Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tasha Tuesday

Once again, with Callie. Today is a big day. Tasha goes to her new vet for the first time for a check-up and a booster vaccination. It's also her three-month birthday, and the four-week anniversary of her arrival at our house. Only four weeks? Seems like more...

Callie and Tasha take a break from running around in the sun. Taken on Saturday.

We can really see her growing now. Her nose is longer and so are her legs. She's getting the lay of the land and she and Callie are playing together more. Tasha runs circles around the older dog, literally. And Callie is getting more comfortable having the little one around. Tasha is learning the rhythms of her new life chez nous. She even wants to go out for walks with Callie, but it's still a little too soon for that. I'm trying to get her to accept a harness, but she's not quite comfortable with it yet. It'll happen before too long.

And, on the house-training front, we are doing very well. Tasha's new thing is to wake me up at 4:30 in the morning by putting her paws up on the side of the bed and licking my hands. I get up, we go out, she does her thing, then it's back to bed. It's better than having to clean up a mess in the morning.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Wild animal noises

For the past two or three years, since one of the vineyard parcels out back was planted with new vines, the grower has used this solar-powered device to try to keep deer from coming in to nibble on fresh shoots and grape flowers. One of the vineyard workers told me that it emitted a high-pitched noise that people couldn't hear, and it's true that I didn't notice any sound that first year. But last year and this year, the speaker emits very audible sounds at regular intervals. They're especially noticeable in the early morning hours when all else is quiet.

Notice the little bird perched on one of the vineyard posts.

I can only describe the sounds as wild animal noises. Nearly blood-curdling (especially at four in the morning) screeches and howls, punctuated with a series of simulated gunshots. I notice the noises when I sleep with the windows open. And also now that we take Tasha outside in the wee hours. The first time Tasha heard the thing she turned tail and ran back into the house. I hope it works just as well on the deer. Once the grape vines set fruit they'll turn the sounds off for the season.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

It's almost time

I'm thinking that this coming week will be the week to get the tomato plants in the ground. I'm hoping to plant the zucchini seedlings out today, and I want to plant a row of green beans, too. Then there are the chili peppers -- I want to put some outside and keep some in pots in the greenhouse. It's also time to plant basil seeds and a few other herbs in the greenhouse.

Tomato seedlings last week. They're even bigger now.

The rains seem to be over for now, so the dry and warmer weather coming up over the next few days should be good for getting the garden in. I also have to get the taxes (French and US) done this week. Our French returns are due on the 31st and the US returns are due in early June (citizens residing outside the US aren't subject to the April 15 deadline).

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Tall grasses

With all the rain we've had in the past few weeks, the grass has really grown. I've mowed our grass a few times, but the tall grasses out in the fields among the vineyards have really taken off. And it's tick season and there are a lot of them this year. Not so much a problem for us (although we are careful), but for the dogs and cat it's a real pain.

I imagine that the deer and foxes (and other wildlife) are not enjoying tick season this year.

They all get Frontline, but that just kills the tick after it attaches, so we often find a feeding tick on the animal before it drops off. We have a pair of little tick forks for removing them. I can tell that the animals appreciate having the ticks removed. If we don't get them, they eventually die, but it's no fun finding a bloated dead tick on the floor or, worse, stepping on one. Yuck.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Flagged

The grower and winemaker that owns most of the vineyard parcels out back hangs these flags at regular intervals on the posts at the end of vine rows. I've been seeing them for years, so a while back I asked about them. They're markers to tell him which rows to drive the tractor along when he's spraying the fungus preventative. Pretty simple.

This vineyard parcel is only a few years old. The beige sleeves are protecting some newer vines planted to replace some that didn't make it.

We had a lot of rain on Thursday, but I haven't yet read the rain gauge. We were expecting around an inch for the day. Just after falling asleep last night, I was awakened by the screeching of fighting cats outdoors, then almost instantaneously, the mad barking of Callie as she jumped off the couch and ran downstairs. Later, at three-thirty this morning, Tasha was active. I got dressed and took her out (with a flashlight this time). She pooped. Back to bed, but not back to sleep. Tasha was up for the morning. Is it nap time yet?

