Wednesday, October 31, 2018

La Vendée

A few steps from the house we rented is the Vendée River, a small river full of fish and other wildlife that is part of the Marais Poitevin (the Poitevin Marsh) region. Parallel to the river where we were is a mixed-use trail system for hikers, bikers, and other recreational users. Sections of the trail are closed to vehicular traffic, making it a good place to walk the dog.

The river at the end of our road, with a small parking area and a few picnic tables.

The land on either side of the river is mostly agricultural. We saw many pastures for cows, fields for corn and other crops, and up on the heights were a few vineyards. The fields are criss-crossed by hedgerows and called bocage, a landscape feature that we don't have here in the Touraine where we live.

A house on the heights above the river.

We each walked Tasha along the river both in the evenings and in the mornings. On the morning walks we were pretty much alone save for a few fishermen on the banks or in small boats, and a small group of cows munching on grass. There were plenty of birds, too. Many ducks and other water birds and some others that I didn't recognize.

If you look closely, you might see the guy in his boat arranging his fishing gear for a morning outing.

On two mornings I saw a couple of ragondins (coypu or nutria) scurrying along the opposite bank and swimming in the river. At first I thought they were big rats, and they are related, but I'm certain that they were coypu. Apparently they dig their burrows along river banks to feed on plant stems. I saw a brown one and a white one. They steered clear of the dog.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Tasha Tuesday

Ken went to the store. Tasha and I stayed home. She spent the whole time sitting and standing at the door, waiting for Ken to come back. She hates it when the pack is separated.

Looking for her master's car.

The photo I wanted was of her sitting and looking out the window, but as soon as I picked up the camera, she got up and ran around me. For this shot, I had to tell her that Ken was back so she'd go look out the window again instead of at me. And she did. But she didn't sit again.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Inside the house

Here are a couple of photos from inside our vacation rental house. I didn't take any pictures of the bedrooms or the bath, but Ken did, so maybe he'll post them later. First up is the living room. It was quite spacious, but simply decorated. The sofa and chair were both very comfortable. The television was connected to a basic satellite network that had, in addition to all the standard French channels, an unusually large selection of German-language channels.

Ken set up our laptop computer on the coffee table. We also had our tablets. And a glass of wine, of course!

The kitchen was a standard IKEA installation with all the basics, including a dishwasher and a washing machine. As with most gîte rentals in France, the kitchen was stocked with all manner of dishes, glassware, pots, pans, and utensils. We ate most of our meals there, with the exception of one lunch in a La Rochelle pizzeria and a couple of picnic lunches that we packed for day trips.

The owner left us a bottle of his home-pressed white grape juice (we think it was chardonnay) and a bowl of walnuts from the tree just outside the kitchen window.

There was a half-bath on the main floor. Upstairs were two bedrooms and a full bath. Everything was modern and clean. The shower was a little strange, however. We had to step down three steps into it and there was no light inside. Some light from the main bathroom fixture made it in, and we augmented that by hanging a flashlight from one of the towel hooks. Also, the bracket that was supposed to hold the shower head up didn't work, so we had to hold it by hand until we figured out that we could wedge it in between the ceiling and the bracket, so that worked out in the end. Bathrooms can be an adventure in France and we're accustomed to them.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Our Vendée adventure

We decided last summer to plan a trip to the central Atlantic coast this fall. In 2008 we went there, to the Ile d'Oléron, and wanted to do a day trip to nearby La Rochelle. We got to the island, but there were strikes and the ferries over to La Rochelle weren't running, so we didn't get there. Such is life. So we planned last week's trip so that we could visit La Rochelle and other nearby places.

The door on this end opens into the living room. One of the bedroom windows is just above.

We rented a gîte (a vacation rental) on the Vendée river in a small hamlet (not unlike our own) outside of a small city called Fontenay-le-Comte. The setting was beautiful. The little house was even better in person than it looked on the internet. When we arrived, all the windows were open to let in the summery weather. We moved in and felt right at home.

The door and window on the left are in the kitchen. Those are grape vines clinging to the walls around the house.

There were a few little issues. The stairs that led up to the bedrooms had a very low beam and, despite warnings, we both hit our heads a few times. The internet wi-fi connection was spotty and slow. But otherwise, it was very comfortable and we liked it a lot. Above are a couple of photos of the house from the outside. The owner lived in a big house right next door (below). Tomorrow I'll show you a couple of shots of the inside.

