Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A code in my doze

I have a head cold. Or, to hear me say it this morning, a head code. Ken brought some bug back from the US and was afflicted shortly after his return. It was only a matter of time for me to get it, too. Scratchy throat, blocked sinuses, headache. Such fun.

The groomer did a fine job and complied with my request to lay off the heavy perfume she used last fall.

Last night before bed, I made some hot tea with honey and lemon. That felt good for a while, but my sinuses wouldn't let me get much rest into the night. I took an antihistamine and that helped a little. I finally settled down some time between 01h30 and 02h30 for a few hours of real sleep. Until Tasha wanted to go out at 05h30.

Tasha did fine at the groomer's. She's fluffy and clean again, at least for a little while. The knotted hair behind her ears is gone, and I've started my avowed daily regimen of brushing behind them. She wasn't in the mood to pose for photos yesterday afternoon. The one above is the best I got, but her paws are cut off at the bottom. Oh well.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Tasha Tuesday

Tasha has an appointment this morning for a grooming. Bath, brush, trim, etc. The photo beleow is her "before" shot. It's hard to tell, but her fur is in great need of a combing-out and a trim. As I mentioned, the fur behind her ears is a knotted mess. It may just need to be cut out with scissors. And her belly and legs need a good washing because of all the mud we've had.

She had just woken up from a short nap on the dining room rug.

Of course, the ground will thaw again and it will rain again and Tasha will get muddy again. But we're used to it, and these periodic professional grooming visits help us to keep up better.

Monday, February 26, 2018


Leeks. They're a local vegetable. We see fields of them growing on the land between the Cher and the Loire rivers. Most local gardeners have a couple of rows of leeks in their plots. I grew some in the first year or two of our vegetable garden and I'm thinking about growing some again this year. The only issue with that is that you have to eat a lot of leeks. They're related to onions, but are much milder than an onion and a little sweeter.

A plate of trimmed and steamed leeks, cooling, ready to be dressed.

The leeks pictured here have been trimmed and steamed. Fresh leeks can be up to two feet long, with half of the length being the white root-ends and the other half the green leaf-ends. When we have leeks, we cut the greens off and freeze them. They get used as an aromatic in stews and soups or in a pot of beans. The white ends are best for eating. In this case, they're steamed until tender, then chilled and served with vinaigrette as a salad. Sometimes I'll slice and sauté the white ends and bake them on a pizza with smokey lardons (bacon).

Sunday, February 25, 2018


We're bracing for bracing weather. The news and weather people have been warning us of a frigid Siberian air mass heading our way for the past few days now. And tomorrow's the day! There's not a lot for us to do, actually. We've covered (and re-covered) our little fig tree. Everything else is on its own.

The annual winter taming of the grape vines is under way.

Meanwhile, pruning continues in the vineyards around us. More and more vine rows get done with each passing day. The cut canes get lined up between the rows and will be ground into mulch in the coming spring. Growers used to burn them as they cut them, but I think that practice has gone out of favor in the interest of air quality.

The remaining single canes will eventually be bent to the horizontal and attached to the guide wires. New growth will push skyward from the buds on that cane. And then the vineyards will be green again! But we have a couple of months of brown to get through yet.

Saturday, February 24, 2018


It hasn't been as cold as predicted. Yet. The big chill will supposedly descend upon us in the middle of next week. The cold air will be pushed in from Siberia and Moscow. Russia may be meddling with our weather.

Certain stones cause ice to form around them in interesting patterns.

That's not to say it hasn't been cold. Morning lows are at or just below freezing, giving us iced-over puddles and not-so-muddy morning walks. And there is sunshine and very little wind, so it feels much nicer outdoors than it could. But next week we're told to expect -5 and -6ºC (23 and 21ºF, respectively). Not all that cold for you winter climate folks, but pretty darned cold for us here. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 23, 2018

A one year old dog

Today is Tasha's birthday. Her full name, as you may know, is Natasha of the Wolves of Isengard. We made it through the first year, puppyhood, pretty much unscathed. I think she's just about hit her adult size. And even though she still has more to learn, she's come a long way. House training went relatively quickly (although it never seems so while you're doing it). She accepts her harness and leash with no fuss. She's behaving very well off-leash. She gets along well with Bert the cat. She's waiting longer and longer each morning before wanting to go outside. And she loves riding in the car.

Happy birthday Tasha!

