Sunday, December 30, 2007

December Rambles On

I continue to putter through these last and final days of 2007. I'm feeling a bit without direction, unsure of next steps. I keep telling myself I'm just waiting for the calendar to change and then I will move forward with new energy and purpose, we'll see. I created a holiday centerpiece for the dining table with woodland greenery, beads and various other objects and lots of candles. I put a pot of sand on the table with small candles to light for wishes towards the new year. One wish includes both of us having good creative energy and being able to produce work that we might actually be able to sell in 2008!

Scenes from our centerpiece
We worked together yesterday and finally finished planting what amounted to 1,100 bulbs by my final calculations. I really did lose my mind, but if even half of them come up and bloom next year it will have been worthwhile. We planted multi-colored tulips, daffodils, crocus, frittilaries, anemones, tiny hyacinths, iris dutch and dwarf, blue and bronze, and more. The squirrels have been digging some up already but hopefully they will not find them all.

Its raining which is supercalafragilisticexpealidocious! On Christmas day we walked and found one lone place on the creek where there was a tiny flow from one pool into another, by the 28th after another rain, I found several places with water running and I hope that after the rain today, which is promised to be at least an inch, that things will really start to move down there.

The whole area is still far behind on water and the lakes are all low and people are rationing water and trying to conserve. We take a bath and leave the water in the tub to flush the toilet for a few days, the only way I can justify using that much water, but there is nothing better than that long hot bath after a day of gardening. I've stopped catching water in the kitchen dishpan because with the rains there is no where to put it outside, everything is now very wet and all our rain barrels are brimming over. I wonder if we should construct a cistern? Think how much water we could capture off of our giant roof, but then we would have to pump it where we needed it.

We all have to hope that the rain will keep coming and the creeks and lakes will fill back up, and until then, I will continue to try and be as frugal as possible with my water usage. Hopefully this rain will also fill us back up emotionally and creatively for the new year.

Morgan Creek with water flowing in it!!!
Finally. 12/28/07

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Winter Solstice

Yesterday was the winter solstice, shortest day, longest night of the year. I see today as the real new years day, from here on out, the days will get longer until June 21 and then they’ll get shorter again until this time next year. In my opinion, Solstice should be the true New Year's eve.

I’ve made a point the last few years to recognize the period from the Solstice, the solar new year till Jan. 1, the calendar New Year, as my 11 to 12 days of Christmas, depending on whether the solstice falls on the 21st or 22nd. Astronomically the solstice fell this year at 1 AM on the 22nd, but I checked and discovered that both the 21st and the 22nd had 9 hours and 43 minutes of daylight and 14 hours and 17 minutes of dark, so I guess there were really two longest nights and shortest days this year.

I like to take time now to crawl inside myself a bit, take stock of the year past and think about the one to come. Allow myself the culinary pleasures of the season, of which there are many and I want to indulge. Also I want to pamper myself physically, yesterday I went swimming and took a steam at the Y, today I went to yoga and took a walk with my Honey Pie at sunset, watching the almost full moon rise.

It was great to get back home after traveling over 2000 miles in 12 days and sleeping in 5 different beds. I’ve been sleeping like a bear since I got back, in the sack by 10 or 11 p.m. and then at 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. we force ourselves up and out.

I loved getting back to our garden, I contend it is our best autumn garden ever, not sure if that’s due to the weather or simply to the fact that I’ve been around to tend to it and take advantage of the bounty. I roam the paths thinking about all the various dishes I could fix with dill or cilantro, green onions, spinach, turnips or cabbage. On Friday we cooked turnips with bacon, onions, cabbage, tomato, a few raisins, apples and turnip greens. Not a dish for sissy’s, the turnip flavor was strong from the greens while the apples, turnips and cabbage were super sweet. I always say we grow the sweetest veggies in Orange County, NC and I stand by it.

Tomorrow I am planning a dish of roasted veggies to include small turnips, golden beets, baby fennel , and potatoes to accompany a roast leg of lamb for our Christmas eve dinner, just us two. I’m going to start a batch of Grandmothers rolls and bake a few for the eve and more for the day when we will go to brother C’s and share a meal with family. I’m also planning a lemon chess pie, an old family favorite and special request of the bro.

