Provence sabbatical day 26 – the day before Christmas

Marcel and Rob made an early start by organising some croissants from the village for breakfast 🙂 Then we all took a leisurely stroll around the shrinking market that has fewer and fewer stall holders, the more Winter sets in.

This afternoon Diana and I packed Mila into the car and popped past Patricia’s place to chat about plans for tomorrow. And then took the back roads to Carcés, via Entrecasteux to get some chewy things for our young charge a.k.a. “the Shredder”.

Mila is loving the back garden, and runs around with the youthful exuberance that only a year-old dog can. We’re doing our best to keep Mado unstressed and keeping them apart. Don’t think the ol’ chap would appreciate it much, considering how he reacted last week when a little fuzzy white dog unexpectedly popped in for a visit. As Queen Vic used to say, “We are not amused!”

Marcel got the lamp chops in the oven while we were away. Kudos man, your dad would be proud! While Naomi watched a movie, I got introduced to Yahtzee, and Rob’s excellent tips. Or not?? An excellent way to brush up your sums without a calculator. How’d it go again?

What a lovely way to enjoy Christmas? Cozy and warm with candles and a lovely fire, amazing smells emanating from the kitchen and a relaxed vibe. Life is Good!!

Merry Christmas! Hope your day is filled with much love, laughter and joy.

Provence sabbatical day 25 – Christmas madness and fabulous friends

We thought we’d get in some last minute shopping before our fab friends arrived from Holland. As we drove towards Brignoles, the mist (or low clouds) set in over the hills. Stunning. After all the rain we were welcomed with streaks of sunshine. Like those depicted in Sunday School stories, where God speaks to mortals. There must have been a huge influx of Dutchies, because the shops … they were CRAZY!! Everyone had the same idea.

Having survived the last-minute shopping at L.Eclerc, we found a lovely little greenlaning route on the way home. Via the Olive Oil press. Up to the Abbey and then down the hill on washed-away gravel roads. Later we decided to get some dried wood and chips to help the fires get going, and took a little sight-seeing drive to Carces. Another helpful lady at the garden store near Intermarché!

Bienvenue chers amis!

It was after 5pm when Rob, Diana and Naomi trundled into town. We just missed their arrival down the main street. I was seriously hoping to capture the look of disbelief on people’s faces as they witnessed the stunning Volvo TGB 6-wheeler squeezing between these narrow alleys. Enfin. We had a welcome drink at Brasserie Phils. And then got them settled in and had dinner, albeit late, even by French standards. I’m still getting to grips with Pen’s oven that doesn’t have any markings anymore … someone had removed them in an over-eager cleaning spree.

Provence sabbatical day 24 – Christmas cat in a hat

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” ~ Dr. Seuss, author of Cat in the Hat

We woke up even later today … around noon! Wow. Guessing the sleep is needed? After a quick bite to eat, we got stuck into the house getting it ready for Rob, Diana and Naomi who are driving down from the Netherlands and arrive tomorrow.

Because we’ve been building up trust with Mado, we figured now’s the best time to ask him if we can take his photo with a Christmas hat on. Just like I do with people, I believe in asking an animal’s permission before taking their photo. If they’re keen, you get much better photos. We weren’t sure how Mado would react, but to our great surprise, he posed with his crown; turning his head this way and that, and then looking straight on, and blinking his eyes.

He then allowed me to scratch his chin to say thanks. Cuuuuute. But, having said that, this boy has the most incredible gaze. He could easily stare a skeleton out of its corpse! Letting “the Don” (as Marcel calls him) settle back into a snooze, I made a yummy soup – with chicken wings and loads of veggies. As a base, I used one of the tins from the larder we brought with us – Peri-Peri chicken. It almost had a Thai taste. Perhaps some fresh coriander, or black beans would have tipped it?

Perhaps because we don’t have children, or maybe because it’s easier for us, but we don’t believe in the whole commercial aspect of Christmas. Buying “stuff” so we can use it for a moment in time, and then to discard it along with the rest of the pile? Hmmm. We just don’t see the point. I see it more like a day of thanksgiving:

* tomorrow our good friends arrive, and we have family and loved ones around the world
* we have food and warmth, a comfy bed to sleep on, clothes and other essentials
* we’re in good health
* and most importantly, Marcel and I cherish our relationship that we’ve worked so damn hard on over the last 14 years!!

That’s a whole bunch to be grateful for. This festive season, what are you thankful for?

