Frog Hops, Blog Hops and Hopping Mad

Hopping frogs first. It’s the frog bonking season, and toads too, and every evening there is lots of amorous activity going on along the banks of all three of our lakes. We went on a frog spotting evening walk yesterday. It was great fun. We heard and saw plenty. Sadly photos haven’t worked very well so far, but here’s a nice one of Rors with a frog this morning …

and a rare one of Caiti up a tree!

Now. Blog hops. What’s a blog hop? Right, blog hops allow you to visit other blogs, follow blogs you like, and gain followers. A blog hop is based on a widget, called a linky, that allows bloggers to add their blog to a list. I took part in one yesterday on my Books Are Cool site, slightly half-heartedly I have to admit, since a migraine this week on top of a very active outdoor job schedule put me behind with my preparations for it. I only managed to rattle off a post at the very last minute that wasn’t as good as it might have been. But the St Patrick’s Day Blog Hop, organised by the energetic Carrie Ann Ryan, brought a month’s worth of visitors to my blog in a day. I trust at least some of them will be back. Had I done my homework better and had more to offer in my post, I know I could have hooked a good few. Live and learn.

Anyway, I’ve decided to organise a blog hop myself. It will be the St George’s Day Blog Hop, for British expats’ websites, but Americans, Canadians and citizens of every country are welcome to join in too! I’ll be providing the linky part and will post it soon for you to add your site to, if you want to. On the day of the hop it will be up on my site and anyone who participates in the hop can put it up on their site too. It just means that people who visit one blog see that the hop is on and can easily visit the other sites to see what they’re about. As I’ve already said, hops really seem to work at getting new followers. I’ll design a graphic that we can all put on our participating pages. Should be fun!

All I ask is that you come up with an expat-life-related post for that day, and offer something for free. This can be as basic as a recipe or a list of tips, or a free ebook, or a free offer or free gift, however small. You don’t have to give something free to every visitor, although that helps, but can collect comments to your post and do a single giveaway to the winner when names are drawn out of a hat.

So if you’re interested, let me know …

And finally – hopping mad. GAN assurances are the reason for that. Back in September we paid for the insurance for Benjy’s room at Uni at the Boussac office, in cash. Learn from our mistake. Never EVER pay for your insurance in cash. GAN headquarters is still saying we haven’t paid and today I got a  letter from a debt collection company threatening to shoot us if we don’t cough up. This is despite the fact that I have been into the Boussac office three or four times now over this matter – every time I get a letter saying we haven’t paid – to ask them to sort the matter out. The woman there admits we paid. Benj, Chris and I all saw her take the money, put it in a box and give me change out of said box. However, she obviously didn’t write it down and certainly hasn’t passed on the payment to HQ because we’re still getting harrassed. To say I’m hopping mad is actually the understatement of the year. I shall be in the Boussac office at 9.30 or whenever it is that it condescends to open and will be kicking serious ass. I am so mad about this.

So a closing soothing sunset photo to restore my blood pressure to acceptable levels! Can you see the fish that surfaced just at the right time? Perfect.

Wind Chill – Froid Ressenti – and Ice Walks

Snow covered frozen lake

The phrase froid ressenti is appearing on the weather forecasts a lot these days. It translates literally as ‘cold felt/experienced’ but is pretty much the same as refroidissement éolien (wind chill factor) – nothing to do with windmills (éoliennes) this time!) Frequently the froid ressenti is 7 or 8 degrees colder than the actual temperature. I imagined that someone was estimating this, but the computation of wind chill factor is based on very sound science.

Wind chill is the felt air temperature on exposed skin. The first wind chill formula was created by Paul Siple and Charles Passel while working in Antartica. You can see what must have motivated them! They expressed wind chill in watts of heat lost per square metre of skin.  This didn’t catch on terribly well, so the formula was revised a few times by other people and these days it reflects the notion of equivalent temperature. This is what the formula looks like:

Twc = 13.12 + 0.6215 Ta – 11.37 V+0.16 + 0.3965 TaV+0.16

where w is the wind chill index in Celsius, Ta is the air temp in Celsius V is the wind speed at 10 metres (standard anemometer height), in kilometres per hour (km/h).

