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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A little bit of sunshine

I just read last nights post and thought it looked a little bleak, so I thought I’d quickly post this picture from last week.

It was the start of a wonderful sunny day with the sun taking temperatures just above freezing. The house heated up to 23c\73f without having to light the fire, the water warmed up to 45c\113f from the solar water panels and I ventured outside to chop up a bit more wood to make sure we can deal with another cold month.

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From the terrace on the East side, sorry about the drain pipe.

Roll on spring!

Weddings, wellies and a whole lot of snow

I had to check the historical weather data to see when we last had temperatures above freezing, believing that it was sometime back in November, but of course it’s not as bad as I thought, we have had nineteen days above freezing since December the 1st 2016, although only two nights!

Continue reading “Weddings, wellies and a whole lot of snow”

Thanks to Putin, we have something to put in.

As I brought the seedlings inside from a day out in the sunshine, to tuck them up as the nights are still cold, it struck me that I have President Putin to thank for the handy crates that are the new vogue around the villages of Poland. Continue reading “Thanks to Putin, we have something to put in.”

Early start, late finish.

It has been a funny start to the season, late March, early April showed so much promise with temperatures reaching the mid twenties (77f). The noise of traction could be heard all around as farmers rushed to get seed in the ground. We were no exception and with a new array of tractor tools fashioned from old horse drawn equipment I set too and managed to prepare the ground for a dusting of oats by the 5th of April. A good early start to the years crops.

Continue reading “Early start, late finish.”

Bringing home the bacon

I know, I know I said bacon and the picture is of sausages!

March already, when did that happen! So much for my resolution to try and post more on the blog. It’s not like I haven’t had anything to report, as we have kept ourselves busy and the house becomes more of a house everyday. Continue reading “Bringing home the bacon”

Burning down the house

No, nothing to do with the 80’s classic from the Talking Heads, nor the last desperate act of a father on the brink, it’s just that it’s rather cold and we ran out of wood!

But before you worry too much its not the house we are living in that we are torching, despite what you might think about a house of straw they don’t burn that well, rather it’s the old derelict house down by the barn.

Eighty or ninety years old, maybe more, it holds many memories for some of the local people. Only this Boxing day we met an elderly lady who remembers visiting the house as a young girl, visiting your neighbours was all the rage back then. The house itself was considered big for its time and its design is one that typifies the Polish countryside for me, with many examples still sanding, nestled between the modern freshly built houses of the last 20 years. If you ever visit Poland I would suggest a visit to one of the many open air museums, http://openairmuseum.pl/ they offer a unique glimpse of Poland’s past architecture and way of life.

Still we made a deal with my father in-law in the autumn, that if he demolished the house he could have half of the wood for his own winter fuel supply. No sooner was the deal struck then the family and quite a few friends descended, although it has to be said the bulk of the work was carried out by mother and father in-law.  We were left with heavy beams, cut to the length of the van for transport back to the family home, piled neatly under tarpaulins and whilst most made the journey quite a bit was set aside for us.

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In the end half of the house was left standing, the weather turned against us and it made sense to keep the shelter in place as there is still a couple of tonnes of clay in there! Which is handy as I want to build a straw bale cottage there in the years to come.

So here I am, cutting with chainsaw and chopping with axe, almost a hundred years of history to warm a new generation. Marvelling at the giant hand carved dove tail joints that held the old house together, it seems a shame to burn it somehow.

But burn it does and it burns wells, too well in fact as the old dry timbers are a honeycomb of wood worm burrows and rot that has set in over the years. I just hope that it lasts us the rest of the winter as I’m not sure what to burn next…um maybe this bit of old furniture in the basement!

No time like the present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beetle mania and mud flinging ticks the box

Yes I’m still here, although if you had asked me the same question this time last week I may have provided a different answer. Yet again I fell into the bimber trap (Polish moonshine) at yet another neighbours barbeque; we are still the novelty guests in the village and after turning down an invite a few weeks ago we could not say no a second time. As you may have gathered saying no isn’t that easy for me and the resulting grill left me in no fit state to type, drive, walk or talk that much on Sunday; my usual catch up day. A family member’s names day on Sunday afternoon sealed my fate, as I was plied with more vodka and bimber, in the end I was having trouble catching up with myself never mind the blog!

