Friday, April 30, 2010

A Scented Home and a Winner!

So you want to know what 191 buttons looks like? Well, it looks like a lot more than this! Hang on folks, I'll get to the winner at the end of the post. I hope you can bear with me while I tell you about the sensory wonders of spring in the south of France... Just over a year ago I was getting frustrated by the visual nature of blogging, and wishing that I could give you an idea of the sounds that were defining my life as spring arrived. And this year it's smells! We've always adored this unsassuming bush outside the front (side) door, which bursts into flower at this time of the year and scents the night-time garden. It's an ornamental olive - it produces no useful fruit but the smell, particularly at night, is quite astonishing.
This year, prompted partly no doubt by books like Sensual Home and also Simple Abundance (which is all about the senses at the moment), I've been bringing more and more scented plants into the house. In this photo the olive was beginning to wilt, but it still smelled as wonderful, so I kept it there for a while!I also put rosemary twigs onto the front door wreath, which is becoming as ever-changing as my displays indoors - it's good to have a wreath that looks fine alone, or with additions if I have the time. It was great to sniff at it every time we entered the house!
I enjoyed my blogging break and it couldn't have come at a better time - three weeks after ending treatment for the horrid old thyroid virus, it came back again! However, this time my doctor and I knew the drill, and got the tests done and the appointment with the specialist almost before I started feeling ill. I am so, so grateful that I am already feeling well under treatment, and that I won't go back to the ghastly state I was in over January and February. So I got to vist some of your blogs, but not quite as many as I'd intended, given the circumstances. One blog I've loved but just CAN'T leave a message on, due to its spam blockers not liking my email address, is Andrea V's The Art of Home. Andrea, I've tried, but I can't find a way to get through to you, except for this! Very frustrating. Anyway - super blog and I'd have lots to comment on if only I could...
Is anyone still there? Would anyone like to know the winner of my 191 buttons and 191cm of crochet lace? Oh, you would? Thanks for holding on in there...
It's my eighth commenter, The Madhouse, and if you can think of a blogger who deserves it better, then maybe you havn't met the mum of this particular family! Please do email me your address, Jen, and I'll send off the buttons (ready counted) and the lace (still to be sorted), and maybe then see them appear on some of your creations!
I'll be back tomorrow with another wonderful scent just for May Day. Have a wonderful weekend, folks.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Home, a break and a giveaway!

The airports were opened and I flew home on the expected flight! Something to be really grateful for... My welcome home by Ben, his mum, the boys and the pets was joined by these little birds, who have also returned to southern France! But do you recognise them? I didn't for a while when they first visited our garden - they are so unassuming. But I bet Emma from Silverpebble has identified them already...

They're nightingales! It's now warm enough to sleep with the window open (and anti-mozzie stuff in action) and from about 11.30 to midnight we can hear the male nightingale singing. It sounds uncommonly like one of those children's bird whistles which you fill with water to make a lovely, bubbling whistle. You can find out more here.
Now, I need to take a break from posting, as life has been good but hectic recently! I feel really out of touch with your blogs, so I'm going to spend a week visiting rather than posting. I hope I'll pop by your blog soon...
While I'm not posting, I'll leave a giveaway here for you! I currently have 191 friendly followers, so, choosing 191 as as good a number as any, I'll give 191 mixed buttons and 191cm of crochet lace to the winner of my giveaway. That's a lot of buttons! I'll post them anywhere in the world. Please leave a comment here, any time before 4pm French time next Friday, and then I'll draw a winner! In the meantime, I hope to visit your blogs sometime this week...
I'm going to delete any non-entry comments just to give everyone a fair chance, and then I'll make the draw - best of luck, friends!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Finds and flights

I've had quite a good trawl of Edinburgh's charity shops this week, partly using the Edinburgh Charity Shop map, which is a true treasure map, available on line (and soon to be updated). I've visited Stockbridge, Morningside, Goldenacre, Leith and a tiny bit of the West End! My vintage finds are below: a 1924 American Good Housekeeping book of household hints (including the care of lace), a Portmerion platter to join our collection, a lovely shabby chic mirror, probably Venetian I think, and a host of buttons and threads! As far as Son 2 has been concerned, my main reason for shopping has been to finish off his new collection of the Roman Mysteries, which are gripping adventures for a formerly reluctant young reader. I've had to give phone updates on the collection every night - only two to go!
Make sure you take the time to admire the new duvet cover my sister ordered for our mum from John Lewis - very, very pretty!
So, on to the boring flights. Do comment on my finds, to cheer me up, please! But you might as well know that I am due to fly with British Airways to Gatwick tomorrow morning, and then on to Toulouse with Easy Jet in the afternoon. What do you think my chances are? We're looking into Eurostar at the weekend as an alternative...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Toile on china

When I showed you this great page from American Country Living, I told you how much it reminded me of my mum's house - well, here is some photographic evidence!Lurking on a cupboard shelf...
... in good company in the same cupboard...
... and on the walls...
... and above all, in blue and white in the kitchen...
... to match the Spode china.
There's a whole shelf of blue-and-white above the sink, some of it Willow Pattern but a lot of it in this toile style.
Great horses!
I am loving your comments on my question about charity shopping, below. Anyone up for playing Angela's game? You can find her instructions amongst the comments.

