Christmas In London

It's been busy, it's been fun, it's felt a little different, and we've packed in as much as we possibly could in the short time we've been here! Christmas in London has been a whirlwind, and as we prepare to head back to France tomorrow here's just some of what we've been up to since touching down in the UK. After a quick trip to Manchester to see family (and Santa!) we first settled down in South London to celebrate Christmas Day with Andrew's family.

The kids spent a day at Chessington to see Santa (again!) the animals at the zoo, and for a Gruffalo show. I was treated to the most delicious lunch with family and friends at The Waterside Inn in Bray, and whilst staying at my parents house took myself round all the lovely gift shops full of Christmas at this time of year. Dad and I saw Interstellar at Westfield and I was shocked to see shops open till 11pm!! (Yes, I have become that country!) Reuben had his first trip to the cinema to see Paddington which is a lovely family film. It was funny and showed some of my favourite bits of London, like Portobello Road, which sadly I just didn't get to this time round.

After Christmas we headed up North London to stay with my parents and we spent time down at the Southbank, one of our favourite places. Mum took the boys on the London Eye and the little Southbank Centre Express train along the river. Andrew had his first taste of the ballet as we had a night out to see the Nutcracker with my parents, and we managed a day to ourselves where we browsed around and had lunch in Covent Garden before heading back to the Southbank to see Timber, a fun family friendly show of lumberjack circus performers from Quebec.

We've been on all forms of transport after a year and a half travelling only by car. The boys have had fun with their cousins and reacquainted themselves with local playgrounds. We've shopped in the sales, oohed and aahed at the sparkly Christmas lights that all of London has to offer, and seen more Christmas trees than we would ever have seen in France. After all that we're exhausted and more than ready to return to quiet village life! It's been great seeing family and friends again, sorry to all of you we didn't get round to seeing. We're starting to think about the year ahead and we're planning a fun filled 2015. Thank you to all of you who read this blog, follow on social media, and take the time to comment. I look forward to sharing life with you next year!

Don't forget to follow on Facebook where soon I will be posting more pictures from our time in London!

Christmas In Manchester

We had only just touched down in London but the next day with suitcases repacked we were on a train heading up North to Manchester. Andrew has a lot of family up there and we went to visit them for a few days before settling in London. We made the effort to get out and about, despite the fact that it did not stop raining the whole time we were there!

I've had never actually been into the centre of Manchester before so the first day we took the boys in to do a bit of Christmas shopping and to see the Christmas market. I had to keep reminding myself that we were shopping for others, especially in Waterstones where I kept spying books I wanted to flick through and take home with me. Temptation was all around for the boys who are not used to seeing so many shops in one place and things on display. I had to keep reminding Reuben that Christmas was only a few days away and if there was anything he wanted to add it to his wish list.

We whizzed around the Christmas market which was a shame but by that time we were soaked through. There were some lovely things from pottery to locally produced food, fab Christmas jumpers and Bailey's hot chocolate alongside the traditional mulled wine. We saw a giant lit up Santa which the boys loved as they thought he was sat on top of a giant present.

Our next outing was to take the boys to see Santa. We headed to a local garden centre where they had a little train that took you to Santa's grotto. Again it was a shame it was raining as the train was uncovered and we got a little wet as we weaved our way along the track. The kids bought and waved their Thomas flags and queued patiently to see Santa. Both my boys were a little shy going in and Jacob wanted his big brother to go first. Reuben wasn't too eager to have his picture taken with him but they were both quite happy choosing their presents!

Before we knew it we were back on the train to London and at this point Jacob was welcoming everyone onto Virgin trains! It was a flying visit but the boys got to see their family and a bit of Manchester.

This will be my last post until after Christmas so to all my readers I hope you have a very Happy Christmas wherever you are in the world!

