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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

Mountain Blue Barn

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Remember that feeling when school was out for 
summer vacation?
Lazy days that stretched out before us 
with no schedules, just going where 
the day took us. 

Roads in north Alabama wind through 
the foothills of the Appalachians 
and remind me of the lazy days of school summer vacation. 

Days when unexpected detours can happen. 
Like spotting an old blue barn...

And pulling over to look at it from all sides. 

Wherever we were going can wait on a lazy 
summer day. 

A rusty old metal roof and peeling blue paint 
say, "Country." 

A glimpse of a horse trailer says, "Horses," but 
where are the horses? 
None in the field around the barn. 

Just a birdhouse across the road near the closest house. 

A quiet day with no person or animals in sight,
not even a buzzing bee or fly. 
A lazy day in summer in the country...

Beat up, patched together, metal siding at odd angles, 
the barn needs repairs. 

Seeing the old blue barn along meandering 
Appalachian roads was worth the detour 
on this summer day. 
Amazing how light can change color 
from medium true blue to pale turquoise blue...

One last look as we slowly drive away 
on a lazy summer day. 
Summer days when life slows down 
and stretches out before us full of 
promise for more unexpected pleasant detours... 
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Hydrangeas and Bunnies

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The hydrangeas from Mother's house are still beautiful. 

blue hydrangeas full of color and life sit in blue metal pots to dry

Still full of color and full of life. 

Hydrangeas Filled Copper Pot

Sunday, July 21, 2013

My mother grows hydrangeas by the bushels, 
from branches she bent over and buried in dirt,
then transplanted. 
Blue ones, pink ones, magenta ones, white ones, green ones, 
all down the north side of the attached garage, 
around the corner and along the east side of the house, 
and all across the back of the detached garage. 


Antique copper pot filled with huge blue hydrangeas

My favorite... you guessed it... blue...
This may be my favorite flower...seriously.

I did not get the hydrangea-growing gene. 
I've killed too many plants to count.

Great Wall of China

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Does everyone have a list, 
written or unwritten, 
of all the things they want to do and/or to see 
in their lifetimes? 

The Great Wall of China 
has been part of my dreams 
for as long as I can remember. 

For all of my life it had been a distant dream in my mind. 
One of those dreams that remained vague, without a real plan to achieve. 
Just always ..."one day" glimmered in my mind for a brief few minutes ... 
then back to reality ...  
everyday going to work, paying bills, 
and taking much smaller, less expensive trips. 

But, on June 23, 2013, 
I saw The Great Wall of China, Mutianyu Section in person. 
My first glimpse of The Wall was from the parking lot 
far below The Wall, far below the entrance to the site, 
and far below the loading platform for the cable cars in the photo. 

Two options for reaching The Wall high up on the mountain tops.

Option One:  A 30-minute (for teenagers, longer for mature women), 
uphill all the way, HIKE!

Option Two: A 5- to 10-minute hike uphill to the ticket entrance, 
then to a cable car platform 
for a 5-minute cable car ride to the top. 
Which one you ask did I choose? 
Hmmm...the cable car photo is a clue.

More than 3000 miles long and built off and on from about 220 B.C. 
to the mid-1700s, much of The Wall as it is today was restored and rebuilt 
in the mid-1600s to the mid-1700s.
 The Mutianyu section was completed before the mid-1600s 
and was most recently restored in the early 1980s. 

Dressed as Genghis Khan, he is a reminder that The Wall was built 
to deter invaders from the north. 

The Mutianyu section has 23 gates or guard towers and is located about 
two hours from Beijing, China. 
Two other sections are closer to Beijing which means fewer 
tourists visit this section. 
The cable car platform at the top is near Gate 14. 

I touched The Great Wall with both my hands and 
walked up and down it marveling at the awesomeness of THE WALL. 

There were other visitors that day, 
but frequently there were periods when no one else 
was in view nearby.

Leaning out the openings, I gazed silently for long minutes at other gates 
and long sections of the wall, pondering its beauty, endurance, 
and significance to both the Chinese and the rest of the world.

Look at that WALL, that GATE, and
 that beautiful BLUE SKY on the day my tour group was at The Wall. 
Our guide said the group he escorted the week before had 
rainy, horrible weather in which the Wall was fogged in. 
Those tourists could barely see the Wall in front of them. 

Oh, how fortunate that I was able to see The Wall 
of my dreams! 

