Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck
Roosting on the gate

2011 - My second year of blogging in Brittany

I felt I would like to share some of the photographs I have taken so far this year and some from other years. I live in a beautiful part of Brittany and just love being here. It's a lovely place to photograph and enjoy being in through all the seasons and hopefully this blog will show you where I live my life.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 The winter solstice - frosty plants in my garden and today's lunar eclipse

Although the snow has now melted from the trees and roofs, there is still quite a quantity on the ground.  The melted snow now leaves the ground wet for the low night time temperatures to freeze into dangerous surfaces on paths and roads. 

Today seems to have been the warmest day since all this white stuff fell, and I'm hoping the roads won't be too bad tonight for my daughter and grandson who arrive in Roscoff, from England, late tonight to spend Christmas and New Year here, and for my friend, Andy, who will be fetching them in my Land Rover.

The frost from these very cold nights does, however, make the garden leaves look quite beautiful:

This morning there was a total lunar eclipse.  The first at winter solstice for 400 years.  I was still asleep unfortunately, but Brian, out walking his dog, was lucky and did see it.  I have taken this photograph from the internet, but it didn't have a credit I could use.  The moon was a beautiful pink colour:

Beautiful enough to have got up in time had I known it was going to happen.

My friends who's border collie, Jess, died recently had a happy event yesterday.  We all drove over to a cattle farmer about 10 kilometres away and they chose a beautiful border collie puppy, now called Jasper, to bring home.  I hope to have a photograph to post later this week. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday, 18 December 2010 Déjà Vu in St André

It has again been snowing through the night and is still snowing as I write at around 13.00 hours here in Brittany.  When I finally got up this morning at 09.00 hours the sunrise was still in progress, so I rushed downstairs - as fast as the stairlift would take me - grabbed my camera and took these photographs through the spare bedroom window.

Over the wall into my neighbour's garden.  Sylviane lost a tree in February last year with the weight of the snow and I think there will be many more trees lost around here this year again.

The sky changes so fast, just like trying to catch sunset, you have to be very quick or it's gone.

And two from yesterday.  The greenfinch on the bird table was taken from too far back in my sitting room and through a fairly grubby windowpane, but it looked so yellow I couldn't resist.

This is Daisy "plodding" on the red velour rug she sits on to dream about catching the birds on the bird table.

A rare sound in the lane as my neighbour drives his tractor with hay for the horses out in the field.  We are completely cut off from the rest of the world now except by tractor and quad bike.  I feel that the weather has changed in this part of the world, and that perhaps we have to accept that we are going to have snow for a good part of the winter months now and in the future. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thursday, 16 December 2010 Snow is coming soon

Sometimes, like this evening, the rain hits the landing window so hard that it’s as if someone is breaking in - I have to mute the television to check for the more rhythmic background sound. It’s black out there tonight – no moon, no stars can be seen. The only illumination is that of the sitting room lights reaching out into the garden but failing to brighten anything but the immediate terrace and garden walls.

And now snow is forecast again. We will have more of the white flakes, which imprison the village and encourage the women to cook comfort food and the men to stack the logs high in the hearths. I love the way it covers the imperfections and makes everything outside beautiful and new. I hate the way it threatens my family travelling from England to me here in Brittany for Christmas.

I can’t bear to drive in the snow, I’m too frightened of sliding off the road, or of some other driver driving into me. My friend has offered to drive up to the port to collect my daughter and grandson whatever the weather. I just have to keep my fingers crossed that it not too bad for them to get to the port in England and that it’s not too bad even for him to drive here – I just have to keep them crossed that the snow disappears as fast as it arrives.  This was less than three weeks ago looking from my west window:

I loved it when I was small and my father built a snowman for me in the garden, buttoned and eyed with small pieces of coal and Dad's old allotment flat cap on the snowball head. I loved it when my children were small and they sledged down the fields near our home. I love the pictures I am sent of my grandson sledging down the hill of the College my children attend now. But now, if I’m honest, I am not keen on snow because I have to rely on others helping with my animals and helping me. My neighbour, with my interest at heart, bans me from walking outside in case I fall and need more looking after, and it makes me feel older than I am. 

