Monday, September 30, 2013

A web on a foggy morning

This time of year we have frequent foggy mornings. Condensation highlights the thousands of otherwise invisible spiders' webs in the tall field grasses and the vineyards. Their patterns are all similar but at the same time very different.

This probably won't be the last spider's web photo that you see here this fall.

Today is another grey and wet morning as the sun comes up. At least, I assume it's coming up. We're not likely to see it today. I won't be cutting any logs because I'm going to the dentist this morning. Nothing wrong, just a cleaning.

Sunday, September 29, 2013


Last spring, we noticed a guy walking up and down our street taking notes. He arrived in a small truck, unmarked, but typical of the trucks that local contractors use. At one point he rang our bell and I went out to see what he wanted. I assumed he wanted to sell me some gardening services.

They cut a gap in our rear hedge and filled the hole with sand.

It turned out that he was working for the electric company and scoping out the neighborhood for an upcoming project to put the transmission lines that bring power to our hamlet underground. The lines currently (pun intended) come up the hill through vineyards and woods and access to them is difficult, especially after a storm sends a tree onto them, cutting off our power. And, as many of you know, that happens more frequently than we like.

They used a crane to drop the transformer into the gap. The arriving power line is buried in a trench between the road and the hedge.

Part of the undergrounding project is the installation of a ground-level transformer to convert the high-tension power arriving at our hamlet into the lower-tension power that is distributed to each house. The lower-tension wires are not being removed, just the high-tension wires and their poles.

They seem to have installed it a bit crooked, but no matter. Now the wires are underground and the trenches are filled.

When one of our neighbors flat-out refused the electric company's first choice of location for the box, the representative approached us. We agreed to have the box installed at the back of our property, in our hedge. We got drawings in the mail to review and approve, and we signed the papers. Not long after that we got a check in the mail. They paid us for the inconvenience.

A close-up of the sign on the box.

Now the work is almost complete and, as these photos show, the transformer box has been installed. It blends in nicely and we can't see it from inside the yard because it's behind our bay laurel in the rear corner. There's still more work to be done before they turn it all on. Then they'll remove the big wires and poles from behind our house. Can't wait for that!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The grapes are waiting

The grape harvest in our region has still not started, although we heard just the other day from the mayor that it will start next week. Harvests have started in Chinon, Reuilly, and Quincy, according to one web site we follow.

A grape leaf, tendril, and shadows. I messed with the colors a bit in photoshop.

The first grapes to be harvested will be the white sauvignon blanc grapes. The reds will hang out a little more before they're picked. Soon we will hear the familiar hum of the harvesting machines all around us. Ah, fall.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Cutting the logs

As you all know by now, I'm a lumberjack and I'm ok. Since we got our delivery of logs last week, I've started cutting them into thirds for burning this winter. It's a slow process as I only cut thirty or forty logs a day. Each log means two cuts with the chainsaw, turning a one-meter long log into three relatively equal parts. There's also the moving of logs from the pile to the cutting place.
Progress to date: 71 logs cut into three pieces each. And stacked. That's the kindling pile on the right.

I only cut in the morning, before lunch. And I stop when I start feeling tired. There is no point in pushing yourself when it comes to using power tools. Better slow than sorry. It works for me.

The log pile on Thursday. To be compared with what it looked like at the start, below.

So, I'll continue to push on as fall moves toward winter. We shouldn't need to burn until November, unless we have an early cold spell. But once it gets cold, I don't want to be out there with the chainsaw. Better to have it all done before then.

The original log pile, now getting smaller.

In other news, the guys that are putting the electrical lines underground accidentally cut our water line on Thursday. We were without water for a few hours. Nothing serious, but the guys were not happy. Then, one of their tractors wouldn't start. They had a bad day.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Web architecture

Sounds like something about the internet, but it's just nature. I wonder if webs like this were the inspiration for some of our modern cable-stayed bridges?

Interesting angles in a spider's web.