Provence sabbatical day 23 – Cotignac tourist office

It’s been raining solid for 2 days. I’m not complaining. We’ve had amazing sunny weather, and the land needs rain. But when it stopped today, Patricia and I hopped and skipped our way down to the village. I wanted to pop into the tourism office to find out things to do for when Rob, Diana and Naomi visit us next week.

The lady in the tourism office was extremely helpful and friendly. Handing me brochures for horse-riding, walking routes, the local monthly programme and she also included a map showing the general regions where a 4×4 is recommended. Or in our case next week, a 6×6. They’re driving down in their Volvo TGB camper.

On the way back to the village, I was able to take “THE SHOT” … of the swimming pools hugging the cliff side. You can’t really see them in a normal car. And taking this shot during a drive-by just didn’t work. I precariously balanced myself on the wall, and hoped a truck wouldn’t drive by and blow me off. It looks like it could be a painful drop.

Cotignac in winter is very quiet, but you still see people around. If it’s raining, the awnings come out, and when it’s cold, the outdoor heaters are turned on and we happily accept blankies from the cafés for our knees.

Provence sabbatical day 22 – Breaking Bad and mince pies

After writing last night’s blog, and watching a couple of stand-up comedians, we decided to start watching “Breaking Bad” – Pen has been raving about it, so we figured, “Why not?” So far, it’s really gritty. But the characters are very believable. So we watched about 5 episodes after each other. As the night grew thin, Marcel got a little peckish and had a “midnight snack”; or was that 2am picnic? We don’t have a clue what time we got to bed. 3ish? Half-past-3ish? I was just starting to think about waking up when Patricia phoned around 11:30am!

Meeting a 90-year old legend … Over the past few weeks, Patricia and I have shared many a story, and I’ve been very intrigued to meet her Mom. This amazing lady is 90. Yes, you read that right. She is turning 91 on the 1st of March. My birthday. And that of my granny’s (hence my middle name, Margaret).

We had a lovely time chatting about life and experiences; first with a warming cup of tea (my hands were frozen) and then with a glass of bubbly and a hot mince pie, flown in from England. I just cannot believe how alive and full of zest this lovely lady is. 90. Really? I find it very difficult to believe. Wow. What an inspiration.

All I can say is … I reckon Christmas Day is going to be epic 😉

Provence sabbatical day 21 – baubles and lamb curry

Drawing back the curtain, I saw the mist clinging to the hills and figured … what the hell. The white cotton fell back into place and I rolled over and snuggled back under the duvet. I think it was around 10ish when we stirred. Luverly. The relaxing has begun!!

After doing a “dry fit” of the tiles, which I must say had been beautifully cleaned (thanks honey), Marcel mixed some mortar and we creatively fitted the honeycomb to take up the centimetre height difference. The floor is nice and stable, and Pen will be happy it hasn’t lost its character 😉

A hostess of note, Pen has the most gorgeous plates and platters. I found a festive silver platter in the cellar and proceeded with a table decoration from the bits of Nordman I took off the tree yesterday. This always makes me think of my very talented Mum. She’s got such a knack with making things look beautiful. I’m grateful I’ve learned a thing or two along the way.

After the platter, I started the lamb curry. Nice and slowly .. it’s been simmering on the stove since 3pm. The meat is just falling off the bones … think it’s a good ‘un. We’d invited Christiane; a small way to say thanks for all her help. The Christmas tree was crying out for bling, and I unpacked our decorations, and those that Pen/Christiane had supplied. I swear I saw a couple of magpies on the windowsill, eyeing it out – our shiny bauble delight.

Unfortunately Christiane couldn’t make it as she wasn’t feeling too good. Well, unfortunately for her. My honey was real happy with the extra portion of what has turned out to be THE curry of my life. OMG … it could have rivalled the best curry in London!! My taste buds were yelling, “More, more, more …” and my tummy … “sorry dude, no more!”. How could I ever recreate that? Yum. Yum. Yum.

Provence sabbatical day 20 – fire nooks and e-cards

If this post is a blurred mess, please forgive me. I think we got about half an hour’s sleep last night. Don’t ask me why. Just couldn’t sleep. Eventually I gave up trying and came downstairs to a bewilderd Mado … “What? It’s breakfast time already?” He thought it was Christmas. Peeking through the windows, I rubbed my eyes extra hard because I couldn’t figure out whether it was just overcast and misty in the hills, or if the villagers were setting fire to their piles of leaves and other autumn debris. Makes for a pretty photo anyway!

