Preparing for winter in France frugally

The post title doesn’t lie. I’ve quite literally, got so much wood I don’t know what to do about it. And for some reason related to living this french life for almost six months, that makes me incredibly happy 😆

When I lived in the UK I cared not for wood, beyond maybe eyebrow pencils or laminate furniture from ikea. Now look at me. I love wood so much I’ve quite literally got a rash. I’m wood-sick.

Those who have followed my Instagram posts for the last few weeks will know that we recently took the big (and expensive) step to take out five big trees from our front garden. It was a two day job by professional tree surgeons – plus we had electrical cables and telephone cables tangled up in there like a hot mess.

The work went like clockwork and we were really pleased with our new view…

BUT unfortunately we were grossly unprepared for just how much work it would be to process all of the leftover wood. Coupled with some truly biblical rain over the following days – and though we could ill-afford it – we had to make the executive decision to buy a trailer.

She doesn’t have a name yet so do let me know if one comes to mind 😂

Over the following week and a half we must have made around EIGHTEEN trips to the déchetterie and back. Thank the bois-gods that we have a green déchetterie in our commune, otherwise I might have just upped and left and moved back to the UK (though to where I have no idea, Victoria Coach Station maybe? I do have previous…).

SO, after numerous scratches, strained muscles, cuts and bruises on my thighs from the wheelbarrow with which I’ve become so intimately acquainted, we are DONE. The garden is clear, and it turns out it’s fecking massive:

Oh and dusty AF. I feel like I’ve literally been sneezing twigs all week.

Those of you who know me personally will know that I like a challenge. Hell, those of you who don’t know me personally will. Just look at the state of this blog!

International move? Check. ✅

No job to go to? Check. ✅

Not yet fluent in the language? Check ✅

Seriously limited budget to do it all on? Check. ✅

So, no sooner had we completed the relocation of easily more than a tonne tonne of chopped wood that we processed to dry out in our grange, our morning of waste-wood shifting was over and after a quick session with one of my clients we headed over to a house in our commune… because I had taken it upon myself to buy 2 cords of wood from one of our neighbours via leboncoin and for us to shift and stack it by hand. What fun! 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️

Three hours later and some strange looks from our neighbours (who I’m sure were saying, in perfect French, “those British people are absolutely mad, how can they want more wood?”) we had all 2 cords spread out in the top garden, along with bags and bags and bags of kindling. Here’s some of it:

All good, you’re thinking, lots of wood. Nice warm winter or two ahead. And you’d be right. Future me will be toasty warm. Unfortunately though, present me is sat on the sofa watching the Eurovision Song Contest (on French TV bien sûr!) covered in a bitey rash from some little critters that were in the wood and saw fit to eat me. Coupled with my skeeter syndrome it makes for an itchy evening.

So now I’m going to kick back and drink my Noz foraged Magners to recover. Speaking of which, have you checked out my Facebook group, The Noz Appreciation Society yet? We have a good laugh at our borderline obsessive Nozzing 😆 49c a can! 🥂

And for the eagle eyed among you, you will have seen my article in French Property News this month (June 2019 edition). If you read it do let me know what you think! It’s surreal and hilarious to see myself, G and the cats in print. We had a right good laugh about it and I’ve already had so many emails and messages from readers who liked it. Just flipping lovely.

Anyway, I wish you a bonne soirée and when I stop scratching I’ll get back to posting more frequently on Instagram as usual 🙌🇫🇷🥂

Laura x

Spending money in France when it’s needed

Thanks everyone for your comments and supportive messages after last week’s post. I think that it was a perfect storm of a quieter work week ahead of spending the most money we have on anything here in France (besides the house itself bien sur!).

I have held off posting this week so that I could include the before and after pictures of our tree felling escapades over the last 48 hours. The whole event was preceded by a bit of a sleepless night for me as I was nervous that the trees wouldn’t come out without damaging the electrical cable which ran directly through the middle of one of the conifers, as well as two others which were touching the phone cables of all of our neighbours’, and I was keen not to fall out of favour with everyone within the first few months of being here!

