Posted by Cassondra Murray Mar 4 2014, 11:54 pm in Bird Feeders, Birds, Cassondra Murray, Cassondra's blogs, Inspiration, Small Miracles, winter
Have you ever picked up a bird?
I’m not talking about a chicken or goose. They’re heavy.
But have you ever picked up a fallen cardinal or sparrow?
They. Weigh. Nothing.
I know this because every now and then one will hit the window and get knocked out cold. When that happens, we run outside and search the ground, and if we find the bird, we give it water from a dropper and try hard to get it flying again.
Honestly they are nothing but pure spirit–pure energy wrapped up in a bunch of brightly colored feathers and a small bit of skin.
They are nothing but bits of fluff suffused with exuberant life. Little miracles, really.
I think of them as the ornaments on God’s Christmas trees.
So when I realize how fragile they are, how almost “not there” they are, it stops me cold to also realize that they manage to survive through a winter. A winter where there is hardly any food, and what food exists, is hidden and must be searched out, and where the cold wind howls like a banshee at ten below zero or colder, and the birds must ride it out clinging to the limbs of trees, with FAR less body weight to generate heat–far less fat on their bodies–than I have.
I would freeze to death in one night.
But they don’t.
If y’all have been reading my blogs for a while, you know I believe in a Creator. I don’t much care what you call said being…God, The Great Creator, The All That Is, The Higher Power, Source…heck, I don’t care if you call it the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I’m not picky about the name or the philosophy. But I’ll tell you, that even if I did not believe in God, the fact that those tiny birds can manage to live through hard winters?….Yeah. That would make me believe.
Something has to help them. Something a lot more powerful than I am.
So I figure if God can put those little creatures here for me to look at, to remind me that if they are provided for, then I will be too….well…then I can do a little something in return. So we feed the birds year-round, but in the winter we try to do more for them, and when it snows, we notice the impact our small effort makes.
We had our first serious snow on Sunday night. The photo up on the left, above, was from last November, so you’ll have to picture it twice that deep. Two inches of ice, with two inches of snow on top of that. Not so much as compared to what many of you have experienced this year.
I’m in Kentucky, and yeah, I have some southern sensibilities, but honestly we’re not anywhere near the deep south. Our entire way of life does not come to a grinding halt when someone spies a snowflake. A lot of businesses close down, but many keep right on going. I can drive on snow and ice and have been doing so since I was a kid.
Still, for the past two days, the birds have been practically knocking on our door. “Excuse us, but could you put out more food RIGHT FREAKING NOW?”
We have six or seven bird feeders. But they’ve been empty for several years now. We figured out a while back that the birds can more easily get the food if we just scatter it on every available flat surface. The deck, the rocks that line the flower bed, the top of the grill, and best of all…the picnic table.
Honestly, our picnic table hasn’t been used for human food for at least ten years. It’s now a rotting wooden table that I use to pot flowers in the summer, and the rest of the year, it’s a bird feeder.
That photo up on the right is of a woodpecker and a tufted titmouse on our feeder table. NOT in this snow. Unfortunately my camera froze (along with everything else in my world) and would not take pictures. So I had to dig out old ones.
We also figured out that we don’t need all those fancy “bird seed” packages. We feed suet from midwinter through spring, but most of the time we buy Chicken Scratch and black oil sunflower seeds in 50-lb bags. Almost every bird can find something it likes in those two bags.
That photo on the right is a mourning dove on the table. Can you see the dog food in the background? We put that out for the jays. They flock to the table in overwhelming numbers, and they’re big. They like the dog food, so they stay near the edges mostly, and leave the middle open for the little birds.
That’s a closer shot of the woodpecker on the left.
My “office” is really in my dining nook just off the kitchen. (Not too far from the coffee pot, as it happens.) I sit at my small dining table and on my left is a window that looks out over the bird feeder table. So when I need a break from the computer screen, or when I’m having trouble with writing, or heck, just every now and then when I’m daydreaming, I catch myself staring out the window, watching the birds on that table.
That photo on the right….that’s what it looks like in the snow. You can see a bird feeder hanging from a hook behind the table, but there’s nothing in it. That’s the picnic table there in the foreground, and another small table we put out if the little birds are getting bullied.
Yes, we’re suckers. And that’s okay with us.
Bandits and Buddies, do you like birds? (I know a few people who don’t like birds at all.)
If you do like birds, what kind is your favorite?
When I go to big cities, I’m irresistibly drawn to the pigeons, even though I know they’re a nuisance. I always want to buy food for them. (Told you I was a sucker.) Anybody else out there who likes pigeons?
Does your city allow you to feed them?
That’s our cats on the left, by the way. They’re sitting in the window, watching the feeders. Obviously, they are also quite concerned with the welfare of the birds in our yard. This concern for birds must run in the family. *grin*
What kinds of birds come to the feeders in your area?
Do you have feeders at your house or apartment?
If so, what kind of food do you put out?
Any other bird lovers out there?
Posted by Susan Sey Feb 27 2014, 12:10 am in February, Susan Sey, winter
…February. As God is my witness, I will survive February. But, darn it, I hate this month.
Why? Let me explain.
No. Is too much. Let me sum up. (Thank you, Princess Bride. Best. Movie. Ever.)
1) The winter wear is wearing out. Coats don’t zip, mittens have gone missing, our scarves smell like dog, and our boots are blowing out. We only have maybe two more months to hang in there, so you don’t really want to splash out on replacement gear. You’d rather buy a bikini. Which is convenient, because that’s all the stores are carrying anyway. Just try to find a pair of mittens at Target today. I dare you.
2) The cold is making me desperate & messing with my judgment. For example, today after lunch I sat down to write with my “not water bottle.” (Shaped like a hot water bottle, but actually one of those bean-or-seed-filled, heat-it-up-in-the-microwave deals.) I like to stick it under my sweater & let it warm my belly while I type. I was so desperate for heat that I made it too hot & actually burned myself. Seriously. The metal button on my jeans must have concentrated & conducted the heat & now I have a blister on my belly. And I didn’t even notice while it was happening because I was so focused on soaking up the delicious warmth. Damn you, winter!
3) There is nowhere left to put the snow. Today while we were waiting for the school bus, the kids were playing on the mountains of snow on either side of the drive that we affectionately refer to as the Twin Towers. And I realized that I could no longer see my mailbox. I pointed toward where I thought it might be & had the kids start digging. Sure enough, the mailbox was buried. My children’s boots were above the mailbox. It’s gotten to that point, people. And March is historically our snowiest month. I don’t know where we’re going to put the rest of it.
