Saturday, February 28, 2015

What's on tv

This week we see the debut of a new comedy series called Péplum. In French, the word péplum describes any show or film that takes place in ancient Rome or Greece, what we Americans might call a "toga and sandals" show or movie. The word actually comes from the ancient Greek for a woman's tunic.

The series stars a number of the standard French comedy personalities of the day, including Franck Dubosc, François Berléand, Kad Merad, Michèle Laroque, Manu Payet, Bruno Solo, and Yvan Le Bolloc'h.

This week's magazine also includes a memorial to recently deceased star, Roger Hanin.

What not to watch this week. Our tv magazine rates shows and movies using a star system: one star is ok, four stars is best. They use another symbol for really bad movies: the red dot. It means "à zapper" (change the channel!). The editors often include comments about the movie that make me laugh.

Well, it had to happen. I can't find a movie with a red dot this week. Instead, I'll share this one-star Canadian made-for-tv movie, if for no other reason than its alliterative title: Pop Star Puppy.

Pop Star Puppy. Made-for-tv. Canadian. Directed by A. Van Slee. 2013.
With Tyler Cook, Louie Anderson.
Twelve year-old Austin discovers that the dog his father gave him has a gift: it knows how to sing. Austin decides to enter the dog in a television talent show.
A television movie that spares no cliché, stirs up one feel-good emotion after another, and is ultra-predictable. All told, this film is tiresome.
For all audiences.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Down in the valley

Callie and I haven't walked down along the river in a long time. It's just too wet this time of year. I'm sure I sound like a broken record. And when it's foggy there's not much to see. We do go down into the valley through the woods in the afternoons. The path down is slippery with mud, but Callie goes mostly through the woods and I tip-toe along the path's edges to keep from falling on my butt.

Looking across the fog-filled river valley.

We cross a stream bed at the bottom of the path. The ground there is spongy, a combination of serious mole activity and the saturated conditions. But then we climb up a little onto a grassy path before getting to the road that leads up back up the hill to home. After all the mud, it's nice to walk on the paved road.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Seeing red

It may be because there's still a lot of pruning to do in these sections, but in certain light the vineyards look tinged with red. I see the pruners out every day in all kinds of weather working hard. Right now it's very wet out there and quite muddy in places. Not a very comfortable work environment.

Low diffuse sunlight shows up the red color in the grape vines.

It's getting to be time to start working in the yard again to clean up winter's mess and finish pruning shrubs and trees. Right now it's too wet to do much; the ground is squishy, especially in the mole towns. I particularly want to dig up and divide the rhubarb before it sprouts. I may have to suck it up and get out there despite the mud.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Measuring the rain

For over ten years now, I've had a rain gauge in the back yard. Ken and I dutifully (more or less) record each day's precipitation and I keep a spreadsheet that dates back to October 2004. It's one of those things that you have time to do when you're retired.

Six and a half millimeters (about a quarter of an inch) fell overnight Monday-Tuesday.

The actual gauges have come and gone. We've had this one for a few years now. It used to have a holder, but that broke, so now the gauge sits in a hole in the ground. That's why it looks dirty and marked up. But it works pretty well, as long as I remember to move it before I cut the grass. I haven't forgotten, yet.

When we first arrived here in 2003, our region was in a drought. We've noticed, and our records clearly show, that the annual rainfall since then has been steadily increasing. We are no longer in a drought. Interestingly, I think that the increase in mole activity is directly related to the increased rainfall. We barely had any moles the first few years, and now they're everywhere. Wetter ground is easier to burrow in, and I'm sure there are more worms and larvae to feed on than there used to be when it was drier. Is it wrong to hope for another drought cycle?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Water tower above the fog

Here's another photo from Sunday morning. We had clear skies and low fog in the river valley at sunrise. From the vineyards behind the house I could see across the valley to the other side and this château d'eau (water tower).

