Snapshots of France Part Deaux: French Wine Country

Here are some thoughts about Bordeaux, France.

We got in around 11am and took a bus into town (we were not EXACTLY sure where the bus was heading because this was just the beginning of wrestling with the French language, but we got off where I knew we could walk to the hotel. Problem was, I guess the French do absolutely nothing on Sundays because we maybe saw 5 people while trying to find our way through what looked liked a ghost town. We found the large mall that the hotel was next to, and it was even closed. We had slept only 3 hours the previous night and got nothing to eat on the flight, and we could not even find an open restaurant. We tried checking into our hotel but it was too early so we dropped our luggage and pulled out the map and hoped for the best.

Ghost Town

I had read about this street market that was only on Sundays and closed at 2, so after we finally found lunch we booked it to the market that was about 1/2 mile walk…not very pleasant considering the night/morning we had, but the Mister was a trooper and it was so worth it! There were rows and rows of beat up toys, books, brass fixtures, crappy furniture, and more junk than even I could peruse through. As the Mister rolled his eyes and tried to find somewhere to sit (after taking some pretty good photos), I was let loose and so in my element (they were starting to pack up when we got there, but I did manage to get a tea tin for €.50 for our wedding). If I could write a book about the amazing flea markets I have been to…

Bordeaux Street Market

We slowly crawled our way back to the hotel, hoping for a nice comfy bed to take a little nap…but let’s just say the Mister was in charge of booking ONE hotel for our trip (I was trying to make sure he felt included in the planning process) and it turned out to be a DISASTER! We not only had no A/C, but we did not have a BED. I will leave it at that and let you imagine my face when I walked through that door (although the pull out couch ended up not being too bad).

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I wanted to get out of that room as fast as I wanted to get in it, so we headed to the main square on the river, and we finally saw what Bordeaux was all about. The city is absolutely beautiful off the water, with gorgeous fountains and lots of shopping and great places to eat. We ended up, of all places, eating at a Thai restaurant, and the food was spectacular. We ended back on the water and bought a bottle of wine and sat for a long time enjoying the quiet city and summer breeze.

Before catching our train to La Rochelle, I sent the Mister to do the laundry in the morning (fail #2). Somehow some of our clothes were ruined and he does not know what happened. Now you may be wondering, why I didn’t do it myself…to be honest, being together with 1 person 24/7 is TOUGH. I truly needed a little time to myself to regroup…so I gave my lovely partner a few tasks (explaining to him how independently figuring things out in a foreign country will increase his cultural awareness). To his credit, an hour later our clothes were on their way to being partly washed, post cards were mailed, and he returned with sandwiches.

As a side note, if you want to test whether or not a relationship can really last, travel for 2 weeks together. I’m not talking about a vacation on a beach somewhere, I’m talking about a multi-country extravaganza with language barriers, shady train stations, flights on Easy Jet, 1 bag, endless walking, rooms the size of a closet, and a budget. We own a 2,000 sq. foot house…we haven’t even been inside a 2,000 sq. ft bar! The mister and I do not share a bathroom at home, or a closet, or a dresser, or a desk/work space…so this has been a privilege (sigh).

These small grievances aside, we have had the best time, and have enjoyed the time to ourselves. It has taken traveling to the other side of the planet for the Mister to eat Thai food, enjoy mussels, try to speak another language, unplug from a computer, not depend on his car and walk, and wear a v neck T-shirt (oh, it happened). And how could I forget, one of the most memorable quotes from our trip so far:

W: “Man, how good are fajitas going to taste when we get back?”
Me: (scowl)
W: “This IS the longest I have ever gone without them”
Me: “That is ridiculous”
W: “They don’t even know the wonders of a margarita machine”

Our time in Bordeaux was short but really memorable. On the train ride to La Rochelle we got to see miles and miles of vineyards and we will now most likely always prefer Bordeaux wine.

Snapshots of France

Before our next trip to Europe in October, I wanted to revisit the first time the Mister and I traveled overseas together in 2011! The main purpose of our trip was to travel to La Rochelle, a small port city on the southwest coast of France with a history that dates back to the 10th century. The Mister’s ancestry dates back to this beautiful harbor town, and it was magical walking the same cobblestone streets his ancestors made a living on.

La Rochelle

We also scheduled our trip around France’s biggest music festival, FRANCOFOLIES, and it did not disappoint. The streets were filled all day and night with great music, food, street performers, and cheap beer. There were 5 stages set up around the city (one being 50 ft from our hotel window) and with the back drop of the harbor, it was quite spectacular.

