Easter Morning – Treasure, Lambs (Chocolate) And Seeds

I was up at the crack of dawn – well, OK, 7 o’clock but it felt like the crack of dawn – laying out the clues for the Ruadhri’s Easter Egg treasure hunt and Caiti’s Easter geocache trail. It’s our Easter tradition to make the kids work for their chocolate.

One of Ruadhri's clues

A cuckoo was calling and I caught a glimpse of it flying between trees.

A geocache for Caiti

There were some deer in Dog Leg Field which I saw and the cats saw, but Nessie the dog didn’t!

Unobservant dog in foreground, deer in background

Dog Leg is a huge field, currently with cereals in but we’re thinking of grassing it for next year.

Wendy and Voltaire tagged along too in case food was involved somewhere. They went on strike part of the way round.

Can has rest pliz? (I'm speaking Lolcat here btw)

Rors was soon up and completed his trail successfully, without any help at all. He demanded harder clues for next year! They weren’t that easy, but I learnt not to be too cryptic with our Benj. He’d get into such a sulk if he couldn’t work out a clue. So, Rors got his reward – possibly the only lamb we will see today. No. 27 is still holding out but her belly is practically dragging along the ground so surely it can’t be much longer now!

Easter chocolate lamb

I did Easter boxes for everyone this year, including Chris. He got a garden gnome for the polytunnel and coriander seeds in his.

Talking of seeds, we’ve found a good way to get seeds germinating. One lot of tomatoes and my anis (aniseed) and pepper seeds were staying soundly asleep, so we sprinkled some more onto damp tissue which we rolled up and put in a plastic bag in a warm spot – on top of the fridge just above the heat displacement thingy. Lo and behold, they’ve sprung into life.

Sprouting anis seeds

I’ve also been making some recycled seed pots out of toilet roll inners. Very easy. Cut five slits  a couple of cms long at roughly even intervals around one end and then tuck those in and you have a little pot. They tend to be a bit wobbly so you’ll need to put them in a container of some sort or tie them together with string for stability in the greenhouse. But once the seedling is growing well, dig a hole and shove them out as they are into the garden. The cardboard will soon rot away and you’re left with your healthy plant.

That's my homemade egg rack in the background, courtesy of Rors and Chris

And don’t forget to enter the Expat Blog Hop on 23 April. No catches, just fun! Sign up on this page.

All that remains is to say is Happy Easter!

Rors and his Easter box of surprises





Expat Blog Hop

Expats everywhere, please join in a blog hop on 23rd April. It’s intended as a bit of fun and to attract new readers to your blog. I’ve been in a couple of hops now and they really do draw in the crowds.

Please do a post on that day about anything at all to do with your life as an expat and offer a prize for one lucky winner whom you’ll pick at random, or a freebie for everyone. The freebie can be a local recipe, list of tips for expats, screensaver – anything along those sort of lines that you can create easily and freely and so won’t bankrupt yourself dishing out! If you opt for a prize, again, don’t go mad. Something worth a few euros is more than adequate. This isn’t a mega serious marketing drive after all.

If you want to take part, please sign up below – the bit where it says ‘Click here to enter’. This list closes on 21st April. On the 22nd, I’ll send you a list of all participating blogs to put on your site below your post on the 23rd so that folk can hop off to the other blogs who are signed up. That’s how the thing works!

Please join in. The more the merrier. Any queries, give me a shout via the comments below or the contact form.

Letter From The Président

I’ve been rather neglecting politics lately, having been preoccupied with anglers and sheep. (Still no lamb or lambs from No. 27. No. 28 is a little less splotchy now. We’re still giving her a dietary supplement on her granules twice a day – easy peasy – and that penicillin injection every night – not so easy, but once you’ve got a good grip on her wool she goes quiet. And I haven’t gone into anaphylactic shock through a misadministered jab yet either – so far.)

But back to the forthcoming elections. They’re starting to loom menacingly on the horizon. The Mairie at Nouzerines has erected extra wood panelling for a concerted postering campaign. This morning one of the commune’s employees was carefully measuring up and marking lines on the boards, making sure that each of the ten of the them was exactly the same size! I held the end of the tape measure for her while we were waiting for Ruadhri’s school bus to arrive. I’ve told you before how good I am at holding things when I’m helping Chris.

