Sunday, June 30, 2019

It's too darn hot

Saturday felt hotter than any day during the current heat wave. Last night was bad. The house has heated up and sleeping is extremely uncomfortable. The good news is that it is expected to be significantly cooler today and for the next few days. Already this morning, at 06h00, a nice cool breeze is blowing through the house. Perhaps the worst is over.

Roses are fading fast in the heat.

We're keeping the vegetable garden and deck plants watered, but elsewhere the heat and lack of rain is becoming visible. I realize that I was complaining about the rain not very long ago, but when it doesn't rain for couple of weeks around here it feels like a drought.

I drove over to Tours on Saturday morning and got the new cabinet and sink for the half-bath. I also picked up a few other things we wanted. I won't name the big-box store I went to, but they sell Swedish meatballs that come with pictogram instructions on how to prepare them. And an Allen wrench. ;)

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Hot stuff

She wasn't called Donna Summer for nothing. Our heat wave continues. Thursday was expected to be the peak, but Friday was hotter. We topped out at 35.8ºC (just over 96ºF) on our outdoor thermometer. The mornings are getting warmer, too, as the ground gains more and more heat. Fortunately for us, we are not down south where temperatures are seriously hot.

The rozanne geraniums are enjoying the heat. You can tell I'm not the most meticulous weeder.

The work has stalled in the bathrooms for the weekend. The builder has another job he needed to start, and the plumber is stuck waiting for him. He should be back on Monday and things should get back on track. There's not much left to do, but we decided to make one change. We're finding that the little sink in the new WC is just too small, so we're going to replace it. I'm heading out this morning to get the new one. The plumber stopped by yesterday to look at the specs and make sure the replacement would work and he gave us the green light. Photos to come.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Reach for the sky

The grape vines out back are growing vigorously. Soon, the trimming tractors will be plying the rows, cutting the sprawling tendrils back, creating neatly squared-off rows of vines. They do this, I think, to force the vines' energy into grape production rather than leaf production.

The grower who owns these vines has been out mowing down the tall grass between rows these past couple of mornings.

Our daily heat wave update: Thursday was a hot one. The high temperature at our house was 34.9ºC (about 95ºF). The humidity was a little higher than it has been, but it's certainly not oppressively clothes-drenching humid. Thank goodness. We're expecting another day or two with highs in the low thirties before the heat breaks. Please pass the lemonade.

Thursday, June 27, 2019


The weather is all the news in France right now. It's hot and humid over most of the country and today is expected to be the hottest. Yesterday's high on our sheltered outdoor thermometer was 33.7ºC (about 93ºF), but it's much hotter in the sun and on the deck. This morning our low is about 24ºC (about 75ºF). And the weather people say that all-time record highs will be broken today.

Wednesday morning at around 06h30 in the vineyard. It's much more hazy out there this morning.

Days when we can wear shorts and a tee-shirt on our morning walks with the dog are rare, maybe a few days a year. We're having them now. The air is hazy, and although the relative humidity drops in the heat of the day, it's around 90% over night and in the morning. By the way, this humidity is nothing compared to the very hot and humid places in the USA, like on the east coast and across the south. In France, humidity usually comes with cooler weather. They're not used to it when it's hot. Still, I know one Frenchman who is enjoying it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019


One of our part-time neighbors has several rose bushes in her yard. She did some serious pruning last year and this year the roses are covered with blooms. This one is supported by the fence that runs along the vineyard road.

Our neighbor's pink rose bush just a few days ago.

Tuesday's high temperature reached 31.1ºC (about 88ºF) on our outdoor thermometer. Today we're expecting it to get just a little higher than that. Thursday is predicted to be the peak with one weather site saying the temperature will top out at 35ºC (95ºF) while another says 41ºC (about 105ºF). Evening is the worst time inside the house, but once the sun sets (right around 10:00 pm) things begin to cool off, albeit slowly.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Bloomin' heat

These are grape flowers in bloom. You really have to look hard to see them, but they're there. As the flowers fade, little grapes will form and grow into a more recognizable bunch.

