Category Archives: Birds

Winter Has Arrived & In the Woods by Tana French

In Maine, it seems that winter has finally showed her frosty face. It is snowing today, and it snowed last week when I took the following pictures.

The backyard looked serene in its muted colors,

and birds came to the feeder to eat.

A female cardinal,

a woodpecker,

and a chickadee.

Out front, the shovel and the buckets of salt and sand waited,

and Clif used Snow Joe to clean the driveway and walkways.

I know you all enjoying seeing our red home nestled in the snow so after the snow was cleared, I took this picture.

On the weekend, after all that snow, I figured we deserved a little treat, and I made these chocolate vegan muffins.

Actually, snow or not, I would have made these muffins. After all, what is life without treats? Six days a week, we eat a low-carb, low-calorie diet, but one day a week we splurge. While the muffins might be vegan, they are certainly not low in calories or carbs. But, as my Yankee husband might say, they are pretty darned good.



I listen to a lot of podcasts, and I especially like ones that cover books, movies, and television shows. A few weeks ago, on Slate’s Culture Gabfest, Julie Turner, one of the hosts, recommended the American-Irish writer Tana French, who writes crime novels. This is not my first choice of genres, but Turner praised French’s writing, her craft with words as well as her ability to tell a ripping good story.

I decided it was time for this old reader to learn a new trick, and I requested French’s first novel, In the Woods, through my library’s interlibrary loan system.

In the Woods is about two crimes that happen twenty years apart on the outskirts of Dublin. In the 1980s, three children go into the woods—only one, Adam Ryan, comes back. Adam’s memory of what happened is completely gone, and he is unable to help the investigators. Adam and his parents move; he takes his middle name, Rob; and the past recedes. Rob becomes a detective in Dublin and befriends fellow detective Cassie Maddox.

Then twenty years later, along comes another murder in the neighborhood where Rob grew up, and he discovers that the past is never really past. Are the two murders connected? Will Rob’s memory return to help him solve the original crime? Will Cassie and Rob’s relationship move past friendship?

I will not answer any of these questions, but I will note that although the middle sagged a bit, In the Woods kept me reading, and I raced through the  last fifty pages to see how the story would end. I was not disappointed by the ending, which somehow managed to be both surprising and unsurprising.

French is indeed a good writer, with a pleasingly understated—at least to me—style. Both Cassie and Rob are prickly, flawed characters that I came to care about. Also, French describes Dublin in enough detail to give a sense of place but not so much that it becomes tedious.

I’ll be reading more Tara French, even though crime thrillers are not my preferred genre.












Another Break

I am coming down the homestretch with Of Time and Magic, Book Four in my Great Library Series. Everything is ready for the cover, which I should be able to share with you in mid-July. So exciting!

But I’m just plain worn out, both from book work and from all that’s going on in this country. I need some time off, a staycation of a couple of weeks, where I read, nibble on chocolate, and putter around the house and garden. And that’s just what I’m going to do.

Speaking of the garden…here are a few photos from our yard at the edge of the woods.

See you in mid-July.

With Baby Steps, Spring Comes on Tiptoes

Slowly, slowly Spring is tiptoeing into Maine. In May, she will be in a rush, but right now she is just leaving hints here and there.

The male goldfinches have begun their change from drab feathers to bright summer yellow. Not wanting to scare them, I took this picture through our dining room window. The bird on the left illustrates how the male’s feathers are becoming brighter. When I go outside to do yard work—another sign of spring—I always bring my camera, and I’ll try to get a better picture.

Speaking of which…when I was outside, I did get this picture of Mr. Cardinal, that red beauty who graces our yard. I was especially pleased to get him in a maple tree with its spring buds, also red.

When I turned my gaze downward, I was thrilled to see the green shoots of irises in my back garden. I so love this tender color of Spring.

Now that the snow is gone and we can actually reach our front deck, Clif and I figured it was time to take down the Christmas decorations, which were looking more than a little frowzy. We also put away the shovel and the blue bucket with salt—you can see a glimpse of them behind the wreaths. Farewell until next winter. We hope. 😉

Finally, here’s a picture of a chipmunk that I took while I was resting on the patio and soaking in the birds and the trees and the natural beauty that comes from living on the edge of the woods. Truly a gift, one that gives in every season.


I am happy to report that this week I made good progress on my YA fantasy novel Of Time and Magic.

Word count this week: 6, 605

Total word count: 80, 789

Here’s a metaphor that describes how I feel with each book I write: When I start out, I’m leaving my safe port and heading out to sea. I know my destination, but I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to get there. In the middle of the book, I am completely surrounded by water with no land in sight. I usually hit the doldrums, where I seem to make little progress. This winter, I was there for several months. But now, come spring, I’ve escaped the doldrums and can finally see land. I’m still some distance away, but I will soon be reaching the book’s ending port.

