We’ve finally got a new worktop in the kitchen !

Now I know for some people this is no big deal but for me it’s one the most exciting things that’s happened for ages. (Apart from the roof but I’ll talk about that another time.)

Anyone’s who’s ever visited here will have noticed that there’s never ever anywhere to put things in our kitchen. Everything that arrives gets dumped on the table and before we eat, we’ve taken to simply pushing the mess over a bit to make the space to put a few plates. In the summer, space isn’t a problem because we have three huge tables outside on the terrace but in the winter everything has to come inside.

I’ve been meaning to make a work top and somewhere to store pots and pans for ages but I’ve always got something else more important to do. Well-meaning friends try to persuade me to go out and bu something but I just can’t do that. It’s not even the money, we’d just  never dream of just buying something – unless it’s for the computers or something that neither Fabrice nor I can make  ourselves.

I really do prefer things that have been home-made from recycled materials and we’re fortunate to live in a rural area where people share our frugal ethics. Since we started building the house our neighbours have been wonderful – helping us to source materials and bringing anything they’ve got or they can get that they think we might be able to use.

Our tribal dumping ground in the photo here is an area where we stock materials. It now looks pretty organised but when we first started building it was piled high with masses of reclaimed materials which have now found pride of place in the house. Now we’re looking for fittings for finishing the extension and this summer has been absolutely frenetic with ‘phone calls and lorries arriving with old baths, wood, tiles, bottles, windows, sinks, stone, chicken-wire and anything else you can imagine. Some of it gets passed on to other people who we know are looking for things but a lot of it gets arranged in lots to be used for building or for making things for the garden.

We  ask people to try not to bring  polystyrene or plastic or broken bottles  and over the years they’re getting better at knowing what we need  and what we  might find useful and it’s incredible how they often go out of their way to help us.

The conversations go something  like this. “My son knows a place where they’re pulling out a load of double glazed windows, there’s nothing wrong with them, it’s just that the electric shutters don’t work any more. The guy said they’d be skipped on Friday, if we get there fast he’ll let us have the lot for a fiver each.” The logistics of how to get there fast with a van or someone’s borrowed trailer are sorted out and off we go to collect the windows.(Merci Guy !)

To be honest if it weren’t for all the things that people give us, our house would have been a lot more expensive to build and we’d have spent an awful lot of time in DIY shops – not to mention the fact that it would be boring to have to choose what we wanted all the time instead of just doing what we can with what we’ve got. Sometimes things do look a bit weird to begin with but the finished result  is quirky and interesting and totally unique.

We’ve use almost all our old windows now for covering firewood, making cold frames, covering straw bales as temporary shelter for tender plants and we’ve used   them for making our greenhouse and even as windows when they’re good enough.

The new veranda is just second-hand windows we’ve been given and wood Fabrice cut from our land, topped by incredibly expensive hail-stone proof double layer plastic. We’ve   got seven second-hand double-glazed PVC French windows which we’ll use at the back   of the  house just to  the right of these windows and on the east side   of the  extension. I don’t really like plastic or PVC but we get a lot of storms here and I don’t intend replacing anything in my lifetime. We’ll paint the windows or do something to make them look OK and the fact that everything is recycled assuages my green conscience.

We’ve used all the stone that was easily accessible on our land, (Peak stone !) so we’ve asked neighbours to help us find more. They have come up trumps and sometimes even deliver it to us (Merci Christophe !) or  we go and get it ourselves.

We dump all the stones and rubble in front  of the house and when we’ve  taken the  best  bits out of it, (Including some roots and bulbs which have become beautiful plants !) what’s left  makes a solid base for the  roads we’ve  been  making for the past few  years.

Anyway, getting back to the kitchen worktop. A few weeks ago I bit the bullet and bought a worktop in a shop. (I bought three because I’ll need two more for the extension.) They’ve sat inside the front door doing nothing because we’ve been so busy.

We had a visitor here and after a week or so, he started to appreciate why we never had time to do anything about storage space in the kitchen, so he offered to make us something. On his next visit, he brought with him a couple of beautiful pieces of boxwood Buxus sempervirens which he used for the front legs of the table and of course, the rest of the bits he needed came from the dumping ground !

After he spent the day making it he had to go back to work at L’Ecocentre du Périgord, so I finished sanding it down and over the past week I’ve given it five coats of varnish and it’s now dry and ready for use. Thanks Yohan, you really are a star !

Notre système pour chauffer l’eau

The fireplace dries clothes, the cauldron heats the water and two radiators upstairs and we cook on here a lotComme promis, pour mes amis français qui ne peut pas lire mon blog, voici une description de notre système pour chauffer l’eau.

