Frog Hops, Blog Hops and Hopping Mad

Hopping frogs first. It’s the frog bonking season, and toads too, and every evening there is lots of amorous activity going on along the banks of all three of our lakes. We went on a frog spotting evening walk yesterday. It was great fun. We heard and saw plenty. Sadly photos haven’t worked very well so far, but here’s a nice one of Rors with a frog this morning …

and a rare one of Caiti up a tree!

Now. Blog hops. What’s a blog hop? Right, blog hops allow you to visit other blogs, follow blogs you like, and gain followers. A blog hop is based on a widget, called a linky, that allows bloggers to add their blog to a list. I took part in one yesterday on my Books Are Cool site, slightly half-heartedly I have to admit, since a migraine this week on top of a very active outdoor job schedule put me behind with my preparations for it. I only managed to rattle off a post at the very last minute that wasn’t as good as it might have been. But the St Patrick’s Day Blog Hop, organised by the energetic Carrie Ann Ryan, brought a month’s worth of visitors to my blog in a day. I trust at least some of them will be back. Had I done my homework better and had more to offer in my post, I know I could have hooked a good few. Live and learn.

Anyway, I’ve decided to organise a blog hop myself. It will be the St George’s Day Blog Hop, for British expats’ websites, but Americans, Canadians and citizens of every country are welcome to join in too! I’ll be providing the linky part and will post it soon for you to add your site to, if you want to. On the day of the hop it will be up on my site and anyone who participates in the hop can put it up on their site too. It just means that people who visit one blog see that the hop is on and can easily visit the other sites to see what they’re about. As I’ve already said, hops really seem to work at getting new followers. I’ll design a graphic that we can all put on our participating pages. Should be fun!

All I ask is that you come up with an expat-life-related post for that day, and offer something for free. This can be as basic as a recipe or a list of tips, or a free ebook, or a free offer or free gift, however small. You don’t have to give something free to every visitor, although that helps, but can collect comments to your post and do a single giveaway to the winner when names are drawn out of a hat.

So if you’re interested, let me know …

And finally – hopping mad. GAN assurances are the reason for that. Back in September we paid for the insurance for Benjy’s room at Uni at the Boussac office, in cash. Learn from our mistake. Never EVER pay for your insurance in cash. GAN headquarters is still saying we haven’t paid and today I got a  letter from a debt collection company threatening to shoot us if we don’t cough up. This is despite the fact that I have been into the Boussac office three or four times now over this matter – every time I get a letter saying we haven’t paid – to ask them to sort the matter out. The woman there admits we paid. Benj, Chris and I all saw her take the money, put it in a box and give me change out of said box. However, she obviously didn’t write it down and certainly hasn’t passed on the payment to HQ because we’re still getting harrassed. To say I’m hopping mad is actually the understatement of the year. I shall be in the Boussac office at 9.30 or whenever it is that it condescends to open and will be kicking serious ass. I am so mad about this.

So a closing soothing sunset photo to restore my blood pressure to acceptable levels! Can you see the fish that surfaced just at the right time? Perfect.

Sunshiney Fun

This spring weather is wonderful and we’ve made the most of it. This is hang-on from our fifteen years in Ireland, one of the more meteorologically challenged countries in the world! The moment there was a glimmer of sunshine, or even a break between rain showers, we’d drop everything and rush outside to enjoy it. It would never last for long.

So, despite feeling rough, I went off with Benj, Chris and Rors for a spot of geocaching this morning. We got our first FTF, which is very cool in geocaching terms. FTF = First To Find. We were the first ones to uncover one of Zephyrsailor’s new caches. Here’s the proof! I hope you’re impressed.

We found another one at the source of a certain river – a tributary of the Loire. We also found these lovely snowdrops.

Not such a nice find was the one we made back home. Treacle the cat had the most enormous tick on her neck that we’ve ever seen. The 10 centime piece is 2cm across to give you an idea of scale. And it was almost completely spherical. We call these guys elephant ticks because they’re so big. Euuwww.

This afternoon Rors and Caiti went down to their new den by the stream that runs from the middle lake. The silver lining to the cloud that was repairing Denis the llama’s fencing was that we cleared the way for Ruadhri to get down to the water. There’s a waterfall over some tree roots. He spends hours making whirlpools while his big sister practices her weaving.

I even felt inspired enough to do some spring cleaning. Just some, but it’s a start.

