Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The end

It's the end of the little bird series. It's the end of December. It's the end of the year, and the end of a decade. Bring on the Twenties!

The end.

Happy new year to all! Bon réveillon !

Monday, December 30, 2019

Pinson des arbres

Here is the third of the three most popular birds at our feeders. It's le pinson des arbres (chaffinch). He's another bird that mostly hops around picking up seeds on the deck or below the hanging feeders. He will, however, hang from the ball feeder when the tits take a break.

A chaffinch on the deck.

We also see chardonnerets (goldfinches), but not as many as the other three. Other birds come by as well, but much less frequently, including rougequeues (redstarts) and merles (blackbirds). I haven't noticed any of those at the feeders so far this winter. And lest you think I'm a bird expert (I'm not), I've only learned to recognize these birds over the years by the their very frequent visits and the help of a couple of bird identification books.

Sunday, December 29, 2019


This is another frequent visitor to our feeders and the deck: the European robin, or rouge-gorge (literally red-neck) in French. Like the tits, the rouge-gorge eats mainly insects and slugs during the summer months, but in fall and winter looks for seeds and small berries. Once in a while it will perch on the seed balls to feed, but I see it mostly hopping around below picking up what the tits let fall.

A rouge-gorge on our deck. I wonder why it's not called an "orange-gorge."

Today, like every Sunday this time of year, is a hunt day. Tasha and I need to get out before 09h00 when the hunters arrive. Considering that sunrise happens at 08h41 today, that leaves us a very small window for a walk. We go out five or ten minutes before sunrise so that we get a good half-hour of walking. The season for pheasants closes on January 31, early this year. Partridge and hare seasons are already closed. Roe deer and fox seasons continue until the end of February, but they are only taken in organized hunts and those don't happen all that often, at least in our neck of the woods.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Feeding the birds

Like a lot of people, I put seed out for the birds in the winter. I don't feed them in summer because, I figure, there are plenty of insects around for them to feast on. I have two feeders, one out back hanging above the real fake well, and another in front hanging in one of the big maples. Then there's this contraption that hangs from the deck rail and holds suet and seed balls, which are sold pretty much everywhere around here.

A tit visits the deck feeder and watches as I take its picture.

The birds usually make quick work of the loose seed in the feeders. One bird (usually a tit) will push the seeds out onto the ground and the other birds will gobble it up. It needs to put in a little more effort to peck the seeds out of the grease balls (as I call them). Still, there's a hierarchy. The bird in the photo is one of the many varieties of mésange (tit) that visit the feeders each year. They are the ones that usually peck out the seeds they want and let the rest fall to the deck where other birds can stroll around and pick them up.

I often find Tasha and Bert sitting just inside the sliding glass window, watching the birds feed. Every once in a while a bird will hit the window, thinking it can fly through to the other window in the room. It lies there on the deck, stunned, for a while before getting up and flying away. Unless it doesn't, then I have to dispose of the body

Friday, December 27, 2019


The wind and rain are back. Steady wind and gusts rocked the house all through the night, and this morning I could hear rain beating against the loft windows. And it's still eerily warm. I guess that goes with these weather fronts that come in off the Gulf Stream. We had a few dry days, but not enough, and no freezes, so everything remains soggy and muddy outside.

Dark, dreary, and damp.

Because it's so warm outdoors, I'm not motivated to build a daily fire. I'm just letting the central heat handle keeping us comfortable. That's all right since we didn't buy firewood this year. I'm trying to use up the surplus from last year.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Melt my heart

We enjoyed our annual fondue savoyarde (cheese fondue) on Christmas Eve. We started doing this toward the end of our years in San Francisco, probably at least twenty years ago now. It's a nice treat that doesn't compete with the upcoming turkey feast, and it's fun. For years we had a 1970s-style fondue pot that used that little can of Sterno for heat. It wasn't easy to regulate. Then, a few years ago, we found this electric fondue pot on sale here in France. It works great, and being able to regulate the heat lets us keep the cheese melted, not sticking to the bottom or burning.

Après-ski without the ski.

There are typically two types of cheese mixed for a fondue. They should be mountain cheeses from eastern France. This year we used three: comté, gruyère, and emmental. The last two are French versions of the classic Swiss cheeses of the same names, which originated just across the border. The cheeses are grated and melted in a mix of white wine and a shot of Kirsch (cherry brandy), a little garlic, salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. When it's ready, we dip in with cubes of dried out French bread and cubes of fresh apple. We served a green salad after. Tasty and filling!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah!

