Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Just before sunrise

Monday morning was clear for the full moon, and I went out just before sunrise to take some photos. I must have been groggy, because most of the pictures didn't turn out very well. I haven't mastered low-light photography. I think I metered in the wrong spot. Oh well, I'm posting some of them anyway.

A thin layer of morning fog (or is it wood smoke?) over our hamlet at sunrise on Monday.

Tuesday was another nice day, as predicted. I grilled burgers and Ken dressed them with sauteed mushrooms and cheese. I made fries, and we ate leftover asparagus and broccoli with a creamy ranch-style dressing as a salad course. Today I'm grilling boudin blanc, a white sausage made with chicken. Ken's making a version of a North African dish called chakchouka with chic peas to have along side.

Also yesterday, I got hold of the contractor (his wife, I think) that will be doing our deck renovation. He did receive the approved estimate and our down-payment check and has not forgotten us. She told me he'd be calling to let us know when we're scheduled. I was afraid that, since we hadn't heard from him in months, maybe the signed estimate and the check got lost in the mail. Now my mind is at ease.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Moon over vineyards

The full moon set in the west during our Monday morning walk. The sun rose in the east at the same time. Tasha chased birds.

Moonset across Touraine vineyard parcels.

We enjoyed very spring-like weather on Monday. I made an early morning run over to the supermarket for a new bottle of butane for the gas grill. I cleaned up the grill and got it ready for its first use of the season. We had chicken thighs and merguez (spicy beef and lamb sausages) on the grill, with broccoli and chick peas on the side. Today the weather is predicted to be even nicer, so we're doing burgers on the grill. And, yes, we're having fries with that.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Parasol demi-lune

Here is the page from the catalogue where I found the "half-moon" umbrella for our deck. When I first went over to Bricomarché (a national chain of hardware and DIY stores), they hadn't yet received them but were expecting to. A sales assistant took my name and number and said he'd call when they came in. Yeah, right.

Our deck is covered. I use the umbrella on the outer edge.

I've had enough experience to know that he was probably just placating me. No call has come. I went over to the store again last week to check and, sure enough, the umbrellas were in. Three of them. They didn't have the color I wanted (the green that you see in the catalogue image) and the sales people told me they wouldn't be getting any more and, no, I could not order one even thought the catalogue said all items shown are available in-store or by order. I couldn't find the umbrellas on the company's web site, either. I've learned that, in France, the customer is very often wrong.

This is the 25 year-old canvas umbrella. You can see how it shades the table and chairs.
It looks pretty good in this photo from last summer, but the material is starting to fray at the seams.

So I bought a red umbrella (the other option was blue). It turns out that we both like the red a lot. I'm looking forward to using it this summer. It will shade our deck table in the mid-day hours before the sun moves over the house. I'll get a photo of the new umbrella in use one day soon.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

One more time!

Primroses. Again. But the weather is getting better and I'll be able to take the camera out more. In fact, starting today we're moving into a warmer pattern. I like that.


There's so much to do, outside and in. Spring cleaning. That includes windows. Getting the vegetable garden going. That means tilling soil and planting seeds. I could go on, but you get the picture.

We moved the clocks ahead last night. Tonight's sunset happens at 20h19 (8:19 pm if you're on a 12-hour clock). I like Summer Time.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Primroses again

I just can't get over how many primroses there are on our property this year. So here is another photo. It probably won't be the last.

Purple, lavender, and white.

Yesterday I ventured out to the hardware store to get a new parasol umbrella for our deck. The old umbrella came from Pier One in San Francisco and we've had it for at least twenty-five years. It's starting to show its age. I got a catalogue from the hardware store the other day and saw what they call un parasol demi-lune (half-moon parasol) made especially for balconies. It's basically half an umbrella that fits up against a balcony wall and provides shade. I set it up yesterday to see how it worked and I think we're going to like it. I had to take it down again because the wind kicked up. I'll get a photo of it before too long.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Still going

The primroses in our yard are amazing this year. The flowers are plentiful and colorful. I was just thinking that I should go out and take a few more photos before they're gone. This photo is from last Sunday.

Purple primroses.

The soaker hose I ordered was finally delivered yesterday. I was getting worried because Amazon said it would be delivered on the 20th, and there was absolutely no tracking information available. Also, the delivery company that brought it yesterday was not the delivery company that Amazon said would be delivering it. Maybe there's something going on with that first company that caused a delay. We've had issues with them in the past. Oh well.

