June projects

Things are going relatively well. The landscaping got finished in early June and I even managed to sow some of it with grass and clover, which are coming up nicely.  For the tree nursery, I made a table for the seed trays and put up a shade so they wouldn’t have to be watered as much. Lots of seedlings popped up and I have loads of teeny tiny trees – so exciting! The only problem is that when I try to move one little tree from its seed tray to a slightly bigger pot, it dies. I’ve only got so many more goes before I run out of trees to try this on. But at least now I know those nitrogen fixing trees are easy to grow, so I can always try them again.

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Cute little trees – but how to pot them on without them dying?

The herbs I planted from seed are coming up nicely – some in trays and pots and others were sown straight into the bed. We should have a pretty good herb garden going soon.

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Basil seedlings in the foreground

One fine day we went up the mountain with Omar to check on his cows with him. It was beautiful up top and we enjoyed the views and the company.

 

The kitchen window is a project still in progress. It was scary at first taking rocks out but we got the hang of it and propped up everything above the hole. Then Dave read up on how to do it properly and decided to put in some supports above where the lintels would go. That was a great thing to do and made the job way easier. But as usual, what I thought would take a few days has gone on for weeks in amongst other jobs (and still isn’t finished!).

Dave prepped the four large wooden lintels until he was happy with their smooth, shiny, oiled finish. We took rocks out of the wall by chipping at the mortar and levering them out, trying to prop up the ones above that we wanted to keep in. Before the lintels could go in, the sides of the window they would rest on had to be built up. On one side that didn’t take too long, but the other side went on for days. Dave did most of it in the end, cutting rocks with a big angle grinder, finding other rocks to fit into the gaps on top.

Then when we had enough space to put in the two inside lintels, Dave and I measured them up and mortared them in place. After that, more rocks got taken out until there was enough space for the two outside lintels. Dave, Naomi and I measured them up then Dave went back to his desk job and left Naomi and I to put them in. This proved more difficult without the wooden chock we’d used to rest them on in the rest run. The outside one (which is slightly proud of the wall) kept falling out of its place and we had to cut little wedge rocks and balance the whole thing in there, mortar it in place and hope it didn’t move until the mortar set. It did slightly come away from the next lintel, leaving a small gap, but the lintels are all beautifully lined up, so I’m still happy with the outcome.

 

 

Once the weather warmed up in mid June, the garden started to take off. We had one week of summer weather and although it’s back to its misty, stormy ways, it’s not as cold any more. The tomatoes and pumpkins are growing by the day and there are more peas than I can eat. I’ve got parsnips, carrots, ocas, potatoes, beetroot and nasturtiums all going well. The broad beans have been unhappy again this year. Last year it was too dry and they got covered in ants farming aphids. This year has been too wet and they’ve got some kind of fungus and have made almost no pods. On the plus side, we harvested 50 bulbs of garlic, which are drying in the attic and planted that bed up with amaranths that I had been growing in trays ready to go straight in.

 

As well as my plants growing like mad, all the plants we’d rather not have around are growing like mad too. Omar and I have been clearing around the garden, shower platform, tent platform, greenhouse, paths, everywhere that was over-run. We are keeping on top of it but the buggers keep growing back. I left a few nice patches of bramble flowers though, because we might as well get some tasty blackberries out of the bastards.

For the summer solstice weekend, I went to the beach with friends Nik and Ellie. On the Saturday, Ellie and I went to a course about using wild plants for food and medicine, which was very interesting. We came away with new knowledge and enthusiasm as well as some jars of moisturizer and lip balm that we all made during the class. It was utterly exhausting learning new stuff in a new language though and by the end of the day when we drove to the beach, I was desperate to just sit and look at the sea. It didn’t disappoint. The long, sandy cove was almost empty of the day’s beach-goers by the time we got there and we sat and ate packed dinner and drank wine as the sun set. Then we set up our tents and crawled in under the moonlight. The next morning I got up before the sun and had the whole beach to myself for a sunrise swim, which was exactly what I needed. During the day it got busy but we enjoyed the sunshine and the waves before heading off to another beach in the evening to have dinner and pitch up with a view of the fading sky reflecting off the waves. It was a restorative weekend.

 

After that weekend I went to collect our new volunteer Naomi. She stayed for a week and was just brilliant. She helped me with the window, lots of pointing, weeding and we also built a bench. The bench is in the same rustic style as the one that was already at the house when we arrived, but it’s a more comfortable, stable, improved version made from salvaged wood. Lots of trees fell into the paths over winter, so there are stumps galore that were just perfect for our bench legs. And we found a big plank of wood rotting by a path in the village, so Naomi sanded that down and we chopped it in half to double it up for a comfy seat. The result is a good-looking bench of perfect height that’s very comfy to sit on and will never fall over (those tree stump legs make it very heavy indeed).