This château d'eau sits on the heights across the river from our town.

This is a typical style for water towers in France (and elsewhere in Europe, from what I read). They're strikingly different from the steel constructions I'm used to seeing in the United States. Still, tower design in both France and the US varies a lot and they can be amazing, even artful, additions to the landscape.

Monday, February 23, 2015


Sunday morning was chilly and we had frost. I noticed a very strong smell of smoke out in the vineyard during the morning walk. High pressure must have kept the smoke from peoples' wood fires close to the ground. In fact, I could see a layer of smoke and fog drifting slowly across the vines.

This section of the vineyard is not yet pruned, but it won't be long now.

The river valley was completely fogged in, but we were pretty much clear up on the heights, as you can see from the photo. Except for the "smog" layer. Today, the high is gone and we have off and on rain.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Happy birthday, Callie!

Today is Callie's eighth birthday. In dog years, she is now officially older than me. In dog years, I'm dead. We've got nothing special planned. I think I'll make her a scrambled egg for breakfast. Otherwise, we will very shortly head out for our morning walk. It's a frosty paws day.

Callie in black and white.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

What's on tv

It's Oscar time. We just had the Césars last night in France. I have no idea who won. From the looks of this cover, Clint Eastwood is up for his direction of "American Sniper." France would like Marion Cotillard to win her second Oscar for "Deux jours, une nuit." And who could resist an article called "Backstage with the Fashion Police?" Moi, that's who.

Special Oscar Edition.

What not to watch this week. Our tv magazine rates shows and movies using a star system: one star is ok, four stars is best. They use another symbol for really bad movies: the red dot. It means "à zapper" (change the channel!). The editors often include comments about the movie that make me laugh.

This is a television series that I believe originates in the US. I can't confirm it, but it may be called "Ghost Hunters" or "Ghost Hunters International" there. Here in France it's called "I filmed ghosts." I've never seen it. I don't hold with the paranormal, alien visitations, or ghosts. I don't believe in spooks.

J'ai filmé des fantômes. 2013. Four episodes.
Stories of people who've had an encounter with the paranormal.
Children could be frightened by this, maybe. Adults will surely find this program ridiculous, and they will be right!
Not for children under 10.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Periodic puppy pics

Most winter days can be put into one of two categories: frosty paws or muddy paws. This day was a frosty paws day. Today, on the other hand, is a muddy paws day. Some days can fool you. What may look like a frosty paws day often turns out to be a muddy paws day. It all depends on how hard the frost is.

Callie with frosty paws.

If it's just barely freezing, the puddles have no ice and the frost melts on Callie's feet. She picks up sand and mud just like on a muddy paws day. Then, upon our return from the walk, it's into the shower for a rinse-down (Callie has her own shower in the utility room). When it's really cold, there's no melting, no sand or mud, and no need for a shower. I like those days.

Much more rare is the snowy paws day. When there's snow, her feet get covered with little snowballs. Snowy paws days require a warm rinse to melt the snowballs before Callie can go into the house. We haven't had a snowy paws day in a couple of years.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The little chill

We're back below freezing this morning. But not much below. It will warm back up into the 40s F by this afternoon. I keep reminding myself that it's still February, so chilly weather is normal. And I'm thankful that I'm not in upstate New York right now. Boy, is it cold there.

Last year's oak leaves are still hanging on. They'll fall off as spring's new growth begins.

Knock on wood, our heating system is working fine. Given that the boiler is over twenty years old, we know that it could go at any moment. It gets serviced every year in the summer and the technician tells us that it's fine, but that it's old. It's time to prepare ourselves for the end. The automatic timer and programming system hasn't worked for more than five years now, meaning we have to go down to the boiler to turn it on and off by hand every day. Replacing the timer would cost way more than it's worth, so we're living with it for now. Still, we only run the central heating in the mornings during the heating season, switching over to wood for mid-day and the afternoons. We don't use any heat overnight. And the oil-fired boiler doesn't heat our domestic hot water; for that we have an electric hot water tank.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

We are not perturbed

Well, not today. We're between perturbations. In French, a low pressure weather system, typically une dépression or un cyclone (what we in the US call "a low"), is referred to by the prévisionnistes (forecasters) as une perturbation. The word is used to refer to any disruption in a system. For example, a service interruption in the subway, rail, or passenger airline networks is also called une perturbation.

