Friday, July 31, 2015

And the livin' is easy

It seems that we made it through our cold spell and the summer weather is returning today. The weekend will see us back in summer heat. I hope the tomatoes will like that. The rain barrels are full, so I'll be watering with free water for a while. There's not much going on in the vineyards that I can see. They've been doing a lot of mowing out there lately, and they've completed another round of trimming the vines into neat rows.

A mid-summer morning among the vines.

I finally (after a couple of weeks) took the step to drill holes in the newly painted den walls to hang pictures. I'm not done yet, but so far I'm liking it. Maybe there will be photos...

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Winter squash

I planted six winter squash plants in this year's garden: two acorn, two butternut, and two potimarron (red kuri squash). The plants are beautiful and are spreading all over the place. I got a little worried when I noticed that, for the longest time, there were plenty of blossoms but absolutely no fruit. I wondered if I had planted all duds.

This squash's skin should darken to a very deep green as we get closer to harvest time.

But one day I noticed this acorn squash under the leaves. A few days later I noticed a couple more. And now there are several potimarrons coming along. Phew! There are still no signs of butternut, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Is summer over?

I certainly hope not. But it really feels like fall right now with overcast skies, rain, and chilly temperatures. The weather people are predicting a warm up over the next few days. I hope they're right. Meanwhile, in the vegetable garden, the green beans are flowering and the little beans are growing. Winter squash is forming, and the tomatoes look ready to ripen. Now we need some more sun.

Green bean blossoms.

The zucchini is not disappointing. We've been eating some nearly every day and I still have about six of them in the kitchen. I may have to process them for the freezer if we can't catch up.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Our little fig tree has a few figs on it right now. We never get figs. They usually disappear before they ripen. I don't know if they're falling off or being eaten by something.

I wonder how long they'll last before they disappear?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Summer salads

Although the weather just turned more fall-like, we're enjoying summer foods. Garden zucchini is part of nearly every meal right now, prepared one way or another. We've also enjoyed some lemon cucumbers and green beans that a friend dropped by (from her garden) the other day.

Sliced lemon cucumbers in vinaigrette with fresh garden tarragon.

I've never grown lemon cukes, but I've had them a few times. Here they're prepared simply sliced and dressed in a vinaigrette with minced shallots, chopped tarragon, and paprika. Below are steamed green beans, cooled, and dressed in a similar vinaigrette.

Green beans in vinaigrette with shallots.

We've also made a summery potato salad and have been enjoying Ken's home-made rabbit rillettes. Today I'll do some sausages on the grill to go with the leftover potato salad, even if the air is a bit chilly. We did get some rain on Sunday, about seven millimeters in the gauge. They say the summer weather will be back in a few days. Let's hope so.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hip, hip, cheerio

These are English cucumbers. They're very small at the moment, but they will grow longer and larger over the next few days. English cucumbers are thought to be sweeter than our standard American varieties and have much smaller seeds. In my experience, this is the only variety of cucumber that is sold in French markets and supermarkets.

Tiny cucumbers just forming and flowering.

I've wanted to grow these for a while, but I've never found seeds for them in the stores. I could probably get some from the internet if I tried. The seeds for these plants came from an English friend who lives nearby (thanks Carol!). So far we've had three or four cukes and they are delicious, so I'm looking forward to more.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

What's on tv

This weekend will see the wrap-up of the 2015 Tour de France with the customary final stage finishing on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. But the big news on the cover of our program this week is the making of six new episodes of the X-Files. Scully and Mulder are coming back.

And the E! channel is showing Caitlyn Jenner's show. You'd think that there were no French tv shows.

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.

Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. Which one plays the python and which one plays the 'gator? I'll never find out. But the entry is worthy just to see, in print, the feminine form of the past participle of the verb créer (to create): créée [cray-yay].

Mega Python vs Gatoroïd. American made-for-tv movie. Directed by Mary Lambert, 2011.
With Deborah Gibson and Tiffany.
A new species of giant python invades the Everglades National Park. A line of mutant alligators is created to fight it.
A collection of everything bad in one movie. The special effects fail, the actors and actresses are very bad, and the script is ridiculous.
For adults and children over 12.

