The Advent Stress and the Advent Story with free printable on blog

I have mixed feelings about the lead-up to Christmas and Advent specifically. I love how excited my children get. I love that use their leftover Halloween sweets to stuff the pockets of their advent stockings. I love being invited to Christmas events (not many of these, but hey!) and I love it when the Christmas cards begin arriving in the post. I like the free mince pies at the Christmas concert and I don’t care that the mulled wine is a little sour, as long as it’s hot and alcoholic.

The flip side is the stress which builds up. I have 25 immediate family members to buy presents for, plus I need to help the children buy presents for family, friends and teachers. The last 2nd class post for Christmas is a deadline which looms. I have to remember to feed the cake and at some point, to ice it. I hope the new motor for the extractor fan arrives or we will be spending Christmas day in a kind of sprout-flavoured sauna. My husband is usually on a long-haul business trip during Advent and we all miss him, then he comes home shattered and is no use to anyone. The deadline for ordering the turkey is horribly early.

Cracking up

A couple of weeks into advent, the cracks start to show. I buy sellotape twice a week but no actual wrapping paper. I forget to water the poinsettia and the leaves fall off. I accidentally post a Christmas card to my husband’s senile great-aunt who died ten years ago. I miss the last post for America so I stick 7 extra stamps on my brother’s card and write URGENT in block capitals, cross my fingers and pray. I completely forget about anyone who has a birthday in December. I promise the girls we will have a festive trip out to pick holly and ivy in the wild but after accidentally picking up some slugs and spiders I shell out £35 in a florist. Parcels don’t arrive on time. Carol singers are out of tune. The tree falls over. Someone gets norovirus. Standard stuff, really.

Advent calendar stocking and fireplace on blog

Advent is actually supposed to be our time to prepare for the coming of Jesus. In some ways, we do manage to do this. There are four Sundays in Advent with lovely services, plus at our church there is a special Advent reflection evening in early December which is easily the most uplifting celebration of the season for me. That’s church, though. Things don’t seem quite the same at home. We set out the nativity scenes but outside of church it feels like we’re preparing for the arrival of turkey and Santa.


Back on track

I don’t think there is any real hope of reducing the stress of the practical Christmas preparations. Still, I do want to find a way to keep the coming of Jesus a daily part of Advent, not just for Sundays. To solve this problem my daughter suggested that we could print out Bible verses to put in the pockets of their Advent stockings. Yes, there will still be sweets, but we will jam a Bible verse in there too. I selected the verses with my children in mind. They’re tween-age and teenage girls, and what they need is a bit of prompting and guidance. They’re beyond the age for all the myriad advent crafts and colouring aimed at younger children. On the other hand there are some pretty heavy Advent Bible studies for adults that they haven’t got the attention span for.

This may not be about going deep, instead the verses are arrows through the day; something I’ll encourage them to mull over whilst a toffee from the advent calendar glues their teeth together before breakfast each morning.

24 Bible verses for Advent on blog

Click on the image to download the two-page document

Printable Advent Verses

I’m sharing these verses which I have selected as a free printable on my blog, for you to download and use yourself. There are 24 across two sheets of paper for you to cut out. The first 12 focus on the gospel story of the Nativity. The second 12 focus on the identity of Jesus, because during advent I think the obvious thing to do is to think about who it is that we waiting for.

If you don’t have an advent calendar with pockets that you can fill yourself, there are other ways you could use these verses.

  • Pop them in your child’s packed lunch box
  • Tuck them into your child’s pocket
  • Take a picture of the verse each day and send them the photo on Whatsapp or iMessage
  • Hide them around the house and have a treasure hunt
  • Stick them to the fridge
  • Read them together at bedtime

Of course they are definitely NOT just for children! I hope the adults can get a lot out of it too.

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click here to download the free Advent Verses Printable

Outside My Window

Here’s another blog post with a different free printable that I made.









Shop like a pro in a French supermarket on FalcondaleLife blog

Some say that British tourists love a booze cruise but the truth is there’s quite a lot of French life, food and culture to sample in the humblest of French supermarkets. If you’re on a self-catering holiday then you’re going to need some serious supplies. Here’s my guide to French supermarket shopping for holidaymakers.

  1. Wine and beer

If you’re not a wine buff, the simplest trick is to subtly follow a French shopper on the wine aisle. Buy what the French are buying. Avoid the full sections on the shelf, instead take from the areas which have already had a few bottles removed. The French know what they are doing. Observe and copy!

