Monday, 26 November 2007

Earning Money....At Last!

I sat up late, Saturday, to see LeeLee when she returned from her first money-earning job. She was over the moon - with cash in her hand!!

Our neighbours have a delightful little baby girl, and a couple of weeks ago asked if LeeLee would be interested in babysitting for them.

She has always been a little jealous that her friends in England are able to work virtually full time whilst 'studying' for 4 A'levels - they only have 10 hours of lessons a week whereas she has 37 hours plus LOTS of homework!

Sunday is the only day in the week that she does not go to college although she does have Wednesday and Saturday afternoons off as well.

Talk about jammy though. The little girl happily eats and drinks everything in sight and always sleeps through the night. So during 5 hours of babysitting (at the beginning of which the Mum/Dad put their little girl to bed as normal) LeeLee had very little to do!
***
These neighbours have two dogs who guard their house and garden....as well as our front door, our barn, our garden, the chemin between our houses and the road in front.

They got their first dog Hugo a few years ago - an exceptionally good-natured and friendly white Argentinian Hound. Our cats immediately went round and made friends with him and he adores them. They had great fun jumping all over him and snuggling up with him in his garden. They were a little surprised however when he continued to grow and became a large muscle-bound tank with only a forward gear!

He has the biggest chest and deepest bark I have ever come across. And a long, ever wagging tail!

A couple of years later they decided to get him a companion - a little black French Bulldog. The ugliest, big-eared, snub-nosed animal that you can imagine.

Behind her fence, she is aggression on legs and barks (yaps I mean!) ferociously at anything that moves beyond her domain. Vanda adores Hugo, whilst also being jealous of any attention he gets. She is however very friendly if she knows you. Honestly!

Hugo, the gentle giant, just carries on with his life and Vanda snuggles up to him at every opportunity. They are an incongruous 'odd' couple!
Aware that dogs can be over protective of a child in their family, LeeLee was careful when she arrived for baby sitting. No need......

The dogs were super friendly and immediately settled down on their bed in the kitchen for the night. LeeLee heard VERY LOUD snores and thought at first it was the baby via the monitor. The Mum laughed and said it was the dogs - in particular Vanda! It carried on for the full 5 hours LeeLee was there!!

Who said that?

Was it you?

Who then?

Someone over there!!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Marchés de Noël Arrivent !

With Christmas on the horizon, markets are appearing everywhere in our region.

(Look here to see a list of those scheduled in our Department!)

Today, our options were - Roujan (Foire au gras), Olargues (Fête du Marron et du Vin Nouveau) and Poujols Sur Orb (Grand Marché Cévenol).

We decided on Roujan because last time it was great fun - all along the main streets. This year however it was in the area near the stade with only a handful of stalls.

It seems they have moved the main Marché de Noël to the nearby Château Abbaye de Cassan next weekend. Our issue?! The Chateau insists on charging you to go in their gate to look at the stalls - in addition to charging all the stall holders a hefty fee!! We boycott them on principle - as we have mentioned before when we found them charging to let you through their gate to reach brocante stalls!!

Disappointed with Roujan, we motored back to Poujol sur Orb just down the road.

This little town sits by the river, over which is a newly restored bridge - the old one was famous for the sign that told you that it was unsafe to travel across it if the temperature was below a certain level!

Just at the entrance to the marché, were two donkeys and two mules offering rides to the children - the animals came from a working farm in the mountains.


The animals were in beautiful condition with thick winter coats so soft to the touch.


The tails of the mules looked like they had been plaited at the top, but were in fact trimmed into that pattern. Incredible!



What took me aback was how tall/large the mules were. Their backs were on a level with people's heads! They could not fit under the awnings of the stalls!!




Last year at the marché there was a lady showing children how to 'throw' pots and displaying some of her wares. We fell in love with them and their black and white glaze, but none were for sale. She make pottery for her own enjoyment - not for resale.