And a Whimsical Wednesday to all! This is the art on a holiday greeting card we received a few years ago.

Santa on His Bike by Ake Lindau.

Today we will roast our turkey and prepare the rest: foie gras with preserved figs, Brussels sprouts, pumpkin puree, stuffing, cranberry sauce, salad and/or cheese, and apple tart for dessert.

Bon appétit !

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Xmas Eve 2019

Our friend Sue has a talent for making greeting cards. I think she does fewer of them than she has in the past, but whenever she does one, whether she uses one of her photos or creates it from scratch, it's a work of art. This one came in the mail a few days ago.

If you look very closely, you might see two red birds perched in the branches. Two turtle doves?
Yes, I know turtle doves aren't red. Just pretend they're dressed up for the holiday.

Ken will head into town this morning to pick up the holiday turkey from the poultry vendors at the Christmas market. We'll roast that tomorrow. Today we'll enjoy our annual Christmas Eve cheese fondue. I'll be looking in on our neighbor's cat for the next couple of days while she's away for the holiday. There will be two cats, actually. The second one belongs to our neighbor's daughter, who is visiting from Bordeaux.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Everybody knows...

...a little glass of calvados helps to make the season bright. That, and those 'tater tots with their eyes all aglow.

Calvados is apple brandy from Normandy.

The wind keeps on blowing out there. It's not horrible, but the gusts make the house move and creak through the night. And walking face into the wind in the morning is no fun. Yesterday afternoon, just before I went out with Tasha, we had a squall blow through. The sky darkened and ice pellets fell for a few minutes. The ground turned white in a few places. The clouds blew on through and we had a nice sunset. I had to cut my walk short, though, because some hunter was out there shooting. Bam! Bam! I can't wait for the hunting season to end.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

A delicious lunch

As he's been doing for thirty-eight years now, Ken made my favorite birthday meal on Saturday: steak au poivre with a cognac cream sauce. Except we used calvados (apple brandy) instead of cognac. This year we splurged for beef filet, what Americans call filet mignon. In France, the term filet mignon refers only to pork tenderloin. For beef, they say filet de bœuf.

Crispy-dry but still fruity. Senior moment: I forgot to wipe the water spots off the glasses before I took the picture.

We started with some Champagne, a generous gift from California friends Jill and Peter. As usual, we served the steak with French fries. We drank a 2017 Bourgeuil (cabernet franc). Then we had a salad course, and cheese after. Dessert was an apple tart that I made with gorgeous Belchard apples from the Pays de Loire glazed with Ken's home-made apple jelly. I didn't take a photo of the main course, but Ken did and posted it here.

Tarte aux pommes. The apples are layered on a filling of our home-made applesauce.

Everything turned out perfectly and we enjoyed the day. And now I'm eligible for senior discounts on the trains. Woo-hoo!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Calm and storms

This image is about a week old, taken when we were having high winds and rain. We were between rain fronts, obviously, but they were passing through. That's when we noticed the leak drip, drip, dripping during the night. Two nights, actually.

Relatively clear sky at sunrise about a week ago.

Then things calmed down for a few days and we saw the sun. It was the perfect window to have the roof looked at and fixed. It rained again just after that with no leaking. Knock on wood. We're supposed to be having another wind event with more rain over the weekend, another test for the roof.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Le sapin

This is the eighth year for our real fake holiday tree. I decorated it last Sunday. For some reason I stopped before I hung all the ornaments. It just seemed done. Or maybe I was done. Some years are like that. Next year, I'll find those ornaments I didn't hang and use them again. Still, there are a few new ornaments on this year's tree.

I found one plastic needle on the floor. Even fake trees drop needles!

We're having wind and rain again this morning, after a respite of a few days. It will be a test of our roof repair, I guess. So far, so good. I did take advantage of the nice day we had yesterday to spread the leaves over our vegetable garden plot and put down one of the tarps. So that's done. Ken's working on cleaning out the window boxes. If we can do at least one thing a day, we're doing alright. As they say in France, "Petit à petit, l'oiseau fait son nid (Little by little, the bird builds its nest)."

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Reindeer herd

With a dog to keep the herd together. The silver reindeer came as a tree ornament, but it's so heavy that it doesn't work on our small tree. So he's joined the other two on the mantle.

