Sunday, April 30, 2023


This is the lilac that we planted oh, so many years ago. I just went back through the blog and checked; it was 2006, seventeen years ago. Holy time warp, Batman.

Our 17 year-old purple lilac.

Today I'm going to let Tasha enjoy the deck. She doesn't weigh much (a little more than ten kilos) so I'm sure it will be ok. I'm not walking on the tiles or putting out furniture yet, following the mason's instructions. But I'll start tomorrow. I can't wait to get the grill set up!

Saturday, April 29, 2023

View from the vineyard

We seem to be out of the rain cycle for a while. Just when we want a little rain to test the deck's slope. Oh well, I will have to try to make rain with a watering can. The contractor's bill arrived promptly yesterday. He asked for payment by mid-may. We don't have the plumber's bill yet.

Looking northeasterly toward our hamlet.

Yesterday I made a long overdue run to the dump/recycle center. We got rid of a huge stock of cables from various home electronics long defunct, a good stack of cardboard, and other various and sundry junk that's been taking up space in the garage.

I'm planning to go to the market this morning for, you guessed it, asparagus and strawberries. This is a holiday weekend in France (May 1 is Labor Day), so there might be a crowd. Strikes and demonstrations are planned around the country for Monday, mostly protesting the retirement reform. A good day to stay at home.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Full swing spring

Wildflowers are in bloom. Grass is growing like crazy. Birds are chirping, frogs are croaking, and the temperature is warming up. It's not quite tee-shirt weather, but it is pleasant outdoors.

Cowslips and other wildflowers populate our "lawn."

Our deck is done! The guys finished up yesterday afternoon. The contractor will come back for one thing: he ran out of edge trimming and had to order some more. When it comes in, he'll be back to install it. He advised us to stay off the deck until Monday, so we won't be setting up the table and chairs and barbecue grill just yet. But we're close. Photos to come.

As for the slope, we need a good rain shower to see if the deck sheds water in the right direction. If it doesn't rain, I may be tempted to use a watering can for the test. I don't know what I'll do if it doesn't work.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Roast chicken in a pot

Ken made this the other day. I took the picture. It's a chicken roasted in an earthenware terrine with aromatic vegetables, smokey lardons (bacon), and white wine. In this case, Ken substituted hard cider from Normandy for the wine since we had some that needed to get used. He sauteed cubed potatoes to serve along side. Needless to say, it was delicious.

A variation on "chicken in the pot."

On the deck front, work continued through the day on Wednesday. The tiles are almost all down now. Just a few remain to be laid at the end of the deck's north side. Then, I assume, the grouting will begin. I don't know how long the mortar has to set before the grouting can happen. I'll find that out today. So far, it's looking good; we're both pretty happy with the new tile color (it's not that different from the old color). I'll take pictures once the protective tarps are removed and I get the green light to walk around out there.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023


Tuesday was a busy day... for the contractors. While the deck guys began laying tile, the plumber spent a second day on his projects and finished them up in the afternoon. We now have a water spigot outside on the southern wall, close to the driveway. The old hose that's been stretched around the north side can now go away.

New tile!

One of the three big radiators in the loft has been moved down to our entry room. The heating contractor who installed the loft radiators back in 2010 insisted that we needed three (very expensive) radiators up there, but it always got too warm. The radiator we moved had been turned off and unused for years and we keep the other two turned down to half-power. And the loft is plenty warm that way. So now the redundant radiator is installed downstairs, and the pipes that fed and drained it are capped off (they can be reconnected if someone wants to add a third radiator in the future). The old cast iron radiator that was in the entry is now gone, to the recycle center, I assume.

The little radiator in the WC on the main floor has now been replaced with a towel warmer. It still heats the tiny room, but it will also serve as a supplemental clothes dryer and, of course, a towel dryer for potential guests. The WC is between the guest room and the bathroom. By the way, why is "guest room" two words while "bathroom" is one?

Today the tile laying will continue. It's going slower than I remember from the first and second times. I'm choosing to believe that's because the current tile contractor is making certain that the slope is correct so that water runs off the deck instead of toward the house. Notice the level on the tile in the photo. Dare we hope the job will be done by the weekend? We're already making plans for the start of grilling season. Ya-hoo!

