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.

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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

Learning Curve At the Brico

img_2794Anything Brico is a big box home improvement store—Bricorama, BricoCash, Brico Depot, Mr. Bricolage, Bricomarche…

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I tend to go armed with my phone and Google Translate, but also with paper and pen. As literal translations from English to French often don’t work, most salespeople are willing to play a game of ‘what am I drawing?’

Except the time I was trying to find some thin wire to assemble a wreath…the sales guy did not understand English and I had forgotten the phone. He kindly suggests drawing a picture. I giggle and draw a squiggly img_2792line, realizing I’m going to need to launch into a game of charades. He momentarily thinks I’m nuts. Then we really get going…we’re standing next to rope. I tell him it’s like rope, but metal. We go through the plumbing section, the tool section, and land in the electrical wire section.  My eyes light up and I point to the coils of wire, but I want something thinner, ‘Moins épais.’ When he realizes they’re out of stock on the thin stuff, the light bulb goes on and we make it to an end cap in gardening where he proudly presented me with a roll of the perfect wire for 50 centimes! Voilà! Now, every time he sees me in the store he covers his eyes and laughingly shakes his head. 

This is at the Bricorama in our little town. Larger stores in Bergerac have computer terminals throughout the store and salespeople offer up a Google Search window to get an image of what the hell you’re asking for. This is very useful, but our daily trips are to see my friend here in town!

Then there’s the local pro brico store, where we were fortunate enough to get a personal introduction from our French plumber. The manager opened a corporate account for us, along with a built-in 20-30% discount. We pay monthly. And we’re treated like a king and queen when we visit. All the sales people come around from the counter and shake our hands (I guess they’ve seen our end of the month statements!!!)

My French noun vocabulary is strongest in house-related terms, not surprisingly, but maybe ‘strength’ is not quite accurate either!! After over-depending on GT and doing my best to pronounce the product as clearly as possible, when met with THE BLANK STARE, I hold multi-material-jobber-length-bits-1481up my phone horizontally, displaying the French phrase in huge back letters on a blue screen. Words any idiot can read, right? Yesterday I was looking for a drill bit and asked this young guy for help. He started to chuckle, shrugged his shoulders, then proceeded to tell me that was NOT the french translation. That it meant (pointing at his crotch) in French. Oops! All I could do was pretend-spank my phone and say, “Bad Google Translate! Bad!” We all had a good belly laugh about that one. And so it goes, just another day in paradise…

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

First Christmas in Le Coudeau

We are snug and comfy in the house this holiday season.

I insisted on purchasing and decorating a big tree, albeit a stunning artificial, as I never enjoyed putting on the lights. Had to laugh at myself, and figured you can take the decorating business out of Christmas, but you can’t take Christmas out of the decorator!!!

This year's owl-themed tree.

This year’s owl-themed tree.

 

The decorations this year are a tribute to the owls that share Le Coudeau with us. We have a pair of barn owls, with their beautiful white heart-shaped faces, living in the ‘penthouse’ of the pigeonnier. And we have visiting tawny owls that we hear in the night. Beautiful.

 

And decorating the house also honors all the peeps who helped decorate my corporate accounts through the years. I have great memories of ALL that hard work and think about our kooky times and funny stories involving each of you! But I have to say that I’m thankful to be down to just my own personal tree now. Of course, I left my $000,000 worth of holiday decor in America, so had to start from scratch this year…without access to my wholesale floral suppliers. A challenge, but all worked out in the end.

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Have been enjoying visits with friends and neighbors leading up to Christmas Day, and we aren’t done yet. So nice to be so casual about having folks over. My kind of thing…

Since we’re missing our usually Christmas fare (west coast Dungeness crab), we’re planning a seafood paella extravaganza for dinner. Fun, different, and hopefully delicious!!!

I have so much to be thankful for this time of year—the best husband anyone could dream of, a beautiful home, a healthy family (whom I miss very much), adoring dogs, wonderful neighbors, and delightful friends near and far. But there has been one thing that’s been missing, which kept me in Europe for Christmas. My Carte de Séjour, or residency card. Since I’m here as the spouse of an EU citizen, I do not need a Visa. However, to travel alone, I do need a residency card to prove that I’ve surpassed my 90 day visit cap legally. And last Thursday, after three trips (and the innumerable hours of driving, waiting, returning, waiting, driving again, and just squeaking in before lunchtime) to the prefecture, I was finally granted my temporary card.

