Monday, October 24, 2016


Anyone who has ever experienced sleeplessness can verify it to be one life's most frustrating maladies. At least it's not painful...

At the moment the main culprit is Christmas! Now I know by many standards having nine people around the table is no big deal at all. I have friends who regularly share the yuletide season with as many as 25 or 30. I wouldn't even want to be a guest with so many family members -- not that there are 30 in my extended family -- but then I haven't ever counted!

Anyway, I'll wake up in the middle of the night and start making lists or planning menus. People start arriving on the 23rd and leave the 29th. Seven will be staying here -- two in a hotel. I think I'm getting a headache ...

And when it's not Christmas, it's my boys and their lives and hopes and so on. Not to mention then thoughts about visiting South Korea and Italy. Andrew in Italy is starting his own school teaching English -- oh my goodness Italian bureaucracy and new locations. Keeps a mother awake at night, I can tell you.

And there is my son at home who has just bought a Victorian house -- which he is in the process of gutting and renovating with the help of The Man. That is is one interesting dynamic -- the ideas of one versus the advice of the other! (My mouth kept shut...) The two of them are working on the fireplace, getting it ready for a word burning stove. Then after that there is the bathroom that has been gutted and the kitchen that has been gutted. Not to mention the worm ridden two by fours in the ceiling/floor above! Thoughts that run through my head in the middle of the night!

Finally, I still await the completion of the kitchen. And in the middle of the night I find that the cabinets start reorganizing themselves and I start to imagine throwing this paraphernalia out and wondering if I have chosen the right colour for the walls and before you know it I'm wondering what the hell I'm going to cook for Christmas. And then after everyone leaves -- what about New Year?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Light at the End of the Tunnel -- If not in the Cabinet!

The upper cupboards of the above cabinets were supposed to have been glazed. Apparently, the manufacturer does not do these particular cabinets glazed, because they are too large.  They claim that they sent an email when the order was placed, but not being suspicious at all, I suspect they just sent the non-glazed doors without explanation...There is a way to work around this by removing the centre panels from the present doors, routing the inside and fitting glass -- this would be done by our kitchen people.

We have decided that  we will only have the cabinet on the left glazed and will leave the one over the television as it is. I have had confirmation of this plan and await work to begin . Then all that is left is to choose the colour of the paint for the walls, which we hope will be a very pale shade of salmony apricot. Whew! What a palaver!

Friday, October 14, 2016


This side of the room was just right...

Several months ago I wrote a post about my plans for a new kitchen! The idea was that it had been planned with my son and the work would be done when The Man and I were in Portugal last February. My son agreed to be the project manager. For one good reason and another we had to delay the implementation of  the plan until we left for France in early August.

The kitchen is installed. There are a few glitches to be taken care of, but otherwise it looks great and will look even better in the not too distant future. But ...

I wish I had been here... on the one hand...

On the other hand, it was best The Man was not!

Instead of our usual 36 hour trek back to the North of England, The Man decided to take the overnight ferry from Caen to Plymouth. From Plymouth it is about 5 hours to get home. The drive from our house to Caen was 8 hours. We were not able to get a cabin and so had to sleep -- or in my case try to sleep -- in reclining chairs for the 6 hour sail across the channel. The Man slept like a log.

By the time we arrived home we were both exhausted.

We headed for the new kitchen -- it was more or less a tip.

The Man looked around, "It's rather stark."

I looked around noting first of all that cupboards that were supposed to have been glazed were not -- leading to a feeling of personal dismay. "You don't like it, do you?"

"No, I'm afraid I don't," came an equally stark reply. He made a cup of tea and went for a sleep.

Suddenly wide awake, I went to work cleaning and clearing up.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Time to Wind-up the Lot!

It's a lovely morning in the Lot today. On Friday we begin the long trek back to Southport and while I am ready for returning, still it's so pretty here and so pleasant that I don't exactly relish saying goodbye to summer.

