Coiffures and purple hats…

It was time for a change…and anyway, I had made a slight mistake with a ‘change’ of hair colour and it had turned a subtle shade of green….brown green……

So with much hoo-ing and haa-ing I took a chance on a different hairdresser in the village and decided to go short and hopefully get it back to the usual blonde.  As with many villages in France, there seem to be an abundance of three services and our local village is no different.  As small as it is, there are 4 hairdressers, 3 optometrists and 3 patisseries.  It’s almost as though you need to ‘see’ your new haircut REALLY well and the either celebrate or commiserate it with a pastry.  Either way, it’s become a joke between us to count the number of all three in the tiniest of villages.  I hadn’t had time to go to a hairdresser and eventually thought it might make me feel less frazzled after a busy Summer so I went to one..which was a total disaster as the whole salon was as quiet as a graveyard and about as serious..and the lady in charge attacked my hair with a ferocity that bought tears to my eyes.  So when I say ‘I took a chance on a different one’ I went there in slight fear and trepidation but armed with a photograph of what I was hoping it would look like..sort of.

When I stepped through the door and walked inside, it was to be met with violet walls and a vibey relaxed atmosphere.  The hairdresser came towards me with open arms saying ‘Don’t worry!  I can speak English’ which I discovered was the only sentence she knew.  And after being pampered with coffee, being told off for having green hair and for much discussion in fast french about the photo, she began by ‘returning it to it’s original colour’ and then ‘flourishing it with highlights’.  Cool!  I was delighted and we had a good chat.  I wanted to practice my French which I did, she wanted to practice her English, which she didn’t and we got on really well.  When I expressed my delight in finally finding a great hairdresser she informed me that ‘finding a good Coiffure is more important than finding a good husband!’ The Dear One wasn’t so impressed when I told him that but I came out of there feeling a million bucks and decided to go clothes shopping as well.

It’s weird how you have moments in life where something clicks and you feel a little more comfortable or at home.  It’s not very often that I get to go out totally on my own as the Dear One and I usually run various errands together and sometimes Samuel  comes along as well.  But there I was driving this giant sized Rexton Jeep along the country roads and attempting to park it (but carefully avoiding parallel parking!) I’ve got to the stage when I can chat a bit to the lady behind the counter or at least pass the time of day with the man who comes to fetch the laundry.  I have no idea of his name, all I know is that he and his wife own Normandy Pressing and they now answer to Monsieur and Madame Pressing which they find hilarious.  But they are a very sweet hard working couple in their sixties and fortunately they have a great sense of humour.

Anyway, as I was driving down the road, a ‘something’ was coming towards me on the pavement.  I couldn’t for the life of me work out what it was until I got a little closer and it seemed to me like a big soft toy ball on wheels!  The traffic slowed and so did I to just about a stop when it came adjacent to the car.  It was the dearest round elderly lady in a big woolly jersey and gracing her head like a dollop of jam was a floppy velvet purple hat.  Round eyes and button nose had been pushed into her moon face like currents in a bun and she was singing (or talking to herself) with a mouth devoid of all teeth.  Her bicycle, a battered piece of equipment held together with string teetered along the path at a speed so slow that it barely remained upright and tied to the back mudguard was a bright green plastic crate filled with cabbage leaves.  Funny, but it was at that moment that I felt a little more at home here.  She made me smile, she made me laugh out loud and she was everything that the French countryside is….strong, natural, peaceful, abundant, hard working and full of character.  I wished I could have taken a photograph of her, she’ll be with me in my memories for a very long time.

The beloved and I went to the market on Friday for the usual fresh veggies and to have a coffee in the shadow of the old church with the hustle and bustle echoing down the cobbled street.  We are known now and various store owners yell bonjour and offer a taste of something new.  We were looking for monk fish for a dinner party that evening so we approached one of the fishmongers who reminds me of the fish monger in Asterix with the unfortunate name of Unhygenix.  No he didn’t have any but his cousin might and he pointed two stalls down to a younger version of himself.  And that’s how it is… the market and villages are filled with cousins, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters.  All have grown up there, follow a similar line of work and get together for long summer evenings of gesturing conversations over cheese, wine and baguettes.  As we sat having coffee the young girl at the coffee shop came out with glasses of rose wine and past them down the rows of produce laden tables covered in colourful umbrellas (this is 11 in the morning) and the stall owners toasted each other with teasing and loud laughter.  It’s moment like these that you feel you’re finding a place in a brand new country, that you’re slowly being enveloped in a hug of local activity and are part of the ebb and flow of French village life. It’s a warming feeling as Autumn touches the landscape with gold, orange and copper.

On Monday I fly back to South Africa for a two and a half week visit and to catch up with family and friends.  It’ll be my first trip home in two years and I wish the butterflies in my stomach would fly in formation instead of giving me this fluttering mayhem feeling inside.  The Dear One is staying here with the mutts and will have Samuel for company.  The season is closed at the Chateau and we are looking forward to cosy evenings by the fire,, a chance to finish the cottage and do some indoor bits and pieces of maintenance around the Estate and for me to have a chance of facing my easel and pencils again.  We’re looking forward to the quiet.

For all of you along the path with me, whether you’re heading in to Summer or Winter, take care and ‘see’ you soon

A la prochaine
M
x

Chateau Organised Chaos..semi

Well!  Yup, it’s been a while but it’s also been a while since I had time to sit…so now I’m sitting…and it feels great.  A lot has happened here in our corner of Normandy and the Chateau has been buzzing with a form of chaos..sometimes organised..sometimes not.  So what have we done…before I start..let me just check the cottage kitchen…the Dear One has decided to pick apples to make apple wine.  All great when said, not so great while being done…I can hear the distinct sound of muttered swearing, the containers are being banged harder and the chopping is getting fast and furious.  On second thoughts…I think I’ll stay here and hum while I type….huuummmmmmmhhhuuuuuuummmm.  Yup, that’s working…so let me carry on.

