Friday, April 30, 2010

Just A Dandy Lion

Nothing in particular to note today, other than that the promised thunderstorms failed to materialize last evening. We did have a rain shower, a very short one, at the precise moment that Callie and I were furthest from the house during our evening walk. Although the air was warm, those raindrops were cold! I'm happy to report that we both survived.

It looks like a little collection of feather dusters.

Our week without attic work is coming to a close. And we still haven't budged on the wallpaper. But what the heck. It's not urgent, and we had fine weather for gardening and working in the yard, which we did. I even changed the oil in the lawnmower.

I'm planning another market run on Saturday for fresh local asparagus and strawberries. I'm hoping the prices will fall even further now that we're in the height of the season. And the rhubarb out in the garden is looking ready to pick soon. I'm thinking strawberry-rhubarb pie...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Getting Yard Work Done

But not much else. Still, we've been productive. Ken's tilled up all but one of the garden plots so that they're ready for planting. The other was, until yesterday, home to a couple rows of collard greens. He pulled them all up and picked and trimmed and cooked them. Now we have a "mess" of collards in small containers ready to go into the freezer.

This flower is not in our yard, but growing wild out in the vineyard.

We got the remaining downed branches and twigs up off the ground and the grass is cut once again. It's looking like someone is actually taking care of the place once more. I'll tell you, the first cut of the season is always the most difficult, what with the hearty weeds and the thick grass, not to mention the soft patches where the moles made their tunnels. For some sections of the yard, this was the second mowing of the season, so those parts were much easier to do.

We've also made some progress on an old tilleul (linden tree) stump. The tree was cut down back in 2003 (it was sick) and the stump has been an ugly scar in the yard since. Last year I hacked a lot of the rotten bits out with a pick-axe, but there was still a hard core that refused to budge. This year we built a fire of yard waste over the stump and burned it. The fire smoldered for about twenty-four hours and much of the hard core is gone. But not all of it. I may have to take the chain saw in to deal with what remains.

Once I'm able, I plan to level the ground around the old stump and plant grass seed. The location is right where we want to put an outdoor table during the summer season.

Otherwise, the tomato seedlings are progressing nicely. Most of them have been separated into individual pots -- there are still some stragglers that aren't yet big enough for that. Of course, I have way too many plants. I will have to bite the bullet and discard some, I suppose, because there just won't be room in the garden for all of them.

If everything goes according to plan, this year's garden will include several varieties of tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, chard, radishes, zucchini, patty-pan squash, and sweet corn. Ken used the plot out by the compost pile to plant potatoes (thanks Jean & Nick!). And until yesterday, I had forgotten about green beans. Most of the seed planting will happen in mid May, when all danger of frost has passed. Although I must say that it feels that a frost right now is highly unlikely. But you never know.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Le Barbecue Électrique

I like to grill food outdoors. When I lived in San Francisco, I had a standard gas grill that worked very nicely. When we went camping, I took a little Smokey Joe and used charcoal briquettes to make the fire. Now, in France, while I still have the Smokey Joe, I haven't got the hang of using charbon de bois (wood charcoal). It either burns too hot and fast, or too cool to cook.

Our little electric barbecue grill.

We have a big concrete barbecue in the back yard that works great when I build wood fires in it using old grape vine trunks. But that's a lot of trouble if we just want to grill a steak or a few sausages. The solution to this grilling dilemma came one summer day when we were invited across the road for lunch.

Our neighbor, Bernard, grilled sausages on a little electric grill. I had never seen one of these before. Ken and I thought it would be perfect for our terrace as there would be no smokey fire to damage the wood ceiling out there. So he found this inexpensive model on the internet and ordered it. We've used it twice so far with great results.

I know we're going to be using it a lot this coming summer. We'll still do wood fires out back on those occasions when we want a proper barbecue. But this electric grill will be great for the little stuff.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It's Late April

Our spring is late this year. But it is finally here. The trees are leafing out; the grape vines are as well. The bulbs are just about done as are the flowering trees. I've started separating my seedlings which are growing in the cold frame. Tomatoes and marigolds are growing fastest so far. Soon I'll be working on the eggplants and hot peppers.

Our hamlet among the vines in the Cher Valley. That's our house on the left.

This week we need to put some chard and collard and radish seeds out into the garden. Now that the plots are tilled up, we can get that done. And Ken found some small plum trees that sprouted from pits out by the vineyard where there are good plum trees, so he potted one up. We're planning to put it into the yard next fall along with an apricot he grew from its pit. They will replace the trees that blew down in February's storm.

