Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tasha Tuesday

We've been spending a lot of time indoors over the past few days. The rain and chilly temperatures are the reason. Tasha still gets her two daily walks, even if one or both are cut short by a rain shower. She loves her walks and is learning about the different ways we can go. Callie had her favorite paths, and I expect Tasha will, too. Here she is being coy for the camera.

Tasha is learning to get brushed, but it's a slow process, so her fur is not as neat and tidy as it could be.

She's still such a puppy. Everything is exciting to her, and most everything is potentially edible (yuck). Sunday was her five-month birthday, and she's been with us now for three months. She's a very different dog from Callie and, while we miss Callie, we're enjoying getting to know Tasha. Life is now both very much the same and very much different, if you understand what I mean.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Beefsteak

One of the tomato varieties that I planted in this year's vegetable garden is "beefsteak," a popular variety of tomato in the US. We brought the seeds back from there a couple of years ago. The tomatoes are forming nicely, but as you can see, they're still a long way from ripe.

Beefsteak tomatoes on the vine.

The other varieties in the garden this year are brandywine (a variety of beefsteak), cœur de bœuf, yellow jubilee, roma, and fireball. All the plants have fruit on them, some more than others. All of them are still green. I noticed that one of our neighbors has red tomatoes already. I think they planted much earlier than we did, and I'll wager they bought the seedlings and therefore got even more of a head start.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Wild chicory

I know that Ken just posted a bunch of photos of this wildflower, but I have a few so I thought I'd just go ahead and post them, too. Or, at least one. This is high summer for us, when the Queen Ann's Lace and the wild chicory are in bloom. It's hard not to think that fall is on its way.

Wild chicory grows, well, wild, all around the vineyards out back.

Speaking of fall, I just ordered our fuel oil for the winter season, and soon we will order a load of firewood. Jeez. I don't want to think of the cold and rainy (and maybe snowy) season ahead. But that's life. At least we still have a month or so of summer, followed by fall, to go before the cold. It's better to order the fuel oil now, while summer prices are low, than to wait until demand and prices go up as the colder season approaches.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

An itsy bitsy spider

No water spout to climb up here. I took this photo because I liked the pattern of the veins in the leaves. Then I noticed the little spider. It really is tiny, less than a millimeter across.

The tiny spider is just to the right of the green leaves.

On Friday we took Tasha for a ride in the car. We had to go the garage to pick up the old Peugeot after it was fitted with a new clutch. Tasha did well on the ride. At least she didn't hate it. And that's good. We'll take her for a few more rides in the weeks to come. Then, toward the end of August, she goes to the vet's to be spayed. We don't want her to think that riding in the car means a trip to the vet's.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Basil

Basil is one of the more difficult herbs to grow where we live. It's just not warm enough for it to grow well out in the garden. Some years we've had a good crop. Most other years have been a disappointment. But now, with the greenhouse, we can grow basil more reliably.

Basil growing in the greenhouse.

When it's less than warm outdoors, the greenhouse stays warmer. And that's what basil likes. So we have enough basil for summer Caprese salads made with tomato, mozzarella, and basil. Yum. And we also have enough for many of our favorite Thai dishes. We may even have enough this year for pesto!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Lemon squash

Our friend K., who lives a couple of towns up-river from us, offered us a lemon squash plant last spring. I had never heard of lemon squash and I don't remember ever seeing it at the market. I planted the seedling she gave us next to the zucchinis in the garden. It has grown vigorously and is now producing bright yellow summer squash which are, as you might imagine, the size and shape of lemons.

Three yummy lemon squash.

I sliced up these three squash, brushed them with olive oil and seasoned them with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika before putting them on the grill. They were delicious (they taste just like any other yellow summer squash) along side some grilled smoked chicken.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Warmest morning

Tuesday was a hot day and this morning is probably the warmest morning of the year, so far. I woke up to nearly 25ºC (77ºF ) at 06h00. That's pretty darned warm for the morning low in these parts. But, as usual, it is not expected to last. Today's high will be lower than Tuesday's, and it will be getting downright chilly again in the mornings to come.

Grape bunches on the vine, a couple of months away from harvest time.

