living in france · Uncategorized

Birthday Parties In France

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When we first moved to France last August we had to make decisions about what to do about les filles anniversaires. Both their birthdays, a fortnight within one another, occurred a few months after we arrived. We didn’t know many people, our youngest daughter was only about to turn two and our eldest was about to turn five. As the former wouldn’t benefit from a party as she was so young and the latter didn’t know much French, along with the consideration that we where living in a friends gîte, we decided to have small, family affairs.

Wow! Was that a lucky move. French birthday parties are a lot smaller, low key affairs than their English counter parts and I think we would have been looked upon with shock if we’d had an English style affair.

A few months later, when La Plus Grande Fille went to her first birthday party, I discovered the format; party games, cake, maybe a small gift bag. That’s it. No birthday tea, no hiring of venues, clowns, themes…..just simple. Think the 40s and you have it.

In fact when our French lunch guests visited recently we discussed this and they were telling us how her sister shared the same shock when she encountered the English culture.

As a result you really need to think of timing any French children’s birthday party after lunch, for 2.30 onwards. This way they’ve eaten and can have their party games prior to the cake as a goûter.

Prior to the party I went to my new favourite store Action, were I bought too many things as the price was so cheap. I think I overspent on sweeties too as we had goody bags stuffed full of sweets and lots of prizes that looked expensive but weren’t. I hope we didn’t look like show offs, I think I was over compensating as there was no birthday tea. It felt weird to do a birthday party were I didn’t have lots of food preparation before hand.

I decided just to have classic English party games as, although they’re not new to us, they’re new to little children aren’t they? The children loved them, especially the bum shuffling race.

I’d written all the game rules out in French, you can download them here if you want, but I found I kept starting explanations in English. The first time I did it I was talking for some time when my husband pointed it out! I suddenly looked at the group of  extremely polite, little French faces staring at me with bemused expressions.

One of the parents stayed with her youngest son. She’s married to an englishman and they both live in France. We met on the first day of the new school year when I heard them talking English. Their eldest son is in La Plus Grande Fille’s class and as we started chatting it became clear that her grandfather owns the house we rent! In fact during her visit she was telling me how she recently found a picture of herself as a baby in the living room.

I’m so glad it all went so well. Now, finally, Le Marie And I are getting some sleep. We’ve been woken up constantly with the excitement of her birthday for too long now!

 

 

living in france · Our Home · Uncategorized

Our First French Dinner Guests

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One of the decisions Le Marie and I really focused on before moving to France over a year ago now was whether we should rent or buy. Brexit had just happened, as my husband is self employed it’s difficult for us to get a mortgage and the thought of stepping of the English property with its potential for significant equity were all factors in our deliberations.

To be honest though it was the mortgage situation that ended up being the deciding factor and I talked myself into the benefits of renting as a result. Wow am I happy we did this! It’s really worked for us.

Firstly, our dream was to live in the country. The french countryside is beautiful and the prospect of having more than a little patch of land is so tempting to us Brits. However having now rented in the country we’ve felt first hand the isolation, particularly as a foreigner.

Although I can now converse on all manner of topics the language is still a challenge, more so for my husband. I am sure that if we’d had more opportunity to speak with others we’d be further long than we are. Even though we have contact at the school gates this tends to be rushed and it’s really difficult navigating a conversation in another language as you search for and monitor your children.

Inevitably you face the lack of a pint of milk at home and you have to bundle everyone up in a car to drive for some distance to get some, which tends to be the supermarkets some distance away. Again, the size of these stores means that the opportunity for conversation is limited. So frustrating and isolating.

I think at the bottom of all this is that I didn’t realise how big a move it was. Truly. My folks live here, we’ve been back and forward for years, we knew the area well; it was just like going on holiday but staying there wasn’t it? Of course I didn’t think this so clearly, but underneath that was where my thoughts were. A long, adventurous holiday.

