Monday, March 31, 2014

Home alone -- well not really

Today's the first full day on my own (with Callie and Bertie to watch out for me) while Ken's away. I was awake between three and four a.m., tossing and turning. Then I woke up close to six. Then, before I realized it, it was after seven and I was still snoozing. So I got up and started the morning routine.

Another view of the car dealership in Le Grand-Pressigny.

It's a little different for me these next two weeks. Usually Ken will rise first to make coffee, feed Bertie, and turn on the heat (it's not automatic because the timer mechanism is broken and costs way too much to repair on our twenty-year old boiler). After he eats, Bert will come inside to snooze by a radiator. This morning went smoothly. Coffee made (tastes good), cat fed (he was waiting), and the boiler fired up normally. Now I'm writing this before heading outside with Callie for her morning walk, followed by her feeding. In between, I have to sneak the cat out of the living room to keep Callie from seeing him.

I read this morning that the Socialists held on to Paris in the municipal elections. Both candidates are women, so the capital was going to have its first female mayor whatever the result. I also read that the extreme right party, the Front national, picked up several smaller cities and did generally better than they ever have. That's not so good, as the center-right party is going to have to somehow deal with this growing far-right faction.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


We're expecting high temperatures around 20ºC (high 60s F) for the next few days. I got more grass cut on Saturday so that most of the yard has now been done. The section that I call the north forty remains to be cut. That's where the little prairie of primroses is and they're still in bloom, so I think I'll wait a little more before cutting them down.

This sign identifies the workshop (atelier) of a car dealership in the Southern Touraine.

I will certainly take advantage of the warm weather to get some other chores done. Mainly, I want to power-wash the deck and the PVC fencing between the house and our road. I'll probably do that tomorrow, as using power tools outdoors is not allowed on Sunday afternoons.

Today is also the second round of municipal elections. I don't think there will be voting in our town, however, because the current slate of candidates was elected outright in the first round last weekend. Ken talked briefly with our mayor yesterday over the fence and she told him, "Je continue." We think that means that she will continue on as mayor for another term (six years). In small towns, the mayor is not directly elected but chosen by the council after the election.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Last day of winter time

We'll be turning our clocks ahead tonight in preparation for entering Central European Summer Time during the wee hours of Sunday morning. Our bodies are already waking up earlier (as it gets light) and wanting to go to sleep earlier, so the change will be nearly imperceptible.

Pretty purple flowers escaping from someone's garden in Le Grand-Pressigny.

On Friday morning I raked up one of our garden plots and planted spring seeds: radishes, chard, spring onions, spinach, and chervil. We'll see what comes up in a week or so.

Friday, March 28, 2014

International mail

This is a typical individual residential mailbox around here and, I suspect, all over France. Ours is similar, but green instead of beige. When we moved in, our mail carrier stopped to tell us that we needed to get one like this because the old mailbox (which is built into one of the gateposts that flank our driveway) is non-standard. We dutifully complied.

"Stop Pub" means that these people don't want any advertising junk mail delivered. I wonder if it works.

We're picking up a friend this evening who's returning from a trip to the US. I'm sure he'll be glad to be home, at least glad to be off of airplanes and trains. Those trips are long and exhausting.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Shadow knows

You can see what's behind the gate, but who knows what evil lurks behind the golden ochre door?

Seen on a street in Le Grand-Pressigny.

The temperatures are supposed to be warming up as we approach the weekend, but today looks like it will be cool and damp. Perfect day for a veal stew, blanquette de veau.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

X marks the spot

These little symbols are everywhere in France. Maybe even Europe, but I don't know about that. They have to do with walking paths, trails, randonnées. The "x" means that you don't go this way. If you are following a trail, you go where the horizontal lines point. The "x" tells you that the trail does not go that way.

X marks the way not to go.

I'm not an aficionado. I don't know what the different colors mean, and I assume they mean something or other. But I've followed a few of the local paths and learned a little about how to read the signs.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Just hanging around

I don't know what the story is here. Maybe a scarecrow in someone's garden, maybe a kid's prank, or perhaps a stuffed-animal suicide. Whatever the truth, this bear has seen better days. I nearly missed him, of course, thanks to that camouflage outfit he's wearing.

If he's supposed to be a scarecrow, the camouflage doesn't really make sense, does it?

Ken and I aren't just hanging around this week. On Monday we saw some friends for lunch and had a very nice day. The car needs a new battery (the old one is nearly eight years old), so Ken's going to the shop to get that done. He's also preparing for his annual trip back to the US to visit his family. I've got some spring crops (radishes, chard, herbs) that I want to plant out in the garden once the rain lets up and it's time to power-wash the deck for the season.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Periodic puppy pics

Here we go again. I can't help taking her picture, especially after she's just been groomed. Callie did better at the groomer's this time. She wasn't happy when I left, but the groomer said she was a good girl, just a little scared.

