Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Childlike Christmas

Dear friends, I have planned, I have prepared, but it's clear to me that my Childlike Christmas post won't be ready before tomorrow (see list of events in my post below...) Please tune in tomorrow and I'll have a little something for you on the subject of childlike anticipation. Thanks so much to Pom Pom for organising us all in this.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A trip into the past at the Christmas Market

This week is turning into one of 'those' weeks - ill son, impossible to find doctor's appointments, incontinent dog and broken washing machine... but I am going to talk about something LOVELY instead! I loaded these photos up at the weekend, after we'd been to the English Christmas Market run by the Toulouse Women's International Group (photo from the local newspaper). The market is always good, thanks to the huge selection of English-language books donated by the wider ex-pat community, so as always, I bought some entertaining mystery novels:In addition, this year I found a few children's books - Son 1 is a big fan of William and I'll probably read the other two before putting them on my teaching bookshelves.

Then there was a selection of what you might consider 'informative or improving' books:and two bought only for their iconic Penguin covers:"Surely that completes your '10€ a bag', Floss?" you might ask, but no!

Photos and text from London in 1956.

A free bookmark of the period hidden inside...And evocative photos of the people and the fashions.In 1956 my grandma was just a few years older than I am now, and wore clothes and hats a lot like the ones below.

So just when I thought my 10€ bag really was full, these came out of a box, one by one:Some Latin translations (he was pretty good, 31/40) and notes were tucked in the books.This one is far more exciting for the graffiti than for the lessons!

I wonder if anything came of the infatuation with Leslie? Great '60s lettering there...

And that was 10€s' worth of books, to be read, kept, given away or returned to the stall next year!

Over on the White Elephant stall, red stickers meant 1€ each, and I thought these mugs would replace a few chipped ones in our blue and white kitchen.

Blue sticker = 2€ - a good price for these little Japanese quails on their box. I need to do some research about the mark on the base:

I thought that was probably it from the White Elephant, until I rounded a corner and found, tucked behind some cardboxes, THIS:

A year's worth (2004) for 10€! Happy reading for me...

And then tucked IN the same cardboard box, vintage French china.

3 for 1€.

I pointed out that they should get the china out of the box and onto the front of the stall - I do hope that a few other vintage shoppers came by...In addition, I bought the wintery candle set, complete with display plate and glass whatsits, for 1€. It's very sweet, but it won't be able to stay where I put it on the piano, as it rattles when Son 2 plays! He must be rather heavy-handed...So that sweet little trip into vintage France and London, via grammar schools and pilgrimages, cost me 30€ (all for charity) and a lot of rummaging.And inside the little Westminster Abbey bookmark, the best thought of the day. After the fair, we went for lunch with good friends who live nearby. Thanks, friends nearby and far away - you are better even than a haul of vintage books and china and a year's set of Country Living!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A First Pause in Advent 2011

It's Advent! The countdown to Christmas has begun.I'm really looking forward to reading the posts of all those who are taking part in the Pause - we're taking a weekly break from the flurry of preparations to rest for a while and share something -anything - about what Christmas is really about for us. You'll find the list of those taking part in the sidebar to your left. Feel free to join in - mention it in your comment here! We could be talking about traditions, family, food, beliefs, ponderings, children... whatever. My first contribution for you is certainly about traditions, food and family! I decided to bake all my Christmas goodies while I was in Edinburgh with my dad at the end of October. We're going to spend Christmas with him, arriving early on Christmas Eve, so preparing while I was there made a lot more sense than transporting food on the aeroplane or having a last-minute panic when I arrive! Cooking in my mum's kitchen, using my grandma's 150-year old recipe and equipment (she was the baker in our family - she taught me) was quite an experience. And as I have a terrible memory and don't keep a hold on these experiences in any meaningful way, I wrote a poem as a 'snapshot' of what was going on in the kitchen that afternoon.

Cooking in the kitchen of my ancestresses

The third-biggest bowl is too small to stir the overflowing contents:
Nothing for it but to plunge in the hands!
Still-warm mashed potato cushions my questing fingers,
Chill-damp grated carrot a shocking contrast.
Clouds of nutmeg and cinnamon rise from the disturbed mass:
Preparing for Christmas in the kitchen of my ancestresses.

A recipe in my grandmother’s hand-
Remember Grandma, with her white curls full of flour?
Battered bronze scales of Grandma’s force a return to pounds and ounces
For my finally metric soul.
Breadcrumbs whizz in my mother’s food processor –
Remember when the first blade was accidentally thrown out with the rubbish?
One angry mother -
Though she saw the funny side later.

A hunt for a satisfactory pudding bowl.
Eighties Tupperware won’t do.
In the back of the corner cupboard, a metal bowl dated 1975...

Cooking in the kitchen of my ancestresses,
Preparing Christmas for those who remain.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Waiting House

The house is strangely empty at the moment...Areas that I love to decorate are sitting bare. I've decided to wait until Advent - leaving them clear for a few days until the Advent decorations go up. I read the suggestion of leaving an empty shelf in the Happiness Project and in Simple Abundance, and my natural response ('yeah, right') has finally worked its way around to accepting that it might be a good idea, just for a few days.

But some areas got the Floss-makeover before I came around to this idea! I reluctantly banished blue from our mustard shelves, and was rewarded with some lovely autumn/winter shades. The shepherd plate was a gift from a friend who spent a year in Germany. The sheep pottery is from a Devonshire friend - they knew my pastoral tastes!

Ben's 1970s/'80s Christmas mugs have come out. I like them interspersed with green vintage bottles.

Goodbye blue plates - welcome back reds and pinks! I never thought of putting the English florals with the French stencils before, but they work...

The little chocolate bowls have found a new home.

