This new year has started off slowly and carefully, like a false start leading to a more steady pace. In the first week of January, I didn’t feel like doing anything at all and after careful consideration, came to the conclusion that it was just post holiday season fatigue plus deep winter slowness. So, I gave myself some slack and let the week slide by while pondering my options for this new year. I really hope it’ll be better than last year which started with five days in the hospital with pneumonia in February. Loads of vitamins and supplements seem to be staving off even the mildest colds this year. Keeping my fingers crossed!

It’s easy not to fall into a deep winter slump when the sun is shining and dear hubby takes to the outdoors to clean up the yard. The hens followed him around, checking out what yummies they could find in the freshly raked lawn. So, we all decided to follow his lead and enjoy the few days of spring in winter. They are calling for rain during the week.

Cleaning up the yard.

DSC_0007

We finally got rid of the useless apple and plum trees. They will be replaced soon.

DSC_0019

The girls under the olive tree. Lots of goodies to be found!

DSC_0001

The hen that got broody. Hopefully she’ll do it again this spring.

DSC_0003

This hen found a rotting fruit and is really enjoying it.

DSC_0009

Sometimes we lock them up in their run.

DSC_0008

The winter veggie garden with some swiss chard still trying to grow.

It will be much smaller this summer. I’d like to get a couple of ducks.

DSC_0004

Hermann the tortoise is sleeping in his box. I really hope he comes out in the spring.

DSC_0004

Lio built this wall last summer to tame the slope. I planted some Jerusalem artichokes with hopes that they’ll create a nice border next summer.

DSC_0005

Budding Forsythia

DSC_0003

The baby hedge is growing slowly but surely and one day it will block the view behind the house and we’ll be able to use that nice, cool spot in the summer.

DSC_0011

Christmas wreath without it’s decorations. Still pretty.

DSC_0002

Happy New Year to you all!

I haven’t  made apricot jam in a few years because I have about a hundred jars of different varieties of jam inhabiting my cellar shelves, but I just couldn’t resist the crates of 1€/kg apricots I’ve been seeing lately.

DSC_0013

The first time I ever made it was about 17 years ago when a neighbor dropped off 10 kg of his garden apricots as a gift. I looked at the heap of fruit and wondered how we could possibily eat it all. But he then explained to me that I must make JAM! Jam? But I’d never made jam before! He briefly explained the process but I picked up the phone and asked my grandmother-in-law what I should do… and I have been doing it the same way ever since. I fell in love with apricot jam that summer. It is sweet with a very pure, tangy apricot zing to it. It is heaven on a piece of buttered bread.

DSC_0030

French Apricot Jam

The quantity of sugar depends on how you like it, but the less you use, the more fragile your jam once opened. I use about 80-85% sugar per 100% pitted fruit. So, for 2 kg of pitted fruit, that makes about 1kg600 of sugar. I used organic cane sugar so the finished jam is a bit darker than with white sugar.

Wash the fruit, then cut each in half, taking the pit out. Many people here keep a bunch of the pits and crack them open, adding them to the jam to give a slight almond flavor. I do it sometimes but when I’m cooking several kg of fruit, I have to crack a lot of pits and they are hard to crack open!

Put them in a very wide mouthed pot as you want the mixture to reduce quickly as it is boiling. If the pot is taller than larger, it will take much more time.

Add the sugar and the juice from one lemon juice.

Place over medium heat and bring to a boil stirring regularly. Take off heat, cover and let sit over night.

IMG_0233

The next day, bring back to a boil and stir very regularly. You don’t want it to stick.

A scum will form on top but I just keep stirring, I don’t try and take it off. It also helps me to know when my jam is cooked because once it disappears naturally, I prolong the boiling about 20 minutes and then take off the heat. You can do a cold dish test, if you really need to. The jam will thicken. Some people say to boil it for an hour but if it boils to long, it caramelizes and I really don’t like that! Others use sugar with pectin but quite frankly, it isn’t necessary with apricot jam. It gets thick quickly and easily and is better when it isn’t too thick anyways.

