Happy Christmas!

It's Christmas Eve! The family are here, the presents are wrapped (just about) and the fridges are heaving! It's been a busy couple of weeks for us here in France and here are a few snapshots of what we have been up to.

The village tree was decorated by the village school kids so is a little bottom heavy!


The Choeur de Parisot had a successful Christmas carol concert to a packed Parisot church.


We took a trip to Toulouse for the Christmas market and bumped into Santa...again!


This is our last post for the year as we spend time with family and friends over the holiday period. We are looking forward to 2014 and wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and New Year!

Becky, Andrew, Reuben & Jacob x

The Choeur de Parisot picture is taken from TAG on-line. Have a look at the close up picture of the choir and check me out on the back row!
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Reuben's school Christmas lunch

Our thoughts towards the end of this week are turning to Christmas food as the big day slowly approaches. We have family coming over from London bringing all the food we're used to at this time of year...mince pies, cranberry sauce and stuffing. We've been put in charge of sourcing the meat, cheese, fish as well as the Buche de Noël that we have ordered from our village bakery to pick up on Christmas day. It feels like a huge responsibility gathering all this food, but I'm already looking forward to the prospect of large family dinners with a delicious mix of French and English food!

Every month we get given Reuben's school lunch menu and today the kids were treated to a special Christmas lunch on their last day of term. Their menu included duck mousse, saucisson and stuffed turkey, followed by chocolate log and cooked apples, all washed down with 'Champomy' a kids special non-alcoholic champagne!

Reuben has been coming home this week with little handmade Christmas decorations and drawing from the past half term. He's had a lovely first term (though he's ready for a break now!) and has settled in really well. We've even started to hear him speaking in French with his friends from school. 'Ne touchez pas' he tells Jacob when he starts playing with the Christmas tree! 

Do you have kids at school? What have they had for their Christmas lunch this year?

Becky x

La Famille Brown

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Markets, choir concerts, and another Christmas tree!

It was a busy weekend for the Brown Family! We began our Saturday at Domaine de Sautou's marc de Noël with our very own stall of handmade items. We had stockings, leaf garlands, bracelets, badges and tags, all handmade by moi! The market was not very well attended but those that were there made sure the market had a lovely atmosphere, with vin chaud (mulled wine) and cakes, an outdoor fire to keep us warm, and a simple communal lunch of salad, hot dogs and croque-monsieurs. We had a successful win on the tombola with a bottle of fizz and the boys got to meet Father Christmas...again! I will tell you more about Domaine de Sautou in the New Year as it is a wonderful home run by Jean-Marie and Winnie Nosal who have a charity that supports projects in Mali.

We had to rush off on Saturday afternoon as I had to drive to Villefranche for a choir concert of a friend's daughter. It was held in the Chapelle des Penitents Noirs which I had not been in before. The inside is ornately decorated and is made entirely of wood, something I didn't realise until I looked closely at the ceiling. The concert consisted of two choirs, of little ones aged 7-9 and an older teenage choir. I was impressed that all the members, even the little ones, sang all their songs by heart. There was a mix of French and English songs, traditional, pop (including Robbie Williams) and Christmas. At the end I was introduced to Julie, the conductor, and may have signed myself up for another choir...watch this space!

Sunday morning we headed back to the marc de Noël (for round two of mulled wine and cake!) but returned before lunch so I could get ready for the Choeur de Parisot's first Christmas concert in Limogne. We rehearsed with the musicians in the church before a quick break (in the village bar) and then it was straight into the concert. I had volunteered to do the solo along with Karen who stands next to me for the opening carol, Once In Royal David's City. It was well attended and we get to do it all again next Saturday at the Parisot church! Back home Andrew had fun decorating the village Christmas tree with the boys and other families from the village, which I will get him to tell you about tomorrow!

What did you get up to over the weekend?
Becky x

La Famille Brown
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Christmas Traditions English and French

Every family has their own Christmas traditions. This being our first Christmas in France, we have the chance to mix new French traditions in with our usual English ones. We are looking forward to family arriving on the 20th and school finishing so that Christmas can really begin. We will catch the last of the Christmas markets, come home to mulled wine and hot chocolate, and eat far too many mince pies (which we are missing hugely and hope that family are bringing far too many boxes to keep us going throughout Winter!) Here are some of our family traditions and new French ones that we will be adding to our Christmas.


