Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Vineyard view [2]

We're still having clear, starry nights and that means chilly mornings. It also means nice sunrises. The wind seems to have died down, but the air is still blowing from the north-northeast, adding to the chill. I had a fire in the wood stove most of the day on Sunday and Monday.

Saturday's sunrise over the vineyard.

We're going to have to place another drive order this week. We're running low on Tasha's wet food and Bert's kibble. Bert's got plenty of wet food for now, and Tasha's kibble supply is not too low at the moment. Of course, if I were feeling brave, I would just go to the supermarket as I normally would, taking certain precautions, of course. We'll see.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Vineyard view

Work has steadily continued in the vineyards through our confinement. Most, if not all, of the parcels around us are pruned. And, since I snapped this photo on Saturday, the cut canes have been ground into mulch. What's left to do now is what's called le pliage (the folding). Vineyard workers will bend each remaining cane to the horizontal and fasten them to the support wires. Then Mother Nature will take over and the vines will grow.

The vine canes are covered in buds. Soon leaves will appear, then the grape flowers. Spring is here.

The weather has taken a turn back toward winter. We're having wind again. This time it's a cold wind from the northeast. But no rain. I was able to get my burn pile burned before the wind started up. Soon I'll till up the part of the garden where I plant climbing beans and snow peas. It's also time to start seedlings in the greenhouse.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Corny pizza

Saturday was pizza day chez nous. One of my favorite pizzas to make is leek and bacon. There's no tomato sauce or cheese in it, just crispy bacon and sautéed leeks. This time, we had a surplus of onions in the pantry, so we used those in place of leeks. And, because this is France, smoked lardons take the place of American bacon. Lardons are actually the same cut as bacon, just shaped differently.

Ken gently cooked the sliced onions with some white wine, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes. Yum!

My twist with this pizza is that I like to add corn. I sautéed the corn in the rendered bacon fat to crisp it up and give it a toasted/roasted flavor. It works really well with the leeks/onions and bacon. And I added a few black olives, too. We drank a cabernet sauvignon from southern France (Pays d'Oc) along side. Bon appétit !

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Le drive

In France, what we Americans call a "drive-through" at retail establishments is known as un drive. Whether it's fast food, a pharmacy, or a supermarket, the signs for le drive are everywhere. Except at banks. I don't think there are drive-up tellers at French banks. Not sure about drive-up ATMs, but I can't think of one. On Friday, I did the supermarket drive for the first time.

This is not our Super-U and it's not my photo. I got the image from the internet.
"Location" means "rental," most supermarkets offer cars and vans for rent. "Courses" means "shopping."

Ken put together our order on line. Both our local supermarkets, Intermarché and Super-U, offer the service. Since normally we each enjoy going food shopping, we've never used le drive. But, like a whole lot of other folks, we decided to try it to minimize public contact in this time of confinement. That first week, the web sites were inundated and things didn't seem to work right. But that all calmed down after a while. Ken placed the order and selected Friday morning between 09h30 and 10h00 for pickup.

When I drove to the drive, I noticed a few things. First, there were many fewer cars on the road than normal. Second, the recycling stations along the way were closed, taped off with red and white police tape. And while I was expecting the local gendarmes to be checking people for their attestation forms, I saw none. I got to the supermarket and they buzzed me in through the gate to the drive station in back of the store. They were ready for me.

First, however, there were a couple of substitutions. Ken ordered a pain de mie (a loaf of unsliced sandwich bread), but they didn't have one, so they gave me a sliced boule (a round loaf) instead. No problem. He had also ordered a cleaning product which they were out of, so they substituted another brand. Again, no problem. I noticed that there were no baguettes in the box when there should have been a bag of four (for the price of three!). The staff double checked the order and, sure enough, they missed that, so they went back in to get it.

When I got home and unpacked, Ken noticed that instead of the ten bottles of red wine he ordered, we only got five. But the receipt showed we were charged for ten. He called the market and they happily, and without question, gave us a store credit for that. I'm sure the supermarket staff are pretty stressed with the sudden increase in drive orders, the fact that they have to wear masks and gloves, along with the worry of being infected. Given all that, I think our experience was relatively painless and positive. We're planning to try out the other supermarket drive near us next time.

After the supermarket, I went to the pharmacy. No problems there. They filled my expired prescriptions as I read they were authorized to do. The only difference in the store were the tape markings on the floor to keep people a meter apart in line. But there was no line, I was one of two customers while I was there.

UPDATE: I just heard on the morning news that they've opened the first drive-through testing site for the coronavirus in Paris. They call it le drive-test.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Hellebore

I think this is a variety of hellebore, but I'm not sure. I didn't plant them, they come up in our neighbor's garden across the road. When they're not at their vacation house, Ken and I will often walk through their grassy property with Tasha, partly to keep an eye on things and partly to vary our route, especially when the vineyard road is a muddy mess.

Hellebores are "hellébores" in French. That makes it easy to remember.