UPDATE: The rain gauge reads 18 millimeters, much less than expected.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Campanules

There is a patch of campanules (bellflowers) outside our front door that have been there since before we moved in nearly fourteen years ago. Since then, I moved some to another location and from there they've started to spread. I also planted some in the real fake well out in the back yard; this is a photo of those. They do alright in the well, except they get a little crowded by the mint that I also planted in there.

That bar on the right is one of three wrought iron uprights that are part of the well.

This year, the mint isn't coming back as strongly as it has over the last few years and the bellflowers are looking better. I'd be happy for them to take over once the mint runs its course.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Grape flowers

Since the April freeze, the grape vines out back have seriously slowed down. I do see signs of recovery. Vines that lost all their early green growth are sending out new leaves and, if I'm seeing things right, some are producing flowers. Vines that made it through the freeze with some or all of their leaves and buds intact are definitely producing flowers. I get the impression, however, that there are many fewer flowers than there might have been.

These grape flower buds will open very soon and, if all goes well, will become a bunch of grapes.

I got the grass cut on Tuesday and the back yard is looking pretty nice. We're expecting a couple days of serious rain, so I'm holding off on planting out the tomatoes lest they get battered down; they're fine for now in the greenhouse. A lot of rain also means that the garden plot will be a soggy mess for a while. No fun for planting. We'll see how things go.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tasha Tuesday

Tasha is learning how to play with the tricky treat ball. This is Callie's favorite toy, given to her by our friends C&J back when Callie was a puppy. She plays with it every day. I fill the ball with little treats. The dog pushes it around the floor and the treats fall out. Then she gobbles them up.

There's something tasty in there, I just know it!

Callie learned how it worked in just a few hours. Now Tasha is learning. At first she just followed Callie around the room and ate up any treats that Callie missed. But now she's learned how to push the ball around on her own. And they're playing with it together. She seems to be a very smart dog. And I'm not just saying that. Ok, maybe I am. Call me a proud dad.

Jumping onto the tricky treat ball.

The other day, a pretty large dead branch broke off of the big apple tree in our yard. That tree is slowly coming to the end of its life. On Monday, I got the chainsaw out and cut it all up into burnable logs and stacked them with the other firewood. And I forgot to take photos.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Strawberry shortcake

Local strawberry season is in full swing. For the past few Saturdays we've been getting strawberries, the variety called gariguette, from one of the local growers at Saint-Aignan's weekly market. So far, I've been using them for strawberry shortcake. I make our friend Tom's biscuit recipe for the shortcake; it's easy and makes four good-sized light and flaky biscuits. With apologies to Tom, I've modified his recipe a little: all-butter instead of butter and shortening, and plain yogurt in place of buttermilk. We top our dessert with a dollop (or two) of crème fraîche.

Fresh strawberry shortcake for dessert.

Strawberries are among my favorite fruits and they're so good in season. Another good way to eat them (besides just as they are) is to marinate them in red wine or port (or even balsamic vinegar). Fraises au vin rouge is a classic, although many recipes tell you to simmer the wine with sugar and vanilla, eliminating the alcohol, and letting it cool before adding the strawberries. I just let the fruit marinate in the wine, alcohol and all. The tartness of the berries and the roundness of the wine really go well together.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Eyes on stalks

I almost stepped on this snail the other morning as he "scurried" across the dirt road out in the vineyard. He withdrew into his shell (like that would have saved him), but I saw him and was able to adjust my step. I waited about thirty seconds and he came back out of his shell and continued across the road. I like that his eyes show up in the photo.

Hurry up!

I really shouldn't call it a "him." Most snails are hermaphroditic. I won't get into the details of their reproduction here. I'm still having my morning coffee.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

It's always something

If it's not one thing, it's another, as Roseanne Roseannadanna's father used to say. On Thursday night around nine o'clock, I took Tasha outside for the last time before bedtime. We wandered around a bit with no result. Then, suddenly, it started to rain. And thunder. Tasha turned and ran back into the house to get out of the rain (and so did I). We spent the next hour with Callie barking at the thunder and Tasha barking at Callie. Then, finally, sleep.

A rose in our garden.

Later, at about three-thirty in the morning, I woke up to the muffled sounds of Tasha poking around in the room. Uh-oh. So I got up, got dressed, and took her outside. The rain had ended and the moon was shining brightly. Then, suddenly, the loudspeaker out in the vineyard screamed out with wild animal noises (to scare the deer). It wasn't enough to scare the you-know-what out of Tasha, but still, she turned tail and ran back into the house (and so did I). Then, after a while, more sleep.

