Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Au revoir 2013..

I promised another blog before this year comes to an end and with only a few hours now remaining, I have the chance to write a few words.

We were invited round to French friends (Hélène and Pascal) one evening just before Christmas and it was nice to feel that we are "integrating".  It just takes a bit of getting used to because it's not always obvious what you're being invited to!  We were asked to come between 6pm and 6.30pm so I deduced that this was going to be for apéritifs.  Sure enough, when we got there we were offered a glass of mousseux which is a sparkling wine and a substitute for champagne. Then they brought out loads of plates of a variety of canapés, salad etc.  This even included some escargots (snails of course!!).  Now I haven't eaten snails since I tried them in Paris on our honeymoon so I decided to taste them again - mmmm délicieux!!  Anyway, we sat there drinking and eating our way through these delights and I kept thinking that we ought to make a move because they would be wanting to have their evening meal.  However, they showed no sign of wanting us to leave and indeed, when I said that we ought to be going, they brought out a bottle of bière rouge.  I don't remember what time we finally left but when we saw Hélène a few days later and I asked her about it, she said they were in no hurry at all for us to go and were happy to eat the snacks instead of a meal.  Go figure!

So, on a gloriously sunny morning Christmas arrived!  It was strange because this year, both Danny and I had been feeling a sense of what I can only describe as loneliness in the days leading up to Christmas.  I say it was strange because this is our second Christmas in France and we didn't feel like that last year.  As it turned out, when Christmas Day came, we were both fine and we had a lovely enjoyable day.  We exchanged presents; Danny spoke to all of his sons and I spoke to my brother.  Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, we were able to see the grandchildren enjoying all their presents too.  At lunchtime we went to one of our favourite restaurants, Vue du Chateau (all our summer visitors will know and remember it!) where we had a fabulous meal with excellent company and we had a thoroughly good afternoon.  There were maybe 16 guests and it felt like being in someone's home rather than in a restaurant.  We didn't get home until nearly 6pm, just in time to feed our poor animals!

Here's a photo of us at the table....

Since Christmas, it's been business as usual here although we haven't really done anything more than the 'essentials'.  We are both nursing colds at the moment so we have decided to stay in and have a quiet New Year's Eve tonight and tomorrow we have been invited to friends for lunch. 

So, that's the end of 2013  and I want to take this chance to wish everyone who takes the time to read this blog a very Happy New Year.  I hope that the year 2014 brings you all Peace, Happiness and most of all, good Health.

Bonne Année!

Monday, 23 December 2013

The run up to Christmas 2013.....

I was surprised to see that nearly three weeks have gone by since I last posted on here!  I know I've said it before but I really don't know where the time goes!  We have both been busy with various tasks; poor Danny has to devote a little time every day, come rain or shine, to chopping wood!  So imagine how worried he was when his chain saw stopped working one day!  A chainsaw is something we must have and we'd started to think about whether we ought to buy a cheap one (if there is such a thing!) to keep as a spare.  Anyway, we took our one to the local DIY type shop (Brico Pro) which has a workshop with it. 
Danny assumed they would just give us a receipt and tell us to come back when it was done BUT the man looked at it, tested it, adjusted various bits on it, cleaned it and hey presto! It worked! He asked if we wanted it sharpened while we were there and naturally we said "Oui, merci!" and after all that he charged us the princely sum of 8€50.  What amazing service!  But as I said to Danny, there's probably an appreciation that, at this time of year, people need their chainsaws to chop wood for their burners so they know that you want it sorted out straight away.  I'm sure if there had been a major fault, it would have to have stayed there but the willingness to sort it out straight away was very impressive.

I have finally finished unpacking all my kitchen equipment and we had a very therapeutic time taking what seemed like 100s of cardboard boxes to the déchetterie (tip) on Saturday.  We did this using Danny's truck and my car.  I mentioned last time that Danny's son Paul was here working on the truck, which has been off the road for some months now.  I don't think I explained that between the two of them they identified the problem as a faulty injector.  Well, Danny ordered a new one; it arrived and he has fitted it along with a new battery that the truck needed.  Aside from a small petrol leak to be resolved, the truck is now ready for its journey back to the UK.  Paul will be coming back in a few weeks' time and he will drive it back so that it can be put up for sale.  We never managed to get it registered over here and aside from that, it is so difficult and so costly to get parts for it as it is an American truck, so we really are going to have to say au revoir to it! 

