Playing around with colour

The human yarn bomb, photo by L'Oisivethe

The human yarn bomb, photo by L’Oisivethe

The weather was grey and gloomy all this week, but for a couple of days we had the pleasure of seeing an extravaganza of knitted colour – a human yarn bomb – making his way around a few knitting stores in Paris brightening things up a bit.  Can you guess who?

Right.  Stephen West was in Paris to give classes at L’ Oisivethe on Thursday and Friday.  From Wednesday evening pictures started appearing on my social media feeds from a few of the sites I follow as Stephen visited yarn stores around the city.  Every picture showed a larger-than-life character, colourfully attired in his signature accessories.  I had registered for his Color Play class on Thursday evening and was really looking forward to meeting Mr Westknits himself.

In real life he is quite a presence; he is TALL.  He is also down to earth and a very nice person indeed.  The class was a treat; a charming group of participants translating for each other as necessary (it was conducted in English), tasty refreshments and yarns galore.  We had been instructed to bring balls of yarn from our stash (no problem) and Stephen supplied additional samples of unusual textures and neon colours to mix it up even more.  We started with paper and scissors to cut a random shape and then knitted that shape in colour; stripes, slipped stitches, short rows, new colours and a change of direction…….away from familiar territory.  But when you are a little bit challenged, you learn, and I did.

The evening went by in a buzz of chatter, knitting, questions and fun.  We tried on Stephen’s trunk load of knitted creations and each fell in love with half a dozen different designs.  I’d seen them in pictures and liked what I had seen, but in real life they were even more impressive.  With clever use of simple knitting techniques and not being constrained by conventions for colour or yarn combinations his designs are distinctly inventive.  What’s more, the garments looked really good on everyone who tried them.

To finish off there was a lucky draw for prizes; my luck was in, I won a Stephen West signature project bag.  Any knitting in that bag will be blessed with colourful inspiration, all the better for the Westknits designs I have put straight onto my project list.


Just knttin' in the rain

Just knttin’ in the rain – photo by L’ Oisivethe

It’s beginning to look like Christmas

Happy Birthday Katherine

Happy Birthday Katherine

Yep, Christmas is coming; the street corner sellers have stacks of Christmas trees bound up in their netting covers waiting to be taken home, the florists have faux-snow covered mini trees, big elegant trees, fragrant pine wreaths to embellish at home and bucket loads of shiny holly.  The days darken early but the streets are lit and the store windows sparkle with decoration; the buzz of the season is all about.

I don’t truly focus on Christmas until we get past December 7th – our lovely daughter’s birthday.  This year it was a very special occasion, her 30th birthday!  How can that be?  It seems no time ago we were transporting seven 7-year olds to the Fairy shop on Ponsonby Road for a party complete with fairy lemonade, or playing pass-the-parcel in our living room and following party themed clues to hunt treasure in the park over the road.

Being the very capable grown up that she is, – and we are so proud of – she organised her own party this time.  Family and friends congregated in Hamburg to celebrate; the weather came to the party and turned on a cool clear day with a beautiful late afternoon sunset.  It was perfect for a walk beside the Alster to soak up the festive atmosphere before a wonderful evening at restaurant Rexrodt on Papenhuder Strasse; great company and delicious food.

The occasion doubled as the family get together as some of us will soon head down under for Christmas dinner from the barbecue in Kaiapoi, others will be roasting turkey in London and the German side of Katherine’s family will enjoy their present-opening on 24th December.  Thanks Kath, we had a great time and are looking forward to the next get together.

Knitting fiesta

Knitting fiesta

My cherubs indulged me by posing for a team photo complete with Mum-knitted uniforms of snowflake jersies and just-off-the-needles Hawick cowls knitted for the occasion.

It’s now time to focus on Christmas; there is a lot to fit in over the next couple of weeks, it’s all exciting and all go.  We’ll talk soon.

