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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!)

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 thing...fish. 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!
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