Maiden Voyage

Wow, after celebrating my first two years from moving from the states in mid-July, I finally got outta dodge! Full disclosure…this is a long post. And is mostly meant for our own personal diary of the trip, and may be only mildly amusing to a few of you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Finally legal!

To step back a couple of weeks, I finally received my Carte de Sejour (my residency card). After 8 trips and over 840 kilometers to the Préfecture in Perigueux (the government center for our department), I finally got it! Through six nail-biting months, it’s been a true test of patience to experience first-hand what it’s like to be a stranger in your country of residence. I’ve had to remind myself more than a couple of times that that was on my wish list for living as an expat—having experiences outside my comfort zone—but we persevered, never got upset, always jumped through the requested hoops, and finally got there.

So I could finally travel. And Theo’s long-time friend, Wastl, gave us the perfect excuse for a trip, inviting us to help celebrate his 65th birthday and his retirement at a wild bash at his house in Germany. And so the planning began. We decided to go for a week, and booked a flight from our local airport in Bergerac to Brussels Charleroi, where we rented a car and drove the short rest of the way. We had to find someone to stay with the dogs, so I registered with TrustedHousesitters.com. Had a handful of great applicants in the first 48 hours and chose a local American couple. They were the greatest folks we could have ever dreamed of. The dogs are missing them already! And we have become fast friends as well. BONUS!!!

Mmmm, Kölsch…

So last Friday we set out for my maiden adventure (of course, Theo’s been to the states twice already…) I was hungry for a little culture. Don’t get me wrong, I love the small-town life we’ve adopted here, but after two years, yeah, I needed some action! Our host had arranged for us to receive special treatment at a great restaurant on the Rhein when we rolled into Bonn and we really enjoyed our dinner and a few Kölsch beers.

Beautiful streets in Bad Godesberg/Bonn, Germany.

He also arranged a great little hotel for us just a short cab ride from the party. Bad Godesberg, a district of Bonn, is a stunning city full of old mansions, mature trees, and beautiful parks.

Getting silly with all the bubbles!

The party, held at the host’s fabulous villa, was a complete hit. Although we didn’t know many people there, it was so easy to mingle, as most people spoke at least some English (for me). It was a beautiful evening for a party. The buffet was amazingly vast and each dish was incredibly gourmet and delicious. Forgot to take pictures, but it was unforgettable! Beverages were flowing the entire evening, with Theo and I drinking probably more than our fair share of French Champagne. We got silly at some point and started taking photos of each other, then the dessert guy grabbed the camera and took some shots. So fun!

Shake it, don’t break it!

Then the band set up and we danced our butts off. It’s been too long since we’ve been out shaking our booties. We had such a good time! Thanks to Reinhard and Katya for a beyond-awesome time!

We got some good shopping satisfaction in Bonn and had tons of laughs along the way!

No no no no no. In the day, Theo would have given his left nut for this suit…

Then we were off to Theo’s hometown, Bad Breisig. Stayed in a hotel right on the River Rhein’s edge, so we could hear the waves on the rocks all night—so nice.

View from our balcony over the Rhein.

Took a trip up to the ridge where Theo’s parents’ ashes were buried  in biodegradable containers to give back to the forest. Very peaceful and moving.

Burial tree.

Then we were off for three days in Brussels. Stayed in the BEST boutique hotel right downtown, Le Dixseptième (real luxury at very reasonable rates!) We had been to Brussels before, but didn’t soak it up enough. And like I said earlier, we craved a dose of ‘city’ vibes.

Loved, loved all the street musicians, window shopping, crazy gorgeous architecture, the Stella Artois, and even the obligatory French fries. Loved wandering until our feet ached. We definitely got our museum fixes as well. Theo obliged me by accompanying me to the Royal Museums of Fine Art. My target was the Old Masters collection, but since it was ‘free admission’ day, I dragged him all over the place! Was drooling at the paintings and sculptures from the 15th to the 18th centuries. Also hit a special Magritte exhibition.

Old Masters Museum, Brussels

The next day, I indulged Theo by surprising him with a visit to Autoworld. But I had a great time too, seeing these vehicles as works of art. Theo is so knowledgeable about everything, we just HAVE to find an automotive outlet for him in retirement.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda.                                                                                                                                        Theo regrets not buying (and keeping) this Dino 246 Ferrari instead of his first Porsche in 1974.

I’ll leave you with a variety of fun shots from the trip…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in American Expats in France, Belgium, Bonn, Brussels, Expat Blog, Germany Travel, Traveling in Europe | 6 Comments

Le Tourmania

The Tour de France is coming through our little Lalinde! The whole town is gearing up for about 15 minutes of excitement tomorrow afternoon! I took a little stroll around town this morning and tried to capture the mania. So fun!!!

