Monday, 22 December 2014

Busy time of year.....

Wow!  It just seems like yesterday that I made my last post, and here it is two months later.

I had heaps of catching up to do after my recuperation, and have been so busy that time has just flown by.  In fact there are still things that I am behind on.

October saw the death of one of my chicks.  I had purchased two dwarf chickens (not bantams) as my "mother hens" for next year.  The sweetest of the two was still a bit too young to cope with being outside in the cold and unfortunately she died.  I was a bit sad as she was the one that liked to cuddle.  A lovely little personality and quite tame as well.

Two weeks later my rooster took ill.  He was quite often a bit "off colour" as he ate anything that he could fit in his beak.  Bees, rubbish, you name it.  If it could be swallowed - it was swallowed.  He developed sour crop and could not be saved.  Unfortunately he was very much a "don't touch me" kind of rooster, so by the time I could touch him, he was too weak and sick to survive.  A real shame as he was a superbe rooster and absolutely enormous.  I have a replacement, but he is just not quite as good as my original.  Nothing wrong with him, but the first one was a hard act to follow.

November saw heavy frosts starting to hit and everyone racing to get ready for winter.  The garden however was still in full flower, so I am still now - in december - doing my autumn pruning!  Another week should see it done for the year.

We spent a weekend weather proofing and insulating the hen house.  It really is a chicken palace now!  I use the deep litter method, so it is very cosy inside.  The mice think so too..... grrr.  They are so bold that they don't even move till you get right up to them.  Have been putting mint in the house which mice hate, but it only lasts a few days to a week and has to be redone.  I will get rid of them though!  If all else fails, I will lock Sophie in there overnight.....

The spare bedroom is now much better organised and more user friendly for my sewing projects.  Cannot wait to start making a few new outfits.  Same with the office.  I had a major sort out and reorganised a lot of things and now have a good work space for my craft projects as well as desk space for working.  Much nicer and easier to work there now.

Guy and Eric are loving our new heating.  The wood pellet fire is fabulous and they think it is just for them.  There is now a basket in front of it and they take turns curling up in it and basking in the warmth.  Think I might have to get a second basket so they can each have their own.  Sophie, meanwhile, has discovered the joys of a heated bed.  We have a heating pad in her bed in one of the outbuildings.  It is on a timer and turns on around 17h30 and off around 08h30.  Between those hours she is not to be found outside.  In fact, she demands dinner at 1700h and then goes to bed!  In the morning she stays in bed till it starts cooling off, and quite often is still in bed late in the morning.  Very funny when you go looking for her and call out for ages, only to go into the dependance and see a little furry head poking out of the cat bed all blinky and fuzzy eyed.

We planted a new apple tree this weekend, part of the plan of getting ready to replace a few fruit trees which are very old and not fruiting very well anymore.  It will bear fruit in about three years, so that will be just in time for the current old trees to be fading out.  Gradually over the next few years we will replace some of the older fruit trees and rejuvenate the orchard.  Will be nice to have eating apples as well as the current cooking and cider apples.

Our neighbour has been in hospital the past few weeks.  All ok now and he is back home, but his chickens have meantime moved out and decided they prefer to live chez nous.  I was feeding them whilst he was unwell, and combined with the fact that they have always wandered in when the gate is open and visited our terrain, they now think I am their owner.  They follow me around everywhere and if they hear my voice they come running (have you ever seen chickens run flat out?  Funniest thing you have ever seen!!!).  After the fruit tree planting saturday I was digging up the parsnips and the last of the carrots and beetroots with the assistance of his flock.  Really funny to have a flock of chickens poised attentively around you waiting for a juicy worm or bug to be unearthed.  Had to be careful not to tread on one of them if I stepped backwards!  Afterwards I was trying to put them back in their coop, but it was more like a Keystone Cops or Benny Hill episode than anything.  I am tempting them through the gate and closing it, to turn around and walk back to the house, only to find more chickens to herd towards the gate, shepherd through, close, turn, more chickens..... repeat repeat repeat.  The cheeky beggers were walking in the gate and along the fence a bit (till behind a tree and out of sight), then flying back over to my side again whilst I was busy getting their flock mates through the gate.  All in the freezing cold without my coat on.  I was not a happy bunny, but had to laugh as it was so ridiculas.

