Our Christmas wreath - 12 Days of Christmas

This year my quest to make our Christmas wreath took me to Jardin de la Mothe, a private garden in Salles Courbatiès that began it's journey in 1997. In 2013 it earned itself the label 'Jardin Remarkable', and believe it or not, the garden is never watered. (That's my type of gardening!) It is so beautiful. Even at the start of winter with the trees shedding their leaves and frost melting in the sun, as you wander around it's hard to believe that it was all once just a field. The planting is inspiring. I came away with thoughts on what we could achieve with the little patch of land we have to grow on, and how we can keep it looking full all year round. Here are just a few of the pictures I took...

After a walk around the garden we sat down to lunch. Homemade chicken liver paté and humous, cous cous with roasted vegetables, spicy beef wrapped in filo pastry, and spinach quiche. Cake topped with raspberries and blackberries accompanied by meringues, all washed down with rosé wine and coffee to finish. It was all just delicious and we were truely spoiled!

But we weren't here just to lust after a beautiful garden, eat, drink and gossip! We were here to craft our own Christmas wreaths. Marion, whose garden we loved and food we devoured, hosts wreath making workshops in the run up to Christmas. The table where we had just had lunch suddenly became full of moss, ivy, and pine needles. There were baskets of dried oranges, cinnamon and pine cones. Little instructions were needed to get us going, as people started snipping away at branches and attaching them to their 'halos' of grape vine. After about an hour of tweaking, twisting and rearranging...here is the result!

I'm pretty pleased with it and it was such fun to do. Marion had wreaths around her garden from years gone by and I'm hoping that this survives a while. The nice thing is that it can be added to if bits (as I'm sure they will!) drop off. We'll hang it on our door closer to Christmas for all to admire!

Do you hang a wreath on your door at Christmas?

Becky x

Visit our Facebook page to see all the pictures I took of the garden. Jardin de la Mothe is open for guided visits, and every weekend in the summer you can enjoy drinks and patisseries made in house. If you're in the area I thoroughly recommend a visit!

La Famille Brown

Homemade advent calendars - 12 Days of Christmas

Welcome to the first instalment of our '12 Days of Christmas' project. With December fast approaching, and having seen our first Christmas tree in St Antonin last week, we've started Christmas crafting. Advent calendars are one of the first things you see when you now enter our local supermarkets and Reuben has his eye on a Kinder Surprise one. Little does he know that this year I have decided to make them!

I'm making two different calendars, both inspired from pins on Pinterest. I ordered all I needed to make the calendars from the 'rikyandnina' store on Etsy. It's a lovely little store full of lots of tempting crafting items from paper goods to stickers and stamps. (I tried not to get too carried away but the store is now on my list of favourites!) For Reuben's calendar I ordered the cutest mini envelopes and for Jacob's mini chevron paper bags. I stuck numbered stickers on each one and pegged them onto twine. My plan is to fill them with dried fruit, yoghurt covered raisins, and gold coins, and hang them by their beds on December the first. They're so cute I might even have to make one for myself!

If you're making advent calendars in your house this Christmas do let us know, we'd love to see pictures. Happy Christmas crafting!

Becky x

If you're quick the 'rikyandnina' store have a 10% discount code valid until the 30th November (which I totally forgot to use when I ordered!)

La Famille Brown

Cette semaine...looking forward instead of back!

This week 'Cette Semaine' is a little different as we are linking up with The Move to America's Monday Morning Coffee Social and looking forward to the week ahead instead of looking back! Last week it was my birthday and I always like to think about the year ahead and what I would like to achieve. It's strange to think that this time last year we were finalising plans for our move to France, and now here I am celebrating a birthday in Parisot for the first (and hopefully not last!) time.

So what do we have planned for the week ahead?

This week I will be writing and taking pictures for the first post of our '12 Day of Christmas' project. With December making its appearance at the end of this week it's time to step up a gear with all things Christmassy! Christmas is taking such a long time to appear in our corner of France (or maybe I just need to get out the village a bit more?!) but as soon as December hits on Sunday you'll know it's Christmas in our house!

