Language Learning and Energy Drain

Moving to a new country is exciting, yes, but it’s also incredibly tiring to live somewhere where you don’t (yet) speak the language. You need time to learn, obviously – and I’ve been short on that – which means every encounter has to be planned and prepared for. This makes so many of the little things we do day-to-day extremely tiring and time consuming, things we totally take for granted when we’re a native or fluent non-native speaker. Things like going to the bank, the post office, the school. The shop, even. Even if you’ve been in this situation before you still have to rehearse, to check yourself, to brush up a bit, to ensure you correct any mistakes or answer any unanswered questions left over from the last visit.

And then there are entirely new situations where you need to learn new vocabulary. Like my recent trip to the docs for my slightly overdue smear test. In a second language that I’m currently a bit hopeless at it was pretty interesting inasmuch as I spent the whole appointment more embarrassed about my terrible French than the act of having the smear test. (It’s called a le frottis vaginal, if you’re interested, and is just as undignified with a French doctor as an English one.) It was a little overdue because there’s only so much I can do admin-wise and it took me ages to get round to booking a doctor’s appointment. On the one hand I didn’t have the confidence to do it over the phone but then I never seemed to have the time to pop in and do it face-to-face. In the end I braved a phone call just to get it done – and it went just fine, thankfully! But that in itself is an example of the extra mental load of being a language learner living in a foreign country. You can’t just pick up the phone and sort shit out!

And then there’s the headspace all this takes up. I realised the other day as I was driving to school to collect DD that possibly one of the reasons I feel so tired some days is because of the extra mental load this whole language learning process requires. On that particular day I was driving to the school but first had to pop to the bank to pick up a cheque book and pay some cash in. Ordinarily I’d just be driving the car, minding my own business, watching the road, maybe singing along to something on the radio, doing a mental check about whether I’d picked up my wallet or my phone, but this particular day I was running a conversation in my head along the lines of…

“What’s the verb for collect? Okay, er, so I want to collect my cheque book. Cheque book is probably un livre de cheque. Yes, that will work. So maybe, “Je besoin de colliere ma livre de cheque.” Is that right?? Is it ma or mon livre. Maybe I should say “Est-ce vous-avez ma livre de cheque?” Is that better. Have they got our new address? I should probably check that too. I’ll have to check it on my phone when I stop. So I’ll say…”

And on and on and on the conversation went in my head.

I got to the bank, went in, said something that may or not have been correct but was the best I could do, picked up my cheque book (so whatever I said worked), checked the address on the account then got back in the car – feeling very pleased with myself indeed. But it doesn’t end there, you see, because now there’s a new conversation to be had: the post-discussion analysis which goes along the lines of…

Did I say that right? What did they say? Did I understand that right? Next time I should say X instead of Y. Or would Z work better? What was that verb they used? So the past is.. Oh, I can’t remember. I’ll have to remember to look that up.” 

And so on. It’s exhausting! On the upside, the fact that I am actually having these conversations in my head – and using my terrible French out loud in the real world whenever I have to get the chance – is evidence that I’m making progress, but I can already see how greatly life will be improved once I have a good handle on many of the everyday interactions that we normally take for granted.

It’s given me a new perspective on the lot of an immigrant and I really feel for them. When talking about immigration the lack of language is something that people often whinge about but now I totally get how people who move to a country manage not to learn the language, especially when the natives tend to be hostile to immigrants and not particularly helpful. Because it will always be easier to hang around with other first-language native speakers. Of course it will. To put yourself into situations where you are struggling is not all that pleasant. There’s the mental toll before and after and the high-probability that you will humiliate yourself in between. But that’s how we learn. Kids don’t learn to walk or talk by imprisoning themselves in their comfort zones. They learn because it’s really frustrating to be stuck on the floor in one place staring across the room at your favourite toy, or having someone feed you apple when what you really want is carrot and a drink. So I take my inspiration from my kids. Both of them. Both of them are busy learning French and they don’t even know they’re doing it. DD is at maternelle and DS is at creche. Neither of these places have English speakers so they really are immersed in the truest sense of the word. DD has embraced it so well that she now says, proudly, “I’m French, not English.” She watches all her movies in French and  I’m pleased to say that the last time I watched Happy Feet with her I found myself listening to the audio more than reading the subtitles. So I can take all the extra hours it takes to figure out how to ask for my cheque book or book an appointment with the doctor over the phone. To learn the language is one of the reasons we came here, after all!

