Thursday, February 28, 2019

Little lambs eat ivy

I'm not sure what to make of this ivy growing up a fence post. It kind of looks like a mop of hair atop a skinny teen. Maybe I spend too much time looking for things to photograph around the vineyards.

Maybe it's an Enting?

This common ivy grows everywhere around here. It climbs up our tree trunks like it climbed up that fence post. Year after year we're out there cutting it off at ground level so that it doesn't take over and kill the trees. Of course it grows back, but there's really no way to pull it out by the roots. Maybe if we had some little lambs in the yard, they'd eat it all up. But they'd probably eat everything else, too.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A little logging

One of our neighbors has been doing a little logging on his property. His house is on the next road over from ours, and his property crosses over a stream in the woods and into a field adjacent to the vineyard. The field is where we used to see his donkeys, but they haven't been out there in while.

Logging on the edge of the donkey pasture.

The neighbor has been cutting trees on the edge of the woods and piling them up to age for firewood (I assume). The logs are cut into meter-long lengths and stacked near where they are cut. This goes on in patches of woods all around us.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019


This beautiful weather we're having right now is doing everybody good, even if the timing is a little off. The trees and other plants are soaking up the sun. Buds are beginning to form. The ground is warming, too, so I imagine the grasses and other perennials are starting to produce new growth. Our lilac bush is already covered with fat buds.

A view out over the vineyards as the sun rose last Sunday morning. There's still a lot of pruning to be done.

The only downside to this warm and dry February is that the grape growers are worried. If the vines get off to an early start, and there's a freeze before spring, the year's crop could be damaged. Let's keep our fingers crossed that that doesn't happen.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Water hole

At various places around the vineyards out back there are these depressions in the ground. They're obviously man-made and much of the year they're empty pits. But after some good rain, they fill up and hold water for a while. Some drain quickly and others stay filled a lot longer. I'm not at all sure why they're there. Perhaps it's a way to allow water to seep back into the water table for the grape vines. A lot of the rain we get drains away to the river before it can penetrate the dense clay vineyard soil. Maybe it's for the wildlife. I don't know.

One of the water holes along the paths that we walk.

I finally got outside yesterday afternoon to pick up winter's fallen branches and sticks. I filled the wheelbarrow up twice and now have a good pile of kindling for the rest of the season's fires. If any. Tasha helped me a lot by grabbing sticks as I reached for them and running away. It was obviously a game for her. She enjoys being outside and playing in the nice weather. Come to think of it, so do I.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Birch bark

Well, I spent about ten minutes staring at the screen trying to think of something to write about birch bark. It's white. That's all I came up with.

And it has thin dark spots.

Our streak of sunny warm days continues. February may be going out like a lamb. Where does that leave March? Maybe it will come in like a goat, and out like manatee. Or, in like a spider monkey, out like a koala. In like an amoeba, out like a paramecium?

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Happy birthday, Tasha!

Today Tasha turns two! Talk about alliteration. Here she is, smiling. She needs a bath and a good grooming. I don't brush her enough, so I take her in to the professional for that. It's time now.

Tish-tash is a pretty little puppy.

Tasha's really enjoying the nice weather. On days like this we can leave the front door open so she can come in and out as she pleases, run around the yard, and bark at passing cars and people. She especially likes barking at the woman who delivers the mail.

Friday would have been Callie's twelfth birthday. We still miss her, but we're very happy to have Tasha around. Her full name, in case you forgot, is Natasha des loups de l'Isengard (Natasha of the wolves of Isengard).  That's the name of the place where she was born, and a reference to the Lord of the Rings, a favorite novel of mine. It was meant to be.

Friday, February 22, 2019


When it's not overcast or foggy in the morning we get treated to a nice sunrise. The sun is still rising in the southeast, but it's making progress toward east every day. And now it's rising well before 08h00. I like getting out early with Tasha, but we have to wait for the light. The earlier we're out walking, the fewer people (and cars and tractors) we see. Fewer people equals fewer distractions. In the summer, it gets light before we're even out of bed.

One season following another, laden with happiness and tears.

