Friday, December 06, 2019

Frosty web

Ice crystals formed on spider webs on Thursday morning as our low temperature went below -1ºC. The sun came out and melted the frost by mid-morning. We're expecting the same today, but with more of a warm-up as a new weather system moves in.

They look like water droplets, but they're actually frozen.

It's nice to walk the dog on frosty mornings because she stays clean. The mud is frozen enough not to get all over her feet and fur. One of the nice things about winter. The freezing also checks the population of bugs, or so I'm told. The bird feeders are filled and the usual suspects are enjoying them. Rouge-gorges, (robins), mésanges (tits), and pinsons (chaffinches) are the most common visitors to the feeders and the suet balls. We also see some chardonnerets (European goldfinches) and merles (blackbirds) from time to time.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Barenaked maples

It's official. All the leaves have fallen from the twin red maples out front. If you read Ken's blog, you will know that we finally got it together to rake them up on Wednesday. They had dried out enough to move and, now, most of them are out in the vegetable garden plot. Last year we raked up the leaves on November 24, so we're not too far behind. It's just been so wet.

Some birches around the 'hood are still golden, and the hedge around our yard will stay green through winter. But the maples are bare.

Today my plan is to put the holiday lights up on the house. We're expecting another day or two of dry sunny weather, so it's time. On Friday morning, I plan to go on a quest. This time of year we usually make coques (cockles) with linguini to help break up the heavy holiday meals of lamb and poultry. But, the fish monger at the Saturday market in Saint-Aignan where I could get them quit the market earlier this year. I'm going to drive over to the Friday market in a nearby town to see what their fish mongers have. Hopefully, I'll come back with some coques or maybe some little clams.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Condemned

These are two of the three remaining fir trees in our yard. The healthy one on the right is very tall; we can see it from across the river, marking the location of our house on the southern bank. The tree on the left is dying. The lower third is nearly devoid of needles and the upper branches have many fewer than they used to.

The tree looks bare all year round. A few of its silver-blue needles survive, but not for long.

So, the jig is up. The guy who does our hedges and removed our apple trees is coming this winter to remove this big fir tree. It's too close to the house and is wedged between the other fir and the linden. Removing it will open up the northwest corner of the house to light and air, improving views and getting rid of the dead needles that constantly drop on the roof and in the gutter.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

The birches hold on

The birch trees in our hamlet are the last to be losing their leaves this fall. They're still providing us some nice color, but not for much longer. The days are getting chilly (Monday's high was about 5ºC or 41ºF); the sun is too low in the sky this time of year to warm things up much. Still, it's nice to see the sun after that long run of overcast and rain.

The view of our neighbors' property from the deck on a sunny December afternoon.

I'm thinking I'll take advantage of the dry weather to get the holiday lights up on the house this week. The tree won't go up until the 15th or so.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Frosty

According to the forecast, the week ahead will be dry, but cold. We'll be flirting with freezing temperatures and will surely see some frost in the mornings. I'm looking forward to the ground drying out a little. We still have leaves to get up and the vegetable garden plot to cover for the winter.

Frost on an oak leaf.

Over the weekend we got the more sensitive plants moved from the deck into the house and greenhouse. The garden hoses are rolled up and put away as are the backyard table and chairs. It's beginning to look a lot like winter. Without snow.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Corn muffins

I had a hankerin' for corn muffins the other day, so I looked up recipes on line. I found one called "Extra-Corny Cornbread Muffins" on the Bon Appetit web site. It attracted me because it included whole corn kernels in the muffins and that's what I wanted. So I gave it try on Saturday.

Corn muffins cooling in the oven.

The recipe wasn't difficult and the batter, while thick, spooned easily into the muffin tin. My muffins look a little rougher than those in the recipe's illustration. But isn't that always the way it goes? The important part is that they taste pretty good. Craving satisfied.

And on the rack. Some of the kernels slid off the tops onto the table. I ate them.

Of course, I substituted canned corn for the fresh-off-the-cob corn called for in the recipe. I also used a mixture of plain yogurt and crème fraîche to replace the sour cream. They're not too sweet, so they'd go well with a savory, spicy dish, or just by themselves with a little butter.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The cheese course

I set out three cheeses for the Thanksgiving meal. The tall one is called Petit Basque, from the southwest (Basque country), made from ewes' milk. The white one is called pont-l'évêque, from Normandy, made from cows' milk. The small one is called cantal, from the Auvergne region of the central mountains, also made from cows' milk.