I first mentioned this in another post a couple of months back but as with everything there hardly seems to be time and most days it feels as though we’ve been busy-busy but accomplished very little. Perhaps energy drain is part of that equation? I won’t know I’ve cracked it until the first time that I manage to march into the bank or the doctors or wait at the school gate without all the mental chatter before, during and after. I have a feeling it will feel like being on holiday – mentally, at least. Until then I’ll just have to keep working at it.


The featured image used for this post is “help” by Patrick.
Terms of Use: This work is licensed under the Non-Commercial Share-Alike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) Creative Commons License.

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Life in France: The Healthy Eating Challenge

Since moving to France we’ve fallen into some pretty bad habits food-wise. Think white bread, full-fat cheese, yoghurts, charcuterie, pasta, and so on. On top of that we also had, for a while, an intense relationship with multipacks of chocolatines which, thankfully, we’ve managed to break. Although I’ve not been gaining weight (okay, maybe a little) I had started to feel a bit sluggish – lack of exercise and lack of sleep were also contributing to this feeling of course – but a recent trip to the doctors with a higher than usual blood pressure reading gave me the kick up the bum I needed to take a closer look at our diet.

Another reason to make the change is to save money. Food here is expensive! Whether its because of the crappy exchange rate and because we do generally still think in pounds rather than euros, we’re spending much more than we thought we would on food each week and with two small but growing and occasionally ravenous small people to accommodate, those bills aren’t going to go down unless we change the way we eat.

Before we moved we ate pretty well, combing limited red meat and pork-products with chicken, fish, and meat-free options. Here, possibly due to laziness or two-child-related time-challenges, we were suddenly eating a lot of meat, especially pork, in part because DD can always be persuaded to eat sausages and pasta and sometimes it’s easier just to cook what I know she’ll eat. For one the sausages here are high in fat, low in actual pork, and also pretty salty. Pasta, on the other hand, is cheap as long as you’re buying white pasta. Wholemeal is hard to come by in the supermarkets which means making a trip to one of the specialist Bio (organic) shops and paying through the nose.

So, how to reduce our bills while also improving our diet? Well, there are few different ways. First, I’m reducing our meat intake, totally eliminating our charcuterie intake (except for now and again) and adding more pulses and grains into our diet. This is more akin to the way we used to eat pre child #2 and our house move. I don’t think these things take any more time to prepare but they do need a little more organisation because beans and pulses need to be soaked and also sometimes precooked. Plus to make tasty veggie food you need to have a nice selection of herbs and spices handy. We’re buying in bulk again too – just like we used to – but swapping Sheffield-based Lembas who delivered to Manchester for Internet-based Buy Wholefoods Online* who deliver anywhere within the EU free for orders over £100, which makes them excellent value.  So what’s on the menu?

To make sure we’re getting plenty of protein but also cutting back on salt and cash, I’ve replaced ham and pork with chicken so instead of buying anything sliced or processed each week I buy two whole chickens which I roast. We eat hot roast chicken on the day of cooking then save the rest for lunches and dinner through the rest of the week. Then I make bone broth with the carcasses, which usually makes enough for two hearty soups. This week we tried Cock-a-Leekie (made with rice instead of barley), which went down a storm. Other weeks I’ve thrown some carrots, ginger, and peas with pasta or noodles (to soak up the broth to make sure the kids get some of it into them) which is really lovely and gives us an excuse to eat some bread. The chicken gets used through the week as sandwiches or wraps (chicken, avocado and basil is our favourite at the moment) or thrown into stir fries or a curry of some description (green thai is our current favourite.)

