Palm Sunday (Rameaux) From Both Sides

Palm Sunday started on Saturday with a rare service at our 12th century church, St Clair’s, in Nouzerines. It’s seldom open so we make sure we go to every event that’s held there to show our support for this wonderful building.

The service was taken entirely by lay preachers. In generally pedantic and rule-following France, that was something of a surprise. Generally everything has to be done by someone with proper qualifications in triplicate. I guess that there’s not enough priests to go around any more.

Another surprise was that Chris was asked to carry the cross in the opening procession. Stéphanie, who led the service, pounced as we came in the door. Chris was delighted to be asked, but a little embarrassed since he, Rors and I had cycled down, so he was wearing cycling longs and a bright yellow cycling jacket. He removed the latter – to reveal his very old Denis the Menace jumper! But nobody seemed to mind his unconventional appearance and he did a very good job. The cross, a jug of water and a picture of Jesus were left on the altar.

The most interesting feature of the ceremony was the blessing of buis, boxwood or box elder, at the end. Those in the know, that is everyone except us, had come clutching a generous spray of it. There was a basket with some in at the door for people who’d either forgotten or never known to bring their own. The water from the jug, which was blessed during the service, was emptied into the font at the end. Then as people went out, they dipped their buis into the font, gave it a little shake and took the damp shrub home to display in the house over Easter.

Today, the day itself, we saw the secular side of Easter preparation celebrations. It was the school chasse d’oeufs, Easter Egg hunt, this year at the stadium in Nouzerines. We cycled down again and were nearly late since I had to do a last minute bike swap due to a puncture. It was its usual happy and disorganised chaos. Rors found five eggs and claimed his prize.

It was a fundraising do, naturally, but I was happy to buy the two very impressing objets (objects) – that’s how the teachers described them! – that Ruadhri had painstakingly made. Rors isn’t a great one for crafting so these took real application and dedication on his part. First there’s a noteholder with a wonderful pin and cotton éolienne (windmill). Rors chose to do the background in my favourite colour blue and added some pretty ribbon round the edge.

And the other gift was a tissue holder made from layers of card and wallpaper. I’m mega impressed and now have high expectations for what’s coming my way on Fête des Mères at the end of May. And that one will be free!

A Crafty New Year with Serviettage

First of all, Happy New Year.

I love crafts so I’m always excited to try something new in the make and do line. For my latest venture I’ve gone French and seen what I can create with paper napkins (serviettes). This craft, not surprisingly, is known as serviettage.

Now, French people love their napkins. No matter how small, every little general store will have some pretty ones tucked away somewhere. Back in Ireland you could only ever get plain ones, and often they were only rolled out on special occasions. But all year round in France you can find a huge variety of fancy napkins. And the reason is mainly because of their role in brico (make and do), and not because les français are particularly messy eaters.

Skilful serviettagistes can create fantastic, delicate examples of découpage (cutting out) using napkins. See the examples on this website for example.

But anyone can have a go at being creative with 3-ply paper products. I was inspired by these napkin-adorned Christmas decorations that I picked up at Nouzerines Marché de Noël in 2010. (As you see, it’s take me a little while to work my way round to actually wielding glue and paper.)

So, let’s get started. You need napkins, obviously, and also a PVA type glue, paintbrush and something to decorate. I’ve gone with large tin cans which will become plant holders. However, large shells, small glass jars, wooden bangles, notebooks – you can choose pretty much anything and everything to decorate.

Here’s the glue I’m using, although I’m not convinced it’s the optimum stuff. I’m mixing it with an equal amount of water. (Do you get the pun in the name? Quelyd = Quelle idée (what a great idea!) pronunciation wise.) It’s not often you come across witty glue!

I scrubbed and dried my tins out and then cut up the serviettes into small, unevenly shaped pieces. I sloshed a good coating of my glue mix over a small area of the tin, laid on a piece of napkin and then coated that with more glue mix.

And so on and so forth, until the whole tin was covered. Ideally it will have a shiny veneer when the glue dries, but it has to be said my first effort didn’t, which is why I think I may have the incorrect colle (glue). However, it looks very pretty and will brighten up the house in a suitably French way.

It’s a quick and easy craft, and a relatively low budget one, that you really can’t go wrong with. I found it very relaxing and it gave me a real sense of achievement when I’d finished, even though my efforts were on the humble side.

I thoroughly recommend it.

My current project drying

This site gives you the complete know-how in French. English ones here.

Calendriers de l’Avent – Advent Calendars

We hung our Advent Calendar up this morning, all ready for the 1st of December tomorrow. We have a beautiful one which was made by Caiti’s wonderful godmother Janet Lane. As you can see, it’s a Christmas tree with rick-rack tinsel and 24 little pads of velcro sewn on.

In the pockets at the bottom are 24 wooden shapes, ranging from cats to candles to candy canes, and you stick the appropriate day’s one on. Ruadhri spends time rearranging them so that he gets to put all his favourite ones up on his allotted days.

Reusable Advent Calendars like this one are the best sort for all sorts of reasons, not least because you can make them for yourself. The French adore their ‘bricolage’, crafting. There are hundreds of different craft magazines for sale everywhere, dedicated to such things as the more unusual wooden spoon crafts and flowerpot crafts, as well as more familiar stencilling, window painting, knitting, crochet and so on. And there are magazines devoted to making Advent Calendars. They’re huge over here. I’ve picked out a few examples from the Net to show you what ideas people come up with.