Summer is making a brief reappearance in our neck of the woods. We're having high temperatures in the mid 20sC (high 70sF). The weather is expected to break over the weekend with the arrival of a low pressure system and thunderstorms. Still, the temperatures aren't expected to drop a lot in the following week. We'll see.

Meanwhile, I've started the lumberjacking process. So far, I've cut forty logs (two cuts each) and stacked them. There's still a long way to go.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The compost post

I built these compost bins back in 2004, I think. They're just concrete blocks stacked up on three sides to make a place to throw composting material. Each bin holds about one year's worth of compost. I emptied the bin on the left, the larger one, this spring into the vegetable garden. We've been filling up the bin on the right since last fall.

My backyard compost bins. No meat products, but every vegetable, fruit, and yard clipping imaginable.

Now, we switch bins. The bin on the right will stay the way it is through the winter so it will finish decomposing and be ready to go into the garden next spring. We'll put new waste into the bin on the left from now on. I've already dumped a bunch of apples into it, as you can see. They decompose very quickly. We'll add all our household composting stuff over the fall and winter and into next summer. Then we'll switch bins again.

When we lived in San Francisco, the city had a program to get people to compost. We got a composting bin at a very low price, and the instructions were simple. While some people get all bent out of shape about what ingredients make for a proper compost pile, the city simply told us that "compost happens." I've taken that advice. And so it goes.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Long legs on grapes

I saw this critter in the vineyard the other day. Was he hanging out with the wrong bunch? Hehehe. He might have been less visible on a bunch of red grapes. I don't know why I'm calling him a he; I can't tell the sexes apart.

This could be the same kind of spider (that's not a spider at all) that Ken saw last week, or a close relative.

The doctor visit went fine. It turns out that the replacement doctor is temporary. She's installing her practice in Romorantin, a town about an hour east of us, next month. So that leaves an opening for a new doctor. Our regular doctor is retiring, but if he feels better he may come back for a while. It's all up in the air.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A wine kidnapping

Can you kidnap wine? Wine-nap? No, that's what happens after I drink a few glasses. In any case, I chuckled at this sign. It means "Wine Pickup" and shows customers where to go to pick up their purchases. But enlèvement is also the word for a kidnapping.

Seen at a winery in the Touraine-Mesland region on the Loire River.

I'm going to see a new doctor this morning. Our GP has stopped practicing and from what we can tell it's because of an illness, either his own or that of a family member. So, I got an appointment with the replacement. I don't know if the new doctor is temporary or permanent. I'll have to ask so we can notify the health service.

I also made a dentist appointment for next week. I've been looking around for another dentist, but the only other one in town isn't taking new appointments until February. So I made an appointment with the dentist I've been seeing since our previous dentist retired a couple of years ago. She's fine, just a little quick and rough with a cleaning.

Now we have to sort out the barber situation, since the woman who's been cutting our hair for ten years just hung up her scissors.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Morning wood

If that doesn't get me a bunch of hits, I don't know what will. On Saturday morning, our wood was delivered. The guys dumped it onto our driveway and Ken and I spent about an hour stacking it. Now it's time to start the cutting. This wood should get us through the winter. We don't heat exclusively with wood, or else we'd need a lot more. The wood stove is a supplement to our oil-fired heating system and thus saves us money on expensive fuel-oil.

This is about 5 stères, or 5 cubic meters, of oak. It should be enough to get us through the season.

I have to cut each of these logs into three pieces. Each log is one meter long, about three feet. I make two cuts, resulting in three sections of about thirty-three centimeters each. That's the length that fits into our wood-burning stove. I have probably three weeks worth of cutting to do, depending on the weather. That's because I don't cut a lot at any one time. I cut and stack maybe thirty logs each morning, then quit for lunch.

