Saturday 9 June 2012

Counting my Blessings

I know I am shamefully tardy at blogging that I should be up here chatting and posting more often but truth be told the daily slog of life has kept me on my toes and plate juggling the role of ceramic artist, mother of three, chief bottle washer and cook ,housekeeper, gardener, chauffeur, as well as keeper of the books and animal warden has hardly left me a minute to be me. Since I last  scrambled out fro under all that a lot of muddy water has flowed turgid and full of flotsam and jetsam under my particular rickety bridge and I have been hanging in there by my toes. But here I am again bobbing up again , not drowning but waving to Miss Quote Stevie Smith..

Sometimes the choices are either sink or swim under all that life throws up over you and as I do not have either the mentality nor the luxury of the former I am paddling like mad to maintain the latter and last night when I collapsed in bed I lay there and thought Ok take a breathe, tred water for a while and count  your blessings, so I did.  And here they are... 1 2 3 many.....

1 girl
2 boys
3 wonderful children whom I love and who love me in return.
Many smiles

1 cockerel
2 hens
3 dogs
Many goldfish in the pond my boys built.

1 heart
2 hands
3 heads to kiss goodnight
Many hugs

1 sister
2 brothers
3 sister/brothers in law
Many beautiful and talented nieces

1 aunt
2 Families
3 colonial cousins
Many friends

1 life
2 chances
3 wishes
Many dreams

Once I got started I could go on and on... enough to keep black dogs from the door, enough to make me realize just how lucky I am after all,  So hard to stop counting there are so so many things in my life to be thankful for, so what are you waiting for ? Stop reading and start counting !

The piece of art at the top of this post is a printed canvas rug by Kathy Cooper a renowned artist and author of craft books, Click on the link to see some of her amazing handsome work.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Grannies wanted..

Today has been a day, once again, monopolized by paperwork I feel as if I have been carried forward , like a rather unseaworthy small craft minus its rudder or sea charts, buffeted by the flotsam and jetsum of documents which are, it seems, an inevitable result of a French divorce.

A lone woman riding a sea of paperwork ,where official forms roll in and out like crashing breakers and where God willing and with a fair wind (and a great deal less money than I started out with) I will be washed up on the shores of sanity and singlemotherhood with barely a bruise to show for my treacherous journey and the remnants of my family intact. It has been a day that went past being challenging to exhausting and possibly beyond.

So it was that this afternoon having staggered into the post office with an armful of envelopes to go to various european bodies, an assortment of tile orders to be dispatched and a heap of documetns to be translated by an official translator , some into French some into English , and staggered out with my purse much lighter, I flopped with relief and the satisfaction of a goods days work and I sat in the warm sun waiting for youngest to be catapulted out of college.

As I sat, I watched two old ladies slowly and methodically dead heading hydrangeas together in the garden of the restaurant .Neither was very steady on thier feet and both were rugged up like arctic explorers despite the sunshine. Neither I imagine would see 80 again. They worked slowly and methodically and in silence as if the other was not there. The aged parents of the owners perhaps or two old devils who had eaten well, drunk the cellars dry and couldn't pay the bill and were being allowed to work off thier debt in the garden. Of course the latter theory would explain thier faultering gait and thier slightly wobbly demeanour.

This is the sort of thing my mother would be doing ( dead heading faded blooms, not over indulging in red wine and bill dodging) . If she were alive she would be I suppose of thier generation, a generation of women who seemed always to be occupied, never still, always tweeking something or other, never failing to be busy as if unwilling to leave themselves time to let thier minds wander back to people and places long since dead and gone. Wise women who refuse to dwell on the past.

Off they shuffle, totttering in silence never a word exchanged.

For me now there are barely enough hours in the day to accomplish all the tasks alloted, I frantically juggle ironing, washing, gardening, cooking, dirty plates and laundry piles, and try and fit enough creativity to try and earn a living in between all that and taxi and livestock duties and the inevitable homework and bed time routines. The house and garden are all desperatley in need of a grandmothers steady hand. Meanwhile I spin like a dervish arms thrown wide in exasperation clutching at loose ends of our lives to try and keep hold of the strings that tie this small family together.

