The Big Freeze, French Plumbing & Who Won Those Toffees!

p4950335Mother Nature has us in her icy grip and when we step outside winter smacks us in the face, with the icy chill raw against our cheeks. This week much of France is shivering within a frozen landscape. Driving through our village early in the morning I see little children walking to school, clutching an adult hand in thick gloves, their little bodies bundled up against the cold. All that is visible are bright red noses, rosy cheeks and eyes sparkling with excitement, and even though it’s not snow on the ground the weather is still just a little out of the ordinary, enough to create a frisson of anticipation.

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Winter here is normally a quiet time, and whereas snow creates a sense of peace and gentleness, frost and ice tends to sharpen the senses;  everywhere is silent, beautiful and frozen, but the atmosphere is expectant and alert, and it feels as if everything is holding it’s breath, waiting to see what will happen next.

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Hoar frost creates delicate, intricate patterns.

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Walking in a frozen landscape has it’s challenges, most notably for me, as I struggle to keep some feeling  in my toes and fingers. I put my foot on a frozen puddle to test the ice and immediately wish I hadn’t, as ice cold water splashes up my leg. I’m attempting to keep Evie on the lead in one hand, hold my camera and take photos with the other whilst trying not to hop from foot to foot in an effort to keep warm. I’m wondering if my face will ever revert to normal again for with the biting wind whipping around my ears it feels completely numb. It’s not that cold, but it’s cold for us, -5.5C/22F as I drove the usual school run this morning. I heard on the radio with the windchill it feels more like -12C/10F and I can quite believe it.

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Everything around me seems magical, I need to photograph it all, and I need to stop shivering and hold the camera steady; I’m also quickly realising that I have become rather soft, far too used to our usual mild temperate coastal climate! But I’m not the only one feeling the cold, for even the swans are hiding their faces against the bitter chill.

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A brave farmer was working amongst his vines.

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Elsewhere shutters remained firmly closed and vegetable gardens and small holdings lay empty and deserted.

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The girls have continued to play tennis, sometimes indoors and sometimes outdoors. Two nights ago it was the latter. As we sat in the car afterwards there was a plaintive cry from Gigi, “Mama my hands and ears are so cold.”

“I know” I said, “I know just how you feel,” and the conversation went back to my childhood. For some reason the children love hearing stories of how I played sport outside every day, a typical British boarding-school upbringing, and whether it was rain or shine, we still did sports. If everything was frozen or covered in snow then we were sent out on cross-country runs instead. Always in shorts with just a shirt and a wool jumper on top. I remember riding ponies in the holidays and actually crying from the cold; my feet in leather boots were like solid lumps of ice in the stirrups. Roddy says he remembers playing rugby on ground so hard from weeks of frost that play would be abandoned and they too would go for the dreaded run around the woods.

Later that evening, around our supper table (the best place for good debates and family stories), the talk returned to the cold. It was forecast to be well below zero again, and while I know this is not cold for many people – especially those of you that live for months on end on a frozen tundra, shovelling snow and dealing with ice – but for us it’s not quite so common, and it made me wonder out loud, “Are we all getting soft?”

Personally I love walking in the winter, for once I am outside I will go out in all weathers; but, do people complain more about it nowadays? Have we been mollycoddled for the past few decades by a combination of better clothing, modern heating technology and the insidious creep of global warming? Do we overprotect our children by wrapping them up, worried they might get wet or cold?

I know that I start more than one conversation with, “Back in my day….”, but I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t think we are being too gentle on our children, and I don’t think we are mollycoddling them. I think instead that we are just lucky to live at a time where we actually have the capability to soften the shrill sounds of winter, and keep its icicles at bay outside our generally warmer homes.

Of course, you explain this all to your children, starting with that aforementioned, “Back in my day…..” and they roll their eyes and complain how it’s their turn to choose a Wii game and someone else’s turn to get wood for the stove (I’d like to insert a ‘smiley’ here wearing a hat and gloves, to double the point of my remark, but will settle instead for, “They’ve never had it so good…”).

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Meanwhile, our plumbing problems have continued, yet again centred around a loo! You might recall last week we had an ongoing saga with a slight leak in the pipework of our downstairs loo, Roddy did his valiant best but eventually had to admit defeat with the antiquated system and call the plumber. Now as anyone in France will probably tell you, finding a good plumber can be tricky, but finding a good plumber who will come at the drop of a hat is nigh on impossible, or at least it has always been so in our experience – until now, that is.

Let’s rewind a few months, to another saga involving a loo, but this time in our guest house. We’d had to move it while re-tiling, and the pipework needed some urgent re-soldering when we put it back. So, we called one plumber, one we used before – but he didn’t turn up after saying he would. We called another  – and he didn’t even return our call. Several days passed while we wrung our hands and kept leaving messages and eventually in desperation we called a French friend in Rochefort and asked if he could recommend anyone. He gave us a name, François, and a telephone number; we called straightaway, he answered his phone immediately, and then said he’d be with us that evening. We sighed and waited with no great expectation, but on the dot of time he arrived at the gate, and promptly got the job sorted out efficiently and professionally within an hour. Cash in hand he left, promising to come whenever we needed him.

We’ve had no reason to call him again since then, until last week, when after battling for three hours with the previous installation from decades past and pipes that were of a bygone era, Roddy had once again called François. Yet again he answered his phone, he would be with us immediately! Whilst Roddy and I were still talking about the incomprehensible improbability of such good fortune the doorbell rang. The job was not quite so simple, and another phone call was made, new pipes were magically delivered by a man who lived in the next door village, three men struggled, three men cursed the ancient pipes and the differing sizes and the bizarre way they had been previously joined, but eventually that same afternoon three men succeeded, job done for a mere 60 euros. We were curious, Roddy just had to ask “how come you always respond and arrive so quickly?” François replied with a shrug, “I was at home awaiting a delivery that never showed up.” It seems we were just lucky.

On Monday afternoon this week, I called Roddy upstairs, the loo in our en-suite bathroom was constantly pouring water out of the cistern and it wouldn’t stop. Another very old installation. In fact we had thought of changing it when we completely redid the bathroom, but it is made by Villeroy Bosch. “This is like loo royalty” we were told and so we kept it, knowing it was of extremely high quality. Once again the old fittings worked against my husband, a bolt snapped, a swear word could be heard echoing around the bathroom and Roddy reached for his phone. Time to call the plumber once again. And sure as eggs is eggs François arrived the same afternoon, a new fitting, a relatively simple half hour job, a few euros exchanged hands and everyone was happy.