And we all know that lunch is the most important meal of the day. My day, anyway.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Beware of dog

That's what this sign means, although not literally. In French, méchant means mean or dangerous when used to describe an animal. People can be méchant (nasty, spiteful) as well. Sometimes you'll see a sign that says chien lunatique; the word lunatique derives from lune (moon) to indicate that a dog is unpredictable (moody) and you should be careful.

I love the little stars around the warning, kind of lightens the mood. That's a doorbell below the sign.

We have no such sign on our front gate, as Callie is as sweet as pie. The only thing she does is jump up and cover visitors with kisses. Of course, some people can find that to be a little lunatique.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Les gradins du stade

Most cities and towns in France have un stade municipal (a municipal stadium) for local sports. In many cases, the stadium is not much more than a soccer field with goalposts. Sometimes it's an actual stadium or arena. It all depends on the size of the town and how sports-minded its citizens are.

The stands face the field; behind them is the Aigronne River.

In Le Grand-Pressigny, the local stadium is a fenced-in track and field inside a park with an adjacent paved area for basketball on one end and a picnic area on the other. There is a small building with a kitchen (food!) and a set of covered bleachers or stands called les tribunes or les gradins for spectators. Across the street are the municipal swimming pool (another common feature of French towns) and a couple of tennis courts.

The floor is sloped, so in addition to the seats, there's a flat board for walking and resting one's feet.

I wonder if, in between matches, the local kids use the gradins du stade as a spot to hang out. There's surprisingly little graffiti, but we did see some litter scattered around the benches. The structure could use a fresh coat of paint, but I think it's a cool building, especially because it's covered to provide shelter during rainy matches.

The kitchen building is just visible at the far end of the stands.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Periodic puppy pics

Grapes are not particularly good for dogs. But Callie likes them once in a while. This time of year, when the grapes are ripe, she can't help herself. Actually, she does help herself. To wit:

Reaching up into the vines for a grape.

On one of our recent walks I caught her taking a taste or two. She's a funny dog. It doesn't seem to make her sick, but then again she doesn't eat much. Just a grape or two here and there.

Yum! Tasty!

These photos show how the color of her coat looks in different light. In the shade, as in the top picture, her coat looks dark brown. But in the sun, as in the second picture, her coat reddens up. Her father was a red Border Collie, much redder than Callie, and that's where she gets it.

Chomp, chomp!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Put a cork in it

Or a high-heel shoe. These talons aiguilles (high heels) decorate bottle stoppers that were for sale at a winery we visited recently. Notice that the shoes on the top row are open-toed while the stoppers on the bottom row are closed-toed. Very fashion-conscious display.

A bottle fitted with one of these stoppers would never fit into the refrigerator.

We did not buy one. Ken and I have enough stoppers from years gone by to last us for the rest of our lives. And besides, how useful are they, really? I mean, who ever has leftover wine?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Behind the green doors

These nicely painted garage doors are in Le Grand-Pressigny. Yes, I still have pictures to share from our afternoon walk almost three weeks ago now. We didn't know it then, but it was to be among the last of the summery days. We're having a succession of rainy fronts pass through our region and the temperatures drop a little further with each one.

Green garage doors in Le Grand-Pressigny.

Other signs of autumn include the first organized hunt of the season (last Sunday). I was driving up the hill to our house, just coming back from the market across the river, when all of a sudden a small pack of hounds (big dogs) leaped from the woods to my right and came down the road toward me only to disappear into the woods on my left. I slowed to a crawl to let them pass. A few seconds later the hunters, with their guns in the "safe" position (that is, broken open), followed them.

I had heard the dogs and the hunting horns earlier in the morning while walking Callie, but they were farther away. Apparently the hunt progressed to our hamlet while I was out shopping. The individual hunting season begins this coming Sunday when no pheasant, partridge, or wild hare will be safe.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Guinea hen

One of the nice things we find readily in France is the pintade (guinea hen). They're great eating birds, a little like chicken, a little like duck, but not too much of either. Very pintade-like. You can certainly find them in the supermarket, but the local farmers' markets have the best ones around here.