There are few places, if any, in the world that could be described as prettier than the Lot. There may be places that are more majestic, with towering mountains and tremendous waterfalls -- but for just downright pretty I have yet to visit anywhere that can beat it here. Ranked 92nd in terms of population, this department has an impressive range of scenery -- from rugged, scrubby limestone plateaus to lush rolling countryside and dramatic limestone cliffs there is no place better to relax and unwind and to enjoy the best food. But it is definitely a place for outdoor living. winter is cold and wet and indoors.

And now I have procrastinated long enough, it's time to get on with packing up ... but first there is the matter of catching a few more rays of warm sunshine ...

Will try to ad pictures when I once again have an Internet connection that is not quite so slow!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

La Cuoca

Indeed! Thatsa me!! I brought my certificate to France as |I think the most suitable place for it is the kitchen wall here. But I still need to find a suitable frame for it. You will all be impressed to know that this feat was accomplished in  about 3 hours in the midst of Chianti-land. It was, in fact a great fun day with lots of laughter and lunch -- the result of our culinary efforts.

Our chef and teacher, Alan, was amusing and accomplished. We started the day with a visit to one of the local markets in Florence -- checking out the hams and the cheeses and the fruits and the vegetables. Wine and goodies were served at about  10 a.m. -- too early for most of us. My son and Alan hit the coffee bar soon afterward and I suspect they may have each had a Grappa to wash out the dregs in their cups...

Florence was a very hot and sticky city that day and I was pleased to find myself in an air-conditioned bus and on our way to the countryside and the place of the cooking school.  It was a very grand place. The winery was also a kind of museum explaining the history of chianti and the soil that produces this produces this particular variety. We were to eat surrounded by wooden barrels and a sense of the 'ages' enveloping us.

In the first part of the lesson we learned how to make a true bolognaise sauce and also a fresh tomato sauce made with very fresh cherry tomatoes. Alan made these two sauces and we had to make the pasta to accompany them. In addition we made our own dessert: tiramisu!

There were 14 students in all: 7 of us were in the same family; the remaining 7 were Americans. In fact of the whole group, only my son was British -- and he is American, too, by right of birth. During the lesson we sat at a counter with the appropriate ingredients we would need in front of us. I am not a bad cook and the making of pasta is particularly easy. |However, came apart at the first hurdle!

"It's only pasta" was Alan's mantra and he repeated it to me when I stumbled. The instructions were quite clear. Take the flour, mix the salt (tiny bit) and make a well in the centre. I did as I was told. We were then to break the egg into the center and stir it up adding flour a little at a time until you had a soft ball. But when I broke my egg into the centre it ran up and over the wall of flour I had not ensured was quite high enough -- and started to run towards the edge of the counter and , God forbid, the floor! As any right-minded student would do, I endeavoured to stop the flow by deluging the runaway egg with flour and mashing it back where it belonged into a soggy and unwieldy mess!

I was mortified, but no one else witnessed my dilemma because they were too busy getting it right! And then Alan came and quoted his delightful mantra into my ear; "It's only pasta"!

Eventually, I managed to roll out an acceptable piece of pasta dough and made the required ravioli stuffed with ricotta; and the tagliatelle from the bits on the side. Then all of our efforts were collected onto a huge communal platter and we off to learning how to make tiramisu. Not hitches there. I made my individual dessert with no difficulties. I remember absolutely nothing -- or almost nothing about how to make it. However, my son makes the best tiramisu I have ever had, so I figure wait for him to come home and then get him to make it!

Lesson over, it was time to make our way to the dining room to enjoy the fruits of our so- called labour! And very enjoyable it was, too...
The Graduates: The Broad, The Son, and The Sister!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

You Just Never Know What Will Happen Next!

So basking in my newly discovered method of connecting successfully to the Internet,  not to mention the late summer heat wave, I was very happy to be able to Skype with my eldest son in South Korea. This week brings their  celebration of  Thanksgiving,, Chuseok so he and the children have several days off for the celebrations. Which also means it is very convenient to Skype!