None of these reindeer has ever run over a grandma.

The roofer (well, the roofer's elves) showed up on Wednesday afternoon, a day early! They cleaned out the valleys on either side of the dormer window above the kitchen and worked on the chimney, where the leak is. They said the flashing looked intact, but that there were some cracks in the mortar above it, so they patched that. We won't know if it worked until it rains. And, thankfully, the days are warm, dry, and sunny for the moment, so the patching will have time to dry properly.

We also asked them for an estimate to redo the underside of the deck (the roofer is also a mason). The paint there is peeling badly and there are cracks in the concrete, so it all needs to be fixed up and re-painted.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

It's beginning to look a lot...

... like you-know-what. Here are three Santas. The tallest was a gift from English friends not so long ago. I've embarrassingly forgotten where the middle one came from. The small one in the snow globe is one that I bought from Macy*s back in 1978 or so. Notice the star (asterisk) in place of an apostrophe. That was a marketing thing.

Three Santas and a pretty Christmas card.

That snow globe has lost some of its water over those forty years. I don't know how because it's never leaked. And the snow is less white than it used to be. It's almost brown. I remember thinking I was splurging to buy a snow globe for ten dollars. In fact, I was. I took home about $165 every two weeks then. My monthly rent was $165. So I had $165 left each month for things like food and transportation (which was a monthly bus pass since I couldn't afford a car), electricity, phone service, and clothes. Oh, and the Columbia record and tape club. What was I thinking?

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

Our days-long wind event is over, but while it was going on I got a photo of Tasha and her wind-blown fur. Maybe I should have taken a video.

Tasha has a few sticks along her route that she carries for a while before dropping them again.

Ken called two roofers on Monday. One got back to us after about ten hours saying he was out of town and wasn't able help us out in the short term. The other said they'd get back to us quickly, but we haven't heard from them yet. Maybe today. Meanwhile, we're keeping an eye on the rain forecast.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Still there

Remember those piles of dirt and rocks that I posted about back in early September? Well, they're still out there. I don't know what they're for. In October I crossed paths with the mayor on an afternoon walk with Tasha and I asked her about them, wondering if it was an illegal dumping. She said no, that the grape grower who owns the land put them there, but she seemed to be annoyed about it.

The piles showed up a little over three months ago now.

Later in October I learned that a few vineyard parcels adjacent to this spot, all owned by the same grower, are going to be ripped out and replanted with new vines. So I wonder if those piles have anything to do with that and, if so, how? The mystery endures.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Auntie Em!

Did you ever wonder why Dorothy's last name was Gale? Well, I don't think we need to worry about tornadoes, but it's been blowin' a gale for a few days now. And although the wind has calmed down a little, we're still getting strong gusts. To top it all off, we've discovered a leak in the roof, at the very peak where a chimney pokes through. The leak is not a gusher. Yet. But it has to be dealt with as it drips onto the stairs that go up to the loft. Now we have to find a roofer during the holiday season. Ho, ho, ho!

The wind keeps the flags on the vineyard posts horizontal.

I went to the market early Saturday morning and ordered our holiday turkey. It will weigh 3.5 kilograms (about 7.5 pounds) and should feed us for a few days. And the good news is that there will indeed be a special market on Christmas Eve so I can pick up the turkey in town the day before we roast it. The French tradition is to have the big holiday meal late in the night on Christmas Eve, but we stick with the mid-day feast on Christmas Day. Neither of us can stay up late enough for a proper réveillon and going to bed right after devouring roast beast and all the trimmings is no fun.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Turkey day

I think we decided on a turkey for this year's roast beast. I'm heading into town this morning to order it. I also have to find out if I pick it up next Saturday (too early for Christmas Day) or if there will be a special market on Monday or Tuesday. There often is when the holiday falls mid-week. The other option is that we can pick up the turkey at the vendor's atelier (workshop) in the neighboring town. It's not a retail facility, but they let customers go there to pick up orders when it's more convenient for them.

The full moon beginning to set just before the sun came up on Friday morning.

