Sunday, November 17, 2019

Late bloomer

These campanules (bellflower) grow outside our front door and flower through the summer. Provided they get enough water, that is. During this year's hot and dry summer, keeping them watered was not easy because we were (and maybe still are) under watering restrictions. Ken and I save water from the kitchen for watering potted plants around the house and on the deck (especially the herbs), but sometimes there isn't enough to go around. So this year the campanules suffered a little.

The spikey plant is a variety of sedum that's quite invasive. We have to pull a lot of it out each year so that it doesn't crowd out the bellflowers.

Now that it's been raining again for about a month, a lot of the outdoor plants have come back to life. Our "grass" is a vibrant green, and the campanules have started flowering again. In spring and during a normal summer, the plant spreads out and there are many more flowers. Still, it's nice to see these few in mid-November.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Whole lotta prunin' going on

The grape grower who owns the majority of the vineyard parcels out behind our house is making changes. It may be because his daughter is taking a more active role in managing the vineyards. That's just a guess on my part, but we see her much more often these days. She recently completed her university studies in viticulture (grape growing) and oenology (wine making) and has become more of a presence out among the vines.

Unpruned vines on the left, pruned vines on the right. Sunrise in the middle.

Among the changes I've noticed is the annual winter pruning work. For a time there were two or three employees who methodically cut the vines over the winter. It was a long, slow, process. At some point I noticed that these employees cut the vines, but left them hanging on the wires. As they completed parcels, a crew of seasonal workers would come in, pull the trimmings off the wires, and line them up between rows for mulching. Now I'm seeing crews of workers doing the actual pruning, too. And it's going much faster than before. At the rate they're working the pruning could be done by Christmas rather than Easter (total speculation on my part). The permanent workers are doing less pruning and more tasks like replacing posts and support wires.

I talked to one of them the other day when I noticed that a couple of parcels had been cleared of their posts and wires, and the vines were cut down to the trunk (usually a single cane is left with buds that will sprout in spring, like in the photo above). He told me that the vines in those parcels are being ripped out and replaced with new ones. He also said they'd be doing the same next year in one of the parcels adjacent to our house. We've seen this happen in two or three other parcels over the years. It's an interesting process to watch. It takes three or four years before the replanted parcels will produce grapes. I wonder if they'll be replanted with the same or other varietals.

It's good to see this grower (and his wife and daughter) continue to reinvest in the vineyards. That tells me that they must be doing relatively well and are looking toward the future of their business.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Still there

The construction continues (it's been about a month now) down on the main road, which means the trailers and other equipment are still sitting out behind our house. And we still don't know what it is, exactly, that they're doing. It looks like they're burying cable, but we don't know more than that. Of course, we could ask.

Tasha inspects the road in front of one of the big dump trucks.

The daily pattern is this: at about 08h15, a couple of trucks come up the hill and park by the trailers. Sometimes there's a car, sometimes there's a motorcycle. The guys gather in the white trailer for coffee and to don their bright orange construction vests. Then the trucks head back down to the construction site below. Sometimes a truck dumps some gravel, sometimes the tractopelle (backhoe loader) loads some gravel into a truck. At noon, the trucks and the guys come back for their lunch which lasts about an hour before they head back down the hill. At around 17h00, they come back to pack it in for the day and head home.

I lead a fascinating life.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Fruitless plum

This is the ornamental plum tree in our back yard, a variety of fruitless prunus. In addition to beautiful pink blossoms in spring, we get a show of orange and yellow in the fall. The color is a bit past its prime in this photo because I usually don't take the camera out in the rain, and it's been raining a lot lately.

The flowering plum. Some of the cut apple wood is visible on the right.

Even so, we've had some sun in the last two days. I got outside with the chainsaw on Wednesday to cut up those dead branches I mentioned. Now they're cut to size and ready to burn. My next project, besides cleaning up the vegetable garden, is to split some of the apple wood that the garden guy cut up for me. Once the bigger pieces are split, I'll cover the pile for the winter. Next summer it will dry out and, if we're lucky, I may be able to burn it next winter.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Mushroom city

This has been an amazing fall for mushrooms. We had such a dry and hot summer; by contrast, fall has been very wet. Mushrooms are popping up all over. These came up under one of the fir trees in our yard. A few days ago, they looked just like champignons de Paris (white button mushrooms), but I have no idea what they actually are. I wouldn't dare eat a wild mushroom unless it was picked by someone who really knows what he's doing. I certainly don't. A woman in our region died last week from eating the wrong mushrooms. Yikes!

Some of the mushrooms coming up in our yard.

