Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Mother's guilt

Summing up how I feel today....

This morning I felt an immense guilt. After a sleepless night for me and my 3 years old sick son, I thought I was the worst mother in the world.

You see, my eldest had chicken pox a couple of weeks ago. It wasn't that bad but the childminder couldn't take him because he was contagious, and obviously he couldn't go to school. I took 2 days off, my husband took one, and a friend agreed to mind him for the 2 remaining days. My son was fine, a bit tired, but he had no temperature and the spots were not bothering him.

And now, my toddler caught them as well. He is on the other end of the pain scale though. The poor child is covered in spots (he even have some in his ears), has fever, is cranky and can't sleep because of the itchiness. 

But I can't take more time off from work, and neither can my husband. The childminder cannot look after him and we don't have any family around. We do however, have a fantastic friend who agreed to mind him for the whole week. We would have been really stuck without him and I'm so grateful for his help; but really, I wish I shouldn't have to wake my sick child up at 7am, drag him down in the cold, all that so I can go to work.

I really love working though and I couldn't picture myself as a stay-at-home mother, but I'm gonna be honest. When you don't have any family around who can step in when there's a problem, it's hard. I know we're not the only ones in this situation but as foreigners we constantly have to make choices. 

With only 4 weeks holiday a year (and 1 week compulsory at Christmas), it doesn't leave much room for emergencies and sickness. If I take a week annual leave to stay home with my sick son, I won't be able to go France this summer. If I take half days here and there for medical appointments, how am I going to make it to my best friend's wedding?

I keep counting, recounting, trying to fit all the appointments in one day (something almost impossible with the HSE!). We keep asking our good friend to help us out and then feel guilty about it. Sometimes my mum comes from France but it's not always possible and let's face it, she's not getting any younger. We are lucky to have a great childminder who barely takes holidays and doesn't mind having the kids even if they're under the weather. But there is no safety net for the unexpected. I constantly worry about asking my boss to leave early, take a few hours off and so on, even though my company is very understanding. It's nearly like I feel guilty to have children in the first place.

If you are lucky enough to have family around to give you a hand with childcare, don't take it for granted. You never know what can happen. All I can say is, be grateful for the support you're getting.

I made the choice to make my life here and I have to bear the consequences. If I was asked do I want better wages or more holidays, I would chose the holidays without even thinking.

I could always manage to save and spend less to be able to see my family, but I can't create more free time (although that would be cool!).

So for now, our children may have to suffer the consequences of the choices we make.

And I feel even more guilty about that.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

My mother's crêpes recipe

Happy Pancake Tuesday everyone!

Today I've decided to share my mother's special crêpes recipe. My mum used to bake crêpes for us every Saturday and still does when we go over on holidays. She usually makes sweet ones, but when we have guests, she also makes savoury crêpes, using buckwheat flour. I don't want to pass as pretentious, but my mother's crêpes are just the best (and I have a lot of friends and family who can testify).

In Brittany, crêpes are a National Institution. NO, Crêpes are not French, they are Breton!! And friends who know me know I am VERY fussy about them. I like making crêpes the proper way, using the same flour as my mum's (so they can taste the same), and baking them on a "Bilig" (Crêpe maker in Breton), not a flat pan. I rarely go to the "Crêperie" and if I buy a crêpe in shop or at a stall, I always have some criticism... At this point, you must think I'm being a bit unreasonable completely crazy, and you might be right. I'm just very protective of my beloved crêpes.

Wheat flour from my town
Buckwheat flour (also from my town)

So, if you want to make the best crêpes in the world, here is the recipe:

For approx. 30 "sweet" (or "wheat") crêpes, you will need:

1L of full fat milk
400 g of plain flour 
200 g of sugar (150g if your watching your weight!)
20g of Vanilla Sugar (not compulsory, it's hard to find some in Ireland)
A pinch of salt
4 eggs
A knob of butter (melted)
Put the flour in a bowl
Add the sugar, salt, and the eggs

Starting from the centre, whisk the ingredients and add the milk little by little (so that there is no lumps). When you have poured half the milk, add the butter.
Add the rest of the milk while still whisking.

