Tuesday, September 30, 2014

More harvesting

After Monday morning's rain, the harvesters got busy again. I saw two of them during my walk with Callie, and heard a third not far away. And they continued through the day. I think they are still working on the sauvignon blanc.

The yellow tractor vibrates the grapes off the vine and collects them in those white bins on either side. When the bins are full, they get dumped into the waiting blue trailer, then off to the winery they go.

We're expecting a dry week ahead, so I think that's good news for the harvest. I wonder when they'll start bringing in the red grapes?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Autumn flowers

I thought I had pulled all these flowers out last fall. They're some variety of helianthus, I think, or sunflower, although not the giant sunflower that's planted for its seeds. My goal was to move them from this spot around the well to another location out back by the garden shed. I pulled up every stalk with its tuberous roots and replanted each one. But they came back in this same spot as if I had done nothing. Oh well (c'est le cas de le dire).

After the summer's garden flowers have faded, these bloom a bright yellow and reach up to about six feet.

Only about half of the plants I moved came up, but they're ok. It takes a good year for these to get re-established once they're moved. The difficult part is actually getting rid of them once they establish themselves. I'm going to move another batch of them this fall or next spring.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Foggy mornings

As we move into fall, our mornings can be foggy. Mostly it's river fog that creeps up the stream beds on either side of the valley. The farther you walk out into the vineyards, the farther you are from the river and the less fog there is.

The rising sun shines through morning fog out in the vineyards.

Sometimes, when the conditions are right, a thick layer of fog forms over the whole region and doesn't burn off. Those gray days are normal for November; we haven't seen one yet this fall.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The harvest continues

The harvesters arrived on Friday morning even before the sun came up. By the time Ken went out for his walk with Callie, there were two harvesters plying the vine rows out back. I readied the camera for a snap or two and got this one just as Ken and Callie were getting back home. Just after I took this first picture, the guys emptied the grapes from the harvester into the waiting trailer. I missed that shot.

I took this picture on the fly. Hand-held, telephoto lens, through the window. Not too bad, eh?

A few moments later, the trailer full of sauvignon blanc grapes drove past the kitchen window. I changed lenses and nearly missed this shot of the grapes on their way to the winery. We'll be seeing a lot of this in the next weeks. The whole red grape crop is still out there. Once the right sugar levels are reached, and the weather is right, they'll be brought in, too.

A truckload of sauvignon blanc headed to the winery.

Fall is my favorite time of year. I also like summer, spring, and winter. Still, there is something about fall with the harvest, the turning of the leaves, the crisp air, and all the food that goes with it, that I really enjoy. Life is good!

Friday, September 26, 2014

In a parallel universe

The black riders caught up with Frodo and took the ring. They left his headless body as a warning to those who would oppose the dark lord Sauron. I shudder to think what they did to Sam and the others.

Callie inspects the "remains."

This "body" has been hanging in the woods up on the other side of the vineyards for years. Ken discovered it on a walk one day, and I went to see it not long after. It's still there today. I don't know whose woods these are, or why this is there. Not far from this spot, down in a ravine, I noticed a makeshift shelter, built with tree branches and old tarps. I haven't gone close enough to see if there's any sign of activity. It's probably just an old fort built by some kids -- there's an abandoned kids' fort in the woods on the north side of our house. But who knows?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Throwback Thursday

This is the last Christmas that Ken and I had in our San Francisco house before we sold it and moved to France. It was December of 2002; I was 43 years old. At that point we had put money down on the house in France and were still trying to decide how to proceed.

I'm never too far away from a glass of bubbly wine during the holidays.

We ended up selling the house two months later and moved out in March. Still, it wasn't until June that we actually arrived at the new place in France. We spent several weeks with friends in California, then set out across the country to finally spend a month in North Carolina before flying out to France. It was a whirlwind.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Funky feline fotos

As you would expect, the days are getting shorter and cooler now. Bert the cat is taking every opportunity to bask in the sun. Yesterday he hopped up onto the deck table for a snooze. He only turned his head around when I didn't have the camera.