Chez nous, il y a une cuisinière, allumée en hiver pour faire la cuisine et elle chauffe toute la maison sans effort. Mais, la cuisinière ne chauffe pas l’eau – sauf en petite quantité. Donc la solution pour avoir l’eau chaude était de se servir la cheminée.

Nous avons décidé d’utiliser une cheminée ouverte. Je sais, je sais bien que ce ne pas trop efficace vis à vis d’autres systèmes, mais je l’adore. Nous l’utilisons pour l’élimination des déchets pour le séchage des bottes, chaussettes et champignons et pour faire la cuisine à notre façon. A coté du feu, nous pouvons faire toutes sortes de choses comme sculpter un morceau de bois ou nettoyer les chaussures sans se soucier de salir la maison est la communication est plus facile et beaucoup plus douce à côté d’un feu ouvert.
Nous avons construit la cheminée à une pente afin de conserver autant de chaleur que possible à l’intérieur du bâtiment. La cheminée chauffe le premier étage où je garde ma literie.

Dans le foyer au-dessus des flammes, il y a un récupérateur de chaleur qu’on appelle “Le chaudron magique” qui chauffe l’eau et deux radiateurs dans les salles de bains au premier étage. Les panneaux solaires sont sur le même circuit.

J’avais déjà un système très efficace que j’ai conçu au Royaume-Uni qui a utilisé du gaz, du bois et de l’énergie solaire pour chauffer l’eau et la maison, alors j’ai décidé d’utiliser un système pareille dans la nouvelle maison en France.

Voici une parti de plan de la conception du système rez de chaussé (12mx6m) indiquant l’emplacement de la cheminée au milieu de la maison, afin de minimiser la longueur des tuyaux qui vont aux salles de bains et aux radiateurs.

Le ballon d’eau chaude (à droit sans isolation, principalement en laine de chèvre) est placé derrière la cheminée dans une petite pièce que nous utilisons pour le séchage des vêtements mouillés, les graines et d’herbes. En place maintenant, il y a beaucoup de masse thermique autour le foyer de la cheminée (chauffée aussi par le soleil en hiver) et le récupérateur de chaleur en forme de chaudron.

  Voir les trous dans le chaudron (à droit sur le photo gauche) pour maximiser le contact avec la chaleur de la flamme. Le système fonctionne très bien.

Quand il fait trop chaud pour chauffer la maison, nous utilisons un petit poêle fusée (ou rocket stove) directement sous le chaudron pour éviter de chauffer le foyer et la maison reste fraîche.

Le poêle est alimentée soit avec du bois ou des rafles de maïs. Nous cultivons environ un hectare et demi de maïs chaque année et nous utilisons les grains de maïs pour l’alimentation des moutons, les chèvres et les poules.

Empty corn cobs for two showers from the rocket stoveUne fois les grains retirés de l’épi, nous avons des “déchets” que nous utilisons soit pour l’isolation ou comme source d’énergie. Les rafles de maïs sont parfaites pour un rocket stove, elles sont légers, propres et produisent beaucoup de chaleur. Heureusement, le bois et les rafles de mais sont les deux sources d’énergie en abondance chez nous.

Grâce au rocket stove, nous pouvons faire la cuisine ou faire des conserves pendant des heures avec peu d’énergie et chauffe l’eau en même temps.

Il y a donc trois façons de chauffer l’eau en utilisant ce système:

Reducing tomatoes on the rocket stove which also heats the hot water for a shower laterLes panneaux solaires, qui sont sur le même circuit que la chaudière arrière, préchauffent ou chauffent l’eau à partir de la fin du printemps, jusqu’en été et en automne.

Un feu “normal”, qui réchauffe aussi la maison, le foyer et nos cœurs, offre une fin appropriée à nos interminables paperasseries et remplace la télévision.

Le “Pocket Rocket, qui peut être poussé sous le chaudron pour chauffer l’eau rapidement ou nous pouvons l’utiliser avec une surface de cuisson avec la sortie de flamme dirigée vers le chaudron. Cela chauffe l’eau en même temps que nous cuisinons.

Les panneaux solaires qui préchauffe l’eau au printemps et en automne et nous fourni l’eau chaude durant les mois d’été. J’ai amené mes vieux panneaux solaires depuis le Royaume-Uni (La personne qui a acheté ma maison n’en voulais pas !) et nous les avons placés sur le terrain en plein sud, derrière la maison.

Comme le chaudron, les panneaux sont plus bas ici que le ballon d’eau, le système complet fonctionné par thermosiphon. Mais, placé sur le terrain les panneaux ont été trop vulnérables et et malheureusement ils ne sont pas esthétiques.

