Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Holly comes into its own this time of year.  The evergreen hollies are stalwarts in the landscape while many of the plants are leafless.  Many are decorated with their own red berries, but one at the local botanical garden has been given a little extra ornamentation (don we now our gay apparel):
Of course, not every holly is evergreen.  Next to the American holly, ilex opaca, above was a deciduous holly (either possumhaw holly, ilex decidua, or winterberry holly, ilex verticillata, I'm not sure which), which I find absolutely lovely.
Thanks to Caleb for taking the pictures (and being willing to take a walk with his old ma this afternoon).

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Part-time stud?

I'm by nature an inquisitive person, so when I saw a job listing that was "perfect for a working mom or a part-time stud," I had to look.  Can you visualize a Venn diagram that overlaps there??  Well, the job was selling school uniforms.  I read the entire piece, looking at it as a possibility for myself (as a working mom).  Then I remembered I was also trying to figure out exactly how this job was such a good fit for a part-time stud.  I scratched my head a bit and then realized the title probably exceeded the character limit and "stud" was actually the result of truncating "student."
Ah ha!

Roasted veggies

For supper last night, I decided to roast some of the turnips I had pulled yesterday.  I peeled some of the very small ones, cut them in halves or quarters depending on size, cut some baby carrots in half, and added some Birds Eye frozen broccoli florets.  I tossed it all with olive oil and salt and coarsely ground pepper and spread it in a single layer on a baking sheet.  I baked it at somewhere between 425 and 450 degrees for about 25 minutes, turning it a couple of times.
It was tasty.  I started to take a picture of my food, but ds warned me not to be "that guy." 
If you don't like turnips boiled, try roasting them.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Old ways (amended)

When my grandparents' farm implements were divvied up, I thought it would be interesting to have a snath (scythe handle) as a conversation piece.  I actually ended up getting the whole scythe. 

(Here is the amended part:  this tool is not the one Grandpa cut wheat with.  He cut wheat with a scythe and cradle.  The scythe he used for cutting wheat had a shorter handle than the one pictured below, I'm told, and of course the cradle part is an interesting part all in itself.)
Mama described how her father would cut wheat with a scythe and cradle.  The first few heads stalks of wheat were handed to her mother who tied them together.  That was used to secure an entire bundle of the wheat as her father cut it.  When the bundle was fastened, the children were tasked with stacking the bundles.  Ideally the stack was made in such a way as to minimize the absorption of rainwater as the stack stood in the field.  The straw from the wheat was used for bedding.  I did not know that.  The old bedding was dumped out and Mama described how good the new bedding felt compared to last year's bedding that had been compacted over time.
It's very interesting to hear about old ways.  If you would like to see small-scale grain harvesting in action, HERE is a video I would recommend, though this uses a different style cradle than the American cradle.
And if the legend of John Henry appeals to you, you will probably enjoy seeing the pictures of a barefoot girl in a long dress "mowing down" the competition in a scythe vs. gas trimmer competition.  I like a girl with pluck.
On another note, I pulled a few more turnips.  (Some things don't change.)


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

I heard a bird sing...

I Heard a Bird Sing
Oliver Herford

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.
"We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December. 
Amid the busy preparations for Christmas, I heard a Carolina wren sing today.  They are little and loud and can be heard singing year round.  Immediately, I thought of the poem "I Heard a Bird Sing."  Yes, we are in the "dark of December," but from here on, the days will be getting longer.  I've been told that one of the reasons we celebrate Christmas in December is that the Roman emperor Constantine mixed the Christian celebrations with the pagan winter solstice celebrations.  I'm no pagan, but I am glad to see the days lengthen once again. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fruits of my labor

When darling son came in late tonight after a gig at the local coffee shop, he needed a little something to eat.  I like to review what he has eaten and try to address what he needs most nutritionally.  I thought what he needed was some fiber (and a little beta carotene wouldn't hurt!).  I microwaved one of the little sweet potatoes I had grown.  So simple--just wash it, pierce it all around with a sharp paring knife, and nuke it one minute at a time till it's as tender as you want it, rotating each minute.  I think I cooked it 2 or 3 minutes.  I added butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  I also threw in a few pecan pieces from the ones we had picked up at the park. 
(Young women, you should be very suspicious of the character of men who will not for themselves pick bones out of fish, nuts out of the shell, or seeds out of watermelons.)


