CF Family: 5 tips for surviving the first year of school

This mothering lark is hard. Who knew? Obviously the newborn stage is tough, I grant you. However, even when you’re getting 10-hours sleep a night and your offspring can wipe their own arses, I wasn’t quite prepared for how hard the ‘starting school’ stage would be, for both of us.

me and Dante June 2017This might be a timely post for readers waving their littlies off to school in September. Gird your loins, people. The eldest, Dante, had been at nursery for 3 years, so I presumed moving next door into the big school with all his friends wouldn’t be too much of a biggie. Wrong. It has been a MASSIVE learning curve, both for his little brain (he can read! he can write!), but more than that, he is now learning about the big. wide. world, he is part of the school community and working out his place in the pecking order of playground politics (don’t get me started on Pokemon cards…). It’s hard.

Don’t get me wrong, he is at an AMAZING school where he is truely thriving and he adores both his class mates and his teacher – I just think they are learning SO much amazing stuff and they are constantly being stimulated and inspired that their brains are constantly firing and it’s hard to switch off. We had a bit of burn-out in the first term where he got sick a lot and in hindsight I don’t think he was getting enough down-time to let his brain switch off. So, we are now trying these little tweaks to our home life to help him navigate his school life better:

1/ We have a few mantras, mini pep-talks in the car on the way to school to set a positive tone for his day. Some my mum used to say to me and some are our own. ‘Be honest and kind’. These are the only two things we ask Dante to be. I think for a 5 year old, simplicity is best. He knows that as long as he tells the truth he will never get into trouble and being kind is fundamental to everything else he will learn to be at school. Kind to his classmates, friends, teachers and to himself. ‘If something is hard, try harder’ – this is a BIG one for him, maybe it’s his nature, or maybe it’s his age, but if he feels he’s not very good at something, or is finding something a challenge, he tends to get frustrated and give up quickly. Trying to instil in him the fact that we all have to do things in life we find a challenge I think is important, but also showing him that succeeding in something we find hard is actually all the more rewarding.

2/ Making our home a sanctuary. This is something I read about on Cup of Jo aaaaages ago and it stuck with me. The idea of when they walk through the front door and kick off their shoes they can unwind and feel revived is so simple but so key to balancing out the pace of school life. Whether it’s hot chocolates, onesies and a bit of trash telly in the winter, or ice lollies and the paddling pool with his brother for an hour in the summer. Before we get into the dinner, bath, bed routine I always make sure he has some down-time to unwind.

3/ Make the most of the weekends. Before he started school I feel like we had all the time in the world, now in those 48-hours we have at the end of the week, I try to make sure we are focused on being together as a family. It’s so easy as working parents to spend the weekends catching up with jobs at home, getting the chores done ready for the week ahead, but we are trying to carve out time to actually just BE. Whether it’s just a leisurely pancake breakfast (Dante’s favourite), a bike ride, beach trip or even hopping over to Italy for the weekend to see his beloved Zia Maria, I want him to feel like life isn’t just about school, he has a ‘home life’, too.

4/ Do a bedtime brain dump. When you’ve spent the whole day learning about how rubbish and plastics are killing the ocean’s wildlife, that can kind of stick with you if you’re a sensitive 5 year old. Bathtime seems to be the key time, once he’s unravelled from his day, where he wants to process the stuff he’s learnt or has stuck with him through the day (how do snail’s shells stick on? Why do whales have noses on their heads? Why didn’t X want to play with me at lunchtime today? I’m worried I’m going to come last on Sports Day…). Just like I try and write down any ‘to-do lists’ or worries from the day before I sleep, it’s a bit of time for him to off-load and I think he’s sleeping all the more soundly for it.

5/ The great mystery of what they had for lunch. So, I’ve polled approx. 30 parents and not ONE of their offspring can answer the question: ‘So, what did you have for lunch at school today?’. Similarly, if I ask Dante what he’s been doing at school he will usually reply: ‘I can’t remember’. Which at the start of the year INFURIATED ME. I’d look at his timetable and he’d have had a day packed with science, PE, art, Spanish…. and NADA had sunk in. It wasn’t even so much that I was worrying that he wasn’t learning anything but more that I had missed him for the previous 8 hours and wanted to know what he’d been up to! Over dinner, we now try and ask him more leading questions to spark his memory:

‘Tell me something amazing you did today’
‘Who did you play with at break time today’
‘Did anything funny happen in class today?’
‘What book is Miss H reading to you at the moment?’
‘What was your least favourite part of your day?’
‘Tell me something that you bet I don’t know?’ (this is always a winner, he is such a fact-lover!)
‘What are you looking forward to about tomorrow?’

Obviously we don’t bombard him with questions! Usually it only takes one or two to get the ball rolling and he’s off on a tangent.

Trust me, we do NOT have this parenting thing sussed, by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve seen all of these things really help Dante settle and grow in his first year at school… let me know how you get on!

CF Review: Quinny Zapp travel buggy

I put a little shout out on Instagram last month for this buggy as my first impressions were pretty good. I picked it up on a pre-loved site because while our day-to-day buggy, the Britax B-Motion 3, is completely brilliant, sturdy and a total workhorse (I honestly can’t recommend this buggy enough) – it is a behemoth, super heavy and not great for travelling.