I love the bird photos I can take though, with the background of snow they are contrasted well and the snow stops them blending into the background.  I like too, the muffled silence that thick snow creates, waking up and feeling that nothing is happening out there at all because the quiet is all enveloping.

But - roll on spring and warm, sunny days!

Twelve hours later - update - snow is here this morning - here's photo of a chaffinch in the latest fall.

and over the wall

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday, 12 December 2010 Breathing machine, Pumpkins and Jess

There was another quiz on Friday night at La Vallée in St Gilles Vieux Marché. It’s always an enjoyable and good value evening. For €5 we have the quiz evening and a one plate meal. This time it was chicken in a cider sauce with chips. The chicken was very good, and the chips were superb. I rarely eat chips now, but could never leave even one of these they are just perfectly cooked. The atmosphere at these quizzes is excellent and they’re brilliantly organized and run by Andrea and Vic. I had my camera in my bag, but completely forgot to take a photograph – typical.

I now have an oxygen extractor, which adds pure oxygen to my sleep apnoea breathing machine. It works by taking in air and extracting just the oxygen to pass to my usual breathing machine and is an alternative to an oxygen cylinder to someone who only needs oxygen at night. The extractor is very noisy and because of this it can’t be in the same room as the user - me. To this end, it has a 10 metre hose and is sited in the adjacent bedroom.

The mini gastric bi-pass which I am probably due to have in March, will eventually result in sufficient weight loss for me to abandon both machines, but for the moment the hose snakes across both bedroom floors under the doors and across the landing. If it were to be a more permanent fixture then we’d drill the wall and pass the hose through. In fact, I have tripped over it so many times in the three days I’ve had it here that I may well get a hole drilled anyway.

The weather has been warmer over the last two days, reaching a heady 8°C yesterday. However, because the skies are clear at night with wonderful star displays, the temperature is really dropping through the dark hours. When I feed the birds first thing in the morning any food still left on the table is frozen solid to it and the water container is too. It’s also strange walking outside where the normally loose gravel/shingle is frozen into a one piece slab.

Friday was a sad day for my friends Flick and Andy whose lovely collie dog, Jess, had her last ever visit to the vet. Andy buried her in the garden along with all her toys and bowls.

She was a fetching dog, in more than one sense. Good looking and constantly wanting to have things thrown for her. She will be very missed.

I have often grown pumpkins, but only used them for Halloween, cut out like a face with a candle inside. Today I decided to make pumpkin soup. No accurate measuring necessary, I just made it up as I went along.

I poured some olive oil into a baking tray and placed peeled large chunks of pumpkin in it, plus two peeled and quartered onions, and four cloves of garlic peeled and left whole, then seasoned it all before putting in the oven to cook until the pumpkin was soft and the onions just catching on the edges.

I then poured all the contents of the baking tray, including the juices, into a saucepan and blitzed it. I brought it to the boil while adding some chicken stock and milk to get the consistency I wanted. Checked the seasoning and served with warmed buttered French bread. It was a delicious colour, tasted scrumptious and I shall never waste a morsel of pumpkin again.

I washed off and kept some of the seeds from the pumpkin to use again for next year’s harvest.

I am an obsessive seed collector and can never go past plants with seeds, wherever they are, without grasping a seed pod and putting it into my fleece pocket. My dresser, is full of envelopes labelled with notes like “From Bruno’s road frontage – yellow, tall daisy flowers – 2010”. I have a whole mug full of poppy seeds from various plants which I shall scatter at the appropriate time next year, just as I did this year. They made a lovely display along the drive.  The roundabouts here all have lovely flowering plants on them and last year I collected many different types of marigold from a mini roundabout in St Nicolas and they were mixed in with the poppies along the drive.  This summer/autumn two of the borders in St Nicolas had ruby chard growing and on one of the small roundabouts there were pumpkins - lovely!