This is the owner's house, an old farmhouse that he bought and restored in 2006.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

My other car... a Bipper Tepee. Just kidding. This is the first time I've seen a Bipper Tepee, and the first time I've ever known that a car called a Bipper Tepee exists. Hey, let's take the Bipper! Everybody into the Bipper! I don't even know how to pronounce Bipper Tepee.

You bet your sweet bippy, er, Bipper, it's made by Peugeot.

If you haven't figured it out yet, we are now back from a week-long trip to the Vendée, the central Atlantic coast of France. With any luck, we'll both be posting our photos and impressions over the next days.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Fall back

This weekend we'll move our clocks back one hour. That means it will be getting dark earlier in the evening. At least it will get light a little earlier in the morning, for a short while. The news people are hinting that this might be the last time, that daylight saving time (called "summer time" in Europe) might be going away soon. We'll see. I'm convinced that for all the people who complain about changing the clocks now, we will hear from just as many people who wish we still did. Mark my words.

An old door.

And the weather people are telling us that this weekend will bring a change in the weather from the nice warm days we've been having to more seasonal weather. That means dropping temperatures and (gasp!) rain. I may have to fire up the wood burner next week!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Your guess is as good as mine

I saw this painted over a little window on the side of a house. I wonder what goes on in there? I think I know what doesn't.

Don't even think about it.

I went to bed around 21h30 last night and got up at 07h15.  That's nearly ten hours. Of course, I didn't sleep the whole time. Some tossing, some turning, some getting up and walking around the house. I was waking up every hour for a while, and each time I looked at the clock it was a quarter after the hour. I saw 00h15, 01h15, and 02h15, that I remember.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Les huîtres

Oysters were eaten. And they were delicious! We served them with bread and une sauce mignonette, made with white wine vinegar, chopped shallots, and black pepper. Yum!

The aftermath.

We seem to be having a seafood festival at the moment.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Tasha Tuesday

I was trying to get Tasha and Bert together. It was a nice scene. But as soon as I got the camera, Tasha decided to jump around. So I got Bert by himself (you saw that last week), and Tasha by herself. Here she is, looking at whatever Bert was looking at out the window.

Tasha is looking out the window. Bert is right behind her head, but you can't seem him.

Tasha always gets excited when I get the camera. I think that she associates it with going for a walk, since I often get the camera ready when we get ready to go outside. Dogs are smart that way. Stupid dogs.

Monday, October 22, 2018


We saw this loaf of bread in the supermarket the other day. It's made especially for making the famous French grilled ham and cheese sandwich, le croque monsieur. And since we like making those, we tried the bread. It's actually pretty good, not sweet and not gummy.

The pictured sandwich doesn't have béchamel sauce and cheese on top, probably to show the bread better.

The croque monsieur is made by putting a slice of ham, some cheese, and some dijon mustard in between two slices of lightly toasted or grilled bread, then pouring a béchamel sauce over the top with a little grated cheese. That goes into the oven to get hot and to melt the cheese. You can turn it into a croque madame by topping it all with a fried egg.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Another leaf

Oh the leaves, they are a-changin'. And they're starting to tumble off the trees. Over the next couple of weeks, our yard will be a carpet of gold, then brown. If I'm lucky, I'll get to run the mower over most of them and mulch them into the grass. Those on the paths and driveway will get raked.

Grape leaves in the vineyard. They're still hanging on.

It's also time to start thinking about preparing the greenhouse to receive plants from the deck and outdoors for the winter. Thinking is hard work. Phew!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The hedges are trimmed

The guys showed up just after eight on Friday to do the hedges. It was barely light out, but they got started. The really do a great job, and they clean up well. You know what I mean.

By noon, it looked like this. Compare to Thursday's photo.

I asked the foreman if they'd rake up the maple leaves in the driveway. Ce sera fait, he said. It will be done. Nice.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Funky feline fotos

It's been a while since Bert last agreed to a photo shoot. He's just so blasé that way. Cats. Well, here he is earlier this week, contemplating the great outdoors from the comfort of the living room. He has been enjoying the freedom to spend time in the house. He and Tasha get along so well that they've begun napping together on the foot of the bed in the mornings. On my legs.

At over twelve years old, Bert's a senior citizen now.