I’m still buying and cooking beef, which we cook either cook into a simple bolognese, adding extra vegetables to pad it out into two meals-worth, or I skip the tomatoes and mix it up with carrots, brown lentils and cumin. This is my favourite way to eat it. Adding the lentils works really well, making the meat go further, adding healthy protein, and also soaking up the flavours. James didn’t even know they were there the last time I made it.

As for the grains and pulses, so far we’ve had Aduki Bean Burgers, using a variation of the recipe on Veganuary, which went down well with James but were totally overlooked by the two small people; On-the-Fly Hummus (made from a recipe in my head) served with carrot and cucumber crudites, which is lovely; and – a regular on the scene now – Sweet Potato and Lentil Red Thai Curry, yum!

I’m not organised enough to do any meal planning yet. That tends to happen on a day-by-day basis. I’m sure we’d save a bit more money if I could do that but we rarely waste any food so I think I’m doing okay at meal planning on the fly. The main reason to get on top of this would be to reduce my mental load, as I do spend a fair amount of time staring into cupboards wondering what I can rustle up with the contents.

Of course the other way to save money is by growing your own. From the garden we’ve had tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces, and radishes, with more to come.

And then there’s foraging; with so much wild, free food around here it would be rude not too. Both of these activities are also way more fun and interesting (for us and the kids) than a trip to the supermarket! I currently have a huge stash of hazelnuts begging to be turned into cocaonut spread and a similar quantity of walnuts, which I plan to make into pesto. Then there’s fruit – we’ve had damsons, grapes, apples and pears so far this year – and currently it’s mushroom season and foraging is no effort at all as there are field, parasol and even chanterelle mushrooms within 10 minutes walk from here so no excuse and what could be better than a freshly-picked mushroom! Yesterday we ate garlic mushroom and leek risotto (again, swapping the rice for barley) for lunch then used to the walnuts to make walnut, basil and feta pesto for dinner. Yummy! I’ll add the recipes for all these things in future posts.

I doubt it’s possible to live off the land without making that a focus and devoting a good amount of time to making it work, but with the right knowledge plus some outdoor space and access to plenty of water (plus the time to work on it) there’s plenty of opportunity for growing all and foraging year-round and reducing our costs while also ensuring we eat good quality organic produce. Since you pay through the nose for that here (I’ve no idea why it’s so expensive!) growing and finding food is undoubtedly the way to go. Lucky for us that’s one of the reasons we wanted to move here!

Despite not having our own land yet, I’m happy that we’re doing the best we can and it’s nice to be eating better again. Already, only a couple of weeks into the healthier eating regime, I feel better: less bloated and more energised. Hopefully that will translate into a lower blood pressure reading the next time I go to the docs rather than a symptom of the peri menopause, as she suggested. Thanks for that, doc!


Do you have any cost-saving tips for feeding a family? Maybe you’ve relocated from the UK to France or elsewhere in Europe and are surprised by the cost of food and have found clever ways to reduce your bills while also eating healthily. I’d love to hear your tips and ideas!


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Recipe: Homemade CocoaNut Spread

That’s not a typo. It’s basically homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread (otherwise known as Nutella) without all the bad stuff. Before we get started, I must warn you, this is delicious! It’s also vegan, sugar-free, and probably good for you. Not that that matters. It’s chocolaty, nutty and very tasty indeed.

After collecting a crazy amount of hazelnuts and with plenty more where they came from I needed to make some space in the cupboards so it made sense to find something to do with the nuts I had leftover from last year (obviously we weren’t here then – these were kindly given to us by our landlady.) But what to do with them? Hazelnuts, hmmm? For some reason, whenever I think of hazelnuts I think of only one thing: Nutella. Boy, do I love that stuff. When holidaying pre-kids it was one of the staples in my holiday shopping basket of baid-for-you treats. But here I am, trying to keep the kids off the sugar-waggon so the shop-made stuff was out. Could I make it myself, I wondered? A short Google later and a plan was formed. Homemade Nutella!

IMG_0435

Hazelnuts!

