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Our Tiny Home: Office & The French Admin Hunger Games

Hey beauties! I thought I would do a little combined post today about our tiny office space AND the apocalyptic Hunger Games situation that is French Administration. I’ve been talking loads lately about the Admin situation with various people. From those who want so badly to get control of it and understand it, to those who willingly give it up to their French other-halves (with mixed results!). I wanted to share my plan of attack, how I combat it so I don’t find myself drowning under the sheer amount of paperwork required by this country to be completed for every little request. 

Office Space

Office space is the smallest need in our small space. I work from home right now but it’s still pretty mobile – I can work at the desk, on the sofa, in bed etc. The main thing we need office space for is our vital family documents, communicating with various government agencies and our pretty basic filing system. 

I have a big ring binder with file dividers that houses all of our paperwork, a printer that is also a scanner and a photocopier (vital equipment that I’d recommend to every French family!) and internet access codes and the app for every government agency I deal with. 

Admin Advice

  1. File it as it arrives. There is nothing, NOTHING as important as this for being able to find documents when you need them. Open letters as they arrive and file them into the correct folder.
  2. Have a clip-board in-tray. One of your folders will be stuff that needs to be filled in, dealt with, sent back. I like having a clipboard. It all sits behind my monthly calendar so it doesn’t take over my desk space. Every month, when I turn over my calendar I see what’s left to do and it gets done. 
  3. Admin day. Once a month, usually within the first week of the month I sit down and get all our filing, admin and finances in order. I send all the forms that need to be sent, update all the “situations familial et professionel” that need to be updated on CAF and make sure our various dossiers are up to date. Keeping it to one day of hell, occasional tears and need for a massage by the end of the day keeps my marriage safe, my mind clear and my filing organised. 
  4. Keep a “Dossier” of vital documents to hand. In the front of our filing ring binder I keep a selection of documents that I’m most likely to be asked for when presenting a “Dossier” for anything and everything. (Things I’ve needed to present a dossier for include; creche, school, giving birth, renting apartments, signing up for CAF, signing up for social security, joining the library, extra-curricular sports, joining a gym, applying for child benefits, applying for jobs, maternity leave, parental leave etc etc etc…) The documents I keep there are our passports, marriage certificate, the boys birth certificates, each of our last three pay slips, our last two tax returns, a “justicatif domicile”, our latest electricity bill…Keeping all of this stuff together in a smaller folder in an easily reachable place means that you can grab it on the way to the Mairie, when you sit down to fill out the endless online forms, whenever! 
  5. Sign up to do as much as possible online. This one is obvious, it makes so much sense. Save the planet, reduce the amount of paper you have to keep in your apartment and reduce the amount of shredding you have to do every couple of months. Having said this, sometimes the only thing to be done is to go to whatever office you’re currently battling with and cry at them until they give in. 

Other Vital Equipment For Admin Day

  1. Coffee
  2. Anti-stress essential oil roll-ons
  3. Leuchtturm Notebook
  4. A relentlessly optimistic attitude

That’s it! If you’re in France and need help sorting out your admin life, there are many many knowledgable women on the facebook groups “English Speaking Mums/Moms living in Paris” and “Mums Space France” both professionals and just old hands. There’ll always be someone around to help!

As I went to hit publish on this post I picked up a phone call from the crèche where Fred is due to attend in September. They told me that the Mairie has NO record of Fred even existing, or the application to the crèche system which we made when I was six months pregnant. Fred’s dossier is due to be examined by the Mairie in order to approve his Crèche space THIS WEEK. So on Monday morning I will be hot-footing to the Mairie at 8h30 to give them an original of his birth certificate and some ID. Which brings me to my final but potentially my most vital piece of advice.

Be Assertive.
Don’t just trust that your applications, dossiers and various documents will be seen to in a timely fashion. Make the phone calls, send the follow up emails, call the person in charge, demand to speak to supervisors, put in the leg work. It’s exhausting, it’s frustrating, it’s seemly never-ending but you can do it. It might mean being a little more “direct” than you’re comfortable with but you will get there. May the odds be ever in your favour. 

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Our Tiny Home: Kids

It’s a funny thing what we, as adults see now when we look back on our childhoods. I grew up in a lovely, but not massive three bedroom house in the South East of England. All of my childhood memories in that house, where my parents still live, involve my mum and dad working their arses off to decorate, improve, maintain and make that house a beautiful, adapted home for our needs as a family. It never felt small or anything less than perfect to me. Now, when I return as an adult, the house seems huge, the up-keep of it overwhelming and never ending. I have far more comprehension of my parent’s never ending demands to keep it tidy – letting standards go for a little while results in a whole day of playing catch-up. This is, of course, because I choose to live with my two small children and husband in an apartment approximately the size of my parent’s living room.