But what to have instead?  Danny would have liked a Land Rover but it doesn't make sense to have yet another vehicle.  It's extremely common out here for people to have a trailer and that's what we have decided to do!  We didn't have a tow bar on the Mondeo so that was the first step!  I managed to convey to the local Ford dealer what we wanted and get it booked in to have the tow bar fitted.  We started looking around for suitable trailer and decided to get one at the local Brico Pro.  We thought we'd have another look at them while we were there having the chainsaw fixed and found out to our delight that there was a special offer for a few days whereby everything in the store had 10% off!  It was too good a bargain to miss so we went ahead and bought one, together with a tarpaulin cover and a spare wheel.

Here's the tow bar (not very exciting I know!) and the new trailer.  I don't think Danny actually needed help from Finn or Liam but they do like to be involved!

So what else have we been doing?  Well, for one thing, we had our annual blood tests!  We hadn't realised but it is the norm here to have such a thing.  I know it is common in other countries but, as far as I'm aware, not in England!  Neither of us likes blood tests so we were a very apprehensive pair as we waited in the waiting room of the local "Infirmières".  I guess the nearest UK equivalent to this is a district nurse's office.  There are no appointments; you just go along and wait your turn.  We were warned that it was best to get there early but even so we waited about 30 minutes.  However, it was a breeze!  The nurse was very nice and before we knew it, it was done.  Two days later, our results came in the post!  Incredible!  We're off to the doctor on Friday to discuss one or two of the results!

Christmas is nearly upon us and although we have been to another couple of Christmas markets, they were nothing very special.  I have to confess that we did most of our Christmas shopping online again this year but I'm determined to get out and about to discover more shops next year.  I think when my friend Anne returns in the Spring, we ought to make it our mission for the year!

Talking of Christmas, I must just tell you about how the streets and shops are decorated over here.  I regret I haven't remembered to take a picture of our nearby town of Moncoutant but from early December there have been festive lights up across the main street and lights in several of the trees that line the streets. Outside many shops are real Christmas trees, leaning up against the shop fronts, between shops (if that makes sense!)  The trees are decorated very simply with red ribbons and bows but look so effective in their simplicity.  It seems remarkable to me that the trees seem not to get stolen as I can't help wondering how long such a thing might last in Essex!!  Many shops have beautiful displays in their windows.  This is part of the window of our local newsagent.  The window is too big for me to have got all of it in one shot but I hope it gives you an idea of the nativity scene display.

Our local supermarket decorates its foyer with a special Christmas carpet and a lovely display.  Here they are...

Well, this is likely to be my last post before Christmas so I shall leave you with this picture of our own festive decorations - our new fireplace in action and decorated for Christmas....


 I plan to do at least one more post before 2013 draws to a close so all that remains for me now is to wish you all a good Christmas. I hope you all enjoy yourselves, however you are spending it, and that it brings you lots of happiness and good things.

Joyeux Noël!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Not so much a lot of news as a lot of photos!!

I can't believe another couple of weeks have nearly slipped by since my last post.  Doesn't time fly!  We have been quite busy so I suppose that's the reason.  The weather here has become quite cold, especially as evening draws in, and our wood burner is on every day from late afternoon.  Having said that, the days have been very sunny and bright and there's been no sign of rain lately.  I don't want to know the physics of it all but I suspect the beautiful red skies we've been having at night explain it all.  Here's an example...

We've awoken to frosts in the last few days which reminded me that we have been rather remiss with our bird feeding of late!  We have now stocked up on sunflower seeds (which our local birds seem to favour most of all!), filled up the feeders with the seeds, plus some other feeders with peanuts and yet others with fat balls!  Our reward came within hours when Danny spotted no less than four birds all chomping away at one feeder...