I made a grooming appointment for her this coming Tuesday. With all the muddy weather we've had since the first of the year, she really needs a good bath. And she needs to get brushed out well. One problem we have is something that the breeder warned us about: the fur behind a Shetland's ears mats very easily. And lo, Tasha has a big knot of fur behind each of her ears. I will need to be especially vigilant and brush behind her ears every day from Tuesday forward to help keep the fur from matting again.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Rise and shine

One reason for the chilly weather we're getting, aside from the provenance of the cold air, is the fact that the skies are currently clear. That lack of an insulating cloud cover allows more ground heat to dissipate, resulting in cooler morning low temperatures. It also gives us a chance to see the sun.

Clouds and fog typically form at sunrise after a clear, cold night.

I haven't really been paying attention to the winter Olympics this time around. I hear reports and updates and "medal counts" on the news (Gus Kenworthy! Adam Rippon! Bobsled team uniforms! Curling doping scandal -- wtf?) but the games themselves haven't really caught my interest. It'll all be over soon.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Cold air from the north is blowing in over France this week. The grass is frosty this morning, but it's still above zero. I might have to get out there today and re-cover the fig tree to try to protect it from the freezing temperatures that are predicted for the coming mornings. I had to take the cover off the tree when it snowed because the snow was too wet and heavy for it. I don't think there's any snow in the immediate forecast.

The front and roof are clad in corrugated steel, and those big metal-clad doors are bolted shut.

This is a view of the storage building out in the vineyard parcel behind our house. In the fifteen years that we've lived here, I'm not sure if I've ever seen the doors open. Whatever is inside has not seen the light of day for a long while.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Valley fog

Yesterday's photo looked west over the vineyard with the river at my back. Today's photo is the reverse. From out among the vines, I'm looking back toward the northeast. The river valley, just beyond our hamlet, is filled with fog.

At sunrise on Sunday, the river valley was filled with fog.

Everything is still wet, wet, wet. It's not raining hard, it's just raining almost constantly. The trees drip, the ground is spongy, the slippery mud is treacherous. And now there are freezing temperatures in the forecast for the upcoming week. Which is worse? Warm and wet, or cold and icy? Not that we will have much of a choice in the matter.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Misty morning

When the chilly night air meets the ground-level humidity, water vapor condenses and forms fog. The river valley was completely socked in on Sunday morning and fog came and went out in the rain-drenched vineyards.

A layer of ground fog in the Sunday morning vineyard.

I noticed on Sunday that our rhubarb plants are starting to poke up through the ground. There are flower buds on the plum tree out back. The tulips are up and some of the daffodils have flowers already. And I can see yellow blossoms getting ready to open on the forsythia. I think our warm January has given the spring growth a head start. A freeze in the coming weeks would probably do some damage. Fortunately, the grape vines are not budding yet.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Pizza pie

I made a pizza for lunch early last week while Ken was still away. I made pizza for both of us again on Saturday. I topped my first pizza and one of the Saturday pizzas with smoked chicken and sautéed red and green bell peppers. The third pizza got topped with smoky bacon and sautéed leeks. Both had cheese, but only the chicken and pepper pizza had tomato sauce. Pizza is one of the more important food groups. In my house, at least.

Tuesday's pizza, covered with chunks of smoked chicken, sautéed red and green bell peppers, and cheese.

The rain tapered off on Saturday afternoon. But walking with Tasha was still a muddy mess. I don't expect it will be much different later this morning when we go out. Squish, squish.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Back to normal

Our snow episodes of the past week or so are over. Winter came and went quickly, and without a trace. Did it really happen? Thank goodness for the photographic record, otherwise I would have to wonder if it was all a dream. By the way, it apparently rained all night last night. Still raining this morning.

A sunny, frosty morning last Tuesday, just hours before our last snowstorm. We got about an inch and it melted away within 24 hours.

We're back to walks in the mud with Tasha. She's been needing a rinse after her morning walks again. Still, she doesn't seem to get as dirty as Callie used to, even though she's closer to the ground. Callie must have had a way of walking that kicked up a lot of sand and dirt.

Friday, February 16, 2018


Earlier this week, I made cornbread. The lunch plan was to have some of Ken's pulled pork, North Carolina style (from the freezer), with cole slaw and cornbread. I put half a cabbage and a carrot through the food processor for the slaw. Some mayonnaise, plain yogurt, mustard and a little vinegar went into the dressing. Then I made the cornbread.

A little butter is always good with cornbread fresh out of the oven.

