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Archive for the ‘French country living’ Category

So the results are… IT WORKS!

Just two days after starting my natural weed killer experiment, the weeds had started to die after being attacked by my white vinegar spray. The solution which was 100% vinegar worked better than the 50% diluted solution, but that did also work a little bit but would be better reserved for small and young weeds.

First area - 50% vinegar / 50% water

First area – 50% vinegar / 50% water

Area 2 - 50% water / 50% vinegar

Area 2 – 50% water / 50% vinegar

area 3

It’s going to be a task to keep on top of this though as it rained on the third day and then it was sunny again but I was busy with other things and didn’t keep on top of weeding so they all came back!

We’ve now invested in a better weed sprayer and Mr Piglet is talking about buying something to burn them once they are dead so we can achieve the clean, patio look I am looking for.

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The crazy, wet, warm and then cold weather we have been having over the past few months has been a real treat for the garden with many plants flourishing. Unfortunately, this also applies to the weeds and the wet weather has meant that we haven’t really got round to treating them (what with being fair weather gardeners and having a toddler)…

We have a large gravel entrance/parking area, more gravel to the side and a large gravel terrace at the back of the house. Not my taste but to replace would cost a fortune and to be honest I am still seeking what my ideal outdoor space would be.

Last year we managed to get the local farmer to kill all the weeds but with a toddler and a cat, I am not keen on using dangerous pesticides and have searched the internet for something more natural. I found vinegar as a solution.

In the past I have tried vinegar for many things including cleaning the bathroom, the toilets and also as a way of getting rid of deodorant marks on clothes. I can’t say I have been more than happy with any of the results and the smell of it just gives me a headache.

I have chosen to treat three different areas, the first two areas with a 50% vinegar / 50% water solution and the third area with a 100% vinegar solution:

First and Second Areas – 50% vinegar / 50% water

First area - moss and mixed weeds

First area – moss and mixed weeds

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Third area – 100% vinegar

Side of the house weeds

Side of the house weeds

The weather is warm and sunny, no rain forecast so hopefully the vinegar will work it’s magic and I can report back with the results in a few days time.

Meanwhile, a couple of questions for you:
1) do you have any natural gardening tips to share? Please comment with your tip or link to blog post!
2) any other alternative use for vinegar? Again, please comment with tip or link.
3) have you entered our giveaway? Closing date is 3rd July so just a few days left and it is easy (and free!) to enter (no location restriction either). Simply comment here.

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Ah how very British of me! A post about the weather. Well, it has to be said that the weather has been pretty crazy recently and I have heard that the UK has actually been getting better weather than parts of France too which is a turn up for the books and not what we’re used to hearing!

For those of you in France, you’ll know exactly what I am talking about. The endless winter came to end suddenly last week and we launched ourselves straight into summer with temperatures soaring over 30 degrees with no time to gently dip ourselves into the summer way of life.

Now I am reading on Connexion France (article here) that Paris is experiencing violent thunder and hail storms and parts of France have been put on Orange alert.

Taking a quick peak at my own weather forecast (which I admit to looking at several times a day, every day) I see temperatures are going to plummet again and no doubt we will be back to putting on the fire in the evening to take the chill out of the house.

Temps plummeting to 18 degres high

Temps plummeting to 18 degres high

There is one good thing about the late arrival of summer: apart from having to cobble an outfit together for a few hot days, there hasn’t been any real need to wear summer clothes so therefore no need to buy any as yet and the sales will start soon (26th June here) so I’ll be able to get my summer wardrobe at a discount! Youpee!

Date for your diary!
I love a bargain and even more so a giveaway so I’m giving you a heads up on a competition that I’ll be running here in collaboration with Subscription Save from Wednesday 19th June. Don’t forget to pop in on Wednesday to join in!

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Now we just need some sun and warm weather (and maybe a natural solution to ward off the slugs)…

image

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Gardening. It’s something I come back to time and time again and now that I have a lovely (and huge) garden I really do want to create a haven rather than just a field. However, it must be stated that I do not have green hands, the only time they’re green is when they’re physically green from either grass stains or playing with paint with Little Piglet. So I really do have a serious handicap and quite often any free time is spent looking at the garden wondering where to start!

