French Contentment, Where Less is More

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Simplifying is all the rage now.

When we first moved to France, one of the things Roddy and I were looking forward to most was living a slightly simpler way of life. Not because we had read the latest magazine articles and wanted to be up to date, but because we both firmly believed that it was the way we wanted to raise our family and live our lives. 

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Materialism starts to rear its ugly head as soon as children begin school; it slowly gains momentum as they enter the teenage years and by the time they are young adults it can be a beast at the door that is difficult to ignore. It’s hard to make it go away altogether, particularly as we live in a world of technology and an era when people have more than they ever have had before, and have the means to see what else there is to be had. But what we wanted to do was at least allow our children to realise that there is so much more to appreciate in everyday simple surroundings and that beauty can be found in the strangest of things and places.P6400342

If we really open our eyes and notice what is around us we will see so much more, the minute detail that a cursory glance completely ignores.

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Above all else we really wanted to show them that one does not need to spend, spend, and then spend some more, in order to enjoy oneself.

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The minimalistic lifestyle is fast gaining momentum, but is it here to stay or is it just a trend? One of the key elements of minimalism is to get rid of anything that adds no value to our life, to make room for things that do.

Decluttering, another movement much talked about, can be extremely beneficial in many way, plus it leaves us feeling more positive and apparently it has many health benefits. I mentioned this to Roddy this week, and he jokingly remarked that the less he has to misplace, the easier life becomes – and I think he has a point.

But do we need to follow the latest ‘in thing’ to lead a contented happy life? Do we have to say goodbye to two-thirds of our possessions in order for us to be more open to appreciating life’s everyday pleasures?

I think the things we own should make our lives easier and should make us happy, but I don’t think we need an abundance of material things in order to live well.

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In France I truly think it is easier to live a more down to earth, simpler lifestyle. Perhaps it is because nearly everyone else who lives around us is of a similar mindset – even if they are often not in the least bit aware of it. Of course though, you don’t have to live in France to enjoy this existence, you can live anywhere, but it really seems that the people here truly understand the values of where and how they live, and appreciate it for what it is. It may be that as a country of such ancient values, one that has felt the tread of the invader’s foot so many times, that the French DNA has a twist to it that allows people of le pays to accept, live and simply rejoice in what they have, and not lean particularly towards the material world. In many ways the very self-sufficiency of every house-hold’s potager is ample proof of that mindset. As is the die-hard habit the French have of tucking away banknotes under a mattress for rainy days.

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I often get asked “how can I live a similar French lifestyle?”

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I’ve thought about this long and hard before I decided to write anything. Because there are no hard and fast rules, and because I can’t tell you how to live your life – what works for one may not work for another, and every family has different needs. However, what I can do is tell you what works for us. We are in many ways a typical modern family, juggling work, running a home and paying the bills. We have five children aged from 10 to 20 and as a result there is an abundance of after-school activities. We don’t have gardeners or cleaners or nannies and like most people we seem to have less and less free time, and if we’re not careful everything becomes a frantic rush; but when I get to this stage the warning lights come on, and I have to ‘stop and look around’, to remember what is really important, whether it’s family life, healthy living, or just making the most of the simple pleasures that come our way.

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Hand in hand with all of this is understanding that most of the simplest things in life are in fact some of the greatest luxuries in the world. In our case this might be being able to smell the roses, listen to the birds singing, collecting fresh eggs from our hens, or eating fruits and vegetables straight from the garden – still warm from the sun.

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We don’t need constant blue skies and sunny days to enjoy the great outdoors, but twenty minutes of fresh air really does revitalise us. There are many days when I spend far too many hours at the computer, when work calls or when I knuckle down and get to grips with the housework. By the late afternoon, once I have finished the taxi-service of the various school runs, I always take time to spend some precious minutes outside.

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Perhaps it will be sunny and I will do some gardening, as I strangely find pulling weeds rather therapeutic – I can easily get completely lost in a world of plants, as anything to do with gardening is a salve for my consciousness when it feels a little frazzled. Muddling about in the flowerbeds gives my head some space in which I can be a calmer person, and it also lets me be creative at the same time.

Or maybe it will be overcast and dull, and a walk in the fields with the dogs is in order. Maybe I will be joined by one or more of the children.

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We might pick a few wild flowers, a simple bunch that we can pop in a vase on the kitchen table.

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Sometimes we’ll talk non-stop, reflecting on the day, and at others we’ll continue along in silence for a while, deep in thought, completely at ease with each other’s company as we simply notice our surroundings.

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The bare earth of winter is now smothered in spring’s green vegetation; sunflowers have been planted all around us again this year.

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There are acres and acres of wheat and barley slowly ripening in the warm sun.

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The vines in the little vineyards we pass on our favourite route are supporting young bunches of grapes; these are purely for private consumption, as is so common here. The farmer usually has a small area of vines, just enough so that he can make sufficient wine for the year, even if it’s usually a fairly rough vin de table!

P6400733But it will be enjoyed, and it will accompany hearty home-made food and it will be drunk in the company of friends and family – above all it most certainly will not be consumed in a hurry. Every sip of such a basic wine should remind the drinker of the time, effort and love that goes into the bottle. Every time I pass this little vineyard it reminds me precisely about the basic style of living that I love the most, a way of life that hasn’t changed much for decades, and I hope never will. To see this in its truest form, one has to visit a chai on a vineyard, and listen to the tale of its wine as the scent from it curls enticingly under your nose from a glass held in anticipatory appreciation. When the winemaker finishes their discourse and you can finally taste the wine, you find yourself tasting the story, not just the alcohol.

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I am a huge believer in focusing on all that is positive. Take snails for example! A strange thing to consider for sure, as I don’t actually like snails much as they tend to munch on everything they are not meant to, and in many cases they do untold damage in the garden. As a moot point, just today I found my coriander (cilantro, I believe in many countries) completely finished, not by us but by the terrestrial pulmonate gastropod molluscs that like to live in our garden! I don’t put down poison because I believe it does more harm than good; instead I remove every snail I find and send them on a little vacation, way down to the bottom of the garden where they can take their chances in the compost heap amongst the chickens!

