Housekeeping

Our Happy Home in the Afternoon Glow

The thing with old houses is, well, they’re old. Which is to say that they are in a perpetual state of falling apart. Our centuries-old tour is no exception to this rule. Add to this our ongoing mania for renovation and you end up with a fairly steady slate of housework. So, we’ve been busy over the winter: small jobs, big jobs, and everything in between. Here’s an update on all things La Tour Desnos – winter edition!

A Soggy Atelier

We get a fair amount of rain in Bretagne. And all of that water has to go somewhere. At times, it feels like all of that precipitation is channeled through our property. You may recall that last summer we had some work done on our sun terrace: closing off a stairway opening at the top; removal of raised planters along the periphery; and laying down a new coat of sealant; along with placement of some added steel structural supports in the ateliers underneath. We were hoping that this would make for nice and dry workshop spaces below. As you can see in the photo above, it did not go entirely to plan. Yes, the workshops are drier now, but we still have water ingress problems. I may have to wait a while longer before I start moving my workshop stuff out of the chapel and into the ateliers. No further progress yet, but we’re working on a Plan B. Or is it C? We’ll get back to you on this one.


One big-ish job we took on this winter was another push for progress in the office. This space was used by the former owners as a utility and storage room. And there was a small toilet room at the end. Last year we tore everything out, our contractor friends replastered the walls and ceiling, and our electrician put in new lighting, outlets and switches. I then built and installed a new office cabinet in one corner. Even with all of that, we still had the floor to deal with. It was, umnnn … not to our taste.


So, Cherie patiently waited for months while I screwed up the courage to tackle this beast. I finally realized that my courage was taking an extended vacation somewhere so I just went ahead and did it anyway. Trusty hammer-drill in hand (seriously, this had become my most useful power tool), I chiseled away at the concrete-set tiles while Cherie hauled bucketsful of rubble to the déchèterie (garbage dump). It made a godawful mess, but we finally got it all cleared out. We hired our builder buddies to lay down a level of screed because it was frankly much simpler to just have them do it.

All of the preparation completed, Cherie and I fitted and laid stone pavers (dallage), then finished the joints. I’d say it was easy – but it never seems to be. At least for us, anyway. Still, we’re happy with the result and it resulted in a big leap forward for this room. It also allowed us to start using the space for its intended purpose. After four years, Cherie finally had an office again. With a desk and everything! We may be slow, but we’re … just, slow. It’s a good thing we retired early.

The Red Menace

We finally got back to that stone wall which I had begun to pick away at a couple of years ago. You know, the one in the buanderie (utility room/passage). It used to be the south half of an old kitchen before we partitioned off a portion in order to create a guest bathroom. Now, it’s not so much a room as it is a wide-ish passage through to the rampart terrace. Anyway, there was one stone wall in this area that had remained exposed. Except that it was covered in patches of plaster and several different coats of paint. Red paint. Ugh! I had earlier been able to remove most of the offending paint and plaster, but then got distracted by other projects. Cherie, patient as ever, quietly waited, although I’m quite sure she was dying a little inside every time she walked by this ugly, half-finished mess.

Removing the Offending Cement Mortar

This would not do. After sighing and shaking my head a lot in despair, I reluctantly returned to my nemesis. Removing the remains of the paint and plaster, I then cleaned out the joints. We’d never done any repointing before. It was a bit daunting. But YouTube is my master. Several videos later, we went at it, methodically replacing the old cement pointing (bad, very bad) with the correct lime mortar. For those one or two of you who haven’t watched a lot of YouTube advice from experts on historic masonry, lime mortar was the traditional material of choice until Portland cement became readily available in the later 19th century and thereafter. But, whereas cement is much too impermeable, too hard and too inflexible for most traditional wall materials, lime mortar is softer, more flexible. And the lime allows the wall to “breathe”. Which is to say, it allows the stone to move and for water vapor which naturally collects in the stone to escape.


