Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It's better than it is, wasn't it?

My back is much better these days. There are still some minor twinges now and then, just to remind me, but they are fewer and farther between than a week ago. I even skipped my anti-inflammatory drug on Sunday so that I could be awake at a garden party with no ill effects. I'm still being careful about moving my neck and head and I'm still wearing the neck brace most of the time, and especially to bed at night.

Part of the vineyard on a hazy August morning.

We're really getting close to finishing the painting. Ken's done a great job having taken over the painting of the large sloping ceiling and higher walls. I've been working on priming the closet doors which doesn't involve much moving around. They're primed now, so I'll fill in some holes with putty and wait for that to dry before putting the paint coat on. I've also been fiddling with hardware and have started the process of removing the painting tape from the floor.

We are anxious to be done. The next step after painting will be the clean up. The floor needs a good going over to remove the inevitable drops of paint (we used drop cloths, but you can't cover everything) and leftover dust and dirt. Ken wants to give the steps another coat of varnish.

Then we'll start moving the furniture up. There's a lot of moving to do because we are essentially re-arranging the entire house. But there's nothing really big or heavy to deal with and we'll be able to manage it pretty easily. Then the rest of the house needs a thorough cleaning as we put it all back together. We skipped spring cleaning this year because of the construction work, so now it's time to pay the piper.

After all that, there's the garage and utility room to put back in order. They've served as our storage and staging areas for construction and painting. It'll be nice to clear out and clean up before the weather turns cold. We'll also have the plumber back to hang the radiators in the new space sometime during all of this.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Thistle get ya

Late summer is thistle season and the vineyard is full of them. Sometimes I wonder how the grape vines manage with all the other things growing out there. But most of the things that aren't grapes grow on the margins or in the large fields that lay fallow in between vine parcels.

Thistles among the grape vines.

I think the vineyards, fields, and woods are at their most colorful this time of year. When summer's rainbows touch the ground, they leave behind green in the grasses and leaves, white in the wild carrot flowers, yellow in the little daisies, blue in the wild chicory, purple in the thistles, and orange in the giant slugs.

Then happy little bluebirds fly... oh, never mind.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Painting right along

A little each day. On Saturday I put another coat of primer on the woodwork and the lower walls in the last section. Ken did another coat of paint on the corners in the middle section. Today he plans to finish the primer on the upper walls and I will continue with the closet doors. We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Little flowers preparing to open for the day in the vineyard. This one almost looks like a paintbrush.

One bit of progress is that we dismantled the big scaffold that our contractor loaned to us and took it downstairs. We don't need it anymore. And that's made a big difference. I've also started replacing the switch plates and soon I'll start removing the painting tape.

It sure feels good to look at what we've done and realize that we didn't have to pay someone else to do it. Of course, if we had, it would all be done by now. But that doesn't matter.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Morning dew

On my morning walks with Callie the two of us often get our feet wet. And dirty. Sometimes it's the result of overnight rain. Often it's dew condensing on the grasses and plants at sunrise that soaks our feet. And wet paws pick up all manner of loose dirt.

Tiny dew droplets cover the petals of these wild flowers in the vineyard.

That's why, on most mornings, Callie gets what I call "the undercarriage wash." She goes into the shower in our utility room for a rinse-off. Then I dry her with a towel. This happens twice a day in rainy weather and most of the winter. How many dogs do you know who get a daily spa treatment?

We're nearing the end of our painting job, at least for the new attic space. There is still the big job of the stairwell and hallway on the main floor where we're removing decades-old wallpaper. That job will wait for a while. At least until we're moved in upstairs and we get the garage and utility room cleaned up and organized. And we've rested our weary backs.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The waning of summer

I hate to say it. I hate to see it. But it's happening. Summer is winding down. The grapes are ripening. The wildflowers in the vineyard are wilting away. The days are getting shorter. And cooler.

One of the sunflowers in our vegetable garden is starting to droop. We'll harvest the seeds!

