Thursday, 30 December 2010

I was back home within the hour and happy to be there.

It is faire to say that these past two days have been quite wonderful for lots of reasons. Mike made a quick recovery from his good night out and I took the liberty of leaving him quiet and warm in bed to restore himself from his over zealous wine drinking session and  late night. I say that I took the liberty, because throughout our entire married life Mike has patiently restored me back to the living after my very own over zealous wine drinking sessions and I felt usefully humbled at being able to pay back that level of respect for the hung over dead with a cup of tea and a slice of brioche and butter at midday.
We had a call from Mark to ask if we were up for another party and with Mike’s colour well and truly resturned we agreed to get together and go to Jill and Tony’s for an evening of games wine and good food.  The evening was a true Franglais event with a good cultural balance from both sides of the channel and the conversation sea sawed from French to English and a patois of both tongues in between and it transpired  that at a certain level,  speed and  waggling of arms just about everyone got a good understanding of  games rules and how to cheat. I am in awe of these new friends we have recently made who revel in French artefacts and have a natural and enviable attention to detail and presentation. Both homes we have visited these past two evenings have been candy to our eyes and senses with  old and ancient combined with the new and practical. All in all, I feel revived and inspired,   happy to have made the acquaintance of  people we can talk to and learn from.
My other bit of wonderful happenings was a request from Genevievre to drive to Carentan Church and sing one of our Christmas songs at the funeral of a chorister’s husband. With nothing in the diary I agreed to join her and we set off both draped in black with manuscript in hand to participate. I have never been to a French funeral so this was a first and I am not Catholic so it was a double first. Half of the choir were there and I sat with my fellow altos to sang couronnee d'etoiles  as the coffin was walked into our huge and impressive church and I for one was filled with an emotional charge that lifted every hair follicle on my neck. We then sat through the convoluted and crowd bonding process of saying goodbye to the dead. Monique played the part of song master and sang the congregation into the hymns and responses.  Monique showed a strength and confidence I had not identified in her before and bearing in mind she just had her eightieth birthday she proved to me that she must be an angle living amongst us with her pure voice and patient approach to encouraging the grieving and shy to join in.  The sounds of a catholic service in France is completely different to the sound of a  C of E service so I was unable to participate but I had the privilege of people watching and the honour of just being there. I listened to the readings and I must admit to having  had a good understanding of the sentiments but when we were asked to sit and meditate to the sound of our choir master playing Ave Maria on the full and magnificent church organ I was crushed by an emotional avalanche and I cried my eyes out as though it was my Dad in the coffin in front of me.  When we left the church I told Monique that I believed she is an angel on earth and that got her going as well and we cried together in the cold wind, patting each others shoulders, Sarah standing by raking her gloved hand across her face not wanting to make this emothional outburst into a team event. What an amazing afternoon, and when I got home Mike had cleaned out our little stove and she was bubbling over with heat and good cheer, I was back home within the hour and happy to be there.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Caught up in the moment of an aggressive and satisfying act.

It’s all over and we are now looking forward to the new start, which happens every year, and only lasts a day or so but the application of a new and positive outlook is a real tonic to our battered and abused digestive systems and numbed TV brains. 
It is eleven in the morning and Mike is still in bed. We went to the Simply Chateau Xmas Party last night and what a fun time we had. Mark and Shirley certainly know how to put a party together with lashing of food and drink and party games of which we have not experienced or participated in for many many years. Mike got into the swing of things early on in the evening and I instinctively knew it was my opportunity offer to drive home. I say my opportunity because since moving to France my driving opportunities are limited to taking Genevievre to choir and the odd trip out alone in the Ford mondeo but to get the opportunity to drive the explorer, well, Mike was really way beyond the fairies grip to allow that situation to develop, and it did, and I drove home. I didn’t really enjoy the drive back with fog and driving rain all the way home but the joy of watching Mike laughing and playing party games was worth it’s weight in gold. We met another couple who live in St Marie Du Mont, my favourite village on the way to Utah beach and we will make the effort to call in and see them and their house, which it is steeped in history and I just love a “steeped in history" house.
We have started the wood collection program, and for two mornings now, not including today as mike is nursing a good night out, we have presented ourselves in front of the far hedge to cut back all the dead wood, which is good to burn now and we are piling all the other stuff to prepare for the  wood shed. It is satisfying work if not a bit painful, If you thought God loved us all you need to ask why he left the bramble behind in the big scheme of things. The Bramble bush is a  persistent and aggressive plant which offers   the sweet blackberry for our delight once a year then just becomes a pervasive enemy trudging  through our gardens with very little thought to the consequences. The snow brought down a lot of the cathedral sized black berry bush structures which when you look closely are just a mangle of very prickly stems and air. I do enjoy the sensation of tugging on a prickly tentacle and have it give way disentangling itself from the trees and bushes it has kept prisoner for so long and if the root ball comes up as well then I feel I have totally achieved. Am I qualified a gardener now?   or just a bit caught up in the moment of an aggressive and satisfying act. Happy Birthday  to Geoff

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Rethink the Viv Baker 2011 personal goals.

Well, here we are and it is Christmas day 2010. Life is full of punctuation and of all the commas and exclamation marks in our lives it seems that the 25th of December is the most reverent, awaited for and esteemed.  Yesterday we kicked off our Christmas celebrations with a  lunch for six friendships which have blossomed and evolved into the comfortable and fun filled gatherings Mike and I have so much missed in moving to France, and now we find that we have within this year alone acquainted ourselves with  another four people we can relate to and have fun with and that is a very important development for both of us.
Sarah and Peter were unable to come yesterday and as I sat amongst my friends I reassured myself that we could have easily fitted another two people around our table that has accommodated so many happy gatherings in the twenty years that we have owned it. So, eight nutty expats around a lunch table was fun and full of  relevant “living in France” antics  and we each all shared our long tall stories to the point of disbelief and wonder as to why we are still here, but deep down we all know why. If I could bottle up and sell this convivial and happy few hours in my home yesterday I would be a millionaire by now but still here developing this fascinating lifestyle in a foreign country.
Debby and Jez skyped from Australia last night on their Christmas morning and the boys were there in  T shirts and shorts taking this distant  relationship we have with them in their stride. I am glad to be recovered from the emotional tug of war I have experienced in the past and a Skype conversation seeing my baby’s face is now just an accepted part of the way we live. I thank goodness we have these life tools in our kit to enable us to  be so  close but oh so far away and yet OK and acceptable..
HOSS is off colour again and I am having to walk him and care for him on double duty which is not difficult as he is so trusting and dependant on us, it fills an emotional gap in my life that will always need filling. 
I am doing this blog at six thirty in the morning because I over indulged at our Christmas eve luncheon and although I am pretty sure I did not drink too much Mike suggested that my new style of eating, counting calories and keeping my plate simple and small was thrown my system into a panic with all the rich and complicated food I had just indulged in. Two more days of indulgence and then back to the counting and manoeuvring of calories, proteins and carbohydrates to reach my goal before April when I will be able to recalculate and rethink  the Viv Baker 2011 personal goals.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

So we both gave up and went for a cup of tea instead.

Mike and I have done a full days work today and it has been a long time since I can say that, we are both knackered. We brought our country life style into the 21st century  and borrowed Sarah and Peters electric log splitter. Peter gave us a short and precise training sesh before we loaded it into the car then off we went with the intension of getting all the wood we bought in October 2009 to a usable size for the stove. All the miss shapen and just plain ugly logs were triaged into the open fire pile then we split and sized everything else for the stove and now I recon we are set until the end of the winter, what a great feeling that is. 
Mike and I sit down to lunch every day and always have a good chat,  Jeremy Vine puts plenty of fuel on our topical and political discussions but sometimes we do just chat and I commented that I have barely switched on the electric kettle since the stove has been lit and Mike, with his logical and well organised mind worked out that ten boiled kettles of water a day over the winter period might equate to about fifty quid  and that is a quarter of my wood bill. So then I suggested that I note down how many times I don’t switch on my electric oven and how many times I don’t take water from the water heater for washing up and Mike just gently asked me to get a life and just enjoy the ride…..which I promised to do.
We are still in white-out mode and this morning the drive was an ice rink so we have to tread carefully but the field is a completely new experience for me as it is white with snow but hard like ice. When you put your foot down it crunches in like walking on meringue, fantastic, but HOSS is totally unsure and as I set off on my power walk this morning I became aware that there were no doggy sounds anywhere near me and when I turned to call him he was standing on the only bit of thawed garden by the barn with no intention of putting his paws in a Pavlova pie, not even for me, I hate power walking on my own it feels so pointless so we both gave up and went for a cup of tea instead. Happy Birthday Mum...xx

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Without the day that has just past us by.

