NORTH STATE – The Great Northern Road Trip vol 2

Coucou!

Greetings from Finland. It’s been over two weeks since we arrived and I’ve got so much to tell you guys! About Rusty and how much he loves to roam my country, James and his ability to pick up our difficult language, the antics of my bonkers/brilliant family… and most of all – the continuation of our epic road trip.

camping joy

My mum had borrowed my uncle’s motorhome and on the day of our arrival, as soon as we had finished our brunch, it was time to head out, towards the North, all six of us: my mum, Vesa her partner, my younger sister Tanja in addition to the two of us and the dog. James has been to Finland quite a few times now, but had never been to the Arctic Circle and frankly, neither had I. As luck would have it, our journey was going to take us much further – deep into Lapland and the wilderness. I could hardly contain my excitement!

The plan was to cross the lake country and head towards the Eastern border. First we would see Olavinlinna castle and meet up with some friends of my ma, after which we would proceed Northbound, all the way to Savukoski some 600 kilometres further up the country. There we would stay in a traditional wooden cabin in the wilderness and slowly make our way back down South. As James was still in recovery we wanted to take it easy, stopping every once in a while to soak in the scenery, eat, and chill. It was agreed my mum and Vesa would do the driving as me and my sister held no licence and James was unable to operate a non-automatic vehicle. It took a few hours to get used to the sway of the motorhome on the byways and B-roads, but an emergency beer stabilised the matters faster than expected.

The scenery through Saimaa was so beautiful I could hardly breathe. We were bouncing on these squiggly little lanes sprawling high atop of sand dunes between a couple of hundred lakes and I had never been so optimistic about a holiday in my life. Once my mum stopped for a fag, I let Rusty out to have a run in the woods. He scurried up to the waterline and came back wet and happy. The non-drivers among us had a few more drinks as the night was drawing in – the beer was French, and we had Finnish charcuterie for tea.

Not a bad first night in a camper!

The second day we were all woken up before six when my mum started driving towards the civilisation, it was cold and she needed the loo. My breakfast came in a form of porridge at a roadside café – the rest opted for filled croissants an hour later and in a flash, we were back on the road, not stopping before Olavinlinna – an ancient fortress on water and an important military base of the Middle Ages guarding the border between Finland and Russia. James was not quite on his feet yet, but managed to have a little look of the castle walls and the surrounding park while I raided the gift shop. Unfortunately the fort itself was closed for visitors due to a private event… not that anyone besides from myself and James would have been too keen on taking the tour anyway.

kuutti statue at olavinlinna
olavinlinna castle in Finland and Saimaa lake boat

And we had a date with my mum’s friends in Kitee, a rural town where Marimekko used to sew their clothes. This family runs a small dairy farm just outside of town and offered us freshly baked rhubarb and sour cream tart, a sort of national delicacy and thick slices of oven baked pancake. We were kindly presented the usage of their summer cabin for the night, but decided to grunt on, eventually overnighting on a lovely campsite called Hyvärilä Holiday and Youth Centre with a beautiful modern Sauna and plenty of room for Rusty to roam.

red earth paint

I am not going to lie, travelling with family can be a bitch – trying to find a place to overnight was a lot more difficult this time around than anyone would have expected and tempers were running high. I quickly lost confidence in asserting my own opinion on anything after being ignored and overruled time after time, whereas James found all communication increasingly frustrating as I was too upset to translate the finer points of the squabbling that was going on. I think Tanja too was finding it all a bit much and only crawled down from her bed as we reached the campsite. After a soothing Sauna and a shower, my mum whipped us up an omelette each, accompanied by more charcuterie, crispy bacon and cherry tomatoes. Clean and fresh, belly full of good food, the quarrelling of the day was just a bad memory when we settled in our beds.

After a night of partial sleep, having had next to no sleep the night before, my mum woke me up at the crack of dawn, by giving me a ring, consequently waking up the whole camper. She was somewhere with the dog and needed me there right away. I was shattered and angry and more than a little bit cold, but she said there was something worth seeing for, waiting for me in the crisp morning dew.

early morning at the lake

So I threw on a shirt and went, not because I believed her, but to avoid another day’s bickering.

And I really do feel quite bad for being so patronising at first. What awaited me out there was the most breath-taking display, a glimpse of pure heaven that could have not waited.

