Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Blowdown theater

This will take a little explaining. I grew up in the capital city of New York State. In that modest city is the New York State Museum, a place that showcases all that is New York, from Manhattan, its subways, the immigrant cultures, and the skyscrapers, to the wilderness that is the Adirondack Park, the Saint Lawrence Seaway, and the Finger Lakes, to the native cultures, the wildlife, geology, and prehistory.

Some trees that blew down in a ravine not far from our house.

In the Adirondack section of the museum is a little room called the Blowdown Theater (I assume it's still there). Visitors stand inside and "experience" what an Adirondack wind storm might be like. The kind of wind that blows trees down. Hence the name: Blowdown Theater. There's no actual wind in the small darkened space, just the sounds of howling wind and trees falling over. I never really understood the point. The wind blows, trees fall, the earth turns. Still, I remember it very well. Seeing these fallen trees (above) near our house reminded me of that.

Sawed logs, always 1 meter long, ready to be made into firewood.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The end is near

The end of the vine pruning season, that is. The buds on the vines are fattening. Cut canes have been lined up between vine rows, ready for grinding. The remaining canes will be bent to the horizontal and fastened to their guide wires in the coming weeks.

The vineyards will soon go from brown to green as the vines leaf out.

The early blooming trees are in flower. Many of them have already dropped their blossoms and green leaves are appearing. Spring is here!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Where's Bert?

In this picture, he's lounging in the sun under the carport. But on Sunday morning, Ken didn't find him waiting for his breakfast, as he usually is. Oh well, I thought, he got distracted and went out hunting. Later, when I left to take Callie out for her walk, I opened the back door and Bert shot in. Apparently, he was trapped inside the greenhouse over night.

Happy to be free, Bert lounges in the afternoon sun.

It was my fault. He was probably lounging in there when Callie and I got back from our evening walk. He likely stayed very still when we came in so that Callie would not notice him. I didn't notice him, either, and I closed the door. At least he had some water in there. There was no sign of distress, no poops or any sign of digging. He just waited for the door to open and then, when it did, he ran out like a shot, and went directly to his kibble bowl. Poor thing.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Flashback

I'm fresh out of photos for the blog! Time to get crackin', I guess. Here's a shot of the Panthéon in Paris that I took last spring. On my way to Canada and the US, I spent an afternoon in Paris and took the climbing tour up onto the dome of the historic church. I took this photo on our way up, but I don't think I ever published it.

The cupola atop the dome of the Panthéon in Paris.

It's time, also, to get crackin' on the vegetable garden. I think I mentioned yesterday that I want to plant seeds in the greenhouse. Today is the day!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Springing forward

This weekend we move our clocks ahead one hour to what's called Central European Summer Time. That sounds nice, "summer time." But let's not be too hasty. We have to get through spring, first. We're expecting a week of warming temperatures, and that will be nice. My goal for the weekend is to get the vegetable seeds started in the greenhouse. Tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and other seeds need to be planted now so they'll be ready to go out in the garden in mid-May.

I think this is some kind of hyacinth.

Ken wants to get the garden plot tilled up. That's a big job that needs a few days of dry, warm weather before and during, so that the soil is not just a muddy mess. And then the grass will need cutting. It's starting to grow again. Dry days are best for that, as well.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Tête-à-tête

That's the name of this miniature daffodil variety. Pots of them were for sale in the grocery store recently and I couldn't resist, so I picked one up. That was almost two weeks ago. Then, the plants were much shorter and only one or two flowers had opened. Since then, the plants have doubled in height and most of the flowers have opened.

Tête-à-tête means "head to head" in French.

The living room is filled with spring, at least for a little while. I will have to take care to keep the bulbs safe over the summer and remember to plant them outdoors in the fall. That is not something I'm particularly good at remembering to do, but I'll try my best.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sofa, so good

I know that Ken just posted a photo of the new couch yesterday, but I took a few photos on Wednesday that I thought I'd post, just in case you didn't see Ken's blog. The room is still not completely put back together and organized. We're waiting for the new rug that will go under the sofa.