With so much time on our hands due to the fact that we are snowed in again it is easy to sit down virtually every day to write a blog, but sadly, there is very little to write about except that, blow me down,  it has been snowing again. There is no more news in that, and there is no more joy or excitement. We decided not to get up this morning, well not true, I got up to free the chickens and show HOSS the vast expanse of white with no intention of making my mark and treading on virgin snow,  he was disappointed but barked and jumped about with an instinctive joy for the little time allotted to him this morning. I then got the fire going, made coffee and toast and went back to bed and we watched Plus belle la vie which is the East Enders of the French soap audience without the screaming, shouting and deplorable behaviour. When I was nicely settled and getting into the story the inevitable phone calls began from the choir to say this afternoons concert is cancelled then three friends to ask, is the concert cancelled ? so once up,  we got up, and started the day with log carrying, digging out chickens, filling the bird feeders and pushing the snow from the poly tunnel roof, there, I said it was uninteresting, not quite yet boring, but any more days like this and I will use the word boring in anger.
We have sat around all day on our computers, we have taken a meal every three hours, taken aperitif at lunch time and dinner time and all the while I am trying to keep tabs on my calorie intake with my on-line weight loss site, I am sure that if there was a real person watching over my  nutrition page they would send me a motivational e-mail and demand I get a life but I am doing this with the ether  and the either don’t talk back.
When the sun went down, and I have no proof or recollection of  the day being that  long, I took HOSS for his walk and to shut the chickens in. I was duly rewarded with the most fascinating spectacular of a snow covered garden and a full moon shining. I have often been out there at the top of the moon cycle and it is always a privilege, but tonight, it was stunning. I walked to the other end of the field as if it were day time but the sounds and the smells were unmistakably night time. The moronic sitting around watching every Christmas movie ever made, was put into perspective tonight because you can’t get a night time walk like that, without the day that has just past us by.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Keep this mode of heating Cheap and Eco.

On Thursday John and Linda did one of their famous day trips to visit us from Bracklesham Bay and arrived at midday in time for a walk around the place to see what changes we have made then lunch. This years visit however they managed to get a late sailing from Caen and didn’t need to leave before eight in the evening so we were able to fit in tea and scones, a walk around the village with HOSS and a good chin wag in front of the fire.  Mike and I are really quite tough and I felt that J & L were feeling the cold despite the stove blaring and the lounge open fire banked up. We talked about heating and the such like and realised that they keep their flat at 20 degrees and there we were knocking back our central heating to 15 degrees, and with an array of draughts to deal with I suspect they may have been a little uncomfortable..
I was so tired from talking all day that yesterday morning despite setting the alarm I slept through to nine fifteen and had to run down the stairs to get the phone when Ann called saying that it was snowing to the point that they had lost sight of the church and should we perhaps postpone our coffee visit, but I reckoned that if it was just starting to snow then we had a few hours to pick up out UK shop and get back to baton down the hatches again. Mission accomplished with my Tesco shop put away and a new UPS to keep my Mac alive when we have a break in the electricity supply, which does happen, but a break in power is more than likely to be  when we overload our system. The other day I had the dishwasher going and Mike was using  the electric heater in the bathroom, I put the kettle on, fatal,  the breaker gave way and we had to reset all the clocks and my Mac crashed, and it really does not like that, but with my new UPS installed  the Mac will stay alive for at least 40 minutes without crashing and that gives me time to reset the breaker or close down in a more controlled way. We have contemplated asking to have a larger supply to the house but we would loose our lunch time half price electric with a new meter installed and whilst I can keep an eye on what we are doing it is worth it to keep my 12:30 to 2:30  half rate period as I do get a lot of cooking and cleaning done but I still have to take care about the loading.
It snowed for a whole day yesterday and we are plunged once again into winter wonderland, but this time we don’t feel so wonderful about it but the weather and it’s consequences are well out of our remit and it is a question of putting up and shutting up.
We had a huge hunt for wood in the afternoon yesterday. I had kept a tree load of branches that I assured Mike I needed for pea props and wig whams and a long and concise list of  practical uses around the garden which in the end I never used so by accident I had a tree load of branches dry and ready for the cutting process and the burning of. We are staggered at how much wood is required to keep a tiny little fire box going and Mike is weighing up the effort we are going to have to put in to keep our hungry little treasure going. We took HOSS for a run on the beach and brought back a chunk of wood to burn and I think that is going to be the way we will need to  apply ourselves to keep this mode of heating Cheap and Eco.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

festive cheeriness around the place.

It is mild enough to step out and dash up into the field to relieve HOSS but not mild enough to stay out for any amount of time without a coat on, so it must now be “Mid Winter”, we are racing through this season at breakneck speed but I knew that we were still far from coming out on the other side when I threw back the  shutters this morning at eight fifteen and it was barely light. No rush then, the chickens have no intention of rising until the sun is way up in the sky and HOSS got a midnight walk so he could wait as well.  I did however need to get to my stove to see if we had sustained a night fire and the excitement of seeing a few little burning embers gave me a sense of purpose and I opened up the flu and loaded the box with wood and then decided I had a couple of  minutes while the process of  catching fire took place and HOSS got a dawn walk of which he was eternally grateful because midnight was a long time ago in doggy hours.
Today was shop day, we have John and Linda coming for the day tomorrow so there is a meal to cook and a token gift to decide on.  The shops are looking more festive now, only ten days to go and a little sign at the till reminds us all that, we, most amiable customer, can shop all day on Sunday 19th and for that I for one say, it is the end of  civilised life in France but all those who work say thank you to Monsieur le prefecteure for letting our Leclerc open just this once on a Sunday. I have our last carol concert on that Sunday and that gives me leave to ignore the sign and be organised and shop on Saturday.
Mike was in  his full humbug posture after lunch but  graciously and without too much groaning and tutting put the Christmas lights up outside. I took care of  in doors, no tree to clutter the house, why would you kill a tree for Christmas so we have all  our family relics and  trophies that used to go on our artificial tree hanging from blue peter style hanging things, two wire coat hangers cello taped together, I am sure you can visualise , if not, you need to  book yourself in for next year .. I have dolled up my dried flower arrangement  with a bit of tinsel and  have put a plastic poinsettia in with my lavender vase. I think it looks great but poor Mike is retreating into a mushy mess asking just how long will this last, and have I not finished with the tarting up process YET.  I am happy and so is HOSS and Mike will be too when we have our guests Christmas eve and they all wow and coo at the attention to detail and festive cheeriness around the place.  Happy anniversay to John and Linda

Monday, 13 December 2010

And I know how that feels.

My goodness me what a difference a sweet little wood burning cooker makes to the feel of our home. It does not manage to keep a fire going all night despite Mike and I staying up until one in the morning, pretending to watch a film but actually wanting to stoke the fire up last thing to give the fire box a real chance to stay aglow all night, but it is not going to achieve,  which then introduces the new routine of  getting the fire up and running before breakfast.  I am enjoying the experience of driving this unique yet age old phenomenon of having to work for your warmth and well being. Opening the flu and regulating the fire box gives you a notion of how things may have been during the good old days of steam power.  If I need the kettle to warm I open up the box air intake if I need the fire to start up to use the oven I open up the flu and the regulator and when I have finished cooking I just shut everything down and it becomes a heat source until I need to cook again. Mike is of course cutting wood to size and groping in all his wood collecting areas to find enough to burn but we have plenty for this year and the summer will have to be taken up cutting out the head grow ready for the next “keep your home warm” episode. 
We did a great deal in Carrfour supermarket yesterday and bought a huge pack of beef for bourguignon. Meat is not sold by cut  but what dish you are suppose to  create with it and we always have a chuckle,  you don’t buy king Edward potatoes, you buy potatoes to make chips.   Today I had a casserole bubbling on the top all day and the promised beef bourguignon in the oven so we will eat well this week.
As I am writing this blog sitting next to my cooker and enjoying the warmth I became aware that HOSS was sitting like a good boy staring me out, those big telling eyes talking to my subconscious and I am up with my  coat on before I can say "do you need a wee" and we go up onto the field in the pitch black. HOSS runs off and I do my stretching exercises, I may sing a bit, I check the hens, count the ducks and just take  a few moments to fill my lungs with fresh and tonight cold night  air.  I also had to listen to the haunting baying of  cows in the distance and this has been going on since this morning. The first time it  happened I could hear this constant herd moo ing and it went on all day and all night I even woke up to hear it and the next day I told Mike that I needed to go to the Maire to ask what it was all about and to make sure the cows were not being mistreated ‘cause that what us Brits do here in France much to the French consternation. It was a good job I did not go ahead with my head strong idea of complaining about country ways as we discovered the next day that this two day moo ing event is the  sound of the Mummy cows calling out to their calves that have been taken away to market, and I know how that feels.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Reaping the benefits of experience and local knowledge.

I am really enjoying looking and promenading on green and lush, it is good for my soul and better for the garden. I am disappointed with the progress of my brussel sprouts and can’t help thinking the soil is tired and as we have been growing there for three years perhaps the time is right for some goodness to be put back into the earth.  During the summer we made acquaintance with a lady in St Jean De Daye and we got onto the subject of horse manure and made promises of visits and aperitifs of which none came to fruition. Stupidly I let that potential friendship fall by the way side, I e-mailed Cassandra yesterday to say what a silly gardening dapper-head I have been not to keep in touch but could  I still come over for some manure.  I have had no response so I can only assume she took offence and is giving her black gold to somebody else, heart breaking.
Mike and I had a routine day, today, Mike gathering, sawing and stacking wood for our fires and I baked and pottered around the house, it felt very wholesome and healthy and true, but by lunch time we had achieved all we had to achieve and sat across the table not wanting to get into a long term project but guilty about doing nothing.  We are quietly wracking our brains to find a revenue stream as we will be running out of capital to keep up the project plans some time soon. We could sell the boat but that is a very difficult decision,  I don’t now why, but it is. I believe that if you are challenged over a decision then  you have to take time  to think it through, and we are seriously challenged,  but need the cash. During  “don’t know what to do next” moments I know we both ponder on the possibility of a revenue stream with out being in business and the riggers of the French tax system, now there is a challenge.
We spoke to Debbie and George in the space of two days and that feels good, they are both finding their own ways through the difficulties of living in  foreign countries,  and we can sympathise as the learning curve in dealing with other cultures is huge, even that we only live 100 miles from our UK life it sometimes feels like 10,000 miles,  upwards in the direction of the moon, but the longer you work at it the easier it gets and we are now just reaping the benefits of experience and local knowledge.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Well worth harvesting …for free.

