Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Rainbow gratitude...

Would you like a peek inside yesterday's vintage fabric boxes? This one houses white(ish) stuff that I'm prepared to use (i.e. not my lace collection).

Following that we get onto (roughly) the colours of the rainbow:There's nothing to say about what's inside - you can see it yourself! So I'm just going to list a few things I'm grateful for:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - the film, shared with a temporarily out-of-action 14 year old.Doctors who phone in their lunch-hour to confirm that a swollen knee and pins-and-needles in the foot is OK.Paracetamol.


Ice-blocks.Hoovered floors and cleaned bathrooms - my mental energy is returning!Toasted sandwiches for two at lunch.Simon Schama's History of Britian on DVDs - Son 2 (yes, the young scatty one, not the older intellectual) captivated by seeing how his own heritage fits in to what he's learning at school in France. He can't WAIT for the Hundred Years War!

A new dishwasher - this one actually cleans things and genuinely uses the amount of energy it promises!A digital piano - Ben's big splash-out in the sales, to replace the falling-apart-and-Son-2-and-the-piano-teacher-refuse-to-play-it-any more old one.So I think that list took me from current medical issues to the slightly bigger picture! That was the aim of the exercise, I suppose... Thanks for joining me on it - feel free to comment on the pictures or the text!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mmm, textures!

The juxtapositions idea is still really holding my interest - I took these photos a while ago after I'd sorted buttons and ribbons into boxes, and now this detail of two vintage, handmade pincushions and the little vintage needle case, placed on three different wooden boxes, is really satisfying me! If I turn round I can see the real thing - it's the stack of boxes on the shelf at the top of the stairs. The wooden boxes currently contain my button collection - it's not that easy to slip the odd button into the stacked boxes, but I think the look is currently worth the effort, and I'll change it again once I get fed up with it - playing with the collection of buttons and boxes is half the fun!

I took the buttons out of my fabric boxes, as they were rather heavy and endangering some of the cardboard-based box bases. Now the fabric boxes are holding ribbons, binding etc, colour-coded according to the box! I did this earlier in January and so far the system is working well - when I needed some black binding I found it quickly in the third box down on the left, for example. (It was for mending Son 1's trousers, which have all got beaten up by cycling - but not on the chain side, for some reason!)Of course Son 1 won't be cycling, or even wearing long trousers, for a while. He's currently trapped on the sofa, wearing a leg-brace, following his second knee operation. Thanks so much for your kind words both before and after the op. Everything went so well, and everyone - hospital staff, friends and above all Ben, were so helpful. But for me today has still been a day of feeling a bit low and fighting off the desire to cry at times - it's just an emotional business, supporting your child through an operation. Despite this, thinking of the alternatives - living in an under-developed country, or living in a wealthy country but not having good insurance - make me realise we are really blessed. And looking at pretty boxes helps too ;)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

All well...

A quick post to say that Son 1's operation on Friday went well and he's home now. We're all tired and are looking forward to some down-time together this evening!

Speak to you later...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The rough with the smooth... the smooth with the rough!

I had a bit of fun playing with juxtapositions last night - I put a rough horn tankard filled with garden cuttings, next to Ben's silver Christening bowl, on a hand-woven, goats' hair mat. Rough and smooth; dull and gleaming; European, American and Asian; 19th, 20th and 21st century: hand-crafted-all.

Don't you love the silver fish tongs (for sugar), and this cheery little Inuit tooth-topped spoon?

A happy chappy. I didn't buy him so I don't feel any guilt about the tooth's former owner.

I only meant to post about the physical juxtapositions of this display but it struck me today that our life is full of juxtapositions too: illness and operations (Son 1's knee again), sweet gestures of affection, exhaustion and concerns, beauty and blessings.I think that in the past I spent too much time 'getting through' the hard times. I didn't notice that, juxtaposed with them, were sweet and beautiful times. Now I think that looking at those beautiful times is what's meant to give us strength to deal with the tricky parts of life.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A little domestic chatter...

We had a whirl-wind week last week, with Son 1 and me charging to and from Toulouse (apparantly one of Europe's most congested cities), Ben also working hard and Son 2 feeling slightly neglected! A domesticated weekend was called for... Son 1 decided to cook, big time. He made fudge as a thank-you present to the museum staff who'd helped his work experience, and then turned to the Hairy Biker's Cookbook for various feasts: on Saturday night (rather late) we ate Romanian mititei (pronounced 'mitchi') and a fantastic Mexican chocolate pudding - sorry, no photos, we were too busy eating! We even fed Son 2's friend, who was staying over as a favour to his mum, and had eaten before he came... he had space for a choc pud, though!