 

July arrived in style. I woke up to see clouds spilling in over the mountains from all sides but with blue skies above. The sun came up and shone on the tumbling mist, lit up the deep green canopy of the forest with its morning glow and brightened up the red roofs in the village. It was like a time-lapse video in a nature documentary. The weather has been warm lately but we’ve had a lot of cloud and thunderstorms. So even though it doesn’t particularly feel like summer and the farmers are grumbling because it’s not dry enough to cut the hay, I’m still delighting in being in such a wonderful part of the world.

-Anna

 

 

 

Mud mud mud

The hard work did continue! We got loads done with Conor and Elif who were volunteering with us for a week. We could hardly get them to stop working. Even when I had a horrible cold and took a day off one particularly miserable day, the rest of them carried on spritely as ever. One of the jobs me and Elif did was to put up a balcony railing around the neighbour’s balcony as a welcome home present for when they came back with their second baby. I think it turned out well and they seem happy with it too.

Tarje and Signe got back and we got to meet baby Liv who is very cute and has kept fairly quiet so far. Roar is going to be three years old in a few months and seems to be growing up by the day. It was lovely to welcome them back on a sunny day and all be together again.

The house has been slowly progressing. More pointing has been done, we insulated the tops of the stone walls and Dave finished the outside cladding and oiling of the pine. Dave and Omar have been continuing to sand all the old beams, which are looking lovely. We did have a slight set-back that involved oiling one of the beams, then Dave not liking how it looked and spending days sanding the oily bit back off. Those kind of things really frustrate me but I know that it’s his meticulousness that’s going to make our house extra special (if it can ever get finished).

The last two weeks have been pretty much endless rain and mist, I think everyone around here is sick of it. It’s June now, we expect a bit of sunshine! Yesterday we did have one glorious sunny day and set about continuing to do some landscaping below the house. The plan is to have a hang-out area for cooking and eating as well as a small tree nursery. I’ve ordered seeds so that I can start growing some permaculture plants and when our house is liveable and our land is ready to plant, the trees and bushes will be ready to go in! That’s the idea anyway, we’ll see how it works out. I can’t decide whether it’s more likely that they won’t germinate and I won’t have any plants, or that I’ll have loads of plants but the land won’t be ready for us to put them in. Bets anyone?

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Muddy landscaping

Dave and I managed to have a few days off here and there in between our hard work. One Sunday we went hiking up a gorge a little up the valley from us, which was a delightful way to spend a rare sunny day. And another Sunday we went to the spa with Jules and spent a few hours soaking our sore muscles and warming up in the sauna.

The garden has been growing like mad in this wet weather. The tomato seedlings aren’t very happy in the open-sided greenhouse because they’re damp in there, but generally most things are looking good. The wildlife watching has been great too – there are slow worms under every rock you pick up, bumblebees nesting in the ground below the long grass, butterflies flitting around, blue tits nesting in our front wall and blackbirds at home above a beam in the side of the house. We even saw the resident Iberian emerald lizard basking on an old rock wall one sunny day.

Some before and after pictures in the garden (only 2 or 3 weeks apart):

Some pictures from the garden:

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When the clouds clear and the sun comes out, it’s paradise

Unfortunately we discovered a leak in the new roof last weekend. We were up at the house looking at the roof, discussing how we were going to clad the tops of the inside walls and we saw some water seeping through into the pine cladding. Very demoralising. Now we have to wait for the rain to stop and the tiles to be dry before walking up there, taking some roof off and seeing what the problem is. Hopefully we will be doing that with the builder if he ever has time.

Today we’re back in the mist and mud but Sunday has come around again and we’re having a day off. I’ve had a tummy bug for the last few days and I think Dave is pretty knackered from hauling giant wet roof beams around to make raised beds in the garden.

Next week the landscaping will be done and we can get back to the house. The next phase should be good – we’re going to make one little window bigger, put cladding over the insulation and start preparing to lower the floor.

-Anna

Springtime

By mid April the slow retreat of winter was truly underway. We had ethereal misty mornings filled with bird song before the sun burned through the mist and bright emerging leaves dappled the light. The woods smell warm and damp. Wildflowers have been popping up everywhere – wild orchids in purple, little violets nestled in the grass, yellow petunias at the edges of the paths. Our little village was full of people. As well as the usual five of us, we had our two volunteers and also a family visit from Dave’s sister and nephew. We had a great time with them that included a trip to the beach, a walk, an outing to a market and taking them skiing for the first time!

Then I had a week in London and came back enthusiastic about doing some work in the Spring sunshine. Dave and our building helper Omar had spent the whole week I was away chipping out the final wall for repointing. It was almost ready when I got back. With Dave back at his computer working, Omar and I carried on with chipping then started mixing more mortar and filling the wall back up again.