But there's no mud to speak of right now. A week of dry weather, with more to come, has let the water run off and seep in. I'm going to have to cut the grass soon, but first I'll need to venture out for some gasoline. I'm going to the supermarket and the pharmacy this morning, but I'm not sure I want to add the gas station to that trip. I'm going to see if the pharmacy has any disinfectant wipes that we can use, among other things, to wipe the handles of the gas pumps before using them. That's probably a good practice anyway, but I never thought to do it before this coronavirus thing.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Tulips

These red tulips pop up on the south-facing end of our house every year. They were already here when we moved in almost seventeen years ago. We didn't see them until spring of 2004, though. So here they are this year, looking pretty healthy. I have a special affinity for tulips. My home town was a Dutch colony, founded way back in 1609 when Henry Hudson sailed up the river. Before that it was part of Mohican (as in "Last of the...") territory. Since 1948, the city has held an annual Tulip Festival in May to celebrate its colonial heritage. This year's festival, as you might expect, has been postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Bright red tulips in the early spring sun.

Tulips that I planted two years ago in another part of the yard were, you might remember, eaten by rodents. Out of about a dozen bulbs, there remain two. Each plant has one flower, a purple and a yellow. I was really discouraged, but I just need to put something else in place of the tulips. Daffodils, for example, seem not to attract the bulb-munching rodents, so maybe that's the best bet.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

More primroses

Our morning low temperatures are flirting with zero (freezing) right now. So far, we've stayed above freezing. I've seen no evidence of the grape growers putting out smudge pots or burning hay bales to fight against a freeze. Yesterday, I heard the helicopter-like sound of big fans blowing in the distance, but not many vineyards around us are so equipped.

Purple primevères in a neighbor's yard.

Meanwhile, we're still enjoying the spring bloom. Trees, shrubs, and bulbs are putting on their annual show. These primroses are in a neighbor's garden across the road from us. Those neighbors, like many others here, don't live here year round, so we haven't seen them in a while. Their grass has grown quite tall and they'll have a big chore waiting for them when they're able to get here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Burrito bros.

Every once in a while we get a craving for burritos, like the ones we used to get in our neighborhood Cal-Mex place in San Francisco: La Corneta Taqueria. Unfortunately, we can't make them the way they did, but our approximations aren't too bad. This time, we stuffed supermarket flour tortillas with Ken's pulled pork barbecue (seasoned with Mexican spices), black beans, and rice. Then we topped them with cheese and baked them in the oven.

A home-made "French" burrito.

Often, we'll put the cheese inside then wrap each burrito in foil for the oven. That makes for a softer texture. Without the foil, the tortilla gets a little crispier. The ingredients we use vary depending on what we've got around. At the table, we add guacamole (fresh avocado is best, but this time the guac' came from a jar), salsa, cream (crème fraiche stands in for sour cream), and some fresh cilantro. Yum!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Narcissi

One of our neighbors has a nice little flower bed in her garden near the road. Right now, these daffodils are blooming. They're a multiple-head variety that, from what I can find on the internet, are called "bride." I think they're quite striking and I'm tempted to look for some next fall. If I can remember.

Bride daffodils (I think) in a neighbor's garden.

We've been keeping Bert closed up indoors for two nights now, closing off the access to the garage for the other neighborhood cats that are coming inside. Bert doesn't seem bothered. He's not even using the litter that we put out, preferring to wait until he can go out in the morning. So, that's good.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Catkins

These are the catkins and tiny new leaves on one of our birch trees. The few days of warm, sunny weather we had helped a lot of the neighborhood trees to start leafing out. The red maples out front are covered with fat buds and are actually beginning to flower now. Fruit trees all around are in bloom, and our apples blossoms are starting as well.

Catkins and tiny fresh birch leaves.

I see that the forecast is calling for light morning freezes on Tuesday and Wednesday. I wonder if the grape growers will be setting out smudge pots and hay bales to burn? I'll wager that the new buds on our fig tree will be destroyed, as usual. Our wisteria is budding, but it's up against the house and probably won't be bothered by frost; it never has been.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Muscari patch

Our patch of muscari (grape hyacinth) out by the driveway is looking nice right now. This hastily snapped photo doesn't really do it justice. There are a few daffs out there, too. You can see Tasha's worn path on the lower right.

Grape hyacinth, daffodils, and some tulips that haven't flowered yet.

Around one o'clock this morning, Bert got up went downstairs as he often does. For some reason I got up and followed him. When I got to the bottom of the stairs I was surprised to see two black cats in the living room. One was Bert, of course. The other was a neighbor's cat. I yelled, "Get out of here!" and then Bert chased the other cat down to the utility room and out through the garage. I closed the door to the the utility room and Bert had to spend the rest of the night there, in the garage, or outside. He's been an outdoor cat (with access to the ground floor rooms) for most of his life. We've only recently started letting him sleep upstairs in the house and keeping the door to the utility room ajar for his midnight forays. We're going to have to rethink that.

We've found neighborhood cats in the garage and utility room a few times in the last few months. They started coming in and eating Bert's kibble once Bert was sleeping upstairs. We don't leave kibble out any more, but the cats still come. So the options are: (1) go back to keeping Bert out of the upstairs rooms over night or (b) keep him indoors over night, close the access to the outside, and put a litter box in the utility room. He hasn't needed a litter box since he's been going out at night (almost ten years), but he knows how to use one.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Nice weather

We're enjoying a very spring-like few days. Lots of sun, the ground is starting to dry out, and it's warm. I actually cut a section (the south 40) of the yard yesterday. The grass was getting close to knee-high in places. Ken is working on plants and getting pots cleaned out and ready.