Donc, nous avons décidé de poser les nouveaux panneaux sur le toit de la véranda qui est en construction. Ils seront hors de vue et de danger aussi. Le toit de notre véranda est plus haut que le ballon et pour faire circuler l’eau il y a une petite pompe 12v alimenté par un panneaux photovoltaïques.

Nous utilisons environ 8m3 de bois chaque année pour chauffer 170m3, cuisiner et sécher le linge, teinter la laine et faire nos conserves. Nous achetons aussi deux bouteilles de gaz chaque année pour la cuisine.

Une fois que nous aurons terminé la véranda et la serre adossée, isolé la partie ouest de la maison et construit un poêle de masse “Rocket” pour chauffer l’atelier dans l’extension, nous devrions réduire considérablement cette consommation de bois.

Bientôt je vais commencer à faire le design du poêle de masse et cela prendra un certain temps pour la recherche et l’expérimentation.  Je vais prendre des photos de chaque étape de la conception et la construction et vous faire savoir comment ça se passe.

Decorating my new bedroom using ochres – work in progress

Details of the ochre painted wall We had a lovely sunny evening yesterday so I took some photos of the progress of my new bedroom with the sun streaming in from the west.
One of our pals gave me a hand to move furniture and paint the ceiling and we made quite a lot of progress in just a few hours.
I finished the ceiling and now I’ve started on the walls and I wanted to do something a bit dramatic/romantic.
The photo above shows the final colour up close. I used a light orange wash then dabbed and rubbed in a bright red ochre, then once it was dry dabbed again and rubbed in a very light golden yellow. The setting sun blasts into the room around the time I’m usually ready to go out (A rare occurrence.) or when I’m changing from really filthy clothes into clean ones – just the right time of the evening to change my mood.
One of neighbours gave us all these ochres and it’s great to be able to use them without having to spend a fortune.

Decorating using ochres and oxides

This is the new sitting area in the bedroom. It’s going to be a nice place to take my computer, make ‘phone calls and just sit around talking to pals and pampering myself after I’ve come out of the bath. (One of my New Year resolutions is to take more care of myself.)

The problem with the sitting room/kitchen in our house is that it’s a very public place and we get loads of visitors who just walk straight into the kitchen – the way the French do!

Walls decorated with three different coloured ochresThis is the evening light streaming in from the little window behind the bed. Grigri, Oscar’s cat is really enjoying the new place he’s found for his afternoon snooze.

I’ve still got a lot of finishing off to do but so far I like the colours as they are and I’ve started to hang up some of my favourite paintings and fiddle around with lighting.

This sort of thing is great fun compared to all the lifting and carrying we do when we’re building and to see a room taking shape is so rewarding. I’ll get this room’s bathroom sorted out too and that way I’ve my own private suite. (Ooh la la!)

Needless to say it was lovely weather today and I spent most of it outside planting shrubs and roses. I hope it rains soon to water my roses in and so that I can get on and finish the room.

Lots going on here!

The France Forum logoSome of you may have noticed that there’s a new Logo in my links section and that I haven’t been around for a while despite my new fast computer.

I’ve recently become a moderator for The France Forum – a new forum which I can recommend (of course!) to people thinking of moving to France, who have a holiday home in France or who already live in France. As well as the normal rôle of moderating, I’ll be adding my own thoughts and experiences on living in France, helping answer questions on French legislation and red tape, smallholding in France and of course all the other subjects which interest me. The forum has been “open for business” now for just ten days and we’ve attracted a lot of friendly and helpful people. So far, we’ve 476 members who have made a total of 9230 posts!

I’ve been so busy catching up with the cyberworld that I’ve been ignoring my blog and I’ve broke the promise I made to myself when I started it; that I’d post in it at least once a week. So I’ll get back on track I’ll do a quick update of what’s been happening here at Sourrou.

We’ve been in contact with Altess’ (Max’s girlfirend – see post below.) owner and she doesn’t know whether her bitch is pregnant or not. She’s not gained much weight and she’s eating normally but we’re still hoping…

Fabrice and I have swopped bedrooms. His is huge and still it was difficult to find a space to walk on with stepping on something suspicious. He’s taken mine over and I’ve cleared his out and started organising the storage space and lighting. I mentioned to a neighbour that I was going to do some decorating and he gave me a box full of Ochres and Oxides that he’d had stored in his barn for years.

Treasure! Jars of oxide and ochres found in a neighbour's barn and given to us.

I’ve started to paint the walls and it’s taking shape and it’s already become Saskia’s favourite room. I’ll post a few more photographs when I can.

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