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?
Posted by Trish Milburn Feb 15 2010, 3:03 pm in snow, spring flowers, winter
By Trish Milburn
Anyone who knows me knows that winter is, by far, my least favorite season. I get cold easily, I hate gray days, and I’ve had some bad experiences traveling in wintry weather (like doing unintentional 360s down the highway until I ended up in a ditch). Even a normal winter here in the South has me layering up in fleece and watching for the earliest sign of spring — my daffodils popping out of the ground. Of course, lately my daffodils, which popped up a few weeks ago, have been shivering. It’s been a cold, gray winter with more snowfalls than we typically have. In fact, we have another covering the ground this morning, one that came overnight. There’s a bit of iciness to it because it crunches on our street when people drive by. It’s been so cold (down to single digits at some points) that I nearly had a stroke when I saw my last natural gas bill.
But this year, I don’t think I’m the only one experiencing winter fatigue. People on the East Coast of the U.S. have been buried by one giant snowstorm after another. Residents of Texas and the Deep South even got a taste of winter — a foot of snow in Dallas and snowfalls in atypical states such as Louisiana and Mississippi. I was supposed to go to Ohio today for a romance program at a library, but I just found out that it’s been moved to March because of bad weather.
At times like this, I try to look for consolations and things to look forward to in order to get through the winter blues. For instance, I tell myself that it can snow and be cold now because I have to be inside doing revisions and reading RITA entries anyway. Maybe by the time I turn them in, the weather will have improved enough that I can start walking outside again instead of on the treadmill.
I think about where I’ll be a month from today — Disney World! I LOVE Disney World, and it’ll be a nice treat in between two deadlines and a board meeting. And at the end of next month, I’ll get to enjoy a visit with my sister and nieces when they fly in for a week. Yes, my entire March is full to the brim, but there’s a lot to enjoy in there. And hopefully, it won’t be cold and there won’t be a snowflake in sight and the daffodils will be in full bloom.
So, how has winter been where you are? Are you looking forward to spring? What do you do to get yourself through winter? Or are you a winter lover? And for our friends in the southern hemisphere, what is the weather like where you are now? It’s odd for me to think that Christmas and Valentine’s Day fall during your summer.
Posted by Joan Kayse Feb 13 2010, 6:00 am in Groundhog Day, Joan Kayse, romance bandits, snow, winter
by Joan Kayse
I’m ready for spring. I want crocus and tulips and forsythias blooming. I want blue skies and Mama robins building nests. I want green grass and budding trees and soft breezes.
So Mr. Groundhog…you’re toast!
I know. I know, I know, I know my winter experience has not been of the apocalyptic proportions as Jeanne and Christie and many of our BB’s along the Atlantic seaboard. Here in my part of Kentucky we’ve had intermittent snowfalls. Yesterday’s was a measly 7 inches. On the now popular DC scale that’s a dusting. But the blankety blank stuff won’t stay shoveled! I woke to 2-foot drifts blocking my drive. (Note: There is no such thing as enterprising teens wanting to make some bucks…even the lure of my chocolate chip cookies couldn’t bring them away from their warm, snug Wii consoles.)
And now our weather guy is saying Sunday we’ll get at LEAST that much more.
Was it really only 11 days ago that our friend Punxatawny Phil saw his shadow? Personally, I think it’s a con as any groundhog thrust up into the glare of camera lights is GOING to see his shadow. He didn’t scurry back into his hole because of an impending six more weeks of winter! He had a flashback to those headlights on Route 86 that took his less well known cousin, Pete the Possum, out a few years back.
Now I wouldn’t really hurt anything furry and cute. After all, Marmota Monax is in the same family as squirrels (rabid squirrel!) and I like them ok. But I figure if we hunt him down and force him to see the error of his ways maybe spring will come next week!
So Phil…here’s the deal:
Snow hides the robins. We can’t see them and take comfort in knowing spring will not forget us.
Cold weather makes skin dry and rough and, well…you just don’t want to be in the Lair with scratchy Banditas. Sven does not have enough lotion.
No one can see my pedicure in boots up to my knees.