The dentist adventure was fine. She was very nice, but quite fast and furious with the cleaning tools. That compared to my former dentist who was extremely deliberate and very gentle. The result is the same, however, and since I saw no blood and came out with all my teeth intact, I'll likely go back.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A New Dentist

When I called my dentist a couple weeks ago to make my semi-annual appointment for a cleaning, the receptionist told me that he retired. "Il a cessé ses activités et a pris sa retraite." The receptionist was still there because she works for my now former dentist's wife, who does children's teeth. It's funny that there was no mailing to regular customers informing them of his retirement. Oh well.

Some vines just beginning to leaf out in the vineyard.

So I went into town where I knew there was another dentist's office (right off the main square in St.-Aignan) and walked in and asked for an appointment. The receptionist set me up and my appointment is today. I'm a bit nervous about a having to go to someone new; I've only changed dentists once in the last twenty years and that was when I moved to France.

So, we'll see how it goes.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Double Corked

On Saturday, Ken and I went to one of our local wineries with friends from Paris, Leesa and Alex. We had a great time tasting and laughing and buying wine. As we were paying for our purchases and saying good-bye to the winemakers, Chantal (Mrs. Winemaker) handed us a bonus bottle of sauvignon.

Double your pleasure (but with less wine).

The bottle had been double corked. Chantal said she wasn't quick enough with the corking machine. I guess it happens from time to time. We brought it home and drank it up. The first cork came out normally. The second cork got pushed inside the bottle.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I Can See Clearly Now

Sort of. The attic windows, known as Vélux in France, are now installed. The interior finishing still needs to be done. The contractors will do that soon enough. But the windows are in and they make a big difference in the look and feel of the attic space. Vélux is the brand name of the windows, but most windows of this type end up being called Vélux. It's kind of like Kleenex and tissues.

The gaps in the walls are where closet doors will go. The vertical bars are supports for the radiators.

The guys are taking a week off from our job to work on another, so we have time to do some work of our own. Like taking down the wallpaper in the hall. Ugh.

Friday, April 23, 2010


It's strawberry season now in the Loire Valley. All the local varieties of strawberries are showing up in the markets now. They're still a bit pricey, but the prices will come down in the next few weeks.

Strawberries sitting in the afternoon sun.

These lovely berries were part of our great lunch with Jean and Nick in Le Grand-Pressigny. I don't know their provenance, but we enjoyed them.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Funky Feline Fotos

On Monday I was sitting out on the deck and I noticed our new cat Bertie across the street in our neighbors' yard. He looked like he was stalking something. Then I noticed what it was: one of the other neighborhood cats, a white one. The two kept their distance, but Bertie was definitely following the white cat. At one point they both sat down. So I went for the camera.

Bertie on the left, the white cat on the right. Getting to know each other from a distance.

Bertie is obliviously getting comfortable with his new surroundings. Shortly after I took the picture the cats moved on. The white one disappeared under a hedge into its own yard. Bertie came back toward the house.

And Bertie is "fixed," so we don't have to worry about him fathering any unwanted litters.

On Wednesday Bertie had a violent encounter of some sort. All we know is that he came home in mid-afternoon dazed and bleeding from the top of his head. A cat fight? Maybe with the white cat? Another animal? A rough tumble? We will never know. Ken cleaned up the wound and we're keeping him in for a day or so. He seems to be ok, so we'll watch him for a while.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Through The Mirror Of My Mind

This was an attempt at an artsy-fartsy photo. I shouldn't try so hard. But I still like it. It's the donjon at Le Grand-Pressigny reflected in a window of the château's new museum wing.

Not quite the effect I was after, but it's close enough.

The attic work is progressing wonderfully. The electricians came back on Tuesday and started the final wiring. They're also the plumbers and put in some of the preliminaries for the radiators. It's all starting to look like a finished space, even though it's far from it.

Dry wall is going in, electrical outlets are showing up. It's going to be really cool.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Funky Feline Fotos

On Sunday morning, after Bertie ate breakfast and went outside, he sat under one of our pine trees for close to an hour. All the while (well, most of the while) he was staring intently up the trunk of the tree. I suppose there might have been some bird activity of some sort.

Bertie looks away.

So, of course, I grabbed the camera and tried to take some shots of him from up in the bedroom window. Every time I opened the window to take his picture, he'd turn and look around or at me instead of looking up into the tree.

Why are you pointing that camera at me you silly human?

Oh well, this photographing cats thing is all new to me.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Keep It Up

Here's another shot of the donjon, or keep, of the Château du Grand-Pressigny taken from, well, directly below. I like images like this that accentuate the verticality of buildings, whether old castles or modern skyscrapers.

The (more or less) western wall of the donjon.

I did get some minor yard work done on Sunday, but I still have the grass cutting to do. I didn't cut grass on Sunday because we only have a two hour window in which to use power tools (like lawnmowers) that make noise on Sundays. It's between ten a.m. and noon. I wasn't ready to cut the grass yet at ten, and besides, we need gasoline.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Whenever I See Your Smiling Face

This guy's image is carved for the ages in stone. I feel a bit sorry for whomever was the model for this one. The architect, or the stonemason, made him out to look like a crazed buffoon. Maybe he was a bumbling medieval magistrate who fell out of favor with the lord of the castle?