We have had a range of visitors to the Chateau and on the whole, met some wonderful people and had some fantastic cooking evenings.  Just one lot spoiled the season, left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth here, but that is par for the course I suppose and it’s best to move on and take what’s learned with you.  Being a bit of a softy makes me want to make everyone happy, but, as I’ve learnt, some people just cannot be made happy no matter what you do so I’m learning to feel sorry for them and put their rudeness into a bubble and blow it away..pointless them spoiling such a beautiful spot here at the Chateau.  But that was only one family for one week…not bad.  The joy comes from so many other directions.  We’ve just our first wedding here and it was so beautiful.  Small, elegant and a lovely group of people including one small jack russell named Jenny who thankfully wasn’t intimidated by Ted.

I have discovered the joy (and ease) of on-line shopping with google chrome.  The reason being is that with a touch of a key I can translate the entire page..which means I can understand what I’m buying….tres important when you need to buy flowers to make all the wedding arrangements including table, entrance way, chair bouquets, bridal bouquet and buttonholes!  I ordered the flowers to be delivered two days before the wedding and stupidly took on the main wedding dinner for 25 people which consisted of 5 courses as well as a buffet dinner for 25 for the night before.  Getting your ducks in a row on paper is one thing, getting them to stay in a row in reality is totally another.  The Beloved took charge of the breakfasts and table layout for the wedding dinner which looked amazing when he had finished.  I did all the flower arrangements the day before the wedding which left me the bouquets and chair arrangements to do in between making a crab entree, slow cooked duck with prunes and dessert. I had it ALL sorted.  Early on the morning of the wedding I topped up the arrangements with some water as the day was proving to be quite hot.  I turned my back, wandered into the kitchen in search of tea only to hear an almighty crash behind me as one of the large hall arrangements toppled over and came to a sad demise on the floor.  More flowers had to be bought and I had to start again from scratch.  But at the end of the day, tired was a word I don’t think I could have spelled if I tried but we had a very happy bride and groom and an amazing evening.

During the weeks we’ve done some weird and wonderful things.  The Dear One tried his hand at topiary to get the ornamental yews in the formal gardens around the fountains back into some sort of shape.  Armed with a small hedge cutter he set to work while Samuel the gardener and I watched on with a mixture of nerves in case the tree turned into some weird shape and excitement to see the poor shaggy neglected tree get back it’s perfect conical shape.  The latter won and they all look beautiful now.

I am still keeping myself in macaron mode and practicing regularly to make sure I still get them right.  I do.  My fourteen attempts to finally find the right mix, the right weather, the right temperature and the right method have paid off and they turn out well every time…except…..I do still have a few ‘moments’ while making them and the moments mainly happen while trying to get the mixture into the piping bag.  Now I kid you not, the mixture for macarons is INCREDIBLY sticky.  I think you could successfully build a boat with it and it would hold together with no leaks!  Ted sits under my feet while I cook (i don’t think it’s altogether affection, I think there is method in his madness as things just might drop from heaven for him to eat..and they do) and he inadvertently got some bright pink macaron mix on his head and back. To get it out an hour later when I saw it was a major mission which required scissors..we’ll say no more about Ted’s new hairdo…  But back to the piping bag.  The mix was done and instead of making normal macarons, I was planning on making them into an almost ‘mille feuille’ and using them as a dessert.  So there would be a macaron base but the macaron would be big – at least 8 cm in diameter, then a mixture of cream and french buttercream would be placed in the center, around that on the outside diameter would be raspberries and then the next layer or top macaron.  Cool, I had it all worked out.  I put the piping bag into a tall glass to hold it up and open and dropped the first dollop of macaron mix into it.  Great, next dollop, the bag closed in on itself.  With spatula in one hand and bowl in the other, I tried to nudge the bag open with the spatula but forgot to straighten the bowl hovering above it..a dollop landed on top of the folded bag.  Ok, …no need to panic…put down bowl, scrape sticky mess off outside of bag and try and open the bag to put the mess inside it.  Worked reasonably well but now there is a glue like substance inside the piping bag, outside the piping bag, inside the glass and outside the glass as well as on the spatula and in the bowl.  Never mind, take control by washing your hands.  That done, shake the bag, get the mixture to the bottom, reopen the bag and lift the bowl.  Dollop the rest of the macaron mix into the bag.  All goes well.  I turn to make sure I have papered the trays and can pipe the macarons.  I turn for literally 10 seconds if that and what happens?  My upright piping bag folds over the glass and deposits the bright pink sticky boat building cooked sugar mix over the counter, down the cupboard doors and onto Ted and the floor.  I was proud of myself…I said nothing….I just stared at it…..in a semi trance-like disbelief…..and the two mille feuille macaron desserts that I managed to save out of the remaining mix turned out perfectly…I will try again…some time…in the future…..when I feel brave…

I can smell interesting things coming from the kitchen now….and the muttering has stopped..things must be going well.  Talking of apples, they are falling all over the place now…there are a lot of apple trees and pear trees dotted around the grounds and one of the orchards is just outside our cottage.  It is a beautiful thing to wake up with the early morning ‘end of Summer’ mists draped from tree to tree and peacefully foraging underneath are the deer.  I still pinch myself that I live here…we are beginning to be recognised in the village by the butcher, the market folk and Mazoline, the hard working lady in the Patisserie welcomes the Dear One when he goes in to get the morning croissants and gives him a pastry or two as a gift for his ongoing patronage and support.  We get given new cheeses and cold meats to taste as we walk around the market so that we can add them to the Chateau meals and once or twice a small parcel has been placed on our table while we have coffee in the market containing a few tasty morsels of a home grown product for us to try.  It’s all very touching in a way and makes me feel humble to be part of such a wonderfully natural and kind community who take such pleasure in family and food and are willing to share it all with us.