Cheeses don't have to be whole and untouched to serve, even to guests. The wine is a local sauvignon (I took the photos before we ate), but we drank Beaujolais with the cheese course.

To add a little holiday flair, we ate "fresh" figs along with the cheese. These are figs from a local friend's tree, trimmed and frozen whole by me back in September. I let four of them thaw at room temperature and they tasted almost as if they were fresh off the tree.

Four frosty figs to eat with cheese. They still had some thawing to do when I took the picture.

We're now enjoying leftovers for a few days. We ate cold lamb, steamed potatoes, and broccoli with mayonnaise on Friday and Ken's planning to make a lamb curry for Sunday lunch. Over the next few days, we'll do something with the leftover beans.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Yum!

Our annual Thanksgiving meal was a success! The lamb was delicious. The butcher where we've been getting it for several years now is very good. He gets his beef, veal, and lamb from the Limousin region not far south of here. It's fascinating to watch him prepare a leg of lamb.

The lamb is cooked rare. Some of the pinkest parts will get cooked again as we eat the leftovers.

We painted the leg with olive oil and added ground pepper, allspice, dried thyme, and some hot red pepper flakes before roasting it for a little over an hour. Garlic and bay leaves helped flavor the juices. When the internal temperature reached 55ºC (about 130ºF), we took it out of the oven to rest for about fifteen minutes, covered.

Flageolets in front and green beans behind.

We served the lamb with flageolet beans. I read them described as white beans that haven't matured, so they're small and still green. We also had some green beans from our garden in the freezer, so we served those, too. After the main course, we ate a salad of Belgian endive and roasted beets with toasted walnuts, followed by a cheese course (petit basque, pont-l'évêque, and cantal) with figs. All was washed down with Beaujolais Nouveau. Dessert was, of course, pumpkin pie. We were both pretty full afterwards, but isn't that the point?

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Jive turkey

It's Thanksgiving, that American holiday centered on roasted turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. But not here. The television news has had reports about the holiday, explaining it's origins and customs to French viewers. It's a curiosity. But they really get into the "Black Friday" thing. So much so, that we are, and have been for a few weeks, experiencing "Black November." In English, no less. It's all about selling stuff for Christmas. Duh.

Pumpkin pie cooling in the oven.

As is customary in our house, we will roast a leg of lamb. It's a tradition we started at least thirty years ago, perhaps more. And it has served us well since the move to France because whole turkeys are not generally available here until closer to Christmas. We'll pick out the poultry next month.

However, we do not dispense with all of the T-day traditions. I made a pumpkin pie on Wednesday. Last year we had a bumper crop of potimarrons, a pumpkin-like squash with a chestnutty pumpkin flavor. I roasted a lot of it and froze it. We've used it to make several batches of pumpkin-based enchilada sauce, pumpkin bread, and now pumpkin pie. I didn't grow any pumpkins this year, but I'm thinking that I will again next year.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

California interlude

I'm out of photos. I haven't taken the camera outside in a while and I haven't taken many indoor photos, either. So here are some water lilies I saw at a winery in the Sierra foothills of California probably about seventeen years ago, before moving to France.

Almost like a painting by Monet.

I woke up to rain this morning. Again. Everything outside is a muddy mess. It's not cold, so there's no ice or frost. Or snow. But I can't take the dog down the hill on our walks because the path is like a tropical swamp and it's very slippery. Going out into the vineyard is ok as long as we stay on the road; the ground between the vines is too soft to walk on and stay dry, not to mention upright.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

Here's a two-fer. I couldn't decide which photo to post, so you get two. Two-fer Tuesday? It was a rainy afternoon and Tasha was indoors. She sat inside the sliding glass doors and watched, as she does. She watches for cars, trucks, or people coming up the road. She also gets fascinated by the birds coming to feed from the suet balls I put up in the fall and winter. Lots of activity.

Tasha longs to go outside, but it's raining.

When a car or truck comes up the road, she can see it through the trees. She jumps up and runs downstairs to bark at it. When the birds are at the feeder, she just watches without barking.

At some point, some time, somebody's going to come up that road. I'll be waiting.

Sometimes Bert the cat comes in and sits beside her. It's a cute scene, both of them looking out the window together. I try to get a photo, but usually by the time I get the camera one of them has moved away. One day, I'll get lucky.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Take a hike

I mentioned yesterday that there was a randonnée (group hike) scheduled. Just as the sun began to rise, I noticed a couple of people walking by our back gate and out the vineyard road. As it got lighter outside, more and more people came through. It was over an hour later when I thought to take this picture from the loft window.