My mum bought us a Portmerion breakfast set (secondhand, naturally) when we were getting married. We've been fond of Portmerion ever since, but it's not always easy to display it without it either taking over or getting lost. So this little combo, with a few candles in the egg cups and all placed alongside French china and a warming winter tipple, pleases me.

Here's the overall view - lots of lights on otherwise the plants die in a traditional French house. I keep the houseplants outside all summer but there seems no choice but to turn on the low energy bulbs in the winter. We lost so many plants in our first few years...

So I've shown you the one busy area, but the rest of the living area is positively bleak as it waits for Advent. I'm going to be taking a total blogging break until Sunday - Christmas present crafting has fallen horribly behind, and I'm jolly well going to finish my PILs' presents before I come back for the first Pause in Advent. If you still want to join in this blog event, details are in the sidebar. The only rule to remember is: there are no rules. No apologies - post what you like, when you can. See you on Sunday!

Monday, November 21, 2011

A sunny Sunday afternoon in late November...

... Ben and I ate an appropriate 'ploughman's' lunch outside, next to the holes he was digging for our silver birches. I went back to the Vide Grenier, by bike this time, and, sadly, the kind ladies had not been able to find the other kitchen canisters in mum's garage. But they gave me the lids anyway!

After these photos were taken I went into the utility room for a grand clearout - A Thrifty Mrs' 30 Day Declutter was well-served by the sorting of jams and chutneys, the filling of a Charity Shop bag and the removal of a surprising hoard of broken things, stored surely more in hope than in any realistic expectation of further use.Son 1 helped Ben plant the trees in their holes and declared himself delighted that we'd chosen silver birches. He loves them for their strange, crumbly catkins, apparantly! Personally, we love the bark and the movement of the foliage, and are looking forward to eating under them next summer, and seeing the shimmering light and shadow of their leaves coming into our bedroom window on summer mornings.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Vide Grenier- to be continued...

The incredible sunny November weather continues. Ben and I sloped off to pick up some concert tickets this morning (more on that later) and then drove on to the tree nursery, where Ben had ordered three silver birch trees. Here he is, driving off with two of them. The third? Sill in the ground. Monsieur le Digger Driver doesn't work weekends so his little mistake can't be rectified yet. But digging three holes and planting two trees is going to keep Ben plenty busy, so we can wait for the third!Ben dropped me off in a neighbouring town, which is holding its pre-Christmas Vide Grenier and craft fair in the unseasonal warmth. It's a real biggie, with brocante stalls, Other Peoples' Tat, food stalls and an assortment of weird cheap things vendors think we might want before Christmas. These severed heads are advertising Hairigami. I dunno...

But spot the cute doggie in his hand-knitted vest? I was reminded of Happy Loves Rosie's little chap. This little toutou didn't think he needed a knitted vest at 17°C:His owners took it off him when they saw how uncomfortable he was.

I wandered around, dispirited by the prices on the brocante stalls (although in fact they're worth looking at just for ideas and sheer pleasure), and keeping an eye out for 'mum and dad selling off granny's junk' stalls.

So here are the finds, winkled out of 'Other Peoples' Tat' - you've got to be patient and in the right mood! The green choolate bowl on the left for 20c.

A bunch of vintage-kitch Christmas cake decorations - I was attracted by the way they are different to British ones, especially in the prevalence of saws. 'For the buche du noël!' confirmed the stall-holder. I had to have me one.

The stall-holders of that stall were the kind of people who make Vide Greniers even better. Sometimes I feel a bit stupid for being second-language French, but these two retired couples (selling granny's stuff?..) were great fun! The men had worked for Airbus, the huge employer of most Toulousains, and knew England (if not English) in terms of the Farnborough Airshow. They have a trip to London booked for next weekend: 'For the Christmas Market. Is London famous for its Christmas market?' (Um, no, that's Germany...) But I think they'll enjoy themselves. I found 25p in their box of odds and ends, and gave it to them for spending money! They asked what it would buy and I was stumped.

And here is the To Be Continued part. Another cheerful pair of retirees was selling maman's stuff, and had somehow managed to bring part, but not all, of the set above. After muttered searches through all their boxes, they concluded that they had left the largest canister and probably one lid in maman's garage. They will be back at the Vide Grenier tommorow - I am to come and find them: 'We'll wear the same clothes, so we'll look the same - and smell worse - so you can recognise us!' they assured me. 'If we don't find the missing pieces, we'll give you a refund!'

A suivre...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Beaujolais nouveau

What a superb tradition!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Rosy Glow

There seems to have been a rosy glow over the last seven days - late autumn sun allowing a lingering stroll around last Friday's tree fair, the chance for me and Ben to go out for a meal together (perhaps the first one in over a year, we think) and lots of games with the boys, gardening and, in my case, enjoyable teaching.One of the best pieces of news is that Son 1 will be allowed to take his laptop computer into school from next Monday. His teachers were wonderful - the Head invited them to give their opinions, and one after another they spoke about what a good student Son 1 is (pride, pride!) and how this relatively small problem with handwriting shouldn't be allowed to turn into a big barrier for his education. Once again, it shows how a few dedicated teachers are more important than any number of official documents! Wonderful people. A rosy glow over the week...
I rather like the way the jumble of stuff on our shelves outside the front door reflects the way the seasons here are merging. We have birds' nests collected when hedge-trimming after last spring, and bulbs the boys planted in church youth group, waiting hopefully for next spring! We have squashes from the garden representing the autumn harvest, and (real) ivy and (fake) berries welcoming the coming winter. The big lotus seedheads remind us of our family visits to summer gardens over the last few years and the metal basket reminds me of the good friend who gave it to me. Family, friends; spring, summer, autumn, winter; harvest and sowing. A providential placement of bits and bobs!