Category Archives: Frenchitude Fridays

Frenchitude Lesson #50: Hating Aspects of Parenthood Doesn’t Mean You Hate Your Children

Sometimes I wonder if God isn’t some evil scientist.

This is because there are days when I would swear upon a Bible that my children have been genetically engineered to drive me into a mental institution.

This is especially the case during the toddler years. I know, I know…I’m neglecting those teenager years, but for right now I am putting adolescence firmly in the mental box labeled “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Please indulge my need to maintain my blissful ignorance for as long as possible.

Case in point. Yesterday morning Franck was away on a business trip. I had to get the bevy up, dressed, fed, and out the door to school and daycare all before I had actually woken up (just for the record, this happens around 1:00pm most days).

While making breakfasts I carefully cut up Clem’s banana into small pieces so that I wouldn’t have to deal with a choking episode alone. You may remember that I have now officially developed a full-fledged choking paranoia due to several near-death experiences with my girls.

So does Clem pick up my carefully cut up pieces and chew them nicely?

Oh no, that would be far too easy.

Instead she shoves the entire contents of the bowl (equivalent to an entire banana) into her tiny mouth and then tries to swallow it. Without chewing. After all, chewing is so boring! What a waste of time. Who needs it?

Luckily Charlotte is more awake than I am, so I hear her yell while I am in the middle of packing lunch bags (and let me just say – lunches – ugh! the French cafeteria system is SO much better for Moms) “MOM, CLEM IS CHOKING!”

My heart stops yet I somehow manage to run to the table, grab a banana-stuffed, choking, rapidly oxygen deprived child, turn her upside down, do baby Heimlich, plus fish out banana with my finger. Finally I am able to clear her airway. The sound of her cough, and then her cry, is akin to the bells of paradise.

It takes a good minute or so for my heart to start back up again, but do I have time to collapse somewhere and recover? No. I still have three girls to get out the door.

I have to say that as far as parenting moments go, the whole choking thing is one aspect I unequivocally, completely, totally hate. Same goes for cleaning up barf, and your child telling you that they have lost yet another item of their brand new (and very expensive) school uniform.

In France parents are very realistic -some would say blunt -about hating, yes, hating, certain aspects of parenting.

One of my French friends whose son has recently crossed over into teenagerhood unapologetically told me, “I hate how he smells now and oh-my-God are teenage boys ever hideous looking! Their noses are huge and they have zits everywhere. Plus he is always getting in trouble and doesn’t listen to a thing I say anymore. So far I am just hating this stage.”

I somehow don’t feel as free here in Canada to fess up to the fact that although I love my children, there are moments of parenting that as far as I can tell, have absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Well…except along the lines of my beloved “You can’t scare me – I have kids” fridge magnet.

North American society seems particularly in love with platitudes. I often hear parents here bang on about how they “love every minute of it.”

And I feel like saying, “Really? Do you really love every minute of it? Do you truly love that shaky, adrenaline-sick feeling that overcomes you just after you have fished a foreign object from your child’s windpipe or just barely whipped them out of the way of an oncoming vehicle?”

Yet I don’t say that here, because I find that it is hugely frowned upon as a very unpolitically correct thing to say. The people love their platitudes, damn it, and if you question them you must be a Bad Parent. Worse yet, a Bad Person.

Society at large here seems to be so black and white about parenting that when we admit that we hate certain aspects of it, it is somehow inferred that we hate our children too.

For their part, the French have always been better at accepting that aside from little bits of black and white, life is mainly made up of grey areas (just watch pretty much any French film like Cedric Klapish’s “Paris’ for confirmation of this).

The French don’t go in for platitudes, or indeed anything that oversimplifies this crazy, up and down roller coaster that is the human experience. To oversimplify it is to do it a disservice.

They believe that it is precisely those paradoxes – like hating aspects of parenting yet still loving your child – that make parenting so rich and so human.

And you know what? So do I.

Frenchitude Lesson #49 : See That Wine and Running Are Perfect Partners

Remember when I took part in last March’s Nuits-Saint-George’s Wine Auction 10 Kilometre race?

This was me, wheezing my way to the finish line. I have to admit I wasn’t motivated by an inner sense of competitiveness, or by accomplishing a long-held goal, or even by getting fit.

It’s time to ‘fess up.

The only thing that kept my feet going until I had passed through that finish line was this;

This is the bottle of wine I received, like every participant, for finishing the race. This is what kept me huffing and puffing all those kilometres.

Well, that and the cool race T-shirt that I still wear almost every time I run.