The construction trailers are still out back, and the road's a mess, but the view of the golden autumn leaves at sunrise is still striking.

Many of the hikers had small backpacks, I assume for snacks and water. Some of these hikes can go twenty kilometers (about 12 miles). I don't know how long this one was. A lot of the people wore red coats, I presume to make them visible to the hunters. And the hunters did arrive at 09h00 as usual, and many hikers were still making their way through the vineyards.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The western wall

Not the Western Wall. This is a close up of the west side of the cabane du vigneron (grape grower's shed) out in the vineyard. I noticed that someone crumpled up a piece of paper and pressed it into a crack in the wall. I'm guessing that the paper wrapped a pastry or a sandwich. Shoving it into the wall was better than just dropping it on the ground.

The western wall.

Today is Sunday, which is hunt day. And I see that there's une randonnée (an organized group hike) scheduled. I can tell because someone has marked out the route with chalk arrows on the ground and some small signs pointing the way at certain strategic turns. The town facilitates these walks several times a year and they often pass through our hamlet and out through the vineyards. I find it weird that hikers are willing to stroll through the vineyards where hunters are shooting at pheasants.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Backlit

This photo is over a week old. The grape vines have now dropped most of their leaves and the pruning continues (by that crew of workers, so it's going fast). Our weather warmed up as a rain system moved in over night. I didn't build a fire on Friday, and I don't expect to need one for the next few days.

Crimson and orange, no clover.

We're heading into Thanksgiving week, which means nothing in France, but Ken and I are already looking forward to our annual T-day tradition of roasting a leg of lamb. We'll have it with flageolet beans, one of the traditional accompaniments. I'm planning to make a pumpkin pie for dessert; I have roasted pumpkin in the freezer from last year's crop.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Falling

As in autumn, not tripping. The leaves are falling fast now. The maples in our front yard are almost bare. The linden out back still has a lot of leaves, but they're tumbling at a steady rate. The grape vines are nearly all bare now.

An autumn grape leaf.

Thursday's chores included a trip to the supermarket for some Beaujolais Nouveau. Ken brought back twelve bottles: six of one that we've enjoyed for many years, and one each from six other producers. The one we opened for lunch, called Le Chat Rouge, was very tasty. I'm looking forward to tasting our local gamay in the spring.

Another chore was the cleaning and covering of the grill. After disconnecting the gas bottle, I took a bucket of soapy water to the grill's exterior, then scraped the innards and cleaned the grease tray. I cranked the heat up to dry it all and burn off any stubborn food traces. When it cooled, the cover went on. No more grilling until spring.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Red among the yellow

Each vineyard parcel out back is made up of a single varietal, whether it's sauvignoncabernet, gamay, or any of the other varietals grown in our region. That makes sense. So you'd think that all the leaves in any given parcel would change to the same color in the fall. But there are obviously some vines in this parcel (and others) whose leaves are not the same color as their neighbors'.

Several reds among the yellows; a sign of less than healthy vines?

I have no answer for that. But I do have a theory (I am a guy after all and guys always have a theory). If you look closely between the red-leafed vine in the foreground and its yellow-leafed neighbor, you might see that a cane from the yellow-leafed vine appears to plunge underground and come up again as the red-leafed vine. That is a method of vine propagation in an established vineyard called marcottage (layering). There are a lot of vignes marcottées (layered vines) in the vineyards out back.

So, my theory is that marcottage may have something to do with the leaf color. The original grapes are grafted. That is, the French varietal is grafted onto a root stock (American in origin) that can resist infestation by phylloxera, an insect that ravaged France's vineyards late in the 19th century, and other maladies. But the layered vine is not grafted and when it grows roots they are its own. I wonder if the grafting, or lack of it, has something to do with the leaf color?

Naturally, I have no scientific evidence that this could be so. And my extensive quick and dirty research has turned up little on grape leaf color, other than that some normally yellow-leafed vines can turn red when they contract certain diseases. Could this be the case here? If anyone has the answer, I'd appreciate knowing.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Winterizing

We're having a break in the rain. Still, the ground is saturated, soft, and muddy. The fallen leaves are wet and heavy. But there is still work to do. I got the deck table and chairs put away, and we've started moving outdoor plants into the greenhouse. I've still got the grill to clean and cover; maybe today.

The deck furniture is put away for the winter. The red maples are now golden and most of their leaves are on the ground.

