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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.


Understanding Our Multilingual Children

This month Annabelle from The Piri Piri Lexicon has organised a month long series looking at the topic of 'Raising Multilingual Children'. Every day this month a different blogger from around the world has taken a letter or the alphabet to discuss the topic and today we've reached 'U'. I have chosen to write about how we as a family help to better understand our multilingual children.

For my husband and I, the idea of understanding our multilingual children falls into two categories...do our boys understand the multilingual world that surrounds them and how as parents can we understand their needs as multilingual children? Just over three years ago we moved from the UK to France. Our home life is exclusively English and our two boys get their French language education purely from what they hear at school. Their progress has been quick and it never ceases to amaze me their seamless slip into their second language.

The school holidays have just come to an end and every morning for two weeks Reuben, aged 7, had swimming lessons for the first time. On the first day I suddenly had a thought in the car...would he understand everything the instructor asked him to do? Vocabulary is a huge topic as unless they are exposed to words or specifically taught them (in both languages) how else do they learn them? I was hit by the worry that he may not understand 'swimming' vocabulary in French and hated the thought of him not understanding instructions alongside his peers who would understand everything. When I put the question to him he replied that if the words were easy it would be ok, but there might be some things he wouldn't understand. He didn't seem bothered by this prospect and in hindsight I realised my worry was a bit silly. At school they have had to learn how to deal with not fully understanding everything from day one and to date this has never hindered their learning (they've both had glowing reports!) or held him back in any way. As an adult we may be afriad to surround ourselves with a language we do not know, but not understanding everything is not necessarily a fear that our children may have and it's important that we recognise that.

As parents of multilingual children we understand that our boys may have difficulties at times speaking their two languages. We often cringe at some of the English words and phrases that come out of their mouths and hasten to correct them, but we recognise that this may be a common feature for kids exposed to and using two languages at once. We are constantly explaining the meaning of unknown English words that pop up in books, television, or in conversation, and we help translate French words into English when they struggle to find their meaning.

How do we help and understand our multilingual children?

We listen to the English language that they use, gently setting them straight when the vocabulary is not quite right or words are not placed in the correct order. Although we don't want to be doing this constantly we recognise the importance of doing this to help them progress and continue learning in their mother tongue.

We talk! As they are only exposed to English at home it's important that we talk...lots!..over dinner, with books, to family over the phone. The more vocabulary they hear in both languages the more their language will develop.

We encourage and lead by example. We show them that although our French is far from perfect my husband and I try and learn from the friends we have made and the people we talk to everyday. We encourage them to use their French outside the comfort of the school environment.

We support them, with their French at school for example. We help them with their homework when we can, which in turn aids our own understanding of the language.

Do you have tips on understanding multilingual children? If you do we'd love to hear them. Also, if you have the time do take a look at some of the other posts from the series. There is lots of good advice and stories from families raising multilingual children around the world. You can find all the posts here.

the piri-piri lexicon

Our Lego Obsession

The past two weeks were half term for us and the kids were free to do as they pleased. 95% of the time our boys get on swimmingly well. We stayed put during the holiday and although two weeks at home could seem daunting to some, the boys had their favourite obsession to keep them going...Lego. I have to admit, we have rather a lot of Lego. Every Birthday and Christmas they have acquired more sets along with inheriting my old set from when I was a child. Lego is not cheap. But the price is more than justified as it is the one toy that they keep going back to. (In our case on a daily basis.) The Playmobile box sits unplayed with, even the car box doesn't get much of a look in these days.

There are endless benefits of Lego, the imagination they use to create and build, their storytelling with the characters, the negotiations that go on for the smallest of parts, and the fact that it's a toy that doesn't break (aside the few small pieces that have been stood on...ouch!) There are even charities around the world, such as this one, that takes Lego donations and, in this case, sends them to Africa to give children a chance to play and develop skills. Our boys can spend hours...and hours...lost in their Lego world. I'm a little sad about the fact that they no longer need me to help them build their sets, to the point where I'm even considering going out to buy my own!

Despite the fact that Lego is our favourite toy, because we have so much of it we have imposed a 'Buy No Lego' rule in our house this year. I have to confess I've already broken it. We are hugely excited for the new Batman Lego film that I couldn't resist the new minifigures that contain characters from the film. Check out Batman Fairy above. No, not Batgirl as we originally thought but Batman dressed as a fairy! He's like the best character ever and has allowed pink to be cool for the first time ever in the eyes of my 5 year old boy. Even I'm going to find it hard to resist the new sets that have come out to accompany the film. (We have our eye on the Batcave!) We have a grand plan of sorting out all the Lego to find all of the bought sets so that they can be rebuilt to create a massive Lego city. Just thinking about this task is exhausting itself so I'll let you know by the end of the year whether we manage to achieve it.

What are your favourite household toys? Are you massive fans of Lego too?!


Our Wedding Album (Finally!)

I've started a list. Sadly I'm beyond the stage where I could include the number 30 in the heading so I've had to go with '40 before I'm 40' (eek!) Life is short, which I'm often reminded of here. I'm so proud of what I've managed to achieve in life so far but there are some things that I really really want to do before I go. It's not a list of crazy stunts, (so no skydiving or bungee jumping,) or far away exotic locations that have to be visited, (though Morocco is on there somewhere.) It contains a lot of simple achieveble things like...make pasta from scratch, learn to play the ukulele, go stay in a yurt and learn how to knit.