Thursday, March 25, 2021


This is the biggest of our three artichoke plants. They're planted along the tiny wall that borders the garden path out back. The smallest plant is a "new" one. It came up spontaneously a year or so ago in the path a couple of meters from this spot. Ken dug it up and put it in a pot. Last fall, I transplanted it next to this larger plant and it's doing well. It should grow a bit this summer.

The biggest artichoke plant. The smaller ones grow on either side.

I got the south forty cut yesterday. I had to pass over the thickest patches of grass twice to get it cut to the same height as the rest of the lawn. The mower has a simple lever for changing the cutting height. It's much easier to change than the older mower was. The engine started easily this time and I did not injure myself pulling the start cord. I wish I had gotten a mower with an electric starter.

It's very nice to have a section of the yard mowed. It looks neat again after winter's mess is cleaned up. Of course, most of the yard is left to do and that means first picking up all of the dead sticks and branches that litter the yard after winter storms. It won't be long before we're back in control. Ah, spring!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021


This little patch of grape hyacinth is relatively recent. It's growing near the stump of the blue spruce tree that we had removed just over a year ago. The muscari pop up here and there in the yard every year, but the main patch is adjacent to the driveway out front. I transplanted some to that spot many years ago and they've thrived and spread, giving us a nice blue show every spring.

Muscari in the grass. Notice the new flower stalks growing up from below.

The weather folks are predicting an afternoon high of 18ºC today. That's almost 65ºF. I've got to get it together to cut some of the grass out back. The warmer weather is making it grow. It's over eight inches high in some places. Yikes!

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Hyacinths in bloom

The jacinthes (hyachinths) in our yard are blooming now. There aren't very many. This patch is one that I dug up and moved many years ago. There are a few other single plants here and there. I've told myself for years that I would get more bulbs into the ground each fall, and each fall comes and goes and I forget. Except for one recent year when I planted tulips. They bloomed beautifully the first spring, then the bulbs were eaten by rodents and are gone. The rodents don't seem to have a taste for daffodils or hyacinths, so they survive.

A row of white hyacinths.

It looks like we'll be enjoying another sunny day today with the high in the mid teens (around 60ºF). But this morning is chilly and there's ice on the loft windows. I'm growing tired of the morning chill.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Again with the forsythia

I thought the forsythia in our yard had peaked a week or so ago. Then we had rain and wind and I thought most of the blossoms would fall (and a lot did). But I took this photo on Sunday, and it still looks great! Its little sibling on the side is not so great. I thought it had died a few years ago when mushrooms sprouted at its base, but the fungus went away (the visible mushrooms, anyway) and the bush continues to hold on.

It's getting to be time to cut the grass. I'm waiting for the weather to warm up a little more.
The tree on the left is a flowering, fruitless, prunus. Behind the forsythia is a tall duetzia which flowers later.

Activity in the vineyards out back has slowed way down. I suspect that the workers are concentrating on other parcels that we can't see. But they'll be back. There is still some pruning to do and a good deal of pliage, not to mention the mulching. And soon there will be little grape leaves sprouting.

Sunday, March 21, 2021


I think this is a coucou (cowslip). It looks like one, except that it's not yellow, as most of them are. They're closely related to primroses, the main difference being that the flowers are on tall stalks instead of close to the ground. This one is growing all by itself in our lawn.

A pink and yellow cowslip.

It's called coucou (cuckoo) because it flowers right around the time that the cuckoo birds show up to spend the spring months on their way north from their wintering grounds in southern Africa and southeast Asia. I heard one cuckoo calling a couple weeks ago, too early for them to be here. The proverbial early bird, I suppose. Perhaps he got the worm. I haven't heard one since, but they should start showing up soon.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

The end of winter

Spring arrives at 10h37 this morning here in France. You wouldn't know it by stepping outside. This morning we're at 1ºC (about 34ºF). Yes, many trees are in flower, some shrubs are making small leaves, and the daffodils and muscari (grape hyacinth) are blooming. But it's chilly.

Our hamlet above the Cher at the end of winter.

But now the days will be longer than the nights. And it will get warmer. It's time to start thinking about planting seeds in the greenhouse for tomatoes and squash. I have a new plan this year. I ordered a 50m soaker hose kit for the vegetable garden. It's supposed to arrive today, but I won't need it for a while. With a soaker hose, I shouldn't need to water the garden manually every day and worry about under-watering when it's hot. In the garden's early years, I watered with a sprinkler. However, constantly wetting the leaves on the plants is an invitation for mildiou (fungus), not to mention that a sprinkler waters the weeds as well as the vegetables.