Last week I taught my first piano lesson to a child at Reuben's school. The girl really enjoyed the class and I have decided to expand our Mini Musique idea with piano and recorder lessons for primary aged children (5-11 years.) Music lessons for kids shouldn't be a chore and I've found this great piano series that introduces children to playing in a way that keeps them engaged and encourages fun! This week I will be making adverts and getting the word out there.

It's your last chance to vote for our picture in the World Cup for Kids photo contest hosted by Multicultural Kid Blogs. The winning picture will be used as the logo for the series that they will run during the World Cup next year. We chose this great picture and you can vote for us here. Closing date is 30th November so cast your votes now!

The first Christmas market (that we know of) is being held in St Antonin this Saturday and we're hoping to get our Christmas tree at the weekend. We've seen fake Christmas trees in the supermarkets but we'll be on the look out for a real one. I am going Christmas wreath making on Friday at Le Jardin de la Mothe which I am really looking forward to!

I have planned a 'food' themed session for my English class in Cahors on Wednesday. I've been printing out flashcards and pretend money for a role play game. I will be setting up a shop in the classroom and getting the French kids to practise their English by going to buy pretend food from the shop. Activity Village has been a great site for activity ideas and free printables to use with the kids.

We have decided to really make an effort with learning French this week. It is amazing how little French we have spoken since we arrived and the time has come to do something about it. We will be uploading the Michel Thomas CD's onto the iPod and plugging in the headphones during Jacob's naptime.

What do you have planned for the week ahead?

Becky x


The Move to America


Let's get organised!

With Christmas on its way I've already started making lists. I have at least three notebooks on the go with gift and craft ideas, and my designated craft space in the loft is beginning to look a little worse for wear. This is despite the fact that I'm still trying to find the time to actually do some sewing, but there still seems to be fabric everywhere and Halloween decorations lurking in the background. It's time to get organised.

This project took less than an hour to do but is the first step in beautifying my crafting space. We were made a lovely cork board by a family friend in London which has recently replaced our functional but plain IKEA board. I decided to take this board to the next level with fabric bought from a French brocante market last year and some twine.

I started by stapling the fabric onto the board. I could have got mathematical with the twine to make it slightly more even, but with my time limited to Jacob's nap time I wanted to finish before he woke up. And here it is! Such a quick and easy craft to do and now my lists and sewing projects can be displayed with style!

How are you getting organised for Christmas?
Becky x

Singing the French National Anthem

There's something I haven't told you yet...I've joined the village choir! I've been in choirs before, all throughout my school years and later at university. The 'Choeur de Parisot' is conducted by Peter Nowfel and contains a mix nationalities including French, English, Dutch and Swedish. We're working on a range of songs for concerts next year but have taken a break to practise Christmas songs for two carol services in December. I thoroughly enjoy singing and what's great is that I already know some of the songs that we are working on.

Here in France, Armistice Day, 11th November, is a public holiday. We only realised this when Andrew tried to take Reuben to school and found the gates shut and no one around! In Parisot the church service for this rememberance day was held the Sunday following, and the choir was invited by the Mayor to sing 'La Marseillaise' (the French National Anthem) by the village monument for people that died. At midday a procession was led from the village church by flag bearers and a little boy carrying a bouquet of flowers. These were placed in the monument whilst the flag bearers stood in a line in front. There was a minutes silence and then we sang the first verse of 'La Marseillaise' in unison to an audience of villagers and local church goers. I noticed that some of the audience sang along with us. Following the anthem there was a short speech from the Mayor and then everyone was invited to the Salle des Fêtes where drinks and cake were served.

I've never sung at an event before where I have been required to sing a national anthem. I don't even think I've ever sung the British one and must confess I only know the tune of the French one from hearing it at the start of football matches. Although I have not been in France long enough for 'La Marseillaise' to be considered my national anthem, I am part of a choir that is multinational, and I felt it was important to show my French choir goers and French neighbours support during this rememberance event. As our choirmaster said at the end of the ceremony, it was a battle that the English fought as well as the French and lives were lost on both sides.

Becky x

The Choeur de Parisot's next events are our Christmas concerts. If there are any local readers these will be held in Limogne on the 15th December and in Parisot on the 21st.

Cette semaine...