OK d’accord, I must admit those little snacks of paté and glasses of white wine at the lovely refreshment table in VosneRomanée was a definite pick-me-up. And I have to thank that volunteer who was manning the table and was yelling at everyone who ran past “DON’T CHOOSE THE WATER! THE WHITE WINE IS FAR BETTER FOR YOU!”

Frankly though, I was at no risk of choosing the water, even without his sage advice.

Spaces are already starting to fill up for Franck’s first Grape Trip: “Burgundy Wine Auction Race & Revelrysince we first posted the details last week. If you missed reading over his awesome fun (and wine) filled program, just click here;

http://www.graperentals.com/grapetrips/GrapeTrips_2009-11-Trip.pdf

But – never fear – there are still a few spots left for those of you who want to experience this fabulous alternative universe for yourself. Just email Franck or I if you have any questions or if you would like us to reserve your place.

Burgundy’s wine-sponsored races don’t seem at all strange to the French, who truly, unequivocably belive that things like Burgundy’s fine wines and running go hand in hand to create a healthy, satisfying life.

Those two lovely (and running) bunches of grapes up above have it all figured out…

Frenchtitude Lesson #48: If You Can, Take Time To Eat

Settling into a new school is a lot of work. Although this week has been crazy, their new school has been incredibly welcoming and understanding and I must say that my big girls have been extremely courageuses.

However, there is one thing that they are having a hard time adapting to – the North American tendency to rush lunch.

Camille came home from the first day at school saying that she had hardly had time to dip her hard-boiled egg that I had packed her into her salt when they were told it was time to pack up their lunch kits – eating time was over.

Camille just couldn’t get over this – “I was just starting to chat with the girls across from me!” she exclaimed.

In France, of course, lunch – even at at school – is a leisurely two hour affair and the social aspect of sitting down and enjoying food with friends is just as important as the quality of the food itself (which is certainly better than my sad attempts at packed lunches).

Why does our society not value time spent eating?

The situation is the same in all of the other schools here in Canada, and days here certainly seem to be set up – for adults as well as children – so as to allow for very little time for eating. Add to this the number of time I have heard people boasting since I came back of “Being so busy I skipped lunch,” or “Eating a quick sandwich at my desk while I kept working,” and I really do believe that it is a society-wide phenomenon.

Why is NOT taking time to eat and socialize over good food seen as virtuous somehow? Is it that Puritan aversion to anything pleasurable?

I’m still trying to figure this one out, so let me know if you can provide any enlightenment. Camille and I would be very grateful.

Frenchitude Lesson #47: Homemade Crème Fraiche

During my five years in France, I realized that Crème Fraiche that delectable French cream that goes perfectly in your quiche batter or dolloped on top of a bowl of freshly picked strawberries – is one of those precious things that, like reading your children’sphonetically spelled notes, makes life worth living.

There is Crème Fraiche in the huge majority of French refrigerators, but although I have searched high and low, I haven’t been able to locate this essential kitchen item since arriving in Victoria.

So I trolled the Internet, which I am increasingly finding is one of the best cooking tools Out There and found out how to make my own homemade Crème Fraiche.

Now, before your eyes glaze over and you jump to another post, please keep in mind that if a recipe isn’t as easy as falling off a log, I just don’t do it more than once.

And I make up a mason jar-full of Crème Fraiche pretty much every week and keep it in my fridge. Oui, it is THAT easy.

Tempted? Of course you are, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this blog, n’estce pas? 😉

Here are the required ingredients & equipment:

Ingredients:

– 1 cup of sour cream (I use full-fat, as I think you probably know by now that I believe full fat things are essential to a happy, satisfied existence, but let me know how it turns if you try low-fat sour cream – I must say though, I’m not holding my breath)

– 1 cup of cream, anywhere from 10% to 18% (I highly recommend the 18%)

Equipment:

– Bowl or Jar;

– A humble dishtowel;

– A whisk or, if you are like me and can never remember where you put the whisk after unloading the dishwasher, a fork.

(Overwhelmed yet? I thought not.)

Instructions:

– Stir together sour cream and cream in bowl or jar with whisk (or fork). Cover with dishtowel and leave out for 7-8 hours or overnight;

– Next morning give it another few stirs;

– Put jar or bowl in fridge;

– Enjoy!

Here chez Germain we enjoy Crème Fraiche on our pasta, in our quiches, and I will be using it to make a lemon tarte to take to my sister’s for dinner on Friday night. Voilà! From now on, not living in France is no excuse for denying yourself one of life’s great pleasures.

Authentic France Travel Tip #43: Watch Julie & Julia

Nora Ephron’s movie Julie & Julia is a chocolate-mousse of a treat; utterly decadent, thoroughly pleasurable, and surprisingly profound.