Tomorrow I have yet another rendevouz with yet more paperwork all necessary all expensive journeys drinking up expensive fuel as I shoot bakwards and forward between government departmenets trying to work out how I am meant to bring up two boys and pay the bills on 646€ a month.

I wonder if I might adopt ( or even possibly kidnap) one of those calm seceteur wheelding old dames ?

As ever I am too slow on the uptake for as I ponder they are whisked away by the flashy restaurnt owner in her flashy black car.

Never mind there is always tomorrow, if I see them here then and I am quick enough I might bag one and let her free range about my garden grazing on the leggy shrubbery to her hearts content.

Ah well I can but dream !

I do not yearn for the youthful vigour of landarmy girls or a jolly thorough young man or even old adam teh gardner from the ladybird book of my childhood. I want a woman like these. Someone like the old dears adn surrogate aunts of my growing up with whol I can sit downa fterwards admire the garden eat home made sponges and drink tea from china cups with saucers. I think tomorrow if they are still again I may well swoop down and kidnap one of them, bustle them into my car safely hidden under the pile sof coats which seem to breed on the back seat amongst hte abandoned books and biscuit wrappers, adn take her home to prune my roses. Its eaither that or put an advert in the Lady magazine « An opening has arisen for a surogate Grandmother, duties include a little light gardening in contemplative silence, tea drinking and hand patting of over worked single mother , must enjoy Gin, times crossword and ironing. Will be expected to provide own secaters adn gardeing gloves »

Monday 9 January 2012

A Right Pigs ear

Its been a bit of a bothersome few days. I having been struck down with the gastro bug( as in enteritis not in gastronomy, no really you do not want to know the details) and being unable to move from my bed for 2 days, the youngest two fended amazingly for themselves did not burn the house down or explode the cooker and managed to courageously get homework done and salle hoovered ( after a fashion) and cook sufficiently nutritious meals to give them the energy to play computer games and care for the numerous household animals and livestock that rampage about this place. Meanwhile being a mother I lay there in my rather unpleasant sickbed worrying what would happen if I was really ill and had to go to hospital or worse which is an indication of my temperature rather than a real fear although it did raise a few gremlins in my head and the idea that it might be wise to freeze meals for two along with reheating instructions just in case!

The next day bolstered up by numerous potions and powders and forced on by the need to get boys to college and to various appointments I did the school run and then came home and after domestic duties like feeding chickens went back to bed where I could throw up to my hearts content. Come school pick up time I was feeling a trifle better if light headed so did a bit of shopping en route to college where I bought a fantastically cheap piece of pork, loads of meat on it and looked prime for a slow cooked stew. Got home put it in water to soak and realized as I unwrapped it from its plastic overcoat it was in fact half a pigs head. To be fair they had cut off the ear and wrapped it around the nose and teeth so the whole thing just looked like a hock joint. Ah well needs must, found wonderful recipe which even to my jaded pallet sounded interesting. I sent the link to my whizz of a cook niece then went to bed.

2 days later the plumber was here sorting something or other and he came and had a little chat about the fosse septic, there is a strange not very pleasant smell he said has this happened before? Don't ask me I have no sense of smell. Well he sniffed and poked about with pipes and told me to get the boys to have a good sniff around if they thought it smell like a dodgy fosse to give him a call. I promised to then totally forgot about it.

Yesterday evening I had an email from niece asking about how the pigs head had tasted... it took a while for it to sink in but eventually my feeble brain managed to link pigs head which I had totally forgotten about and which by now had been festering in water in the warm kitchen for 3 days with apparently unidentified stink in laundry room. I went to investigate took the lid off the pan and put it back on very quickly.

So no roast pigs head in white wine for us and a surprise treat for the dogs .

I think I can well and truly say I made a right pigs ear out of that.

Monday 5 December 2011

A single mother at 53.. what ever next!!

