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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

8 Ways to Infuse French Elements Into a Kitchen

Sunday, August 31, 2014

How do I infuse French Country style into my kitchen?

The biggest French element is the use of natural materials 
such as the white stone wall in my kitchen. 
Rustic farmhouses and ancient chateau in the South of France 
were built using natural stones found in the region. 

 While you may not be able to add a stone wall 
inside your house, stone often can be added outside 
when flower beds are added or low retaining walls are built. 
Instead of using brick or dark stones, use light colored stones 
either stacked in a dry wall or mortared with white cement to create 
a look similar to the stones used in older provençal French houses. 

Both natural wood and painted wood are ways 
to add rustic French farmhouse design. 
Large wooden pine posts and exposed ceiling joists left 
au natural add even more to a French farmhouse look. 
While these are structural elements in my house, 
adding exposed beams to ceilings can add a 
major rustic French look to existing structures. 
The more massive the wood, the better, for 
making the beams look authentic. 

The painted wooden island and wooden shelf in the stone wall 
are two of the easier ways to add French elements in any house. 
All of the kitchen cabinets do not have to be painted. 
One of the hallmarks of French kitchens is the use of 
free standing furniture instead of built-in cabinetry. 
By painting just the island, it makes the island appear 
to be a free standing piece of furniture. 

Open shelves, another hallmark of French farmhouse 
kitchens, are part of the look of non-built-in cabinets. 
Recent trends in kitchen updates show how easy it is to remove 
doors from upper cabinets to transform them into open shelving. 

After getting structural design elements in place, 
what do I do now to infuse even more French elements? 
The structural elements are the bones that 
could support any number of design looks, but after 
that is where a house really begins to look French. 

Nothing sets a French tone faster than French-styled chairs. 
Once again, I used painted and natural finish pieces together.
Mixing styles and finishes gives the kitchen a relaxed country 
feeling that the pieces were added over time, perhaps some 
inherited or perhaps some found at local brocantes. 

The two painted wooden counter stools have a simple 
French Country design, and the blue paint complements, 
rather than matches, other blues in the room. 
An antique pine stool's hand-carved aprons and support braces 
are French style curves that could have been lovingly carved 
by the home owner or by an ancestor. 

For me, blue says France, especially when combined  
with white and natural wood and stone. 
Other traditional French colors are red, yellow, and green. 

Blue and yellow, red and yellow, green and naturals, blue and red, 
are all color combinations used throughout Provence. 
With so many color options, most people can find 
a color palette that is both French and perfect for them. 

Whenever I find things to add to my house, 
I am drawn to certain blues and watch for them.  
The large carved wooden framed print is 
of Chateau Chenonceau in the Loire Valley, 
most certainly a print with an authentic French subject. 
Over the years, I have seen many beautiful prints of 
Chenonceau, but when I found the blue print version, 
I fell in love with it. 

Recently I added several blue and white checked fabrics, 
both in the kitchen and adjoining living room. 
Other traditional French fabric patterns include stripes and toiles. 
All of these patterned fabrics add a layer of French-styled textiles.  

Placemats from the Pottery Barn Outlet go very well 
with the new blue and white buffalo check upholstery 
on my sofa and an armless chair with matching ottoman. 
One placemat anchors a grouping on the kitchen island. 

A wooden box from HomeGoods with beautiful French handwriting and  
rubbed edges give it an air of being used for many years. 
Bees and wreaths have been motifs in French designs for centuries, 
including designs used by French royalty in their coats of arms. 

French antique shops and flea markets are filled with botanical prints, 
making the perched bird another definitive French design element. 

The Paris Maison & Objet Trade Show in 2011 had several companies offering 
fossils, stuffed birds, mounted horns, antique writings, and dried botanicals. 
Their display cases and styled tabletops were stunningly original, 
looking nothing like American styled vignettes I see at national trade shows. 

Blue bottles, also found at HomeGoods, are reminiscent of large antique 
French wine bottles, but without the expense of real antiques. 
Demijohn jars are another favorite style of French bottles. 
A few 'found' French objects provide details that add another 
layer of French style. 