4) Mr. Sey is in Florida. It’s for work, he’s probably spending 12-16 hours a day inside a generic hotel, not having any fun at all but…he’s doing it in Florida. And it’s going to be minus 13 degrees tonight with windchills in the minus thirties. I know it’s not his fault but…(Susan struggles for objectivity & maturity, fails dismally)…IT’S JUST NOT FAIR!
All I want is to be warm. All I want is a vacation. All I want is a tropical drink & a warm sandy beach. Is that too much to ask? I think not.
So, let’s take a virtual vacation. If you could jet off to anywhere in the world tomorrow, & stay for no more than two days–just enough to tide you over–where would you go & why?
Mouse over images for artist attribution & link.
Posted by Caren Crane Jan 5 2014, 12:52 am in BBC, BBC Drama, Call the Midwife, Caren Crane, colorful characters, drama, East Enders, humor, melancholy, TV series, winter
I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but I do enjoy a bit of melancholy from time to time. Winter seems the perfect time to have a mope and a good cry and I find myself more drawn to serious dramas and heart-tugging tales at this time of year.
I have been indulging this weekend in a binge-watching marathon of Call the Midwife. I place the blame squarely on Bandita Anna Sugden’s shoulders. I am a sucker for BBC historical shows and Call the Midwife has all the ingredients I find irresistible.
1. Historical setting – While some might not find London’s East End of the late 1950s particularly “historical” it is for me. The series is set before I was born, so it qualifies, in my opinion. The world was changing so swiftly at that time that vestiges of postwar London still hang about, while all the “modern” innovations (like TV for the masses) were encroaching. It does my history-loving heart good to see adults bicycling about, men wearing jackets and hats and women wearing hats, carrying vintage handbags and pushing permabulators the size of pony carts. Plus, some of the clothes are to die for!
2. Colorful characters - I knew almost none of the actors playing the main characters on the show (though some are BBC go-to actors), but I was quickly drawn in by the young nurses, the nuns they live and serve with, the lively and very three-dimensional people of Poplar and their extra-colorful antics. The episodes are all about characters and their lives. These characters pull you in and force you to care (ask my husband, who was sucked in against his will!).
3. Emotional storylines – These are small stories about regular people. They don’t deal with glamor, fame or the pursuit of either. They are stories that resonate with me because they are each about timeless issues: family, duty, honor, pride, aging, motherhood, betrayal, mental illness, physical illness and fighting for the rights and dignity of the poor. Most of all, they are love stories. That love may be between men and women, siblings, friends, neighbors or any combination of people you can imagine. The overwhelming take away from this series is that love, while it can be painful and very messy, is always worth the risk. This is a three-hanky sort of show. Even my husband has gotten a bit misty and he does not cry. Ever. But it’s babies and he is a sucker for babies!
4. Unrequited love – Okay, I already mentioned love when talking about emotional storylines. But honestly, there is a truckload of unrequited love (and plenty of the requited kind, as well) on Call the Midwife. They cover all manner of forbidden and frowned-upon relationships with a deft hand which, seriously awes me. They totally get away with it! There are also stories of people choosing to turn their backs on love that would make them happy because of their honor, duty, promises made or a host of other reasons. Unrequited love was something I experienced early and often as a young person. I have a fondness for it and it always leaves me in tears. Oh, my aching heart!
5. Humor - Along with the pain is plenty of laughter. There are characters who make me smile just thinking of them. The midwives try to keep each other in good spirits, because their work is often grim and dirty. They keep my spirits high, as well. I can count on plenty of smiles and laughs along with the damp hanky. The humor is the counterbalance that keeps the show humming along perfectly. What good is having a cry if you don’t have a little levity afterward? The midwives of St. Raymond Nonnatus will never leave you melancholy for long!
Do you ever find yourself turning to a bit of drama (or good old melodrama) for a nice, cleansing cry? What is your favorite weepy movie or book? Do you find your spirits rising and falling with the seasons? (I will admit that I do!) What is your favorite dramatic binge-watch? (The BBC Pride and Prejudice hardly counts, since most of us love it already. Pick something else!) Let us know what qualifies for three-hankydom for you!
Posted by Joan Kayse Jan 4 2014, 12:46 am in cold, Historical, Joan Kayse, Romance, winter
Nope this isn’t a homage to office supplies though Lord, I do love me some office supplies. Instead this title reflects what happens when your sticky notes get rearranged, lost or eaten by your cat.
You forget your extra blog day until the last minute!
Yep, that’s what happened to me. Since its near to midnight and my brain is on auto “Work was a Bear” I’m going to resort to the tried and true Quick Five on Winter.
This topic is apropos for most of us as we dig out from snow and bitingly cold temperatures. (Expect for Anna C., Christine and Helen…and with their centigrade system I have NO idea what their temperatures are.) But here are 5 things I think about winter.
1. Animated weather reporting. Every modern-day TV station illustrates by haphazard graphics how cold it is going to get. Never mind we understand Farenheit and/or that C one, nope we’ve got to watch playful penguins, shivering snowmen and puddle paddling ducks in Wellies.
2. My thirst for snow cones drops exponentially with the thermometer. Yeah, not so much.
3. The new crock pot gets a workout. I’ve been craving soup and hot biscuits…or cornbread….or…or..brownies.
4. There are NOT enough socks in anyone’s dryer to keep my toes warm. Or my nose. Man, my nose gets like a little ice cube and I cannot sleep! But, if I put a sock on it, I can’t breathe. Decisions, decisions, decisions.
5. Excuse to keep up the Christmas tree. The kitties have been SO good with it this year! Only a little “Tag you’re it” with an ornament or two and no climbing. Plus…if I stand close enough to the lights, my nose warms up
How about you? What are your top thoughts on winter? One lucky commenter will receive choice of a Kindle download of one of my books!
Posted by Cassondra Murray Jan 4 2013, 12:15 am in Agricultural cycle, Cassondra Murray, Cassondra's blogs, Imbolc, Light, Solstice, Wheel of the Year, winter
Hi. I’m Cassondra, and I have no curtains on most of my windows.
Hi….I’m Cassondra, and I leave my Christmas tree up until Groundhog Day each year.
