Thursday, March 31, 2016

Lightning! Thunder!

A little storm went over early this morning. I woke up to lightning flashes, thunder, and a hard rain squall. Callie ran down the stairs barking at one point. It was all over rather quickly, though. Now there will be fresh puddles everywhere. Callie likes to drink from the puddles in the vineyard. And from the ones in the road. And from the ones that form on the deck. She prefers puddle water to the water in her bowl, of course. It probably has more flavor.

Grass growing in a puddle.

On Wednesday I set up my little potter's bench. It's a board laid across two sawhorses. I emptied a bag of seedling soil into a closable storage bin for easy access and brought out the little seedling pots and trays. I chose tomato varieties for planting and got going. Now that that's done, it's just a matter of watering and waiting.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Log roll

Callie and I have been going into and through the woods more and more lately, thanks to the period of dry weather we had recently. It's raining again, but not in the quantity we saw a few weeks ago.

The remains of a cut tree in a section of woods that was partially cleared last year.

I'm falling behind with my gardening chores. By now I should have tomato seeds sown indoors so that they'll be ready to put out in the garden in May. But I just got the seedling soil from the garden center yesterday. Maybe, by writing this, I will be motivated to plant today. I will set up my little potter's bench on the deck and get those seeds in. It's not too late.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Not much going on, but I do have a few errands to run this morning. J'ai quelques courses à faire. The latest weather system has finally moved on through, taking the wind with it. More rain is expected later in the week. That means grass cutting will wait a while longer. I need to change the oil in the mower and sharpen the blade first, anyway.

A view of the hamlet from across the vineyard. Taken with the nifty-fifty lens.

I've decided against a new camera for the time being. I may take second prize and get myself a new lens instead. I've been looking at a wide-angle prime, 24mm f/2.8 Canon model. We'll see.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The primrose path

It's less of a path than a patch. These are the primroses that come up every spring in our lawn (and I use the term "lawn" loosely). It's a shady spot on the north side of the house, although as you can see here it does get some morning sun this time of year. The woman who sold us the house told us that whenever she got primroses, she would plant them outside. They've obviously spread a lot and they continue to spread to new parts of the yard. One day soon I'll have to cut the grass and then the blooms will go, but I'll wait as long as I can before mowing this spot.

This is one of the denser clusters of primroses in our garden.

Today is a holiday in France, so businesses are closed and there will be no mail delivery. Our garbage pickup will be moved from early Tuesday morning to early Wednesday morning. The wind storm is nearly over. It's blowing out there, but it doesn't seem as bad as I was expecting. Thank goodness.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

What's up, doc?

People eat chocolate rabbits this time of year. We eat a real one. Today Ken will cook up the Easter bunny for lunch. This year it's lapin en gibelotte, a rabbit fricassee with white wine. Yum.

Spring blossoms.

We had a series of rain squalls over night driven by a little wind. But it's tonight that we're expecting more serious wind. I'll have to look around outside to make sure that things are secure, and close up the shutters on the windward side of the house before bed time. I hate wind.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Hangers on

These leaves, left over from last fall, are still attached to their trees, but probably not for long. We're expecting a wind event between Sunday and Monday. If that doesn't knock them off, they'll likely get pushed off by new growth as spring continues.

Make like a tree.

Today is market day in Saint-Aignan. We're planning to get our annual rabbit for Easter dinner. More about that later.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The rain is back

We woke up to rain this morning. It came in earlier than expected which means I have to walk Callie in it. Oh well. The dry days were nice while they lasted, and we got a lot of outdoor work done, so that's good.

More from the Artsy Organized Neighbor's collection.

I tried to burn some yard waste yesterday, but my fire was pitiful and went out quickly. I think the stuff was too green. I'll throw it out into the woods where it will decompose. I also got the hedge trimmers out (again) and trimmed the hazelnut hedge. It will need to be done again in early summer; it sends up tall growth rather quickly. But I got a head start. Another good thing.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Can you dig it?

