DIY Seed Growing

A lot of our seed growing this year is going to be a very DIY affair. For a start, we collected a LOT of seeds last autumn. We gleaned apples, plums, pears, cherries and walnuts for eating from the trees along the roadsides. We also picked up conkers, sweet chestnuts and wild sweet peas to grow, and saved seeds from our biggest pumpkins.

I cleaned and dried them, and packaged them up in clearly labelled old envelopes – recycling and reusing in action! They seeds spent the winter in a mouse-proof container in the barn to vernalise them, so hopefully they’ll be keen to burst into life now that it’s spring.

Recycling appears again when growing the seeds. I reuse plastic containers of every size and shape. In particular, these large, croissant and pain au chocolat nasty plastic packaging boxes are brilliant as seed incubators. I use zillions of yogurt and other dessert pots too.

And we produce our own DIY compost. Our small black wormery produces lovely compost. This photo shows the top layer with the raw ingredients showing. The worms will process that into rich, smooth, peaty compost over a few months. Everything that rots can go into the wormery, apart from meat and citrus fruit. Dust, hair, paper, cigarette butts, coffee grounds – they’re all brilliant, as well as the usual food scraps.

I shall make a start on germinating my seeds tomorrow. I was going to wait for the polytunnel but it’s so sunny and warm at the moment, it’s a shame to waste the weather. We have plenty of wide windowsills so that’s where the seed nurseries will be going for the time being. Let’s hope my fingers will be green this year!



SWOTs and Elevators

Technical stuff today. I’ve signed up to Darren Rowse’s 31 Days to Build a Better Blog challenge with my Books Are Cool website. Before we started the first day’s challenge, we’re meant to do a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. I vaguely remembered these from my misguided days as an accountant!

From the Book of Kells

So, I’d better do one for this blog too, and also an elevator pitch, which is the first daily challenge. I hadn’t heard that term before. An elevator pitch is a short summary of your site/business/product etc, about 100 to 150 words long. It takes as long to say it as it takes to make a short trip in an elevator, apparently. I can’t remember the last time I went in a lift. And anyway, ever since getting stuck in one with all three kids at Trinity College Dublin, after going to see the Book of Kells, I tend to avoid them like the plague!

OK. Here goes for Blog in France:

Strengths: interesting, varied and readable articles (I hope). I have a body of loyal, friendly readers whose comments I love to read and value very much.

Weaknesses: too unfocussed in what is covered. Too much of a personal blog?

Opportunities: offer more advice, hard facts about living in France. More links to other sites.

Weaknesses: not monetised (had to throw that term in somewhere!) No strong unique selling point.

Whether I shall do anything about my blog in the light of the above, I don’t know. I kind of like it as it is. I love writing it and I enjoy being part of the blogosphere. I’m getting to ‘meet’ some lovely people too. Frankly, that’s enough for me

The elevator pitch would be: The exciting highs and exasperating lows of ex-pat life in France for a family with llamas, carp, kids and other animals.

What would yours be?

And to let you know – Chris is moving us onto a larger server so my blogs may be down for a day or so. But I’ll still be writing my daily post, never fear! I’m going to meet that challenge come what may!

One dog and one kid from the collection

Late Again

Every year we’re late getting going on the vegetable garden. Something always crops up at the wrong time (but not veggie crops). But to be fair, there is only a short window of opportunity between the end of the ferocious Creuse winter and the growing season. I’ve heard that round here you’re crazy to even think of planting anything before March 17th since there can still be hard frosts. And there usually are. And since spring begins on April 1st, in my opinion anyway, you only have a fortnight to get the ground ready for planting.

But today, while I was varnishing skirting boards in the gloom in the gîte, Chris was out in the sunshine on the tractor rotavating the vegetable patch. It was a dandelion field before, as you can see from the photo. Chris has cleared four patches, each two-tractor-widths, with a good path inbetween. We didn’t factor in paths in previous years, and so often ended up treading on our precious veg. Live and learn.


The chickens are busy on it now, rooting out leatherjackets and other undesirables before we start planting within the next week or so.

We eagerly await our new polytunnel. We had a polytunnel disaster last year, as you may recall. We had a week of use from it before it was destroyed in a not-very-strong wind. ADD LINKS We have invested in a good, sturdy, 10 foot by 20 foot polytunnel from First Tunnels. It’ll be coming with all sorts of extras to keep it safely in place in even the strongest tempête. We’ve got off very lightly this year so far, so we’re pretty sure something will turn up sooner or later and rattle the roof for a day or two.

Generally outdoors, everything is springing into life. The oak tree is turning green, the vine is blasting up the wall of the gîte, as is the wisteria which is already flowering. The cherry trees are in blossom and the countryside is looking beautiful with little puffs of white all over it. But the best things about spring are that it means Caiti’s birthday, Easter and the fact that summer is not so far away now. Almost time to open the pool …

Mysterious Meridienne Verte

This blog is in danger of becoming The Headache Diaries. I’ve been stricken down again but so long as I don’t move my head I can manage to type!

