Tuesday, February 28, 2017

New toys

While Ken was in North Carolina, I ordered some new do-dads for my camera. A little background: I regularly look at a few photography blogs on the internet. One in particular is written by a guy in Oklahoma who posts weekly photos taken exclusively with his "nifty fifty," a 50mm prime (fixed) lens. One day last year he mentioned that he had acquired a set of magnifying filters that he can attach to his lens to simulate macro photography. I was intrigued.

Depth of field is tricky with the mag filter, so I'll have to work on that. Chains, 50mm +4 mag, f/8, 1/125s, ISO 5000.

I have a 100mm macro lens that I like. It's big and heavy, so lugging it around is not always easy. But with magnifying filters, I can take the 50mm lens (small and light) and have the versatility of using it alone or with one of the four different mag filters. The filters were inexpensive and come in +1,
+2, +4, and +10, and they can be combined for even more magnifying power. So I'm starting to play around with them.

This first time out I used only the +4 filter. With it attached to the lens, I have to get in real close to the subject to get a focused shot (which I don't have to do for the 100mm macro lens). But so far I'm liking the effect. Watch for more experiments in the days and weeks to come.

Monday, February 27, 2017


I don't know what that means, but it's what popped into my head when I saw this on the ground. It's probably a grape vine tendril that got cut off during one of last summer's trimming runs.

Does it look like a doodly-doo to you, too?

Today I'm going over to the lab for the now biennial (every two years) blood work. Our current doctor said for people in good health, he only needs to see the blood results every two years. The other doctor made me do it every year. I don't know if the national health service has changed things or if it's just this doctor, but it's fine with me. Our local lab is in the process of moving, but the new location isn't open yet, so I'll go to the same old place this time.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

New growth

That burst of warm weather we had last week gave the plants a boost. Buds are fattening and new growth is starting to pop up all around. Our artichokes are always early sprouters. Sometimes they're so early that they freeze back down to the ground, but then they'll come up again. This is one of the two remaining artichokes in our garden and they're both currently sending up new leaves.

I love seeing green in the garden!

The cyclamens are in full flower and the primroses are starting to bloom. It won't be long until the some of the trees and shrubs start flowering, too. The forsythia is getting close, as is one of the plum trees out back. And even though we could still have a freeze at any moment, and probably will have a few more frosts, spring is not far off.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Smooth sailing

For my part, everything went smoothly on Friday. The morning was sunny and my drive to Tours was pleasant. No serious traffic, no slow-moving trucks ahead of me, the stores were uncrowded, and I had plenty of time to do my shopping and get to the train station.

A vineyard guide wire looped around a rusting steel post.

The station's parking lot was not full and I found a good space. Ken's train was about ten minutes late, but he was on it and we were quickly on the way back home. Lunch was tasty and things around the house are returning to normal. Callie is happy to see her other dad again.

Friday, February 24, 2017


As I type this at six in the morning, Ken's plane is just crossing Ireland on its way into Paris. Landing is estimated at about 07h15. I really like the flight radar tracking site on the internet. After de-planing, he'll go through immigration and then on to baggage claim. Then he'll have a couple of hours to wait before his train leaves.

A lone tree out among the vines. We've watched this tree grow bigger over the last 14 years.

The airport is a stop on the TGV (high-speed train) network. From the middle of the airport to Tours takes about an hour and a half for a 260 km trip; the train doesn't get up to full speed until it gets out of the urbanized area. Tours is about a 45 minute drive from our house. I'll pick him up after doing some shopping over there. I don't know how jet-lagged he'll be. The flight was overnight, but if he got any sleep it was probably not much. I made a pot of lentils and sausages so we can have lunch when we get back.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

What's in a name?

Up in the UK and northern France, there's a storm blowing through today. We'll only see minor effects down here in the Centre, some not-too-bad wind gusts and a little rain later in the day. On French television, the weather people are calling the storm "Thomas." But, on the UK news sites (like Sky), the storm is being called "Doris." I can't figure out if there are two storms or if it's just two names for the same storm. And if it's two names, why?