Great Music

 

One of the Main Stages

 

Francofolies on the Harbor

 

La Rochelle at Night

Snapshots of London

The summer heat is revving my wanderlust like crazy and I’m daydreaming of summer trips, and visiting places far and away. Here are some snapshots and notes from our trip to London a few years ago. Where should we go next?

We are sitting at a pub called “The Green Man” close to our hotel and writing to let everyone know we are safe and already having a great time. The flight was smooth until we actually got to the UK and we had to circle around for almost 40 extra minutes because of rain. A major water pipe line burst as well in downtown London, which caused our 1.5 mile cab ride to cost £15. Let the money spending commence : (. We checked into our hotel which is really nice (we guesstimate that the room (including bathroom) is no more than 450 sq feet).

Our beautifully quaint hotel room

Like true Americans we booked it to the nearest pub (The Albany) and ordered fish and chips plus the beer special of the day (Brew Dog) which was rather tasty. We then walked about 5 miles to the FAO Schwartz of London–Hamley’s…and of course bought something for my niece (so pathetic I know, we hadn’t been in London 2 hours). We explored all of the West End which was crowded. The city was also preparing for the Harry Potter Premier which people had been camping out for for days, quite the spectacle.

We walked through the Southern end of Regent’s Park which is so amazing! We then headed to the famous Baker’s Street and had pizza and South African wine on a quaint patio while being served by a Polish photographer/waiter. We walked around some more and decided to, of course, drink some more, so here we are at The Green Man, where they serve Strongbow on tap…so I’m in love. We are off to find dessert… Tomorrow we we are heading to the House of Sausage, the zoo, and Westminster…

London’s Sycamores
London’s Parks
London Eye
London Night Life
SoHo
Regents Park
Regents Park
Regents Park
Regents Park Fountains

Calle Feria

Calle Feria

The broad avenue leading to Calle Feria begins to crowd with people. The sun is bright and the birds are loud. Everyone is on foot, smoking cigarettes, carrying children or baskets with colorful food, fabric, and other goods. This motley crew is ambling towards Calle Feria, site of the El Jueves market, a centuries-old bazaar in the middle of Sevilla, Spain that is held every afternoon on Jueves. An always unwieldy crowd comes to this street market looking to barter, buy, and sell anything from old electronics to American baseball cards. Miles of tables line the narrow cobblestone streets and men are yelling and waving their hands, enticing onlookers with promises of fine silver and jewelry. I am astonished by the site, and take my time as I side-step around broken typewriters and oriental lamps.

I move along slowly trying to take everything in, to find a special something to take back to America with me—the excitement of telling people I bought something at a gypsy market in Spain already building. I browse a table with antique bronzed door knobs and second-hand toys. I pick up a harshly used doll, wondering about the child who could have hugged that doll so much one side of the doll’s plastic face was dented in, not allowing that particular eye to look in the same direction as the other. As I broke my gaze away from the doll it was met by a somber man staring right at me wearing faded blue jeans and a Ralph Lauren polo shirt two sizes too small. I think he was expecting me to pay for that frightful thing. I sheepishly put the doll down and move away from the table, quickly, and so American-like.

At the next table, I spot a pair of boxing gloves, with a homemade cardboard sign reading, “Objetos perdidos. Al no encontrarse el dueño, los vendo” (Lost objects. As the owner cannot be found, I am selling them). I thought this was so intriguing I asked the man behind the table if I could just buy the sign from him. He looked at me peculiarly, and sternly said no; something must have been lost in translation. I had to settle for just taking a picture of the sign, because I could not afford the 15 euros he was asking for the objectos perdidos.

Sitting down on a small piece of concrete jutting from a 115 sq foot indoor bakery, I watch the colorful women barter for kitchen utensils, and a scruffy man selling whiskey flasks with someone else’s initials engraved on them. I watch an escalating argument between two men concerning a television that was bought under the pretenses that it worked. The wide-eyed seller began screaming “no refunds” in Spanish, but the hot tempered buyer was not ready to back down. After throwing the nonrefundable television on the ground, the buyer proceeded to aggressively charge the man behind the table. I suddenly had a flashback to the bullfight I witnessed earlier in the week while the smell of churros con chocolate intoxicate. It has happened. I am smitten with Spain.