Christmas Cake and Bûche de Noël
Back in London we would always have a Christmas Cake. Andrew has an Aunt who makes the most delicious Christmas Cake and last year it didn't last long in our house! We spent an afternoon recently making our cake with the kids. I'm not going to lie, in October my parents bought us a cake kit from the UK. The laziness is justified however as I'm having trouble finding simple baking ingredients here in France like dark brown sugar. It has yet to be finished which we will do just before Christmas day. Traditionally in France people have a Bûche de Noël (chocolate log) for dessert and we have decided to support our local village bakery and order one. It's not something we traditionally have but I doubt anyone will complain about an extra pudding on the table, especially a chocolate one!


The Smelly Sprout and Boréal Express
In our household 'The Smelly Sprout' by Allan Plenderleith is one of our favourite family Christmas books. It's all about a sprout that gets thrown out of the kitchen because no one wants him on their Christmas menu and he travels around to find a home. Reuben loves the book and we also have the interactive app which is great for Jacob. This year Reuben got given the 'Boréal Express' ('The Polar Express' by Chris Van Allsberg) in French which he sat down to look at as soon as he got given it. It's a book I remember from my childhood and is a lovely Christmas story. There is also a film version which I love but Reuben finds a bit scary. 


Jingle Bells and Il est né, le divin Enfant 
Christmas songs...you either love them or hate them! We love them...but only in December! 'Jingle Bells' is a favourite with the boys and being a music teacher I have plenty of bells for them to jingle all the way! Reuben used to sing it at his nursery in London along with a new one that he taught me...to the tune of Frère Jacques...

Father Christmas, Father Christmas
He got stuck, He got stuck
Coming down the chimney, Coming down the chimney
What bad luck, What bad luck!

Being in a choir I have had the opportunity to learn some French Christmas carols and sing traditional English carols in French. 'Il est né, le divin Enfant' is a traditional French carol. I recognised the melody when we first sung it and the carol is a good test of my reading French as it is sung quite fast! We will add it to our list of carols as I'm sure it is one that will pop up yearly in France.


Christmas Tree (Le Sapin de Noël)
We always get our Christmas tree the first weekend in December. We've already shown you the decorations we made and here is finally a picture of our tree! It's been pulled down by Jacob three times already (he can't resist the decorations) but so far has held up well! My mum likes to buy a little decoration each year for the boys to add to the collection. 'Le Sapin de Noël' is traditionally the most common decoration here in French homes also and they are popping up all over villages with decorations on. In Reuben's school each classroom has decorated a tree, and the whole village has been invited to take part in the decoration of the large village tree outside the Mairie on Sunday. We can't wait!

Becky x

This post was written as part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs 'Christmas in Different Lands' series. For 24 days in December bloggers from all over the world are sharing their different Christmas traditions and you can also link up your own Christmas tradition post. Come and join in the Christmas fun!



La Famille Brown
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French Christmas Markets - 12 days of Christmas

Marchés de Noël began popping up in local villages at the start of December. The first weekend in December we were busy decorating our tree, so this weekend we made sure we went along to a couple and experienced our first Christmas markets in France.


The first market we visited was hosted by Marion, from Jardin de la Mothe where I did my wreath making workshop, and Catherine Smedley, a local artist. There were beautiful wreaths made by Marion along with cards, hand painted mugs, seeds for the garden, and decorations for the home. A tombola sprawled across a piano where every ticket won a prize seemed to be popular. The boys won a packet of meringues and some candles that we will use on our Christmas table. The fire was burning and tea was served, it was a wonderfully intimate market with regular attendees as the market is held every year.


The second market we went to was in Laguépie, where we had previously visited in September for their sweet chestnut festival. This market was a mix of handmade items such as jewellery, pottery, and decorations, and secondhand items, mainly toys, that we couldn't keep the boys away from. We sipped mulled wine and Reuben caught sight of Father Christmas. It's the second time he had seen him this weekend and he still seems to believe in him despite the two looking completely different! The town was decorated with Christmas trees and giant baubles, and children were being given rides on horses and ponies with fake reindeer antlers.


The markets aren't quite the same as the ones we used to attend in London (we always used to go down to the Thames to the Southbank Centre for their Christmas market.) They are smaller, more local affairs. I would love to try and fit in a trip to the Christmas market in Toulouse before the holiday is over as it looks like a good one. Next year I would also love to jump on the train up to Strasbourg which hosts the oldest Christmas market in Europe. I'm already excited at the thought of it!


