Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Fall skies

Another post about the weather? Well, only to show a photo. It's been rainy, sunny, cloudy, chilly, and almost warm, all in the past week. The skies change all the time. We had a couple of mornings when the clouds were so thick it was hard to tell that the sun had come up. We had a couple of afternoons of bright sun that felt very seasonal. So, it's a mixed bag. We wouldn't want to get bored, would we?

Partly cloudy skies at sunrise.

I dreamed last night that it snowed. It's a little too early for that to happen here. I think it's quite likely that we won't see snow at all this winter. Except, maybe, in our dreams.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Berries in the hedge

From what I can tell, the plant that makes up the hedge around three sides of our property is called laurier cerise (cherry laurel), not related to the edible laurier sauce (bay laurel), but named similarly because its leaves resemble the culinary plant. The hedge is not all one plant variety, though. Many others live in and among the laurels, including some laurier sauce, holly, blackberry brambles, honeysuckle, and other viney things.

Bright red berries in the green hedge.

At first I thought these berries belonged to the chèvrefeuille (honeysuckle) that grows in a section of the hedge out by the back gate. But, on closer inspection, the vine with these berries is different, and not in the same exact location in the hedge. So I'm not certain what they are. Except pretty.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Again with the leaves

The leaf change has just started and the vineyards are still mostly green. However, the signs of change are popping up all around. The leaves on this vine cane have all gone deep red, while most of the leaves around it remain green or are turning yellow. I don't really know why certain leaves change to red and others to yellow. I assume it has something to do with the different varietals planted in different parcels. But sometimes there is a splash of vibrant red among the yellows. 

Deep red grape leaves.

The yellow leaves will eventually become golden before turning brown and falling to the ground. The red ones will also go brown before they fall. Once the vines are bare, the pruning process will begin.

Sunday was (gasp) a day of rain. I've stopped keeping track with the rain gauge, but we probably got a normal amount for a rainy day. Our central heat is coming on in the morning now. The thermostat is set at 18.5ºC (about 65ºF), so the house is definitely cooling down. It's still too early to build a fire in the wood stove.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

A voté

I sent in my election ballot on Saturday. American citizens who live abroad are eligible to vote in the last place they lived in the US. Since my last address was in San Francisco, that's where I can vote. I started the registration process back in January (it has to be done each calendar year) and then Covid hit and the process slowed way down. The elections office was closed for a while. But I stuck with it and got registered. The person I corresponded with via e-mail was very responsive and helpful.

I voted. The phrase literally means "has voted." Image from the internet.

My ballot arrived about a week ago and I took a few days to read and re-read the instructions, making sure to mark the ballot correctly. I took it to the post office yesterday, so it's on its way. My politics are pretty well aligned with the district I vote in, so my vote won't really make much of a difference. But it's one more voice, and that's got to count for something.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The apples don't fall far from the tree

I haven't had to cut the grass since the last time, which was August 24. More than a month ago. Since then, the apples continue to fall from our two trees. Now they carpet the ground. Picking them up will be a chore, when I get around to it. I could just let them rot on the ground, but I'm not sure I could stand to do that. I'm thinking that I will cut the grass at least one more time before winter. So, up they must come.

The old saying is right: the apples don't fall far from the tree. Although a few of them do roll around a little.

I'm going to the produce store this morning for a few things. Among them, pecans. I want to make some pumpkin bread this weekend and I have a hankerin' for pecans. If they have any, they'll likely be a little pricey. But it's not like I need a truckload. Just enough for a loaf or two of pumpkin bread.

Friday, September 25, 2020

More fall foliage

We're having a cold snap. This morning's temperature is just under 10ºC (50ºF) and there's a stiff wind blowing. That's a marked contrast from just a week ago when our highs were in the mid 80sF. Fall has declared itself. The house is still relatively warm inside.

The green is going out of the grape leaves, making pretty patterns throughout the vineyard.

I've been saying that I hope we have a few hard freezes this winter. That would be normal and good for the environment. Still, the last few winters have been much warmer than normal, so we'll see what we get.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

La cabane de vigne

Before the clouds moved in, I got a shot of the vineyard cabin out back at sunrise. It's not really a cabin but is more like a shed to hold tools and equipment. It may also have served as a shelter or a place to take a lunch break back in the days when cars and tractors didn't make it quick and easy to go home for lunch.