Onward this week to another 6,000 words. Or maybe even more.

Friday Favorites: Of Bluebirds & Bluegrass

This week birds, birds, birds are making me oh so happy. A male cardinal sings his spring song in a bush right outside my window, and when I look out, I often catch a flash of red. I wish I could get a picture of Mr. Cardinal, but he’s very wary and flies away every time I go to the window for a closer look. Certainly can’t blame a bird for being wary.

Even more exciting are the bluebirds, which for the first time ever  have come into our yard. Generally, they like fields and open spaces and don’t usually hang around in the winter. However, for reasons known only to them, the bluebirds have decided to stay in Maine during the cold season. To my delight, they have discovered the feeders in our yard at the edge of the forest.

Our dining room has big windows that look out over the backyard, and from the dining room I have been able to get reasonably good pictures of the blue beauties. (I knew they would fly away if I went outside.) A male is on the left, and a female is on the right.

Unfortunately, they aren’t very nice to each other some of the time. In the picture below I caught the male giving the female a look that clearly says “back off.” (I guess we’re still a few months away from mating season when a male bluebird probably wouldn’t be so cavalier.) And although I didn’t get a picture of it, I saw the female bluebirds doing the same thing to the males. It’s a rough and tumble world out there for birds.

Nevertheless, after living here for thirty-eight years, I am thrilled to finally see these lovely bluebirds in my backyard.


Nifty Posts from a Few of the Lovely Blogs I follow

To carry on with the bird theme:

Julie of From My Window featured fabulous close-ups of a male cardinal. Oh, I am envious.

All the way from South Africa—courtesy of Anne of Something Over Tea—comes this photo of the dignified streaky-headed seedeater.

On Change is Hard, it’s bird central at Kensington.

Coincidentally, Tootlepedel’s recent post is called “Birds, Birds, Birds,” and it is chock-a-block full of those fluttering, flying beauties.

Bon Anniversaire (or Happy Birthday)!

From Touring My Backyard: Bon anniversaire to Ju-Lyn’s “Baker Fiend Younger Child.”

From Rabbit Patch Diary: Bon anniversaire to Michele’s mama.


Now to music, but from humans rather than birds.

Along with alternative rock, I really like bluegrass. While it has its roots in traditional Irish, Scottish, and English music, bluegrass has its own sound, and to me it sounds American—peppy yet at times melancholy. Sad even, reflecting the full range of human emotions.

I recently came across the Del McCoury Band on—where else?—NPR Music Tiny Desk. Utterly charming, Del McCoury is bound to make you smile, both with his music and storytelling.

Winter Deepens: White on Red

Deep winter in Maine and another snowstorm last Friday. The birds flocked to the feeders and ate their fill, trying to keep warm in the frigid weather. This red beauty always catches my attention. If you look carefully,  you can see the snow falling in front of the cardinal.

I wasn’t sorry to see more snow. The gardens now have a good layer to protect them from the extreme cold.

But I do wonder: Can a pig fly when there’s snow on his wings?

In the backyard, I like the way most of the bee balm stems stand at attention.

In the front yard, there was also red. By late afternoon, the snow was up to our car’s hubcaps, and we knew the time had come to clean the driveway and walks.

Judging from the snow on the deck’s rail, I would say we got about six inches.

Inside there was red, too, with my little book, which came in the morning ahead of the storm. In a rare example of getting ready way ahead of time, Clif and I have been working on the Dog Angel for the next holiday season, when—we hope—we will be going to craft fairs again.

More white on red, just like outside our home during the winter. I hadn’t made this connection before, but now that I have, the book’s cover pleases me more than ever.


In the winter in Maine there is no better time for movies, and on Sunday we watched Joel Cohen’s incredible The Tragedy of Macbeth. As a word person, I have been smitten by Shakespeare since I was in seventh grade, when we read a couple of his plays out loud in class.

In Cohen’s version, the words are still there. This is Shakespeare, after all. But oh the cinematography! Shot in black and white completely on sound stages, this play of murder and madness has the pitch and look of a fevered dream—internal,  psychological, and utterly compelling.

Tour de force is often overused, but that’s what this movie is. If you like Shakespeare, do watch Cohen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth. The  short trailer below gives some idea of the tone of the movie.

The Snow’s Just Barely Up to the hubcaps

On Saturday morning the snow began to fall. Birds flocked to the feeders and clustered on the ground to eat the seeds Clif had scattered the day before.

The wind blew threw the trees and whipped around the house, a cold sound that made me shiver. A hint of things to come during this nor’easter?

On the stove, pots of water were at the ready should we lose our power. I also made some cocoa muffins and frosting for graham cracker sandwiches.  I iced a couple of the muffins just for fun, to see which we liked better—plain or frosted. Not surprisingly, the frosted ones were the favorites. I was particularly pleased with the muffins. For the first time, I used psyllium husk powder—one teaspoon of powder mixed with three tablespoons of water—instead of an egg. The results were far better than I had imagined. The muffins were moist, cakey, and delicious.