The following week I worked pretty hard actually because our friend Jules was visiting. That meant three pairs of hands getting to work. We spent the week rebuilding a retaining wall below our field, repointing the house, clearing away and burning the small branches and brambles we’d cleared out between the trees in the field boundary. Then after a busy week of work we headed out for a weekend of socialising and I even went out clubbing in the city with some friends (that was a first here but won’t be the last!).

Our Danish neighbours have been away for a few weeks awaiting their second baby. She was more than a week overdue when we finally got news on the 9th May that she gave birth to a baby girl. We’re looking forward to having them back here again in a week or so.

At the moment we’ve got some more volunteers here, who are hard working and lovely. Dave has just finished his computer work too, so it’s all hands on deck with five of us. Chipping, repointing, sanding beams, insulating the tops of the walls, cutting back brambles and tending the garden. Long may the hard work last!

The puppies turned 1 year old on 10th May

-Anna

Long Winter Almost Over

That week of sunshine in February was glorious relief and although I’d planned to get lots done, I was so happy just basking that I did about as much as I would have if it had been raining. But we did finish a bit of wood cladding around one side of the roof, chopped a fair bit of firewood, did some pointing and went to the town hall to ask about getting an improved water supply to the village.

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Hazel catkins dancing in the sun

Then a flurry of snow came and the cloud, drizzle and wind came back. We had a nice day on the Sunday before our second anniversary when we walked along a lovely little river up on the mountain that meanders its way to a dead end and disappears into the ground.

At the house, I set about oiling the pine cladding on the outside of the new roof. I found linseed oil in the DIY shop and set about spraying and scrubbing my way around the house. It smells terrible to work with but once it’s on, the effect is rather lovely, giving the pine a richer, slightly golden look.

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Cladding over a hole in the side of the roof

The neighbours had a date to move into their house in early March so we were helping them with the final essentials then moving their stuff in with them. Tarje had hurt his knee and was hobbling across the field and back on crutches trying to do his fair share of the hauling. We got the stove connected to the chimney and moved the furniture into position and they were ready to go. Their first night in there was the windiest we’ve had up here and even down in the rental house we were kept awake by the howling, so I’m sure they didn’t sleep to the sound of the tarp on their roof flailing in the gale! But they survived that, so they’re off to a good start.

Our wood burning stove arrived and we enlisted the help of a few friends to try and bring it in. It has an integrated back-boiler and oven so it weighs 230kg all in. We took off doors and removed thermal bricks to lighten the load a little, screwed it back onto its pallet and set about inching our way over the field. It actually wasn’t too bad with four of us and we got it into the house in under an hour. Of course we don’t actually want it upstairs yet since we still have to lower the floor, so it’s sat in waiting in the basement.

Since the second week of March we’ve been busy actually. Some friends of friends are looking around the region for their own place and staying in their vans but we’ve been working together or chatting or out walking.

Last week our first workaway volunteers arrived, which I was very excited about. They’re absolutely lovely – a great introduction to hosting. We’ve been outside whilst the weather has been alright. We have fixed fences, moved scaffolding to put linseed oil on the pine, put broken tiles on muddy paths and repaired raised beds. Now it’s snowing again and it’s so cold! We have been doing a bit of pointing but it’s too chilly to spend more than an hour or two working, even inside the house. We’re back to digging out the tent and the greenhouse but have done a bit of sledging too!

Having people here has been great, especially whilst Dave has been working on the computer. They have motivated me to get out and do stuff, and of course more hands on deck is great for progress.

I noticed that after the three days of snow, one single day of sunshine was forecast. We’d been talking about going skiing locally all winter but hadn’t actually made it, so this was the perfect opportunity. Quentin and I headed out to the closest ski station, hired our kit, got a day pass and spent the day zooming around the little resort and sitting in the sun drinking beer and eating chips. Bliss!

At the house we have been pointing and starting to clear one of our overgrown field boundaries. We have now finished pointing one of the inside walls – hurrah! And the back wall isn’t too far off. In the field, we’ve been removing bramble, wild rose and bushy hawthorn to leave a neater hedge interspersed with pollarded ash, which we’re cutting for firewood. It looks a lot more manageable now and we’ve got a nice stash of wood drying for next winter.

We’re nearing the end of March now and it finally feels like spring is making a move. The fields are dotted with purple, yellow and white flowers and a few trees are starting to come out of hibernation. We’re getting a mixture of sun and rain with less and less snow and frost. It’s so nice to be able to sit and eat lunch outside again! The other evening we drove up to a viewpoint on the mountain with some wine and cheese and enjoyed the views at the end of a hard day’s work.

