Back on the ranch, no Skype or email, but we have a bath

So after nine days back in Rzemien to respect the ‘All Saints’ holiday and let me fit in two English teaching days, we headed back to the ranch with the intention of ‘getting things done’. Easier said than done it seems as our enthusiasm wanes along with the sun. We did manage to clear most of the wood that we cut down to make way for the electricity cable to supply the new house, which is just as well as we need to feed the koza (wood burner, it also translates as goat) a fair amount to heat the water and to keep us warm in the stable. We do have a good stock of wood that we have seasoned over the last two years, but it’s all too big for our scaled down wood burning goat, so a good four or five hour stint dragging the culled silver birch and willow to the stable to be reduced to 20cm (ish) lengths by lopper and chop saw filled the fuel buckets and boxes for the next week or so. I may have mentioned this before, but the old saying that wood heats you up three times is as true today as it was when it was first thought up; first when you fell it, second when you chop it and a third time when you burn it, I was reduced to wearing a T-shirt despite the cooler weather.

Keep feeding it and you can cook, heat up water for the bath and keep the stable warm!

Talking about burning wood, we also fired up the piec for more than half an hour, building up day by day, to today’s big burn of about six hours. It heats up nicely, with the brick structure slowly retaining heat but I need to make some fine adjustments to the cast iron hot plates as they don’t quite sit right; the grinder needs to come into play. We also fired up the bread oven, but we have to take this a little slower, giving it more heat every day for a month until it will be finally ready, we intend to add some fire bricks to the base as well to help retain the heat more so it will double as a pizza oven 🙂 If only the house doors had arrived as planned then we may have kept some of the heat in the building!  As we were in the house we managed to strip the protective film from the windows and frames, removed all the wedges holding the widows in place whilst the wonder that is expanding foam set and in turn filled the new gaps with more expanding foam. If I had of known that the window fitters would have worked to such a wide margin of error I wouldn’t have spent so long with the frames; my 2mm tolerance could have been 20mm, it would have made little difference to the final fitting! Still as they say in Poland ‘Z tego sie nie strzela’ (You don’t have to shoot from it)

With this saying in mind Gosia and I decided to take on the soffit 🙂

The wild boars have made a few more appearances whilst we were away, or should I say they have left evidence; nobody has actually seen them yet, but I fear its only a matter of time; dogs close by, knife in pocket whenever I go out past dusk, it’s that time of year. It also means that the deer are coming in closer as well and it’s almost a daily event to see them on the land now, sometimes at the side of the road (track) that leads to our land, only running off at the last-minute, within 20 meters or so of us in the van. The same can be said of foxes as well, maybe not as often, but they are a frequent sight; are chickens such a good idea next year? Will they be feeding us or will we be feeding the foxes?

There you go you see, I started to ramble on without mentioning the big event this week; we found a bath, or should I say that whilst we handed in the scrap that we have collected over the last couple of months, old tin cans, beer cans, rusty nails and the like, Gosia spotted an old rusty cast iron roll top bath and after a brief negotiation with the proprietor we handed over 140 Pln (about £30) this was after we had received 43 Pln (about a tenner) for the scrap we handed in. Gosia has high hopes, whilst I’m glad we don’t have to fork out a small fortune for a new one! Remind me of this statement when I’m cursing the bath as I try to re-enamle it next year! I will follow-up with a photo when I have a fully functional laptop again. At the moment I’m limping along running my operating system from a USB stick, but not to worry, Amazon are sending me a new hard drive and I hope to be back to normal with Skype and email after the weekend.

Knife crime!

As you walk down the streets of many of the rural villages at this time of the year you will be surprised by the number of people carrying knives; not just young people, but middle-aged and even pensioners, all brandishing a variety of sharpened cutlery. Now if this were England then the local constabulary would have a field day rounding them up on charges of carrying an offensive weapon; thankfully Polish law hasn’t gone too mad yet and having a knife on your person is in no way considered strange even less so if you also happen to have a wicker basket in your other hand and especially if there are mushrooms in the forest waiting to be picked and trimmed with the veg knife and placed in said basket.

So, as we are back in Rzemien for a religious holiday (wszystkich swietych) we thought it best to join the rest of the village in the hunt for mushrooms; after all last year was a poor crop, so the intention is to pick and dry enough to last two years, just in case. Personally I thought that after the frost and snow we had last week the mushrooms would have packed up for the year, but as the temperature rises again and the rain reaches the forest floor new life is popping up all over. So the van is brought into service and stools from the kitchen provide temporary seating for extra passengers as five of us set off to the heart of the forest, Gosias mum navigating. Right left and straight on where some of the first words I learnt in Polish (Pravo, levo, prosto) and I have had a few opportunities to practice as I’ve taken polish speaking only hunting parties out in the past.