Decorated bikes and flower garlands are everywhere around town.

 

A colorful one!

 

And yes, the Mairie (town hall) is in on the fun!

 

They’ll be coming across this bridge over the Dordogne River into Lalinde.

 

Here’s the route map for tomorrow, so we’ll see them when they have quite a few kilometers behind them!!!

 

A decroated bike in the window of our favorite cafe in town.

 

Another little bike smothered in plastic fête flowers.

 

So exciting, even our prehistoric cave animals are riding bikes! Such a great logo!

 

This guy will greet the riders after they cross the bridge.

 

Here’s another shot of the bicycle dude for size reference.

 

Decorated wheels are a lot easier to hang than the whole darned bike!

 

The fire breathing dragon sculpture in the bassin. He doesn’t seem to mind mother swan and the 4 juveniles!

 

The town bassin with a load of canoes, 3 boats with banners, a bienvenue sign, with the famously planted Lalinde bridge over the canal in the background. Our house is just over yonder hill.

 

Jazzed up bistro on the square. Our friend did the Lalinde logo and poster above the door.

 

My personal favorite…the polka dot girly bike!

 

Had to throw this pic in simply because this little sweetheart greeted me on a side street.

 

Our ‘shabby chic’ gate to the house awaiting the new iron one, with Cindy’s festive decorations (even though we’re not on the route).

 

And lastly, my decorated bike with overages from a neighboring town. Finished it with French flag colored flowers in the basket!

 

UPDATE:

Waiting for the riders.

The entourage for the Tour de France was so impressive. The crowd was  excited and we cheered and waved crazily at every advertiser and team car that preceded the riders. We waited with baited breath at 4:30. They were running behind. Support cars and gendarmerie still coming through.

Excited for the race. See the big race dude in front of the church?

Then finally the church bells started ringing, cheering started, and we saw the leading two riders come around the corner after passing over the Dordogne bridge. Craziness ensued. The crowd was going wild. Then the pack of bicyclists came FLYING around the corner. We thought it was a good place to be, because they MUST slow down for the corner, right? Au contraire.

 

Then came the support vehicles. Wow.

 

Great event. There was a HUGE screen tv to watch the race, lots of food and drink, nice clouds, and enthusiasm galore. For two not-so-crazy-about-most-sports people, we sure did get caught up in the mania of it all! So fun!!!

Found a great parking place. Walked over “the bridge” planted with beautiful summer displays.

Come to find out, the bunch of canoes and kayaks in the bassin spelled out “LALINDE” for the helicopters taking live video!!!

Our five duckling orphans. I think they are left from the original 9. Mom has been gone for some time. They stick together and are holding firm.

Posted in American Expats in France, Expat Blog, French Traditions, Le Tour de France, Southwest France American Expat Blog, Visiting Dordogne | 11 Comments

A New Addition to the Family

Our family of automobiles, that is!

I’m becoming truly French. Bought the quintessential French car, a Citroën Deux Chevaux, aka, 2CV, Deuche, The Ugly Duckling (Haessliches Entchen), Flying Dustbin, and dozens more.

My new baby.

The 2CV is two-cylinder 425 cc (20+ hp!) front-wheel-drive car developed to be a low-cost vehicle for the common family, with the added bonus of a full-width canvas roll-back “sunroof.” In the 40 years of production, over 3.8 million 2CVs were produced. The Michelin radial tire was first commercialized with the 2CV.

Theo has been jonesing for a cabriolet, but I don’t think this is what he had in mind! In all honesty, she’s my car. And I love her. But Theo does enjoy being driven in her.

I’ve always called this buttercup color “Doris Day Yellow,” harkening back to my younger days watching movies where Doris sported her lovely wardrobe—from swing dresses, to her famous sheath “wiggle” dress, to her elegant gowns. Yes, I wanted to grow up to BE Doris Day. Que sera sera… And so her name is Doris.

While we’re on the subject of cars, thought it would be fun to trip down car-name memory lane:

Lucy, the Red Devil, my 1963 Porsche 356.

This is ‘Lucy,’ aka Lucifer. Enjoyed her for a few years until someone came along and offered TOO MUCH MONEY for her.

Ouch. Damned kangaroos!

Funny story, though. We’ve heard from her current owner (2 owners post Cindy) via his search for me on FaceBook, that she’s now in Australia. Unfortunately, she had a little confrontation with a kangaroo and now needs some bodywork. But it’s been so interesting talking to the current owner and learning about her journey abroad!

Proud papa.