The vines are getting pruned under blue skies right now. The short black gravel road belongs to the Artsy Organized Neighbor.

I can see the pruning effort ramping up out back in recent days. There have been three or four people out there for a couple of weeks, but yesterday one of the larger crews, about five more people, joined in. They must have been deployed elsewhere until yesterday.

Ken is experimenting with online grocery shopping. Both our local supermarkets offer the service, but we've never tried it. We're not ready to place an order yet, but he's looking at how it works, which products are available, and is starting to create a virtual shopping list.

And lastly, a sure sign of spring: we both heard the first cuckoo of the season in our tall fir tree on Thursday morning.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Inside the piney woods

I haven't ventured into what I call the "piney woods" in quite a while. It's a small stand of pine trees on the south side of a vineyard plot along our walking route. Callie liked walking in those woods, but I don't think I've taken Tasha there until now.

Inside the piney woods.

I noticed that the thick brush that blocked our entry in recent years is not there. There's no evidence that anyone cut it down, it just seems to have died back a little. So getting inside was easy. The ground is still covered with a carpet of shed pine needles, but it looked pock-marked by little craters, as if some animals were sniffing around looking for food. It could be the work of wild boar, known to dig around in farmers fields for grubs or tasty tubers.

Tasha enjoyed the smells and the adventure of a new walking route. I don't know how often we'll venture in, but if the access remains clear, it's likely we'll do it again soon.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

An abundance of chervil

The chervil patch is happy. It reseeded itself last fall when the plants bolted and now it has come back again. It seems to do this twice a year, when the weather is cool and wet. We're not using as much as we should, so we need to make an effort. Chervil has a subtle anise taste, similar to tarragon but not as strong. In my opinion, it's best raw, in salads or as a garnish.

Chervil, or cerfeuil in French, looks a little like parsley and tastes a little like tarragon.

Yesterday we decided to cancel our planned April trip up to the Somme in northern France. We're not supposed to be making any unnecessary trips at least for the next two weeks, and probably beyond, depending on how the epidemic pans out (see what I did there?). And since most attractions and restaurants will be closed, and shopping for food may not be easy, we just don't see the point in going. The owner of the rental property we reserved was understanding, and probably a bit relieved, and will be sending our deposit check back. Maybe we'll go in the fall, or next spring.

There are plenty of things to attend to around the house and yard as spring arrives, not the least of which is planting seeds for this year's vegetable garden. Tomatoes, pumpkins, peas, beans, and zucchini. I can't wait!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Hi ya, hyacinth!

These are some hyacinths that I transplanted many, many years ago to this location. I think it might have been between 2006 and 2008. They have filled in and are looking good. On the other side of the shrub there are daffodils. Some of them were in this spot when we arrived, others I've transplanted. The daffs are not as numerous as they used to be, so maybe some fresh bulbs this fall will help.

Hyacinth, yes, but not Boo-Kay.

More and more things are getting postponed or cancelled all around us. Our vet has asked to hold off on annual vaccinations for about four weeks. Bert is supposed to get his on the 25th, so we'll have to wait. Tasha's isn't until May. I'm waiting to see if the groomer cancels Tasha's appointment for next week. I'm sure she will, I just haven't heard from her yet.

I have to call the doctor's office to see if he can just give me a prescription renewal without the requisite office visit. I don't know if they do that here, but in the current situation, it's worth asking. I'm not sure I want to hang out in a doctor's waiting room if I can avoid it.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Lost and found

During a recent walk through the vineyards with Tasha, I noticed something very red on the ground. It was this pair of eyeglasses, most likely dropped by one of the pruning crew who were working out there a couple of weeks ago. I picked them up and hung them on a support wire at the end of a vine row thinking that whoever lost them might come back to look for them.

Eyeglasses in the rain.

They're still out there, so either their owner isn't missing them or just doesn't want them. Seems strange as they look pretty new. I did the same thing with a heavy-duty work glove I found out there one year. I put it on a post near where I found it. It waved at passers-by for about a year before somebody took it down. Oh well, life is funny like that.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Last-sythia

Our forsythia is on the left and a neighbor's is on the right. I'm sure there are more somewhere in the hamlet, but they're not easily seen from the road.

The forsythia add some bright spots of color to the neighborhood this time of year.

So, we're self-quarantining. Well, not really. We've just decided to minimize contact with the outside for a while. Not difficult for me, as I've only gone out of the neighborhood twice in a month. We've been to the grocery store, have a well-stocked pantry, and freezers filled with food. President Macron has closed the schools and universities for a few weeks. I checked on line yesterday and saw that the zoo is staying open as are, at least for the moment, the big châteaux in the region.

