Saturday, December 24, 2016

Signs of the season--sausage balls and a lump of coal

Let's get something cleared up from the start--there's the nativity and then there are all those Christmas traditions that really have nothing to do with the nativity.  It seems we do really spend a lot of time on traditions, but traditions can give people a sense of belonging, so I guess that's a good thing, too.  There is supposedly a tradition that a boy or girl who has been bad might receive a lump of coal in his or her stocking.  Darling husband hasn't been all that bad, but I thought it would be a clever idea to wrap a little LED light to look like a lump of coal and put it in his stocking.
What do you think?  Does this look at least a little like a lump of coal?
Another tradition around these parts is cooking sausage balls at Christmas.
Do these look tasty or what!

Hope you're enjoying some traditions this time of year.
And I hope you also have some time to reflect on the nativity.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A wild Christmas tree

I like a live Christmas tree that is also free, so I usually find something in the yard to cut.  This year I found a limb on one of the Leylands that I thought would be suitable.  This particular Leyland is a variegated one which I rooted myself from cuttings I got from someone else's tree about 20 years ago.  (That makes me feel old.)  I cut it myself with my trusty little bow saw.
From one side, it looks fairly reasonable:
From the back side, it looks like a wild thing!  The Leyland cypress is a hybrid, and one of the parents is the Monterey cypress.  I like to imagine this wild thing being a windblown cypress on the Monterey cliffs, perhaps a bit like the iconic Lone Cypress of Pebble Beach.
I noticed there were some scars on the branches from the April 2015 hailstorm.  This tree definitely has character.  I think the variegation gives it a unique look.
Except for two ornaments darling son placed, I decorated the tree myself, though I prevailed upon darling son to provide some live music for me while I did the deed.  He obliged with a nylon string guitar and a nice assortment of well-played Christmas songs.
I always like putting the little wooden horse ornament on.  It was made by my older sister and younger brother many years ago.  It is a thoroughly charming ornament to me.
I have a new ornament to put on the tree this year--an adorable crocheted angel made for me by my friend Lea.  (If the halo is a little crooked, it's probably because the angel was hanging out with Lea and me.)

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, you surely are a wild thing!


Friday, December 16, 2016

Ice crystals

Ice crystals are interesting to observe this season of the year.  About a week ago, I removed the ice from the top of a bucket I have sitting under the eave of the house.  The crystals on the underside of the ice had formed fascinating patterns.  I tried to take some pictures to illustrate.


Ice crystals are also responsible for some interesting phenomena in the sky.  I frequently see sundogs in the sky, which I'm told are formed by sunlight being refracted by ice crystals in the clouds.  Here are a pair of sundogs I saw one day last week.  I think the second (to the left of the sun) is probably in the cloud of a jet contrail.  Even on otherwise clear days, we are likely to have some jet trails in the sky here, so there is plenty of opportunity to see sundogs. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Cold front here in NC

Yesterday and today the mild weather we had been enjoying was brought to a rude end with wind chills in the 30's yesterday afternoon.  Darling son came in from work and put a water bottle or a drink in the fridge and noted that he probably could do just as well to put it outside.  I objected because I thought the temperature outside at the time was probably a little warmer than the fridge.  On second thought, it probably wasn't any warmer in the shade, so I said, "It probably is less than 40 degrees in the shade."
Darling son replied, "It's 90 degrees on the corner."
"What corner?"
"Every corner."

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

More pictures of Prestwould Plantation

Here are some more pictures from my visit to Prestwould Plantation in Clarksville, VA.
Here is the mansion itself.  It is made of a light reddish colored sandstone block.  It's interesting to think of the skill and muscle of masons who built the mansion.  The north side of the building faces the drive, and the south side, which looks toward the direction of the river, is the same design. 
The west end of the house also has a porch.
In the 1960's, the Roanoke River (or Staunton--pronounced STANT-en--as it is called in this section) which was about a mile south of this plantation was impounded to create the John Kerr Reservoir.  At the time of the operation of the plantation, the river would have been the means of transporting plantation commodities, such as tobacco, to market.
On the west and northwest sides (and down the hill from the mansion) are several other structures. One is a frame structure which housed slaves.  It started out as a single dwelling, then was made into a duplex to house two families.  Apparently there were other buildings like it in this area of the plantation, but this is the only one that remains.  Built in the 1780's, this building may be one of the oldest of its kinds in the Chesapeake, according to the plantation's registration with the National Park Service.
There were two smoke houses made of stone, one in shambles.

