Nine months (and a bit) later…

It’s just over nine months since we left our old home and relocated to France so how are we getting on? Since the 6 months review we’ve moved house to a new, long-term rental, making the move official in the sense that we now have a rental contract and have bills to pay. It’s great to be living somewhere without holes in the walls, a good stove, and a safe outside space for the children and cats. Since this move we’ve been feeling much more settled than we were three months ago. We’re still checking the property pages but aren’t feeling the intense pressure of those first months. And we’ve learned a lot; not only about the do’s and don’ts of house/land buying but also about what we do and don’t like and what need as individuals and a family. For example, when we first came we were worried about being too out on a limb, too remote and in the sticks. There’s a lot of remote about here! Coming from Manchester, where we had access to everything, it’s taken a while to wean us off having more immediate access to things we need (or want) and to other people. It’s taken 9 months but I’d say now we’re over it and are slowing down, finally. The first six months were intense, living in a tiny hameau, dominated by a few home schooling families; too much for us. Now we’re in a hameau, yes, but there’s more space simply because the people here also like to have their own space. There’s no “thing” going on, just neighbours living their lives. Our new neighbours definite look out for each other and those relationships are important, yes – we speak to at least one of our neighbours every day – but we’re not in each others pockets or trying to live some sort of shared life, which was how it felt in the last place. We’re happy to be out of there.

So, time for a progress report. The five areas to report on are:

  • House buying
  • Settling into daily life
  • Sorting out the paperwork
  • Learning the French language
  • Earning some money

Here’s the low down.

House Buying Progress = 3/10

I’ve moved this up to a 3/10. No, we don’t have a house and we’ve only looked at a couple since we moved into this new rental place but we have made some progress in the sense that we’re learning all the time what we do and don’t want and what too look for when buying land or property. Of the places we’ve looked at all were overpriced and some were over our budget, so no good. Some we’d be interested in if we had more money, others we wouldn’t pay all the money in the world for. It’s nice to feel like we’re in the driving seat now whereas before, when we were staring down the barrel of homelessness, it all felt a bit desperate. We’ll find something or we won’t. Either way I’m loving life here and without that intense pressure it feels like we can make the right decision and find something that’s right for us. The best bit of advice we received when we came out here was from a fellow Brit who said: “remember what you came for and what it is that you want.” The hunt continues but we’re both convinced we’ll know it when we see it.

Settle Into Daily Life = 8/10

I think we’re all feeling vastly more settled than we were three months ago. DD is still going to the maternelle but is enjoying it so much she asked to go full time so now she does two full days and then the rest half days. That’s great for us as we’re starting to have more time to work, to focus on admin, to getting things done generally, and just to have a bit of a break (one child is definitely less work than two!) DS has started at the creche too. He starts properly next week – just two short afternoons – then we’ll add a few more hours from September. He’s still my baby so I’m not in a rush for him to spend too much time in someone else’s care.

Of course, the school holidays start in just three weeks so the timetable we’re starting to work too will all be thrown in the air for 8 weeks after that, which is why, even though I’m now registered as an auto-entrepreneur (business website and info coming soon), I’m not anticipating getting anything meaningful done until September at the earliest. A few hours a week is the most time I’m likely to have. (James is busy, of course, and his work takes priority right now.) But as this is our first summer in the south of France I don’t intend to feel guilty about taking more time off and enjoying it with the kiddies.

Sort Out the Paperwork = 8/10

Slowly, but I am at last getting there. I have mail redirects in place, my tax return is sorted out, I’m about 90% of the way through my address change list, and – with becoming an auto-entrepreneur – I have a social security number, meaning myself the little ones have health care (within the terms of the French system.) At a later date I’ll probably bother to sort out a French driving license but that’s not necessary at the moment. Just having an hour or so every other day has made an enormous difference – and, of course, fast internet. I never ever want be without fast internet for the rest of my days.

Learn the French Language = 5/10

It’s still early days and I’m by no means fluent so 5/10 may seem overly optimistic but… and it’s a big but… I’m feel like I’m at least capable now of getting by. It really helps that our new neighbours are French and have limited or non-existent English: one of them doesn’t speak English at all but loves to chat, forcing me to dig deep both on the listening and speaking front, and our other neighbour speaks French but, along with his wife, is a keen student of English, so when we often talk about language, comparing differences and similarities, and I learn a lot from those conversations.

