The French Touch

Paris Victoria and Journal

We cannot always have Paris, but we can all have a touch of Paris in our homes.   I was surprised when I looked around my humble maison, (which more resembles a B&B), how much of a French influence I have in my surroundings, but they are small touches, understated, like the French themselves, where less is more.    The French way of life is one of order, elegance, proper routine and a good dose of perfectionism – of course this might just be a myth perpetuated by smug French women!    (The Victoria magazine cover Oct 2000 is just so French – I collect the back issues and the annual French edition is always inspiring.  This years French edition is in May/June).

Victoria Magazine French Edition

Victoria – May/June 2018 French Edition

A favorite flea market sign from Winners, in my front hallway.  (Note B&B wallpaper as I have not finished renovating the house yet, although the outside is done, but I don’t mind the wallpaper so it may have to stay).Paris Flea Market

My first and only attempt at stenciling hangs in the dining room, (don’t look too close, you really have to glue those stencils on well). Paris Sign

Who doesn’t love lavender.   I have lavender everywhere, in bowls, sachets, vases, soap….

 

Paris hatboxes and journals….

 

A special Renoir journal for jotting down blog ideas.

 

A silk scarf a friend brought me back from Paris many years ago, in my favorite color blue. Paris

And of course no aspiring Parisian would be complete without a navy striped boat neck sweater, (and some red lipstick).Paris striped shirt

HappyHauteHome, (check out her elegant blog on the modern French country home) posted about a French provincial home for sale, which looks like my dream house, but until I win the lottery, I will just have to be content with my petite accents.    To be French is an attitude, a state of mind, oui?

What blog would be complete without une recommandation de livre.

The French way of life is a call to pay attention, an appreciation of all matters large and small, including food, which is to be savored without guilt or worry.   I can smell those fresh baguettes already.    French Women Don’t Get Fat.

French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for PleasureFrench Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable read, this book certainly provided a different way of looking at eating, for pleasure and without guilt about calories or cholesterol. I think I’ll go for a long walk to the boulangerie….like the French do!

After reading so much about their chocolat chaud, I decided to try making my own.   I added four squares of Baker’s semi-sweet chocolate (but any good dark chocolate would do), to a bit of water and microwaved it well until it melted into a nice chocolatey gooey mess, then a few teaspoons of sugar and the milk, and microwaved it again until hot.  Um….like drinking a chocolate bar.   Maybe best to add  only add two squares……  

My only venture into French cooking was a failed attempt at beef bourguignon which I ruined by using a cheap red burgundy, despite the advice of the LCBO clerk that I should trade up to a better vintage.  She was adamant, I did not listen.   I hadn’t shopped at the liquor store for years (other than an annual trek at Christmas to buy rum for the pudding), and was horrified by the wine prices, when I only needed a cup and a half?    The best that could be said for it was that it was edible….if you were very hungry and very poor like Hemingway in his early days.

One day while shopping at a very expensive bakery ($55 for a birthday cake – let them eat Betty Crocker!), I spied a lovely tray of pastel macarons, and even though they were $2.50 per cookie I decided to splurge – totally tasteless.    If this is what Proust was going on about with his French madeleines, I think I’ll pass. The best part of the cookie by far was the turquoise color.   It’s good to try new things sometimes, if only to find out what you don’t like.   I do like crepes though, my favorite tea shop used to offer an excellent chicken and mushroom crepe until they closed due to a rent increase.   On my farewell visit I asked the owner for the recipe, and she said just make a basic roux, so I did, but my roux was thick and pasty from too much floor.   Julia Child I am not, so I will need to try again as I do miss the tea shop.  We have no need to fear the cream filled calories of France however, as gardening season will soon be here and now that spring has sprung, we can walk it off.     Next week we will be in Italy, along the coast, bring sunscreen.   Until then enjoy the spring flowers.

Muguet du bois,

Lily of the Valley
Lily of the Valley

 

 

 

 

Counting Sheep

Tick tock, it’s three o’clock…..do you know where your mind is?  It’s not asleep, and you’re tired of sheep…..

The Sheep Dog - AMc - 2017

The Sheep Dog – 2017

Anyone who has ever encountered the insomnia monster at some point in their stress-filled lives please raise their weary heads.    You know those dark nights of the soul where all the angst in your little corner of the world converges on your poor befuddled brain in an agony of what-ifs, and you even start to worry about worrying.