I think the secret (or at least that's the way I do it) is to whisk slowly so that, at the end, the batter is very liquid and there are no lumps.

And now the recipe for "Savoury" (or "Buckwheat") crepes:

1L of full fat milk
300 g of buckwheat flour 
100 g of plain flour
1 tea spoon of salt
4 eggs

The rules (Yeah, because Breton people are very serious about crêpes):

The sweet crêpes are folded in triangle and the savoury in rectangle.
You never fill the sweet crêpes on the crêpe maker. You do it on your plate (so that it doesn't stick)
You always fill the savoury crêpes on the crêpe maker (so that the cheese melts, the egg cooks and so on...)

Savoury crêpes

Sweet crepes (I know, there are not in triangle, it's because they were cooling down!)

And if you ever come to my house to eat crêpes, there is one rule. You will have to try and make one on your own!

Fabrice's first crepe at my mum's many many years ago
The most popular savoury crêpe filling in my region is Ham,Cheese and egg, also knows as the "Complete".

My favourite sweet crêpe filling is sugar & lemon, and my favourite savoury is cheese & ham.

What's your favourite filling?


Saturday, 14 February 2015

Driving in Ireland

The back of my car...Not the one from the story...
I could tell many stories about my driving experience in Ireland. I was stopped by the Gards a few times,  I had to drive in first gear from Gorey to Rosslare when my clutch broke on the day I was due to sail to France, and I have stopped counting how many times I got lost in Dublin. But today, I will tell you a story that actually happened in France, on my way back to Ireland, a couple of months after I arrived.

I had found a job about 30 miles away from the house I was staying in. There was no direct bus or train to get there and the only solution was to go through Dublin city Centre. I didn't want to move closer to work. After all, I was living in the perfect host family, I had made friends and I loved the area. In the end, I opted to take the train to the city centre and then the bus to work. It was taking me approximately two hours each way, when the bus was on time. I found the journey to and from work very exhausting, running from the train, trying to catch the bus, get to work on time and doing it all over again in the evening. On the second day, I was so tired I fell asleep in the bus, going to the city centre. When I woke up, it was empty. Everybody had left, even the driver and nobody had thought of waking me up... I rushed to the door and thankfully it was still open. I ran to catch the next bus and eventually got home. After that incident, I had enough (I know, it doesn’t get a lot to annoy me). I rang my parents and explained that I needed my car. I didn't care how, but I wanted it by the week end. They were actually very helpful and booked a plane ticket for me to Rennes on the Saturday morning. They were going to bring my car to the airport; from there I would drive to Cherbourg to catch the ferry in the evening, and I would be in Rosslare on the Sunday morning. My father, very thoughtful, printed an itinerary to go from the airport to Cherbourg as I wasn't familiar with the area. The journey time was approximately three hours. I was landing in Rennes around 12 so I had plenty of time.

I have a very bad sense of orientation. I mainly have a visual memory so if you give me directions and explain with landmarks, I will probably find my way, but do not give me a map or an itinerary, because I will get lost. So of course, I got lost. I was on the motorway and I saw an exit for Cherbourg. The itinerary was saying to stay on the motorway but I was confused by the sign and I took the exit. Big mistake. It was the road to Cherbourg, but going through all the villages and countryside roads. When I realised my error, it was too late and I didn't know how to get back on the main road, so I kept on going. I was running late so I drove faster. Probably a bit too fast for the Gendarmes who were waiting for me on the edge of a hill. I stopped the car and waited for my fate.

Gendarmerie Nationale, Good afternoon, can you step out of the vehicle miss, and give me your ID, Driver’s licence and insurance certificate”

I did as I was told. You don’t mess with the French Gendarmerie. Never.
“We will now proceed to an alcohol test. Have you ever used a breathalyser before?”
“No, but I'll try...”