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However, earlier this week we had a much needed couple of hours of rain. When it ceased mid-morning I glanced out of the kitchen window and saw a snail slowly making it’s way across the glass. I wandered out to remove it and then I noticed more, many more, the rain had brought them out, they were on the shutters, sliding across leaves, moving slowly on the wet soil. Instead of my usual routine of picking them up and removing them, I watched for a good five minutes, appreciating their sedate progress and considering whether or not they can be beneficial to the garden. Can they? Yes of course. In a natural garden they are part of the balance, they provide food for all sorts of mammals, birds and insects.

The moral of this story of course is that something that normally causes damage and annoys me can also sometimes be incredibly peaceful and bring a smile to my face; it might sound bizarre to be watching a snail, but isn’t it just another of life’s simple pleasures? Like the smell of sweet summer rain,

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poppies beside the road

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or that perfect evening light.

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171 thoughts on “French Contentment, Where Less is More

    • That’s exactly what I wanted you to be able to do Anne-Marie. I was out this morning and just thought to myself, I wish I could share all of this, the silence, the warmth from the sun, the humming of insects, so hard to convey but so perfect. xx

  • Exactly my own philosophy on life. I just don’t agree with your tolerance of snails! My strawberry patch is heavily fortified with slug pellets, although I do get some control from our flock of totally free range hens in the rest of the garden where I am much more relaxed. As Voltaire writes in ‘Candide’, in order to find true happiness, ‘ il fault cultiver le jardin’…….

    • If we got snails in the vegetable garden I am sure I would be less tolerant. We still don’t understand why we don’t because nearer the house we have hundreds and I spend my life cursing them and removing them! But they never go near the vegetables! Perhaps it’s our family of hedgehogs who eat them for us!! xx

      • Don’t worry, I know what you mean. Ours live in the chicken garden, where they are free from Evie, our terrier, who also attacks them but I have seen them at night in the veg garden, maybe they are wiser than they look, they know when she is indoors and they are safe! I have no idea if it is the hedgehogs, it cannot be just them, I understand that snails only make up a tiny proportion for their diets, but something keeps the snails away from the bottom of the garden, and whatever it is I am eternally grateful for it!! xx

    • That’s all I can ever hope for for them. I am sure sometimes they wish they were at Eurodisney rather than walking amongst the vines and sunflowers, but I also know that they really do actually appreciate their lives and that this is the best we can offer them! Hope you are enjoying this gorgeous weather and as I always say I hope you get up this way sometime this summer. xx

      • Unfortunately I doubt we will be going anywhere this summer as we have guests in the gite all July and August and part of September. But my daughter and her partner are coming to visit for 5 days, arriving next Friday, so I am very excited about that. It will be her first visit here and over a year since I last saw her.

      • So excited for you and even more so as it will be her first visit to you, hope you have a wonderful time. We have the same problem always in the summer, from May to October we can’t go away because of the gite, but really, it is the best time to stay put and enjoy life here anyway! Some of us will be in your direction for tennis tournaments this summer, I will let you know and maybe we could meet up. xx

  • Your lifestyle is enviable, and I aspire to do so many of the things you mention. We are downsizing a little each day. And enjoying the process. We arrive in Lyon on June 21 for two weeks of seeing the beautiful countryside all the way to Nice when we fly out on July 5. Can’t wait to see the France you write about!

    • Hope you have a wonderful time, you will be in a beautiful part of the world before it gets too busy. Hopefully you will make it to the west coast at some stage, do let me know when you do, would love to meet. xx

  • This just makes me want to sell up and move to the French countryside, it may be a simple life but it is an enviable lifestyle and one I am striving to create for my family here.

    • It is a great lifestyle, not for everyone for sure and it isn’t always easy, it also comes with a lot of hard work, but a work that we enjoy and one that is very worthwhile. Good luck and let me know if you come to France for a visit. xx

  • You’ve hit the nail on he head spot on. This is life at its best, without any name tags, appreciating nature in all its glory.

  • You definitely transported me to your garden! And the country roads and lanes on your walks and drives. Your photos are divine, as always. Thank you!!

  • Boy oh boy, once again you neatly summed it up for us, dear Susan! I also think that as friends we can agree to disagree on certain opinions, can’t we? I don’t mind the snails too much, I also pluck them off and ‘dispose’ of them over the wall ‘down the steep border to the road’. https://www.flickr.com/photos/vol-au-vent/2589568771/in/photolist-iTpPLM-dozEsF-aC7rpB-iTqyi1-8apk1i-csdFbf-6TTdhJ-6vp1xa-6nKgh8-9rFxAU-5xnj2V-5x8sVM-5x8r5P-dibxmx-51PZKW-5123gC-4ZFWHP-51HSJu-4ZZMdU-4ZFHte-5ffCgx-4WQdzr-5ffBVR-4qnGB9-45vyrM-3jNLgq-3jJkNr-MsEzC-EWyFz
    But when I lived in Devon, I hated the slugs with a fervour I didn’t know I was able to…. We had absolutely millions of them and during rainfall or right after, and mostly after nightfall, you could see us outside, gloved hands with ‘Marygolds’ (ha ha) on, collecting them any way we could and throwing them swiftly in boiling hot water – that got them instantly killed and when the ‘killing’ was ove and the water cold, we poured it back into the garden, in a way also a very ‘natural, simple’ way of re-using what nature offered us so generously. We have astonishingly few snails in our garden, so it’s not a problem and I haven’t got a veggie garden.
    I am one of Life’s great ‘clutterer’ only I don’t call it that! In my book it’s ‘collecting’ memories; has a great sound to it, doesn’t it? Although, more and more, it bothers me too that I have so much stuff and about 3 yrs ago I started putting some away – and I haven’t missed it since…. I also do sell some of it but at ‘my terms’, only to people who love it just as much as I did and very reasonably prized. My youngest sister is – for many months now – slowly emptying her house, they will be moving to a flat, now that they are less mobile, more tired and she in her weak health state. She said to me today: Kiki, you can’t believe HOW RICH WE ARE…. All the stuff I’m getting rid of for such a long time (great collector of books, childrens’ games & self-made things, sewing stuff to fill a garage, etc) and I only seem to have made a dent in it!!!! Yes, we are rich beyond measure, we are spoilt with earthly possessions, and poorer for the lack of time, love, compassion. This is truly the time of life’s fast food and of big men with little character. We should more go out and visit the places we love, and with that I don’t mean ‘go away’ but think of our nearest nearness, our own home, family, the nature around us (another blessing and luxury only few have!). I’m trying to strike words from my vocabulary, such as ‘sometime, later, not now, get off my turf’ and I’m getting better at letting things be, even at the price of having dusty floors & dirty windows.
    Thanks for all the joy and wisdom and for being you in this stressful times 🙂

