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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

Early Spring Plants 2014

Friday, February 28, 2014

Spring comes early to Texas, 
long before the northern states. 
The average last freeze date in north Texas is 
March 13.



Even though there are still about two weeks 
before the last average freeze date, 
my kitchen three-shelf planter holds 
small bedding plants that  
brighten my spirits. 



Bright sunshine streams in through the sunspace windows, 
providing plenty of sun for the early plants. 



Living ivy fills the twig 'purse planter,' 
a gift that held a cut-flower arrangement several years ago. 
Green moss covered the twig planter when I received it, 
but over the years the moss has dried out and turned brown. 
  Yet, I still love it and fill it with new plants regularly. 


 As much as I love real plants, I have a 
hard time keeping them alive. 
The ivy inside must be replaced often, but 
the fake snowdrop looks good year after year. 



Currently, the new ivy bedding plants 
are thriving and shelter a small bird's nest with a glittered egg. 



Spearmint four-inch plants are awaiting transplanting outside the 
back door into a large clay pot when the freeze threat passes. 



I love mint in iced tea in the summertime 
and like having it close to the back door. 



The plants lean toward the sun and have to be turned every couple of days. 



When transplanted to the larger clay pot outdoors, 
the little runners will root and create more leafy mint stems. 
Mint is a hardy plant that is hard to kill 
and thrives even if neglected. 
Often mint becomes invasive when 
planted directly into the soil instead of a pot. 
Which makes it perfect for me. 
Between the hot dry summers here and me, 
plants have to be hardy to survive.  



On the same shelf as the peppermint plants are  
beeswax candles in the shapes of 
a half-moon face, a spade, and a heart. 
I found these many years ago in my sister's store in 
Kennebunk, Maine.



Rosemary is drought tolerant which makes it 
an excellent plant for my area,  
another one that I usually plant it in a container outside. 




For now, I am enjoying the rosemary inside. 
Each time I water it, I gently brush the stems with my hands 
to release the plant's fragrance. 



On the floor nearby is a white ranunculus with deep purple centers. 



Spring... 
Just around the corner! 
March 20, 2014 
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Friendship Lunch

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Friendship... 

In appreciation of friends who helped with the 
Academic Decathlon contest in January, 
I hosted a small 
Friendship Lunch. 

 Preparations took place over several days with many details 
to create an ambiance of friendship. 
Since Valentine's Day was the Friday before the lunch, 
hearts and flowers were a perfect way to say, 
"Friends!" 

What makes a lunch special? 
Makes friends feel special? 

Details! 

Table Setting with Flowers 
Individual Plants as Small Gifts 
Fabric Tablecloth and Napkins 
Sterling Silver Flatware 
Printed Friendship Prose 
Room Decor 
Heart-Shaped Homemade Individual Quiches 
Heart-Shaped Butter Pats 
Dessert Served on Cake Stands 

A key to tying together all the parts of a lunch is 
to repeat design patterns and motifs. 
People often do not know why they 
enjoy a setting, 
but chances are the reason is 
continuity derived via a theme. 
Disjointed images are unsettling to the mind, 
causing it to "jump around," 
but repeated patterns with variations 
create harmony,  
allowing the mind to connect the images 
and to form an overall soothing setting. 



White snapdragons tied with a wired ribbon 
and standing with their feet in a bed of clear glass hearts 
were the centerpiece for the simply set table. 
By tying the flowers with the ribbon, 
the arrangement looks fuller than 
one with the flowers freely leaning in the vase. 



The clear glass hearts in the base of the vase help set the tone as a friendship lunch 
and help anchor the flowers so they do not slide around.... 
a loose "frog" that helps support the flower stems. 



An inexpensive gift for each guest is a small herb bedding plant. 
Although winter is still raging, nurseries and hardware stores 
begin offering small plants in our area in February. 
Later the plants will be larger and more costly. 



By repotting the herb into a small clay pot, 
the lowly mint plant adopts an air of élan. 
Easy to buy in advance, repot, and set aside... 
Just be careful the plants do not dry out. 
To my dismay, that is exactly what happened to me 
a couple of days before the party. 
Placing them in a large oval baking dish, 
I was able to soak them in water and revive them. 
Whew!

Remember to include plant care directions that come with the plants. 


How to connect the small gift to the party? 

A small heart cookie cutter was just the right size 
for tracing a heart on white watercolor paper, 
one of my favorite papers to use for any project.  
The texture and thickness of watercolor paper 
add depth, and the paper is another way to create élan once again. 
Decorative-edged scissors give the hearts yet another layer of élan.



Why white? 
Several reasons... 
The snapdragons are white, the dishes are white, 
the tablecloth and napkins are white, and 
Martha Stewart makes 
the cutest little white sticker hearts 
that added a more defined heart shape to the card. 

The watercolor paper allows other colors to be used 
by watercoloring the background whatever hue matches the theme. 
Other sticker shapes can be used. 


Individual mint plants at each place setting dress the table 
and provide a heavenly mint fragrance. 
Since the lunch was served buffet style, the plants 
keep the table from looking bare. 

For lunches served family style, the plants grouped 
in a clear baking dish could be set on a side table 
within view to enjoy and within easy reach to 
present to guests as they leave. 


A small paper coaster protects the tablecloth while looking pretty. 



Printed on wausauPAPER metallics, 
each place setting has my favorite quote about friendship. 

Four quotes fit onto one 8.5"x11" sheet. 
The specialty paper is for inkjet, laser, and copier machines 
and comes in more than one metallic finish. 
Champagne pearl is shown, 
and it has a soft shimmery texture.  
Office Depot carries it in my neighborhood. 