Looking toward the northeast.

You can tell that I didn't stage the photos, although I did turn all the lights on. There's a vacuum cleaner in one of the pictures, and there are a couple of moving boxes filled with my map collection to get into the storage closets under the eaves. Still, this is our private living space and we leave all manner of DVDs, books, and other stuff lying around most of the time. Not to mention laundry in various stages of being folded and put away (or not). Don't judge.

Looking toward the southeast. There's the old sofa's brown footstool on the left. Not gone yet.

Ken's desktop computer is up there, which he uses to do downloading and processing of movies and television shows. We do most of our television watching in this room, so it's where the bigger TV set is.

Looking toward the northwest. We've had that bottle of wine corks since Washington, in the mid 1980s.

Before we had the room finished in 2010, it was the attic. There was no staircase, just a ladder that came down to the main level from a hatch in the floor. The rafters were all exposed with just the roof tiles between the inside and outside. The wind ripped through the attic all year long, and sometimes rain got in. The floor was insulated, but not the roof. If you want to see what it was like, click here for some before/after photos of the conversion.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Grape hyacinth

Spring is when the muscari (grape hyacinth) bloom. The little blue flowers resemble inverted grape clusters from afar, but when you look at them closely, each flower looks more like a little bell. I transplanted these from the back yard to this spot next to our driveway many years ago. They've spread a lot over time and now each spring we get a small carpet of blue.

A close up of the blooming muscari.

The weather has moved into a shower phase, typical for March, called giboulées. They're not very strong right now, thankfully, but everything is wet again. And I'm back to building the daily fire in the wood stove. Aargh.

The tulips in this patch don't bloom as they did when I first planted them (thirteen years ago!).

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Loft in transition

We got ourselves a new sofa for the loft space. I only thought to take pictures after we had started disassembling the old sectional. So this is what you get. The furniture is taken apart, moved, lamps are on the floor. It's kind of like moving without having to pack.

Looking north, the old brown couch is scattered so I could vacuum and mop the floor under where it was.

The delivery happened on time, around 10h00, and went smoothly. The guys took the old sofa away, too, which was a great option. The new one comes from IKEA (what doesn't these days?), so it was in about six or seven separate boxes. I spent about two hours putting it all together (including the fabric covers, all separate). And I'm sore from the effort. At least we didn't have to carry it up the two flights of stairs. I still have the ottoman to assemble. Maybe this morning Done! And once we have the room put back together, Ken or I will take some more photos. Eventually.

And just for fun, a view looking south.

But, the new couch is in, assembled, and we're using it. It's similar to the old one, but different in a lot of ways (it's a totally different color). Callie was freaked out by the whole process. I'm sure we'll all be used to it in no time.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Inside the greenhouse

Now that spring is on its way, we're working on making the greenhouse work. I potted up the parsley that I got on Friday. The potting bench is great, and it's not temporary like my old set-up was. I'm liking this!

The parsley is in the pot on the lower right. It will probably go out onto the deck in a month or so.

Right now there is soil (dirt) in that can outside the door of the greenhouse. I have two new bags of soil (dirt) under the potting bench. I thought that I'd be able to keep soil (dirt) inside, but it's not working out that way for now. Ken found some wooden squares for making a step-path, so I put those in on Sunday. They look good!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lichen

Does it rhyme with "liken" or "kitchen?" In North America, I think, it's the former. In the UK, the latter. In French, it's pronounced [lee-KEN]. However you say it, there's a lot of it around. Many of the local lichens can be seen on trees (like this one) and on stone walls. I've read that the tree variety is not parasitic and doesn't do serious damage to its host trees.

A common blue-green lichen on a tree branch.