On Tuesday I made good progress in the vegetable garden. All the stakes and supports are pulled out and stored away in the garden shed. I also pulled out the dead tomatoes and zukes as well as the remaining eggplant and pepper plants. Surprisingly, there was one nice eggplant and a good harvest of green peppers left on the plants. I'm glad I found them before they rotted.

This morning our low temperature is very close to zero and the attic windows are iced over.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Éclairs au chocolat

Ken was out and about on Sunday morning and stopped at a bakery for some bread. Along with the bread, he brought home dessert: two chocolate eclairs. He said the bakery, one that's a few towns away, was filled with beautiful pastries.

Chocolate eclairs for dessert.

The éclairs were good and chocolaty, but not too rich. Just right, the way French bakers know how to do. It's nice to have so many good bakeries around, not only for bread, but also for the occasional tasty treat.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The wall

Here's the west-facing wall of the cabane du vigneron (grape grower's shed) out in the vineyards behind the house. I posted a closeup of these vines with grapes and red berries two weeks ago (Strange bedfellows). Since then, the pruners passed by and did their thing.

The grapes that grow on these vines are ornamental; nobody harvests them.

They have yet to do the south-facing wall. You might wonder why there's a five-liter wine "barrel" hanging against the wall. The plastic barrel's top is cut out and fitted with a wire mesh cage, and the barrel is filled with bird seed. It's suspended just above the ground. My guess is that it's there to attract and feed pheasants and probably other game birds, especially during the hunting season. I see a few of these hanging in other spots on the edges of the woods that surround the vineyards, but I've never seen anyone hanging or filling one.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Late bloomer

These campanules (bellflower) grow outside our front door and flower through the summer. Provided they get enough water, that is. During this year's hot and dry summer, keeping them watered was not easy because we were (and maybe still are) under watering restrictions. Ken and I save water from the kitchen for watering potted plants around the house and on the deck (especially the herbs), but sometimes there isn't enough to go around. So this year the campanules suffered a little.

The spikey plant is a variety of sedum that's quite invasive. We have to pull a lot of it out each year so that it doesn't crowd out the bellflowers.

Now that it's been raining again for about a month, a lot of the outdoor plants have come back to life. Our "grass" is a vibrant green, and the campanules have started flowering again. In spring and during a normal summer, the plant spreads out and there are many more flowers. Still, it's nice to see these few in mid-November.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Whole lotta prunin' going on

The grape grower who owns the majority of the vineyard parcels out behind our house is making changes. It may be because his daughter is taking a more active role in managing the vineyards. That's just a guess on my part, but we see her much more often these days. She recently completed her university studies in viticulture (grape growing) and oenology (wine making) and has become more of a presence out among the vines.

Unpruned vines on the left, pruned vines on the right. Sunrise in the middle.

Among the changes I've noticed is the annual winter pruning work. For a time there were two or three employees who methodically cut the vines over the winter. It was a long, slow, process. At some point I noticed that these employees cut the vines, but left them hanging on the wires. As they completed parcels, a crew of seasonal workers would come in, pull the trimmings off the wires, and line them up between rows for mulching. Now I'm seeing crews of workers doing the actual pruning, too. And it's going much faster than before. At the rate they're working the pruning could be done by Christmas rather than Easter (total speculation on my part). The permanent workers are doing less pruning and more tasks like replacing posts and support wires.

I talked to one of them the other day when I noticed that a couple of parcels had been cleared of their posts and wires, and the vines were cut down to the trunk (usually a single cane is left with buds that will sprout in spring, like in the photo above). He told me that the vines in those parcels are being ripped out and replaced with new ones. He also said they'd be doing the same next year in one of the parcels adjacent to our house. We've seen this happen in two or three other parcels over the years. It's an interesting process to watch. It takes three or four years before the replanted parcels will produce grapes. I wonder if they'll be replanted with the same or other varietals.

It's good to see this grower (and his wife and daughter) continue to reinvest in the vineyards. That tells me that they must be doing relatively well and are looking toward the future of their business.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Still there

The construction continues (it's been about a month now) down on the main road, which means the trailers and other equipment are still sitting out behind our house. And we still don't know what it is, exactly, that they're doing. It looks like they're burying cable, but we don't know more than that. Of course, we could ask.

Tasha inspects the road in front of one of the big dump trucks.

