Saturday, May 31, 2008

Our Paris Apartment

My friend Cheryl rented this cool little apartment in Paris for a week. I've spent three nights with her here and will be heading back to Saint-Aignan later on Saturday. Ken's coming up for a few nights after me.

The living room level seen from the kitchen/dining level a couple steps up.
That's Roland Garros tennis on the t.v.!


It's a nice one-bedroom in a two-level building that sits wholly inside the courtyard of another building. These places used to be garages or ateliers (workshops), I think, but they've long ago been converted to lofts and artist studios.

The dining area on the kitchen level.

Ours has been renovated fairly recently and is quite comfortable. There's positively no street noise, which is great in this bustling Bastille neighborhood.

Oh, did I mention we had some wine?

There's nothing but a closet and a wc on the ground level. From there you go up about five steps to the living area. The sofa converts to a single bed (where I'm sleeping). Two more steps up from there is the kitchen which is fairly big with lots of storage and concrete countertops.

The bedroom is below the kitchen, and mostly below ground level. That's made it very cool in this warm weather we're having now. The shower room is down there, too.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Roland Garros

Thursday was our day for French Open tennis at Roland Garros. The weather forecast was dire. Rain was moving up from the south and it looked like we were going to have a soaker. But we sucked it up and braved the crowds and got ourselves into the grounds and to our seats in Court Philippe Chatrier (center court) anyway.

The first match: Venus Williams vs. Selima Sfar.
Viewed from our seats during warm up.


We had a leaden sky but stayed dry for a while. Promptly at eleven a.m., Venus Williams and a Tunisian woman named Sfar took the court and play began. Venus played pretty well and dispatched her opponent in straight sets. Still dry.

We spotted Bud Collins across the stadium doing commentary during the Williams match.

Next up was Amélie Mauresmo. She and Carla Suarez-Navarro went at it, but Amélie was not at the top of her game. She missed easy shots and just didn't look like she was in control. She lost in straight sets to the great disappointment of the crowd. On the bright side, we were still dry.

Amélie has a bad day.

The third match was Roger Federer vs. Albert Montanes. By the time they began warming up it was raining. But clay court tennis is quite tolerant of a little rain and play started. It was five games all in the first set when the rain intensified and the umpire stopped play. The stands were pretty full (everybody loves Federer) and the umbrellas, including mine, were all deployed.

The numéro un mondial takes the court.

It didn't take long for nearly half the fans to get out of the rain and down to the boutiques, food stands, or dry stairwells. We sat for a while in the rain to see what was going to happen. After about fifteen minutes the grounds crew pulled the tarps over the court. That was our signal that they thought the rain was going to last for a while.

On a vu les bâches.
The rain tarps are deployed.


So we packed it in and headed out. After a wine stop at a nearby café, we got on the métro and headed for the apartment. I turned on the tv to see that the match had resumed - the rain had stopped after about an hour - and Federer had a commanding lead. We watched him win in the fourth set.

We were supposed to see another match (Fabrice Santoro vs. David Ferrer) which didn't get televised because Gaël Monfils was playing on another court in a more exciting match.

We might have toughed it out in the rain and stayed to see Federer win, but as we watched the win on tv, sipping wine in relative comfort, we were not unhappy with our decision!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Postcard From Paris

Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.

A train leaves the Bastille métro station.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Oléron : The Bourg

Our gîte was located in a very small village on the Atlantic side of the island called la Menounière. There are many vacation homes and rentals in the center of the bourg, which was where we were.

A smartly painted gate.

We had a quick walk to the beach in one direction and a quick walk out of town to the fields where grapes are grown in the other. Since it's still early in the season, there weren't many people around and most of the houses were still closed up tight.

This house is obviously well-tended.

We did see some people, of course, including some neighbors a few doors down the street. Every morning a woman drove by delivering bread since there is no bakery in the bourg. There is a farmers market in the main square, but only in the summer months, so we had to drive into a neighboring town for supplies.

A garage door.

Some people were out painting or otherwise preparing their houses for summer. Others took leisurely walks or rode bikes, many past our kitchen window. And some, like us, sat out in the sun with a glass of something soaking it all in.

Bright flowers were blooming all over the island.

I had Callie with me on most of my walks through town and I usually didn't take the camera with me. But I probably should have. You dog owners out there know that it's not easy to take pictures with a dog on a leash. At home we walk off-leash, so it's much easier.