She was there again today and once again we were in awe of the quality of her modelling and the black and white glazes. This time we persuaded her to sell us one little pot - and it is now sitting proudly on our table.


Not sure who to give ham or garlic to for Christmas - but there was a lot to choose from!

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Pink, Teenagers and Mind Reading

Saw a food & drink programme today where everyone looked down their noses at rosé wine, describing it as a 'girls drink'. The cheek of it!!

In England, they are obviously not used to the wide range of quality pink wines we have available around here.
***

Children everywhere deride their parents' dress style. With two teenagers in our house, we get the usual flak.

How come then items keep disappearing out of my wardrobe and appearing on said teenagers?!

The worst thing is that the ever-growing Nic looks like joining LeeLee soon in having the same sized feet as me. I will have no shoes/boots left to wear!!

(PICTURE: Baby of the family nearly as tall as me now!)

Neither Richard nor I get around to buying clothes etc for ourselves very often, so it was quite an event when I bought a black/grey striped top in the sales last month.

Trouble is - I have not had a chance to wear it. LeeLee however is seen at college in it every week!!

For months now, LeeLee has been bewailing the fact that she NEEDS some black jeans. Well, she gets an allowance, so what is the problem - go buy a pair!

Trouble is, she spends her allowance each month before she gets around to buying the jeans. Next thing I see this week - MY black jeans suddenly appearing on her.

Seems the 'so dated, straight legged, bound to be too big for me' black jeans are 'OK really' all of a sudden.
***
I sat up late last night drawing up our Christmas lists (why is it ALWAYS the Mother that has to do this?!). Richard and my 'joint' list comprised mainly of books as you can imagine (!).

This morning I found a delivery from Amazon in our post box - an Xmas present from our Best Man and his family in England. It was a particular book that I had only found out about last night - and had added to our list!!

A bit freaky when you find out that people know you SO well!

Friday, 23 November 2007

Playing

As you can see, I have been tinkering with my blog's template.

I thought there was a lot of wasted space so I have expanded it across the screen. This in turn meant I could increase the size of the font - for those readers who are optically challenged!

Still some tidying up to do, and I am not yet convinced whether I like it.....so watch this space.
***

Today we have been looking at christmas trees - yes, it is only 4.5 weeks away!!!!

Since we are staying home this year, we have decided to put one on the terrace and put up new lights etc round the over hang.

Richard LOVES lights and so these are already bought. He cannot wait to start putting them up!!!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Miserable Day

A miserable day, lots of rain and gale force winds.

In the midst of this, our neighbour has had to dig up the chemin next to our house because his sewage pipe is blocked, so lots of mud and caca.

Try sending the dog out to 'do her business' whilst explaining to her that she must not join in with our neighbour's fun!
***
Nic got her first 20 out of 20 in a Technology test today. What a surprise - it wasn't for English?!

So we gave her a ten euro bonus and then she was surprised - she did not realise we paid a bounty for full marks!

Who says children work hard for the love of it?! We always found that a monetary reward worked wonders with LeeLee!

PS
Very pleased that, whatever else they struggle with, our children know all about computers in two languages. The techno test was on all the various symbols etc on a Windows/PC screen eg minimise the screen, change the font, etc.

What was funny when we saw Nic's test, was that instead of writing the answers they had been taught in class - she wrote her own (more accurate) actual descriptions. The teacher was a bit surprised, but admitted he could not fault her.

My guess is that she did not bother to learn the lesson, just relied on her practical knowledge.....

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Count Your Blessings

This post is 'late' because I was unsure whether to upload it. I wrote it when we were all upset, and I am still in two minds as to whether it is right to detail someone else's personal life in a blog.
***
Look at your life today and count your blessings. We are.

Last night we were speaking to our very best (French) friend whose whole world, and that of his three young children, has been smashed to smithereens.

It is impossible and indeed very wrong for someone on the outside to make fair judgements on a relationship - what truly goes on behind closed doors is only known fully by the couple concerned.

However, the way a couple break up and deal with the aftermath does indeed reflect on them as individuals.