The daily pattern is this: at about 08h15, a couple of trucks come up the hill and park by the trailers. Sometimes there's a car, sometimes there's a motorcycle. The guys gather in the white trailer for coffee and to don their bright orange construction vests. Then the trucks head back down to the construction site below. Sometimes a truck dumps some gravel, sometimes the tractopelle (backhoe loader) loads some gravel into a truck. At noon, the trucks and the guys come back for their lunch which lasts about an hour before they head back down the hill. At around 17h00, they come back to pack it in for the day and head home.

I lead a fascinating life.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Fruitless plum

This is the ornamental plum tree in our back yard, a variety of fruitless prunus. In addition to beautiful pink blossoms in spring, we get a show of orange and yellow in the fall. The color is a bit past its prime in this photo because I usually don't take the camera out in the rain, and it's been raining a lot lately.

The flowering plum. Some of the cut apple wood is visible on the right.

Even so, we've had some sun in the last two days. I got outside with the chainsaw on Wednesday to cut up those dead branches I mentioned. Now they're cut to size and ready to burn. My next project, besides cleaning up the vegetable garden, is to split some of the apple wood that the garden guy cut up for me. Once the bigger pieces are split, I'll cover the pile for the winter. Next summer it will dry out and, if we're lucky, I may be able to burn it next winter.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Mushroom city

This has been an amazing fall for mushrooms. We had such a dry and hot summer; by contrast, fall has been very wet. Mushrooms are popping up all over. These came up under one of the fir trees in our yard. A few days ago, they looked just like champignons de Paris (white button mushrooms), but I have no idea what they actually are. I wouldn't dare eat a wild mushroom unless it was picked by someone who really knows what he's doing. I certainly don't. A woman in our region died last week from eating the wrong mushrooms. Yikes!

Some of the mushrooms coming up in our yard.

I got a chance to speak to the guys who are using our road for their construction staging area. They're very nice. I asked them if they were going to be able to fill and grade the spot behind our hedge where they've made those deep ruts. They said yes, that's the normal procedure. In fact, they got a start on it Tuesday. So, I feel better about it now.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

Tasha is a fierce defender of the castle. She pays very close attention to the traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, on our little road. There isn't much, but she lets us know when anybody goes by. From the garbage collectors to the mail deliverer to the mayor to anyone strolling by (especially if they have a dog). Here she is in her defense pose, preparing to bark wildly as someone approaches.

A split second after I snapped the shutter, Tasha bolted over to the hedge and barked to defend her territory.

Yesterday I mentioned that the American holiday, Veterans' Day, is always celebrated on a Monday. One of my stalwart readers let me know that I was in error [hangs head in shame]. I should have done better research. However, my error could be forgiven in light of the fact that, during most of the 1970s (which seems to be the limit of my memory), Veterans' Day was indeed celebrated on Mondays under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act voted by Congress in 1968. They changed it back in 1978, but it still floats to Friday or Monday when the 11th falls on a weekend. This year, the 11th actually fell on a Monday, helping to trip me up. Mea culpa.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Armistice Day

Today's holiday in France commemorates the end of World War I. In the US, it's Veterans' Day. The days coincide every so often. It's always on a Monday in the US; it's always on the 11th in France.

This photo is a couple of weeks old. Most of those leaves are gone now.

This will be the last three-day weekend until Christmas. Not that it makes a difference for us, except that holidays are hunt days, so we'll be sure to get our morning walk in before that starts. There will likely be a little ceremony at the town hall as there is every year.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Full-on fall

It certainly feels like fall. The temperatures have dropped, although there's no frost yet. It's been rainy and foggy. And leaves are tumbling everywhere, bright colors giving way to brown. Some of the grape growers have started their annual vine pruning. Seems early to me, but I talked with one of them during the week who said that the gamay leaves are all on the ground, so it's time to get started. I guess the sauvignon leaves hold on longer.

 The maple leaves just off the deck turn orange and gold before dropping into the driveway.

I lit a fire in the wood stove on Saturday and I may do the same today. I've got a few long limbs from a tree that fell against our fence last spring and I want to cut them into burnable lengths. The vegetable garden is still staring at me, longing to be cleaned up, but I want to wait until it's less muddy. During the summer the garden soil felt like concrete; now it looks like a swamp. And there are leaves to rake.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

I don't give a fig

Or, more accurately, I don't get a fig. This is our sorry little fig tree that doesn't produce figs. You may already know the sad story: we planted the fig in 2006, it froze to the ground in 2012, re-sprouted and grew again, and almost every year since, has suffered a spring freeze and lost its leaves. I've tried covering it with garden fabric, but the leaf buds are just too sensitive. I think we got about a half-dozen figs from this tree one year. One. Year.