The flowers have tiny white stamens, I don't think there are petals.

The heat is building in. Our outside thermometer, located in a shaded spot on the north side of the house, recorded a high of 30.4ºC (almost 87ºF) yesterday . It was hotter on the deck, though. This morning it's 21.7ºC (about 71ºF) outside and all our windows are thrown open. Cool air is moving through the house. The peak of the heat wave is expected on Thursday or Friday.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The green green grapes of home

The vineyards in our region have donned their full summer green. The grape vines are flowering now. Little bunches of grapes are on the way. The weeds are also thriving thanks to a rainy spring. And now we're entering at least a week of heat. Météo France is saying we will get up to 40ºC on Thursday and Friday. That's 104ºF, something we haven't seen since 2003, I think.

Summer finally showed up, with a vengeance.

Sleeping was uncomfortable enough last night, and we were only in the high 20s. Sleeping in the high 30s is going to be very difficult, with only fans to move the air around. We will be sure to stay hydrated. Oh, and I dug out the recipe and started making ice cubes.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Attack of the weeds

The weed invasion is more or less under control in the vegetable garden. For now. I still have more to do, but the majority of the little weedlings have been plowed under. Oh, they'll be back, but with a stretch of dry days ahead, it will take some time.

You can see what's left of the green mat of weeds along the back and on the right side of the plot. There's more work to be done!

The tomato plants are getting tall enough now to attach to the legs of the tripods, or tee-pees if you prefer. I've also started pinching suckers from the central stems. And I've sprayed a few times to prevent the mildew fungus from attacking. Phew! The plants should enjoy the coming heat wave, as long as I keep them watered.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Spare grass

That's what I and my siblings used to call asparagus when we were kids. I don't remember any of us actually liking it. I detested the stuff. It would make me gag. All that's changed now, of course. I really like fresh asparagus, green or white, when it's in season. The season is pretty much over now, locally. Asparagus plants have been left to flower and go to seed and their roots will recharge for next year. Out in the vineyard, among the vines, rogue asparagus plants (those whose seeds were dropped by birds) are also producing berries.

These asparagus berries will turn bright red when they ripen.

Summer is here, and the weather people are saying we're in for a heat wave this coming week. Serious heat. I'm talking upper 30s C, which is the high 90s F. Yikes! I spent some time on Friday morning weeding the vegetable garden. The recent rain has sent the weeds into a frenzy. I've got to get them now before they get out of control.

Friday, June 21, 2019

WC progress

Here's a little update on the first days of the bathroom work. You will remember that, at long last, we are adding a half-bath to the attic/loft space. The plumber did a good deal of work behind the walls, installing water supply and drain lines. Then the builder started to add the framing for the room itself.

Here's the "before" shot. The plumber is already working in the closet space under the eaves.

Next, the plumber put in the support chassis for the suspended toilet. The builder will then frame that in and the plumber will hang the sink and its cabinet (once it's delivered). There's some minor electrical relocation that will be done for the light fixture and an outlet.

Part of the wall is framed (aluminum studs) and the toilet bracket (the blue frame) is in place.

Once all that is done, and the toilet is installed, the plumber will remove the downstairs toilet to connect everything. He'll replace it with a new suspended toilet and the builder will box that in as well. Then we'll see what finish work will need to be done. I think we're going to repaint the downstairs WC when the construction is complete.

G. and L. pose in front of their great work.

And now it's looking like a room. Here's a nice shot of the builder and his partner as they were finishing up on Thursday afternoon.

Thursday, June 20, 2019


These little mauve, or purple, flowers look like blackberry blossoms to me. The plant's stem is thorny, which is what makes me think it might be a blackberry. The plant is very small, therefore young. I saw it on the edge of one of the vineyard parcels out back where there are many bigger blackberry brambles. Most of the berries are eaten by the wildlife.