Frosty mornings are typical of clear, unperturbed weather.

After a couple days of calm weather, we're expecting une nouvelle perturbation later in the week. The low pressure system will bring clouds and rain to our region, and probably snow in the mountains, a good thing for the ski resorts.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The in-between time

I feel like I'm treading water, immobilized, going neither forward nor backward. On hold, waiting. The days are longer, but still not very long. Winter is waning, but it's not spring. I'm making mental lists for garden and house chores, but not actually starting anything.

A pruned section of grape vines on a frosty morning.

On Monday morning I was out back emptying the ash bucket when I noticed some movement on the ground. At first I thought it was a bird, but then realized it was too small. And it was moving through the grass very un-bird like. I stood completely still and watched as it meandered toward me. Then I saw it plainly and, at that very moment, it disappeared into a hole in the lawn. A mole! I had never seen a live mole on the ground before.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Frosty sunrise

It's not like this now, but last week we had frosty mornings thanks mainly to clear skies at night. This morning is overcast and foggy, but above freezing, so no frost. Still, it's not warm enough to skip the daily fire, so I'm still splitting and hauling logs every morning. I'll be glad when that chore is done for the season.

The barely risen sun paints the cloud bottoms on this frosty morning.

I'm still waiting for the garden guys to prune the apples. They said they would be here in February to do it. I should go out and take some "before" photos before it's too late.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

From the piney woods

As promised, the weekend has been wet and relatively warm. A look at this morning's weather map shows the center of the low pressure system spinning directly over us. It's expected to move on toward the east as the day goes on. It should be a relatively mild and quiet Sunday.

Needles and cones.

Today we're making pizza for lunch. I guess we have pizza on the average of about once a month. It's my favorite food group. We're doing the standard ham/cheese/mushroom pizza today with our home-grown tomato sauce, probably followed by a green salad. I'm already hungry.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

What's on tv

The annual cérémonie des César du cinéma français will be broadcast next Friday night. The César awards are France's equivalent of the US Academy Awards or the British BAFTA film awards, the film industry's annual love fest. Like the Academy Awards, I never watch. Not only do I find award shows boring in general, and do not care about what people are wearing, I've usually not seen the nominated movies. I'm one of the few (I guess) who actually doesn't like going to the movies. I will see them at home, later. I've seen two movies in theaters in the past twelve years: The Return of the King and Brokeback Mountain, both seen in Paris more than ten years ago. Since then, just DVDs and our satellite movie channels.

This year's returning host, Edouard Baer, clutches the ugly César award.

What not to watch this week. Our tv magazine rates shows and movies using a star system: one star is ok, four stars is best. They use another symbol for really bad movies: the red dot. It means "à zapper" (change the channel!). The editors often include comments about the movie that make me laugh.

This week's gem stars Sylvester Stallone and Burt Reynolds (!) in a movie from fourteen years back called "Driven," apparently a youth vs. experience tale set in the world of race-car driving.

Driven. American/Canadian/Australian action film directed by Renny Harlin. 2001.
With Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Estella Warren.
Hired to boost the morale of a young hot-shot at risk of losing his title, a retired race-car driver becomes his friend.
Incredibly far-fetched, the story is painful to watch. The direction is an uninspired jumble of tired clichés.
For adults and teens. First showing.

