Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A musical evening

A friend of mine invited me to a concert last night. She asked me if I was interested to go and see Mary Coughlan, Frances Black and Sharon Shannon performing together at a theater in Drogheda. Me being French and all, I had no clue who those singers were, except Sharon Shannon as she is quite well known in Brittany.

I really didn't know what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. Mary Coughlan came up first and I discovered her raspy smoky jazzy voice. She is a fantastic singer, and funny with that. Despite suffering from pneumonia recently, she still took on the stage and delivered! Obviously I didn't know any of the songs but I really enjoyed her performance.

Then, Frances Black came on stage. The fact that one of her trick is to actually get people to sing along made me enjoy the songs more, even if I didn't know the words. The audience was a bit shy at first, but by the end of her slot, people were a little more relaxed and really started to sing along. 
One of her song was "All the lies that you told me", and as soon as the music started, I felt transported back to my teenage years. Somehow I wondered how I knew it and then I remember it was featured on an album me and my best friend kept listening back in the days. It was called "L'imaginaire Irlandais" (Imaginary Ireland) and was a compilation of Irish folk and trad music that was released in 1996, following a big festival that celebrated Irish culture in France. This album made me fall in love with Irish folk and trad music.

When Sharon Shannon came on, all I wanted to do was get up and dance. I didn't do it of course (I would probably have been thrown out of the venue!) but I was tapping and clapping along. That woman is a musical genius. It's hard to explain, but it is amazing to see how fast her fingers go when she plays the accordion or the tin whistle. Her pianist was equally amazing. I mean, come on! The guy was playing piano AND guitar at the same time!! How crazy is that? This is the kind of music that completely lift my spirit and makes me forget all my problems. 

My best friend also plays accordion and we used to dance to the sound of Breton and Irish tunes. She is very talented and I know she is a big fan of Sharon. 

I know she will kill me but well... picture taken a long long time ago

When I saw there were CDs for sale, I couldn't resist buying one for her birthday. It's a limited edition CD of an upcoming DVD of one of her concerts, but it will only be released on Saint Patrick's day. On top of that I managed to meet Sharon after the concert, get a signed copy with a personal message for my friend, and a picture!

Personalized message and autograph
I look a bit crazy don't you think?

I couldn't have asked for more and I'm sure my friend will be very happy with her present.

This concert was the perfect way to end a fantastic year. 

Happy New Year everybody, see you all in 2015 !

Monday, 29 December 2014

Christmas break

This was taken on Christmas Eve, a few hours before it all went wrong!!
I had to take a forced break from blogging over the Christmas period. This wasn't due to the fact that I wanted to spend some quality time with my family and my friends, spend days eating chocolate and drinking wine or the fabulous Christmas dinner my neighbour had cooked. No, I was ill before, during and after Christmas...
It all started with a massive cold 10 days ago and all I was waiting for at that stage were my holidays. I had to work until 23rd of December but knowing I would be off until the 5th of January kept me going for the last few days. I could barely breathe day or night but eventually I felt better on Christmas Eve.
Fantastic! I thought. I'll be able to at least enjoy a nice evening with Fabrice, eat seafood (home tradition!) and drink lots of wine and beer. We were supposed to have Christmas day dinner at home with friends of ours, but they unfortunately had to cancel, due to illness (I'm sure it was a sign...). At the last minute, our Danish neighbour invited us for a traditional home-made lunch. It was perfect. No need to cook or even clean!
On Christmas Eve I was OK but not great. I couldn't drink alcohol for some reason but ate anyway. First we had prawns, crab meat and crayfish topped with lemon mayonnaise. Then, in pure French style, we dug in the cheese, saucisson, salami and pâté. God it was good!! 
Unfortunately I think this was way too much for my stomach to handle and I regretted my sins around 3 in the morning when I woke up with cold sweats and an urge to go to the bathroom. I will spare you the details but I'm sure you know what I mean.
It went downhill from there and today is the first day I feel well enough to put some coherent words together. I couldn't eat anything of what my neighbour had cooked and my Christmas day lunch consisted of a slice of bread, three potatoes and water. I felt so bad on St Stephen's day we didn't even get dressed at all. The kids stayed all day in their PJ's and I ended up on the couch, too weak to even give out at them for watching too many Minecraft videos. Mind you, I know everything about that game now. The bad thing about not being able to get up to switch off the TV? I had to watch the whole SpongeBog Gameplay they ended up putting on Youtube... Maybe worse than my stomach bug. The good thing though, is that I definitely didn't over indulge during the festive season, and I think I might have lost some weight. Every cloud has its silver lining after all...
I also had time to think about some new ideas for the blog. I will be doing an "A to Z" blog series about my Irish experience, more Expat books reviews, and I'm also going to write about other expats and their own story. This will be done in the form of features, not straight interviews. What I want to do is tell stories of ordinary people like me, who decided to live in Ireland. I have a few friends already interested, but please if you want to feature, don't hesitate to contact me.
I am looking for people from all backgrounds, all nationalities, who are living in Ireland and are willing to share their experience. I have a list of questions but this is just a base. You can tell everything that is important to you. So please, get in touch if  that's sound like something you want to do!!
That's it for now folks, I know I've been off for a long time, but I'm back now so watch this space for great new posts, and Happy New year !! 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Interview with Celtic Life International

