Sunday, 24 February 2013

Our guests have come and gone......

and our house is all empty and quiet again.... yet there are echoes of the sounds of our guests and as always, loads of little memories have been left behind for Danny and I to recall and smile about.

It's not really a great time to come and visit, especially for the little 'uns simply because there's not a lot to do.  We don't live in a very 'touristy' area and although there are plenty of places to see and things to do, a lot are simply shut for the winter.  Although the past few days have been cold (bitterly so for the last couple of days) it's been dry, bright and sunny.  We were particularly lucky on Wednesday as it was mild enough to be outside with the children as they played.  This is a collage of photos we took at the children's play area by the lake at Secondigny.... I think it captures the fun that was had - by all!!

(Remember you can click on the photo to enlarge it)

I've got to admit, my see-saw days are pretty much over as my poor arthritic knees couldn't take the strain!! Still, I can enjoy the swings I guess!

The ground at home is still unbelievably muddy so we thought it would be better to let the children (and Mark) play out the front as it is gravelled.  But whoever thought it would be possible to play boules on gravel....???  (I wanted to upload a video clip here but I seem to be having problems.... if anyone can help with some technical advice, please email me!!)

And playing football on gravel?  Crazy but I guess "if there's a will, there's a way!"  (Notice that, as usual, Finn and Liam have to be involved!

I felt a bit sorry for our guests as they didn't get to do or see very much at all.  Mark wanted to go to a market on Friday and I found there was one at Thouars that day.  It was around a 50km drive and by the time we got there, there wasn't much left to see.  It was a bitterly cold and windy day so we didn't hang around long.    On the way there though, young Brooke had spotted a sight he was keen to visit on the way back ... the big  of a McDonalds restaurant!!!!  So that's where we had some lunch!

It all makes me realise that this year, Danny and I do need to get out more and discover more places to visit.  Looking back on last year, I think that we were so involved in getting the house straight and then having a number of visitors throughout the summer, most of whom were more than happy to relax in the garden, that we didn't do much exploring ourselves.  We must rectify that this year..... yet another thing to put on the "to do when the weather gets better" list!

As we so often do, we rounded off our guests' visit with a trip to our favourite restaurant, A La Bonne Vie, on Friday evening, where we had a lovely meal and the children (who were very well behaved, I must say) enjoyed the chef's home made chicken nuggets and chips! 

Here are pictures of the children, Skye and Brooke, standing in the lane that leads to our house....

Before we knew it, Saturday came around and it was time to load the cases in the car and take our guests to Poitiers airport for their return to the UK.  We hope they enjoyed their stay and weren't too bored!

As soon as we got home, we realised that our bird feeders were empty - again!  We decided to get on and fill them all up before we settled indoors in the warm.  I think it  also helped to take our minds of coming back to a quiet and empty house.

I'll finish with this lovely picture of some birds enjoying their replenished baskets of boules de graisse......

Monday, 18 February 2013

Preparing for the first guests of 2013!

Tomorrow our house will come alive with the noise and laughter of visitors as Danny's son Mark arrives with his girlfriend and her two young children, who we'll be meeting for the first time!  As you can imagine, we are really looking forward to it.... our last guests were our 'old' neighbours from Essex who were here at the beginning of October.  We have been busy for the last few days, preparing for our guests but, apart from some last minute food shopping tomorrow morning, we are ready for them!  So, while Danny watches the football, I've grabbed a few minutes to bring you up to date...

Last Thursday was our first Valentine's Day in this house.... I couldn't find a Valentine's card (I don't know why, other than it seems the shops must display them separately from other cards?) so I ordered one online from and it was "okay".  Danny, on the other hand, went into the newsagent and being unable to find any Valentine's cards on display, asked for them in French.  This may not seem much but it's a huge milestone for him and I think that now he's crossed that bridge, it will give him the confidence to speak more.  If you've never been in this situation, I can tell you, it takes a lot of courage to speak to people in a foreign language you've only been learning for a few months.  Danny also ordered a beautiful bouquet of red roses from a French supplier online...... aren't they gorgeous?

I think I made up for the rather poor card by cooking us a lovely special meal.  Goat's cheese wrapped in puff pastry to start followed by fillet steak, chips, 'petit pois', tomato and mushrooms.... all served with a nice glass of red!

