Friday, March 30, 2012

This Moment. In charge!

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Joining in with Amanda and friends at SouleMama

23 Months
Photo by Keith

Our baby girl turned 23 months this week.
The last time we will say her age in months instead of years.
She's growing up.
She speaks English, French and Dog!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Making an Impression

We are still giddily enjoying the gorgeous weather here in Paris. It's not forecast to last though so we have been making the most of the opportunity to get into Paris more often than usual. Last week however, on the first day of Spring, I had a day out a little closer to home.

Fournaise 1
Inspired by this post by Véronique at French Girl in Seattle we celebrated my friend's birthday at Le Restaurant Fournaise in Chatou, the setting of one of Renoir's most famous paintings Le Déjeuner des Canotiers.

Fournaise 5
I discovered Véronique's blog after seeing her comments on other blogs about French Life that I follow and her captivating post about the history of this restaurant and the nineteenth century artists who frequented it in its heyday was the first one I ever read. In it she concludes; "Next time you visit Paris, why don't you, too, follow la Seine all the way to Chatou? No need to wait until Sunday afternoon, or wear a canotier. The Canoeists and lovely Alphonsine may be long gone, but la Maison Fournaise is still there, by the river, waiting..." We didn't have to wait for a "next time" we live just ten minutes away from Chatou so as soon as we had an opportunity we took Véronique's advice and went to experience the place for ourselves.

Fournaise 3
The restaurant is an island amongst the office blocks now, but that sky is still worthy of a painting.

Fournaise 2

Fournaise 4
If you look carefully, you can see the American Express building where Véronique used to work reflected in the entrées!

Fournaise 6
This was my entrée. Gambas, the winning choice from a meal that we all agreed wasn't the best food we've ever had in France, but almost certainly better than we would have experienced in our U.S. suburban neighborhoods on a Tuesday lunchtime!

Fournaise 7
The food is secondary though to the experience of eating where Renoir and his Impressionist buddies once sat.

Fournaise 8
The building has been beautifully restored and there is a museum on site that we didn't have time to visit. A good excuse to go back.

Fournaise 9
There was time for a quick after lunch stroll along the river bank, past the boat house...

Fournaise 10
...then back home in time to fetch the kids off the school bus.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Market goodness

Saturday 1
I've been writing about living in France for over six months now and I don't think I've ever mentioned the famous open air markets. I can hardly call myself a Life in France blogger without a post on the market, but there's a reason I never get around to photographing our visits there. The markets, bien sûr, aren't just there for the tourists, they are an essential part of daily life here. If you don't buy most of your fresh produce - fruit, vegetables, cheese and meat - from the markets when you live in France you are really missing out. The offerings at our local supermarket aren't bad but once you've tasted what's available at the open air markets you will be hooked

We are lucky enough to live within walking distance of two markets, which means we can get fresh produce on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays! However, the charm of the market is also the frustration. While it can be a pleasure to stand in line waiting your turn for the vendor to give you his or her personal attention and advice on what is most in season, sometimes you don't want to spend all morning buying a chicken and a few vegetables. Especially if it's raining and you've got all four kids with you. Add to that, the fact that you have to stagger back home with all your purchases (there's no car parking on market day because that's where the stalls set up) and the desire to take your big camera to photograph the experience is pretty much gone.

Yesterday was such a beautiful sunny day though, the whole market experience was a pleasure. I got to go early by myself, beating the crowds so that I could browse the stalls without holding up the other shoppers, and all of a sudden every stall was filled with spring produce. My list was far too long and my bags too heavy to take the camera, but there was plenty to photograph once I got home.

Saturday 2
Cheese - made just for us?

Saturday 3
Flowers for the big ballerina.

Saturday 7
Lunch outside for the first time this year.

Saturday 6
Our first French strawberries of the season.

Saturday 4
Juicy goodness!

Saturday 5
Fresh baguette.

Saturday 9
Shallots all strung up waiting to go in the dinner.

Saturday 8
Shelling peas for the first time ever.
Maybe it was just me, but I could never find them in the States.
Yesterday, these petits pois were piled high at the market.

The markets don't just sell food...

Saturday 10
I picked up a spring sweater for me

Saturday 11
and I was so tempted to buy this little painting. The brocante guy told me the price (150 euros) was a cadeau (gift) and maybe he was right. I do love a seaside scene but there was no room in my market caddy for it. Should I go back next week and see if it's still there? What do you think?

Friday, March 23, 2012

This Moment. Ballerinas

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Joining in with Amanda and friends at SouleMama

Sisters. Ballet

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spring sewing

Paris Cushion
Spring has officially started and the sun is shining again here so I thought I would show you something floral I finished this week. This cushion cover was a gift for a special friend here in France who has done so much to help us settle in. Her birthday is the first day of Spring so I wanted to make something in keeping with the season. Her time in Paris is coming to an end (don't want to think about that just yet - it's the ex-pat curse you make friends quickly but soon lose them as they are posted elsewhere) so I also wanted to give her a reminder of where our friendship started.