    • As friends I think we can always agree to disagree, wouldn’t it be boring if we all thought the same on everything! But I too hated slugs with a passion in Devon, and yes I used slug pellets. If they ate my vegetables here I would think again but for some reason they never go down to the vegetable garden! I totally agree, we are rich beyond our wildest dreams in so so many ways. We are so lucky and the children are so lucky. We live in a very troubled world but there are so many people who do so much good and yet the media focuses on all that is bad. We are slowly decluttering and simplifying our lives, we had so much stuff, things belonging to my family, Roddy’s family, just so much, all stashed in boxes and slowly slowly we are sorting it all out, and yes, I too am coming to terms with the house being less than perfect but our lives being fully enriched with so many simple things, like a long leisurely lunch instead of a washed floor!!! Xx

  • I have the same gardening philosophy. Nothing relaxes me more than pulling weeds, deadheading or collecting seeds. On those few frustrating days, there is nothing like hacking a cluster of weeds with a hoe. PS It was very relaxing viewing your photos and reading your post. A great way to start my day.

    • Thanks so much. I love deadheading and I also love cutting things back, there is something so satisfying about yielding a pair of secateurs! But yes, any gardening relaxes me completely, one of my favourite places to be. Hope your day continues to be excellent xx

  • What a photographic essay you produce, Susan. Mrs C and I love them all, and although we might not have got to your part of France I think we are getting to know it pretty well now. I especially love the B&W picture of Hetty(?) – quite stunning.

    De-cluttering is something we all go through, I think. Our house is relatively de-cluttered now, but probably only because so much of what I treasured I simply took down to the shed so I can browse through it in winter by the fire. It was cheating in a way, but I like my books and photos. However, children and the modern age is something we can also all relate to, I think. The internet seems to have changed our lives in such a short space of time, and I suspect the health of the human race in the western world is suffering because of it. I know many of my friends’ children and grandchildren do so little outside compared to when we were kids. I also think it’s a matter of education though. We simply say to our grandkids that tea is served on the beach (or in the hut). They come for cake, as children do, and the internet is instantly forgotten. There’s a lesson in there somewhere 🙂

    • I so agree with everything you say Phil, but what I love most is the way you serve tea to the grandchildren, either in your fishing hut or on the beach and you are so right it’s incredible how suddenly internet, mobile phones etc are all forgotten. I truly believe they can live quite happily without them many have simply forgotten how, sad but true, it’s the era of instant gratification. xx

  • I love this post! Less is definitely more. I downsized my life almost 6 years ago now, getting rid of things that doesn’t have a meaning to me. It was the best choice I ever made. I really enjoyed your post.

    • Thanks so much, I do believe that living a slightly simpler life has been fabulous for us in so many ways, moving here was the best choice we ever made for us and our children. xx

    • Thanks so much, I think we are all so pressurised to do so much nowadays, but if we can just stop, even for five minutes and look around and listen to the birds, our daily lives will be enriched. xx

  • You know what I love most about your blog Ms Susan? You are a normal person like most of us, I am sure you have the same struggles in life most of us do and yet you remain so upbeat and your generosity, kindness and love of your family always shines through. You give so many of us so much. Thank you so much

    • Thank you so much Pam, I think I am a fairly normal person, whatever normal is! We are certainly a bit of a crazy family but yes, life can be very tough, it’s certainly not all a bed of roses that’s for sure, but I always try and remain resolutely positive and search for the good in everything, it has always held me in good stead so far in life! xx

  • I can’t tell you how much I love and appreciate this post. We see the materialism a lot around here in the states and all I can say is bravo to you and your husband for acquainting your children with a simpler way of life. It isn’t always easy but you seem to have done it well.

    My summer life is much like the one you describe. I am north, out of the regular routine of my other nine months of the year, on a lake with a woods behind. I take long walks, dig my feet in the sand, gather the wildflowers I’m allowed to pick, eat from the farmer’s market. At home, it’s more difficult. The summer is my happy time.

    And I’m in a partial decluttering moment these days, having just posted the first round of purging out the art room. You might not be able to tell from looking at the photos, though. That’s round two — deciding what I’ll never do again and finding homes for those things. But I do live well with things surrounding me. Photos, mementos, books and art. Things that matter. No, I’ll never be a minimalist but hopefully I’ll be better in control.

    What beautiful photos and words you share. Thank you.

    • Thanks so much, I don’t think I can ever be a minimalist either and neither can Roddy nor the children. I look at stunning photos in magazines, minimalistic rooms, all in white, with no possessions and in the photo shoot they look so stunning, so clean and perfect, but in truth I know I could never live like that, I enjoy my possessions and momentos and the memories they hold and I like to look at things and remember where they came from. But decluttering, getting rid of pure junk that has accumulated, that is always a good thing and it does feel extremely good! Your summers on a lake sound absolutely idyllic, hope you enjoy every second and day. xx

  • Susan that was such an inspiring post. As you know our lifestyle is very much like yours. The natural and real….the seemingly unimportant are the very things that keep us centered in this chaotic world. The garden or any where in nature is the best place to regain a true sense of self and to understand what is most important.
    As for slugs and snails….they got tossed

    Ali Xxx

    • These tiny things that mean nothing to many people really are what keep us grounded and sane in this crazy world! Tonight I discovered a new Yukka plant in the garden that has just sent up a huge shoot and is about to flower for the first time, I was so excited, I truly didn’t even know it was there! We have been feasting on the tiny wild strawberries that grow all around the summer kitchen, they taste divine, these little things to me are so special. We are still trying to figure out why we never get any snails in the vegetable garden yet there are masses up by the house!! xxx

  • What an uplifting read! Great writing and beautiful photos. I agree about not needing material things, of course it helps when you live in a warm climate and can actually spend time outdoors, but still, you can always try to find beauty in the mundane. That photo of one of your girl’s hands holding daisies was my favorite, so nostalgic somehow!

