Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Taking a blogging break

Hello friends, it's time for one of those breaks. I'm on the mend from the flu and busy again... see you in one week, but in the meantime, I won't be visiting my blog or yours. I'll still check my emails, of course, if you need me! Have a good week...

Monday, January 28, 2013

Canine Companion

Thanks for all your well-wishes! I am really staggered at how nasty this flu has been - I am now on my last day before going back to work, and am still so tired! But better every day...
Son 1 has finally gone down with it, but finds his faithful hound Raja a helpful pillow/companion. Son 2 is back at school, along with an entire box of tissues and a hacking cough. Fortunately, he finishes early today, and I'm off to pick him up soon, as both cycling and walking set off his cough.

I took the photo of sick teenager and pet on my new phone! I'm still new to the whole business of having a phone which does more than allow me to talk to people, but there are clearly advantages!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Olive green recup'

While we were still in the process of  buying our house, the vendors generously allowed us in to start some decorating - sounds crazy, but it worked, given the drawn-out French system. Ben and I chose pale cream walls throughout, as the house is dark in the traditional heat-reducing way, but we did decide to paint the walls of the brighter bedrooms in actual colours - hence our bedroom has pale green walls, which was pretty much Ben's choice.
When we moved our furniture in I put all our old blue-themed bedroom accessories into the green bedroom, and spent the next few years disappointed with the room: nothing seemed right, and I felt cross that I hadn't stood up for blue. A few years later, I decided that the answer was to give up on blue and buy (yes, buy) some green duvet covers and use all our other green accessories - I have adored the room ever since!
To me, the two duvet covers I bought back in 2008 are still 'new', and I am still very fond of them as they set me off on the discovery that this house was going to work well for us. This one is partly bamboo fibre, too, so it's green in two senses, and very comfortable. However, it suffered a mishap this summer when some guests got a peroxide-containing product onto the pillowcases and the lower half of the duvet itself, so it's been out of action while I hunted for green cold water dye in enough quantity. As you may be able to see, I dyed the pillow cases solid colours, and dip-dyed the duvet cover so that the intact top part retained its pleasant two-tone stripe, while the bleached lower part gets increasingly olive, neatly covering up the pale patches.
It's all worked swimmingly, and the olive green goes ever so nicely with the walls and the two édredons whose enormous, feather-filled weight are keeping us warm this winter.
This bed owes a lot to blogging friends - the lavender heart in the first photo was made by Dandelion Beck in Australia, the French-ticking heart bag on the bed head is a Lululiz creation and the way to tuck in a French duvet was taught to me by Penny at Violet White!
I told you about the eiderdowns the very day I got them, but here's a find I haven't shared with you before - last year I was lucky enough to find two embroidered draw-string bags, one in France, the other in Edinburgh.
This is the Edinbrough one, and, as it contains green, it's allowed in the bedroom and is now holding my handkerchiefs from the handle of my bedside drawer. Although green is Ben's favourite colour, not mine, I now find our green bedroom incredibly refreshing and peaceful. I had to make my peace with what we had (green) and not try to force it into something we didn't have (blue). A valuable lesson!
What Son 2 and I have to make peace with today is that we are both ill. I've just taken some ibuprofen to go with this morning's paracetamol and I'm feeling rather better now! What a relief - but it's a day of racking coughs and tissues thrown onto the fire, and I'm grateful for a cosy house and good medical care, and a warm dog snuggled up next to one, or both, of us.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

From snowy Toulouse to the sunny mountains!

