Friday, 29 January 2016

Seven Years of Blogging

Make yourself a drink and pull up your chair this is a long one ...... because today is this blogs anniversary, seven years of posts.  Seven years of ups and downs but best of all seven years of sharing our lives with you .... our blogging buddies, friends, followers and readers.

In October of 2008 when we first placed this advert in the Farmers Guardian newspaper ... we had no idea of the adventure we were starting on.

Resourceful sea-dog (Engineer) and hard working city chick (Retail Manager) (Married) wishing a radical life style change, seek 3 bed property with space to live the ‘good life’ (veggies and chickens), ideally in a rural setting or on a farm in the Oxford, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Hampshire area. 

Willing to upgrade and refurb property in return for a realistic rent. Contact the old sea-dog (Alan) on -----------
or e-mail -----------

This blog that has charted virtually our every move, escapade and family event since then, has been the backbone of all that we have done.  Keeping us accountable and being a permanent record of our wonderful adventure.

 Expecting this search to take six months at the very least we were shocked to be contacted within days of the advert going out and offered the chance to rent a farm, complete with it's own farmhouse, barn, derelict orchard and six acre paddock. We spent the next two months closing down my sweet little lavender shop, handing the notice in on our rented house, saying goodbye to family and friends and generally just packing up our lives. Over Christmas of 2008 we moved in and a month later this blog was born.  Each year has had a subtitle and 2009's was 'From Townies to Country Folk' as the pair of us swapped smart clothes and shiny shoes for mud splattered jeans and big comfy wellies ... 

...and kitted ourselves and the farm out with what we thought we needed.  

2010 was the year of 'Pigs and Chickens' and our initial flock of ten rescued free range White Stars was added to over the course of the year.  The pigs came in small and grew and grew, providing us with meat, piglets, a small income and lots of entertainment and hard work.

2011 was 'Our Year of Living Simply' and we knuckled down to building on all we had learnt.  Reining in the spending and learning to live as simply as we could.  Growing, storing and preserving our own food, reusing, recycling and mending what we had.

But we showed our soft side when we re-homed another big batch of rescue birds, doubling our flock of the time to over 50 birds.  As our three year lease was coming to an end we sat and discussed the future, did we want to go for this lifestyle full time or revert to our townie lives.

We decided to not just carry on but to invest in our own future and buy our own land.  No matter how much we loved the area we lived in we knew we couldn't afford to buy in Oxfordshire, but we knew we had to grow our savings as quickly as we could, so we ended the lease on our lovely farm and looked for somewhere over the border in Berkshire, near to Lovely Hubby's work to rent while we saved.

  So 2012 was the year we went further, with the subtitle 'From Simple to Frugal - and Beyond'

We found  a ramshackle little bungalow in it's last years of life, waiting to be demolished to make room for the owners to build their dream home.  In the meantime they were heading overseas and needed someone to rent their property ...

... and look after their cat.

The pigs were gone due to family circumstances, and we were not allowed to have any on the land we rented, so we decided to downsize and buckle down and save.  So it was just us the dogs, the cats, and the chickens ... and then we went to a farm sale and fell in love with a Hyline hen and her three fluffy babies.  The geese had arrived.

Harry, Larry and Mo .... the three Chinese Grey geese replaced the pigs in our affections and made wonderful 'guard dogs' keeping our chickens safe from predators and making us laugh with their antics.

It turned out that we had two girls and one gander.  Harry swiftly decided that I was the love of his life and whenever I was in Chicken World would follow me round fawning at my feet demanding cuddles and attention.  

Then it was 2013 and we decided it was to be our 'Year of Less'.  Our little two bedroom bungalow seemed overcrowded with the contents of our four bedroom farmhouse shoehorned in, even though we had sorted out and moved with less we started to declutter.  We car booted, we donated, we gave away and if all that failed we threw away.  The surfaces became clear and the bank account grew.  We worked hard, saved hard and started to dream.  We started to look for our own place ... 

and we found it.

I teased you all with a snippet of a photo while the final details were sorted out by solicitors and then it was ours on 13th September 2013.  Our forever home.  We commuted weekly and started the decorating and preparing the house, and moved in for good on 21 December...

... and on 31st Mavis joined us.

The year of 2014 was our 'Back to Basics' year and  saw us starting the long but rewarding task of setting up our smallholding, we are too small to be a farm, with around 5 acres so this is how we think of ourselves.  We (this is of course being the Royal we) dug out the hillside to mark out the bare bones of the Veggie Patch, and I learnt how different it was to grow on the poor soil of this Welsh hillside compared to the soft growing conditions of Southern England.

We also found out the difference in the temperatures and kept our log burner in action much more regularly to keep the house warm.

