Saturday, November 8, 2014

Advent Plans

As you will have observed I'm very busy and not blogging, but there are are plenty of Advent happenings, and Dormouse has just blogged about one of them here. Please do look out for things to do, and have a wonderful and blessed approach to the Christmas season!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Camping, camels, causses and canoes

We've just come back from a week in and around the Tarn Gorges, about four hours away from our home near Toulouse.
The landscape is high limestone Causses (ideal for keeping sheep so long as you can store the water) which are dissected by huge winding gorges. The Gorges du Tarn itself is 53 kilometres long! The motorway which cuts past the area has to cross a number of minor gorges, using viaducts like the one you can see in the photo of our campsite sheep, and of course like the famous Viaduc du Millau, visible in the distance on the high approach to our campsite.
Our campsite was a very basic one, with occasional hot water, showers, some 'French' loos and one highly-contested 'modern' toilet. There was also a large covered area with tables and a fridge (luxury) and beautiful woodland camping spaces, separated by green oaks. Did we take a photo? No we did not - we had real difficulty charging our phones and cameras, which was probably good for us.
La Blaquiere farm makes traditional sheeps' mik cheese, herds traditional tourists into the campsite and some beautiful historic gites, and leads treks across the causse with slightly less traditional Bactrian camels. This is not our photo - we saw lots of the camels but didn't pay for the trek, as we saved our money for the even more exciting canoe trip down the gorge. Did we take a photo of that? No, we were having too much fun getting wet! We canoed 10 kilometres, stopping for swims, a picnic and a chance to explore a riverside village accessible only by boat. We got a 10% discount on our trip, on the charming basis of a note on the canoe flyer marked, 'Bises, Manue' ('Kisses, from Manue'), as our campsite cheese maker is great friends with the canoe trip family! Here's a generic photo of the wonders we paddled through:
The area is full of history, from the medieval hermitage on the farm were we stayed:
to the also medieval troglodite church from which you can see the Viaduc du Millau:
all the way back to prehistoric menhirs up on the highest causses:
with attendant chambered tombs:
Not a bad fit!
As well as canoeing, walking and visiting, we had plenty of time for relaxing.
We spent several days around the campsite, cooking up fun lunches and playing games of Kübb or Trivial Pursuit. On one of those days some of Papé's (the grandpa's) bees swarmed and caused quite a bit of excitement! We bought some of the honey to commemorate the event.
One the other days there were just ordinary old camels to enliven the campsite...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Spritzdekor at the Vide Grenier

It's not often that you find a title on this blog in German, is it?
However, our local 'meduim-sized' Vide Grenier was on today, and I had a wonderful time there, including in my haul a piece of genuine Spritzdekor - can you work out which one it is?
The standard French plates I collect are stencilled, and in fact really they fit in with the description of Spritzdekor (which means sprayed stencil-ware, made between the wars). However, the Spritzdekor that I've seen in magazines always has a very modernistic quality to it, which means that, marvelous though they are, these boat plates aren't the real thing.
This, however, IS the real thing, and grubby though it looked on the stall, I had high hopes that it would be a nice little collector's piece once it went through the dishwasher.
And indeed it is as sparkly as any of the cake plates featured in this Martha Stewart Living article (thanks to my friend B for some copies of MSL a few year ago!) Apparantly they sell in America for about 25 dollars so they aren't really valuable, but I still think 50c for a slightly chipped one is very good! I won't use it for cakes - I think it will be just right as a coffee pot stand when I don't want the table cloth to get marked or dripped on.
These kitchen canisters are very much run-of-the-mill round here, but they still make a lovely collection, with or without their lids. I saw one in Homes and Antiques (perhaps, or maybe another magazine...) without its lid, holding cutlery, and I realised it was time to stop worrying if some of the canisters no longer have lids. After all, there's more than one use for a pretty canister:
In addition, I found a useful vintage zinc colander, to replace the nasty, peeling copy of a vintage one that I bought new a few years ago. There was also this charming little wooden measure.
I really love that.
On the washing line, and therefore not featuring in my kitchen-table photo shoot, is a lace stole. The woman I bought it from told me it's 1920s, and it's going to look great over a strappy/strapless dress on summer evenings. I can envisage it being worn a lot here in the next few months!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Town Vide Grenier