Our main crop this time is the Bay Bolete with the occasional Cep thrown in for good measure but then, just as we have decided to head home as we have no more space available in the five baskets we collectively carry, we stumbled upon five of the biggest Orange Birch Bolete of the year. So big in fact that decided to take a photo of the better specimens.

It is advised that you discard the stalks, they can be eaten but they are tough unless cooked for a long time; the flesh is fantastic used in a sauce, or like today, on top of a pizza. The young bay bolete will be pickled or dried, the older specimens will probably be a sauce to go with Sunday lunch.

Update 4th November: Back out on the hunt today, I have requested a bigger basket!

Update later in the day: don’t ask for a bigger basket, you will jinx the hunt; not so full baskets today, better luck tomorrow morning.

Update 5th November: Defiantly a jinx, took a smaller basket this morning and we all returned with aching arms carrying full baskets 🙂

Bay Bolete identification below, notice the pours and the way the flesh turns blue when cut. The brown cap can lighter or darker in shade, the spores are always yellow when young, becoming darker as they age.

Piec off!… then on again, then off again, then on……..

It’s the moment you have all being waiting for, the highlight of the month (as long as I post it on time) the pinnacle of my blog so far, the post that will push my readership up to at least three if not four.You will notice how I have built up the tension, mentioned the piec on a few previous posts already, even tempted you with a photo of the first days work by the ‘zdun’. Well today I can show you the result of all his hard work as the piec was completed on Saturday. I would have posted sooner, but a recent tangle with the laptop power supply lead and my foot, resulted in the laptop crashing to the floor, ultimately leading to a crashing laptop hard drive. Its just as well I stockpiled lots of spares in my previous life in I.T., although I have yet to fix it….don’t worry I wont blog about it 🙂

And just to add a little more suspense I thought it would be a good idea to add a photo of what the inside of the house looks like as you enter through the big hole in the wall (I have since added a temporary door)

As you can see we have lots of work to do inside; this is one of the reasons we decided to have the piec built first. Not only will it provide heat, it also gives us a starting point in deciding the layout of the kitchen.View from the door

So here we go ‘here we go, hold on tight’ as they used to say on the Waltzer! The Piec.

Piec01 Piec02
Piec03 piec04
Piec05 piec06
piec07 piec08
 piec09All built in three and a half days, using about 600 bricks, 15 meters of reinforcement bar cut to various sizes, a few old hinges that we had knocking around from old doors, the hardboard back of a chest of draws (which I must put back) and a mix of clay and sand (1-2). Two of the doors we managed to find at an antiques fair; made from cast iron and built to last, and the hob and bread oven that Gosia is demonstrating in the last photo were bought new.I now have proof why women always burn themselves on ovens; they keep checking to see if they are warm!.

Once finished I had hoped to fire up and start to get some heat into the building, see what kind of heat could be generated and stored in all those bricks. But then of course something that is built in a traditional way, using a natural mortar needs time to dry and as with any new installation you are provided with strict instructions. Burn twice a day for 30 minutes on a low heat for at least three days, then build up slowly in the following weeks until it will finally be dry in about a months time and finally ready to be piled high with wood and coal as we see fit. So we are hoping the weather doesn’t get too cold over the next month and that we can survive in the stable a little longer. I’m getting use to waiting for things in Poland 🙂

As ever lots goes on around the big exciting events, I chopped lots of wood in eager anticipation of the piec, it’s very true what they say about wood heating you up three times; cutting it down, chopping it up and burning it (it still owes me one). We had a visit from lots more wild boar who kindly cultivated an even larger patch of land than last time; unfortunately not where we intend to grow crops, rather the road to the stable and around the new house. We got stuck in the van after heavy rainfall last week and had to be rescued by Thunderbird 1 (our friends Steve and Dorota in their Unimog) The first of the snow arrived, although I’m told this wont last and the temperature should lift above zero later in the week. The steel arrived for us to install the soffits, but I managed to put this off claiming that the weather was too cold and windy! And we made it back to Rzemien through the falling snow in time for my English class; but I think I’ll leave that for another post.

