Freedom & House Plans
Ever wondered how long you have to live in a house before you start thinking of house projects? I’m sure it’s different for everyone, depending on how naturally “handy” you are, and whether you’ve ever done anything of the sort before. But for us specifically it’s taken just around 2 years.
Yes, believe it or not we’ve now been in France over 2 years, and although we never expected to be spending most of that time stationary in a house, it just happens to have worked out that way. And for the next 6 months or so, unless the world suddenly changes course yet again, we’ll probably still be sitting right here. Who could’ve predicted that, eh?
Of course all this has caused a bit of an identity crisis for this nomadic-loving, world-traveling gal. Can you call yourself an RVer, if you don’t RV most of the time? And can you really be a homesteader if you just happen to be in that situation? Is it possible do both? These are deep & complex psychological issues, for those of us with ample quarantine time to ponder them, of course.
Either way, we’re going to remain home-bound for a while, and that means we’ve got lots of thoughts about home-bound stuff on the mind. Plans are a-hatching here at HQ, and not just for traveling…
The Big Re-Opening
So yes, tomorrow May 11th is the big day, the day that France re-opens for the first time after 2-months of hard lock-down. Whooo wheeee!
I’m excited for the newfound freedoms that we’ll gain, especially the 100km “green” circle where can drive anywhere we want without any kind of paperwork or justification. It’s 100km as the crow flies too, not just by road which means a fair distance further than you might expect. And in fine French fashion there’s a website for that now, a new “this is your 100 km circle” check, so there’s no question of where your limits might take you. From our little HQ base here in the SW, this means we have free rein right up to the Pyrénées mountains & the border with Spain & Andorra. It’s quite the circle.
Just look at all that space!!!!
Having been confined to a teeny little 1km radius over the past 8 weeks, I’m almost giddy with anticipation at this gigantic area. I imagine myself driving randomly down little one-lane French country roads for hours on end, windows down, hair loose (decidedly not a problem after months without a haircut), Jacques Brel blasting from the speakers (the master of romance, who else?), waving “bonjour” to every single stranger I meet. I mean why not, eh?
“Je vais aller jusqu’au but” I declared to my neighbor the other day “rien que pour le plaisir”
(I’m going right to the edge, just because I bleeding well can…well, said a smidgen more politely, in French)
Of course, in reality I’ll probably only make it an hour or so down our little curvy country roads before I get superbly car-sick and wonder what the hell I’m doing, but it’s nice to dream.
Plus admittedly I’m still cautious about all this. Although the numbers in our area look really good right now, as things open up and people start mingling again, a dreaded “second wave” of virus infections is a very high possibility. And we still don’t completely understand COVID-19. Why do some people get so much sicker than others? Is it just underlying health conditions? Or does genetic expression (particularly the ACE2 gene) have an impact? And why do some people, including children, have long-lasting effects after they recover? Nor do we have a solid treatment plan (although some drugs are showing promise), so there’s still many unanswered questions to close.
I may be going for longer drives (and certainly longer hikes) this coming week, but I still won’t be socializing or hanging around groups of people for a while. IMO this pandemic is far from over.
But We Can Hang For A While Like This
The good news is that we have this quarantine thing down pat now, so we can keep going the way we have for months on end, if we really need to.
You’ll be happy to know (I’m sure) that our egg problem was solved a few weeks back. After a chronic egg shortage early on in our quarantine (still a bit hit and miss in stores), thanks to local connections we’ve now got a solid supply from a gal in the village. Wheeee!
It’s actually quite the norm here in rural France to buy from your neighbor, so we’re simply late getting into the local vibe. For example you might get your eggs from Madame Crunch down the road, and your honey from Monsieur Abeille a few doors down. It’s the country way, and there’s not always money in it either. Folks exchange what they need, the way it’s been done for centuries.
So yes, we’ve now got a local egg lady, or as I now call her mon ange d’oeufs (my egg angel), and although we may not get exactly the same supply every week (it just depends on the hens, ya know), we do get a pretty steady, weekly delivery of super-fresh, super-awesome eggs. Between that and our local beef gal, our beekeeping neighbor, the winemaker down the road, and our local open-air market (still operating once per week, just with spaced-out stalls) we’ve got all our main food groups covered, and I frikkin’ LOVE it!
Nickel, as they say here (French slang for perfect)…!
As for the rest of the stuff we need I’ve finally, after weeks of experimenting with various “click and collect” supermarkets, found ONE place that actually delivers what I order. And like many things in life, it was simply a question of finding the right size.