At least it's pretty in the fall. The tree produces more leaves after the spring buds freeze.

I know that figs grow here. We see beautiful fig trees all over the place. Our mayor two houses away has a good sized fig that produces a lot. Friends a couple of towns over have a very nice tree and always seem to have a surplus of figs which they share with us, and for which we are grateful. So why can't I have my own figs? Maybe I got duped and bought the wrong variety. I don't remember what variety this is or where I bought it, but it was local.

If you're interested, type "figs" in the search box on the upper left of the blog and you can read about our fig experiences.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Let's not forget the hedges

The tree removal is certainly a big change in our yard, but it certainly isn't the first. When we first moved in, back in 2003, two other trees needed to be removed. One was the twin of the tilleul (linden). They stood on either side of the path that connects the house to the back gate. It was sickly (someone told us it had once been struck by lightning) and needed to come down. The other was a Christmas tree planted by the former owners when their granddaughter was a child. It was very tall and not at all well. It had to go.

The freshly trimmed back hedge seen from inside the yard. The logs are what's left of the small apple tree. These hedges used to be twice as high as they are now.

We hired some guy (and his crew) who was canvassing the neighborhood looking for jobs. They cut down the trees and trimmed the hedges. Their cleanup left a lot to be desired. They took away the small tree branches, but left the trunks strewn about the yard. I don't remember why; we didn't have the wood stove back then. They did the hedges for two years before I decided to get my own hedge trimmer and do it myself. That's a whole 'nother story.

The back hedge seen from outside the yard. I can't wait for this construction equipment to go away.

The year that I hurt myself cutting the hedge, I talked to the contractor who regularly trimmed our next-door neighbor's hedge. It always looked very well done and the crew did a great job with the cleanup. They did our hedges for the first time in 2012, if memory serves, and they've been doing them each year since. They do a great job trimming and cleaning up afterwards and, although they don't come cheap, I think their work is worth the fee. Unlike me, they have the savior-faire and all the right tools. And youth.

The tall hedge between our yard and the road. It continues around the far corner, behind the red maples, and along the eastern edge of our property.

A couple of years ago, the boss retired and sold his business to one of his crew. I wondered what the transition would be like, but it was seamless. The new guy is friendly, responsible, and the quality of the work is still excellent. He's the guy, along with his father, who assembled our greenhouse when we got it three years ago.

When the apple tree fell a couple of weeks ago, I had already emailed the contractor and asked about removing a tree (the blue spruce). We hadn't planned to take out the apple, but it volunteered. So, without hesitating, he agreed to take out the apple and the pear, and a second apple, while his crew worked on the hedges. They did it all in one day, something I could never have done.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Trees be gone

Here are a few photos of the aftermath of our tree removal. We had three trees taken out: a big apple that had a rotten trunk and fell down a couple of weeks ago, a smaller apple tree whose days were numbered, and a small years-dead pear. The garden contractors took away the smaller branches and cut up the larger pieces for me to burn in the wood stove.

The new view westward toward the back gate and the vineyards beyond. On the right is one of the two remaining, healthy, apple trees.

I don't miss these trees at all. Some of the apples were good, but there were way too many of them. I had to pick them up several times each summer before I could cut the grass. The did go into the compost, and that was good, but it was a lot of work.

The view looking eastward toward the house. The blue spruce is the shortest of the three fir trees in the photo.

The big apple tree shaded part of the vegetable garden in the spring and fall. Now, with it gone, there will be a lot more light coming through. And the views that have opened up are pretty cool. I figure that if these trees were planted around the time the house was built, they're probably about fifty years old. I read that fifty is the low end of the normal lifespan for a healthy, well-maintained apple tree. So these were not premature deaths.

What's left of the big apple. Doesn't look like much, does it?

There's a fourth tree that will be coming out in a couple of months. It's a tall blue spruce (we think) that is also dying. There are no needles on the lower third of its branches and many fewer than normal on the upper branches. This has been going on for a few years. The tree is too close to the house and is crowding two other trees. It needs to go. In the second photo, you can see the top of the doomed tree between the two tall pointy fir trees (we're keeping those). The spruce is on the left, and the linden is on the right. The linden will have more room to breathe.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Clean up

The hedge guys arrived on Tuesday morning as scheduled. There were four of them. Two started right away on the back hedge while the boss and another guy started cutting up the fallen apple tree. I took some photos in mid-morning, but don't have any more yet. At this stage they were cutting the small branches off for mulching and beginning to cut the larger branches and stacking them for firewood.