A few weeks ago I was asked to take part in an interview for Celtic Life International, a Canadian magazine that specializes in Celtic culture. The journalist was particularly interested in the fact that I moved from a Celtic region to a Celtic country and wanted to know more about the Christmas traditions both in Ireland and Brittany.

From my answers, she wrote a piece that featured in the Christmas print edition of the magazine (My first feature, I am so proud!). My answer were so detailed and long that she asked the editor if the whole Q&A could appear in the website itself. And now it is! You can read my whole interview below or have a look at the website

Anne Canaveera is the blogger behind “Nearly Irish?” She grew up in Brittany and as a young adult moved to Ireland in 2002. Celtic Life International reached out to Canaveera to learn what it was like living in both Celtic nations and to see how the two compared this yuletide time of year.
What do you miss most about living in Brittany?
Apart from the obvious like my family and friends, I miss the food (typical for a French girl, hey!). In Brittany, we eat a lot of seafood, and I miss big platters of langoustines fresh from the sea, crab, scallops, crayfish or prawns. I also miss all the sweet stuff: biscuits, cakes, crepes…My mum sends me packages full of buttery biscuits and home-made Breton cake regularly (much to the delight of my Irish co-workers!) I also miss the buzzing atmosphere during summer, my home town weekly market on Thursdays, traditional music and dance festivals, and days at the beach. Thankfully, I usually go back home in July so I have a taste of all that at least once a year!

What do you like most about living in Ireland?
I just love Irish people and the “Land of a Thousand Welcomes” is definitely not a myth. This is going to sound cheesy, but the majority of Irish people I’ve met throughout the years were just fantastic, from my Irish host family to my former landlord, my kid’s childminder, my colleagues and obviously my friends! Maybe I was just lucky, or maybe I had the right attitude, I don’t know. I’ve always tried to integrate as much as I could in the country and get to know Irish people, instead of staying in an expat bubble; which probably explains why I’m still here after 12 years! Life in Ireland is less stressful, people are more laid-back and less judgemental than the French, and that’s playing a big part in our quality of life. I love the fact that Irish people always find a funny side to every situation; “better laugh about something than cry” should be their motto. Irish humour is dark, sarcastic, satiric, full of puns. I’m jealous sometimes that I can’t be as funny as them! I also love the atmosphere of a traditional Irish pub. Even though Irish people are known for their fondness of alcohol (Breton people as well, don’t worry!), the pub is actually an important place in the community, and helps maintain a social link. Every time I go to my local, there are people of all ages, from young adults to retired, and you would never see that in France.