This is ‘Boomerang,’ a 1957 Triumph TR3 that came back to find Theo. He and a friend had restored this very car in 1988. When Theo saw the ad in the newspaper in 2008, he just had to call to see if it was her. Indeed, he had found the twin sister to his infamous vintage race car, so temptation prevailed. Eventually, Boomerang ended up with an east coast collector.

ZPuttPutt

This is ‘ZPutPut’ (read The Putt Putt with a German accent), which was my most recent sale before our move to France. A 1979 Beetle Cabriolet that was my kick-around-town car in Santa Cruz. Wished we could have brought her with us, but it simply didn’t make sense. Her vanity plates were ZPutPut, which the new owner wanted to keep. So if anyone sees her around San Jose, you can honk and wave!

Margaret’s toothy grin.

This is ‘Margaret,’ my 1953 Chevy Belair that we bought at a vintage car show. We promised each other “ice in our veins” to resist any temptation of purchasing, but after walking by her numerous times in the day, with the price dropping with each passing, we couldn’t resist!!! Margaret went into a collection in Cupertino.

This is ‘Orangie,’ our umpteenth and last 914. She is a 1970 Porsche 914/6 that Theo raced at Laguna Seca and Sears Point. She was sold to a gentleman in Germany.

The Turd on the Chopping Block. Ended up going to Japan.

This is ‘The Turd.’ Theo’s other race car, a 1969 Porsche which started out life as a 912 and ended up with a 250 hp 911 RS spec motor. Don’t ask about the name, but if you know my dad, Stub, you just may know that the essence came from a Stubbyism.

Theo wanted me to add this action shot of him racing the Turd.

Our LOVE CAR, a 1992 Porsche Carrera 2 Targa

This is the ‘Love Car.’ Theo and I bought this car 50/50 after dating for six weeks! Guess we knew we had a future together!!! We joke now about buying the car “When we was in LOVE!!!” We also sold her before the move to Europe, but thankfully our friends in Germany adopted her, so she’s still ‘in the family.’

Hope you enjoyed our car nostalgia. What names have you given to your cars?

 

Today’s Update: It’s hot in France right now, so tonight after yet another dip in the pool, we looked at each other, and said, “This isn’t the 21st, is it?” Oops, our wedding anniversary. Good thing we’re on the same page as far as forgetfulness and not holding anybody’s feet over the fire to remember dates!!! Thought I’d share a photo from our wedding day, with the sun setting over the Pacific just after we said our ‘I Do’s.’

Fourteen short years ago tonight.

Posted in American Expats in France, Buying a Car in France, Expat Blog, Southwest France American Expat Blog, Visiting Dordogne | 11 Comments

Wait, Where Did May Go?

Enjoying our first Spring in the house. So excited to see what blooms emerge from the plants that have outlived the construction. We are simply enjoying our surroundings and our retirement.

We were so happy to welcome two sets of visitors to Le Coudeau in May:

First, our friends Jürgen and Kathrin from Javea, Spain (eastern coast-Costa Blanca) drove up with their oh-so-sweet doggie, Max. Their stay was short, but we had some good eats, some chuckles, and a wee-bit-o’sightseein.’ We enjoyed extended stays at their house in the past when we were retirement house hunting in Spain and still owe them so much for their hospitality. Hope they can stay longer next time!

Wonderful friends from Spain, Kathrin and Jürgen with their dog Max.

And we just said goodbye to our second couple, Bruce and Jan, from Stockton, California. We shared in Bruce’s search for information on where his dad’s plane went down during WWII in Mussidan (just 45 km from here). He was fortunate enough to not only connect with the town’s mayor, but also with a local teacher very involved in curating local history, a council member who spoke excellent English and acted as translator, and even met the son of the boy who saw the plane land in a field adjacent to the family chateau in 1944. We not only got to visit the chateau, but were able to see the exact field where his dad had executed an emergency landing. A local photographer showed up to our meeting and they are featuring Bruce’s story in the upcoming town newsletter. Again, a whole lot of great food, perhaps a little too much wine (I speak only for myself here), tons of laughs, and great stories were shared.

Bruce’s dad landed his plane in distress after seeing a Free France flag on this chateau. Lucky guy landed a short 2 weeks after the Germans left!

I was super busy the first half of the month just putting some finishing touches on the guest house. I’m almost done. Then I will post some photos. Been having a blast painting some of the furniture pieces that were left in the house when we bought it and am FINALLY able to add some decorative details. I promise a complete exposé when it’s all finished.

The garden has been keeping us busy as well. The front beds are planted and growing in quickly, the rose garden is in and mulched, we’ve power washed all 385 square meters of hardscape, hosed off the summer furniture, opened up the pool, and are happy for the wonderful mix of warm weather with occasional showers that southwest France provides.