As is my usual way with recipes, I read a few, found one I liked then lost the link to it, which meant I was basically making it up as I went along. In the end, the recipe I “used” looks like this:

Ingredients

1.5 cups of hazelnuts
1 tbps coconut oil
2 tbps of cocoa powder

And that is all!

Method

Here’s to do it.

  1. Roast the nuts for 10 minutes at 200 degrees C.
  2. Try remove the shell. There are various ways of doing this. I tried shaking them in a wet towel after roasting but think they may have been just a little bit too well toasted for this to work. Next time I plan to soak them overnight then slipping off the shells before roasting them (as advised by one of my neighbours.)
  3. Whiz up the nuts in a food processor. I’m sure one recipe said to do this for only 10 minutes but I swear it took longer. Put them in a leave it on until the nuts have been chopped down and, with the oils from the nuts, have formed into a paste.
  4. Add the extra ingredients (oil first, if you need to add it) and then cocoa and whizz up again to combine them well.
  5. Pour into a clean jar for storage.
  6. Sample.

Result

I’ve only tried this once so far and didn’t come out quite a I expected as it was really liquid, not at all like nut butter I’ve made in the past.

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

The result: ChocoNut spread – with no nasties!

But what it lacked in visual appeal it made up for in taste. Yum! There was a slightly bitter flavour that we put down to the fact that the skins didn’t come off the nuts. Hopefully removing them will fix that.

I recommend making as much of it as you can then trying not to eat it all at once. On bread. This stuff tastes great slathered all over a fresh, white baguette.

UPDATE! I just stumbled across the original recipe that inspired my DIY attempt. This version is over on The Minimalist Baker and uses real chocolate instead of cocoa while also giving suggested mods for the sugar-free version like mine. Next time I plan to add some vanilla (if I have some) and maybe a little salt too but will still skip the sugar.

A Tiger Moth displaying resting on a cucumber plant leaf displaying its red and black underwing.

A Month of Many Moths

Three weeks or so ago an unusual looking moth arrived in our village. The moths arrived en masse and everyone noticed them. We talked with M, our neighbour, who wasn’t sure what they were and seemed to be suggesting, at least from the way she kept gesturing towards our Morning Glory flowers and the straw bale vegetable patch, that their appearance for the first time was somehow connected with our presence and our strange new ways.

A picture of the Box Tree Moth on a piece of wooden board
One of the thousands (millions?) of Box Tree Moths that have taken over the village

I searched online and didn’t find anything. The next day M told us that she’d heard about them on the news as their arrival was something of a local phenomenon. The species was the Pyral de Buis (Box Tree Moth or Cydalima perspectalis), an invasive species that arrived in Europe via Germany in 2006, reaching France in 2009. Originally from China, it’s preferred food is box wood, on which it lays its eggs before the caterpillars hatch and duly decimate it.

For the first few days we enjoyed the spectacle, especially when, on about day three, an enormous flock of swallows also arrived, eating them on the wing. We would stand on the balcony and give the fence a shake, which would cause a huge cloud of them to take to the air, at which point the swallows would move in, chasing and swooping, picking the out of the air. Here’s a short video I shot on my phone.

​But the novelty has worn off. They are everywhere: in the house, on virtually every leaf, and busy on the figs. They seem to be here for the fruit, with the moths gathering to feed on the figs to the extent that they are crowding out the wasps who usually feast on them! Having read up a bit about them online there’s not much that can be done. There’s a pheromone trap that attracts the males but they’re expensive to buy. Our other neighbour, P, is so sick of them he’s been setting a light trap at night, content simply to reduce their numbers by a few hundred at a time. Not that it makes any difference because they’re everywhere, dead and alive; in the car, the house, in the plants, the washing – basically anything outside. The moths have basically taken over the place! Even the birds can’t keep up, visiting every three days or so, taking their fill then disappearing for a while, possibly to sleep off their feast!