Our kitchen fitter returned last Friday to finish off some things he'd had to put off until Danny had done the painting.  And now I have a little shelf between the worktop  and the wall units on the two main walls!   I have made a start on unpacking the boxes of kitchen items but there's a way to go yet.  Still, I am making some hard decisions and am giving away some things that I know I won't be using again.  Nonetheless, I am keeping quite a lot of things which I hope to use again, like all my cake decorating equipment for example!

As I've said before, the end wall of the kitchen can't be finished until  the window is replaced with the new door.  And that's not going to happen before February.  It's a shame as it "spoils" the whole thing but this is what the rest now looks like....

I have to admit I am THRILLED to bits with my new kitchen! I just need to be patient now till the rest of it can be finished!

One of the lovely things about this time of year here is the start of all the Christmas markets.  The first one we've been to was last Saturday and it was an evening market at a most beautiful village called Saint Loup sur Thouet.  The village is dwarfed by its chateau, click here to read about and see pictures if you're interested.  It is a popular venue for weddings by the look of it!  But for us on the evening of the market, we just wanted to wander around the winding streets and look at all the fabulous things on the stalls.  We got there about 6.30pm and it was already full of people, who seemed to be out in large family groups.  The atmosphere was fantastic and although I've tried, I don't think my photos really capture that.  But hopefully, you'll get a flavour of the evening...

The fifth photo is the window of a boulangerie (baker's) and I think you'll agree it's just beautiful.

I expect we will be going to other Christmas markets over the next couple of weeks but I think this one will take some beating, certainly in terms of its ambience.

At the moment we have what is probably going to be our last visitor of the year!  Danny's son, Paul, is here for a few days.  He's been earning his keep, working on the truck and my car, shifting wooden beams and so on.  And of course, he couldn't resist getting out and chopping some wood....

I'm going to leave you with a picture of a little cardigan I recently knitted for my new baby cousin...only to give you an example of the other ways in which I occupy my time!  Here it is....

Till next time....à bientôt!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Brrrr.....hibernation calling!

I can't complain as we have had some lovely sunny and even, mild, weather recently.  But we have also had very heavy rain and high winds.  (So much so, that the pool hole cover that Danny spent two days working on, simply couldn't take the strain and he's now come up with yet another design, this time with the sole aim of trying to preserve the sides from collapsing). 

Anyway, what have we been up to this last few weeks?  Not much actually! Although we seem to be busy all the time and the days just fly by.  Danny - when not battling with pool hole covers - has been making good and painting the walls in the kitchen.  When I started writing this post, all that was left for him to do was paint the ceiling.  But today he's even done that!  As I've said before, the kitchen won't actually be finished until the new door out to the garden has been done.  And that's not going to happen before February 2014!  And aside from that, there are a few other bits that need to be done by our intrepid kitchen fitter over the next couple of weeks.  I'll include some photos next time, hopefully.

We have done more tidying up in the garden (in particular putting away all the sun loungers and other bits and bobs) and although it still resembles a building site, it is a whole lot better.  We gave in and paid out to have all the old conifer hedge and other similar debris removed because we finally accepted that it really was too big a job for us two.   I belong to a forum on Facebook which is for us ex-pats in this part of France.  I think I may have mentioned it before but it is so useful for advice, information, etc.  I wrote that I wanted someone to come and do some garden clearance for us and among others, a friend of mine and her husband  offered to come and do it.  I knew they could do with the money so we helped each other in a way!  Here are some 'before and after' photos to show what they did and how much it's improved the garden.

First, this is a pile of the hedge trimmings that we acquired when our old neighbours from England helped us trim a boundary hedge to a more manageable height.  Going forward, the hedge itself will be far easier to trim as it won't involve going up and down ladders but, as grateful as we were for their help, it left us with this mound....

and after the clearance exercise, the area looks like this....

The leaves will either just blow away or Danny will pick them up with his tractor mower! And of course the grass will grow back in time.

The other area looked like this....

In the foreground of the picture are old hedge trimmings from last year and toward the back is the old conifer hedge that was dug up in April (and which we'd started to shred before the shredder packed up on us!).

Now the area looks like this....

