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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

Good Design Never Goes Out of Style

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Deep in the Dordogne area in France 
sits an 11th century Romanesque church, Saint Caprais, 
in the small town of Carsac. 

As I reflect on good French design today, 
I see it in these photos of an 11th century church. 

The last time we were in France, 
we rented a house in the countryside just outside Carsac 
to use as our base to explore the surrounding 
medieval towns and pre-historic cave drawings. 

But, we did not want to miss seeing anything in the area, 
including the local church from the 11th century. 
How could we bypass a chance to explore such a treasure 
only ten minutes from our house?  

Beautiful in its simplicity, but undistinguished, 
describes the exterior of the little church nestled in the 
small town of fewer than 1500 residents. 

From the back, the small limestone church appears like most other 
Romanesque churches typical in other small French towns. 
A small domed circular section lies behind the main rectangle 
that is supported by buttresses on either side, 
the same general pattern for many small French churches 
built during the same time. 

Yes, a beautiful design. 

The most interesting part of the exterior design at the front is 
the recessed opening with graduated stone arches
which is another familiar design seen in many Medieval churches.  
Many other churches have elaborate carvings on each arch. 

A simply-designed church on the outside with interior designs 
common to most other 11-12th century French churches...  
at first glance. 

A winged angel holding a wreath supports one of 
the interior ceiling columns and could be from any other 
small Romanesque church in the region. 

Then... in the dim light... 
we saw a carving of a bust of a woman alongside an angel holding up the next column. 

Using the flash option, I could see more details. 
She is not a carving with generic features like the angel carvings. 
Rather, her face, hair, and clothes are unique, 
not seen in other churches.  

The next column was supported by a carving of a man, 
once again with detailed unique features of a pensive expression, 
hair with a receding hairline, and a draped garment about his shoulders. 

The stone masons used the church's parishioners as models! 

I wonder how the masons decided which parishioner to choose. 
Were the wealthy donors chosen? 
Or, perhaps, those that exemplified Christian virtues? 

Each carving is filled with rich details depicting different 
facial expressions, clothing designs, and hair styles. 

I love the high-necked garment and her hair wrapped with cords  
to form ponytails that fall to her shoulder bones. 
She looks so young. 

What do you suppose the object beside her is? 

Could the models have been selected for their beautiful features? 

Near the back was a recessed nave with ribbed arches supporting a curved ceiling. 
You can imagine how excited I was to see the beautiful French bleu ceiling 
and the bleu patterned ribs supporting it. 

More unique busts of parishioners support the columns on either side of the recess. 
Do you suppose this man and woman are husband and wife? 

See the delicate blue and green on the walls? 
The church was restored in the 16th century, 
and the colors in the ceiling and walls were repainted at that time. 

A close up of the carved bust on the left side of the recessed nave 
shows more color in the woman's hair and dress, on the column, 
and in drawings under the woman. 

How sad this woman looks. 

As I study these pictures of the little church, 
I see elements of 

11th Century 
F R E N C H   D E S I G N 

that are still used today, 
ten centuries later.  

White and cream-colored stones 
Delicate pastel bleus and neutrals 
Vaulted ceilings 
Columns with carved acanthus leaves 
Simple, uncluttered overall design 
Form following function 
Unique pieces from a person's life 

Good design never goes out of style. 

French Heirloom Potager

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How do you beat the winter blues when the wind howls, 
skies are overcast, and rain or worse, snow, ice, and sleet, 
keep you captive inside? 

How about dreaming of and planning a vegetable garden? 
Browsing through seed catalogs full of promise 
of sunny days and abundant crops? 
Better yet, how about dreaming about a 

French Heirloom Potager?
(potager ~ vegetable garden)

French food is legendary. 
A country renowned for chefs, not cooks, also trains 
chefs for the best restaurants throughout the world. 
Most of us know about Cordon Bleu. 
Yet regardless of how well trained a chef may be, 
without fresh flavorful ingredients, a meal will not be memorable. 

