Friday, January 31, 2014

No poles

Here is a shot of the back of our property without utility poles. For the moment, I haven't looked for similar shots with the poles for comparison. That will come later. You can see a small part of our house on the right.

The little pond out back has yet to freeze over this year. Maybe in February?

One of the poles stood where you see the bare dirt (or mud) in the right foreground. The other was just taken out in the background, to the left of the short hedge. We had the hedges cut down low in the back, but kept them high along the paved road for privacy. The difference in height is obvious in this picture. I can trim the low hedges myself, but I can no longer do the tall ones. We found a good gardener to do those for the time being.

Maybe one day we'll have them all cut down short, but I'm not ready for that yet. The building with the "Z" shutters is our garden shed, where the lawnmower, rototiller, and wheelbarrows live.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The second pole is down

On Wednesday the crew showed up and took down the second utility pole behind our house. This one was on the northwest corner of our property. They rolled a big backhoe/digger along the rain-saturated grass roadway, turning it into a big muddy mess. Then they sawed through the concrete pole at its base and knocked it over.

The downed electric power pole. It used to stand just beyond the end of the low hedge on the right.

The backhoe dragged the pole up closer to the paved road; I assume a truck will come by some time soon to carry it away. After that, they ran the backhoe back down to where the pole stood and dug out the footing. The whole process took about thirty minutes. Quick work.

Looking back toward the paved road. Our hedge on the left. Muddy tracks in the middle.

Later, I heard the machinery out beyond the vineyard parcel on our north side. I looked to see that the crew was taking down a couple of other poles out there. There is still one pole standing in the middle of the vines. I don't know how they're going to get that one out.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Where the dirt road ends

Just beyond our house, our little street becomes a dirt road that continues out through the vineyards. It connects with two paved roads at a little intersection that's normally the western limit of our daily walk. Of the three roads, only one is marked with a sign at the intersection.

I think the birds have been using the street sign as a perch.

Intervals of rain and sun continue. On Tuesday we had some sun. Right now it's light rain. Ugh.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Making waves

A stiff southwest wind blew on Monday morning, making these ripples in the little pond out behind the house. The air was chilly and in our faces as Callie and I made our way out to the end of the vineyard road. Fortunately, when we turned around to come home, the wind was at our backs.

This is as choppy as the little pond gets.

Later in the morning, I noticed that the guys who took the utility pole down had returned to remove the footing. One down, several more to go.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Even more rain

And wind. We got more rain yesterday afternoon and into the night. Then, sometime around midnight I think, the wind gusts picked up and the rainclouds blew away. I saw stars out the window. My walk with Callie in the evening was short given that we were having a wind-driven rain downpour.

A cinder-block garage/out-building with a red metal roof.

This red-roofed building is one we pass when we walk down the hill on our normal afternoon walks. I say normal because right now the path down is so saturated that I'm afraid to slip in the mud, so I'm avoiding it for the time being. That's too bad, because once we get down, it's a nice flat walk and we come back up the hill on our paved road.

I like the red metal roof. Our little carport (where I store firewood) has the same style roof.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Boring weather

It's neither warm nor cold. But it remains wet. There hasn't been enough time between rain systems for things to dry out. We're not getting massive quantities of rain, just near constant rain. Everything outdoors is soggy. Good days for staying in with the television, cooking warm food.

Pruned grape vines and posts on a misty morning.

And good for getting indoor work done, like organizing computer files, clothes drawers, hemming and patching, etc. We also have to begin thinking about emptying the kitchen and the den when the guy comes to repair the ceilings. The kitchen ceiling was damaged by leaking and the den ceiling has a large crack in it (it's been there since we bought the house, we just haven't fixed it). The den will also have the last of the old wallpaper removed. The work will be happening sometime in the next couple of months.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

I was hoping

It would have been nice to have an all-Swiss final in Melbourne, but it's not to be. Roger Federer lost to Nadal, so it's Nadal vs. Wawrinka in the final. I expect Nadal to win, but I'm rooting for Stan. I'll see how it goes on Sunday morning.

Another view of the misty morning we had last week.

We saw the notaire on Friday morning to find out what we need to do to make our wills. It turns out that it's very easy. We each write a paragraph and file it with the lawyer. Simple as that.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may

Or, in my case, ye kindling. I took the wheelbarrow over to our neighbor's property yesterday and picked up two loads of downed birch branches to use as kindling. He's told me in the past to feel free to gather them up whenever I want to. It saves him the trouble of clearing them out before he cuts the grass for the first time in the spring.

Grape vines are planted on the slopes to take advantage of good drainage.

