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Monday, 8 February 2016

My grand plan revealed, and will someone please tell spring to slow down?

I've never been a spendthrift - I was brought up to save money "for a rainy day" or "for my old age". Credit cards were only to be used when you could afford to pay them off at the end of the month. I've had the odd splurge here and there; who hasn't, but I was always fearful of the thought of being broke in my old age and only having a tiny pension to try to live off. K on the other hand was a bit of a spender when I first met him, but over the years I have got that under control ;-) although I do sometimes question his spending! He'll be reading this so I can't say too much!

However things have changed. Around the time that my chemo was ending my elderly uncle suddenly died (peacefully and painlessly) and I learned that some money was coming my way. Now in recent years we have been noticing motorhomes more and more on our travels and thinking that would be a rather useful way to holiday. We have always had touring types of holidays together and as we take everything but the kitchen sink with us (picnic gear, travel kettle, lots of books - bird ID, where to go to find said birds and guide books etc etc, not to mention photography equipment) it has been a tiring pain in the you know what with all the loading and unloading of the car at hotels and motels. OK buying a motorhome for the occasional holiday is very expensive but the idea of being able to take off for a couple of days here and there and exploring more of our local patch i.e. Brittany and the other regions around us, particularly out of the holiday season here, sounds divine. And so it was that I announced that I was going to buy a motorhome out of the money I was getting from my Uncle (reasoning that K couldn't complain cos it was my money!). I have been researching the subject for months - however there were two problems. We couldn't keep the van at home due to our steep sloping drive (and nowhere to park it anyway), and even if we found somewhere to keep it there was the small matter of the chickens and cats. Now this was a part of the reason for thinking about moving house because we could have found somewhere with large enough hard standing/parking and we wouldn't have carried on keeping poultry.

Those who read my post a few weeks back know that we decided to stay here after all and that decision was made partly after having a chat with our English neighbours about ways we could help each other out when we (each) went away. For us we will always get in housesitters when we are away for a couple of weeks, but it's the 1-3 nighters that we would like to do regularly that would have been the problem. My lovely neighbour has said she is happy to pop round and see to the chickens (and cats) as she rather likes them and that it is no problem (and if you are reading this there will be plenty of free eggs coming your way!). We also need a place to park the van the night before setting off somewhere - we can park outside our gates for loading and unloading but it's a bit big to leave there overnight so they don't mind us parking it in their flat parking area then.

And so we went shopping. By this time my OH was starting to get cold feet because of the cost, which isn't helped by the fact that there are lots of optional extras which all cost loads more money - the cheeky manufacturers charge huge amounts for certain things, many of which you can get yourself elsewhere (like TVs!) for a fraction of the cost. But many things need to be fitted into or onto the van and some of those things need to be done in the factory whilst the van is being built, although some can be done afterwards by the dealer if they have a workshop.

Finding a van to suit two tall people especially one who is 195cm tall when some of the vans have a ceiling height of just that isn't easy. But those with a height of 198cm turned out to be fine. So we looked at various models including the 'gin palace on wheels' (his words) which I really, really liked but was 'rather' expensive. Finally the lady showing us around took us inside to show us a van which was on special offer as it was last year's model, and they were trying to sell it to make space for this year's new models. It was perfect for us and had quite a hefty discount and even without that was actually cheaper than the ones I'd been looking at originally, but I had discounted that range because the website wrongly stated that the ceiling height was 195cms! K was happier seeing the price of this one and so we went back for him to test drive it and to look at it again and make our decision. He was happy with it, the seats are comfy, the beds (it's a twin bed model so no climbing over the other one to get to the loo in the middle of the night) are really comfy and long enough, it has a great big garage area in the back to fit tables, chairs, BBQ etc and loads of storage space inside. Plus the payload is high enough so we should be able to carry all those items without worrying about being overloaded. So we have siged on the dotted line, have ordered some extras that can be fitted in their workshop like a sun awning and we'll pick it up at the end of the month.

We were also dead lucky as we found a lock up garage to keep it in only 20 mins away at a place where people can keep their caravans, motorhomes, boats etc under cover when they can't keep these large vehicles at home. We got the only garage free out of 87 of them!! So that's sorted then.