We felt we were getting to know him a bit better now, three different loos, three different visits, third time lucky. So we pressed him further, “you have to tell us exactly what is going on” we said. “You’re busy, you’re good and yet you always come as promised the same day and sort out our problems, why? Does everyone get this gold star service.” He looked at us, a frown crossed his brow and then he smiled sheepishly, “when I was a kid I used to live nearby” he explained, “a friend and I would sneak into this garden, through the gap in the wall right down at the end” and he pointed towards where the chickens were happily foraging around, “we would steal cherries and plums in June,  figs and grapes in September! I’ve always loved this old house, we came in here for years, throughout my childhood, no one ever caught us or stopped us. When you first gave me your address I was amazed, I hadn’t thought about it for years and I hadn’t been back here in decades. I’m a respectable grown man in my fifties, I have my own fruit trees” he laughed. “But when you called, even though you didn’t own the house back then, I felt it my duty, my repayment to put things right!”

I’m hoping with these sub zero temperatures that we don’t get any burst pipes, but at least I feel confident that if we do, we can just call François. Or, I suppose in desperation we could use our Victorian commode. To all and sundry who visit the house it is just a mahogany box, a piece of furniture in the sitting room. On the sides are brass carrying handles, for ease of movement. A portable loo no less!

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But it houses the first form of flushing loo.

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With a loo seat to cover the bowl and a brass handle with an intricately carved hand which pulls upwards to flush the system. We have no idea if it still works, but all the old lead piping is still in place, and underneath the blue and white ceramic bowl is the bucket which held the waste.

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Anyway, finally moving on from sanitary fixtures, another exciting development this week was our first egg from a chick who was hatched here on the property. Our first home grown egg! The hens have been good girls, despite the cold they’ve been laying steadily all winter. Roddy walked up the garden a couple of nights ago and called all the children into the kitchen, “I have a surprise” he said and he proceeded to lay four eggs on the kitchen table. “Hermione has laid her first egg” he said with a certain amount of pride in his voice “which one do you think is hers?” We all looked closely, she’s a small bantam so it would certainly be one of the little ones, but nothing stood out, but Roddy is very good at practical jokes, grinning he put his hand in his pocket and produced a fifth egg, a tiny little speckled brown specimen, no bigger than the size of a grape, this was Hermione’s first egg. You see we have different colours and different sizes, our ladies offer a full spectrum of choice! Now we just have to add blue eggs to our range and plans are afoot to bring this to fruition in the spring!

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And finally the answers to the doors and gates and their interiors. The correct numbers were:- 1F, 2K, 3R, 4M, 5B, 6J, 7A, 8N, 9G, 10D, 11P, 12S, 13Q, 14C, 15H, 16E

No one got it completely right but the five people with the highest number of correct answers were Joséphine, David, Nancy, Amanda B and Susan. I have your emails from your comments and shall send you a quick note and perhaps you can then come back to me with your mailing address so I can get these out to you. Thanks so much everyone for entering, I can’t wait to see where in the world we are sending Charente Maritime toffees!

164 thoughts on “The Big Freeze, French Plumbing & Who Won Those Toffees!

  • Your frozen landscapes are so magical. Yes, I had to walk two miles in the snow to school. That’s our standard story over here. I do remember that we only had wool coats and snow pants. The smell of the wet wool is a strong memory. That is a great story about the plumber.

    • I so agree, that smell of wet wool and how long everything too to dry, now my children wear hyper warm clothing, it is so think, it dries in seconds and they can move so easily. Two miles to school in the snow is a long way, can you imagine anyone doing that now! Xx

  • Beautiful photos! I love the story about your plumber, he now is practically family for you. We are paying special attention to your weather stories because my sister and I will be visiting in the Bordeaux area early this April (so excited!). We live in the southern United States; last week it snowed here and yesterday it was 78F, and I had all the windows open!

    • Hi Roxanne, we were so lucky to find the plumber and it was such a relief and a story I just had to tell! You will love Bordeaux, it is a stunning city, they have done so much restoration work on the city in recent years, it really is a fabulous place to spend some time now. Where else are you visiting? Sounds like a great trip and the weather in April can be just gorgeous. I have always marvelled at how the temperature can fluctuate so hugely in the Eastern USA, we have great friends in CT and I know she will tell me the same, one day it is snowing and the next in the 70’s. We don’t get extremes like that! Enjoy summer and winter in the same week!!! Xx

    • I think we have all done that haven’t we Elaine, we are all guilty!!! I know we took some apples this Autumn from an orchard, admittedly it was totally abandoned and I knew if we didn’t they would simply go to waste, but still we felt guilty and a little nervous!!! Xx

  • A great story today, felt as if I was sitting in your home chatting with you, wishful thinking I know, but you make me feel as if I know you, like we are friends. Instead I am thousands of miles away in North Carolina, USA!

    • Thanks so much Anne, I like to think we are all friends here, it sounds a bit cheesy I know, but it is wonderful that everyone comments so freely and comments away, our eldest daughter calls it a great big chat room and she is really right. Hope you are not too cold in North Carolina and have a lovely end to the week xx

      • Thank you so much Susan, your eldest daughter is very observent and how lovely that she takes note of what is happening with your blog, she must be a very proud daughter.

      • Thank you Anne, all of the children have been fantastically supportive, I certainly couldn’t have done any of this without their help and backing, they give me confidence and they give me advice! xx