I published my magical photo of the evening sun on Pyrennean snow yesterday - thanks for your comments! I was so happy that it captured what we'd really experienced. As promised, here's the story of our day out:
The weather at home was horrid on Sunday morning. Unforecasted snow had fallen over night, and was still landing on about 20cm of flooding and slush when we left our poor hens (well-provided-for)at 8am...
We followed snow ploughs around the pérepherique of Toulouse - over the last few years the local authorities have had to take on a few snow ploughs, as every winter has had one or more snowy days recently, which is quite a new departure.
Once we'd headed south off the payage, the weather actually improved, and we drove over clear roads and through green fields for a while before reaching the turning to the Plateau de Beille, an area which specialises in the more unusual snow sports - cross country skiing, snow shoe walks and even husky sledging! The snow chains went on and we followed a slow trail of cars, vans and buses up to the station.
We hired snow shoes and set off up a track which promised a pleasant short walk before lunch. See the frozen Spanish Moss on the tree?
We'd never used snow shoes before, and both Son 1 and I, who aren't skiers, really took to this more gentle sport. It's hard going uphill in the high altitude, but well worth it. Ben really enjoyed the experience too, but unfortunately Son 2 was feeling ill and decided to spend the afternoon in the car, well wrapped-up with his book and his DS game... the only low point of the day, but he stayed snug and warm. We cooked lunch on the camping stove in the car park - sausages and baked beans ('La classe!' as someone commented, admiringly) and then set off without Son 2 to do a longer walk.
Under the trees it was quite shady, and we followed the distinctive shapes of snow shoe tracks past a small igloo and up out onto a higher shoulder of the plateau.

Son 1, staples in his knee, tires quite fast despite his impressive level of fitness:
Oh, but we had fun!
The sun was already quite low in the sky as Son 1 and I entered into negotiations with Ben - explore much further (the Dad Option), take a long route that swept us back to the car (the Mum Option) and go straight back (the Teenager's Choice). My suggestion, as a compromise, was quite easy to achieve!
This was when we saw the sun breaking through the clouds, giving us the view I shared with you yesterday.
We followed the orange trail tags down through a forest, which was clearly from a fairy tale or childrens' story - but which one? I asked Son 1 if he thought we were more likely to find a lamp post or meet a wolf, and he suggested that a wolf weeing on a lamp post seemed reasonably likely...
We got back to Son 2 a little after the station had officially closed - we were actually met by staff on skidoos who wanted to get us back into the fold before they closed down! We headed back on down the road in the gathering dark, passing the 1606m hut on our way back down. It was a beautiful and very happy day.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Evening sun in the Pyrenees

We went on a snow shoe walk in the mountains yesterday! I hope to be able to tell you the whole story soon, as I have lots photos, but this one, the most special of all, is one I want to share with you in the meantime...

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Faded roses at the Charity Shop

On a shelf high above my head I spotted some faded roses:
They belong to a double quilt, entirely hand stitched...
And now it belongs to me... happy little sigh...

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Green through the Gold...

"You'll have to repaint it..."
said Ben, surely tongue in cheek after all those years of coming close to having 'it', whatever 'it' happens to be this time, bashed over his head whenever he says this!
So this time, which was at the end of our September camping trip, 'it' was this gold mirror with the most wonderful bits of green showing through the paint. We found it with another mirror at a 'Vide Maison' in the foothills of the Pyrenees - the only time we've ever actually been to a garage sale in France.
Putting it up on the mantelpiece when the Christmas decorations came down inspired me to go and seek out the green and gold I already own: 'The thrill of what you already have' once again! (Sorry that died a death as a monthly project last year, friends...)
But one Christmas card was allowed to stay - do you see the wonderful Cardinal print that clever Izzie and George (our summer pet sitters) sent us? Wonderfully green, and a great reminder of a lot of Lenten fun last year...

Friday, January 11, 2013

Washing clothes with wood ash - the old French way

This really sounds bizarre, doesn't it? First of all, washing clothes with dirty stuff sounds all wrong, and secondly, washing liquids are quite expensive but this one is free if you're prepared to put in the work. I had to give it a try!
Firstly, seive the wood ash and measure its volume. Wear gloves for the whole of this process. Put it with the equivalent volume of cold water into a tub and give it a stir or a shake every now and again, for at least 36 hours.
When it's been sitting for at least 36 hours, put the rubber gloves on again and strain the liquid - the first straining (through old tights in my case) results in a liquid which still has quite a lot of ash in it, so strain it again - I've found that filter paper from the morning's coffee is the only thing that works:
Look at the blue skies reflected in all my containers this afternoon! It's sunny and mild here in the south of France today...