  • What a collection of peaceful photos… thank you for sharing these. My home has recently undergone a declutter and change with my eldest child getting married and the other two children swapping bedrooms. We have done a clean up and boy it feels good – although we all miss my daughter (who married and moved out). #AllAboutFrance

    • Thanks so much, I am sure you miss your eldest daughter so much, our eldest is away at university and it took us ages to get used to her not being around all the time. A good declutter does us the power of good, I always find it amazing how much rubbish we accidentally seem to keep! To come down in the morning to a super tidy and clean house, a rare thing around here, but it feels fantastic!! xx

  • Susan lovely lovely lovely. You truly are an exceptionally thoughtful and poignant writer.
    Each sentence…each paragraph…each photograph is a gift to your readers. For me it’s absolute “magic;” one of the pleasures in my life I look forward to every Thursday and sometimes if we are Very Lucky on a Sunday.
    You have this wonderful gift to captivate your audience in what ever topic you choice to write and photograph about.
    There is a true “humbling spirit” that is ever present within the “Idyllic” French way of life you live.
    Your stories and photographs delivers what I consider one of my favorite weekly influences
    of optimism and grace.
    Should I repeat myself…? This may be my favorite post, yet!
    Happy Thursday. ❤️

    • Oh thank you so so much, you just brought tears to my eyes! You know I only ever write about what I am passionate about and I think that certainly helps. This morning after I had taken the children to school I stopped and took some photos of the vines. It was so silent, not a sound except for the birds, the warm sun shone on my back and the tiny dragonfly flew over and settled on a leaf and I wondered, how can I convey this pure sense of beauty to everyone? It was so simple and so beautiful and I just felt so lucky to be alive. xx

      • Susan, I think that is why so many of us LOVE your posts is because we can genuinely “feel” your “passion.” That’s what makes you so special…❤️

  • Living a more simplistic life can sometimes be challenging but like you have mentioned we can all benefit from living with less. Taking that 5 minute break to watch the snails live their life is time well spent. I’m like that too. As I write, I’m looking out the window and watching one of many gambel quails sitting in a tree and I’m mesmerized by it. You see these birds will sense a human far away and its nearly impossible to get close. So viewing it from the inside of the window is a true blessing. I’ve learned so many things about wildlife, about the vegetation just by taking more time to appreciate it, which isn’t hard for me. I also am learning a lot about myself. Its helping me stay connected with myself and honestly it grounds me. Like you said, there is something about being outside and weeding the garden, it truly is therapeutic. I can’t wait to be given that opportunity. I started a garden here but unfortunately the ground squirrels made their way through the netting and feasted which left many of the vegetables with no flowers to grow their fruit. Gardening in Arizona can be very challenging in open space. So now I’m spending time watching the many rabbits and birds and yes ground squirrels as a precious gift. I’ve learned so much about this area just walking and and learning all about the wild flowers of the desert. Its good to get back to my roots of appreciating my surroundings just like I did when I was little. Merci Susan. As always, i love your photos.

    • I think your attitude is fabulous. If you can’t grow the vegetables, rather than fretting about it, enjoy the very things that take over. I would love to sit and watch the squirrels and quails, I often find myself gazing out of the window and watching a spider weaving a web or insects hard at work. In the winter I watch the birds feeding, they are totally unaware of our presence behind the glass as you say. I have never been to Arizona but can imagine it must be fantastic to learn about the areas and anything that lives in dessert conditions, everything has its own unique beauty. Hope you have a lovely weekend xx

  • What so many people here in the States don’t realize is this very life you talk about is so rewarding and so achievable, in fact it’s probably an easier lifestyle for those on low incomes than those they actually live full of fast food and big cars they can illl afford. I shall share this around my friends, great post today

    • Thanks so much Jane, yes I am quite sure that this simple life is way cheaper than a life involving many takeaways each week, but it also takes a certain amount of work, we were just saying today, it is a perfect lifestyle but we do work hard at it, we have to work at the garden and the vegetables and everything else too, but it is very rewarding. xx

  • Lovely post. We recently moved away from the city to a more rural area for the simplicity and I found myself nodding my head as I read through. Simply beautiful.

    • I love city life but I am definitely a country girl at heart! I think once children are involved this simpler way of life really is good for them, when they get older they can then make their own, hopefully educated, choices! Have a great weekend xx

  • I agree it is much easier to simplify in France, there’s just not the same pressure to consume. Still, you have to get your mindset right, and you have certainly done that. Thank you for the uplifting post!

    • It is definitely easier there is not the same pressure to consume as you say and also I find people are nowhere near as label conscious, at least not in the country, perhaps in Paris! Here no-one is in the least bothered what car one drives, or whether it is old or new. I find people like one another for genuine reasons because they really like the person, not because of their social status and I find it all very refreshing. xx

  • Susan, such a timely and beautifully written post. I think that all of us are trying to break free from the “hurry, hurry, busy, busy” lifestyle and create more peaceful, meaningful days. Here in California, we try to spend our days in the garden as much as possible, to take walks on the beach, and to spend time, lots of time, with those we love. Surrounding our selves with beauty, in whatever form, is always the road to a more meaningful existence, being mindful of all the blessings we have.

    • Lidy, I just love what you shared, your words are so true to my heart. ‘Surrounding our selves with beauty, in whatever form, is always the road to a more meaningful existence, being mindful of all the blessings we have.” Surrounding ourselves and appreciating. Merci beaucoup!