Snow bleaches everything out…until the traffic comes and then it turns into a black/gray glob that takes until July to melt. And don’t get me started on yellow snow….
Gray sky is depressing. Throw a little sun our way once in awhile. Oh, but wait. Let me put on these shades because sun plus miles of white snow = blindness.
So my question for you is, what do you have to say to Phil? What signals the start of spring for you? Whose your favorite Looney Tunes character and last, but not least, who wants to take in an oversized rodent until April?
Posted by Nancy Northcott Dec 26 2009, 7:23 am in Boxing Day, snow, winter
We had a gray Christmas, not a white one, with rain most of the day yesterday. Not quite the ambiance we’ve been trained to expect. As the dh said, “No one wrote a song dreaming of a wet Christmas.” And Charles Dickens didn’t write about rain in A Christmas Carol. We would’ve liked just a bit of the white stuff–a few flurries, perhaps, though the boy believes “snow when [he's] out of school is wasted snow.”
I imagine those of you looking at anything from multiple inches to a couple of feet of snow may wonder if I know what I’m saying, especially if the snow canceled your travel plans. And I do understand that snow presents anything from an inconvenience to a confounded nuisance to a danger. Yet snow has always had a mystique here in the central Carolinas, probably because we have it so seldom. I’ve had snow on the brain lately, in part because of my new fixation with the Times of London website, which featured snow so heavily this past week (including the Dickens article in the link above), and because of the nasty storm crippling the central US this week. However, I actually got the idea for this blog while watching the dh’s favorite holiday movie, A Christmas Story, yesterday afternoon.
At the end of the movie, the parents sit in the darkened living room with light coming only from the tree lights and from streetlights shining through falling snow outside. And they comment on the beauty of the scene. It struck me then, obvious though this may have been to others, that it isn’t really the snow that’s beautiful, at least not for me. It’s what light does to snow and vice-versa.
Light shining through or reflecting off snow gives it a fairyland sheen. The snow covers the bumps and rough spots of the ground underneath, diffusing the light so everything glistens as though it had a magical coating. The shadows become more obvious than they would be on grass, and there’s an aura of magic about the whole thing. At least for those of us who don’t live with in week in and week out. I suspect this is all a matter of perspective, but I did enjoy looking at photos of snowy scenes from around the world.
Ice is dangerous–ask anyone. We’ve had ice storms here that brought down limbs on power lines and roofs and caused terrible hardships. Black ice caused a horrible bus crash in Cornwall last week. Yet seeing the sun shine through that ice coating a limb gives it a silvery, ethereal beauty made all the stronger because it’s fleeting. That very sunlight that creates the beauty will soon destroy it.
Snow used to be a “get out of school free” card. Around here, we know we don’t understand how to drive in snow, so most of us try not to. Yet there are always people who have to. For them, I’m sure, the snow is not so much a beauty as a nuisance. When I had to drive to work on snow-over-ice, I didn’t love it so much. Still, I fondly remember sledding down a slick street with my friends in high school. No one else was out, and I worked up my courage by starting halfway down the hill and then going progressively higher. Because my companions were lifelong friends, nobody gave me any grief about being afraid of speed.
What about you? Is snow a blessing or a bane to you? Or both?
In the spirit of Boxing Day, I’m boxing up and sending to one commenter a duplicate soundtrack of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Black Pearl I somehow acquired. It’s still in the packaging, but I don’t have the receipt, so it’s offered unused but “as is.” I also have a signed copy of Warrior’s Lady donated by Gerri Russell and a copy (not signed) of Don’t Bargain with the Devil donated by Sabrina Jeffries.
This is my last blog post of 2009, so Happy Boxing Day and best wishes for a healthy, happy 2010!
Posted by Jeanne Adams Jan 9 2009, 5:36 am in Dalmatians, Irish Water Spaniels, Jeanne Adams, snow, winter
By Jeanne Adams
Let me say right off the bat that I adore Winter. Fall and Winter are my favorite seasons, followed quickly by Spring.
What about Summer, you ask? Its my least favorite. I hibernate in summer because I just wilt in the heat. I’m a mountain girl, I like it cool. I adored Romance Writers of America National this year in lovely, cool San Francisco. Ahhhhh.