Callie and her Tricky Treat Ball. The ball has treats inside that fall out when she pushes it around. It's her favorite toy.

It's nice to have the fur on her legs and back end cut short. I'm thinking I should get her groomed again in the fall so that she's easier to clean up after winter walks.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The chill is on

The air flow shifted to the north again and we're having seasonable weather and temperatures. Chilly mornings, a little warmer in the afternoons with alternating rain squalls. Ice pellets danced on our windows a time or two during the day on Saturday.

The woods are coming out of their winter browns. There's more green every day.

Not much to do outdoors right now. The contractor came and measured for the living room window. He said he'd have an estimate for us in the coming week. I'm back to building the daily fire in the wood stove. Maybe another month, depending on the weather.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The time has come

Today we have an appointment with the guy who's replaced nearly all the windows in our house over the last ten years. We're finally ready to do the big porte-fenêtre (French doors) in the living room. It's been our lowest priority because it's on the east side of the house and is protected by the deck. Most of our weather comes from the west side and the west-facing windows were the first to get replaced.

The east-facing French doors this morning at sunrise. Notice the rolled-up rug on the floor to keep cold air out.

We think that the windows were all original, dating back to the mid to late sixties when the house was built. They were all single-glazed, divided light panels that opened into the house in the standard French style. We've replaced most of them now with double-glazed sliding and/or tilting panels.

The living room window/door is four panels wide, with the two center panels opening into the room. They, too, are single-glazed, divided light units. They've warped a bit over time making them leak cold air during the winter, so replacing them with new double-glazed units that fit should make a big difference in comfort. Like all the other windows we've replaced, the divided lights are going away in favor of large glass panels, and the doors will slide open (vantaux coulissants) instead of swinging into the room. They will be so much easier to clean and will look good in our more modern style of house.

The contractor will measure this morning, then send us an estimate. If we agree, he'll order the windows and schedule the installation. I'm hopeful that the job can be done in about two months time, just in time for summer.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A non-starter

I am so frustrated. On Wednesday I got the lawnmower out, changed the oil, and sharpened the blade as I do every year. Then, on Thursday, I put the blade back on and filled the gas tank to cut the grass for the first time this season. I pulled the starter cord and... nothing. The engine wouldn't start.

No engine to start here. Except that you need a horse to make it work.

I realized after a minute that I had forgotten to reconnect the spark plug (I take it off before messing with the blade so that there's no chance of an accidental start). So, I reconnected it. Still nothing. It's quite possible that I flooded the engine while the spark plug was disconnected, but the engine still wouldn't start after an hour or so. Merde.

I'll try starting it up again this morning after having let it sit overnight. If it doesn't start, I'll have to lug it into the shop. Merde encore. If it does start, it's too late because it's supposed to rain this morning and I will have missed my window to cut the grass while it's dry.

UPDATE: So I went out and tried to start 'er up again. No luck. Then I thought about the air filter. I opened the filter case and the filter was saturated with gasoline. Gas actually dripped out of the compartment when I removed the filter. With the filter off, the engine starts right up and runs normally (except for some smoke at first, but that cleared up). I'm letting the filter dry out now. I may go out to see if I can get a new one. A quick trip to the hardware store and I got a new filter. The mower works normally again and I got a section of the lawn cut before the rain started.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The vernal equinox

Today marks a significant astronomical event, the vernal equinox. It is one of two times each year that the Earth's polar axis is tilted neither toward nor away from the sun. The day and night are of roughly (though not exactly) equal duration. It also marks the start of spring in the northern hemisphere. Yay!

Pearls of dew adorn a spider's web as new spring leaves emerge on this shrub. Click on the picture to pearlinate.

I'm taking Callie in for her annual grooming today. She needs a good bath and brushing and trim. She doesn't like being left with the groomer who told me last year that Callie was not the perfectly behaved dog that I like to think she is. Oh well. The price of beauty.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Periodic puppy pics

We've been having very foggy mornings. The nights are clear with the moon shining brilliantly, but come sunrise, the fog forms and thickens and we're stuck under the high pressure inversion. Oh well, it's not very cold and the sun does come out after a while.

Callie wanders by the walnut tree on a foggy morning.

This was Tuesday morning during my walk with Callie. I decided to take the camera out to take pictures of the fog. Or in the fog.

