Thursday, 24 December 2009
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
We had a large delivery of wood and looked forward to being all organised for when we needed to switch the heating on (which only happened on Saturday!). Pah, not so. The wood isn't seasoned and Jesse huffed along with her ovens only going up to moderate. It was weird because the fire itself was roastingly hot, so hot as to singe and melt the leather gauntlets we have for tending the fire, yet the heat wasn't transferring over to the ovens. We have since found out - via surfing waves on the internet that were almost tsunamis in our desperation to find the answer to our problem - that if the wood is unseasoned or wet, the moisture basically puts out the gaseous burn in the bottom of the flue. We need this secondary burn for a clean burn and super hot temperatures to transfer to the cooking bit. Plus this moisture allows for creasote/tar to form around every nook and cranny so needless to say, we spent 3 hours degunking her. We live and learn. She is now happily doing her stuff as we made a mercy dash to our local hardware store for some 'proper' wood. The other stuff will be good for next year so you could say we *are* organised.
Fortunately today dawns sunny and calm, released from the grip of the icy wind. We can open the volets (shutters) again and let in the light.
Today's activity - Christmas shopping.
Thursday, 3 December 2009
Our neighbour brought 3 massive fruit boxes of their red apples and my Uncle invited us to come and raid as many apples as we liked from his orchard (sadly he's moving to Canada so we won't have that perk next year).
Anyway, here you see the boys with the apple chopper and press below. We have made 12 litres of juice so far and still have 10 fruit boxes to process. Plus more set aside for eating apples. It's time-consuming but fun. It also feels great that we can teach the boys through example how things grow, how to look after and improve your crops, how to harvest and how to process and store food supplies.
This was my first ever taste of freshly pressed apple juice and it is very different from the shop-bought apology. We have frozen lots so hopefully there'll still be some for lucky visitors in the spring.
Friday, 20 November 2009
There are crawling competitions designed to include even the smallest members of our family...
There's cooking. Here are R and B making Rupert Bear Biscuits.
There's pasta making. Here we are setting up the racks for drying our own pasta. Making our own pasta uses up some of our endless supply of eggs!
There's model making. Here is a Lego brachiosaurus. All manner of dinosaurs get built from Lego as this is still a very alive interest for our boys. The things I've learnt about dinosaurs since R got interested in them! He really is a specialist on them now and his, and B's knowledge of the subject far outstrips mine.
There's dressing up. Here is R as not just an Indian but an Iroquois (I got corrected when I said that he was an Indian as he pointed out that there were many Indian tribes - apparently it's like saying he's a human.) His head-dress he made from feathers collected up in the orchard, shed by the geese. I had to hide a smile when he took the war-paint off as it's actually electrical tape and was a bit like pulling off plasters - poor wee soul.
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Friday, 6 November 2009
Sunday, 25 October 2009
The walnut harvest this year has been spectacular with 18 kg hulled so far and maybe another two to come. In total we have 4 walnut trees - one in the field to the east of us and I think the squirrels reckon that that's theirs as not many nuts were collected from there; one by the solar tunnel that's quite young yet still gave a good crop, almost all nicely popped out of their hulls; and two at the drive-side of the orchard. Now these last two are annoying because they overhang the drive so if the fallen nuts aren't picked up pronto then they get driven over and crushed. So it's a constant job collecting them and that's where we need the visitors' help.
Then comes the sweet chestnuts. Now this is a crop that I had never tasted until last year when our neighbours' son and his friend brought us 'un petit cadeau' of an enormous bucketful of them. I tentatively tried cooking with some and they were much enjoyed by all the family. Very high in protein so great all round really. So this year we were out collecting like mad. As well as the two trees in our garden, many of the trees down the drive to us are sweet chestnuts so we have loads in the freezer. As for cooking/baking with them... Hugh Fernley Wittingstall makes it sound easy to roast them in the oven and the skin just pops off but we've found that the nuts inside seem to go a bit hard - like rock! - so we prefer to boil them for a few minutes. Guinea fowl slow cooked with them followed by meringe with creamed sweet chestnuts and sauted apples is just autumn heaven in my book. Mmmmmm. Anyone coming next autumn???