I bought a pound of fresh salmon yesterday and started a batch of gravlaax, home cured fish made with tons of fresh dill, salt, sugar and pepper. A favorite winter time treat for us. Yesterday I baked a batch of rock cookies, another family favorite flavored with coffee, rosewater, vanilla, mace, allspice and nutmeg and chock full of nuts and raisins. They are dangerous to have around, I give a few to anyone that comes by.

We don't have a tree, though we were eyeing potential candidates on our walk this evening, neither of us really wants to mess with it. I will probably gather some greenery from the woods tomorrow to make a wintery centerpiece. We still have lights in trees in the yard from last year so we can always light those up for a little more cheer.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Southern Roots

I'm on the road this week, in the midst of a deep south tour of family history. I've been to Atlanta to see my cousin J., the only girl cousin on my mothers side that I ever knew well and haven't seen her in a number of years. I forgot how much we had in common, our mothers who were sisters, both died two years apart over 20 years ago. They were too young to die and we were too young to lose our mom's. Our fathers died more recently, after good long lives and while difficult, esp for J. whose father fell and broke his neck, they both died in their homes, with hospice care and their families around them, both ready to let go and their children ready to let go of them. J. and I are both the baby girls of our family, both had troubled teen years in the 70's getting into things that were dangerous and crazy but came out all right on the other side. We talked for hours and stayed up late poring over family trees, bibles and pictures, trying to link together who was who and how they were related to the others.

From there I rode on to Mississippi, to visit my Aunt C. my mothers baby sister, her last living sibling. She lives on her husbands family farm where she moved over 50 years ago. My cousin M. lives beside her in his paternal grandmothers home. M. farms 1200 acres of flat Mississippi delta in soybeans, hay, corn and cattle. He proudly toured me in his truck through each field and pasture, all clean and tidy, put to bed for the winter, flat and smooth and cut by deep ditchs edged with cane and bordered by hedgerows of bare hardwoods and green cedars. I was surprised by the beauty of the land in its winter starkness, flocks of birds flying up from the stubble in undulating masses. M. had two big bulls, one each in pastures across the road from one another, they snorted as they stomped around the field, 2000 pounds of shiny blackness and solid power.

Aunt C. looks exactly like my grandmother with nips of my mother jumping in now and then in a smile, mannerism or expression. She's still going strong, 13 years younger than my mother, we went to the gym together and worked out. She taught me to bake my grandmothers rolls, which she does by feel rather than by measurement, I hope I can carry on the gauntlet. We stood in the kitchen together by the stove, eating them for dessert, fresh from the oven. They were scrumptious; soft, brown and buttery. We too looked over the box of family history I had carted along with me, C. filled in some blanks, gave me info on my Grandaddy's side of the family to help fill in the picture, we have info from Grandmothers family all the way back to the first colonies in 1715. She helped ID some of the mysterious faces in my tattered albums, others stare out from the browning photos, dressed in victorian high collars, too old for anyone to remember.

I journeyed on through the Mississippi delta and crossed the wide muddy river. The low winter sun, just a week before the solstice, shone across the flat land, lighting the bare trees at the back of fields bright green with winter wheat. White cotton piled at the edges of the road, bare pecan trees, vase-like, lined up in ancient groves. On to Little Rock and my fathers side of the family. I'm at Aunt H's house now, my fathers mothers last house, tiny and filled with family heirlooms, china, crystal and silver from a century ago.

We too reviewed the pictures and family trees. Yesterday we marveled at my great grandmothers autograph albums from the 1880's, brown pages dissolving under our fingers, lined with fancy script and expressions from a time long gone. My cousins here, showed off their offspring and told tales of the family reunions, games we played as children, the deaths of those that have traveled on before us. This side of the family can trace our roots to the Virginia colonies as well. So much history, so much past, all waiting to be revealed.

Last night I tossed in the antique bed, birthing this post and woke at 5 to a flash of lightening and the sound of thunder. I rose and stood on the carport, listening to the sound of rain pattering on the roof, so foreign after all these months of dry. I looked down at the lights of North Little Rock, glowing like stars through the bare trees and fog. Today I will travel with my beloved brother J. to Hot Springs for yet another chapter, more reminiscing, more reviewing of where we came from and who we all are now.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

December's Coming On

As November turns into December, the autumn falls heavier, the leaves are almost all down, dry and crisp on the ground, across the lawn and tucked into piles in all the nooks and crannies around the house and yard. The bare trees now tower against the sky, the air is crisp, I feel winter coming.