We're finally getting tomatoes, eggplant, and sweet corn from the garden. Another sign that we're moving into harvest time. The moon is getting full. A harvest moon, I suppose. It won't be long, just about a month, until the equinox and then it will really be fall.

I saw the doctor yesterday and he essentially agreed with the radiologist. Nothing serious. He told me that we'd hold off on cortisone injections for the time being and that he'd continue my medication (anti-inflammatory) for another two weeks. He also gave me a prescription to see a chiropractor. That's a kinésithérapeute in French. So I'll have to find one and make and appointment. I've never been to one before, so it will be a new experience.

You can be sure I'll tell you all about it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Turns out they're red

Remember that bunch of green grapes I showed you back on July 13? I wasn't sure whether they'd turn out to be white or red grapes when they ripened. Well, now I know. Take a look:

Red grapes ripening in the vineyard. Harvest time is nearing!

This is certainly not the same bunch, but it's from the same row. Obviously red. Which varietal? Darn, I knew you were going to ask and I haven't got a clue. I do know that it's either gamay, cabernet franc, côt (also known as malbec), or pineau d'aunis. Those are the four primary red varietals grown in our region. But you have to be more of an expert than I am to identify them from this photo.

We haven't heard yet when the harvest will start this year. Usually it gets under way in mid to late September, depending of course on the weather and which vineyards are ready first.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Getting back to it, slowly

Since my back injury, I've been kind of taking it easy. I did paint one day, but only baseboards and corners and one small low wall. No reaching or tilting my head up. And I wore the neck brace the whole time to keep from aggravating anything. But that was only one day.

A planter filled with summer flowers next to the church in Saint-Aignan.

And Ken hasn't been inspired to do much, either, although he made some more progress on Monday with one of the end walls. The paintbrush on a stick helped him to get a lot of the corners done high up without needing to climb on the scaffolding.

But we really need to continue. We're not that far from done and it will be so nice to finally put the paint cans away and move some furniture. There is another low wall I can roll today. Then I can get started on the closet doors. I can prime and paint those using sawhorses. No reaching or climbing. And Ken can continue on the ceiling, being careful not to push it.

I also need to head out to the pharmacy and the post office first thing this morning. While I'm out I'm going to stop by the doctor's office and make my follow-up appointment. Then it's back home to hit the paint cans!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's not Loopner's disease

Does anyone remember Lisa Loopner? She was a character played by Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live back in the late 1970s in the U.S. Lisa was a very nerdy high school girl whose father, the late Mr. Loopner (God rest his soul) had died from Loopner's disease. He was born without a spine.

A side view of my neck. Too much information?

Clearly the evidence shows that I've got a spine. This is one of four x-ray images I had made yesterday. The radiologist said that there was some slight dislocation between two of the vertebrae and some swelling between two others. This is what's putting pressure on my arm nerves, apparently. He said it was nothing serious and if the medicine I'm taking is helping, then things should be alright. I can't see anything on the x-rays. I guess that's why doctors get all that schooling.

Now I have to go back to my primary doctor and see what he says. I can still feel twinges in the arm, but there is no serious pain like before. I suppose it's the drugs and the neck brace.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Duct tape holds the universe together

I'm a convert. I love duct tape. We needed a way to get paint into the corners that were unreachable over the stairwell. There was no way to reach these parts of the wall with a ladder or the scaffolding. We had to find a way.

A broomstick, a paintbrush, and some duct tape. Et, voilà!

And we did. With a broom handle and some duct tape. Worked like a charm!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Feeling no very little pain

I got good drugs. My doctor prescribed an anti-inflammatory called Piroxicam. I take it once a day while I'm eating my main meal. It's got some scary side-effects warnings mostly about how it can mess up your stomach, but so far I haven't had any trouble. And my back and arm pain is way, way down.

A recent afternoon sky over the Cher Valley.

The doctor also prescribed something to help me sleep. But it's not a sleeping pill. It's a pain pill. Each capsule contains mostly paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen), but it also includes opium and caffeine. And it works great. I feel nothing when I go to sleep, but I have been having strangely vivid dreams since I started taking the capsules. I wake up with no pain whatsoever, only a slight twinge in the places where the pain was the worst.

