Wednesday 27 July 2016

And another day out!

I was settled into a day of jam making,
the recent plum harvest now in the fridge, holding their own, but needing to be jammed.
But Lester was man on a mission today,
and that was to get the French Driving License Project done with,
so a phone call to a doctor to give me a medical.
an appointment was made,
oh dear, now nearly 11am, appointment at 1.30 pm in Tarbes, better get moving, not much time.
So into the supermarket to grab food to eat along the way,
into Tarbes in good time,
everyone at lunch as is the manner of French people,
(12 to 2 lunch break and lots of shops shut) 
so plenty of car parking space available.
A pleasant walk along to the medical place,
arrived in good time.
Medical certificate given.
Town now unpleasantly busy as everyone moves into their afternoon doings,
Lester, still on a mission, decides to tackle the Prefecture again.
Squeezes into a car parking space by inches,
this time right by the Prefecture,
which is a good thing,
because my feet were not going to be walking very far today after yesterday's hot hike.
Prefecture still not hugely busy, the time now being 2.30 pm.
Summonsed to the necessary desk almost immediately.
Oh, a different woman,
looking equally as irritable and bad humoured as did the lady from yesterday until we got connected by 'the thought', which then made her shine.
And here's a funny thing,
not 'funny ha ha' but 'that's a curious thing' funny,
because the new lady called over yesterday's lady,
who was still smiling and all of a shine,
and she couldn't do enough to get the documents processed as efficiently as possible.
If left to the new lady I think we would have had problems.
Oh I did observe the new lady,
thinking that perhaps she might lighten up,
but since I was sitting there like a lump of cold porridge,
fatigue having draped itself around me like a sticky cobweb,
no enlightenment came through for me to pass her way.
It is done.
And the curious sense of another link between me and my old life in the UK being severed,
as we walked back to the car with the temporary French driving license clutched in my hand.
We still have to wait for the official license to come through in the post,
but my old license is now being sent back to the DVLA in the UK by the French authorities,
so I am no longer a registered UK driver.
Yesterday's lady gave us the beamiest of smiles as we left.
She was a great help.
Home now, and absolutely tired out.
Not to worry, start again tomorrow.
The fruit already processed is still refusing to rot,
as is the bucket of plums still waiting to be prepped.
So, you will find me jamming tomorrow!
And we shall not be going out at all!
Bye for now,

Off out into the world.....

It could not be delayed any longer.
Already weeks had gone by with no action from us,
 but soon I shall be seventy,
and my UK driving license will expire,
therefore it is of importance that we get our UK licences converted to French ones.
We want to do this anyway,
we do not want to stay loyal to a country we are no longer living in,
but most of all I do not have any great urge to have to take the French driving test.
We should have done this weeks ago.
But it is necessary to go to a place called the 'Prefecture',
which is in Tarbes,
Tarbes being a small city and therefore very busy as is the nature of such places everywhere,
and which now is becoming an increasingly hostile environment to us.
The longer we stay in the reasonable tranquillity of Labartere,
apart from the cockerels fighting and the hens squabbling,
and the sheep yelling to each other as the flock scatters across the field to graze,
and the little birds, mostly sparrows, who still think that it is spring and are still continuing on with  reproductive activities which requires much chirruping and carrying on.
All of this has a sort of tranquillity about it,
which cannot be said about the concrete, car fume laden environment of the city.
It was an assault to our senses, that is what it was.
But we needed to get those driving licenses done.
We took a road map with us.
We were cautious about finding parking so parked at the first spot available.
It was hot.
The map said to head this way.
We did.
Now I am a good map reader, having walked many a mile across the UK countryside using the excellent Ordnance Survey maps. I never feel lost if I have a map, even if for the moment I am not entirely sure of where I am.  Lester, though, is not so impressed with maps. In fact he frets. And when he does this he sets his stride to wide and fast, possibly thinking that the quicker he walks the more likely he is to find where he needs to go.
As I said,
it was hot, the road was uphill, cars were buzzing about,
after all, it was a city, so what do you expect.
We  only had one minor squabble along the way, though,
and that was brought on by Lester insisting that the map should be 'this way up' and me saying the opposite, which reminded me of certain memories of some of our walks back in the UK. It would seem that reading a map can be done in various ways depending on the opinions of those trying to read it.
Anyway we finally got to where we needed to be,
which was nowhere near what the Internet map said was the location,
and it was a long way from where we had parked the car,
but not to worry, we got there. 
Lester has a temporary French driving license, the proper one to come in the post soon.
I do not.
I have to have a medical to see if I am fit.
And may I say at this point that the lady who was sorting the paperwork out, was, at first,
downright horrid, and as I observed her horridness I thought to myself,
'She could do with a jolly good romp in bed with someone nice to sort her out'.
Now this might come as a surprise to you that I should have had such a thought,
but it was not a 'crafted, made up' thought as such,
just a 'She needs seeing to' thought, neither unkind or spiteful in nature for that was not my intent.
Now I don't know if she picked up this thought,
but all of a sudden she became more cheerful and helpful,
and full of light.
She said not to worry about the UK Driving License card being out of date, although the green paper that it is issued with was still in date, just to get the medical and get back to her asap.
 Bless her, whatever she absorbed from that thought of mine most surely did her some good.