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Chaos! In a good way

We were expecting the deck guys. I had a doctor appointment not long after they were to arrive. What we weren't counting on was the plumber showing up. He told us "the end of April," so he's not wrong. It's just that he didn't call to tell us which day or what time. So, as I'm talking to the mason about the water on the deck, the plumber pulls in to empty our central heating system and spend the day working. We're having three radiators removed: one re-installed elsewhere, another being replaced by a towel warmer (in the WC), and another taken away altogether.

A moisture barrier was installed on the deck surface yesterday.

The fact that the plumber didn't give us a warning meant we were not ready for him. We've been waiting for a year for him to do this work, so we weren't about to turn him away. We had to scramble to move furniture, get things off the walls, and make sure the deck guy's stuff in the garage wasn't in the way of the plumber's work there. And I had to leave for the doctor's office as all this was going on. Ken and Tasha did a great job of moving stuff around in concert with the plumber's work while I was gone. I helped finish when I got back. The deck guys work outside, so there wasn't much to worry about there.

Since we haven't had heat since yesterday morning, the house is pretty cold. I couldn't build a fire yesterday because the deck guys were working right over my log pile and chopping block. So I was out at six-thirty this morning splitting logs. The fire is now going and the living room is warming up. The plumber should arrive at 08h00. We should have heat back before the end of the day. The deck guys won't be here until this afternoon. They may be starting the tile laying today. I'm not sure.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Le grand salon

There's a lot going on in this room. The fireplace (not in the photo), and probably a lot of the décor, dates from the mid nineteenth century. Le goûter (afternoon tea?) was often served in this room, according to the castle's web site.

Le grand salon, Château de Chaumont. October 2012.

We're expecting the contractor back again this morning. We need to show him the photos of the water incursions. It's possible that this won't be a surprise to him and that he plans to build up another layer of mortar. It's possible. We'll see how he reacts.

Not long after he gets here, I have to leave for an early morning doctor appointment. It's just a routine visit to refill prescriptions, so it shouldn't take long. Ken and Tasha will supervise while I'm gone.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

La chambre dite de Ruggieri

Another bedroom in the Château de Chaumont. This one is called "Ruggieri" after an Italian astrologer employed by Catherine de Médicis in the sixteenth century.

The Ruggieri room, Château de Chaumont. October 2012.

We're expecting afternoon showers, maybe even thundershowers, today. Another opportunity to stress about water on the deck.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

La chambre dite de Catherine de Médicis

Back to Chaumont. This room is named for Catherine de Médicis, apparently in honor of her acquiring the castle in the sixteenth century. Did she ever sleep there? I'm not certain.

Chambre de Catherine de Médicis, Château de Chaumont. October 2012.

I finally heard from the contractor who's renovating our deck. He called yesterday morning to say that his truck was in the shop all week and he'd be by after lunch to continue the work. From what I can tell, he applied a layer of mortar to the deck surface to correct its slope. That's drying over the weekend and he'll be back on Monday for the next steps.

We had a short rain shower early this morning and it's raining lightly as I type this. So far we don't see any water standing on the deck in the usual places. I can't really go out there since the mortar is still drying. I'll have a better idea when it gets light outside.

UPDATE: There's one spot where water is coming in like it always has. Still, the mortar the mason applied yesterday is just the first step in the process. I took photos. I hope that seeing how the water comes in will help him to fix the situation.

Friday, April 21, 2023


This was last Tuesday's sunrise. The night was clear and the morning chilly. I'm still wearing a hat and scarf on morning walks with Tasha. You can see on the left part of the large parcel that will soon (I think) be planted with new grape vines. The grower is likely waiting to plant until all danger of frost has passed. That's normally around mid-May.

Looking easterly from the vineyard toward our hamlet at sunrise on Tuesday.

I got most of the yard mowed over the past few days. The grass got really tall and thick since our last rainy spell, so it's slow going. I'm leaving a patch in the north forty uncut in the hope that poppies will spring up like they did last year. I was careful not to mow the poppies down until after they set seed, so we'll see. I also need to run the rototiller through the vegetable garden plot. The landscaping contractor did the first run (thank goodness), so it should not be too difficult. Famous last words...

