Sunday, December 31, 2023

A last look 2023

Our living/dining room as seen from just outside the kitchen. I thought I'd record how this year's holiday tree looks in situ. I might post another shot tomorrow looking the other way. Tomorrow is the day that it all gets put away.

The fire is so delightful!

One of the big new year's news items here is that oysters from certain parts of the coast are being banned due to some kind of viral infection. People are upset (especially the oyster farmers) since oysters are among the most popular of New Year's Eve foods in France. We used to enjoy eating raw oysters, but no more. Ken's been sick a few times over the years after eating them. I've been lucky, but neither one of us wants to take any chances. So, for our New Year's Eve lunch, we're having shrimp and cod, both cooked.

Bon Réveillon ! Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Doesn't that pheasant look pleasant!

One of our bird feeders broke and fell to the ground last week. I spread the seed under the tree the feeder hung from. Since then, a few birds, mostly tits and robins, have been pecking away at it. Imagine my surprise when I looked out the window yesterday and saw this guy enjoying some seed! I grabbed the camera and snapped a few shots before he disappeared.

A male pheasant under the maple trees by our driveway.

A few weeks ago, I saw a pheasant out back, pecking at the ground for tasty morsels, but he wasn't in a spot where I could take a picture. By the way, most of the pheasants we see in and around the vineyard are farm raised, I'm told. They're released into the wild just before the hunting season starts.

Friday, December 29, 2023


I'm pretty sure that I've posted this before. But I can't remember when, maybe ten years ago? The photo is stamped "Dec 63" and I'm pretty confident that it's accurate, given where my family lived at the time.

The four year old me, frolicking in the snow.

Only three more shopping days until the New Year! I've got to go to the pharmacy this morning to renew the meds (blood pressure and cholesterol). Tomorrow I'm going to the Saturday market for some fresh fish for our New Year's Eve lunch. I'll have to go early lest they sell out fast. Lest? Where did that come from?

Thursday, December 28, 2023

The ghost of Christmas past

This photo is dated March 1969, but I'm not sure that's when it was taken. I don't ever remember our family's Christmas tree still being up in March. It may have been taken in December, but not developed until March. I see that there are no presents, wrapped or unwrapped, to be seen. Still, I can't rule out that the tree was actually still up in March. Lordy Moses.

The tree was obviously too tall for the room and had to be lopped off.

And, yes, that's me making my entrance down the staircase, ready, it seems, to head outdoors in the chill of an upstate New York winter.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Two pie are...

...better than one. We finished the apple tarte on Christmas Eve. I made this pumpkin pie yesterday. Again, I used sucrine squash that grew in this year's vegetable garden as a stand-in for pumpkin. And it tasted delicious.

The crust is made with butter.

I hoped you recognized the joke in this post's title. "Two pie are," or 2πr, is the formula for calculating the circumference of a circle. If I did my math right, the circumference of this pie is just over 81 centimeters or about 32 inches. Which is my waist size. Or was, before I ate those pies.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Tarte aux pommes

This one didn't turn out as pretty as most. I think I turned the heat down too early. However, while it looks a little under done, it wasn't, and we ate it up!

Tarte aux pommes.

'Tis the day after Christmas and the English have a name for it. My task for the day is to make a pumpkin pie. I was going to make it yesterday, but I was too lazy. And too full from the holiday meal. Ken has photos on his blog today (click the link on the sidebar).

Monday, December 25, 2023

A chorus line

Of Santas, of course. This tree ornament was a gift from a friend back in 1988. More precisely, a gift from the young daughter of a friend. Doing the math reveals that was thirty-five years ago. Yikes! Needless to say, said daughter has since grown up.

Happy holidays to all!

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Steak au poivre

I know Ken already posted several photos of our main course on Thursday. Here's another. The steak was pretty big and it made four meals for us (two each). The sauce was a cognac cream sauce, except we used calvados (apple brandy) instead of cognac (grape brandy). The fries come from the supermarket frozen and I deep-fry them at home in peanut oil. We drank a Burgundy (pinot noir) with lunch.