I just heard on the news that they're doing away with paper phone books in France. I thought they already had. Now where will I look to see my name in print? Cue Steve Martin: The new phone book's here! The new phone book's here!

Thursday, February 21, 2019


Last week we had a few frosty mornings. Tiny icicles covered most everything at ground level until the sun came up and melted them. This week, in place of frost, we have fog. It's not cold enough for frost to form, but everything that was once covered in ice is now covered with little water droplets.

A frosted remnant of last summer.

On Wednesday, the fog burned off late in the morning and the sun warmed up the afternoon. The same thing will likely happen today. Soon it will be March and we will expect rain and sleet squalls, les giboulées de mars as they're called. As nice as the days are now, our mild winter may yet surprise us.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Weather warp

This photo looks like it could have been taken on a beautiful autumn day. It was taken last week. Our waning winter has been a mild one this year, with only a few dips below the freezing mark since December. We're expecting another sunny and warm weekend.

Sunrise in the woods on a winter morning.

But it's still only February! The vernal equinox is a month away. I have these nagging feelings that I should be getting spring chores done, and maybe I should, but it's too early for many of them. I feel like at any moment we could be snapped back into winter weather. Thus my hesitation. One thing I can do is pick up the fallen sticks and branches in the yard and stack them for kindling. They're dry enough now. In fact, I had a fire in the stove yesterday. The house, being built of brick and tile, takes a while to warm up after the chill of winter so, while it might be nice outdoors, it still feels cool inside.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

Here's Tasha last week on one of the "frosty paws" mornings we had. The cold doesn't bother her, though. Just look at that coat!

Maybe I should call her "Sandy Claws."

Although it's still winter, we've been having nice spring-like weather. Yesterday, we took advantage of the warm sunny morning to get started on a little spring cleaning. We emptied the dining room (not really it's own room, but we call it that anyway) and took the carpet out onto the deck so that we could clean the floor beneath it. There was enough sand under that rug to open a beach. That's what living with dogs will do. I vacuumed up the sand and then mopped the floor.

We hung the carpet (a 2m x 3m, about 6 x 9 feet, wool oriental) on the deck rail and Ken beat it with a broom. More sand. I vacuumed the carpet's top side out on the deck, brought it back in the house, and turned it over to vacuum the back side. When I turned it over again, I noticed that more sand had flowed onto the freshly cleaned floor. I vacuumed again and turned the carpet over once more. You guessed it: more sand. I repeated this a couple of times until most of the sand was out of the carpet.

Now the sand is gone and floor is clean. I look forward to doing the same with the living room carpet. Maybe next month.

Monday, February 18, 2019


When I walked Tasha last evening, I only needed a fleece and a baseball cap. No coat, scarf, or gloves. It felt like spring. Indeed, our outdoor thermometer read 16ºC (just over 60ºF), and that's in a cool location. The temperature on the deck got up to 20ºC (68ºF). It certainly felt like 20º out in the sun.

A frosty leaf in the vineyard road.

The sunny week we've been enjoying has been good for the plants and good for us. Lots of bright light for a change. Winter could still come back with cold and snow but, if it does, we know it won't last very long.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Say goodbye to Hollywood

At least, goodbye to this pack of Hollywood chewing gum. Somebody tossed this empty pack alongside one of the roads in our neighborhood, probably from a car. If you've been to France you probably know that Hollywood is a common brand of gum here. I remember it from back in 1981. Yikes! According to the company's Facebook page, the brand was created in 1952.

A frosty, yet empty, pack of strong mint-flavored chewing gum.

Our neighborhood is active this weekend. The woman who owns the house next to ours is down from Paris with her partner. They had the electricity people in on Saturday to install their new meter. I saw Mr. Man (as I call him) out working in the yard. The house next to theirs belongs to the daughter of our late neighbor. She and her family came down with a trailer and a couple of vans to continue emptying the house before they sell it. They had another bonfire yesterday, burning more big pieces of furniture. The people next to them are digging out a portion of their front yard. I think they're making a space to park their second car so they don't have to jockey two cars in and out of their driveway. Oh, and I took a couple of bins of stuff to the recycling center. Woo-hoo!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

No-snow drops

We haven't had any snow (aside from some flurries) so far this winter, but the snowdrops don't care about that. They're up. I wish we had some in our yard, but we don't. I found this patch in the woods out by one of the vineyard parcels we walk around. There's another big patch down at the bottom of the hill, along one of the other paths that Tasha and I frequently take.