They share their water bowls, too. We've stopped giving Bert his own water dish. He prefers Tasha's. We even catch him munching on her kibble if she leaves some behind. Silly cat. Of course, Tasha will scarf down Bert's breakfast in a flash if he's not vigilant. Our lives have certainly changed since Callie passed away last year. No more closed doors and toddler gates to keep the animals apart. I never knew it could be like this.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Early autumn view

This is the scene out the back window right now. The vineyard is getting more yellows and golds with each passing day. You can see that I got the grass cut. The hedges aren't trimmed yet, but that will happen soon, even though there is not a lot of growth this year, it's been so dry.

Looking toward the west at sunrise.

When that tree fell outside our yard the other day, it got me thinking about our big apple tree. You can see part of its trunk just to the right of the green hose in the photo. That trunk is quite hollow in the middle and there are cracks on both sides of it. One good gust of wind in the right direction will probably bring it, or a good part of it, down. Then we'll have a mess on our hands. And there's another smaller apple out by the gate that is not long for this world. Oh well. Apple wood makes good firewood.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wild hips

I see a lot of wild rose hips out in the margins of the vineyard plots this time of year. They are a brilliant red, one of the few reds we get in the fall. I remember the first year we were here, after having spent nearly eighteen years in urban northern California, I was impressed by the rose hips. I picked a bunch and put them in a glass bowl as a fall decoration. They were pretty for a while, then they started to rot. So much for that.

Eglantine (wild rose, also called sweet briar) hips.

This morning is our appointment for the refuse people to come and take away two objets encombrants (trash too big for regular pickup). One of the items is our old barbecue grill, the other is a metal and plexiglass awning that we had over the back door before the greenhouse was installed. It will be nice to have those things out of the garage.

Tasha got a nice grooming on Tuesday. She looks a little smaller. But all the knots and tangles in her fur are gone, at least for now, and she smells nice. I have to do a better job of keeping her brushed between visits. Jeez, it's just like the dentist!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


We have quite a few birch trees around us. In fact, our property is called les bouleaux (the birches). The woods around us abound in birches and their close relatives les aulnes (alders) and les charmes (hornbeams). Birches are among the first trees to populate an open space. Many of the abandoned vineyard plots and fields around us are home to the young trees.

I remember birches from where I grew up in upstate New York, and reading Robert Frost's poem "Birches" (among others) in school.

The stream bed that runs roughly parallel to our road on the south side is called la rouere de l'aulne (the alder stream). I think that the word rouere is a more or less local word for "stream." When we get firewood each year, a good part of it is made up of charme.

Today is this blog's thirteenth anniversary. It's hard to remember when I didn't do this.

Monday, October 15, 2018

On the ground, one more time

This time it's litter. We see all kinds of stuff cast from cars out where the dirt road behind our house meets up with a paved road. It's not a lot, but on more than one occasion I've seen empty beer cans out there. I've also seen empty cigarette packs, dumped ash trays, used tissues, and fast-food wrappers. This is the label from a plastic water bottle. Some grape growers use old one-liter water bottles to protect young vines, so this could be from one of those.

High-end litter.

Not far from our house there's a stream bed that cuts a pretty deep ravine on its way down to the river. I've gone into the woods to have a look and noticed that people have dumped stuff there. There's even an old appliance, like a washing machine, lying out there. I've never understood why someone would dump things there, when there's a perfectly good (and free) official dump just across the river. And they take everything. I mean, if you can drive your junk to a ravine in a vineyard, why not just drive it to the dump?

Sunday, October 14, 2018

On the ground, again

Last spring was relatively wet. There was a lot of rain and the ground in the vineyard was mushy. At one point, one of the growers dumped a pile of broken roof tiles near his vines. Over the next few days, he spread them out, filling in low spots between rows so his tractor wouldn't sink in the mud. As they get run over and over, the tiles break into smaller and smaller pieces.

Terra cotta on the terra fresca.

Saturday was a beautiful day for a funeral. Warm, bright and sunny. It wasn't really a funeral so much as it was a burial. And it was not the least bit religious. Most people wore casual clothes, mostly jeans, including the mayor and the family of the deceased (us, too). Everyone in attendance gathered around the casket in the cemetery. The funeral director said some words about Daniel, more or less biographical, then asked for a minute of silence. Daniel's daughter read her remarks, struggling through tears, and another man read a poem. After that they played some music ("Memory" from Cats) while the attendees took turns putting flower petals on the casket. This seemed a strange ritual, to me. We all lined up, one of the funeral home staff held a bowl of flower petals. Each of us took a few petals from his bowl and then put them into another bowl that was on top of the casket. When that was done, the four funeral home staff took positions at each corner of the casket, bowed to each other, then carried the casket over to the plot and lowered it into the ground. We left at that point because Tasha had been waiting in the car for about an hour.

