Thursday, June 30, 2011

Holiday Table...

You know the holidays are here when the table looks like this after lunch: The evidence is stacking up:

  1. There are only three plates so it isn't the weekend, but...

  2. There are archaeology books on the table (our new town newsletter contains news of prehistoric remains found in the field next to the school, so we are checking the contents of our newly-dug trench to see if we have any remains ourselves.)

  3. Mum has bought a rare bottle of Coke to share.

  4. There are insect books on the table (Son 1 was terrified by a huge waspy-thing which Mum reluctantly killed for him, and then we looked it up... it was a wood wasp... not a stinging one... won't kill one again...)

  5. There are geological and archaeological samples from the trench on the corners of the table (Mum being over-relaxed?) and a test slate to check if the big white lump of stone was, indeed, chalk. And yes, it was!

So the holidays are here (I'm down to about one lesson per day) and the boys have been off school a few days - longer in the case of Son 1, who has had an operation to remove some lumps of bone from his knee, and played in last night's end of year piano concert with his leg in a substantial brace - can you see it? He's doing well now and can't wait to be mobile and allowed in the pool again!Here's a photo of Son 2 being obscured by the concert organiser! He played much later into the night - it's always a lovely, relaxed, late-night affair, where you can watch the swallows being replaced by the bats as the evening wears on.


Here's to the holidays!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A bit of French fun

We're living life at quite a pace at the moment - but the holidays are about to begin and I hope to have a bit more blogging time then! Your lovely comments were great to come back to when I got back from my blogging break - so here's a little bit of French fun for you which Ben and I picked up for a euro today: A vintage French enamel coffee pot for one euro? Surely not!

No, indeed not, it's a vintage French (genuinely vintage, I think) kitchen-roll holder! A bit of fun for the kitchen, I think...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I went to London - the short version!

I went to London.I met Serenata, Ang, Pomona, Lisa, Sue and Sarah. They were great.

We went to the V&A.

Then we went to the Museum of 1951.
It was all great! The next day I went to the British Museum. I met Horus.Then I went to Liberty.I didn't buy anything. But it was great.


The End


So that's the version influenced by too may years of teaching 7-year olds! Life is good but busy now I'm home so I think I'll take my blogging week off from tomorrow - if I have no time to blog it makes sense to coincide that with a week off! I'll still be in email contact, but I won't be visiting your blog or mine for a week. Have a lovely week, friends.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

London Plans - this Saturday!

I have posts galore below (Green Chain Interview and some nightingales) but I promised a bit of info about our London meet-up so here it is!
Several bloggers (perhaps 6 or 7 of us) are planning to meet up at the V&A museum this Saturday at 10am. I've got everyone's phone numbers and they have mine, so that if anyone can't make it at 10 we can let them know where we've got to! If you haven't swapped numbers with me, please email me before 7pm tomorrow evening (French time). After that, I'll be on the plane...

So that's it, for the planning, except that I've said I want to go to to the South Bank for the Festival of Britian exhibition on Saturday afternoon, and meet up with my sister and her husband for a quick drink and key exchange (I'm borrowing their flat) at 7pm that evening. After the quick drink, I'll be hoping to have a meal out with some blogging friends (please?).
The main thing, I think, is that we're flexible and you're welcome to drift in and out of the group as you want - it's hard to keep a big group together all the time and I hope everyone will feel relaxed and get as involved/not involved as they want to. I can't wait to see you!

The Green Chain Interview

Elizabeth Rimmer over at Burned Thumb at Luchair did a really interesting interview the other day, and it turns out that by taking the time to answer the questions, you can also donate money to an environmental charity of your choice. What a good idea! I really enjoyed reading Elizabeth's answers and was having a challenging time thinking of what my own answers would be, when I realised that in fact, I could join in. So, here goes:Turning the heating down by just one degree in your house saves 240kg of CO2 a year. It would take eight trees to soak up this amount of CO2! Are you currently doing anything to make your home eco-friendly?

Lucky us, living in the south of France! In late spring, summer and early autumn, we don't have to heat the house at all, and the house is designed to keep (fairly) cool in summer. So, we flake out during a heat wave, but it's not too often and at least we don't use air conditioning. Now, back to heating - we have a wood fire which can be closed down to act like a stove, sending heat around the house. Not perfect - in the cold weather we pile on jumpers and sit under blankets in the evening. In really cold weather we turn on an oil-burning stove too.

Last year I could get organic fuel for the stove locally, but this winter we resorted to burning fossil fuels. So, we're lucky, and we're doing something but we're not perfect yet.

Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth's land surface, now they only cover 2%. How are you reducing your use of paper?

The French tax system has just (yesterday) offered us the chance to go paperless - a lot of our bills can come online now rather than in the snail mail. We're able to save the records and back them up on the computer, so this is a new way we've started reducing our use of paper.

At PriceMinister we believe that trading second hand items online is a great way to extend the life span of products. Have you ever thought of buying or selling second hand items on or off line?

