CF Travels: Tips for long journeys with under 5s

So, we’re off back over the channel to France this week to meet the builders and get some more renovation plans scheduled for the summer (namely some more bathrooms, the house currently has an 11 bedroom: 1 bathroom ratio!). We are flitting back and forward every six weeks at the moment, which means we are become quite adept at 15-hour journeys with a new baby and a fidgety 4-year old.

Whilst my friends think I am nuts, this will be our 12th trip in 18 months, and my second solo one with the boys, so we have pretty much got the schedule down pat. It’s an early start (5.30am), but we are tucked up in our French beds by 9pm.


Which isn’t much of a hardship when we wake up to this:


The four-year old is hardened to it now, he’s been making the trek since he was 2. The excitement of being at the docks and then on the ferry still doesn’t grow old (the cranes! the smell of diesel! cargo!).Neither does the 12-hour window when all good parenting skills go out the window and he gets to play on the iPad for hours and eat more chocolate than he does in a month. Here he is at a pit-stop 10 hours in, slightly crazed on Mikados.


So, what are my top tips for travelling long distances with under 5s?

  1. Make life easy

Travelling with small people is exhausting for all concerned, so if it makes life that little bit easier to spend an extra £5 on a closer car park to the airport, to get the ready-made formula or say yes to ANOTHER ice cream – do it. You won’t ruin them, my mantra is ‘when in transit, all parenting bets are off’.

2. Plan, plan, plan

I am pretty confident that with a bit of forward planning I can pre-empt most scenarios on the journey now after a dozen trips. Before we leave I ensure we have plenty of blankets, water, snacks, batteries, toys, WIPES, a thermos of hot water (I had to give the 7mo a strip wash in a layby after a rather explosive bowel movement once), Calpol, first aid kit, audio books (hands down the best thing for car travel), spare clothing for everyone and chargers. Although I know the route in my sleep, we have often had to be diverted, or I simply want to know our ETA, so I use the Waze app to track our journey. I also have a travel wallet by my side that contains all our documents, passports, health cards etc, plus bank cards for tolls, spare Euros and driving licenses for when I get stopped for speeding. Ahem.

3. Make the journey fun

It might sound simple, but from the moment you close your front door, you are on holiday. Once I got into this mind-set, rather than having to ‘endure’ the journey to our destination, it made things easier. If you’re children are old enough, make the journey an adventure. We play stupid car games, discuss the sights we see from the car window, have frequently stops for a swing at the playpark or ice cream and sing, LOUDLY. Yes it makes the overall journey that little bit longer, but if we’re going to be stuck in a small metal box, hurtling down the motorway together for 15 hours, we might as well make it fun.

4. Pack light

Unless you are going to outer Mongolia, pack light. Ironically, having two small children has made me a much more efficient and frugal packer. Especially if you are travelling to the developed world, you can buy nappies anywhere people. Ditto wipes, toiletries, even a few cheap clothes. Obviously specific things like formula or medicines will need packing, but we now only take minimal clothes for the boys and do a big supermarket shop the day after we get there for the rest. I am also unabashed about siding up to another French mum in the supermarket and asking her advice on the best brands. I’m sure they think I’m nuts, but it’s great to get some insider advice when faced with a wall of jarred baby food.

5. Finally, aim low

I was a travel writer in a previous life, flitting off to the most incredible destinations as part of my day job. I remember fondly the days when I used to relax with a glass of fizz, waiting to be called for my flight, then don my eye mask and get in a good solid sleep on board…. Once you’re a parent you need to aim A LOT lower. As long as you don’t lose anyone, you avert most major tantrums and everyone remains on speaking terms you’ve won, and you’re on holiday!

If anyone is travelling to France this summer and wants any specific tips/advice then just ask!



Brunette hair inspiration: aka the mum cut

I’m off this afternoon to get my hair done for the first time in forever. Only mums will truly appreciate what a ‘fist pump’ moment this is. 2 WHOLE hours without someone attached to my boob, wiping anyone’s bum or being asked 1829 questions about volcanoes and pyraclastic flow.

My hair is just coming out of that new mum funk; it fell out in clumps after having my second and no amount of backcombing would give it any oomph. I now have that downy, fluffy regrowth and thanks to the amazing John Frieda volume range, a bit more swish going on.

c0f2293b418f02275067fa37a6c5194480ab06b5-1So, here’s the image I’m taking with me to show my stylist.

