SUMMER DAYS IN FRANCE

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The summer season is fully upon us; the children are all on holiday and the roads are suddenly busy with lots of cars with foreign number plates;  this summer the Dutch seem to be the most prolific.  As a result, suddenly everything takes twice as long to do. There are lines of cars at lights, the beaches are bursting with bronzing bodies, the amusement-parks are full,  and the restaurants over-flowing. But after a fairly dismal and wet May, the locals are finally breathing a sigh of relief  as the weather is incredible with one long hot sunny day rolling into another – this is the season when the Charente Maritime earns its yearly tourist bonanza and the visitors are here, cash registers clinking away in a thousand seaside shops.  The best part after all the hype of the coast and the buzz of cities we drive a mere fifteen minutes to our tranquil little haven!

In lieu of going away on holiday we have decided to take lots of day-trips this summer, to explore our area and perhaps a little more of France in general.  It’s a plan that seems to be working rather well; while we have the comfort of having our own things around us, we have so much to explore, so much to do and so many places we have never been; then when we are at home the pool is in constant use, the kids leaping in and out with the refreshing sound of splashing water.  Last night the number of children in the house swelled to 8 as friends came for sleepovers.  As I am sitting at the kitchen table tapping away on my laptop writing this, there are children wandering up the garden accompanied by chickens and ducks hopeful of some morning scraps.  Rory has found a sleeping-bag and as is his wont has quietly curled up in it, semi-hidden, for a day of snoozing. Clara has found a quiet chair in the garden and curled up on someone’s pool-towel, and Bentley is keeping an attentive vigil under the kitchen table; with so many extra mouths then surely there are a few more crumbs on the floor for him!  Gigi has retrieved the butterfly net, a notepad and a pen, and is happily writing down all the creatures she catches and then releases; she wants to see how many different species we have in our garden over the summer. The most recent entrant in her tally is a common swallowtail, a white and black beauty studded with blue highlights and a pair of rubies.  This is one of those rare moments when one can sigh contentedly and think,  yes we are doing the right thing, this is surely what we want for our children growing up – the sort of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ lifestyle so many of us dream of.

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Of course it’s 2015 and so our children have their fair share of electronics and computers just like everyone else, but when we have those moments with no electronics in sight and everyone taking pleasure from simple things, I could almost cry with happiness.  In much the same way I get a warm happy fuzzy feeling when, trug in hand, the children help me pick tomatoes, cucumbers and plums for lunch, and aubergines and courgettes for supper on the bbq; all highlighted when the 8 years of wisdom that is Gigi looks at me and says “I love living in France, I love eating our own food, nothing could ever be better than this !”. It’s one of those moments when I allow myself to think that we’re doing an OK job of raising our children!

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Last week we took to the water 20 minutes inland and rented a wonderful electric boat for an hour’s foray on the mighty Charente.  Reclined under a canvas bimini-top, we went peacefully upstream in the glorious sunshine with the children waiting until we were out of sight of the dock so that they could then drive.  Roddy and I relaxed as our midget crew took us up and down the river, with swans, cattle, and herons watching us pass by. The odd angler sat contentedly in the shade under the willows, nodding hello at us as we burbled past on silent battery-power. We saw one blue flash from a kingfisher and a small boat zipped by towing a diminutive water-skier who waved at us as she passed, her pigtail flying in the breeze. It was an emerald idyll, disturbed occasionally by squeals caused by minor navigational errors, and we were amazed at how little traffic there was. Roddy remarked that a longer trip could feasibly include a large wicker hamper, a cooler full of ice, and a feast of some sort. I had to agree. I need to find a bottle of Pimms, I think.

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This was followed a couple of days later by a trip to the races for an afternoon of trotting.  OK, so admitedly half the thrill was betting on which horse would win, but with just 2 euros on a horse, there was nothing serious here and admittedly this was somewhat of a lesson more about betting than it might have been about the passion of the crowd; perhaps not quite the perfect wholesome natural lifestyle I described earlier, but still one of life’s important lessons. “Betting is a mugs’ game” I told the children – and although Jack said, “Mama you could make a lot of money doing this!”, I had to reply, “Yes, you could, but you could also, like the vast majority of people, lose a great deal of money!”, and we proceeded to prove it as we emptied our pockets of coins and the odd 5 Euro note with no reward to show for it – the closest we got was a second place which proved useless as Roddy had put all the bets on ‘to win’.  We watched from the stands where the thrill and noise of the crowd as the horses passed the finishing line is almost quite overwhelming and then we watched the last two races from the rails where you can literally hear the thud of hooves and feel the vibration of the ground as they thundered past within a few feet from us. The children’s eyes glowed with excitement, and they squeaked with delight as each trotter flew past feet away.