In terms of speaking when I’m out and about, just last week I managed to go into the bank and talk with the bank manager, about opening a business account, changing our address, and ordering a cheque book – all in French. Absolutely I could not have done that nine or even three months ago. I’m so happy with myself!!! As someone who didn’t speak a word (beyond ordering a coffee) when we arrived and was nervous about conversing with anyone, that’s real progress.

There’s still a long way to go, of course. I know what I know but there’s still plenty I don’t know, like how to say anything about what I did (past tense) or what I’m going to do (future tense) but what I’m doing right now, I’m good with). I’m terrible at asking questions so conversations are not really flowing yet, but I’m learning all the time. Once DS starts at the creche, once DD is back at school, I should have enough hours to not only work but also to study a little. I’m building a foundation for sure but in order to ever reach fluency some effort will be needed. Getting by is good for now but not good enough in the long run. I’m definitely happy with my progress though.

Earn some money = 2/10

I haven’t earned a bean yet, no, but I’ve taken steps towards that so am happy that things are afoot and it won’t be long now. It’s good to be thinking along those lines again. Does that count as progress?

Conclusion

We’re back on our feet and feeling much more balanced and focused. It’s starting to feel like we have a life here. The next few months will most likely be filled with distractions again as it’s the summer holidays. I expect we’ll be socialising more than working in this time but why not enjoy ourselves! We’re getting used to the pace of life (hot and slow – it’s summer!) and settling into our new routines and, who knows, maybe the right piece of land will turn up when we’re not expecting it to? We’re not where we thought we’d be at this point but we’ve dodged many bullets along the way so where we are right now is definitely the right place.

Most days I marvel at the fact that we’re here to live not just for a holiday. Then I hear DD speaking in French with other children and I’m blown away by the whole experience. We might be blowing our savings, living in a rented house with no end to that in sight, but it’s worth it. Our quality of life is fantastic and I’m excited to be learning a new language. It’s a good place and every day I think to myself that I’m so glad we made this move. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live somewhere as beautiful as this!?

Wildlife Wonderland!

I was a passionate wildlife watcher back in the UK and was pretty good with the names of most species of plant, animal, or bird that I came across. Not so much insects, but I’m not an instect-y person. Anyhow, now I live in France there is sooo much that’s new as well as an abundance of certain species that are considered rarities in the UK. There’s so much to see it’s keeping us all quite busy! So, what new and wonderful creatures have I discovered since moving here?

Well, the warm sun is certainly bringing the wildlife out on display. A few days ago we were treated to well over 20 large birds of prey riding thermals in the skies above our house. It was wonderful! I managed to get a couple of reasonable photos with my camera too.

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A tatty looking eagle or a vulture?

At first I thought (hoped) they might have been short-toed eagles (this website was my main reference, then I checked images on Google to see whether they looked similar) but the underwings, with the white “v” shape, are quite distinctive, so definitely not short-toed eagles. Then I thought maybe they were booted eagles but while writing this post I’ve been back and forward with Google images to try and figure it out and now I’m thinking it was one of the vulture species that frequent this area. Oh well. Given the numbers involved, it probably was “a kettle of vultures” – in which case I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for booted eagle.

Lucky me though, because only a couple of days later I spotted a short-toed eagle (Circaetus gallicus) flying on the low hills in the Faby Vallee when I was on the way to drop DD at school! I’d say I haven’t been that excited about a wildlife sighting since I can’t remember but…

Did I mention the stag beetle (Lucanus cervus) that was flying above the hazelnut trees at dusk the other night?

Or the western whip snake (Hierophis viridiflavus) that was sunbathing on the wall, not far from where I saw the stag beetle the night before. (James saw this not me but I know it’s out there.)

Then there’s the midwife toad (Alytes), bip-bip-bipping away from under a rock somewhere near our front door. James and I were both wondering what it was that was beeping downstairs, thinking it was an electronic device malfunctioning somewhere in a box, but T, our landlady, told us it was a toad. A toad! I haven’t seen it yet but it’s out there calling every night now it’s warm.