Saturday, 10 October 2009
Now Jesse is a wood-burning range that does our cooking, hot water, and various heating systems. She was bought as part of our carbon-neutral, not-having-to-rely-on-external-power-sources drive. Rather irritatingly she actually needs a Laddomat gismo that keeps her water circulating because Roger, the water tank, is higher than she is by 50cm due to the layout of our house. If she didn't have that on the circuit, the back water boiler would boil dry and Jesse would be shafted so to speak. And irritatingly that gismo runs on electricity. And guess what we didn't have today - sigh. So, having got her up to a nice hot test temperature (and all the windows and doors open because it's still warm here), with food lined up for cooking, we then had to 'dump the heat' ie waste all our hot water, and put the fire out tout suite with wet sand. I was less than pleased with EDF, France's electricity provider. However, we're back on now.
Friday, 2 October 2009
Monday, 21 September 2009
Life here is very seasonal - everything from the obvious of what everyone's doing in a day (like at the moment it's harvesting and preserving), down to the fruit and veg that's available. Now that I'm used to this seasonality in availability of foodstuffs, I have to say that I quite like it. I've had to change from "oh this recipe looks good, what do I need, now let's go and buy this or that" to "what's available right now, ok we'll have ..." In other words, the available ingredients drive what's on the menu rather than the ideas coming first. I've found that it leads to a lot less wastefulness for us as we used to have a fridge stocked with just-in-case veg that we often found gone off.
Sunday, 6 September 2009
Friday, 4 September 2009
Today's task however, was to buy all the sanitaryware, lights, glass blocks, mirrors etc. We had already been to make our choices and to see which were stock items and which were orderable - fortunately all of our choices were all stock items - so you would think that it would be a relatively easy breeze round the store with a trolley just popping stuff in, paying for it, and pushing off. Ho no. The boys demanded one of the trolley cars - tiny small area for collecting merchandise, great big enormous childrens' car on the front that they can get in and 'drive', absolute devil to manoeuvre. Even more difficult to move as B was driving with R sitting on the roof (more on that later). Needless to say we then needed a second trolley of decent size to actually do the shopping. Fortunately there was one with a baby seat on the top so we opted for that and off we set.
All started off well but then B wouldn't give R a go at driving so a squabble broke out and that set the scene for the rest of the trip - we'd collected about half of what we needed and the car trolley was taking on the shape and handling abilities of a large whale with squawking occupants. S then decided he didn't actually like being in the baby seat on the trolley and wanted to be carried, expressed in no uncertain terms by loud screams. Ok, not easy to carry him and steer the trolley but needs must. Next on the list was the loo. A very kind assistant surveyed our predicament and loaded the non-car trolley for us with all the bits that we'd need and the baby seat became holder for the basin. Now I couldn't even see over the top of the trolley but had to steer one-handed peering round the side occasionally. S poops his nappy. Oh great - we still need waste connections - he's yelling, the boys are arguing and now running about misbehaving, I'm trying my best to get what we need but my French is woefully lacking, and my brain feels as though it's bleeding out of my ears. Ben looks like a man that's been pushed over the edge. Waste connections located - MASSES of them and not a scooby as to what we need nor the peace in our mind to even try to work it out. Another kind assistant appeared as if by magic, established what we needed and, I'm sure, thrust it hurriedly into our hands so that we'd take the awful noise away from his department.
At last we're heading for the checkouts. Even this was fraught with difficulty as I had S in my arms and Ben was trying to keep the other two from racing off or harming each other (can you put children on leads???). Then an unhelpful lady checkout person tells R that he's not allowed to climb on the trolley so he throws a massive sulk on the floor - one of the ones where he lies completely prostrate on the ground, whimpering and sticking to the floor like tiles.
It was with great relief that we finally reached the car, having bought muffins and brownies on the way out as bribery and mood-enhancers - funny how chocolate seems to calm things down. So, children cleaned up and strapped into their carseats, we set about loading up the trailer. It was packed... unpacked... repacked... unpacked... and packed again, with various helpful comments being chucked in by passing customers. Oh how I wished I'd had a camera!
But we're home now and everything is decanted and all is peaceful. Funny, looking at the small pile it really doesn't seem as though its aquisition could have caused SO much stress.
