Chickenpox 101 – tips for surviving chickenpox in children


So the pox is upon us. What’s weird is we thought we’d escaped it. There was an outbreak at school before half term, but it took the 5yo a full 10 days to break out. And break out he did (sorry for the generic pic but taking snaps of him when he’s ill for blogging purposes didn’t feel right). He went from one tiny armpit pimple (that we put down to a mozzie bite from Naples last weekend), to smothered in 5 hours – in his ears, hair, mouth…. every nook and cranny.

I have learnt a lot of pox-related dos and don’ts in the last week, so thought it was worth sharing a quick list*:

  • DO NOT give ibuprofen of any sort. It can make those carrying the chickenpox vaccine seriously ill. Stick to Calpol/paracetamol if they’ve got a fever.
  • Do keep them cool. It really reduces the itch factor.
  • Calamine lotion is fab for dabbing topically on the spots. It really helps with the scratching. The Aqueous version is better as it’s not so drying for their skin.
  • Try and teach them to pat rather than scratch if they’re itchy. Easier when they’re older, hard for littlies.
  • Piriton liquid has worked wonders at night to stop him scratching like a flea-riddled dog. However it knocks him straight out! So we’ve been keeping that for nighttime.
  • We have been popping the 5yo in a lukewarm bath a couple of times a day. We’ve been recommended to add the following by a homeopath and we’ve seen a MASSIVE difference in his comfort levels:

1/ Fill a cotton sock with oats (standard porridge type is fine) and hang it off the tap under warm running water. The oats are really soothing to the inflammed skin.

2/ Add a tablespoon of Sodium Bicarbonate and dissolve in the water. This is good for drying up the spots and keeping them clean and clear from infection.

3/ We’ve added 2 drops of tea tree and 2 drops of lavender essential oils to the bath for their antiseptic, healing and soothing qualities.

Now we just need to wait for the 2yo to start breaking out…

* It may seem a ridiculous disclaimer to have to point out, but I’m not a doctor. If you’re worried about your own child’s symptoms, that’s what the glorious NHS is for. Give your doc a call. These tips are working for us and our 5yo. They may do naff all for yours, or they may just save your sanity. Let me know!



Grief – what does it feel like?

Well, my plan to revive the blog went well didn’t it?! 12 months of nada. What can I say, life happened. I feel sporadically guilty that I should be sharing said life, but then well, life happens again. And I don’t.

Our hectic life is still happily nomadic; countrybebe is now a strapping 5yo, ensconced in school and his 21mo baby brother is a walking/talking whirlwind. We are still flitting back and forward to France every 6 weeks and plan to spend 2 months there this summer getting the next traunch of renovations done (I will update you – I promise!).

So, what’s prompted the reprive? Next week is 2 years since we lost my mummy and it’s got me thinking about the ever-shifting feeling, intensity and emotion that is grief. Then I read this and it summed it up so eloquently. Left simply as a comment on a bereavement post by ‘oldguy’:

what grief feels like

I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not.

I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents…

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. But I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it.

Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.

As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

How amazing is that? When my parents first died I used to want to scream when people would say ‘time’s a healer’, or ‘the pain will lessen with time’. Part of you never wants to feel ‘less’, because that lessening signals a letting go, or an exceptance of something that will never be ‘ok’. However, a few years down the line I get it. I am still routinely floored by their loss, but it *does* come in waves rather than a constant battering. I do live my life in between those waves and I am definitely learning to weather the storm.

I know grief is really hard to articulate and can feel so internal and private, but if you want to share any comments below, or any other passages that helped you come to terms with grief, I’d love to hear them.

she-stood-in-the-stormCF x

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!



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!

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

CF Family: baby names and following on traditions

It occurred to me when discussing baby names with one particularly pregnant friend last week, that the OH and I missed out on all that with Country Bebe. I loved hearing how she and her husband had pooled their ideas and researched the meaning of names and their heritage, then narrowed it down one by one…

When I was pregnant with Country Bebe, we had quite a few early scans for various reasons, so found out he was a he, pretty early on. It was always a given that if we were to have a son, we would follow on the Southern Italian tradition from my husband’s side, of naming your first born son after your father. So, as we stood outside St Marys Hospital in Paddington clutching our grainy scans giddy with excitement, there staring back at us was Dante Marco Mansi. Dante after my husband’s father and Marco after my own daddy, Mark.

