Good Meuhning!

This post was started almost a year ago, June 29, 2017, and a lot has happened since then. But we wanted to include it in our adventures

Good Meuhning!  Good Meuhning!  Every morning Eric greets us in his attempt to sound sort of “Francish”.  Eric and his sons, Mark and Nicky, the Lanchester troisome, have been basically living with us for the last 10 weeks (Good God has it been that long!?).  Eric moved his whole family, including adult children, over to France six years ago to escape the British weather and equally dreary British economy (unlike the Brexiters they wanted to become more intimate with the EU).

It is an interesting phenomena that there is a big constituency here of British refugees.  They fled England for various reason and have been very good for the local economy here.  They are the ones who are revitalizing old farms and dying little French villages.  It is a big mystery to me why the majority of imports into the area we live are non-French, mostly Brits, and not French.  In The Netherlands, for example, you saw a big influx of retirees from western Holland buy up delapidated farms in east Netherlands, but that is not happening here.

Jeff with electric saw
Jeff rebuilding shutters

But I am digressing.   The goal of this post is to give you a more realistic picture than the one we have given you so far.  it is not all walks through bucolic country sides, sipping wine while watching another magnificent sunset and delicious meals made from produce grown here around

Tanja on ladder with lasure
I actually got some of the lasure onto the beams!

us.  On the contrary.  Most of our time is spent on getting supplies for the lads (and us) at the various bricos (-depot, -rama, -cash….).  There is nothing idyllic and beautiful about these places.  In fact, it is as bad as any strip mall in the US.  See the pictures.

Lads with wheel barrow
Lads in new kitchen to be

So far Rick has been posting all these stories about beautiful adventures in our neighborhood, watching glorious sunsets with wine, lovely meals on the veranda.  The perfect La Vie en Rose.  But it is not all sunsets and wine. There is plenty of hard work and disappointment, not to mention the waiting, waiting waiting to get things done. But we are glad to be here, and we are excited about completing our work and being able to have guests at long last.



Rainy winter and unexpected surprises!

We recently returned to our French farmhouse after a nice long stay in Louisville celebrating the holidays with friends and family. We discovered while in Kentucky how deep our friendships go with so many people. And it was particularly good to have all our children in one place for Christmas Eve and Tanja’s birthday. After three weeks, our little place in the Aquitaine beckoned. We flew back to a very rainy, wet countryside, for it had rained almost constantly while we were gone. Very unusual according to the locals!

We arrived and immediately lighted the woodburner to take the chill out of the air, opened all the shutters, and set about getting used to our home all over again.

While we were gone, the lads had done major work, including re-plastering our bedroom This meant we would be displaced to one of our gîte bedrooms until we could finish painting. We decided this would be a good idea. Always good to experience what the guests will.  Well, as nice as it is in the summer, this room was freezing! It took us all night to get warm!!!

Shivering under the covers.
Brr! First night back in our house that had been empty and unheated for a month!

I must also say that even in the cold and wet, the French countryside has a charm all its own.

A wiff of smoke from the chimney shows we are home, in the middle of the wet winter countryside.

There is green winter wheat growing in the field where sunflowers shone just a few months ago. Water trickles in the drainage ditches, keeping our indoors dry. The trees without their leaves have a certain majesty as they preside over the bleak midwinter. It looks as though there will be no snow this year…..

Of course this is France, and nothing stays bucolic forever! After two days of warming our house, I noticed one of the plasterboard walls in our brand new kitchen, the one with the electric radiator attached, starting to show air between it and the old wall beneath. Apparently this was an active process!

The buckling of the kitchen wall.

When it started to crack and buckle, I called for Tanja to help keep it from falling completely. We were able to remove the radiator and the movement stopped, leaving a gaping hole where there should have been wall. If we thought we were finished with the lads, we were wrong! Fortunately they were able to come at a moment’s notice, drape all the countertops and furniture in our precious new kitchen, and start the demolition of the plaster rendering down to the stone wall underneath.

After removal of wallboard.


We have moved out of this kitchen into the gîte kitchen for the foreseeable future until this wall has been repaired and repointed. It is a bit like camping out, but we are used to that by now. We have guests coming in February, so as long as it is finished by then, all will be well. We have decided to leave the wall as exposed stone so it will breathe better. It will be a great look for the kitchen as well.