The entrance to a small motel.

In addition to the individual houses, there were a few resort-like places that were basically little compounds with cabins or suites available to guests, and sometimes a pool. There was one restaurant in our bourg, but we didn't try it.

I wonder who lives at number thirteen?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Oléron : Day One

Ken has already described our arrival at the Ile d'Oléron on his blog, and since I was driving, I didn't have the opportunity to take pictures of the striking fisherman or their fiery blockade. You can read about it here.

Part of our little courtyard outside the great room. The days got sunny and we spent a lot of time around this outdoor table.

Once checked into our little home away from home, however, all that faded into memory. Ken and Cheryl went out for provisions for dinner and came back with a few dozen oysters and a couple big fillets of ling cod.

The appetizer for our first dinner on the island: local oysters on the half shell with mignonette sauce and tabasco.

We set to making dinner, and it was wonderful. Ken made a classic mignonette with vinegar, shallot, and black pepper. We sautéed the cod in a mushroom cream sauce with white wine. Yum! The gîte was very comfortable with two bedrooms and two baths, one great room which served as kitchen, living and dining room, and a nice paved private courtyard that faced south. We were able to leave the car on the street out front.

Callie settled right in after her four hour car ride.

The house is in the small bourg of la Menounière, near the fishing port of la Cotinière on the Atlantic side of the island. The weather wasn't great when we arrived, but it quickly improved.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Periodic Puppy Pics

Here's Mademoiselle Chose looking slightly guilty on the deck:

What did I do?

Actually, she hadn't done anything. This is just one of her standard looks.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

New Vines

This section of vineyard was just field of wildflowers five years ago when we arrived here. Then, one day in 2004, the vineyard owner plowed it up and planted about twelve rows of tiny grape vines. Now they're starting to look good, and they're even producing.


I don't know if the grapes are being used to make wine yet, though. I have no idea how old a vine needs to be before the grapes are suitable to use.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why Do You Build Me Up...

Buttercup, baby, just to let me down? Now there's a golden oldie...

Buttercups abound in the grassy areas of the vineyard.

This buttercup is much newer, however. At least, I think it's a buttercup. Also known as ranunculus, or renoncule in French. Common French names for it include bouton d'or and grenouillette.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Spittle

What an odd title for a post, eh? But there is meaning here. The spittle bugs are leaving their telltale signs on the stems of plants all around the vineyard.

Spittle around the stem of a wildflower among the vines.

According to Wikipedia, the little bugs that make this foam are also known as froghoppers. There are apparently a lot of species of these insects, and I'm not sure which one or ones we have here in central France, let alone which is responsible for the bubbles pictured above.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Photo Du Jour : Dirt Road

This is the dirt road that leads from out behind our house through the vineyard. The view is toward the east into the morning sun. Our house is over the horizon on the left.

That little brown speck on the right-hand side of the road, almost out of sight, is Callie.

It was right around this spot on Wednesday that I encountered a fox on our morning walk. I didn't have the camera, but even if I had, I wouldn't have had enough time to get a photo of it as it darted away. Luckily, Callie didn't see it, or she would have chased it into the woods.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Back Yard Irises

Since the blooms are just about over for this year, I thought I would share these two close-ups taken last week.

There were many more flower stalks and blooms this year than last. I'm hopeful that next year, it being the third year since division and transplant, will yield even more.


Our friend Cheryl from California is in the air as I type this, somewhere between the Atlantic coast of Canada and the southern tip of Greenland according to the flight trackers. She's still got about four hours to go before touchdown in Paris. By the time many of you read this, she'll have arrived and be here sipping something bubbly with us!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Progress In The Kitchen

We're pretty much done. The walls took three coats, due to some patching that was showing through. Thankfully, we overbought and had plenty of paint.

Above, the stove hood with the prime coat on it.
Below, after painting.



These photos were taken before we removed the painting tape and before we moved back into the kitchen. I kind of like the blue tape. Hmmm...

Above, the upper cabinet wall primed.
Below, the upper cabinet wall painted.



We're still working on the cabinet doors, and the two room doors need to be done, but they are lower in priority. We also need to finish the wall beneath the kitchen window. That's where the radiator is and we need to shut the heating system down and drain it before we can remove the radiator. We'll do that this summer.

