Sun and showers


photo Mark Balogh

We`re continuing our weekly “get fit rides” with Vanille. As you can see, Bella brings her sticks with her. We don`t always let her come along as she still gets too close to the wheels and makes me nervous. I love the trips with the caleche. It is relaxing, but if I must watch Bella every moment, it is difficult to enjoy the moment. As she grows into adulthood, she becomes wiser and wiser but she is a Border Collie and thinks she knows best. I don't want an accident to prove to her that she doesn't.

So far our longest weekly outing has been 14 km. Vanille has been barefoot with the exception of our last trip, 14 km, when we put her Easy boots on her front feet. Jean François examines her feet weekly and trims them regularly. I keep a daily check on her as always; feet, legs, and general overall condition. We are studying everything we can find on the care and trimming of barefoot horses. If you are experienced with a barefoot draft horse, please share your experience with us. (

Vanille did an amazing stunt last week. She managed to put one front foot over the fence of her pasture. The fence is chest high and there was no evidence that she had pushed it down. When I went out to check on her, she was just calmly standing there. I had to approach quite close to see that she was in trouble. I still have no idea how she managed to get that foot over the fence! I unlatched the fence, stomped down on the wire and stood on it close to her foot. I asked her to give me her foot which she did. I calmly lifted it and asked her to back up just a little which she did. I was able to place the foot on the inside of the fence with no trouble. She stayed totally calm through the whole maneuver. The fence is not barbed wire but it is what we call here sheep fencing. It is wire squares but not big enough squares for a horse to catch a hoof in. This all occurred because the grass looked greener on the other side of the fence! I am very happy that she trusts me enough to allow me the time it took to help her. I did a lot of deep breathing and she watched carefully with her nose close to my maneuvers.

Tòti Bleu is parked in Vanille's afternoon pasture. It is still covered with a tarp but I can pull it back enough to spend time inside. We have attached the doors but there is some adjusting to do before they will close properly. We now have a bed for Bella and a small heater that sits on the campstove burner. In May Tòti will be moved into the big hay barn and work will begin on fiberglassing the roof, painting the seats and trim, attaching the sunflower gussets and placing the side windows and shutters. I'm hoping we will take a long trip in the early autumn. Meanwhile I am enjoying short siestas in Tòti when the weather permits. I can hear Vanille munching nearby, Bella running around, and just languishing in the silence of the place. It feels much like a boat when the wind blows. There is a gentle rocking that I love.









There is a wonderful video on youtube: Bridleless in Norco

AND soon to be available, an absolutely beautiful book with text in Spanish, Dutch, French and English:


You can contact André and Judith for a copy at:

I am always happy to receive comments or emails from readers of this blog. You can contact me at


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Sunlit days


Photo by Ashlyn Brown


Isn`t she/he beautiful!! This lovely animal is fortunate enough to live in a town where no one hunts. The wild animals run free and humans fence in their gardens or plant unappetizing plants. Yes, they are a nuisance, but I feel strongly that we need to learn to live with the wildlife. I spent a beautiful month in this town. Sometimes it seems the world is going mad and the stories of cruelty abound, making me want to stay in my corner of the world. I am so very happy that I pushed myself out, and onto the airplane. Although I was uneasy about traveling, especially in winter, my joy in spending time with my daughters and friends overshadowed all else. They live in an absolutely heavenly place! And, of course, a huge thank you to my sweet husband who took care of everything while I was gone.

I came home to my own paradise where very little had changed other than the results of a tremendous wind storm that blew down ancient trees. Mother Nature had been cleaning house with a vengeance! We took Vanille out for a long ride, mostly just walking and talking. It was the first time Bella accompanied us. This was a training session for her as she must stay behind the wagon. When we were on the paved road, she hopped aboard for her safety. She loved it and she did great! She has unlimited energy and although our outing lasted 3 hours, she still had plenty of energy to spare and was not in the least tired the next day.

Notice the gravel road. Vanille showed no sensitivity which is a big improvement over last year. Notice also her “side window”. Jean François clipped an area on both sides to help her not to overheat. The Comtois has a difficult time with heat and this was a very warm day for the month of March.

We had one small bit of excitement on the way home. Just before arriving at the entrance to our lane, while we were very relaxed and Vanille was practically dozing, a horse in the nearby field came to the fence just beside the road. We saw the other horse and it seemed Vanille had seen it also but something happened, we`re not sure what. Vanille bolted violently and took off at a gallop. Jean François grabbed the reins out of my hands and we finally came to a stop but it was a rocky ride. Mark was in the back and used his weight to balance the wagon as we went up on a slope for a quick moment. Mark says his experience in sailing dingys was helpful. Jean François explained that it is not good to tighten up on the reins in this sort of instance so I learned a valuable lesson.

