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Let’s Go Outside: The Morning Routine

14 Jan

IMG_3005As 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.

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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.

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Planning for the Year Ahead

8 Jan

PicFrameI 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.

My Month in Pictures: December 2014

31 Dec

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It has been a lovely December. Yes, very busy and exhausting, but I love all the christmas food preparation; the cooking, the baking, the decorating. The children and I made some gorgeous, smelling-of-christmas gingerbread shapes to go onto the christmas tree. Ok, they never made it as far as the tree but it was a fun afternoon.

The weather has changed from the almost mild December to a freeze-your-face-off temperature. Gorgeous and picturesque – it makes for lovely dog walks. The chickens, however, don’t enjoy it as much as myself and DogFace, so we’ve been giving them extra care to ensure their water isn’t frozen and they have shelter and protection from the cold with straw.

Despite the increase in baking I’ve still managed to read a few books. I loved Katie Fforde’s collection of short stories, A Christmas Feast. It was relaxing to dip into when I retired, exhausted, to bed at night. And Tammy Cohen’s Dying for Christmas was a real treat. I couldn’t read it every day for a while. I felt a bit stressed with the story (not helped by the pre-Christmas stress in real life!). But then, gradually, I was hooked in and as the plot developed and twisted I couldn’t put it down. Brilliant.

My Month in Pictures: November 2014

3 Dec

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There is much banging and crashing – drills, cutters, saws – all whirring and throbbing away in what is normally my sanctuary. Eight men are currently in my kitchen turning the room into an amazing space – and it is distracting me somewhat from my writing. As the novel writing is stilted, rather than updating you on my word count, I’m going to focus on the month of November.

During this month I went on my first writing retreat. It was marvellous and Julie’s top tip for post-it usage has been novel-changing.

I’ve been out on many an autumnal dog walk with DogFace. Loving the leaves and the changing landscape. The chickens have been wormed ready for winter and I’m now scattering straw about for them. They love to scratch about and when it’s wet they get fed up and their eggs also get muddy! The straw gives them something to scratch and peck at – if they find a bit of wheat they are ecstatic – and keeps them warm in their shelters when it rains.

The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M Delafield was a recommendation I saw on twitter by Rachael Lucas and Sarra Manning. I wrote about it on Novelicious and treated myself to the book. I’m currently reading and throughly enjoying.

The Eat Me picture with Alice in Wonderland was from a local store specialising in vintage goods. I thought it would be perfect for my kitchen as it is cake and fiction thus food in fiction.

And finally, my new shelves for my recipe book collection in my kitchen. The kitchen project is ongoing but it started in November. Lets hope it’s now only a few more days till silence decsends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Go Outside: Progress

9 Jun

It has been a couple of weeks now since the duck drama and time has given me a bit of perspective. I loved having the ducks around, seeing them outside my office window, rooting about in the grass, or sitting together as a quartet. They made the garden and the pond come alive. But do I miss them? Really? I don’t think I do. I don’t miss their loud quacks for food at stupid o’clock that’s for sure. This time last year I was going to bed at nine because they’d wake me up so early. Because they wouldn’t go into a house they were a lot of effort and worry for little reward.

But still, I’m sure one day I’ll eat my words when we get some more. But not now.

Instead I’m concentrating on the chickens – I bought three more as a direct result of the duck fox attack. At the weekend they were released into the main flock after two weeks being fenced off and everyone seems happy and settled.

What is wonderful after all the heartache is seeing the garden and the trees come into their own. The trees that can blossom have blossomed and now they are in their growth period. Many are no longer sticks but have bushed out, pushed upwards and I’m delighted with their progress.

There is one particular project – the cottage garden with the kitchen garden planned to go behind it  (in a couple of years) we are making headway on. We dug out a bed of heavy clay with a few manky plants in and filled it with good soil, compost and horse manure. I planted lavender in the two corners, along with a flowering currant in the far corner. In the last few weeks we’ve added a mock orange, perennial geraniums, various dianthus and in the centre four different coloured berberis (hope I’ve got the spellings right, it’s all new to me!) I also scattered some seeds for cut flowers – which I won’t do again as for a while you don’t know what is weed and what is seedling – but will hopefully give a fabulous display.

So, these are the before and after pictures. A lot of hard work went into creating this.

Before - soon after we moved in 2012

Before – soon after we moved in 2012

The horrible sub-soil underneath the heathers...ugh.

The horrible sub-soil underneath the heathers…ugh.

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The good stuff goes in and the play park has been relocated.

As it stands today. With new pyracantha hedging along the fence.

As it stands today. With new pyracantha hedging along the fence and new trees along the back.

 

 

Let’s Go Outside: End of an era

27 May

_DSC0234I’m writing this a tiny bit heartbroken. A tiny bit dejected. I didn’t mean to write two negative posts one after the other, I was going to write something completely different and positive. Until, that is, the fox came back early yesterday morning. And took away our gorgeous black runner duck. We now have one lavender runner left and it is horrible to see her so lonely. There aren’t even any moorhens to keep her company.

So I made a plea on social media. Can anyone take her? Someone with ducks already so she would have company. And fortunately a friend of a friend came to the rescue.

We still have to capture her, cue Benny Hill music, but once she’s in the box we’ll take her forty minutes down the road to her new home with ducks, chickens and pigs. Sounds perfect for her.

But for me, I can’t help but feel we’ve failed. We just couldn’t keep them safe. We tried to get them into the duck house but they refused. The allure of the large pond was too tempting and in the end it was their undoing.

Farewell little ducks. You gave us lots of pleasure. As well as frustration.

One day we’ll have ducks again, I’m sure. But not for a while.

Let’s Go Outside: Is it worth it?

2 May

_DSC0265For the first time ever I’m wondering whether its worth having all the animals we do, all the space we have to maintain, all the young trees we have to watch over. I know we’ve had a few deaths recently, which is always incredibly upsetting, but I’m left feeling a little overwhelmed by the sheer scale of it all.

I know writing on a blog, or facebook, or twitter where you can pick and choose the best pictures and create a wonderful looking life – can be incredibly deceptive. It doesn’t show the days where you are struggling to get out of bed due to a lingering virus or explain the guilt you feel for being ill. The small worries that mount up because you can’t take the dog on a long walk, give the chickens their afternoon corn or go searching for the duck eggs.

We have built a dream life here. And I love it. Normally.

But this is one of those days I think we’ve bitten off more than we can chew and it wouldn’t be fair not to record those days, as well as the good ones.

To be fair, it was only yesterday when I was googling which chickens to buy next to give us a gorgeous chocolate coloured egg shell. So I am sure this feeling sorry for myself is just a temporary blip.