Sunday, September 30, 2012

My treasure, my precious

Not far from where we live is a small town called Montrésor (My Treasure) which is home to a very pretty château and church. The town is on built on the heights above a very small river called l'Indrois. Last week we took our house guests there for a walk along the river and through the town.

The church up on the heights above the river. The castle is over to the left, just outside this photo.

This view is from the south (I think) looking up at the town and the church above. The church, la Collégiale Saint-Jean Baptiste, was built in the sixteenth century. We walked up there and went inside for a look before walking back down through town.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

At the sign of the baker

Old-fashioned business signs have not gone out of style in France. They never look out of place and many are quite clever. This one is on a bakery in Montrichard. It's a stylized baker taking fresh baguettes out of the wood-fired oven. And I'll wager that this is not an old sign, but a rather modern one done in the old style.

The Dungeon Bakery in Montrichard. Check out the baker's shoes!

In our town, the barber, Madame Barbier, has a sign shaped like a pair of scissors outside her shop.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Le donjon

Montrichard is built on the Cher River, like Saint-Aignan. The old medieval château is no longer standing, but the ruins of the central donjon (keep) are still there. Tourists can climb the steps up to the keep and explore the grounds.

The stairs up to Montrichard's donjon, which you can see at the top of the photo.

Interestingly, in the nearly ten years that I've lived here, I've never done that. One of these days!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Periodic Puppy Pics

Callie loves her socks. That is, she loves our socks, once they're holey and tied up together. She has learned that all socks are not equal. She won't go for the socks we wear and haphazardly leave on the floor. But once the socks have holes in them, we tie them together and give them to Callie. Then they're hers.

The Sock Queen, resting with her bounty under the coffee table. How cute is that!

She loves to "play sock." That is, she'll pick up her sock, shake it back and forth a few times, then tease me to come and try to snatch it from her. When I manage to get a hold of it, we play tug'o'war for a bit. Then, if I win, I toss the sock into the air and she catches it. She lets me win from time to time, just so she can catch the sock in the air. I'm convinced of it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Aux Délices

Another shot along the main drag in Montrichard. This is a bakery/chocolate shop and one that we've stopped into many a time in the past nine years. Next door is a pharmacy. All pharmacies in France have some variation of the green cross sign above their doors to identify them as officially licensed pharmacies.

Very nicely maintained storefronts. That's our car in the corner and reflected in the window.

Most of the time the signs are adorned with neon tubes which blink and flash in various sequences worthy of the Las Vegas strip. This one is no exception.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

La rue nationale

Still in Montrichard, here's another view of the town's main street, this time looking the other way from city hall.  At the end of the street and to the right is a nice square surrounded by restaurants and their outdoor seating areas under the trees. You can see the office de tourisme (tourist office) at the end of the street.

Looking east, up river, on Montrichard's main street.

The real estate office that helped us buy our house back in 2002 is in this picture. Since the realtor is in this town, it made sense for us to open up our bank account here. That's why I have to go to Montrichard to do certain banking business instead of to the much closer branch in Saint-Aignan.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Hôtel de ville

This is city hall in the nearby town of Montrichard. I had a banking errand to run the other day and the main street through town looked very pretty in the early afternoon light. So I snapped a few quick photos.

Three-fifteen in the afternoon at Montrichard City Hall.

We had a rather abrupt and violent thunderstorm yesterday evening. Lots of wind and rain and quite a light show. Thunderstorms weren't really predicted where we are and it took us a little by surprise. Just after the storm we noticed something flying around in the loft room. At first we thought it was a little bat, but then noticed that it was some kind of giant moth, as big as a small bird.

I thought it had escaped through an open window until it woke me up knocking around the room at one o'clock this morning. I got up and turned a light on. Sure enough, there was the moth. After chasing it about a bit, I got it scooped up into a plastic container and let it go out a window. No photos, unfortunately.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Rain is on the way

The weather situation is weird right now. Today, Sunday, we're supposed to have a high near 29ºC (that's about 84ºF). It has something to do with the remnants of a tropical system that's moving up through Spain. I'm not sure it will get that warm, but you never know.

Grey days ahead.

Then, on Monday, we're expecting to drop back into normal fall temperatures and a few days of rain. The rain is good news, as we haven't had much at all in two months. The garden will certainly enjoy that. Of course, it'll put a damper on my finishing up the wood-cutting. I won't do any today because we're not supposed to use noisy power tools on Sunday (although technically I'm allowed between 10:00am and noon, but I don't like to make the noise if I don't absolutely have to).