I was productive on Wednesday. At least, about as productive as I get these days. I dug around in the dirt and managed to plant a couple rows of snow peas, a couple rows of Swiss chard, and a first row of radishes. All staked, marked with string, and labelled. And watered in. I also got the rhubarb and strawberry patch weeded out. Mostly. One of the six strawberry plants didn't come back, but the other five look good.

A painted post among the Artsy Organized Neighbor's spring collection of stuff.

I did some more trimming (there's still some more to do) and I'm planning to burn a bunch of trimmings this morning. I'm unclear on the burning thing. We've been told that we're not allowed to burn yard waste any more (for a few years now), but everywhere you look, people are burning their yard waste. I try to pick a cloudy day with no wind for burning so as not to be too obvious about it. Today looks like a good candidate, especially since rain is predicted for Friday.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Now that the ground is a little drier, Callie and I have been taking one of her favorite paths through the woods again. It's the path that leads us by the Artsy Organized Neighbor's piles of things. There has been a lot of activity back there of late. New piles of dirt and gravel have appeared and some of it has been spread on the little road through his property. A lot of firewood has been hauled away. And here and there I can see that some things have been shifted and rearranged, even if only slightly.

Corrugated fiberglass.

My goal for today is to get some seeds planted in the garden. First, peas. Last year I built a little trellis on one side of the plot for cucumbers, but the cucumbers never climbed it. So this year I will plant a couple varieties of snow peas there. Second, radishes. I never did plant any radishes last year, and I missed them, so I will plant some now. If I'm smart, I'll plant successive rows so that they aren't all ready at the same time. Third, Swiss chard. We've enjoyed garden chard over the past few years and I want some more. Now is the time to plant all of those crops.

I also want to weed the plot where the rhubarb is coming up. I transplanted it last year and it's starting to come up now. If I don't get the weeds under control, they'll crowd out the new rhubarb stalks. Fortunately, it looks like we'll have sunny day to work in.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Monday morning was brilliant. There was no fog and the sun warmed up the morning so that even a chilly five degrees felt pleasant. We got out by mid-morning with the power tools -- Ken with the rototiller and me with the hedge trimmers -- and started working. The hedge trimmer is electric, so to use it means pulling out the fifty-meter extension cords and deploying them out along the garden path before plugging in to trim.

I didn't take any photos of the yard work, but Ken did, so maybe he'll post some.

I needed a ladder to get to the top of the forsythia bush, but that was pretty easy since I had done a major pruning job on it last summer. After doing the lavender, the daisy patch, the flower stalks around the well, and another shrub or two, I got out the hand saw and set to work on our smallest apple tree. It was full of mistletoe. Ken cut out some of the lower branches over the weekend, so I got up on the ladder to work on the higher up branches. The tree looks much better now, but it still needs to be shaped a little more to make it less lopsided. I think I'll burn the trimmings in a few days (mainly to kill the mistletoe). We're far from done, but we got a good start. Rain is predicted for Friday, so we'll see how much we can get done before that.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Spring is here

We've been enjoying, if not actually basking in, the sunlight over the past few days. The ground is actually drying out and it's a pleasure to walk with the dog without worrying about mud and sand. Ken and I each heard the season's first cuckoo over the weekend. That's a sure sign that spring is here. As are the flowing trees.

Blossoms on the plum tree that Ken planted from a pit many years ago.

And, while it's not really warm yet, we are starting to get some outdoor work done. It's all the normal stuff like tilling up the garden plots, picking up downed branches, trimming and pruning, and starting seeds for the vegetable garden. There is much to be done.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


The end. This is the last tractor photo, at least for a while. Maybe if I stop posting photos of it, someone will take it away. Not that it matters. It's out of the way and not bothering anyone. I wonder if it's a rental? You would think that the company that owns it would like to get it back in working order and rented out.

The number 30 was traditionally used in journalism to mark the end of an article.

Ken got the rototiller out and did a first pass through the garden plots on Friday. Now I want to go out and plant some early crops along the edges. Mainly peas and radishes. But we also have some chard and kale that can go in now. If we get ambitious.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts

The cab of every broken-down tractor needs a good supply of household cleaning products. And, by the way, that tractor is still out there. It's been over a week now.