The pain starts to come back a little as we get closer to lunch. Then I take the Piroxicam again and things get better. I'm hopeful that the x-ray next week will show that the inflammation is greatly reduced or gone. I'll let you know.

Yesterday we were invited over to our neighbors' place for lunch. I took my pill with the meal and shortly thereafter I was feeling light-headed and confused. Conversation was swirling all around me and I was in a daze. Ken said I got very pale. We left after lunch and I slept for a couple of hours. After that, I was fine.

I think it was the whiskey I had as an apéro. I don't often drink whiskey, let alone on an empty stomach. Then there was wine with lunch, but I didn't drink very much of that. The combination of the alcohol and medication was enough to knock me out. Better be more careful from now on...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hot under the collar

Like I said, I have to wear this neck brace collar thing to minimize stress on my neck and cervical vertebrae. It's not a rigid collar; it's made from a lovely gray fabric which covers a foam core and attaches in back with a velcro strip. And it makes me look fat.

The Quai Jean-Jaques Delorme in St.-Aignan. The Grand Hotel is in the background.

Since I've started wearing it, the temperatures have shot up into the 80s F during the day. And I have to wear it to bed, too. All that means that I'm sweating under the collar. Ick. So I take it off for a few minutes from time to time to air it out.

I think wearing the collar is helping, though, since it immobilizes my head and prevents me from tilting back. The downside is that it makes working at the computer difficult. You will understand if you wear bifocals. I can't tilt my head back enough to see through the bottom half of the lens. I'm sitting on pillows to get higher, but it's not enough. Consequently, I either stand at the computer for short bursts (checking the weather, looking up things) and I don't do as much reading (blogs, newspapers) on line as I'm used to.

This getting old crap is for the birds. Old birds.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Névralgie cervico-brachiale

That's what I've got. In English it's not much different: cervical-brachial neuralgia. It's a disk in my neck that's either herniated (sometimes called "slipped") or inflamed. It's pretty much the same thing as sciatica, only it affects the arm instead of the leg. The disk is putting pressure on the main nerve group that goes into my left arm. The doctor said it was not from lifting, but from tilting my head back to paint the ceiling. Great.

A summer sight in St.-Aignan: the Cher River excursion boat.

I asked the doctor to write the name of the condition down so I could look it up on the internet when I got home. And, by the way, my doctor is no exception to the medical penmanship rule. His writing is nearly illegible. But Ken and I figured it out. The site I found about NCB described my symptoms perfectly. Right down to the tingling in the tips of my fingers and the constant waking up during the night.

So the doctor prescribed a neck brace that I'm supposed to wear day and night. It's oh, so fashionable. He also gave me a two week supply of an anti-inflammatory drug that I have to take once a day, during a meal. Not before a meal. Not after a meal. During a meal. I will call it the Pill Course. And he gave me some drugs to help me sleep. I also need to have an x-ray done of my neck so he can determine the extent of the injury.

After the x-ray I need to go back and see him again. He told me that the inflammation would either clear up by itself (which it did last time) or I will need cortisone injections. I asked him about osteopaths or chiropractors, but he said he didn't like to go that route. What he didn't say, which the web site did, was that this could lead to surgery. I am not a happy camper.

So Ken's going to have to take over with the ceiling painting. And I'll do the lower wall stuff so I don't have to reach or tilt my head. But I won't get started for a while, just to give my disks a chance to rest. And I won't be able to start on cutting the winter firewood. I'll have to see about trimming the hedge, but that can wait a couple of months or even until spring if necessary.

And thanks to all of you for your encouraging comments and suggestions. I appreciate them all!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I'll be back...

It's hard to sit at my desk while my back is acting up. So I'll just show you a picture of the Château de Saint-Aignan and be on my way.

The eastern end of the castle, seen from the quai.

On my way to the floor, that is, to stretch my back.