Caiti had another rendez-vous at Montluçon hospital this morning. On our way to and fro, we crossed the Meridienne Verte.

This has long intrigued me. I’d ignorantly assumed it was the Greenwich Meridian, and other than find out that there had been a plan, hatched by architect Paul Chemetov, to plant 60,000 trees along it to celebrate the year 2000, I hadn’t looked into it any further. (Not many of those trees have actually made it into the ground, which seems a dreadful shame. It would have been a wonderful project to fulfil.)

But today, immobilised, I decided to investigate more. A quick dig around on the Net and I’ve found out that the Meridienne Verte is actually the Paris Meridian. It cuts through France at a longitude of 2° 20′ 16″ E from Dunkirk in the north (latitude 51° 2′ 10″ N) to Fromentera in the south (latitude 38° 39′ 56″ N). The meridienne goes through the very centre of the Paris Observatory

A commemorative plaque marking the Meridienne Verte in Paris

The Paris Meridian is one of three famous meridians – the other two being the Greenwich Meridian and the Cadiz Meridian. France, England and Spain were the three great naval powers in the past (how ironic that seems now, when Britain doesn’t have an aircraft carrier to call its own any more), and each one came up with its own meridian to help its sailors navigate and to accurately locate ports, colonies and so on. The Paris Meridian was established under Napoleon. The measurements were carried out in 1807 and 1808 by François Arago, together with José Rodriguez et Jean-Baptiste Biot. Eventually, in 1884, the Greenwich Meridian became the universally recognised one, but without much grace on France’s side. As you’d expect! The French stuck with their meridian for timekeeping purposes until 1911 and for navigation until 1914. The competition between the Paris and Greenwich meridians is one element of the plot of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.

The Paris Meridian has its darker side. Not quite an axis of evil, but it’s thought by some to be extremely sinister. In 1994, 135 medallions were put at intervals along the meridian. They’re known as Arago medallions, after François mentioned above. A French conspiracy theorist reckoned these traced an ‘occult geographical line’. There have been a couple of books written about this idea – David Wood’s Genisis (and I’ve spelt it correctly), and Henry Lincoln’s The Holy Place. I for one will be trying to get hold of those. Sounds rather intriguing …


A Great Im-peru-movement

On Ruadhri's wool for the photo

I sorted through the box of unsold shop stock this morning. There’s more than I’d have liked in it. Sadly we’ve found our French customers to be very careful with their money, shall we say! It’s a shame as I’d tracked down some lovely Peruvian trinkets to sell, none of which was expensive. My prices started at 50 cents! I handmade some woolly goods and jewellery too.

However, they shan’t be wasted. I shall do make some im-peru-vements to the gîte with them. First up, the downstairs loo needed a curtain for the tiny window. Well, it didn’t really, since it’s tiny and right in a corner that no-one from outside can see into. But people like their privacy, so it seemed the sensible thing to do to cover it up. I was going to cut up some old lace curtain for it, but then I thought of using the unsold collage instead. It was a little bit short so I added tassles at the bottom, using scraps from my formidable yarn stash. I’m delighted with the end result.





Next up, I shall hang my alpaca wool, alpaca shaped lavender sachet in the wardrobe. (It’s Brendan, our brown alpaca, by the way!)

This legging, again alpaca wool, will become a baguette holder to hang on one of the hooks in the kitchen.

Poor Peruvian villagers make these exquisite little finger puppets. I’ll pop those on pens and put them in a jar on the side in the living room to look cheerful and be useful.

The egg cosies can go in a drawer in case they’re needed.

I’ll leave business cards in a drawer in the llama material credit-card wallet I made.

I’ll hang my silver wire and Peruvian bead jewellery from doorhandles to be pretty.

This little guy can go in the toy box.

What I’ll do with my knit-in-the-round (which nearly killed me!) llama bag, I’m not sure. Maybe a peg bag?

So – recycling and reusing in action, and a bit of home im-peru-vement!

Making up French

It’s easy to make up French words. I do it all the time when I can’t think of the exact one I want. I simply Frenchify the English word I’m thinking of! Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

However, there are certain rules for making up French slang. It’s known as verlan. It changes existing French words into new ones by switching around the syllables, or reading them backwards. French for ‘backwards’ is ‘envers’, and that’s where ‘verlan’ comes from, with an ‘l’ added in the middle. The spelling can be changed a little to reflect the pronunciation.

There are a few different ways to make verlan. When a word has two or three syllables, the second one is put first. For example, ‘bizarre’ becomes ‘zarbi’ and ‘cigarette’ becomes ‘garetci’. On that basis , ‘llama’ would be ‘mala’, and ‘alpaca’ would be ‘calpa’.