One thing on the list was to turn our wedding photos into an album. It's been seven years since we've been married and for seven years the photos have sat on a CD waiting to be brought to life. Last year I finally got round to doing it, spurred into action by Christmas as I thought the albums would make great presents for our parents. I used Blurb books. I've used them before to make a photo album of Instagram pictures of the boys and found the process very simple. You download the book making programme and then design your pages and drag and drop your photos.

It feels so good to finally have a printed version of what was a very special day. It's an amazing thing to have all your friends and family in one place at one time, an occasion I'm not sure will ever truly be recreated again. I'm now enthused to get round to the rest of our vast photo collection that currently sits on our computer. I'm going to work backwards and print a book for every year. Although I'm already wondering where all the photos of me are. It seems I'm always the one behind the camera. Anyone else have that problem?!


Natural Raw Soap - Eco Living

Slowly but surely we've started to introduce natural and, where possible, homemade beauty products into our home. Lip balm was the first product I made and we've been experimenting with deodorant and face cream for a while (I'll share my favourite recipes soon.) One day I have dreams of making my own soap, but for now I'm happy spending money on lovingly handmade soap by people who care and share the same eco friendly ideas that we're moving towards.

I had a friend who used to give me offcuts of soap she made for free. Sadly she moved country last year and so I had to start looking elsewhere for my soap fix. There are lots of soap makers round here and we've tried some from our nearest Bio shop and some from a local market stall. Last year however, I read an article in Country Living magazine about The Raw Soap Company who make soap out of the milk from their herd of goats in the South of England. Any soap that we buy has to be kind on our skin as we have eczema in the family and I've always had dry skin. All the ingredients that The Raw Soap Company use and natural and locally sourced which is always a plus. Do check out the article here if you have time. I always love reading stories about people doing something they really enjoy and am always keen to support businesses who work hard to produce products they clearly believe in.

At the time I read the article The Raw Soap Company didn't ship internationally but following them on Instagram they soon announced that they were shipping abroad so I placed my first order. The scents are subtle (I hate really smelly soaps,) they're kind to our sensitive skin and most importantly we're clean! I ordered the Honey & Oatmeal, the Chamomile & Calendula, and a Pure, along with a handcrafted soap deck to go in our new bathroom. They're all winners and we'll definitely be ordering more in the future.

What natural products do you use to keep your family clean?

P.S. This is totally not a sponsored post. We just really love the soap and supporting a small but successful business!

Arcachon - The Alphabet Adventures

I'm currently sat in front of the fire and looking at the snow that is forecast for this weekend. The temperature has dropped dramatically, the thick jumpers are out, and Andrew is once again talking about insulation to keep in the heat. I keep dreaming about the day (in hopefully the not too distant future) when we can get our camper out again and hit the road for another adventure. In the last October half term we took our new camper out for its very first spin. Arcachon was our destination, mainly because it was the only place I could find with a campsite still open at that time of year. Our camper is old, and reeeaaallly slow! We had to avoid motorways and our route there took us through the autumnal vineyards around Cahors and through one of France's National Parks. Taking the slow route really is worth it every now and again as it really does enable you to appreciate the countryside and discover parts that would otherwise be missed.

We've visited this area before when we camped on a campsite right on the beach. This time we were within walking distance of the beautiful town of Arcachon. The first day we headed to the beach to play in the sand and stopped for lunch in one of the many restaurants. We were immediately struck by how affluent this town seemed to be (or maybe we've just spent too much time in the county?!) The restaurant prices were certainly higher than we are used to, even at lunchtime, and the kids in the playground were way too smartly dressed!

If you're keen on walking, discovering your local area, and enjoy a good treasure hunt we thoroughly recommend Geocaching. What I realised in this trip was that Geocaching really does make you look at what's around you, in detail, it's amazing how easily you can miss things that are right on your doorstep. We made our way into the wilderness next to the campsite with smartphone in hand, narrowly escaped being run over by a group of youngsters on horseback, but managed to discover two hidden caches, which two young boys were extremely excited by (though their looking skills need to be greatly improved...as do mine!) 

The weather at this time of year meant we didn't have much time on the beach so we had a look around at what else Arcachon had to offer. The Aquarium didn't seem like much from the outside and we did hesitate as to whether to go in or not, but it was recommended in the city guide so we paid the fee and the kids were happy with the array of fish and sea life on display. We laughed at fish with human like features and desperately willed the octopus to come out of its hiding place. The boys ran away from the sea spiders and upstairs there was a room full of stuffed animals which always freaks them out.

We couldn't come to Arcachon and not have the famous oysters. A failed Geocache attempt led us to an empty oyster restaurant right on the beach. The kids played in the sand while Andrew and I devoured the best oysters we have ever tried with crisp white wine. We're big fans of oysters and if you've never tried them or are a little unsure I thoroughly recommend getting yourself to a restaurant that knows its stuff. When they're good, they're really good!

Arcachon has an amazing indoor market like so many other French towns, bursting with fresh local produce. We visited on our last day with the intention of finding treats to take home to our friends and family but ended up in the chocolate shop instead buying chocolate coins and chocolates shaped like oysters.

Arcachon is a lovely place to visit. I imagine it's packed in high season so it was nice to visit at a time that was a little quieter but when everything was still open. If you have any travelling tips for Arcachon or the surrounding area do pass them on to share. We'll definitely be back to visit again one day...and to eat more oysters on the beach!

Lou Messugo

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!)

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