Eldest Son had gone back to Limoges this afternoon, leaving behind happy memories, his jeans, his jacket and a book – and that’s just for starters probably! Tomorrow I requisition the car to take Caiti to Angers for a JPO at the University there. It’ll be a long day but interesting.

And if you have a moment, you might like to drop by my Books Are Cool blog. There’s a book giveaway there at the moment – The Emerald City by J. A. Beard, and an entertaining guest post by the author.

Snow White And The Seven Arts

A slightly snowy scene

OK, Snow White first. The first proper snow of this winter has started to fall. It’s rather slushy snow and I can’t see it hanging round long, but at least it’s snow. Rors is delighted, the youngest cats are puzzled, since it’s the first they’ve seen, and the chickens are decidedly unimpressed. They don’t like snow. I’m not fussed either way. So long as I can get a top-up food shop this afternoon and Chris can get back safely from his pig-keeping course tonight, then I don’t mind being snowed in for a while after that. We’ve come to expect that here in Creuse, at least for a week or so each year.

Now the Seven Arts. It’s the annual BD (comic book) festival at Angoulême this week. This is a massive event. Bandes dessinées (or bédés) are big business in France, bringing in around 350 million euros to publishers every year. (I’ve written a bit more about this on my Books Are Cool blog here.)

BDs are reckoned to be the neuvième art (ninth art). I’d heard cinema referred to as the septième art (seventh art) a few times but not been interested enough to find out more I’m ashamed to say. However, now that there’s a ninth one, it’s definitely time.

Poster for BD festival

Étienne Souriau, a French philosopher and aesthete who lived from 1892 to 1979, came up with the idea of the Seven Arts in 1969. He wrote about it in his famous book La Correspondance des arts, Eléments d’esthétique comparée. So what are they?

1. Sculpture and architecture

2. Drawing

3. Painting

4. Music

5. Dance and pantomime

6. Writing

7. Cinema.

Seven seemed to him quite enough at the time, and it’s as good a number as any. It’s popular for groups of things after all – the seven seas, seven colours of the rainbow, seven wonders of the world, seven days of the week, for example, not forgetting the seven odd socks in Ruadhri’s drawer. But we’re now up to eleven arts. Sauriou’s list has been augmented with:

8. Television (including radio and photography)

9. BDs

10. Bizarrely video games and model railways are lumped together, and

11. Multimedia.

To become an official member of the list, a particular art form has to stand the test of time and be popular with the public. However, I haven’t managed to find out who the bureaucrat officially charged with keeping the art list up to date is. There’s bound to be one somewhere.

It’s an interesting idea to classify the arts, and exemplifies the French need to categorise everything, but doesn’t seem to serve much practical purpose other than to give me something to blog about!

And a final non-related photo. Here’s Rors being given his yellow-white belt at judo last night after passing his grading.

 

 

 

Record Weather for France in 2011

publicdomainpictures.net

It’s official. 2011 was the hottest year in France since 1900, beating previous record holder 2003. The average temperature of 13.6 degrees C was 1.5 degrees higher than ‘usual’. This resulted from a warm spring and a warm autumn. Summer was actually quite disappointing with July being colder than normal.

The warm weather has continued into winter. This is the first in the six winters we’ve spent here when the lakes haven’t frozen over before Christmas. We’ve had practically no snow and that’s very unusual too. A couple of daffodils have even poked their heads out of the ground, three months earlier than in previous years.

Is this a sign of climate change, or just a natural variation? It’s too early to tell yet, but two hottest ever years within eight years of each other could be indicative of generally climbing temperatures. We’ll have to see what happens over the next decade.

The warm year meant that crops ripened early and many plants produced another flush of flowers. A lot of wild birds and animals managed to squeeze in an extra brood of babies. Our swallows had three sets of youngsters this year. That’s amazing, considering that in May 2009 ago most of them were killed by the blizzard in May. Maybe it’s Nature’s way of redressing the balance.

The hottest ever recorded temperature in France was 44 degrees C in Toulouse in 1923, while the coldest is -31 degrees in Chamonix in 1905. (Worldwide records are 58 degrees in Libya in 1922 and -89 degrees in the Antarctic in 1938.)

There are generally reckoned to be seven climate zones in France and they’re shown nice and clearly on this map.  The zones are:

  1. Climat Océanique
  2. Climat Semi-Océanique
  3. Climat Méditerranéen
  4. Climat Semi-Méditerranéen
  5. Climat Continental
  6. Climat Semi-Continental
  7. Climat Montagnard.