Our neighborhood was well represented. All but one of the permanent residents attended, and four of the people with summer homes in the neighborhood were there, too.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

On the ground

This seed pod is from an acacia tree. I assume it's from an acacia tree since the only other tree in the vicinity is a walnut, and that ain't no walnut. The stand of trees grows along a small stream bed that drains a section of the vineyards out back. It's a favorite haunt of the local chevreuils (roe deer), who wander out into the adjacent vines to munch on grape flowers in the spring. When they see Tasha and me approach, they disappear back into the woods. If she sees them, Tasha will give chase, barking wildly, until she loses them. I hate when that happens.

The leaves are also from the acacia trees.

This morning our neighbor will be buried next to his wife in the village cemetery. Our neighbor from Blois said she is coming down to attend the brief ceremony. Another neighbor who lives full time in Paris is also planning to come down, along with her mother. The daughter grew up in the house next door to Mr. B., and still owns it. I'm certain that the mayor, also a neighbor, will be there to say something on behalf of the village. Ken and I are planning to go, too.

Friday, October 12, 2018


Here's a vine that climbed up a couple of stalks of tall grass before it withered. I thought that the contrasts in color, texture, and shape were interesting.

I probably would not have noticed this when everything was green.

We learned yesterday that another of our neighbors has passed away. He lost his wife a few years ago to cancer and, apparently, just gave up on living. He was not old. We understand that his daughter plans to put his house up for sale. That makes seven of our neighbors who've passed away in the last fifteen years. And the third house (of nine) sold or for sale since we bought ours.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Late harvest

The grape harvest is still going on, slowly. I guess that lack of bad weather (rain) is allowing the grapes to develop on the vine a little longer. I noticed some red grapes were being picked yesterday in one of the parcels near the house. These are white grapes, either sauvignon or chenin, still waiting for harvest. The resulting wine will be sweeter, and will likely be used for a special "late harvest" wine or blended with other varietals into sparkling wine.

I wish I had noticed that grass stem on the left before I took the photo. I'm not above pulling things like that out for the picture.

It did rain a little on Wednesday evening. Tasha and I got wet during our walk, but as soon as we got home it all stopped. Figures. I was awake around eleven last night and saw lightning in the sky, but I heard no thunder.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Artichoke's last stand

Those Jerusalem artichokes planted next to our garden shed are still brilliant yellow. It won't be long until the flowers wither, especially if we have a cold snap. The taller flower stalks are top-heavy and some have fallen over already. But they're still nice.

Jerusalem artichoke flower, close up.

Ken and I got a lot of stuff done on Tuesday. I finished cutting the "grass" both in the yard and out along our road. Ken did a bunch of trimming and finished pruning the rosemary. There is still a lot to do before winter, but I think we're in good shape.

They're almost blocking the door into the shed. And you can see another patch of them peeking out from behind the left side.

This string of nice days we've been having is expected to continue, but with some rain later this afternoon. If it rains and stays warm, I may have to cut the grass again toward the end of the month. According to my records (yes, I keep records), the latest I've cut the grass is 27 November, back in 2013.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018


As the earth moves closer to the winter solstice, the sun's arc across the sky gets shallower here in the northern hemisphere. In other words, the sun doesn't get very high in the sky these days. That makes for long shadows and the feeling that the sun (when it's not cloudy) is always in my eyes. But the low sunbeams make their way into the house and light up the colorful candle cups on this table, for a few minutes anyway.

A little morning color in the living room.

I got the largest part of the back yard mowed on Monday. Today I'll finish up. It didn't look too bad before I started, but once I got it cut I could really see the difference. The yard always looks better when it looks like someone is taking care of it.

Monday, October 08, 2018

More fall color

We don't get as many brilliant reds as some places do. Certain grape varietals show red leaves in the fall, as do some ornamental trees and shrubs in people's yards. Mostly we see bright yellows and oranges this time of year. These wild blackberries, however, put on a vivid scarlet display.

Watch out for the thorns.

We're back to sunny and relatively warm days, at least for a while. So I'm planning to run the lawnmower over the ground this week. There's not much grass to cut, but the weeds sent their flower stalks up all over the place. I just want to tidy it up a little.

Sunday, October 07, 2018


If this were my tree, I would have cut those suckers off early in the spring. But the tree stands out in the vineyard, so it does what it does with little, if any, human intervention. The grape growers have other things to deal with. The tree has grown a lot since we moved here over fifteen years ago.