I walked up to the nearby lake, right up to the waterline to meet my mum who was waiting for me with Rusty at the pier. The morning was silent, dead quiet in fact, and the sun was just beginning its trek across the pale sky. The night had been near freezing and the lake was shrouded in mist – something that happens when the water is warmer than the air. Tied onto the side of the jetty was a row-boat, brand new and decorated in carvings of acorns and oak leaves. It smelled of fresh wood, smoke and tar. The atmosphere was solemn and exquisite and full of expectation for the day to come and I will carry the mark of that early morning with me to my grave. I tried to tell her how much it meant to be there with her, but my mother simply shrugged it off. “You like taking pretty pictures and this felt like your sort of thing,” she replied.

my dog at the pier in Finland

lake and a pier in Finland

At the camper, the preparations for the day ahead were in full swing: the magic of the early dawn had evaporated with the morning mist and it was time to move ahead. I slept away my cold as the camper rolled on and did not get up until we stopped to pick up sustenance from a passing supermarket ahead of making the final trek for the cabin in Savukoski. The closer we got to the given address of this summer house, the smaller the roads grew, eventually reducing to a dirt track with tufts of grass between two tire marks. You know you are fully and utterly in the wilderness when the power lines terminate.

We had passed that point some time ago now.

It was late afternoon when the camper jerked to a halt and we all climbed out stretching our limbs, Rusty first and James last on his poorly leg and crutches. We were in a clearing surrounded by thick forest, by a slow moving river. It was trying to rain and there were ants absolutely everywhere. And not just any ants, those big biting bastards that aggressively climbed up your legs as soon as you dared to stand still for a split second. There was no running water to speak of, what you needed to wash yourself had to be carried up a steep set of steps from the river below, no electricity and an outhouse to do your business in.

steep steps leading up to a summer cabin

edf

With the exception of Vesa who, despite of looking like a true man of the woods, prefers the comforts of a town or a city, we all loved it unconditionally.

We merrily set out to carry water for the Sauna and lit fires around the house to banish the cold and the damp. Somewhere along the way my mum managed to murder an ant queen by lighting up the barbecue, and the angry ant minions pretty much confined us to the cabin for the rest of the evening. Not that anyone minded – by now the summerhouse was lovely and warm. Rusty had found himself an old ball and looked the happiest I have ever seen him, roaming free in the nearby woods and rolling in shrubs of blueberry and lingonberry.

As we slept, the temperature dropped below freezing. I woke up shivering cold just as it started to rain. James and I had opted for staying in the camper that might have been somewhat colder than the cabin, but at least we were finally alone. It was the morning of my 28th birthday.

Later, he stayed behind making puzzles when I took Tanja out canoeing. The river was cold, shallow and the water calm, allowing us to sit back and take in the glory of the wilderness. With that I mean… talk sisterly shit and drink beer. We had tried leaving Rusty behind in the cabin, but he must have slipped out of the door and followed us back to the river, swimming to a nearby island and crying out after us. We paddled over and the silly hound blatantly refused to get in the canoe, cutting the trip a bit short, but perhaps for the better as the rain was picking up again.

That night we ate spaghetti with basil and home-grown tomatoes that had travelled with us from France. My mum was heating up the Sauna while James had moved on to another puzzle, now with the picture of my childhood hero, an ice hockey player called Teemu Selänne, when I headed off to do a bit of running. It seemed like the perfect birthday treat, a bit of alone time, come hell or high water.  I managed to get lost in the very limited selection of paths out of the forest before making it out on to the open road. Feeling like an idiot for having to return to the cabin twice for instructions, I was running a lot faster than my usual pace, resulting in a new record time. Also, this was the first time I finished a 5km run without passing another living soul.

Once I returned back to the cottage I was met with the rest of the gang who, apart from James enjoying a glass of Henry Weston’s finest, was clutching a full pint of rose wine. I too drew myself some cider and took to the Sauna. This one had a traditional wood burning stove with a small boiler sitting atop its stones. In a modern Sauna you tend to have a shower at hand, but here you got your washing water by mixing the near boiling water heated up on the stove with the river cold stuff. Welcome to Finland – the non-tourist edition! As James was unable to descend the steep steps down to the river, Tanja joined me for a swim, but in the end I was the only one to make the full dip. The water was so cold it made my lungs tighten and the extremities of our bodies tingle and burn. Unusually, the river was deep at the shore side only, becoming shallower towards the middle and allowing you to walk the last steps to a small sandy verge sticking out from the water. I was completely naked, besides a pair of ill-fitting swimming slippers, in the cool evening breeze. If given a choice there and then, I would have happily stayed under those stars, on that sandy isle bank in the middle of nowhere until the rest of eternity.

I returned to the sauna out of breath, cold skin steaming in the hot air. We sat there, James and I, in the humid heat, surrounded by flickering candles and thought of ourselves very lucky.

Morning started slowly. It was hardly surprising as few members of our wee holiday party had a bit too much to drink and nobody seemed too keen on leaving. Rusty had loved it there, roaming the wilderness like he was born of it and claiming the forest as his own. But there was no other way around it: Tanja needed to be back in the city and my mum was determined to get her as close to home as possible. She took on the cleaning of the cabin as the rest of us awkwardly packed up and shuffled our feet, trying to stay out of her way and avoiding the biting ants.