From your personal experience growing up in Brittany and now living in Ireland is Celtic culture obvious in both places?
I grew up in Brittany, a region with a very strong cultural identity. Even though I was never actively involved in traditional music or dance groups, I was always interested in Breton culture. I have a lot of cousins who play in a bagad (the Breton equivalent of a pipe band), and friends who belong to Breton Dance groups. I can dance myself, but just for fun and I used to go to fest-noz (the equivalent of a ceili) a lot when I still lived at home. There are a lot of fest-noz during summer, and all the generations are mixed, it’s very popular. I also studied the basics of Breton language at school, and my parents, even though they are not fluent speakers, can understand the language very well. As a kid, I also used to dress up in traditional costume for the yearly parade in my village. Some members of my family used to wear the traditional costume everyday (up until the 1950s) and speak Breton fluently. So as you can see, I was pretty much surrounded by everything Celtic! Although I am very attached to my region, I always knew I wanted to live abroad. I had already been to Scotland and Wales twice, so naturally, when the opportunity of a full-time job came up in Ireland, I took it. One of the main reasons I chose Ireland was because it is a Celtic country, but when I arrived, I was a bit disappointed by the lack of Celtic “feeling” to the place. Maybe the fact that I lived in Dublin didn’t help. I was hoping to find Irish music sessions in pubs, people going to ceilis at the weekend, traditional music and dance festivals etc, but in fact, it nearly seemed like a dying culture, only staying alive for tourists in Temple Bar or Carroll’s (the ultimate Irish gift shop). I might be a bit harsh, because I know it’s different in other parts of the country, especially in the West, but that’s how I felt about Dublin. Having said that, I know people who play bagpipes, some that used to take part in Irish Dancing competitions, and even a few fluent Irish speakers. I just feel Breton culture is being constantly renewed and revitalised, but the Irish one seems to live in the past and has become less popular and too old-fashioned for the younger generation. Maybe it’s because, as a region we are trying to stand out compare to the rest of France and we have to fight to keep our culture alive.

Was Christmas a big deal for you growing up in Brittany?
Of course! I was raised in a Catholic family, so we learned from a young age about the significance of Christmas. We usually decorated the tree and set the crib all together, as a family. And every year, we went to Midnight Mass. Obviously, Santa Claus (or Père Noël as we call him in France) was as important (if not more!) as the birth of Jesus and I couldn’t wait to open my presents on Christmas morning.

How does Christmas in Ireland compare to Brittany?
The Christmas season starts early in Ireland! As soon as Halloween is over, shops are filled with decorations, chocolates boxes, toys, cards, Christmas pudding, and so on. The streets are decorated and the houses as well. You’d never see that many lights in Brittany! The religious side of Christmas is pretty much the same in both countries but the Santa Claus tradition is a little bit different. In Brittany, we don’t put milk and cookies out for Santa and actually I don’t remember leaving anything for him when I was a kid. I know in other parts of France they leave water and carrots for the reindeer, but my family never did that! The important meal in Ireland is on Christmas day but in France it’s generally on Christmas Eve. Except in my family. We usually had finger food (salmon, foie gras or paté on toasts) and sparkling wine on Christmas Eve, but the big family meal would be on the 25th of December. The menu however differs slightly. In Ireland, you can’t escape the turkey, stuffing and gravy, mash, roasted and boiled potatoes, vegetables, and the Christmas pudding to finish it off. In Brittany (in my family at least), the typical menu is fresh langoustines for a starter (sometimes oysters), roasted chicken and chips or green beans, salad, cheese and the “Christmas log” for dessert, which is a cake shaped like a log (in case you didn’t guess!). One tradition my parents brought back with them after a trip to Ireland is the Christmas crackers! They absolutely loved them. Sadly the jokes are in English so they never understand them, but at least they get a little gift and are very proud to wear a paper crown!

Have you been back to Brittany for Christmas since you moved to Ireland?
I work in an industry where Christmas is the busiest period of the year, so unfortunately I only went back home for Christmas once since I moved to Ireland. It was in 2011, when my second son was only 4 months old. I managed to go back only because I was on maternity leave—it was pure luck really. It was really nice to spend the holiday season with my family and of course, my two kids were spoiled by their grandparents, and the rest of the family. It was a bit like going back in time and I truly enjoyed it.

How will you be spending Christmas this year?
Because we don’t have any family around (my husband is from Mauritius), we started a little tradition of our own for Christmas. We usually spend the day with friends who are not going home either. We spent Christmas with many different people over the years, but the celebration is always international. We usually take this chance to learn about the way other countries celebrate Christmas. This year…we will probably cook a nice meal for some friends. We love eating mussels for Christmas; that’s definitely not your traditional Christmas dinner!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Book review: Dutched Up! Rocking the clogs, Expat style

My only experience of the Netherlands consists of a two days training in Amsterdam. I stayed in a hotel near the airport, went out in the town for a meal and that was pretty much it. During that intense experience I noticed that the "bike" culture wasn't a myth. While walking towards the restaurant, I saw a multi-storey car park FULL of bikes, literally thousand of them. How are you supposed to find your own in this mess? 
I would have also liked to try one of the famous coffee-shops, but being with my boss, I didn't think it was a great idea. We eventually ate in an Italian restaurant, went back to the hotel and that was it. The following day I went back home. The stay was so short I feel I didn't have time to experience anything really "Dutch". And despite all my efforts in bribing my superiors, they never sent me back there for more training.