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Still waiting

A good weather week is going by while we wait for the deck contractor to come back. He demolished and removed the old tile just over a week ago. I'm seeing predictions for rain this coming weekend, which may further delay the project.

Our view as we start a morning walk. Tasha's in the center-right.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

I'm confused

I thought the grape growers who own the vineyards out back had stopped using herbicides to control weeds among the vines. They've been mowing and plowing for a few years. So why are the vineyard parcels back to shades of orange and brown? Maybe there's a new herbicide that is considered "organic" or at least not harmful to the environment? Maybe the other methods cost too much? Whatever it is, there's been a lot of spraying out there this spring.

Most of the vines in these parcels are relatively young, planted since we've lived here.

Winter pruning is done and the pliage, bending the single cane left after pruning to the horizontal and attaching it to a guide wire, is under way. The vines are producing leaves. A frost in the coming weeks could do a lot of damage. It's the same fear every year. I hope our local growers don't have to deal with that.

Meanwhile, the big parcel that was dug up a year or so ago is being prepared to receive new vines. The ground was smoothed over a few weeks ago (a process called terrassement) and now they're spreading manure on it. The workers are also preparing another large plot for replacement. The wires and posts are gone; soon the vine trunks will be ripped out. That plot will likely lay fallow for a year or two before replanting.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Tulip time

These tulips came up just outside a neighbor's wall. She has a lot more inside. Were they planted, or did they escape? I noticed yesterday a lone red tulip in our yard in a place where there were never any tulips. How did it get there? Can tulips spread by seed? I suppose I should look it up.

Pretty tulips are popping up all over.

The deck contractor didn't show yesterday. He wasn't scheduled to, I was just hoping. But I still haven't heard back since the past week's rain has ended. Dare I hope again this morning? Or tomorrow?

I called the dentist yesterday and, lo!, he called me back. We're on track for the implant, but the dentist that does that kind of work is on vacation (France is in the middle of spring vacations now). As soon as he/she is back, I will be able to schedule a consultation.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Tarte aux asperges et au jambon

It's spring, which means that it's asparagus season. And what do I do every year during asparagus season? I make a ham and asparagus tart. Our local specialty is white asparagus. The green stuff is getting more popular, but the white stuff is much more abundant. They're the same plant, it's just that the green stuff is allowed to grow above ground, in the sunlight, and chlorophyll develops. The white stuff stays buried until it's harvested.

The set up: tart pan, ham slices, steamed asparagus.

The first step in making the tart is to peel and steam the spears. White asparagus needs to be peeled because the skins are tough. Be sure to cut the spears to fit your tart pan. That done, the next step is to prepare a pâte brisée (standard pie crust) and blind-bake it. Store bought crusts will work just fine, but I have the time so I make my own.

Blind-baked pie crust, cooled and ready.

While the crust is baking (use pie weights!), roll three or four asparagus spears in a slice of ham. The original recipe calls for jambon cru (cured ham, like Bayonne or prosciutto), but I usually use regular sandwich slices. Make four bundles, or however many will fit in your tart pan. This recipe is a good use for a rectangular tart pan.

Ham and asparagus bundles.

Make a savory custard with two eggs, a mixture of milk and cream equaling 20cl, and about 50g of grated parmesan cheese. Pour that mixture into the crust and arrange the ham/asparagus bundles on top. Bake the tart for 30 minutes or so in a hot (220ºC/400ºF) oven until the custard sets and browns. Let cool a little before serving.

The finished tart, ready to come out of the pan. Cut and serve as desired.

A green salad with a simple vinaigrette dressing goes well with this tart. And a nice wine, red or dry white, completes the meal.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

La bibliothèque

The library. If I'm reading correctly, this room wasn't used as a library, but as a salon for conversation and music, at least not in the most recent of times. The room and its contents were mostly destroyed by fire in 1957. It's currently furnished with pieces from the mid nineteenth century (Napoleon III). The Aubusson tapestries date from the seventeenth century.

The room is quite bright when the sun shines in. Château de Chaumont. Octboer 2012.