Maybe the tractor is a Trojan horse?

Bert did just fine at the vet's office. First, he showed up. At the last minute. I was out calling him, getting ready to give up and cancel his appointment, when he bounded over the fence from the woods to our north and came up onto the deck. I opened his carrier and he walked right in. He's healthy, gained 300 grams since last year, got his shots and a worm pill, and that was that.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Funky feline fotos

Citro-cat. Bert was sunning himself on the hood of the Citroën Thursday afternoon. I didn't see him there until after the sun had moved, so he's in the shadow here. After he noticed me, he moved up onto the roof for a while. Cat on a hot steel roof.

I tried to get him to look at me. He feigned a mild interest. Meh.

He's going to see the vet this morning for his annual shots and check-up. I'm hoping that I'll be able to find him when it's time. He normally naps downstairs until mid-day, so at some point we'll close him in until it's time to go. He doesn't mind getting into the cat-carrier and riding over, but he really likes getting home after it's all done.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

En panne

That means "out of order" or, in this case, "broke down." I had to get close to the tractor before I noticed this sign, hastily scrawled and taped to the inside of the cab window. But it explained everything.

The general condition. Out of gas would be "une panne d'essence," a flat tire would be "une crevaison."

I still don't know if the tractor has been moved. I will find out this morning when Callie and I go for our morning walk. We're out that way every other morning. Now that things have started to dry out, we're taking our evening walks down the hill again. It's still quite muddy at the bottom, but we can navigate it without too much difficulty, and I enjoy the climb back up the hill.

UPDATE: I checked. It's still out there.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Tractor in stereo

I took a few photos of that stalled tractor out in the vineyard, so now you're stuck with them. I find it curious that the model is, apparently, a "507 Stereo." I've not heard of a stereophonic tractor before.

Mono tractors are so last century.

It's a German machine. Had it been French, I might understand the "stereo" thing. English words and phrases have a lot of cachet (see what I did there?) in French marketing these days. I often hear French products being touted as benefiting from "la French Touch." Oh, là là.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


A close up of the hydraulic arms that lift the business end of the grader on that stalled tractor we saw over the weekend. There was some activity out there on Monday morning and I assume someone either repaired and/or removed the tractor. I'll go out with Callie in just a few minutes and check it out. UPDATE: I walked by and it's still there, but it has been moved off to the side of the road.

The morning sunrise is reflected in the steel bars.

The night was clear and this morning the temperature is down near freezing. But the day will be sunny and things will warm up. Still no sign of rain. Thank goodness.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Route barrée

Road closed. Except that there are no signs to warn anyone. This tractor broke down in the middle of the dirt road that runs through the vineyards out back. It's been stuck there since Thursday or Friday. I expect someone will be out there now that it's Monday to deal with it.

I think whoever was using the tractor was trying to smooth out some of the muddy ruts on the side of the road.

Only the very intrepid can squeeze their cars through the muddy space between the tractor and the grape vines. Otherwise, backing up is the only option. Fortunately, there is very little car traffic on this road. It's mostly the vineyard workers and a few of our neighbors, and we all know the tractor is there.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

More vines

It's all about the pruning right now. The growers cut back last year's vine growth to one cane per plant. It's a months-long job in all kinds of weather. They line the cut canes up between the vines. Soon now, they'll get ground into mulch. Once the pruning is done, each remaining cane will be gently bent to the horizontal and attached to a guide wire. This year's growth will sprout from that single cane.

The vines in front are pruned, the vines in back are not.

I'm happy to report that the ground is beginning to dry out. I know I sound like a broken record, but I will be happy to see the puddles and mud go and to be able to walk down the hill again. Right now the path down is just a slippery, muddy mess.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A hazy shade of winter

This is what the vineyards look like around here right now. The rain clouds are gone, replaced by a haze, held in place by high pressure. The sun is there, but veiled. That's ok, because the ground is slowly drying out.

Pruned vines and woods stand in a hazy morning, 12 March 2014.

