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Friday, April 17, 2015

To Cultivate and Grow ~ A French Girl Friday Post

Learning how to cultivate and grow my inner French Girl , one page at a time. 

I will admit that I spend far too much time watching television. When you have the health issues that I have, it is not always easy to get out and about, and sitting all day is not easy either, as it can cause just as many pain issues for me, so I turn on the television and listen even if I am not watching. It also keeps me from going crazy within the four walls. I shall also admit I have quite the varied type of programs I enjoy watching, and not all of them are the type that help cultivate the mind, there are times to simply let my mind drift and not concentrate is the best type of relaxation I can get, though quite a few are indeed very educational, I love the Travel, Discovery and History channels . I also watch the national news most nights. So I did indeed find it hard to read this weeks chapter in Lessons from Madame Chic, written by Jennifer L. Scott , the chapter titled " Cultivate Your Mind" , as I am quite limited in my ability to follow the tips on how to do so. 

Getty Image from Time Life Magazine

As I read her accounts of her experiences living in Paris and how Madame Chic did not watch television, how because of all the wonderful things there are to do and experience in Paris Jennifer had little time and soon little interest in watching television and how once she was back in the states that she continued to do her best to limit the television programs she watched, I was green with envy that I have not had such experiences and though I try to limit my day time viewing, with taking walks, my daily chores and the moments of time I am on the computer ( no better really), I do not think I shall ever be able to achieve just an hour or two here and there.    

Richard Avedon Harpers Bazaar 1953
Getty Image 
Not all the suggestions are impossible or long shots for me however. I do love to read, obviously I am reading Jennifer' s book, and will read her others after this. I always have a book both on my kindle and on my bedside as well. I love books. I read mostly what is known as Cozy mysteries, not sure they cultivate my mind, but they do relax me and make my mind work at the same time trying to solve the mystery at hand.  I read self help books, but not serious ones, as you can gather from this series of posts, but I do believe that they help me cultivate my mind on some level. I like historic based fiction, at times I read non fiction travel books, such as A Year in Provence, living through the authors own experiences of living in another country and culture, not unlike Jennifer's books, but written in a much more story like manner. I also like to read newspapers, but will admit I can not recall the last time I did so... at least regular newspapers, I often read a local paper that profiles what is going on in the area to keep informed.  I do not read as much as I should or like, getting into a viscous addiction cycle of playing games on my kindle or phone and checking Pintrest, FB and now Instagram. It happened when I got my kindle as a gift , a thoughtful gift from my husband, he thinking I would use it simply as a reader, instead I have read less and less over the last two years and I feel I truly miss the reading at night, my favorite time, but find it hard to break my addiction to Monster Busters.  I think I need to work on that starting tonight! Jennifer wrote " the more you read, the more you will want to read..." I hope that becomes true. 

Getty Image 

Getty Image

Two other ways suggested for cultivating your mind are things I once enjoyed, such as attending the theater and going to see a film. I find it hard, as I mentioned to sit still for any length of time. Even writing this blog is difficult and this is the reason I have gone down from writing daily as I did five years ago to writing once a week, though I shall soon be adding at least one more day now and again as I have subjects to write about and to share that are not able to fall under the heading of a FGF post. Both movies and theater have been a long time love for me, and I hope one day to perhaps be able to enjoy them again, till that time arrives, I enjoy movies at home via pay per view and netflix.. sometimes even Youtube. When each year as has been the pattern the last two, a live play has been aired on television, I always tune in and enjoy it fully. I believe movies and theater are a wonderful way to cultivate our minds... ok maybe not such films as the latest action flick or horror sequel, but there are some truly wonderful films out there that can enrich ones mind, wake it up really and make us see the world in a different way. I love that about film, theater as well. 

