The World’s Best Frittatas!

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Happy hens = lots of eggs. That’s my theory and it seems that ours are thriving once again. It may be cold and wet, as winter has us firmly in her clutches, but our girls are laying contentedly. Oh and our daffodils are about to burst into flower even though we are currently shivering and snow covers much of Europe. Talking of the white stuff, I am sending our warmest thoughts to anyone in Chicago; I cannot imagine such cold.

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A Wise Old Bird

 

P6070941Quietly I watch, I never say a word, for I cannot talk; but I take it all in. The comings and goings and all the changes – I’ve seen them all. For I’m Chuckles, and incredibly I’m the longest-standing two-legged member of the family here, and although I cannot talk, I can tell you a great many stories. I can type though, of course – you may have noticed that! Read more

The Good Life

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When we first moved to France, I think we all secretly harboured a desire for a sort of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ existence, for a life that would be one long dreamy ride through quiet backwaters and along sun-dappled valleys until one returned at night to the warmth of a fire in an ancient fireplace set square in the crumbling wall of an old farmhouse. Read more

Olympics, Blogging & French Life

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The Olympics in Rio have started and are now dominating the headlines. Being a very sporty family the games are a big event. My background is in horses and riding, having competed since I was a child, so I will want to watch everything equestrian-related. Then there is the sailing and of course the tennis. But we don’t want to waste these beautiful summer days inside watching television, thank goodness there are highlights every night!

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Summer and a Day That Could Change Our Lives

 

IMG_7515As I sit here writing this post gazing down our long garden, it’s a scene that probably hasn’t changed much in a hundred years. Yet so much could alter today, the day Britain votes to either remain or leave the EU. In London it’s pouring with rain, there are lightning strikes, and storms and flooding have caused travel chaos. Here in the Charente Maritime the hot sun continues to shine, the skies remain resolutely blue, and life continues as normal. Read more

Spring-Chicken Fever

 

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Who knew that keeping chickens could take us to so many places?  We’ve driven down roads scarcely fit for a car in search of eggs and covered two départements buying our chickens over the past two years and it’s turned out to be a far more technical business than I realised. Along the way I’ve expanded my French vocabulary as we have dealt with species, sexes, ailments and treatments. All of this for the love of chickens, our own organic free range eggs and the excitement of newly-born chicks.   Read more

Evie Versus the Chickens

 

 

I thought I’d give you a little update on Evie versus the chickens! We think we’ve worked out an almost perfect solution, and it’s really thanks to all of you; for I did indeed listen, and I read all your comments, I took everything in and we built a fence. Something simple, yet splendidly fulfilling in its execution, for a variety of reasons. Read more

MUD MONTH & OLD FRENCH HOUSES

Perhaps we have to endure the wind and the rain and all that winter can throw at us in order for us to enjoy the spring and the summer?

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We have been attempting to forecast the weather since the beginning of recorded history. Long before the invention of radar and other meteorological tools, people relied upon nature to give them a clue as to what the weather would bring.

“Is it going to be sunny today?” – “Maybe”

“Is it going to rain today?” – “Probably”

“Why does it have to rain?” – “Because we need the rain”

“Can you get some strawberries when you go shopping today?” – “No, it’s winter!”

These are the same questions I get asked every week by our two smallest people at varying stages of the day; the weather-related ones usually arise as I am trying to get the two teenagers out of the door for school, put on my coat, pick up Evie to take with me, find my phone, grab an umbrella and remind the same two little ones that if it should be fine they are walking home.

I answer on auto-pilot, “It’s winter.”

But don’t get me wrong, much as I hate winter, I also love winter – not for itself as I can’t pretend to love the bare trees and dormant garden or the quiet streets where not a soul can be seen, and nor can I pretend to adore the empty markets when all that is on offer never seems to change: winter greens, potatoes and carrots. No, what I like about winter is the promise it offers of spring and summer; for surely winter is just the prelude to the months that I love so much? If we did not go through winter we would not revel in the first cherries, the first meal taken outside, and spring and summer would become normal rather than ‘special’. So I have come to an agreement with winter, I’m ok with it.

