Saturday, October 15, 2016

Planting the lawn

When we bought this land, I would have never thought that we would have a hilly garden.

 It looked flat to me, so I was foreseeing an expanded straight forward lawn.
March 2015: The day the foundation was carried out, they dug out hills of soil. We posted on several sites to ask if someone needed our soil, but nobody was interested. 

July 2015: After spending 5000 euros damping the soil, we yielded. The remaining soil was spread out to form three levels. Gone was my imagination of a straight and even garden.

Aug 2015: I was given the task to loosen the soil and started planting some mustard. Frankly I was not motivated, I only did a very small part.

Mustard planted to fertilize the soil. Aelig spread all the seeds that were meant for 400m². It grew rampantly after.

For around one year, the garden was abandoned as we were overwhelmed with other tasks. Excepted a small area for our kitchen garden where hubby grew tomatoes, chilies, pumpkins, French beans, green beans, and raspberries. We started removing specific weeds that would be hard to unroot after, and most of the grass and weeds were finally cut off at the beginning of Oct 2016. We chose to not use pesticides to kill the weeds as we want the garden to remain chemical free.

The garden shape still didn't please us. Hubby decided to call back the builders to remove the extra soil that we didn't damp.

Three loads of truck, sent to a specific dumpster that we had to pay for.

The earthmover also helped loosen the soil, and scraped the weeds from the surface.

Hubby and my FIL started to prepare the soil. They sorted out the stones, the debris, roots with garden and landscape rakes.

 It involves a lot of work. Hubby had to use a wheelbarrow to transport stone, roots, debris, construction damps...

Since the soil was already broken down by the earthmover, we didn't rent a motorized cultivator to do the job. Instead, I used the garden folk to dig out stone and weeds buried under. It was so much easier to do after the earthmover did the preliminary job.

Roots, stone to filter and remove

It was a team work for the whole family

                                       The whole land has to look like this before seeding


                        Using a roller to compact the soil and to let the seeds remain in the soil

After 5 days of team work, the garden was finally looking good. It will look geogeous when the lawn growths, I hope!

PS : Some people used landscaping contractor to prepare their lawn, but it was very expensive. Our neighbore did it in one day, he invited a friend who was a landscape contractor, plus 3 other friends. 5 of them started at 8am, and they finished around 6pm. They had less tasks though as their land was flat whereas ours have a lot of slops to take care of.

After weeks of slaving in the garden

When we were building our house, I was so naive to think that having a lawn or growing something in our garden would involve only spreading seeds, watering and some maintenance. It seems that reality always wins over naivety. After the builders had spread back the soil they dug out previously for the foundation, I was told to use a garden folk to loosen the soil, remove roots, weed, stone. I had never done this before and there was a monster in my mind : as someone working mainly with computer, I do not wish to have to sweat in the garden while my blonde neighbor was dolled up in her dress, probably watching me slaving in the garden. It took me a while to overcome this thought, I managed to work on a small part of the garden, which turned into our vegetable garden today. Then we were occupied with other stuffs, the garden was abandoned for even after we moved in.

 The state it was when we moved in.

One month after, weed spreading everyway

Hubby was too busy with other projects like building the wood deck. Meantime weeds were growing higher and higher as summer begun.

At the end of summer, we had rampant weed problems. My MIL taught me to cut off (unroot when I can) different kind of weeds (rumex, thistle), but we left others because I was told that it would be removed one day by a machine when we will be growing our lawn.

In Septembre, my FIL told me that I should cut off all the weeds or grass with a sickle. I had around one month to do it (hubby was still occupied with other projects), so weekends and free time were spent removing weeds.
A friend came to help me one Sunday, which I was grateful, and hubby helped to transport all the cut off weeds to a dumpster station.

After weeks of slaving in the garden, we managed to cut off most grasses as instructed. This prepared the beginning process of planting the lawn.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Jumping and biking

As a toddler, Awena was too young to join any sport clubs so when Aelig was going her activities, the little sister had to follow around, watching the big sister doing roller skating, admiring the big girl jumping inside the water, or envying her play partner running around with her Chinese school classmates.

One day when waking around with her while waiting for Aelig, we ventured into a gymnasium. We saw kids jumping around and it intrigued her to try. I didn't think it was possible as I thought she was too young. By chance, I talked to a coworker who happened to be a committee in that sport club, and she told me that they accept any kids that walk for their baby gym program. 

I immediately signed her up. So one Saturday morning, I sent her to try out the class. She refused the concept but as soon as she entered the gymnasium, she wanted to participate, eager to try out every equipment. So did Aelig, she was jumping on the trampoline but quickly she was asked to come down. This time she was the one accompanying, waiting for her little sister, before her Chinese class starts.

