28 March 2009


It didn't rain yesterday but it threatened to rain for most of the day. And, to be honest, the sun came out several times, for as long as 30 minutes at a time. During one such "sun shower," I hurried out and did some gardening. I turned the earth, pulled out weeds and grasses, and planted some Black-Eyed Susan seeds.

When your main daily activities are blogging and cooking, getting some outdoor time is important. Well, really, I walk the dog every day, rain or shine. I guess what is important is feeling like some progress is being made in the garden. Otherwise it looks too abandoned and neglected.

Flowering cherry — pinks today

Blogging is not very satisfying right now. I don't feel I have much of interest to write about, but I always have photos. Cooking is always satisfying, but you can't launch into big recipes and productions every single day. Otherwise, you'd never get any blogging or gardening done at all.

Gardening is the hardest activity to schedule, because it's so completely dependent on the weather. That seems obvious, but unless you depend on gardening for a big part of your entertainment, you might not realize what that weather-dependence means.

Peach blossoms

It means you can't just decide "to go to work" and get things done whenever the mood strikes or the need becomes obvious. And besides, the plants themselves don't like the weather for a good part of the year. So you have two constraints on your time and activities. You don't want to go out in it, and neither do the plants.

Maybe it's the Loire Valley climate. At any season, the grass is green, the hedge is leafy, and the ground is soft enough to dig in. Spells of freezing weather are sporadic and unpredictable from November through April, however, so you have to be patient and cautious when it comes to putting plants outside. Resisting the urge to plant early is the key to garden success in Saint-Aignan. Or one of the keys.


That was a big change for us, coming from San Francisco, where it basically never freezes. We could garden year 'round. And go to work, of course — we had full-time jobs. Nevertheless, this is the life we decided to live. Gardening, shopping, cooking, fixing up a house, working in the yard, gardening, taking care of a dog, and walking two or three miles a day. Not working for somebody else, not driving on freeways in traffic jams.

And we decided to do it in what is really northern France, even though they call it the Centre. There are few cypress and olive trees here to spoil my springtime with noxious pollen. When there's a strong southerly flow, I remember why we didn't settle in the mythical South of France.

View from neighbors' yard

I guess I've got a slight case of the seven year itch. It was nearly seven years ago that I decided to quit my job, quit the commuting that was killing me, to scale back and slow down my crazy life. The newness has worn off, to some extent.

I was telling a friend the other day that when Walt and I decided to sell everything, leave California, and move on, we both thought we might not live that much longer. Our fathers died young. The stress level was intense. And allergies were making my life a misery from February through June every year. It wasn't that we really thought we might die young, but the feeling was: "What if we do? Maybe it's time to live a different life, out of the rat race."

Now that we are here, and things have settled into a routine, I myself feel almost immortal. I'm getting 8 or even 9 hours of sleep every night, instead of the 5 or 6 I would get in California. Instead of getting up at 4:00 a.m. and hitting the road by 6:00 to beat the traffic, I sleep until 7:00 or even 8:00 and then commute downstairs to sit in front of my computer for an hour or so. There are seldom any bad traffic jams or accidents on the stairs. I arrive relaxed.

Fact is, what is perturbing me right now is that I just came back from a trip to the U.S. I'm suffering the after-effects of culture shock. Don't get me wrong, I had a nice trip and much enjoyed spending time there. It was busy time compared to my level of activity here in Saint-Aignan. Now, back here, I'm coping with the feeling that living in France just seems normal, not exciting and different the way it used to.

Cherry blossoms

Right now it's a waiting game. I look at weather reports and I see how much warmer it is at this time of year in coastal North Carolina or San Francisco. But then I remember how hot it is in N.C. in the summertime and I know I would find that hard to get used to. And I remember how foggy and chilly and damp the so-called summers were in San Francisco.

No, I'll stay here in France, merci beaucoup. Besides, the history, food, wine, landscapes, language, peace and quiet, slow pace — all that is written into my retention bonus package.


With good weather, which is bound to arrive soon, we'll be able to throw open the doors and windows, watch the plants and garden grow, and enjoy many more hours of sunlight each day than we've had since last summer.

The year has a rhythm, and I'm still getting used to that. Learning to live with seasons again — coming here after nearly 20 years in San Francisco, where there aren't four distinct seasons and the rhythm is completely different, I'm still feeling a little disoriented. I guess one day I'll get over that.


