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La Goutte Végétale - Air Plant Kit

One of my favourite plant fairs is coming up this weekend. Now that we have land this is the first time that I'll actually be able to buy things that I like and have a place to put them.  I consider myself a true beginner gardener. I have lots of ideas and to date I've been a bit of a 'stick it in the ground and see what happens' kind of gardener, but here I really want things to work. Our house is South facing so anything I plant at the front of the house has got to be able to take the full force of the Summer heat. I'm starting to think about the beds directly in front of the house and what might look good in them. I know I want a bed full of lupins and succulents around the pond, and I'm also quite keen on grasses. I'm also desperate to get my veg patch started so that it's ready for Spring next year.

At this particular plant fair there is usually one of Reuben's favourite stands. For years he has walked passed and asked us every time if he could have one and for his birthday this year I finally got round to ordering one. La Goutte Végétale provides little air plant kits in beautiful glass bowls. The kits come with little packets of nature to create your arrangement, and one sunny afternoon Reuben sat to arrange his display and knew exactly where he wanted each little component to go. He wanted to create a little pathway with the slate pieces and have the stick coming out of one of the holes. He placed his plant towards the back and has been watering it with the little water spray once a week.

These are such great plants for kids to look after and I've decided Reuben would make such a good flower arranger! We don't have a great history with house plants so I'm hoping we'll do better with this one. I think you've got to try pretty hard to kill an air plant!

Do you have any favourite house plants?

Welcome Home Chickens!

The chickens are in! Of course I am more than excited that we have now officially moved into our new house, but I am also so thrilled that the move means our chickens have the freedom to roam as they please. We gave them as much space as we could in our last home but here they really are happy hens. We've bought them a new house and have added an important new friend. Red is a beautiful cockerel gifted to us by some friends. He has settled in well with the ladies and we're hoping it will mean little chicks at some point in the future. We're getting used to his cock-a-doodle-doing in the morning and evening (and hoping the neighbours won't be too disrupted by the noise.)

We've decided to let them be proper free range hens with no restrictions. However...I am not happy that they have already destroyed one of my newly planted flower beds. They seem to have a love of fresh soil, perfect for scratching around in and digging up, but it does leave a bit of a mess. So if anyone has any tips of how to keep chickens away from much loved plants do let me know! We will soon be adding some more hens and I quite like the idea of keeping quails as well so watch this space!

Summer Merit Badges

So Summer is here and the kids have had their first taste of freedom having broken up over a week ago now. In between working and getting our new house ready I can already feel the days flying past us. I always have dreams of quality time with the kids but the reality is the days somehow never seem long enough and before I know it it's the end of the summer. Undeterred however I have been thinking of activities that we can do together as a family but that can also keep them occupied when that frequent phrase...I don't know what to do...pops up.

Inspired by finding my old Brownie and Guide sashes, I decided to set the boys up with their own merit badge challenges. I found these fantastic badges and have set them these 10 challenges...

Reading: both of them have to read books over the summer in English. Reuben is on chapter books and I've just bought Jacob these to get going on.

Writing: Jacob will be concentrating on his letters and numbers whilst Reuben keeps a diary and writes a story.

Music: both of them will learn a piece to play on two different instruments. They have a choice of the piano, ukulele or recorder.

Swimming: we will set them swimming challenges suitable for their ability. We will also have a family picnic at their favourite wild swimming spot.

Bug House Building: both of them have to build a bug house and fill it with stuff they find around the garden. They then have to find somewhere to put it on our new land.

Fire Lighting: outside they will learn how to prepare, light, maintain, cook on, and safely put out a fire.

Canoeing: we will all go on a family canoe trip. Reuben went last year but we'll take Jacob along for the first time.

Cooking: we will over the weeks teach them how to prepare a starter, main course and pudding. They will then have to make this three course dinner for us by the end of the summer. (They've already had a go at a salad starter!)

First Aid: our new house is currently full of hazards so we feel it's important that they learn basic first aid skills so that they know what to do if there is ever an emergency.

Growing: they have both choosen something to grow from seed. Reuben chose pumpkins and Jacob carrots. (I was a bit worried about the carrots having never grown them before but thankfully we found tiny shoots yesterday!) They can also find an empty bed in the garden and choose plants to fill it with.

I'll let you know how they get on over summer and you can follow their progress over on Instagram. What badges would you choose to challenge your kids with?

We Bought A House!

It was hard keeping this quiet and it's very exciting to finally get it out here! WE BOUGHT A HOUSE! We've had major grins on our faces for a while now as we've found it hard to believe we have found a house so perfect for us. We have the keys in our hands and can finally breath a sigh of relief as it's ours...officially ours. Every property we've lived in until now we knew wouldn't be our forever home. We always knew that one day we would outgrow them and move up the property ladder. We knew long term what we wanted was space, and most importantly land, so that the kids could run wild alongside the chickens. So we're really considering this purchase to be our forever home. The home the kids will grow up in and where they'll always find us once they've flown the nest.

Andrew and I don't mess around with decisions like these. We know what we like when we see it and we don't hold back once we find what we want. This house had apparantly been on the market for a while. Had we looked at it 2 or 3 years ago it would have been way out of our budget, but little by little the price has been dropped, so that when we found it it was within our budget. Believe me when I say there are bargains to be found in this corner of France. We had only looked at two properties before this one and within minutes of looking round we knew we had found 'the one'.