The recipe, Aunt Cloe's Corn Pone, comes from our friend H. in Illinois. I altered it a little by adding an egg to the batter and it came out very nicely. The recipe calls for buttermilk, but since I don't have that, I used a cup of plain yogurt mixed with a cup of milk. I reduced the amount of sugar by about a third and, like I said, added a beaten egg. The bread baked in a round cake pan for about 30 minutes at 180ºC (350ºF).

Aunt Cloe's Corn Pone (modified)

2 cups buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sugar (I used a little less)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups corn meal

Mix all the ingredients until batter is smooth, pour into a lightly greased pan and bake for 30-50 minutes in a pre-heated 350ºF oven, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Oh snow you don't

Like I said, it snowed again on Tuesday. And it snowed for most of the day. But the temperature was hovering just above freezing and the snow really couldn't accumulate much. It's all gone now, especially with this morning's low temperature of about 8ºC (about 46ºF), and it's supposed to get even warmer as the day goes on.

Snow falling on Tuesday morning, seen from inside the greenhouse.

So is that the end of winter? Who can say. We have more than a month to go until the equinox and anything can happen. February has lived up to its reputation as our coldest and snowiest month (and that's anecdotal, I have done no research).

Tasha and I went to the train station to pick up Ken yesterday. She enjoyed being out and about in the car and was so very excited when she saw Ken on the station platform. We're settling back into our familiar routine.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Snow kidding

It's another snow post! The photo is from last week, but it snowed again just yesterday. That's the third time in a week. It started around 11h00, turning the ground white again. The temperature was just above freezing, so it slowly started to melt. But the snow just kept falling through the afternoon.

Tasha at the back gate waiting for me.

Ken gets home today (his plane landed at CDG at 06h41). It's a good thing, too, because he's missing winter! Much of yesterday's snow is gone already, but enough of it survived to freeze over night. Still, temperatures will be rising and the snow should be completely gone by mid-day as a new warmer weather system moves in. Whatever the weather, we'll be glad to have Ken back home safe and sound.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The snow must go on

Or maybe it just seems that way. The weather people are actually predicting snow showers for this afternoon. We'll see what happens. This morning the sun is shining. And since it's Tuesday, there's a little Tasha in today's photo. Can you see her? She finally got into the spirit and enjoyed the snow. I made snowballs for her to chase and at one point she was grabbing little mouthfuls of snow to eat.

On our way home from the morning walk.

We were up at 05h00 this morning, which is typical for Tuesdays. The weekly garbage pickup happens each Tuesday morning at five, on the dot (we're the first stop, I guess), and Tasha gets excited by the truck, its flashing lights, and that beeping noise it makes when it turns around at the end of our road.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Snow way out

The pond behind our back yard did freeze over this past week. I took this shot just before that happened. And now, of course, it looks like this again, minus the snow. In fact, on Sunday morning as Tasha and I left through the back gate, we surprised three mallard ducks sitting quietly on the water. They leapt into the air with a frenzied beating of wings, startling us as much as we startled them.

The pond, our back hedge and gate.

There was an organized hunt out back on Sunday afternoon. It must have been around 15h30 when I noticed the hunters' cars arriving. Guys with bright orange vests and shotguns started taking positions along the vineyard road. Normally this happens in the morning, but here it was in mid-afternoon. At around 17h00 I noticed one of the cars leaving, so I got Tasha ready for her walk. We got part of the way out into the vineyard and I realized that those guys weren't leaving, but changing position. I turned Tasha around and we headed back toward the house and into a neighbor's yard to finish our walk. It was then that I could hear the hunting dogs and the horns just on the other side of our house. Once Tasha and I were safely indoors, I could tell the the hunt was making its way toward us and the vineyard parcel just behind the house. Bam! Bam! Shots rang out. Then again a few minutes later. I never saw the shooters but I sure heard 'em. The hunt went on until past 18h00, and ended at sunset.

Oh well. There are only two more Sundays left in the month. And hunts on those days will not necessarily happen so close to us.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

No snow

The snow is all gone. Rain started last night around bed time and, apparently, continued off and on through the night. This morning when I went outside with Tasha there was no sign of snow on the ground. And it's well above freezing at about 5ºC (about 41ºF). But I'm not done showing you snow photos. Ha!

The old storage building out in the vineyard after the second snowfall last week.

