Tuesday 30 September 2014

trois nuits sous les pins

Trois heures pour y aller, trois heures pour en revenir, le nez au vent, les yeux brillants et le cœur léger à arpenter le sud ouest de la France. Lourdes. Pau. Dax. Et enfin la mer. 

Trois nuits sous les pins, à se délecter des couleurs des fougères, à cueillir la calune, à écouter le brame du cerf, le cri de la hulotte, le vent dans les arbres. 

Trois jours à être si heureux d'être là, de revoir la mer. De respirer un peu. De s'échapper. Avec mon amour.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

standing still

We went to Lourdes and had a picnic by the lake. 

A kingfisher darted back and forth, nothing more than a flash of russet and bright blue skimming across the limpid waters. 

But not everything in nature rushed around. A heron stood for over an hour, poised and concentrated, waiting patiently for the right moment. 

Not everything in nature rushes around. Why should I? 

Sunday 21 September 2014

golden days

Late summer days spent with his parents, then mine. Golden, sun drenched days wrapped up in a total disregard for time, where the big event of the day is going for a picnic, and the only decision to be taken is which mountain meadow to visit next.

I adored their two week holiday out here with us, so quickly settling back into the familiarity of their company. It felt good to have them in our valley, tucked up in their cosy little gîte on the other side of the stream. To be able to just pop round for a cup of tea in their garden each day on my way home from school.

We walked along familiar paths, learnt tai-chi in the open air, gorged ourselves on the last of the bilberries and swam in icy mountain lakes. We made dinner for one another, caught up on news, knitted in the garden and drank coffee in nearly every café in the village. 

I soaked up every ray of late summer sun, every drop of family time. Like last year, precious memories to hold on to when Autumn eventually falls into our laps.

Friday 19 September 2014

lake side

I'm not quite ready to fold summer away just yet. There'll be time enough for knitting cardigans and gathering walnuts, for curling up beside the fire with a good book or making the first batch of spicy pumpkin soup. For now, I'm revelling in these last, most glorious days of summer. 

Up in the mountains, there are still bilberries to be picked. Unexpected foxgloves blooming around hidden corners. And lakes which just need to be swum in... 

The colder the water...the more we laugh! 

Wednesday 17 September 2014


The hillsides are still full of myrtilles sauvages, wild bilberries. Knowing that this glut isn't going to last, we could have picked bucketfulls of these gorgeous little fruits to turn into jams or tartes in the kitchen back at home. But we preferred to follow the lead from the flocks of sheep: sit down and gorge ourselves on the hillside, straight from the bush. 

Wednesday 10 September 2014


Rough grass beneath our feet. Forest paths and fields of scree. The ceiling so high, so inviting. And then this moment. This smell. This taste. These mountains in my lungs. My muscles unfurl. My chest rises and falls. The clouds, the sun, the earth. My breath.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

elergy for a walnut tree

Old friend now there is no one alive
who remembers when you were young
it was high summer when I first saw you
in the blaze of day most of my life ago
with the dry grass whispering in your shade
and already you had lived through wars
and echoes of wars around your silence
through days of parting and seasons of absence
with the house emptying as the years went their way
until it was home to bats and swallows
and still when spring climbed toward summer
you opened once more the curled sleeping fingers
of newborn leaves as though nothing had happened
you and the seasons spoke the same language
and all these years I have looked through your limbs
to the river below and the roofs and the night
and you were the way I saw the world

WS Merwin
From The Moon Before Morning 

Monday 8 September 2014

back to school

September already. With it's comforting feeling of both newness and familiarity. I am easing myself in slowly to the new school year. 

We've been adjusting to the new timetable, the darker morning starts. I have to pinch myself nearly every day at the thought that I'm back in that classroom doing what I came here to do: teach languages to young and old. 

Given what happened last time, I've been understandably a little nervous to start again. Only difference from this year to last, I'll be setting the pace this time around. 

Sunday 7 September 2014

this hour

"This hour along the valley 
before it begins to go."

from Seasons by W.S. Merwin,

Saturday 6 September 2014


Since the start of the year, I have been making a conscious, deliberate effort to make more time for making. Rediscovering my creative side has been a revelation to me. Having a variety of absorbing, enjoyable, fulfilling (and manageable!) hobbies have been doing wonders for my physical and mental well-being.