UPDATE: I just made an appointment to see my doctor this morning. Hopefully, he can send me to a back specialist.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pain in the back

I've had trouble with my back on and off for twenty years or so. Most of the time it's muscular, lower back pain that results from lifting something or moving in a way that I shouldn't have. With a little time, and sometimes some back stretching exercises like Pilates, it heals and goes away.

One of the bell towers on Saint-Aignan's collégiale church.

My last two episodes of back pain have been very different. I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on tv, so I can't be certain, but it feels like a pinched nerve. It's centered under my left shoulder blade, high up, close to my neck. Depending on how I move, it sends tingling sensations, and sometimes sharper pains, through my neck, down my arm, and sometimes down my leg (it's just the neck and arm this time).

The last time I had this, I did my Pilates back exercises plus a new stretch that I read about online and the pain cleared up rather quickly. So I'm "back" at it, but the relief has not yet come.

I have a feeling that my current pain episode was triggered by the painting I'm doing in the attic. Not only have I been lifting heavy ten- and twelve-liter tubs of primer up the stairs, but I've been climbing up the scaffolding and wielding brushes and rollers over my head. My back has not appreciated this.

Sitting at my desk is not comfortable, nor is lying down. I lie awake in bed for hours during the night, unable to fall asleep because of the dull pain. I've been taking ibuprofen, and that helps a little, but I don't want to take too much of the stuff. Still, I've got to get the painting done. Maybe once I stop, so will the pain.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Market pictures

I went to the market on Saturday just to see what it was like in the renovated market square. Turns out it was just like before, only with no trees. It's pretty bland, really. I did talk to one of the vendors, the one we call Madame Doudouille. We talked about how the place was a little triste (sad looking) with no trees.

Madame Doudouille's truck on the right. On the left, our favorite poultry vendor.

The woman who was ahead of me agreed. But she said there would be trees. In ten years. So I joked that they must have planted seeds. Smiles all around. The vendors don't like being back in the old place, it seems. They preferred the upper place because it was a whole lot easier for them to drive in and park. Oh well.

A good produce vendor. He also sells seedlings for your garden. Those are little lettuce plants in front.

Madame Doudouille told me that the original plans for the renovation included a fountain. That would have been nice. But, she said, the fountain was the first thing to be cut due to budget constraints. A friend of ours also said something about benches, but there are as yet no benches to be seen.

These are people lined up in front of the fish monger's stand. They always have great seafood.

We shall see how it all works out. We've heard from some people who live on the place that the town did a real lousy job managing the work. They're not happy with the outcome. Although the serious improvements are the utilities like the water pipes, the sewer pipes, and the electrical stuff, all underground. That's the stuff that nobody sees, but one woman at the market said that she's lived here for over forty years and this is the first time those things were updated. So maybe that's a good thing.

Looking out of the place toward the church. A horse butcher shop is on the left.

At any rate, progress is slow, and I'm sure that once the trees get planted and the benches get installed, things will settle down into a normal state. The place has been there since the middle ages and I'm sure it will be there for a long time to come.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Zéro tracas, zéro blabla

That's the jingle for this insurance company. And this is their office in Saint-Aignan. I believe they are headquartered in Le Mans, since MMA stands for les Mutuelles du Mans Assurances. That's where the company started according to their web site.

Our local MMA office in St.-Aignan.

But they sell insurance all over France. Automobile, homeowner's, health, life. You name it. As far as health insurance goes, they sell policies that complement the national health service. That is, the policy pays the co-payment for you. I think that you can also buy policies that allow you to upgrade the health care you get. For example, a policy might pay for a private room in a hospital as opposed to a double room, or pay for expensive eyeglasses or dental work that might not be covered by the national health service.

Here's one of their commercials where you can hear the jingle at the end if you want to. These three guys are in most of MMA's television commercials. Always corny, but no talking geckos.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The back end of a lady bug

If you look closely at the photo you can see it. La coccinelle (the ladybug) turned and headed into the flower head as I was getting ready to snap the picture. Oh well. Nature does it own thing whether or not it suits us.

A ladybug takes cover inside the head of a wild carrot flower.