Generally, the océanique and semi-océanique zones are wet and fairly mild, the continental and semi-continental have hot summers and cold winters, the méditerranéen and semi-méditerranéen have hot summers and warm winters, and the mountain zone, well, that’s techncially imprévisible i.e. it will do what it wants! However, you tend to get a lot snow in winter.

Here in Creuse we fall into the Climat Semi-Continental zone, but this year so far haven’t had the usual brutally cold hiver that we’d expect. But there’s still three months of winter to come and that could all change …

Still Rabbiting On About Superstitions – And A Giveaway!

When I was little, it was the thing to say ‘White Rabbits’ three times on the first of each month. It was meant to be lucky. I guess some months it was, and some it wasn’t. I’ve tried to find out where this idea came from, but other than it possibly being an extension of a rabbit’s foot being a lucky charm, I’ve drawn a blank. If anyone does know, please let me know.

Made in Peru

Anyway, I’m using the white rabbit connection to launch this giveaway on 1st October. Here’s what’s up for grabs – a cute, carrot-eating white rabbit finger puppet made from alpaca wool. If you want it,  here’s what you do. Leave a comment on this post. That = one entry. And following me on Twitter –  @llamamum – and Tweeting me along the lines of ‘I wanna win the wabbit’ is also an entry! So, you could get two tries to win!

September is ending in a blaze of sunshine and calm weather. It’s fantastic. I’m still swimming every day. Admittedly the water is a little chilly at around 20 degrees, but after a few lengths I’ve gone numb, so it’s no hardship to do another thirty or so. OK, I have to put on socks and a woolly jumper for a while after a get out, and sit and crack walnuts in the sunshine until my heart starts to beat again, but it’s worth it. I love swimming. I’ll keep going for a daily dip until the water drops to about 16 or 17 degrees. That’s truly painful, believe me. Or until the water level gets too low. We have a leak which we will need to sort out in the spring before the swimming season begins. It will be cool to be still swimming in the pool in October – that will be the sixth month this year. It almost makes all the expense worth it!

Stormy Summer

The summer storms, running a bit late this year, are energetically continuing in central France. Last night they finished off my gazebo, the People Republic of China’s best. Not. It had sustained damage in a light breeze the first time we put it up. We erected it again a few days ago for a dinner party with friends, and foolishly left it up to enjoy for a few more days. This morning I retrieved it from very close to Denis’s field. It had travelled an impressive distance. It won’t be going up again sadly. Too much damage has been done to it now. We’ll have to recycle the various parts for other purposes. I think it must have been made by the same crowd that made our first and short-lived polytunnel.

 

Sadly I don’t have any photos of the gazebo in its glory i.e. actually standing up. Next year we’ll invest in a decidedly sturdier model.

We lost power again for a good part of the night. I was boiling water on the gas stove by candlelight to make coffee about 5 am while Chris braved the elements to check that the animals were OK. Power cuts aren’t a big deal really. Back in Ireland, where they were common, they were a nightmare since we had our own well, so when we lost electricity, we had no water either. We also had an electric oven so we were tea and coffeeless too, and that’s hard to cope with. Here in France we have mains water and a gas supply so the only hardship is being without the Internet while we’re powerless.

If you’re interested in tracking thunderstorms across France, then you can find a map of them here. It’s updated every quarter of an hour.

Shortly before the storms hit, Gigi the cat was up on the roof. She’s taken a liking to wandering around on the roof. But luckily she comes down when the thunder starts.

 

 

Tempting Fête

Nouzerines in the morning

June and July are the month for fêtes in France. Pretty much every little village with have one at some point, often tying in with its ‘saint patronale’ (patron saint). Nouzerines is connected with Saint Clair, whose day is 1st June. So the weekend closest to that is when the Nouzerines fête takes place. The drawback is that early June has a tendency to be unsettled and stormy in this part of the country. We should possibly consider swapping St Clair for a less meteorologically challenged saint.

 

 

 

 

 

Trish and Michel, my co-manners

I was at the fête Sunday morning, manning the AIPB cake stall. I got there shortly after 8am and the vide grenier (car boot sale / bric-a-brac stalls) was in full swing already. I dread to think what time they must have arrived to get set up. There was a mass and procession from the church to St Clair’s spring at 9.30am, but I couldn’t participate, which was a little disappointing, since I was busy selling slices of carrot cake and flapjacks and scones to mainly French customers. However, this is a very important duty. There are certain things French people really need to know about British culture, and English cakes are near the top of the list. A French person who can master a scone with butter and cream is well on the way to becoming an Anglophile.