  • Ooh – what a storm of delightful stories!!!! I LOVE LOVE LOVE your François story especially as we – for some time, a long time ago now – had sort of a similar ‘lucky draw’ We had a hard-working immigrant from Romania and he was the most diligent, imaginative and truly hard-working chap I’ve ever met and employed. My dear Hero Husband is NOT a ‘domestic’ hero with his hands (I can still, after soon 20yrs mariage, hardly believe that he can be such a terrific piano/organ player when every task in the house/garden feels like 10 right hand thumbs (he is left-handed too)….., so anything related to manuel work is firmly ‘my’ domaine. Having found, at that time, ‘our guardian angel’ Raphael, was like having won the lottery – until, one day, he didn’t reply the phone anymore, he had just simply disappeared. We later learned that he went back to his home country, got married (he once complained to me that his girl friend left him, because he was never with her….) and that was that….. So keep your François sweet – indulge him – and praise the Lord for this GIFT! And good luck with your plumbing – I totally ADORE your ancient loo – and if EVER you need a portaloo; we have one nearly new one which we eventually bought when we had problems for some 4 months one summer!!!! It’s a ‘Camping toilet’ and it was one of our most important and best investments at the time 🙂
    LOVE the egg story – and my dear English friend Barbara with her ‘Princess chickens’ has offered us eggs at one occasion with yolks nearly brown, they were SO healthy, good, and naturally totally organic! That’s one thing I’d like to have – but no chance here…. It’s the same story as not having a dog – I simply have nobody who would look after dogs and chicks!
    As for the cold weather – spoke to my sis in Switzerland – they have -5 to -10C and snow. But NOBODY bats an eye-lid (eye-liner, thanks to Auto-correct!!) we are used to it. And you’re so right – we have become soft, I’m the first one to admit it. I used to ski even when it was -20°C – mind you not for long, we bought, together with a ski-pass, a ‘coffee-pass’ ((not really, but we called it that!)) – and after every down-hill drive we had to warm up in the nearest ‘inn’ – nowadays I don’t even go out to pick up the mail
    BTW; 4 days ago I received a Xmas card sent on the 16th in Switzerland and today one stamped on the 30/12, also from Switzerland coming. When the Post-Office puts their stamp on, it means they have left the country the same day – in other words, the French mail was hanging on to them for one month in the first case and 19 days in the second…. I wonder what’s still to arrive – and when it will arrive…..

    • Thanks Kiki, we will indeed keep him happy, I’ll offer him any fruit he doesn’t have in his garden this summer!! I hope your Romanian is having a happy and fulfilled life back at home. Hopefully we will never need your portal of but I will keep it in mind, thank you!!! When I think of the weather we did sports in, there was no escape, but then I have watched my children doing sport this week, relay outdoors in freezing weather at school and tennis outdoors at 0C and also in a fine drizzle, of course I am the one who then huddles them up when they get home or come inside and then I say to myself I’m being crazy, a little cold or rain never hurt anyone and they are young and fit!!! Love the post office story, they are a law unto themselves. Almost 20 years, congrats, we are 21 years Today!! Xxx

  • That Victorian toilet would certainly beat many of the facilities in many countries! I especially loved the brass hand and the detailed work of the finger nails. Great post

    • I absolutely love the hand too, what a work of art for a flush handle! I agree, it is clean and practical and really rather incredible, and the best bit, no one has the faintest idea what it is! Xx

  • Isn’t life funny, what are the chances of getting a plumber that actually played at your home as a child and did a bit of scrumping to boot, I love the old comode, what a treasure to have and keep as a reminder of how lucky we are to have good toilet facilities, as for the cold it will be summer before we know it

    • Hi Roz, I know, it’s quite incredible and it’s not as if everyone here has been born and lived in the same village forever, there are lots of Parisians, it’s quite a cosmopolitan area for semi rural France! How lucky we are indeed, life is really remarkably simple, I often watch programmes from Victorian and Edwardian times and it makes one realise just how easy things are nowadays, even such an everyday occurrence as the laundry took forever back then. I’m enjoying the cold, everywhere looks stunning and it’s a real winter, it’s rather fun. But then I say that whilst sitting by a roaring fire!! Xx

  • I can’t believe I won some toffees, I never win anything. Now my waistline will expand even further and I am sure my dentist won’t thank me but who cares! I will email my address and thank you.

    • Thanks so much, we are actually really enjoying having a proper winter this year. The loo is such a surprise to anyone I show it to and it makes me smile to think what is really sitting in the middle of our sitting room! Xx

    • Thanks so much, last year we only had one frost all winter, this year we have had so many freezing nights already and they are forecast to last for at least another week, we are actually really enjoying having a “proper” winter this year. But I cannot deny I am loving being able to get out there and photograph it too! Xx

  • Susan, this is such an entertaining post today! ❤️
    Oh my goodness I had tears in my eyes reading the story of Francois…what a wonderful story Susan and it worked in your favor for him to “make it right.” He sounds like a keeper!
    The weather in 🇫🇷 is looking dreary. I am so sorry! I have never gotten use to the COLD and I have lived in Minnesota my entire life!
    Congratulations to Hermione!
    Charming story! 🐔❤️
    You are an “EXCELLENT MOM” and I know everything you do is so APPRECIATED BY YOUR FAMILY! I loved the pictures of you and your girls! In fact, you ALWAYS do such a wonderful job with ALL your pictures! ❤️ The stories they tell…🎥📽
    Hoping for warmer weather for you and ALL of 🇫🇷! And I have to agree “They’ve never had it so good!” 🙃☺️!
    Enjoy your day! ❤️

    • Thanks so much Stephanie, you are too too kind. The plumber is a keeper, I shall give him any fruit he doesn’t have in his own garden this summer! It was such a funny story, I just had to share it. Actually the weather is ok, we have had brilliant sunshine all day, clear clear skies and it’s incredibly pretty but oh so so cold and even colder tonight, it’s set to last for at least another week, but it is rather fun to h ave a proper winter this year. Still I am wrapping the children up warm but they are still playing sport in the cold, I wouldn’t expect anything less!! Hope you are having a wonderful day too, it’s our 21st wedding anniversary so a bottle of bubbly this evening! xx

      • Happy Happy Anniversary! What a WONDERFUL Life you two have! 💑 Your marriage and family is a testimony to the “Good” that can come out of a loving and kind relationship. Please give Roddy a BIG HUG from me for sharing you. ❤️
        In July it will be 39 years! How did I get so old? 😂 My husband travels a little for business. I always tuck a card in his suitcase or suit coat. Monday he went on a trip and like always I put in a card. On Tuesday after he found the hidden card I get this surprised text “I am so grateful for you! Love you!” Almost 39 years…I feel Very Fortunate and Lucky! Have a lovely evening Celebrating! 🍾😘❤️

      • Thanks so so much, bubbly tonight, out to dinner tomorrow night, difficult on a school night plus Millie is off to Madrid early in the morning so am needing to get her packed and organised tonight, she is so excited, 8 day school exchange. 39 years, wow, huge congratulations. I love that you still write notes, we still do things like that, like you I feel incredibly fortunate and lucky, I am truly married to my best friend. Xxx