Testing alcohol consumption is routine in France when you are stopped by the police, no matter what time of the day it is. So I blew in the little tube and of course the result was negative.
The gendarmes then went on saying I was driving too fast and I tried to explain with my puppy dog face that I had to catch a ferry to go back to Ireland, that I got lost, I was late and I did not want to miss it. They listened to me but still gave me a fine for ninety euros and then they showed me which way to go. Nice.

In France, if you are stopped and get a fine, you have to go to the “bureau de tabac” and buy a “fiscal stamp” for the amount of your fine. You just stick it on the paper that you were given and post it. Easy. Well, not so easy when you are in the middle of nowhere and you are desperately trying to find the place to buy the stamp... After a few miles however, I entered a small village and saw a “bureau de tabac”. I ran in and bought the stamp. Then I tried to find a postbox but of course, I couldn't find any. I was running so late that I decided to keep on going and I would stop at the next village, or even better, I could wait until I was in Cherbourg. I was sure to find a postbox there.

I continued my journey and finally entered Cherbourg around 7:30 pm and I got lost again. Yes there were signs for the port, but I still managed to lose my way around the town. I had to stop and ask for directions. I finally arrived at the ferry port at 8pm, the departure time. I handed my ticket and drove to the boat.

It’s only when I was in my cabin that I realised I never posted the fine. I went to the information desk, explained the situation and  asked the lady if she could post it for me once back in France because I did not want it posted from Ireland. You never know, it may have never arrived. 

I religiously kept the receipt of the fine for at least a couple of  years in case the French Gendarmerie came after me pretending I didn't pay, but I never heard from them again. 

Someone I heard from for a long time after the incident was my aunt whose birthday money she gave me that day went straight to the French government.


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Stupid questions French expats ask...


This post is going to be ranty and sarcastic. If you're not in the mood, or can be easily offended, just don't read and come back in a few days for more positive writing :-)

Are you still with me? Good. Nothing irritates me more than stupid expats. Fair enough, we don't all have the same definition of stupid, but when I read stuff some of them write online, sometimes I wonder what's going on.

I often feel we live in a world where people want answers to all their questions instantly, without putting in a bit of research. What I love most about Internet is the fact that most of the answers to our questions are there, if we bother looking for them. I love searching and take an immense pleasure finding an answer by myself. Am I an exception? I would hope not... 

I am part of this French expat group on Facebook. I initially got in to promote my blog a bit but also help other people. When you move to a new country, it can be daunting. From administrative worries to income tax questions or accommodation issues, I understand it's not easy. Many of my friends had problems with landlords, I myself had a lot of questions about how I could insure my French car when I was here for example. We also live in a world where you're always reminded that a good network is important, and I completely get the fact that sometimes, expats want to have the opinion or help from fellow citizens. So it's no wonder people try to rely on each other to navigate through the maze that is a first foreign experience. However, it seems like some people are just too lazy and don't want to experience anything by themselves.

But in my opinion, there's a fine line between asking for help on really important or interesting matters and just waiting for everyone to give the answer on a silver plate. Seriously, how were people doing before Facebook?

Here are some really stupid questions and what my answers would have been if I had been really mean and sarcastic. I usually refrain myself and end up saying nothing because sometimes there's no point arguing or stating the obvious. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who reacted with silence instead of sarcasm to those questions...

"I just arrived in Dublin today, and I'm looking for a supermarket to go shopping. Which one would you advise? I live near Trinity college and I don't have a car."

You just arrived in Dublin and you're hungry. So the first thing you do is log on Facebook and ask people where you can buy food. Wow... I have a suggestion. Why don't you take your coat, get out of your apartment and explore the streets of Dublin. It's quite small, you don't need a car. If you're lucky, you might walk past a supermarket. If you're not sure, you could ask someone on the street. What do you think of that?

"Hi, I've checked other messages and it seems the mobile provider "THREE" is the best. Where can I find a  THREE sim card?"

