Saturday, April 30, 2016

Morning sun

We had a nice clear morning on Friday and the sun streamed into the yard on the north side of the house, as it does this time of year. In winter, the sun is too low and too far to the south to send beams into this part of the yard. It's nice to see during spring, summer, and fall.

A zoomed shot across the back yard on Friday morning.

I've begun the packing process for my trip. It takes me a few days to gather everything up, sort through, and decide what to take. And this year, instead of taking a laptop computer, I'm taking a tablet. I remember when taking laptops on trips was cool. Now they just seem too bulky and heavy to schlep around, especially the one we have. I know there are sleeker, lighter models out there, but I don't have one. So I've been busy customizing the tablet and downloading the apps I think I'll need while on the road.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Maple leaves

The two maple trees in our front yard have been flowering all week. The pollen they drop is amazing, covering the cars and the deck in a layer of yellow powder. Fortunately, neither of us seems to be suffering any allergic reaction to it. Now the flowers (such as they are) are fading and the trees' red leaves are getting larger.

One of our two red maple trees seen from the deck. That's our neighbors' house across the street in the background.

I got the grass cut again yesterday. It really grows fast this time of year because of how much rain we get. If the summer is normal, the growth will slow down in June.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

All's quiet in the vegetable garden

The ground is tilled and waiting. Seedlings are growing in the greenhouse/tent. Radishes and peas have sprouted. It's almost time. Very soon, Ken will plant out the collard greens and kale plants. The rest will wait until mid-May when the danger of frost is over.

Shrubs and trees are leafing out nicely now.

The grass is growing fast. I want to cut it again before my trip, so I have to watch the weather carefully. Today or tomorrow may be my only chance for dry days before Monday.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Springtime flowers

I see these flowers blooming briefly every year in early spring. There is one spot in particular where there is almost a carpet of them, a shady place beneath some tall trees. But this year I'm seeing them in the vineyard, out in the sunny spots under the vine trunks. I haven't tried to identify them yet, so I don't know anything about them.

Anybody recognize these? UPDATE: It's Star of Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatum.

Last night was crystal clear, and this morning is cold, but brilliantly sunny. Time to bundle up and go out with Callie!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

I got chills

It's amazing how quickly I get used to nice weather after just a few days of it. Now that April is doing what April does, and the chilly weather is back, I feel let down. I'm not surprised at all, it's just that I forgot the old saying: en avril, ne te découvre pas d'un fil, en mai, fais ce qu'il te plaît (in April, don't take off a stitch, in May, do what you like). It's certainly true this year, at least for April. Let's hope May holds up its end of the bargain.

If you look closely, you can see little leaves sprouting on the grape vines.

One week from today I fly from Paris to Montréal for two nights before driving down into New York State to visit with family and friends and to take care of a few administrative things. Ken will be staying home with Callie and Bert and all of our little garden seedlings. I haven't been back to the US in four years and I'm looking forward to the adventure. The travel arrangements are all made (train, plane, car, hotels, etc.) but there is still a lot to do this week to get ready.

Monday, April 25, 2016

This old vine

I've posted pictures of this vine many times here. It's one of a few that grow up against three sides of a storage building out in the vineyard. The grapes are not harvested for wine, in fact I'm not even sure they're wine grapes. People walking through the vineyard often stop and pop a few of the grapes in their mouths as they pass by. Wildlife gets the rest. I saw the grower who owns the adjacent parcels out there last week pruning these for the season.

These grape vines don't get pruned as hard as the wine grapes do. They're ornamental.

I thought I was done with fires for the season, but no. Our mornings are back down toward freezing again and the house cools down. I built a fire in the wood stove yesterday and that made everything comfy and cozy. I'll probably do the same for the next few days.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Something lives here

And I'm pretty sure it's not a hobbit. There's no door or chimney, and the garden is not well tended. It's much too small for a rabbit, but I have no idea what would live there. A little mouse or vole is the best I can come up with.

Bag End it's not.