Then 2015 was with us and the year of 'Needs Not Wants'.  We kept our spending in the house to the minimum and gritted our teeth and invested in the infrastructure of our future.  The polytunnel was up and I could once again get down to the serious job of growing our own food ....

... while I tried to ignore what was going on nearer the house!!

A full year of building, mess, muck and chaos, I never want to live through that again.  Now of course I think that it as worth it, but at the time I hated every single minute.  But it means that we now have garage space, workshop space and most importantly a safer and more usable access and exit to the property.  

Beneath all this we put in water drains to make our land and the road beyond it safer.  We put in a water harvesting system to catch the deluge of rainwater that falls in this Welsh valley which will cut our future water bills.  Above the garage and workshop we put a huge bank of solar panels to capture the energy of the daylight and this means we are self sufficient in electricity and it will also earn us an income during the longer, lighter days of Summer.

And now we are here 2016 and 'A Year Without ...', a year that we are using as our practice year to see how self-sufficient we can be ready for next year when Lovely Hubby makes the final leap and gives up the day job.  It's been a long time in the planning and you our lovely band of regular and newer readers have been on the journey with us, some of you since the very beginning.  

Some of you have taken the massive step of reading back, seven full years of blog posts charting our successes, our failures, our experiments, our triumphs and our sad times and I guess for you they are fresher in your minds at the moment, than they currently are in mine.

Each time I look out of the window and see this glorious view I know we were right to make this little patch of Welsh hillside our own.  We drink in the view whether it be clear and filled with sunshine, or more recently with the cottages on the hillside opposite shrouded in cloud, mist or heavy rain but we drink it in, breathe in the fresh air as we walk our dogs round our own paddock and look down and across at all that we have accomplished on our land.  We know that a lot of the dreams that we dared to dream really have come true since we found our very own place to put down roots.

So I would like to take the opportunity on this anniversary post to thank everyone for reading this blog,  and to say I hope you will continue to join us on this Our New Life in the Country.  There are even more adventures ahead.

Sue xx 

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Learning to Be A Good Husband

Jack is slowly but surely learning to be a good husband .... a good chicken husband that is.

A good cockerel, as well as fertilising the eggs, pulls the flock together in a way a flock just doesn't act without a cockerel.  They lead by example.

For instance he calls the girls over  with his 'chuck chuck' call when tasty titbits are thrown into Chicken World, he leads them to cover  and safety when the rain starts to suddenly pour or the wind gusts, if a low flying large bird comes past he will call out to the girls and they are super aware of any potential danger.  He keeps an eye on them when they squabble and puts them in their place if things get overly rough.  Any unusual noise or happening and he's straight in there investigating to check out what's going on.

Of course in return for all this his fifteen wives have to do their part and put up with his sometimes over amorous juvenile advances each morning.  It's not always easy for him to 'hop on' he has a huge problem in the size difference between him and some of the larger girls.  Because Jack is a Lavender Pekin Bantam, a half sized chicken and some of our girls, especially the Black Marans are big dual purpose birds.  The first couple of months that he tried to 'get frisky' with them they simply chased him away but as with any young male faced with such feathery gorgeousness he was not too fazed and carried on in his persistence to let them know that persistence and Mother Nature will conquer all.

They now virtually all look up to him, well especially if he puffs himself up to his biggest proportions, stands on his tippy toes claws and makes himself look his magnificent best. 

They seem to have forgotten that a mere seven months ago he was this little pipsqueak on the right, hanging around on the periphery of the flock with his sister Jill and Mum Mother Goose, looking to his Mum to get him all his tasty treats and his fair share of the chicken food .

They grow up so quickly our little feathery children  :-)

Sue xx

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Finished Chair and More Freebies

I finally got my little green bedroom chair finished the other day.  

It was a relief to get it done, I felt like I was going round in circles, so many 'sides' to it and three coats of green paint on each one, but it was worth it, and as Ginger is currently sleeping on the table on his new favourite cushion I think he's glad to see the back of it too and have Mother, the Christmas cacti back for company.  He's fickle that cat, the wigwam on the freezer is now deserted and he loves the table ... he moves from pillar to post and of course because he's just so gorgeous we let him  :-)

This chair has history.  It's one of a pair that was my Nana's (my Dad's Mum) wedding present off her Dad.  He also made her and three of her five sisters a full suite of bedroom furniture as the rest of the gift.  He was a Master Cabinet Maker but as he didn't make chairs he bought my Nana two pairs of bedroom chairs.  You can see from the seat that it has been replaced, many years ago the fancy rattan that made up the seat fell to bits and was replaced with a punched out piece of plywood.