Lounging around on the deck, watching for birds under the front hedge below.

He's gotten into a new morning pattern, too. He usually is waiting out on the deck for Ken to come downstairs. Callie stays up in the loft while Bert eats his breakfast (wet food and some milk). Then, when I come downstairs, Bert will head for the door and I follow him down to the garage and give him a kibble refill. Then, when he's had enough, he heads outdoors again. I often see him hunting by the pond or sitting in the road watching us when I head out for the morning walk with Callie.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Old books

This is an old book shop in the historic center of Loches. I think the adjective "old" refers to the books, not the shop. Clearly, the books look old. And the store is called La Mémoire du Temps (Memory of Time). I don't know what Le Crucalire means, although lire means "to read." The rest of it is beyond me. Maybe some of you know. UPDATE! Ken figured it out. It's not a "c" but a "t." So it's Le Trucalire, or le truc à lire... something to read. D'oh!

What was once a door is now part of the display window in the book shop.

You may remember that we were in Loches last week for lunch, especially if you read Ken's blog. We arrived a little early to be sure we could park the car and get to our rendez-vous on time. So we had a few minutes to walk around the old center of town. We haven't been to Loches in a while, especially in the lower town. The big attraction is the old medieval town on the heights, with it's fortified donjon, renaissance château, and historic church. But the lower town is just as impressive, even if it's got a fair share of cute shops geared to us tourists. They also have a very nice street market twice a week.

Monday, September 22, 2014

End of summer sunrise

Today is the last day of summer for the year. The equinox occurs in the wee hours on Tuesday morning and we will officially be in autumn. The weather seems to concur as the forecast for the week includes lower highs and lower lows. The grape harvest is getting under way and the hunting season is beginning. I've noticed leaves dropping at an increasing rate, although it will still be a while before the trees are bare.

That bright narrow streak in the sky is the contrail of a jetliner heading south.

Our firewood has still not been delivered. I should be using dry days to saw logs, but I can't if they're not here. The wood was promised, so it will get here eventually, I'm sure. There's no shortage of outdoor work to do in the meantime.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Acorns are falling under the oaks now. I can tell because they crunch under foot. And Callie likes to eat one or two when we walk through a patch.

What a couple of nuts! They're just about ready to fall to the ground.

A thunderstorm rumbled by south of us last evening. We got a little rain, but not much. Callie got jumpy when the closest bolt lit up the windows and rattled the roof. That was the worst of it, thankfully.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The bloom is off the rose

Almost. They're still blooming, and probably will through November. But somehow they look different from summer roses. For one thing, the flowers don't seem to last as long with the petals falling off very quickly this time of year. Then, wind and rain take their toll.

End of summer roses in a neighbor's garden. They're still pretty.

We drove through a doozy of a thunderstorm yesterday on our way to lunch with friends in Loches, a town about forty minutes south of us. We could see the dark clouds and crisp lightning bolts ahead of us as we drove, then it began to rain very hard and the car was pelted with small hail stones. It lasted less than ten minutes and the skies turned blue again. We were a little frazzled, but lunch (delicious!) calmed our nerves. The wine helped, too.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Harvest time

I've noticed in the last two days that there is some hand-harvesting going on in select parcels of the vineyards. It's that time of year. I ran into the mayor yesterday and she told me that the machine harvesting will begin today. So, for the next couple of weeks, we will hear the familiar hum of the harvesters as they gather this year's grapes. Let's hope it's a good year!

More sauvignon blanc, just about ripe for the picking.

