Friday 30 December 2011

Just a catchee-up

This is as far as I got in regards to the Christmas Tree this year. No decs, and  not even having its artificial branches fluffed out. I put it back into its box yesterday apologising to it for my lack of effort. It's not that I didn't want to make it pretty with baubles and lights, it is just that Christmas seemed to arrive quicker than I expected, overtaking me with a speed which was quite surprising.

But at least I did put a little bit of dressing on our front door, the Christmas wreath having been kindly donated by a Dutch friend.

The tall plants either side of the door are small olive trees. They set up quite a good show of olives earlier on in the year, most of which remained right the way through the summer, and even now some still remain. They taste awful though. Perhaps they will improve as the olive trees gets older. I think, though, that they have a long way to go.

The little chick is still doing alright, managing to finally get up the high step into the Tall barn unaided. Fuzzy Sideburns, the little chick's mum, has a tendency to march into the barn and not wait for the chick, who is left to run up and down along the bottom of the step chirruping frantically to remind her that she didn't ought to be doing that. In previous days we have rescued the chick, but today it managed to fly up onto the floor of the Tall Barn unaided, and then it fled over to where Fuzzy was, all furiously racing feet and wildly flapping wings. They really can move when they need to, the little ones.

Our builder paid a visit yesterday, and is now booked to put the ceilings up in the kitchen and the dining room. Hubs had thought about doing it himself with me as his 'go-for'  but it was a relief when Danny stopped by and gave us the quote. If we do the work it will take us many months to get started let alone finish the job, so better to pay Danny to do it. He is also going to get moving with the shower and loo. It will be nice to stand in a waterfall of water to get washed, rather than rubbing a flannel over myself. And Hubs will be able to go to the loo in peace, because he has insisted on having a separate loo rather than having a shared loo and shower room. He says that it will be a relief to sit behind a locked door and take his time. I don't quite understand his thinking on this. I think it quite chummy to have a chat when he is on the 'throne', and the dogs like to visit him as well to see how he is getting on.

We have had some glorious days of sunshine, and now it is wet and rainy. Rain is good. Cold is good. Wet and cold is not good. Never mind, the new year beckons, and soon 2011 will be done. Wishing you all a very happy new year, and thank you for popping in to have a look at my blogs. 

Monday 26 December 2011

Hot chicken, frozen chicken, head butts.

"Vera" Hubs called, "Come and look at this". Dropping my knitting mid-row, I hurried to see what was the prob. 'Twas in the Sheep Paddock. It was Jacob, the Jacob ram. Alarm ran through me. Had he succumbed to magic mushrooms the same as the young sheep had done a few weeks ago, when Hubs had found her, flat out on her back and totally spaced out. Only Jacob was sort of stiff. Upright but stiff. Then he took a few stiff paces backwards and sort of jerked his back feet to and fro, then he charged forward......straight into the nearby fencepost. Headbutted it he did. Thwack! Then he reversed a few paces, still stiff, then thwack! He repeated his attack on the fence post.

So what was that all about! First strong frost of the winter here this morning, so no mushrooms are about. Why did he do such strange behaviour. The ewes will not be in season, well I don't think they will be, so why did he try and fight the fence pole. What had the fence pole done to deserve such treatment.......

Christmas dinner was a bit of a hurried affair yesterday. Didn't cook it until late afternoon after having spent most of the day outside in gloriously warm sunshine cutting the brambles down in the front garden. Pride of place for the meal, though, was the hen whose leg had got in the way of Gus's mouth back in late summer. Well she had  been making a raid on the remaining dog food in Gus's dog bowl, he having left a few morsels of food to have as a snack later on, and I had shouted "Get out" at her, which acts as a signal to Gus to go on guard dog duty, but I don't think he meant to actually bite her, rather, I think, her leg found its way into his mouth when he was open mouthed and in the first stage of making a bark, and unfortunately was not removed fast enough so that when he shut his mouth to complete the bark her leg became broken by the closing action of his jaw. I do not think he meant to bite her.