So there we were discussing the food he was planning to prepare and the guests he had invited when all of a sudden he got a very peculiar look on his face and said "We are having an earthquake". His wife I could hear in the background, and he jumped up and ordered everyone under the doorway. And |I sat here in France, having witnessed the room shake, looking at a blank screen and hearing their voices in the background.

In less than a minute he was back in front of the screen 'shaken but not stirred' explaining what the sensation had been like -- he said it started very slowly and suddenly the intensity of the shaking began to increase -- he said that was he most frightening aspect because he had no idea when it would stop intensifying. Heejung, soon had information that the earthquake had registered as 5.1 on the Richter scale. Earthquakes are very rare in South Korea, despite the fact it is so close to Japan, which is on the Rim of Fire. Until yesterday 5.5 was the most severe that had ever been recorded. Heejung suggested that perhaps the North had tested another device, but  son said their town was too far south to have felt any aftershocks if they had. We talked for a few more minutes and then he went off to inspect the building and any  damage that might have been incurred.

Later I received a message from him that there had been a second earthquake, this time measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale -- and the largest earthquake ever recorded in Korea. The epicenter of both events was not far from their city of Geongsan and was a place I had visited with my daughter-in-law almost two years ago.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Posting Post Brexit under the Shade of the Old Oak Tree

I could, of course, blame post Brexit blues. Which wouldn't be entirely false -- at least for a couple of days. At that point I was forced to leave for two weeks in Italy visiting my son, Andy, who lives about an hour north of Venice. A week later we were off to Florence for a week with my youngest sister and her two sons and their girlfriends. We all stayed in a beautiful old villa in the hills overlooking the city's Duomo. Idyllic, yes it was. It was also unbearably hot.

I will write more about my Italian adventures soon. Once back in the UK we had only a few weeks to organize our annual sojourn to France and also dismantle the kitchen for it's renovation. An anecdote to the kitchen is that I am so glad I am not there as is usual with these things it has not been straightforward -- nor was it ompleted in the promised two weeks!!! More about that later, too...

So here I sit in the French sunshine of September -- under the oak tree, with an mobile Internet connection enabling me to at long last do a bit more than download email and check the weather forecast. It is not perfect, but it is a vast improvement and better than having to beg Internet access from willing friends.

As for Brexit... No one quite believes it will actually ever happen and everyone is afraid that maybe it will. It has occurred to me and I have heard it compared to the 'phony war' of World War II. On the one hand -- please just get on with it -- and on the other maybe it won't happen after all. Personally, I feel pretty much 'doom and gloom'. Not particularly about Britain, as much as about the whole European Union and its future. Of course if I really want for 'Doom and Gloom' this coming November could Trump all of this into something far more alarming...

Best to lie back under the old oak tree listening to Classic FM , blissfully content and almost carefree...

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

It's Almost Over

I have found it very difficult to post lately because I find the 'goings on' in the world unpleasant to tolerate! At the moment life is dominated by the referendum and while I have definite opinions about whether Britain would be better in or out, I feel it may not be my place to say -- I am not a citizen and therefore, can not vote.

I have given up watching debates and politicians. I do have a question though that I didn't hear asked. Apparently, if Britain votes to leave the EU there is a two-year period in which to decide the terms 'of the divorce'! If, however, we need longer than two years, the 27 member states can vote to give an extension to the negotiations. It has been suggested by a European official that it could actually take seven years. All 27 countries would have to agree to this extension.

Which for me begs the question... If an extension is not granted what does that mean? End of negotiation, divorce final?

The campaign has been quite brutal. I think it brought out the worst in a lot of people -- most especially some of the politicians. Whatever the outcome, I hope some wisdom prevails. The BBC thought their debate was wonderful. I didn't watch, but the clips I saw later did not look wonderful to me.

The most sensible people were those interviewed who were not there ...

