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.