Photo credit: secretolivo.com
Photo credit: secretolivo.com

Texas Style Council

Okay, so I have put off writing about my experience at Texas Style Council which happened last weekend in Austin. Just like I felt going into it, I still have mixed emotions about this “lifestyle blogging” craze and how I as a person, a brand, and a business can even fit into this world. On one side, you have women dressed to impress (mostly with clothes their “sponsors” provide) who seem to be doing things just for the sake of writing about them later. Then you have the group of women who aspire to be in that circle, still snapping pictures of their outfits in the middle of the street and desperately handing out their business cards with their witty blog titles and tag lines. Then there’s me; I have a blog, and a business that fits directly into this “new domesticity” wave of style, DIY, homemaking, and child-rearing. Spoiler alert! I found myself wanting to get to know these women in all categories, and I love reading most of their blogs! I think it is nice to notice the small beauties of life, and how cool is it that they make a living at it? I want to make a living owning a DIY makers space and shop. I am going to post a picture of the cutest garage apartment, a fantastic cocktail I enjoyed, and I do hope a few people notice, so I am really no different. But where does the line of authenticity get crossed?  I actually really enjoyed my time at the conference, learned a few good tips, but was terribly out of my comfort zone for 3 days straight, and the preconceived notions I held about this alternate world were mostly confirmed. So this is my attempt to stay authentic: a break down of my time in Austin, along with my evolving thoughts about this microcosm of sweet and simple lifestyle blogging.

I got in on Friday and met with a few potential and current artists we have in the shop. (I am going to feature my visits to Son of a Sailor, Bee Amour, Satchel & Sage, and Little Low in upcoming posts, plus the trip to my store crush, Nannie Inez!) Then I got to the garage apartment I found through Airbnb, and it was perfect! I enjoyed the quiet alone time in the trees the apartment offered, and it offered me the opportunity to shamelessly watch Orange is the New Black on Netflix. The apartment had so much charm (look at that bath tub!), the host was really sweet, and it was under a $5 cab ride to get anywhere.

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After checking in, there was a clothing and book swap at Lulus. This was one of my least favorite parts of the conference; there were way too many people crammed into a small space, and it was a bit uncomfortable (plus most of the clothes were for tiny people). I did run into an old friend of mine, Abby, who now blogs at A Geek Tragedy so that was a nice surprise. But the anxiety of being around a lot of really beautiful and fashionable women brought out the introvert in me, and I even shied away when a woman asked me about the book I was holding. Looking back, I am mad at myself for not engaging in a conversation, especially about books, and introducing myself, talking about my brand, etc. I got more comfortable with this as the weekend progressed, but it was surprising to feel a bit inadequate, when on a daily basis I am fairly outspoken and lively. I did end up going to dinner with my friend Abby, and new acquaintances Meg and Amy as we finished the night out on 6th Street. It was a good start to a very interesting yet trying weekend.

My new friends Meg, Abby, & Amy © Peter Tung
My new friends Meg, Abby, & Amy © Peter Tung

Saturday it was “back to school” at the conference, and in the morning sessions I attended iPhoneography 101 led by Carli fron Inked Fingers and eCommerce 101 led by Tasha from Imperfect Concepts. It was interesting to hear from Carli-mostly the tools and apps she uses, and how she built her business. I was intrigued that both sessions were filled and everyone seemed really engaged: taking notes and asking questions. It was nice to be around women wanting to learn from each other and taking the sessions seriously. But it was still a bit strange to be around these rockstars of the blog and social media world.  We as a society have this peculiar obsession with being able to peer into someone else’s life. I am no exclusion. I secretly love seeing pictures of people with their new families, wedding photos, recipes they are trying, and I also secretly hope they are paying a little bit of attention to me, my hottie husband, and my new business. But then it gets a little bit crazy, when you see the image of these neat, bright, and effortless lives splashed all over these blogs.  As Holly points out in a 2012 article in Frontier,  “How is it possible that so many women and their toddlers spent their Saturdays in blanket forts made from vintage quilts found at a swap meet? And does the world really need more Instagram shots of early-morning trips to the flower market?” I thought that this conference would dispel the myth of this perfection, and that just didn’t really happen for me.  I thought some of the information was really generic, and nobody got into the struggle in maintaining this online life, sponsors, and the risks (family, financial, personal) that go along with this lifestyle of putting yourself out there. “These women don’t just maintain squeaky-clean, camera-ready homes and adorable families, they also run independent businesses, wear perfect outfits, rock exquisitely styled hair—and find the time to blog about it.” I think it is all really amazing, but I wish I saw a bit more authenticity throughout the weekend. Bottom line, it’s a weird way of becoming famous. But it’s happening, and I support these women over other ways of gaining celebrity status. (And I found myself in awe most of the weekend.) “There’s something ineffably appealing about perfectly puffed pie crusts, pigeon-toed fashion shoots, and sweet, uncomplicated musings on vintage hairclips.” I am still in a state of heightened awareness as I peruse these blogs, read about their experiences at TXSC, and sort out my feelings about it all. In the meantime, here are some shots of Austin and the “classroom” from the Hyatt Regency.

