Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Ear in the husk

This ear of corn is still attached to its stalk, but it's been opened and the kernels have been nibbled. I'm thinking chevreuil (roe deer). They're tall enough to stand next to the stalk and easily reach the ears.

This ear didn't get very big, but it provided a couple of tasty, I'm sure, mouthfuls to some deer.

Another day starting out at freezing, or a little lower depending on where you stand. Yesterday I sawed some more old grape vine trunks for the wood burner, and I burned a good deal of them. I may be out there again today to do some more.

I'm planning a market run to the nearby town of Montrichard on Friday. I want to check out our poultry vendor's calendar for the holidays so we'll know when to place our order for the Christmas bird and when, and where, to pick it up. This year is tricky because Christmas Day falls on Saturday, the day of the regular market here in Saint-Aignan (our poultry vendor does both markets each week). I'm sure it's fallen on a Saturday before, but I don't remember the details of how that affected the market schedule.

Monday, November 29, 2021

You scratch my back...

These are cynorhodon (rose hips) from the églantier (wild or dog rose), common along the edges of the vineyard road and woods around us. They provide a nice touch of red this time of year. According to Wikipedia, a common name for these is gratte-cul (butt scratcher). Apparently, the fibers inside the hip cause an itchy rash when they come into contact with human skin. Who was the unfortunate one to find that out first, I wonder?

You are advised not to rub these on your backside. Or any other side.

We're down to freezing again this morning. At least the precipitation seems to be over. Until Wednesday, when a warmer system is expected. December will be coming in like a... uh... goat?

Sunday, November 28, 2021


One of the vineyard parcels that was torn up recently has now been plowed. Except for a strip leading to the pile of grape trunks in the middle. Interesting. Will the trunks be taken away? Burned between now and spring? Who can say?

There's an even bigger parcel on the left that hasn't been plowed. But the trunks are gone.

Lunch plans for today's hachis parmentier (shepherd's pie) have been modified. Ken's making a lamb and barley soup instead. He also put away enough lamb to make a curry and a tajine (spicy north African stew) in the coming days. The soup is going to get a lot of stuff out of the freezer, so that's good. And with our chilly, windy, and showery weekend, the soup will be a perfect meal.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Soggy Saturday

It rained last evening. This morning, the stars and the waning moon shine brightly as gusty winds whirl around us. Everything is wet outdoors.

Things you don't see in the field: those barely visible filaments of spider silk.

The good news is that, so far, our central heating boiler has not blown out. We'll keep and eye on it through the day, but I'm hopeful that the problem has indeed been fixed. Cross my fingers, spit on the ground!

Friday, November 26, 2021


Corn stalked, that is. They still stand, in this parcel and in another larger one. I've seen a few cobs on the ground nearby, stripped of their kernels. I guess it's wildlife. Deer? Boar? Badgers? No idea.

These are pretty spindly corn stalks. They don't get irrigated, except by nature.

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. Our leg-of-lamb meal was a success and there are plenty of leftovers. I think the plan for today is sliced cold lamb with Ken's home-made mayonnaise. An hachis parmentier (shepherd's pie) is likely over the weekend. And who knows what else? Ken took some photos of the meal and put them up on his blog today.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

By the way...

A week has gone by since the 2021 Beaujolais nouveau was released and I haven't mentioned it here. We've been drinking different bottles all week and have found about half of them, well, ordinary. They taste just like Beaujolais does when it's not nouveau. A few of them, however, have that characteristic "new wine" taste. Ken got a bunch more of those in his last supermarket run.

One of the Beaujolais nouveau wines that we liked. Or, what's left of it.

We don't expect Beaujolais nouveau to be superb wine. It's just a way to mark time and the season. We usually have a nouveau to go with our American Thanksgiving feast. This year we've chosen a local "new" wine, a Touraine primeur, as they call it. This one comes from Thésée, a town just across the river from us.

And speaking of Thanksgiving, we will be preparing our traditional roast leg of lamb for lunch today. We'll serve it with flageolets (little green beans) and maybe some topinambours (Jerusalem artichokes). For a starter, we'll have some of Ken's home-made pork terrine with cornichons (little gherkins). I made a pumpkin pie for dessert using a muscade pumpkin from last year's garden (roasted and frozen). Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Come, mister tally man

With four quickly ripening bananas in the kitchen, what was I to do but make a loaf of banana bread? The recipe is a basic, standard recipe. The only modifications I made was to cut the sugar (I used cassonade instead of white sugar) down by half and to add walnuts. The recipe is quick to put together and the batter baked for one hour, exactly as the recipe said it would.