While the jam is boiling, I wash my jars (and lids) with hot, soapy water, rinse them well and then place them up side down (with lids) on a baking tray. I place them in a 100°C heated oven for about 5-10 minutes.

Pour the jam in to each jar, screw the lids on tightly, then turn each pot upside down, leaving them until fully cooled. When they are cooled, turn them right side up and make sure the lid is concave which assures that they are properly sealed. I use this technique with jams and have never had any go bad.

DSC_0011

I love my jam with whole almond purée!

DSC_0032

Well, so much for summer being on it’s way. I was drinking a coffee, doing the menu plans for a job I have this week, seven straight days of an evening meal for 12 people and salivating over ideas of stews and soups. It’s the end of May and I want potée auvergate! It actually feels like summer has come and gone and now we are preparing for the winter cold. And really, it is quite difficult for our bodies. I have seen people falling ill when usually those nasty winter viruses are long gone. Today is dark and cloudy but the weather station says that tomorrow will be better.

This weather makes me really want to eat this pie. The crust is made of nuts and baked so the nuts roast and smell like heaven. The chocolate filling is firmed up with a single egg added to cream and chocolate. It’s pure heaven and so simple.

DSC_0010

 

Rich chocolate tart in a nutshell

 

225 g walnuts or a mix of walnuts, hazelnuts and almond

60 g butter

2 tbsp sugar

A pinch of salt

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C /370°F

Ground the nuts in a mixer until they are nicely crushed but not powder. Add the butter, sugar and salt and then mix just until combined.

Using your fingers dampened a bit push the dough into a pie dish, making sure it goes up the sides a bit. I have a handy round pan with a pull out bottom. A cheesecake pan would be good, too.

Bake 10-12 minutes until it smells nice.

DSC_0016

Meanwhile…

 

200 g good quality dark chocolate chopped

240 ml cream

1 egg

In a fairly small pot, heat the cream until almost boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and move it around until it is immersed. Lets sit for a few minuted and then stir to blend chocolate. Make sure it is completely melted. If not, heat very gently stirring constantly.

Add the egg and stir until perfectly blended. Pour into pie crust.

Bake about 15 minutes or until the center is like gelatine. It will set as it cools. Let cool to room temperature at least.

Serve with whipped cream!

DSC_0017

GOOD NEWS !

Scooby was adopted !

 

This is Scooby. He comes from a lovely family but unfortunately they have to leave France very soon and cannot take him with them. Life throws some loops sometimes. He is a pure bred Labrador from a reputable breeder near Montpellier. He is a high energy dog who is so very sweet and devoted. He would make the perfect pet for someone who loves walking and/or hiking. He loves children and is fine with cats. If he doesn’t find a home before the 1st of June his owners will be forced to leave him at the SPA. He is four years old, so still young and not neutered, so breeding is a possibilty.

Give me a shout if you’re interested!

Image

Image 2

I mentioned getting hens about two years ago and the children have been bugging me to actually do it since then. We finally decided to actually get a coop, make a run and buy the chickens this spring. My husband wanted to build a coop from scratch but the reality is that we have other, more time consuming projects pending and if we didn’t buy pre-fab, we weren’t going to have chickens.

The hens are my first chore of the day. I start talking to them from outside the run and they call back, ready to get out and on with their day. I once read in the book Raising chickens for Dummies that watching chickens go about their business was actually very much fun and I admit, I have not been disappointed. They seem to be busy all of the time and if they are still, it is because they have dug themselves in to a hole and are resting (which is entertaining in itself). I sit on the bench every day, when I need a break, and just watch them. They peck, they scratch, they munch and wander around. This is the head chicken. She makes the law.

DSC_0032

When I sit on the bench, she hops up to see what I’m up to. The other day, I was cleaning out their night part of the coop from the back door and she went around the front, climbed the ladder and hopped in to the sleeping area right in front of me to see what I was doing. She is so funny!

I think the rear ends of chickens are very cute. The feathers are fine and fluffy. This is the prettiest of all of our hens. She is quite big and her coloring is light and even.