Crochet Clutch Bag

Why I decided to sell at a Christmas market the day before we left for London I have no idea. I had visions of being fully packed, food shopping for when we returned done, Christmas presents wrapped, and a spotless house. Ha! We were anything but ready. This particular Christmas market held in Verfeil was one of the better ones. There were a good range of stalls, with handcrafted goods to local producers selling food, and it was well attended by the villagers. Selling at these markets can be tough. My head is still in London when I think about craft markets and I forget that the local french markets are very different. The few kids that came liked my candy cane mice, badges, and bracelets with snowflakes and Christmas trees. But the majority of the older French villagers weren't interested in felt stockings and garlands so for me it was a little disappointing.

The item I was most proud of on my stall was my lined crochet clutch (the large one you can see in the picture above.) I'm quite glad it didn't sell as I actually want it for myself! It was the first time I had tried sewing a lining into a crocheted item and it wasn't as difficult as I thought it might be. I used this pattern and lovely colour changing yarn from a local haberdashery shop in Villefranche. I'll be making more and am starting to think about selling online next year. 2015 will be my year to master crocheting as my crochet wish list is growing daily!

What do you think of my Christmas stand?!

Thoughts On Going Back 'Home'

As our trip to celebrate Christmas in London rapidly approaches I'm starting to think about what life in London will be like. What will be the same? What will be different? How will we feel being back in the place that I at least still call 'home'? We've been in France now for a year and a half and this is the first time that we are making the journey back. I'm sure we'll have that feeling you get when you return home after a long holiday away. You know the one where you realise life goes on in pretty much the same way even when you're not there.

The kids will have to be watched like hawks. Jacob has little concept of pavements and roads as most of the places we visit and walk around are pedestrianised. On our trip to Albi Reuben thought it was noisy and that there were too many cars, so who knows what he'll think of the constant hum of the city and all the Christmas traffic! We'll be tourists, visiting all the places that tourists like to go at this time of year, and I'm slightly dreading the cost of everything. One of the reasons we moved from London is because we couldn't afford to live there, particularly when only one of us was working full time.

Being 'tourists' in London is something I want us to get used to though, as long term I want us to get to a point where we are back visiting at least once a year. I want the boys to grow up knowing London, obviously not in the same way that I do as I know that's not possible. But I want them to be familiar with the city as one day they may choose to call it their home. And that's what I'm looking forward to most...being back in a city that I am familiar with, where for a short period I understand everything that is being said around me, where I can show the boys some of my favourite places at this time of year and to remind them that there is a big world outside of our little French village.

Are you an expat abroad? How did you feel the first time you went back to your home country? This post is linking up Seychellesmama as part of her 'My Expat Family' series.

Seychelles Mama

Christmas Crafting With Kids

As a family we don't need an excuse to get crafty! Throughout Autumn/Fall we have had a go at leaf mobiles, owl print pictures and diva candles, which all now form part of our Christmas display. This year, because we'll be spending Christmas in London and not in France, we haven't got a tree. This time last year our tree was up and decorated and sat glittering in the corner of our living room until the New Year. This week I dragged the Christmas box down from the loft and made a little Christmas display for Reuben and Jacob to mark the start of December. I wrapped their advent calendars, hung up some tinsel, and draped everything in fairy lights in the hope that it might make our little corner of rural France feel a bit more Christmassy. 

One thing we do every year as a family is add to our Christmas box with homemade decorations. Have a look here to see what we made last year and below is what we had a go at this week!

Painted Tree Christmas Cards
Supplies: card, paper, paint, glue, glitter
Paint your paper with an array of colours and leave to dry, then use the paper to cut out some Christmas shapes. We chose to do a Christmas tree. Stick onto your card and then decorate how you like! Being Christmas we decided on glitter and Reuben wrote 'Happy Christmas' along the bottom of the cards. We'll be sending them out in the post soon!

Snowflake Candles
Supplies: Christmas paper punch, decorative paper, small glass jars, glitter, glue
Reuben had fun punching out paper snowflakes for this one which we then stuck onto the glass jars. The best bit was probably covering the rim with glitter and then lighting candles inside and watching them sparkle. We like to find ways of bringing light into our home at this time of year but we'll be able to use these all year round as a table decoration.

