Saturday, September 27, 2014

So, our year of En famille

International sisters


You have to admit, if you have read through this blog, that the girls have had a wonderful year! As parents, definitely the 6 months here was our best time!

If you have a child that is really keen on doing this, and you have a big heart to treat another child as your own for 6 months, then definitely do this! You can find en famille by the website, or through facebook. Karina is the UK liaison, and she is very lovely.

My 10 top tips:

1. en famille have a lot of experience in this, so their advice is likely to be right, even if you might have done it slightly differently!

2. shower your exchange child with love and affection  [including physical hugs for physical children] - they need to know they are part of your family and not a guest! This offsets when you have to reprimand - just as with the kids you have had all their life. The love and affection we gave FrB was reflected back, and made the exchange so much more wonderful, and a joy to do. [tho she always hated being told off!]

3. your rules apply, you might need to be a bit more explicit though than usual in how you ask. I realised that I usually make suggestions, that my children know means there is an expectation. I needed to be very clearly instructing with FrB -' would you like to empty the dishwasher' in my head is an instruction, in hers it gave the option of no! By the end of the exchange she was starting to understand that in the uk, many grown ups would ask her in a way that though she could think there was an option, they were expecting compliance! equal chores too!

4. yep, you will need to spend money - you can't do the 'just 6 months' mentality - so if you have boogie boards or scooters or bikes etc for your 2 current kids, and are going to use them, then you need another one - begged, borrowed, bought. 3 ds consoles [reconditioned, ebay etc] etc, 3 equally valued children. Also all 3 busy at clubs and groups, all 3 having new clothes as needed. While they are with you, they are yours. They are young, and they will measure value in equality terms. Get your wider family to buy into this too. Our parents were very good at giving the same presents for xmas and birthday, and the same money presents for holidays etc. FrB was noticeably appreciative of this.

5. think what you would really like to achieve for your exchange child and focus on achieving that. your own child should be having that focus on their international bit of the exchange. Honestly, you really want to give this your best shot. It isn't about getting something good for your child - that is definately going to happen, it is about beginning well a long term relationship with another child and another family. [see our planning for FrB post]

6. pre-discuss kids money with the exchange parents if you are planning on giving your child some to take. It was quite difficult that FrB came with an amount of money our kids don't ever see. We managed this - mostly! En famille recommend only a minimal amount to go out to be potentially towards gifts. As hosts, you are expected to give each child the same money if you do pocket money, holiday money etc. [so one having loads more does rock the boat]

7. take photos. ideally send some  weekly to your exchange parents. It will make a big difference to lots of them :) . [emails from smartphones are easy] A blog, or a shared photo online album - think flickr - also can make the world of difference to parents missing their children. I missed SB like a hole through my heart, and I think regular photos with or without words would have made a big difference. I know not all families are so photo mad, but even if you are not, try the regular photo update! You will be grateful when you are left behind!

8. discuss with exchange parents what things your child really wants to continue - these should be minimal and not a huge financial drain!  your child will hopefully do the clubs and groups of her exchange sister. So for us, SB continued clarinet in france, and FrB oboe in England. SB did theatre and climbing and scouts in France, and FrB did judo, ballet and guides in the UK.

9. any problems, either when your child abroad, or you have your international child, speak to en famille early to help get this sorted! Fabienne was very helpful when SB had severe homesickness and wondered whether it was right for her at the beginning of the exchange. They recommend that they do all the sorting.

10. and, above all else, enjoy. Do this with love and enthusiasm.

le grand depart

FrB's parents came to pick up FrB. No week 25, as the scouts in France have a wonderful camping week in the ardeche, so FrB is going home a week early to get reintegrated into french life. I am not sure what FrB was thinking at this point, as it was clear she was really sad to be leaving, but pleased to see her parents. What an emotional muddle.
 FrB and I made the dinner she had chose and pudding - chilli sausage hotpot and then a cream tea afterwards! [i know, slightly weird!] and we chatted in the evening. in the morning they got crumpets for breakfast - which I think they thought a bit weird too!!! but FrB loves them. and finally, after some goodbye photos, they left and caught the train home. so there we go, our years en famille adventure is finished, and it feels kinda weird too! but i hope that we have made a connection that the girls can keep, and certianly have a planned swap of holidays next year.
and to celebrate, DH has fixed flickr widget! [ I will be going back and putting photos into bare posts!]