Well its done and over and I am now a divorcer woman. Who would have thought it here I am single mother at 53 living in a foriegn country with two boys one of whom seems set , unintentionally, on damaging as many parts of his body before Christmas as he can, having got over an emergency appendectamy he has now fallen and ripped all the tendons in his right hand, and the other boy is now an interesting melange of anger and sadness, a combination which makes everyday an emotional roller coaster. I am living with two angry young men. Both of whom blame thier father for abandoning them for his new family. His new partner has two girls about the same age as our boys so there is the added frisson of them thinking he prefers girlsto them and had they been girls he might have stayed . Of course the fact that he hasnt even met these girls despite living with thier mother for 9 months seems to make it worse for them. To them he has chosen a pre-made family of unknown children over those he had himself. No amount of my trying to explain and reassure seems to wash that doubt away. Middle with his painful hand is doubly made sore by his father not contacting him to enquire how he is. Youngest just wants to kill him. In the absence of their father theie anger is turned on each other and on me. Oh what joyful times we live in !

When I say its all done of course it isnt and probably never will be. There is all the paperwork to do now, changing my name on every kind of legal document back to my maiden name, changing the passports, taking over all the standing orders for gas electric, phone, all the taxes, all the bills and desperatly praying that my now ex husband keeps his word and pays the share he has promised. Of course with new contracts to be set up with all the utilities come new deposits as well so in the weeks towards Christmas, when my mind is usually full of finding presents to delight, it is weighed down with worries about where the money is going to come from and how I can stretch my all ready paper thin budget to cover presents from Santa on top of everything else . I want to make this Christmas a happy special one do dispel the spectre of the last one looming, like Dickens ghost of Christmas past ,over everything.

I work all weekend at aChristmas craft fayres to raise some extra money. I stay up way past my bed time to make sure I put the kiln, dishwasher and washing machine on during cheap reate electricity times and nag the kids to turn of lights and anything else that burns electricity and not run the taps when they clean their teeth. I watch in horror as middle shoots up another 6 inches overnight and despair when both come home with holes in the knees of thier jeans from school hoping that the January sales come up with cheap replacements. I have alwasy prided myself on being a good housewife and a frugal one but I am discovereding there is a big differnence between being so because you want to and doing so because you have no safety net to catch you if you don't.

There are of course safety nets here and the French state will do its best for us. I could go to the mairee and ask for food handouts but I think I'm too proud for that at the moment. Ive applied for aid with fuel, school fees and electricity but everything is based on my husbands salary of two years ago so no entitlements there and the children bless them have written santa the shortest wish lists in the history of that tradition. Middle reckons he doesnt deserve anything as patently he must have been very bad bearing in mind all that has happenned to him this year.

But grumbling aside ,and this is all this missive is, me grumbling , its nto me drowning or despairing its jsut letting off steam so I can go on trying my best and not letting off steam at the boys. Even if I can not give the children the sort of Christmas they so much deserve and would love to give them, with careful shopping and a stocking full of cheap and cheerful smiles I plan to make this Chrismtas a good one even if the smiles are paper ones glued on to hide the cracks and there may not be as many presents under the tree as usual.

The advent calendars I made lat year are hanging in the kitchen pockets filed with tiny treats and I am accumilating small delights for thier stockigns. This Father Christmas will instead be Mother Christmas and it will be a happy Christmas to remember , I will make sure of it. It is after all our first with just the 4 of us , when eldest comes back from University we will dress the tree as ever by candlelight with carols on the cd p layer and we will make new traditions and buld on them each year. So if any of you have any family traditions you can share then please let me know so I can steal the appropriate ones and call them my own in years to come, after all Christmas is a time of giving and the gift of sharing costs nothing !!

Friday 4 November 2011

Last of the summer whine

When I leave to do the school run, only 15 minutes to the next town and the same back, it is pitch black I usually get there and back before the day has really opened its eyes thus I go dressed in whatever I grab usually a scruffy pair of jeans and an old but warm jumper, no one is going to see me so it doesn't matter. Sometimes I stay like that all day safe in the garden getting muddy or in the studio getting clayee. I always however change and have a brush and scrub up if I'm expecting to have to meet the world in day light. Well almost always.