While having a little potter round the village with DS I noticed they were also eating the grapes and asked another neighbour about their impact on the wine harvest, but he said something about pesticides and suggested they weren’t a problem! There isn’t any box wood in the immediate vicinity of here but there is a lot of it around so I would imagine it was being decimated as the only way to rid the plant of the caterpillars is to drench the plant repeatedly with pesticide and no-ones going to be doing that on the necessary scale anytime soon. Nice.

So there’s that.

Another new (to me) moth is this one, which I found sitting on the road.

A picture of a tiger moth, with white and brown wings, on grey concrete.

A Garden (or Great) Tiger Moth, resting on the road

When I moved it to a safer place it opened its wings slightly to reveal the stunning red hindwings. I’ve not seen one before or since so I am glad I got to photograph and identify it. It’s a tiger moth (Arctia caja)! I do think the name is a bit weird because it’s markings are more giraffe-like than tiger-like but hey. I can’t believe I’ve never seen one before, even though they’re listed as common in the UK. Beautiful!

A Tiger Moth displaying resting on a cucumber plant leaf displaying its red and black underwing.

A tiger moth showing it’s red and black spotted hindwings.

There are other creatures I’ve not seen before around but my phone keeps running out of memory so I’ve not managed to get photos, which make identification after the fact a bit difficult. The only other one I can definitely remember is the Slender Scotch Burnet (Zygaena loti), which some of the kids at the school were “playing” with when we were there the other evening. Unfortunately, one of its hindwings was broken and kids being kids they weren’t all that gentle with it. What was nice was that they were really examining it closely, as well as having made a “home” for it out of sticks, twigs, leaves and petals. In the UK this is a priority species listed in the Red Book. I hope they don’t have the same status here in France because the kids really weren’t interested in its conservation value!

One Year On

Yesterday marked 12 months since we left the UK and started our adventure on the continent. We weren’t sure where we’d be a year from now – whether we’d be back in the UK or staying put in France, but here we are.

On the day we arrived, driving from the north to the south of the country, it was 37 degrees and perfect clear blue sky. Today the blue sky is back, for the most part, but the temperature, at 17 degrees C is more reminiscent of the Manchester weather we gladly left behind.

I should really be marking this anniversary with a recap post, looking back to reflect on what we have learned and accomplished in those last 12 months but we’re having one of Those weeks. You know, the ones where things happen and it seems it impossible to get anything done. This week we’re dealing with overdue health checks for me (just routine stuff but nonetheless a challenge in a non-native language), an injured cat (our gentle-giant was bitten badly in the throat by a long-term resident male who spends his days beating up the other cats in the village), an extra day with DD off school as the teachers are all striking today (Macron is threatening to cut the funding to village schools, which will force many of them to close), and a broken car (who knew that moving firewood could do so much damage!). I’ve also been busy back and forward to the creche as we try to settle DS in after our pretty futile attempt before the holiday. So the recap post will have to wait along with a bunch of other things on my to-do list (like getting my business website and CV set up!)

What we have managed to do today is some fabulous painting. Both DD and DS had a great time and I used photos of their paintings to make birthday cards for my nephew and brother-in-law, who both have birthdays next week. That’s one thing ticked off my list – success! Right now I have enough breathing space to rattle this out while DD and DS sleep (jackpot!!) and James it out with the car at the garage. I have the kettle on. Time to relax and soak up the silence.

 

A picture of a kid's painting table

My Little Artists’ Workspace

A child's painting

One of DS’s Creations (c) 2017 🙂

A child's painting

One of DD’s Creations (c) 2017 🙂

 

Family Rides around Lac de Montbel (Part 1)

With the end of the grandes vacances rapidly approaching, I realised I had utterly failed in all of my cycling missions, namely to tick off a few sections (at least) of the Mirepoix-Lavelanet voie verte and also to ride around Lac de Montbel. Both routes are pretty local to me so with a few not-so-hot weather days showing on the forecast I decided to go for it, with Montbel top of my tick-list.

The VTT Pyrenees website lists two main routes around the lake that I figured could be tweaked then reccied for their trailer-friendliness.