Hi…I hoard big boxes of 100 watt, incandescent bulbs, because they’re getting hard to find. I need them.
I have huge, six-by-three-foot windows all along the front of my house, but I may add skylights.
I go to the tanning bed a few times each winter, just for the melatonin hit.
Hi, I’m Cassondra, and I’m a lightaholic.
It’s true. Every bit of it.
I know, I know, with the whole Goth chick, night-dwelling, coffin-sleeping image, you wouldn’t guess, would you?
This vampire needs a lot of light.
When I was a little girl, about this time every year, I’d go out with my dad to feed the cattle twice a day. All bundled up in so many layers that my arms stuck out like a tiny, poofy blue scarecrow with fur trim, I’d follow him out there into the cold field beside the barn, and climb onto the back of the truck, throwing all of my skinny, five-year-old weight into shoving bales of hay off the tailgate, onto the ground in the chosen spots, while he drove artificially slow so I could do my part of the job.
He could have done it in half the time without me.
We went early in the morning, just after breakfast, and late in the evening, just before dark, which, in mid-December, came about five o’clock.
Once the hay bales were opened and the bundles scattered so all the cows could have their share, my dad would use an axe handle to bust the ice on the pond, and then we’d head for the warmth of the truck, crunching side-by-side across the frozen ground, mission accomplished.
But about mid-January every year, my dad would stop, part way to the truck, and look up at the sunset sky. He’d push his hat back on his head and squint toward the western horizon, at the cold, winter-pink sunset behind the bare branches of the woods at the back of the farm.
And he’d say, “Days are gittin’ longer.”
I’d stand beside him in my poofy blue, little-girl fur, and squint at that same pale pink light, and say, “Yep.”
On those long, cold nights, we’d go back to the house, down to the basement where half of the floor was concrete and the other half packed dirt, and we’d sit around the wood stove. Under the dim light of one bulb, my dad would sharpen his pocket knife. Sometimes we’d roast chestnuts or peanuts in the shells, watching the fire blaze warm and bright through the holes in the stove dampers.
We were waiting for the light to come.
I never asked my dad how he felt about the dark days of winter. I didn’t have to. He was a farmer. He lived his life by the light of day, waited for it, so he could do his work. Waiting for the earth to green so he could plow the ground, sow the seeds for his crops, plant his garden, and carry on. He lived and fed his family by watching the light. Depending on it. Needing it.
Sometimes I think it’s silly, the way I need the light. Each year, on June 22nd, I’m overcome with a sense of dread. I smoosh it down, so people don’t notice. But it’s there, in the background all summer and fall. About mid-October, I mark my calendar for December 21st and the vigil begins. I am waiting for the return of the light.
I don’t want to live without four distinct seasons, but I know, now, that I could not live up north like Bandita Susan, or Bandit Buddy Jane. I have SADD disease. Sunlight Affective Depressive Disorder. I don’t know if I was born with it, or developed it at some point along the way, but this is why I hit the tanning beds a few times each winter. The short winter days….they are not good for me. I need the light.
That’s why I leave my Christmas tree up. The sparkle of the lights cheers me through the dark part of the year.
This time of year, I get in touch with my inner Druid. The one who, many centuries ago, probably danced under the full moon each month (maybe naked…scary thought)and celebrated each turning point in the Wheel of the Year.
Groundhog Day, February 2nd, is the day I wait for. Known as Imbolc, it’s the point when the returning light picks up serious speed in its fight to overcome the darkness.
If I can keep a bit of sparkle around me, ala Christmas lights, candles, or any source of fire, until Groundhog Day, I’ll be okay. I can keep my spirits bright. The light gains about one minute a day, this time of year while the earth rests. For the Druids, that was enough to celebrate the coming of the light.
It’s enough for me, too.
My dad’s birthday was January 2nd. Two days ago. Born in the darkest time of year, he lived for the coming of the light.
I am like him in that way. I don’t need the light to feed my family, but I need it, just the same.
Tonight, as I considered what to write for my blog, I sat at my kitchen table, computer monitor glaring at me.
But I was staring out the window to my left. The pond out back was a sheet of whisper-thin, clear ice, reflecting the pale pink of a winter sunset.
As I sat there, I heard my dad whisper to me, “The days are gittin’ longer.”
We have about two more weeks to go. Two more weeks before I will feel that shift, here on the earth. That lift in my spirit, that call to start watching for the bulbs to poke out of the dirt. But my dad, from across the veil….he already sees it coming. He knows the light is almost here.
Maybe it’s folly, but I think he whispered encouragement to me from that place so far away that I cannot touch him, and yet so near that I sense his presence.
Winter can be lovely, but I feel my spirit lift when I know that spring is coming…that the light is gaining ground.
This lightaholic…this time of year…she gets her second wind.
I’m a little early, but I feel it. I am lifted, waiting for the light to come.
What about you, Bandits and Buddies?
Do you notice the shifting of the seasons?
What changes for you with the increasing darkness, or the increasing light?
Do you ever feel connected to something larger, something old, as the seasons pass?
Do you love the cold weather and the snow?
Or do you look forward to the coming of the light, and the warm summer days?
Is there a palm tree in your soul?
Or is there a ski slope?
When do you take your Christmas tree down?
How do you cheer yourself in the dark, cold days of winter?
If you live in the tropics, do you notice a difference with the coming of “winter”?
Or do you enjoy the relief from the heat?
If you live south of the equator, do you wait for the longer days of summer–winter here in North America, where I live, for the warm sun?
It seems strange to us, that Christmas would come in summer for you. Does it seem strange when we, in the northern hemisphere, speak of a white Christmas?
In either hemisphere, are you like me? Do you wait for the coming of the light?
Posted by Cassondra Murray Oct 20 2012, 3:52 am in Cassondra Murray, Cassondra's blogs, childhood memories, Fall, gardens, Summer, Tomatoes, winter
What does autumn smell like?
For me, it’s the first curl of wood smoke in the neighborhood. You don’t know where it comes from, but the scent of it foretells the cold to come.
It’s the aroma of chrysanthemums, spicy and bitter-smelling when you brush up against the leaves. My mom had a bunch of loose, gangly, hardy mums that were way too tall and lanky, growing by the side of the house. There was no missing them, because when I was a little girl, we had to go outside to turn the antenna if we wanted to see a certain channel on tv. There were only three channels, and adjusting that antenna was a skill every family member needed. Every time you turned the antenna, in autumn, you brushed up against those mums.
