Thursday, February 28, 2013

The end of February

The snow is mostly gone now. There remain just a few shadowy places where it holds on, but not for long. I'm looking forward to the warmer days that are predicted.

Looking toward the sun over the snowy grape vines.

The sun was already pretty high in the sky during our snow walk on Tuesday morning. The fog started to burn off in places and by mid-day the sky was clear. At that point the snow had already disappeared from the tree tops.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A snowy morning

Tuesday morning was white. We got about an inch of new snow. The temperature was just above freezing so the snow was wet and heavy. It clung to the tree branches but melted away on the road surface.

There's a big log pile back there. I wish it was mine!

This is the donkey pen out beyond the vines that grow outside our back gate. The donkeys were no where to be seen. Callie and I trudged through the thick snow, following the footprints of the wild hare and roe deer who had passed before us in the early hours.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

But the fire is so delightful

We're having a snow episode. I'm sure that's the technical term for it. It's been snowing for nearly two days now, but the accumulation is paltry. And that's probably a good thing. It's not really cold nor is it windy. During the day the temperature hangs just above freezing; at night it settles just below. No extremes here.

Ken's steps after returning from Callie's morning walk on Monday.

The snow we do have is of the sticky, let's-make-a-snowman variety (we didn't). I had it in mind to drive over to the castle in the banner photo above (about twenty minutes from here) and take its picture in the snow, but the air is thick with fog and flurries and I wouldn't have a clear shot.

We're hoping that this is the last gasp for old man winter. Temperatures are predicted to rise slowly but steadily over the next week.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A snow day

It snowed most of the day on Sunday, but just lightly and most of what fell didn't start sticking to the ground until after dark. This morning we have about an inch on the ground. But the forecast is for more snowfall during the day and into Tuesday morning, so we'll be watching out.

A little snow nestled inside a cup of oak leaves.

Of course, we don't need to go anywhere with the car today. The bread lady doesn't deliver on Mondays, so she won't have to deal with the slippery hill. We still have to take Callie out for her walks, but the snow doesn't bother her much.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Not much interesting here, but yesterday I was yet again experimenting with camera settings and took a series of photos of the ingredients for lunch. Ken roasted a slab of pork belly with root vegetables.

Red potatoes, turnips, and a rutabaga. There are carrots just outside the frame.

I was checking out the effects of white balance adjustments under the LED lights in the kitchen. Nothing earth-shattering to report, but I liked the way this photo turned out. Lunch was delicious, as usual. Don't forget to eat your vegetables!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

It's still winter out there

We're having some of the chilliest weather we've had so far this winter. According to my records (and you all know I have records), this is only the third episode of below freezing temperatures we've had. The first was a couple of days in December, then again for a short span in mid-January. And now.

Sunrise through the woods on a frosty-cold morning.

Today is supposed to be the coldest, but we're not yet down to -5ºC. That's not cold at all for some of you in the northern US, Canada, or Scandinavia (and I'm sure other places). But it's cold for those of us here in the temperate climes.

I've used up all the sawed wood I had for the season. I've got another pile of logs to saw for the rest of the winter, but when I started to cut them a couple of days ago, I had a problem with the chainsaw which kept conking out on me. So I took it into the shop and asked them to check it out.

They called yesterday morning to say it was ready. Ken went out to fetch it. The guy said it's working fine, but that the air filter was clogged. He also said the chain was really worn out (I had asked him to sharpen it up while he had it) and sold us a new one. He sharpened the old chain, but said we should just keep it as a backup. I know that chain was old and it's had plenty of hard use. I've had it sharpened every year since I've had the saw (I bought it used over three years ago).

Still, it's a good machine. The repair guy said the motor was in good shape. So I'm happy about that. Now, it's time to get those logs cut. It's supposed to stay cold for another week.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A six year old dog

Today is Callie's birthday. She's six years old (that's six in human years). My, how time flies. Or fleas. Or ticks (perish the thought).

