Building the dream ~ solid foundations and sewage pipes

“They built them to last back then.”

Our sturdy little barn got the thumbs up from building control for her rather impressive foundations. She’s planted in the ground to a depth which exceeded our building regulation requirements, and that’s saved us a heap of time and money (not to mention the backs of our building team who would still be shovelling earth from beneath her walls if she hadn’t been “built to last”. Or laid up in traction somewhere).

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Clever little chaff barn, I grow fonder of her by the day.

As it is, things have raced on apace and that’s caught me on the hop. You see, I might have decided where those windchimes are going but I hadn’t placed the bogs and sinks with any final-decision conviction. They’ve been tested on every wall in my 3D simulation (those walls are still moving at whim) and I’ve looked at lots of pictures… but now, suddenly, my water and waste pipes must be positioned in actual real life.

I was advised that, in an ideal world, the pipes should emerge in the vicinity of my sanitary fixtures. Funny, the things you don’t think of. Or I could make a feature of the plumbing, of course, and run drains through every room.

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Hmm, maybe not…

It’s dawned on me that the builders and I are viewing the building plans from slightly different perspectives. They think what’s ruled on the paper is what they’re meant to be building. I see the drawings as more of a, erm, serving suggestion.

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There has been muttering in the ranks. Something along the lines of “if we build it fast enough she won’t be able to change anything…” 

Now the buggers want to know where the entrance doors are going. I caught them trying to chop the brickwork out while I wasn’t looking…

So I sent The Farmer down with my changes, and let him take the flak.

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This week I’m thanking my lucky stars for solid foundations and very forgiving builders.

Rustic Guest – Lorna Sixsmith

I’m delighted to have Lorna Sixsmith as a guest in my Farmhouse Kitchen this week and, as we both married farmers, I think we’ll find plenty to talk about.

Lorna lives and farms in Ireland and she’s published three books about her farming life: Would you Marry a Farmer? How to be a Perfect Farm Wife and An Ideal Farm Husband (hmm, I really must get that last one for the other half.)

The kettle’s just boiled, so I’ll hand you over to Lorna, and she’ll tell you about the ‘hoppity dance’…


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I think farmers and writers are quite similar really. People in both careers tend to like spending time alone, enjoying the peace and quiet, are resilient and often have a dog as their best friend. Therefore, being a farmer and a writer means that all of the above applies to me – doublefold!
Brian and I returned to dairy farming in Ireland in 2002 after spending 12 years in England, most of which was spent living and working in Salisbury: Brian as a scientist and I as a teacher. I’m not sure if it was the time spent away from farming that helps me to see the humour but it’s certainly the “if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry” moments that inspire stories for my books.
Just like how you, Sam, gain inspiration from your surroundings for your rustic romance books, I do the same but my books are nonfiction, with a tongue-in-cheek look at what life is like on the farm complete with tips on how to survive it. Wives will discover “how to wear an apron and wellies with flair” and men will find out how best to introduce a new girlfriend to the farm and how to ensure his mother will approve. They are best described, I suppose, as useful tips with plenty of tongue-in-cheek humour.
My first book was inspired by a session of sorting Friesian calves into two batches: males and females. I was standing in the gateway with the job of turning back any male calves and letting female calves through while Brian tried to send female calves my way. It was impossible for me to see between their legs to tell the sex so I was reliant on vague instructions like “The BLACK ONE – quick, the BLACK one”. Now, did that mean that I was to stop the black one or let it through? All three of the calves coming towards me were black and white. I couldn’t tell that the one he meant was slightly blacker on the other side, the side that my beloved could see. My limbs ended up doing an involuntary “hoppity dance”.3(a) hoppity danceMy body didn’t know whether to stay in the gateway, run after the “wrong one” that had got through or try to skulk off.
That evening I wrote a blog post entitled “Advice to those considering marrying a farmer ” and within a relatively short time, it had 60,000 views which inspired the idea for a book. But would people read it? They were interested in my blog post but would they pay for a book? The only way to find out was to run a crowdfunding campaign asking people to pre-order. It was successful and within another three months Would You Marry A Farmer? was published. That was November 2013.
Two more books followed: In How to be a Perfect Farm Wife I give others the benefit of learning from my mistakes and also share tips on how to CHEAT and convince others you’re perfect. An Ideal Farm Husband shows him how to cope when he discovers his new wife isn’t telepathic, amongst many other things.
Farming is one of those occupations where things don’t always go to plan. Yes, we have the “if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry” moments more often than we care to admit. If I can help even one person to have a better day, it’s great news to me. One of the best compliments I’ve received was from a farmer saying my books were the best money he ever spent. His wife was city born and bred. Whenever he made any of the “mistakes” outlined in my book, she knew it was typical farmer behaviour. Rather than arguing, they both laughed!