We will be attacking the cottage garden and the Chateau fountain next…we’ve bought some roll on lawn (online) which will go into our garden as we don’t have time to let the grass grow from seed without me going mad with having two mutts bring sand and mud into the cottage and we’ve bought some water lilies (also online) to put into the fountain once it’s up and running.  I’ll let you know how it all goes soon…

It’s lovely having you there on the other side of the blog…talk to me if you can, I love hearing from you..and please, if you write a comment, come back and see…I try and answer or at least acknowledge your words as soon as I can.

A Bien tot
M
x

Cheffing Shambles and Fireworks

Our first Summer season of guests at the Chateau has been interesting to say the least…not to mention a little scary, a lot frantic and hugely chaotic.

This is going to be a marathon blog as a lot has happened and I need to remember it all for the ‘diary’ part of the blog but also to share with all the many friends and family (and welcome strangers) who are sharing the journey with me.

We muddled through our first few weeks of visitors, trying to get the hang of which linen fitted what and a stove with no numbers  – at all..so we grilled a few things by mistake and under-cooked a few other things…but on the whole, it all went ok.

And then the American businessman arrived.  Now we had been primed to get everything ready to an extremely high standard.  He expected a full time chef, he wanted an internet connection that rivaled the States at 50-100 gig download speed and he wanted an office set up with printer etc.  He would be here for a month and have various people and clients coming in and out all the time so the linen had to be changed for the next visitor whenever it was needed.  He wanted dry cleaning done, personal laundry and good coffee.

He was a very altogether person, very kind, very complimentary and his biggest complaint was that the internet connection wasn’t anywhere like America.  Now here, I found it very hard to keep a straight face.  I tried to explain to him that he was in rural France, in a Chateau built in 1641 with walls a meter thick..and yes, I was aware that the Internet speed was bad….yes…it was 5 gig download speed…and yes…America was wonderful..it was 100.  Only after a day or two did I learn that one of his mates was ‘Bill’ (who couldn’t make it) and another that was coming was ‘Zack’…  The ‘Bill’ was Bill Gates and the ‘Zack’ was Zack Nelson..the CEO of Net Suite..no wonder the internet speed was an issue.

Either way, between the Estate duties, the House duties and the Kitchen, the Dear One and I worked a 16 hour day every day.  After the first week, we asked him to please go to a restaurant to give us a break. He said he really didn’t want to as the food was really good at the Chateau (a great compliment but at that point, I didn’t care).  Eventually after much mumbling, he took himself and his guests off to a restaurant down the road.

Then it was American Independence Day – July 4th and the Special Person in his life was arriving – so could we do something to make her feel welcome.  So along with the cake with the flag done in strawberries and blueberries, we decided to let off some fireworks on the stone steps beyond the garden fountain.  The Dear One had it all worked out..in fact he was extremely excited and spent a while working out the sequence.  He collected wine bottles for the rockets to stand it while they were lit and cascading fountain lights were placed on the two pillars leading down the steps.  Then we had one or two other firework things that promised a great display.

So after dinner (they usually wanted to eat around 9) we asked them to wait on the balcony terrace until it was dark which was about 11.  There they stood, and we charged down to the bottom of the garden to provide them with a ‘grand’ USA tradition that they were missing out on ‘back home’.  The Dear One set off the rockets and we heard clapping, then some other rocket-type-things went off while he quickly lit the side display with lights and sparkles cascading down the pillars.  Cool!  Then he lit some other thing set  in the middle of the steps for a clear view…and there was silence….we waited…they waited….the string burned…and one lonely ball of lights shot into the air for about half a meter with a disappointing ‘sput’ sound and that was that.  I could NOT stop laughing at this point.  To make it worse..we heard polite clapping.  And then, much to our amazement…another lonely sputtering ball of light shot into the air..this time, about half a meter.  Now by this time, I was just about paralytic I was laughing so much and the Beloved had a hard time lighting the others he was shaking with laughter.  He put the last of the lights-to-be on the step and lit them…the first one went off with a great display..the second one sputtered to a halt and then a small light danced inside the bottle instead of zooming out into the air  and then all became dark.  I couldn’t breath, I lay flat on my back wheezing with laughter.   The from a lofty height in the darkness on the balcony came a  booming voice that said..’Well if that isn’t the best fireworks display I’ve ever experienced!’  It was such a lie but so very sweet.

Two weeks in and it was taking it’s toll.  The gardener’s wife who came in every day to make the beds and clean kept telling me to sleep as I had ‘tres bleu’ circles under my eyes.  Fine I thought..but when?!
Then some more business partners arrived and wpoached pearse needed to ‘wow’ them as a deal needed to be made and papers needed to be signed.  I poached some pears, half in rose wine and then turned them over and poached the other half in white wine syrup with vanilla.  We were serving them in a caramel basket with hot chocolate and orange sauce and creme fraiche.  Most of all the cooking and baking is done in my little kitchen in the cottage.  Everything is there equipment-wise and I know the oven.  Then it’s just simple to take it all the few meters to the Chateau kitchen and plate it to make it look beautiful (I hope).  So I held the chilled pears on the plate and walked towards our garden gate with the Dear One just behind me.  I turned to ask him if I looked ok as I was a bit of a mess and had tried to cover the circles with a bit of make-up.  The plate stayed where it was on the palm of my hand, the pears didn’t.  Three of them flew off the smooth surface of the china and landed with a plop in the gravel.  Fortunately they landed bottom side down (which ultimately made it easier to fix by just chopping off the bottom) but it was yet another moment uncontrollably giggles.  We stared at them, first I think in disbelief, then in concern as to what the heck we were going to do and then we saw the funny side.  I think – in my case at least – the laughter was just slightly bordering on hysteria.  With a bit of doctoring all was fine – admittedly the pears were reduced in height by quite a bit after the much needed surgery to get the gravel out of the first centimeter. The not so Dear One has reminded me of it regularly since then.