DSC_0029

I gave them some left over cooked rice and they thought that was great! I have found that they don’t actually eat everything. They are a bit picky. But they LOVE worms. They will try and snatch them from each other.

DSC_0019

The chickens don’t even mind if I bug them while they are laying. They just look up at me, probably thinking, “Yes? Would you like something??” I just peak, I swear.

DSC_0025

The hens lay every morning, quite early. I’ve read pretty much all over the place that hens take about 25 hours to make an egg and so they will lay later and later until they finally skip a day. These hens went from laying at about 10h30 to about 9 and haven’t missed a day in over a month. They are super layer hens. One of them has been laying a bit later than the others, hence only three eggs in the picture.

DSC_0034They aren’t fancy hens, but they are still pretty darn cute.

Image 2

Yesterday I was at l’Arche de la solidarité, a charity shop in our town where locals bring their give away stuff but also to find treasures or great deals. I was there because I had seen some very cool lounging type chairs that I would like to refurnish and put on our terrace. Of course I had to take a look around the whole shop while I was there.

In amongst the kitchen wares, an old fashioned Fisher Price record player was perched up, all alone on a shelf. I had one when I was a child and I LOVED it. This one still has all it’s disks and works perfectly. I bought it without even asking the price because they sell stuff like that for pennies. When I got it home, the girls fell instantly in love.

This is Lou, dressed up as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, listening to Humpty Dumpty.

DSC_0016

When I hear the music, I am transported back many, many years to similar rainy Sunday afternoons, sitting on the floor, winding up the record player, placing the arm and listening to each and every song, humming away. Watching her is almost like watching a film of my own childhood.

DSC_0023

But I didn’t have these very fancy, sparkly shoes!

DSC_0006

Happy Sunday

Everything is finally in the ground. I thought this year would be later than usual but after watching what others were doing, taking the advice of the guy at France Rurale and looking at the week long weather forcast, I decided that a day where rain was called for in the afternoon was going to be the day. We had already shoveled a huge trailer full of mixed manure on the plot and rototilled. Here is my blank slate, about a quarter smaller than other years:

DSC_0001

I usually get the lettuce in the ground a lot earlier but in February I caught the flu that led to a horrible ear infection and pneumonia that put me in the hospital for five days. I was very tired for weeks and not ready to deal with the garden in March (hence my silence here as well). Lettuce hates our summer heat and so hopefully these ones will grow quickly!

DSC_0030

After waiting a few days for the nights to be less cold and the weather to stabilize I bit (we had snow just a few weeks ago!) I finally decided to get the summer crops in the ground.

  DSC_0009

I bought some traditional, high yield tomato plants but at the market I also bought a big selection of heirloom plants. I was reading an issue of an american magazine they were talking about these new plants that have a heirloom look about them but are actually a mix of heirloom and modern plants, so they look old fashioned but have a high yield. I admit I found it quite shocking.

I really have no idea what I have planted because I just asked the farmer to give me a variety of his heirloom plants and when we started planting with Margot who is five, I asked her to count them. I wasn’t looking and she took all of the plants out of their trays and so I had no idea what was what. Oh well. I can’t seem to ever keep track of my tomato plants. It’s a mystery every year.

DSC_0011

What’s a vegetable garden without basil?

DSC_0012

Eggplant, my favorite vegetable. Had never eaten it before I came to Europe but by the Med, it’s everywhere.

DSC_0013

My rhubarb is still very happy after about five years. Made some nice compote yesterday to serve with my daughter’s panna cotta. Fantastic!

DSC_0010

Red and green Batavie lettuce, leeks, sweet, red Toulouges onions.

DSC_0014

We have four new members of the family that live beside the veggie patch, Tulipe, Coquelicot, Pétunia and Marguerite. Four young laying hens. I never thought I’d become attached to chickens, but I have. My husband constructed the handy coop in a kit (Chemin des poulaillers) and placed it on a concrete base. He then built a fence so they could wander during the day. They are very spoiled hens! You can’t see it but the run leads out onto a nice green patch. I’ll be dedicating a post to them very shorty.