If you want to hear more from Lorna visit her blog the Irish Farmerette or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

And if you are actually thinking of marrying a farmer I suggest that you read these first!

Lorna Sixsmith and 3 books

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Building the Dream – builders on site!

I thought you might like to share the adventure as The Farmer and I embark on our ‘big build’ and attempt to morph this…

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The Chaff House ~ built circa 1910

into this…

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The Chaff House ~ built circa 20?? (I’m not jinxing it with a year)

It’s a lovely old barn on our farm, and we hope to preserve some of its character and history as we turn it into our home.

To bring you up to speed, here are the stages we’ve been through so far:

  • Architects drawings (twice, because we changed everything.)
  • Planning permission (twice… because we changed the architect’s drawings.)
  • Enthusiastic tree felling (see earlier post: Plain Barny)
  • Barn clearing
  • (To be fair, The Farmer takes the lion’s share of the credit for this transformation. I was busy…)

    … making pretty models on 3D Architect.)

    (It’s addictive, I tell you. Like real life Sims! You can even add wind chimes (ffs!) I’ve moved every interior wall (several times) and suffered a mild panic attack when I set the bed down in the master bedroom (calm restored when I remembered that I was working in an American programme and adjusted the bed to UK dimensions. American beds are ginormous, apparently.)

But the playing is over now. WE’VE GOT REAL LIFE BUILDERS ON SITE!

We’ve gathered the perfect team, with more years of experience between them than even that ol’ barn has seen. DB, DS and DK (*Dodgy Back, Dodgy Shoulder and Dodgy Knees) are currently tearing down the old feather-edged boards, and OF (*Ornery Farmer) is excavating foundations to see if they’re deep enough (fingers crossed).

(*To be fair, I’m the one with a ceramic hip, and the farmer might be less ornery if I stopped moving walls.)

I’ve supplied tea, biscuits and ibuprofen, now I’m writing a blog post. It’s what I do best, for the moment (and it’s keeping me from the dangers of Architect 3D with the potential risk of forking out for a third set of drawings).

Let the adventure begin.

Any suggestions where I might hang those wind chimes, guys?

Rustic Guest Frances – Shopping in Røros

I stumbled across this lovely pictorial post whilst browsing over at Haynet and asked Frances if she would mind me sharing her enchanting pictures in the Farmhouse Kitchen.

Frances is a horsewoman and photographer who blogs about everything Shetland from her home there, including the Shetland ponies she rescues, the Icelandic ponies she breeds and her three pet sheep. Do visit her site, My Shetlandto see more of her fabulous photographs.

This post, originally shared on myshetland.co.uk, is about her visit to Røros in Norway. I think a glass of gløgg is in order… can I tempt you?


Shopping in Røros

So, yesterday, you know how I said we didn’t do crowds?  Well, today, we did do shopping – the people had mostly dispersed.

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The morning was spent wandering about the streets of Røros, looking at it all.

There were many stalls selling just about everything (I love this sort of thing).

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We sampled.

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I tried not to mind.

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We admired.

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(eeek – Moomin cardigans – just eeek!)

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In the various little alleyways off the streets were courtyards with folk who had come up with their sleighs and horses.

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Singing and story-telling.

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Oh, wow.  The atmosphere.  The décor.  The everything.  I soaked it all up.  Norwegian chic at its best.

Røros is not a large town (Wikipedia says 3,718 so half the size of Lerwick), but everyone had made an effort.

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What a beautiful place with amazing buildings …..

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…. and innovation.

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The horses, who had taken part in the Opening Ceremony, were mostly out of bounds and that was good. They deserved their rest but there were a few stabled in the courtyards dotted around who we could talk to.