So far this year I have managed to successfully plant (and keep alive) 35 laurel tree cuttings and some strawberries.

Not so lucky were my Oliver tree, Oleander bush and Japanese Maple tree all of which died throughout the winter.

Desperately clinging on now is my pear tree, I believe it is in trouble and I’m not sure what to do with it. I really hope that one you will be able to help identify what is wrong with it and maybe suggest a treatment please? I tried Traitement Totale (total treatment) spray last week and it doesn’t look any better for itself but maybe that is normal?

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Last Saturday we were invited to a neighourbood get together La Fête des Voisins
which literally means neighbourhood party. This is a traditional get together which takes place all across France albeit later in May generally.

When living in Lyon, this was the type of get together that I’d watch on the television but never see or even hear about in real life, so when we got a note through the letter box some weeks ago I was delighted.

Since moving to the French countryside I’ve not really met that many people and have remained in close contact with my Lyon based friends. It can be quite a lonely existence but the friends I have made more than make up for quantity in quality.

It’s said here that people are wary of foreigners and when I say foreigners, I don’t mean people from other countries but people from other parts of France! So I guess I am a super dooper foreigner for people in these parts!

Anyway, back to La Fête des Voisins. We’d been invited to Chez Gael which was one of our neighbours although I didn’t have a clue which one or where they lived. Our neighbourhood is quite extensive and to walk round it takes me 35 minutes and there aren’t that many houses.

I managed to locate the house quite easily last Saturday by walking down the lane whilst pushing Little Piglet (yes, I’ve decided on a name). I couldn’t but notice the huge marquees outside a house at the top of the hill, so I was guessing that either the party was there or I’d be gate crashing someone’s wedding reception… Thankfully upon arrival my destination was confirmed as being the correct place! Ouf!

I’d been told to bring along something for the aperitif or for dessert and in Mr Piglet’s absence (he was working) I took a long a bottle of white and some crisps. Good job I had Little Piglet in her pushchair as I was confronted with lots of home made specialties from the other guests making my offering look very basic. Little Piglet’s presence more than made up my lack of food however as everyone cooed over her, saying how gracious she is.

Eventually Mr Piglet turned up and it was great meeting all the people who live nearby. It was frequently commented how people were glad that the previous owners had gone and how they were very cold and snubbed people. We chatted and met so many people, I can only remember their faces not their names or where they live so it’s going to be fun over the next few months working out where everyone lives and checking out their names on their letter boxes.

I even met a lady who grew up in our house, it belonged to her great grandmother and her bedroom was Little Piglet’s room! She is very fond of the house and hopefully she’ll accept my invitation to drop in for coffee one day and tell me more about the house and how it was before it was renovated.

After a while the heavens opened and as Mr Piglet had returned to work and I hadn’t the foresight to bring an umbrella or rain cover I was kind of stuck, baby in tow and wondering when the rain would stop so I could run home. General debate amongst the neighbours decided that it wasn’t wise for me to run home in the wet so a car was arranged and a kind soul (the retired village Doctor!) drove us home.

We were made to feel truly welcome and it felt great to finally meet up with our neighbours and it feels even better to be able to greet them when I’m out on a stroll or working in the garden.

Vive La Fête des voisins !

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It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year now since I moved out of our Villeurbanne loft, had a baby and moved to the French countryside. The trials and tribulations of the house purchase have become a distant memory and yet I hadn’t even started exploring the local area until this weekend (apart from a trip or two to the lake for lunch and a swim).

Sunday morning, we awoke to beautiful sunshine, it was cold but sunny. After the Arctic weather spell, cabin fever had set in and I was itching to get out and explore. Mr Piglet had told me about Morestel and over breakfast he happened to mention that one of his clients had sung the praises of the market.

Baby Piglet still loves her naps so any exploring needs to be done pretty much between nap times so within half an hour we were all dressed ready to go.

It took about 20 minutes to get there from here, 20 minutes in which I saw the temperature drop from 8 degrees to 3 degrees and the sun be replaced by fog. Great!

When we arrived the market was immersed in fog which enabled me to take a few unusual pictures, including one where the church (high above the town) looked like it was surreal.