Another nouveauté is that I got rid of a lot of old seeds that have been accumulating for years. I'm starting mostly fresh this year with new tomato, green bean, and squash seeds. I'll be adding blood meal to the soil to boost the nitrogen levels, and will add calcium (garden lime) to help prevent the dreaded tomato blossom-end rot.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Waiting for spring

Spring comes officially on Saturday, the vernal equinox. I'm ready. The past few weeks have been chilly. Certainly not frigid. No snow. But chilly nonetheless. And we've been having typical March rain squalls now and again. I'm not building fires because I'm effectively out of wood. There's a story there, but it will wait for another time.

Grape vines wait patiently for some sunny and warm weather.

The grape vines are ready for spring, too. Most of the pruning is done in the vineyard parcels around us. The growers and their employees work in all kinds of weather, rain or shine. In this parcel you can see that the pliage (folding or bending) has been completed. All that's left is for the grinder to mulch up those canes on the ground.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Le pliage

One of my readers recently asked how grape vine canes are attached to guide wires once pruning is done. In a step called pliage (folding or bending), the cane that remains after pruning is bent to the horizontal and attached to a wire. The cane can be wrapped around the wire with no other attachment, but most often (from what I see around here), the cane is attached to the wire with a kind of tie.

A grape vine cane bent to the horizontal and attached to a guide wire with a twist tie.

The tie in the photo is applied with a hand-held machine that makes the action simple and quick. Just like a twisty-tie (or twist tie) for closing a bread bag. The buds along the cane will sprout into new canes that will grow vertically and sprout leaves. For the past few weeks, I've seen one guy out in the vineyard parcels nearest to us whose only job is to do the pliage. He works for the grower that owns most of the parcels out there.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Purple flowers

I don't know what these wildflowers are, but they bloom everywhere this time of year. These are from a year ago. You guessed it: I'm out of fresh photos.

Purple flowers in the lush green (!) grass.

Ken just realized that it's Saint Patrick's Day. I had completely forgotten, not being a real adherent to the holiday. It's not a big deal in France. For lunch we're planning a meal of Buffalo-style chicken wings with fries. American pub food. Close enough.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

There's clover over there

In one of the vineyard parcels out back, the grower sowed some variety of clover (so we were told) in every other row between vines. The seeds sprouted last fall, after the harvest, and filled in nicely over winter. I don't know whether this is for weed control, to help put nutrients into the soil, both, or neither. But it looks nice.

Alternating rows of clover and cut vine canes in this parcel of sauvignon blanc.

The vines in this parcel hadn't been pliées (folded) when I took this photo, but they have since. More and more parcels are getting done. Soon the mulchers will be out to grind up those cut canes. I wonder if the clover will be mowed, plowed in, or just left as it is. Time will tell.

Monday, March 15, 2021


The primroses are blooming all around the yard. It's that time of year. The woman who sold us the house told us that she would plant potted primroses in the yard from time to time. Over the years they spread, but they especially like the shady north forty, as I like to call it. It's the section of yard close to the north end of the house that is mostly shaded from the sun in the fall, winter, and spring months.

Colorful primroses in the north forty.

Primroses grow wild pretty much all around the region, so I'm sure we'd have some whether the previous owner planted them or not. Our little flower show will be winding down by the time I cut the grass for the first time this season. If the first cut happens early, I'll spare the primroses until the next time.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Cherry blossoms

This tree is some kind of fruitless, or ornamental, cherry, I think. I'm not at all sure why I think that. Maybe someone told us it was back in the olden days. I don't remember. Whatever it is, it puts on a beautiful pink show every spring around this time.

Pretty in pink.

I had some dull soreness in my shoulder and back muscles on Saturday that I attribute to Friday's vaccination. A couple of acetaminophen tablets helped. This morning the soreness is gone, after one of the best night's sleep I've had in a while.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Daffy dils and vaccinations

Another front is blowing through. The wind really picked up yesterday afternoon and it blew through the night. It's still gusting pretty strong out there this morning. Rain squalls come through periodically. These are the giboulées de mars (March winds/April showers) that this month is famous for.

Jonquilles (daffodils) in the back yard.