For post move-in photos, take a look at Ken's blog here.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Boule De Neige

Snowball, in English. In Latin, viburnum opulus. These are big bushes that bloom in May each year. The flowers are shaped like, you guessed it, snowballs. Hence the name.

Our neighbors' snowballs.

I would love to have one or two of these in the yard. One day, I'm sure, we will. But for now we'll have to make do with the neighbors' trees.

Oh yes, and Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers moms out there!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Periodic Puppy Pics

Even though the past week has been pretty dry, each morning the tall grass is wet with dew. Naturally, Callie runs around in the grass and only her back stays dry. Once wet, she picks up all kinds of sand and dirt and requires a quick shower when we get home.

Callie on her morning walk, Thursday, 8 May 2008,
in the wet grass next to grape vines.

But we are certainly enjoying the warm weather. We're also enjoying tick season. Not. Callie gets her Frontline every month, but that doesn't prevent the odd tick now and again, especially this time of year. Luckily, our vet sold us this handy little tool that pulls ticks right off without leaving any mouth parts behind. It works great. I think I'm pulling one or two ticks a week off the dog.

Apologies to the squeamish among you, but ticks are a reality when you have a dog in the country!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Birdsong

On Thursday, Callie and I were out on our morning walk and I thought the birds sounded pretty cool. So I took this video to capture the sound of their songs. If you look closely, you may be able to see Callie milling about.

video

The video lost some of its quality in compression, but the audio is the point, so it's not a big deal.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Apple Blossom Morning

Today, Thursday, is the 8 mai, a national holiday in France commemorating the surrender of Germany and the end of the Second World War. No school, no work, lots of traffic. It's the beginning of a four or five day weekend for many French families.

The last of our five apple trees to blossom in the yard,
seen against the morning sunshine.


Not so for us. We're still working in the kitchen. Don't worry, we're not working that hard. And the vintners are working, too. During my walk this morning, I saw and heard more than a couple tractors out plying the fields. Bruno D. was out applying sulfur to his vines to guard against le mildiou, a parasitic infestation of the leaves that resembles mold. The word comes from the English mildew.

This morning the sun was up and shining through the leafy branches. The spring blossoms and wildflowers are at their peak, I think.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Patching The Kitchen

Ok, so this is what's going on right now. There are multitudinous cracks in the ceiling and walls of the kitchen. Some are due to water infiltration, a problem that has now been fixed. Others are due to the fact that the walls are finished with plaster and plaster cracks over long periods of time. Still others are due to, well, I don't really know. Something.

The hood above the stove is pretty ok,
but the walls and ceiling around it are not.


So, I've been spending time scraping and gouging out the fissures, cleaning them with a damp cloth, then puttying them with a special fissure-putty, available at our local Bricomarché. Some of the fissures I've had to putty twice, since the special fissure-putty has a tendency to shrink when it dries.

Ceiling and wall fissures around the cabinets.

I should be pretty much done with this step now. Next up: the sanding. Every centimeter of the walls and ceiling needs to be sanded smooth, or rough, depending on whether it's been puttied or if it's just old paint. This will prepare it for the primer.

Ken has been working his butt off outdoors, and we are already really happy with the result.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Gas Tax Holiday

So let me see if I understand this. Right now in the US, while tax rebate checks are going out in the mail, there's yet another tax cut debate raging. John McCain wants to suspend the federal gas tax for the summer. So does Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama is an elitist and can't feel the poor man's pain.

The federal gasoline tax is currently about eighteen cents per gallon and is used to partly finance transportation improvements like highway construction, road resurfacing, bridge maintenance, and public transit projects around the nation. Since the federal gas tax doesn't generate enough revenue for all of that, state and local taxes are tapped to help.

Eliminating the federal tax would exacerbate current roadway maintenance budget shortfalls, a fact that our intrepid presidential candidates are painfully aware of. But the facts cannot get in the way of a good pander. The money will come from "somewhere else," not out of the pockets of the good people who buy the gas and use the roads and bridges.

McCain proposes to replace the lost tax revenue by borrowing more money from European and Asian investors. Oh good, an even bigger deficit. That particular fiscal strategy has been working so well for G.W. Bush. It's not like we'll have to pay any of it back anyway.