I’ve spoken before about why we choose to do this and, yes, one of the biggest reasons is necessity. We need to live in central Paris for work and central Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world right now. We cannot afford anything bigger. However, SINCE we’ve been doing this, some reasons to continue have become clear – not least to do with our children. When I was pregnant we started to think about what children really need to thrive and, although it’s still very much a work in process, we came to some different conclusions.

Bedrooms

I’ve written before about how we don’t have a bedroom. We sleep in our living room and have given the bedroom of our apartment to the boys. For someone else who does this, check out the wonderful Erin Boyle of Reading My Tea Leaves. It’s been an interesting experience, mostly when having guests over but we’ve only really found it problematic when I need to sleep in the mornings (my husband could sleep through the apocolypse!).

Fred currently sleeps next to us in the Chicco Next to Me Co-Sleeper but as of next month will move in with Arthur and share the bedroom with him. I really really think that shared rooms are so great for kids. I shared with my eldest brother for a while and my brothers shared a room until one of them moved out at eighteen. I like the idea of them having a camaraderie and a space that’s theirs away from adult life.

We try to keep the space as simple as possible, rotate the toys out and available for them and easy to keep tidy and clean. 

Kid Spaces

Something that takes up alot of space but I really love is our toddler size table and chairs in the kitchen. This was such a great addition to our home when we were really struggling with Arthur needing to have one of us close by (another advantage of a small space is, let’s face it, that we’re always close by!). With the table in the kitchen I can cook, Fred can be in his chair and Arthur can be playing or drawing at his table and we can be spending time together whilst doing our own things. 

We try to keep the living room/bedroom space toy and kid stuff free. This is firstly because there’s already so much of our life jammed in there and secondly because it’s where we sleep – I like it to be as calm and clutter free as possible. We keep a play mat and baby-gym in there and that’s about it. 

We try and keep things as accessible as possible for Arthur around the home. He can help with dinner & chop vegetables at his table or he has a step to get up to the kitchen counters. His bathroom stuff is in a cupboard at his level and he can use his step to get to the sink. 

Small living is constantly forcing us to redefine what we think of as necessary space. What do we need to have a satisfying home life? I don’t think that having children means that you need to immediately move into a bigger space, or that you suddenly need more storage to store all the extra stuff that traditionally comes with having children. As with all things, a little shift in thinking, a movement in the right direction is all it takes. 

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Paris Kitchen: Sweet Potato & Spinach Soup with Salmon

It’s February! I’ve been reading everywhere that people have found this January to have really dragged on and on, particularly in Paris where it has rained every. single. day. Honestly I’ve not found it so bad, but I’ve been in a slight new born haze cosied up inside! 

Anyway February is here and with it, the hope of Spring in the air. If you had good healthy eating resolutions for January but actually just ate the Christmas season leftovers all month long, you are not alone! February is an excellent point to really commit to nourishing your body with excellent, wholesome food. The celebrations tins are empty, the Bailey’s is finally finished and the promise of warmer days are just around the corner.

Here’s a gorgeous and SUCH an easy lunch recipe to keep you excited for fresh produce and leafy greens; Spinach & sweet potato soup with a side of grilled salmon. Enjoy!

For Two Servings You’ll Need:

  • One medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped into cubes
  • 500ml good quality, low sodium chicken, beef, or vegetable stock
  • Three big hand-fulls of baby spinach leaves
  • Slivered almonds or mixed seeds (optional to serve)
  • Pesto (optional to serve)
  • Two salmon filets
  • Olive oil, salt & pepper

How to:

  • Boil your sweet potato in your stock until soft. Add your spinach, cook for a further two minutes and remove from the heat. Blend until smooth with a stick blender.
  • Meanwhile, heat up a little oil in a pan and fry your salmon over a medium heat for about four minutes on each side, or to your desired cuisson. I like mine still pretty rare in the middle!
  • Serve your salmon with a tablespoon of pesto (I used some spinach & walnut pesto I made earlier this week) and your soup with a sprinkling of slivered almonds or mixed seeds.

This whole lunch takes 20-30 minutes to make and is really so filling and delicious. There’s so much scope for playing around with it too. Change up the veg depending on what’s in season, throw some fresh ginger in there to spice things up a little, experiment with different fish. 

Let me know what you end up with! Enjoy!