At five o'clock I opened my eyes and could see the back-lit silhouette of Tasha starting to crouch down across the room. I got up abruptly, startling her, got dressed (again) and whisked her outside (again). After a few minutes of sniffing around in the damp grass, she did her business. Tasha then trotted proudly back into the house (and so did I). What a night!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Well, duh

When we picked up Tasha from the breeder's, the breeder gave us a lot of information, as breeders are wont to do. For example, she told us how Sheltie ears should be folded over, and if Tasha's ears tried to stand up, we should bend them manually and use glue if we had too. We're not doing that. If Tasha's ears want to stand up, they are welcome to do so (she's not going to be a show dog).

Close up of a peony, now blooming in our garden.

Another thing she told us was more practical: feeding. The breeder fed Tasha four times a day. One-quarter cup of puppy chow each time. Once we got home, we decided four times was too much trouble and that we'd do only three feedings a day: morning, noon, and night. So we did that. Then, after two weeks, I realized that feeding Tasha just before bedtime meant, well, that she'd need to "go" during the night. So we have just stopped the evening meal. Tasha now gets a good breakfast, and a good lunch. Then just a treat or two before bedtime. So far, so good. No more morning surprises in the loft? Hope springs eternal.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Leafus interruptus

The first half of April was unusually warm and dry, and the trees and grape vines started to bloom and leaf out. Then the freeze hit. The greening of the vineyard was abruptly interrupted. It's starting to recover now, but the impact that the freeze will have on this year's harvest will likely be significant.

This photo is from last week. The vines look a little greener now, but not much.

The late April freeze was promptly followed by a couple weeks of chilly and wet weather which, unfortunately, coincided with Tasha's arrival. Being cooped up indoors with an active puppy and having to take her outside in the cold rain is not particularly fun (two reasons for not getting a puppy as winter begins). There have been some nice days, and we enjoy them because we can be outdoors with the dogs. Wednesday was beautiful and we got some outdoor work done (garden tilling, mowing, etc.).

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The piney woods

Callie and I haven't ventured into the piney woods in quite a while. It's really neat in there, but getting in is not easy. The edges of the woods are thick with small trees, bushes, and brambles. It's easier to get in and out on the far end, but a clear path through is not easy to find. We'll have to give it another try one day soon.

The piney woods, just beyond a small parcel of sauvignon blanc.

I woke up at five this morning when the garbage truck came by. Tasha was active, so I got up, dressed, and took her out. Pee but no poop. We came back in and I fed her, then took her out again. Nothing. I dealt with the cat and played with Tasha a little, then took her outside again. Still nothing. As it turns out, she had done a nice poop up in the loft before I had even got out of bed. Baby steps...

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Tasha Tuesday

With Callie. I think I'll try to post one photo of Tasha each week for a while and see how that goes. When Callie was a pup, I did "Puppy Pic of the Week." That evolved into "Periodic Puppy Pics," the fact that they weren't particularly periodic notwithstanding.

Nous sommes deux sœurs jumelles, nées sous le signe des gémeaux. Not!

Both dogs were outside just before I cut the grass on Friday afternoon. I wanted them to sit together, but they would not have it. Until after I put the camera away, of course.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Through the woods

This is the Artsy Organized Neighbor's "road to nowhere." It connects to the vineyard road on the far end, but stops abruptly at the edge of a ravine (behind where I'm standing). It's part of one of Callie's favorite walks through the woods.

The meticulously maintained road to nowhere.

The French presidential race is finally over, as you more than likely know by now. I'm glad that the extreme-right candidate lost. It will be interesting to see how Macron's cabinet shapes up and what will happen in the National Assembly. The new president doesn't belong to any established political party and therefore has no seats, let alone a majority, in the assembly. Parliamentary elections are coming up next month. Like I said, it will be interesting.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Deer repellent?

The other day, these mysterious hanging pots appeared in one of the vineyard parcels out back. The little pots are small, just a few inches tall, and they hang from the guide wires in every other row. They only hang at the edge of the vineyard parcel closest to the woods. My theory is that they contain some kind of chemical substance that is intended to keep deer out of the vines.

The little pink pots have no effect on dogs, it appears.