  • Route 14, from Chalabre, following the voie verte north then taking a track down to the lake via the village of Montbel – 17km in total, classed as Circuit Familial, graded blue.
  • Route 16, which could also be started from Chalabre, which more or less follows the shore of the lake – 32km in total and classed as Circuit Sportif, graded red.

Since I wasn’t in the mood for tackling a major trailer ride on my own (James was having back trouble and didn’t want to ride and I hadn’t had chance to arrange anything with anyone else) we hatched a plan whereby he would drop me off on the eastern shore of the lake, by the village of Montbel, then drive over to the western shore to wait for us. We would picnic together once we arrived and, in the meantime, I’d get my ride and James would get some peace and quiet. James liked the idea, so that’s what we did. I also decided to strap DD’s balance bike to the back of the trailer as I thought it would be nice for her to have the option of riding too, if she felt like it.


I didn’t bother plotting anything beforehand, no GPS tracks or anything, as it was going to pretty simple, at least that’s how it looked from various maps, so I just set off with the plan to keep the lake on my right and ask for help/directions along the way whenever I wasn’t sure! One of the things I had no idea about was whether the route would be trailer friendly. There was no indication of such online so I was going to have to ride it to find out.

I started to have my first doubts about this within a few minutes of James pulling off in the car when confronted with a steep and sandy bank with a gap only just large enough to fit the trailer. Thanks to the timely arrival of some helpful (and somewhat skeptical) walkers we made it up and over and were on our way. Only a few minutes in and I was already starting to wonder whether this route would be good with the trailer. The path the other side was narrow, not something I’d have worried about usually but given I’d only managed to get a few hundred metres from the start thanks to assistance I was really hoping it would get better. The narrow path was nice for me to ride on but it meant the trailer wheels were dragging a bit on the grass either side and my two passengers were getting bumped around a fair bit. I wasn’t sure they’d tolerate that over 7 miles. Luckily, the first of four dams quickly came into view and the path opened out. So far so good.

The next section of the route was pretty nice to ride, wider for a short while and then into some woods, following the bank of the water. Lovely!


I was just starting to relax when a bloke came hurtling out of the woods and, after a quick exchange of bonjours, started gesturing and saying, “attention!” (which the French say in the same way we would say, “be careful!” Hmm… I flagged him down and asked him what the problem was and he said to be careful because there was a difficult section coming up. Difficult how, I wondered. Then I spotted it. It was one of those fabulous dirt drop ins, a bit like a half-pipe, great fun to ride but not so great with a trailer in tow! I stopped, took a picture (which really doesn’t do the depth of it justice) then backtracked to look for a path that would take me round it. Of course, I wasn’t the first person to pass that way and not like the look of that drop, so there was a path, which I duly pushed the trailer round until I was back on the trail. First hurdle overcome. Yay, onwards!


After that it was pretty easy going again. The track was nice and it was generally wide enough for the trailer to pass easily with the odd tree root to avoid, so it was a case of picking the most suitable line for the trailer so that the littles didn’t get bumped around too much. It was good fun!

About half way to our destination a wrong turn delivered us to a section of the lake where the water was so low I ended up riding beyond the end of a track onto the hard-baked clay, which was interesting! The littlies weren’t too happy about it as it was very bumpy. I was keen to get off it in case there were any soft patches and I ended up stuck and dragging bike and trailer out of the mud. As soon as I was closer to where the shore would usually be I made for the obvious path.

At this point, on a nice flat, wide track, it seemed a good point for DD to have a go on her balance bike. She had a short scoot then assured me that she was worn out and needed a rest – convenient because there also appeared to be some dinosaur-like tree stumps sticking out of the mud that were calling out for exploration. I’m fairly sure she’d have stayed on her bike for longer if curiosity hadn’t got the better of her.


She really wanted to go down and take a closer look so we parked up, liberated DS, and wandered down to check them out. DD was playing with her new dinosaur friends while DS was more interested in the white cranes that we’d disturbed when we rode across the clay and were now coming back down to land near the water’s edge. With the water well out of easy reach to either of them it was a nice place to relax and take a break.


