Tuesday, December 29, 2009
And yet but lately have I seen, ev'n here,
The winter in a lovely dress appear.
'Ere yet the clouds let fall the treasur'd snow,
Or winds begun through hazy skies to blow,
At ev'ning a keen eastern breeze arose,
And the descending rain unsully'd froze.
Soon as the silent shades of night withdrew,
The ruddy morn disclos'd at once to view
The face of nature in a rich disguise,
And brighten'd ev'ry object to my eyes:
For ev'ry shrub, and ev'ry blade of grass,
And ev'ry pointed thorn, seem'd wrought in glass;
In pearls and rubies rich the hawthorns show,
While through the ice the crimson berries glow.
The thick-sprung reeds, which wat'ry marshes yield,
Seem'd polish'd lances in a hostile field.
The stag in limpid currents, with surprise,
Sees crystal branches on his forehead rise;
The spreading oak, the beech, and tow'ring pine,
Glaz'd over, in the freezing aether shine.
The frighted birds the rattling branches shun,
Which wave and glitter in the distant sun.
When if a sudden gust of wind arise,
The brittle forest into atoms flies,
The crackling wood beneath the tempest bends,
And in a spangled show'r the prospect ends
These lines were written in 1709 by an English politician and poet called Ambrose Philips while he was secretary to the British Envoy to Denmark. The lines seem rather appropriate since we are having a fair amount of ice and snow so far this winter. It's a good many years since we last had snow on the ground at Christmas and there is more to come this afternoon and overnight in the area of England where I live.
I am a little bit in limbo at the moment as my eldest son together with my daughter-in-law and two granddaughters are leaving for South Africa on January 6th. They will be living out there for the time being though fortunately they will be coming back to the UK at least once a year for 5 or 6 weeks and I shall certainly be taking the opportunity to go out to South Africa again. It's a wonderful country to visit and they are handily placed about 20 minutes from one of the gates into Kruger National Park as well as a short drive from the Drakensburg Mountains. Lots of photo opportunities there! Clicking on the word Kruger will take you to a page with some information about one of my favourite places in the world.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The Night Before Christmas was always my children's bedtime story on Christmas Eve.
So for all of us who still feel the magic of this night......
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night."
May I wish all of you a very Happy Christmas!
Monday, December 21, 2009
"So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
- Susan Cooper, The Shortest Day
"The holly and the ivy, when they were both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown. . .
I am the Holly King, Lord of the Waning Year. You may know me as the Green Man or as the Winter King. I rule from Midsummer to Midwinter, and my reign culminates in the festivities of Yuletide. As the wren dies to make way for the robin, soon I will bow before my brother the Oak King. You will not see me again until the Sun once more begins to wane. As I prepare to withdraw into the deep midwinter, I contemplate the glowing light of the reborn Sun in my cup — and in this holy grail, I see visions and dreams of the year to come.
Carry a sprig of holly with you as my token. It will protect you against fierce winter storms, and will bestow upon you the focus, direction and courage you need to succeed in your own spiritual quest.
Fill your homes with holly this season! Deck the halls! My evergreen leaves and bright red berries, seen against the barren oaks of winter, will remind you of the Life that sustains us during the bitterest time of the year."
- The Holly King
The lovely image above is from a card by Wendy Andrew.
"The stag bells, winter snows, summer has gone
Wind high and cold, the sun low, short its course
The sea running high.
Deep red the bracken; its shape is lost;
The wild goose has raised its accustomed cry,
Cold has seized the birds' wings;
Season of ice, this is my news."
- Irish poem, 9th Century
Today is the Winter Solstice, for a short time the sun pauses and then gradually, gradually the days begin to lengthen again. There are many long cold days ahead for 'as the days lengthen the cold strengthens' but one day we shall feel the warmth of the sun on our faces again and spring will be here. Happy Winter Solstice!
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772-1834
These are a few lines taken from a longer poem written by Coleridge in 1798, I don't have any photographs of 'frost at midnight' so one taken in January of this year when there was a spectacular hoar frost is the best I can do.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Like everyone else I'm very busy at the moment and I haven't much time for either blogging or commenting. I thought I'd just post a few photos of bits and pieces around my home to show you what I've been up to. Above is my goose who sits on top of the fridge and keeps an eye on things at this time of the year.
