Another update, well not really

I was thinking about an update on the animals, but what can I say, they are goats. Sunday, Monday, Minka, Meggi and Rozka are all doing fine and with luck Monday and Minka will be mothers in late spring.

But then it started to snow, and snow, and snow. And whilst we haven’t had it as bad as some in Europe, we have had our fair share. Luckily for us we have a Lada Niva; built for Siberia, not suburbia!

WP_20190104_016

WP_20190106_009WP_20190109_014WP_20190109_0132019-01-11 10.03.58

The last picture is the main road, about a mile away from the house and as of yesterday we have to travel about 5 miles to see tarmac again. That could be further away now as we have had another 5cm (2 inches) so far today and it’s still snowing.

If I’m honest I have loved the challenge it has presented, but don’t tell Gosia. Transporting children around in this weather is challenge enough in itself!

Jackie is having fun as well Smile

WP_20190106_003WP_20190106_002

A morning walk

More pictures than words for a change, you will be pleased to know!

The pictures are from a couple of weeks ago when we experienced a spell of exceptionally good weather for the time of year. A change in schedule and tasks for the morning sent me on a route down to the stable, barn and beyond the orchard. There are no real paths, I make it up as I go along, often guided by the dogs and where they want to go next and this is where they took me.

Click on the pics if you want a better view.

DSC00644DSC00645

After dropping a fresh bucket of water off to the goats we walk through the orchard and look back at the barn. The patch on the left was cleared by the pigs last year and I have just planted 120 raspberry plants. Recently chopped branches sit on the blue tarpaulin to dry out a bit and also to stop them becoming overgrown and entangled with grass.

DSC00646DSC00649DSC00650DSC00651

Jackie leads the way down the small wooded valley about a 1/4 mile away, we drop down and back up the other side. Dennis takes a breather!

DSC00654DSC00655

Looking back its quite a climb and turning around we have quite a bit ahead, towards the rising sun.

DSC00656DSC00658

Reaching a farmers track we have the option to head back towards the house, but instead we carry on away to the right and look down into the village below.

DSC00659

We walk on for a mile or so, over barren fields, when the sky is this clear you just know its going to be a good day.

DSC00660DSC00661

As we reach the old council road the dogs decide it’s time to head home, or at least look to me for guidance. Zara decides to join us after looking for pheasants, or chasing deer.

DSC00668.DSC00669

We reach the ridge line and look back the way we have just walked and then turn towards to house, not long now before i get my brew 🙂

103 not out, despite a strong challenge by Barbara

The chickens seem to be settling in well now, it’s over a month since we got them and laying patterns are becoming more predictable and miss formed eggs, caused by stress, seem to be a thing of the past. We have also given them free range of the land and the enclosure I built to protect against foxes has little purpose. We were rewarded with 103 eggs for the first thirty days of board and lodging provided. In addition Kazek, our neighbour in the valley, added a mothering hen with three chicks to bring our guest list up to twenty-three, although this dropped to twenty-two as one of the chicks didn’t make it through the first night. Still this wasn’t enough to satisfy our egg appetite and we had to ship in an extra thirty-five eggs from my mother-in-law to fill a gap when production was at a low ebb. No surprise then that we are now sitting on a surplus of seventeen eggs as production has levelled off at five or six a day.

If you look out of the window most days at around five o’clock you will see a tumble of fur as Zara and Dennis play fight with Barbara, a neighbours dog, who is enjoying his freedom from the chain that holds him for most of his day. Forgive the names but as our Dennis is a bitch it seemed only right the neighbours dog to be given a feminine name, so he was christened Barbara.

Bite, snarl, jump, chase and run, all the time looking for an exposed leg, or tail, or neck, or.. Great fun to watch and despite our dogs enjoying total freedom of the surrounding land,  and joining me on two walks a day, they seem to have endless energy available to them. The fun often goes on for an hour or so before Barbara hightails it back home, Zara and Dennis often in pursuit, not returning until later in the evening. We consider the money spent on vets bills well spent as chastity is not strong in the canine world!

By now you can probably guess where I’m going with this story and at around five o’clock on Monday afternoon (last week), whilst enjoying some homemade pasta with our dwindling supply of tomato sauce from last year, the phone rang.

Kazek had heard a commotion from our chickens and had spotted one in a tree! No sooner had the translation reached me then I was hot footing it down the track to the stable, Jackie sprinting ahead sensing that a chase was on. I’m not sure what the record is for a 300 meter sprint in poor mans Crocs (£3 at Lidl)  is, but I must have been close; just in time to see the back end of Barbara scampering away with Jackie in hot pursuit.

An Indian head dress, a pillow, what do you do with that many feathers? One of the girls must be dead? Well not the mothering hen, she’s perched at the top of a tree, looking down at the electricity pole below her, how the hell! Skirting around the area and beating the drum of the feed bucket chickens start to appear, I count to 21. If we only lost one then we were lucky I tell myself as I coral them into the safety of the fenced area.

It was a slow journey to let the chickens out the next morning, sad that we could no longer let them roam free and that we had lost one in learning our lesson. Then, as I neared the old stable I noticed a lone hen, nestled in a pile of dead grass that we had raked up the day before whilst clearing land. No losses after all, although inspecting the chickens more closely I worked out where most of the feathers had come from!

DSC06378

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.

‘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’

DSC09195

A brief update in words and pictures; no sound!

Time is certainly flying by at the moment, I can’t believe it’s so long since I posted last and as ever I feel that I need to provide an update, for myself and anyone else who happens to be reading.

Malina is growing fast and I have to say I’m happy that all her clothes have either come from friends or relatives, as hand-me-downs and gifts, not forgetting to mention the hand crocheted hats and toys that Gosia has crafted. I doubt that my Yorkshire blood would have coped with the expense of buying new for such a short period of use. I’m also happy to report that the reusable nappies that we purchased, all twenty-four of them, are working out very well and the washing machine is only put to the test every second day. It’s good to know that we are not adding to the smell of burning nappies in the air as you walk past some houses in the village nor adding to a future landfill problem. Even the washing liquid is environmentally friendly!

Michalina toys
Look Gosia crocheted a baby!

The pups are also making good progress and we have started the weaning process. Unfortunately nature has left us with only four pups from the original seven, but the ones that remain are fighting fit and willing to take on anything that moves; chickens, cats, bicycles! Timmy, the smallest of the pack, even made a bid for freedom last night and was only found after a two man search with torches at 11 O’clock!

Escape artist Timmy
Escape artist Timmy
Please Zara, can we have some more?
Please Zara, can we have some more?

Indoor sowing of plants continues with tomatoes, peppers, some more chilli’s, celeriac, masses of basil and a whole host of salad greens. Outside sets of onions, spring onion seeds, radish and some broad beans have made there way into the raised beds. We even had the top field spread with some of natures finest bovine NPK mix, all we have to do now is decide on our final planting for the summer. The rye that we sowed in the autumn has done well so far so we are likely to grow the crop on rather than turn it over as a green manure.

DSC08881
Natures finest
DSC08883
Two sections of the field with fresh muck. The green band in the middle of the field is last autumns planting of rye.

 

The house is getting more and more attention as the weather improves and I have managed to fill in some of the deeper depressions in the earth rendered walls, ready for the first of the lime coats, although it’s quite possible I’ll do a bit more work on some of the window surround first. I also took the opportunity to relocate some of the sockets I had randomly placed in the walls, deciding that they should all sit at a standard height. The concrete work in the basment that I had decided on was put on hold as I discovered that I can have a premix delivered on the back of a truck, two cubic meters at a time once we are in April, which should save me a lot of work mixing by hand. The cost difference is negligible and it should be a manageable load for one person to lay before it sets.

DSC08860
Lots of lumps and bumps to even out.
DSC08877
Open plan living now that the temporary bathroom wall has come down.

And finally, I have spent a good few evenings now building my new website. It’s not ready yet and on reflection I think it is likely to become an extension of the blog rather than a replacement, so I’m afraid you long suffering readers will have to suffer some more. If you have a minute please visit www.winkos.co.uk and if you have another minute tell me what you think of the format so far; any feedback will be appreciated.

Now back to it, the baby needs walking, the puppies nappies need changing and I have to plaster the dogs!

Loose ends

Don’t worry, it’s not a post about umbilical cords! Although I will quickly report that Zara insisted on getting in on the birthing action and delivered five puppies into the world on Wednesday the 19th, so plenty of umbilical cords in my life at the moment; it seems I was destined to be a dad!

DSC08697

Talking of new life it’s also worth mentioning that the chilli’s have germinated and the first few leaves are reaching for the sky.

DSC08687

I’d also like to say a big thank you all for your kind words, wishes and poetry, Gosia especially liked the poetry. A few more photos can be found here, for those of you who like looking at baby photos! It also gets a few hits on my website which I am hoping to develop over the coming weeks to replace the blog (or maybe not)

Ok, back to the post, the loose ends that I am referring to are the posts that I meant to write in the autumn but never seemed to get round to, but as my camera is now my best friend again I found myself reviewing old photos and stumbled upon pictures that I had taken specifically for a post, so rather than waste them I thought I’d cram them into a catch up of sorts.

Elderflower beer! Do you remember that? Well I almost forgot about it, that was until we started the clean up and clear out  as we prepared to leave the land for the winter last year, and then I found it hiding in the back of the pivnica, bottles containing a golden yellow liquid, almost fluorescent.

DSC08555DSC08561

Not one to shy away from the unknown and casting away the slightly cloudy appearance and sediment in the bottles, I grabbed a jar and tried the homemade tipple. Light, probably about 4% in strength, fragrant with the elder and tasting slightly of the oranges that were used in the brewing process. Mildly effervescent, reminding me of a homemade lemonade and as such perfect for hot summer days; ideal for quenching your thirst after a hard days graft. I will be making it again that’s for sure.

My second loose end is the one coming out of the end of a plastic pipe.

DSC08582

In the words of Mr Harris, ‘can you tell what it is yet?’ Well, it’s a compost thermometer of course, available from Amazon, www.humanure.com  and occasionally from garden centres for around £20,  except this one only cost me a couple of quid for the standard household thermometer and a bit of invention.

First check that you thermometer will fit in your pipe, then cut the pipe to the desired length (about 60cm or 24 inches in old money), attach string to thermometer, plug the pipe one end with a cork and drop in your temperature guide. Take to the pile, insert, leave for a while and take a reading by pulling on the string to reveal the poo free metron. I look forward to reporting on the spring temperature next time  we visit; next week I hope!

DSC08579DSC08587

Phew, that feels better, two loose ends tied in a bow and just in time as my Polish family is congregating downstairs to say hello to Malina; no doubt Vodka will be involved. Na zdrowie!

Scaffold for rent

13th of May: It was mid afternoon before we retuned to the ranch, after a couple of stops to drop things off and pick things up, amongst them a sofa bed to add to our growing collection; I’m guessing you would call them a nest of sofa beds?:)  We now have three with a fourth promised and due to be collected this weekend or next, all good stuff if you have people coming to stay, which we have due to a great response to our call for volunteers; more than a dozen respondents so far from as far afield as Korea, Romania, Lithuania, France and the UK; the last couple of weeks of June could see as many as six visitors so we are trying our best to make them comfy.

Once we arrived back home we quickly decided that the house would remain off limits and the garden would get some attention, so our first batch of tomatoes went in along with half a dozen chilli plants, more butternut squash, courgettes and some spinach. The extended dry spell that we are having means that the watering can is well used and our water collection tanks are running low; I wont be praying for rain, but I secretly wouldn’t mind some…maybe overnight 🙂

Lots of weeding as ever, now that the beans and peas are coming through I can risk using the hoe, as long as I wear my glasses!

The fruit trees seem to be doing well and it looks like we will have an abundance of cherries, plums, pears and quinces; although it has to be said the apples don’t look too good at the moment, maybe it’s too early to tell.

First tomatoes and chillis
First tomatoes and chillis, horse radish flowering in the background
Field of Beans
Field of beans and quite a few peas
Cherry tree
Bumper crop of cherries, we just have to wait!

14th of May: Ok, back to the house, we must get something done! And we did, conscious that we will not have the opportunity to lime wash the house again once the scaffolding is down, a job we are to start soon, we decided to circumnavigate the house once more; 10 hours later we finished!

15th, 16th and 17th of May: The big event begins; operation ‘Reveal’ the dismantling of our hand built scaffold. As the weather is still hot with temperatures in the high 20’s I opted to start on the shady side of the house, following the sun and Gosia who was cleaning the window frames whilst she still could; it soon become apparent that she was working faster than me and she took up the job of removing stubborn nails and screws from the wood that I discardied from the top level of our construction. Every component removed seemed to weaken the structure and I was glad to have finished the top tier by the end of the first day, bringing me a couple of meters closer to earth.

And that set the pace for the next two days, one level a day with an ever growing pile of planks, a rapidly filling bucket of old screws and nails and a every wobblier walkway for me to work on. The forty-four supporting posts were the last item to come down and as the last one crashed to the ground on Friday evening we let out a cheer for a job well done with only minor injuries and a new found appreciation for the scale of the house. We had a couple of sticky moments as we discovered that a few of the posts still had tarpaulin line strung between them, but a penknife strapped to a four meter batten soon solved that. And of course as I was wearing steel toecap boots with reinforced soles to stop and nails going through my feet I walked backwards into a nail which found my calf muscle; Gosia wasn’t so lucky as her sandals offered no protection as a nail found the soft flesh of her foot; you only do it once and soon stop wearing flip flops on a building site.

Scaffold almost down
The shadows reveal the texture of the walls
Special tool No.2
How to cut a piece of string 6 meters high

Walking the dogs first and last thing provides a great opportunity to explore the surrounding area especially as I try and expand the territory that we cover; Zara is picking up Jackie’s hunting habits and pheasants, deer and cats are all flushed out as we do the rounds; no harm ever comes to the fleeing wildlife, it’s just a game to the dogs, although if I had a shotgun I would be tempted to have a go at the pheasants. I’m hoping their behaviour will deter the wildlife from coming two close to our vegetables, although we have agreed that the electric fence should go up next week as we are tempting fate with our open plan style of agriculture. Once the potatoes start to mature then the wild bore come out of hiding, I know it’s a while off yet, but it’s best to be prepared; I might even keep hold of afore mentioned knife on a stick!

Deer01
I wonder if thats a dog?
Deer02
Yes, it’s a dog!

18th of May: Eager to avoid and further injuries we spent most of the day tidying the site, we intend to use the planks of the scaffolding as the downstairs ceiling, once they have gone through a plainer; so it’s a job worth taking time over. We are also expecting a JCB at some stage next week to help with some landscaping and trench digging, so having the area clear around the house is essential. This should then lead onto the building of the terrace in early June, hopefully transforming the house once again as it looks a bit odd at the moment.

Naked house
The sugar cube revealed, cant wait for the terrace to be built 🙂
Scafflold for rent
Scafflold for rent

After all this excitement it’s hard to believe that things could get any better, but then in the space of a couple of bottles of beer, the bottle tops revealed that I had won two free bottles; it doesn’t get much better than that, a great end to the week:)

My lucky day
My lucky day, two winning bottle tops from Harnas beer 🙂

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.

 

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.

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!

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

Just a quickie

I suddenly realised that I write more about our life in Poland than the straw bale house that we are building, so to bring you up to speed, that’s if you haven’t checked my website, I have added a  new page ‘before the blog‘.which is now up to date; as you may have noticed from some of my more recent posts, the build has slowed down a bit due to the weather 🙂

And whilst I’m on the subject of new pages, take a look at the dogs, an introduction to our four legged friends 🙂

Please throw another snowball
Please throw another snowball

The camera never lies

I may have mentioned that the cold air and snow is now here to stay in Poland, certainly beyond the 10-day forecast that I check almost every day, yesterday we woke to -16ºc (outside) so the prospect of walking the dogs didn’t fill me with the usual joy! Mind you by the time I’d had two cups of tea (big half litre (pint) cups), donned my hat, coat, jacket, gloves and boots; I felt ready to tackle a good long walk. The temperature had warmed up a couple of degrees as the sun decided to make it to work on time and there was no wind to speak of, so I headed off down the road with three exited dogs running off ahead of me announcing to the entire neighbourhood that they were out and free to run around. I think the village thinks I’m a little strange as dog walking is not a big thing in Poland, especially when the weather is like it is; the fact that I’m normally walking on virgin snow is testament to this.

Unfortunately dogs in Poland are still often kept on chains outside, with the sole purpose of acting as an early warning doorbell system or intruder alarm, as well as a waste disposal unit. There is a national movement to try and change the law, but it is a deep rooted cultural thing and I fear it will take quite some time, probably a generation, before dogs are held in the same regard as they are in the UK. Don’t get me wrong, the dogs are not necessarily treated badly, just differently. I have to think like this otherwise I would have to become an animal rights vigilante and free all the chained dogs in the village, and I don’t think that would go down too well and you would simply end up with marauding packs of dogs 🙂

As so many blogs that I read have observed, the snow and ice bring a new beauty to the countryside and I vowed to myself to bring by camera on my afternoon walk to try and capture some of the sights. I would have brought it this morning, but considering that my watering eyes were freezing on my cheeks I doubt I would have being able to use the camera once I’d taken my gloves off!

Thankfully for my afternoon walk the temperature had reached -8ºc, so I quickly picked up the camera, checking the battery level (24%) and headed out with the dogs once again; a second thinner pair of gloves under my chunky ski gloves, so that I could turn the dial and press the button on the camera.

First of all I had to capture the second bloom that the reeds and grasses are displaying as the ice crystals cling to the bare stems and spent seed heads; much more spectacular first thing in the morning with the fresh frozen dew and rising sunlight, but still a good photo. Next up the dogs, I’m writing a page for them to appear soon, so a few more pictures as they play in the snow will be good for the gallery. Jackie collecting snow on the fur of her back legs much like a bee does pollen, Scooby dipping his head into the snow on the move to catch a bit of snow to eat, Bruder rolling around on his back in the snow with what can only be described as a smile on his face; all great pics for the post. And then as the sun turned a blood red and began its decent over the far horizon a thin grey cloud cut across it splitting the sphere into two blobs reminiscent of the oil separating in a lava lamp; click, click, another couple of memories stored.

Now if you have a car that was built in the last twenty years or so, there is a good chance that it has some kind of warning when you get out of the car forgetting to turn your lights off? It’s especially useful in Poland as you must have your lights on at all times. So why in the age of digital photography and advanced technology in general can’t they do the same for cameras that don’t have the memory card installed because you left it in the card reader after downloading your last set of photos! Why does the camera happily click away despite the fact that it has no recoding medium on-board? Why does the lens whirr and focus when it has nothing to leave an imprint on?

Why don’t I start to check the camera for a memory card every time I take it out with me! 🙂

Lazy winter week

I know that the norm is to have lazy summer days, but we were busy, so as the snow piles up and the temperatures drop, settled in the warm comfort of Gosia parents home in Rzemien; we thought we would have a lazy week. I say lazy as we haven’t done any physical work or completed any practical tasks, other than change the antifreeze on the van. Instead I’ve read blogs, added a few posts and sorted through the thirty thousand plus photos that have accumulated of the years. When I say sorted I mean filtered the duplicates and tried to add some kind of meaningful tags to those that remain to help me sort through them in future. There is still much work to do, but at least my backup has shrunk in size by 30GB and I’ve being reminded of many happy memories as I filtered through the poorly referenced filing system that I have created since the age of digital photography took hold of me.

The dogs have also benefitted from this state of torpor as I have settled into the routine of taking them for a walk before breakfast and then again in the afternoon before darkness sets in, their usual freedom restricted due to the proximity of the road. I remember my sister once telling me that dogs will appreciate you more if they don’t have your constant company or attention, and I have to agree; they live quite happily in the old kitchen with the warmth of the wood burner and the chance to sneak a treat as Gosias mum cooks up the next fantastic meal. When I do appear at the door at the scheduled time I’m greeted as if I’d being away for a year and the ensuing chorus of whimpering and barks leave me no other choice but to take them for a good long walk.

I’m working on a page about the dogs so keep your eyes on the top menu of the blog, I thought they needed more of a permanent place rather than just a passing post, so watch this (that) space.

Gosia, on the other hand, always finds something creative to do with her time and along with crocheting several hats, scarfs and about a third of a 72 panel cot blanket, she has made cakes, biscuits and pizzas. I will try and convince her to let me blog about it one day as I think the odd recipe or crochet lesson would be a welcome addition to my otherwise mundane mumbles; let me know what you think? I’ll need help to convince her.

DSC04543DSC04541

A few days off

After successfully completing the second lime render coat and resolving to put on the final finish coat in the spring we decided to take a few days off. Not that that means we can rest much, as we search for soffits for the house, doors for the Piec (cooking range) and mushrooms in the forest.

We managed to find some great cast iron doors for the bread oven at the antiques market in Rzeszow, which is held every second Sunday of the month, along with an upgraded heating system for the stable -photo to follow once installed. Called a koza in Polish, which strangely enough also means goat!

DSC04209

As for the mushroom hunt, it’s going well. Saturdays haul was four baskets full in about three hours and Mondays result was a further three; all to be dried or pickled, with a few of the poorer specimens destined to be made into a sauce for lunch. I have to admit that my hunting skills are poor in comparison with Gosias mum, who seems to be able to imagine where the mushrooms are as she forges ahead stopping to bend and pick the next target in one fluid motion. The result is a full basket long before anyone else and a feeling of disbelief from her fellow hunters; mind you they are all heading for the same pot at the end of the day so its all good and every now and again you stumble across the mother of all mushrooms and your inadequacy is forgotten as you are congratulated on a good find.

DSC04190 DSC04194

There is also the added bonus that the dogs get a good walk, which makes them appreciate the reward of some of the bones from our summer lambs that much more.

DSC04197DSC04195

Anyhow, back to it tomorrow, back to the land of farmers, hard graft and bathing in a tin bath. We have enjoyed our little holiday and Gosia managed to pick up four seasons of Rumpole of the Bailey on DVD for 25p at the local market; so our evenings will be full for the next few weeks!