This Idyllic French Life



Several unrelated comments from around the globe have got me thinking recently about idyllic lifestyles. It has set me thinking that what is one person’s idyll is most likely not another’s. How does one clarify ‘idyllic’? Can life be idyllic in the cold and rain, or does there have to be sunshine? Or perhaps everything needs to be calm and perfectly peaceful to be idyllic? Continue reading “This Idyllic French Life”

Bentley is Compelled to put Paw to Paper again


I’m afraid to say that I feel utterly compelled to put paw to paper once again; I heard someone saying I was old the other day. Old? Me? It wasn’t Roddy or Susan or any of the children, but a neighbour, and it really ruffled my neck hairs (which are admittedly very long and looking rather shaggy at the moment). I’m not old, I’m in my prime!

Continue reading “Bentley is Compelled to put Paw to Paper again”

Brocante and Chocolate


These last few days everything has felt slightly different as the sun streams in through the windows, and although the mercury is definitely nudging upwards a little there’s a cold easterly wind which is banishing all thoughts of bare arms and legs. Along with the week’s slow change in temperature, there’s also a subtle change in the light and despite the lingering smell of winter woodsmoke in the air there’s now a welcome new scent, that of freshly mown grass. Continue reading “Brocante and Chocolate”

A Quarter Round the Sun

Spring officially starts today as the vernal or Spring Equinox takes place this year on March 20th in the Northern Hemisphere. Earth is spinning its yearly journey through the solar system and for earthlings in the northern hemisphere it’s definitely the topic of the day, the week, even the month; it’s almost all we can talk about at the school gates and in the boulangerie. I like winter though, of course, for winter is a necessity to enjoy spring, and as it is seen as a time of rebirth, with many cultures holding celebrations marking the equinox in March.  Continue reading “A Quarter Round the Sun”

Quintessentially French


Writing a blog continually surprises me, but what I love most of all is the spontaneity of it. Just when I think I have everything in order and going to plan, with the next post happily laid out in my mind, everything changes; a few unintended photos catch me by surprise and the whole thing loses its original direction and I find myself freewheeling down a completely different road. This blog post started out about one thing and it sort of metamorphosed into something quite the opposite. Continue reading “Quintessentially French”



In France, May is seemingly full of public holidays and  the last one is Pentecost; as we chatted during supper on Monday evening we all agreed we cannot remember the last time we had such a fun weekend. It all went by in rather a social blur; friends to lunch and dinner, fabulous long sunny days staying light until nearly 10pm, and the kids decided to camp in the garden for two nights so our lawn became ‘Tent City’ as friends joined them.

I cannot believe the month is nearly over; where did it go? It seems only last week I was incredibly happy we were into the month of April and that spring was well and truly in command. Yet here we are now, only a few days from June. I hope it slows down or before we know it we will be hauling logs, lighting fires and getting out our hats and scarves again.

To try and prolong it a little longer I thought I would share with you a photo-tour of our month of May.  It didn’t get off to the best start as it arrived with pouring rain and chilly winds which quite typically coincided with the children being on Spring Break.


after several days the skies cleared and once again the sun came out to play



having been dormant all winter, vineyards were once again bursting with life


villages that had seemed almost deserted became centers of chattering activity as the Brocante season got well and truly underway



and I found a fab heavy brass chandelier for the summer kitchen


 some of us were brave enough to have our first swim of the year


and we dusted off our bikes and set about exploring nearby villages





the garden demanded, but failed to get, constant attention as I waged a war I realized I was never going to win on the weeds

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we walked the well-trodden sand and stone causeway over to the Île Madame


 and one morning when the children were all at school found ourselves quite by chance at the most incredible stone-mason’s yard




 cherry season is now in full swing, picking, eating, picking and eating more – it’s the simple things in life that I enjoy so much!




the locals are saying it is the best year for roses in decades



a little renovation required, but how about this for a cute weekend retreat


yesterday some farmers were turning their hay, making the most of the sunny dry weather


and when we walked Bentley after supper the sun was still beating strong at 9pm


I hope May has been a good month for you too and as always thanks for reading, thanks for following me and for your comments, I have said it before and I’ll say it again, I really enjoy taking photos whilst we are out and about and sharing them with you and telling our story from this tiny little corner of France.  Merci mille fois



