Now, where did I leave that?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Snow vs Corn

Christmas has come and gone. There was warmth and laughter, and I really loved relaxing in the living room listening to my sons cooking together (nope, they aren't chefs). The Hobbit was pretty good, not nearly as good as Fellowship of the Ring (but then, what is?), but fun; I even appreciated the 3D version which I had really disliked for Alice in Wonderland. 

We awoke Christmas morning to a bare dusting of snow that day, but Wednesday night received our first significant snow, a whopping 5". Sigh...I remember growing up, 50 miles south of here, when snow was plentiful and frequent. Now a 5" snowfall is newsworthy and could conceivably be the biggest snowfall we get this season. And we live in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains!  Anyway, we kept the chickens cooped yesterday, but this morning I fed them some hot oatmeal with shredded apple in their coop (wow, was that a big hit!), shoveled the snow away from the pophole and gave them a small clearing scattered with scratch corn. I opened the wee door and waited...

Hmmmm....something is different....

What the hell is this white stuff???

Is that corn on the white stuff???

Why yes, it is corn!

You two can stay out here if you want; I'm heading back inside where my feet are warm!

I keep peeking out at them to see if they're venturing past the cleared area. So far they seem to prefer the pophole ramp. Maybe when the sun comes out, they'll appreciate the warmth and fresh air. 

Shhhhhhh....don't tell them another inch or two of snow is forecasted for tomorrow!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Maybe Not So Much This Year

Sorry for being so quiet and not making the blog rounds for awhile. Work was very busy last week, pretty much non-stop, and I've been sick, trying to avoid a doctor visit common sense tells me I should do. The latter has put me farther behind, leaving me to pull off (minor) cleaning today & hoping that I can bake some cookies (Molasses-Ginger-Cranberry, although as I write these words I realize I never bought the crystallized ginger! add another grocery store trip to the to-do list before sons and my sister arrive).

I haven't been my elf self this year. There's some real sadness for our family this year, and I'm wanting to get past the day with all its memories and meanings. So we're changing things up. My sons and sister will still be with us tonight for pizza and presents, laughter and the Grinch. The 'boys' will stay overnight this year; for the first time in years, they'll be with me on Christmas Day (which TWC promises will be snow-dusted!). There will be cinnamon rolls and coffee, and general hanging out. Last I heard they'll prep dinner here and then we'll all trek about 25 miles south, dine at my older son's place, joined by their dad. Finally, the lot of us will go see The Hobbit. Linda has saint-like moments, and tomorrow is one of them. I'm eternally grateful for her understanding and compassion. 

And she and I have some plans for after Christmas, from a possible semi-north country trek to buy miniature honey jars, to finally visiting the new Trader Joe's in Albany, to a decadent New Year's Eve dinner. I plan rest and reading, starting some more felted dryer balls and maybe Linda & I can finally tarp the chicken coop. I'm off work until January 2nd, and plan to savor the days! And I'll offer a prayer that next year's holiday will be a happier one, and that my comatose inner elf will re-emerge, trailing glitter and lights in her wake. In the meantime, I offer a re-run (gasp!) of the first Christmas Eve post I wrote for this blog, back in 2009, as well as wishes to each of you that the holiday bless you with love, laughter, child-like wonder, and gifts far greater than what the eye can behold. Peace!


I remember Christmas Eve from childhood...perhaps I've romanticized it, tossed out those memories that don't fit in my mental photo album; after all, mine was not a childhood to write home (or a blog) about.  Be that as it may, I remember Christmas Eve as a day of anticipation and pleasure, and can flick through the images like a slideshow: the tree lit with those big, bright C7 bulbs that still make me smile when I see them; the small cones of balsam incense that filled the air with the scent of piney woods; my father's many cryptic comments and teasings about Santa; dressing up and heading out in bitter cold at 11:00 at night to sing at midnight Mass; the heat and incense in the church, everyone scrubbed, shiny inside and out, singing our hearts out in the choir (fortunately there were enough voices to hide my own terrible one), the glory-ous ritual of midnight Mass; coming home and heading straight to bed, tired but too excited to fall right to sleep; that wee-hours-of-the-morning waking up and stretching out a foot to feel if the Christmas stocking laid out on the bed had any weight, then the racing of anticipation as I felt its stuffed roundness in the dark; waking up my sister so we could turn on the light and explore our treasures (we seemed to call a truce every Christmas Eve and I look back at my memory of those nights and wish we could have held onto those giggles and intimacy the rest of the year....and years to come); falling back asleep even while convinced it wasn't possible; and on Christmas morning proper the bated-breath excitement as dad went downstairs to check to be sure Santa had in fact arrived...the teasing that oops, maybe he had skipped us, then the gleeful go-ahead to send us tumbling down the stairs and into the living room.