Saturday's rain was more like heavy mist, but it lasted all day long. This morning we're greeted by clear skies and a waning gibbous moon setting in the west. And it's chilly, down below 5ºC (around 40ºF).

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Tractor ho!

The tractors are out. They're plying the vineyard rows grinding pruned vine canes or spraying herbicide, or doing other things I don't know about. This one falls into that third category. I have no idea what the grower was doing. This vehicle straddles a row with each pass, but there was no spraying (I think this parcel is supposed to be organically grown), no grinding, and no trimming (too early for that) going on.

The grower had climbed down from the tractor and was nearby, on his phone, when I took this photo. There's a spraying attachment on the back of the tractor, but it was not deployed.

The rain, such as it is, has returned. We're very happy to have accomplished as much as we did while the days were warm and dry. There is still more to do (there always is), but we have no feelings of panic or lost opportunity. And that's nice.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Le désert

This photo reminds me of California deserts. It's right here outside our garden gate. Not a desert at all, but part of a stone wall where a small plant has taken hold.

Taken with the nifty fifty lens. 50mm, f/8.0, 1/160s, ISO 100.

It's a little weird to learn of the death of Prince, or the artist formerly known as Prince, now the late artist formerly known as Prince. I was not a big fan, but I liked some of his stuff. And he was my age, another reminder of what awaits us all not too far down the road.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Sculptures in mud

Something has been happening on the artsy organized neighbor's property. For a month or so, big tractors and trucks have been moving earth, grading, removing logs, and otherwise messing around behind his piles of stuff. They've also been making monster ruts in the dirt road that runs through the vineyard. With all the recent rains, those ruts have become giant mud baths. You could open a resort.

Blue sky is reflected in a muddy tractor rut.

We have no idea what's happening back there. At one point I thought he was improving the path/road that went from the vineyard down into the ravine; there's a paved road that runs through the ravine along which are many houses, maybe even his, so that's a possibility. We don't think a house is being built up by the vineyard because there are no utilities up there. So we're left wondering what's going on.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A productive Tuesday

I feel good. I knew that I would. All the grass has now been cut. The first cut of the year is always the most difficult. First there's the clearing of debris from the yard, including removing any mole hills that came up over winter (I used the dirt to fill in some ruts along the road). Then there's the thick fresh growth that, in many places, got to well over six inches tall. And that fresh grass is full of moisture, not easy to cut in a single pass.

Dew drops on young rose leaves.

But, before I do any cutting, I have to get the mower itself ready for work. That means draining out the motor oil from last year and adding new oil. Then the blade needs to be sharpened. I tried doing it myself, but I didn't do a very good job of it, so I decided to get a new one (this will be the blade's sixth season). Unfortunately, the hardware store didn't have the blade I need. They recommended a nearby mechanic, but he didn't have one, either. He did ask why I wanted to replace the blade. I showed him my botched sharpening job and he said he could sharpen it. He did a superb job; the edge looks like new. The right tools and know-how make all the difference.

So my chore for today is the deck. I plan to take advantage of the relatively warm day we're expecting to use the power washer on it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dry my eye

It hasn't rained in almost forty-eight hours. But this dry weather doesn't mean we've dried out. There are still puddles all around. In low spots the ground still squishes under foot. And the morning dew is heavy and keeps the grass wet until mid-day.

Dew drips from the vineyard guide wires as the sun rises.

But we will take advantage of these sunny days nonetheless. I've already done some more mowing and will finish up today. Ken wants to get some more tilling done in the vegetable garden plot. Then there's that deck to clean, maybe tomorrow. We will feel good if we get all that done before the next rain system comes in. It's predicted for Thursday or Friday.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Dramatic skies

The weather systems of the past couple of weeks have brought a good amount of rain, but have also given us some beautiful skyscapes. This is a shot of the vineyard parcel at the end of the dirt road where Callie and I usually turn around to head back home during our morning walks. The view is roughly northeast, looking toward the river.

The vines are pruned and are beginning to grow leaves. Soon everything will be green again.