For a one syllable word, there’s a bit more cunning involved. If a word has a silent ‘e’ at the end of it, as in ‘moche’ (ugly), then you pronounce it before you make up your verlan word. So ‘poule’ becomes ‘lepou’. If the word doesn’t end with a silent e, then you add one. ‘Foot’ (football) turns into ‘tefoo’.

It starts to get very complicated after that. If a verlan word ends in a vowel, that’s usually cut off, for example. And there’s also reverlanisation, double verlanisation and incomplete vernalisation. I think a grasp of the basics is enough for now!

I got interested in verlan after hearing my kids come out with words like ‘rempas’ (= parents) and ‘béton’ (= tomber, as in ‘laisse tomber’, forget about it). I dug around and found out about it.

(If you’re interested in slang and less mainstream French in general then you should get a Kindle version of Talk Dirty French by Alexis Munier and Emmanuel Tichelli. Very informative!)

Monday Méli-Mélo (mish-mash)

(In other words, manhandling llamas, meetings, more blogging and magazine organising.)

Well, we got the rest of the herd dealt with today, which was a nice surprise. Plunkett didn’t like having his nails cut at all, but he didn’t even think about spitting at us. Llamas and alpacas will spit merrily at each other all day, but very rarely at people, and never without good cause. They’re awesomely good natured. And nosey. The fact all the girls came up to see what we were doing to Plunkett meant that we were able to grab them one by one to be vaccinated and toenail-trimmed too.

I’ve been busy on my Books Are Cool site, getting some book reviews up and organising the section about my books a little better. I’ve changed the template (OK, I got Chris to do it since that sort of thing is sadly beyond me) and it’s more user-friendly. We still need to change the photo at the top. Pretty as it is, I need something book related.

I had another Nouzerines Comité des Fêtes meeting Saturday night. Being a ‘membre actif’ is rather more active than I thought. However, it’s fascinating to get an insight into French village life. There’s more going in within Nouzerines’ small community than I’d ever imagined! Our first event is a jazz concert this coming Friday. The New Washboard Band is very popular around here.

I’ll be putting chairs out on Friday evening, making a cake to contribute towards the refreshments, and tidying up chairs afterwards. Active enough, I think. The meeting went on for ages. I’d cycled down at 8 o’clock since it was still daylight, but of course it was pitch black when I managed to escape at 10, before things had finished. I only had a feeble back light, but it’s quiet round here, to put it mildly.  However, I wasn’t popular as everyone had been worried about me. Caiti had been up to the gate to look for me. So my teenagers do know I exist after all! That’s nice.

Knitting blog week is over, but the organising blog activities are still ongoing. This week’s challenge from is to deal with magazine backlogs. I have one of those with a difference. I have hundreds of copies of very old magazines and papers, some of them well over a hundred years old.

Just a very few of the magazines

I can’t throw these out, obviously, but at present they’re languishing and deteriorating in the barn. My best idea is to sort them, sack and label them and move them into a corner of the loft for safer keeping. I hope to use some of them in future blogs as they are a wealth of interest and information.

Weighing up the Week

Some weeks leave you wondering where they went. This was one of them. It was a bit of a crazy week, but a good one, apart from both Benj and Caiti having days off school due to illness. On the plus side, our first sets of guests in the gite and down at our historic Alder Lake went home on Saturday, very pleased with their time here. They’d made the most of it, despite disappointing weather, and the anglers in the groups caught some fine fish.

Caiti plus carp

Writing wise I’ve been active, but I’ve written about that on my Books Are Cool site, so take a look here if you’re interested in my creative endeavours.

Today we began our vaccination campaign on the llamas and alpacas (with an ivermectin generic). I say ‘began’ because it takes several sessions over a few days. I always hope to get them all done on the same day, but after we’ve caught and treated a few of them, the others wise up to the fact that something is going on and become increasingly difficult to catch. They actually enjoy a good gallop around the field! We don’t. Anyway, we got Seamus, Brendan, Oscar and Denis dealt with, and trimmed two sets of toenails so it was productive. The next two to be processed will be little Elrond and Plunkett. Plunkett especially needs his nails cutting. As for the girls I think are pregnant, I’ll dose them with Panacur. The jury’s out as to whether the other product I use is OK for use during gestation. Some people say it is, some say it isn’t. Hmm. That happens a lot with llamas as most of the pharmaceutical products used on them are ‘off label’ i.e. they’re not actually intended for camelids. Most are for bovines or ovines, and llamas and alpacas aren’t either of those. However, they’re similar enough for most things to work OK.

Ellie and Mellie have evaded capture so far!

I made the most of the beautiful summer weather today to take some photos in Boussac while waiting for judo to finish. I concentrated on the poids public, the public weighstation.