My first dose of the vaccine went off without a hitch. Like most people on the internet, I'll share the vitals: I got the AstraZeneca vaccine as I expected. The doctor kept me in the waiting room for about fifteen minutes after the injection to be sure I had no allergic reaction. He took my temperature (normal), blood pressure (a little high but not problematic), and sent me on my way. Aside from some brief soreness in my arm and back an hour or two after the shot, I've had no ill effects to speak of. The second dose is scheduled for mid-May, about two months after the first. I didn't realize there would be so much time between doses, but that's how this vaccine works. By the way, there was absolutely no charge for the vaccine or the doctor visit. I'm curious if it's the same in the US?

Ken's up next, hopefully next week.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Plum blossoms

These blossoms are on the tree that Ken planted from a pit many years ago. I think it's got more blossoms this year than I've seen in previous years. Maybe there will be a bumper crop of plums this year. Too bad we really can't use them.

Plum blossoms on the tree.

I looked out the window toward this tree yesterday and what did I see? A female pheasant was strutting around in the grass, picking insects (I assume) from the ground. She hung out for about half an hour, then Bert went outside. He noticed her scent, but she hid away from sight until he left. Then not much longer after that, she was gone, too.

Speaking of Bert, he gave us a scare when he didn't come home last night. Needless to say, I didn't sleep very well waiting and wondering where he was. There was still no sign of him at around four this morning. Then, when Ken got up to let Tasha out, Bert came out of the guest room. He had been sleeping under the bed (something that he usually does not do). And he had a limp, so we figure that he couldn't climb the loft stairs. I caught him fighting with another neighborhood cat out by that plum tree during the day yesterday, so I suppose that's the origin of the injury. He ate normally this morning and went back under the bed to snooze. He'll probably be alright in a while.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Forsythia blossoms

Our big forsythia bush seems to be at its peak right now. I wanted to get a shot or two of the blossoms before today's wind and rain front stripped some of them away. The front is coming through as I type this, but it's still too dark to see out there. When I took the photos late Wednesday morning, the wind was starting to kick up and the branches were swaying, so I upped the shutter speed to 1/800s. It seems to have worked.

Forsythia blossoms in the back yard.

I called my doctor's office on Monday to ask for an appointment to get vaccinated against Covid 19. The receptionist verified that I was eligible and said she'd call back with an appointment. She called yesterday and my appointment is set for Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Smoke and ash

Speaking of vineyard parcels that are being replaced, these are two of the parcels out at the end of the road that were dug up last year. They've lain fallow over winter and I expect they will be plowed up for replanting this summer. But first, the old grape vine trunks needed to be dealt with.

Two piles of ash last week, all that's left of the grape vine trunks.

Last week I noticed that, where old trunks were piled, there are now piles of ashes. The piles were still smoldering when I saw them, but somehow I missed the actual fires. It will be nice when the parcels are plowed. Then, sometime during the summer, the new grape vines will be planted. I've seen that process at least once out back and it's interesting. If I'm lucky, I'll get a photo or two this year.

The ripped up trunks, piled up last summer. Those piles were probably about seven feet tall.

This is what will apparently be happening a lot closer to our house this year and next. It should be easier to get more photos of the process then.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Tasha Tuesday

This is the vineyard parcel just outside our back gate. It hasn't been pruned yet. In fact, it may not be pruned at all, but ripped out this spring. One of the guys that works for the owners of this parcel told me last year that one of the parcels near our house will be torn out this year and re-planted the following year. Maybe it's this one. I'll keep you posted.

This photo is from a week ago. There are a lot more plum blossoms on that tree now.

That flowering tree in the background center is the plum that Ken grew from a pit. The fruit is small and really only good for cooking. The pits are not "freestone," so eating the plums is not easy. But the flowers are nice in the spring and, during summer, the leaves are a deep red color.

Monday, March 08, 2021

State of the grapes

As spring gets nearer, the work in the vineyard picks up a little. Pruning has been going on since the harvest ended last fall. In parcel after parcel, the growers or their employees prune each grape vine back to a single cane, done by hand, of course. They line the cut canes up between vine rows. Then they go through and bend each uncut cane to the horizontal and tie it to a guide wire in a process they call pliage (folding).

This parcel has been pruned, but not "folded" yet. You can see the cut canes lined up in every other row to be mulched.

Soon the growers will drive their tractors over the cut canes pulling a mulcher to grind them up. This past weekend I noticed one of the growers was spreading what I think is fertilizer (little white granules) in the parcel to our north using a spreading attachment on the back of his tractor.