On Sunday morning I decided to get in the kitchen with Son 1, as he was attempting to produce Romainian Sarmale, which has a two-hour cooking time. Even with me and Ben helping the night before, Son 1 had been a slow chef... but with two of us on the go we produced this really excellent stew. It probably doesn't look special but 4 out of 5 of us (Son 2's friend included) gave it very high marks - a super Sunday lunch! And only slightly late. We don't pay any attention to Son 2's vote, unfortunately, as he's a very conservative eater...

On Sunday afternoon the three boys went off to play with three brothers who live nearby ('their parents were slightly overwhelmed at times', admits Son 1...). I joined Ben in the garden, where he had been chopping wood for a few hours. I held branches while he sliced through them with the chainsaw, and then moved the wood to the shed, where he stacked it beautifully:That should do us for the rest of the winter!Today has provided the blessed relief of staying home alone. I tidied and sorted and cleaned, and took some photos! The (modern) boutis quilt and vintage lace pillows came from a charity shop last week, and the 'wooden' tray below (it's actually modern plastic) was from one of the Troc shops in Toulouse. My visits there were not entirely cultural, as you see!

Today I decided to have one of my periodic battles with my very own 'Sofa that Mocks Me'. (The original 'Couch that Mocks Me' was Lola Nova's and can be seen here and here, but I have one of my own...). I was fairly happy with the technicolour cheeriness (and above all cleanliness) of the result:Whilst giving the rug a good hoover (not that you'd know it from these photos) I thought, as always, of Jane. She told me once that she doesn't like modern oriental rugs, but does like them when they've got old and battered.Old enough for you, Jane? (Spot the super mend by someone before my time.)Battered enough for you, Jane? (I've mended this edge so many times that I'm currently on slobby strike, I'm afraid.)But I really, really, do love my rug, and I think Jane will too!So, the rest of this afternoon holds more time in the kitchen for me. Serge, our neighbour and Ben's partner in gardening swaps, asked if we could take half of a pumpkin (or courge). One of his had grown into the hedge, and the only way to get it out would be to cut down a tree or cut up the pumpkin! Sensibly, he decided on cutting up the pumpkin, having checked that we would take part of its bulk of his hands...I managed to pass the quarter-piece on to another friend today, so now I'm left with half of this mis-shapen monster (do you see where it grew against the tree branches?) and am going downstairs to chop and bake and produce cheese sauce pumpkin bake and roasted pumpkin soup! So, what are your domestic plans this week?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Toulouse - Ancient, Medieval and Modern

It's been an incredible week - exhausting but full of exciting opportunities, especially for Son 1, who was at the Museum of Antiquities in Toulouse for his first work experience. As I was saying earlier, in a rare fly-by the computer, this has seems to have involved me spending most of the week navigating narrow, medieval city streets by car. Sheesh! But of course I knew I could make the best of this - on days without much work I spent lots of time in the city centre, which I normally avoid. Yesterday morning I dropped off the young man (because that's how he seems this week) and went around and then into the medieval basilica church of St. Sernin. Poor St. Sernin is a home-grown martyr. He was the local church leader in Toulouse at a time when the Roman city felt particularly threatened by invasion, and they tried to appease the traditional gods by insisting the Christian leader sacrifice a bull. St Sernin refused and was tied to the bull for his pains. The bull ran off (its route is immortalised in the street name 'Rue du Taur') and the saint's remains were buried where this church now stands. The church is much more recent than this story - it's mainly what we would call 'Norman' in England, although that's meaningless down here!

On one side of St. Sernin's basilica is the old medieval hospital, which is now the museum. I spent a bit of time looking round it, and was then joined by Son 1 - whenever he didn't have appointments or tasks he was given free time to drift round the museum. He gave me the guided tour that he'd already been given by the staff, and showed me lots of lovely little details that I wouldn't have found on my own - particularly details such as carved snails and lizards on the marble plaques from the imperial villa near Toulouse. It was great to give him the chance to share his knowledge!

The rather functional, modern vehicles in the photo of the museum are explained in this snapshot! Life goes on in Toulouse - behind the medieval buildings and above the Roman mausoleum was a carriage, setting up ready to ride round the city advertising a Blood Drive in the City Square! I hope they got lots of blood - we can't give ours here because we lived in Britian during the Mad Cow years...