Part of my collection of handmade rustic pottery along with the recently acquired cranberry heart. That may well stay there permenantly even though it's a Christmas decoration. Most of the pottery is made by John Leach of Muchelney Pottery in Somerset. I love his work. If you click on his name it will take you to his web site which tells a little of the history of the pottery.
I made the wreath yesterday, the one on the back door is always much simpler than the one on the front of the house. I made a ring of willow withies which usually lasts several years and it just has ivy and variegated holly from the garden wired onto it.
This is the piece of stitching that I showed in the previous post now made into a pin tuck, all hand sewn. I'd rather sit and sew by hand than use a sewing machine
Last Saturday my friend Linda and I went up to a craft fair in North Yorkshire and there was one small stand selling lovely primitive bits and pieces. I fell in love with this stocking with the little mouse peeping out of the top so it came home with me. :)
Another corner of the kitchen with lots of my bits and pieces, the horse brasses are old and genuine, the lovely heart was painted by Karen of Moonlight and Hares, clicking on her name will take you to her lovely blog.
The wreath at the front, the brick wall isn't a great background for it but I can't use either nails or a wreath hanger on the porch door so it has to hang at the side instead.
I've been cooking as well, cabbage au gratin here to go with the boeuf bourguignon that I forgot to photograph! Both are in the freezer ready for Christmas Eve dinner.
The cabbage dish makes a very ordinary vegetable into something rather special, underneath the breadcrumbs and butter is the cabbage in a bechamel sauce mixed with double
cream, mustard powder and cheese. It's simple enough but it takes a while to make the bechamel sauce.
Chocolate Crunch Christmas Pudding - rich, spicy and absolutely no cooking involved apart from melting the chocolate, butter and syrup before adding the dried fruits, spices and rum. Served with single cream this is another one that everyone loves but a little goes a long way. This is in the freezer too.
A while ago I was asked if I'd post the recipe for my lemon cream pie so here it is, very quick and easy and very popular, I've given the recipe out dozens of times over the years.
Crush 12 oz digestive biscuits and mix into 6oz margerine(or butter if you are feeling like a little luxury!) Press into 2 7-8" flan rings and leave in a cool place to set.
Whip 10fl oz double cream until thick but not too stiff. Add grated rind of 3 or 4 lemons. Beat in alternately 8fl oz lemon juice (made up with water if necessary) and a 13oz can of condensed milk.
Divide between the two crumb bases and leave in a cool place, preferably a fridge, to set. Garnish with sliced kiwi fruit or strawberries.
Freezes well and takes about 11/2 hours to defrost.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
I'd intended to do another post long before this but life has been busy and there just hasn't been time. My elder son and his family are moving back to South Africa in the New Year so I'm seeing a good deal of my granddaughters while I can and of course we have Solstice/Yule/Christmas approaching rather more rapidly than many of us expected. The Christmas cake is always the first thing I make and I do it mid November to give it time to mature. I always intend to do it at the end of October but so far haven't actually achieved that ambition! The photo shows this year's effort which is wrapped in clingfilm and foil and sitting on top of a cupboard now. It will be coming down briefly on Wednesday for it's first 'feed' of sherry, I shall do this again around December 10th then a week after that I shall make the marzipan and put that on - in theory anyway:)
Next on the list is the mincemeat,this needs time to mature as well but fortunately there are a couple of jars left from last year to make the couple of dozen mince pies for my WI Christmas event on December 2nd. I can imagine the looks of horror on some of your faces when you read this - don't worry, it is so full of spices and alcohol that it will easily keep for 12 months.
I've been busy knitting too, a hat for George which I forgot to take a photo of and this little sweater for Lucy.
I like knitting dishcloths, they are quick and brilliant to use, I have a stack of them for myself and thought I'd make a few as stocking fillers for my daughter and DILs.
On Wednesday night there's a meeting of my local history group and I'll be reporting on the progress of the War Memorial project, I've been doing quite a bit of research on my two soldiers and usually spend more time than I should on it because I find it so absorbing. This is the folder of information which hopefully will get fatter and fatter as time goes on.
I'm starting to make and freeze things ready for the holiday season and each year I tend to make the same things because if I don't I get into trouble! This is chocolate truffle torte ready to go into the freezer. The part you see will be on the bottom when it is served and underneath is a coating of crushed Amaretti biscuits.