Not a particularly pleasant end to an otherwise relaxing getaway, I thought.

James and I were under the impression we were to take the longer but faster route on the motorway heading down south, but somehow ended up bouncing down dirt tracks regardless, blindly and unyieldingly following the navigation app. I really could not see the sense behind this mindless rush to get to South just to get one person home-ish, passing monuments, lovely old villages and sights without a thought to spare. We hardly stopped to wee and had our tea at a traffic stop somewhere just on the Southern side of the Arctic Circle. Looked like my mum was determined to get to Toijala even if it killed her.

I was feeling down and disappointed, James confused and tired. In fact, we were all tired, especially the drivers Vesa and mum. We arrived in our destination close to three o’clock at night and had a short sleep before joining my uncle’s family for breakfast. They invited us for a barbecue including home-smoked salmon and a Sauna, after which we slept in the camper for another night before heading back to Forssa the next day. I cannot stress how lovely it was to relax with my extended family after the gruelling drive. My poor mum was barely able to see having stared at the road non-stop for over 14 hours and clearly needed that day off.

And frankly, without a little pause spent enjoying each other’s company again after all that mindless rushing, we probably would not be in speaking terms. But such is holidaymaking with family, I guess.

We saw so much of the country I love, almost too much for a short five day trip, but I am already yearning to get back on the road. Although, this time just the three of us: James, Rusty and I. Not that I hated going on an adventure with my mum and the gang either – it’s just that it has made me realise we have very different priorities when it comes to holidaymaking. I would have wanted to see more of the towns we drove through, the museums, galleries, parks and nature and not spend as much time on the road. At times it felt almost cruel to pass something interesting and not stop at least for a tiny peek. I know my mother was only trying to show us as much of the country as she could squeeze into a few short days and I really appreciate that. We all came back exhausted, but made some lovely memories along the way.

fields of gold

The million dollar question remains: would I go and hop on a camper with my mum and hit the road again? The answer is a sincere maybe – but only if we were to plan it a bit better, set more boundaries and discuss more about our expectations for the holiday. I appreciate my own space and my own company perhaps a bit more than the average person and that can make me a wee bit difficult to deal with sometimes. You do not need to have identical needs and likes to travel together, but ideally you are aware each individual’s expectations before heading head first into the unknown. I always knew there was going to be conflict when you shove five people into one tiny motorhome. There were no hard feelings at the end of our journey, but we all walked away needing a bit of alone time for sure.

Except the dog.

He needs constant fuss just like always. More is more.

But what I am trying to say is, do not let the fear of conflict stop you from experiencing new things. What’s the fun in a predictably comfortable existence? Think of Rusty who found and conquered a new forest, or the mist over a lake stretching for miles and miles. Next summer my ma is coming over to spend some time in France and I am going to have to improve my hosting game quite a bit to award her with the same sense of wonder this weird and fantastic road trip evoked in me.

Untill next time my lovelies – safe travels!

North State - The Great Northern Road Trip vol 1

NORTH STATE – The Great Northern Road Trip vol 1

Bonjour!

And greetings from Finland – my homeland.  This one is going to be the short but sweet story of our most recent road trip and spoiler alert: we made it in one piece.

route from Mazamet, France to Forssa, Finland

But oh boy was it a journey!

And not the first time we grunted it either – James has driven us to Finland once before.  That time, almost two years ago now, we took the longer route via Berlin, Olsztyn in Poland and the Baltic Countries, arriving in Helsinki two weeks before getting married near my old hometown on the New Year’s Eve.  That one set up a pretty high standard for all road trips to come!

The Scandinavian way is notably shorter, however, and as we are travelling with our dog Rusty, opting for the easier distance was a no-brainer.  He has never been to Finland before and we really wanted to take our little man on a holiday with us, even if it meant a gruelling drive across Europe.

I do not drive at all so it was up to James to get us to Finland safely.  Easier said than done, really, especially as he had broken his leg rather badly just seven weeks ago.  My dearest hubby did a smashing job though, sorting us out with an automatic vehicle, an ancient S-class Mercedes that turned out to be a fantastically comfortable ride despite of some operational issues, and by buying the pupper a sturdy travel harness.  Our Rusty is the most placid dog to ever travel in a car and would hardly need a harness to strap him down, but as they say… safety first!

sunrise in denmark

We took short brakes by the motorway to get some sleep and a spot of fodder here and there preferring to get to Finland as fast as possible.  In just a short weekend James had driven over two thousand kilometres and we arrived to the ferry port of Stockholm with time to spare.  Rusty had loved nothing more than snuggling up between us every night, even stealing my seat completely at one point, but I and James were pretty keen on getting some z’s on the proper beds on the boat.  Unfortunately, it was not going to be all smooth sailing…

When we arrived in out cabin on the boat taking us from Stockholm to Turku overnight, James’ leg was not looking good at all.  The on-board medics recommended an urgent visit to the nearest emergency room as soon as the ship had docked in the morning as he was clearly in a need of urgent care.  Although they let us drove our car out of the ferry ourselves, things were starting to feel pretty hairy.  To sum it all up, we were both scared the long drive had put James’ recovery in serious jeopardy.