Cherie and I pointed away, listening to audiobooks of M.C. Beaton’s series of Agatha Raisin murder mysteries as we worked. We found a nice rhythm: I mixed buckets of mortar while she prepared things for a later lunch break; then we both worked away on the wall for a few hours; and finished for lunch. By then it would be time for Saxon’s 4 o’clock walk (he’s very insistent and punctual, you know). Cherie would take the dog out while I returned to the wall to finish off the now leather-hard joints with brushes. And so we went for a few days until we finally finished our very first repointing project. We’re quite proud of it, actually. And it’s really helped to bring space up a few notches. There is, obviously, more work to do in this area, but we cleared yet another major hurdle and feel pretty good about it. At some point, I will have to install a bench and some paneling. But that’s for another day. Or year. You can’t rush these things.

Death Trap

Let’s see. Oh, yes. In our little garage there is a large square recess [That’s a generous description; it’s really more of a hole, if I’m honest.] in the floor where the old oil tank filler cap and our main water shut-off valve are located. Don’t ask me why those two things are adjacent to each other. I have no idea. French building standards in the past were, well, more of a shoulder-shrug kind of thing than actual rules to be enforced. I’m happy to say that it’s much more strict and regulated now. At any rate, when we bought the house, this square aperture in the floor was covered by a very loosely connected collection of rotting boards that could be kindly described as a hatch cover. If you were less kindly-inclined, you might have called it a menace, an accident waiting to happen, a filthy mess – pick your poison.

Much Safer Now: The Garage Floor

After repeated forays through this mess of oil-soaked, rotting boards, I finally had had enough and decided to make a new one. We have the old oak floorboards that came out of the old bedroom which is now our kitchen. I scrounged and cleaned a few of these pieces to make a new cover with some handles I had hanging around to make it easier to lift off. It worked a treat. Now we can walk on top of it without fear of falling through into the hole. Life’s exciting enough as it is. As projects go, it was a small one. But it’s just one of those little quality-of-life things which is nice to cross off the ginormous list haunting my dreams.


Speaking of oil tanks, we found that we were able to make a change to our noisy, dirty, costly and all-around despised heating system. Neither we nor our suffering planet could take it any longer. So Cherie braved a bewildering web of French energy companies and government regulators to secure the installation of an air source heat pump heating system for our hot water and heating. First, we had our chaufferie (mechanical room) reduced and reconfigured by our go-to contractor guys, with a new slate roof over it and a gutter for good measure. Next, the old oil-fired boiler was taken out. And then our new heat pump was installed and hooked up to our existing piping system. The heat pump only took three days to install and it works quite nicely. We feel much better about it from an environmental point of view – even though a good portion of the electricity it uses is likely generated by nuclear energy. France has always been rather keen on nuclear power plants for generating the country’s electricity needs. We, however, are not. Nevertheless, the electricity route is much cleaner than oil and the system much more efficient, so we feel like we’ve made a positive stride toward reducing our carbon footprint.


The past months also found me addressing the gaping space left between our new stairs and the wall of the stairwell. I had long promised Cherie a paneled wall of cabinets to close off this gap. It was time to face the music, although I had come to feel that the project was beyond my skills. Despite my considerable misgivings, I began to work. It was a struggle. Truly, I had no idea what I was doing. But, in the end, I managed to work it out. Now we have some additional and much needed storage space, and the staircase feels more complete. Most importantly, Cherie is happy.

Almost Finished Coaster – Erase Those Pencil Marks, John!

From the big to the little projects. We had some stone dallage left over from the floor of the office. So, I made a thing. Three things, to be exact. Coasters. Some of the stone scraps were just big enough for some coasters, so I cut them into squares with the cutting wheel and then refined the final shapes and details with files. A few rubber dot pads on the bottoms and, voila! This was one of the more enjoyable projects I’ve done. And useful too. Stone makes for practical and handsome coasters.


Work in the jardin continues. Bit by bit. It’s still crude and entirely underwhelming. But I’ve managed to beat back the majority of jungle vegetation and establish a semblance of order. If I squint, I can convince myself that it’s an actual garden. Still, there are stacks of stones everywhere and piles of cuttings which still need to pass through the chipper. Essentially, I’m only trying to keep the jardin area reasonably civilized until such time as we are able to execute a new design for the area. Someday, we hope to create a parterre garden in the French style. But that will be a large undertaking in terms of both labor and money. It’s a few years away, I’m afraid. But something we definitely want to accomplish. For now, I keep the weeds down, try to maintain a basic shape to what we inherited from the previous owners, and prepare it for the work which we hope to do in the future.