Both Sarkozy and Hollande have sent me long letters. Sarko’s first. This is a LONG letter. It opens with the first couple of sentences in handwriting. I think we’re meant to think that he handwrote the whole thing. It would have taken him about a week if he had. However, it’s a nice touch and encouraging to see that the Président has worse handwriting than I do. So what does he say? He’s glad to be contacting me directly without  going through an intermediary. Well, who wouldn’t be! He talks about the new world that’s being born – one with financial crises and strong non-Western powers emerging in the world, i.e. China. He goes onto security, mentioning the recent events in Montauban and Toulouse and emphasising that France must be well armed and strong. Ideologies of hatred and delinquence won’t be tolerated. Europe is a good thing and France will remain an open country where other people of other nationalities can come and live, but they must be prepared to embrace the French way of life and contribute to it. But he’s not prepared to go as far as giving us the vote, tant pis. Responsibility, professional training, young people, nurturing rural areas – he talks about it all. I lost interest by page 27 of the 39 of the document, I confess. But it’s impressive to get something like that. I never had anything similar in the UK or Ireland.

Hollande’s ‘letter’ is actually the talk he gave on 4 April at Rennes. There are an awful lot of exclamation marks. Should I take him less seriously than Sarkozy? It’s very rousing with paragraphs such as this: Mon message est simple ce soir, et je le répéterai autant de jours qu’il conviendra. Il faut changer : changer d’avenir, changer de politique, changer de président ! Je veux être le président du redressement, le président de la justice, le président du rassemblement, le président de la jeunesse de France ! (My message tonight is simple and I’ll repeat every day between now and the election. We need change: we must change the future, change politics, change the President! I want to be the president of putting things right, the president of justice, the president of gatherings, the president of the young people of France!)

And so on and so forth. It’s not as meaty as Sarko’s missive and again, my eyes glazed over before I got to the end. But that’s me and politics. However, I did try to read it all!

The current favourite is Sarko by a whisker. Since he’s the only pro-Auto-entrepreneur candidate out there as far as I can make out, I’ll be happy enough if he gets in, although I hope he will make more of an effort to curb the spending excesses and be more in touch with the majority of French people i.e. hard working, non-wealthy people. But we’ll see.

Ruadhri’s Radish Recipe

The radishes are already starting to build up. They’re doing brilliantly in the polytunnel. I’m pleased to say that most things are thriving as well, apart from the peppers, which I can’t get to germinate, and the spring onions. Those were very old seeds though.

Ruadhri loves radishes served with butter and salt, à la française. He frequently fetches a plate for me or Chris bearing a radish accompanied by enough butter and enough salt to clog our arteries permanently! We nibble judiciously.

Here’s how to do serve them with a little more restraint.

Cut a small sliver out of each radish and replace it with a thin sliver butter. Gently sqiashing a tiny amount of margarine into the gap works just as well. Serve the radishes on a plate, either with a small amount of salt for them to be rolled in before eating, or with the salt in a bowl for them to be dipped into. It’s a very tasty combination and extremely more-ish. Which is just as well, since these are only the first of many hundreds, possibly thousands, of radishes that we’ll be growing this year!

A Country Veterinary Surgery

Sheep drugs

A vet’s surgery in a very small rural town is an interesting place to be. I called into ours today to pay for Friday’s call-out and get some drugs in to treat No. 28 as I haven’t seen any sign of placenta yet.

Spring being the season of animal births, there were several farmers there, who, like me had come to stock up on treatments for their animals. One guy took away a whole boxful of the suppositories that I administered to my ewe. Smallholders and farmers treat their animals as much as they can themselves. You can’t be calling the vet out for every injection you need to give. Vets are only for emergencies and the skilled things that you can’t possibly do yourself. I need to inject No. 28 with 10 mls (that’s a lot!) of anti-biotic for the next 5 days and give her a small oral dose of a very herby concoction. Today we mixed it into her sheep pellets, but she wasn’t having it. We’ll have to get it into her mouth in a needleless syringe tomorrow. The injecting bit was fine. The only tricky bit is catching her to start with! But once Chris had a good hold, like the llamas, she simply gave up and waited to die and I got the needle into her shoulder muscle, no problem. I’m being very careful. We’re giving her penicillin which I’m extremely allergic to! One false move and Chris will need a new wife.

The veterinary nurse rummaged around in the pile of invoices on the desk to find mine. The surgery is very trusting, this being a small town, and know you’ll turn up at some point to pay. From the look of them, some of the other invoices had been there quite a while.

There weren’t just farmers there. There was a very typical older French lady with her Frou-Frou i.e. lap dog, waiting to see the small animal vet. Both owner and dog were very elegant.

