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.

1 Mud

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