Here we all are together one last time!

last 24 hours FrB
so, a beginning and end shot
9673521754_181702a4f4_blast 24 hours FrB

As they would say, sisters forever!

England - week 24 - holiday in mudeford [bournemouth]

so, to change the mood around, we set off on holiday to mudeford, shared with my parents and my nephew and niece. we were staying at sandhills which is right on the beach. It is a place with memories. my sister and i had holidays with my parents in mudeford as children, and also with nanny and grandad at highcliffe. Then, soon after my sister's diagnosis of breast cancer we all went to sandhills for a holiday. so there is a soothing time element, of feeling us all there.
the day we arrived was M's birthday - he is now 14! - and loved his presents, giggled madly over the plastic giraffe from BB!! and loved his party tea and cake, and us all making a fuss of him. amongst the presents, we also bought him minecraft, and since the holiday, he has played it nearly non stop! so that was a good present :) . the kids had a lovely holiday together, and get on very well.
we had a timetable for most days - brekkie, swimming in the pool, lunch, beach and then crabbing/kiting/games. we did have 2 excursions - one to highcliffe castle which I am fairly certain we visited in 1977! and once to hurst castle . Both were good trips. highcliffe as interesting, some clothes to try on for FrB, which she loves! and a great cafe - I had a cream tea = yummy. DH and the 2 big girls walked back to the camspite along the beach. Hurst was bigger and more to do. the ferry ride there and back is lovely, and the tudor defence is interesting to walk round, and we could see the similarity with deal in kent. The modern bit also houses a rather lovely bijou lighthouse museum. Again a cafe, and lunch this time! afterwards we walked to the lighthouse and looked at all the yachts for cowes week.
otherwise we mostly swam in the pool, visited the beach and on the last day the tide was really out, so it felt you could walk to the isles of wight! we also ferried across the spit and tried out the beach on the other side - which was nicer ;) DH left his phone on the ferry, but thankfully it was still there. A fair bit of scootering and games playing. not so much crafting as the weather was so fabulous. [v lucky :) ] mostly all was lovely. some up and down kids moments - to be expected! - but mostly managed ;) .
on the last evening we went out for a meal at the restaurant on the beach and really loved it. the kids were well behaved, and ate well, and the atmosphere was nice. it rained a complete downpour as we walked home tho! the big 2 took lots of selfies, as it was the last day of FrB being ours. big deep breath.
thankyou all for a lovely holiday.

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England - week 23

The theme of this week has been goodbye. Having lost grandad, his funeral was on Friday. We are all still coming to terms with this grief in our different ways. He was always such a family man and the girls were apples of his eyes! They are both very much working out how to deal with the loss.
A less permanent loss but still sad for us all is FrB imminent departure. So a sad week alround with emotional wobbles from all. FrB has been packing all her things up, seeing people for the last time, feeling sad. We hadn't realised just how much 'stuff' she has, and have suggested her parents bring another bag. She also has realised she might have left clothes behind at different places we stayed, but since she has gained 5cm and an equivalent weight in kg, I am not sure any of her clothes are going to fit for much longer.

Weds for my day off we went to Ely cathedral , discussed English perpendicular architecture, the effect of the reformation with headless statues and traces of paint. Was a lovely outing, and perfect weather. We learned a fair bit too, and the cathedral is wonderful and peaceful. The girls all lit a candle for grandad and thought of him. Although we are not religious, grandad was a practising baptist, and so we hoped that he is in heaven waiting for nanna, and gossiping with his brother and sister.
We ate lunch in the cafe, bb was rather emotional and so some wheeling and dealing was done. she isn't quite sure how to process the loss really, so we went to the sweet shop afterwards and chose some old fashioned sweets. That took quite a while!
Afterwards we popped into cromwells house and discussed the civil war and how it made huge changes. again more religion stuff, and monarchy stuff with a side dish of france!