Again, the grass will grow back and obviously the weeds that grew around the original pile of hedge trimmings will need to be cut down.  But apart from that it's all a whole lot tidier and the work left to do is not insurmountable.  As soon as is possible, Danny will be able to go over the whole area in his tractor mower and it will improve the appearance no end.

Now.... what's hiding in here do you think?

Now that we are moving toward the last week of November, I knew that frost wouldn't be far away and that meant I'd have to give in and put away the window boxes.  I say 'give in' because they are all still flowering beautifully.  As you drive around here you often see geraniums still flowering right into the winter but I didn't want to take a chance with leaving them out.  We had bought the item above (what do you call it?) in the UK last time we were there.  It was intended for starting seedlings but I decided it was ideal for.....

.... window boxes!!!
Well, there's not much more to tell you about.  Since I started writing this post the weather has become much colder and one morning this week we even awoke to find the grass covered in frost!  Danny is back in his wood-chopping routine!  We thought we would economise and buy our logs in metre lengths this year but the downside is that pretty much every day Danny has to go and chop them up!  We will need more deliveries of wood I'm sure, so I think we'll end up paying a bit more and having logs cut to maybe 30cm.  Obviously, the shorter they are the more expensive they are as the provider has the work of cutting them.  It wasn't so bad last year because the old wood burner took half-metre lengths. 
I took this photo of Danny as he was on his way out to chop wood a couple of days ago.  I think it shows just how cold it's getting out there.  But also, look to Danny's right and you'll see Finn.... it looks to me like he's thinking 'Come on dad!  Where are you?!'  Perhaps we should have a caption competition

On that note, I'm off to feed us all.... so until next time...à bientôt!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Some sad news...

I had started to write my next post but was halted by what has been a very difficult week. I have decided to do this short post now to let those of you who aren't already aware that we lost our youngest cat, Cali, this week.  She went missing last Thursday and on Sunday we discovered that she had been killed in a road accident. All of our pets are special in their own way but I have to admit that Cali held a special place in my heart.

Those of you who have stayed with us know that we live in a very quiet and peaceful hamlet. Our house is set back quite a way from the road....or I should say, lane, because it is really no more than that. So it seems doubly cruel that an animal should be so unfortunate as to be hit by a vehicle.

I don't think Danny and I have felt this low since that first week after we came to France and Danny's sons went home after helping us with the move. But finally today we both feel a lot better; we know that it gets easier as time goes by and even being able to write this post is proof of that.

Tomorrow I hope to continue with the post I had started writing last week and things will be back to normal! But in the meantime, I'm going to leave you with this picture of the cat I always called my "baby girl"......

(Obviously the roses have been added by me!  She was actually perched on a mound of earth at the time!!!)

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Bits and bobs.... nothing exciting!

We have had rather bizarre weather for the last couple of weeks; days of warm sunshine mixed with dreary days of incessant rain.  And even more bizarre are days like today when we had a mix of both extremes on the same day! 

We each have a list of jobs that we want/need to get on with but with the way the weather is behaving we are chopping and changing so that we can seize the opportunity of doing outdoor jobs when the weather allows.  My biggest job outside is pruning and cutting back shrubs, particularly in the front garden and last Friday we had the sort of day made for such work!  I did some general tidying up but two major jobs got done; first the plants around the well....

(You can just see the well, behind the hardy fuchsia!)

Then, I got rid of the Virginia creeper that was covering the side wall of the big barn.  It's a shame because I do love it when all the leaves turn that vibrant red but frankly the rest of the time, it's something of a nuisance!  Having done that, I gave the shrubs along that side a really good cut back!  Now it will go one of two ways - they'll either flourish next year or I will have killed them - you can never tell!  But whatever happens it looks a lot neater and will look even better when I've added some new shrubs to give us year round colour hopefully!  This is what it looks like now.....

Needless to say, it needed a number of trips to the déchetterie (tip) to get rid of all the cuttings and weeds.  My biggest regret?  Not taking a "before" photo to show you quite how big a job it was!  I did get Danny to take this picture of my arms afterwards.... not sure how well you can see how scratched and scraped they were!