Immortalized in stone at the Château du Grand-Pressigny.

We're enjoying spectacular weekend weather and I was able to get a portion of the yard's grass cut on Saturday. Today I'll clear the rest of the yard of sticks and branches so that I can cut the remaining grass on Monday or Tuesday. I'm also hoping to get out and spray the weeds in our gravel path before they take over.

Ken and I would also like to take Callie and Bertie outdoors in an effort to get the canine used to the feline. Well put the dog's harness and leash on and hold her so she can't chase the cat and see what happens.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Money Shot

Here is the heart of the old medieval Château du Grand-Pressigny: le donjon (the keep). It would have been the most defensible part of the old fortress. Today only part of the shell stands, but it is impressively tall and you can imagine how imposing it must have been in its day.

What remains of the keep at Le Grand-Pressigny.

Meanwhile, back at the attic, the gable ends have been insulated and the new sub-floor is going down. Ken called the electrician and plumber in yesterday to consult with the construction guys about the exact placement of the wiring and radiators (and their associated plumbing). We're good to go now with the plumbing work scheduled for next Thursday.

It's looking more and more like a room up there.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Access Denied

It's not just your computer that tells you stuff like that. Here's a sign at the Château du Grand-Pressigny that pretty much says the same thing. You can't come in here. Keep out.

This must lead to some administrative offices or some other non-public space.

But how serious can they be with this wimpy little chain that any toddler can climb over? I think, as with many French rules, it is simply a suggestion...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

And Here's The View

Before we pass through the archway I showed you a couple posts back, here's the view from the first courtyard at the town of Le Grand-Pressigny in the valley of the Claise.

Le Grand-Pressigny, seen from the château's courtyard.

In the interest of being discreet, I will not point out our friends' house, but it's in there somewhere.

Today I'm going to go up into the attic with the contractors to "remind" them of a couple of things that we had decided together last week. They didn't "remember" two things we talked about and did what we did not want done. Ken and I have decided that those two things are ok after all and it's not worth making the guys "undo" them. But I want to be sure they remember the other two things and do them the way we want them done.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Hint At The View

Also inside the first courtyard at le Château du Grand-Pressigny is an impressive row of trimmed shrubs that line the wall where you can look over the town below. I always like these extremely manicured spaces. But I know very well that their simplicity is deceiving; it takes a lot of work to make a simple bit of grass and shrubbery look like this.

This view is across the Claise valley. What you can't see here is the town down below.

Meanwhile, the attic work is progressing. The drywall is going up slowly but surely. Now the workmen are away for a day or two on another job. We've sorted out the flooring issue -- we've decided on wide solid-pine floorboards rather than the synthetic oak-like laminate. I think we'll be happier with real wood.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Inside The Courtyard

Once inside the courtyard at the Château du Grand-Pressigny, you are surrounded on three sides by various wings of the castle. The fourth side is open to the southeast and the views out over the town's rooftops below are spectacular.

The neatly trimmed trees inside the courtyard are readying for the spring bloom.

This view is of an arch through the Renaissance wing that bisects the interior courtyard; it leads to the ruins of the old donjon (keep). The tilleuls (linden trees) -- at least I think that's what they are -- are pollarded so that the spring's new growth will be compact and neat.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Le Grand-Pressigny

High on a hilltop in the valley of the Claise River sits the castle of Guillaume de Pressigny. It is a twelfth century fortress and sixteenth century Renaissance residence and gardens.

Entrance through the medieval castle gate. I love the mailbox on the left.

We visited this place first in 2006, but did not venture inside since we were on our way to someplace else. Since then, a modern wing has been added to the complex to house the expanded pre-history museum.

Now visitors don't have to pay to enter the castle's courtyards and gardens, only the buildings and museum.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Lovely Afternoon

On Saturday, Ken, Callie, and I went down to Le Grand-Pressigny to spend the afternoon with British friends Jean and Nick. They have a holiday home in the shadow of the town's castle and we had a delicious lunch outside on their patio.

The entrance to the castle at Le Grand-Pressigny.

Toward the end of the afternoon, Jean and I climbed up to the château and did a quick walk around. I'll post some pictures of what we saw over the next few days.

Friday, April 09, 2010

It's Closing In

The attic insulation work is progressing. And now that it's happening I feel like the attic is getting smaller. But it will all look great once the drywall is up and painted a light color.

View looking northeast.

They guys left a space for the first of two attic windows, but they didn't consult us about where we wanted them placed. It turns out that this one is not quite where we would have put it, but it's close enough so we won't make them re-do it. We need to be sure to tell them where we want the other one to be before they get over to that end of the attic.