Have a lovely weekend, friends! We will be recovering, chopping wood, and hosting the usual round of teenaged boy-related events.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Art in Toulouse

This week is all about Son 1's work experience - I seem to be contstantly shuttling him into and out of Toulouse - but it's well worth it, given how much he's loving learning about the archaeology of Toulouse at the Antiquities Museum. When not working, I've decided to make the most of having to go into the centre of the city (I usually skirt it for my teaching tasks). Yesterday I wasn't working in the morning so I went to the Fine Art Museum to see an exhibition that had caught my eye when it was first advertised:

It's an exhibition of the small, intimate paintings of individuals, families and rural scenes which became popular shortly before the French Revolution. Instead of showing powerful people or religious stories on huge canvasses, the Dutch fashion for painting real, ordinary people, spread to France and was beautifully interpreted in both pre- and post-Revolutionary France. Rich people paid to be painted and poor people also became subjects for the artists - clothes and skin were depicted in incredible detail, and background details were surprisingly sketchy. The silks and ribbons of the aristocracy and the cottons and muslins of the Revolution and Empire periods were wonderful! The exhibition was all I hoped for and more, and it was a wonderful way to make use of my trips into Toulouse.

Tomorrow... the museum and one of the big churches, followed by lunch with Son 1!

Monday, January 16, 2012

This week...

Hello everyone - I've been really enjoying the moments I've had to pop over and visit those who are joining in the Thrill of What You Already Have - do look in my sidebar and go to see the posts, if you haven't already! January is turning out to be incredibly busy, which is odd given than my language school has very little work for me...This week is a particularly exciting one - Son 1 is doing his first work experience, and is delighted to have been accepted at Toulouse's Museum of Antiquities. He'll have some guided tours around the museum and the different sites, some interviews with different staff members, a few tasks, and some free time in the museum.

Have a great week yourselves.

Update: He's got a full timetable - the 'childcare' they referred to is merely sitting with the staff as they accession artefacts - he gets to join in and he really likes that! Today he saw some gold coins with the head of Nero and got to measure bells for an exhibition on musical instruments. Fantastic!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Thrill of What You Alreay Have - January

Welcome to The Thrill of What You Already Have - a monthly opportunity to take inspiration from a picture and create a display using only what you already own. The theory is that the thrill of shopping isn't the only, or even the best, way to enjoy that wonderful frisson of 'look what I got!' If we can get the same frisson for free, we're meeting budgets, resolutions, restrictions and environmental concerns with a thrill instead of with a groan! Here goes... This month's picture was a wonderfully cool 1930s poster advertising Dunfermline, Scotland's ancient capital. The grey silhouettes, black shadows and pale orangey-pink gothic architecture are actually quite a challenge in the first month of this event, I think.

So here is my own collection of 'stuff', raided from drawers, shelves and boxes around the house. Shadows come free! I was quite pleased, seeing the photos lined up together in the file, that they did blend nicely with my photographs of the original railway advertising poster.

Now on to my gloat over the lovelies I found! The tray is Scottish, which is appropriate. It's from the National Trust for Scotland and presumably depicts a Scottish castle..? Really, I should have looked before I put things on top of it. I wanted to add more Gothic shapes, so that's the wooden lid, more black (those lovely carved, wooden African animals), more orange and more natural textures (the lichen ball and Chinese lanterns) and something French:this sweet autograph book with the little 1920s mademoiselle eating a lovely orangey fruit. Actually, the silk on the bobbin behind her is French too.For height and greyness I was pleased to remember my lavender-scented candle with the grey baroque-type decoration. I put it on a plastic cup on top of the wooden pedestal, and covered the cup with a black silk scarf. Then it was just a bit more of the natural bits and bobs and a pretty Russian painted egg which seemed to have the right colours.

So there we have it: January! I'm going to avoid Mr Linky (I'd have to pay to get that done, which is not in the spirit of the thing) and will make up a blog list of all your posts, if you just let me know here when you've posted! If you want to join in, the 'rules' such as they are can be found in the post below this one. I'm really looking forward to seeing how you interpret the picture with what you already have!

