You know you’re living in France when….

Some of our chickens

Some of our chickens

I have been living in France now for over a year and, coming here from a large UK town, it was quite a shock to find myself living in a small, French rural village with countryside as far as the eye can see. There are so many differences between my old life and my new life – here are just some of them…

 

 

  • Nobody cares what you look like, what you wear, what you drive or where you live
  • You have to juggle house renovation/working/livestock/gardening and there is never enough time in the day
  • Shopping has to be planned – supermarkets generally close for 2 hours at lunchtime, there are no 24-hour supermarkets, and they only open in the morning on Sundays. And because I live a fair way from a good supermarket, it’s an hour’s round trip!
  • The PolytunnelYou have a polytunnel and mowing the grass takes you all day
  • If there are more than 5 cars on the road, it’s rush hour!
  • Everything stops for a 2 hour lunch break – the church bells go mad at 12 to tell you it’s lunchtime and at 7pm to tell you it’s the end of the working day
  • Total strangers greet you with a cheery ‘Bonjour’ when you pass them in the street and in the supermarket, the checkout operator always says ‘Bonne Journee’ when you leave – ‘Have a nice day’.
  • Our home

    Our home

    Your house is heated by a wood-burner, so you’re always on the lookout for firewood and become very handy with an axe!

  • It’s the norm to have a well in your garden
  • Street lights are non-existent in rural areas, so you always carry a torch in your bag when you go out at night
  • You get used to drinking coffee from tiny cups – even a large white coffee is served in a cup and saucer – you rarely see mugs
  • Wellies become a fashion accessory!
  • P1030381 (640x480)You learn how to make home-made wine/jam/cakes/bread
  • It’s normal to keep chickens or goats and everyone has a rescue cat or dog
  • If you’re a woman, when you go to the loo, you have to get used to walking past the men’s urinal in the same room. If you’re a man, you have to get used to the fact that when you’re using the urinal, a woman may walk past you to go to the ladies.
  • Digging the garden is like working in a quarry! You’re on constant rock-watch – they seem to emerge from your lawn – you become obsessed with finding them before your lawn mower blades find them first!
  • You can’t dial a pizza/Chinese/Indian takeaway
  • You grow your own vegetables and eat more healthily
  • There’s more sunshine, the air is clean and fresh and as there’s no light pollution, staring at the stars at night is a joy – we can even see the Milky Way above our house

What other differences have you noticed?

Advertisements

How did Valentine’s Day start?

14th February brings Valentine’s Day once more…and all across the world, millions of people give cards and presents to that special someone. It’s a day when romance is definitely in the air and many marriage proposals are made.

Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets dealing with love, time, beauty and mortality and Aristotle was quoted as saying “Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies”, which I think is beautiful and so true, but I am a bit of a romantic at heart!

Valentine’s Day originates back to ancient Roman times and the celebration of Lupercalia, where the gods, Lupercus and Faunus  were honoured on 15th February. As well as the huge feast to honour the gods, the Lupercalia festivities are believed to include the pairing of young men and women – men would draw a woman’s name from a box and then that couple would be paired until the following year’s celebrations. Although this ‘pairing’ set the tone for Valentine’s Day, it wasn’t called Valentine’s Day until later.

During Emperor Claudius’ reign, he decreed that soldiers must remain bachelors, as he believed that his soldiers would be distracted from their fighting duties if they were married or engaged. A priest called Valentine defied the Emperor Claudius and secretly performed marriage ceremonies. Valentine was found out and put to death on 14th February. After his death Valentine was named a saint…and as Christianity spread throughout Rome, the priests moved Lupercalia from 15TH February to the 14th February and it became known as St Valentine’s Day.

What about Cupid?

CupidWe all know that Cupid caused people to fall in love by shooting them with his magical arrows, but I didn’t know that he was the son of Venus. And the story of how Cupid fell in love with the mortal, Psyche is tragic. Venus was jealous of Psyche’s beauty and forbade her daughter-in-law to look at Cupid. But of course, Psyche couldn’t resist looking at her handsome husband, which resulted in Venus demanding that she perform three tasks. The last task caused Psyche’s death.

Cupid brought his wife back to life and, moved by their love, the gods granted Psyche immortality. As a result of their plight, Cupid represents the heart and Psyche the struggles of the human soul. .