A loaf of banana bread. It's actually more like a cake than a bread.

We're down to just about freezing this morning, according to the thermometer on the outside of our house. I'm sure it will be below freezing out in the vineyards. It's my morning to walk, so I will certainly bundle up!

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Tasha Tuesday

While taken in roughly the same location as the last Tasha Tuesday post, this photo is three weeks newer. Tasha looks smaller because I used the 24mm wide angle lens for this one instead of the 50mm lens I normally use. All that means is that, with this photo, you get to see more of the landscape.

Another view of the vineyard parcel that's being dug up this fall.

The sky is clear and the moon is shining brightly this morning, and the temperature is a degree or so above freezing. Novembrrrr is living up to its name.

Monday, November 22, 2021

The walnut tree

There were hardly any walnuts on this tree this year. In those years when there's a good crop, the nuts are too small to be worth taking. The wildlife gets most of them.

The vineyard walnut tree on a chilly and damp November morning.

The weather continues to be typically fall-like. Windless foggy days. Dew-drenched grass. Water dripping from the trees. One day soon, the high pressure systems will start to falter and the cold fronts will resume their march across France, bringing winter winds and rain (and maybe snow).

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Pull up your trunks

This is part of the vineyard parcel out behind our house that's being dug out to make room for new vines. The canes were cut off and mulched. The guide wires and posts have been removed. All that's left is for the trunks to come out. I wonder when that will happen?

It almost looks like a cemetery. You can see the gaps where vines have died over the years.

Speaking of vine trunks, we have a rather large pile of them out behind the garden shed. Most of them were here when we moved in (almost nineteen years ago!) and I added a bunch more during the years that Callie would bring one home from each of her walks. They're kept dry under a couple sheets of corrugated sheet metal. Old vine trunks are famously used for barbecues in these parts and, I suspect, wherever grapes are grown. People say they give good flavor to whatever is being grilled. I did some of that back before we had the gas grill. Not sure about the flavor thing, but they burn well.

I always planned to burn the trunks in the wood stove, but the stove turned out to be too small to fit them in. Now, with the new easy-to-start chainsaw, I've begun the process of cutting them down to size (one cut does it) and burning them. If I'm lucky and keep at it, I might get that whole pile burned this season. Free firewood!

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Les quais de la Seine

Here's one from the archives. People enjoying a warm spring day on the banks of the Seine in central Paris, April 2009. If I remember correctly, I met up with some American friends for a day or two while they were vacationing in Paris. We had lovely spring weather, and I had some time to wander around on my own.

Just behind where they're sitting is a stair that comes down to river level from the streets above.

My camera at the time was a Panasonic Lumix FZ7, my first digital camera. I haven't used it now for many years. I should probably get it out and see if it still works. It's a small camera and could come in handy when (or should I say "if") we start to travel again.

Friday, November 19, 2021


This variety of érable (maple), whatever it is, has dark red leaves that turn bright orange in the fall. The leaves are all on the ground now; this photo is a couple of weeks old. Now it's time to get out there and rake.

The two maples next to our driveway have deep red leaves in summer that turn bright orange in fall.

When I got up this morning I saw the full moon out the window. A few minutes later I looked again and it was gone. The eclipse is just about to start, but I have a feeling that the fog thickened and will obscure it. Oh well, we'll see it all on tv and the internet.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Throwback Thursday

My friend and former colleague, Andy Nash, sent me this photo last week. It was taken (I'm not sure by whom) in 1992 when Andy ran for a seat on the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District. He didn't win, but it was a good try. I was fresh out of graduate school that year and lucky to have found a job with these amazing people.

The candidate, Andy, on the left, our friend and colleague Lucy W. in the center, and me on the right. 1992.

I worked with Andy, Lucy, and our boss Mike, at Silicon Valley's transportation policy agency and met and worked with transportation professionals across the Bay Area. I went on to become an executive at the San Francisco Municipal Railway thanks in no small part to the confidence they, and others, had in me. Good times.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Just hanging around

We're still waiting and wondering when (and if) our deck contractor will start work. We may be waiting until spring at this point. Abandoning this contractor to find another sounds good, but I'm not sure it's worth getting at the back of someone else's line, if we could find someone who would even bother calling us back. I note that the husband of our mayor recently told Ken that he waited a year and a half to have a concrete slab poured next to his garage for a planned carport. Another neighbor has been having her house re-stuccoed and the work has been going on and off for over a year now. Chimney sweeps are overwhelmed and most don't even respond. One did answer our call, but said he has too much work and can't take on any more. So it's not just us that this is happening to.