We put her in the 'emergency room', which is Boolie's old puppy kennel, for a day or so. Was not sure about whether we should put a splint on the leg or not, but decided that she needed to head towards the freezer when she started to become depressed and look sad. So she completed her life as a hen of our flock, and into the freezer she went after Hubs did the necessaries. And I saved her for a special occasion because she was one of our special laying hens and had given us good service. And thus is was that she was removed from the freezer, defrosted, and cooked. With reverence this was done. In fact I washed her outside under the cold water tap before she went into the oven, giving her once last outing across the Courtyard to do so.

Do you think me strange that I should do such a thing? Or perhaps weird? Ah, but when we eat the meat of the animals here we are totally aware of their history, and that gives us much respect for them.

So that hen fetched up hot and cooked, unlike her other flock members who have insisted in sleeping up in the fig tree despite being continually soaked by recent overnight rains. They have got shelter but they have stubbornly refused to use it. How they managed to keep on those slender branches of fig tree during the very strongly gusting winds a couple of nights ago heaven only knows. Quite expected them to have been blown away like carrier bags when I fed them the next day.

As I have already mentioned, we had frost last night, a very heavy frost, a frost so heavy that it gave everything a dense coat of ice crystals, including the hens and cockerels of our flock. Crikey but they looked like they had had a turn in our freezer as well. So I gave them a good helping of warm pasta and fed them more grain than usual, by which time the sun had risen to carry on the process of warming them up, by which time Hubs had lit the fire to keep us warm, by which time I felt quite frozzled by the cold, by which time it was time for a cup of tea and some toast.

Fuzzy Sideburns, the hen who has just hatched a chick, is looking after that chick very well despite occasionally standing on it. I think that the chick is a cockerel. Although only five days old it's tail feathers have just begun sprouting in an upwardly pointing manner. Fuzzy Sideburns is called Fuzzy Sideburns because she has head feathers which stick out just like a man's sideburn would do if they were left to grow scraggly.

Another cold night here. Electric blanket is warming up the bed. Fuzzy is in her nestbox lined with straw to keep her and Juniour warm. Max and his girls are snuggled up in their piggy cabins. The sheep are cosied up in their barn. The chickens are up the tree.

The little hen and her little Christmas chick

Saying bye for now, and hope your Christmas is proceeding along quite, quite, joyfully.

Sunday 25 December 2011

Just to say......

......just to say that I wish you all a peaceful end to 2011, that the Christmas season is a good one for you, and that you are able to recharge your batteries before you launch into 2012.

Blessings to you ....................

Tuesday 20 December 2011

The geese they are a-laying

....or rather the one female goose is! And what a  surprise it was when she produced this egg:


And on Hubs' birthday too which pleased him greatly having been informed by the French farmer who sold the three geese to us that they would not lay until Spring, and that they would need a pond to procreate. Well ours didn't need a pond. They seem to be managing in the plastic trough which is just below my washing line in the photo below:

And what the two boys are doing here is prancing about in the Courtyard telling the World that an egg is being laid. Now wouldn't you think that if an egg is on the way, that it should be done discreetly so no one knows about it? And the hens are the same. They make such a fuss when eggs are going to be laid, or about to be laid, or have been laid. We hear the news. So do others, like Bools, Gus, the crows, and the magpies. Often it was a race as to who would get to the egg first during Spring and Summer. I think, in the end, that it was fair shares all round.

Hubs was so happy about that goose egg arriving, and chatted on about how nice it would be to have lots of geese about the place. However: uno problemo.
For one: The nest is right by the front gates:

Aw, but she does look sweet tucked up beside the straw bales.

And so does this little black hen tucked up nearby....... does this hen up top of the bales. Can't see her? Not surprising as she decided to nest build inside the paper sack which was half full of hay waiting to be given to the rabbits. She has now been moved into the Tall Barn, my thought being that there was no way that little chicks were going to get on to the ground safely, should there indeed be any little chicks happening. And there has been one arrival at least because we heard chirpings yesterday.......

But back to the problemo. I foresaw a difficulty happening. I have been told that geese can hiss. Hubs say they do because he has been hissed at already. I have not been. A friend who has geese has also gathered unto himself some bruises from his male goose and another friend said she had to get rid of her male goose because it was attacking everyone. Presumably the males protect the females. Our female is sitting right by our front entrance gates.