A few weeks ago our friend's partner of thirteen years, and mother of his three young children, left. He found out that she had moved in with someone she had known for some time.

Dealing not only with his own shock but also the children's incomprehension, he had the added problem of how on earth he was going to juggle work and getting his three young children to/from three different schools. His eldest daughter (at eleven) was too young to be expected to look after the youngest (at 4years old).

Originally the family lived in our village. Our friend's work was always such that his hours were flexible and enabled him to spend time with his partner and the children as a family. Each day he got the children ready for school, walked them to the bus, met them at the bus stop at the end of their day and cooked the dinner for the family.

In the relevant seasons, he took the children digging for wild leeks amongst the vines, searching for mushrooms in the chestnut woods, finding asparagus amongst the verges and picking blackberries.

He and the children cleared the land around their villa and planted vegetables, built a chicken enclosure and collected the eggs once the birds were settled in to their new home.

Then his partner mentioned that she wanted to live somewhere less isolated and near a beach, and that it would be better if he had a regular job.

Therefore eighteen months ago the family left our village and moved further away from their families and friends. He started an annual-contract job at a college and the family moved to a villa by the beach. An expensive rental in a tourist hotspot, but just possible because of his new job.

His partner was a good mother, if a bit moody, but difficult to be friends with. At first we thought it was just us (!) but soon discovered that everyone found her difficult - her family, his family, friends, and indeed the children.

Recently our friend realised that he was not going to be able to cope all by himself, so contacted his partner. He was in an impossible position - he needed to work to be able to provide a home for the children, but this meant he could not be at home to look after them.

The partner agreed that, if he moved out of the villa, she would move in with her new partner and look after the children. It was the children's home, with their pets and their bedrooms, so he agreed - it seemed best for the children. He did not want to disrupt their lives any more than was necessary.

He pays for the rental, etc and provides for the children. The children adore their father and want to live with him - but he is only able to afford a one-room studio for himself, too small for the children to stay with him for any length of time.

He has done what he feels was best for the children - but he has lost everything he held dear. The children cannot understand why their father is not there every day as before, nor why they have to live with their mother.

An impossible situation with no winners, only losers.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

UPDATE: View From Our Ruin !

Just to cheer you all up - thought you would like to see our view this morning. Yes, it is not always bright sunshine in the South of France!
Last night we saw Michael our neighbour clearing his garden......and thought that maybe we would stack our chairs on the terrace. Just in case a bit of bad weather was on the way.

Throughout the night the wind built and the rain started. This morning - this is what we saw.
The white table is usually behind where I am standing to take the picture. And had had on top of it a couple of Richard's tool boxes full of chisels, spanners and other heavy objects. These are now liberally spread over the terrace!When Richard got up with the girls (not a red alert so schools are still open!) the gale force was so bad it was forcing the catflap to be permanently horizontal and letting in all the rain and wind.

The cat had got up with him, eaten some breakfast, and gone out for a quick pee. Bad move! Richard decided to batten down the hatches and shut all the shutters.
He came back to bed and went to sleep.

Vaguely, I remember hearing meowing but thought - can't be our cat - there is no way she would be out in this storm. Of course, when we got up, I found out what Richard had done - locked her out!
We have been calling her every quarter of an hour to let her in since then. Just to make Richard feel guilty, she did not come home. She deliberately waited until he left at lunchtime to pick the girls up, before appearing at the window to be let in!

Having had a VERY BAD week with the Internet, we fully expected to have no electricity, telephone, satellite or Internet today with such a storm raging outside - as is usual in these conditions.

Just to piss me off - it is all working beautifully! So here is today's post - early!

PS
For the first time ever, we have rain being forced in through the cracks round the patio door onto the terrace. That is how strong the wind is!!

PPS
The girls have just got back for lunch and said that their teachers are not in this afternoon - they are supporting the National Strike.

It is amazing how 'supportive' they become in an afternoon when the weather is atrocious! They were all in class this morning!