The vines have buds now, but no leaves. It will be some time in April before the leaves form. That's when growers will be nervous about freezes that might kill the young leaves. If that happens, we may see smudge pots or burning hay bales out there to help minimize the damage.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Saturday was pizza day

It took decades, but I finally learned to make pizza crust without using a rolling pin. I stopped using the pin about a year ago and my pizza crusts are much better than they used to be. I think using the pin squished a lot of the air out of the dough, so my crusts were a little more dense than they should have been. Now they seem light and airy (but still crispy on the outside) and they're much easier to shape.

The first of two Saturday pizzas.

I topped yesterday's pizzas with our home-made tomato sauce, sausage, bell peppers, mushrooms, and grated cheese (Gouda from Holland). They were delicious and we devoured them with a cabernet sauvignon from the Pays d'Oc (southwestern France). We followed up with a green salad, then some of that peach amandine tart from Friday for dessert. Yum.

And, as we often say, that was the best lunch I had today! Well, yesterday.

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Tarte amandine aux pêches

Yesterday, I made an old favorite with a twist. The original version of this tarte is made with pears. But since I had a can of peach halves in the pantry, I made it with peaches instead. It's a pretty simple recipe when using canned fruit.

Tarte amandine aux pêches.

The filling is a kind of almond paste (ground almonds, butter, flour, eggs, and sugar) that goes into a blind-baked shell. Then the peach halves get pressed into the filling and the tart is baked until the filling is done. Once the tart has cooled, I glaze the fruit with some of the peach syrup that's been reduced in the microwave. Et voilà !

Friday, March 05, 2021

Bloomin' trees

The white flowers are on a plum tree and the pink flowers are on a fruitless cherry of some kind. The plum is next door and the cherry is in our yard. We have the same kind of plum tree (that Ken planted from a pit) on the other end of our yard. It's in full bloom now as well.

Early spring colors.

These colors, along with the yellow forsythia, are showing up all around us. Out in the woods, what I think is aubépine (hawthorn) is starting to bloom, too. It's feeling like spring, but it's going to get chilly again over the weekend.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Spring is just around the corner

March can be a roller coaster of teasingly nice days and cold, blustery days of squalls, sleet, and freezing rain. We've had the nice days for about a week now. The forecast for the next week calls for low temperatures at or below freezing. We'll see about the giboulées (squalls, or as we know them, March winds and April showers).

Forsythia. The quality could be better, but I snapped the photo just before sunrise and there wasn't much light.

Meanwhile, the forsythia is blooming. So are the plum trees around us. And daffodils and hyacinth are flowering.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Castle cappers

Here are some of the roofs on the logis royal (royal residence) at Loches. Looks very castle-y. The main roof and the conical tower roof on the left are made of slate tiles. The roof over the crenelated tower looks like it's made of stone tiles.

Logis royal, Loches, September 2003.

I had a good trip to the garden center on Tuesday. All the outdoor plants looked healthy and pretty, but I wasn't there for plants. I picked up three bags of seedling soil (for the price of two!), seeds for haricots verts (green beans), haricots beurre (wax or yellow beans), tomates (tomatoes), courgettes (zucchini), and some capucines (nasturtiums)  for color. I also got a bucket of roasted horn and blood meal to add some nitrogen back into the soil. Which reminds me, I have to shovel some compost. But not yet. There's plenty of time for that.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Top 'o the wall

Another random photo from Loches. This time, a view along the western wall of the upper city. Not much to say about it, but I liked the way the wall seems to snake along on its way toward the royal gate.

Wall with moss. Loches, September 2003.

I need to go to the pharmacy this week for prescription renewals, so I'm planning to combine that errand with a stop at the nearby garden center. They're having a sale on seedling soil and seeds, and I need a few other things as we begin to prepare for this year's vegetable garden.

Monday, March 01, 2021

Good knight

While not exactly shining, this is a suit of armure (armor) that was likely worn by a soldier in the late middle ages in France. I can't be certain, of course, because I don't have a photo of the description (visible on the base in front of the knight's left foot). It stands in the Royal Residence in Loches.

A late middle ages/early renaissance suit of armor. Loches, May 2006.

I think we Americans tend to think that all those who wore armor were knights, but as the British well know, the term "knight" is bestowed as an honorific title by a monarch, and not necessarily on a soldier. In France, the term chevalier refers to both a soldier on horseback (cheval means "horse") and the honorific title of "knight." At least that's what I glean from the Wikipedia articles on the subject. Perhaps the most famous of the historical knights were les chevaliers de la table ronde, the Knights of the Round Table of Arthurian legend. Modern day knights include the likes of Sir Alec Guinness, Sir Elton John, Sir Loin of Beef, and Sir Osis of Liver. Ok, those last two are from Loony Toons.