I've noticed a lot of ladybugs this year, more than usual, on the plants in our garden. Either their predators are down, or their food supply is up. We certainly have not had an aphid problem this year as we've had in past years, so perhaps these ladybugs are eating up their larvae.

Did you know that in France, coccinelle is (or was) the name of a convenience store? We had one in Saint-Aignan, but it recently changed its name to Cocci-marché. The "marché" word, or its English equivalent "market," is showing up in the names of many grocery chains these days, like Simply Market (used to be ATAC) and Carrefour Market (the smaller version of the large Carrefour hyper-market).

The old Disney movies about Herbie the Love Bug are called "La Coccinelle" in French. For obvious reasons. One of the Disney channels we get has been running a series of them all summer. On Friday night they showed "La Coccinelle à Monte-Carlo" made in 1977 with Dean Jones and Don Knotts. I missed it.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Two turtle doves

I have to say up front that I don't really know if these are tourterelles (turtle doves) or not. There are so many variations in the pigeon/dove family that we find around here. If any of you recognize the exact variety, I'd appreciate a confirmation or correction.

Two birds on a wire outside our house.

Still, I have seen swans (a-swimming), geese (a-layin'), colly birds (blackbirds), French hens, and partridges where we live. If only I could get one of those last ones to perch in our pear tree...

Now, I know that there is controversy around this song. Four "colly" birds? I grew up singing "four calling birds." My research (such as it is) suggests that "calling" is a change from the original. Both terms supposedly refer to blackbirds which, in Europe, are known for their songs.

And what about that partridge in a pear tree? When I see partridges, they're on the ground, not usually perching in trees. Well, one explanation derives from the transformation of the song between French and English. Une perdrix is a partridge in French. It's pronounced pear-dree. So, one theory goes that "and a partridge, une perdrix" became "and a partridge in a pear tree."

And lastly, why am I talking about a Christmas song in mid-August? Well, the turtle doves showed up. It won't be long before the Christmas decorations make their appearance in your local department store. They may already be there.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Well that's just corny

Some of our sweet corn is getting ready for picking. These ears are on the early variety of corn that I planted; there are also two other varieties that have just put up their tassels. I know mid-August is not early for corn, but everything seems to be late in the garden this year.

It won't be long now...

The tomatoes are looking real good, but they're still green. One has decided to start turning, so I'm hopeful that the others aren't far behind. We have eggplants forming as well, and the cayenne peppers look great, but still green.

Squash production is going full steam, of course. Who wants some?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

We can sing a song and sail along the silver sky

I've missed a couple of days. I haven't been out with the camera much lately, so there aren't many photos to choose from. On Wednesday we were up and out early, headed to Tours to do some shopping. The trip takes about an hour each way, but it's a nice drive through the Loire Valley with views of vineyards and châteaux to enjoy along the way.

Up, up and away! This balloon floated by our house last week.

Once at Tours, we headed up to Tours Nord, a sizable development north of the river near the local airport. It's a hodgepodge of residential and commercial developments built along the northern ring road. Some of it is sparkling new, some probably twenty years old or so. It looks like most of it was farmland before being developed.

At any rate, navigating the little access roads around all the parking lots in the commercial areas is not easy. There seems to be no guiding principle to the plan, no clear paths or landmarks to guide you. Reading the landscape to find your way is very difficult as you drive along negotiating traffic circles and signals. And if you end up in a residential section, the curly-cue streets filled with traffic-calming devices like speed bumps, constricted lanes, one-ways, and cul-de-sacs can drive you absolutely insane.

In a way it's worse than the Amercian version of suburban hell because the scale is much smaller. That means the streets are narrower and shorter and you're dealing with many small intersections and doing a lot of turning very quickly. And the townhouses and condos are all much closer to the streets so you don't have long views and opportunities to get your bearings.

I know that it's all a matter of familiarity. If I spent more time shopping there, I'd probably get used to the layout and not think twice about it. But we only go there once or twice a year, so it's like a new experience every time.