She also mentioned that there will be a fox hunt out back again this Sunday. All that means for me is that I have to get out with Callie early in the morning to avoid getting tangled up with the hounds and the guys with guns. General small game hunting starts up next weekend, but they only hunt on Sundays, and don't start until nine in the morning, so it's not at all an inconvenience for us.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Throwback Thursday

I'm starting to run low on old photos for this weekly meme. At least on photos that I'm willing to post here. For today, here's one from 1961. I was close to being two years old. It's a studio portrait, but in black and white, although color photography did exist by then. Maybe my parents were nostalgic for the good old days, you know, before Dorothy landed in Oz. At least it's a photo; I would never have been able to hold that pose for a painter.

Baby's first bow-tie. And suspenders.

If I remember correctly, the large framed (yes, really) version of this photo was colorized. Before Ted Turner did it to movies, they used to do it to photographs. I don't know where that version is, but it must be somewhere. This one is wallet-sized. I suppose that now-a-days not many people carry actual paper photos in their wallets. All the pictures they could want can be stored on their mobile phones.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fleur de lys

Many older unreinforced masonry buildings are retrofitted with tie rods to counteract the lateral forces that tend to push their walls apart. Anchor plates on the outsides of opposing walls are connected by a steel rod that runs through the building. The vast majority of anchor plates I've seen are made in the form of an "X", but I've also seen them with a little more flourish. As they're normally visible on a building's exterior, they can add a decorative touch, like this one that I spotted in Ligueil a couple of weeks ago.

This anchor plate is in the form of the fleur de lys, one of the more recognizable icons of France.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce

Have it your way. Oh, wait, that's that other place. The Canadian one. Never mind. The golden arches arrived in the town across the river from us a few years ago. They're strategically located on the road between the autoroute exit and the zoo. We haven't been, although a few days ago I saw a sign in town advertising their Montbéliard burger. Montbéliard is a small city in the Franche-Comté region of northeastern France near the border with Switzerland. It's mainly known as the place where Montbéliard sausage comes from, a smoked pork sausage that's among my favorites. Montbéliard is apparently known for dairy cows, too. I wondered if the restaurant was making smoked pork burgers. Alas, no. The burgers are made from the dairy cows.

This sign is not for the restaurant closest to us.

If this year is anything like 2013, at least 43.6% of the beef* (100% pure muscle) in that burger is from the race of cows known as "Montbéliard," raised in France. The rest (the majority) of the "beef" in the burger comes either from Irish, Dutch, or Italian cows, or any combination thereof. I suppose that when the Montbéliard cows are ready to retire from their dairy careers, 43.6% of them are sold to that burger place. According to the restaurant's web site, they have very rigorous criteria for their "beef," a word that they are very careful to tell readers is defined by whichever laws are currently on the books. You can look them up if you like reading French legislation. The web site also points out that the muscles used for the "beef" come mostly from the front end of the cow; cuts like the shoulder, neck, and short ribs, for example. Or some other ones that are like those. Mostly. Bon appétit !

*To be fair, the web site says that this is a general figure applied to all the "beef" they bought for their restaurants in France. Last year. It probably doesn't apply to each individual burger. Or this year.

Monday, September 15, 2014


Geometry was one of my favorite subjects in high school, along with algebra, biology, and French. I really got the logic of shapes, angles, arcs, and their relationships (as described by algebraic formulas). Pythagoras was a friend of mine. I see shapes everywhere I look. I am a graphic learner, seeing things (even words) in my mind. If I see something, I can usually remember it, whereas if I hear something, I'm less likely to retain it. It's no surprise then that English and literature were my worst subjects. Concepts without physical form were difficult for me (like trying to interpret the intent of an author, especially a poet. Shakespeare was lost on me). Back then, I couldn't write a coherent essay to save my life.

The steeple on the church of Saint-Martin in Ligueil rises above geometric shapes in the back streets of town.

I was better at French than I was at English. Partly because the level of high school French (for Americans, anyway) is much more elementary than high school English. And partly because, at that level, French was a series of formulas, and the words were little pictures in my head. Still, I never failed a subject, and always managed to get good grades somehow. Some might have said that I was a good test-taker, being able to figure out most of the correct answers without actually knowing them, if that makes sense.