In the beer aisle you will probably find only French lager and Belgian beer, no ales. Try out the Breton cider instead, it goes down very easily.

bottles of french wine on FalcondaleLife blog

  1. Cheese

Don’t copy the French for this one, the TV adverts have strongly influenced French shoppers’ choices on the pre-packed cheese aisle. Big business names like President sell well because of the advertising campaigns. Instead go to the deli counter and try any free samples. If your French is good enough then ask the staff a few questions:

Avez-vous quelque chose de moins fort? = Do you have something milder?

Softer = plus doux

Harder = plus dur

More mature = plus mûr

Avez-vous un fromage bleu? – Do you have a blue cheese?

Avez-vous un fromage de lait de brebis? – sheep’s milk

Goat’s milk = lait de chèvre

When you have chosen if you ask for any less than 200 grams you will get a funny look – cheese is meant to be eaten in proper amounts!

Cheddar is rare, for grated toppings they tend to prefer Emmenthal.

  1. Stationery

Office supplies and stationery are always particularly good value in French supermarkets compared with the UK. You can get some lovely pens and good value folders, also school equipment like compasses. The only negative is that the notebooks are all squared paper to comply with requirements for French schools.

French supermarket stationery on FalcondaleLife blog

  1. Meat and poultry … and other “meat”

Make sure you know what you are buying. Learn the vocabulary because French supermarkets sell things which you might prefer to avoid like Fois Gras and white veal, both produced with controversial methods of animal care. Also you can buy meat labelled ‘horse’, ‘cat’ and ‘dog’. Tripe is common, even in tins and in sausage (‘andouille’ is tripe sausage). The range of whole salamis in the supermarkets is quite exciting. Bacon is commonly sold in little cubes or lardons rather than slices.

French supermarket meat aisle on FalcondaleLife blog

  1. Vegetables and Fruit

With the exception of Super U – my favourite French supermarket so far – we found the range of green veg was very different to the UK with only haricots verts (French beans) in the bean section, nothing from the cabbage or broccoli families at all. On our summer visits there were no sprouts, mange-tout, runner beans, kale or cauliflower. Perhaps some autumn veg would come round in season or be available regionally at different times. A more recognisable range was available at Super U but broccoli was expensive and haricots verts so cheap that one Euro buys 900g (2lb). They were delicious too! Parsnip is rarely eaten in France, although the older generation remember eating them during the war.

Your challenge with fruit in the summertime is to not buy far too much. They sell abundant crops of wonderful summerfruit by the boxload and it’s just a pity you can’t bottle it to take home.

Apricots in a French supermarket on FalcondaleLife blog

  1. Bread – or let them eat cake

Not long ago a rectangular sandwich with sliced bread was a rarity in France but now sliced loaves in the British style are readily available in the supermarket, some with crusts already removed as if they have been prepared with your poshest cucumber sandwiches in mind. The daily French baguette is unchanged and the routine of buying them each morning continues (they go stale after one day). If you want wholemeal then search for “complet” or “pain de campagne”. Gâche are soft, sweet loaves that look like brioche but we all hated it, it was quite different, sour and gritty.

Gache on FalcondaleLife blog

  1. Tinned Food

If you’re planning a road trip through France and you cannot transport much chilled or fresh food then tinned food is an important subject. Again, Super U is my recommendation for range and variety, and along with Lidl was almost the only place with tinned vegetables. Carrefour is not bad either but Intermarche is a lot like Leclerc. In Leclerc we found that the “ready meal” aisle was all tins of pre-prepared dinners. We tried cassoulet and it was like a tin of baked beans and sausage mixed with chicken soup. Lidl alone we found did not sell fresh milk but long life milk is for sale everywhere. All tins have ring-pulls so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that our gite didn’t have a tin opener! The supermarket tinned aisle is probably the only place you will find something labelled “curry” and there is only one flavour.

  1. Hours of shopping

Cock this one up and you will go hungry. 7-day 24-hour shopping culture has not arrived in France. The small shops shut at noon, some open again at 2pm but others not until 5pm. In the UK if supermarkets are shut we search for an all-hours corner shop. This does not work in France as small shops shut the most often. However on a Sunday morning many large supermarkets are now open until noon. If you’re hungry in the afternoon, don’t go looking for afternoon tea, they do not have this habit either and the café will most likely be shut until 7pm.

Read what I put on my French shopping list by clicking here.

What do you like to buy in France? Tell me your experiences in the comments below.