As a side note, we have already been here in France for almost six whole months – so for those of you who have been following me since we got here – and there are even some of you who will have been following our escape from the UK from the planning stages of last summer (!!) – that’s the fastest six months of our lives that I have ever known! As we were wheelbarrowing wood up to the top of our garden yesterday evening I took the moment to lie down on the grass and reflect on all that had passed.

From selling our UK home, living in a gite, buying this place and making it habitable, we have come so so so far, and yet still have so much to do. However, I have a feeling that’s a theme that I’ll be coming back to frequently!

So for now, we can bask in the glory of this week’s big win. And our new, phenomenal view. What do you think?

The cost of living in France

Today is a bit of a pensive post, and that’s the sort of mood I’m in at the moment. It’s not a typical upbeat canter through a brocante so if you’re looking for that, I apologise – but today I’m going to talk about how I feel five months into living here.

Firstly, I feel very lucky to live here in France. I have realised an ambition that I held for most of my life. That’s a really great feeling – but a less great feeling is that around not having any money.

Secondly, let me be clear, I am not truly poor. I recognise that I am very privileged, I own my own home here. I have no mortgage. I have a small amount of savings in the bank. I have no debts. I work. Believe me when I say that I wasn’t always in this fortunate position.

And I would have none of those things without more than a decade of riding the ridiculous rollercoaster that was working for my old corporate employer, being sent to offices all around the UK – wherever they deemed fit – and adapting to the ever-changing landscape of the roles they put me into. And I work now, as a self-employed person, as a micro-entrepreneur. The very nature of this work is that the income is up and down.

But right now, here in France, on this grey Thursday afternoon as my partner unloads our new lawnmower from the car, I feel poor. And by poor I mean, I worry about money. I worry about it all the time, it’s probably been the most important thing in the world to me. Not because I am greedy, or need it to feel important. Quite the opposite.

Spending considerable periods of my life without enough money have created within me a sort of radar for financial struggle. It has moulded me into a person who is financially anxious. As a therapist I know how to work with anxiety, I know the tools I’ve learned as a professional and an individual to use to keep myself in a good place and to communicate honestly and openly about financial issues with my partner.

But there is still the low omnipresent hum of watching the pennies (or more accurately now, centimes). I imagine that will be there for all of my life. It’s not debilitating, it’s not sadenning, it doesn’t impact how I feel about myself (too often anyway). But it is there, and it is learned. It is a learned response to escaping poverty. Of never, ever wanting to go back there. It’s the drive for much of what I do and the way that I behave (in the wider scheme of things, i.e. it contributes to me being a driven person, solution and goal focused) and it is something that I notice doesn’t exist in other people.

If you’ve ever been poor, I mean really poor. Not just unable to book a nice holiday, but using a credit card to buy food poor, I sympathise. I’ve been there. It changes you as a person – I think it can’t help but change you. It’s the whole reason that I created Frugal France in the first place because I knew that once we moved here that money would be tight. I knew I was volunteering to be less fiscally comfortable than I had been in the UK.

So I suppose the point of this post is not to bemoan that decision but to acknowledge it. That for all of the lovely pictures that I and my peers post about our lovely lives here, the images of blossom on trees and lambs in fields, that isn’t and never could be the full story. That for many of us, money is a big thing to consider, and that living here in France is not cheap. Especially when many of us have downsized our belongings and arrive needing to buy tools, renovation materials or new cars.

So I’d love to know what your tips are for living really frugally – do let me know in the comments.

How I know that moving to France was the right choice (for me)

I’m sitting in the garden as I write this post. It’s 22 degrees in April and I’m sipping a rum and coke while listening to birds singing. I’ve just been and collected wood from the woodshed, though it’s unlikely we’ll need a fire tonight. And much like the content of my posts on Instagram earlier this week, I’m feeling really content.