We had fries with that.

Today is Christmas Eve. We can't stay up late for the traditional French réveillon meal, so we'll have ours at lunch time. And, as for many years (decades) now, we'll enjoy a fondue Savoyarde, a cheese fondue. And tomorrow, as usual, we'll have our Christmas roast beast (a capon this year) with all the trimmings followed by a pumpkin pie. After that, leftovers!

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Deliciously confusing

North Americans call the first, usually smaller, dish of a meal the appetizer and the main course the entrée (which I think is completely illogical). The English say starter and main, respectively. The French say entrée and plat principal (often shortened to plat). Confused? Or just hungry?

Our first course on Thursday: céleri rémoulade et saumon fumé.

Our first course, l'entrée in French, on Thursday was a salad of grated celery root in a rémoulade sauce (mayonnaise and Dijon mustard), with a slice of smoked salmon and cracked black pepper. We didn't make the céleri rémoulade ourselves, opting instead for some made by one of our local butcher/deli shops. We stay away from supermarket versions because they're often sweetened.

Today is market day in Saint-Aignan. One of us will go into town this morning to pick up the chapon (capon) that we ordered two weeks ago. We'll roast it on Christmas Day.

Friday, December 22, 2023


Thursday's lunch began with a glass (or three) of our local sparkling wine, often called vin pétillant. It can't be called Champagne because it's not made in the Champagne region, but the principle is the same. The winery that makes this one is just across the river from us. Each fall, they have a special deal: buy five bottles and get one free.

A glass of local Touraine pétillant. Yum!

They make brut (dry), demi-sec (sweet), and rosé. I like the dry stuff. A little further down river from us are the regions of Vouvray and Montlouis, well-known for their sparking wines. What sets them apart from the standard local sparklers is chenin blanc, the white grape they use. Where we live, the winemakers use chardonnay in their blends for vin pétillant, as they do in the Champagne region.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Christmas in Florida

I think this old polaroid was taken in 1962 at my grandparents house in Florida. That's me practicing my runway walk for my future career as a top model. A model for what, I'm not certain.

I think I got the "pout" right. Dig the matching carpet/upholstery!

I'm off to the supermarket this morning for a few holiday tid-bits. I want to get out early before the holiday crowds build. It's a jungle out there. Not.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Merry Christmas, merry Christmas to you

When I started with that blog post "Chestnuts roasting, etc.," I wasn't planning to title subsequent posts with each line from "The Christmas Song." It just sort of happened. If I had planned it, I would have made it so the final line would post on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Opportunity missed.

Le vrai-faux sapin de noël Suédois, 2023.

So here's the final shot with the whole tree. If you look closely through the curtains, you might see the white outdoor lights hanging from the roof over the deck. Now, the question is what am I going to do next?

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Although it's been said many times, many ways

This little golden bear is one of a small collection of glass animal ornaments that Ken gave me one year in the eighties. In almost forty years, I've only broken one. I'm glad it wasn't this one because it's my favorite. The Golden Bear is the mascot of what would later become my alma mater, UC Berkeley.

Isn't he cute?

It looks like our brief cold snap is ending. Although it didn't really freeze, we were close, and it's not even winter, yet. It's anybody's guess as to what this winter's weather will be like. We used to get some snow between December and March, but recent years have not had any. I kind of miss it.

Monday, December 18, 2023

To kids from one to ninety-two

This ornament is a tiny bird house, although I don't think that there's a bird on Earth that could fit through the hole. Maybe a bee. But I really like its simplicity.

A little bird house.

It's a "busy" week ahead for us. Mostly for Ken. He's got a couple of appointments (a haircut and a covid booster) and he's going to drop by the garage to see about replacing the Peugeot's broken gear shift knob. There's some light grocery shopping to do, including getting cheese for our annual Christmas Eve fondue. On Saturday we'll be picking up the holiday bird and whatever other things we might have forgotten. I've decided to make apple tart for desserts, so apples are on the list.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

And so I'm offering this simple phrase

This ornament is a miniature model of North Carolina's Cape Lookout lighthouse. It's just over twenty kilometers, or about thirteen miles (as the crow flies), from the town where Ken grew up. In fact, on a clear day, you can see the lighthouse from the beach just across the sound. It's only accessible by boat.