Christmas Photo Frame
Supplies: photo, frame, glue, glitter and shiny bits to decorate the frame
When Reuben was in nursery in London, every year at Christmas he would come home with a decorated photo frame with a picture of him looking Christmassy. Every family has their own Christmas traditions and I know there are many out there who take a seasonal family picture. I can honestly only think of one picture that we have with the boys, and Andrew and I, altogether. I am going to make it my mission to get a photo of all of us this Winter which we can add to our Christmas box.

Getting crafty at Christmas is a great way of bringing families together and creating traditions that can be repeated year after year. What crafty creations have you been making recently?

Follow all that we get up to at Christmas on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter!

This post has been written as part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs 'Christmas In Different Lands' series. Each day of December up until the 25th a different blogger around the world will share a part of their family Christmas. Check back each day for seasonal inspiration, from crafts to recipes, family traditions and more!


Christmas In London

This year we will be spending Christmas in London. We're all pretty excited at the thought of going, particularly as it will be our first trip back home since moving out to France a year and a half ago. There is so much we want to do in so little time and here is just a glimpse of some of the things we'll be trying to fit it!

The Southbank
This is one of the places we really miss as we used to hang out there quite a bit when we lived in London. We'll be heading down to the Christmas market and taking a ride on the Southbank Centre Express. I have booked tickets for Andrew and I to go and see Timber, and it would be great to catch some free music, or perhaps the family might be up for some Tango dancing on Boxing Day?!

Nutcracker at the ENO
With tickets booked I'm quite excited about this. I can't remember the last time I went to a ballet performance and for Andrew it will be a first. It will be one of our more grown up evenings out!

Ice Skating
We'll be heading to the Natural History Museum to skate this year where I'm hoping Reuben might be brave enough to have his very first try at ice skating. There are so many great skating sites around London and this one seems to be quite kid friendly. Plus there will be the added bonus of popping into the museum when we're done!

Christmas Tree
We're not getting a Christmas tree in France this year so we'll be heading out with the boys to find some of the biggest ones we can find in London. Let us know if there's one near you!

Eating Out
You can't beat shopping for fresh produce in local French markets, but too often we're finding the restaurants can be a little disappointing, with similar menus and lack of creativity. I'm looking forward to trying out some new restaurants, tasting all the foods we have missed, and am hoping to take Andrew here when we have our day out without the kids.

No, not Christmas shopping, that's already done! The kind of shopping we just can't get here in rural France. As well as browsing down Portobello Road and in Covent Garden there are three main shops I just have to go to. Being a music teacher without a good local music shop I'm currently buying all my music online. I'll be heading to the Yamaha Music Shop to choose new books for my students and find some musical inspiration for the New Year. I cannot tell you how much I miss the haberdashery shops in London. The Village Haberdashery, Ray Stitch and Loop will be on my radar almost as soon as I step off the plane. Bookshops! I can spend hours in a bookshop. The kids need new books and I'm after any family cookbooks and crafting books that I don't get off my Christmas wish list!

Family & Friends
This goes without saying really. It's been a while since we've seen some family and friends and although Christmas is a busy time for everyone we're hoping to see as many people as we can. Book us in now as dates are disappearing fast!

What's on your list to do this Christmas? Where do you like to go as a family? Do you have any outings booked?

 Pictures taken from here: train, nutcracker, ice skating, tree, wool

Autumn Leaf Mobiles

The weather has turned and the crispness of autumn is finally here. The fire is on and the heavy coats are back in the cupboard. It can be hard to motivate ourselves out of the house at this time of year but seasonal crafting, the kind that involves leaves, twigs and other found items on walks, forces us out the house with wellies, hats and gloves. Laminated leaf mobiles were on our radar recently. Another craft inspired by Tend Magazine, like our family owl prints. So out we went and collected leaves of all shades. We brought them home, cleaned them up, and dug out the laminator from the desk drawer.

The first few sheets went in well and then disaster, the leaves caused the sheet to jam and I thought my laminator was gone forever. We luckily already had enough leaves to create a couple of mobiles. Reuben helped cut out the leaves and we punched a hole in the top of each one before hanging them with string on a twig. Thankfully daddy came home and saved the laminator (with brute force!) and it lives for another crafting day!

Have you crafted with leaves? I'd love to make these glitter leaves for a sparkly autumn decoration.