After both passengers had had a reasonable run around and we were all topped up around for a few minutes, I bundled them both in the trailer so we could get on. We’d been gone about an hour and I didn’t want to be out all day in case the sun defied the forecast and came out in full force. Plus, James was waiting for us and I wasn’t sure how easy or hard the rest of the ride would be. I rode back towards where I thought the start of the trail was, had a moment of indecision, turned back the way I’d come, which turned out to be the wrong way (had there been more water it would have been an island), so turned tail again. At this point a small group on mountain bikes were heading my way, making me doubt my indecision! Had I’d missed a part of the trail? Was I in fact going the wrong way again? I stopped to ask if they knew the way, which they didn’t, told them I thought that was the wrong way, then showed them the map on my phone. They seemed quite convinced that I was going the right way, which I was relieved about. After a quick chat with them – about the trailer, the kids, the cycling, the low level of the water, and why I was in France – they set off again, back the way they’d just come, and I followed along. “Have we got some new friends now, Mummy?” DD asked. That’s my girl.

The next section, which I’d been dubious about taking when I first saw it, looked like it was single-track going into the woods. I knew from the map it had been made into a Strava segment so art of me was definitely a bit worried that it might not be good with the trailer. When I ride solo with the trailer I’m pretty good about asking for advice – generally I want to avoid getting lost or running into problems and, as a crowd was forming around the junction of this latest section of trail, I asked a few people whether it would be okay with the trailer. A few said, sure. One woman said that it was narrow in places and maybe the trailer wouldn’t fit. I didn’t understand everything she said but look on her face suggested she really didn’t think it was a good idea. Another was keen to convey that it was bumpy and not flat. Obviously, I’m the wrong person to tell that too! One of the men in the group  I’d just met asked whether I was going to ride it. I shrugged and said I’d try – and we both laughed.

With that my new group of friends set off and I followed. It didn’t take long for them to leave me behind but I found it reassuring that they were in front somewhere and also knowing that there were quite a few people out. The trail was nice to ride, having opened out a bit again, and tt was all going well. Then I reached a point where the trail split into two levels, running side by side, too narrow for the trailer meaning I had to keep one wheel on the higher track and another on the lower one. With the trailer at 45 degrees it was something of a challenge and it was at that point that almost resigned myself to ending my ride. I say almost. After checking the map, I decided to continue on until the next bend, pushing the bike, pulling the trailer (while also putting my weight on it to stop it tipping down the bank). If it had been hard beyond there I think I would probably have turned round but it turned out to be only a short section and we made it. DD was a little upset by it (she was on the side facing down the bank when it nearly tipped over) and DS, the trooper, slept through the whole thing!

After that I was starting to wonder whether the next section would be too much but really didn’t want to have to turn back so asked a few people I came across what was up ahead and no-one pulled any faces or expressed any concern so I carried on. The trail opened up again. Nice. Time to relax and just ride.

A fallen tree later, with help from another couple of cyclists, I was asking another walker for advice. How was the trail up ahead? “Fine”, said the woman (a mother who was with her young son who was riding his bike alongside). “Just watch out for the steep part.” Her husband was there wearing a black t-shirt and he would help, she said.

Onwards, over some roots, riding through the woods, wondering when this next obstacle would present itself, I suddenly found myself grinding to a halt on a steep bank that seemed to come out of nowhere! Thanks to my mountain bike shoes and cleats I had enough grip to drag myself and the trailer up there in one go. Just. Once at the top, I found the couple that had helped me over the tree. We all exchanged “phews!” over the steepness of the trail then I looked in dismay at the descent – a steep, lovely, rideable drop on the mountain bike that was completely inappropriate for a trailer carrying my two most precious possessions. Luckily the guy, who must have seen the look on my face, pointed round to the left where there was another path, which although still quite definitely down was not anywhere near vertical. I thanked him then set off that way  – on foot. It was a bit rocky but the rocks were wide and smooth and it was easy enough to get the trailer over. Once the other side the trail continued as it had before. If the woman I’d spoken to before was right, that was the only bit to watch out for. Good – and according to the map, nearly at our destination.