What a relief to be able to leave the house without a full haute couture five layers and rubber wellies, green of course, the snow is practically gone except where the tractors have made “encounters of the third kind” mountains and where the snow lies in a no sun zone and is destined to stay there until April.   I have had to walk HOSS around the block rather than let him run on the lawns because the garden is a lake, pretty, but a lake non the less. I had forgotten how good it feels to power walk on the road and as we live in a one way system we can walk facing the traffic, one tractor an hour and be safe. I put HOSS’s body harness on as he is OK off the lead but I do need a way of restraining  him and clipping a lead on and off is a drag, so with the handle on his back it is like walking with a four legged suitcase, but not going on holiday.  I also put the harness on after reading Alex’s horror story of his beagle falling though ice and I hoped that with the handle on HOSS's back I stood a good chance of hauling him out of trouble, at 44 kilos though I think I was probably in pick-your-dog-up coo coo land.
The builder made a surprise visit at lunch time today and fitted the liner in the chimney. He is a young-ish bloke and as I had reported in an earlier blog that I suspected he was retired and saw a niche market building for the ex pats here, well,  I was wrong and he is running a pukka  business and is very energetic and efficient. He even helped Mike get the cuisiniere into the fire place and we got the whole job up and completed so all we had to do was light it, which we have, and I can not describe the joy and satisfaction of having our own little wood burning cooker cooking away heating up water and warming our tea cakes. I feel that we have met one of our big wants in having a self sufficient heat source because little branches of wood are abundant in the hedge row and now well worth harvesting …for free.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Danger of getting our feet wet in the kitchen.

We woke up to the soothing sound of running water and looking out beyond the shutters of which I opened just to see what was going on I saw a thaw like I have never imagined possible. We had just got used to the two foot deep white vista around us and this morning it was gone.  Anna called from her mobile to say her village was flooded but they had found a way out and we all met at Jacqueline’s for cider bottling with  little difficulty  but lots of intake of breath along the way in shock at the quantity of standing water in the ditches and in the fields.
We had 600  bottles to fill and between the six of us it only took two hours, but it was cold, wet and dark. Dark because the French amaze us by being satisfied with so little electric light to work by. Our kitchen had one forty watt bulb over the table when we moved in and now we have six low energy bulbs hanging from the beams and another in the fire place, Mike assures me we are burning very little more electricity but by golly it is worth the extra just to have light to live by.
This afternoon we lit a fire and warmed ourselves before unloading our 150 bottles of cider. I noticed that Graham had marked his bottles with a stick-on dot  to identify the year, so I spent an hour marking mine as well and double checking my closures as we have used a new design this year and I didn’t  really take the time to check that they were secure enough, and not wanting to loose sleep counting  plastic corks popping off my bottles, I gave the wire secures an extra special twist.
Whilst I busied myself in my cider store, or should I say my cave now storing in the region of 500 bottles of cider, Mike went on a discovery walk around the site to see where the water was draining away and check that it was. We have discovered that there is a drain by the garage. It is constructed under the outbuildings on the other side of the court yard, we imagine that these old and primitive buildings did not include any thought about  the water courses and escape routes, but they did and we have been told that these old barns were constructed with  drains and sumps benieth them to ensure that the working parts of the farm were kept free from water logging. We are learning that water courses have to be respected and maintained, and  The Maire often puts up public notices to say get your Foss  cleared and maintained,  it is your responsibility and today is why he is so insistent. We have also discovered that the field drains down in front of the barn and into the pond so if the pond outlet becomes blocked then it is very feasible to imagine that the water would keep rising and start to march towards the front door. So Mike has a pond-drain-cleaning-rod on 24/24  patrol at the front of the house so we can be in control of the pond level and eliminate the danger of getting our feet wet in the kitchen.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

We can get back to normal.

What a fascinating couple of days we have had. The snow fell in a silent, yet persistent flurry day and night from Tuesday night to Friday morning, it settled so deeply that we lost the Boule Park and the Beach Garden was a blob on the landscape. We had a pang of conscience Thursday night with our feet up in front of a roaring fire in the lounge and decided that first thing we would make a shelter for the ducks and the swan who in the cold and difficult terrain of a snowy pond area spend all their time bobbing about in the water, which, incidentally, is warmer than plonking your feathery bum on the snow.
After breakfast yesterday, we set off in boots and woolly hats to dig out the path from hen house to winter quarters, again, and then Mike got corrugated sheets out of stock and made a great little lean-to, and to get this water foul hotel up there in the five star category he put a layer of hay down to make it even more accommodating. Mike made the passing comment that Mary could pass this way and we would be prepared for Jesus and comments like that stick in your mind and I will need to watch out for the bright star in the sky and singing from the  heavens, we have the Shepards with their sheep and a few kings are no so hard to come by these days…
The builder called to say …laters…and that he will call next week with a new flu date, I am not too upset now I am used to having the cuisiniere in the middle of the kitchen so a few more days is just fine and mike is now seriously  planning the final installation so I know it will happen, sometime in my living memory.
This morning is tinged with a wholesome feeling of optimism, Jacqueline called to say the cider is ready so I had to rally the troops and we have decided to bottle now as we all have commitments and things to do before Christmas, so my morning resonated to the gentle clink of champagne bottles getting their freshen up rinse and dry before bagging up for the off at ten o’clock tomorrow morning.  The rain has fallen all day and the snow is virtually gone from the hard surfaces, the field is still white but we are as quickly in a winter nightmare as out of it and frankly it was short, sweet with a tingle of excitement and now it is gone and done for, and we can get back to normal. Happy birthday to Dick...

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Simply enjoy the vista.

I did a Skype with my Sister Gig the other day and what a great way to stay in touch, we none of us really appreciate the joy of a face to face chit chat, watching people laugh and hearing the sound of happiness and concern coming from the face is priceless. Whilst chewing the cud over family developments and lots of other stuff Gig suggested I prepare this blog in word,  read off line, to make all the changes and adjustments then just copy and paste,  and that way I will have a digital version to keep for ever, or at least until I die and the children decide it no longer has relevance. So for 2011 I will be keeping a digital version, why, I have no idea, but longevity is all about being digital, and the written word will probably get lost in the library 
I got a call from Teresse from choir this morning who just said “bonne fete Vivian, reste bein chez toi,  a bien tot”…….I sat at the kitchen table wondering if she had lost touch with the world then realised that today is St Vivian day, and if you share the name you are in fete mode, and how lovely is that. Mike and I will celebrate my Sainthoodness  status with a beer at lunch time. I was seriously keeping my calories low today as we are quite sedentary whilst in the winter wonderland but a saintly slug of beer won’t harm the overall concept of having a little less today,  I could just trudge around the field in Mike’s wellies and give HOSS a treat at the same time as burning a few calories but we just have to see how the weather develops.
The field  this morning was the best I have ever seen,  a light but long snow fall yesterday and all night has deposited a 6 inch layer over everything and whilst there is no wind the branches look as though they all have a shadow, it is a  4th dimension and it is stunning.  I took a few pictures but sometimes you just have to stop and look and tell your brain not to take this for granted and remember how beautiful it is at this moment. I called my friend Ann who said she hates this weather and as she looked out of the window a feeling of dread and fear came over her. They were house bound for nearly 2 weeks at the beginning of the year they live on a small road that leads nowhere, at least here in Bucaille we have passing tractors which clear the way and if we had to get out we could we just choose not to but poor Ann is a prisoner until the thaw sets in. I hope she settles and takes a good long look at her surroundings and simply enjoy the vista.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

We also have two baked potatoes sitting on the top ready for dinner.

It's a white out, and we have been stuck in doors all day but I did get out to the chickens to clean them  before the snow really took hold this morning.
I have a  routine at night, or should I say HOSS has a routine at night, because he will not settle unless the chickens are locked up tight once it is dark, so we  go out together,  I shut the hen house door and he runs like a demented hound on his possibly last chance to wee before bed time. We shut the hens in to deter the fox,  although I am pretty sure  Mr Fox is capable of getting to my chickens behind a flimsy wire door and it was at that point last night in sub zero temperatures that I wondered about the shutter on the sleeping area entrance which I never use,  I could completely shut them up in  and make them cosier and perhaps safer from the the hungry fox.. It was this thought  that motivated me to go out to them in the adverse weather to clear the shutter runner and collect their poo for my compost heap.  In the summer I clean the hen house  once a week. During  the winter, it is every two days as  they spend so many more dark hours crashed out together in their pad, and one observation I have made from owning and caring for chickens is that they do not get out of bed to poo at night.
Mikes Heath Robinson temporary fire hit a problem this afternoon after he had cut up lots of chunks of wood to go into the tiny fire box,  it seems that this little temporary fire prefers coal. It is a good thing that we went out yesterday to buy a bag and I am hoping that we will not have to wait too long to get the wood burning range in. We had a very smokey and slow fire going this afternoon and with all the temporary joins and the connector flu being made out of a dog food tin it all felt quite dodgy. But at least we have a heat source in the kitchen and we also have two baked potatoes sitting on the top ready for dinner.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Which only gives us until February 2011, to achieve.