I went to see this film last night and Meryl Streep’s astounding incarnation of La Julia as the French would refer to a grande dame (in every sense of the word) such as Mrs. Child is just loaded with Frenchitude.

With me were my sister Suzanne – who has a solid claim to Frenchitude for her name alone, my Mom, and my beloved aunt Sharon (who told me over dinner that reflecting repeatedly on the phrase “budgie smuggler” from last week’s Frenchitude helped her finally recover from a terrible dental abscess – how could one not love such a kindred spirit?).

The absolutely packed movie theatre audience actually clapped when Julie & Julia was over. When can you last remember that happening? For me, it is lost in the mists of time.

Where do I start?

Firstly, as my sister wisely pointed out it was so unbelievably refreshing to see a movie about marriages that dealt with the life of a couple – two couples here, in fact – with the marriage ceremony well behind them. So often these days movies are all about the ensnaring-and-getting-to-the-alter part. One can almost be excused for forgetting that life, and love, can continue beyond the Honeymoon.

Both on-screen couples were touching, but the Childs, brilliantly acted by Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci, were so understated and pitch-perfect that their interactions made me cry at regular intervals. They portrayed such complicity and deep, deep love for one another.

Secondly, Julia Child’s love of France is contagious. She is a perfect example of how people from any country can, and should, adopt France as their spiritual home.

Thirdly, the movie illustrates how home cooking and taking unabashed pleasure in divine food has the power to elevate and transform people’s lives for the better.

Granted, Julie Powell and Julia Child are extreme examples of this. However, they both embody the simple truth that every single moment of pleasure in life is one moment that nobody can ever take away from you, and that delicious, authentic food (and wine) is one of the richest sources of such moments.

Julie & Julia shows us that, contrary to what society often tells us, we should banish guilt entirely and embrace the opportunity to feast on food, and consequently feast on life.

In my not-so-humble opinion, watching this movie is essential preparation for any trip to France, or just for your next trip to the grocery store.

And, bien sûr, Bon Appétit!

Frenchitude Lesson #41 : There’s No Right Way To Give Birth

This topic is very timely for me, as my little sister Jayne (above) is gearing up to give birth to her niblet any day now. She is also sweltering away the final days of her third trimester in a top floor apartment in record breaking heat in Vancouver, for which I think she deserves a nice big hero cookie.

Anyway, back to the birth issue…

I personally think Jayne deserves to have one of those easy-pop-em-out-in-a-few-hours types of births. Karma OWES it to her, because until niblet arrives this is how the count stands: we have 5 children on my side of the family who came into the world via 5 C-sections.

However, Jayne’s last doctor’s appointment stirred up a suspicion that maybe the niblet has done a somersault and is now breech à la Charlotte, who was my first C-section for that very same reason.

While some birth experiences are undoubtedly nicer than others, I am a firm believer that any birth that results in a healthy baby and a healthy mother (even one who looks like she’s been run over by an 18 wheel truck, like I did every time) is a Successful Birth.

I have no problem with people wanting to have a certain type of birth experience and working in that direction, but I DO have a problem when this is taken to the extreme that it compromises the health of either the baby or the mom.

In Canada I am on the receiving end of a whole lot of pity when I say I’ve had three C-sections. One woman who had had regular births said to me (rather smugly, I may add),” I just feel so sorry for women who end up having to have a C-section. It’s just so sad.”

People often talk like I’ve suffered some sort of huge Greek tragedy in my life because I’d missed out on the only “right” way of giving birth. I often was made to feel like the women who had had relatively easy natural births had “succeeded’ whereas because I had been obliged to go the C-section route, I had failed.

But really, how can you succeed or fail at something over which you have so little control? In my opinion, while people who have been able to have a natural birth may have really worked in that direction, they have also been the happy beneficiaries of a significant amount of sheer dumb luck.

True, the three C-sections were no walk in the park, and it would have been nice to have two and three hour natural deliveries like my Mom (and which I hope Jayne might enjoy). But you know what? Mainly I just feel immensely grateful that my babies and I are alive, whereas if I had given birth 100 years ago or even in the present in a third world country, we would in all likelihood have already slipped the mortal coil.

That may sound rather stark, but after university Franck and I volunteered in rural Nepal for a few months helping to run surgical eye camps. The fear in the eyes of the pregnant women I saw in these camps chilled me to the core. I talked to one of the Nepali doctors about it, and he looked at me and said, “Laura, they are several days walk from the nearest medical help, and at least one out of four of them will not survive their birth. Of course they are scared.”

How lucky are we to live in a country where we have the luxury of worrying about what type of birth experience we want to have, instead of merely wishing to come out of it alive.