Friday, July 24, 2015

I say to-may-to

Here are some more tomatoes. This variety is called "rainbow." Apparently, the smallish, oval shaped fruit will turn various shades of orange and yellow when they ripen. The picture on the seed packet looked pretty, but my experience has been that when multi-colors are promised, there's one dominant color with very little else. Time will tell.

They look like they're wearing little crowns.

We're expecting some rain this afternoon, but the prediction is just for scattered showers. I'll still go out and water all the vegetables this morning.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

You say tom-ah-to

The tomatoes in the vegetable garden and coming along nicely. I'm looking forward to their ripening. And I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the weather continues to cooperate and that the mildiou (fungus) stays away.

I don't know what kind these are, but they're looking good so far.

I planted five or six different tomato varieties from seed, and have another mix of varieties that were given to me by a friend. I neglected to properly label the gift plants when I put them in the garden and now I have no idea which ones are which. I do have a list, so I might be able to figure it out when they ripen.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


I got the lawn mowed on Tuesday. There was a lot of mowin' goin' on in the neighborhood, in fact. Our neighbor across the road was also mowing, as was the grape grower out back -- he was on a tractor pulling a large mowing attachment behind him, cutting down the tall grasses that surround his parcels. He also did a small patch of four-foot high brush behind our fence, for which I am grateful.

Lots of apples on the trees this year.

You can see in the photo just how brown the "grass" is. It's a little greener in the shadows of the trees, but out in full sun it's just burned to a crisp. We haven't had any rain to speak of in nearly three months. The trees are okay as their roots go deep, but most surface dwellers are thirsty. I water the vegetable garden every day. If I didn't, we'd have a lot of sun-dried tomatoes.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Summer rolls on

Only one month in, but it feels like it's been summer forever. It's hard to remember bundling up against the cold, building fires, and temperatures near freezing. I'm sure we'll be reminded soon enough, but for now we're enjoying what passes for sultry summertime in these parts.

The summer vineyard.

Vegetable garden maintenance continues. I'm planning on cutting the "grass" today. It's mostly weeds and wild flowers, but it needs to be cut. But first, I have fallen apples to pick up off the ground.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Sloe motion

These, I think, are sloe berries. They grow wild on the edges of the woods around the vineyard parcels. The berries are not particularly good to eat, but can be used (with plenty of sugar) to make preserves or to infuse alcohol (commonly with gin, as in sloe gin). The bushes are thorny, hence the other name for this plant: blackthorn.

Beautiful purple sloe berries.

We're getting the typical abundance of zucchini from the vegetable garden. So far, we've cooked a fair amount of it on the grill by slicing the squash lengthwise, then seasoning the slices with olive oil, salt, pepper, and other spices. I've also made a kind of tabbouleh salad with cubed zucchini, bulgur wheat, tomato, corn, mint, olive oil, and lemon juice. The garden tomatoes are growing, but won't begin to ripen for a while yet.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

De bat fly in me face

After a sleep-interrupting round of thunderstorms between midnight and one this morning, we had a visitor in the loft. I was just getting back to sleep around two-thirty when I heard the soft beating of wings. I knew it was a bat. It wasn't the first one. Callie heard it, too, and started to whine.

It's been so dry that the daisies wither very soon after opening.

I got up and turned on a light and, sure enough, a bat flew over my head to the other end of the room, spun around, and came back toward me. Callie started barking, loudly, and jumping around trying to catch it. We opened the windows wide and I used a t-shirt to try to steer the bat toward one of them. At one point I tossed the t-shirt into the air. It landed on a beam several feet above my head (one of those recurring instances of "I couldn't have made that shot if I was trying"). After about five minutes (and Ken taking Callie downstairs), the bat finally found a window and was gone. I don't think I got back to sleep until around four.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

What's on tv

There's turbulence over at Canal+, the group of premium channels available by subscription in France (and throughout the world). Last month, the long-time director of programming at the group, Alain De Greef, passed away. We also lost several of the group's subsidiary channels that were part of our satellite package, like Sport+ and Cuisine+, channels that just stopped broadcasting. Now there are rumors coming out of the group that more changes are being made. Among them, and most disconcerting to a lot of people, is the potential cancellation of the political satire show "les Guignols de l'Info," a staple of Canal's line-up for the past twenty-seven years. We'll have to stay tuned (or not).