Great Grandad had his workshop above a couple of blokes starting out in the motor car trade, whenever he made a large piece of furniture he would lower it through a trapdoor into their garage space rather than struggle down the stairs and they would help him move it out.  The guys were called Mr Rolls and Mr Royce, they got a little bit more famous than my Great Grandad ever did .... but back in the day they all shared a building and no doubt a lot of laughs.

I used this chair to stand on while I did all the painting when we first moved into this house, I don't do ladders and find a chair a much sturdier and safer option.  I'm sure it's not the use my Great Grandad had in mind for it when it was bought, but I'm also sure that he would have approved of it still being used and loved to this day.

More freebies arrived the other day.  A copy of a sister magazine to the one I got as a subscription to for Christmas and ten packets of seeds to add to my free seed stash tin.

I'm not taking them up on the other 'free' offers as each one only comes free if you pay rather a lot of postage!!

But not a bad little haul.  

A folder to keep the magazines in, a free magazine, a wall chart of when to plant what and £19.28 worth of seeds.  Of course all through the year the magazine will also come with free gifts so it will be interesting to see what it all adds up to over the course of the year. 

 I have kept a record of my Kitchen Garden freebies all through last year, that subscription runs out with the March issue so I will be seeing what that total adds up with that one as well.

Sue xx

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Remembering Charley

Today is the anniversary of Charley's death.  The Snowdrops we planted next to her little grave on our hillside are looking lovely, it's nice to see them there.  There is usually a flowering plant in the chimney in front of the grave too, but the wind and bad weather has meant that since the last one died it has not been replaced.

The long run of Snowdrops salvaged from the old driveway into our property have all thrived and multiplied just since last year and bring a welcome touch of snowy white beauty in what has been a dull and blustery week.

Every time I stand at the sink washing the pots or rinsing salad ingredients I look out and admire them ...

...but the best way to really see their beauty is to gently turn up the delicate little flower heads.   Perfection in miniature, with my favourite shade of green.  A lovely way to remember our special little pup ... she is missed. 

Sue xx

Monday, 25 January 2016

Monday Morning

This mornings harvest from the polytunnel was slightly different, yes I got the usual colander of vegetables to add to the bits and bobs that are lurking in the veggie drawer of the fridge, ready to make a big pot of soup for the weekday lunches.  But this time I also came back with a tray full of used plant labels.

All year when I pick the last of something or chuck a tray of something that has died or not taken well into the compost bin, I retrieve the plastic labels, of which I have rather a lot .... thanks Dad.  I don't bother to wash them there and then but I save them up, and now is the time to give them all a wash, attack them with a pencil rubber and have them fresh and ready for re-use in the polytunnel.  It might only save a pound or two each year but it's these little things that add up.

They are drying on the Aga at the moment, along with the tea towel and facecloths that managed to stay on the washing line.

... the rest of the towels that were also out on the line in warm wind we have here today are back in the washing machine.   The strong gusts that have been coming every now and then were two much even for my storm pegs.  Luckily I was in the kitchen prepping the vegetables for the soup and nipped out to throw the trimmings to the chickens just a few minutes after pegging out the towels.  I did an almost comedy double take at the virtually empty washing line.  The towels were lying resplendent in the mud just outside Chicken World with pegs scattered all around.

It definitely feels like a Monday morning!!

Sue xx

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Hens and Eggs

The days are getting longer.  Slowly but surely we have more daylight hours and the first ones to notice this and to react to the change are always the chickens and suddenly slowly but surely the egg numbers start to creep up.

Jack starts crowing a little earlier, the girls are eager to leave the confines of the henhouse even in the half light of the early morning.  They root and scratch in the wet earth eager to get the early worms and bugs that are around before the day starts to lighten up too much.

The longer daylight hours instantly means their body clocks alter and they start producing eggs again.  Last week I was pleased to find the first of the blue eggs appearing in the next boxes.  All through the Winter we have been getting a steady three eggs each day from the newest Welsh girls, but the hens that moved with us from Southern England, for the second year running, stopped laying as soon as the days shortened, the Skylines that lay the blue eggs included.

It's amazing the difference this 250 mile shift has made to their body clocks, I would never have thought of it before the move.  In a couple of months we will invest in four more local birds to keep our numbers up and make sure that we have a continued supply of eggs, for us, for family and for friends.

  But for now we are very happy that egg numbers are up to around six a day, which means the chickens are completely self financing as this means we earn enough to cover all their feed and bedding costs and still have free eggs for ourselves.

Sue xx

Friday, 22 January 2016

Mother is Flowering Again

'Mother' our Christmas cactus is having another flowering spurt. 

 She seems a very happy girl this year, whenever she bursts into flower I give her a drink of Baby Bio and extra water .... maybe she's just addicted to Baby Bio and knows what to do to get some ;-)

As you can see she's currently living on top of the chest freezer ....

