Saturday, 24 January 2015

The day our modem went pop ...

Posted by Rosie

... or rather it stopped working except for lots of pretty flashing lights that should not have been flashing.  

So no internet.  With no other easy way to access internet this meant silence on the blogging front.

Luckily we were able to dash to the Orange shop this afternoon but the technician was unable to test the modem as it was so old so he simply gave us a new one. Yay!

A bit of fiddling and maybe just a bit of swearing later we are back online. Just don't ask us to print anything at the moment as the printer is now refusing to talk to the printer.

Oh and the phone isn't working.

Technology.  We moan when it's working but realise how much we rely on it when it goes pop.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Underhand bank tactics

Posted by Rosie

We get quite a few free newsletters and magazines drop into our post box - various levels of Government send them out so we my get a newsletter or magazine from Lenault, Condé-sur-Noireau, Calvados or Normandy and we get regular ones from CAF, the Caisse d'Allocations Familiales from whom we receive the equivalent of Child Benefit.  Most I do, at least, flick through but generally they head fairly quickly to the recycling bin.

A couple of days ago another magazine appeared, called Dossier Familiales and with the name being similar to Caisse d'Allocations Familiales I assumed it was from them, perhaps a new format for an older magazine.

Something, however, made me read it on for bit more detail.  There was covering letter saying that thanks to our subscription to our "Compte à Composer Crédit Agricole", we had accepted a subscription to the Dossier Familiale and we would get the first 3 editions free.  There was also a small logo to Crédit Agricole in the top corner of the letter, but no address.  Crédit Agricole is our bank.

Alarm bells started to ring so I read on.  There was rather a lot of waffle and then a small, not exceedingly clear PS:

This PS said that after our trial period of 3 monthly magazineas we would receive a letter confirming our subscription and we would then have to pay 10.90€ per quarter for this magazine.

Hang on a minute ...  

First, Simon and I have not signed up for anything although we did recently ask the bank for details of a slightly different bank account which we were thinking about changing to, but as yet have done nothing about.

Second, why should a business or bank expect YOU, their customer, to opt out of something when many people will not realise they have to do this?  Being your bank they already have your bank details so can slip this through without some people noticing.  Luckily I read French well enough to realise this but having asked about online I know a lot of people have continued to receive the magazine, whilst not wanting it and thus paying out 43.60€ per year.  This is not just a problem with English speakers either and I found a forum where many French people have not opted out and are very unhappy having to pay for something they thought was free and never asked for.

In the PS it does give a phone number to ring in order to cancel your subscription.  I have also heard people saying that have gone to their bank and succeeded in cancelling it there, in person.  What you cannot do, however, is cancel it through Britline which is the English speaking side of the bank, the side many people use for all their banking, especially if they do not speak French.  What a totally underhand way of going about things and I am sure the name was chosen to ensure some people thought it was a free magazine from CAF.

I will be heading to the bank as soon as possible to cancel the subscription that we never asked for in the first place.  Several other expats are also doing the same having seen the post I put up on Facebook.  

Are you  a Crédit Agricole customer?  If so, do watch out for this magazine landing in your letter box and if you don't want it make sure you cancel it.  As for changing our bank account, we may well be changing it soon ... to another bank.

UPDATE - I went in to the bank today but the cashier knew nothing about the magazine.  She looked on my account but then said she couldn't cancel my subscription as I wasn't officially subscribed yet and was still in the 3 month trial period.  So it appears I have to receive the magazine for 3 months and then cancel it.  I may try and ring the number on the letter on Monday as I would rather get it cancelled now and not in 3 months time when I might forget.

Post Comment Love

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Winter Garden

Posted by Rosie

In between torrential rain last Thursday and Friday, heavy rain on Saturday and Sunday, frost and then snow on Wednesday I have not really been able to get much done in the garden this week.  I did spread some more manure between the rain and frost spells but that was about it for work.  

Did I mention snow?