I guess we were SUPER lucky that we had a good name to inherit (thanks Nonna). If it had been awful I don’t think I would have been so willing to carry on the tradition. We managed to keep everyone guessing as to whether we were going to call him Dante until he arrived, which was lovely as we got to introduce Dante to Dante, face to face.

Here in deepest, darkest Devon you don’t find many Dantes. But I kinda like that. As a kid growing up, I never clapped eyes on another Lydia. In fact, I think it took moving to London before I managed it. I had a fierce pride in ‘owning’ my name, the fact I was the only one around – unlike the hoardes of Emilys and Lauras in my class – and I hope Dante feels the same way, too. It always surprises me when people comment on how ‘out there’ it is for a name, or how ‘unusual’ it is. Because it is so engrained in our family, I never bat an eyelid.

Although, unlike a lot of parents, we didn’t wait to meet our baby before seeing if our chosen name suited him, I really do think he couldn’t be more of a Dante. In Italian, it means ‘enduring’, which I love. He is such a quiet, stoic, sensitive old soul.

I’d love to hear how you chose your baby’s name? Or how you got your name? My mum chose my sister Francesca’s name because it was the character in a book she was reading when my sister was born! Do you know of anyone that hates their name so much they’ve changed it?! Let me know!

CF x


CF Family: Lily’s Kitchen cat nibbles and treats

I’m not quite sure why it’s taken me so long to blog about these two guys but I’m about to rectify it with a blog post dedicated to them, as the lovely PR for Lily’s Kitchen has just sent them over a care package. More of which later, but at the risk of sounding like a ‘mad cat lady’, let me introduce you to the two other men in my life (yes, I have a house filled with testosterone):

First up, Guido. Our first adoptee from the incredible Mayhew Centre in West London.

He is all white and all deaf. Yep, profoundly deaf. He had been at the centre for a while when we catnapped him as no one wanted the burden of a disabled pet, but do you know what? It makes him the most BRILLIANT cat ever. He’s so relaxed and chilled out and, I’ll be honest, what with that white coat, a bit of a princess. You can take the dude out of West London but when it comes to ‘roughing it’ in the mud in rural Devon, Guido is not your man. He’d rather be curled up by the woodburner, gently toasting. Wouldn’t we all?

Next up is Graziano. The MONSTER cat.

This photo really doesn’t do his dimensions justice. He is a 6kg beast. We got him as a teeny, tiny kitten from the Mayhew 3 years ago and he just hasn’t stopped growing since. He’s not fat, but as our vet politely put it ‘a big boned lad’.

Hang on, I’ll go and dig out his ‘promo’ shot from the Mayhew…

I know, ridiculous isn’t he?

Perhaps due to being the size of a small dog, he isn’t the most nimble of chaps, in fact he’s rather accident prone and can usually be found lolloping around the veg patch trying (unsuccessfully) to catch butterflies.

So anyway, that’s the boys. And here’s their very special box of delights from Lily’s Kitchen:

Lily’s Kitchen is a brand I have a journalistic affinity with as I remember covering the launch of Lily’s Kitchen in Hampstead for NorthWest magazine 5 odd years ago. It’s always been a brand I’ve loved for our two, often buying them their individually portioned organic dinners as a treat. Interestingly, Henrietta was inspired to create a healthy, holistic pet food brand after her beloved border terrier, Lily, suffered itchy skin and ears that seemed to be exacerbated by processed dog foods. Starting from scratch, their all-natural recipes are made with raw, whole foods, including proper organic meats, vegetables and fish, as well as herbs that have been specially selected by a trained herbalist, to aid digestion, skin health, liver and kidney function and dental health.

To give you an idea, the ingredients list on the Merry Little Cat Treats (£2.99) includes: freshly prepared turkey (51%), potato, sweet potato, pea protein, potato protein, cranberries (4%), nutritional yeast, minerals, turkey fat, chicken gravy, salmon oil, linseed, fish stock, cheese powder, fructooligosaccharides (prebiotic FOS; min. 2,400mg/kg), seaweed, chickweed, milk thistle seed, cleavers, carrot flakes.

Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?!

Here’s Graz, inhaling a handful to prove their deliciousness:

To be honest, as taste testers go, Graz isn’t great. He’d eat roadkill given half the chance. Guido however, has a much more discerning palette and quite a delicate tummy, yet he has been equally enthusiastic about their new menu and interestingly, has had far fewer stomach upsets.

The full range of feline delights can be found here, and the doggy equivalent here.

They are stocked in Waitrose, Wholefoods and many independent pet shops and vets. Find your nearest stockist here.



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