I know I waffle a lot but I find it difficult to say things in few words but if you will bear with me just a little bit longer I wanted to also explain just WHY I decided to throw caution to the wind and splurge on such an expensive item. Yes I know it will devalue as soon as we buy it (although being a 2015 model possibly less so than a 2016 model?); we also have to pay for insurance, the garaging, the cost of kitting it out (but that's mostly a one off) and as we won't be touring for weeks on end regularly or setting off to the sun in Spain for 3 months during winter we won't be really getting our money's worth out of it that way. (That's mostly due to having cats). 

It's because of having had a brush with death - it makes you look at life in a different light. I want to live for and enjoy NOW. The worst thing in the world that could happen would be if my cancer were to return and all I had done in the intervening years was the same old same old. So I don't care about the money, I don't care if this costs us loads in running costs or if we lose money over it. I don't care about saving for my old age right now. I just want to have some fun and get to GO places after more than 18 months of being mostly stuck at home.* And I feel that with a camping car it's a bit more suited to being less than fit. We can park up, go for a walk then come back, have somewhere comfy to sit and put the kettle on. Then drive off to explore other new places. And camping is a whole new world for me and will be fun and different, albeit in a slightly more comfortable way than the average 'camping'. My only experience is a two man tent sleeping on hard ground in the Australian outback in winter, absolutely freezing because I hadn't realised that the desert would be hot during the day and really cold at night! And I've slept in a static caravan on holiday when I was about 10 which was full of spiders which absolutely terrified me.... I've changed a lot, haven't I? Hahaha! 

* K does feel the same way - this is not me being entirely selfish. At least I hope not.   

The following is a photo from the Burstner website of the kitchen - it will take some getting used to preparing meals in such a small space with so little work surface! Of course the vans are somewhat smaller inside than the glossy website photos would have you believe.

In other news we have finished lopping off branches and raising the canopy on some of the trees to let in more light, or to generally get past without having to duck.

Here we were removing some branches as my little Liquidambar was starting to
reach over towards the light a bit - it's the tree on the right.

Spring is happening much too early and I had my first daffodils starting to open at the beginning of the month which is about a month earlier than what I'd consider the average here. But most strange is my rhododendron starting to flower! I've checked back over several other years' photos and it is definitely April when it blooms normally.

There are more flowers out on it now than when I took this photo last week!

Small flowered narcissus.

More daffies/narcissus.

Pulmonaria, which does flower early.


And of last year's flowers....
the Calendulas are still alive and starting to flower again
although this specimen looks a bit soggy!

There are many more buds waiting to open up on the plant.

Hallie caught asleep with my phone camera.

Harry was asleep with his leg sticking out like this
but I woke him without meaning to so he gave me a filthy look....

...then tucked his leg in and went back to sleep again.
Suffice to say these baskets are in front of the wood burner!

That's it for now - blogging may be intermittent due to many things needing doing re both kitting out the new motorhome and tons more research, so that we don't look like complete and utter idiots when we first get the show on the road. :-)

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Caturday extravaganza

It's #caturday in the social networking world, and I've been collecting kitty photos to share for a while. So now is as good as any to post them. Sit down, get yourself a nice cup of tea as there are lots of photos. But not much text so breath a huge sigh of relief! :-)

Harry looking quite normal for a change.

Manic tree hugging again.

He loves climbing trees but actually isn't very good at it!

Bertie doesn't pose very often and is less loony outside than his brother.
But makes up for it indoors

"I love you, Mummy".

And then the moment was over.

Harry spilling out of the small basket.

He can just about fit in it.

He looks, and is, angelic when he is asleep.

Some blurred shots are worth keeping.

The boys up a tree together for a change.

Harry plots to kill.

"You daft bugger."

You may be wondering where the black cat is, well for one, they are notoriously difficult to photograph, and two, Miss Hallie rules the roost and doesn't deign to have her photo taken like ordinary, common cats. It's only on her terms.

"I ordered tea 10 minutes ago, now where is it?"

"OK I'll give you 5 secs to take a photo of me, then......"


Occasionally I can sneak up and zoom in without her noticing.

She wouldn't be seen dead mucking about the way Harry does.


New technology, old technology.

And Harry.

Sitting around became too tiring so he lay down for a nap.

Bertie oblivious to the fact that the blankies had slid off the back of the chair with him on them.

A phone shot, using flash, but it didn't come out very well.
What I saw when I woke up a couple of mornings ago!

I'm going to get killed for posting this next one!! My Cybershot made a good job of it - what I saw when I got up for a pee in the middle of the night!

Not a one of them woke up!

Happy Caturday! xx

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Who lives in a house like this? and Mandy has a new toy.....