So far I haven't heard anything about Trump's impending arrival -- I rather watch coverage of the referendum, thank you very much!

Anyway, God bless you, UK and the force be with you!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

ABroad in Portugal: Exploring New Vistas

I loved this tiled courtyard in Ayamonte, Spain -- the down immediately across the border from Portugal. This was the first time we ventured outside of Portugal -- on a lovely sunny day. As there were no border controls it was just like going from one state to another in the U.S.  Except of course for the language difference and the fact that in Spain we were an hour ahead. Other than this courtyard and the harbour area, we did most of our exploring outside of Ayamonte in nearby seaside towns. There were lots and lots of very new, very impersonal apartment buildings aiming to tempt holidaymakers. All had similar faux Moorish facades, which left both The Man and me rather cold. An old seaside village, however, was very appealing as was the beach restaurant and the sound of the ocean in the distance

The above picture on the left is of SanLucar Guadiana, Spain, and to the right, Alcoutim, Portugal. Friends of ours from The Man's RAF days had retired to this picturesque Spanish town and we were curious to see it from the Portuguese side of the river. Two weeks later we visited our friends and a very pleasant time we had. Much of the life is dependent on using transportation to and from the two villages and along one river bank or the other. Our friends make a great deal of use of their motorized dinghy, either visiting their plot of gardening  land or crossing over for a night of carousing with like-minded ex-pats. I was particularly impressed by one woman named Jack who lived on her own on a boat in the middle of the river. Her mode of transportation was a canoe in which she had paddled solo, in the dark, to the venue -- with her instruments -- At the end of the night, in the wee hours she paddled back several kilometers to her boat. It was a fabulous evening with lots of laughing, good food and wine! Even if I did rather make a meal of getting in and out of the dinghy on the way across the river to Alcoutim. Fortunately, we saw the owner of the lone river taxi, which we booked for midnight and I didn't have to finagle my way back into the rubber dinghy to get back!

The morning after our night of carousing, we met again with some of the ex-pats from the night before. The Man is seated lower left and is chatting to a woman who has recently trekked to base camp at Mount Everest.  Personally, I can't imagine it! 

You can just about make out the bridge across the river which separates Spain from the Algarve in Portugal. From a distance the bridge looks impressive enough. But, in fact, it is really quite ordinary -- if not to me a little less than ordinary. I was quite disappointed to discover one night that the bridge is not in any way lit -- but very dark and ghost-like to me. And the roadway on the bridge itself is very bumpy and rough. It made me think that perhaps there were maintenance issues between the two countries...

One of my favourite days was our excursion to the southwestern most point of continental 
Europe, Cabo de Sao Vicente. Glorious sunshine and spectacular views. The spot is just outside of Sagres and we had a very pleasant lunch there in a very ordinary looking cafe by the harbour. There we met a couple from Germany, a Brit and a Canadian living in Britain. They were very interesting and talkative. The Germans had an interesting take on the influx of immigrants to Germany. At least it was a view I hadn't heard before. He said that Germany needed as many young immigrants as it could get since they have an aging population and no population growth. He said they need workers to help support the country and its future.

Well that is pretty much the Portuguese part of our February adventure. But still to come is our excursion to Spain and The Man revisiting The Rock after 35  years!

Friday, April 29, 2016

A Polite Letter of Request

Dear Winter,
Let’s get straight to the point. When are you leaving? You said you’d only stay from November until March and then you’d move on to the Southern Hemisphere. It’s now almost May and you’re still here. Don’t get me wrong it’s been fun! December or January would not be the same without you. However, everyone's a bit tired of your snow and cold temperatures, and if you don’t leave then Spring can’t move in and Spring is a bit concerned that they won’t have a place to stay before Summer arrives – if Summer arrives. So if you don’t terribly mind leaving… that would be good. You are of course welcome back in November but this time maybe don’t bring so much rain.
Yours sincerely,
The UK

By Catrin Hughes
Youngest son's partner