These two apples, the big one and the smaller one in the background, are now history.

All the work is done now. In addition to the hedge trimming, we had three trees cut down: the big apple in the photo, the smaller apple (just to the right of the back gate in the photo), and a completely dead pear in the northeast corner of the north 40. The small apple is dying and is filled with mistletoe; the pear has been dead for several years now.

I asked if they could cut the branches to the length that our wood-stove takes: 33 centimeters. No problem, they said, and now I have firewood ready to go (for next year, probably). I also have one or two new chopping blocks for doing the splitting. It's a real relief to have this done, and done so quickly.

What didn't get done is the removal of the tall blue spruce. The contractor said that he'd prefer to do that bigger job this winter, when his schedule will be lighter. That's fine with us. I'll have more photos of the trees firewood soon.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Ruts o' ruck

On Monday the construction crew (who are working down on the main road) took away one of the trailers that they parked outside our back gate. It's the "office" they've been using to have their morning coffee and lunches in. Consequently, there was no other "activity" behind our house yesterday. I'm hoping it's a sign that the construction is over, but the other trailer and the front-loader are still parked out there.

This rut is at least a foot deep. That's our hedge on the left.

This is one of the ruts they've made over the past few weeks during their back-and-forth with the big dump trucks and the front-loader. I'm hoping that they will fill them and re-grade the area before they're done. Hope springs eternal.

In other news, our hedge guy stopped by yesterday to say they're going to start at 08h00 this morning. He said we'd talk about the tree removal when he gets here.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Strange bedfellows

Or maybe I should say "strange vinefellows." One of these things is not grapes. These are some of the vines that grow on the wall of the old, and rarely used, cabane du vigneron (the grower's shed) out in the vineyard. The grapes aren't harvested for wine, but they do get nibbled on.

The grapes that haven't been eaten are beginning to rot. The red berries aren't grapes. Food for the wildlife!

Our wet days are continuing for a while and the temperatures are mild. I'm being attacked at night by a mosquito, or mosquitoes, as if it's summer. It's obviously warm enough for them to breed in all the puddles and other places where water accumulates. We need a good frost to be rid of them.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Amandine aux myrtilles

I found some blueberries in the freezer. They must be a hundred years old. Well, maybe a little less. I don't remember the last time I went blueberry picking... ok, I went and looked it up. July 2016. So these berries have been in the freezer for more than three years. And there are still more.

The recipe worked really well with blueberries. I'm encouraged to do it again.

So I decided to use some of them to make dessert this weekend. I made it with the pear amandine recipe I've made many times, swapping out pears for blueberries. The amandine is a kind of firm custard made with sugar, butter, eggs, and finely ground almonds. That goes into a pre-baked pie crust and the blueberries are sprinkled on top. It bakes for about thirty minutes.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Across the road

This is the view from the deck this week, looking across our road to our neighbors' property. They were here working in the yard last weekend, but took off back to Blois as the weather got worse. The grass was really too wet to cut, but they managed to cut some of it. They're always pruning and trimming and neatening things up. It's a big piece of land; it extends into the woods in back and down to the stream in the ravine. The woods don't need a lot of maintenance, though.

Our part-time neighbors do a good job of keeping their property looking neat and tidy.
Things are a lot greener than they were a couple of months ago.

We're in a holding pattern where our yard is concerned. I'm waiting for the weather to allow the hedge trimmers to do their thing. And the big apple tree is still on the ground. I haven't made progress in the vegetable garden, either, because I don't want to have to stomp around in the mud. But it's time to get things torn up and put away.

We're starting to bring plants inside, which means getting the greenhouse organized to receive them. Some of the potted plants are too water-logged to lift, so that's on hold for the moment as well. A few dry days would help a lot. It's hard to believe I'm saying that after the Saharan summer we had.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Stretch those legs

I caught Tasha stretching her front legs on Thursday. I had the camera out (for something) and there she was in front of the sliding glass doors, so I took a photo. Then she stretched. Got it!

It may look like the sun's out, but that's just the leaves turning gold. It rained most of the day on Thursday.

Bert spent most of the night in the house last night. He sneaked in before I could close his door, so I just let him stay. Around three this morning he meowed, his signal that he's ready to go back out. So I got up and walked him downstairs. His door was open of course, but he likes to be escorted. Tasha spent most of the night on the bed. She uses my back for a pillow.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Arch

Two grape vine tendrils met in mid-air this summer and formed this arch. Usually the reaching vines get trimmed off before this happens, but I think that the lack of rain meant that the growers didn't have to trim as much as usual this year.

