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les grands titres, part one

This time last year we were bumming around France, mostly in the Drome and Provence regions.   Tonight I put the last bit of my French grey sea salt (fleur de sel de guerande) in my salt cellar and was feeling nostalgic about our journey.  Instead of writing a day-by-day recap of our experience, I'm just going to give highlights (les grands titres) of the areas we explored.  We were a bit off the beaten track and I wholly recommend the same for anyone looking to make a trip to the French countryside.   

france:  dieulefit and the drome


We stayed a week in a lovely stone house in the Drome region of France, closest to the village of Dieulefit. The owners of the AirBnB rental were an English and German ex-pat couple who were extremely gracious and welcoming.  Their own home was on the same property, but we had plenty of space and privacy.   Berndt, the German, kept Merino wool sheep and did trail running through the mountainsides. He also had a well-trained sheepdog Jacques who delighted Jonas with his tricks. Berndt's wife was happy to chat about the region and kept a lovely garden (whose enormous snails were a fascination to Jonas).  

Exploring the medieval village of Dieulefit was certainly a highlight of our time in the region.   The village is known for its poterie (pottery) and there are many styles made locally.   I bought a simple white stoneware bowl and my dad found some raku fired mugs to take home with him.  The village had everything we needed for supplying ourselves with food, we just had to be mindful of when the shops were open.  I had the most perfect strawberry tart from the small bakery in town.  The region is also known for its strawberries and we enjoyed many during our trip.  We spent several days strolling around town, collecting provisions and then having a relaxing dinner outside at the stone house.  

If you aren't biking around the mountain roads of the region, then you're exploring medieval ruins or hiking through the trail system that connects the area.   We spent a day in Le Poet Laval doing a bit of both.   Nick and Berndt were going to do a long trail run back to the house, so we dropped them off and my dad, Jonas and I spent the afternoon in the village.   There were lots of beautiful old buildings, some still in good repair and functional.  There was an old church being used as an art gallery which had lots of passages to explore.

 We had lunch at Les Hospitaliers, recommended to us by our hosts and easily the nicest restuarant in the village.  French restaurants, even the more chic ones, still have a special set menu for children, which is usually something much more interesting than chicken strips or a burger.  Jonas was more or less patient through the long lunch (which was excellent) and rewarded nicely by the fanciest dessert of his young life. He was also amused at the dog sitting quietly at the feet of its owner at the table next to ours.   

We spent an hour or so wandering the trails near the village after lunch.  Jonas practiced saying "Bonjour!" to everyone we saw along the way. If we had the time we could have hiked back to Dieulefit!

The next day, Nick and I did get a chance to embark on another hike near a ruined abbey outside of the town of Die (pronounced "dee").  Die was a much larger town and there was a flea market in the town square the morning we stopped through.  My dad and his wife kept Jonas entertained while we trekked up through the mountains to a nice ridge. 


It was a hot and sweaty hike, but beautiful and very different than typical Northwest hiking.  We had the trail mostly to ourselves, but Nick did spy the local chamois!  

Jonas kept busy playing in the dirt piles near the abbey while they waited for us to finish (we were up in that ridge somewhere).

We enjoyed the Drome region for many reasons.   Mostly, it was very quiet and un-touristy. That did mean we had to attempt speaking French more than we would have in a larger city, but generally we managed to communicate.    It was also great for hiking, biking and trail running.   There was also an incredible amount of culture in the surrounding area considering that it is a good two hours from any major city.  It is also a lovely place to just sit and relax and take in the countryside.  

Next some highlights from Apt, where we spent the next leg of our trip.   


pattern testing: nita wrap skirt

Recently, I took on the challenge of testing a new pattern being developed by a sewing blogger I follow, SewDIY.  She needed volunteers who could test out her wrap skirt pattern and give her feedback by a set deadline.   In return, she would give her testers a copy of the finished pattern for free.   I'm definitely interested in free patterns and thought the wrap skirt would be a nice addition to my work-wear options.   I volunteered to sew a size 14 and was selected to be a part of the testing team.   I had just wrapped up some smaller projects and was ready to focus on this project.   I went to one of my favorite Seattle fabric spots for garments, District Fabric, and got a woven linen with a decidedly tweedy look (above) and a blue cotton shirting fabric to line the skirt.  The top fabric in the pile is a lovely green buffalo check that I couldn't resist and have plans to make a pop-over Archer some time this spring.  I really liked my fabric choices and was also happy not to have spend much more than $20 on the project, in case the fit didn't really work out.   