Another old favourite is lemon cream pie, I always make two of these as they disappear in no time. I serve them with sliced kiwi fruit or strawberries on top. I've given this recipe to pretty much everyone who's tried it - it originally came to me from a lady in my WI who brought it as her contribution to one of our Christmas parties about 20 years ago.
It's a good while since I last did any cross-stitch but I've been inspired by seeing some lovely primitive Christmas stitching on a blog that I read and I decided to make some little 'tucks' and bowl fillers for myself. This is nearly finished and I've really enjoyed doing it - hopefully I shall still like it when I've mangled it up trying to turn it into a little pillow!
I really will try to post more often - there's still one of my USA posts to do and some nice photos taken on one of my walks in the woods on a beautiful day at the end of October. I've recently done a workshop on ancient woodland boundaries and trackways which has made me look at the woods in a whole new way - but that's for another time.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
This is one of our local War memorials with its poppy wreaths which were layed last Sunday when all the official ceremonies took place. I prefer to remember at the original time - the Eleventh hour of the Eleventh day of the Eleventh month when in 1918 the guns finally fell silent after four horrific years which left the world changed forever.
These are the names of the local men who lost their lives in the First World War, if you click on it you will be able to read it more easily. It isn't a long list compared with many places but Totley was a tiny place in those days and the loss would have been felt deeply by all the local people. I'm co-ordinating a project by our local history society to research each of the names on the plaque so that they stop being just names and become men with families and friends. Eventually there will be a Roll of Honour on our website with a short story of each of their lives. The project is in its infancy but already we know that the Turner boys were brothers who died seven months apart in 1917, Bernard was just 19 years old. Tom Fisher was from a farming family and was working as a cowman on a farm in a nearby Derbyshire village in 1911. He died at Cambrai just before Christmas 1917 - for his family Christmas will never have been the same again. Lt Roy Milner, at the age of 21, was the youngest of the three children of the family who lived at Totley Hall. He was in the Territorial Army and marched proudly off to war in August 1914 cheered along the lane by all the local people. By the end of September he was dead, one of the first British officers to die in WW1 - mown down by machine gun fire as he lead his men into action. Death didn't distinguish between rich and poor, farmer's son or wealthy aristocrat - their broken bodies were left on Flanders fields and a whole generation of brave young men now lie beneath row upon row of white crosses and many don't even have that to mark their sacrifice. Thousands have never been found, they were blown to bits or buried deep in Flanders mud and are now just names on a memorial. They all deserve both our remembrance and our gratitude.
As ever I remember also our two family members who gave their lives
Pte Harry Hindley Simpson, 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers killed in action August 1916
AC2 Harold Harrison RAF buried in Jakarta War Cemetery, Indonesia 1942
"When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today"
Sunday, November 01, 2009
THE LAST OF AUTUMN
Come, bleak November, in thy wildness come:
Thy mornings clothed in rime, thy evenings chill;
E’en these have power to tempt me from my home,
E’en these have beauty to delight me still.
Though Nature lingers in her mourning weeds,
And wails the dying year in gusty blast,
Still added beauty to the last proceeds,
And wildness triumphs when her bloom is past.
Though long grass all the day is drench’d in dew,
And splashy pathways lead me o’er the greens;
Though naked fields hang lonely on the view,
Long lost to harvest and its busy scenes;
Yet in the distance shines the painted bough,
Leaves changed to every colour ere they die,
And through the valley rivers widen now,
Once little brooks which summer dribbled dry.
This is an extract from a lovely poem by John Clare who wrote a great deal of exquisite nature poetry filled with wonderful descriptions of the pastoral scenes that he knew and loved so well. I started doing extracts from his Shepherd's Calendat earlier this year then was overtaken by life and only managed to do May and June. Over the winter months I'll try and do some more along with other snippets of his poetry.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Sunset today will mark the beginning of Samhain, the last of the three Celtic harvest festivals. The word Samhain means 'summer's end' and from this point we are in the dark time of the year and the days get shorter and the nights get longer as we move towards the Winter Solstice. The Celtic people measured the days from one sunset to the next so Samhain will end at sunset tomorrow.
