Sunday, May 20, 2012

meanwhile, back at the farmhouse...

Wowzers! It's been a very long time since my last post and I don't even know where the time has gone. Oh wait. I DO know where the time has gone! There was a choir tour at the beginning of April, followed by a number of days in a few installments of work at the farmhouse, interspersed with work-work, a conference in Paris and an operation at the hospital!

First off, the operation was nothing serious, so no need to worry.

The majority of the last two months has been spent on or at the farmhouse. I didn't have any official holidays to take, but between the bank holidays and my time off in lieu of overtime, I was able to squeak in three visits to the farmhouse to get it in shape for the season. Jean-Marc was able to stay longer than me and was there for two extended trips. Why all this time and work? I was hoping you would ask.

the terrace

Caitlin and I had put together a terrace back in 2004, with a mortared stone frame and gravel in the middle. It was the best low-cost option we could come up with at the time, but after a year, the weeds started growing in the gravel and it became a headache for us to maintain. Every year when we arrived, we would easily spend a few days just cleaning up the terrace, never mind keeping it clean throughout the summer! So this was THE year of the terrace.

Jean-Marc started by taking out all the gravel. Having been a part of the team that put the gravel there in the first place, I know that this was no small feat. I did help, but I was also busy with other projects as you will see later.
He then started leveling the ground to get it ready for the stones that we bought. In the meantime, there was a situation happening in the corner that needed attention. By the stairs we had some out of control mint overtaking the terrace and it needed to be contained, so Jean-Marc built a dry stone retaining wall (well, from the outside it looks like it's dry, but he mortared the back of it to give it strength). The mint was taken out and replanted later.
Of course the plan was to lay a stone terrace, so we had to find stones. I looked on the internet on a French version of craigslist (le bon coin) and low and behold, a guy just 7 kms away was selling some lauze. It was originally on someone's roof and then he has used it on his terrace and driveway, but it was too slippery for his daughter's wheelchair, so he dug it up and it was still good enough to use again. So we loaded 18 square metres of the stuff into his tractor, loaded the stone from the tractor into our borrowed truck, and then unloaded it into a pile where it sat waiting to be used. The stones were fairly big and heavy, so our arms and hands got a good workout! We ended up hiring a local stone mason for two days to help us get started and then Jean-Marc finished laying the stone (without doing the joints). It looked like this.
As luck would have it, just as we were ready to start doing the joints, there was the year's biggest storm in our area, with winds of up to 160 km/hour, meaning that the spaces between the stone were filled with dirt, leaves, seeds, flowers and gravel and not at all ready to be filled with mortar! We had to wait a few days and then use brushes and a vacuum cleaner to clean out the spaces. Once it was clean again, we were able to start mortaring the joints. We worked on this together and it was hard work kneeling on the stone. Our hands and knees were aching!

While all this was going on, I was also working on...

the table

With a new terrace we needed a new table! Actually, the one we had put together in 2004 was falling apart, so it was a real necessity. A few weeks before heading to the farmhouse, we had gone for a hike near our house and we came across a nice homemade table that seemed easy enough to put together. We returned, measuring tape in hand, and I took all the dimensions as well as a number of photos to figure out how it was all put together. When we arrived at the farmhouse, I asked my neighbour, William, what kind of wood to use for the table and he said "Douglas Fir" (or doo-glass in French!)- something that he had a whole stack of and was willing to let me use. He helped cut the planks to the right length for the table top and then I planed them so they would be the same thickness.
table top

table legs
I put it all together and then put the legs on once the terrace was done. And voilĂ !
ta da!
A new table and terrace - not bad, but there was more...

the shutters

We had a couple of pairs of shutters that were falling apart and all the rest were looking rather shabby. Even though they had been painted in 2005, the sun, wind and rain made them look like it had been thirty years since the last paint job. So I MADE two pairs of shutters (I was planning on getting them made but then got talked into making them by William). I also painted all the shutters, new and old.
one pair that I made
I made the upper left pair and painted all the rest
looking down the path
When we bought the house, the shutters were this colour with the white zeds, and although it's big pain to paint in two colours, we have found it to be a good way to identify the house for our renters, considering that there are no street names and numbers in our village. The paint really made the shutters 'pop' and made the ones that are not exactly falling apart - but not far off - seem in better shape. When I finished the shutters, I had some extra planks of wood left over, and then I looked at this area of our garden.

the flower box

The flower box that we had planted a couple of years ago was completely rotten and falling apart, so I put together a new one with the shutter leftovers, stained it and put some extra plants in it. Now it looks like this.
Ok, so it's still on top of a septic tank and there are pipes and whatnot around it, but I think with time, and a few more pots and planters, it will become a poetic spot!

These were all the major jobs that we did, but we also planted a lot of new plants (including a clematis and a honeysuckle), cleaned up the garden, cleaned up the house, made and repaired window screens to keep the flies out, attended to plumbing emergencies, upgraded our electricity so that we can make tea and toast at the same time (crazy, I know!) and put our electricity counter on a peak/low hours deal, so that we can have cheaper electricity at night for things like the hot water heater.

I don't have any fabulous "after" pictures because the weather was awful and I ended up leaving before Jean-Marc, so I never saw the final-final results myself. Hopefully I'll get to take some more photos this summer.

All in all, it was a tiring and exhausting few weeks. Most of our work days were 12 - 14 hours long and very physical. We barely had enough time to cook proper meals for ourselves and we even resorted to eating tinned food but were lucky enough to have William bring us extra hot meals from time to time. There were many moments when the stress of getting everything done on time was overwhelming and there were other moments when I thought it was never going to come together. The weather wasn't very cooperative, but we managed (!) and we are extremely pleased and proud of the results. Hopefully we will get a chance to go the the farmhouse this summer when it's not rented out, so that we can take advantage of our new terrace and table. I'd love to be able to go there, relax and do nothing (although I know that there is window putty, wood oil and plaster waiting for me with my name on it).

Both of us tackled the unknown and we have come away with a thrilling sense of accomplishment as a result of figuring out how to do something and seeing the results. Of course, it helps when there is a neighbour who knows how to do everything and can give advice when needed!
the path to the garden cabin that Jean-Marc made from locally found (i.e. free!) stones


  1. it looks so awesome, superheros!

  2. The photos really make me miss St Privat

  3. wow. This looks so fabulous and you are, indeed, super heros. Wish we could have been there to help.