On one such morning of scarecrow look alike attire returning from the school dash as the dawn was breaking in a breathtaking shimmer of pinks and mauves seen through the mist hugging the ground. Too beautiful to miss I stopped to take this photograph . I stood and gazed in wonder at so much beauty and calm and thanked my guardian angel that I actually had my camera in the car for once. Then I drove off reluctantly. Actually it wasn't just me who drove reluctantly the car was a bit slow to want to budge and by the time I got to the bottom of the hill it became obvious that something was very much not right. I turned into the lane that leads through a now deserted hamlet to our lane and stopped to inspect the car. If you had to define a flat tyre then this was the perfect example totally flat, running on the wheel hub looking like something from a cartoon but without the humour. By now it was daylight. Maize harvest was in full swing and there wasn't a soul around. No friendly locals to ask for help, not enough agility to change a wheel and no chance of passing traffic I resorted to phoning the rescue service which my assurance company provide.

Wonderful. The day was beginning to warm up into one of those clear hot days of an Indian summer and I was stranded in a quiet byway talking french to someone in Paris whose native tongue was obviously something else. Eventually with me resorting to slang we established I had a flat tyre, where was I ? Good question. I gave him as best directions as I could telling him the name of the nearest hamlet and that I was between two larger villages. No problem someone will come within 30 minutes.

I couldn't decide whether to be impressed that he hadn't needed to have the breton place names spelt out or worried, I opted for an optimistic attitude and sat and waited. 1 hours later I began to wonder if I shouldn't have chosen option B and opted for worried, never mind, here I was on a gloriously hot day with all the time in the world to spare, so I gainfully occupied myself collecting great big fat chestnuts and broken branches for the fire. Another hour passed and I had a phone call from the garage, where was I ? Ah , they had sent him to a large town a good 45 minutes from where I was, and I was as it turned out was only 10 minutes from his garage. I waited some more. An hour later he arrived. Meanwhile I sat by the side of the road looking like an old peasant arms full of wood, scruffy jumper, unbrushed hair and pockets bulging with chestnuts catching a few of the suns rays.
Nice young man arrived in his smart tow truck and gave me a pitying look , you know that look, its the , the stupid woman can't even change a tyre look, I smiled back. Then spent over an hour watching him trying to get my very flat tyre off my car which he finally succeeded in doing with the rather unorthodox help of a lump of wood and a hammer. You shouldn't be driving this car he said, it isn't safe he said, your thingywotsit is likely to go at any moment, you need to take it to the nearest garage at once and get it fixed. OK so patently it wasnt the thingywotsit but I have no idea what the english word for it is and Id be surprised if you would be interested to know or, for that matter ever have a need to know the french name of the thing that lets the steering wheel move the tyres in what ever direction you want them to move. I drove tentatively home, as by now it was well into the 2 hour french lunch hour so no one would be open and is the reason that young man did not offer to tow me as he was obviously en route home for his lunch and didn't want his meal getting cold dealing with mad Englishwomen with dodgy thingywotsits.

Having allowed due time for them to eat their lunch and have a little digestive to let the food settle I called the garage to make an appointment to have a new spare tyre fitted and get the thingywotsit done.

The Tyre was no problem the thingwotsit would take 5 days to order, when he changed the tyre the man at the garage told me I really must not drive the car under any circumstances he didn't however come up with any alternatives. In the middle of nowhere which I call home you cant survive without a working thingywotsit or a spare car or failing that kind neighbours, my neighbours car was off the road so I just had to wing it, drive carefully and pray very hard. I managed all that quiet well until I had to collect eldest from Uni on the Shad aturday. I sorted out trains and busses which would get her to the nearest small town to which I felt safe enough to limp in my hazardous vehicle only for her to discover that despite the timetable saying the contrary buses do not run on Saturday. No choice then either she phoned her father to ask for a lift or I risked my thingywotsit snapping like knicker elastic and went and get her. She burst into tears at the first suggestion so knicker elastic it was. It was the longest 45 minutes in my life, no not true, the return journey was worse as I was desperate not to crash the car and kill us both. We got home, we sighed a big sigh of relief and we eventually got the car fixed.

Today has been equally eventful and a tiny bit stressful. We have been fattening a turkey up for Christmas, this morning I found it all forlorn and lying face down in the mud. I scooped it up trotted over to the neighbours with it for some advice followed by my cohort of boys and dogs. The advice was kill and do no eat it. My young neighbour volunteered to do the deed but I know he hates poultry, well not hates but is scared stiff of them, somewhat of a draw back for someone who works in agriculture, so I declined his noble offer and went home to do the deed myself. I should have sharpened the axe first. Not pleasant and not easy but it had to be done. There was no blood. I suspect thing died of shock before I even stretched its thin wight neck out on the block.

