Visiting California with children – 6 fun things to do as a family!

Lexi and Ro swinging high!

We visited America not so much because it was a destination on our list, but to visit family. It was simply awesome to catch up with my dad, Mike, and his wonderful wife, daughters and a little grand-daughter too! Boy, did they treat us to the full American experience. Mike, Cheryl, Maxi, Lexi, Roxanne and mini Rebel – you guys are amazing. Thank you for spoiling all of us.

Now, if you are visiting California, I can certainly share the ultimate places to go as a family. Your kiddies won’t want to leave!

1. LEGOLAND

Legoland! Wow! At six and eight, the boys were the perfect age for the experience. For one, they are super Lego fans. What’s more, the rides are well adapted to their ages. We even had the chance to build a Lego robot which opened a whole new world of programming for the boys. Have a look at Lego Mindstorms if your children are ready for the next level of Lego!

2. DISNEYLAND

You can’t go to California and not go to Disneyland. It was simply awesome. We visited during the Halloween festivities and the place was decorated with very cool and very large, orange pumpkins.

Our eldest is not a fan of crazy rides and I think we might have pushed the limits of his crazy-ride capacities with Splash Mountain. Approximately a month later, we were whizzing through the tree tops of Costa Rica on an absurdly high zip line. This too did not fit with his idea of fun, but wow what a way to overcome a fear of heights and speed. I think he’s glad he’s done these things, but he might defer doing them again for some time yet…

His little brother, however, was keen to go on the craziest rides again and again. Eventually Gavin took him off to the Matterhorn ride as just the two of them. R came back laughing and grinning from ear to ear. Gavin arrived back a little green about the gills!

That day the boys munched oversized (as in massive!) turkey drumsticks for lunch and ate swirly-coloured candy lollipops and R lost his first tooth. R was grinning, toothless with a smear of blood, adrenalin rushing and on the ultimate high! When in America, go big or go home! The same goes for Disney Land!

One of the most wonderful things about travelling with the boys and exposing them to such different experiences was having the time to discover their personalities and preferences further. Pretty awesome! 

3. THEME PARKS

There are a good number of theme parks in California. If you’re an adrenalin junkie, visit them! We visited Castle Park and the boys played their first game of mini golf there. They so enjoyed it and again, it was just right. Any younger and I don’t think they would have been able to navigate the course without holding up other players. G went on the bumper cars with his grandad which looked great fun and R went on the very high-flying swings with his aunty Lexi who just happens to be the coolest aunty ever. She knows about Minecraft, X-box and rugby! The boys are infatuated!

4. VENICE BEACH

Venice Beach is another super fun and quintessential LA destination which we so enjoyed. We walked along the waterfront, watched the skate-boarders and enjoyed the various entertainers along the way. There was a guy who walked on glass and a group of incredible acrobats and dancers. Mike even became part of the fun when they called him into the line of people they aimed to jump over. This only made it even more funny for the rest of us.

5. CORONA DEL MAR BEACH

Another day, we visited the Corona del Mar beach to catch up with some friends. It was awesome to see them and meet their little ones. The atmosphere of the beach was festive and down-to earth. It’s a great destination if you need a little nature after all the excitement!

6. AND THEN, THE RESTAURANTS!

Oh, my goodness! Yet again, everything seemed bigger and bolder and simply super-sized! Our lovely, healthy Bali intentions were long forgotten and we tried everything. “In and Out” burgers were on the menu. With things like a “Double Double” on offer, you know you’re in for a lot! Then, we tried some “all you can eat” buffets which are just crazy, people!

I think the boy’s favourite restaurant was “The Boiling Crab”. You can look at their site here: theboilingcrab. Essentially, you order your seafood and it arrives in a bag which you place on your table to share or simply tuck into. It’s messy and fun and you can eat with your fingers. It’s our children’s dream!

I also liked the poke bowls which I hadn’t heard of before. Poke bowls originate from Hawaii and could be described as deconstructed sushi. They have now become popular elsewhere too. I think it’s a fun way for everyone to choose what they like and create their own favourite combination.

Et voila! That was our crazy, fun and full-to-the-brim trip to California. I would recommend it! I would love to explore more of the US with Gavin and the boys. It’s so very vast and there’s so much more to explore. I’d especially like to hike in the Grand Canyon. It looks like there are more trips to plan!

