Thursday, September 30, 2010

And to top it all...

I saw one on Vintage Lifestyle... I wanted to make one but apple trees don't really grow around here...
Then I was allowed to take home all the windfalls from the Jardin des Martels!
And I decorated the mirror with a few berries to match.
Thanks to Kelly of Vintage Lifestyle for the great tutorial - her wreath is a lot more special than mine, but I still had fun!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Happy Birthday, handsome!

We went to the Jardin des Martels to celebrate Ben's birthday. You know what a great visit it was - now here are our presents! I wrapped them in some beautiful photos from a 2007 calendar that I'd been saving without knowing what I'd do with it. In tune with Angela's post, it was time to use up and get rid of stuff. We really liked the results: I gave Ben an original 1970s version of a book by one of his favourite authors - the military chap who wrote his 'Right Way to Make Jams'! This one is 'The Right Way to Grow Vegetables' and he is already impressed with the advice. I'm glad it's going to be useful rather than just a bit of fun...
Son 1 gave him some French guides to sea life - they've become very keen to identify the fishes and shells they've been seeing on the Mediterranean.
As a family we gave him a tree guide book - he'd been asking for one! So it was books all the way (thank you Amazons UK and France), except...
... Son 2's gift got returned in the post, and has been re-ordered to give to his dad by the end of this week. Thanks Amazon, but what a lot of fuss La Poste makes when you don't have a working gate bell! We've sorted the problem now...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"For the greatest joy of our visitors..."

The beautiful garden we visited on Saturday was the 'Jardin des Martels', which is to the north east of Toulouse, on the way towards Albi, more or less. Ben discovered it shortly after we arrived here - even though it's 45 minute's drive away it's a journey well worth making. But we've always been there in springtime before, and he had a real desire to see what it was like in early autumn. Thus, off we went, and it was such a rewarding visit. The garden website, which is a brilliant read in either French or English, mentions that: "The garden of Les Martels also has its garden centre which will allow you to buy the plant which will have charmed you during your visit…"
Well, we were charmed!
The tiny fairy rose, which I photographed in the garden on Saturday, was for sale in the garden shop. There was only one pot left - quick, hurry! I snapped it up and the plant is now settling into our poor, baked 'lawn' between some normal-sized roses.
The incredibly vibrant autumn colours also got me thinking.
The small, accacia-leaved twig seen here on the swimming-pool fence should grow up to become a tall bush which will dangle staggeringly orange bunches of flowers over the tops of the bright, self-seeding cosmos. That's the effect I'm hoping for, at least!
We loved this very strong red dahlia, and I'd been thinking I wanted some dahlias, and to cap it all, we felt that its beautifully British name (Bishop of Llandaff) made this plant a 'must'.
So here it is, beginning its life in our garden.
We're going to have to work on its company, poor thing. But it's a start.
The grasses at the jardin des Martels are a strong feature, and Ben is a big grasses man. He was aiming to come home with some grass to add to his collection, and got this one at the front. Boy, isn't our lawn dead? We won't waste water on it in the summer, although we are quite prepared to water our plants. A few more serious rain storms like the few we've had so far should bring it back to some kind of life, though...
I have to leave you with the words of the English-language version of the website, which brilliantly capture the enthusiasm you can feel goes into the garden:
"We still go on laying out the gardens by creating new clumps in bloom for the greatest joy of our visitors.
And new projects are bubbling up in our minds to share our passion with everyone."
That's certainly how it feels when you visit.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Getting away from it all...

... to a place where the fairy rose flowers, where Alice has her cabin,
where frogs abound.
Where vibrant autumn planting cheers the eye,
and beds are provided for weary wanderers.
A place of Asian temples,
inquisitive animals,

and half-hidden waterlife.
Where the lotus blooms,
and forms its incredible seed pods.
Where red, pink, purple and orange keep the summer alive,
and a tiny duckling is rescued from a crack in the rocky bank.
Where water flows,
and yes, the frogs still hide!
We had a lovely Saturday visit, and I'll tell you more about it tomorrow.
Thanks so much for all your kind wishes. My mum is well-cared-for and waiting for a place in a hospital that will give her the best support for her pain. The dog is indeed very unwell but we can afford treatment which may significantly improve her quality of life. So it's a reserved thumbs-up down here, with a lot of gratitude for a lovely weekend, a loving family and a very beautiful place to live.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fair Exchange!