It’s seriously dark in the mornings here now. It doesn’t really get light until about 8.50am and even after that and through the morning it’s necessary to have the lights on inside the house. In general, I am extravagant with lights and one of my friends never fails to comment on the number switched on when he comes round. Even if they’re not entirely necessary, I feel cosier and happier when I have lots of different lights about, twelve ceiling spots, one pendant light, seven wall uplighters, several under cupboard lights and two table lamps in the downstairs room, which is my kitchen as well as my sitting room. Two wall lights are not in use as one falls behind the dresser and one comes in the middle of my book shelves. I like the different light each type gives, and perhaps it’s also because I miss the sun so much at this time of year. In the kitchen area, the wall lights, pendant and ceiling lights are not on at the moment, but all the rest are – I think light often makes a room. I know it’s not particularly green, none of my lights have energy saving bulbs for various reasons, but I am reasonably economical with electricity in other spheres of my life.

One last photograph, a young robin, who was sitting on my garden wall with his Mum yesterday, but I could never see the two of them together when I had a camera in my hand.  I just love him, his feathers seem still mixed with down and he's so sweet.

Three beautiful things:

1.   Speaking on the 'phone to someone you haven't spoken to for ages.
2.   Receiving a photo of my three children and grandson together, at last.
3.   Getting the first Christmas cards of this year in my postbox.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Murder in the Snow Saturday, 11 December 2010

Inspired by the photograph I took of icicles on a neighbour's house.


I looked at the icicle hanging
From the roof of a neighbour’s house
And thought what a wonderful weapon
It would make, if I weren’t such a mouse.

I’d like to kill just one person
Before I kick the bucket myself
I think the icicle would do the job
Better than a knife from the shelf.

I’d stab them over and over again
‘Til the snow was completely blood-stained
And then the weapon would melt in the sun
And be washed away when it rained.

So the body would be there for all to see
But the weapon would never be found
No matter how hard they searched for it
All over the newly thawed ground.

No fingerprints, no forensics you see
I just might get away with the crime
It’s almost worth testing my theory out
Before I run out of time.

The problem is that there’s no-one around
That I really would want to be dead
So I’ll have just to imagine the crime
And keep it all to myself in my head.

©Sandra E Chubb

Don't worry, the snow and ice have all gone for the moment in St André!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday, 3 December 2010 Clementines, cats and birds

As we’re getting near to Christmas, Super U had an offer on clementines this week.  I bought a net of them, as I had watched a cookery programme with Nigella Lawson making a clementine cake.  It’s certainly different, and the first instruction is to boil 4-5 clementines for two hours and then, after removing pips, blitz the whole fruits in a food processor before adding the usual suspects for a sponge cake, substituting ground almonds for the usual flour.  It sounds as if it will be a very moist cake and I love the taste of almonds, so I plan to make it in the next couple of days.

The cats have been happy staying in the house during this white weather.  Alfie prefers to lie on the stairs as the heat all rises from the woodburner and the warmest place in the house is around the seventh stair which he has made his place.

Yesterday, when I looked through my photographs, I found I had taken three which showed two birds.  The first is a chaffinch and a sparrow on the snow-covered wall.

The second photograph is of a pair of chaffinches. 

And the last pair are a song thrush and a chaffinch.  The chaffinches are numerous here and seem determined to star in every photograph.

Before we moved to Cornwall from Gloucestershire, my mother had this old staddlestone in her garden and it travelled with us to Boswinger and then emigrated with me to Brittany.   It is a genuine staddlestone. These were used to support the body of a granary.  As many as sixteen could be on each side of the grain store.  The overlapping mushroom-like top of the stone stopped rats climbing up into the barns, allowed the flow of air through the grain and the height of them kept the granary and its contents above the ground and flood water away from the harvested grain.   Here is mine, covered in the snow which has recently fallen.