More fall colors in the vineyard. Spring may come before our contractor does.

People we know have speculated that because of covid folks stopped traveling and started spending their money on home improvements. There's a lot of work and not enough contractors. So we wait.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Tasha Tuesday

With morning temperatures in the single digits (celsius), our sunrise walks with Tasha are brisk. It's nowhere near bone-chilling cold; we haven't had a freeze yet. It's just crisp and frosty enough to keep us moving. It's quite invigorating. Tasha takes it in stride, as it were. Her thick coat (do I need to say that she needs a good brushing?) keeps her warm enough, I suspect.

Tasha on the vineyard road on a foggy fall morning.

We can feel the holiday season approaching. Thanksgiving is next week (for us Americans) and we'll be going out to shop for the annual leg of lamb a day or two before. The store circulars are already filled with ads for holiday foods, toys, and decorations. I need a new string of lights. Ho, ho, ho!

Monday, November 15, 2021

Fall marches on

Here we are in the middle of November already. We've had a couple of cold spells, but they were short lived. Mild weather and very little wind have been the rules for a while. Fall often brings high pressure that parks itself in the middle of France causing temperature inversions. In other words, still and foggy days.

A vineyard parcel at sunrise a couple of weeks ago. The grape leaves are mostly gone now.

We don't get harsh winters, and recent winters have been unusually mild. It's normal for it to snow a little, usually in late January and in February, but it doesn't last very long. I hope we get some snow this year. It's pretty and the cold weather is good for the environment.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Funky feline fotos

It's been a while since we've seen Bert here on the blog. Here he is, sitting in the garden plot as the burn pile cooled. I swear that, at one point, I thought he was about to lie down in the ashes, but he stopped short. Now that it's heating season, he's back to climbing up on a warm radiator in the mornings.

Bert's like a heat-seeking missile, only slower.

We're in a relatively warm spell at the moment, so the boiler isn't cycling on and off as much. That's good for saving fuel oil. Not so good for testing the repair. But I will not complain. The wind and cold will come back. Patience.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Chim chim cher-ee

So far, it's working fine. But we haven't had a windy day since the new chimney was installed earlier this week. The real test will be if the flame stays lit when the wind blows. The old chimney was abandoned in favor of a horizontal vent through the wall next to the boiler at the time it was installed. The reason was cost. Ken remembers asking about it during the installation and the technician responded that it would cost about five hundred euros more to pull the old tube out of the chimney and install a new one. So, we figured he knew what he was talking about.

The new chimney cap. Exhaust vents on top, intake below. The chimney on the other side of the roof is for the kitchen stove hood.

But no. Not long after the new installation was operational we started having problems with the flame blowing out. At first I think we thought it was an exceptional occurrence and figured it wouldn't happen all that much. But it kept getting worse, forcing us to go downstairs several times a day to reset the boiler. One technician adjusted the flow of the fuel thinking that would stop the problem. It didn't.

The old chimney was capped off until it was put back in service last week. Photo by Ken.

At some point, we came to the conclusion that the wind was either blowing back through the exhaust vent or that it was pushing exhaust into the intake vents, or both. The flame only went out on windy days. We finally got another technician to agree that the vertical chimney was the better solution and the company scheduled the work. So now we wait for wind. I'm in no hurry.

The now defunct through-the-wall horizontal exhaust/intake vent. It's been removed and the hole is patched. Photo by Ken.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Another look across the road

This view is already a week old, and the leaves are dropping fast. Fall is doing its thing and, before we know it, it will be done. So let's enjoy the colors again! The hedges and the grass will stay green through the winter.

The view from our deck. That's our Blois neighbors' vacation house.

I took a huge car load of recycling to the recycle station yesterday. I had been planning to go to the dump on Thursday until I realized it was a holiday. That will have to wait until next week now. I spent the rest of the morning clearing yard waste from the garden plot. With fire. We're not supposed to burn, but no one seems to pay attention to the rules, not even the mayor. I've seen smoke rising from her yard a couple of times already this season. So I picked a calm, cloudy morning and did the same. It was all over very quickly.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Another one bites the dust

I've mentioned the vineyard parcel close to our house that's being taken out. Like many parcels out there, the vines are old and many have died. The grower will replant this parcel with the same grape: sauvignon blanc. There are a lot of parcels farther out that have been dug up in the past year or two. Nothing's been replanted yet. Maybe next spring we'll see some new vines out there. As for this parcel, it probably won't be replanted before two years, allowing the soil to rest and regain nutrients.