Submerged in fog

Church

Morestel is an old painters town and was home to François-Auguste RAVIER. His home is now a gallery which is unfortunately closed until March. In fact, all of the galleries and arty shops are closed until then but we still had a nice walk around, exploring the market and taking pictures.

Ravier's House

Whilst at the market, we spotted some chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs. Baby Piglet had a great time looking at them, bewildered, scared and intrigued – all at the same time! I had a fun time watching the expressions cross her face and then she started talking to the birds!

After visiting the market and getting some fresh vegetables, we had a wander through the town and up to the old town. I had fun taking photos and the locals had fun staring at me! I love architecture so the ancient buildings and different eras were of much interest to me.

Castle

By the time we got back to the car Baby Piglet was fast asleep!

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In France there is a lovely term for finding temporary measures or for saving money on stuff known as “système débrouille”. I couldn’t find an exact definition of the expression but we recently experienced it in our own unique way.

Our Systeme D

As you know, we have been suffering from heating problems due to the extreme cold weather. Last Saturday our oil boiler decided it was going to work when it wanted to and I blogged about how we were literally freezing. Temperatures were as low as -20 degrees Celsius at night and on Monday our heating system packed up altogether. That meant no heating and no hot water!

Fortunately for us, a good friend had managed to get their neighbour to sell us some wood so we weren’t completely cold. Mr Piglet and I moved into the living room and the three of us huddled together in front of the fire.

Thankfully Baby Piglet goes to the Nannies during the day so I was comfortable that she was keeping warm. When at home she has an electric radiator in her room to keep her nice and warm.

On Tuesday disaster struck, Baby Piglet caught the dreaded gastro (tummy bug) and began projectile vomiting everywhere. At only 9 months old my poor, poor baby was very sick and I had no way of getting rid of the terrible odour that had invaded the house. I bathed her as best as I could using a flannel and a bowl of cooled down boiled water but by Wednesday afternoon desperation had sunk in.

I called my Mother in Law hoping that we could escape down to her house for a few days, as she answered the phone my hopes plummeted, she was sick with laryngitis! Not something I wanted her to give to Baby Piglet.
So I started calling on local plumbers and heating specialists.

Deep down I hoped that there was another issue with the boiler and that we would be able to get some heat. After numerous calls and being told that nothing was possible for days, I finally found a firm that prioritised families with young children. We were in luck!

The guy came out and spent a few hours looking at our boiler and concluded that it was definitely down to the frozen oil. I sighed, oh well, at least I had tried.

Later that evening after Baby Piglet had gone to bed and I was drinking wine in a bid to keep warm, my phone started ringing. It was the owner of the plumbing firm – he had a temporary solution to offer us! Systeme D!

At 9pm he rolled up and came in carrying two jerry cans full of car diesel. We watched, intrigued as he dismantled part of the boiler and sunk two tubes into the jerry can. He explained that this would keep us warm and allow us to have hot water and when we ran out, we’d just need to pop down to the petrol station. Even I could mannage that!

I’d heard of local farmer folk using red diesel to run their cars but not of anyone using car diesel to run their boiler! This was upside down, topsy turvy living. Systeme Debrouille in all it’s glory.

So the innovative plumber had found a temporary (if not expensive) solution to our coldness and I felt much better knowing that my darling daughter would be nice and warm.

Each jerry can costs 30 Euros to refill and the first one run out this morning but I think that was more to do with the fact that it had to re-heat everything back up.

Jerry Can!

I am so grateful to the plumber for not giving up on us and am so relieved that he found a solution for his, his innovation has made us warm and also proved that solidarity and good service from companies does exist.

I did have a chuckle as well as Mr Piglet was getting on well with him and they were chatting just like old friends and the apero (at 11pm mind you!) was being served. Mr Piglet asked what the Plumbers wife was doing and I just loved the Plumbers response: “she’s probably in bed” he sighed! Mr Piglet was asking in fact what she was doing in her life which is the literal translation from French, the information he was seeking is what profession she had!

Do you have any Systeme D experiences?

ps. I’m pleased to report that as of todat Baby Piglet seems to have recovered although she will only eat Strawberry yoghurts right now!