One of the old vines on the side of the cabin died last winter.

These days, it's rare when someone opens one of these. That is, if it's locked at all. This one is closed and locked, but there's another in a nearby parcel that stands open, empty, with a collection of empty plastic water bottles in a pile inside.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Badgers and ballots

Yesterday, I saw something that I've never seen before. Right in the middle of the day, a badger sauntered along the road right across from the house. It's the first time I've seen a real live badger, called un blaireau [blay-ROH] in French. Neighbors have always talked about them being around. I have seen evidence of them in our yard when they dug up underground wasp nests a couple of times. But, as they are mostly nocturnal, actually seeing one has eluded me. Until now. Ken grabbed his camera and took a few photos, one of which you can see here.

Some fall foliage in the vineyard.

Yesterday was also the day that my US election ballot arrived. I'll be filling it out and sending it in this week, just to be sure it gets there in time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Tasha Tuesday

Autumnal equinox edition. Here's Tasha pausing to look for deer on the road ahead. Although the deer are not usually on the road itself, I often see them in the spaces between vine rows, especially near that row of tall trees on the right in the photo. I guess proximity to the woods gives them a quick path to escape danger. Not that Tasha is much of a danger, but the deer are skittish.

Most of the grapes are gone and the vine leaves are beginning to turn color.

Fall arrives here this afternoon at 15h30, from what I read. This will be "astronomical" fall. Apparently there is something called "meteorological" fall that started on September 1 at 0h00. In my experience, this "meteorological" fall is something relatively new. I had never heard of such a thing in my younger days. There was only one fall and it started on the equinox, ending, of course, on the winter solstice.

I have officially entered my "old fogey" years. They began last year on the winter solstice, not surprisingly. Ugh, these kids today, with their newfangled ideas. Get off my lawn!

Monday, September 21, 2020

Last day of summer

This year, the autumnal equinox happens on the 22nd, tomorrow, making today the last full day of summer in the northern hemisphere. It sure has felt like summer for the past week or so with warm days, unusual humidity, and mosquitoes in the night. We're still running the loft fan at full to try to pull in some cooler night air. I find myself looking forward to a little bit of fall chill.

The Jerusalem artichokes in front of the garden shed lean toward the sun.

Signs of fall are all around. The grape harvest is mostly done for the year. Leaves are turning and many have begun to tumble (a little early if you ask me), it gets lighter later and darker earlier, and hunting season begins next weekend.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Those were the days

This is from May 2012, the last time Ken and I flew together. We were headed to upstate New York to get married and were fortunate to have a friend who agreed to stay in our house and watch over Callie, our border collie. We left from Terminal 2E on an Air France flight to Boston* where we visited friends and spent the night before driving west to Albany.

Enjoying a pre-departure snack and some wine. That Airbus 380 out the window was not our plane. We were on a Boeing 747 that day.


I've only flown twice since then. Once in 2016 to Montréal where I spent two nights, then drove south to Albany. The second and last time was this past February when one of my aunts passed away. That was just as the coronavirus was moving around the globe. I flew from Paris to Chicago where I changed planes for Albany. My return trip was Albany to Washington, DC, then back to Paris. I was fortunate that I did not pick up the virus on any of the four planes I was on or in any of the four airports I passed through. Not to mention the trains to and from home.

I have no idea when the next time I fly will be. It likely won't be soon.

*More information than you want: Albany is a three hour drive from JFK in New York City or from Logan in Boston. It's a four hour drive from Montréal. I prefer to take one plane and drive rather than change planes to fly to Albany. Except in winter. Even so, my February flight from Chicago to Albany was diverted to Buffalo for a few hours due to runway ice in Albany. My return from Albany to Washington Dulles was also delayed and I very nearly missed the connection back to Paris. Traveling to the snow belt in winter is no fun.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Tarte aux figues

I made a fig tart on Friday with some of the bounty from our friend's fig tree. The filling in the tart is an almond custard made with ground almonds, sugar, an egg, and butter. I sliced the figs and arranged them on top before baking. When the tart cooled, I painted it with an apple jelly glaze.

I messed up the timer so the tart got a little over done, but it was not a problem.

We had some rain early this morning, but the temperature did not drop. It's actually warmer and more humid this morning than it was yesterday morning. I guess that's what you get with a southerly flow. I'll be happy to see some cooler air move in.