Incidentally, we had another lovely sunset this evening.
Good night!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sun dogs, sunsets

I love winter skies.  Frequently you can see the sun reflecting off the ice crystals in high clouds, making what some folks refer to as sun dogs.  This afternoon while I was out doing some yard work, I could see sun dogs on the left and right side of the sun.  Then I noticed above the sun an upper tangent arc.  In fact, I could see the halo between the upper tangent arc and the sun dog on the left.  Alas, by the time I got my camera, the view had changed.  I still captured a few pictures of the sun dogs on the left and right of the sun, though.
The one on the right...
...and the one on the left.

I'll leave you with a sunset picture I took a week or so ago.
Do you enjoy sky watching?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Turning the compost pile

Yesterday, I had a few items to add to the compost pile, and since the day was mild, it seemed like a great day to be outside turning a compost pile.  The leaves on the outside of the pile were rather dry as were some of the large sycamore leaves inside the pile.  It took my trusty manure fork and me a good while to get the whole thing turned.  I added a few wood ashes to the pile as I went along.  I felt good about getting the dry parts incorporated with the soggy parts, and it was a pleasure to look out the window this morning and see this lovely, dark, and moist homogenized pile.
If you look closely, you can see a female cardinal right on top of the pile and a male cardinal on the right just beyond the pile.  My guess is that they like to peck at the eggshells in the compost.
A gardener, even in winter, is looking ahead to the next growing season.  Hopefully this compost will be used to enrich some early spring crops.

Party food

I apologize for not having pictures; we ate it up!
Last week we had a Christmas party to attend.  I just have to say I love party food.  As a kid, I always loved the phrase "refreshments will be provided."  I think my first associations with party foods were butter mints, nuts, and potato chips.  I still think they're great.  Then somewhere along the line (maybe my late teens or early twenties?), I discovered sausage balls.  The fantastic thing was that the recipe was getting passed around, which was a big deal in the days before the internet. 
(In my single days, I wooed Roger by cooking a batch of sausage balls to take to the picking and grinning where we hung out.  What have I done!?)
Date balls (made with crisped rice cereal) are the cat's pajamas as well.
Last week, I decided to take sausage balls, deviled eggs, and a colorful dip to the party (along with a cake Roger purchased from the store).
The dip was fancy schmancy, and I got the idea from the Mennonite Girls Can Cook website.  It's called Greek Feta Dip, and you can hop over there to their webpage for a look.*  I served it with pita chips. 
I added a little turmeric to my deviled eggs; that gives them a richer yellow color.  Besides, turmeric is supposed to be good for you.  Boy howdy, did those deviled eggs good on a bright red plastic plate!
I was impressed with the offerings of our friend, Brooks.  At first I thought he might be pulling my leg when he told me what he brought (because I saw him bringing in a platter for someone else).  He had made a slow cooker full of meatballs in barbecue sauce, a container full of sausage balls, and some fudge, which he assured me was a cinch to make in the microwave.
A thing about sausage balls is that the recipe calls for biscuit mix, which I never use up if I buy.  I figured I would just use some flour and baking powder.  That worked fine.  I used 1 1/2 c. regular flour, 1/2 c. whole wheat flour, and 1 TB baking powder.  Well, it was about a TB, I guess, measured in the palm of my hand.  That ends up being 2 c. as opposed to the 2 1/2 c. biscuit mix, and it worked out fine. That was with 1 lb. Jimmy Dean sausage and about 10 oz. sharp cheddar, grated.
Hope you're enjoying some party foods (in moderation, of course!).

*just a tip on the dip: make the cheese part the day before to give the flavors a chance to meld.  I happened to use the Neufchatel cheese and Greek yogurt.  At first, I thought the yogurt was too tart for something that already had a strong flavor, but the next day, it was much better.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Giving up on quince

Many years ago I planted a fruiting quince.  One catalog described the fruit as making "the best jam you ever tasted."  It took a few years for the tree to bloom.  Then the blooms were susceptible to late frosts.  Every year the tree would get a bad case of rust or some kind of fungal disease.  In winter, I would try to prune out the diseased part.  When I finally got a fruit or two, I expected them to be aromatic, but I couldn't really smell anything.  Later I read that long cooking releases the aroma.  Hmmm.
I remember the little poem about the Owl and the Pussycat:
"They dined on mince and slices of quince which they ate with a runcible spoon."
Good for them, but I don't think they were real.  I decided to get rid of the tree (even though I paid good money for it!).  I will try to plant some other edible there that can make it without a lot of maintenance.
Caleb chopped the tree down for me yesterday.  I will probably wait until next fall to plant something there. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hanging round the mistletoe

Last Saturday night we three Knoxes sang at the Ridgeway Opry House.  One of the selections was "Hanging Round the Mistletoe," which is a cute little song with an upbeat tempo.  Someone sent me a link to the rendition we did there maybe two years ago.  It was a little painful to watch--I sure hope we did a better job this time--but it gives you an idea of what we sound like.