The stuffed and seasoned pintade ready for the oven.

I tried to get one from our favorite poultry vendor at the Saint-Aignan market on Saturday, but they were on their annual vacation (which is just after the summer season ends). I decided to try one of the other local vendors who sells at the Sunday market across the river in Noyers-sur-Cher. When you buy poultry at the markets, the vendor will usually ask you if you want it "prepared." Of course I do. They take the head and feet off, gut the bird, and burn the skin with a blowtorch to remove any leftover feathers. You get the giblets (heart, liver, gizzard), and there are still some pin feathers that you have to remove, but it's easier than getting the bird unprepared and having to do it all yourself.

Out of the oven and ready to carve.

I was lucky to find the vendors at the Noyers market with plenty of pintades for sale. I bought a medium-sized bird at 2.3 kilos (about 5 pounds) for our Sunday lunch. We roasted it on the spit in our oven and it turned out great. We stuffed it with garlic, parsley, and lemon, and served it with peas and carrots and oven roasted potatoes. Of course, we have a lot of it left over for another meal or two. Ken ate the liver, but the heart, gizzard, and some of the neck will go to Callie. Lucky dog.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Saving rain

When we bought our house ten years ago, we noticed that there was a big box at one of the downspouts for collecting rain water. The previous owner had it rigged with a hose through a hole at the bottom to empty it and a hose through another hole at the top to drain off the overflow. There was also a dead lizard floating in the water (no extra charge!).

The new barrel with the drain hose attached. It holds 310 liters (about 82 US gallons).

The barrel had no lid on it, so it filled with leaves and pine needles in the fall. The debris often clogged the drain holes such that I was constantly cleaning them out. Last year, the thing started leaking, so we began shopping for a new barrel. Collecting rain water is a common thing here in the county and there are all manner and sizes of containers available, including large tanks that you can install underground with a pump system to get the water out.

The old leaky barrel. It'll get picked up for disposal next month.

Needless to say, we stayed toward the low end and got a nifty plastic barrel. It came with a spigot for drainage and a fitting lid to keep the debris out. The lid was made so that a hole could be punched in it where you can insert the downspout. Or, you can get fancy and install a valve on the downspout with a connecting pipe to the barrel so you can divert water at will to either the barrel or out onto the ground. I went with the easy solution, since I don't have the tools to cut a lead downspout.

The new barrel is now installed and is collecting water. It's good for watering the garden and houseplants, provided it rains. I'm thinking that next spring I'll get a second barrel and connect them together.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Door number four

Yet another door, this time with windows, in Le Grand-Pressigny. Don't you love how I can squeeze a couple of weeks' worth of blog posts from an afternoon walk? Not to worry, life goes on here at home. We continue to harvest from our vegetable garden. Tomatoes are happening (we need to make sauce for the freezer) and the last of the zucchini are coming in now.

In the same street, but on the opposite side, as yesterday's door #3.

Soon we'll have the first of the winter squash, too. Then it will be time to rip out the plants and prepare the beds for winter. We're expecting a delivery of fire wood in the next week or so and I'll have to get the chainsaw out to cut up enough for the coming season. Today is a rain day, so it'll be indoor chores for us. There's plenty of computer work to do, like balancing the bank accounts, backing up files, and reading. There's no lack of housework. And lunch!

I cut a serious gash in my little finger yesterday while using a pair of scissors to cut a tomato from the vine. There was way more blood than necessary, and I'm just a little (read: a lot) squeamish when it comes to blood, especially my own. With pressure and a couple of band-aids, I got the bleeding to stop. The cut throbbed for a couple of hours, but it feels fine now.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Let's make a deal

Would you trade that one hundred dollars for what's behind door number three? Americans may remember the television game show hosted by Monty Hall in the 1960s and '70s. The show was also produced in many other countries, including Canada, the UK, Australia, and here in France.

A blue door in Le Grand-Pressigny.