The wind howled all night, but there wasn't much in the way of rain, at least that I heard. The moon is shining brightly so we're also not particularly overcast, either. We saw a lot of the sun on Friday. More rain is predicted for this evening through to Monday morning. It's been a weird year. We've been either parched dry or soggy wet, no in-between.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Stormy weather

The wind and rain kicked up during the night. Sometime around 03h30, I heard the wind-driven rain against the loft windows. It woke me up, actually. Both animals had taken refuge on the bed between us. It lasted a while and then calmed down. This morning there is much less rain, but the wind is still blowing. It's supposed to be like this through the weekend. Joy.

A calm morning a few days ago before the current storm blew in.

I have to decide whether to go out this morning or Saturday morning to order the holiday bird. The poultry people work the Friday market over in Montrichard and the Saturday market in Saint-Aignan. Depending on the weather, I'd prefer to stay closer to home. Montrichard is a twenty minute drive, St.-Aignan is a five minute drive.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Purple frost

Post-processing can turn a bland photo into something a little less bland. I was not at all happy with this shot. I didn't get the depth-of-field right. So I gave it some purple color and, while it didn't fix the focus problem (nothing can), it doesn't look as bad as the original.

Hand-held photography in low light is quite a challenge. I had the 50mm fixed lens on the camera. I needed a relatively fast shutter speed (1/200) to compensate for the breeze, which meant opening up the aperture for more light (f/7.1), which resulted in less depth-of-field.
I wanted more of the plant to be in focus.

The weather is not propitious for outdoor photography right now. We're getting a lot of wind and there's rain. From now through the weekend looks particularly yucky. And we want to get to the market on Saturday to order the holiday bird. Maybe it won't be as bad as predicted out there.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Piles of leaves

The leaves from the twin maples are now piled in the vegetable garden plot. The goal is to spread them around (like we do every year) and cover them with a tarp for the winter. The rain returned before we got to that.

Frosty piles of leaves. There is still work to be done!

Covering the garden plot helps to keep the weeds from taking over which makes tilling in the spring easier. We used to do it with just the leaves, but discovered last year that adding a tarp works much better. The leaves decompose and get tilled in like compost.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Again with the frost

What can I say? I took a bunch of photos that one frosty morning we had. So here's one in color. The sun was just coming up.

This vineyard parcel has been pruned. You can see the cut canes lined up in every other row. The vines on the very left haven't been pruned yet.

As predicted, our temperature this morning is close to freezing at about 3ºC. There may be frost, but I won't know until the sun rises in just under two hours. The days are very short these few weeks around the solstice. January and February are usually our coldest months. I wonder if we'll see snow?

Monday, December 09, 2019

Another phrosty photo

A familiar view to regular readers: looking west from the hamlet out into the vineyards as Tasha and I head out for our morning walk. I really over-processed the image in an attempt to get a more dramatic effect. I like it, but then I look at it again and don't like it. Then I like it again.

Tasha gets frosty paws.

The wind has been gusting strong for about 24 hours now. The weather people say it should die down by this evening. Then the mild temperatures will drop toward freezing again. Well, as they say, 'tis the season.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Frosty hamlet

A view of our little hamlet on a frosty morning. It was a very light frost, but it was frosty nonetheless. I think the photo looks better in black and white.

Looking northeast over the vineyards. Click on the photo to make it bigger; it looks better bigger!

On Saturday, Ken installed what's called a solid state drive in my computer. He cloned the existing hard drive (the "C" or "boot" drive) where the operating system and all the programs are stored and copied it all to the new SSD (solid state drive). The old hard drive will now become an external storage device. The advantages of an SSD are that accessing programs and data is much faster than with a drive that spins and that there are no moving parts to break down.

The installation also gave me an opportunity to vacuum the dust out of the computer's innards. I have definitely noticed the speed increase. Now if only we could get a fiber optic connection to speed up the internet!

Saturday, December 07, 2019


Success! I drove over to a nearby town that has its market on Fridays. The market at Montrichard is bigger than Saint-Aignan's Saturday market. I remembered that they had two fish mongers. I was disappointed to see that neither of them had much shellfish. Just mussels and some oysters. As I gave up and headed back to the car, I noticed a third fish monger. His stand was smaller than the other two, but lo!, he had coques (cockles). I got a kilo.

Having linguini with white clam (cockle) sauce between Thanksgiving and Christmas has become a kind of tradition for us.