Snow on bay

Snow covered leeks

Under a blanket of snow

No digging today

Despite being pretty much ignored though, the veg garden here at Eco-Gites of Lenault  is still providing us with plenty of fresh veg.  This is what I harvested a few days ago before we had the snow:

Winter vegetable harvest

In the trug there was (clockwise from top left) a savoy cabbage, cavolo nero, leeks, parsnips, brussel sprouts and curly kale.  

The leeks and the curly kale went in a stir fry.
We had the cavolo nero pan-fried with chorizo and onion.
The cabbage and brussels went with a mutton stew.
... and I am still deciding what to do with the parsnips.

Not bad for mid January. We also have plenty of summer veg frozen, some bottled tomato sauce (although this is almost finished) and pumpkins and potatoes in store.

Winter vegetables

Is your veg patch still producing veg or are you waiting to start again this spring?  Maybe someone on Annie's How Does Your garden Grow linky will also have been harvesting veg this week. 

Simple Wanderlust

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Snapshot of a January Day

Posted by Rosie

I've not done a snapshot of a day for a while so here we go with a little insight into life at Eco-Gites of Lenault in January.

Outside my window - It's snowing!  I can't actually see as it is still dark but the dogs came in white which was a bit if a clue.

I am thinking - I know there won't be a school bus and will school be open?  What will the roads be like?  Will the teachers be in?  Simon says he'll drive the boys to school but they don't want to go, obviously.  I have rung up but no-one seems to know if their teachers are in.  And as it is Wednesday today they finish at noon anyway.

UPDATE - Simon is heading off now having downgraded Ben's depth from several cms to a light covering!

From my kitchen - I can see a huge vat of stock I made from 2 turkey carcasses.  I needed to remove them from the freezer to get the 2 lambs and 3 final ducks in and now I have to jiggle in rather a lot of pots of stock or make and eat a lot of soup.

I am wearing -  My standard "uniform" - old jeans, a sweatshirt and 2 pairs of socks as I really do not like having cold feet. 

I am going - nowhere at the moment but will have to go to Condé-sur-Noireau to collect the boys at midday.  Oh and go out and feed the animals as soon as it gets light. I wonder what the piglets will think of snow?

I am reading - Spiderwick, a kids book.  In my defence it is in French. 

I am hearing - One of the dogs snoring and the cat hammering at the door to be let in. Why can't he just meow? (He appears not to like snow)

Around the house - it's still messy ... the "lived in" look ;) 

One of my favourite things is - my camera.  Actually it's Simon's old camera but I love it all the same and this year I really want to get to grips with all it's buttons and twiddly bits. If I've got a camera where I can alter the ISO number, change the aperture and have different shutter speeds then I am daft not knowing how to use these. 

And here is my picture for thought - this is Tom and Ben 7 years ago taken in our first January here. I wonder what will they look like in 7 years time?

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Animal Tales - 8

 Posted by Rosie

Welcome to Animal Tales, the blog linky that brings together all sorts of animal blog posts.  It runs from Tuesday morning thought to Friday night and showcases a wide range of animal related posts.  

Harry is doing well with his "not chasing poultry" lessons but does still find the cats a bit of a challenge, especially when they run off in front of him. We have also realised that there are a few things we really hope Saari does not teach him:

1. To bark - she is a bit of a woofer where-as Poppy was pretty silent.  Harry, at the moment, is somewhere in between.
2. To be scared of:
  • the hoover
  • strangers
  • the vet
  • the butcher
  • ladies in yellow coats
  • in fact pretty much everything!
3.  To hammer at the door to come in - Harry appears to be much more patient.
4.  To steal food
5.  To chase wildlife (except if it is a fox or other chicken eating predator that is on the smallholding)
6.  To eat vile dead things
7.  To roll in badger/fox/cow/sheep poo
8.  To jump the gate - FAIL.  He has already learnt this from her and here she is giving him his first lesson!

Gate jumping lessons.