... if you look in the mirror above Ginger's dishes you can see why ... I have commandeered her usual place on the table to paint a chair. 

 I hate painting chairs especially ones with lots of turned bits, they take ages and just when you think you've finished and step back to admire your handiwork you notice a whole strip of wood still left not painted.  But at last, three coats of our favourite shade of green paint later and it's just about done.

So Mother will be able to move back to her favourite bit on the table and bask in some of this lovely sunshine we've been having today.

Sue xx

Thursday, 21 January 2016

A Trip Down Memory Lane

A trip down memory lane.

Yesterday looking for the image of the 'Cowavan' to share on the post I went into my photo 'album' from 2010.  I found myself spending far too long browsing the pictures.  I think it was the sunshine, the fresh greenery and the idyllic pictures of our southern England farm.

Oh, how I'm missing some sunshine at the moment .... I bet a few of you are too so I'll share some of what I was looking at, all taken in June 2010 ... the year the chickens had two houses, well we had over 50 chickens!!

The year the veggie patch at the back of the house was lush and rampant.  We had huge crops of onions, carrots and all sorts of fresh foods to eat.

The year a certain little Rosy was almost one year old.

The pigs lived in the orchard.  This picture shows Betty, the Berkshire, with Lottie and Lulu the Large Blacks at the front of the shot.  In the distance you can just about make out Maud and Martha the Middle Whites.

And this lush area is my original polytunnel.

A trip down a very sunny and green memory lane.  Oh well time to pull on the wellies, trudge through the mud and clean out the henhouse, and I must of course remember that we had some of the deepest, slushiest mud when we lived there on Jointers Farm in Oxfordshire .... it wasn't all so idyllic, far from it!!

But on an icy cold January day it's nice to put on your rose tinted glasses for ten minutes :-)

Sue xx

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

A Dry Day

For once yesterday it didn't rain.  

The sun shone in patches, I even risked a few things on the washing line and it didn't, as is my usual way, bring on an immediate downpour.  The workmen used to yell at me for putting washing on the line,  for every time an hour after doing so the heavens would open and they would all be working in big coats and hats for the rest of the day.

No it stayed dry and fresh, well dampishly fresh, but while it was nice I took the dogs for a long walk along the prom at Llandudno coming back through the shopping street for a change of scenery, posted a letter and picked up a rather large bag of dog food on the way back.

I felt like a wimp ... usually I pick up 20kg bags of Layers pellets and Corn without too much difficulty, but this bag of dog feed weighing in at 15kg had me struggling, this cold has obviously knocked the stuffing out of me ... and taken my muscles with it!!

I used to lift and shift 25kg bags of pig feed into and out of the 'Cowavan' ... but I had my ways and means of managing those - see HERE for more on that.

Now that's a blast from the past, I liked my cowavan  :-)

Sue xx

Tuesday, 19 January 2016


Image result for dreams

I dream, a lot.  

Big dreams, small dreams that are over in minutes, funny dreams, in which I've been known to laugh out loud or wake up laughing, small bitty dreams that barely follow on from each other in story but play out one after another, and sometimes very strange dreams that have a hint of what has happened during the day before.  I have dreamt whole episodes of what would make a brilliant detective series, with characters, plots and storylines that make complete sense .... if only I were to write it down instead of letting it fade as I lie and contemplate what the preceding hours have shown me.

But no dream has been as unsettling or as immediate as the one I had over the weekend.

I dreamt I died!!

I had taken myself to hospital to the A&E department.  I stood and waited my turn to speak to the receptionist.  She asked my name, my address, my telephone number and entered the details on her notebook, then she asked me what was wrong.  I told her I did not know but that I felt unwell.  She pushed for an exact illness and again I told her I couldn't put in to words what was wrong, she said without an 'illness' she couldn't process my form and I would have to leave .....

.... I dropped down dead on my side of her desk.

The next moment I was coming out of my childhood home, running down the front garden path and along the street, it was all exactly as I remembered it.  I ran to the corner of the old Co-op butchers and there coming round the corner with an empty lunch box in his hand was Lovely Hubby wearing his favourite stripey T shirt, when he saw me running towards him he opened out his arms and I ran into them.

We hugged, tightly and lovingly and I knew I should not let him go for as long as possible .... for this was the last time we would ever see or feel each other in this world.

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I woke with a start, wide awake with every part of the dream imprinted on my very being, I turned over in bed and hugged the man that is my world ... and he hugged me right back.  

I always understand completely the point that my dream has made, psychoanalysing myself has always come easily to me thank goodness.  I won't share the full meaning behind this one, but I know it, and it's valuable.

Sue xx