      • We are Very Blessed! :)❤️ But, then again I am feeling Millie is a pretty lucky young lady to be going to Madrid tomorrow!
        Your Anniversary evening sounds lovely! 🍾🎉
        Here’s hoping for a warmer Friday and a Wonderful Weekend! 🌞❤️🇫🇷❤️

      • We are both truly blessed. It’s an even colder Friday, this morning it was -7C, almost unheard of around here! Another week of frosts and then it is due to warm up, but I am loving it, it is so pretty. Millie is well on her way now, she left in the dark at 7am this morning, she is so excited, lucky lucky girl. Have a wonderful weekend too xx

  • Delightful stories to begin my day! François sounds like a plumber with a soft heart – a real treasure. We had cold weather (much the same temperature as yours) for over a month. Oh, the complaints! But the frosty days were bright and sunny and invigorating. This week the rains have returned and everything is much darker and drearier. But the heating bills should be less!
    Your frosty photos are so pretty. I think one gets used to whatever they have to deal with. As a teenager, I lived in more northerly climes and there was always a week or two of -40F in January. Bitter, bitter cold. But we dealt with it and moved on.
    I’m glad that your children don’t have to run in such weather as you did. Congratulations to the winners of the candies. Have a great day.

    • Thank you so much Lorrie, I have to admit I far prefer this really cold frosty weather to the wet and dreary grey days, but I do know our heating bill will be enormous, there’s not much to be done about it though, when the temperature doesn’t get above freezing all day! -40F, I cannot even imagine such freezing temperatures, that’s insane and to think I am moaning about 10 – 20F!! Our children are still playing sport in this cold weather, when they complain I just tell them I had to do it and it never did me any harm!! Xx

    • Lorrie; my fingers are just falling off – I checked on a conversion chart what -40°F are – that’s (funnily enough) also -40°C….. This MUST be a mistake!!!! I was once in my whole life outside in -21°C and I wouldn’t want to do that a 2nd time…. Please tell me that this is a mistake – nobody can live in that cold!!!! Or can you?
      Sending WARM greetings, Kiki

      • Kiki, I checked too, I’m not good with Fahrenheit as have only ever used Celsius, but I cannot even begin to imagine -40C, I think the coldest I have ever been in is also in Switzerland, skiing in Grindelwald at -14 and that felt quite unbearably awful, like I would literally die of frostbite. Let’s hope Lorrie comes back to us and reads this, because I like you am in shock! Xx

  • Susan, what lovely photos again. Cold over here too, shingle is frozen solid in places above the high water mark. Stove is red hot though and house and hut are toasty toasty warm. I can recall everything you say about school 50 years ago, ugh. Horrible teachers making you do horrible things that made parts of the body just frozen.

    Sorry to have been AWOL again, fell down with bronchitis once more but all good now. Mrs Phil says hello, apparently she make take the plunge and comment this year! Missed the competition too…. darn it. 🙂

    • Hi Phil, hope you are now feeling much better, please tell your wife I would love her to comment one day, I’ll look forward to it. Don’t get me started on school, not quite so long ago, but still it was pretty horrid I can tell you and Roddy has equally squalid stories! Most of all for me was the food, the horrid food and swimming in the summer in a freezing un heated pool! Stay warm, it’s bitter here! Xx

    • Thanks so much, we do truly feel very lucky to be able to live here, it’s beautiful in all seasons. I hope we never have to use the commode too, at least it is easily moveable, just very heavy, but we could at least use it in private!!! Xx

  • You were allowed to wear jumpers during winter outdoor PE sessions at school? My, you were soft. We weren’t, and I loathed PE for years in consequence. I’m glad however that you have a tame plumber. Worth his weight in gold in any language!

    • This made me laugh, yes we were allowed to wear jumpers, they were white cable knit v-necks with the school colours around the neck. Underneath we had pale blue Airtex polo shirts and aside from the jumper it was the same in summer and winter. What I loathed most about school was the food, I played in the netball, hockey and tennis teams just so that we got match teas, the only decent thing to ever eat!!! The plumber is indeed worth his weight in gold, we still cannot believe our good luck. I shall give him any fruit that he doesn’t have in his own garden this summer!! Xx

  • Wonderful stories…yes we are getting soft. At least I know that I am. When we lived in Ottawa Canada…I used to run in the winter….even when it was double digit minus…F°… and eyelashes almost frozen together…the truth. I was younger then of course. Now if come close to the freezing point…I whimper.
    Ali xx

    • Ha ha, yes we are getting a little soft perhaps, I can tell stories of ice on the inside of my bedroom window when I woke up and I would huddle around a tiny fan heater, we had no central heating but then once downstairs the house was always toasty warm and very cosy, my father always slept with the window a touch open, he believed it was good for him! Double digit -F is really really cold, cannot even begin to imagine that, and I think this is cold! But the children are still playing sports at school in -5C Hetty was running relay races first lesson this morning, she came home very proud of herself, but looked at me a little sheepishly when she said she was lucky, she had thick tracksuit bottoms, a hat and gloves!!! She doesn’t know how lucky she is!!! Xx

  • This has been a difficult winter for many of us. Climate change has turned our ordinary weather into something extreme. There was outdoor skating on our warm West Coast of Canada. And it wasn’t just for one day. We have had weeks of bitter cold and snow! Normally we have spring bulbs making a show of colour in January. But yesterday it RAINED AND RAINED RAINED and this morning it is still raining. Washing the snow away and perhaps it heralds the start of spring. We can hope. Keep warm Susan, Virginia.