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Wild boar, electricity, water and reasons not to chase cars

As we focus on having the cooking range built, supplying bricks, cement (two sand, one clay) and occasionally having to dismantle old furniture for the hardboard to create an arch, we have moved along with the laths for the soffit and picked up the tin sheet ready to fit; it looks straight forward enough, except for the corners! Whilst all this goes on it’s easy to forget the other events that bring a smile to my face.

If you are unfortunate enough to have notifications turned on on  Facebook and I’m your friend then you probably know the the wild boar came to visit us the other night and left a good patch of land turfed up as they searched for something tasty; this happened in the orchard about 100 meters away from the stable where we are living so it went unnoticed  by us and apparently by the dogs! You hear all sorts of stories about the wild boar around the village and often warned of how dangerous they can be, which is what I was thinking about when I took the dogs for a walk the next evening. ‘make sure you take a good big stick with you, or even a knife, just in case, you never know’ at which point I heard the thundering steps of wild animals coming towards me through the long grass, not sure what to expect I braced myself and called the dogs, on the off chance they might come to my rescue! Of course they arrived in a split second, as the noise of charging animals was the dogs, in hot pursuit of a small white cat!

We have waited for over a year for electricity, we first applied in August 2011 in fact, but a series of unfortunate events and red tape (Poland and Bureaucracy are synonymous), we are still looking at Christmas before we can turn the lights on in the new house! We have a temporary supply in the old house from which we have run a 30m extension lead to the barn and stable (home), which has served its purpose, but today we rolled up this lead for the last time as our friendly electrician scaled the electricity pole and hooked us up on an overhead line, moved the meter and put in something called a fuse or trip switch. Hooray, at last I can cut through a cable without fear of death Smile

We have also waited for over six months for a company to turn up to drill our borehole; several excuses, missed calls, unread messages and the like drove us to look for an alternative. The first said we would have to wait until January and then it would only be possible if the temperature hasn’t dropped too much (it was -37 last January). The second arrived yesterday to asses the land. As they arrived in their Turbo charged, inter-cooled, 16v, four wheel drive with enough spot lights to hold a football match and a winch to pull down buildings; I started to worry. One of the two chaps rushed off the the woods whilst the second came to chat with Gosia, although he did have some English, Italian and Portuguese; he could have said anything as I leave the talking to Gosia Smile Thinking the first bloke must have had a good curry the night before, or lots of tea, I was surprised to see him return with a ‘Y’ shaped branch of hazel. Of course he was looking for water, how silly of me not to realise. Sure enough he strolled around with the branch in both hands and the hazel reacted and pointed towards the ground and he declared that we should drill here! Now I’m normally sceptical about things (really) but I still remember an event when I was about 10 or 11 years old and I found water with two ‘L’ shaped iron or steel rods, so I was (am) willing to take his word for it. I was offered the twig to try myself, with no luck, but then the guy held onto my arm and sure enough the hazel went south, no matter how hard I tried to hold onto it; strange but true! But even more amazing than  that, they are drilling for water in ten days time Winking smile Mind you without electricity…

What happens when you have an inbuilt desire to chase cars? You get run over. Unfortunately Scooby (our recently acquired rescue(d) dog) doesn’t understand English, or Polish for that matter. So after repeated calls for him to stop he finally made contact with the electricians car as he drove off last night. I did worry as I heard the yelp and continued whining as the barking abruptly stopped during his pursuit of the van up the track, but a quick inspection showed no blood or protruding bones, just a limping dog. It is also clear today no permanent damage was done as he only limps when observed; especially when we are eating and a snack is possible, or of course affection and sympathy, which Gosia doles our in buckets for the poor wounded soldierSmile.  Jealous, me, no, well not so much that I’d jump in front of a car.

Not a bad week at all

Back from our mini break on Wednesday it was hard to get back into the swing of things, so we decided to do a spot of gardening; a bit of strimming, a bit of digging, pulling out some old roots with the tractor, chopping down a few dead or unwanted trees….all very relaxing. Then our neighbour Kazek turned up to plough the top hectare of land by the house. so we can plant crops next year; Dorota called to say that the cider press was available, our other neighbours asked if they could come and collet the spare straw we have after completing the building and the window guys called to say that the windows will be installed next Monday; not to mention that Gosia gave in and decided to go for metal soffits so work has to begin and the laths ordered and fitted in preparation. Just as well the weather has taken a turn for the better and we have experienced 20c+  since Thursday, set to continue until Tuesday (23rd).