-Anna

The big melt

After all that snow, the weather turned and we had one day of beautiful sunshine to admire the glistening views before the clouds hunkered down and a warm front set about melting it all with rain. We escaped the worst of the initial melt by heading over to visit Richard and Suzanne in Cantabria for a few days and by the time we returned there were only remnants of snow around. Everything is now very very wet as the snowmelt and rain cascade down the fields and paths.

Dave enjoyed spending a day digging out little drainage channels all around the house and across the muddy paths in an attempt to make walking around slightly easier. It worked really well on the house, which had flooded again in the basement but now it seems to have dried out. The paths are harder to sort out and I think we’ll eventually have to dig proper drainage along all of them, but that’s a job for people who have a house to live in.

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Mud, mud, mud

I’ve spent five days pointing the house with Dave helping out when he’s not been working. I’m surprised how much I’ve got done actually and it has inspired me to crack on and finish the lot.

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The back wall has a large section finished

Occasionally to get away from the wall I’ve been collecting and chopping firewood from snow-toppled trees and branches. I’ve also been pottering in the garden a few times, seeing the peas, garlic and onions doing well in spite of the weather. I’ve also got a good pile of manure ready for spring thanks to some horses that escaped from somewhere and came to hang out in the garden for a few days.

We have spent some time doing a bit of project management because I’ve been watching Grand Designs and that seems to be a think worth spending time on. We’ve been thinking about our off-grid plumbing and electrics systems. In terms of where we are on the house, that means thinking about where plug sockets, light switches and light fittings are going to go. Dave had romantic ideas about hiding the wiring behind the pointing, wiggling wires between rocks and putting mortar on top, but it’s quite hard to find places where wires can fit. In the end we decided that most of the electrics will go on new bits of wall and in the mezzanine floor, which should be easier. And I’m determined to investigate getting a micro-hydro system to supplement the solar panels in winter when they generate the least.

Away from the house, last week I did my first English class at the local primary school. The kids already have proper classes with a proper teacher so this was more like extra curricular activities in English. There were about 25 kids aged 4 to 11. Getting them to do stuff was like trying to herd cats. Some of them were keen to learn, others not so much and of course it’s hard to do stuff to suit every age group. It was an interesting experience and it’s given me food for thought before the next one in two weeks.

So things are going pretty well at the moment, although the miserable weather has been getting me down. The last few days I have been taking a break from the dark house to go for walks in the woods and cook some good food. But this morning we woke to frosty ground from clear skies overnight and the sun has come up to reveal blue skies and snow-topped peaks, which is absolutely glorious.

-Anna

February Starts with Some Snow

On the first day of February, it snowed. We’ve had a few days of snow here and there so it was nothing unusual. We played outside with Charlie, frolicking and snowballing our way around. And whilst we were up at the house, Dave and I brushed off both the tents since Tarje and Signe are staying in another valley at the moment and can’t get up here in their van in the snow. That evening, I went up and did a second brushing because it was still snowing and we went to bed stress free as usual.
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Just a dusting at first

On the second day we woke up late and by the time we were going up to the house it was almost 10am. It had snowed a lot again in the night and we trekked up the hill to brush off the tents. We arrived at our tent to find it sagging under the weight but doing alright. I headed down to Tarje and Signe’s to find it in a sorry state. The flat top of the tent was so heavy with snow that half of the poles had buckled. I called Dave down and we were deciding what to do. It was still snowing, so getting some of the weight off would be important, but it’s so high and we couldn’t think of how to get snow off without adding more weight with a broom to brush it down. Dave started gently brushing a bit of snow off one of the sides with his hands, but as he touched it, the cascade of destruction rippled across the remaining half of the tent. The middle pole buckled, then the next, then the last. The force of the collapse made all the furniture piece through the fabric and there lay a huge pile of broken poles, shredded canvas and lots and lots of snow on top of all of their belongings. Shit. We felt really guilty. Looking back, I’m not sure what else we could have

realistically done. I kept thinking I should have gone inside to hold it up, but apart from the fact that I am not sure we could have unzipped the door without it collapsing, I don’t think it would have been a very safe idea.

So I headed down the hill and drove over to deliver the bad news and bring them back so that we could move all their stuff into their house, which was at least waterproof. When I told them what had happened, there was no gasping or questioning. Tarje said factually “Well I guess we’d better live in the house”. It’s quite spectacular how chilled out they are. We could all do with being a bit more like Tarje. They got themselves ready and off we went. We hiked up and we dug out the tent to retrieve their things and move them inside where we had to shake off the snow and leave it all to be sorted out another time. The tent wreckage got left on the platform for now and we all went down to our rental house for warm tea and lunch before I took them home.

