 

    They pick up an awful lot of information without either of us having read a page to them. I believe this is also one of the most important steps on their journey to reading. Not only is their passion for the written word growing, so is their understanding of the myriad of universes and knowledge books can unlock and at the same time they're studying the code and structure of the written word and trying to make their own sense of it. It's fascinating and heart warming to see. 

    Later, over the weeks that these new friends spend in our home, we will read them together many times and that will be our part in this journey. But the children will also carry on with their own discoveries, copying out a section of text that interests them or drawing pictures inspired by the stories or watching a film because an interest has been sparked. So many connections spreading out like a web from that first and most exciting object of potential, a book. 

    Wednesday, 1 October 2014

    Fresh food from the Garden

    It was one of my dreams when I thought about living here to eat food we'd grown ourselves. And now that dream has come true! Our first bed has been a hands down success, the radishes are juicy, the rocket is rampant and even the lamb's lettuce after a slow start is going strong now. 

    Here's what's we've been doing with all this green loveliness...
    • Tossing the rocket with rock salt, balsamic vinegar and good quality olive oil and eating it with tomato salad and sheep's cheese.
    • Sprinkling shredded rocket onto homemade carrot and red lentil soup. I like this recipe which I tweaked a bit, as in we didn't have any sweet potato so I just used carrots it came out yummy and thick, oh and I didn't do the topping as my kids preferred homemade wholemeal bread and butter to dip in their soup. 
    • Eating lambs lettuce and runny eggs, it's so good dipped in, with steamed broccoli and more homemade bread to accompany.
    • Throwing handfuls of rocket onto homemade pizza topped with mozzarella and artichokes.
    • Tearing rocket into pasta with pan-fried courgettes, lemon zest and Parmesan cheese.
    • Eating the radishes straight out of the ground!

    Saturday, 27 September 2014

    Big City Life II

    On Monday, rejoined by Maya and our dear friends Kate and Mo we went down to les Berges sur Seine. This is a great place to go stroll by the river. The Seine is one of the things I love about Paris, it's peaceful and vibrant at the same time. An oasis of nature in the urban landscape and also a working waterway. For me it's the heart of the city, the water beating its lifeblood through the concrete and stone that surrounds it. And the Berges sur Seine is the icing on the cake, cafés, art installations, games tables, a climbing wall for kids, it's easy to idle away an afternoon.

    Sambre's recycled wood installation was a highpoint for me. I love the forms and the overlapping and all the different colours and textures of wood. We all had an absolute blast at the Douche-sonore. With our tunes blasting out of the speakers the kids went wild with the gymnastic stunts while the mamas knitted a few rows, took a few pictures and occasionally joined in with the dancing.

    Friday, 26 September 2014

    Big CIty Life

    And so the time came round again already to head back up to the big city. Part of the deal when we told our kids we were moving to the sticks was to promise Maya our oldest child (8) that we would make regular trips back to the city to see her friends. Homeschooling is a minority affair here in France (estimated at around 30 0000 in 2012 and rising rapidly)so having friends to hang out with is really important. While we get to know people here in Brittany it seemed like a good idea to maintain the amazing network we have back in Paris. 

    Maya quickly disappeared off to sleepover at friends, so we enjoyed the one on one child ratio that left over and headed to the amazing Cité des Sciences. We've been there many times before but this time without our oldes we were able to privilege the younger two and enjoy the 2-7 year old part of the Cité des Enfants. They had a ball with hard hats on the construction site and water in the j'experimente area.

    More tomorrow about the rest of our adventures in the City of Lights.