Friday, February 13, 2015


We've been seeing a lot more of the sun lately, and it feels good. Even though we're expecting clouds and rain over the weekend, the last few days have been nice, dry, and filled with light. I have a mental list of the outdoor chores I need to tend to in the next few weeks: prune rose bushes and lavender, dig up, divide, and transplant rhubarb, plant some early seeds (like radishes) under a cold frame, clean up the firewood mess under the carport (we now need the carport for the old car so the new one can go into the garage). All this before spring cleaning and the serious outdoor stuff gets going.

Early morning sun lights up the trunks of the tall conifers near the piney woods.

The moles keep pushing up new hills, so I will have to deal with those, too. But I don't expect to cut the grass until the end of March, so I can ignore them a little while longer. I'm also waiting for the garden contractor to come and prune the apple trees, which he said would happen this month.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Periodic puppy pics

Where's Callie? There she is! She loves walking in the woods so much that she gets out ahead of me, especially when I'm taking pictures. Every few minutes she stops to be sure that I'm following or that I didn't take an unexpected turn. Gotta keep the pack together.

Callie in the woods.

On our normal walks, I'm pretty predictable and Callie worries less about getting out ahead. She can also see me from farther away on the vineyard road than she can in the woods, so she's bolder about being out in front.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Into the piney woods

The ground is a lot drier than it has been, so Callie and I ventured off our regular paths and into the piney woods that border the vineyard on Tuesday morning. She loves walking in the woods. I guess there's a lot more to sniff and smell in there compared to the tractor road. And since the sun was rising, there was more light than there would have been under cloudy skies.

Looking from under the pines out into the wild deciduous growth.

I call them the piney woods because of the large section of long-needled pine trees where we enter. Of course there are oaks, beeches, and birches, too. But in the piney section there is little undergrowth and it's easy walking on the soft rust-colored needles that cover the ground. In the deciduous sections I have to follow the deer paths to make my way through.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Lost glove

I noticed this single glove on the ground a week or so ago. It's out on the vineyard road. After a few days, I saw that someone had hung it over a grape vine, probably hoping that the owner might see it if he or she passed by again. It's still there; no one has claimed it.

This glove could use a hand.

I'm enjoying this period of dry days we're in. The ground is much less squishy and Callie is much less muddy at the end of her walks.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Get a grip

The common ivy around here will thrive on the ground, but it also loves to climb. It's not particular and will climb rock piles, fences, buildings, and as in this photo, tree trunks. Every year we cut the ivy from the trunks of the trees on our property so it won't take hold and damage them.

It almost looks like a ladder.

This ivy has gone up an oak tree out on the vineyard road. I like the way its branches are almost perfectly spaced and nearly perpendicular to the main stem. Ain't nature grand?

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Lessons in depth-of-field

I must have dozens of pictures of these dried grape vine tendrils and naked grape bunches in my archives. Most of them were not successful, but a few of them were. The problem I have is that I'm often taking these pictures during the winter (in summer the tendrils are hidden behind new growth and leaves) in the morning or late afternoon when the light is not bright. And I'm holding the camera, not using a tripod.

Most of the subject in this image is in sharp focus. I was lucky.

That means that I have to use a fast shutter and wider aperture to get an image without motion blur. And that results in a paper-thin depth-of-field (DOF). If I'm lucky, most of the image will be sharp. More often than not, half of the image is beyond the DOF and comes out blurred. Here's an example:

The parts of the dried grape bunch that are closer to me than to the stem are out of focus.

To get all of the bunch in the shot above sharp, I would need to use my tripod so I could close down the aperture to increase the DOF and take a longer exposure. Or, I could just take the picture when the sun is shining.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

What's on tv

I've never seen this show, but apparently it's now in season two (at least here in France). Also, it's Big Cat Week over on the National Geographic Wild channel. You haven't lived until you've watched low budget nature documentaries in English over-dubbed in French. Stupid dialogue in two languages simultaneously!

On location with Gillian Anderson.