Mail order plants were simply easier for me to get started. Interesting packaging!

We enjoy listening to all the birds that live here. They are as excited about spring as we are! We know we have cuckoos, magpies, crows (they can move on anytime now), the hoopoe bird, and many more that we’re just learning about. We’re certain there are two baby owls in the pigeonniere, as we hear them squawking every night when the parents go out hunting. And the town swans have successfully hatched six babies.

I was lucky enough to see them when they were one day old.

A little bit of work continues with the house. Finally found someone to finish my backsplash in the kitchen and do a laundry list of other small jobs.

Grouting of the backsplash and a little facelift on the hood. Full pics coming soon.

A couple of weeks ago, instead of my usual French lesson, my tutor and I snuck off to this hidden gem of a garden. Would have taken me years to learn about it without her guidance. Finished off the warm afternoon with a couple of Saint Germain cocktails at our favorite local watering hole. The roses were just beginning to pop, but the peonies were amazing! I’ll leave you with a photo tour…

‘Chartreuse du Columbier,’ typical architecture for this part of France. The tree on the right is hundreds of  years old!

Love the way the climber is espaliered around the corner and adore the bell, of course!

Amazing dovecote in the background with lovely peonies.

To-die-for glasshouse.

The ‘way’ to the music pavilion. There are artichokes planted in the urns lining the path that are sure to be breathtaking in a couple of months!

An outbuilding with windows, but no glass. So nice on a hot afternoon!

The back of the house—a little more formal.

Great iron piece. I just loved the use of allium mixed in the beds. So fun!

Rustic wall alongside formal gardens. Love it!

What French garden is complete without some hedgework?

And my favorites, HUGE fuschia peonies.

************************

UPDATE on the Family of Barn Owls in the Pigeonniere:

Today I went out to look for something in the pigeonniere and when I opened the door I found a big clump of fuzzy hair. Realized it was two baby owls that had fallen from the nest and down two floors!

Wrapped them in towels and put them gently into a box. Then ran to the computer to do some research on barn owl babies that fall out of the nest and followed their advice. Felt their bellies to see if they were starving and they felt fine. No obvious broken bones, and their feathers are developing, so I am hoping they kind of floated down and didn’t drop like a lead balloon.

Borrowed an extension ladder from the contractor, climbed up to the ‘attic’ of the dovecote and found the nest. To our surprise, there were two more babies and Mom and Pop were there resting too. Put these two rebels back in the nest and are hoping that feeding continues as usual tonight. Closed up the openings in the floors left by the last contractor, so it won’t happen again. And crossing our fingers for continued screeching tonight!!! Think we’ll source some frozen mice and/or chicks to put out for mom and dad to feed them, just in case they’ve picked the fields clean. Here are some photos:

This was Mr. Squawky, obviously the older and stronger one.

This was the smaller of the two. At first he was ‘playing dead,’ then when I wasn’t looking, he fluffed right up and was looking around. So precious!

Posted in American Expats in France, Expat Blog, Gardening in the Dordogne, Southwest France American Expat Blog, Visiting Dordogne | 5 Comments

Things are looking rosy!

Project of the moment is ALL ABOUT THE GARDEN.

My new residents are fresh in from England and enjoying a luxurious overnight bath before establishing their place in the garden.

The future home of the Le Coudeau David Austin Rose Garden.

Since we’re on the cusp of roses bursting into bloom from the recent heat wave, yet our final freeze of the year coming tomorrow, was torn between bare-root and potted roses. Once I found all the potted varieties I wanted were sold out, it was an easy decision. Asked some local experts and they thought it was absolutely fine to plant bare root until the end of April. So, whew! Saved some money and should have some really strong roses to boot!

We’re loving springtime at Le Coudeau, and with the help of our Jardin Major-Domo, Christian, we’re quickly moving along. With emphasis on getting the front beds prepared, we work every day to create a lovely entrance to the house.

Spreading the mulch before planting and irrigating. Not the way I’m used to doing it, but Christian is THE BOSS. (Yeah right!)

Even Theo’s getting into the action, even though these sacks of wood mulch are heavier than they look! Maybe if he stares at them long enough, they’ll jump off the trailer!!!

Since I’m sure you’ll all just DYING to see another picture of me, here I am in my element. The reason I fell in love with this house…the garden!

And some random springtime shots around town…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Posted in American Expats in France | 3 Comments

Disappointing Finishing Touches

Just a little rant today. FINALLY got the delivery notice that my nightstands for the bedroom were coming.