I do have to go to the doctor (routine for prescription renewal) in a week or so, Tasha has a grooming appointment at the end of March, and I'll want to get my hair cut in a couple of weeks, so I will be going out. We'll see about the hair. The woman who cuts our hair is pregnant, due some time in April. She told me in January that she would be accepting appointments into the first week of April before her maternity leave, but who knows what this virus scare has done to her plans. I wouldn't be surprised if she has closed up shop early.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Red Russian

That's the variety of kale that Ken planted in the vegetable garden last spring. It grew beautifully but, just before we could harvest, it was attacked by flea beetles. The leaves were more or less destroyed and we were both really disappointed. We decided to leave the plants in the ground and keep watering them, hopeful for a fall crop.

Red Russian kale in the garden, just before it was harvested.

Well, it wasn't until fall that we saw a glimmer of life from the plants. They started sending up new leaves. They had survived, but there was no way that they could grow enough for a fall crop. So we left them to over-winter. What a success! These were the plants on Thursday, when Ken noticed they had started to bolt. So on Friday, he harvested, trimmed, and cooked them, and they're delicious. About five pint-containers went into the freezer.

Friday, March 13, 2020

More-sythia

As promised, here is another photo of our forsythia in bloom. Thursday morning was overcast with some light mist coming down, but I decided to take the camera out anyway. I think this is the peak for the forsythia bush.

I want to trim this back after the flowers are gone. I do that every few years.

We're a few degrees above freezing this morning. The days are mild, though. Our high temperatures are hitting 15ºC (around 60ºF) and slightly above, and that's the trend for the next few days. Spring is springing. But we need to watch for April frosts and freezes.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Forsythia

Another spring favorite, the forsythia is starting to bloom. It's farther along now; this photo is a few days old. I'm still not taking the camera out much right now, preferring to wait for better weather. This morning it's breezy, but relatively warm.

I'll try to get a better shot soon. I had the wrong lens on the camera for this one.

I ventured out again (in the car) yesterday, the second time since I returned from my trip about four weeks ago. Except, of course, for dog walking. I loaded up the recycling and took it to the recycle center, stopped in the hardware store for a couple of things, and did some grocery shopping. I did wipe down the grocery cart handle before I used it and did a good hand-washing when I got home.

Some of our houseplants have scale insects. They seem to get them every spring. I tried a home remedy of soap, vegetable oil, and alcohol, but the bugs came back. So I got a commercial product to use on them.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Am I blue?

These are muscari (grape hyacinth) that grow just outside our front door. They've taken over a plot of ground next to our driveway after I transplanted some a number of years ago. There are also some very old tulips and a few daffodils in this plot. The muscari have really thrived there. Soon it will look like a carpet of blue. These are the early flowers, so not yet as dense as they can be.

The annual blue wave of muscari is building. The flowers will die back before summer.

We also have a rose growing in the middle of the plot. Nothing fancy, but we moved it there from another location and it seems to do well. Tasha has worn a path down to the dirt through the little plot. It's the path she takes from the front door to the other side of the hedge to bark at people and cars. There's a little tunnel through the hedge that Callie and Bert made years ago. Tasha learned to use it, too. The yard is fenced in all around, so that tunnel doesn't lead out of the yard, just to a strip between the fences and the hedge.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Tasha Tuesday

On days without strong wind, Tasha and I can walk through the woods. When it's windy, I'm wary of falling branches so I stay out in the open. Tasha loves going through the woods. There must be a different variety of smells to experience in there.

Approaching the artsy organized neighbor's installations on a sunny, calm, afternoon.

Speaking of wind, we had some strong (but not violent) wind overnight with rain. I did not hear the carport roof flapping at all. That means that the short term fix we did to stabilize it is working. Yay!

Monday, March 09, 2020

Daffy

Daffodils are blooming all over the area right now. They're among the first signs of spring. I'm always tempted to cut them and bring them into the house, but I don't have enough for that. I like seeing them in the garden. Makes me think I should plant some more next fall.

Jonquilles (daffodils) out by the driveway.

There are other spring blooms around as well and, while they're not blooming yet, this year's iris crop looks promising.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Not today

This photo is from last week, during a brief period of sun. Today, we're expecting some wind (not bad) and rain. I've just read on the Météo France web site that this has been the warmest winter on record in France. And among the wettest, with unusually frequent and strong storms in December and February.

Blue sky and sun! Better for making spirits bright than bells on bobtails.

Even though it hasn't been cold and snowy, the wind and rain have had the same effect. That is, keeping us indoors most of the time. I'm looking forward to some milder weather and getting out to work in the garden. The grass is green and growing fast. I wonder when the first "mow" day will be? Since we've lived here, the earliest I've cut the grass was March 18. That was in 2017.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

Temporary fix

We won't know if this works until it gets windy again (and there's some wind predicted for Sunday). We took advantage of a calm Friday to hoist old window shutters and a heavy piece of steel onto the edge of the carport roof where it had detached from the structure, then weighted them down with concrete blocks.

You can't see them, but there are three beams under the roof to which it is attached with bolts. The wood is starting to dry-rot and the bolts are no longer holding. I think this 25 (or so) year-old carport's days are numbered.