I read that Clarissa Dickson Wright died this week. She was one of the Two Fat Ladies of television fame in the 1990s. Her friend and tv partner, Jennifer Paterson, died during the fourth year of the series, putting it to an end in 1999. We have all of the episodes on DVD and I'm watching them again in honor of them both. They were wonderfully fun in the kitchen.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A burst of yellow

Our backyard forsythia is at its peak right now. I trimmed it into a ball shape last spring, after it bloomed. Since then, some spikes grew upward from the top. I should have trimmed them off last fall to maintain the ball shape, but I never did, so the ball is not perfect.

The forsythia on Monday afternoon. This year, I plan to trim it back by about half so it will be easier to mow underneath.

There's another forsythia to the right behind the apple tree. It's got some problem and doesn't bloom much any more. Two years ago we noticed a good amount of fungus growing on the wood at ground level. I'll probably rip the whole thing out this year or next.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Haunted woods

Forget lions and tigers and bears (oh my). These woods have stuffed, headless beings hanging from the trees. I've wandered in a time or two and always wonder if I'm being watched. Not far from where this hangs, the land dips into a stream bed. At the bottom is a shelter built from fallen trees, branches, and old tarps.

There are other man-made articles hanging from other trees around this spot.

I don't know if it's a kids' fort or the makeshift home of a vagrant. I hope it's the former. I've never seen an actual person here, and I'm not sure I want to. I took this photo from the relative safety of the road with my telephoto lens.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bloomin' trees

I know I've mentioned this before, but the early blooming fruit trees, mostly plums for now, are in full flower. I've noticed some other trees starting as well. It will be probably another month before the apples blossom.

Our plum tree(s) seen from out among the grape vines.

This is a variety of plum that Ken planted (from a pit!) in the back corner of our yard a number of years back. Part of the reason he put it here was to hide the electric utility pole that stood outside our fence to the left of the tree in the photo. But that's gone now. There are actually two trees side-by-side. We intended to remove one, but never did. We think that they will eventually fuse together into a single trunk as they continue to grow. Time will tell.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A cloudy day

After nearly a week of clear skies and warm sun, we're expecting a cloudy Saturday. Already at sunrise the sky is gray and the landscape is foggy. No rain is in the forecast, though, and the cloud layer is supposed to break up by mid-day.

The daffodils in our yard (and all over) are in full bloom right now.

The big news, other than the continuing mystery surrounding the missing Malaysian airliner, is that the high pressure and lack of wind is causing air pollution to stagnate over the big metropolitan areas. Health alerts have been issued, speed limits have been lowered, and public transport systems in Paris, Lyon, and other cities will be free to passengers through the weekend.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The daily grind

The pruning continues out in the vineyards. It's probably close to being done, but there are still a few parcels close to our house that they're still working on. On Wednesday I heard a familiar sound: a grinder/mulcher. The growers use tractors to pull heavy duty mulchers between the rows of grape vines where the pruners have neatly laid out the trimmings. The mulchers grind them up to a pulp.

Grinding up the trimmings, a true sign of spring.

The grinding will go on for a few weeks. Then, sometime in April, we may actually see some leaves opening up.

In other news, I got my hair cut yesterday, Ken gets his cut today, and Callie finally has an appointment to get hers cut next week. Lest you think Bertie's being left out, he goes to the vet's office on Tuesday for his annual shots.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Mini greenhouse

Here's another instance of adaptive re-use. Plastic water bottles are often used to protect new grape vines planted in established vineyards. We see them all over certain vine parcels out behind the house. Often they're clear bottles, but this one (and a few others around it) is tinted a bright blue color.

Tiny water droplets form inside the plastic bottle making it sparkle in the morning sun.

Our streak of sunny weather continues, although it's not quite as warm as it was last Sunday. Still, we are not complaining. Yesterday, I got the gravel paths sprayed with herbicide. The multitude of green weeds growing through the gravel should wither away within the week. There will be more. It's impossible to pull them all by hand, so herbicide is the best, if not the "greenest," solution for me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Periodic puppy pics

I still have done nothing about getting Callie to her annual grooming. I'll be in town tomorrow morning, so I may just stop into the shop to make her an appointment. I did call the vet and scheduled Bertie's annual vaccinations for next week. Callie is still enjoying the early nice weather outdoors, lounging in the sun and chasing lizards.

Callie enjoying a little time in the sun on Tuesday morning.

In garden news, I got the tomato, eggplant, and bell pepper seeds planted yesterday. I put three seeds each in twenty-five little seed pots, a total of seventy-five seeds. Nine are eggplant, a variety I found that is supposed to grow well in central and northern France. Nine are red bell peppers, from seeds I saved from a previous crop.