The Sights and Sounds of Bali

Colours and calm in Sanur

It’s winter in the Gers and although there are some beautiful sunny days, I find myself thinking of the warmth of Bali. In the summer of 2017 we visited as a family. It was full of new sights and sounds, smells and tastes. In fact, it was a lovely sensory over-load especially when coupled with the warm, balmy, sweat-inducing weather.

BROOMS AND ROOSTERS

One of our first destinations in Bali was a coastal town called Sanur where we chose to stay in an Airbnb in a suburb. Each morning, people would step outdoors to sweep the front of their homes. The swishing of the grass brooms was a repetitive, reassuring sound to wake up to. And the sound of the rooster – morning, noon or night – made me giggle a little.

Gavin struggles to fall asleep at the best of times and his tirades against roosters started back in France. Our first rooster in France got a fright for some unknown reason, did a mighty back flip and died. Our next rooster made so much noise that it didn’t last long and landed up in the pot. In Bali, the saga continued and Gavin threatened to scale walls to silence the Bali rooster / roosters. I think there may well be more than a few at local homes.

When we walked to the beach we saw a collection of roosters under grass-woven shelters and learned about the illegal rooster fights that take place. Judging by the number of roosters we saw (and heard), they must be popular. We’ve been told that the roosters are groomed, hand-fed and lead a very pampered life until they are put to fight.

KITES

Another sight that we could not help but notice during our walk to the beach was the kites. Look to the sky at any time of day in Bali and you’re bound to see kites flying. Even as the sun sets and darkness falls, the kites are still there – some people tie them to a balcony only to take them up again in the morning while others have night-time kites with little lights on them. The beach at Sanur is a lovely place to fly a kite as is almost every soccer field.

OFFERINGS

Be careful where you step in Bali as the daily offerings to the gods – colourful flowers in green leaf holders are placed in front of most buildings and homes. Most often, they are created, placed and blessed by local women, but the task is given to men when women are menstruating.

When we were at Green Camp, we had an opportunity to create an offering and learnt how the colours are placed and how they are representative of different gods. It takes time to create these offerings and one can see how it becomes a meditative daily ritual.

A GENEROUS PEOPLE

While we were in Bali, we met many Balinese who were so generous with their time and so present in time. In fact, I’ve never met quite such generous people as the Balinese. I only hope that with the coming years and the influx of tourists (we were four of too, too many…) that the local people retain this beauty and generosity and that it is not exhausted.

I know I’m looking at the situation from my own perspective. I feel that that amount of people and the need and the waste that accompanies western people, ourselves included, is overwhelming.

But, I recognise that many Balinese see things differently and see all that tourists bring to their lives. Once, we visited a temple and asked the guide if he feels that the sacred space is impacted negatively by tourists. But no, he felt that sharing the space and the beauty could have a beneficial impact on people and that it was better shared.

Our first taxi driver in Ubud was yet another example of generosity. He wanted to show us his land and at the same time, collect a coconut or two for us to enjoy. We agreed and off he drove to an off-the-beaten-track location, he tooted to a couple of people, stopped the car at the side of the road, opened the door, took off his socks and shoes and scuttled up a coconut tree for his haul! What an impressive welcome!

The way people look after children is also wonderful. When we went to yoga, the boys stayed with local people. One bought fishing rods for them and taught them to fish. He even placed umbrellas into the trees to allow them to continue their adventure despite the rain.

Another discovered that R has a sweet tooth and subsequently bought him mini jelly pots every morning. I was a little less happy about encouraging his sweet tooth, but he was in his element! People take the time to notice each other and the time to notice children. It is very beautiful and so simple really.

BALI FESTIVALS AND CELEBRATIONS

There are many festivals in Bali. All the local people including the taxi drivers dress in traditional dress on these occasions and there is an especially colourful and festive atmosphere on these days. One of the festivals while we were there was the “money festival.”

Coming from a western culture where money is complicated, I was interested to know what the thoughts are around money. The person I asked replied simply: “It’s like everything, that money be useful.” How simple and how profound. Everything just needs to be useful. I absolutely love that.

Other celebrations like birthdays are also different in Bali. Up until the age of four, each child has a birthday celebration and, from then onwards, the tradition is to celebrate everyone’s birthday together. One party for everyone every year. A Balinese calendar year is not the same as a western calendar so, it is rather difficult to keep track of just how old people are and the older generation are certainly not keeping count!