I got a chance to speak to the guys who are using our road for their construction staging area. They're very nice. I asked them if they were going to be able to fill and grade the spot behind our hedge where they've made those deep ruts. They said yes, that's the normal procedure. In fact, they got a start on it Tuesday. So, I feel better about it now.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

Tasha is a fierce defender of the castle. She pays very close attention to the traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, on our little road. There isn't much, but she lets us know when anybody goes by. From the garbage collectors to the mail deliverer to the mayor to anyone strolling by (especially if they have a dog). Here she is in her defense pose, preparing to bark wildly as someone approaches.

A split second after I snapped the shutter, Tasha bolted over to the hedge and barked to defend her territory.

Yesterday I mentioned that the American holiday, Veterans' Day, is always celebrated on a Monday. One of my stalwart readers let me know that I was in error [hangs head in shame]. I should have done better research. However, my error could be forgiven in light of the fact that, during most of the 1970s (which seems to be the limit of my memory), Veterans' Day was indeed celebrated on Mondays under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act voted by Congress in 1968. They changed it back in 1978, but it still floats to Friday or Monday when the 11th falls on a weekend. This year, the 11th actually fell on a Monday, helping to trip me up. Mea culpa.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Armistice Day

Today's holiday in France commemorates the end of World War I. In the US, it's Veterans' Day. The days coincide every so often. It's always on a Monday in the US; it's always on the 11th in France.

This photo is a couple of weeks old. Most of those leaves are gone now.

This will be the last three-day weekend until Christmas. Not that it makes a difference for us, except that holidays are hunt days, so we'll be sure to get our morning walk in before that starts. There will likely be a little ceremony at the town hall as there is every year.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Full-on fall

It certainly feels like fall. The temperatures have dropped, although there's no frost yet. It's been rainy and foggy. And leaves are tumbling everywhere, bright colors giving way to brown. Some of the grape growers have started their annual vine pruning. Seems early to me, but I talked with one of them during the week who said that the gamay leaves are all on the ground, so it's time to get started. I guess the sauvignon leaves hold on longer.

 The maple leaves just off the deck turn orange and gold before dropping into the driveway.

I lit a fire in the wood stove on Saturday and I may do the same today. I've got a few long limbs from a tree that fell against our fence last spring and I want to cut them into burnable lengths. The vegetable garden is still staring at me, longing to be cleaned up, but I want to wait until it's less muddy. During the summer the garden soil felt like concrete; now it looks like a swamp. And there are leaves to rake.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

I don't give a fig

Or, more accurately, I don't get a fig. This is our sorry little fig tree that doesn't produce figs. You may already know the sad story: we planted the fig in 2006, it froze to the ground in 2012, re-sprouted and grew again, and almost every year since, has suffered a spring freeze and lost its leaves. I've tried covering it with garden fabric, but the leaf buds are just too sensitive. I think we got about a half-dozen figs from this tree one year. One. Year.

At least it's pretty in the fall. The tree produces more leaves after the spring buds freeze.

I know that figs grow here. We see beautiful fig trees all over the place. Our mayor two houses away has a good sized fig that produces a lot. Friends a couple of towns over have a very nice tree and always seem to have a surplus of figs which they share with us, and for which we are grateful. So why can't I have my own figs? Maybe I got duped and bought the wrong variety. I don't remember what variety this is or where I bought it, but it was local.

If you're interested, type "figs" in the search box on the upper left of the blog and you can read about our fig experiences.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Let's not forget the hedges

The tree removal is certainly a big change in our yard, but it certainly isn't the first. When we first moved in, back in 2003, two other trees needed to be removed. One was the twin of the tilleul (linden). They stood on either side of the path that connects the house to the back gate. It was sickly (someone told us it had once been struck by lightning) and needed to come down. The other was a Christmas tree planted by the former owners when their granddaughter was a child. It was very tall and not at all well. It had to go.

The freshly trimmed back hedge seen from inside the yard. The logs are what's left of the small apple tree. These hedges used to be twice as high as they are now.

We hired some guy (and his crew) who was canvassing the neighborhood looking for jobs. They cut down the trees and trimmed the hedges. Their cleanup left a lot to be desired. They took away the small tree branches, but left the trunks strewn about the yard. I don't remember why; we didn't have the wood stove back then. They did the hedges for two years before I decided to get my own hedge trimmer and do it myself. That's a whole 'nother story.

The back hedge seen from outside the yard. I can't wait for this construction equipment to go away.

The year that I hurt myself cutting the hedge, I talked to the contractor who regularly trimmed our next-door neighbor's hedge. It always looked very well done and the crew did a great job with the cleanup. They did our hedges for the first time in 2012, if memory serves, and they've been doing them each year since. They do a great job trimming and cleaning up afterwards and, although they don't come cheap, I think their work is worth the fee. Unlike me, they have the savior-faire and all the right tools. And youth.

The tall hedge between our yard and the road. It continues around the far corner, behind the red maples, and along the eastern edge of our property.

