Thursday, November 14, 2013

Find a personal Christmas gift from anywhere in the world

It doesn't matter if you live here in France, the UK, US, Russia, or on a tropical island, with the wonders of internet shopping, you can now find that perfect gift for your friends and family from the comfort of your own home.
This year, I'll be checking out Judy Adamson's International Christmas Market, where I can buy all of my gifts, cards, paper and tags online and in one go. No more trudging around in the cold, only to find the same bring presents in every shop. The big plus, is that I can personalise most of them too!
Happy shopping ... A gift for everyone

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Autumn rustlings

This post is long overdue, the summer seems to have taken all of my time and energy, but with the turning of the leaves, it seems that Autumn is well and truly here.
September has been a very odd month weather wise. It started with an unseasonably cold week. Rain, hail and temperatures well below 20c, which is so unusual here. This week however, we're back to the heatwave, with afternoon temperatures of 30c and above in our south facing garden.
I'm picking the last of the outdoor tomatoes and green beans, and will miss them a lot during the next few months.
The only glimmer of hope on the fresh veg front, is that a lot of the locals sell their own garden produce at weekends, and I'm hoping for some sweet, baby carrots, parsnips and some really great tasting sprouts and cabbage soon.
I've developed a taste for celeri rav, which I think is celeriac in the UK. It's lovely combined with mashed potato, and makes a welcome change in the winter.
Paid a visit to Cognac yesterday, where they produce some of the finest brandy in the world. The vines had been totally stripped of grapes, and starting to turn those beautiful orange and violet colours before they shrivel and drop. We had a mega thunderstorm, and headed for home, but it was a great day trip.
The other thing about the Autumn here, is that as I still have my bedroom window open at night, there are all sorts of mysterious rustlings after dark. It can be deer, wild boar, foxes, hedgehogs, badgers, squirrels or any of the other peculiar creatures that inhabit the woods around us, but in the pitch black of an Autumn night, they can sound so scary!
So, I'm preparing to get some watercolours done, well, that's the theory, but I really do want to knuckle down and get cracking, as before I can blink, the winter will be over, and the garden will be calling once again.
From my Autumn sketchbook.

Monday, March 18, 2013

French/English health terms, translation.

One of the most difficult language barriers for expats living in France, can be the understanding and conveying of medical terms.
Yet, it is probably one of the most important things to get right, both for the patient and the health professional.
I recently came across a very useful, free site that translates medical terms in several languages. It also has an audio button that enables the listener to hear the pronunciation.
I hope it will prove useful for expats living in France.
English to French health terms translated.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The price of food in France

2013 seems to have begun as a more expensive year than the last one. Here in France, although I'm sure we are no different to any other EU country, the fuel continues to rise and this has a knock on effect on the price of goods in the shops.
Six years ago, I would do a big trolley shop that cost around 80 euros. This week, the almost identical trolley cost 150 euros.
I could cut down a bit, forget the wine, the best cheese, and wash with the cheapest of liquids that leave the clothes in pretty well the same state as before I put them in the machine. Stamping them with my bare feet in an old tin bath would probably get them cleaner, but then it's freezing out, and I don't want to risk the old chilblains.
I digress, the cost of the shopping has risen hugely, as have the utility bills and taxes.
I know that moaning about it doesn't alter it, but it helps me to get it off my chest ... until the next time!
As you may have guessed by now, I went shopping this morning.
Have I changed my buying habits in recent years?  Well, yes actually. I now buy big packs of meat, larger cuts and make them into pies, casseroles, and soup. It goes much further, and it means that I usually have something in the freezer for lunch or supper.  I also have much less waste these days, well hardly any really.
We have a local farm that rears and sells their own meat. Organic lamb and beef that tastes really delicious. It's a great way to save money, but at this time of year, they have no stock, so it's back to the supermarket and the complaining.
Whenever I ask the shop assistant, the garage guy, the oil delivery man, the baker, about the prices, they all tell me the same thing, blame the Chinese. It's the Chinese demand for everything that's pushing up the worldwide prices. Even imported legs of lamb from New Zealand that have doubled in price in the space of three years.
Why is it then that when I visit the Asian supermarket for my Chinese meal ingredients, there prices haven't moved for ages?
I suppose it's a natural human trait to find a single cause or section of society to blame, me, I like to put the whole sorry thing firmly and squarely on the shoulders of the stock exchange traders.
So, this Spring will find me looking for a worldwide use for chickweed. Chickweed is the one commodity that I have in spadefuls in our garden,  that and horse manure. I reckon if I can crack that, I'll never have to moan about the price of anything ever again ... watch this space!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

St Patrick's day and the French

Well, St Patrick's Day may be typically Irish, but the Celtic traditions spread far and wide.
For instance, did you know that in the North of France, on the Brittany coast, they have bagpipes, lots of Celtic music and Irish bars?
In fact, all things Celtic are really enjoyed in France, Irish dance, the black drink, music.
We have a Celtic night in our local hall each summer and when Riverdance was staged here, it was a sell out.
So, France is not so far detached from the Irish as we may think.
If you are Irish, you may like to think about getting your St Patrick's Day cards now.
Great selection of St Patrick's Day paper cards online here ...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What British products do I still yearn for?

