This blog entry is actually taking up a meme passed on to me by Heiko at Path to Self Sufficiency (and before that Mr. H at Subsistence Pattern), that of "A Day in the Slow Life". (I highly recommend these blogs to anyone interested in the goings-on of this one!) Before you describe the actual day, however, you're supposed to give an account of how you arrived at that day, or how you came to live the slow life. While I've provided the quick version of this here, I suppose there are quite a few more details I could fill in, namely how I ended up in Paris in the first place!
I guess you could trace it all back to my older brother deciding to take French classes in school. I did pretty much anything he did in those days, so I followed suit and started studying French in the 7th grade. It was fun, as we felt like we had a secret language between us that our parents couldn't understand (sorry mom...you weren't missing much though, as we pretty much only knew how to say things like "Jean-Paul likes to eat baguettes"). From there, we went on a Rick Steves trip to Europe when I was 13, and I was fascinated by the centuries of history right under our feet and soaring above our heads at every turn (since in Missouri anything built in the 1800s is considered 'historical'!). Then we had an exchange student, well, not student really 'cause we did it in the summer, from Lyon, also called Laura, who came and stayed with us when I was 14, and then the summers when I was 15 and 17 I went to live with them.
These may seem like fairly innocuous events, but I think it is safe to say they altered the course of my life forever, opening my eyes to different ways of doing and thinking things, and ultimately leading to me bending over a vegetable patch in a small village in rural France.
Without these things happening, I would not have even considered going off to Paris at age 18 on my own to study. But when I scored high enough on a national French exam in high school to qualify for a scholarship for a year at the American University of Paris, I applied, and when I was fortunate enough to be selected to receive it, I took it, and next thing I knew I was living in a closet with a baguette and a jar of Nutella and roaming the streets of the City of Lights, happy as a clam.
So I guess that fills you in up to the point of my story as related here on the blog, of how I got from Paris to the country, so now for my Day in the Slow Life. I should say, however, that technically it is more like the Slowing-Down Life, as we still have one foot in the modern economy, despite wanting to have both feet in wellies squarely in the mud of the garden. As such, our week is divided, with Henry going into Paris to work three days a week, so I wasn't too sure which sort of day to pick to recount here...but I ended up going for Thursday, November 4th (one of his work days unfortunately).
6:30 The alarm, a gentle twittering of birds that is about the only thing I can stand, goes off. Grumbling I bat it off and Henry and I lie there for a few minutes pretending that it is my turn to go make tea, though we both know somehow it never is (unless you want a very grumpy Laura for the rest of the day). Henry stoically braves the morning chill downstairs to make us tea and brings it back upstairs for us to drink in bed and slowly drag me into consciousness.
7:15 Henry gets ready for the day and I go downstairs and let the dogs out for their morning constitutional, then let them back in, laboriously wiping each of 8 muddy paws for the first of many times in the day. Maya stands still and graciously lifts each paw in succession, while Kali is feeling frisky and flips herself around in circles, playing the 'you can't catch my paws' game, which she apparently thinks is very funny.
7:55 Henry drives the ten minutes to the train station in the next town over and takes the train into Paris to work, while I wave him goodbye and put on the laptop to check my email, online news and blogs, etc, while the dogs go back to sleep on the couch beside me, Kali snoring as usual. We were actually supposed to get a report in, so normally I would've spent the day copy editing, but it has been postponed, so I have to figure out what needs doing the most around the house and garden. But for now I'm just catching up on things on the computer while eating a quick porridge (oats and a sprinkling of raisins with boiled water poured over them and a small drizzle of honey).
9:18 I decide I want to cook the dried black beans I had the excitement of finding at the grocery store the other day for dinner, so I put them in a bowl to soak, then do last night's dishes and clean up the kitchen.
9:42 I had been hoping to get some work done in the garden, but it is a bit miserable and rainy out, and I think the ground is far too muddy to pull up my beets and carrots to store, as the soil is now a sticky clay. But maybe later in the afternoon I can do a bit of something. For now, I fold some clothes that have been drying on a rack and put another load of laundry in the machine.
10:05 The pups are stirring now and actually there has been a let up in the rain, so I take them for a quick walk before feeding them a mixture of dried food and canned (goose and turkey meat today). I take them one at a time, as Kali (surprisingly) is quite good on her own, but together they egg each other on and become rather difficult to keep in check. Maya, usually the goody two shoes in the house, is a completely different dog on the walk, distracted at every step by a flutter of birds' wings, a neighbor saying hello, a rider on a horse passing by, the smell of wet fallen leaves or baking bread wafting from the local boulangerie. I guess it is all just too much for her to take in.
11:43 The doorbell rings, and it is a van from a cooperative farm in Normandy which apparently comes round every few months to sell staples such as carrots, potatoes and onions that have been grown organically (but they just haven't been able to get the official organic label yet). Ashley had them a few weeks ago and I was hoping they would come calling here, too. We have carrots in the garden still, so I bought red and yellow onions, shallots, red and 'normal' potatoes, and three different kinds of amazing apples, the kind you won't find in the grocery store. I followed his instructions to store them in our shed. It feels good to have food stored, like some sort of primal feeling of being prepared for the winter.