A couple of years ago, the boss retired and sold his business to one of his crew. I wondered what the transition would be like, but it was seamless. The new guy is friendly, responsible, and the quality of the work is still excellent. He's the guy, along with his father, who assembled our greenhouse when we got it three years ago.

When the apple tree fell a couple of weeks ago, I had already emailed the contractor and asked about removing a tree (the blue spruce). We hadn't planned to take out the apple, but it volunteered. So, without hesitating, he agreed to take out the apple and the pear, and a second apple, while his crew worked on the hedges. They did it all in one day, something I could never have done.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Trees be gone

Here are a few photos of the aftermath of our tree removal. We had three trees taken out: a big apple that had a rotten trunk and fell down a couple of weeks ago, a smaller apple tree whose days were numbered, and a small years-dead pear. The garden contractors took away the smaller branches and cut up the larger pieces for me to burn in the wood stove.

The new view westward toward the back gate and the vineyards beyond. On the right is one of the two remaining, healthy, apple trees.

I don't miss these trees at all. Some of the apples were good, but there were way too many of them. I had to pick them up several times each summer before I could cut the grass. The did go into the compost, and that was good, but it was a lot of work.

The view looking eastward toward the house. The blue spruce is the shortest of the three fir trees in the photo.

The big apple tree shaded part of the vegetable garden in the spring and fall. Now, with it gone, there will be a lot more light coming through. And the views that have opened up are pretty cool. I figure that if these trees were planted around the time the house was built, they're probably about fifty years old. I read that fifty is the low end of the normal lifespan for a healthy, well-maintained apple tree. So these were not premature deaths.

What's left of the big apple. Doesn't look like much, does it?

There's a fourth tree that will be coming out in a couple of months. It's a tall blue spruce (we think) that is also dying. There are no needles on the lower third of its branches and many fewer than normal on the upper branches. This has been going on for a few years. The tree is too close to the house and is crowding two other trees. It needs to go. In the second photo, you can see the top of the doomed tree between the two tall pointy fir trees (we're keeping those). The spruce is on the left, and the linden is on the right. The linden will have more room to breathe.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Clean up

The hedge guys arrived on Tuesday morning as scheduled. There were four of them. Two started right away on the back hedge while the boss and another guy started cutting up the fallen apple tree. I took some photos in mid-morning, but don't have any more yet. At this stage they were cutting the small branches off for mulching and beginning to cut the larger branches and stacking them for firewood.

These two apples, the big one and the smaller one in the background, are now history.

All the work is done now. In addition to the hedge trimming, we had three trees cut down: the big apple in the photo, the smaller apple (just to the right of the back gate in the photo), and a completely dead pear in the northeast corner of the north 40. The small apple is dying and is filled with mistletoe; the pear has been dead for several years now.

I asked if they could cut the branches to the length that our wood-stove takes: 33 centimeters. No problem, they said, and now I have firewood ready to go (for next year, probably). I also have one or two new chopping blocks for doing the splitting. It's a real relief to have this done, and done so quickly.

What didn't get done is the removal of the tall blue spruce. The contractor said that he'd prefer to do that bigger job this winter, when his schedule will be lighter. That's fine with us. I'll have more photos of the trees firewood soon.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Ruts o' ruck

On Monday the construction crew (who are working down on the main road) took away one of the trailers that they parked outside our back gate. It's the "office" they've been using to have their morning coffee and lunches in. Consequently, there was no other "activity" behind our house yesterday. I'm hoping it's a sign that the construction is over, but the other trailer and the front-loader are still parked out there.

This rut is at least a foot deep. That's our hedge on the left.

This is one of the ruts they've made over the past few weeks during their back-and-forth with the big dump trucks and the front-loader. I'm hoping that they will fill them and re-grade the area before they're done. Hope springs eternal.

In other news, our hedge guy stopped by yesterday to say they're going to start at 08h00 this morning. He said we'd talk about the tree removal when he gets here.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Strange bedfellows

Or maybe I should say "strange vinefellows." One of these things is not grapes. These are some of the vines that grow on the wall of the old, and rarely used, cabane du vigneron (the grower's shed) out in the vineyard. The grapes aren't harvested for wine, but they do get nibbled on.

The grapes that haven't been eaten are beginning to rot. The red berries aren't grapes. Food for the wildlife!

Our wet days are continuing for a while and the temperatures are mild. I'm being attacked at night by a mosquito, or mosquitoes, as if it's summer. It's obviously warm enough for them to breed in all the puddles and other places where water accumulates. We need a good frost to be rid of them.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Amandine aux myrtilles

I found some blueberries in the freezer. They must be a hundred years old. Well, maybe a little less. I don't remember the last time I went blueberry picking... ok, I went and looked it up. July 2016. So these berries have been in the freezer for more than three years. And there are still more.

The recipe worked really well with blueberries. I'm encouraged to do it again.