Monday, 19 November 2007

Music and Friends

Making the most of the Internet actually working (!) I am posting three at a time - just to catch up!!


***
Carol and John (who were here for lunch yesterday) had brought with them their music albums on three DVDs - goodness, each disk holds so much!!

They kindly asked if we would like to take copies.....and that is what Richard is doing at the moment.

The girls were delighted because there are many artists that they love - and it meant they could cross these albums off their Christmas lists! Or, more accurately, my Christmas list. It is amazing how many albums get onto my list - where the artist is totally unknown to me!?

Richard is delighted because there are albums that he has got on vinyl (if you are younger than us, you will not know what I am talking about!!) and has never got around to buying on CD yet. He is crooning to all the Neil Diamond ones at this very moment!

Me, I am sure I am going to be delighted but I just cannot get on that computer at the moment - there are too many people queuing up for it!!

So thank-you so much Carol and John - we are all delighted with your choices of music!!


***
Up until two weeks ago, LeeLee did not have Windows Messenger available on our PCs to 'speak' to her friends. She had survived quite happily without it.

With the Internet being 'down' these last few days - LeeLee has been going ballistic. 'But I HAVE to talk to my friends this evening - it is VERY important! Make it work, Mum!'

Mum's reply - use the phone then!!

***

Richard has just discovered 'Steeleye Span' on the DVD's - and it is amazing how you remember the words after all these years!!

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Frosty Morning

The temperature has dropped considerably over night - it was minus five degrees this morning on the terrace. The frost on Michael's roof was thick and glistening in the bright sunshine!
You can just see the fields covered in white - although my photo taking does not do it justice!

From inside the house, with the fire blazing, it looked like mid-summer outside. Just open the door - and you get a shock!!
***
The friends we had over today for lunch, are actually people that found our blog and started reading it, following our day to day life, a few months ago.

It was at a time when they were in the process of buying a studio just down the road from us which we are now going to keep an eye on for them, looking after their 'guests'.

We all got on as if we had known each other for years! It was a great day - a typical French lunch, lasting 6 hours!! Relaxing and fun. But it was a bit surreal at times - they of course knew everything that had been going on with us, even though we had never met until this week!

Just to make you hungry, we had:

Nibbles:
Sliced salami, fried chorezo, paté and onion relish on melba toast and (our latest invention!) garlic cream cheese spread on baguette slices topped with parma ham and roasted red peppers!

Starter:
Pistou soup.

Second Course:
Salad with garlic croutons and fried lardons. I managed not to burn the croutons this time, so miracles do happen!

Main Course:
Roasted vegetables (sprinkled with balsamic vinegar) mixed with couscous. And a boned leg of lamb, marinated with garlic, lemon and olive oil. This was going to be barbecued - until I asked Richard at the last minute when he was going to light the barbecue....and he said 'I thought you were roasting it in the oven?!'

Dessert:
Pears poached in red wine and spices, with creme fraiche. Never tried this before - and it was delicious!

Cheese Platter:
Roquefort, reblechon and brie.
***
What are we having tomorrow night for dinner? Just reread the above.....we had a lot left over!!

Saturday, 17 November 2007

SCREAM !!

For about 6 days we have had workmen in the village playing around with our (above ground!) telephone cables.

During this time, we have had very intermittent Internet connections.

The workmen disappeared three days ago - and since then we have had NO Internet connection at all!!!

I am fed up......and SCREAMING !!

So apologies to everyone - I have not been able to post to the blog(s). Of course I cannot now remember anything that has happened.
***
Tomorrow we have friends coming for Sunday lunch and I decided to make pistou soup as the starter.

Usually I make the stock for soup by roasting a chicken (for dinner) and then using the carcass the next day.

This time I decided instead to poach the chicken in white wine and water, with large chunks of vegetables (so that they do not disintegrate into the liquid!). It was a success!

We had the poached chicken (excluding the skin!) for dinner and I had a wonderful, flavoursome stock for the soup!!