So I have a bit more kindling for the daily fires. I'll still need to gather up some more before too long so I can keep a rotation of dry branches handy. I only need to do this because I burned through all the kindling I had set aside during the summer. Happens every year around this time.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Play misty for me

Ok, that's a stretch. I'm still showing you pictures of the misty morning we had on Sunday. Since then, we've had some sun and some rain. And the temperatures have dropped. The daily fires continue, but I'm just about out of kindling.

These vines have been pruned, but there is still work to do here before spring.

That's not to say there that there is no kindling to be gathered. Downed branches and such make very good kindling, and I still have two piles of dead hazelnut branches out back. The problem is that it keeps raining, and that makes the kindling wet and no good. I need to gather it and let it dry under the shelter for a few days. I've done that a time or two, but I'm running out and need to do it again.

Maybe I'll just have another glass of wine.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tree silhouettes

I seem to do a lot of these in the winter. The low angle of the light and the lack of leaves on the deciduous trees makes for some interesting contrasts between tree and sky. So I give you yet another version of tree silhouettes.

This time with a misty vineyard in the background.

I'm going to make a run to the local déchetterie (refuse depot) to get rid of a bunch of cardboard boxes that were accumulating in the garage. I broke them down yesterday and I'll haul them over for recycling this morning along with a few other items that can't go into the garbage bin. Life in France is filled with such exciting adventures!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A misty morning

Sunday morning was not overcast and the waning moon fell fast in the west. As the sun rose, a low mist formed. Ground fog, or Tule fog as they call it in California. It didn't last long, maybe ten or fifteen minutes, before it dissipated.

You can see the mist forming and settling in the low spots.

I had decided to take the long lens out, without knowing that there would be fog. I regretted not taking the tripod out, too. The light was low and the tripod would have let me take longer exposures with better depth of field. I was restricted to hand-held apertures and shutter speeds, meaning very shallow depth of field and grainy images. Still, I think I got a few good shots, so I'll share them.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Waiting for the pruners

The pruning process is under way. More and more vine parcels are getting cut back as the weeks go by, although I think the rains we've recently had may have slowed things down a little. There hasn't been much activity in the parcels directly adjacent to our house yet, but it won't be long, I'm sure.

A parcel of young sauvignon blanc vines (planted in 2005, if I remember correctly) waits to be pruned.

I'm not knowledgeable enough to know how the growers decide when to prune each parcel, or if it even matters. I do notice that some parcels are pruned to one long cane (which is then tied horizontally to a guide wire) while others are pruned down to two or three small stubs; I assume that has to do with the varietal and how it grows.

The pruners line up the cut canes neatly between the rows of vine trunks. Later, in spring, the growers will pass through the parcels with mulchers attached to their tractors to grind them up.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Birches and vines

I still see a lot of color out in the vineyards and woods, even though we're in January. The sun highlights the reds in the bare bark and there are plenty of evergreens around. Many of our shorter grasses stay a vibrant green throughout the winter.

I will try to remember to take the same shot after the vines have been pruned in this section.

So far this winter has been quite mild, even unseasonably warm. But that may be changing; I notice that we are predicted to get lower lows this coming week. I wonder if we'll see snow in February?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Moon and mistletoe

Here's another shot of the moon rising from the other day. I thought that the nearly full moon and the balls of mistletoe in the trees made an interesting composition.

I also took the color out of the picture.

Nothing much is going on here, except for the daily walks through the mud with Callie. We're trying to eat up some of the food in the freezer, so Ken is making a choucroute garnie (sauerkraut) today. He bought the 'kraut back in the fall when it was on sale and froze half. I'm still watching the Australian Open -- I record about twelve hours overnight and into the morning and am then able to skip through commercials and boring analysis.

Friday, January 17, 2014

How dry I'm not

Water runs fast and furious in all the little ruts, gullies, and stream beds that drain the vineyards right now. I haven't seen the river in a couple of days, but I will wager that it's pretty high. The weather systems come through one after the other, alternating rain with teasing sunny spells.

The sun sets during a break in the weather.

The rain showers are not violent, and sometimes they're more heavy mist than light rain, but the water comes down nonetheless. It's good news for the water table since a few years ago we heard a lot of talk about drought. But we still haven't had a good freeze yet this winter. My temperature records, which go back to 2005, show that most of our cold weather has come at the end of January and into February, so we may still have some proper winter weather ahead. Spring is still more than two months away.

And when it does get cold, don't be surprised if I complain about it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A new barbeque grill

When Ken and I lived in California, we had a Charbroil gas barbeque grill in Sunnyvale, then a Weber gas grill at our San Francisco house. We liked the convenience and cleanliness of the gas grill. When we moved to France, we started out with a standard barbecue fueled either by charcoal or wood. That worked for a while, but the distance between the kitchen and the back yard (down the stairs and out through the utility room) was not ideal.

The newly assembled gas grill in the living room.