What more does a girl want? A fire, a margarita, her dog, and her new Carte de Séjour.

What more does a girl want? A fire, a margarita, her dog, and her new Carte de Séjour.

It was so satisfying to simply go onto our property and trim greens from the pine trees, collect beautiful moss, twigs and pinecones, and use them for decorating. Have even more ideas for next year! This next shot is a little blast from the past. It is one thing of my mom’s that I kept from her collection and I enjoy displaying the vintage NOEL (with the original 1950’s never-been-burned candles) wherever we are.

Miss you Mom.

Miss you Mom.

And with this, we wish you the merriest of holiday delights, from our little piece of heaven in the Dordogne!

xmas2016

Posted in American Expats in France | 6 Comments

Holy apertures, Batman!

Although personally suffering from what appears to be multiple fall viruses, the work at Le Coudeau continues.

We’re forging ahead with our final projects for the property—the outbuildings. We’ve repaired and replaced much of the roofing on the outbuildings. Since deciding to create a winter garden/potting shed in the little lean-to behind my studio, our contractor arrived with a reclaimed double-paned French door (can you say FREE???)  and so the process of busting through the 50 cm stone walls began. A fascinating process.

Creating the aperture for the French doors into my garden room, one stone at a time.

Creating the opening for the French doors into my garden room, one stone at a time.

Left over window getting utilized into my studio. The more light the better!

Here the doors are installed and the guys are creating hole #2 to utilize a left over window in my studio. The more light the better!

Here's what that facade looks like now. With the huge cracks reinforced and new enduit. We miss the beautiful fall ivy that was on this wall, but it had to be done.

Here’s what that facade looks like now—with the huge wall cracks reinforced and new enduit. We miss the beautiful fall ivy that was on this wall, but it had to be done.

Here's my new window in the studio. The menuisier had made this large window for the kitchen, but I had ordered a double-hung style for there, so the gorgeous oak window was dying to find a home.

Here’s my new studio window from the inside. The menuisier had made this large window for the kitchen, but I had ordered a double-hung style for there, so the gorgeous oak window was dying to find a home. (Check out that ancient fireplace!)

One of my piles of beautiful stones from the demo. Gonna use them through the garden to line walkways.

One of my piles of beautiful stone from the demo.                                                                                      Gonna use them throughout the garden to line new walkways.

"My" side of the garage-BEFORE.

“My” side of the garage-BEFORE.

Hole #3: New garage door opening for my Citroen.

Orifice #3: New garage door opening for my Citroen. Started with the reinforced arch so the wall didn’t collapse. We removed the ‘second floor’ beams on my side to open up the space (planning to use the gorgeous old beams to created raised garden beds.)

Here's the second garage opening to create a 2 (or more) car garage [can you guess that Theo's looking???]

Here’s the second garage opening from outside to create a 2 (or more) car garage [can you guess that Theo’s looking to amass a collection???] The door surround will be styled the same, as well as a new door made to match.

And that’s our goings-on for the last few weeks. Fall is in full force, and I feel terrible that a lot has passed me by while I’ve been trying to sleep off this illness! But art is starting to be hung, a few pieces of furniture are on order, and a final view of the inside of the house is not far off. Hoping to be able to throw a little holiday soirée soon. Thanks for following along!

 

Posted in American Expats in France, Buying a House in France, Expat Blog, Renovating a Home in France, Southwest France American Expat Blog | 3 Comments

Going Through the Roof

With all the chaos still going on around here, I was so delighted to find this little colony of Sternbergia lutea that popped up this month. Now if I can just keep the guys from stomping through them! Will need to add them on my landscape site map so I don’t forget they’re there. What an awesome sunny little surprise to get every year as all the cranes are flying south.

