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!