Good Intentions vs. The Reality Of 24-Hour Days

It all started as it should, with good intentions. I knew that Darling-Chéri would be away all day on Saturday and thought this would be a great time to tackle more of the tasks on the never-ending all-time list of things we have to do. During the week, I started to draw another list: that of the things I would do on Saturday: the fact that both lists more or less matched should have been an indicator that I wouldn’t be able to do it all. But somehow it wasn’t. So come Saturday, I’m ready. It’s sunny, we’re up early (well, for us 9am is early at the week-end) and I can’t wait to get started.

It’s all there:
– Go to the Post Office to pick up a letter that was sent to me 2 weeks ago. I only have one day left now, so time to go.
– Go to a DYI store to buy gardening gloves, a wallpaper stripper, paint for our bedroom and for the bathroom, blinds and furniture for the bathroom, as well as look at lawnmowers, barbecues and garden furniture. And find some mint seeds. And a new tree support for the peach tree. And possibly a new outdoors rotary clothes dryer.
– Pop to the butchers to get some mince for the moussaka I’ve been meaning to cook for 10 days
– Stare at my seedlings trays in the hope this will force things to grow.
– Strip the lining paper in our bedroom
– Plant the mint seeds, change the tree support, pluck everything out of the raised flowerbed, remove the old solar lamps that don’t work.
– Finally manage to film the very confused bird that’s been fighting its own reflection in the mirror that’s set up in the garden
– Remove the ugly marble stand at the back and pluck all the weeds around there
– Check out the old rotary clothes airer to see if it needs replacement.
– Trim the hedge that’s already going a bit wild
– Make the abovementioned moussaka
– Watch Eat, Pray, Love (yes, that’s part of the to-do list!)
– Cook the courgette and goat’s cheese soup I also forgot to cook last week-end
– Do some more laundry
– Sugarsoap the walls in the second bedroom

Why I thought I could fit all of that in a week-end, let alone one day is slightly beyond me in hindsight. But for about 2 hours on Saturday, I thought I could handle it. I felt like Wonder Woman. Shades on, windows down, music shaking the car… I was off to the Post Office. There was no queue, so I was in and out and quickly headed to the DIY store. For someone who always makes lists, I surprised myself by going there without one but to be fair I had been thinking about it for several days so it was more or less carved into my brain. I think I found most of what I really needed, picked up some stuff I hadn’t thought of, skipped the whole browsing thing and got back home in time to grab a bit of lunch before getting started.

I wanted to spend some time in the garden first as the weather was lovely. I did lots of the little tasks on the list (removing the marble stand, changing the tree support, swapping the solar lamps, staring at my seedlings…). Unfortunately I began to go off-piste attempting to trim the thuja that forms the secret passage to the garage. I discovered in the process that this tree attracts wasps, but I somehow managed to not scream my head off every time one was flying past me. Sadly, things never really went back on track after that.. I stared at the seedlings a bit more then moved to the front garden, got the hedge under control and picked a number of dead plants and nettles from the raised flowerbed.

After tidying everything up, I stared at the seedlings a bit longer (a watched pot never boils, I know) then I moved back indoors and crashed on the sofa to watch Eat, Pray, Love while waiting for Darling-Chéri. It turns out I am not Wonder Woman (there goes the dream down the gutter), so no butchers, no cooking, no stripping the lining paper, and no cleaning the walls in the second bedroom. And still no luck with that crazy bird, it seems to feel when I’m pointing at it with the camera, even from inside the house!

We did a bit more on Sunday but it’s safe to say we still have a fair amount of unfinished business! With my mother coming for her first visit in over two years at Easter, the pressure’s on so I guess we’ll start again next week-end, with another batch of good intentions! I’m already tired just thinking about it!

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A Game Of Chess With Mother Nature

Patience is a virtue. Not one I’m very comfortable with, I’m afraid, but as a budding gardener, I’m having to learn anyway.