Red roseFun Facts

Over 50 million roses are given each year on Valentine’s Day, worldwide

In the Middle Ages, to find out who their valentine would be, young women and men would draw a name from a box. They then wore it pinned to their sleeve for a week. To ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’ now means it’s easy for people to see how you’re feeling

  • In 1800, Richard Cadbury introduced the first box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day
  • Box of chocsMen account for 73% of flower sales on Valentine’s Day
  • Casanova, known as the ‘world’s greatest lover’ ate chocolate to make him virile!
  • In medieval times, young girls ate bizarre foods in order to dream of their future spouse
  • It is believed that the X symbol became known as the kiss in medieval times. In those days, people who couldn’t write their names would sign documents with a X in front of a witness and the X was then kissed to show their sincerity
  • Red roses are known to be the flower of love – as the colour red stands for strong romantic feelings

Our Christmas in France

P1010619 (531x640)We’ve just had our second Christmas in France and it’s certainly completely different to the UK. Back there I was always rushing round like a mad thing, buying up the whole of Asda just for two days, queuing for hours in shops buying presents and fighting my way through crowded streets; sitting in endless traffic – then finding I’d run out of wrapping paper at that crucial moment!

So, Christmas in France! We went to the Intermarche to do the standard food shopping – quell surprise! No queues – in fact it was no different to normal..apart from the really bad Christmassy piped music – no – wait – that’s the same as normal too! The French celebrate Christmas with a huge meal on P1040006 (640x480)Christmas Eve, which includes several courses over several hours, with family and friends. Christmas Day is much more low-key and there is no Boxing Day, like in the UK – it’s just another working day.

Our Christmas was going to a bit different to normal as we had a very hairy house guest – Gilda the Golden Retriever, who we were looking after for 12 days. With Jax, our six month old kitten, we were worried in case he didn’t get on with Gilda… but we needn’t have worried. A cat is definitely in charge and makes it known that ‘the new dog in town’ better behave and abide by the cat’s rules! Jax kept out of Gilda’s way for a few days and then he could be found pouncing on Gilda’s wagging tail, purring round her legs and P1040011 (640x559)hanging off her ears! It’s lucky that Gilda was such a placid dog – she was just so excited and happy that Jax wanted to play with her! It was soooo sweet. And when it was time for ‘walkies’, Jax invariably followed us down the field and sat watching Gilda running around at top speed chasing the odd rabbit and pheasant! It was lovely to have a dog for a few days, I’d forgotten what it was like and I enjoyed the morning and evening walks across the fields – didn’t even mind when it was raining and windy. She was a pleasure to look after and a real credit to her owner – so well behaved and obedient.

P1040027 - Copy (640x567)On Christmas Day, Dave started the day on Skype watching his children and grandchildren opening their presents. Then I talked to my three children and their partners on Skype as they had Christmas breakfast together at one of my daughter’s houses. At lunchtime, we went to our friend’s house for Christmas dinner. We decided that as we don’t get much opportunity to dress up here, we’d make an effort, so I put on a dress (unheard of!) and Dave dug out his tuxedo – very smart! Well, that was until you looked down to my feet…I had to wear wellies as it’s muddy outside!

In the UK, John and Ange used to run an Haute Cuisine restaurant in Cornwall, so Ange’s cooking is always lovely! It was a traditional Christmas meal mostly – Smoked Salmon mousse for starter with Melba toast; Roast Turkey and all the trimmings for main course; Girdle Buster Pie for dessert – a coffee flavoured, biscuit based dessert with coffee ice-cream and rich, caramel, coffee and alcohol P1040031 (640x480)flavoured topping – very rich and yummy! We pulled Christmas crackers, wore Christmas hats and had a very lovely afternoon and evening.

Then it was back to our lovely pre-medieval stone cottage to light the wood burner and have a glass of wine, whilst the cat and dog fell asleep next to each other on the rug in front of the fire… a lovely end to a lovely day. HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!

A French Christmas – Bon Noel!

P1030885 (625x640)Noel is the French word for Christmas and comes from the French phrase ‘Les Bonnes Nouvelles’, which means the good news.