We assigned the poor departed thing to a bin bag and went and deposited it in the municipal bins and then cheered ourselves up by collecting yet more chestnuts. We may not have a home grown turkey for Christmas but we will have masses of home made chestnut stuffing!!

Later we cut down the willow and dug a semi circular ditch to plant willow whips in, we have great plans to make a willow arbor by the pond. Whilst we were at it we trimmed off the lower branches of the fir tree so we can at last again see the well which has gradually become hidden by pine branches. Middle is a whizz with the chainsaw, he scares me rigid. We dragged the willow branches over to our chosen spot and started to plant them, then we attempted to tie them together at the top to form a dome, then we went and got the ladder to have another go, then the wretched thing collapsed and we went in and had tea. What we really needed was a strong pair of helping hands but hey ho you can't have everything so we'll try again another day when time is less pressing and we feel less harassed. The water Butt is now stuffed full of willow branches waiting patiently for us to get our second wind and start again.

So all in all we have had, of late, a busy time and have learnt several valuable lessons the biggest being that it is amazing what we can achieve when we have too and that lack of immediate success does not necessarily mean inevitable failure. That goes for Turkey killing and willow arbors alike. Sometimes all it takes is to put on a brave face and carry on and sometimes we could all do with the occasional offer of a little help from our friends even if we choose not to take them up on it.

Life may not always be easy but that doesn't mean we have to accept bad luck when it happens and give in to it, somewhere as long as you look for it there is always a bright side an upside, a good egg to be found among the bad. The art is, as I am learning, to search for the little rays of sunshine in life and enjoy them when I can, even if beheading a turkey isn't one of them!!

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Heart's Ease...

The maize harvest is in full swing with vast machines, the frightening fronts of which consist of a line up of what appear to be giant razorsharp corkscrews rotating at terryfying speed and resemble some sort of a Heath Robinson contraption, persuaded by tractors and trailersat a measured pace into which the machines spew the mulched corn stems leaves cobs and all to be stored under tarpauling in great pits for winter fodder for the cows. The last cut of hay has been made and with it has come warm weather and a plague of biting flies that pester nip and pooh on everything. Its enough to drive anyone mad.

Every day I pass the tractors with their drivers accompanied on wednesdays and at weekends by young sons or cousins or brothers riding in the cabs. The safest place for a farm child to be during the maize harvest is in the cab high above the terrible machines where he can be seen and kept an eye on and not be tempted to wander off into the maize field to be accidently mulched himself.

Farmwork is a family affair, and at Harvest the family grows to include all the other workers who are pulled in to get the job done. This means providing lunch for everyone at midday. My friend was telling me at dinner last night that she had had 2 days of making bouef bourginione for 15 and soup for supper for thier harvesters and at the same time doing the milking and all the other jobs usually shared out because everyone was harvesting the maize. Her husband was telling me of a woman on another bigger farm who had to feed 26 men each day over 3 days and still get a herd of 150 cows brought in and sent out to the fields as well as milking cleaning the milking parlour and feeding the calves.

It was a sobering thought after a week of feeling pathetically sorry for myself and crushed by , what can feel sometimes like the overwhelming responsibility of single parenthood . Weekends are the worst. During the week I can easily occupy my day with all the necessary things that need doing and in the evenings by the time I have fed and watered all living creatures here, both human and animal ,and made sure homework is done, things sorted for the following day , ears are washed behind, teeth are cleaned and bedrooms vaguelly, if not entirely tidied ,before bedtime stories are read I am so tired all I can manange is bed myself. But weekends are full of empty spaces where family life and routine used to be, Sundays especailly. No matter how much fun and chatter we have, how much dog walking and play, no matter how good the sunday roast is or what dessert I make to fill the empty space and the long silences which their father has left in our lives would hang above the days if we let it, even after 7 months, like a brutal grief that as hard as I try I can not eradicate. I hate that.