The purple flowers caught my eye.

Work continues on the upstairs half-bath. Some of the framing of the room is up as is the chassis for the toilet. We're getting "suspended" toilets for both WCs. They don't touch the floor, but hang off the wall. All the brackets and mechanisms for flushing are hidden behind the wall. It's a clean look, and it will make actual cleaning much easier. We'll be sure to post photos once they're installed.

Meanwhile, Ken has ordered the sink, cabinet, and faucet that will be installed upstairs. They should be delivered between now and the weekend. The sink and its cabinet are also "suspended" from the WC wall, so there will be nothing touching the floor!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Hot start

Tuesday was as hot as the forecasters predicted. And it was humid, for us. And, our plumbing contractor showed up and started work on the new half-bath. First, he fixed a problem with the sink in the existing WC. Then he started drilling through the ceiling and wall to run the waste drain pipe down from the loft to connect to the existing sewer pipe.

Little daisies next to a puddle.

At that point we had our first mishap. He inadvertently drilled through the roof, breaking one of the tiles. Fortunately, we have surplus tiles, so he was able to get the ladder out and replace the broken one. The builder will be joining the plumber this morning to start constructing the walls for the new loft WC.

Just in case you're unfamiliar with the term, WC [doobluh-vay-SAY] stands for "water closet," an English term for the room where the toilet is. The French use the initials but never the words. Often they'll abbreviate the pronunciation to just VC [vay-SAY]. They also call them les toilettes, especially in restaurants or other public places. There are other terms, but I'll just leave it there for now.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Grape flowers

The vineyard is blooming. Not that you'd notice. Grape flowers are tiny and only visible if you look closely. Those pictured here were not quite open when I took the photo, but they are by now. Soon, the little grapes will form and start to grow.

These grape flowers are on the verge of opening.

Today work is supposed to start on the half-bath in the loft. There's some plumbing that has to be done to install a water supply line and, of course, the drain line before the fixtures can go in. There's a little electric re-wiring to be done as well, but nothing major. I'm not quite sure what the sequence of work will be, but if we're lucky we'll find out today.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Just a bowl of cherries

That's life. And, that's the main ingredient in clafoutis aux cerises. I got a pound of black cherries at the market on Saturday so that I could make this standard French dessert. It's a very simple baked custard with whole cherries. So good!

A bowl of cherries in the morning sun.

To make it, you put the stemmed and rinsed cherries (most French people don't pit the cherries; they believe they keep their flavor better that way) in a single layer in a buttered baking dish and pour on the custard. That's made with a little flour, four eggs, some sugar, and about a cup of milk. Then it's into a moderate oven for about half an hour, until it puffs up. Let cool and serve.

The finished clafoutis. It sinks a little as it cools. You don't pit the cherries, so be careful when eating!

Sunday actually turned out to be a nice day. Tasha helped me pick up sticks that had been blown out of the trees by the storm a week ago. Most yard work is a game for her. Today I plan to get some of the grass cut. I'll finish it up on Tuesday. I barbecued pork chops for lunch yesterday. Today it will be grilled chicken satay along with another harvest of snow peas. Yum!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

It's only a day away

This happens every year. At some point, cool and damp weather will turn warm and dry. The forecasters often show the change happening "tomorrow." It's cold and rainy today, yes, but tomorrow the temperature will shoot up and the sun will shine. The next day, it's still cold and wet, but the sun'll come out, tomorrow! Rinse and repeat. We've been promised nice weather tomorrow for about four days now. We're still waiting for tomorrow.

Everything has been a bit drippy lately.

The grass has taken advantage of all the rain and is shooting up, but it's still too wet to cut. Monday, i.e. tomorrow, should be the day. They're predicting sun and 24º (that's 75ºF). We shall see. UPDATE: After I wrote this, the sun came up in a clear sky. It's tomorrow!