As I walk down from the house to the pond I see ropey tree roots, trailing along under the creek bank, crossing the paths, wishing for water. The pond gets lower and lower, exposing the many trees that the beavers have felled over the years, now brown and rotting against the muddy bottom. A Belted Kingfisher swoops overhead, issuing his ratchety cry and lands in a tree to stake his claim over this last little body of water.

Down at Morgan there are pools again in a few spots, their bottoms carpeted with leaves, their surfaces reflecting the sky and trees , other sections look like cobblestone roads, blocky stones bricked together with sand and leaf mortar. The sweet one saw a flock of 4 wild turkeys drinking from one of these pools the other day.

Understory plants are greening up now that the leaves are down, wild ginger, mosses, Christmas ferns and running cedar have brightened, perked their heads up to the sun. Their deep greens stand in stark contrast to the ochre of the fallen leaves.

One or two trees in the yard still show color, an oak bright red, a Japanese maple turning orange, call the eye to admire them against the rapidly dimming background of grey and mauve trunks and evergreen cedars and pines.

I still have a couple hundred more bulbs to plant but it’s gloomy, cloudy and grey today and cold, I don’t want to do much but sit by the fire.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving and the Gluttony Continues

The gluttony continues. It was Thanksgiving this week after all. My favorite meal of the year. We roasted a 16 pound turkey, made two cast iron skillets of my family’s southern style dressing made of cornbread, biscuits and various leftover breads out of the freezer. Moistened with turkey broth and flavored with lots of celery, onion and sage then baked till crispy and brown in the skillet in a hot oven. Served with sliced turkey and plenty of gravy it is unbeatable.

It didn’t matter that we were only four at Thanksgiving dinner, as the leftovers make up for all the hard work on the day. The next 3 days we had turkey sandwiches for lunch and at night we had a repeat performance of the complete meal warmed in the microwave. Last night I put together 4 packages of “turkey dinner” complete with turkey, gravy and a portion of stuffing for two and put them in the freezer for later enjoyment. Tomorrow I will make a turkey soup from the remains.

At night we sleep like bears in hibernation, 9 hours when possible and wake groggy from all the tryptophan in the turkey. Just another form of the greedy autumn desire to submerge. On the day after Thanksgiving I read the seventh installment of Harry Potter. I had been saving it for a good time when I could really dive in and dive in I did. For hours I sat going deeper into the page turner. I finally succumbed to bed at 12:30, woke the next morning and finished the exciting climax with my morning coffee.

In a trance a few weeks ago I ordered 800 bulbs. What was I thinking? They were mostly small bulbs I reasoned and would be easy to plant. Not exactly true when they came and I saw that even the little ones need to be 4-6 inches deep. Oh well, each day that I am working in the yard I put a few more in. A smattering of crocus here, a cluster of daffodils there, some blue muscari to create a pool of color in a corner or under a tree. Next spring they will bring much pleasure as they emerge and bloom from all over the yard and edges of the woods.

Yesterday I planted five small lilac bushes that the sweetie pie started from cuttings last year in a semi-circle at the bottom of the yard. I surrounded them with daffodils and crocus. My plan is to build a small patio, just large enough for two chairs where we can sit with a cup of tea, smell the lilacs, and gaze up across the orchard and lawn to the house and garden.

In a similar trance in the spring of 2006 we went to Scott Stone out near Mebane and bought 8 pallets of Pennsylvania field stone for walls and 8 more of flag stone for walkways and terraces, 26 tons of rock now sit on the east side of the house waiting for us to do something with them. The lilac terrace will be my first wall attempt I think, on the far edge of the yard, a good spot to experiment with my stone wall building skills and perfect my technique in a place that isn’t easy to view.

Whenever I come around that side of the house and see the stone I think,” there is my life’s work waiting for me.” There is so much to be thankful for that I can’t even begin to put it all down. I have stone and the time to lay it, bulbs and the time to plant them, and enough food in our fridge, freezer and garden to last us for months. Suffice it to say that life is incredibly good for us in this place and time and we are much more fortunate than many across the country and the planet that are torn by war, famine and poverty. This good fortune does not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Autumn Gluttony

Gluttony takes me over in the fall. I just want to cook, eat and sleep. In between, I take long walks in the woods and work in my yard. Free from chiggers and ticks, I bask in the clear, dry days, I even lie down in the cool grass.
I walked up the mountain today. I don’t go there in the summer, too steep, close, buggy. Tree trunks felled ten years ago in hurricane Fran still lie like corpses striping the hillside, granite boulders breach through a sea of brown leaves, lichen patterns their surface like barnacles on a whale. Oak and hickory seedlings and low bush blueberries crowd the path, acorns crunch under my boots.