Oh, and the giant peacock moth (Saturnia pyri). Let’s not forget this one!

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Saturnia pyri, just chillin’ on our terrace one morning – all 5-plus inches of it!

It’s called a grand paon de nuit in French (the large peacock of the night) and I’d say this particular creature was lucky that I had some washing to do first thing in the morning because I dread to think what the cats would have done with it had they spotted it first. Yes, one morning we awoke to find the largest moth I have ever seen, the largest moth in Europe no less, resting on the wall outside our house. While we were watching it the sun moved around and started to warm it up (it had been in the shade, until then) so, when it began to show signs of movement we gently persuaded it into a box then relocated it into the trees further down the lane. We’ve not seen it since but it’s out there, no doubt. Our neighbour, who’d seen one flying around a few nights before and had mentioned it to me, specifically because she was worried about our cats eating it, was equally excited when I interrupted her breakfast so she could come and take a look!

And finally, processionary caterpillars, which are the larval stage of the pine processionary moth (Thaumetopoeidae). These are my least favourite “new” discovery but that’s probably just because I haven’t yet seen what James describes as the millipede on steroids that is living somewhere near the terrace. When that pops into range it will take the creepy crawly top spot. Uck. The caterpillars are interesting though because despite looking relatively friendly – they’re furry, you know – and innocently marching through the forest nose to tail with one another, they can leave us humans with very irritated skin and can also be fatal to dogs. And they’re everywhere! We thought the webbed nests on the ends of branches of the evergreens around were spider nests but it seems they’re very densely populated caterpillar homes. The lifecycle of is pretty interesting too because they live in the tree until they’re ready to pupate, when they then leave the tree so they can burrow into the ground. The day I (literally) stumbled across them, there were well over 100 (I gave up counting at 100) marching in a long chain. DD spotted them first, which is how I ended up treading on a few. Luckily we didn’t touch them – I know enough about furry caterpillars to know better than that but it was helpful to be reminded and to be informed about their toxicity to dogs when James mentioned what we’d seen to a neighbour.

That’s it for all the exciting new stuff. Then there’s more every day stuff to here that I’d see every now and again where we were in the UK but here they’re common and everywhere. I can add to this list jays, redstarts, and orchids.

 

Busy, busy

There’s so much going on right now I have no time to blog about it! What with the classic Easter cold, taking us all down one by one, and a visit from my parents I’m only just starting to catch up on all things computer-based. I’ve got a bunch of part-written or planned and not started blog posts so plenty to keep me busy when I do find the time to sit down and write/think for any amount of time. For now though, here’s a list of some of the things that I’ve been doing since I last posted:

  • Herding goats
  • Planting up more of the garden
  • Sewing
  • Finessing the worm bin setup
  • Picking cherries
  • Thinking of things to do with a gazillion fresh cherries!
  • Horse riding with DD
  • Swimming
  • Settling DD into her first full days at the maternelle
  • Settling DS into the créche
  • Setting myself up as an auto-entrepreneur
  • Land and house viewings

That’s pretty much all the fun/interesting stuff, which doesn’t look like a lot but when crammed in amongst everything else it feels like a lifetime’s worth of achievements!

So, more blog posts to follow – but for now, bed. Zzzzzz.

Ah, that’s better (cleaning, again)

In an earlier post I lamented about the state of this house and my efforts to clean the grotty kitchen worktop. Here’s a quick post about the result which was pretty good.

I wiped the baking soda/peroxide mix away after about 30 minutes. The worktop, which looked more like this…

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Now looks like this!

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I’m happy with that. (That’s not the exact same bit of worktop but you get the idea.)

The first picture shows how the grout is still stained, even after a good clean. It’s been bleached and cleaned with alcohol but you wouldn’t know that by looking at it. As well as disinfecting it the peroxide/baking soda mixture has really whitened the grout so I’d say it works really well. Because the peroxide works into the grout it’s not just clean looking but also biologically clean too, which is more important at the end of the day, especially in the kitchen. There are still a few stubborn spots but they will be much improved when I go over it again, which I inevitably will.