The weather people tell us to expect a few very nice days, dry, with sunshine. I'll take it. I'm already planning my days to get the grass cut and a few other outdoor chores done. It's time to power-wash the deck and get the outdoor furniture out there for the summer. Yippee!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

En garde ! (fencing)

Last fall our town replaced the fence that surrounds the little pond outside our back gate. I believe the pond is artificial. It's fed by rain runoff from the vineyard road and drains down the slope behind our property. The pond is home to some little fish (one of our neighbors once said she stocked the pond so her children could fish in it), and a multitude of frogs. From time to time a pair of mallard ducks hangs out there, but they always fly away when Callie and I walk around the perimeter.

Dew and spiders' webs on the fence out back.

When the weather is very cold, ice will form on the surface of the pond. Since we've been here, it hasn't been cold enough for the ice layer to be thick enough to walk on. I wonder if that has ever happened? Early on, when we had a few drought years, the town trucked up tankloads of water to replenish the pond. There's a sign out there stating that the pond is reserve for fire fighting. Fortunately, it's not ever been needed for that.

By the way, the sport of fencing is called escrime in French, a word that has nothing to do with actual fences. My little joke.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Rainbow web

When spider webs are wet with dew, they look silvery-white in the morning light. But when the sun is shining through them at the right angle, the light is refracted and the color spectrum becomes visible, turning the web into a rainbow.


It's semi-finals day in Monte Carlo. Since both Djokovic and Federer lost earlier in the week (they both seemed to be having trouble adjusting to the clay surface), Sunday's final will be very interesting, indeed. There will be one Frenchman in the final, as Tsonga and Monfils play each other in today's second semi-final. But first, Nadal (a master of clay) and Murray will fight it out for the other spot early this afternoon. Should be a good tennis day!

Friday, April 15, 2016


Except for the lines and right angles, I might think this is some kind of image of planets or stars in outer space. In reality, these are dew drops on a spider's web. Inner space.

The colors a real, I just boosted them with a little saturation in Lightroom.

Thursday turned wet, so I was not able to get out and finish cutting the grass. But I did get my hair cut, so that's just as good. Thankfully, my hair doesn't grow as fast as the grass does right now. But, again thankfully, it still grows.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

River fog

I totally had the wrong lens on the camera for this shot. Tuesday morning was foggy, so I took out the 100mm macro lens for some close-ups of dew and spider webs. You will likely see some of those soon. But when I looked back toward the river and saw the fog rising up from the valley to engulf our house, I realized that I should have had another lens on the camera.

I made a lot of adjustments in Lightroom for this result.

Still, I took a whole bunch of long photos with the macro lens. They're not great, but they're not bad, and I think they convey the mood. Here is one of the "better" ones. You be the judge.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Periodic puppy pics

Even when it's wet and muddy, even when the skies are threatening rain, and sometimes even when it's raining cats and dogs (!), Callie needs her walk. Tuesday afternoon brought huge clouds blowing across the sky from the southwest. It had rained, and it would rain again, but we got our walk in during a nice, and relatively warm, part of the day.

Callie waits while I compose my shot. We did not get rained on during this walk.

I measured 32ºC (90ºF) in the greenhouse during the afternoon. I aired it out a little and gave all the seedlings a nice cool drink. They're growing and looking good. It won't be long before I can transplant them into individual pots, maybe another week.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Uh, what?

What's wrong with this picture? Where'd the bottom of that tree go? This is what happens, I guess, when you don't plan your cuts properly. The cut tree probably fell onto the others and stuck there, so they just cut it off as high from the bottom as they could and left the rest.

And the moss is growing on the south side of these trees.

Our unsettled weather continues. And the grass continues to grow. Ugh.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Hot house

Our little seeds continue to sprout and on Sunday I put them all out into the greenhouse/tent. The sun was (unexpectedly) out most of the day and it got very hot inside, so I had to leave the roll-up door open through the afternoon. After I did that, it stayed a balmy 24ºC (about 75ºF) inside.

The greenhouse standing open to keep it from getting too hot in the sun.

