Thursday, March 31, 2022

Grapes and a snow job

We saw this statue of a bunch of chenin grapes in the nearby town of Montlouis during our trip in 2001. I haven't been over that way in a while, so I don't know if it the statue is still there. Maybe on our next nice day I'll take a drive over and see. I know they're chenin because that's pretty much the only grape they grow in Montlouis, just like across the river in Vouvray.

Wine country statue in Montlouis-sur-Loire. Can you spot Ken behind the shrubs taking my picture? Digitized color slide, Spring 2001.

The weather people are all a-twitter over the possibility of snow this weekend. The wind is from the north and temperatures are dropping. They are predicting snow in the eastern part of the country on Friday and Saturday and the snow zone includes us at its western limit. If any falls here at all, it will not be much. I'm kind of hoping to see some snow. It's been a while.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

You swam the moat?

I remember, many moons ago, seeing a televised version of "Once Upon a Mattress," the comedy musical based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Princess and the Pea. It starred Carol Burnett (she was in the original 1959 Broadway show) and Ken Berry, if my memory serves. When Winnifred (Burnett) arrives at the castle to meet the prince, she gets in by swimming across the moat and appears before the royals dripping wet. When the incredulous queen meets her, all she can bring herself to say is, "You swam the moat?"

No longer needed for defense, this moat has been fancied up. Digitized color slide, Spring 2001.

So, here is a section of les douves (the moat) at the Château de Villandry. I think that castle moats were largely decorative in the late renaissance and after, but defensive moats were still being constructed around forts and other military installations as late as the eighteenth century.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The keep

The medieval donjon (keep) of the Château de Villandry was kept (pun intended) when the castle was acquired and rebuilt by Jean le Breton in the fifteenth century. Most of what exists today is the renaissance style château built around the keep. The French Wikipedia site provides oodles of details about the castle's history. By the way, I was wrong about those boxwood topiary. They were still there when I last visited the castle in 2014.

The crenelated tower of the castle's keep is all that remains of the medieval building. Digitized color slide, Spring 2001.

As promised, our weather is changing today with the arrival of some light rain. It's expected to get rainier as the week goes on, and the morning low temperatures are expected to drop to freezing by the end of the week. After a week of nice spring-like days, I'll be back to building fires in the wood stove soon. Mother Nature giveth and she taketh away.

Monday, March 28, 2022

That gîte in Vouvray

Here's another shot of the vacation rental we had in Vouvray. You might remember that we rented it twice; once in the fall of 2000 and again in the spring of 2001. The second time, I was able to watch the French Open tournament on television. Most of the time I listened while sitting outside in the beautiful weather we had.

This is where I sat, enjoyed local wine, and listened to the tennis tournament. Oh, and hung laundry out to dry. Digitized color slide, Spring 2001.

Right now I'm watching the men play in Miami. Next week they move on to the clay court season, most of which takes place here in Europe. That means little to no time difference and I won't have to record matches over night. And, as you know, the clay court season culminates with the French Open in Paris in late May. Ah, spring!

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Cut grass

I snapped a few quick shots of the back yard from the den window on Saturday just to document the first mowing of the year. I cut the south forty (to the left of the garden path in the photo) on Thursday, then the west forty (to the right of the garden path in the photo) on Friday. Yesterday I cut the strips outside the hedges, but they're not visible in the picture. I'm still holding off on the north forty to keep the primrose flowers visible, but it won't be long before that's cut as well.

Looking west out the den window on Saturday.

Our nice spring weather will be with us for a couple more days before temperatures start to fall again. The last few Aprils have brought freezes, some were severe enough to damage new leaf growth in the vineyards around us. We'll see what this year brings.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Back to the Loire

Spring blooms took precedence over these twenty-one year-old slides this past week. But now they're back. Still at Villandry, here's one of the cygnes (swans) that live on the grounds, swimming gracefully in a plan d'eau (water feature).

A swan at Villandry. Digitized color slide, Spring 2001.

I was industrious once again yesterday and got the west forty cut. It's starting to look like someone is taking care of the place again. There's still much to do, but I feel we've made a good start. This evening I have the chore of turning the clocks ahead. We still have plenty of clocks that don't adjust themselves, including some with actual hands and numbers. They seem almost old-fashioned these days.

Friday, March 25, 2022


Not to be confused with your friendly national police agent. These are called firebugs in English. They're abundantly visible right now as they congregate in sunny spots. They are particularly attracted to the trunks of tilleuls (linden or lime trees). Indeed, these were gathered on a mossy wall a foot or two from the trunk of our tilleul. Gendarmes are pretty harmless, as far as I know.