The mysterious commodes for the master bedroom nightstands…

I ordered them in mid-November. Been patiently waiting since the promised delivery date of 31 March. Well the delivery guys showed up with one, and only one, today. After unpacking it from it’s very fine box, I inspected it and found multiple deep scratches on both sides of the commode. Mustering together our finest French, we decided to REFUSE the shipment and sent it back. Argh!!! So now we wait to hear from the retailer…will they refund our money (unlikely) or simply give us store credit (likely)? Grrr!!!

My theory is that they didn’t have the TWO we ordered, so they sent the ONE they had, regardless of condition. Very disappointed, but I’m not reordering these. And so the search goes on. Maybe we’ll just keep the smaller antique commodes we have now—they’re both nice, but not quite the same height. Was so looking forward to proceeding with picking some table lamps once the side tables were in place, but guess I’ll put everything on hold until the headboard is upholstered (that project is slated to begin in about a week—yehaa!)

Stay tuned for the eventual big reveal…

 

Posted in American Expats in France | Leave a comment

To Plant a Garden…

…is to believe in tomorrow. 

Since we’re starting the potager from scratch, it’s hard to reign in all of our ideas. But the practical side and the creative side have combined to come up with a solution that will be great for us. We don’t want to grow TOO much—we are only two, after all. But we also don’t want have to expand it anytime soon.

Placement. Even though we have 2 and 3/4 acres, there aren’t many areas that get nice sun and are appropriate for planting. Below is a site plan of our lot. We were instructed to not build any garden over the septic system—and that takes an enormous chunk out of the available candidate areas. We didn’t want it behind the guest house since we’ve started more fruit trees there and the rest has large shade trees. And so we’re putting it down in the corner of the lot (top right-hand corner in photo). It’s flat. It’s sunny. It’s a little walk from the house, but think it’ll be perfect.

Layout. Since we plan to age in place on this property, and because our back/knees/hands aren’t getting stronger with age, we decided to make high raised beds. This will not only be ergonomically viable in our golden years, it will discourage certain ground diseases and certainly help keep the rabbits and snails out. We’ll be incorporating our own spin of ‘square foot gardening’ techniques and the ‘no-dig’ method, with beds no wider than 120 cm (4 feet) so we can reach the middle of each bed without ever stepping on the soil. Our plan is to mix vegetables, berries, and flowers for a cornucopia of delicious and beautiful things to pick.

Raised Beds. We’re excited to start from scratch using leftover rock from the property to build the ‘walls’ of the beds. The plan at this point is to bring in a mason to stack the stones using mortar between, trying to keep the walls as thin as is practical. The beds will be 75 cm tall (30″) for ease of access.

Our current pile of rocks.

Another completely different concept of a raised bed, but I love the idea of keeping lettuces in easy reach and being able to relocate the growing table as needed for shade and access.

Inside the Beds. We plan to implement our own version of the Hugelkultur technique: old logs and branches on the bottom of the beds (above gopher wire, of course), then a layer of upturned sod (from the making of the garden paths), then layers of wood ash, mulched leaves, composted chicken manure from a local farmer, hay, grass clippings, and end with rich topsoil mixed with as much of our homegrown compost as we can muster. This technique is purported to cut down drastically on watering, although the raised bed idea may negate this philosophy somewhat. It is all a big research project. Isn’t gardening always a wonderful little science experiment? That’s what I love—have an idea, make notes, and adjust according to the successes and failures.

Oh, to find a VINTAGE obelisk. Sigh!!!

We’ll use these in the corners of the beds for vining plants.

Follies. We wanted a tall obelisk-y something-or-another in the middle of the layout for architectural interest. Just because. Then we’ll use other more down-to-earth teepees made from bamboo poles from our ‘bamboo forest’  in the corners of the long beds.

Forgot about this idea I had tucked away. Beautiful AND practical!

Water. We do not have a water tap down there yet, but have a couple of ideas on creative water usage. One is to install a water storage tank to collect rainwater from the garage (it will be mostly out of site). The lot slopes down from where the tank would be to the garden area. We will need to see if the pressure created by the drop in altitude will be enough to rig up a drip irrigation system. The other possibility is to use the existing well on the property. We need to borrow a pump, empty it and see if it’s viable. Several neighbors have very healthy wells, so we’re optimistic about using this water to fill the tank in the dryer summer months.

Great way to integrate rainwater tank into the landscape.

Deer. Because we hear and see many deer in the neighboring fields and forest, we fear that they will jump over our 1 meter fence and munch away on all our proudest achievements. We’ve asked around and some gardeners say they’re a problem, but most say they don’t bother their veggie gardens (although ours promises to have some really yummy flowers as well). So the jury’s still out on the fence. Perhaps we’ll proceed with building the raised beds, see what happens, and consider a tall deer fence later if needed.