I fell somewhere in the middle between the two sets of customers. We’re not proper farmers but we have large livestock. But we don’t have pampered pets either. Ours pretty much fend for themselves! Actually, that’s not quite true. We look after them properly and keep them fed, wormed and loved. Also I wasn’t in wellies like the farmers but I wasn’t quite elegant. I was in my

Pregnant No. 27 in the foreground

going-out clothes. Chris and I literally only have one set of these each We spend most of our life in outdoor scruffies, some of it in cycling gear and a very small percentage of it in outfits that, aptly enough, are fit to go out in. It’s quite a joke with the kids. If they see me appear in my hippie patchwork trousers, they know I’m heading off somewhere where I’ll encounter members of the public. Once when I turned up to a meeting at Ruadhri’s school, he remarked: “I knew you’d be wearing those clothes.” Possibly it would be nice to have another pair of best trousers but there are always other things that take priority, like food and sheep drugs.

And talking of sheep again, I was convinced No. 27 was going into labour last night since she was restless and panting a lot. I checked her every hour until about 3 am when I lost the will to live through sheer exhaustion and crashed out, but Chris took over from 5am. And she hasn’t given birth during the day, so it could be another tiring night. I’m determined not to lose any more lambs. Fingers crossed things will go well.

Two French Hens vs 300 kg Of Rubbish

The French village of Pincé in Normandy has got it right. The Maire is proposing to supply two chickens to every household that wants them in a bid to cut down on organic waste. Chickens eat up to 150 kg of food a year. That’s a lot of leftovers they could be converting into eggs – hens lay 200 a year – and handy manure. Chicken poop is wonderful stuff for the garden.

There are many benefits to the scheme. Companionship for lonely, older people is one. Chickens are fascinating birds and become quite friendly. Our Sussex hen, Cynthia, follows me everywhere and allows all of us to stroke her. And when a chicken owner has to go away for a few days, they’ll need to ask a neighbour to look after the poultry, which will get them talking and co-operating. That doesn’t always happen on its own.

I’ve mentioned the eggs already. By providing fresh, free-range eggs to the owners, these chickens will make a small contribution towards decreasing the traffic on the roads since fewer eggs will need to be carted to the shops. And how many times do folks nip out just to buy eggs, which are a fairly crucial foodstuff, using a small amount of fossil fuel and contributing  a few grams of carbondioxide to the atmosphere? Quite a few I’m sure.

With less rubbish to throw away, since it’s being eaten by chickens, households will produce less waste which will mean less going to landfill. That can only be good. A chicken costs a few euro. It costs a lot more than that to remove and dispose of 150 kg of waste produce.

I sincerely hope other villages will copy Pincé’s example and hand out free chickens to people who want to make a real contribution towards greener living.

Palm Sunday (Rameaux) From Both Sides

Palm Sunday started on Saturday with a rare service at our 12th century church, St Clair’s, in Nouzerines. It’s seldom open so we make sure we go to every event that’s held there to show our support for this wonderful building.

The service was taken entirely by lay preachers. In generally pedantic and rule-following France, that was something of a surprise. Generally everything has to be done by someone with proper qualifications in triplicate. I guess that there’s not enough priests to go around any more.

Another surprise was that Chris was asked to carry the cross in the opening procession. Stéphanie, who led the service, pounced as we came in the door. Chris was delighted to be asked, but a little embarrassed since he, Rors and I had cycled down, so he was wearing cycling longs and a bright yellow cycling jacket. He removed the latter – to reveal his very old Denis the Menace jumper! But nobody seemed to mind his unconventional appearance and he did a very good job. The cross, a jug of water and a picture of Jesus were left on the altar.

The most interesting feature of the ceremony was the blessing of buis, boxwood or box elder, at the end. Those in the know, that is everyone except us, had come clutching a generous spray of it. There was a basket with some in at the door for people who’d either forgotten or never known to bring their own. The water from the jug, which was blessed during the service, was emptied into the font at the end. Then as people went out, they dipped their buis into the font, gave it a little shake and took the damp shrub home to display in the house over Easter.

Today, the day itself, we saw the secular side of Easter preparation celebrations. It was the school chasse d’oeufs, Easter Egg hunt, this year at the stadium in Nouzerines. We cycled down again and were nearly late since I had to do a last minute bike swap due to a puncture. It was its usual happy and disorganised chaos. Rors found five eggs and claimed his prize.