 

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Paris Kitchen: Batch Cooking

When I was about twenty-five weeks pregnant with Fred, my friend Jenni and I got together to cook. She had her six month old daughter playing nearby and we managed to shop for and cook twenty eight portions of food (four different recipes!) in an afternoon. I have always batched cooked, but we currently have a tiny freezer in the top of our fridge so I’ve felt a bit limited with it. As far as space goes, I really shouldn’t feel limited – I have the scope to do so much when it comes to preparing meals in advance, as do you and here’s how:

Why batch cook?

Batch cooking for me ensures that I always have a healthy meal on hand and ready to go. I can host toddlers for tea or a friend for dinner at a moment’s notice. I rarely ever have to make a dash for the shops in the rain, with a baby strapped to my chest and a wilful toddler asking constantly for chocolate cake. Making things like sauces and pesto means that my cooking time during the evening is drastically reduced and I have more time to play cars on the kitchen floor. It means that my husband (or the person who doesn’t normally stock or run the family kitchen) can serve my kids healthy food that they enjoy without having to think about it and the whole thing reduces kitchen induced stress dramatically!

 The lovely Emily & Sarah releasing their inner Chefs
The lovely Emily & Sarah releasing their inner Chefs

Planning

  1. Gather your team
    Maybe it’s because I’ve always cooked in big family kitchens or restaurant kitchens but I like cooking in a team. Find some other like-minded friends, or mums who have kids the same age as yours (similar portion sizes) and cook together! This is especially great in Paris because we don’t all have fully equipped or big enough kitchens. Choose the friend with the biggest and most equipped kitchen and get together.
  2. Menu plan
    I never batch cook for the whole week ahead as we dont have the space, but make things that I use a lot of (the seven veg tomato sauce – recipe below), meals that I know are always a hit when I do them (the fish pie – recipe to come next week), or things to bring out in a no food in the house crises (meatballs, fish fingers, crackers, pesto, soup etc). Be sensible about what you’re actually going to use or you’ll end up with a freezer full of bone broth because you’ve read about how awesome it is for you but you’ll realistically never use. 
  3. Shop
    To save time when I batch cook I make sure to shop somewhere that will definitely have everything I need, which is not as easy as it sounds in Paris. When I do our weekly shop I go to the market/cheese-monger/butcher/baker etc. but for batch cooking I head straight to the supermarket. The list is split into the ingredients for each meal and whatever containers I’m going to need to store them.
  4. Storage
    Generally I try to eliminate plastic and disposable containers as much as possible using mason jars and IKEA glass storage boxes. However, we do use ziplock freezer bags for the soups and sauces as they freeze flat and save us so much space. I’ve also just found some excellent toddler portioned size foil ramekins.

Execution

Some general advice to consider:

  • Rather than cooking one recipe at a time, I like to wash, chop and cook all the veggies first. Especially if I’m doing seven veg tomato sauce or a vegetable soup. That way I can get the sauce on the go quickly while the onions and leeks are sweating in olive oil for the fish pie. 
  • This doesn’t have to be your technique. Once you’ve done it a couple of times you’ll find your own rhythm and flow for the process. 
  • I like to clean as I go, it keeps me calm as I cook and means that you don’t extend your cooking time with clean up.

Seven Vegetable Tomato Sauce

We use this sauce as a base for practically everything. I keep it un-seasoned in portioned bags so that it can be transformed easily into soup, pizza base, pasta sauce, curry, tomato base for chilli and spaghetti bolognese or anything else that calls for a can of tomatoes.

  • Two 400g cans of chopped tomatoes

  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 leek
  • 1 onion
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 courgette
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 small sweet potato 

Roughly chop all the veg into cubes.
Fry the leek, onion, garlic and carrots in a glug of olive oil over a medium heat until they start to soften.
Add the rest of the veg and cook for a further 10 minutes.
Add the cans of tomatoes. Fill each can up 3/4 of the way with water, swish around and add to the pot too. 
Bring to the boil and then cover and simmer for an hour or until the vegetables are soft.
Blend the sauce with a stick blender, divide into portions, let cool and freeze for up to three months. 

The fish pie, meatballs, pesto and crackers are all recipes I’ll be putting up on the blog in the next couple of weeks, so keep your eyes peeled on instagram and Facebook!

Happy cooking!

xx

 

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Minimalist Me: Pregnancy Essentials

Pregnancy is such a strange and special time in your life. Especially if it’s your first baby, you want to make sure that you do everything absolutely right, not just medically, but in terms of what to buy to make your pregnancy go smoothly, to make sure that baby is absolutely 100% taken care of inside your growing womb. 