Oh, have I ever? I think it was this question, on which I win Brownie Points (or Greenie Points) that inspired me to answer this challenge! I love buying second hand, and the internet is often a good place to start. For us, finding English books in France isn't easy, and we buy a lot of books second hand from Amazon and their second hand traders. The books are often as good as new, and others give me a chance to read something out of print. I do tend to buy my French vintage stuff locally though, as I don't want to pay either postage or ebay prices.

One of the biggest environmental challenges we face is Freshwater Shortages. Are you taking measures to reduce your water consumption?

Yes. Elizabethd mentioned in April how expensive water is in France. To be honest, the fact that we're metered and pay for everything we use is a great incentive to reduce consumption. We're thoughtful and care for the environment, but I guess we care for our money even more! So up until last year we had two water butts to save rainwater for the garden. In an average French summer these empty very quickly indeed, so Ben spent over a year (on and off) digging a huge hole at the back of the garden.

This he has built up around the sides, lined, and lidded. Water now feeds off our roof into the two water butts and then on into the new cistern. It should hold enough water to irrigate our veg, flowers and trees for six weeks without summer rain. It nearly emptied in the April/May drought, but since then we've had tons of welcome rain - hurray! And you may notice we don't water our lawn. Only people with wells do that around here. The rest of us search for lawn alternatives (gravel, paving etc) or just put up with dead grass for five months of the year.

How do you choose the produce that goes into your shopping basket? (any favorite products?)

I buy with three main criteria. No, four, or five... Oh whatever... In no particular order my criteria are: cheap, local, seasonal, ethical, healthy. It's hard to buy ethical and cheap, but otherwise the criteria match each other quite well!
Favourite products: Alter Eco fair trade chocolate. Local supermarket bread - really nice, because this is France!

What is your favourite green space near home? (a photo would be great!) This photo is by Son 2.

The Couleé Verte, where Ben jogs every morning, Son 1 walks the dog most afternoons, and the whole family mooches round wildlife-watching on a regular basis.

The name means something like 'Green Corridor' and the idea is that undeveloped land around the streams and rivers of our area forms a series of linked green spaces for the benefit of communities and nature alike. I think it works.

Which charity would you like to support and why? I'd like to support the Young People's Trust for the Environment, which is "a charity which aims to encourage young people's understanding of the environment and the need for sustainability".
The reason I chose this one is because as a teacher and as a mum I've seen how interested and concerned children and teenagers can be in the environment. In addition to their natural interest and sense of justice, they are also concerned because they will inherit the world as we leave it to them!


If you'd like to answer these questions on your blog, Price Minister will donate £10 to whichever of their nominated chairities you choose. It's well worth it - why not give it a go?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Paranoid Parenting, Nightingale Style

There comes a time in the life of every couple, when their youngster is ready to fly the nest. Here is Mrs Nightingale. She used to be a sweet singer, but is now reduced to nervous trilling at dogs, cats and humans who come near.

Voila her husband, Mr Rossignol. His elegant acrobatics as he caught flies around our garden entertained us earlier in the year, and his song charmed our sleep for weeks. Now he sits on the roof and 'twit, twit, twits' in harmony with his wife.

Here is the object of their paranoia. Blurry - mum and dad won't let me come close!

And a shot of him/her on Ben's makeshift electricity cable too.
Mum has proved more photogenic. As she scooted round the garden yesterday evening watching the progress of her offspring in alarming proximity to the cat and the dog, she landed on Son 2's shutters. Twit, twit, twit!And then she showed a bit of her husband's acrobatic ability by holding on briefly to the wall before taking off again. I think this was when her sproglet was on the electricity wire...For a long time they were both together, on the fence which screens our pool from the road. It would have been a delight if they hadn't been so clearly traumatised by this parenting teenagers business. (Dad is on the right - his red tail and underbelly are well disguised by our dead Leylandii).Finally, here are mother and baby, currently doing well...If you want to hear what they sound like before it all gets too much for them, you'll find a Youtube video in my post below!


Next post: London details.

Chant d' oiseau LE ROSSIGNOL

For our own nightingale story, see the post above!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cycling (with the lark) to the Vide Grenier

I mentioned yesterday that cycling to a Vide Grenier is always risky (what if I want to buy something bulky?) but I was determined to do it this weekend anyway! It's a challenge to buy no more than fits in a rucksack, right? Here is the rucksack in question, and this is what it weighed on my (long, hot) journey home. Shall we look at what was inside?

Firstly, a cheerful stall reminded me that I'd suggested a camp blanket badge swap to Vintage Vicki and to Josie-Mary last summer, following on from this post. Ladies, it's incredibly late, I'm sorry, but would you like to take your pick from the following if you're still interested? I've visited all these places.

Continuing the badge theme, here is quite a length of some wonderful ribbon. I want to wash and re-wind it, but I think it may end up in my blog shop...