Yummy!
***
For the last 36 hours I have been trying to get a connection to the Orange server to 'see' the e-mails there, and finally one came back just now.

Guess what it was?!

Orange telling us we had some 'undesirables' we should check. I would if I could get their f***ing server to connect!!!!!

Friday, 16 November 2007

Things I Hate ....

..... in the blogger world.

(I know - I am a gobby, miserable, so-and-so sometimes. Or so my children tell me!)

1. Blogs that have adverts all over the pages.

It slows everything down and I HATE having advertisements thrust at me, whether it is on the Internet, in the street or through the mail!! One blog I used to enjoy reading, got so bad that it would lock up my PC until all I could do was crash and reboot it. I no longer go there!!

I know you 'earn' some money from adverts, but you lose readers because of it. And who the hell actually looks at these adverts with a view to buying?!

2. Blogs that go many days without a posting - with no warning!

I might be unreasonable (unlikely, but I will concede that there is a possibility...), but if you are interested in attracting readers to your blog - then you could at least bother to do some posts regularly.

When I find a blog I enjoy, I check it each day to see what is happening in their world. If it goes a few days without anything new - I get fed up and often never go back.

I know you get busy sometimes and maybe go on holiday (!), but surely it would be a courtesy to say ' will be away for a while - come back again in about xx number of days'. It is not rocket science, you know.....it is called customer service!

3. Advertising articles poorly disguised as posts.

We are not idiots, so do not treat us like one! If a blog is about your daily life....it is surprisingly easy to spot a post in which you suddenly purport to 'love' some obscure rental car company, ferry operator with cheap deals or property company.

And I don't think it will pull the wool over the eyes of the Taxman either! (No income to declare?! Yeah, right!!)

4. Blogs that are fake.

Where every other post 'mentions' in passing the fact that you rent out your house/gite, or drops into the conversation that you (or a friend) have some 'lovely items currently for sale on an e-bay shop'.

Be upfront - and I will let you get away with it. Try and be sneaky and, well, goodbye!

Tell me about your REAL day to day life running a gite, with all its trials and tribulations, and I am happy. Yes you have a gite to rent, and I hope you get some customers via the blog. But at least your posts are interesting.

If it is a blog specifically to advertise your gite - great! But be up front and say so at the top - do not try and disguise it as a personal blog.

5. Miserable blogs.

I want to read about your real life, with all its ups and downs.

But, get real. If you only write about all the negatives, with permanent depression - surely you need proper therapy help, not the home grown variety via an online diary that you have opened up to the whole world?!

6. Pictures.

They always make posts more interesting - try and include some now and then.

7. Expat Forums.

Great idea - but most, in practise, end up with too much 'junk' chatting on the forums.

If I look under a 'subject heading' in a forum, what is the use of finding the same handful of people wandering off the subject in their own little world. Get active administrators - and make sure only relevant posts are loaded!!

***

I feel better now! Normal postings resume tomorrow!

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Readers and Friends

I am still amazed to find that people actually read my 'waffle' on this blog, and am especially chuffed when it is someone who found it by accident on the Internet - rather than just a family member!!

Carol & John recently came across my postings at a time when they were in the process of buying a studio just down the road in Lamalou. What a coincidence!

And today we got to meet up for the first time! There are some people you hit it off with straight away - and we are looking forward to them coming round for Sunday lunch this weekend. Will keep you posted.....with photos hopefully.
***

Our dog was absolutely delighted when we got two kittens (really!) and loved them to bits....until they started 'padding' her ears and tummy, etc. Then she told us in no uncertain terms that the novelty had worn off and the cats could go back to wherever they came from.

Only problem? The cats continue to view Xena as their favourite mother and snuggle up to her at every opportunity.

Prohibited from persuading them to leave her alone by using her teeth, she resorts to scowling.....which does not do any good. So she ends up pushing off in a huff.