The guy in the middle is the puppet version of PPDA (Patrick Poivre d'Arvor), the former TF1 anchorman and the "host" of les Guignols de l'Info.

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.

Another week, another killer shark. This one's original title is "Swamp Shark." Shark movies never fail to displease our reviewers. With one notable exception: Sharknado. They liked that one. And Sharknado 2. Thumbs up. And, if you look at this week's cover, you will see that there's a report on the filming of the upcoming Sharknado 3. Oh boy.

Killer Shark. American made-for-tv movie. Directed by Griff Furst, 2011.
With Kristy Swanson, Richard Tanne, D.B. Sweeney, and Jeff Chase.
Every year, hundreds of young people gather in the bayou for Gator Fest, but this year, a giant shark lurks in the swamps.
An attempt to copy Spielberg's "Jaws" without the talent or the budget. The result is sometimes funny, but above all, mostly annoying.
For adults and children over 10.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Hot dog

Thursday was the hottest day of the week, and arguably the hottest day in recent memory, at least where we live. Our new fridge was delivered without incident and once we got all the food packed back in, we took Callie outside for some hose fun.

Callie loves playing with the hose.

She loves to chase the water and snap at it as it comes out of the nozzle. It's good play and she gets cooled down with the added benefit of a kind of bath. And with the heat she dries off pretty quickly. Of course, now she needs a good brushing.

Getting a mouthful.

We're still going to be in the upper 80sF over the next few days, but it will feel much better than the upper 90sF that we had yesterday.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Cool as a cucumber

It's cool this morning at just about 20ºC (68ºF), but we're expecting the hottest day of the week today with the high temperature in the upper 90sF. We've been enjoying a few cucumbers from the garden, but we're in a production lull right now. And, today we're expecting delivery of a new refrigerator, which means emptying everything from the old one into coolers before transferring it all back into the new one.

Long English cucumbers. Tasty!

I think it will be a good afternoon to get Callie soaked with the hose. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

It's gonna be a grape day

Our heat is back for a couple of days. Tuesday was beautiful, but today we'll be up into the mid-80sF and on Thursday we are expecting a high of 37ºC (98.6ºF). Ouch! The grapes are loving it and look like they're growing very well. Our tomato plants are covered with blossoms and not a few little green tomatoes. I've got to keep them well watered.

The bunches of grapes seem more plentiful this year than in recent years.

The grass has stopped growing with the heat and lack of water, but the weeds in the yard have not, sending up flower stalks all over. I will have to get the lawnmower out soon and mow them all down. The ground is like concrete and what grass there is (was) is withered and brown. It will all come back with the rains, but I'm in no hurry for that, hoping that the summer weather continues for a while.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


The vegetable garden is starting to produce. We've already eaten a couple of cucumbers and on Monday we grilled the first zucchini. I'm hopeful for a good harvest this year, even though it's been very, very dry for the last ten weeks. I spend about twenty minutes watering every morning, filling a watering can and giving each plant a drink. I could use the sprinkler, but then I'd be watering the weeds as well as the plants. That, and the leaves would get all wet and that's when you have to worry about fungus/blight.

Zucchini blossoms are edible (battered and deep-fried), but I don't go to all that trouble.

I don't know if watering by hand reduces the chances of blight, but it can't hurt. It also gives me a chance to pinch off suckers and adjust the ties on the growing tomato plants. The few weeds that do come up are easy to see and get rid of. The first row of green beans is starting to blossom, so I'm hopeful that we'll have beans in the next couple of weeks.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Boom boom

Our town held it's annual July 14 celebration on Sunday night. The twelfth. We heard the fireworks going off around eleven last night. The other towns around us are probably waiting until Tuesday night for their fireworks, so we'll get to hear them again.

The sign on the electric fence at the spot where the trail heads down through the woods.

I don't know why our town does them on Sunday night, but it's not the first time. It may have something to do with people having to go back to work the day after the 14th, so staying up late for fireworks and the party after on a "school night" may not appeal to some. I don't know how many people use the expression "school night." It comes from kids not being allowed to stay up late at night so they can get up for school the next day. I guess it carried over into the working world.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Summer daze

We're having a real summer. So far. The days are sunny, warm, and dry. The afternoons are actually hot, even if the mornings are a little chilly. One day it will start raining again, but we're enjoying this nice stretch of nearly perfect weather.