Old and Knackered – Our Drippy Chimney

Finally, we had an unplanned repair. One evening, Cherie and I were sitting on the couch in the séjour and I suddenly felt something wet on my forehead. It was water. I looked up to see that another drip was accumulating on the beam in the ceiling above me. In a panic, a dozen scenarios flashed through my mind – all of them disturbingly disastrous and in brilliant ultra-high definition. After quickly moving the couch and placing a bucket underneath the drips, we raced about the house, checking all of the usual suspects (radiators, water lines, toilets, etc.) but everything looked solid. After that we realized that it was raining outside, and the wind was driving quite hard from an unusual direction. We decided that it had to be a leak in the roof. And so it was. Right along our chimney. The render had weakened and failed in several places. Not suddenly, but over time. However, the unusual wind direction had forced the rain into these areas, allowing the water to run down into the ceiling – and onto my head.

Climbing Mt. Desnos – Fearless Repair Work

Always on the lookout for services which we feel might come in handy at some point in the future, we had a year earlier taken a photo of a van which advertised their specialty in building repairs of areas which are particularly difficult to access. That’s us, we thought. That area of our roof is precipitously high. Quite beyond ladder access. And scaffolding up to that height would cost a fortune. The company we called came out and assessed the situation, using a drone which they used to view all around the chimney and roof. They agreed to tackle the job (unfortunately, not for free) and a crew of three men secured with climbing gear worked away at the repair for three days. They went about their work calmly and with a casual indifference to the circumstance I found amazing, suspended as they were at a death-defying distance above the ground. Then again, I am terrified of heights, so perhaps I’m not the best judge. They finished the job without any fuss and the repair has been successful. No more drips!

And now you’re up to date. We’ve accomplished a lot. But we have so much more to do. The list is almost infinitely long. There are days when I wake up, ready for action, but quickly become paralyzed by the sheer number of tasks that need doing. Cherie is much more methodical and she is undaunted by any job. But I am powered primarily by inspiration and I’m easily distracted. Like a young golden retriever. As you can see, I eventually summon the nerve to tackle these projects. At this point the significant interior jobs on the main floors are nearly at an end. The waves of dust, dirt and rubble inside the house are finally beginning to diminish. Thank goodness!

Parquet & Stone: Tasks Around the Tower

La Tour Desnos (or, formerly, Des Noë) At the Height of Its 19th Century Shoe Factory Phase

March in Bretagne. The weather has been all over the place: from snow and freezing temperatures, to beautiful sunshine and nearly t-shirt warmth and everything in between. France remains under various forms of curfew and/or confinement. In Fougères the pandemic has been less severe (thankfully) so the town is only under a curfew. Restaurants are only permitted to sell meals to take away. Still, all of the shops are open and movement is unrestricted. That is, until 6pm. One must have a valid reason for being out after 6. Luckily for us, it is allowed to take your dog for a walk during curfew. Vaccine administration continues to be fairly slow in France. We don’t expect to be eligible for a Covid-19 inoculation until at least May, if not later. So, we remain somewhat hunkered down, keeping mostly to ourselves.

Work on the house; walk the dog; shop for groceries; grab bread (and pastries) at the boulangerie: that’s pretty much the story of our existence at La Tour Desnos over the past few months. Not that we’re complaining. I mean, we’re still retired, still living in France, still healthy, and still in love. What more could we ask? Sure, it would be a nice bonus if we could travel a bit further afield, visit museums, eat at restaurants, etc. But those opportunities will return soon enough. And we are keenly aware of how fortunate we are. For now, we’re just happy to putter around the house, tackling one project at a time.