Quinny Zapp
Quinny Zapp

We nipped over the Naples last weekend (read my guide to ‘Naples with kids’ from last year here) and I knew from taking the Britax last year I wanted something that would cope with the cobbled, uneven city streets, be easy to hop on and off public transport and super lightweight. The Quinny didn’t miss a beat.

Okay, in short:

Pros: It’s a simple 3-step umbrella style closure and it closes up REALLY small (27″ x 10″ x 11″) and weighs a featherweight 7.5kg (the Britax weighs a hefty 11kg). Great for small car boots, overhead lockers – or grandparents who don’t want a massive, whielding bit of kit to hump around.

Although the wheels are solid moulded ones, rather than proper air-filled tyres like the Britax, they took the nightmare Naples streets in their stride.

The 3-wheel formation was a breeze to steer.

Cons: We found it tipped back alarmingly easily. If the 2-year old (who only weighs 11kg) threw himself back hard in a strop it flung the buggy backwards. Not ideal. Obviously if your toddler is better behaved than mine (not hard), you can over-look this first point.

It’s quite short. I’m 5’10 and I found myself hunching a bit. I definitely wouldn’t recommend for over 6fters.

The shopping basket is tiny. And the sun visor too short to offer any real protection.

The back doesn’t have the option to lie-flat. So no chance of a quick nap. That said, in the middle of Naples, naps aren’t really likely, and the nosey 2-year old loved his upright vantage point. EDIT: The new generation Zapp Xtra 2 *does* have lie-back options, and you can switch the seat around from forward to rear facing.

Verdict: It’s not the perfect buggy and if I had to use it everyday it wouldn’t be practical (not sturdy enough, not enough storage, not good off-road), but if you’re looking for a super light-weight holiday/travel buggy, it’s a winner.

Quinny Zapp range from £195

Read my review of ‘Top 5 travel kit for kids’ here

CF Travels: Top 5 travel essentials for kids

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

After travelling a dozen times to France in the last 18 months, plus last week’s jaunt to Italy and various UK staycations with the 4yo and 10mo in tow, I feel pretty qualified to impart my top bits of kit for travel with under 5s. For what it’s worth. None of these are sponsored and we own and love them all:


Snooze shade £24.99, www.snoozeshade.comSnoozeshadeThe 10mo is a stickler for routine, he likes his daytime naps and on holiday when it’s impractical to keep nipping back to our base so he can nap in his cot, this is a godsend. It keeps him shaded from the sun/wind/rain and gets things nice and dark. It’s universal and pops over pretty much any buggy. Imagine a sheet over a parrot’s cage. It’s a bit like that.

Travel blackout blind, GroAnywhere, £24.99,
gro anywhere travel blackout blindThe only stipulation my two have for a good night’s sleep is a room that’s darker than Lord Voldermort’s soul. It literally has to be ‘can’t see your hand in front of your face’ black. Which is fine at home with their industrial strength black-out blinds, not so easy in European high summer where it doesn’t get dark till 10pm. This travel black-out blind folds down to nothing and converts any window into a blackhole. Literally not a chink of light. Genius.

Travel highchair, £4.99,

gro bag chair harnessThis was a last minute purchase for Italy last week, how did I live without it?! It come in a teeny weeny bag that pops into my handbag or under the buggy and unfurls to reveal a slightly complicated to get your head around, yet non-the-less brilliant chair harness that converts pretty much ANY chair into a safe highchair for babies 6-30months. Just watch the assembly video before you go.

Britax Baby-Safe Sleeper,

baby-safe-sleeper_blackthunder_02_br_2014_rt_72dpi_2000x2000We did the 15-hour journey to France when our youngest was 5-weeks. And have been doing it every 6 weeks since. I know. We must really love our new house. Recommendations are that babies under 6 months don’t sit all hunched up in their car seats for long journeys. Their spine doth protest. This lay-flat car seat from Britax is FAB. I was sceptical as self-titled ‘Captain Safety-Conscious’, but once fitted it is literally super-glued to the back seat and they have a three-point safety harness inside. It’s not compatiable in all cars and takes up pretty much all the back seat, but he was so snug and comfy and it clipped straight onto our Britax B-Agile 3 buggy base too, so we could whip him in and out the car with ease. Best bit of kit we’ve invested in so far. Our offspring are vertically challenged (seriously, on the 2nd percentile), but longer babies might not fit in this for the full 6 months. He was touching the bottom by 4. EDIT: Shit, I’ve just seen this item has been ‘retired’ by Britax. It’s still available from other online retailers, SNAP ONE UP WHILE YOU STILL CAN!

Baby Bjorn travel crib light, £199,

easy-to-store-carry-and-stow-in-any-baggage-space-travel-crib-light-babybjorn-739x1024I won’t have a bad word said against this travel cot. Yes, cheaper travel cots are available, but I defy you to find one with a comfier, thicker mattress, nor one you can set up one-handed while holding a sleeping baby. I rest my case. This still looks like new and our 4yo slept in it almost weekly till he was 2.5yo. It’s roomy, but folds into a neat travel case that wears a mere 6kg. That’s less than my cat. For us it doubles as a playpen during the day on hols and you can unzip it all from the sturdy steel frame when they projectile vomit at 2am. Bonus.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know your tried and tested travel essentials!