Our house seen from the neighbors' property on a sunny summer afternoon.

Our neighbors across the road showed up on Saturday. They usually move in for the summer at the start of school vacations, which was last weekend, but we didn't see them until yesterday. They've both been having some health issues, so we're hopeful that things are going better for them. Ken and I often walk Callie across their property when they're not there. We like to keep an eye on things in the neighborhood.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

What's on tv

This weekend is finals weekend in Wimbledon, the Tour de France rolls on, and Bastille Day is on Tuesday. None of these events is mentioned on this week's program cover. Instead, we have Sandrine Quétier, the new host of MasterChef on TF1. I don't normally watch cooking competition shows, so I won't miss anything.

No mention of July 14 event coverage on this week's cover.

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.

Apparently, it's "shark week" in the USA, the Discovery Channel's annual collection of shark related programming. Here in France, it seems that there's always some shark movie on. This week, it's "Jersey Shore Shark Attack." I don't think they're talking about the island of Jersey, either.

Jersey Shore Shark Attack. American made-for-tv movie. Directed by John Shepphird, 2012.
With Jack Scalia, Jeremy Luke, Joey Russo, and Daniel Booko.
In New Jersey, a coastal drilling operation liberates a horde of albino bull sharks from the deep.
The actors, all bad, are helped along with a non-existent storyline. It's so bad, it's irresistible!
For adults and children over 10.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Through the woods

From spring through mid-summer, the path that Callie and I like to take down through the woods into the river valley is closed. An electrified fence blocks it off; the fence helps to keep hungry deer out of the adjacent vineyard parcel. Otherwise, the deer would nibble on the new shoots, flowers, and tiny grapes. So, we find other paths to take around the vines.

Looking back up the path from the road.

This little path is not closed off and it connects a vineyard parcel with our road as it climbs up from the valley. It's a very short path, but it's a nice cool spot on a warm afternoon and Callie loves most paths through the woods. It won't be long before the electrified fence is opened up and we'll be able to head down the hill again.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Periodic puppy pics

I haven't taken many pictures lately. I've been working on putting the den back together, watching tennis, watering the garden, etc. And it's been hot (but it's cooled down now). This one is from a few days ago. Callie and I were playing with her tennis ball. In case you don't know, "playing" means that I throw the ball, she chases it and then sits down with it. End of game.

Callie sits with her tennis ball. Come and get it.

The next time I walk by where she's sitting, she'll look at me with that look. It's the look that means "I want you to throw the ball." So I go and fetch the ball and throw it again. She chases it and then sits down with it. End of game. This will happen four or five times over the course of an hour or two while I putter around in the yard. At least it's not strenuous.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Hydrangea update

A couple of you asked about the hydrangeas. If you remember, I took cuttings from the hydrangea on the north side of the house a couple of years ago, rooted them, and then planted the new plants against the front of the house last year. They replaced some tired old roses and camellia bushes.

The board is Bertie's "ladder" which he uses to get into the garage where his kibble and bed are.

They made it through the winter just fine and have grown significantly (except for the one on the far right in the photo below; I don't know why it's still so small). And the flowers are bigger than those on the parent plant.

A wider view. The edges and underside of the deck need to be painted. You can see the parent plant around the corner on the right.

This fall, when the leaves have dropped, I'll trim them back a little just to even them up and I'm hopeful that they'll come back with thicker and more even growth next spring.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015


Last week, during the height of our heat episode, the guys in the vineyard completed installing the stakes and wires in the new vineyard parcel. They were getting out there very early in the morning to beat the heat. Now it looks like the job is done.

New, long-lasting metal stakes and support wires in the new vineyard parcel.

The new parcel is planted with sauvignon blanc. I asked one of the guys about it and he gave me a quick lesson on how to tell the varietals apart by looking at their leaves. I'm not sure I could pass a test, but I have a better idea now of the differences between sauvignon, côt, and gamay, three of the varietals that are planted out back. There is also some cabernet out there somewhere, but I'm not sure where. Not to mention the small parcels of pineau d'aunis and grolleau. I have a long way to go.