All that has nothing to do with this picture, but it's what came into my mind when I took it. My brain works (when it works) in mysterious ways.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Throwback Thursday

This is my first "Throwback Thursday." It's a blog thing where you post an old photo on Thursday. Easy enough. This picture was taken by our friend CHM back in California in 1994. At least, we think it's 1994. If so, I was thirty-four years old. Just about twenty years ago.

Me and Collette in front of our Silicon Valley house, circa 1994.

The dog is our Collette. We adopted her from the Humane Society in 1992 when we lived in Sunnyvale, a city in Silicon Valley. She was a great dog, and she moved with us to France in 2003. She died back in 2006 and we still miss her. But now we have Callie, a very good dog!

CHM took the picture with an Apple QuickTake camera, one of the first digital cameras. Wow!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Back to Le Grand-Pressigny, here I am in front of a hair salon. The weather was beautiful and we wore shorts. Right now we're having a cool-down and it's long pants time! Summer was fun while it lasted, but it looks like fall is coming in.

A "selfie" in front of a uni-sex hair salon in Le Grand-Pressigny. A long way for us to go for a haircut.

On the hair front, we've recently learned that the woman who's been cutting our hair for the last ten years is hanging it up. Her shop closed a few weeks ago and is under construction, presumably to get it ready for sale. Or, maybe someone has already bought it and is renovating it themselves. We don't know yet. Until we find out, we're going to have to find another barber.

So, our dentist retired a couple of years ago (and neither of us is all that thrilled with our new one), our primary care doctor has gone on an extended leave, and now the barber is quitting. Change is our friend, change is our friend...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The tomatoes have started

Finally. Everything is late this year due to the chilly and wet spring we had. But the tomatoes that I grew (from seed) are getting ready and we've started harvesting. First we had cherry and small plum tomatoes; we've been using them in salads and on pizza.

These are rather large and heavy. We'll taste one soon.

Now the big tomatoes are ripening. I picked a bunch on Monday to get them off the ground before they started to rot. I don't think this variety is supposed to get deep red. A few of them seem ready to eat now!

Monday, September 09, 2013

Periodic puppy pics

During our walk in Le Grand-Pressigny, Callie stopped on the steps of this interesting building. I didn't pose her or tell her to stop or stay. She stood there looking for about fifteen seconds before moving on, but I was in the right place to be able to snap a few pictures.

Callie is watching Ken and our friends (and their dog) make their way along the river before following.

I'm not really sure, but this building looks like a public toilet. A four-holer, if you know what I mean. I think it's locked; again, I don't know because I didn't try to open the doors. These are two versions of the same photo, just cropped differently. I like them both so you get to see them both.

The same picture, wider view.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Industry past

This is an empty factory of some sort along the river in Le Grand-Pressigny. I get the impression that the buildings, or parts of them, had been re-inhabited in recent years, but were again abandoned. I like the buildings and the vent pipes on the roof.

An abandoned industrial site on the Claise River.

Many of you may remember that Callie will often bring a dead grape vine trunk home with her from her walks in the vineyard. She decided one day that carrying home a big stick was a good job, and she does it well. I had several piles of Callie's old vine trunks in the garden walkway. They are too long to fit into our wood stove without being cut, and cutting them with the big saw and sawhorse was awkward enough that I just didn't do it.

Well, now that I have the mini-chainsaw, I've been able to cut them all easily and stack them up in the wood pile for burning this season. The pathway is clear of grape trunks now. It's time to start picking up the fallen apples.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Walking the dogs

Our friends' house in Le Grand-Pressigny is close enough to the château that it's a quick walk up to the fields behind. From there, we can make a long loop around town that includes a section along the river. Of course, then we have to walk through town with Callie on her leash, but she doesn't mind that.

Ken and friends and two dogs enjoying the landscape. That's a water tower on the opposite hill.

