This is the school bus dropping the kids off at the end of the drive, taken a couple of weeks ago when the vines were still green.
Since then the weather has gone a bit colder and wetter, with some strong winds the last couple of days. However instead of feeling miserable, we are feeling great because Project Warm is moving along. The windows are starting to go in.
The old farmhouse has four window openings that are missing windows. The openings are about six foot by three and are made of old cut limestone but the only thing keeping out the weather was the old shutters. Kevin’s contribution to project warm was to block these with multi-layer insulating sheet and expanding foam. This has been great at cutting down the heat loss.
After spending Monday afternoon hanging out at Brico Depot because my bank won’t allow me to run a charge of a few thousand Euros against my debit card, we purchased a house load of windows and doors. [We were rescued by Michael volunteering to drive the 1hr40 with the cheque book.] Today five windows went in with the help of our friendly local carpenters Simon and Richard.
The new window on the North side has replaced a sheet of insulation and opened up the house. It’s arresting, you walkup the stairs and where there was a dark corridor with a billowing foil sheet you now see the unharvested cornfield, the harvested sorghum field and vines in the distance. And a neighbor out there, but I don’t know which one. The corn should be in by now but the man who rented that field this year is busy doing other stuff. The big winds will be knocking over the stalks. And the wild pigs will stumble across the food supply soon.
We’re only a fraction of the way there – five windows out of nineteen done, plus six doors to do – but it feels great when you are living in a cold house to feel things become less cold. It has a lot in common with feeling great because you’ve stopped banging your head against a wall. Our house isn’t warm and probably will never be warm in winter by US standards except for when we’re snuggling around the fireplace.
Cold is something that you adjust to. Our house is cooling as the nights get colder. Current daytime temperature in the Mess is 14 Celsius, which is about 57 Fahrenheit. This is a lot cooler than city houses have their thermostats set at, but it’s not that cold. This morning we had a visit from Didier, one of our farmer neighbors, and I mentioned the house temperature. He thought it wasn’t bad at all, just a normal house temperature for this time of year.
When we first came to France in February 2009 we arrived at a house that had not been heated all winter. There was snow on the ground and the stone walls were very cold. It took a couple of weeks of log fires to get some heat into them to get the ambient temperature up. That was a shock to us city folk used to Seattle’s constant indoor warmth. We learned that you needed to own slippers, that dressing gowns had a use beyond looking silly and that hot water bottles make bedtime glorious.
Our kids were the first to adjust. Otto was born without the ability to feel cold so he was running around outside in the snow in little clothing from day one. In time the adults adjusted too. We notice this when we get visitors from overseas that they need the portable electric radiator on max all day to get some warmth into their bedroom. We laugh at their sensitivity but that was us only a couple of years ago. It is good to stretch your perception of things, even something as simple as warmth, and our challenges are minor compared to a lot of country people.
I’ve spent a lot of my childhood in cold places, growing up in London in the 70s, living out on the farm in Surrey or hiking in Australia in winter but Jean is from San Diego. It doesn’t get cold there. Our winter arrival was a shock to her system and she has since developed a fanaticism for warm soft sweaters.
I don’t know how warm the house will be with the three elements of Project Warm completed (windows, fireplaces, attic insulation), but it will be warmer than it could have been. We’ll have to see just how much heat these stone walls radiate during the day. The house has some huge internal walls that would be great at smoothing out temperature changes but I have no experience as to how it will all go. If you combine improvements in temperature with the adjusting of the occupants I think we’ll be fine, although the new baby will not have a good heat regulation system. Still, babies have been living in this house for a couple of hundred years and it will be warmer than ever before.