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Tuesday
Sep062016

les grandes titres, part deux


France: le luberon and apt

We moved southward for the next segment of our time in France, closer to the Provence region in an area called the Luberon, staying in the town of Apt.  Our house was a charming bungalow set in the hills of the area with a lovely view (and an infinity pool!).   The owners were a married couple with grown children they would visit anytime someone wanted to rent their home for a week.   We were warmly greeted by the gentleman who cheerily showed us everything we needed to know about the house.  He had made us an eggplant tart and left a bottle of wine to welcome us.   His wife did not speak English, so I practiced my French as best as I could as we talked about her grandchildren and items she had that might be of interest to Jonas.    They then left us to catch their train to Paris, giving us a restaurant recommendation and tips on feeding the stray cat that came to visit them.   

We explored a few areas close to Apt and a highight was the village of St. Saturnin les Apt which had a lovely farmers market and some older ruins to wander through.  

Nearby was a park with ochre hills you could hike through.   A smaller version of the Roussillon, this park was called the Colorado and not exactly worth seeking out, but fine for an afternoon of hiking if you were in the area.  

There was a small aquaduct carved from stone and Jonas delighted in throwing small leaves and watching them float down to small pools.  Sometimes travels with children mean finding simple pleasures for entertainment. 

We took a day-trip to Arles the following day for what was probably one of my favorite days of our vacation.   I had found a cooking course online that looked interesting and was willing to work with non-French speaking students.   Many cooking classes in Provence seem geared towards Parisians or other native French speakers.  I managed to communicate well enough with our instructor, Erick, via e-mail preparing for the class, but he would arrange for an interpreter to come and be present for the actual class.   The class would just be for my dad's wife and myself, everyone else keeping busy in Arles checking out the old Roman architecture.   We had to arrive quite early in order to visit the market and get supplies for cooking with Erick.   Nervously, Debbie and I searched out the apartment in the city center where the class was held, and realized we had been given the wrong house number when we rang the bell of a woman who answered the door from her windows on the second floor.   Amazingly, I was able to tell her what we were looking for in French and understand her answer. Erick's apartment was just a few doors down (we had been told it was number 13 when in fact it was 31).  We were greeted by Erick, his assistant/interpreter Lidie and set out for the market.   

Unfortunately, I didn't have the camera for this part of the day (the pictures are from the boys' time in Arles at the old amphitheater in the city center), but we followed Erick to the market and watched him buy peas, mussels, calamari and various other fresh items.  Lidie was very sweet and easy to talk with and she had helped Erick on several occasions and made the class go rather smoothly.   Two hours later, we were setting out a 5 course meal and Nick, my dad and Jonas came back to join us for a leisurely lunch.   Erick was self-taught and specialized in older Provencal cuisine which drew quite a bit from other Mediterranean cultures and even using Asian ingredients such as fish sauce.   Jonas loved the food and was a good guest.  Coincidentally, one of Erick's sons was named Jonas as well and we met him as we were eating. Erick and I found out we also shared a love of making Pain au Levain at home.   His house had all sorts of collected cookware and he also dabbled in making essential oils.   Despite the language barrier, we had a good connection and the class was very worthwhile and special.  

Quite full from lunch, we took a side trip to the Pont du Gard, one of the large Roman aqueducts.   It was a perfect place to sit and enjoy the architecture and put our feet in the cool river.  

 

After our trip to Arles, we had one more full day left in the Luberon.   Nick and I really wanted to explore medieval ruins near Buoux and were impressed by what we found. 

 

A stairwell carved into stone with a precarious drop off!   This must have taken several decades to complete and was a bit of a secret entrance into the living area of the ruins.   The ruins were on top of a hill, in a prime location to see any invaders making their way towards the enclave.   There were several dwellings in the ruins, some complete with moats and bridges, and even a church.   Nick explored some of the quite deep cisterns.  

Clearly this was not a place to bring your 4 year old to play.   We were glad to explore on our own and had the area mostly to ourselves.   That evening Nick and I went out alone again to dinner at the restaurant our host had recommended, Le Bistrot de Lagarde d'Apt.   This was no city restaurant, but a remote dining experience tucked away in the hillsides with literally nothing nearby.   And it was very much worth seeking out.   To make a reservation, you had to leave a message with the restaurant during the day and then they would call back to confirm.  Somehow we managed this, despite not having phone service, using the house phone and having them call back my dad's mobile phone.   With a reservation secure, Nick and I went to gas up the car before driving to the hills.  However, the gas stations wouldn't take our US credit or debit cards and the cash kiosk was closed.   We took a gamble that we had enough gas to make it to the restaurant and back.   It would have been a long walk home if the car ran out of gas, but luckily we didn't have to find out how long.  

The dinner delicious and memorable.   Almost all of the waitstaff were women, which is a rarity in France.  We ordered le Pigeoneau, which turned out to indeed be a small pigeon (or squab).  The menu was in French, which left an element of surprise to the meal. We had a set menu with several courses, all quite interesting and well done. Afterwards, we returned to the house, coasting down the hill in the darkness to save on gas, happily full of great food.   

The next day we said au revoir to my dad and Debbie and caught our TGV train back to Paris.   Off to the the city of lights for a few days before our journey back to the States. 

Tuesday
Sep062016

worth doing

To be brief, triathlon number 6 was not my best.  The weather was perfect and the summer much milder than last year's blazing heat.   I had been putting in lots of hours training on the runs and biking, but not finding enough time in the pool.   Still, I felt optimistic that I could beat my previous time of 3 hours 11 minutes and possibly meet my goal of finishing in less than 3 hours.   That was, until I got a nasty summer cold.   By the time the SeaFair Tri rolled around, I was on the mend, but had scrapped quite a bit of training in order to recover.   I also was not at 100% by any means energy-wise and definitely felt it after the swim.  An illustration of my fatigue was when I tried to remove both arms from my wetsuit at the same time and was briefly stuck.  Discouraged that I was already going too slowly to beat my time, I just put my head down and did my best to finish.  

Olympic Triathlon -- 2016

3 hours, 27 minutes  

346 of 358 finishers

Let me tell you, I could tell that I was near the end of the pack by the time I was on my second lap of the 10K run -- it was pretty lonely out there.   Still, I was trying to focus on myself and not compare myself to other competitors. I must say though, I'm glad I didn't finish last.  

Nick got this photo of me during the last leg of the run.  I was trying really hard to beat you, number 523, but just couldn't find the energy to sprint the final distance.  

A few friends who were doing the Sprint distance race cheered me on as I was about to embark on the remainder of the run.   When we chatted about the race afterwards, my friend said I was looking pretty good when she saw me chugging past.   Truthfully, I didn't feel that bad during the race. My hips and knees didn't give me any grief which was encouraging.   Everything just felt a little slowed down and I couldn't find any reserves to pull from.   

In the long run, my time doesn't really matter.  I still think the event is worth doing, even if I'm not improving.  It is about the process of training and pushing myself to work as hard as I can manage.  Some years I'll have more time to commit to training.   Maybe I can even take a swim course to improve my technique.  This year it was just enough to be out there, amongst others, being athletes.  

And as far as goals go -- there's always next year.

Thursday
May122016

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.   

Sunday
Mar062016

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.  

Sunday
Jan242016

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.