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Friday, January 17, 2014

My new French scarf and La Fleuree de Pastel - a crochet blog

My kids started at a new (for us) Steiner school this year and we could not be happier. We LOVE the engaging conversations we have after school with our happy munchkins about their day, we LOVE the other parents we meet at the school gate, and love love LOVE the amazing teachers. Best decision, EVER. 

What has been a challenge, particularly for two traditionally educated parents, has been the homework. Spelling lists, algebra, pffftttttt .... we can do these in our sleep. Please. I LAUGH in the face of timetables and isosceles triangles. But new for us this year has been a very different kind of homework - crochet. Ummmmm......

So my challenge these past few months has been to learn to crochet. With a little spare time here in France this Christmas, I have turned my hand seriously to this amazing craft. I figure if my left handed 10 year old can do this, I can too. 

I loosely borrowed the design from the fabulous Lucy at Attic24 and her neck warmer scarf pattern, but made it more of an infinity scarf, as well as more appropriately French in colouring. I took inspiration from this gorgeous pin I found when we were renovating. 

I would love for someone to tell me more about it. What is its origin?  Is it just a one off child's construction on a rainy afternoon? Or a traditional pin sold on a national fete day? I love it, regardless. It always makes me smile when I spy it in my earring tray.

Adding to the French inspiration was a purchase of beautiful wool from La Fleuree de Pastel.  This gorgeous store, tucked away in one of the many winding lanes in Toulouse, specialises in products dyed with the French equivalent of indigo. I could have taken the credit card straight into Kenny Loggins territory on the highway to the danger zone here - soft, sumptuous mohair blankets, linen to make any tourist weep with joy and totally impractically but magnetically attractive wax seals for envelopes - all these things and more were there for the begging. I did very well getting out alive with just two balls of deep indigo wool,  a spritz of indigo room fragrance swirling in my wake. 

The temperature has really plummeting here over the past few days. As our Australian mates swelter in plus 40 temperatures, we are finally feeling like winter has arrived. A bit of a frost the other morning and our first really chilly day means I have hooked my last stitch just in time.

I tried to capture a scarf wearing selfie - how do all those clever crocheting bloggers do it? 

And Missy was a most reluctant model, but you get the picture.

Not bad for a beginner if I do say so myself. This year the goal is a big blanket. Off to the markets in the morning in my new scarf. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Bonne Fête de l'Epiphanie

The 6th is the Epiphanie, and it is extremely well celebrated here in France with a galette des rois. Guess who won the fève in our house tonight? 
Bonne fête mon cher

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Blanquette de Limoux and second apéro

Apéro is a moment - really, its a pause - a very charming eating and drinking ritual here in France. Enjoyed before the evening meal, it often marks the transition from workday to evening. L'heure de l'apéro in our house happens at about  6 - 6.30pm. As we don't usually eat when we are in France until after 8pm - sometimes much later, something we never do when we are in Australia - l'apéro frequently includes a platter of something tasty to hold off the hunger pains.  At this time of the year it might be foie gras, or something homemade like beetroot and walnut 'pesto' with goats cheese on toasted thinly sliced baguette. Sometimes we slum it and open a bag of chips (that's crisps if you're a pom). Yum.

Naturally, there is also always something to drink. A kir or a pastis, or sometimes a Fenelon. Following on from New Year celebrations (a house crawl through four Aussie expat houses here in Souillac - lots of fun - more about that later) we seem to have lots of bottles of champagne in the fridge, along with other French bubbly products. A French friend recently put us onto Blanquette de Limoux, a cheap but very tasty alternative to champagne. It is at least as delicious as good Australian bubbly and the one we are currently drinking retails for under 6 euros.  It does wonders for the bank account!

If you are a Lord of The Rings fan you will know all about Hobbits and their 'second breakfast'. Well here at Our House in Quercy we have something even better - second apéro.

First, the back story. During our stay The Man has been busy getting the attic ready for a lovely Australian family who have booked Our House in Quercy for the whole summer, but they need the attic to be ready. Hence The Man spends all day working hard plastering and sanding in the attic and I deal with the endless and usually trivial demands of five children. You know the sort of thing. I'm hungry! I'm thirsty! I have no clean clothes! Animal came off his bike when he was riding down a steep hill at a hundred miles an hour wearing no helmet and and isn't breathing! That sort of thing.

So, overwrought, I need to apéro early. When The Man finally downs tools and joins us I must, by necessity, partake in a second apéro. Vive la France!

The Man hates getting his photo taken, I had to be a bit sneaky to get these shots of our very messy attic 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas at Our House in Quercy

Christmas is a big deal in our house. Certain traditions must be kept, regardless of which hemisphere we may be in. For almost a decade we have watched Polar Express on Christmas Eve (and only on Christmas Eve - never at any other time). We always put out carrots and water for the reindeer, and milk and something to eat for Santa. We always do a Christmas 'crap food' shop - after being food Nazis for most of the year we let our kids partake in a single free for all, no holds barred, go for broke supermarket shopping spree (photos coming).

Some traditions we only keep here in France, making our Christmases here even more special. After a childhood of Christmases spent sweltering with a wash cloth on my head in 40 degree heat, it is pure bliss to be in a cold climate. Suddenly rich food and fairy lights make sense - it's dark early and cold always. Instead of cicadas screaming, the outdoors is quiet - everyone is cosy-ing up inside, bunkering down against the cold, spending time with family. It is peaceful, a stark contrast to the manic carol blasting shopping frenzy that seems to accompany my Christmases in Australia.