The remaining fifty-seven seeds are different varieties of tomato including cornabel, cœur de bœuf, roma, juliette, and others. I planted so many to ensure that I have enough seedlings; I will certainly thin them out before they go into the garden in May. In the meantime, the little seed pots are in a warm spot indoors. First step: germination.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Wide angle

Here's a familiar view of the Cher Valley taken one afternoon last week. I used the wide angle on my short 18-55mm zoom lens. The lens came with the camera and I've had it for almost two years now. This is probably the lens I use the most; it's a good lens for most everyday photography.

Looking toward the northeast across the Cher River valley. Click to vallonate.

I have three other lenses for the camera. Of those, I probably use the 100mm macro lens most. It's for when I want good close-up shots. Next, the 75-300mm telephoto comes in handy for long distance shots, but I'm not very good with that lens yet. I don't like most of the photos I take with it, although some have been nice. I probably need to work with it more.

The fourth lens is a fixed 50mm lens. It's got (supposedly) better optics than the wide angle zoom and with a maximum aperture of f1.4, it gives me a little more flexibility for low-light shots (the maximum aperture on the wide angle zoom is f4.5). But, so far, I use the fixed lens the least.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The primrose post

It's that time of year again. The primevères (primroses) in our yard are in full bloom. The flowers are fresh and colorful and a few pop up in new places every year. The woman who sold us the house told us that whenever she got a primrose, she planted it out in the yard. It's a nice show every spring.

White, pale yellow, magenta, purple, and violet. Loads of color!

Sunday's weather was glorious. We both enjoyed some time sitting out back in the warm sun watching Callie get delirious hunting lizards. She actually got one in her mouth for an instant, long enough for its tail to break off. The tail fell to the ground writhing back and forth causing the dog to drop the actual lizard and grab at the tail. Ingenious escape!

This is what the primroses look like in a wider angle view.

We're expecting more of the same weather today. The ground is slowly drying out to the point where we can get some yard work done. Already it's seven a.m. and the sun is coming in through the windows.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

It does a body good

Warm sunlight, that is. We're being spoiled by a preview of springtime weather. I spent a good hour yesterday afternoon sitting outdoors in the sun. Callie loves being able to hang out in the grass, chasing the odd tennis ball and hunting lizards along the stone wall. I can see the smile on her face when she's out there.

A neighbor's fruit tree in full flower on Saturday morning.

The bbq grill is working wonderfully. I roasted a whole chicken (split into halves) outdoors on Saturday and it turned out delicious. Today I'll grill some spicy sausages for lunch. It's not quite nice enough to eat out on the deck yet. For one thing, the table and chairs are still in their winter storage down in the garage. I won't be bringing them up until after I've power-washed the deck.

I won't be surprised when the chilly weather returns. It is still winter for a couple more weeks.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

In fact it's a gas

Yes, it's all right now. I spent a frustrating Friday morning trying to get the new bbq grill set up for use. The major problem was that the documentation (which came in twenty-one European languages) was not at all helpful. The French and the English (the only two of the languages I can read) did not say exactly the same thing. Similar, but not close enough to be helpful.

This photo has nothing to do with this post. But there's still a point. LOL.

The procedure described for connecting the gas hose, accompanied by drawings, did not correspond to the actual grill parts I had. The instructions showed one type of hose connector, but my grill does not have that type of connector. I banged my head against the table several times trying to understand why I had instructions for someone else's grill. I thought I must be misunderstanding something and, like a perfect example of the common definition of insanity,* I kept reading and re-reading the instructions (English and French), studying the pictures and my grill, then banging my head in utter frustration.

It became clear, earlier to Ken than to me, that I needed to give up on the modern screw-on coupler as per the instructions and use the old-style compression collar to clamp a hose onto the gas nozzle (that may not make sense to you, but I know what it means). I had already been out to the store once to buy the gas bottle. I didn't get a hose because I had at least realized then that the hose with two screw-on couplers was not going to work. So, after discovering that the regulator on the gas bottle could be used with either type of connector, I went out to the hardware store for a plain gas hose that thankfully came with the correctly-sized compression collars. Interestingly, the plain hose is a third of the price of the hose with screw-on couplers.

Here we go, I thought, almost done. But nooooooo. "Slipping" that hose onto the gas nozzles (one at each end) was like stuffing a baseball bat into a tube of toothpaste. We pushed, stretched, and twisted that hose for half an hour before we finally were able to force it onto each of the nozzles. The compression collars worked fine.

Once again, I was convinced we were finished. But nooooooo. I couldn't get the burners to light. A trip back to the internet made it clear: I had bought a bottle of butane, the gas we use in the kitchen, which apparently loses pressure in temperatures at or below 10ºC (high 40sF). The internet site said that it shouldn't matter, because who wants to grill outdoors in temperatures below 10ºC anyway? We were at around 11ºC as I was reading.