Snowdrops pop up through the leaf litter as if it were snow.

The door handle for the refrigerator arrived as expected on Friday and was easy to install. Just like new! I actually ordered two of them so that we'll have a spare in case there's another break. I also decided to order two new digital lamp timers. The analog timer we use in the entry is a pain to program accurately, and right now the lamp there is coming on around three in the morning. That's because the power was off last Monday when the new electric meter got installed and I had to reset the timer. Like I said, finding the right time on the dial is not easy. I have two digital timers already and they work great. They even have battery backups so they don't lose time or programming when the power goes out.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Pruning continues

Most mornings, just around sunrise, four or five cars drive up into the vineyards behind our house and park. The pruners get out and gather around one of the cars for a coffee. Then about half of them strap on battery packs that power their electric shears and start cutting vine canes. The other half work to pull the cut canes and line them up on the ground between the rows.

This is the color out of the camera. The rising sun gave the early morning fog an orange glow.

Thursday morning was frosty. The temperature was not much higher than freezing and ground fog formed over the vineyards as the sun rose. Tasha and I were making our way through and around the vineyards and saw the pruning team up ahead. They're used to seeing Tasha with either Ken or me in the morning, and Tasha is used to seeing them. We kept out of their way and turned toward home.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Bloomin' flowers

The winter cyclamen is in full bloom in our back yard right now. This year, the patches seem to have gotten bigger and the flowers more numerous. These "wild" cyclamen give us some nice color in the weeks before spring officially arrives. It won't be long before the primroses bloom. Vivement le printemps !

An early sign of the coming spring.

Lately, we had been noticing that the handle on the refrigerator door seemed loose. We both mentioned it to one another. Then, on Tuesday, SNAP! The handle just broke off in Ken's hand. Great. Now what? Well, I went on line and searched for pièces détachées réfrigérateur Beko (replacement parts for Beko refrigerator) and found a couple of sites. With the fridge's model number, I was able to locate a vendor who had the part in stock, placed an order, and it shipped later that afternoon. They say the new part will be delivered tomorrow. What a world!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


A couple of days ago I posted a photo of a parcel of sauvignon blanc vines that had not yet been pruned. Well, now they have been. So, I took another photo!

Compare this view with the same shot from Monday's post.

Our week of "nice" weather is under way. It was mostly sunny through the day on Tuesday, with the same expected today and through the weekend. And, while the mornings are still cold (around freezing), the days are warming up nicely. They're saying the weekend could feel like spring.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

As French as apple pie

Nothing says France like a tarte aux pommes, except maybe a baguette or a croissant. Or a crème brulée. But I digress. The good old apple tart is comfort food, a staple of French desserts. They've certainly been a staple in our house. And they're relatively easy to make.

The layer of rhubarb under the apples gives the tart a nice kick.

I had some apples, some of my own pâte brisée (pie crust) in the freezer, and some leftover rhubarb compote in the fridge, so on Monday I made a tart. Since the pie crust was already made, all I had to do was to thaw it and roll it out. After blind-baking it, I spread a layer of compote inside. Then I cored, peeled, and sliced the apples and arranged them on top. After about thirty minutes of baking, I glazed the tart with some strained apricot jam. Voilà !

Monday, February 11, 2019


The storm moved through and the wind died down. We got a bunch of rain. Last night, when I looked out the window sometime around 02h00, the stars were clear and bright. The constellation Orion is getting lower in the western sky. We're more than half-way through winter now.

This vineyard parcel, planted in sauvignon blanc, is waiting to be pruned before spring.