Here's an insight into Christmas essentials for us here in France:

A wreath on the door
Unbridled excitement when unwrapping Amazon UK delivered gifts from far away family
Getting straight into reading a new book in the middle of Christmas flotsam 
Champagne in your PJs (and silly faces)
Foie Gras
Spending all day building new Lego sets
Drinking as many different types of wine as you can find in the house
Because it is France, high powered air rifles at the table
Bruche Noel...
...that you queued for at the boulangerie at 8.30 Christmas morning
Holly and silly shirts
Fake fart noise gel (and wearing PJs all day)
Being a teenager and stuck at the dining table so long you start reading to entertain yourself
Indulging in vices, naturally
 How was your Christmas? I hope it was a good one.

Bonne Fete, Joyeux Noel, and Merry Christmas from Our House in Quercy xxxxx

Friday, December 20, 2013

I'm dreaming of a tight-arsed Christmas....or how we bagged a free Christmas tree

Let's get the Aussie language lesson out of the way first. Tight-arsed means stingy or financial frugal. It's an expression usually used to insult someone, like "he's such a tight arse he throws money like a man with no arms", that sort of endearing thing.

I have previously briefly mentioned the financial gymnastics it has taken to get us all back to France. In fact getting here was easy - we flew back on the return leg of the tickets we moved back to Australia on last December. To date I have spent no more than the cost of the rental car to convey us to our house here in Souillac. No flights. No accommodation costs. Of course the really financial feat will occur when I get around to booking our seven tickets home. I'm just waiting for prices to come down a little, and by my reckoning that's going to be, what, May?

So things are tight. Cuts have had to be made. Hell, last night The Man finished the half glass of wine I'd left, just so it wouldn't go to waste. Trooper. Talk about taking one for the team. Unfortunately I had only left the room momentarily to make a phone call. The Man's thoughtful gesture therefore actually necessitated the opening of another bottle, but as they say, it's the thought that counts.

So under the circumstances its needless to say that when a mate of Curly told us he could hook us up with a FREE Christmas tree we were on board.

The tree hunting spot was just near an old quarry. For a reason known only to those who possess the Y chromosome The Man and our tree source scaled the loose shale wall, leaving an avalanche in their wake. The rest of us walked 20 meters back up the road and approached from level ground. 

Tree selected, our mate got straight to work.

We were well pleased. The tree looked GREAT. All green, and piney smelling. And BIG. It was HUGE!

Missy let off some celebratory shots with Animal's air riffle, and we took our tree home.

And that's where things came a little unstuck. Whilst it looked fantastic in the forest, the tree looks decidedly under impressive in the house. How did I not note that sparsity? The lack of any branching on which to hang ornaments? And despite my not inconsiderable efforts, it would seem no amount of paper chains and origami stars will lift it from its tragic state.

Missy described the conditions aptly when she cried "Mum, now it just looks like a scrappy tree that you have chucked a heap of stuff on."

Sounds like Christmas to me.

Despite it's sparsity the tree is very large - so large that you can only sit down one end of the couch and successfully view the television. \

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Home maintenance, French style

The Man has wasted no time getting stuck into the mountain of home maintenance we must undertake during our French stay. Naturally, it is safety first.

Hence when we found evidence of vrilette - a beetle that makes little holes in furniture and wood structures - he pulled out the chemical protection gear and got on with the job of applying pesticide. Unlike in Australia, heavy duty pesticides are sold at all local hardware stores. There is no special licence required to handle them, and scant information on the tin about how to protect yourself whilst using the product.

The Man erred on the side of caution, and went with the 'hand wrapped in old tea towel' approach.

Structurally, it was necessary to elevate the table to access the bottom of each table leg. As luck would have it The Man and I had finished some bottles of red scaffolding the night before.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Home to France for Noel

On Thursday, and exactly 12 months to the day since our departure from France, we excitedly bordered a plane back "home".

It's been a hard year. Lots of lack of personal space and squeezing into our tiny Australian house, lots of 1970's orange laminate kitchen overload, and lots and lots of lentil eating to ensure we had the funds to get-back-on-the-plane.

But every moment of hand-me-down-wearing, library-book-borrowing-not-buying, cheap-wine-drinking, home-hair-cutting has been worth it to see these happy little faces when we arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport...

Not to mention throwing open the bedroom shutters to this view...

And eating this for dinner...

Day one, yesterday: Curly disappeared for a sleepover to a mate's farm; Mr Indignation was out all day at the rugby with friends; Animal's best mate's mum made us a plate of the world's best crepes (largely because The Man had emailed her during the week warning of our impending arrival and her need to break out the crepe pan); The Teenager has been trying to surprise her French bestie - a girl who usually spends the better part of each weekend sleeping and hanging around her apartment, but whom miraculously appears to be away - this means The Teenager has made any number of treks through the village and up to her bestie's place, gift Tim Tam package in hand, only to have to disappointingly trek back down again; and Missy got a great big hug after a chance encounter with her lovely former teacher - thoughtfully, la maitresse angled the lit cigarette away and exhaled a plume of smoke before embracing my asthmatic child. Ah France! And today is Souillac's marché de Noël. Lots of holly to buy, vin chaud to drink and friends to chat with. So very happy to be here.