Wednesday, February 29, 2012
And the nights are brilliant, too. When it's clear (and cold this time of year), the stars are amazing. Looking in this direction (roughly west) right now from our windows in the evening we can see the waxing crescent moon accompanied by Venus and Jupiter. Later in the night (I'm often up wandering around at some point in the middle of the night), I can see the constellation Orion big and bright in the same direction.
I'm looking forward to summer when I can be outside after dark looking at the stars. If I can stay awake that long; the stars aren't visible until ten o'clock or later in the summer.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Maybe it could be some sort of scientific experiment? And what does that strip of torn cloth so carefully tied around the bottle and the post signify? As we used to say in high school: it must have some deep, inner meaning.
Monday, February 27, 2012
And it's just four weeks away that we turn the clocks ahead. We gain more daylight each day. It's a good time of year.
Sunday, February 26, 2012
It's still February and it can still freeze. March usually brings rain squalls as warm and cold air masses do battle over our heads. The squalls are often in the form of rain, but they can just as easily come as sleet or snow. In France these squalls are called les giboulées de mars and correspond roughly to what we Americans call April showers.
"If March winds bring April showers, and April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?"
If you're American, you should know the answer.
Saturday, February 25, 2012
The ravine is wooded and the big storms we've had over the past two years have knocked a good number of trees down. This is one bunch of trees that were blown over, but they're not all the way down. Yet. One day I'm certain that they'll come down. If not by themselves, then someone with a chainsaw will go at them.
I don't know who owns the woods. They could be private or they could belong to the town. Either way, the path is a public right-of-way, so I know we're not trespassing.
Friday, February 24, 2012
But once in a while we venture out to one of the larger hyper-markets in our region. That means a forty minute drive to either Tours (west), Blois (north), Romo (east), or Loches (south). On Thursday we drove down to Loches to the big E. Leclerc store there because they were having a sale on some stuff we wanted (some meats for the freezer, some cleaning products, a windshield wiper for the car's back window, etc.). The bigger stores have more room and therefore have more variety and choices that we don't have in our smaller stores locally, especially in the produce section.
It's a nice drive through the countryside, although on Thursday it was overcast and drizzly. No matter. The store had pretty much everything on our list, so we were happy. And it was nice to get out of the routine for a bit.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
This morning's low is well above freezing. But over the past few days we've had frosty mornings with frozen puddles out in the vineyard. The puddles melt with the sunshine and re-freeze over night.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
I don't have a better portrait ready, so this one will have to do. Here she is waiting for me to catch up with her as we climbed the hill back up to the house on Sunday. You can see pictures of Callie over the past five years in the little slide show to the right (you may have to scroll down a little). Which reminds me, I have to add some photos to that...
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
I'm itching to get outside and start working on the spring cleanup, but it's still a little too chilly and a little too early. March (which starts next week!) and April will be the time to get started. First up: pruning roses and grape vines.
Monday, February 20, 2012
Unfortunately, they sound horrible. I will admit to having dragged downed trees across paths to discourage them. Yes, I've become an old fart.
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Then I rolled out my scraps of puff pastry from January (after I thawed them) and cut out small circles of dough. I spooned some of the compote on each circle, closed them over the filling and painted them with egg wash. Into the oven and about twenty minutes later, voilà!
Saturday, February 18, 2012
This is the view north from our front deck. Clouds are moving in from the northwest while the sun shines on the trees from the south. This patch of woods separates us from the vineyard to the north. We can see through it in winter, but in summer it's a wall of green. And I like that.
Friday, February 17, 2012
We have two maple trees on our property. And not a few helicopters. These I saw down by the river, just hanging around. I think the ones in our yard fall in early summer. Yet here it was the middle of winter, and these were still on the tree.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
The woods and the vineyards have reclaimed their winter browns. The grass is still green. The roofs in our neighborhood have shed their white mantles, revealing their more somber colors. The looked-for winter kill has come and gone. The insect and rodent populations have (we hope) died back to normal proportions.
In fact, just yesterday I noticed evidence of Bertie's having caught a mouse, which he hadn't done since the big freeze began.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
The Great Snowy Mole Mountain Range is now just piles of dirt in the lawn. Which reminds me of all the work that's coming up in the garden. Once they thaw, I will have to remove all those hills. The dirt will likely end up in the vegetable garden. The roses need pruning, and, as it warms up, I've got some larger trees to trim. I want to get the mistletoe out of the big apple tree, so I'll be cutting out some large limbs. And fewer limbs equals fewer apples to pick up in the fall.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
The muffins are easy to make and they pop right out of these hot purple silicon molds. There's no need to butter or otherwise grease the molds. And they clean up in a snap.
