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A Whirlwind Trip Back 'Home'

I've just got back from a whirlwind trip to the UK for the wedding of a childhood friend. Now that my parents have moved it was very strange to not go back to our usual stomping ground of North West London, and I'm not sure if it's something I'll get used to. They've gained the sea which is a big plus point. The photo above looks idyllic but believe me two days later it was snowing! I haven't been to the UK for almost 2 years but it felt good to be back, even if only for a brief period, to see familiar faces and yes...do a bit of shopping. Do I miss much about the UK...not really, but there are a few things I would go back regularly for.

1. The Food
I love the food that France has to offer but living in the countryside means that there are some foods that we just don't have access to. On day one I had a halloumi burger. I love halloumi but I just haven't been able to find it here. I had a proper hot chocolate topped with marshamallows and whipped cream. We went for an Indian meal with tandoori chicken, pilau rice and all the vegetable trimmings. At the wedding we had banana custard ice cream (so good) and fish and chips (a deconstructed version of!) We've got used to being more adventurous with our cooking here but it would be nice to get hold of some particular ingredients more easily.

2. Haircuts
I've had the same hairdresser since I was about 15 years old. She's amazing and always works her magic on my thick curly hair. I have not been able to find a local hairdresser that can cut and tame my hair in the same way. I've tried a few, but they take little time and don't really have the knowledge on what to do with hair such as mine. I'm going to have to probably head down to Toulouse to find a hairdresser as good (and probably pay an arm and a leg in the process.)

3. Inspiration
I've got so used to driving to the same places, going into the same shops, and seeing the same old things. It was so nice to go somewhere new, see new independant shops and what they had to offer. I love browsing the bookshops and seeing what creatives are making. I had to find a dress to wear for the wedding and spent a whole tiresome day in a shopping centre trying to find something. I realised I'm so out of touch with what people are wearing, and is it just me or does every other person have wild colours in their hair?! It's given me the thought that future city breaks might not be such a bad idea, even if they're just to the big towns near us. I love being in the countryside, but I don't want to be totally out of touch with the rest of the world.

So now I'm home, here to catch up on emails, finish...no, start my christmas shopping and get ready for the big day that is fast approaching! How are you doing?

Book Making At The Library

Not too long ago on a sunny Saturday morning the boys and I headed off to the village library to take part in a book making workshop. It was a small little group with kids of varying ages from the village. Although more suited to older children, younger ones could attend as long as there was someone who could help them, as there was a bit of measuring and folding to do. The workshop was free and all the materials were provided.

The kids started by choosing the paper for their front and back covers. These were little pieces of marbled paper which the kids fought over before settling on their favourite colours. These were stuck on, together with a little piece of ribbon which would hold the book closed. Next was the interior. Again little squares of coloured paper were chosen to line the inside and then it was on to the main content. The kids were given a piece of A4 paper on which they drew a picture. Jacob decided to stick loads of bits on his and Reuben got into the Christmas spirit with a Christmas tree and Father Christmas. When they had finished the paper was cut in a spiral and folded so that it could be stuck into the small book. The idea was then that as they opened the book it would unravel itself to reveal the "hidden" picture.

The boys were more than happy with the finished result. Reuben did really well all by himself and though Jacob found bits tricky, and lost his concentration a little towards the end, he stuck with it and finished his book! What do you think? 

Our Broody Hen

So...we have a broody hen. This is not our first broody hen, but our first met an awful fate after being discovered and eaten, along with all her eggs, by Mr Fox. Our chickens are free to wander about as they please (though for how much longer I'm not sure as they continuously dig up my newly planted flower beds) and as a result they often lay their eggs wherever they choose. When they start to get broody this means that one day they disappear altogether to sit on their nest of eggs and wait for them to hatch. We lost our first broody hen for weeks until one day we noticed that she was coming back on a daily basis for food. One day I watched, waitied, and followed her back to her nest. We were content knowing where she was and kept checking on her, until one day we found a nest of empty egg shells and not to far away a pile of feathers. That was a sad day.

So this time we're taking no chances. On finding our second broody hen we waited one evening until dark and then moved her to a safe place, creating a new nest for her where she can wait it out. She's sitting on 23 eggs! How many of those will hatch I have no idea but once again we're excited by the thought of baby chicks to look after.

Do you have any tips for looking after chicks? Send them our way! We'll let you know if we get any baby chicks.

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!
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