French potager growing in Beynac, France
For the average French household, fresh ingredients 
come from their very own kitchen potager,  
well-planned plots of carefully tended rows 
that reflect the French love for structured gardens. 

To chase away the winter blues, take 

A Moment in France

planning a French heirloom potager.

Tomato plants for sale in a Paris market

While we may not be able to travel to France to shop for tomate plants, 
we can buy French heirloom seeds from American seed companies. 

In addition to tomates, my heirloom potager will have 
haricots vertes (green beans), lettuce, squash, and melons. 

Burpee Seeds and John Scheepers Seeds 
have several varieties of heirloom French seeds from which to choose. 

Here is a summary of the ones that appeal to me. 

John Scheepers Seeds offers The French Garden Collection with
seven seed packets that they describe as the classic 

French kitchen potager. 

  • Maxi Haricot Verts Bush Beans (about 150 seeds)
  • Yaya Carrots (about 600 seeds)
  • Iona Petit Pois Peas (about 300 seeds)
  • Ambition Shallots (about 60 seeds)
  • Lincoln Leeks (about 125 seeds)
  • Rouge d'Hiver Romaine Lettuce (about 700 seeds)
  • Merveille des Quatre Saisons Lettuce (about 1,000 seeds)

  • Chase away the blues even more by planting 
    the French Garden Collection of seeds 
    in small French zinc seed pots. 

    A link to Burpee Seeds is at Heirloom French Seeds

    A link to John Scheepers Seeds is at Kitchen Garden Seeds Collection 

    What is your favorite vegetable to grow? 

    I did not receive compensation from any company, 
    just shared information for my readers who might enjoy knowing it. 

    Winter Fresh Look

    Monday, January 5, 2015

    After removing my Christmas decorations, 
    the house looks bare, but in a good way, with a 

    Winter fresh look 

    The ivy topiary trees are still in the kitchen, but are left bare, 
    adding fresh greenery during the dark winter days 
    before early bulbs bloom. 

    Keeping ivies alive, healthy, and FRESH indoors takes some extra-loving care. 
    Be sure to wash the container to eliminate pests and disease before repotting. 
    Water regularly, but only when the soil begins to dry. 
    Periodically, about once a week, wash the plant with sudsy water 
    to get rid of spider mites, the number one pest for ivies. 
    Provide bright light, preferably natural sunlight. 

    My kitchen sunspace provides lots of light to the kitchen even on overcast days. 
    A few touches of Christmas do still remain here, but a comfy upholstered chair 
    sits where the Christmas tree stood during December. 

    This is the fabric pattern that was also on the breakfast chairs before 
    they were reupholstered last year. 

    Another Winter fresh look.... paperwhites.

    The paperwhite narcissi planted in early December have finished blooming 
    and have been replaced with a freshly planted white pot of more paperwhites. 
    Paperwhite bulbs can be planted any time October through mid-February. 

    A small ivy planted in an old canning jar sits on an improvised "table". 
    A large clear round platter sits on top of a tall blue and white pottery crock. 
    The platter is large enough and stable enough to hold a small drink 
    when I am sitting in the comfy chair. 

    TIP for keeping surfaces under plant pots FRESH ~ 
    Look for clear pie plates, microwave turntables, and small dessert plates 
    at Goodwill, thrift stores, and garage sales. 
    The large platters and microwave turntables are large enough to place 
    under large plant pots to prevent water damage to floors and furniture. 
    Pie plates fit medium pots, and small dessert plates fit small pots. 
    Since they are clear glass, they are barely noticeable. 
    Look back at the previous photo of the paperwhites in the white planter. 
    There is a clear pie plate under the white clay planter 
    to protect the rush seat of the highchair. 

    The Christmas dishes are put away, and blue and white plates add 
    to the Winter fresh look.  

    Perfect for a salad, a dessert, or a sandwich, 
    the four different patterns include French fleur de lis, 
    birds, flowers, and scrolls, 
    chasing away the Winter blues with their blues. 

    I keep changing my mind about which one is my favorite. 
    Which one is your favorite? 

