The miracle of Spring

I’ve been trying to update this blog at least once a month. The last time I wrote anything was two months ago, so yeah, I’ve been a bit slack recently. But we’ve been busy! It’s nearly 10pm on Friday night, we’ve got a busy weekend planned, so what better time to try to catch up on the last eight weeks? Plus (and if I’m honest this is probably the main reason I’ve held off writing anything) our wildflowers have just started blooming and that was all the inspiration I needed. Most joyous of all, and very much unlike last year, Spring is being its miraculous, beautiful best.

The first five months of this year have been totally unlike the last. Not just the weather, which has been glorious (if you like 30+ degrees in mid-May) with patches of rain and huge, balmy swathes of blue sky and sunshine. Or our car, which has avoided major accidents. Rochechouart is now in full bloom, not yet florally this year, but compared to last May it feels alive. Maskless, people have been socially set free to greet each other with kisses and handshakes. The latter has been a lovely recent gesture of appreciation of our regular custom from our local bar owner, accompanying the usual “bonsoir, ca va?” That courtesy is a small, but to us a very important sign that we’re settling into the community. Covid, very thankfully, now seems to have done its horrible worst. It hit our household in early April, most likely caught during our two-day trek back from a lovely family visit to Edinburgh. It hit next our neighbours too around the same time. It was a quiet week.

This time last year our income was virtually zero. The gite was bought but not yet open, and Etsy was far more buy than sell. This year both feel established and are keeping us very happily busy. La Terrasse du Citron is ready for the busy summer season following a professional kitchen upgrade courtesy of our lovely neighbours. Bookings are good with French guests outnumbering those from elsewhere. We love our gite, and it delights us when we hear the same from our guests. Reviews are hugely important on airbnb, and we always wait with baited breath to see if our guests have left us a favourable one. After 30 reviews our currently rating is 4.93 out of 5. With the average being around 4.8 we think we’re doing okay, but we’re always disappointed when anything drops below 5. We’re updating and improving the gite constantly, taking advice from our visitors, so if anyone would like to spend some time in an historic 17th century gite at the foot of a stunning chateau on the edge of a beautiful town… we’re here for you!

Our Etsy shop, which is a real labour of love, is going from strength to strength. The fact we love it so much is probably the main reason for its current success. Sourcing and attending vide maisons, vide greniers and hunting for vintage and antique French treasure is a pleasure. Browsing stalls amongst the beautiful towns of the Charente and Haute-Vienne, brushing shoulders with the locals, finding gems for the shop and taking our haul back home isn’t work. Neither is the research done to ensure we know as much as possible about our stock. Photographing is a joy and the thrill of a sale and ultimately a happy customer is what it’s all about. Okay, cleaning and polishing for hours on end, aided by beer and sunshine feels a bit work-like, and the admin side is a bore, but the pros outweigh the cons by a landslide.

Our lovely neighbours have recently made our Etsy experience even more enjoyable by converting our dusty, leaky, dumping ground of a shed, into a watertight packing room of dreams. Bespoke and beautiful, with literally everything we need for quick and easy packing at arms reach. If I were to say we helped a bit with the build that would be an exaggeration. We helped with the delivery of board and shelving then asked and observed with the odd coffee and shortbread. Our friendship continues to grow, as does our debt to them for helping to bring fun and positivity to our time in France. The shed conversion was completed in perfect time, with a few days to spare before the arrival of our first visitors. Instead of a makeshift packing room the top bedroom was ready to welcome Heather’s daughter and son-in-law. Our excitement at them coming was matched by our sadness at them leaving, but we’re now counting down the days until they come back for a longer visit this summer.

So… those wildflowers. We sowed the seeds towards the end of March and two months later, as promised by the packets (and nature), a sea of colour is beginning to appear. Rather than last year when we only ever looked down on our weed-destroying cardboard, this year we take daily trips down to look at our sun-soaked plants, flowers and veggie-filled potagers. Unwanted weeds are still appearing but we think we have them under control. Pepper loves the garden too, she has her shady retreats and we like to think she enjoys hanging out with our ornamental birds, Gregory and Peck. The garden is still work in progress with plenty left to do, but the miracle of nature is already bringing daily joy into our lives. Much like our house, our garden is small, narrow and lit up by its ever-changing and far-reaching panorama.

French life year two compared to year one is very chalk and cheese. This year tastes like a gutsy Roquefort or creamy Brie, washed down with endless glasses of delicious and ridiculously priced wine. Life is never perfect, throwing up challenges, and there are still many things we need to do to upgrade our happiness, with our French language ability still being the most important, mais en ce moment la vie est belle.

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