The growers around us employ several strategies to keep deer from munching on new leaves and grape flowers. Some of them string up red and white tape where deer paths exit the woods. I guess that the tape acts as a sort of visual barrier, especially when it flaps in the breeze, that frightens the deer. Other growers electrify fences along certain sections of the woods to keep the deer from crossing. One grower out back has a speaker that emits wild animal sounds to scare the deer away from a recently planted parcel. Now we see these pots. I wonder how effective each of these methods is?

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Persian speedwells

These little blue flowers grow close to the ground. They're blooming fantastically right now all through our lawn. I cut the grass on Friday, so a lot of the blooms are gone, cut away, but before I mowed, I took a couple of photos. The flowers will more than likely come back soon. They're called véroniques (veronicas) in French, and the British call them speedwells.

Our "lawn" is less grass and more little green plants, including these veronicas.

It started raining at some point in the night and it's expected to rain most of the day. Ugh. I have to decide if I'm going to brave the outdoor market this morning for strawberries.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Is that all there is?

Tasha just finished her lunch. She looked at me like Oliver Twist might have. Please, sir, may I have some more? That may not be the exact quote, but it's close enough. Lest you think me mean, she gets plenty. If you know dogs, you know they always want more.

No more kibble. Just boring water.

I finally did the thinning and replanting of tomato plants. It will be a few weeks before they go out into the garden. Tasha helped me by being underfoot in the greenhouse the whole time. I enjoyed it.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Callie time

Callie still gets her two walks a day, alone with one of us. Tasha is too small to do the kind of walks we do with Callie, at least for now. And that's a good thing, at least for now. The daily walks are important and are a part of Callie's routine that she doesn't have to share with the new puppy. At least for now.

A morning walk under threatening skies. Callie (on the left) waits for me to take the picture.

We had rain off and on for most of the day on Wednesday. We were lucky on our walk to be in a lull. I usually don't take the camera out if it's going to rain, but I needed some new photos!

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Wavy

Things are going along. We have our ups and downs, although the downs are few and not very serious. Tasha has been with us now for a week and she's learning very quickly how the house runs. We're establishing patterns for her; dogs love routine and predictable patterns. I think she's beginning to realize that after the night's sleep, we go outside for "business," so she waits. She made her first attempt at going down the stairs on Tuesday (she mastered going up the stairs a few days ago), but she's still too little to manage it safely. That will change.

Part of the Artsy Organized Neighbor's collection.

Meal times and play times and nap times are getting settled. Ken and I have our learning to do, too. I'm getting better at recognizing when she has to go out during the day. She and Callie are learning to play, or at least hang out, together. Tasha gets along fine with Bert, and they spend time in the house together in the mornings. Now it's a matter of reinforcing patterns. We did this ten years ago with Callie, but we didn't have another dog or a cat to help occupy the puppy and absorb some of its energy. Then, it was all on me and Ken. Now, Callie is a welcome help!

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Stormy weather

A series of weather systems, what they call perturbations in France, is bringing us alternating wind, rain, and some periods of sun. Monday turned out nice after Sunday's afternoon rain event, but the northerly wind made it feel cold. We had rain most of the night last night, but it seems to be done now.*

Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky...

I woke up just before 05h00 and noticed that Tasha was not asleep but moving about. That could only mean one thing: poopies. So I got up, got dressed, and got her down to the back yard. Fortunately, the rain had stopped, so there I stood in the dark (except for the light in the greenhouse) waiting for Tasha to find a spot. After about five long minutes she finally did her business. And there were no little "accidents" upstairs. Good dog!

* It's not. It started raining again.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Tasha and Bert

They were just outside together. Then I brought Tasha back into the house. She stayed by the door watching Bert, so I got the camera. I'm sorry for the state of the windows, but I haven't done the spring cleaning yet. Still, I think it's a nice shot.

Bert wonders why the newcomer can be in the house but he can't. Poor kitty-kat.

The rain and wind came as predicted on Sunday afternoon. We've been inside, playing with socks and ropes and bones and balls. Tasha's not fazed.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Holy spider's web, Batman!

I thought this was a curious sight. I've seen webs with funnels that guide prey down in toward the waiting spider, but this one has a huge hole in the middle. I don't know if it's by design or by accident, but it looked quite unusual to me.

Can you see the dandelion seed caught on the web just to the right of the hole?