When I got them home, Ken put the little bivalves in a pot of salty water with cornmeal for a couple of hours so they could purge their systems of sand (and other stuff) before he cooked them. When it was time, he sweated onion and garlic in olive oil, added the cockles and some white wine, and let them steam open while the linguini cooked. When the pasta was done, we added it into the pan with the cockles, sprinkled on some fresh chopped parsley, and lunch was served.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Frosty web

Ice crystals formed on spider webs on Thursday morning as our low temperature went below -1ºC. The sun came out and melted the frost by mid-morning. We're expecting the same today, but with more of a warm-up as a new weather system moves in.

They look like water droplets, but they're actually frozen.

It's nice to walk the dog on frosty mornings because she stays clean. The mud is frozen enough not to get all over her feet and fur. One of the nice things about winter. The freezing also checks the population of bugs, or so I'm told. The bird feeders are filled and the usual suspects are enjoying them. Rouge-gorges, (robins), mésanges (tits), and pinsons (chaffinches) are the most common visitors to the feeders and the suet balls. We also see some chardonnerets (European goldfinches) and merles (blackbirds) from time to time.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Barenaked maples

It's official. All the leaves have fallen from the twin red maples out front. If you read Ken's blog, you will know that we finally got it together to rake them up on Wednesday. They had dried out enough to move and, now, most of them are out in the vegetable garden plot. Last year we raked up the leaves on November 24, so we're not too far behind. It's just been so wet.

Some birches around the 'hood are still golden, and the hedge around our yard will stay green through winter. But the maples are bare.

Today my plan is to put the holiday lights up on the house. We're expecting another day or two of dry sunny weather, so it's time. On Friday morning, I plan to go on a quest. This time of year we usually make coques (cockles) with linguini to help break up the heavy holiday meals of lamb and poultry. But, the fish monger at the Saturday market in Saint-Aignan where I could get them quit the market earlier this year. I'm going to drive over to the Friday market in a nearby town to see what their fish mongers have. Hopefully, I'll come back with some coques or maybe some little clams.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019


These are two of the three remaining fir trees in our yard. The healthy one on the right is very tall; we can see it from across the river, marking the location of our house on the southern bank. The tree on the left is dying. The lower third is nearly devoid of needles and the upper branches have many fewer than they used to.

The tree looks bare all year round. A few of its silver-blue needles survive, but not for long.

So, the jig is up. The guy who does our hedges and removed our apple trees is coming this winter to remove this big fir tree. It's too close to the house and is wedged between the other fir and the linden. Removing it will open up the northwest corner of the house to light and air, improving views and getting rid of the dead needles that constantly drop on the roof and in the gutter.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

The birches hold on

The birch trees in our hamlet are the last to be losing their leaves this fall. They're still providing us some nice color, but not for much longer. The days are getting chilly (Monday's high was about 5ºC or 41ºF); the sun is too low in the sky this time of year to warm things up much. Still, it's nice to see the sun after that long run of overcast and rain.

The view of our neighbors' property from the deck on a sunny December afternoon.

I'm thinking I'll take advantage of the dry weather to get the holiday lights up on the house this week. The tree won't go up until the 15th or so.

Monday, December 02, 2019


According to the forecast, the week ahead will be dry, but cold. We'll be flirting with freezing temperatures and will surely see some frost in the mornings. I'm looking forward to the ground drying out a little. We still have leaves to get up and the vegetable garden plot to cover for the winter.

Frost on an oak leaf.

Over the weekend we got the more sensitive plants moved from the deck into the house and greenhouse. The garden hoses are rolled up and put away as are the backyard table and chairs. It's beginning to look a lot like winter. Without snow.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Corn muffins

I had a hankerin' for corn muffins the other day, so I looked up recipes on line. I found one called "Extra-Corny Cornbread Muffins" on the Bon Appetit web site. It attracted me because it included whole corn kernels in the muffins and that's what I wanted. So I gave it try on Saturday.

Corn muffins cooling in the oven.

The recipe wasn't difficult and the batter, while thick, spooned easily into the muffin tin. My muffins look a little rougher than those in the recipe's illustration. But isn't that always the way it goes? The important part is that they taste pretty good. Craving satisfied.

And on the rack. Some of the kernels slid off the tops onto the table. I ate them.

Of course, I substituted canned corn for the fresh-off-the-cob corn called for in the recipe. I also used a mixture of plain yogurt and crème fraîche to replace the sour cream. They're not too sweet, so they'd go well with a savory, spicy dish, or just by themselves with a little butter.