Vine sculpture.

So, it's Halloween. All Hallows Eve. Whatever. The whole costume/trick-or-treat/candy thing is, in its current form, mostly an American invention that hasn't really caught on in France. The French celebrate November 1, la Toussaint (All Saints Day) instead. It's tradition for families to visit the graves of their late loved ones and leave flowers, mostly chrysanthemums. It's also a day off from work, so this will be a three-day weekend for most.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Red, gold, and green

No Karma chameleons here. Just grape leaves. Most of them are yellow and turning golden, but there is enough red out there to make it very pretty. Fall is doing its thing. The weather feels normal for the season.

The grape leaves are turning, but they haven't started to fall yet.

And so do the strikes. The SNCF (French National Railway) is experiencing strikes on the high-speed line that serves our region. The line runs from Paris to Bordeaux in the southwest and out to Brest in the northwest. The news said that the strikes were supposed to start last Thursday, the day Ken was coming home from his trip. I couldn't find his train listed in the real-time online train tracker and assumed it had been cancelled. But I got an email from Ken saying he was on his train, it was on time, and he had wifi. He hadn't heard anything about strikes. So, I guess that the strikes were announced, but didn't get under way until Thursday evening and Friday. They've continued through the week.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

We're in a gray and damp pattern right now. The sky is leaden, the days are dim. Rain comes and goes; not a lot, but enough to keep things wet. It's quite a contrast from the summer when we didn't get a drop for weeks at a time.

Tasha's on the lookout for pheasants and quail. She likes to chase birds as they fly away. Sometimes I wonder if she knows that she's a sheepdog.

None of this phases Tasha at all, of course, her being a Shetland. When the wind blows it can feel a little like winter. For now it just feels like fall: chilly but not too cold. Yesterday there was no wind at all and the grayness of the morning made the leaf colors seem very saturated. It was quite pretty. I didn't have the camera with me, so here's a shot from Saturday morning.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Men at work

Who can it be, now? Just a little down under humor. Or should that be humour? The construction continues down on the main road, which means the trailers and other equipment are still hanging out next to the pond. The ruts in the ground are getting deeper.

I haven't talked to anybody about filling in the ruts, yet.

We still don't know what they're doing. Other than they seem to be digging a trench and laying some sort of cable. I'm not sure what kind of cable it is. Electricity? Telecommunications? Both? Over the past few years, the town has been undergrounding utility lines, especially in the bourg (town center), as they call it. The lines that bring power to our hamlet were put underground back in 2013 after a big storm knocked our power out for a week or more. Before that, the lines were hung through vineyards and woods and access for repairs was becoming too difficult. We still have aerial lines from the transformer to our houses. I don't think anything is changing with those.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Fall fog

November and December are foggy months here. When the weather is calm and we get temperature inversions, the fog can be dense and can last through the day. On Saturday we didn't have an inversion, but there was a thick layer of fog in the river valley as the sun came up. It burned off pretty quickly and we had some nice sunshine for most of the day. It reminded me that the gray foggy days are not long off.

 Fog over the Cher River. The grape leaves continue to turn in the vineyards.

I noticed that one of our Parisian neighbors arrived yesterday. Her vacation house here in our neighborhood was open and lights were on. The other Parisian neighbor isn't here. Yet. I'll bet we'll see her before the week is over. Friday is the holiday, so it makes a nice three-day weekend.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The other shoe dropped

We noticed on Thursday afternoon that the other half of the apple tree came down. It must have happened while I was out picking Ken up at the train station. I guess when the first half went, it took whatever support was keeping the second half standing. It finally gave way. Again, there has been no wind to speak of. Just a rotten trunk. And gravity.

The left half came down first, last Monday morning. The right half fell on Thursday.

Now we have a real mess to deal with. Of course, I'm hoping that our garden contractor will make short work of it. I'll probably work on cutting up the logs into burnable sizes and stacking it all somewhere. But there's no real hurry for that, as long as the crew can clear the garden path and get most of the smaller branches cut, mulched, and taken away.

The view from the other side.

The other big job waiting to get done is winterizing the vegetable garden. I've got a burn pile started, but now it's time to pull up plants and get the stakes put away. Once the burning is done, I'll cover the garden plot with tarps again like we did last year. It really made a difference, keeping the weeds down through the winter and early spring.