Look really, really hard at the photo above.  
There are two teeny, tiny 'gates' on the mountain ridge 
in the distance.  See them on either side of the large gate in the foreground? 

Up and down mountain ridges for as far as the eye could see, 
we could see The Wall atop mountain ridge after mountain ridge. 
I knew it stretched for thousands of miles, but never 
realized how much of it is visible to the naked eye 
all at one time. 

The Great Wall of China completes the unwritten list 
from my youth of places to visit. 

As I stare at this photo, I am instantly back on The Wall 
in that moment marveling at the unbelievable grandeur 
and the unbelievable reality that I was really there, 
on The Great Wall of China.
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Blue Delphiniums

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Blue flowers of any kind 
are welcome in my home and garden. 

Just when I think I have definitely chosen a favorite flower,
blue of course, 
I see another variety and change my mind. 
Lobelia, hydrangea, muscari, agapanthus, and let's not forget 
the Texas state flower, bluebonnet, all are my favorite, 
for a while...
until I see another favorite! 
Oh, yes, there is blue sage. 
I just remembered scabiosa.   
See what I mean? 

Immediately inside the entrance of the new Trader Joe's in Fort Worth 
are the fresh-cut flowers for sale. 
Trader Joe's knows marketing.

Not only did the store have pink peonies the day
I was shopping, it also had 

How exquisite! 
Each individual flower shimmers in the sun. 
The unopened buds are spurs, much like columbines. 
Oh I love blue columbines. 
Maybe that is really my favorite flower.

I have not had delphiniums in years.  
The local grocery stores do not stock delphiniums, 
nor do the local florists I sometimes frequent for special occasions. 

Alas, delphinium is not one of those flowers that 
my mom grows in Alabama, 
nor does anyone I know in north Texas grow them. 

Bleu, blue, periwinkle...  

A sea of blue in my house...
on the walls, on the kitchen countertops, on upholstered chairs, 
on sheets, on toile bed pillows, on dishes, on rugs, 
on curtains, on dish towels, on flower pots...
even my Olympus camera is blue

The blue delphiniums were the first thing in my basket at Trader Joe's. 
The pink peonies were a fast second. 

My house needed them. 

My eyes needed them, 
and the price was too good to believe. 

Sitting on the breakfast table in the sunspace,
they are beautiful from every angle. 

A very old photo (pre-digital cameras) 
from a surprise birthday party many years ago...
Look closely; the floral centerpiece has dark blue delphiniums.
Can it be that long ago since I had delphiniums?

The twirling unfurling of fronds, 
The blue blooms with full open faces, 
The vining buds of new green growth, 
 Describe delphinium's graces. 
With the new Trader Joe's close by, 
it is not going to be as long as before for 
blue delphiniums 
to grace my table again. 

They just may be my favorite blue flower after all. 

Well, for a while anyway.
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La Roque-Gageac, France

Thursday, July 11, 2013


France is filled with 
beautiful cities, towns, countrysides, and 

Take the tour,
hear a little of the history of this beautiful village,
and stay to hear about one of my all-time
favorite restaurants in all of France.

La Roque-Gageac
 is one of the 157 official 
l'un des PLUS BEAUX 

Nestled against and into a limestone cliff
along the Dordogne River
the village easily meets the French requirements
for a beautiful French village.
~ fewer than 2000 residents 
~ at least two noteworthy monuments and/or sites
 ~ request for the designation supported by the village's council

 Only 1 in 5 applicant villages in France receives the 
designation from the French board that oversees village applications.

High above the village, carved into the cliff is a
troglodyte cave from the 12th century.
Open to the public until 2010,
the site is now closed due to rockfalls.

Bishops of Sarlat summered in La Roque-Gageac, and the
castles in the town belonged to the bishops as late as the mid-15th century.
By mid-16th century, the remaining castles were privately held.
Currently, the only remaining Renaissance castle is
Manoir de Tarde.

Manoir de Tarde
The Manoir de Tarde was home of Jean Tarde (b. 1561),
probably La Roque-Gageac's most famous resident.
He is best known as a historian and astronomer
who was an honorary chaplain to Henry IV and
a friend of Galileo.

In the 19th century, les gabarres, flat-bottomed boats, 
carried goods along the Dordogne River. 
Today, tourists in replica gabarres enjoy river views 
of several medieval chateaux along the river. 

This is a wonderful relaxing one-hour trip 
moderated by delightful guides who bring the 
history of the region to life. 
We were there in September one year and, 
as seen in the photos, the weather was spectacular. 