There are lots of plants associated with Christmas for me, Poinsettia, Holly, Mistletoe and Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera).  My mother had a Christmas Cactus which was more than twenty years old.  It was huge, 2'6"/75cm, or more, in diameter and it had its own table in the corner of the sitting room.  Once it started coming into bud it was given pride of place in front of one of the sitting room windows and was not moved again until it had finished flowering.  Moving its position once buds are developing causes bud drop.  I have bought two this year and here is the only flower which has so far developed.

More snow overnight, bringing the depth here to 5"/13cm.  The sun is now out and the sky is blue, with no sign of snow there at all.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thursday, 2 December 2010 Surprise this morning

Snowing again here this morning.  I put more than normal food out on the table, the usual breadcrumbs and crusts, mixture of seeds, two crumbled brioches and seeds set into the fat which came of of yesterday's roast chicken.

I laid and lit the woodburner and was just settling down to watch the weather forecast when I saw a bright flash of colour against the garden wall.  I moved as slowly as possible across the room and collected my camera.  Now, lots of you might find them a common bird, but I have never seen a bullfinch, Pyrrhula pyrrhula, before in England or here in Brittany and I was thrilled to be able to photograph this one.  The photos aren't brilliant, but I had to post all five as I am really excited by seeing this bird.

The colour of the bullfinch was incredible, almost glowing as if illuminated from the inside.

Here is one more of the magpie from yesterday too.

The snow is coming down thickly now, but I did manage to take a few more photographs before it really got going.  Blue tit first.

Then another close up of one of the robins.

A little sparrow fluffed out against the cold on the garden wall.

And last, for the moment, today's chaffinch photograph.

Inbetween the snow showers, I've just had a quick walk to the freezer in the utility barn, and taken three odd photographs.  The first is my beautiful mother rabbit, Ruby.

This is the swimming pool - I'm not having a dip today - which should have been put away for the winter, but we never seemed to be able to get it dry enough to fold up, so it will probably stay outside now and I just hope it will make it through to next summer. 

And this is my permanent man in the garden.  Bet his hands are cold!

Snow coming down heavily now.  Just had a visit from a friend on his quad bike as better to drive with on this stuff than a 4 x 4.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wednesday, 1 December 2010 Some of the birds in the garden and at the birdtable today

As usual when it’s snowing or too icy to venture outside I sit by the woodburner watching the birds at the bird table until I can’t just sit any longer, I have to get the camera in my hand and start photographing them. It’s that sort of day, and it has been snowing the tiniest flakes all morning, which haven’t really been doing anything except masking the birds a little.

I brought out some seed bags today which I bought from Wiggly Wigglers in the UK. I tipped a variety of seeds into a container and then promptly dropped it on the kitchen floor. My fingers don’t always work as well as they might and I think I have hold of something but I don’t. It took a while sweeping them up from a luckily newly washed floor. I poured them over the tiny bits of cut up bread soaked with breakfast’s bacon fat from the pan, and golden sultanas which were already on the bird table.

I never seem to be able to photograph magpies, as they are off at the very slightest movement, but was lucky with this one on my gates.

Next is a great tit on the variegated holly bush, which the blackbirds have already stripped of berries.

My opposite neighbour has her entry in the telephone directory in her maiden name, Pinson, which is French for chaffinch.  This chaffinch has a beak full of seeds.

Next a sparrow on my snow-covered wall.  I seem to have taken this in the only morsel of sunshine we have had today.  It's very, very cold out there.

They - whoever they are - say that robins are territorial, but I have two here who share the birdtable, without fighting, but I have never caught them both there together on camera.  I can never resist robins.  I just love them.

And blue tits come a pretty close second. 

Here's a male blackbird, possibly one of those who has been stripping the berries from my holly.