Friday 28 August 2009

One Roof Beam, Two Roof Beams...

And while the floor of the half barn was receiving its top coat of cement, up went the first beam.

I'm afraid that I had a tear in my eye as I watched. In my heart there was much gladness. But my eyes were welling up. Oh not so anyone would notice, but they were there. I suppose I was being silly: it is just that it has been a bit of a long road.........

And then the second beam went up! Maybe before the end of the year she will have her bonnet!

And the waltzing storm clouds came....

.....and made her glow..... they did me.

From over the hill they came, just before sunset....

.....which enabled them to have their underbelly tickled by the last of the sunlight..

..which rosied them up....

....and up!

And as the Day put herself to bed, she flirted with the Night, playing with the sunlight upon the clouds....

Until the Night said 'Enough!' Be away now, and rest, but yet still the Day continued to romp...

And after one last flurry of light, the Day consented to being done.

And as the Night captured the skies, the Day slid into rest. indeed I do now! It is getting late. Boolie is sitting at the door of The Hut, keeping a look-out for things to bark at, Lester is already finished with the Day and has gone to bed, and now I must do the same.

Things I have learnt: That sky-watching is fascinating and awe inspiring and that one needs to take the time to do so when the Heavens are putting on a show.
That is also awe inspiring to watch the builders shimmying up and down the ladders but that one has to be discrete about paying too much attention to them. Unlike the Heavens, they are not particularly fussed about being watched!
That I have a love in my heart for this place.

Thursday 27 August 2009

Introducing The Towers

And here be the left hand Tower, beside the chimney.

And here be the left hand Tower and the right hand Tower all in a row, with the chimney betwixt them. Et voila: Our roof!

I can't say anymore really, other than Phew! It's been a long time coming! Oh I know that there is still fresh air above our heads, as can be seen by the moon making its appearance in the lower photo, but the Towers will support the main beams on the left hand side of the house. I don't know what the builders are going to do with the right hand side. I think the left and right sides were originally two houses because they are build differently. Anyway, we have trust in our Spanish / French builders and are confident that they know what they are doing.

But I must away. My head is minus any more words and is going to go on strike at any moment!

Things I have learnt: That coming through the new gates on the porch makes me feel like I am coming into a hallowed area: all sanctuary-like. And that is despite the builders and their equipment being on site.
That harvest time is an exciting and busy time, and a promise to myself to be more organised next year.
That I am not to worry if the French language seems to have evacuated itself from out of my head. Lots going on here, which is chewing up head space. So to be patient with myself meanwhile.
That making lists helps keep one's head organised when thoughts are dog-fighting each other in one's head.
That I am not the person I was this time last year, and that all the accumulated experiences have helped me continue to grow as a person. That it is wonderful to see the same thing happening with my partner.
That I have promised myself not to get a miserable and bitter person, like so many are.
That I am constantly surprising myself by me.

May the light shine in your life.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Elderberries, floors, beetroot and gates

To-ing and fro-ing The Hut (our office which was a chicken/pig house once upon a time)I pass an elder bush/tree. It is laden with elder berries.

Up early one morning, and it was time to be bold and do a bit of wild foody-ing. Being of the thinking that produce bought from a supermarket or a market is viable food, and that if something is grown from a seed packet which looks the same as the photo or drawing on the packet then that is OK to eat as well, I have a natural nervousness about eating food from the wild. Now I know that the elder is not exactly growing wild, but it is still not an organised type of food. Last year I managed to avoid the elder berry project. This year I couldn't. Time to be bold and take one more step with wild foody-ing type self sufficiency: time to go wild foody jamming!

You can read how I got on over at Foody-ing: Elderberry and Apple Jam experiment.(August 28th 2009) Oh and by the way, the jam eventually turned out OK, light in taste which made a change to the heftier tasting plum jam made earlier on this summer.

And lookee here!!!! The floor of the hallway is now solid, as are all the floors in the house! Not only that, by the builders are here even as I write this, and guess what? Yesssssss!!! They have started on the roof!