Current Crochet Projects

When I started this crochet blanket (above) about 5 weeks ago there was a moment very early on when I realised that to finish it was going to take me FOREVER!! For the moment I've abandoned my previously mentioned crochet blanket because I've run out of yarn and think I might wait till I'm back in London to get more. So I had the perfect excuse to start another project! I found the pattern for this ripple blanket through Pinterest and have been trying to do at least one colour block row a day to keep it going. I found the yarn in a shop in Villefranche and have been back twice to stock up on more. (So glad I chose an inexpensive yarn for this project, something to bear in mind when I start any future blankets.) I'm hoping that it will be finished at some point in the new year, before Winter is over!

It's my birthday this month and as an early birthday present my mum, who has been working her way round all the craft fairs and stitching shows in London, very kindly sent me over a new set of Clover crochet hooks. I love them! Not just because of their fab colours, but also because they really are more comfortable and easier to grip than the cheaper ones I had before.

Other projects that I've started...winter scarves for all the family and hopefully soon a version of this top for me. Do you have any good crochet patterns? What are you crafting at the moment?

Check out my Pinterest crochet board for all the things I'm hoping to make!

Sweet Chestnut Festival - Laguépie

We had so much fun at last year's sweet chestnut festival in Laguépie we decided to go back again for this year's celebrations. I forgot how popular this festival is and instead of heading there first thing in the morning, this time we arrived at lunchtime and it was heaving. We walked through the festival to find lunch, getting distracted by the show of classic cars, the chrysanthemums for sale for Toussaint, the colourful squash displays, and of course chestnuts.

Lunch was a little different as we found a stall selling Chinese chicken with noodles, (optional) hot sauce, prawn crackers, and chocolate orange cake for dessert. The boys like their parents are huge noodle fans, and it was a nice change from sausage and aligot, the other usual option at events like these. Despite being the end of October we were in the midddle of an Indian summer (hence Reuben ending up in his t-shirt) and we baked away in the sunshine until it was too much and had to retreat into the shade.

After lunch we took a stroll through the market. Our first stop was the play area where there were a number of different outdoor games for kids to try. They had a go fishing, throwing a hoop onto a stick, bowling and coin throwing. Their favourite activity however was the high wire assault course which they missed out on last year. They were both harnessed up and navigated their way across the course. Jacob screamed as we tried to take him off as he wanted to go round again. We then found a stand run by volunteers offering arts and crafts for kids. Both boys had a go making little figures using chestnuts, matchsticks, paint, paper and glue.

Back through the market I ended up buying some chestnut flour, puréed chestnut spread, and some chestnuts for roasting (on an open fire!) We also bought two large pumpkins to carve for Halloween, though after scooping out one I decided to simply spray paint the second one gold!

What seasonal festivals have you been to this Autumn?

Visit our Facebook page for more pictures of the day

Lou Messugo

Learning French with the Zazoo!

Finding ways for the whole family to enjoy learning a new language can lead to exciting discoveries. In our journey to learn French I stumbled across Little Bilingues, a website that is now at the top of my favourites list as it has some great resources for helping kids learn French or English. For children, learning has to be fun. Judith Milena, the founder of Little Bilingues, has created the Zazoo, six colourful bilingual characters who go on fun adventures at places such as the beach and in Paris.

We have all of the books and both our boys love reading them. We read them together, going through the vocabulary pages first and then on to read the story. I read the French sentences and then translate them into English for the boys so they fully understand the story. Even if you have no French at all it's easy to guess what the characters are saying from the pictures and with help from the vocabulary at the beginning of the books. I love the attention to detail in the illustrations, there is so much to engage your child with and to talk about in any language.

If you're not confident reading in French there are also audio book versions that you can listen to with your children. Judith contacted us to see if we would be willing to help record the audio books knowing that Andrew, with his Media Man business, had all the equipment needed. We recruited local bilingual children and began the process of assigning characters and working with them to really bring the books alive. The children had fun in character and it was amazing to watch them move so effortlessly between two languages with perfect understanding and accents!