The children have just started two weeks of spring holidays, which makes me really happy.  Friends coming and going, sleepovers here and there; it’s like Picadilly Circus but I love it.  It also means there are a few extra pairs of hands to help in the garden; there is just so much to do at this time of year and weeds seem to grow overnight.  We have been working so hard in the newly formed vegetable garden, and we spent the afternoon on Sunday planting out tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and hot chillies which are Millie’s project.  We also put in some lettuce, salad greens, cucumbers, watermelons and courgettes.  The children planted because that’s the fun part while I hoed up weeds and raked!  Our beans we sowed a couple of weeks ago are now about 8″ high and the peas are shooting up.  There are rows of tiny carrot tops peeping through the soil, along with the spinach and potatoes – it’s all so exciting.  We have had to fence it to keep our dear feathered friends out, or else they would think we had planted a feast just for them, and we included the row of ten grape-vines inside the fencing because I read that chickens love grapes and we would not have a grape left if they were within their reach.  Next project to hand cut all the grass under the vines!


Dear Rosie is being a very dutiful hen; she has less than a week to go now and we are all so hopeful we might get at least one chick.  She leaves her nest briefly around 11am each morning:  the routine is always the same as she wanders up the garden, stretches her legs and looks around.  The others are really quite nasty to her as she is no longer “one of them” and they peck at her and chase her away if she comes too close; it’s actually rather sad to watch.  After ten or fifteen minutes she swiftly heads back to her nest and carries on coddling her beloved eggs.

Eleanor is now also broody, sitting on two eggs and a ping-pong ball to make up the numbers!  Our sweet, lovely, docile Eleanor, she of the Mad Hatters’ Tea Party fame, has turned into Hen-Zilla.  Each morning when we open their door, she comes out straightaway clucking that special phrase of cluck we’re now getting used to; “Get out of my way, I’m an important broody hen with eggs to sit on; out of my way, out of my way, I need to eat, no time to waste!” and she is back inside and on her eggs within ten minutes, having made quite sure that we all know exactly how important she is!


But the real time-wasters are Penny and Adrian, the pair of ducklings we were given at the Farmers Market nine days ago.  Most of the ducks sold that day no doubt were bought to be fattened and intended for the table.  They would have gone into a large sandy enclosure with an old pond in the corner, where the last blade of grass would have long since ceased to exist.  However, Penny and Adrian have entered a life of luxury, and are enjoying the pampered mollycoddled life of a pet duck!  When they arrived, a temporary run was made for them, along with an old paddling-pool filled with clean cool water.  The next day a new home arrived.  A brand new dog-kennel was put together and filled with straw.  Chairs were placed near the enclosure and the children would sit and watch them, chatting and laughing, the ducks getting used to people and their endless talking!  The chickens came and took a look, wondering what all the fuss was about and who the new arrivals were.  Penny and Adrian ate and swam and loved all the attention.  Then just when they really thought life couldn’t get much better, it did – in fact it got a whole lot better.   Yesterday the temporary fence was removed from around their paddling-pool and their deluxe house – they are free to wander in the garden along with the chickens.  Their permanent pond is under construction, yet another project!  The chickens take little notice of them and the cats have decided they are definitely too big to hunt and wander away.  Bentley, being Bentley, totally ignores them.  The ducks waddle around, they flap their tiny wings and run across the lawn – if this is what life is all about, it really is pretty good.


The garden is changing on a daily basis; it’s like a video on permanent fast-forward and everything is growing so fast.  The first roses on a south-facing wall are blooming


I love the Arum Lilies, simple perfection


and the Tamarisk is never still, always moving in the breeze


We’ve also been walking, lots and lots of walking; it’s such a perfect climate at the moment, not too hot and not too cold and everywhere is so stunning.  Hedgerows with sweet scented lilac,  tall grass waving in the breeze, waiting to be cut for hay.  The bright yellow of rapeseed cuts a colourful swathe across the landscape.  Blowing dandelion seeds and making wishes.  Childhood memories and carefree days.