But we survived. And we had a very successful shopping experience. First, we stopped at Paris Store, an emporium of Asian foods and ingredients, and filled up our cart with goodies. Then it was on to a big home improvement store to check out paint prices. Not bad, but the parking lot was chock full and the lines at checkout were fifteen deep. Since we had another home store in mind, we just left. Finding the second store, called BricoDépôt (very much like Home Depot), was a challenge and we got lost in cul-de-sac city a few times.

But we made our way and were glad we did. The paint prices were better, we found what we wanted, and the checkout wasn't too bad.

Let me take this opportunity to râler (bitch and moan) about checkout lines. What I'm about to describe applies to grocery stores as well has home improvement stores. There is a choice. You can get into one of the lines with six people in front of you or you can get into one of the lines with two people in front of you. In the lines with six people, each person has a small collection of small items. One of the items will not have a price on it, or will scan at a different price than the advertised or marked price. The checker will pick up the phone and call somebody to assist, or disappear into the store searching for a solution. You're stuck for a while.

In the lines with two people, each person has two pallets of huge things: hundreds of linear meters of copper pipes and fittings, wallboards for six rooms, whole kitchens, or all of the above. One of the items will not have a price on it, or will scan at a different price than the advertised or marked price. The checker will pick up the phone and call somebody to assist, or disappear into the store searching for a solution. You're stuck for a while.

Either way, you spend more time in line waiting than you did shopping for what you needed. We picked a line with two people in it. The two people were together, a retired couple with a dog. He was on crutches, she held the leash. They had eleven three-meter lengths of copper pipe, eleven matching lengths of pipe insulation, a bucket, more pipe fittings than I've ever seen in one place, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Two carts. The checker, a young smiley guy, counted everything (twice) and scanned it all.

Their last item, a small bag of nuts and bolts, did not have a bar code or a price on it (see above). The woman volunteered to run back into the store to get the price. While she did this, the smiley checker guy printed out the itemized bill (three long sheets, in duplicate) and hubby wrote a check. Their total was over 600 euros. The woman came back and said the bag of hardware was marked €2.50. Hubby got some change out, but the checker guy smiled and handed it back to him. Just take them, he said. You bought 600 euros worth of stuff, you can have the bag on us.

Then he smiled again and took care of us. As all this was going on, he told us that his register was closing after us. We dutifully told all the customers that got into our line that we were to be the last and that they had to choose another line. There was one fewer two-person line to choose from. As always, our items scanned through perfectly and we were out of there.

Our final stop was a grocery store where we found a few things we needed and some we didn't. We got home around two p.m. and made lunch. It's nice to be back in the countryside.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Morning clouds

Recent mornings have been chilly, or what feels chilly compared to the warm sunny afternoons. The temperatures in the mornings have been in the upper teens celcius (sixties fahrenheit), while they get up into the mid to upper twenties (low eighties fahrenheit) later on. This often means that we have some cloudiness early in the morning that clears out as the day warms up.

Light cloud cover over the vineyards at sunrise.

Today is another priming day in the attic. Ken and I are both taping and painting, so we should be making better progress. Until the primer runs out. Later this week we'll probably make a run to the hardware store for another batch and also to look at actual paint options again.

The squash plants are in full production, challenging us to say the least. Yesterday I roasted three large zucchini and put the pulp into the freezer. It will be good for dips or soups later on. Today I'm planning to grate a few smaller zukes to make boulettes de courgettes (zucchini balls). I've done this before and we like them.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Cheesy bacon zucchini bread

Last week I made a savory cake with zucchini. It turned out pretty well, even though I made the recipe up. Using the internet, I searched for savory cakes and found a few recipes. Many of them were too complicated for what I wanted to do, and others used ingredients that I didn't have on hand. So I fudged it. Here is (roughly) what I did. It made two standard loaves.

The zucchini and cheese make the cake very moist.

Preheat your oven to 180ºC. Butter two standard loaf pans and put them in the fridge.

Grate two medium-sized zucchini. I used the fine blade in my food processor. Salt them lightly and let them disgorge excess liquid in a sieve. After about ten minutes, squeeze the squash gently in your hands to remove more liquid. Set aside.