Fortunately, there is a happy ending – the medical personnel in Turku hospital was fantastic in diagnosing and treating my most precious guy, and able to send us on our way within four hours from arrival.

rusty in his travelling harness

And this is where the first part of our road trip ends, in Forssa, at the breakfast table of my Mother who was anxious to receive us and had cooked for an army as usual.  Rusty is over the moon to be in Finland too, he loves his forests and lakes and there are plenty of both here.  Where he is enjoying running around like a headless chicken, surrounded by wilderness and its new smells, James and I are looking forward to a gentle, relaxing holiday – preferably without any further complications!

Finnish landscape

James always says Finland is like real life Center Parcs: everybody lives in a little wooden cottage in the forest and drinks are dirt expensive.  As a Finn, I can concur.  We have this whole theme park of a country to explore and I can’t wait to get started!

Until next time, au revoir!

Le Grand Balcon vol II

Bonjour mes amies!

We have really had it made this summer; the weather is amazing and there seems to be an event or a fête on every weekend around the Montagne Noire…  In short – la vie est belle!

Dry, warm conditions make the best renovating weather, if you are not too concerned about sweating like a sinner in church of course, and I have been trying to make the most of it all by painting random bits around the house, such as our back door.  This house sure has plenty of things that need doing up and ought to have a higher priority on my list of projects, but I have a habit of preferring to make small adjustments to the spaces we use the most instead of rushing face first into something big and scary like building a spanking new kitchen or plastering a few ceilings.  That way, I think, it all stays somewhat manageable and we do not lose faith half way through the renovations.

our balcony before

James was home for five-odd days and we had a smashing time watching the Tour de France, seeing friends and sipping copious quantities of rosè; generally talking bollocks and contemplating where to crack on next in this old house.  We have grand plans for our balcony and while the planning goes on, I have avoided doing too much painting or decorating on it in fear of wasting money and time, as practically every surface will be demolished when we start installing new windows, floor tiles and ceiling panels.  Among the many unsightly features of our terrace, a cinder block and concrete wall covering the whole left hand side will be taken down also, to expose the old granite topped half wall still situated behind the cinder block one.  I have personally waited to wish au revoir to this brutalist masterpiece since moving in: the uninspiring colour of its concrete render makes our otherwise lovely outdoor hangout feel a bit like a murky garage.  However, as we are waiting the window folk and a mason to come back with their quotes, it is looking like the works might not commence before next summer.

That would mean almost another year looking at that hideous wall.

And I did say we have had the perfect painting weather…

This little project falls bang in the middle of the small upgrades and little tweaks category – nothing life changing, nor really even permanent, but makes such a difference on how our balcony looks and feels.  I have so many tins of scrap-paint sitting around the house so the cost of this wee improvement was not going to be an issue either.  As we do spend most of our time sitting outside (not always with a glass of rosè though, sometimes we drink gin!) it felt appropriate to splurge a bit of paint on this particular detail that has been bothering me.

Consequently, having found the time from our busy social calendar (LOL, as if), I crabbed my rollers and got to work…

edf

After a coat of white primer, it was time to add colour!  I decided to mix up a light blue-y grey by using some white paint and leftover arty pigments.  This makeshift shade appeared almost as a bright tiffany blue at first but dried significantly lighter and murkier, just as I hoped it would, as in this context even a pastel blue would have been a bit too dazzling for me.  The grey with a speck of blue we ended up with is just perfect, making the space appear fresh and airy.  I was afraid it could all look a bit too “new” compared to the other well-weathered elements of the terrace, but fortunately the concrete render of the wall was so incredibly rough I had hard time getting most of it covered in paint, resulting in an impromptu distressed look.

Lucky me.

I will not be getting back the hour and a half I spend painting this due-to-be-demolished wall, but I see it as a worthy sacrifice.  The balcony looks hell nice and I can go back to enjoying my wine without any intruding thoughts of concrete clad multi-storey car parks.  Win-win altogether, or what do you think?

If you drop in, I will be on our terrace, writing my next blog about painting a tiled floor and raising a glass to all summer projects… Sante!

Tour de BLOODY France 2018

Coucou – ça va ?

We only had the Tour de BLOODY France pass through our little town, so I thought I would let you in on the ambiance.  I was a proper Tour de France virgin, having never even followed the competition on the telly before, and boy was it a blast!  When the Tour last passed Mazamet in 2007, the streets were full of people.  People love their road cycling here and it is the hometown of one of the most successful names of French cycling, Laurent Jalabert; needless to say, I had my hopes up for a great day!