As the seedlings grow, I'll transplant them into individual pots so they'll have room to get bigger before we plant them out into the garden later in May. By the time I do that, it may get a little crowded in there. You can see that I added a couple of boards across the back wall for more space.

Tomatoes, cukes, squash, kale, and herbs are beginning to sprout!

We decided that, once the seedlings are out of the greenhouse, it will be a good place to grow warmer weather plants like basil. We've always had mixed results with basil because it's not consistently hot here, and basil likes warm weather. But, inside the greenhouse it should be warm enough.

Sunday, April 10, 2016


Ok, it's time for some dry weather. I have to cut the grass before it gets taller. Unfortunately, I don't see a dry spell in the near-term forecast. I may have to pick the least wet day to make the first pass through the yard.

You can see some green leaves beginning to sprout.

When I was arranging the seedlings in the greenhouse/tent on Saturday, I could see Callie sniffing around the outside edges. She knew I was inside, but couldn't figure out how to get in. Then she found the door and wedged her nose in, but her eyes were still outside. I pulled the door open and she walked right in to inspect. There is barely room for the two of us in there, but she saw it and now she's satisfied.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

And today's the day

I'm planning to move our sprouting seedlings out to the new greenhouse/tent this morning. It's been standing out in the yard now for a few days, experienced some wind and held up, and I've reinforced the base with some concrete blocks. So it's time. We're expecting some light rain, so I'll have to passer entre les gouttes (walk in between the drops), as they say.

The greenhouse in situ; the door faces south. I'll take another photo with door open once the seedlings are in.

My doctor visit went quickly yesterday. It's really just a check-in to get my prescriptions renewed. The blood pressure is good and I don't need blood work for another year. Apparently my last blood numbers were fine. I used to have to go to the lab once a year, but this new doctor says I only need to go every other year unless something changes. Cool.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Growing bread

That's a stretch. I have absolutely no idea how the wheat being grown in this field will be used. But it could be sold to a mill for bread flour once it has grown and been harvested. In the meantime, it will be here through mid-summer and turn from green to golden.

The next time I walk around this field, the wheat will be tall and golden, ready for harvest.

I just found out last evening that the grape grower who owns the vine parcel to our north has restored his electric fence for the season. That means that Callie and I won't be taking the path down through the woods that leads us to this wheat field. It happens every spring; the fence helps to keep deer out of the vineyard so that they don't munch on the new leaves and grape flowers. The pathway will be open again in the summer.

Thursday, April 07, 2016


The weather, that is. We're in that part of the season where the weather just can't decide what it wants to be, so it's everything. Periods of fog, overcast, sun, rain, and wind, all mixed up. But the trees are making leaves. The big maples in front of our house are covered in fat buds. The birches already have little leaves. Radishes are up in the garden, and the snow peas are sprouting.

Looking up through some trees. No leaves on these, yet.

The little garden greenhouse/tent did well in the light wind we had all day yesterday. I did find some loops on the back that I used to tie it to the fence. I also added some cement tiles over the ground-level tubes to help hold it down. I may do a little more reinforcing today based on some of the comments I got on yesterday's post.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016


I spent about an hour on Tuesday morning putting together the frame for the garden greenhouse. It's more sturdy than I expected. Today, I'll remove the roof section so I can pass it all down over the deck railing to Ken. Then we'll take it out to the place where we hope it will stand.

I put the frame together on the deck. Now it has to go over the side.

If all works according to plan, the back of the greenhouse will be up against our fence, and either side will be buffered by hazelnut hedges (there's a gap in the hedge just about the width of the greenhouse). I'm hoping that I'll be able to figure out a way to secure it to the fence. That means putting holes in the tent thing that goes over the frame; I'm thinking "grommet tool," but there are some details to work out first. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

The north side

Moss, it is said, grows on the north side of the tree. The shade favors its growth, while sunlight stunts it. The problem is, however, that in the woods, the bases of most trees are shaded most of the day. Moss can grow anywhere. I guess you have to look at more than one tree to get your bearings.

