The last week or two here at La Maison M-J have been hot, and this girl is particularly elated by the elevated temperatures....we sigh a woosh of relief that we didn't ever get around to planting a large potager (veggie garden) this year, as the rest of the gardeners around here wail in woe at the drought like conditions!! Instead, we've been using up the mint growing on the side of the grange (it has to go by September anyway) to perfect our mojito recipe, taken cool down breaks in the Fatboy (see his photo in last year's posting ;) ) with homemade fruit smoothies and generally reveled in the heat. Our maximum suffering here as been around 33oC (91.4oF), and that was only a day or two out in the straight sun, but oh how wonderfully baking it was!!
Now, some of you may be joining this tale of misery and woe I weave a bit late, so let me give you a quick summation...I am and have always been of a very hot nature (thanks genetically to my also hot Papa--Je t'aime Papasan!). When others wore sweaters with their jeans, L was still romping about in a t-shirt and jeans, sometimes even shorts to her mother's chagrin. The nine years we spent in Paris only saw my wool sweaters come out once or twice, and my poor long, black, wool winter coat only saw freedom when I was working/traveling to Stockholm/Oslo monthly through a winter, and then only when I went in and out of buildings. From Spring until Fall I had a fan in the bathroom to keep me cool as I got ready and the fridge always had an unopened can of some nasty beverage (keeps anyone from drinking it!) that I used to cool my pulse points. My bedroom window stayed open year round and T thanked the feather Norwegian comforter gods that I was raised to have that on my bed even if I didn't always need it. In fact, T's favourite season for our relationship was winter because it was the only time I could cuddle up 24/7 without breaking a sweat!! I think you get the picture, but it's important to understand from whence the surprise suffering comes.
So....as our first Fall fell into winter here at the house and the temperatures began to drop, I wasn't the least bit worried. However, they just kept dropping and dropping and eventually the uninsulated state of this stone-walled house, with her beautiful thick walls and cozy demeanor, became but a shell of a shelter for this warm-hearted family. T was traveling M-F every week and I was shivering and layering, shivering and layering...digging into my piles of sweaters until I found with relief the long forgotten, thick, wool ones that some nights never came off! I began, what was to be a long, intimate relationship with...our hot water bottle! Not one night, or evening wasn't spent in it's warm embrace! Now, I know there are doubters out there thinking 'really, how cold could it have been in the house?'...well, with an antiquated oil fuel heating system (the beast) that only heated the ceiling in the kitchen, the downstairs WC, and consequently the upstairs floor...some portable radiator heaters that you could sit directly in front of....a ginormous fireplace that took a lot of work to keep going and only heated you if you were practically straddling the flames...and some cheap wall heaters that heated, well, nothing....it was pretty damn cold!! When the outside temperatures fell into the negatives, the inside temperatures weren't too horribly far behind--seriously, I kid you not!! I can confirm it is actually possible to see your breath in bed :p And the sole, true moments I was warm were either in the scalding, hot shower (which previously in life I had never experienced)-or that moment just after you wake up before the seal has been broken between you and the duvet...and you will never, ever, ever find me camping outside of the summer months again!
Now that I've caught you up a wee bit on the state of affairs at Winter Hell à la Maison M-J, let me divert from this quagmire to share some of the good we tried to find in our new standings.
(That's Freya's namesake-I spelled it differently after a majority vote-but it's the best chocolate in the world & coincidentally my favourite ;) )
I decided that if I was going to be cold, I might as well be cold in the right place, Norway. There, I am warmed to the depths of my spirit by the love of my family and the precious time I get to spend with them all when I visit, not to mention the delicious treats they spoil me with ;) Warm, fresh waffles...sigh...there are just no words! I also delivered, and picked up Christmas presents, and made the all important shopping list....puhshaw...list? ha! I had three things that I was not getting back on the plane without--my own Norwegian blanket (this is a special, boiled wool, super thick, accessory to every household that usually lasts a lifetime--and something I made fun of my own mother for having early in my unknowing youth), a pair of properly lined, appropriately sturdy rubber boots (which one wears at all times when exiting the house between November and April), a wool hat/mitten combo to wear in the house--yes, you read that correctly, in the house!! This outdoor tomboy hasn't forgotten all the rules of survival-always keep your head covered, it's the first place heat escapes your body.
As I made the rounds, in the snow and cold, visiting relatives and going out and about on my various errands, I was also reminded that one can be comfortable in the outside arctic temps, because you always warm back up inside. It helps that the Norwegians are used to long, dark winters, and so make every effort to warm the outside...cozy lights, candles in all the windows, hot gløgg for sale on the sidewalks....it all works, let me tell you. I've posted some pics as you'll see, but it in no way captures the true ambiance!
So, stocked up on the new necessities of life, and a couple of Christmas decorations for our rustic holiday--all of our usual decorations were packed up with our civilized life in the boxes now in storage along the walls of the house--I returned home to France.
We had the pleasure of a holiday visit from a dear, family friend-Cindy, the brave soul-who perhaps mistakenly thought she could cut a nice holiday in the cold French countryside (she had been warned, I held nothing back!) because she was born and raised in Newfoundland, and when she used to live in Paris, her apartment had a summer Newfoundland photo with an iceberg floating through the bay! The average winter temperatures across Newfoundland are -20oC to -30oC in the coldest months...but they got nothin' on La Sarthe's -17oC to -20oC in what was turning out to be the coldest winter in 20 years! Lucky us. Yea, !$#^%#$ is exactly what I thought too! ;) **By the way-she looks all lovey in that photo with Freya, I continue to believe she was just taking an opportunity to suck some warmth from her!**
But I'm not all piss 'n vinegar all day every day...my motto in our life abroad, in fact it is our survival mechanism, is to find the good in every bad. Sometimes you have to look hard, but I look until I find it, and then move on to the next challenge or float along on the tide of good if I am that lucky.
In this case we learned two things. 1) In planning our renovations we now knew what the worst was to expect, and I have appropriately used this information in purchasing a heater for the grange and discussing down to the tiniest pebble of a detail, the insulation & damp deterrence with the mason and carpenter. 2) Going back to basics is sometimes the most breathtaking of experiences...the kind where you sit and stare in wonder. For this, see the photo of our Christmas tree (our first deliciously, pine-smelling, real one in 10 years!) we set up next to our massive fireplace--decorated with the natural (wooden & handmade) ornaments I picked up in Norway...and all real candles!!
I shall take a small pause here...you may talk amongst yourselves and see if there are any matched tales of suffering ;) (feel free to post in the comments!)