On Friday, we had more logs delivered!  Back in the Autumn we had 7.5 "steres" of logs delivered (a stere being one cubic metre) and it looked so much we couldn't imagine that it wouldn't last us through the winter.  But, to be fair, we were advised to get 10 steres and a few weeks ago we realised we would need more.  We do have central heating but it is powered by oil and it is expensive.  It's going to be something of a learning curve over a couple of winters but what we're doing this year is having the central heating as a back up and using the woodburner for our main source of heating.  Anyway, the wood store looked like this back in November and we've pretty much used all of it!

And here's part of Friday's delivery.....
And in case you're wondering, yes! I DID help Danny to put it all away.... it's amazing just how tiring a job like that is!
Well, most of the weekend was taken up with cleaning the house, making beds, sprucing up the car and so on.  I absolutely love having guests and I like everything to be just right for them.  The children are a boy and a girl so they have appropriate bedlinen and towels, although, come to think of it, perhaps that isn't so politically correct nowadays but I still think of "blue for a boy" and "pink for a girl" so here are their beds ready and waiting for them!
 And here's Danny cleaning the car (with the help of the dogs.... can you spot them?)
Finally, I have at long last, got round to doing some baking!  We do plan to have a new kitchen in the house but until then I'm "making do" with what I've got and I've left a lot of my kitchen equipment packed up and outside in one of our outbuildings.  I do miss being able to lay my hands on whatever I want but luckily I was able to locate my muffin tins, paper muffin cases and my trusted Lakeland muffin recipe book and now the freezer is stocked with this supply of chocolate and choc-chip muffins..... yum yum!
I doubt I'll have time to "blog" over the next few days so I'll tell you all about the visit next time!
A bientôt!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A day of achievements

It's so rewarding to look back over the day and feel you've made a number of achievements, no matter how small.

To start with, we had a glorious day, weather wise.... blue skies and wonderful sunshine.  As our first job was to hang all the bird feeders (and squirrel feeder) it was perfect weather to work outdoors.  I think these pictures sum up that activity.

(Remember if you want to see any of the pictures more clearly, click on them to enlarge them)
Now all we need are some birds (and squirrels!).  Danny nearly managed to photograph a bird later in the day but it flew off too quicky - obviously camera shy!

As it was so pleasant to be outdoors, Danny took the opportunity to fix the new French numberplates onto the camper.  He hadn't done it up to now partly because it's been too cold to work outdoors and partly because he had no intention of taking the camper out of its winter hibernation.  Funny how a mild day in the middle of February can change all that!  Here is the camper in all its 'French' glory.

Danny has kept the original UK numberplates as decoration in the barn!

This afternoon I went into L'Absie for my meeting of the Craft Café -  regular readers of my blog may remember I joined this group a couple of weeks ago.  This time I took with me the curtains for our third bedroom (we call it the kiddie bedroom for obvious reasons!).  I've been making these curtains for the last couple of weeks, in between other things and now they just needed to be hemmed by hand.  I really enjoyed this afternoon's meeting, chatting mostly to a lady who wasn't there the first time I went.  She was so interesting and we had a few things in common.  The afternoon whizzed by so quickly; I got the curtains finished, got to know someone new and enjoyed a pleasant cup of tea with TWO slices of cake (ssshhhhh..... our secret!).  It's some years since I made curtains and I'm very pleased with the result of these ones!  What do you think?

Just a final word about the weather.  The incessant rain has been so miserable that Danny and I had even had a conversation about maybe going to find some winter sun for a week's break.  But today, driving to L'Absie under the blue sky and gorgeous sunshine, I realised there was nowhere else I wanted to be but here!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Buy, buy, buy....

I needed a few bits in Bressuire, our nearest town of any reasonable size so, even though we did our weekly supermarket shop this morning, we ventured out again this afternoon and I have to say it was a most productive (if expensive) afternoon!