Simple! So, the figures appearing on the météo each day have been carefully worked out after all.

Caiti hijacked Rusty Deux briefly!

There wasn’t too much noticeable wind chill today, which has been a balmy minus 4 actual temperature wise, although that’s dropping fast now that evening is coming. We fired up Rusty Deux the tractor to deliver hay bales to the llamas, sheep and goats. Then we drove down to the cabin to fetch the gas bottles. Our central heating is dodgy so we might need to get the gas heaters going.

One way to carry gas bottles around

I love the passenger seat on Rusty Deux. You get great views from up there. It’s quite deadly trying to take photos though, since it’s a bumpy ride and the seat is a small square of metal with a tiny bit of rail behind it so very easy to slip off!

And I did the famous End To End Ice Walk today – my death defying walk across our lake. It’s used to be a Christmas Eve tradition (the rest of the family were nobly prepared to share my pressies between them if I fall through the ice) but the last two years we haven’t been iced up by then. So it’s slipped back a bit. I don’t know how long the lake is exactly but it’s a 10 acre lake so it’s pretty big! It’s also pretty deep so I’m very careful on the way. Any cracks or strange sounds send me scuttling to the bank right away.

Tomorrow we’ll profit from the big freeze to do some tidying up along the banks. There are over hanging branches that need sawing off. It will be a lot easier doing them standing on the ice than from the rowing boat, which is what we’d thought we’d be having to do this winter since it started so mild.

Icicles over the stream

Snow On Tuesday – It’s Cold In Creuse

I’m cancelling Cheese on Tuesday this week because of the snow. We’ve waited all winter for it, so now that it’s here, it’s time for a snowy blog. Boursin can wait yet another week!

Nessie surveys the scene

It’s not the snowiest it’s ever been here at Les Fragnes, but it’s pretty impressive. We were on vigilance orange (orange alert) for snow all of yesterday, but it didn’t start falling till we were walking back with Rors from Nouzerines around half past five last night. And it just kept going. Announcements were made online and on the radio in the evening that school transport was cancelled in Creuse for the 31st Jan so Ruadhri went to bed happy in knowing that he’d be skiving off next day.

Ruadhri in the snow

The animals have varying reactions. Nessie loves it. The young cats were wary at first and aren’t massively impressed but are taking it in their stride. Suddenly Wendy doesn’t look quite so white any more.

Wendy looks a bit grubby!

The camelids are being wimpy so far. They’ve been hanging around the stable and not venturing far. But that could have something to do with the new bale of hay we put out for them in there two days ago. Llamas and alpacas are equally greedy.

No one's going far

The chickens and turkeys don’t like snow. Limpy has found a cosy place to shelter.

Limpy Chick and Number 28

We had a walk round the big lake after we’d sorted out the livestock. The trees are beautiful down there.

And finally my attempt at an artistic shot!

Off to check out what the road is like next and then after dinner I think a bit of sledging is in order. Usually we sledge down the hill and out onto the frozen lake – great fun. However, the lake isn’t frozen yet so we need to remember to brake in time!

Stay safe and warm if you’re snowy too.

 

Dreaming of a Wet Christmas

Haven't had the helicoptor by yet ...

We had a pre-Christmas shock a short while ago. A vanload of gendarmes pulled up outside the house and a significant amount of firepower clambered out. It was gone four o’clock, three days before Christmas. Surely they weren’t here to check Chris’s gun licences or my paperwork for the business. Everything’s in order but it’s still hassle having to dig it all out.

But no, fortunately. Apparently some horses had escaped onto the ‘main’ road and they wondered if they were ours. We only have well behaved llamas and alpacas, cats and a dog who never wander far away from the house, slightly naughty sheep and goats but they’ve never made it off our premises, and completely harmless poultry and guinea pigs here. The horses almost certainly belonged to our neighbour Yann. He has a field-full of heavy horses, Percherons and Bretons. They’re beautiful, gentle creatures. When they’re in the field adjacent to our llama field, the opposing sets of animals spend ages simply looking at each other. After a chat the gendarmes set off to see Yann and probably spend an hour or so helping to catch the horses. It was a good job we’d dealt with the turkeys in the morning. I always dread having someone call round, especially armed law enforcement officers, when either I’m busy plucking or Chris is removing various turkey body parts in the slightly gruesome preparation for the eating procedure.