Tuesday, 25 August 2009
Thursday, 20 August 2009
Tuesday, 18 August 2009
I was trying to establish the depth of our pond today when I came across this beautiful spider - a biggie, you can see the red clover head as a reference point. At present I don't know what it's called so I'm on a mission to find out. If anyone knows before I track down a name, please post a comment.
Update - it's a wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi) and this one is a female as the males are much thinner in body. They are Orb Weavers and apparently their web takes just one hour to make. They spin it in the morning, catch their prey during the day, then eat the web and prey at night. When the females have just reached sexual maturity their jaws are soft for a short time and that is when the males approach for mating. If the males leave it too late they get eaten!!
Monday, 17 August 2009
Back in Scotland when I started growing them I planted 10 seeds and 4 came up. On those four plants I got ONE squash. Ok. So we moved here. Same packet of seeds, same frame of reference. So I planted 20 based on previous experience. All 20 came up. I reckoned that we could indeed cope with 20 squashes as they store well so I happily planted all 20 seedlings, expecting about 20 fruits. But no, they were off. The scramble for life and reproduction was on. Stand still for 5 mins near them and they've woven their tendrils into your shoelaces in a desperate bid to shore up the ever swelling fruits. I think there must be at least 100 squashes happily expanding in the sun! I was down at our neighbour's taking them some spare eggs and I was telling the lady about this situation. She thought it was hilarious and rushed in to tell her husband who was working on their roof. All I could hear was raucous laughter from the rafters! So if you come to stay this autumn/winter - possibly even in the spring and early summer of next year - guess what's on the menu?
Saturday, 15 August 2009
But right just now is beautiful; warm and still surrounded by wonderful birdsong and an occassional gaggle from the geese as they muck about in the paddling pool set up especially for them today.
Friday, 14 August 2009
Anyway, now that I have relative peace and quiet, I have had chance to wander round with Sammy and listen to my own thoughts - something very difficult to do when there's a Brodie in the vicinity! I decided that when Sam had a sleep I was going to tackle some of the overgrown and dead vegetation along our drive and found out what stock was really in there.
So secateurs and loppers at the ready I began. A large pile of debris is now left behind me and is traditional for me whenever I do a 'tidy up' job - I like the tidying bit but not the clearing up of the bits removed from flowerbeds. Ben says that it isn't really tidying, it's just moving rubbish from one place to another. Bless him however, he has accepted this quirk of mine and has designed the Branch Bus, pictured here, that can be towed along behind the tractor and will stop at the varying locations around our garden where I have been working and collect all the unwanted 'passengers' and take them to a mulching area in one of our fields. Looks like once again its services will be required when The Boyz get back on Monday.
Wednesday, 12 August 2009
So we downloaded the forms and made of them what we could, then today went along to our closest office in Mamers. We arrived at 3.13pm and, after explaining what we needed - help, were given a ticket and asked to take a seat. the ticket said 42 mins waiting time. Having noticed as we came in that closing time was 4pm (!!!!) we wondered if we might be told to push off and come back another day. However, the queue dwindled (only 2 folk in front of us) and we were hopeful for a speedy exodus. Ho no. The lady in front of us took AGES and 4pm came and went. The front office shut up and the man bid us Bonsoir; the folk from 'upstairs' packed up and left and bid us Bonsoir. We feared that we might be locked in for the night. But at 4.15pm the door to the little consulting office creaked open, a photocopy was made of the lady's tax return, the clerk bid her Bonsoir, then smiled wearily at us and invited us in to said consulting room. It was a small room and hot. As we as a family number 5 now, all 6 of us was a squeeze in this room. However, the boys got out their toy cars and played happily under the table whilst we tried to explain in French what we didn't understand. Happily it was quite simple and straightforward, or at least the man said it was. What we don't know is if it really was, or were we being let off lightly due to horrendous wafts coming up from the urchins playing on the floor - Rowan's rear end and Brodie's feet, plus Sammy filling his nappy? All in a hot sweaty room and past closing time. Guess that's one way to speed up the procedings. Bet the tax man got a good impression of us Brits!