Know how, can do, have fun

Well patronised exhibitor stands at CSF

Well patronised exhibitor stands at CSF

There are two major craft fairs held each year in Paris; Aiguille-en-Fete (AeF, the international exhibition of needle and thread creative arts) in February and Creations Savoir Faire.  The CSF is sponsored by Marie Claire Idées Magazine and is held in November at the Porte de Versailles Exhibition Centre.

They are both wonderful; each is slightly different.  While AeF  is dedicated to the textile, needle and thread arts in the widest sense, the CSF includes creative cuisine; from cake decoration to artful sushi making, supplies for creating themed birthday parties, textile painting, nail art, do-it-yourself woodwork, furniture art – decorative paint effects and that sort of thing, scrapbooking, origami, beading, and so many more.

There are of course embroidery, sewing and knitting related stands, and books for designs, patterns and instructions on every craft you can think of.  Every level of craft skill is catered for from beginners to accomplished artisans.

The exhibitors invest months and weeks of time preparing for these grand salons.  Often new designs and patterns are released in conjunction with new yarns, threads, textiles or other materials, kits are put together with patterns and yarn/fabric/thread, hopefully enough to meet the frenzied demand.  Finally there is the big job of set up and presentation of the stand.  It is always a treat to see the diverse creative displays the exhibitors come up with to present their wares.

I went along with my friend Barbara (of Stitching up Paris) who introduced me to a favourite of hers; a sewing exhibitor C’est Dimanche and their sewing patterns for women and children.  Their stand was a hit; the delightful little Miss Dimanche dolls adorned the stand, and everyone seemed to admire the samples of the retro-chic designs.  I resisted a purchase at CSF, but after researching on-line I’ve succumbed to the appeal of the cute little doll and ordered my kit for Mademoiselle Dimanche along with the pattern book for her 17 outfits.

C’est Dimanche is the creation of Soeur Alma; she is the pattern designer and creative mind behind the collection.  She is a member of an order of nuns, The Contemplative Sisters of St John, based at Notre Dame de Cana in the department of L’Oise in the Picardie region in northern France.

Naturally I checked out the knitting and yarn exhibitors.  Aimee and friends from L’Oisivethe had been knitting up beautiful new shawl designs in new yarns ready to unveil at CSF.  The verdict: magnificent!

Aimee's Dotted Rays

Aimee’s Dotted Rays

Aimee never stops, while at the show she had knitting underway for the next exciting event at L’Oisivethe – more about that in due course, a colour work class with the inventive Stephen West and I’m all signed up.

My yarn stash cupboard received a little boost from my visit to CSF.  Enough yarn in Glazed Pecan colourway to knit the Belmont cardigan from Gudrun Johnson’s Shetland Trader Book 2, and a couple of balls of mohair/silk yarn from Liliana who is a mohair producer and sells her yarns under the Farms of France label.  Those are for quick one-ball mini shawl projects.


I had fun seeing all that creative stuff, and came away filled with ideas about things I could do in addition to knitting and crocheting the yarn that waits patiently in my cupboard.  I’m knitting as fast as I can, in between other projects.  I need to prepare space for the next Aiguille en-Fete.  It’s in my diary already for 12th-15th February at Porte de Versailles, 250 exhibitors, the exhibition will have an Eastern theme.


Chocolate, chocolate, and (no) more chocolate.

Fountains of chocolate

Fountains of chocolate

A couple of weeks ago I trotted along to the annual Salon du Chocolate that’s held at the huge exposition centre at Porte de Versailles on the edge of central Paris.  It was, of course, all in the interest of writing a story for this blog……..oh what a fib! I am a chocolate fancier; research for a post is the best excuse ever.

Now I confess that even though every aspect of chocolate and cocoa production was covered in the exposition with cocoa producer exhibits, chocolate sculptures, cocoa processing and chocolate making displays, chocolate workshops for kids, even fashion parades with models wearing artistic chocolate designs, I was really there to indulge in a little sampling and buy a few treats.

Feast your eyes on these…………

Patisserie by Laurent-Duchene. Chocolate and patisserie boutiques in the 13th  and 15th arrondissements.