So I decided to use some of them to make dessert this weekend. I made it with the pear amandine recipe I've made many times, swapping out pears for blueberries. The amandine is a kind of firm custard made with sugar, butter, eggs, and finely ground almonds. That goes into a pre-baked pie crust and the blueberries are sprinkled on top. It bakes for about thirty minutes.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Across the road

This is the view from the deck this week, looking across our road to our neighbors' property. They were here working in the yard last weekend, but took off back to Blois as the weather got worse. The grass was really too wet to cut, but they managed to cut some of it. They're always pruning and trimming and neatening things up. It's a big piece of land; it extends into the woods in back and down to the stream in the ravine. The woods don't need a lot of maintenance, though.

Our part-time neighbors do a good job of keeping their property looking neat and tidy.
Things are a lot greener than they were a couple of months ago.

We're in a holding pattern where our yard is concerned. I'm waiting for the weather to allow the hedge trimmers to do their thing. And the big apple tree is still on the ground. I haven't made progress in the vegetable garden, either, because I don't want to have to stomp around in the mud. But it's time to get things torn up and put away.

We're starting to bring plants inside, which means getting the greenhouse organized to receive them. Some of the potted plants are too water-logged to lift, so that's on hold for the moment as well. A few dry days would help a lot. It's hard to believe I'm saying that after the Saharan summer we had.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Stretch those legs

I caught Tasha stretching her front legs on Thursday. I had the camera out (for something) and there she was in front of the sliding glass doors, so I took a photo. Then she stretched. Got it!

It may look like the sun's out, but that's just the leaves turning gold. It rained most of the day on Thursday.

Bert spent most of the night in the house last night. He sneaked in before I could close his door, so I just let him stay. Around three this morning he meowed, his signal that he's ready to go back out. So I got up and walked him downstairs. His door was open of course, but he likes to be escorted. Tasha spent most of the night on the bed. She uses my back for a pillow.

Thursday, October 31, 2019


Two grape vine tendrils met in mid-air this summer and formed this arch. Usually the reaching vines get trimmed off before this happens, but I think that the lack of rain meant that the growers didn't have to trim as much as usual this year.

Vine sculpture.

So, it's Halloween. All Hallows Eve. Whatever. The whole costume/trick-or-treat/candy thing is, in its current form, mostly an American invention that hasn't really caught on in France. The French celebrate November 1, la Toussaint (All Saints Day) instead. It's tradition for families to visit the graves of their late loved ones and leave flowers, mostly chrysanthemums. It's also a day off from work, so this will be a three-day weekend for most.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Red, gold, and green

No Karma chameleons here. Just grape leaves. Most of them are yellow and turning golden, but there is enough red out there to make it very pretty. Fall is doing its thing. The weather feels normal for the season.

The grape leaves are turning, but they haven't started to fall yet.

And so do the strikes. The SNCF (French National Railway) is experiencing strikes on the high-speed line that serves our region. The line runs from Paris to Bordeaux in the southwest and out to Brest in the northwest. The news said that the strikes were supposed to start last Thursday, the day Ken was coming home from his trip. I couldn't find his train listed in the real-time online train tracker and assumed it had been cancelled. But I got an email from Ken saying he was on his train, it was on time, and he had wifi. He hadn't heard anything about strikes. So, I guess that the strikes were announced, but didn't get under way until Thursday evening and Friday. They've continued through the week.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

We're in a gray and damp pattern right now. The sky is leaden, the days are dim. Rain comes and goes; not a lot, but enough to keep things wet. It's quite a contrast from the summer when we didn't get a drop for weeks at a time.

Tasha's on the lookout for pheasants and quail. She likes to chase birds as they fly away. Sometimes I wonder if she knows that she's a sheepdog.

None of this phases Tasha at all, of course, her being a Shetland. When the wind blows it can feel a little like winter. For now it just feels like fall: chilly but not too cold. Yesterday there was no wind at all and the grayness of the morning made the leaf colors seem very saturated. It was quite pretty. I didn't have the camera with me, so here's a shot from Saturday morning.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Men at work

Who can it be, now? Just a little down under humor. Or should that be humour? The construction continues down on the main road, which means the trailers and other equipment are still hanging out next to the pond. The ruts in the ground are getting deeper.

I haven't talked to anybody about filling in the ruts, yet.

We still don't know what they're doing. Other than they seem to be digging a trench and laying some sort of cable. I'm not sure what kind of cable it is. Electricity? Telecommunications? Both? Over the past few years, the town has been undergrounding utility lines, especially in the bourg (town center), as they call it. The lines that bring power to our hamlet were put underground back in 2013 after a big storm knocked our power out for a week or more. Before that, the lines were hung through vineyards and woods and access for repairs was becoming too difficult. We still have aerial lines from the transformer to our houses. I don't think anything is changing with those.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Fall fog

November and December are foggy months here. When the weather is calm and we get temperature inversions, the fog can be dense and can last through the day. On Saturday we didn't have an inversion, but there was a thick layer of fog in the river valley as the sun came up. It burned off pretty quickly and we had some nice sunshine for most of the day. It reminded me that the gray foggy days are not long off.