A Promise of Spring – Blooms Emerge Along Our Rampart Overlooking the Jardin

A couple of weeks ago we enjoyed a few days of really lovely weather. Sunny, warm, spring-like weather. I had been wanting to work in our garden on the east side of the tower for months. But other projects and poor weather had forestalled me. However, with the suddenly good weather, I couldn’t resist any longer and stole a pleasant couple of days chopping things down. First on my list were the hydrangeas of elephantine proportion. Cherie will tell you that hydrangeas are not one of my favorite plants. Apologies to all of you who love hydrangeas, but I am just not a fan. Messy, woody, monstrous bushes that are always threatening to take over the garden. I’m not even particularly enamored of the blooms. But Cherie likes them very much so they are staying for now. Somewhat earlier I had discovered our gardening shears, lopers and other tools that we had taken with us from Seattle. So I set about pruning (heavily) the several hydrangeas which had grown over the paths and were about to invade the rose bed. It was a lot of work, though. In the end, I’m not sure who won. Yes, the shrubs are now only a diminutive shadow of their formerly gargantuan proportions. But, against my better judgment, they lived to taunt me for another season. Moreover, my dodgy right elbow and shoulders were made even more dodgy and were aching mightily for days. We’ll call it a draw.

After the hydrangeas, I pruned the roses quite hard as well. Unlike the hydrangeas, this was done with love. The roses we inherited from the previous owners are really pretty, but they had become gangly, sparse and top-heavy. I honestly know very little when it comes to roses, but I’ve come to admire them very much and I’m determined to help them regain some of their former vitality. My mother, Carol, was a great lover of roses and she was quite accomplished in maintaining a pretty rose garden beside our family home. So, in a way, I want to pay tribute to her by remembering her through keeping some roses in bloom.

A Window Once Hidden – Work in the Jardin reveals a Buttress Wall

One bit of gardening led to another and, before I knew it, I was hacking down small trees and blackberry vines at the far end of the plot alongside the medieval rampart. We knew there was a sort of buttress wall at the end, but we really couldn’t see it very well. So, upon clearing out the tangle of vegetation there, I was surprised to discover a lovely stone wall with a window opening in it. Very cool! The wall is in serious need of repair and repointing, but it’s a nice addition to our jardin that we will be sure to feature prominently.

There is much more work in the garden that needs doing. But my body was complaining. Also, there were too many other projects inside the house that had priority. Reluctantly, I downed tools, vowing to return when and as I am able. I swear I could hear the hydrangeas whispering their revenge as I trudged wearily up the rampart stairs.

The Laundry Passage Floor Finished

The builders have been away from the tower for a couple of months. But Cherie and I have been busy with our own, smaller scale renovations. Previously (https://findingourfrance.blog/2021/01/04/minus-two/) I had noted that we were beginning to lay stone paving in what was previously the kitchen, now our buanderie (laundry room). I was pretty anxious about it. But I’m happy to report that the paving is now finished and it looks satisfyingly good. At least to our eyes. You can judge for yourselves. It’s been a good skill to add to our repertoire. Especially since we’ll have another opportunity to practice this art when we lay a new floor in Cherie’s new office. Stay tuned.

Spreading the Glue – the First Row Down, We Prepare for the Next

The great parquet order debacle having been resolved, we were finally able to get to grips with laying the floor in the séjour. You may remember that, last autumn, our builders had leveled the concrete floor and laid a layer of OSB on top. Getting a finished floor down was long overdue. As usual, I was very concerned about our ability to carry this out successfully. Sure, we had laid wooden plank flooring down in the master bedroom upstairs and it turned out well. But the séjour is far more complicated; the floor plan has a round end and none of the straight edges are square. Add to that the fireplace footprint jutting out from the wall at an odd angle, and I knew we were in for a complicated project.

Wrapping Around the Fireplace Hearth – Geometry Makes My Brain Hurt
A Bit of Versailles in Our Living Room – Job Done!
A Match Made in Heaven – Tile and Parquet Finally Meet

We really wanted wood parquet flooring in this room. Something with a bit more formality and a classic french look. We went with a pattern known as Versailles. It comes in 60cm x 60cm tongue and groove panels. Since we were already familiar with gluing, we stuck (ahem) with what we knew for this time. It was a tricky business and midway through we had to make a slight adjustment in alignment which caused us to have to trim several panels in order to correct the line – something I would highly discourage, by the way. As expected, the hardest part was fitting around the fireplace. It was a pretty fiddly operation. But we managed to get it down without screwing it up entirely. In fact, we’re very happy with the overall result and the sejour finally has a finished floor that we can be proud of. Phew!