Patisserie by Laurent-Duchene. Chocolate and patisserie boutiques in the 13th and 15th arrondissements.


Bowls of Chapon chocolates

Bowls of Chapon chocolates

Halloween themed chocolate gifts by Bruno Le Derf chocolatier

Halloween themed chocolate gifts by Bruno Le Derf chocolatier

Fine chocolate by Dalloyau

Fine chocolate by Dalloyau

Eyecatching as well as delicious chocolates from Brest.

Eyecatching as well as delicious chocolates from Brest.

No, I didn’t try all these, tasting and photographing were separate activities.  I came home with a delicious small dessert treat moelleux chocolate framboise from Arnauld Larher chocolatier, and what good luck: two of his chocolate and patisserie boutiques are within walking distance of our apartment.

There’s talk of a chocolate shortage looming.  I’ve read the reports and concluded I can continue with my ration of one square of dark (healthy) chocolate after-dinner and an occasional treat without catastrophic consequences.

When things go right

Entrance to Parc aux Buttes Chaumont, opposite Hospital Fondation de Rothschild, Paris 19th

Entrance to Parc aux Buttes Chaumont, opposite Hospital Fondation de Rothschild, Paris 19th

Living at the other end of the world away from home and speaking a language other than your mother tongue is an adventure.  That’s what this blog is about, our Parisian adventure, and the fun we have along the way with the light hearted challenges thrown in our path; troublesome toilettes, conversing with the hairdresser, navigating the Dordogne countryside and surviving the Paris Metro.  Nothing had been too serious until a health problem turned up.  Working your way through an unfamiliar health system in a foreign language is an extra complication in the process of getting better.

The beginning.

My dearly beloved had been having a bit of sciatic pain for some time, he’s a stoic chap but it was enough to visit our general doctor, a lovely Englishwoman.  Initial x-rays revealed nothing more than possible disc pathology, but a series of physiotherapy sessions didn’t resolve the problem.  His discomfort had increased to the point that sitting and lying down were not possible for more than an hour or two – sleep deprivation torture.

The MRI scan.

Unable to make an appointment by telephone or website (recorded messages, endless loops and no option to select an MRI) we visited the radiology clinic in person.  We managed with plenty of la politesse and my best French to explain the degree of need to secure an appointment soon.  We were offered one the next evening – Friday’s late shift.  It was the right thing to do; the MRI showed a tumour inside DB’s spinal canal was causing the worsening problems and needed to be removed.  The radiologist made sure we understood it needed urgent follow up.  Interestingly in France, in our experience anyway, the patient is given the report of lab tests and diagnostic procedures to take to their doctor, and only sometimes the doctor is sent a copy directly.  In this case the radiologist made sure her report was emailed and faxed to our doctor that very evening.

The referral to a neurosurgeon.

We discussed hospitals with our doctor, there are several hospitals for neurosurgery in Paris, and went with our doctor’s recommendation.  She called the clinic but only a recorded message was at the end of the line.  The referral was faxed and emailed, we hoped for a prompt reply with a date for an appointment.  We waited, not really knowing what would happen next, when, or if anything at all.  After three days with no response, and many unspoken thoughts about making a run for it back to NZ, (probably not even possible) we called the clinic.  Our doctor called them, but still no way to speak to someone or leave a message.  We resent the email to every address on the clinic website and activated the read receipt requirement.  Several of the email addresses, including the main addressee, were “no longer valid”.  What? How does that instill confidence?  Our doctor eventually made contact going through another service and later in the day I took a call from the Fondation de Rothschild clinic.  An appointment was arranged, even on the phone my French was good enough to understand and confirm date, day, time, place, Dr’s name and what documents to bring.  Nothing happens without the right documents.

Rendez-vous with the neurosurgeon.