I used 200 grams of lardons fumés, lightly sautéed, but not browned. In the US, if you can't get smoked slab bacon, use traditional bacon. Cook it lightly but don't let it get crispy. Then cut it up into large bits with a knife. You could also use chunks of leftover ham, chicken, or even pork roast.

I also had a hunk of Gruyère in the fridge. It was just over 100 grams. I grated that up. Any hard, grate-able cheese will work here, from Swiss to Jack to Cheddar. Whatever you like. I saw a couple recipes that used chopped up goat cheese and I would have done that, but I didn't have any goat cheese on hand.

For the batter, lightly beat six eggs in a bowl, then add 2 cups of flour, two teaspoons of baking powder, eight tablespoons of vegetable oil, and a cup of milk. Next, add the cheese, the bacon, and zucchini to the batter along with salt and pepper and mix it up well.

Pour the batter into the buttered loaf pans and bake them for about an hour. You know they're done when you do the wooden-skewer-comes-out-clean test. Then let them cool before turning them out of the pans.

And there you have it. These cakes are good sliced or cut into small cubes and served with before dinner drinks. I sliced one and put the other in the freezer for later.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The priming is under way

It's long and tedious work. But we're not paying somebody else to do it. Still, it's long and tedious work. I got the first third of the attic space taped and primed on Saturday. The taping was done on Friday, but I didn't start painting until Saturday morning.

First coat of primer on the left, no primer yet on the right. Looking up at the ceiling.

I spent a little more than three hours doing the corners and baseboards with a brush then finishing the large surfaces with a roller. I was up and down from the scaffolding countless times. I moved the drop cloths around a lot. I still spilled paint on the floor. And I promptly cleaned it up.

The north end of the attic has its first coat of primer. Yippee!

The primer is very thick. I was complaining about it when Ken brought up a jug of water and said, "Thin it down!" That worked better. I think I'm going to put a second coat on with the roller just to be sure that it covers well. We still haven't picked a color for the room. And there are still two thirds to do. Taping. Corners. Baseboards. Rolling. I think Ken will help, so it should go a bit faster.

Then we have to paint it all.

I just did some rough calculations. The floor area of the space is about 65 square meters or about 700 square feet. The wall area (what we're priming and painting) is roughly 130 square meters, or about 1,400 square feet. Oh my.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Place de la Paix

When I went into town to the market last weekend, I took a quick peek at the renovation work going on in the market square, Place de la Paix. The new trees, benches, and light fixtures aren't installed yet, but the paving is pretty much done.

The northeast corner of the place with St.-Aignan's collégiale church behind.

The work has taken many months. The old trees had to come out. Then the old asphalt pavement and sidewalks were removed. After that, all the utilities under the place from electricity to water to sewer had to be upgraded.

The northwest corner.

Then the sidewalks were rebuilt and the new paving started. Every paving stone is laid by hand, of course, and pounded into the carefully constructed base of stone and sand. No wonder it took a while.

Looking southwest. The square boxes are tree planters.

Last weekend they had started to seal the pavers with some kind of coating. It was all very sticky and very shiny. I don't remember that shiny stuff going on the main streets in town when those were done six years ago, but I'm hoping the sheen wears off soon and it all blends together.

The southeast corner will be the last section to get sealed.

I may go to the market again on Saturday to check on the progress. Then, in a week (August 14) the work should be over and the market will be back in the center of town instead of on the edge. I'll be sure to take more photos at that point.

Looking northeast again.

From what I'm told, the new place will have fewer parking spots and parking time will be reduced from the current two hours to more like twenty minutes. This is not a big problem for us since there is plenty of parking around the edge of the small town including a newly-expanded lot about five minutes away on foot. But it will still provide some parking for those who can't walk so far.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Saint-Aignan street light

Seen just outside the restaurant on Monday in Saint-Aignan. The festive flags will likely come down at the end of August.