DSC_0023

DSC_0026

DSC_0031

DSC_0008

I usually make macarons that are rich flavors like chocolate, vanilla or praline, so I thought I’d change and make something fruity. I really hate adding coloring to make dark colored macarons and actually, I don’t even like the ones bought in bakeries. What’s the difference? I don’t know! But when you learn to make them yourself, well, it’s better. Maybe it is psycological. My daughter is such a fan of them that it pushed me to learn to make them myself, because at over 2€ for ONE, it is much more economical to make a whole platter for just a few euros.

These ones are lemon, using just a smidgen of color gel and filled with lemon curd with a bit of almond meal added. If you like lemon tart or lemon meringue pie, these are for you!

DSC_0039

This time I used Mercotte’s recipe: HERE

The lemon curd is from Pierre Hermé but really any one would do as long as it is very thick. Just use your favorite. Adding a little almond powder gives it a little originality!

DSC_0046

DSC_0049

DSC_4053 223

La Tour Eiffel

(photo F. Arnaud)

I just finished reading a book by Christian  Signol in which the story takes place in the Dordogne country side during the second world war. It’s about a couple, living in a small house in the country who end up taking in Jewish children, hoping to save them from the Nazis. Reading the book made me think about the choices we have in life today compared to living in different places or at different times. They didn’t even know really how far the Côte d’Azur was from their home and they certainly didn’t wonder about what their life could be if they moved to another country.

I’ve been living in France for nearly 19 years, always in the same department, Pyrénées Orientales. I don’t suffer from homesickness because home became France a long time ago. In the first years I went through a period of missing certain things from Canada, like certain foods, habits, appliances (dryers!!) but by the time my kids were in school, I had adapted well enough to my new life in France and had given up trying to bring Canada in to my life here. I understand newcomers who desperately try to find the equivalent of brown sugar, real baking powder, cream of tarter, horseradish and all those other necessary ingredients to produce authentic North American dishes and desserts. (And I’m now an expert on those things, so go ahead and ask if you want). But I don’t do that anymore. I’m here, probably for good.

But we live in a society where “everything is possible!”. My family and I could pack our bags and go live in Canada or how about Africa where we almost ended up a few years ago. Having these choices pushes me to spend much too much time comparing cultures, ways of living, education, professional possibilities and even food. Since the junior high school in our area isn’t that great, should we move nearer to a city with better school? Are we cheating our children out of a great education? Of course, that comes from my years of private school education and being in contact with highly successful, privately educated people. Will my country bumpkin children find success in their lives???

And what about the social and financial strife we are going through in France?? Would we be better off in a nice, safe, modern country like Canada? My older children are already determined to use their Canadian citizenship and go live their adult lives there. My younger children ask when we will be going back.

Opening a business in France these days is economic suicide, which doesn’t leave much place for professional ambition. Every couple of years I get a strong desire to do something professionally, open a cooking school/store/café, but then I change my mind because I actually do love only working very part time and not having to struggle to be a good mom and a professional at the same time. I don’t want to get in to that situation with young children at home. I’d never be able to find balance. But I can’t help fantasizing about the opportunities we would have if we went to live in Canada.

I sometimes get very frustrated with life in France, especially in such a small town. Coming from a big, modern city and ending up in a small, country town of 450 people is bound to create some havoc in my brain once in a while. But even so, France, and this town, have become my home. I thought I’d take some time and actually list all the things that I really love about this country and my particular area. Maybe one day we will leave (though we can’t imagine selling the house two of our daughters were BORN in) but for the moment we aren’t going anywhere and I think it is about time that I stopped thinking of the other possibilities and just enjoy the luck I have to be here.