Okay Book

Worry Journal

After a few nights of this nonsense, you’re waaaaay overtired, much too tired to sleep and then you start to worry about never ever sleeping again, and how are you going to function the next day on two hours sleep when it’s already three o’clock and all you’ve done is toss and turn for hours, and it’s already starting to get light just as you nod off and the alarm clock shrieks from across the room, and you rise feeling like something the cat dragged in.    Whoever invented daylight savings time should be fired.    It’s bad enough that it’s getting light earlier in the morning, and the returning birds are twittering up a storm because they’re all excited about spring, and I’m excited too but I just don’t want to spring forward.   As a former shift-worker, I’m not the best sleeper anyway.  My circadian rhythm has been irreversibly damaged by years of flipping between days and evenings, but that lost extra hour seems to throw my delicate system all out of balance.   Like many people I sleep better in the winter, when we can all hibernate like the bears in their caves which are warm and dark, no black out curtains needed.   Now that I’m retired sleep isn’t as crucial as it used to be, as I don’t have to get up in the morning, or if I do I don’t have to be as alert as when I was working, but the world does not function on a 2-10 am sleep schedule.   The world is full of morning people.   I used to be one of them.  So it was with great interest that I read The Sleep Solution by W.Chris Winter.    What would a blog be without a good book, so here’s some bibliotherapy for insomniacs.

The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix ItThe Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It by W. Chris Winter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a good read for anyone who struggles with insomnia or shift work. The author is a neurologist and sleep specialist physician. Not sure that I learned anything new, other than we sleep more than we think we do, even during the worst night of insomnia, because sleep is an inborn instinct, which is nice to know when you are trying to muddle through the next day. Nobody dies from lack of sleep, (unless I suppose you are in a car accident), and you always do manage to get through the day. It was an interesting perspective, and certainly lessens the worry associated with getting to sleep, which can be a vicious cycle. It’s a bit scientific but written in a humorous style which makes a dry subject entertaining ie it did not put me to sleep…..although I might have had a short nap on the swing…

The key advice I got out of this book is, a) your body craves sleep, it is a basic human drive, so we do sleep more than we think we do even on a night when we swear we didn’t sleep a wink, and b) we always function the next day.   This is a simple concept, but somehow reassuring, and helps to break the worry cycle which is the worst part of insomnia, the worrying about not sleeping.  Take the worry away, and you can sleep like a baby, well not quite, but it’s a refreshing idea.   Of course, the book delves into the usual sleep hygiene routines, exercise, limiting caffeine, nothing new there, as well as chapters on sleep apnea, shift work etc.  The author says no one ever died from insomnia, but that’s where I disagree.   Studies show that accident rates are always higher in the week after the daylight savings shift, as are heart attacks.   They have also shown a link between insomnia and obesity, diabetes, dementia, addiction and cancer.  The WHO has now labelled shift work as a probable human carcinogen.   Lack of sleep decreases natural killer cell levels by 75% according to some reports.  (It’s enough to make you get that worry journal out!)  Unfortunately, we have become a sleep-deprived society.

Meditation can be a useful tool to promote sleep.  I once took a six week meditation class and while I did not have any luck meditating (lack of practice), a more experienced classmate told me she could nod off after five minutes.   I was impressed, but she had been meditating for years.   What did work for me was a meditation tape.   The best part of the class was the melodious voice of the instructor, so I bought her CD, and listen to the insomnia meditation (13 minutes), if I’m having trouble winding down.   Or if I wake up too early (those pesky birds), I will put it on again with my ear buds, and get a couple more hours of deep restful sleep.  (Why is the most restful sleep always towards dawn?)   The tape is almost like a form of hypnosis, her soporific voice counting to ten and then back down again is so relaxing, and there is music in the background, so it’s like a lullaby for grownups.    One day in class she suggested we chose a special song so our bodies would learn to associate that song with relaxation.     She played, Shenandoah by James Galway, and I left feeling like a jellyfish.   I never listen to that song in the car however, driving while a jellyfish would not be a good idea.