Our first stop was Jardiland, to buy some bird feeders and food.  We've only started feeding birds since we lived here because in the UK I always felt it was wrong to encourage birds to come into our garden when we have cats.  It's so different here mainly because we have a large garden now and the house is set in a large open space, thereby giving any threatened birds a quick and easy escape.  And I love seeing the birds gnawing away at their "boules de graisse" (sounds so much nicer than "fat balls" doesn't it!).  So now we've invested in some proper feeders that we can use and hopefully it will encourage even more birds.  And while we were there, we bought a dedicated feeder for feeding squirrels, which incidentally are red here, not grey like in the UK.  (We also bought  two large bags of seeds and nuts for the birds plus some packets of seed for me to start my herb garden).

From there, we went to a shop called Bio Coop, which sells all sorts of stuff, all of which is organic (the word for 'organic' in French is 'bio').  I wanted some rice and some seeds, but needless to say we came away with all sorts of goodies including some 'real' liquorice that Danny loves.

We popped into the centre of town as I wanted some make up and on to the supermarket for some bits I can't get in my local one.  And then finally, we went to Mr Bricolage, one of the many DIY stores over here.  Danny wanted some electrical bits for the barn and I just browsed around.  I was really pleased to find the perfect mirror for our bedroom - something we've been looking for and have been unlucky till now.

Exhausted but pleased with ourselves, we got home around 5.30pm.  So tomorrow's first job is putting up the bird and squirrel feeders.... hopefully, I'll have some good pictures to show you in my next post!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Where did that week go....??

When I was still at work, whenever I met up with colleagues who had retired, every single one of them told me they were so busy they didn't know how they'd ever had time to work.  I guess I took it with the proverbial pinch of salt.... that is, until I myself retired!  Of course, the real difference is that everything we do, we do in our own time, taking as long as we like.  There are rarely deadlines.  Yes, there are exceptions like set appointments we have to keep, like our French lessons, but by and large, we fill our days with things we've chosen to do.

My priority this week was to finish shortening the lounge curtains plus make all the tie backs out of the surplus material.  Not only did I achieve that, I can show you the finished articles thanks to the "panorama" setting on Danny's new camera, a very smart Fujifilm camera acquired from the UK via the Internet! How about this.....?

(By the way, I have discovered that you can see an enlarged version of the photos on my blog, simply by clicking on them - thanks Donna!)
Our weather has been extremely changeable this week although it has been pretty dreary for most of it.  In my last post I included a photo of our early crocus by the front door.  Now, it has been joined by a load of others...
It's so nice to see new shoots all over the garden; it makes you feel that Spring is just around the corner.  The trouble is, I'm sure we haven't seen the last of the snow and/or ice so I hope all the little Spring flowers can withstand it.  Although we saw the house around this time last year, we didn't notice any of these shoots and it's so fascinating to see what is coming through.
Thursday was a bright sunny day, albeit still quite cold.  But it was enough to make me rush outside to hang out washing and to clean our front gates.... at last!  They were looking distinctly green instead of white!
By Saturday though, all sign of the sun had dwindled away and we had another grey, dreary, drizzly day.  We had arranged to go to a new dog training class over in the Vendée, in a village called Puy de Serre (I mentioned the dog training in my last posting on here). We decided that we would just take Liam to start with and see how he got on.   He actually did well - it's me that needs training as I was pretty hopeless!  This is a picture of Liam obeying my order to "stay".... he was really good at it, bless him....
I don't know if you can tell from this picture but the training is held in a large disused industrial greenhouse.  It was perfect given the inclement weather.  After the lesson, we had tea, coffee and cakes.... splendid finish!  Having got a feel for what it's like, we've decided that we will take Finn as well so we'll have to see how that goes!!
Just one last thing....I've written on here before about having to drive through a small forest to get to the Vendée.  At this time of year, the forest looks quite bleak and on Saturday it looked particularly desolate.  See what I mean in this picture....
And so, another week - and weekend - come to an end.  It feels like we've been busy all week, one way and another.  And as all those ex-colleagues of mine used to say, I don't know how I ever had the time to work!!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Another weekend whizzes by...

Well, considering we are retired and weekends are no different from weekdays, it's amazing how quickly they whizz by and it's Monday morning again!  For us nowadays,  Monday mornings mean Danny going off for his French lesson while I do a bit of housework.

So what did we do this weekend?  Well, on Saturday we went to look at a fireplace and wood burner to see if they would be suitable for our lounge.  To explain, our lounge must have had a fireplace at some stage in the past but the whole wall has since been dry-lined and we don't actually know what's been left behind it.  To give you a better idea of what I'm talking about, here are Finn, Liam and Whisper taking advantage of the current arrangement...

