Reflections by torchlight: how my kids are helping me find my direction

Photo by Don O'Brien via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Photo by Don O’Brien via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

I have been doing a lot of reflection over the last couple of years. So. Much. Reflecting, reflecting, re-bleugh… I’ve grown up on self-improvement books and courses since I was a teenager and my mum, who was doing a lot of personal development herself at the time, would pass on her books and course notes. But lately, reflecting so much has got really old and really hard work.

In the last few months, I have been feeling pretty stuck again and on reflection (see there I go again!) I have probably been spending too much time thinking and not enough time doing. The result being that I haven’t managed to get much out of all this reflecting. Instead, I’m stuck in my head, unable to come up with anything new.

And then – BAM! Today, I hit on a doozy of a reflection. Continue reading

Top ten tips for Paris with kids (Part 2 of how to backpack with two small kids)

Mischa Eiffel Jump - adjustedParis was amazing.

To be honest, I think we were all surprised by how much we enjoyed it. Partly because we found it so child friendly in spite of hearing reports to the contrary. For example, there are parks everywhere so the kids could run daft and when we had the kids and backpacks in tow, young lads gave up their seats on the metro and one lady, who didn’t speak a word of English, helped us without us even asking to find an easier way through the metro barriers.

Now, let’s be clear. We didn’t eat in any fancy restaurants or go to any of the galleries. We might have had a different experience if we had. Instead, we wanted the kids to see what it’s like living in a foreign city for a short time, hearing French being spoken and getting a chance to see some different customs (like taking your life in your hands when crossing the roads). So we looked for parks and nice food shops and rode the metro. We talked about how the French drive on the other side of the road and why the apartment had big doors onto tiny balconies. We listened to a French radio station which eating our morning brioche…  Ah, Paris…

Sorry. Instead of me whittering on about how fantastic it was and what we did and ate in minute detail, I thought it might be more helpful to give you my top tips for spending a few days in Paris with young kids:

1. Book an apartment.

  • Hotels are nice but really – having the option to go back to our apartment to hang out in the sticky hot afternoons, rather than us all being cooped up in one room, was a life saver. You can buy your own food (and wine :)) which saves money and we found was more convenient. The one night we ate out we spent almost an hour looking for somewhere we all fancied (not to mention £80 on two courses and a drink each – eek!) We stayed in Peter’s flat courtesy of Airbnb and would highly recommend it (this as our view from the bedroom).



2. Plan out your whole trip from arriving at the airport to where you’re staying.

  • Look up blogs so you know what you’re looking for e.g. what the train, ticket booths, signage looks like. It may seem like overkill but it helped me cope with the nerves beforehand as I knew my attention would be divided between working out where we were going while keeping track of overexcited kids who wanted to run and hide behind everything they saw… I found this blog very helpful in describing how and where you get the commuter train into central Paris.

3. Google Earth your apartment/hotel

  • Ok, this is a bit like the point above but it’s great fun to play with (who hasn’t looked up their own house, right?!)  I started off using it to find out the way between the apartment and metro station. But we had mucho fun in the days leading up, exploring the area and looking for landmarks that helped when we got there. Then we arrived, we also enjoyed pointing out the things in real life.

4. Plan to do only one, max two, big things a day.

  • If you can, be brave and don’t book any trips or tickets in advance either. This will obviously depend on what you want to do of course but it was so nice being able to take our time to get to places rather than getting stressed about being late. Before we went, we chose the things we definitely wanted to do or see and planned them in. That way we weren’t disappointed that we didn’t see everything. The first day we had a picnic under the Eiffel Tower (the online tickets had sold out and we didn’t want to wait 90 mins in the queue) and had a walk along the South Bank of the Seine. That’s it. I’m so glad we did it this way.   The city had set up loads of free kids activities on the South Bank which the kids loved and, neatly, kept our costs down. We also found one of the bridges with padlocks on it (which had been on our “nice to see but not crucial” list) and walked through Place de la Concorde where they beheaded Marie Antoinette.  All nice extra things to see that we didn’t expect.