Before – A Too-Short Kitchen Table
After – Our Table, All Grown up

A project I had been putting off for some time was to increase the height of our kitchen table. Now that I have a semblance of a workshop (temporarily housed in the “Chapel” one floor below), I felt that I could finally make a reasonable stab at this one. When we purchased this old French farm table, we knew that we wanted to make it counter-height. This was for two reasons: first, so that we could use the two chairs we brought from Seattle and, second, so that we could use it for additional counter space for cooking, baking, etc. The table wasn’t very expensive and, although technically an antique, not even a remotely rare piece. Still, I’m the first one to cry havoc when I see someone alter anything with age or beauty to it. The current vogue for “upscaling” perfectly sound antiques makes me mental. So, to all those who share this philosophy, know that everything I did to our table is reversible; it could be entirely restored to its original state with very little effort if so desired in the future. Anyway, the surgery was successful and I hope you’ll agree that the patient came through passably well, performing its new function as a kitchen island-slash-table in admirable fashion.

A Reconfigured Middle Drawer
The Completed Bathroom Vanity

Further procedures were performed on our guest bathroom vanity. I finally got around to reconfiguring the middle drawer in order to accommodate the sink drain. This former three-drawer commode has been heightened and now houses a bathroom sink, a marble top, a faucet and two functioning lower drawers. The top drawer front is now just for show due to the depth of the sink. None of this, you’ll note, is reversible. But, in my defense, and in a desperate attempt to evade cries of hypocrisy, I would add that this dresser was already a wreck when we found it. Neither was it a particularly notable nor well-made piece of furniture – even on its best day. Just one amongst the legions of relatively cheap reproduction pieces churned out between the 1920’s and 1960’s. My conscience is clear. Mostly.

Fancy-Schmancy – Our New Gilded Mirror

We found a new mirror for the petit-salon at the antique store just up the street. A big, heavy gilt frame, it’s uncharacteristically more elaborate than we normally go for. But, hey, we live in France now. This country virtually invented glitz. So why not go with the flow? At least a little bit. And, actually, we really like this mirror. It’s been a nice addition to the room and we’re happy to have stretched our decorative tastes. We have many more plans for this room, but they will have to wait until more pressing items have been addressed. For now, the petit-salon is in a reasonable state of completion and that’s good enough. I don’t know how much the mirror weighs – but it’s heavy enough. So much so that we thought it prudent to purchase special cleat hardware normally used for hanging cabinets. It might be overkill, but it’s reassuring to us and we don’t worry about a loud crash in the night.

And so, all of these relatively small projects have allowed us to feel more at home, more settled. Each completed task moves us just a little bit forward, toward the finished house we can envision so clearly in our minds. It also allows us to unpack another moving box, put away more household goods or display more of our beloved objets d’art. It’s been a long road – and we have much further to go – but we’re enjoying it immensely. And, we hope, you are finding some enjoyment in it too. For now, though, good health and happiness to you all. And enjoy this moment of zen we offer to you below. See you next post!

Our Daily Soundscape – the Bells of Église St. Sulpice Sounding the Hour and a Panorama of the South Ramparts of Fougères

Minus Two

Rime in the Jardin du Nançon

The New Year has begun at a low point. On the thermometer. In fact, two degrees below 0 (celsius). We awoke [Well, to be precise, only Saxon and I awoke; Cherie tends to sleep through such inconveniences as breakfasts and, umnn … mornings in general.] on the first day of 2021 to a very frosty but sunlit morning in Fougères. It was beautiful. Serene. Saxon and I took a bracing walk in the park below the tower, crunching through the crystalline grass. This weather made Saxon frisky and he was bounding around with the kind of pure joy only displayed by dogs, children, and a certain demographic of nerdy adults who have just found out that there will be a new season of Downton Abbey coming soon. I was just cold. Like, really cold. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but smile. It was that familiar “I can’t believe we’re actually living in France” feeling that continues to grip us on a regular basis. Pretty great. I don’t think we’ll ever truly get used to the fact that we live here.