Sunny vide grenier scene

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nouzerines in the afternoon with my nephew James

Fêtes are very popular. They’re all quite similar, but it’s a winning formula. Dancing and fireworks the first night after a repas (meal), then next day a vide grenier followed by some sort of spectacle (show), often musical, and some kind of concours (race) or defilé (parade). Nouzerines was set to have troupe of 45 Portuguese dancers (I hope the stage was well screwed together) and the Sapeurs-Pompiers batterie-fanfare, followed by the course de la patate. This latter looked great. It was a relay involving carrying potatoes on spoons. There was a long list of rules on the posters advertising it, which included not touching your potato or eating it or throwing it, and you were definitely not allowed to stop to do such things as scratch or pee! But sadly the whole afternoon was washed out by rain as these photos show. Chris, Ruadhri and I went down with Chris’s visiting sister and brother and their families. We got well and truly soaked. However, the kids won some tat on the ‘hoop a duck’ stall and then had a toffee apple each, so they were happy enough. It was worth going.

Rors, wet and thoughtful

Maybe we’ll get the sun next year!

June Dictons

It’s the start of a new month, so time to turn to look at some French dictons (sayings) about it. Rain and/or the harvest seem to be the subject of most of them, reflecting what the major concerns of country people were in the past. And they still are today. We’re waiting for Edouard,  our farmer, to come and cut the hay for us, and by the looks of things, the cereals he’s growing in some of our fields are almost ready for harvest. And everybody needs rain this month.

 

Rain in June

publicdomainpictures.net

Pluie de juin n’est que fumée. Rain in June is no more than steam.

Le temps qu’il fait en juin le 3 sera le temps du mois. Whatever the weather is on the 3rd of June, then it will stay like that for the whole month.

Pluie à la Trinité récolte de moitié. Rain on Trinity Sunday means the harvest will be  halved. (These year Trinity Sunday is 19 June, i.e. first Sunday after Pentecost.)

Juin larmoyeux rend le laboureur heureux. A weeping June makes the ploughman happy.

Pluie en juin donne belle avoine et chétif foin. Rain in June gives good oats and puny hay. And similarly : Pluie de juin fait belle avoine et maigre foin. Rain in June means good oats but poor hay.

S’il pleut à la Saint-Médard la récolte diminue d’un quart… If it rains on St Médards day (8th June), the harvest will be a quarter less.

Quand il fait du rouille en juin cela fait mal au grain. If there’s rust in June that is bad for cereals.

Eau de Saint-Jean peu de vin et pas de froment. Rain on St John’s Day (24 June) means little wine and no wheat.

Avant la Saint-Jean pluie bénite après la Saint-Jean eau maudite. Rain before St John’s Day is good, but after that day it is cursed water.

En beau juin, toute mauvaise herbe donne bon foin. Weeds make good hay during a fine June.

Le soleil de st Barnabé, A saint Médard casse le nez. If the sun comes out on St Médard’s Day rather than St Barnaby’s Day, then that means bad luck.

En juin, pluie ou soleil unie fait prévoir récolte bénie. Sun and rain together in June make for an excellent harvest.

Juin froid et pluvieux, tout l’an sera grincheux. A cold and wet June means a miserable year.

En juin trop de pluie, le jardinier s’ennuie. Too much rain in June and gardeners get bored.

 

Wind

De juin le vent du soir Est pour le grain bon espoir. During June, evening winds are a hopeful sign for the crops.

 

Fine weather

publicdomainpictures.net

En juin, soleil qui donne n’a jamais ruiné personne. Sunshine in June never hurt anyone.

Frais mai et chaud juin, amènent pain et vin. A cold May and a warm June mean there’ll be plenty of bread and wine.

Prépare autant de bons tonneaux qu’en juin tu compteras de jours beaux. Prepare as many barrels for your wine as you count good days in June.

Saint-Antoine clair et beau emplit cuves et tonneaux. A fine and bright St Anthony’s Day (13 June) fills vats and barrels.

S’il tonne au mois de juin année de paille et de foin. If it thunders is June then it will be a good year for hay and straw.

Beau mois de juin change herbe rare en bon foin. A good month of June transforms poor grass into good hay.

 

Fruit and crops

En juin, quand la cerise périt tout s’ensuit. If cherries wither in June, then everything else will go the same way.

Juin fait pousser le lin et juillet le rend fin. June makes flax grow, and July makes it good quality.

 

Wildlife

publicdomainpictures.net

A la Saint-Jean perdreaux volants. Young partridges start to fly on St John’s Day.