The road was downhill all the way back to the car,
a welcome sit down in a bar for a pint of cool panache (larger / beer and lime juice I think),
then back home.


Monday 25 July 2016

Lester's sore thigh, his sawing efforts, and jamming.....

Lester is upset.
He has a long red weal along his upper thigh,
which has the merest drop of blood in one corner,
but not enough to do a good trickle,
just a small bright bead of blood,
that is all it is.
It was the big black cockerel that did it, Lester said,
came up from behind as he was feeding the hens,
With spurs raised and claws outstretched did the cockerel charge
Lester is not pleased.
Said that the cockerel would be going in the pot.
Said "Why did he do that?!" he said,
as he lifted his shorts to show me the extent of the wound.
But it was not a mortal wound,
so I could not help but smile,
no sticking plaster, no bandage needed,
and my offer of spraying the weal with a vinegar potion
was not accepted,
and so I said that perhaps the cockerel charged
because he thought that Lester was a cockerel as well.
Lester is wearing shorts today.
Between feet and shorts are his legs,
which to a cockerel this could look like the legs of another cockerel.
Cockerels have big feet, long legs,
then what looks like feathery pantaloons at the top of their legs.
I think that the sight of  Lester in his shorts
must have got the cockerel confused,
and thus he took it upon himself to go into battle,
but not by making a full frontal attack,
the coward,
but then Lester is much bigger than him,
so he did an attack from the rear.
Today's camp.....
....doing a bit of spinning
keeping Lester company while he starts the long job of getting the wood cut for the coming winter, because living the life of a smallholder requires that we work ahead of ourselves.
He used the chain saw. I kept an eye on him. Lester and me do not like the chain saw. I only let him use if for an hour, just enough for his concentration to still be reasonably sharp, after that it would possibly dwindle away. Chain saws are mean machines. Any errors of use would not easily be forgiven by it.
However, all went well, and the log pile was started.
And in the kitchen......
the greengages have been picked....

....two trays of them....

which made twelve pots of jam.
I normally use jam pot covers to seal the hot jam,
but I thought I would have a go at sealing the jam in canning jars,
which is the way the Americans make jam.
It was quite a lot of faffing around,
because I had to hot water bath the jam filled jars to seal them.
I find that using the canner to seal jars is no problem at all,
but having to fill a large pot full of water and then bring it to the boil just scares the life out of me.
Apparently you can't can jam in a canner, it has to be done in a water bath,
but fortunately Lester was around to help,
and the job was done.
During the process I did think that it was taking a lot of effort,
but feeling the seals stuck tight to those jars makes me feel confident that the jam will stay mould free. Using the jam pot covers was a bit hit or miss, with the jams starting to show signs of mould the longer they stayed in storage.
The rest of the plums I dehydrated....
and they made 500g of dehydrated fruit several hours later. These will be added to cakes and desserts instead of shop bought dried fruit.
Lester's leg is getting better, so I think he was more upset about being attacked by the cockerel  than about the wound itself.
I now need to go and wash up the jam making things because he has just brought in our next plum harvest......
Bye for now,

Monday 18 July 2016

Beans, and lots of them!

So what do you do when your husband says that he is going to bring the beans in,
"So you can do something with them" he says,
and you are expecting just a bucketful because you have not been paying much attention to what is happening in the veg plot of late,
but, no, it was not a bucketful....
but two full crates.
Well, you try to smile but meanwhile you think,
"Crikey, oh crikey."
Now I hope you don't think that I was being negative,
because I wasn't,
it was just a sense of being overwhelmed by beans, that's all.
Not to worry,
Lester and me sat for an hour or so prepping them,
and another couple of hours the next day,
and then he left me to it.
So, I could:
1) Blanch, then freeze them.
But this would just put more bags in the freezers, which are full enough already.
2) Blanch, then dehydrate them.
Means that electricity has to be used for the dehydrator, but the beans will reduce in size and will therefore take up minimal storage when they are dried.
3) Can them,
which means using gas for the canner (about an hour's worth)
plus the canning lids which work out at about  60 centimes each.
I didn't count the cost of the jars because they are used over and over again.
It would seem the cheapest way to store the beans is by freezing them, but once the beans are dehydrated and/or canned there is no further ongoing cost for storage. Plus freezing them means bags and bags cluttering up freezers, which, as I say, are already full of meat.
So what did I do?