    • I think we are yes, Lidy, and I think many young people are doing this too, people in their 20’s and 30’s, it’s not just older people, it’s a simpler lifestyle so many people now search for. Your lifestyle sounds absolutely perfect and just as it should be xxx

  • i always enjoy your posts and photos. i love the relaxed borders around your home, the texture of the stone walls, the free roaming chickens, the whole ensemble. Both sets of my grandparents had farms and while Southern Vernacular is not quite the same as French vernacular there are similarities in attitude and lifestyle. My wife has been pushing me to “simplify” lately. What she really means is “let’s get rid of some stuff”. The basement is full to bursting; I rent a sizable conditioned space for additional overflow. I enjoy well appointed (read full) rooms. I can stand back and objectively rationalize that none of this stuff is truly needed. I grew up in a family of collectors and antique dealers and we have lovely things that have been passed down and, to me, have deep memories and associations attached. Of course I’ve also added to the pile over time. The monetary value has never really been important, I don’t sell anything. I’ve shared some of the stories of particular pieces as our children have shown an interest. I know I am a sentimentalist. So, yes, I’m sympathetic to “simplifying”; I’m also concerned, perhaps too concerned, with legacy. We have a seventeen month old granddaughter who is a true delight. Hopefully others will follow. I can dream and see a future day when she will tell her children stories about some particular thing in her home that “grandpa” used to own. Of course she and her siblings and cousins may decide one day to pile it all up and have a lovely bonfire. I’d like for them to have the choice.

    We have a getaway place near Asheville, NC. We try to go every four to six weeks – partly to make certain someone hasn’t walked off with half of it. Last Friday we found ourselves in Blowing Rock, NC. There are sweeping vistas that truly lift your soul. The air was crisp, the sky was deep blue punctuated by white clouds, the mountain ridges opposite were emerald green. My wife and I stood and took in the splendor. There is great contentment in just being calm and observing. And there is added contentment in being able to share the experience, especially with those you love. As your photos show there is beauty everywhere – a rusted bike propped against a patina’ed wall, the texture of bark on an ancient tree – much depends on one’s ability and willingness to see.

    Sorry for the long ramble. This post struck a chord. I suppose the object is balance. And attitude. And priorities. I think yours are in order; I’d like to think mine are as well.

    Thanks for continuing to share.

    • Steven; I v.quickly have to send you a virtual hug….. This is SO well written and so profoundly true – all my stuff I ‘hoard’; sorry, collect – has stories attached. Those are dreams, memories, nostalgies and warm feelings – it is so hard to get rid of them. So I have packed away the ‘newer’ acquisitions but still cling to the treasures… Has nothing to do with monetary value. But you and your wife see the truth, you enjoy the moment and this, your posting, has made me smile and happy. Sorry Susan, for taking up so much of your ‘space’, I can do that only because I know you’ll let me.

    • Hi Steven, I so agree with everything you say. We have many items here that we truly don’t need, but they bring great happiness, I love to tell the children stories about this or that, how I remember something from my childhood that has been passed down to me and that I hope one day they will want too. We have friends in Florida who fell in love with Asheville and have recently bought a small vacation home there too, they love it for all the reasons you do, in truth they hate Florida but work keeps them there. There is so much contentment to be found in just standing and realising how lucky we are. Only today I stood with the warm sun on my back, listening to the bees and the birds singing, just admiring the incredible view, Evie, our Jack Russell was scuttling here and there sniffing at this and that, Roddy was with me and I said to him, how do we wrap this up and keep it forever, we are so so lucky, it is so beautiful here, so simple and yet so special. I love your long ramble and yes, I think we both sound as if we have our priorities right, you certainly have and I hope we have too. xx

  • I love your photos, especially the hand holding the bunch of daisies, something about that shot just speaks to me, everything about this post is perfect and your words so sensible and so true. I shall take the time To stop and look around more, thank you for reminding me.

    • Thanks Sharon, that was also my favourite photo, not sure why, I just loved the simplicity of it and I am so happy it worked out! Hope you do stop and look around, I find there is so much to see that we usually miss altogether. Have a lovely weekend xx

  • We should be able to ‘just LIKE’ ANY comment we so enjoy. On some blogs you can – not on this and that’s a pity…. Susan, you have such wonderful, kind and open friends! Speaks for itself 🙂

    • I shall look into that and see if it is possible. I just love how everyone opens up and tells such wonderful stories, like I said, how I would love to host a giant French lunch in the garden, I can already picture a mass of trestle tables all the way down the lawn, simple flowers in old glass bottles and wonderful food, mostly cooked by Roddy because he is the best chef I know around here! All we need is to become friends with Richard Branson so he can pick everyone up for free from around the world in a private 747! Oh well, we can dream a little!!! xxx

      • Methinks you do not have to become ‘friends’ with Richard Branson – just damn well send him this post with a question mark behind it and you will have more than one private plane! He has the heart, the intelligence, the understanding, the goodwill and sense of humour to just DO something like this and have huge fun in doing so!! Milady – what do you have to lose?? [And, no, I do not expect to be included ex Australia!!}

      • Ha ha, nothing to lose, but doubt it would get past the mass of secretaries! But it’s fun to dream and wouldn’t it be fun, perhaps I shall work on some sort of get together, maybe we can do something, somehow, I will never turn down a good challenge, and of course you are invited! Any plans to come to France in the next two years?? Just thought I would ask, maybe this could get the ball rolling?? xx

      • I wouldn’t do it without Izzi. And you’re a damn good cook yourself, too. For sure between the three of us we’d manage and i know the tables would look fabulous!

      • Eha, Ha ha ha….. you mean what’s good enough for Obama, is just OK for us too….. sharp thinking, lol 🙂
        I’m in…. whatever, how-ever….. Roddy & Izzi in the kitchen (note to self, don’t forget to bring the man a Swiss Victorinox (for the princely sum of some 6-7 CHF….)), I help Susie to set up tables, I can make the table decorations (have just finished a 1h25′ call with a Swiss friend ‘ordering’ a copy of a ‘crazy’ decoration I’ve made for their 25th wedding anniversary involving a watermelon, amaryllis & greenery from my garden, as she told me….. as if I’d keep photos of my creations….) & I’m pretty good in helping everywhere as long it doesn’t involve pathways which I cannot negotiate with my bad eyesight, I’m able and willing – let’s get this done 🙂 🙂 🙂

      • Kiki – you’re on, table decorations are down to you. I am thinking this will take me two years to organise to pull everyone together and get travel plans organised, maybe we could at least get together 50 or 60 people, what do you think. I never turn down a challenge!!! Perhaps we can do something, wouldn’t it be fun. This blog’s big International party!!! Watch this space. xxx