2016-05-20 14.45.35Okay, so there is pretty much nothing I don’t want in this pic. The brows, bee-stung lips, that coat’s quite nice too…. but let’s just focus on the hair – the perfect mum cut.

I love the darker roots and lighter whispers around the face, like a good instagram filter it surrounds you with a warming halo, so even if your skin is dog-tired, your hair gives it that back-lit glow. The blunt cut is great if like me you need to add the appearance of volume back to new-mum hair and having a heavy fringe helps me look like I’ve got some semblance of style, even if my hair is 90% dry shampoo and it’s 8am on the school run. See? The perfect mum hair.

Before then, I’ve got a bathroom to paint and to start packing for our France trip next week… just me, the boys and a 15-hour journey. Gulp.


Extended breastfeeding: when to wean….

Breastfeeding – is there a more divisive parenting topic?!

Well, here goes. I’m nailing my colours to the mast. I love breastfeeding. Hands down my favourite thing about motherhood thus far.

raffy feeding

Why? Because after two really hard labours ending in emergency c-sections (and a lot of tears), it helped me bond with my boys. It gave us that time together, just us, like a secret exclusive club, be it at 2am snuggled up in bed, or curled up on the sofa watching Friends re-runs. Whilst giving birth was obviously something I wasn’t so great at, this was something I COULD do. Others could help out with the nappy changes, winding and settling but feeding was MY role, it defined me as their mum.

But it wasn’t all rosy, milky joy however, don’t worry reader. Whilst most breastfeeding advocates will tell you breezily it’s ‘so easy/cheap/practical!’, I will beg to differ. It is bloody hard work; it’s a serious skill to master for both mother and baby (it took my eldest 5 days to successfully latch) and it takes serious determination to keep going, through growth spurts, teething, sore nipples and the big M, mastitis. In fact, in some ways, bottle feeding is infinitely easier. The onus isn’t entirely on you and your body which, after labour has quite frankly gone through enough trauma. But I say to all new mums that ask my bfing advice – if you can, stick with it, just to the month-mark. That maybe enough for you and your baby, but chances are your supply will have sorted itself out, you’ll have got over the 3-week growth spurt, aka the 24-hour feedathon, your baby will be a much more efficient feeder and you’ll be FLYING.

I could also bore you with the latest health stats on why it’s the bees-knees for their immune system and future health but I won’t. As much as I adore breastfeeding, I’m no sadist. I stuck at it because I loved it, not out of some feeling of duty or guilt. If it hadn’t worked for us I would have happily switched to bottles, in fact my husband has given both boys a bottle of formula at around 11pm each night to allow me to rest. I know, shock horror. Yet funnily enough all the scaremongering stories have yet to materialise. It didn’t give them breast:bottle confusion as every midwife swore it would, my milk supply didn’t dwindle and it kept me sane. Win-win.

So, the purpose of this long, rambling post is my current predicament: when to wean? Both boys were given solids from around six-months, whereas my eldest soon became supremely disinterested in the boob, favouring cottage pie and yoghurt over my own Gold Top, I am currently still nursing the 8mo every 4 hours or so. He eats well, sleeps 12 hours at night with just one feed, yet still breast feeds with such enthusiasm I can’t see him weaning any time soon. I’m in no rush, and I’m very fortunate that I can work from home around his feeds, so I figured I’d just leave it to happen naturally.

But in the last two months I’ve noticed my continued feeding has garnered some startling questions: ‘Isn’t he eating food by now?’, ‘Isn’t he too old to be doing that?’, ‘Haven’t you done that for long enough now?’, ‘he’s got teeth!!!!!’… yup. If you thought there wasn’t enough breastfeeding support for new mums, I can attest there is even less for extended breastfeeding… I can safely say I won’t be picking him up from school and shoving my boob in his gob, I figure as he gets more independent and active he will gradually become less bothered about it, but I’d love to hear from other bfing mums as to when they weaned? Did you experience any post-weaning depression? Do you feel it was the right length of time for you and your baby? Let me know!

A new tattoo

Aged 19, I downed a triple Jack Daniels and walked into the first tattoo parlour I came across in Camden Market one busy Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t as much of a whim as it may appear; I had been doodling tattoos on my jotter since the tender age of 12, but waited until I was 200 miles or so away from my parents to pluck up the courage to have it inked on my body. Needless to say they were horrified (my father in fact rang a lazer removal company for a quote).