5. Make sure you take loads of water if walking along the Seine.

  • We ran out and had to spend 4.5E on a small bottle of orange juice for Jude. I still choke thinking about that.

6. Spend more time in the area you’re staying in rather than traveling all around the city.

  • If you live in the UK, the chances are you’ll be back in Paris at some point if you like it so can afford not to squeeze in everything. We spent the second day in Montmartre where we were staying and found “secret” gardens with playgrounds where the kids mixed with the local kids and heard French actually being spoken properly (with quite a few sweary words thrown in too we figured out). It made the whole trip really relaxing and made us feel like we were really living there rather than visiting.


7. If you want to really explore an area, make the kids a “treasure” map

  • After the tiring day we’d had walking along the Seine, we knew we had to engage the kids in a day “wandering with no purpose” around Montmartre or else it would turn into a moan-fest with constant pestering for ice-cream. So the night before, we googled all the things we wanted to see, got a map (a good old fashioned one – you can get one from the tourist office on Place du Tertre) and used the kids pens to create a treasure hunt of some things the kids were to find (see the questions we included at the end of this post).


8. Try your school-girl/boy French out in the patisserie.

  • I was rubbish at French at school and yet found quite a lot of it coming back to me which helped with silly things like knowing which button was the door release to get out the apartment block. I found I really enjoyed it and Mischa got a free cake each morning for attempting to ask for our bread in French.

9. If you’re traveling onwards like we were, keep the last day low key and spend it near the station

  • On the last day, Peter very kindly let us stay in the apartment until 4pm (another perk of using airbnb – check out time is up to the owner).  We had a relaxing day packing and making a packed lunch with some snacks for the train to Venice which left at 8pm.  We got to Gare de Lyon mid afternoon, put our bags in left luggage and checked with Thello that everything was ok for the train that night.  Then, instead of heading to Jardin du Luxembourg as we had originally planned, we stuck closer to the station and headed over the Seine to the botanical gardens, Jardin des Plantes.  It’s small but had enough to explore and space to run about.  We then headed to the elevated gardens, Promenade plantee which were lovely but by then we knew we’d made the right decision not to drag the kids across Paris that day as Jude got really upset that we were in a park (even one built on an old railway line) and there were no swings.  Which brings me lastly to…

10. Expect at least one meltdown and give your kid(s) and yourself a break over it.

  • Jude had the mother of all meltdowns on the metro. He wanted to sit on my lap instead of Mischa which wasn’t possible as the train was packed. Much crying and drooling and gnashing of teeth ensued. Luckily, Steven and I found it quite funny (probably because otherwise we would have joined right in with him) as did the commuting Parisians which helped.

I could go on and on but I’m not sure how helpful it would be. If I haven’t covered something or you have a question, let me know. I could talk about Paris for hours…

HAve a look at how we got on on our overnight train trip to Venice 🙂


The Montmartre Treasure Hunt

  1. Take a photo of you helping a man out of a wall (Place Marcel Ayme)
  2. Find a secret garden at the end of Rue Burq – draw or write a story about it
  3. Draw a picture of who you love at the Je T’aime wall (Place des Abbesses)CIMG3684
  4. Draw a picture in the heart of Montmartre with all the other artists (Place du Tertre)
  5. How many windmills can you find? (e.g. Rue Norvins, Moulin Rouge) we were only expecting two but found three
  6. How many ways can you find to get to the Sacre Coeur? (Hint: think feet and wheels)
  7. Take a photo of you outside the Café des 2 Moulins where “Amelie” was filmed (Rue Lepic & Cauchous)
  8. Find these things to eat:
    1. The biggest apple you can find
    2. A flavour of ice-cream you haven’t tasted before
    3. A snail (are you brave enough) we never found one so we’ll never know…
  9. Can you find your way back to the apartment again?!