On the top of my mind, a THREE shop?

"Hi guys, I'm new in Dublin and looking for a job. If you have any tips or ideas, I'll take it. I'm very motivated."

I have an idea. Go to Google, put in the search "Job Dublin". Check the results. It will save both our time.

"I'm looking for a French speaking hairdresser, any help"

Don't you think the most interesting part of being abroad is to practice your languages skills and experience something different? Honestly, even if your English is not perfect, there are little chance you'll come out of the hairdresser with a half shaved, half blue head. You should give it a go in English.

"Who knows a doctor opened on Sundays?"

Ok, it's Sunday, you're sick and you need a doctor. Your first instinct is of course to go on Facebook...Why don't you put "Dublin doctor open on Sundays" on Google and see what happens... 

I could go on and on about those type of questions. They are asked almost everyday in different ways. When I arrived in Dublin, there was no social media. I asked questions to the people I was living or working with. I had good and bad experiences with my job search, I made mistakes, I said the wrong things , there were understanding issues  but all of this shaped my adventure in Ireland and made me a stronger person. 

If 12 years ago, I had been on a French expat group on Facebook and asked where the post office in Malahide was, I would have never experienced the kindness of that old Irish man who walked me to my destination that day. 

Of course we all need support and advice, but we have to experience things by ourselves as well. And most importantly we can't wait for other people to do everything for us. Being independent, growing up, discovering another way of life... 

Isn't that why those people came to in Ireland in the first place?

Friday, 6 February 2015

Vote for me!

I'm doing things in the wrong order as I've already put that up on my Facebook page and twitter, but in case you're just passing by, here it is again:

I've been nominated for the 2nd year in a row in the "Top 100 International Exchange and Experience Blogs” competition IX15. Every year, bab.la and Lexiophiles host the IX competition to recognize the 100 most exciting, inspiring, open-minded bloggers who write about their  experiences in a foreign country.

Last year, I came 22nd, which was a great achievement as I had been blogging for a few months only. This year I'm aiming for the top 10!

So you know what you have to do! If you enjoy reading my blog, please vote by clicking on the button below. Sadly you can only vote once, so please share with your friends, family, colleagues, fellow bloggers, everyone you know!

Thanks in advance :-)

IX15 - Vote for this blog!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Book review - That's Paris: An anthology of life, love and sarcasm in the city of light


As you might know, I'm not a big fan of Paris. Breton people usually have that sort of love-hate relationship with the capital. We all agree it's a beautiful city to visit, with wonderful sites, museums, churches and landscapes, but we would never live there (unless absolutely necessary of course). It's too big, crowded, polluted and Parisians (except my good friend Laetitia) are not the most welcoming bunch if I'm honest. 

So, how come I have almost fallen in love with Paris? I started to read Vicki's blog a year ago, an American girl who has lived in Paris for the past ten years and the way she talked about her experience just appealed to me. She kept it real with a touch of humour and you could really see she was embracing the French way of life (especially the wine drinking, but who wouldn't really?!).

I read her first two books, Confessions of a Paris party girl and Confessions of a Paris potty trainer, that I reviewed right here. To be honest, it was so entertaining I couldn't put the Kindle down and read both books in a matter of days. 

This time, Vicky is back with a vengeance, and the help of 23 authors. With her fellow editor, Adria J.Cimino, they put together an anthology about Paris. It's a mix of fiction, non-fiction and humorous pieces that take you right in the heart of the City of Lights. All written by francophiles, foreigners who fell in love with Paris or even French authors, the book covers a multitude of subjects, sometimes serious like love and loss, sometimes funny like the infamous French administration or the maze that a French supermarket can be. Some stories just take you to another world altogether, from mysterious encounters on a bridge or in a cemetery, to an improbable Zombie apocalypse...  An interesting feature of this book is that 4 pieces are offered both in English and French. As a bilingual person but the worst translator in the world, I can safely say the stories were equally interesting and engaging in both languages (well done to the translators!).