That catchy little tune has been running through my mind, and when I stepped outside this afternoon I thought I saw some mistletoe in the neighbor's tree.  Caleb was sure I just had "mistletoe on my brain."  We don't usually see mistletoe on the trees in this neighborhood.  Mainly he could see the silhouette of last summer's caterpillar webs around the edge of the tree, so he dismissed my sighting.  I pressed on, "Look a little closer to the center of the tree, on the right side, a little more than half way up."  On a closer inspection, he decided there was mistletoe there after all.
I walked over to the tree and said, "Come over here and get a good look while I stand right under it."
"No, I'm staying f-a-a-a-r away."  Then he volunteered, "I could climb up there and get it."
(Climbing up is really not as challenging as climbing down.)

Now, I just need to fasten this over a convenient doorway.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Rocks in North Carolina

I can name many of the common trees, birds, and wildflowers that I see around me, but I've been frustrated in rock identification.  And the more I learn, the more confused I get about rocks.  One frustration is that most photographs don't seem to show the rocks like they look in the yard and garden.  Anyway, I hope to keep learning.
I recently found a rock on a friend's country property.  Since I tend to collect too much stuff, I thought I'd leave the rock there, but when my friend suggested a blog post, I couldn't resist taking the rock with me.  Here is the rock I found recently.  It is heavy for its size.  Any of you geologists out there know what it is?  Is it hematite, maybe?
I selected a few other rocks that I have to show along with it.
I have one heavy rock that I use as a door stop.  It is weathered to a brown, but I think the inside would be a dark bluish color were the rock fractured.
This rock piqued my interest because of the greenish color.  I washed it off, but I think it is still stained with the red clay it came from.  This one has a couple of flat planes.  Maybe that is a clue in the identification.
Sometimes a rock will stir my imagination.  Doesn't this little pebble look like a bird egg?
And what about 5 loaves and 2 fishes? 
I keep the loaves and fishes in a pottery bowl that I made in the fifth or sixth grade.

It's just a reminder that miracles can happen.

Here is a bit of artwork from my girlhood.  I found a discarded zinc lid in a trash dump and glued a few items to it that struck my fancy.  One element is my initial carved into a bit of stone.  We called it soapstone because it was soft enough to carve, but I have no idea if it is really soapstone.  (It certainly doesn't look like the photographs of soapstone.)  There are also 3 little pieces of limonite, which many kids in North Carolina have no doubt collected as (the probably now politically incorrect name) Indian money.  Fascinating, isn't it, that some rocks are nearly perfectly round and some nearly perfectly square in their natural state.
Of course, we humans aren't content to leave things in their natural state, and here is an example of a cabochon of granite made into a bolo slide.  Daddy gave me this when I was a teenager. (It was done by a community college lapidary student.)
I've never considered myself a rock collector, but I have accumulated a little assortment here.
In my mind I keep hearing the conversation between Barney Fife and Ernest T. Bass.
"What's in the bag, Ernest T.?"
"It's ROCKS!"

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fire therapy

I wanted to pull a little more honeysuckle and blackberry briars out of the blueberry bushes and thought it would be a good day to have a fire nearby.  There were some pine branches, fig branches, privet, and old tomato vines that needed burning.  I enjoy watching a fire and find it emotionally therapeutic.
I used one kitchen match, some pine straw, and some little pine twigs to get it going.  After it had burned a while, I fetched some marshmallows.
After I eat the crunchy part, I like to toast the inner part of the marshmallow, too.  No charred marshmallow for me.  Golden brown is the way to go.
There is nothing quite like having a fire.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving impressions

Over the river and through the woods we went yesterday.  But first, darling husband wanted to stop at the drive thru and get a cup of coffee.  Look who was ordering ahead of us!
The pain in our hearts over our missing loved one mixed with the joy of seeing the rest of the family.  A prayer of thanks to God was made for His blessings and presence. 
There was an abundance of food, good conversation, tears and laughter.  I had my brothers pinpoint on a contour map the woodland destinations we haunted as kids.  We were fortunate to have US Forest Land to roam when we were kids.  There were lots of good memories there.
After sitting for a long drive and sitting for a big meal, I wanted to get outside and walk. 
Saw a bearded fellow with a big knife.
I saw a gorgeous red oak with the sun shining on it, but when I fetched my camera, the clouds had rolled in.  The effect is not nearly the same.  But you can see the handsome form of the tree nonetheless.
Most of the trees except the oaks have shed their leaves.  Here, near the edge of Mom's garden, is a willow oak with yellow leaves that are a remarkably clear color.
Mom has a row of blueberries that can be counted on to be colorful at Thanksgiving.  I took a couple of shots of mine today as I was clearing out some of the underbrush.