I was in the mood to sort through stacks of crockery (I'm not, always), and when I started going through a pile of soup bowls with pink flowers on them the man on the stall asked what I was look for. 'Les roses bleues', I replied, feeling a bit stupid, because that means 'blue pinks' as well as 'blue roses'. Strangely, he seemed to know exactly what I meant, and started sorting through the stack for me:

Eeek! Totally Floss!

I nabbed these ones too, which are also quite Floss. 1€ for ten, functioning soup bowls. Into the rucksack they went (wrapped in my denim overshirt).I hadn't found any buttons this summer, so I was resolved to find some this time. No big hauls, but 50c for the cute card and 10c each for the pretty ones was a good deal - they were on two different stalls, and were both good value - it was a remarkably good value VG all round!I have a bit of trouble restraining myself from rushing at fabric covered boxes on stalls - I want to look nonchalant and it usually doesn't work. This one was in really good condition -

- they so often look like they've been holding nails in the garage for the last twenty years - and she only wanted 50c for it! Crazy! Most people want at least 2€ for the rusty, dusty ones!And now, it's just possible that, like me, you've been drawn to this cloth. It was on the stall of a professional linen dealer. These are usually Hyacinth Bucket-like ladies who are a bit precious about their over-priced goods, and I have learned to avoid their stalls for my own sanity. But something drew me back...

Oh, how well-guided I was to end the VG with this kind lady and her silent husband! No H. Bucket about her - she had her feet on the ground and was cheerful and happy to sell. 2€ for the red and white checked kitchen tablecloth (no, I'm not selling it on). 2€ for this 1940s - 50s lace and patchwork cloth (stained - will get to work on it next time the sun shines...)2€ for this bundle of fabric offcuts from the same period (in fact, from the same wardrobe, she told me...)And 2€ for this large and pristine printed tablecloth (perhaps a reproduction print, this one - I'll do some research). She had to talk me into them, but I'm really glad I did it!

In the interests of science, I'll tell you what else went into the rucksack to add to the weight. One mobile phone:One bike lock (this is not the combination, enterprising bilingual local bike thieves):One wallet that used to belong to my mum.

And why is the title 'Cycling with the lark'? It's not because I got up early - these were lunchtime bargains. It's because on the way home I chanced a shortcut down an unfinished road which seemed to lead me more directly home. (The road's unfinished because the Council and the contractors are in a row over who is going to pay for putting on the final road markings - sound familiar, anyone?) Anyway, this road did indeed run all the way to where I hoped it would, and was, of course deserted except for me, my bike, and a host of birds. A lark flew in front of me along the side of the road for a good distance.

A final opportunisitic (and wonky) shot of a happy cyclist and her finds!

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Bank Holiday Weekend in France

True to our imported British bank holiday tradition, it was quite rainy!Thursday was Ascension Day, which is a bank holiday in France - much appreciated this year, as most of our bank holidays have fallen at the weekend and therefore been lost. I popped out to a little Vide Grenier in the moated village I blogged about two years ago. Here are my finds this time: An excellent Ancient Egypt 'fan' of information - Son 1 loves it. A bag of cherries (yum). A hydrangea. A sweet jug with some clogg-wearing children playing tug-of-war in front of a water mill - strange that it's a water mill not a windmill...

Friday was the 'Pont d'Ascension' - the 'bridge' between the bank holiday and the weekend. I worked a little bit, Ben took that day off instead of the Thursday (a common practice) and the boys had both days off school - how nice to be young! Their friends, three brothers, came over to stay the night and I fed them as you see above - with a 'raclette' where they grill their own veg, cured meats and cheese, all draped over boiled potatoes. They had a lovely time. Shame Son 1 now has Slap Face and is off school - I hope none of the rest of them caught it!

On the Friday, while I was picking up our visitors, I drove past the banner above, being put up in rather difficult weather conditions. So on Saturday I cycled off with a rucksack of empty containers, to our local blueberry farm.

I parked my bike by the greenhouses and was given a good welcome and picking instructions by the farmer.The rows of blueberry bushes had the farmhouse at one end...

... and a field of horses at the other.

The farmer told me that the berries were only just ripening, and that I'd have to pick carefully, only the ones that were 'bien violette'.I found enough!

So this weekend we ate peaches with blueberries and raspberries from the garden (with a little touch of Orange Flower Water - thanks Nigella), blueberry muffins, and blueberry and apple flapjack crumble.

If you look closely at the recipe above you'll see that this is not what I was trying to make. The aim was to make crumble bars for picnics, but something is wrong with the recipe quantities and the 'bars' were incoherent yet deliciously squidgy. I squashed them into a bowl and served them with icecream, to the delight of our second set of visitors. Our friend Matthew borrowed my recipe and said he's not going to change the quantities at all, just serve it as a pudding!


Yesterday I cycled off to the final Vide Grenier of the weekend - always risky, cycling to a VG! I'll tell you all about that in my next post...