Hello there - long time no blogging! Thanks to those who checked I was OK (thanks Kezzie) - yes, I've been fine, but blogging really takes a back seat when you work and parent full-time! But today I'm happy to share with you some fairly restrained shopping brought back from the local Vide Grenier. I found this charming, and very space-saving vintage camping stool for 50c on one of the first stalls. Ben is very impressed by its folding design. I like the fabric best! I then spent 3€ on the match holder. It should sit beside our fire (newly cleaned out) and I especially love the lettering.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Vintage French Aprons - or are they?

Yesterday I found two vintage pinafore aprons - not at all in French style!
Frip' Relais, one of the two charity shops to the north of Toulouse, is holding a kind of retro-themed month, with lots and lots of 1970s stuff (much of it great fun, and with clothes in realistic sizes) out, in fun displays. I picked up the pink apron, and when I came to the till the woman there asked if I'd seen the second apron - well, I snapped that up too!
You can see that this pink one is much earlier than the 1970s. It reminded me instantly of feedsack aprons, made from the American grain and flour sacks which were printed with the most wonderful patterns from the 1930s to 1950s. There's a great article about feedsack dresses here on Etsy. This article gives some clues about how to check if your fabric really comes from a feedsack, and mine doesn't seem to be the 'real thing', but I still feel that the apron is so unlike the typical French style (either a butcher's apron like the one with red initials seen in my first photo, or a granny-jacket thing) that I feel there's at least some American influence here:
Terrible shot, but you can at least see how it looks when on. It fits perfectly!
The second one is red gingham, if it's American, or Vichy, if it's French! Cute but not a lot of coverage...
They are both hanging up in the kitchen with the French-initialed apron and a pretty blue and white half-apron that I was given in a blog swap several years ago. I don't think I'll wear them, as I rely on plasticised aprons with lots of coverage to keep me clean and dry!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Pause in Lent 2014 - better late than never!

It was a lovely weekend, full of gardening, plant-buying, archery and fish and chips (an unusual find in France...) and I never got round to writing my Pause in Lent - sorry! But here is a really truthful picture for you, from the Facebook page of someone I'm very happy to have found over the last week or two:
Kim Verrier is a Speaker and Encourager (a very worthwhile occupation!) who is the friend of a friend. I followed my friend's link to Kim's Facebook page and found her words very helpful - and in the case of the picture above, very relevant! Do pop over and visit her if you are on Facebook.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Fourth Pause in Lent 2014

Lent is coming along nicely - I have ordered my leg of Easter lamb from the butcher's!
I am also finding your Pause in Lent posts so helpful. It was Gaz's post last week that really kept me thinking.
I stopped off in our local church on Tuesday (market day) and lit candles for our family and for my father and his wife. If candles aren't from your tradition, well, neither are they from mine. But the prayer next to the candelabrum says it all, I think.
Here's my rough translation:

Lord, let this candle which I light be a beacon for you to illuminate my joy,
Let it burn so that you rekindle my heart,
Let it shine so that you burn away all my selfishness, pride and impurity.

Lord, I cannot stay long in your church.
This burning candle that I leave is part of me that I want to give to you.
Help me to prolong my prayer in my activities today.


What all came together for me (as part of Gaz's comments on sacrifice, and the prayer about leaving part of yourself for God) was the realisation that sacrifice isn't always painful. There are willing and happy sacrifices we make every day. A mother's life could be described as one long sacrifice - the needs of her children put ahead of her own. The fact that it doesn't feel like that most of the time is because it's a very happy and worthwhile sacrifice made for people we love. This year Ben has sacrificed a lot (including earnings) to study again. I have sacrificed a lot to let him go off to Lyon every week to do this, if I really think about it, but it's both gladly done and gratefully received, which really makes it all worth it. Perhaps we avoid offerning our whole lives as a sacrifice to God because we think it will lead to one long existence of strain and struggle. What if it isn't? What if the day to day sacrifices we make will just draw us closer in love, companionship and understanding?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A stack of vintage French quilts