Finally it was time to go start raiding our small row of beetroot, left to fend for itself over the summer months, rarely watered, and quite frankly, neglected so I didn't have much hope for a good harvest. Much to my surprise, from out of a quarter of the row I managed to get a small haul of veg. A conversation with a friend planted the thought into my head to have a go at roasting them, so I did. With great success actually! Having only ever thought of beetroot in terms of being pickled, and only ever eaten it in that state, the roasting experiment opened up new avenues of things to do with that veg. (See: Foody-ing: Beetroot: To roast or pickle? Posted 26 Aug 2009)

And here is Lester messing about with the new gates! Bless him! Couldn't resist spending ages locking them, opening them, closing them, then locking them up again! So now we can close the gates when we want to be private. From out front that is. The back gate of the courtyard is still absent and so is wide open to anyone who wants to walk in. But at least we are have the first set of gates in place.

These gates are supposed to be temporary until we can afford taller gates which will better suit the size of the entrance-way. These we will have specially made and will therefore be expensive, but these look better than I thought they would. And I am going to grow a wisteria over the porch (already got a young plant grown from a cutting 'borrowed' from a neighbours wisteria earlier on in the year), and probably some climbing roses as well - so the opening will sort of wear a frondy hat!

Things I have learnt: That wild foody-ing is fun. That having a meal made almost entirely from one's own produce is very psychologically satisfying. That its great being able to walk through one's home on firm floors even if the roof is absent. That it is lovely to be able to lock one's front gate at night!

Monday 24 August 2009

Continuing on with the Chicken Saga Lester was in charge of house, builders (if they turned up which they didn't but they might have) and sorting out the chicken. Which he did. Admirably. Out came its innards, off came other bits, into the pot with some veg and on with the cook.

For hours this donated chicken was cooked, apparently. During one of the hottest days here so far. The kitchen caravan must have been hot beyond belief, what with the sun baking down on it, and the gas ring sending forth its own heat.

Off in the Pyrenees were the rest of us. Great day. Ski-lifting (which I have already blogged about), fun and laughter. Back early evening. Chicken cooked. But too hot to eat. So we had baguettes and other stuff. Easier to handle than a pot of bones. Because that is how the chicken had fetched up. All in bits.

And this is how the French traditionally eat their chickens. In pots. With a minimal amount of veg (although Lester had put loads in our pot), cooked for ages on top of the wood burner, or gas ring. It is surprising how quickly one's appetite disappears when reviewing such a hotch potch of food. Well mine did anyway. Not to mention my daughter and grandsons, who were already seriously put off even taking a nibble of the chicken having seen it in its raw state earlier on in the day.

The next morning: Up early. Into kitchen caravan to sort pot out. Crikey, it had been switched off for at least twelve hours but the temperature in the caravan was still sufficiently high enough for the pot not to have cooled down hardly at all.

Nevertheless, with stirling fortitude I tackled the pot. I sieved out the entire contents. Oh dear. All the bits of bones and bits of flesh and bits of veg and bits of whatever all jumbled up in a heap.

But this bird had been gifted to us, so I stoically plodded on with sorting out the pile. And as I did so, my respect grew for the bird who was an old bird and done her egg-laying duty and was now being recycled. And I promised myself that I would partake of the bird later on. I owed it to her. And gently I separated out the white meat from everything else, rescued a goodly portion of the veg, and managed to make a new pot of chicken stew which looked actually quite edable.

By now Lester was up, and Karen appeared. The day had started. "Put the pot into the office will you?" I asked Lester, this being the coolest place on site. Already the sun was romping through the sky. Already it was hot.

So off to the swimming pool, a laze in the sun, more fun, more laughter.

Late afternoon: time to eat. Determined to partake of the chicken stew, I asked Lester to fetch it from the office. My daughter went with him. I heard her say "Should there be bubbles in the pot?" Looking through the glass lid she had espied movement.

And so the contents of the pot, and the remains of the chicken therein, were recyled. Only not through our digestive systems, but through the digestive systems of the various menagerie of animals and birds which have come to regard our compost heap as their local food supply. Apparently the contents of the pot were actually cooking even though the pot was not on a lit gas ring, but on my desk in the office. Such was the heat here on that day!

So another baguette and salad meal! Not to worry, though. The chicken wasn't wasted, because although we didn't get to eat it others did, and Lester got back in touch with certain skills which had lain dormant for years, gained from his time when his father had a farm in South Africa. And my self sufficiency learning was taken a step further.