Mating pairs of gendarmes connect to each other at the back end. They wander around connected like that for hours, even days, apparently.

I was industrious and cut the south forty yesterday afternoon. I did not, however, change the oil in the lawnmower. That will wait for another day. Today I plan to cut the west forty, the largest section of the yard. I'm saving the north forty for last, to keep the primroses blooming until I can't stand it any more.

Thursday, March 24, 2022


Forsythia is in full bloom all around us, and our forsythia is no exception. The bush is getting big and I think I'm going to have to do a serious pruning this year, after the flowering ends.

Forsythia blooming in our back yard.

I got a lot of sticks and fallen branches picked up yesterday in preparation for the yard's first full mowing. Now I want to change the oil in the lawnmower. I've been lax not having changed it in the past two years. On the positive side, I planted three varieties of tomato seeds and some zucchini seeds in the greenhouse yesterday. Spring is definitely here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022


It's Boo-kay! If you've ever seen the UK sitcom, "Keeping Up Appearances," you probably recognize that line. Social climber Hyacinth Bucket insists on that pronunciation of her surname. These are jacinthes (hyacinths) in our back yard. I transplanted them from another spot to here many years ago. They've since filled in nicely and I look forward to seeing them bloom every spring.

White hyacinths.

We're enjoying some spring-like afternoon weather this week; the mornings are still chilly. I did some cleanup work in the driveway yesterday, mainly getting some patches of dead leaves raked up. I'm working up to the annual spring task of picking up the sticks and small branches that fall out of the trees each winter. I gather them up and put them aside to use as kindling in the wood stove. The grass is growing at a clip (ha!), even the section that I cut a week ago. That means it'll need to be cut soon. I want to change the oil in the lawnmower before that. It's an exciting life, indeed!

Tuesday, March 22, 2022


The annual primrose show is on now in our yard. The colors range from white to blue to deep red and purple. Most of them come up in the north forty in the morning shadow of the house. They spread themselves around from year to year but are still mostly confined to the north side of the house.

Primroses blooming in the lawn.

The primevères (primroses) share their space in our yard with the purple flowers of wild cyclamen, also an early spring bloomer. As the grass grows taller in the coming weeks, I will have to cut it and the flowers along with it. I try to wait as long as I can before mowing them down.

Monday, March 21, 2022


The blossoms on our ornamental cherry are numerous and beautiful this year. I don't know what conditions affect them from year to year. Water? Temperature? Whatever, this is one of the best years in recent memory.

Cherry blossoms (I think). This tree bears no fruit.

The people who maintain our central heating boiler are scheduled to come this morning for the annual checkup and maintenance. We've had no instances of the flame going out since the exhaust was re-routed up the chimney (instead of out through the wall next to the boiler). Not a single one. So, there are no issues to deal with this year. Just a cleaning and the normal part replacement.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Muscari, hyacinths, daffs, oh my

The little bulb patch next to the driveway is doing its thing. All the bulbs here are transplants from other places in the yard. I started with some tulips about eighteen years ago. They still put up leaves (you can see them in front of the daffodils), but they make fewer and fewer flowers as the years go by. The rest of the bulbs are more recent.

A little patch of springtime.

The muscari (grape hyacinth) spread like crazy and are now invading the driveway. I let them grow where they want to. The white hyacinths are the most recent addition.

It's now time to plant some vegetable seeds in the greenhouse. Collards are already sprouting, in the next day or so I'll plant tomatoes and zucchini. Here we go again!

Saturday, March 19, 2022

More Villandry

That almost looks like "more villainy." We'll have none of that here. Just another 21 year old slide from the gardens at the Château de Villandry in the Loire Valley.

More geometrical plantings at Villandry. Digitized color slide, Spring 2001.

The vernal equinox occurs on Sunday and, with it, the first day of Spring. We still have another week before we turn our clocks forward. Maybe next weekend I'll go over to the market and see if the asparagus harvest has started.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Baby it's cold inside

Inside our refrigerator, that is. We got an email yesterday informing us that our request for the manufacturer's rebate has been approved. When we bought the refrigerator, we learned that rebates were offered, but we had to be among the first 7,500 people to apply for one before March 7. Apparently we were. We also had to provide a copy of the retailer's bill, a photo of the inside of the fridge with the serial number legible, a copy of the shipping label, and a photo of the refrigerator in situ. Apparently we dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's to their satisfaction. It's not a huge rebate, but every little bit helps.

This photo wasn't one of the required documents, but a shot of that label on the left was. The vegetable crisper drawer is below the bottom shelf. There are three freezer drawers below that.

