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


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


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


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


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


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.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Another pizza

This pizza is from about two weeks ago. We had some meaty sauce left over in the 'fridge and decided to make a cheeseless pizza with colorful bell peppers and black olives. We did add grated cheese at the table. It was very good.

One of two pizzas we had for lunch that day.

Today is la chandeleur (candlemas) and we, along with a good deal of French people, will follow tradition by eating crêpes. As we usually do, we'll make buckwheat crêpes and fill them with ham and cheese for the main course, probably served with a green salad. Then we'll make sweet crêpes for dessert. Yum!

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Funky feline fotos

It's a fact that cats are frileux (sensitive to cold) and Bert is no exception. He takes any and all opportunities to get warm, be it curling up in a fleece blanket, sitting on radiators, or lounging in front of the fire. When he can't climb up into the fireplace (which he does) because there's a log in the way, he makes a bed out of the log carrier on the floor.

Wood stoves are a dirty proposition. I'm constantly cleaning up the ashes that fall onto the hearth and the floor below it, not to mention the fine layer of soot that builds up over the fire season. We've had this wood burner for fourteen seasons now.

We're having a few days of warm weather, so I won't be having fires any time soon. But I'm sure it will get cold again before Spring arrives, so Bert will have more opportunities to enjoy his kitty sauna.