I touched up the ceiling in the fire nook again, and despite the paint being half a centimetre thick, the water stain stubbornly shines through. Argh!! Finally, another couple of licks of paint seemed to have helped! I finally rinsed off and hung up my paintbrush until the new year. Marcel was treating the loo upstairs and I noticed a big leak in the cellar. We suspect the piping is too narrow to accommodate the loo, shower and washing machine. But it’ll have to do for now – we’ve just got to make sure everything is used separately. I scrubbed the tiled floor and got rid of the paint splatters that slipped past my plastic sheeting. And even tried to remove splatters from years gone by. They weren’t having any of it. “I’m staying right here, thank you very much!” So I let them. The newly dripped blotches relented a lot more easily.

My darling … eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow, we decorate 😉

The tree fits it’s little nook perfectly, thanks to a couple of branches I removed from the back. They’re going to become some sort of table decoration. Mado was very happy to have the place back to normal. And even allowed me to take his pic!

Late this afternoon I popped around to Kirsten to show her the pics we’d taken during the Cotignac Christmas Market and how to edit a picture and send it as an e-card. It’s one of those things … if you don’t do it often, it’s damn confusing if your instructions are missing a vital step. Like “Double click on the name” or “single click on the name and then on CC”.

After successfully sending cards, we had a glass of wine in her lovely kitchen; chatting about life, relationships and travelling. And also how it’s difficult to fit into a “close-knit community” after you’ve moved around extensively. I have to admit, there are times when I’m jealous of the the apparent simplicity of a life where you’ve lived in one place, with the same people, same work, same everything. But when I weigh it up against an international, broad-minded approach to life … and all things being equal, I’m glad I was born to travel.

Provence sabbatical day 19 – caves and pain

Sounds weird doesn’t it? But it’s not got anything to do with painful cave exploring. It’s cellars along the wine route and stocking up on bread … don’t you love the French?

We woke up with sunlight pouring into the room from the passage. Delightful. Full of energy, I was more than ready to tackle the last task for a while. The room downstairs. So we can enjoy a cosy, comfy Christmas. Before I knew it, the ceiling was grey. And honey was ready for a drive to Brignoles.

We missed the market in the village, to swing past Derek to borrow his axe, and then decided to carry on via Carcès. Part of the wine route … what a gorgeous road. And we had it pretty much to ourselves. Can imagine how different it must be in the summer. A lot of the vignerons are open from Wednesday to Sunday – excluding siesta, of course.

We haven’t had a real Christmas tree for many years. The last one was a little conifer that we planted in the garden afterwards. But after helping Patricia with her monster tree, we figured we gotta do it. It’s really funky in Brignoles, just outside the L.Eclerc, how you choose your tree, and then they squish it into a sausage machine, and hey presto! It’s ready for transportation.

We got cement from Mr. Bricolage to fix the gaping hole in the bedroom floor, and checked with them if the colour of paint we needed was available. Apparently they can mix it at will. Takes two minutes. I’m amazed at how many Frenchies speak English. Trying to put us out of our misery with our limited French?

It’s such a tough call … which is the prettier road? From Cotignac to Entrecasteux to Carcès? Or from Le Val to Châteauvert to Barjols? Both are simply stunning. What a nice way to do the shopping!! We even made a quick detour through Pontevès. Apparently an ancient village … will have to come back and sink ourselves into the history.

Back at the farmhouse, Marcel tackled the gaping hole in the bedroom floor. First with a rougher concrete mixture, to take up the bigger holes. And then with a second batch to make it smooth. I really expected everything to disappear between the logs (don’t tell him).

I’m working on the little room near the fireplace. It’s white again, but needs another coat. And then we can set up our Christmas tree, put our feet up and relax into 2014. Yeah man!!

Provence sabbatical day 18 – we’re finally unpacked!

Gosh, we’re in week 4! Time is flying by. And finally we’ve managed to move into Pen’s room and unpack!! We gathered all of our belongings from the various rooms around the house, and have managed to fit them into one room, rather comfortably. Fabulous.

As a DIY-er, I find it very difficult to ignore peeling paint. Or a stain-tinted ceiling. Or floor tiles that creak and crack under your feet. I just love fixing things. I am however, restraining myself to be sympathetic with auntie’s wish of it not being too neat. It’s working out really well for us. According to our deal, Marcel’s using this time to relax and unwind. It’s uber-cute … he and Mado hang out together next to the heater.

