can't you see the sunshine….

Travels in France with BK and Jim, Part 3

Be sure to read parts 1 and 2 first.

I want to explain about the locks and how to go through them. Just in case, from reading these canal barge posts, someone decides to go rent a canal brage and go cruising.

As canals (and rivers too) meander through the countryside there are hills and valleys. A lock is on the body of water and raises/lowers a boat from one height to another to get it through the hills and valleys.

This is a lock that is not yet full. The green fence like things at front and back of picture are the gates of the lock. Which are either opened or shut depending on what you want the lock to do….fill or drain. For the part of the canal that we were on there were lock keepers who moved these gates. Not all canals have lock keepers so the boater has to crank the gate too.

Here’s the boat gradually rising. See the rope tied to the shore. It helps to stablize the boat as the water fills the lock.

When a boat enters a lock that needs to fill, the boat is sometimes 10 or 15 feet below the level of the ground surrounding the lock. That means that someone on the boat has to throw the line up to someone on shore so they can tie the boat off. Ben was always driving. Jim was always on shore. Line throwing was up BK and me.

Here’s Jim giving me a lesson about how to gather the rope up so that I can throw it up in the air 10 or 15 feet to him. Note my deluxe turquoise gloves.

Here’s BK pulling the rope tight as the boat gradually raises. Note her purple gloves.

Lock filled. Ready to go. Note there are other boats in the lock.

Ben driving. Ben seemed to mistake leaving the locks as the start of the INDY 500 and would gun it out of the lock! I was at the back, eating diesel fumes and using a mop to push us off from other boats and the lock walls that Ben’s surge of power would sashay the boat into. There were over 30 locks. That’s one reason you don’t go far each day.

Each day we would reach a point where clambering on and off the boat, throwing ropes, tugging and ‘mopping up’ Ben’s power surges was just too much. So we would stop. Note my deluxe green hands. The gloves bled when they got wet!

That’s the story about locks.

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Travels in France with Jim and BK, Part 2

Make sure to read part 1 first.

We had an afternoon, night and morning in Carcassonne. It is a walled French city. It dates from before 100 BC. They do a big sound and light show just outside the city walls in the summer. The famous dish in the area is cassoulet. Duck, pork, beans……It is a heavy dish. Ben and Jim both enjoyed it. The next morning after a visit to a lively, local street market we were off to find our barge.

Some how, some where, I must have read an article about taking a barge through the Canal du Midi.

The canal connects the Garonne to the Étang de Thau on the Mediterranean and along with the 193 km (120 mi) long Canal de Garonne forms the Canal des Deux Mers, joining the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The canal runs from the city of Toulouse down to the Étang de Thau near the Mediterranean.

Strictly speaking, “Canal du Midi” refers to the portion initially constructed from Toulouse to the Mediterranean – the Deux-Mers canal project aimed to link together several sections of navigable waterways to join the Mediterranean and the Atlantic: first the Canal du Midi, then the Garonne which was more or less navigable between Toulouse and Bordeaux, then the Garonne Lateral Canal built later, and finally the Gironde estuary after Bordeaux. (Thanks Wikipedia)

So, yes indeedy, I signed us up to rent a barge and spend a week on the canal. And I know that each of us would say that was the best vacation that we have ever taken. We rented from Le Boat Of course BK and I looked at boat plans and discussed sizes and rooms and manuverabilty and on and on for weeks ahead of time. We finally decided on a 3 bedroom barge. Two bedrooms with a sink in each one (This will be important later) and bath were in the back, a living area that could be opened like a convertable car in the middle and one bedroom and bath in the front.

Jim on the left, Le Boat guy in the middle and Ben on the right. Getting the scoop on the boat. Kitchen is behind them with the bikes above. Steering from that chair. The sliding cover is open.

We loaded up with groceries and maybe, some wine. Got our “driving lesson” and were walked through the first lock and then we were off.

We covered 30 miles in a week. That was all we expected to do. Taking a barge is Slow Travel at it’s best. (Look for another post about canal locks)

We had wonderful meals, either on board or at a local place.

We stopped here on Sunday. It was French Mother’s Day. BK and I were given flowers. We had a great meal. They told me what to do with the fava beans.

Our days were determined by the rules of the canal. Boat movement had to stop by a certain time. Locks closed for lunch or the day in the late afternoon and that was it. The boat could go no further until the lock opened. We did have a guide for the canal to let us know where towns were easy to access by bike, restaurants, locks. That sort of thing. Oh, and I almost forget, where the local bakery truck would come down to the canal with fresh croissants and bread. Just in case you needed it.

There were signs along the canal. “Vin du vente”. “Wine for sale” Of course, there was much screaming and arm flapping…”PULL OVER! PULL OVER! There is wine for sale!” My intrepid friend BK visited all those winerys with me. HMMMMM

Our days were spent leisurely, cruising the calm, green canal. Rarely seeing another boat.