Fondation de Rothschild

Fondation de Rothschild

Five days later we arrived at the clinic with some trepidation; were we really in the right place, was there really a rendezvous for us?  Some things were reassuringly familiar; the multitude of coloured lines on the floor to direct patients to the right service – blue for neurochirurgie adulte.  The meeting with the neurosurgeon went well; she was matter of fact, assured and spoke English for us.  Best of all with the right documents with us we saw the administrator and the anaesthetist that same afternoon and were given a definite date for surgery just over 2 weeks later.

The pre-op paperwork.

In the meantime there were tasks to be done: pre-op blood tests (no problem) and making contact with our private insurer, (our mutuelle) to have them contact the hospital administration, agree the payment arrangements and then let us know.  This is not as easy as it sounds when it’s all French to us.  In the time we’ve lived here we’ve come to understand the health system at a superficial level; fees we pay for some things are reimbursed magically, in weird amounts, behind the scenes without submitting documents, others require signed forms.  The system is complicated, bureaucratic, it’s hard to believe it can be cost efficient, we never quite know what the rules are, but it’s generous and thorough when you get it.

We never did hear back from our insurer but with help from French speaking friends we managed to establish that the hospital had the information they required from the insurer and surgery had the green light.

Going to hospital.

The day of admission to Fondation de Rothschild Hospital in the 19th arrondissement finally arrived.  Several weeks of minimal sleep for both of us, and considerable discomfort for my DB was a long time.  We arrived at the hospital with fingers crossed; were all the bureaucracy boxes really ticked? Were they really expecting us?  The thought that my DB might be sent home for more waiting scared both of us more than the surgery.  We were armed with every document, form of identification, lab and radiology reports that we could carry.

Ah bonjour Monsieur Belton, yes go up to Level 5 and see the Secrétaire d’ Entrée.  What a relief.

Follow the green route for surgery

Follow the green route for surgery

In hospital.

The surgery went well; the tumour – a Schwannoma – was the least nasty of the possible types, it was completely removed and there were no unexpected complications.  The medical and nursing care was excellent.  On the ward no-one spoke more than a few words of English but they did everything to help us understand.  My DB’s main nurse, Katia, was better than wonderful.  As well as being efficient and expert in providing nursing care, she spoke slowly and carefully in French and my DB understood.

Being a French hospital we had expectations of nice French food, the menu sounded promising.  In reality it was horrible hospital food; fridge-cold stiff bread rolls, cloudy water of varying muddy shades pretending to be soup and the standard limp overcooked vegetables that come out of most institutional kitchens.  It amused us that the menu always included a cheese course with a named cheese – it is still France after all.

Home again.

Five days post-operatively my DB was out and glad to be home.  We are back to sleeping through the night and enjoying good French food.  We’ve successfully located the infirmière domicile (home care nurse) for prescribed post op wound care and removal of stitches.  Friends and family from all around the world have been sending their love and best get-well vibes.  We are thankful for the French healthcare system, as mystifying as it is, it worked.  Yes there is room for improvement, but my DB’s good health has been restored and we are enormously grateful to all the people who made things go right.


Seriously good knitting


Knitting Fair Isle wristlets

Knitting Fair Isle wristlets

Knit night, or tricot-soirée, at L’ Oisivethé has become quite the place to be on Wednesday evenings.  As soon as the event is posted on the Ravelry group page on Sunday evening the places are snapped up by knitters from near and far.  There is the core group of Paris based knitters; both the French tricoteuses and the expat knitters like me who enjoy having a place to meet up and chat in our native languages as well as to practise our French in kind company.  Then there are visitors from elsewhere in France and from all around the globe; USA, Mexico, Norway, Australia.  It has been a real pleasure to meet such lovely women and to be able to keep in touch via Ravelry, Facebook and Instagram.  Knitting is like a universal language that we all speak, and regardless of being beginners or experts the conviviality of our knit nights is perfect.

As if that is not enough, last week I enjoyed two special events at L’ Oisivethé.  First up was the special book-signing evening for US based designer Gudrun Johnson’s second Shetland Trader book.