When I first left the UK, quite some years ago now, I seemed to spend lots of time searching for British brands or products that I had been used to back home.
I tried the French alternatives, but they never tasted the same and it took about three years before I lost the habit of looking for things like mint sauce in jars, custard powder, baked beans, English bacon etc.
Then, one day, I was cleaning my food cupboards out, and I realised that almost everything in them was French. Apart from an old packet of Bisto that I hadn't used for ages and brown sauce that I really can't find an alternative for.
My taste had certainly changed, and when I did try the old faithfuls again, they were such a disappointment.
Now, there are two things that I will not give up, one is the aforesaid brown sauce, and the other is my English tea bags. I buy the latter in 1100 packs at a time from a shop that sell British produce.
I make mint sauce fresh from my garden, I have converted from gravy to various sauces, the French bacon has much more flavour, so that's a no brainer now.
As we eat out for much of the year, our stodgy old meals, pastry dishes and greasy gravy have long been replaced with crudites, salads, fresh baked baguette, duck confit on a bed of nutmeg mash with a fruit coulis, fresh fish, and of course the fabulous local cheeses.
I suppose we do eat much healthier meals now and we enjoy our food much more, but there's one meal that I would never, ever, give up, and that's battered fish & chips eaten out in the fresh air.
I have to travel a long way for them, and only have them two or three times each year, but when I do ... Oh, they taste so good!

Monday, January 21, 2013

A French Village Funeral

I went to my first French funeral today.
It was for a friend and neighbour, and as we were snowed in, I had to make my way on foot.
It gave me time to think about her. She was a fun person, and although she had many health problems, she always had a big smile, greeted me with "Ma cherie" and a massive hug when we met.
The funeral wasn't a big affair, our church is tiny, but there was hardly a spare seat. She had lived in the village for over sixty years and was very well known.
I sat at the back of the church, not realising that I should have waited outside & followed all the other mourners in. Then, towards the end of the service, a man came and asked me to go to the front of the church. I had no clue as to why, but when I reached the coffin, a lady handed me a silver tube with holes in it. I looked at her, she looked at me, as did the whole of the congregation.
What on earth was I to do?
The lady then told me to dip the object in some holy water and shake it over the coffin & the flowers.
I duly did it, and then, all of the other mourners stood in a line behind me, awaiting their turn to say goodbye.
Had I realised, I may have made some small gesture, a nod or touch of the coffin, but the moment passed and I quickly returned to my seat at the back of the church.
I felt a little embarrassed, and for a moment, I wished I had said that goodbye at her side.
Then I thought about her, how she would have chided at me for being so foolish. She would have put those loving arms around me, planted kisses on both sides of my face ...and shaken with laughter.
How I will miss her.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Snow in France today

Well, I spoke too soon yesterday. Around 10pm last night, down it came, thick, white & very fluffy.
It did look beautiful, but this morning, the temperature had risen & now it's all gone again.
I love watching snow in the light of a street lamp, it reminds me of my childhood when I would keep peeking through my bedroom curtains to see the snow swirling around the amber light outside the house. The flakes looked huge and I could hardly sleep, knowing that just the other side of the window, it was piling up thick & white on the lawn, drifting against the house wall and covering the plants & trees until they had all but disappeared.
It was certainly magical then, and the thought that school would be closed was even better!
Those were the days, now I just worry about getting the post delivered ... whatever happened to childhood dreams?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Today, I had a message from my fellow artist in the UK who has a sprinkling of snow today.
This had me thinking. When I lived in the UK, what was the weather I most enjoyed and what was the least enjoyable?
Everyone says that it is only the British that discuss the weather on a regular basis, but I can tell you, that is not the case at all!
The French also love to talk about the weather, and mt French friend is the best weather girl I have ever spoken to.
If I need to know what we are in for over the next few days, I don't go to the meteo websites or the France 24 tv channel, no, I ask Marie every time, she is consistently right in her predictions.
In fact, If I has consulted her two winters ago, before I made the rash decision to venture out to the city, I wouldn't have been stuck on the motorway for five hours on a journey that normally takes 40 minutes.
So, to get back to my original thought, what weather do I look forward to seeing?
Soft rain, sunny intervals, warmth, not too hot.
My least favourite, is in July & August, searing heat, temperatures over 40c and sticky, sleep depriving nights.
Can't please us all though eh?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Snow on the way ...

The forecast is for snow this weekend, and it will be the first of the winter.
The past two years have been much colder in November & December, and we have been snowed in for three weeks at a time.
The main roads were no problem, but living as we do on a hill,  it doesn't get cleared, so we either have to walk, or stay put.
I still have some radishes in the cold frame, but I'm not sure how long they will last now.
The children have returned to school after the Christmas break, so I expect they have sledges & plastic trays in readiness,  hoping for lots of the white stuff as soon as possible.
The best thing about snow, is that we can walk around the garden and see all of the wildlife that's been prowling around the night before. Deer, badgers, red squirrels, wild boar and of course the large variety of bird life that surrounds us.
Still, roll on the spring I say!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

St Valentine's Day Origins

February 14th, Valentine's Day.
A big day in the romantic card sending calendar.
Here in France, it's generally thought that this special day began when the Duke of Orleans was captured in 1415 and taken prisoner by the English.
Imprisoned in the Tower of London, he wrote love letters back to France and they were called Les cartes d'amities, sort of friendship/love cards.

Then there's the thought that most birds and animals have their mating and courtship rituals in mid February, exactly when Valentine's Day falls. Coincidence or not?

The town of St Valentin, also in Indre, France, holds many ceremonies on this day and people take the opportunity to renew their marriage vows there on Valentine's Day.

An old custom in France, that has now been banned, was for groups of single women to enter a house right opposite a house full of single men. They would then open the windows & call to each other, pairing off as they did so.
If a man rejected the woman he had paired off with, she would then light a fire and burn his photograph, hurling abuse at him whilst she did so.
Sadly, this all got out of hand, frequently ending up as a brawl and so was banned forever by the authorities.

So, whatever you like to believe about the origins of St Valentine's Day, it's very likely that it all began in France.