Another angle.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

La salle à manger

The dining room at the Château de Chaumont. The room is staged as if guests will arrive at any minute. I was going to look up some details about the room, but the castle's web site is not responding this morning. It's always something.

I wonder who's invited? Chaumont. October 2012.

Life is feeling a bit more normal now that we've found Bert's body and buried him. We're getting all his things (food bowls, etc.) gathered up and put away. I'm going to offer our remaining cat food and treats to our neighbors with cats, if they want any of it. We all know that cats can be finicky about what they eat (and so can their humans).

We appreciate all the encouraging and sympathetic comments we've received this past week. Just so you know, we will not be getting another cat. Tasha (the dog) is enough for us now.

Friday, April 14, 2023

The north side

More rain is expected today, so I'm not expecting the deck guys until after the weekend. I'll take this opportunity to show you a side of the house that's not often seen in my photos: the north side. The deck wraps around and continues along about half the length of the house's north-facing façade. It's not really usable, being about a meter wide. I don't know why it was built this way, but it does make cleaning that living room window a lot easier than it might otherwise be.

The almost useless north section of the deck.

The section of the property along this side of the house is what I call the north forty. Recent rains and mild temperatures helped the grasses and wildflowers to go crazy. The whole property needs to be mowed. As soon as we have a few dry, warm days in a row, I'll get out there. In the photo's background is the newly tilled vegetable garden plot in the middle of what I call the west forty.

Bert update: I found Bert's body this morning. He was curled up in a tuft of tall grass out by the pond, just steps from our back gate. I walked that way just to have a look into the pond from another direction, and there he was. There was no obvious sign of trauma. We buried him in the back yard soon after. Now we have closure.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Tile be gone!

After the first day of work, this is what the deck looks like. The tile and mortar are gone. Two men took two hours to do the job. They used hand-held jackhammers that looked like giant drills. Instead of cylindrical bits, the "drills" had flat hammer-heads that got under the old tiles. They peeled off the deck as if they were banana skins.

The deck's original surface, much as we found it in 2003 after we removed the AstroTurf (yikes!) and several grungy tarps.
The yellow thing is the power washer.

You might notice that the bulky brown shutters on either side of the sliding glass door are gone. We haven't used them since that door was installed, so away they went. I plan to replace them with a white automatic roll-down shutter at some point after the deck work is done.

Yesterday's rain kept the contractor away. I don't think he'll be back today given that it's supposed to be showery off and on. The forecast is for high pressure to build back in over the weekend, so we'll see what happens. I spent the day sweeping water off the deck because it kept flowing toward the house (the reason we're re-doing the deck in the first place), puddling, and dripping through cracks into the garage below.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Hit the deck!

The mason that's re-doing our deck arrived with his assistant as expected on Tuesday. After unloading their tools and answering my questions about how they would proceed, they got to work. The two men took two hours to demolish the existing tile and clean up. They plan to be back this morning to start work on re-making the deck surface. That includes correcting the slope so that water drains off the deck instead of toward the house.

The "before" photo. The tile looks pretty good in photos, but looks are deceiving.

The mason kept mentioning how the previous deck surfaces were done shoddily. There was obviously a water problem long before we bought the house. Little channels had been carved, obviously by hand, into the original deck surface to drain water. It never worked. We thought we had fixed that when we first had the deck tiled, but no. For years we had a puddle outside the deck door. Whenever we stepped outside after rain, we'd step into water. We had that sort-of fixed fifteen years ago, but water still accumulated on either side of the door.

The poor drainage is the main reason that the deck surface needs to be reconstructed. It's led to tiles coming loose and breaking, and grout disintegrating, allowing water to infiltrate below the surface (and going who knows where). And we still have water accumulating on the deck. The first step was to get rid of the old tile. And now it's gone.

My job yesterday afternoon was to power-wash the newly exposed surface to clean it of dust and dirt. I also needed to clean the deck's outside edge and its annual accumulation of moss and algae. That went well, so the deck is ready for the contractor today. My only worry is that a rain system is moving through this morning. We'll see how that affects what the contractor decides to do. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: He called. Not coming today. Too wet.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023


I was having some technical difficulties this morning that took some time to deal with. Also, the deck contractor is expected to arrive at 08h00.