      • Eha – Susan – Roddy – part 2, for praising loudly my competences, I forgot to mention the crucial & most important bit: Hero Husband is a VERY THANKFUL EATER of everything that comes on a table – he never ceases to praise me for my meals, be it even ‘just’ the (quite royal….) breakfast. After a (far too) long marriage with a man who offered ‘ I would say it if it doesn’t taste well….’ this makes every feeding effort a joy and pleasure. So I wd have to insist to bring him along!! 🙂

      • Laughter: Count me out next year [another trip planned and necessary], but two years in, I am game, especially as have a darling friend I would so like to visit in the Vendee as well! And then London and the Netherlands and Ireland and other parts of ‘la belle France’!! OK: I am a mean bottle-washer and v fast in chopping and slicing 🙂 !! And I shut up and work!!!! And I am ABSOLUTELY certain Branson would get the message and would respond . . .absolutely!!!! OK: I don’t really expect Virgin to pick me up from Down Under . . . no-no, Susan – this is actually doable – methinks a weekend ‘getting-to-know-you-getting-to–feel free-and-easy’ thingamajig [NO: we would not expect you to provide rows of army cots in the garden[ and we would ‘help’ with the dishes!!

      • I am imagining, sew a seed and it grows! I need to give this some serious thought over the next couple of weeks, but yes it is in essence quite feasible! Oh and wouldn’t it be fun! Xx

  • First of all …the pics are stunning as the story is. Your brain is full of minds and your body so active that I always
    wonder how to do it with 5(4) children. And it is the mix of all which make your life liveable and versatile, Enviable

    • Thanks so much, I think it is the five children that keeps me active! Four here full time, the fifth is away at University in the UK and comes home for holidays only. They are the ones that keep my mind active and keep me striving to do more! Very very hot here, hope it’s not unbearable with you. xx

  • What an endearing post! We live in the country and live a simple life, I think. My husband and I do not constantly run from activity to activity or event to event, like most of our friends. I learned a long time ago to say No when asked to go somewhere when I wanted a quiet night at home. I do think that living in France allows for a more relaxed life and joy of simple things which Americans do not have or desire.
    You have written a wonderful description of your lifestyle with your beloved family and animals too. Susan, Your children are truly blessed with their wonderful parents. I always enjoy reading about your life in the country.

    • Thanks so much Patricia, I also think that this lifestyle is certainly easier and far more obtainable here and you are right it’s about actually not doing everything all the time and being ale to say no. This is certainly not the lifestyle for everyone but it suits us very well and we do truly love it. xx

  • Thank you for this thoughtful post. We too relished the simplicity of our lives in France. Ours was an economically deprived area. But I don’t think it was simply that which made made the daily rhythms traditional. The people we knew had their lives rooted in the ways of life of their grandparents, and saved seed from one year to the next, planted by the phases of the moon – all that. Back in the UK, we’re in a rural area, and life here is relatively simple too. But it’s not the same, as many households commute daily into town for work, and few are still connected to the land in their day-to-day work. But keeping in such close touch with the seasons and the natural world keeps us grounded, and though I relish my occasional trips to ‘the big city’, I’m a bumpkin through and through now, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

    • I too am definitely a country girl at heart, I can’t ignore my roots! I don’t think it is just the economically deprived areas that keep the traditional lifestyles. We are within just a few kilometres from the coast as the crow flies and the area is actually quite cosmopolitan, it’s an area with many Parisians who come here when they want to retire! But still the simple life rules, the lunch hour is still sacred! xx

  • Thank you,Susan,for this wonderful post and pictures!
    Your words have illuminated the course of my own life,and then really rejoice in the choices Rod and I have made, the lifestyle we embraced–and gratitude,too,for the blessing of being able to do just that.
    You have such a gift for reaching out and touching people.
    We are so fortunate to have met you and your beautiful family!

    • Thanks so much Natalia, we are truly blessed to be able to live such a peaceful lifestyle. I count my blessings every day, I just have to look around and walk across the garden to know how lucky I am. I am so glad you too have a wonderful lifestyle that you so enjoy. Hope you have a lovely weekend xx

  • Contentment in simplicity is what we are looking for. We are in the process of moving out of two houses and selling down a lot of ‘stuff’ to move onto our boat and start a new season in our lives. So your post resonates with us!

    • I think it sounds utterly perfect to be moving onto your boat, I cannot think of anything nicer and it is certainly something we would consider when the children have all flown the nest! Have fun xx

    • Me too, sometimes we can all get carried away on the huge rollercoaster that is daily life and just taking five minutes to stop and look around and as you say to breathe, slowly, and just recollect our thoughts, it does us so much good. xx

  • Sometimes when you make a new start, a sea change so to speak, you bring with it a conscious desire to renew your life in a positive way, to consciously embrace simplicity. Being in the country aids this process. Country dwellers in France seem to have this lifestyle down pat, but then so do many in country parts of England. Cities and inner urban life bring more complexity. Taxiing the kids to after school activities requires driving through crowded roads and peak hour conditions. To support the cost of city life, both partners are required to work full time to pay the mortgage as city housing prices are obscenely high.

    Returning to the country seems to take all the stress out of one’s life IF you can get a job to support it. The Australian government tries to encourage people to move to regional centres in the country where housing costs are so much cheaper and where one can enjoy the simpler life. with more space, less traffic and a little land. Sadly, our government does not put in place enough jobs to allow this move to happen. Only older retired folk or those working from home can make this move.
    A simpler life can be acquired in the city, as you point out, but I think the pressures are far greater.

    Lovely post Susan, and that opening Poppies shot is sensational.

    • I so agree with you Francesca, it is so much harder to live like this in big cities because the pressures are so much higher and as you say the cost of living is so much higher, but even in the big cities I think we can still take a few minutes just to try and appreciate some of the everyday beauty around us. It is all so difficult to get the right balance, it is hard to find jobs in rural areas here, in the UK and as you say in Australia too, it is the same in New Zealand as well. Nothing is ever easy. I am in love with the poppies which are everywhere in abundance at the moment! xx

  • I think your life in country France is wonderful but am curious about the work position re working in another country you and your husband would have to have the type of jobs which enables you to be able to live there.

