A picture post

 As the title implies my camera and computer bumped into each other after a short time apart, so it was nice to catch up.

Drip, drip drop, little April STORMS!

As the temperatures stretch into the mid twenties and beyond the site has become a time lapse photographers dream; people come and go in their vehicles loaded with materials, friends and observers pop in to help and say ‘Hi’ and the landscape around us and in the distance is transformed into neat rows of hope.

Drains in, partitions built, quotes accepted, tiles ordered, samples viewed, late night discussions, decisions made and changed. Seeds selected, weeds tamed, rows hoed and staples planted on mass, the promise of freshly picked salads draws closer.

The clatter of thunder marks the end of the day and I hurry to get things under cover, and whilst the arcing circuit sparks to the sky are no sure sign of rain, if it does then it comes down as if it’s the last chance it will ever get. The road to civilisation can become impassable by anything other than welly clad foot as it becomes river and I am reminded that I must put in some road drainage, one day! The van is moved to higher and more solid ground.

With hardly time to think to count between the crack and the flash the storm is upon us. Dogs return from adventures to seek shelter and the increased throttle of a tractor can be heard in the distance as the final row of potatoes is sown, just in time. The darkening sky sends the omnipresent dandelions to sleep, and even the birds leave the trees to hiding places unknown as the first scouting raindrops hit the tin roof of the house with a hollow flat note, soon becoming a hurried drum roll punctuated by a dripping gutter. I must fix that!

As the wind races around the house a clear and sunlit patch of ground can be spotted to the south east and I know is heading this way, and no sooner have I finished my cup of tea then a birdsong melody replaces the drum solo and the clouds settle over the next valley finding a new home on higher ground. Now as a distant observer I look on in awe as the electrical show continues and my slow quiet counting confirms that the storm is visiting lands further afield, but the rumble can still be heard for an hour or so after, a last word reminder that it will be back again tomorrow.

 

‘C’mon Jack’

From the house I walk down towards the barn, only 250m or so on a slight decline, but on the way back up it can be a challenge; especially after a long day or on the third trip to retrieve something you have forgotten from the barn! I can’t help but notice all the sprouting trunks of the saplings of willow and silver birch coming up after the cull to prepare for the run of the electricity cable last year; amazing resilience.

Jackie runs ahead as ever, checking for danger, things to find, things to chase, things to bark at. She has many different barks, much the same as a baby has specific cries to indicate various needs. On this occasion she goes into the throaty bark that tells me someone or something is on our land and I will be needed to give assistance or guidance as to what she should do next. As it happens it’s an overhead gaggle of geese honking their arrival; Jackie has a specific dislike for overhead threats to the point that she will chase Para-gliders and occasional low flying planes. I assure her that everything is ok and we walk on.

Past the barn and various patches of freshly turned and composted land for this years harvest; the every expanding strawberry beds, raised beds for salads and the like, another patch ready and rotovated for the tomatoes and chillies, a second ready for beans and peas, occasional perennials are dotted around the place as are black currents, red currents, gooseberries, raspberries and after a three year wait goji berries and Russian honeysuckle. I also notice that the rhubarb has decided to come out to play and is spreading well beyond its brick and stone boundary which was set around last years growth to protect it from the dreaded strimmer.

The relatively mild winter has left us with many herbs already in full growth, chives, borage, parsley, oregano, sage, and even coriander amongst the other surprise survivor, some spinach. This works well for me as I have a pre-made curry back at the house and I immediately decide on a sag aloo accompaniment, so handfuls of spinach and coriander are stuffed in my pockets.

Walking through the orchard I can’t help but notice the wild plumb tree in bloom already and it is the play ground for a mass of pollinators, bumble bees aplenty and the noise would be enough to drown out a phone call, I make a mental note to check on the date of last years flowering for comparison.

Everything seems to be doing well, although we have had to say goodbye to one of the old plum trees after three years of waiting for it to recover from a covering of the wild vine that dominated most of the orchard when we first bought the land. It also seemed to have a disease of some sort so we decide it was best cleared, to create more light for the surrounding trees and provide us with some nice wood for smoking in the future. I pass by the vivid coloured stump that remains, maybe I can find someone with a lath and skill to make something from the wood, it has a real beauty about it.

I take a detour into the neighbours’ field to investigate what they were cutting down with the chainsaw last week; nothing much, just some overgrown blackthorn, nothing that will impact too much on my sloe harvest later in the year.

Beyond the wooded area and into a clearing bordered by some agricultural land; it’s a small family plot surrounded by a crude but functional wires mesh fence, protection against wild boar and deer, but not Jackie as she finds a gap and tears across the forbidden field.

I cut back into a second wooded area and notice the recent logging that has taken place, felled beech and birch litter the ground with piles of brush piled neatly around the earth border of the land. I worry about the way the trees are felled in the area sometimes, a small valley on my right was recently cleared of many large trees and I fear that the structure of the soil will suffer and the valley walls collapse and then expand, with the loss of roots to bind things together. We walk on.

Out of the woods and into the open fields long since used for crops, either the farmers are too old or the land not productive enough to reap a harvest, although they will be rewarded by the EU in the form of a grant for giving the land up to nature, not much, but enough for it to be an option. It’s hard to make money farming around here as the land is poor as are the people, so a grant to stop you breaking your back for a pittance is a good option.

I often reflect upon the life that we are now leading, dog walking provides you with the time to do so, and I have to say the thoughts are mostly positive. I certainly don’t miss my old way of life, it may well have had more privileges, but it’s problems and stresses were bigger and without true reward, now I am rewarded every day by the simplest of things if only because I have the time to appreciate them. Of course we still have plenty to do and our future survival in the modern world is very much based on the throw away comment that ‘everything will be alright’, but I do firmly believe that if you think that then it will be. Hardly a convincing business plan, but then I hope we never have to borrow any money 🙂

Jackie finds the scent of a cat; nose to the ground with little use of her sight to provide direction, she is driven by smell alone. Left, right and the occasional look up to see if her prey is near; a spring into the air, spinning 180 degrees as she does so as she tries to spot her victim which must be close by. Another jump, then another, her ears remaining in the air a split second longer than her body giving the impression of flapping wings, the cat bolts deciding it’s a good time to visit the old oak tree only twenty meters away. As cats go this one is fast, although true to form Jackie never quite catches it, where’s the fun in that? Much better to chase than to catch, after all cats have claws and dogs have paws, natures pure design 🙂

‘C’mon Jack, back home’

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Shice!

Forgive the false advertising, but puppy pictures seem to work on my few Facebook followers 🙂

I have read about it, done the research, even chuckled to myself as I have heard of other peoples accounts of it happing. Joseph Jenkins explains that it happened to him from 1993 to 1997; that’s four years that he knows of whilst he was monitoring!

Even still, the proud feeling from the construction of my poor mans composting thermometer melted away as I checked the core temperature of my humanure pile a couple of weeks ago when I visited the land, I had hit 0°C and I am left with a pile of shice!

Further reading allays my fears and thankfully it’s nothing to worry about, as time goes by it will stop happening altogether, as long as I keep the faith and keep piling on the poo!

Off course I have sprung to action and I sprinkle the pile at every opportunity as and when I visit the land; a valid reason for my copious tea consumption. All I need now is some unadulterated child fec …..now there’s a stroke of luck! Yet another incentive to get the house habitable as soon as possible:)

Talking of child benefits we visited the local national insurance office today (CRUZ) to put in our claim for sleepless nights and nappy changing. Unlike the UK you receive a one off payment and depending on your earnings you may be entitled to a little bit extra and reduced national insurance contributions for the next five years; seems reasonable?

I have to say I was impressed by the officials stance; questioning us, checking our plans, motives and if we were already claiming money from the UK government. They assured us that there is an agreement between the nations and that they would find out if we were the recipients of multiple benefits; I wonder if claimants in the UK are asked similar questions or made aware of the consequences of claiming twice? As it happens I checked up on this and in the UK you are left to make a declaration on the form you have to fill in to claim child benefit; hardly the kind of small print even an English native speaker would bother to read!