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!

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!



NEW/// city vs. country swaps

In the next few days/weeks you’ll see a new section of the website emerging: City vs. Country Swaps – and I’m pretty excited about it.

The whole inspiration behind when I launched it in 2011, was to provide ex-urbanites, like me – or just country-dwelling cityphiles – with a space that would tick all their boxes. A place for the style conscious to get their city fixes, while living their new rural lives. Yes, they have forsaken their black cab habit for a battered old 4X4 and their Hunters are getting more mud action than a wet year at Glasto, but they still want to stay chic, current and ‘in touch’ with the latest beauty, fashion, food and style trends – just outside the M25, thank you very much. Blogs about ironic vintage pop-ups in Dalston don’t really seem relevant anymore (did they ever?!) but equally, a site dedicated to ‘Cath Kidston and chicken rearing’ isn’t really their bag either.

Forget the work:life balance, more and more of us are trying to strike a balance between ‘city living and country life’. Thankfully, we no longer have to live in the city to appreciate it’s virtues. It’s about ditching the city niggles – namely exorbitant rent/mortgage, sweaty commutes and general Lack. Of. Space – while keeping the good bits. Namely the shopping and eating opportunities. This is the digital age. is all about making the most of the city, just remotely. So, shopping at your favourite department stores and boutiques online (Matches, Selfridges, Liberty) and taking inspiration from your favourite brunch spot’s online menu (Bill’s, 202, Colbert, Cecconi’s) and recreating it at home – without the hour-long wait for a table, or the pushy waiter.

Perhaps no-one will see us walking the dog through the woods in the morning (a squirrel doesn’t count) but wearing the latest ‘perfect red’ Tom Ford lippie makes us HAPPY. Ditto picking up those niche French pharmacy brands we love at a snip online, or watching a ‘how-to’ video and mastering Cara-worthy brows without a threading technician in sight.  Yes we miss a mooch around Space NK but rustling up our own organic rose body scrub to rival Bamford is pretty cool, too.

This has been the balance that I have spent the last couple of years perfecting. Yes I still indulge in the Selfridges sale, just from the comfort of my armchair. Am I still addicted to sushi? Hell yes. I’ve just learnt to roll a mean maki. The new section of will share with you more of my ideas for simple city vs. country swaps like these.

Stay tuned!

CF x

Introducing Country Fille…

Country Fille, Lydia Mansi, is a simple girl at heart. She left her seaside home of Sidmouth in Devon with salt in her hair and headed to Goldsmiths College, London. Here, she learnt her trade as a wordsmith, waitressed in a cocktail bar and had one too many a-symmetrical haircuts, truth be told.

At 21, via a brief job as a suited and booted finance bod in the city (it’s a mystery to her too), she ended up at the publishing house, Archant Life. Here, she cut her teeth in every department, all the while charming the pants off the editors and taking whatever commission she could; from sourcing 10 pairs of ice tongs at 9pm in Chelsea, to reviewing a vegetarian Indian restaurant in North Finchley. Finally it paid off and her first bonafide editorial role came as assistant on Grove magazine, the glossy local magazine for Notting Hill, which is where she lived in a basement studio flat, nicknamed The Hutch.

Through her journalistic endeavours around Westbourne Grove she soon discovered the joys of Portuguese custard tarts from Lisboa on Golborne Road, countered by a class at Beautcamp Pilates; nights out at Harlem (RIP) and mornings after sweating it out at The Porchester Spa… in short, she had fallen in love with inspiring readers to love where they lived.

Soon her wanderings took her south of Hyde Park, where she was immediately seduced by the glamour of the Royal Borough. An assistant editor’s role soon beckoned on The Resident, the publishing houses’ flagship title and, to those in the know, a ‘local Tatler’ for Kensington & Chelsea.

After three years of flits to exotic climes, champagne suppers in a constellation of Michelin-starred restaurants and the demise of more than a couple of credit cards on the King’s Road she upped sticks again, hotfooting it across Green Park to Mayfair, to help launch The Mayfair Resident.

Falling in love with Claridges, Heywood Hill bookshop, Burlington Arcade and Fortnum & Mason is easy for a girl to do. As is falling in love with a handsome Italian, which she did, and became his wife.

At the dawn of a new decade, editorship of NorthWest finally felt like coming home; and indeed, geographically it was, as she now lived in Kensal Rise with her very own husband and a trio of kittens. From here she could sate her country whims with stomps across Hampstead Heath and Sunday jaunts to farmers’ markets for muddy carrots.

Then, as the big 3-0 beckoned, her next challenge arrived via the cabbage patch, Country Bebe – the newest member of the Mansi brood. So, she put aside her editor’s hat (for now) and took up the mantel of motherhood – launching this website to keep the editorial cobwebs at bay and to celebrate her simple heart’s two loves: city living and country life.

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