Consequently, I don't have a photo prepared for today. But I'll be back tomorrow. Thanks for your understanding!

Monday, April 10, 2023


This is a hard one to write. We think Bert, our cat, has left us. He went outside on Saturday afternoon, but didn't return. We talked to the neighbors, but no one had seen him. He just disappeared. We thought that this might happen one day, but now that it has, we're dumbstruck.

Bert in October, 2016.

Bert was almost seventeen years old. He came to live with us in 2010, when he was just four. We had some bumpy times at the beginning, especially with our dog, Callie, who didn't get along with him. Since Callie died in 2017, and Tasha came to live with us, Bert has had it good. He and Tasha became best buds and Bert enjoyed sleeping on the couch or on the bed, sometimes nuzzled up with the dog.

I find myself looking out the window, expecting to see Bert trotting up the garden path toward home as he usually did. But he doesn't come. The hardest part is not knowing what happened. We miss him.

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Another castle, another chapel

This is the chapel at the Château de Chaumont. It was built in the early sixteenth century. Most of the big châteaux have chapels. I suppose it was a convenience for the owners/occupants to do their religious stuff in private without having to venture out in public to a local church. Maybe it was a status symbol. A guest room for God? Religion is not my area of expertise.

Chapel, Château de Chaumont. October 2012.

We're concerned about Bert this morning. He disappeared yesterday afternoon. I only noticed when he didn't come in for his afternoon meal. Then he didn't show up in the evening like he usually does and, so far, he's been out all night. He's got open access to the house, so we know he's not locked out. He's done this once or twice before, but it's been a while. We'll take a look around the neighborhood when it gets light. At his age (seventeen years), we can't help but fear the worst.

Saturday, April 08, 2023


I couldn't quite figure out what to do with this photo. Contrast is the issue. Intense light in the center and intense shadow all around. Because it's a camera-produced .jpg file, there's not much data in the image to bring it back to normal with software. So I decided to go dark, playing a little with the contrast and color.

What do you think? Château de Chaumont. October 2012.

Yesterday's market trip was successful. I got four cuisses de lapin (rabbit thighs) for Sunday's Easter dinner. Ken and I got into a habit of eating rabbit on Easter back when we lived in Washington, DC, nearly forty years ago. A lot of people eat rabbits on Easter, but most of those bunnies are made of chocolate. Not ours. I also got a nice head of lettuce, a bunch of green asparagus, a bunch of radishes, and some strawberries. Yum.

I'm stressed about doing the taxes. For no reason, other than I get stressed about it every year. Again, for no good reason. Neither the American nor the French return is complicated and it goes fine every year.

I'm anxious about the deck work getting started. Happy, and fearful that something will come up to delay it (like bad weather). Or that the deck work and the plumbing work will overlap. I'm probably worrying for nothing.

I'm nervous about my broken tooth. I emailed the dentist a week ago to get the process going for the implant he recommended. I haven't heard back. I'm going to have to call him after the holiday.

Thanks for listening to me kvetch. I feel better now.

Friday, April 07, 2023

Tower of power

Well, not so much. This is the southwestern tower of the Château de Chaumont. Looks like many a fairy tail castle tower. In the background is the Loire, and a portion of that island from yesterday's photo.

Le Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire. October 2012.

Good news on the contractor front: the deck guy called yesterday and wants to start work on Tuesday (Monday is a holiday in France). Yippee! We've cleared the deck (as it were) of plants and everything else that was out there a few weeks ago. We still need to get the bbq grill off the deck, and there's one large potted plant that hast to come in as well, so we're basically ready. Demolition will be noisy, but we'll get through it. I hope the weather cooperates and all goes well. As usual, I'll try to take photos of the progress.

I'm heading over to the Friday market in a near-by town this morning in search of rabbit pieces (like thighs) for Sunday's meal. Ken wants to make a slow-cooked dish, a confit de lapin, and it sounds good. It's the poultry vendors in France that normally deal in rabbit, so I'm hoping ours has some today. They usually do, but if they don't, I may be able to order it for pickup at the Saturday market in Saint-Aignan. Wish me luck!