But at last, Sunday has come round again and after an early start to the day (6am) we have managed to walk the dogs, pick a bucket full of cherries for Gosias family, driven out to Rzeszow to exchange some faulty door handles that we purchased last week and made it back to Rzemien for Sunday lunch. On the way here we noticed that a number of people at the side of the forest road selling bilberries, so I can feel a trip is on the cards later in the day; although I’m hoping I can get out of that one as the mosquitoes are thick in the woods. Bilberries taste so much better when picked by someone else J

There you go, rambling on, I better try and catch up, although I’ll try and make it brief, like my notes 🙂

Monday 3rd June: My first tick! Now you may find this is odd but it is a big moment for me as I thought that Polish ticks didn’t like Yorkshire blood, as I have until now, never had a tick. Ticks in Poland can be dangerous and if one latches on it is possible to contract Tick-borne Encephalitis . Gosia soon removed it from my neck with a pinch of the tweezers!

An article I did find that may be of interest regarding ticks and preventing them, although I haven’t tried this yet, its worth a read. https://organicdailypost.com/7-ways-make-yard-hostile-ticks/

I started my first batch of Elderflower beer; recipe to follow.

Tuesday 4th June: The rain keeps coming down and the trenches that I pumped dry of water yesterday are full again; a little disheartening. The weather is so odd at the moment, 23°C and sunny then thunder storms with hail; hail so big that roof tiles are reported as smashed and a friend’s car is dented; mind you it was a Fiat 🙂

Still plenty of work going on in the house, forming the windows and stuffing the gaps and quite a bit of mud flinging; or clay slip to be more accurate.

Wednesday 5th June: My daily mushroom hunt whilst walking the dogs in the morning is paying off, most days I come back with one or two; today I found the Daddy and we had a splendid breakfast of scrambled eggs with mushrooms.

Big daddy
Enough for breakfast for two, with 6 eggs 🙂
Chopped and ready to fry
Chopped and ready to fry

Thursday 6th June: Rain, sun, sun, rain; working between the house and outside on the veg when we get a dry spell; we are now checking for potato beetles every other day. Initially we must have picked a good couple of hundred, but the numbers seem to be reducing, no sign of lave yet which is promising.

Paul, Ringo, George and John
Not much screaming in the crowds, just the snap crackle and pop of drowning beetles (once I added water!)

Friday 7th June: All downstairs windows are now complete, all formed and covered in a thick layer of clay slip; this should provide a good strong base for the next coat once it has dried.

Saturday 8th June: One final push to finish weeding the potatoes, we are joined by Kazek, Kasha and Pawel from next door as they tackled there own patch of spuds; so banter and a few beers fly between the fields. Word must have got out in the village that we were working in adjacent fields as Gosia received a call from another neighbour on Pawels phone; the fated invite to the BBQ. Spuds cleared of weeds by 7pm, tin bathed and out for 8.30pm, home way past midnight.

Monday 10th June: Allowed to drive again! The weather seems to be improving so I pumped out the trenches again and got cracking with the waste pipe out of the house. As we are only getting rid of grey water, sink, bath, shower, washing machine etc. then all the pipe is 50mm, this saves quite a bit of money and it fits together nice and easy. Pipes in, trenches filled, job done.

We noticed that the straw and clay above the windows is sagging a little under the weight of the wet clay so we added a few props to take the pressure off; I reckon on another week at least before they have set.

Window support
Window support
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At least a week to set and then we will see if this worked.

Tuesday 11th June: The old cherry tree is at last giving up it’s fruit, the event is normally marked by the arrival of the ever squawking jays as they top feed off the tree, but as yet I haven’t heard them.  My new dog walking route is set to go pat the tree so I can grab a feed every morning 🙂

As ever though there has to be a balance to this new bounty and this is marked with the arrival of the horse flies, or bonk as they are called in Poland. We are fortunate that we only occasionally get mosquitos around the land, but the horse flies certainly make up for is during the day and they often draw blood if your not quick enough with your slapping hand.

News comes through that a friend of ours, who has always said he would help with the building of the terrace, will be here later in the week. Suddenly kicked into gear with the news I start to dig the post foundations.

Wednesday 12th June: The weather has at last returned to its normal self and our mood is improving; just as well as the post foundations are over a meter deep through hard clay and my enthusiasm is tested; luckily there are only ten to dig!

Took some time to sort out the wood for the terrace, we have borrowed a plainer thicknesser to plain the wood for the construction; so trying to get things in some kind of order.

Thursday 13th June: More of the same with some weeding thrown in for good measure. Life is good and we are starting to reap the rewards for all our work in the garden. Not a day goes by without the consumption of one of our crops; strawberries have been a daily desert for almost two weeks now and every meal is served with a salad of spring onions, lettuce, radish and any number of fresh herbs.