We’re well known to the local police, but for non-criminal reasons. Since Chris has guns we have to get various permits approved by them every year. So we make several calls to the local station in Boussac or the one further away in Chatelus (depending on where the rural Creuse force, which seems to only consist of a couple of cops, is based at the time) to get that sorted out. They’re always very interested in the llamas. We didn’t recognise any of the gendarmes who called today. I guess they must be the holiday-cover crew, shipped in from somewhere out of the area. I hope they’re used to handing several tons of horse at a time.

An unexpected visit from the fuzz is in keeping with this Christmas holiday so far. It isn’t going according to plan. The weather’s rotten and we’re all full of colds so the crafty activities and long, healthy walks I’d mapped out for us to do aren’t happening. I still have to boil the puddings and make crackers, and I’m not entirely sure I’ve got presents for everyone either! And as well as feeling fluey, Benj is moping. He’s turned soft after three months in an overheated flat in the city. He reckons he’s cold and has borrowed clothes off practically everyone to keep warm. He also has sore teeth after the visit to the dentist on Tuesday and he’s missing his woman/women (more than one name has been mentioned!).

Things are very soggy round the farm at the moment. It’s at its most dismal.

We’ve gone from dry, concrete hard ground to waterlogged muddy mess in the space of a week. We’re on heavy clay here so it goes to crazy extremes. But on the bright side, I don’t have to fill any water buckets up for the outdoor animals. They’re collecting more than enough water from the barn roof.

Gigi refused to come out of the barn till the rain stopped

So, not a great run up to the big day. But there are still a couple of days left to get into the spirit of things. We’re not quite at the ‘bah humbug’ stage yet!

Normally this is a white alpaca in a green field! Poor muddy Mellie!

 

 

DIY Around The Farm

The sudden arrival of winter, and Rors still being sick, has meant Chris and I can’t stray far at the moment so we decided today was the day to tackle some jobs around the farm. It was also the day Denis (the llama) decided to escape, but since he made straight for the girls’ field, as usual, he was very easy to catch. He’s now temporarily in the cooling off stable with Maisy the goat, who decided to go walkabout yesterday. Never a dull moment with livestock.

At least Bertie is well behaved!

Our main job today was to re-engineer the fencing so that the three sheep and Seamus, the alpaca who shares their field, could get into shelter. Up to now they’ve been fine hunkering down under the trees at the end of the field. But it’s getting colder by the day and so they needed to be able to get into one of the stables. To this we’ve had to create a corridor across the front of the llamas’ big field so that the sheep can get into one of the stables near the fron of the barn, and the llamas can get into the larger one at the back. This is only for the next few months, and we also need to be able to get through this fencing several times a day to check the camelids regularly. So we couldn’t do our usual post-bashing-in and nailing-on-wiring routine, which we’re really good at now.

The sheep exploring their new territory

It was time to go scavenging. We rifled through the woodshed and the stables and found some very useful huge bits of wood that we inherited with the farm. Whatever they actually were, they are perfect to keep sheep and llamas separated. (There’s no problem mixing the two species, it’s simply that we need to keep the sheep out of the main part of the llama field since it isn’t sheep-proof along the back fence.) We still have some of our large order of chestnut poteaux (posts) left, so we lugged a few of those into position. Chris dug out extra-long nails and after some enthusiastic hammering, we had a wooden Berlin Wall in place. There’s a wire section at the far end that I can easily unhook to get through, and it’s tractor-wide so we can bring either Rusty Deux or Sea Blue out from the hay barn when we need their services around the rest of the farm.