Fall meant the smell of ripe tobacco curing in the barn, apples, and pumpkin pie in the oven. One of my favorite scents, to this day, is the pungent, acrid-rich smell of black walnuts. About this time of year, black walnuts are thick on the ground, and we picked up buckets full of them every fall. They have a thick hull with a strong fragrance that to this day is one of my favorite things about the fall season.
I remember getting off the school bus on October afternoons at my grandmother’s house (we called her MotherGrant), and finding her and DaddyMike (my grandfather) in the garden, with a pile of towels and sheets sitting by the garden gate. I’d dump my books on the porch steps, and meet them in the garden to help get ready for the cold night ahead.
On crisp fall afternoons, they were covering up the tomatoes.
The scents of fall hung heavy in the air, but they were doing what they could to hold onto summer. It would get down to 34 degrees Fahrenheit that night, according to “the weather.” “The Weather” was, of course, the weather report on the radio.
It took almost an hour to cover the rows of tomatoes in MotherGrant’s extensive garden with sheets, towels, rugs, and whatever else she had in the house. Because that night, it would frost.
But it was just for that one night, you see. The next night, accordin’ to the weather, would only get down to 43 degrees. So if you could save your tomatoes for that one night, and then have them fresh off the vine for another week, you did so, and you were grateful.
When the time came, when it would get so cold that you could not hold back the bite with the magic cotton sheet, you harvested the tomatoes, green as green could be, and brought them inside.
Some you put on the windowsill in the sun, to ripen for a hint of the taste of summer.
Some you chopped, along with the last peppers of the season, and a few onions, and made them into a relish the old timers called Green Tomato Ketchup.
And some…some you sliced, dipped in flour, and fried. And supper that night was fried green tomatoes. That’s a basket of tomatoes from my garden, on the left. See that big one? That’s perfect for fried green tomatoes.
Things haven’t changed much. Last week, it got down to 34 degrees here in southern Kentucky.
I took every spare sheet I had, and ran down to my tiny garden by the driveway. My little garden is a pale, surface effort compared to the acre-and-a-half garden that MotherGrant and DaddyMike grew. But still, I draped the sheets over my six tomato plants, each one heavy with green fruit, and my sage, cayenne peppers, basil and marigolds, and weighted the sheet corners with rocks. It was supposed to warm up the next day, and just like MotherGrant, I was hoping to hold off winter for one more night.
The next morning, I got up and poured myself a cup of coffee. I looked out my multi-paned glass front door, down toward the garden near the road, at the white sheets stretched across the plants, and the rocks holding down the corners, and I realized I had completed the circle.
I am MotherGrant. Almost two decades have passed since she died, but I carry on, just as she did.
Later that morning I took the covering off the plants, and there they were, safe and sound. Green tomatoes hung on the vines, clinging to the hope of turning ripe before the hard bite of serious winter bit them down.
Every afternoon now, just like MotherGrant, I listen to “the weather.” Although sometimes I get my weather report on the internet, I check it just the same. Just like her, I plant my garden in spring. I pray for rain–and although she did not, if the rain does not come in summer, I water.
And in the fall, when the wind turns cool and I shiver a little and reach for a jacket, I recognize that stern warning of what is to come. And I cover up the plants, holding off Jack Frost’s deathly bite with the whisper-thin veil of a magic, worn cotton sheet, hoping for one more week of summer.
I do this every year. It seems like a long time to me since MotherGrant and DaddyMike went to garden on another dimension, but just as they were, I am clinging to summer, holding on by my fingernails. If I can hold it off long enough, the dark, cold days of midwinter won’t seem so long and hopeless.
It is the stretch between the last tomato in the garden and the first hint of crocus shoots in February that a soul like mine must endure while she lives on pure faith that the light will come again. That the sun will warm the soil and seeds will sprout. That tomatoes will hang on the vines and ripen in the sweltering heat.
So I hold off winter as long as I can. Just as they did, and their parents before them.
I was driving to town a couple of weeks ago, and hadn’t heard the forecast for that night, but as I came around a curve in the road, and passed a woven wire fence, I saw the bright flash of sheets—purple and pink and plaid—stretched out across a garden on my right.
I grabbed my cell phone. I dialed Steve’s work number. “Have you heard the weather?”
“Yes,” he said. “There’s a frost advisory for tonight.”
I turned my car around. I might be late for class, but I didn’t care. Knowledge would be there later. My tomatoes would not. I had to cover them up.
And I did.
This past week they cut the soybeans in the field across from us. That’s one of the combines in the picture below, cutting the field across from my house. As long as those beans were there, I could fool myself into thinking it wasn’t quite time to pull in for the winter. As much as I love to see those combines purring along over the slope, cutting the beans and stirring up dust, and as much as I love to be a part of the agricultural cycle they represent, I know what it means.
The beans are gone. Summer is gone. Winter is almost here.
I have my own stash of old cotton sheets now, some worn and tattered. Over the years I’ve used old rugs, sheets of plastic, and cardboard boxes to put over garden plants in the fall.
I covered my tomatoes last week for the two nights it dipped below 40 degrees. And even as I clung to summer, hanging on by my fingernails, I hedged my bets.
I clipped a bunch of marigolds, just to have the scent and the summer color for a few more days. That’s a few of them on the right, in a cream pitcher that belonged to MotherGrant.
And just in case the magic sheets weren’t enough, I pulled a few green tomatoes off of the vines.
And we had Fried Green Tomatoes for supper.
Tell me Bandits and Buddies..
Do you have a garden—either flowers or veggies?
Or did you have one growing up?
Did your parents or grandparents grow a garden?
Have you ever rushed out to cover up a beloved plant, to save it from frost?
Do you listen to “the weather” each evening, for sake of the garden or just to know what to wear to work the next day?What is your favorite season?
What scent says “fall” to you?
Have you ever eaten Fried Green Tomatoes?
If you have a favorite recipe for fried green tomatoes–or any other fall food– will you share it?
I have a great one. Sven may kill me, as he does not love southern food, but I promise to load my Fried Green Tomato recipe into the Bandita Recipe file today.
Posted by Cassondra Murray Feb 16 2012, 4:49 am in Amish People, Cassondra Murray, Cassondra's blogs, gardens, spring, winter
The crocuses are blooming.
About three miles down the crooked, one-lane road from me, an Amish family built a house just last year.