View looking northwest.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Please Do Not Excite The Dogs

That's what the sign says on the kennel where the dogs at Cheverny are kept. The château is famous for it's hunting heritage and they currently breed hunting dogs. When you visit the château, you can watch the dogs get fed in the afternoon. It's quite the spectacle.

What's going on out there?

Work on the attic continues. The framing (metal rails) and insulation are starting to go up. I took a couple of pictures yesterday, but they don't show much. I'll try again this afternoon.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Periodic Puppy Pics

Callie is doing remarkably well during all the upheaval. Her favorite napping place is now gone, but she's making do with alternative locations. The napping continues. Her food and water bowls have been relocated. She still eats normally.

Callie at the top of the stairs before the work started.

She's not freaked out by the noise or the comings and goings of the workers. The only thing she wants to do is to sit in the middle of all the action just to keep an eye on things. We cannot have that, because someone is likely to trip over her.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

We're Cleaning The Attic

In preparation for the new construction, we have begun the attic cleaning process. I'm sure I have some before photos somewhere, but I haven't looked. The attic floor was covered in flattened cardboard boxes. Those, in turn, were covered in decades of dust and who knows what. Mice have lived up there, we found a dead bird up there, and even and old nest. It was yucky. Good word, yucky.

Looking toward the north side, where the bedroom area will be.

So on Monday, Ken and I went up dressed in old clothes and masks. We didn't want to breath in the crap that we were certain to put into the air. We opened the windows and started chucking the old cardboard, bits of carpet and linoleum, and other stuff, out into the yard. Then we swept and vacuumed. And after a couple of hours, by gum, that attic started looking pretty good!

The south end of the house, and the dormer that looks east. Ken's vacuuming.

We had a mess in the yard to deal with, but we burned all that we could burn. The little that wasn't burnable will go to the dump. The main thing is that the guys who will start working today to cut the stair hole and prepare for framing, insulating, and dry-walling, will have a decent place to start with.

Looking south again. The box on the floor on the left is where the new stair will come up.

We're looking forward to the finished space. It's voluminous, and it will increase our living space by a lot. I'll keep you posted as the work progresses. And so will Ken on his blog. Stay tuned.

Help me Obi-wan Kenobe. You're my only hope.

By the way, all these photos were taken after most of the cleaning was done. Ken was finishing up and I grabbed the tripod and the camera.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Breaking With Tradition

It's Easter. Normally Ken and I cook and eat a rabbit on Easter Sunday. No chocolate bunnies for us, just a good lapin en gibelotte (rabbit fricassee). But not this year. I just didn't feel like it for some reason.

One of the first trees in our yard to bloom every year has done it again.

I suggested that we get some boudin noir (blood sausages) and have them with french fries. But Ken brought back a tub of North Carolina style pork barbecue, so we're having that with fries today. Yum!

We still need to get up into the attic and clean, but it's been so windy and cold, and the cold wind blows through that attic like you wouldn't believe (that will stop once the attic is insulated). So we're putting it off until Monday, when the weather is predicted to be better. In the meantime, we're moving furniture and plants in the stairwell and tending to other details.

If it wasn't for the last minute, nothing would get done.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

I'm Not A Lineman For The County

These power lines span fields and vineyards between Villentrois and Châteauvieux, about ten or fifteen miles from where we live.

Power transmission lines march through the countryside.

In addition to recovering from his travels and overcoming jet lag, Ken's got a big weekend of work ahead. We need to get up into the attic and remove some junk, chuck out all the old cardboard that's lining the floors, and otherwise prepare it for the work that starts on Tuesday. We also need to move two buffets that are on the landing where the new stair will go.

No main roads to drive here.

I think the first thing the contractor is going to start with on Tuesday is cutting the hole for the new stairway. Then they'll get started on the insulation and framing for the drywall.

Thankfully, Easter Monday is a holiday in France, so we have three days to get ready.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Blue Hangar In Villentrois

I thought this was an unusual color for a utility building. It's somebody's garage in the small village of Villentrois, a few steps from the main intersection. It's not quite blue, but it's not quite green. I have a hard time distinguishing the various shades between those two.

A storage hangar or garage with a nice paint job.

The French word hangar is the same as in English. This is less of a hangar than it is a garage, but since it's large enough to hold more than just a vehicle, I think it would be called un hangar.

This morning I'm off to fetch Ken from the train station. He should have arrived in Paris by the time this posts earlier this morning. Then he'll grab a TGV from the airport and be here in no time.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

April Fools?

That would be us. The weather is playing us for fools. For a week we had lovely springtime weather, then it turned and is windy and cold again. At least we had enough light and warmth for this to happen:

Some hyacinth bulbs that I dug up and put into containers (temporarily) have bloomed.

But this morning's low was 2.5ºC. Yikes! I suppose that all is not lost. And Ken gets home tomorrow!