Ever since we moved into our house, I've longed for a proper fireplace but because of the potential cost, we've always thought it would probably not be possible to do.  However, a friend of ours told us about a friend of his, who is having his granite fireplace removed and is selling it along with the wood burner in it.  The price was a lot less than we imagined so we went to see it on Saturday..... and we're going to have it!  This is what it looks like in its current home...

Obviously, the people who have it now don't want it removed until the end of winter but we want it installed before the start of next winter so we'll be in limbo for a while, hoping that it all works out right.   We have another building project before the lounge can be decorated and that is to open up our staircase..... hopefully, it'll all tie in together and we can have our new look lounge by the winter.
From there, we went to a village called La Chataigneraie to see a new shop that's opened up there.  It's run by a young lad called Charlie and I believe it's known as "The British Shop".  Now, Danny and I would not normally seek out British food  (not least because normally  it's sold at extortionate prices that we're not prepared to pay!) but  we had heard good reports about this lad and his prices so we decided to give it a try.  It would be more accurate to describe the produce as food liked by the British rather than British food.  I say this because the first thing we noticed in the shop was a range of  Indian curry pastes, spices and pickles!! Aside from those, there was an array of goodies that we didn't even know we wanted or missed.....and we came away with wine gums, pickled onions, lime pickle, Robinson's fruit juice for a friend and some poppadoms! Oh and 22 euros poorer!
Just one last word on the subject of British produce...there is one thing I simply cannot do without.  It is available here but is rather expensive.  So whenever anyone comes to visit, all I ask is that you bring with you some ENGLISH TEA BAGS, please!
I had hoped to meet up with a friend and some other 'Ladies in France' on Sunday to go for a dog walk but I had two or three important jobs to do and having got up rather late... and having had a pretty lazy morning... it didn't happen.  One of those jobs was to fill in yet more forms in our ongoing quest to register Danny's Dodge Dakota truck over here.  Another was to finish shortening the lounge curtains and making the tie backs from the excess material.  I didn't finish the tie backs but otherwise, by the time Sunday evening came around, I felt that I had achieved most of what I wanted to achieve this weekend.
And look what I spotted in our garden this weekend..... our first crocus of the year...right by the front door...
So another week has started and as I write this, even Monday is already drawing to a close.  This afternoon we spent a couple of hours with a lovely guy, Keith, and his wife Sue, who are helping us to turn our out-of-control, unruly but otherwise gorgeous Red Setters into two well-behaved model dogs!  (The truth is it's Danny and I who need the training!)  But seriously, Keith was amazing....most of it is about being firm and and not giving in to letting them have their own way.  We'll have to see how we get on.  I'm going to take Liam to Keith's actual classes to try to train him the basics like recall and walking to heel.  Liam is so eager to please and we think he'll learn well as a result.  Danny may take Finn too but that may not be so easy as Finn acts like a recalcitrant teenager!!!!!
One last interesting fact about today.... Keith and Sue bought a house that Danny and I viewed in June 2011.  We liked it very much (it had loads of  'potential') but at that time our house in the UK wasn't even on the market so we were not in a position to make an offer on it.  By the time we returned in October 2011, having sold our UK house, that house in France was no longer available.  Now we know why..... Keith and Sue were buying it!  But, funny how things work out, they have had no end of unexpected problems that have cost them a fair bit of money.  So it seems we had a lucky escape.  Plus the fact that we prefer the house we finally bought anyway!!  But what a coincidence, eh?

Friday, 1 February 2013

In pensive mood

Various things over the last few days have got me thinking about how I might try to explain the lure of living in this part of rural France.

Firstly, in an article in the latest issue of our English magazine The Deux-Sevres Monthly I read that, while France is still popular for people like us who want to spend our retirement in a country where the pace of life is so much slower, it's becoming as popular with younger folk moving out here with young families.