In addition to strawberries, I got some black cherries at the market on Saturday. This morning I'm planning to make a clafoutis (kla-foo-TEE) with them. I'll try to remember to take photos.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Raindrops on rozannes

The rozanne geraniums are starting to bloom now. They're perennials and this is their second year in this location in the back yard. I originally had them in pots on the deck, but they wanted more room so I put them in the ground. They seem to like it.

I really like the deep blue/purple color of these flowers. And they bloom all summer and into fall.

The days are warming up, but very slowly. Still, we're having small evening thunderstorms with rain. I haven't needed to water the vegetable garden in over a week and, with all the rain, the weeds are growing. Once it dries out I'll need to get out there with the hoe and do some weed control.

Friday, June 14, 2019

More peas, please

On Wednesday, I harvested another batch of snow peas from our plants in the garden. They're really producing and this is the third batch we've had. Ken made a stir-fry with chicken this time and it was delicious.

Snow peas from the garden, trimmed and ready for the steamer.

I pulled the stems and strings off the peas and steamed them before they went into the stir-fry. That way, they have a head start on cooking. I'm not a big fan of crunchy (read: raw) vegetables in finished dishes the way many Californians are. As our friend CHM once told a waiter in a fancy Bay Area French restaurant: the green beans are good, but they would be better if they were cooked.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Now wait just a berry pickin' minute

A friend invited me to go pick strawberries on Monday. The morning was overcast and cool, perfect weather for picking berries inside polyethylene tunnels. I picked up my friend at her house and drove to the farm. It's about 35 kilometers away. There weren't many people there (Monday was a holiday) and we had a whole tunnel to ourselves. We picked berries for about 45 minutes.

Fresh berries for shortcake and "fraises au vin rouge" (strawberries in red wine).

After picking, we had our berries weighed and paid for them. I had picked eight kilograms (about 17 lbs.) of berries! It didn't seem like so much when I was picking. And the price was right at €1.50/kg. We're eating fresh berries, of course, but there were so many that I had to process and preserve most of them.

Whole berries frozen on a tray. I didn't take a photo of the coulis.

The first thing I did was to wash and trim the berries. I then picked out some nice berries and froze them whole on a cookie sheet. We'll use them to make jam or something at some point. I also just froze some whole berries in freezer bags. Those, too, will probably end up as jam later. Most of the berries got made into a coulis de fraises, a puree of strawberries, that we'll use later to make frozen yogurt and other desserts. I ended up with five 750 ml containers of coulis, about four quarts worth.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Croquembouche et fines bulles

Here's an interesting bit of French culture. The traditional wedding "cake" in France is tower of puff pastries filled with pastry cream, "glued" together with sticky caramel. Often there is a layer or two of nougatine (caramel nut brittle) inside and/or as an ornament on top. The pièce montée is frequently called un croquembouche (it crunches in your mouth).

The croquembouche pièce montée just before serving.

So, for Sunday's 40th wedding anniversary celebration, our neighbors treated everyone to a beautiful croquembouche. There was also a shorter, wider tower and a tray of additional puff pastries served to ensure that there was enough for the 85 or so guests in attendance.

The Champagne is served!

And, just to make it a real celebration, bubbly wine was offered to all. It was a very tasty Beurton Couvreur Champagne from just south of Reims. In the interest of full disclosure: I've never met a bubbly wine I didn't like.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A party and old friends

I mentioned that our neighbors across the road had a party this past weekend. It was a large gathering that started on Saturday and continued through Sunday. There were still a few folks there on Monday, too. The weather wasn't great, but it was good enough not to spoil the fun.

That's B. enjoying some shade and conversation on Sunday afternoon.

The house belongs to B. and M. who live in Blois, about 40 kilometers north. It has been their vacation home since the 1970s. Now that they're both well into their eighties and no longer driving, they've handed the house over to their eldest daughter and her husband who, it turns out, were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary over the weekend.

The family matriarch M. surrounded by family and friends. She's standing in the middle of the group (with the light blue top).