The fridge is a little smaller than our previous model and we've been shifting things around inside to figure out what fits where. I think we're pretty much there now. There's not a lot of flexibility as to where the shelves can go. We had to take out the horizontal bottle rack to fit taller jars and condiment bottles inside. Oh well. Overall, I think we're happy with it. The door doesn't always self-close, but the door alarm reminds us to close it.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

It's raining mud

The remnants of a Saharan dust storm moved across the Mediterranean and over France this week, transported by the sirocco wind. The result is an orange-tinted sky (it looks more like a pale pink where we are) and muddy rain. I noticed mud drops on the car Tuesday morning during a trip to the pharmacy. I assumed somebody drove through a puddle and splashed the car. When I got home, I heard the news about the Saharan sand and realized that it was falling with the drizzle we were having.

The Sarhara Desert pays us a visit.

This is a photo of our greenhouse roof seen from the guest room window. Our neighbor's car was even more orange looking than this yesterday. I noticed that the leaves of plants and grass are coated with a thin layer of mud, too. We need a good rain, when the dust is gone, to wash everything down.

I did get out yesterday to trim up the part of the yard where the juniper used to be. I even scattered grass seed. Some light rain will help that to settle in, but there's none in the immediate forecast. I may take the hose to it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

More from the garden

Not mine. The garden at the Château de Villandry. These shrubs (could they be boxwood?) were skillfully sculpted into topiary. The funny thing is that I don't remember seeing them the last time I visited Villandry which, if I'm not mistaken, was back in 2014. I wonder if they had been removed between 2001 and then. I wouldn't be surprised; the gardens do change from year to year.

Topiary at Villandry. Digitized color slide, Spring 2001.

It didn't get as warm yesterday as predicted. It's supposed to not get even warmer today. They're predicting 19 or 20ºC, depending on which forecast you look at. My goal for the day is to tidy up the patch where the big juniper was (we had it taken out last fall) and sow some grass seed. There are remnants of the juniper and other things that need to be cut fist. A few will need loppers, most just a quick pass with the lawnmower. Already the wild grasses and other plants that make up our "lawn" are colonizing the patch. Maybe by summer it will all be filled in.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Tasha Tuesday

I tried to take her picture, but she was more interested in the birds feeding on the deck. She's doing so much better these days. Her official recovery period is over, but we're keeping her confined for a while longer to be sure. Her upstairs corral has become her favorite sleeping spot. She just curls up and sleeps when we take her up to the loft at night. Daily walks are getting longer, and she's not skipping steps with the bad leg very often any more. She has tons of energy and wants to run and jump, but we keep her on a leash to minimize that.

Tasha in her living room corral keeping an eye on the birds outside.

We had a productive afternoon in the yard yesterday. Ken cut the ivy that was climbing up the garden shed walls. I cut the grass around the real fake well where it was getting to be about a foot tall. I also mowed down the dried up oregano plants in the oregano patch. It's ready for new growth now.

Monday, March 14, 2022

The garden

It's not hard to imagine how much work it takes to maintain a garden like this. The Château de Villandry has an amazing crew of professionals working on this one each day. I've seen stories about their work on television and I've walked through the garden several times over the years. It changes from year to year, but never fails to impress.

A small section of the garden at Villandry. Digitized color slide, Spring 2001.

It's chilly this morning but clear, except for some fog hanging low over the river. We're expecting to get up to 14ºC (57ºF) this afternoon, then up to 18ºC (64ºF) on Tuesday and Wednesday. Wow!

Sunday, March 13, 2022

We interrupt this program...

...for a look at the cherry blossoms. This is the ornamental (fruitless) cherry that grows near the carport just off the deck out front. It looks great right now and better than I remember it from last year. Behind and to the left is a tall plum tree in our neighbor's yard.

The hedge separates our yard from our neighbor's.

I somehow screwed up the aperture setting when I took the photo. I didn't intend for the plum blossoms to be so out of focus. It's what happens when I try to go quickly. It was chilly outside. Saturday was gray and rainy most of the day. I built a fire in the morning and kept it going until after sundown. More of the same expected today. Ken made a warm and tasty gratin de chou-fleur (cauliflower baked in a white sauce with smoky bacon and cheese) for lunch that really hit the spot on a chilly and damp late winter's day. Today's lunch: beef enchiladas!

Saturday, March 12, 2022


The Château de Villandry is impressive, but it's best known for the impeccable gardens that surround it. I've posted about them before, with photos from 2001 and from later in 2014. Type "villandry" in the search box (above left) and scroll through to see them. I'll post a few of the images from 2001 over the next days, re-scanned and retouched of course.