I may have mentioned before that I am in the habit of downloading podcasts from Radio 4 to keep me entertained whilst walking the dogs, unfortunately The Archers omnibus only keeps me going for one decent walk and so I have taken to listening to various other broadcasts. One that I favour is More or Less (behind the stats) ‘Tim Harford investigates numbers in the news. Numbers are used in every area of public debate. But are they always reliable? Tim and the More or Less team try to make sense of the statistics which surround us’

One program that struck me more than most was about immigration, the hot topic in the UK that politicians seem to skate around as they don’t know how to separate EU immigration from other immigration for fear of it becoming a racial issue (in my humble opinion) Have a listen here.

The  fact, if you believe what is said in the program, is that EU immigrants have made a net contribution to the British economy since 1995. It is only when you include figures for all immigrants that this figure becomes a negative. An EU immigrant puts in about £6k a year, where as a non EU immigrant takes out about £21k, and as for the UK nationals then we take out about £11k a year. No wonder the country is in so much debt! Well worth a listen if you have the time.

And time is the one thing I have run out of; it’s time to collect some compost 🙂

Just for those who couldn’t see the puppy picture, here it is 🙂

Taking it easy after a feed
Taking it easy after a feed

No time like the present

OK, you may have guessed that there is no way that I’m going to catch up unless I come up with a radical solution and so, for one week only, I’m heading into a new format to enable me to provide an overview of progress over the last three weeks without having to rely on my memory too much.

The Garden: I thought I better give a mention to the much neglected garden, all the work on the house has meant that many a plant has fallen by the wayside, or taken over the way side as they grow out of control. Of course we have had a steady supply of fresh veg and they are part of our daily intake, be in peas, beans, tomatoes, onions or courgettes; you will always find at least one on your plate, but as I look upon the tangled mass of beans and peas I can’t help but think we could have looked after them better, if only by translating the packets and planting the runners with stakes and the dwarf in rows; something that I only half heartedly addressed as I realised our mistake. Still the older beans will be left to dry on the stalks, a fantastic winter staple and any new growth will continue to be eaten. The same for the peas, old stock will be dried for next years seed and anything fresh popped on the plate or in the freezer.

The humanure tomato experiment continues, although we spotted blight in a few of the main crop plants last week so it’s only a matter of time before the experiment has to come to a premature end. However I can report, without the picture I forgot to take, that both plants are bearing fruit on three trusses and look far healthier than their unfertilised counterparts.

The potatoes have taken a hammering from the beetles and much of the foliage was lost in the last few weeks, but we have dug a few up and they are tasting good, so I’m still confidant of a reasonable crop; we’re just waiting for the harvester to turn up along with the neighbours 🙂 the tradition here is to leave them in the ground for as long as possible to prepare them better for winter storage.

The oats are doing well, although we ploughed back about a third of the crop on the top boundary of the field as growth was slow; hopefully this will help as a green manure.

The House:  As you would expect this remains the main focus for us as we try and get as much done as possible whilst we have the weather on our side. Having the help of the volunteers Paul, Alexandra and Iulia was a massive help, the internal window surrounds were remodelled, the entire ground floor received its first clay slip coat, the timber for the terrace was planed, sanded and painted, along with the basement exterior walls to match the rest of the house.

Not to mention our friend Slawek who fired on with the task of getting the terrace ready for the roof; this final task was completed last week and we have since taken delivery of the tin roof to be fitted by the experts as and when they can fit us into their schedule, fingers crossed in the next few weeks. Meanwhile I have started to fit the terrace decking board which we have all had a part in plaining. If anybody is interested we are selling luxury rabbit bedding 🙂

We also had the assistance of our ever helpful friends Steve and Dorota who came over with the tractor and front loader to do a bit of landscaping; saving my back from carting hundreds of barrows of earth; as ever a big thanks for all and everyone’s help.

As the saying goes a picture can tell a thousand word so I’ll save myself a bit a typing

Nature: As ever I seem to forget to appreciate the things that go on around us, but once in a while something happens that I have never seen before and I become focused and appreciative again. I have mentioned the resident buzzard family on a few occasions, in fact I was a little worried that the recent felling of trees by a neighbour had left them homeless and this was the reason why they hadn’t been there usual vocal self, that was until the recent sighting of the first flight training lessons administered by the two adults to their single chick. We have witnessed this ritual for the last three years and it’s always entrancing, but then out of the blue one of the buzzards pulled back it’s wings and went into a dive, more falcon like than buzzard; or maybe not? I certainly haven’t seen them do it before and it was great to watch; as it never caught anything I’m guessing it was just another subject of the training curriculum.

The young hares seem to be ever present, unfortunately for them Zara has a fare turn of speed, and whilst I feel sorry for them if she catches one I’m also reassured by the large numbers that I have spotted in the area; we don’t seem to be suffering from the decline that is news worthy in other areas of Poland.

The young deer are coming closer and closer to the house, thankfully curiosity did not kill the fawn and they easily outrun Zara and Jackie who have so far kept them away from the veg without putting meat on the menu.

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Volunteers: I know that I have mentioned Iulia,  Alexandra and Paul on a few occasions, but I’d just like to say thank you again for all your help, great workers and great company who made a big difference in the few weeks that they joined us. Paul is heading back again in September, gluten for punishment, or maybe just gluten as he loved the food most of all 🙂 We also have two other ‘possibles’ coming to join us late in August so things are looking good and finishing the plaster inside before the winter may be an achievable target.

We did take a farewell trip to Krakow to visit the town of Oświęcim which is more often referred to and better know by it’s German given name of Auschwitz; it’s my second visit, but it was no less sobering for it.  We went for the guided tour, which takes three and a half hours, but I think Paul summed it up well when he said he would had liked the time to just sit and reflect for a while rather than dealing with the information overload as the guide talked through the expansive and industrialised extermination camps. A worthwhile trip and highly recommended to everyone, but if you get a chance take time to reflect, then do, especially when you see Birkenau.

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Up to date :  Well pretty much so, of course we have had a few parties, BBQs and visitors, but that’s just part of life in Poland, especially when the weather is as good as it is. We are back in Rzemien for the usual Sunday lunch that couldn’t be beat and another week is only a good nights sleep away from us, so until next week (maybe) na zdrowie.

July, almost August, the catch up continues

I’m determined to try and catch up on July before August arrives, as I can see the slippery slope getting steeper and I’m loosing my footing; even so the catch may still be instalments as  I’m relying on dates of photos and the calendar to try and get things in order, not that it matters if things arrive in a random order, but it would be nice to have at least one thing in my life with a reliable schedule.

Having quickly read my last post I noticed that I missed on of the major events of the year; July 30th 2013 saw the installation of our first tap! In fact three taps, one in the kitchen and two in the basement, one of which is feeding the washing machine; yes you heard me right; a washing machine. Hard to believe that so many modern conveniences could arrive in one day, changing our lives forever! With all this water available we even move the bath in from outside and whilst we don’t have a tap to fill it I do manage to rig up a way to empty it!

Plumbing
Plumbing is easy, it’s doors that make it difficult!
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All mod cons

2nd July:  Paul, out third volunteer, arrived today from The London and the group grows in number and character. Add Slawek to the mix, who has joined us to continue with the terrace, and our evenings are a cracking mix of conversation and laughter, helped along with great food and a modest amount of alcohol 🙂

Paul is planning his own straw bale build in France next year so we have plenty to discuss and we soon find that we hold similar views on many subjects that come up in conversation. Our opposing accents also provide entertainment for our European friends 🙂

The weather is also with us and it’s a great feeling to see things moving along and everybody getting along. Wood plaining and sanding, terrace building, window surround shaping and trimming, and a spot of painting; all in all a good days work.

3rd, 4th, 5ht and 6th of July: It started with the hedge trimmer, not surprising that it’s ground to a halt after the abuse that it has received over the previous 12 months, not surprising at all; a little unfortunate that Paul was using it at the time as I think he feels a little responsible.