Gudrun Johnson, author, designer The Shetland Trader

Gudrun Johnson, author, designer The Shetland Trader 


As well as getting to meet Gudrun, whose designs I admire immensely, we were able to see and fondle (!) the knitted up garments featured in her book.  I barely had time to update my to-do list with new “heart’s desire” projects before I was back the next evening to participate in a Fair Isle masterclass with MaryJane Mucklestone.  What. A. Treat!  Three hours learning, knitting, playing with colour and pattern; oh la la, any knitters reading this will understand what fun we had.  I want to acknowledge too, that the class was organised superbly by Aimee and MaryJane with take home notes, a 6-colour yarn kit for the workshop, delicious food and refreshments all provided in the class price.

We each selected our individual colour arrangement and knitted the charted pattern for a wristlet.  For some it was the first time using two colours at one time, and others like me had self-taught skills for multi-colour knitting.  At the end of the evening we compared swatches looking at how the colours harmonised, drowned each other, clashed, or popped.  The best advice: swatching, swatching, swatching – all is revealed in the swatch.

As well as the swatch knitting, MaryJane had shown us a stack of glorious Fair Isle sample swatches that were so inspiring I wanted to stop all other knitting and cast on new Fair Isle projects the minute I got home.  I restrained myself.  Instead I sat up in bed and read her (personally signed) book on Fair Isle motifs until the wee small hours!  (Don’t laugh.)

Having met these two immensely talented and lovely knitters I am more inspired than ever for all things knitting and yarny, and I’ve learnt a heap of things to develop my knitting skills.  Autumn has been full of seriously good knitting weeks.  Now if only my fingers could wield those pointy sticks even faster I’d be able to cast on more exciting new projects.

Oh la la, j’arrive!

Eiffel TowerIt seems we’ve been here long enough to have adopted a few French words into our everyday chit chat at home – our own peculiar Franglais.  We hear these little phrases and words everyday from friends, on the tele and just out and about.  They are so endearingly French, and being able to use them makes us feel just a teeny bit French ourselves.

Take the verb arriver for example.  When I was at high school (a looooooong time ago – last century in fact) my beginner text book told me it simply meant to arrive.  Now I understand all the nuances of this ordinary little verb, it’s way more interesting than I’d imagined.  Usually announced with a bit of a flourish it turns the truth – “I’m still on my way” – into a positive statement; a personal triumph even.

We have a friend that we meet up with every couple of weeks.  She’s always just a tad on the late side.  A couple of minutes after the agreed meeting time a text from her will ping into my inbox announcing j’arrive!  She’s not actually arriving just yet, what she means is that she’s just got out of the nearest Metro station and is walking to the café we’re at and will be there in just a few minutes.

Cafe on Rue de Levis

Cafe on rue de Levis

Waiting at the appliance store for someone to help me, an endless stream of terribly busy sales folk bustle past holding important documents until eventually one makes eye contact and announces j’arrive madam as he whisks past.  He means yes, I’ve seen you there with that slightly impatient look on your face and I will come and attend to you soon; I’m on to it!

Then there are the phrases that didn’t make it into my text book; like oh la la.  I’m sure that I’ve mentioned this before because it never ceases to amuse me; especially in the rugby season.  It’s an essential tool in every commentator’s repertoire.  That one little expression can be used to convey every emotion from great excitement to wincing pain and utter despair.  A rapid oh la la la la la la laaaaaa accompanies the nerve wracking moments when the All Blacks (of course) are right on the try line, the weight of the pack pressing hard on the French defenders, man after man attacks the line, will the defence hold?  In contrast a deep, guttural oh la la transmits the horror of one of those bone-crunching tackles that stops a player in his tracks, leaving him prone and gasping for breath.

Then there is pffff!  It’s not a word or a phrase, just a sound.  But you have to be able to render a truly expressive pffff to be French.  It’s hard to define exactly what it means, I’ve interpreted it as “yeah whatever,” “who knows”, or “who cares”.

So, we learn our grammar, listen to the tele, practise our oh la las and try to spit out j’arrive with the panache of Parisians.  Are we really getting to be a little bit French? Pffff!  We’re having fun.


C Sacre Coeur