One of the best things about the muffins is that they're great finger food. No fuss, no slicing, just pop 'em in your mouth! We ate these cooled the first day, then had them again on Monday warmed up in the toaster oven.
***** UPDATE: Here's the recipe for those of you who read French:
Cake salé, courgette et chèvre
180 g de farine
1 sachet de levure chimique
10 cl de lait
5 cl d'huile d'olive
100 g de chèvre
200 g de courgettes
20 g de parmesan
1 cuillère à soupe de moutarde
1 bonne grosse cuillère à soupe d'herbes fraiches(basilic, coriandre, menthe...)
Couper les courgettes en petit dés. Les salés un peu pour leur faire perdre leur eau et le mettre sur un papier absorbant. Couper le chèvre en dés.
Mélanger les oeufs, la farine, la levure et le parmesan. Ajouter le lait, l'huile et la moutarde et bien mélanger. Ajouter finalement les courgettes, le chèvre et le herbes et mélanger à nouveau.
Verser la préparation dans un moule à cake beurré et fariné. Et mettre dans le four préchauffé à 180°C pendant environ 45min.
Astuces : Le cake est encore meilleur le lendemain. Il se conserve plusieurs jours au frigo. Vous pouvez aussi le couper en tranches et le congeler.
Vous pouvez le faire cuire dans des petits moules à cake ou dans des petits moules rond style mini muffins. Dans ce cas il faudra un peu réduire là cuisson.
Monday, February 13, 2012
Bertie has become accustomed to coming into the house in the mornings and the afternoons since the cold spell began two weeks ago. He will spend the warmest part of the day outside and we make him spend the night in the garage (only because the dog will try to eat him if he's in the house overnight). For the time he spends in the house, we block Callie up in the loft. She's content to snooze while Ken watches tv up there. Bertie hangs out by a radiator or the wood stove when he's inside.
When it's not so cold, Bertie is free to go outside during the night. But since the Siberian air arrived, we've been closing him inside to keep his sleeping area as warm as possible. So his outside time is limited to the sunny middle of the day. It will be interesting to see how his behavior evolves as it warms up again.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
And I don't blame them. But they'll be back this week as the temperatures rise, I'm sure. There is still a lot of pruning to do. It will also be time for me to get out back and prune back our roses and the few grape vines we have in the yard. The roses had actually started to sprout leaves before the cold came.
Saturday, February 11, 2012
In addition to the great tits, we also see blue tits and crested tits, rouge gorges (European robins), pinsons (chaffinches), and merles (blackbirds) feeding on the deck and at the other feeders. Just the other day a great spotted woodpecker made a brief appearance on the deck. We see them all the time in the trees but rarely on the deck.
Also, since it's been so cold, there is the odd casualty or two. I found a dead grive musicienne (song thrush) out on the back path last week. It has since disappeared, likely picked up and carted off by a hungry animal.
Friday, February 10, 2012
I have seen a lot of stories on the news these past nights about people all over the country who live on the margins. People who sleep out there in tents or live in their cars. People with children who huddle in their apartments because they can't afford the heating bill. The shelters are open and volunteers work with the police to look for people who are in danger of exposure and try to get them to a shelter. They take blankets, food, and hot drinks to the people on the streets who refuse to go to a shelter. They try to find people living in sub-standard housing to offer help. And then, I think, what happens after the cold? It's back to living on the margins for most, I suspect.
When I see these stories on the news, my toes don't feel so cold after all.
Thursday, February 09, 2012
The warm and wet Atlantic weather systems are blocked by the icy air. When one actually manages to push inland, the combination of the humid air from the west and the cold air from the east creates snow. And that's what's been happening this past week. The battle of the air masses!
The top story on the nightly news for a over a week now has been the weather. Cold and snow, traffic problems and school closings, and the homeless and hungry. The nuclear plants are running à plein régime (full steam, as it were) to keep up with the power demands; a lot of French households are heated by electricity. France's electricity prices are among the lowest in Europe because over 80% of it is produced by local nuclear plants.
Two regions, Brittany and Provence/Riviera, are on high alert because their power distribution networks were not built to handle such high demand. It's not normally this cold in those places.
After a few more days, we should be moving back into more seasonable temperatures. For us, that's days hovering around freezing (0ºC) and usually higher than that. Anything above freezing right now will feel downright balmy!