We`re starting our training rides earlier this year than in the past. It is such a huge pleasure to be out in nature after the winter. There are tiny wildflowers and buds on some of the trees. The birds are singing of spring and there is a haze of green over the fields. Nature always gives me such hope, especially at this time of year.

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Although March is coming in like a lion, there have been several balmy days in the last few weeks. I spent February with my daughters and friends in the states, being spoiled, but Mark and Jean François began working. They took Vanille out twice with the small “caleche” (4 wheel carriage). She was barefoot and hadn`t worked since autumn. The first trip was 8 1/2 km and the second (several days later ) was 12 km. The footing was gravel and blacktop. Unlike last year, her feet were not tender, and she broke into a trot voluntarily. Her hooves are looking great!

Here are some photos of Jean François trimming her feet:



For long trips and pulling Tòti we will shoe her with Duplo composite shoes but we are very happy with the condition of her hooves this year.

She has come through the winter in great shape living free to wander in her pasture with no shelter except for trees. She has been led over gravel and rocks nearly every day to reach another greener pasture where she can enjoy a change of scenery for the afternoon. She has hay from our land, water and salt but no grain.

Jean François sent me the link to a very interesting article by James Welz on the care of hooves. If you have a horse, you might enjoy looking at this site:


Spring is just around the corner. It’s difficult to stay positive when the skies are grey and dripping every day and the pasture is sloppy mud, but there is a feeling in the air, a promise of warm days, sunshine and soft breezes. Soon Vanille will be shedding her heavy winter coat and I will be hanging mine in the closet. We will soon peel the tarp from Tòti and think about where to begin. I wish you all daffodils and blue skies!!


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A Beautiful Book


André and Judith are finally compiling all their incredible photos and texts chronicling13 years of their life traveling in Roulotte Papillotte with their two daughters. It will be much more than travel photos. André is a talented photographer, and the photos are not only beautiful but filled with emotion. André and Judith and their two daughters have a philosophy of life that reminds us of the deep importance of nature, friends, beauty and making our dreams come true. This will be a book to open and enjoy often. I've been waiting for the moment they decide to put it all on paper and I'm very excited to see the first copy!

They have a crowd funding site to raise the 1500 euros needed to publish 500 copies. It's not a lot and if we all give even a small amount, this lovely work of art can be born. Here's the link:


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A New Year


I began this year with deleting my facebook and removing myself even more from the news media. I realized that the desperate sadness I was faced with on my iPad was coloring my entire day and sneaking into my dreams. The utter helplessness I felt was making me miss what was actually happening in my life. If I am not feeling happy I can do nothing to help others. I do miss the beautiful postings that some friends posted and I miss the communication with faraway friends. I hope to write and receive more emails;

Tòti Bleu is sleeping under a frozen tarp, and the little sporty wagon, or Caleche in french, is tucked in behind her. Vanille’s harness is clean and waiting for spring.

I finished painting both sides of Tòti’s doors and they remain in our living room until we can fold back the tarp and install them. It was necessary to take out the windows and devise a way to paint the window trim so that’s the green sticks. There is lots of gold paint which does not show up in the photo.

Vanilla is on vacation, cozy in her winter coat. She is a Comtois, a french breed from the mountains, and she is most comfortable in very cold weather. She lives outdoors and has a pasture large enough to gallop around in. I lead her to another grassier pasture in the afternoon. I do this for several reasons: She can graze a bit although there isn’t a lot of grass at this time of year. It is a ten minute walk over gravel and rocks back and forth, and I feel this is good for hardening her feet. She waits for me and calls out to me when she sees me so it is our daily routine of carrots or apples, haltering, leading, and lots of hugs. She has hay 4 times a day as well but no grain. As you can see she is not suffering from lack of food. Her winter coat shines and her feet are in good shape.


I’ve started spinning wool to pass the freezing days that are better spent in front of the fire. It’s calming, very meditative and the delicate softness of the wool feeds my senses. It took years to find a wheel and learn how to spin but every winter I look forward to these days inside when I have plenty of time. The big paper bag is filled with smaller bags labeled with the names of the animals who made this possible. There is beautiful cream colored wool from two Alpacas, Snowdrop and Bertrand, that I met after they had been sheared, and black wool from our Ouessant sheep, Pivoine. Mark is wearing the first vest I knitted for him now that it is so cold. It looks like something from medieval times but it keeps him warm.