It was a fundraising do, naturally, but I was happy to buy the two very impressing objets (objects) – that’s how the teachers described them! – that Ruadhri had painstakingly made. Rors isn’t a great one for crafting so these took real application and dedication on his part. First there’s a noteholder with a wonderful pin and cotton éolienne (windmill). Rors chose to do the background in my favourite colour blue and added some pretty ribbon round the edge.

And the other gift was a tissue holder made from layers of card and wallpaper. I’m mega impressed and now have high expectations for what’s coming my way on Fête des Mères at the end of May. And that one will be free!

Sheep Shenaningans

Suffolk lambs. Pic from highfieldhousefarm.co.uk

Yesterday was a heavy, sheep centred day.

Our lamb breeding programme got off to a sad start. We went out yesterday morning to check the ewes, and found a lamb’s head protruding from No. 28. We rounded her up and took her to a stable. I felt the little head and it was icy cold. Poor mite had been dead a while. I tried some gentle manipulation but couldn’t move it so we called in the experts. It took the vet a good ten minutes to manouevre the baby out – a pretty little male. My heart bled for the ewe during the internal rummagings. Any mum who has had medical hands up her during labour can totally sympathise. It’s agony – more than enough to make you hate, loathe, despise and detest all doctors and midwives forever, and to plan prolonged and painful ways of separating the guy who knocked you up from his manhood! And don’t get me started on the indignity part of it all. However, Mother Nature is a cunning woman. The moment your bawling baby is placed in your arms, you explode with love and forgive the hospital staff and remember that the father of this little miracle is the most fantastic person alive. You forget all about the painful part – until the next time you’re in labour!

I digress. While we’d first been dealing with No. 28, , the ram, had been a complete nuisance. So we decided the time had come. To cut a long story short, by lunchtime he was ready for the freezer. This wasn’t a straightforward matter. Hoisting a sheep’s carcass up for processing is a big job. We started off manually, heaving him up over a beam in the barn but soon discovered that Rameses weighed a lot more than I did. Chris asked me to shove my weight on the rope at one point so he could free his hands for a moment. So I plonked my feet in the loop of the rope. I went up. Rameses went down. Back to the drawing board.

We decided to use the autoportée, the ride-on mower, to provide the pulling power, but the battery was flat. So we pushed that out of the barn, and Chris went to get Sea Blue the tractor. While he did, I was in charge of opening the second barn door so the tractor could drive into the barn. We don’t often open that door but had never had problems with it before. But today, of course, it wouldn’t open. It had swelled up in the warm weather and was catching on a bit of wood nailed to the top of the doorway. We’d never noticed that before.

We resorted to more manual pulling and grunting with stronger straps – the washing line we’d been using had snapped – but to no avail. We had to get the barn open so we could use the tractor. So off we went to get the big ladder. Our barn doors are huge. Chris went up with a hammer to deal with the offending bit of wood. He was nearly at the top of the ladder when the tractor suddenly began to roll backwards. All we could was watch. I was on the bottom rung of the ladder, keeping it steady so couldn’t move, and Chris was ten metres up. Luckily Sea Blue didn’t go far and didn’t hit anything en route.

Ladder down and door finally open, Chris went in with Sea Blue and we soon had Rameses’ remains where we wanted them. Chris got busy, ably assisted by his fetcher and carrier and holder-stiller i.e. me, soon we had a nice lot of lamb for the freezer.

Yesterday evening, I had to administer this suppository to No. 28. There’s a first time for everything, as they say. This was my first time inserting things into a sheep. She was as good as gold, bless her. Another dose today, and then we’ll put her back with her sister, No. 27. I don’t think she’s passed her placenta yet so we’ll be keeping a close eye on her and will have to deal with that problem fairly soon if there’s no change.

No. 27 wasn’t very happy finding herself alone for the first time. We thought that Maisie the goat might be welcome company so we put her into the sheep field. However, Maisie, usually the quietest and sweetest animal imaginable, took against No. 27 and started butting her, so she came straight back out. No. 27 decided to make less fuss if this is what was going to happen to her and has been fine ever since. We’re watching her like a hawk since her lamb or lambs are presumably due imminently. Hopefully all will go smoothly this time round.

Impulse Buying – Achats d’Impulsion

I made an impulse buy this morning. And I’ve bucked all the trends by doing so. I’ll explain.

1. According to research, impulse buys are most likely to happen in large towns and cities, and not in rural areas. I made mine at quiet Boussac’s Thursday market.