I am loving this stack of quilts and eiderdowns - they all came from the Secours Catholique shop at around the same time a few years ago, and came in handy during the cold winter of 2012-2013. This winter they've hardly had a look-in, but I happened to put a new clothes rack into the bedroom (Ben likes to keep his gardening clothes from one weekend to the next, and they are NOT going to live on the floor, whatever he thinks, so a rack comes in handy).
Son 2 and I shortened the metal poles for this second-hand clothes rack (OK, Son 2 did it, seeing as he found me with the saw and took over), so that it now fits under our eaves. It's arguable whether the top eiderdown actually DOES fit, but they do look rather lovely, so it's staying there for now.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Reasons to be Faithful, Part Three - a Pause in Lent

Welcome to the third Pause in Lent - it begins to feel like Easter is coming, now! I've started planning the Easter feast, and need to place an order at the butcher's in town. How is Lent going for you all? It's great to read your posts each week (and even comment on some this time) and to see what you are reading, thinking and learning. Please carry on visiting each other, and also commenting - I am really grateful for the comments which I've received, which show me that people are thinking about what I write and and about what I care about.
For my third Pause I want to continue with the line of thinking I started (thanks to CS Lewis) last Sunday. This started off with the idea that it's impossible for a team of people (the Gospel writers and disciples) or for an individual to invent a truly good person who is also completely consistent and likeable. If Jesus comes across as truly good and truly loveable in the Bible, that's genuinely supernatural! No human is perfect, and no made-up perfect person is loveable. Anyone read Horrid Henry? Think how awful his brother Perfect Peter is...

Moving on, people suggest that the disciples and gospel writers took the story of a good man, Jesus, and added on supernatural bits and pieces to make this good human into something divine. Is it possible that the stories are a mish-mash of history and superstition? Is it possible to say, 'Yes, Jesus said THIS, but he didn't do THAT?' I don't really think so. The stories are consistent, as I said above. You can spot made up stories about Jesus a mile off. Once a preacher in my childhood church read out some nineteenth century stories about Jesus as a boy which talked about how sweet and brave and loving he was. And how totally un-natural and inhuman and revolting, all the children thought... Ow, they were horrible! The real Jesus may be lovely, but he is hard work. He's not at all tolerant of hypocricy or privilege or the status quo.

So for me it's impossible to fall into a handy compromise along the lines that 'Jesus was a good man but nothing more'. Jesus didn't say he was 'nothing more'. He allowed people to refer to him as the Saviour of his people and referred to ancient prophecies as if they were about himself. He called God his Father, and encouraged his followers to do the same. Good people don't claim that kind of glory - unless they deserve it. CS Lewis says it comes down to three choices: either Jesus was mad (he thought he was the Son of God when he wasn't), bad (he pretended he was the Son of God when he knew he wasn't) or he was telling the truth.

When I went through my little crisis of faith I really didn't feel ready to compromise. Either there isn't any supernatural element in life, or Jesus is the real deal. I wasn't comfortable with a 'The universe is on our side and good things come to those who think positively' type of spirituality. I do believe that positive thinking is very important, but I don't see much evidence of that as a spiritual truth - it's more psyschological. Spiritually, for me it comes down to a decision about Jesus: is he made up or semi-invented, or is he real and telling the truth? Intellectually, I'm going for the 'real and telling the truth' choice. My emotions can catch up on that intellectual decision when they have time - it's not about current feelings, it's about fact. I have enough evidence from the Bible, from the lives of other people, from my own past and my present, to accept that, however I feel right now, Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A new rustic fence

In 2010 Ben made a lovely, rustic fence out of found wood and some wire pannels - you can see it here. Of course it wasn't going to last for ever, and with untreated wood it had more or less rotted away by last summer. He, the boys and I spent some time this winter ripping the old fence out and putting up a new one, made of treated wood salvaged from pallets!
Now that the blossom and a few bulbs are coming out, it's pretty enough to show you! Here are a few shots of the old fence when it was still looking cute, first right at the very beginning:

See how small our nectarine tree was then! Two and a bit years later, the fence was hosting some lovely Scottish foxgloves:
I very carefully dug up the current foxglove plants (three little ones) and replanted them once the new fence went in. I've also split and replanted the two different types of iris which were growing in places along the old fence, and Ben is planting some gladiolus corms along it in batches, so that they will hopefully flower at different times this year. I'm sure that Lululiz's morning glories have re-seeded themselves, as they always do, so that's some more wonderful colour to look forward to as our new, rustic fence settles in to the garden!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Buttons united...