I'm not completely sure about this stone structure which stands on the west side of the mansion.  An "office" is listed amongst the buildings, and perhaps this is the office.  I do know the stone looked warm on a sunny late fall afternoon, and I could imagine sitting against the wall daydreaming.
There was a "loom house," which I thought was an interesting concept.  It also housed slaves upstairs.  Who can imagine all the artistry and skill that was wrought inside that building?  
Here is the kitchen.  I like to imagine what might have been eaten this time of year.  I like to think there were sweet potatoes, collards, cornbread, with some ham for Christmas.  Perhaps there was sorghum molasses and honey for sweeteners.
Here is the little apiary with its straw bee skeps.  I'm supposing this is a replica, and it's a shame it's in such disrepair.  It stands in the garden area to the east of the mansion.  With space for only four skeps, honey would have been a premium commodity I'm thinking.
The garden area is mostly to the east of the house, and this octagonal summer house is situated near the gardens.  I think some romantic novels have the protagonists getting kissed in the summer house.  What do you think--is this a place where one could find a little privacy?
Or is the room below a place where a bully might threaten to banish a younger playmate?  The literature said it was probably a place to store root crops or garden tools.  I'm thinking it might have looked like a dungeon to a kid.  Was an enslaved child who was afraid of spiders and snakes sent here to fetch some root vegetables for the kitchen?
Of course, there were stone walls all around.  I think this is an original finial adorning the front gate.  It is hard to imagine all the work that went into making the walls.
There is lots of history here, but I'm glad to be living with modern freedoms and conveniences myself.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Easy microwave apple crisp for two

I've been experimenting with making a crisp in the microwave.  I'm still tweaking, but this is essentially what I've come up with so far.

Peel, core, and slice about 2 1/2 small McIntosh apples.  Place them in a microwave-safe dish.  (I use a 2-cup bowl.)  I'm a great believer in the maxim "Don't muzzle the ox that treads out the corn," so I taste a little of 3 apples as I go along and, that way, end up with the right amount, leaving enough room for a crust.  In a separate bowl melt 3 1/2 TB salted butter.  Add to that 2 TB sugar, 2 TB plain flour, 2 graham crackers crushed with your hands, 4 TB quick oats.  Stir together with a large spoon, crushing any large crumbs of graham cracker.  If you want, sprinkle just a smidgen of cinnamon over the apples.  Put the topping over the apples and microwave on high 2 minutes.  (My microwave is 1200 watts.) VoilĂ !  (Serves 2 or 3.)
I've done this a couple of times with frozen blueberries as well, but I'm still working on that.  The first time, I thought I should nuke the berries a minute before adding the crust.  When I did that, the 2 additional minutes made the juice of the berries boil up into the crust.  It still tasted great eaten right away, but I thought it might result in a bit of a soggy crust if it sat for a while.  The next time, I just did 2 minutes with the crust and berries together, straight from frozen, but I ended up with some juice floating in the bottom of the bowl.  One difference with the blueberries is that I sprinkle just a little sugar over the blueberries since they are more tart than the apples.  I might try sprinkling just a wee bit of flour with the sugar.
If you try it, let me know how it turns out for you.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Out and about

Yesterday, I had a chance to get out and about with my friend Lea.  It was a refreshing day, so nice to have a change of pace.
Here are some pictures of some sights we saw.

boats at a marina as we cross a bridge
osage orange fruit
 the fall colors of a water oak against a blue sky
a white musk rose, still blooming on Dec. 1 because of the heat retained by the stone wall and stone slabs in a cemetery
 an absolutely lovely ancient white oak
 ancient Eastern red cedars, full of foliage, full of character

Hi Lea, what will we be up to next?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A few foliage pictures

Here are a few foliage pictures from Thanksgiving.  The weather has been warmer than normal this season, so there was more color on Thanksgiving than usual.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

"A loaf of bread, a cabbage head, and a can of Mulligan stew"

In a book or poem that was read to us as kids, there was a line that included this phrase:  "...a loaf of bread, a cabbage head, and a can of Mulligan stew."  We loved the rhythm of the phrase and it stuck with us.  I can hardly say the phrase "cabbage head" without wanting to add "and a can of Mulligan stew!"  Here, I'm holding a cabbage my older brother grew this fall.
I guess we'd have to round that out with a two-foot long loaf of bread and a number 10 can of Mulligan stew!