Then towards the last week of their stay, we all went to Liseux to see the firework display for Bastille Day which was a 30 minute Story of not just the Storming of the Bastille, but also the sadness of the D-Dfireworksay Beaches and as the Narrator told the story, the fireworks and music pictured what she was saying.  It was beautiful  It was touching, sad, breathtaking and spectacular.  I’ve never seen such an amazing display – incredible…needless to say, it made ours all the funnier and I still get the giggles every time I think of it.

We had to do a quick change over for the next lot and they were taking the farmhouse as well.  We went over there to check that everything was fine and ready for them and also to get a child’s cot for the Chateau.  The mutts came with us in the tractor trailer and then I let them down to have a run around while we checked the place out.  The Farmhouse is lovely and has a big patch of lawn all around it which is great for children to play ball etc as it’s really flat.  Towards one side, the ground slopes away down into the valley and the entire garden is surrounded by a meter and a half high hedge.

I went inside, the dogs went off to sniff new smells and the Dear One went up the outside stairs to check the room there.  All of a sudden he saw the tractor hurtling down the hill on it’s own.  It had jumped out of it’s breaks and, despite being in neutral, had taken off.  Before we knew it, there was a tractor shaped hole in the hedge and it had ground to a shuddering halt on top of the broken bushes.  Samuel thought it was the funniest thing when he arrived the next day for work.  Life is indeed never dull.

Our next group of visitors seemed to have thirty million children all under the age of ten.  Breakfast every morning – the Madam at the Boulangerie knows the Beloved so well now that he comes home on a regular basis with a different patisserie as a present – was a loud scrabble for the fresh croissants and panne chocolate.  It was crazy.  The most mouth opening moment was when we served dinner ‘family’ style (that’s when it’s not plated and served, just left on warning trays in the kitchen for everyone to help themselves whenever they want to and then they do the clearing up as well).  I walked in with a whole lot of fresh baguettes, placed them near the warming trays, announced that dinner was ready and then walked out – carrying one baguette which was ours.  I’m never very hungry when I cook and neither is the Dear One so we sat down to a light snack of cheese and the baguette with a glass of wine and enjoyed the wonderful moment of putting our feet up.  The next minute the gate opens and a young guy walks down the path and knocks on the door.  I opened it and asked if everything was ok.  Oh yes he tells me, all is fine, we’re having a lovely time and dinner is great.  We know we’re piggies and we’ve eaten about five baguettes between us but I saw you walk away with one so I’ve come to ask you if we can have it. I think you could have knocked me over with a feather.  I just stared at him because my brain failed to comprehend the request.  Eventually I said ‘Well, I guess you can have what’s left, let me just see if my husband has had enough to eat first.’

Without batting an eye he said ‘oh..was that yours for your dinner?  Well sorry to deprive you of it but yes, we’ll take the rest.  And off he went.  The next morning, I found it in the bin.  People are quite amazing!

I think I will save the rest for another time – this seems to be a marathon session and I’d hate to ramble on and send you to sleep.
Take care and have a lovely week
A bientot
M
x

 

Ted in Disgrace

I’m sure I’ve spoken numerous times of Ted.  We bought two dogs with us from SA,
Tass who we had from a pup – a cute, Maltese terrier type white, aloof  girl who has subsequently turned into a way-too-verbal independent hooligan who will takeTass any opportunity to sneak out of the garden gate and into the expanse of the Chateau grounds to look for any woodland friend she can find.  All I see is her tail wagging nineteen to the dozen as she snorkels around the long grass or in the wood pile.  The other day she chased a bunny rabbit – who knows what she would do if she caught it, probably give it a hug and ask it for a play date – around the tractor shed which is not exactly small, about 5 meters by 30.  The bunny rabbit did a smart turn back to the wood pile, missing the Beloved’s feet by a centimeter, and Tass missed the turn altogether and went straight into the hedge leaving a Tass-shaped hole.  I must admit, it was really funny as the bunny rabbit almost strolled back to the wood pile laughing behind it’s paw.

But it’s Ted, dear sweet rescued from abuse Ted who walks around with a question mark above his head and is always up to some sort of nonsense. I always worry about him as he has Spina Bifida – a hole in his spine which has left him totally tail-less and weak in his back legs.  After endless visits to the Chiropractor in SA and a special diet, he is fine, but he used to need pain killers on a regular basis if he ran around too much.  Not anymore.  Ted has come a long way.  He is much thinner which is less strain on his joints and he can now
jump onto the bed and couch and even into the car with ease.  He loves the back of the tractor and can’t wait for a ride along the bumpy country road to the farmhouse.  When he sees the expanse of Chateau lawn he just can’t help himself and takes off like a bullet.  The funny thing is – he runs a short distance one direction, then changes to another and so on.  It’s almost as if he can’t remember which way he was going…and he does all with the biggest smile on his little face and his whole furry body just oozes joy.

But he is in disgrace.

TedThe Owner of the Chateau was here for a long weekend.  He bought his whippet (a beautiful pencil thin sleek gray pedigree) and his mom (a sprightly, very English lady of ninety-one).
Ted took one look at the whippet and took objection to him.  With a growl that would rival a Rottweiler, he went for him with all the venom he could muster.  The whippet took off and so did Ted.  Now whippets are known for their speed and are built for just that.  Ted is built for comfort.  He lasted about three minutes then decided it wasn’t worth using up so much energy, he would rather crouch down in the long grass and wait for his unsuspecting prey to come past.  Which he did and Ted pounced on him with the skill of a small round leopard.  The whippet took off again leaving Ted flaying around on his back.

The Owner was not that amused but accepted that Ted has “baggage” from his past and really meant no harm… ha!

Then if that wasn’t enough, the Owner and his Mom strolled ouTed and his strange wayst to the lawns in front of the fountain, tea in hand.  With great dignity the mom sat down on her chaise to relax in the warm sun and survey the newly planted roses and geraniums now in full flower.  Unknown to me, Ted was out searching for his Nemesis but spotted the dear lady instead.  He also spotted her settling onto her chair and even better, place her tea on the grass next to her.  In a flash, as fast as his furry body could go, Ted was there and before anything could be done, he had stuck his nose into the Spode China teacup and wolfed down the lot.

