Salted caramel popcorn

I've had a jar of salted caramel in my cupboard for months. I haven't really known what to do with it but I was so determined to do something the jar found its way into a box labelled 'France.' It actually started life in France as my mum brought it back from Paris as a present, and it was when we were making party food for Reuben's birthday that my mum suggested we use it with popcorn. So here we are Saturday night, kids (almost) in bed, and a large bowl of delicious salted caramel popcorn!
The simplest method for making it is to make the popcorn and then drizzle over the caramel that has been melted gently in a pan. Then put on your film choice for the evening and enjoy!

Becky x
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Birthday crafts & traditions

We hoped that in moving to France we would have the time to be creative and start family traditions that we just didn't seem to have the time for back in London. Reuben's birthday was a great starting block and we want to share some of the things we did that we hope will continue for each birthday we celebrate.

Happy Birthday Banner
I've been longing to get my sewing machine out since I arrived here. I dragged it down from the loft especially to create the 'Birthday Banner.' I cut out the letters, with pinking shears, from scraps of IKEA fabric that used to be Reuben's cot bumper. I sewed along the top of the letters, which was more difficult than I thought it was going to be, as my sewing machine didn't like sewing the 'nothing' in between the letters. But with Andrew's help pulling it through it turned out ok as long as you don't look to closely! I originally wanted to make this in felt, as I think it may last longer, which I may still do if I ever get round to ordering some.
The Photo Wall of Ages
At Reuben's Montessori nursery in London, on their birthday the children were encouraged to bring in photos, one from each year of their life. It was fun searching through our vast collection of photos that we have stored on our computer and printing out a selection to stick on the wall. Jacob loved seeing his brother in various different poses, and Reuben loved seeing himself as a baby, especially the one of him swimming underwater. It may be too much to find a photo for every year that Andrew and I have been alive (though it would be a challenge!) but we will definitely do this for the kids.


Hands, Feet & Height
I'm gutted that I didn't start this when Reuben was born but better late than never. I remember my mum doing this for my brother and I and always wanted to do the same when I had kids. Every year, on our birthday, she would draw round one of our hands and feet, and take our height measurement on a chart. I will start a book of these measurements for Reuben and Jacob and it will be a wonderful way to show them how they grow each year.





Do you have any family birthday traditions?

Becky x
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Our baby turns 4!


Being an August born baby Reuben has always celebrated his birthday in France. This year he's been so excited about turning 4 so we planned a proper little party, despite the fact that he and Jacob would be the only kids there.

We had balloons ready at the top of the stairs so that he saw them as soon as he left his room in the morning. When he came downstairs he was greeted by a table of gifts and we had invited family round for a breakfast of 'Pancakes and Presents.' Reuben gets a bit funny when all the attention is on him so it took him a while to warm up to opening them. Once he got going he found himself with a new scooter, a kite, kerplunk (or 'attention a la bille!' in French,) play-doh, walkie talkies, a gardening set, and extensions for his train set which his Nanna had sent from London. This included the 'curly whirly train track' which has been on his birthday list for a year.

 
After breakfast he built a mahoosive (Reuben's word) train track with Daddy and Nanna on Skype, but before he had time to play with it properly we kindly kicked him out the house so we could finish the cake and get the food ready for lunch. We had prepared a menu of tomato and avocado bruschetta, meatballs with Brie, melon and Parma ham, spinach and feta parcels, calamari, potato smilies and Reuben made popcorn for the first time. It may seem like a sophisticated menu for a 4th birthday but bear in mind most of the guests were adults! He played kerplunk and pass the parcel, blew bubbles with Jacob outside and practised riding his new scooter. The highlight had to be the cake and singing Happy Birthday. We Skyped Andrew's family in London and they all got to sing along with us and wish him Happy Birthday.

He had a great day. Thank you to all who bought him presents, for sending messages on Facebook, and for celebrating the day with us!

Becky x
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Boats ahoy!