Ultimately though I’d like to find a cheap and easy way to cover these damned things up, which could be tricky in France because many diy related products and materials seem super expensive. Or maybe I’ll just ask the landlady for a new kitchen. Next, the fridge and freezer need to be decontaminated. The fact that we just started using them without cleaning them properly grosses me out every time I open the door and take a look at the seals. Yuck.

Watch this space for more riveting updates on my house cleaning efforts!

DIY Worm Composting

Something that irks about not having our own garden space is not being able to make our own compost. At our last place we donated our food scraps to others’ heaps, which worked out just fine. We thought we’d got a similar arrangement going here but our new neighbour turns out to be a bit fussy about what goes in her heap, accosting me one morning with a list of things that she didn’t want in there, all of which we happily chucked in our compost bins in the past without any issues. From the outset we had a feeling that would happen. You know how some people can be and as lovely as she is it was fairly inevitable that she’d go picking over the compost and find a problem. C’est la vie, as our compatriates like to say.

So what to do with our growing mountain of food waste? We contemplated a regular compost bin but they seem to retail at around 30€ here. These bins make compost slowly – not always helpful in a rented and (hopefully) fairly temporary house  – as well as requiring quite a lot of work and taking up a lot of space – time and space we don’t have. A compost tumbler then? They retail upwards of 80€, so a no go. That’s a lot of bags of compost and the 80€ ones didn’t look great and there was no question of us spending more than that. DIY? We thought that was the best option and even bought a barrel to use but the cost of all the small parts to make the door, the catch, etc came in at nearly 40€ – crazy! Another option bites the dust. That left us with one option: worms!

It turns out that composting with worms is actually the best way to turn your old food scraps into garden fertiliser and soil conditioner. In fact, if you are regularly chucking your food scraps into a plastic bin and letting it turn into compost, you are effectively composting with worms because the worms that turn up in compost bins – tiger worms – are the same worms used in most worm composting systems.  In the UK our old composter seemed to just get on with it: we’d chuck our food waste in and later in the year it would be gone. We barely got any usable compost out of it but at least it wasn’t in land fill. I presume the worms were eating it!

Contrast that with my repeated failed attempts at worm composting. I had a Can-O-Worms and after three failed attempts gave up and gave it away. With this in mind I was reluctant to spend any money on a proper wormery so we went DIY. There are a lot of good wormery suggestions out there and they’re all pretty simple. We wasted an evening trying to find the things we needed online (a plastic box for under 10€ -how hard can it be!?) then found everything we needed at Mr. Bricolage for 41€, which included 10€ on a fancy drill bit. Here’s the shopping list:

  • 2 x black plastic containers. We went for the 48 litre ones which are wider and flatter than the 50 litre versions.
  • Something for the lid. Our containers didn’t come with lids so we bought some chip board, enough to make two lids, if we decided to set up an other container.
  • Mesh to cover the base and the ventilation holes. This just stops flies getting in and worms getting out.
  • A tap. This is for the bottom container so that we could drain off the liquid, which is a fantastic plant feed known as “black gold”!

We also had to buy a special drill bit so we could fit the tap.

Here’s the result.

 A picture of a worm bin made of two black plastic containers with a wooden lid and a plastic tap
Worm bin with tap
A picture of a piece of chipboard with 8 drilled holes covered in mesh
The lid: 22mm holes covered in fine mesh to stop the flies getting in
A blonde girl leans into the open container that contains a layer of compost, the tiger worms, and some food waste
DD checks out the finished product, complete with worms and food waste

It’s a really nice and simple design. The bottom box is used as a reservoir to collect the liquid. The tap just simplifies removing it and isn’t absolutely necessary – a hole in the bottom draining into a cup or jam jar would work just as well. The second box is the worms’ home. We drilled drainage holes in the bottom then lined it with mesh so that our little wormies don’t fall into the bottom box and drown (that happened a lot with my Can-O-Worms wormery – a tragic as well as stinky thing.) For the lid we drilled more holes and covered them with mesh held down with wood glue. And that’s it. All that was needed then were worms.

We asked around, posted in a couple of Facebook groups, but ended up buying some from a local fishing shop – another 20€ but we now have a ready-to-go wormery that cost, in all, around 50€ with enough parts left over to make another. We’d need a couple more plastic containers but can transfer worms from this one so the extra cost will be just 12€.