It’s funny the noises that you only notice when they stop, like the sound of the grinder with the sanding disk attachment that Paul is wielding and taking out the rough spots on the wood for the terrace. The noise stopped and never started again; never mind I had picked up the grinder at an auction for a fiver so no great loss and I have a spare.

With well over five cubic meters of planks to plain, never mind all he wood for the construction of the frame and roof, the plainer that we have borrowed from a friend has proved to be the most beneficial tool available to us and it seems to run most of the day as Paul and I pass more wood through it. That is until it refuses to start after our lunch time break! After various tests and inspection by an expert it appears that the motor has burnt out and needs to be rewound 😦

Fearful that Paul has arrived with a jinx on electrical equipment I provide him with a hammer and refuse access to the chain saw! Did I mention that the washing machine pump has failed as well….

The progress over the week is fantastic and Alexandra and Iulia make a start on the clay slip coat after finishing the window surrounds with Pauls assistance with non motorised tools!. Paul is quite tall, over 6 foot I’d guess, and the extra height comes in handy.

7th July: No trip to Poland would be complete without Sunday lunch cooked by Gosias mum. It was also a good opportunity for Gosias dad to give Paul a closer look at the machinery in the backyard. The first vehicle on display is a hand built ‘woz’ (or trailer) a combination of a WSK motorbike and Trabant car; six speeds, including reverse and capable of carrying a tonne. The clay for the house was all transported from the brick factory on the back on this  wondrous vehicle; when asked how to stop, Gosias father points to his feet 🙂

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The second specimen is an unadulterated WSK, it might not go very far or fast, but its a classic and Gosia has her eye on it for the future.

And believe it or not that’s all I have time for for now, Sunday lunch is upon us, the first we have cooked at the house; Steve and Dorota are coming to join us and then Gosias family are here to pick the raspberries and join us for a BBQ later in the day; there is also a rumour that we will be heading to the neighbours in the evening, so much for a day of rest 🙂

So another weeks goes by and I’m still a couple of weeks behind, reading and writing, I’m only sneaking in this closing paragraph as the sausages are cooking, the men are in the stable fixing the hedge trimmer and the women folk are discussing the price of fish, or maybe sugar, and whilst it’s hard to be antisocial if you don’t speak the language it’s still polite to make an appearance and supply the refreshments 🙂 Have a great weekend, Eddy & Gosia

A little bit of bread but no cheese

It has to be one of the sounds that defines spring for me, but whilst it’s good to finally hear the Yellowhammer perched on the roof of the old derelict house, I know that by the late summer the melody will have worn a little thin! Mind you, you have respect to a bird that inspired the beginning of Beethovens 5th symphony.

So here we are again, back in the land of the potatoes (Pyrowki). Our normal approach was still blocked by snow when we arrived last Wednesday, so we headed down the valley road to our neighbours to park up and climb the hill. Not so bad, unless you have a car full of supplies to relocate, and after the first assent by foot it was decided to test the Nivas four wheel drive credentials. Lots of wheel spinning, mud flying and random steering to keep us on a relatively straight path; we managed to get within about 100 meters of our barn and stable, good enough for me.

Home sweet home
Home sweet home

Our little stable has faired quite well over the winter and after a quick sweep up and dust down it just need a little bit of heat to make it our home from home. So after a quick sweep of the chimney, i.e.  dismantle the chimney into sections take them outside and poke them with a stick whilst shaking them violently, the fire was stoked up and the temperature began to rise.

Get that fire buring
Get that fire buring

The weather was surprisingly good so after a quick inspection of the house we decided to crack on with a few outside jobs; we had started to clear the patch of land beyond the orchard in the Autumn so it seemed like a good idea to continue with the task before spring sent up a new set of brambles. Work is hard going after such an extended break without much physical activity and after three or four hours we headed back to the stable, breaking ourselves in gently so to speak.

Clearing the brambles
Clearing the brambles

That was until we noticed  the small river winding it’s way down our track, it had sprung up during the day as the snow started to melt and was taking the easiest route to the valley; but not only was it taking this route it was also taking our road, depositing it further down flied! And on top of that the recently filled trench that hid our electricity supply cable had collapsed creating a small canyon, the cleared earth finding its way into the well water. Anyone who says that washing your hair in well water turns it green would be mistaken on this occasion as it would definitely be a dirty orange if you used ours. Mind you it tasted ok 🙂 (Joke!)

So armed with a spade I tried to find the source of the rapidly evolving rapid  and quickly dug a trench to divert the flow a couple of hundred meters further up the hill; a job that carried on the next day as we also discovered a small swimming pool in the basement of the new house! The digging of a swale in the top field and drainage around the foundations have made their way up the list of things to do, although I hope this was a bit of a freak event as many hectares of half meter snow melted over a three day period; that’s a hell of a lot of water and not likely to occur again until next year, is it?

Land clearing, wood chopping, house cleaning and visiting friends filled the last four days quickly and a few beers and vodkas snuck in as we were welcomed back; we have been well fed and watered as we did the rounds. The proliferation of eggs, as everyone’s chickens have started to lay again, is apparent in the food that everyone cooks for you; Friday saw a breakfast of scrambled (4 eggs) a lunch of egg mayo sandwiches (2 eggs) a later lunch of a cheese omelette (4, maybe 5 eggs) and finally a supper with an accompanying dish of  stuffed eggs; I only managed 1 🙂

But it’s not all eggs, oh no, we did finally fire up the bread oven on Saturday and along with a Dahl inspired by Food and Forage Hebrides I made some Naan breads. Whilst Gosia was kind and told me how good they tasted I think I need a little more practice with the oven and experiment more with the distribution of fire; although from the results of the weekend I know that I will be able to make a top notch pizza that should cook in under 5 minutes; with the high temperature that is generated on the brick base.

It’s good to be back 🙂

Papo Secos

Or Portuguese rolls as I have known them as for the last 25 years.

I know you may have been expecting a post about the snow covered hills, the inaccessible road to our land, the drink fuelled reunion with our neighbours or yet another meal that couldn’t be beat; well sorry, five minutes after writing my last post the snow started!

Admittedly it only lasted for a few hours, but that was enough for us to change our plans and hole up in Rzemien for another day.

Gosia has plenty to do and has nipped off down to Meilec for a few vitals and no doubt an extended inspection of the second hand clothing stores; it’s 1Zlt day today (20p) and you can never have enough jumpers, work trousers, hats, coats, skirts and shirts; can you? I have to admit I look forward to seeing what she has bought as I know that I will be treated  to some item of clothing that caught her eye; not just any old thing, oh no, Gosia has a trained eye and years of knowledge that identifies only the finest and most sought after brands, discarded by the affluent West and I’m sure that the value of my next jumper will be hundred times more than the 1 Zlt paid. I am, as I type this, wearing a Fat Face  lambs wool jumper and Gosia left the building sporting a cracking pair Diesel jeans; all courtesy of the second hand cloths markets that flourish in Poland.

On this occasion I know that she is looking for items than she can cut into material triangles as she is making fifty plus meters on bunting for an up and coming event, she has sewn over a hundred triangles so far but I’m sure chatter of the sewing machine will be heard again tonight.

BuntingWorking into the night

Anyhow, I digress; I started off with the intention of popping another recipe in the blog as I have taken to trying to make a batch of bread rolls most days since I got back to Poland. Having our own milled flour means that I can knock out 8 rolls for little over 10p a batch (ok maybe 20p if you included the electricity)

One of my favourite rolls to eat is a Portuguese roll or Papo Secos; no doubt because they are sold fresh in practically every corner shop in Jersey (Channel Islands). Because of the high number of migrant workers that originate from Portugal or Madera they have become one of the Islands culinary staples and if you ever buy a bacon roll you will always be offered Portuguese as one of the options.