Cremations too, are shared for most Balinese except the wealthiest. Every few years, a whole village comes together to honour those who have died. They dig up the bones of the deceased and place them into large animal-shaped statues according to their caste. These are then burned in hired furnaces. The villagers prepare offerings for the gods and share a feast together.

It really is a humbling place – it makes you see how complicated the west has made life and how simple and connected it all could be.

What is school for? A look at the boys’ education while travelling and beyond…

Concentrating at school
CNEd / the french distance learning syllabus

While we were travelling, we decided to educate the boys using the French distance learning syllabus called the CNED. After two months of “home/travel schooling”, we chose to move to Copenhagen and decided to send the boys to a French international school.

I had found working with our eldest enjoyable and Gavin was making progress with both boys in mathematics. Our youngest, however, had me wrapped around his little finger. I had to laugh. He spent a week at his old school in France prior to our move to Copenhagen and the teacher showed me his beautiful hand writing. It held no resemblance to what he was producing for me. It had been such an effort for him (and for me from an encouragement perspective) to produce even one line of text! Beautiful handwriting for maîtresse, but a headache for me…

Maîtresse also revealed to me that our eldest had remarked: “mom doesn’t know anything!” At the time, we had been working on a classic French text from La Fontaine. It is a beautiful piece of writing, but since it dates from around 1680, I had had to look up at least half the words. I cannot deny it, I found the French CNED grammar and literature – even at age 9 level – difficult. I was secretly happy to relinquish the task to someone more qualified although I did enjoy pouring over the dictionary with G and deciphering texts together.

All in all, I think it might have made better sense for us to use an English curriculum or no curriculum at all. Fortunately, the boy’s French school had advised us to do only French and Maths so we were able to supplement their learning and all-round fun – Geography, Science, Biology, Physical Education, Art – with all the wonderful travel experiences.

THE FRENCH SCHOOL IN COPENHAGEN

The boys then attended the French school in Copenhagen. After small French schools in the Gers countryside, the size of the school and the number of children was a shock to the system. The boys found it overwhelming and noisy.

Fortunately, R’s teacher for the year was from the south west of France and he has the same accent as R does, so they could appreciate and understand each other. The school also offered a few activities that would be unheard of elsewhere. R did a semester of ice-skating on an outdoor ice rink during the winter. I went along to assist with the taking-on and -off of skates. With the early morning chill in the air, excited children, pink cheeks, cosy gloves and mittens, it was an unforgettable moment.

I also attended a couple of sports days where we cycled with an entire class of children (at least 30 eight and nine year olds) to a sports field a good 40 minutes from the school. Copenhagen has remarkable cycle lanes, but to me it was a monumental achievement none the less. I can’t imagine that being possible anywhere else in the world.

In the end, both boys left with a few good friends that they will keep in contact with. They were, however, very happy to move back to their Gers classrooms!

BACK IN FRANCE AT THE LOCAL SCHOOLS

The boys are now back at the local French schools in the Gers. Both seem to be enjoying being with their old friends again. I find the local schools lovely – they’re small for a start with just over 20 children per class.

The complication arises that there are so few children in the countryside, that two to three grades of children are all grouped together. In the Montessori philosophy, this is regarded as beneficial as children are exposed to the level of work ahead of their actual grade and can “review” work from the previous year if necessary. It also allows children to work together and independently as the teacher cannot be with all two / three grades at one time. I think the local teachers manage the situation well although it can’t be easy.

Another remarkable advantage of small schools and the French system is that each school has a dedicated chef who provides a three-course lunch for the children. The menus seem well balanced and even the deserts are well thought through – fruit / fruit-compote / plain yoghurt. This means that the children are exposed to many flavours and end up being adventurous foodies which is loads of fun.

Both boys have started playing rugby with the local Massylvain club and they so enjoy being a part of a team and enjoy the physicality of training and tournaments each week and weekend.

GREEN SCHOOL IN BALI

When we visited Bali, we had the opportunity to visit Green School which is a school based on the ideology of sustainability. The buildings themselves are sustainable and are built from bamboo. The result is beautiful and inspiring indoor-outdoor classrooms. We were so impressed with the school, that we have applied for the 2019 September intake. They are completely full at the moment so we will have to see what is possible. Even if they are not able to attend, it would be awesome to send them on some of the holiday camps on offer. Take a look at the kids camps here: https://greencampbali.com/kids-camps/

SETH GODIN – STOP STEALING DREAMS (WHAT IS SCHOOL FOR?)