So what would happen if we wanted to go to and fro the gates, which we do frequently during the day. And what would happen if someone came to the gates to visit with us, or came through the gates to get to our front door, which most do. Would we all be under attack from those two male geese as they stand guard over their girl on her nest.

With these thoughts bubbling around in my head, I therefore vetoed Hubs' plan for increasing our goose population, and the egg was removed from the nest and taken indoors. It was huge.

However....Hubs hatched another plan, which was to collect the eggs and put them in the incubator. So an autre problemo. I tend to be the one to whom the responsibility of the incubator falls. I turn the eggs several times during the day, not quite trusting the turning capability of the incubator. I am the one who keeps checking on the temperature and moisture levels. I am the one who then tends the hatchlings...getting them to have their first drink, making sure they are comfy, etc. And when outside, I am the one to whom they come for food. I am the one whose lap they fly on to. I am the one who is their mum for a while.

Do I want to do this with goslings? No. I do not see myself as a gosling mum, with those goslings following in line behind me wherever I go about the petite ferme. Already I have the dogs and chickens and geese keeping me company. Enough!

We eat the eggs. Problem solved. Was reluctant to break open the shell at first though. Had to ask Hubs to do it. Why? Because I half expected something, like a tarodactyle baby, to leap out at me. Ridiculous I know! But still that thought was in my head. I am not used to big eggs. But then it took a few crackings of our hen eggs before I felt comfortable about doing so. I kept thinking something was going to jump out of them as well. After all, for most of my adult life I have been purchasing shop bought eggs which I never had any thoughts about at all although I did buy free range whenever possible. But once the eggs were in the kitchen, I regarded them as ingredients for whatever food I was making. I never connected them with a hen's bum.

So for the moment we are in goose egg production, with five having arrived, three having been eaten by us, one eaten by Gus (our spaniel) although he might have raided more from the nest, and one waiting to be eaten which is safely indoors.

And with a whisper of a thought drifting about in my head that perhaps, just perhaps, I might have a go at incubating goose eggs at some point in the future I am off into my day...another wet day judging by the rain thundering down on the roof,..... and all the animals waiting to be fed and veggies waiting to be picked for lunch..... Oh the joys of smallholding in the wet!

PS. Have just found two more eggs in the nest which the goose had buried deep within the straw, and one hen's egg sitting on top. And the little black hen (the one on top of the straw bales) has hatched one little chick, and it looks like it is from the egg I put underneath her when she first started sitting on her nest. She already had a couple of eggs but she is tiny and I don't think Orpy, our huge cockerel, can manage to fertilise her. Most times she sort of gets squashed underneath him or else walks backwards through his legs when he is of a mind to do the bizness. So I put one of the other eggs underneath her and this is what has hatched.  

PPS. Everyone must have an inkling that cold weather is on its way because the hens have been laying siege to the front door wanting more food, the sheep have been making it known that they would prefer to be in another field as the one they are in is not to their liking, and the pigs have been rooting around in their paddock all day instead of sleeping the day away as is their normal habit. I guess that all are needing to put on some fat ready for the zero temperatures predicted. Perhaps that is why I felt the need to indulge in a choccie bar with Hubs!

Sunday 18 December 2011

Another sloshy day

For this day of paddling in the mud my feet were more sensibly shod in boots that had been so kindly donated by a friend who had no further use for them since they were too small for her feet. She had been inspired to donate them because she had caught sight of me in my other boots which were falling apart, and by 'falling apart' I mean just that. There were more holes than boot but they had been good friends and had walked many a mile with me and I was loath to dispatch them to Boot Heaven, but to Boot Heaven they went once the new ones arrived, sent there by fire having been put on the heap of our last bonfire. It was a good end for those hard working boots. Better than dumping them in a bin bag.

It had rained a lot overnight. To do some more sloshing about in the Sheep Paddock was required. Not wanting to expose my toes to a mud bath again, the wellies were ignored in favour of the new boots. And they were new when they came to me but now they have been baptized in the Labartere manure-mud. They will never be the same again.

So this has been the ongoing Mud Project:

All that water would have ended up in the Sheep Arbre so at least it stayed outside. At the bottom of the wall to the right you can see my engineering attempts to stop the flow of water going through into the barn. All I did was dug a small trench, not very deep because I have lady-arms which comprise a goodly balance of fat and muscle, well rounded I suppose you would call them, but lacking the greater force of man-muscle. So the trench was more a scraping away of the top layer of soil, which was quite rock hard there being loads of stone in the ground.