Autumn crocus.

a.k.a., autumn crocus or winter daffodils

And so with the days getting shorter and the winter rains not far off, we are tackling our leaky roofs. Well, we started with the idea of just fixing the joint where they were leaking, but the supporting wood on my studio building was sagging badly. This is most likely one of the earliest buildings on the property, perhaps from the early 1700’s. And so, in true Loevenich form, why just fix what’s wrong and spend a little when you can redo the whole dadburned thing and spend a lot??? And so it goes…

The roof of my studio before. Pretty darn charming, but disintegrating!

The roof of my studio before. Pretty darn charming, but disintegrating!

And once the demo began, many of the delicate ancient tiles disintegrated in the guys’ hands. And a few of the joists were simply tree trunks!

Reinforcing the hand-hewn beams with straight boards.

Reinforcing the hand-hewn beams with straight boards.

Saving the good tiles for repair work on the pigeonnier.

Saving the good tiles for repair work on the pigeonnier.

The finished roof with a special little diamond surprise for Cindy!

The finished roof with a special little diamond surprise for Cindy!

And, in between craziness, we enjoyed a short visit from our friends from Santa Clara, California. 

And, in between craziness, we enjoyed a short visit from our friends from Santa Clara, California.

And I found these AWESOME, hardly-even-been-used, copper pot set for €60!!!!

And I found this AWESOME, hardly-even-been-used, copper pot set for €60!!!!

And one more roof comes off—actually this is the back side of the photo above. The building has this little lean-to part that was added and was rotting badly. You could watch the mold grow in there and you could smell it a kilometer away! JK, but it was really bad. We thought of just tearing the whole thing off, but when the roof work began, we decided to put a tap in and make it my little greenhouse and winter garden. We’ll have two huge skylights made for the roof. I already love the feel of it with all the light.

[A little chuckle associated with this one. Our contractor was telling us he was going to put Pepsi Glass for the windows. Hmm, Pepsi Glass…like glass bottle bottoms? No. Pepsi Glass. As in speaking Portuguese or speaking French? Hmmm. Finally, he said, like plastic, but not plastic. And I said, “Ohhhh, plexiglass?” And he responded, “Oiu, Pepsiglass!!!” Hilarious. It will now be forever known as Pepsiglass in our world!!!]

My future winter garden, sans roof.

My future winter garden, sans roof.

 

And one final major project getting off the ground…the pathway to the front door. Our granite pavè from Portugal was half the price (even with transport) of what we could source it for here in France. (Business idea anyone???) Thought for a while we would need to settle for another type of paver or stones or tile, but the guys came through with the real deal. And we are thrilled to have skilled laborers from Portugal to do their back breaking art. Absolutely fascinating to watch these artisans at work. Just beautiful!

Our granite pavè from Portugal was half the price (even with transport) than we could source it here in France. (Business idea anyone???)

A chunk of the gorgeous granite for the front walkway.

This is two long days of work for two guys carefully laying in one stone at a time. Masters!

This is two long days of work for two guys carefully laying in one stone at a time. Masters!

We are happy that the radiators are in, because fall has definitely arrived. But we still enjoy afternoon hikes with the dogs enjoying the sights, smells, and vibe that only autumn brings.

 

Posted in American Expats in France, Buying a House in France, Expat Blog, Renovating a Home in France, Southwest France American Expat Blog | 1 Comment

The Eagle Has Landed

We’ve been in the main house now for a little over two weeks. And it feels great — like home.

The details of finishing the interior have kept me buried and exhausted. I think of blogging often, but then fall into a coma from the day’s challenges. Sorry to keep you in the dark, but as things start to slow down, I’ll get caught up. Promise!

Here’s another little tour of what we’ve been up to.

In anticipation of finally being able to start hanging light fixtures, I started cleaning the chandeliers…

(Step 5) Try to remember how all the parts go back together again! I don’t recommend mixing wine and crystals…

And speaking of light fixtures, here’s a funny story of my greatest bargain so far! Theo requested a ‘Ralph Lauren’-inspired man cave, so I found a great light fixture that looks like it’s made from wine cask ribs. So in my never-ending search for a good deal, I found one on the ever-questionable AliExpress.com (every single thing from China, every single day). Did some research on the company and they looked okay, then got a coupon for their first anniversary with everything half off. So I waited until the window for the deal and pushed the order button. It arrived in a small flat box. Uh-oh. Obviously needed some assembly. With no help (or encouragement) from the men on site (only disparaging rolling of the eyes), I set out to redeem myself.

