Saturday, 30 September 2017

Only in France!

Brico marche has become my favourite shop. It's a lot like B&Q only more interesting and on a different scale. Brico Depot is big and in the bigger towns but Brico marche is local and has some great deals, plus Netto is next door and sometimes it's cheaper than Lidl, in France and England!  Imagine my surprise, delight and maybe even horror when I saw the (little) big top of the circus camped on the lawn in front of these mini supermarkets. I was horrified by the pictures of the clowns, large and small (a child clown may be a more horrifying nightmare than a normal clown!) and delighted by the camels, a Freisian stallion and a small bull maybe a French Dexter type and probably not even male (I couldn't see evidence of gender!)
Imagine our shock then, when we saw lions, yes real, big lions in a cage outside our favourite shops! They were well fed and looked mostly content, but it was still a flimsy looking cage up close! After the third visit, we were quit blase and went up close to the cage for these photos. I think we're getting quite used to living here!
During one of our frequent visits to Brico marche, I noticed this lovely bookcase and realised that I could adapt it to fit Moomin's room. She didn't want a full sized wardrobe as she wanted most of her wall to be a floor to ceiling bookcase. The antique wardrobe that was in her room was huge and was dismantled to be used for something else. They aren't worth a great deal more than the value of timber.
We put it together and left out the middle shelf to give her hanging room. Then I bought some tongue and groove cladding and boxed it all in.
We had a good old laugh when we realised that I'd gone a bit wonky with fitting the back panels, but it didn't matter. This was a unit made by me, Moomin and the son (he sawed up the panels when my back gave out). This was all done while BF fitted the new shower in our little shower room. I think we made more noise and managed a bit more swearing than him, but got there in the end.
I also managed to make a banana and walnut loaf
and a leek and walnut pastry tart (like a quiche, but not).
We have a tonne of walnuts to finish sorting and I've started writing a tentative beginning to a book, of sorts. I don't know if it will be a recipe book, a book about living in France or just a book about nuts! I have plenty of walnut recipes to work through, that's for sure and plenty of nuts to back me up. Wait til I start on the chestnuts!!!

Monday, 25 September 2017

It's all going nuts!

I've been looking at ways of preserving our walnut harvest which seems to be getting a bit out of hand. Yesterday I thought we had a good haul, but after the heavy winds of last night, the crop had easily quadrupled! There's no real way of knowing how many nuts are on a tree as most are concealed by the leaves. I really wasn't expecting to have this many though. I've ordered a vacuum pack machine and had decided to shell and pack the nuts and store them in the freezer as this avoids any risk of bacteria. It seems that if you look up preserving food of any kind, the US posts the most informative methods, including all the dangers and scientific proof to validate their concerns. We could die from botulism at any given day! However, it's good to err on the side of caution, so my solution is to do my homework and take all the information on board!
A basketful of nuts, once shelled, gave us a small bowl of flesh. It didn't matter as it was enough to experiment with. The shelled nuts were put on a roasting tray and baked for 10 minutes. Half of the tray were left to cool for lunch tomorrow, in a salad and the other half were made into a sort of granola/flapjack thing.
I heated a half cup of sugar until it became liquid. Stirred in a slice of butter and then stirred in the walnuts and a half teaspoon of cinnamon and a half cup of oats.
It all quickly cooled and set into little clumps of toffe nuts and oats. It was so hard not to eat the lot straight away, so I quickly put it all into a pot for tomorrow mornings breakfast or snacks.  The nuts have to be processed in some way as they wont keep for longer than three weeks, roughly, without going mouldy. The nuts we buy in shops have all been processed to given them a long shelf life, whereas these nuts are full of moisture and not at all like the ones we expect to eat at Christmas!