Saturday was a nice day, weather wise. I went to the market in the morning for some asparagus (the price is coming down now) and strawberries. I made some short biscuits and we had strawberry shortcake and cream for dessert. I also picked up some coques (cockles) at the fish monger's so we can have linguini with white clam sauce for lunch today.

The dogs and I spent a good part of the afternoon out in the sun, which was therapeutic after having got up at 5:30 to take Tasha out. Today we won't be so lucky. A storm system is expected to move through during the middle part of the day with a good amount of rain.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

It's freakin' cold

April came in like a lamb, but it's going out like an iceberg. Yuck. Going for the morning walk with Callie is not pleasant. Coat, scarf, knit cap, gloves. And taking Tasha out to do her "business" at 6 a.m. is even less pleasant. It warms up some in the afternoon, making things a little more manageable. I tried to take a photo of the two dogs together outside yesterday, but Callie ran from the camera and Tasha just rolled around in the grass.

Tasha plays with me in the living room. In this shot she's NOT biting my fingers.

On Friday afternoon Callie and Tasha and I spent some good time playing outside. Callie is still trying to figure out who this new animal is, but Tasha just runs and jumps and rolls and has a good time. I left the two of them outside alone together for about fifteen minutes and they were good (I watched from a window). Then Tasha came bounding back in the house and collapsed for a nap. I like that. With better weather, we'll be able to spend more time outside and less time trying to play indoors.

And, as a bonus, Tasha learned to climb the stairs in one day! She can go up, but she hasn't yet learned how to climb down. That'll come as she gets bigger.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Let sleeping dogs lie

Here's Tasha on her downstairs bed, under the coffee table, with her toys. There's an old sock, a little rope, a red plastic donut, an old nylabone, and a gummi-bone (most are left over from Callie's puppy days). We had just fed her and taken her outside for a romp. Back in the house, she decided to take a nap. For which we are grateful. She's getting used to the collar now, too.

Tasha taking a nap on her little bed.

I promise (as I did ten years ago) that this will not become an all-dog blog. Still, this is what's occupying us right now; it's the current reality of our life in France. The weather is not cooperating, but we're making the best of it. It's really quite chilly outside, but they're predicting better temperatures next week. Always next week.

I've been taking Callie and Tasha outside, mostly so that Tasha can do her business, but I'm noticing that the two of them are starting to play. Callie is cautious, but Tasha is bold. She charges Callie, but then when Callie asserts herself, Tasha rolls over on her back in submission. Callie is less apprehensive and starting to enjoy the play. It won't be long, I think, until they're fast friends. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Dog days

We're now in full puppyhood mode. Tasha goes from bouncing around the room to quietly napping about every fifteen minutes. I'm exaggerating, of course. She is a tiny bundle of energy, but she wears herself out more quickly than Callie used to. She knows where her bed is. I'm planning on getting a second one so that she has a bed both upstairs and downstairs (right now we're moving her bed upstairs for night time and down for the day). She slept through the night again last night. And so did we.

What wildflowers were these? I have no idea.

Callie is doing fine. She's starting to set boundaries, slowly. Otherwise, she seems unfazed. We're trying to maintain her routine so she doesn't feel neglected (as if). Tasha and Bert have met several times and there's no friction. The cat is, for now, a lot bigger than the pup, but he doesn't mind her. And Tasha is curious about the cat, but hasn't made any aggressive moves toward him.

After feeding, and whenever Tasha starts nosing around the room sniffing the floor, I take her outside for "poopies." She does pretty well. So far we've had a couple of little puddles on the floor, but no poops inside the house. She gets lots of praise when she does it outside. And that's our Puppy Update for the day!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tasha's first day

Wow! All of a sudden, she's here. We arrived at the breeder's a little early, anxious dads that we are. We saw all the dogs, and Tasha, of course. She took to us both right away with kisses and playfulness. Then we sat down and signed papers, and the breeder gave us a bunch of information about the dog, grooming, health care, shots, etc. She also gave us a small sack of puppy chow and a little bowl. Most of the time Tasha was on the table, sniffing and licking our fingers and letting us pet her. Then it was time to head off.

She's such a tiny little thing, but it's hard to visualize until you see her next to Callie. That photo will come soon enough, I'm sure.