Ely Trip
 Ely Trip 

Friday was the day of grandad's funeral. It was nice to feel part of the family, and hug and grieve with others. it was good that DH and his brother got chance to talk and be. It was a shame that it had to be at johns funeral tho. I was glad my parents made it, and so had FrB and BB whilst the rest of us went to the crematorium. both had sung the hymns in the service, and both were tearful afterwards, and gave each other hugs whilst we were gone.

 John F 108

i took photos, I am never sure really that this is really respectable. but it is good to mark family being together, particularly those we dont often see. and we did take some excellent photos of jane with children and grandchildren.

England - week 22

Only 3 weeks till FrB goes home! We are starting to arrange things for after she has gone, and it feels quite weird. Weird because she clearly wants us to stop still once she has gone, but also to not be thinking about what she would like, would suit her, or sometimes because I am thinking of what she would like, and clearly she will be gone! I wonder if her french family felt like this when SB was about to come home! I am expecting they are in a state of high excitement about seeing her again, and hearing how her year went :) . I am glad she is starting back with scouts camp, and she is definitely having that sinking feeling about leaving friends behind here!
this week, a lot of time has been spent preparing for the party - costume making, baking, tidying etc. There has been some booksy stuff - not as much history as i had hoped, as i had hoped we would have finished tudors by now!- i think I had set us a bit much of a challenge! Latin, biology and some maths. lots of crafting - particularly loom bands!

Tuesday I was off work, and got to enjoy seeing the girls do science with a few other homeed people, and also enjoy a natter about exams with some parents. SB is contemplating some iGCSE next year, and it seems a very big step! [more on that later] . They made their own calorimeters and burnt a variety of nuts. SB could remember this bit of her biology, so there is hope for exams :) .

 chemistry july 2014chemistry july 2014

Weds we went into London, left relatively early - later than planned because FrB really has lost the knack of getting up in the morning! She really wanted to go to the V and A museum, out of all the London ones. we decided FrB really needed to see Buckingham palace before she left, and we got there to catch the changing of the guards - crowds were enormous! We walked down to Hyde Park Corner and the war memorial there before walking through Hyde park to the albert memorial. It was v v hot! so we had an icecream break en route ;) and we also followed the info on the great exhibition. BB and I cut off to the V and A as she was hot and bothered, and were joined in the cool shortly by DH and the big girls. we looked at statues and then went to the cafe for lunch. paddling cheered all the girls up as they must have been very hot. we looked around much of the v and a until bb had a slump, and we all went actoss the the national history to go in the cool entrance hall, and to eat cake! actually another cool drink was very lovely, it was very hot! In the museum we looked at the pleisiosaurs and the bugs before moving on... Our next stop was westminster! so we looked at big ben, and walked across the bridge to the London Eye for our spin around :) . it was definitley worth it, we got a really good view over London, and our little cabin wasn't full. BB thought it was really 'just conservatories spinning on a wheel', which I thought was a great quote! Whilst up in the sky, they noticed the great park, so BB and FrB played on that before we walked to Giraffe for dinner. The meal was lovely. FrB was mournful that the little boys on the next table had lots of plastic giraffes, so I spoke the waiter, and each girl got to have a plastic giraffe each :) . by the end of the meal, the sun was setting, so it took a fair bit of cajoling to get the girls all back to the station and home. An exhausting but wonderful day :) . Unfortunately we have lost the card from the camera, but we do have a few photos on our phones