For the worms to be happy in their new home they need not just food but also bedding. For this we covered the base of the top bin with a layer of wet paper then put a layer of compost down. The veg scraps then went on top. Internet wisdom generally suggests letting it all get going before piling too much in there so we sprinkled some of the fresher looking scraps on there, gave it a spray with some water to ensure it’s not too dry, closed the lid and left them to get on with it.

We did have a bit of shock the next day when it looked like all the worms were trying to escape as they’d congregated at the top of the bin but some Googling later and we’re putting that down to typical worm behaviour, either because they’re in a new home or because it rained through the night. They seem to have settled down again today (Day 3) so perhaps it’s all working just fine. We will see!

From Farm to Farm

Today we ventured out to visit a few local farms who were taking part in the De Ferme en Ferme open day. I’d seen posters around for a few weeks then, after reading a really nice blog post about last year’s programme, picked up a leaflet that me, James, and DD talked about to decide where to go. The promo leaflet and handout for kids can be downloaded from the Fermiers Audios website, here. DD was very specific about wanting to see pigs, cows, and horses, and we were keen to try out some local places where we might be able to buy good, local produce at sensible prices, reducing our overall reliance on the supermarkets or towns, as we seem to spend an awful lot of time driving too and from the shops. Having studied the map and the descriptions we settled on five places that fulfilled our wishlist while also providing a sensible itinerary, since we’d be carting two littlies around.

  • Ferme de Jaffus (#9) in Couiza
  • Gaec de Bergnes (#10) in Campagne-sur-Aude
  • Le Gaec du Méchant Pas (#11) also in Campagne-sur-Aude
  • Pépinière de la Roche Blanche (#2) in Puivert
  • Campserdou (#3) also in Puivert

The plan was three farms over by the D118, possibly having a burger at the beef farm (bio burgers for €6) or heading home for lunch, then the two close to Puivert in the afternoon. Manageable.

We set off. DD was excited about the pigs, cows, and horses. Oh, and ducks, chicks, and geese, apparently! A tall order. I was armed with the printed map, the address, and – having plugged the information into Google Maps for our first destination, was hoping the place would be well signed because I was pretty sure there wasn’t a beef farm where the map marker was. We got to the first set of traffic lights and there was the sign, so we turned to follow it and set off down the road. We drover further down the road. And further. No more signs. I was confused because Google (and the farm’s own website) showed the marker much closer to the village. We drove a little more then turned around, thinking we’d missed the turning and the sign. We decided that if we made it back to the main road before seeing another sign we would just skip it and carry onto the next one. We made it back to the lights, no more signs, so that was that. On we went to Campagne-sur-Aude. DS was pretty unhappy that the trip to a farm hadn’t materialised   so it was a relief to pull up at our next stop: La Ferme du Méchant Pas

 

The well-signed entrance to our first farm of the day.

 

This farm had various poultry breeds on display, all of which looked rather uncomfortable in their tiny cages! There wasn’t much to see really so we followed the sign pointing us in the direction of goats, cows, ponies, and sheep. Also lacklustre, unfortunately. So one small pony and one cow later, we headed back to the car and onto our next stop, Gaec de Bergen’s, just a few minutes up the road and where our friends, Matt and An, were waiting, having decided to tag along.

Heading back to the car

 

Our next stop, the cattle farm, also turned out to be a little underwhelming, albeit in an absolutely stunning location, on a hill high above the village with awesome views. While we stood chatting and DD did some colouring, people came flocking in, most likely because a €6 burger was one of the cheaper lunches on offer (most places providing lunch were charging €15 and up for three or more courses). We had considered staying ourselves, but now we were in the company of two militant vegetarians and DS was starting to get into don’t-pick-me-up, don’t-put-me-down mode, so I was keen to get him in the car and back home so he could have a bit more freedom away from the general muck of the farm yard – not the nicest place for a crawling boy.

We headed back, had a nice lunch, let the kiddies let off some steam (DD really enjoyed showing our friends her bed and all her toys) then it was time for the afternoon’s programme of visits. We started with the plant nursery (Pépinière de la Roche Blanche) with Camperdou, the lai cru farm, saved until last. This was the one we were most interested in as I quite fancy making some cheese once I find I have time!