Tasha was perfect in the car. She sat in Ken's lap the whole way, and slept most of the time. Once at home, she met Callie. It went smoothly; a little awkward, but no aggression. After a while we separated the dogs so Tasha could have some kibble. She was mighty hungry. Next, it was our turn to eat lunch. Callie jumped up on her bed in the other room and Tasha curled up on her new bed next to the dining room table. Naps ensued. It was amazing.

We still have the afternoon and evening to get through as I type this (Tuesday afternoon). I took the dogs out for a bathroom break and I think Tasha peed, but so far nothing more. And later, it will be our first overnight. But, so far, so good!

MORNING UPDATE: Tasha slept on her little bed all night, once Callie got up onto her own sleeping spot. Big sister is setting the example. And, she pooped outdoors this morning! Good dog(s)!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Here we go

This morning we pick up Tasha, our new Shetland pup, and bring her home. We're not sure what to expect with Callie, but we've been given some advice from our vet and some friends. I'm hopeful that our mild anxiety will have been for nothing, and that the two dogs will work out their relationship smoothly. I just wish today's predicted rain would fizzle out.

Watching and waiting.

There has been an uptick in activity in the vineyards. I don't know what they're doing out there, but I've seen workers coming and going, walking the rows, and tractors here and there. There's still quite a lot of green leaves sprouting in spite of the freeze damage, but I don't know what that means, especially for vines on which the first grape flower blossoms froze. Will there be more? I can only wait and watch.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Asperges et jambon en croûte

So, on Friday I made asparagus spears wrapped in ham and puff pastry for lunch. It worked out pretty well, if I do say so myself. I had peeled and steamed the white asparagus a day or two before. I wrapped three or four spears inside a slice of ham, but not before adding some grated Swiss-style cheese. I had four of these "rolls." Then, I cut a store-bought puff pastry crust into four pieces and wrapped each one around a ham and asparagus roll. Into a hot oven they went for about fifteen to twenty minutes.

Melted cheese is oozing out of my "spears in a blanket."

The result was delicious, if not beautiful. Next time I will try to make the pastry a little less boring looking by adding some kind of pattern with a knife, or even by using pastry strips rather than a uniform sheet. It won't change the taste, but it might look a little more appetizing.

The recipe is just a riff off the asparagus and ham tart I often make this time of year, but without the egg custard. I got that recipe from a television cooking show several years ago. The original recipe made individual appetizer-sized tarts and used jambon de Bayonne (a kind of prosciutto-style cured ham). I morphed that into a larger tart with standard cooked ham in place of the cured stuff.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Deck days

I'm looking forward to spending summer days out on the deck. We've already had many nice days and I've taken advantage of them to spend an hour or so sitting out there. Bertie likes to come up and sit in my lap on those days.

The deck tiles are clean and we're ready for summer!

We're gearing up for the new puppy's arrival on Tuesday. Well, she doesn't "arrive." We have to go and get her. It will be interesting. So far, the weather is not predicted to be great.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Grillée

Grilled. Fried. Or, in this case, frozen to a crisp. Thursday's frost and freeze was a lot more serious than I first thought. In our area the vineyard damage is pretty extensive. With my untrained eye, I can see that a lot of new leaves and tiny flower buds have been frozen. I think that the growers are still assessing the damage, but the local newspaper mentioned that many of the vineyards in the towns around us were affected.

Just outside our back gate: new vine growth damaged by frost.

The only damage I saw on our own property is on the fig tree. All the leaves froze. I'm hopeful that new leaves will sprout, but we'll have to wait and see what happens. The apple blossoms took some damage, too. Again, we'll have to wait to see how much fruit forms. Unlike the grape growers, we don't rely on a good crop for our livelihood.

A branch of our fig tree. The once broad and bright green leaves have been shriveled by frost.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Asperges blanches

We're in the height of asparagus season, and white asparagus is a crop that's a specialty of our region. For the last ten years or so, we've been getting our asparagus from one particular grower at the Saint-Aignan Saturday market. He also grows and sells strawberries and makes honey. I get the impression talking to him that he's basically retired, but continues to work the market on behalf of his son, who now runs the business.

Freshly steamed violet asparagus. Steaming turns much of the violet part green, but the rest stays white.

White asparagus is the same plant as green asparagus. The difference is that the spears are continuously covered in dirt as they grow so that they don't get any sunlight. That keeps them from turning green. And white spears need to be peeled before cooking. Often, the spears' tips are allowed a little light to turn them slightly purple, resulting in what's called les violettes, or "violet" asparagus.