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Thursday I had an early start at work, and the big girls had their musical recital, which I hope they repeat for FrB's parents when they come. The videos sound good, and it is lovely that they have worked on this together for the last 6 months. They then went on to the last glass art of the year, this one with a mosaic theme. I think the glass art classes run by J are fabulous, and they had done a wonderful job. J also was fab in getting them in the kiln and returning them at our party, so that FrB can take them home. FrB is such a charming girl, that she luckilly has people wanting to be lovely to her :) . After art there was a teen get together, another chance to meet with friends.

 july music 2014 017  

 Ely TripEly Trip

Friday DH did some sorting out for his dad's funeral, and it was house sort central! we were party ready!

the weekend - Suddenly the summer party arrives! earlier this year as we wanted to have FrB at it, so it is partly a goodbye party for her. We had the perfect weather weekend, and lots of local and not so local home educators come to it. There were a few noteable people missing, and FrB as well as the rest of us wish we had some kind of magic portal/flue network so they could have dropped by. FrB was dressed up as yoshi, BB as steve, me as princess peach, and not sure about SB, but she was v proud of her pink hair.
anyway, lovely friends, perfect weather, 2 paddling pools, gorgeous food, what more could I want :) The kids had fun in the water, and in the end there was a huge water fight with DH and J vs the kids. lots of laughter, an amazing amount of water! other than that, conversation, friendship and happiness. Thanks all :)

 summer party 2014 summer party 2014 summer party 2014 summer party 2014

The next day, after we had waved goodbye to people, we had only the energy to chill in the garden, so I got out the hama beads and we made names for our bedroom doors. What with chatting and being distracted, that did take the whole of the rest of the day!! beautiful weather tho :)

 Ely Trip

England - week 21

This last week has seen the last judo and weds4ed for FrB, so definitely a few sad moments getting friends skype etc addresses. We have quite got used to FrB living here, and it will definitely seem quite odd when she is gone! She is a really lovely girl, but also quite noisy, high maintenance for interaction/love/cuddles/attention so I think it is going to be a lot quieter. She and BB have mostly a great relationship, but are the 2 greatest arguers, as they do have quite similar personalities in many respects [hotly denied by both of them ;) ] .

Quite a good start to the week from the booksy home-ed perspective, tho tailed off a bit towards the end of the week! BB and FrB did a lot of playing together with lego and with Sylvanians. there was wild place yesterday, rollerskating thursday and the usual music lessons. This was the last proper music lesson, but the girls have a duet they are playing next week - must video :) .

Weds4ed was mostly loombanding, playing board games and just being friends altogether. we did make chocolate dipping sauce for a treat though, to go with fruit and biscuits :)

The weekend -  Dh father passed away last night peacefully following a gradual decline from February. He was a characterful man, who made the most of life to get beyond adversity. My blog isn't talking to flickr or computer, so all my lovely pics of John will have to wait. I am glad he had a gentle passing, and he is free of pain and the distress of no longer being the man he was.

We were all abit sad and moochy as Grandad had died, as although a relief from his illness, you are then free to grieve for the person that was. Grand was a life and soul person, always wanting to be in on the action, and full of love for his grandchildren. SO we decided to put some colour back in the world and did some tie dyeing. we used dylon cold dyes, and made patterns on white t's and pj's. some lovely designs. DH was with his mother that day providing support and practicality, but BB was v emotionally wobbly, and clearly SB and FrB needed something undemanding and crafty so they could think [or not] and do without pressure. When I can, I will add photos!