On day three we woke up to find it had snowed less in the night and it melted a bit over the course of the day, which was a relief. We spent the day reading and eating and went over to Tarje and Signe’s for dinner, but by the time we were driving home at 11pm, it was snowing again and we skidded up the road to the car park and sloshed home to bed.

On day four I woke up to find Dave and Charlie gone and a huge dump of fresh snow outside. When I headed up towards the house, I found their footprints and met them on their way down from clearing the tent, which had taken poor Dave ages when he was supposed to be working. That day it stopped snowing a little but the whole area suffered a power cut, so we went up in the afternoon to try and clear the solar panels to at least have power up there. It was a tricky job getting on the roof and trying to clear them, and Dave only managed to uncover parts of some of the panels, so we didn’t get any power from them, but he did at least manage to charge the laptop off the batteries. By the time we went back home, it was almost the end of the day and the power came back on, which saved us a job eating several kilos of Brussels sprouts out of the freezer.

On day five we woke up to a load more snow and Dave headed off to the wifi place for work whilst I trekked up to the house with the puppy. It was quite something just getting up there! The snow in the track was up to my knees and I followed in Charlie’s tracks for an easier walk. The trees by the path were bowing or broken under the weight of the snow; hanging branches dangled and snapped bits of tree were strewn across the path. When we got up towards the house, the snow was up to my waist in places and Charlie had to bounce like a deer to get anywhere. She’s spring up to go forwards, then land and sink up to her tummy before springing up again. We made it up to the tent platform and I set about shovelling. The snow was thick and heavy, sticking to the shovel, making the tool twice as heavy as normal and half as effective. Every time I cleared a space on the platform, I’d have to brush snow down off the tent, which would fill the space and I’d clear it again. It took about an hour to clear the tent and I left the platform to do later because I needed some breakfast.

In the afternoon I decided we needed supplies. I’d been putting off shopping because of the snow but we hadn’t been to the supermarket since getting back from holiday and I was feeling the need to get out of the village. We borrowed some shovels from a neighbour and headed over to the car. We couldn’t actually see any of it, just a big white dome with a mound of snow blocking it in after the snow plough had been past. We spent about an hour digging it out and manoeuvring it out of the space. The road down had been ploughed but it had been snowing all day so it was a bit slippery and there was only a single track with huge snow banks on each side. It was a bit surreal getting to the bottom and driving along a snow-free road towards the snow-free city and being dressed in gaiters with a shovel in the boot. On my way back, I made my way slowly up the slushy tracks in the snow, skidding all the way. Finally at the top, someone was parked in the space I’d left behind, so I had to dig out a new one. Meanwhile Dave was digging out the tent platform that I hadn’t finished that morning. It was almost dark by the time the car was parked, the tent was cleared and we were walking to the rental house with the shopping, ready to go to bed.

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Spot the car!!

On day six, we woke up to no extra snow. Thank goodness for that! I went up to the house with Charlie to take some pictures. The path up there was alright because we’d been up and down every day and there is a hard packed snow trail now. But going into our field was another matter! The greenhouse had almost completely buried itself from shedding snow off the front and making a huge mound below. I could hardly move around – one leg would sink in all the way to my bum without my foot finding the ground, then I’d have to try and get the other leg ahead of it. When I finally got to the greenhouse, my pea seeds needed watering but all the taps were frozen.

It was quite nice walking around in the snow when it wasn’t snowing any more and I was feeling optimistic. But it’s snowing again now and the forecast is for it to carry on until Sunday! Watch this snowy space…

January snow and sun

We returned from a UK Christmas at the end of December with a renewed enthusiasm for everything that needed doing. We bought down-pipes for the gutters and put them together in a slightly temporary fashion to keep the water away from the house. I spent a week in the garden taking out old plants, building new raised beds, planting garlic and replanting good parsnips for seed. Dave cleared away some of the building site debris and pruned the gnarly old apple tree behind the house.

 

I decided to build a firewood store using some of the old roof beams. We have a bit of firewood kicking around but it’s all been outside getting wetter instead of drier. We had done the initial ground prep then one day Dave was working on his laptop and I decided to get on with it. I set the four posts in place, measured and cut more wood to make the top of the frame, put in cross-braces and added a waterproof roof with some old tiles on top. I was pretty pleased with it for a day’s work. It is sturdy and functional and I learned to use the circular saw in the process. That project made me decide that not only am I capable of building things, but I like it too, which has pleased me no end. Since we moved here, I’ve been enjoying the slow re-distribution of work from a relatively traditional division of labour to a more equal one. I’m getting better at building and fixing things whilst Dave is taking more responsibility around the house. It has definitely made me feel more independent.