White plates, white fabric napkins, and sterling flatware 
complement the white snapdragons and mint plants, 
recede into the background, and
allow the flowers and plants to be the main attractions on the table. 



Small individual-sized preserved boxwood heart topiaries 
are near the buffet served on the kitchen island. 



The shelf holds hand-thrown pottery with vine designs in soft colors. 



Under an etched-glass cloche, the heart topiary is in a miniature clay pot, 
repeating the clay pots of the mint plants. 



A large preserved boxwood heart topiary and a vase of hyacinths 
preside over the dessert table in the kitchen. 



Pear tartes from France made dessert quick and easy. 
Trader Joe's stocks these ready-to-eat tartes from France. 
Just thaw for about 30 minutes to an hour. 



Such an easy dessert gave more time for making 
homemade bacon and onion quiches 
in a baking dish with six individual wells. 
Since the recipe can be made up to three days in advance, 
multiple batches of individual quiches can be made, 
stored in casserole dishes in the refrigerator, 
and reheated in the oven the morning of the party.



Also, an easy dessert allowed time for cutting individual 
heart-shaped butter pats using a pastry cutter. 



Friendship... 
Thank you to all my wonderful friends, 
both in the real world and the virtual world.  
My life is much richer because of you. 
~~~~~~~~~~
Information about sources is included 
for my readers, and I did not receive any 
compensation of any kind for my information. 
I like to know these kinds of things so 
I know where to find items, and 
think others do, too. 
~~~~~~~~~~
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Friendship Lunch Prep #1

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Valentine's Day 
is not only a day/time for expressing 
romantic love. 

Valentine's Day is a perfect time 
to celebrate 
Friendship.

During January, 
many of my dear friends and retired colleagues 
responded to my pleas for help 
with the Regional Academic Decathlon Competition 
that I coordinate.  

Long story, but due to an unexpected 
realignment of the schools in each region, 
I found our region had lost over forty of our usual volunteers 
to help conduct the contest. 

Many of my friends stepped in 
to fill the slots for lost volunteers, and helped  
to organize materials, to provide food for hospitality, and 
to judge the speech event.  
The contest was a huge success. 

Now I am preparing for a 
Friendship Lunch 
to show my love and appreciation to them.   
Perfect timing for the week of 
Valentine's Day 
to use hearts and flowers. 


This week I have been busy cleaning and decorating, 
the first step for preparing for a party. 


The pine chest at the end of the fireplace that separates 
the living room and kitchen 
will be very visible during the party. 


 Valentine's Day and French-inspired touches 
set the tone for friendship love. 


Flowers, pink, France, beloved books, and a heart-shaped ivy 
portray a feminine, romantic theme. 


The ivy heart, an early Valentine's Day present 
from my sister, reminds me of family love.  
The beautiful magnolia-decorated gift bag 
was part of my birthday present from her last year. 


All the details on the bag bring wonderful memories. 

FRANCE...  
she and I have traveled there together many times.

A lavender-edged wire ribbon bow...
 her favorite color is peach.

Magnolia blossoms...  
a traditional southern flower that filled the 
window ledges of the church at my wedding. 


A fleur-de-lis stand holds what could be a Valentine's card. 
Another symbol of friendship... 


The trio of silver-plated forks was found 
at a small neighborhood flea market in Paris 
during one of those trips my sister and I shared. 



Tied with a two-tone silk ribbon, the forks are left unpolished 
to reflect their vintage heritage. 


Since the chest will be viewed from three sides, 
a little glass jar of French-script 
sits behind the stack of books. 

There is still more decorating to come,
invitations to create and to send, 
small favors to make, 
tables to set, and 
food to prepare.

What fun it is to show 
others how much they are appreciated. 
What fun it is to share 
the party preparations with 
all of you, 
allowing you to be a 
virtual guest. 
~~~~~~~~~~
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Presentation... French Flair for Style

Saturday, February 1, 2014


One of the nicest discoveries
I made on my first trip to France was how
every shop wrapped purchases,  
including the most humble,
not just the expensive,
Lauduree. 
Each time I watched
a shop keeper expertly wrap a purchase, 
I was enthralled with the detail and care
taken in wrapping each and every
purchase which was often
tied with a flourish and
presented to the 
purchaser with
style.  

A gesture
that expresses the
French flair of living...
Living with
style.

Presentation 
transforms an event, day, object, or gift  
from the ordinary to the sublime, 
and creates a memorable vision  
for the eyes, for the heart, 
and, for the 
spirit.



Soap becomes a
miniature painting 
of the Eiffel Tower 
or  


A painting of a flower garden 
visited by an exquisite 
dragonfly.


Anticipation is 
heightened by presentation and
an actual event, day, or gift
becomes even more
special. 

Following the example of
French presentations,
I decided to create
gifts that
say
Valentine's Day!

A small gift
dressed in white textured gift wrap,
tied with silky pink ribbons, and
adorned with a hand-stamped
French-script pink feather and
white Murano glass heart
 invites the receiver to
linger over the
wrapping,

and 

the presentation creates
a Valentine's gift
of whatever
lies inside.

The addition of a simple heart
transforms any gift into a
Valentine's gift
of love.


Just the addition of a rustic wire heart 
entwined with the remnants of a former plant 
lifts the small lobelia flower from a simple 
beautiful bedding plant to a 
special gift that evokes 
an expression of 
love. 

Special gifts do not have to cost a lot.

A four-inch bedding plant
lovingly tended and fertilizer fed
becomes a very special gift
with just a little extra
flair.

Presentation transforms a moment into
a priceless memory
filled with
love.


Presentation...
that says,
"Be my Valentine."

With a French flair for style...

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