For the past year or so, I've been reading Amanda's blog, a British mum of 3 boys, who has lived in The Netherlands with her Dutch husband for the past 14 years. She was recently a featured author in the anthology "Dutched Up! Rocking the clogs, Expat style". As you might know, memoirs are my favourite type of books, so I had to give that one a go. Who knows, I might go back there at some stage.

The book is a collection of stories from women expats who live in the Netherlands, and it's divided into topics: Culture shock, language learning, food, working, marrying someone Dutch, pregnancy and birth, and so on...

Even though my own experience of the Netherlands is very limited, I took a lot of pleasure reading about anecdotes and stories about foreigners trying to settle in a new country. I learned a lot about Dutch culture, from "open to view" houses (they apparently don't put curtains on their windows over there), to drug-free births. It seems the Dutch are a very direct, no bullshit kind of people (that would probably disturb the Irish a bit as they usually don't mean what they say and don't say what they mean).
There's one thing Irish and Dutch have in common though: Doctors who don't prescribe medicine or antibiotics unless you are dying in front of them. Usually bread and rest solve everything in the Netherlands. I've experienced exactly the same here... quite frustrating sometimes.

I think the hardest thing when you move to another country is learning the language and re-building a whole new social network. The authors explain those barriers very well and how they overcame them. This is what made the book really interesting. Real people, real experiences.

This book is definitely a must have for anyone who, like me, loves reading about other expats stories, and also for people who want to move to the Netherlands and would like to know more about what it's really like living over there.


Friday, 12 December 2014

Lost and found

I've lost it...again!  

I'm knackered. I've spent about an hour trying to find Ethan's beloved soft toy "Coco". I know he's in the house somewhere. Ethan was playing with it on the couch before going to bed, and of course, when bed time came, he was gone. It's probably in the black hole along with the Gruffalo book we lost last week, and half of my husband's socks.

Of course my 3 years old couldn't tell me where he put it. "He's in the river", he said excitedly. I checked the bath, the shower, the toilets, the sink, but no sign of Coco. I looked pretty much everywhere. To be fair, it's not the first time it's happening. Once I found him in a drawer. Another time it was on the highest shelf in the living room. I think the best one was when Ethan put him in the bin. I couldn't believe it and I had only looked in there because I was desperate...! Now it's the first place I look in. But this time, nothing. I even checked the washing machine, the dishwasher, all the cupboards... I am puzzled. Where the hell is that rabbit??

Honestly, I should know better and actually, we're already on Coco number 2. We lost him while on holidays in France during summer. I have no idea how it happened, but I think Fabrice took Ethan on the bike and Coco fell on the road. I didn't notice he took him in the first place so that's kind of my fault. Anyway, I looked it up on the internet and in two clicks I bought his replacement. To avoid big tears, my mum went to the supermarket and bought a different one, a cow. But you know kids, Ethan wasn't fooled one bit, and kept telling my mum it wasn't Coco. So he called it "Coco mamie" (Grand-mother in French). The "real" Coco was delivered two days later and everything went back to normal. Except he was already attached to "Coco mamie" by then, and we had to bring it back to Ireland as well. So now, he has two Cocos... Double trouble, twice the chances of losing them!

At least I found it easily online. It wasn't the same story when we lost Didi, Ciaran's plush toy. Fabrice had the brilliant idea of letting him take it to IKEA... The land of super efficient storage spaces. It was during the "I-open-every-cupboard-and-put-something-in-it" phase Ciaran was going through. Needless to say Didi probably found a new home in one of the children's bedroom cupboard. 

My online quest for a new Didi lasted for a whole day. I spent hours on the web looking for that damn toy. It was originally a present from a cousin of mine who, of course, didn't remember where she bought it. It was coming from France so I searched every French online shop possible with the description " blue and brown rabbit". I was getting nowhere when I decided to use Google images instead and finally found the treasure! It was on a "Lost soft toys" website, and there was only one left. That's when I discovered it was not a rabbit, but a dog. Don't laugh, it definitely looks like a rabbit shaped dog.

I don't know if all parents out there feel like me, but all this losing and searching for their favourite soft toy is exhausting, and stressfull. Not only you have to rip the house apart but you also have to deal with the tears and the lengthy explanations on the whereabouts of their beloved teddy... And if you have to buy another one, you have to pray that they will not make the difference between the old and new one.