Winter decided to show her face this morning and for the first time this winter I had to walk around the perimeter of the field in fear of burning the frozen grass beneath my feet, which sounds like the title to a sloppy love song, but actually, is true. This afternoon when Mike and I went for a tour of the estate Mike pointed out that he could see where I had walked this morning,  and there before my very eyes were the darker burned out shape of every step I took which incidental is the title of a tune I could hum to you if I needed to.
I awoke this morning with a hang over after spending the entire afternoon and into the evening  at Graham and Ann's lovely new home in Neuveville Les Plain. We were six around the table and discussed just about everything including what is the one thing you would buy yourself if you won the lottery, Ann was going to save the world and I was going to install a swimming pool and looking at the temperature today would probably be a huge mistake. Ann has offered to do me a groceries run during their visit to the UK so we popped over on the way to the beach this morning to leave a list and ended up spending another two hours just talking. Graham is seriously into his garden having discussed with us his plans way back in July and today was proud to show off his lawn which  way back in July was a patch of weeds. Mike instructed  Graham to get on his mower every four days and cut and cut and cut and we are really pleased that he is at the brink of success with a green lawn going into winter mode but all the same very green.. It is good to give good advice which works.
During our walk around our estate Mike and I had a slightly fraught discussion about getting the allotment back into shape, we have lost our mojo and I am very frustrated that all the work we have done will be for nothing if we don't buckle down again soon. We need to put a new gate in at he top end of the allotment and I will start planning that so we will find ourselves up there to move trees and reshape the landscape before the next growing season starts, which only gives us until February 2011, to achieve.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

It is Dick's birthday and I really wish he could be here for the first fire up.

It snowed for a mega second today, I was on the drive sorting out my washing and felt the wet,  but it weighed nothing and when I took a closer look, it was snow, OMG
I did my most favourite Autumn job this morning and trimmed my lavender from spent spiky plants to smart silver boulders, and the smell was fantastically overwhelming, my gardening gloves will smell great till the next chicken clean out. Mike cut the eucalyptus tree down and cleared the area, I still get a little pang of sadness, we bought it to give height and solidness to the wood garden but now it is gone.  We have a better view of the  roses climbing the arboretum  in the middle of the garden so all is not lost.  Mike got his mini tractor out and started to cut the grass with the cutting deck, it is the worst cut possible but as this is probably the last this year, it does not matter how it looks and  it just had to be done. The fairy rings are showing and I have seen a few weeds pushing through so off with their heads and hope it coincides with a bout of cold weather to kill them off completely.
We were invited  to Sarah and Peters to celebrate American thanks Giving this evening . We have a young exchange student at choir who has joined our group for a bit of company and something to do on the Tuesday night. She speaks good French but has gravitated towards us expats for a good old fashioned gossip. Sarah and Peter who  lived in America for a while thought it would be nice to have a dinner and celebrate Carentan style and we had a good evening out.
The builder finally called and  will install our chimney liner next Saturday so my little range remains  stranded in the middle of the kitchen on a pallet until then. We will light her up on Saturday 4th December oh blimey, that it is Dick's birthday and I really wish he could be here for the first fire up.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

I have to go out now, and get some food stocks in.

Our cute and adorable Montherme wood burning cuisiniere is ready to go, Mike has polished and scraped, polished more and painted the flue using a pot of Pot Back that has sat at the back of his stores for ages. We now wait with baited breath for the builder to come and drop the liner down the chimney to make us legal to burn.  I contacted the builder on Friday to say please come now we are about to  collect the cuisiniere and I want to light it NOW, but it has taken until last night after two e-mails and a phone call for him to commit and we even have to wait until tonight to get a day out of him. It's the same the world over I guess. This is an English builder rushed off his feet with ex pats who need an ex pat to get the job done, and here we are waiting for him to consult his diary. I don't blame him,  I suspect he came out here to retire, saw a red hot market and now he is over run,  we will find out when we  sit with him over a cuppa, I still have a box of PG tips to share so at least he will get an excellent cup of tea whilst he is here.
Ann, Ann, Anna and I have started a reading club and bought the same book each and are reading it all at the same time. We have arranged to meet at Ann's house, Ann from Apperville that is, to discuss the story so far and what we think of it. This is really good for me, I have a bad habit of not paying attention when I read and to avoid seeming like a CSE throw out I am making notes of names and turning points in the plot  so that I can at least sound like I have paid attention. I even forget the names of authors I have read, and that, in reading club circles, is a sin, a bit like no knowing your Latin plant names, and I don't know those either, so I am devising an idiots guide to how to sound far more educated and switched on when talking about my garden and our book.
The weather is still very wet and with the moon in a full on. light up your garden at midnight, mode we have high tides and everything just takes so much longer to dry. The chickens are up to their ankles in mud except in the new winter quarters where at least the soil is merely damp, We accept that  this wet season happens every year but it is still a shock and surprise every time it comes. We saw on the Cherbourg Meteo that we are due a cold blast and my friend Sarah has forecast snow on Thursday,  so now I am in panic mode..Mike does not do panic, but I do and I just have to go out now, and get some food stocks in.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Frankly life does not get much better than that , now does it.

Two days ago I wrote a really good blog about my new 1950s kitchen range, how excited I was and I so wanted you all to know about it. Quite frankly, it was probably the best blog so far but as I did the final corrections I accidentally highlighted all the text, the devil took over and wiped the lot out. I threw a chair across the room, put the TV on and watched Doctors, Diagnosis Murder and did not move until Summer Bay was over.....I was so upset.
Today we drove over to the other side of La Manche to pick up our new 1950's kitchen range. Mike decided it was time to get a heat source  in the kitchen and I really stood my ground that I wanted a range of some sort. A new range costs two grand but this lonely and dumped little treasure cost 300 Euro and whist I chatted up our vendor with all the interesting and varied things we get up to  here in France, he shot to the back of his garden and dug out an old tractor drawn mini trailer and two hugely long steel poles,  I was so excited about them that he  made a gift of them and there starts another garden theme...fab.
Graham and Ann came with us today to add a bit of muscle to the event but Mike had constructed a trolley with  handy lifting points and this small but unbelievably heavy range was on the trolley and up in the trailer before we had time to worry about the plan failing. We came back chatting and laughing all the way,  had a  jolly nice lunch then Mike and I said goodbye to the hired help and only then decided that we really wanted to have the range in doors for cleaning, Mike  put the appliance of science to work once again and got the heavy laden trolley off the trailer  and then slid the whole thing into the kitchen, I wonder at our resourcefulness sometimes, it seems we can do anything we put our minds to, except make money but that is another blogs worth, another day.
HOSS gave me a bit of a fright yesterday and refused his food and then started the dreaded  chewing action on his back. He no sooner displayed the symptoms of his mange than I was dressed up in my protective  kit and  was dousing him in insecticide to within an inch of his life. Both he and I hate this treatment and sadly I had to leave him wet and smelling like a debugged refugee as we  had an invitation for aperitifs and really wanted to go as these are new friends that I am quite keen to get to know. The evening was delightful and we met  many very interesting folk, all UK escapees making a living here at one thing and another and as I am in the throws of looking for an income rubbing shoulders with these  people is useful and a lot of fun. HOSS looked sad and fed up when we got back late in the evening but a bickie and cuddle perked him up and he is looking much better today.  The next few days is taken up with preparing the fire place polishing the enamel and cutting all our wood to fit our tiny wood burner box and frankly life does not get much better than that , now does it.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

We always want what we don't have.