About 3 months ago we moved into our new house. After tending to my mother-in-laws garden for a couple of years, finally, I get my own! A garden where I can decide what goes in, and where it will go. No one to tell me what to do, plant or move things while I’m away. Well, not quite: moving into this new house, with this lovely garden, I am facing a harsh lesson in patience: I have just stepped into somebody else’s game of chess with Mother Nature. I walked in with my game plan, sure, but what’s on the board right now looks nothing like what I need to roll out my strategy: the previous owners certainly loved their garden, and it was put together very thoughtfully, with a little lawn, a pond, a terraced sun-trap with a pergola, and a couple of secret pathways at the back. Interestingly though, not many plants are, well, planted. Most of the garden is in pots. 53 pots to be precise, and as many plants that may or may not grow, that I may or may not be able to identify, that I may or may not want to keep. And that’s the problem: I could just hire a skip, clear the lot, and start with a blank canvas, roll out my ideas and get it over and done with. But what if, in one of those pots, lies a really beautiful flower that I would obviously keep if I knew it was there.

So here I am, sitting at the table, across from Mother Nature, waiting for her to make a move. As spring finally knocks on the door, we resume a game that was abandoned by somebody else a while back. I have to somehow adapt and enforce my plan (complete with the clematis, nerium oleander, fig tree, lavender, strawberries and all the other plants I had in mind) within a frame that was decided long before I sat there. Mother Nature plays a daffodil in a corner; I start removing a dead tree stump in what will be the herbs and strawberries patch. Buds appear on what looks like a cherry tree – bingo! I wanted one of those. Dozens of hyacinths show off rich bunches of leaves but fail to bloom; I’ll have to take them all out. As for that beautiful pink-flowering shrub, I have no idea what it is but I’m keeping it too. I plant three pots of tulip bulbs I had forgotten and wait for Mother Nature’s next move. For all I know, this game could last the best part of the next two years, as we slowly live through a whole cycle and discover what this garden has to offer.

Now I have to stay focused and avoid losing sight of what I want. Luckily, there is loads to do to prepare – getting my chessmen in place, I guess. I have sowed my new seeds in the greenhouse. I have also begun clearing the clutter of broken pots, empty compost bags, rusty tools and lose tiles and bricks that add to the unnecessary visual noise that overwhelms you when you look outside. Soon enough (i.e. as soon as I have bought gardening gloves) I will start weeding and cutting back some of the shrubs and trees that look like they just want to take over. Darling-Chéri will have to get started with the lawn-mower and probably help me dig out that reluctant tree stump. We’ll get to grips with the pond’s old-school complicated filter and pump system and maybe even replace it. We’ll also tackle the front garden, where more dead tree stumps very leafy non-flowering bulbs and invading weeds need to be taken care of.

So that’s the new plan – now let’s see how quickly I lose patience and decide to start doing everything at the same time in one go!

By the way, if anyone can help identify the flowers and plants in the pictures, I’d be most grateful!!

One Last Soup Before The End Of Winter

It’s nearly the end of Winter! Quick one last soup before it gets too warm! Although to be fair there probably is another 2 or 3 months before we really feel a difference in the temperatures! Both Darling-Chéri and myself have been feeling a bit under the weather recently, so the idea of a light meal made of soup, a couple of toasts and some ham felt very appealing, saving our energy to curl up on the sofa while watching repeats of The Big Bang Theory.

I made an executive call on the soup flavour as I had bought some leek a week ago and we hadn’t manage to eat it. So Leek & Potato soup it would be. I scouted the web for a few recipes, picked ideas here and there, and here is what we ended up with:

For 4 people
Prep: 15 minutes
Cooking: 40 minutes

Ingredients:
500g leek
200g potato
2 shallots
1 chicken or vegetable cube
0.8L water
0.2L milk
20g butter
1 tsp ground nutmeg
Salt, pepper
Crème fraiche

Instructions:
Peel and wash the leeks and potatoes
Cut Finely
Melt the butter in a large pan. Add the shallots and leek. Stir and cook for 10 minutes.
Add the potatoes, salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Stir, then add the water, milk and chicken cube.
Cook for another 30 minutes.

I really liked it as a broth but Darling-Chéri prefers it blended throughout with a spoonfull of crème fraiche for a smooth result. You can then decorate with a dusting of ground nutmeg and serve with hot toasts or croutons!

Bon appétit!