As an adult it seems like that anticipation was the high point, that all-is-right-with-the-world-and-anything-is-possible magic at the cusp of Christmas.  Maybe it wasn't like that at all, maybe the mind and age have air-brushed the memories, done a little digital magic, inserting and removing images that don't accurately portray what I want to remember.  But since it does no harm and feels good, why not?

That anticipation still survives...there's still magic, still anticipation, even if it's tempered now, more subdued.  I still can't wait to watch the Grinch find the strength of "ten two", watch my sons taunt me as they see how long they can take to open their presents, listen to my sister's laugh, catch my beloved's eye from across the room, breathe in the lights and balsam, feel the peace and contentment.  And maybe that's the best gift of all...I may not feel that can't-sit-still-wake-up-in-the-wee-hours giddiness anymore, but the multi-colored peace and satin ornament contentment are soul-felt gifts.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

How Sweet It Is!

Linda has been keeping bees for three season now. Her first year she started with two hives, went up to seven, and this year had three. One of these three is her original hive, from three years ago, and for the first time, she decided to harvest honey. Before this, she had left the honey in the hives for the bees to eat through the Winter, but that hive is so strong & healthy, she was comfortable taking a few frames' worth of honey. A frame is the structure on which the bees build their honeycomb, and looks like this:

(photo courtesy of BetterBee)

To extract honey from the comb-covered frame, one uses an extractor

(both extractor photos courtesy of Dadant)

However, we don't have any kind of extractor (these puppies aren't cheap), so my beloved Rube Goldberg of a partner set about creating something that would serve her purpose. One food mill, a new & unused paint bucket, a length of PVC pipe, and a paint strainer later, et voila!

A honey extractor! She would cut off the comb & put it in a regular kitchen strainer to drain the honey from the wax comb. This left honey with LOTS of small wax bits in it. That pre-strained honey then got poured into the 'extractor', where gravity did the work of total wax removal. This was all about the gravity and manual heat touched this.

She also utilized my asparagus steamer pot and a paint strainer to do two batches at once.

She used canning jars because we didn't invest in 'real' honey jars this go-round.

You might notice the honey appears to be different colors. Honey made at different times of year changes in color; Spring & Summer honey is lighter in color (and to me, more delicate & sweeter) than the darker, thicker, more distinctively flavored Fall honey. There was a third, in-between batch that's my favorite. The final yield from one hive, taking less than half of the honey, was 28 lbs! We'll give quite a bit away for the holidays and imbibe honey liberally all Winter. Whatever is left come late Winter/early Spring will go back to feed the colonies during that time of year when the weather is warm enough for the bees to be active but before anything is in bloom yet.

Oh, and yes, there was beeswax:

It's in our largest stainless steel mixing bowl, but we haven't weighed it yet. During Christmas week we'll weigh it & then melt it down to get a sense of yield. We've never made candles so have no idea what the ratio of melted wax to pound of wax will be. 

We're still sticking to the occasional cabinet knob, but every spoonful is worth it. Natural health proponents say that regular consumption of raw (as in never heated; this honey is raw) honey can help fend off cold and flu viruses, and, if local honey, can help prevent hay fever allergies. One doesn't get much more local than one's backyard, so I'm a willing participant in this experiment. This is one spoonful of medicine that goes down quite easily!

You better believe her April birthday gift will be an actual extractor!