    • Hi Virginia, the weather is definitely changing for sure, climate change has a lot to answer for. Last year we had the warmest winter on record, but this year it is actually really good to experience more normal, ‘proper’ winter conditions and I would sooner have this cold dry weather any day as opposed to non stop rain. November and April are traditionally our wettest months. Spring is but a month and a half away now, I long to see some daffodils too, ours are well advanced but a long way from flowering, this cold weather has halted them in their tracks! Stay warm and stay dry! Xx

  • Hi Susan. Yes we are definitely freezing here in Deux Sevres but at least it’s bright and there is a good excuse to eat a little more! Love your loo story! I think we have all been victim of odd plumbing here; it’s something to laugh over when it has been sorted, I hope. Sorry not been in touch but had ‘something’ for the last month so been offline. xxx

    • Hi Amanda, hope you are ok and all is well. The story of French plumbing is one we can all dine out on I feel! But we certainly feel we can relax a little having found a good plumber, we still can’t quite believe it. It’s freezing here, but loving this cold weather, a real winter this year and of course this means such wonderful blue skies, driving around it looks so gorgeous, almost hard to imagine how cold it is until one steps out of the car! Stay warm and get better. Xx

      • I actually love this weather, really crisp sunny days, it is gorgeous and yesterday the sun was so strong I could have sat outside and enjoyed it with a book and no coat, ha ha wishful thinking! But I did enjoy it as I hung the laundry out, without a coat!! Plenty of wood lugging back and forth, but it keeps us fit too!! Have a great weekend xx

      • We have had a lovely weekend thanks, hope you have too. Beautiful weather and 8C each day, although still hard frosts at night and in the shade the ice hasn’t thawed on the puddles all day. I think it’s going to be quite a chilly week, but plenty of sunshine which should be nice for your guests, better than mild, wet and grey!! Xx

    • I know, it’s heavy but still at least it could be used in private and exactly where one wants! Can you imagine, I am not sure I want to use it, at all, but I might be tempted to fill up the water reservoir and see if it flushes!! Xx

  • I think this is your best set of photos ever Susan, simply stunning! Make some soup (my go to trick) and stay warm in the cold!

    • Thank you so much Lily, I might have frozen to death whilst taking them but I can tell you I loved it, the light, the landscape it is so beautiful with everything frozen, thoroughly enjoying winter! X

  • Hi Susan, I love you plumber story. Last evening on Antique Roadshow they had a Victorian Loo and I was positively amazed how beautiful the bowl was and then I saw yours,,,, beautiful
    I hope your weather changes soon. Here in the Pacific Northwest we too had a cold spell and boy was it cold. But so lovely to walk in. Just had to make sure we were bundled up against the wind and cold Then everything changed this week and the rain came in torrents. But today it has eased off and my husband and I were able to get our walk in again in-between the rain drops.
    Stay warm and I hope nothing else happens in the loo area
    Hugs to you and your wonderful family

    • Hi Freda, how amazing that they had one on last night, I love watching the Antiques Roadshow. The weather is forecast to remain cold with frosts every night for at least another week, actually I am really enjoying it, this is a proper winter, quite unlike last year which was the warmest winter on record and put the plants and garden totally out of sync! I have heard that your coast has had really wet weather this week, glad there was a break and you were able to get out walking again. Only another month and a half and it will be Spring, something certainly to look forward to. Have a wonderful end to the week xx

  • So enjoyed reading. What a wonderful blessing to have found Francois. Imagine if you had not had this plumbing problem, you would have never met him and he would have never had the opportunity to repay his “debt” He may have carried this on his soul for many years. I believe everything happens for a purpose. And now you have a new friend. I moved from sunny California and now live on one of the San Juan islands, it’s been very cold with strong winds. I’ve never experienced living with with such cold. I wear layers and layers of clothes. Now I know why when summer comes people go crazy with outdoor activities. But still love living here. Blessings

    • Thank you so much Roaslina, it was an incredible chance encounter, what a small world, really thanks to the two plumbers who let us down, like you, I tend to believe that everything happens for a purpose as well. I have heard from several people that it is very cold in your region, now indeed you know exactly why we all love summer so much. This is what I love about the seasons, each has it’s own special unique moments and each makes us appreciate the next even more. Stay warm, enjoy those bracing winds, I love Island life, having lived on one for most of my life and so has my husband, until France! Xx

  • I enjoyed reading this post very much. Beautiful photos. I want to pick up on your thoughts about whether we are all going soft (about cold weather) and whether we overprotect our children. There’s good food for thought there. I’m not certain but I’m inclined towards thinking that we are right to make use of advances in technology and knowledge to protect ourselves and our children from the cold. I remind myself that our ancestors did not choose to be colder than us. My parents, as children in the 1940s, would have loved to have been warmer and more comfortable. They simply didn’t know how to be warmer or they couldn’t apply what they knew. I support the view that technology, which is applied knowledge, is everything for humans. As I write this, I, like you, am comfortably warm in France in January. That is amazing. My dad would describe it as a miracle, I think. Without technology, including clothes and shelter, I wouldn’t just be uncomfortable; I would be dead within a few hours at most. Like you, I am not used to this much cold. I love it. I really love it. I go out each morning and feel honoured to see and feel this frozen environment. But my love is contingent on having a warm house to come back to. Keep up these wonderful reports and photographs.

    • Thanks Stephen. It’s an interesting question that my husband and I often discuss. I came to the conclusion that we don’t over protect them, ours are certainly still doing sport outside this week, despite the cold, when it’s raining they also still do sport, it doesn’t stop them and nor should it. They are just dressed appropriately and as you say are lucky to have a warm house or classroom to return to. I think that is the difference; a healthy child or adult will not suffer from an hour or two of sport or walking in the cold or the rain, the problems arise when one is not able to get warm or dry afterwards, this is where we are lucky. Like you, we are loving this cold weather, after last year’s mildest winter on record, this is a real ‘proper’ winter, it feels good to be outside, I am loving walking the dogs, but then I know I have a warm home to come back to, a hot meal, a warm drink. It makes all the difference. I believe we have at least another week of this cold weather, enjoy it xx

  • Looks so very frosty and beautiful! It almost makes me wish the winters were colder over here, we spent some time at the beach yesterday!

    • Normally I love walking along the beach in the winter, but along with the freezing conditions we’ve had a very stiff breeze, an icy cold wind and I know the beach would be absolutely freezing, it might have to wait until the week after next when it warms up a little! xx

  • First of all Susan, I must tell you how much I love your winter photos, both this batch and those from your previous post.Looking at them, I can feel the frost and feel the chill but something else is happening- they seem to have a strong pull on my memory, a melancholy from a time past.
    As for your plumbing dramas, send me your Francois. We could do with a reliable and honest plumber around here. When it comes to tradesman, we breathe in deeply when in need of a plumber as, apart from the cash in hand aspect of their trade, they all seem to invent prices at whim. We had one plumber charge for the tow hours he had off for lunch with his wife. A bunch of Ned Kellys ( highway robbers), but I am sure that when anyone finds a good one, you keep them forever. We have learnt to do most of our own repairs, thanks to Mr Google.