    • Thank you Avril, we are very lucky, we have an internet based business which allows us to work from home. We also have a gite, a holiday cottage, which we rent out here as well. It is a solution that works ell for us! xx

  • I have an awful lot of ‘happy tears’ running down my face reading this. And the comments . . . Methinks this has been a post quite some time acomin’ – and, if you are not a ‘stupid idiot’ – it should be anyone’s pivotal ‘thinking point’ about our being here, wherever . . . on earth and in ether . . . Thank you Susan.

    • I am so happy, sometimes I think just listening to the birds and looking around us and being grateful for the simple things can make us so much calmer and happier. Have a lovely weekend xx

  • What a delightful post – it sums up so much of what we love about our experiences in France. Somehow it always feels so much easier to relax & enjoy the simple things in life there than it does here. We will be out for nearly 3 months this summer and our youngest is just looking forward to post-exam cycles, walks, river swims & relaxing whilst our eldest is going to work at a cycle hire company in the Tarn. I’m sat here now just smiling at the thought #AllAboutFrance

    • Sounds absolutely perfect, the most wonderful way to spend any summer for children, teenagers and adults, I don’t think there is a better way to spend a holiday or one that works so well with so many different age groups. Have fun xx

  • Such lovely photos and you write beautifully about your area of France, however it’s very different to my area. I love the physical beauty of my part of France but it’s as far from the “simple life” as you can get. It’s hugely about money, ostentatious displays of wealth and vulgar glamour! I know that doesn’t sell the area well but it’s definitely a very major part of the Côte d’Azur which couldn’t be further from your experiences. And contrary to your children’s experiences my children are surrounded by “keeping up with the Joneses” and overt excess. We moved here for a job, nothing at all to do with simplifying life and absolutely love it for many reasons, because of course there’s plenty to love, despite the ugliness of the uber-rich. As well as glamour this is a very high tech area with almost everyone we know working in IT so it just couldn’t be more different from your experience of France and just goes to show that once again, this is a very diverse country…. I do think you’re living the French dream (as seen by foreigners) but I don’t think France is all about that. But I do enjoy reading about your French dream!

    • Hi Phoebe, we are living a lifestyle that many would consider a dream, despite the fact it is very tough at times. But I don’t think it is just the French Dream as seen by Foreigners, I have tried very hard to always keep things real and down to earth. This is exactly life as it is here, we only know one English family, all of our friends are French and so my stories are based on local French lifestyles not expat ones, because as I said we don’t know any other expats, apart from the one couple who live an hour away! This little area just doesn’t have any English! We are close to the coast here and it’s a fairly cosmopolitan area full of Parisians, we are certainly not out in the sticks and yet this sense of calmness still prevails even here. Our children are of course surrounded by the latest things at school, yes they have iPhones and iPads etc., but I still strongly believe that living here they have learnt to enjoy so much more in life, just as I said, that in order to have fun it’s not all about spend, spend, spend. But this post was about the lifestyle we have chosen to live and that it can in fact be lived anywhere in the world, I just think it is a little easier here! Trust me I do know about the excesses on the Côte d’Azur, we lived there just five minutes from the coast but we still enjoyed many of the things we love most about France, even there, enjoying friends and family. Best of luck to your eldest taking his Bac, Millie has her French and French oral this month! Have a lovely long weekend xx

    • Phoebe, I had the wonderful pleasure to visit the Cote D’Azur last summer and I must say it is one of the most charming places I have had the pleasure of vacationing. I saw the seductive landscapes but I also walked the small villages that had wonderful stories to tell about “idle” lives. I read a few French blogs because well I am a true Francophile. I read Susan’s blog because she is genuine and full of grace.
      After reading your comment I came away with a sense of sadness. It might be because I live in this fantasy world that I got misplaced in Minnesota. In my dreams I really should be living in a small village somewhere…anywhere in France.
      From what I gathered being on Susan’s blog for over a year now everything she post is from her “heart.” I look at Susan’s posts not through my eyes in France but through hers. I believe in this particular post she was showing the beauty that lies before us; blessed with blooming gardens, understated grace and a place to catch your breathe…French Contentment, Where Less is More.”
      This isn’t All of France…this is her village…this is her life…an idyllic way of life that even I know has it’s disappointments and problems.
      I, still struggle as a parent of four adult children of keeping life in perspective. It’s hard and I have made many mistakes along the way…but in reality I am doing the best I can. Life is full of “Excesses” but I truly believe it is our duty to bring a little of Susan Hays into our children lives. And you have to believe that with a mentor and Mom such as Susan her children certainly have learned to appreciate the simplier things in life.
      Keeping loving your children… in the end that it is what really matters!

  • I always enjoy reading your thoughts on life in France… We too have adopted a slower pace since moving here – enjoying family walks, pottering around in the garden and exploring the countryside. And it’s funny you should mention the snails. Just yesterday my son (4) & I were watching a lone snail slither across the dry leaves and grass in the garden after relocating him off the concrete tiles (where he was at risk of being squished). Definitely relaxing to stop and notice the finer details of life… #AllAboutFrance

    • Thanks Nadine, you sound as if you enjoy the same things we do, it has definitely enabled us to enjoy so much more about life here and better still, we actually enjoy it as a family, altogether. Love your story of the snail! I read that they can live for up to 7 years, I had no idea! Hope you have a lovely weekend xx

  • To liv the life you want requires choosing the right place. It appears you have done that. Certainly, the same opportunity would not be there in, say, Paris where it would be much more challenging to enjoy the simple things. Much of what you write about I find during the months we are in Maine where life is so different from houston. There it is th simple things!