There are lots of Amish people around here. But this Amish family is different.
The Amish folks around here are known for the cedar lawn furniture they build, their fabulous sourdough bread, and the produce they sell during the spring, summer and fall.
I used to carry mail, and I had several Amish, and some Mennonite, families on my rural mail route. I came to know and respect them, understand some of the differences in their faiths, and understand their ways of life. And I came to realize that I am grateful I was not born an Amish woman. Hard life, that.
For you who don’t know, Amish people are the ones who ride in horse-drawn buggies, don’t drive cars, have no electricity in their houses, and have, at least in the home, no modern conveniences that most of us think are essential.
I think it varies by region, but around here, Amish folks are different from Mennonites. Mennonites in this region also eschew stylish clothing, their women wear only dresses, and also wear head coverings. But the Mennonites drive cars. Many of them work in trades like masonry and carpentry, and those Mennonites often drive a Mercedes or a BMW. Not second hand ones, either. They earn good livings, use high-end power equipment, and have indoor plumbing and electricity.
A Mennonite woman wears only dresses, and a little white cap, with her hair twisted up underneath it. She can wear almost any color dress, although, come to think of it, I’ve never seen a Mennonite woman wear red.
Hmmm…must be the color of sin or something.
But no large prints. No matter the color, the dress is always very plain, with long sleeves, and always one solid color or a very small, discrete print. Mennonite men…well, they look pretty much like any other man, usually, though most have beards and they do not wear printed fabric either.
Amish women, on the other hand—they wear dresses made of cotton or wool, and always blue or black. Around here, they wear no other colors. They wear heavy bonnets, so none of their hair shows. Amish men wear wide-brimmed, roundish hats of straw or felt, have raggedy untrimmed beards, no moustache, and somber black pants with blue shirts.
And they never smile. Never. Even if their eyes smile, their faces remain somber when they speak with you. They will speak when necessary to conduct business, but they do not wish to be social with those who are not like them–who do not believe as they do.
Oh, and if the men are around, the Amish women don’t smile either. If the men are not around, the Amish women will often smile and wave at passersby, then glance around as thought they might get caught failing to “come ye out and be separate” from all of us heathen folk and our worldly ways.
And that’s how this new Amish family is different.
What does that have to do with crocuses blooming? Hold on. I’ll get to that.
This Amish family down the road…they built their house last spring, moved in, promptly began work on a new barn, and…the thing I was waiting for….they planted a garden.
About the first of May last year, they hung out a sign by the road. It was made of wood and painted white, and had two little hooks on the bottom, and depending on the day, other little signs would be linked up to it, one hanging just below the other in a string of offerings lettered in coarse black hand.
Tomatoes. This one hanging just below the one for corn. Each vegetable had its own set of little hooks, you see.
Grean Beans. Yep, that’s the way it was spelled. Whatever they had available on a given day, they could add that particular sign.
So when the sign for tomatoes appeared, I stopped.
I drove my shiny, inferno-red van into their gravel driveway, easing through a flock of chickens, and pulled over to the side. I sat there for a minute in my cushy leather seat before I shut off the radio and the air conditioner, then dug into my Fossil bag for my Fossil wallet, stalling a bit so I could look around.
Several strapping young Amish men, all dressed exactly alike, used a team of horses to haul loads of dirt across the lot in the back, building a steep ramp up to the fabulous new two-story barn. I saw them all pause and glance my way as I got out of the van, clad in tight jeans and a tank top with skinny straps. More exposed female skin than they’d see in a lifetime of sneaking around to peep in the windows at the Amish girls.
The boy handling the team of four big Belgians looked to be about 12, and clearly knew what he was doing. The barn, incidentally, was more solidly constructed than my house.
I pushed the button to roll down the power windows and stood by my gleaming, hot-red sin machine, scoping out the lay of the land. I shut the van door and headed toward the house. The front porch was veggie central, lined with tables, and there was a big, white baby scale front and center. Non-digital, of course.
A turkey gobbled in the barnyard as I walked across the driveway. No sign of the farmer or his wife. Two steps up, and I was on the porch. I peered through the screen door at the dark, cool front room. Four straight chairs sat facing the center of the room, one roughly in each corner. One small table held an oil lamp. No rugs. None of what I would call necessary comforts. Simple and clean.
I started picking out tomatoes, squash and cucumbers. I’d filled a plastic sack with produce when around the corner walked the proprietor.
And that’s when I knew he was different.
He smiled at me. A full, broad, welcoming smile. A genuine, glad-to-meet-you smile. As though I had not just arrived borne on the inferno-red wings of motorized iniquity, and were not dressed like the harlot Jezebel, poised to betray any available saint into the bowels of hell.
He might, I thought, even be glad I was there, and not just for the money in my wallet.
His hair and beard were white, but his skin was flush and ruddy. He was slender and spry. His eyes were pale, pale blue. And he twinkled at me.
Had there been a chimney, and had he been more round, I’d have expected him to lay his finger aside of his nose. I admit that I glanced around, just to be sure there were no reindeer. The twinkle was that pronounced.
It’s an Amish elf, I thought.
He introduced himself as John, and told me about his wife, Rebekkah, for whom he was building a set of shelves. They’d moved from Pennsylvania to be near their sons, who’d all married girls from a local Amish family. I knew that family—they were from my old mail route. Those girls used to sneak smiles at me when the men were not looking.
Maybe those girls were lucky enough to marry pale-eyed Amish boys who would twinkle at them, and smile at strangers. Even worldly female strangers in flashy red vans.
We chatted for a bit, the Amish Elf John and I, I paid for my produce, and then I climbed back into my blasphemous chariot of debauchery, pushed the button to roll up the windows, and drove out the other side of the gravel circle, dodging geese, turkeys and a guinea or three. I waved at the young Amish men working on the new barn. They all nodded somberly in my general direction, made no eye contact, and did not smile.
Three weeks ago—about the last week of January, I was driving down that one-lane road again. It was a warm day for January. And still, the land was depressing. Shades of murky brown and gray.
The fields have lain fallow since late summer, and though it hasn’t been so cold this year, and we’ve had almost no snow, even the stubble of corn and wheat has been worn down by the relentless, wet, winter blah.
I crossed the small creek, rounded the steep curve and climbed the rise.
And there was John, the Amish elf.
