New Year...New Plans

I love this time of year. I love sitting by the fire and making plans for the coming weeks and months. There's a basket of wool by my side for creating, the cookbooks are dusted out of the cupboard for healthy family friendly meal plans, the birthdays are transferred from one diary to the next, and lists are made of travel hopes and dreams.

I have major plans for this year to come. Firstly, I want to develop my music. I write my own songs and it's about time and start recording them and getting some gigs. I want to compose more and pick up my flute again, and I feel terrible that as a music teacher I have so far failed to have regular lessons with my own kids. I have started the piano with Reuben but I think both boys could handle the ukulele and the recorder.

I want to launch a(nother!) business. I love making stuff. I love getting crafty, particularly with my sewing machine and crochet hooks. My craft ideas board on Pinterest is overflowing and it's time to start having a go at making what I pin. I want to have a go with stained glass (there's a teacher not too far away) and I'm desperate to learn how to knit. I want to start selling some of my own handmade items but also holding crafting workshops from home.

Family wise this year it's all about travel but also rooting ourselves here in France. We have plans to explore France in our camper but also take it to Spain in the summer and possibly Austria via Switzerland and onto Italy towards the end of the year. I'm crossing everything in the hope that we'll have the opportunity to buy our forever family home here in France this year. We've starting regularly checking estate agents to see what's out there and will start visiting places soon.

I wish all of you who have taken time to read my blog a very Happy New Year! If you have any plans big or small for the approaching New Year do share as I'd love to hear them! (And if anyone has tips on how to move to Wordpress send them this way...the time has come!)

Caylus Christmas Market

When we first arrived in France 3 years ago I had a go at selling some of my handmade items at a Christmas market. I spent hours making felt mice for candy canes, mini stocking bunting, snowflake bracelets, and my first crochet bags. It was a disappointing day as I probably made no more than 10€. The market wasn't busy and the people that did attend seemed to be more after the more traditional Christmas items than what I had to offer. This year however I decided to take part in another Christmas market and I am more than pleased to report that my stuff sold and I actually made some money!

The 'Bouton Rouge' Christmas market was held in Caylus the first weekend in December. The village Salle des Fêtes was decorated and packed out with stalls selling handmade items. The atmosphere was inviting and it was well attended by people eager to find unique gifts and decorations. Music was provided in the morning by Hommes Sans Frontieres, a local mens choir, and in the afternoon by me! I strummed away up on stage with my ukulele and sang Christmas songs with my neighbour and one of my music students.

I was so happy that people liked what I had to sell. Most popular were the mini elephant and teddy toys that I had made from an old jumper that a friend no longer wanted, and my crocheted gloves. I also sold mini purses, tote bags, bunting, a Christmas wreath, and a crocheted basket. It was so encouraging as I really want to set up a handmade business next year and I now feel confident to go ahead, knowing that people like and buy what I make.

I thoroughly miss the Christmas markets in London at this time of year. I'm not too inspired Christmas shopping on the internet. I miss browsing around little independent stores for unique gifts and it's a shame we have to travel so far here to reach the best markets. Though that does mean I don't get too carried away buying all those little presents for me instead of for other people!

What Christmas markets do you enjoy at this time of year?

Foire à la Châtaigne in Laguépie

Pumpkins, sweet chestnuts, outdoor games and oysters...just some of the reasons why the sweet chestnut festival in Laguépie has become a firm fixture in our calendar. (Here are posts from our first and second visits. I love seeing how much the boys have grown!) The festival is truely a marker that Autumn is here and it's time to embrace the season. This year we picked our pumpkins for Halloween and a few extra mini ones, because they're cute and we just can't help it. The market was packed as the festival always seems to draw in the crowds. The fact that it was a gloriously warm Autumn day and the school holidays I'm sure helped.

We made a tour of the market, making mental notes of what we would stop and buy on the way home, before heading to the outdoor games section. The boys love this bit. We all tried our hands at some of the different games and Andrew and Reuben stopped to play a game of draughts. We arrived at lunchtime so the supervisors weren't around for the assault course, but the boys were happy throwing, hooking, balancing and shooting their way around the other games.