For those of you who know that Cindy’s a closet bunny lover, you’ll just understand this photo…

Walkways. Still undecided what to use for the walkways between beds, but we know we don’t want to fight weeds. The aisles will mostly be a meter wide, so there’s plenty of room for the cart. We plan to put down cardboard to kill what’s there and add either straw or wood chips, which can then be recycled in the compost pile.

And now, to leave you with something silly…

Posted in American Expats in France, Expat Blog, Gardening in the Dordogne, Renovating a Home in France, Southwest France American Expat Blog | 4 Comments

A Week to Oneself

Theo is enjoying Köln Karneval in Germany for a week and I happily stayed home with the dogs. If nothing else, Theo and Wolfgang sure are bright (like a kindergarten classroom… or a Mexican taqueria)!

Theo and Wolfgang ready to party!

Been getting lots done in his absence. The day Theo left, I finally attacked making a padded king-size headboard for the guest house. My first attempt at anything like this, but it turned out okay. Now if the bedding would just be delivered, I could sent an ‘after’ photo of the bedroom. But am still sourcing some nightstands, then lamps, so guess you’ll just have to wait. Or simply come for a stay! You know, the Tour de France comes right through our little town, over the Dordogne bridge, on July 11!!! But I digress…

I had intentions of recycling the headboard that was left in the house. But after crippling my hands pulling out a billion of the staples, I gave up and decided to just use the same shape and start from scratch. Bought new wood, foam, an electric staple gun, some batting, studs, and fabric, and off I went! Took me about 3 hours to do the whole thing and spent about €50 in supplies. But the satisfaction is in doing it myself. So there!

This is what we inherited with the house, a bee-u-tiful pastel tufted and tucked headboard, made for a 👸🏼princess👸🏼 I’m certain!!!

My new boards cut with a second layer around the outside.

My finished ‘masterpiece.’ (Still on my worktable because the beast is so heavy, I can’t get it up the stairs alone!)

For you folks in France looking for something to clean ‘avant la peinture’ or to cut through horrid gunk, this is your friend!

Also started attacking the cleaning of the guest house, after regrettably letting some of the Portuguese workers stay there. The grease dripping from the brand new kitchen wall tile was unbelievable, and so I donned my rubber gloves and mixed up a concoction that promised to be like TSP. After scrubbing, rinsing, and polishing the walls and the floor, it smells much better in there! Then proceeded to remove the hardware and scrub the cabinets. Used some super-duper epoxy primer and now I have to let it cure for 72 hours before the next step, color. Bought some gray paint for the cabinets months ago, opened it up, and don’t like it at all, so back to the drawing board.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And so…other than the usual cleaning, organizing, and small handyman jobs around the house… it was such a rainy day here today, I started planning the garden! Who doesn’t like to dream of beautiful flowering beds and scrumptious fresh veggies for the sunny days to come? That, in fact, will be the focus of my next post. Looking for input from all you great gardener friends out there!

 

Posted in American Expats in France, Expat Blog, Renovating a Home in France, Southwest France American Expat Blog | 4 Comments

The Hazy Days of Winter

 

The lazy, wet, dark days of winter have enveloped us and we have acted accordingly… like slugs. No more workers around the house after the New Year, no pressing projects to get finished, and generally little interest in doing much! So not too much to report.

Although, at my own pace, I’m moving forward with some smaller undertakings and am tackling them one by one. Mostly I’m down to the picky little finishing details that only make ME happy (and the ongoing decorating projects).

I bought this armoire sight unseen. A friend called me when she found it at a ‘vide grenier’ (literally an ’emptying of the attic,’ or as we know it, a garage sale). The lady selling it really needed for it to go. My friend knew I was looking for an armoire for the entry that could house our coats, hats, and some shoes. She sent me a photo, negotiated an unbelievable deal for me, and even arranged for it to be delivered! It arrived quite tired, but I liked it—the right height, had some character, and would certainly fit our needs functionally. And so I began to clean her up. After a full bath, I massaged her with linseed oil. Three coats to be exact—and she started to smile. I scrubbed the ancient iron hardware and it started to look happy again, too. I’ve since installed a rod, some smell-good shelf paper, and we’re in business.

My great bargain armoire for the entry.

First coat of linseed oil…half done.

Much better…

Hardware closeup. The burle wood is amazing—the real deal—despite the ‘patches.’