Thank you to everyone who joined in the linky last week - it was great to see new people linking up with their animal tales so we had an interesting variety of posts from the smallest of small mice to the much larger Highland cattle.  I wonder what we'll get this week?

Feel free to come and add your animal related posts to the linky below.  The posts can be old or new and as varied as the animals who we share our world with.   There's a Pinterest Board with pictures from all the linked blogs which you can see here and if you tweet with the hashtag #AnimalTales I'll retweet you.  Just give me a nudge if I appear to have forgotten you.

Full details of the linky can be found here and once again can I remind people to comment on a few of the others who link up.  It's only polite and keeps the thing working!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Sunday picture revealed: It was a frost flower

Posted by Rosie

Yesterday I posted this picture as my Silent Sunday/My Sunday Photo and sat back to see if anyone knew what it was. 

A Frost Flower

I am writing this blog at gone 7pm on Sunday and so far only one person has guessed and another was on the right lines before changing their mind. Emma at Bavarian Sojourn guessed it right and Phoebe from Lou Messugo was on the right tracks before she changed her mind!

Another one of your cryptic photos...I first thought it was ice and then realised it couldn't be as there isn't any on the top side of the branch so it must be a weird fungus. Very beautiful.

In fact it is ice in the form of something called a Frost Flower. A frost flower is the name given to the condition when thin layers of ice in the form of what looks like fine hair are extruded from usually dead branches.

Frost flowers will form when the air temperature is below zero degrees but the ground itself is not frozen.  The sap in the stem will expand as the temperature falls below freezing causing fine fissures to form along the branch.  Water is drawn out through these these fissures and as it meets the freezing air it freezes into these hairlike formations.  They melt quickly in the morning sun so are generally only seen early in the morning or in very shady spots.

I have seen them 3 times now and their beauty never ceases to amaze me.  The first time I saw them, like many of the people who commented on the post yesterday, I thought they were a fungus but as you hold them in your warm hand and they disappear almost at once leaving just the slightest dampness in their wake, their true nature is revealed.

I know I am very  lucky to have seen frost flowers.  Have you ever seen them?

Saturday, 17 January 2015

5 reasons to visit Normandy in February and March

Posted by Rosie

February and March may not be your first choice as a time to visit Normandy for a holiday but let me take just as little time to explain why it might actually be a very good idea.

1.  Prices are reduced

Our low season prices mean you can stay in the gite for just £350 for a week including electricity, gas and firewood.  We are happy to take short breaks at this time and a 3 night break is only £225.  Furthermore if just two of you stay we will reduce this price by 15%  and you can bring a cot sleeping infant without losing this offer.  This includes the week commencing February 14th which is Valentine's Day.  For those with school aged children this week is our only remaining week in English school holidays until Christmas. 

2.  The weather

How often do people complain how miserable the weather is. OK, so we can't guarantee it won't be any better here but there are advantages to that - there will be a different view to look at even when it is raining (does yours currently include a goat or some ducks?) and when there is a break in the clouds you can head straight out on a walk with an extensive footpath network starting right at our back gate.  And if you are stuck indoors you can snuggle up in front of the fire with your favourite beverage whilst you read or play games with no chance at all feeling guilty that you are totally relaxing!

3. Something to look forward to very soon

January can be a miserable month.  The summer holidays seem such a long way off, Christmas is just a memory and you really could do with something to cheer you up.  Wouldn't a trip to France be just the thing to banish some of those January Blues?

4.  Piglets and lambs

We have piglets.   Need I say more?  And the lambs are starting to appear already around the countryside.  Who doesn't love a field full of lambs?

5. What to do

Most of the main tourist attractions will be open and everywhere will be quieter.  You'll have Falaise Castle almost to yourself, I bet you won't have to queue to see the Bayeux Tapestry whilst the cobbled and narrow streets of Le Mont St Michel will be less crowded.  If the weather does stay wet during your stay and you have come with toddlers who need to run off some energy you can visit one of the soft play areas where they can run around until they wear themselves out.  There are also plenty of events and exhibitions happening and here are some links with details of things going on in February and March.

