Thursday, November 30, 2017

Throwback Thursday

Here's Ken with our dog Collette sometime in the late 1990s when we lived in San Francisco. It's taken on Martha Avenue in our old neighborhood, looking up toward Dorothy Erskine Park, a place where Collette and I often took our morning walks. The "flower power" VW bug was just so San Francisco!

Ken and Collette. I don't remember who took this picture. It could have been our friend Sue.

We lived in this neighborhood from 1995 to 2003, just before we moved to France. It was a nice residential neighborhood in the center of town with easy access to BART and MUNI lines, and most of the city was within easy reach by car. I would often drive Collette to places where she enjoyed walking, like to Mount Davidson up above our neighborhood, out to Ocean Beach near the zoo, and even over to China Beach in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. She really enjoyed being able to run on the beaches without a leash in the early morning.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Another island garden allotment

I still have some photos from our walk on the island at Saint-Aignan a few weeks ago. This one is another well-tended garden allotment. So many people around here are very talented gardeners. It helps that they're on the island where the soil is so much richer than up here among the grape vines where we live. Our soil is rocky clay, good for grapes, but not much else. Their land is fertile river bottom, nourished by the occasional flood.

A nice, well-weeded garden. Someone does a lot of work here.

Still, we make do. I add our home-made compost to the soil every year along with the decaying leaves that cover the garden in winter. Every few years I add a few sacks of fumier de cheval (composted horse manure) and work that in. I could probably do more, but there's no point in being fanatical about it. At least my garden is right outside my back door. Trade-offs.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tasha Tuesday

This is our road heading up the hill from the river valley to our hamlet. Tasha and I are on the final leg of our typical evening loop that I call "down and around." The walk up the hill is good for us me. We sometimes start our walk off-leash, but once we're on the way down I hook her up. She has run off after deer (and one cyclist) and there are cars along a good portion of our route, so the leash is necessary.

Tasha pauses for a photo on our way up the hill.

I'm looking forward to the day when we won't need the leash for most of our walks. Callie's good behavior spoiled us. Even so, in Callie's first years she, too, could disappear for a while, chasing a deer, a rabbit, or playing with another dog. But Callie was always afraid of cars and wouldn't get near them. Tasha shows all the signs of wanting to chase cars, so we have to be very careful.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Winter wheat

The field down below our hamlet in the river valley was planted with winter wheat earlier this fall. It's sprouting now. The little green plants will stay small until the spring, and then with warmer weather they'll shoot up and start producing flowers and seeds. I think the wheat will be harvested in early summer, if I remember the cycle correctly.

A field of sprouting winter wheat.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it's time to get the outdoor potted plants indoors for the winter. Ken started a few days ago by removing the spent chili pepper and basil plants from the greenhouse (into the compost they went), making room for the plants we want to keep inside.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Carpet of golden leaves

Ken raked a lot of these leaves up on Friday. And the wind blew a lot of them around. But not before I got a few shots. This is the tilleul (linden tree) in the back yard. It's mostly bare now and doesn't look like this any more. Here's a rare triplet from three different angles.

Looking east.

Looking west.

Looking northeast.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Funky feline fotos

When the sun is out, especially this time of year, Bert likes to take advantage and soak up the rays. Lately he's been napping on the deck table. That's over now, since on Friday I took the table and chairs down to the garage for the winter.

Bert lounges on the deck table for the last time this year.

I also got the garden hose rolled up and put away while Ken did some work cleaning up the walkway and the greenhouse. Tasha pitched in, too, with plenty of barking and running around. We had a relatively warm week (I didn't need to build a fire for a few days), but a new weather system moved through last night and we're told to expect more chilly weather from now forward. 'Tis the season.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Make like a tree and leave

So I raked on Wednesday. As I mentioned earlier, it took about an hour. Tasha helped by barking very loudly every time I moved the rake and by jumping up onto me with muddy paws when I dumped the leaves in the garden. She's good like that.

Now you see 'em... you don't.

The morning started out chilly and foggy, but the sun eventually came out. I used an old refuse can with wheels to take the leaves out to the garden in back. It took seven trips. I dumped the leaves in piles, but didn't spread the piles over the garden plot. So, naturally, the wind picked up overnight and blew things around. Fortunately, the piles held their shapes pretty well and I'll be able get them spread out soon enough.