Tahsa was good this morning. She stayed still until 05h00, when she woke me up. But then she didn't insist on going out until 05h30. So much more reasonable. Especially when you consider that we never really changed our schedule when we went off Summer Time last fall. So she's really getting up at 06h00 and 06h30, if you follow. That's what time it will be again when we move the clocks ahead next month.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Snow business

Ok, I lied. I did take more photos of the snow. When the sun came out on Thursday, I couldn't resist a few more. This time I used a telephoto lens to get a shot of the vineyard from inside the house. Something weird happened in the center of the photo, just above the building's roof. There might have been some kind of smudge on the lens, I don't know. It didn't show up in the other shots I took, and I don't remember if I cleaned the lens in between or not. I haven't really been happy with the overall image quality from this lens since I got the new camera in 2016, so I may start shopping for a better one.

Looking west from the house. This was what remained of the week's first snowfall.

On Friday we had another morning below freezing, then the clouds rolled in and it started to snow around 10h00. The snow continued until well after lunch and we got between two and three inches of new accumulation. After it stopped, the sun came out again and the temperature went up above freezing and it started to melt. Most of that snow is still out there this morning, but not for long given the forecast.

Friday, February 09, 2018

The walnut tree

Thursday turned out to be bright and sunny, but cold. I didn't take any more photos, though. I think I have enough documentation of our "snow event." The temperature went above freezing and the snow started to melt away. In the meantime, it was pretty out there. The road is clear and dry, but some snow remains in shaded areas.

Looking toward the northeast on our way back to the house.

This is the lone walnut tree that stands next to the vineyard road. It didn't produce much this year, which may or may not have been because of the freeze we had last April. I took this photo on Wednesday morning when the snow was still wet. Little snowballs stuck to Tasha's ankles. She had a good time trying to bite them off when we got home. On Thursday morning everything was frozen, so Tasha had no snowballs and no mud on her legs when we got back from our walk. I like those days.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Mr. Sandman

When Tasha and I got back from our walk through the vineyards on Wednesday morning, I noticed that the sand tractor had been on our street. In addition to a fine layer of sand on the snow, there were these tire tracks where the tractor turned around. This is where the asphalt ends and the road becomes a dirt and gravel path to the vines.

Pretty nifty, eh?

The light snow stopped shortly after we got home, but the temperature stayed just below freezing all day. I had a nice hot soup for ready for lunch. This morning it's much colder outside. At 05h30, it's -2ºC (about 28ºF) where our thermometer is, not quite as cold as predicted (I'm sure it's a couple degrees colder out in the vineyards). Still, today's low is supposed to be the coldest of the week. It's already the lowest we've had all winter.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

I brought some corn for popping

I woke up to snow on Tuesday morning. I didn't realize it was snowing (even though I knew it was predicted) until I was outside with Tasha at 05h00. Then it hit me. Literally. As the sun came up I snapped a few photos from inside the house, then took the camera out on the morning walk. Tasha didn't seem at all curious about the snow, which until yesterday she had never seen.

Looking west out one of the skylights in the loft just before sunrise on Tuesday morning.

It was snowing pretty hard for a while, but it didn't really pile up. The roads were just wet. Most of the snow was on the grass, the shrubs, the grape vines, and the trees. Still, it was pretty. This morning it's colder, below freezing. The snow is sticking on the roads now and there are about two inches on the ground. And it's still falling, albeit very lightly.

The view from the front deck toward a neighbor's house as it starts to get lighter on Tuesday morning.

We get tend to get excited about snow because we don't get enough for it to be a pain in the butt. I don't even own a snow shovel. I do have an ice scraper for the windshield which comes in handy every now and then. The temperatures are expected to stay below freezing for the next couple of days. That means the water and melted snow will likely change to ice. I planned to go the pharmacy today, but I decided to go yesterday while the roads were ok rather than wait until the freezing weather ices them over. Now I can just hunker down in the house for a few days.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Tasha Tuesday

Here's a not very artsy shot of Tasha standing on the road through the vineyard. Our walks lately have been very wet and muddy. Until Monday, when everything froze. I like when it freezes because I don't have to wash and dry the dog after our walks. Tasha is also learning about ice. It's much harder to drink from the puddles when they're frozen.

Tasha has an appointment with the groomer at the end of the month.

She's doing fine while Ken is gone. During the day she spends part of her time down by the front door looking, waiting, for him to get home. To be honest, she does that even when he is home. On Sunday morning, she let me sleep until 05h30 before wanting to go outside. On Monday, however, it was 04h30. And did I mention it was below freezing?