We're off to see Anna Karenina on this gray, damp day...wishing you sweetness and peace!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Homes for the Holidays!

Just a quickie update: remember this crew of cuties from September? They're the litter some of you helped name, Cleo, Bob, Twink & Oliver. Anyway, all four were adopted last week! Bob & Oliver were adopted together, Twink and Cleo each went to their own homes. Ummm...turns out Cleo was not the right name; so HE was re-named Hamlet. Hey, it's tough sexing kittens!

Here's the poster for all the animals adopted at the Columbia-Greene Humane Society last week, and you can find our all-grown-up babies on it by name:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Kidnapping, Victorian Style!

It started with vinegar...but not just any vinegar, this balsamic vinegar, made with figs & elderberry...

As Linda searched online for this delectable concoction that I'd seen in CountryLiving magazine and was sure we'd love, she went to the source and discovered

Thus was her nefarious plot hatched!

On a brisk, snow-dusted Saturday, we ventured out, kidnapper & kidnappee.

Only when we passed a sign for Sharon, NY did I suspect our destination (Sharon Springs, home of The Fabulous Beekman Boys),

but had no inkling of what awaited!

We were swept back in time, a time of genteel elegance,

exquisite architecture,

holiday merriment,

and gracious, friendly company.

We bought our Blaak Drizzle and explored shops,

watched REAL tinsel being made,

and had a wonderful late lunch at a BBQ food truck (Middleburgers, in Middleburgh) whose brave owners open in June and are still at it.

Contently weary, I allowed my kidnapper to take me home, where we turned up the fire, donned warm cozy clothes, ate cereal for dinner and slept well!

PS....the vinegar is luscious, tangy, sweet, mysterious and decadent!

Friday, November 30, 2012


It's really snowing! No accumulation is forecasted, but we've already had more snow in the last hour than we've had thus far for the season....deck is covered, and Yeti looks like, well, a snow-dusted yeti! 

Scrapper came to us 8 weeks ago, only a couple of days old. 

She was the only kitten of a litter of seven who survived. Linda spent two weeks doing 'round the clock-every-two-hours feedings, and the baby clung to life so fiercely we named her Scrapper. Today Scrapper went to the shelter, where she's being introduced into another litter of newly weaned kittens. She'll get to romp, play, and learn how to behave in cat society. And in another month or two she'll be spayed and ready for adoption. We didn't bond with her as we did Pip; it's a little sad to see her leave but she needs the company of other kittens. We look forward to the day she goes to her forever home. Linda took some farewell photos; she's turned into quite the cutie!

I've been informed I'm being kidnapped tomorrow! All Linda is telling me is that we'll be gone most of the day, will be both inside & out, we need to dress casually but nicely (no jeans & sneakers), and she says "If it's what it's promoted as, it'll be fun...and sweet."  I'm eager for a good surprise, and quite excited with the puzzlement of it. I promise to take photos and tell you all about it Sunday or Monday!

What fun do you have planned for this first weekend in December?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Catch that Snowball!

Here's when the tiny snowball of the holiday season begins rolling down the hill, faster & faster, gaining momentum as it grows larger & larger, and we chase it hard, never quite catching up. I've always loved this betwixt and between time, when Thanksgiving has passed and Christmas/Winter Solstice are still ahead, but the last couple of years I've found I'm not the holiday elf I once was. Glittery abandon has given way to rustic restraint, joyous tackiness yields to cozy simplicity. Much of that is Linda's tasteful influence and discerning eye, but some is my own need for peace and gentle calm. The week before Christmas is crazy busy and stressful for me at work, with so many loose ends to tie up before I walk away for a week. This year I get the gift of being off three whole days before Christmas proper, which will thankfully allow for baking and wrapping and relaxing.