I canned twenty jars in all, at five jars per batch. 

The beans look yellow here because of the flash on the camera.
The last five jars are just cooling down.
It is with a sense of almost reverence that I wiped those jars,
tested the seals, and put them on the larder shelves.
 The sense of achievement was worth the effort of getting them there.
And so what to do with the rest of the beans...
these were blanched for three minutes, and the dehydrated over night...

They made two bags of dehydrated beans,
And then there was this big pot which had a huge piece of pork so big that it could hard fit into it.
I have been trying to get the freezers emptied,
but as fast as I do Lester has been filling them back up again with the rabbit harvest,
twenty in all.
Anyway, I this pot took a huge piece of pork,
which was so heavy I couldn't lift it.
Not to worry, it lightened up a bit once it was cooked,
and made three meals for immediate use,
four bags of mince at 400g each (into freezer)
four canned jars of roasted pork,
.... and also fed the dogs for two days,
with juicy bones for nibbling on in between.

And the two rottweiller girls behaving as if they are still puppies,
and wanting to climb up on Lester's lap at the same time.

We have been cooking here today, with very high temperatures,
Lester did go out into the field earlier and cut several wheelbarrows full of thistles.
I did mention to him that they are a herb,
but neither of us are much interested in pursuing anything more to do with that plant,
other than by cutting it down before it seeds more of itself everywhere.
He also managed to do ten wheelbarrows full of  manure from the cow barn,
and these are being put in readiness for the climbing beans next year.
And he has just come in with a bucket full to the brim with small yellow plums.
So that's me busy for the next day or so!
Bye for now,

Thursday 7 July 2016

Lester has a fright, and the lost day.

So Lester was collecting water from the river in buckets so he could water the trees.

And then straight across the river came a black snake, very long, swimming in a smooth undulation of self, with head above the water to keep its head dry I suppose.
Lester got a quite a fright, but fortunately it swam on to the bank. It is now roaming the farm.
Oh dear. Don't like that thought. Wouldn't want to bump into it, oh no.

And here's a strange thing. How come it is Thursday today, when on the calendar in our heads it is definitely Wednesday. I had been planning to have a wander round the local Thursday market tomorrow, and we are invited to a party down the road on Friday evening. All was neatly planned in my head. But no, a day has been done away with. And it is only by luck that I came across this loss of a day, which is a good thing because we would have rocked up for the party on Saturday night, when everyone would be probably hung over, ......It will be that sort of party, probably an all nighter, but not for us because 1) I don't drink because I fall asleep, and 2) we need to be in bed by twelve at the latest otherwise we don't function the next day. As for the Thursday market, I probably would not have gone to that because I have a growing aversion to spending money, whether it be on a market stall or at the supermarket. But Amazon.....that is a different story altogether!

It is getting on for mid night, and I still can't go to bed because I have to wait for the canner to finish canning four jars of chicken soup, which should have been finished a couple of hours ago but for some reason I put the lid on the canner the wrong way round, which stopped it from reaching canning pressure. This I only realised after it was still not at full pressure half an hour into the process. So I had to start all over again, but first had to let the canner de-pressurize. Oh well, not to worry. At least the job will soon be done.

Just ten minutes to go, so I shall say goodnight, and bye for now,

Wednesday 6 July 2016

Oh not more chickens......

Another hen has just presented us with eleven black chicks,
which would be good news if we were wanting expand the flock,
but we don't.

And then a little while ago another hen presented us with nine black chicks,
seven of which are definitely cockerels.
It's just that we are already over run with chickens in the courtyard,
and I would so like to have flowers and a table and chairs out there,
but the chickens would eat the flowers and poo all over the garden furniture.
Ah well, perhaps next year the chickens will be in their proper chicken run,
and I can take back ownership of that space.

I am not having a moan,
just saying that it would be good to be able to walk out of the front door,
and not be immediately mobbed by chickens,
or stand in chicken poo.