Next spring the leaves will get tilled into the soil as part of the compost.

Our Thanksgiving dinner was delicious. We ate snails in garlic/parsley butter for the appetizer, then the main course of roasted leg of lamb with steamed and sautéed Brussels sprouts and beans. We followed that with a small cheese course, then dessert of pumpkin pie. The beans and the pumpkin came from our garden, the beans having been shelled and dried a couple of months ago, and the pumpkin having been roasted and frozen from the 2016 garden. Another successful holiday meal!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

I live in Rivendell

Among the elves. Our deck looks like a scene from the Lord of the Rings. Arwen tells Elrond that she has chosen a mortal life. "There is no ship now that can bear me hence," she says. And she drops a book. There are leaves blowing around on the floor. Like there are on my deck.

Arwen drops her book on the floor.

I dropped my book on the deck.

Speaking of leaves, I got the raking done under the maples out front. Those leaves are now in the garden plot. This morning it's windy and the leaves are blowing around (but not too much). Oh well.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Crushed can with shards

Not much to say today. My big plans: raking leaves. The two big maples in front are bare and the leaves are on the ground. And they're dry. With rain expected by Friday, I want to get out there move the leaves to the garden plot. It shouldn't take long once I get started.

The can was probably crushed by car tires moving along this dirt road.

The leaves under the linden tree out back are still not all down. And yet, the ground beneath the tree is covered with a golden carpet. I probably won't be motivated to do much about that today, except for maybe clearing the walkway. That would be a good thing to accomplish.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tasha Tuesday

With Bert. Whenever there is something going on in the kitchen, there is the possibility of food. At least from the perspective of the dog and cat. Tasha and Bert often join forces to elicit compassion in the chef, hoping for a handout, a tasty morsel or, at the very least, something inadvertently dropped onto the floor. Stuff happens.

Tasha and Bert plan their strategy while Ken works at the kitchen sink.

Something funny (from my perspective) happened on Monday: Tasha discovered the back window of the car. We took two cars to the garage so we could drop one off for its oil change. Tasha and I were in the lead and Ken followed behind us. I told Tasha that he was back there and she just happened to look behind. Then she couldn't stop looking behind. She turned around and put her front paws up on the seat back to watch the car behind us. I don't know if she actually could see that it was Ken following us, but she was fascinated. I laughed the whole way over to the garage.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The living room

This time of year it's often dark. Cloudy, foggy, rainy, whatever. I usually have a fire in the wood stove for heat. It helps us save on fuel oil. I also like to light candles. It gives some light and some color in the room during these darkening days.

Not so dark on this day, but the camera can make it look lighter than it really feels.

At some point in December, probably around the fifteenth, I'll put up the holiday tree. Those lights will get us through the darkest days and into the new year. The living room is called le salon in French.

Sunday, November 19, 2017


This is one of the more interesting looking of the garden allotments on the island at Saint-Aignan. The two little storage buildings wear their age well. Maybe it has to do with the slate roofs. The planting plots are clean and recently tilled. It's not just this one, either. Most of the allotments are obviously well tended. Only a few look abandoned and wild.

The allotments are often planted with fruit and nut trees in addition to the cultivated ground plots for vegetables.

I'm not certain what garden allotments are called in the US. I don't remember ever seeing them in the places I've lived. In some cities there were, and are, "community gardens," but that's a slightly different concept, although Wikipedia says that the differences are becoming blurred. Community gardening started out with a single plot of land worked by many members of a community, whereas allotment gardening consists of distinctly separate plots worked by individuals or families.

Allotment gardening seems to have started in England and was adopted in France around the turn of the century (that would be 1900, for you youngsters out there). They were called jardins ouvriers (workers' gardens) at first, but after the second world war, they became known as jardins familiaux (family gardens).

Saturday, November 18, 2017


These are coques (cockles), little bivalves that live in the wet sand along seashores all over the world. For some reason, Ken and I have developed a habit of eating them this time of year as kind of a switch from stews, roasts, and other traditional fall and winter meals. My favorite way to eat them is in a white wine and garlic sauce over linguini. It's "linguini with white clam sauce," but made with cockles instead of clams. Which is what we did last Sunday.