Lou Messugo


Here’s another post I’ve written about France

My Pinterest board called Places – France is full of ideas for places to visit






Take a tour of a dismantled SLR camera on FalcondaleLife blog

I’ve been an enthusiastic photographer from the age of 13 and local friends are always asking me “how’s your photography?” when they see me. Although I got a bit fed up with photography a couple of years ago, it is really pulling me back and I’m shooting more and more. My husband and I were sorting through our camera equipment recently and discovered that our Canon 50E SLR 35mm film camera had stopped working. This really made me feel sentimental! It is possibly my all-time favourite camera, so easy to use, such incredible quality. The lenses which we bought to use with this camera eighteen years ago still fit with modern Canon EOS digital cameras. However as this one shoots film it has been stuck in the back of the cupboard for years.

Well, what does an engineer do when presented with a busted SLR camera? He dismantles it for fun! Our children were fascinated when Dad showed them the camera’s inner workings. So I decided to make this (rather shaky) video, for posterity. I’m sorry I didn’t use a tripod. Further down are some photos which I shot with this camera.

When I was a photography student we shot all black and white film but my first love is colour. When we went on safari to Tanzania (pre-kids) the EOS 50E really proved it’s worth. Shot on Fuji Velvia.

35mm SLR film photos

This lioness has three cubs – our guide told us this was more than usual.

35mm SLR photo of lion with cubs on FalcondaleLife blog

With film of course you are relying on your own skill to get the depth of field right without being able to check a screen on the back of the SLR camera. I managed to get what I wanted with this shot of a herd of elephants but I wish I had taken one which included the reflection.

35mm SLR photo Herd of elephants on FalcondaleLife blog

Just look at the amazing colour range and definition in this photo of a hippo and flamingos. It’s why I loved film. But if it was digital it would have been easier to straighten the horizon.

35mm SLR photo of hippo and flamingos on FalcondaleLife blog

I know many close friends have been expecting me to start blogging about photography again soon. I think it’s safe to say that this trip down memory lane has prompted me to think about doing more. If you’d like me to write about photography, why not let me know in the comments below?

If you’re interested in camera and photography equipment I’ve pinned some of my favourites to this Pinterest board.

Here’s an old post about how I fell out with photography.





Questions to ask at Secondary School Open Day FalcondaleLife Blog

A few years ago I made a list of questions to ask at secondary school open day. My brother-in-law, a high school teacher, helped me come up with some killer questions. I posted them for friends on Facebook and now every year someone asks me to post them again ready for open evening. I think it’s a great list which really helps get under the skin of the secondary school. You can certainly ask the standard questions about “how much homework” and “what extra-curricular activities” – all good to know – but these questions may help you peel back more layers. I’ve done secondary school transition twice now and my list has really helped me ace the open days!

The first three questions I call my “keep tabs and act” questions, and will help you investigate the way the pupils are monitored.

  1. How does the school keep tabs on children’s performance? How often do they do this and how do they act if it’s not what they expect?
  2. How do they keep tabs on children’s happiness? How do they act if a child is unhappy?
  3. How do they keep tabs on children’s behaviour? How do they do this and how do they deal with problems?

The next three questions are about the subject teaching. The art department will have plenty of visual clues on display and it’s easy to ask what is taught in PE but certain subjects are harder to delve into than others.

  1. When do they set children in each subject and how easy is it for them to move between sets? Setting in Maths and English may happen earlier than other subjects. Does it happen in all subjects?
  2. What languages do they teach? A school that teaches German may have a bigger investment in the language department than a school which does not, as German teachers are harder to recruit, Italian even more so.
  3. What software will my child learn in ICT? When was the last time they updated their choice of software? It’s difficult for schools to teach really relevant ICT as things change so fast. Can they explain why their ICT curriculum is the right one?

Questions about the culture and life of the school come next.

  1. Is it a happy school? How many staff left at the end of last year? Do they duck this question or perhaps tell you proudly of past colleagues’ promotions?
  2. What percentage of the children stays on to 6th form? This gives you clues about happiness and success.
  3. Will my child (describe their character) fit in here? (shy/sporty/bookworm/reluctant/geeky/etc.) Ask this question to at least two different people.
  4. How much will we spend on school trips? Perhaps ask the PTA this one too. Some schools are very proud of their costly far-flung orchestra tours. Do they have more affordable trips? Are some compulsory (e.g. geography field trips)?

Secondary school supplies Falcondalelife

More Tips

Talk to lots of different staff. Spread your questions around. Can they answer fully or do they say “you’d better ask my head of department”? Why are they fobbing you off to someone else, do you think the management structure works?

If you don’t get all your questions answered at the open evening, do not hesitate to phone up and tell them you have some more questions. How do they respond to your call? Do they take time to answer fully?