12:10 I heat up some leftover vegetable soup for lunch. It uses all the things we still have in the garden - carrots, parsnip, beet and beet greens, Swiss chard - and I give those red onions and potatoes a try to bulk it out a little. Perfect for a chilly wet day.
12:40 It is still heavily misting out, but I feel the need to do something in the garden, so I waterproof myself as much as possible, and rake up the leaves from the cherry tree that are starting to carpet the lawn. I also put down one of three bags of a soil nutrient mixture I got from a garden store on special, which is supposed to help return nutrients to it (it is an organic, seaweed-based mix) and promote its biodynamic content. This goes on the resting earth where the tomato plants were, as the first layer I am adding on top in my foray into the no-dig method. Usually this would also include horse manure from the local riding school, but I read that brassicas, which are going here next, actually don't like fresh manure, and in the rotation system it is best to manure before the tomatoes. But I did want to try to return some more nutrients to the soil, so hopefully this seaweed mixture will help, and fingers crossed we'll also have compost ready from our compost bin by spring.
Maya and Kali weren't too sure about going out in the rain at first, but they'd rather not stay in if I'm outside, so I let them out and after hugging the sides of the house they finally venture out and start playing in the mud with their squeaky duck. Normally I only give it to them a little at a time, but I wasn't paying attention while I was working and turned around to find its insides spread all over the lawn, and the duck in a very sorry state!
14:52 Both the dogs and I are already soaked, so I figure I might as well take the dogs out again, as our walk in the morning was pretty short. We take the long route across to the other side of the village, past the local landmark of the centuries-old public bath house, Les Fontaines, which is fed by a spring.
Then down the path and across the stream, appreciating the glorious fall colors despite the damp.
Up the hill on the other side, through a patch of private forest (the path we're on is public though), and out the other side, now in-between farmers' fields.
The path loops back around and crosses the stream again, and on the way down to it we pass farmers harvesting corn. The ground is strewn with the stripped corncobs, which once dried are a great natural firestarter.
Fortunately I'm wearing my cargo pants, which inevitably have their pockets filled with something or other on our walks, and this time turns out to be no exception as I pick up several to take home.
16:05 Back home I towel the dogs off and spread the corn cobs out on some newspaper to dry, then get out of my wet clothes and have a quick shower.
16:30 The beans will take a couple of hours to cook, and Henry usually gets home around 18:30, so I put them in a pan of gentle simmering water with a half of a leftover veggie stock cube. I'm planning to try out a Black Bean Burrito for dinner tonight, complete with homemade flour tortillas. I've never tried to make the latter before, however, so I spend a few minutes looking up recipes online.
16:50 It will be getting dark soon already, so I bring some firewood from the closer pile into a box in the house, just enough to keep us going for the evening so we don't have to venture outside into the black, wet night. I also go cut some Swiss chard in the garden for dinner and grab two more red onions from the shed, as well as one of the green chilli peppers still hanging on the drooping plants.
17:25 I clean the glass-fronted fireplace and empty the ash out, then light the fire to get the house warming up for the evening, as a chill really sets in with the sun going down, particularly on a damp day like today. The floor is also covered in little bits of mud the dogs have tracked in despite the diligent wiping of the paws, so I throw the vacuum around quickly so the house doesn't deteriorate into a total mess, as it can so quickly do with those dogs!
18:20 With the time change it is already pitch black outside. I open the gate for Henry so he doesn't have to get out of the car and do it, and a few minutes later he pulls in the drive. He fends off the excited dogs while he comes in until he can change into more dog-friendly clothes. He then feeds the dogs another round of what they had in the morning, while I start cooking. I'll post the full recipe after, but basically I pureed the beans and made the tortillas while Henry helped out by cooking the red onions, Swiss chard and chilli pepper and a can of corn together in a pan for the topping.
19:15 We eat our burritos (which turned out great! never buying tortillas again...) and load up season 5 of Gordon Ramsay's 'The F Word' tv show to watch a couple of episodes. In-between episodes we chat, make ourselves an herbal tea, let the dogs out and back in and re-stoke the fire. I also put the leftover bean mixture away in the fridge to be used the next night and put the pans and other dishes and kitchen implements in to soak overnight. Though I like going to bed with a clean kitchen, more often than not we just leave it till the next day to make better use of the evening together. At some point I run upstairs quickly to put the electric heater on in the bedroom so it will be warm when we head up to bed.
22:05 We let the dogs out a final time. Maya can be in the deepest slumber and will jump up and bolt to the door. Kali, however, merely opens an eye and grumbles a little, a bit like me in the mornings, and snuggles her nose deeper under her paw. Not wanting to be awakened in the night however, I drag her bodily off the couch until she finally gives in, stretches and pads over to the door. When they come back in we tuck them into bed and head upstairs to get some sleep ourselves.
So at this point it is customary to pass the meme theme on. I don't want to pressure anyone (it's not like those chain letters where your house will supposedly get hit by a freak tornado if you don't...), so I'll just put out an open invite to my other blogger friends reading this who are also living the slow life and might want to share with us what one of their days is like (Max, Sue, Jan, Judith, Roz, or anyone else who feels inspired)!