My mum's collection of buttons is slowly making its way over from Edinburgh to France - I think I may now have united all our mother of pearl buttons into one (overloaded) French fabric box...
But actually, the really ornate ones are still in one of my mum's wooden boxes! Oh, the little wonders!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Reasons to be Faithful, Part Two - a Pause in Lent

Welcome to our second pause in Lent. Whilst managing to browse most of the contributions last week, I don't think I commented - this week I'll try to do better! You can find all the participants in the blog list to the left, and it's great to read around and find out what other people are thinking and doing as Lent progresses.
My Lent posts this year are a very personal list of reasons to hold on to my Christian faith, after a I went through a rather alarming wilderness patch. It's honestly the first time in my life that I've had to look at faith 'from the outside', and actually, of course, this is a very interesting exercise. Scary, but informative. I hope that my reflections could also be useful to anyone else 'looking in' at Christianity, or at a life of faith in general, too.

So, last week I considered that my role models are Christians. Despite my doubts, they have an enthusiasm, a vitality and an honesty that I want. This week is looking at the person who is central to Christianity: Jesus.

CS Lewis concluded that it would be impossible to invent Jesus. A popular example of an invented 'good person' is dear little Pollyanna. Or is that 'insufferable little Pollyanna'? Personally, I enjoyed those books and think the author had a good point. But Pollyanna is a bit irritating, you have to concede (don't you?) or at least we can concede that she is controversial - like Marmite, you love her or you hate her. I know this because my own family was divided in childhood over those books, and my own dear mum found Pollyanna insufferable! I think that the trouble is that one author (Eleanor H. Porter) just didn't have the scope to make a truly good person also truly loveable to all. There is sometimes an urge to shake such an annoyingly optimistic little ray of sunshine...

But I really don't think that anyone wants to shake Jesus. In the Gospel accounts he is truly good but also truly likeable. I remember one friend (we were in our twenties) who turned to me during a discussion and raged: 'I hate God, but I LOVE Jesus!' People who don't like authority, who don't trust religion, who have bad experiences of fathers or of men in general, may have a very bad feeling about how they imagine God, but they can't find much to say against Jesus. He draws people to him, through the written stories as in life. Do I really think that a bunch of variously-educated First Century men could have been the only people to ever successfully invent (or embroider) stories of a good person? I don't. I think that the reason for these stories of such a powerfully loving, counter-cultural, Godly person, is that he truly existed, and that he existed as the stories tell. No individual (or group) could invent him.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Reasons to be Faithful, Part One - A Pause in Lent

Welcome to the first Pause in Lent, 2014! I was grateful for the reminder about this annual event, as I've not had much time for blogging recently, but it's really good to be joining with you all to take the time to think during Lent. Please use the list in my sidebar to visit the other Pause in Lent bloggers, and to find out what others are doing.
As I said in my first Advent post last year, I had the most unexpected of setbacks last year - a quite significant loss of faith. I think it went beyond doubting, and into atheism, for a while. Your comments and your own posts which were sparked by that 'confession' were really helpful and interesting, and I hope I can spend Lent thinking about why I have held on to faith rather than rejecting it, at that point when it seemed unlikely that there was any reason to remain faithful to my previously heartfelt Christian beliefs.

I've listed the things that made me hold on to faith, and here is the first one: other people.

I asked myself, when I was identifying most with atheist/agnostic friends and writers, if I actually wanted to be like them. Who are my role models, I suppose...

I like my atheist/agnostic friends - they are super people! But oddly enough, my role models were all committed Christians. Interesting, I thought to myself. They have something more, something that I really want.

The first person I realised I want to be like is someone that most of you know. She's going to get embarassed but the rest of you won't be surprised. An important role model for me is Ang. She's real, she's believable, she's larger than life despite being tiny, and her vibrant faith makes her 'go the extra mile' for an awful lot of people. The combination of faith in action and believable humanity is very compelling. I realised I would be happy indeed to be like her.