1. We launched our '12 days of Christmas' project
2. We made our contribution to the 'Show Me Your Neighbourhood' project
3. We went to Villefranche for an Autumn walk by the river
4. We toasted marshmallows at a Bonfire party
5. We had our first mince pies and...
6. ...saw our first Christmas tree!

Becky x

Our neighbourhood in France

Our neighbourhood in France is nothing like our old neighbourhood in London. When I came across the 'Show Me Your Neighbourhood' project hosted by the Piri-Piri Lexicon I knew that I had to get involved. Not only would it be a great way of seeing and showing the boys how people live around the world, it would also be a way for us to show family and friends our new surroundings. We live in Parisot, a small village in the Tarn-et-Garonne region of South West France. Our nearest big town is Toulouse. We've only lived here permanently since August this year but it has quickly become our home and we have settled well into French village life. In the neighbourhood series there a six key pictures that participants are required to take. Here are our six, with a few more thrown in-between!

our village
A playground
There is no playground in the village but children can safely play outside their homes (our two boys regularly play on the doorstep.) There is a covered 'hall' at the end of our road that children use to play in. It's great for riding bikes and scooters in as the floor is smoother than the roads. The nearest playground is down at the village lake where there are swings, a roundabout, slide and seesaw.

outdoor 'hall' where children play

playground at Parisot lake
A local mode of transport
As we're in rural France most people get around by car. We didn't have a car when we lived in London so we had to buy one when we came out here, and husband Andrew had to learn to drive! The other main mode of transport around here seems to be tractors. There's a lot of farm land around us and it's not unusual to see tractors on the roads (holding up traffic as they drive sooooo slowly) and even outside our house.

our car

tractor outside our window
A typical house/building
Our village is made up of traditional stone houses, though more modern looking houses are being built just outside the village. Our house was built in 1851. Most of the houses have small gardens attached, our garden however is separate from the house, though it only takes a minute to walk there. Many villagers grow their own fruit and vegetables which we are planning to do next year.

French house
A street nearby
Here is one of the main streets in the village. This street has the village bakery, shop, school, hairdresser, bank and mayor's office along it.

typical street
A school, nursery or other educational facility
Parisot has a primary school that caters for children in the village and surrounding villages. Our eldest boy Reuben started full time here in September this year and is slowly starting to pick up the French language. Children in our village go to school four and a half days a week as Wednesday is a half day. They have two breaks in the morning and afternoon, and the children can go home for lunch should they wish to.

the village school
A market, supermarket or other shopping outlet
Many people favour market shopping in our area as the food is fresh and local. Our village market is held every Friday morning and usually has at least vegetable stall, a fruit stall, a fish and a meat van. Bread is baked fresh daily in our village bakery and there is also a small shop selling most other things needed. We tend to do a market shop and a big weekly supermarket shop in a nearby town, though I may challenge myself one day to see if I can get everything locally.

village market

village bakery
Parisot Lac
This is the village lake where once upon a time you used to be able to swim. Rules and safety regulations have been in place for a while now that mean people no longer do, but it's a nice place to walk and take the kids to play. There is a café open from Spring to Autumn and there is a campsite where people can stay. Every year it hosts Festi'Lac, our village fête, where fireworks are set off over the lake.

Parisot lac
Thanks for stopping by our neighbourhood. You can see all the other neighbourhoods in the series here. It's been great reading about other neighbourhoods around the world. A big thank you to Annabelle at the Piri-Piri Lexicon for hosting. I look forward to reading the others that follow!

Becky x

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Show me your neighbourhood around the world

Lou Messugo

Grandma in London

My mum enjoyed writing her last guest post so much she has done another one! She's back in London now after her visit over half term and has been keeping herself busy until her next visit at Christmas.

A guest grandma post from London! Well if it helps to keep in touch I am willing! So, was it easier to say goodbye to La Famille Brown the second time? Not really, so the solution was to keep the mind and body busy. During the week, with work, this is not too difficult, but at weekends, the time when I would previously touch base with the grandchildren, a little bit more effort has to happen. However, there is a tendency to over organise, such as last weekend!