I believe you can cultivate your mind through other means as well. Not one of the suggestions listed, such as learning a new word each day, going back to school, following the arts , or learning more about the subjects and people that interest you ( and no I do not mean by reading gossip mags and watching reality tv...though I do learn a lot through the Amazing Race!),  but perhaps through the foods we enjoy. I love going through cookbooks from regions of the world that I had once dreamed of visiting and learning to cook a dish from there. Right now my husband and I are cooking French food ( no big surprise) from time to time, but have also been known to do authentic Chinese, Italian and Mexican as well. When I was a girl I was in 4-H, I joined a cooking course. We each month that we met would cook from a different part of the world and learn about the place that the dishes came from. The one that I liked the most was actually Germany. My Grandma on my Father's side was pure German. I loved learning more about the foods from her parents country, and then preparing and of course eating them. It was a great way to cultivate within myself my own heritage, or at least part of it. I am a real mix of heritages and have yet to explore all of them meal wise, but I have time. YES! There is a very big chance, so my Aunt tells me, that I have a little bit of French in me...if not, then perhaps in a former life, since as I wrote in a post a while back I have always wanted to channel my inner French girl, even as a young is one way I can do that. 

Travel is one of the suggested ways to cultivate your mind. I obviously do not travel much. I have let go of dreams of traveling out of the United States. Now, now, don't feel bad for or be encouraging that it could still happen. I am ok with that fact. Planes are not my friends, neither are boats, and though I love the train, the furthest I could get is perhaps Canada? That may happen one day. Car travel is hit and miss, and I have seen other states, and would like to see more, and one day perhaps I shall. In the meantime my husband and myself have certainly taken a lot of daycations, and you can read all about them here on the blog under the same label in the archives. I have learned about the area I live in and it is fascinating. Because of the fibro fog I do not always remember what I have learned, but thank goodness for my blog and for the internet!! I do love to arm chair travel as well. I mentioned above that I watch the Travel Channel, though it seems less and less about travel and more about places to eat when you do. I also like Amazing Race to see bits and pieces of places around the world. I watch movies that take place in other parts of the world, and read books as I mentioned above that also take me away from the four walls of this cottage on the busy corner to anywhere I truly wish to go. Sometimes I watch live feeds from places I wanted to visit, did you know you can tour places in Paris this way? There is so many wonderful ways to travel, even if it is from your couch! 

There are so many ways to cultivate your mind
and channel your own inner French girl!

Reading this weeks chapter and doing this weeks blog made me realize that even though I many not be able to travel to France, and I might watch just a bit more, ok a lot more tv than that average French person ever will, and I am not able to follow a lot of the suggestions in Jennifer's book, I can still cultivate my mind and grow and channel just a little bit of my inner French girl, just in my own way. Even a casual conversation while sitting at the local cafe or at the nail salon can do the trick. I think I shall go order an arm chair travel book for some region of France I have not been to yet and soak in the culture.  Till next we chat, I hope you take the opportunity to both order Jennifer's book, Lessons From Madame Chic, and perhaps follow some of her suggestions or maybe even figure out a few of your own and channel your own inner French girl. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Not a Material Girl ~ A French Girl Friday Post

It can be hard to pass up ......

In the latest chapter of Lessons from Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott, the topic is materialism. It is a chapter that really hits home. I have been known, as I am sure many of us have done, to buy to make myself feel better, make purchases not because we really need something, but because we desire something.... promised ourselves that we are just window shopping or going to pick up one or two items and end up with a bag or more full of things we really did not intend to buy. It might be clothing or even that box of cookies that you really do not need, but just have to have, therefore convincing ourselves we can not live without it so to say.

Un-intended purchases  can add up
when wants over ride needs

Jennifer recounts her time with her host family in Paris and before her initial arrival is told they are a family that is "well- respected aristocratic family", and in hearing this let her mind take flights of fancy as to what that would mean for her and how she would live while residing with them; she was surprised to see that tho their home was filled with antiques and comfortable furnishings it was not the "nouveau riche " that she had imagined. She soon learned that not just the Famille Chic's , but most of the French population was not caught up in what she terms the " new materialism" . They lived comfortably, within means and did not constantly purchase or posses what they did not truly need. Through life cirumstances, many of which I have shared here from time to time, I have more and more lived my life that way. First because it was forced upon us, then later it just became a way of life, and one that I do not mind. It is not to say that I do not still own several pairs of black shoes that look similar, or buy yet another button up top or a special desert at the grocery store, even though it is not on out list... I am human after all.

Do we really need just one more....