Last Sunday's sunrise over the vineyards with frosty grass. It's much warmer, and overcast, now.

As I said, we're just being brushed by the southern edge of the system, so it'll be breezy here today with some gusts, nothing threatening. And it should all be winding down by the time Ken's plane flies in early Friday morning. If anything, he'll have a good tail wind and might possibly land early.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Periodic puppy pics

Today is Callie's tenth birthday! It's hard to believe that she's ten years old already. That's seventy in dog years. Time flies. Here she is sitting for her portrait with one of her favorite things: a rawhide chew. She would prefer to take this outside and roll on it in the grass, but it's chilly and wet out there. So the living room carpet will have to do.

Somebody needs to get brushed. I'll be taking her to the groomer's in March for her springtime shampoo, brush, and trim.

I picked up some "special" dog food for her lunch today. It's veal pâté. Not the people kind, but the kind made for dogs. It will make a nice supplement to her daily kibble. And there's enough to last a few days.

The rawhide chews help to keep Callie's teeth clean.

I keep telling her she's a ten-year-old dog. She cocks her head when I say it. "What's he yammering on about now," I see her thinking. It's not food and it's not a walk. Oh bother.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Make like a tree

This patch of woods on the edge of one of the nearby vineyard parcels is very close to Callie's favorite path. We had just emerged from the woods and I noticed how the rising sun was making the dead leaves (still clinging to their trees) shine bright orange.

The rising sun shines horizontally through the woods.

Around here, oak and a few other tree species don't drop their leaves in the fall. The leaves die and turn brown, but most of them stay attached to the tree until the new spring growth pushes them off. I don't know if this is normal for oak trees or just the species that grows here. I certainly don't remember that about the oak trees where I grew up (upstate New York). Live oaks in the American south and west don't shed their leaves at all.

So, I just had to look this up. I found that this phenomenon has a name: marcescence. It occurs most widely in oaks, beeches, chestnuts, and hornbeams. The woods around us contain all four species in abundance. In French, they're called chêne, hêtre, châtaignier, and charme, respectively. Marcescence is the same word in both languages. You learn something new every day!

Monday, February 20, 2017

A light frost

Sunday morning was chilly, easily the coldest morning we've had in a week. The grass all around was frosty, but it didn't really feel cold out. Callie and I went for our morning walk as the sun came up.

The ground was frosty white around the little pond behind our house.

The sun rises earlier and earlier, so we can get outside earlier and earlier. Our official sunrise on Sunday was 07h51. We left the house at about eight. I can really hear the birds in the morning now. In the coldest part of winter there isn't that much morning birdsong to be heard. As we walked, I saw two wild hares scurry through the vineyard. Callie was out in front of me and she missed them.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sunny Saturday

Saturday was just brilliant. It didn't get as warm as the middle of last week, but the sun was out all day and, while the ground is still a little wet in places, I noticed a lot less mud on Callie's paws after our walks. She loves the nice weather and sits in the sun where and when she can. I left the door open part of the day so she could go in and out, roll in the grass, and enjoy being outside. And she did.

A difficult photo to get right because of the contrast between sun and shade.
There's Callie heading out to a shady spot after sitting in the sun for a while.

The view is from the guest bedroom looking west out over the vineyards. I took it to more or less document the work I did around the real fake well. I pulled out the jerusalem artichokes that I had planted there a few years ago. I think they're too tall for the space and I want to get back to planting smaller flowers in that bed. It'll probably be annuals like marigolds or something similar this year. The tall sunflower-like jerusalem artichokes grow from rhizomes and they spread like crazy. It's impossible to get them all out, so many will re-sprout soon. If I can't pull those out easily, I'll use a product to kill them. Bad, I know, but it's the only way I know to do it quickly.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

In the drink

Or, if you will: drunk and sunk. At the end of the dirt road that runs from our house out through the vineyards, there's one of many small water holes that we see here and there. I think the "holes" are man-made because they're too regularly shaped and too regularly spaced to be natural. The holes fill up when it rains and slowly dry out when it doesn't. Each might be three or four feet deep.

1664 refers to the year that the Kronenbourg brewery was founded. You can find almost anything on the internet.