The nursery site was pretty nice – another stunning location – and it was nice to walk around. They had lots of plants on sale – flowers and vegetables – all at good prices and, usefully, they supply salad and vegetables throughout late spring and summer: all I have to do is call in the morning then come and pick them up an hour or so later. Obviously I’m thinking trailer ride, yay!

James and An relaxing outside the main polytunnel

We stayed there while the little ones did some exploring, then it was time for the final farm of the day.

After a short drive we arrived. I was quite underwhelmed at first – there really wasn’t anything to see except for a few cows munching away in the barn, a few calves in a small pen in the yard, and a gazebo, from which you could try or buy the farm’s produce: essentially, the lait crufromage blanc, or confiture du lait, which is already caramelised condensed milk.

We stood around chatting again and the next thing the farmer wandered by so we started chatting to him about how many cows and calves, how much milk they produce each day (25 litres!), how the milk is processed before it’s sold, and – the burning question for me and James – why it doesn’t separate like regular non-homogenised milk. To be honest, I’m still not sure we got to the bottom of the last question, but he assured us the production process is basically cow to bottle with no messing around. While were stood chatting DD started messing around with the feed, giving it to the greedy cows. She had a lovely time! After a few minutes she wanted to see the calves again so we’d wander over there, then she was back to feeding the cows.

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James and DD on their way to the cow shed

Then it was getting late (DS was awake and trying to escape from the carrier) so we decided to head back, stopping on our way out to sample the produce. Boy, that confiture was awesome! It’s basically super-condensed milk, like the stuff you get when you heat condensed milk to make the caramel for a banoffee pie: one of my favourite puddings – yum! Of course, this doesn’t sit well with our sugar-free home, so DD was allowed to try some of their fromage blanc, which was also very good.

All in all it was a good day out. We now have confidence in at least two local producers we will definitely frequent in future and we came home with two very tired and hungry children as well as some some fromage blanc and milk fresh from the farm, the latter of which I hope to try and turn into mozzarella or ricotta cheese. Assuming next year’s event includes many of the same producers there are other 14 for us to discover and as our littlies will be older we can justify driving a bit further and hopefully they will both get a bit more out of it. A nice family day out all round!

Good Neighbours 

It’s a long weekend here in France, as with much of Europe (I think), made longer for the us by the fact that DD came back from school on Friday with suspected conjunctivitis (joy of joys) so we’ve been busying ourselves in the garden. Today we worked on our new compositing solution, which I plan to blog about once we’ve finished setting it up, and also caught up with our lovely neighbours Patrick and Claudine, who took us around their veggie patch and orchard and gave us some of the many lettuces they’ve started in their cold frame, as they’re now ready to plant out and they have loads of them. These are the sucrine variety, or Little Gem en anglais, apparently native to this part of the world and a really good grower in this climate.

They have a wonderful garden which they work hard at maintaining. They know what they’re doing and have been giving us some good advice with our little patch, which is more than welcome. While we’ve gardened before and grown veg the climate is very different. They’re keen for us to succeed, which is lovely, and happy to also share their produce as well as their knowledge! Rhubarb is one of my favourite fruits (edible plants, actually) so when Claudine showed me their well-established patch I was more than happy to take up her offer of a large bunch to take home.

Claudine and I were also able to clear up the main difference between jam and compote, so now I know (it’s do with the amount of sugar used and the length of time you plan to store it.) Her recommendation for rhubarb was very definitely rhubarb tart.

Now to find some sugar-free rhubarb recipes, which will be new territory as my preferred dishes are usually fairly sugar-dense, like stewed rhubarb crumble and custard. Can I find a passable rhubarb tart recipe that will be up to Claudine’s standards, I wonder?

Yuck! Cleaning, cleaning and yet more cleaning

Before I write anything else I want to make one thing clear: I am by no means a clean freak. Friends will testify to this – a few, those with tendencies towards OCD on the cleaning front, sometimes found visiting our old house challenging; well, there was always something more interesting to do than cleaning! So while I can cope with a certain amount of mess and also stomach a certain amount of built up grime, I always tidy up and give the place a good clean at some point.