Clinton, on the other hand, is sensitive to increasing the federal debt and proposes to make the oil companies pay for the tax cut. Bwahahahahaha! It would never occur to the oil companies to, like, pass that cost on to consumers. Can you say "gas tax surcharge?"

Obama just wants to buy another bag of arugula.

And let's not forget what happened when Bush and his posse in Congress passed those "temporary tax cuts" a number of years ago. Isn't there a HUGE fight going on right now about making them permanent? Because letting the "temporary" tax cuts expire is just like raising taxes. Oh, the logic hurts.

So in September, when that gas tax holiday is over, who's going to have the courage to "raise taxes" just as the kiddies are getting ready to go back to school and mom and dad are hit with those huge school supply lists because schools are underfunded (see previous paragraph)?

I guess we will just cross that bridge when we come to it. Provided it's still standing.

(source of image unknown)

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Sue's Irises

Two years ago, our friend Sue from California came to visit us for a while. She lives in the Sierra Foothills above Sacramento and has a pretty good-sized property up there. One of the things she really enjoys about where she lives is her yard and the hundreds of irises and daffodils that come up every year.

Irises along the north fence. Please ignore the weeds.

When they get too crowded, she digs them up an re-distributes them so that every year there are more and more of them, and the show is always changing.

When she got to our house, she noticed that our irises needed to be divided, so she got right to work -- that's what I call a super house guest! We tilled up a new spot on the north side for some of them so we could see them from the living room. While these are our irises in France, we'll always think of them as Sue's irises.

Part of the re-constituted row along the back walk.

The first year they didn't really do much. This year they're looking real good. I read somewhere that it takes three years for irises to get well established. The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap. Or something like that. If that's true, then next spring should be great. And there are still a bunch more to divide.

The well-o-weeds and our table, just before lunch.
There's still a lot of cleaning up to do.

Saturday was our warmest day of the year so far and we celebrated by firing up the barbecue and having lunch outside. It was terrific and oh so pleasant. And we saw a couple of hot-air balloons go over in the morning and again in the evening. It's that time of year.

Pay no attention to the fuzzy quality of these photos. Wine was being consumed at the time. ;)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Scones

Some of you asked for the recipe I used to make scones the other day. I'm happy to oblige! It all started last fall when friends of ours brought us two pots of Cornish clotted cream from England and a couple of boxes of scone mix.

Home made scones from December 2007.

I made scones from the mix and they were good, but we still had cream left over so I decided to try my hand at scones from scratch. It's pretty easy, and the results were, as expected, much tastier than the boxed mix. But if it hadn't been for that mix, I never would have tried! So here we go:

Preheat your oven to 190ºC (375ºF).

In a large bowl, thoroughly blend:

280 g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
50 g (1/4 cup) granulated sugar

10 g (2 tsp) baking powder

one pinch (1/8 tsp) salt


Cut into small pieces and cut into the flour mixture:

75 g (1/3 cup) cold unsalted butter

This can be done in the food processor by pulsing the chunks of cold butter in the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Don't over process!

In a small bowl, combine:

120 ml (1/2 cup) heavy cream or milk (or a blend)
1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract


Add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture and combine to form a rough dough. Do not over-mix it! If you like, you can also add:

currants or raisins or dried cranberries
at this point.

Knead the dough gently on a lightly floured surface so that it just comes together. Roll it into a circle relatively thick (about 2.5 cm or an inch). Cut the circle into 8 triangular sections and place them on a cookie sheet that's been lined with parchment paper or Silpat.

Glaze the tops of the scones with a mixture of:

1 egg, beaten
1 tblsp milk


Bake for about 15 to 18 minutes until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean. Remove to a rack and allow to cool.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Periodic Puppy Pics

Callie is learning to enjoy sitting on the deck. As the weather warms, we can leave the door open a bit and she comes in and out at will. She likes that, and has taken to stretching out in the sun in the mornings. With the door open, she can hear us indoors and feels safe.

What's that noise over there?

No, wait, it's coming from over there.

Oh, never mind. The humans can deal with it.
I'm resting.

By the way, happy May Day! Today is a national holiday here in France. Labor Day and Ascension Day. It's the start of a four-day weekend for a lot of people. And the weather forecast for the weekend is good!

There will be another four-day weekend next week since Thursday the eighth is V-E Day. It could be a fiver when you consider that Sunday the eleventh is Pentecost and Monday is traditionally a day off as well.