Despite the market celebrating sweet chestnuts, this year we didn't come away with any. The first year we bought some we spent hours peeling them and then left them for too long and had to throw them away. The second year I bought some sweet chestnut flour and failed to find a recipe that inspired me so I think it ended up being given to a friend. So this year we bought walnuts instead. Reuben found himself a large semi-precious stone from a man who finds them locally. We found some lovely honey to give to friends we were seeing that evening who were celebrating their wedding anniversary, and we couldn't help but pick up some oysters for an afternoon treat.

We've had such lovely weather throughout October but I think it's now on the turn and I'm looking forward to cosying up by the fire and planning Christmas. The Christmas markets start next month and I've even got a table at one selling some of my handmade goods. The boys are now back at school but are already excited about the next school holiday which to be honest is not really that far away!

What seasonal produce are you celebrating at this time of year?

Lou Messugo

Geocaching - The Alphabet Adventures

Do you know what Geocaching is? Am I really late to this party or is it still a pretty new thing? I stumbled across it whilst browsing Instagram and saw a picture of someone who found a shell geocache on a beach. Naturally I was intrigued and delved a little deeper. All over the world 'caches' have been hidden. By downloading the Geocache app you have access to a map which pinpoints all the caches and helps you navigate close to where the cache has been hidden. Once you're at the location you have to search for it. When I downloaded the app I never imagined we would have one hidden near our little village in SW France but too my surprise there are loads! Yesterday we jumped into the car to our local lake and began searching for our very first Geocache.

It's not easy looking for something when you have no idea what it is you're actually looking for. It was Andrew that found it and the boys were thrilled when he did. We opened the container and found little trinkets and the log book which had been signed by people from all over the world. We exchanged tokens, signed the log, and placed it back where we found it ready for the next person to find.

We're so excited to add this activity into our lives. If anything it's a huge incentive to get out and about with kids, both in the local area and further afield. Reuben is desperate to get out and find another one. We're hoping to take out our new camper out soon during the school holidays and we're going to plan stops around sites where caches are hidden. The campsite we're planning to go to even has some on site!

Have you discovered geocaching? If you have do tell us your stories and any tips on finding caches.

Tossa De Mar - Spain

Now that we have our camper we are planning all our holidays for the next year. We worked hard over the summer. Two jobs meant I ended up working six days a week so there wasn't much time for fun and games. We did however managed a sneaky four night camping trip down in Spain between weekend jobs. Trying to book somewhere in the height of Summer was not easy but we managed to find this campsite on the Costa Brava, only four and a half hours drive from where we are in France.

Our previous camping trips have been during a quieter time of year and I was a little worried about how rowdy the campsite might be. The site hosted a range of nationalities, lots of families with kids of all ages, and it was all surprisingly quiet by 10/11 o'clock when we would have the kids in bed and be outside playing card games under the stars. The shower blocks were clean, there was a well stocked supermarket, and we managed to catch a flamenco show one night down at the bar and the most fun foam party for the kids on another.

We spent everyday down on the beach. The climb down and back up was pretty steep but so worth it. The day we arrived we found a little cove where the kids could splash in the water and we watched the sun go down before heading back to our tent. We took our camping stove to cook breakfasts and evening meals but for lunch we went out and found a couple of amazing restaurants right on the beach. Being right next to the sea meant only one The first full day we had we treated ourselves to sun loungers and set up camp for the day. We booked a table at the restaurant and watched the fisherman deliver fish fresh off the boat. We shared plates of sardines, squid, the softest fish of the day and prawns, and the kids ate everything. They're pretty good eaters and although Jacob is slightly more adventurous with his flavours, both are usually willing to try new things.

I love that Spain is so easily within reach for us. I can see us making yearly trips to different campsites exploring what the country has to offer. We're also looking forward to driving around Europe in our camper and discovering new countries, tasting new foods, and having fun as a family. Do pass on any travelling tips that you have!

You can read about our last trip to Spain here!

Tree Climbing - The Alphabet Adventures

The Alphabet Adventures continue...with 'T' for Tree Climbing! This was more for the kids as for the adults it was more of a hovering by the side to catch them when they lose their balance kind of experience. But this was an activity we will do again as there are different courses for different ages and levels of experience. As the boys are young they stuck to the smallest and lowest course but it quickly became apparent that Reuben could probably have done the next course up with an adult.