I didn’t see his face. His wide-brimmed straw hat was low over his forehead and eyes. The kind of hat the Amish usually wear in summer.
I recognized him by his posture, more than anything. He walked through the field that had been his garden. He strode across the ground, focused on it as though he were measuring it with his steps. I slowed as he paused to look up at the sky. I thought about honking my horn at him, but in the end I didn’t do it. He seemed a man alone with the land and with his God, and my noise had no place in it.
Two days ago I drove by again, and the ground was broken. Turned over in perfect red-brown rows of piled earth, ready to be worked and planted. No sign of John, but my heart beat faster, seeing that earth, turned by a plow dragged by a team of Belgian horses and a man with a twinkle in his eye. Soon there will be a garden there again, God willing.
This morning I got up, dragged myself to the kitchen and poured the Cup of Life from my fancy stainless steel Cuisinart thermal carafe—the one that had brewed itself on a timed schedule I programmed in last night– after I ground the beans in the fancy electric grinder and set the timer. The timer I’ve come to need as I’ve become dependent on technology for comfort.
I stood at the window and gazed out at my back yard. It’s still half mud, and half dead, smooshed grass. I watched the endless gray drizzle fall from the winter sky.
And that’s when I saw it.
Just a small, tight yellow clump beside the gray stones in the flower bed outside my kitchen window. Crocuses. I stared, almost breathing them in, as though if I took them into my body I could hasten the coming of spring.
Even as I was drinking in the color, my central heating unit kicked on to drive away the chill of 40 degrees outside. Yup, it’s still winter.
But spring is coming. I know because the days are getting longer. The flowers are poking their heads out of the ground.
And John, the Amish elf, has broken his ground for this year’s garden. Maybe he’s standing by the warmth of the wood-burning cook stove in his kitchen, with his wife Rebekkah bustling about. Maybe he’s sipping his cup of coffee brewed in an old-fashioned coffee pot, gazing out at his fields and seeing the first signs of spring.
I think we are not so different, he and I. John in his plain clothes and straw hat, walking his ground and oiling his harness. Me in my jeans and baggy sweatshirt, slaving away at my computer and driving the roads in my comfortable red machine.
Both looking up at the sky, waiting for spring. He may not have yellow crocuses blooming, but I bet he’s smiling, just like I am.
What about you, Bandits and Buddies?
Are there Amish people who live near you? And if so, have they broken their gardens for the season? Do you know them?
Any signs of spring where you are? (Or fall, for our friends Down Under).
What do you wait for, to signal the changing of the seasons?
Has it been a long winter for you? Has it been a hard one, or like us, have you had an easy winter so far? (I am crossing my fingers and toes that we don’t have a late winter here.)
Do you see any flowers blooming? If your seasons are opposite, are the leaves turning colors yet?
What is your signal to start thinking about spring? Easter? April Fool’s Day? What is your end-of summer holiday if your season is opposite mine?
Do you have any early spring traditions you keep? When does spring cleaning happen for you?
Are you like me…hankering for balmy breezes and flowers bustin’ out everywhere?
Posted by Cassondra Murray Jan 12 2012, 4:17 am in Cassondra Murray, Cassondra's blogs, cold weather, emergency preparation, fire, fireplaces, winter, wood stoves
It’s fixin’ to get cold here.
And I’m not ready.
We’ve had a mild winter so far. A few cold snaps, but no slick roads, only a day or two that I’ve had to scrape my car windows…and no snow or ice.
But I’ve lived my whole life in southern Kentucky, and I know that even in years that Christmas is balmy, by the middle of January, winter will get down to business.
When we moved into this old house, we installed central heat and air. But since the day it was hooked up, with the onset of each winter, I’ve lived with a tense worry.
Quite honestly, I’m afraid.
Not the kind of afraid where I think I might die, or that something might hurt me. I’m not afraid in that way.
I’m afraid the power lines will go down, and stay down for more than a few hours. Every time I look at a radar picture like that one on the right, and see a big green, pink and blue blob inching toward us across the weather map, I tense up. I’m terrified that we’ll get an ice storm. And that propane unit, with its fan and ignition powered by electricity, is our only source of heat.
That’s what the radar looked like when I was about to post this blog. If you’re reading this after noon today, that blue thing is probably dumping stuff on me.
I blogged a couple of years ago about the ice storm that forced us to leave this house to stay with the neighbors for two days. I moved a house full of plants to their front foyer in a desperate attempt to save the ones my grandmother had passed down. Our animals…well..they were just cold. There was nothing I could do for them except keep them fed and watered, and give them plenty of blankets to sleep on.
My daddy would not be proud of me about that.
Don’t misunderstand. He wouldn’t worry that cats and dogs can’t make it through some cold weather. Daddy was way too realistic and sensible for that. He’d be disappointed that I wasn’t prepared then, and I’m not prepared now.
Because I was taught better.
That ice storm was awful, and I hated it. I suppose, if you live in hurricane regions or flood-prone areas, that you’re used to the idea of having to leave home when disaster strikes.
You’ll have to pardon the cliché, but that’s just not how I was raised. It goes against every instinct I have to leave my home in times like this. I was taught to be prepared for emergencies, and to be set up to take care of my home and my critters no matter what.
We have four wheel drive vehicles. One we keep and maintain just for winter driving. I would never be without one. We have kerosene heaters in the garage. So I could, technically, keep the pipes from freezing. But I found out a few winters ago that I get sick from those heater fumes, and they do say make sure the area is well-ventilated. So let’s see…. if you have to keep the window open so you don’t die from asphyxiation….I mean really, what’s the point?
I have a nice collection of antique oil lamps, so when the power goes out, within ten minutes, I’ve got light. I’ve got a pantry full of food that would last me and the neighbors through a blizzard with ten-foot drifts. In case y’all from the north are thinkin’ “so what?”…well…that’s big for Kentucky.
What I don’t have is a wood stove.
And that’s why I’m afraid.
When Steve and I were first married, as soon as we could move out of the apartment in town, we moved into a little “four-in-a-box” house in the country. It was dirt cheap rent, with a huge yard, way off the road, surrounded by pastures full of cows, and with no insulation. It was so cheap because it had no central heat. It had a wood stove, and most people were put off by this.
Our stove looked a lot like the one on the left, but bigger. It would heat the whole house.
Daddy taught me, years ago, how to fell trees, cut firewood, and how to handle a wood fire, so I bought myself a nice Husqvarna chainsaw, and we spent summers cutting, splitting and stacking wood.