The truth is, no matter how rewarding, the move is hard. You don’t need to make it harder by complicating things with an isolated environment.

What all this is leading up to is an explanation as to why it’s taken this long, one and a quarter years, to have our first French dinner guests. We’ve had play dates, and french people have come to La Plus Petite’s baptism, but not over for dinner.

I was really worried before hand. With Le Marie’s limited French would I be able to keep the conversation going for both of us? Would they be bored? What would we have to talk about? I can tell you I did my fair share of praying over this.

Luckily they were Anglophiles, with the wife having a sister who worked as a language teacher in Bath with her young son and English husband.

When they arrived their children, typically French i.e. well behaved and charming, offered us all a bise and a courteous, warm greeting. I’m finally getting used to kissing children. With them too came a traditional French chocolate cake in a lovely little bag french women make to carry such delicacies. The husband is un homme de manage, a house husband and had made this beautiful cake, but he proudly told me his wife had made the bag.

Le Plus Grande Fille, who’s just had a birthday, was excited to show her friends her beautiful new princess dresses so she raced to her dress up box and pulled them out but, alas, couldn’t  understand why boys weren’t interested.

Thank God that both our guests spoke very good English. As a result we kept the french to a minimum as Le Marie is still struggling with His French as he’s stuck indoors for work so frequently.

At the end of the meal, with all the children happily playing, we offered our guests coffee. Surprised they said ‘Not tea?’ We’d just assumed that they’d want coffee!

It turns out they both like tea, though they took coffee, so I naturally asked “But do you like French tea, or a good cup of PG Tips?” Well I say naturally, more cheekily obviously. It turns out though, with an English connection, they’re partial to a proper brew!

The conversation then turned to the English, ex-pat supply chain for all the best Blighty had to offer; PG Tips (natch), Jaffa cakes, marmalade (they’re suggestion), proper Bacon, sausages, marmite, baked beans (again, they’re suggestion – their sons love baked beans). They then told me where to get their hands on some good cheddar, Red Leicester and Caerphilly!

A phone was pulled out with a picture of her mum’s local English butcher, kitted out in as he would be in any twee country village waiting for the vicar to call! Apparently they get her mum to bring bacon, sausages and pork pies whenever she visits!

Franglais. You can’t beat it.

 

Autumn · Uncategorized

Autumnal, Message Vine Wreath

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I started making this wreath out of vines from the garden last year and decorated it differently at that time. However recent Pinterest searches had me inspired by the Autumn or Fall decor that our cousins the Yanks are so good at. I don’t know whether it’s their Thanksgiving tradition, but they’re decorating at this time of year is awesome, I love it. So I thought I’d give it a go.

Making a vine wreath is simple. Just cut some fresh vines, I actually used some kiwi fruit vines, and start to make a circle with them, starting to weave additional pieces in and out.  I eventually tied up my wreath with florist wire as you can see here…

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So far so (pretty much) free. I’ve got to say that I would have liked to have made the wreath thicker, but I couldn’t hack away at the vines too much as we were in a gîte of our friends at the time. This really affected how I decorated it.

Due to the thinness I wanted to add some density, and I also wanted the wreath to be used each year, so I bought some silk flowers;

  • 5 cotton branches
  • 5 red berry branches
  • 2 x 5 bunches of sunflowers
  • burlap ‘ribbon’
  • a set of wooden, alphabet flags with a string (you may not be able to find one like this, but could make something similar I’m sure).

Of course you may just want to add sunflowers if you want to attempt this and this will save you money. Or, if you have the thickness from the vines, you may want to buy just berries, or add pine cones for earthy tones.

I then started to weave out the ‘cotton’ branches just like I’d done the real vines, and I did the same with the berry branches, leaving a space at the top for a burlap tie and bow. I used some more florist wire at this stage to tie it in place.

Next, as the sunflowers were in attached bunches, I separated them with secateurs. These were inserted into spaces around the wreath as well and, where needed, I added extra florist wire.