Sunday we had planned to go to festival of history. had some discussion about going ahead, but we did, as the girls had been looking forwards to it. [i can't quite call it history live! ]. we planned to leave bright and early and arrive for the start, but frb overslept and was exceptionally slow getting up. however, we had a fab long, shattering day there! we walked around the ww2 encampments by the entrance and went to watch the last battle of the cousins war - something we had just finished with in our history journal. there are traders, so we wandered through the stalls on the way to see BZents put on their horatio show. FrB was really happy to be called up to active service - her line being 'el bango' as a spanish ship! BB did the army assault course and we saw the victorian circus [which was good]. Next i had hoped to see the roman army, but the girls were more distracted by the gladiators, so we saw them mock battling and pretend blood spurting out. the jousting is always good to see and we were not disappointed. BB and I stayed to watch the taking of a canadian fort that had been overrun by americans by the redcoats. it was really good, with some nifty pyrotechnics, and for once i had not a clue of the history myself! Dh took the big 2 back to the shop bits and then on to the final D Day battle and the final parade. BB was too hot by then, so we hid in a patch of shade and had a snuggle. We talked to a nice chatty american lady, who thought i was BB's grandmother - sob!! and when it was over, I bought a stool for kentwell, which hopefully will keep my comfortable :)

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It was a fab day, and FrB was impressed by the amount of it, and the difference to anything she had been too, and wished we had gone both days. Oh well!

England - week 20

we had as outings rollerskating with home ed friends and came back with 2 more children! E and R for a sleepover until the weds. They all had a great time, loombanding, just dancing, karaoke, wii, playing hide and seek, crafting with hama beads etc. Lovely :) . we inflicted little shop of horrors musical on them...  on weds we did have weds4ed, and we made dentistrometers with sugar solution, and were all surprised that almonds were not as dense as sugar sprinkles ;) . some of the carefully done density columns were very beautiful. again, photos resolutely on flickr! also some music, and decorating biscuits [more sugar!] as well as a mathsy/thinking game. music lessons and all the clubs were still on, but this was the last ballet week and guides week.  Last ever for FrB and she has started to realise her time here is nearly over, and get homesick a bit!! we did get some rabbits though :) so lots of fun there. DH and the girls went to visit their grandparents.

we also acquired some rabbits!

the weekend -FrB was lucky enough to have been given a wodge of money by her parents for when she was over here. She divided this into 6 months plus  shopping trip. She has mostly stuck to it. This weekend we did a shopping trip. We got in mid morning - which was something of a miracle! and said, go forth and shop!! to help things out, I did have to give BB and SB some spending money [not a matching amount tho! ] . SO as we walked down the road, we peered in various shops, and I realised we were going to have a problem. FrB wants to buy things at unrealisitcally low prices. Anyway, we went into some trendy crafty shops where there were lovely bags and purses etc, we went to a craft market [some spending] and the bigger market [ some spending] and a rash of clothes shops. Although the sale was on, FrB couldn't find quite what she wanted, tho bought one lovely jumper. She was also disappointed that my under 14 make up rule of nail varnish and lipgloss only did apply to her. ah well!! I think she still enjoyed the shopping, even with more than half the money left. SB bought some books [surprise!] some v skinny jeans - she is a size 6 - and a very cheap top, so counted herself happy. BB bought lego, and bargainaceous stamp [of an A] necklace and a piece of quartz, and was also v happy. DH and i bought some cheese, but spent a LOT of money! towards the end of the day, DH and BB were shopped out. DH went to cafe nero, but BB kept with ne and the girls, eventually we split, and walked around lush - which she likes - and then sat waiting for all the shops to shut so we could go home. Lovely day out though on the whole :) A funny thing happened as we waited for the bus, I told the kids to shuffle up so i could sit down, and the whole row did, including adults! I did say thankyou :)


Sunday was a chilling day! we did some history project, and some Latin with the big girls, and then set up some wet and needle felting. SB is making a necklace, FrB a nessie scene, BB did a chick, and i used odds and ends to make a flower panel. They all looked rather nice :) . SB has been v keen to be a bit more dramatic with her hair, so as well as having a fringe cut in, she has now peroxided the lower 10cm or so of hair [the change is at shoulder length so it can be cut off if necessary] she is very pleased with it! We went out as a treat to the cinema as well. It was nearly completely empty!! I believe there was some football match or other on, which might have made the difference! We saw how to train your dragon 2, and all enjoyed it, even with the sad bit, it ends on a high note.