I am quite aware that my blog posts are becoming shorter each month and I am taking longer and longer to publish them. I wouldn’t call it writer’s block, it’s just that I seem to have been lacking inspiration of late and as the trees and plants go into hibernation mode, it appears I do too. Winter is always a difficult time to write, especially when beautiful, crisp mornings are replaced by endless days of rain and drizzle. I am not actively working in the garden and I think this has a huge mental impact on everyday life. When the weather is wet and cold and there is no sign of life in the garden, it is very difficult at times to motivate myself into doing anything at all. I start to question if we have actually made any progress here, whether it was the right thing to do, and are we actually happy? Negative thoughts are quick to consume me and I am left with doubt for the future. So, why on earth would I want to share all this negativity with you, at a time when a new year is about to begin, and everyone should by cheerful and optimistic?
I spoke to my husband last night about how I had reached a point in writing my blog where I didn’t have anything positive or interesting to share. He quickly made me realise that in these modern times, the majority of people who post online are so preoccupied with creating false impressions of how fantastic their lives are, they lose touch with reality and the true joys of living. It is so true, the rise of social media, selfies and smart phones have led to people constantly bombarding us with how great their lives are, how much money they have and how beautiful they look. Temporary happiness now comes in the form of a ‘like’ button! Pete told me that in order to continue my blog, I need to write from the heart, be honest and true to myself, and not write for the purpose of pleasing others.
So, here goes…
Don’t assume, for one minute, that living out here amongst the rolling Aveyron hills is all sweetness and light, because it isn’t. We have our ups and our downs, like any other family.
December began in such a positive light. Chez TêteBlanche was bursting at the seams with Christmas crafts for the village market: decorative wine bottles with led lights; miniature Christmas trees decorated with festive chocolates for the dinner table; painted nativity scene plaques; hand-painted Christmas mobiles and tree decorations… In fact, out Christmas market stall was quite successful. We made some extra cash before Christmas and I have taken a couple of orders for some Compolibat plaques, which went down very well with the locals. We quickly figured out which items were popular (notably story stones, owl plaques and candlesticks) and which items were less regarded (fairy doors and fabric wreaths) so that if we decide to do it again next year, we can optimise our sales.
Back at home, the kitchen cupboards were fully stocked with chocolates and fizz, and all the other necessary ingredients to make our typically English Christmas dinner one to remember. Now it is all over, I can quite safely say that it is a Christmas I would much rather forget, for one by one, like fallen soldiers, all five of us in the house came down with a terrible case of the flu. On a brighter note, due to a subsequent lack of appetite and taste, we still have a cupboard full of chocolates and alcohol to get through, and for once, this Christmas we all lost weight as opposed to piling on the pounds! After a rough ten days of fatigue, aching muscles, chest infections and fevers, I am pleased to say that we are all on the mend now and the worst is over.
Which is more than can be said for one of our hens. Being poorly over Christmas has meant we have paid less attention than normal to our chickens and we have only recently noticed that yet another has come down with vent gleet. Today is New Year’s Eve and it is the first day of sun we have seen in a long time. Feeling ready to brave the outdoors after days spent huddled around the fire, Pete and I gave the hen a warm bath this morning and we spring-cleaned the chicken house. How poetic it all sounds, yet when you consider taking on the joys of homesteading, nobody mentions that it might involve you massaging a hen’s backside in soapy water in order to remove rotting faeces from her feathers, or shovelling stinking chicken poo into a wheelbarrow when you still have the shivers from a recent flu virus. Nope, quite often than not, we concentrate way too much on the glorified side of country-living and fail to mention the knitty-gritty, but it’s always there, and its bloody hard work this quiet life in the country!
As December draws to a close, I have swept all signs of negativity under the carpet. I can look back at 2017 and feel proud of what we have accomplished.
The children are doing well at school and are effortlessly bilingual. I have a strong relationship with my parents, who are now close by. Our house is becoming a home and as we enter our fourth year here, we are constantly making improvements. We have a better understanding of our land and what can be improved next year, and I have a strong man beside me, who helps me to live in the present moment and reinforces the idea of being mindful in everything I do. Take the weekly shop for example. Yes, there are times when I might have bought frozen pizza instead of making it myself or cooked frozen supermarket veg rather than picking it fresh from the garden, but nobody is perfect, despite what they might try to portray. What is important, Pete reminds me, is to consciously try to make the right compassionate choices in life. Tempting though it is for me to buy a cheap pack of chicken when money is tight, the likelihood is that those chickens suffered in appalling battery-farm conditions and the better option would be to go without chicken at all until we can afford to buy it free-range. The price of chicken in France fluctuates all the time but there are generally commercial offers for free-range chicken every month or so. An alternative solution would be to rear our own chickens for meat, something we have always liked the idea of, but never followed up. We do have plans to expand our chicken run to accommodate more chickens next year, so this could finally be an option for us.
Reflecting on the past year leaves me with optimism for the next. We have plans to add some colour in the form of flower beds next year. The introduction of a climbing Wisteria and geranium hanging baskets in the summer made our front door appear much more welcoming, so the plan is to create a relaxing area around the other side of the house, where we can enjoy the longer evening sun amongst a variety of cottage garden flowers. I wouldn’t mind a little pond too, but it might involve some digging on Pete’s part so I haven’t mentioned it to him as yet!
Of course, we haven’t forgotten about the fruit and vegetables. I generally tend to get carried away ordering seeds at the beginning of the year and have this awful tendency to sow them too early. This year, I am going to make a constructive growing plan, concentrating more on the staple veg that we eat regularly, such as potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, spinach and swiss chard and try not to get carried away growing tonnes of brassicas such as cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower, many of which are eaten by pests or left to rot. Instead I will grow a smaller amount of brassicas and try to look after them better, with the aid of neem oil (a 2017 discovery of mine). Although our polytunnel has provided us with fresh lettuce well into December, I need to stagger my lettuce growing more, to ensure a steady yield throughout the year, particularly when it’s really hot. My neighbour has promised to help me increase my green bean and tomato yields, and after trying the back-breaking traditional method of potato-growing, we are reverting back, without hesitation, to our initial straw-grown potato method next year.
So, what began this blog post as a downward spiral of self-pity has once again been transformed into a positive reflection of the past year, with high hopes for 2018. Please don’t believe everything you read or see online, concentrate on living the dream rather than trying to share it on social media. Don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future, just be honest, true and kind, live in the moment, all the time.
I sincerely wish you all the very best for 2018. Happy New Year!