For further details visit our website here
Or email us by clicking here.

Mums' Days

Friday, 16 January 2015

Is rearing your own meat cheaper than buying it?

Posted by Rosie

It's a question we get asked fairly frequently, 

"is it cheaper to rear your own animals than buy from the butcher or supermarket?"

It's a good question so whilst waiting to collect Ben from the bus stop this evening (Tom was at his saxophone lesson) I started crunching a few figures.

We buy our chickens from the market when they are 5 weeks old and last year they cost €3.50 each.  Calculating how much food they eat is hard as they share supplies with the ducks and turkeys but as a rough estimate I would say €40 for food in their lifetime.  So if my maths is right that's 12 x €3.50 + €40 = €82 or approximately €7 per chicken. Each bird probably weights about 5lb/2kg so the meat is about €3.50/kg.

Young chickens destined for the table

Chicken from Eco-Gites of Lenault - home reared

Now if I was to buy a similar farm reared chicken from a reputable dealer who raises the chickens outside and with a natural diet I would have to pay around €20 per bird.  So in that sense we would appear to be quids in (or should that be Euros in?).

But ...

... the supermarkets often sell chicken much cheaper.  I know a while ago Tesco was selling 2 chickens for a fiver but I have no idea of their size or provenance.  I would guess small and barn-raised birds, pumped full of growth hormones, water and suchlike.  Not what I want to be eating.

Looking on Sainsbury's website today (sorry, nothing French was available for comparison) I found these prices for whole chickens which I have converted to Euros:
Whole chicken - €3.25/kg
Taste the difference chicken - €7.30/kg
Organic chicken - €8.75/kg
So we appear to be producing meat at a comparable rate to the lower end of the market and cheaper than the taste the difference birds which ours best compare to.  But there is still another but ...

In the price to calculate the approximate cost per bird I have not accounted for any of the following:
  • Our time to raise them
  • Slaughter costs - we kill and pluck the birds ourselves but sending them to an abattoir would raise the cost.
  • The cost of running the freezers to store them.
  • The cost of packaging materials, any medication needed and other sundry items eg grit, bedding etc.
  • The fact that we could lose one or more birds to disease and possibly all if a fox, weasel or suchlike were to get into the pen.

I could sit and play with figures all night but it would not change anything.  We would raise our own birds what-ever the cost as we want to eat food that has minimal food miles (we buy their food from the farmer next door), that has had a good life and a quick end and we are repaid with the most fabulous tasting meat.  Were we to buy chicken it would have to be those €20 birds raised in the same way as ours.

So with that in mind, yes, rearing our own meat is cheaper than buying it, assuming you do not lose all your birds to a predator.

I would love to hear your views on this subject.  Do you raise your own or buy the cheapest meat available.  Please do leave a comment below.

Post Comment Love

Thursday, 15 January 2015

A hint of spring?

Posted by Rosie

Now I don't think you get more mid winter than mid January.  We may not have had any more frosts since I wrote about them last week, nor snow, but we have had some very cold and wet wintry days.  Despite this however there are hints of spring out there, if you know where to look!

The hazel bush by the veg garden gate is sporting some immature catkins and others in more sunny locations are even bigger.  Catkins are the flowers of various tree species including hazel and willow and as they are wind pollinated they do not need to wait until warmer weather when insects are flying to ensure pollination.

Immature Catkins

Things are afoot in the rhubarb patch and those red patches are the very beginnings of new rhubarb stalks.  I know many gardeners force a crown under a large pot to get some early stalks but I prefer to let nature take her course and not force ... plus I still have plenty of bottled and frozen fruit to keep us going.

