Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hard to believe...

I spent all day today with Sven...trying my utmost best to unload what is left in the, I am not as young as I used to be! Back and forth we went, load after load, always with my trusted steed...err...pup in my lap. **Sidenote: Freya for some reason feels the need to always sit in my lap when I am riding Sven (who in case you couldn't tell from the photo, is our orange Husqvarna tractor mower), and I consider myself quite the talented country girl because I can now steer quite adeptly with one hand while holding on to her with the other. And if I don't stop to let her up, she runs right beside me barking, which in turn makes me nervous I might accidentally run her over, so she always gets her way.** I would fill the trailer up, zip out into the field to the donkey shed and unload, and back to the grange.

I was about half way through this all day exercise when I suddenly stopped in the doorway of the atelier room (that's the window/door you see on the left of the grange above). I turned around and just stared. This is what I saw:

And try as I might, couldn't pull the imagery up that I've been using these long, last months to do all the designs, measurements, planning, discussions etc. for that room. I just stood there and looked at the history--look carefully (click on the pic & it enlarges) and you'll see the troughs, the hay bale holders, the tiny fresh air window for the beasts, the mud & straw insulation in the ceiling--and thought to myself 'it is hard to believe that in six months (that's my optimistic guess--currently scheduled at four months) that is going to be the Guest House's spanky new kitchen (with a dish-freakin-washer baby!!) and living room that we will be moving into until the main house is done!!

The potential for now is all in my head....but in 11 days, the reality will begin, and I for one, am so flipping excited I can hardly stand it. I'm trying to get all caught up here on the blog so come September 7th I can start fresh and zesty with documenting the demolition and renovations. In fact, I think the excitement wiped everything from my brain...uh, no, that's just the wonderful exhaustion from a full day of manual labour in the clean, fresh air with the sun shining and my girls keeping me company.

Nighty night!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

One cold step closer...

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. 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, 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 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 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 may talk amongst yourselves and see if there are any matched tales of suffering ;) (feel free to post in the comments!)

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Taking a momentary pause from our regularly scheduled program "A Walk Down Memory Lane" ....
After three days up at our apartment in Paris, we gratefully rumbled down the driveway to the house around midnight last night. We quickly emptied the car, made the Josie call--Joooooooossssiieeeeeeee--to check that all was right in cat world-read: not stuck up in a tree-and collapsed in an exhausted heap to bed. Around 2:30am I was rousted from my sound sleep by the pitiful squeakings of a wee little mouse in our bedroom. I fumbled around for the flashlight, cracked open an eye, and groggily followed the beam to the source of the sound. There was Josie, lolling around on the floor, on the J-O-B, or not, as the case may be, playing with her latest victim. Before I could gather the 'rescue' equipment and return to the bedroom, she had put the little bugger out of his one swift gulp. I know it's natural, but those years as a child when I had my little pet gerbil, well, that just translates to me always feeling bad for the little guys. But I digress...

So I collapsed back into bed, and though my eyeballs went right back to sleep, my brain decided to ruminate....and I just laid there hanging out...and that's when it struck me. Nothing. That's all I heard...glorious, wondrous nothing. Our street in Paris is very quiet at night, for being in the middle of a major metropolis, but here in the country you really experience the true meaning of nothing....and in the short time we've now lived here, it is Everything.

During the day, when I sit in the house working at the pc and I stop for a moment to collect a thought or ponder the stupidity of a particular French situation...I am not interrupted by anything...I have to specifically focus to even hear something. The rustling of the trees...the distant hum of farm equipment that only rears it's head during particular periods--planting, tilling, wheat/corn culling, tilling again--the occasional moo of cows in neighbouring fields or the slightly off-crowing of our nearest neighbours' rooster (they are about a 10min walk from us) -he thinks the sun rises at 2 p.m. It's not just the thick stone walls that muffle the sounds, though I will forever love them for that particular benefit :), it's just that we have found the actual, physical meaning of peace. A peace so profound that we still struggle to believe we've found it this early in life....the kind of peace that no matter how shitty your day, and believe me we do have some shitty ones, you can stop, sit out front on the bench, take a walk down the drive, stand immobile and look in any distant direction from the house, circle the pond or just lay in the grass and stare up... and literally feel it drain away. Never, in all my dreamy days in Paris, did that ever happen...and why? Because there is just too much everything there, no moments of nothing.
T and I have lost count of the times we've discussed this very thing and still remark every time we come home, 'God, I love it here--it's so beautiful, and so peaceful' zen. And in today's day and age you need that, that moment of Nothing, so you can jump right back into the pool of Everything and love it all over again.

So I leave you with two of my favourite contemplation images (do you know how hard it is to just pick two?) that always make me think 'what is it that they see?'....maybe something.....and yet, maybe they too are happy with their nothing.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Ice Age cometh....

So, trying to catch up on the past eight months before we're knee deep in winter & renovation rubble....I shudder, I shudder....

Fall stumbled in, like a gangly teen....we enjoyed some warmer days, but the nights fell earlier and the dark drove us indoors. Then came the cold. Morning strolls down the lane with Freya had me spotting frost in bits and pieces, and my blessed cup 'o joe was cold before I was finished--blech. But let me not dwell on the negative--there's plenty of that to come!

What we did first....was the opportunity to crack out all our pyro paraphernalia...Fire! Fire! (in Beavis & Butthead form) and take advantage of the enormous fireplace in the living room, the little wrought iron pot stove outside as the sun set, and bonfires in the fields-burning our garden trash with no restrictions--this being one of the fun benefits of life in the French countryside :)

Evening entertainment, in a house with no TV (I know--1 year and counting, can you imagine??!), consisted of reliving vestiges of childhoods past by making s'mores on the fire in the living room whilst at the same time sucking every ounce of heat we could from the flame....little did we know at that moment what was to come!! (Can you sense the build up here? Good, because I won't get to the point any time soon.)

It wasn't all gloom and doom. Fall brought visitors galore to La Maison M-J. In fact, in the space of six months we actually had more visitors in our camping/roughing it/where-the-hell-did-civilization-go state of house then in the last year of our apartment in Paris replete with guest room/guest bath + actual organization and decoration. I'm sure a whole study could be done on that! With the steady stream of visitors came the opportunity to get oh so creative in my camping kitchen (see '08 post 'The Thorn Amongst Honey & Roses), and not to pat myself on the back...*pat pat*...but I put together some damn fine dining on two hot plates, a microwave & a perilously poised oven! (see glazed ham from Thanksgiving--which also included one beautifully roasted & miraculously found bird, my Aunt Fran's cauliflower w/cheese sauce, home-made mashed potatoes, sweet potato bake, corn pudding, stuffing & baguette for a touch of French). Three cheers for that! (Nothing but the finest champagne in those classy mustard glasses!)

In the midst of all this eating (uh, no idea where that focus comes from!) there was lots of continuing research being done, by yours truly, for the elusive architect of our renovation project, perusing of renovation magazines to source ideas, tools & vocabulary (a good activity done under blankets)....random unpacking/re-packing of the maelstrom of boxes acting as our interior decoration (it's amazing how much stuff you want to get rid of when you haven't used it in years and don't want to move it again!) --activity means more blood circulation which = warmth...and most importantly, our family was forced to do one of the things we love best....CUDDLE. You know when you watch those lost in the wilderness movies and they talk about body heat helping you to survive? Yea, we're all about that. Freya & Josie have the best photo proof though, and this just warms the heart.