I saw this bottle kind of floating in the water hole. It's a beer bottle, the brand is 1664, a French brand from Alsace. It's part of the Kronenbourg group which, in turn, belongs to the Danish Carlsberg beer company.

Friday morning was gray and foggy. Visibility was very low. I couldn't see much beyond our back yard from the windows. But at lunch time the fog burned off and we got a pleasant sunny afternoon. I built a fire in the wood stove to keep the heat from coming on. We're in that in-between time when it's not really cold enough for a fire, but it's not really warm enough to do without heat. Firewood is cheaper than fuel oil, so I split a few logs for the wood stove.

Friday, February 17, 2017

It's the real thing

And it's what all the hip young vinesters are wearing this year. Yes, there are some Coke bottles out among the water bottles protecting young vine saplings here and there. I was surprised to see them, but what the heck. French people love their "Coca" almost as much as their wine.

The Coca-Cola company adds a little color to our brown winter vineyards.

Based on my extensive quick and dirty internet research, France consumed 33.4 liters of Coke per person during 2012. Per capita wine consumption was 45.6 liters during 2011. That seems pretty close to me. Ken and I don't drink Coke, but I'll wager we do better than the average for wine. Forty-five liters of wine doesn't last as long as you'd think.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Springtime in February

Wednesday was glorious. Sunny. Warm. Our high temperature topped out at 16ºC (just over 60ºF). I was outdoors in a t-shirt in the afternoon, doing a little pruning and clean-up. Nothing major, but I got some fallen sticks and branches off the ground, cut suckers off from around the base of our tilleul (linden tree), and trimmed up some dead flower stalks in a planter box. Callie enjoyed rolling around in the grass while I puttered.

Curly-cues on a vineyard guide wire.

Inside the greenhouse felt especially warm. I did some trimming in there as well. Certain perennials are coming back already. The tarragon is sprouting like mad, there's catnip coming up, the chives have re-sprouted, and the amaryllis bulbs are putting up new stalks. Even last year's geraniums look healthy with new flower buds.

Wednesday was predicted to be the warmest day of the week, so our highs will be a little lower in the coming days and we're expecting lows back down into the single digits over the weekend. But hey, it's still February.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Leftovers again

I'm not used to cooking for one, but when Ken's away that's what I have to do. On Sunday, I made spaghetti and meatballs with some of our frozen sauce and some frozen meatballs from IKEA (don't judge). Of course, there was plenty left over and it went into the fridge.

My gratin of spaghetti, mushrooms, and meatballs. I only ate half.

On Tuesday, I put the leftover pasta and sauce into our smallest gratin dish and arranged the leftover meatballs on top. Then I sautéed a few leftover mushrooms and added them. I topped it all with the rest of the sauce and some leftover grated comté cheese from Monday's lunch and put it into the oven. It was pretty tasty, but there is still some of it left over. Ugh!

On Monday I took three leftover endives that Ken had cooked before he left and wrapped each in a deli turkey slice. I made a quick béchamel sauce and poured that over the endives, then sprinkled grated cheese on top (that's where the leftover cheese for yesterday came from; I had grated too much). It went into the oven to be gratinéed. Yum. Of course, I only ate two of the three endives, so I have leftovers of that as well.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Long shot

Here's a familiar view to many of you: our hamlet seen from the vineyards. There is still a lot of vine pruning to do, but it's slowly getting done. That car parked out there belongs to one of the guys who works on pruning, trimming, harvesting, and all around vineyard maintenance. He and others are out there year-round doing one thing or another.

A view toward the northeast and the Cher River valley.

This little warm spell is nice. It's not shorts and t-shirt weather by any means, but it feels nice and spring-like. The downside is all the mud out there. Callie's paws are awfully dirty after her walks. There's one spot on our evening route that was recently re-graded. I walked down through there on Sunday afternoon and sank nearly ankle deep in the muddy clay. Yuck. Not going that way again for a while.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Little fungi

I saw this fungus on a leaning tree trunk in the woods the other day and thought it looked interesting. They are tiny, about half the size of a finger nail.