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This is probably the coldest winter I’ve ever had to deal with and right now I’m trying to deal with it with a boiler that keeps turning itself off and barely any wood. This country living lark is certainly an eye opener and there are A LOT of things that I will be doing differently next year! I’m welcome to any tips also!

I know some of you readers live in places where it gets really cold so you may read this and think “whatever!”, but for me -2 is cold, so -11 to -20 degrees Celsius is simply unimaginable (actually it’s not, I’ve been this cold before on a chair lift whilst skiing and I cried and ran off to the nearest bar).

Pretty, but there's no way I'm going out there

Running this house is worse than running a business. There’s always so much to keep on top of and our “to do” list seems to be getting longer by the day. We used to live in a house in Lyon but it was connected to the mains gas system so heating was never an issue as nothing could ever run out!

I recently spoke about my woes with our wood burning stove, well, no sooner had I got the hang of it we woke up one morning last week and realized that we had run out of oil! Suddenly, mastering the stove was no longer an option, I had to keep it going otherwise we’d all be mighty cold!

Thankfully I was able to order in some more oil which was delivered the very next day so only had to slum it for 1 and half days. Unfortunately though, the boiler needed some attention and the oil guy was luckily able to recommend someone to me! Convenient that!

Just as I was congratulating myself and saying how lucky we were that it happened last week, our log delivery was delayed by another week and guess what? We’re running low on logs! We used so many whilst we didn’t have any heating that our supply dwindled VERY quickly.

Real feel temps -16 to -20 degrees!

So fast forward to today… almost -12 degrees Celsius by the back window at just 0850 in the morning. The boiler has decided not to work as it’s too cold so we’re back to square one. No heating, nearly no wood left and no way to keep warm other than reversible air con in our bedroom and a small radiator in Baby Piglet’s bedroom.

Right now I’m trying to decide what to do, I’m tempted to lock up the house and leave as I haven’t been out for a week due to the snow and my lack of suitable snow equipment for the car. Right now I am getting cabin fever and feel as if I may explode. I suppose that would keep the house warm wouldn’t it?

The walnut tree

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No fire in the stove

If you’re reading this expecting some true insight into fire then I’m sorry to disappoint. My Art of Fire relates only to the use of my wood burning stove and my desperation at trying to keep the damn thing going.

 

When arriving in the countryside last summer, we quickly realized that heating the house using the oil boiler was going to cost us a fortune. A cold spell in July meant that we had to have the heating on so to avoid Baby Piglet getting cold. Our house is old, with thick pise walls, great for keeping cool in the summer or keeping the warm in during the long winter months, but when the weather suddenly turns from warm to really cool, not so great.

 

Every moment we had the heating on I spent fretting that we were going to run out of oil. I ended up placing an order and managed to get our oil tank half filled for the grand price of 1500 Euros. Having no idea how long this would last us, we were enticed by the French government’s tax incentive encouraging you to use renewable heating sources and ordered a wood burning stove.

 

The stove has been Mr Piglets domain since it was installed, but a new work challenge has meant that Mr Piglet is no longer at home everyday to keep the thing going. This has left me, not even a girl guide, yet alone a scout, at home trying to figure out what to do with it. I daren’t turn the heating on downstairs for fear of having to re-fill the enormous oil tank again, so I persist in my trial and error with the stove.

 

Each morning, Mr Piglet gets the fire going and leaves me with the instructions on how to keep it going.

 

The first couple of days I kept getting distracted by work. By the time I went back downstairs the fire was out and I spent the next 5 hours trying to get it going again. Each evening Mr Piglet would give me a lesson in the art of starting a fire. Needless to say I failed miserably again the next day as each attempt to start a fire quickly fizzled out.

 

After the first week, I became better at keeping the fire going but then I burnt myself on the door after successfully managing to chuck in a few logs and wouldn’t touch it until my burn had stopped hurting.

 

Now, I can just about manage to keep it going from 9am until gone 7pm when Mr Piglet returns. I’m even managing to do it without smoking the house out and for the moment, without burning myself. My technique? I let the logs burn almost right out and then I stoke the ashes around, chuck on as many logs as I can get in the stove and turn the air vent right up. So far, so good although there really is an art to fire and I think I’m a long way off from learning it. Just so long as the wretched thing doesn’t go out…

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