 

We seem to have accumulated rather a lot of wine bottle corks since the beginning of the summer. To be fair there have been a large number of adults around and everyone is on holiday. I decided to find something to do with them all. As with 'Ice Block Fun' this is another idea from Pinterest. We used corks, string, cocktail sticks, and sticky labels for the flags. I made a classic 3 cork boat with flag. Andrew had to get fancy with his and create a boat with numerous corks and cocktail sticks (sorry mum we'll buy you some more!) The boys then had fun pushing their boats in the paddling pool until the flags fell off and cocktail sticks snapped from too much rough handling. I guess we'll have to get back to the drawing boards with the designs!

Becky x

Find our boards and so much more inspiration on Pinterest.
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Canoeing along the Aveyron

Canoe Party Summer 2013
Every year a canoeing party heads to St Antonin for the 11km trip down the Aveyron, through the limestone gorges, to Cazals. We've been so many times my mum keeps a bag in the cellar of shoes suitable for the journey after many were lost overboard in the early days. A great debate is held the day before as we establish the experienced canoeists from the beginners and pair them up accordingly. Andrew and I are on the experienced list and have yet to canoe together, though having seen the heated discussions in canoes between married couples and family members it's probably best in order to maintain marital harmony!


We canoe with a company called Variation. Lifejackets, paddles, and a tub for your belongings are handed out when you arrive, and then there's a quick explanation of how to canoe and instructions about the route. You would have thought that after years of canoeing along the same route we would know what we were doing, but once in the water we failed at the first hurdle as we were all unsure as to whether to go down the waterfall on the left, down the chute on the right, or just to the left of the chute. We hoped the family alongside us might know which way to go, but in the end we were all directed by a man in the café overlooking the river (we must have looked desperate!) and then we were away. With recent rainfall the river level was quite high. In past years we've had trouble getting stuck on rocks in shallow water and have had to get out the canoe to push it back into deeper water. This year we had very little out of canoe experiences. The first half of our journey is always about chips. We left at 1pm and none of us had had lunch so we eagerly awaited the sight of the 'big rock that people jump off' as this is where we always stop at the café opposite for chips. On seeing the rock we parked our canoes on the bank, ordered 3 large plates of chips, a few beers, and sat near the smouldering fire for lunch.


The second half of the journey is all about the race! At this point part of me looks at the families having picnics along the bank, dads and their boys fishing, and I think about how nice it would be to do a slow canoe, take in the scenery and even stop to sunbathe. The other part of me wants to be the first to the finish line. This year my canoe came third. The canoes that took first and second place seemed to race ahead with very little effort. One was manned by teenage brothers (surely their canoe was lighter which was to their advantage?!) the other had Andrew (he has muscle power and knows what he's doing!) As always I was glad to see the end as my hands were starting to blister and my back was aching. But I'm looking forward to doing it all again next year when we're hoping to take Reuben as he'll be old enough. Or perhaps being here full time we'll go earlier and get some practise in before next summer! 

Becky x
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Our little Dacia Sandero

We have a car!! Which is both exciting and terrifying! Andrew has only just passed his test and I haven't driven a car for 2 years, and a manual one since I passed my test 10 years ago! We have a little Dacia Sandero, advertised as the 'spacious car that wont break the bank!' It has been bought new as second hand cars in France are expensive and with a new car we get the guarantees and the safe knowledge that we wont have to buy another car for a while. We wanted to get the car whilst my parents were still in France so that my dad could take us out on practice runs before they left. There was a slight worrying moment as every Renault garage seemed to have trouble getting the car that we wanted until October. Dad rang numerous garages to try and track one down, at one point we were considering a road trip back to the UK or even Belgium, until he found Anthony in Montauban. He said he could find what we were after so a road trip to Montauban it was, and Jacob came along for the ride.
 