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A new banner for fall

Today is the autumnal equinox marking the first day of fall. On Wednesday, I drove over to the Château de Montpoupon to take some new photos for the banner. The day was beautiful, but the woods don't look as fall-like as I wanted them to. Still, that's what it looks like around here now. So there's the new banner up above. I've put the previous banner below so you can compare and contrast:

The previous banner, photo taken on 22 June 2011.

If I get another chance in a few weeks, I'll try it again. And then I might try for a winter shot later on. I think the castle would look cool (haha) in snow. But first we have to have some snow, and then I have to manage to drive in it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Garden greens

Remember when I planted the little collard and chard seedlings? Well here they are now. Not yet ready for harvesting, but well on their way.

Left to right: rhubarb, collard greens, swiss chard, basil. In back, squashes. See how dry the ground is?

I need to keep them watered as we aren't having any rain these days. We're about to harvest the next bunch of tomatoes; there are a ton of them on the vines. More sauce, more oven-dried tomatoes. Yum!

Speaking of harvests, it seems that the grape harvesting has begun.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The hazy end of summer

Recent mornings, when not cloudy, have been hazy. Like this past Tuesday. I can tell that the deep green leaves on the grape vines are moving toward yellow. Individual leaves are turning dramatically, but the overall change is more subtle.

Looking west across the vineyard in the diffused early morning light, 18 September 2012.

I have one little project in mind: I'd like to drive over to Montpoupon (the castle in the banner photo above) and take another picture from that spot while the leaves are turning. We don't get the bright reds and oranges of a New England autumn, but the yellows and browns are still pretty. The current image was taken in full summer. It might be nice to have a view that matches the season.

I need to choose a day that's relatively sunny, at least not overcast or rainy. Then I have to go in the early afternoon so that the sun is in the right place. And I want to go before the leaves all fall from the trees. It's not far, about fifteen minutes by car. We shall see.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Oh, what a tangled web

Fall is a nice time for web watching. The leaves drop from the tree branches, the grasses and wildflowers dry up, and webs become more visible, especially in the chilly mornings when they're covered with dew or when the low morning sunshine glints off them at just the right angle.

Can you spot the spider's web in the dry weeds? Click to miss-muffetize.

In October and November we normally have very foggy mornings that laden the webs with moisture. Then, if the sun peeks through the mist, they sparkle and glisten. Something to look forward to!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Moving right along

On Monday I got the chainsaw out, topped up its oil and fuel tanks, changed the chain (luckily, the spare chain had been sharpened last season), and got all the remaining bits of miscellaneous wood and kindling cut to size. Then I cut twenty of the standard logs.

A view of our hamlet from out among the vines. Click to hamlify.

What I call the "standard" logs are the meter-long logs that we bought. They're mostly already split (even though I will split some of the fatter ones further), but I have to saw them into lengths that will fit inside our wood burner. We have a stove that takes up to 40cm long logs rather than the more common 50cm logs. You can tell that we really didn't know what we were doing when we let the stove guy talk us into that smaller model six years ago.

The smaller capacity means that I have to make two cuts per log instead of just one. Live and learn. Still, it's not that difficult, and it's easier to lug smaller logs upstairs to the stove than larger ones.

So today my goal is to do at least thirty logs. Two cuts per log equals sixty cuts, resulting in ninety smaller logs to stack for burning this winter. I'm hopeful to have the entire log pile cut and stacked within a week.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The hang cone

I don't know why, but my mind wants to call it a "hang cone." I noticed this on Thursday, a pine cone, tied to a string, suspended from one of the support wires at the end of a row of grape vines. And it's not on the road side, either, but back by some woods where pretty much nobody goes.

Barely visible behind the grape leaves.

I wonder if it was put there by a grower, to scare birds or other animals? But, if so, why just the one? As far as I can tell, there are no others. It's probably just a bit of whimsy. I'm glad I saw it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Still a few flowers left

I like the red stems of this flower against the straw-colored grasses behind. The wildflowers are withering and their seeds are scattering. It's time to be thinking about preparing the yard and garden for winter.

These look like fall colors to me. Click to steminate.

We should be able to work outdoors for another six weeks or more. I'd like to cut what remains of the grass (mostly weeds and weed-flower stalks at this point) one more time this season. It's actually more a matter of mulching up some of the fallen leaves than anything else. We contracted with someone to do the hedge trimming this year (yippee) so, once I'm done with the firewood, I can turn my attentions to other winterizing chores.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dark clouds

The early part of the week teased us with a weather system and the promise of some much needed rain. We got the weather system, lower temperatures, and some rain. But not enough rain to matter, really.

Around 6:00 pm on Thursday. The sun is about two hours from setting.