Fresh coques ready for the pot. Doesn't it just warm the cockles of your heart?

The fish mongers at Saint-Aignan's Saturday market come from the Atlantic coast in the Charente-Maritime department, not far from La Rochelle, a three- to four-hour drive southwest of here. We're lucky to have a good fish monger in town, even if it is just once a week. Fresh seafood is available at the supermarkets, of course, but the people at the Saturday market have more variety. There are good fish mongers at other weekly markets in our region, but they're not as close to us as Saint-Aignan.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Sunrise and Beaujolais

This is what Wednesday's sunrise looked like as Tasha and I headed out into the vineyard for our morning walk. It was cold outside, just above freezing, and fog was forming as it got lighter. The combination of the ground fog and the clouds catching the sun's first rays was magical.

Sunrise over the vineyards, looking toward the southwest.

I got some of the new Beaujolais on Thursday and opened a bottle for lunch. Tasty! Last year I thought that the nouveau tasted ordinary, like a normal gamay. Nothing wrong with that, but it was nothing to write home about (even though I blogged about it). This year I can taste that nouveau quality that last year's wine lacked. I'm not very good with wine adjectives, but I've always described it as a "chalky" flavor or texture, whereas a regular-release gamay is normally much smoother. In my opinion.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tasha and her Tricky Treat Ball

I'm experimenting with my camera's video features. I'm not at all confident, but here's a first try. Tasha gets kibble in the Tricky Treat Ball each day. She loves to push the ball around the deck and gobble up the kibble as it falls out. There is sound if you can listen. Click on the Play arrow to start the video.

So, how was that?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Woops Wednesday

Here's another view of the bridge over the Cher at Saint-Aignan. The bridge is actually two bridges, one that crosses the river's south channel and another that crosses the north channel. The island is between the two, of course. This is the northern portion of the bridge on the island side at sunrise on 5 November. The just-past-full moon is setting to the west.

There's a WW2 monument on the bridge. Those three little doors against the abutment are public restrooms.

I completely spaced on Tasha Tuesday this week. I don't have any new photos of the dog since I haven't taken the camera out much recently. The drizzly and cold weather is my excuse. And while the drizzle has ended for a while, it's still cold out there. Having Tasha on a leash while wearing gloves and trying to manipulate the camera is not easy. But I'm working on it.

On the house front, we think our electrical problem is not a problem after all. It may have just been a coincidence when our main breaker tripped twice while a certain light switch was turned on. It's happened before: brief outages or surges from the main grid can sometimes trip our sensitive breaker. I had the suspected light switch turned on for a while on Tuesday with no problems.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Apple royalty

These apples are called Reine des reinettes in French and "King of the Pippins" in English. Curious. Why is it a queen in France, but a king in England? I did a little looking on line, but didn't find any answers. As far as I can tell, reinette should mean "little queen." But the word's origin is apparently disputed in French. Even so, reinette is used to describe dozens of related apple varieties, one of which is the queen of them all: la Reine des reinettes.

Six reine des reinettes apples, ready to be made into a pie.

Wikipedia says that the variety actually originated in Holland and was called kroon renet (crown reinette). It's all very confusing. In English, the word "pippin" comes from the French pépin (seed), so-named because the apple is apparently easily grown from seeds. The French Wikipedia entry says that the English call this variety "Queen of the Pippins" and that it's often confused with "King of the Pippins," but the English entry doesn't mention that at all. And they say it's a French variety, not Dutch.

Oh well. The apples are delicious (but not Delicious), whatever you call them. I made these into a pie on Sunday.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Lazy river and the joys of home ownership

This is the Cher on a Sunday morning at sunrise. Not yesterday, but a week ago. Yesterday it rained. Now the season is getting more seasonal. Rain, wind, and much cooler temperatures. November. I'll be bundling up for my morning walk today. We're down below 4ºC (about 39ºF). Not freezing. Not yet.

Looking downstream from the western tip of the island at Saint-Aignan.

We had a little series of house issues over the weekend. First, a light switch started shorting out (we think) causing our main breaker to trip a few times. Not good for the appliances or the computers. I'll be taking a look at that later today when the sun brightens things. I'm hoping I won't need to call an electrician. Meanwhile, we're not using that light.