So as I lay on the tattoo bench for the second time earlier this month, I couldn’t help wondering what my daddy would think of his baby daughter’s latest etching…

2016-05-04 12.33.28Not least because it’s a tribute to him. My daddy was born and died on the 24th. The heartbreaking symmetry immediately struck a chord with me and planted the seed for this latest inking almost immediate after his death in 2013.

It took me a while to find the right font, I wanted something reminiscent of his own handwriting, and finally settled for this relaxed, loopy script.

It’s on my left ribs (he was left handed and it’s near my heart) and let me tell you readers. IT BLOODY HURT. This from a woman who lives with chronic back pain (I have mild spina bifida), has endured two 36-hour labours and two emergency c-sections… it BURNED. More than that, as the needle jack-hammered against my rib bones it made me feel sick. Luckily, it isn’t massive (props to my husband who sits for 4-5 hour sessions on his full back-piece and sleeve designs), so took 25-mins, max. More than that and I might have had to stop at ‘twenty’.

Much like childbirth, the second it was done the pain was forgotten and I was already planning my next tat… suffice to say, I’m hooked. Sorry Daddy.


A new Countryfille chapter….

Who knew back in 2011 when I launched Countryfille that the name would become so apt? I originally launched the website to chart our move from hardened city dwellers (I was a magazine editor in London, whilst my husband was the fourth generation to run his family’s ice cream empire in Chalk Farm), to country bumpkins. As my nesting instinct kicked in, 7 months pregnant with Countrybebe, I yearned to revert to type and escape to my family home town by the sea in Devon. Whilst I want the rosy-cheeked, muddy, feral childhood I had enjoyed for my own offspring, I wasn’t quite prepared to shake off my love of the city lifestyle and go full-on ‘welly brigade’. So I spent the next few years recreating all my favourite city pastimes in my new, rural surroundings, proving you can have the best of both worlds.

Fast forward 5 years and my French moniker is finally coming into its own, as we embark on our next chapter…. THIS

2015-05-28 11.16.44-1

Yup. When life gives you lemons, buy an 11-bedroom French manoir… isn’t that how the saying goes?

I completely believe that some of life’s biggest decisions are the easiest – and deciding to take on this most handsome of houses in the rural Charente region was one of them. It is a collaborative effort with my husband’s parents and we are still in the early stages of ‘what the hell are we doing?’, but as I begin to blog again expect plenty of posts from across the channel. Not only will I be charting the renovations and my new found love of brocantes (think posh car boot sales), but my French pharmacy beauty hauls (once a beauty editor and all that….) plus a fair amount of food. Is there anything better than a French supermarche? Non.

On that note, I’ve been struggling with how to move forward with the blog – how do I go back to banging on about lippies and home decor when my life is so intrinsically changed with the loss of my parents. Whilst I don’t want this blog to become a ‘grief 101’ manual, I’ve figured I’m just going to keep it honest and open, yes there will be all the fluffy bits, but I guess like real-life, there will be some harder bits too.

Now I’m back in the swing of things I’d love to hear from you in comments, or emails to

CF x

P.s I’ve also decided to keep all my old posts live too, for new readers I guess it’s a bit of a back story into ‘me’ and the story thus far…


I’m back!

Long time no see huh?

Where to begin…. I’ve been umming and ahhing about how to ‘relaunch’ Countryfille. But before I move forward, I can’t launch back into waffling posts on make-up and my favourite cake recipe without detailing my near 2-year hiatus, so let me fill you in…

Since my last post we have been through the best of times and the worst of times… to summarise: we lost my mum to stage 4 Ovarian cancer last summer, just a short 7 weeks before CountryBebe #2 made an appearance. In the last six months I can safely say almost every emotion on the spectrum has been covered: grief, anger, loss, acute joy, determination and my current status? Hope. Hope that the last three years are a chapter I can now move on from; battle-weary, inherently changed, but determined not to be defined by the horrors I have witnessed. It’s all too easy to get ‘stuck’ in the dark cloak of grief, to wallow under its heavy burden. Until that is, something or someone jolts you out of it…

I distinctly remember the moment, sitting on the sofa holding my 4 day old son, Raffaele Francesco Mansi, and feeling a stutter. Like an old piece of machinery spluttering into life, a flicker of happiness jolted to life in my chest. An emotion so alien to me after nearly two years of caring for, losing and grieving for my parents, it made me realise how long it had truly been since I had felt it. Too long. An emotion that was a daily norm ‘before’ had now become so foreign to me that when I did feel it, I almost didn’t know how to react – guilt? Was I allowed to be happy when both my parents were dead? Confusion? Can you be happy and still sad at the same time?