I'm not chomping at the bit to start decorating. Ordinarily the Winter moose dishes would be on the shelves before the Thanksgiving plates had fully dried, but they're still tucked in their hot pink totes. Not one light string, no tree has emerged from hiding yet. Saturday is the Forest Farmers' Market at the local Extension site, and we usually find inspiration there, so by this time next week, the Fall decorations will be safely stored and the shelves will wear some hints of the season. It's been an odd year, and part of me wants to see my family get past this holiday season and move steadily into a new year, not linger over days fraught with memories and heartbreak. So I think we'll deck the halls with flickering candles and serenity, woolly decorations and soft quiet, pinecones and the belief things will be better, evergreens and hopes for the future. After all, this is the season that draws darkness close around, thick and black like a woolen cloak; when we think we might suffocate in the sheer depth of the darkness, that cloak is flung aside and the light returns, bathing us in radiant promise. Darkness passes, and isn't that what we all celebrate this time of year, no matter what holiday we call it?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Making Sense of Thanksgiving

So much has been said about this day, I risk being derivative if I talk about giving thanks (which we should do daily, not just one government appointed day of the year), historically inaccurate if I expound upon it as a day of peace (I was profoundly dismayed to receive an emailed card--from an organization/business I think very highly of--depicting pilgrims & Indians sharing a happy meal together), and unqualified if I talk about recipes (although our Onion-Thyme Gravy is pretty awesome and I highly recommend this easy 2005 Better Homes & Gardens recipe). 

But this morning, relaxing in the living room while still in jammies, fire dancing, coffee steaming, smoky scent of bacon lingering as we ate our traditional bacon & mayo on white bread Thanksgiving breakfast, listening to Lola the dog contentedly snoring away, I decided to give thanks for (and write about) the sensations of this day, part of the effort I'm making to be more grounded and rooted in the physical. For us, it's a quiet day, dinner for two (plus the critter clan). We'll see my sons and sister later in the week, but this day is a blessedly lazy one, with no alarm clock and a fairly simple dinner, at least compared to what many families do for this holiday. 

The menu is a testament to gratitude-inspiring abundance: roasted chicken, gravy, baked butternut squash, brussels sprouts, stuffing, two kinds of slightly puckery homemade cranberry sauce, sweetly hot cinnamon apples and an apple crisp w/ pumpkin ice cream. All but the chicken, brussels sprouts & crisp were made yesterday. All of the vegetables and apples are from local farms, as is the nectar-of-the-gods cider, which is truly a thing to be grateful for! Each bite offers the savory taste of tradition, the spice of memory, the sweet crispness of Autumn days.

Our house carries scents in the weirdest ways; we have the best smelling laundry room on Thanksgiving, not from chemical laden detergents or fabric softener, but from the sage, bacon, coffee, cinnamon and balsam incense that mark the day. I confess to having the nose of a bloodhound, and am forever sniffing the air to figure out this smell or that. Bacon instantly transports me to the November woods of distant childhood Thanksgivings, balsam incense to Adirondack vacations, and cinnamon to so many hours spent with my children and later with Linda. I've heard that scent is our strongest sense, that it's most closely linked to memory, and I bear witness to that wee scientific fact. Although a nasty cat box or musty room quickly makes me regret such olfactory power, I'd dearly miss the sense of smell.

A too-warm-for-late-November breeze brushes the wind chimes, which ring in a lazy melody, as dry leaves crackle across the front walk and the hens cluck and murmur appreciation for their treat of kale and squash innards. I didn't mention our main course to them.

Inside, the fish tank bubbles, cats purr, pellets clink into the burnpot of the stove, and keyboard keys tap out their messages.

We took the dogs for a woodsy ramble at Olana

shielding our eyes from the glare of sunlight on the pond. The mountains are wearing a gauzy haze today,

and the season has slipped too quickly from orange and crimson to shades of brown and auburn, although the rich red of staghorn sumac tops bare branches like crown jewels fit for a Goddess.

Tonight's dinner will be gloriously colorful, golden brown, orange, green and cranberry all spread out before us like topazes and citrines, garnets and emeralds spilled across the table.

The dogs' fur is sun-warmed, Yeti's a fluffy silky tangle, Lola's coarsely business-like. Linda's hand is cool and soft in mine, and my old green plaid flannel shirt, one of only two 'things' I own of my father's (the other being the watch that I wear every day), is warm and sturdy. Although more comfortable and comforting than my father ever was, sad to say, the shirt reminds me of the good moments we did share, walking in the woods or sipping coffee by a sunrise campfire. 