B. and M. came down for the Sunday portion of the party and Ken and I were invited in the late afternoon for dessert. That's when we learned it was an anniversary party; we didn't know in advance. It was very nice to see B. and M. (we hadn't see her since last summer). They were in fine form and good spirits. We spent about an hour chatting and catching up.

And just to show she can still party with the best of them, it's "bottoms up" with a glass of bubbly.

Most of the guests at the party were family, many of whom we've come to know (and some who we've seen grow up) over the years. Children, in-laws, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of B. and M., plus friends, gathered for food and drink. It's a big family, and ever since Ken and I arrived in the neighborhood sixteen years ago, they've generously included us in many of their festivities.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Wild bellflower

This is campanule sauvage (wild bellflower). They grow among the tall grasses between the vineyard parcels and the woods around us.

Campanule sauvage along the vineyard road out back.

Sunday started out cool and rainy, but toward mid-day the clouds parted and the sun came out. That was a good thing for our neighbors' party. We were invited for dessert in the afternoon. I took a bunch of photos, but I haven't processed them yet.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Sea of green

The vineyards out back are getting greener as the tendrils and leaves reach skyward. Soon the support stakes will be hidden from view and the growers will be out trimming the vines into neat rectangular rows. Summer is almost here.

Saturday morning, after the storm had passed.

Except for the weather, of course. We're having very spring-like (even fall-like) weather right now. Chilly days, rain squalls, wind. It turns out that our neighbors didn't take their party tent down during Friday's wind storm as a precaution. Rather, a branch of a nearby tree came down on top of it. Their party went on in spite of having no tent on Saturday and will continue through the weekend. I'll bet there were at least thirty cars parked across the road yesterday afternoon. This morning there are about five.

Saturday, June 08, 2019


We found a rose planted in this not-so-glamorous location next to the clothesline pole when we moved here. Not long after that, I dug it up and moved it to a new spot, but some roots must have stayed behind and, surprisingly, re-sprouted. Now, many years later, it's looking like this. I figure that if it wants to live there, I'd better let it.

A spindly rose survives next to the clothesline at the house's northwest corner.

The wind howled all day on Friday. Our neighbors actually took down the barnum (party tent) they had put up last weekend so it wouldn't blow down. I imagine they'll put it back up today as their weekend party gets under way. What a pain! The wind has died down now, but rain is predicted for Sunday.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Snow peas

This is the second harvest of snow peas from our plants out in the garden this season. I didn't think to take a photo of the raw peas; only after I steamed them did it occur to me. We made a shrimp and snow pea stir-fry with, as you can see, baby corn for lunch on Thursday. It was a great success.

Snow peas are called "pois gourmands" in French.

There are still a lot of small pea pods and blossoms on those plants, so we're looking forward to more good stir-fries in the coming weeks. The rest of the garden is doing well so far. I can see the tomatoes growing every day, and the yellow flat beans are going to start climbing their trellis any day now.

Thursday, June 06, 2019


This weekend is yet another holiday weekend. Le lundi de pentecôte (Pentecost Monday) is a day off in France. Our neighbors across the road are planning a big party for the weekend. We have been warned (and invited). There will be overnight guests and campers (RVs) over there.

The barnum is set up in our neighbors' back yard.

They spent all of last weekend working in the yard, getting ready. And they put up this party tent called un barnum in French. As in Barnum & Bailey. The circus. As I mentioned, we're invited on Sunday because B. and M. will be there. We've known them since they so warmly welcomed us to the neighborhood sixteen years ago. They are the owners of the house but, because of their advancing age, they have stopped coming down regularly and have essentially given the place to their oldest daughter. She and her husband are now the ones mowing and trimming and making improvements. The house is a vacation home and not occupied year-round.