My family went through loosing everything, including our home. We sold most of our belongings at one point to downsize from our house to an apartment. We lived on a very tight budget, and it had not been the first time in our life of doing so. It was a big part of starting this blog in the beginning, to share what life was like on a tiny budget and how to still find joy and beauty each day. It has of course evolved many times since then, and has become what it is now, but that is rabbit trails. The point is, I learned how to make my living space quite comfortable, even stylish on a minimal budget, and within the four walls I keep very little clutter laying about. If I bring something new in or decide on a redecorating project, it is always on a budget and things are not just added to what is already here, instead we donate to a worthy charity and once the project is done I do not keep adding to it just for the sake of doing so. 

Years ago, when our children were small, we began to make a menu and a grocery list as a way to stick to a budget, and to this very day, we still do so. We found by following our list and not just throwing things into the cart simply because we craved them saved us quite a bit of money. We will splurge for special occasions, say the holidays, but for the most part we stick to the list and to the budget. I always feel so much more satisfied when the shopping day is done and I know that we will be eating well, but not be exceeding our set budget...some weeks we even are under it. We tend to follow the same formula for everyday purchases, and again in doing so, we get what we need and not what we truly do not. The money we save doing this does allow us to indulge in nice wine , my husbands hobby of choice , and makes it so I can treat myself to my indulgent desire to regular mani pedis.... it is all about a healthy balance I think. 

A new this or that is always fun to acquire,
but if it is not truly needed....

I am not afraid to admit, that as diligent as I can be with household and food acquirement, I have what the author of the book calls a "shopping demon".  I did go a number of years without purchasing anything past basic underwear when it was needed, it got to the point that my children were even worried about me because they know how much I love fashion and I simply was not buying anything. I would not go shopping, I had what I needed and there was no real money to buy what I didn't, even once there was , it took some time for me to get back to the stores. Eventually weight loss then weight gain and recently again weight loss, lured me to the racks. I am ashamed to admit that I have more button front tops, and various colors of the same pants or skirts and well of course shoes in my closet than I truly really need or wear. I am getting better... baby steps. I am a girly girl and one swirly skirt or pretty ballet slipper does not seem enough. I like choices... even if they are all similar, they are different. Many months ago however I went through a style course, and in doing so, I learned what colors are right for me, what are the proper shapes for my body, and with this knowledge and deciding to go back to my love of retro looks ( this time channeling the 1950's thru early 1960's) , has made it so that when I do go shopping it has to fit my style, my colors and my proper shapes. I am proud to say, I have been successful at walking out of several stores when nothing is quite right, instead of making a purchase that I would probably end up returning or donating. However, just like my rules for what comes into the house decor wise, the " if it comes in...." the local thrift shops that I like to shop at are also those that I donate to, I do not let it just pile up and crowd the closet, and when something has seen better days it is replaced, not just given a neighbor.  Like I said I am not perfect, but I have begun once again to shop less and less, so there is hope. 

Sales are getting easier to pass up.
Jennifer L. Scott states " ...the less shopping you do, the less you want to do it. When you spend your free time doing other things.... shopping may seem like a waste of time..." , I am not truly sure I will ever get to that point, but I do find myself throwing catalogs away, huge sales and special coupons are not calling me name and begging me to spend money that I really do not need to spend, and I am spending less and less time going to the local clothing stores and online shopping. So just as she suggests I guess I am truly taking a cue from her Famille Chic already, channeling my inner French girl, taking pleasure in what I already have, and in doing so, I hope,  as the author states I will 
" flourish and prosper...." I know that like she states that my bank account will thank me, and we will see if it will help " cultivate and maintain the vital and life-sustaining feeling of fulfillment." Worth striving for! 

Final Thought...
Fun and enjoyment does not always have to have a
high price tag or end up taking up unnecessary space
in your daily life, but create a lasting memory that
does not just collect dust. 