Gah. Who knows. I certainly still haven’t figured it all out yet. Maybe I never will. All I know is that those happy milestones – birthdays, first steps, school awards – they all now come with a bitter sweet edge. Yes, I wish my parents were here to witness all that life with two brilliant little boys brings, but more than anything I’ve realised I AM HERE to witness them – and it’s about time I started making the most of that.

So, like a neglected muscle, I’ve spent the last 7 months ‘flexing my happiness’. Taking time out with my two boys to slow down, watch the Disney movies on the sofa under a duvet, get muddy in the woods and sit on the beach contemplating our next chapter.

More on that tomorrow… Until then, here are a few snaps (indulge me…)

raffy France Jan 2016Mr. Raffaele Francesco Mansi, aged 5 months

2015-12-22 09.43.13The original Countrybebe, who has turned from my pudgy, sweet little toddler into a hilarious, too wise for his years, 4.5 yo. The grief of the last 2 years hasn’t past him by… he is more anxious than any little boy should be, but we are working on that. In the meantime, Lego and Thomas the Tank Engine continue to rock his world.

2015-09-20 14.57.07-1Two sons! It still feels like rubbing your tummy whilst patting your head, slightly drunk and with your eyes closed – but I’m slowly getting the hang of it!

Another pause

2013-06-26 19.59.44This time last year I wrote a post that broke my heart – in short, we lost my beloved, brilliant Daddy with the shortest of periods to say goodbye.

Fast forward just 12 short months and with senseless symmetry we are faced with the same Big C battle once again. This time with my elegant, loving mummy. Same disease, same shitty prospects.

So, forgive my silence – our lives are a whirlwind of airless consultation rooms, chemo schedules, medication juggling and most importantly TIME with our mummy. While my faith in ‘fairness, justice and LIFE’ is at an all-time low, my wonderment at the BRILLIANCE of the chemo nurses and hospice team is renewed. Being looked after by them once in a lifetime had me convinced that they are saints, twice and I know they are angels.

I will be back, I promise. Needless to say with another mark upon my heart, but back.

Bear with me,

CF x

February Challenge: Go supermarket free all month

So, I’ve been toying with this idea for a while. Since moving to the country we have been buying more and more of our food from independent shops – bread from the bakery, meat from the butchers, fish from the fishmongers, cheese from the erm… cheese shop… not out of some token, on-trend nod to ‘live local’ but because we’ve come to appreciate the fact that we can happily (and affordably!) live off food that is grown and reared around us in Devon.

When we lived in London we would shop at our local farmer’s market at the weekends, but not as a viable ‘weekly shop’ – but in the country it’s just the norm to buy direct from the producer. You buy your fish from the fisherman, 100 yards from the boat he caught it in; the butcher will have blood under his nails and a great little recipe idea for that shin of beef… I love it and it’s what I want for Country Bebe. He adores going to the bakery and watching the baker put the bread in the oven. I want him to know that is where bread comes from – not off the shelves at Waitrose, wrapped in plastic.

So, this month, the plan is to not step foot inside a major supermarket once. It’s not going to be that hard as we are 15 minutes from the AMAZING Greendale Farm Shop, which has a butchers, fishmongers, cheese/deli counter and fully stocked grocers, all under one roof. Oh, and there are also tractors to ride on, which pleases one particular member of the Countryfille team A LOT.

2014-01-19 12.22.44I did a ‘dummy run’ last week, and so far so good. Between there and the amazing independent health food store we have in town, I’m all set.

2014-01-21 11.22.32

2014-01-13 17.18.11I’m hoping it will make us much more aware of the food we ‘need’, as opposed to simply grazing up and down the supermarket aisles, flinging yummy looking things into the basket with gay abandon. It also means there is no danger of being sucked into the marketing evils of ‘buy one, get one free’ – why are those offers always on chocolate bars, never on bags of kale?

We do already get a weekly order of fruit and veg from Abel & Cole, and have done for the last 8 years; I order our Ecover cleaning products through them too.

There will inevitably be the odd Boots trip for nappies etc, but I’m hoping that will be it!

I’ll be posting throughout the month on Instagram, with shopping hauls, recipes and new brands I’ve discover under the hashtag #supermarketfree – wish me luck!



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