How the French celebrate Christmas differs from region to region, with most areas celebrating Christmas Day on 25th December, which is a bank holiday – but no Boxing Day here – it’s just a normal working day! In Eastern and Northern France, la fête de Saint Nicolas kicks off the Christmas season on 6th December. And in Lyon, la Fête de lumières is celebrated on 8th December. At this time, people pay hommage to the Virgin Mary by putting candles in their windows to light up the sky.

P1030856 - Copy (640x158)

Here in the Charente, where I live, the Christmas Markets (Marché de Noel) start at the beginning of December and it’s a chance for people who make craft items to sell their wares. The stalls are plentiful and colourful – you can find some lovely handmade gifts and the food on some of the stalls is delicious!

Advent CandlesAdvent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Traditionally, families have a wreath on their table, Couronne de l’Avent. The wreath is made of holly, mistletoe, fir cones and ribbons – and also includes four candles. The candles represent love, peace, joy and hope. On the fourth Sunday before Christmas the first candle is lit – then on each of the following Sundays, another candle is lit until all four are alight on the Sunday before Christmas.

Christmas TreeThe streets in each village or commune are decorated with street lights and trees (Sapin de Noel). Trees are adorned with brightly coloured bows and ribbons, candles and a star on the top. Houses also have a Christmas tree, the same as in the UK and mistletoe is hung over the door. However, instead of hanging up a stocking, French children put their shoes under the tree or in front of the fireplace in the hope that Père noel or Papa noel, (Santa) fills them with fruit, sweets and small toys.

Another important aspect of Christmas in France is the nativity or crèche. You can buy your traditional crèche figures at the markets – as well as the usual Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, wise men, shepherds etc. often local craftsmen also make figures of local dignitaries and characters.

The main Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Eve, called Le Réveillon. The meal itself is more of a feast with several courses.

  • Roast TurkeyTypically it starts with an Aperitif such as Kir, with canapés usually featuring smoked salmon.
  • Then the Entrée (starter) – Foie Gras often features here with bread; Escargot and Oysters are also popular and all washed down with a sweet wine.
  • In France, chestnuts are very popular, so the main course with its turkey, duck or goose uses chestnut stuffing, along with diced potatoes and vegetables.
  • Next is the cheese course – maybe goat’s cheese on a bed of lettuce.
  • Finally the dessert – traditionally a bûche de Noel is served. This is a Yule Log – a Yule logcake made of chocolate and chestnuts. It represents the special wood log traditionally burnt from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day. Another dessert is Le Pain Calendal, which is a speciality of Southern France. A Christmas loaf, part of it is traditionally given to the poor.

Champagne

But wherever you celebrate Christmas, and whatever traditions you follow, have a great time. We’ll be lighting the wood burner and having our Christmas dinner on Christmas Day with friends.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Terracotta Flower Pot Heater

P1030908 (568x640)This week, my partner Dave has been busy pointing the stone walls in our utility room and shower room and has found a brilliant (and cheap) way to take the edge off the freezing cold of the room – a Terracotta Flower Pot Heater!.

For some background…a year ago we moved into pre-medieval ruined chateau – most of the chateau is just a pile of stones, but there is a cottage, which used to be the kitchen of the chateau, that is ‘habitable’ and of course in best French style – rustic! There is also another attached cottage, a big barn and other outbuildings, (all part of the old chateau) that is still standing and that we hope to renovate over time.

P1030906 (640x480)At the moment, Dave is renovating the shower room and utility room in our cottage to make it warmer for the impending winter months. The stone walls have been built and held together with mud (!) and the outside of the walls rendered, but there are loads of gaps and the cold air flows through the gaps at an alarming rate. Dave has been  pointing the inside stone to make it draught-proof and already, the temperature has been raised a few degrees. But still really cold when you need to take a shower. We could just plug in the electric heater of course, but Dave likes to try and find economical ways to do things!

P1030910 (512x640)Then he made a great discovery on YouTube – terracotta flower pot heaters. All you need is:

  • 1. three different sized terracotta flower pots    that can fit, one inside the other, with a gap between each pot
  • 2. tealight candles
  • 3. bolt, washers and nuts

Just type ‘Terracotta Flower Pot heater’ into the search engine and you will see several different versions of the heater, but they’re all basically the same. And it works!  The room is several degrees warmer and it’s just enough to take the chill off the room. It’s definitely worth a try to heat a small room…and could potentially save loads of money in heating bills!