La Famille Brown
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Cette semaine...



Reuben found the tallest tree and couldn't resist trying to touch the baubles!

Becky x

La Famille Brown
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World Cup Winner!


Do you remember this photo that we entered into the Multicultural Kid Blogs World Cup Competition? Well the results came in and guess what...we won! This picture will now be used as their logo for their World Cup series next year. We're thrilled to have won and send a big thank you to those who voted. Well done also to the photo from 'Discovering The World Through My Son's Eyes' which came runner up!

Becky x

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Cake Pops!

Do you remember the afternoon I had making biscuits? Well this week I went back to for more but for a slightly different challenge...decorating cake pops! Cake pops have been on my radar for a while now as it seems to be a craze that has taken off in London. I follow the hugely talented Pop Bakery on just about everything (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter...) Their cake pops look just amazing, they truely are little works of art. After decorating some this week I have even more admiration for them because the whole process seems so time consuming. I have Clare O'Connell's book 'Pop Party' and I'm looking at designs for a cake pop party we're planning when all the family are down for Christmas!

Cake pops are basically a cake on a stick, like a lollipop. The cake base can be made in advance. The ones we used in the workshop were made in the summer and then frozen. The cake is then crumbed and mixed with a buttercream or ganache to give it a suitable texture so that it can be rolled into balls. The reason why making cake pops is time consuming is because every step of the way you have to chill what you've done in the fridge. Once the cake balls were chilled they were fixed onto the lollipop stick. Most in the group used chocolate to fix and cover their cake pops but I decided to mainly use this amazingly flourescent pink coloured candy melt!! The pops were put back in the fridge to chill then we dipped the fixed ball into our chosen coating. Back in the fridge and then we added another coat and decorated before they dried.


I made it my mission to decorate every pop I did differently! It wasn't hard as we had a great selection of decorations to choose from. Reuben and Jacob loved them when I brought them home and as you can imagine they didn't last long. They would be great for a kids party though are just as tempting for adults! I can't wait to make more and experiment even further with decorations.

Becky x

Big thanks again to Glynis from Cakes in France for hosting the cake pop party. You can see some great videos of Clare O'Connell on You Tube like this one demonstrating how to make cake pops.
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Tree decorations - 12 Days of Christmas

In the 'Famille Brown' household the Christmas tree always goes up the first week in December. I was getting worried as I hadn't seen any for sale until the day before we went to buy one. A tent appeared outside our usual supermarket and I have no doubt we were some of the first in there. We have now decorated our biggest (but cheapest) tree, and yes Jacob has already pulled it over once! Here are some of our homemade family decorations that adorn it's branches.

Salt Dough Decorations
When I came across this recipe for salt dough decorations on The Imagination Tree I knew I hade to make some with the boys. I cannot believe that we have not made salt dough before, it's so easy to do with kids and the possibilities are endless. Our cutter selection is pretty small at the moment so we ended up with stars and gingerbread men and I couldn't resist a teapot! We painted them and covered them in glitter for that Christmassy feel. (Note Andrew's lovingly painted Santa and snowman, who knew he was so artistic!)



Felt & Paper Decorations
The inspiration for these felt baubles came from issue 33 of my favourite craft magazine Mollie Makes. I got my sewing machine out to make felt ones covered with scraps of fabric, beads, sequins and charms leftover from our wedding day favours. (I knew I didn't throw them away for a reason!) We also used the shapes to cut out paper ones for the kids to decorate. You can download the bauble patterns here.




Carton Stars
I love these! Instead of throwing your drink cartons into the recycling bin cut them up to make stars that can be hung around the house. Cut the top and bottom off the carton. Then cut what's left into 8 pieces of the same size and cellotape together. We kept ours simple and left them as they are but we did wrap tinsel round one to put on the top of the tree. They could be painted and decorated to make them even more colourful.




One for the grown ups!
We've shown you before what you can do with wine bottle corks, and now here's what you can do with beer bottle tops...snowmen! I used a nail and a hammer to make small holes to string 3 together. Cut out 3 circles of white paper and glue inside. Draw a face on the top one and buttons on the second, and I couldn't resist a bit of glitter to make them sparkle on the tree!