We must have been a sight: two geezers lifting concrete blocks up a ladder and onto the roof. But we did it without too much huffing and puffing and, thankfully without injury. The roof certainly needs to be cleared of all the debris that falls from the trees. That will be a spring project.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Things that go bump in the night

Wind! I hate it. It's been blowing relatively non-stop for a month now. Last night we had some scarily strong gusts. They were made even more frightening by the fact that the the wind has been systematically ripping the roof off our carport and the sheet metal flaps violently through the night. The carport is a home-made structure that predates our tenure here.

This is the carport back in 2008 when I used it as a place to cut and store firewood. These days we keep our older car out there. The roof has detached on the left hand side and flaps up and down in the wind. I've tried more than once to reattach it, unsuccessfully.

I'm fairly certain that nobody around us (the few that there are) can really hear it, but it's just outside the bedroom window and it sounds like the end of the world. Noises are more scary when it's dark outside. This morning the wind has calmed down, thankfully. A few days ago, I tried a temporary fix for the roof by tying it down in a couple of places, but the sharp metal made short work of my cords and the roof continues to flap. I've added heavy weights to the roof to hold it, but the wind tosses them off with seemingly little effort.

We need to call someone to either have the roof repaired or removed altogether.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

A few rays

It's raining again this morning, and it's expected to continue through the day. We did have some brief sunny interludes over the past few days, but they were not nearly enough to dry things out. Even when it's not raining, water runs through the vineyards down to the streams toward the river.

Look! Those dark things on the ground? They're called "shadows."

This photo is from Tuesday afternoon during one of the (mostly) sunny periods. It's nice to walk with Tasha when it's not raining. Her legs and belly still get wet and sandy, but the rest of her stays relatively dry.

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

One ring to rule them all

Since we had the spruce tree removed, I've been looking at the stump and thinking, "I should count those rings and find out how old that tree was." Yesterday was the day. I verified how to count tree rings on the internet (start in the center and count the thin dark rings, don't count the bark) and went out to count.

I counted twice, on opposite sides, just be sure.

The center rings are not easy to see for some reason, so my count could be a little high or a little low, but only by one or two rings. The result: that tree was between 38 and 40 years old. That means it was planted just about the time I first came to France (Paris) in 1981. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

One year ago

A year ago this week we took a mini-vacation to a small city called le Puy-en-Velay, down in south-central France. Here's a photo of a nearby castle. Next month, we're going to spend a week in the north of France near the Baie de Somme (Bay of Somme) in Picardie.

A sunny day near le Puy, March 2019. Better weather than we're having now.

I'm hopeful that we'll have good enough weather to take a lot of photos. Among our plans is a visit to the cathedral at Amiens, one that I've not been to before. Before all that, though, we need to get through March. I will be making an appointment for Tasha at the groomer's very soon.

Monday, March 02, 2020

It's raining again

We're having a very wet, but warm, winter. January and February have felt like the soggiest months we've had in a while. The official rainfall total for February 2020 in our area is over 73 mm (just under 3 inches), compared to the annual average for the month of about 50 mm. That's close to 50% over the average for the month.

A late winter sunrise over our hamlet in 2015.

This photo is from five years ago, early March of 2015. The skies were mostly sunny. March is notoriously a month filled with rain and sleet squalls known as les giboulées de mars. We'll see how it goes this year.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Ten years ago

At the end of February 2010, we suffered a wind storm like none I've known. Wind speeds reached hurricane force where we live. It was much, much worse on the Atlantic coast. The storm was called Xynthia; until then I didn't even know that they named storms in France. The winds were so strong that they lifted several concrete tiles from our roof and dumped them into the driveway below. Fortunately, there was little or no rain associated with the storm in our region, so we didn't have any water damage.

The big hole in our roof after the storm went through. We called a roofer who came immediately to replace the tiles.
Fortunately, we had some extras.

Our loft wasn't yet converted to living space, so we were sleeping on the main level of the house. We closed all the shutters to protect the windows from flying debris. The wind shook the house and it was quite scary. A sleepless night, to be sure. The recent wind storms we've been having are nerve-wracking, but they're nothing like that one.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

787 Lancaster

When I was in upstate New York for my aunt's funeral a few weeks ago, I stayed in her apartment. It's the apartment that she and my grandmother moved to when they sold the family house in Albany. This drawing of that house hung in my grandmother's room, where I stayed. My grandmother passed away in 2011 and my aunt, her daughter, continued to live in the apartment.

My aunt lived with her parents all her life, and in this house (middle) from the early 1950s until 2008.

During my stay, my aunt's brother and his wife were beginning the work of cleaning up the apartment and removing my aunt's belongings. They asked me if there was anything I might want to remember her by. There really wasn't anything I could think of, except for this. The drawing of our grandmother's house was done by their son, my cousin, back in 2003. I asked if I could take it as a memory of my aunt and grandparents, and of the time in my childhood spent at that house. She agreed, and seemed happy that I wanted it.

Now the drawing hangs in my house. It's the second of my cousin's work that I have here (here's a link to the first); he's a very talented professional artist. Since that house sold in 2008 (I think), it has been repainted. The house was clad in a light grey aluminum siding since my earliest memory. The new color scheme is bolder, but I like it.