Wednesday, February 08, 2012
When I told Ken what I was doing (I think he was on a trip to North Carolina at the time), he decided to buy a couple of pairs of thermal underwear for our winter walks. They are great and we use them every year (we now have two pairs each). Whenever the outside temperature goes below 5ºC (about 40ºF), I put on the long johns for my walk and I'm very comfortable.
This week, with temperatures dipping to -10ºC, it's hard to imagine not having the long johns at all. And the two shirts, sweatshirt, coat, scarf, hat, and thick gloves. Not to mention the hiking boots. Brrrrr.
* The title of this post translates to "Cold, me? Never!" and was/is the advertising tag line for a famous line of French thermal underwear. I remember seeing their ads all over the Paris subway back in 1981.
Tuesday, February 07, 2012
Trudging through even a few inches of freshly fallen snow is more work than a leisurely walk. Still, it's good for me. Callie and I went out to the end of the vineyard road (the road in this picture) and back. When we got out to the end on Monday afternoon, a tractor with a plow passed us on the way to clear our road. He didn't plow the dirt road, but I was able to walk in his tire tracks back to the house.
After the road got plowed, another tractor came by with a sand spreader and gave the road a good coating of sand.
Monday, February 06, 2012
So the Super Bowl happened, but I don't yet know the result. It's on live here but overnight (started at midnight on Sunday) and, as many of you know, the games are re-broadcast the next day. The re-broadcast is on this morning at ten, so I'll be watching then. In the meantime, as usual, I've gone into media blackout so that I won't know who won before I watch.
***** UPDATE: Media blackout is over. I enjoyed the game!
Sunday, February 05, 2012
The weather people predicted some snow for us on Sunday. As usual, the prediction several days ago was for a good amount of snow, but as the day got closer they ratcheted that down. The main thing is that the ground is frozen now when it wasn't for the last snow. Whatever we get will stick immediately.
We're experiencing a cold, dry northeasterly wind that they call la bise. Sounds like a kiss on the cheek!
*** UPDATE: The snow started falling early this morning. We have a light layer of snow just before sunrise and it's expected to continue through mid-day. We will stay snug in the house today (except for snowy walks with Callie).
And speaking of Callie, she is doing great. Her medicine turned things around incredibly quickly and she's back to her old self again. The coughing and drooling all but stopped within 18 hours! Thanks to everyone for your kind words and well-wishes.
Saturday, February 04, 2012
We took Callie to vet on Friday. She's been coughing recently, a dry, hacking cough. And she's been drooling (yuck). Her eating habits have also changed slightly, so we knew something was up. My first thought was that it was kennel cough. But Callie doesn't interact with many dogs, just a few every now and then in the vineyard. Maybe one of them passed on a viral or bacterial infection?
The vet examined Callie and everything seems to be ok. She's running a slight fever. The vet said it looks like she ate something that irritated her throat; she saw some inflammation in the throat and Callie coughed when the vet massaged her throat from the outside. When we told the vet that Callie didn't finish her kibble in the morning, she said it was likely that her throat hurts when she swallows the hard kibble. Which is why she has no trouble eating soft meat or cheese.
Or it could be some kind of virus. Either way, there are no serious symptoms other than her coughing and drooling. So we got some cortisone pills for the throat inflammation and pain and some antibiotics to prevent any infections (or to stop any current infection). Callie should be back to normal in about six days time. We'll keep our fingers crossed.
Friday, February 03, 2012
The problem with the original is that the colors are not quite right. There's probably an adjustment on the camera that I can make to correct that, so I'll do a little research (it might have to do with the light metering mode). For this picture, I used Photoshop to see if I could make the colors match the reality a little better. After some fiddling around I think I got it. That's what you see in the top photo.
The second photo is the black and white version. Again, I used Photoshop to remove the color and then adjusted the contrast a bit. I notice the details on the tree trunks a lot more in the b/w version than I do in the color one. And just for fun, here's the raw image that came out of the camera:
See what I mean? Well, you might not since you weren't there when I took the picture, but you can certainly see the difference between the original on the bottom and the retouched photo on the top.
Thursday, February 02, 2012
But you never know. She did really well crossing the road last week, so maybe we'll try it again in the spring. There looks to be a nice dirt road along the opposite bank of the river, but that would definitely entail taking the car as we'd have to go into Saint-Aignan to cross the bridge. We should probably just stick to exploring our side for now.
Wednesday, February 01, 2012
The temperature hovered around freezing while it snowed in the afternoon and evening then dipped just slightly below freezing overnight. I noticed that the only the smaller puddles were actually frozen solid. The pond had no ice at all on it.
But the forecast is for us to have a cold snap as the week progresses.