Twinkly Lights on Rue Nationale

On New Year’s Eve we were treated to our next-door neighbors’ outdoor celebrations, consisting of very loud and frenetic music, combined with a barbecue (as one does in freezing weather) and fireworks. One of these light-filled celebrations – a large chinese lantern – caught my eye as it descended from their terrace above, wafting downward into our garden. But just as it was touching down, it began to gather heat and floated upward, lofting directly toward the roof of our upstairs neighbor’s apartment where it snagged onto her TV antenna and burst into flame. The Montgolfier brothers would have hung their heads in shame, but I was panicking as I watched what amounted to a large tube of paper with flames leaping out of it threaten to burn down our neighbor’s house. Since hers is directly on top – ours would likely be next. I stared helplessly at the conflagration lighting up the sky, praying that it wouldn’t spread to the roof while at the same time cursing our careless neighbors. Neighbors whom, incidentally, I could hear, whooping it up on the other side of the garden wall, apparently unknowing or uncaring that they may have started a house fire next door. Thankfully, the paper lantern burned out as quickly as it had started and the roof was none the worse for its close encounter with a firebomb.

This brief episode rattled me, though. How easily things can take a turn for the worse. How fragile are our lives and all that we depend upon. It seemed to me to be the disturbing but apt exclamation point on a year that has been so difficult for so many around the globe. My family had experienced several unfortunate events in 2020 – forest fires, impacts to business, illness (Covid-19 and others), injury, and even, most heartbreaking of all, death. Not to be too morose about it, but it’s been a pretty awful year on planet Earth. I hope you’ll all join us in resolving to make this year a better year for our neighbors, our countrymen, our fellow human beings everywhere, and our planet.

The Séjour Finally Taking Shape

So, what have we been up to? Why, working on our house, of course. What else would we be doing in the age of Covid? To be fair, even without a global pandemic, we would still be spending most of our energies (and money) working on the tower. But we would hopefully have engaged in more travel and sightseeing. Admittedly, the blog posts would be more varied and interesting too. At least with the beginning of the New Year, we can proudly say that the first phase of our major works has now been completed. All of the primary demolition, plumbing, electrics, build-outs, and plastering has been done. Which is not to say that our main living areas are looking nearly finished. There is still a lot of finish work to do – by us. Cherie and I are the finishing crew. And we are methodical. Deliberate? Careful? Perfectionists? Okay, we’re slow. But, in our defense, we don’t really know what we are doing. So each little project comes with its own, rather precipitous learning curve. At least we have positivity on our side. That’s all Cherie’s doing. She firmly believes we can do almost anything. I, on the other hand, am the voice of doom. I have no confidence in my ability to do anything well and I feel like most things are beyond my skill. Nevertheless, we soldier on. Between the two of us, we manage to get most tasks done. Eventually.

Out Go the Old Stairs
New and Improved – At Least We Think So

We replaced the stairs leading from the main floor to our master bedroom and we’re really happy with the results. A local menuisière (carpenter) and his team completed it in their shop over the summer and installed it in two days. Pretty impressive. When we first started this whole renovation thing we were hoping to continue the stairway down to the “Chapel” (the tower chamber below the main floor). But that will be another several thousand euros, so we’ll have to put that project on the back burner for now. Seriously, I may have to sell a few organs before we can get the chapel done.

Chapel Hole, the Remains of the Old Trap Door on the Floor Below
That’s Better!

For now, the chapel will serve as my temporary workshop. When we bought the tower, the floor of this chamber had quite a large trap door of wood in the center. We surmise that it was put in during the time the tower was part of a large shoe factory in the 19th and early 20th centuries. For what purpose, we have no idea. Somewhat ominously, the former owners had placed a sandwich of three large sheets of particle board on top of it. Something told us that we probably shouldn’t walk on it, lest we fall through to the room at the bottom of the tower. It turns out that we were right to be concerned. Our trusty builders, Kelson and Stuart, poked around a bit and found that the trap door was entirely rotten. They merely tapped it and the whole thing collapsed and crashed to the floor below. Needless to say, we spent the money to have them span the opening with concrete. A fine job they did, and now the floor is whole. Our electrician, Mark, routed some temporary power outlets as well, so now I am in the process of rearranging our many storage boxes (the majority of which contain books – Oh! How I miss my books!) so I can cobble together a functioning workshop.