The photo above was taken by Wayne on his iphone.  Me wrangling the neighbours chickens with the assistance of Sophie.  She loves chickens, and always helps me feed, lock up etc every day.  Mind you, she is also quite fond of sampling any tidbits I throw out for them as well......

Anyway, Christmas is coming quickly and hopefully things will slow down a bit.  We are celebrating on Christmas Eve with our neighbours (French celebrate Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day) which will be lovely.  We are sharing the food preparation and it should be a great night.  The 25th we will be recovering quietly at home, and gathering strength for the Orphans Picnic on Boxing Day which we are hosting.  (Casual potluck for friends in our group who are not travelling to family for the fetes.)

Hope everyone has a lovely Christmas and look forward to having more time in the New Year to blog more frequently.  Best wishes!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Back on track

Phew, what a month!

Surgery went well, and I have been recovering slowly but steadily.  Thank you for the lovely emails with get well wishes.

Not a lot of news to report.  Have spent my time resting and not being able to do anything, so the garden and house are a bit neglected and in need of some TLC.  Oh well, not the end of the world.  All will be back to normal soon.

I borrowed heaps of books from the library, thinking that would keep me occupied for the month.... then two days after coming home from hospital I passed out and gave myself a bad concussion...... so could not read, watch tv/dvd's or anything interesting.  Typical! lol

One thing I have been doing this past week is working on cross stitch designs for Christmas ornaments.  A piece of graph paper and a pencil is all you need.  Have started making some, and they are coming together nicely.  You can buy some of the ornaments and my jams, jellies and chutneys at the Chez Tante Mabel Christmas market which will be the last weekend in november.  Stay tuned for more details closer to the date.

I had grand plans of crocheting, stitching, reading and watching a few films on dvd over the past month.  All that has happened is that the cats have had lots of snuggle time and the dining table is still covered with everything I planned to occupy myself with. 

At least we have had some lovely sunny days, which has meant I could sit outside for half an hour each day and bask in the sunshine with Sophie.  She has been very happy to have me sit and stroke her and just spend time with her. 

It is starting to feel like autumn now.  The leaves are falling from the trees, the nights are cooler, and we have fog and mist in the mornings and a heavy dew.  We have actually run the heating a few times to take the chill off the air in the house! 

Our neighbours did the vendage this weekend.  I was very disappointed to not be able to join in.  Will have to wait till next year.  It is hard work, but very satisfying and it is lovely to be out in the vines at this time of year.

I love this part of the year when everything is starting to hunker down ready for winter.  The garden is lovely and the woods are bursting into gorgeous warm colours just as the temperature drops.  There is a special feel to the air that just makes you impatient for the cold weather to arrive so you can bundle up in jumpers and scarves and walk for miles enjoying it all.

The chickens are starting to get ready for the cold weather too.  Eating a lot more and heading in to bed earlier each night.  They start waiting at the gate to the chicken palace at about 7pm, and if I am not there by 7.30pm they take themselves to bed.  Very funny and cute.  Strawberries and tomatoes are their favourite foods, and I make sure I hand feed them something every day so they are happy to be approached and be near humans.  The rooster doesn't like to be patted, but the girls are ok with it.... well, I think they put up with it rather than like it to be honest.

This week sees the start of getting back into my usual routine, so I will have more interesting updates next time.

Thank you again for all the good wishes emails.

Friday, 22 August 2014

end of summer

Already, in mid august, we are experiencing the end of summer.  Far too early!  We can only hope that the warm weather and sunshine will return for another few weeks.

Our normally scorching summer days have turned balmy.  The nights are cool.

The swallows are gathering to fly south to Africa.

Apples are ripe and dropping from the trees.

Everyone is left feeling rather disappointed and deflated.  After a long, wet and miserable winter (even though not as cold as usual), we have had a very short summer.

All signs are pointing to another long winter, and a cold one at that.  We shall see what happens.

Most of the sunflower fields are already faded and waiting to be harvested, but there are still the odd ones which have bright sunny flowers.  Even on a dull and grey day they are beautiful and give a much needed splash of warm colour.

Annoyingly, my tomatoes are not yet ripe.  I have the fruit in abondance, but not enough sun to ripen them.  We may be eating a lot of green tomato pickles etc this year.  Worst thing is that I will have to buy tomatoes to make sauces and preserve for winter.  Feels really wrong to do that somehow when I have such a big potager.