A late night search through the Purl Bee sewing projects for some ideas came up with this Mini Liberty Applique Quilt. By the time I woke up the next morning, inspiration had struck and this project morphed into a cushion cover with Eiffel Tower applique!

Cushion detail
Liberty fabrics are everywhere in France; Liberty bias bracelets in the open air markets, babygros with Liberty collars, Liberty duvet covers, the list goes on*. All the nicer fabric shops carry some Liberty lawn so a little bit of Liberty of London paradoxically makes any project quintessentially French! I bought mine from the gorgeous little boutique Mon Plus Beau Rève in Versailles and the grey fabric for the cushion cover came from Eurodif, a kind of French Jo-Anns. Not so gorgeous, but full of affordable fabric with potential.

This was my first time woking with Liberty lawn and now I'm hooked. I can't remember the last time I did any applique but the tight weave of the lawn holds it's shape so well it was a joy to stitch. I chose this print and embroidered running stitches around the edge to give the impression of the Eiffel Tower sparkling at night which it does for five minutes on the hour all through the night. It never gets old and we both love it!

Cushion back
The pillow back has a deep overlap so I decided not to include a fastening, but couldn't resist adding a bit of detail. Never let a Liberty scrap go to waste!

Label Whipped up a quick gift tag with care instructions on the reverse and it was ready to give away. A little reminder of Paris in the Spring!

*I may or may not own all of the above items!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Marly le Roi

How was your weekend? We had a busy one, playdates, ballet rehearsals, I did some French homework, and sneaked in an hour or two of sewing then I drove round the Arc de Triomphe (otherwise known as the worlds scariest, no rules, traffic roundabout) for the first time to get the girls to a Girl Scout event!

Gabrielle of Design Mom who is currently living 'just up the road from us', in Normandy, is having a Love the Place you Live link up today to encourage you to discover something interesting to visit in your neighbourhood. Clearly we have no shortage of famous sites close to home, but there are plenty of lesser known areas to explore as well. Especially in the suburbs - some would say countryside - where we live.

Marly-le-Roi 4
Back in January (while India was at a Girl Scout meeting coincidentally) the rest of the family took a stroll through the old town of Marly le Roi. I'd driven past the end of this street often whilst taking India to her ballet lessons (do you sense a theme emerging here?) and wanted to get a closer look.

Marly-le-Roi 1
Marly le Roi was acquired in 1676 by Louis XIV and he set about building a little chateau there as a private getaway from his big chateau at Versailles! In the nineteenth century the town became popular with the Impressionist painters who found inspiration in this and other towns along the banks of the Seine out to the west of Paris. Nowadays it's a busy town within commuting distance to the city.

Marly-le-Roi 10
Louis XIV's chateau has gone now but you can still walk through the parkland in which it stood.

Marly-le-Roi 9 Despite the sunshine, the weather was freezing so we left the park to the swans and set off in search of a warm drink.

Marly-le-Roi 2
We headed for Grande Rue in the old village

Marly-le-Roi 7
Marly-le-Roi 5
still full of old French charm

Marly-le-Roi 6
and rather unexpectedly full of restaurants representing a diverse international cuisine; Italian, Asian, American, basic French at the top of the street and Michelin starred French at the bottom.

Marly-le-Roi 11
Most appealing to us however on a cold Sunday afternoon was Cottage an English Tea Room with a very French sign on the door welcoming dogs! I've seen impeccably behaved French dogs 'eating out' with their owners in quite a few places we've eaten (our preference tending towards the basic rather than michelin starred when we have four kids in tow!) but have never dared take Alfie out to eat. Regular readers will know he's not to be trusted, especially when food is involved. I would have loved to take some photos of the dog amongst the doilies, but we were preoccupied by the need to keep dog and toddler under control - successfully as it turned out. Luckily the only other diners were another English family with four girls so we were obviously in the right place and no eyebrows were raised in our direction. Our scones and jam were delicious and the tea wasn't bad at all. Looking at these photos again has reminded me of all the other interesting looking restaurants there that we really should try.

Marly-le-Roi 3
And did I mention there's a fabric and yarn store? I'm sure we will be back to visit soon.

It's not difficult for us to love the place we live.
Here's a few of the other interesting places we've visited that are no more than a twenty minute drive from home. You might have heard of some of them!
The Palace of Versailles
Marie Antoinette's Estate
The Eiffel Tower
Musee Marmottan Monet
The Luxembourg Gardens
Les Fermes de Gally

Friday, March 16, 2012

This Moment. Spring at Super U

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Joining in with Amanda and friends at SouleMama

Super U Spring

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Paris in the Spring

When we got back from our ski trip two weeks ago, we were greeted by these cherry blossoms* in our back garden. The first signs of Spring. Today the skies were blue, the sun was shining and the temperature was a balmy, for us, 15ºC (60ºF). We had all the windows open and the warm air felt like it was blowing away all the coughs and sneezes and tummy bugs that have been going around and around our family.