EDIT: Blogger is being really strange about comments at the moment. Even I can't get into the comments box for this post tonight! So please do email me if you would like to join in, and do leave a link to your blog so that I can find you! I'm going to try to reset my comments box now, to see if it helps...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Thrill of What You Alreay Have - Launch

Back in October, when we were all running out of money for thrifting, we were discussing the value of rediscovering old treasures, and the pleasure to be found in the things you already own. We suggested that a monthly blogging event for 2012 could be a lot of fun, so here it is:Commenters felt that Carolyn summed up the ideas nicely when she said: "I think this is an excellent idea, esp as it not only encourages us to be content, to be happy, to appreciate and enjoy what we have; but it will also encourage us to look for things we had forgotten, to tidy out those cupboards, to reclaim old forgotten loves."This is the idea - every month I post a photo from my calendar (this year it's iconic Scottish rail tourism posters from the 1920s and '30s) and we use that photo - colour schemes, shapes, images, location, content - ANY aspect of it - to inspire us. We search through our drawers, boxes, attics, stables etc and make up a display of lovely or surprising things, and then share a photo on our blog. If you're like me, having a monthly excuse to rummage, combine, display and then gloat will be a very enjoyable experience. Sharing our pictures will really give us a chance to thrill over our 'stuff' without any need to go out and buy any more of it. And seeing photos of other people's ideas should give us further inspiration of what we can do ourselves.
The one key rule is - work with what you already have. OK, you knew that. I think the only other rule should be DON'T APOLOGISE! You don't have to apologise for missing a month or four, and please don't apologise for having something similar to/different from other people - just do what you like, as and when you can!

So, if you'd like to join in this month, grab the title photo and put it in your sidebar if you can, and then get musing about what this Dunfermline picture sparks in your mind. I'm thinking that I might need to go into the garden and get some twigs (garden stuff is certainly What We Already Have) but I've not got going on greys, oranges, pinks, blacks, gothic arches etc... I need to get thinking! When I've got it all together, I'll make a little display on the wooden chest in front of my calendar, and take a photo or five to share with you. In that post I'll try to get Mr Linky or something similar working, so that you can link your posts to mine.

Have I forgetten anything? Let me know what you think...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

DIY Galette des Rois

Thanks for your thoughts yesterday, and for your ongoing comments on my Coming to France post. Having discharged my maternal duties for now (long wait at doctor's for Son 1's sore foot, and research for vocabulary for Son 2's Spanish homework *a love letter!!!*) I can now take the time to tell you about our homemade Galette des Rois. Firstly, my search for rolls of puff pastry scored a real result - our supermarket's own brand does a special Epiphany pack - fève and crown included! I snapped it up. If you're looking for the history and tradition of this cake, I talked about it here two years ago.

The pack also includes a recipe. I did find an internet recipe and I gave it to you last Friday, but this one is just that much easier, and, given a very, very sore bottom and reduced bendability (40-something women should not ice-skate unless very good at it) I decided that easy was desirable, this weekend!

Relieved to be standing upright, I put the first puff pastry roll and its baking parchment into the case. I pricked the base with a fork, to stop it bubbling up, and then I put the filling ingredients into a bowl - I did put in half ground almonds and half ground hazelnuts, as my internet recipe suggested.

I mixed it up (half-heartedly, as the butter was rather less soft that ideal) and put it into the base.

Then I put the second puff pastry circle on top and turned over/crimped down the edges - all very simple but fun.In the baker's near the ice rink I'd been stiffly studying the patterns cut into the tops of their galettes. My pack suggested these ideas:I felt it was wise to start with something simple, so I went for straight lines

but made the pattern diamond-shaped rather than square. I think it worked well!

Spot the deliberate mistake?I left out the fève! I bet that happens quite often. I found a bit near the edge where I thought I could shove it in without being too obvious, and glazed the cake with egg yolk.

Part way through the baking, the egg yolk was darkening much quicker than I liked, so I hauled it out and gave it a baking paper cover before putting it in for the rest of the time.And here it is! With bought pastry, it really only took about 15 minutes to make. I'm not sure about the cost difference - it probably does cost less to make it yourself, even with the expensive ground hazelnuts, but only just. The key question is: did it taste better? Well, I think it did. I didn't get photos of it cut, as I'd intended, because it disappeared so fast! We ate it, warmed, with ice cream or cream. And guess who found the féve? Me! Here are this year's fèves on our mantelpiece - Ben got the santon (traditional Provençal nativity figure) with the water jar, Son 2 found the flamingo (see map of France on the back showing were you find flamingoes in our country) and I got the little circus elephant. Hmm, very French that, still having circus animals...Tomorrow, I'm going to launch The Thrill of What You Already Have. We discussed this last year and decided that a fun, and free, blog project for the year would be to do a monthly display of rediscovered treasures, or things we already own, seen in a new light. If you're interested in enjoying the good things you already own, instead of going out and buying more, then please do pop in tomorrow and find out what's going on!