The tree at sunrise. Suckers grow from low on the trunk. I think the tree would look better without them.

We did hear some rain over night, but I haven't been outside to check the gauge. The sun won't be up for another hour as I write this. It didn't seem like it rained very hard or for very long, though.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Will it or won't it?

We're supposed to be having some kind of rain event over night and into Sunday. The forecasters just can't figure out what kind. They keep changing the predicted rainfall from a lot to very little back to a lot and, now, very little. I suppose they'll nail it down after it's over.

We're starting to see a little red out in the vineyards.

Meanwhile, I got the garden mostly finished up on Friday. Today I'll harvest the remaining potimarrons because I don't want them sitting on wet ground (if it rains). Otherwise, the stakes and tomato poles are all put away and the section of fence I use as a support for beans and peas is removed, rolled up, and inside the garden shed for the winter. Ken's thinking he might till up the dirt some time next week. It's hard as concrete right now, but some rain (if it rains) will soften it a little. Then we can think about getting some plastic or garden fabric to cover it all with.

Friday, October 05, 2018

A shadow and his dog

The sun is getting lower in the sky, and it's setting earlier and earlier. The shadows are really long during our early evening walks with Tasha. This shot is of our shadows as we get closer to home about a half-hour before sunset on Thursday.

Me... and my shadow... and my dog's shadow.

It looks like rain is back in our forecast for Saturday night and Sunday. And it will not be warm. It's motivation for me to get the garden work done today. And we're planning to grill a big beef rib steak for lunch. We're expecting a summery Friday.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Fall goings-on

The annual grape harvest is winding down now. There are still a few parcels out there to be harvested, but the growers are waiting, probably for more ripeness, probably for more sugar. I saw one of our local growers out among the vines early Wednesday morning testing the grapes in one parcel of red. And the late harvest whites are still on the vine.

A parcel of white grapes, probably sauvignon, long harvested.

The guy that does our hedge trimming let me know we're on his radar and he'll let us know soon when he plans to do the work. Ken called our garbage company for an appointment to pick up objets encombrants (stuff too big for regular garbage pick-up). We have a couple of items for them. They used to come through town for big stuff once a year on a certain day, but now they're requiring individual appointments.

Friday is supposed to be a nice day, so I'm planning to finish the garden clean-up. There are stakes to put away, a trellis to take down, and a few other things I'd like to do before it starts raining again.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

A crack in the world

Our world. The ground is so dry that cracks like these are appearing in the dirt road out back. It's probably just a surface phenomenon, but they look ominous nonetheless. And there is still no rain in the immediate forecast.

The cracks will disappear when the rain comes back and the ground expands again.

I grilled eggplant on Tuesday for a gratin dish that Ken made. Very tasty. And we're planning to grill something (we're still trying to decide what) for lunch today. Friday is supposed to feel downright hot again. Oh well. The rain will come back soon enough. Then we'll complain about that for a while.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Like buttah

This isn't butter. It's potimarron (red kuri squash) that's been cut, peeled, and cubed for a recent recipe. I really need to get out and take some more photos. It's chilly this morning, and the heat came on. I did get to the dump on Monday. We loaded the car with some stuff that's been sitting in the garage for a while, along with our normal recycling, and I drove over at ten when the dump opened. It wasn't crowded and I was able to toss our stuff into the appropriate dumpsters (cardboard, metal, furniture, small appliances, electronics, etc.) without waiting. When I was putting empty wine bottles into the glass recycling bin, another guy was doing the same. He smiled at me and said, "Qu'est-ce qu'on peut boire, eh ?" Can we drink or what?

Looks like butter, but it's squash.

The big news here now is the death of Charles Aznavour. He was 94 years old and still singing. I'm sure that most people of a certain age around the world knew who he was. It's going to be all Aznavour on television for the next couple of days. And the funeral will probably be a big event.

Monday, October 01, 2018

It's October

And, all of a sudden. September flew by. Maybe it felt that way because we got the new gate installed, took Tasha to the vet with a sprained foot, shopped for and replaced our broken dishwasher, and started to clean up the vegetable garden. That's a lot of extra activity for us.

The leaves on these sauvignon blanc grape vines are starting to go yellow. The grapes are gone.

I'm still enjoying the bbq. Last week we grilled chicken breasts, turkey kabobs, and just yesterday, hamburgers. Today's glamorous French countryside agenda includes a trip to the dump. Don't be jealous!