The French household always has flowers, 
whether in a large garden or in window baskets lining a city balcony. 
Realistic faux muscari are easy to care for and 
do not require sunlight or water to add a French floral 
element to vignettes on my kitchen counter. 

Which French design element is your favorite? 
  1. Structural natural materials like stone and wood... 
  2. Free-standing kitchen islands and open shelves... 
  3. Painted or natural wood chairs... 
  4. French color palettes using blue, red, green... 
  5. French fabric patterns such as stripes, buffalo checks, toiles... 
  6. Themes like French handwriting, botanical prints, bees and wreaths... 
  7. Bottles like large wine bottles and demijohn jars... 
  8. Flowers, either fresh or artificial...

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Elegant French Train Travel

Thursday, August 28, 2014

In the 1980s was my first train ride in France on a 
Train à Grande Vitesse. 

TGV pronounced tay-jay-vay,
three letters that rhyme with hay,
with the middle letter uttered with a soft j-sound.
Ah, the French language even makes
train travel sound elegant with its name. 

My first train trip was in second class, on an 
overnight train, not a TGV, in which I was too excited to sleep 
in the couchette bunks our ticket prices included. 
Most of the high school French language students I was helping 
chaperone were just as excited and also got little sleep. 

A few years later came real excitement, traveling Paris to Nice, 
still in second class with students, but on a TGV.

Speeding up to 180-200 miles per hour, 
the 579 miles from Paris to Nice 
whizzed by in a mere 5 hours, 35 minutes. 
A recent internet search predicted the driving time 
from Paris to Nice as about nine hours 
along a restricted access autoroute. 

From the crowded scenes in the Paris Gare de Lyon train station, 
it is evident that train travel is extremely popular in France. 
Many French people living in Paris do not own cars  
and travel outside Paris by train instead. 

Since my days of chaperoning students are now over, 
I sometimes get to travel to France with friends and 
 splurge on first class tickets on the TGV.... 

when I can get a good deal.  

The first class Eurail Saver Pass tickets in 2006 were not a really BIG splurge. 

Here I am onboard the first leg of our 2006 trip filling out a 
Eurail Saver Pass form that was a good deal. 
The form had to be completed the first day of travel and not before. 

The first class tickets were only a few dollars more than the standard price tickets. 
The Saver Pass tickets required at least three people buy the tickets 
at the same time and required that all of us travel together at the same time. 
What luck! 
There were three of us traveling together --- my sister, a work colleague and me.  

We went to France to realize a dream that my sister and I shared....
to tour distilleries and factory museums where perfumes are created, and 
to stroll the narrow streets of hilltop villages perched high above the lavender. 
For those who know me, they know the lavender pants and sleeveless sweater 
I wore that coordinated with the lavender plants was not an accident. 
Styling has always been in my blood. ;) 

To get close to the lavender fields, the three of us took a TGV 
from Paris to Avignon that departed from Gare de Lyon. 

2hr 38min by TGV
6hr 22min by car 

Speeding past the lavender fields, we excitedly looked forward 
to a small van tour that would take us into the fields where 
we could touch the flowers, smell the clean scent of fresh lavender, 
and learn about the French lavender industry. 

TGV travel is not only super fast, there is an added bonus. 
It retains some of the elegance associated with The Orient Express. 

For the French, train travel is commonplace, 
but for me it is still an exhilarating adventure, beginning with awe 
of the train station architecture that exudes the grandeur of the Belle Epoque era. 

While the modern electronic board with the train 
schedule for departure times and locations of quais 
(much like airport departure/arrival boards) 
is necessary for getting aboard at the right time and place, 
I spent most of my time looking at the building's details 
instead of the usual newsstands, billboards, and vending machines. 

Details like the intricately carved columns that support 
the glass roof over the train platforms, 
the scrolled ironwork on the stair balusters,  
the huge clock like in the movie Hugo, 
and then, there on the second floor,  
a Paris landmark.   