Our first married years in that tiny house, we learned to manage a wood stove like pros. We made it through a chimney fire and I learned how to sweep my own chimney after that.
We get a bad ice storm in this region about every fifteen years, and right on schedule, all those years ago, we had a doozy. That one left us without power for eight days.
I pulled out my oil lamps. We had light and we were warm as toast. We had homemade chicken soup, cowboy chili, and the best oatmeal you’ve ever eaten…all cooked on that wood stove in the living room of that tiny house.
I love wood stoves. I love the way they smell. I love the crackle when the kindling first ignites. I love the gentle warmth when the fire is small and the door is standing open just a crack so the stove will draw enough air to burn hot and catch the bigger, more dense wood. I love closing down the dampers and watching the stove’s surface thermometer climb, hearing the whoosh of the roaring fire while the room gets so toasty that I start to shed clothes.
When I was a little girl, I loved snow. What kid doesn’t? My favorite part was getting up very early, before my dad went out to feed the cows, and running to the living room window and looking outside at the untouched white glory.
I loved to follow my dad when he went to break ice for the animals, then I’d stay out there, all bundled up, and play in the powder. I loved catching it on my tongue. I loved stopping and watching my breath turn to ice crystals, searching for animal tracks and the tiny indentations of bird footprints, and I loved the incredible depth of the quiet. When Daddy’s farm, even now the home of my heart, lay beneath a blanket of snow, it seemed that the entire world grew still. It was a quiet so pure and intense that if I only stood there for a bit, I could hear God whisper. Look what I made.
We had an oil burner upstairs, but downstairs, in the basement, was a sheet metal wood stove. So the pipes never froze, and even when the power was out, the floor was always warm, and there was always a place to go to get toasty. There was a circle of chairs around that stove, and a big bag of chestnuts or peanuts for roasting.
Late in the evenings after supper, we’d gather around the wood stove, and even when the electricity failed, when the wind howled and the temperatures fell well below zero, we’d just scoot a little closer to the stove.
Then I grew up.
And snow became a hassle. Winter became a hassle.
And then I moved into this house, and for the first time in my life, I became afraid of winter. Starting in November each year, nature began to feel hostile toward me and all that is under my care. This past October when I walked outside and for the first time this year, caught the scent of wood smoke from across the hill, a scent I used to relish, I realized that the potential loss of power to our home…this alone is what’s making me hate winter.
When I was a little girl, if we lost power, yes it was a hassle. But we were set up for that. We had skills. We were equipped. I have those skills, still.
It’s the wood stove that’s missing.
I want one.
The most humble, two-room hovel seems inviting if there is a curl of smoke from that chimney. No Christmas scene is complete without that symbol of warmth and comfort. There’s something about a hearth or a stove that says, Come in and rest by the fire a spell, for no matter your troubles, it will be better if you’re warm and dry.
Wood fires are romantic to me. I wrote a love scene by a fireplace in the first novel I ever finished. I loved it that Bandita Susan, in her fabulous book, Money Shot, featured a wood stove in a rustic cabin. And I loved it that her hero knew exactly what to do with that stove.
So, quite naturally you’re asking, ‘Cassondra, why don’t you have one?’ Although there are two fireplaces in my house, neither chimney is sound enough to use for fire, and neither is built so that it could take a flue liner. Beyond that, the wood floors and timbers in this old house are so dry from age, that they are perfect kindling. One errant spark and all will be lost. So I have not figured out how to make a wood stove viable here.
I admit that I don’t like the mess a wood stove brings into the house. The dust is never ending, and the bark and wood chips are a lot of work to control. But wood stoves are beautiful now. Look at this gorgeous red one.
And I am tired of hating winter. I want to see the big pink and blue blob moving across the weather radar map and, like Duchesse Jeanne, I want to jump up and down and yell YAY SNOW! I want to wake up in the morning and look forward to the sun flashing brilliant on the ice-coated limbs, and turning the world into a fairyland of diamonds and fire. Instead of cringing with worry, I want to thrill at the beauty. I want to walk out in it and listen for the whispers of God.
Even now, when I pass a house with a shed full of stacked wood, it warms my heart as much as I know it will warm that family in the cold months. And when Mother Nature ravages the power grid, they’ll be tucked up around that wood stove, toasty and safe.
What about you, Bandits and Buddies?
Do you know how to build a fire?
Have you ever lived with a wood stove? Have you cut and stacked wood?
Do you like the scent of wood smoke in the autumn? Or are you in the “give me a furnace with a touch pad thermostat and keep that fire away from me” camp?
Have you ever roasted chestnuts?
When the power goes out in the winter, how do you stay warm? Do you vacate? Or are you set up with everything you need to stay at home?
Do you have a fireplace or a wood stove now? And if so, do you use it often?
Do you dread the hassle of ice and snow? Or do you look forward to the winter?
Power outages are wonderful ways to throw our reluctant characters together for a bit of romance by the fireside or stove. Do you have a favorite novel with a power outage element, or a favorite scene that got all heated up by the presence of a fireplace or stove?
Sven has a fire blazing in the lair’s huge fireplace. Scoot a little closer and tell me how you stay warm, inside and out.
Posted by Cassondra Murray Nov 19 2010, 7:30 am in Cassondra Murray, Cassondra's blogs, Hot toddy, liqueur, winter
by Cassondra Murray
If it’s not too personal a question….
Have you ever had a hot toddy?
Until last weekend I was a hot toddy virgin.
Don’t get too cozy thinking of me that way. For my December blog I’m planning Confessions of a Dish Whore. So depending on the subject, it can go either way with me. You just never know.
It started last Friday when I began feeling kind of puny. I’ve been puny a lot this fall. To be honest, I’ve been off my game for about three weeks, but I’ve been resisting getting sick.
I’ve been too busy to get sick, and dangit, I just don’t have time. So I mentioned to a friend in an email that I was feeling rotten and thinking of taking some meds and going to bed. Now I’ll tell you that I don’t like taking any kind of chemical, but when it comes to sinus drainage (ew! ) and coughing, my motto is Better Living Through Pharmaceuticals. I’ll do anything to be able to sleep, and thus to keep going.
So I mentioned this to my friend and she said, “Ohhhhh….you need a hot bath and a nice hot toddy and you’ll sleep like a baby!”