So God bless the spirit of the chicken, and may it cluck happily wherever it now is, and God bless the lady who donated it to us in the spirit of neighbourlyness. And God bless my daughter who has now made her return to the UK and is shortly to move into a new house and a new relationship, and God bless my grandsons who are on the brink of manhood.

All in all, it has been a great few days! Plus the floors of the house, except one, have been cemented and the gates on the gatehouse have been started at long last. The sun is slightly less fierce, but it has been a good, long, sunny summer.

Sending you blessings from Labartere.......

Saturday 22 August 2009

The Chicken Saga: A Donation. Part One

Our Chicken Project is not moving forward at the moment. Although it is under frequent discussion, and we reach points whereby we almost launch ourselves into chicken ownership, there is always a valid reason as to why it is not an option at this time. Mostly this is to with animal welfare: not having suitable accommodation. Now we could have squeezed the girls and boy into a small pen but decided against this, the reason being that the girls are going to working hard for us and so deserve the best of housing we can possibly manage. Which basically means free range: that they must be able to be out and about during the day so they have their adventures and live life to the full. Presumably the cock will be busy looking after his girls and doing the honours of servicing them when they require such a service, so he will be busy as well. Having no fences means this is not do-able at the moment, so we must wait.

However: a donation came our way. Which was one chicken.

Now it is obvious that this chicken is without feathers so therefore can be presumed deceased. And you are right. It is deceased.

And here is the provider of said chicken:

Now this lady is 81 years old would you believe! I am 62. And she is a stirling example of the older people here. There is no 'old age' as such, only people who carry their years well. Anyway, I digress!

What happened was this: this lady, whose name is Marie-Rose, is the owner of the gite in which Karen (my daughter) stayed recently. Upon booking the gite, Marie-Rose asked if I would like a chicken. "Yes" I said, thinking that to refuse would seem churlish of me.

Karen and the boys arrived. Marie-Rose engaged me in a conversation which was populated with various hand signals, all about the chicken. She kept pointing to her neck, and amongst a stream of French words I heard the word 'stick' as she did so. Eventually it pilfered into my head that she was asking me if I was going to kill the chicken or should her husband do it.

Mmmmmm. So this was not going to a donation of a still-alive chicken. Ooooopppss! So now in a right quandry, all I could do was ask that her husband do the honours, whereupon she said "Ce soir". (This evening)

"Ce soir" came and went and no chicken. 'Phew' I thought to myself, 'She must have forgotten'. But no. She hadn't.

Arriving at the gite the next morning to pick up Karen and the boys for a jaunt into the Pyrenees, and there she was. Summoning me to follow, she took me round to her barn and there was her husband divesting the chicken of the last of its feathers, trimming its toes, giving it the once over. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Tom, who was standing beside me, looked at me questioningly. Mmmmmmmmm. A splutter of French came at me from Marie-Rose's husband. I think he was asking me if my husband was going to finish it off. I said "Oui", aware of the time ticking by and the need to get on the road if we were going to have plenty of time in the Pyrenees.

Marie-Rose beckoned me into her kitchen. Asked if I had a pot in which to cook the chicken, which I didn't, so lent me a pot and gave me some veg. Mmmmmmmm. Oh crikey, this was taking ages! And all the while the thought which was running upermost in my mind was "How am I going to explain this to Lester" who up until now was aware that there was a chicken on the way, but didn't know exactly the state in which the chicken would be in. This was overlaying the other thought which was "We have got to get on the road otherwise the day will be over and done with before we have set foot in the mountains".

We made our exit gracefully, with Tom doing the honours and carrying the potted chicken out to the car, which he did with much courage!

...although I did hold the pot for a photo-shoot moment with Marie-Rose, hence the photo up top.

So..... quick dash round to Labartere, to give Lester the potted chicken:

As you can see he was more than somewhat bemused......

.....had a "What the **** am I supposed to do with this?" moment, before squaring his shoulders, grabbing a knife, actually a bread knife which was all we had, and got on with his task of getting the innards out. First he cut the head off, at which we all departed quite quickly. He had already got the feet off as can be seen on the table beside him.

So off we went for the day. Lester had to work, hence the passing on of the responsibility of what to do with the chicken.

I will let you know what happened subsequently in part two of this blog.

Thursday 20 August 2009

Going up. Going down.