Whenever we come home and walk down the driveway I am greeted by the beautiful flowering horse-chestnut.  All the trees are incredible and in full leaf; one half of the garden is now a canopy of shade.  Sometimes I just stand and stare.  I call the children over to look at them as it’s all too easy to forget about the trees.  They are just there, a part of the garden, and we do take trees for granted.  But I like to draw attention to them as they are magnificent, hundreds of years old, and only then, standing looking up at the giant lime tree, do we all really see how huge it is.






“To market, to market, to buy a fat pig, home again, home again, jiggety-jig” –  remember that old nursery rhyme?  It sprung to mind as the children and I headed off to a nearby farmers market last Sunday.  The girls were drawn like magnets to the baby chicks, the ducklings and rabbits; little did they know they were intended for the pot rather than as pets. I didn’t see any pigs for sale but I am sure, had I made enquiries, I could have bought one, but I really don’t want a pig! IMG_2556 This was a far cry from the usual weekly market where we buy our fresh fish, fruit, vegetables and cheese – the typical French market where the locals buy so much of their food every day.  No, this was, as the name suggests, a real ‘Farmers’ market, in every sense of the word. IMG_2573 The morning was neither sunny nor particularly warm but that had not deterred most of the locals who came from miles around.  A huge undercover area had been set up for lunch.  Two young lads were grilling vast slabs of meat on the barbecue and the tables were quickly filling up as lunchtime approached. IMG_2563 IMG_2562 We started at the plant stand where I bought lots of small geraniums for the garden before quickly moving on to local honey.  We were offered so many different varieties to taste – sunflower honey, wild-flower honey, honey of the forest; nothing is ever hurried, everything is considered and discussed before a decision is made and there is no pressure to buy which in a strange way makes me buy more!  Local organic strawberries were our next purchase, along with spring onions and asparagus; I was definitely getting hungry!  We passed on the cognac tasting (the girls are a little young!) but there were plenty of people sampling, drinking and buying; chatting and telling stories, it was all so convivial.IMG_2558 We had arranged to meet our good friends, Penny and Adrian, here at the market and they were quite adamant that we really needed a pair of ducks to add to our menagerie at home.  I couldn’t even imagine going home and telling Roddy that we had come back with two more feathered friends, but they just laughed and Adrian said he knew a good lawyer!  And so before I knew quite what was happening, two ducklings, not more than a few weeks old, were chosen and put into a cardboard box as a very belated house-warming present!


Back home and the sun decided to make it’s first appearance of the day –  lunch on the terrace and a bottle of bubbly,  if we needed an excuse then it had to be celebrating that Roddy loved the ducklings and the divorce lawyer was not needed!  Adrian and Millie set about making a temporary outdoor run for our new acquisitions, complete with an old borrowed paddling-pool from our lovely neighbour.  The ducklings are still too young to roam free (which is the long term plan, of course) but for the time-being  I wouldn’t trust our dear nearly fully-grown kittens, Rory and Clara, until the birds are much bigger.  Surprisingly Clara, who is a real hunter, has no interest in them, but Rory is intrigued.  I don’t think he wants to hurt them, he just wants to play, but to him playing is all about teeth and claws; this is a great game with Bentley, but I’m not so sure it would be so good with two young ducklings, so we’re taking no chances.

So without further ado let me introduce you to the latest members of our family who Penny and Adrian baptized after themselves –  I give you Penny and Adrian!

p.s. do make sure you have your volume turned up, the sound of them drinking is adorable!

If I was to tell you that they are even worse for wasting time, would you believe me ?

Animal Tales Badge Final



It’s amazing how so much can happen in four days, I mean I know it is only four days since Sunday, that’s a fact, but it seems like four weeks. The French air-traffic controllers went back to work, and so Izzi flew back to University on Sunday. A hot and sunny day and the usually sleepy little airport at La Rochelle was a heaving mass of frustrated travellers and fractious children after so many cancellations.  The arrivals and departures building is so sweet and so small you can’t even check in online as it doesn’t have the facilities, and I drove off leaving Izzi in a 65-minute queue for security.  She texted me from the plane whilst they were sitting on the tarmac waiting to depart – 15 passengers had somehow gone missing, security had been completely swamped as three flights were leaving within ten minutes of each other, and she was next to a toddler and behind a crying baby and then someone threw a book at her head – all of this and she still hadn’t taken off!  It was going to be a long 75 minute flight across the Channel!