The kitchen wall, partially exposed.


Meanwhile, on a most beautiful New Year’s Eve, with lots of sunshine, a grand south wind and temperatures in the 60s Fahrenheit, I found myself outside variously splitting logs, raking leaves and cleaning up outdoor debris. I had the time of my life! By evening the rain had returned in time for us to brave the horizontal rain going to friends’ New Years Eve Party. We partied and danced until the wee hours, returning to a well earned night’s sleep of recuperation. Well. I awoke the next morning to an angry back crying out its displeasure at having been so abused the previous day.

Tanja the washerwoman on her hands and knees.

This put me to bed for a few days as Tanja, bless her huge heart, completed the painting and cleaning of our bedroom apartment.

Needless to say, I have learned my lesson – again- my own winter’s tale. The good news is we move back into our own bedroom with our own bed tonight and I am almost back to normal. Tanja of course has been her usual loving self, withholding judgment at my antics and staying the course for us.

Happy New Year to all from your loving friends in the Aquitaine. We hope to see you soon!

Oh that Oleander!

It all started when Tanja and I decided to replace an oleander shrub in our front garden that barely survived the freeze. With two hearty shrubs on either side, lush roses nearby, and a looming deadline for photos for our website, we bought a new young oleander shrub from the local Jardiland. I figured I had a two hour job of removing the old one and replacing it with the new one. I was soon to be disabused of that notion.

It turns out that oleander have deep, deep roots, including a major taproot. So I dug and dug and dug, hauling out the pick, axe and maddock to try to pull this thing out. I also had an alarmingly real conversation with it, in which I apologized for depriving it of its current life for aesthetics’ sake. My spade hit and I removed many rocks and think chunks of clay, but none of the blue mesh that is supposed to warn of drainage or sewer pipes. Then – CHUNK! A different sound. Something shiney began to emerge as my heart sank. I had hit a sewer line barely 16 inches below the surface.

The hole

It appeared to be a new rift, but who knew in an incredibly old farm house? Because I had reached adequate depth for the new shrub, I considered my options. There was no sewage flowing out of it so perhaps it was not active and I had been spared an encounter with big stinky. Perhaps some duct tape would suffice. Or I could buy a piece of plastic and glue it shut. Somehow my better nature intervened and I decided to uncover as much as I could to determine the extent of the damage. So I dug and dug for several more hours. I determined there were several areas over a 25 cm swath that I had managed to tear with my tools. So much for the easy fix.

I held my breath as I asked Tanja to flush a toilet. I could hear water flowing somewhere deep inside the pipe, but no liquid. That could be a good sign.

Cut apart.

So I spent another few hours exposing as much of the pipe as possible and eventually cutting out a section of the bad pipe. I thought I was doing pretty well, but by then day 1 was over and we needed to get to bed.

Day 2 dawned, wet and rainy, and we went to several home building supply stores before we could find pipe of the right diameter, apparently rarely used anymore. So I bought two sleeves, a 4 meter length of pipe (!) and glue. Rain prevented anything else from happening that day.

On Day 3, I started early, hoping to get my two hour job completed post haste. However, the collars would not fit over the pipe or the insert. Too tight!

Sanding and filing

The guys working at our site gave me some sandpaper, and I spent the better part of Day 3 sanding and sanding, to little effect. This was beginning to get frustrating! they promised to bring heavy duty files the next day, which would be day 4!

The filing never worked, so I had to cut slits in each collar before adding the glue, making a huge mess, and eventually, after getting everyone into the act, joining all pieces together. I think there was more glue on us than on the pipe. And it dried immediately. The bond was not good, so we tied rope around it to hold it overnight as I peeled glue from my fingers.


Finally the pipe appeared to be stable enough to slop more glue on it for good measure, and eventually to fill in all the dirt, this time placing the blue mesh for the poor guy digging this plant out in the future, and getting the new oleander into its proper place, completely oblivious to the massive effort that went into its new home!

For my part, I suppose it was a teaching moment. Be careful when you wield a pick. Get used to everything in France taking at least three times as long as expected. Be grateful for empty sewer pipes. And, of course, be mindful and enjoy every moment that life brings…..

The new oleander among friends.