On we all jump. Quickly. Before the pod swung away and shut its doors. We are all on: Daughter Karen with Tom and Jack, her sons, plus me. The pod swings away. Not too bad so far. The ground drops away beneath us, and because we are all cosied up in the pod I feel relatively safe. Up we go.

Five minutes or so and we land, jumping out of the pod as its doors open. Ski lift number 1 done.

A walk. Ski lift number 2. Ah. No pods. Just seats with a bar across presumable to stop one from falling out: theoretically. Not good. No queue so can't linger, thus keeping panic at bay. Feet on feet painted on the ground. Whoops. From behind comes the open chair, banging into my posterior with a thump. "Sit down NOW" it commands. "Come on Nan, it'll be alright" says Tom, settling himself down beside me and pulling the bar down.

With legs akimbo I fidget myself backwards to get more of a botty hold on the seat. Crikey. Oh crikey. The ground is dropping away fast. Too fast. Nowhere to hold on to, not really, just the bar across our chests. "Hope you've got your shoelaces tied up" I yell out to Jack, sitting with Karen on the seat up ahead. Have quick image of having to go shoe-hunting later on, his shoes having made their escape from his feet as is their natural tendency.

Up we go.

And up.....

Now up in the treetops. Now higher than the treetops. Looking upwards. Not down. Not backwards. Always looking up. Holding on. Hoping not to fall off. Joking with Tom.

"Look for the safety net" Karen calls out helpfully as we finally get near the end. 'What safety net? And anyway, why do I need to be aware of a safety net? What am I supposed to do with a safety net? Jump into it?'

But no. The safety net arrives and slips beneath our seat. Tom leaps nimbly out of the seat, me not quite so gracefully.

Off we go along the path. Happy to have the earth beneath my feet. Up in the Pyrenees we now are. On a super duper adventure. With real live ski lifts, not the pretend ones in theme parks. Wow! Photo shoot time, of the support crew. Excuse slightly glum faces. Sugar levels are low, lunch time having been passed some time back. Need to get a move on so we can eat.

Onwards we go. Et voila! This magically coloured lake, which was deserving of mystical creatures no less, appears in view.

And the glacier, seen as a small blob of white in the centre.

Eat and rest time for the older team members, the younger team members spashing about in the melt water of the glacier. Meanwhile the sun is beating hotly down on us, stetching our imaginations as to how it would be when the winds of winter blew and the landscape became transformed by the snows it brought with it.

Time up: backtracking our steps. To the ski lift we wander. Ah. Going down time.

Not so good! SSSSOooooo steep. With Jack this time.

Man oh man but this is rough. I keep smiling. Inside my heart is thumping. 'Look up' I think to myself and see the threatening rain clouds. Ooops! The ski lift stops. Then starts, but not slowly but seeming to race away as if wanting to catch up with where it ought to have been if it hadn't stopped. I don't like this. Not one bit. 'Keep deep breathing' I think to myself. Mustn't do a wobbly. It's hard. A faint sweat trickles over me. Stop. Running lurch. Stop, etc. Call up my meditation training, of breathing in rythm. It seems to stem the tide of fear that is starting to lurch in sequence to the lurching of the ski lift. But only just.

Oh so finally the end is come. I wobble out of the seat. Knees not working properly. Not to worry, on firm land again. Now a short walk to the other ski lift. This is the easy one. Into the pod we all tumble.

And I am ssssSSSSSOOOoooooo glad to be in this one!

"No more" I say to Karen, "I am not ever going to do that again. I shall walk down next time." By the time we got back to the car I have changed my mind. It was tough on me that descent. But, you see, if I say 'never again' that will diminish me no end. Because then it would be easy to say 'never again' at loads of other things.

So, I have made a vow to come back down that ski lift again at least one more time. Just to prove to myself that I can. Then I shall give myself permission to walk down off the mountains in subsequent visits. Perhaps I will, perhaps I won't, but for one more time I must go up and down in that ski lift.

Things I have learnt: That experiencing situations which puts one under duress reminds one that one is stronger than one thinks.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Tripping off with wheelbarrow

(This accompanies 'BBQ au naturelle', Aug 2009, over at Jumbly Gardening)

A BBQ. Down on our river beach. That was today's project. But uno problemo: lots of stuff, how to get it all down there.