It wasn't until computers came along in my adult life that I could actually get a handle on writing. Typing and seeing my words on a screen almost as fast as I thought them made a huge difference for me. That, and the ease of editing, or regrouping, the words. Again, it's partly a graphical thing, I think, like geometry.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Peugeot in pink

I saw this bicycle on the street in Ligueil when I was wandering around the center of town a couple of weeks ago. Here in the countryside, most people will just lean their bikes up against a wall while they run into a store or a bank. I seldom see them locked up. I'm sure that in larger towns cyclists use locks, but they're a rarer sight here.

A single-speed bike, with fenders! I think I see a lock under the seat, but it doesn't look like it's attached to anything but the bike.

I mentioned to the bread lady a day or so ago that I was enjoying our run of summery weather. "Ça va mal finir," she said. "It's going to end badly." She was talking about the forecast for the coming week: higher temperatures and then thunderstorms. We shall see.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

It's not the primrose path

It's the iris path. I spent two mornings working on liberating this short path between our garden gate and the shed where the garden tools live. Since we moved in (over eleven years ago), the irises and the elephant ears (saxifrage) had taken over the path. It was completely covered over with growth and for the last few years I've had to walk on the grass to get to the shed. Ken told me he didn't even remember there was a rock border there.

The little path is free! The pile of irises is on the left, the pile of saxifrage is by the gate.

So I got out the fork and the spade and started at it. At first I couldn't get the irises to budge and I almost gave up. But after trying a couple of things, I finally figured out how to dislodge them. It took a couple of hours, but I ripped out the plants and their roots and made two piles: one of irises for relocation and the other of elephant ears for getting rid of. I ripped out a fair amount of ivy as well. Ken spent a morning trimming the ripped-out irises and replanting them in a plot behind the shed.

Friday, September 12, 2014


Once I left the church in Ligueil, I wandered around town a little. It's not big, but I certainly didn't explore every nook and cranny. In all, I spent about an hour walking around.

A window, a tunnel, and a door.

Our good weather continues. The mornings are a little fresh, but the days warm up nicely and we're able to work outside. On Thursday, Ken got most of the irises I had dug up trimmed and planted in a new spot out back. I worked on preparing the carport for this winter's firewood. That meant breaking up the twigs and branches I use for kindling and stacking them up, trimming up all the ivy that snaked its way into the space, and raking up dead leaves and last winter's sawdust for the compost pile.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Throwback Thursday

It's September 11, so I thought I'd remember the World Trade Center. Ken and I visited sometime around 1984 or 1985. We went to New York from Washington, DC, a couple of times. Once to see Linda Ronstadt at Radio City Music Hall singing with Nelson Riddle and his orchestra. Another time we went to see the parade of the Ashanti people up Central Park West to the Museum of Natural History to celebrate an exhibit about their culture.

Me in front of the north tower, Number One World Trade Center, in the mid 1980s.

I don't remember which time this was, but we went down to the WTC and up to the observation deck. Before I knew Ken, back when I worked for the state of New York, my agency had offices in the WTC. I think it was Tower 2, the south tower, and the offices were on the twenty-third floor. I remember wishing it was higher up. I was lucky to be able to go the NYC offices a few times. I lived and worked in Albany, the mild-mannered state capital located 150 miles north of Manhattan. I loved heading down to "The City" when I could. I remember going to Windows on the World up on the 106th floor for drinks while I was there and exploring the WTC's underground shopping/restaurant/transit scene. I was totally amazed by the spectacle.

Butt shot! Looking toward midtown from the observation deck. The Empire State Building is over my left shoulder.

The last time Ken and I were in New York City was in 2006. We drove in, from Albany, on our way to Washington, DC. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant I knew from that time long ago called the Sevilla, a Spanish place in Greenwich Village. It was still there, still the same, with the same dishes on the menu that remember from 1980, and it was still good. Of course, by then the twin towers were gone.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Parting shot

Just before I left the church of Saint-Martin in Ligueil, I noticed this chair near the door and the faint colors made on the wall by the sun shining through a stained glass window high above. I almost didn't take the picture, but now I'm kind of glad that I did.