Renaissance and medieval styles side-by-side at Villandry. Digitized color slide, Spring 2001.

Looks like a showery weekend ahead for us, but a warm-up is predicted for next week. There's no lack of gardening chores to get done. Yesterday I trimmed the hydrangeas that flank our garage door. They're starting to leaf out now. Just as I finished, the wind picked up and blew the dead flower heads all over the yard. They looked like little tumbleweeds rolling along the ground.

Friday, March 11, 2022


One of the first things we did on this 2001 trip was to visit the Château de Villandry, famous for it's ornate gardens. On the way, we passed by the little town of Savonnières. It's on the Cher River very close to where it joins the Loire. We only stopped for a snapshot or two.

Savonnières on the Cher River. Digitized color slide, Spring 2001.

Today will be our last warm-ish day before things cool off again. And we're supposed to have afternoon rain showers. Rain showers in March are expected. In France they're called les giboulées de mars, similar to what Americans call April showers.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

The Magic Bus

Our friend Cheryl (who is now deceased) came with us on our Loire Valley trip in 2001. She spent a week with us and then went back to Paris for a week on her own. We rented a car on arrival in Paris and the three of us drove down to our vacation rental in Vouvray. It turned out that the air conditioning in the car didn't work, so Ken arranged to turn the car in and get another. The only vehicle they had was a big van (I guess we'd call it a mini van in the US). It felt huge compared to the little car we had, and it wasn't easy to maneuver on the tiny streets in French cities and towns.

The Magic Bus parked outside our rental house in Vouvray. Digitized color slide, Spring 2001.
My camera started to scrape a line across the slides. I didn't know until they were developed.

Cheryl immediately dubbed the van "The Magic Bus" and we called it that for the rest of the time she was with us. Ken drove her back up to Paris when it was time and I think he got another car while there. He came back to Vouvray with our friend CHM and we stayed for a few more days before going back up to Paris for the end of our vacation.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Here we go again

I've scanned over half of the slides from our second Loire Valley vacation back in 2001, so I'll start posting some of them now. This is the same vacation rental house in Vouvray that we found in 2000. We liked it so much that we rented it again the next year. That time, we arrived in spring toward the end of May. The weather was much nicer, the days were longer, and we could spend more time outdoors.

An evening shot of our rental house. Kitchen on the left, living room on the right. Digitized color slide, Vouvray, Spring 2001.

Our plan was to spend about ten days in the Loire and a few days in Paris at the end. I watched most of the French Open on television in Vouvray, then the rest in Paris, and actually went to Roland Garros for the women's semi-finals. More on that later.

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Damp daffs

We had a couple of days of light rain over the weekend. But the high pressure is back now and we're enjoying some sun. Daffodils all around our neighborhood are in bloom. These are some of ours on the southwest corner of the house. All the daffs we have were here when we arrived. I've divided and moved some since then.

In the pot behind the daffodils is a winter jasmine, a gift from CHM.

I'm itching to get outside and get started on spring cleanup, but it's still a little chilly. Maybe this week's predicted mild temperatures will help.

Monday, March 07, 2022


The prunier (plum tree) that Ken grew from pits and planted on the northwest corner of our property is blooming right now. Our neighbor to the east has one right across the fence and it's flowering as well. They're early bloomers and among the first signs of spring, along with forsythia and primroses.

It's past time to cut that ivy off the garden shed wall.

I may have mentioned that our living room curtains, sheers that we got nineteen years ago when we arrived, are disintegrating. They're still hanging in there (pun intended), but there are places where they sag. We've put off getting new ones made (they have to be custom made) because of covid. However, I just realized that we can order them on line without having to go to a store. Duh. I looked at a couple of web sites, including the store where we got the old curtains, and it looks pretty easy to do. I'll need to do a little more research in terms of style and price, but I'm hopeful that we'll have new curtains this spring.

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Looks like spring

But it still feels like winter. At least, winter here. We have no snow and haven't seen so much as a flurry this season. We had some days below zero a couple of months ago, but just barely. Tomorrow's predicted low is -2ºC in our area, but it will warm up to well above freezing during the day and probably not go below zero again all week.

Primrose and cyclamen blooming in the north forty, looking southwest across the back yard.

Spring is about two weeks away. Plum trees are blossoming all around us, as are the forsythia. And our annual primrose bloom is happening now. We also have a lot of purple cyclamen this year. I'm not sure why, but it may have something to do with the tree removal. There will probably be more freezes as the season ends. The grape growers have been suffering April freezes in recent years. The last frost danger, a few days known as les saints de glace, comes on May 11-13.