I've been to Hatteras lighthouse, but I don't think I've been to this one.

It's cold this morning, about 3ºC outside the house. The vineyard will be colder. Freezing fog is forecast for some areas nearby. It's beginning to look a lot like winter.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

To see if reindeer really know how to fly

This is the reindeer collection. A paltry three. The silver one is supposed to be, I think, a tree ornament, judging from the ring on its back (there used to be a red ribbon tied to it). However, the thing is so heavy that it weighs down any branch it's hung on, so now it's just a free-standing buck. Once again, I don't recall the origin of any of them.

None of these three reindeer knows how to fly.

I was surprised to see the weather forecast for the next five days: clear, sunny, and colder than it has been. I hope it's accurate; we haven't seen much of the sun these past weeks. Parts of the wood pile that got wet may now have a chance to dry out. And I may be able to get some outdoor tidying up done. We'll see.

Friday, December 15, 2023

And every mother's child is gonna spy

Here's another wreath, another of my step-mom's craft ornaments from the seventies. It's a painted wood ring with an embroidered Christmas tree fixed in the middle. It's another of my favorite ornaments, and this one's much more durable than the wreath in yesterday's post.

The wooden cranberry garland and the gold star garland both came from Crate & Barrel in San Francisco.

The pickle (or cucumber) ornament is among a small group of vegetable ornaments given to us by a friend in California. By the way, I decorated the tree yesterday afternoon. Pictures to come!

Thursday, December 14, 2023

He's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh

Back in the early 1970s, my step-mom was into crafts and made a number of tree ornaments, including this wreath. I have a small number of her ornaments, as I'm sure my other siblings do. One of them (an ornament, not a sibling), a snowflake made from rolled strips of paper, has since disintegrated. I think the glue that held it all together got too old. It was my favorite, and I still have pieces of it, but it can no longer hang on the tree.

Crafty. I can see it's beginning to fray around the edges.

It looks like the wreath might have been made from a doily (or something like that). If I remember, she gave these ornaments to me in the years after I left home so I'd have something to hang on my little Charlie Brown-style Christmas trees. It blows my mind that they are about fifty years old. Yikes!

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

They know that Santa's on his way

Many of the tree ornaments in our "collection" evoke nature, animals, and/or food. I really like this little bird feeder. That's real birdseed inside! I don't know, but the bird might just be the bluebird of happiness.

Remember incandescent mini twinkle lights? They're long gone, replaced by LEDs.

I think that this one came from Crate & Barrel in San Francisco's Union Square neighborhood, close to where I once worked. I read on line that the store closed last year, which is too bad. I enjoyed wandering around inside during lunch hour back in the day. But there are several other C&B stores around the Bay Area that should take up the slack, not to mention on line shopping.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Will find it hard to sleep tonight

Another day, another favorite ornament. This one I found at a place called Restoration Hardware in the SF Bay Area. I looked up the store on line and it looks like it has gone seriously upscale from twenty or so years ago when I used to shop there.

I can row a boat, canoe?

At any rate, this little canoe reminds me of camping trips in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York when I was a kid. My dad liked to rent a canoe or other small boat and take it out on a lake at the crack of dawn to fish. He would, of course, drag me along (he also dragged me to a golf course a time or two to caddy for him. Yawn.) I had no interest in fishing whatsoever; no patience for it at all. But I must admit, paddling out onto a mirror-calm mountain lake as the sun rose and burned off the misty morning ground fog was quite pretty.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow

If you've followed this blog for a while, you probably know I'm a tennis fan. So it follows that I'd have a tennis ball tree ornament. I first picked up a tennis racquet back in the early seventies, the age of Evert, Connors, and Navratilova, among others. I was never very good at it.

The smaller-than-life-size tennis ball ornament.