Remember this was late May, before Americans invade and way before Europeans start to vacation. I would not want to take a cruise like this in the early spring when it can be rainy and cold. And not in late June, July or August when it could be hot as the dickens. Late spring, early fall, the time to take this sort of cruise.

Ben mostly steered. Jim handled the ropes for the locks (more in part 3 about locks) BK and I handled the ropes for the locks in the boat. All of us just completly relaxed and had great fun.

Sometimes we would stop and pull to the side of the canal for lunch. This was after one of those times.

When we got home and had the film developed and printed, BK sent me her copies with a note that said “I am never handing you my camera AGAIN! There were 20 pictures out of 24 of just this!” Seems it was a very senstitive shutter button. Or perhaps my shutter pushing finger had been sampling local wine……

In the late afternoon, we would pull to the side. Stake the barge and start to cook dinner or walk/bike to a nearby local place.

Note the laundry flapping on the left

After an evening or so I noticed that every night when we stopped BK had laundry to hang out to dry. I really didn’t think this was odd. BK and Jim are very good at minimal packing. So, she needed to wash some things…..Cleverly, she had figured out that in the morning if she put clothes in the back bedroom sink with some soap, as we swished down the canal the clothes would gently wash. At lunch, she would move these to the middle bedroom sink with rinse water. So by the time we stopped it was a quick wring out and on the line to dry. I was impressed.

Our last night on the barge and I hear BK exchanging harsh words with Jim! This is very rare. She emerges from the back of the boat, ranting “LOOK at this! Every day I have had to wash while he had CLEAN clothes in his suitcase that he didn’t even unpack!!!!!!” Other than that, it was a wonderful time, spent together and one that we all cherish especially now. So very glad we did these trips while we still were able.

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Thinking about birthdays

My birthday happened in May. I was very happy that Ben remembered it. There was the time, 15…18 years ago, when we were traveling in Italy with others. My birthday happened. The only person who noticed was the hotel clerk who handed me my passport and said ‘Oh, Happy Birthday!’ After that I more or less decided that if I wanted my birthday to be a big deal I needed to make it one. Nothing wrong with that.

This year, as my birthday approached I reflected back to one very special birthday in Italy.

This is a picture of one that hangs on our wall. This doesn’t do it justice. It is a beautifully composed and magically lit picture. The picture captures what happens in Italy. Somehow, the light is just perfect under an olive tree. Somehow, you are surrounded by friends, lifting a glass, offering a toast and good wishes. Somehow, it is a special, magical moment, still remembered as a special birthday. Maybe because there is a picture that I see every day.

This year was very low key. We had ham biscuits from BoJangles for breakfast. Ham gumbo from the freezer for dinner. I guess it was a ‘hammy birthday’. The Sunday before, we had our friends, Roy and Marcia over on Sunday night for ‘socially distance’ drinks. They sat in the courtyard and Ben and I sat on the deck.

So I guess there are lots of ways to make a birthday special. I had many greetings on Facebook and some cards. That really is enough. Now, next year…… the big 70!!!!!!. Oh, I better start planning.

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Spring Planting 2020, Part 2

I feel like planting has taken me longer this year than in years past. Partly because we are still, even in the second week of May, having some chilly night temps. Had those in April too, so the plant nursery that I go to didn’t have everything I wanted to buy. Took two trips. And then there were all those elephant ears to be planted. Finally, this week everything is planted. The big deck planter would look a little sparse if the holly fern hadn’t decided to take over.

There are elephant ears planted in there also. I am hoping that this weekend’s warm weather will push them along so they will be peeking over the planter edge soon.

I am excited about the new plant that I am trying this year, cosmos. The little yellow/gold flowers. I am trying them in several places. The plants get tall so they just might not work in my tiny boxes. We’ll see….

Guppy’s winter bird restaurant closed at Easter. Much to the display of many! And has become tropical. Invaded by flamingos! Those elephant ears will eventually grow up and cover the ugly communications pole. And this is the location of one of the hummingbird feeders. Saw our first hummingbird on May 14. My friend near Jordan Lake has been seeing them much longer.

Planting, having flowers, a few tomatoes and feeding birds gives me a huge amount of joy. It is one of the things I really look forward to every year. I will enjoy these flowers until October. I am very aware that this is a position of privilege. This year, I made sure that the plants and soil I needed for gardening came from local businesses. I admit that I bought a new hose online from Target. Ohhh, it is so light weight….

I will further justify myself by pointing out that all my plantings are in common areas where many folks walk by and enjoy them too. So, while I do this selfishly for myself, the byproduct is that others enjoy it too. Happy Spring while it lasts.

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Spring Planting 2020 (Part 1)

Warmer temperatures in April had me pushing the planting season. I set up the pop-up dirt bar in the back of our vehicle in the parking lot.

Easier to scrape from each bag into my tote, then mix and fill pots than picking up the heavy bags and hauling them around.

The front looked really good. The iris were outsatnding.

Now the summer spirea are showing off.

The darker color is almost scarlet. Camera dosen’t do it justice
The crepe myrtle, in the back is doing well too.