Daffodils on our walk to the school bus

We moved to France last August so Spring is the last season we have yet to experience living here. After ten years in Northern California, which did have four seasons but not always very distinct from each other, it feels special to really notice the change in the weather. In California, a 60ºF day would have felt chilly but today the girls got off the bus chattering about how HOT it had been at school!

Primula Lawn
Our rental garden which is full of magical old trees but not much colour other than green suddenly gave up a surprise this week. A lawn carpeted with Primulas!*

Primula close up
I used my creative hour to take photographs today!

I say Ladybird, you say Ladybug, the French say Coccinelle!

With all this sudden display of colour, I thought I would share a colourful little project that I made this time last year.

Pincushion Caddy
The Pincushion Caddy from Anna Maria Horner's book Seams to Me. It was made using AMH fabric scraps from these napkins and this jacket. I pieced the solid fabrics together into one large piece then cut out the pattern shapes from it. I hand stitched a running stitch with perle embroidery thread over some of the seams before I started to put it all together. That was when my enthusiasm for the project waned. Every review you will find of this project speaks to how frustrating it is to put together but the end result is so satisfyingly useful that it's worth persevering! This tutorial from Texas Freckles saved my sanity. DO NOT attempt this project without reading it first!

Florence and the Caddy 1
Florence saw it sitting out of the way on a high shelf yesterday and demanded that I get the "ball". She then spent an absorbing twenty minutes pushing all the pins in then pulling them out and sorting them by colour. Her first sewing experience! (Obviously, I took out the super sharp scissors first and didn't leave her alone with it - she's not a completely neglected fourth child!)

Florence and the Caddy 2
Once she was done exploring the pins she proceeded to dump out all the contents and discovered...

Florence and the Caddy 3 doubles as a fetching hat. Might want to take the pins out first though!

*Despite this blog's title, I am no gardener so I take no responsibility for plant mis-identification. A garden filled with 100 year old trees who have figured out how to look after themselves and spontaneously sprouting flowers is absolutely perfect for me!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The dog ate my quilt...

Late one night last week I got a phone call from Keith, who was in London, to say India had texted him with this message; "Alfie accidentally chewed a hole in your quilt. What should I do? Mummy is going to be so mad."


When I saw what he had done I was mad and sad. I made this quilt when I was deep in the quilting phase of my sewing life. Before kids - should probably have been out doing something more exciting, but oh well! It represents hours of work and now there is a big hole slap bang in the middle of it.

However, if I'm honest, I've never really loved this quilt. The dark green print was brought back for me from the USA by my parents (long before we moved to live there) and I do love that fabric, but the large scale floral print that was all I could find in the local fabric store to pair with it never really did it for me.

Apparently Alfie didn't like that print either as that was what he chose to remove from the design.

For most of it's life this quilt has been folded up in a closet, because although I was pleased with how it turned out technically it never really reflected my style. By modern quilting standards it certainly looks dated. It was only on the bed because Alfie had chewed the corner off a different quilt we had there. Which now means he has bitten a chunk out of all four quilts currently on a bed in the house. So, if you're a quilter reading this I'd love your advice on how I should go about repairing the quilt and if you're a dog whisperer - advice please on how to stop our almost five year old dog chewing his (and my) bedding!

"Sorry I accidentally chewed your quilt!"

When I first saw the damage to the quilt I was, I'll admit unreasonably upset. I'm tired and lonely when Keith's travelling and something like this brings out the, "It wouldn't have happened if we hadn't moved!" reflex more usually yelled voiced by the girls than me. To make myself feel better, I dropped all plans for making a dent in the housework while Florence napped and decided to seek solace in some new sewing. Just one hour (I set the timer) to create something new, or at least make a start. I got out some fabric I'd pre-washed before we left California, pressed it and started putting together a Little Luxuries blanket for Georgia - the second of five I thought I would have completed before we moved - hah!

Close up

After an hour the fabric was cut and basted, I'd prepped the bias binding and I felt much better. So much so, in fact, that I realised this is what I need to try and do every day. One hour to do what I can rather than being overwhelmed by not knowing where to start on the many, many projects I have stashed in my sewing room and my mind. Another hour the next day and the voile bias binding was made and attached. Another leisurely evening hand finishing with a movie and my husband (returned from his travels by this point) and it was finished. Something I had been putting off for six months. Done!

Georgia's Little Luxuries

I like this simple little blanket so much more than the old quilt. Even though it's super floral, the colours are modern and the fabric feels so soft - but hopefully not good enough to eat! You can't help but feel happy when you're working with Anna Maria Horner's fabrics - stunning in every way. When I've got through the 101 other projects I have planned (one hour at a time!) I'd love to make this quilt for our bed. Basically just a giant version of the Little Luxuries blankets that we all love so much.

Quilt trio
Three down, three more to go...

Does crafting cheer you up when you're down? How do you find the time to do the things you love?
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