In the late eighties, I took a tennis class at the local community college in San Francisco, but I didn't get much better. The last time I picked up a racquet was 2003, just before we moved to France. I did, however, become pretty good at watching tennis on tv and, these days, many more tournaments are televised than there used to be.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Help to make the season bright

Ken's aunt painted oyster shell Santas back in the day, several of which adorn our tree each year. At least since the '90s. She also painted on canvas, and we have one of her Outer Banks beach scenes hanging in our entry.

A smiling oyster shell santa painted by Ken's aunt.

We're in a warming trend right now. Today's high is expected to hit 14ºC (about 57ºF) later today and tomorrow. That's pretty mild. I haven't built a fire in a couple of days.

I did venture out to the market in the wind and rain yesterday morning. I figured that, in that weather, there wouldn't be any lines for ordering the holiday bird. I was right. And the fish monger had coques (cockles), so I got a kilo of those. We'll use them to make linguini with white clam sauce for today's lunch.

Saturday, December 09, 2023

Everybody knows, a turkey and some mistletoe

As the years go by, my memory goes with them. I can't really remember the details about this ornament. It was likely a gift and I know who the likely gift-giver is. I just can't remember if those memories are correct. The ornament is a figure of a wolf and I think it came from a gift shop in Yosemite National Park. Did it come from my friend, S.? Did I buy it myself? Doubts creep in like a San Francisco fog.

The wolf kind of reminds me of our former sheltie, Collette (1992-2006).

That's one of the great things about having done this blog for the past eighteen years. I now have many memories recorded, some in photographs, others in prose. A lot of the details from before that time, however, are kind of up for grabs. The big events are easy to remember. My first trip to Paris. Meeting Ken. Finishing my college education. Buying our first house. Things like that. The rest, well, the devil's in the details, as they say.

Friday, December 08, 2023

And folks dressed up like Eskimos

This is one of the first tree ornaments I remember buying in the first few years that I was out on my own. It is, I think, one of those Hallmark ornaments in the Keepsake line. I wish I could remember what it cost back then. This will be (give me a moment to do the math) its forty-third year.

Ronald Reagan had just been elected president. Yikes!

We're keeping our eyes out for the landscape contractor. He emailed me a couple of weeks ago to say his team would be here to trim the hedges "next week." That was last week. I'm sure he's backed up with work because of the rainy weather we've been having. They'll get here when they get here.

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Yuletide carols being sung by a choir

Adding a bit of whimsy to the holiday tree, this is one of two Life Savers ornaments in our "collection." The other is green. They must have been stocking stuffers from years back, but I don't remember exactly who stuffed them and when. No matter. I put them on the tree every year.

Much bigger than a regular Life Saver, but less tasty.

I have some unused roasted pumpkin in the fridge, so I think I'll make another loaf of pumpkin bread today. Now I have to decide: walnuts or pecans? Hmm...

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Jack Frost nipping at your nose

Here's another favorite tree ornament of mine. It was a gift from a friend in California many years ago. The tree depicted is either a coastal redwood or a sequoia. I'm not sure which. I'm also not sure if it's actually made from redwood, sequoia, or some other wood. Whichever it is, the ornament reminds me of our time in California and the friend who gave it to us. And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

It wouldn't surprise me if this came from a craft shop in Mendocino.

The winds finally died down last evening. While the little tornadoes of fallen leaves were fun to watch, I'm glad they're gone.

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

I'm out of photos. Again. So here's a little Christmas from 2018: one of my favorite tree ornaments. This year's tree isn't set up yet. I like to wait until about the fifteenth before decorating the real-fake-Swedish holiday tree.

A very Eiffel Christmas. I found this at a museum shop in San Francisco over twenty years ago.

That same weekend we'll order our holiday bird from the poultry vendors at the Saturday market. This year we'd like a chapon de poulet (a capon), one of the traditional dishes for Christmas in France.It should be ready for pick-up on the twenty-third.