We have started pointing the inside back wall (despite the fact that the side wall we started is less than half finished). One week whilst Dave was working, I did a bucket a day and saw slow but steady progress. Then Dave spent a few days on it and got a fair bit done. One afternoon, I went in and remarked ‘Oh – you’ve built up the apex’ and I think my flat tone gave away my wince of disappointment as I looked up at the very wonky bit of new wall. He’d been working so close to it that he’d matched it to the nearest stones (which stuck out a lot) rather than the overall aspect. He stepped back a bit and looked at it, acknowledging defeat ‘It looks rubbish doesn’t it. I’m going to have to do it again.’ I did protest, but not too much, because it was quite rubbish. And to his credit, he took a deep breath, tore it down and built it back up again and now it looks great.

The pointing was aided by the addition of four pairs of hands on our first group workday! It was great fun. Our friend Judy who runs a small hotel nearby had two volunteers staying and all three of them fancied coming out to see what we were up to and help out for a day. My friend San was also visiting at the time and so the six of us were up at the house enjoying a beautiful sunny day, great company and some good honest work. Ellie and I made a storage place for the old roof beams to stop them rotting on the ground, then carried the beams down where Judy pulled all the nails out before they went into position. Dave and Nick were busy pointing and San was sorting pruned bits of apple tree into firewood and kindling boxes. Then we had a sunny lunch break, looked around the village together, did a bit more pointing and everyone enjoyed chopping some firewood and having a go on the circular saw. Smiles all around and I hope we meet up again.

January was a mixed bag in terms of weather, but we’ve made the most of the sun and the snow. When we haven’t been working on the house, we’ve been out sledging or walking in our winter gear, then coming back to the rental house, lighting the fire and cooking up pies made with garden veggies.

At the end of January we went away to go on a biannual skiing trip to the Alps with my extended family. After a big dump of snow and closed pistes on the first day, we were delighted by perfect snow and glorious sunshine for the next five days. We skied, we drank, we danced and we chatted until we were all exhausted!

We came home to one last sunny day before lots of forecast snow and enjoyed being up at the house getting on with a few jobs and basking in our view, happy to be home again.

Anna

Solstice to solstice in the garden

On the longest day of the year, summer was just getting going and I was trying to get my greenhouse ready to plant. Dave had been away so I’d spent two weeks in the hottest weather we’ve had here dragging in chestnut posts, digging six post holes almost 1m deep, setting the posts in position and hammering rocks in to back-fill the holes. By the time he got back the structure was up and I was proud to have built something good on my own. Even Dave thought it looked well-constructed, which was praise indeed!

The tomatoes, peppers, chillies, physalis, tomatillos and aubergines went in the greenhouse and seemed happy in their new home. The pumpkins got planted out and we were harvesting spring veggies too. It hardly rained over the whole summer and autumn and I had to water a lot. The forests and fields managed to stay green, although there was much less grass than usual and the farmers had to buy in hay for their cows.

With all the dry weather, our water supply was going from a torrent to a trickle and at one point in October it stopped flowing. After being without water for a while, we got in touch with the town hall and they sent people up straight away to sort it out. The next day it started flowing again! It turned out that there was a leak in the pipe and the water just wasn’t getting to us, which was a relief. But the lack of rain has been an issue this year, the rivers and streams held out but only just.

When we started work on the roof in mid November, we’d had our first few days of winter rain and a couple of frosts. It was beautiful autumn weather, the hot low sun bringing out the colours in the forest as the leaves turned. Then it really started to rain and it just didn’t seem to stop! It rained and rained and the paths turned into rivers and the streams turned into torrents and weak section of stone walls have been tumbling down into paths. Up at our place, the barn has been leaking and the walls are starting to fall down. All around the house is mud, mud, mud. And our poor tent is still up because we haven’t got anywhere to put everything and it’s going green and mouldy, which is awful.

When it hasn’t been raining, it’s been snowing! This has been great fun and has made for even more dramatic views of the mountains.

Autumn and winter are a fruitful time for the garden. Even though I have almost never weeded, have sometimes forgotten to water and often neglected to harvest, the efforts early in the year have been paying off. Even the greenhouse is still going strong now – I’ve still been harvesting tomatoes, peppers, chillies and physalis, although the plants are definitely looking like they’ve had enough now that we’ve had a fair few frosts and it’s almost January!

Outside, there are lots of ocas to dig up, as well as sun chokes, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, red cabbage and romanesco cauliflower. Of course we’ve got a stash of pumpkins, carrots and beetroot too, so we’ve been eating lots of lovely winter soups, stews and currys. I’ll be planting garlic soon and the onions and winter cabbage that are already in the ground are looking like they’re happy to survive the winter.