Friday 14th June: On with the terrace, or at least marking out and marking up; we are planning to rest the upright posts on pins set in concrete from the ground, a little more elegant than the metal shoes that you often see. One friend has welded some rebar to 12 mm threaded bar to provide a more solid fix in the concrete and Gosias uncle is cutting some steel plate for the bottom of the posts; I have to admire the way that the problems are solved in Poland, the land of invention 🙂

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All pins in a row

Saturday 15th June: One cement, two sand, three gravel; or should I say half a bag of cement, four shovels of sand and six shovels of gravel per load. Roughly two and a half loads per hole and we had the job done by lunch time, a job well done; I even managed to get some foundations down for the second composting toilet I’m building. And whilst all this was going on Gosia was busy getting to grips with the plainer and the smoothed wood was piling up. I’m looking forward to Monday and the start of the framing.

Early May

Ok, I’m trying out my new idea for the format of my posts to see if it works; it will also give me an opportunity to catch up on events, if not for you then for me. And if you are wondering how I have found the time to type this then it’s down to the weather and administration; the weather has turned wet and Gosia is in town ticking boxes for those nice people at the EU donations office. I don’t have long, so I better work quick!

A couple of things from April first, things that need to be recorded; the wild plumb tree came into flower on the 26th of April, the sweet cherry, sloe berry and plumb not far behind on the 29th. Apple, pear and quince just starting; looking over the valley you can spot all the fruit trees in flower indicating a house, occupied or indeed derelict. One worrying thing seems to be the lack of bees, I have only spotted bumbles so far; Gosia recalls a lot more buzzing last year, I guess the proof will be in the crop as it is highly dependant on pollination, although I not sure if this is exclusively from bees though?

The swallows are here at last, although they don’t seem to have taken up residence in the barn, not to worry; I know they must be nesting nearby as they are taking mud from the pit on the building site.

The coppiced trees seem to be doing very well, I’m getting about a 50% success rate with the silver birch and almost 100% with the willow. We have also had unintentional good luck with the elder which I cut two years ago to get rid of them; they have all coppiced and we now have an abundance of greenery soon to become flowers and berries!

Wild plumSweet cherry treeBlossom across the valley

5th, 6th of May: Looking at the 10 day weather forecast we convinced ourselves that we should be frost free from now on so we headed for the garden and top field; I think we also needed a bit of a break from the house. 45 or so pumpkins in along with maybe 20 butternut squash. These were joined by about 20 courgette and 20 sweet corn on the 10th. I will check for damage later today when we return, I think we are tempting fate by not putting up the electric fence.

As the dandelions are up I had a quick wiz round with the mower before they set seed; a job that will have to be repeated more often than I have my hair cut 🙂

I heard the first cuckoo of the year and the oats that we cast are starting to sprout, giving the top field a new look of dappled green. Also noticed the Lilac tree flowering and the odd sight of horse radish in flower, which I had never noticed before. We have lots growing around the land and we are careful to avoid them when strimming as they are a key ingredient in many pickles and preserves.

LilacHorse radish in flower

7th of May: Good news, bad news; the electricity was finally connected without drama or tripping fuses, I’m all set to tackle the rest of the house now. Bad news, the plaster around the windows is cracking. A combination of vibration from the opening and closing of the windows and our poor attempt at getting lime render to try and stick to wood and expanding foam; the fiberglass mesh we used to help the process has failed to perform as we had hoped. The rest of the day was spent chipping off any loose render so that we could have another try. I guess we were lucky that we hadn’t started to take down the scaffold!

8th of May: We have been thinking about getting another dog and Gosia has looked at quite a few dog rescue websites to find a suitable playmate for Jackie (not quite true as Jackie doesn’t like other dogs) but you never know. Gosia finally found what can only be described as a Springer, Setter cross’; Zara. We headed off  first thing in the morning and she was part of the family by noon.

Zara

We think we have a solution for the window surrounds; the render that is used for the polystyrene insulation is quite flexible, so we have decided to give it a go. First coat completed by the end of the day, ready for a second tomorrow.

9th and 10th of May: Whilst the new render solution isn’t ideal in that it’s not a natural product, it does seem to be doing the job. second and third coats applied as required, then sanded down to blend in with the lime surround.

New render around windows
New render around windows

Jackie fell off the top level of scaffolding! All I heard was the thud as she landed on the bottom level, about 4 meters below and Gosia shouting for me to get there asap. I ran round the building shouting to try and find Jackie’s location, heart beating fast and a sense of dread; but of course I couldn’t find the black lifeless shape of a dog anywhere, she had already dusted herself off and was heading back up the scaffold! A heart stopping moment and a ban on dogs on scaffold has now been imposed.