It won’t win prizes for looks, but it’s effective, and most importantly, has only cost a few euros for the posts and the nails since everything else is recycled. Sure I’d love swanky post and rail fencing and classy wooden gates for my fields, but we’d have to sell the house or the children to afford those so we make do and mend, and very successfully.

A final bit of DIY was needed. The llamas were now cut off from the stable with their bale of hay, which the sheep have delightedly requistioned, so we delivered another one into the top stable. Llamas are notoriously messy eaters. Let them loose on a hay bale and they’ll eat a few mouthfuls but spread the rest all over the ground. They’ll lay on that, then pee on it, and so it’s no longer edible. All very wasteful. Anyway, we’ve called their bluff. I’ve constructed another effective mangeoire out of pallets. The first model, top of the range, used bungees, but this one is using string. Works every bit as well!

The llamas approve!

Now our animals can stay well fed and warm in even the worst blizzard, which is probably more than could be said for us! Even with all Chris’s hard work on exterior plastering and constant upgrading of the insulation, there are draughts here and there in the house when the wind really gets going. And I must go and do a winter reserves shop to stock the cupboards up ready for the inevitable session, and usually several, of being snowed-in for days on end. We’ve been lulled into a false sense of security with the mild November and relatively kind winter so far. Time to act.

Turkey proof gate - patent pending

 

Autumn on the Farm

Is there any such thing as a typical autumn day here at Les Fragnes? Definitely not. Everything depends on the weather and what has suddenly cropped up as being unputoffable. We have a ‘to do’ list to keep us vaguely on track but that rarely gets stuck to for long since life is unpredictable. Yesterday we had to postpone all plans and do some llama fencing repairs since Vicki had taken to jumping over a low section of it. It was only low because other llamas had squashed it down by leaning over to eat grass from the other side. And the polytunnel had annoyingly developed a hole by the door which we had to fix.

The hole is to the right of the end door

We weren’t impressed with the way you had to pleat the plastic around the doorways when we constructed the tunnel, something I  mentioned here, and it’s proving to be the tunnel’s Achilles’ Heel. Chris has rebattened everything so we hope it will hold this time.

I found time to a bit of indoor seed planting once the repairs were finished, and before the polytunnel got too warm to comfortably work in. It’s quite incredible how efficient it is. It’s hot inside in November.  I’ve put in a load of medlar stones and woad seeds, some honey locust seeds and some as yet unknown seeds I picked up in Limoges on Sunday. They came from a small yellow pod from a tree with ash-like leaves but thorns. Any ideas what it might be? I’ve also shoved a whole honey locust pod into a seed tray (ex-croissant box!) to see if that works better for germinating purposes, rather than depodded seeds. Time will tell.

I also planted some gingko fruit. Gingko take over as the trees lining the Avenue Albert Thomas in Limoges at its end closest to Benjy’s University residence. These are beautiful trees with fan-shaped leaves. However, the fruit stinks. It smells like vomit, due to a high butearic acid content. Benj was horrifed as I scooped some of the small golden plum-like fruit into a plastic bag to bring home and try and get to germinate.

Gingko

Back to today. We opened up the hangar to put Sea Blue, the little tractor away. The llamas staged a mass break-in which made us suspect they’re a bit peckish.

There’s still plenty of grass in their fields, but llamas don’t eat near where they poo – and they poo everywhere. Male llamas are generally fastidious and have one neat and tidy pile. But not the girls. They crap everywhere. This means there’s a good proportion of their field that they won’t graze in. So, we decided we’d better move a bale of straw out into the shelter for them. This takes time. We have to move stuff out of the way, keep driving the llamas and alpacas out (they always come straight in), encourage chickens to get from underfoot and undertyre.

Waiting to break back in!

We had to evict Roly Poly from what’s left of Rusty II’s tractor seat – he’s our big bale-moving tractor – and then do the actual physical moving of the straw.

I'm sure she's telling us to go away and mind our own business! Look at that expression.

Chris is one mean tractor driver now! Driving these antique machines isn’t easy. Each one has its own very distinct foibles and you never know what’s going to suddenly stop working or drop off! I’m talking tractor here, not Chris.