So what else have we been up to?  Well, also last week, I went back to the Craft Café.  You may remember that it was something I joined earlier in the year.  It's held every other Wednesday and is an opportunity to meet others, have a natter, do some knitting or sewing and also have a slice or two of cake!  I stopped going when I had the operation on my shoulder and then summer came along with visitors etc.  So one way or another, there was always a reason not to go.  But now that we're in the grip of autumn, I thought it would be good to return.  I took with me some crochet this time and actually had a really lovely afternoon.  There were far fewer people than when I went last and it made it more companionable somehow.  I shall certainly carry on going now.

On Sunday, we had been invited round to some neighbours.  I bumped into the lady of the house, Ligia, in the supermarket a couple of weeks ago and she invited us. (This is the family whose children played with Danny's grandchildren when they were here).   By the time Sunday afternoon came around I was a nervous wreck, worrying about how I would manage with my limited French.  The one thing that kept me going was by remembering that all the grandchildren had managed to communicate so it couldn't be that difficult!! And of course I need not have worried as it all went very well.  Ligia speaks a little English as do a couple of the children and somehow we managed!  Danny is at a stage now where he understands a lot of what is being said and can also speak some basic things so it was fine for him too. 

The only other things of any interest are that we've had our central heating looked at and, although it seems to dictate to us when it comes on, it seems to be working okay.  Also, we've managed to sell a few bits and pieces, for example the hob and oven from the old kitchen.  And when the weather's been too bad for Danny to work outside or in the barn, he's been doing some painting in the kitchen!

So you see, things are just jogging along.  We are both knuckling down with our French lessons and afternoons like Sunday spur us both on.  We are still optimistic of some fine weather before we have to hunker down for winter.  And even then, we have plenty on our "to do" lists to keep us going!

Until next time, à bientôt!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Normal life resumes!

It's very hard to believe that come tomorrow, I will have been back in France for two weeks.  It's amazing how life has resumed its normal pace and I'm back to doing all the usual things I do!  Unfortunately we have had some rainy days so my intentions of doing a lot of pruning and general tidying in the garden have not gone quite to plan.  Still, it's just a question of taking the chance when we have nice sunny, dry days.... of which there are still plenty, given that we are well into October now.

One job in the garden was really too much for me.  The flowerbed that was in front the old conifer hedge in the back garden had become very overgrown and looked a complete mess.  I had a go at digging it but decided it was beyond me.  I had heard about a couple of ladies who have started a business here, not doing people's gardens in the usual sense but taking on one-off clearance type jobs.  Having got them round to have a look at what I wanted, we agreed a very reasonable price of €80 and they came round last week to do the job.  These first photos show roughly what it looked like "before" they got stuck in......

The girls did lots of digging and pruning.  They also added some plants that were in the area that we plan to use as a barbecue area, so would have been in the way.  They suggested we plant some bulbs ready for the Spring in some of the gaps and then cover it with bark chippings to minimise the weeds.  And this is the finished product - after 20 bags of bark chippings.......

I know we have a LONG way to go before the garden will look lovely again but I am SO pleased with how this flowerbed looks now and it's given me hope for the future.

Talking of which, Danny has now covered the pool (hole) for the winter.  The tarpaulins he's used are blue and the other day, looking out of the kitchen window, I said to him that if you squint your eyes when looking at it, you could be fooled into thinking it is the blue of a swimming pool!  (He just looked at me and told me I'm sad!!!)  What do you think?

Just to update you on the pool situation, we have now accepted a quote and, subject to the weather, work should start in February/March next year!  Keep watching this space!

For the most part, we are still enjoying mild, sunny days so it is still pleasant to go out on a Sunday morning to one of the local Vide greniers that I've written about before.  This morning we went to the old town of Parthenay where we found also a braderie or market plus a display of classic cars.  Of course we had to go and see the cars...

but imagine how excited Danny was to find no less than TWO Volkswagen campers there!

Now we are wondering how you go about "showing" your vehicle at these displays (partly because Danny thinks our camper is better than these!!)