Monday, July 06, 2015

The house in summer

Our summer heat wave is winding down, but it's still warm enough to keep the house opened up. All doors and windows are open to let air flow through. When it gets extremely hot, we can close all the windows and shutters and keep the inside temperature a couple of degrees cooler than outside, but in normal warm weather we like to feel the air flowing through.

The back (west) side of the house. The wisteria is getting a second round of flowers.

School vacations are officially under way now. We have not seen much sign of that here. Our neighborhood is quiet for the time being. The usual summer neighbors have not yet arrived, as far as we can tell. We're still working on arranging the den and tending the vegetable garden.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Summer time

We've had a few thunderstorms over the past twenty-four hours. The first round went by us to the northwest on Saturday mid-morning, with a second round to the east of us quickly after. Then, around four-thirty this morning, the lightning and thunder started up again. And, once again, the storm just skirted us. We did get some rain both times, but not much.

These wild chicory flowers were mowed down in the prime of their life on Friday.

The town came by on Friday and mowed the shoulders of the dirt road that runs out through the vineyards behind our house. A lot of the tall grasses are gone now. And so are many of the wild chicory plants.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

What's on tv

The Tour de France gets under way this weekend. While Wimbledon moves toward its final matches next weekend, the cyclists will be riding through northern France. Then they'll head south for the big climbs in the Pyrenees and the Alps.

It's been 30 years since a French cyclist won the Tour.

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.

Monsters! Actually, mutant wasps. Ick. It's orignal title in English is "Black Swarm."

Les guêpes mutantes (Mutant wasps). Canadian made-for-tv movie. Directed by David Winning, 2007.
With Sarah Allen, Sebastien Roberts, and Jayne Heitmeyer.
Genetically modified wasps attack a town in the American countryside.
This television movie starts out like a competent B-series film, but rapidly becomes a Z-series movie that descends into the ridiculous. A real stinker!
For adults and children over 10.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Vines in summer

It's hot! And Thursday was a little more humid than we're used to. Sleeping last night was not very comfortable. Today is expected to be the hottest day of our little heat wave, topping out at 36ºC (96.8ºF). The people that work out in the vineyard have been starting in the early morning hours to avoid the hottest part of the day. This morning I noticed they were already out there working when I got up at 5:30; it was just barely light.

A sunny, hot, summer morning in the vineyards.

I also "work" in the morning, doing whatever chores need to be done. First and foremost is watering the vegetable garden, then the potted plants around the house and deck. I'm also still, slowly, moving things back into the den. After lunch, there's Wimbledon to watch on television while we just sit, trying not to get too warm. Today is a good candidate day to get the hose out and let Callie get soaked. She loves that.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The den is done!

The repainting of the den got finished on Tuesday evening when the contractor and his son reinstalled the radiator. Ken and I spent Wednesday morning washing the windows and the floor, and wiping down the cabinets. Then I moved my computer, printer, and scanner back in.

The milk chocolate walls make the cabinetry really pop out. The color is actually called "ours brun"  or "brown bear."

There is still much to do. I have to get the carpet back in (after some thorough vacuuming), and move one of our cabinets in. The single bed that was in this room won't be back. It seldom got used, so there's no point in keeping it there. We will store it in the garage and have it available if we ever need it. The cabinet that will take its place is filled with kitchen stuff. It's currently downstairs in the entry, so every time we need something from it, we have to go downstairs to get it. Now, it will be in the den and access will be much easier

Another view with the computer stuff all set up.

Then, of course, I have to get the curtain rod up and, once the furniture is in place, pictures on the walls. I don't really want to drill holes in the freshly redone walls, but they can't stay pristine forever. Finally, I have to get the new light fixture that I found for the ceiling. There's no rush for that, but we'll probably make an Ikea run sometime in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Periodic puppy pics

Here's Callie, hard at work. Most mornings during the pruning season she will find the cast-away trunk of a dead grape vine and carry it back to the house. As summer approaches there are fewer and fewer of these out there, but every once and a while she'll find one. And home it goes. We've got piles of them for burning during the winter. And they make great barbeque fuel.

Callie carries an old vine trunk back toward home.

The den work is done! Today I'll start the process of moving back in, but first I need to clean the windows and floor. The contractor cleaned up the floor, but I want to go over it again for good measure. Then I have to put the curtain rod back up. The first thing that will get moved back in is my computer.