Roddy is still hobbling with his infected foot and ‘septic shock’, and is on his second course of antibiotics.  I’m therefore still flying solo so to speak, and there are far too many jobs around the garden still remaining half-finished.  However, the days are drawing out and it isn’t getting dark until gone 9pm so after I have collected the children from school and everyone has been fed and watered there is still plenty of time for an evening dog walk and some playing in the garden.

More dramas on Tuesday evening when Gigi, our youngest, tripped over whilst playing in our neighbour’s garden and took the brunt of the fall on her wrist.  Amidst floods of tears, I took her to our delightful local doctor who was happy to see her despite the fact it was definitely the apéritif hour!  He suspected it might be a hairline fracture of her wrist and sent us to the Urgences in Royan; this was a little further than Rochefort but, in his words, much more efficient and with much less waiting time.  I am really happy to say it wasn’t fractured but just sprained although she will be wearing a support bandage for the next couple of weeks.  However yesterday she was back happily playing in the neighbour’s garden once again; the young bounce back so quickly at that age – it is making Roddy green with envy.  When Gigi fell over, I had been in the middle of giving Bentley a much needed spring hair-cut as he was looking extremely shaggy!  Poor chap – taking care of Gigi meant he got left unfinished – one side trimmed, the other still long and hairy – until the next morning.  He looked like two different dogs, depending on which side you viewed him from!


The garden seems to have literally exploded into life;  gone are the bare trees and in turn we have a jungle of semi-awakening buds and unfurling leaves, which literally seem to have burst open overnight.  This was no gentle transformation!  Of course the weather has played a major part in this, and we went from a pleasant 20C last week to a very hot 30C this week; in fact, we were actually having to water both our long-term plants in pots and also everything else we have recently planted. Whoever heard of having to water plants in April!  The chickens have taken to foraging under the trees and old stone walls and avoiding the open shadeless lawn.


The plum blossom and peach blossom have long since given way to small fruits, but the cherry is still magnificent –  a stunning backdrop of white amongst all the greenery surrounding it.  The horse-chestnut is in full leaf and its flowers are poised to open any day.  The Virginia creeper which climbs all the old stone walls has suddenly come to life, little red buds and delicate leaves appearing all over the place amidst the tangled web of the vine.


The wisteria spreading along the front of the house is stunning, and gently scenting the bedrooms above through the open windows with a sea of bluebells underneath.

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Rhubarb has shot up out of nowhere in one corner of our newly formed vegetable garden.  We didn’t even know it was there. The girls and I have sowed and hoed and weeded!  We have cut and trimmed hazel sticks for the runner beans, and cut off the tops and made them into pea-sticks to support the peas as they start to grow.  We have so far also planted potatoes, carrots and spinach.


The redcurrant and blackcurrant are all flowering, I think we have five of each; the irises are a vivid blue against a backdrop of green; and the tiny wild strawberries which grow in abundance under one of the south facing walls are in flower.


Our huge fig tree in the small courtyard to the side of the house has finally come into leaf and I am extremely relieved to see buds forming on the grapevines.  Relieved as I have never pruned vines before, we have a row of old established vines which we incorporated into the vegetable garden which bear really sweet juicy red grapes and a huge old vine against the wall in the courtyard.  They were all sorely lacking attention when we bought the house and after much advice from friends I tackled them just before Christmas and I was brutal!  Every day I discover something new, it’s like entering a toy shop for the first time – I can’t wait to see what our garden has to offer in our first full year here.