Speaking of music, the song Count Your Blessings from White Christmas, is a lovely visual aid to falling asleep, when you’re tired of those stupid sheep…..seriously, has counting sheep ever worked for anyone?     (I apologize for the Bing Crosby again but I grew up on his music).   Old Bing just might have been the inspiration for those gratitude journals which were all the rage.   I tried a gratitude journal once but found it only made me worry about losing my blessings, but it may work for some (more optimistic) people.

If you struggle with insomnia it’s good to have a bedtime routine, so your body knows it’s time for sleep.    A cup of tea and a snack is a relaxing way to unwind.   Bedtime snack

TV and electronic devices can be overstimulating, so turn them off an hour before bed, especially those bright blue light cell phones, which I’m sure will some day be found to cause eye damage.   Low lighting is restful.   Reading is good, unless it’s a suspense novel you can’t put it down.   I jot down a few lines in my five year diary as a summary of the day.   Reading a few pages of an inspirational book can also be a reflective way to end the day.   

There’s something about the smell of lavender that is so calming.  Spraying the room with lavender pillow spray can become a sleep routine association and this can work well if you travel and are staying in hotels rooms with stale air.

Lavender Spray
Lavender Pillow Spray

A more portable option is putting a lavender sachet under the pillow for sweet dreams.

Lavender sachets

Lavender sachets

Lavender also reminds me of France, a country that has an appreciation for all things lovely, and that is known for taking long lunches mid-day, with plenty of expresso after you are fed and rested.   Try and get lots of sleep, because we’ll be spending April in Paris.   Unfortunately, jet lag is a whole other story….

Quote of the Day:

“Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care
The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”
(William Shakespeare, Macbeth)

What are your secrets for getting to sleep on those dark nights of the soul?

Lavender and Pears

Pears & Lavender -AMc-Aug/17

Lavender & Pears – Aug 2017

         There were pear trees on the homeplace and every year my father would make pear marmalade.   At least he said he made it, but in reality I think he just collected the pears and helped my mother peel them.   This was during the late seventies when I was away at school so there was no witness to this event but as in his later years when he used to vacuum the dog hair from the carpet and called himself a regular Molly Maid, I suspect it was a bit of an exaggeration.   For a decade or so, my mother made peach jam, pear marmalade and three fruit marmalade.  I remember taking jars of it to university in the fall and having it for breakfast in my dorm if I didn’t go down to the dining hall.   I didn’t go home very often as it was too far away, but one year when I had been in hospital with a kidney stone they brought me a fresh supply – it was like a taste of summer in February, and much better than the store-bought stuff.    I don’t know the difference between jam and marmalade and preserves, but it was all boiled down on the stove.

Pear Marmalade

Pear Marmalade

I made it the old-fashioned way last year with two $4 baskets of pears and it was good, but having learned my lesson from the peach jamfest, I decided to stick to the freezer jam recipe from Certo Light – less work and still good flavour.   Only it wasn’t good flavour.  There wasn’t a recipe for pear jam on the package insert so I used the one for peaches.  The pears were overripe, (I had gotten distracted by preparing for a tea party for the Group of Seven Art Ladies) so basically the whole mixture turned to mush.   I added too much pectin, and not enough sugar, so it came out very gel-like.   Basically, it was edible, but barely.  I stuck in the freezer anyway, but it will probably end up being thrown out.   I much preferred last years, but it was ore time consuming.  

       You can buy quite lovely jam at the farmer’s market for $5 a jar.   The stand owner told me it is made from the juice and pectin, as they make it year round and you can’t get fresh fruit in the winter, but the taste is quite good.   I buy the crabapple jelly, but there are all kinds of exotic flavours like gooseberry jam (we had an old gooseberry bush too, which would produce one or two berries a year), Saskatoon jam, red current jelly, plum jam etc.   When I was at the museum craft sale last Sunday there were several tables selling homemade jams and jellies – hey let someone else do the work!   I think that’s why my mother quit canning. 

Lavender harvest  

The lavender harvest is in…. sixteen small mesh (party store) bags.  I placed them on the harvest tea table as party favours but they are quite lovely for lingerie drawers, or tucked under a pillow for sweet dreams. 

 

Song of The Day:  A Partridge in a Pear Tree – click here for music link                                                      – Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters

Sorry, but it’s the only song I could come up – may I be forgiven for reminding people that it’s only 3 months until Christmas.