I have now made them about half a dozen times and think I’m just about starting to get them right, so if you’re ready I will begin:

Papo Secos

  • About 400g of flour (or my usual third of a bag, if I had flour in a bag)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 15-20g of fresh yeast or one packet of fast acting.
  • About 300ml of lukewarm water

Sift the flour into a bowl with the salt, cream the yeast with the water (yeast in, a bit of water to mix the lumps out, then add the rest of the water; put to one side for a bout 10 minutes in a warmish spot until it starts to bubble.

Add the water\yeast mix gradually to the flour until you can bring in all together, then turn out onto a floured board and knead for about 10 minutes. Once you have a smooth and elastic consistency pop it in an lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp tea towel, find it a nice cosy spot and let it rise for an hour or so.

Once risen remove from the bowl and knock back the mixture and roll out into a large sausage shape; this helps you to now divide into eight or nine equal parts which you then roll into balls. Now cover these again with your damp tea towel and let them rise for 15 minutes.

Now the final part and at this point I’d put your oven on about 220c and more importantly place an oven proof dish with a couple of inches of boiling water in the bottom of your oven.

Slightly flatten the balls of dough and create a groove down the middle of each flattened disk, using the karate chop part of your hand! Don’t worry the pictures will help with this description.

Then fold the little disks of joy into a set of kissing lips, flip then upside down and place on your oiled baking tray, cover with your tea towel once again and let them rise for a further 30 minutes.

Ok I lied that wasn’t the final thing, but all you have to do now, after this final 30 minutes of waiting, is to spin them round, lips up, brush on some milk and slam them in the oven for about 10-12 minutes.

I have to say I think I could have done better with this batch, the cold air got in somewhere along the line and I didn’t quite get the rise I was hoping for; they should have a little more bulk. Non the less they were all eaten within 2 hours of completion 🙂

 

By the way I got two teas shirts!

Seasonal adjustment

It snowed the day after I arrived back in Poland and it didn’t stop until it had put down at least a foot (30cm), Gosia was traveling down from Holland by coach so understandably I began to worry a bit; but of course this is Poland and it would take more than a foot of the white stuff to stop the wheels turning and Gosia arrived just after 2pm.

Smiles all round and family visits covered the next few days and I settled into my dog walking routine; the deep snow keeping me fit and my boots wet.

Sadly Scooby and Bruder are no longer with us as they both died whilst we were away, foul play is suspected, but cannot be proved. We have consoled ourselves with the fact that at least they had a good eight months whilst we were here before our winter break; certainly for Scooby who was saved from a certain death when we adopted him earlier last year.

It’s hard to go for a walk with Jackie without thinking of them both and they will be remembered for a long while to come.

Of course Jackie is happy we are back and whilst there is snow on the ground she bounces about like a young pup, despite the extra weight and fur she has put on in our absence; clippers and a sausage ban are in order!

As the week went on the snow started to melt, but the temperatures remained low and close to zero making it hard to get motivated and carry out the many mundane tasks that had to be done; my mood was failing to match my normal enthusiasm and even the enticement of vodka as we visited friends failed to truly pick me up and shake me.

But then Monday the 8th of April arrived as a glorious sun filled the room at around six in the morning, a quick look outside showed evidence of a hard frost; the ingredients for the making a crisp and clear day. My usual litre of tea was soon followed by a hearty breakfast of fried eggs and potatoes, before I headed off across fields with Jackie. Thankfully the snow had all but gone, although the melt had left lots of standing water and mud, but thanks to the frost I had a firm surface to walk on and my feet remained dry for the duration.

As the day went on the sun beat down and the temperature began to rise along with my mood, and the shopping trip to town, the MOT on the Niva, the paying of large bills to the electricity company for connection the new house; the clearing of leaves and other debris from the garden; they all passed by without a frown.

I even decided to plant some chillies for propagation on the windowsill; a small token to join the many hundreds of plants that Gosias mum had already started off. And now that we had a road legal vehicle we made plans to head over to Pyrowki in the morning and assess the situation and get cracking on the house:)

So here I am, typing away as the day starts, on my second cup of tea and I’ve just brought Gosia her coffee; the sun isn’t shining but the air is mild and dry and I’m still feeling good; so expect an update on the day and our findings soon.

 

I’m going home :)

Now this may seem like a bit of an odd statement given that my country of birth and residence for more than 96 % of my life, so far, has been in the UK; maybe more surprising since I have especially enjoyed my time back in Yorkshire, the county of my birth, after a spell of more than 25 years away; ok I have visited on many occasions, but this last break was more of an extended stay than a holiday.

I have lived in Skipton, although not by my own doing, Leeds; my own choice, Scarborough; for adventure!; the Isle of White and Jersey. The latter, some people may not consider being part of the UK; but they spoke English, most of the time, and they had fish and chip shops!

Jersey played a big part in my life and I was able to scale the ladder from tuber engineer (potato picker), to business owner; more luck than judgment, or maybe  not; it’s a difficult reflection to make out. Non the less I ended up where I am with an optimistic view on life and having more than 30 jobs under my belt, I joke that ‘I’ve never been a milk man’ and if I were ever write a book about it that will be the title; although it’s more likely to be a blog post 🙂

So here I am, on my way home to Poland, and although it’s a cliché, home is where the heart is and I’m overwhelmed with my desire to get back to the next chapter of my life with the woman I love and have loved for the last seven years; I hope she reads this 🙂

Reading this back it sounds a bit soppy, but I’m happy to be driven by my emotion and as an eternal optimist I know it’s the right place be and Gosia is the right person to be with.

I have noticed that a few of my posts have become a little biographical, a trend that many blogs that I follow follow, is this a bad thing? I don’t know. One thing I do know is that the story of the rest of my life is just beginning and I wouldn’t want it any other way 🙂

4 days to go…….

Where we’re at and what to do

A few people have asked me our location in Poland and whilst I may have occasionally dropped hints and names into posts I have never really explained in depth, so I thought I would try and provide a few links to explain our location and provide a feel for the surrounding area.

This post will eventually become a page at the top of the blog so if you would like any specific information added about the area or available activities then please let me know and I will amend accordingly. Remember we want to take guests in in the future so this will hopefully become a guide for guests.

The nearest village is that of Pstrągowa although we tend to use the village of Czudec for any shopping trips; it has a population of about three thousand and as a consequence has more than just the one shop; the journey through the forest is also great fun in our trusty Niva 🙂 We have friends nearby who own a number of four wheel drive vehicles and they have toyed with the idea of providing excursions over some of the more challenging terrain, so watch this space.

The area caters well for walkers and mountain bikers, with many marked routes and paths through fields and forest. The laws in Poland allow free roaming over private land, provided there are no signs displayed stating the opposite. Mushroom picking is the national pastime and foraging trips will be organised when the season allows.

The City of Rzeszow is around 30-40 minutes away by car and we visit there on the first Sunday of every month to check out the antiques fair; it could be described as a flea market but I thought I should big it up as its amazing to see what they have for sale; from war time antiquities to hand crafted copper baths! I will do a post about it after our next visit.  A trip to Rzeszow also gives you the chance to peruse the big name shops which seem to be springing up all over since the expansion of the airport. Rzeszow itself has quite a history and can be an interesting day out if you visit the old parts of the city even if you can’t help but notice the communist influence on some of the buildings as the town expanded. In the summer there are a number of cultural festivals with food and music often laid on for free in the central square.

Back to the ranch and the countryside; it’s the reason we choose to settle where we did and the Google map below gives you a good idea of how remote the area is. Try the co-ordinates below to explore the area on Google Maps and Google Earth

49°57’52.85″N    21°45’37.66″E

image

This is part of the real charm for us, only one road in, no close neighbours and a reassuring number of green tones on the map. And even though the land is predominantly agricultural, a big farm in considered big at 10 hectares (24 acres) and most are just 1 or 2ha; many of which are no longer farmed. The farming also seems to be done in a traditional way and the only additive I have seen used is lime and copious amounts of animal manure. Odd, to me, is the lack of boundary walls or fences; with the exception of the occasional electric fence to protect against wild boar, most fields are left with a little strip of scrub land to mark their border.