I thought I have time to send Aelig to her classroom just two minutes away, but I was told that I have to be with Awena during the whole session. So I ask for help. Her teacher would come to pick her. While Awena happily jumping around, playing with different kind of games set by the trainer, Aelig was busy guiding her sister, I know she wanted so much to participate, but she has to learn that this was for Awena, not for her. At the end of the session, toddlers were asked to follow simple instructions. For example when the music stopped, she had to cuddle up herself; or she has to round herself up like a ball. She didn't really understand what was told compared to other kids, she was more eager to continue playing.

After the baby gym, we have to wait for Aelig. I finally bought her an used push bike. We went to a park to pick up the bike, she was all attracted to it, so happy to have a bike to herself. She took it with her around, afraid to sit on it at the beginning, but now she walks with it. After a morning of baby gym and some push bike, she was finally exhausted. 

Now every Saturday morning, she is happy when I tell her that we are going for baby gym. Way to go girl.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A day in Paris

In my job, I seldom go outstation, but last Wednesday, my boss from Paris asked me to join him for a meeting with customer there. He was a very nice manager, the day before the meeting, he showed me through skype the direction from the metro station to the building where the meeting was held.

So I woke up at 5:30am that morning to catch the train at 6:30am. Hubby was kind to send me to the train station. I slept the whole way to Paris, people around me were either working on their laptop, or reading. We arrived around 8:50am. 

From Montparnasse station, I had around one hour of metro and walk. As soon as I got out of the metro station, I saw the building my boss showed me, so everything went rather smooth. The meeting was carried on for around two and a half hours, then I was good to go. Since my return train was at 3:49pm, I could either go to the train station to change my ticket, or I could wander around Paris. I decided to go to the Malaysian restaurant. I arrived at 2pm, swallowed a plate of Nasi Lemak within 20 minutes, then off I went again as it took some time to go to the train station.
Nasi Lemak set lunch at 14.80€ in the Langkawi restaurant. The taste was quite authentic.

I waited around 40 minutes in the train station, then read through the whole two and a half hours. I got home at around 7pm, exhausted. Overall, I had 6 hours of transport for a meeting of less than 3 hours. I do not envy my coworkers who have to do this regularly.

Some observations during this day:
1. When I was in Singapore several years ago, 90% of the metro passengers were on their cellphone. In Paris, I was surprised to see that only 50% were on their phone, 40% were on book or their metro newspaper.

2. In almost every metro I took, there was a beggar standing in the middle of the train, saying good morning, then trying to sell us stuff or getting money from us. They didn't seem to have accent so they were French. They were also beggars on the walkway between transiting entrance / exit.

3. At 9:30am, the trains were still full.

4. People do not offer their seat often to the elderly or people in need. At one station, there was a woman around 40 years old entering train. She saw that all the seats were taken, so she asked if she could have a seat. A young girl stood up and left her seat, the woman sat down then read her book. She didn't seem pregnant or in need of a seat, but she got it.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Grandma's story : Her first love Pepito

She was seven, he was eight.
They held hands to go to school.
He lived just next door.
His name was Pepito.
He was a Spanish refuge.
He was her first love.

When grandma told us about her puppy love, she had that smile on her face.
She was reminiscing the good times, when he would pick her up, they held hands on the way going to school.
But behind the romance, the reality was cruel.
He escaped Spain with his mother, they squatted in a French family who was kind to receive them.
The father was probably somewhere in the war zone, fighting.
What kind of life were people having before 1950.
There were so many wars, so many people dying, so many families living in miserable conditions.
The little Pepito, went away with his mother one day, without even say goodbye to grandma.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Summer picnic

Since eating out is relatively expensive in France, people usually bring their own food and have picnics somewhere when they are outdoor. We have many natural parks and lakes around, and they are equipped with picnic tables and chairs.

During the summer holidays, the girls were so excited when I announced to them that we were going to the park and doing picnic.

Simple lunch : ham with French baguette, some cucumber and some dessert.

A huge place to run around.

Playground to spend their energy.

Slide is her favorite.

Time for a snack.

Don't need to travel far, they just need some times out with us.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Birthday in the hospital

This August, we celebrated her 95th birthday, in an hospital.