We went to the Parc Adventure in St Antonin but we also have this one near us in Najac. The kids were harnessed up and led away to the course where they stepped, climbed, swung and balanced their way around. It was the height of summer and it was a little busy for the little ones. But there was no limit to how many times they could do the course so they carried on until all the other kids had had enough! It was a little daunting having people climbing over your heads and parts of the bigger courses looked a little high (for me!) The course in St Antonin is in a nice spot next to the river which is good for picnics and paddling.

What adventures have you been up to recently?

Lou Messugo

Book A Month - March/April

Following the (semi!) success of my January and February book reading, here is the next installment of my 'Book A Month' challenge.

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood

When I was pregnant I read all the books (I lie...some of the books) about bringing up babies. Then when I actually had Reuben I ditched them all. As a new parent you get very bored of all the conflicting advice and I very soon realised that often what I needed most was to trust my own mothering instincts, after all, mother really does know best!
I find it so interesting to read about how different cultures around the world raise their kids. It makes you realise there is no right or wrong way of raising a child. There are cultures that let their kids stay up late, others that follow a more traditional approach (without the use of all those baby gadgets) and each manages to raise happy healthy children. I recommend this book to any parent, new or experienced, but especially those who have self doubt about how they have chosen to raise their child.

The Battersea Park Road to Paradise by Isabel Losada

I am a huge fan of Isabel Losada. Every time I have read one of her books it's made my think in depth about my life, where I am, where I want to be, and how I might be able to get there. She writes in such a familiar voice, like an old friend who has invited you into their home for a cup of tea and a chat. She's funny, she doesn't preach, but subtly inspires you to take a look at yourself and the world around you. She's the reason I have finally started adding yoga into my weekly routine (after having the DVD for months) and have even attempted meditation. The first chapter of this book had me clearing out my drawers and another had me googling 'meditation retreats in South West France'. (I found this one and Isabel said it's a good one!) If you haven't already discovered Isabel's books I thoroughly recommend them, especially if you're feeling like you're a bit stuck in life and need a bit of direction!

What's on your reading list at the moment?

We Bought A Campervan!

You know when you have those dreams that you're not sure will ever actually come true? A bit like when we first thought about moving to started as an idea that we slowly managed to turn into reality. Owning a campervan has been on our dream list for such a long time. Where we used to live I used to regularly pass a gorgeous little VW Camper and spend hours daydreaming about one day owning our own, packing up and going on long adventures to who knows where, setting up camp with fairy lights and bunting.

Well last week we turned our campervan dream into a reality. We are now the proud owners of a very old, but very well looked after, Citroen C35! We found it on the Bon Coin (think a French version of Ebay where you can find pretty much anything) which we had been trawling for quite a while. When you start searching you realise there are so many on offer. From the rusty-left-in-a-field kind to the way-beyond-our-budget-state-of-the-art kind. None of the ones we clicked on seemed worthy until I saw this one, there was just something about it. Maybe it was the retro paint job on the outside. Or the fact that you could instantly tell it had been so loved by it's one owner. It was compact, but we weren't looking for anything too big for our first camper. We contacted the owner to book a visit and as soon as we saw it we fell in love.

Andrew and I are not the type to mess about if we like something. When we bought our first house we spent a day looking and bought the last house we looked at. So after agreeing that we liked it we negotiated a price and last week went to pick it up! The owner spent a good couple of hours showing us all the quirks of the van, how it all worked, and going over paperwork. Then it was down to Andrew to drive it home, a good hour and a half journey in the dark and on the back roads to avoid the high speeds of the motorways. I'm happy to report he, and the van, made it home in one piece!

And now the real adventures begin! We have plans to add our own touches and take it out on our first trip before the campsites all close for the winter. We will of course inundate you with pictures soon and there will be blog posts of all our renovation work. In the meantime if you have had any campervan adventures do tell!

Citronella Candles - Eco Living

With the sun out and the flies buzzing earlier this summer I got little creative, this time in the kitchen. Mosquitoes are a pain, one that we didn't have when we lived in the UK. That moment when you're just falling asleep and you hear that little whine in your annoying. So I decided to have a go at making my own citronella candles.