We're expecting the delivery of a new sofa on Monday. After nearly fourteen years of service, our old couch has had it. The fabric is worn and even torn in some places. It's done its time. The new one is similar in style: an "L" shaped sectional. But I'm hopeful that it will be easier to maintain; most of the the fabric covers are removable and washable, and more of the cushions can be turned and repositioned for even wear.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Buying dirt

So, in the incredible excitement that is our life in rural France, I went to the garden center on Friday to buy some dirt. Like we don't already have enough dirt at home. Still, I wanted some special dirt, the kind that you plant seeds in. I got two sacks, forty liters each. I am now rich in dirt.

Parsley on the left, thyme on the right.

I also found some herbs. Parsley is always a good buy, especially since I've not been very successful growing parsley from seed. I also picked up a few thyme plants: two "lime thyme" and one standard. I know about lemon thyme, but I've never heard of lime thyme. At any rate, I plan to put them in the ground outside the greenhouse. Photos will likely be taken.

The other reason I ventured out on Friday was to buy some gas. The lawnmower and the rototiller both need gas, and we were clean out. Now we're not. Happy days!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Peas please

I planted our first crop of the year on Thursday. Ken is still harvesting kale from the garden, but he planted that last year. We expect at least one more harvest from those plants before they bolt this spring. What I planted was a first row of pois mangetout (snow peas). The word mangetout means "eat it all." The pods are meant to be eaten with the peas inside. They're also called pois gourmands (gastronomic peas). We use them in Asian cooking, but they are just as good in other dishes or as a side dish by themselves.

These tire tracks in the vineyard mud have nothing to do with snow peas.

Snow peas are not common in our local supermarkets, so growing them at home makes sense. Last year we had two varieties in the garden and they were good, but I didn't grow enough. This year I plan to plant successive rows for a good crop. Last month I found snow peas frozen at Picard, the frozen food emporium. They were good, too, but the closest Picard store to us is about thirty miles away.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Mushroom brushes

This is mushroom brush Number Two. It's a little kitchen brush, shaped like a mushroom, used to gently brush bits of dirt from delicate mushrooms. I still have mushroom brush Number One, but its bristles are stained and its wooden cap is cracked in several places. I don't use it any more, but I still have it tucked away in a drawer. Mushroom brush Number Three is fresh and new.

Mushroom brush Number Two is beginning to show its age, but it still does the job.

I thought that mushroom-shaped brushes were common things. I learned otherwise back in 2009 during a trip to upstate New York when I went shopping to replace the tired and worn brush Number One. In supermarket after supermarket, from Kmart to Walmart to Target, I shopped until I dropped. I was perplexed that nobody sold mushroom brushes. Not even Williams-Sonoma. Then one day my friend L and I drove to some outlet stores over in Manchester, New Hampshire. We saw a little kitchen shop and stopped in to have a look. Among the jam-packed shelves of kitchen tools both curious and questionably handy, L spied a mushroom brush! I was so happy to have it (it's the brush pictured here). A number of years later, in a local store called Facile (which means "Easy"), right across the river from us, I found mushroom brush Number Three tucked away in their kitchen tools section and snapped it up. Its handle is made of resin instead of wood, but it's still shaped like a mushroom and works well. I haven't seen another one in the store since then.

Again, I thought these were common tools. We live in an area where button mushrooms (champignons de Paris) are grown commercially, but mushroom brushes are rare. How do people brush the dirt from their mushrooms without one? I've seen television chefs use paintbrushes for that task, and even though I do have a collection of paintbrushes that we use in the kitchen, I never thought to use one for cleaning mushrooms. That's why mushroom brushes exist. Or ought to.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Daffy

My home town in upstate New York is getting a lot of snow right now. Here in France, we've seen nary a flake all winter. In fact, I was outdoors trimming shrubs and raking up debris on Tuesday as part of our spring clean-up. We're expecting a very warm day on Thursday, so more outdoor work will get done, and none of it involves snow removal. Thankfully.