Friday, 7 August 2009
Thursday, 6 August 2009
a) it's a manual and the Bongo is automatic and I've only driven that for two years now
b) the Hyundai is much wider than the Bongo so I have to watch out for the fosse (ditch) when some crazy French driver whizzes round a country bend on two wheels
c) I've been doing very well driving on the 'wrong' side of road (the right hand side) up until now by telling myself on a constant basis that I'm nearest the curb when driving. Well that changed today and I had to be 'normal'. Now many of you know that being 'normal' doesn't always come easily to me and in a moment of panic, having to pull away quickly from a garage on top of a hill with crap visibility, in an extra wide car, with a manual gearbox and a clutch to cope with, a screaming baby in the back, and a partner hiding his eyes, yes I managed to take off onto the *left* side of the road for a few metres before being screamed at by both baby and Ben. Rectified very quickly and no oncoming traffic inconvenienced so a lesson learned (or at least reminded of!). Frantic Mum found out!
Wednesday, 29 July 2009
And, as it goes in home-educating, this attempt at flight brought our family discussion round to Icarus. This led to a small geography 'lesson' (about the Icarian sea), a small biology 'lesson' (about which birds would have feathers big enough), a small science 'lesson' about the properties of wax, then a small science 'lesson' about the sun, and that led onto a BIG discussion about the solar system and lots of artworks being created by the boys to show all the planets. Then them raking out a gift they had been given last Christmas called 'A Moon in My Room' and they couldn't wait for bedtime to see it working properly. Rowan was all triumphant because he already knew about the term gibbous moon (having picked up on it when he was just turned 3!) And so ended another day of home-schooling.
Tuesday, 28 July 2009
Some days I feel as though I'm in a jam and chutney making factory but I'm determined that we'll preserve all of this harvest for the winter months. Brilliant info HERE about all sorts of preserving. Next week I'm going to visit a neighbour and she's going to show me how she uses one of those big sterilising units to bottle fruit and veg. That's what I like about rural France - there are still lots of traditional skills used. I just have to find the folk that can show me how.
These sterilising units are on special at our local hardware store at the moment and, apparently when you're not using them to bottle your fruit and veg, you can use them to make yoghurt. I'm thinking of trying this too because it is very difficult here to buy yoghurt that is sans morceaux (without bits of fruit) and Rowan doesn't like the 'bits' ones but loves yoghurt. The trouble is that the only ones sans morceaux are loaded with sugar. I figure if I make our own then we can adjust it to suit us. I do kind of feel that I'm following in my mother's footsteps here as I do remember her making yoghurt when I was a child but I'm afraid that the memories of the yoghurt itself are not good ones - rather sour I seem to remember though I couldn't have told you that as a child, just that they weren't 'right'. Well we'll give it a go. We're contemplating getting some goats a) to eat the brambles and b) to milk. More on that I'm sure at a later date as I still have a lot to find out.
Tuesday, 14 July 2009
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Friday, 12 June 2009
June is a very busy month here at LPM with folk staying in every week. Made all the more busy by some friends from the UK just appearing on Wednesday evening (as Ben was about to change into his swimmers to go rescue the geese) and hoping to stay overnight with us!!! They had been saying that they *might* come over but that they would confirm exactly when at a later date. Well, I guess the ‘confirm’ bit happened as they drove through the gates!!! Still, it was fine and Ben helped them get their Blackberry phone/gadget thing working in return for them helping him to fix the rails for the doors of the solar tunnel. Worked quite well actually.
Thursday, 11 June 2009
And we also have some organic lawnmowers by way of 3 geese. Actually they are goslings and just 7 weeks old at the mo (got them at 5 weeks old). Very entertaining. They are Dirty Gertie, Filthy Phillippa, and Minky Mel. They are supposed to be keeping the grass down in the orchard and actually are really brilliant at it even at this age. That is, really brilliant if they would stay in the orchard. Not their fault as Ben reckoned that a ditch and some very long grass would be sufficient deterrent to keep them up there but no. They came waddling down the drive on day 4 pooping everywhere (they do LOTS of poop). So we herded them back with them squeaking in protest and put up a little barrier. We went to Le Mans on Wednesday and when we returned they were out again and swimming in the pond, laughing. We thought that Ben was going to have to wade in in his bathing costume but just as he was about to effect the change of clothing, they waddled out and back to their bunks. So once again, the animals rule the humans here.