I love the way that blogging has introduced an element of trading into our lives - we can swap and trade things we've made rather than paying money for them. There is another excellent exchange system I'm benefiting from: I teach English (at all levels),
and my language school is now giving me lessons in French in exchange for some of my English lessons! This is great - it's hard to find a good French teacher at the kind of rates we can pay, but it's easy enough to work for my lessons. I am very pleased!
And thank you so much for your kind thoughts for my mother, and all the family, including the dog. Not a good time for family health at the moment...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Resolution Resolved, and News

Good news for those who read my previous headline - Paula is now in the swap and in contact with her partner! Now, you can see that the Resolution I've got sorted here is to join the library! I took my utility bill up yesterday, to prove my address, and was given a warm welcome and tickets for all the family. I had a good look round and a read of the local paper (thus meeting another resolution) and came back home with a few books that represent my interests:
including carnivorous plants and local history:
and a bit of arty-crafty table dressing. They don't have an enormous craft section, unfortuately, but their general range is great. If you spotted another book in these photos, that is a story worth keeping for another day, dear readers...
Our news is going to leave you feeling sad, so look away now, my lachrymose strawberry friend (she knows who she is!). Firstly, my mum is back in hospital, hopefully just for a while with the aim of getting the pain-control working, now that she is once again in serious pain. Secondly, poor Raja, the beloved dog of Son 1, appears to be very ill. We are waiting for results of tests but the vets are very concerned indeed. She is still waggy-tailed and keen to please, but increasingly weak. I'll keep you posted. Your prayers for all would be appreciated.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sea Life

Hello! This cheery little hermit crab is an image I've adored since childhood - it was in a book I had about sea life. I showed it to Ben when we were trying to create some sea life stencils, and Ben came up with this fantastic stencilled version. The stencils were for this:
Son 1 was born when we lived in a tiny little rented flat, and we couldn't 'do up a bedroom' for the baby, so we decided to 'do up' a chest of drawers instead!
I drew the starfish - Ben did all the other stencils. His ability to visualise and then produce things still really freaks me out...
See my little friend on the top of the chest, too? I am also crazy about Ben's sea horses, which I think he based on a metal seahorse hook we owned at the time. I wonder where that went?
The reason I'm thinking back 13 and a half years to all this preparation is that we've just moved Son 1 into a room of his own. He and his brother love their new spaces, although the rest of the house is in chaos as I sort through all the junk that was in the spare room which is now a bedroom!
Son 1 seems to have inherited his dad's skills:
I found this example of sea life in the sand pit yesterday!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Challenge of the Utmost Kind - 1 Year On!

A year ago, on starting the Challenge of the Utmost Kind, I wrote:
"This is not meant to be a depressing year. The aim is for a certain shedding of non-essentials, but for a lot of fun and challenge and celebration of all things long-lived and handmade! I think it could be a great year..."Lots of you have been asking how it's gone, and I've just collected up a montage of thrifty, long-lived and handmade items from the past year, to accompany my answer to you.Was it hard? Not particularly!
Did it make changes in your life? Yes, mostly very positive. I've found myself realising that the 'quick fix' of buying something when I feel low is quite ineffectual. I only ended up still low and with less money! Having to sit and wait for something, to decide if I really want it, and to search for it second hand, is fun and painless.
Have you felt deprived? No, although without the Magazine Swap, which we've held twice now, and without my wonderful birthday subscription for Country Living, I would have found it hard to live without magazines.
Has it worked for the boys, as well as for you? Yes and no. I never deprived them of something (although I used the Challenge as an excuse to get them to spend their own pocket money, instead of mine, once or twice!) You see above a whole set of Son 2's favourite books, collected by me and the wonderful Serenata, my fellow Challengee, in charity shops. Son 2's clothes are almost all second hand or hand-me-down, and he's happy, but Son 1 has shot up this year and I've had to buy him new clothes as teenaged clothes are very rare second hand.
What did you cheat on? Well, as warned, the computer broke and we bought a new one. We broke so many glasses over the year that I bought 9 new ones!!! I also bought two kitchen knives when I was ill, as we just didn't seem to have enough and I hadn't the strength to wait and go charity shopping. I also did buy a fair number of presents new, although plenty of others were within the bounds of the Challenge.
What practical goods did you manage to buy second hand or get fixed? The food processor, above, was a great find in a second hand shop. Of course, they're not cheap when second hand, but perhaps one third of the new price, which is pretty good. We also got the second hand dishwasher repaired rather than buying a new one, and Ben picked up a second hand washing machine from a colleague who was emigrating.
Did you make much? Well, yes, before Christmas - I made plenty of Christmas presents. Once I was ill, in January, February and onwards, I really lost the will to sew, and although I baked an awful lot, I made relatively little. That's perhaps not what I expected when I took on the Challenge, but it's not caused a real problem. I'm better now and hoping that the return of the cooler weather will re-motivate me with crafting!
Have you been really looking forward to September 20th (the end of the Challenge year)? Not dramatically! I do want to buy some new undies and a matching pair of earrings, though. I've been wearing odd earrings for months now, as I lose them for a pastime. That can look fun at times, but not very professional...Will you continue? Yes but less fixedly. I have learnt a lot, gained time and saved money, had fun and made or deepened friendships. So I will certainly continue, but I won't panic if I really do need to buy something new.
Well, there are the answers to actual or implied questions from my blogging friends! It only remains to thank Tif Fussell/Dottie Angel for this great idea, and to carry on, along with blogging friends around the world, in our different interpretations of the Challenge. I AM going to buy a pair of Cath Kidston cloth shoes next springtime, though... or maybe two pairs..?