We have woken up to a bit of a frost, first of the year and the real start of winter, at last, because we don't mind winter and this year we have organised our Christmas with visits to friends and then two trips  to the UK in January and February, then it is March, seed time and getting the garden ready, it all goes past so quickly but the difference this year is that we feel more planned and organised. We have realise that in retirement having something organised to look forward to is an important ingredient to life.
I am determined to control costs next year or we will be selling up and returning to the UK before we are ready and that definitely is not something to be looking forward to. We are putting feelers out where ever we go that we need to find a revenue stream and I am staying the optimist that something will turn up.
Mike got the hydraulic pump off the tractor yesterday whilst I was out on an extra choir practise and our friend Ann from Appleville was here with us to rejoice and celebrate with a cup of tea the successful oil seal change which has solved the problem...we think...and hope...
I have been in a bit of a sad place these past few weeks and put it all down to the grey skies and soaked ground but today we have bright sunshine and a good walk around the field with a pair of secateurs might just give me the lift I need.  I have plans for the allotment and there is a lot of work to do, Mike is not that keen because it means moving eight five foot trees but they have to go so I will try to move them bare root in February and if they make it that will be a bonus.  Our mate Anna from Blossville has found a supplier for Brambly apple trees and I am tempted to go and order one for lifting in Feb. It will complete the orchard and please Mike immensely as he does not like french cookers, well I think they are cider apples here and he just wants a nice warm baked brambly apple covered in sugar...strange how we always want what we don't have.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Thanks Anna, right again,

I am using a few spare moments as we wait for Mikes Mum to finish her skype to Australia. Our weekly get together with Mikes Mum and brother Geoff has become an incredible punctuation mark in the week and  helps to put life in blocks of seven. This evening we had a fantastic surprise when Deb skyped us from OZ with all the boys around her, it was her Saturday morning, our Friday night and they were all bright and happy to see us. I miss their attention and acknowledgement, Deb had actually got up early to catch Nanny and Geoff but as we were on line and the weren't we got the first call. Skype is the most amazing communication tool and today I have spoken to both our girls and both our mums, the wonder of technology will be realised when Chris our son gets on line and I will then have a full compliment of family on-line.
The wind and rain has put a full stop on the day and we spent all morning weighing up the benefits of  ferry crossings verses channel tunnel,taking HOSS,  leaving him behind, who to see, who to not see but we finally found the right equation and booked a long weekend in February to coincide with my Mum's 85th birthday. Our friends John and Linda are hitching a lift back with us and are going to spend a few days here to celebrate Johns Birthday so we have a happy end of February to look forward to.
It was time to brave the weather this afternoon and go for bread and HOSS meat, now he is on raw meat only I have to  buy it more frequently and although I keep a couple of packets in the freezer I do need to keep on top of stocks. As we were leaving Mike saw that the washing I had stupidly put out this morning was all over the boule park. The rotary line had broken in half in the wind and the whole area looked like a crash scene as we desperately tried to recover mud splattered clothing which had double wrapped itself around the lines. I took the time to scan the garden and I saw a change in shape at the wood garden and realised the eucalyptus tree had fallen over. It was planted  two years ago and had grown from a four foot weed to a magnificent twenty foot tree which is now only good for fire wood. I did feel sad for a moment then realised that there is always a good reason for all events in the garden. This tree was growing so big that it was hiding the climbing roses we planted  last year, so, the roses won. My friend Anna's comment echoed in my mind when she said don't ever plant eucalyptus trees they always fall over. Thanks Anna, right again.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Just as lovely in the winter as in summer.

I thought I would do a bus job on you today,  you wait all week for one blog then three turn up at once,  bit like my Orange invoices. I have found some time,  there is a tempet raging outside and it is also a national holiday of which I approve. The whole nation stops today to remember the dead and to rejoice in freedom  and I for one like that all French people are reminded to remember because no matter what day of the week it is the Eleventh of November is a holiday. The shops shut, there is no post and all transport is on Sunday schedule, those who feel the need can go to their local memorial and have a little community gathering followed by le pot d'amitie paid for by the state..
Mike could not get out to the tractor this morning as the tempet was blowing straight into the garage so he turned to the kitchen which is now complete. The center island is functional and at my disposal of which I am very grateful and happy. All the juggling for work space I have put up with is a thing of the past, but  no matter how much of anything you have you always want more and I will try not to look for that bit extra and be happy with what I have, although Mike did mention that there was a wood burning cooker for sale and how could we put that it in the fire place, frankly I am not going there today or even tomorrow.
I did my Honorable duty this morning and went to the church in Brevands, I picked Genevierve up and we went together both our husbands having made their excuses for not wanting to stand out at the highest point in Brevands exposed to the sea for an occasion they could do in their heads. Thankfully the church was open so we all bundled in for the customary shaking of hands and kissing of cheeks, meeting up with neighbours and  people I have not ever seen before but being with Genevierve meant that every one got named and placed as she knows all and sundry in the village. Jacqueline was there as well and the three of us hung out like the three musketeers catching up with the gossip with people walking in and out of our court. Jacqueline always manages a juicy bit of gossip and I can do little else than laugh and wonder at the courage of these village pensioners who turn up year after year and still have something new to say. Genevierve's uncle, now in his 93rd year was looking as sprightly as ever and always takes me in an embrace and cares about how we are getting on here in his wonderful France. Joseph, second patriarchal figure in the village also showed that he cared and wanted to know all about our plans. At the June 6th celebrations two years ago Joseph looked at me very sternly and asked if we were intending to return to the UK as he had heard that many Brits were, I laughed and said we could no longer afford to live this wonderful  life style in the UK and he just pointed his finger at me and assured me that he was keeping an eye on us and that we were not to leave, and today he mentioned that he was very pleased that we were making such good progress in the garden, it is nice to feel included and accepted in such a little village.
I have just taken HOSS for a quick walk around the field, he knows walks are at a premium when the weather is as foul as it is today but he manages to chase the leaves bark at the rabbits and upset Jacky's dogs next door all in a five minute outing. I for one just get such a kick out of scrapping my wellies through my very own fallen leaves,  our little wood is now in real winter mode and is just as lovely in the winter as in summer.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

You will have to wait and See.

I am in danger of sounding like a broken record, each time I come to the blog I am apologising for the time laps. The days are galloping by at an alarming rate and the short days with little time to stop and think about blogs, journals and the like, means that we are getting up the next morning without having achieved all that needed to be achieved the day before.  After our fab Guy Faulks night out I sent a "nice to have met you"  e-mail to the couple we met  running an on-line business selling French Shabby Chic, in their words. We went onto the web site next day and I just had to tell them how envious I was that they had managed to bring a good business over with them and I remember in my tipsy state, on the night, saying  that I wanted to spend time in their aura to be inspired and they must have been paying attention and have invited us over to theirs for aperitifs next week, I am quite looking forward to that.
I called Orange last week because they have taken money from the bank without an invoice, which I am told is on-line in my orange account but when I went to have a look, it was not available. I have learnt that getting agitated and raising ones voice is absolutely pointless so I stayed calm and they promised to stop using the web to send my invoices and I really thought that was that, but then I got three invoices in three days and getting an orange envelope in consecutive postal deliveries does not feel very sorted. I made that call again. I felt agitated and my voice was cranking up a few levels but during the time I had to wait for an assistant I  read all the small print and every side of this forest of paperwork and realised that it was actually OK and managed to make the revelation before I got answered to and prevented the embarrassing discussion that they are always right, and I am not.
It has rained and rained and rained with thunder and lightening, very very frightening, but we are not complaining as we now know what dry is and a bit of wet is just a pleasant change. During a lull in the downpours yesterday we decided to clear up the drive and transported the sleepers to the top gate and then Mike had a fantastic brain wave and suggested that we use the worst of the sleepers as edging to the top drive and before our very eyes and sore backs the job was done and looks much more designer than French  farm yard entrance.
Mike has been in panic mode over his tractor and finally today he took himself off to the garage to reassemble what he has dismantled and try to make sense of this frustration and infuriating hydraulics problem. I was pleased of the time alone to repack my kitchen and what a great work-out for the soul that was. I had yet another harvest from the tomatoes and made soup and then lay the table for lunch but when Mike came in and said  "I'm bored now" I knew he had made no progress with the tractor so we jumped in the car and headed out to Coutance to the most amazing tractor breakers for advice.  I don't much like going there as the owner very much dislikes discussing tractor problems with a woman but today we were met by a young and attentive man who listened to our problem then promptly went to fetch "old woman hater grumpy guts" who also listened to out problem and without hesitation said the seal on the hydraulic pump was blown. He then showed us where it was on a diagram, turned away and left. The younger man went off to find a new seal but would not take a penny for it and just wished us bon courage and away we came smiling from ear to ear.....proof is in tomorrow, however, when mike brings the pump into my new kitchen, will I let him put his oily pump on the table to take apart ??? will have to wait and See.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

I think I may well give it a hobby style go !

It is no wonder I got a phone call from my sister Mim this morning hoping that we were both well,  I have not been so active on face book and yet again five days have lapsed on the blog. It is really daft how I let the days drift away into the sunset without a backward glance. This week has been filled with a topsy turvey kitchen, Mike has had tools all over the table and every day has had a kitchen theme. We did go out and weed kill a patch on the other side of the Abri garden to start a new bed which we intend to fill with plants from the existing gardens that have matured and got themselves squashed in the process. The lawns need a good cut but the inconsistent rain, here one day gone the next has not given us enough dry to get a good last cut in but I am sure now that the growth is down to winter speeds that we will find the window we need before the frost and cold arrives. The center island in the kitchen looks good to me and is very useful. I have acres of space to fill but I am reluctant to start moving stuff from the pantry to the kitchen in case Mike needs access so I am taking a slow and deliberate approach so I only have to do this once.
We attended a Guy Faulkes party last night and celebrated this, oh so British fete for the first time in four years. Every year since leaving the UK we have both felt that there was something very tangible missing on the  5th of November and we have been quite sad about it. This year however, we met up with a gang of expats to throw a Guy each onto  a fire and set of fireworks like a bunch of over sized kids. Anna and William put on a great party and we all sat outside to eat drink and be merry to the smell of a smokey fire and that sulphur smell you only get on the 5th of November.  There was a delightful French family there who joined in oblivious to the story  and even when we tried to tell the tale they still did not understand why we were celebrating the failure of blowing up parliament, and frankly I see their point.
Today Mike and I are worn out, all the talking and laughing in two languages really does take it out of you so as it is raining we have decided to sit tight, the bread machine is whirring and the cakes are in the oven which means we can stay in until Monday if needs be, I am told there is a big brica-brac fare in Bricquebec tomorrow so lets hope the rain passes and we can have a good rummage.  We met a couple who are running a very successful on-line, anything old and French, business and they were quite open to having us pick their brains on how to get started, we have no way enough experience to  achieve their standard of  business acumen and income but it is their main income stream and all I want is an injection of a few euros to allow us to develop an interesting and lucrative past time, first I must get my mac to allow me to upload photos and I think I may well give it a hobby style go !