Yesterday morning, while walking Tasha, I saw a complete rainbow in the northern sky. The sun was just up and peeking through a gap in the otherwise cloudy sky. A passing rain squall provided a dramatically dark backdrop for the rainbow. The grand arc was brilliant and unbroken from its "ground" points on either end. I wonder if each of those ends had its own pot of gold. I didn't have my camera, but I know I would not have been able fit the whole thing in a frame. The show lasted a good ten minutes before fading away. Ah, nature!

Monday, December 04, 2023

Val-deree, val-dera-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha

Last Sunday, our town held one of the several randonnées pédestres (nature hikes or walks) that they hold each year. A route is planned and marked and the walkers (who sign up in advance) follow the route over the course of a Sunday morning. Many of the annual walks follow routes through the vineyards and forests around us. I caught this glimpse of participants on a route that took them through our neighborhood and out into the vineyards beyond.

Randonneurs heading out toward the "volcanos" in the vineyard behind our house on a frosty Sunday morning.

I took Tasha for her walk on this particular morning and had forgotten about the hike. For a brief time we were among the early walkers, but we soon scooted over onto a path by the woods to avoid the larger groups. Tasha gets very excited when other people (and dogs) are out on "her" route. When we got home, she stood guard at the deck window, barking at each group of randonneurs as they passed the house.

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Home again

That's it, for now, from our short trip to Angoulême this past October. The drive home, however, was not to be without drama. We packed up the car and did a final walk-through with the owners of the gîte we rented. When I started the car to leave, it made an awful screeching sound. I engaged the clutch and it stuck, the pedal refusing to leave the floor. Uh-oh.

Sign on a garage door in Vindelle. "Beware of Dog."

The screeching got worse and our host said it sounded like the clutch was going. Not to worry, he said, you can still drive the car. After a few tries, the clutch pedal loosened up and I was able to get into gear. I stalled the first time, but it got slowly better. We decided to try to get home. We'd take the autoroute all the way to minimize gear shifts. I stalled again at an intersection on our way, but we got going again and the clutch pedal was feeling better. We got on the autoroute and headed for home. The whole way in fourth gear.

I stalled again at the toll booth outside Poitiers, but that was the last time. I was able to negotiate the remaining toll booths without a problem. We were almost home, just passing the supermarket in Noyers across the river, when WHAM! Some guy rear-ended us. I saw him in the rear-view mirror not looking ahead when he hit us. We were approaching a traffic circle and were rolling slowly, so it was just a "tap," but it still shook us up after the two-and-a-half hour drive from Vindelle with a failing clutch. We didn't even get out of the car. We took a look at the bumper when we got to the house and there was no damage to be seen. I guess that's what bumpers are for, after all.

The following week, Ken made an appointment at the garage and they installed a new clutch. I have no idea why the old clutch failed. Thankfully, it worked well enough for us to make it home safe and sound, albeit a little shaken.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

The last shot from Verteuil

Ken and I (and Tasha) walked a big loop after leaving the center of Verteuil-sur-Charente. We made it back to the car and decided to drive up to the church (we were parked just below it) and take a look. While on the grounds, we were rewarded with the best view of the château all morning.

The Château de Verteuil seen from the church yard.

So the temperature has indeed dropped below zero (freezing) this morning. Ours will be an invigorating walk today. We'll be in the low single digits all day. There's even some talk of a little snow over the next twenty-four hours. Fortunately, we're well stocked and don't need to venture out on slippery roads.

Friday, December 01, 2023

Who goes there?

This painting in Verteuil surprised me. At first glance, it looked so real that, for a brief moment, I thought it was. After all, Halloween was right around the corner. But I quickly realized it was a mural. A darned good one.

Medieval man, Verteuil-sur-Charente.

The permanent crown is in. It took about an hour, forty-five minutes longer than I thought it would. Lots of adjusting and grinding and polishing to get the bite just right. I bit down on so many test papers that I think the least they could do is to make them flavored (mango! strawberry!). But it's finally done. And, aside from some very minor soreness in my jaw, it feels like nothing ever happened. That's a good thing.