December was gorgeous, December was one long Indian Summer; but then December is always good no matter what the weather, it’s a festive month. January normally starts with a bang but fades into insignificance, which this year has been a very wet and soggy insignificance. This year February is continuing in the same vein with severe gales added into the mixture to spice things up a little. I am reminded of the ancient proverb “If in February there is no rain, ’tis neither good for hay nor grain.” I of all people, as a farmer’s daughter, should understand the importance of rain, so long as it rains at the right time of year.

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The past week 105 kph winds battered our coast. The garden looked like a war-zone with scattered branches littering the lawn and I was staring out at the sodden landscape whilst cleaning up after breakfast when the rain commenced again; not a gentle drizzle but a torrential downpour that saw the terrace turn into a river before my eyes. At the bottom of the kitchen window where the two sides join in the middle is the most tiny gap and in through that gap water suddenly came streaming in as if someone had opened a tap. Water poured around the sink and was soon pooling all over the counter and down the front beside the dishwasher. Grabbing tea-towels I stuffed them as hard as I could against the tiny hole and then as quickly as it had started the rain ceased and the water stopped. Another job for Roddy to do, and another reminder about living in old houses. Why this had never happened before and why it should start now we had no idea, but there is never a sensible solution, it just happened and that’s life here in an old farmhouse!

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The truth about living in an old house built in 1790 is we live with it ‘day to day’. The windows and doors can be draughty, but I’d rather live with the draughts than lose the house’s character. Nothing is truly straight, walls slant this way and that; there are no perfect right angles, the roof slopes, the beams are bowed and cracked, but the very same things that can sometimes be irritating are also part of the charm. Our property hides a wealth of old features that have become so commonplace we don’t even notice them. Our barn for instance has this ladder with which to climb to the attic above; it’s easily as old as the house, but it’s sturdy and it works and we have no idea what the numbers signify.

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Frequently things need fixing. The older the house, the more opportunity for things to go wrong; but no matter the inconveniences, no matter the hardships, living in an ancient farmhouse is a privilege. Certainly the best balance is to combine charming period features with modern amenities, but we must restore sympathetically; we cannot seal up every hole and crack for the house must be able to breath. We have to treat it as a living creature, as it has stood for centuries and will no doubt still be standing long after our lifetime; in effect it is an honor to live here. The other day I passed this centuries-old farm which is for sale, complete with barns, lots of land and amazing views. I would arrange to go and have a look but I would hate to waste the time of what I am sure are elderly owners, so we will have to be content with a little day dreaming from the outside.

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I wish I could move this old stone trough. It stands in the corner of the grange attached to our house which we call the ‘boot-room’. Unused and quite unnoticed by all, it even has drainage; perhaps this is where previous inhabitants used to wash in times gone by? Or is it something as mundane as a horse trough?

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Living in an old house might change your life; it will certainly change your perspective.

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A major preoccupation of house-owners in France is the heating. In virtually every old home you go into the fireplace will be a feature. It can be an open-fire with logs crackling in the hearth, flickering flames licking at the grate and the mellow fragrance of burning wood filling the air, or it can be a wood-burner, safer and easier to keep alight throughout the day. Either way there is nothing better nor more inviting when you’re coming back from a walk than seeing the smoke gently coming out of the chimney. I can’t imagine a property without a fire; they can be messy and dusty, and it’s hard to regulate the temperature as we know all to well, alternating between wearing thick jumpers to wandering around in a t-shirt – but nothing captures rural living better than a fire.

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Come to think of it, winter hasn’t been that bad at all, I don’t mean the weather I mean winter in general, and I am sure that’s all down to the new wood-burner we installed in the kitchen last October for nothing beats a cosy country kitchen. It’s true I’m slightly bored of washing dirty dog-towels, the boot-room is constantly littered with wet coats, wet umbrellas, wellie-boots and mud. But as is always the way in the Charente Maritime, just when I can’t stand the rain any longer, the sun comes out, and even in February it’s a powerful sun, strong enough to actually create some warmth. It beckons us outside and away from the fire. Whilst doing some research I learnt that in Olde English the name for February was Solmonath, which literally means “mud month” – I think I shall be calling it this from now on!