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And so we wandered.

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Now was our opportunity to go into Røros church.

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A place of peace and tranquility.

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(and curtains too – I mean how beautiful is that?)

Yes, we did shop but mostly we browsed, tasted and chatted to the traders.

There was old and new to look at and want.  Oh yes, I wanted!

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(I even looked for a bell for Lambie – he needs a bell!)

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This is an old horse-drawn snow plough.

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I asked permission before I took this photo – a kind Sami lady in full traditional costume.

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Shopping in Røros is an experience and now I need to go back!


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Do visit Frances at her site, My Shetlandto experience more of her fabulous photographs.

 

Plain Barny

We live a jammy, comfortable life in a lovely home with running water, central heating and his&hers studies. (We’ve been wed 32 years, and farmed side by side for all of them, but we’ve yet to achieve the heady compatibility of shared office space.)

Our kids grew up in this house, pets and sagas have come and gone. The rooms wear the tale of our lives like a favoured sweatshirt; baggy and washed-out with age. There’s a simile there which suits us rather well these days too. We turn a blind eye to the peeling wallpaper, the leaky roof and the scuff marks. The house has become an old friend and her quirks are easy to tolerate.

But the indolence of our mid-life comfort is about to be shaken. We’re downsizing, into a barn, which currently looks like this…

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THE EN SUITE (!)

Our barn hasn’t got running water, central heating or sewers, but I am reassured that these vital amenities are included in the plans. As are his&hers offices (to avoid the alternative – his&hers houses – which would be altogether more costly). There are also a lot of indecipherable ciphers on our drawings, which I’m desperately trying to interpret.

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PRAY TELL – WHAT FIENDISH LANGUAGE IS THIS?

I’m sure it will all be fine. The Farmer has chopped down some trees (a knee-jerk reaction to stress), we’ve got artisan mates primed to start work and I’m mugging up on Celotex and feather-edged boarding (whilst surreptitiously pinning pretty pictures to Pintrest).

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LEYLANDII  (NOT REAL TREES)

And I’m learning a lot. Primarily, I’ve learnt that my notions are more romantic than my budget. Is there such a thing as a dream editor, to keep things realistic?

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£70K FOR WINDOWS? YOU’RE HAVING A LAUGH.

We may have to reconsider the pretty windows, but we will have windows of some sort… I think. There will be hilarity (hysteria), cock-up and heated discussion (argument) aplenty before we get this job done. I fully accept that my comfortable, baggy-sweatshirt existence is about to be disrupted.

Bring on the sequined crop-top, I’m (almost) ready.

 

Rustic Guest Carol Grant ~ For the Love of Horses

I’m super excited to welcome my friend, Carol Grant, to the farmhouse kitchen this week. Carol Grant

Carol is an Equine Massage and Bodywork Therapist and also a holder of the British Horse Society Assistant Instructor Certificate. She lives in Saffron Walden with her partner James, teenage children Archie and Milly, Coco the terrier and Onion the Border Collie. She owns two horses and two retired ponies.

That sounds like a busy life! So a big thank you to Carol for taking time out of her hectic schedule to come and chat to us about horses, healing and hotpod yoga!

I’ll warm the hot cross buns while the rest of you read and enjoy.


For the Love of Horses

I am writing this as I approach my first anniversary as ‘Carol Grant – Equine Massage and Bodywork Therapist’. I thought it would be a good time to reflect on my journey over the last 12 months. Just over a year ago I attended my first yoga class. Now it wasn’t any old yoga class it was Hotpod yoga! The class takes place in an inflated pod heated to 37 degrees with low-level lighting. Even after just one class I felt amazing, it had such a profound affect on my health and wellbeing that I wondered how something similar could be of benefit to the horses in my life.

At this point I had worked in sales for five years and was ready to try something new so I handed in my notice and bravely embarked on a number of training courses resulting in qualifications in Equine Massage and Bodywork. A year on and I treat between 2 and 6 horses every day and I have treated well over 100 horses in and around North Essex.

I have had a lifelong love of horses as I was extremely lucky as a child to get my first pony at the age of 10. She was a New Forest Pony called Flash also 10 years old and together we shared our many adventures until we were 32 when she was put to sleep in my arms. She was the first horse I loved and there have been many more over the years.