The kids didn’t end up finishing the whole hunt but it was a useful thing to get them to concentrate on when they were getting antsy.  Enjoy!

Dreaming BIG but starting small – a different approach to new year resolutions

So 2013 is nearly over and to be honest, I’ll be glad to see the back of it.  It has been a particularly full and turbulent year for our family to the point that I can’t figure out how we’ve fitted it all in.  We’ve seen births and deaths, marriages and separations, changes and frustrations.  And then to top it all off, I smashed the screen of my beloved ipod touch last week 😦

Don’t get me wrong, there have been some amazing moments and accomplishments (for example, Mischa is now up to 207 skips and aiming for a thousand, and I am currently enjoying my friend’s INCREDIBLE homemade truffles).  Usually these kind of things help to keep me afloat, as does the ability to see the reason in everything.  But I have to confess that in 2013 it’s felt like we’ve been kicked in the teeth time after time without time to recover.  However, even though we’ve only had it a month or so, I have found myself coming back to the manifesto we created in November and using it as something to tie my tiny red kite to as it gets buffeted in the winds.  It’s helped me feel better.  Like we’re heading down a new path.

And this is why I love new year.  Not Hogmanay as such.  I won’t be heading up town to the street party to be surrounded by drunks and have no idea of how I’ll get home.  No way hosay, those days are over thankfully.  I like the chance the new year brings to pause for a bit and think about the year ahead.  I’m not going in for resolutions this year though.  January is not a good month to make big changes that I tell myself will be good for me overall but I know I’ll give up on a couple of weeks in.  In my present mental state, I don’t want to pile on that guilt thanks.

So instead, I am going to make one small change for the better every month.  That way I can try it out to see if it has the desired effect and hopefully, knowing it’s only for a month will help keep me motivated.  Basically, I’m pinching the idea from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits who is in the middle of a Year of Living Without  and Matt Cutt’s TED talk.   I am also going to set myself three BIG goals for 2014.  I have no idea what they are yet but I feel excited just thinking about the possibilities!

Expectation quote - Michael J Fox

So small changes while dreaming big.  And to help in that, perhaps the biggest challenge of all.  I’m going to try to let go of stupid, unhelpful expectations – of myself, of others and of life (see Selina Barker’s post on this).  I have no idea if 2014 is going to be any better than 2013.  The vast majority of things that happened were so far out of anyone’s control they couldn’t be anticipated, never mind planned for.  But a lot of the frustrations and disappointments were because I was holding up some kind of expectation of how things should be.  That’s tiring and I need my energy for more important stuff in the coming year.  

All the very best in 2014 for you and yours!

Enjoying the small things in life

As part of our manifesto, we chose to enjoy the small things in life.  I thought I’d share one example of this when Jude and I spent a nice hour earlier this week drawing together. Usually I help the kids set up their drawing things at the kitchen table so I can get on with the dishes or cleaning or some other boring task. But I was in a strange mood and needed to do something to lighten it.  The kids had become obsessed with cracking nuts – a task their granny had just taught them. It’s probably a combination of the noise and mess it makes.  I don’t think they’ve ate any of them but I’ve been stepping on pieces of broken shell all week. Not nice with bare feet :0

As a way of taking his mind off cracking every single nut in the bowl, I started drawing round the empty shells to make animals like tortoises and crabs.  He joined in and after a while we got really creative, fishing for nuts… (extra points for correct guesses of what they are :))
Fishing for nuts (2)

After that there was no stopping us.  I think we came into our finest hour creating evil fruit in the fruit bowl…
Evil fruit (2)

The photo doesn’t do it justice.  We drew faces on some of the nuts too.  I tell you, if you have any trouble getting your kids to eat fruit, get some edible dye and draw faces on them.

We’ve only got one left.  There’s been a satsuma massacre in our kitchen.