Le Train Bleu was a luxury night express train that operated 1886-2003. 
Until 1949, the name of the luxury train was 
Calais-Mediterranée Express Ventimiglia-Calais, 
but was commonly known as The Blue Train because of the train's color. 
In 1949, the train's name was officially changed to Le Train Bleu

Today, there is a landmark restaurant in Gare de Lyon named Le Train Bleu 
in tribute to the former luxury train that only had first class service and 
catered to the ultra wealthy before the advent of airplane travel.  

Opened in 1900, the restaurant was originally known as 
Buffet de la Gare de Lyon and catered to the rich and famous who 
traveled on grand Le Train Bleu
The word buffet conjures standing in a serving line holding a tray, 
not the opulence of this ornate setting with 41 original paintings.  
Travelers and Parisiens, who come for business luncheons, 
are whisked back to the Belle Epoque. 

Around every corner, in every arrondissement, lie 
breathtaking beauties with haunting stories of former lives.  

Le Train Bleu restaurant is undergoing renovations and 
will re-open its doors to travelers and residents on September 12, 2014, 
with renewed splendor to a 
Véritable Initiation au Voyage.

For more information 

History of Le Train Bleu 

Le Train Bleu Restaurant 

Rail Europe - Current Travel Information 
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4 Steps to Reach a Blog Writer's Dreams

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Who doesn't know the richness of reverie, that lapse into meditation that carries us to the core of our being? It can occur anywhere---on a bus, in a crowd, idling in the kitchen. Woolgathering we call it or, an old term, a brown study. But whatever the name, it comes to this: We're sunk into ourselves and the outer world appears like something viewed from the bottom of a pool through pellucid water, a world muted and far off.

"The Beauty of Being Lost in Thought", Victoria, September 1992

As I reread collected issues of the original Victoria magazine, 
I "sink into myself" and dream of writing blog posts in which 
my readers experience the "beauty of being lost in thought," both 
by richness of words and by vignette inspiring images. 

Premier Issue, Victoria magazine, 1987
How I long for new issues of the original Victoria to read, and
how I long to be such a gifted writer!

How does one learn to stir a reader's heart and mind? 
How does one learn to express ordinary events with clarity, 
yet with phrases filled with poetic, nuanced nouns, verbs, adjectives  
that create visual images within a mind?  

Mathematics does not require poetically nuanced expressions, 
just clarity. 
What are considered the most beautiful equations 
throughout mathematical history are those that are brief, direct, unadorned.

May 1977, Austin, Texas
All my years of studying, teaching, and leading other educators 
were focused solely on clarity, conveying ideas clearly and crisply, 
with efficiency and translucence, in as little time as possible. 
(Woe to the teacher or administrator who took too much 
of a student's or teacher's precious commodity, time!)
Mathematics teaching and school administration 
did not include writing directions that encouraged 
daydreaming and drifting away in reverie. 
The blogs that compel me most are ones 
that combine artfully written commentaries 
with original, blog-writer-taken stunning photos. 
Blogs that remind me of Victoria magazine issues filled 
with poetry, with in-depth information, with artistic photography, 
with creative ideas, with original art, with vignettes...
about people, places, times, seasons, traditions, and entrepeneurs. 

So, back to my question. 
How does one learn to stir a reader's heart and mind? 
What do I need to do?

After woolgathering, 

four steps emerged from my brown study,

including specific thoughts about 

❦ ~ how to take those steps.  

1. Good readers make good writers
an expression used in education to shed some light 
on how to teach students to write, comes to mind. 
What we read becomes part of our intellect. 
Reading poetically written phrases develops a sense of style.

 Read original Victoria magazine.  
Read My French Country Home by Sharon Santoni. 
Read Castles Crowns and Cottages by Anita, and
read comments on blog sites written by Anita.

Photography angle and font create interesting photo  

2. Analyze for how-to-write a blog, 
not just read for enjoyment.
Content, phrasing, vocabulary,
sentence structure, font, and photography
comprise a total post.

Analyze favorite writers' styles, fonts, photos,
juxtaposition of text and photos,
transitions from one subtopic to the next,
and photography angles.
Reflect on the purpose of a particular post being written.

3. The old adages, learn by doing, and 
practice makes perfect, have merit. 

 Write, edit, re-write, save draft, sleep, 
edit and re-write phrases again. 
 Sleep helps the brain process our experiences and thoughts.