Friday, September 18, 2020


One of our local friends has a fig tree that is producing abundantly right now. She invited me over to pick my fill on Thursday. I got a nice flat full of deliciously ripe fruit.

A tray load of figs. I see a fig tart coming soon.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, our fig tree is also producing. We got four figs. We may get two or three more if they ripen. Our tree is not the same variety as our friend's tree. I bought it at our local outlet of a big chain garden center thinking, wrongly, that they wouldn't sell something that does not thrive in our area. Caveat emptor.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Harvesting in the dark

Most of the grapes out back have now been picked, either manually or mechanically. Both methods were on view yesterday. The days are hot and dry right now, so the growers have been starting each day very early in the morning, a good hour before sunrise. The harvesting machines are equipped with big lights. They remind me of the alien machines from "War of the Worlds," moving slowly but with determined precision.

A harvester in the vineyard parcel behind our house on Wednesday morning. The trailer is parked to the left.

When the on-board bins are full, the big machine pulls up to a waiting trailer and dumps the contents in. Once the trailer is full, a tractor takes it to the winery while the harvester continues to suck grapes off their stems in the vineyard.

As the sun rises, things become a little clearer. The trailer parked in the background is collecting hand-picked grapes.


The hand harvesters wait until sunrise so they can see what they're doing. Pickers clip the grape bunches off the vines and put them into a bucket. Other workers walk up and down the rows with a large bin on their shoulders. The pickers empty their buckets into the bin and the bin carrier takes it to a similar trailer parked at the end of the rows. The process continues until the parcel is harvested. It all ends in late morning, as the day's heat builds in.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Tomato update

I picked these tomatoes on Monday. The tomatoes that formed and grew after I added a calcium supplement to the water are not suffering from blossom end rot. Calcium carbonate is not a cure. Once a tomato begins to rot, it's got it. But the calcium additive can prevent future fruit from rotting. It seems to have worked.

Monday's harvest from the tomato patch.

I've lost a lot of the crop to the rot, that's for sure. But at least we're getting some. The problem, as you might be able to see in the photo, is that all of the tomatoes are smaller than they should be. I didn't plant any cherry tomatoes this year, yet many of these tomatoes are no bigger than that. I blame the dry conditions. We had almost no rain to speak of during the growing season. My daily hand watering was obviously not enough. I'm thinking about using soaker hoses next year for a more thorough watering.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Le pendule de Foucault

A couple of commenters mentioned Foucault's pendulum on Sunday in response to my image of the Panthéon dome. Indeed, a copy of Foucault's pendulum hangs from the dome today. The original was installed in 1851.

Foucault's pendulum swings under the dome of the Panthéon in Paris. May 2016.

The pendulum is a demonstration of and evidence for the Earth's rotation. I won't repeat all the technical stuff here; it's available on Wikipedia and from other sources for anyone who is interested. Versions of the pendulum exist all over the world. The first time I encountered one was on a school trip to the United Nations headquarters in New York.

A stop-action shot of the pendulum's "bob."

I took these two photos in 2016 when I visited the Panthéon. A restoration of the building had recently been completed and visitors could take a tour up into the dome and to its exterior colonnade. If you're in Paris and can climb stairs (lots of them), I recommend that tour. The views are spectacular.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Pedal to the metal

How's this for street furniture? Exercise bikes. I saw these on the banks of the Seine in Paris in that part of the old voie express rive droite (the right bank expressway) that's been closed to cars and opened up to pedestrians and cyclists as a park.

Standard and recumbent bikes looking up river. April 2018.

Today is supposed to be a hot one, the hottest day of the week at 36ºC (96.8ºF). The next few days are supposed to be a little cooler with highs around 31ºC or so. Fortunately, the days are shorter so the sun doesn't have as much time to keep things hot; the nights cool down quickly.

Also today, one of the contractors is coming to look at the deck so he can prepare an estimate for us. The second deck contractor comes on Wednesday.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

From the archives

Once again I find myself without fresh fotos to share. Here's another image from my overnight stay in Paris before flying out to Canada and the US in May 2016. I was waiting for a guide to take me and several other visitors up to the dome. This is a view of the dome from inside, looking up from the main floor of the church. The dome rises to a height of 83 meters (272 feet).