 Fog over the Cher River. The grape leaves continue to turn in the vineyards.

I noticed that one of our Parisian neighbors arrived yesterday. Her vacation house here in our neighborhood was open and lights were on. The other Parisian neighbor isn't here. Yet. I'll bet we'll see her before the week is over. Friday is the holiday, so it makes a nice three-day weekend.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The other shoe dropped

We noticed on Thursday afternoon that the other half of the apple tree came down. It must have happened while I was out picking Ken up at the train station. I guess when the first half went, it took whatever support was keeping the second half standing. It finally gave way. Again, there has been no wind to speak of. Just a rotten trunk. And gravity.

The left half came down first, last Monday morning. The right half fell on Thursday.

Now we have a real mess to deal with. Of course, I'm hoping that our garden contractor will make short work of it. I'll probably work on cutting up the logs into burnable sizes and stacking it all somewhere. But there's no real hurry for that, as long as the crew can clear the garden path and get most of the smaller branches cut, mulched, and taken away.

The view from the other side.

The other big job waiting to get done is winterizing the vegetable garden. I've got a burn pile started, but now it's time to pull up plants and get the stakes put away. Once the burning is done, I'll cover the garden plot with tarps again like we did last year. It really made a difference, keeping the weeds down through the winter and early spring.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Bœuf à la bourguignonne

Or bœuf bourguignon, if you prefer. After eating chicken for more than a week (I finally finished it!), I wanted something different, and something that I could make ahead to have when Ken got back from his trip on Thursday. I was to pick him up from the train station around 13h00, so lunch would be late. Having something ready to heat up would be good. I decided to make beef Burgundy.

Ingredients for the marinade.

I started on Wednesday morning by marinating the beef in red Burgundy wine, of course, along with flavoring ingredients: onion, carrots, garlic, bay leaves, cloves, and black peppercorns. After about nine hours, I sauteed some lardons (smoky bacon), then browned the drained beef pieces (lightly floured). It all went into the slow cooker with a little fond de veau (concentrated veal stock) and a bouquet garni of leek tops and fresh thyme from the garden. I poured in the marinade and let it simmer over night.

The recipes I have for this classic dish say to strain all the aromatic vegetables out of the marinade and discard them. But I leave them in. Well, the leek greens, thyme, and bay leaves come out at serving time, but the carrots, onion, and garlic stay in. Ken thickened the sauce with a little beurre manié (flour and butter kneaded together). We served it over pasta. Yum!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Second breakfast

The first thing that gets done in the morning, after letting Tasha outside, is feeding the animules their breakfast. Tasha gets a bowl of dry kibble and Bert gets a pouch of wet cat food (worry not, Tasha gets her pouch of wet dog food for lunch and Bert has a bottomless bowl of cat kibble downstairs). But we've noticed that Bert only eats about half his pouch before he walks away and, if we're not careful, Tasha will finish it.

Bert eats "second breakfast" out on the deck.

So, a while ago, Ken started giving Bert only half of the wet food in the pouch at breakfast time. He (Bert, not Ken) eats it all and seems satisfied. Later in the morning, after a nap, he'll come back to the kitchen for the rest. We call this his "second breakfast."

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Plenty of nuttin'

I'm out of photos again. So here's a close-up of where the apple tree broke. You can't really see it in the photo, but the trunk is basically hollow at the break point. The wood looks like so much sawdust in there. I don't know when the garden contractor will show up, but it could be any day now. We'll have a lot to talk about!

We've lost big branches from this tree in years past, but this one marks the end of the line for the old apple.

Tasha, Bert, and I are getting ready for Ken's return tomorrow. The animules have adjusted pretty well to our temporary routine. I get up later than Ken does, so they have to wait for breakfast (which irks Bert) and going out to pee (which irks Tasha). But they've taken it all in stride, as it were. I'm hopeful that, between Ken's jet lag and us turning the clocks back on Sunday, we can keep them getting up later.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Apple tree down

It happened on Monday morning. The big old apple tree in our yard finally came down. The weekend's rain must have been too much for it. It fell under its own weight. There was no wind. Tasha and I went out for our normal morning walk at sunrise. We walked under the tree as we always do. But when we got back to the house, it was down. We just missed it fall or, as I wrote to Ken, it just missed us.

The weak spot was where the trunk branches out. It's pretty much hollow inside.