Moving One Pile of Rocks to an other Pile of Rocks

Last week I started Karschering (the french word for pressure washing.  Really!)  the stones around the pool.  Jerry, our everything-is-a-possibility-and-there-are-no-problems real estate agent, had assured us that the dingy looking tiles and stones around the pool needed a good karschering and everything will look as good as new. Well, the moment I started kashering tiles, tiles, rocks and even a snake started jumping and slithering around me. I channeled my inner Jerry: No problem, this is a great opportunity to actually enlarge the terrasse around the pool.  It was all a bit cramped anyway.  I am just going to break down the whole wall.   In this day and age who needs walls anyway.  I got the Kascherer out, I bought a sledge hammer.  Of I go.   One bit of the wall came out easily, the others didn’t.  They got stuck  between a rock and a hard place.  And did NOT go down easily.  At the end of the day Eric, the Dad of the our Lancester threesome, took one look at me being covered in debris and soaked to the bones. “You need my lads to help you tomorrow.  They have some heavy machinery and they will loosen those stones for you in no-time.  So that is what they did this morning. It still took a whole day to get that damned wall down and move them to an other pile.  At one point the wall looked like the mouth of giant with really bad teeth.  At the end of the day, the lads had to do a few more root canals and finally all the rocks where moved from one pile to an other.  Now what?  Don’t want to think about that.  I need a stiff Gin and Tonic first.


And today we have a three pronged technique

Tanja and I have been at La Busaneth for two weeks and we have been working on it every day. We have the salon painted, many rooms cleaned, the garden mowed and trimmed so it looks presentable, laundry sorted, washed, and back where it should be. We have been using the power sprayer on the stonework by the pool. But all that was pretty minimal compared with what happened today.

Today, Eric and his two sons, Nick and Mark, came to begin the more major work on the chambre d’amis. This is the small building by our pool that we have intended to use as a place for couples to stay, removed from the big house, with a bathroom, kitchenette and wood burner. Very romantic.

The chambre d’ami, before

So the threesome came to start the work, tearing out what is inside so we can start over. There was lots of banging and jack hammering, because the interior walls in France are made of building block. It took them all day, but they finally got all the stuff from that room, including the walls, out of the building and onto the back patio.

The offal from the chambre d’amis today

Such stuff you would not believe! they removed two tons of stone, concrete and tiles, as well as all the bathroom fixtures. They are now on the patio sorted for whatever awaits them in their next lives.

Except for one thing. There is a huge crack running down the back wall and down the floor of this building. The floor is not flat. We think it is from the two huge cypress trees that are immediately adjacent to it, with roots that probably have disturbed the foundation. So we are going back to the drawing board. When the guys return tomorrow, they will shore up the wall and fill in the floor. We will have to remove the two cypress trees that are damaging the foundation. And we will probably turn this into a simpler building, such as a game room for the kids.

The crack

Last week when we moved in we noticed lots of bee carcasses in our bedroom and we also saw lots of bees swarming around the roof of the main house in the vicinity of our bedroom. Concerned about a possible infestation, we called a new friend, David Evans, who among other things is an apiculteur and a member of the local beekeepers association. He came this morning, put on his regalia, and searched the suspect crawl space in the attic. Nothing! I am not sure which was stronger, my relief at there being nothing there or my embarrassment at calling him for nothing. At any rate, it was an adventure and we have made a new friend.

Meanwhile, Tanja decided to continue the power spraying of the pool stones. They were flying here and there as they were loosened by the spray, meaning they were not in there very well and will require a mason to repair properly. While she was spraying at one point there was a scream, causing all four of the rest of us to come hurrying out to see what was the problem. She had dislodged a meter-long snake from its lair, and it scurried over her feet into the surrounding hayfield. No harm done, just another reminder of whose place this is anyway.

Iris bed before weeding

I decided to tackle the iris bed in the back yard. It was totally overgrown with weeds, and as I discovered throughout the four hours it took me to clean it out, the weeds and irises had come to a state of symbiosis because they have been left to their own devices for the last several years. the weeds and the

Iris bed after weeding

irises were one! Not to mention all the escargot, sitting there, so happy in their lush terrain that had been untouched for many years, now to be cleaned up and made too dry for their comfortable habitation. I chose not to harvest them. Too much like eating Rover. You know, friend of the family and all. Anyway, four hours later found a much improved – to my mind if not to the snails – iris bed.