We have also added popcorn on string as we're not huge fans of tinsel, coloured baubles, and all of Reubens's decorations that he has made at nursery over the past couple of years. Our wreath is currently hanging on the inside of our door as it's so pretty and the village is so quiet I don't think anyone would see it! What decorations have you been making this year? We'd love to see your pictures!

Becky x

Come and follow our Christmas Pinterest board for more decoration inspiration.

La Famille Brown
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Our Christmas wreath - 12 Days of Christmas

This year my quest to make our Christmas wreath took me to Jardin de la Mothe, a private garden in Salles Courbatiès that began it's journey in 1997. In 2013 it earned itself the label 'Jardin Remarkable', and believe it or not, the garden is never watered. (That's my type of gardening!) It is so beautiful. Even at the start of winter with the trees shedding their leaves and frost melting in the sun, as you wander around it's hard to believe that it was all once just a field. The planting is inspiring. I came away with thoughts on what we could achieve with the little patch of land we have to grow on, and how we can keep it looking full all year round. Here are just a few of the pictures I took...




After a walk around the garden we sat down to lunch. Homemade chicken liver paté and humous, cous cous with roasted vegetables, spicy beef wrapped in filo pastry, and spinach quiche. Cake topped with raspberries and blackberries accompanied by meringues, all washed down with rosé wine and coffee to finish. It was all just delicious and we were truely spoiled!

But we weren't here just to lust after a beautiful garden, eat, drink and gossip! We were here to craft our own Christmas wreaths. Marion, whose garden we loved and food we devoured, hosts wreath making workshops in the run up to Christmas. The table where we had just had lunch suddenly became full of moss, ivy, and pine needles. There were baskets of dried oranges, cinnamon and pine cones. Little instructions were needed to get us going, as people started snipping away at branches and attaching them to their 'halos' of grape vine. After about an hour of tweaking, twisting and rearranging...here is the result!


I'm pretty pleased with it and it was such fun to do. Marion had wreaths around her garden from years gone by and I'm hoping that this survives a while. The nice thing is that it can be added to if bits (as I'm sure they will!) drop off. We'll hang it on our door closer to Christmas for all to admire!

Do you hang a wreath on your door at Christmas?

Becky x

Visit our Facebook page to see all the pictures I took of the garden. Jardin de la Mothe is open for guided visits, and every weekend in the summer you can enjoy drinks and patisseries made in house. If you're in the area I thoroughly recommend a visit!

La Famille Brown
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Homemade advent calendars - 12 Days of Christmas

Welcome to the first instalment of our '12 Days of Christmas' project. With December fast approaching, and having seen our first Christmas tree in St Antonin last week, we've started Christmas crafting. Advent calendars are one of the first things you see when you now enter our local supermarkets and Reuben has his eye on a Kinder Surprise one. Little does he know that this year I have decided to make them!


I'm making two different calendars, both inspired from pins on Pinterest. I ordered all I needed to make the calendars from the 'rikyandnina' store on Etsy. It's a lovely little store full of lots of tempting crafting items from paper goods to stickers and stamps. (I tried not to get too carried away but the store is now on my list of favourites!) For Reuben's calendar I ordered the cutest mini envelopes and for Jacob's mini chevron paper bags. I stuck numbered stickers on each one and pegged them onto twine. My plan is to fill them with dried fruit, yoghurt covered raisins, and gold coins, and hang them by their beds on December the first. They're so cute I might even have to make one for myself!


If you're making advent calendars in your house this Christmas do let us know, we'd love to see pictures. Happy Christmas crafting!

Becky x

If you're quick the 'rikyandnina' store have a 10% discount code valid until the 30th November (which I totally forgot to use when I ordered!)

La Famille Brown
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Cette semaine...looking forward instead of back!

This week 'Cette Semaine' is a little different as we are linking up with The Move to America's Monday Morning Coffee Social and looking forward to the week ahead instead of looking back! Last week it was my birthday and I always like to think about the year ahead and what I would like to achieve. It's strange to think that this time last year we were finalising plans for our move to France, and now here I am celebrating a birthday in Parisot for the first (and hopefully not last!) time.

So what do we have planned for the week ahead?

This week I will be writing and taking pictures for the first post of our '12 Day of Christmas' project. With December making its appearance at the end of this week it's time to step up a gear with all things Christmassy! Christmas is taking such a long time to appear in our corner of France (or maybe I just need to get out the village a bit more?!) but as soon as December hits on Sunday you'll know it's Christmas in our house!