Monday, 1 November 2010

The season is over and that is that, so soon and so decisively

Saturday was cider day and Mike and I were up, out and at Jacqueline's by nine thirty. Our friends Anna and William joined us for this part of the cider process and I was very pleased they did, or we would have been short handed on the job. I took the trailer position with Anna emptying the pressed pulp out of the pressing cloths and Mike teamed up with Pierre Lecerlc shovelling the apples into the hopper. William was  press cloth organiser  and runaway apple collector. Once the press and crusher  was up and functional we were off, all photos taken before the start as there is no time to dally once the process is underway. The weather was fantastic during our three hour whirl wind of activity feeding the crusher with apples and preparing for the next pressing. The juice just poured out of the apples and into the barrels in Jacqueline's cellar and the whole ambiance is one of achievement and productivity. At one O'clock, the last of the apples was crushed and pressed and the equipment all put away for next year and we  went in for a three hour lunch. I enjoy listening in to the chit chat between these country people the two men who did the pressing are  farmers and do this activity once a year and after they had drunk the cellar dry and eaten Jacqueline out of house and home they climbed into their tractor and set off to their afternoon appointment. Pierre Leclerc is the barrel carer and went out of his way to proclaim that all this was the fruits of our labour, all your apples, he kept saying and I do wonder if this event would actually happen if Mike and I did not get involved. Jacqueline says that she gets more help from us than she does her neighbours and friends but then picking apples is a hard and time consuming activity and I suspect all those who have done it over the  years saw us coming and made their excuses.
On Sunday with achey-breakie muscles we set off on a ride to Vire to collect a kitchen unit that matches our existing kitchen. We have decided that the kitchen needs more facilities and a centre isles is the answer but doing it in such a way that will not destroy the farm house kitchen feel. It is difficult if not a little  risky. We got the unit home and although  the doors match, it was just too long so Mike applied his ability to see past the problem and cut a whole cupboard's worth out and butted it all up again with a magic and invisible  seam and tomorrow we will go out to buy the wood he needs to finish the job. We could not go today as it is the first of November, All Saints Day and all the shops are shut and everybody is on the road visiting family and laying flowers at the graves of their parents. It is a good public holiday if not a little morbid because, like Bastille day, it is taken very seriously so I for one am glad to stay at home to reflect on the concept hoping for good weather so every one can get to where they are going and enjoy this Autumn family celebration.
Good new is that Mike cleared out the courgette plants from the poly this afternoon. He managed a small crop for which I gave him a mouthful but the season is over and that is that, so soon and so decisively

Thursday, 28 October 2010

my hens ? Mikes tractor ? contest really.

Mike's surfing on Le bon coin came up trumps again yesterday and we went over to Gratot  to pick up 15 third hand railway sleepers. We paid just under five euros for each one which may seem expensive but as they are jolly useful around the garden to retain gravel or give a little height to a boarder we feel it is worth the expense.  We have used sleepers quite a few times already and like the end result but not the handling of them, when they become cumbersome and extremely awkward heavy lumps of poo. We had to do two runs to get  this lot  home and it took courage over two days to unload. We have to apply the science of fulcrums as I am completely incapable of lifting one end so we use the sack truck, lashings of gravity and concentration, a few choice words and dirty looks at each other to get them into position, fortunately this lot  stay on the drive as their final destination is still at planning stage and besides they add a bit of old wood-pile interest in front of the house now that the pot plants and hanging baskets are all away in hibernation. I hope it snows this year because these lovely old bits of wood will look stunning dusted with snow, oops went a bit arty there.
I have  bottled the very last of the apples and tomatoes this evening and I for one are delighted.  I know I will use my stock as I have now discovered, but I really knew this all along,  that both stewed apples and roasted tomato puree are very good for you when you are on a diet, but not necessarily together. 
We had a fun outing to Cherbourg to meet up with  brother John and to check the boat over this week, it is always good to catch up and as we have so much sailing to talk about the time just whizzes by and before the day is out John is slipping off onto his next adventure.  
Autumn is well and truly with us and I for one just love this season with all the promise of warm fires and dusky evenings. Our clocks go back on Sunday which leaves us in the dark until eight thirty in the morning and that means we keep to winter time, and don't bother to even open the shutters until nine. The cock stays quiet and his night gets longer which means that the happy clutch spend much more time in the hen house. I had totally forgotten about that equation and had a nasty shock to see how much muck there was in the house at yesterdays clean out, so now the hens will need cleaning out every three days instead of a week and in the cold that is no joke. Last year the hens stayed in the garage for the winter, but poorly tractor has filled the space and, my hens ?  Mikes tractor ? contest really.

Monday, 25 October 2010

It was OK and I eat it all up, but I must work harder on my labelling.

I had a day off on Saturday, dickie tum, don't know where from, and hope it was not from the restaurant in town where we had our choir annual bash, but all is better now, so I will say no more.
It has rained hard these past few days but today we were  back to one of those perfect Autumn afternoons where it is warm enough to take your coat off but not too cold that you can't manage with just a fleece on.
Mike got the watering system installed in the poly whilst I was out for the count on the sofa and at the end of the day I spent a few mouth wide open minutes, in wonder of this bloke's ingenious abilities and we now have an irrigation system  using stock and stuff on site . The timer is the next challenge but I have seen  a refrigeration defrost timer and a plug in timer on the kitchen table so I guess the innovation continues below decks.
Mike has also had his head in his tractor manual, the lifting hydraulics packed up during the summer and he has  dabbled on and off  with no success, it is now getting urgent as the gang mower is stranded up on the field in all weathers when it should be down near the house in the garage. I feel a sense of crisis on the horizon with the days shortening and the temperature slipping into single figures and I have found myself backing off graciously when the language gets too colourful, poor Mike, being my hero and the  resourceful type means that I think everything is mendable but actually sometimes stuff just dies.
I got another letter from the French NHS on Saturday asking for all the documentation I went to the Caisse Maladie with last week. I had to get all the paper work out  and was about to start posting it all off AGAIN when I found some courage at the bottom of a cup of coffee this afternoon and I called head office in St Lo. A very nice lady, and I know you have heard me say that a few times now, rang the man who sent me the letter to say that all is well and we are in system, he confirmed that we are still in and to ignor the last letter.  I mentioned to the very nice lady that had been a bit of a nightmare case and that we had been battling for three years and she just said yes it is all very difficult, "so make it easy" is what I wanted to say but just did the normal french style  thank yous and have a good day and hung up, for the last time I really hope.
I have now run out of jars and have just finished bottling up 8 portions of apple sauce, or puree or compote as we call it here.  I had funny little moment at lunch time as I rushed in from shopping, starving because I am living on 1500 calories a day and from the freezer I pulled a bag of tomato puree and a bag of celery soup for my lunch. Mike hates my home made soup and he gets a packet of Bachelors special something.  I was microwaving my two concoctions and I became aware that my soup was smelling odd, nice but odd and when it was at warm and defrosted temperature I tasted the delights of tomato and apple soup, no, it was OK and I eat it all up but I must work harder on my labelling.

Friday, 22 October 2010

I am totally tomatoed out for this year.

My goodness me where has this week gone, this feel like the slippery slope to oblivion when you go to your blog on Friday and the last entry was Tuesday.
On Wednesday Graham and Ann braved the apple picking challenge again and we cleared our orchard, it was actually very easy, we keep our trees on clipped grass and even the leaves get picked up so with the sun out and a warm and pleasant breeze caressing our tired bones we got the job done and dusted by one o'clock and cracked open a bottle of cider, well you would wouldn't you. We then  spent the rest of the afternoon chatting and trying to sort out Ann's French homework. The last of the picking was done on Thursday at Jacqueline's orchard, we all met at La Capitainery at nine thirty for the off but worryingly 84 year old  Jacqueline was unwell and was getting herself off to the doctors so Mike and I took over the job of preparing the apple pile on her front lawn and organising our friends into action to get the trees emptied and the fruit into bags. I feel so at home at La Capitainery and at lunch time we came down off the orchard and settled ourselves in Jacqueline's huge dining room and tucked into our pic-nics before finishing off the final trees and clearing up leaving the apple pile ready for crushing next Saturday. Jacqueline was away all morning and had a full  anaesthetic then surgery on her nose to stop it bleeding, she then drove home, put on her apron and started work again, but I think she was quietly delighted that we had got all the work done for this year and all she had to do was put her feet up for the rest of the day.
We have had a letter from the French NHS to say YES we can stay at a cost of three hundred and fifty Euros a year for both of us. This gives us eighty percent of all our medical costs paid by the state which is the basic french person's cover and then we pay ninety euros a month for top up insurance which pays the other twenty percent so we are fully covered. If any UK resident out there wants to knock the NHS then they should came here and pay the price,  have all the medicines  taken listed by price to make you aware of your burden on the state. Sometimes you have to pay, if you have a sour throat then the state will not reimburse the doctors prescription because every one gets colds and sour throats, so you pay. Still, the service is much faster and you get seen pretty much straight away but that is because most French people think twice before they go to the doctor as it will most definitely cost them hard earned dosh.
We have booked our trip to Spain in the camper in June but now the reality of leaving our poly tunnel unattended of a couple of weeks is sinking in and Mike is designing an irrigation system that will not only deal with that one problem but act as a permanent feature to take the worry and time out of watering during those few vital weeks when the plants are young and vulnerable. Tomorrow he will start to put the plan together and I for one will be happy to introduce a labour saving process as I spent many a hot and weary afternoon wetting the tunnel down this year to save the souls of our tomato plants who incidental are still producing red tomatoes but sadly I cannot look them in the face as I am totally tomatoed out for this year.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

I feel much happier that we don't have rats the size of cats so close to the house.....