Most of our daffodils are blooming right now. These are just outside the new greenhouse.

Thanks to everyone for your name ideas for the new pup! Many of the names you suggested are ones that we have been considering. We think we've found the name now but we're mulling it over for a few days before we finally decide. So I'll keep you in suspense a little longer. Oh, and I did find a little black collar and a small harness from when our first dog was a puppy (twenty-five years ago!), so I'm hopeful that they will work for the new one.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

It's a girl!

But we don't know her name yet. Our new Sheltie puppy was born on Februrary 23 (which is one day after Callie's birthday) and we'll bring her home around April 20. Now we have to come up with a name. The year 2017 is an "N" year for dogs, so the name (at least the official name) must begin with "N." We're looking for a name that works both in French and in English.

Isn't she cute? She'll be 4 weeks old on Thursday. Her nose will lengthen considerably in the coming weeks.

There were two puppies in the litter. One is a male, tan and white (sable) in color like a classic collie. The female, ours, is tricolor, meaning she is mostly black, with white and tan accents. She's a Shetland Sheepdog, so she will be about half the size of Callie when she's full grown. Her mother (whose name I've already forgotten) is a sable color, fauve in French. Her father is a tricolor.

This is the mother of our new pup.

The breeder's facility was nice, out in the countryside between Azay-le-Rideau and Chinon (both famous Loire Valley châteaux), a little over an hour's drive from here. There were many dogs on the property, and a good number of older puppies from previous litters, all bounding with energy. Ken took a bunch of photos, but the dogs were hopping around so much that most of them came out blurry. When we bring our new one home, she will already be "chipped" for identification (a microchip implant under her skin), like Callie is, vaccinated, and registered with the official French dog registry. Now we have to think about puppy stuff, like a collar and a harness (I may have a small one from when Collette was a puppy), bowls, chew toys, and a bed. Oh yeah, and a name!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Lilac buds

I'm so excited! This year is a flower year for our biennial lilac. I didn't know when I bought it that it was an every-other-year bloomer, but what can you do? So this year we will have flowers, and here are the buds!

You can see the fuzzy little purple flower buds emerging.

I'm really looking forward to spring right now. It's just that time of year and I'm ready. Soon I'll be planting seeds for the vegetable garden. The greenhouse will soon be earning its keep.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Beetlemania

It's not an incredible simulation. It's an actual beetle. We've had an invasion of beetles this past month. Only in the kitchen. These little versions of ladybugs are getting in somehow and are climbing the walls. And the curtains.

A very tiny beetle on the kitchen curtain, just above a spot that has been darned (but not by me).

This is the first time that we've seen so many little beetles so early in the year. It's hard to tell if they're hatching indoors or outdoors. We only see them in the kitchen, the rest of the house is spared.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Hawkish

I'm not very good at identifying birds. We have a few bird books, but there is so much variety that a casual sighting is difficult to compare to drawings and photographs, especially from memory. Even with a photo like this one, there isn't enough detail for me to be certain.

Any help in more accurately identifying this bird of prey is, as always, appreciated.

So, what is this? I would say that it's some variety of hawk or buzzard, maybe the common buzzard, buse variable in French, buteo buteo in Latin. Don't quote me on that. This one has been hanging out near the little pond behind our house, in the vineyard. It will circle and swoop, presumably hunting, or sit for a time on one of the posts, as it's doing here.

I was lucky that it perched for a good twenty minutes, long enough for me to get the camera and tripod, attach the telephoto lens, and frame the shot. I took it through a window from the house at a distance of a good 100 meters (about 325 feet). I cropped and adjusted the photo to highlight the bird a little better. When it finally took off, I was impressed by the wingspan, which was much bigger than I expected it to be. It's a pretty large bird!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Quarter moon

This is last month's moon. On a clear morning, also a "last month" phenomenon. It's funny that it's called a "quarter" moon. It doesn't look like a quarter. Quarters are round. Hehe.