Friday, November 25, 2016

I can divide!

Whenever I see this sign, which I assume means the seller is willing to divide the land and sell it in smaller parcels, I always want to respond with "Yeah, I can divide AND multiply AND add and subtract!
Okay, truth be known, I can add, subtract, multiply, divide, and even do algebra--but GRAPHING is where I DRAW THE LINE.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Keeping it real--kind of

Today was one of those days that I wonder if what I'm doing even makes sense.  I loaded a big pile of weeds into the wheelbarrow.  Should I be proud of all the work that represents or just ashamed I let the weeds get so badly out of hand?  Anyway, here goes.
Meanwhile, the pansies are looking quite cheery.  We are in a drought, so I watered them (and added a little more compost).

A few days ago when I went out in the morning to do some of that weeding, I noticed the moon setting and tried to take a picture through my binoculars (like I had done the hawk).  I wasn't really satisfied with the result, but I was quite amused that a bird had crossed the view just as the shutter snapped.  I do like the blue sky and white moon next to the reddish leaves of the neighbor's ornamental pear.
I raked a considerable amount of pine straw at my neighbor's house today, and I also sawed off a large portion of the Leyland cypress trunk (roughly 11" diameter, depending on where you measure) with the bow saw.  Let's just call that interesting.  Again, I could be proud of being such a tough cookie or just feel stupid for not letting someone come in with a chainsaw.
And if I ruled the world, pine straw would be one word: pinestraw (as would butterbeans).

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A drive through the country

Saturday, we had a chance to drive through the country.  The leaf color was peaking in the area we drove through, and I thoroughly enjoyed the view.
Here is a red maple darling son captured at my request.  It was one of many, but this one was convenient to stop for.
We stopped in at the church I grew up in for their fall barbecue fundraiser.  You know you're in the country when your choices are chicken, pork, or deer.  Some of the oaks by the church were showing some yellow in the leaves, so I had to get a picture of that.  This is the church where my husband and I were married (a long time ago).
It was a nice day.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Red-tailed hawk

Yesterday morning, I could see a hawk in the scraggly pine beyond my neighbor's house where the vultures often perch.  From my window, even zoomed in as far as my camera could go, I could only get this.
Then I put my camera up to the eyepiece of my binoculars.  That was an interesting experiment.  It's not a crisp shot, but it brings the bird close enough for identification.
I did see a crow swoop down toward the hawk.  Later I noticed the hawk was gone and there were a few crows perched in the tree.  By that time the sun was warming things up, and I guess the hawk was soaring on a thermal and looking for prey.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Last of the summer roses

I had a chance to stop by my mother's house yesterday afternoon.  I noticed a bloom on her pink rose bush.  I don't know what kind of rose it is, but I don't know of another that has as many petals.  It is one my aunt gave her many years ago.
I also saw a bloom on the red rose.  I made a mental note to cut the two blooms since a killing frost was forecast.  Just as I was leaving, I saw a white bloom on the musk rose (the one I call Grandpa's rose).  I dashed over and cut it off as well.
Meanwhile back at my house, I'm enjoying the last two blooms on the yellow Anthony Meilland rose that I bought for my husband quite a few years ago.
Farewell, roses, till next spring.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Beans, collards, butterfly, Texas mallow

We've had a couple of light frosts, but my butter beans were protected by the limbs on the apple tree.  I thought it was pretty neat to pick butter beans on November 5.  I shelled out a generous 3/4 cup from this little dab right here that darling husband will enjoy for lunch tomorrow.
I also picked a few leaves off the collard plants.  I like to pick a few leaves at the time and eat them while they are young and tender.
Meanwhile, the butterflies are enjoying the season's last blooms. I saw a monarch the other day.  As soon as I fetched my camera, it decided to fly higher and higher up into a pine tree.  I was surprised to see it go that high. I took my camera back inside.  When I came back out, I looked up into the pine to see if I could see it.  Nope. Then I looked and saw it was right under my nose.  We played a little cat and mouse. I gave up that day, but I did manage to get a shot the next day of the monarch in the same vicinity.  Not a very good shot--this butterfly was not one to pose for me.
The Texas mallow has bloomed very well this year.  The camera picked up the sun shining through the blossom, making it look like it has yellow, but it really doesn't.  For some reason this camera just can't handle the scarlet color of these blooms. These blooms are great for the hummingbirds.
We'll probably get another frost tonight.  The beans and the mallow won't like it, but the collards will only be improved by it.