Saturday, 31 August 2019


It's been two months since I lasted posted on our barn conversion, at that stage we on a deadline to get some basics done (bathrooms especially) in anticipation of family arriving. Since that point work has been sluggish. There was a celebratory family holiday to enjoy in the Lot et Garonne as well as friends visiting us. France is 'en fête' during July and August with so much to see and do - more of that in my next post! We also realised we were worn out, more mentally than physically and just needed a break from large restoration projects - in the back of our minds was the realisation that just because the barn was nearly finished our work wasn't, we have the main house to tackle next. So it was a few easier weeks for us, I even managed some hammock time!

Kitchen in La Grange
Progress did continue though, finally the kitchen and dining area were completed. Regular readers may remember that we were aiming for a Mid Century Modern vibe to these areas and I think we're getting there, although I still have some furniture to source. Andrew has done a terrific job (as always) even when I go all designery on him, insisting that the oak work top wraps down each end of the units. And the large format tiling for the splash back meant nearly every one had to be cut, and not just simple vertical cuts but holes for sockets and around the hob upstand.

One of the reasons for the U shaped design was to take advantage of the view, I wanted guests to see across the valley while making breakfast. It's really hard to take a photograph as it's always bright so apologises for the poor quality, but it is followed by a close up so you can get feel for it.

View from the kitchen

Better photograph!
Originally we were going to have panels that matched the kitchen doors for the back of the peninsula but I changed my mind. I did think about painting a MCM design but really didn't have the time so I found some wallpaper that worked. It had a bit too much contrast with the wall tiles so I made up a paint wash and gave it a couple of coats to tone it down.

Originally the wallpaper was more intense in tone so I gave it a paint wash

Planning the ceiling lighting was quite tricky in the open plan space. We wanted to maintain the light and open feel to the room but also create three zones - kitchen, dining and relaxing. In the end we chose a selection of black wire shades, they complement but are different in each area. Over the dining table I managed to find a vintage suspension which works perfectly.

No escaping a napkin shot!
I've completed some upholstery projects and am particularly pleased with a pair of 1970's furry chairs a.k.a. the bunny ear chairs. No longer covered in a faux fur that sparked when you sat on them but a vintage style tweed.

We did a little more styling in the bedrooms although I'm still on the search for decorative items for the Phileas Fogg suite.

Bedroom of the Phileas Fogg suite

Exotic animal bedroom
Apart from some snagging jobs there are just two things to finish in the barn, the guard rail at the top of the stairs is just a temporary one and needs a permanent solution and we need to create a small terrace. Next year the barn will be a vacation rental and our guests will have full use of our park garden but we also want them to be able to enjoy their own space for that early morning coffee or evening apéro.

Thoughts have turned to the main house, we've drawn up the plans and have started to pack things away in anticipation of the 'move' into the barn and work starting. Meanwhile Andrew is getting back into the swing of things by creating a terrace overlooking the river. Everyone gravitates to this part of the garden so we thought it would be nice to create a proper seating area.

A before shot of the new terrace area

As always you can follow our progress, and life in France on Facebook. If your particular interest is French barns then why not join this group.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

A morning with Odette

Since way back I've had a fixation with travel writing. As soon as I'm through the book shop door I'm heading for the travel literature shelves. In charity shops and second hand book stores I'm searching for out of date prints I haven't read. I'm not a travel snob, oh no, I'll lap up the marshmallow offerings of Peter Mayle as well as the bitter chocolate, hard centred Devla Murphy and Jason Webster. I don't mind if it's the journey that's being written about or the overseas life being lived. I read them all. Andrew says "not another driving over squashed olives in Venezuela book again?"as a brown paper parcel comes through the post.

Sometimes I would stumble upon a subject that would lead me down an unexplored track. For a while it was any book written about the Santiago de Compestela pilgrimage (by sheer fluke our house is on the Rocamadour section of the route). I read books by people who had walked, cycled and taken a donkey on the path. While we were preparing for our three year sailing adventure my focus switched to boat journeys. Eric Newby through to Terry Darlington but a favourite was 'An Embarrassment of Mangoes' by Canadian author Ann Vanderhof. Here my two favourite subjects - travel and food - were combined. I was focussed, obsessively searching for food and travel writing. 'On Rue Tatin' by Susan Herrmann Lewis, anything by Elizabeth David of course and another favourite 'A Table in the Tarn' by Orlando Murrin.