    • Thanks so much Francesca, and I have to admit I have absolutely loved taking photographs in this weather, it’s just gorgeous. Were you born in Australia or Europe, I wonder is the memory from a childhood over here? As for plumbers, we have had so many dramas up until now. When we were renovating the house, we had, or thought we had a great plumber, then he just didn’t show up one day or the next or next. Eventually after a month he did return to finish the job but it was all a very long drawn out and stressful affair. Then we had an outdoor pipe which leaked and we called another very local plumber, he came a few days later but charged a fortune and wasn’t particularly efficient. To have found François is incredible, we shall certainly look after him. Roddy does most of our repairs, he’s really good actually both these old installations beat him and I can quite see why!! xx

      • I was born in Australia. As a child, we spent a lot of time at our grandparents place by the sea, a southerly point in Victoria with waterways similar to some of your pics and it was often cold, but beautiful, with the smell of burning wood or coal in the air. It also reminds me of our time on the Isle of Harris, near Rodel. Or maybe I have become the character, Claire the Sassenach, from Outlanders, and doing my own version of time travel. Your waterways look familiar.

      • How exciting that you spent time on the Isle of Harris, I so want to take the children to the outer Hebrides, I have sailed around there, it is so beautiful. I love the smell of woodsmoke, plenty around this morning, it was -7C last night, almost unheard of around here! Time travel and armchair travel sounds good to me, if only it were possible!! xx

  • A good plumber is a rare find, look after him and you’ll be thankful you did, but at least you have a very stylish portable toilet if all else fails!

  • Oh the photos of the winter frost are so very beautiful – I was completely lost in them, as they were so familiar to me.
    Our frosts in Oregon were so similar! I had forgotten about breaking the skif of ice on puddles, one of our very very favorite childhood treats!
    I picture it all …. our farm, our lane, our puddles….. and quite often, snow was to come, which meant No Schoool!!

    Wonderful story of Francois. Love it that your house and he already knew one another.

    • I know, it takes us back down memory lane, the frost was so thick this morning it was almost as if the landscape was covered in snow, wishful thinking! Alas there is no snow due here just cold for another week and then warming up hugely which means a little rain! But at least we are having a proper winter which is rather fun. xx

  • This riverlet look frozen isn’t it? and would be nice for ice skating…would you dare? A couple of days I proudly reportet
    16 grades now we have snow on the backyard mountains which we did not have since many years …..
    Lucky with your plumber…..and the photo shots are worth to get a red nose but please wear caps…..

    • It is partially frozen in places yes. Sorry to hear your weather has suddenly turned cold. Millie, daughter no.2 is going to Madrid today for 8 days with the school so I hope she doesn’t completely freeze, but she is so excited. Last night it was -7C here, almost unheard of and the coldest night for years and years. Stay warm, at least the sunshine is gorgeous! xx

      • Hope, Millie packed really warm clothes. Madrid is veery cold in winter and many inhabitants come to the southern part.

      • Yes she did, we were told it would be cold! She arrived safe and sound and is already having the most fabulous morning in Madrid, I am so grateful for modern technology, I get to speak to her and see photos xx

  • How lucky you are to find an always-ready-to-serve plumber! And what fun to hear his childhood stories. We were lucky, too, recently in below-freezing weather when our whole-house heater went out, which would have meant freezing pipes. Saved by a plumber/ heating contractor who came on short notice.
    Sorry, can’t think of a way to show off that beautiful Victorian crockery.

    • Oh my goodness, that sounds as if it was really cold, so annoying when everything breaks down just when we need it the most, but very fortunate you found a plumber who was able to arrive and sort it quickly. Have a wonderful end to the week xx

  • From personal experience, I can say, guard that plumber with your life!! It must be a universal truth, plumbers can be undependable anywhere! And I think I’ve called all of those guys at one time or another here. 🙂 Stay warm.

  • IT looks so beautiful! I forgot the name of that frost until you wrote it! I think hoar frost is magical!

    I LOVE your story about francois, how wonderful not only to have a loyal and competent tradesperson but to have one that has a history with your property.

    Have a fabulous weekend.

  • Wow that tiny egg made me laugh, and Hermione is such a cute name for a chicken. You have the worst luck with your plumbing, I hope it all works out in the end though. Sounds like François is a pretty good guy.
    I grew up in Montana but I know that temp is really cold and it does naturally take a week or something to acclimate to it, so it probably felt even colder than it was. You’re the brave one for taking pictures, I would have been inside drinking hot cocoa haha!

    • We all name the chickens together, everyone gets a turn, I cannot remember which of our children named Hermione, but it was after Harry Potter of course! You are so right, this cold weather does take a little getting used to, last night it was -7C which is almost unheard of around here, everywhere was so white it looked as if it had snowed. The good thing about this icy cold weather though are the clear blue skies and bright sun. it’s just too stunning not to go outside! have a wonderful weekend xx

  • Must be the season for loo problems in France as my s–i-l and b-i-l have had some serious problems. To compound that, they rent their house but the landlord (very long story) is not very responsive or responsible. 😦 Glad you found such a great plumber. Good, responsive, responsible workers are jewels and much too rare anywhere these days. Wish we were having colder weather and snow instead of this rain!

    janet

    • Perhaps it is the cold, but I think this was just a coincidence, glad we got it sorted though. Hope your s-i-l manages to solve her problems, difficult landlords can make everything so unnecessarily complicated. We have cold weather forecast for another week, then it is due to turn much milder which of course will mean rain! Enjoy your wonderful break with your parents. xx

      • I will. Having some breakfast at 4:45 am and leaving in half an hour for the airport. 🙂 I’m really looking forward to it and, of course, no snow in Arizona, although there may be rain this year for the first few days, which is quite unusual.

      • It’s a change of scenery in many ways, Susan, from the prairies of the Midwest to the desert, and I like them both. Of course, being with my parents is the most fun and as they’re in they’re upper 80’s, every visit is important. Just about ready to shut down my laptop and head for the airport. An 8 am flight sounds great and leaves lots of time at the other end, but it does mean getting up rather early, even for me!!

  • Oh dear, oh yes I agree with Francesca. I suppose Francois would not like to live in a warmer climate and earn more money? . . . no, I thought not!! You had three tradespeople in your house for quite awhile redoing the pipes and they charged 60 euros!!! Here it would cost about that for ONE to turn up: not work, just turn up . . . then it would be parts at a big mark-up and probably another twenty or so dollars every 15 minutes during work! The saddest thing is that many of the tradespeople prey on the older people and double or triple their rates. Even drive the golden oldie to the ATM to pull the cash out ahead of work. One did it too many times just recently: would tell some poor pensioner her/his garden had to be dug up because the pipes were dangerously broken and if they did not cough up the money upfront immediately and get the situation repaired they would go to jail! Many had believed: he would dig up half the garden, leave it, and, cash in hand, just walk into the sunset!! Look after your Francois . . .