The waking up process goes like this: first there's a barely audible whimper. Then maybe another, a little louder. When I don't respond, she goes into a low growl that gets a little louder each time. By then I'm moving under the covers. "In a few minutes..." I say. She doesn't buy it. If she's not already on the bed, she jumps up and starts pawing me. This can be painful if I don't cover my face in time. Then there's the shrill bark. I'm up. Socks, shirts, pants, and she nips at them as I put them on which is, in the groggy darkness of the pre-dawn hours, loads of fun. Then we head downstairs. Coat, hat, shoes, flashlight. Bark, bark, bark, until we're outside. I can't wait for summer.

Monday, February 05, 2018

It didn't work

A few weeks ago, a town crew came through the vineyard on the dirt road behind our hamlet to fill potholes. They do this every year. But this year it seemed to be a little early. At any rate, they took a good hour and a half to do the job. They filled all the big depressions where water collects. The gravel mix they use compresses when vehicle tires run over them. This is what they look like now:

Tasha doesn't care about potholes (except to drink from them). She does care about field mice in the tall grass.

I suppose that all the rain we had in January was just too much for them. Maybe there wasn't enough time for the vehicles that use the road to pack the gravel down, and it stayed loose while it rained. Most of the "filled" potholes along the road look just like these. I wonder if the crews will be back to do it again come spring?

By the way, a pothole in France is called un nid de poule, a hen's nest.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

What is it?

At first glance, it looks like sap oozing from a tree trunk. But this is a vineyard post. Granted, it's made from wood, so sap could be oozing from it. But the color is so yellow, I wasn't sure what to make of it. And I don't see it anywhere else but on this one post. Maybe it's a fungus? I didn't touch it. But again, why only on this one post?

Whatever it is, it's kinda pretty.

Well, a little internet research indicates that this is, indeed, a fungus. It's tremella mesenterica, sometimes called yellow brain fungus or golden jelly fungus. The post might be one that the grower pounded in on the fly using an untreated log. It'll likely have to be replaced again soon. The Wikipedia article I read says that this fungus is easily confused with two others, so I don't really know which one it is. And I'm not really sure that I care...

Today is hunt day. However, I just read that the season for individual hunting (game birds, rabbits) closed on 31 January in our area. The organized hunting of foxes, deer, and boar continues through the end of February. We'll see what happens out there this morning.

Last night I watched Carrie Fisher's one-woman autobiographical show, an HBO special from 2010. There were quite a few chuckles, but I expected more. One thing that I really liked: she did her mother's voice to perfection.

Saturday, February 03, 2018


Friday morning saw the temperature at the house go down to about zero. That's freezing in celcius, or 32ºF. I'm sure it was a degree or two cooler out in the vineyards. Consequently, frost formed in the exposed areas, including on our roof. It's quite common and not at all unusual, except that it's been so warm for more than a month.

Our frosty roof on Friday morning at sunrise.

The central heating warms the house up in the morning until I get a fire going in the wood stove. First, of course, I have to take Tasha outside for a few minutes, feed her and Bert their breakfast, publish a blog post, clean the previous day's ashes out of the stove, take Tasha for her morning walk, then split logs and carry them into the house. Phew!

The sun rises today at about 08h15. We gain a little more daylight every day. Too bad another weather system will be moving through this afternoon. That means overcast. The periods of sun we had on Friday were wonderful.

Friday, February 02, 2018

It's so wet...

How wet is it? If I were Johnny Carson, I'd have a better comeback for that line. As it is, I have reality: it's so wet that mushrooms are sprouting in the lawn. These are likely not edible, and I have no intention of trying to find out. We racked up a total of 150mm (almost 6 inches) of rain during January, three times the monthly average for around here.

Soggy grass with mushrooms.

For the non-Americans out there (or the younger Americans), Johnny Carson was the host of the Tonight Show for thirty years between 1962 and 1992. He and his sidekick, Ed McMahon, did that bit (it's so X, how X is it?) for years. The Tonight Show is a late night talk show on American television. It's the longest running talk show in the world having debuted in 1954 with Jack Parr Steve Allen (Parr came after Allen) as host, continuing to the present version with Jimmy Fallon as host.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Liddle lamzy divey

One of the most common plants around us is ivy. It's everywhere, growing on the ground, on rocks, on walls, on trees. Every spring we go around the yard and cut the ivy off at the bottom of tree trunks to keep it from getting a stronghold and hurting the trees. No one does that out in the woods, of course, and the ivy does its thing.

A kiddley divey, too, wouldn't you?

The moon was full on Wednesday and this morning the sky is clear. That means two things. Thing one: the night is bright with moonlight. Thing two: it's cold out there. Not quite freezing yet, but much chillier than it has been. Lower lows are expected over the weekend.