CF Family: How often do you read to your kids?

FullSizeRenderAs a mother of two boys, some stats that pinged into my inbox today really struck a chord. In the UK, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) the largest disparity in gender performance in schools is reading. 29% of parents admitted to reading more to their daughters than their sons and 39% of fathers ‘never or rarely’ read to their children. Reasons given in the 900-strong survey of parents with children age 4-12 were that boys favoured screen-time over reading – yet the Department for Education and Skills scholastic report asserted that 83% of children love being read aloud to. Does this ring true in your house?

We have always done the bath, book, bed routine with both boys – or the ‘power hour’ as it’s known in our house. The 20mo, until a few months ago, had never been that interested in books, or being read to. He simply couldn’t stay still long enough for even the shortest of tales. However, I’ve noticed he’s started bringing me books during the day and curling up next to me expectedly which is pretty much the Cutest. Thing. Ever. We are reading A LOT of ‘Dear Zoo’ (so much so we have a ‘travel version’ too). Anything Thomas the Tank Engine related and of course, the universally loved by toddlers – ‘That’s not my…’ series.

The 5 year old on the other hand has ALWAYS been a bookworm. He is at his happiest curled up in bed with a book (ME TOO!). Fact books are a MASSIVE winner at the moment – sharks, volcanoes, space – he literally cannot read enough. This Usborne ‘General Knowledge’ flap-book is a-mazing. We still read aloud to him, but more and more, he is wanting to read by himself. He is rediscovering all the 100s of Julia Donaldson and Giles Andreae picture books under his own steam. As well as his current favourite: ‘Supertato’ (if you haven’t read them, do).

Watching him read for pleasure, off his own back and often to his brother (SWEET!) is so, so rewarding. Like all the hours spent at the library and reading aloud to him over the years have paid off.

That said, we are struggling at the moment to find bedtime stories for that 5-7 age range. I think he’s too young (and sensitive) for most Roald Dahl (we have done Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda) and Harry Potter, but too old for his well-thumbed library of picture books. Horrid Henry and Dirty Bertie have been winners and we’re just discovering Dick King Smith and a few Enid Blyton. Any other suggestions?

A summer in France… writing, renovation and relaxing

Reliving my childhood summers in France – renovating a manoir, writing and wrangling two under 5s

As a child, the day school broke up we would load up our 80s Volvo and head for the ferry ports. Hopping across ‘La Manche’ and down through France for summer in the Dordogne region – spending two months swimming in rivers, drinking watered down wine, gorging on soft fruits from the street markets and falling asleep to the sound of crickets… We would return on the eve of the autumn term, brown as berries with sun-bleached hair, freckly noses and a serious injection of vitamin D to see us through the winter. All my favourite childhood memories are wrapped up in those hazy, sun-drenched summer days and guess what?

photo 3Fast forward 30 years and yup, I’m in France. For a whole 8 weeks, by myself with the two boys (4 and 10 months). Gulp.

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

As a family, we bought this beauty last year as a place for the whole clan to convene for summers, en masse. The OH has had to stay in the UK for work so I am here principly to oversee the builders (as the only French speaker) and to forward plan the next phase of internal major works for winter.

Since buying the house we have been flitting back and forward, frantically slapping paint on the walls and trying to get the main rooms we use most frequently habitable and furnished. The house was far from derelict when we moved in – the double glazing had been done, central heating, wood burners, kitchen, bathroom etc – but there is still a mind-boggling ‘to do list’ to make this 3,000sqm behemoth the dream family home we know it can be.

Pool in progress! - Easter 2016
Pool in progress! – Easter 2016

With two under 5s in tow I’m not denting the ‘to do list’ at the rate I’d like, but as I finish projects I will post some before/afters and do a bit of a house and garden tour – everyone loves a nose round other people’s houses don’t they?!

The boys are astonishingly good at cracking on and entertaining themselves. The 4yo is train mad and has brought his whole set with him, so can be left engrossed for hours in fantasy worlds of landslides, derailments and cargo deliveries. The 10 month old just wants to be near me. Preferably clinging to my leg at all times, which makes painting and decorating a tad tricky, but it’s amazing how distracting a set of Tupperware and a noisy, flashing toy can be.

Throw into the mix a few writing projects I’ve taken on and it all feels a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time!

That said, I am ensuring that it’s not all work, work, work (or is that werk, werk, werk?) and the 4yo and I sneak off to the newly finished pool every lunchtime while the baby sleeps to splosh about for a couple of hours.

2016-07-15 14.50.57-1As all our initial budget has evaporated, with only a quarter of the rooms furnished, I am having to get pretty creative to make any progress with the remaining portion of the house. I’ve been trawling local junk shops, antiques markets and charity shops and found some incredible pieces – again, expect various posts over the summer charting my French interiors finds.

Copyright Countryfille 2016

It’s been 35 degrees and rising this week, which has been amazing – if not a little soporific! Mowing the 2 acres of lawns and orchards was a serious task with my little petrol push along mower!

2016-07-15 14.30.43We are heading to the beach at the weekend (we are approx. 90 mins from the Atlantic coast around Royan/La Rochelle) with friends and our steady stream of visitors (aka free labour) start arriving next week.

photo 1Until then, I hope you’re enjoying your summer! If you want more snaps from our French vacances you can follow me on Twitter for daily updates (@countryfille).