    • Wow those sound like horror stories, isn’t it so sad that people feel capable of taking advantage of others like this, so sad but oh so true, and I am quite sure there are cowboys like that here too, nowhere is immune. But it is wonderful to find people that actually do things because they just like their job, they are happy with their life, and they don’t feel the need to be jealous or to cheat. François didn’t have the correct pipework so he phoned a man in a nearby village who owns a small builders merchants, he had the part and he drove it out here, amazing. But what I love most, when he came into he kitchen, he walked straight up ad shook my hand and said bonjour, before walking through to the bathroom in question. There was nothing hurried, it was all done slowly, carefully and with a smile. There’s a lot to be said for honest, cheerful workers! xx

      • ….. shook my hand and said bonjour, before walking through to the bathroom in question. There was nothing hurried, it was all done slowly, carefully and with a smile. There’s a lot to be said for honest, cheerful workers! xx……

        the most beautiful statement 🙂

      • Thanks Kiki, I know you know what I mean, sometimes it is difficult to put into words the general unhurried good feeling that we get so much of the time, nearly always everyone is cheerful! Stay warm, brilliant sunshine here, and have a great weekend xx

      • Oh I do agree, it’s the whole gentle, slightly simpler way of life, the fact that people still take great pride in what they do and genuinely enjoy helping others, that is what makes it such a pleasure to be able to live here. Hope you are having a lovely weekend xx

    • Very very true, the cycle of the eggs was really quite a landmark for us. Nature, frozen is utterly beautiful, this morning everything was blanketed in a thick white carpet of frost, -7C, the coldest it has been for years and years, but also so crisp and clear at the same time. xx

  • What luck to find such a responsive plumber–and one with a story to tell. I do like your frosty, beautifully sunlit photos with the stream and the grasses. You’re right to sense an atmosphere from the cold, a kInd of crispness that gives off energy even if it’s quiet. Enjoy your fires!

    • Thanks so much, the plumber was a fabulous and very lucky find proving what a small world it really is. This morning was even colder, -7C, everything appeared to be frozen in time, there was not a soul around and nothing moved, it was utterly beautiful, of course I had to go and take more photos and freeze myself even more, but then I consider how lucky I am to have a warm house to return to. Hope you have a lovely weekend xx

  • Yup … it’s cold! My husband commented when I showed him the pictures that you must be feeling it more cold there than we are here because it is so rare to have such bitter weather on the normally temperate Atlantic coast. So he was sympathetic though I think mostly of the vines! Here it is -12C with a bitter North Easterly cutting the city but, as you know I love winter so I’m not complaining. Of course I enjoyed all of this but I must single out Hermione’s egg! For heavens sakes, you have me all soppy over a little hen I’ve never met being such a clever girl and producing her teeny eggy! Love to you all and stay warm xx

    • Ha ha, I hadn’t thought about the vines, I was just worried about our lemon trees, I have wrapped them in their winter blankets and just hope they survive. -7C this morning, even the ground is now solid, we so very very rarely get weather like this here so we are loving it, I always enjoy something just a little out of the ordinary, plus cold means blue skies and bright sun, sure beats grey and rain in my book any day! But -12C with a bitter North Easterly is perhaps not so much fun, brrrrr! So so proud of our little hen, she’s a tiny black frizzle, so her feathers all point the wrong way round, I feel it’s quite an achievement, next on the agenda to hatch our own eggs fertilised by our own rooster, that would then be a 100% cycle. This spring I hope! Stay warm to you too and have a great weekend xx

      • Rest assured that when we finally settle and start our own flock of chooks and quackers I will be asking you for advice. Your little girl sounds SO adorable and her feathers clearly do what my hair does on the foolish occasions I have had it cut short!!! Xxx

      • This is exactly what my hair does when it is damp outside and raining! Frizzy a word I hate!!! But I love our Frizzles, they are just as Roddy always calls them “scruffy little buggers” and they are adorable! Can’t wait for you to finally settle and get your crooks, I had no idea they would be so much fun! Xx

      • On the way up I navigated us brilliantly (there is no other word) avoiding Saint Bonnet le Froid as instructed. Sir decided he didn’t like the road so much and last night with him navigating we traversed the delights of Le Froid again (and may I say they were wearing their snow triumphantly …. at least twice as much as the next nearest village rather cutely called Franc – quite the curiosity and perhaps why St Bonnet got his cold tag) … HB2 has declared this the better route and I am patting myself on the back for my accidental discovery … girl power 😉 xxx

      • St Bonnet is a much prettier name than Franc, but then the two do go hand in hand. I love translating French village names into English because we see such funny side to them! Girl power indeed, you rock xx

  • London is pale and watery this morning – the sunlight, that is. Not as cold as you by the sound of it, though we had our chill last week. We ate your tarteflette this week – it lasted us three days, and it was exceedingly nice, thank you! Amy asks if you could suggest a nice winter soup that is different? She’s thinking beans and something and if you have anything up our street do let us know.

    Love the photos as always – you seem to have such great light there for photos. Lucky people indeed. Oh, thanks also for your e-mail with ‘copper pan’ photos, Amy says she will get back to you over the weekend!

    • Thanks so much Simon, it is indeed really unusual for us to be colder than London, this morning it was -7C! Normally we are the ones sitting with smug smiles on our faces in the warmth whilst the south of England shivers! I shall post some more warming winter recipes soon I promise! We certainly need them, and glad you enjoyed the tareflette. The light is magical here, it’s a fabulous place to take photos. I’ll look forward to chatting with Amy and seeing if we can find what she wants. Have a lovely weekend xx

  • Beautiful photographs and accompanying stories. I particularly enjoyed the plumber story and the reasons for his prompt efficiency.

    Where is your lovely location?

    Happy to have stumbled upon your blog…
    Peta

    • So happy you stumbled across the blog too Peta, thank you for taking the time to comment and I really hope you enjoy following along. We are close to the coast in Charente Maritime on the French Atlantic coast, it’s a beautiful area with normally a mild temperate climate! Hope you have a lovely weekend xx

  • It seems that the cold snap is over. We were up to 8 today. Five years ago, we had almost two full weeks without cracking zero during the day. Unheard of. Everyone acts as if it’s the end of the world at 1 C, which would be an opportunity to get the salt washed off the car back where I’m from.