When I was told this, I didn’t actually know what to say.  To me – it was really funny but to burst out laughing didn’t seem quite right so I humbly apologised and explained that Ted just LOVES tea and can smell it a mile away.  I don’t think that helped.

I thought it best to keep the other incident to myself at that point.  A few days before they arrived, I went into the Chateau to make sure everything was ready for them and to open up the private suite for their arrival.  In the short time that the door to this private area was open, Ted was in and out, armed with a fur lined slipper which he plonked down in front of me with great pride.  I took it back only to discover him snuffling around in their wardrobe.

And now news has come in that he’s just gone into the Chateau and eaten the whippet’s special gourmet dinner….oh dear.

On a totally different note..the macarons have finally been conquered and came out perfectly the other day.  I thought it might have been a fluke so I immediately tried again..et voila!  Twice in a row.  I think you only have to get it right a few times before you start understanding what a good macaron mix should “feel” like…not really “look” like.  But I made orange ones with a dark chocolate and orange zest centre and they were absolutely delicious.  They are worth the trouble of trying them fourteen times without success and finally…FINALLY, they decided to grace me with a perfect batch.

I can stop letting them rule my every waking moment and move on to other things..the obsession is over..the Dear One is at peace!
Macarons

So…Take care of each other and enjoy the week ahead, whatever plans and adventures you have

A la prochaine
M
x

 

A week of Russian around…

Well….the Russian visitors-to-be that arrived in a helicopter decided that out of all the Chateaus they visited that day, we were to be “it” so they dutifully arrived last Monday.

I was trying hard not to panic as they wanted full catering, their linen changed in every room three times during their stay, bottled water, lots of wood, the heating on, the pool organized etc etc etc.  We sent them the menu in advance…nothing…we asked politely…nothing…eventually panic set in and there they were, standing in front of me…and me trying hard to look in control and vaguely intelligent.

What made it worse, was that the linen cupboard, this giant hole in the wall which was equaled only by the towel cupboard was in a total mess when we arrived.  One of the worst possible things I can think of to do with my time is to unfold a fitted sheet, place it on a bed to be made only to be told that it doesn’t fit and then have to try and refold it.  I hate refolding fitted sheets, I hate ironing fitted sheets..they go to the laundry and they come back looking amazing and when they don’t fit…well, needless to say they were rolled up into some semblance of folding and put in a pile which I hoped I would remember whether they were single, double, queen, king or super king.  A few days passed and I decided to tackle the cupboard.  I couldn’t remember which pile was which and all the others were in a muddle too.

I hit on a cunning plan.  It took me ages to make up all the beds.  Then, in the seam of each duvet and each fitted sheet, I marked each size with nail polish.  Then the shelves in the cupboard were marked with the size and the same code of nail polish.  Cool beans, one set done…fifty million to go!

So the Russians, who proved to be Ukranian wanted the bed linen changed every second day. while Malorie (Samuel’s wife) made the beds (then we both un-made them and refolded fitted sheets and duvet covers in order to find linen that fitted) I ran around marking seams with nail polish and gradually putting the towels in order as well.  To cheer me up, Malorie, who doesn’t speak English but who is the sweetest person, kept saying “fitness Moraig, fitness” which meant that I wasn’t to worry, running up and down 4 flights of stairs and carrying the offending linen back up to the cupboard on the top floor was keeping me fit and would mean I could eat another Almond Croissant.  A great comfort indeed.

The “Pressing” or Laundry man..I don’t know his name, he is now officially called Monsieur Pressing…dutifully came after I left what was probably a very garbled, slightly hysterical message in French on his answering machine, took one look at the pile of linen…7 baskets full, muttered “ooh la la” under his breath and informed me the whole thing was quite bizaar, most people only change their linen once a week.  I said they were Russian, he nodded his head and said a long “aaaah”.  I presume that he understood something that I don’t..but am beginning to.

So with no or very little warning, I have cooked and bakedIMG_6888  French Meringue Pavlova with Blueberries and Strawberries, Coq au Vin, Tarte Citroen, Poire (pear) Frangipane Tarte, Cassoulet, Profiteroles filled with Coffee Creme, Macarons, Strawberry Patisserie Creme and Chocolate tart, Raspberry Coulis and the cherry on the top was homemade french chocolate ice-cream which was REALLY delicious and never got to the visitors as the Dear One and I finished it before it could…absolutely hopeless but there you have it.

Each frantic cooking or baking session had it’s own specially crafted disaster, the best being the nozzle on the piping bag to big …the mixture dripped from the bag back into the bowel, across the counter, all over the floor, down the cupboards and into my shoes…wonderful.  I then had to melt chocolate…rich dark 70% choccie…it also went into a piping back to pipe a flourish or two and some swirls.  There was choccie everywhere….all over my clothes, on Ted’s head, on every available surface..How does it get everywhere? and worst of all – it was delicious and I had a taste or two…but when Samuel and the Beloved walked in, I think they must have thought I’d eaten the lot…unknown to me I had it as a “smile”, in my hair and on my chin.  Our little kitchen looked like a IMG_6882nuclear choccie explosion with me caught in the middle.

Meantime, the four children that arrived as well have taken to the Beloved who has dutifully stopped work at times to take them for a ride in the tractor and when they seemed to think they could have his time and company anytime, he got them to help with filling the tractor with wood or unloading it back into the Chateau..in return for a game or two of ping pong.  They found a ball made out of sponge and that kept them happy for a while until Ted rushed out, played with them and tore the ball into little yellow pieces.  End of ball.  Malorie arrived this morning with a few for them to kick around…hardy Ted-proof ones.

Today was the last change of linen before they leave on tomorrow when we have to change it all over again for the next lot…hopefully all the fitted sheets and duvet covers are all garnished with nail polish and my ducks are more or less in a row.  I shudder to think what Monsieur Pressing is going to say on Monday evening when he is faced with yet another seven or eight baskets of laundry. …and the Russians/Ukrainians have enjoyed their stay so much, they want to come later on in the year for two weeks!  Ce la Vie.