A car showroom is a dream for both our boys. Jacob thought every car was a 'cool car' and he enjoyed getting lost inbetween them and climbing in some, until he got bored and started rolling about on the floor. Anthony spoke good English which was helpful as we were struggling to understand the 477.63€ charge for 'total supplements' (what exactly did that include?) I won't go into the nitty gritty of car buying in France (unless you want me to) all we needed was a copy of my passport, proof of address (or in our case a signed letter from my dad to say we were living in his house,) and lots of signature signing. They then sent us our carte grise by email and this is what we took to get our car insurance from the bank. Then it was back to Montauban to get the car. The initial plan was for 4 of us to drive to Montauban so that Andrew could then drive back with my dad. As it happened 3 of us ended up in Montauban to try and register our businesses and we made an unplanned stop at the garage on the way home. The car was ready but we thought we wouldn't be able to take it as we had left the insurance at home. This was no problem Anthony said and the next thing we knew we had the keys in hand and it was ours to take! Somehow I ended up in the driving seat for the drive back home with Andrew as my passenger. I wasn't used to changing gears, kept veering a little too much to the right, and was so relieved I didn't have to do any hill starts because I would have felt sorry for any car behind me. But I did it! I can't have gone too wrong as it was a straight road all the way home, and the only time I stalled was back in the village when a scraggly looking dog got in front of me and couldn't decide which way to go. 

So now the adventure really begins as we now have the freedom to roam the roads of France! If you want to chat about buying a car in France or have any car stories to tell, comment or get in touch!

Becky x

See a short video of Jacob finding 'cool cars' on our Instagram page


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Festival d'Art International de Parisot

It was a busy week last week hence the neglected blog! Summer is in full swing and we have had family and friends staying at my parents house and in a gîte nearby. In total there were 20 of us spanning 3 generations and it's been lovely seeing everyone mix, form friendships and cement existing ones. The boys have loved having so many people around and I know that Reuben is going to have withdrawal symptoms when everyone starts to leave.

This weekend was the 7th Festival d'Art International de Parisot, a three day festival of open house art including paintings, sculpture, jewellery, ceramics, and mosaics, and on Friday and Saturday night there were free music concerts at the village café. The festival was started by my dad and two years ago he handed over the reigns to a local French artist. This year I was asked by the organiser, sculptor Jean-Marie Lopez, if I would cut the ribbon to open the festival, as a continuation from my dad being president and because we had just moved into the village. It was an honour to be a part of the opening ceremony and I was given a piece of the cut ribbon as a memento which I will frame. Our favourite artists of the weekend were sculptors Bernard Mages who creates wonderful art for your garden (we have two pieces already,) and Arnaud Elisabeth who makes magical objects including giant rings with iron, precious stones and wood.

The highlight of the weekend had to be the jazz concert on the Saturday night. The duo of voice and piano by Sophie le Morzadec and Xavier Gainch was inspiring and made even more so by our professional flautist friend Keith Waithe who asked if he could play a few pieces with them. They agreed and as great musicians do they improvised away to the excitement of the crowd. Little did we know that sat nearby was Jacq-André, a volunteer broadcaster for the local radio station CFM, and the following day an interview was arranged (by Keith's newly appointed French agent...moi!) It was Keith that first inspired me to take up the flute, and despite not having played for about 10 years he had me dusting off my flute case and playing again!

This weekend encompassed all that I love about France: family and friends, meeting new people, art, music, good food and wine, and kids being free. The chance meeting with Jacq-André shows the great possibilities here. How easy would it have been to get on the radio in the UK? It's been a truly inspirational weekend for our family, please feel free to share the things that have inspired you recently!

Becky x

Thank you to Ella Buckton who got the best picture of me cutting the ribbon!
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Parisot fête

Fireworks at the lac
Parisot fête, or Festi'lac as it's known round here, always takes place the first weekend in August. We haven't done it properly since having kids as we don't have the confidence yet to take them to late night events such as fireworks (Reuben hates loud noises) and communal meals (they just don't sit still so we end up eating in shifts.) This year however I managed to make it to the fireworks. We arrived and did the very English thing of finding our spot and laying down blankets and fold up chairs (everyone else just sat on the floor,) and then it was off to the bar for drinks. We caught the end of a concert on the big stage before a 'Grands Show de FMX' or freestyle motocross show, where three men on bikes jumped off a ramp and performed a stunt before landing on a mud pile opposite. The only thing running through my mind was how long before Jacob would be doing something like this? He's a bit obsessed with motorbikes/bikes and here all the kids drive mopeds at 14...eek!