There's a fungus among us.

The difference between Sunday morning and today is amazing. On Sunday, we had freezing rain and ice on the ground; Callie and I slipped and slid on the dirt road through the vineyards during our walk. This morning the temperature is a balmy 7ºC (almost 45ºF), and we're expected to get up to 15ºC (nearly 60ºF) by this afternoon. Wow.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Which way is north?

Moss grows on the north side of tree trunks, right? That's the rule of thumb in the northern hemisphere, but actually moss grows where ever the conditions are right. Where the sun shines for any length of time, the bark of a tree will dry out. Moss favors the shady, cooler, and damp conditions where the sun can't reach. But shade can be cast by other trees and dense foliage, so moss can, and does, grow on any side of a tree.

Moss also likes the decaying conditions of downed limbs and trunks.

So, which way is north in this photo? It's kind of behind me and a little to the right, if I'm not mistaken.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Follow the leader

This is one of Callie's favorite paths through the woods. It's more or less a shortcut to the artsy organized neighbor's property and his collection of discarded construction materials. The path probably started out as a deer path, but with Callie, Ken, and me walking through regularly over the years, it's become more regular, a little wider, and well worn.

Callie leads the way through the woods.

We're having freezing temperatures again in the mornings. The night sky is clear (with the full moon blazing) and the mornings are frosty. But that's supposed to end by Sunday afternoon. The weather people are predicting spring-like temperatures for next week. I'll take it.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Walking among the vines

Callie likes nothing more than getting off the dirt road during her walks to cut through some woods or to run through the vines. The road is boring. There are no places on the bare road where deer and other wildlife leave droppings or scent markings. Dogs are all about the smells. So when I walk on the road, she'll be off to the side zig-zagging among the vines sniffing around.

We often walk a loop by cutting through the vineyard from the dirt road to a paved road.

There are specific places along the road where Callie will stop and wait, almost pointing toward the direction she wants to go, hoping I'll turn and go with her. When I do she gets all bouncy and happy and runs on ahead. She likes the spaces in between the vines and the woods, but she's also happy just cutting through a vineyard parcel from one side to the other. Of course, actually going into the woods is her favorite of all.

Thursday, February 09, 2017


The past few days have been rainy, off and on. We've had nearly thirty millimeters (just over an inch) in the past seventy-two hours. That's pretty much the same amount of rain we got over the whole month of January. For whatever reason, the rain hasn't soaked into the ground very quickly and has been running off, filling stream beds, and collecting in low spots.

Rainwater stands in a roadside drainage ditch.

We have a few dry, cold days ahead before another wet system is expected to move in. March is the traditional month for giboulées (what we call "April showers" in the US). But I've noticed in recent years that they are happening more and more in February. This rain we've had so far is mostly just plain rain and not the kind of hard showers typical of March. But I'm sure it won't be long.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Ready for spring?

The equinox is still six weeks away, but there is already a palpable change in the air. The days are lengthening. A recent warm weather system gave us a taste of spring and, even though it's predicted to get cold again over the next few days, the cool air doesn't feel so cool when the sun shines. I noticed yesterday that some of the plants in the greenhouse are sending up new growth. The cyclamens are blooming in the yard, and primroses are popping up.

The beige sleeves protect new vines that were planted last year to fill in gaps where old vines died.

Out in the vineyards the pruning process continues. More and more parcels look like this one (above), pruned down to a single cane that will, over the next couple of months, be tied horizontally to the guide wires. Then the buds will start to leaf out. Can't wait!

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Periodic puppy pics

Callie has an interesting habit. When we're out walking among the vines we sometimes encounter tractors, trucks, and cars, either on the dirt road or the paved roads nearby. When Callie hears a vehicle approaching, she sits down until it passes.

Callie sits down on the side of the road whenever a car passes. Good dog!