The caravan was estimated to run through Mazamet from 2:30 onwards, followed by the leading riders and the Peloton around 4:15-4:30, giving us plenty of time to get settled.  As my darling James is currently still hobbling on crutches, we took seats in our local, Café de la Paix, with a view to a giant screen showing the race and ordered up a bottle of rosé to share between friends and family… and waited.

By the time the caravan floats started trickling through, I was full of wine and benevolence, ecstatic to be cheering and waving at the passing carnival among hordes of bouncy children trying to snatch freebies thrown from the passing vehicles, their parents wishing to sneak a picture of their favourite rider and everyone else in Mazamet.  I did observe some pretty unsavoury behaviour from a few adults, mainly frumpy middle aged men obsessed about snatching every single free promotional item thrown their way and not at all shy about tackling kids to get to them, but all in all, we had no problems finding places to observe the run through and enjoying the event.  We caught a lovely pack of laundry detergent, sweets, biscuits and a few hats that got either eaten fast or donated to the keenest participant, but sadly not a single shirt.  Debbie, from Debs World, did get herself photographed by the local press with her Tumba – Bloody – Rumba banner (made by yours truly), so it wasn’t all a waste.

cof

And yeah, I do appreciate the effort and training that is going into finishing a race like Tour de France, but damn… did I enjoy the floats or what!  The leading group whizzed by so fast you could have missed it if you blinked.  I could not believe the speed these guys were travelling, especially knowing they were about to approach the most gruelling part of the étape, the climb to the Pic de Nore, the highpoint of the Montagne Noire.  Peloton, the chasing pack if you will, was much more enjoyable to watch and akin to a flock of starlings or a school of fish for me in the way the riders rippled and moved as one unit. I could have stood there for hours admiring their efforts!

edf

Tour de France 2018 was truly a treat for me.  Although I am not the biggest fan of road cycling in the world, I loved the atmosphere of anticipation, the festive spirit that took over our little town, no matter how fleeting, and how excited we all were to welcome the Tour to Mazamet.  AND that chicken float!!!  That thing is my new spirit animal.

À bientôt! 

One door closes…

Salut! Ca va?

Greetings from the stormy Montagne Noire.  So far we have had a thunderstorm every night for almost a week now and frankly I am loving it.  Rusty the dog is not the biggest fan of thunder and lightning because it is very, very frightening, but my strawberries are sure loving life for the minute.  Hot days and rainy nights – that’s not half bad, really.  James has been away in the UK so I have had plenty of time to piss around in this great old house of ours and finish up a few bits and bops that have needed doing, such as treating every inch of wood with wood worm killer, waxing the parquet and painting random surfaces around the house, such as our back door.

 

Now you might think it doesn’t really matter what a back door looks like, but ours has been giving me some grief since we moved in.  First of all, it is pretty damn unattractive and second, it soaks up water, especially during our wet winters, swelling up and becoming increasingly difficult to open.  If the good old seventies shed-look wasn’t bad enough, there are random pins and nails sticking out of it, horrible scratch marks on both sides evidencing bad dog ownership by the past inhabitants, and to top it all off – most of the exterior side was covered in a sheet of fibreglass.

 

Yeah.  Fiberglass.

Tell me if I am wrong, but nothing quite screams derelict meth lab like a door boarded up with fibre glass.  Like a great big neon sign to the thieves and charlatans, it just screams THIS HOUSE IS EMPTY, THIS HOUSE IS ABANDONED.

Abandoned by good taste, anyway.

OK, overreactions aside, I was tired of looking at this ugly door, so went and took it off its hinges one afternoon, removed all the pins, straggly bits of insulation tape, as well as THE F*CKING FIBREGLASS and started prepping it up for a fresh coat of paint.  The door in question is heavily lacquered pine, which needed a thorough sanding to insure the best possible bond between the paint-to-be and the wood.  As the weather was superb, I was able to use my orbital sander in the garden, starting with a rough 80 grit sandpaper to get rid of as many dog scratches and bumps as possible, followed by a twirl with fine 120 grit to smoothen things out.  The old hardware was easily removed before sanding, but having rusted quite a bit, I gave both pieces a good wire brushing and a new lick of black paint.  Once I moved the door indoors, just as the first raindrops were starting to fall, I proceeded to tape out the little windows and priming both sides twice with scraps of white Dulux Bathroom Plus.