I’d made the decision not to glue the decorations with hot glue at this time as we are planning our final move (yes, we’re looking to buy in France, woohoo!) and I don’t know what our final house will look like. One house we’ve looked at has a double front door as well as a nearby single one. That would suggest two small wreaths and a large one; so I don’t know if this will be deconstructed and the parts used elsewhere to make a three wreath display, a two wreath display etc. However I do think that gluing the flowers, for example, could ensure I could position them how I’d like (some of the flower heads face the wrong way, for example).

As les petites filles birthdays are so close together I decided to make the wreath an alternate birthday wreath with the little flags. So I have ‘happy birthday’ and then I change one daughter’s name for the other when the time is appropriate.

 

I don’t know if I’ll keep it as a birthday wreath, perhaps next year I’ll use it as an All Saints/Souls wreath next year? Or if we do end up with a three door house perhaps I’ll have one for each feast day and a third as a birthday wreath? Either way I love the wreath, particularly as we approach the drive and are met with beautiful Autumn colours like these that reflect the wreath….

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living in france · Pretty Little Things · Uncategorized

Les Petites Vignettes

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I love these little, round, mirrored trays to collect beautiful things on. I don’t know, they just seem to present them so well; like a gift beautifully wrapped.

An ‘Action’ store from Denmark has opened in our little part of France and it has lots of lovely things at very reasonable prices. My husband is already despairing. The car park is continually packed as we’re are not used to these kind of stores here and I’m finding that it’s replacing ‘Dunelm Mill’ as my place to go for nicnacs (I say replace, nothing really can replace Dunelm Mill. Sigh).

La Marraine has just been for a visit (miss her already) and we payed several trips in her six day stay.

I love the little display above and I have this one on the mantlepiece in our bedroom. You won’t  guess what’s in the lovey glassware…..but if you’re interested scroll down and I’ll tell you…

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In the decanter there’s mouthwash (yes really – it’s why there’s a glass on the same tray), and in the large glass dish with the lid are my cod liver oil capsules. Who would ever have thought cod liver oil could be this glam?!

All Souls Day · Catholic · Catholic Prayers · craft · Uncategorized

All Souls Day Flower Display

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I love Autumn. If you go to my Instagram account you’ll see some pictures of a lovely autumnal walk I took at the start of the season. There’s something about walking in a landscape brushed with gold, bronze and red, bright apples peeking through foilage, the air crisp and cool. It’s such an exciting time.

However I’m not such a fan of Halloween. I don’t know whether its because having been in the police when I was younger I’ve seen enough gore, but the innocence of halloween that I experienced as a child seems to be being replaced by vivid depictions of horror and overly sexualised costumes for women. Bleugh!

Having moved to France, a country steeped in Catholicism, even though it’s state is sadly secular, I’ve been reintroduced to All Souls with new eyes. Perhaps the protestant nature of England has resulted in an inherent skepticism of this feast, and the following All Saints day, due to the rejection of the doctrine of purgatory. But here the end of October brings swathes of chrysanthemums to be placed on family graves even as the stores fill with the tacky halloween decor. All Souls sees family members visiting the graves of loved ones, praying for their dead and showing their love to those who have gone before.

This really is the point of these feasts; we’re recognising that through Christ we are saved and that we will be in heaven with all those we love again one day. How awesome is that?

So I wanted to have some decor which I could build on each year to celebrate this under-rated feast and I started with this table centrepiece. It’s on a tray, so moveable which is oh so important when you have little ones about. It’s also has lost of autumnal things so can be brought out before the feast itself – pumpkins, pine cones, silk chrysanthemums and varying silk heathers.

The pumpkins are just ceramic ones I bought for a Euro each, I spray painted two of them as I didn’t like the colours. The pine cones I gathered with the children and my daughter later painted them with clear, glitter paint. This was a wonderful opportunity to start talking with her about what this feast was about.