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It is indeed a truly fabulous life, but nothing is ever simple. A few days ago, right after I published the post about Evie, she killed one of our chickens; the victim was our dearest little silkie, Constance. Why Evie would suddenly kill a chicken we have no idea; she has grown up around them since she was two months old, and sure, she chases them for fun, but there has never been any intent to harm, or none that we could see; it was always just a game. I actually walked around feeling rather numb for a couple of days, and the garden and our dog walks temporarily lost their appeal. I know my ancestors would tell me I’m becoming “soft” – maybe I am. Still Mother Nature tried really hard to cheer us up. One of our plum trees is already in blossom, the daffodils are fabulous, and the aubretia and camellias are starting to work their charm. We’ll work out what to do, I know. But our immediate questions of that day already seem over-dramatic; do we sell the chickens, do we fence them in, do we re-home Evie? Most likely we’ll do nothing for now but keep a vigilant eye on her whoever she is outside, hoping it was a one-off, however unlikely that may seem. We’ll keep training her and right now put it down to one of life’s cruel moments.

But for now, the rain has stopped, it’s a perfect sunny French day, and the children’s winter holidays are looming; just one more day to go and then two weeks with them at home – I can’t wait. We have tennis tournaments for the girls in La Rochelle, and then we’re off to the snow and mountains for a few days; there is so much to be thankful for and I certainly am extremely grateful for all of it.

EVIE SPEAKS AGAIN

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Oh Gosh, I’m in the dog-house again! I just can’t help chasing chickens. I know I’m not meant to, and I know I get shouted at, and I know it’s wrong, but the problem is, it’s just SO much fun. I had been good recently, too, but then life changed in the chicken world and I was tempted into sin once more.

You see, Falafel – the young rooster – decided perhaps he wasn’t so happy to share all the girls with Fritz after all, and so they fought. I know, I even heard Mum saying they never fight, but I laughed to myself; what did she really know about animals and chickens, of course I knew all along they would fight. I even mentioned it to Bentley the other night and he agreed too, silly humans.

Anyway, the point is now Fritz is all alone; he wanders sadly around the garden and he’s nowhere near as lively as he used to be. I thought I’d pop over and say hello, cheer the old chap up a bit; a little play-date with me would surely put a spring back in his step….alas, the grown ups saw me, and gosh, did they yell. I stopped of course, I’m quite good like that, but when they weren’t looking I ran over and started playing again. So now I have a double game; chasing Fritz and making sure the humans don’t see me; it’s a little bit like hide and seek.

The weather has been gorgeous and everyone’s been busy in the garden so I get to be outside a lot at the moment which gives Rory, my best friend, a bit of a break. I’ve learnt that cats tend to do things the other way round from us; they love to sleep upstairs, curled up on the bed all day long and they don’t care much for playing. But then, just as darkness falls, and just as I’m thinking it’s time for me to curl up in front of the fire when BANG, they come alive and want to play; they’re such confusing creatures, and then, to put me in even more of a quandary, Bentley likes to sleep all day AND all night. I mean where’s the fun in that? and just as I am coming to terms with all of this and thinking I’ll forego my little snooze and play, Rory falls asleep beside me! Talking about cats, the other one, Clara, who I hardly ever see, is also slightly odd. She doesn’t like coming in the house at all, but she does love playing chase, so I guess she must be okay. The only problem is she won’t play chase with me; I chase her till she climbs a tree, but she never chases me back. She’ll chase other things in the garden quite happily, especially those small grey things with very long tails and when she does that everyone says how brilliant she is. No one ever tells me I’m brilliant when I play chase, I just get shouted at. Life is just so unfair.

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So I wondered if maybe I should ask Bentley if he wants to play with me, he’s always full of lots of advice and everyone makes such a fuss of him, but maybe he’s a little bored; to be honest I am not really sure I quite understand him at all. Take the other morning for example; Mum and Dad opened the kitchen door and ushered us out into the garden; this is always great for a quick sniff here, a quick sniff there, a quick dart about the bushes elsewhere and then back inside for breakfast. Bentley just sat there, by the door waiting to go back inside; doesn’t he care about the big outdoors? I know he’s the same make as me, we’ve compared notes, we’re even the same colour for goodness sake, though I do admit he’s a little fat whilst I’m a perfectly petite little French girl. He does play for a short while sometimes but then he gets bored and goes off and sunbathes again. Just bizarre behaviour.