Next, we noticed that the concrete pipe that drains our kitchen sink under the house to the sewer system was becoming clogged. We didn't have a serious problem, but I had to open the drains to clear the clog before it got worse, a nasty, smelly job in the cold utility room. This is a recurring thing caused by the calcaire (calcium) levels in our water, and I have a power snake to help clear these kinds of clogs. I should have done it this past summer, but I didn't.

Then we discovered a leak in the water supply pipe that feeds the dishwasher. Drip, drip, drip. Wet floor under the sink. I'll probably have to call the plumber for that one.

And to top it all off, one of the cars is leaking oil on the garage floor, explaining why the "check oil" light came on last week. Ken will take the car in to the garage this morning.

Mama said there'll be days like this, there'll be days like this, mama said.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Compare and contrast

Not long ago, I posted a scan of a watercolor of Saint-Aignan that was done for a local tourist map. A week ago, when I was on the island walking with Tasha, I took a photo close to the same view. Here it is.

My photo of the view.

And here is the watercolor, again. You can see reality versus art. I didn't set out to take the same view, but it just so happened that I did.

The artist's impression.

Saturday was a very rainy and windy day. We need the rain, but it was still a dark and wet day. Oh well, that's fall for you.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Lemon eclairs

One of the positive things about not having bread delivered to the house any more is that we get to got out to the many bakeries around us for bread. And, while there, we can be tempted by the pastries they offer. And we have been.

Citron means "lemon" in French. The little balls are some kind of crunchy things covered in chocolate.

These are éclairs au citron (lemon eclairs) that I found on Thursday. The bakery had both the traditional chocolate and coffee éclairs, but they also had these more unusual lemon flavored éclairs. I could not resist. And they were delicious!

Friday, November 10, 2017


This is the spot where the Cher River splits around the island at Saint-Aignan. The south channel flows toward the bridge a little further downriver where a small dam slows the river's flow. Here, the more shallow north channel begins where the river is held back by a spillway. In dry times, the top of the spillway is exposed and the north channel is reduced to a trickle. In times of heavy rains upstream, the spillway is completely submerged as the north channel fills up.

Looking upriver from the spillway at the eastern end of the island.

When I took this photo, the river's flow was more or less normal. The bridge dam and the spillway force the river to back up for several kilometers upstream, creating a small reservoir called the Three Provinces Lake to the east. There is a campground on the south shore and a sand quarry on the northern side. The now defunct Canal de Berry begins at the lake and parallels the river eastward toward Vierzon, then connects to another canal parallel to the Loire, for a length of over 260 kilometers. The canal operated from 1840 until it was closed in 1955. A local association is working to re-open the canal for recreational use and, according to Wikipedia, there are currently 17 kilometers open to public navigation.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Picnic spot

Tasha and I made our way around the up-river (eastern) tip of the island on Sunday morning before heading west to the garden allotments. This part of the island is directly across from the center of town, its church, and the château. Much of the area is open and grassy, with a playground and a small sandy beach on the northern side.

Saint-Aignan's church rises up over the quay on the town side (southern bank) of the river. There is little cruise boat docked there.

This part of the island is the site of several festivals that are held during the year, when tents and booths are put up and sometimes a stage for musical events. There are a few small permanent pavilions, some festival lights strung up, and several picnic tables available nearby. I don't think I've ever been to an event on the island, but I've seen them going on from town.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Move over, moon

There's a song by the McGarrigle sisters, Kate and Anna, called "Move Over, Moon." The next line is, "Get out of Uranus." It has something to do with astrology. I think. So, here's the recent moon, waning from the full, setting to the west, seen from the island at Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher.

Our house is under the moon, in that direction.

The bridge is our connection to the north bank of the Cher River, where one of our two local supermarkets and one of our two local hardware stores are located. It's the way north toward Paris. I'm standing on the southern bank of the island, looking west. The sun was rising behind me, to the east. The streetlights on the bridge had already gone out.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Tasha Tuesday

Here's Tasha on our Sunday island walk. I let her off her leash while we walked around the garden allotments on the western end of the island. There are no cars allowed in there and there was nobody around. She really had no place to go but along the paths with me. And she was very well behaved and stayed close. Of course, there were no distractions (people, other dogs, etc.).