Friday after work was a birthday dinner with girlfriends. This is a kind of tradition though we usually do lunch. We found ourselves in a bar/restaurant in Notting Hill full of 30 something's. Did we feel out of place? Only slightly. At one point our table, with 9 of us, was politely propositioned by a young man with one glass too many in his hand but it added to the fun of the evening and the food was fabulous.

Saturday we were entertaining, so much time was spent buying the right ingredients and trying to put them together in the right way. Off to the Ginger Pig and La Fromagerie for meat and cheese. Though cooking stresses me slightly as I always worry about the end results and, consequently, the best part of the meal for me was the Waitrose Madagascan vanilla ice cream!
World food market
Sunday took us to Brick Lane which was great. When you live in London you don't always make the most of the best bits of the city and I had not been to the East End for some time. We visited the Renegade Craft Fair which was amazing, full of incredible talent and we were able to start our Christmas shopping. We then dropped in to a brilliant world food market and had a Cuban lunch! Not needing much of an excuse to buy cup cakes I bought two for myself and son (salted caramel - delicious.)
Royal Academy
The afternoon found us at the Royal Academy for an exhibition of paintings from Australia. It was a historical perspective and really interesting. I saw lots of pictures I would quite happily have hung on my walls - I think it was the general colour tone. Lots of reds, oranges and ochres. Beautiful.
Fortnum's Christmas window
We slipped into Fortnum and Mason for a last bit of Christmas shopping (you couldn't not do this after seeing their gorgeous Christmas windows) and then I collapsed with exhaustion in the car! I had managed to have a weekend without much fretting until I got back home and Facetimed La Famille Brown - boys getting ready for bed and all relaxed.

Will I stop missing them lots - I doubt it!! Hugely looking forward to Christmas in France!
Grandma x
Thanks mum! Good to see that London is well and truly into the swing of Christmas. Really gutted I missed the Renegade Craft Fair, will definitely be making a trip back to London for that next year. Looking forward to seeing all the family in December. Becky x

12 Days of Christmas

Last week I gave in...to Christmas! Think it's too early for Christmas? Here in our corner of France you wouldn't even know Christmas is just round the corner (apart from the MASSIVE toy sections that have appeared in the local supermarkets.) But I have been seeing pictures and messages from family and friends back in London of Christmas lights, markets, and even kids on sleigh rides who think they are on their way to the North Pole! I'm determined to start bringing Christmas to Parisot and am lauching my exciting new project...12 Days of Christmas!

From now until Christmas day I have decided to do 12 posts themed around Christmas. This will be anything from making decorations, Christmas baking, gift buying and making, and of course discovering how Christmas is done French style.

Want to join in?
Grab a '12 Days of Christmas' badge (see sidebar to the right) send us your link to your Christmas themed blog post, and we will share it on the next '12 Days of Christmas' post that we do.

We're looking forward to hearing all about Christmas where you are!

Becky x

World Cup for Kids

I love this photo! It was taken just before we moved to France in one of our favourite parks in London, Queens Park. It was the park I grew up in as a child as we lived in a flat and didn't have a garden. Queens Park was at the end of our road so we spent a lot of time there. We bought Reuben and Jacob this giant inflatable ball and they took it for its first kickabout with their Uncle Josh. I'm entering the picture into the World Cup for Kids Photo Contest hosted by Multicultural Kid Blogs, where you can find blogs dedicated to raising world citizens (including ours!)

Uncle Josh (my younger brother) is actually going to Brazil next year for the World Cup. He's as excited about watching great football as he is about travelling to Brazil, a country I would love to explore one day with the boys. Reuben's love of football has to date been short lived. He attended Little Kickers football classes back in London and was happy doing ball exercises, but wasn't happy when they started playing mini matches against each other. Maybe he'll catch football fever next year when the World Cup starts and the cafés here in France are full of football fans. Our village does have its own football team, the pitch is just outside the village. We'll have to find out when they practice or have a game and take the boys along to watch.

This competition is open to anyone so if you have any pictures of children and football (soccer to some) you can upload them and vote for your favourites here. Good luck!