Quarter moon in a ten cent town.

But seriously, folks, the moon that we see is a disk, one-half of the sphere that is the moon. We never see the whole moon. Ever. So what we see from here on Earth is half of the moon's visible surface lit up to varying degrees of fullness. The lit "half" that we see here is one quarter of the entire moon, so I suppose that could be where the terms "quarter moon" and "first quarter" come from (as well as "third quarter" and "last quarter"). But, according to Wikipedia, it's not: "the term 'quarter' refers to the extent of the moon's cycle around the Earth, not its shape." Clear?

But hey, you might be wondering, what the heck, then, is a "half moon?" Well, darned if it isn't the same thing as a quarter moon (unlike a half-dollar and a quarter-dollar, which are not the same at all). And when we see the full disk lit up, we call it a full moon, even though it's only half of the sphere that we're seeing. Got it?

Thursday, March 09, 2017

A pile of tile

The artsy organized neighbor collects used terra cotta tiles. This one is square; it may be a roof tile but I'm not sure. The tile face is quite fancy and incorporates the name of the manufacturer in its design: la Grande Tuilerie Mécanique de Plagny-près-Nevers. I can't find out much about that place on the internet, so I think it may no longer exist.

Plagny is a community just south of the city of Nevers and is about a two-hour drive from Saint-Aignan.

Tuilerie is the word for tile manufactory. The Tuileries Gardens (and former palace) in Paris are built on the site of an old tile works. Tuiles mécaniques are a special kind of interlocking roof tiles. The tiles on our very own roof are mécaniques, but they don't look at all like this; they're big and rectangular and very dark brown, and probably about the same age as the house (50 years). I learned what they are called and how they work when we needed to have some roofing repairs done a number of years ago. There's nothing mechanical about the tiles; that word refers to the nineteenth century automation of the process for making them.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Take me to your leader

I noticed this the other day. It's in the garden of a neighboring house. It's a rusty kitchen strainer fastened to a stake with rope. I have no idea what it's for. Is it art? A pest trap? An alien listening post? Or does everyone except me have a rusty kitchen strainer fastened to a stake with rope in their garden?

I didn't notice any beeping or lights.

Yesterday I received a bizarre email from another neighbor requesting help, but without details. The message was strange, but plausible enough for me to reply with a generic "ok... what's up?" Turns out that our neighbor's email account had been hijacked and the perpetrator was fishing for money (a second message asked that I go out and buy four cash cards worth 250 euros each and transmit the codes to the scammer by email). I didn't reply again. Ken called the neighbor's husband to alert him, and he confirmed that someone else had told him they received the same message and that it was, indeed, a scam. I immediately changed my email password. I hope our neighbor can clear it up quickly; she's the mayor of our town.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Spider machine

I thought this web looked interesting, spun into a corner of an old piece of machinery out among the artsy organized neighbor's collection of stuff. The web is tiny, probably not taking up more than a cubic inch of space.

The little web has a very obvious spiral shape to it, leading into a dark corner. Danger!

We had some pretty strong wind gusts on Monday and I noticed one edge of the metal roof of our carport starting to flap wildly. A couple of screws that hold it down had come loose. I went out with a ladder and put four or five big logs on top to try to stabilize it, but within an hour the wind had lifted the roof enough to roll the logs over, and the wild flapping continued. I'll have to get out there and see if I can get the thing screwed back down, maybe today. I hate wind.

Monday, March 06, 2017

The first cut

Even in the rain, pruning continues out in the vineyards. Around us, there are often three passes. The first pass is to cut; workers with battery-powered secateurs snip through the vine canes, often leaving one long cane still attached. In the next pass, the workers pull the cut canes off the wires and line them up on the ground between the rows. Finally, a tractor pulls a grinding attachment over the lined up canes and mulches them into fertilizer.