Mamig has been living alone since grandpa passed away more than 10 years ago.
She was someone very independent, enjoyed fine cuisine, easy going.
She went to US to visit us when she was 82, and hiked the Jura montain with us at 89 year old.
But she is getting old.
She doesn't sleep well anymore during the nights.
Her skin becomes sensitive, at one point if she bumped into something/someone, she bled.
She has to abandon her daily walk around the beach, as she needs clutches now.
Most importantly, she has partially lost her memory. She couldn't remember if she has eaten, or someone came to see her, or what happened a few minutes ago.
Her doctor declared that she was not capable of living alone anymore, and instructed her to go to the hospital. After hospital, she would have to stay around one month in a recovery center, while trying to place her in an old folk's home. She was not keen with the idea, she wanted to go back to her house.

Mamig has 4 children, one passed away at young age, and the other three are all retired.
In some Asian countries, she would stay with one of the kids, or they take turn, or they hire a maid to take care of her.
Things are done differently in France. They are more in the "Pay it forward" method, it is not a norm that children take in old age parents with them. Everyone has their own life, parents do not want to squat or disturb their children either.

So, it lays two solutions:
She goes back to her house, and hires a nurse and house assistant as she shouldn't stay alone.
She goes to an old folk's home.

My in laws have checked out the two solutions, and discovered that hiring a domestic helper would cost her 300€/day. Someone told me that her coworker hired one, costed her 6000€/month, and this coworker had to fill the gap when the helper was on vacation, and still needed to do some house chores. Labor cost is expensive in France, if you add all the charges you have to pay to the government. In Malaysia, some families hired Indonesian helpers, they probably cost RM1000/month, around 300€/month. As for the old folk's home, it would cost 2000€ to 3000€/month, depending on the location.

At the meantime, Mamig's health improved in the hospital, and another doctor declared that she could eventually go back to her house, with condition that she has someone to take care of her. In the past, she refused to have nurses, helpers but now she has no choice. She would have to accept that a nurse passes by everyday to make sure she takes her medicines, then she has to pay a service that would send people to buy her groceries, do her housework and cook for her. These people would come and go, unlike the domestic helper who would stay the whole day with her.

Celebrating her birthday in the hospital. She was shocked and upset that she could only drink so little champagne. She enjoyed wine and champagne very much, but for her health, she would have to cut it.

Finally happy after we poured a little more champagne into her glass. The hospital food was awful, we had to force her to eat some.

We asked ourselves what could we do for Mamig. Since she was a good cook and enjoyed good food, hubby decided to bake her a cake.

Gâteau Nantais, a cake from Nantes, with the surface covered with rum and sugar mixture. Since Mamig loves rum, she loved it. Hubby also cut the cake into several small pieces, wrapped them with plastic so that she would eat one per meal.

After the hospital visit, we agreed that we would meet again, soon, in her house. Mamig, get well soon.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

How many tableware used for a French meal

We had a gathering in my in laws house. After lunch, they were heading to the beach so I decided to stay and handle the dishes. I have always thought that French use a lot of tableware for dining, so here I'm counting how much we used just for one meal, for a family of 6 adults + 2 kids.

Glassware: 8 wine glasses and 5 water/juice glasses. French do not mix up drinks in the same glass. Every type of drink has its own specific glass. If we drink champagne we would use tall champagne glass. During this meal, some people drunk water/sparking water so we needed wine glasses + water glasses.

Still for drinking : 2 water jars + a wine opener.

8 plates for dining, + 2 to serve food.

For dessert we had cakes and fruit salad, so we needed 8 bowls (for fruit salad), 8 small plates + 8 small spoons.

After dessert was coffee time. 6 cups + 1 small spoon (for the person who added some sugar in the coffee).

The cutlery: 8 knifes and 8 forks + some for cutting and cooking

We had French beans so the pot to boil the beans, drainage + a pan to fry it.

A salad spinner

The pan for potatoes

We had BBQ so a tray and cutlery for the preparation.

So for this meal, we used 8 wine glasses, 5 glasses, 6 cups, 2 water jars, 10 big plates, 8 bowls, 8 small plates, 8 knifes & forks and 9 small spoons, 1 pot, 2 pans, a salad spinner and varies cutlery. Wasn't it a lot just for one meal? And this time was simply BBQ and we bought the cakes, else there would be more kitchenware. 

My in laws do not want dishwasher so I washed everything manually. I don't mind when everyone is helping around, it becomes a convivial moment where we continue the conversations. But washing all these alone, it was a lot of work and I felt that it was not environmental friendly. I don't know what would the French react if I tell them to cut down the usage of glasses or plates, for example using only one glass for all kind of drinks, or using one plate for all kind of dishes (main, side, cheese, salad, dessert). They would probably throw me out of the country since gastronomy comes with fancy tableware, and fine cuisine is in the blood of a lot of French people.