This was a new idea for me because although I’ve heard of hot toddies all my life, I’d never had one or made one. I’ve been a bartender. I can mix a mean Irish Coffee, and I know how to pour a proper Cognac. But I’m not a liquor drinker. I like wine, but liquor? WAY too strong for these tastebuds.
It just sounds hoity toity, don’t you think? Like something I remember reading about for the first time in The Great Gatsby, which is plenty enough reason to dislike it without going one bit further. Makes me think of something a little eccentric. Perhaps a term a great-great aunt would use as an excuse to get tipsy while pretending she really doesn’t drink.
You know the eccentric aunt. The one with 39 cats. All in the house. The one with giant flower-shaped clip-on pearl earrings and a tuft of off-blue, teased hair, who gossips with her cronies once a week under the dryers at the Curl Up & Dye, and keeps all her money in the mattress and wears rose water and collects twist ties and bits of string, and is secretly having a torrid affair with the minister from the Fourth Presbyterian church across town. The one who titters, “Here you go, dearie. Have a nice little hot toddy,” then innocently scoops the rat poison back underneath the counter when she thinks you’re not looking.
I did not want to be that aunt.
So last weekend I was desperate. Despite my misgivings, I googled “hot toddy.”
Apparantly I’m the only one opposed to the sound of hot toddy, because I found about a gazillion recipes. Pages of them. Most of them looked something like this.
The one ingredient common to all the recipes was…..liquor. Not the low-alcohol wine I’m used to. Liquor. Bourbon or Scotch or brandy or spiced rum.
I went digging through the cabinets. The only liquor I had was some disgusting cheap brandy I’d bought for something long ago, used half a cup of, and stuck back to rot. And I had a small bottle of Wild Turkey American Honey Liqueur. The bottle had never even been opened.
I poured in one shot of the 70-proof liqueur. Tea did not sound like a good idea late at night, so I filled the cup with hot water, put in a cinnamon stick, a few whole cloves, a squeeze of lemon, and a spoon of raw sugar.
It still took a little getting used to for this wine girl, but can I just say I was….well….pleased….quite happy in fact….. with this form of medicine? Oh, yeah. SO much better than Nyquil.
My friend was right. I slept like a baby. And I woke up the next day with nary a sign of a drug hangover.
My husband grew up in a house where they made their own cough medicine out of cheap whiskey, honey and lemon juice. He said a spoon of it worked as well as any cough syrup he’s ever used. I remember my grandfather taking a spoonful of whiskey when he had a sore throat, but I also remember the rest of the family raising eyebrows, and then frowning at him, as though God did not smile upon those who got their medicine from the liquor store–or in our Buckle-of-the-Bible-Belt dry county, the bootlegger.
My family got its alcohol from the local drugstore. Complete with God’s stamp of approval.
I suppose I will have to fall back on Nyquil or Theraflu at some point, but for the moment, I’m quite content.
So content that I stopped at the store on the way home tonight and picked up another bottle of Wild Turkey American Honey liqueur. If I’m going to be sick, I figure I might as well enjoy the heck out of it.
The kettle is on the stove. I think it’s about time for another dose.
Have you ever had a hot toddy?
Do you drink them when you’re feeling under the weather, or do you like them for a hot drink on a cold winter night?
A treat on a holiday weekend maybe?
Does anyone you know drink hot liquor drinks? Irish coffee, perhaps?
Did your family make cough syrup themselves?
Or did your family do what mine did, and buy their alcohol from the drugstore?
Any hot toddy recipes out there?
Posted by Caren Crane Feb 27 2010, 5:41 am in Caren Crane, cruising, spring, winter
by Caren Crane
Regulars here in the Lair know I am a devotee of autumn. I love the crisp air, colorful leaves and “settling in” that happens as the Earth prepares for winter. I also enjoy winter and have made a complete and total fool of myself during the Winter Olympics. (Anyone care to discuss curling? I’m now an expert! I could hardly get this post done for the women’s gold medal final. Canada broke my heart!) Okay, gold medalist Apolo Ohno was just here as your daily eye candy. *g*
This year, though, it has been colder and snowier than usual, even here in the (normally) sunny South. I find myself looking forward to the budding trees and warm breezes of spring. I am also getting an itch to travel, much like my friends up north tell me they get when winter drags on too long. My friend Elizabeth says that by March everyone in Chicago is beating a path to the travel agent, begging for tickets to “anywhere the sun is shining” and this year, I can relate.
My husband is at home these days and, despite his curmudgeonly tendencies, has begun to pick up some phone calls he would previously have ignored. I came home a couple of weeks ago to be told by my beloved that we had won a cruise. Huh? Yes, indeed, I had heard correctly. My man said we won a cruise. I have no idea how we (or actually, he) won this cruise, but I took his word for it since he assured me it was real. Then I went to fix dinner or something and promptly forgot about it. Until last week, when the information about our cruise came in the mail. It is real!
We have been on a cruise once before and it was a lovely vacation. We enjoyed many things about cruising during that first trip and also learned some things to avoid – like anything alcoholic, since it costs a fortune to drink onboard! We feel better about this second cruise, armed with knowledge about how to avoid tack-on fees. This cruise is technically free, except for the unavoidable port fees since the trip is to the Bahamas and, apparently, a fuel surcharge of some sort. Hm.
Normally, we would avoid the Bahamas due to the excess of badly-handled tourism there and the likelihood of being hassled and/or pick-pocketed by locals. But did I mention the cruise is free? I have fretted about this “free” trip, knowing it will actually cost us hundreds of dollars to: a) get to the port in Ft. Lauderdale, FL; b) park our car at the port (or take a cab, if we fly or go by train); c) pay the port fees and fuel surcharges; and, d) cover the “incidentals” that always come up. (This picture is me at home, facing the reality of the money we will have spent – so sad!) The money is a real worry for us this year, but vacation – that singular, glorious chance to get away from all our cold, wintry worries for a few days – beckons like a sun-soaked siren.
The prolonged cold weather has made our so-called “free” trip more tempting with every gray, passing day. I know the sun is shining in the Bahamas and, despite the inevitable hassles, surcharges, delays and mix-ups, a patch of warm, welcoming sand is waiting for me. I think it’s time to work on trip details. Maybe something around my birthday in May?
Are you longing for spring (or autumn, if you’re in the Southern hemisphere)? Have a vacation planned, in mind, or at least in your dreams? If you could get away today, where would you go?