This love of horses remains and has in fact been strengthened by working with so many different horses. I generally have two types of clients, some that I see on a very regular basis every four weeks or so and others that will call me in when their equine doesn’t feel quite right. I  always get great results with the horses I see occasionally, but I get far better results with my regulars. When I treat a horse I respond to subtle clues such as a change in breathing, eye shape, blinking, head nodding, chewing, swallowing and yawning. If I see a horse on a regular basis they begin to open up to me much quicker and will often show me what’s wrong.

For example one of my very first clients was Alfie. Now Alfie is a very handsome Irish Sports Horse who is accomplished when it comes to dressage. This season he will be competing with his owner Tracy at Medium Level and has already shown his face at the regional championships. To begin with Alfie was slightly aloof with me but as time went on he began to trust me and soon I found when I arrived to treat him he would present to me whichever part of his body that was sore. He would also yawn when he saw me in anticipation of the release that was about to happen. Sometimes this yawning will be non-stop throughout the treatment. I swear if I asked him to jump up onto a treatment table he would!

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ALFIE

Then there is Mabel, now, without a doubt, Mabel is a Princess. Mabel is an Eventer and with fingers crossed she will climb the ranks and compete in a 1-star event before the end of the season. When I treat horses I get to know them and get a picture of their personality. As mentioned before Alfie has a touch of the Irish rogue about him, he is a gentleman but there is a naughty roguish side to him as well. Mabel, however, is beautiful, she’s leggy and lean with a coquettish look in her eye. She is extremely talented and she knows it, we have made friends over time and now she allows me to work on her and does lots of yawning when she thinks I’m not looking.

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MABEL

Another one of my talented regulars is schoolmaster pony club pony ‘Super Sid’. He is worth his weight in gold. Whilst the wrong side of 20 Sid has been there, done it, got the t-shirt several times over. He is talented and wise and is showing his current rider the ropes, giving her the most invaluable training only these wonderful older horses can. Whilst not a push button ride when the right buttons are pushed he performs to the best of his ability. He certainly enjoys his sessions with me and as I would expect is always textbook in his responses.

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SID

Charlie is a gorgeous cob who was originally Sid’s stablemate, he then was sold to one of my clients who had very sadly lost her pony in a freak accident. Ponies like Charlie are sometimes overlooked, in my eyes he’s gorgeous but others may see a slightly tubby hairy piebald cob. However he is brilliant and will turn his hand to anything; dressage, showjumping, cross country and more. He will never be a world beater but he will try his heart out and god forbid you should fall off he would be mortified. If he were human I would imagine him as a slightly portly gentlemen with a kind heart who will always be first in line to open a door for you. When his owner gets married later this year Charlie will be in attendance with a garland of flowers round his neck.

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CHARLIE

Turpin was the first horse I saw that had to wear a muzzle when being treated as he is a prolific biter. He is a very tricky horse to handle and on my first visit I struggled to touch much beyond his neck and shoulders without him rearing or bashing me with his muzzled nose. Luckily his owners were impressed with how I handled him and by his third treatment he was unmuzzled and totally relaxed allowing me to work through his whole body. Once he understood I wasn’t going to force him to do something he didn’t want to he relaxed. With horses like him who have a lot of anxiety you just need to let them know you are in charge of the situation and they have nothing to worry about. Horses like Turpin are sometimes the most rewarding as they are so difficult to get through to.

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TURPIN

So I’m a year in and I still go to yoga three times a week, I love my job and can’t help but fall a little bit in love with every horse I treat.


To contact Carol, or for more information about her services, go to carolgrant.org or find her on Facebook

 

 

Farmer by Day, Author by Night

My family farms 735 acres of arable land in North Essex. This isn’t the TOWIE incarnation of Essex that you see on the telly. It must be an hour’s journey to the nearest chic nightclub (farther if you measure in cultural miles). The pub is a goodly hike and you couldn’t throw a stone to strike the nearest retail outlet, not even if you had olympian capabilities and hurled in the direction the crow flies. This is rural Essex, agricultural Essex. It’s picturesque, and it’s home. In my part of the county, there are country lanes and ancient hamlets, Tudor farmhouses, feather-edged barns and land which unfurls with a lack of drama that is soft on the eye.North EssexI’m romanticising, of course, because that’s what I do when I’m not on a tractor or up to my elbows in nutrient-rich soil (read mud). I write rustic romance. I’m a rural authoress.