Our vide grenier find
After the bikes they let off a firework to let us know the show was about to begin so we hurried back to our blankets. It was good, though I've seen better at the lake in previous years. At one point I became preoccupied with a couple in front who for some reason had brought a dog with them who was obviously terrified. He was jumping around and trying to escape every time a firework went off.
 
On Sunday we walked down to the lake again, this time with the kids, for the vide grenier (car boot) and marché gourmand (food market.) There are always great bargains to be found at a vide grenier and we came away with some lovely spice racks and plant pots for outside the house.

The highlight of the day though had to be the 'Cox 'n' Burn' meet of classic cars and campervans. I love campervans and I am determined to see that one day we own one. I have transferred this love to Reuben as I have been pointing them out to him since he was born. Jacob also loves anything with wheels. There were some beautiful ones all polished up for showing off. As we entered the lake they were all driving off for their cruise around the area, beeping their horns as they went past and Reuben and Jacob waved them off!

Becky x

Find us on Instagram for more videos and pictures of the weekend (@lafamillebrown)
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Cow riding at Puylagarde village fête

Watching the horse racing at Puylagarde seems to have become a permanent fixture on the Summer calendar. It's held every year as part of the Puylagarde village fête. Amateur racers ride in carts that look as though they are going to fall over every time they go round a bend, round a field in the middle of the village. Everyone comes out to watch the spectacle. There is a bar and music that painfully makes its way out of speakers. This year however, there was no racing. Due to a heavy storm the night before, the festival committee had decided that the ground was unsuitable for the horses and instead we were treated to a horse show.

Things kicked off with a group of riders performing a horse dance accompanied by traditional flamenco music. The women were dressed in elaborate Spanish dresses while the men wore suits (and lots of hair gel.) This was followed by a woman dressed like an American Indian and a display of bareback riding. She showed her horse off a bit first with more dancing and then did an impressive ride before un-impressing us all with her inability to hit the target with her bow and arrow.


Into the ring then came a pony, which I think was just to contrast with what came next...the cow that thought it was a horse. A Frenchman did a comedy routine with the cow where the cow knocked him over and did a few tricks. There were a couple of moments where the cow, who obviously didn't find the humour in the show he was performing, charged into the corner of the ring to try and escape before being lured back in with food. I may have been in flip flops but I was ready to run! The man riding the cow then decided to treat us all to a strip show down to his rather red pyjamas before laying down on a mat (which the cow unrolled) to rest with his cow. Who knows what the little old ladies sat in the front row thought by this point. Then it was on to another dancing horse (I'd seen it all by now,) a horse that pulled a man along on some skis, and Lilou and her little pony.


Reuben enjoyed the horse dancing, particularly when they jumped up in the air. Jacob was more interested in the tractor parked nearby and wandering about the field. Jacob does seem to be becoming a bit of a wanderer here. He's quite happy roaming about, usually in the other direction that you want him to travel in. He waves goodbye and disappears around a corner. I'm sure it wont be long before he's off around the village on little adventures!

Becky x

 
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Ice block fun

It's so hot in our corner of France at the moment we are constantly trying to think of ways to keep the kids cool (other than let them run round all day with no clothes on!) Pinterest is a great source for finding things to do with kids (check out my 'for the boys' board) and this is where I got this idea from.

Find a container and lots of little objects to put inside. Fill the container with water and leave in the freezer. When it's completely frozen release the ice block and give to your child with something they can use to chip away at the ice. Simple summertime fun! Watch your child have fun as they try and break the ice and release the objects embedded inside.

The only problem we had was that with it being so hot the ice started to melt rather quicker than hoped. Reuben also decided that the best way to break the ice was to smash it to the ground with great force. Boys!

Becky x
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