** all images collected via google search for 1950's Woman .... with various tags following those words. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Let Me Entertain You ~ A French Girl Friday Post

"In France entertaining is a part of life ...." 
Jennifer Scott Lessons from Madame Chic 
image via google search for 1950s dinner party 

I admit up front that I have a love and hate relationship with entertaining. That being said, I rather miss it. My husband and myself only seem to have enough friends between us to count on one hand that live here locally. It makes it very hard to entertain. I do not count when our daughters join us for supper entertaining. There was a time we threw quite large parties, complete with live music and quite the spread of food. I would spend weeks planing it, days cleaning the house and my outfit of course! I loved all the planning and prep, enjoyed the cooking, but the after effect of a huge mess, and exhaustion, well not so much. Like I said, now if I were to have a birthday party it would be basically my small family unit and that is about it. I am sure having shared all this that you all understand why writing about this weeks chapter in Lessons from Madame Chic by Jennifer Scott, " Practice the Art of Entertaining" , was one I sat and stared out wondering what to chat about with you. I played with just using the authors bullet points at the end of the chapter and adding a few quips in here and there about them, but could not even motivate myself to do that. I am thinking that maybe if you are really curious you will be more apt to buy this lovely, and enjoyable to read book. 

Entertaining is always more fun when you have people
other than just yourself and your spouse to have join you.
image via google search for 1950s dinner party  

So what am I going to write about this week you may be asking? Well, I have a recipe for you. It is one that I spotted on the FB page for French and Parfait. A recipe for a French Macaron, but not the type that have become so popular, the pretty pastel, little pillows of crisp and chewy goodness with jam or butter cream sandwiched between two sides.... no this one, from the South West of France is actually flat. Yes, I was surprised to learn about this Macaron myself. Apparently there are several types of Macarons depending what part of France you visit. The recipe sounded quite simple, few ingredients, although a bit costly ( almond flour has a bigger price tag than regular flour) were easy to obtain, the curious instructions seemed odd, but easy to follow, so I went for it. 

image via google search for 1950's woman baking cookies 

I wrote down the instructions very carefully and double checked them to be sure, had my daughter, who works at a grocery store, bring me the required almond flour, as well as orange flower water, made sure I still had parchment paper and my tin cookie box from Christmas ( you will see why you need the latter soon) and picked a day to go to work. We actually were scheduled to have a small dinner party with our daughter and her new boyfriend ( hey, I guess we do entertain once in a while) and as the cookies have to sit 24 hours, in the air tight tin, before eating, this past Tuesday was the day. If you follow my FB page, then you know I shared the final result there and promised the recipe here. So that is what I decided to do with this weeks post.

Tea and cookies.... French style. 

Vrais Macarons 
4 egg whites
a pinch of salt 
1 1/4 cup of sugar
1 tbsp orange blossom water 
( found mine at a grocery store in the liquor dept.)
1/2 pound almond flour

You will need a baking rack, I used a cooling rack, 
parchment paper or silpat ( I used both and both worked great) for baking, 
1 good size tin cookie box, and parchment paper to put between the layers 
of the cookies within the box. 

Ruby's Tips.... the dough comes out more like a batter, and I was not
able to work with it as stated by the recipe, so I suggest making it in the morning, 
sticking it in the fridge or even the freezer till firm, the follow remaining 
instructions and pop it back in the fridge or freezer between batches....
you can even make the day before and have it sit in the fridge over night,
so yes, these cookies could take up to three days to finally get to eat one, 
but I promise you it is worth it. Also have two separate cookie sheets with
two separate racks etc so as one batch comes out to cool, you can put another
batch in, otherwise it could take you all day to bake these. When cookies come out
of the oven, let them cool COMPLETELY before you try to lift them off of the parchment 
paper and placing them in the tin box..... TRUST ME ON THIS!!!  

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees 

Whisk egg whites and salt til thick
add sugar, orange blossom water, then the 
almond flour... stop when batter is homogeneous.

* the recipe now states return to the fridge to make easier to use, 
this confused me as there was no way to follow the next instructions without
putting the batter in the freezer for a while till I could work with it 

Put parchment on pastry rack ( I put my rack, a cooling rack on the cookie sheet)
using a tablespoon, take some of the batter, size of a walnut, roll it with your hands 
and press it on the parchment paper.  * I did not use my hands, I was able to 
drop the walnut size dough ball onto the paper then flatten them. 

Space cookies well, and put in the oven for 15 minutes, take them out
as soon as they become golden * I found 16 -17 to be my magic number, 
as ovens vary. 

Let the cookies cool down( * remember my tips above! ) and 
store in an airtight metallic box for at least one day before eating 

You can visit the French and Parfait blog HERE
See the recipe page HERE 

Channeling my own inner French Girl