Now we're back in the dry pattern and I have to keep an eye on the vegetable garden and remember to water. And I need to take advantage of the dry days to get going on the wood cutting. Inertia is difficult to overcome, sometimes.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Periodic Puppy Pics

Sorta. Callie looked at me just as I snapped the picture. Maybe it was because I yelled, "Callie!" before pressing the shutter button. Who knows?

The sun peeked out from the western sky as it descended below the clouds on Thursday afternoon.

We got a couple of millimeters of rain over the past two days. Really not much. Everything is still dry out there. I saw a lot of vineyard parcels where the grapes are few and tiny. It made me a little sad. I hope it doesn't turn out to be a horrible year for the growers.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The view at sunrise

I haven't taken the camera out in a few days, so you're getting some photos from a week or so ago. I hope you don't mind. This is what we call the Second Line of Trees, out in the vineyard. The sun had just come up and its rays are horizontal.

The sun is low in the eastern sky and lights up the underside of these trees.

The season is changing and we're alternating between summer-like days and fall-like days. Soon, the fall-like days will take over. I've got to get it together to start cutting wood for the winter fires. It's lumberjack time!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The vines are waiting

The grapes are ripening; they look good. Most of the reds have turned dark and look as plump as they're going to get. The whites are getting that ripe look as well. All now waits for the decision as to when to harvest.

Neat rows of grape vines on the slopes out behind our house.

That will, I'm sure, depend on the weather. Then the vineyard will begin buzzing with activity. General hunting season begins in a couple of weeks, but there have already been a few organized hunts in the vineyards and the adjacent woods these past weeks.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ça commence

It has begun. Summer is moving into Fall. It's now dark before bedtime. We're up before the sun. And the leaves are turning color in the vineyard.

I think this must be sauvignon blanc. It's the most common white grape around us.

The leaves on many trees around us are dried up and falling already. I think that has more to do with our month-long plus stretch of dry weather than the season, but the effect is the same.

Monday, September 10, 2012


These are a few of the roofs in our little hamlet. None of these is ours. They belong to two of our neighbors. One property is a summer house (in the foreground), the other (where the tall trees are) is lived in full-time.

Part of our hamlet seen from the vineyard behind.

These are clay tile roofs. The tiles are flat and rectangular and are discolored by years of service, stained by growths of lichens and mosses. Our roof is a dark brown color, made from concrete tiles that are probably a bit newer than these at a little under fifty years old.

Sunday, September 09, 2012


The vineyards behind our house are part of a patchwork of fields and woods, depending on which way the slopes run and how the land drains down to the river. In some places the vines abut the woods' edge, in others they are adjacent to fields of grasses and wildflowers.

Tall grasses and wildflowers on the left, grape vines on the right.

Wherever the vines end, there is a strip of land that's kept clear for access by tractors and other vehicles. If the vineyard is next to a field, there may also be a mowed strip next to that before the tall grasses take over, like in the photo above. I took this one just after sunrise and there were dark clouds on the northern horizon beyond.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Trail marker

This is an official trail marker on one of the hiking trails in the Cher Valley. It means that you're on the right path and that you should not turn. There's another kind of mark for turning, and other marks (shaped like x's) to tell you if you're on the wrong path.

If you squint your eyes just right you might see a face in this tree.

Somebody comes through periodically to re-paint the markers. I've walked on part of the trail between our house and our little town and between our house and Saint-Aignan, but I've not gone any farther.

Friday, September 07, 2012


We had a cloudy but dry day this past week. It wasn't completely overcast and there were many bright spots in the sky, even a little sun. But mostly it was cloudy. The sky looked sculptured as opposed to the uniform gray blanket we often see on overcast days.

The vineyard is a bit dark in this photo, but I like the texture of the clouds.

The vines around us have been neatly trimmed, probably for the last time this season. The grapes are ripening, and some of the leaves are starting to turn. We haven't heard yet when the harvest might start.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome

This thistle-like plant (dipsacus fullonum), called wild, common, or fuller's teasel in English, is called cardère à foulon in French. Carding (cardage) and teasing are words that have to do with preparing wool or cotton for spinning, and fouler has something to do with pressing or tanning leather. Apparently, this plant's flower heads were once used to tease wool in textile manufacturing.

Common teasel. Ouch!

We see these tall plants along side roads on the edge of wooded areas all around our region. I read that teasel is sometimes known as cabaret des oiseaux (the birds' nightclub). Hence the title of my post.

Life is a cabernet, old chum.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

A single foot

My friend CHM gave me a monopod a few years ago. I've used it a few times; it's a nice compromise between hand-held photography and lugging a full tripod around. Like I said in yesterday's post, it doesn't eliminate camera shake, but does give you a little more stability in low-light situations.