You see France has a bunch of “chain” supermarkets, much like everywhere in the world. The “big boys” here are Carrefour, SuperU, Auchan, E.Leclerc, Casino and Intermarché.. Not all stores are in all parts of France, especially in the rural areas, plus they come in various sizes. So, for example in a small village you might have a Carrefour Express, which is basically a mini-supermarket much like a little corner store in the USA, whereas in a bigger area you might have a Supermarché, or even a Hypermarché. The latter, the “hyper” stores are the biggest of all (legally they have to be bigger than 2,500 m2 to get the designation) and they literally sell everything from food to gardening equipment & clothing, the Super Walmart of stores here in France if you will. And THAT apparently is where you want to go for your online shopping…..!
Several weeks back I discovered a Hyper Intermarché, a mere 1/2 hour from our house where I was able to order and pick-up the next day. To my surprise not only did the whole thing go smoothly, but I got almost everything I ordered (75 items out of 79) and it took less than 5 mins to pick-up. Plus I was able to repeat it all again the following week. This now means I can do all our regular shopping with minimal contact. Nickel!
Plus of course our little herb/veggie/fruit garden in coming along swimmingly, so in a few months we may be fully self-sufficient, at least as far as salad, Mirabelle plums & tomatoes go. Which begs the question. Can one live on salad, plums and tomatoes? Perhaps with wine and a few eggs thrown in? I guess we’ll find out!
So yeah, we can go on like this for a while….
And We Have House Plans
And yes, we have house plans…..major house plans.
During our forced stationary time, we’ve been getting more and more into house stuff and I’ve actually found it rather interesting, from a science point of view. The basic brick and mortar stuff is perhaps not the most riveting stuff (although there are lots of materials science advances, if you’re doing new house builds), but the energy saving & off-grid ideas are massively interesting. And personally, I think it’s the wave of the future.
If the #vanlife millenials ever get hold of this, we’ll be seeing bikini yoga poses in front of rain-collection buckets all over Instagram. IMO it’s just a question of time…
Here at HQ our latest challenge has been trying to find an alternative heating source for the house. You see dad’s been on propane since the house was renovated over ~14 years ago. It made sense at the time, but it’s now an non-grata fuel source, and is becoming prohibitively expensive. Prices have ramped sharply over the past years, and are only foretasted to go higher.
Thankfully there are lots of alternative fuel sources on the market these days which are both cheaper, and greener. So, a few months ago we launched a full comprehensive Wheelingit study, including a look at what we could do and how long it would take to “pay back” various options.
Geothermal was one of our first thoughts and the science behind it is sublime (free heating and cooling from the ground…yes please!), but it turns out we don’t have the right ground for it here in the SW. Not enough thermal conductivity based on minerals & density of the soil, apparently. Plus we’d need underfloor heating in the house to make the best use of it. That’s the kind of decision you need to make before you start a renovation, not years after a house is done.
Solar vacuum tube panels were another cool option we looked at. They work superbly well for hot-water needs, but don’t really address the radiator heating in the house. A nice solution, but not really enough bang-for-the-buck to make it worthwhile for us for now. Maybe down the line….
But wood pellets are a winner.
Not only does our area (Ariege/Haute Garonne) have a sustainable supply of wood pellets (making it a carbon neutral option), but it’s by far the cheapest form of energy on the market at the moment. Plus there’s currently a 30% incentive (tax break) to install the system in France.
On top of that it’s an easy retrofit into the house. All you need is sufficient storage space for your pellets (they do need a lot of space!), plus a new, efficient boiler and you’ve cut your bills by over 60% in one foul swoop. Sweet, nerdy success!!
The clincher came when we found “the guy” to do it. He’s a local Monsieur, very well-respected who has done multiple installations in our area. Plus he converted two of our neighbors who’ve both had superbly positive experiences with him. So a few months ago we met the man, liked him immediately and signed the contract, with plans for installation in late Spring/early Summer….which is now!
SO yes, a big house-change is coming, probably sometime this month or next and of course I’ll be documenting it on the blog. Not exactly RV-related content, but should fun anyway, right? Plus we do have some other plans in the boiler too….we’ll see how they pan out.
Happy Mothers Day Everyone!
That’s it from SW France for this week. Here’s wishing everyone a very Happy Mothers Day, both for those who were, those that are and those that are yet to be. Ours are all in heaven now, but still with us as in spirit as they’ll always be. Wherever yours are, make sure you think of them today.
Take care all. I’ll let you know how our big freedom week goes.
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