 

For once, choosing the colours was easy – we are bang on in the middle of Mazamets protected historic quartier that expands around 500 metres around the protestant temple in Rue Saint Jacques and were obligated to abide with the existing colours scheme for the exterior of the house.  Our front door and shutters used to be painted deep indigo blue, now faded to buggery, and it was my pleasure to start riving the exterior woodwork.  I am aware some owners of old and historic houses get all hot and bothered about needing to obey protection orders and regulations around listed houses, but this is what we bought into!  I love the historic charm of chez nous and I see protecting the original character of it as my duty.  To summarise, if you do not wish to adhere to regulation regarding a historic building, do not get involved with one.  As simple as.

 

Also – ignoring the fact how anything would have been an improvement to the old grandpa-shed-chic, I simply love a bit of indigo.

The interior side on the other hand called for something a bit more neutral as the corridor the door is located in can look incredibly dark.  I did not see a reason to cycle into the hardware store in the blazing sun just to paint one tiddly door, ooooh no way Josephine, so I looked through the tins of paint I had left over from previous projects and from that ever growing collection I picked up a can of Nuance multi support in light grey.  This one is a nifty little product and even if I would not run swapping all my usual oil based paints for water based multi support emulsions like this one, I have always found it silly easy to use, economic and durable.  This little tin of mere 500ml has got me through several other projects before, including re-painting a dining room table, several door frames and baseboards as well as waterproofing the inside rim of a rusty enamel bucket for the garden – so little of it does go a long way.  Almost worth getting off my backside to buy some more, but naaah.

1960's orange motobecane retro bisycle

Where it was too hot to cycle before, today the skies are weeping and the roads would be much too slippery for me on my beloved Motobecane… or so I tell myself while making another cup of tea to go with blogging.

All and all, it took two coats of each paint, Nuance grey and Dulux indigo, for an even coverage.  I was working with scraps, but roughly calculating how much paint I used, the overall cost of this project would have stayed well under 20 euros – which is not bad at all when compared to buying another door.  Painting one does not take too long at all, but waiting for the paint to dry… that’s a different story.  The hot, humid weather did not grant me any favours in that regard either, so I waited a minimum of 12 hours between each coat of oil based indigo and up to 2 hours between coats of emulsion.  Painting a door is still an easy little DIY project, even for an absolute beginner.  Ordinarily, being an experienced painter, the most difficult part for me is taking the thing like that off its hinges and fastening it all back up again.  This time, however, I was very fortunate, because the door would sit so close to the ground I could literally just prop it up against the wall and attached the hinges back on without needing to hold the heavy bugger up in the air.  In theory you can just as well paint a door in situ, but I think you get better results when laying an object like that on its back.

 

On the flip side, my first attempt in re-attaching the handles went tits up real fast as I did them the wrong way round preventing the door from closing.  In the rain.  But that little hick up was easily corrected and nothing was spoilt – except perhaps my image as a DIY goddess.

I am sure you, dear reader, won’t tell a soul.

In hindsight… and there seems to be a hindsight to each and every project I start, I should have perhaps thought about how to cover our garden entrance before taking this door of its hinges.  Well – c’es la vie!  Nothing spoilt.  Our garden is fenced and backing only into other peoples secure gardens so I felt comfortable just propping up another loose door (because who does not have a few pissing around in the house at any given time!?) and calling it a day.  Looks to me it did the trick, steering of rain, stray cats and flying ants for the few nights the real back door was drying in my atelier.

 

So what do you think?  Yay or Nay for this little painting project?

It feels a bit funny to be painting something having just spent literally weeks stripping paint from woodwork and restoring it to its original glory, but this is how the cooking crumbles chez moi.  There are some wood purists around and I could see how some of you out there would prefer the knotty pine look over smooth, painted one, but not all woodwork is created equal in my view; painting over a century old door with lovely patina and stunning wood grain feels somewhat worse of an idea than blending in a relatively contemporary addition.

Ultimately, the most important thing is that I love the new look.  Sans fibreglass, the house is looking immediately more up together from the back than it did before and the grey really lightens up our dark corridor.  Job well jobbed it is then – I would even pat myself in the back if I was not sitting down so comfortably.

Rainy day in Mazamet, Montagne Noire

I am off to explore the rain with my little lad, until next time – au revoir!  xxx

Woodwork – Stripping, Staining and Waxing Wood

Bonjour mes Chéries!

In this blog post I’ll be going over how to strip, stain and wax wooden surfaces so strap on – it’s about to get hot and sticky!

Recently I have been restoring  some antique cupboard doors, window pains and door frames that had been painted over several times in the past century, all situated in the spare bedroom of ours.  Although my project is quite specific, these techniques could just as well be adapted to restoring furniture or any other wooden surfaces including wood veneer.  Wood restoration is not at all as difficult as it sounds and there are loads of excellent resources available on YouTube, my personal favourite being Dashner Design & Restoration, to help you get started.  This lad does easy to follow, no-nonsense videos, mostly restoring mid-century furniture and I would definitely recommend a peek for a total novice before attempting your own DIY project.  Seeing how the magic happens does make it a lot easier to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on whatever products you may use.