Friday, February 28, 2020

The garden's a mess

It always is this time of year. Winter rains and winds do a number on the yard and vegetable garden. The ground is littered with sticks and twigs, the weeds are thriving, and there is still some trimming to do. I've also got a small collection of junk that needs to go to the dump.

You can see the stump of the tall spruce that was just cut down to the right of center in this photo.

But I'm looking forward to spring. With four trees now gone, we're going to have a lot more sunlight in places that were formerly shady. It doesn't take long to pick up all the sticks, and trimming down the oregano patch just takes a few minutes. I have a small burn pile in the vegetable plot, but it's been so wet that it will take a streak of dry weather to get it to burn. It will all get done.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Primevères

It's that time of year when the naturalized primevères (primroses) in our yard bloom. I don't think they're as numerous this year as other years, but it could be that they're a little early and there will be more in the coming weeks. It could also be that, because they grow near the big spruce tree we had cut down a couple of weeks ago, many got trampled.

Primroses sending up flowers, a sure sign of spring.

These white ones seem to be to most common color so far. There are also purple, red, yellow, and blue versions around the yard. It's nice to see the signs of spring, even if our winter has been mild. Today we will be enjoying (!) another rain system with wind.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Pizza (again!)

We had some leftover smoked chicken last weekend and one of my favorite pizzas is made with smoked chicken and bell peppers, so I made a couple for lunch on Monday. The pizza is inspired by one we used to get at Wolfgang Puck's wood-fired pizza place in Macy's Cellar at Union Square in San Francisco back in the '90s.

One of two pizzas we made and enjoyed for lunch on Monday.

I cubed the smoked chicken and used some frozen bell peppers to make this version. I also had some smoked Vermont cheddar that I brought back from my trip to New York a couple of weeks ago, so I grated that up for the pizza. A few black olives finished it off. And it was really tasty, if I do say so myself.

By the way, the bottle with the "Gallo" label is not wine, but olive oil from Portugal. I've never seen E & J Gallo wine in France.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Valley fog

The other day, while walking with Tasha among the vines, I saw some low fog down on the river. I had the 100mm macro lens on the camera, not a great lens for long shots. Still, I got this one and, with a little processing, I think it came out okay.

Our hamlet above the fogged-in Cher Valley. I think black and white gives the photo more mood.

We're going into another rainy period now, according to the forecasters. Still no freezing weather.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Artichokes

As they do every winter, the artichokes are sending up fresh new leaves. They may wilt or even die back in a freeze, but they'll regrow if that happens.

Blue-green artichoke leaves.

It's time to start thinking about the yard and garden again. I've got some winter pruning to do now. Roses, hydrangea, and a lilac need to be cut back. The plot of daisies, my rosemary patch, and the bed of Jerusalem artichokes need to be cut and cleared of last year's growth. A few mild, dry days will be welcomed.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Happy birthday Tasha!

Today is Tasha's third birthday. That's twenty-one in "people years." She's growing into a good, mostly well-behaved, little dog. Looking back at house training, learning to go up and down stairs, accepting the harness and leash, and learning not to run away off leash, it all seems so long ago and easy. Of course, it's not at all easy when you're going through it. But sheepdogs are pretty smart and eager to learn.

Natasha of the Wolves of Isengard. She's a Shetland Sheepdog. And not a puppy any more.

We met Tasha when she was just over two weeks old. She was a tiny thing. When we brought her home in April of 2017, I could still pick her up with one hand. She was smaller than Bert the cat. She didn't go through the chewing phase that Callie did (thankfully), but liked to nip at my heels (and still does). Tasha's a good watch dog, barking at anyone and anything that passes by the house (including pigeons). I could open a pillow factory using the hair she constantly sheds, if dog hair pillows were a thing. And she loves to ride in the car.

Happy birthday, Tasha! We're glad you came to live with us.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Close-up

Here's a close-up of the plum blossoms that I talked about yesterday. This tree makes small red fruit that's best for cooking. It will be interesting to see if we get plums this year should there be a freeze before spring. I've also noticed buds on our fragile fig tree, but that's normal for this time of year.

Plum blossoms.

The fig usually has small leaves by April which have, in recent years, been killed by early spring frosts. The tree leafs out again in late spring, but produces little to no fruit. I'm not expecting miracles this year.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Bloomin'

Plum trees around the hamlet, including ours, have started blossoming. It's very early, at least by a few weeks. I also see a couple of weeping willows that are budding out. I'm not sure if it's early for them or not.

Ken planted this plum tree from a pit many years ago.

This morning it's clear and chilly. When I opened the shade on one of the loft windows this morning I could clearly see the Big Dipper in the sky above. I like when that happens.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Pruning continues

Last fall I saw crews of ten or more people pruning big parcels of vines. I thought that, at the rate they were going, the annual vine pruning would be done before the holidays. Then everything slowed down. Now I see one person out there cutting vine canes. And there are a lot of parcels left to prune.

This parcel remains unpruned for the time being. If you look closely at the center of the image, you might see a white van on the neighboring ridge. It probably belongs to a grower or an employee who's out pruning.