The Petit-Salon: Still Unfinished, but Miles Closer
The Guest Bathroom: Now Fully Functional (Though Still a Work in Progress)
The Future Office, Featuring a “Beautiful” Floor – Yuck!
(To Be Removed/Replaced Later)

Back up in the main floor, the guys finished all of the electrics, plumbing and plastering for the entry, the petit salon, the laundry passage, the hallway, stairwell, and Cherie’s office. It was a long sequence of messes that kept us constantly cleaning. When we purchased the house, there was a door separating the séjour (living room) from the rest of the main floor. Unlike American houses, it’s very typical in French houses to have a door closing off a living room. I wanted to get rid of it right away. Wisely, Cherie thought we should keep it until the main construction was finished. She was right. It has sure helped to keep out the worst of the mess. Also the noise. We would seek refuge from the construction zone, all three of us huddling in our séjour and kitchen throughout the day. I’d say that we’ll look back on that time fondly some day. But I doubt it.

The Hallway, Ready and Waiting for Wallpaper
View of the Séjour from the Kitchen – Parquet Flooring Coming Soon
The Wrong Color Flooring, Ready for Exchange

There are still a couple of projects that we’ve attempted to get completed, but have been thwarted by some circumstances that we’ll just say are, different, here than we were accustomed to in the U.S. As you saw in an earlier post, we chiseled out all of the old tile and concrete screed underlaying it this summer. The builders then poured some self-leveling concrete and topped that with ABS chip board. Excitedly, we ordered new parquet flooring from a company near Lille in the north of France. Cherie and I plan to lay it ourselves. It took some time, but the pallet was finally delivered in September. We hauled it in, box by box, and then opened one up. Only to find that they sent the right parquet, but in the wrong finish. Ugh!

That’s when the Machiavellian maneuvering really began. The company offers two finishes: natural, and a darker tone they call “cognac”. Before we ordered we had confirmed with them that we wanted cognac. They of course assured us that they would send the cognac. What we got was natural. Well, we thought, a simple mistake. We’ll just email them and they will make it right. Not so. It took a couple of emails to even establish that we had actually ordered cognac. Once that was ironed out by sending them copies of our original order (surely, they must have their own copy, right?), they then tried to claim that there is virtually no difference between the natural and cognac finishes. Classic. We actually had to send them photos from their own website to prove that there is clearly quite an obvious difference between the two. After several more phone calls – a couple of which they simply abandoned because we do not speak perfect French, they agreed that they had made a mistake.

Then the negotiations as to how to get them to pick up the wrong flooring and deliver the correct order began. They simply could not conceive of completing both transactions at the same time. Pick up AND deliver? You mean, with the same truck? Bah non! Right. Reluctantly, we turned to our guardian angel, Kelson’s wife Patricia. She is French. She is a force of nature. And she is on a personal crusade to see justice done. Patricia is very kind and generous with her time. She also speaks English very well. We knew that, with her on the case, these guys from Lille would rue the day they messed with us. We’d seen her in action before. She’s frankly terrifying. Predictably, after a couple of phone calls, the company agreed to swap the merchandise and they set a date for the exchange. Amateurs. The arrangement was so carefully choreographed, you’d think we were exchanging spies with the Soviets on a lonely bridge in Budapest. Actually, it turns out that Patricia told the company representative that Cherie and I were attorneys and suggested that we were preparing a very expensive lawsuit. See? I told you. Terrifying. She’s the best. As far as we’re concerned, she has a lifetime of chocolates coming her way. We are happy to report that we finally received delivery of the correct flooring just before Christmas. Now all we have to do is install it.