4. Courses and conferences 
offer advice and experienced teachers. 

Attend a How-To-Write session at a blog conference. 
Enroll in a poetry course. 
(Anita suggested a poetry course in one of her recent comments to me 
after I expressed a desire to become a better writer. Good idea.) 
Study photography. 

Thank you, my readers. 
August 26, 2014 is my second blogiversary.

Milestones are good encouragement to continue and 
to be better by the next blogiversary! 
Thank you for reading and for becoming a friend. 

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Rain Room, Rain Dances

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rain Room 
is a contemporary work of art, commissioned for Restoration Hardware's 
RH Contemporary Art Gallery in New York City. 

The work is a room-sized 328-square-foot field of falling water 
that pauses whenever a human body is present. 
As the body moves, the water falls around them, but never on them. 
…viewers waited upward of 13 hours to enter into an interactive encounter with rain.
from Restoration Hardware Interiors Catalog, 2014

This contemporary art piece mimics life in North Texas. 
Falling water pauses wherever a human body is present. 
Or so it seems. 

Summer months are HOT, often with 100°+ temperatures, and rain is sporadic. 
Leaves turn brown and drop from the trees to conserve water for preservation of life. 
A tree sacrifices some leaves to save itself. 

The trees in our yard look green, but the ground is littered with fallen dead leaves, 
casualties of no rain for weeks. 

While blogging friends in the north, especially bloggers in Canada, 
report the first winds of fall are teasing them, 
the fallen leaves here are not the first signs of fall. 
No, these leaves say hot summer with no rain is still here.

Rain skirts around our area, pausing wherever a human body is present. 
Thunderstorms rain upon our neighbors to the north, west, east, south, 
but not even a sprinkle on us. 

Then the rains came Sunday, August 17. 
All day long, steady, heavy rains. 
Cover your head with covers, roll over, listen to the rain spatter on the windows.  
So much rain that local weathermen reported DFW had the most rainfall
in the past 20 years for a single day in August. 

So much rain that the blue bowl on the back deck
filled halfway with water in just one single day.
Going from dry to half full. 

Leaf casualties stripped from the trees during the deluge look deceptively like fall. 

Now, that's my kind of rain. Where it falls on humans, not around them. 

Rain dances. 
Where Gene Kelly dances in the rain, tapping/stomping in the puddles,
swinging his umbrella around him, lifting his face up for rain to pour down on him.
Truly an interactive encounter with rain. 

How can falling water pausing be called interactive? 
That seems like not interacting with the rain. 

I must admit I am intrigued by the Rain Room and
would jump at a chance to see it in person.
The technology is mystifying. How do they do that?
How does the room sense a human body to stop the fall of the water.
Will our houses be programmed in the future to sense when their owners enter? 

To learn more or to see a Rain Room photo, visit
RH Contemporary Art

For me, I am happy to dance in the rain, as are all the little creatures around me. 

NEST Garden Signs

Thursday, August 14, 2014

and making two garden signs using reclaimed wood, 

it seemed only natural to make 
NEST garden signs. 

Following the same basic steps used in 
these new small signs include a graphic. 

The Graphics Fairy
Thank you, Karen at The Graphics Fairy. 

The Graphics Fairy has thousands of FREE images 
which makes it hard to choose what to use in a project, 
but, oh, what fun looking. 
Go to the site to download images in order to get the crispest image.  
The black and white graphics can be colored using photo software. 
I used the built-in Preview program that comes with Mac computers. 

My little garden of garden signs is growing. 

I have already created other canvases with different phrases 
that are ready to be attached to old wood and stakes, 
but it is going to be a few days before I finish them. 
While hammering in the last nail on the green nest sign,
I hammered my left index finger, 
smashing it so badly the fingernail was torn and 
a small cut runs from front to back of the finger. 
 Oh, the woes of a DIY blogger. 

There in the background... 
Do you see it? ... 
The first tiny, blurry glimpses of the big project 
going on at Botanic Bleu...  
Fortunately, a contractor who knows his way 
around tools is doing that project. 
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