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Finally, Rosie, one of our sweet Pekim bantams has gone broody which has caused so much excitement in the household.  It’s the first time we have had a broody hen.  We moved her at dusk to the old small coop which we no longer use, a joint effort between Millie and I as we carefully carried her and re-located the eggs.  However, nothing is that simple.  Naturally, she was sitting on several of the larger eggs of the big girls (as we call our standard farm hens) and only two bantam eggs.  So whilst Millie was at school the next day I waited until Rosie took a little time off her nest to switch a few more eggs.  I waited and waited, and about 11 o’clock she hopped outside for a walk.  Quickly I hurried down the garden with 6 bantam eggs from the past week and carefully put them in her nest,  removing the large eggs from the big girls.

Mission accomplished, or so I thought.  I waited a while to check she would go back into the coop and all would be well but when I checked, she wasn’t there!  She’d gone back to the big coop they all share and was quietly patiently waiting outside the nesting box whilst one of the big girls laid an egg!  Obviously I was going to have to pick her up and put her back on her nest, but I hate picking up hens and unfortunately a broody hen does not like being picked up – especially when she thinks she is being taken from her eggs.  Bravely I donned my gardening gloves and carried her back to the old coop and her bantam eggs. Two days later and she has remembered which coop to go back to, and is being a very dutiful hen.  Thank goodness she only has another 18 days or so to go! The excitement amongst the children is akin to the build up to Christmas. I hope to goodness that the eggs are actually fertilized and that Fritz has done his job.  I am not asking for a lot, just one little chick would be fine, I’ll keep you posted!









There is something about the month of March in our family – the children nearly always fall by the wayside with this bug or that, they can happily navigate their way around all the winter sickness and then March arrives and wham, they drop like flies. I truly thought we had got away with it this year, but first Millie caught a medium dose of bubonic plague at school, and then Roddy found himself unable to walk after an ankle grew to the size of a football.

He claimed to be in some pain so our fabulous neighbour very kindly took him to the local Urgences (ER) in Rochefort as it was a Sunday afternoon.  Several hours later, and armed with a sack-load of antibiotics he returned with an infected foot after spending several hours in one of those silly back-to-front tunics on a wobbly gurney in the corridor while they did blood tests. Back in November when we were still renovating the house, a water tank fell on his foot and his toenail went quite black.  To his credit he just carried on as though nothing had happened and we thought little more of it until he dropped a log on it last week – and although the air went temporarily blue as a vast amount of expletives could be heard, the moment passed without further incident.  However, it appears that the wayward piece of oak caused a septic shock that triggered the infection.  So, ten days later, he is still on crutches and unable to drive or do anything at all.  Garden projects lie half-finished.

Just as I thought that not a lot else could go wrong, Izzi called me from university in the UK; “Mama, I’ve got an awful sore throat and cough, and I’m flying to Milan tomorrow and the doctor is closed!  Help!”.  My advice was simple – drink lots of lemon juice and honey, eat raw garlic and suck on raw ginger.  There was little else I could do from a few hundred miles away in France and I crossed my fingers it would do the trick.

So March finally passed and I welcomed April, quite literally rushed off my feet.  So many extra things to do with Roddy unable to move or drive.  The plum blossom is already over and in it’s place delicate green leaves and the beginnings of fruit.  The cherry now takes pride of place in the garden, it’s magnificent blossom overshadows everything else.


However, April brought the ants. I came into the kitchen one morning last week to find a trail of dark little specks, speeding across the floor like a tide of black dust, creeping imperceptibly under the dishwasher.  But there was no time to worry about that until I had delivered the children on-time to their respective schools!  With a much needed cup of coffee on my return, chickens let out and fed, kittens fed and husband fed, further investigation revealed a music-festival gathering under the dishwasher, writhing and dancing to some invisible beat.  After pulling the machine half-out, I realized that most of the ants in the Charente-Maritime were actually jamming away under there.  I hurried off to our local garden/agricultural centre, Gamm Vert, the place where you can buy everything – plants, clothing, chicken-feed, ham, cognac, lawn mowers, paint and even an oven, and searched for some ant repellent.  But what did I find on the shelves?  Not much choice of ant poison, but a huge new seasonal selection of snake-repellents!  Lots of the stuff.  I thought I had left Florida and snakes behind, I HATE snakes, and now, if I believed what I read on the shelves, my perfect garden was about to be invaded by all of Europe’s finest venemous varieties. Through my tears I could see shelf after shelf of products of various designs for repelling the mighty asp, the dreaded viper, and the lesser spotted cow-gobbler, or something.  Quietly sobbing I remembered the ant-bait just in time, and drove home thinking dark thoughts about reptilian defenses in the garden.


