I post over at helenredfern.co.uk now. In the last few weeks I’ve covered wildflowers, chickens, an interview with Cathy Bramley: author of Ivy Lane and Appleby Farm and recipes for white chocolate chunk shortbread and vanilla flapjacks. Do come and say hello.
As I step out the back door in the semi-darkness, taking in that first breath of a new day, I feel privileged, like I am part of a special world. Yes, even in the middle of winter. I walk out the back gate into the field, pausing as I check out the sunrise, then continue down the slope, over the stream, making sure I don’t slip, which I do – often, and un-hook the electric fence.
This morning the buzzard flew over and landed in the tree next to me. He (or she) likes to watch the chickens. During the day he flies from one spot to another in a triangle around the orchard. Keeping an eye on those pesky hens. Which are, incidentally, far too fat for him to pick up. (I hope.)
As I open the shed to take out the layers pellets for the chickens, some I put in their feeders and some I scatter on the floor, I see the robin, the wren and three blackbirds are all waiting for me to hurry up so they can steal their breakfast. But first, I need to let the chickens out of the two coops. I could hear them singing away, calling me, from the field gate, impatient to stretch their wings, to have a drink and to scratch around. As they hear me approach, their calls get more urgent. One of them is particularly impatient to get out of her coop so she can make a beeline for the other coop in order to lay her egg. I shake my head. That’s chickens for you.
I feed them, refresh their water – or de-ice it if it’s a frosty morning – and check inside their coops, in the laying box just in case there is an early egg. Most of the time all I find is poop, they are mucky birds, so I take that out (yes, ugh) and put in some fresh wood shavings. There is no chance of getting a clean egg when the ground is so muddy but mud is preferable to poop.
This morning they wouldn’t leave me alone. I knew what they wanted. When it is really cold, or really muddy, they can’t scratch at the ground for worms and other exciting treats. So I go into the shed again and take out a pile of straw, scattering it around a large area so they all get to have a scratch and explore. If they’re lucky they’ll find some wheat still left on the stalk. I scatter it in a large area because chickens can be mean to the lower ranking ones if they think they’re in their straw. I’ve already had to administer first aid earlier this week to a young white chicken, whose comb had been attacked by one of my oldest ones and was bleeding starkly into her white feathers. Honestly.
And then, I’m done. I walk out the electric fence gate, connect the conducting bits, and switch the power on. Then I carry on around the field with the dog whose nose, incidentally, has been inside a rabbit hole the entire time I’ve been with the chickens. We listen to the woodpecker, laughing away, and the male pheasant, who sounds like a broken old fashioned car horn, and walk back indoors to make myself a coffee. Refreshed, invigorated and feeling incredibly fortunate to see the countryside waking up.
I love beginnings. I love fresh starts. I love the feel of potential at the beginning of the year. Whether it be in January, or the beginning of a school year in September. They are useful times to collect your thoughts and think about what you’re doing, make a list if need be, and to crack on refreshed.
I don’t do resolutions anymore. Foolishly I thought I’d do a dry January but why put myself through the guilt when I inevitably crack. So. No resolutions that can be broken and that then lead to guilt and feelings of failure. Instead I have ambitions and dreams. And that is to be a published author. To get my book finished and in the best shape possible to send out to publishers. 2015 will be the perfect year in which to do this.
This blog is another one of my ambitions. I want to create great blog posts, to document and photograph my life with the trees, the chickens and, hopefully, come spring, some ducklings (eep!). I’ve just been looking back at some of the posts I wrote on my other blog, Hen Orchard, which I’ve now closed. I’ve imported the ones important to me onto this blog (they’re headed Let’s Go Outside) because not only did they bring back lots of memories (my lovely ducks! the number of trees we planted!) but it was lovely to see the record of what we have achieved since moving to the country. I’m going to continue to write these posts in addition to food in fiction, my own novel writing adventure and books in general. Along with cake. There will always be cake.
In addition, I’m thinking, thanks to this post by Sarah Painter, of taking this blog self-hosted. There are a number of reasons for this but mainly it is to have a more secure and professional place where I write my hopes, dreams, loves, recipes and post pictures of all the things that make me happy.
Blogging is such a lovely thing to do. I thoroughly enjoy it and have dipped my toe in and out of it over the years, creating different blogs for the different things that I enjoy. But now I’m bringing them altogether on one blog. For that is me.
This year, I’ve decided, is going to be about books, writing, dog walks and a few other animals. Plus cake. (Mind you, every year is about cake.)
And the year has started well. Thanks to the Big Man in the Red Suit I’ve been fortunate to enough to receive a nice pile of books this Christmas.
Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton – a food memoir, A Merry Christmas: And Other Christmas Stories by Louisa May Alcott, My Life in France by Julia Child, The Nation’s Favourite Poems by various poets, The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton with a gorgeous hardback cover and The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, a special signed limited edition.
I am also currently reading Iona Grey’s Letters to the Lost which I was lucky enough to receive as a proof copy. And I have to say, I am enjoying it very much indeed.
Every year I pre-make my gravy, bread sauce, roast potatoes and pigs in blankets well before the big day. Then freeze them. I love it. I’ve Christmas songs on the radio and the house comes alive with the smells and sounds of Christmas. I’ve learnt from the past that I like to do a lot of the cooking on the day myself. I’m a bit of a control freak – though I’m working on it. So if I pre-prepare it takes the stress off myself, allows me to have a bucks fizz (or two), enjoy the present unwrapping, and not be tied to the kitchen from early on. The get-ahead gravy I make is Jamie Oliver’s minus the star anise (we’re not fans of it in this house), and with three times the amount of ingredients.
This all sounds like I’m terribly organised and domesticated – but believe me I’m not. I may have made my Christmas gravy but have I written any Christmas cards yet or done anything else remotely Christmassy? Nope.