I already asked our hedge contractor if he could take a tree down when he comes for the annual trimming. He said yes, he and his crew could do that. I was referring to a dying ceder next the house, but now I'm going to have to ask him to take care of the apple. They'll cut it up and chip most of it and take it away. I'll ask them to leave the bigger branches (cut up, of course) for firewood. The question is, shall I ask them to do both trees? Ken says yes.

Monday, October 21, 2019

A late harvest

With all the rain we've had in the past week (and it seems to be over now), I wondered how long it would be before what's left in the vegetable garden begins to rot. I knew there were a few tomatoes out there as well as some peppers. So I went out on Friday to gather it up.

The peppers may still turn yellow and red as they sit. The red bell and yellow long peppers that you see on the left were mostly green when I picked them a couple of weeks ago.

I was surprised at how many long peppers there were. There are nine plants, so I shouldn't have been all that surprised. Still, I was. Many of the remaining tomatoes had burst, but I got some. I also found a couple of tiny eggplant and one lonely zucchini. Now I have to figure out what to do with these peppers to preserve them. It's also time to start thinking about pulling up plants and preparing the plot for winter.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Route barrée

Road closed. It's that sign we dread when we're in a hurry to get somewhere which, thankfully, isn't all that often these days. It's usually followed by a sign that says déviation (detour) and arrows that point the way. Funny, détour is a French word, but it's not used to mean detour in the American sense. The two words' meanings are subtly different.

Road signs and barriers stacked up behind the construction trailers behind our house.

Un détour isn't a temporary route around construction or other closure. It is, if I understand correctly, a curve or meander or simply another route that is just not the most direct way from point A to point B (as in the shortest distance between two points is a straight line). If you've used the famous Michelin touring guides in France, you might remember their rating system for sights: one star, intéressant (interesting); two stars, mérite le détour (worth going out of your way); three stars, vaut le voyage (worth the trip).

Saturday, October 19, 2019

A rainy weekend

The forecast is for rain through the weekend to Monday morning. I woke up around 01h30 this morning to the sound of rain on the roof, and this morning at 07h00 it's still coming down, albeit a little lighter. We need the rain, of course.

A break in the clouds last Thursday afternoon.

I stayed up late last night watching a movie on television. Prime time starts in France at 20h50 (that's ten minutes to nine), after the eight o'clock news. I always laugh at how nothing on French TV starts on the hour. It's mostly just before or just after, depending on the channel. Even programs that are scheduled to start on the hour often start early (like the noon news) or late, with no explanation. That's just the way things are. And that's why our satellite box has a default option to start a recording early and end it late. We have it set to start recording five minutes before the scheduled start time and to stop recording five minutes after the scheduled end time of any program we record.

Bert stayed upstairs with Tasha and me through the movie (it was Star Wars, Episode VIII) and was snoozing comfortably when I went to bed. So I let him stay. His door to the utility room and outside was slightly open so he could get outside when he was ready. This morning I heard him climb back up the stairs at 04h30, so he did go out at some point. We all snoozed for another two hours before getting up for breakfast.

Friday, October 18, 2019


Crews are doing some kind of work down on the river road (the road that runs parallel to the river down the hill from us). Apparently they don't have a place down there where they can park their construction trailers and other equipment. The mayor told them they could use the land next to the pond outside our back gate.

The strip adjacent to the pond has become a temporary construction staging area. The pond (left) is full of a weed called "jussie."

So far there are two trailers (the white one looks like a field office for the construction), a front loader, a load of road barriers, construction signs, and a big pile of gravel. Each day, dump trucks and other equipment come up our road and park for a while before turning around and heading back down to the job site. The big trucks are making huge ruts in the soft ground outside our hedge. I hope the crew fills them in when they're done.

Heavily laden dump trucks are making ruts outside our back hedge.

It's inevitable that we get ruts on what is essentially an access path to the vineyards on our north and west sides. It happens every year, but those ruts made by the grape grower's smaller vehicles. Either I fill the ruts with the dirt from mole hills, or they get more or less flattened out by other vehicles. The land is not ours, but I like to keep the grass cut around the outside of the hedge. It looks neater that way, and I don't have to walk through tall grass when I go out the back gate with Tasha. I can't mow over big ruts, though.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Chicken salad

Did I mention I'm still eating that chicken that I poached last Saturday? On Tuesday, I used the meat from the thighs and drumsticks to make a chicken salad using the same recipe that Ken used a few weeks ago. That is, with dried cranberries and toasted walnuts. The only thing I didn't have was celery. But no matter.

The whole wheat toast got a little too toasted, but it was still tasty.

I made a chicken salad sandwich for lunch on Tuesday and ate it with fries. I'm going to have another sandwich today, but this time with chips. I'll still have some chicken salad left, so it'll probably become a supper snack over the weekend. There's still a piece of chicken breast left in the fridge... there may be a pizza in my immediate future.