Picking up the bale of straw ...

 

... then delivering it through a very tight doorway

The llamas will soon spread the straw everywhere so the next job on the list is to tie pallets around it as a no-budget bale holder, or mangeoire. We looked into buying one but they’re a good few hundred euros each. That would keep Benj in pasta for several years, so we’re going the DIY route.

The rest of the day will be indoors since strong winds and rain are on the way. I have half a sack of windfall apples and pears to process and then I must get some work and admin done at the computer. But to finish a pic of our black male turkery who is permanently displaying and gobbling at the moment. Even the sheep is impressed!

 

What’s in a Name?

Several visitors to the farm have asked me what the ‘Fragnes’ in its name, ‘Les Fragnes’, stands for? And these visitors have been French! If they don’t know, then there’s not much hope for me. We had a theory that it might mean ‘hovel’ since there were two of them when we bought the place. (I’m glad to say they are hovels no more.) Not so very far away, across the border in Indre, is Le Fragne. I took the kids there for a look around, but I didn’t spot one of anything that we have two or more of here. So I conclude that ‘Fragnes’ is just a name.

Nestlé Moschops (Nessie for short) bravely hunting voles last winter

There are other mystifying names on our farm. These belong to the animals which the children are usually responsible for naming. There has been The Big Cheese (a rabbit), Panic Attack (a duck), Dreadnought (another duck), Evil Twin (a cat) and Leopard (a bantam). The currently best-named animals are Nestlé Moschops the dog and Majority the hen.

Since The Big Cheese we’ve given up naming the rabbits. They’re not pets, shall we tactfully say? I originally had a very organised plan of naming each litter with a particular letter of the alphabet, working our way through systematically. Letter A went well, as the buns all looked different from each other. However, next came a litter of clones which made it trickier. Then we sadly lost a couple of litters. Should we count those in the alphabetical run through? The system crumbled. So these days the latest female to have babies is always Momma Bun and if we give names at all to the offspring, they’re pragmatic ones like ‘And Gravy’, ‘Curried’ or ‘Tagliatelle’. (Do try Gordon Ramsay’s rabbit tagliatelle, by the way. Excellent.) We’re currently running down our stock of bunnies as we’re not especially fond of rabbit, apart from the tagliatelle dish, and they’re a lot of work.

Our first two turkeys were suitably and purposefully called ‘Cranberry Sauce’ and ‘Stuffing’. But since then we haven’t named them beyond temporary nicknames. At the moment we have White Turkey and Black Turkey. Black Turkey should really be Grey Turkey as she’s a dinde grise, but compared to our other turkey, she’s black! Both have been laying eggs for us, so they’re no longer oven-bound. Black Turkey is broody at the moment, sitting on three duck’s eggs which may be fertile. We had two batches of bantlings last year i.e. ducklings hatched and brought up by bantams. Will this year see turklings?

Our guinea pigs began with a gem theme, with Amber, Ruby and Jasper. We diverged slightly into fossils, Ammonite, and then an astromonical theme took over – Supernova, Stardust. Since then it’s become a free for all. We have Poorly Pig who was attacked by a cat when she was tiny and was very poorly for a while: there’s Archer, Mario, Blackberry and Scratchy – the latter because she is. Amongst the poultry we have Sham, Puma, Matilda, Hotel (he’s a duck and his mate was Tokio – but she flew away! If you don’t get that reference, then ask any tweens or teens in your household.)

Windermere Lady Coulemelle (aka Windy) - a calm, serene lady

The llamas and alpacas mostly have sensible names – Katrina, Ciara, Oscar and Bernard, for example. More unusual is Windermere Lady Coulemelle – but we didn’t come up with that one. She was prenamed by llama breeder Bernard Morestin. He called her Windermere after the lake and Coulemelle because she was an October baby and there were coulemelles (a type of mushroom) growing in the fields. She was also a similar colour. I think he added Lady because it sounded nice. We also have Lulin, named after the comet that was in orbit over the earth when she was born. It’s a cool name for a llama.

So what’s in a name? Quite a lot on our farm!