Take the opportunity to ask about criteria for applying, school buses and other practical things too. Will they test the children on their transition days or rely on year 6 SATS results? Don’t be shy about asking if your house is in catchment. For advice on filling in the application form, speak to the Local Education Authority. Don’t assume that just because you’ve left a school off your form, you won’t be allocated a place there. If you don’t fulfil the criteria for the schools which you do put on your form, the LEA will give you a place somewhere you didn’t write on the form, so make sure you have plenty of second, third and even fourth choices written down.

Let me know if these questions helped you in the comments below!

This is a “schooldays” linked post, why not read some of the other blogs linked here?

Bubbablue and me school days linky

More reading: If you have a year 6 child why not find out what all the fuss is about SATS?







More ouch to 5km than couch to 5km part 3 FalcondaleLife blog

If you’ve been following my blog you will know I’ve taking up running. I was using the NHS Couch to 5k running app. I find running less “ouch” than walking, because for the last 19 months I’ve had a dodgy left foot. My left big toe joint has been painful and inflammed. My first blog post explains I overcame my shyness and, quite frankly, my itchiness to get started on this running programme. My second blog post tells how I re-started the programme after a long break caused by a flare-up in my foot. I’ve decided in future not to blog too much personal stuff – I don’t want to be accused of over-sharing – but I don’t want to leave you hanging. So for now it’s time for an update.

I started using the NHS Couch to 5k app in January and it’s a nine-week long programme. Eight months later I have not completed it, despite running two or three times per week when my foot allows. I’ve had to go backwards a couple of weeks each time I was forced to take a break. Then, quite honestly, I found after the end of week 5 of the programme that the running became tougher. I wrote about it in my second Ouch to 5k blog post. I followed the NHS advice to repeat some days or weeks to build stamina more sustainably. So you will understand that I was delighted to reach the end of week 7! I was running two to three times a week for 25 minutes.

couch to 5k ouch nhs running app 5km

But something didn’t feel right. It wasn’t getting any easier. I realised I’m going slower, my stride got even shorter. 25 minutes of running was about 4km of distance but a week later I’d only managed 3.5km in that much time. I’ve also noticed that I’m walking even more slowly, and it turns out that the top of my toe joint is extremely tender to touch. So it was in this condition that I went to an appointment with the Podiatry consultant at the hospital. Its taken 7 months to get this appointment, which was a referral from another podiatrist whom I had waited 4 months to see, who was in turn a referral from a podiatrist whom I had waited 5 months to see. The pace of referral was even more leisurely than my walking pace!

The consultant suspected a cyst inside my toe joint. I was given a steriod injection that hurt so incredibly much I lost my marbles and actually jammed my phone in my mouth and bit down hard. I began to black out and the phone fell out of my mouth. It was all over in a minute! I limped out of the clinic, ridiculously hopeful that this treatment would work.

Things definitely improved after two weeks and two more weeks after that I felt fantastic! Some “ouch” on a bad day (or in bad shoes) but much better overall. Then the steroid wore off and it went downhill a little. It’s still far better than it was, less painful and swollen to touch. At my follow-up appointment I got a telling-off for not buying better shoes (I’ve been too busy! *whine*). It’s not all better and there are suspicious clicks, but the consultant was fairly pleased. However, then I received The Threat.

What is The Threat, you ask? He said if I don’t rest my foot, or if I use it when it hurts, and if I don’t buy much better shoes, then I will be put in a cast for six weeks to immobilise the toe. A cast! I’m aghast! (sorry-not-sorry) He also said I can’t go on hikes or walks for pleasure. You won’t see me dancing (lucky you). And if that doesn’t work, it’s surgery (properly ouch!).

My Couch to 5km is over having reached only the 4km mark. What a pity. I do hope I make it one day, but I’m not sure if maybe that’s the end. I didn’t dare ask the killer question “will I ever run again?” just in case the answer was “no”. I am not ready to hear that yet. For now I’m going to have to get back on my bike if I want any exercise.


If you want to use the NHS Couch to 5k app here are some pointers:

  1. You’ll need a deep pocket, arm strap or bum-bag to carry your phone. Don’t carry it in your hand and don’t do what I did and put it in a shallow pocket from where it fell out!
  2. Don’t bother taking water with you, it’s only about 30 minutes and you won’t get too hot unless … (read the next point)
  3. Don’t run in hot weather unless you have trained for it! Go early in the morning instead. A more common hazard are slippy pavements in the damp or cold.
  4. It’s hard on your knees and your feet so wear good trainers. This applies to everyone, not just those with injuries.
  5. The app lets you play music from your phone in the background. Take time to prepare a playlist, it will really lift you!
  6. If you have to stop for a few weeks, backtrack at least two weeks in the programme when you start again.

Good luck!