Then, yesterday morning I drove over to my hairdresser who lives and works in a village called La Chapelle-aux-Lys which happens to be in the department adjoining Poitou-Charentes to the West, called the Vendée.  It's about a 20 minute drive, part of which is through a small forest, which was shrouded in fog.  A couple of hours later (with grey hair roots suitably disguised!) I drove back in glorious sunshine!  Amongst other things, my hairdresser and I had been discussing life in France, how and why we came to be here and so on.  She has young children (one of whom is a 15 year old teenager actually) and she's been here 12 years now. 

And earlier this week, on Wednesday at the Craft Café, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of older ladies who spoke of how they are sourcing patterns and materials on the Internet.  

It never ceases to amaze me, as I meet all sorts of people, of different backgrounds and ages, some who work and others like us, retired, that so many of us have at some point in time, made the decision to leave England, family and friends and make a completely new life in France. It almost makes you feel vindicated; like it's okay, we're not barking mad after all, other people feel the same way we do.

These things over the last couple of days started me thinking about the way of life here and how difficult it is to explain why we love it so much here.  As part of our research before moving here, we went to a few exhibitions like The France Show in London. It was at such an exhibition that we met a lady who had emigrated to France some years earlier with her husband and four children, all of whom were under 12 years old. She told us that if she had to sum up what life was like in rural France (she lived in the Vienne department of Poitou-Charentes) she would describe it as "England, 50 years ago".

That is an accurate description but not in every way because 50 years ago in England (when I was only 10 years old) my family didn't have a car, a phone, a TV or even such things as a washing machine or fridge!  It's true that we were a poor family but I would say that we were not untypical.  In the modern day France in which we live, even in such a rural area like ours, we have all the trappings of modern Western life.  We have the Internet, mobile phones, satellite TV and even an X-Box!!

It's also true to say that having today's modern communication technology makes it much easier to be far away from your family and friends. (And, thanks to the Internet, Amazon and e-Bay to name but a few, we can get pretty much anything we might want or need).  Add to that the fact that modern transport, budget airlines etc, make the UK so easily and quickly accessible.

But in this pensive mood of mine, trying to analyse what makes life so different and so pleasing here, I've come to realise that while the UK (I can't speak for other countries where I have friends) has embraced all the trappings of modern life, somewhere along the line, basic human and family values have been lost.  I don't know why or how it's happened but in the UK, these values have been replaced with much more shallow values.  So, for example, what you have and/or what you look like are all important.

This seems to me to be the fundamental difference here.  Families and family life are all important.... it's so common during the spring and summer months to see several generations of a family gathered around the dinner table together.  It's still rare to find shops open on Sundays and as shop employees are required to have two consecutive days off, it's very common to find smaller shops closed on Mondays too.  The Brits may joke about the French people's penchant for long lunches but doesn't it mean that people matter?  That is, it's fundamentally more important that they have and enjoy a proper meal and a real break during the day.  When I think back to when I worked, I rarely took a proper break, snatching a quick sandwich while I sat at my desk.  And that, I think, is what my boss expected, neither of us realising just how counter-productive it probably was! 

I can't say it didn't take some getting used to; having to plan any shopping trips around the lunchtime closing and not being able to pop out for just about anything at any time of any day!  But I have learnt to accept it and moreover, to value what it represents.  Because I realise that it IS more important that an employee in a particular shop should have proper breaks and proper time off with their family than me being able to buy something whenever the fancy takes me!

As well as human values, there seems to be an inherent pride that the French have for the villages and towns in which they live. Gardens and hedges are kept neat and tidy and common areas like the hundreds of tiny country lanes we have are well maintained. Litter is seldom seen and graffiti very rare. As you drive through villages you see beautiful tubs of flowers and well kept plant borders at the sides of the road.  There seems to be an understanding and an appreciation of nature (which is probably understandable in a rural area) and in fact, I had a  conversation (somewhat short but in French) with the lady who runs the newsagents about the weather.  I was saying that I don't like winter and her response was the French shrug and the comment "mais, c'est nécessaire".  And it's true, isn't it, whether we like it or not, each of the seasons is necessary in the countryside?

I apologise for being in this dreamy sort of mood but as I said at the outset, a few things this week just started me thinking and these ramblings are the result.  I hope it helps to explain what attracts us to the lifestyle here.

And tomorrow.....
...we're off to have a look at a fireplace and wood burner that someone is selling and which we hope will be suitable for our lounge....I'll tell you about it next time x