January 2008

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Caroline taking a siesta
A bit of battery charging for the new year

surprise visit to Abcoude

work in the kitchen
Back to the noise and dust

Marie-Louise et Pierre
Marie-Louise taught us how to make quince jelly, prepare
foie gras and was always happy to see us, especially Caroline.

view from the church at Puydarrieux
The view from the graveyard to our house, the lake and beyond

hanging the birdbox
We added a little Amsterdam-style bird house in our mimosa tree.

the old kitchen table before we stripped it
We recycle nearly everything. This old table was at the house and sagging in the middle. The old newspapers on it were from 1948.

stripping the paper off the table
removing the layers of newspaper

details of the old newspaper from 1948
A time capsule kept under the old tablecloth,
local newspapers from 1948

the finished table
Strengthened, cleaned, varnished and looking good

ploughing ready for the next year
The African cattle egrets have been here all winter

Perry chopping wood for the winter that suddenly arrived
Chopping the rotten old beams and junk wood for the burners

The septic tank was blocked!
I dink dat de foth theptic is blogd

the bird table
The bird table was busy again this year...

sunny sunday reading
...with a great place to watch all the action.

T-shirts one day, fleece jackets the next

A new year, new challenges and resolutions
Our main resolution this year is to take some time out for ourselves. Some might think that since we no longer commute to an office each day that we just potter about house and garden like a couple of retired, well-pensioned old dears. We need to earn money, just like you. The cost of living here is comparable to Holland, especially the tax and contributions one makes with a French 'enterprise'.

Last three years we have been living in a building site, with a never ending domino effect as we moved from space to space. There seemed to be a continual to and fro of cars, vans and cement mixers in front of the house. Never a dull moment. Along with having our friends and family staying, it was all a bit too much. Hopefully with the work done and extra rooms created, we will have the extra space in ourselves that we need.

Sneaky sneaky
Little did Caroline's dad suspect that as he left us in December that we would be standing at his door three weeks later to celebrate his 70th birthday. Many a slip occurred during their stay, but Peter didn't suss us at all. We flew in for three short days and indulged in a few things we can't get here. Namely good Asian food. Saturday (with friends Mary Anne and Rik, who kindly picked us up and put us up that night) we had sushi for lunch and Thai for dinner. Monday evening we ate at Nam Kee on the Zeedijk. I'm salivating at the thought of it all. What I'd do for a pork char sui and choi sum right now!

So anyway, we smuggled ourselves in among the rest of the family in front of the door. He'd spotted Perry slipping behind the group with his suitcase and almost lost the plot as he saw Caroline among the smiling faces. We all walked along the Gein river for a spot of late lunch and a quiet evening at home, once everyone had gone. Monday, we did the sales and Perry caught up with his technical partner, René, in Amstelveen. All too soon, we were home again and back into the old clothes, noise and dust.

Adieu, dear Marie-Louise
During our absence, Marie-Louise Sante Marie was buried in Puntous. She had been ill for a long time and finally slipped away at the hospital in Auch. Her sons and daughter, Pierre, Gilbert, Didier and Geneviève will miss her greatly. We only knew her for just over three years, but both enjoyed her stories, dry humour and generous hospitality. Caroline had a warm bond with her and often had profound conversations with her about her life and the ways of the countryside. We too miss you, Marie-Louise.

Giving a new life
When in Amsterdam, our friends Andrew and Liesbeth gave us a little bird nesting box with an Amsterdam-style front. When we got home, Perry fixed it in the mimosa tree, where we can see whoever rents it out for the spring fly in and out.

The old kitchen table that was left behind needed some TLC. Removing the old plastic, flower covered tablecloth, we found the table lined with old newspapers from 1948. We considered varnishing the pages to the table and sealing it, but there was too much damage. The table sagged too. The three drawers along the side had little in the way of support and a steel bar had been screwed along the length of the table. With Ernest's help, we removed the bar, cleaned the table of old newspaper and he inserted solid oak battons around the table to strengthen the structure and lift the surface by four centimetres. He also filled the gaps between the planks, and sanded it down without losing the patina. We added the varnish and placed it back in the kitchen. Perry's old dining table, which it replaced, will have a new life as studio table, back in the chai.

Four seasons
The weather has been glorious. January saw us eating outside most lunchtimes. We were invited to lunch at friends and at one time had to put up the parasol against the heat! The fruit trees began to swell and break into bloom, just like last year. Only last year, there was a week of frost in March that killed off nearly all cherry and pear fruit. We are hoping that March will be a little gentler this year.

Still, the farmers are making the most of the dry weather and turning the soil in preparation. Last year some were very later with planting due to the very wet spring and summer. Now all are pretty well ready and wishing for rain, since the earth is now too dry for seeds to germinate.

Oh shit, Sherlock!
As you know, we had a new septic tank put in in 2005. All the plumbing from the new kitchen and bathrooms now goes into the new tank and not into the ditch, as before. One day, Caroline noticed that the old toilet next to the kitchen, was not running away very fast. A day or so later it didn't run away at all. It was then that we spotted the brown gunge bubbling up in the shower next door.

So Perry slipped his wellies on and investigated around the back, his worse fears confirmed. Blocked! He released the main access lid at the top of the drainage pipes and was doused under a flood of sewage and pulped paper. Once the excess had overflowed, he got an old garden hose and pushed it down the pipe towards the septic tank. He felt a few things move, but the water level stayed where it was. Pulling the hose back out, it snapped back to its rolled up state and sprayed Perry in excreta. The words used at this time coloured the air. Lifting the lid of the tank, he saw that it was full, to the brim. Accessing another downpipe, he tried pushing the blockage away, into the tank. That didn't work either.

That was Sunday. We called Michel Noguès, the man who had placed the system and he said he'd be there on Monday. Monday evening we called and he said he would come on Tuesday. Meanwhile we didn't flush the toilet, nor took a shower. We had to go behind the barn!

Tuesday morning, Noguès' assistant Alex drove up. He had his arm in plaster so had to give instructions as Perry digged and prodded. He came to the conclusion that the blockage was in the tank itself. "Tu as les gants? (do you have any gloves?)" said Alex. Hmm, time to find those old Marigolds. Lifting the lid, Perry then plunged his hands into the shit and found the downpipe. Twisting it back and forth he got it loose and saw the large chunk of toilet paper that had calcified in the pipe. With a couple of shakes and spray-through with the garden hose, he replaced the down pipe and the lid. Next time we know what to do when a ploppy decides to come back to visit us!

Until next month,

A bientôt.

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