Mike and I are a bit stiff and tired today, we did our first apple pick day yesterday in a difficult orchard with Ann and Graham, but as it was their first time, by four o'clock Ann was done for so we packed up and delivered a full trailer load of apples to La Capitanary.  We are getting together again tomorrow to clear our orchard and then to Jacqueline's orchard on Thursday to finish the picking by the end of the week. I had relied on Jacqueline to let Jean-Jacque know that we would start in his orchard on Monday but I had a bad feeling that their paths would not have crossed and I was right,  we ended up breaking and entering to get through his garden to his orchard and I was waiting for the big horror  with arms articulating with disbelief that someone could make their way to his orchard....and I was not disappointed. Jean-Jacaque's dog called Doggie came flying  to the gate and barked like his was going into a veritable doggie type paddy followed but his master looking a little bewildered but once he saw it was us he went all shruggy shouldered on me and explained in three different ways that Jacqueline does not have his phone number because he is not in the book and the number she was calling is his Internet number and she does not know how to leave a message on the answer phone, and at 84 I am not surprised she shys away from modern stuff, she does not even own a washing machine or microwave. Jean-Jacque does however speak good English and showed off his skills despite the fact that it is easier for me to communicate with him in his language but at least the others got to communicate with him as well.  For the first time ever we had a picnic in the Avenue which is Brevand's listed tourist attraction and we often see people parked up having their repas on the picnic tables looking over the Marais and over to the sea. I was tickled pink as we sat there, with our guests to Brevands, waving as cars drove by, we were tooted and waved at by our nieghbours and village kin. Ann mentioned that we seem to know plenty of people and it is not until you stop and think about it, and yes I guess we do.
When we got back from our day yesterday I busied myself opening doors and letting HOSS our into the field when I realised that Mike was out in the road bashing something with a spade and when I went over I was Horrified to see that he was knocking the stuffing out of the biggest rat I had ever seen. At first  I thought it was a coypu but realised it was a proper rat, the size of a cat. We pondered on this all evening and I mentioned that I was unhappy to have a rat that size so close to the house and this morning Mike having pondered on the problem all night declared that the rat most probably fell off a farmer's trailer passing by and that is why it was concussed and just sitting there waiting to be bashed, so I feel much happier that we don't have rats the size of cats so close to the house.....

Sunday, 17 October 2010

You don't know what you got till you start using it again....or something like that

It was my birthday yesterday and we decided to fill the house up with people and invited Anna and William, Ann and Graham and Anne for lunch, amazing that it may seem but nearly all my mates are called Ann,  Peter and Sarah are in the UK so couldn't come. We drove Dana on Friday to a lady called Lynda who is Dana's normal minder, this lady has a business looking after other peoples dogs in her home and they run riot along with her own dogs. We stopped for coffee and chatted about both our lives here in France, which all expats do, and then we left her to her doggie chaos and took the slow road home via leclerc to get my shopping in for my birthday  bash.
Yesterday was full of fun, face book lit up like a Christmas tree with all the best wishes coming through and I got phone calls and e-mails and even had the luck to see Debs online and chatted on skype. We keep missing Georgie on line but will find her later today but sadly no contact from Chris.
My guests arrived at one o'clock and we sat down to eat, but we didn't get up again until seven in the evening, so much to talk about and so much to laugh about, I have no idea how much wine I drank but I was ready for bed as soon as we said our goodbyes but Mike forbade such an early night and I battled on till ten o'clock which was much more acceptable.
Since our trip to the UK in September I have been using the dish washer. It has been sitting there idle for three years because I was playing at little farm housewife and poo pooed the advantages of such fangled machinery and anyway we both needed to have our hands in water several times a day to wash the garden grime out but after experiencing the clean and organised kitchens at John and Linda's and Chris and Sam's homes I decided to plug in and go.  I have not regretted it one bit. A good clean and a program with one of those flush out your dishwasher products and I was back in business and what a difference it has made, the kitchen is clutter free and as I only have to wash the big stuff I wipe up straight away, and put away straight away, it is great, it only goes to prove that you don't know what you got till you start using it again....or something like that

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

And all our calls in France, buck shee..lovely.

We have both just come in for a coffee before going out to cut grass, I am screen watching as our money transfer has not happened yet. I was expecting our account to be flush by the ninth of this month and here we are the 13th and still no dosh, I am in the red, so we cannot be seen to be spending as the bank take a dim view to expenditure and showing a negative account the same time. So that we don't open our wallets,  we are stop 'athomes' for the time being or at least until our dosh turns up. I will be forced to go to the bank in the morning to cancel a couple of DD's  before they come to take me off to jail.
We have Sarah's dog Dana here for a few days so HOSS has a play mate to hang out  with but she is so energetic that I have to split them up for HOSS to take a breather, He is 75% better but being a bigger and heavier dog the constant running and jumping and tumbling and biting tails for play and nicking of toys and then more tumbling and running hanging onto his just getting on his nerves so a separation gives her  the luxury of not having to perform for him and he gets his chance to lay flat out on the kitchen floor as is his favourite pass time.  Sarah also decanted her entire chicken house and  run so we are in charge of her adorable little bantams as well, what a menagerie we have this week.
The lounge is oh so nearly finished.  We had a damp corner that Mike had to investigate and discovered that the gutter down pipe had sprung a leak spraying water  on the  outside wall and that was enough to give us the ominous wet patch on the inside but two weeks after mike's magic touch the patch had disappeared and yesterday he put up the last sheets of wall paper.  Our second hand furniture turned up and I am very pleased with the overall feel of the room much more light and airy and tidy, for now.
Mike is busy on the Internet and has found a new ferry service  from St Nazaire to Gijon in Spain which takes the motorway out of the trip and means we can get south quickly and comparatively cheaply with  HOSS with us in the van. If he stops swearing at the laptop and manges to get the form filled in on line it looks like we may have a plan for our holiday next year.
I called Orange again yesterday to wonder why my Internet phone is still not working, the customer services chappie read through our dossier, quietly at first then, became quite astonished and loudly proclaimed that we really do seem to have a problem.  Oh what a surprise, and he promised that a guru on these matters would call me at thirteen hundred hours, oh where have I heard that before,  but give them their dues I did get a call from the Guru, who sounded quite ordinary,but blow me down if he didn't talk us through a mind meld and re-installation of our live box and the server all on line and with his broken English and my fluffy french we now have the possibility of calling UK free and a limited a call allowance for Ozz and Canada land lines,  and all our calls in France, buck shee..lovely.

Monday, 11 October 2010

The caveman's natural need for heat and chippings was satisfied.

We got up extra early to get into town to go to the Caisse Maladie this morning. We have learned that you need to be there at the crack of dawn or you have to queue and we don't do queuing very well. So, with all the information I have on our French NHS nightmare we presented ourselves, without having to queue to a very pleasant young woman who read the form that I had lost the will to live by, and said that the bits I was concerned about were of no concern to our case.....yep... I felt like an uneducated bimbo, but then, that is nothing unusual, not have a native understanding of the language puts you in that category time and time again. I appreciate why my Dad worked so hard at his second language, once you are involved half measures are seriously not adequate enough. The form was duly filled and the lady was very accommodating, Mike always tells me that these events work well for us because my French is so good but I still feel like a peasant.  Having got on so well with this helpful  lady I crashed and burned by I asking her for a receipt for the form she was about to plonk on a very tall pile of other peoples paperwork and I  sensed that the trust had gone. She huffed ever-so slightly, but, having had our file for entry into the French system sit on a CPAM desk for a year without action, and us falling out of the system, I am constantly on alert.
With the Autumn feel in the garden, the warm air and bright skies got Mike out into the allottment,  I did ask that he helped out more and there he was lifting rotting cabbage and spent sweet corn. We filled the trailer ready for the dechete vert and over a short coffee break Mike decide that he really didn't like the wild rose arching over the entrance to the pottage and before my very eyes it was cut, slashed and in the trailer. I must admit that it really lightens up the entrance and having winged all summer that the lettuce patch is in the shade fifty percent of the time I can now see that this is going to revolutionise  the growing potencial. With this potencial revealed  the plum tree came down, and so did the lilac and then there really was light. We spent the rest of the day stripping the leaves from the branches and Mike cut logs for the winter and what was left will go to chippings and the caveman's natural need for heat and chippings was satisfied. Billy had a special birthday yesterday . 10/10/10 how great is that.