The Zazoo books and activities are aimed at children aged 2 - 7 years and with our boys aged 5 and 2 and a half they are at the perfect age for these resources. Judith also has downloadable activity books following different themes. If you're not sure whether the activities are suitable for your child you can sample some of the resources for free to try them out.

Do visit the Little Bilingues website and Judith's blog to discover the Zazoo for yourselves. Thank you Judith for creating such wonderful books for us to enjoy, and for letting us play a small part in the Little Bilingues journey!

Family Owl Print

I love discovering new magazines to read. Who doesn't? At the moment I'm drawn towards ones that reflect a slower pace of life, with emphasis on homegrown food, fun and simple crafts, nurturing family life, and a move towards self sufficiency. Tend is my latest find, a quarterly downloadable magazine that ticks all of the above.

In issue 3 there are craft projects that as soon as I saw I knew I had to do with the boys. This little thumb print owl family was the first project we did. Using printed paper from the latest Mollie Makes (another favourite magazine,) inks from our Christmas stamp set and twigs found outside our house, we put this picture together in minutes. So cute!

Do you have any family crafted art work on your walls at home?

La Ferme Du Safran - Septfonds

When I signed up for a tour of a local saffron farm I didn't realise that I would have the most interesting morning and learn so much about such a beautiful little thing. 'La Ferme du Safran' is just outside Septfonds and we were welcomed in by Bertrand, the owner. He led us straight to his field where he grows his saffron which looks like this...

Pretty much like any ordinary field you might come across. This, Bertrand began, is the beauty of growing saffron. The field is not watered, it is not shielded from the elements, the bulbs are planted amongst the weeds and left to do their thing. Harvesting takes place only in October. The flowers have to be picked by hand before daybreak as once they open the strands of saffron are exposed to the sun which kills their vitamins. Each flower contains three saffron strands which are extracted by hand. The distinctive colour is already there but Bertrand told us he gets the taste out of the saffron by heating it, where it loses 5 times it's weight, and leaving it to mature like a good wine.

Saffron is expensive due to the fact that it is processed by hand and what seems like a lot only yields a very tiny amount. It's priced like gold. When buying saffron if it seems too cheap chances are it's not real saffron. Anything can be made to look like saffron strands and then coloured and flavoured so be careful to check what you are buying. You may find, for example, that what you think is powdered saffron is actually turmeric! Real saffron has so many benefits. It's an antidepressant, it can aid digestion, the essential oil has calming properties, marathon runners use it to calm cramp, and you'll find it in some baby teething syrups. If saffron is something you think you've never had chances are you have as it is present in many medications.

After the tour of the farm and shop we were led inside for a home cooked saffron infused lunch where I quickly realised that I had never before eaten true saffron. It has such a particular flavour. There were people on my table who failed to pick out the saffron taste which was a surprise as for me it was such a dominant flavour in every course. The fish starter had a saffron infused butter sauce. The veal main had a creamy saffron sauce alongside seasonal potatoes and pumpkin. The trio of desserts included saffron meringues, fromage blanc topped with saffron compote and apple tart with yet more saffron. By the end of the meal I had to admit I was pretty saffroned out and I wasn't sure I actually enjoyed the taste. I can see how it can add colour and flavour but I think it's a fine chemistry to get it right. I bought a small packet of saffron to experiment with. I think I may start with a sweet rather than savoury dish, adding it to an already tried and tested cake recipe perhaps. As Bertrand added at the end, the best saffron recipes...are yours!

Have you cooked with saffron before? What do you think of the taste?

Salt Dough Diva Candles

It was always this time of year, when living in London, Reuben would come home with handmade diva candles from his lovely Montessori nursery. The children would explore the festival of Diwali and one of the mums would come and give a talk, they would taste Indian sweets, and make their little candle holders. We decided to make colourful candle holders with the boys over half term using our favourite salt dough recipe. The boys made a huge mess (as they do when flour is involved) and I helped shape balls of the dough into the holders which we then left to dry. Using our favourite new fluorescent and glitter IKEA paints we decorated and then covered with glitter for that extra sparkle!

How do you bring light into your homes at this time of year?
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