I used soya wax from Baldwins and citronella essential oil which I bought from my local Bio shop. I recycled glass yoghurt pots, melted about 100g of wax and added 15 drops of essential oil for each candle. To finish them off I cut scrap fabric with pinking shears to top and tied with string. So simple...but so pretty don't you think! They're pretty strong smelling and seem to be doing the trick. I think I'm going to have a go at some wintery scented candles next. Something like pine, or cinnamon, or cloves, and maybe experiment with different waxes.

What have you been making recently?

C'est La Rentrée

Wow what a Summer that was. I can't believe it's over already. I'm a little relieved that it is, but also a bit sad. I don't think I realised just how much I would be working over the Summer. It ended up being 6 days a week so I'm not sorry that's over. However working that much meant I spent most of the time exhausted, didn't get nearly enough time with the kids, and missed out on so many music festivals, markets and vide greniers. Now that's it's September again and the kids are back at school I'm taking the time to plan Autumn carefully. I'm making sure we get some outings with the kids before everything shuts up for Winter. There are still some vide greniers on at the weekends and seasonal harvesting to be done (come on you figs!) We're planning a trip away in the October school holiday and we will be revealing something very exciting very soon!

How was your Summer? Are your kids glad to be back at school?

Freshly Laid Eggs - Keeping Chickens

No matter how many times I make the trip up to the garden I'm still thrilled everytime I open up the hatch on the chicken house and find freshly laid eggs. Our chickens are well into the swing of things now. After a slow start last year we are now regularly getting three eggs a day and it's been a while since I've had to buy any from the shops. I think all of them are laying. I've been told to look at their crests and if they are all bright red then they are producing.

We had major problems with our last batch of chickens and I'm pleased to report that this lot seem happier. There was a bit of feather pecking going on towards the end of last summer so we let them have run of the garden over winter. They are now back in the run as we have started to plant veg and don't want the chickens eating it all up before we've had a chance to pick it!

Vide Greniers (Car Boot Sales)

Vide Greniers are fast becoming our favourite weekend family outing. The arrival of Spring also marks the arrival of vide greniers, and one can easily be found every weekend till late in the year. Some are bigger and better than others and at the bigger ones there is usually food so you can easily spend the whole day there. Though the longer you stay the more you usually come home with!

We each have our own things that we look out for. Reuben is a keen collector of 'fèves', the little ceramic figuerines you find in the Galette des Rois. We always manage to find someone with boxes of their own collections. He is very particular about which ones he collects and has already amassed quite a few. They're a great thing to collect as they're cheap, as little as 20 cents for each one. Jacob, who is also starting to collect fèves thanks to his big bro, likes cars. We don't often leave a vide grenier without a few new (old!) cars, but again they're usually really cheap. 

Andrew can often be found browsing record boxes. He's on the lookout for that one collector record that he can sell for a fortune on Ebay! The only thing is most record collectors know the value of their records and they are usually priced accordingly. But he'll keep looking and you never day. I like pretty things! And there are always pretty things to be found, from scarves and bits of fabric, to trinket boxes and jewellery. At the last vide grenier I came away with this fabric sample (1€) and these two decorative boxes (4€).

The only thing about vide greniers is that it really makes you realise how much stuff people have and how much we could probably live without. It's making me take a good look at what we have in our house and trying to make sure we really want, love, and use all the things we have.

What do you look out for at car boot sales?

Lou Messugo

Book A Month - January/February

I've been reading. That may not seem like a revelation to you but believe me, after reading nothing but magazines since my boys were born it feels good to finally have the time to pick up a real book and read it from start to finish. I've given myself the challenge of a book a month this year and so far, bar one blip, I'm doing well. I'm interested to see where my reading takes me over the year, I don't have a list to take me through the year, I simply finish one and then decide what to read next. I thoroughly miss browsing the big bookstores in London, though when we were last there in February I must admit that the choice available in just the children's section overwhelmed me! Please do comment if you have read any of the books, or if you have any recommendations. I'm no great book reviewer but here is what I thought of my choices for January and February...