Spider dog

And just in case you are worried about an overflow, I emptied the composting toilet, although this was in no way related to the events of Jackie falling off the scaffold:)

11th of May: Final sanding down of render and painting with a primer so that the lime wash will take, a good tidy up, a weed around the various plots of land and eviction notices left for the few mice that seem to think that our house is available for occupation. Chicken soup tomorrow and I’m looking forward to it.

Monday 13th of May: Catching up with the blog 🙂 Hope to read a few before we head off later today.

Dam busters and builders

One of the first things I did on my return to Poland was take Jackie for a walk and check out the beavers, or should I say the beaver evidence; having never seen one yet.

Beaver Avenue, as I like to think of it, has been cleared by man and chainsaw and little of the autumns industry remains; just lots of flattened stumps.

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Further afield, where I first reported on the beaver activity last year, only a few sticks remain to suggest these large rodents had worked so hard last year; Man 2 Beavers 0.

But then today, taking a different approach to the most prolific tree felling area that I have come across yet, I started to see the evidence of a building project. First of all I noticed that one of the irrigation ditches had started to dry up, whilst those around seemed to have a good level of water, so following the ditch  for another five hundred meters I discovered the blockage; a well formed damn and close by, the possible remains of a lodge.

From what I have read most beaver activity goes on in the autumn in preparation for winter; the summer months are spent roving, so I’m wondering is this is a new or old structure? I had never noticed it before even though I have walked this path a few times.

As you can see the water is backing up nicely and if the dam was any higher then the surrounding fields would be water logged; clever beaver engineering or just coincidence that the height is set as it is?

A little bit of bread but no cheese

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

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

Home sweet home
Home sweet home

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

Get that fire buring
Get that fire buring

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

Clearing the brambles
Clearing the brambles

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

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

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

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

It’s good to be back 🙂

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.

 

Planes, trains, automobiles, bikes and a bus

A lift from Hawes to Skipton, a bus from Skipton to Crosshills, a lift from Crosshills to Cowling, a lift from Cowling to Manchester, a plane from Manchester to Amsterdam, a train to Beverwijk, a bike ride to Heemskerk, a bike ride back along with a train or two to Amsterdam, back on a plane to Kracow, a train to Debica and finally a lift back to Rzemien.

Thankfully all this traveling was broken up into bite size pieces, I say bite sized as food seemed to punctuate the gaps in my journey 🙂

My first treat was in Skipton and a Stanforths pork pie warm from the oven; memories of stopping for a two pie and a pint of milk breakfast on the way to work  came back to me with the taste of the molten gelatine. Eating a warm pork pie is an art in itself, especially if you don’t want to end up with greasy fingers and evidence of this guilty pleasure displayed down the front of your chest; the secret is to bite off a bit of the top crust creating an exit route for the juices to be drunk from, only once the liquid is cleared can you get down to the serious business of devouring the pies contents,  but I was taught this lesson well as Stanfords was the first pit stop of the day on our way to site with my mentors as I trained as an electrician at the tender age of sixteen.  It’s a career that didn’t last, as the government sponsored Youth Training Scheme stopped funding after twelve months, and I guess I failed to impress my employers enough for them to start paying me a wage; however I have some great memories of that time, not just  how to eat pork pies 🙂 (job number one for thoses counting)

On to Cowling and my second sisters house, busy as ever with her dogs and her boarding kennel business, I was lucky enough to be treated to a Chinese take away; probably the first I’ve had in more than two years, possibly even longer, and I have to admit that it tasted good; too good if I’m honest! Although only a brief visit I enjoyed my time in Cowling; I had made the journey over a few times in the last couple of months but the distance between my siblings made it hard work to spread myself about. We did manage to fit in one evening when we were all together, the first time for a long time, and I hope I have convinced them to come down in the summer months to see a bit of Poland.

Arriving in Amsterdam, I was quick to buy my train ticket and jump on; research on the internet armed me with enough information to make it look like I knew what I was doing; except for when I had to ask where track number 7 was, of course I was standing next to the sign with a big 7 and an arrow pointing down as I asked the question! This journey left me in Beverwijk and I was met with the lovely smiling face of Gosia; the timing could not have been better as she had just finished work as I arrived and we chatted, giggled and acted like teenagers as we took the short walk to her flat. I say her flat, in fact it is shared with nine other Polish women who were all eager to meet me, I think I was quite a novelty; not only was I male I was also English! The meet and greet soon turned into an open invitation for food and as it was Easter the girls had come together as a group and prepared a true feast of Polish delights. In fact the variety of dishes became our food for the next three days as we where successively invited back for the remaining meals of my short stay.