Here’s a few images of what I had to work with: layers upon layers of paint, broken door panels and awkward corners, especially around the window that could not be lifted out of its frame without braking the pains.  Even after rudimentary paint removal, lots old varnish, specs of paint and general gunk remained on the wood.  To restore all of this woodwork I needed to get most of that out, repair broken pieces and completely refinish the lot.

 

 

Now then, let’s get stripping – grab your weapons:

  • A pair of sturdy gloves (mine are thick latex, as I found out white spirit eats through rubber)
  • Chemical paint stripper (I use an acetone based bad boy called Decapex, but a good “nontoxic” alternative is a product called Citristrip)
  • Brush (nothing too fancy, but nothing that would leave behind too much hair either)
  • Scrapers – good to have a few different sizes, but I’ve made do just with one.
  • Rags or sturdy paper towels
  • White Spirit
  • Wire brush
  • Steel wool
  • Sand paper (120 grit or finer if you are restoring furniture)
  • Tub/container (for the scrapings)
  • Stain of your liking (liquid or gel)
  • Wax, oil, varnish or polyurethane to finish.

Just to kick things off, I started my project by lifting as much paint as I could with a heat gun.  Cheating, you may say, but in my view this is the most efficient way to start the rodeo.  If you wish, paint stripper works just as well – it will, however, take quite a bit more time than removing just the paint residue and varnish.

How to apply the stripper varies a bit whether you use the standard or nontoxic product, so do read the instructions on your tin.  My method here is a pretty standard one:  Apply a generous layer of stripping agent on the piece you wish to clean and let it sit anywhere between 3 to 30 minutes.  (Citristrip – 30min to overnight)  Keep going over the surface with your brush to stop the goop from drying and keep applying more product as needed.  Needing to clear up mere residue, the Decapex took effect in around 10 minutes. You can actually feel the surface getting tacky when the paint is ready to come off although different types of paints react differently to the chemical stripping: you can expect bubbling, flaking or running where as heavy lacquer will change from clear to opaque or appear murky yellow in colour.

It is vital you take care of good ventilation or wear a respirator, unless you want to fly high as a kite for the rest of the day – or choose a nontoxic product.  Either-or, don’t take this warning too lightly as these chemicals are harmful.  And trust me here, I got my adult voice on.  When managed properly, acetone based strippers are perfectly safe to use, but not fun to breathe in.  Safety first, kiddos… safety first!

Now, where was I…

Once you think the stripper has done its duty, grab your scraper and with long, steady strokes get rid of as much stripper gunk as possible.  Use a wire brush to remove the build up from grooves and dips in the wood.  You can also try lifting stubborn spots with the aid of bit more stripper and brushing the whole area thoroughly, always going along the grain to avoid scratching the wood.  Follow up with a piece of steel wool generously doused in white spirit to get rid of the rest of the stripper and wipe the wood clean with a rag.  As you can see from the before and afters below, the effects of the stripper are pretty dramatic, just comparing the two panels, one stripped with just a heat gun and the other with the paint/varnish residue removed.  Some repairs were also in order, which I did having already used the paint stripper as dexapex also eats through glue.

 

As I am dealing with antique wood, I did not see a reason to get rid of every mote of paint or each miniscule stain – at the end of the day those are just additional character.  However, if you are going for a fully clean slate look, you might need to repeat the procedure before leaving the project to dry, overnight if possible.  Same attitude of preservation applies to sanding: sand too thoroughly and you erase all the lovely patina, sand naught and your stain may not absorb properly.  So be restrained, try sanding by hand if you’re not sure what to expect from an orbital sander and use a fine grit of 120 or higher.

When it comes to colouring wood, there are an array of stains nowadays, most commonly in either liquid or gel form.  I personally prefer a good old water soluble liquid stain as I feel using it gives me more control over the gel stains that you apply thickly on the surface, leave to sit and wipe off the excess with a rag or a paper towel.  Liquid stain can be applied with a sponge, rag or a brush and layering gives the colour its final depth.  You can mix and match hues with ease or stick with a pre-mix.  I wanted to replicate and existing tint and had to mix two different hues to achieve it, chêne dorée and teak.  In passing, I would absolutely recommend testing the colour on a scrap piece of wood before going whole hog at it, (YES, I learned this the hard way a few years ago!) and building up your colour with several thin coats until the desired depth is achieved.

Pro tip – gently moisten the surface you are staining with a damp cloth for extra even stain, especially if you are using the gel variety.  Also, glove up – as you can see above, I had a little puncture in my rubber ones and had to live with horror fingers for a whole week.  Not my most flattering manicure, but admittedly, not the worst I’ve ever had either!