In parallel to my renewed interest in making things with my hands, I'm also becoming increasingly interested in the processes involved in creating the raw-materials that I then enjoy transforming at home...or out on the hillside.
I've started with wool. Living in a sheep-farming community, this seems the logical thing to do. Daily life, yearly life in our village still revolves around the handful of sheep farmers who scratch out a living raising livestock.

Perennial, divisive issues such as the expansion of the ski stations, the management of the Pyrénées National Park, electronic tagging of livestock, the reintroduction of the brown bear (...) are all important, very real issues for local farmers.

But despite having lived here for five years and taking an active interest in these thorny issues, I realise that I still know very little about the realities of the traditions and way of life that have shaped our valley over the centuries.

And I know even less about sheep!

Back in February, I listen to some excellent French podcasts about sheep farming and the wool industry here in France. They've really got me thinking. In addition to recycling, re-purposing and re-using yarns, where possible, I'd like my choice of materials to have a real connection to the landscape in which I live and work.

The first step back then was to find a spinning wheel and learn how to use it!

Since then, I've been spinning away at every opportunity and feel like I'm really starting to get the hang of things now.

The next step then is to knit a garment with my own, hand spun yarn. Only a few weeks left before it's time to cast on!

Friday 5 September 2014

French beans

My beaux-parents are here in the valley this week. 

As usual, they arrived with a car-full of presents for us. The very best kind: home-grown and home-prepared. Four jars of courgette jam. A box of potatoes. Garlic. Onions. Two crates of tomatoes. A crate of French beans.

Tuesday was a bit of a poorly day for me. So whilst the men-folk were up a mountain, I sat in the kitchen and was given a lesson in canning French beans in a pressure cooker from my belle-mère.

From a crate of fresh, crisp beans, we ended up with only two jars for the winter. But they are a celebration of quality over quantity.   

For me, these jars of beans encapsulate one of the things that I so treasure about daily life in France: the deeply rooted understanding that it is in our own back gardens (be it veggie patches, favourite hedgerows, shady glen, brook sides or mountain meadows) that the best stuff of life resides. 

By the time the boys had come back from the mountain, there were two jars of French beans ready to tidy away for the winter. And they came home with armfulls of delicious wild mushrooms.

Thursday 4 September 2014

summer stash

Spent yesterday morning washing, fulling and blocking the pile of yarns that have been slowly building up beside my spinning wheel over the summer. Some of these will end up in the natural dye pot, others are destined for the Shetland Wool Week KAL.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

easing in slowly

September already.  N came back from a mountain walk earlier today, his arms full of parasol mushrooms - my favourite kind of bouquet! And a sure sign that Autumn is loitering...but not yet here.

I'm slowly beginning to resurface from the month that's been, gently easing back into a new, slower, everyday pace.  
I am so grateful for a brand new month, for slightly better health and improved mood, for scrumping in apple orchards and for gentle afternoon walks, for freshly washed sheets and home-made summer vegetable soups. 

And I am grateful to have emerged from the haze of the cure into the golden, sun-drenched daze of late summer.

Tuesday 2 September 2014

late summer daze

Late summer days daze with my darling.
The sun is back, and the pastures are still full of flowers and cows.

An afternoon spent in the shade of an old barn, walking barefoot through the meadows, picking wild flowers, searching for bilberries and carding wall.

I also cast on a couple of samples for a WIP...

Monday 1 September 2014


I've been sampling yarns this week. Not only to try out the different colour combinations, but also the different fibre construction. Now I've got a handful of little samples of both woolen and (semi) worsted spun yarns, I've made a couple of swatches of the Fair Isle pattern to see how the colours and yarns work together. The results were rather surprising. 

I had expected worsted spun (bottom sample) to be the ideal construction for Fair Isle because it affords a crisp stitch definition which really shows off the design. However, whilst considerably more fuzzy, the woolen spun yarn (top sample) was softer, airier and more lightweight. Both swatches were knit with the same weight yarn and needles and finished in the same way (washed in hot water and blocked) and yet the worsted sample faired better in the finishing and didn't suffer from shrinkage as much as the woolen sample. 

Now armed with these knitted and blocked samples, I think I'll stick with what I know and spin woolen for the time being. I'm excited with my semi-worsted results though, as hopefully I'll be able to have a go at spinning some sock yarn next!