It would be hard to review each piece, but there are definitely all kind of stories and styles to suit everyone's taste. For some reason, I have been drawn to bitter sweet tales like "A scoop of Henry" by Cheryl McAlister, where the main character spreads her late husband's ashes across the city. An other stand out for me was "Violette", by Frederique Veysset, the story of a couple who inherit their neighbour's apartment and find a "hidden treasure" behind a condemned door... The prize for the funniest piece would have to go to "La dame de la nuit" by Leslie Floyd, where an unfortunate American student is being mistaken for someone that she's not (hint: translate the title in English and you will understand!). I also have a special mention for the two mesmerising stories by Didier Quemener (this guy must have Breton blood with a name like that...) "Half Past midnight" and "Le chemin du Dragon". 

In the end, another great book, full of different aspects of life in the City of Light. I'm almost making peace with the French Capital... Who would have known!

On a side note, I really really wonder where Vicki finds the time and the energy to be married, have two kids, work full time, write two books and publish a third one through her own publishing house that she set up a few months ago... And I'm complaining that I can't find proper quality time to write... Considering she also is an avid fan of zombies, I have come to the conclusion that she must be a vampire. How else could it be? She obviously doesn't sleep at all to be able to do everything. That's the only explanation. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the book from Vicki in exchange for an honest review. All the opinions are my own.


Sunday, 1 February 2015


I haven't written for a week and it's driving me crazy. I have lots of ideas though, I just can't seem to put them together for some reason...Actually I think I know what's going on, and I need to find a solution.

I used to have some sort of writing routine. I was thinking about my posts while driving to and from work. 45 minutes of "thinking", even though they were spent in traffic, were giving me enough time to come up with some ideas, sentences and good catch phrases. Now, my commute is between 10 and 15 minutes each way. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't trade that for anything, but my "me-time" has been reduced a lot as a result, and the ability to write a whole post in my head is well and truly gone.

I used to have some "alone" time to take the laptop, do some reading here and there, and start writing something. My husband was working in the evening and once the kids were in bed, I could sit comfortably on the couch and work on my blog. I wasn't writing every evening, but I had the freedom to start a post and finish it the following day if I wasn't happy or lacked a bit of inspiration. Now my husband is home at 7pm. Again, I'm not complaining about that as we used to see each other a lot less than now, but my routine has completely gone the window. I obviously want to spend time with him, so we usually watch a movie on the laptop because we stream everything online (that's what you do when you have kids and can't go to the cinema anymore). 
He's very supportive of my blogging activity, and sometimes asks me if I want to write, but I don't like having to write if you know what I mean. The thought that "tonight is my only chance to come up with some ideas because he has decided to watch something on TV and I have access to the laptop", is the sort of pressure I don't handle very well. In short, I don't like being pressured (even though I know it's not intentional).

I also need to be alone to write, without someone asking me questions: "Have you finished?", "What are you writing about?" and so on. I have read somewhere that writers can be very solitary. Not that I call myself a writer, that would be way too pretentious, but I can definitely understand the reason behind it. I need peace and quiet, maybe some white noise in the background or a re-run of Friends on TV because complete silence freaks me out a bit, but I need to be on my own. That's not good news for the husband (or the kids), is it?!

You probably wonder how I managed to write this entire post then? Well, my husband has taken the kids out to the playground. But I seriously can't ask him to leave the house every night, can I? Although he might be happy to go the pub every couple of days (our wallet wouldn't be though)

So now I have a question for all blogging working parents out there? How do you do it? Where do you find the time to work full-time, mind the kids,cook, supervise homework, spend some time with your partner AND write as well? Do you steal the laptop and lock yourself in the bedroom? Do you have more than one laptop? (that's in my plans, but I don't have enough money at the moment!). Do you need to be alone or can you write surrounded by people? 

I'd like to know because I really really enjoy writing this blog, I just feel it's not fitting in my new busy timetable anymore and I'm not happy about it.