Wednesday's rain started collecting on the roof of the tent, making it sag. So Ken and I went over a couple of times to dump the water off by pushing up from the inside. We're such good neighbors.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Rainy day

Well, the predicted thunderstorms with possible hail did not materialize on Tuesday evening. Thankfully. We had a short rain squall during the night that got me up to close a couple of windows. This morning it's raining lightly, and I see that the forecast rain totals for the day have been significantly reduced.

The clary sage around the well is blooming now. There's also some variety of iris that just grows there (we didn't plant it).

We're still waiting for the contractors to start work on the upstairs bathroom. They said début juin (the beginning of June). That's now, but we haven't heard anything. I'm sure things will get going all of a sudden and I'll say "what was I worried about?"

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Today's garden

This year's vegetable garden is now officially "in." I'm hopeful that the little seedlings will survive the deluge we're expecting this week. An unusually large amount of rain is predicted for Wednesday. It's always something.

The one big garden plot is a lot easier for Ken to till up than the four smaller squares. And the plants are spaced farther apart now.

The view is from almost the same angle as yesterday's photo from 2004. The difference is that I was standing up on a ladder for the 2004 shot. This one is taken from the ground. And the current photo is about six weeks earlier in the year than the older one. There are no weeds, yet. Oh, they will come.

I harvested our first batch of snow peas over the weekend. We ate a beef with snow pea stir-fry for lunch on Sunday. Delicious! I'll be picking some more in a day or two, after the rains. The yellow flat beans have sprouted and will soon be climbing up the fence (in the back on the right in the photo).

I like the garden at this stage. It's neat, orderly, and weed-free. That will all change and, if we're lucky, we'll be harvesting tasty toms and more later this summer.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Garden flashback

Here's a photo from the summer of 2004, the year we planted our first vegetable garden here in France. We had been in the house for a year and wanted to have our very own jardin potager (kitchen garden). I saw a cool-looking garden at the Château de Fougères that was made up of four square plots, so we copied the layout in our garden.

Our first kitchen garden in France, July 2004. Fifteen years ago!

Our first year was pretty successful, although it does look like a bit of a jumble. I planted many things way too close together. I watered with a sprinkler and grew almost as many weeds as vegetables. We had good eggplant and bell peppers, two things that have not worked well in the years since. One year I even had a good crop of sweet corn, but have not had success with that since.

At any rate, the four squares eventually merged into one giant square. Mowing the grass in those in-between strips became difficult as each square plot sought its own level. Many things in the yard and garden have changed since this first attempt. I think that in those first few years, we bought established seedlings at the markets (that might explain why the plants did so well, lots of fertilizer to get them started). Now I plant my own seeds and use our home-made compost. It's great to have the photos to look back on.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Summer flowers

The wildflowers I'm seeing out on my walks with Tasha are transitioning from springtime flowers to summertime flowers. The tall grasses are being cut here and there, but patches remain and so do many of the flowers.

I don't know what it's called, but I think it's a member of the umbellifer family, like wild carrot.

We're expecting rain over the next few days, so today is a day to get some more garden work done. I have kale and pepper seedlings to put out and I want to spray the tomatoes with a mold preventative before it gets wet out there. I got a bunch of little basil seedlings at the market on Saturday and I want to get them transplanted into pots for the deck.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

It's about thyme

One of the thyme plants in the garden is blooming. It's a standard thyme variety. The other two are lemon thyme and they are not flowering yet.

Tiny thyme blossoms.

The weather is nice. We're wearing shorts for the first time this year. The grass is all cut again. It grows very fast in the spring when it's wet and starting to warm up. Once the hotter, dryer days of summer come, the grass doesn't need to be cut so often.

I'm heading into town to the market this morning for strawberries. I'll also be looking for something tasty to grill for lunch. I love barbecue weather! This is a four-day weekend for a lot of French people. Thursday was a holiday (Ascension) and many people took Friday off, too. Next weekend will be a three-day weekend as Pentecost Monday is another national holiday. The stores and markets, not to mention the roads, are starting to feel crowded.