What happened? I have no idea. It could be that the crews are working other parcels that I don't see on my daily walks. Or maybe they were just out there in the fall season and have moved on to other work. Wherever they are, I'll bet they will be back before too long to pull cut canes off the vines so they can be ground into mulch.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Winter view

Our winters are quite mild compared to where I just came from. Still, even though we had ice and snow during my visit to upstate New York, everyone told me that, except for that week, their winter has been unusually mild. I guess I was in the right place at the wrong time.

A winter view of our little hamlet from out in the vineyards.

January and February are normally our coldest months. But not this year. We haven't even been close to seeing snow so far this year. We usually have a snowfall or two each winter, and it doesn't amount to much. But this year has been all rain, no snow. Some of the flowering trees have blossoms now, which feels quite early. If the grapes bud out early, and we have a freeze in April, there will be trouble.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Nipper

He's an icon of advertising. Nipper the dog, hearing "his master's voice" on a gramophone, the symbol of the RCA company for decades. This four-ton statue of him, without the gramophone, sits atop the old RCA building in Albany's North End industrial district. He's become an adored icon of the city.

Nipper sits atop the old RCA building on Broadway in North Albany.

That's pretty much all the photography I did on this trip. I didn't have much time to wander, and the weather was not good. My aunt's burial was on Tuesday. The cemetery was beautiful, almost like a Hollywood set, shrouded in a dense fog with old leafless trees towering over us like skeletons. I wish I could have a photo of that, but that just wasn't appropriate. After the ceremony, my uncle and aunt hosted a luncheon at a local Italian restaurant.

On Wednesday I spent some time with my cousin and aunt on my dad's side. She, too, is in a nursing facility, but she was alert and we had a good visit. That night I went out for dinner with L & L again to a fine Indian restaurant they know. Thursday morning was breakfast at a local diner with my uncle and aunt before catching my flight out.

That flight was not without its drama. Our plane was late arriving in Albany, so it was consequently late getting out and to Washington Dulles, where my plane to Paris was waiting. When we finally landed, I had 15 minutes to get to the Paris flight, in another terminal. I ran much of the way. When I got to the gate they had already closed the door. The gate staff said they would have to re-book me, but when they tried to verify that my bag had been removed from the plane (I was surprised it made it on in the first place), they learned that it hadn't, so they told the flight crew that if the bag was still on the plane, they intended to board their passenger. So I made it onto the plane just before it departed. Phew! The flight was good and my bag was among the first to show up on the carousel in Paris. My train from the airport was on time and I made it without incident. Ken and Tasha were waiting at the train station to drive me home. There's no place like home!

Monday, February 17, 2020

A milestone birthday

I've known my friends L & L for over forty years. We met back in 1979 when we all worked for the same state agency in Albany, the capital of New York. They were instrumental in my decision to leave work and go to Paris for a year back in 1981. I can't imagine how my life would have unfolded had I not done that. For one thing, that year in Paris is when and where I met Ken.

My friends L & L and his birthday cake. I only took one picture, so I'm glad it worked!

On this sad occasion of my aunt's death, there was this bright spot. L & L's neighbors invited me to join them for an intimate celebration of L's 80th (!) birthday on Sunday evening. They have been neighbors since L & L bought their house back in the early eighties. It was a wonderful little party with P & T, their two grown sons and their wives. We enjoyed tasty food and wine and great reminiscences of their time as neighbors. I felt privileged to be included.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Oh brother(s)

I hadn't slept since getting up on Friday morning for my flights, about thirty hours when you count the time difference. But I was mighty hungry. I brewed a cup of coffee in the hotel room; it was equipped with one of those Keurig one-cup coffee machines. I texted my brothers and they were up and ready to eat, too, so we went to a nearby breakfast place. I had a bacon and avocado omelette and a toasted English muffin. Breakfast in America.

My sister's husband used my camera to take this photo. Standing left to right: Steve, Geoff, Adam, Matt, Scott, and a seriously jet-lagged me. Seated: Stepmom and sister Laurie. I'm the oldest and, evidently, the smallest.

After breakfast, I drove back down to Albany to get set up in my aunt's apartment (I stayed there with my aunt during my last trip, so I was familiar with the place), then I drove back up the Northway to the nursing home where my stepmother lives. The siblings were gathering there to spend some time with her; she is the older sister of the aunt that passed away. There are eight of us and we were only missing one: a sister who was unable to be there. We spent a few hours reminiscing, then seven of us went out to a steakhouse for dinner. It was snowing lightly when I drove back down to the apartment, but not enough to make driving difficult. I slept well that night. Catch-up sleep.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Home again

As many of you already know, one of my aunts passed away last week. I hurriedly put together a trip back to upstate New York hoping that I might see her before the end, but I didn't make it in time. Still, it was good to be there with the family to share grief and memories and to catch up with each other.

Clifton Park, NY. By morning the streets were clean, but cars remained coated with a layer of ice and snow. I am not used to that kind of cold.