So what have we bought? It's a house of two parts with an older part and a new extension built in the 90s. It has numerous outbuildings including a garage, (for the camper) a swimming pool, (never in a million years did I think we'd end up with one of those) and a barn to the side of the house ready to be converted slowly but surely into a guest house. The house comes with 5.5 hectares of land. Yes...that's a lot of land, but we have ideas, and it will be more than enough space for a veg patch, our chickens, and numerous other animals that I have decided I want to keep. It's on the edge of a village not far from where we are now so the kids can stay at the same school. There's no passing traffic and the house backs onto our woodland ready to be explored. Reuben has his metal detector at the ready!

I'll try not to bore you too much with house renovation details (unless you're really interested) but I will do a little video if we ever get round to finishing all the work that needs to be done. I hope you'll join me on the next part of our adventure of moving house and putting down Brown family roots in South West France!

Gruissan - Alphabet Adventures

It was tucked away in a garage all winter but as April marked the opening of most campsites around France and with a two week school holiday to fill we had an excuse to fire up our camper and head South for a few days. The initial plan was to stop in Carcassonne for a night, which we did, and explore the old city again after a whistle stop tour on our last visit, which we did not. Over winter we had managed to completely forget how to use our camper and overnight managed to kill the battery having left the fridge on the wrong setting. Luckily the lovely campsite people gave us a jump start and we disrupted everyone's breakfast with our exhaust pipe fumes. We downed our breakfast and quickly legged it to the nearest car shop where we bought a spare battery, just in case we decided to do the same again!

This time last year we were in Narbonne and for some reason, despite the fact that it was freezing and windy, we decided that this year we would go back with a bunch of friends and try again. This time we found a little campsite right on the beach near Gruissan. We were lucky with the weather in that the sun made an appearance which allowed us a bit of beach time. However, there is no denying that this part of France is windy, and no matter how much the sun shines it's not the best experience being sat on a beach while the kids dip their toes into the freezing sea and you get sandblasted away. Needless to say I think this was our last visit to this part of France.

Gruissan is a pleasant enough little town. We made it to the Saturday morning market where the boys bought shells (cause we really couldn't find any good ones on the beach) and we bought wine (local of course.) We climed to the top of the ruined castle and literally had to hold on for dear life, not sure any view is worth that amount of wind battering! I found a nice brocante shop to browse and we bought a suitable Gruissan fridge magnet to add to our growing collection. We failed to sample any of the fresh seafood as we ate mainly out of our little camper.

It was great to be back in the camper. We took the slow scenic route there and back through a national forest which was just stunning. We're planning Spain again this summer to another little campsite right by the sea. Do you have any holidays planned this year?

Museum of Writing - Figeac

Spring is well and truly on on our doorstep here in South West France. We've had some good days of sunshine giving life to seeds I planted in the garden and forcing us outside to soak up it's rays. The boys have been playing out with village kids after school and we've even had our first BBQ. This is the time when villages start to come alive again. We're spending weekends hunting for treasures at vide greniers and looking for local places we have not yet discovered. We're planning our next trip in the camper but recently we found ourselves driving to Figeac, a 45min drive from where we are, to explore the 'Musee Champollion'.

The museum is dedicated to the history of writing. Champollion was a Frenchman who in 1822 diciphered the meaning of hyroglyphics. The museum houses a collection of early examples of writing and takes you right up to present day with typewriters, modern printing presses and computers. Jacob was pretty freaked out in the first room as it contained a real Egyptian mummy encased in glass. We had to pick him up to hush his cries and distract him with the other cases of early Egyptian writing on display. We had bought the boys booklets with pictures of items that they had to find throughout the museum, encouraging them to spend time looking at the displays and find the objects. They were able to have a go at Chinese character rubbing and writing their own with help from an interactive tablet. We squinted through cases at tiny engravings on stone and wood and I got whisked back to my own school days reading Greek (I studied Ancient Greek and Latin way back in the day!)

Two weeks later Jacob came home with some pictures he had done at school. Turns out he's been drawing mummies and attempting his own version of Chinese writing. Pretty cool...and nice to know that something does actually go in on trips like these! There's so much to explore in the local area we'll be out and about a lot more now that it's Spring.

What museums have you been visiting recently?

Lou Messugo


Have you heard of soapnuts? I hadn't until a few years ago when they entered into my radar via this post. Not long after that on a visit to my local Biocoop I found them in the cleaning section and bought a bag. This bag then sat under our sink for a looooong time. Then one day our bottle of laundry soap ran out, I had a ton of washing to do, and I remembered about this long forgotten bag so out it came. Soapnuts are basically the dried shells of fruit that contain a natural soap. If you hold a soapnut and rub a wet finger on the inside of the shell you can see this soap start to form. It's one of nature's magic tricks! There are some great websites such as this one if you fancy a more detailed explanation but for me the most important question was...does it work?

I've been using it a while now and my answer is I think so. Clothes that come out the washer after using soapnuts don't have that freshly washed laundry smell, you can add essential oils for that, but most items do seem to come out clean. With two young boys in the house that enjoy a bit of outdoor play clothes are often stained and for this I think I will need to try the natural stain removers as trousers in particular have sometimes had to go back in for a second wash. Also washing in the winter is nothing compared to the hot sweaty clothes that get dumped in the basket over summer so it will be interesting to see what happens then. But it's the start of a journey that I hope continues as soapnuts seem way more cost effective that buying laundry soap. The nuts can also be composted after use rather than sent to landfill which is always a good thing.

Are you a fan of soapnuts? Do you have any tips for using them? If you do I'd love to hear them.
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