I bought a kilo of violet spears on Saturday and steamed them. We ate half of them with some smoked trout and a lemon-caper dressing on Wednesday. Today, I'm going to try something new: I'll wrap a few pre-cooked spears in a slice of ham, then wrap that bundle into puff pastry and bake it. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Smudge pots

A frost/light freeze was predicted for this morning. As we woke up, Ken noticed flames out in the vineyard. He quickly realized that the flames were from smudge pots. He saw the grower working out there last evening, but he wasn't very close and didn't see exactly what he was doing. I think this is first time we've seen smudge pots lit in the vineyard parcels behind our house.

Burning smudge pots just outside our back gate at around 6:45 this morning.

I got up at 06h30 and thought I should go out there with the camera. So I pulled on my jeans and Callie and I ventured out to see what we could see. The pots were arrayed in the lowest part of the vineyard. I assume that's where the coldest air would settle. There was no one around; I figured the grower was off to another parcel to light pots there. The vines are leafing out now and there are flower buds, so I hope the pots helped to prevent any frost damage.

Smudge pots in the lower end of the parcel that sits to the north of our house, looking east toward the sunrise.

So I snapped a few photos in the early light. Callie was excited to be out so early; she'll get her regular walk at the normal time. There was no wind, as you can see from the rising smoke, and it didn't feel all that cold. The thermometer at the house, which normally reads warmer than it would out in the vineyard, read 2.3ºC (about 36ºF), and inside the greenhouse it was a balmy 9.1ºC (about 48ºF).

Smoke rising from the burning pots.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Asparagus

Out in the vineyard, among the grape vines, we see a lot of asparagus. It's not wild asparagus -- I'm pretty sure it's the standard asparagus we find in the markets. But it has escaped from the fields where it is normally grown. It only grows successfully in line with the grape trunks and not in between the rows of vines. That's because the growers constantly mow, plow, or spray herbicides in the rows and not much has a chance to survive there.

A single stalk of asparagus in the vineyard, already starting to go to seed.

The asparagus is green because it grows up into the sunlight. Our local farm-cultivated spears are kept buried so they stay white. In the past there has been so much rogue asparagus in the vineyard that I've been able to pick enough for a meal during my walks with the dog. I haven't done that in a long time now. It goes to seed very quickly and if you don't find it early, you've missed it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Iris

The irises in our yard are blooming. They are all irises that were here when we bought the house. Some have been dug up, divided, and relocated. Well, sort of. We find that after digging up irises, we tend to pile them up somewhere and forget about them. Then they just adapt and, voilà, we have a new iris patch.

All the irises in our yard are this blue color because they came from the same original bed all those years ago.

The long Easter weekend is over and the neighbors who spent a week or so in their vacation houses have packed up and gone home. We'll see fewer people walking and biking through the vineyard, and the vine work will resume. Right now the workers are fastening canes to guide wires and replacing worn out posts. And the leaves are growing fast.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sprouts

They may not look like much yet, but I'm always excited when the seeds I plant actually sprout. Not all of them do, of course, but that's why I plant more than I need. At some point, these will be thinned or transplanted so that there is only one in each pot. They won't go into the ground until after mid-May.

Most of these are tomatoes, some of the chili peppers are visible on the upper right.

I planted six varieties of tomato. The romas are taking the longest to sprout, but they're starting to show up now. There are four varieties of chili peppers and all of them have sprouted. I have four zucchinis so far (but I'll only save three for the garden) and the eggplant seeds are just starting to sprout. Soon I'll plant annual herb seeds: basil, coriander (cilantro), and chervil. We're already harvesting chives, parsley, and tarragon.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Mossy

If moss can be impressive, I think this bunch is. Maybe it's just the contrast of the moss's green against the brown of the dead leaves.

Moss in the springtime woods.

I got the grass cut again on Friday and it helps to make the yard look neat and tidy. I'm still working on pruning and cleaning up from winter, but it's getting done. We've started taking plants out of the greenhouse. I brought the geraniums up to the deck along with pots of chives, parsley, and tarragon. It's easier to snip herbs from the deck than to go down into the greenhouse to get them. And the vegetable seedlings are coming along, although they will be in the greenhouse for at least another month.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Vintage

The owner of the winery that I visited a couple of weeks ago collects vintage trucks. I don't know how many he has, or even if they're all his, but several of them are parked around the winery property, and at least a few of them are in working order, like this one.