Still a bit grainy, and blurry in the background. Can you see Callie on the path?

I decided to try it out with the new camera for the first time on Monday afternoon's walk. The sky was mostly overcast, so I didn't have to deal with the contrast of bright sunny spots and dark shadowy spots as I did for the photo in yesterday's post. Still, it was quite dark in the woods. I set the ISO to 400 on the camera but wasn't able to stop the aperture down as much as I wanted. I thought I should keep the shutter speed under one second, so for the above picture I ended up with f/6.3 and 1/8 second. That wider aperture explains some of the background blur.

I took the shot below in a different spot, so it's hard to compare, but I don't think there's much difference. The ISO is still at 400, but I got to f/9 (smaller aperture) with a shutter speed of 1/4 second (twice as long as the previous exposure). That longer exposure time likely resulted in just enough blur (from camera shake) to cancel out the better depth of field. Argh!

A different spot in the woods. Callie's not in this one.

In both cases, I'm not really satisfied with the result. I'm sure the tripod would make more of a difference. Still, it's fun to experiment with the monopod because it's much easier to carry on a walk. And the more I shoot, the more I'll learn.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Still learning

I find color and light in a shaded wood difficult to capture correctly, not to mention getting a crisp, sharp image at the same time. I'm still learning with my new DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera and I think I'm getting better at close-ups. But long shots in low light are proving more of a challenge. This is a shot of the woods that Callie and I walk through very often; it's a path that goes north from our house down the hill into the river valley.

You can see how grainy the image is (especially if you click on it to make it bigger).

After looking at this photo for while and considering the camera settings, I have an idea about why it's a bit grainy rather than sharp: it may be the ISO setting. I normally shoot in Av mode (aperture priority). I select the f-stop and the camera chooses the shutter speed and ISO. In this case, I wanted a small aperture for good depth of field, but I couldn't get smaller than f/9 without needing a tripod. At f/9, the shutter set itself at 1/40 second (very close to the limit for hand-held photos) with an ISO of 1600.

Using a tripod, I would have been able to reset the ISO to 200 for a crisper photo and not worry about a slower shutter speed. But carrying a tripod around on my walks is not something I normally do (although I have a time or two). I think I'll try my monopod next time. That may let me use slower shutter speeds, but it won't eliminate camera shake altogether.

Of course, I could be totally off-base here. There are so many factors to consider. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. I just have to keep experimenting and evaluating the results. Retirement is a full-time job!

There are several neat things about digital photography, not the least of which is the fact that the pictures are virtually free and you can see your results instantly. Also, the camera records its settings for each image so you always have the details about your photos handy.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Things I hate

I don't hate much. But when I hit the enter key and a draft post publishes, even when it's only a title with nothing else, well, that really pisses me off. Only because I know that people around the world will see a new post from me, only to click through and find nothing.

These wispy things (wild clematis) will get all furry soon. Botany is not my forté.

I hate that. I know it's my fault for hitting the wrong key, but really. There should be a "Do you really want to publish this?" dialogue box. I mean, they have "Do you really want to delete this?" and "Do you really want to exit?" boxes all over the place. Is it so little to ask for?

As you can see, I have nothing to say. But I do have this picture.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

A bounty of plums

This year's summer fruit crops have been a disappointment. We have very few apples, compared to the thousands we normally deal with. The cherries were few and far between this year in the neighborhood trees. And the plums, with one exception, have been thin.

Plums are called 'prunes' in French. What we call prunes are called 'pruneaux' here.

Our neighbors across the road have a plum tree (mirabelles, I think) that has gone bonkers this year. Last week Maryvonne gave us a basket full. While I talked with her outside, her husband was back at the tree nudging the branches with a broomstick. The ripe plums just rained down.

This is the clafoutis fresh from the oven. I didn't take pictures of the tarte.

Maryvonne told me that one of her daughters took home a huge bushel basket of plums a day or two before. And there are still more out there. I made a plum tarte one day, then a clafoutis of plums the next. We had enough left over for a small batch of compote. And, I will bet, there are still plenty of plums on that tree.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

A rose is a rose

Until it's not. This one is no more. The petals have all gone, but the hip has yet to form fully. I try not to let the hips form so that the plant will continue to flower, but I'm not always good at remembering to prune them off.

Pink roses in our back garden.

I now have a sort of mystery on my hands. Something is going at the roots of the Swiss chard I planted in the vegetable garden a couple of weeks ago. I've lost two plants. They've wilted down to the ground. Around one I can see evidence of something having pushed up dirt. I don't think they're moles, as moles don't eat plants. And I swear I saw one of the wilted plants move one morning, as if something were tugging on it from below. Argh!