And it's dry. The rain barrels are nearly depleted again. Until the next rain, garden watering will have to be done with the hose. But the tomatoes, squash, and green beans are loving the heat. And so are the grapes out in the vineyards. I wonder if the hot weather we've had has made up for lost time caused by the April freeze?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tasha Tuesday

Shadow play. I take Tasha out for her morning walk earlier than I used to take Callie out. Tasha is still just a puppy, and she bounces off the walls with energy in the morning wanting to play and roughhouse. Going out for a walk is a way to diffuse some of that energy. Not that it always works, but it helps.

Tasha and our shadows in the summer vineyard. The sun is just rising above the trees at 07h00.

We did an unofficial weigh-in on Sunday. I stood on the scale, read it, then picked up the dog and stood on the scale again and did the math. She's at 7 kilos (almost 15 1/2 lbs). That's almost twice what she weighed at the end of May when her official weight at the vet's was 4.2 kilos (just over 9 lbs). We'll get another official weigh-in at the end of August when she goes in for her spaying. We expect her adult weight to be between 10 and 12 kilos (22 to 26 lbs). Callie was almost twice that.

Teething continues. We were playing on Sunday and one of Tasha's teeth came out in my hand. I'll ask the vet to check her teeth to be sure they're coming in right. The breeder said that sometimes the baby teeth don't fall out before the adult teeth come in and that could cause problems.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Seedy

On the edges of the vineyards, in little clearings just inside the woods, containers are suspended a few inches from the ground. They're fitted with little cages at the bottom and dispense bird seed. I presume they're there to attract pheasants for the hunting season. Usually the containers are made from plastic wine jugs--we are in wine country after all. This is the first one I've seen made from a mini beer keg.

The little cage full of seeds is just at the bottom of the inverted keg. I guess the hub cap is there to catch stray seeds.

I've been told that most of the pheasants chased by the hunters are actually raised on farms and are released into the wild in the fall. Since they've never had to find their own food in the wild, they need some way to survive. These feeders are probably what they're used to and help to keep the birds from starving. Not all the pheasants are taken during the season, so the feeders are kept full year-round. Ken told me that Tasha flushed out a pheasant in the vineyard just a few days ago. Callie used to do the same thing.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Walnuts

A lone walnut tree stands along the road through the vineyards where we walk daily with the dog. Right now, the walnuts are forming inside their green husks. In the fall, the husks will dry and peel off, revealing the walnut shells that we all recognize.

Walnut leaves and a single fruit/nut.

This tree produces very small walnuts and I've gathered a few, but not many, over the years. They're not really worth the effort. Besides, some friends of ours have a couple of prolific trees on their property and they've shared boxes full of good-sized and tasty walnuts with us. I still have some downstairs.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Fly away home

Here's a coccinelle (what I call a ladybug) looking like it's enjoying a drink from a raindrop. I've noticed many of these in our vegetable garden. They're good for the garden because they eat aphid larvae, and aphids can do a lot of damage if left unchecked.

La Coccinelle is the French name for Herbie the Love Bug. In fact, VW Beetles are generally called coccinelles in France.

All of us slept through the fireworks on Friday night. We had the window closed on that side of the house and the fan was going, so we didn't hear anything. Tasha didn't need to go out until five this morning. Once we were outside, I could hear loud music in the distance. It was either a party on the next road over, or there was a car parked out in the vineyard with it's stereo going. Thankfully, we could not hear it inside the house.

In other news, we caught the mouse. I presume the trap behind the sofa snapped some time during the night. The poor thing. It died munching on a piece of goat cheese. From Valençay. The only thing missing was a chilled glass of sauvignon blanc. French mice die with class.

Friday, July 14, 2017

A mouse in the house

I thought cats were supposed to keep mice out of the house. Ours brought one in this morning. Alive. Then he let it go. Ken and I spent a good thirty minutes trying to flush the critter out from under furniture into the jaws of the cat, all to no avail. Bert yawned. Tasha barked wildly. We finally gave up. I set two traps and put them behind the couch where the mouse was last spotted and out of reach of the dog. Now we wait.

Pretty yellow wildflowers. They look like little fireworks.

Our village's fireworks started last night at eleven p.m. and lasted about half an hour. Tasha lifted her head up a few times, but she never growled or barked. Afterward, we all slept peacefully through the night. More fireworks will be going on to our east in Saint-Aignan tonight. That's normally a bigger show, so we'll keep the windows on that side of the house closed.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Ka-boom!