One of our closest neighbours runs a dairy farm of around 18 cows so many of the surrounding fields are devoted to fodder crops and hay; he is obviously doing well as he is the only farmer in the area with a tractor registered in this millennia. The standard mechanised plough puller predates my birth and there are a number of Heath Robinson devices running around, built by the ever industrious and inventive farmers of the land; horses are also still used by many and it’s not unknown to see ploughs pulled my manpower alone! We buy our milk from a small nearby farm and the hand milked white stuff is delivered by one of their children when ever we need any; one day we hope to produce our own.

There is no denying that this is the poorest region of Poland, but for me that makes it the richest.

As you would imagine all this countryside lends itself to bird and nature watching and we are lucky to have a pair of buzzards that nest close by; I have enjoyed watching them bring up their young for the last two seasons and the acrobatic training can be mesmerizing. As well as the wide variety of bird species deer and fox are a common sight, not to mention slow worms, lizards and newts; I hope to study and learn more about the diversity once we are settled.  It’s also worth mentioning that in this remote area, devoid of street lights, the night skies are dark and clear; perfect for the stargazers out there.

Despite the natural beauty that surrounds us we still like to travel to the Bieszczady Mountains and we have scaled many of the peaks on our trips there; it is very reminiscent of the Lake District without the lakes, with the exception of Solina which you pass by on the way. Many of the hill tops go beyond 1000 meter (3280 ft.).

It only takes a few hours to drive there and once there you have a choice of hostels, hotels and lodging houses to choose from depending on your required level of luxury. We normally stay in one of the Hostels at around 25 Pln (£5) per night; communal kitchen’s and dining areas are the norm, but they are always warm and inviting and you have he opportunity to meet some interesting people. The StayPoland website is a great source of information if you are wondering what you can get up to in the area.

I have yet to ski in Poland, but it is something I hope to do in the future and as well as Bieszczady we have a few more local slopes within an hours drive; nothing too taxing, but more than a challenge for my armature talent.

Of course there are many other things to see in the area, the history of old Poland is all around and there are state funded outdoor museums named skansen throughout the country. They normally cover a wide area of land and showcase the buildings of the last three or four centuries, which are painstakingly moved from their original location and reconstructed on site to create mini villages through the ages. These include some very impressive wooden churches that have survived many hundreds of years.

I love to visit them whenever we come across a new one, especially enjoying the frequent open days showing how life was in the past; artisan craft demonstrations, food markets and enactments of past farming practices, all make for a great day out.

Krakow is around a two hour Journey and has so much to offer that it would warrant several pages, so I’ll leave it to the experts and point you in the direction of http://www.krakow-info.com/ ; the site has a few less adverts than your usual city guide. My personal favourite place to visit is the historic square, which has yet to succumb to the madness of weekend ‘stag do’ tourism; it does happen, but the seedier industries that normally go hand in hand with this kind of weekend are hidden away and tend not to spill out into the street.

I feel I should also mention the Milk Bar which serves a traditional Polish set menu for less than a fiver, fantastic food and one of the few times we actually eat out; well worth hunting down.

I just noticed I’m into 1300 words so I can imagine this post will be broken down further when it becomes a page; so if you would like me to add anything then I’d appreciate your feedback, what would you like to do on a holiday to Poland?

nkosChoice

It’s probably the best weapon we have to make changes, but it’s also the probable cause for many of the problems that we face; I know it’s all a bit philosophical for me and I don’t blame you if you don’t read any further, it’s just another hippy rant; so be warned!

I used to live a pretty comfortable life, earning decent money and owning a third of a successful and flourishing business; I wasn’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I was able to afford most of the things that took my fancy. Given the choices available to me I happily spent my money on the latest and greatest technology available, with scant regard for the true cost of an item, i.e. the resources that they consumed in their manufacture and the on-going harm that they may do during their life not to mention in their disposal; my electricity bill was the least of my worries and landfill was something to do with the composition of a photograph! This attitude spread to the model of car I drove and the way I drove it, holidays that I took, my choice of food, furniture, fun and my lifestyle in general; very little was done with regard for anything other than myself. In short given the varied choices made available to me, provided by the clever manufacturers and marketing front men, I often made choices that were based more on style than substances. I was a dream customer because I wanted choice and because of the choices I made.

About eight or nine years ago I decided that it would be nice to have an allotment, grow my own so to speak; the concept was gaining popularity again due to the likes of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and I convinced my aging farming neighbour that I would be able to help him out with his vegetable plot in return for a small patch for myself. My sister also had a great passion for growing things and as she started to live a more sustainable lifestyle in Spain and I became hooked on the concept as I helped out on holidays and planted her fruit trees and dug her garden over to make it more productive.

I made a good choice.

As time went on and after a fantastic first growing season, I started to read a little bit more and with the eighty year advice of my farming friend my little vegetable patch flourished and I started to rush home from work to get on the land; the satisfaction that I got from working with the earth seemed to fill a gap that I was unaware existed. Propagating, planting, weeding, watering and harvesting seemed to take away the everyday stress of my normal working life; I was so successful that I even started to supply work colleagues with the surplus crops as the glut came on; this soon ended up in doorstep deliveries to a wider circle of friends and I was even know to take a bag or two of runner beans and tomatoes to client meetings. All of this was done gratis; I wasn’t doing it for the money, rather the selfish pleasure of feeling good about giving. I have to admit that as my chilli’s did exceptionally well, that and the fact you can only eat so many and cropping was far better than I could have imagined, I sold a few at the local garage.

Meeting Gosia about six years ago spurred me on even more, her Polish background and the simpler life that she was born into inspired me to make even more changes in my life and my past avarice slowly slipped away and the choices I made began to be influenced by something more meaningful than a label, a logo or an advert.

Ok, you’re doing well if you got this far, more than 600 words, way past my norm and no pictures or links! Make yourself a brew and take a break, there is a possibility it may go another 600.

It’s worth pointing out that these changes hadn’t actually cost me anything; in fact I had started to save a bit of money, even if it was at the expense of my time, but time is the one thing that is free to spend and the sense of achievement was far more gratifying than making a quick short term feel good purchase of yet another gadget.

But at the end of the day, even with all the changes we had made, we still had to stay on-board the merry-go-round of modern life; going to work, paying the bills and consuming more than we probably needed to, we even did what every government wants you to do and borrowed some money, although our reason was better intentioned than just buying more things, as we purchased our plot of land in Poland; we may have slowed the fairground ride down, but it still kept turning.

So when, through an unexpected twist of events, the company had to be sold we were given an opportunity to make a really big choice; clear out and try and make a new more sustainable life in Poland, or cash in and improve our lifestyle in the UK, thankfully I didn’t want a new Land Rover, so after taking a year to tie up all the loose ends we headed off Poland bound; another good choice.

As you will imagine this led to a whole host of choices that many people never have in their lives and we consider ourselves lucky and privileged to have the opportunity to make them, so we wanted to make sure that we made the right ones when building the house and straw bale construction, composting toilets, grey water irrigation systems, wood burning boilers, solar water heating and a closed circle method of farming and maintaining the land are all big choices that we made; it has to be said that it’s a lot easier to make these choices when you start from scratch, so hopefully we have made the right ones.

I hadn’t intended this post to be so biographical, it’s just gone in that direction; which probably isn’t such a bad thing, although I suppose I have only really pointed out the big choices and changes we have made. The point I was hoping to make was that we should all consider the choices that we have when they are presented to us in daily life, no matter how small they are.

Choosing glass over plastic, paper or cloth bags over polythene, water from the tap rather than the bottle, flushing the toilet only when required, using more eco friendly cleaning products, choosing items on merit rather than marketing, buying local instead of driving to the supermarkets (I’m talking about your butcher and baker rather than the local Spar), making food from scratch and dropping your reliance on fast food, composting everything you can (you will be surprised what you can add to the pile), walking or cycling instead of driving and when you do drive then doing so in a more sensible and therefore economical way, buying second hand clothes and furniture (or antiques if that sits better with you), turning lights off when they are not in use, filling the kettle only as required and trying to resist the urge and impulse to buy something new unless you actually need it; OK I’ll stop!