After that I thought of a few other people I actually want to resemble. There's my mum, whose pared-down faith seemed a bit simplistic and lacking in theology to me when I was an opinionated young adult. Yet her faith was real, humble and sustaining through her prolonged final illness, and at her memorial service I met so many people who wanted to tell me about how she had quietly helped them through difficult times in their own lives. She kept her faith in God's love and strength when others might have felt abandoned. It wasn't a crutch, it was power.

Finally, there are two of the most cheerfully embarassing people I've ever known, now no longer with us. Ken and Lorna were a couple in their early seventies when Ben and I knew them - we were in our early twenties. Ken would look tearfully at Lorna and say to me, 'I love her more every day, even after all these years'. Embarrasing indeed, but incredibly admirable, too. Ken and Lorna never lost their enthusiasm for each other or for Jesus. After decades of rather conventional Christianity, they experienced a kind of renewal and just couldn't stop praising God and talking to other people about him. Well, it was embarassing but it was genuine and it was passionate and enthusiastic. What a great way to be when most people would be slowing down!

So, I thought - it's not time to throw Baby Jesus out with the bathwater just yet. You still think that the most impressive people you've ever met are those inspired by their love for Him.

Blogging is full of movement and change, and one great blogger who's been a popular part of many of our festive Pauses in Advent has just said 'Goodbye' to blogging. Vintage Vicki has decided that it's time to move on to other things, and if you haven't yet read her goodbye post then do pop over and I know that you'll understand her reasons. I'll miss her blog, but am awfully grateful that I'll be able to keep in touch with her in other ways.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Pause in Lent

Ang has just asked me if I was doing a Pause in Lent this year - the answer is: why not? Thank you, Ang, and all the rest of you who have borne with me despite some long absences from my blog. We're well, happy and very very busy, which explains the absences, but I will be happy to pop in each Sunday (or Monday) in Lent to read and contribute to the Pause in Lent posts.
If you would like to join in, please leave a comment here.The idea is to take some time to reflect, either in a specifically Christian way or just in a more general 'spring-time, new-life' manner, on what this season means to us. You can share with us what you have been thinking about, what you have been doing at home or at church, what you have been reading or experiencing, and what your hopes or prayers are. The first Sunday of Lent is this Sunday (did you have your pancakes yesterday?) and Easter Sunday is April 20th. So please join with us to post when you can (no obligations, no guilt) on Sundays or Mondays between now and then. Please feel free to take the picture above and to make a link back to my blog, where I will make a list of all the participants and link to their blogs in my sidebar. I am looking forward to joining up with you all!

Monday, January 13, 2014

A year of fruit drying

For Christmas 2012, Ben bought the family a fruit drier. We've been eating its produce for a year and I can confidently say that it's been a good buy for pleasure and thrift - the winner was this Christmas bowl of dried fruit, bought fresh at the supermarket and then dried, all for a fraction of the cost of the pre-prepared basket:
Clockwise starting from the bottom, we have dried apple (soak the pieces in water with a little lemon juice as you chop them), coconut (a new one - fantastic!), mango (an old favourite), grapes (new to us as our own grape harvest this year was crummy, and much moister and more tasty than bought raisins) and, in the middle, pear.
Here's the machine itself - obviously you have to factor in the cost of the electricity, and we try to cut the pieces fairly small as chunks take a long, long time to dry out, but I guess we've saved a bit of money and have certainly had fun and produced healthy (ish) products from seasonal produce. Here's a list of everything I can remember Ben drying over the year:
From our own, or friends' gardens:
chillis (he ran the drier out on the patio for this, for which we were all grateful!)
bay leaves
From the shops when they were cheap:
pear (which went mouldy a bit quickly, so we need to try again)
For decorations:
orange, lemon and lime slices
Some of these have become absolute staples, particularly the dried mango, which is so much cheaper when you buy fresh fruit in season than in pre-prepared dried packs. The chillis were also really successful, as drying them in bunches hanging around the place may be decorative but really gathers dust. Have any of you tried drying fruit and veg? Do you have any more suggestions for us?