What not to watch this week. Our tv magazine rates shows and movies using a star system: one star is ok, four stars is best. They use another symbol for really bad movies: the red dot. It means "à zapper" (change the channel!). The editors often include comments about the movie that make me laugh.

On Tuesday night we have "Vampire Dog." You know, it might so bad that it's good...

Vampire Dog. Canadian made-for-tv movie. Directed by Geoff Anderson. 2012.
With Collin MacKechnie, Julia Sarah Stone, and Amy Matysio.
When his grandfather, who lived in Transylvania, dies, a twelve year-old kid inherits his dog which turns out to be a vampire.
A stupid screenplay, jokes that fall flat, and bad acting. It's really hard to bond with this vampire dog.
For general audiences.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Hanging around

I noticed this the other day. It's hanging in an oak tree at the end of the dirt road where Callie and I walk most mornings. Somebody has a sense of humor, I suppose. What else would it be doing there?

Une pomme de pin pendue.

The sun will be up soon and Callie and I will be heading out. It's just about freezing, zero degrees celcius, again this morning, and I can hear gusts of wind. That means a little wind chill. Brrrr.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Round and round

The artsy organized neighbor has a second trailer in his collection that I hadn't noticed before. I'm assuming it's a new acquisition. The first one is still there. I can't tell if he actually uses them or just has them. I certainly have never seen them being pulled around. It's possible he could use this flatbed to move firewood, since it's parked behind a wood pile. And I did notice that a bunch of wood has recently been removed from the pile.

An old flatbed trailer that looks to be in good shape.

It's still cold in the mornings with light freezes. Puddles in the vineyard are usually iced over in the morning. Callie can still find the one with the thinnest ice and punch through, getting her paws wet and consequently picking up sand and mud. Maybe she enjoys getting rinsed and dried every morning.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Subtle changes

The artsy organized neighbor makes little adjustments to his piles of stuff from time to time. I notice something's been moved, or there is something new, when I walk past with Callie. I haven't been by in a while since I don't really go through the woods when it's rainy or wet (which it has been a lot this winter). I took a look this week, though, and noticed a few things.

A little collection of old roadside markers. At least that's what I think they are.

These look like the kind of balises (markers) that I see all the time on the roads. They are used to mark intersections, dangerous curves, or even railroad grade crossings. They will have differently colored reflective markings depending on their specific use, but the basic balise is white.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

It's still winter

The loft windows are frosted over this morning. Our temperatures dipped below freezing thanks to clear skies. The nearly full moon was quite bright when I was awake around 03h30. Just a reminder that we're just over half-way through the winter.

Dried Queen Ann's Lace among the grape vines.

Our crêpes were delicious yesterday. Unfortunately, I took no photos. I have some buckwheat batter left over, so we're planning crêpes again for today's lunch, but with a different filling. Maybe I'll take pictures this time.

Monday, February 02, 2015


Well, that wraps up another Australian Open. Murray was showing great in the first two sets, the second of which he won. Then he just fell apart and Djokovic cruised to victory. I was rooting for Mr. Murray.

A vine twists up a sapling in the nearby woods.

This morning I'm in media blackout so that I don't learn the outcome of the Super Bowl (American football) before I watch it this afternoon. I've been reading that Seattle is the favorite and is likely to win, but since I come from the Northeast, I'm rooting for New England.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Welcome February

We made it through the longest month. At least it always feels like the longest to me. Now for the shortest. February can also be the coldest month, but once it's over, spring is not far away. I've already noticed some of the bulbs in the yard poking up.

Freshly cut logs in the woods north of our house. I wish they were mine.

Through winter, my daily routine includes cleaning ashes out of the wood stove, gathering up kindling, splitting a few logs, hauling it up into the house, and building the fire. Then, usually, I go back out in mid-afternoon for a few more logs. This is the time of year when I start getting tired of the ritual. And the mess. Ashes seem to settle everywhere. I'm looking forward to spring cleaning.