Monday, December 24, 2007

Snow on Christmas Eve

Walking at Wilson Springs, near our house. It started to snow in earnest just as we were leaving.

The veg garden under snow.

Winter in the desert.

Hard to believe there'll be daffodils there in a few months.

I'm cold! Let's go in now!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Winter evening musings

This is a picture of Solstice morning 2006. Listening to Malinky's 'Three Ravens' CD. I like Karine Polwart's clear, flexible voice, and the low whistle. My favorite is the last song on the CD, 'Follow the Heron', a song for singing in mid-winter, to help you remember Spring is already on the way.

'The back of the winter is broken
And light lingers long by the door.
The seeds of the summer have spoken
In gowans that bloom on the shore.'

We're coming up on the longest night next weekend. Solstice is a special night for us, our true anniversary. Not sure I'll be awake til sun-up, but we may get close.

So, while I heartily recommend Malinky if you like Scottish traditional music, I have to say I am not as happy with a CD I just got this week, Allison Crowe's 'Tidings'. It has Christmas carols, but I bought it for the Leonard Cohen song, 'Hallelujah'. I really like the melody, and his words. However, I really don't like Crowe's voice. It's got a harsh quality to it that I find irritating, and she really over-acts the songs. I'm sorry if there are Allison Crowe fans out there that don't agree. It's just my personal preference. Maybe someone I know likes her and I can give it away. But now I need to find another recording of 'Hallelujah' that I like. In particular, I'm looking for the version that was used on a West Wing episode.

Hubby is off playing fiddle at his contra-dance gig, and I'm somewhat annoyed with myself for not going. I probably would have like it fine, but I guess I needed some alone time. So I roasted the pumpkins for the pies I'm making for the Solstice party, wrote the Christmas letter, and made some mailing labels. Did a lot of cleaning today as well, getting ready to put up the tree in the morning.

We have a lot of food to prepare next Saturday, in spite of the fact that it's a pot luck! We're doing a turkey, hubby's (in)famous oyster stuffing (can you believe it, not everyone likes oysters!!), mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, date-walnut cookies, Kourabeides cookies, and mulled cider. With all the amazing things other people bring, it's usually quite a feast. We're hoping for a good jam session as well.

There was a good article published in our local paper last week, about getting back to a simpler celebration of the holidays;
This is my favorite time of year for many reasons; I love traditional holiday music, winter weather, chosing gifts for people I love, and good times with friends and family. But the excessive consumerism, the stress over getting the latest and trendiest gifts, seeing Christmas things in the stores before Thanksgiving - none of that is what the holiday is about.

I hope you and yours are able to celebrate this season the way you love best.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Nearly Christmas!

An inch of snow on Monday brought traffic to a halt all over the valley. I'm so glad I have a job that lets me to choose when and where I go. I was able to stay home until the snow had melted off the roads. It’s been very cold this week, not getting much above 32F. So even though Monday’s snow melted off the roads and sunnier areas, it’s still hanging around in the shadows, including on our front deck. More fell tonight, but only a sugar-dusting.

We’re getting ready for our big Solstice party next weekend. It could be a big crowd this year – eek! So this weekend I’m cleaning and baking. Hubby is playing a music gig on Saturday night, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to go, unless I get most of the cleaning done. On Sunday morning we’ll put up the tree, then I plan to spend at least half the day baking cookies. These are a family favorite, Kourabeides. They’re like Mexican Wedding Cakes, but take 45 minutes in the oven, which makes them really melt-in-your-mouth. The long baking time also means it takes a while to do a double batch, which is usually what I need.

Last Saturday I made two evergreen wreaths, one for us and another for my sister. I cut three kinds of juniper and some wild rose hips, and wired them onto dried grapevine wreath forms. One juniper grows wild in the area. It has lots of bluish berries on spreading stems, so I use that around the edge. Another is darker green with berries, so I put that in the middle, then fronds of a grayish-blue low-growing one as an inner ring. The rose hips I put at intervals around the ring. I hadn’t used the dried grapevine forms before this year, but they worked well. I also bought fake cardinal birds to wire on as an accent. They turned out pretty nice, if I do say so! For ours, I bought a set of battery-powered LED white lights to wrap around it.

My sister and I spent most of last Sunday at her house, baking the other favorite family cookie, date-walnut-spice cutouts. Hubby came along and watched a movie while keeping my sister’s 2 ½ year old busy. We enjoy making them, but the process can be a bit fraught. As soon as you’ve got the cookies off the baking sheet, one person has to be ready to spread the icing, and someone else has to shake the colored sprinkles on before the icing sets. At least those cookies only take 8-10 minutes in the oven, so you get through a double batch pretty quickly.

Our last Scottish Country Dance class of 2007 was Monday night. Everyone brought goodies and we danced to Christmas carols played by an accordion band on a new CD I bought. It was lots of fun. I think the class is doing really well. We’ve added some great new folks this Fall, and I hope they continue to come to class. It seems a long time until we start up again – January 28! That’s because most of January is taken up with rehearsals for the big Burns Night dinner we perform at every year. This year it’s at the Riverside Doubletree Inn, where hubby and I spent our wedding night. They have a wonderful ballroom – so it should be quite a special evening – I hope!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Fox in the Duck House

This is our vegetable garden under the first snow of the season, in early November.

Well, my last duck is gone. Hubby went out on Tuesday morning and found...nothing. We're assuming it was a fox.

After the first attack we fortified all around the pen with small sheets of 1/4" plywood, weighed down with logs from the woodpile, and a piece of fencing. We figured whatever it was couldn't dig under all of that again. We missed a small foot-wide area where the plastic kiddie pool sits inside the pen, figuring the attacker couldn't fit between the fence and the pool if he dug under there. Wrong. That's where he got in. It wasn't a big hole, so we're even more certain it was a fox, rather than a dog. Kind of amazing he got the duck through that hole, actually. We also think a dog, stray or otherwise, would have made more noise. Once again none of us, including our poodle, heard anything from inside the house. Aside from some small dog-like prints in the fresh dirt, there's no other proof.

It's sad to think of my pretty black Cayuga drake getting dragged off by a fox. He must have been scared. But I'm more ok with the thought it was a fox, rather than a dog. After all, the fox has to eat, just like any other honest predator. It would be more annoying if it were a loose dog with no urgent reason to take a duck, other than amusement. Especially since a dog would be fed regularly.

Out of the six ducklings we brought home in May 2006, we got two for meat. The females were good layers at least. We had to give away some of the eggs during the summers, since we couldn't keep up with eggs from five chickens and two ducks. So, I guess we got some value out of them.

Next year I'm hoping to get some rare breed chickens, Wyandottes and Polish, if it works out. I want some Guinea fowl as well. We'll have to do some preparation though. The two species can get along ok in the same large pen where we keep the chickens now, but I want to make some changes in there to protect them from foxes. Guinea fowl will roost in trees, but they have to learn their territory first. And to do that, I've read, you need to keep them cooped at night for about 6-8 weeks after you get them. It may be that we have to put the coop on stilts or something. We'll have to think about it.

Other than that, it's been a good weekend. We went to a local St. Andrews dinner on Friday, and then to an early Christmas party on Saturday night. Today we took my step-son out to do porcelain painting. I've only done that once before. It's fun enough, but I've never found that my pieces turn out as good as I think they will. He enjoys it though, so that's ok.

We're hoping for some snow tonight. They've predicted a foot of snow tonight in the mountains nearby, so the ski areas will be happy. But I'd like a little bit here too.