After a good day and a long ride, we were about a half hour from home when someone called asking Caleb to help fill in at open mic night at Johnny's on Main.  Instead of going home, we went to Johnny's.  As if we had not eaten enough sweets, we had a piece of ice cream cake to celebrate the birthday of one of the band members. 
I was one tired woman when I got home last night.
It was a good day with lots to be thankful for.


Hickory nuts

To me, one of the sweetest tasting nuts is the hickory nut (pronounced hicker nut in these parts).  It is also one of the most tedious to "pick out."  I engaged in a little tedium this week and picked the tiny meats out of the small hickory nuts that were gathered from the woods several weeks ago.  I probably picked out less than a fourth of a cup. 
I wanted to do something for Thanksgiving with the nut meats, so I modified a recipe and made cheddar, hickory nut, and sage medallions.  With hickory nuts, it is easy to overlook tiny shell fragments.  I wondered if I should make a written warning.  DS said shell fragments are shrapnel.  Hmmm, "Warning: these cheese wafers may contain shrapnel"?  I decided to stick with a little card listing some of the intentional ingredients.  I did find a tiny shell fragment in one of mine.  I hope no one else did.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Indoor foliage

I used to have a job maintaining indoor foliage plants in banks, restaurants, hotels, and even a major university president's office.  One of the plants I would occasionally tend was a bird nest fern.  My sister recently gave me one, the first one I have taken care of for myself.  After spending several weeks outside, it is now occupying a basket on the tray ceiling.  (It's ultra cool to have a tall guy around to help me water the plants up there!)

Fire and ice

One morning last week when we had a heavy frost, the morning sun shone on the red foliage of the blueberry bushes.  Blueberries are a great choice for late fall color.

As I get time, I will try to weed around the bushes through the fall and winter.  The briars, poison ivy, and little saplings have gotten out of control in that area.  I was able to get some of the briars and poison ivy out this summer.  Hopefully, I can finish up the job before next spring.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Some showiness

There is a time for showiness, some pizzazz, some flamboyance.  So I submit to you a picture of my Thanksgiving cactus.  It was given to me a couple of years ago as a gift from my neighbor.  Isn't it pretty?

Oil soap to the rescue (and another domestic triumph)

Housekeeping is definitely not my strong suit, so indulge me while a share what might seem to some a rather mundane entry.  To me it was a triumph.  Our fridge is relatively old and has a textured finish which has collected some grease and grime over the years.  I assumed the little brown flecks on the front were bits of rust showing through.  I also thought the blackness on the handle was permanent since my occasional swipes with a rag or paper towel and dish detergent or cleaner had not changed it.  However, a toothbrush and some original formula Murphy's Oil Soap concentrate poured straight on the brush brought back a new appearance.  I was pleasantly surprised that the brown flecks, whatever they were, also came off.  I will add here, in case it is helpful to anyone, that oil soap also works wonders on the vinyl straps of patio furniture where regular sudsy water just doesn't make a difference.
The other domestic triumph was getting some paint out of a good pair of darling son's jeans.  Bless his heart, he is so like his mother.  Was he painting?  No.  Was he salvaging paint?  No.  He spilled all the paint on his jeans just trying to salvage the little wire handle of the bucket.  I guess the paint was fresh enough that it was softened with the first wash.  Rather than hang the jeans out to dry, I took a toothbrush and some liquid detergent and scrubbed the paint stains vigorously.  I left them wet for a while (few hours), then scrubbed some laundry powder into the stains.  Again, I left that for a while before laundering.  I was pleasantly surprised that the stains came out.
In a world of futility, it's nice to experience a couple of triumphs.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Vestiges of the season

We have a mass of polar air coming in, and I'm desperately clinging to the last vestiges of Indian summer.
I cut some cilantro yesterday that had self seeded from last year's plant.
I took a picture in the backyard a couple of days ago of the final glory of the fall colors (crepe myrtle, dogwood, and sweetgum).

I gathered some of the few flowers that had managed, under the protection of overhanging branches, to still be in bloom...


...for one very last bouquet.