Our village is holding it's July 14 fireworks display tonight, the 13th of July. I presume it's because they don't want to compete with the bigger show that Saint-Aignan will put on tomorrow night, the actual 14th. Several of the smaller towns around us do this. So we get at least two nights of official fireworks, not to mention the home variety that people will be setting off themselves. Even though we won't be attending either of the municipal shows, we can hear them loud and clear here at the house.

Acacia leaves.

What will be interesting to us is how Tasha will react to the noise. Callie would often bark at the explosions, but then Callie would bark at a fly on the ceiling. So we shall see (or hear) what Tasha does this evening and tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A shining beacon

This was Sunday's sunrise. Storm clouds were gathering all around, but we still had some blue sky. The glow above the house was impressive seen from the vineyard. We waited all day for the predicted thunderstorms, but they all skirted around us.

Looking back at our hamlet on the way out into the vineyards.

I dare say that Tasha is now officially house-trained. I may come to regret that statement, but we have not had an indoor "accident" in quite some time. She's learning that she gets to go outside regularly and how to let us know if needs to go otherwise. Of course, part of that is us learning to read the signals. Now we're in teething mode. Tasha has at least a dozen toys to chew on, strewn all over the floor. One day soon I'll start finding teeth on the floor.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tasha Tuesday

Tasha is loving her walks in the vineyard. She's full of energy and runs at full throttle up and down the rows of vines. She's small enough not to have to worry about the lower guide wires and she can zoom around freely under the vines. We've been taking longer and longer walks and she's all for it.

Tasha takes a break from running. She's quite wet from the rain-soaked leaves and grass.

She seems to know which way home is and is always happy (maybe surprised?) when we get to the back gate. And she also has taken well to getting rubbed down with a towel after the walk. In fact, she really enjoys it. Then she gets rewarded with a biscuit.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Bourdon sur artichaut

I wanted to take some shots of our artichoke flowers while they were at their peak. The vibrant purple flowers are amazing. I remember being surprised to see one the first time, but it all made sense once I learned that artichokes are a variety of thistle.

A bumblebee collects nectar in an artichoke flower.

While taking the photos, I noticed quite a few bourdons (bumblebees) collecting nectar in the flowers. My first thought was that they were spoiling the shots. Then I realized that the photos might be better with the bees as the subject. Here's the result.

So... the storms predicted for Sunday never reached us. We had one little rain shower in the morning, but otherwise the storms went around us. However, this morning, at around 03h30, Tasha woke me up to go outside. There was a little lightning in the distance. At about 04h30, we had a pretty good storm with 18mm (almost 0.75 inches) of rain in the space of about forty-five minutes. Tasha was not upset in the least. And the roof didn't leak!

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Stormy weather

That's the prediction for today. Late morning and early afternoon thunderstorms, moderate to strong, with a lot of rain. Lovely. This morning, all is calm and I'm hopeful that Tasha and I will get a good walk in once it's light outside. She slept through the night downstairs where it's cooler. That's a good thing because it means she has the confidence to be a little independent of the pack.

It seems too early for these blue berries (not blueberries), but there they are.

I think we're ready for the storms. The only thing I worry about is heavy rain and roof leaks. If a lot of rain falls in a short amount of time, it can't drain quickly enough and backs up a little, especially if there is leaf debris where the water wants to go, causing it to seep in behind the tiles and, eventually, through the ceiling in the kitchen. We'll keep our fingers crossed.

A little update: by 07h30, I had the ladder out and cleared one blockage from the gutter and downspout, and got a couple clusters of leaf debris cleared out of the roof valley between the kitchen and dining room. Let's hope that helps our chances!

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Les vacances

School vacations officially started on Friday afternoon and this weekend marks the first grands départs of vacationers leaving the big cities for the mountains and the coasts. We'll see our share of vacationers here in the Loire Valley region as well. Historic royal châteaux, vineyards, hot-air balloons, and the zoo are the big draws here.

Grape leaves and tendrils after a rain shower last week.