A chain saw growls from the Peabody’s side of the mountain, the sound of hammers on wood cracks through the air from the site of our newest neighbors’ soon to be house. As I walk along the trail I lose my way at times, the fallen leaves camouflage the path. The top of the mountain is covered with towering oaks and jutting granite rock outcrops. I sit to rest, breathing hard. It’s still shrouded in leaves up there, in another month a view to the east will be unveiled that includes the dome on the Moorhead Planetarium and the steeple of the First Presbyterian Church on Franklin Street.

The architecture of the forest also begins to reveal itself. The height and drama of tree trunks come back into focus, the lay of the land apparent again, a rise here, rutted road bed there. The trail follows a ridge down from the mountain. Before it drops down to the creek bottom, there is an old fire ring made of stacked stone, set low in the center of a group of large boulders. I like to picture hunters 50 years ago, or even Native Americans 500 years ago, camping there and staying warm in that protected spot.

The dry rocky creek bottoms fill with brown leaves. On the way back home I cross the pond, the beavers are building a new lodge in the face of the dam, with a long tunnel that stretches out into what little water is left. White throated sparrows and kinglets are back and they call to me from the witch hazel thicket at the marsh end of the pond. They flit through the round-leaved shrubs, teasing me to try and find them.

At home I’ve been busy with the activities of first frost and tonight possibly our first freeze. I’ve made green tomato and lemon marmalade, green tomato and apple chutney, and green tomato and chile salsa. I made one last batch of pesto and roasted and froze three dozen poblanos and a big bagful of serranos. It’s dangerous for me to go to the grocery store. The fridge and freezer are overflowing with food and I just want to buy more.

I ran in just for some milk yesterday. I already had a fridge full of chickens I bought on sale, waiting to be cut up for the freezer and their backs turned into stock. I bought two packages of boneless beef short ribs, reduced for quick sale, and two packs of mushrooms. I imagined how rich and good that would be on a cold night, cooked together in a broth of red wine, with a few late season red tomatoes and fresh herbs. I threw in a package of egg noodles, thinking that a perfect accompaniment.

Our garden still looks phenomenal. Despite the drought, we have watered the vegetables from the well so they are lush and green and tender. In early November we are eating beets, spinach, lettuce, cilantro, parsley, arugula, carrots, Swiss chard, kale, turnip and mustard greens. I am holding out hope for the broccoli, heads now the size of a ping pong ball and the cabbage, about the size of a baseball, even though they were chomped by a groundhog during their formative stage, they are trying their best to make. The Brussels sprouts, planted late and also devoured by the woodchuck, are less promising, the petit chou are only the size of a pin head.

I’ve been slowly planting shrubs that have been waiting in pots in the nursery, some of them for years. Some we bought, some are seedlings and many my sweetie pie started from cuttings of other plants. Thanks to a three inch rain last week I can actually dig. I spend as much time reveling in the day as I do working. I get lots of exercise walking back to the shed for a forgotten tool, and switch tasks frequently to provide my out of shape muscles with a little variety.

Get some tools, dig a hole, shovel a load of manure and dump it by the compost heap. Gaze at the trees and sky for a while. Plant the shrub, get a load of mulch, put some on the shrub and take the rest for the compost heap. Get a drink of water and do some “yard yoga” maybe a little warrior or triangle pose. As I lean forward and twist, my right arm reaching towards the sky, I see two hawks circling, they look like dragonflies they are so high up. Carry water from the rain barrel to the shrub. Cut back the dying tomatoes into small pieces for easy decomposition and layer those into a new compost pile with the wheelbarrow loads I brought down earlier. It’s a dance, waltzing from one task to the next, blue sky above me, leaves swirling down.

Daylight savings time is over, so by 3:00 the light is long, by 4:00 it begins to feel dark and by 5:00 I’m thinking about supper. What delightful combination of rib sticking item will we pair with what green veggie from the garden? How will we wile away the evening after the meal has been savored? Most likely loitering on the couch with a book or TV, until it’s late enough to justify slipping into the sheets to slumber until next light.