My bed is calling…I will be dreaming of laundry no doubt…and maybe choccie

Sleep tight
A la prochaine
M
x

 

Energy? I remember having that…

My goodness me what a whirl the last few weeks have been but we are in the cottage and we have 24/7 internet access!!!! Yay!!

First of all, there we were still frantically trying to put up plaster board (the Dear One went up to a tiny area above the now entrance that housed a boiler to check something and put his foot through the ceiling board – it had to be replaced anyway…just now sooner rather than later), paint, finish the wiring etc and the three of us were just getting more and more tired every day.  You know that feeling when tired goes beyond tired…it then becomes funny…because you either have to laugh or cry….
So the Dear One and Samuel were on the floor laying pvc wood flooring and I was trying to put renovation fiber paper onto the bedroom walls upstairs when tiredness made me clumsy so I stepped into the glue, got tangled in the paper and became one big itchy scratchy mess (it’s horrible stuff…feels like you’ve been wrapped in itching powder) so I packed it up and wandered downstairs to see what the two guys were up to – it was nearly 4pm anyway and I figured calling it a day was a plan – they were on the floor and had gone from bending to lay the floor, to sitting and now half lying down.  Everything had become funny, Samuel had tears rolling down his face as he tried to clip in another piece of floor and it wouldn’t go in, the Dear One was looking a the straight floor meeting a scew wall and started to laugh at what could be done to fix it – other than the 10 cm wide skirting that Samuel suggested..it was just ridiculous..so we went to the farmhouse for a glass of wine to solve the problem.

And the next day, a couple arrived to view the Chateau to see if they wanted to stay here for a week.  They were visiting as number in the area and we so happened to be on the list…and they arrived in a helicopter which gently landed on the front lawn and the Beloved, Samuel and I stood there…covered in paint, glue and dust and I thought to myself….”what on earth am I doing?  How did I get to be Guardian of a Chateau greeting Russian visitors while looking like a walking human building site?”  Fortunately they were very understanding and we promised we’d look times better when they arrive in April for their holiday.

The challenge came when our first lot of guests arrived.  We were putting the finishing touches to the cottage and too-ing and fro-ing between the farmhouse, the cottage and the pool house where all our furniture was being stored.  The usual stuff had to be sorted when people arrive, where is that?  Can you find this?  Can you phone a taxi? etc and one of them was the request to bring a single mattress from the farmhouse and hoof it up three flights of stairs to the very top floor so that three little girls could all sleep in the same room and laugh and giggle as little girls should.  NO PROBLEM says me wondering how to do this…..
And ten minutes later I found myself sitting on said mattress on the tractor-trailer, bouncing through a field of little white daisies with the Dear One driving and the two of us admiring the view across the valley, the sun warm, the sky blue…just perfect.

Bit by bit we carried furniture and boxes and I spent time sorting through boxes and trying to work out what would stay in storage and what could fit where in the cottage.  I have to admit there were happy moments as I unwrapped and discovered ornaments and treasures I hadn’t seen in a while..and the happy moments turned to tears as visited memories of moments and friends and family… a bit of a roller coaster of emotions but everything has a place now and the cottage feels peaceful and homely.  There is still A LOT of stuff in boxes though but I’ve learned over the past year, that we seem to gather a lot of unnecessary paraphernalia as we go through life and it’s a good time now to simplify it all and keep what we use and what we need.  It’s a “free’ing” kind of feeling is there is such a word.
We sat the other evening (the evening stay lighter now for so much longer) and this really cute little dining room table while dinner was cooking and we looked out onto the Chateau gardens and orchard and into the forest.  As we watched, a fox popped its head out of the grass and trotted past, then four deer arrived to eat the new leaves, one must have been very young as it bounced around and had a game with itself darting through the trees.  Then some woodpeckers landed on the that to look for insects buried inside and the sun slowly went down over this amazingly peaceful place.  It really is a privilege seeing it all.

Spring has been incredible here.  I’ve never seen so many flowering trees that are just flowers, no leaves.  The magnolias were just breathtaking, the cherry tree behind our cottage and the two pear trees on the side – I can’t describe their beauty and now the apple tree next to the cherry has started to flowers as well.  I walk around with my mouth open half the time..its hard to take in and no photograph really captures it all.  The daffodils, the endless carpet of bluebells in the forest and the scent of them is mind-boggling.  It’s all so new to me, so different from SA and even Brittany never had a Spring like this..Normandy seems softer somehow and everywhere you look, there are flowers – and when I mean everywhere, I mean everywhere!  The join of thatch on the very apex of every roof is covered in a type of mud and then planted with irises..it’s a Normandy tradition and such a lovely one too!

The cows have arrived in their Summer pasture in the field between the Chateau and the Farmhouse so when I walk across I have their curious faces staring at me with their constantly chewing mouths and flicking tails.  They’re very friendly and follow me to the gate to see where I’ve gone.

So that’s me for today…there is a lovely family staying in the farmhouse and I need to go and see if they’re ok.  Thank you all so much for the encouraging comments and the responses to the poem..I even got a lovely one back so huge thanks for that.  How is Spring/Autumn for you?  I hope it’s beautiful wherever you are.

Take care of each other
A bientot
M
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An Ode To A Colombage Cottage in Normandy…

It starts with just a little hole
Within a wall or beam
You reach out to have a feel
Are things really as they seem?

You get the ladder to have a look
And inspect it with your hand
It crumbles leaving a bigger gap
And covering the floor with sand

Now as you peer with growing dread
To see what you have done
The hole is now much larger
You can see the shining sun!

Could it be wood rot,
could it be mould
Could it just be
That the building is old?

