21 November 2012


The Autumn hills are golden at the top,
And rounded as a poet's silver rhyme;
The mellow days are ruby ripe, that drop
One after one into the lap of time.

Dead leaves are reddening in the woodland copse,
And forest boughs a fading glory wear;
No breath of wind stirs in their hazy tops,
Silence and peace are brooding everywhere.

The long day of the year is almost done,
And nature in the sunset musing stands,
Gray-robed, and violet-hooded like a nun,
Looking abroad o'er yellow harvest lands:

O'er tents of orchard boughs, and purple vines
With scarlet flecked, flung like broad banners out
Along the field paths where slow-pacing lines
Of meek-eyed kine obey the herdboy's shout;

Where the tired ploughman his dun oxen turns,
Unyoked, afield, mid dewy grass to stray,
While over all the village church spire burns-
A shaft of flame in the last beams of day.

Empty and folded are her busy hands;
Her corn and wine and oil are safely stored,
As in the twilight of the year she stands,
And with her gladness seems to thank the Lord.

Thus let us rest awhile from toil and care,
In the sweet sabbath of this autumn calm,
And lift our hearts to heaven in grateful prayer,
And sing with nature our thanksgiving psalm.

Kate Seymour Maclean

15 November 2012

The land of Cotton inches northward

Last year I planted a number of cotton seeds in several pots.  They all germinated over the summer months, although none grew enough to put forth any flowers.

I attempted to winter them over indoors, and the plants were doing quite well until December when two of the four inexplicably gave up the ghost.  I watched over the remaining two—like Florence Nightingale fussing over patients hanging by a thread—and was heartsick when the third plant perished.  With fingers cross't, I somehow managed to nurse the fourth plant through the rest of the winter and by late spring was able to put it outside again.

Over this past summer, it grew tall and hardy, but still no flowers.  In anticipation of an imminent frost, I brought it indoors last month, checking on it daily to make sure it was surviving the transition.  Lo and behold! a few of the leaves had formed a wee tent around a nub or 'candle'.

Slowly, over the course of a week or so, the creamy white-green petals of a flower
emerged from its protective tent of leaves.
 And then slowly, slowly, it began to unfurl
until little by little you could see inside...

...and it opened entirely.

 (After several days, to my great surprise, it began to close again
and while doing so it turned a beautiful shade of rosey pink.)

With luck, the flower will dry and change over time....

... until this is happens.

The evolution of a cotton plant, from nub to flower to cotton boll,
is truly a miraculous thing to witness. 
(Especially if you happen to live in Zone 6 New England!?)
I managed to grow cotton twice in the past
and have the soft, lamb-like cotton balls as a reminder.
I'm hoping this will be my third success.

[Images are from the Cotton Growers Association and agricultural departments in Texas and North Carolina]

09 November 2012

Favorite Thing No. 181

With temperatures near or below freezing every night this week
there is no contest as to my favorite thing:

My new L.L. Bean Ultrasoft Flannel Sheet Set 
in a pretty rose ticking stripe.
(It was an early Christmas gift from a kind friend
when the Nor'Easter hit on Sunday.)

Of course the next six days are supposed to be in the 50s and 60s.

As the old adage goes:
"If you don't like the weather in New England... wait a minute."

Get comfy and warm at Claudia's Favorite Thing Party

05 November 2012

Harnessing All That Energy

Late Friday evening I was thinking about all the marathoners roaming the streets of Manhattan. Some had spent a lot of money to travel to NYC and made many sacrifices of time and training. And yet as sorry as I felt for them, I understood completely that despite the loss of income for the city, and the runners' own bitter disappointment, cancelling the Marathon was the right thing to do.

And then within moments I saw a video flash across the television screen: people in the hardest hit burroughs, still without food, water, or heat.  Volunteers stretched to their limits despite trying to get to everyone who needed their assistance.  And as I watched those who were suffering, I thought about those marathoners—so healthy, so full of stamina, with all that energy and with nothing to do. 