Trouble is.......the cat (one died unfortunately) usually follows!
***
Sharing the dog's bed............even if it is difficult to snuggle up to the bum end!


(Dog is not dead, honest, just dead to the world in front of the warm fire!)

Dog realises what is going on.......and pushes off.

Cat follows....

Dog scowling ....




Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Windy journeys and Catch up Photos

We drove Colin to Girona Airport today for his flight back to England.

It was dangerous driving with such strong cross winds - only just managed to keep on my feet when returning to the car with five carrier bags full of bottles (of alcohol) at La Jonquera!!

Looking forward to Christmas in La Sesquière now.......
***
Picked up the camera on the way back, so can now post some photos taken at the Santon Musée.

In the market place:




Mary and Jesus:
The Three Kings:
And especially for our reader(s) in Nimes (you know who you are Alex!), a whole mountain village with nativity from the Nimes region!

Sorry my photos are not very impressive - the lighting was bad inside the museum!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Breakfast, French Style

We took Colin to the market in Lamalou this morning and he had a local 'breakfast'.

Seafood is excellent down here - fresh and very good value. Oysters and mussels are ten-a-penny and eaten every week (if not daily!) by everyone.

The problem?! Richard and I are not particularly 'into' oysters - if we are offered them, we eat them to be polite but they are not something we yearn for. A shame given they are so good down here!!

However Colin does like them - and so we went to the market......where there is a stall that sells platters of oysters (and mussels) with a glass of Picpoul de Pinet white wine. It is always packed with locals - and in particular, the stall holders - having them for breakfast. Colin assures us they were delicious!! We did not verify this ourselves though.....
***
Yesterday, at Bedarieux market, we stopped by and said hello to René the seafood man - who is also the father of one of LeeLee's best friends at college. He goes down to the coast VERY early in the morning and gets his shellfish direct from the fishermen - and drives like crazy to get it back to the market the same morning. Super fresh indeed!

Chatting at 10:00am in the morning, he mentioned that he had already sold 80 kilos of oysters and 100 kilos of mussels.

Wow! He explained though that the numbers were so low because it is winter now........in summer he sometimes sells up to 5 times as much!!!!
***
Pictures are off Colin's camera.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Santons - Encore!

Persevering.........we set off again to the Musée Santons du Monde.

This time (although we were a bit early) it did open, and on time!

Interesting and popular with children, it is amazing just how many countries around the world make santons and in particular - nativity crechés. The materials they use are so diverse, and I love the fact that the 'characters' of the models reflect the people themselves and their own way of life.

How many of you know that in South America they believe that a lama was in the stable specifically to 'breathe' on the baby Jesus - because their breathe is used to provide warmth!

***
We had a great evening with our friends Riet and Albert. They invited us for aperos and we came away very well fed indeed!! No supper for us was needed afterwards! Their homemade aoli was the best we had ever tasted.

Their villa is looking super - after a couple of months of hard work, their extension is virtually finished and by opening up the inside of the main building they have produced a fantastic open plan home. Ideal now that they are retiring down here to live permanently - we are so pleased!
***
No photos because I left the camera at our friends - I will post some when I can!!

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Pigging Out At Lunch

Our current visitor Colin generously asked if he could take us out to a restaurant to say thank-you, and of course we said YES!!

Although all a bit 'post party' shattered this morning, we managed to get ourselves up in time to set off to Valras-Plage and our favourite seafood restaurant Brasserie du Port.

It was as good as ever. We had booked a table for when it opened at midday and, as we got there (about 5 minutes late), they were already turning people away because they were fully booked!

Mussels were a popular choice at our table - and just look at the size of them!!

Afterwards, we collected the dog from the car and went walking on the beach and along the cob. Xena still has not got the hang of tidal flow - she always wonders where all the water round her feet has come from!


Xena was also convinced that Nic was stealing her!

We met a lot of locals doing exactly the same - but all better dressed than us! I really feel that a full length fur coat with matching hat was over the top - and we saw a lady dressed like this!