Buggy things first as there are not too many of them at this time of year. My OH brought this in for me to have a look at. He found it on an old plastic chopping board which was out in the barn around his work bench. I don't know who might have made it, but I'm guessing a solitary wasp? Any ideas? It's about 2cm wide, and I was very pleased that my new toy made a good show of photographing it.....

Yup I've joined the 21st century and changed my ancient but very cute clamshell mobile phone, which was from before the days of even cameras on phones, for a smartphone! Talk about shock to the system. Now I don't use mobiles much at all, and my real reason for wanting one was so that I could take snaps of things whilst out and about (not that I go out and about very much) and upload instantly to social media. Or take photos of the cats looking cute and share on facebook without having to get up off the sofa. And I was feeling really left out that I could not join Instagram just because I didn't have a smartphone. I still don't think that's fair, even though it seems like all the world and his dog have smartphones already, so there's nobody else but me feeling left out.

What was great about the deal I got was that it only cost me about €17 because we had so many supermarket fidelity points saved, that cashed in came to €150! So I don't feel guilty now for spending on something which isn't totally necessary.

I hadn't been in the mood for taking photos lately but I had to try this phone camera out, didn't I? It's so hard to use though - it has a fair few semi manual settings which can be used (it stays on f2.2) but it's hard to do all that with your finger when you are not used to it. And to tap on the screen to take the photo whilst trying to hold it steady, and point at the thing you want to shoot, and keep it in focus - my god, how do you guys do it? The image stabilisation must be great in this camera as it did a good job I reckon, as I was waving it about all over the place! I have edited some of these photos a little bit but mostly crops, contrast etc. It's not bad for an 8MP camera.  Oh and I discovered quite by accident that it even has a zoom. Good grief, modern technology is amazing!

Here you can see where I've been attacking the ivy at the base of the trees, and a black cat wanting to be in the picture.   

I was really surprised to see the Mirabelle plums already blooming a couple of weeks ago!! They are normally in blossom mid to late February.

I'm still in hack, slash and burn mode in the garden. I'm not out of the woods yet (hoho) and I don't have much desire to do many of the garden jobs that need doing, but I am happily going out in the afternoons, in most weather, to attack brambles and ivy. I'm sure a therapist would have a field day with that, but it all needs doing anyway and it's better than staying indoors doing nothing. I tried taking a photo of them both, plus whippy saplings, but they don't show up much. This is just the other side of the 'beach' area of the pond but you can't see it from here, because of the undergrowth.

I am enjoying liberating tree bark, however if it is not covered in ivy it is covered in lichen! :-)

Guess what's finally finished flowering? Yup those nasturtiums are going into the compost bins now - yet the calendula and borage are still alive, albeit the frost killed off their flowers. The plant that surprised me though is feverfew, as it doesn't seem to have been phased by the frosts at all and the flowers don't look any different.

Also wanting to flower in the jungle is a self seeded PSB! That'll be eaten soon.

I had to show you Keith's carrots. Because he is a bit heavy handed when sowing seeds (well he has big hands) and they didn't get thinned much, they have come out all sizes as they were growing so close together. It makes it more fun when digging them up though. There is a bit of root fly damage now but not too much.

Up against the house wall here is the new heuchera bed which was all I had the energy to deal with in the autumn. It's the bit with all the snowdrops in it. We pruned back the huge old yucca and I dug out tons of weeds and replanted loads of snowdrops and some early narcissus bulbs in betweeen the new heucheras. Two of the heucheras have even sent up flower stems which is just more of the odd weather craziness! Piles of snow dumped on parts of the USA whilst Rennes airport recorded almost 17C/62.6F the other day. Mad. But I'll take this over the snow.  

The other bed is a work in progress as it had been taken over by creeping things, both weeds and 'real' plants. I have a couple of new purple heucheras to go in there along with other things which will be replanted.

The hedge guy has been and I wonder if he noticed my asparagus bed..... luckily there are none shooting yet, because it certainly needs some tlc.

Harry wanted to help...

Just a pic to show how the ivy has spread even up the house end of the garden.

Oh and Bertie wanted to have his pic taken (he didn't really, he was busy grooming himself, but I got lucky and snapped at just the right moment when he looked up as I called him).

There is no hope for me now! :-)

If any of you are on Instagram you can find me there, follow me and I'll follow you back, although I've only posted two photos so far, so my home page or whatever you call it doesn't look very interesting. Yet.....