Luckily, I didn't have anything to worry about.  The pattern sewed up nicely, with great instructions for adding a lining.   The fit was perfect (I did sew a muslin to test it out, just in case) but I have to get used to wearing the skirt at my natural waist instead of below my belly button, where most of my clothing sits.   I chose a simple button closure and the mini length (really just slightly above the knee) with about 2 inches added on to accomodate my longer legs (pattern is modeled on a 5'6" frame). I sewed a straight size 14 since it matched my waist and hips perfectly.  The linen was okay to sew with, but I should have serged all the raw edges since I noticed some unraveling at the waist band when I was finshing up. That will probably shorten the life-span of the skirt, so lesson learned.   I'm also going to have to be very lady-like when wearing this skirt, the wrap crosses underneath at an angle, so it would be easy to expose oneself accidentally.  

I love the button and snap closure (easy enough to take in or let out the skirt as needed) but the pattern does offer a tie closure as well as a D-ring option.   I was thinking a nice floral print with a tied waist might be next in line when I try the pattern again.  All in all, the project took about 10 hours with the muslin, cutting and sewing.  The skirt can be finished more quickly on a machine, or more painstakingly by hand if desired.   

Here is the finished project.  I'm going to relocate the button so that the skirt sits higher at the waist, which will be more flattering.  I accidentally sewed the skirt with the wrap backwards from the pattern, but the two front pieces are symmetrical, so that wasn't a problem.  Excited to have something new to wear to work this week, just as the spring weather is poking its head out over here.  


winter making

Every year, when the holidays get close, I spend nearly all of my free time making gifts.  This year was hardly an exception and I managed to make almost everything I had planned. All in all I made two zippered pouches, two knit hats, an explorer vest, a knock-off field bag and a handfull of lavender sachets.   My deadlines extended a bit past Christmas, which helped the making feel a little more relaxed and enjoyable. Somehow in the midst of all the things I was making to give, I managed to make a few things for myself as well.   The biggest project was an Archer shirt in a cute red and blue plaid flannel. 

My friend Monica and I treated ourselves to a day of sewing at Dry Goods Studio in downtown Seattle in November and I promised myself I would use the time to work on a big project for me, since I knew that December would be dedicated to making gifts for others.  We had 7 hours of studio time and I made 80 percent of the shirt during that time.  However, when I made it back home and tried on the shirt, I realized I had set in the sleeves backwards and the fit was very awkward.  The correction was a bit painstaking, but at least the shirt was salavagable.   The pattern is from Grainline Studios and I really enjoyed making a button-up with some flair.  I will definitely sew the pattern again, doing some adjustments to get a better fit accross my broad shoulders. Overall, I'm happy with the shirt and have found it a cozy addition to my closet this winter.  

I really love the sewing space at Dry Goods and hope to get back again soon for some concentrated sewing time.  Making do with a very small sewing area at home makes me fully appreciate large cutting tables and floor-to-ceiling windows bringing in lots of natural light.  Plus the store has a great selection of fabric and notions and is right accross the alley from an excellent bakery.   

In the midst of all this making, I've discovered several great resources, mostly for sewing.   The short list includes Seamwork magazine/radio, Noodlehead (the best bag patterns -- my Caravan Tote shown above), Fringe Association (perfect taste in both knits and sewn items) and Grainline Studio.   I always have a list of things to make that far exceeds my actual time for making.  I've made a list of projects I'd like to finish this year and some monthly priorities to get started.  The list is a nice mix of items for myself and items for others. 

The bag shown above is my knock-off Field Bag, which I just gifted to my friend Deb as a knitting project bag.  This was the third attempt at the bag, which I tried to reproduce by studying the photos on the website and the dimensions listed for the bag.  I might give it one more shot, tweaking a few more aspects in my prototype. The original bag retails for $65, and I spend about $10 on fabric for each of the bags I make.  I find myself thinking that way quite a bit lately, the "Why spend $260 on a sweater at Anthropologie that I could knit myself?" thoughts.  As you can imagine, that adds quite a bit to my list of projects, but I'm trying not to be in hurry and really enjoy the things I make, as they come along.  


taking stock

We've just gotten to the end of a cold snap here in Seattle and the other day I captured my kieskei rhododenron looking veritably sugared in frost. The image inspired me to revitalize the appearance of this website, giving it a much needed bit a freshness. 

If you scroll down the archive list for this blog, you'll see that it has been active for a little over ten years now.  Sometimes just barely active, but a least something written down every year for a decade.   In the early days, the blog had a different name (extemporaneous) and a different location (blogger), but it was more or less the same:  occasional notes from daily life.  Reading those early posts, my life seemed very different back in those days.  I was in school, had a boyfriend, and took casual cross-country skiing trips. Sometimes I yearn for the freedom of those days.   Things are much more permanent now in my life -- a child, a husband, a career.  Yet adventure still happens and when it does, I notice and value it much more.  Writing and keeping an account of life, milestones and travel helps me take stock of the changes.   Will I still feel like writing in this format in another 10 years?  I'm not certain, but I do feel like writing today.   