Lester brought the cows in to the barn this morning
so they can spend the day away from flies.
It is late evening here, and he has just taken them back out to the field,
so they can eat over night and not be bitten to pieces by flies.
I have made a solution of cider vinegar and neem oil,
which he has sprayed on the cows,
so hopefully that will act as a fly repellent.
It is not nice to see the cows smothered in flies,
especially their faces,
but I don't think they would like wearing fly masks like the horses do.
I think they would horn them off as soon as they were put on.

Boolie, our Springer Spaniel, is still with us.
He still has his tumour, but it does not seem to bother him,
although he does not like having it washed.
It smells of stale blood, made worse by the weather being warmer,
so I have to clean it up,
then give it a spray with disinfectant.
I find it amazing that he is still managing to stay in good spirits.
I am sure that if I had a similar large growth hanging off one of my ears,
that I would definitely not be so upbeat about it.
He is sixteen years old.
I am hoping that he will die in his sleep.
I would like to wake up one morning and see him gone.
I would not like a vet to finish him off,
because he does not like vets,
and would definitely not be happy about having one anywhere near him.

And on the subject of that most wonderful of vegetables, the courgette.
So far I have made:

Courgette fritters
Courgettes stir fry
Courgette Chocolate Cakes
Lemon Courgette Cakes
Courgette and cheese pizza
Roast courgettes
Grated carrot and courgette salad
Courgette and pork curry soup (now canned)
Chicken and courgette stir fry

....and I still have a good supply waiting to be used in the back kitchen!

The biggest surprise, though, was those cakes.
They are soft and yummy and could be eaten as a cake or as a dessert.

Just off to get another slice of the chocolate courgette cake,
bye for now,


Monday 4 July 2016

This year's wool harvest.....

The sheep were sheared a couple of days ago. Normally I would take the worst of the daggy bits off, then store the rest, but this year I was quite disciplined and only kept about a third of the available fleece.

No photos because I forgot to take any. Normally the fleece is left on the tarpaulins for several days before I get round to sorting it out, but this time I sorted it as it was given to me. So I kept parts of the fleeces which had good colouration (greys, dark and mid browns), a couple of complete fleeces one of which had a lovely golden top to it, and the ram's gorgeous cream and brown fleece.

I was quite disappointed with the quality of the fleece though, having thought that because the flock was now almost pure Jacob that the length of the fleece hair would be more substantial than when we had mixed breed sheep, but apart from the ram's fleece and the brown with golden top fleece, I couldn't see much difference between the pure bred and the mixed breed sheep. Not to worry, I still have some of last year's fleece to spin, and because I haven't kept as much back this year I would think that I shall be able to get all my stock of fleece spun. I also kept back a bag of fleece to use for dusting the house....with the lanolin still in the fibres a handful of fleece does a grand job when used for dusting. I think the actual construction of the fibres also helps to pick up the dust.

I still have not got round to ordering the loom, so my wool stash is still packed away waiting for washing, dying and weaving. I am looking forward to getting to that stage. I have had a yearning to have a go at weaving on a table loom for a long time.

Lester got the last of the bean poles up today, and now all that is required is for me to do some stringing up. We tried this method last year, and it worked well.......

... we are not using this fence line this year, but are using the next paddock along.
The poly tunnel still remains a point of debate, but I refuse to order it until the Chicken Project is sorted out.

The little bat......well, I think it survived, only when we walked through the hallway to let the dogs out for their late evening pee and poo I could not see it on the wall, where it had been all day. The light was on, so I didn't think it would be aware that it was night time outside, but perhaps it had heard other bats calling out for it. Anyway, it was just by sheer luck that I managed not to stand on it and squash it dead flat, because for some reason it had put itself on the floor slap bang in the middle of the doorway, where all, including the dogs, could have done it unto death by inadvertently treading on it.
So Lester picked the little creature up, and put it outside on the flower pot by the front door, convinced that it was dead. But, as I watched, the little bat seemed to start moving, perhaps encouraged to do so by the darkness of the night, and maybe by the calling of other bats. I could not see it this morning, so hopefully it is back where it should be.

One of our rottweiller girls, Blue, has started continuously licking a particular spot on her leg, which irritates me no end as she seems to know that it gets on my nerves, and will not stop until I yell at her.
Upon examination of the spot, we could see that she is making quite a raw patch on her leg, so on to the internet to have a look at why she is doing this, and apparently it is due to wanting attention. So.....when she wants to be noticed she has discovered that continual lick, lick, licking will eventually get attention, although it is negative attention because I am cross at her. A change in plan, then. She licks, she gets put in the other room away from me, this done in silence, so she does not get the attention and I don't yell. It seems to be working. The wound looks more closed over, so she is not licking so much, and I make a fuss of her when she is not licking herself. It looks like the change of behaviour on my part is making her change her behaviour as well.