As soon as things dry out a little, I plan to make the rounds with the wheelbarrow and gather up the twigs and branches that were blown out of our trees. It happens every year. It's mostly dead wood that comes in handy as kindling for the fire, but first it has to dry. It doesn't take long.

Today we're expecting the installation of a new electric meter. France is systematically replacing traditional meters with new high-tech machines that don't need to be read by a person. The new meters transmit the customers' electricity consumption to the company automatically. As it is now, our monthly electric bill is an estimate based on last year's use. A meter reader comes twice a year, and the bill is adjusted at the end of the year. Once the new meter is in, we'll pay for actual monthly usage without needing an adjustment in December. En principe, as they say.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

In black and white

There is certainly color in the winter vineyard. The canes that are not yet pruned have a muted reddish hue. The grass between vine rows is bright green. Evergreens on the edge of the vineyard parcels are, well, ever green. But on some days, especially on overcast and frosty days, the place seems monochromatic, almost like a black and white photo.

This tree was little more than a sapling fifteen years ago when we moved here.

Today is a yucky weather day. We're having rain and gusty winds. Again. February has come in like the proverbial lion of March. On Saturday the weather was much calmer and we were treated to a show: the woman who owns the house two doors down is preparing it for sale. Her father lived there until he passed away last fall. Early in the morning we noticed a bonfire in the front yard. They were burning chairs and bed frames. They kept the fire going all day, until sunset, with more furniture, boxes, carpets, linens, books, and who knows what else from inside the house. I've never seen such a thing.

Saturday, February 09, 2019


Every now and then we come across a spot in the woods that somebody is clearing. Property owners go in and cut down trees and stack the wood for firewood. They clear the undergrowth and re-open what were once tractor paths through the woods. I can think of at least four places along our walking paths where this has happened recently.

The latest clearing is just at the edge of one of the vineyard parcels out back.

In one place, a large clearing was created a few years ago, bringing light and air into that patch of the woods. Today, the clearing has grown over with saplings and other brush, leaving only a single narrow path that Tasha and I (and others, judging by the footprints) can pass through. I wonder if the owner will come back and clear the access again.

Friday, February 08, 2019

In the pink

Earlier this week we went from freezing morning temperatures to a more mild start to the day. I think it was on Wednesday morning when I noticed the sound of birds singing all around during my walk with Tasha. It sounded, and felt, like a nice spring morning. By contrast, frozen mornings are silent; only the occasional caw of a crow can be heard.

A pink sunrise on a frosty morning earlier this week.

So, I guess the transition from winter to spring is under way, even though we're still about six weeks from the equinox. That is not to say we won't have more cold weather, or even snow. February is famous for snow around here, at least that's been my experience. Last February is a good example.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Vineyard sunrise

A few nights ago the sky was relatively clear and the temperature went down to freezing. We woke to frosty grass and icy puddles. The sunrise was pretty, although I didn't get outside until after the sun was officially up. But even so, I can make mini sunrises happen if I walk down a hill and come back up toward the sun.

A mini sunrise over the frosty vineyard.

Now the weather has turned again and it's warm in the morning. As I type this at nearly 07h00, our outdoor thermometer reads about 10ºC (50ºF). During the night I heard Bert come into the house. He made that special meow that means he's caught a field mouse. I got up, went downstairs and turned on the light. Sure enough, there he sat with his prize on the rug (at least it was dead). I grabbed a paper towel from the kitchen, picked up the little corpse by the tail and put it and the cat out on the deck. Then I went down and closed the utility room door so he couldn't get back in. Bert eats his prey, except for one certain internal organ. I'm sure I'll find it on the deck this morning. Lovely. Moral of the story: keep the cat outdoors when the over night temperature is not freezing.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Apple of my eye

These are apple trees. They belong to a neighbor who lives in the Paris region and spends time in the summer here. This winter, she had someone in to prune the trees. Boy, did he ever. It will be interesting to see what grows back this spring. I'm almost certain there won't be apples on these trees this year. That's a shame, because some of them are pretty good.

There are three houses and two outbuildings in this photo. Our house is not visible, but the tall fir tree on the left is in our yard.