After looking at all the cars, we wandered around the braderie  and the vide greniers, seeing friends as we did so!  But I want to leave you with a photo, which, for me, captures the essence of these days.   This is such a common sight at a vide greniers but it is so very French.  The family have a table with their wares displayed, but behind it, they are having lunch.  Not just a quick sandwich or a plate of chips! No, the china plates are out and there is a bottle of wine on the table.  As we passed they appeared to be having a pre-lunch aperitif so I don't know what the meal turned out to be (and clearly I couldn't just hang around with my camera at the ready!).  But I think it's such a lovely sight....

Well, I'm off now to feed the animals and make our Sunday dinner so I'll finish here.

A bientôt!

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Big.......


Well, I hummed and hawed about whether or not to "blog" about my recent trip to New York.  After all the blog is supposed to be about my retirement in France.  Having discussed it with my fellow travellers (Sylvie and Stephanie), the general consensus seemed to be that the trip was part of my retirement so it should be included!

So here we are!  I decided to include it but I just won't go on at length about it.  I should first explain to those of you who don't know that the purpose of this trip was to celebrate the fact that my friends and I have, in the past year, reached the grand age of 60.  You see, Sylvie, Stephanie and I met when we started high school back in 1964; I am the eldest with my birthday in November, then Sylvie's next in March and lastly Stephanie who's the baby of our group having only turned 60 in August.  I can't remember now where the idea of this trip started but suffice to say, we decided to leave our respective husbands at home and have a big girlie trip to New York by ourselves!  "At home" means Texas, USA for Sylvie and Israel for Stephanie.  The fact that we live so far from each other means that although we have met up "in two's" many times over the years, it is extremely rare that the three of us have been together.  That's why the trip was so special.

Naturally, we saw loads of the popular tourist sights; the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Times Square, Central Park etc.  We also did a fair amount of shopping and eating!  And, of course, we went to see a show on Broadway!  We have literally hundreds of pictures of the week-long trip but I have picked out the ones below, just to give you a flavour of it...

Our first evening in New York and our first dessert (actually in a Japanese restaurant)

These three pictures are from Central Park on our first full day in New York
From the park we went to a shopping mall at Columbus Circle.  This first picture is of the side of the main entrance... just look at that amount of glass!


We had lunch in a lovely restaurant there but for me it was a bit like home from home as it's called the Bouchon Bakery and has more than a tad of French influence!
The next day we went to see the Statue of Liberty, from the Staten Island Ferry.  This is a very clever photo taken by our intrepid photographer, Stephanie.  We're on the subway downtown!

The picture below was taken on the High Line.  This is a clever restoration of a disused railway track that used to cross Manhattan high above street level.  Now it's an attractive walkway, about a mile long, with attractive plants and sculptures along the route......

and from there, we browsed Chelsea Market....


As I said, we did plenty of eating in between seeing the sights and the shops.  Here is an example....
Well you have to, don't you!  A pastrami on rye sandwich at Junior's Restaurant!

A restaurant called Serendipity3 had been recommended to us and in particular, their frozen hot chocolate.  Of course we had to try it, even though we decided it was actually a bit overrated!  

(and just to put your mind at rest, we did have just the one between the three of us!!!)

Here are the three of us, at the Empire State Building, and then at Grand Central Station....

.....both of which were simply amazing experiences. 
All too soon, we were coming to the end of our wonderful week.  This was our last "proper" breakfast together (on the last day of our trip, we didn't have a proper breakfast.  Sylvie left early to catch her flight back to Texas and Steph and I finished our packing and had a late 'brunch' instead of breakfast).

And here we are on our last evening together in a lovely restaurant called Serafina.

Steph and I were not leaving until the evening so we managed to squeeze in something extra.  It happened to be St Francis' Day that day and we got the subway to the cathedral to see the animals being blessed.  What a wonderful experience it turned out to be.  We have loads of photos of all sorts of animals but I think this one captures the essence of the day.  After the service inside the cathedral, a priest was available in the nearby park and many people came with their pets to receive the priest's blessing.

Well, that's a fairly brief summary of my special trip.  I had a fantastic time with my two school friends and we proved yet again that time and distance can not separate us.  Nonetheless, when I finally got home to the peace and serenity of my corner of rural France I was very happy and content to be home.

More "normal"  news will follow in a few days!

Till then, à bientôt!