So starts the long road
Of restore and repair
A road of some good times
But mostly despair

With five steps moving forward
There’s ten taken back
Moods go from whistling
To moody and black

I’m tired and I’m cranky
My hair is in a mess
How my nails will ever be the same
Well that is anyone’s guess

Make up covers the blue circles
I’m bruised, my muscles ache
The body is tired, the mind is a wreck
Have we made a dreadful mistake?

We’ve gone through three sanders
Shares in band-aids now have soared
Dust covers everything
One can never really be bored

But there’s light at the end of the tunnel
And it’s not an oncoming train
It’s all coming together in leaps and in bounds
Despite all the worry and pain

There are new walls and new loo’s
New fireplace, and floor
And a sanded down staircase
That was ugly before

It’s going to be cute
And it’s going to be bright
We’re starting to breathe easier
everything’s going to be alright!

A la Prochaine
M
x

 

There’s a chimney up my nose….

The brain does strange things when you’re learning a new language…at least mine does and I’ve now learnt that the Dear One’s does as well.

When he was in South Africa, he spoke Afrikaans quite well.  When I was in South Africa, I could speak a smattering of Zulu and a little Afrikaans …and here is the strange thing…

When you’re faced with a situation such as standing in the queue at the Pharmacy (in France you always queue in the Pharmacy, you don’t just help yourself and go to a teller at the door!) and you want to ask for something because you have a sore throat or the beginnings of a cold, an amazing thing takes place in your brain.  It’s searching so hard for a foreign word that any foreign word will do and long forgotten school vocabulary in Afrikaans or even Zulu spring to mind and get stuck there as the only word available.

I have a deep seated knowledge of Zulu words that I never knew existed in the “little grey cells” as Hercule Proirot would say and the Dear One can’t believe how much his Afrikaans has improved.  So now not only are you faced with trying to find a French word, you have to stand there and bravely fight off any other foreign language words that pop into your head out of almost schizophrenic desperation…Zulu voices, Afrikaans voices, English voices and not a French word in site and after you’ve grappled with the problem, for ten minutes of standing in the queue, you step up to the counter, open your mouth and say in your very best French

“Je veux  le comprime pour…” and as you search for words on what tablets you are wanting, the assistant says in perfect English,

“Would you rather explain in English?”

And the relief is such that you feel like leaning across and giving her a hug, sore throat, muzzy head and all!

But there comes a time when you really need to have your ducks in a row and say something or write and email and it NEEDS to be in some semblance of French and at that point, Google Translate is invaluable.  Many an Estate problem has been discussed between the Beloved and Samuel and solved with Google (a word understood by English and French alike).  It works surprisingly well and when I had to write a letter to the Prefecture (local government offices) I sent the letter off to a French friend to check; he came back with only one minor alteration.

Having said that, it can also create a bit of a problem… as we learnt recently.  The Dear One needed to tell a recently made friend that we couldn’t attend a meeting as he had flu.  He started with Google Translate and said he had a cold…it was translated as “froi” which means cold as opposed to hot which implied that he really was cold and needed to put on a coat or jersey…so logically, that wouldn’t work.  So he tried to say he had flu, thinking that “flu” would be a sort of international word.

Off went the email with the sentence,

“I’m not very well, I’m in bed with a bad case of flu and we’ll see you next week.”

An answer came back almost immediately which was also translated into English in Google Translate and it said,

“Oh no!  Are you alright?  Were you badly hurt in the accident?”

Puzzled, the Beloved re-read his email with new eyes and realization dawned…

A flue is a chimney, and basically, he wasn’t very well and was in bed due to a problem with a chimney!

Samuel set us straight.  Having a cold or flu means you have a “rhume”…

“J’ai le rhume”…I have a cold, as simple as that!

Most people learn French by starting with some of the tourist basics and before long they can order coffee, ask where the hotel is, get directions to the Louvre and get some well-deserved wine.  They then progress from there with the post office, clothing, the bank and perhaps the doctor.

We have progressed strangely.  Being quite isolated before, when we were in Brittany, we also started with the tourist basics but instead of gently going forward in a logical order, we have had a “baptism of fire” as it were and launched into French words for tractor, wheelbarrow, cement, plaster board, hydraulic fluid, sulpher, clutch cables, mud, wellington boots, wood borer, copper plumbing pipes and electric sockets.

How I wish I had paid more attention to my single years’ worth of school French when I was fourteen….

On a different note, the forest and Chateau gardens haveSnowdrops patches of the most beautiful snowdrops and the daffodils are now sporting buds which look like they’ll be opening in the next week or two.  We’ve discovered umpteen dozen rabbit burrows in the old wood pile and a few of these furry people have started to bound around the garden much to Tass’ delight.

Samuel still joins us for morning coffee before work and now we meet again for afternoon tea together with the plumber, a dear fatherly looking man who looks like a garden gnome and who also patiently helps us learn “une mot per jour”…one word a day.  He has calmly moved pipes, cut out old pipes and got everything ready to install a bathroom in the bedroom upstairs.  But for now, the downstairs loo has been taken out and stands proudly in the entrance area, complete with loo roll causing great hilarity and comments as it waits to be reinstalled with new piping.  We reckon another five weeks and we should have a new home with a French Green front door and hanging baskets filled with flowers.  It’s that thought that’s keeping me going…and trying to figure out how to fit all our furniture into a Hansel and Gretel cottage.  If I could shrink some of our furniture like I’ve shrunk some of our clothes over the years I would be a happy person

A la prochain and thank you for voting for Footpath to France, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it  – and all the comments of how much you enjoy reading it as well as your thoughts and views.  You’re all so precious and are adding to the journey making the rocky bits easy and the smooth bits more exciting.  If you have friends that you think would like to join us, please invite them along, the more the merrier.

Thanks to you all!
M
x

Would love you to click on the button…

Hi Everyone….

Another year is gone since I was put in this list for a good blog of someone trying to settle in another place.

Last year, we managed to be around 50th on the list which I was SO delighted with..yes I know that the vote is of the top 100 but I thought 50 was great!  I thought I might have been around 105!