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Today is going to be a simple beach day, however, as the children have had so many very late nights that they need to recharge their batteries somewhat. For us adults that means the beach, but the children are not of an age to sit and sunbathe, so for them the beach means boogy-boards, skim-boards, swimming, and lots and lots of other activities. Lungs will be filled with healthy salt air, Roddy will do his donkey impression as he goes down to the sand, heavily laden with beachware, toys and coolers, and all this will be followed by an early night. It’s a recipe that seems to work well.  I am off to make lavender shortbread to take with us for the all important 4pm gôuter, along with some fresh picked plums from the garden.  I love cooking with fresh lavender flowers when they are in season, it gives such a gentle flavor and is a little bit out of the ordinary which always works for me! Plus the kitchen and all of downstairs takes on a real Provençal smell which lingers for hours. It’s a real reminder of this wonderful time of year.

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16 thoughts on “SUMMER DAYS IN FRANCE

  • As I read this post entry I am carried back to a time when my children were young, before electronic invasion, and life seemed so much more simple. We live in a suburban/rural area of Pennsylvania where fruit trees, gardens and farm life was an every day element of our lives. We were so happy living our version of the simple life. Your version is enchanting and your children will thank you as adults for giving them these memories. Thank you for sharing.

    • Hi Lucy, your childhood sounds quite idyllic, it’s a shame that nowadays it is something so much harder to achieve – how life has changed, I find it’s all about trying to find the right balance, not always easy! Thanks for taking the time to comment, I love reading people’s comments, it makes it all worthwhile 🙂

  • Lazy Day of Summer reading your posts brings me to the excitement of childhood summers and yet being a mother entertaining and making the summer months educational fun with family unity with long lasting memories. I wish you added your recipe for lavender shortbread that looked so yummy with a cup of tea. Looking forward to your post next week with the beautiful photos of France, you are a great ambassador.

    • Hi Carolyn, thanks so much for your lovely comment, it’s funny someone said to me the other day how we only ever seem to remember perfect long summers, it must have rained, but I never recall that it did! Anyway here is the shortbread recipe, it’s super easy from the River Cottage Year cookbook. Heat oven to 170C. Beat together 160g softened unsalted butter, 80g caster sugar, 240g plain flour and 2 teaspoons fresh lavender flowers. Press into a lined 18cm x28cm tin. Prick all over with a fork, bake 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven, Sprinkle with a little sugar and mark into fingers, then when completely cool break apart. Most of all enjoy!!!

  • Oh, it all sounds so wonderful! Especially from my vantage point in the midst of a down-under winter! (Not that it’s too bad. But still…. ) Time to plan another trip to France, I think. 🙂

  • Your summer sounds wonderful for the whole family. Although it’s not for me to judge, I’d say that you and Roddy are fabulous parents!! The photographs are gorgeous. Tell Gigi that I couldn’t agree with her more about growing one’s own vegetables and fruit. And I love the story about cruising the Charente in an electric boat. Our kayak has taught us that we see so much more when we approach silently. The other day, a bald eagle let us come within a few feet of his perch on a floating log. (He never did fly away, but we decided that going any closer would be intrusive and paddled past him.) Thank you for sharing these summer stories with us…true generosity on your part! Fondly, Leslie

    • Thanks Leslie! I so agree with you about approaching silently. We had wanted to rent kayaks but there was a festival going on and we couldn’t get near, so had to go elsewhere where they only rented boats not kayaks – next time! I will pass your message on to Gigi, thank you. Have a lovely weekend 🙂

  • Hello and a big “Thank-You” for another super blog & photos. Here in Brittany we have just had a storm and a heavy downpour which, I have to say, was much needed in the garden. I envy you your tomatoes being ready (ours are still fairly green), so much nicer than shop-bought. But our cultivated blackberries are large & luscious!! Btw Good luck with finding the Pimms – I have yet to track it down over here. Our daughter & family arrive from UK for a visit next week so will be bringing supplies! Bon continuation.

    • Hi Petrina, ahh yes the elusive Pimms – every type of every drink available here except Pimms! Whiskies one has never even heard of and makes of Gin I didn’t know existed but not the elusive summer drink, if I find any I shall let you know! Our tomatoes have been ripe and ready for about a month now, we are currently in that complete glut when we have so many, now I need to find the time to make lots of sauces and ratatouille to freeze for the winter. We so badly need the rain, but at the same time I don’t want it! Our poor well is doing sterling work but even that is surely going to dry up soon! Have a great weekend

  • Wow – you’re doing it all.I was transported while reading this. I feel like I’ve spent a bit of the summer with you all. 🙂

  • Lovely! It is good to sometimes look around our home environs and try to view it with new eyes. As I commute to DC everyday, I cross over a bridge and observe the U.S. Capitol buidling dome each day (albeit in scaffolding, at the moment) less than a mile away. I try to think of its symbolism (freedom, etc), rather than what actually goes on there each day :(. But then again, if I had a choice, I’d rather be looking at those lazy cows from your river!

    • Hi Mary, you are so right, I often, whilst cycling or walking especially, try to imagine how things look to an outside rather than to my familiar self. I find I then often observe things that have until then gone unnoticed! have a lovely weekend 🙂

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