Then there’s the question of the car and Bentley, for as soon as anyone opens a car door, I’m in, quick as a flash. Cars are good – sometimes it means we are going somewhere great, and there’s a whole new fabulous adventure to enjoy. Okay, so sometimes it’s a touch boring, and I just stay in the car until I’m home again, but even then I love watching the world go past outside the window; I’ve seen all sorts of sights – cats, dogs, sheep (well I think they are sheep, I asked Bentley about them when I got home and he said my description sounded like sheep, so that’s what I am going to call them) and all sorts of other things. However, I can’t show them to Bentley because he simply hates the car – it’s another weird thing about him; I mean, why would anyone hate the car? He has to be physically manhandled in, and then he just stands there behind the seat on the floor and shakes with fear – I like him a lot and he really has helped me but I do think he is rather odd.

The other place I love to go in the car is to school. This is only a rainy-day event, because often the girls walk home; but when it’s raining Mum or Dad pick them up in the car and I go too. I stand with my paws on the dashboard and look out of the front and lots and lots of little girls come running up to say hello. They all make such a fuss of me, rubbing my tummy and tickling my ears – it’s like I have a little fan club at the school gate, and I really am getting quite used to it.

Another thing I’m learning is all about the ‘lead’. I’m even beginning to understand that I have to walk beside Mum or Dad and not pull a few feet in front of them, with my little paws skidding on the ground. Bentley is brilliant on the lead, no surprises there, and they spend so much time saying what a good chap he is; why can’t they say I’m really good! Why is he so good at everything? Can’t they see he’s weird?

Then yesterday we saw a huge creature with enormous legs; I wanted to chase it. However, Hetty and Gigi wanted to stop and give it an apple; an apple? A whole APPLE? I just couldn’t fathom out why a really nice big red apple was being given to a stranger; anyway, that’s when I asked Bentley what it was and he told me it was a horse. I liked the look of it but it did look as though it needed some fun and I am sure I could beat it in a game of chase, it doesn’t move very much. It wasn’t so much bigger than me well just a bit maybe. I pulled and pulled on the lead but no one would let me go, Bentley even had the audacity to smirk, I asked him about that later, they have big feet he said, hard feet and they kick.

“NEVER chase a horse! And never chase a COW” he muttered. “What’s a cow?” I asked?

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My favourite place to walk is when we cross the road behind the house and head out into the country, I know we’ll both be let off the lead, I can run and run, and I try and come back whenever I’m called; this is another thing I’m getting quite good at. I’ve learnt that as soon as they call “Evie!” I must come running and then they’re happy; they make such a fuss, anyone would think I’d just done something really good. Sometimes they even give me treats, yummy edible little nibbles, just because I came when they said my name – I will never ever understand these humans. Then I go off again, I must cover at least five times as much ground as Bentley, but he is quite fun, he does run a bit with me, he even stops and sniffs with me.

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Anyway, let me finish by telling you about a new hobby I have. I’ve learnt to dig holes! It’s fantastic! If I work up enough speed earth flies everywhere! I dig and dig, deeper and deeper, and usually I can go unnoticed, for I have to admit I get shouted at for this as well. Though if I choose a quiet spot no one sees me and here Bentley has been quite helpful. He’s explained to me that the big humans won’t tell me off if they don’t actually catch me doing something wrong; so, as long as I have dug the hole and had my fun, by the time they find the mess it’s too late; they’ll continue to sound cross, and they’ll huff and they’ll puff and sigh and they’ll even say “what are we going to do with her” – but I don’t get shouted at.

Then yesterday, I caught something! I actually caught something from all my digging; it’s called a mole, apparently, and it makes an even bigger mess in the garden than I do. It’s the strangest of creatures, and I found out about them quite by chance one day while snoozing in the grass and I woke up to find the earth starting to sprout up into a volcano in front of my very eyes! Ever since then whenever I find one of the mounds of earth they make, I dig down as fast as I can to where they seem to live in an underground tunnel, and we all get very dirty. Golly, they dig almost as fast as I can. Anyway, I actually caught one the other day, and better still, the humans were happy! They didn’t tell me off, they didn’t shout, they didn’t mutter about what on earth they were going to do with me next, they actually said “well done”. Of course, I immediately went off and dug ten new holes and then I got shouted at again. I was so confused.

I lay next to Bentley by the fire that night and told him all about it, and he just rolled over and told me not to worry and went back to sleep, so I thought I’d do the same, maybe I’ll dream about chasing rabbits.