If only there was some sort of tracking tag we could put on those things and every time you lose them you could "call" the toy and it would make a sound.. I've looked that up online, it doesn't seem to exist, so I might be on to something here!! I just need to take a crash course in electronics and computing. The thing is, I'm sure a lot of parents would be interested!

Anyway, for the time being, I have to keep searching. I'm off to the freezer, I haven't looked there yet.


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

My 100th post and 1 year of blogging !

I can't believe it's been one year already. I remember thinking about starting a blog in English but I was afraid it wouldn't work. "Who would want to read stories in English about a French mum in Ireland?" I though to myself so many times...
It took me months (if not years) to finally take the courage and start writing. And I really thought nobody would be interested. 
I had a very insightful conversation with my mum about this blog yesterday. She was wondering why people were reading it and why they were interested in my experience as an expat in Ireland. 
At the moment, she is reading the memoirs of a Breton author, about his youth in a boarding school. So I asked her why she liked it so much.
"I can relate" she said. "It reminds me of my own teenage years in a boarding school".
It was exactly the answer I was looking for. I think people read my blog because they can relate. Maybe they are expats, French, they have kids, they know me or maybe they just like Ireland...
I've also realised that writing made me read a lot more. I've discovered so many great blogs along the way and I didn't suspect the Irish blogging community was so big! My greatest achievement was definitely making the final of the Blog Awards Ireland, and the awards ceremony was without a doubt one my highlights of 2014!
I also want to say thank you to everyone who reads and appreciate my blog. It makes me want to keep at it and not give up. Finally I want to say a very special "Merci" to Muriel, who inspired me and whose blog gave me a kick in the butt to start my own!
I have a few ideas for the year to come, so all I'll say is "Stay tuned!"

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

A Birthday party

On Friday evening, I noticed a birthday invitation in my 3 years old school bag. An invitation for the following day! After moaning for a while about inconsiderate parents who don't even give a week notice before a birthday party, I realised my son only goes to playschool 2 days a week, Monday and Friday, so maybe that's why he didn't get the invite earlier (although they really could have given it on Monday...)

Going to a 4 years old girl birthday party wasn't exactly in the plans I had for the week-end. Fabrice was out at the races for the day (a guys day out...Some people have it good, don't they?!) and left at 11am, so I had to bring my eldest along to the party.

Great. I had to find a birthday present, and go to a party where I didn't know anybody. Not exactly how I was hoping to spend my Saturday afternoon. I went shopping and time was against me to find a birthday present for a girl I had never met. Ethan  tried to help and insisted on buying little hair bows. It was very cute to watch! Somehow, I found a pink, fluffy piggy bank that was also a bubble bath bottle, all at a very reasonable price. I am proud to say that I'm super efficient when it comes to present buying. 

It was time for the party which was held in an indoor play area. Finding the mum was easier than I thought and Ethan gave the present to the little girl. She opened it straight away and I got a little bit scared. To be honest, I wasn't ready for rejection in case the present wasn't to her taste, but the look on her face said it all. She was delighted! And her mum as well: "Thank you so much, she absolutely LOVE pigs!"... At least I got one thing right. 

All the kids started to run around, so it was time for me to stand awkwardly by the side, and look at my phone pretending I was busy. Every few minutes I took a glance at my kids to make sure they were OK. 
I didn't know anybody. Not one face. You see, I don't drop Ethan at playschool, and the childminder picks him up so it doesn't help the social interaction. Everybody was sitting at the same table, all chatting away and I was completely left out. When I'm in a room full of stranger, I'm just the most uncomfortable and shy person so I had no clue on how to start a conversation.

I noticed a girl who was on her own, but I wasn't sure she was part of the party so I quietly observed her for a while. After 15 minutes of pure discomfort, I just decided to go for it and started a conversation. She was glad I did because she was in the same boat. 

Then it was eating time. I can't say if it was lunch or dinner or snack. What do you call a 4:30pm chicken nuggets and chips meal? Anyway, both my kids were supposed to share their food as only  Ethan had been formerly invited, but it didn't matter as they're not big eaters. In the end, he didn't even want to sitdown  and Ciaran just ate all his food, even the cake. Ah well... At least there was no fight. 

The hardest part of the day? Trying to leave the play centre (which is more like an attraction park). It took A LOT of bribing to exit the place, but we eventually made it out. I was exhausted.

And we had to do it all over again the following day as we were invited to another Birthday party. Except that time it was in a house, and I knew everybody. Phew!