I'm gonna do this, dammit!

I’m gonna do this, dammit!

 

And so, here is a peek at the chandelier in place (thank you very much). And here, too, are the guys assembling the bookshelf/tv wall unit I had made in Portugal.

The man cave coming together.

The man cave coming together.

 

The kitchen is together and functional at last. Just need to finish the backsplash, install the radiator, and seal the floors. This first photo is before appliances, countertops and light fixtures, but the last and final window (a behemoth of a single-hung solid oak beauty) is awaiting installation over the sink.

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Then I had the wrenching decision for a countertop. The choices of stone are surprisingly slim here in France. We worked with a wonderful young man who tried to source some wild ideas for me, but in the end, I decided to just use what he had in stock—a honed black granite. And since there is so much visually going on in the kitchen, I’m positive it was the right decision. And I do love it. Interesting, though, that they don’t routinely bullnose granite here, they simply use really thick pieces and polish the edges. Here are the guys installing the countertop.

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And here’s my baby being installed. It took nearly a whole day to figure out how to get her inside, install her, and tweak and test her. And I love her. I’m convinced she is inspiring me to be a better cook!

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We’ve enjoyed visitors from Germany, with Sybille leaving after just a few days for a trek on the Camino de Santiago. The boys dropped her off in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port for her journey and she plans to go the entire way to Santiago de Compostela. Go Sybille!!!

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In the meantime, we’ve finished the oak flooring. Decided on an oil and wax stain that should wear well with the dogs and be easy to ‘spot treat.’ I am impressed with the soft glow of this finish and am surprised it’s not more commonly used in the US. This is the dressing room with the cabinets all painted. My laundry machines will go on the right underneath the window.

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From time to time, we get some rain. And this is what the patio looks like. Chunks of old moss from the roof (still need to power wash and treat the roof tiles) and muddy footprints galore. But we’re always glad for the green it creates.

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And here’s our best worker-bee, Claudio, getting a big hug from boss Ribeiro, while installing the stone baseboards. The cabinet on the right is an ancient cabinet purchased by Theo’s mom, that we simply HAD to bring with us.

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And so the decorating begins. Had the guys cut this out for me to make an upholstered headboard for the maison d’amis. In my spare time. Ha!

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Slipping in a little fun with dinner on Wolfgang’s birthday. ‘Thet’ and ‘August’ celebrating their 50+ year friendship!

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And, lastly, our boxes await. We have everything from America in the pigeonniere, and I am literally ITCHING to get in there and unpack. But I must wait until the floors are sealed and the furniture is in place before weighting it down with all our crap.

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Posted in American Expats in France | 3 Comments

There’s More to a Pool Than Water

Picked up our newest toy today—our pool robot that Theo quickly named “Nessy.”

We’re enjoying a wonderful late summer here in the Dordogne and we’re swimming every day. Our habit right now is to wait until the guys leave and plunge in shortly after 5. No midday heat, but that late searing sun that feels so good. The salt water is fantastic to swim in, and even easier for us to manage as pool neophytes.

Theo's new girlfriend, Nessy.

Theo’s new girlfriend, Nessy.

But we were accumulating some gunk on the bottom, so we called our wonderful ‘pool people’ and they ordered us a hi-tech robot in quick order. Picked it up today, assembled the cart, threw her in, and were just mesmerized by her skills. Crisis-crossing the pool, climbing the sides, eating up everything in her path. Then we swam around her cord, almost like she was our newest friend. Of course the dogs didn’t like it when she poked her head out to clean the waterline of the pool, but they quickly adjusted and figured it wasn’t going to get them.

And so, tomorrow after work, we’ve invited the guys to stay and enjoy an evening swim and some snacks. We told them we were cleaning it JUST for them! It will be nice to share the wonderful pool with such deserving chaps.

Posted in American Expats in France, Expat Blog, Southwest France American Expat Blog | 7 Comments