Happy birthday, Callie!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Frosty mornings

The last few mornings have been cold. At or below freezing. The ground is still too warm to freeze completely, but the surface is crunchy nonetheless. A thin layer of ice covers all the puddles and water holes.

A fine frost on last year's flowers, or what remains of them.

Frost coats everything until the sun rises to melt it. The days have been warming up nicely becoming very pleasant, but that's about to end. We're entering a short (we hope) cold spell right now. Clear skies, no precipitation, but a north wind that's bringing more icy temperatures.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Encore une toile d'araignée

Another spider web. I got a little carried away with the webs. Part of the reason was that I was experimenting (again) with the camera. I'm still not totally satisfied with my images; I find them too grainy and not crisp enough. I just don't know if it's the lens or it's me. The lighting in most of my pictures seems right, but the images just aren't sharp enough.

A wide shot. The subject (plant and web) are in focus, but the detail seems grainy to me (f/9, 1/60 sec, ISO-160).

So I take a lot of photos of the same subject with a different settings, hoping that I'll hit on the magic combination. One benefit of doing that is that I'm getting more of a feel for manual photography, where I choose the aperture and shutter speed instead of letting the camera do it for me. I'm learning to like the control that gives me.

A closer shot. The subject is still in focus, but I think the details should be crisper (f/7, 1/60 sec, ISO-100).

For a while I thought the issue was that I needed a tripod for my shots in lower light conditions. And that's true in many cases, but not all. I still get the graininess in bright light photos when the aperture is smaller, the shutter is quicker, and the ISO is standard, which combined, should make for a sharp shot.

The two photos here were taken with a relatively slow shutter for hand-held shots. But I've taken similar shots with a tripod without getting a better result.

I think I'm going to have to break down and get myself another lens to see if that makes a difference. I'm thinking of a fixed 50mm lens of a higher quality than the kit zooms that I got with the camera.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Surfing the web

When it's foggy in the morning, the spiders' webs get covered in little droplets, just like everything else. This tiny web was built between the branches of a grape vine.

If you look closely, you can see the tiny water droplets.

As I was taking these photos, more and more water condensed on the webs weighing them down and they began to collapse all around me.

Monday, February 18, 2013


The mornings are still foggy and the low temperature is just above freezing when the day breaks. Little droplets of water coat everything, and as the morning warms up, more water vapor condenses on every surface.

Feathery beauty on the edges of the vineyard.

These wild clematis "feathers" are drooping under the weight of water droplets. They still look pretty, though.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A foggy morning

We were socked in on Saturday morning. Lots of ground fog. There was still a hint of sun in the morning. I thought that the fog might not have been very thick, so I took the camera out.

Fog in the vineyard.

Every now and then during the day it seemed as if the sun would burn through the fog. But then the fog would thicken. The sun finally broke through later in the day and it was very nice. This is what winter high pressure systems are like. The weather people keep telling us we'll see the sun, so we keep up hope.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The ties that bind

I saw this fallen branch out in the vineyard on a recent walk. It had vines (not grape vines) wound around it.

Some kind of vine wrapped around a tree branch.

The weather people are telling us that a high pressure system is building in. We will have a chance of more sun in the coming days. Boy, I hope so. Friday afternoon was nice enough. There were a lot of clouds, but they were interrupted with nice sunny spots. I could do with more of that.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Hee haw

Just the other day I walked past the donkey pen out in the vineyard and saw the donkey our neighbors keep. I hadn't seem him for a while. And now there are two. Ken had told me there were two over there but I'd not seen them both until now.

The donkey on the left kept a keen eye on Callie as we walked around the pen.

I hear the donkey(s) all the time. Their barn or shelter is across a stream on the other side of the woods, but the grazing meadow is on our side. Callie is afraid of the beasts, and rightly so because they can deliver a mean kick to a curious dog, and she steers pretty clear. Smart dog!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The cyclamen is up

There are two kinds of cyclamen around here. Some bloom in the fall, others in the spring. Our yard has patches of the spring-blooming variety, but none of the fall-blooming plants.

Cyclamen in the yard. The green leaves on the lower left are on a primrose plant.