Pointing toward the north. Roughly.

Our ersatz greenhouse was delivered on Monday, so I plan to put it together today. It's a collection of rigid tubes over which a reinforced plastic tent gets attached. There are shelving units for pots on either side of a narrow center aisle. The trick will be in securing it to the ground so that wind won't blow it away. I'm sure the stakes that come with the thing won't be sufficient, so I'll add to them. I won't know how that will work until I get it all unpacked and assembled.

Monday, April 04, 2016

A wine run

On Sunday, I went over to the village of Angé, two towns down river from us, to the annual open house of a local winery called Clos Roussely. Every year, the owner, Vincent Roussely, hosts a group of winemakers from around the country. I especially like the producer from Chablis, whose winery we visited in 2014. So I went to get some of his wine. I also bought some red Burgundy from a producer in the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune. The Chablis is made from chardonnay grapes, the red Burgundy is made from pinot noir.

At the Clos Roussely winery on Sunday morning.

Both of those wines are different from what we get here in our Touraine region. That's why I like what Vincent Roussely does: bringing in vintners from other regions once a year. He also goes to their regions to share local Touraine wines with people who might otherwise not have access to them. It's a cool thing, kind of a wine exchange program. This is my third year going, and I hope it continues.

I got there when they opened at 10 am. I think I was the first customer. I didn't see any others. The producers were all standing around in the building chatting with each other. I felt conspicuous. I tasted a few wines, but I noticed that one of the producers was also sipping, so I wasn't alone. Then I bought my bottles and made my way home. As you can see in the photo, Sunday was a beautiful day. The people that were planning to have lunch at the winery (they have a nice picnic area and serve lunch during this open house weekend) got lucky.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Thick and thin

I liked the contrast between the thicker tree branch and the thin vine stems in this photo. Technically, the depth-of-field is a little off, but I don't think it's bad enough to ruin the shot.

I think the stems and the branch are dead. And there is some moss growing on the branch toward the bottom.

It's supposed to be a warm day today. Saturday was a bust. It stayed relatively chilly and I didn't grill hamburgers as planned. We cooked them on the stove instead. They were still delicious, though. Today we're planning "thingeritos," a friend's name for burritos made at home with whatever ingredients you have on hand. Ken slow-cooked some turkey legs, so that will be the meat. We also have some left-over lentils, so they will stand in for the beans. Millet will play the part of rice in today's production. And so on.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Poste 21

Here and there, along the road that winds through the vines, I see these numbers tacked to trees and vine posts. They used to be hand-written on short lengths of plastic tape, but now they're pre-printed and nailed up. I'm pretty certain that they have to do with hunting. During organized hunts for deer or fox, some of the hunters stand waiting at strategic points while others, with dogs and horns, drive the prey toward them. I think these markers identify the strategic points.

The hunting season is basically closed until fall.

We're expecting a relatively mild weekend, temperature-wise, and I'm planning to fire up the grill to cook hamburgers for lunch today. We'll have them with French fries and cole slaw. Typical American fare.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Pottering around

Not with clay, but with soil and seeds. Here's my temporary potting setup. The green bin is filled with dirt that I use for planting the seeds. It's a very satisfying little endeavor because, as it happens, the seeds sprout. And then they grow into plants that will, with a little luck, eventually bear fruit.

My temporary potter's bench.

Normally I start the seeds in early to mid March, but this year I'm late. So it will be a few weeks before I can transplant the seedlings into bigger pots and hope that they grow big and strong. Then, by the end of May, they can go into the garden. I planted eight varieties of tomato, some zucchini, and some local butternut-style squash called sucrine du Berry.

The seeds are planted and the little pots are in little greenhouses on the living room floor to keep them warm and humid until they sprout.

Ken just ordered a kind of greenhouse contraption for outdoors. We would love to have a real serious greenhouse, but that's a major investment, so we're going to try a less expensive thing to see how it works. There will be photos. Unless a storm blows the whole thing away. Stay tuned.