I was envious of their experiences and even more so when they were taken into a neighbour's kitchen and shown how to make local dishes. I yearned for the day that I could live abroad and do the same. And finally this week I did.

Odette was one of the first people in our village of Corrèze that we met. We passed her house most mornings on our dog walk and she would always give us a wave. Conversations started slowly, mainly because our French was haltingly bad, first the weather, then how were renovations going. If I was alone she would always ask after Andrew. She gave us a jar of jam she had made, next some courgettes and as the season moved on there were sweet chestnuts. One day I was invited into her 'cave' to be given another pot of something delicious. I was in heaven! There were shelves of jars, some empty waiting to be filled and dozens more containing preserved vegetables. A small table covered in a colourful cloth stood in front of a large range. There were giant pans and pressure cookers. Tentatively I asked if she would show me how to make these preserved vegetables? When the produce was cheap she said she would.

My shopping list

Packed and ready to go
Last week I was given a shopping list and on Tuesday morning I walked up the hill to my initiation into French preserving methods. I'm a great jam and chutney maker but bottling (or canning as I think it is called in the U.S) is something I've never done.

The wary Minette
Minette the cat took flight to the top of a dresser and spent my lesson looking down at me. And well she might! I'm sorry to say I probably did nothing for the reputation of English women as cooks. I cut my courgettes too large and had no idea how to peel a raw tomato. I've only ever done it by the plunge into boiling/iced water method. Eventually I managed to do it Odette's way, you smooth the skin first with a firm grip, using the back of the knife blade, it then skins quite easily. I did gain back some points as I had managed to buy my unused jars for 50c each.

Ready to chop
It wasn't just a culinary lesson for me as the whole time I was speaking only French. I'm sure Odette must think my conversation a little odd as I plucked random subjects out of the air, ones I knew I could scrape some vocabulary together for.

I'm not sure I really got across how grateful I was for her time and patience. She is a generous lady in many ways and particularly to share her skills with me, a foreigner who doesn't always understand. As soon as I have a kitchen I will be undertaking more bottling and maybe one day will have a larder to rival Odette's. Meanwhile I have several jars of ratatouille, to be eaten in the winter as a reminder of summer days and an enjoyable morning spent with a new friend.

Want to know more about our life in Corrèze? Feel free to follow us  here .

Friday, 9 August 2019

Are we getting more French?

Andrew and I have just had a 10 minute rant because our little village supermarket is changing hours and will no longer be open on Monday morning. Neither is the boulangerie. Where am I expected to get our daily baguette from?!

For more about our daily life in Corrèze you can follow us here

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Well we didn't expect that!

An August Sunday morning in France. Weekend treat of croissants for breakfast and a discussion about what to do today. I wheedled a bit and managed to get Andrew to agree to a short drive over to Sarran where there was a vide grenier happening.

Not what I expected at a French vide grenier!
Now Sarran in 2016 had a population of 275 and I'm not sure that there has been much movement since then. It does however punch a little above its weight as in 1969 the Château de Bity was purchased by future President Jacques Chirac and his wife Bernadette, but nonetheless we are not talking about a grand metropolis. We arrived to organised parking, signs for the vide grenier, several coaches and rather surprisingly a large stage, sound system and huge screen - all a little odd.

Although there were probably about 30 stalls we didn't buy anything but as we were about to return to the car we saw a procession of American looking cowboys and red skirted ladies. Afraid of nothing we followed them. Sidling between the wall of the town hall and a large marquee we entered a large courtyard full of colour, music and half a dozen different languages.

Spanish guitarist tuning up

Waiting for his turn

Chinese dancer

The group 'Coros y Danzas de Granada' from Spain

France represented by L'école du Mont Gargan

The American Footworks Dance Company - Rocky Mountains, Idaho

The ensemble 'Miqesia' from Albania

I loved the Albanian music

Unbeknown to us the vide grenier was part of the 28th Festival de Sarran and today was the last day, a day of international dance and music from five nations. We settled down in a shady spot and enjoyed the spectacle. An unexpected Sunday treat!

As always if you want to see what else happens as we learn to live in France then you can follow us here on Facebook

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