I've also noticed that the primroses are starting to bloom. There aren't very many yet, but in a few weeks we should have a nice little carpet of color out on the north side of the house. I'm also reminded that I need to get out there and prune the roses and a few other plants before spring begins in earnest.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Not enough

The sun was out most of the day on Monday, but one day is not enough to dry out this soaked landscape. We're going to have to put up with muddy conditions for quite a while longer. Unless everything freezes, of course.

The sun begins to set and moves behind a large cloud in the western sky.

This shot is at the top of the vineyard road, the point where it's at its highest. On either side of this spot, the water moves downward. But here the puddles can't drain. They have to soak in (slowly because the underlying soil is clay) or evaporate.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Periodic puppy pics

It's time for another installment! Callie will be six years old this month. For her birthday, she's getting an appointment at the groomer's. It's ok if you tell her; she knows already.

Just snoozing in the den. Or trying to.

What you can't see is how tangled and matted the hair around her back end is. She'll also get the feathers (long hair) trimmed off the back of her legs.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Seen from outside

These are the piney woods I've been showing you recently. This shot is from the vineyard road looking toward the woods. You can see that it's not a forest, just a small stand of pines on the edge of the vineyard.

The piney woods.

I took this picture during one of the recent, and rare, breaks in this winter's overcast. I noticed yesterday that the daffodils and tulips are poking up now. If we're lucky, in another month it will feel like spring.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Gimme a break

A break in the clouds, that is. I can't complain. We have a bit of sun here and there. Mostly there and not so much here. It's nice when it happens because the light just brightens everything up.

Blue sky is always a welcome sight this time of year.

The light also shows how dusty things are in the house. Whenever we have a sunny morning I'm motivated to pull out the vacuum cleaner and the duster. Most of the dust this time of year is ash from the wood stove. I clean the stove out the morning after each fire and inevitably fine ash floats about and settles. On everything.

With that and the dog's hair... well.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

A little winter color

The predominant colors of winter in our area are brown and green, and sometimes white. But there are other colors here and there.

Red leaves on a wild rose on the margins of the winter vineyard.

We're expecting one of those messy "wintry mix" weather systems this weekend. Fortunately, we don't have to go out at all. If you're in the northeastern US or Canada, I hope you don't have to go out, either.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Rockin' robin

I got up this morning around seven-thirty. The sky was already lightening up and I could hear birds tweeting (as opposed to Tweeting) outside. Three weeks from today it will be March. And the equinox is not far behind that. I'm hopeful that the worst of winter's dark is behind us.

A couple of leaves hang on in the piney woods. There are not just pines in there.

Still, winter is not done with us, not yet. We don't have to worry about the kind of storm they're expecting in New England this weekend, but we can still expect to see wintry weather through the end of the month.

Thursday, February 07, 2013


We are expecting something unusual today: sunshine. At least during the morning hours. We had some sun yesterday, too. Wow! Two days in a row. It has certainly been gloomy of late. And wet. The rain seems constant. The puddles never drain or dry up.

Running water on and around the vineyard road. If you enlarge the picture, you might see how muddy the dog is.

Callie comes back from every walk covered in sand and mud from her flanks down to her toes. That, of course, necessitates a shower on our return before she's allowed back into the house. We have a routine and she willingly steps into the utility room shower stall for her "undercarriage wash." Then it's a buff dry with her special towels.

And she gets this "spa treatment" twice a day. When it's very cold out and everything's frozen, she doesn't need a bath. Likewise, when it's very hot and dry in the summer, no bath is necessary. But right now it's cold but not frozen, and wet, wet, wet. Lots of cold, damp fun.

Instead of saying "let's go for a walk," I now say, "let's go get the muddy paws."

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Of trees and pancakes

Here are some more of the sights in the piney woods. Some of the trees are leaning, probably due to heavy wind storms in recent years. Wherever I walk in the woods around here, I see dozens of trees down or seriously leaning. I've been walking under one of them for several years now.

Moss-covered trees, leaning this way and that.