We have thought about just taking a year and renting a house somewhere in Canada for the experience. My husband will be able to do his work from anywhere starting next year, though it would mean him being away quite a bit. So maybe we could organize a year away before the little kids are too old to want to go. But in the meantime, this is what I love:

1. I remember arriving in Paris in the fall of 1989. I had flown from Tokyo, to Vancouver, to Paris and hadn’t slept in almost three days. I was MORE than exhausted. But when my friend picked me up from the airport, we hopped on the RER and then emerged into the streets of central Paris, well, my breath was taken away! I wasn’t seeing Paris for the first time, as I had been working their that spring, summer. I was coming BACK and it felt like I was returning the the most extraordinary place on earth. I adore wandering the streets of the city, admiring the architecture, the shops, cafés, parks,  bridges, everything!! I ended up leaving Paris that winter, but it was deep in my heart and when I had an opportunity to go back to France, even though it was to the city the farthest away from Paris in the country, I didn’t hesitate! I just love knowing that at incredible city is our capital and I can go whenever I want to. I have wonderful recent memories of taking the train up to Paris to see my dear friend who lives near the city, visiting a fabulous bakery with her, learning to make the best Parisian baguette of the year, drinking a beer in an Irish pub with my husband who I met up with once while he was working there for a few weeks, carrying Karamelle through the streets of the Marais when she was just a puppy, finally going to the top of the Eiffel Tower and having the fright of my life with my daughter Hélène.

DSC_4030 200

Le Louvre

Photo F. Arnaud

2. I love the French language. After working in Paris in 1989, I had picked up a bit of the language and decided that I should major in French at university. After all, Canada was a bilingual country and being bilingual could help me get a job. It was funny because I always had really BAD grades in French. I remember once sitting a French exam and, even though I had studied all the grammar and verb tenses, I couldn’t answer the questions because I couldn’t understand the words other than the verbs! Needless to say, I hated French class and systematically fell asleep during the French documentaries we were shown once in a while. But when I actually went to France, it was a different story!!! Hearing people speak it and seeing the culture that goes with it, made me instantly fall in love with the language. So, I studied it in university and when I participated in a third year abroad program in Perpignan, I realized just how little French I actually knew! I couldn’t understand the Catalan accent which could be compared to someone learning English going to live in South Carolina. I ended up staying in Perpignan for nine years and it took me quite awhile to learn the language.  But I did! And it is funny because when I am in an airport and I hear French people speak, I am still in admiration of the language and their way of being… and then I remember that they are from MY country, too.

3. I love French food and cuisine. France produces the most incredible fruits and vegetables, cheeses, breads, meats. Where I live now is a foodie’s paradise! All of our fruits and vegetables are local and mostly organic, bought at the weekly market. I buy goat, ewe and cow milk cheese at the same market, all local and all very reasonably priced. I buy local pork, beef and lamb and have some game supplied by hunter friends. They also give me mountain river trout in the early spring. When I see videos like this:

http://youtu.be/CRfjMOjrfnI

I don’t feel like moving to Canada because even though it is possible to buy locally for certain things, the prices are outrageous!! I couldn’t believe the food prices in Vancouver this summer and the small amount of organic food, outside of specialty stores are outrageously expensive. And the taste of our food here is incredible. The organic flour I buy to make my sourdough bread  makes the most incredibly tasting and textured bread. Fruit here is fantastic. Biting in to a summer peach is pure heaven. I buy local clementines and kiwis in the winter and my kids eat them like some kids eat candy. I ordered lamb from a local farm last year and I felt a bit bad ordering the death of a poor, innocent animal, but I have to say, when I grilled that cutlet and took the first bite, I had to accept that lambs were put on earth for those people who are omnivores. It was so good! When we got back home from Canada last summer, all of my children stated that they were thrilled to get back to French food.

DSC_3992 162

France’s famous Macarons

Photo F. Arnaud

4. I love the landscape, the countryside, the chateaux and farms. When we drive to my parents-in-law’s home outside of Toulouse it is always enjoyable. The view is incredible and we even pass by Carcassonne with it’s walled town and turrets.

small_carca_vignes

Carcassonne

© Delphine Ménard

Since I didn’t grow up with old structures, castles and wine chateaux, I continue to be amazed by them. The rolling countryside in the South of France is so lovely as well. In summer there are fields of sunflowers blazing, rows and rows of grape vines, peach trees, wheat, fields dotted with old stone buildings and thins roads winding through the undulating landscape. It’s beautiful! Our own house is Catalan architecture and though it is very simple, the outside walls are made of large river stones and red brick. We fell in love with it the first time we saw it. There is a small river that lines our property and since we sleep with the window open all year, we can hear the soft sound of the water rushing by. In the summer we fall asleep to the croaks of frogs and sometimes we hear the yapping of fox or the snuffle of wild boar. Last night we had an owl hotting at our window. And just near our house is this path where we like to take our Sunday walks with the dogs.