These are everywhere in France and have been preserved as historic monuments. The department in charge of maintaining them is DRIRE (the Direction Régionale de l’industrie, de la Recherche et de l’Environnement). Most of them were installed during the 19th century, but had become obsolete by the end of it. Like Boussac’s, they were usually close to the railway station and market place. Vehicles were weighed on them on the platform.

Boussac’s poids public has been glassed in so that you can see the old mechanism inside. (And see me in the reflection!)

And a final word about knitting to end the knitting blog week. Knitting routines are the subject today. I usually knit on car journeys or in front of the telly, but haven’t done either of those lately. Chris hasn’t driven me anywhere for a while, and I don’t watch telly any more as I keep blogging instead!

But I feel the need to knit, so I’ll just have to blog quicker …

Pêcherie du Frâne

I finally made my long overdue trip to the archives in Gueret. I’m so glad I did. I’ve barely made a start on finding out the history of Les Fragnes – who built it, who lived here, what they did – but I’ve already uncovered one fascinating fact. Our large lake, Alder Lake, is a pre-Napoleonic lake. That is huge in lake terms since it means these lakes have all sorts of privileges and exemptions from normal regulations controlling lakes. And we had no idea! Nor, obviously, did the vendors or the estate agents or they would have made a big deal of it.

I requested the Napoleonic cadastral of Nouzerines, dated 1829. I saw our neighbours’ properties at Montpetut and Les Guérins, but there was no Les Fragnes. There was, however, a lake. Our lake! It was land parcel no. 263. When I looked this up in a weighty register written up in 1829, I found this described as ‘Pêcherie du Frâne’. It’s not too difficult to see where ‘Fragnes’ has come from. Somewhere between now and 1829, the ‘a’ of Frâne lost its circumflex, a ‘g’ got slipped in and it became plural. I’m trying to find out what ‘frâne’ means. It’s an old word and possibly means a landslide or a subsidence, something along those lines. However, I have more homework to do here.

André Beaufils owned this étang. Beaufils is a name I’ve come across before. In the stash of attic treasures, we found a roll of election posters. Marcel Beaufils was standing in the 1910 elections. Also, I’m pretty sure Genevieve Beaufils is written in the front of one of the books we found. I’m about to get very busy!

André Beaufils owned most of what is now Les Fragnes, although M. Parrot had a tiny bit and so did Louis Payat. Possibly François Desfausses, a surgeon in Boussac, also owned a small corner. I shall take the up-to-date cadastral with me next time I go to compare with the Napoleonic one. I’ve yet to track down how many people the land went through before it came to us, but one step at a time!

The archives has an impressive set-up in Gueret. Very helpful staff, plenty of space, and a vast wealth of documents to call up and scrutinise. You can take your computer and camera in. I didn’t realise that before today, so I’ll be back next week to take photos of the 1829 cadastral and the register that goes with it. Absolutely fascinating stuff!

Quickly onto knitting, this being knitting blog week. Today we’re meant to talk about projects or skills we’d like to master. I need to hone up on my four needle skills. You use four needles to knit round objects like hats or socks – anything that you don’t want to have a seam in it. With two needle knitting, you’re always going to have to sew one side to the other. I’d also like to get to grips with entrelac knitting. This looks so impressive, and I don’t think it’s too horrendous to learn – it’s just a matter of making the time for it.




Knitting in Rhyme

A shorter than planned blog for today as I was waylaid by a migraine on Thursday, when I should have been busy blogging. Annoyingly I’m a headachey person, but I live in hopes of growing out of them one day!

So, I will just follow the knitting blog week guidelines for today which ask for something a bit different. I’ve gone for a poem.


I’ve been knitting since I was a very small girl,

Mum taught me to knit, how to cast on and purl.

Actually this is my daughter Caiti when she was a little girl - couldn't find a pic of me!

I wasn’t too hot, I kept dropping stitches,

But all these years later I’m over most glitches.

Rug and slippers for Caiti

I knit clothes and accessories, little and big,

Bootees for babies, a cape for a pig,

I meant guinea pig!

Jumpers and hats, countless mittens and snoods,

Leggings and toys. I’ve even knit food!

My favourite yarns are alpaca and llama

Since these days my job is a camelid farmer.

My ultimate aim is to spin my own yarn

From the fluffier animals down on my farm.

There’s only one knitting thing that makes me frown –

I get in a tizz when I knit in the round.

I much prefer using two needles to four

But I’ll persevere, and I’ll get there, I’m sure.

I love to create. I hate simply sitting.

If my hands are free then you’ll find me knitting!


You’ll find my pattern for the guinea-pig cape here and for my knitted knitting needles here! Incidentally, I’m working on a book of knitting patterns. Knitting for Frenchaholics is the working title. I’ll be showcasing some of the items soon.