    • Absolutely right, it is certainly far harder in cities and this is one of the reasons we chose to live in a small village, but we still have a reasonably sized city ten minutes away, vital for the children. I assume you are in Maine for the summer months, to escape the Texas heat and to enjoy everything Maine has to offer in the warmer weather, if so, I hope you have a lovely summer there, it sounds equally idyllic xx

  • I totally agree with you to try and find a small pleasure in life everyday. We are much more rural and we have an enforced lack of luxuries as there is nowhere to go and splurge on! I find that I have definitely changed since moving here and I am a serial declutterer too in that I would be happy with the contents of my kitchen and lose much of the rest! I think if we do more of what really makes us happy rather than what we think makes us happy by buying things for a moment of pleasure then we have achieved our dream.xx

    • Very true, I think as I get older I actually need less and less. As we are close to the coast there are still plenty of luxuries here, shops open until 8pm every evening at this time of year, supermarkets until 9, it’s the summer season, but still there is nothing threatening, family life still prevails and people do take the time just to enjoy each other’s company. xx

      • Totally agree. One thing I do love is that the French people where we live are totally unpretentious and nobody is in competition with house, car and things like they can be in some circles. We can just enjoy the company! xx

      • I totally agree, I have lived that lifestyle, where one is judged solely on the car, the shoes, the handbag, the clothes, the labels, it was so tiring, whereas here I know people like us for us, no one cares less about possessions, it is all about the people, the food, the company, the family, it is such a truly lovely way to live xx

    • “do more of what really makes us happy rather than what we think makes us happy”

      That deserves to be on a T-shirt. Profound insight and perfectly put. I had the same thought the other day – was I more happy at being clever enough to have a glut of Magnums in the deep freeze, or was I happier watching the pleasure on the faces of the grand children as they ate them?

      • That’s so kind! I recently spoke to a counsellor and one thing I took away was that she told me that I have to do more of the things that make me truly happy – so it’s family, cooking and blogging for me……the cleaning can wait! I think grandchildren are on the cards so I hope to have that pleasure to look forward to 🙂

  • Clearly the buy, buy mentality isn’t making people happier. I’m with you, simply living within one’s means is far more meaningful and less stressful. The lupines are blooming and seem to be inundated with tons of aphids. Rather than spraying them with chemicals, I watch as ladybugs skitter up each stalk noshing away. It is indeed a good life to take time and actually enjoy the simpler aspects of it! Cheers for a great weekend.

    • No it’s not, and I think people are going the other way, we don’t need to spend spend and buy every latest gadget, quite the opposite. I find as I get older I am happy with less and less. I totally agree with you regarding the aphids and lupins, I squish them every now and then, but most of the time I just let nature sort it out, it seems to work pretty well when we don’t interfere. Hope you too have a lovely weekend xx

  • This post has come at a time when I am trying to pare down my belongings and simplify my home. I do this periodically not because it is trendy, but because I have a small home and when I buy something new, I try to let something go. Today the hospice charity shop got a big bag of stuff and I feel better for getting rid. I have never been materialistic, perhaps this is why I love the French rural lifestyle so much, as I have never seen displays of wealth or showiness in the area I favour, and no one there seems to care for it. As you so rightly say a simpler life can be achieved anywhere but in ‘my’ France there is also a calmness that is not here.
    Bloody snails ate my coriander too! Superb photos as usual Susan. x

    • We certainly share the same France! There are no displays of wealth here either, even on the coast things are somewhat down to earth and people seem to enjoy each other’s company and just enjoy family days at the beach. Snails what to do! I shall go out and buy another coriander and I will be more vigilant, I will pick them off one by one and take them to the chickens, I obviously did not choose my location very well for the coriander!! Have a great weekend xx

    • Snails? Coriander? Garlic? Butter? Pan? Heat?

      Just a thought of course, but it would be a shame to waste the coriander. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, the poppies are in abundance everywhere at the moment and they look so stunning. I cannot tell you how many times I have stopped and taken photos, the children sighing, wondering why I need yet another poppy photo!!! xx

  • It’s hard to do but those moments where you just give in and drink in all that is around you are so precious. Snails have a certain beauty. Slugs.. never!

    • They are, when we just take five minutes and stop and listen and breathe deeply and realise how incredibly lucky we are. Slugs,I agree, but we don’t seem to get many here, in fact hardly any at all, just lots and lots of snails! xx

    • Thank you so much, I think there is nothing better than stopping, even if it is just for five minutes, and taking deep breaths and appreciating just how lucky we are. Have a great weekend xx

  • Beautiful words, this is exactly how my wife and I feel. Picking up the keys to our home in the Gers two weeks today. While packing and deciding what to take, what we “need” has been a really interesting daily discussion. So looking forward to finding some of the contentment that you describe

    Thanks so much for the blog

    Derek x

    • How exciting. You are arriving at a fabulous time of year, I can imagine exactly what you are feeling right now, the time will fly by, I can still remember the moment we arrived here as if it was yesterday! Hope you have a good trip down and if ever you are in this direction come and say hello! Xx

    • Absolutely, just taking, even five minutes, to stand and breathe deeply and appreciate all around us and to realise how lucky we are, really does make a difference. Have a lovely weekend xx

  • What a beautifully written post to go along with your beautiful photos! I love the line, “When the winemaker finishes their discourse and you can finally taste the wine, you find yourself tasting the story, not just the alcohol.” We all need to take some time and pay attention to our surroundings. There is so much to experience if we just appreciate what is right in front of us. I think I will need to come back and reread this post from time to time. We all need these reminders! Thanks for linking up again to the Take Me Away Party! Always a pleasure to have you!
    Shelley

    • Thanks so much Shelley, I have to admit, before I started blogging I don’t think I took the time to appreciate as much as I do now. But the blog made me stop and take photos and now I often take five minutes and just breathe deeply and feel truthfully grateful for how lucky we are. Hope you are having a lovely weekend xx

    • Thanks so much, I love being able to share little bits about the family and how each and every one of us enjoyed different aspects of life here. Hope you have a great week xx

  • The word that leaps into my mind reading this is ‘content’. To be content one doesn’t need lots and lots of material things but one does need love and stability. That is what you are both giving your children and they will go into the world equipped with a priceless gift. Xx

  • Lovely! I couldn’t agree more. I spent almost my entire summer before my senior year of high school in France and the way of living has stuck with me ever since! I can’t wait to go back with my husband now, almost 10 years later and watch him fall in love with the countryside too.

    • It would be fabulous for you to come back with your husband, bring him to the Charente Maritime, you can have country and ocean, horses and sailboats, the choices are endless! Xx

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