Becky x


Autumn family foraging

There is no doubt that since moving to France we have spent lots more time together as a family. With all this time we've started to craft more, bake more, and learn about our surroundings with a new family pastime...foraging. We don't have to travel far to find fruit dropping from the trees or growing along the roadside, especially at this time of year. If you were to look inside Reuben or Jacob's coat pocket you are likely to find an abundance of chestnuts (though in mine this week I found a couple of stones and a stale piece of bread leftover from feeding the ducks at the lake.) Autumn, or fall, is a time for harvest, and we've started our own little harvest collections at home.

It started in September with blackberries. Although a little late this year the roadsides were full of them. We emphasised to Reuben the importance of only taking what we needed and we filled our baskets with little handfuls. Jacob on the other hand ate whatever he could reach or got given. We blended them with bananas to make smoothies, froze them with apple juice to make ice lollies (see Reuben in picture above), and squashed them to a pulp to make cordial. Next year we'll be out for more and perhaps we'll venture into blackberry jam or even blackberry wine!

Then we discovered things that fell from the trees around us. Conkers were prised from their prickly shells and only the smooth ones would do. The walnuts we found from a tree at the top of our village. We're saving them for Christmas, though I have found a great craft using the shells as boats that I know the boys will love!
In October the chestnuts came into their own. We again foraged for our own along the roadside until we found the chestnut festival in Laguépie. We were able to show Reuben the difference between the conkers he collected in his pockets and the version we could eat. An important distinction to make if we are to become true foragers! Acorns we found on our walks, the tops of which Reuben informed me were used by fairies as hats. I think grandma is responsible for that one!

If there's one fruit we've had most of this Autumn it's figs. We've made endless pots of jam with fruit from the heaving trees of kind neighbours. Reuben helped make the first batch, cutting up the figs before watching them boil to the right consistency. Both boys have enjoyed their sweet fig jam on toast. As a family we've discovered foraging is a great way to help us learn about our new environment, the changing seasons and how to eat for free! We're looking forward to continuing this new family pastime as we move into Winter and the next year.

What have you been foraging for this Autumn?

Becky x

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Petrolheads at the Lac

If there are classic cars on show anywhere in our region, chances are we'll be there. The boys are just mad about cars and can spot a classic one a mile away. If you've read our 'Parisot fête' post you'll know that I've been pointing out vintage cars to Reuben ever since he was a baby in his pram, so it was inevitable that this weekend we ended up at our very own Parisot Lac for a gathering of beautifully kept classic cars. Les Petrolheads describe themselves as 'cars and people with character in the Tarn-et-Garonne'. Owners (who at this meet seemed to be mainly English) meet with their cars every couple of months throughout the summer and into autumn, and Sunday was their last meet of the season.

As at Tractomania, as soon as Jacob saw the cars he couldn't get out of his pram quick enough. He ran from car to car with a flow of 'ooh's' and 'wow's' and as you can see tried his hardest to get into most of them. Luckily, being as cute as he is, one owner kindly let him sit inside his shiny red car where Jacob sat with a huge grin on his face whilst holding the steering wheel. I was more concerned about the mud on his shoes getting on the nice clean seats but the owner didn't seem to mind.

This last gathering was another sign that things are starting to slow down in our corner of France. Parisot lake itself is now closed until next year. Many pop up shops in the area closed as soon as the last tourists returned home after the summer. The smoke is starting to appear out of chimneys as people retreat into their homes and the temperature starts to drop. This week Reuben starts back at school after his two week Toussaint break, and after the fun of Halloween our thoughts are slowly starting to turn to (dare I say it!) Christmas!

Becky x

Cette Semaine...

1. We collected my mum from the airport
2. I found a fabric shop in nearby town Villefranche
3. I got my sewing machine out again (details soon!)
4. We linked up with Multicultural Kid Blogs
5. We celebrated Halloween...
6. and started to think about Christmas!

On the blog this week...a chestnut festival, letters from London, Halloween, and a guest post from Grandma!

Becky x

Guest post from Grandma!

My mum has been down this week visiting from London. She reads the blog almost daily and I though she might like to do her own guest post while she was here. So I'd like to introduce you to Grandma!...