Unfortunately, this cocooning need of pregnant women has been exploited by brands. At one of the most financially vulnerable times of our life, we have been convinced that we need every kind of special lotion, potion, pillow, vitamin, book, superfood, clothing item and yoga class just to get through pregnancy. While I am absolutely an advocate of massive amounts of self-care during pregnancy, I think that we are being sold so much more than we need and there really are budget friendly alternatives. 

Books

If you’re pregnant with your first baby and are anything like me, you’ll want to read the most you possibly can on the subject. I wanted to know everything! How to BE pregnant, what to expect, what to eat, how to have an easy birth, what to do with the baby once it arrives…reading anything you get your hands on however, can get a bit expensive. Pictured above are the books I’ve actually bought because I found useful last time around. For the rest, use your local library. You don’t need a personal home library full of pregnancy books that you probably won’t touch again. 

  • How to grow a baby and push it out, Clemmie HooperA really lovely, beautifully accessible guide to pregnancy and birth. Includes great pages on prenatal yoga, hypnobirthing and how to dress your bump. Written by a British midwife, it’s a lovely guide to pregnancy for the instagram crowd. 
  • Expecting better, Emily Oster: Really one of my favourite books, Emily Oster is an economist who uses her professional skills to debunk myths about pregnancy and childbirth, leaving the pregnant mother better informed and more empowered in her decisions.
  • The first forty days, Heng Ou: My only REALLY essential book, Ou’s beautiful book really highlights the importance of self-care for mums in the first forty days post-partum. Her advice is stellar and her recipes are out of this world. 
  • Zen, un jeu d’enfant, Elodie Garamond et Lise Bilien: This one is in my essentials for second time mums. It really has nothing to do with pregnancy and all about teaching your toddler to be zen – which sounds just lovely doesn’t it?! It’s been really helpful for us when I’ve wanted to do some yoga or have some quiet time, as it’s helped Arthur do some simple poses with me or some easy breathing exercises. It also exists in English translation. 
  • Mindful Hypnobirthing, Sophie Fletcher: A very accessible guide to hypnobirthing. Worth a read even if you’re not intending to go “The whole hog” with hypnobirthing for the breathing techniques. I’ve found it really helpful. 

Rest & Relax

Prioritising sleep, rest and relaxation should be top of your list during pregnancy. It get’s much harder the second time around when you’ve got young kids under your feet but it’s still so important, especially as finding a comfy sleeping position gets harder and harder as your baby gets bigger. Do everything you can to get a good night’s sleep: eliminate screens an hour before bed, head to bed earlier than you would normally and make sure you’ve got everything you might need within reach. Some things to consider:

  • Pregnancy pillow: There are some extortionately expensive options for this long sausage-like pillow on the market. Honestly it doesn’t do anything that two separate pillows won’t do and the cheaper options work just as well. Mine is second hand, passed on from another mum and the cover is from HEMA, I think it was about €9. I do love it, but like I say – two pillows work the same way!
  • NEOM Organics Tranquility set: This is my one splurge on this list, but I do use it all year around – not just during pregnancy and I honestly haven’t found anything that works as well for me. I light the candle one hour before I intend to go to bed and spritz my pillow with the mist and then I sleep like a baby. I ask for replacements every Christmas and Birthday, so maybe something to hint heavily to relatives at?
  • Maternity leggings & t-shirt: Comfy sleepwear is so essential. There’s nothing worse than waking up sweaty, entangled in loose pyjamas or night dresses. Simple, fitted, cotton maternity leggings and a t-shirt have been my go-to this time around. I like the brand Mamalicious at Galeries Lafayette for leggings and Monoprix organic cotton t-shirts. 

Everything Else

  • Pre-natal yoga: It goes without saying that exercising during pregnancy is so good for you and your baby. Yoga is a great pre-natal exercise as it’s low impact, stretches you in all the right places and can teach you some great techniques for labour. If you can afford classes, do. It’s much safer to do with a qualified instructor than on your own. However, there are many youtube classes you can take with great instructors for free – you just need to do a bit of research. 
  • Coconut oil: On everything and for everything. It’s a great moisturiser and some of my friends swear they don’t have stretch marks because they used it! Don’t use it on your stomach the week before a scan though, you’ll be told off by your sonographer because it makes their picture harder to see. 
  • Maternity clothes: This is down to individual taste but take a good look at your wardrobe and see what you can continue to wear through pregnancy. It’s exciting to have a reason to shop but I’ve mostly found that affordable maternity clothes are absolutely hideous. I would say leggings, a pair of jeans, some nursing tank tops and a coat are the only real essentials.

What have I missed? What did you find absolutely essential during your pregnancy?