    • It was the same here yesterday -7 in the morning and +7 in the afternoon and much the same again today, first last night but nowhere near as hard. It seems we have another few days of cold nights and clear sunny days, personally I love this weather. But it’s true, everyone is bundled up as if it were the Arctic!! Is it much warmer in Carcassonne during the winter than Limoux? We have friends there and they say winters are generally dry, sunny but pretty cold? Have a great weekend in the winter sunshine, I could have sunbathed here yesterday in the shelter if I had a) had the time and b) liked sunbathing which I don’t!!!

    • Ha ha, but actually I really love this weather, I love the frosty mornings and the chill in the air, it is fabulous to be outside walking and equally great to be able to come back inside to a warm toasty fire and feel all snug! So you are spoilt rotten with your perfect weather and we are spoilt rotten with our lifestyle, makes us two very lucky people!!! Have a great weekend xx

  • This post is so full of great visual treats, but the portable commode is amazing! I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. I’m guessing this is the type of thing that would have only been found in a rather well-to-do family.

    • I am thinking maybe you are right Joanne, My late mother in law bought this at an auction many years ago, she rather loved the amusement of having a loo in her sitting room, just as we now do! Most of all children, when I show them, find it quite hilarious and also quite fascinating as in fact so do I, it really is quite luxurious! Xx

    • Thanks so much Emily, We have lots of palm trees around here, they seem to cope without any problems with the colder winters. I have, however, wrapped up our lemon trees against the cold. Hope you are having a lovely weekend xx

  • Superb frozen landscapes and hourra for François. By the way I have looked at the Mr. Bricolage website and a loo seat (lunette de toilette?) is about €20…so not too frightening, thanks for asking Roddy though.
    Have you heard about this new movie filmed on L’Ile de Ré, starring Joan & Pauline Collins and Franco Nero (swoon!) due to be released in March? Looks good.
    Stay warm. x

    • Hi Fiona, thanks and yes it is definitely hooray for François, not sure what we would have done if we had had to wait several days or even weeks for a plumber! Glad you found loo seats at affordable prices too, at least you know they will fit. Have not heard of the film, I shall go and do some research on google and have a look, I love movies filmed in a location I know! Freezing nights and beautiful days of around 8C and lots of sun, couldn’t be more perfect! Hope you stay warm too and have had a lovely weekend. xx

  • Well, so much to respond to in your post, although I loved all of it. I heard a news story on NPR, which I can’t find now, about people who are trying to acclimate their bodies to the cold. Maybe it’s called “Cold Weather Conditioning.” So apparently some people agree with you. I run in very low temperatures but usually will head inside if it’s in single digits. We’ve had a very warm winter so I haven’t been very hampered by the cold. Lucky you to have Francois the loo man. And your eggs are delightful. Hope you’ll join in with Dreaming of France. Here’s my Dreaming of France meme

    • The problem with cold weather conditioning would be, once we got used to the cold we would be back up in the teens and not need it again! It doesn’t normally get that cold here, very mild temperate coastal climate and when it does get chilly it doesn’t last for long, coupled with the fact that like the last few days we have had frosts at night but 8 or 9C during the daytime, but in a sheltered spot in full sun one could literally sit in a t shirt and sunbathe, if one a) had the time and b) liked sunbathing! So you see we are rather spoilt here and normally don’t have to worry, this is probably why the 0 temperature all day had us all talking about the cold! I’ll pop over to your blog now xx

  • Hi Susan, love the pictures of the frost, a treat for my eyes whilst we suffer the opposite problem of 40 degree + Centigrade heat. Are we soft? No I don’t think so, you get a certain level of acclimatization even us, it gets down to mid 20’s and it feels very chilly! Lucky about your plumber, we live in western Sydney and it can be a challenge even here to get one to actually turn up.

    • Hi Virginia, it seems finding a good reliable plumber is a problem the world over! Actually I think it is just as hard to live with 40C+ heat as it is with the cold, that is really hot, the sort of heat that just saps ones energy. However in six months time I will be saying how hot it is and you will be telling me you just had a frost! This is why I love the different seasons, each one, I think, makes us appreciate the next even more, there is always the excitement of things to come. So whilst I enjoy our weak winter sun wrapped up in a cashmere sweater and a thick scarf I hope you have a wonderful end to the week in flip flops and t shirts! (I’m only just the teeniest bit jealous!!!) xx

  • If only your plumber made house calls to Wisconsin…

    And the winter scenes are gorgeous – I wouldn’t mind a little cold if it looked like that (of course, I am one of those in the frozen (or not-so-frozen-right-now) tundra, so I know the temps would seem downright pleasant to me this time of year).

    • If only, I am sure he would love to visit, but I feel his invoice might be quite enormous!!! The weather here is actually perfect for me, the only thing lacking is a little smattering of the white stuff to keep me happy, but otherwise it is gorgeous, a gentle frost each night as it dips to just below freezing and the daytimes climbing to around 7C, mid 40’s with clear skies and plenty of sun and the sun still has enough power in it to actually warm one a little. I feel for you in your much much colder weather, stay warm and soon it will be spring! xx

      • I can truly imagine, snow is always fun for a few days and then when you have to live with it non stop and the relentless cold I can see how it can become tiresome and difficult, it makes me feel rather silly wishing for snow! Still spring really is not too far off now. xx

  • What a story about the plumber, Ms. Susan. I only got 3 correct answers, but I had fun doing the game. Love the pictures. We’re beginning to feel the cool season here. Then in a couple months, blistering heat of summer. Have a lovely week.

    • Thanks so much. It’s funny I thought the competition was easy, but it seems it was harder than I thought, I will do another but make it much simpler next time! It’s still chilly here but the sun still has enough power to provide just a little heat in the middle of the day which is gorgeous and the skies are so clear and blue, for me this is the perfect winter weather and then like you I think just a couple of months and we will be in spring and it should be warm, not hot like you, but very pleasantly warm. Hope you are having a lovely week too xx

    • Thanks, it is much warmer, quite suddenly. We went from -7C at night to +6C at night and today it has been 13C all day, just lovely to feel the warmth from the sun again! Hope you are having a lovely weekend xx

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