Felt cones in Irish colours! (aupotagedesdames)
Little knitted gloves - this one is super! (echevette)
Matchboxes are used here (from leblogdepatsi).

I invented my own a couple of years ago. I crocheted a red triangle with a white bottom from cut up teeshirts to represent Santa’s hat. I then sewed on 24 bullet cases into which Chris had drilled tiny holes. Let me explain. I don’t associate Santa with weapons. It’s simply that with four gun club members in the house, the youngest two of which come home from every visit to the range with their pockets stuffed full of shiny brass bullet cases of various sizes, then there is a vast supply of them laying around the house at any time needing to have something done with them. Plus I was making the calendar for our sure-shot, bull’s-eye-everytime Caiti so it was appropriate. Then I printed out a joke or a seasonal slogan in very small type on a very small piece of paper for each day, rolled it up and slipped it into the bullet casing. Voilà ! I think Caits has taken the calendar to lycée with her as I can’t find it to take a picture of. If it shows up, I will!

We’ve put Santa up on the gate too. I bought this guy and his clone our first winter here. They were all the rage that year and I felt it important to fit in. When in Rome, after all.

Santa is nearly as big as Rors!

Santa has survived five winters out in the cold so far and looks none the worse for wear. Good old China, manufacturing so much stuff out of totally indestructible materials! The odd thing about him is the pair of green mittens that it has. Green? Everyone knows they should be red. And also I’m not sure specs are the best idea for a bloke who’s going up and down a billion chimneys in one night. They’d be bound to fall off somewhere and would certainly get filthy. But evidently the People’s Republic think they’re appropriate.

Poor Santa, out in the cold again

And, rather creepily, Santa’s head can turn 180 degrees so he turns into a bit of a horror Santa any time Benj has been anywhere near him!

Enough to give you nightmares!

Punctures, pot pourri and planning pig-out breakfasts!

Our puncture saga continues. I had another flat tyre yesterday. Chris got the tyre irons out again and got busy and found the culprit that he’d missed last time. A tiny thorn. But … that’s all it takes.

So he put a patch on, put everything back together, pumped up the tyre and boom! It exploded.

What's left of the inner tube

If you’ve never heard it, when an inner tube blows up, it’s loud! Certainly makes you jump. Chris once left his bike in the hot sun after pumping up the tyres a bit too enthusiastically. That made an incredible bang when it blew up. I jumped out of my skin and was a nervous wreck for days afterwards! So I’m still without my mountain bike until I get to Leclerc in Gueret for some more inner tubes. Luckily I have the indestructible, clanky-geared purple bike as a standby so I can keep cycling.

I’ve been craftily creative – at last. A little bit anyway. I rustled up some very quick and simple pot pourri sachets to go into the chest of drawers and cupboards in the gite.

I noticed the other day that they had that old wood smell about them. Not unpleasant, but I thought that a spot of pot pourri would be lift it. I originally intended to put dried lavender in my sachets. I have quite a large bag of it. Somewhere. Could I find it today? Sadly no – this is why I need to get more organised! I’ve used pot pourri instead, but having bought some nice bars of budget chevrefeuille (honeysuckle) Marseilles soap this morning, I’m hatching an idea involving them and some of the dozens of linen baby bonnets we inherited here at Les Fragnes. I desperately want to do something with all the old clothes we found. They’re sitting in sacks in the barn at the moment, which they don’t deserve. I have used some of the embroidered bibs I found. They had been nibbled by rats or mice and spoiled but I was able to salvage some of the material. I used it to make keyrings and fridge magnets, which I’ve very pleased with.

Isn't the embroidery beautiful! I wonder who did it.

The meal planning hasn’t been going that well. The drawing up the meals schedule is fine – but not the sticking to it. Too many unexpected things got in the way last week. So I’m going to concentrate on breakfasts only for the rest of this week. Now that we’re cycling to school, we have an extra twenty minutes in the morning before we need to leave, which gives time to cook something. Since I need comfort food at the moment, breakfasts are going to be special the rest of this week.

Wednesday: Welsh pancakes. My kids LOVE these. They’re basically a fried scone. I serve them yogurt and they don’t last long. I don’t bother sieving my flour and use granulated sugar. And definitely a free-range egg.

Thursday: eggy bread. I have a lot of bread to use up, and even more eggs. I have nine hens and at least seven of them are laying every day (not necessarily the same seven), so the egg pile is getting big. I’m giving them away left, right and centre, but still have loads left. So for good eggy bread,beat 3 eggs into a wide, flattish bowl. Add a little milk, salt and pepper. Then dip slices of slightly stale bread into the mix. Prod it around with a fork so the egg soaks in well. Turn the slice over and soak the other side. Now fry in a hot pan for a minute or so until the bread goes golden brown. My kids like it with ketchup but I prefer mine plain. Or with lardons (diced pieces of bacon – you don’t get bacon rashers over here). This recipe is very like French pain perdu which I’ll return to in my blog very soon.

This is just a few days' worth of eggs!

Friday: pumpkin and blackberry muffins, since I have way loads of frozen pumpkin puree and blackberries in the freezer that need using up. I like this recipe but will be using my own puree rather than canned pumpkin, and blackberries rather than blueberries. We’ll be having these with fromage blanc to add a French, low-fat touch.

I’m looking forward to the next three breakfasts!