Yesterday we took a drive with Jean François to look at an incredible small road that winds through the mountains here. It meanders through ancient forest with no sign of civilization for miles. We are hoping this will be Tòti’s first long trip, in 2017. I am in awe of those who head out with their roulotte, not knowing what conditions they may encounter. Our traveling will be planned out in advance I’m afraid. We are in the mountains which means uphill climbs so we want to know that Vanille will not be faced with a dangerous climb.

We spent the winter solstice with friends, a fire in the fireplace, a big kettle of soup, wine, and best of all we were serenaded by a young couple who live nearby. He played the flute and she played the melodeon or accordéon diatonique. This inspired Mark to begin practicing his recorder and I am hoping to take lessons and learn to play the melodeon. It’s a wonderfully joyful musical instrument. I’m starting from zero so this will take some time! Hopefully I will live long enough.

Here are some photos of our world, January 2017. I often wonder how I ended up here in this place I love so dearly. It was a very long road! I never expected to live so long nor travel so far but here I am.












I wish you all a year 2017 blessed with good health, happiness, love, and the realization of your dreams. I wish peace for those suffering in the midst of war! I wish peace for us all!


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Winter Cometh

Photo by:  André Hemelrijk  (

The mornings are silent now. The mist that enshrouds our mountaintop at this time of year begs for a blazing fire in the woodstove. Vanille has covered herself in a new winter coat and she is looking forward to some months of rest after a season of work. She happily pulled us in Tòti for over 100 km this season. She is a generous horse, never balking at work, ears forward and always marching on with equine joy at her 4km an hour pace. Our longest trip was 18 km with quite a lot of uphill work. I plan to long rein her around the farm for our pleasure on gentle days this winter and also to do a little work teaching her to lower her head so that I can more easily attach the bridle. I am just too short! In the afternoons I will enjoy taking her to a patch of green grass and daydreaming while she eats. I can string an electric ribbon un-electrified around a yummy area and know that she will stay, happily munching.

I am painting and decorating Toti’s doors. It’s a job that takes weeks. First there’s a coat of very liquid epoxy, then sanding. Next are 3 coats of red paint on both sides. Now I’m painting the decoration, gold accents. Each step requires time to dry.

My spinning wheel has been put in front of the fire and my stack of books awaits cold weather. Like Vanille, I’m looking forward to resting and dreaming of spring. We hope to enjoy trips with friends, and a few long trips with overnight stops in some shady grove. Winter months will find us planning and dreaming.

My daughter Ashlyn is working on a book of our Tòti Bleu experience from idea to realization.

I just discovered an interesting site, a young woman who has been traveling for four years in her gypsy wagon pulled by two horses. Her book is available and I am trying to buy one but her website is making it difficult. She is French and her book is written in french but she also has a book of photos. Her website is:

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Doors and Window


Two years ago Dana arrived from the states with a beautiful stained glass window made by Scott Ecelberger. Scott is an artist with stained glass! The image of a turtle expresses the concept of Tòti as I have always imagined. As I get older, life seems to rush past me. Cars seem to move faster and people seem to be in such a hurry. Slow down I want to say, slow down and open your eyes. Look at all the beauty!

Yesterday we were planning for the doors to be installed. We had asked Joel Galinier to build the door for Tòti as it is a complicated design. Mark didn't have the tools and he felt it would take him months to finish it. I met Joel a few months ago when Jean François brought him to look at Tòti. After explaining what we wanted, he agreed to build the door saying that he would do it when he had the time, that I shouldn't be rushed. We talked about having him build the windows as well but couldn't afford more than the door. His price was ridiculously low but at this time even that was more than we could find. Yesterday he arrived with the door and to my surprise he had also built the frame for the window, the window that I consider Tòti's heart. “A gift” he said. I was so surprised and the emotion was so strong that I had to leave for a while and sit alone in the house. It was overwhelming!!!

He spent all afternoon installing the door and window. Jean François came to help. The neighbors came to watch. It was a beautiful, sunny day. I can't find any words to express my feelings.





The door is more beautiful than I expected. It is in four sections which made it quite a challenge to build. It fits perfectly, has antique brass handles and the windows are plexiglass making it lightweight with no danger of broken glass. The interior of the bottom sections is insulated with sheep's wool. All of the sections lift off easily. In warm weather, if we want to be travelling with the doors open, we can lift them off the hinges and store them under the bed so that they are out of the way completely. They have a proper lock and key for safety when we are not present.


I feel utterly exhausted from happiness.


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