I’d like to call it a farm diversification but that wouldn’t be honest. A diversion from farming would be closer to the truth and I fear the husband and son might often have cause to wish I was less, er, diverted. But the writing has grown out of the land that raised me and a childhood which taught me to love the outdoors through the turning seasons and petulant weather. It’s inspired by friendships forged in drafty sheds; by harvest, family dogs, autumn bonfires and cider-fuelled, amorous escapades.bonfireI’m no longer youthful, but when my cheeks are wind-stung and the feet are numb, I’ve still got a romantic world to escape to. It might be winter in Draymere too, there may be mud or even snow, but the characters warm the story (and me) with a wealth of diverting antics. My mind can romp alongside them for hours. Be it out in the fields, on a dog walk or while I’m cooking the dinner, you’ll probably find me at Draymere. I’m seldom present in everyday life.

That’s escapism for you.

I blame Jilly Cooper. She introduced me to the possibilities of jodhpur-clad heroines’ who kicked off their wellies instead of slipping out of stilettoes. And that, my friends, was something of a hallelujah moment, back in the day when I lived in jodhpurs and rarely stepped out in anything other than waterproof boots.WelliesBe it town, village or farm, we all fall in love, and we’ve all experienced passion, heartbreak and unwise attraction. The emotions play out no matter where in the world you live.  But I write it rural, earthy and rustic.

The books are raunchy; I should warn you of that. But, hey, it’s nothing that nature isn’t doing outside my window as I type and, trust me, the countryside is as sexy as hell.

Not convinced? Just spend a weekend at Draymere…

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Rustic Guest Seumas Gallacher…Gribun Rocks in Mull

Seumas Gallacher

…half a century ago, this ol’ scribbler was a Trainee Master of the Financial Universe in the Clydesdale & North of Scotland Bank in Tobermory on the Scottish Hebridean Island of Mull… God’s chosen country, and home to some of the friendliest people on the planet… as a young lad in the Bank, it was my duty (read ‘privilege’) from time to time to go around the island in the mobile office… in those days ‘mobile banking’ had NUTHIN to do with telephones, Mabel… we were a bank office on wheels… the island of Mull is among the most beautifully ‘scaped places I’ve ever known in all my global travels… I recall the mobile office driver, a Mister Johnston, a grand man, six feet plus, always clad in typical ‘sensible’ thick tweed suit and shoes made somewhere in the Glasgow shipyards, I reckon… prob’ly then in his sixties…

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April fools on the farm

We’re running around like April fools now that spring has arrived on the farm. The men are loading lorries, dispatching the last of the corn which is still in the barns, and when the barns are empty they’ll have to be cleaned and readied for this year’s harvest. The lorries arrive at random times and often with little warning. Sometimes our early wake-up call is from a driver who needs ‘talking in’ from whatever situation his sat nav has landed him in:  “I followed the postcode, but it’s taken me to a pub/tree/housing estate…” Much like our internet connection and mobile signal, it seems satellite navigation can only be relied on in cities.

This year’s crop is still green in the fields and, as the earth warms up, needs tending with nutrients and never-ending pest control. The autumn drought in the east of England, followed by an onslaught of pigeons and deer, has hammered our oilseed rape this year. We’re nurturing it, and trying to remain optimistic. There are hopeful buds on the plants, and only time will tell if they come to abundant fruition.

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Back at the farmhouse, it’s also the end of the tax year, so alongside tidying barns we’re tidying paperwork too. Filling in forms while the hedgerows bud, scabbling data together on rainy days when the land is too wet to run on and the lorries aren’t queuing up.

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Thrown into the mix of April madness there’s Easter, and work on our barn conversion scheduled to start any minute. Preparations which require thinking ahead, another barn to be cleared, foundations to be excavated and a row of hideously overgrown Leylandii (planted to shield the stable from a westerly wind) which have to be taken down before we can get going.

And then there’s the biggest time consumer of them all: Barley the puppy, who’s got us all spinning like April fools.

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Writing? No chance.