By now we’d been out for getting on for two hours including stops. As with all activities involving small people there’s a limit to how much can be done, so now I was keen to get back to base and have lunch before anyone started getting stressed or upset. A few more bends later and the final dam came into site. We made it – phew!! I called James, who was having a coffee at the restaurant, and headed down to meet him. He’d had a coffee and went off to get me one, then I suggested take out pizza. The restaurant on the Leran side of the lake does excellent pizza and I felt we’d earned it.

After a very fine picnic – complete with fresh, hot, homemade pizza – we walked down to the water’s edge with our swimming gear. Sadly though it was not to be. The water level is very low this year – hence my being able to ride on what should have been the bottom of the lake rather than the shore – which meant anyone wanting to swim would be standing on clay and rock with the bottom dropping away very fast. It wouldn’t be nice underfoot and isn’t safe for the little ones. We decided we’d had a good enough day out already and headed home.

Thinking about the route afterwards, would I do it again? Would I recommend it as a trailer ride? Well, yes, I definitely plan to do it again. But only if there’s another adult with me. I needed quite alot of help, compared to other rides I’ve done with the trailer, and might have had to turn round or run into trouble if there hadn’t been so many people around. I was fine because it was a busy Sunday in August. On a quiet Wednesday afternoon at another time of year, I might not have been so lucky. Lucky for me I have some other bike-mad parent friends with a trailer and I’m pretty sure they’ll like the sound of it. I’ll recommend it to them, definitely and suggests they come with me next time! But that’s them. Anyone who isn’t excited by the idea of rooty paths and isn’t up for an offroad adventure would be better off sticking to flat or more sanitized routes, like the voie verte or one of the road-based easy routes around Puivert. That’s one of the things I love about the cycling here: there really is something for everyone!

Read all about my second ride to Lac de Montbel in Part 2 (coming soon).

(Copied from my other blog, One Woman Two Wheels, posted on 31/08/17.)

 

Busy in the garden

Over the last few days we’ve been busy in the garden setting up a new project, which is to grow veg in straw bales. This is a tried and tested method that is growing in popularity owing to it’s simplicity as well as the fact that you can get quite high yields from a small space using less water than in a conventional garden. They’re no good for annual crops, like strawberries or asparagus, as new bales are needed each year, but they’re great for pretty much everything else.

As we are short on space and on water, we decided to give it a go. It’s essentially a hydroponics system using straw as the growing medium. As the plants are watered, the straw retains the water as well as releasing nitrogen and generating heat as it decomposes. As well as being super-efficient the method also claims to extend the growing season. Obviously, James is very excited about our gardening experiment and has been initiating DD in the ways of the straw bale. We hope to build our house with these some day (soon?) and, if this all goes well, we’ll be building our veggie patch with them too!

And today I grabbed a few minutes, while DS was pottering around kicking fallen figs down the road, to sort out the seed box (bagging seeds packets by planting month) and sewing some spinach, lamb’s lettuce, radishes and lettuces seeds in the conventional patch, which is now covered up with the netting to try and keep both the cats and birds off. I’m interested to see how these will grow alongside our straw-bale-grown veg, which we can plant in a few days, once the bales have been conditioned, which involves watering them daily and applying a high-nitrogen fertiliser every-other day.

All good fun! All we need now are a few rainy days to break up the sunny ones and everything should grow nicely. What I really don’t need are any more days where the temperature is pushing 30, as that’s what did for my last crop of leafy veg, which we eat a lot of.

One thing we planned to do but didn’t get around to was sorting out the worm bin, which we’ve been happily chucking our waste into. They seem happy enough but James observed that it’s getting a bit soggy in there so we’ve decided to tip it all out and get the worms set up with some new bedding. That will also give us chance to find out whether our worm community has grown since we last freshened it up. If they’re happy they should have multiplied. If not, well, we’re obviously not doing so well at it and need to try harder. Lots to do!