This was the moment when Manchee got out of the house and ran to help Moomin with the nut collecting. He's been cooped up a lot this week, recovering from his latest health problem. It was an unfortunate event arising from two households merging. Some animals just aren't meant to get along together and in this case, Manchee was the loser! Again!!!
Finn showed that he's more than able to deal with silly ponies running around. As soon as they see me, they all expect to be fed! They simply can't understand that I would want to collect nuts instead of getting their dinner! What craziness is this? they ask???
Finn and Cotton love playing on the wall in front of the house. I first saw this wall on the Estate Agents website. How was I to know then that my very own precious cats would find it such a lovely place to play. They've settled in perfectly and it makes my heart glad :D

Sunday, 24 September 2017


I took a lovely fleece and made it bad! The cats look far from impressed! 'We're not eating that!' they wailed!!!
It looked less disgusting when it had dried, but thank goodness I only used a small amount of wool. I thought it was and old shetland fleece, but realised after combing it that it was the Polwarth! I'm going to over-dye it, probably with turmeric, as that's a good strong colour.
You can see the two fibres here. The right side is without dye and the left with.
Here are the two colours side by side. It's not what I was hoping for at all! I've come to the conclusion that if I want bright, vibrant greens, then I should probably collect the plants in Spring, when they're full of bright green sap. I expect that the only colours I can achieve now are the browns and reds of Autumn. I guess it makes sense that I have to look to the colours around me and dye accordingly and go with the seasons. This is a lovely lesson, in many ways, as I've come here to live with the landscape and the plants have told me clearly how I need to approach this new hobby of mine.

I have a big pot of walnut husks bubbling away in the Cave. They're just fermenting in their juices at the moment. When I want to boil them up for the colour, I'll have a fire at the back of the field. The smell from the last pot has only just left the house!!!

We had a lovely time yesterday with our French neighbours and they were extremely hospitable. They commented that my French was passable and helpfully corrected some of my silly mistakes, mainly, calling everything 'he'. There was so much laughter despite our differences and limited communication. I'm looking forward to our next gathering and have found a renewed energy for learning the language :D

In a few days time, I'll be meeting the farmer who will supply us with hay. Again, he speaks no English, so I'm learning all about feeds and forages. You can't find any of that in a phrasebook!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Winter? Not yet!

In my last post I talked about the long winter evenings. We've had a weeks worth of rain and I felt that Autumn was rushing straight into Winter. I was wrong! The last few days have been gorgeously warm and this afternoon I had to put shorts and sandals on as it was getting quite hot!
The lake is just so beautiful, in any weather, but when the sun's out, it shines! If it's this warm tomorrow, I'm taking Manchee for a paddle :D
The colours around us are literally glowing with the amazing light. I love it here so much.
I started playing with natural mordants this week. Moomin and I picked a few pounds of acorns that had to be de-shelled and then crushed. The shed (that will become the Gite) is full of tools and instruments. This little hammer was perfect for bashing the acorns into manageable pieces.
I then found an old coffee grinder that I used to turn the acorns into a dry meal. I soaked the meal in several batches of water to produce the mordant.
It looked a lot like a strong cuppa, but really, no one would be tempted to drink it ;)

I used a variety of leaves and plants to make a strong dye. It looks much prettier at this stage than later!
I can't upload the next batch of pictures, but believe me, I took a handful of gleaming white fleece and made it dull and grey! Hey ho, back to the drawing board!

Meanwhile in the house, my dear one was busy creating a new bathroom in the box room. He made a lot of mess and a hole in the wall. We then spent over an hour looking at pipes and their connectors, such fun! On the way back the car started to play up and I realised that my brakes weren't working! I can't tell you how scared I was. I had to use the gears to slow us down (thank goodness for a manual gearbox) and thankfully, the roads were quiet and most of our route was uphill. When we finally pulled into the drive, I wanted to faint with relief.
I have breakdown cover and was assured that an English speaking mechanic would be with me within the hour. Well, he was on time, but didn't speak a word of English! I had my trusty phrasebook handy and explained that the breaks had gone. We laughed a bit as he climbed into the passenger side and looked for the steering wheel, then still chuckling, he got into the other side and started the car. I had visions of him sliding across the neighbours lawn, but he was careful and agreed that my brakes were rubbish.
I was assured that my car would be returned on Monday. As he climbed into his cab he looked thoughtful and ammended that I should get it back by Tuesday, probably. I wasn't worried, I'd been warned that life moved at it's own pace here. No sooner had he left the drive than my dear neighbour Madame F came rushing over. Holdling my hand tightly she reassured me that if I needed anything at all, I could use her car, or she would get me what I needed. How lucky am I to have such kind people around me?
I sat on the wall for a bit in the sun and read my French for beginners books. Tomorrow we are to have Aperitifs with Madam F and her husband. They speak no English! It could be interesting.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Dyeing to begin.