Last week I taught my first piano lesson to a child at Reuben's school. The girl really enjoyed the class and I have decided to expand our Mini Musique idea with piano and recorder lessons for primary aged children (5-11 years.) Music lessons for kids shouldn't be a chore and I've found this great piano series that introduces children to playing in a way that keeps them engaged and encourages fun! This week I will be making adverts and getting the word out there.



It's your last chance to vote for our picture in the World Cup for Kids photo contest hosted by Multicultural Kid Blogs. The winning picture will be used as the logo for the series that they will run during the World Cup next year. We chose this great picture and you can vote for us here. Closing date is 30th November so cast your votes now!


The first Christmas market (that we know of) is being held in St Antonin this Saturday and we're hoping to get our Christmas tree at the weekend. We've seen fake Christmas trees in the supermarkets but we'll be on the look out for a real one. I am going Christmas wreath making on Friday at Le Jardin de la Mothe which I am really looking forward to!





I have planned a 'food' themed session for my English class in Cahors on Wednesday. I've been printing out flashcards and pretend money for a role play game. I will be setting up a shop in the classroom and getting the French kids to practise their English by going to buy pretend food from the shop. Activity Village has been a great site for activity ideas and free printables to use with the kids.






We have decided to really make an effort with learning French this week. It is amazing how little French we have spoken since we arrived and the time has come to do something about it. We will be uploading the Michel Thomas CD's onto the iPod and plugging in the headphones during Jacob's naptime.

What do you have planned for the week ahead?

Becky x



 

The Move to America


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Let's get organised!

With Christmas on its way I've already started making lists. I have at least three notebooks on the go with gift and craft ideas, and my designated craft space in the loft is beginning to look a little worse for wear. This is despite the fact that I'm still trying to find the time to actually do some sewing, but there still seems to be fabric everywhere and Halloween decorations lurking in the background. It's time to get organised.

This project took less than an hour to do but is the first step in beautifying my crafting space. We were made a lovely cork board by a family friend in London which has recently replaced our functional but plain IKEA board. I decided to take this board to the next level with fabric bought from a French brocante market last year and some twine.


I started by stapling the fabric onto the board. I could have got mathematical with the twine to make it slightly more even, but with my time limited to Jacob's nap time I wanted to finish before he woke up. And here it is! Such a quick and easy craft to do and now my lists and sewing projects can be displayed with style!

How are you getting organised for Christmas?
Becky x
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Singing the French National Anthem

There's something I haven't told you yet...I've joined the village choir! I've been in choirs before, all throughout my school years and later at university. The 'Choeur de Parisot' is conducted by Peter Nowfel and contains a mix nationalities including French, English, Dutch and Swedish. We're working on a range of songs for concerts next year but have taken a break to practise Christmas songs for two carol services in December. I thoroughly enjoy singing and what's great is that I already know some of the songs that we are working on.


Here in France, Armistice Day, 11th November, is a public holiday. We only realised this when Andrew tried to take Reuben to school and found the gates shut and no one around! In Parisot the church service for this rememberance day was held the Sunday following, and the choir was invited by the Mayor to sing 'La Marseillaise' (the French National Anthem) by the village monument for people that died. At midday a procession was led from the village church by flag bearers and a little boy carrying a bouquet of flowers. These were placed in the monument whilst the flag bearers stood in a line in front. There was a minutes silence and then we sang the first verse of 'La Marseillaise' in unison to an audience of villagers and local church goers. I noticed that some of the audience sang along with us. Following the anthem there was a short speech from the Mayor and then everyone was invited to the Salle des Fêtes where drinks and cake were served.


I've never sung at an event before where I have been required to sing a national anthem. I don't even think I've ever sung the British one and must confess I only know the tune of the French one from hearing it at the start of football matches. Although I have not been in France long enough for 'La Marseillaise' to be considered my national anthem, I am part of a choir that is multinational, and I felt it was important to show my French choir goers and French neighbours support during this rememberance event. As our choirmaster said at the end of the ceremony, it was a battle that the English fought as well as the French and lives were lost on both sides.

Becky x

The Choeur de Parisot's next events are our Christmas concerts. If there are any local readers these will be held in Limogne on the 15th December and in Parisot on the 21st.
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