DSC_0015

A river in the Gers

DSC_0066  Auch

5. I actually like the French seriousness. When I first arrived in France, I found it a bit difficult to make new friends because people seemed almost cold sometimes, never very excited or enthusiastic. You rarely hear very loud laughter in public places and everyone seems to have a learned, calm politeness about them. I had come from Canada, of course, where in the space of one hour you can meet someone and feel like you’ve been friends forever. North Americans laugh out loud anywhere they are, speak to almost anyone, ask questions about personal things almost right away. But little by little, I adapted to the culture here and now I find it comforting to be around French people. You see, it took me a long time to make friends, but they are really, really good friends and we always know where we stand. There is never any of that intense enthusiasm in the beginning only to realize that the friendship is impossible or empty which happened to me quite often in North America.

6. I appreciate the private, non-judgemental, what I call the “dark side” of French people. Yes, it is really too bad that some people don’t respect the basic rules of society, but at the same time, not having daily pressure to be “perfect” and compliant is actually very soothing. There isn’t the stress of living up to an imagine or what is expected. We don’t have signs saying 500$ fine for littering, no loitering, etc. People don’t talk about how much money they make or other private subjects. Maybe something in between Canada and France would be ideal for me.

7. I much prefer European clothes.  I remember as a teenager looking for certain styles of clothing or colors and never being able to find them and then when I got to France, I wanted to buy everything! Kids’ clothes are way cuter over here.

8. I like having easy access to the rest of Europe. London is a short plane ride away, Spain is 1 hr by car, 3 hrs to Barcelona (very cool city!), Italy about 6 hrs by car. We have a 110 Land Rover Defender and we have plans to visit Europe. We took a trip around Ireland and would really like to go back and we have plans to drive to Scandanavia. Mat and I headed to London to visit our good friends last October. We don’t travel that much but just knowing that we CAN is fantastic!

9. I like living in the country and not having to feel bombarded by shops, advertisements, noise, pollution. I could live in the country in Canada but what is nice about here is that there are pretty towns on all sides of us, just a few km away with their own shops, markets, hot baths, skiing, hiking paths, etc. We are away from the city but near to a lot of exciting things!

10. France has very little genetically modified cultures for the moment and my area has the most organic producers in the country. It’s easy to avoid consuming GMOs, and I am very thankful for that.

DSC_0243

Our vegetable garden

And any country that makes a film like this:

http://youtu.be/juuF_btrW4U

must be a great place to live!

And music like this:

http://youtu.be/uduL7z8BkOs

and this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tT3gcsXbHp4

and this:

http://youtu.be/4TlKA4vqAuo

and this:

http://youtu.be/iC5eMh1FuaU

I am and have always been a very messy person. When I see the state of my older son’s bedroom, I feel sorry for him because he has inherited my genes. It is not due to education, because my mother was always a clean person, almost A type when it came to household organisation. She taught us to do many different household chores and I have memories of Saturday afternoon dining room furniture polishing. She would also write out letters addressed to her loving family with either very clearly stated family rules or just written complaints about how we don’t respect those rules and that she is not to be considered our maid. So, I really don’t know where my messiness came from! And since I have done the same for my son, yet he remains just as messy, it must be innate.

As a young adult, living on my own,  I got by all right when I lived with other people. The chores always managed to get done, some by me, many by others. I had a boyfriend at one point, when I was living with two other girls, who could come once a week and clean our bathroom entirely because we just never seemed to be able to do it! I was so thankful for that. We were pretty messy girls and even though I seemed to be able to handle it, I did get extremely disgusted when one day I realized that the awful smell that was developing in the kitchen was because my roomate and her buddies had been drinking beer in the evenings and instead of getting rid of the bottles, were stacking them behind the secret stairwell door (it was an old building with the servants’ stairwell leading to the kitchen). HUNDREDS of bottles with moldy beer that had been sitting there for months. To this day I can still remember the smell. It was one the of the most repulsive smells I have ever encountered. Even I felt like a neat, clean person after that episode.