Aha! Idea arrives: wheelbarrow it down!

So, wood in first, 'borrowed' from the pile out back which is an accumulation of all the wood both old and new which has been associated with our house renovation. Next some kindling: easy - loads of dried grass floating about. Spare sandals for messing about in the river: put on handle. Next, food and towels and stuff relevant to our BBQ food requirements. Put onto wood pile already on barrow. Ah ha! All slid off when barrow was moved.

Another idea! Use the sunbed as a platform for these items. Done! Sundry items loaded on. Bed folded over to keep all in place. Sort of.

Recruitees needed to give life to the wheels of the wheelbarrow. Daughter Karen and grandson Tom provide necessary muscle power.

Unfortunately some of the recruitees ran out of puff when they arrived at the beach:

But not to worry, energy was soon restored, and the barrow was unpacked.

I meanwhile took over the role of photo-shooter, which required of me the effort of sitting on my posterior, which unfortunately has not been quite the same since, due to the various shapes and sizes of the river stones upon which it was perched.

Meanwhile the fire was made (See 'BBQ au naturelle' Aug 2009 over on Jumbly Gardening) and roared into life, attended by chief firestoker Jack, whilst Bools messed about with Fleur in the river, or rather, tried to as much as she would let him.

Lazily we passed the time watching the smoke and flames engulf the food, cooking some of it, not cooking some of it, blackening and charring the other bits. It tasted great!

With all the wood and food all gone, time to go. The barrow received its going-home load, we received a smattering of midge bites, had fullish tums, and another cargo of memories. Fleur sits in the background, hoping we will let Bools back into the water so she can scramble his head again by teasing him to pieces.

Things I have learnt today: That memories are like honey: full of sweetness and goodness. When one needs a sugar-rush one can dip into the jar of honey. When one needs picking up, one can dip into memories. But unlike a jar of honey, which will eventually become empty, memories fill a reservoir in one's heart that can never be emptied away. Memories are priceless.

Sunday 16 August 2009

On poddling in the river

Up early. Plane to meet. Daughter and grandsons coming for a visit. Fixed up some dinner for later. Into car. Then out again as back seat of said car was seen to be a, quite frankly, a mess. (Bools had spent a sweaty half hour in it a few weeks ago and apparently gone into a major fur moult at the same time)

Car cleaned. Off we go, with Hubs in the driving seat.

Pau airport. Ooops, plane has already arrived. People coming through the doors with luggage. Not to worry, though, no sign of family.

I stand and watch the comings and goings. Of people being met ecstatically by others. Of others being met by no-one and looking somehow abandoned.

I have stood on the same spot for several family fly-ins now. Those moments come into my mind. I feel a lump in my heart. Tears drift into my eyes. But this won't do! We don't do tearful dramas in my family! So I turn round and do a little circular walk to rid me of the this odd little missing-you-all pain. Hubs is off in the loo.

Someone is waving frantically at me. A pretty woman. Hubs comes up beside me. "Seen them yet" he says. "No" I say. "Are you blind" he says, "there she is".

It is the pretty woman. Fleetingly I am astonished at how I managed to give birth to such a vital energy of a person. That was slightly over forty years ago. Time seems to have flown by as if shot from the barrel of a gun. Zoooooom! Gone!

A tall well built figure is heading towards me, grinning from ear to ear. Ah, Tom. Again hardly recognisable. Being in his mid-teens, hormones are busily chasing through his body creating the man to come. But not for the moment. The man is there, but the boy is still very much present.

Another figure follows him. Ah, Jack.

Off home we go. Tea and cake, a look round, down to the river.

Jack wants to paddle. In he goes. Boolie too.

We all follow. And continue up the river, splashing and slipping on the wet river bed stones. "Why have you got two stripes down the front of your legs?" I say to Tom. "An experiment" he says. Apparently he had decided to have a go at seeing what look he could achieve if he shaved his legs. Not wanting to strip all of his leg hair off, he had decided to do a strip a couple of inches wide. "At least your two legs match" I say.