Next, I started on the cabinets in the master bathroom that we had custom-made in Portugal. I had asked the cabinetmaker to give them a brown glaze, but instead of admitting they didn’t know how to do it, they simply delivered them stained in the paint color I provided (instead of painting them entirely). And so I had my first go at glazing. The French don’t seem to have anything resembling glaze compound (and probably the Portuguese too), and so I searched on the internet until I found the “General Finishes” website in the UK, one of the premiere makers of faux finishing products. Ordered 4 liters of clear glaze, figuring I’d decide on a color when the time came. Brave me! (aka stupid me???) It came out way more interesting-looking, topped it off with a mat varnish, and ordered new metal knobs to replace the painted wood ones provided with the cabinet.

Master bath vanity. Glazing half finished.

The finished master bath vanity with new knobs and glaze.

Forgot to mention I glazed the second bath vanity and mirror as well. Still need to haul out the epoxy for that middle new knob…

There there’s the saga of my dining table, also custom made by our wood-working wonders in Portugal. I wanted a comfortable table for six, with the flexibility of seating 8 when needed. I PhotoShopped a conglomeration of a Restoration Hardware-inspired wood pedestal dining table, except with a more ball-shaped pedestal and ‘feet’ applied for stability. Made (of course) to my size specification and from solid oak.

Raw dining table.

Starting to stain the feet.

I had worked it out on my floor plan and finally told the contractor that I wanted it 160 cm round (about 63″). He said, “You’ve got plenty of room, you should go 180.” I said, “No, 180 is too big. I want 160.” And so the ‘commande’ for the table was executed. A couple of weeks later it arrived. Base plus top. It seemed enormous and I immediately started to second guess what I had done. The guys wrestled the beast inside and put it together. It was HUGE. Finally, I got out the measure tape and the dummies had made it 180! Again, someone in this Portuguese pack thought they knew better than me. My frustration had to show in my facial expressions and my screaming in English, because I have yet to perfect yelling at someone in French! And so, back it went, on another road trip to Portugal. They had to do it over. The top could be cut down, but the apron had to be totally remade. A few weeks later, with many miles under it’s belt, it arrived again, at 160 cm, and it was perfect…except it was raw wood ( I had asked for a medium stain finish).

And so I set out to figure how to finish the monster. Every French person told me to use d’huile de lin, or linseed oil. I knew I could tint it with brois de noix, an inexpensive stain made from the hulls of walnuts (have I mentioned how many walnuts are grown in southwest France???) I figured that would be pretty foolproof, so in my ever-so-practiced over-the-top, over-researched, over-thought approach, I hit the internet looking for the best advice for finishing a raw oak dining table. Of course searching in English, I got lots of American and British hits advising to NOT use raw linseed oil, but seek out boiled linseed oil. Yeah, right. After making a fool of myself at several bricos, I finally realized why everyone told me to use the raw linseed oil…because that is all they have here, stupid!

So, I mixed the cold-pressed pure linseed oil with my natural walnut coloring agent. Kept applying coats every couple of days after letting her dry between, until she got to the color I wanted (can’t quite remember, but think it was three coats). Then I applied god-only-knows how many coats of wax, again waiting for them to dry between painfully thin applications. She is exquisite. Now all I needed was the chandelier and some chairs…

The stained and waxed table.

 

 

Dining table. Done. (Hey Chris, recognize the stuff on the candlesticks?)

The chandelier that I had fallen in love with months ago finally arrived. They make them on demand, so there is a 4-6 month lag between deliveries. I’ve been SO patient. But it finally came. Then we sweet-talked our wonderful French plumber, Sébastien, to help us heft it up to our 11-foot ceilings. I knew it would be the ‘pièce de résistance’ for the room and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s right down my alley mimicking a classic chandelier shape, with multiple arms and ‘crystal’ bobbles, all done in a non-traditional material of bent iron. Now we’re FINALLY ready for a dinner party!

Dining chandelier going up.

Dining area with chandelier installed and Henri the pelican awaiting his frame to be fashioned from crown molding. (Don’t mind those cords hanging down…long story for another day!)

Somewhere between all these projects, I woke up one morning with extra energy and decided to finally hang the mural I had purchased for the master bedroom. We had just purchased a 2.5 meter ladder (yeah), so I was all set. I actually ordered the entire paint color for the master wing of the house from a 2″x2″ chip! I knew it was do or die, as the walls and cabinets were already painted, so if the mural didn’t match at this point, it would have to be ‘bye-bye mural.’ Again, I couldn’t be happier with the result. Very cozy. And different. Now we wait for the new nightstands (promised to arrive before the end of March), then I can source some table lamps, and I have an upholsterer to make the padded headboard. Oh, I just love this part…

Starting on the feature wall in the master bedroom.