Friday, 8 October 2010

I am her equal now because I always get my own way.,

We are waiting for three days dry weather to get the grass cut and the longer we wait the more arduous the task becomes, if we manage to get out this afternoon we will both have to work like billio to catch it before the dew starts to fall again at five o'clock. Yesterday was dry and I pottered around my wet and Autumnal garden wondering where to start, so the best solution is to start close to the house and work out. I have emptied the cart of the potted giant petunia which did not like being in pots but gave us a surprising show of flowers and now as I clear them out, a good supply of seeds for next year. I had to call Mike out to see the wonders of nature. As I pulled off the seed pods they sprang into life and jettisoned little black seeds everywhere, it was like popping bubble wrap, and we both found ourselves popping seed pods just because it was fun. The drive is clearer and my next job is to find a safe and frost free place for the geraniums, we lost most of them last year in the poly during our hard winter so this year they go into one of the outhouses off the back courtyard.
I spoke to Debbie on Skype just now, we are all a bit psychic, us girls, as I was just starting to feel a little isolated from her. She is so busy with her wonderful life in Australia and I hate not being a part of it, Georgina contacts me every week on her day off and I really look forward to see her lovely face and just chatting about nothing in particular bringing the miles to zero.  Being separated by thousands of miles and new life styles is tough, no matter how great life is here,  but like the Internet phone still not being connected totally out of my control.
We have a new form to fill in for the French NHS three years after applying they are still questioning what we are doing here, the UK should take a leaf out of the French system and they might find that they loose many foreign hanger onners. I am going to have to go to the office here in Carentan as I do not understand the questions and the reasoning, I am now petrified of making an error and having to go through all this again so I think it is prudent to get some help.
I had a mad urge to draw three days ago and got the pad and pencils out, what a disaster, I really have to draw stuff that has value, a still life leaves me cold and drawing the house is too huge a project. My aging eyesight means that I have to have my glasses on to see the distance and take them off to look at the paper and then I get nauseous in between, so I am going to drawer an object a day within my focal vision without glasses to get my skills back up to scratch, which sadly, has depleted to nothing, so watch this space, I have my art teacher friend coming for my birthday bash next Saturday and I need to have a modicum of confidence before then.
We have formulated a plan to get the apples picked for this years cider.  I have 6 bags here just with my windfalls but there are tons still in the tree, Our friends Ann and Graham are coming to make a start on the 18th to give us a clear week of commitment,  Jacqueline was  a bit thrown as she thought she has set us up to come this week and next but I have Dana for the week and it is my birthday on the Saturday so when I suggested Monday the 18th she was sorry that she was unable to help as she was off to Paris to see her chiropodist and then I realised she was manoeuvring me into a position to suit her,  she is a very Wiley old  woman and usually gets her own way, but I think I am her equal now because I always get my own way.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Where have I been all my life finding this simple procedure such a hoot.

I have had a frustrating few days and now I have low blood pressure again ..drat... The Internet phone is still not working.  The special engineer had a special rendez vous to call me between twelve and one on Friday, we had new friends in for lunch so I primed Mike up, to chat amongst himself, and keep the party going whilst I took this, oh so important call, but, what a surprise, no rendez vous. On Saturday, customer services rang to say that the special engineer couldn't make that call after all and he would ring Sunday, which he did, and I had to go through all the questions of three weeks trying to get this phone to work, and then some. He finally said that he had demanded, or was that, merely asked, that the server connection with my livebox be set to zero and that it could take another five days. I was unable to throw a wobbly as my french is not that great in those circumstances and besides he spoke far too quickly and through his upturned collar to boot. I was in danger of being hung up on which is a normal occurrence if the customer gets uppity.
My other frustration is that the new livebox does not emmit as  strong a wi fi signal as the old one and my Mac is loosing connectivity at an alarming rate during the day.  I was well set up in the corner of the kitchen with my on line radio, i-tunes, e-mail, blog, facebook, and world wide information getter,  so not having the computer in the kitchen is a real non starter for me.  As I write this blog I am plonked in the middle of the kitchen table, this is not just a laptop it is a huge 1970's type of set up with UPS back up and a screen as big as your TV, but I am going to sweet talk Mike to decant me in another corner where I can get back to my communication and love of my computer without falling off line and into oblivion.
It's been wet, but we have all this decorating to do, the royal we, is have a blast decorating, and we are falling out of favour with each other with every drop of backing paper, I actually walked out today and gave the heneriera a winterizing spring clean so that I can shut their little door at night without getting a boot full of mud. so a bit of a nag session meant I got a job done that has sat at the top of the to do list for well over a week.
It's bin day again tomorrow, second time out with the new wheelie, I am so excited, just chuck it all in and wheel it out where have I been all my life finding this simple procedure such a hoot.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

A touch of once bitten twice shy.

Sadly nobody wants my beautiful dining suite and the price guide offered by the depot vends in Coutance makes it worthless and has more value as a storage cupboard in the garage. Mike's logical thinking puts it's value in the price of wood and to construct a storage unit of that size would cost considerably more than 200 euros, so the side board is in the garage the display cabinet remains in the lounge showing off all my emotional clutter and the chairs remain in the bedrooms. It is not my ideal solution but we have plans to use the wooden doors as wall coverings,  but not in this house,  so Mike has waxed up the heavily carved doors for future use where ever that might be, and I have a huge capacity in organised storage so we are all happy.
We had Ann and Graham over for lunch yesterday and it rained all day. We couldn't get out onto the park for a looksie but we had so much to chat about and we were still at table at 4:00. It is really interesting getting to know people, with all their stories and back ground and I am glad to say that we really do have a lot in common with this couple.
The walls in the lounge are all plain, we did think to leave one wall papered as a feature wall but having appreciated  the brightness and cleanliness of plain white walls there was no discussion and the whole lot came down. The room looks twice the size it was before we started and we will see how we feel when the other furniture turns up, the display cabinet may still have to go.
The grass in the Park is visibly growing in front of my very eyes, it is warm and very wet out there and every time I go to give HOSS a run I can see a difference even it is only a few hours difference, the growth has to be seen to be believed. Mike has just given me a meteo report and we are stuck with this rain for a few days which we are OK with because we can just do nothing, or nothing or even nothing. I should start drawing and being arty but it is easier and far more comfortable to sit and watch the TV. When we were working we would hand over an entire day at the weekend to TV and vegetating and I don't see why we have to stop just because we are retired. It does of course mean that we don't sleep at night,  we are more rested that a rested rester, but we don't complain about that.
I have noticed mouse poo in the out-house so I have decanted the cat back to the back door from the barn. She did a really good job of clearing the barn of rats and mice but I need her closer to home now and it is so much easier for me to feed her down here  in the winter months
We are preparing for another hard winter, I have spotted that the farmers are putting their bales of hay around the outside of the fields close to the hedges this year,  I  guess so they can more easily collect and distribute the winter feed if we should go winter wonder land again, it is a bit like shutting the door after the horse has bolted but is also a touch of once bitten twice shy.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

night caps are something in abundance here at the moment.

We went to the depot vends middle of last week to practice looking at, and pricing  potential trinkets for us to buy and sell. I am looking at stuff that could easily go in the post so that we can play e-bay from France and post to the UK. We both feel we have hit a bit of a flat point and would like to have a small revenue stream to get a kick out of something. The garden is all well and good but it lacks that  profit making satisfaction buzz. While we were at the depot vends we came across a fabulous dresser and I just fell in love with it, the detail in the wood work was amazing and I just could not take my eyes away from it. One thing led to another and we also bought a wonderful Louis style three piece suite to give our lounge a more authentic feel for those long winter evenings when we spend hours cuddled up in front of the fire. The existing side board and display cabinet in the lounge are part of a  large dining suite, the table of which is in the out house and the 6 chairs are all around the house filling corners. When we bought this suite in Watten we thought it would look great in our new house in Brevands but we have slowly moved the table and chairs  out to make the lounge into the room we wanted. The whole set is now up for sale and I have a response already and have sent a pack of photos in the wild and ambitious hope that Trudie, the lady requesting the pictures will love it and come and pay me lots of Euros and take it home to make way for our new look lounge. Mike has taken all the flock wall paper off the walls and we are going for a plain look to give the new furniture a chance to breath and be seen. Flock covering has it's place in this life but not on my walls and I can't wait to get some simple lines to smarten up our act a little.
When we took Beema to Cherbourg we spent a couple of days emptying all the lockers and repacking them and chucking all the dross that you keep because you forgot why you had it in the first place, well we are doing it all over again but this time we are going through the house.  I emptied the side board and what filled a box eight feet by five feet by three feet is now in a couple of cardboard boxes waiting for the other dresser to arrive. I could not believe the rubbish we were hanging onto, and, it is so good for the soul having a root round and chuck out. I found four bottles of brandy and two bottles of gin stashed away so tonight we will have a little night cap as night caps are something in abundance here at the moment.