If we stop to think, just for a moment, then we can ultimately make very big changes collectively by making very small choices; we can also change the way that things are sold and marketed to us. Believe me if the manufacturers see a change in the way that we purchase then they will change their strategy to meet that demand, you only have to look at the plethora of green, environmentally friendly products that are available now; because one thing’s for certain and that is that the world will keep on turning with money as its fuel, I’d just like to see a change in how we spend it to power the rotation.

Ok that’s it, you will be pleased to know that my little rant is over and if you got this far I owe you a beer, served out of a returnable glass bottle:)

One last thing, I would like to say thank you to the shape of things to come who planted the seed in my head to write this post in the first place, that and my urge to provide a wider explanation to why I keep going on about plastic bottles, although I feel she puts it far better than I do.

The Big Thaw

Well that was what I thought last Sunday when all the snow disappeared in Rzemien, just the odd bit hanging about where the wind had gathered the dusty flakes into a drift; that and the slush left at the side of the road by the snow ploughs was the only evidence left of the last three or four weeks of brilliant white.

So with the temperature rising and set to stay around the zero mark I thought I would take a trip out to the house and check on things, just to make sure that the big bad wolf hadn’t blown the house down.

The drive there was perfect, tarmac all the way, but as I got closer I couldn’t help but notice the snow topped hills and sure enough as I ascended to the 400m plateau the snow line became apparent. I’d guess at about 300m the road still had traces of ice and the surrounding fields were only partially green. I started to wonder what it would be like as I got closer.

But rather than trying to explain, I thought I’d take some photos 🙂

So as the road disappeared I thought it wise to park up at our neighbours farm and walk the rest of the way. Of course this been Poland I was greeted with the offer of a ‘drink’ which I gracefully declined as I had to drive later in the day (explained with the usual two arms outstretched holding the imaginary steering wheel moving from side to side) Still I was invited to take a tour of the out buildings to be shown the generator that they had recently purchased or possibly even constructed, as it resembled an old diesel truck engine mounted on a welded steel frame and some electrical circuitry protected by a series of porcelain fuses. It was even turned over and run for a few minutes just to show me how it worked, which I gave my approval of with the three or four complimentary words that I have in my extensive polish vocabulary, repeated several times in varying order. All very happy with this I was then told about the borehole they had just had dug (we started a trend in the area) and how the old pump they had was not powerful enough to pump the water beyond 30m and they may have to (god forbid) buy a new one; although thinking about the generator, I’d imagine a new pump could be fashioned from an old tractor and a couple of bits of bailing twine! I have to admire the reluctance of people to throw things away here and always coming up with a solution with what is available.

Heading off on foot it soon became apparent that the snow up here was here to stay, the ice had set into the snow and for most of the walk I was on top of it, only occasionally breaking through the crust; very slippery going for me and the dogs. But we soon made it over the hill and the house came into sight, non the worse for the recent cold weather.

Heading down to the barn and stable there was clear evidence of deer and some worryingly large paw prints, but then I remembered that Kazek had been keeping an eye on the place and the prints belonged to him and his mountain dog; phew! Mind you the deer had had a good feed on our young apple apple trees and another mental note was made to make sure I protect the fresh trees we plant this year. Its odd they don’t eat the quince trees, just as well as they make a good fruit for one of the many liqueurs that we made in the autumn. I also noted that the snow and ice had taken its toll on the weaker of the silver birch, bending and even snapping some of them, so natural selection has selected them for felling when the weather warms up. By the way, for all you avid humanure folowers of the composting toilet diary; I took a quick picture of the pile 🙂 The snow on top probably indicates that the anorobic process has stopped for the winter, although with no recent deposits to feed the pile I’m it’s probably to be expected.

Once I’d checked on everything, started a fire, talked to Gosia on Skype, walked the dogs and had some lunch, it started to snow again, so I decided to hedge my bets and head back home; I had a flight to catch on Monday so I didn’t want to get snowed in in Pyrowki 🙂

Knitting with nails

I just love hearing some of the stories of how people used to cope when they lived under communism, todays tale of a women who learnt how to knit with nails, as knitting needles weren’t available, put a smile on my face. It also spurred me on to write a post; although I’ll probably have to go off subject!

As the snow has started to melt with the rising temperatures of the last few days I decided to take the dogs on an alternative walk and take a few photos of the nearby palace, or fortification as it is referred to on Wikipedia, before the snow and ice completely disappear.

The palace is just behind Gosias parents house and I would be able to see it from our window if it weren’t for the trees; it was recently renovated for the reputed cost of five million zloty (about a million quid). Its worth taking a look at the Wikipedia photo for the contrast, although I have just looked through my archives and found a couple from 2007, which gives you a good idea how things have changed. Money well spent I think, although its a shame that its not open to the public; instead the new owners have decided to fill up the moat that encircles the property and erected a fence to enclose the extensive patch of land that comes with the dwelling. I can’t blame them, but I had to laugh when I saw that the local kids had found a way in and where happily sledging down the embankments that surrounds the house.

The surrounding area of land is a public park, with a school and other educational facilities nearby. Gosia said that she could get out of bed and be at school in under 5 minutes if she just happened to sleep in. The gate in the fence at the back of the house is still used by the local children as a shortcut to the school; a number of them even park their bikes in the garden before morning registration.

Whilst the school has seen recently development and appears to be in a good state of repair there are a number of other buildings that could do with a cash injection; the one below, in particular, seems ripe for renovation and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before someone puts up the money; as long as they don’t end up fencing it off.

In amongst all of this history you still find the occasional sign of the old communist Poland which I find just as fascinating and I wish Gosia were here to help me out with the explanations of what things were in the past. My favourite if the old mill that used to process the grain for the surrounding area. I’m sure much more went on than just milling grain, but all it is now is a derelict shell; very reminiscent of the textile mills back in Yorkshire. There is a rumour going around that the owner of the palace has his eye on the place and is looking to develop a hydro electric plant, so who knows what it will look like in a few years.

Progress is already leaving its mark on the area, which is one of the reasons I don’t often take this walk anymore, not because of  the renovation or the fact that they have resurfaced the old track and they even make an attempt to keep the area tidy once a year; no something more subtle than that. With progress comes control and as the recently erected signs clearly state (if you can read Polish) dog shit will not be tolerated! Sorry, but I left my poo bags back in the UK.

Przepraszam nie mowie po polsku

Which, as it turns out, works in my favour; not being able to speak Polish is one of the reasons why I landed a job teaching English. Although I have to say that the word teaching should be used loosely in this context.

With no experience what so ever in teaching, a mediocre grade C GCSE from 1984, an umbilical cord reliance on my spellchecker and a prevailing Yorkshire accent; it took me by surprise when I got the job.

Of course I put it down to my amiable personality and winning smile, or it could be that the company who requested an English native speaker asked for someone without any experience; either way I got the job and every Tuesday I head off to Mielec (about 15km away) to the offices of the local electricity company to chat with key members of staff, in English.

The morning is broken down into three lessons (90 minutes each), the first two are one to one classes with the president of the company and then the financial director. The third and final lesson is with a small group who’s numbers fluctuates between two and six people, depending on how busy they are. This final group works within the accounting and technical departments of the company and their English is at a slightly higher level, which can make for some interesting conversation.

We are provided with course books printed by the Oxford University Press; although I doubt very much if there is any link to this well know English scholarly institute, and if there is then I have to say that I’m disappointed with the many Americanisms and spellings that are used throughout; the use of the letter Z instead of S is particularly annoying; although I admit it might be handy if playing scrabble!