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Saturday afternoon was filled with a thrift field trip to Savers with Jentine of My Edit and a resale shop tour at Moss and Ragalicious with a pop-up shop from Janette of Fashion Loves People. I had a great time, found some fantastic clothes, a purse, and a vintage Singer sewing machine (which led me to be nominated for “Best Treasure Hunter” at Prom, haha), and appreciated that this was a part of the conference. It was nice seeing trend-setters talking about how you can gain a modern stylish look with well-made clothes from our past. The only session I was able to attend Sunday was Purchasing with Purpose led by Janette and Merl of Clyde’s Rebirth which continued this conversation of conscientious consumerism. I was so happy to have this part of the larger conversation, and will devote an entire future blog post to it. Here are some shots of our outing, and of the session with Merl & Janette.

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Holly goes on to say, “It’s not surprising that as a blog becomes more popular, its authenticity becomes more circumscribed. And for bloggers with an eye on leveraging their work into bigger, more mainstream venues, the balance of professionalism with authenticity means less critical discussion, fewer acknowledgments of bad days or insecurities, and less humor. And because the lifestyle blogs that receive the most attention (and opportunities for more revenue) reflect the most limiting vision of traditional femininity (conventionally attractive, straight, happy white women with beautiful homes, playful children, and quirky recipes), it isn’t surprising that this formula tends to be the most emulated one within the world of lifestyle blogging.” I wonder how authentic the bloggers at the conference were, and I never really got to find out. There seemed a large disconnect between the power bloggers and the rest of us, but the bloggers that I met were really genuine. Here is a snapshot of some of us at lunch, and of course everyone was on their phones tweeting, blogging, texting, instagramming, and whatever else. It was quite comical, and yet really nice to meet other women and hear about what they do. My favorite was Hilary from Our Style Stories (pictured on the left in the middle). She was so sweet and told the story of how her car broke down on the way to Austin. I loved her style, her personality, her genuineness, and I am totally going to start reading her blog! This peer to peer contact was the most useful for me, and I wish I had dedicated more time to reaching out to other conference attendees.

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I’ve been back in Houston and at the shop this week and lots of people have asked me about the trip and the conference. I stumble through the good and the bad, because I think it is important for me to communicate how I feel about it all. Will there always be a disconnect for me? I own a craft studio, started blogging, and do have an interest in the resurgence of domesticity that lends itself to this life of making and baking and taking notes on how to raise an independent child. But I am a late twenty-something, “childless and overeducated” female, and it would be silly of me to compare my life to these heavily mediated and “carefully arranged” lives you see on these blogs. But the basic message seems to be to enjoy the small beauties in life, to embrace womanhood and motherhood, and I am down with that. In fact I think it is quite lovely. In a 2011 Salon article, writer Emily Matchar describes this mood as “very romantic, soft-focused, aesthetically pleasing images of home life, that is very DIY, very home-oriented and nostalgic.” And I agree with Emily, there IS something vaguely uplifting about these blogs. I have a lot of respect for women who can portray this life, that counters the tough work-life balance the rest of up seem to be struggling with. So as I am falling a little in love with these well put-together women we get to the Sunday convocation by Elsie and Emma from A Beautiful Mess and their “What We’ve Learned from Blogging” speech.  I like these girls, and think what they do for a living is pretty dan gum awesome (and there are a lot of connections, they own a small boutique, online store, etc). But then it happened. Elsie suggested an example of getting over a hurdle was trying on a color you didn’t think you looked good in. I was hoping for a little financial distress, a death in the family, even a spat with a sponsor, anything worthy of “a major obstacle.” not “I don’t think I look good in chartreuse.” [Insert disconnect.] But I did get to see behind the veil a bit, and understand that these women are not trying to make it seem like they live larger than life in fabulous attire with perfectly coifed hair. They have just been good enough at it to get noticed, and now get paid for it. That’s great. I think women should look to these blogs for inspiration, book recommendations, recipes, whatever, but not get caught up in comparing their lives with what is portrayed in the these blogs. I would also encourage bloggers, especially the power players, and especially at conferences, to keep in mind their authenticity and letting their walls down a bit. I will definitely attend again next year, and I have a better sense of what to expect. I enjoyed talking about my brand and the shop, and did learn that personal style is an extension of you. I also learned that I can only do what I can with what I have, and that is okay! I think the topic of authenticity should be one of the sessions next year; I think it is something all brands, bloggers, and businesses all need to revisit continuously.

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