Of course when I spoke to our neighbour that afternoon he told me that there were indeed snakes, but  –  not too many would be seen, if indeed any at all.  They were small, and the cats would keep them away as well.  “Just don’t put your hand in any cracks in old walls” he said!

So ants dealt with, snake fears almost allayed, it was time to learn how to use the chainsaw.  Our barn is stacked full of wood but most of it is cut to metre long lengths and I had to halve them to fit our fireplace.  Roddy is normally in charge of this programme, but he was still in his chair and we needed some wood.   I am quite amused that despite being a farmer’s daughter and growing up on a farm I had never used a chainsaw, but after Roddy dutifully hobbled out and showed me how to mix fuel and start the noisy beast, I now know how to cut firewood. He did not have the courage to watch me cut my leg off and hobbled away once he thought I had things under control.


Easter arrived and along with it came stunning weather; clear blue skies and some much welcomed sunshine.  I set off for Bordeaux airport with Millie to pick up Izzi who was flying in from Milan, thankfully feeling much better.  So excited at the thought of having all five children together again. She had been staying with a university friend whose family lives in Milan as she has two weeks Spring Break.  It was a stunning drive down to Bordeaux as it was Easter Day and the roads were quite empty.  Millie told me all about her forthcoming school-trip the following year to China.  She will be starting Lycée this September, the equivalent of the last three years of High School in the USA, and she has decided on Chinese as her third foreign language choice, alongside Spanish and English.  Of course for her English is the easy foreign language she doesn’t have to even think about (an easy pass as we call it).   Jack, who is 13 in a couple of weeks time, will be going to the Alps with the school next winter for a week learning how to dog-sleigh.  A skill I doubt he will need in life but immense fun!  The two youngest girls are off on a big school-trip on Thursday and have had not one but two parties this Easter weekend.  I have decided I want to go back to being a student; I don’t remember it being half as much fun when I was at school!


I rarely go to Bordeaux as the airport is an hour and forty minutes south of us and normally everyone flies into La Rochelle.  However, on such a beautiful day it was fun to see new scenery, and with so many vineyards Millie and I had great fun differentiating the organic ones from those using endless pesticides – the latter have grass around the roots which is an incongruous shade of orange.  As I love driving, the time flew past and Millie even managed to take a photo of the River Dordogne as we crossed it at 70kph!


Easter Monday, I managed to spend a couple of hours in the garden in the afternoon in some easterly sunshine, attacking the weeds that seemed to have sprung up overnight with the warmer weather; the chickens helped as always when Fritz would leave them alone (note to self : spring is definitely in the air), or perhaps they hindered; either way I enjoy their company!

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I hate it when the children go back to school even after just a long weekend at home; it is always so much fun but suddenly today the house was silent again.  To cheer myself up I stopped on the way back from dropping them off to take some quick photos of the beautiful weeping willow outside Pont l’Abbe, it really is quite fantastic in the early morning sunshine.


The daffodils along the river beside the willow will soon be past their best; it seems like only yesterday we were so excited to see the first signs of spring and now already we are moving on to the next stage.


Everywhere the blackthorn is in flower, delicate little white petals which bely the sharp prickly thorns they hide.  I have never seen so much blackthorn; every hedgerow is a sea of white, mile upon mile of surf surging up out of the ditches, its spume blowing across the roads with every gust of the breeze.  There are plenty of old folklore tales about blackthorn; in autumn it bears the sloe fruit, of course, and this year we will be ready with empty bottles and some gin or vodka. If there is an abundance of fruit, which with so many flowers this spring might suggest, it is said it will be a harsh winter – what my Father used to call “a blackthorn winter”.  But still I can’t start thinking about next winter yet, we have only just said goodbye to this one.   Still I learnt to use a chainsaw! I wonder if it will be effective on the snakes !!!