A small section of the parcel being cleared. The vines in the background with leaves are staying put. That's our hedge and garden shed in the upper right. I'll try to take a few more photos in the next few days.

Since I took this photo, the remaining posts have been removed and the pruned vine canes have been mulched. The next step should be removing the vine trunks and probably burning them before the parcel is left fallow. There are at least three parcels that I can think of that have been replanted since we moved here. The process is interesting and I'm hopeful that I can get some good photos when it happens.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

It's not how I see it

I've been trying, for years, to get a good photo of this stand of birches out next to one of the vineyard parcels. For some reason, and after trying different settings with three different cameras over the years, my photos of these trees just do not look like what I actually see. Or what I think I see. I can't describe it, but I'm just not satisfied.


The heating company arrived on Tuesday afternoon on time. They spent just under two and half hours to pull the old tubing out of the old chimney, disconnect the boiler's exhaust from the through-the-wall vent, plug the hole, and install a new tubing in the old chimney and attach the boiler to it. The boiler is working just fine and we have a nice, new, and in my opinion good-looking chimney cap. And it's working fine. Of course, the real test will be our first cold and windy day.

The exhaust system is a double vent kind of thing using two concentric tubes (one inside the other). Smoke from burning the fuel goes up through the center tube and fresh air comes down from the outside tube. There's also a condensation process that squeezes extra heat from the exhaust before it goes up the chimney. The company took responsibility for the problem by stating on the paperwork that the job was necessary due to a badly placed exhaust vent; it faced the wind and exhaust was forced into the fresh air intake, snuffing out the boiler flame. Since we have a maintenance contract with them, we only had to pay for parts, not the labor.

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

From where I sit

This is the view from the den window looking toward the west forty. It's mostly leaves and this time of year the leaves are golden. On the left is a tilleul (linden), in the middle are two pommiers (apples), and on the right is the Himalayan cedar. Soon all the leaves on the deciduous trees will drop and I'll have a better view of the yard and the vineyard beyond.

The vegetable garden is just visible in the lower center. That spot of blue is a tarp.

I have a routine doctor appointment this morning. This afternoon we're expecting the company that maintains our central heating boiler to reconnect the exhaust system to the old chimney. I'm hopeful that (a) they show up, (b) the work goes smoothly, and (c) that it solves the problem of the flame going out. Still no news from the deck contractor.

Monday, November 08, 2021

Autumn morning

While there are still leaves on the grape vines, here's a shot of our hamlet above the Cher Valley, looking toward the northeast. Most of the leaves are dropping now, abandoning their bright colors for a more subdued tone. Some vine parcels are nearly bare.

A familiar sight: the gold, gold leaves of home.

One parcel close to the house is being ripped out for replanting. So far, the guide wires are gone as are half the stakes, and the vines have been pruned back to the trunks. Once all the stakes are out, I expect the trunks will be removed and the ground plowed and left en jachère (fallow) over winter (and maybe longer).

Sunday, November 07, 2021

Not picked

Every year, after the grape harvest, there are bunches of grapes here and there that were missed by the mechanical harvesters or passed over by the hand harvesters. Eventually they'll be eaten by wildlife or rot away. In the meantime we get to enjoy their presence, if not their juice.

Grapes left behind.

Here's a pet peeve: progress bars that pop up on the screen, sit empty for a few seconds, then are suddenly full for a split second before disappearing. What is the point? Discuss...

Saturday, November 06, 2021

I got plenty o' nuttin'

And nuttin's plenty for me. I'm expecting a calm weekend. Cold weather, but no rain or snow (!) predicted. Today is semi-finals day at the Paris Open, the last Masters level event of the tennis season, with the final on Sunday. Most of the Asian tournaments were canceled this year. The next big event for the men is the ATP Championship, this year being held in Turin, Italy. After that, the 2022 season starts up in January.

There are still some wildflowers blooming out in the vineyards.

I'll probably try to get some wood cut up to burn today and tomorrow. It's nice to have a fire and it helps to save on heating fuel oil. We'll be feasting on leftovers from last week's meals for the next couple of days. No plans to go to the market today. The sun comes up around 07h45 this morning and Tasha and I will head out for a crisp fall morning walk.