The next day I mentioned it to a friend.  "There are thousands of runners in NYC and yet it hasn't occurred to anyone to take this opportunity to enlist them as an army of volunteers to somehow assist all the people who are suffering."  And after all the city had given to many of these marathon runners over the years, it seemed to be a perfect way for them to show their love, gratitude and empathy.  My friend agreed and said the same thing had occurred to her, and she in turn had mentioned it to several other people as well.

And then, I awoke yesterday and heard the news.  That energy had indeed been redirected.

 Some marathoners took the ferry to Staten Island with backpacks full of food and water

 ... and then distributed them to victims there. 

One runner from Buffalo organized marathon-length laps around Deleware Park
raising thousands of dollars for the Red Cross.  

One marathon runner climbed 20 flights of stairs in an unheated building
in Far Rockaway, Queens, to deliver water, sandwiches and blankets to tenants. 

I smiled and wondered if the power of a collective consciousness with a single thought can actually reach out to make an impression on the minds of others, and in so doing, make that thought a reality. I think the answer is yes.  The power of positive thinking can absolutely change the world. Sometimes one runner, one blanket, and one backpack at a time.

02 November 2012

Favorite thing No. 20b (for blue)

Choosing the color was difficult at first,
until a friend sent me a picture she found in a magazine
and then it all just fell into place.  

I looked online just to be sure...
and found one delicious photograph after another.  

 And so it was a simple thing to tell the painters:

 Electric Blue.  Noxema Jar Blue.  Bottle Glass Blue.  Copen Blue.  Delft Blue.

Whatever you want to call it.

(And this bright blue door is one of my favorite things about my cottage.)

Shut the front door and get on over to Claudia's Favorite Thing Party!

Feast of All Souls

"The Day of the Dead" by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1859)
Going door to door, begging for cakes ("souling") was the precursor to children dressed as ghouls on Halloween and asking for candy.  The beggars would stop at a cottage and bargain for a soul cake, agreeing, in return, to pray for the souls of the recently departed in that household.  

A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.

Soul Cakes were a raised dough filled with spices (nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon) and sometimes currants and marked with a cross on top to show they are Alms for the poor. They would be set out on graves on All Hallows Eve (October 31st) for the dead to consume.  (Along with a glass of wine!)  They would also be handed out to beggars and children on the Feast of All Saints (November 1st) and the Feast of All Souls (November 2nd). 

Soul, soul, an apple or two,
If you haven't an apple, a pear will do,

© Times-Picayune NOLA

One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for the Man Who made us all.

In New Orleans, the Feast of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls is still a time to honor the dead and celebrate their lives.  The tombs in the "Cities of the Dead" are white washed, armloads of flowers (traditionally Chrysanthemums) are brought to gravesites, and milk (or something stronger!) is poured on the grave as an offering. 

New Orleans Cemetery on the Feast of All Souls © Owen Murphy
And at night, throughout some of the cemeteries,
there are hundreds of candles flickering on the graves. 

Soul Cakes (modern variation)
  • cup butter
  • 3 3/4 cups flour
  • cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • teaspoon cinnamon
  • teaspoon ginger
  • teaspoon allspice
  • eggs
  • teaspoons cider vinegar
  • tablespoons milk
  • powdered sugar, to sprinkle on top

Cut butter into flour. Blend in sugar and spices. Beat eggs, vinegar and milk together in another bowl. Add milk mixture to flour mixture and blend well. Roll dough to 1/4" thick and cut with 3" biscuit cutter. Place on parchment paper on a baking sheet and bake for 20 min. at 350 degrees. Douse with plenty of confectioner's sugar while still warm.   [Recipe from food.com] 

01 November 2012

Naming Heartbreak

I spent much of the past weekend as many people on the East Coast did: battening down hatches, moving every piece of garden paraphernalia into the shed, tying arbors and pergolas down so they wouldn't sail off into the wild blue yonder as projectiles, climbing ladders and emptying gutters of leaves against the predicted heavy rains, emptying the rain barrel and readying it for a deluge.