Thursday, April 06, 2023

La Loire

Here's a view of the Loire River seen from the Château de Chaumont. The little town of Chaumont-sur-Loire is down at river level a little to the right of this view. There's a bridge across the river there. The closest crossings otherwise are about fifteen kilometers (just under 10 miles) in either direction.

Looking downstream from the left bank of the Loire. October 2012.

It's tax season. I haven't started the American return yet, although I think I've got all the documents I need. The French return is due some time in May. Neither return is all that difficult to do. I just have to get over inertia and do them. That's my plan for the weekend, other than going to the market to find some rabbit for Easter Sunday's lunch.

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

The plot thickens

The vegetable garden plot, that is. Our landscape contractor showed up around nine yesterday morning and spent about an hour tilling up the vegetable garden. I didn't get "before" pictures. Bad planning on my part. But here's an "after" shot.

Looking east (into the sun) on Tuesday morning. I haven't measured lately, but the plot is about ten meters on a side.

The contractor has a bigger and more powerful tiller than we do. And he's younger and stronger than either of us. There were a lot of weeds to contend with, but he made short work of it. The first tilling of the season is always the most difficult. Now that it's done, we should be able to run our tiller through it once or twice (to keep the weeds down) with relative ease before we plant in mid-May. Now it's time to get the seedlings going.

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Jump ahead

The last time I visited the Château de Chaumont was in the fall of 2012. More friends from California were in town and we visited both Chaumont and Chambord. The next batch of photos are from that visit. Long-time readers might recognize some of these photos that I posted back then (already almost eleven years ago!). I'm taking this opportunity to re-work some of them.

The main entrance to the castle's courtyard. October 2012.

This is a not-very-good shot of the drawbridge at the castle entry. I was still learning how to use the camera that I got earlier in the year, a Canon T3i, my first digital SLR. Most of my shots that day, like this one, were taken in aperture priority mode, but a few might have been attempts with full manual mode. It's apparent that I was still working on getting the lighting right.

There are actually two drawbridges at the entrance; a wider one for horses and carriages (I'm guessing), and another narrower one for pedestrians. The entrance leads to a courtyard surrounded on three sides by the château and open to the north and views of the Loire River in the valley below.

Monday, April 03, 2023


I might have waited until the big hand was on the twelve. I might have done a better job of centering the clock inside the gate's fleur de lys ornaments. But no. The clock is in the courtyard of what I think are the old stables at the Château de Chaumont.

It's almost two o'clock. Lunch is over. March 2006.

Now that March is over, the winds have calmed and high pressure is building in. That means clear skies and cold mornings. We're expecting to be down very close to freezing the next few mornings. Easter is next weekend and that means the start of school vacations. And an uptick in traffic going to the zoo. There's a new hotel in town and it looks like the construction is pretty much done. I wonder if it will be open in time for "spring break." I looked on the web and it seems that it opened this past weekend.

Sunday, April 02, 2023


To enter the château at Chaumont, visitors pass over a drawbridge. It's difficult to see in this photo, but if you look closely you may see the beams over either side of the door to which are attached the chains that made the bridge operable. I don't know if it can actually close these days, but that would be cool, wouldn't it?

The drawbridge is a short section between the castle door and the larger fixed bridge in front. March 2006.

Just after crossing the drawbridge, visitors paid their admission charge. Now, and for a while, that's all taken care of on the edges of the property at the entrances (I believe there are two).

Saturday, April 01, 2023

Let's go to Chaumont

You might remember the story of Diane de Poitiers, mistress of King Henri II, being kicked out of the Château de Chenonceau in 1559 after the king's death. His widow, Catherine de Médicis, took over ownership of Chenonceau, but she offered the Château de Chaumont to Diane in exchange.

The Château de Chaumont sits high above the Loire Valley, about a 30 minute drive from our house. March 2006.

This photo of the castle and the few that follow are from March of 2006. Back then, the grounds were open to public for free. Admission was only charged to enter and tour the castle. That has changed since then and now visitors pay to get into the park as well. Since 1992, the castle grounds have hosted what has become a prestigious international garden festival.