Sunday, 7 June 2009
Tuesday, 5 May 2009
Saturday, 2 May 2009
Friday, 1 May 2009
Thursday, 30 April 2009
Update – just been out to close up the hen house for the night (I’m on my own as Ben has gone over to Dover to get the Bongo MOT’d – another story). Now, we’ve been told that they toddle off to bed in their house at twilight and you just pop round and make them safe for the night. Ho no – not ours. They’d squeezed themselves like plaster on the outside of the door of the hen house so I couldn’t open it to ‘encourage’ them with a full door for access (they have a little pop hole that they’ve been ‘popping’ in and out of all day but couldn’t oblige me by using it tonight – bl**dy things). I tried to ‘shoo’ them but they weren’t having it and just clucked at me. So I thought, I’ll just have to lift them in. I’m not normally worried about handling wild animals/birds etc but Jaune, as one of them is called, decided to protect her friend Cou by having a wee peck at me. That made me a bit timorous. I therefore had to steel myself and go about lifting them to their perch through the half-dark and chicken poo whilst battling with the bulge that is Sammy strapped on constantly in a sling. I say again, bl**dy things – they’d better start laying.
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Tuesday, 17 March 2009
We have become small celebrities in our little village. We went down to the Mairie’s office to register the birth and, lo-and-behold, no births had been registered there since 1966 as all the women give birth in hospital in Le Mans and it gets registered there. So cause for celebration - the Mayor himself raced over and they opened a bottle of champagne - and lots of books and flowcharts to refer to to guide them as to how to fill in the paperwork!!! And on Saturday morning the Mayor popped in chez nous to say that they’d organised a ‘reception’ for us and the Press would be there and all the prominent members of the community to welcome Sammy. Oh gosh. So that’s this Friday. Better see if I can find my best frock!
Saturday, 7 March 2009
So the story went like this….. The Thursday we needed some things from IKEA so we tootled off to Tours (80 miles away) and I had to waddle SO slowly round the store. After, we stopped at Buffalo Grill for tea and the waitress asked how long I had to go and I said 2 or 3 weeks but wished it was sooner. She wished us Bonne Chance. Got home at 10pm and fell into bed, asleep I’m sure before I hit the pillow. Midnight – ping, waters broke. No contractions until 2.30am so we then called Joelle, our midwife, as she lives 2.5 hours away. It was actually a rather peaceful and cosy night with the boys fast asleep and just Ben and I lying on the sofa. There was a frantic moment for Ben when the contractions speeded up and Joelle hadn’t arrived so he was desperately scanning the net for guidance on how to deliver a baby. But things calmed down again much to his relief. Joelle arrived at 5.45am and was just so lovely and laidback. The boys woke at 8am and were happy to be allowed to go out in the garden to play in their pyjamas. Fortunately it was a lovely warm day as things might have been a bit more stressful if they’d had to play indoors (Ben’s Mum, flying in to be on stand-by for child-minding during birth wasn’t flying in until the following Tuesday). 9.30am things got going in earnest and just over an hour later our gorgeous Sammy Sausage squeezed out. The boys came in to see him and were quite interested to actually see the placenta and the cord that attached Sammy (Rowan had talked a lot about this throughout the pregnancy – how does a baby get its food when it’s in your tummy etc etc). Brodie adores him and keeps bringing toys (Lego) for him to play with and Rowan has raked out baby Lucy (my nappy demo doll) and keeps changing her clothes and putting her in the car seat, arranging boob feeds for her etc etc.
Saturday, 28 February 2009
Our lovely Jesse the Esse the woodburning cooker is doing a grand job with cooking and heating water for domestic use but we wanted to put in a slightly higher thermostat. A 10 minute job we’d been assured. The warning should have been in that sentence however….. Ben started the change over whilst I made lunch and lo and behold complications arose that ended with him setting off a big leak in another joint in the system and us not having the tools to fix it. So we had a flooded floor. Ben swore again – louder. Fortunately Francis (our knight is shining boilersuit) was working with us today but had gone off for the traditional 2 hour French lunch break (he’s not normally away for that long). However, on his return, it was all fixed and mopped up and life went on with Ben grumping that it was ‘one of those days’. Little did we know….