Saturday, March 05, 2022

Claws 'n' saws

That's what I call these tractors. From what I've seen, they're equipped with claws that grip felled logs and big circular saws that cut them to length in a flash. We're seeing a lot of logging going on all around us. People with wooded land are cutting down trees and stacking the logs for future firewood. I think this has to do with the ban on selling/installing new oil-burning heating systems set to take effect this summer.

Tractors with log harvesting attachments parked out in the vineyard near some recently downed trees.

A lot of people already burn wood to heat their homes and water. Many, like us, burn wood to supplement their main heating systems, be they oil, gas, or electric. More and more people are switching over to heat pumps and pellet-fueled heating systems. Existing fuel oil systems aren't affected by the ban, but when it's time to replace them, people like us will have to choose a new technology.

Friday, March 04, 2022

Drive this way, please

This sign points the way to the Château de Montrésor on the main road through town. It directs drivers up to the heights, the castle's entrance, and the town's church, before the road continues on out of town.

Road signs in Montrésor. Digitized color slide, Fall 2000.

I'm starting to scan the slides from our second trip to the Loire Valley. We went in the spring of 2001 and rented the same vacation house as before. The weather was good; it was the end of May and I spent a lot of time watching the French Open on television. I could sit outside and listen to the coverage through the window. What fun! We did a lot of touring around, as well, so I'll post some of those photos as I get them scanned and processed.

Thursday marked six weeks since Tasha returned home from her surgery. The surgeon said that she should be confined for six weeks, so in theory, her recovery is complete. Except that we intend to prolong it a while to be sure. She still favors the leg that was operated on. We notice that she skips steps every so often. We plan to keep her confined in her living room corral for a couple more weeks, and I think we've decided that she'll spend nights in her loft corral for the foreseeable future. We don't want her jumping up onto the sofa or the bed, or back down again. She likes the bed we made for her in the loft corral and curls up to sleep as soon as she gets in. I also don't see any off-leash walks happening, although we may start prolonging her walks as the weather gets better. Stairs are another thing we'll have to deal with at some point. For now, I'm still carrying her up and down.

Thursday, March 03, 2022


The Loire Valley portion of our 2000 trip came to a close. Our friend S. headed south on her own and Ken and I drove up to Reims in Champagne. On the way, we drove through the little town of Montrésor to see the château we had seen on a map and in the guide book. As we entered the town, this is what we saw.

The Château de Montrésor, built on a bluff above the town between the 11th and 16th centuries. Digitized color slide, Fall 2000.

We didn't stop to visit the picturesque castle as we had a long day's drive ahead. But I'm glad we saw it. We've been back many times in the years since we moved here. I still haven't been inside, but Ken has. The park along the Indrois river below the castle is a nice place for a walk.

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Chambord, fin

Here's a third, and last, black and white image from the Château de Chambord. This time, I'm looking down into the courtyard of the royal residence from the roof of the donjon (keep). You can see the exterior of this part of the castle on the extreme left side of the banner image above.

Logis royal, Château de Chambord. Digitized color slide, Fall 2000.

Just a reminder: I'm scanning color slides that I took during our first Loire Valley vacation back in the fall of 2000. I did some scanning a number of years ago, but in a scattershot manner. Now, I'm trying to get all the images scanned, in order, as a record. My old slide projector is no more and I have no other way to look at the photos. I've been posting selected images from the trip, certainly not all. The quality is acceptable, but I am retouching the photos to correct minor flaws, not the least of which is dust on the slides. I have a brush and blower to help, but they don't get all the dust off and some of it gets scanned. I can also adjust the exposure, the color, and even turn the images into black and white versions of the color slide. Thank goodness for software!

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Chambord, encore

Here's another black and white treatment of a portion of the Château de Chambord. It's a view of the roof over the central section of the castle. Those chimneys are impressive. The lantern is built over the castle's central stair, a double-spiral thought to have been designed by da Vinci. Since I took this photo, most of the roof has been cleaned and restored.

The lantern that lights the central staircase in the Château de Chambord. You can see people behind the lower balustrade for scale.
Digitized color slide, Fall 2000.

I've visited Chambord numerous times over the past 19 years, both inside and out. Visitors used to be able to park for free and wander around the grounds outside of the château. That has changed and now all visitors pay to park. 

Another thing that's changed and that I have yet to see in person is the new formal garden that was planted on the north side of the building and opened about five years ago. The original garden, built under Louis XIV in the 18th century, was neglected for years and the remaining trees finally replaced with grass lawns in 1970. The gardens were restored starting in 2016 and were re-opened to the public in 2017. One of these days I'll get up there and have a look.