Stirrings in the rhubarb patch

I have already sown a couple of rows of broad beans in the polytunnel but I have to say I am not sure that even planting them twice as thick has saved them from the ravages of our resident mouse population will have worked. There are rather a lot of holes along the rows and I suspect a lot of the seeds may have been stolen.  I went to sow some more in pots only to find I had no seeds left!  Instead I started some early peas and mangetout in pots and I'll get some more broad bean seeds when I head to town later.  Don't let me forget!

Sowing early peas in the polytunnel

Outside, as well as the catkins, there are a few flowers to be found.  These little violas are outside the gite front door: ...

... and the first of our snowdrops are starting to flower.  I hope you like the picture as I got rather wet knees taking it!

First snowdrops of 2015

Who knows what sort of weather we will have over the coming week. Rain and sun is forecast when actually I could do with some wind and sun to dry the soil. At the moment it is too wet to do much outside and I am getting behind.   Oh well, you can't change the weather and, if nothing else, it should encourage me to get the polytunnel sorted once and for all!

Have you managed to get out in your garden this week?  If so, have you linked up with Annie's How Does Your Garden Grow linky over at Mammasaurus?

Simple Wanderlust

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Bon voyage, bon appétit and bon everything!

Posted by Rosie

Many of you will, I am sure, have used the expressions "Bon Voyage" and "Bon Appétit".  They are 2 French expressions that have slipped effortlessly into the English language and are used as much in English now as in French.  Quite literally Bon Voyage means Good Journey and Bon Appétit means good appetite where-as what they actually mean is "Have a good/safe journey" and "Enjoy your meal".  

Here in France you will hear any number of  "Bon" expressions and popular ones include: 

  • Bon courage - good luck or keep up the good work
  • Bonne chance - good luck
  • Bonne continuation - carry on enjoying what-ever it is you are doing or best wishes
  • Bon week-end - have a good week end
  • Bonne Année (often coupled with Bonne santé) - Happy New Year
  • Bonne santé - stay healthy
  • Bonne promenade - have a good walk
  • Bonne soirée - have a good evening
  • Bonne rentrée - good luck with the return to the new school year
  • Bonnes vacances - have a good holiday
  • Bonne journée - have a good day and said by practically everyone when you say goodbye.

Then there are some more idiomatic ones which I really like and must try and use more:

  • à bon chat bon rat - tit for tat (literally, to a good cat, a good rat)
  • de bon matin - bright and early 
  • L'enfer est pavé de bonnes intentions - The road to hell is paved with good intentions. 
  • de bon cœur - heartily (literally, of good heart)
  • une bonne fourchette - a hearty eater (literally, a good fork)
  • avoir un bon fromage - to have a cushy job (literally, to have a good cheese)
If you are shopping you may well come across these expressions:

  • Un bon d'avoir - a credit voucher, often given if you have taken goods back to the shop
  • Un bon de caisse - a deposit receipt
  • Un bon de commande - an order form
  • Un bon de livraison - a delivery slip
  • Un bon de réduction - a money off voucher/coupon
  • This is just a small number of French expressions with bon included.  Do you know any more that I should try to get into my every day speech?  In the meantime may I just wish you a ...

    Tuesday, 13 January 2015

    Animal Tales - 7

    Posted by Rosie

    Welcome to Animal Tales, the blog linky that brings together all sorts of animal blog posts.  It runs from Tuesday morning thought to Friday night and showcases a wide range of animal related posts.  

    Harry, our new rescue Labrador, is settling in well although not without a few "moments".  Saari has taught him how to jump the gate and we then caught him having pinned a duck to the ground.  Ducks are now to be relocated elsewhere and there will be daily lessons of walking Harry through the new duck pen on a lead to help him learn not to chase them.  Harry obviously came from a house without cats and lessons need to be learnt around our feline friends!  Saari is becoming more accepting of him and whilst they still sleep at separate ends of the bed they do sometimes now sit together in the daytime.

    Harry and Saari bed sharing!

    Thank you to everyone who joined in the linky last week - it was good to see lots of animal related New Year Resolutions and advice for cats and humans!  I really liked A Healthy Happy Mummy's post on how dogs are good for your health.  Having completed some super fast walks with Harry and Saari over the last week I can vouch for how good dogs can be for your exercise regime.