The travel was eventful. Because it was a last-minute trip, I didn't have a lot of options. The best air fare I could find sent me to Chicago to change planes to Albany. I took the train from Tours to Paris and spent last Thursday night in a hotel at the airport before my Friday morning flight. The international flight was good, pleasant, in fact. But there was an ice storm going on in Albany. Many flights were canceled, but mine was still on, and on time. Until we got close to our destination. The Albany airport closed its longer runway again and we were forced to land in Buffalo. We stayed there for a few hours, waiting (and hoping) for Albany to reopen its runway. We finally got the ok and took off again. We landed in Albany at 01h00 on Saturday morning, three and a half hours late. There were many late planes and the car rental agencies stayed open into the wee hours, so I got the car I had reserved.

My uncle (my aunt's brother) had offered his sister's apartment for my stay, but it was too late to get the keys when I finally arrived, so I spent that first night at a suburban hotel where my two out-of-town brothers were staying (the rest of my seven siblings live in the area). I was too wired and jet-lagged to sleep when I checked in a 2 a.m. I spent what was left of the night messing on the tablet, trying to get the hotel internet to work. It wasn't easy. This was the view from my room when I opened the curtains at sunrise.

Friday, February 07, 2020

A short break

I had to hastily head back to the USA for some family business today. I will try to post while I'm away, but if it doesn't work out (a technical genius I'm not), please be patient.

Thank you!

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Throwback Thursday

Here's a shot from summer of 1987 (32 years ago!). It's San Francisco, which explains why we're wearing jackets in July. A friend of ours from Washington, DC, was visiting and he took this photo. I think it's on the driveway (Science Circle) in front of City College. Mount Davidson is in the background.

Walt (left) and Ken (right) in San Francisco, July 1987.

I attended City College for a few semesters before transferring over to Berkeley to finish my undergrad degree. We had an apartment not far from this place when we first moved to San Francisco. When we bought our house in 1995, it turned out to be in the same neighborhood.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Warm and wet

It's the middle of winter and the yard is a mess. That's normal. Winter winds bring down a lot of small branches that litter the yard. Rain and warm temperatures make the grass and weeds grow. This year we've had an explosion of cyclamen, and the primroses are starting to pop up as well.

Cyclamens in the North 40. This is the tree we've scheduled to be removed this winter.

It's too wet, of course, to get the mower out to cut the grass. Besides, it's nice to see the cyclamen and primroses. Hyacinth and daffodils are up as well, but their flowers are a while off, yet. The weather people say our morning lows will be close to freezing over the next few days.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Life is no picnic

At least not during the winter. The electrician that Ken called arrived last evening as promised and we explained what had happened. He inspected the problem circuit from the breaker box to a junction box to the single outlet on that line (no signs of water or humidity) and tested it. Everything tested fine and he restored power to the circuit. It all worked normally. So, we don't know why the circuit tripped the house's main breaker at 03h30 yesterday morning. He told us that electricity is funny like that. That's why he gets paid the big bucks, I suppose.

A lonely picnic table on the riverbank.

Another funny thing happened when we turned the power back on yesterday morning. Remember, that's when we were up in the dark trying to figure out what happened. I turned all the circuit breakers off and then back on, one by one, until I found the problem circuit. So that one stayed off and all the others worked normally. When I got the power back on in the rest of the house, the lights in the fan unit of the kitchen stove hood came on. And they wouldn't go off. We finally took the filters out of the hood and unplugged the wires that provide power to the lights.

We've been having problems with that hood for years since it was installed in 2007. It's always been hard to turn the lights on and off, and the hood fan controls didn't work any better. The electrician said that a power surge probably fried the hood's control panel as the house's main breaker tripped. So we asked the electrician to find us a replacement and install it. He agreed.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Crêpe day

Sunday was crêpe day, otherwise known as la chandeleur (candlemas), another Catholic holiday that's celebrated in typical French fashion: with food. It's traditional to eat crêpes on that day. We're not Catholic but we like the food. So we traditionally eat a meal of savory crêpes made with buckwheat flour (a Breton tradition), stuffed with ham and cheese (and sometimes mushrooms), and topped with a fried (or poached) egg.

Making buckwheat crêpes in the larger of our two crêpe pans.

I had enough batter for three crêpes. I must confess that it's the batter I made last year, left over and frozen. Freezing the batter works great with no loss of quality that I can discern. The savory crêpes are much larger than dessert crêpes which makes them able to hold more filling. I make them one at a time and keep them warm under a kitchen towel. When they're all done, we add ham and cheese, fold them like an envelope, and put them in a slow oven to melt the cheese. While they were in the oven, Ken fried some eggs for the topping.

 Ready to serve. We each ate one and a half stuffed crêpes with a green salad on the side.

For dessert we make the traditional crêpes with standard all-purpose flour and eat them with jam or just butter and sugar. I didn't take any photos of those this year, but trust me, they were tasty.

In other news, we had a mysterious power failure at about four this morning. It's interesting that the power going off in the middle of the night wakes me up. One of our circuits shorted and we don't know why. After some testing and fiddling and a good deal of head scratching, we discovered it was just the one circuit.

So, we got the rest of the power back on, but the breaker for that one circuit won't hold. Fortunately, there's nothing critical on that line.

Time to call an electrician. Joy.