The silk flowers were arranged and the stalks blended to fit the box, the glass tea light holder was placed in the middle with the pine cones around it, and the pumpkins were placed there too. The central candle is a deliciously scented pumpkin spice.

Around the outside of the tray I wrote the ‘Eternal Rest‘ prayer that every Catholic knows. There have been times when I have suffered real grief and the prayer just seemed to resound in me, giving me such consolation. It felt like I was connected to all the Catholics who had ever said it in time and space, on Earth and in heaven.

If you don’t know how to transfer lettering to wood like this I thought I’d write down how I did it.

  1. Write out the prayer on whatever word document you have. Chose the font that

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    you think most suits your project. As my tray had handles I knew I’d either have to make the script really small, to make sure it all fit beneath the holes of the handles, or vary the size of the script according to where these holes where. As I wanted the words to stand out I chose the latter, choosing the parts of the prayer I find most significant to make bigger.

  2. Whatever way you chose to approach the handles problem you need to ensure that the text size is appropriate for the space you have and I did this by simply printing it off and placing it on the tray edge. Due to my text variations I had to selectaively place mine so I also cut the text, sperating the words, so I could place and replace them. When I was satisfied with the text position and size I photographed where everything was and continued on to the next step.
  3. On the back of each piece of paper I outlined the script which shows through when you print in black. You have to make sure you have a thick line.
  4. Replace the paper where it needs to be and then with the pencil press hard, rubbing over the outline. This causes the graphite on the other side to imprint on the wood.
  5. Once you have finished use this outline to guide you to draw the letters, I used a pen like this one as it has a ‘paint’ effect that works well with wood. I also used a silver ‘sharpie’ style pen to highlight important lettering.
  6. There was one problem; no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t make the text size fit the underneath of the handle. So I chose two different illustrations that fitted it and followed the same method. I just put “black and white, drawing of angel”, for example, and chose a suitable one. I embellished them, but the use of the template was invaluable.

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I love the fact that it’s something I can bring out every year, that I can add to and that my daughters have contributed. What do you think?

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Brocante · Decorating · Uncategorized

More Of My French Kitchen

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Just thought I’d share more of my kitchen, or at least the sweet little Brocante buys I found. I know, it does seem like I live there!

Here is a close up of my open shelves….

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….and here’s one of the little French canisters that I love (I spotted them after my inspiration post). The little salt and pepper set was given to me by my Pops.

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That’s all I have time for this morning, I should be sewing some couch covers as we speak!

 

Brocante · Uncategorized

3 Simple Steps To Spotting A Brocante Oil Painting

IMG_9469I was in a local Brocante, amongst the dust and the mess, next to some shelves holding a higgildy piggildy mess of pictures chatting to my Pops when I spotted it out of the corner of my eye – an oil painting. I new straight away what it was, I could see the way the light caught the brushwork and like a fox on the scent I was straight over their to pick it up.

“How did you spot that from over there?” Pops said. I’d love to say it was some Brocante buyers instinct, but it wasn’t. Just luck I guess, but confirming it was an oil wasn’t, that took three simple steps.

Look At The Back

The foolproof way of telling if it’s an oil is to look at the back; if IMG_9443you can see the paint coming through the canvas then it’s an oil.

Look At The Back Too

Whilst you’re round there look at the frame itself. Some oils have a canvass wadding place over the painting, but the obvious age of the frame will be a tell if it’s a clever reproduction or not. This picture wasn’t a good example of that, but my oil in the header is.

Look At The Texture

A lot of reproductions now have a textured surface to make them appear as if they’re an oil, so to be sure you’ve managed to bag a bargain, have a look and see if there are clear brush marks that correspond with the paint marks themselves. A reprint will have a consistent pattern of marks, an oil won’t.

In this selection here I have three oils, and a definite watercolour. The most expensive was 43€, then 9€, then an unbelievable 1€. Which one do you think is which?

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