The chicks are doing well.  We have enough eggs to not have to worry about buying them.  I would like a slight surplus, but that will happen when I enlarge the flock.

I was very excited last night when I was making us a light snack of eggs on toast for dinner, and we had double yolkers!  What a bonus!

OK, enough time spent inside, there is work to be done in the terrain.

Saturday, 16 August 2014


Once again I have not been sitting at my computer as too much to do outside.  Apologies as photos and updates very overdue.

Well, we have our rooster now, and he is lovely.  Still doesn't have a name.  Can't quite decide what to call him.  Would love to call him Roger the Dodger as he spent the first few days dodging the girls.... but we have too many Rogers in the village, so it would not be tactful if I had to explain the joke behind his name .... hmmm.  Was thinking of calling him Bordeaux - as Coq au Vin is a bit of a mouthful.  We shall see what happens.

Whilst the girls are pretty shades of browns and coppers (with mullet hairdo's!), he is striking in white, grey and black, with tiny hints of coppery brown.  Still a bit of growing to do, so we are waiting to see how big his tail gets and what form his comb will take.

The girls are laying pretty much everyday.  Beautiful pale blue eggs like jewels.  Have had one full size egg so far, the rest are "training" eggs and a bit on the small side.  They are very happy and content in their coop.  No more attempts to explore the terrain, so their wings have not needed to be clipped.

Sophie loves the chickens, but unfortunately the rooster is not so fond of her visiting them.  If she gets too close he gets a bit stroppy and fluffs himself up and runs at her.  Would be interesting to see who came out the victor in that battle!  Both are little warriors.

Our freezer is filling with veg ready for winter.  Haven't started preserving yet, but will have to start soon.  Hasn't been a fabulous year for the crops as too wet, so everything is late and some things not doing too well at all.  Still no aubergines and the capsicums are only just fruiting.

One thing that is thriving is the sureau and berries in the hedgerows.  Have made one batch of elderberry jelly, but will have to make more to sell.  Also have a batch of syrup put up ready for winter.  The blackberries are ripening, so will go foraging for them monday and make up some blackberry jelly.  Also a few kilos for the freezer.  Rosehips on the eglantines seem to be coming along nicely.  Am keeping an eye on them so I can harvest for eglantine jelly in a month or so.  I detest the texture of rosehip jam, far too gritty for me.  The jelly is the same lovely perfumed flavour, but a much nicer texture.

My jams and jellies are now available to buy at Chez Tante Mabel at Fondemoulin.  Hopefully they will sell well there and benefit both Bev and I!

The apples are nearly ready for picking.  This year we are trying to get a group together to take all our apples to a professional cider mill to have them crushed and pressed.  You need a lot to do this, and no one has enough on their own.  So if we club together it should work well.  Also, the more varieties of apples in the mix, the better the flavour of the finished product.  Win for all!

OK, time to go and make rhubarb compote.  I have a bountiful supply of rhubarb, which is fabulous.  I could eat rhubarb every day with no problem.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Les Poilus... and other things

No, these are not Poilus, these are cupcakes....

Realised that I forgot to post an image from the decorating workshop that I went on a month or so ago.  It was heaps of fun and I learnt so much. 

Things have not slowed down for summer.  I seem to be busier than ever.  Luckily it is school holidays and I have the extra bt of time to cram in my

The garden is looking fabulous!  Will have to take proper photos soon to post.  These ones are just snapped on my iphone.  I have flowers everywhere and the orchard and potager are looking fabulous too.  The wildflower meadow is coming along slowly, thanks to Jean's unfortunate plowing incident just when it was ready to flower.... let's not talk about that though.  Hopefully next year it will be fully established and look wonderful.

Unfortunately I lost the battle with doryphore beetles this year.  They have decimated my potato plants.  Hopefully the potatoes will be ok, but the plants are almost gone.  Very annoying.  I went out every day and removed the eggs and beetles, and then when that didn't seem to be working I tried dusting them with flour ( a remedy from an organic website).  It seemed to slow them down, but did not stop them.  So I don't think I will get the same massive yield as last year.

The chooky girls are doing well.  Completely at home in their chicken palace.  They have taken to following me around inside it and "helping" me weed etc.  The paler one has a fondness for pecking my toes.... she is the cheeky one and has a very bold character.  The darker one is slightly more timid and skittish.  Yesterday we went out and bought our new heating system and a whole heap of hardware items for the next months works.  When we got home it was 7pm and first thing I did was go out to collect the washing off the line..... only to be met by a chicken.... outside the chicken pen.  The lighter one had decided to have an explore, but could not get back in.  Needless to say I have no strawberries now as she feasted on them all day...hmmm.