    Replacing my Jenn-Air cooktop old electric eye cartridge and grill 
    with new plug-in electric cartridges is the best Winter fresh look. 
    The old units were about twenty-five years old and still cooked, 
    but the large electric eye was literally falling apart with 
    metal pieces coming off.  

    This is how the old cartridges looked. 
    The grill still works great, but has only been used 
    fewer than five times in twenty-five years and is  
    way past time for a fresh replacement
    with burners that actually will be used.  

    My Jenn-Air cooktop has a downdraft vent with a wooden cutting board cover.   
    At first, I thought I should replace the entire unit with a new ceramic smooth top, 
    but after extensive research for a new ceramic smooth top with a downdraft vent, 
    I decided to keep the old Jenn-Air cooktop and buy electric replacement 
    cartridges for both the old electric eye cartridge and grill cartridge. 
    I bought them online, and they arrived in about a week. 
    The hardest part of installing the new cartridges was cleaning 
    the existing old large drip pan under each old cartridge, but it  
    sure was easier than installing a whole new cooktop. 

    So excited to finally have four burners... 
    Yes, this is the best 
    Winter fresh look. 

    I am still using my duck-shaped cutting board on the left side 
    of the cooktop when all four burners are not needed. 
    Look how happy he is with the new burners. 

    Right now the cutting board holds 
    Winter fresh looks that will last for the next couple of months. 

    Have you put away Christmas and 
    added some Winter fresh looks to your home? 

    Please join me at these inspiring sites...



    Bûche de Noël Birthday Cake

    Friday, January 2, 2015

    When your birthday is December 31 
    there is always a party all over the world on your birthday. 
    Decorations, food, celebrations, party favors, and dress 
    are spectacular, more so than any other time of the year. 

    A time to use the sterling silver that was a wedding gift from your parents... 

    My sister's birthday is December 31. 
    With all the over-the-top partying worldwide as incentive, 
    I spent several days mulling over what kind of 
    birthday cake to bake for her this year. 

    Bûche de Noël 
    seemed a perfect choice since it is 
    one of her favorite flavors. 
    The recipe I used is a Martha Stewart variation. 

    She loves raspberries, and peach is her favorite color. 

    She is not three years old, 
    and after a certain age, good manners dictate NOT revealing 
    a lady's age. 

    We are sisters by chance, 
    and friends by choice. 

    With more than eleven years difference in age, 
    we did not play together as children. 
    No, I was a senior in high school the year she was in the first grade. 
    Rather than childhood playmates, 
    I was her babysitter after school during her preschool years. 
    Then I left for college, and never lived at home in Alabama again. 

    She visited my husband and me during her teenage years, 
    and lived with us in Texas while attending the University of Texas, 
    first in Austin, then in Arlington. 
    We became good friends in adulthood, 
    discovering we are very much alike in many ways. 

    Sisters in Lavender Field in France
    moi wearing lavender; sister wearing a hat
    We traveled together to France many times over the years, 
    and together developed a love for all things French, 
    especially lavender fields
    Another good reason to bake Bûche de Noël. 

    We have bought the very same shoes, 
    while she lived in Maine, and I lived in Texas. 
    We say the same thing at the same time, 
    and laugh whenever we do. 
    Once while vacationing together with our husbands in Hawaii, 
    we were walking across a mall parking lot that had 
    trees planted in small islands with lush soft green grass. 
    Then in unexpected synchronized choreography, 
    each of us slipped our right feet out of our shoes 
    as we stepped onto the next island of lush green grass 
    to walk barefoot in the grass. 
    We all laughed as our husbands looked at each other, 
    shrugged their shoulders, and shook their heads. 

    Yes, friends by choice. 
    My life has been enriched beyond measure 
    by having her as my sister, 
    my closest friend who has been there with me 
    during happy life celebrations, heartbreaking loss, 
    and everyday living. 

    How wonderful that her birthday is 
    celebrated all over the world every year! 

    Please join me at these inspiring sites...