So far, I've eaten this chicken in one form or another on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and now Thursday. And there's another meal or two left. Good thing I like chicken.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

What's this "west 40" thing, anyway?

When I talk about cutting the grass, I often refer to sections of the yard as the north, south, or west 40. Some of you, especially those who aren't American, may wonder what the heck I'm talking about. Here's a quote from Wikipedia:
South 40 is an American colloquialism with its origins in the Homestead Act of 1862. Adult heads of families were given 160 acres (0.65 km2) of public land provided they could "prove" (improve) the land by constructing a dwelling of some sort on the land and cultivating the land in some manner. After five years of residence, the deed was transferred to the homesteader. The homesteads, being 160 acres (0.65 km2), were easily divisible into quarters of 40 acres (160,000 m2) each. The south 40 would therefore refer to the south 40 acres (160,000 m2).
So, our property (which is only 1/2 acre, or about 2,000 m2), is easily divided into three sections because of the way it's laid out. I jokingly refer to these sections as the north, south, and west 40s. I don't have an east 40.

The south 40 includes a strip about a meter wide outside the hedges. I also cut a meter-wide strip outside the fence on the north edge of the property.

I made this illustration many years ago using Powerpoint. It's not to scale, but generally shows where things are in the yard. I updated it for today's post. We've lost a few trees and made some improvements over the years, so I tried to show that here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Soba soup, sorta

After making my poule au pot (chicken in a pot) over the weekend, I was left with a lot of chicken broth, not to mention chicken and vegetables. Most of the broth went into the freezer. I saved out some to make chicken noodle soup for another lunch.

My chicken noodle soup with soba and Japanese flavor ingredients. I ate two bowls full.

I had some Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles in the pantry and thought they would be good in the soup, and they were. I chopped up some of the leftover chicken and vegetables, added some soy sauce, mirin (a sweet Japanese rice wine), and some soy bean/garlic paste to the broth. It turned out well, but next time I think I'll try to hot it up a bit. There will be a next time because I have some left.

On Monday evening the expected cold front moved through our sultry, muggy weekend air. Thunderstorms formed all along the line, but somehow we were spared. There were storms to the south of us and storms to the north, but all we got was rain and wind. Lots of wind. About fifteen minutes of very strong wind. When it was over, I had to go out and collect the empty flower pots that were blown all over the yard.

Monday, October 14, 2019

A summery fall weekend

We're getting one more day out of this warm spell. The forecasters have moved the cool-down and rain out about twelve hours, so most of today should be nice with temperatures approaching 25ºC again, about 77ºF. As I mentioned, I took advantage of the weather to get some outdoor work done.

Saturday evening looking over the freshly mowed west 40 as the sun began to set.

Of course, my food plans didn't quite go with the weather, but that's ok. I could have been grilling, but I have a lot of leftovers in the fridge.

On Sunday evening's walk, Tasha and I got caught in a rather heavy, but brief, unexpected shower. The rain came down as if Noah himself were building an ark out back. I eventually took shelter under the roof of the vineyard cabin. Tasha wouldn't, but was beside herself rather annoyed at getting pelted with fat raindrops. As suddenly as it started, the rain stopped. We were treated to a nearly perfect rainbow on the way back to the house, both of us soaked to the bone.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Poule au pot

Saturday morning was a little overcast and damp, so I decided to make my Sunday lunch a day early. I made a classic French dish called poule au pot (chicken in a pot). The recipe is traditionally made with an old laying hen, a tough bird that requires at least a couple of hours in the pot to become tender. Nowadays, many people just use regular chickens (poulet) that can poach in a fraction of that time.

A free-range farm-raised chicken. I used yellow turnips because they looked so pretty. The bay leaves and thyme come from our garden.
I took the picture before I remembered the onion, but it went in.

I got a nice chicken from the supermarket and all the standard vegetables. Leeks, celery, carrots, turnips, parsnips, onion, along with salt, peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, and some allspice (instead of cloves). I put the chicken in a pot, covered it with water, and brought it to a boil. I skimmed the broth, then added the vegetables and herbs. It all simmered for a little less than an hour before I turned it off and let it sit for ten minutes or so.

Poached chicken with tender vegetables. A chicken in every pot!

The chicken was perfectly poached and the vegetables were all tender. And it was delicious! Of course, now I have a ton of leftovers. I froze most of the broth for later, but I saved some out for today's lunch. I plan to cut up some of the remaining chicken and vegetables, add noodles, and make a chicken noodle soup. I have some Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles to use, so I'll look for some recipes online for an Asian-style soup.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Yard work

Friday turned out to be a beautiful day. Sunny, warm, and dry. I took advantage of the weather to get some things done outdoors. First, I trimmed the spent flower stalks off the clary sage around the real fake well. At the base of each plant, new growth is abundant. With the flower stalks gone, the well looks much neater.