Whilst I began using the books to structure the lessons I often found the guidelines on use quite muddled and difficult to understand, so as time has gone on the books are now only used to provide us with a topic of conversation. That is if we haven’t already settled down to discussing other things, such as the latest skiing trip, a visit to Krakow or the fate of Manchester United over the weekend. Incidentally I support Barnsley as the nearest geographical league football team to my place of birth, it also means that I have no interest in football!

And that’s it, I babble along asking questions for four and a half hours (getting paid for six), listening to conversation and correcting any errors that become apparent. I have to say that most mistakes relate to the tense used, plurals and pronouns (I had to look the last one up on Google). Everybody is friendly, professional and, with the group especially, we are able to have a good laugh; a perfect job by all accounts.

Of course I speak too fast and my Yorkshire accent, although dulled by spending many years down south, can be quite a contrast from what they are used to; but I think this all helps for preparing them for a real world situation:)

It’s also quite well paid in comparison to the average wage and I earn in a day what some people work all week for, which doesn’t seem right somehow ; but it is what it is. Hopefully in the future a similar job closer to our new home will be available and will help to supplement our income once we start farming the land and taking in guests. I’d certainly much prefer that than seeing Gosia heading off to Holland again 🙂

A funny old day

As you know my days are filled with dog walking, blogging (reading more than writing) and more recently trying to watch the film recommendations of Beetleypete. The list that I was working to expanded today with another list from Curnblog, who’s blog was recommended by Pete, getting more work is not an option: i don’t have the time! I won’t for a minute proclaim to understand what these two film buffs are talking about, their opinions and critique are far beyond my simple thinking; but they do make a very compelling argument and reasoning for why I should want to watch a particular film’; so thank you both, I’ll let you know how I get on.

After my morning walk with the dogs I know that Gosia will be awake from her Dutch slumber and we chat almost every day whilst we drink our respective morning cups of coffee and tea; although it’s quite likely that this is my third cuppa of the day. Skype is a wonderful thing and I just hope that it remains free in the future, I will refrain from being a cynic at this point just in case I upset the karma.

I have mentioned leaf and twig once before as he (I’m guessing) provides me with a daily smile, and today’s post was no exception. A picture of a tree that has at some stage in its life tried to avoid something, you will have to follow the link to know what I mean. On seeing todays post I was compelled to send a quick comment as I had also seen such a tree in the local forest.

Determined to try and find this tree again today, so I could take a picture, I headed out on a two hour walk with the dogs, and could I find it? No, and I felt certain I knew where it was! But as I had the camera with me I thought I would take a few photos, if not for you (the reader) then for Gosia (the reader) who I’m sure will be happy to see the dogs having fun and also to appreciate that it is still cold in Poland; never mind the –7 in Holland 🙂

So homeward bound and after my walk I followed my little routine of feeding the dogs, popping to the local shop for a beer or two, or three (if I haven’t purchased in bulk earlier in the week) and then settling down to an evening in to watch a few films.

But no, as I entered the kitchen I was confronted with an almost panicked mother in-law and as I was only able to understand one word in five I failed to grasp what was going on; had I done something wrong to offend my hostess? After ‘hiding in the kitchen for 10 minutes, taking the time to feed the dogs and then pop to the closest shop; which was closed, I pondered what could possibly be happening. I had worked out that someone was visiting, but had no idea why this had sparked the reaction that it had.

Of course everything has a simple explanation and once the guests had left I was able to work out, through various mimes and gestures with the occasional pidgin Polish word thrown in for good measure , that the local priest had just popped in to bless the house. It was probably just easier to keep me hidden away than to try and get me involved, which I’m grateful for.

Conscious that I was still beerless (I know it’s not a word) I thought I would head out again and further afield to one of the other three shops available to me within half a mile. I’m not sure why my normal shop was closed but its quite possible the priest was running to a schedule and the shop was only a couple down on his list, so I had to think ahead and headed for Zombecks’. This may well be the wrong spelling, or even the wrong name, but that’s how I remember it. I do know that the son of the owner worked in Jersey (Channel Islands) for a while so there was a possibility that someone might speak English, however upon arrival it soon became apparent that the vodka was the native language and a slight recognition from the owner of the shop resulted in several Na zdrowies and shots of vodka, This may well be the reason why I’m posting now and making grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and rapid changes in direction of topic. Maybe not!

Thankfully I enjoyed a feast of sour cabbage soup (I will remember what it’s called tomorrow) followed by goulash with barley, accompanied by pickled gherkins; so my constitution should be good, especially if I only drink one of the beers that I bought.

But now to settle down to ‘Le Reine Margor’ or possibly ‘Gods and Generals’, most likely the second option whilst my vision is struggling with subtitles.

Dobranoc!

It was that cold my MP3 player stopped working!

It’s not actually that cold, but it is true that my MP3 player stops working when the temperature is below zero. It took me a while to work it out as I thought the battery was on the blink and the unit was no longer holding a charge, but then after several experiments it appeared that I could get my player to work if I held it in my gloved hand. Strange but true! I’m glad I solved the problem before the Archers omnibus on Sunday.

But that’s not the reason for this post, in fact there is no reason for this post; it’s just a bit of a ramble.

Gosia seems to be doing well in Holland and the work isn’t too hard (maybe it is, I’m making this up), if anything I think she would like to find another job to help make the days pass quicker; I have of course reminded her that I’m still waiting for her to make my crocheted underwear in the hope that would distract her for a while and keep the hooks in motion, but it seems she can’t find a coarse enough yarn for the purpose! Although I understand that as the cold weather hits Holland she has being busy crocheting hats.

To her delight she has discovered that the largest covered market in Europe is on her doorstep and the Turkish market in particular is full of wonderful foods and spices at a remarkably low price, so fresh fruit and veg is the diet of choice; so much for my objections to globalisation! I pointed her in the direction of Food and Forage Hebrides for some great spicy recipe ideas.

I’m looking forward to visiting her as soon as the opportunity arises, I spend my days thinking of excuses so I’m sure I’ll come up with a plan soon:)

My earlier thought about knitted underwear reminded me of a great film that I watched recently ‘The Hairdressers Husband’ which then reminded me to tell you about Beetlypete again, who has started a fascinating series of posts on great films from around the world, which in turn has led me to try and discover some of the wonder he has found in the many titles he recommends. Well worth a look, even besides the film reviews.

As it is Friday today meat is off the menu, a tradition that is rooted in the dominant catholic religion of Poland, not that I mind this at all as I can quite happily survive on a vegetarian diet; only occasionally getting the urge to eat red meat! But I do get this urge and that is why we intend to keep animals for meat in the future, not so that we can gorge ourselves silly with fistfuls of blood dripping flesh, but so we can have a controlled and balanced diet; knowing where our food is from and knowing how it was treated before it reaches our plate is something we want to achieve. We experimented with lamb this year and even though the slaughtering was a little traumatic we needed to go through the process to make sure it would be a viable idea for the future. Gosias family is already converted to this strange meat so I can see a small flock developing this year.

Having conducted a bit of research yesterday following the ‘My Lidl Pony’ scandal I was shocked to find that many small farmers, crofters, smallholders and even some of the bigger players in the market have culled their herds of pigs this year as the cost of feeding is now greater that the price offered by the supermarkets. This article on the animal slaughter, brought to my attention by Stonehead provides more detail, but with an expected pork price rise of between 15 and 50% predicted for next year I’m hoping to buy some good breeding stock to help support my Polish family as pork is by far the most widely eaten meat in this part of Europe. Mind you hopefully one of the consequences of this drastic action will be that pork is produced and sold at a more realistic price in the future, at least it may give some of the smaller free range breeders a chance to sell and make a bit of money for a change.

Mind you these things are all a long way off and I need to get off my lazy backside and get on with the house before I have any time for all this animal husbandry, never mind all the other plans that seem to be floating around in my head. Unfortunately the ten day forecast and predicted low temperatures are still putting me on hold; along with my Walkman 🙂

 

Ambitious beavers

I know, it’s another post about the beavers, I’m sorry, but other than telling you about what time I got up, went to bed or carried out the usual bodily functions (although I admit to discussing the latter in the past) very little is happening. The snow seems to keep coming and the temperatures remain low; although Gosia checked in from Holland yesterday to tell me it was –8°c, whilst Poland was experiencing the dizzy heights of -2°c; at least she has her work to keep her warm!