But I managed about six inches deep of scrape along the wall, and made it about eight inches wide. I borrowed some plastic bin bags from the kitchen and lined the trench, then put some upturned roof tiles over them. Then I espied some useful wall bricks at the local Brico and made a line along the edge of the mini trench to act as a barrier to the water, sort of like a dam wall which I think was quite effective seeing as how I did manage to achieve quite a sizeable puddle the other side of the wall, and the floor of the arbre, although quite damp, was kept puddle free the straw managing to absorb whatever water did manage to seep through.

But I solved one problem only to have another one appear, which was that I involved the old used straw in my engineering project. OK when it was showery summer weather. Not OK once the winter rains came: straw + sheep poo and wee + copious amounts of rain = sopping wet slush.  

Yesterday I had already made little streams in the manure-mud to get the water away, but it was not enough. More effort needed to be made, so boots on, everyone to the Sheep Arbre except Hubs who was reluctantly glued to his PC earning us a living, 'everyone' being dogs, chickens and geese most of whom remained on the grass outside the Sheep Paddock, them being the sensible ones, although several chickens did tiptoe over the mud very delicately to do a raid on the Sheep Arbre floor.

This hen has had her fill of sheep poo and is now evacuating the muckiness

With fork and spade and other implements I reformed the rivers I made yesterday, the sheep having collapsed the banks with their feet. It started raining. I carried on, shovelling the muck into the wheelbarrow, then wheeling it round to the new veg plots.

Gosh, but it was mucky work. It started raining harder. Hubs called out 'Come in now Vera, I've made tea for you'.

But I didn't want to go indoors.

Because I flippin well was enjoying myself!!!

Yes I was!

At nearly 65 years of age I seem to have developed a passion for messing about in the mud. Is this some frustrated urge that was not resolved when I was a child do you think? Was I denied the 'mud pie making' stage? And does this mean that I am reverting back to a child-like state of being again?

I very much hope so!!!!

And here is the 'harvest' of my efforts:

Thursday 15 December 2011

What did you do in the rain, Vera?

.....well I put my welly boots on, that's what I did.
So why did you put those old wellies of yours on?
....because I was going for a paddle.
Ah, so you wanted to go play in the puddles?
.....well, not exactly, no.
So, did you not go for a paddle at all?
....oh yes! I did!
And where was that, pray tell?
......well it was in the sloshy muddy mess in front of the sheep barn.
Now why would you, a person who has accumulated a goodly quantity of years stashed away behind her, why would you feel that this would be a necessary?
...because the sheep have to wade ankle deep in muck to get to their barn.
But why was the muck there in the first place.
.....because I had thought it a good idea back in the summer to put their old straw in the doorway to make a nice ramp they could walk over, and keep the water away from their bedding, me and Hubs not having had neither the time or the financial resources to make a concrete floor for them so they can keep dry in wet times.

And the plan worked. But in my novice state of being a trainee homesteader I had not realised that when the winter came, that the pile of old bedding would turn into a soggy swamp once the sun was no longer shining with its hot summer force to keep it dried into a firm state of being.

However, I paid the price. Yes I did. Because in my endeavour to make some drainage channels to get the mini lakes of water away, my welly got stuck in the mud, with my naked foot being a couple of metres away with the rest of me.

And I yelled and yelled for Hubs but he did not hear. Forlornly I observed my welly sat in the middle of the swamp. In my haste to be out of that area I had bounded across the patch. One can bound on dry ground quite well, but not on soggy, this I have learnt. One has to sort of glide lightly over bog. and not be heavy footed. But what to do.

In my dilemma I observed my welly sitting on its own, but with my sock inside it to keep it company. I looked down at my now brightly pink toes who were starting to complain about my lack of care of them in such a wet and dingy environment.

So what did you do, Vera?

....well I stood for a few minutes hoping that the welly would magic itself to me, or that someone might arrive on the drive in their car, or that Hubs would come and call me in for tea and toast.