It’s been great to learn what went well and what didn’t this year. I’m going to be more selective about what I grow next year and keep to a smaller, better managed area of the garden. The well-constructed beds produced a lot more food and required less watering. The star producer this year was the sun chokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes but bear zero resemblance) – I dug up one plant yesterday and harvested 4kg! They were really no effort at all, I just stuck little chunks of root in the ground and up they popped. They taste so good roasted. The ocas have been great too – they are also no effort to grow and produced well, although I think they would have done better if some stray horses hadn’t eaten all their leaves right before they put all that energy down into their tasty tubers! Maybe my smaller garden next year needs a fence…

The wild boar did come into the garden once, but they only dug up a tiny patch of bare ground where I’d already harvested. In the field they have been slightly more destructive, but the farmer is more annoyed about that than we are.

Dave thinks we shouldn’t keep a garden next year because it’s time consuming and we have so much other work to do. He does have a point… We still have to build the front wall of the house, make the entire inside floor lower, put in the mezzanine level, order and install the windows, do all the plumbing and electrics off-grid, build a bathroom wall and put in two custom staircases. And then we can start to fit the kitchen and bathroom. I’m tired just thinking about it!

Having said that, I’m still going to keep a garden next year, sorry Dave! It brings me so much joy, I don’t think I can let the seasons pass me by without planting any seeds.

And so today is the shortest day. The sun came up over the hill at two minutes to ten and it will go down at exactly 5pm. From tomorrow the days are getting longer and before I know it I’ll be planting again. Happy solstice everyone!

-Anna

The roof is on!

Having thought we’d have to put the roof works on pause until January, we had a few unexpected breaks in the rain and were able to progress a little.

The first job we wanted done was to get the second corner tiled so that we would only need one tarp to cover the unfinished bit. We were busy with that one morning – as usual Duran was on the roof and we would be passing him tiles as he needed them. If he ran out there would be cries of “TEJA!” and if you brought him an old one he didn’t like the look of, he’d say it was ugly and you’d have to go and find some pretty ones instead. If you brought one he took real dislike to he’d mutter to himself “this one is ugly like a demon”, but sometimes he’d use it anyway. I still haven’t worked out what makes an old tile pretty or ugly!

That day we did a bit but then over lunch when the boys were away it suddenly started raining and Dave and I clambered to get the tarps on as fast as possible, slipping and sliding on the tarp whilst the raindrops were soaking into the chipboard. A tiny bit of water came inside – nothing major, but it did put a halt to work that afternoon.

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Last corner done

We took advantage of our rain days to go and buy a new power tool – a reciprocating saw to do the round holes in the roof! It’s great and I’m sure it will be put to good use after the roof is done too.

Then a few days later the forecast was for a clear afternoon, so we started at 1pm and managed to get quite a bit done. Dave was going to be leaving for the UK the next day and we didn’t want to do the hole-cutting without him because he’s the only one with the accuracy and patience to cut them nicely! So he was busy all day prepping and chopping and keeping the rest of us in line. We got loads done and it went very well indeed. By the end of the day, we had the sun tunnel, Velux window and chimney all in place and even got a bit more tiling done too.

Once Dave had left, I spent the weekend harvesting and processing some garden veggies before starting up again on Monday morning with the promise of sunshine – finally! Having had a glorious Sunday as foretold, I was expecting to finish the roof on Monday. But we started under a blanket of cloud, spent the morning placing tiles in the drizzle and covered it up again to stop work at lunchtime because it was raining. It kept raining all afternoon and all night and the roads and paths became rivers once again. Ugh.

But today was good. After a misty start, the sun came out and we finished the top row of tiles with a beautiful view. All we had to do was place the final big tiles on the apex and we were done by midday! Then a neighbour came over with home made pizza and hot chocolate and we enjoyed a chat and some food before doing some finishing touches and cleaning up. And just like that, we have a waterproof roof – hurray! I won’t say that it’s finished exactly, there’s still quite a bit to do, especially inside, but the roof itself is on and the workmen are done so the rest is over to us…

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Waterproof roof

-Anna

The Roof

All summer and autumn I pestered the builders about the roof to no avail. So November came around and we found a house to rent in the village for the winter, which has made our lives so much more comfortable. Then out of the blue on the 12th of November, I got a text that said, “We start Tuesday”. And sure enough, on Tuesday morning at 9 o’clock sharp, they walked down the field to the back of the house, said hello and started taking tiles off the roof. Since then, we’ve been working non-stop when the sun has been shining and resting on our laurels when it’s been raining.

The first two weeks we had good weather – and it was exhausting! But with two paid workers, Dave and I and some help from our friend Jules, we got things done pretty quickly. The tiles came off, the slatted wood came off, then the old beams were removed and the shelf above the balcony came out. Before we knew it, two huge new beams were being installed on the front corners and it was time to put the whole thing back together again.

 

 

The two main sides of the roof were relatively simple and the new beams went in fast, getting chocked up or chiselled into the old side beams as required to make them all level. Then we put a huge new beam in at the front and replaced the shelf above the balcony.