CF x



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!

CF Snapshot: the school under the bridge

As we are gearing up to Country Bebe starting nursery this autumn, with all the subsequent parental anguish of ‘our baby going off to nursery’ and worrying how he’ll cope with the transition… this article stopped me in my tracks. It’s a photo story from about a school founded under a bridge by Rajesh Kumar Sharma, for slum children in New Delhi so they can benefit from a free education. Their eager little faces and pride in their ‘school’ is a humbling thing…. perspective duly found:



CF Review: The Rosevine, near St Mawes, Cornwall

So we’re back. Three days at The Rosevine near St. Mawes in Cornwall and I feel like a new woman. One with sand between her toes, freckles on her nose and significantly lower stress levels.

From the moment we crunched onto the gravel drive (down a wild flower lined lane) and wandering into the cool, homely hallway of The Rosevine, I knew it was hotel love.

Past the jumble of buckets and spades by the door for guests to use (the Cornish equivalent to Hunter wellies) the layout was, principally, that of a large Georgian house. Albeit one with an owner of immaculate taste. A formal drawing room lay to the right, with the boutique hotel standard overstuffed sofas to sink into, roaring woodburner come autumn and a stack of glossies to while away a lazy afternoon with. Linked discreetly with the under 16s equivalent, equipped with TV, DVDS, games console and toy chest. The other side of the central hallway housed the informal reception desk, bar and restaurant. The vibe was New England, chic neutrals and laid back elegance. Rather than cliched seaside stripes, bunting and driftwood. An example of modern seaside living at its best.

Our room lay out the back on the ground floor, through a warren of corridors, beautifully decorated with vintage Cornwall posters and iconic restaurant menus, all on a backdrop of faded neutrals, a la Farrow & Ball.

I took a few shots from our family apartment to show you:

Huge French doors led directly out to the gardens, via our own private terrace and eating area, with views out over Gerrans Bay.

The double-height room was open plan and deliciously cool, even when outside was hovering around the 30 degree mark. The room was cleverly divided between our main sleeping area (with French antiques and Egyptian cotton linens) and the added bonus of a generous living, dining space…

…Complete with kitchenette. This was the deal-clincher for us. Having all the basics: fridge, microwave, toaster, kettle, dishwasher, sink – meant that we could be as self-sufficient as we wanted. Knocking up Country Bebe’s breakfast when he woke up, then lazily calling on the fantastic full-restaurant menu room service for ours (namely the full Cornish breakfast) later on. It meant we could drop in at local farm shops and bakeries on our travels and then knock up an easy lunch or impromptu snack, rather than relying on being slaves to a hotel kitchen’s opening times. Genius.

Another HUGE plus, which made the holiday for us, was having a separate twin room for Country Bebe to bunk down in. Not only did it mean that we could loll about on the terrace and enjoy a leisurely lunch while he napped during the day, but there was none of that creeping through an unfamiliar hotel room at night, stubbing your toe and then lying in deathly silence so as not to wake the baby sleeping at the foot of the bed. We sat on the terrace, chatted, nursed some whiskeys… you know, all the stuff you did before babies came along. The stuff that makes a holiday.

The Rosevine really gets kids. Our room came equipped with highchair, travel cot, baby monitor, bottle steriliser, nightlight, changing mat… all the things that make travelling with babies such a chore. It was brilliant. They’d even left Country Bebe a box of toys, which went down VERY well.

The vast hallway also made a great race track for expending some energy:

The only room I failed to get a shot of was the bathroom. Equally generous in size, the only downside was the rather ‘Georgian’ plumbing, with lots of gurgling, bangs and shuddering pipework. Although oodles of hot water and clean as a whistle, so no complaints really.

The brilliance of The Rosevine is that they leave the level of service you required entirely up to you. You could function almost self-sufficiently within the facilities in each room, or go 50:50 and get something from the ‘deli’ menu delivered to your room to reheat that evening (think family sized fish or cottage pie) to suit you. Or, make the most of their brilliant restaurant offering, which is what we did each night.

After the bedtime routine was done, and Country Bebe was safely off dreaming of sandcastles, we flicked on the monitor and sat drinking Dark & Stormys as the sun went down on the terrace. Basking in the early evening glow, and each others suntans.

The restaurant offers a very reasonable 2-course for £23 set menu, all carefully and locally sourced (they’d be mad not to in this neck of the woods) and we didn’t come across a duff dish in the two evenings we dined there. The duck burger was a particular hit, as was the fantastic home cured salmon and selection of local cheeses.

However, the culinary highlight came via room service: A Cornish afternoon tea:

God it was good… so good it deserves a close-up…

All in all, we loved it – can you tell?! If you want to go away for a holiday that *does* cater effortlessly for little ones, but is not a slave to them and allows for a proper grown-up holiday too, The Rosevine hits the nail on the head. We won’t holiday anywhere else in the UK as a family, again.

Up tomorrow: St. Mawes and the various beaches we combed… but that’s another post.

Details: We were fully paid up guest at The Rosevine, our apartment costs £310 a night, room only in September but there are MANY offers to take advantage of here. Or email them with your dates and see what they can do, which is what we did (

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