When we came to look around this place we’d spent 6 months in what was effectively a single room. Our new house is so much bigger and feels really spacious, and that’s what we saw when we came to look around: the space. Wow, we said, look at all this space! What we failed to notice was the grime. Oh my, I have (almost) never seen anything like it. The only thing that I think compares was a student house I stayed in during my first year at uni where the floor in the kitchen was so filthy we mopped a path through to the bathroom, so we could walk to and fro with bare feet after a shower. Really, it was bad. But now, as a more grown up version of my old student self and with a small baby crawling around on all fours, I am like a dirt hound. I can just see it, everywhere.

It’s not all the owner’s fault: she’d lived here for many years, and we all get a tolerance to our own filth as it builds up day by day. Plus she has horses and dogs and does building work, mostly barn renovations. That’s a lot of muck coming into the house everyday. Also, we wanted to move quickly, so on the day we arrived she was still moving her things out meaning she didn’t get chance to clean so we can’t say how much she’d have done given the chance. But it’s been almost four weeks now and we’re still cleaning! The floors downstairs were more like a stable than a house. There was a rug that stank of dog. There are three leather chairs, all covered in grime, one of which I’ve cleaned twice (as per instructions from the Internet) although it’s impossible to tell from looking at them which one it is. The dining table chair cushions had to be thrown out because the foam was degrading and there were mites crawling around in them! Ugh. But perhaps the grimmest of all is the kitchen.

Here’s why. Teeny tiny little tiles. Who in their right mind would decorate their kitchen worktop with these ridiculous tiles! They are almost impossible to clean. When we arrived they were covered in an oily residue, now removed thanks to a fair amount of scrubbing and steaming. The question though was how to actually clean the grout. We used bleach and alcohol (not together) but still it looked pretty grim, so today I tried this mixture of peroxide (eau oxyegene) and baking soda. It’s looking pretty good so far and the grime seems to be lifting judging by the fact that the paste coming off is now a rather ugly shade of grey.

It also seems to be fizzing up where it’s contact with the grout, which is why peroxide is good for grout: apparently, it gets into the little holes and actually cleans through it, rather than just cleaning the surface.


I didn’t bother with any particular quantities and just aimed for a paste that was thick enough to spread over the tiles. Now I’m having a coffee, writing this post while it sits there for a while. I think about 30 minutes should do it. Okay, maybe an hour. If this stuff works the bathroom is up next. Like the kitchen we’ve bleached it from top to bottom but still it looks grubby. Oh what fun we’re having. One of the reasons I’m looking forward to my parents visiting is so they can look after both littlies while I give more parts of this house a good scrub down!

With all this though it’s still a great house in a great spot with the added bonus of lovely neighbours. We’re so much happier here than at the last place. It’ll be tidied up eventually but with the two smalls to accommodate and time needed to work we can only do so much at a time. Yesterday the floors got another going over. They’re still not quite so clean that I’d be happy to eat my dinner off them but clean enough to reinstate the three-second-rule.

 

 

 

Collecting Birch Sap

Here are the photos from our recent attempt to harvest some birch sap, which I posted about a few weeks ago.

The first picture shows our respective His ‘n’ Hers setups: his is the green bottle, mine is the white. We both whittled sticks to use as “straws” to guide the sap from the cut in the tree and into the bottle.

His ‘n’ Hers Sap Collecting Bottles

On this second attempt we both collected about 200ml, which isn’t much (pro collectors will harvest litres from each tree) but that may be as much to do with the location of the trees as our methods: the landscape around is very dry and these particularly trees were on a steep slope quite a way from any water source.

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Ants: Cleaning up after the previous day’s attempt

This is how the cut James made looked the following day. We didn’t have any beech tar or equivalent so hope that the other internet sources who claim that the method of cutting a flap and then just pressing it back down afterwards doesn’t damage the tree are right! The ants were enjoying their bounty anyway.

And this is a gratuitous pic of James and DD on their way up the hill to find the bottles. There might only be two silver birch trees, but it is very beautiful here.

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Since this walk we’re actively spotting birch trees whenever we’re out in the car. Today, on the way up to Belcaire, we spotted quite a few in the woods so we have until next year to get our walking legs on and find a good spot for the next year’s harvest.

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