2. Young people are the biggest impulse buyers. Up to 90% of under 25s impulse buy, whereas it’s only 37% of 50 year olds. I’m not quite 50 yet, so there was, let’s say, only around a 38% chance that I would make an achat d’impulsion today. But I did.

3. Men are more likely to impulse buy than women. It’s true. And they spend more. In the UK men spend £25 on impulse buys, against £19 by women. This is a scary amount in both cases and adds up to around £70,000 over an adult’s lifetime. Wow! Well, I’m not a guy, but I also didn’t spend £19. I’m still not fitting the profile.

4. The most popular impulse buys are clothes, DVDs, books, booze and magazines. My purchase didn’t fall into that category.

So – what was my impulse buy? Two cou-nu chickens, about 5 weeks old! They cost €2.80 each.

Arriving home

It’s Chris’s fault. He needed to go to the hardware shop for some more plumbing bits and pieces. He persuaded me to come along for the ride, since I’m a bit down in the dumps at the mo. So I did. And after we’d been to Boussac Brico, we decided to stroll round the market. This ended up with us going to the poultry stall to order our turkeys (5 whites, 2 bronzes and 2 blacks this year), and that’s when I made my impulse chicken buy.

Now I unexpectedly had my young chickens, I needed food for them. I only have blé at home. So we had to go to Gamm Vert for that. That’s a garden centre, so that meant we also ended up buying more seeds, and also 15 lettuces and 12 beetroot seedlings to inspire our struggling ones at home. See what a slippery slope this impulse buying lark is?

Still, that should satisfy my coup de tête retail therapy urges for a while. Chris can breathe easily again!

Settling in


Pocket Money or is it Pokémon Money? – L’Argent de Poche

Ruadhri and I went to Guéret today. I was due for a minor skirmish with French bureaucracy, which has left me with my usual fonctionnaire-induced headache, but Rors had happier reasons for tagging along. One was a visit to the library. Our archictecturally state-of-the-art bibliothèque, built at a walloping cost of €10,000,000, rarely condescends to open and actually let the taxpayers who footed the bill use it. But we caught it off-guard today so Ruadhri stocked up on BDs (comic books) while I made a beeline for the CD department and went for LinkinPark, Travis and Soft Cell.

Ruadhri’s next port of call was Monoprix where he invested his recent takings from the tooth fairy. He’s lost a lot of baby teeth lately and the tooth fairy has been better than usual at remembering to give him a euro for each one. (The French one is a bit scatty and it’s not a done deal that she’ll put money under the pillow the same day the tooth comes out – or even the same week, or occasionally the same month. I think she gets carried away blogging.) Rors is currenly into Pokémon figurines and he’s added a two new ones to his collection today. I got their life histories on the way home but it went in one ear and out the other, I’m sorry to say. After having three kids who were into this Japanese phenomenon, I’m all Pokémoned out and tend to shut off when any of the little fighting critters are mentioned.

Ruadhri’s purse is just about empty now and I realised that we haven’t given him any pocket money for ages. We’ve always been rather erratic with pocket money. We prefer the kids to earn it doing little jobs around the place for it, but strangely they don’t seem to share this view. So every now and again I give the older two a tenner, and Rors is generally allowed to hoover up the loose change from around the place. They don’t need a lot of spending money. We buy the stuff they need for them. What they do get is just for luxuries. Anyway, Caiti earns money from giving English tuition to a little girl so she’s self-sufficient, and Benj has his grant to live on.

I did a bit of research to see if French parents are as lacking as I seem to be when it comes to l’argent de poche for their kids. 3.3% don’t give any at all, and the majority don’t start handing it out until their child is 10 or older. So Rors hasn’t done so badly after all. At least he’s had some under that age.

What’s the going rate? It’s impressive. The average amount for a 13 year old is €15, and it rises to €30 for 16 year olds, and some older kids even get €100. Seriously. That seems rather over the odds to me, but perhaps in two-income households, it’s manageable. Somehow I don’t think many self-employed people or parents running small family businesses can hand out that much regularly, if ever.

Grandparents come in handy with bungs for the kids. We ran out of grandparents 11 years ago so that’s an income stream our three have been deprived of too. If they read this (Caits and Benj usually do) then they’ll be feeling very hard done by. Sorry lads!

However, there is a general trend that as children get older, they’re expected to earn their pocket money, at least to a small extent. So I feel less of a meanie now.

To finish, a gratuitous cute kitty photo. Here’s Wendy after licking out the spaghetti bolognese pan this evening …