A street light in the rue Paul-Boncour.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Another lunch at the Mange-Grenouille

One of the prettiest restaurants in Saint-Aignan is called le Mange-Grenouille (The Frog Eater). It's been open for about five years and just recently changed hands. Our friend CHM took us to lunch there on Monday and the food was just as good as it ever was. It's standard French fare and for lunch on weekdays they serve a great menu for fourteen euros.

CHM and Ken in the courtyard dining area of the Mange-Grenouille. The tables filled up after we arrived.

The menu has a couple of options for appetizers, then three choices for the main course. There is usually one beef dish, one fish dish, and then something else. Cheese or dessert is included in the menu price, but wine and coffee are extra.

The appetizer.

Each of us had the same appetizer on Monday. It was a salad of smoked lieu (I think Americans would call that pollock) with lettuce, chopped tomato, sliced and marinated pears and cucumbers, a spear of white asparagus, and crispy fried shallots. Very tasty. The other choice, which we didn't taste, was rillettes de canard (potted duck).

My main course.

We each had something different for our main courses. Mine, pictured here, was a roti de porc (pork roast) in a balsamic sauce. It was served with a mix of fresh green and yellow beans, carrots, and eggplant, and half a roasted potato. Ken had a steak in pepper sauce and CHM had skate wing.


We also had a bottle of Pinot Noir from across the river in St.-Romain. Our dessert was a slice of French toast with an apricot compote and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Then we each had a coffee.

The Tadpole's menu (for kids under eleven).

The restaurant's decor is very nice; it was done by a local woman from whom we bought some antiqued furniture when we arrived here seven years ago. She has a shop in St.-Aignan. The weather was very pleasant and we were able to snag a table in the courtyard and enjoy the greenery and the sunlight.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The castle's gate house

Among the interesting buildings that I pass on my way to the Saturday morning market is the castle's old gate house. It's a nice little building that was in serious disrepair when we first moved here seven years ago.

The gate house and gate outside the Château de Saint-Aignan.

The gate house has since been renovated and is now rented out as a holiday home. I've seen the interior thanks to some friends who stayed there once. It's very nice, and it's a quick walk into town, even though the house feels like it's secluded inside a park. Except for that château you can see from the bedroom window...

Monday, August 02, 2010

On my way to market

Last spring the Saturday morning market in Saint-Aignan was temporarily moved up into the upper place (Place du 14 Julliet) in town because the lower place (Place de la Paix) is being renovated. The work was supposed to be done before the summer season but, like many construction projects, it's taken longer than expected.

Looking back through the arch toward the river. The castle is to the right.

Since parking is a little tricky next to the temporary market (the town is also expanding one of its parking lots and it's closed during the construction as well), I park the car down along the river when I go on Saturday mornings. Then I walk up through the château grounds to get to the market. On my way, I pass through the arch you see above.

The arch supports a little bridge that carriages once used, and now cars use, to enter the castle's courtyard. The walk to market up the hill below the castle and along its chestnut tree-lined drive is very pleasant on sunny mornings. It beats the heck out of the supermarket parking lot.

This past Saturday, all the vendors at the market displayed signs saying that they'll be moving back into the renovated Place de la Paix on August 14. It'll be interesting to see how that goes.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The artichokes are blooming

And they're abuzz with insects collecting nectar. And one tiny little spider who seems to have taken up residence in one of the flower heads. But I don't have good photos of any of that.

Artichokes in bloom.

I have no idea how long these plants will last. This is the fourth year they've come back and bloomed. When we put them in I was under the impression that they might go two seasons if we were lucky. We did lose one or two to cold, but the three others continue to sprout at the slightest hint of warm weather. Sometimes they die back once or twice in late winter/early spring if warm days alternate with cold spells.

Looking down on the flower. The tiny white dot to the right of center is a spider.

I couldn't decide which of these pictures to post, so I posted all three. As I've said before, these artichokes are not so good to eat because they're small and tough. Maybe if we pick them when they're new they'd be tender and good, but we haven't tried that. There's always next spring.

They're quite beautiful, then they dry and make fluffy seeds.