I have been invited to do a guest grandma blog post! In the summer my daughter and her family moved to our house in Parisot, to start a new life in France. When we drove back to the UK after the long summer holidays I was devastated. I had seen my daughter and husband along with my two grandsons almost every week since the much welcomed arrivals of the latter into the family, and now I was not going to see them for eight weeks. Fortunately I was thrown into my last term of work before retiring so I had plenty to do to keep me busy but FaceTime was not really enough to keep me in touch with the family in France.

The Famille Brown and TAG on-line blogs did the trick. I was able to keep in touch with what was happening in the local area and what they were up to on an almost daily basis - and I have to admit it was certainly a different life to the one in London. I am not sure about the rest of the family but I think my daughter was in her element - making and creating everything from bramble jam to Halloween monsters. She has the life I always dreamed of whilst staring out of my university room in York - fresh air, exercise and self sufficiency. The grandchildren love the outdoors and the space and, one of my biggest concerns as we drove back through France, the eldest has settled well into school. The family have made friends and contacts (thanks to the very welcoming English community, among others) and they have enough work to keep them eating!

So, would the grandchildren remember me after our first long separation? Well, I was so excited to see them I was near to tears as the plane landed and I was thrilled beyond words to be greeted by two very excited little boys who nearly knocked me over with their hearty greeting. They have woken me each morning this week with squeals and the odd cup of tea and I have loved getting involved again with everything from nappies and showers to collecting twigs and bark for aboriginal bark painting. We have practiced our Halloween laughs to greet the arrival of grandad and we have hidden with torches under the kingsize duvet. I have loved every minute and found it exhilarating rather than exhausting.

I am now not looking forward to the end of the week - apart from anything else there seems to be such a lot happening to keep people busy in Parisot, from chestnut fairs to music evenings and I love the changing face of the markets each season and see not enough of them beyond summer. This will change in December when I retire - I have plans to make sure my French is as good as that of my grandchildren and I am going to learn to cook and preserve. I just hope I can make myself useful enough for the Famille Brown to have me living next door - I can offer anything from cleaning to keeping the English going and I have an amazing selection of children's books!

Grandma x

Halloween and La Toussaint

When we lived in London we always spent Halloween with family. The kids would dress up, the party food would be laid out, the cobwebs would be put in the corners rather than hoovered up, and the scary mask would be ready by the door to give those who came trick or treating a fright. The kids would play games like eating a donut off a piece of string and bobbing for apples, and the dads would take them round the neighbourhood to trick or treat. This year in France we were lucky enough to have family here as my mum and dad are here for half term, so I planned a Halloween Family Feast!

We had snails and mummies (sausages wrapped in croissant dough) for appetisers followed by witches brew soup which was a brilliant shade of green. Ruben wouldn't go anywhere near the snails and Jacob thought the soup was yucky. Though he did drink it all up so I think he may be slightly confused between 'yucky' and 'yummy'! We had pumpkin and green bean Thai green curry for our main and a pumpkin cake for dessert. It was all delicious and I spent most of the day preparing it. The meal didn't go quite according to plan as Andrew ran into car trouble on the way home from work so he missed the starter and the kids ended up eating their main before us, but c'est la vie! We had one set of trick or treaters and we were prepared with a large bowl of sweets. We didn't take the boys out but they dressed up in their spider costumes and my mum did a treasure hunt in the dark for sweeties, which Reuben loved and Jacob wasn't quite so sure of.

The day after Halloween in France is La Toussaint, All Saints Day. This is a day for remembering those that have passed away. The churches hold services and people visit and place flowers on the graves of family and friends. Chrysanthemums are the flower of choice to lay which is why if you're visiting a French person you should never give chrysanthemums as a gift. We've not really explained to Reuben too much about death yet. He doesn't know anyone close to him that has yet passed away and we've never had any pets (other than our fish who is still alive and well in London) though he does know how to 'dead' a mosquito. It's something we will explore as he gets older and I think it would be good if we also spent La Toussaint as a day to remember. Lighting a candle is often a simple way of keeping the spirit of those who have gone alive in our memories.

We hope you all had a fun Halloween! Do let us know your thoughts on teaching children about La Toussaint and other similar days.

Becky x

Like our Facebook page to see more pictures of the day in our Halloween album
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