There are some lovely people are expressing all sorts of concern that I’m working too hard. And I really appreciate it. But, if this was at home, I would have finished this muuuuch sooner. I mean, it’s day 18 and we’re finally moving in 😉

Having said that, today was more like what I’m used to … a good productive number of hours after each other. But the effort is worth it. It feels great to have all our stuff in one place. We’re gonna sleep well tonight! Tomorrow I’ll get two coats of paint on the ceiling in the fireplace nook, and that should be it until after the festive season … got some decorating to do!

Provence sabbatical day 16 – green gold

Today’s the day for Patricia. We collect the olive oil that’s been pressed from her grove. It’s rather impressive, the trees yielded 287,5 kgs and after tallying it up, we counted 37,5 litres of olive oil.

The Mudster is behaving surprisingly well, despite us not having done anything to the clutch. It still takes lower than it should, but he’s allowing us to change gears with relative ease. Patricia is very sporting, and hops up into our chariot. In these winding roads, it’s lovely having a passenger who also enjoys driving slowly. And not getting glowered at because you’re driving like a snail. It’s too beautiful a countryside to speed!!
The process of pressing oil at Le Moulin de Pascaline

Le Moulin de Pascaline is a delightful little drive into the countryside, and I could even engage low gear! Yeah baby. The proprietor was exceptionally helpful, considering they’re closed on Saturday mornings. He and Patricia handled the nitty gritty, and we loaded up the olive oil. As Patricia is of Greek descent, I can only imagine how much this must mean to her. In fact, all olive oil in France originates from Greece …
In the village … a celebratory drink

Naturally we popped into the village to celebrate! Before we made it to du Cours, Patricia knows the owner of the little antique store, whose trinkets catch my eye every time I walk past. A lovely reason to make our acquaintance. Ooh, this is a dangerous place … my magpie eye landed on a number of things. Sidsel, Kirsten and Maggie were at the usual table, this time with Jean-Michel. Nice to hear more French being spoken. Slowly it’s getting absorbed.

“Honey, could you have a look?”
Marcel comes upstairs and is surprised at what the tiles have revealed. What was left of the flooring support, has crumbled away. No wonder it was so wonky!! And it was only going to get worse.
So on Monday, we’re going to get some reinforcing gauze and concrete. I’ve got to say that I’m enjoying expanding my repertoire as a DIY-er. And having a live-in building foreman is priceless!

Provence sabbatical day 14 – what’s for dinner?

My deepest respect to the night-staffers among us. As expected, I didn’t get much sleep last night. Worrying about Mado, I got up at 3am to check that he was okay. He asked for some food 🙂 I got up again at 5am, and again he asked for food. An excellent sign. Sick animals don’t want food. We spent the morning keeping an eye on him.

And trying to figure out the loo. Zucht. Another challenge. The last couple of days, the flushing has been slow to respond. Adding more activator and pots of boiling water made me think of Mike Rowe. This has GOT to be one of THE dirtiest jobs. Umska!! Christiane tried phoning a plumber to no avail. We took the A-Z list from Pen with us to Maggie & Derek, to make use of their French.

Derek and Maggi lived in their smaller home, down the hill, whilst building their home. It’s impressive how much detail and consideration has gone into the build. They’ve done their very best to recreate an “vieille maison” using Provencal features and techniques. The result is gorgeous!

But not without modern comforts. Their heating system is really cool. Piping was installed a metre under the ground, where the temperature is a constant 12 deg C. In Winter, they can heat the water. In summer, the home is kept an even, cool temperature. And it’s very well insulated. We’ll be coming back to make a video of the how’s and what’s.

A huge thanks for a delicious lunch, and it was fabulous spending time together 🙂
We really enjoyed the pumpkin soup doggy bag too.

Also thanks for the magic muti for the loo. It’s worked a treat!!!

We saw a shadow flitting across the room, and thought it was a moth. But it was a butterfly attracted to the light. It kept still long enough for me to pick it up, and take it to the front door. When I put my hand in the kitty porthole, it’s legs started trembling big time. I couldn’t force it to go into the cold. It flew off and found another light, and I figured it would need the warmth. But after a while, fluttering shadows again. I caught it again, and this time released the little beauty. J’adore les papillons!

Mado seems to be doing okay today. YIPPEEEEEEEEEE.
He’s definitely getting used to us brushing, stroking and cuddling him. Precious boy xxx
P.S. If anyone asks, no he’s not spoiled, I was warming my back against the heater 😉

It’s 11 pm. Honey’s just asked, “What’s for dinner?”.
Sorry dude, you’re on your own. I’m off to bed. Bon appetite.