We had two of our apple trees pruned a few years ago, but certainly not to the extent seen here. The trees leafed out well the following spring, but there were no apples that year. In the second year there were apples, but not as many as we had before the pruning.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

On frozen pond

We've been down to freezing for the past couple of mornings and the little pond outside our back gate has frozen over. The ice is very thin, not at all safe to stand on. In fact, I'm sure if a duck landed on the pond it would break the wafer-thin layer of ice. Still, it's kind of pretty.

Red sky at morning...

In the first shot, which looks kind of toward the south, the pink sky of sunrise is reflected in the ice. In the second shot, I'm looking back toward our yard, kind of toward the north, and the more usual gray sky is reflected. The ice thawed as morning went on.

Those yellow-green balls in the apple trees are mistletoe. It has taken over.

It hasn't been a typical cold winter this year. So far. It's cold enough to have a daily fire in the wood stove, but hard freezes have been few to nil. We're still getting ladybugs and other flying insects coming into the house every day. I think they get in through the weep holes in the window frames or make their way upstairs through the cat's open window in the garage. It's not cold enough outside to kill them.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Sauteed mushrooms

I don't have much in the way of photos right now, so you get mushrooms. Sunday was a bright and sunny day (yay!), but it wasn't my turn to walk the dog in the morning. By the time the afternoon walk came around, I didn't even think of taking the camera out. Oh well. Maybe this morning.

These mushrooms went into our crêpes on Saturday.

No Super Bowl watching went on here. The game was on live between midnight and four this morning. I didn't record it. So Brady, er, I mean the Patriots, won. Again. Yawn.

Sunday, February 03, 2019


February second is la Chandeleur (Candlemas) on the French/Catholic calendar. For most people here, I think, it means crêpes, the traditional food for this day. The holiday's origins are pagan and Latin and it was, as many pre-Christian holidays were, appropriated and incorporated into the Catholic religion and assigned a significance in the Christmas/Easter narratives. We leave all that religious stuff aside and concentrate on the food!

The first lunch crêpe is served!

I like to make two kinds of crêpes for the day. For our main meal, we make traditional Breton crêpes, often called galettes. They're larger than the sweet crêpes I make, and they're made primarily with sarrasin (buckwheat flour). There is some all-purpose flour in the recipe I use, but it could be left out if you wanted a gluten-free crêpe.

Making the buckwheat crêpes, one at a time, in a rather large crêpe pan.

I make four large crêpes, two for each of us, and then freeze the leftover batter for another time. We line each crêpe with a slice of ham, some sauteed mushrooms, and grated cheese before folding them up like envelopes, but there's no end to the variety of fillings one can use. The folded crêpes go into a slow oven to warm through and melt the cheese. Two of these make a good main course, served with a green salad. For dessert I made a batch of traditional crêpes that we serve with jam or just plain with butter and sugar. I didn't take any photos of those yesterday.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Just for fun

And because I haven't taken the camera out in the crappy weather lately, here's a shot of the trivet in the shape of a Petit Beurre cookie that I talked about the other day. It's much bigger than the actual cookie, but it's a faithful reproduction nonetheless.

It's more decorative than it is a useful trivet.

The days are getting longer, but we've been having rain off and on for a while. I don't really like taking the camera out in the rain. For that matter, I don't really like taking the dog out in the rain. But a dog's gotta do what a dog's gotta do, if you know what I mean. Our walks are short and wet.

Friday, February 01, 2019


Out among the vineyards are patches of woods that flank stream beds. The streams have carved deep ravines in the hillside over time. One of these in particular is close to the dirt road that runs out through the vines. In winter, with the leaves and undergrowth gone, I can see into the ravine with little effort. Somebody has used it for a dump.

What a mess!

There are old appliances and other junk down there. I don't think any of this is recent, but it doesn't look that old, either. Fortunately, none of it is visible from the road. I have to walk into the woods to see it. But there it is. We have a free déchetterie (dump and recycling center) just across the river, so I don't know why someone would haul stuff here and tumble it into the woods. It seems like just as much, if not more, trouble than taking it to the dump.