No that is far too melodramatic many women have gone through far worse than I, many children suffered more and it is important to remember that life before was worse not better. So I have taken the advise of a good friend , when ever I miss him she said, just remember the bad times, the lies the cheating, the drinking, the unpredictable temper and imagine having that all back again. Its a horribly sobering thought. Its no good crying over spilt milk, as my mother used to say, he has left us and he is no longer the man I loved and fell in love with he is someone else now and that man has gone for ever.

Today I took the neighbours small boy and his sister and our combined pack of assorted dogs for a walk through the fields to collect acorns for the goats who munch them with the delight of children gourging themselves on bonbons. The stubble is bursting with delicate colour from the wild pansies which spring up every year after harvest and across the sky arced a vast and perfect rainbow hung over us.

I have many things to be thankful for, my children, our home, 3 mad labradors and above all life itself and the joy of being me.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Days of mellow fruitfulness

Autumn is open us and despite the searing heat of a late indian summer , the sound of guns from the first of the seasons hunts tell me there is no ignoring the fact that things need doing and that with the morning air is crisp and the grass covered in dew summer is saying its last goodbyes.

So this weekend has been one of picking apples and storing them for winter, collecting hazelnuts and wild plums, lifting the last of the potatoes from the potager and the last of the beans left in the fields after the machines have finished thier work, putting away firewood for the winter to come and trying to get the garden sorted and ready for its long sleep.

I have had 3 trees felled and am busy burning off the pine branches from them, the logs are being cut into rounds so I can lay them as a walkway up to the vegetable patch and soon I am going to cut the wilow and make a living willow arch and fence to screen the now open and sunlit garden from the road. There is an old and rotten wooden barn that needs knocking down too and I need to start work on building the verandah on the front of the house so that in winter the dogs and I have somewhere sheltered to sit and watch the rain and I can sit and drink my early morning coffe before I start the day. Its a project my husband and I had planned for a couple of years we have the wood just never got around to doing it , now I know it is because he had other things on his mind, so I am going to do it alone.

Usually the boys are a great help about the palce but since Middle isnt able to lift anything after his operation and it seems churlish to make youngest pitch in when his brother is busy playing on his computer I am going it alone with the company of the dogs everywhere I go about the garden I am followed by 3 large labradors and a smaller black puppy, in the early morning they bounce and bark and play with the goats in teh heat of the day they waddle and stop adn lie in the shade and only get up and move when I pick up my wheelbarrow or change to another task somewhere else in the jungle that is the garden here.

This mornings early morning task was stripping the ivy from the longere wall , the goats love that and happily munch about my feet and butt my knees gently if I get in the way of a juicy morsel they fancy. Ive been clipping back bramblesw as well before it gets too hot and feeding the fire and the goats with those now my hands are a mess and I think I have broken every nail on my hands but its satisfying work and I sit in the evening as darkness falls watching the stars with the boys and stoking the bonfire breathign in the smoke and making wiht them fresh memories to make up for the ones they want to forget.

Next I must get on balnch and freeze the beans, make beetroot chutney, apple chutney and puree and chop and freeze yet more apples for winter desserts. Its far too much work for one person when I have the rest of life to deal with and two boys to raise but getting a gardener isnt an option and needs must but I have good neighbours and friends who help by appearing with a bag of grain for the chickens or an offer of a hand every now and then and at least I go to bed exhausted and with a feeling of achievement.

We have all grown and moved on in the last months since my husband left, we may be a less orderly household than we were and the kitchen, or for that matter the rest of the house, may not be as tidy as it should be. I may have a list of things to do whihc is dauntingly long and if I let it ,would be overwhelming. There are times when I miss him greatly and wish he was back her helping in the garden doing the wood with me enjoying being a family but he isnt and that was his choice adn we are learnign to live with it. We are, the boys and I, becoming happy again, laughing a lot about silly things, and growing as a family and we work well together.

I have lots of things to be thankful for, and I am.

the painting is Digging Potatoes

By: Carl Larsson (1853 - 1919) I coould do wiht this merry band of women to help me about the garden, I liek this painting of Larssons it is so different to his sugar sweet domestic scenes but still has a lot of love about it