(Usually, I dread National because I have to dress up and be professional in the heat. And summer RWA in DALLAS? There are not enough fans and AC made to make that bearable. Urg.)
Okay, that’s off track. Back to Winter and snow. Snow!!! I so want it to snow, snow, snow. It’s been sleeting, we got a mild ice storm on Tuesday – bleech on ice storms – and we’ve had a dusting of flurries, but no snow. Where is it? It’s 32 degrees farenheit. C’mon!!!
Blame global warming or the melting glaciers or something, but personally I am going to indulge in a serious pout.
I want to sled, and make forts (I think I’ll make it a bit bigger than the one pictured with the cats!) and have a wicked, wild, crazy snowball fight with my sons. I want to throw the snowballs into the air and get the dogs to chase them. Back in ’96, just prior to my move to DC I got caught in a blizzard in Virginia. (I lived in NC at the time) It was an absolute blast. I was at a dog show and there were about twenty of us stuck in the hotel along with a skeleton hotel staff, a night manager who’d been on when they shut the major roads, and a whole lot of dogs, large and small, who were ready to have a blast in the snow.
Have a blast we did. We built snow forts and snowball fights with perfect strangers who quickly became allies or enemies over the walls of two, four-foot-high forts. Snow diving by the dogs – Dalmatians – quickly became a game of spot-the-spots. Trust me, it’s REALLY hard to see a Dalmatian in the snow! If you don’t believe me, check out this YouTube video of Bailey, whom I believe is a Dal crossbreed. :> You’ll LOL. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sUL0KCIc48
That same year, I’m told, there was cross-country skiing on the mall in DC. The monuments were all snowbound and my friend, also with Dalmatians, loosed her dogs on Capitol hill to romp in the snow. A LARGE time was had by all. She has pictures of them running up and down the capitol steps. Wheeeee!
I also want to see my new dog, Diver, the Irish Water Spaniel (IWS) in the snow. A fellow IWS afficianado, Jeremy Kezer took these fabulous pictures of his girls, Fiona and Selchie, in the Massachusetts snow right before Christmas. (Maybe I should move to Massachusetts. After all, the Adamses are originally from Boston…and they had snow BEFORE Christmas.) IWS don’t care if it’s wet, cold, snowing or sleeting. If there’s play to be had, they are THERE. Grins. They are a fabulous fun breed and I am loving being an IWS-mom. Ha! BTW, you can check out more wonderful pix of Jeremy and Kim’s dogs here: http://www.chanticoiws.com/index.html (Jeremy was kind enough to give me permission to use these cool shots. If you’d like to see more of his work, check out www.jeremykezer.com)
Anyway, I want to play with my kids and dogs in deep, wonderful fluffy snow. The real stuff. I know Banditas Tawny, Kirsten and Susan had snow at the holiday, as did many others. Alas, DC had none. (Can you tell I’m pouting again?) The saving grace here is that the “real” winter in DC doesn’t start until February. President’s Day snowstorms are common. Snow for the Ides of March? Oh, yeah. Then, like flipping a switch, April becomes Spring and before you know it, it’s hotter than a…well, let’s use a phrase I first heard in a little store in my North Carolina hometown:
DC in Summer is hot as the devil’s doorknocker. (Do I need to mention hibernation again? No, didn’t think so.)
So what’s all this got to do with writing?
HAHAHA. Just kidding. In some of the best stories I’ve ever read, the weather, the seasons and even the landscape play a huge part in how the character’s feel, how the story evolves, and even the ways in which the author twists the tale to heighten the emotions of the characters. Nothing like a good blizzard or wicked storm to throw your hero and heroine together. Then again, nothing like a good stormy power outage or icy roads to heighten the fear when the villain is on the loose either!
What’s the best book you’ve ever read where the weather played a part? Any good snowbound books? Any good ice storm books? Are you writing one where the weather plays a part? Or, better yet, are you looking forward to a storm to get some writing DONE? Ha!
Since it’s nice and cold and I can mail chocolates without them melting…I’ll pick a random winner to get a box of Godiva! And that’s S’no joke