In the meantime, I’m reading as much as I can about education. What do children need to learn? My favourite find so far is Seth Godin’s book where he discusses the importance of independent study, experiential adventures, community service, privacy and solitude and apprenticeships. You can download it here: https://sethgodin.typepad.com/files/stop-stealing-dreams6print.pdf

I’ll write up what I learn along the way and if you have any insights about education that you could share, I’d love to hear from you. Does the system your children are in suit them? Do you think it prepares them well for the future? What’s missing for you and how are you going about filling in the gaps?

Corporates and start-ups in Copenhagen

An impressive new building for the home of hiveonline

Today I visited G’s work space at hiveonline. The company has recently moved to a new co-working space with Rainmaking. It’s an awesome building and there were a good number of people in attendance. What’s more, the presentations were informative and interesting.

The space is a home for both corporates and start-ups which is a new development; corporates and start-ups traditionally being physically and perhaps, ideologically independent, even diametrically opposed to each other.

Now, the idea of working in silos is outdated and it’s recognised that both corporates and start-ups have something valuable to offer each other. Start-ups can benefit from the established nature of corporates and potentially tap into their resources and well, corporates can benefit from start-ups’ innovation and speed. My inclination is that corporates have realised that they might well be left behind if they don’t actively do something. So, they are coming to the table before it runs away! Continue reading “Corporates and start-ups in Copenhagen”

Winter in the Gers

Bernis in the snow.

Every year, we find that it is relatively easy to rent Bernis for the summer. Come Christmas and New Year and the end of the festivities, we notice the bookings for the summer come in. Perhaps it’s at this chilly time of year when people need to look ahead to the summer months and visualise their summer holiday!

We have noticed, however, that Bernis seems to be less attractive to winter holiday makers which is a shame. So, I’ve decided to put this to rights and highlight a couple of lovely wintery Bernis must-dos.

What to do…

Winter in the Gers is a time to light the fires in the fireplaces – there are three in the house. There is one in the kitchen which makes the atmosphere very cosy. There is another in the lounge for those snuggling on sofas catching up on some holiday reading / watching a favourite movie / playing a board game. And, there is a third in the dining room to accompany those long, delicious Gersoise meals. The rest of the house has a warm ambient temperature due to the warmth generated by the pellet burner system.

If you’ve had enough of relaxing by the fire and want to explore the local area during your visit to Bernis, there’s nothing better than Gersoise dining especially during the winter months. Have a look at our list of favourite local restaurants and indulge knowing that you can very easily take a brisk walk after lunch to burn off those extra calories!

Out and about local to Bernis…

Continue reading “Winter in the Gers”

Aide Nepal market at Bernis

Prayer Flags

In December 2016, we held our first event at Bernis; a Christmas market for the charity “Aide Nepal Magnoac”. We set-up the stall holders in the courtyard outdoors and it was a beautiful, sunny, blue-sky winter’s day.

So, what exactly was on sale?

There was a focus on handmade, quality gifts including silver and gemstone jewellery, fun wooden signs, handcrafted wooden kitchenware, beautiful handmade soaps, bath and body products and Christmas decorations, cards, gift-wrap and tags.

Being in the Gers countryside, we had to have the famous local produce of course. The everyday fare is a treat so you can just imagine the Christmas fare – local artisans came with their foie gras, tisanes, flour, pasta, breads, beer, charcuterie and honey.

There were also Christmassy songs, shiatsu massages in an upstairs bedroom, a second-hand clothing sale and mulled wine and mince pies.

All in all, it was a super day and we valued sharing Bernis with others – it really comes alive when there are many people and festive occasions to celebrate!

And, what is Aide Nepal doing now?

On the 18th October 2018, Roy Francis, one of the founders of “Aide Nepal Magnoac” and a former soldier and lifelong adventurer, sets off from Kathmandhu to climb Mount Parchemuche in the Everest region of Nepal. Roy hopes to raise £20,000 to rebuild and equip the school at Budhasing which was destroyed during the 2015 earthquakes. You can find out more and donate by looking on their website: https://aidenepalmagnoac.org/