Looking up inside the dome of the Panthéon in Paris. May 2016.

The Panthéon is no longer a church, having been transformed into a national mausoleum shortly after the French revolution. Since then, 78 notable French citizens have been interred there.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Hot and dry

The news out of the western US is horrifying. We're fortunate not to be there, but I remember back in 1991 when the Oakland hills fire burned right across the bay from where we were living. The image of the scorched pages of books floating down from the sky will stay with me forever.

A little bit of greenery.

The forecasters are predicting our hot and dry conditions to continue. Monday's high is expected to reach 35ºC (95ºF) here. Very strange for mid-September. I haven't heard of any fires burning in the south of France so far this year. I think they've been getting unusual rain for the season, a good thing.

Friday, September 11, 2020


Said with an impeccable French accent. Some jerk dumped the remains of his/her lunch out at the end of the vineyard road the other day. Most of it, pictured here, went into a small depression in the ground that fills with water when it rains. Other bits of plastic packaging are strewn about along the road. Klassy.

This could have easily been tossed into a garbage can somewhere else.

Yesterday I contacted the guy who does our annual hedge trimming for an estimate on renovating our garden path. We also want him to remove some dead shrubs, a dead birch, and trim back an overgrown juniper. He actually came over yesterday afternoon to measure. I also called another contractor for an estimate on re-doing our deck. He's coming by next Wednesday to have a look. Ken emailed yet another contractor for a second deck estimate. He'll be here on Monday. So... here we go!

Thursday, September 10, 2020

So many light bulbs

When I was a student in Paris in 1981, there was a version of the old joke going around. How many Parisians does it take to change a light bulb? The answer: "I don't know anything about that. It's not my problem." Or, as Chico Rodriguez might say, "It's not my job, man." As young students learning French and trying to understand the urban edginess of early 80s Parisians, we obviously found the joke funny. Hilarious, even.

An attitude many of us encountered or at least perceived, now nearly 40 years ago.

A friend of Ken's made up a bunch of t-shirts printed with the punchline for the group. I found ours the other day while sorting through old clothes for donation. So, naturally, I took photos! The t-shirts are almost forty years old, too thin and too small for us any more. I'm not sure what to do with them; I can't think who would want them. I wonder if anyone else from that group remembers them or still has one?

This is the back of the shirt, lest we forget.

We're back in a summery weather phase with daily highs in the high 20s celcius. I'm getting a few things done in the yard and garden. There is never a lack of things to do. And it looks like my calcium treatment a few weeks ago was effective. There is a small late crop of tomatoes showing no signs of blossom-end rot. Yippee!

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Time to do something

Our garden shed is not in good shape and we've been thinking about what to do about it. First, we need a mason to fill in the fissures in the wall. There are two visible here on either side of the door, and another larger one that runs from top to bottom on the eastern wall. The shutters just need to be replaced, and the window and sill need a coat of paint. The exterior walls could use a cleaning/painting.

 Jerusalem artichokes in front of our shed. We had the door installed back in 2004.

Some of this work we could do ourselves, but the big stuff we can't. The other issue is that we have other projects in the queue. The deck needs a renovation (if we get a mason for that he might be able to do the shed as well). The garden path could use a makeover. There are shutters we want to add, and there's some electrical improvements we'd like in the utility room. All of our projects were put on hold last spring when the coronavirus did its thing. But now I think we can deal with some of it, especially since most of the work is exterior to the house.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

The waste pile

A few days ago, I pulled the zucchini and one of the pumpkin plants out of the vegetable garden. They were done for the year. In their place, I relocated a pile of yard waste that I was storing in a corner of the yard. I won't dispose of it until the tomato plants come out and the rest of the garden is cleaned up, probably some time in November.

Stuff I've trimmed over the summer, including apple branches, clary sage, and artichokes.

The muscade pumpkin plant actually has three new pumpkins growing, so I've left that alone for a while. I have no idea what I'd do with three more pumpkins. We already have more than we need. A neighbor eagerly accepted one of the two mature muscades I haven't processed yet.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Looking good

The harvest continues, although there hasn't been much going on out back in the last few days. I expect that will change very soon. Several parcels have already been hand-harvested and several more have been machine harvested. Still, large sections of both red and white grapes remain. The weather is predicted to be warm and dry over the next week, so I imagine the growers are waiting as long as they can for optimum sugar and water levels.