Yesterday me and Lester had a family pow wow on the bed. We used to do that a lot in the UK before we came here, and our conversation would mostly be about what animals we would have, what veg we would grow. Of course we are now doing that, but we were both feeling a little tired with things, so we headed off into a fantasy about R Vs (motor homing), as in living in a rig full time, heading off into the sunset to roam wherever the fancy took us, this being fuelled by the YouTube videos about people doing just that in America. It was quite a strong conversation that we had.....Lester wanting to buy a motor home and just have several weeks away at a time, and me wanting to sell up and just go do.
Then we had a sleep. Then we woke up. 'Would you like a motorhome or a poly tunnel?' Lester said. And without hesitation I said 'Poly tunnel'. We smiled at each other. Silly talk time was over, and we were back in the saddle again with carrying on with our smallholding life. Of course we would not want to go travelling all over the place in a motor home. For one thing, we could get bored within a few days, and for another, how would I be able to stock our larder with DIY food if we did not have a smallholding to provide the harvests. So no, we shall keep the motorhome subject in the back closet of our minds, and only bring it out for an airing when we feel the need to do have a patch of silly indulgence!

It is getting late,
so bye for now,

Sunday 3 July 2016

A little visitor on the wall.....

A little bat has taken up residence in the hallway,
not sure why it is there,
but it must be comfy because this photo was taken a couple of days,
the intent being to put it into a box for the rest of the day,
and then release it outside when it got dark.
However, things got in the way,
like the shearer man arriving to shear the sheep,
and then it was off to a local bar to cool down,
shearing being quite a hot and sweaty task
and all I was doing was sorting out the fleeces,
for Lester and the shearer man it was much harder work,
especially because the sheep were spooky and uncooperative,
which is not like them at all.
I think it was because the weather has been so unseasonably cool,
so they have not been tired out by the usual heat
and therefore see no reason to be manhandled by a man wanting to take their fleece off them.
Anyway, the shearer man went on to other local smallholdings,
we went off to the bar,
and the bat was forgotten about.
So this morning I went to see how it was doing.
Yesterday it was about a metre up from the floor,
but today it was half way up the wall.
Maybe it had been flying last night,
perhaps that is why the dogs were restless,
because the bat is near their sleeping quarters.
And just to get an idea of how small the bat is,
that blurry piece of 'rope' on the right is a piece of spun wool,
so the little creature is indeed very small.
We have had a 'let's go on strike' day,
well it is Sunday after all,
so we shall probably leave the bat alone until tomorrow.
we did manage to get some cherries off our trees,
not many,
but enough to get a few jars canned up ready for winter use.

At least we got a harvest, even if a small one.
Fed up with buying in supermarket jam I have got round to making our own marmalade.
Wow, that is all I can say!
A friend blitzes the orange peel in a food processor,
but I cut the peel into small slices by hand.
It took ages,
but  was well worth it.
This was the first time I have made marmalade,

made six pots,
now left with three.
It is addictively yummy,
and easy to do,
although there was a panicky moment when I was slopping the hot jam into the jam jars
and not using the special funnel to steer the jam where it was meant to go,
when meant the jam went everywhere.
Not to worry, the mess was scooped up,
went into the jars,
the funnel was found and then used,
and everything turned out alright.
I have also been canning some pork,
two large legs in fact,
so our larder is starting to fill up again,
which is a relief.
Otherwise, I have been doing this and that,
like dehydrating some mallow flowers,
not many, just a few,
because I have kept running out of puff lately and seem to want to sleep a lot.
I still think that we are catching up with ourselves after our first hectic eight years here,
because Lester is feeling the same.
Our mojo seems to have run out of energy.
Not to worry, hopefully it will return soon.
Meanwhile, hope you had a good Sunday,
and saying
bye for now.
As for the vote in the UK to leave the EU.
It is as it is.
I wait with interest to see how the UK gets out of this hole it has dug for itself.
For myself,
I like being European, but did not vote 'in' or 'out',
because I did not think I had the right to seeing as how I have no intentions of living in the UK ever again.
Moving forward, that is what we are doing,
and I hope that the UK will find its way,
despite the cat fights which are going on in the political parties.
Loving France,
and being glad that we had the courage to move here when the opportunity arose,
despite the hard work, the uncertainty, the ups and downs,
France is our home now,
which is why we did not vote in the UK referendum.