Tasha waits for me while we cross the island between garden plots.

Otherwise, she was on her leash. I recently got a "jogger's leash," as it's called. It's a belt I can wear around my coat. The leash part is like a bungee cord and attaches to the belt, leaving my hands free to hold the camera. It takes a little getting used to, especially when Tasha runs around me essentially binding my legs, but we're getting used to it.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Island walk

On Sunday morning I decided to take Tasha for a walk on the island in the Cher River at Saint-Aignan. There's a park on the island, a restaurant, the municipal swimming pool, and garden allotments for the town's residents. We arrived just before sunrise and the streetlights were still on. There was almost no car traffic in town at that hour, and it felt like we had the island to ourselves.

The church's two towers rise above the rooftops on the left, the château is built on the bluff above.

This is a view of Saint-Aignan's church and château from the island's southern bank at the bridge. Where you see the water flowing are the foundations of a long-demolished grist mill, built on and adjacent to the bridge. The river is dammed there to form a reservoir of water that once powered the mill. In the foreground is a lock for boat traffic, of which there is little to none these days. I've never seen the lock used.

Sunday, November 05, 2017


The two towering red maples in our front yard have shed most of their leaves now. I'm not sure what the trees are called, but they may be a variety of Norway maple like "Crimson King" or "Schwedleri." In the summer, the leaves are dark red. When fall comes, the red becomes almost orange before the leaves fall to the ground. I usually don't try to rake them up until they're all on the ground.

Seen from the deck: maple leaves blanket the driveway. It probably takes about an hour to get them raked and moved.

But I may try to get them up in the next few days. I saw that some serious rain is predicted for mid-week and dry leaves are easier to move than wet ones. Once I rake them, I use an old garbage bin to wheel them out back to the vegetable garden. We spread them over the plot to keep the weeds down over the winter. In the spring, the decomposing leaves get tilled into the soil.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Food and weather

On Thursday, I grilled hamburgers for lunch. That may have been the last time I use the grill until next spring. We're expecting a cool-down over the weekend, although Saturday is expected to be nice. But the forecast for the next week shows morning lows approaching zero. Freezing. And highs are not expected to get up to much more than 10ºC (high 40sF).

A small apple tree out among the grape vines silhouetted against a clear sky.

Friday's pizza was delicious, but I didn't take any photos. We topped both pizzas with smoked chicken, bell peppers, and Emmental cheese. Today, Ken is making sauerkraut, which we'll eat for a few days with potatoes and various pork products like saucisse de Montbéliard (smoked sausage), saucisse de Francfort (basically a hot dog), and cured pork belly (like slab bacon). Yum!

Friday, November 03, 2017

Fall marches on

There are still a lot of leaves on the trees around us, but not for long. November is when most of them fall, and it's only a matter of time before some strong winds and/or rain rip them off the trees. They'll fall by themselves, of course, but usually a storm comes along.

This is the end of the dirt road through the vineyards behind our house, the farthest point on my walks with the dog.

We're thinking about Thanksgiving already. The meal, that is. For the last few years, we've been getting our traditional leg of lamb tied up in a boneless roast. I think that this year I'd like to go back to the bone-in leg for a change. That's the extent of the planning so far. Except for a pumpkin pie with some of our frozen roasted squash from last year. As for today, it's pizza!

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Ah, grasshopper

I saw this nice green grasshopper on a deck chair the other day. I went to get the camera and when I returned, the insect was gone. Except that it wasn't. It had just climbed around to the other side of the chair. Sly devil.

Are you lookin' at me?

Yesterday, I saw it again. I wondered if it was the same one, but then I saw another nearby. The cooling weather may be forcing the insects to seek warmer places. When we have sunny mornings, the deck tiles warm up. Bert likes to lay in the sun there and so does Tasha. Maybe the grasshoppers enjoy it, too.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

More festive

Last Saturday I posted a photo of this tea-lite candle holder shaped like a tree branch. The original individual cups are made of clear glass. On Monday, I found these more colorful cups to hold the candles and, voilà, the room is transformed.

Fall colors in the house.

Well, "transformed" may be an exaggeration, but the new candle cups add some nice warm colors to help counter the cold and gray fall days ahead.