I wonder if those barrels are decorative or actually filled with wine?

There's another that's a old van emblazoned with the winery's name. I've seen it at the winery and on the road around town a time or two. The tasting event I went to was held in the building on the right in the photo below. Across the street, on the left, are the caves where that big group of cyclists was taken. If you look very closely, you might see the row of tables on the sidewalk outside the cave, just behind the aqua-colored Renault. Down the middle of each table is a line of empty wine glasses. I don't know if the glasses were for the cyclists or if that was the set-up for the day's lunch event. I didn't stick around to find out.

The ends of old wine casks adorn the wall outside the winery caves.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Wisteria

It's called glycine [glee-SEEN] in French. I planted this one on the western wall of the house back in 2006. Now, eleven years later, it's in need of a good pruning. I plan to do that this year once the flowers stop blooming. There are too many crossed and/or straggling branches, and it's getting a little too heavy for its support wire (and that's something I may have to reinforce).

The wisteria blooms are still opening up.

I've already cut all the runners at ground level, something I have to do once or twice a year. Wisteria will take over and can do damage to walls, so it's best to keep on top of it. This one is still a young plant and its stems are not all that thick. I wonder what it will look like in another eleven years?

You can see that the branches need some pruning.

Here's a link to a photo I took of the plant in 2010, when it was four years old and just starting to climb. I wasn't able to find a photo from the year I planted it. Still, what a difference seven years makes!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Lilacs

This year is a flowering year for our biennial lilac bush and it's pretty much at its peak right now. In the off years, there might be a few flowers, but in the flowering years the bush is covered with purple blooms. I bought the bush from a garden center many years ago without realizing it was a biennial bloomer. I also didn't realize how deep purple the flowers would be. Most of the lilacs around us are either white or a more pale purple than this one.

Close-ups work better than long shots for this lilac bush.

The lilac is hard to photograph, especially when it's bright and sunny outside. Photos of the flowers come out very contrasted and the purple color is so intense that it doesn't look right in pictures. I've adjusted this shot a little to make it look closer to reality. The wisteria is also in bloom, but I haven't got a good photo of it yet.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Seasonal

Our temperatures have become more "seasonal," meaning that the warm spell has ended. The mornings are chilly and the afternoons, while pleasant, feel more like April than June (as you'd expect). There's still a lot to do outdoors and it's slowly getting done. On Tuesday I pulled out a lot of saxifrage from an overgrown bed next to one of the garden paths.

A spring day out among the vines.

Seedlings are sprouting in the greenhouse. The chilly mornings mean it's cooler in there than is probably good for sprouting, but the warm afternoons help things along. So far there are lots of little tomato sprouts, except for the roma tomatoes. Those seeds are old, so they may not come up at all. The first zucchini has sprouted, too. When it gets a little warmer, I'll start planting herb seeds like basil and coriander.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Meet Tasha

Her full name is Natasha, but I'm going to call her Tasha for short. We had to select an official name that started with the letter "N" due to France's rules for dog registry; she was born in 2017 which is an "N" year. The breeder sent us this photo yesterday. We bring her home two weeks from today.

Tasha is about seven weeks old now.

Are we ready? I'm not sure. I need to get some puppy chow the next time I go to the store. I have a collar and a harness, but don't yet have a bed for her. We'll have to see how the sleeping arrangements work themselves out. I don't know if the two dogs will want to sleep together or separately. Callie has two primary sleeping spots in the house, depending on whether it's warm or cool or other factors only she knows. It will be interesting!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Dewdrops on petals

And bright copper kettles. Or something like that. I don't know what these wildflowers are called, but they grow on the roadside next to a drainage ditch. They must like damp soil. On this particular morning, dew had collected on the petals. They almost look like little eggs, but I know they're not.

These flowers are quite small. I used one of the magnifying filters for this shot.

Sunday was a nice warm day. I got a little outdoor work done, but nothing strenuous. Next up are two more flower beds that need to be cleaned up, and the grass will need cutting again later in the week. Our daffodils and hyacinths are done blooming. The forsythia is long done and is now green with leaves. More and more of the big trees are getting their leaves now. Lots of green everywhere!