Notice the holy water. Not an ash tray.

On Tuesday I spent a good hour or more digging up a patch of irises that had taken over the path from our garden gate to the garden shed. For years now, I've been walking over the grass to get to the shed. It took a garden fork, a large spade, a lot of sweat, and not a little swearing, but I cleared most of it away. The irises are mixed in with a plant the previously owner called saxifrage and together they had knit a tight root mass in the pathway.

I plan on putting the irises in another spot. They grow easily if they're just tossed on the ground; no need to actually plant them. The saxifrage (I'm not even sure that's what it is; I can't find an image of the plant we have when I look it up on the internet) is going into the compost (or into the woods). We have enough of that in the garden and I'm not particularly fond of it. I should post a picture; some of you may recognize it. Update: Ken reminded me that it's bergenia, indeed a member of the saxifrage family, also called "elephant's ears."

I'll finish the job up this morning.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The big picture

Here's a wide shot of the interior of the church of Saint-Martin in Ligueil. I was standing in the center aisle with the main entrance at my back. Above my head, a balcony where a large pipe organ was installed had been closed off to the public (otherwise I would have climbed up there for the photo).

The pointed arches and ribbed vaults at the back end of the church are typical gothic features.

An interesting feature of this church is the wooden barrel-vaulted ceiling over the nave. I've seen this same style of construction in a few other churches in our area, right down to the painted tie beams that span the space. I think this ceiling may be a vestige of the romanesque style as it transitioned into the gothic period. When this church was constructed, between the 12th and 13th centuries, the transition was in full swing. The stone work from the transept into the choir is very obviously gothic (pointed arches and ribbed vaults, for example), but there's nothing gothic about the barrel vault.

Monday, September 08, 2014


This is a section of the rather imposing sculpted high altar in the church of Saint-Martin in Ligueil. I don't know if it is made from plaster or wood, but the carvings and painting are quite elaborate. The church doors were open on the Monday that I was in town and I wandered in with my camera. There was not a soul (!) in the place, and I could hear echos of the market activity from the street outside.

Lots of golds, reds, and blues with intense white light from the windows. Amazing for a church in a town of 2,000 people.

I spent no more than five minutes in the church, walking from the transept where I entered, through the nave and out the main door on the west front. The sun was shining through the windows and I was able to take these shots without a tripod. Still, I had to open the aperture up wide and use a seriously fast ISO setting. I have a few more interior photos to share over the next few days.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Holy language, Batman!

Not being a Catholic, I am unfamiliar with many of the trappings of the church and their functions. I once put a cigarette out in what I later learned was holy water (in my defense, I was young, and the church was a very modern building. The stoups looked like ash trays placed at the entrance for that very purpose). Since then, I've visited many Catholic churches and cathedrals as a tourist, looking at architecture, art, and glorious windows. I've noticed and learned about the many things these places have in common, like "the stations of the cross," the autel (altar), the pulpit in the nave, and the candles.

These are cierges. I didn't see any veilleuses at this spot, but they must be somewhere.

The French have many words for candle: une chandelle (the origin of chandelier), une bougie (also the word for spark plug), and un cierge are a few that I'm familiar with. Candles that are lit in churches are referred to as cierges. They are tall and thin, just like the ones pictured here. However, the use of the word veilleuses in this context is new to me. It refers to what I would call a votive, a short and thick candle that burns inside a small glass container (called a photophore in French, into which you insert une bougie chauffe-plat, which I would call a tea light). Typically, the word veilleuse means "nightlight" or any small low-wattage light that remains lit. For example, the parking lights on cars are called veilleuses. So my visit to the église St.-Martin in Ligueil early last week was educational: I learned that the votives used in churches and cathedrals in France are also called veilleuses.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Oh lordy

I was kind of surprised to see Jesus hanging around with all the French flags in the transept of l'eglise Saint-Martin in Ligueil. Apparently he's part of a memorial to honor the parish's soldiers who died in war. I'm not sure which war, because I didn't read the whole thing. Maybe it's all wars, or maybe it's the big one: World War II. I did see memorial plaques on one street marking where German soldiers executed members of the maquis (the French Resistance), including one whole family, as the war was ending.