Happy New Year.  



travels, revisited

Although it has been 5 months since we took our trip to Iceland and France, I wanted to continue documenting our travel.  In some ways, it's nice to have a gap in time between the experience and writing about it.  The space helps distill what you really want to remember and reflect on; a lot of the minutia of travel slips away.  I also knew I had my hand-written travel journal to provide some details if needed.   So we continue on our time in Iceland, exploring the southern pennisula.

Iceland:  Reykjanes Penninsula 


We headed back down the West coast of Iceland from Snaefellnes, moving to a new lodging South of the capital in a village called Vogar.   We chose this village for the second part of our Iceland trip since it was close to the airport and Reykjavik, but also a quiet remove from the city.  On our way down the coast, we stopped to visit the town of Borgarnes, which we had bypassed on our way up to Snaefellnes.   I had read about a small playground for children in the town that had been hand-built over the years by a local resident and we thought it would make for a nice waypoint on our drive. After a little wandering around, we found the park tucked into a hill by the school. 

Bjossarolo, as it is called, was built it over a span of several decades, using re-purposed lumber and other scrap items, such as old steering wheels.  The man who built it loved children and wanted them to have a place to explore. There was a fort with several access points, a few swings, slides, cars to drive and more.  Jonas loved trying out everything and the park is ingeniously bulit into a hillside, so it is somewhat blocked from the cold wind.   

It was a great location to enjoy the sun and get out some energy before more driving. 

We had lunch at a kaffehaus which was used as a location in the movie "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."   I guess in the film, the cafe was transformed into a Papa John's Pizza (love the American product placement) and they had still photos from the movie in the cafe.   It was a nice spot for our standard Icelandic lunch (soup, bread and coffee) and to pick up some treats for the road.   I also bought some lovely handspun Icelandic wool, colored with plant-based dyes.   It's a thin type of wool called tviband which is traditionally knit into a shawl called a hyrna.  A shawl for myself is already on my needles.  

We drove directly from Borgarnes to Vogar, bypassing Reykjavik.  Our lodging was an Airbnb rental and we wanted to check in with our host, Dagmar.  Her rental is in the loft of her house and was lovely.  The photo above is from the window of our loft.  She was very welcoming and had made us warm skonsur, which are very simlar to pancakes, complete with homemade jam to go along with them.   The skonsur were delicious and perfectly timed, since we had to drive straight to the Blue Lagoon for our reservation.   The Blue Lagoon, a geothermic pool built into black lava with a white silica mud bottom, is everything you are warned about:  expensive, touristy and magical.  We spent several evening hours warming ourselves in the steamy pools, painting our skin with the mud and relaxing.   Jonas loved the experience and we felt it was worth the side trip.  I didn't take any photos while we were there, but this image captures the pool fairly well.  The color of the water is a strange, irridescent blue and we did feel quite restored after our soak. 

The next day we had originally planned to go into Reykjavik for the day, but instead opted for a day exploring the southern penninsula, Reykjanes.  The area has lots of geothermal features, rugged sea cliffs and a few small villages.   We walked the trail along the coast out to the lighthouse at Gardur and found this old fishing boat along the way.   

The fact that fisherman once braved the North Atlantic Ocean in this vessel baffles me.  We were chilled enough walking in the sunshine right by the coast in our puffy coats.   Can you imagine fishing, wearing seal-skin rainwear, in a brutally cold ocean?   Icelanders are a tough, tough people.   At Gardur, we found a more sea-worthy vessel to explore.

On the walk out to the lighthouse we had promised Jonas a warm drink if we could find one. There was an odd cafe by the lighthouse, which seemed to exclusively serve tourist busses. The owner insisted we wait to pay until after we had eaten our cakes and cocoa, but when we went to settle up her credit card reader wouldn't work properly and we had no kroner on hand. We were trapped for a small while until she called the bank and was able to fix the issue.   Luckily we didn't have to leave Jonas for collateral while we went in search of a cash machine.   

On the way to another village, Grindavik, we stopped at a few geothermic sites which were interesting.  If you walked along the boardwalk near this fumarole, the cloud would sprinkle you with a warm and salty rain. The area reminded us of Yellowstone, but not quite so dramatic. 

More dramatic are the sea cliffs -- filled with nesting birds.  We walked to the top of a large hill to check out the view.  In Grindavik, we beachcombed and found a cafe for another Icelandic lunch.   The barkeeper there was a younger man who was easily the most chatty Icelander we met.  He gave Jonas a length of "splice" -- a type of fishing rope he had been braiding.   We hung out in the cafe until they began to set up for a broadcast of the football game.   The atmosphere in this part of Iceland reminded me very much of the countryside of Ireland.  Those small, windblown islands have some kindred features.  

We returned to our loft and prepared for an early departure in the morning.   Nick ventured out on his own and found a very well-built stone roundhouse out in the fields.  

In the morning we boarded our flight to Paris and watched the golden grasses blow on the island as we ascended.  Iceland is a beautiful, quiet country we hope to visit again.

Next stop, France.