Yesterday I made another batch of crêpes, but with a twist. A British cooking show was on television recently and one of the dishes made was oat cakes. I think the show was done in Staffordshire, where oat cakes are famous, but not to be confused with Derbyshire oat cakes. We had some oatmeal in the cupboard and I got to thinking... what if I whizzed up the oatmeal in the blender and made it into oat flour? Then I could make oat cakes!

It worked out pretty well. I blended the improvised oat flour with some wheat flour and made my standard crêpe batter (so these were technically not real oat cakes). The oat crêpes were delicious! And I didn't take a single picture.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Just hanging around

Not all the pine needles that fall from the trees make it to the ground. At least not right away. These got stuck straddling branches.

These are just a few of the hundreds of dead needles hanging around in the woods.

American football season is over. The Super Bowl was ok. The first half was a blowout, but the Niners came back in the second half and made a game of it. Too bad they lost; they were simply outplayed.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Back to the piney woods

I still have some photos left from my walks with the dog through the pine woods out back. It's a good thing, too, because they're the only photos I've taken recently. We've been drenched with rain again and neither the light nor the wet conditions are good for taking the camera out.

Pine needles everywhere.

Ken and I were out and about on Sunday afternoon and we noticed how high the river is. With all the rain we've had, the Cher is moving fast and flooding the low lands in the valley. There is no serious flooding that I know of, but we saw the water level up over the banks of the island at St.-Aignan and the field at the bottom of our road is under water.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Crêpes de la Chandeleur

Saturday was crêpe day here in France. So I whipped up a batch. This year I only made sweet crêpes. In past years I've made savory crêpes with buckwheat flour. They're good stuffed with ham and cheese or mushrooms and served as a main course. Sweet crêpes are good for dessert.

A stack of freshly made crêpes, ready to be filled and eaten.

Yesterday I cooked some sliced apples with butter, sugar, cinnamon, and rum to fill the crêpes. The filling can be anything you like: a spoonful of your favorite jam, a drizzle of honey, or a pat of butter and a sprinkling of sugar. Yummy! Here's the recipe I use (from Monique Maine, "Cuisine pour toute l'année"):

Sweet crêpes (crêpes de la Chandeleur)
  • 150 g all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbl vegetable oil
  • shot of liqueur (rum, kirsch, etc.), optional
With a wooden spoon, mix the flour, salt, and egg in a large bowl. Gradually add, while stirring, the milk and the water. The batter should not be thick, but rather thin. Pass the mixture through a sieve, then add the oil and liqueur. Let the batter rest for at least an hour.

Coat a lightly buttered crêpe pan (a standard non-stick frying pan will work, just coat the bottom) with just enough batter to make a thin layer and cook over medium heat. After a few minutes, the crêpe should come loose from the pan. Turn it (flip it in the air if you dare!) and cook the other side for minute or so. Cover cooked crêpes with a towel and keep them in a warming oven. This recipe makes 8-12 crêpes, depending on their size. The recipe is easily doubled.

When you're ready to fill them, put one crêpe at a time in the hot buttered pan, add the filling to one side and fold the other side over. Slide the warmed crêpe onto a plate and enjoy!

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Une pomme de pin

There is no lack of pine cones in the pine woods, of course. They litter the ground and hang from the trees. In French, they're called pommes de pin (pine apples).

A cone on a long-needled pine tree.

We had rain most of the day on Friday. Sometimes it fell hard, but most of the time it was just light rain. We're expecting a light freeze on Sunday morning.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Mossy ground

Inside the pine wood the ground is littered with leaves and pine needles. And moss grows. Not little wimpy moss, but big tufts of the stuff. It's beautiful. And green. And it grows not just on the ground, but also on fallen branches and the trunks of big trees.

Inside the piney woods. Most of the green you see is moss.

As usual, I'm writing this a day in advance (Thursday afternoon). Friday is predicted to be very stormy with high winds and lots of rain. We'll see how it goes. I'm hoping our power stays on. The temperatures remain mild, so snow and ice are not in our immediate future. But it's the first of February. Winter is not over yet.