This is also the time when we remember our ancestors who have passed on to the Summerlands. I haven't yet set out the candles that I will light this evening but this is one from a previous year. It is surrounded with the herb rosemary for remembrance and tonight there will be individual candles for my parents and grandparents and a single large one for all the many past generations stretching back into the mists of time. I wish both them and you a Happy and Blessed Samhain.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
At the moment blogging is having to take second place to sorting the garden out ready for winter hence the long gaps between posts. Not that I garden in the dark but by evening it's energy that's lacking rather than time. Today, however, I have been a 'lady who lunches' and a day of gallivanting has left me with rather more brain than is usual at this time of night so I thought I'd do the next instalment of my US trip. One place I always visit is Nubble lighthouse at Cape Neddick in York, Maine. It's a beautiful place as is all the Maine coastline.
There's somewhere else worth visiting in York too - saltwater taffy has been made at the Goldenrod shop for over 100 years, originally Edward Talpey stood in this window and pulled the taffy by hand, now it's done by machine but it is still a sight that people stop to see. As always I brought home a large box of the end result in a dozen different flavours - I love it:)
When we came out of the shop this wonderful car was parked outside - isn't it absolutely fabulous?
This is the Remick Country Doctor and farm Museum in Tamworth, New Hampshire which is well worth visiting if you are in the area. The Remick family settled in Tamworth over 200 years ago and six generations of the family have worked the farm since that time. The last two owners, father and son, were country doctors as well as farmers and between them they cared for the local population for 99 years. The younger Dr Remick died childless in 1993 but he set up a foundation to preserve the farm along with his home so that the public could visit and learn about the old ways of farming and doctoring.
The Enoch Remick house, built in 1808, was where the elder Dr Remick lived and the younger one grew up and had his doctor's surgery. The younger Dr Remick and his wife lived in the building that is now used as the museum.
I was allowed to take photos when we toured the house, it is Victorian in style and the parlour featured this rather splendid stove - a woodburner I imagine though I don't know for sure.
This is one of the bedrooms which has walls decorated with what are apparently rather special 19th century murals by a man called John Avery. Frankly I find it rather dark and gloomy and think it spoils what is other wise rather a nice room. I'm afraid the angle is rather odd but the rooms were small and it was hard to get a good picture.
My favourite room in the whole house - the screened in summer sleeping porch.
Isn't this refrigerator fantastic? The tin lined cupboard was filled with ice which was what kept everything cold. Apparently the ice man delivered ice in the same way that the milkman delivered milk - I should think he had to make pretty frequent deliveries during the hot New England summers too!
Some of the farm buildings with Mount Chocorua in the background. It is named for a Native American chief of the Pequawket tribe who leapt to his death from the summit.
Tamworth itself is a really attractive small town surrounded by some pretty spectacular scenery, this is the church with its unusual pagoda-like spire. I'd have been happy to spend more time there wandering round and exploring - hopefully I'll have chance to visit again one day.
Another trip took us up into the White Mountains and eventually we began to see these signs along the road. I would love to see a moose, even though they are such large animals they strike me as being rather gentle looking. I'm hoping that on my next visit I'll get chance to visit 'Moose Alley' up on Rte 3 where apparently your chances of seeing a moose are very good indeed.
I have rather a thing about covered bridges so was thrilled to bits to see this one in North Conway over the Saco River.
A kind man seeing me with my camera told me how I could get down to the river and take a photo of the bridge and the river with just the beginnings of some autumn colour in the background.
At North Conway we turned off the main road onto the Kancamagus Highway which is a wonderful 34 mile scenic drive through the White Mountains. There are stopping places all the way along and this one is by the Swift River.
Smokey Bear is the mascot of the United States Forest Service and his job is to educate the public about the dangers of forest fires. He is based on a real black bear cub who was rescued after a severe forest fire in New Mexico in 1950.
What had been a nice sunny day had turned into something rather more threatening by this stage of the drive, you can see what we are driving into and as we climbed higher the temperature was dropping rapidly. It was down to 41F at the highest levels and I began to wonder if we were going to see snow rather than rain!
It was raining when we stopped at the Sugar Hill outlook but happily there was a shelter so I could take photos without getting too wet. I think we are seeing Green's Cliff and Mt Tremont.
The highest point of the drive and decidedly wet and cold by this stage. It was really beautiful in spite of the rain and must be wonderful when the Fall colour is at its peak. On the other hand, as it is one of the most scenic drives on the leafpeepers trail, I imagine it's pretty much bumper to bumper at the height of the colour so I think I'd rather settle for what I got.