I finally got the burners lit and the grill heated up, as did the outside temperature, and we were able to cook our lunch. The grill worked great and lunch was delicious (and not too late). I'm going to grill again today and tomorrow -- both days are going to be warmer than yesterday. The butane should work fine through summer, then, when the bottle is empty, I'll trade it in for a bottle of propane.

* Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Sunset with jetliner

I may be crazy, but I want to use our new barbeque grill and this weekend's weather forecast is nice. If you consider temperatures around 15ºC (about 60ºF) to be nice. I'm still building a fire in the wood stove every afternoon to keep the indoor temperature comfortable. But the clear sunny weather is screaming "barbeque!" I'll bet I'm not the only winter-weary guy out here who is itching to cook on the grill.*

Sunset on Wednesday.

To get the new grill working, I have to get a gas bottle and the connector hose. Those are sold at all the local supermarkets so that's not a problem. Except, of course, when we were out yesterday I saw that I had a choice between butane and propane. I wasn't expecting that (I thought the default was butane) and I had to come home to re-check the instructions. Turns out I can use either.

We have a chicken and some beef in the 'fridge; we just need to decide which to cook first.

* Roseanne Barr once said (and I'm paraphrasing) that men are only really good at two things. One is barbecuing. The other is reading maps. "Because only the male mind can understand the concept of one inch equaling a hundred miles." Remind me to show you my map collection.

Thursday, March 06, 2014


It sure is nice to look at the forecast and see nothing but sunny days ahead. By the weekend our high temperatures should be around 15ºC (near 60ºF). Very spring-like. We're considering firing up the barbeque soon.

Sunrise on Tuesday. There were still some clouds in the sky then, but this morning it's all clear.

We think we may have found a new stove that has all the features we want. The only problem is finding a place that actually has it on display so we can look at it. Getting it won't be a problem; several dealers around us offer the brand and the model, but looking at it first anywhere other than the internet may not be possible.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

A week of spring-like weather

The week ahead is predicted to be sunny, relatively warm, and most importantly, dry. If the forecasters are correct, our collective spirits will rise a few notches. I'm hopeful that we will be able to get a few outdoor chores done in a few days, if the ground does indeed dry out a little.

Blossoms on a plum tree that Ken planted in our yard a few years ago.

Some of the flowering trees in our neighborhood have started blooming. A sunny week will accelerate the flowering both on the trees and on the ground. I'm planning to get tomato and eggplant seeds started (indoors) in the next few days. I'd also like to have a small section of the vegetable garden tilled up so I can plant radishes, chard, and spring herbs. Let's keep our fingers crossed!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


To me it rhymes with liken, but to Sir David Attenborough it rhymes with kitchen. Either way, these symbiotic fungus/plants can be found on just about every tree around us. I understand that, for the most part, they are not parasitic and don't do any real harm to the trees they inhabit. They also grow on rocks and stone walls and directly on the ground.

The union of fungus and algae.

The weather people tell us that high pressure is building into France right now, a high pressure system that's been absent for over seventy days leaving the way clear for upwards of thirty-five low pressure systems off the Atlantic to move through France in that time. If the forecast holds, we are in for at least a week of dry, sunny days. That will be nice.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Lookin' back to see

Can you see Callie in the road? She stopped and looked back to see what I was up to and why I wasn't close behind. She's used to the photo stops and normally stops when I do. But this time she got out ahead and didn't realize that I had stopped.

The grass was a little frosty on Sunday morning, but the sun was out and there was no wind. It was quite pleasant.

It's nice to have the kitchen put back together and all the kitchen stuff out of the dining room and den. We took advantage of the upheaval to reorganize a little. Small changes can make a big difference.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

I need to get out more

The weather has been so wet this winter that I really haven't been out and about much. Except for trips to the market or other shopping destinations and the daily walks in the vineyard with Callie, I feel like I've been holed up in the house for months.

Sun shining on a stand of birches. The reddish color is from the new buds fattening up.

That's not a necessarily a bad thing, but it means that I don't get much in the way of variety for photographs. As spring approaches and (hopefully) the weather improves, the plants and trees will be flowering and there will be more to see. And I may even take the camera beyond walking distance of the house.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

More acorns

Last time I showed you the empty caps. This time there are a few whole acorns, turned yellow and brown from their fresh fall green.


The kitchen ceiling is done, on schedule and on budget. We've started the process of cleaning and moving back in. This morning I will re-install the ceiling light fixture. Things should be back to normal in time for lunch.