Hotel and Restaurant La Belle Étoile
But what is it that fascinates me about La Roque-Gageac?
And brings me back whenever I am anywhere near?
Two things.
The stunning beauty of a small town on a river and
the Restaurant La Belle Étoile...

Where do I begin to describe this hidden treasure
in a village with only 450 residents?

The setting...
Oh, yes, the setting draws one in...
An outdoor second-floor terrace shaded by a grapevine arbor,
but wait, there is more...
overlooking the Dordogne River.

Enough right there for me to want to eat there everyday!

The menu...
Dinner requires reservations...or one doesn't get in.
It's that good.
Family chefs for almost a hundred years.
Chefs trained by the previous generation and
in great French cooking schools.

Prime rib soup as an appetizer...
Spinach stuffed trout served with lemon sauce...
Lemon cake with blueberry sauce...

No recipes...alas...
My sister and I have tried to replicate
the blueberry sauce for years.

The first time I was in La Roque-Gageac,
I was chaperoning high school students in the mid-1980s.
The tour company booked our dinner one night
at the Restaurant La Belle Étoile,
and the rest is history.
I wonder if any of those high school students 
realized what an incredible meal they ate? 
What a life-time event occurred?
When did I realize that a life-time event occurred?

The beautiful little village sitting at the base of the scarred limestone mountain
can be seen from a cliff in nearby Domme, France.

Whenever I am in France anywhere near
La Roque-Gageac,
I find a way to have a meal there
on the terrace shaded by a grapevine arbor
overlooking the Dordogne River.

Last time there, hot air balloons floated
over the countryside just at sunset...

Life does not get any better than that.
Fact Sources
Plus Beaux Villages de France
Cliff Castles and Cave Dwellings of Europe 1911, pp. 149-151 by
 Sabine Baring Gould
This is the first post about France that I've called 
A Moment In France.
If you would like to see all my previous posts 
about France, click on the tab  
that is labeled 'Moment In France' 
at the top of the page.
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Seashell Table

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The ocean calls to us 
even when we are landlocked, 
safely inland from its lapping waves. 

The siren call entices us to return to waters 
that give life to us or that sometime give death. 

remind us of that lure. 

For all time, men have answered the call of the sea and 
set out for adventures, fame, and fortune, 
searching for the allusive bejeweled treasures that sparkle 
and promise riches not found at home. 
Kissing their loved ones goodbye, 
wives and children are left behind 
to watch daily for their men to return safely. 

Each day a wife and daughter gaze out to the horizon 
searching for signs of their beloved husband and father, 
a sailor searching for his own destiny. 
Loved ones pray that he makes land safely and 
that he comes home once again. 

Hope against hope that no bottle washes ashore with a message from 
a lost sailor husband who will never find his way home. 

With a table set for two, wife and daughter surround 
themselves with reminders of the sea and, 
in turn, with reminders of their sailor who is sailing the sea. 

He is seeing real shells and fishes while they have but 
pretty, colorful glass imitations. 

Life goes on for them each day as they set their table 
with beautiful reminders of the sea. 

The sailor in his quest for fulfillment left them words that 
speak of new adventures and new horizons. 
One doesn't discover new lands without consenting 
to lose sight of the shore.
Andre Gide

Unspoken were the words that said 
also without losing sight of loved ones on the shore.

Beautiful pink peonies rise above a message in a wine bottle, 
a shimmering fish, a porcelain starfish, and a portrait of 
wife and daughter longing for their loved one. 

Setting a table each day with flowers renews their spirits and 
gives them joy and hope for the day their sailor returns. 

He is a skilled sailor, full of knowledge of the dangers 
of the treacherous sea.  
He studied detailed charts and worked alongside 
masters of the sea for years. 
While it may take a long time for 
his voyage to bring him home safely, 
the wife never gives up hope.  

Each day she places fresh flowers on the table, 

sets the table with reminders of the sea, 

and knows in her heart that the pretty glass shell 
imitations of life will one day be replaced with 
real shells from the sea that 
her loving sailor husband will bring. 

Seashell dishes - Nobilis by Fitz and Floyd
White scalloped plates - Madeline by Pier I (this spring)
Chargers - Kirkland's (this spring)
Beaded stainless flatware - Towle
Glass seashell & fish Christmas ornaments - Macy's in Florida
Blue stems - inexpensive set from years ago
Pink peonies - Trader Joe's
Sailing ship card with quote - Trader Joe's (this summer)
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