I took this photo exactly two years ago today. You might think I adjusted the color for the sepia-like look. But no, this is how the color came out of the camera on that particular day. It's the haze at sunrise, I suppose, that made the effect.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Am I blue

The primroses are in bloom in our yard now. The plum trees are blossoming around the neighborhood, and our fruitless cherry tree is fat with flower buds. In another week it should be covered in pink blossoms. And the daffodils are in full bloom. Winter is on the wane.

Blue primroses, with petals partially eaten by something (I think), among the white, yellow, and red.

These next few dry days will be quite welcome. I can tell the difference already, although Callie still picks up a lot of mud and sand. Not all the puddles in the vineyard are dry, not by a long shot. But they will be, eventually.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Dry spell?

If the predictions hold, we're entering a period of dry weather. High pressure is building in and we may have several days in a row with no rain and maybe even some sun. We sure need some time for all the water that's fallen to soak in and/or drain away. The rivers are very high right now. Dry weather will be good for getting outside and preparing for spring. Shrubs need pruning, ground needs to be tilled, and early garden crops need to be sown.

An intersection in the winter woods after a rain shower.

This wet February/March weather is not at all unusual. I just forget every year that it's going to be like this. And just when I'm getting really sick of it, it starts to dry out. Let's hope that the time is now. Spring is close!

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Water, water, everywhere

It's raining again this morning. Wet, squishy ground waits for me and Callie. It's a muddy paws (and legs, and belly) day for the dog. And the wind is gusting, too. Ah, March!

A view of the abbey from the town below, March 2007. Our hotel room is one of those windows on the lower left.

This photo is from March of 2007 when Ken and I stayed on the Mont Saint Michel for a night. It was just before we brought Callie home, so we were dogless. In the evening, after most of the daytime visitors left the island, we heard the sirens and the public announcement about the tide coming in. Then, at dusk, we saw the water sweep across the mud flats like a tidal wave. It's the only time I've actually seen that happen, even though I've been to the Mont several times over the years.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Shut up, dogs

That's how I affectionately refer to hushpuppies, the southern American deep-fried cornbread. Legend has it that southern fisherman would toss small bits of fried cornbread to their dogs to keep them quiet, or "hush" them, at mealtime. Hushpuppies are a side dish, frequently served with fish dishes, but also with pork barbecue. Or anything, really.

My hushpuppies are football-shaped, and smooth. Others can be round and/or much rougher.

The recipe I use for our home-made pups comes from the coastal North Carolina seafood restaurant, Tony's Sanitary Fish Market & Restaurant in Morehead City. You mix cornmeal (I used white meal this time, but yellow cornmeal works just the same), salt, soda, sugar, an egg, and buttermilk (I use yogurt) into a batter, then shape the hushpuppies as you like. Sometimes they are round, other times they are football-shaped. Then they get deep-fried until they're done.

Twenty raw hushpuppies, shaped and ready for deep-frying.

Hushpuppies are really good with a little sweet butter, or just plain along side your meal. On Monday we ate field peas (small red beans) with Toulouse sausages (from southern France), collard greens, and a basket of hushpuppies. Yum!

Monday, March 07, 2016

Gallery at Chenonceau

This is a stylized (another word for over-processed) version of my photo of the Chenonceau castle's gallery from 2006. I was there with friends on a rainy March afternoon. There were very few visitors and I saw something I hadn't seen before, nor since: the gallery completely empty of people.

I took this with Ken's Kodak DC4800 camera, just a couple of months before I got my first digital camera.

This room spans the Cher river and is one of the iconic features of the castle. I'm sure only the castle's staff and few other people get to see the gallery this way. I got lucky. I had to move quickly to get the shot, and I didn't get the perspective properly centered. But it's close enough. Before I knew it, people began to wander in and the shot was gone.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

March snow

Snow fell most of the morning on Saturday. It was quite unexpected; I don't think any of the weather sources I look at predicted it, except for maybe a little snow-mixed-with-rain early in the morning. The snow started at sunrise and, after a few hours, we had close to four centimeters on the ground.

It's not a lot of snow, but it's unusual for us. The view out the guest room window.