The cats are all spoilt and content.  Sophie has not been battling everything that moves, so has been looking good the past few weeks.  The boys are loving our new memory foam overlay on our bed.  They also think it gives the best nights sleep!

At present I am working on a project along with a few others in the village.  We are putting together an exhibit about the villagers who went to the First and Second World Wars, and including the British SAS soldiers who were executed by the Nazis and are buried here in the village cemetary.  One of the team has done a huge amount of work tracing teh genealogy of the French soldiers and finding as much information as possible about each of them.  My job is to translate all the information into english and then to research the SAS soldiers and produce profiles on them.

Les Poilus is the name given to the local soldiers who went to fight.  It has been interesting to learn about the lives of these men (and sometimes boys) who lost their lives and are now commemorated on the War Memorial in the village centre.  So many of the names are still to be found here, and they really are still remembered by the older villagers.  One of the first stories I was told when we moved in, was about ClĂ©mentine who rode her bicycle over the Vichy line taking messages for the Resistance.  Her family owned our house.  There are still members of the family living nearby and the cemetary is full of those that have already gone to "pastures green".

As part of the project, I am going to London next week to conduct further research in the National Archives and the National Library.  Hopefully I will come across some interesting images to display in the exhibit as well.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014


My chickens are finally here.  So happy.

I have the 2 girls now, and the rooster arrives in a few weeks.  He is still a bit young and needs to learn how to be a big boy before coming to live with us.  Mind you, the girls are still quite young and have a bit of growing to do as well.

They have settled in fabulously.  Loving their new coop, and letting me have little pats each morning.  Hopefully they will be quite tame and will sit for lots of cuddles and pats before too long.

Sophie is happy too.  She has missed having chickens to guard.  Yesterday she made her inspection and then sat outside the door purring.  I could swear she was smiling.

The breed is Legbar (lays lovely blue eggs) and they come from Anne over at Arbes et Abeilles.  Fabulous plant nursery, and chickens too!

Saturday, 14 June 2014

and suddenly there were bees!

I was going to do a post about the wild orchids growing in the terrain today..... but as sometimes happens, another topic came to the forefront.

Last tuesday I had a very busy day.  Wayne had to fly to Sweden, which meant a train at "ugly o'clock" in the morning.  I drove him to the station, stayed in Poitiers for a little shopping, then returned home in time for a quick lunch before working that afternoon at the museum.  Of course, being a busy day, it did not stop there.  I had to go home from museum, finish off some light summer trousers I was sewing, so that I could wear them the next day on a trip, then I had a council meeting to attend.  You are starting to get the picture that I hardly had time to think, let alone sit for five seconds and breathe.

In between getting home and gobbling down some dinner, before rushing back out to the Mairie,  my neighbour knocked on the door.  He had been strimming along the drystone wall that runs along the boundary of our place and his, and on our side he ran into a bee swarm......

Literally walked right into it - with strimmer running - and bees trying to guard their queen from the nasty invader.

Luckily he was not stung, although he did do the crazy bee dance trying to wave them away whilst backpedalling very fast.

A friend of his is an apiarist, and was very happy to come and collect a healthy swarm of bees.  So he came and placed a beehive beside the angry mass of bees and gently smoked and coaxed them into moving house.  As it was late in the day and the bees had been upset enough already, the hive was left in place till early next morning to enable them to calm down and settle in.

Bright and early the next day (again! another 5:00am start - eek!) the beekeeper arrived and gently loaded the bees into his van for their trip to a new home.  I waved them off, then went on a coach trip to Beauval Zoo... but that is a story for another day....

I have been promised a jar of honey when it is ready to be collected, and suffice to say, whilst I am happy that my garden is so appealing to the wildlife I would rather not have bee swarms to deal with -  or snakes dropped on my feet for that matter (are you listening Sophie?).

Not many photos as I was not willing to get too close to all the action.  I am super allergic to bees!

It seems that every time I have a really busy day, some other drama arrives to cap it off.  No one can say life in the country is boring!
Just because, a photo of my baby boy Guy.  Isn't he gorgeous!