These look ready to me!


During our walk on Sunday morning I heard the telltale sounds of a battue (organized hunt) not far from our route. Barking hounds, blowing horns, and gunshots. Tasha was curious but not freaked out. That's the first hunting that I've noticed this season. I checked our local hunting association on line and learned that the season for general hunting (pheasants mostly) opens on September 27. But organized hunts are already authorized for deer and boar.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

From the archives

I took this shot back in 2016 when I spent the night in Paris on my way to visit the US. The Panthéon had recently undergone a renovation and the colonnade around its dome was open to visitors. I posted the color version of this image in 2016, so here's a re-worked black and white version.

The Eiffel Tower seen from the Panthéon dome, May 2016.

Summer and fall are playing footsie with the weather. Summery days are alternating with fall-like temperatures. After a while the summery days will fade into memory while fall asserts itself.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Tarte aux pommes

I haven't made an apple tart in a long time, so here's the first one of the season. I've mentioned that we have a bumper crop of apples this year. There should be many more tarts like this as we move into fall.

Tarte aux pommes, ready to serve!

Under the apple slices is a layer of applesauce (made with sugar and a touch of cinnamon) to give the tart some body. I glazed the finished tart with plum jam that I pressed through a strainer before painting it on. This tart got cut into six pieces, dessert for the two of us for three days. And it was delicious! 

Friday, September 04, 2020

Inside the pumpkin

This is half of the rouge vif (bright red) pumpkin that I roasted the other day. I know it's a strange photo to post, but what the hey. To do this, I cut the pumpkin in half with a big chef's knife, then scooped out the seeds from the middle. I put the half face-down on a lined baking pan and roasted it at 180ºC (about 350ºF) for thirty minutes or so until a skewer went into the pumpkin with little to no resistance.

Half a roasted pumpkin. Think pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, enchilada sauce, etc.

Once it cooled, I scooped out the flesh. On this pumpkin, I was able to peel the skin right off after it was roasted, so I didn't have to scoop. I just mashed the flesh and put it into freezer containers. Easy-peasy.

Thursday, September 03, 2020


This year's tomato crop has been disappointing. All the plants developed blossom-end rot. My research tells me that it's caused by a calcium deficiency in the soil. I added a calcium supplement while watering but I'm afraid I was too late. Some tomatoes are fine, but the vast majority of the fruit has the rot.

A lot of this year's tomatoes are smaller than usual. Probably because it's been so dry; I need to water more.

The rotten ends of the tomatoes can be cut off if you catch it at the right time. I've done that and used the good part of the tomatoes to make sauce, but the quantity is way down. This is the worst year I've seen since starting the garden in 2004. Maybe I need to add calcium along with the usual compost and other amendments next spring.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Courge musquée

This is the other variety of pumpkin that I planted this year. The proprietary name on the seed packet says "Muscade" which is the word for "nutmeg" in French. It's difficult (for me) to sort through all the meanings and origins of plant names across languages. The closest I can come is that une courge musquée has something to do with musk squash, or musk melons. Something musky. Butternut squash* is part of this family of pumpkins.

The remainder of the red pumpkin has been preserved. Now I have to roast the two musk pumpkins.

These will hang out for a short time, but I have to get them processed before they begin to rot. On Tuesday, we ate some of the rouge vif squash in a couscous along with another zucchini. I roasted the rest in the oven and froze it. There's going to be a lot of pumpkin in the freezer this year.

* Butternut squash contains neither butter nor nuts. Discuss.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Melon et jambon

A classic summer appetizer in France (and much of western Europe) is melon and cured ham. This year the melons we've had have been exceptionally and consistently good. I was getting a couple a week for a while. And the ham is always good, whether it comes from the supermarket or the butcher's shop. My favorite this year was the Bayonne ham from the butcher in Saint-Aignan.

The cured ham shown here is local, produced in the Berry region, and sold at a small chain of shops that specialize in local produce.

The Charentais melons (as they're called in France) are sweet and resemble American cantaloupes, although they are slightly different. The saltiness of the jambon cru (raw or cured ham) goes very well with sweetness of the melon. As does a nice glass of our local pineau d'aunis rosé. I think the season for melon and ham is winding down now. See you next summer!