I suppose that I taught her to do this when she was a puppy, trying to be sure she didn't run out in front a vehicle or attempt to chase one. At first she would sit down wherever she was, even in the middle of the road. So I had to make sure she came off to the side before sitting down. Now, years later, she does this automatically and without any command from me. It's almost comical, but it's a good thing.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Pizza day

Sunday was pizza day at our house. Last week, Ken brought home a tomme fumé (a smoked soft cheese) and I thought it would be good on pizza. I made a whole wheat pizza dough on Saturday evening and let it sit to rise over night. On Sunday I prepared the toppings. First, we had some tasty vegetable sauce left over from an osso-buco (braised veal shanks) Ken made a while back. It was just enough for the pizzas.

The second of two smoky chicken and eggplant pizzas for Sunday's lunch.

Last summer we dehydrated some of the eggplant that we grew in the garden. I took a bag of sliced dehydrated eggplant and reconstituted it in water. Then I cooked the slices in a pan first by steaming them with some of the soaking water, then sauteing them until they browned. I used that and some sauteed chicken breast, cut into chunks, to top the pizza along with a little of the sauce and the smoked cheese. We ate two of these. So tasty!

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Le lierre

This stuff grows everywhere around here. Too bad it's not edible (although it does supposedly have some medicinal uses). It climbs up stone walls and tree trunks with equal vigor. Every spring we cut the ivy shoots that are climbing up our trees to try to keep it under control. I have a feeling it's a losing battle.

Climbing ivy on a stone wall.

We're in a rainy period right now, but it's not cold. We need the rain, so we can't complain.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Watch out

These little disks can be seen screwed onto utility poles here and there. They warn that power lines are dangerous and should not be touched.

It is absolutely prohibited 
To touch electrical wires
Even wires fallen to the ground
Danger of death

Friday, February 03, 2017

Batter up

Our crêpe meal was a success on Thursday. I made two batters: one with sarrasin (buckwheat flour) for the savory crêpes, and another with all-purpose flour for the dessert crêpes. Both batters rested in the refrigerator for a minimum of two hours. Buckwheat crêpes are a specialty of Brittany and are often referred to as galettes Bretonnes.

Crêpe batters resting in the refrigerator. Buckwheat on the left, standard on the right.

I made the savory crêpes first, using the very large crêpe pan. I only made four, then put the left-over batter in the freezer for another time. I'm very good at flipping crêpes (lots of practice), but taking a photo of the flipping is a little impractical, so you'll have to use your imagination. The finished crêpes went under a towel so as not to dry out.

Butter, batter, and a crêpe in the pan.

When it was time for lunch, we lined the center of each crêpe with a slice of ham, a few sautéed mushrooms, and some grated Emmental cheese. Then we folded the four sides over the stuffing, making each round crêpe into a square. Ken added a dollop of crème fraiche to the top of each. They went into the oven for about ten minutes to heat through and melt the cheese.

A finished stuffed galette Bretonne, ready to eat!

We each ate two of these. They were followed by a salad of lettuce, endive, and beets in vinaigrette. Delicious! After lunch I made about ten dessert crêpes using the smaller crêpe pan, but I didn't take any photos. When they were done, we each garnished our own, some with strawberry jam, then others with butter, sugar, and armagnac (which I flambéed, whoosh!). All in all, we enjoyed a tasty and satisfying crêpe day.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

It ain't over 'till it's over

As much as it has felt like spring, we're still in the middle of winter. And the forecast shows that the warm spell we've been enjoying will ebb and more seasonal temperatures are on the way. There are still more than six weeks of winter before the equinox.

A dirt road.

Today we will have crêpes for lunch. First, we'll make savory galettes bretonnes (Brittany crepes) with buckwheat flour, stuff them with ham, cheese, and mushrooms, and maybe serve them with a green salad. That will be the main course. Then we'll make the traditional sweet crêpes for dessert. There's some tasty strawberry jam waiting for those. I'll make the batter for both kinds early this morning so it can sit for a couple of hours before use.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Looking forward

Now that we've made it through January, I'm beginning to look forward to spring. Buds, flowers, longer days, all that. And starting seedlings in the greenhouse. Soon. Soon.

Winter wheat in a field outside of Saint-Aignan.

Right now we're in a warm spell. It will be difficult when the temperature snaps back to winter-like. We often have snow in February, so that could happen.