A few years ago we bought a little electric barbecue grill for the deck and it was great. The convenience of cooking on the deck, right outside the dining room and not far from the kitchen, was ideal. But now we've decided to go back to gas. So Ken found a Campingaz brand grill on the internet. He put it in his "shopping cart" for a few months and we watched the price go down through the fall and winter.

We figured that we should buy it while the price is low, thinking that as spring (and barbecue season) gets closer, the price might go back up. So we bought it last week. It arrived on Tuesday, and I spent close to three hours on Wednesday assembling it. I wanted to make sure all the parts were there before too much time goes by, and they were. We won't get a gas bottle until sometime in March or April, but we'll be ready when it's time to cook outside again. I love to grill -- vivement l'été !

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


We're close to a full moon; I think it's officially full on Thursday. Yesterday I walked Callie in the afternoon just before sunset. We could see the nearly full moon rising in the east. Callie thinks the moon is like a hot-air balloon. She barks at it and tries to chase it through the vineyards.

The waxing gibbous moon rises on 14 January.

We took our usual afternoon walk down through the woods into the river valley, following the moon, until we turned our backs on it to climb back up the hill toward home.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Bare maples

This is the view from our terrace/deck. In summer, these two trees are thick with dark red leaves that filter the morning sunlight. This time of year, the leaves are gone and the low winter sun can shine through. When there is sun.

A neighbor's house across the road is visible in winter but hidden from view in summer.

Fortunately, these past few days have seen breaks in the successive weather systems and we've seen a good amount of blue sky and sun. The ground is still wet and muddy, though, so doing a lot outdoors is difficult.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Artichoke in winter

I haven't yet cut down the artichokes in our garden. The dead stalks and their spent flowers are still standing. This week I noticed that new leaves are growing out of the ground at the base of the stalks, probably due to the warm, wet weather we've been having. If and when we have another freeze, they may die back, but they will likely sprout again in the spring.

Artichokes are as pretty in death as they are in life.

Some time in the month ahead I will get out there and prune down the dead stalks, along with some roses and the other light pruning I've got to do.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Westward ho!

This is a view toward the west across the vineyards behind our house. You only get this view when you walk almost to the end of the dirt road, nearly a kilometer from the house.

All these bare vines are waiting to be pruned. It's a long, tedious job. I'm glad I don't have to do it.

On Friday we drove over to Romorantin, the third "city" in our département and one of the sous-préfectures, to do some shopping and run a couple of errands. One of the errands was to buy some fioul domestique (home-heating oil) for the rest of this winter and, hopefully, next fall. The transaction was done and the fuel will be delivered on Tuesday. I had to go in person because I wanted to use my American bank credit card for the purchase. The delivery guys only take checks or cash.

The other errand we had was to buy a SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card and plan for a cell phone that friends (thanks E&L!) had given us a few years ago. Ken and I keep talking about how it would be good to have a cell phone in the car in case we broke down somewhere, or in case one of us was out and about without the other and needed to get in touch. Pay phones are few and far between these days, especially in the countryside, and a mobile phone just makes sense. So, we're finally equipped with a bare-bones plan and minimal calling capabilities. It's really just for emergencies. Now we have to figure out how to work the darned phone (I just downloaded the user's manual from the internet).

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Les mini galettes

After I made the first galette des rois on Monday, I had some puff pastry and some almond cream left over, so I thought I'd make some mini galettes. I used a scalloped cookie-cutter to make the disks, spooned some of the almond cream onto half of them, and sealed them with the other half.

A few of the mini-galettes. They were brushed with an egg wash before baking to make them shiny.

They baked up perfectly and we had about six more little galettes to enjoy. No fève in any of these, however.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Little green apples

This is a small apple tree that grows along the vineyard road. Every year it's got maybe a dozen apples on it and they all fall to the ground to feed the wildlife. There are so many apple trees in our neighborhood that no one would think to harvest these few.

Silhouetted against a morning sky.

Since it hasn't rained much in the last few days, the puddles are beginning to drain. But the ground is still soaked and squishes under foot in many places.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

All wet

The weather, that is. While it's been bitterly cold in a large portion of the USA, the temperatures in France and Western Europe in general have been unseasonably warm for the past few weeks. It's positively spring-like with birds singing, plants growing, and buds fattening up.

Water stands in the few level spots in the vineyard.

And, of course, we've had a lot of rain. In fact, Wednesday was the first day in a while that we had a good deal of sun. It was nice. But it's not normal.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Raisin biscotti

I like to make biscotti around the holidays. They're easy to make and they are wonderful desserts when served with coffee, tea, or wine. The latter is my favorite accompaniment.

Home-made raisin biscotti. Yum!