"Oi" my toes called out to me, "We need socks, boots, dry, heat".
Nothing for it. I had to slide my toes plus the rest of the foot of course, into the wet soggy wetness of that mucky mess. Oooooh. It did feel strange. And gloopy. And sort of wrapped itself round my foot like a snuggly duvet, or rather a cold snuggly duvet. Two steps is what I had to take to get to my welly. And then my oh my, but another event almost happened as I struggled to pull my welly out of the mud which by now was regarding my welly as a long lost pal and didn't want to be parted with at all. I had to pull and pull, and suddenly it came out, so suddenly in fact that I nearly tipped over which would have made all of me, yes all of me, have a bath in that mud.

But not to worry. I stayed upright. I managed to get some channels made in the goop, and I did have the joy of having those channels turn themselves into mini rivers. If it had not been raining so hard I maybe would have made a paper boat to float along the stream of water.

A bit silly that, if I may say so, Vera.
......I suppose so, but hey! One has to see the funny side of moments of direness, does one not?
Indeed yes, I would agree. Anyway, so where was your Hubs?
...indoors making a roaring fire with the wood he had recently cut. And sitting at his PC in conference with his office in the UK.
...he had made me toast, though, and a cup of tea, and my toes unthawed infront of the fire so all was well.

So, Vera, will you continue with your project of making a barrier from the rainwater out of manure?! I am going to get the manure out of the doorway and put it on the newly made veg furrows which I shall tell you about next time. Not sure how we shall stop the rainwater from trickling into the sheep barn, but hope that an idea will pop into my head over night. We are now in the middle of the rainy season, which is much needed for future veg planting, but the sheep need to have the option of being able to sleep in a dry space. Funnily enough, though, they sleep outside most nights! I don't think they like having to paddle through the mud, although I did put an old table top on top of the mud so they had a nice ramp along which to walk.

Off to bed now. Bye for now.

Vera, you forgot to mention the geese.
...oh you mean the geese which now romp from puddle to puddle having a wonderfully happy time now there is lots of water about! Oh how joyous are those birds. But not so the other birds, our chickens. They do huddles in the Tall Barn, waiting for the showers to stop. Bless.

And you yourselves are dry now, Vera?
.....yes indeedy! No more trekking to and fro the caravans with wet feet, wet dogs, and frayed tempers. All indoors now, except when one has to do jobs like  feed the animals or make rivers of water flow!

Off to my warm and toasty bed now, made into this delicious state of being by the priceless electric blanket.......xx

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Man jobbies (1)

This lovely rounded man-rump belongs to Hubs / Head Woodcutter.

And the time has come for the chopping of the wood. First a local farmer came with his mighty powerful chainsaw to cut the beams of wood into more manageable pieces. Then this lovely helpful farmer-man showed Hubs / Trainee Woodcutter how to chop those pieces into smaller pieces. With a hefty axe he did this. His own hefty axe, as we did not own such a powerful implement at that time. Oh we had found some old axe heads about the place but with no long wooden handle attached to them.....well, they were best used as artfully placed decorative pieces dotted here and there about the place. Thought it gave authenticity to our petite ferme!

Anyways, our helpful farmer brought his axe with him to show Hubs the art of 'Chopping of the Wood'. Hubs face was a joy to watch as he did his first swing at the log and with a wallop the log shattered into several pieces which were just the right size for our small log burner. Then off indoors he went to get on with his computer work.

Later on, however, when the day was nearing its close, Hubs made a quick dash outside. I thought it was to water the flowers as men tend to do when certain needs are upon them, but no! A few minutes later, with much mortification, he flung himself through the door to announce that the farmer's axe was now dead, it having become deceased on the second thwack of the log.

'Twas not good, this killing of the axe.

But not to worry. Off to the shops he went, to purchase three more axes. A fairly light weight one for himself, which he ever so graciously said that I could borrow should I feel the need to do a bit of chopping myself which I won't seeing as how I am a lady fair so do not have the arm muscles required to heave that monster of an axe over my head  to make a chop, but I thanked him nicely for thinking that I might like to have a go. The second axe was slightly heavier than the first, and was to be given to the farmer-man to replace his now dead axe. He also purchased a long wooden handle to go with the now handle-less axe head. Then the third axe....crikey but that is a monster and ever so heavy that I can hardly lift it. Hubs has been banned from using this until he is efficient with wood cutting. He does have a tendency towards being accident prone, so I think the lighter weight axe should do less damage should it connect with his leg.