When I first moved to France, I don’t think I quite adapted to this new life without a dryer, a dishwasher or a roomate. I didn’t even calculate the new responsabilities that were required of me and time passed. I never seemed to be on top of the laundry which piled up, then had to be washed, hung to dry and then ironed. Dishes washed by hand, bathrooms cleaned by me or not at all. Our house was not a disaster zone, but it sure wasn’t beautifully cleaned and organized. And when I had two children, a full time job and a part time job, guess what suffered the most!

Well, a few years later I married an officer in the army. I don’t think he realized what he was getting in to!!! Though I admit that I like to believe that when two people feel that they have so much in common,  fall in love, discover that they are good together, they often discover how they have certain qualities that are completely opposite. My husband has a rigid, highly organized side to him, while I am very free-spirited and together, we often influence each other. He is a complete neat freak and I am messy, so now after ten years, he has become more relaxed and accepts living in a “family” house (even though he still fantasizes about living in a minimalist, loft apartment – ain’t gonna happen honey) and I have been forced to become a much more organized, clean person. He influenced me quite a bit, mainly because I realized that if I didn’t change, our marriage might not last and also, three more children were added to the equation. Could you even imagine not being organized with five children??? Laundry, toys, school stuff, coats, shoes, EVERYTHING!!!! I once amused myself by counting the number of socks used in a week during winter (not counting when my older children think it’s great to wear TWO pairs of socks!) NINETY-EIGHT!!!! And I STILL don’t have a dryer, so those 98 socks are hand hung. Socks also get lost and so for years I had a box full of poor, single socks that I kept really believing that their partners would show up one day. I finally threw them away a few years ago, but now I have a new box with newer socks. We do have a dishwasher which we actually only got about five years ago.

About three years ago, I hopped on the SIMPLICITY bandwagon because I needed help and guidance. My youngest child was two, almost three years old, so I was no longer in the baby phase. I could finally get rid of all toys in the communal part of the house. I was starting to feel overwhelmed by the stuff that was accumulating in the house. I had kept all of Mathieu and Hélène’s clothes thinking the younger ones would be able to wear them, there were toys everywhere, cupboards were disorganized, books and magazines on every shelf and I just could NOT keep up with the housecleaning.

I followed the advice of a few different books on simplicity but also the wise words that my husband says very often : “L’organisation épargne la sueur” (organisation spares sweat). I figured that a well organized house with fewer things to clean up and better storage would reduce the amount of cleaning that I’d actually need to do! And so we started to get rid of a LOT of stuff in our house. About a half of the toys disappeared which was a relief. The children play outside so much that they aren’t very attached to their toys. We kept ones that are for building, Barbies and clothes, figurines and that is it. I now love walking in to their rooms and seeing an actual room. And it is much easier for them to clean up because they have proper storage spaces.

I also got rid of clothes. I tried everything on and got rid of about a third of my closet. I’m an avid second hand clothes buyer and so having less leaves me room for my small pleasure.

We finally sorted and got rid of most all of the kids’ clothes I was keeping. I just kept in mind as I filled up the boxes of stuff to be sent to our equivalent of the Sally Ann that someone else would make good use of these items instead of them sitting on a shelf! I kept one box of my memory clothes. Those outfits that reminded me of a child when they were younger.

We loaned dozens of our books to our local library that I am in charge of so that they weren’t hoarding our shelves but we would always have access to them.

This has been going on for three years now and every couple of months, we either get rid of something or put something in place to make our lives easier, like these two pieces of furniture that Lio made over the holidays. I have been able to bring up all my nice, simple white dishes and glasswear from the cellier that I previouly had no place to put in the dining room. And we also now have a nice space for the incoming mail, Lio’s computer, our squeezebox, my purse, shoes, etc.