My regular recipe is made with nuts, either almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts. I made this batch without nuts, but with raisins. The rich chewy texture of the raisins inside the crisp crunchiness of the cookie make these a special treat.

UPDATE: Here's the recipe.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

A January tradition

Most of you know already about the tradition of the galette des rois (cake of the kings) that's made for the epiphany, also called la fête des rois (the festival of the kings) in France. Many Catholic cultures around the world have similar, though varied, traditions; even in France the traditional galette is made slightly differently depending on where you are.

 My home-made galette des rois ready to eat, along with a glass of local gamay.

I make the one I'm familiar with, which is, I think, typical of the northern half of the country. It's puff or flaky pastry filled with an almond cream. I made the pastry on Sunday since it takes the good part of a day (rolling, folding, resting). Then on Monday I made the almond cream (almond flour, sugar, butter, and egg), assembled and baked the cake.

 We each had a piece, but neither of us found the fève. Maybe today!

I also included the traditional fève (originally a bean but now any number of plastic or ceramic figures) from the collection I've saved over the years. Whoever finds the fève in his slice is crowned king for the day. We used to buy our galettes from patisseries (bakeries), but they have become so expensive that I learned to make my own a few years ago. And mine are every bit as good as any I've ever bought, if I do say so myself.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Scattered showers

That's today's forecast. In fact, it's the forecast for most of the week. The ground is saturated (again) and everywhere you step is squishy. Callie picks up a lot of mud and sand during her walks, especially because she likes to walk through puddles.

Gray skies, bare trees, and puddles.

January is a long month. The days are beginning to lengthen, although it's imperceptible at this point. There's not much that can be done outdoors, aside from trimming a small shrub and gathering up twigs and branches that have blown out of the trees. The hydrangeas that I propagated are doing well and are slowly growing new leaves.

Our week this week is filled with errands to run. One of us will be out in the car almost every day doing this and that. The 2014 tennis season is under way with tournaments mostly in the southern hemisphere (the exceptions being in Qatar and India) leading up to the Australian Open which starts next week.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Last year's weather

You know I keep track. Maybe it's an OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) thing, but every day I record the low and high temperatures as well as any rainfall (measured in our rain gauge). We have an electronic thermometer with a remote sensor outside. I write the daily highs and lows on a little piece of paper that I keep next to the thermometer. Every month I transcribe the data into a spreadsheet.

2013 monthly rainfall in our back yard.

I've done this since 2005, so that's about eight years. It's a habit now. Something retired people find to do to occupy their time. Ahem. So, anyway, what have we learned? That 2013 was the wettest year we've had since I've been keeping track. We got more than 33 inches of rain during the year; more than twice what we got in 2005, our driest year.

Our daily outdoor temperatures.

Coté températures (on the temperature side), it was not a spectacular year, just about average from what I can tell. We had a wet and cold spring last year and that really put a damper on the growing of vegetables and grapes. I hope that 2014 is warmer and a bit drier. We shall see.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

House on a hill

Today we are going to our town's annual new year address by the mayor. It will be the first time in ten years that we've done it and we're not sure what to expect. Except that there is a glass of wine at the end.

Looks like a nice place. Relatively new, by the look of it.

The mayor is our neighbor and she asked us for some local landscape photos that she could use at the event. We're kind of curious about how she'll use them, so we decided to go to see.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Village view

This is a typical street in the village where we spent New Year's Eve this year. Well, technically last year. We had a feast that lasted from lunch through to midnight with the occasional break for coffee, food prep, or to walk the dogs. It rained much of the time, so walking the dogs was a wet affair.

A very tidy street below the château in Le Grand Pressigny.

As our weather continues to be wet and mild, we've been watching the weather in other parts of France and the world. Brittany is getting battered with high winds and surf and there's a lot of flooding out there. Réunion, an island in the Indian Ocean that is part of France, is under a major tropical storm. And North America is suffering with some of the coldest winter temperatures I've seen in a while, not to mention snow.

We're pretty lucky in our relatively calm part of the world. If it doesn't get cold soon, people will start complaining that it's too warm. They say the bug and other pest populations will get out of control if it doesn't freeze in the winter. But I have a feeling it will get colder before it gets warmer.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Rise and shine

If we're lucky, we'll see a bit more of the sun today. On New Year's Day, the morning started out overcast, but then the sun came out for a couple of hours before the next storm system moved in during the afternoon. Last night was windy and wet.

Another sunrise shot from earlier in the week. Today looks similar.

This morning, the sky is very bright as we await the sunrise. Another storm system is expected to bring us wind and rain on Friday and again on Saturday. Our temperatures are quite mild for this time of year, high 40sF up to 50F. It feels like spring, but we know there will be more winter in the months ahead.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy New Year

Welcome to 2014.
Live long and prosper.

A sunrise for a new year.