And so far, the weather is good. The heat wave is cooling a little now and there may be some showers or thunderstorms in the next couple of days, but it certainly feels like summer. I didn't have my camera with me on Friday morning's walk with Tasha, but I noticed how beautifully lush the vineyards are looking right now. And, since most of them have been trimmed, they make a uniform blanket of green in the landscape. I'll try to get a photo soon.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Apples

It's a strange year for apples around here. We had that freeze in April which did a number on the blossoms. But enough blossoms survived for some apples to form. The big tree in our yard is dropping apples already, but they're not big enough for me to have to pick them up before cutting the grass, thankfully. That will likely change.

A little apple.

This apple is on a neighbor's tree. The crop is not large, but there are apples nonetheless. We'll see later this summer and into the fall what there is to harvest.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Thorns

This acacia sapling is lined with sharp thorns, likely the plant's defense against would-be nibblers. As the tree ages, the thorns become woody, but fewer, as most of the tree rises high above the reach of hungry wildlife. Except for giraffes, maybe, but they live on the other side of town--at the zoo.

Thorns on an acacia.

I got out this morning before 06h30 to water the vegetable garden. Tasha was bouncing off the walls in the house, so I got her outside to chase the tennis ball in between trips to the rain barrels with the watering cans. We're expecting another very hot day, so if I'm going to cut grass it will have to be this morning.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Sweet pea or not

I don't know what this plant is called. It reminds me of a sweet pea in the way it grows and the flowers it produces, but I really don't know what it is. It grows just outside our back gate in a patch of ground between the pond and the vineyard. There was a huge yard waste pile there when we moved in. Not long after, the town removed the pile and told us surrounding homeowners to take our yard waste to the dump. The plant comes back every year and still I can't remember what the fruit looks like.

A wild pea? A garden escapee? Something completely different?

The next heat wave is under way. We got up over 80ºF on Tuesday and are expecting to approach 90ºF over the next few days. The vegetable garden will like that. I harvested our first zucchini yesterday and there might be another one ready today. They'll get sliced and grilled as part of today's lunch.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Tasha Tuesday

With Bert. This never happened with Bert and Callie.

Nap time under the coffee table with Bert and Tasha.

Bert and Tasha get along well. Tasha can get a little aggressive with her play, but it's nothing the cat can't handle. This is the first time I've seen them sitting so close. We just had to take pictures.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Not thistles

Not much to say today. The Tour de France is under way. Wimbledon is starting. So there's stuff to watch on television. We're both going to the dentist this week. And the weather is supposed to be better. I'm looking forward to shorts and t-shirts again.

Nice purple flowers.

We're certainly still in puppy mode with Tasha. But overall, it's going well. We have our moments. She barks a lot. She bites a lot (playful, not agressive). I remember this stage with Callie. I thought I was going to have to kill her, but I didn't. We'll get through this and all will be well.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Arty chokes

Our artichokes are getting ready to open. I can see traces of the deep blue flowers poking through. Only one of our two remaining plants has produced chokes this year. Earlier in the spring they were both attacked by aphids. I used some soap to get rid of them and it worked, but the smaller plant didn't recover very well from the insect damage.

I took this picture before the blue started to show.

This past week has been, as I've been saying, chilly and wet. No fun at all, although we needed the rain. The central heat actually came on Saturday morning, which means that the indoor temperature got below 65ºF. Ugh. Our American guests were very lucky to be in France during the June heat wave. Nothing puts the damper on a summer vacation like rain and cold temperatures. But there is hope for us: the weather people are predicting another warm up this coming week. I hope they're right!

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Raindrops on oak leaves

And whiskers on puppies. The wet landscape is pretty, but the rain and chilly weather means the dog is cooped up with us in the house. And she still wants needs to play. Knotted ropes, old socks, nylabones, rawhide chews, anything that can be slid across the floor, she will chase. And she always brings it right back for another go. She also really loves the tricky treat ball, but I have to worry about over feeding her.

This oak sapling has red leaves. I wonder if that's normal?

I think she's entering her teething stage. Not that she hasn't been chewing for the past two months, but it hasn't let up. Her favorite thing to chew is my hand. And her little puppy teeth are sharp. She's drawn blood on more than one occasion. She also likes to nip at my ankles when I walk from one room to another. But I'll get my revenge. She gets spayed in August.