The Room by Emma Donoghue
I read this basically because I wanted to see the film but felt like I should read the book first. I shouldn't have. I didn't like the film at all. They changed too much and I didn't think the relationships were as in depth as they were in the book. It was all wrong and it annoys me when you spend an entire film going 'wait a minute, that didn't happen in the book.' The book however I did enjoy. As a mother I liked reading about the relationship between the mother and boy, especially as their relationship is confined in such a small space, it was interesting to see their everyday routines. I also enjoyed reading from the point of view of the boy as well as the adults. Although the subject matter was pretty dark you become engrossed in wanting to know if they ever eventually manage to escape the room. Towards the end I would have liked a bit more from the mother's perspective but understand that overall it was coming from a different angle. Have you read the book or seen the film? What did you think?

Our Islands Story by H.E. Marshall
I was on a roll. Having finished my first book before the end of January I quickly started my second book of the year...Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall. I did like this book but I got stuck and have yet to finish it. As you can see from the cover the book is about the history of Britain. Each slice of history is broken down into very small readable chunks (it is aimed at kids after all.) I think I got stuck at the beginning because it's pretty repetative. So many battles, so many invaders, so many people wanting to rule. Reading the early history of Britain did make me think a little about the world today and all the conflicts that are going on. So many nations were built on battles between people wanting to rule, ordinary people fighting and dying for a country they believed in, and I guess for many that idea of violence hasn't changed. I will get round to finishing this book before the end of the year and will do a full book review when I do!

What have you been reading recently?

Narbonne - The Alphabet Adventures

I'm back! I's been a while, but hey that's life. I'm not going to make any excuses. I'm just going to carry on as if January (when I posted my last post) was yesterday! So here we are with another instalment of The Alphabet Adventures. Our Adventures are not in alphabetical order so here we find ourselves at N for Narbonne. This time last year we were camping in Bordeaux. We thought if we headed South this year it might be warmer, and it was, but it was also a whole lot windier. Take-the-kids-breath-away kind of wind that was pretty relentless all day. We found this campsite just on the edge of Narbonne and having been pre-warned about the wind we decided to rent a mobile home instead of pitch up our tent, which was the best thing we could have done.

We couldn't visit Narbonne without heading to the beach. If it wasn't for the wind it would have been glorious. The kids didn't seem to mind and were soon running in and out of the water as we sat huddled together, backs to the sand storm that was whipping up around us.

The following day at the campsite we wrapped up warm for a game of mini golf and with a dip in the wind in the afternoon we headed into Narbonne to explore the city. We're not a family to turn down train rides and having arrived just in time we climbed aboard for a little tour of the city. Narbonne is not a huge place but it is pretty, and compared to the country life we are now accustomed to it was a welcome city visit. The train took us along the canal, past the cathedral, Les Halles (big indoor market hall) and birthplace of Charles Trénet (a famous French singer. I had no idea who this was when we went past his house but thanks to Google I realise I do actually know some of his songs!)

Whilst driving around we kept passing billboards for Réserve Africaine de Sigean. With a day left of our holiday and the weather not good enough for the beach we decided to go. The entrance price was pretty steep and we could only hope it was worth it...luckily it was. We started off in our car and were quickly stopping to get a better look at zebras, springboks, animals with the most gigantic horns, and for ostriches crossing the road. We tried to not get too worried about the cars that had stopped in the lion and bear enclosures when we had specifically been told to keep the car moving AT ALL TIMES! On foot we were feet away from elephants, giraffes, flamingos and so many peacocks including the most beautiful all white ones. The boys loved it and we recommended a visit if you're in the area.

On our last morning we shopped at Les Halles in Narbonne for local olive oil, honey, and wine, before hitting the road. Our route took us past Carcassonne where we stopped for lunch and had a quick walk around the old city about before heading home. Carcassonne is an amazing place and I can't wait to head back there soon to explore properly.

Have you been on any adventures recently?

Lou Messugo
Seychelles Mama

New Year!

Happy New Year! I love New Year. I love fresh starts. I love new a new diary, making plans and seeing them through. As always I have plans for this coming year. Plans for family, work, travel, and plans just for me (with a whole load of crafting thrown in!) Plans to focus and to challenge. It's exciting! My first plan to implement is work related and I will reveal all in my next post. I'm basically focussing in on what I'm already doing but it's time to expand a little. But for now I'm sat at the computer, printing off choir music for tonight, making phonecalls and sending emails before I'm off to teach a piano lesson this afternoon.

How is your Monday going? I'd love to hear what your plans are for this coming year!

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