Pie trop bavarde grand vent ne tarde. If the magpie is too cheeky then strong winds are coming.

Abeilles en mai valent un louis d’or, abeilles en juin, c’est chance encore. Bees in May are worth a  Louis d’or (coin worth 20 francs), and bees in June are even luckier.

Late Again

Every year we’re late getting going on the vegetable garden. Something always crops up at the wrong time (but not veggie crops). But to be fair, there is only a short window of opportunity between the end of the ferocious Creuse winter and the growing season. I’ve heard that round here you’re crazy to even think of planting anything before March 17th since there can still be hard frosts. And there usually are. And since spring begins on April 1st, in my opinion anyway, you only have a fortnight to get the ground ready for planting.

But today, while I was varnishing skirting boards in the gloom in the gîte, Chris was out in the sunshine on the tractor rotavating the vegetable patch. It was a dandelion field before, as you can see from the photo. Chris has cleared four patches, each two-tractor-widths, with a good path inbetween. We didn’t factor in paths in previous years, and so often ended up treading on our precious veg. Live and learn.

 

The chickens are busy on it now, rooting out leatherjackets and other undesirables before we start planting within the next week or so.

We eagerly await our new polytunnel. We had a polytunnel disaster last year, as you may recall. We had a week of use from it before it was destroyed in a not-very-strong wind. ADD LINKS We have invested in a good, sturdy, 10 foot by 20 foot polytunnel from First Tunnels. It’ll be coming with all sorts of extras to keep it safely in place in even the strongest tempête. We’ve got off very lightly this year so far, so we’re pretty sure something will turn up sooner or later and rattle the roof for a day or two.

Generally outdoors, everything is springing into life. The oak tree is turning green, the vine is blasting up the wall of the gîte, as is the wisteria which is already flowering. The cherry trees are in blossom and the countryside is looking beautiful with little puffs of white all over it. But the best things about spring are that it means Caiti’s birthday, Easter and the fact that summer is not so far away now. Almost time to open the pool …

Blog slog

Pool with a view

I always find it a bit of a slog to blog in summer. It’s not for lack of things to write about – summer is our busiest time. The trekking season has got underway, our gite and lakes have had clients since March and are booked through to October, we’ve celebrated the end of term and excellent exam results, we’ve had Ruadhri’s birthday, we go cycling as often as we can and swim every day in our swanky new pool, we’ve sheared an alpaca, we’ve got two new goats, there have been a lot of awesome thunderstorms … there is loads going on. In fact, I think it’s because there is so much happening that I tend to dry up creatively-wise. Add the hot weather and lassitude tends to strike every night about 9 when I settle down to a bit of computing. Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!

It’s certainly hot at the moment. I’ve had a good trawl around on the Net but can’t  conclusively determine whether July is hotter than August in France. Some sets of figures suggest July, others August. My own feeling is that July is warmer. The days are longer and nights certainly seem hotter. But it’s great. When you live through Creuse winters, you deserve the summer sunshine, and you’re ready for it. We’ve adjusted our daily routine so that we get up and outdoors early, get things done then have a siesta from 1 till 3 or so, and then get busy again later in the day.

However, I’ve discovered something interesting in my temperature-related surfing. A lot of weather and climate websites show the times of sunrise and sunset – and also twilight. Did you know that are three different types of twilight? And, that twilight happens twice a day – just before sunrise and just after sunset. Now I always thought twilight was an evening thing, and pretty much the same thing as dusk.

So, first of all there is civil twilight. That’s what most of us would think of as twilight  – when you can still see things clearly but it’s getting dark (or starting to get light). The precise definition is when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon, either before rising or after setting.

Nautical twilight is the next type of twilight, which is when the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon. It’s a good bit murkier than civil twilight and only vague outlines of objects can be seen. It’s hard to make out the horizon at all.

Finally, astronomical twilight is when it’s completely dark – ‘still’ in the morning, and ‘just gone’ in the evening. The sun is now 18 degrees below the horizon.

Twilight is crépuscule in French. It has a Latin root. Another derivative, crepuscular, is used in English to refer to animals that are active at both twilights, such as fireflies, owls and bats. Talking of fireflies, Chris and Benjamin have seen some down at our big lake. Ruadhri and I have looked a couple of times, but with no luck. I think we went searching when it was only civil as opposed to nautical twilight i.e. too early! Rors can’t quite stay up late enough. But as the evenings slowly draw in, our chances will improve. I’ll keep you posted.