Da Daaaaaa!


Saturday 10 December 2011

Well that went well....

Well I think it did. The church was full. The people rose to their feet at the end to clap and cheer. Oh there had been a bit of a moment, right at the start, just after the children had sweetly sung Douce Nuit (Silent Night), when they had left the bit of the little church which was up the steps, the bit where the alter would normally be only it had been repositioned to one side so that the choir could have room to sing, well down the steps the children came so that they could sit through the carols they would not be singing, so they wouldn't fidget in full view of the audience of which there were many.

I had been loaned a music stand. I have never had a music stand. I felt quite grand when I put my music on it. Felt quite the business. Quite choir leader-ish.

And as choir leader I stood in front of the choir, children and adults and others. And as choir leader I stood betwixt them and the audience, with my borrowed music stand, upon which was my music, as my companion.

The church looked lovely. I find the churches here in the Gers and Haute Pyrenees so simple and uncluttered. No dead people anywhere indoors, unlike the churches back in the UK which remind one constantly of one's own mortality by the presence of memorials and such like.

Arranged here and there along the alter space were candles, flowers, lights, and a patio heater to keep the pianist warm so his fingers would not get stiff with cold. The churches are lofty. No central heating of course, just big spaces, cool in summer, cooler in winter. But I did not need the heat from the heater because by comparison the church was colder than my house, but about the same as it would have been had we been still living in the caravans, so I am used to the cold, so no bother to me. Anyway, under my black ensemble I had thermal vest and layers and boots and socks and I was moving about, waving my arms and jigging about as choir leaders do, well as I do when I am in choir leader mode. I can't stand still and just lift my arm in miniscule movements to signal the beat of the bar. No, something else seems to take hold of me and I find myself in quite a flamboyant mode, urging the choir to sing louder or softer or not at all depending on what the carol needs. Not that they always obey. In fact most times they don't watch me trying to manoever them into singing grandly. Most time their noses are glued to their music. But I try anyway. I am not a 'quiet' choir leader. I make my presence felt. Not sure how or why I manage to do that. I guess it is a hidden part of me that springs to the surface when the occasion requires.

So, the children needed to come down off the front of the church. I had to get out of the way so moved me and my music stand to one side, mindful of the line of candles put along the front of the raised bit of church, at ankle height.

Children down. Expectant silence abounded. The audience was still stiff. All sitting. I felt like I was towering above them. The choir were standing expectantly, waiting to sing the next carol, which was 'Hark, the herald angels....' The pianist had his hands hovering over the keyboard waiting for my signal. I am not experienced with music stands. I grabbed the music stand upon which was my music, quickly I grabbed it. It did a tilt sideways, unbalanced as it was by the weight of the music, gracefully it tilted, and tilted sufficient to let slip, and fall, my music. I saved the music stand from falling onto the floor. Not so the music. That fell onto the candles. Oooopsy!

But not to worry. No bonfire did ensue. No fireman rescue was done unto me. The music was saved from an untimely death by flames, and so was I. With an 'excusey moi' said to all in ear shot I managed to retrieve the file of music, replace it on the stand, gather unto myself the attention of the choir, although by then I had it anyway especially the 'owner' of the choir who was standing central to the other choir members and sent unto me a deadly glare of 'behave yourself' which quite reminded me of the look my mum used to send me as a child.

We carried on and I did manage to get the audience to participate. I did get them soft and jellied up. I did get them to sing in appropriate places, and we did get a standing ovation at the end.

And at the end, when all were jolly from the effort of either singing or listening, when all were partaking of wine and mince pies in the Sal de Fete (local village / church hall), I tiptoed quietly away, my job done. I had got the people and place alive. That was enough. I had jigged and bounced and encouraged. Onwards I went to my home. To a cup of hot chocolate, the dogs, the geese, the chickens, the pigs, the sheep, and Hubs who came to the gate with a torch to guide me through the various obstacles between the car and the house.

I had just done my first concert as a leader of a small English / French / Dutch choir. I think it went well.