Jack is in the river now. Not totally immersed, just with backside in and legs up in the air. "I'm coming to rescue you" I yell, as I splash in granny-style towards him. "I've got cramp" he says. "Never mind, I'll sort it out for you". I do. One of his shoes gets carried away by the flow of the river. I nearly collapse with laughter at my attempts to keep up with it as it flows away. And the near-rescue of a dragonfly. Caught up in a web made by a spider whose home is in an upturned root of a huge drowned tree, it's end time is near. Jack is worried. It needs to be rescued. Unravelling it from the web, it is inadvertently knocked into the river. It's end time has arrived anyway as it is carried away in the flow of the river. "What is meant to be is meant to be" Karen says. Precious moments. Filed away for later on.

We go up to the Louet Bay, and back again.

Poddling about in the river was fun. But I couldn't quite shift out of my head the way in which the river flowed late last winter. Full of water, with a job to do of evacuating that water away from the land, it carried a fierce energy.

Perhaps that is indicative of life. That one flows along with one's river of life, collecting an assortment of treasured memories, enjoying the poddling along times, and respectful of those times when the river of one's life becomes fierce and one feels bowled along by circumstances beyond one's control.

Going along with the flow of one's life, that is what I learnt today.

By the way 'poddling' is not 'paddling' which involves one's feet and ankles and some of one's shins but not the knees. Poddling is in between paddling and the total immersement of swimming. Poddling involves some splash and wetness, but not much. Generally one remains dry. Unless one slips. But if one wears old shoes then one is less likely to slip. Poddling is fun because it has an element of wetness attached. One might, or might not, get soaked. Poddling is better than paddling. Paddling is a 'stay safe' occupation. Poddling isn't. Plus one's knees are likely to have some immersement, which they will enjoy especially on a hot and sunny day.

And sending blessings to my daughter, who also enjoys poddling and whose river of life is very active and full of movement.

Saturday 15 August 2009

Camp Washing and Twirly Pipes

Loads been happening, so where do I start! First of all, a little bit of a downer happened on Wednesday morning when the donated top loading washing machine decided to keep receiving water, which it then promptly dispatched out through the exit pipe. In other words, it stopped working properly.

A few choice words exploded into the air, after which it was head down for a rummage under the tarps to excavate my Bruv's donated camping washer:

Now this was my life saver when we got here and was in use constantly from June up until December, when the other washing machine was donated. It has a few minor ailments but it still works and so has been asked to do few more washes. Hubs did say that he would buy me a new washing machine, but I always said that I would wait until we moved in the house before we did so.

So off we go again! But today I had an Idea. Why not use the water from the well instead of from the tap. How's that for a Self Sufficiency Off Grid Idea! Not only that, but I had filled two dustbins with water from the well last night, and it has been so hot today, that the water is warm enough to put straight into the little tub. Normally I would heat about three kettles of water to get it to a lukewarm temperature, but not today. In fact I had a moment's fantasy about getting into the remaining dustbin which is still full of water, and having a stand-up bath. I would have done as well, only the bins are out front and in full view of all passing traffic both in the lane and on the Plaisance road. So, perhaps not such a good idea! Ah well...... my daughter is coming over for a few days and is staying in a gite up the road, and I have mentally booked myself into getting a shower there.

But I really do feel quite proud of myself in my self sufficiency endeavours aka the washing machine. It uses less water for a start even if I use tap water, and it is good for my arm-reduction because carrying the water cans to and fro is a good weight lifting exercise. Plus I get to have an empty washing basket. When using an automatic machine I always have washing hanging around waiting to be washed because I will only use the machine when I have a full load.

However, my good natured regard for my little twin tub washer has been promoted by the builders unexpectedly arriving yesterday:

And this is what they did:

Whooppeeee! The floor! Not in all of the house, just in the pantry, bathroom, and hall. And can you see the twirl of hose coming out of the wall on the right? (You might have to inflate the picture!). No! Not the big twirl. The little twirl beside it! And that, my dear friend, is where my eventual washing machine is to go!

So I can hold onto the task of camp washing, because there is twirly pipework which says that at some point in the future I will be back to having piles of laundry waiting to be done!

Things I have learnt: That when one does not expect things to move forward and one works hard at being happy with the moment, that moving forward can suddenly take one by surprise!

And to finish off: the halfbarn ceiling is now almost done.

Now all that needs to be done is the seams to be covered, the lights to be fitted, then painted. Now must dash back to my washing machine, sending a happy thought out to my Bruv on the way.