    Feel free to come and add your animal related posts to the linky below.  As ever I am looking forward to reading your entries.  The posts can be old or new and as varied as the animals who we share our world with.   There's a Pinterest Board with pictures from all the linked blogs which you can see here and if you tweet with the hashtag #AnimalTales I'll retweet you.  

    Full details of the linky can be found here and once again can I remind people to comment on a few of the others who link up.  It's only polite and keeps the thing working!

    Monday, 12 January 2015

    Animals and Frost

    Posted by Rosie

    When you look after animals on a smallholding you are very much aware of the weather as this affects what you do and even how the animals react.  Since Christmas I think we have had every type of winter weather possible including a smattering of snow, heavy rain, strong winds, calm days, an afternoon warm enough to sit outside with a coat on and frost.  If I had to chose one of these I would of course love a winter of mild, calm weather but as, in reality, that is not going to happen, I would have to chose frost.  In frosty weather the mud in the pig pen and all field gateways disappears overnight and you wake up to everything clothed in a silver mantle.

    HOWEVER ... isn't there always a "however"? ... frosty weather is not without many potential problems when you live on a smallholding and look after animals:

    Bedding and Food

    In cold weather animals need a lot more bedding and food to keep warm.  The piglets love nothing better than burying deep in their bedding on a cold, frosty night and come the morning they all emerge demanding extra rations.  This year we've bought a supply of sugarbeet in from a local farmer - a tonne of it in fact so hopefully that will keep them full!  The pigs and Maddie, the goat, love it but the sheep thought I was trying to poison them!  They prefer their hay.  Maddie loves nothing more than a chou lapin as a tasty snack (a type of kale) but in frost these would give her belly ache and anyway they are frozen solid in the ground.  However she will at least more hay when it's cold, where-as in mild weather she tends to turn her nose up at this.

    Sheep enjoying their hay
    It must be cold - Maddie is eating her hay!


    Water becomes an issue as first the water butts all freeze and as the temperature falls further so does the outside tap. Then we have to bring water out from the house which isn't too as we have a downstairs bathroom, but it is a pain. Also if you have not seen the frost forecast and leave your watering cans full water ready for the next day then you have a problem. The water is frozen in the cans and you have no receptacle in which to transport water.  In really cold weather the wet food we make up for the pigs will freeze in the feed room and only a kettle full of boiling water will render it edible for the pigs ... so we have to bring the pig feed buckets in and store it in the bath overnight!  Good job we have an upstairs shower room too.

    Gates and Soil

    If frost follows wet weather you can find yourself in the situation of all metal gate bolts being frozen solid in the morning.  And even after getting these defrosted you may find that gates which only just skim the soil surface in wet weather will be stuck in frosty weather.  Remember how in school you learnt about water expanding as it freezes (or how the wine escaped out of the bottle top when you left it too long in the freezer to cool and forgot about it?), well the water in the soil expands as it freezes so the ground level rises and gates can be difficult to open.  Further more any rocks or logs used to wedge gates open will be frozen solid in to the soil and I can assure you a kick with a wellied boot does not always shift them and really hurts!  At least I am not wandering around barefoot like the chickens (who find suddenly there are no early worms to eat) or the ducks who find standing on on leg the best means to keep one foot warm at any one time.

    No early worms on a frosty morning
    Keeping one foot warm

    Despite all of these points though I still prefer frost over wind, rain or snow.  Wind makes the animals skittish and I spend ages searching for lost food bowls etc., rain makes everywhere muddy and doing rounds is just miserable and snow is simply hard work (although in it's defence the countryside does look wonderful). 

    Winter at Eco-Gites of Lenault

    Do you look after animals and find you or they have a favourite type of winter weather?  Maybe your dog doesn't like the frost or you have a cat who adores playing in the snow.  Please do let us know in a comment.