I was worried about the black and blue salvia for a while. The flowers were not opening and were very droopy. I guess we just needed some warmer weather to make them snap to attention.

A different variety of salvia in the front is pretty showy too.

Tomatoes on the front porch are doing well too.

This plant has 4 tomatoes.

This year I am trying these cool blue spirals instead of bamboo supports. They are not really designed to be used in pots. I sunk them in beer cans weighted with rocks to help them be more stable.

You can just see the beer can in the pot on the far right.

And the pots in the front are mix of color this year.

The little gold/yellow flowers are cosmos. I am trying these in several places this year. We’ll see how they do. Look for another post about the back.

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You might remember this first iris I saw in February. It is around the corner from us.

And at the corner of our courtyard are these Dutch iris. They always bloom early.

I have some bearded iris in the front that I have seperated and expanded in to the canna area. They have done very well.

They are HUGE! The stalks are at least 3′ and full of buds.

There are lots of buds. So unless hail or wind damages them they should look nice for another week or so. Duke Energy has already called to chit chat about the storm expected here late Sunday or early Monday. (You know, in case I don’t have enough to worry about….) We’ll see what happens.

Ben and I will be celebrating quietly on Sunday. Guppy was overjoyed when I brought in a ham on Thursday. She doesn’t think she’ll want a sweet potato though. Tonight I am having a some fizzy pink wine to celebrate my Father’s birthday and the end of LENT. Not that I observe it but Ben does. You know how he makes the big sacrifice of not eating meat on Fridays during Lent, so that he can eat $20 a pound seafood instead. I eat very little seafood so some Fridays I end up making two different meals. Some Fridays he gets to have just vegetables. HA! Anyway, have a safe and Happy Easter/Passover. Wear your mask and wash your hands.

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How is the garden doing?

Well, it is coming right along. The daffodils are finished and I have tied them up. The day lillies that are planted right next to them are poking up. The iris will be blooming any day now.

The hydrageas look great. If we can get through the next few weeks with out a frost there should be a number of blooms.

Recent rains have had a good effect onthe banana plants. Elephant ears will go in the pots that protect them from the yard crew and their weed eater. Elephant ears will add to the ‘jungle look’. Guppy is suggesting a Tiki bar. She’s such a party dog.

Using our upstairs bedroom as a ‘green house’ I have started over 50 elephant ear bulbs. I was stumped because I didn’t have enough pots. Finally, I realized that I could start the smaller bulbs, (golf ball size or smaller) in foil roasting pans. There are also 3 trays of pots full of bulbs too.

The smaller bulbs have started sprouting. Another week or so and these will be able to move outside and then move to larger pots. I like for them to be a little larger before they are exposed to the squirrel population.

I have the flower pots that hang off the deck rail out and in place. Empty. I did make one trip earlier this week to the nursery. (North Carolina is an agircultural state so plant nurseries are exempt. And they are offering curbside pick up) Too soon for begonias. I’ll go back in a few weeks.

Stay safe and as Guppy suggests, “Keep your paws clean.”

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My Budle of Joy

Most women my age talk about bundles of joy, meaning their grand child or great grand child. Want to see my bundle of joy?

We cut through a neighborhood that I used to live in because I like to see what’s going on there. In the summer we pass a house that has a very nice stand of tropical banana plants. A few weeks ago I slipped them a note asking if they intended to thin the plants this spring. I got a response back ‘sure, come dig up what ever you want.’ So on Friday the 13th I dug up six shoots.

A few days later I got them in the ground.

I picked this spot in between the tan and black pots. Once grown they will help to cover the ugly bus that lives just on the other side of the fence.

So here they are in the ground

We’ll have to wait until summer to see how they do. I am very hopeful.

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It's a dog's world

Guest Post: By Guppy, the Lucky Dog 3

She Who Must Be Obeyed has tried to explain it to me. I don’t much care about the whys or hows, I just know that She and My Ben are home! Like all the time. It is so wonderful!

The wetaher has turned nice so when they start to get on my nerves I can sit on the deck.

She says I have invented a game. Every morning I sit outside to watch my sweet little birds having their breakfast. That nasty squirrel tries to horn in on their breakfast. I wait until that nasty squirrel gets comfortable and then I ‘fake’ lunge at it. Ohhhhh, that nasty squirrel runs off. It is so fun. I settle down and we do it all over again. She says that the dog they had in Italy, Nerone, (I think he was The Lucky Dog 2) played almost the same game with the chickens. She seems to like it that I play this game.

And thank goodness all that silly basketball has ended. I am finally able to take a decent nap without She getting all excited and yelling and all. So I don’t know all the whys and whatevers. I do know, Keep Calm unless you are faking out a nasty squirrel and keep your paws clean!

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Spring Flowers

My daffodils started blooming in January and are still going strong. That might change if the temps stay this warm. It is in the upper 70s today.

This the established bed that has some good variety to it. The pink centered ones have been replaced this week by these white ones.

The bed I started last fall, the bed where the tree I had to buy is planted, has done very well. Lots of variety.

Just a bright note of cheer.

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