Indoors I had to make sure I had the necessary supplies for what could potentially be a weeklong incarceration, sans lights, television, telephone, and stove.  As I was charging my cell phone, I pondered what sort of vat of something-or-other I should prepare to keep on hand to keep body and soul together.  Soup?  Stew?  Casserole?  Fritata? Quiche?  In my infinite wisdom I finally settled on Apple Crisp.  Perhaps not the most practical or gastronomically nutritious choice, but typical of my whimsical approach to "food I would like to be stranded with in a power failure".

There are numerous candles around the house, so having some kind of light wasn't an issue. And a friend had recently dropped off a huge shopping bag of cast-off magazines which, in addition to the two books I'm currently reading, would certainly keep me occupied.  (If not a little blind given that candles aren't the best light by which to read.)

As it turned out, the electricity wavered once but never went off. There was quite a bit of rain for two days although it was more of a constant splattering and never very heavy. Temperatures remained at 60 degrees throughout the storm, combined with a sticky humidity that made it seem more like August than October. And while the winds were ferocious on Sunday afternoon, they were eerily mild with only the occasional gusts throughout that night and on into Monday.

All in all, a merciful consolation to see the sunlight on Tuesday afternoon compared to what I'd anticipated.  And a jarring counterpoint to the horror I watched unfold on television for three days.

© Washington Post
The devastation that occurred in New Jersey and New York throughout the hurricane's journey over sea and land was heart-rending to watch in real-time. And each hour it seemed to go from bad to worse until it reached nearly biblical proportions.  Rain and flooding that combined with rising tides to engulf the lower East Side, the subway system, most of Long Island, and the entire Jersey Shore.  Devastating winds that uprooted trees, turned tree limbs into weapons and moved houses off their foundations. Imploding transformers that generated wild fires and levelled an entire community, destroying a neighborhood and its residents' belongings in a night-long inferno.

And then on Tuesday, I watched as the dark side of humanity revealed itself.  People whining and complaining that they had to walk to and from work and cross bridges on foot because the transit system was so crippled. At least you have homes to go to, I thought to myself, watching as those who once lived barely 8 miles away wandered in a daze, looking over the rubble they used to call home.  And there were the petty fights that broke out at bus stops as people pushed and shoved to get on board, when they should be thankful they hadn't lost the entire contents of their lives in wind, fire or flood.

Through it all, of course, the news and weather channels vied with one another to come up with the flashiest and most dramatic masthead.  Frankenstorm. Superstorm. Sandy's Wrath.  Super Sandy. Anatomy of a Superstorm. But how do you put a name on the heartache this force of nature has caused?  And should you even try?  It's impossible to capture within the confines of a pithy commercial title the true horror that has descended on these lives.

People laugh at New Englanders for being so twitchy when a hurricane or blizzard is forecast.  We make our requisite trips to the store for "milk and bread" and fill our bathtubs with water. And then we laugh at ourselves when the storm comes and goes, feeling a bit silly for having been so nervous, and glad that we dodged another meteorological bullet.  But sometimes the slug hits home.  It certainly found its target in New York and New Jersey.  And no amount of preparation can truly stop nature from wielding her heavy hand against you.

I admit that I felt terribly guilty looking out the window into the sunlight on Tuesday while yards away on the television there was so much suffering.  I felt guilty for being able to reach for a light switch or the knob on the stove and get immediate light and heat, knowing that people were surrounded by raw sewage, standing water, and darkness.  And I felt guilty that with Halloween only a day away I was concerned whether I had enough candy on hand, when so many people had few if any belongings left.

I am keeping everyone who sustained damage, heartbreak, and loss in my thoughts and prayers.  And to me, the only 'name' for what they've experienced is unfair