Feature wall done. Now we need to push the bed back…

Next, I tackled the huge bookcase/tv unit in Theo’s man cave (made by you-know-who in you-know-where). It also arrived with some surprises, but in the end, it’s beautiful. But he didn’t like the color. With the walls a medium blue, (going for a ‘Ralph Lauren’ club room feel), I wanted to keep it light, but it was too blandy-schmandy. And so I set to glazing this monolith (now that I was a self-proclaimed expert)! It was a lot of work, but I got ‘er done. And he likes it.

Naked man cave bookcases.

Still to be organized, but here is the large unit after glazing and new knobs.

But we had more books. And more toys. So we’ve been looking for twin vintage vitrines for months, to no avail. And so I caved in and simply ordered new ones. They were on a super post-Christmas sale, so what’s not to like? We were teased with 3 different delivery days/times, each resulting in us waiting around all day and ending up with nothing. Then when they finally arrived without a phone call or text or any warning at all, the guy was driving a small van. In my mind, I’m thinking, uh-oh, two large bookcases would never fit in that little truck. Sure enough, they were flat-packed. Damn! At least they arrived without breakage and, with my aptitude at assembling those crazy things, we now have two new bookcases crammed into the room.

The, as yet, unfilled bookcases. I painted the back panels in linen to lighten them up.

To round out the seating arrangement in the living room, we’ve been looking for twin chairs. We’ve found that antique French chairs, while cute, are often very low to the ground and very narrow (for the French, obviously). And the majority of new furniture available here is modern. We still had the furniture we brought from Theo’s parent’s place in Germany, including matching club chairs, all custom made probably 50 years ago. ‘They don’t make them like that any more,’ the upholsterers kept telling us, as we nearly fainted at the cost of recovering them. I found some chairs that might have worked from England (but who knows when we could make that shopping trip), and so we decided to recover these chairs.

We’re going to TRANSFORM these chairs!

Finally found a local upholsterer, English, that not only does beautiful work, but is a wonderful human being, and doesn’t charge an overblown price for her labor. The hunt for fabric has been an ordeal. Simply said, fabric choices in France suck. Even the upholsterers agree with that. We thought of embracing the ‘club chair-i-ness’ of them and use a menswear fabric like a herringbone, or houndstooth, or pinstripe. But after ordering samples, these were simply too ‘serious’ for me (and too expensive at up to €150/m).

After obsessing on it for a couple of weeks, decided to go with this super Robert Allen fabric from the states. The chairs are destined to become large, bold, statement pieces…to break up the monotony of the linen sofa and leather chair/ottoman in the room.

The repeat on this fabric is 9″, so the chairs are bound to be eye-catching!

Remember I needed dining chairs? Well they fell into our laps, and I have Theo to thank for that! Our antique buddy in Eymet knew I loved clocks and suggested I rush over to look at a grandfather clock at a brocante that was closing, thinking I could get it for €40 or so. Don’t have to tell me twice!!! Off we go. The clock was not what I wanted, but Theo eyed these ‘os de mouton’ chairs in the corner in a hideous 80’s fabric. They were marked €70. Theo asked how much and the guy said €50—for all six chairs! Into the car they went!

Bargain of the century…

Next up, finding fabric for the dining chairs. Looked and looked and looked—in stores, in outlets, online, more online, and even more online. Wanted something maybe in a tone-on-tone black or dark gray, to enhance Henri, our huge pelican art piece on the dining room wall (as a nod to Theo’s love for the pelicans of the California coast). Didn’t want anything too wild to detract from Henri, but also didn’t want anything too serious. And so I hit a fantastic sale in the US and ordered this black-on-gray fabric for a whopping $60 for all six chairs (plus shipping, of course)!

This is the gorgeous fabric going on the dining chairs, lending a contemporary bent to the vintage chairs.

Now I’m realizing I shouldn’t procrastinate so long on posting. My little projects that fill my days and weeks really DO add up to something! Hope you enjoyed following along.

As the song says, “It’s the springtime of my life!”

Posted in American Expats in France | 7 Comments

Just a Bit of New Year Doggie Sweetness

Had to giggle when I took the tree down last week. After removing the white boas, there were lots of single little feathers throughout the tree and on the floor, just as though the little owls had actually been living in my tree! So sweet.
Then I’m systematically packing the decorations into a box like a Rubik’s Cube and Annie comes along, looks over the side of the box, and says, “Hey, THOSE aren’t STUFFED TOYS are they? You KNOW I just LOVE stuffed animals!” And proceeds to choose one of the soft owls from the box. She took it and schnoogled it until it was wet. The only thing missing is a squeaker (which I promptly ordered from Amazon).
Now she is adoring her new chouette friend (and posing on the ever-necessary pillow).
Now, the whole family loves owls!

Now, the whole family loves owls!

Posted in American Expats in France, Southwest France American Expat Blog, Traveling Abroad with Dogs | 2 Comments