We're wondrous beings, we humans. We've been gifted--or evolved, or a wee bit of both--with the senses to experience the world in a myriad of ways. Today, tonight, whenever you read this, perhaps take a moment to really taste that coffee you're sipping, to listen to the wind, feel the warm body next to you (animal or human), open a window and scent the air like a wild thing, to look around you and give thanks for whatever your eyes land upon. 

Wishing you & yours a glorious day....

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Passing

A light has passed, quietly...I stumbled upon this news, and while many of you won't have heard of her work, other readers will recognize her name and be saddened at the news of her death. The following was borrowed from the blog of Musings of a Quaker Witch and written by Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary.

In Memoriam:  Patricia Monaghan, February 15, 1946 - November 11, 2012. Goddess scholar, women's spirituality pioneer, poet, author, longtime friend & neighbor Patricia Monaghan died early this morning at home near Black Earth, Wisconsin with her husband Michael McDermott with her. Brigit guide her passage to the Otherworld. Brigit aid us in our mourning. Brigit Blessings.

Some of her books reside on my shelves, and her work has woven in and out of my own Pagan path.  She walked the path, and shared the journey, with intelligence and poetry of soul, and her voice will be missed.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

It's a Good Day

I'm a happy womon today. Thanks to all who voted, even if you voted for 'the other guy'; it's a right hard-fought for, and if we don't use it, could lose it.

And to President Obama--four more years well-earned! Now, about the economy & same sex-marriage....

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday Sundries

Happy Sunday! Alas, the day is racing to a close. We set the clocks back last night (okay, actually, this morning). I don't mind the earlier sunset; it suits this time of year. But I do mind the inexorable movement of the clock on a Sunday, ticking us closer and closer to Monday morning. Sigh.

Yesterday we had the pleasure of working at a local organic farm for their annual bulk sale of Winter veggies. It's a fourth generation farm, and they are all so grounded and warm. It was awe-inspiring to see so many people coming to buy cases of organic potatoes & beets & onions, boxes of butternut squash, bags of broccoli and assorted cuts of grass-fed beef to feed their families through the Winter. It's clearly a popular event local folks rely on, and the farm provides free cold storage for some of the veggies. Linda greeted & guided people; I helped with taking payment. It was a sunny, windy, very cold day despite alpaca socks, heavy shirt, flannel shirt and a sweat jacket, but we really enjoyed it! And taking partial payment in the form of squash, beets and stew beef was awesome. The whole day reminded us of the immeasurable impact of farmers. I've told Linda that I'd like this bumper sticker in my stocking this year:

Says it all, huh? 

This afternoon we finally fulfilled a goal of several years. It's one of those things that we talk about every year, but just never quite got to:

Under all that straw is a raised bed with newly amended soil (compost-manure mix & aged straw), and planted so carefully in that rich dirt is.......GARLIC! 63 cloves of 5 different varieties (Music, Roja, Rosewood, German White, Carpathian). All Winter it will sleep. In late Spring we'll harvest scapes (remember that pesto I rhapsodized over?), and late next Summer we'll harvest our very own garlic! I look at that bed, neatly (really, it is) mulched with straw to keep it snug, and I think magic. This weekend hit home to us again that if we'd gotten together a decade or so earlier, we'd have chosen a more rural life, not a large scale farm by any means, but one with alpacas, goats, an organic farm stand, and alot more honey bees. 

And speaking of magic, or perhaps the miraculous, here is Scrapper, now a robust 4 weeks old:

S/he's a cutie. The hope is that in a couple more weeks she'll be weaned & there will be a litter of kittens at the shelter she can be introduced to so she can learn proper cat behavior, and eventually be adopted. She's come so far, thanks to Linda's hard work and determination....

  The day is fading, the wind is still blowing. I'm going to have some tea, light a few candles, and relax by the fire. Wishing you a peaceful evening and gentle Monday...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

New Year Blessings!