Friday, April 16, 2010

What makes a good charity shop?

Hello friends! I'm here in Edinburgh and very much appreciating your prayers and good wishes. My mum is resting and recovering some strength in hospital and my dad is also having some much-needed rest after a difficult few weeks. It always seems strange that we have a good time when my mum is so ill, but we all do, including my mum! It's always good to be together.
When I'm not with my mum, she sends me out charity shopping - it's a hard life. I'll post about it soon (I'm not blogging much, of course), but while I've been exploring Edinburgh's charity shops, I've been mulling over what makes a good charity shop/thrift store. I wonder if my list is the same as yours? What are your charity shop Dos and Don'ts?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Give me everything that's left...

Yesterday I needed to get Son 1 to the doctor, just to make sure he had a prescription for enough hay fever medication while I'm away in Edinburgh. We decided to go to the afternoon session, which is 'sans rendezvous' - you just arrive and wait your turn. Knowing how long each doctor's appointment takes in France (they are very thorough, and don't rush you through the way they do in the UK), we turned up at 3.30 for a 4pm session, thinking that would give us a good place in the queue. How wrong we were! There were five people already in front of us, and then the doctor returned late from his visits (not his fault, obviously). So we didn't get into the doctor's room until about 6.45... Thank goodness for Nintendo DS games consoles, which can keep children occupied whilst waiting that long! Thus, I never got to the supermarket, which shuts at 7.30 - I'd planned a trip AFTER the doctor's - how naive. Instead, I jumped back on my bike and walked into the latest-opening baker's in town, to hear the words: 'We haven't got any bread left'. I pressed her on this and ended up buying everything she had left - a lovely nutty-brown loaf which she sliced for me, and the two bread rolls you see above, plus croissants for breakfast this morning.
Really not bad at all for leftovers!
I'll be flying to Edinburgh tomorrow. Ben's mum is coming out to help him look after the boys, who are on holiday. My sister is also in Edinburgh at the moment and we'll be able to visit my mum, who's currently in hospital for a short while. I intend to do some charity shopping too!

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Vide Grenier Find

Every month, Son 1 has an after-church youth meeting (this time they were out playing a lazer-quest type game!) and I go to pick him up in the early afternoon. Our way home takes us past the all-year Vide Grenier...
It's been a fairly dull winter of shopping at the VG, but this time I had really remarkable find - from some individuals, who always have more interesting prices than the dealers. I saw this French-style enamel bowl:It's very much in the manner of the French plates featured in British Country Living:There's some cute stencilling on the outside. It says made in China on the back (sadly)!And the lady on the stall was asking 2€ for it! No bargaining required...
Isn't that a lovely collection of plates? I don't think I'll be able to make a collection quite like that of the enamel ware, but I'll give it a try.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Great Button Hunt

I'm not the jealous type, but when Marigold Jam told us about her button-box find, I realised that I was having withdrawal symptoms from the great button hunt. I knew what to do - I went to the charity shop in Blagnac, which is called Frip'Relais, and had a rummage through ONE of their two drawers of buttons.You'll see a certain colour-coding to my search - I like to use red, white and blue buttons on my shop packaging, and I have a personal obsession with Mother of Pearl...
I was 'helped' in my search by Brandon, a tiny weeny French-African boy (not much over 12 months old, I should think), who abandoned his clothes-shopping mother to do something much more interesting, which involved 'talking' on the toy phone near my sorting area, and an occasional bit of 'sorting' with me. What a cutie. He had quite a good vocabulary for such a tiny tot, but tended to begin sentences in recognisable French and end them in a lovely, rolling, babble. He only tried to actually eat one button...
And I got all the ones I wanted back from him in the end...
Now, it is just possible that some of you are novices in the field of obsessive button hunting. Some of you (Liz to name but one) are scarily obsessed, and might enjoy this post too! But here's my guide to my own personal style of button hunt. You begin with something like the jumble of buttons, little plastic bags and rusty pins below. Watch out! It is obligatory for all button boxes to contain something that can injure you.
At first glance, even the most experienced won't see any Mother of Pearl buttons. These buttons must be heavier than others, because they are ALWAYS at the bottom of the box. This is not just Murphy's Law, there has to be some physics involved.
Now, do any of you think you've seen some MOP? If so, you'd be right, but really, the photo won't work, as you have to touch them to be sure.
Here we are down at the bottom of the tin, and there's a good chance that the ones that LOOK like MOP are MOP, down here in the depths.
Time for a bit of hyperventilating - there are clearly a LOT of MOP buttons in this tin. You would never have known from a glance at the top layer.So, from a plastic drawer which seemed at first to have no MOP buttons, I actually found all these after half an hour's searching/babysitting Brandon.
Shall we just have another gloating glance?
This is what the dedicated MOP button collector is up against. The traditional buttons, made of the shiny insides of shells known as Mother of Pearl, have been copied more recently in all types of plastic, because this is just what buttons are meant to look like, isn't it? So, how many of the lineup below are genuine MOP, do you think?
If you're an expert, you know you have to look at the back to be certain, don't you? MOP buttons usually have some of the shell's outsides on their backs. The photos of the backs are below. But even then it's not easy, and that's why I say you have to handle them to be sure. If you want to know from someone who's been stroking them, from left to right:

1 is real MOP, but the shell back is white, so it's hard to tell.

2 is plastic. Bet you guessed from the first photo!

3 is real and easy to identify MOP, with that nice shell backing.

4 is fake, fake, fake! But really that's not fair, because it's not trying to pretend it's anything but plastic.

5 is real MOP, but you have to stroke it to be sure, as the back of the shell was white and smooth. Real shell feels colder and has more texture than your average plastic one.

6 is FAKE! And this one really is fake - it's been given a fake shell backing and everything! I used to hate it when Marks and Spencers used fake MOP buttons in the 1980s, when Laura Ashley was using real ones, but actually it's probably far more environmentally friendly not to go dredging up shellfish to make buttons these days. That's one reason it's good to collect second hand ones..

I just thought I'd show you the two pretties (MOP of course) that I found. Pearly Queen (great name) at Violet White was saying she's seen these going for over two euros each, recently... A bit crazy.

And back to the 'spot the real MOP' game, because sometimes it's naturally grey...Obviously, we have to turn them over... and you can see it's the one on the right. Isn't it a beautiful button?Here's some revision (it's clearly time for this teacher to take a holiday). Here are the backs of three fake buttons:And the backs of three real ones:What do you think of these two? The one on the left is real shell: abalone or maybe that New Zealand shell which my NZ friends will have to name for me! The one on the right uses some interesting shell patterns, but it's plastic. Kind of cute, though. A final glance at the variety of MOP - the slightly pink one and the dark blue ones are dyed.And here they all are in situ, in my MOP button tin! What a very satisfying button hunt. And there's a second drawer waiting for me one of these days...

Friday, April 9, 2010

American Country Living

I'll deal with the first thing, first: yesterday's concert went really well, thanks! Son 1 played a Prelude by Bach beautifully, and Son 2's reluctance showed in a slight lack of practice, but he still had real style as he made his way through The Entertainer, despite a few hiccups! We stayed up late to listen to all the players, and Ben helped out with serving drinks afterwards - a good time was had by all. Now, thanks to Sherri B, I have found the American magazine of my dreams, and it is Country Living. I've enjoyed all the American magazines you lovely people have sent me, but I have to say that this is the one for me. Sarah commented the other day that she found it a very quick read, and I guess that just depends on the level of your determination to read it cover to cover - I've found some others a bit of a 'skim-read', but for me, this one was a 'milk every drop of information out of it' read and I am still taking my time over it! I wanted to show you two articles because they remind me of collections at my parents' house - which means that my mum and grandma collected them over the years. Remember the toile-inspired china above, because I'll show you some when I get to Edinburgh next week, all being well.
And can you guess what these are?
They're a collection of decorative tape measures!
I'm not sure that the family collection has any figurative ones, but I'll have a good rummage while I'm there and I bet I'll find something good to show you...
Tomorrow, I'll take you on a Grand Button Hunt, inspired by Marigold Jam.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Entertainers

The boys are getting ready for their piano concert tonight. Son 2 will be slightly reluctantly playing 'The Entertainer' and Son 1 will be fulfilling a long ambition by playing something really impressively classical - he's been admiring the 'big kids' who play impressive pieces for years, and now it's his turn! You can also see on the piano a photo of them playing a duet (only one fight while rehearsing, honest) at one of the outdoor summer concerts a few years ago. But we also have photos of their piano d├ębuts - Son 1:
and Son 2:
Aww! We can only tell the difference between them because we know we'd actually managed to put that picture up by the time Son 2 was born! Ben loved to play the piano with one of them on his lap. I was going to say it was a good start in the world of music, but in fact they started before they were born, because I was in a choir and I often felt them reacting to the music then...