This is why I moved to France.

Ginger asleep in the garden

Okay, I know I joke about bread being the reason – but really what I was searching for on leboncoin for all those months was the prospect of putting down my worries about life, even if just for some of the time.

I’m not retired, I do work. And as much as I love my job it is work, and I try my hardest to do it well. The years of coasting in my IT career are behind me, and as my own boss I work harder for myself than I ever have before.

But that’s okay, because I choose it.

Im sitting here thinking about what it is that France gives me that has made it so easy for me to find contentment after only four months as a French resident. Part of it is no doubt the beautiful countryside and lovely weather, even in spring. But I think actually it’s the more subtle differences that are impactful – like the fact that every person I meet beyond the threshold of my front door says “bonjour” to me. That neighbours have been so welcoming and polite – stopping to speak or doing favours instead of avoiding eye contact on the front drive or worse – and this happened in Bristol SO much – totally ignoring us even when we said hello. I feel valued here. Even by strangers. I don’t think I have felt that before, which is a terribly sad thing to think when I have lived all over the south of the UK in cities, towns and village settings. Maybe I should have been in the north.

Haute Vienne countryside

My friend visiting last week asked “Is it enough?” referring to our very rural, quiet lifestyle. And I can honestly say, yes it is. I get to spend time with the person that I love every day. We get to eat meals together – something I was never able to do with our conflicting work schedules in Bristol – we have every weekend off. We don’t aspire to spending 24/7 with each other, but it’s nice to have the choice. I get to speak French everyday, something which I have longed to do always. I get to drive on quiet roads, listen to my music really loud. I get to host new friends for dinner and drinks, I get to spend time in my garden and eat outdoors almost every day at the moment. I have my work which gives me purpose and I no longer have a life that I need holidays to escape from.

I really love my life now. It’s not perfect, it never will be. But it’s good enough, and I’ll take that.

Me, feeling very content living in France

Starry French nights and car problems in rural France

Last night I was stood in the kitchen at 1am, looking out of our long windows across the valley opposite.

I am a total night-owl with longings to be a morning person, but it’s just not happening and I’m accepting that. The upside of this predisposition towards bed-avoidance means that I get to enjoy the amazingly bright starry nights here in deepest rural France. Walking the roads around here after midnight (and I would argue before midnight on occasion!) unquestionably need a torch – but the skies are often bright with constellations that I had only once seen in the UK, on a holiday to the Isle of Wight where light pollution was minimal.

Here, we have very little by way of light pollution or any pollution whatsoever that I can discern. A friend visited this week from London and we remarked on the clean-smelling air and how refreshing it was. Considering we used to live on an A-road in Bristol, and prior to that Zone 1 in London, we know a thing or two about air pollution.

Our own contribution to the demise of the ozone layer was taken out of action this week where our village mechanic deemed our car too dangerous to be driven, and so we and our friend were confined to the house for a few days. My friend was poorly, so we kept her dosed up on cold medicine, cheese and a little wine to help her through the worst of it – and the interactions with the garagiste have not been all bad. In fact, he is a very nice and accommodating young man, but just as importantly he has given my partner the opportunity to test his French on a subject we don’t often learn much about in class (yet!). G managed to book our car in to be inspected, chase up a part and book us in for repair tomorrow morning… all in very comprehendible French! This is a bit of a pivotal moment for him, as while his grammar and vocabulary are excellent, he describes listening to be difficult so conversation is understandably anxiety-inducing.

I am different, in that I love listening to French, and talking (I’m so sorry to my classmates, I really don’t shut up) but my French teacher does hold me up as someone who seems to be able to understand spoken French well, but who struggles with the fundamentals of grammar. I have to agree, however this week we have been looking at our various tenses again, and I’m hoping that by Monday not only will I be more confident in my ability to speak in complex tenses, but also that our car won’t kill us.

Anyway, a busy, unusual few days, but it’s back the usual gardening and house renovation next week, à bientôt!