So if you wouldn’t mind, could you please click on the link to vote..only if you think it’s worth doing so – you can only click once.  But to be honest, I couldn’t keep this blog going so regularly if it wasn’t for you so we’re in it together and it would be great for us to get a bit higher up the list..maybe even top 30 or 40!

All going well…the button to click is one the right hand side of this post..in the Menu, you’ll see a VOTE button.  Just click on that and follow the instructions.

Can’t thank you enough,,,holding thumbs for us all
Bon Chance
M
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“As Clear as Mud” is becoming Clearer….

Up until now, since I’ve been in the land of Croissants and Fromage, I’ve had the thought more and more often that I have slowly become decidedly “thick” as we say in sunny SA and that perhaps I had lost the ability to actually learn anything new.  The “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” was beginning to be an ever growing concern, not that I’m particularly old…

My brain was beginning to feel at one with our cottage having been reduced to a pile of rubble inside and showing signs of chaos and with old wiring exposed and rusty pipes laid bare. NOT a comfortable feeling.  Living out of a suitcase and in “limbo” without access to pastels, coloured pencils, art paper and an easel, without my card making stuff, papercrafts, stamping therapy and gardening books and, I feel ashamed to admit, without 24/7 access to the Net, I feel a bit at a loss…BUT what made the crumbling synapses even more apparent was that NONE of the French language seemed to be going in and penetrating long enough to take root and produce some semblance of a coherent sentence.

It’s a bit like dawn really; the growth of light is infinitesimal, not really noticeable until suddenly you’re conscious that you can actually “see” your surroundings.  Known only to my self-conscious, I guess bits and pieces were vaguely getting through to my brain…and then we moved here to Normandy and Samuel entered our lives.  Dear patient Samuel who speaks to us like he speaks to his two year old daughter, and for that, I am eternally grateful.  The problem is, when you understand what he’s said  (and he looks just as surprised as we are) then he feels more confident and babbles on at a rate of knots until he notices the distinct blank, slightly glazed look on our faces and, after realizing that speaking louder doesn’t help, he resorts to drawing pictures – at least that’s a universal language for all of us.  I sit over a cup of coffee and listen to Samuel discuss the ins and outs of the broken tractor and what’s needed to fix it, he talks of dry-walling, cement, bathroom fittings and floor tiles needed for the cottage and the Dear One nods and understands and I am amazed at how far he’s come when he insisted he would never get to learn enough.

Between Samuel and a Fluenz French Language Course, it’s all gradually beginning to make sense, a few things click together and you have the “aaah” moment.  At least now we can recognize and understand every tenth word instead of every 100th.  But we have a looooong way to go.  It’s funny, it’s frustrating, it’s irritating it’s depressing and it’s invigorating.  The French people of Normandy will do anything to help you and they laugh at their attempts at English as much as they smile at your attempt at French but they will always try to encourage you to carry on – from the Lady in the Pharmacy, to the Vet, to the Courier guy or Postman..and that in itself spurs you on even more.

Things are slowly settling in here in Normandy.  It’s been quite a mission and a bit unsettling – weird how we moved to France, to Brittany in the beginning of Winter (November) and then also moved to Normandy at the end of November a year later.  Trying to get organized at this time of year isn’t easy, it’s rainy and muddy and if you’re feeling homesick like me, then it can add to feeling worse.  After much paperwork, a bit of a scare with Duty to pay (which never materialized thank goodness) our container arrived from Cape Town in a flurry of light snow which melted to rain before it hit the grass.  Clapping ensued when Yolanda the Yamaha motorbike rolled proudly onto French soil and the moving van left after being winched out of the mud by the tractor, then they all crowded into the Farmhouse for coffee and biscuits.  But Winter has a charm of its own, the birds still sing REALLY loudly, the mist hangs over the trees like cobwebs making it all very “fairytale like” and the grass is a brilliant emerald green.  When the sun shines, it’s really is beautiful – a sharp contrast with bright blue sky.  We’re really near the coast (about 12 km away) so the weather is a lot milder than other parts of Normandy and it very rarely gets freezing cold.  The daffodils have poked their leaves out of the ground and their little flower buds are tucked inside.  The snowdrops are in full flower at the edge of the Chateau Forest and Samuel says that in the Spring, the forest floor is covered in bright bluebells – we took a walk there yesterday and they are all about 3 centimeters out of the ground…impossible to find a path through them – they’re EVERYWHERE…so I guess the flowers are telling us that Spring isn’t far away which is wonderful.  At night we see eyes glinting in the torch light and deer and foxes are out and about but as yet we haven’t seen a wild boar, although we’ve seen signs of them.

Ted had his operation…he is now the proud owner of a scar and stitches about 10 centimeters long.  From day 2 when the anesthetic and tranquilizers had worn off, he refused to walk with a plaster on his back.  His back’s always been so sensitive anyway and then to have something stuck on it was just the absolute pitts!  I came home to the farmhouse one afternoon to find he had rubbed it up and down on the underside of a chair and got half of it off.  The French vet would be so disgusted but there was nothing for it but to take the rest of it off.  He cried as we had to rip it off in one swift movement and then he attacked the plaster with vicious vigor.  But the cut is healing well and looks good and he’s a lot happier.  Seems it was just a large cyst, not cancerous – so all is well…such a kind vet too, she was SO worried about me being SO worried.

The Calvados is finally all in barrels where it will sit for the next three years, maturing in oak into a golden apple brandy.  The Dear One measures it’s content regularly and notes it all down – it’s peaceful in the cellars, cool, ancient and filled with unknown history and silent echoes of the past.

I’m going to be trying my hand at stone cladding soon..will let you know how it goes, should be an interesting exercise – especially that it involves an angle grinder…and you know me, I’m SO not- accident prone!  Ha!  For today, I’m off to get the paint off a door with a heat gun and scraper – the sun is shining, the sky is a clear blue and I can hear the Spring bulbs growing in tune to the forest chorus.

Take care of you, you’re in my thoughts
A bientôt
M
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