Buoyed by my success, I put on my coat, hat, and boots and headed outside to take some stormy pictures. The weather was brutal even by my standards—10°F with a stiff wind, which blew the snow in my face. As I walked, the snow crunched and squeaked as it does when the weather is really cold.

I went to the end of the driveway to take a picture of our snowy road.

Turning from the road, I snapped a picture of our cozy home in the snow. If you look closely, you can see my footprints in the driveway.

Shivering as I went back down the driveway, I got some more stormy-day pictures.

Through social media I learned that stores large and small—from the Art Walk in town to Barnes & Noble in Augusta—had closed. A good decision as the roads are always slippery during a big snowstorm. Unless you are an essential worker, the best place to stay is home.

Midafternoon, Clif looked out the window in the dining room as he tried to decide whether to clean the driveway. The wind was blowing even harder, and the snow was slanting sideways.

“Well,” he said, “the snow’s just barely up to the hubcaps on the car.”

Spoken like a true Mainer. Clif decided to wait until the next day.

As it turned out, this was a good choice. Maine escaped the worst of the storm, which hit coastal communities farther south, especially in Massachusetts.  We only got nine inches of light, fluffy snow—easy to clean—and best of all, we didn’t lose our electricity.  There wasn’t even a flicker of lights.

The next day was sunny and beautiful. Not long after we got up, we went out to clean up the snow—Clif with Snow Joe and me with the shovel. As I began cleaning around our mailbox across the street, our kind neighbor came by with his truck and plow and asked me if I wanted him to punch through. Did I ever!

The worst part of clearing the driveway after a good-size storm is what we call the wall o’snow left by the town plow at the end by the road. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you’ll get a better sense of wall o’snow.

I am happy to report that Snow Joe easily took care of wall o’snow as well as the rest of the driveway. Yay, Snow Joe!

Here is one last picture of the sun, shadow, and snow.

Clif still has one more task to do, arguably the hardest one of all. That is, cleaning the roof.

Pictures tomorrow.








Dee’s Birthday: Once More to Wolfe’s Neck

The last week of October—a vacation week for us—was rainy, and much of it was spent playing a board game (Reign of Cthulhu) and watching movies and television series. (For sheer fun, Free Guy is hard to beat, and if you want a series that is scary, character driven, and philosophical, Midnight Mass is the one for you.)

Fortunately, the weather gods were with us on Friday, Dee’s actual birthday. It was one of those beautiful golden October days I like to gush about. Therefore, off to Freeport we went, back to Wolfe’s Neck State Park, which has become a favorite. It takes about an hour for us to get there, and if we lived closer, we’d go more often.

The air was crisp but not uncomfortably cold. While Dee and Clif went on the trails, I did my usual pottering. Before we left home, Dee had asked, “Will you be bored by yourself?”

“No,” I had answered. “I am never bored on my own.”

I think this is true for most of us who like to write, read, and take pictures, for those of us who are content to just sit and be. There is always something to absorb our attention.

The last time we visited Wolfe’s Neck, I had turned left on the Casco Bay Trail. This time I went right, to the lookout where the osprey nest can be spotted across the water on an island. The ospreys, having raised their family, are long gone, but they will be back next spring to begin again.

I carefully went down these stone steps

and came to a small cove that captures the essence of the Maine coast.that

After taking pictures, I went back to the trail and sat on the edge of a small bridge overlooking the sparkling bay. I smelled spicy balsam—which reminds me of Christmas—mingled with the salty scent of the ocean. Beside me, water from a small stream trickled into the bay. All around me was the dry rustle of falling leaves.

After Clif and Dee were finished with their walk, they joined me at a picnic table in the sun. I had brought a thermos of tea and a pack of Pepperidge Farm cookies, and we chatted as we ate and drank.

Another fine day filled with sweet simple pleasures. Yet again, I am grateful that we are a family who cherishes simple pleasures, not expensive, not fancy, but ever so satisfying.



Clif’s 70th Birthday

Yesterday was the actual date of Clif’s birthday. As regular readers know, we are firm believers in celebrating birthdays early and often. We had his big party a week or so ago, but we couldn’t let the 27th go by without doing a little something.

So off to Hallowell we went, to grab appetizers from the local Chinese restaurant and settle by the river to enjoy them.

The day was cloudy but warm, perfect, actually, to be by the water.  In a flash, two hours went by as we ate, chatted, and watched the river, which caught bands of rippling blue from the sky.

We saw a number of cormorants swimming, fishing, and resting. Here is a picture of one flapping its wings.

We also saw gulls, but I wasn’t able to get a good picture as they were on the move.

Afterward, we came home and had drinks on the patio.

We all agreed it was a lovely way to celebrate a birthday.