Thousands of cuts are made this time of year in the vineyards. Thank goodness for powered cutters, eh?

Some of the smaller growers do the first two steps in one pass, cutting and lining up the trimmings at the same time. Then they do the grinding once that's all done. They used to burn the trimmings as they went when we first moved here, but I think that that's been prohibited now for environmental reasons.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Thistle be fun

Today's lunch will be a roasted capon with stuffing and sweet potatoes. Like a mini Thanksgiving. We got and froze the bird around Christmas time and, with a combination of sale prices and frequent shopper points, it was essentially free. So today it will become Ken's birthday lunch.

Last season's thistles, dry and brown.

I'm planning to make one of Ken's favorite desserts: a pear-almond tart. I'd better get busy!

Saturday, March 04, 2017

It ain't over 'till it's over

But I'm ready. I'm anxiously awaiting the end of fire season. So far, in the last couple of weeks, I've bruised my shin when a piece of a log I was splitting went flying, I've burned a painful hole in one of my knuckles while adding a log to the hot fire, and most of my fingers are sore from frequent wood splinters. I'm sick of splitting logs in the cold rain; I'm tired of lugging a heavy sack of logs up the stairs every day. I've also had it with emptying the cold ashes every morning and cleaning up the fine layer of ash that covers everything near the stove.

A section of grape vine trunk covered by dead woody ivy stems. Burnable!

It's that time of year. I really enjoy the beginning of fire season, in the fall, when the leaves are turning and the holidays are approaching. The daily fire is warm and pretty. But the fun wears off in February and by March it's just a chore. It'll be over soon. Vivement le printemps !

Friday, March 03, 2017

Fat buds

I've been noticing the buds this week. On the trees and shrubs. Our ornamental cherry is covered with purple buds, and some of them are starting to open. One variety of plum is very close as well, its deep red buds are showing just a little of the white blossom petals ready to burst out. Our big lilac is sporting fat green buds, and this is a "flower year" (it blooms every other year), so I'm looking forward to that.

I have no bud photos yet, but several "osiers" (a variety of willow) are showing bright yellow stems as spring approaches.

The grape vine buds are also fattening, but it will be a while before we see leaves out there. We're expecting a relatively warm day today, then the temperature will fall again to a more seasonable level over the weekend.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

IV

The roman numeral four. Intravenous. And, in this case, the misspelling of ivy. That's a silly way of introducing yet another picture of ivy leaves. This one was, as you might have guessed, taken with one of the new magnifying filters I just got. It's part of the first batch of photos I've done with the +4 filter.

As spring approaches, the ivy starts to climb. 50mm +4 mag, f/4.5, 1/125s, ISO 2000.

One of my readers, CHM, made a comment on Tuesday that got me thinking about focus stacking. That's a technique used to make macro images (although not exclusively) come fully into focus. It involves taking multiple images, each focused on a different part of the subject, and combining them so that the whole subject is in focus. It's an effect that's nearly impossible to achieve with a single image because depth-of-field is very shallow in macro (and other close-up) photography. The multiple images are then blended, or "stacked," in post-processing using software like Photoshop. The technique requires using a tripod and being very careful not to move the camera in between each image. Maybe I'll play around with it. One of these days.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

In like a lion

The weather is unsettled. Stormy, even. We're having rain and wind, again. So March is officially coming in like the proverbial lion. Let's hope it goes out like the proverbial lamb.

The bottoms of several of our neighbor's fence posts have rotted away, like this one. Another photo with the new mag +4 filter.

Speaking of lamb, it's what's on the menu for today's lunch. We're making a cous-cous, a traditional north African dish adopted and loved by the French. It's essentially a lamb stew, with some poultry, spicy lamb sausages called merguez, lots of vegetables (we will have carrots, turnips, rutabagas, and zucchini), and chick peas. It's served with the tiny pasta called cous-cous, which gives the dish its name.