We spent a nice afternoon tasting wine up on the Loire on Friday. We visited three places, one winery in the Touraine-Mesland appellation and two in the Touraine-Amboise appellation. The last two are located in a pretty town called Limeray that I wouldn't mind seeing again. All are on the river's right (northern) bank. I took some photos but I haven't looked at them yet.

Friday, September 06, 2013

The Claise River valley

Here's a view of the valley just down river from the center of Le Grand-Pressigny. It's a gentle valley, and a small river. I think the river is a bit smaller than our own Cher. Not far from this point the river joins the Creuse which, in turn, flows into the Vienne past Chinon and finally into the Loire.

A field of sunflowers on the slopes of the Claise River valley.

There are very few vineyards in this region, although I understand that there used to be more. From what I've seen, the main crops here are wheat, colza, and sunflowers. There may be some corn as well. Someone who lives in the area may be able to provide more detail in the comment section (hint!).

Thursday, September 05, 2013

On this day in pre-history

Well, I'm sure something happened, but I don't know what. Maybe this museum would have a clue. It's the museum of pre-history on the château grounds in Le Grand-Pressigny. One day I will have to visit the inside and check it out.

A back-side view of the castle with the modern pre-history museum in the middle.

The big tower on the left is what's left of the castle's twelfth century keep, called a donjon in French. There is another tower, an impressive sixteenth century gallery (part of the seigniorial logis), and bits of ramparts here and there. Also intact is the castle's main entrance portal. There are beautiful views of town and the river valleys from inside the castle grounds.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Tractor paths

A nice feature of living in the countryside where there is a lot of agriculture is the multitude of dirt paths used to access fields and vineyards. They're great places to walk, especially with dogs, as they see very little traffic and what vehicles do come by move relatively slowly.

A path leads from town out into the fields which, in this view I think, are behind me.

The château at Le Grand-Pressigny sits on the heights overlooking the confluence of the Claise and Aigronne Rivers, the town clings to the steep slopes between. Beyond the castle are rolling fields planted in wheat and sunflowers à perte de vue* (as far as the eye can see), connected one to the other by a network of dirt, gravel, and grass roads.

*Those of you who commented on Monday's post may appreciate my use of that phrase.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

A colorful town

This is one of two metal exterior stairs that I know of in Le Grand-Pressigny. This one is blue, the other is green. It's nice how it matches the blue shutter.

This blue stair and shutter is in the upper part of town, near the château.

Today we're expecting another summery day. Wednesday and Thursday are predicted to be downright hot with sunny temperatures in the mid-80sF. Wow. Then Friday will be a little cooler with a big rainy weekend predicted. Since it really hasn't rained in a month, we could probably use it.

This green stair and shutter are down by the river. I took this photo in 2006.

The mini-chainsaw continues to work well. I got a big pile of hazelnut limbs cut into burnable-sized pieces yesterday. Only two more piles to go!

Monday, September 02, 2013

An inviting passage

Little paths and passages always tempt me. I want to see where they lead, what's on the other side. Especially when they're gated or otherwise blocked. This one is neither. And, while you can quite clearly see where it leads (up the hill to another street), it still begs to be used. And use it we did.

A little ramp instead of a stair.

Summer is over for most vacationers and students; the big return to class is scheduled for Tuesday. Our little hamlet will quiet down a little as people close up vacation houses, summer guests head home, and people head back to work.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

A grand day

On Thursday, Ken, Callie, and I drove about an hour south of us to a town called Le Grand-Pressigny to see some friends who vacation there. We've been before, but it's still a bit of an adventure and we always look forward to it. Our friends J and N are wonderful hosts. The weather was spectacular and we enjoyed lunch and dinner outdoors. The highlight for Callie, in addition to seeing her canine friend Lulu, is a long walk around the edges of town. New sights, new smells, great fun!

One of the streets near the château where we began our walk.

On the chainsaw front, I applied the method I was shown by the store representative and dang if that thing didn't start right up. So I got a bit of sawing done on Saturday. There's more to do, of course, but I'm now encouraged and feel better not having bought a "lemon."