All this free time provides me with the opportunity to explore the area further as I try and add some variation to my treks with my four legged friends and in doing so I keep coming across more evidence of the industrious beavers.

Of course this isn’t the only wildlife on the area and once I leave the beaten track I often come across evidence of deer, foxes; which the dogs love to chase, and on a good day if I’m particularly lucky I will spook a buzzard and watch in awe as it slowly flaps its wings and glides out of range. A very magnificent bird, much bigger than you would expect; I hope to have the happy coincidence of having my camera with me when we meet one day in the future. I should probably add that I also need to have a memory card, a fully charged battery, the correct lens the lens cap removed, the correct setting on the camera and the reaction speed that allows me to get a good shot; not too much to ask:)

It was whilst checking my walks on Google Earth that I noticed a build up of water in one on the drainage ditches that crisscross the flat land outside the village, I walk past the area quite often and had noticed a few felled trees so thought that it was worth a closer look.

Tree felling

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I counted over two hundred felled trees, the stumps all neatly gnawed to a point as if by a giant pencil sharpener; although the snow does a good job of hiding this fact. On further inspection it was clear that some of this damage may have occurred in the past and the beavers damn long since dismantled, remembering that the Google photo dates back to 2010 this made sense. But some of the damage was clearly recent so there may be a new project in the making, either that or the beavers have won a logging contract for a local wood yard!

Walking further afield than normal I became even more impressed with the beavers ability to take down trees, rather than the normal ten to fifteen year old birch which seem to be the material of choice for damn building, they had moved onto some seriously large lumber.

Don’t worry that’s the last of the beaver tales for now, I will try and come up with something else to blog about; having just read about the discovery of horse meat in beef burgers sold in Tescos, I feel that an opportunity to malign one of my pet hates, supermarkets, should not be missed; watch this space.

I like it when it snows, it makes our garden look like everybody else’s!

It’s about the only Chubby Brown joke I can remember that doesn’t have an ‘F’ word in it, and for whatever reason its a joke that always runs round in my head when it snows, as it is doing right now.

You may have noticed that my pledge to head over to the house to try and get some work done was curtailed by the weather; dropping temperatures and snow on a daily basis for the last three days has kept me in my hidey hole, which has given me too much time to think and I began to get all morbid about the state of the world, which is against my optimistic nature.

So the best remedy to this sudden cloud was to look at some old photos and remind myself of the work that Gosia and I put in over the summer and how much closer we are to achieving our dream. One of the little projects that I think warrants a mention is the pivnica.

A Pivnica is probably best translated as a cellar or even basement, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on; or in this particular case a root-cellar; because it is essentially outside and underground. What would this be called in England?

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First things first I had to tackle was the roof, stripping back the earth and tree saplings to reveal a mixture of old terracotta tiles, asbestos and tin sheet, old polythene fertiliser sacks and the occasional old coat, which served as the roof. Once removed we were left with the rotting remains of a wooden roofing frame, and under this the earth that was piled over the top of the stone built domed structure.

Once stripped bare we had to tread carefully as the earth was starting to fall in on the inside on the pivnica and it was soon decided to leave the earth in place and create a wooden frame to support a new tin roof. Luckily for us we had retrieved quite a bit of wood from the barn renovation  and whilst it may not have had the structural integrity of fresh timber it was fine for this task.

Controversially I keep all our old engine oil and mix it with diesel to create our own creosote for treating of wood; I know some people think this might not be environmentally friendly, but in my opinion it’s a far better use than taking it to the dump and not knowing what happens to it once you wave goodbye; it hasn’t any real value so my suspicion is that it would be tipped into landfill or burned off, so treating the wood in this type of construction seems like a sensible thing to do. Thinking back to the initial cost of treating the barn with a commercial product I know what I will be using next time it needs a fresh coat.

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So frame in place, followed by a waterproof membrane of a low cost roofing felt we dug deep in our pockets and purchased new tin sheet to top it all off. Tin roofs are surprisingly common in Poland, in fact its the most common roofing material used, so we where able to pick up a basic pattern for a reasonable price and from what I have read it has a low embodied energy compared to some of the modern alternatives so I’m offsetting any harm of the home made preservative 🙂

I’m sorry to say that on reflection we will probably remove this roof and replace it with a living roof, but don’t worry the tin will be used on my chicken shed project 🙂

So that’s the outside, what about inside? Well as this was most definitely a joint effort Gosia was busy with her rubber mallet and sacks of empty bottles creating a new glass bottle floor! Its was an idea I came across on the web when I saw a few examples of people making paths with old bottles, inverted and hammered into the ground and as a glass bottle lover it seemed like an ideal solution for putting our rubbish to good use. Having said that we soon realised that my beer consumption would never provide enough material, so we employed the help of friends, neighbours and a local bar to provide us with the three thousand plus bottles required to complete the entire floor. We also inherited quite a few screw top bottles with lids, so they were preserved for future home brew projects:)

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Hats off the Gosia who completed the entire floor on her own, about the only thing I added was encouragement or criticism, but once finished I had the back breaking job of lime rendering the internal arched walls, so revenge was sweet for anything that I may have said out of turn.

And there you have it, an underground root cellar which should keep things cool in the summer and prevent freezing in the winter, I can vouch that nothing went above 12°c in the summer, but until I set up a reliable thermometer for the winter I’m not sure about protection against freezing, but my guess is that it will be good.

When people first see it they worry that the bottles will break, but belive me you could jump up and down on them, it’s solid and by all accounts provides very good insulation.

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It looks like I never took any photos of the end result, but you get the idea of how it came along; as soon as I battle through the snow and cold I will add a few more photos of the finished product…or I will find the photos I’m sure I already took 🙂

And then there were five

I keep mentioning the dogs as I seem to spend so much time with them, at least two hours a day walking them, if not more, especially now I have lots of free time!

I think I’ve also mentioned in the past that I am in a minority in the village, not because I’m English; although that does count, but because I take the dogs for a walk. I’m sure I’m still a novelty to some of the villagers who come outside to greet me and ‘chat with the English guy’ as I walk past their property; of course the chat is a simple ‘dzien dobry’ (hello) and possibly a comment on how cold it is ‘zimno’. occasionally I may find myself at the end of a incomprehensible question, but I’m getting good at reading the expression on the persons face and answering with the expected tak or nie (yes or no) with a smile  and as long as I get a smile back I know I have given the right reply.

Unfortunately when I do take the hounds for a walk they insist on sharing their excitement with everybody and there barking and baying  can be heard for miles around, which has started to attract a certain element of free spirited dogs, and by the time I reach the first field I’m joined by one if not two additional pets who have decided to join in the pack as we head off towards the forest.

Not that I mind really, it’s quite entertaining, watching them play and having fun; there is the occasional fall out, but the pecking order seems to have settled down and they all pee in succession to show there place on the ladder, never varying in the order. Of course Jackie remains the boss and ignores them all, only interested in finding pheasants and beating the world speed record for a spaniel following a scent; occasionally she is followed and sometimes joined in the chase once she has flushed a bird from cover, but by enlarge the rest of the clan keep themselves entertained play fighting with each other.

Thankfully I have only one real road to cross, directly outside of the house, and then it’s a short walk to open fields leading into woodland as I go further; with a network of tracks and paths providing me with some variation in scenery and distance as I search for the latest evidence of the battle of the beavers.

In checking the routes I take on Google Earth I surprised myself with the distance I’m covering and a four mile walk is not unusual, sometimes reaching six or seven depending on my mood..and the weather.  It’s almost like having a full time job, if only I could trace the owners of the stray dogs, I could charge them for dog walking 🙂

Walking the dogs