The hotel I had booked in Heemskerk was about a fifteen minute cycle, just as well as it helped to burn off some of the excess, and we headed off there in the evenings to indulge ourselves in the luxury of the full length bath, large double bed and thermostatically controlled heating!

After cycling back for breakfast the next morning we took a short walk to the covered Turkish market; on entering you are immediately hit by the eastern music competing for business along with the stall holders, and you could easily be swept away into a dream that you had just entered a market in Turkey. You could literally buy anything, from toothpaste to a tagine, record players to rugs, but for me the most impressive vendors where those selling spices. Piled high with low prices, full of colour, scent and all fronted by enthusiastic stall holders inviting you to buy from them in several languages until they spotted some recognition in your face and honed in for the sell.

As we were in the Amsterdam area we had arranged to pop in and see some friends who live there; a Polish- English couple but the other way around; i.e. he is Polish and she is English. They have lived in Amsterdam for over fifteen years and they are also renovating a house in Poland, about half an hours drive from where we are building our house; we were introduced last year and we have become good friends. A brunch of pancakes with various toppings set us up for a walk through the park and onto the city centre, after a quick tour of the studio they run and some of the community projects they are involved in. We are looking forward to seeing them again in May when they will be back in Poland.

The trip back to Poland was almost scuppered as the plane was delayed by two hours, then four and finally six hours! Thankfully someone in the accounts office must have done the sums on how much compensation they were going to have to pay out and a standby plane was wheeled out of the hanger and they delay was reduced back to two hours; just long enough for me to spend the free lunch voucher that was dished out for the inconvenience.

My train journey from Krakow to Debica was not without event, but I think I’ll pop that in my next post; an open letter to the Minister for Tourism in Poland 🙂

And finally, before this post gets far too long; Gosia jumped on a coach about six hours after I left and arrived back home the next day, her career in dissecting orchids was cut short due to a misunderstanding with the management! Hooray 🙂

 

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…….

Blogging: real-time education.

I occasionally search for other blogs with a similar subject matter to my own and I was rewarded in the last couple of days when I found http://vibrantenergies.wordpress.com/ an inspiring site for anyone who has an interest in straw bale construction. The detail provided expands upon my own write up of our straw bale house and the I have nothing but admiration for the team as they have built without plans and no real assistance from outside contractors; a true inspiration.

As anyone who reads my blog you will know, I tend to go beyond the subject of straw bale and as our future plans include the running of a self sufficient small holding, with bed and breakfast on the side, my search for relevant blogs stretches far and wide.

One site that has really caught my eye is the great Sugar Mountain farm, the livestock farming methods described are fascinating and I would love to go down the route of pasture pigs (sheep and chickens) as it will reduce our reliance on commercial feed; something that we would like to avoid altogether. The detailed information provided on the methods used and the reassurance that they have to deal with very similar climate conditions to those that we experience in Poland has convinced me that this will be a route that we take once we have completed the house. It will certainly raise the eyebrows of the local farmers who still marvel at the fact that we kept our sheep outside last year, never mind pigs!

As you would imagine there are a number of blog sites dedicated to running smallholdings and crofts, growing crops, animal husbandry and self sufficiency in general; many of which I subscribe to. In doing so I have access to so much valuable information that is written from experience rather than the prescribed methods set down in the many text books on the subject; and for me this a great example of the power of the blog. Of course this is in turn powered by the internet, but as we all know the internet in itself can be very confusing and provide conflicting and somtimes out of date information; what the blog format brings is real-time information from real people and as a rule you can get in touch with the author and ask them questions. I cannot think of a better format to educate oneself in your subject of interest and expand your knowledge further as you are drawn to the comments of others and invariably follow the links to the commentators own blog. My understanding and growing interest in permaculture has evolved as I have followed the route above and an honourable mention has to go to Deano at the sustainable smallholding; he provides detailed guidence as he journeys through his permaculture diploma. His dedication, enthusiasm, willingness to try something new to satisfy his own curiosity and the fact that he has spent the time to share his experience make this a must read if you want to explore the subject further.

It is also good to see that many bloggers decide to go that extra mile and I was pleased to see that Under the Linden Tree is involved in the creation of the Sanctuary Network, although it is still in its infancy I hope that its membership and ethos can spread far and wide; why not sign up and join in, the more the merrier 🙂

There are of course many other blogs which I follow and read, often making my laugh, cry, cringe or contemplate; I have listed a few of my favourites in a previous post so make yourself a brew and take a look, you may be surprised on what is on offer.

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.