  1. Dig it feel as though you'd come home Ken or just back to where you live?


  2. GG, home, definitely. My original home in N.C. is no longer recognizably the same place. And California never actually felt like home. I've been coming to and living in France for 40 years now.

  3. Just think what life must have been back in time- when there was no tv or radio and maybe not enough food to make it through the winter. How a soul must have longed for spring then!

    For me this time of year of brilliant sunlight before the trees are leafed out is like no other. There is the intensity of sunlight hitting flowering trees and an odd angle of sunlight coming in. For a week or so the trees have spring green leaves. It's just change, change, change. It sort of spins my mind.

    I like your blog because you capture the rhythms of actual living without the fake stuff thrown in. So don't quit now. I need to see those primroses which we pay good money for here!

    There's nothing better than seeing a garden grow, or watching the vineyard for a year. It's the magic of life on this planet.

    hmmm, I must be thinking about earth day a month early!

  4. "the history, food, wine, landscapes, language, peace and quiet, slow pace — all that is written into my retention bonus package"

    Oh my, what a lovely retention bonus! You should definitely hold on to your current job. ;-)


  5. my daughter has just been accepted at univ of san fran law school.....she's pondering.....it's sooo $$$ to live there
    her french hubby has realized what a great lifestyle the french have now that he is in the US....but he did like san fran.....

    I think france is a great choice...and evidently a healthy one...sante

  6. We miss you here, but your home is treating you well. I think the human condition is to feel a little disoriented most of the time.

    Here in supposed Weather Camelot, our flowering cherry has popped precisely three blossoms. I'll show it the photo of your tree so ours will get a move on.

  7. Hi Evelyn, you are right about the light at this time of year. I've been taking pictures this afternoon. Yes, there is definitely a longing for spring, mod cons or not.

    Hi BettyAnn. Yes, I am being retained.

    Melinda, SF is a great place to spend a few years. At first the weather seems great, but then you start resenting the summer fog and chill.

    Chris, I hope our flowering cherry tree can serve as an example for yours. We have a nice fire in the wood stove this evening and I'm enjoying the combinations of clouds and sunlight.

    We change our clock tonight and now it won't get dark before 8:00 p.m. That'll be nice.

  8. Ken, you're feeling what we all feel once past a certain age. As a youngster I don't remember noticing the seasons so much - life was just a blur of school and fun. But nowadays, once winter sets in, I long for Spring. You have put it just so eloquently. I too can't wait for the clock to go forward and to get the lighter evenings back. How early can one respectably go to bed to hasten it?!
    We are still working but can't wait to give up the rat race like you have.
    I just love your blog. It makes me long for France even more.

  9. Here, we're expecting 2-4 inches of snow overnight, which just CRACKS ME UP... last week it was gorgeous spring weather all week, with lots of things blooming... now, this crazy suddent burst of yucky winter. I just spent the day inside, doing TAXES.

    Hey, I thought of you yesterday when a show came on TV about markets around the U.s.... they showed a big one in Asheville,NC! Been to it?


  10. Anonymous, whoever you are, thanks for the nice comment. Living out here we feel much more in tune with nature than we did when life was commuting and working. So things like lengthing days and time changes take on a whole new significance.

    Judy, guess what -- I've never even been to Asheville NC. It's about 400 miles from where I grew up, and is another world. One of these days...

  11. This was a wonderful post, Ken. I "retired" seven years ago, too, although we didn't move. I enjoy the quieter pace and time to notice the seasons passing, but feel the same occasional disorientation and restlessness you describe.

    Here spring has definitely arrived, though, so I have a full day of gardening ahead of me!

  12. Hi!Ken,
    I would hardly beleave how trees are blooming right now in St-Aignan without those beautiful photos...Here in Vienna are neither blossoms or leaves on the trees, no daffodils, tulipes...Forsythias are the first signs of spring. Cette année le printemps se fait attendre et j´ai hâte d´aller en France (début Juin).Enjoy your garden (would be my dream but we live in a flat), trees and flowers and thank you for this sharing.

  13. Bonjour Monique, oui, c'est déjà le printemps à St-Aignan, mais il fait toujours froid. Les beaux jours sont devant nous...


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