As you can imagine the cider making is that the highlight for me, although chopping, then pounding and pressing nearly 150kg of apples is pretty hard work, and it did take four of us about six hours to complete the task; of course the occasional piwo (beer) break was included.


All of which resulted in about 50 litres of apple juice which we hope will turn into cider…not vinegar! I’ll let you know in a months time when we taste it for the first time, if the bubbles have stopped coming out of the airlock; although the intention is to let it mature until Christmas. Of course you will be the first to know if it’s a success.

Not to mention that we have almost a hectare of ploughed land, eight trailer loads of straw less in the barn, almost two sides of the roof lathed up ready for the soffit, six or seven less elder flower trees replaced by blackcurrant bushes (a gift from the neighbours taking the old straw) and an area of land ready to be tilled for our vegetable garden next year. So much better than Eastenders, more interesting than the latest two for one offer at Tesco and definitely better than the life we had before we decided to go mad!

Tales from the village

Believe them or not, everybody has a tail to tell and todays story of sheep transported via the local bus service compelled me to let you know about the best I’ve heard yet. Regarding the sheep, I did enquire if they went half or full fare; but of course they went free as they where under two years old!! This was back in the communist 80’s

But imagine a poor farmer who’s cow suddenly dies during calf birth and he doesn’t have insurance to cover such an event; what do you do? Speak to a friendly neighbour who has insurance and ask to swap cows of course; what a great idea. But what if your cow is a completely different colour? Not to worry, there is someone in the village who can change the identity of your cow with the aid of boot polish, spray paint and no doubt the gift of the gab. All for the price of a flaszka (bottle of vodka)Smile

Ba ba black sheep

Well not anymore as we picked up our two sheep skins from the tannery, all soft, white and fluffy.

If you didn’t know we kept a couple of lambs over the summer as an experiment on ourselves to see if we could keep and kill animals for our own use; all part of the future self sufficiency dream ….or necessity.

DSC03736 DSC03949

We fed them well; beet leafs, grain, plumbs (as they fell from the trees) not to mention the apples, all supplemented their usual diet of grass; they had the run of the orchard. We even discovered that they were very fond of dried bread, which was handy as it allowed us to call them and move them about quite easily; even to their eventual journey in the back of the van to see ‘the man’.

They had a good life, no doubt longer and happier then they would have had otherwise and in the end we have and have had some great food, and as of today two lovely sheep skins. I think Gosia has her eye on one of them to make a hat and maybe some slippers, I wonder which one I get for Christmas Smile

It’s not a very popular meat in Poland, it seems to have gone out of fashion quite a long time ago, and peoples memory is of a very strong tasting meat; no doubt from mutton. Mind you, slow cooked in red wine with some garlic and rosemary and we have managed to convert Gosias family; we have orders for next years flock already, so don’t be surprised if you see me in a sheepskin coat next year!

What the Fly Agaric!

DSC04162With the rain comes the possibility of mushrooms and the first to show are the Fly Agaric, having read a little more about them its no wonder that Alice had an adventure in Wonderland! It has a reputation more for killing flies than people as it was traditionally used as a fly killer; perhaps this explains the name? Whilst poisonous it is rarely fatal and is actually eaten in some parts of Germany, Siberia and a few other eastern European countries: I think the trick is to part boil it in lots of water, but I don’t think I’ll be trying them soon even, if it does have hallucinogenic properties Smile

Anyhow the point of this post is to highlight the national obsession that Poland has with mushrooms, people take time off work, cars line the sides of the roads that run through the forests, it even becomes a topic on the national news; but don’t get me wrong, I love it and even take part, hunting for mushrooms whenever I have a spare moment; even by torch light when I take the dogs for a walk in the evening; Cep, Orange Birch Bolete, Slippery Jack and Chanterelle all live in fear of me as I trail through the woods. However the one thing that I’m struggling to get used to is that everybody has the right to roam in Poland and roam they do, through your land! It just take time to get used to it, people passing by as you’re taking a pee in the woods, or even as you use the outside composting toilet, when your picking your nose or signing out of tune! It just doesn’t seen right. But that’s the law in Poland, you can go where you want, whenever you want and the only thing to stop you is a ‘Teren Prywatny’ sign.

Now it was a dilemma for a little while, to put up signs or not, but then I remembered how many fields I wander through whilst walking the dogs, how many woods I stalk my pray in when the Fly Agarics appear; and all in all its not a bad deal having the right to roam. After all everybody else has more land than us and we always clear our land of mushrooms long before the wanderers wander into our not so private land.