We've been here a short while, but already I need to start working, start planning. I have a little book about dyeing yarn naturally, using the plants that grow locally. I'm so thrilled that I have walnut trees and oak trees for their acorns. The walnuts give a variety of brown and gold colours and the acorns are for mordanting ,that is to fix the colour to the fibres. I've ordered some seeds to grow flowers and plants that will help me create a natural pallete so that my wool is a reflection of the land around me. I hope somehow to recreate this beautiful lilac of the heather that fills the woodland spaces between the trees.
 There are so many mosses and lichens among and on the trees. They produce such a variety of colours but as I'm not at all familiar with the different types, the colour results could be quite an adventure!
I read that there has been research into the properties of plants used for colouring wool and their ability to alter the health of the person wearing them. How lovely it would be to wear a colour that makes you feel happy while knowing that it is affecting your health beneficially. It's a lovely notion and one that I'm willing to indulge.

The ponies arrived at midnight a few nights ago. We waved the lorry into the field with torches and the silence was broken by the sounds of kicking from inside. The ramp was lowered and Bo had slipped his headcollar yet again! He was lose, but safely confined in his stall. Merlin came out first, fiery as ever and stamped around his new field, staking his boundary! Bo and then Toffee walked with restrained excitement until all three were together and then they lay down and rolled off the stress of their journey. Next came BF's horses, I think they were glad to be away from my rowdy boys! They were certainly a lot quieter!
Bo and Merlin, checking it all out.
 From left to right, Benson, Maggie, Jerry and Flash. New models for me to paint ;)
 My boys, Bo, Merlin and Toffee <3

My poor Manchee has been in the wars again. It doesn't seem fair sometimes that such a sweet dog should have such trials. We took him to the vet and I managed a passable amount of French to convey his problems. He is mending, slowly. It's funny, but the book he was named after, 'The Knife of never letting go' has been made into a film called 'Chaos Walking' after the Trilogy. I guess it was inevetable that such a literary wonder should be transferred to film. I doubt however the success of it. I'll watch it anyway and will no doubt complain bitterly about the treatment of it's characters. I wonder most about Manchee, will he be the hero I found in the book, or an interesting sidekick for Tom Holland's portrayal of Todd?

So, what next? Well, the Oakmoon Studio will be given a new name, the Website will be re-written and my new products will be tested over the long, silent winter months.
We are in a quiet little village so we can focus on our new goals. We have a 'Cave' (store room) full of food and supplies, lovely, friendly neighbours and a fire in our hearts to succeed. There is a long way yet to go until all is sorted, but we have a few months until everything is quiet and I only have my art and my knitting to while away the hours. It sounds like a peaceful winter to me :D

Friday, 8 September 2017

Quick update.

I'mflying through to make the most of my internet connection, which has been utterly awful. I've paid extra to have roaming abroad on my phone and simply can't get the flaming thing to work! I hope I don't lose this post!

So, as I said, we've arrived. The cats only managed to stay in for two weeks before they drove us so mad that we almost threw them out! Finn was first out and very brave.
He loved the windowsill on the Gite. It's going to look so pretty when we fix the window with a piece of stained glass and a traditional frame.
Piper (above) went all around the house and that was if for the day. She now ventures over to our neighbours drive and they seem to adore her!
Below, Fae sneaking off to the corn fields. She often sits under the giant Walnut tree in the center of this picture.
I was due to come back to England to sort out the ponies, but the transporter changed the dates and I decided to stay. This was a lucky move as that night Manchee was extremely ill and began vomiting blood! The following 24hours were spent nursing him and slowly he recovered. Below is the day he began to be more like himself so we took him to the river for a treat.
The woodlands around our nearby lake are so ancient and mysterious.

The lake shore in the rain is just as lovely as in the sun.
We walked steep and rocky paths alongside the lake. I can see so many hours spent exploring. I have so many paintings forming in my head and when my lovely BF came back from England, he brought my paint box, thank goodness. I felt like I was missing a limb!
Finally I finished my first ever sock, then 6 attempts later, managed to cast on the second! Thank goodness I had enough connection to check youtube to see where I was going wrong. It's been raining steadily all day, so there will be more sock knitting.
Next week, we finally get to collect the ponies. I'm beside myself with excitement. I wonder what our neighbours will think of them??? I hope to visit my blogging friends soon, when I can get a broadband connection sorted. In the meantime, hugs to you all.x