So, my verdict on the suspiciously yellow washing liquid (which is well known in green/thrifty circles in France - I found my recipe here) is that it seems to be working well. The clothes are clean and smell, well, of fabric! You add half a mustard glass of the liquid (lovely French measurement there - think of those small Dijon mustard jars) to your wash, with some bicarb if it's white or white vinegar if the wash is coloured. The actual ingredient you're extracting from your ashes is potassium. Ben's only concern is that this might not be quite so kind to the clothes - neither the budget nor the earth is well-served if we have to go out and buy new clothes sooner. But those who use it swear by it, and so far, so good, with our clothes. Of course, we started with the dog's blankets, just in case...

PS just heard from Lulu Liz, a fantastic soap-making blogger - lye, which soap makers use, is a much more concentrated extract from ashes, and can really burn the skin. This stuff is milder but do remember what I said about gloves, and take other sensible precations...

Monday, January 7, 2013

5 wonderful things... times 10!

I think this is doomed to be a pictureless post - Blogger and my laptop are not playing nicely together tonight...

What a lovely holiday it's been. Like most of the rest of the northern world, we're back to school today, and that's been hard - both boys have been as healthy as something really healthy, but have come home with a general sense of back-to-school-itis tonight (still, they've done their homework, so I can't say they're playing it up too much). A look back over the holidays is well worth it for us, as we all agree it's been a super festive season. Here's a little set of highlights:

5 foods eaten:
  • Mince pies
  • Capon
  • Christmas pudding
  • Salmon
  • Galette des Rois

5 films watched:
  • Brave
  • Star Trek (the latest re-launch - we liked it!)
  • Monster House
  • Super 8
  • The Pirates (in an Adventure with Scientists)

5 books read by boys:
  • Calvin and Hobbes
  • Calvin and Hobbes
  • Calvin and Hobbes
  • Calvin and Hobbes
  • Calvin and Hobbes

5 quotes endlessly repeated:
  • 'Star trekin' across the universe...'
  • 'How do you know you like it if you won't even try it?'
  • 'It's life, Jim, but not as we know it.'
  • 'A prince does not leave his bow on the table!'
  • 'It's worse than that, it's physics, Jim!'

5 gifts given to me (or us):
  • An up-cycled bracelet (more on that when the photos work again!)
  • A macaron recipe book and baking sheet
  • A DVD of the History of Ancient Britain
  • A fruit drier
  • A mobile phone I can keep my diary on

5 exercises tried out by boys:
  • Cycling
  • Walking
  • Weights
  • Getting well and truly stuck in mud puddles
  • Attempted wrestling father to the ground (no actual success at this...)

5 games played:
  • Lego Star Wars
  • Skylanders
  • Spore
  • Keep-the-dog-out-of-the-kitchen
  • Indoor firework displays

5 families at our 'between the festivals' party:
  • An English family from our town
  • A French family from our town
  • A French family from Ben's work
  • A French friend from Ben's work (whom I teach!)
  • Our own family!

5 major things sorted:
  • Cobwebs attacked even in the highest corners of our barn-like ceiling
  • Donated wardrobe in Son 1's bedroom finally put up, to hold ski-wear and all the things that never had a home before
  • Weekend list of chores for boys including changing their own bedding (phew, phew, phew!)
  • Couronne des Rois baked and eaten
  • Time to do my cuttings scrapbooks - for the first time in about a year!

1 thing started and yet to be finished:
  • Making clothes washing liquid out of ashes (watch this space, it's currrently straining)
It's been a lovely holiday. I'm ready for the return to work... almost.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

French Breakfast - Epiphany Style

As I've mentioned every January, just as the rest of the western world is dieting, the French launch into a fantastic range of cakes to celebrate Epiphany - the coming of the Three Kings!
This year, as terms doesn't start again until January 7th, I realised that I'd have time to try out at least one recipe - the Couronne des Rois, which is the southern French equivalent of the Galette des Rois that I made last year. The Couronne is based on a brioche recipe, which I've never tried before. I was stunned at how much butter there is in brioche dough! I used this recipe, and it worked OK, although my fierce oven rather over-cooked the crust. It was nice enough, but my food processor (advised to beat the dough) isn't really up to the job. I think I'll look for a bread machine recipe next year! I also have the puff pasty kit to make a Galette des Rois in the fridge, although I've noticed that they've somehow left out the promised crown and fève - not sure if I can be bothered to go back to complain or not... Son 2 has a great collection from previous years, and I usually 'borrow' his!