I don't have photos of my handiwork yet, so here are some grape vine leaves.

Next, I tackled a project that Ken has been talking a lot about recently: clearing an overgrown patch of brambles from against our fence. The spot is where our friend, Sue, transplanted a bunch of iris bulbs back in 2006. Since then, the wild blackberries have taken over. I got the hedge trimmer out and cut it all down as close to the ground as I could. Then I got the lawnmower out and mulched the heck out of it all. Much neater looking.

Finally, after lunch I cut the grass in the south 40 and outside our hedges along the road. I still have the north and west 40s to cut. I could do that today, depending on the weather (some light showers are predicted) or Sunday morning, which is supposed to be our warmest and driest day before a new rain system moves in.

There is still much to be done, but fall is young. The vegetable garden is finishing up and that will need to get cleaned up for winter. The greenhouse needs a little reorganizing before we bring plants in for the season. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The grove

This is the little grove on the Artsy Organized Neighbor's property. I don't know if he cuts the grass or if it's naturally this way. You can see his "paved" road that circles the grove. On the right are some piles of dirt and the black gravel he used for paving. On the left you can see an old roulotte, a covered wagon, like a camper, made entirely of wood. This one's wheels have been removed so it sits on the ground.

The little grove adjacent to the vineyard. It almost looks like a city park.

Our weather is warming up again. We're expecting temperatures in the low to mid twenties (low 70sF) over the weekend. I'm planning to get the mower out and cut the grass this afternoon while the sun shines and there are no showers predicted.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

For art's sake

This is part of the Artsy Organized Neighbor's collection. Apparently he's a retired public works employee whose career had something to do with road building and maintenance. He lives in town, but has this property out here where he collects old roadside marker posts and other things. Last year he "paved" the road through his property with fine black gravel (he's got it in better shape than the road through the vineyard).

Big rocks (old cobblestones?), bits of metal, tarps, a railing, and a wheel. I think the tubes are old roadside marker posts.

My guess is that he misses his work, so he putters around out in the woods from time to time. Memories of better days, I suppose. None of his stuff is an eyesore. It's all neatly organized and is mostly hidden behind his log pile, which itself is kind of hidden behind a row of hazelnut trees that he keeps nicely trimmed. I wonder what will happen to it all when he eventually passes away.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

The woodpile

This wood pile is not ours (too bad!). It belongs to the Artsy Organized Neighbor and sits out on an isolated property between vineyard parcels and a ravine in the adjacent woods. We walk by it most days, although usually on the vineyard side.

Standard one-meter lengths of oak and other hardwoods are neatly stacked on the AON's property.

The trailer and other odd pieces of old and rusting machinery are parked next to the woodpile. I don't think I've ever seen them moved, but the woodpile shrinks and grows from year to year.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

Tasha really likes to go off-road, as it were, and through the woods on her walks. This particular route leads us by a big woodpile and the collection of the Artsy Organized Neighbor and then through the woods on what is probably a deer path. Callie used to like the same path, and now it's Tasha's.

Just beyond Tasha, where you can see grass, is the western entrance to the path through the woods.

Where the path exits the woods next to a vineyard parcel, thorny brambles grow and block the way. Even Tasha struggles to get through unscathed. Once a year, Ken or I take a pair of pruning shears on the walk to clear it out, making the path accessible again. I did that last week so we no longer have to fight with thorns. Until next year.

Monday, October 07, 2019


There are several fields interspersed among the vineyard parcels out back. Most of the time, they're filled with tall grasses that grow all spring and summer and then are cut down. Some of them are cut for hay, and we see the bales dotting the fields in late summer before they're taken to storage.

India, Nigeria, and Niger are the world's leading producers of millet. The US, India, and Nigeria are the leading producers of sorghum.

One small field, between a small grape parcel and a stand of pines, was plowed up last spring and planted with something. At first it looked like corn (maze), but it did not grow tall. Now that it's gone to seed, it looks like it's a variety of millet. It could also be sorghum; they're related and look similar. I think millet is mostly used for animal feed in France, probably poultry. It's also part of the wild bird seed mixes I see sold in the garden centers. Here and there we find a variety of millet in the markets sold for human consumption. We both enjoy it as an alternative to rice and other grains.

Sunday, October 06, 2019


Every year I post a photo of grapes in an abandoned vineyard parcel out along our walking route. It's too bad that there's no one to work the vines in this parcel. Either there's no heir that's interested, or whoever owns the land doesn't want to sell, or there's no buyer if he does.

Unpruned, unharvested, these grape vines have been abandoned. The grapes will be eaten by wildlife or rot.

By now, shrubs and small trees have invaded. If anyone does want to work the parcel, I think everything would have to be dug up and they'd have to start from scratch. We've seen some vineyard parcels out back dug up and re-planted over the years, but none of them had been left to go wild.