Roast Pork and Redcurrant Jelly

P1030177 (800x600)The thing with living in rural France is that everywhere you go is a bit of a trek! At the moment, with a car that’s looking like it will need a new engine, and a van with an alternator on order, we’re a bit stuck. Luckily we have good friends who come and take me shopping, but we’re trying to be as frugal as possible in order to pay for at least one of the vehicles to be back on the road. And that’s where the good advice we had last year has come in handy!

We were told to stock up the freezer for winter, as most freelance workers hit a bit of a dry patch coming up to Christmas…how true! So, I’m very glad to have stocked the freezer with half a pig and a whole lamb, as well as buying chicken when it’s been on special offer. Next year, we’re hoping to rear our own chickens for meat, but this year we’re stuck with the bargains we can find in the Intermarche or Lidl!

P1030183 (800x600)I also heeded the advice to get as much as you can for free – so during our first year here, we’ve pruned the Redcurrant bushes and were rewarded with a bumper harvest. I took the bull by the horns and made Redcurrant jelly – and it’s delicious….the fact that it  set was a miracle, but it actually tastes nice. And, with a lovely piece of roast tenderloin, Redcurrant jelly goes down a treat.

P1030377 (640x489)We also had a massive harvest of Damsons – we’ve got three trees – I wasn’t really sure if they were Damsons or Plums, but after surfing the internet (thank goodness for google search), I found they were Damsons. Again, I decided to make jelly – mmm, not quite such a success – some of the jars of jelly set – others didn’t. Mind you, it still tastes nice and I know where I went wrong. P1030381 (640x480)Luckily, I froze several bags of Damsons, so will be able to make more in the winter…or dig out the recipe books and find something else to make. I’ve also frozen several plastic bottles filled with elderflower cordial, so need to find something to make with that too.

Well, if anyone has any ideas or has any delicious recipes for Damsons or Elderflower cordial, please let me know!

Wood Smoke and Wet Grass

Well, it can certainly be said that autumn is well and truly here. It’s that time of year when there’s the smell of wood smoke in the air. I must admit I love the smell when I’m outside and you can see everyone’s chimney smoking, but I’m not so keen on it, when I open the wood burner and get a face-full!

DSCF1204 (547x640)My partner was very busy at the beginning of the month – with all the wind and stormy weather, there were huge branches that had fallen off the trees…and in some cases…small trees, just lying around the place, so he’s been hauling it up to the open barn and chopping it up for firewood. We now have a very healthy stack ready for the winter…hazel, which is great for starting the fire as it burns quickly…and oak, lime flower tree and chestnut. We were newbies to France last year and bought our wood, but this year, as we have loads of it spread over our eight and a half acres, it made sense to do it ourselves!

Autumn leavesI love this time of year…it’s so fresh and crisp in the mornings – there’s been a few times when I’ve looked out of the window to see a light mist hanging eerily over our courtyard …and it’s definitely getting wetter underfoot. I’ve been putting my wellies on every morning when I go round to let out the chickens…after getting fed up with having wet feet when wearing my summer shoes. And I’ve noticed that the chicken run is getting muddier by the day with all the rain we’ve had over the past few weeks. But it doesn’t seem to bother them – they’re still happy to scratch around and seem to be finding plenty of insects and tiny slugs, which they love. However, even with the abundance of insects brought out by the wetter weather, they still run up to  me for their bread and water mix or whatever tasty treat or ‘leftover’ I have for them. But with the days being shorter and getting darker earlier, they’re not spending so much time outside and seem to be enjoying their lovely insulated(!) coop, all huddled together at night.

P1030265 (640x613)Elsewhere on the land, the leaves are turning to the lovely oranges, golds and yellows of autumn and are starting to fall at an alarming rate. We’ll have to get the rake out soon! Still the good thing about the weather getting colder is that the fire is alight all day, it’s toasty warm inside and I’m happy to be writing, snuggled up on the sofa! The only downside is that Jax, the cat, also wants to snuggle up on the sofa and keeps walking across my keyboard!