Who Knew I Would Become a Stonecutter?
Dry-Fitting the Floor
Preparing to Bed the First Stone

But before we tackle that, we needed to get the stone flooring laid in our laundry passage. Just before Christmas, Mark laid the underfloor heating mat (electric) and secured it with a thin layer of latex. We wanted to protect the wires of the mat as soon as possible, so we’ve already begun to lay down the stone flooring. It’s the same stone we used in our guest and master bathrooms, but we paid another builder to do that. With funds getting low, we decided to save some cash and do this one ourselves. Armed with Cherie’s confidence, a grinder with a diamond wheel, a long level, some string, and copious amounts of tea, we embarked on our first attempt to lay stone flooring. Thus far, we’ve cut and dry-fitted the entire floor, and bedded in the first few stones. To us, it looks like a pretty good start. My habitual pessimism won’t allow me to claim victory yet. So I’m reserving judgment until the job is completed. We’ll let you know how it turns out.

Happy 50th!
A Very Cake-y Cake

Cherie had a special birthday this year. In December, she turned 50. Annoyingly, she doesn’t look anywhere near that age. We had been hoping to have a nice party to celebrate. But Covid laughed and said “no!”. So we baked her favorite cake (Germans’ chocolate cake) and ate it all. Don’t judge us.

The Bane of Bats Everywhere

A couple of weeks ago we had an interesting brush with a neighbor. We had just come in from our last dog-walk of the day. It was evening. Cherie was putting away Saxon’s leash and taking her coat off while I strode into the kitchen by way of the séjour. Suddenly, a large shadow momentarily dimmed the lights. I looked up just as a monstrous bat strafed over my head. I’m pretty sure I didn’t squeal like a little girl. Well, at least as far as you know. But I did raise my voice to a higher register as I loudly warned Cherie that a dragon was loose in the house. With immediate presence of mind, Cherie bravely closed the door to the séjour – locking me in with the beast. Right. It was just me and the shadowy monster now. Mano a guano. I donned some protective gear and grabbed the time-tested weapon beloved of husbands for time immemorial: a broom. The bat and I locked horns in a grim battle that seemed to last for hours [Editor’s note: It was ten minutes – tops.]. To be fair, the thing was huge. I’m not kidding. It’s wingspan was easily two feet (60 cm) wide. I don’t know how it got in. Probably the fireplace, but we also had an open vent hole in our pantry off the kitchen (which was duly closed up the next day). The bat was actually rather handsome. Cute, even, It would fly slowly around the room for a bit and then alight on a beam, looking down at me, the clueless idiot ineffectually holding a broom while assuring my wife that I had everything under control. I had opened all of the windows, thinking that the bat would be happy to escape into the night, away from the stupid human maniacally swinging a broom about the place. But he seemed to like it in our house, preferring to fly by the open windows and toy with my emotions. After a while, he tired of his amusement and let me off the hook, lazily flying out the window. No doubt he had other husbands to humiliate that night.

Christmas Lights Adorning Place Aristide Briand

Last, but not least, I should mention that we also spent our first Christmas in Fougères. To be sure, the pandemic had a significant effect on holiday celebrations and events in the old town this year. Nevertheless, the ville put on a brave face and decked the halls with all kinds of sparkly things. We found it to be quite pretty and we’ve been enjoying our evening walks with Saxon through the lighted streets. Like so many other places in the world, the shop and café owners were desperately trying to make up for lost trade. Despite the necessary restrictions and safeguards, there seemed to us to be quite a bit of shopping. The streets were fairly busy, especially on the weekends. And there was a definite air of good cheer and hope throughout the town. As for myself, I managed to consume at least one cup of vin chaud (hot mulled wine). Since moving to France, it has become a personal goal to drink vin chaud whenever I can get it. I’ll have to do much better next year. We enjoyed a quiet Christmas in our new home. Just the three of us, cozy in our half-finished 15th century tower, stuffing ourselves with Cherie’s legendary turkey, and trying to to think about the hundreds of tasks we’ve yet to finish. But, hey! We’re in France, right? Not a bad way to spend the holidays. We feel very fortunate indeed.

Santa rockin’ it Breton style!