  For most who celebrate Samhain, today marks the first day of a new year. I decided to take the day off and truly mark the day. Most of us, whether we say Goddess, Spirit, God, Jesus, Allah (and countless other designations), mean the same thing at a cellular level...not with our heads or even hearts, but down in some deep core we mean something greater than us, something that steers us, knows who we are. And many of us have experienced that prodigal sense of loss, whether we feel the Divine has abandoned us, or we sullenly and firmly turn our backs on that Spirit because something didn't go our way. And every once in awhile, we aren't sure which of those scenarios we're playing out, but regardless of who is to blame, the result is the same...a disconnect, a clanging disharmony that can leave us, in our quiet moments, feeling very alone. I've written before of my spiritual struggles (and laziness), my desire to leave those struggles behind and inability to figure out how to move forward. I'll confess that I've gone from being  someone who often created rituals not just for myself, but for others as well, and wrote regularly about the power of daily ritual, to someone who smugly turns my nose up at such things. I've told myself rituals are crutches and what we hold in our minds, hearts and souls is the only relevant interaction with our Divine. I've told myself that remembering to say thank you at the end of the day was enough.

I was wrong. For me and my path anyway. Spectacularly wrong. 

  As part of welcoming in this new year, I took a solitary walk at Ramshorn-Livingston Sanctuary. I used to wander woods and trails alone on a regular basis, but it's been several years since I last did that. I feel guilty leaving Linda and/or the dogs behind; I feel selfish if I say I want to abandon some of our precious time together for an hour or two off in the woods. But today I did. I started by asking Goddess for some guidance, asked what I needed to know for the year ahead, how to begin to reconnect with Her. I didn't expect much; after all, we've been polite acquaintances for a few years now, with not much to say. I hadn't been walking for more than ten minutes when a single word came to me: Grounded. I need to focus on being more grounded, figuratively but more important, literally.

  I'm an Air sign (not that I speak astrology). I'm all about words and thoughts. My body is just along for the ride, which is why it's so easy to abuse it with poor food choices and no exercise. I observe and analyze more than participate, a trait that's grown more distinct in the last 7 or 8 years. I'd rather plan and dream about perfect gardens, even plant the seeds, than actually work in the dirt and tend the plants. I'd rather imagine myself strong, healthy & fit than get on the treadmill. I think about spirituality, not embody it. But within minutes of beginning my trek, entering into a world scented with the muddy brine left behind by Sandy, punctuated by the far-off peals of bald eagles, the raucous cries of crows, and the calls of Canadian geese far above, I knew my request was being answered: 

what I need to know, and re-learn this year, is groundedness.

  Ritual does matter. We need to touch, taste, listen, smell and see the tangible before we allow our spirits to soar with the angels (or dance with the faeries). At least, I do. All religions have rituals; they are touch stones that root us, give us placeholders in our lives, soothe and comfort. And so, that's my Samhain stop thinking of ritual as training wheels, and begin again living a life that includes daily ritual. Oh, I can do without the trappings that don't speak to me like wands, athames, cloaks and ritual names (these are powerful tools for some; but they never felt quite comfortable for me). I need ritual that's about the life we're living here...small things like stepping onto the porch every morning to greet the new day, being more diligent about my flamekeeping in honor of Brighid, tending the seeds we plant, embracing the ritual aspects of cooking, greeting the moon each night as I used to do. And casting ritual circles to mark the turning of the Wheel. 

   As I looked over the muddy water, listening to its music, such joy rose in started in my boot-clad feet, curling up and around me, body, heart, soul. I remembered the feeling and had thought it long gone, an ecstatic joy of the spirit that physically manifests as warmth and energy (not unlike Reiki for those who are familiar with that). It's a precious and rare gift I would share with everyone if it was possible.

I was of earth and sky, water and air, part and parcel of this place. 

My favorite Goddess chant became a chorus in my head: Earth my body, Water my blood, Air my breath and Fire my Spirit...I had started this journey wanting to find my way home.

The Goddess wrapped Her arms around me and whispered "You're already here."

Happy New Year...may your feet carry you to exactly where you need to be.