This is the third "snow event" we've had this winter. Significant, because we haven't seen snow at all in several years. Of course, during the afternoon the temperature warmed up and most of the snow melted quickly away. Now we're back to mud and soggy soil.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Storybook castle

This is the Château de Chaumont on the Loire River. I've posted many photos of this one over the years. It's not far from where we live, about a half-hour's drive, and until recently, the park around the castle was open and free to the public. Several years ago, as part of a renovation of the castle grounds, access to the park was restricted to those who pay to enter.

Chaumont castle (and its drawbridge) seen from the castle's park, March 2006.

In addition to the park and the castle itself, visitors have access to the stables and other out-buildings that have been renovated as spaces for art and photography exhibits, specialized gardens (herbs and vegetables, for example), and a tropical plant greenhouse. There's also a café on the grounds for a quick drink or longer lunch. The big attraction at Chaumont every year is the international garden-as-art festival from spring through fall. It's worth a visit if you're in the area.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Spanish eyes

I'm back into the archives. This photo is from twelve years ago (!) when Ken and I visited our friend Sue in Spain. She was in Madrid on an intensive language program. She wasn't so much there for the language as she was for the adventure. We spent couple of days, during which we took a side trip to Segovia, an historical city about 90km north of Madrid. The city is filled with significant architecture from Roman times through the gothic period.

Colorful clothes and flower pots adorn the balconies of this residence in Segovia.

This building is, perhaps, less significant, but probably not to the people who live in it. I caught one tenant on laundry day. I remember it being very cold and windy that day in Segovia. Still, we wandered around on foot taking in the sights. We had our dog, Collette, with us so we didn't go inside any of major buildings and we had to put her in the car when we stopped for lunch.

I took photos on that trip with Ken's Canon PowerShot Pro90. I didn't get my own digital camera until 2006. I posted a small series of photos from that trip here in 2009. If you want to see them, click on the "Spain Trip" label at the bottom of this post.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Turkey cordon bleu

I had one escalope of turkey left and wanted to have it for lunch on Wednesday. What to do? Cordon bleu, of course!.  I pounded the escalope to flatten it a little more. Then I lined it with some leftover grated lardons (smoked bacon) and a layer of grated cheese. I rolled the whole thing up, wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it rest for about twenty minutes to set.

A rolled cordon bleu, whether veal, chicken, or turkey, is easier to make and prettier than the chicken Kiev that we recently made.

During that time I started the oven and prepared the coating by seasoning some flour, beating an egg, and putting some panko breadcrumbs in a bowl. I unwrapped the cordon bleu, rolled it in the seasoned flour, then in the egg, and lastly in the breadcrumbs. It went into a 180ºC (350ºF) oven for what turned out to be about 35 minutes. As you can see, I served it with some leftover out-of-focus peas. A tasty lunch!

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Callie gives me a Bronx cheer

We had just returned from the groomer's. I asked Callie to pose for her picture. You can see her response. This, to the guy that feeds her every day, gives her biscuits and chewy treats and cheese, takes her out for walks (twice a day for the past two weeks!), and rubs her dry with a towel. Pffffft!

Callie gives me the raspberries.

So I got my revenge by telling her I saw a kitty-cat in the road. She ran to check it out. There was no cat. Gotcha! Bwahahaha!

What? Whaddaya mean there's no cat?

When I left Callie at the grooming salon, she sat on the floor and the poor woman had to drag her by the leash to the back room. But later she told me that once I was out of sight, Callie was very well behaved, better than previous times, and even gave her a kiss. Progress.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Trying to dry out

The past couple of days have been nice, giving the ground a chance to drain. We've had so much rain recently that everything is soggy. And the prediction is that we'll have more rain, in the form of showers, in the days ahead. Starting tonight. I guess we're going to have giboulées de mars after all.

A recent sunny morning. Vine pruning is progressing at a rapid pace in anticipation of spring.

Callie is going to the groomer's this morning. Boy will I be glad after all that excess hair on her legs and belly is gone. Not to mention the tangles on her back side and tail. I'll try to take photos, if she'll cooperate.