 

Next up was the front part of the roof, which proved to be more difficult. This is where the old roof used to have a steep section then a less steep section to allow it to come out further than the side corners and shade the balcony whilst still lining up with the two sides. The builders were intent on having it all come down at one angle, but still have it line up with the sides and come out as far as before. Clearly this was a physical impossibility. Dave was away that day getting the MOT and the two builders called for ‘Grandad’ (a seasoned roofer) to come and help. This meant that I was alone on the roof with three Spanish builders trying to explain to them why the beams wouldn’t sit straight with each other. They didn’t get it. Instead, they kept trying ridiculous solutions that didn’t work, then scratching their heads and saying how strange this bit of roof was. [ARGH!]

After some time, they finally agreed on a solution so bizarre I couldn’t even explain it if I wanted to, but that involved re-chocking one entire side of completed roof and setting one of the front beams squint instead of square to the front of the house. “Yes I think that’s the best thing to do”, said Duran to the other two, “even though we’ve angered the blonde one.”

And so they went about putting the front beams on and I tried to shake off my anger and help because that would be the quickest way to find out whether it was going to work or not. As the afternoon wore on, we cut and placed beams and watched the front part of the roof take on its predicted Pringle-like form as the builders scratched their heads, at a loss as to how this could be happening. [Sigh]

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The problematic front of roof

The next day I was able to approach things more rationally and could see that the new front section did in fact give us more room inside whilst still providing the same amount of shade to the balcony. Most of the distortion was minimal and wouldn’t be visible in the end, so the only problem was that the last two beams at each end stuck up a lot more than the others, which looked rather odd. I suggested that they be chiselled into the big beam, the builders agreed and everyone was happy with the outcome. Phew.

The most boring part was doing the walls. On three sides, the stone walls had to be raised up around the joists to make the whole thing weather-tight. We spent a few days mixing lime mortar, hauling rocks and building up the walls.

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Building up stone walls between beams

After that, the next step was to add the ‘sandwich’. These are panels made of three stuck-together layers. The bottom layer is wood panelling, the middle layer is insulation, the top layer is chipboard. It’s fast to put on, gives you an instant finish inside and an outside surface that’s ready to tile. Ours has 8cm insulation instead of the typical 2 or 3, which will serve us well in summer and winter.

Nobody here seems to understand why we’re spending more than is typical here trying to insulate our roof properly. We keep getting asked why we’ve opted for such fat sandwich insulation, or for triple-glazed roof windows. To me it just seems obvious! An extra 800€ now (maybe 5% of the total cost) and we will have to chop less firewood every single year. Of course if you had a big house and all those numbers got doubled or tripled, that’s a different matter! But luckily we have a small house that we can afford to do well.

Once the sandwich was on, there was a gap in the apex to fill neatly with little bits of sandwich – that was a precision job for Dave that took all day. In the meantime, the builders were fitting the gutters and nailing down waterproof under-tile material called onduline. They got one side done before it started raining and we had to cover the roof in tarps and have a week off.

 

 

 

Just when I was marvelling at how fast things were going, it was time to fit the first Velux roof window. This was pretty much an all day job. It started with the builders doing it how they always do it, us looking at it and then deciding that wasn’t how we wanted it done. Dave was getting frustrated because he found their work style infuriating and couldn’t communicate with them. He kept getting the Velux booklet out and pointing at the instructions, to which Duran would say “That book is filled with a thousand lies”, or “Oh my god if he gets that booklet out again…!” Although this was all rather amusing, I was getting tired of Dave’s attitude and on top of that, our new window looked like shit. Over lunch, Dave and I agreed on what we wanted and decided we’d ask for it to be changed.

Thankfully Duran was receptive to our request and we all got on and fixed it together. It ended up looking fantastic and Dave and I were glowing with renewed confidence in our friendly builders and our own decision-making. Hopefully the window on the other side will go a bit quicker.

Once the window was in, we could glue down tiles down all around it. We have opted for new tiles underneath for easier and more waterproof construction, but old tiles on top so that the roof maintains its original rustic aesthetic. Having spent all that extra money on insulation, the builders were very confused about why we weren’t spending a tiny bit extra on more new tiles. But still, by the end of that day, the first of three sides was complete! Yay! Then we looked at the forecast and covered it all up for another week whilst we got our first snow of the season.

 

 

The snow melted and the sun came out and we went back to work getting the front waterproof. Guttering, onduline and tiles were installed and then two sides were complete.

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Lovely view

Now December has arrived and it has been raining a lot. By the look of the forecast, I think the roof is going to have stay covered in tarps until January, which is a shame because I think with two more days of work we could get it finished. Ah well, such is life – especially if you start work on your roof in mid-November!

-Anna