The French have a very pragmatic take on parenthood in general, and giving birth is no exception. No one method is seen as being infused with any more intrinsic value than any other.

It is a much less competitive society than North America, so there is none of these good, better, best judgements passed on things like giving birth.

If you need a C-section that’s no big deal, or if you decide you want an epidural the minute you walk into the hospital – just like breast vs bottle feeding – that is not only an entirely personal matter but completely your prerogative.

If you want to go for a natural birth and it all pans out, that’s great, but nobody will talk like you deserve a gold medal because of it. It is the end result – the baby – that matters. Everything else comes a very, very distant second.

So Jayne can wrap her Frenchitude about her and comfort herself in the coming days that no way of giving birth is right or wrong, and that she is free to make the choices that she needs to at the time without having any judgement passed on them.

There are a myriad of ways of bringing babies into the world, and they are all miraculous.

Frenchitude Lesson# 43 : Celebrate Bastille Day

We got a true Republican send-off two days before we left France.

Despite the fact that we still had tons to do and very little time to do it, we wouldn’t have considered missing Villers-la-Faye’s annual 14th of July celebration.

The 14th of July – or Bastille Day as it is also known – bien sûr celebrates the storming of the Bastille that heralded the start of the French Revolution. All over France the day is an opportunity to drink some wine, eat good food, and sing Edith Piaf songs.

Here is Camille at our seat under the tent that they set up on the Place de salle des fêtes.

He we are serving up a magnum of Hautes-Côtes 1993 that Jean-Francois Bouhey, one of Villers-la-Faye’s wonderful winemakers, brought along for everyone to enjoy.

And here are the big girls, happy after their face-painting, duck bobbing, rifle shooting free-for-all.

Us Germains weren’t village champions of anything this year, unlike last year. No matter, not only did we have the very valid excuse of moving fatigue, but we had a great time anyway (and just for the record, I came 4th in the women’s quilles.)

Last but not least is the background noise of pétards, or little fireworks, going off all day long. And I ask you – who, young or old, doesn’t like to set off fireworks?

So, no matter where you happen to be on the globe for the next July 14th, stop and drink a glass of wine with friends, or eat something delicious, or make some gratuitous noise.

I believe that there is a little bit of Frenchitude in everyone. Like so many things in life, it just begs to be celebrated. Bastille Day is the perfect opportunity.

As for me, I’ll be in Villers-la-Faye on July 14, 2010. How could I possibly be anywhere else?

Frenchitude Lesson #41: Accept that On Ne Peut Pas Tout Faire

Some nice calming poppies

The moving chaos had begun in earnest.

The painters have invaded La Maison des Chaumes to finish off the trim and the shutters and get rid of the candy floss pink walls in the girls bedroom.

We have yet to send off our boxes to Canada, I have a gazillion decorative projects I need to get done before the house is rentable for our first clients who arrive July 18th, and we are trying to do all of this with a 17 month old underfoot. Plus almost every night this past week one of the girls says to me around 7:00pm, “oh by the way Maman, I need a cake to bring for school tomorrow.”

I just talked to my Mom on the phone, and told her to get the straight jacket ready for me on my return back to Canada.

The stress has gone over the edge from productive stress to just really wretched-feeling stress which for me means I am plagued with my old companion – the ubiquitous panic attack.

Just for the record, my panic attacks aren’t the kind where you stop and think, “Gee whiz…I feel a little flustered. I wonder if that was a panic attack I just had?”.

No sireeeee Bob.

My panic attacks are gold medal winners if there was such a thing (and maybe there should be) as a Panic Attack Olympics. They are the humdingers of panic attacks, the kind where one feels like they are suffocating, dying of terminal cancer, having a massive coronary, and going crazy all at the same time.

I have enough experience in the anxiety arena to know that they are a clear sign that my stress barometer has gone into the red zone.

Several times over the last week I have been rushing around like a fart in a mitt, trying to do five things at once (often in the midst of a panic attack), when Franck takes me by the shoulders and says, “Laura, on ne peut pas tout faire!

I stare at him in incomprehension. What do you mean I can’t do everything? I should be able to, for God’s Sakes; I know that at least. I mean, I am supposed to be superhuman, aren’t I?

And if I fail to tout faire, then it is essential to feel guilty about it rather than just shrug and put it out of my mind entirely like my husband and many other French people seem to be able to do.

But over the past few days I have begun to wonder…maybe this has something to do with why I am the one having the panic attacks in our house.

On ne peut pas tout faire. On ne peut pas tout faire. Maybe if I chant it enough times I may actually start to believe it.

If not, I can stare at this photo of our future bedroom in the house we will be renting when we arrive in Victoria. Oui, that’s the ocean! I feel a bit calmer already.