This deep golden hue I went for is as close as I could get to the original finish on these old oak cupboard doors.  The window pane, also oak and the second original element remaining in this room from the early 1900’s, would have had a similar colouring.  The door frame with its lovely panelled door are made of pine and much newer, but I chose to blend them in with the older woodwork.  I could have spared myself the effort of stripping out the fire place mantel as it was in pretty good nick, but as neither I nor my husband were too keen on the dark mahogany finish it made sense to refinish it to match the rest of the woodwork.

Unless you are using an oil based stain, a coloured wax or polyurethane, standard water soluble stain should take about an hour to four hours to dry thoroughly, after which you are ready to apply your chosen finish.  And please do, stain itself does very little beyond colouring the wood – without a protective finish the newly cleaned surface is easily scraped, damaged by moisture and collects dust like crazy.  I can’t stress this enough – not top coating your stained wood is like leaving the house in the winter without your shoes on.  Or driving around in the rain with the boot open.  Just don’t do it, OK – nothing stinks like cheap DIY to me than non-finished woodwork!  Personally, I prefer wax.  It has got a nice little sheen about it and it is easily applied.  If you prefer a high gloss finish, I would recommend an oil based varnish over polyurethane, but that is just my preference as a die-hard traditionalist.  Either does the job and protects your wood for years to come.

 

In preparation for the wax, lightly sand the piece, again with a high grit sandpaper and a feather light touch.  The product can be applied with a smooth brush, foam brush or a rag and takes around an hour to dry between each coat.  Once you are happy with the build-up, leave your project to sit for a few more hours, ideally overnight and buff all over with cloth.  My chosen product this time was Liberon’s antique style black bison clear wax that was a delight to apply.  You will need to clean your tools with white spirit, but that’s the only hassle with waxing, compared to heavier treatments like varnish or polyurethane that stick like shit to a blanket and take years to clean from the equipment.

 

So there you have it.  Don’t forget to treat yourself to a few videos on You Tube about wood finishing, it is not only incredibly relaxing, but makes it a lot easier to visualise each step I have just outlined.  Although this gargantuan effort of refinishing every single wooden surface of our spare room turned out pretty damn well, in hind sight, I would absolutely have done it before painting the walls and the panelling.  Uups.  What can I say – live and learn.  I suppose we had no intention of going this far with our little renovation project, after all, it was supposed to be a cheap and cheerful makeover before my mum arrived on her holidays in the beginning of last June.  Another uuuups.

C’est la vie!

I am a perfectionist, there are no doubts about that, and it feels pretty nice to do something properly in this old house of mine. And hold your horses – these are indeed the finishing touches before I finally get to crack on with that ghastly tiled floor!  I have waited a long time for this and nothing in the realms of gods and men can stop me now!

Let me know how you get on with your DIY projects.

Until next time, à tout à l’heure ! xxx

Le Petit Jardin vol. II

Salut from scorching hot Mazamet!  As the mercury climbs all the way up to the thirties, certain things get rather difficult to bear – such as maintaining a healthy work/life balance, any type of cooking what so ever… and pants.  Taking care of even the tiniest of gardens, too, changes from a simple pleasure to something akin to torture under the merciless blaze of our nearest star.  Even the poor dog is tired, but joins me regardless on my daily rounds of watering and weeding.  It can be hard work, especially for a townie like me, but each time a nail brakes or when I am slugging my two watering cans back to the patch from our back kitchen, our nearest water point, I feel a certain satisfaction examining this little patch of un-barrenness in bloom.

A month or so ago I planted wisteria with my mother as well as two different types of grapes to slowly start training them up the cast iron framework covering most of the footprint of this little yard, adding shade to our small oasis, and keeping us cool on summers to come.  She is one of those people who can make anything grow, my mother, and she doesn’t mind sharing her green thumbs either.  It was on her urging we got around sorting out the space and thus managed to restore some order to the garden that was left to grow wild when we departed to England last October.  On her orders I was spreading fresh compost, clearing out space for new plants as well as tidying up the roses while she was potting up a bit of dill, runner beans, Aeschynanthus, Geraniums and other stunning summer blooms.

It is also courteous to mention the upheaval of this wee garden of ours would have not been possible without a bit of grunt – in the form of my darling husband James, who did not only endure hot afternoons queuing up at the local déchèterie and endless tours around garden centres with mother in law in tow, but also upcycled an old pallet into a charming vertical strawberry planter.  And the honourable mention, with all my love, goes to my amazing neighbour, the owner of the most beautiful kitchen garden AND a flower garden in Mazamet.  She donated spare seedlings of tomatoes that are already bearing fruit and smelling gorgeous in the warm evening air.

Looks like this is all folks, for now.  Until I find motivation to edit the photos of the next face of my spare room project.  The post will be about using a chemical paint stripper and re-finishing wood.  Stay tuned and au revoir!