Friday, November 05, 2021

Tiny fir trees

These are the flower heads atop those magenta-colored stems I posted yesterday. To me, they look like little fir trees. I wonder if they'll get festooned with teeny-tiny decorations as the holidays approach? I'll keep my eye on them.

I wonder what they are.

A funny thing happened a couple of days ago. A very young man stopped at the house and said he was sent by the water company to test our tap water. We had no communications from the water people that this was going to happen. I said uh, umm, ok, come on in, and showed him to the laundry sink in the utility room. He had a backpack, a kind of briefcase with some electronic equipment inside, and a six-pack sized blue plastic cooler. I stood and watched as he took a blow torch from the backpack and used it on the faucet's spout. I asked if he was sterilizing the spout. Yes, to kill any random bacteria. Duh. Then he let the water run a little before filling up about half a dozen plastic bottles of various sizes. The little ones, the size of test tubes, he inserted into some machine in the briefcase that did something or other. I have no idea what. He emptied a couple and kept a couple, labeling them and scanning them with a hand-held device, also from inside the briefcase. He labelled the larger bottles and packed them into the cooler. He was very methodical.

When he finished, about ten minutes later, he asked to verify our address and the name on our account. He explained that his company was a contractor to the water company and that they go all over the service area randomly testing the water. This was the first time they had come to our hamlet. Indeed, no one has asked to test our water in the eighteen years we've lived here. Ken and I were very suspicious about the whole thing, thinking that any day we would get some kind of offer to "fix" our pipes to filter out nasty contaminants for some ghastly sum. So, yesterday, I called the water company to see exactly what was going on. They said not to worry, this was normal and on the up and up. The guy was indeed working for their contractor to randomly test tap water throughout our area and was authorized to do so. I thanked the woman on the phone and told her I felt reassured. So that's that.

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Red straws

I don't know what these are. They're growing on the edge of one of the cornfields out among the vineyard parcels. What caught my eye were the vibrant magenta-colored stems. Their flower heads are clustered at the tops of the stalks, are bright green, and are shaped like little fir trees.

More fall color.

Nothing much is going on here at the moment. We're in waiting mode for the deck contractor (what else is new?) and we have an appointment with the central heating people on Tuesday to have the boiler's exhaust system shifted back to the chimney. The new boiler was installed in 2015 with the exhaust vent going through the wall next to the boiler. The problem is that the vent faces the predominant winds and they blow out the boiler's flame. I don't know why this wasn't a problem during the first couple of years, but it has been going on for several years now. The first year it happened, we called a technician who looked at the boiler and proclaimed, "It shouldn't do that," as if we were imagining the problem. And he didn't do anything to fix it. So, after several years and several unsuccessful interventions, we think we've finally convinced the heating company that the wind is indeed blowing out the flame (it doesn't happen on calm days) and that going back to the traditional chimney on the roof will solve the problem. At least we hope so, and so does the heating company.

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Another red leaf

Tired of these, yet? We're still enjoying the color around the neighborhood, but it's not going to last much longer, especially with wind and rain systems moving through. It's getting chilly, too, but I wouldn't call it cold. Not yet.

That curly-cue on the bottom is a vine tendril.

The deck guy confirmed that he got our choice for new tile, but he hasn't come by to take the final measurements. So we wait. Patience is a virtue. Or so I've heard.

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

A darker shade of red

The parade of autumn leaves continues. This red one is a little darker than the others. As usual, I don't know what variety of grape this belongs to.

Some stubborn green among the reds and golds. This could be sauvignon blanc.

The holiday weekend is over and kids go back to school today. As usual, our neighborhood was practically full, with people at the Air B&B two doors down and our neighbors' house across the road hosting part of their extended family (adult children, grandkids, and two huge dogs) for a weekend getaway.

While the Air B&B people usually spend their days away (most likely at the zoo), the neighbors' people spend theirs in their yard and out walking in the vineyard. Yesterday they were out back flying a kite. We also see other people walking, biking, mopedding, and quadding through the vineyard and past our house that we don't normally see. Not to mention the hunters on Sunday and Monday (holidays are hunt days). Tasha gets a lot of barking in as people pass by. Today most of the visitors are gone and the hamlet should be relatively quiet for a while.

Monday, November 01, 2021

Ebony and ivory

Or, in this case, red and gold. More autumn color from the vineyards out back. Temperatures are falling slowly and we're getting scattered showers.

Colorful grape leaves in the vineyard.

Today is a holiday in France. La Toussaint (All Saints Day) is a day traditionally spent visiting cemeteries and leaving behind pots of chrysanthemums.