Prove to me that you're no fool, walk across my swimming pool.

Our stretch of nice weather continues. On Friday I picked what may be the last of our green beans and some more tomatoes that made it through the blight. I also raked all the hedge trimmings into neat little piles that need to be taken away. Today I need to pick up apples and deal with the mole mountains so that I can cut the grass.

Friday, September 05, 2014

I went somewhere

This past Monday, Ken had an errand to do in a town called Ligeuil, just south of Loches. It's about forty minutes from home by car. I tagged along with my camera and took pictures in town while Ken was busy. It's not often that I go someplace new these days. I've been through Ligeuil before, but never stopped to look around.

Sculptures of what look like sheep flank the main façade of the Eglise Saint-Martin in Ligueil.

It's a nice little town of about 2,000 people. I was surprised by how many grand old houses lined the streets in the center of town. The parish church of Saint-Martin is on the main street through town right next to the market street which, though small, was active on Monday morning. The current church building was constructed between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. It was renovated in the 1800s.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Throwback Thursday

Look at that hair! I guess it kept me warm in the winter. This was taken in 1972 just as I was about to turn thirteen years old. In all likelihood it's an official junior high school photo.

There are ears in there somewhere.

You gotta love the '70s. I don't remember that shirt, but that huge pointy collar was right in style then. I wasn't wearing a tie because back then they were wider than me. I don't think my hair was really as red as this. The photo was heavy on the red tint, as evidenced by my normally blue eyes looking reddish-brown. I was able to remove some of the red cast with Photoshop, but it's still too much on the red side.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Work to do

I'm trying to be productive during this spell of wonderful weather. On Tuesday I harvested another batch of green beans and another basket full of tomatoes. The blight has taken only about half of our tomato crop, so we still have some fruit to work with. Then I got started on hedge trimming. I got one of three sections done and plan on trimming a second section today. The third will get done tomorrow. I also need to prepare for cutting the grass again by picking up fallen apples and removing a good number of mole hills.

A slug feasts away on a toppled mushroom in the vineyard.

One consequence of the wet summer we've had is the proliferation of mushrooms everywhere. Our yard is no exception, with several varieties popping up all over. Most of them are not edible, but we will not be taking any chances. The mushrooms we eat come from the market. What's that old joke? "All mushrooms are edible. Once."

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Back to school

Most school kids in France head back to class today. Vacation time is officially over. That doesn't mean that people aren't still out there touring around. Plenty of Europeans, especially retirees, take advantage of the smaller crowds to enjoy touring around in September and October. And this year we're in luck, or at least this week, because the sun is shining and the temperatures are very pleasant.

Late summer sun shines through a small bunch of grapes.

As for me, I've got lots of garden chores lined up. We're still harvesting beans and tomatoes, which means processing them for preservation. Ken wants to go out and collect ripe plums that no one else is harvesting; more processing. I'm also planning to get my hedge trimming done this week. The tall hedges I save for the pros these days, but I still handle the lower hedges myself. I don't need a ladder to do those.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Periodic puppy pics

You may recognize the location. It's out near the end of our walk, where the dirt road joins up with the paved roads through the vineyards. On this day we made a loop, cutting through the vines up to one of the paved roads, then followed it out to this point where I turned back onto the dirt road. Callie took a shortcut through a small field by the vines and watched as I made my longer turn.

Mademoiselle attend son maître.

Callie has been walking these routes for over seven years now and she knows her way around the vineyards. She's so patient with me when she takes me I take her for a walk.