DSC_0013

I have come a LONG way but I cannot boast about having become a really clean, organized person. I still HATE housework and I have to force myself to sweep the floor, do the laundry, clean the bathrooms. I had someone come in and help with the cleaning up until last September but then she no longer had time for me and I decided that I need to learn to do without. I had this idea that since someone came in and did the cleaning once a week for three hours, the house was clean. But really, when I was honest about it, no one, not even superhuman, could possibly make my house perfectly clean in one afternoon! There were things that were not getting done, like getting rid of spiderwebs, cleaning the oven, wiping down cupboards properly, cleaning behind the sofa, etc. So, now I try and do a bit everyday because the idea of having a housecleaning day just depresses me. I have created a playlist on Deezer and crank up the music when I’m alone in order to motivate myself. And on Friday’s I try and make the house extra nice looking because I know how important it is for Lio to start the weekend in a pleasant environment. I like that as well, I admit.

But becoming a more organized and clean person has had a secondary effect on me that I couldn’t have imagined before. Every single time I clean something, clear out a cupboard, reorganize a space, downsize an area in our life, get paperwork done or get all the laundry folded and put away, I have this incredible sense of accomplishment or even relief. It brings HAPPINESS. It’s like taking a happiness pill! When Lio finished the cupboard and I could place all my nice dishes inside, knowing that finally this problem was solved, I got a wave of happiness.

This morning I finally attacked my fridge. I hadn’t planned on doing it which is probably a good thing because I would have dreaded doing it and that would have had the opposite effect of happiness! I just looked inside and realized that the bottle shelves needed wiping down. But then you know how it goes, you start by doing something small and then you look to the side and realize that the shelves are a bit sticky, so why not wipe them down, too. I ended up taking my whole fridge apart (which I didn’t even know was possible!) and cleaned out the whole thing. I admit to having found some pretty disgusting things under shelves I didn’t know could be taken out. It took me over two hours to clean!!! That fridge had been nagging me for months because even though I had regularly wiped down the main shelves, I think I knew in the back of my head that those hidden icky spaces were there and needed attention. I listened to my music, joked with Lio about how ickly it was, discovered what my fridge actually contained and when it was finally done and I got to close the door to a perfectly clean, newly hygenic fridge, I felt a wave of that happiness drug!!!

A few days ago, a friend and I were talking about what holidays meant to us. We both agreed that we weren’t in need of a beautiful beach, cocktails and massages. No. Our dream holiday was when were got things done in our home environment, while also having time with our family with no school schedule, time to sleep more, make nice meals and watching movies. We have fun but also finish the day with that happiness drug of having accomplished something to make our lives more confortable or easier. Lio and I plan in advance what we are going to do over the holidays to come. We accept that on weekends during school time, we aren’t going to undertake major tasks because we are a bit worn down by the work week, but holidays are that perfect time to go crazy in the house!

Later on today, we are going to go for a walk in the hills with the dogs. The kids love running around up there pretending to be adventurers. I’ll be feeling very content because my fridge is clean (and Lio washed all the curtains and hung them back up as well as tightening a loose plug that has been irritating me for months) and I feel like a more organized, clean person for it.

Jennifer is a Canadian/American, living in the South of France for the last 18 years. Married to a frenchman who's job forces him to spend a lot of his time overseas, she has learned to cope with all those everyday challenges brought about by her sometimes crazy life. Adapting to a new culture, raising children, taking care of animals, growing a vegetable garden, cooking for her family and friends, teaching cooking classes and trying to maintain a fairly organized and inviting home. Here are some of her thoughts about it all.

Entrez votre adresse mail pour suivre ce blog et être notifié par e-mail des nouvelles publications.

Join 141 other followers

Expat Women - Inspiring Your Success Abroad
living in Nice

Goodreads

A Delightful Home

Food, family and France

New Nostalgia

Food, family and France

The Nourishing Gourmet

Food, family and France

Makanai

Food, family and France

Writing for Daisies

If I climb a mountain because it's there, I write -- because it isn't there.

Mommy Man

Loveable misanthrope, gay superdad.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 141 other followers

%d bloggers like this: