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!

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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

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Happy Christmas 2015

I know it’s been a while, in fact it has been far too long, but once again I’m using the time of year as an excuse to post on the blog after a six month break. I hope to write more again next year, at least once a month, but for know I’ll take this opportunity to wish any one who is still reading a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year!

As you can imagine lots has happened over the last six months, although it probably comes as no surprise that the house remains unfinished, oh well!

Malina as ever remains our main focus and her progress in walking, running, climbing, talking and jumping up and down in muddy puddles keeps at least one of us busy and both of us entertained. Any frustration and annoyance that she may cause us is melted away in a second with her smiles and loving hugs, and she knows how to work a crowd. The years ahead promise to be full, eventful!

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The house has moved on, just not as fast as we had hoped, but the rooms upstairs are taking shape and if the carpenter ever bothers to turn up after letting us down on several occasions (I hope he reads this) then we will be able to complete the corridor and have clear passage to the two rooms we have completed so far. Knowing that there is a bath upstairs has tempted us to make the trip on a few occasions, but I’m looking forward to the day we can slip out of it and into bed without a change of footwear.

The animals keep us honest and continue to reward us with the egg tally well over 2000 for the year so far, although our foray into keeping chickens for meat only filled the bellies of the local buzzard population which seems to have grown along with their girth. Our one time flock of 54 chickens is now reduced to 16 and I have had to bring them back into the fold and construct an elaborate system of fishing wire and old Microsoft software CD’s to keep chicken off the bird menu. So far Small Business Server 2003, SQL and Exchange are doing a good job, it’s certainly the best use I have had of Bill Gates legacy so far. Thankfully the pigs are providing us our selfish protein requirement and we have branched out into rabbits as an alternative and additional meat source. The goats continue to receive free board and lodgings, although there is a rumour that they will be meeting a young chap called Billy on the 30th of December, so we may be getting milk to help balance the books by the middle of next year.

The harvest was good on the whole, despite the near drought conditions over the summer and into the autumn, everything except the onions exceeded our expectations, although we only planted what had done well the year before in our heavy clay soil, relying on the in-laws to grow the things we didn’t and exchanging for spuds which we had in abundance once again. With close to two tonnes of oats and enough tomatoes to have our very own La Tomatina, both barn and pantry are well stocked and will keep us going until the next harvest.

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The future is where it’s at and we are looking forward to it. Hopefully I’ll be announcing that the house is complete and we are taking guests, along with news of more kids, although only if Sunday and Monday (the goats) are receptive! I’m also hopeful that I will be able to point you in the direction of Gosias website, where she intends to sell her handmade soaps, bath bombs and salts, crocheted items and….well who knows what else she will start to create in the meantime. I’m all for it, just as long as she can keep me in the lifestyle that I have become accustomed to!

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Bye for now, hope to see you next year, sooner rather than later. After all, I have to update you on the composting toilet!

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From sugar cube to pagoda

For those of you that follow the blog then you will have noticed my absence, for those who don’t then welcome to Winkos; a blog about all sorts of things centred around the construction of a straw bale house in Poland and our search for a life outside of the rat race.

It’s almost a month since my last post and probably as long since I even read any of the blogs that I follow; you would think that I had lost my internet connection, and in a way it does feel like that.

But it is work and events that have kept me from the keyboard and I’m happy to be able to report that our recent efforts have transformed the sugar cube into a pagoda as the terrace gained a roof and a deck.

If I’m honest this push to get things done on the exterior of the house and complete the terrace, albeit with temporary barriers for safety, was driven by events; as after seven years together and the last 8 months planning, Gosia and I finally tied the knot.

If you know us on Facebook then you will already have seen the photos, which is just as well because I’m not likely to post many on the blog and for now I can’t post any at all as they are in the hands of our friend who took all the photos of the event; but take my word for it it was a truly fantastic day 🙂

And that’s it for now, a short post to announce a big event, hope to catch up with some reading and blog more soon.

Time

I once read an article about the concept of time and whilst I don’t have it to hand I seem to remember the premise of the discussion.

The old saying that time fly’s when you are having fun is based around the fact that you lose sense of the reality of time as you are preoccupied with whatever it is that you are doing. On the other hand if you are bored, with little to fill your time, then time drags as you are forever conscious of time as you have little else to think about.

Oddly enough if you reflect upon the past and you have filled that time with interesting and eventful events then your concept of time is lengthened, in that you can rely on the event markers you have to give you a true concept of time past; even to the point that you may think that something happened longer ago than it actually did. Quite the opposite if you don’t have these markers and your life has followed a more humdrum path; as Pink Floyd put it ‘And then one day you find, ten years have got behind you’ and that’s just it, time past goes faster, even if it was slow at the time it happened!

So what’s my point? Well it’s only loosely connected, a tenuous link so to speak; I just haven’t had the time to blog! Not to mention read, comment or like on many of the blogs that I normally follow, not that any of these are mundane, it just the house is taking over 🙂

So don’t be surprised if my format changes a little; it may become more of a diary of events reflected on a weekly basis, which may be as unexciting as ‘the lilac tree is flowering’ or ‘I emptied the toilet again’ who knows? I keep taking the photos; I just don’t get the time to write about it.

After all one of the reasons I started to blog is because I was no good at keeping a diary; the added impetus of sharing my thoughts has so far kept me going, views, follows, comments and likes all play their part in motivating me to continue; the vanity of blogging I guess? So be warned or relieved that from now on I may only be posting once a week and hopefully without rambling on too much 🙂 And apologies if Poland doesn’t pop up in your stats as often, I try to read as and when I can, normally when I’m eating, so comments may be thin on the ground 🙂

‘And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking, racing around to come up behind you again’

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…….

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.

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

Its a way of life

As we arrived back in Rzemien last week from our two day trip to the house, we were greeted by Gosias parents along with two of their grandchildren (aged 14 and 17); all sitting round the table, armed with knives, shelling walnuts. The task at hand was to come up with 3Kg of shelled walnuts for the cakes that would be made for the New Year celebrations; not a 5 minute task, believe me. And one of the thoughts that went through my head was what an unlikely scene this would be in the UK!

It was satisfying to know that the walnuts had come from our orchard back in Pstrągowa. Even though we had a bad year, we still collected over 50Kg and it was good to see them being put to good use. We also reserve them for making pesto as pine nuts are so expensive and as an experiment this year we made some DiacoNoino (an Italian Liquor). We did consider pickling some, but we have friends who are past masters at this so we left them too it, no doubt we will be making an exchange in the future.

It’s just another example of why I have come to love Poland so much, it’s the way of life.

I may have touched on it before in previous posts, but I think it worth sharing more detail about the collective farming that Gosias family are involved in. Along with Gosias Aunt and Uncle, her parents farm about 2 hectares of land which is jointly owned About half of the land is sown for various types of grain which is either turned to flour and\or used as animal feed with any surplus sold or traded for other crops. A further half hectare is set aside for potatoes and the last half for a variety of vegetables; cabbage, carrots, beetroot, beans, celeriac, root parsley and onions to name but a few.  This provides the bulk of the food for the family until next year.

Now you might think that this is quite lot of work for a small group of retired individuals? Well yes and no, because the key to their success is the way it’s farmed, not only do they recruit the help of the larger family group (English immigrants included) they also get help from the neighbours; especially when the big jobs are undertaken, such as harvesting the grain or potatoes. We took a day off the building this year to help out with the spuds and along with the neighbourhood volunteers we numbered about 15, needless to say the half hectare was cleared by mid afternoon; along with a bottle or two of vodka to celebrate:)

It is this collective and collaborative way of working that makes things possible and of course when it comes to the neighbours picking their potatoes then we all head over to their house; Gosias Uncle just happens to have a tractor which is used by many a household, but then of course they may well have some spare storage space to be able to keep the trailer or grain; it just works out, nobody is counting the pennies, they just get things done and more often than not with a smile on their face.

I may have mentioned our neighbour in Pstrągowa has helped out all year by shipping water back and forth to our building site, so when it came to picking his spuds we were on hand, ready and waiting with our baskets along with several other friends, and the job was completed in no time at all with the aid of several cans of beer (it was a hot day!)

Now it may be that all of this camaraderie is a result of communism, after all Poland has only been free since the early 1989, is it just a kick back from what the Kremlin advocated to its people? I doubt it, no I think it’s a result of a poor country making the best of what they have, working hard together to make sure they all had food in there stomachs and at the same time turning their backs on a regime they had no time for. And as I talk to older members of my own family it is not that far away from how things used to be in the UK back in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. A better time perhaps?

Of course as the first communist free generation starts to come through, flush with the money earned across Europe and the western ethos of spend, spend, borrow and spend fresh on their lips, it’s easy to see how a country can change in a very short period of time,  But as an optimist with the fresh picture of a 17 year old shelling walnuts with his gran so she can make a cake for the family, I’m hopeful that some of the old ways will stay and stop Poland becoming yet another victim of consumerism.

Gosia’s father once said that when they were living under communism they had loads of money but nothing to spend it on, now as a free country, he can buy whatever he wants, but has no money 🙂

That was the week that was

I have now settled at my winter weight of around 85Kg, helped by generous portions of delicious food and copious amounts of alcohol; well maybe not copious; but more than enough! I no longer need to wear a belt when wearing several pairs of trousers (not all at once) and when I do it looks like the next option is a new belt or a hole punch:)

Mind, it doesn’t surprise me as the only exercise I’ve had lately is walking the dogs down to the forest to keep an eye of the latest beaver activity.  The beavers are having a great battle with the locals, after there first dam was broken up they decided to fell a tree across the track; I have an image of the beaver resistance fighters ready to take the last chunk out of the tree as the vehicle approaches 🙂 This happened about 10 days ago and I’ve followed the progress, as the farmer has moved the tree and cut it into manageable lengths; no doubt to pick up and use as firewood in the future; the beavers had an other idea and dragged the new, handy sized, pieces to use on the rebuilding of the dam; stripping the bark for food in the process.

We did manage a couple of days back at the ranch, checking everything was ok and clearing a patch of land of brambles; warm work even with the temperature close to zero. But yet again as the night time temperature inched towards -8°c it became uncomfortable to stay for two long and we retreated back to heating central.

And if you happen to be wondering how the humanure pile is handling the cold weather; well it seems to be ok, despite not making any deposits for quite a while the pile has reduced in size, with a noticeable indent in the middle, so I’m confidant that the little microbes are still working hard to break down those nasty pathogens; either that or rats have moved in and are eating their way through it!

One of our biggest problems is water whilst we wait for the new borehole pump to be fitted. Our 1000 Litre tanks that capture water from various roofs are either frozen solid or empty to prevent them from freezing solid. We did have a contingency plan of four 25 litre containers, but these soon froze solid, even in the stable, and it amazes me how long it takes for them to thaw out, even when we have the wood burner going. I can now understand how the old ice houses used to work with a big block of ice, it’s a very slow melt.

We do have the old well, but this has all but dried up in the worst drought since records began and we are lucky to get a couple of litres in the bucket as a time, good for a brew, not for a bath!

So back to the cake capital of Poland (Rzemien) more food, more drink, more visiting friends back for the season after working away across Europe; all of us calendar watching for the return to work, some on a tighter schedule than others.

It’s an easy life whilst you have some money saved, but we have started to consider looking for work as the cold prevents us from doing much on the house; it would be a better way to spend our time, rather than watching money trickle away as we laze about. Holland looks good at this time of year, lots of plants need propagating and potting  for the garden centres back in the UK.

But that’s enough talk about having to work for a living, we’ve much more important jobs to do, like baking a beetroot chocolate cake, recipe to follow 🙂

Frozen Baby Wipes!

After such a long break back in Rzemien we had started to go a little crazy, thinking about all the things we should be getting on with back at the house: walls to trim back ready for the electrical cables and fittings, internal walls to build which will then allow us to start on the plumbing, wood to order for the terrace and floor giving it time to season over winter, paperwork to fill in and deliver to ensure we keep the authorities happy and vehicles to check that the antifreeze is good to keep them ice free. So yesterday, with my teaching done for the week and Christmas fast approaching, we thought we better head out and see what we could achieve before we get caught up in the festivities.

Van packed with freshly washed clothes, food for us and the dogs, laptop, camera and beers; the last three my responsibility, we set off determined to stay for at least four or five days and get some work done. Checking the forecast, which predicted snow showers and milder temperatures of –6°c for the coming week, we thought we would be fine as long as we could get to the nearest farm; park the van and walk the remaining km or so and get the Niva out of the barn and then drive back to get the supplies out of the van; a great plan!

The main roads seemed fine, even if the snow was starting to settle a little, the moving traffic was keeping the tarmac visible; so we were able to make progress at a reasonable speed, but as we drove on we did start to wonder what it would be like closer to home. Not that we had to wait long, as three-quarters of an hour on, as we turned off the main E40 and onto the road for Olimpow. A road with no name according to Google maps, which wasn’t far from the truth as we joined the snow covered track! Now any sensible person would have turned back at this stage, but common sense had long since left the vehicle and we crept along in the hope that we might just be able to make the remaining 20 km, including the final hill that takes us to our planned destination. The 20km yes, the hill, no; not a chance, not even half way. So we turned round and headed back to take an alternate, much longer, route. The new route was a little flatter, but not without event; if I told you that Gosia was close to wetting herself on more than one occasion then I’m sure you get the gist of it, but I managed to keep the van on the road and eventually to our neighbours down in the valley; the new idea was to park up there and walk up the hill to the house, get the Niva…….

So as Gosia stopped to chat and catch up on events in the village I headed up the hill in ever deepening snow to retrieve our Russian built 4×4. Worried about the antifreeze situation I quickly checked the radiator and was happy to see liquid in there and not a block of ice, so I fired up and headed out into the virgin snow; perhaps a foot (30cm) deep. Reversing out of the barn and getting up the first hill proved a little difficult, but once I reached our hand-built road, albeit under deep snow, the Niva found a bit of grip and I started to have some fun; even more fun as I reached the top of the hill and the drifts thickened to a couple of feet (60cm) and with no clear definition to the road I ploughed on through fields in the general direction of the nearest farm. I once read that the Niva was built for Siberia, not suburbia, and I couldn’t agree more 🙂

So supplies transferred, we began to asses our situation; temp outside -4, temp inside -2, so I started the fire, reassuring Gosia that I’d warm the place up in no time, that was when I noticed the water boiling pan was frozen solid; not to worry it will melt, then Gosia shouted from the barn ‘the pickled gurkins have frozen in the fridge, and the eggs!’ Umm, it must have been cold (Kazek recored -20)! Of course as we started to check we discovered all sorts of things had not taken to the cold temperatures too well, including 50KG of apples we had in storage, our 5 gallon water containers and the baby wipes we keep in the outside toilet!!

And that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Gosia, the frozen baby wipes, and our plans of a five day frozen retreat in Pstrongowa did exactly that and we decided to retreat back to Rzemien.

At least we brought the Niva back with us, so we won’t be hindered by the weather; should we be daft enough to go back again anytime soon 🙂

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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.

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Snow, aerobics and mixing your drinks!

So the snow has arrived, not for the first time this year, but in a more convincing manner than before. A good 3-4 inches (about 10cm) came down on Sunday evening, running into Monday; backed up with temperatures on the minus side to harden up any snow daft enough to try and melt, so slippery underfoot as well as wheels; especially in the villages that rely on the smaller local councils to put the grit down. Luckily we arrived in Rzemien on Saturday night in preparation for the christening of a good friends baby, so the snow is still pretty in our eyes; had we being stuck in Pstrongowa then I may have a different view. By all accounts the higher ground in Pstrongowa has become impenetrable to all but the well equipped explorer, our neighbours even called us to check that we were alright and offered us shelter, so we are definitely in the right place; here in the warm central heated oasis that is Gosias home:)

Now I’m not particularly religious or hold any strong beliefs, it works for some people and as far as I’m concerned that’s their business, and as long as they don’t try and force their faith down my neck I happy to coexist. So when we had to attend the local Catholic Church for the christening on Sunday I went without protest or comment. However faced with a religion that I do not follow, a language that I barley understand and temperatures in the church probably below zero I was glad of the aerobic exercise that was to be had; stand up, sit down, kneel down, stand up, kneel down, sit down…..I did feel for the baby though, that water must have been cold; holy or not!

As a ‘visitor’ to Poland, a label I’m sure I will keep for a long time to come, I’m often seen as a target for some fun; especially when drinking alcohol is involved. Now as a rule I drink beer, it’s in my genes as a Yorkshire man; although I have to admit I have strayed to the dark side whilst living in the south of England and moved from the traditional ales of the north to the more common continental lagers served down south.

Thankfully the brewing industry in Poland is alive and well, full of tradition and diversity with many different brands to choose from, and Perla has become my favourite tipple; that is unless there is even a remote chance that vodka will be served! One lesson that I have learned is that you should never mix lager with vodka; admittedly it has taken more than one bad experience to learn this lesson, but learnt it most definitely has been. So with the faintest sniff of vodka in the air I resolve myself to hang back on any other drink and step up to the challenge that is inevitably set down by the red blooded male population of Poland; to join in the round.

Vodka can be drunk in a few different ways in Poland, the traditional method only requires one glass and one (sometimes many more) bottle(s) of vodka, no matter how many people are involved; you simply fill the glass for the next person in line (in the circle) after inviting them to drink by toasting their health, as you can imagine this can lead to a very rapid depletion of the bottle and uncontrolled intoxication in double quick time. Thankfully I have avoided this method of drinking all but once and I have very few memories of what happened; other than to say that Eddy became E.T. and I was told to go home!

Luckily christenings are a much more civil affair and vodka is drunk out of your own glass at the pace set by the host as he personally charges the glasses of all the guests, giving you the opportunity to opt out at anytime. Well, that is unless you are sitting next to the host or one of the afore mentioned polish male guests, in which case national pride is at stake and as the only Englishman at the table you have to match them drink for drink; their idea of fun is to then watch you get drunk!! Now I could at this stage tell you what happened at the last christening that I attended three years ago; the same family with their first child, but I couldn’t honestly tell you much about it after the third course of food, in fact I learnt more about what happened that day at this christening as stories were retold and an encore was expected! However on this occasion I’m able to say that I kept a steady head, stuck to the vodka and managed to make our own way home as one of the lasts guests to leave, after saying good night to several stumbling individuals and woke the next day without a hangover, a clear memory and I believe my pride intact; meeting some of the male gusts the next day it seems that I was in a minority J

It’s taken me a while to learn the lesson, but I can honestly say that you should never mix your drinks.

On Air

As we don’t have a TV or even a laptop that plays DVDs at the moment, we listen to the radio for our light entertainment. Trojka is our station of choice, but as you would expect much of the commentary is lost on me as it’s in Polish, mind you the music is predominantly English and the mix covers a wider range of genres than anything you would ever find in the UK; for instance this weeks album of the week is Led Zeppelin Live in London (Celebration Day)

As you would expect there is also quite a bit of discussion, current affairs and the like, but other than asking for the occasional translation when I have picked up on the subject matter, the radio becomes background noise; that is unless Gosia starts to laugh as happened last night. Apparently they had had a brief discussion about technology and the new gloves that you can wear in cold weather and still use you smart phone; very important in Poland as cold weather and smart phones are very common. The discussion was followed by a phone in and the first caller explained how he managed to get round the particular problem of using his smart phone whilst wearing gloves; ‘ I keep a frankfurter in my pocket, if works just like a naked finger on my smart phone and if I get hungry I can always eat it!’

You can’t beat the Polish for invention 🙂

 

Watch out, beavers about!

That’s beavers, not beadles 🙂 (sorry this only works for UK readers over a certain age).

After the reintroduction of beavers to the forest near Rzemien, local land owners; especially those growing trees, have had to deal with a new problem. Unauthorised and premature felling of trees!

Even though they were introduced in the middle of a 15 square km forest  with a lake and lots of trees, they have decided life is better on the edge and someones future firewood tastes that much better. Man controlling nature, it rarely works 🙂