The garden tidy up continued and we made a big pile of fallen branches and debris ready for a bonfire, in one of our fields that was sporting large lumps of dead grass that never got cut last autumn. About 4pm I mentioned to Ben that if we were going to have a bonfire then we’d better do it then so we could keep an eye on it before it got dark (about 7.15pm). So off went the bonfire and up got the breeze – now only a slight breeze you understand but enough. Within 15 mins we were whacking the grass clumps with brooms trying to keep the fire under control. It was a losing battle so I ran to the house (as best you can when you’re 37 weeks pregnant) and called Francis and Pascal to help (you may well remember that my French words for emergency fire situations have been tried out before, so no problems there!). It had spread to the orchard and was heading rapidly towards the tree-lined hedge. Unfortunately the outdoor water supply had burst during the cold spell at New Year and was awaiting a fine spring day to be fixed – so no water outside other than all the water butts. Pascal attacked them, Francis whacked the fire with a spade, and Ben whacked it with a broom. I ran to collect all my millions of hosepipes from all over the garden and time ticked away oh so fast. Finally Francis managed to fashion a hosepipe connection to our house water supply and the dousing began in earnest – as well as the second flood in the house today (thanks goodness it’s all tiled). The boys stood by mesmerised but being very responsible. An hour later the fire was finally out having blackened about 2000m2 of our orchard. Ha-ha, next week we were going to hire a commercial lawn mower to get the orchard grass under control – no need now!!!!! Ben was clean out of energy for further swearing.
So here I sit wondering if these sort of things bring on a birth?
The picture above was taken the day after and no, that's not fog, it's the smoke still rising!
Thursday, 5 February 2009
And Francis has said that he can get a helper for this weekend, and he’ll be here tomorrow as well so the count is up to five.
Plus Martin, the cooker/heating installer, is also arriving tomorrow for 2 days to finally get this system’s teething problems sorted – and he might bring Lance. So that’s six minimum arriving tomorrow.
Bless them, they’re all trying to get the house ready before Bubs arrives – maybe they just don’t want to be ‘on the job’ when I go into labour knowing that we’re planning a homebirth.
Glad they’re not all expecting tea/coffee on tap or we’d be a bit shorter by the weekend with all the running about!
We had about 2 hrs of snow this morning but it was melting as soon as it hit the ground really. Monday’s is now almost gone. The UK didn’t fare so well did it? Our farmer friend, Claude, popped in today for a chat and he said that this was a colder winter than normal!!! Oh good, it seems quite doux (mild) to us. I’m itching to get a wee few veggies planted up in the potager and it looks as though that might be quite soon.
Wednesday, 4 February 2009
This house stays SOOO warm unlike Butterwell and we’ve survived thus far with just the fire in the main living area! We put in loads of natural hemp roof insulation and it’s been really worthwhile. We had some snow again this morning (about 2cm) but it’s not set to last. Good because hopefully some more Velux windows are being put in tomorrow.
Thursday, 15 January 2009
This winter they have been mesmerised and obsessed with the Galapagos islands (we have a BBC documentary DVD about them) and they build planes out of all the cushions on the sofa in order to make journeys over there to see the giant tortoises and albatrosses. Indeed we regularly have to visit their art gallery that displays all the pictures they have done of all the wildlife that live there.
They also have a fascination with castles at the moment so we’re busy saving toilet rolls and cardboard and making big long castle walls with turrets, portcullis, moats etc. Ben made them some shields and swords out of polystyrene and they are outside busy ‘tracking the enemy’ most days. Actually, Rowan says that Brodie is too young for a sword so he only gets a pilum (very Asterix influenced). Oh they make you laugh.
Brodie seems to have left the terrible 2’s behind him – thank goodness – and is now just as affable as his older brother. He made me laugh today as he was wanting a drink of water but didn’t want to walk the 4 metres from the sofa to the kitchen table where there’s always water. So he pipes up “Oh PLEASE, I’m a child in pain” – what’s that all about???????
Ben is still very happy being a free spirit and seems to quite enjoy his hour or so in the morning of being in charge of wood for the fire – either collecting it from our charpentier, or logging it with the chain saw, or building a nice pile next to the fire. His French is coming on well considering that he knew only Bonjour and merci when we moved here. He was confident enough today to go off to the garage and explain that he thought that the suspension on the Bongo needed looking at. He’s like a cat on hot bricks every time I get a twinge and he keeps the Bongo in a permanent state of readiness – such is life when you’ve had one premature baby experience I guess. It’s quite touching really.