Midsummer’s Eve Skies

Midsummer is one of those words that I always heard, but for a long time I didn’t actually know what it meant. I just assumed that it was another way of saying “the middle of the summer” and didn’t mean anything specific. I later learned that Midsummer actually is a specific day; it coincides with the summer solstice, the longest day of the year and the official first day of summer.

So why is the first day of summer also called Midsummer? As it turns out, the traditional first day of summer used to be on May Day, or May 1. This makes sense, when you think about it. At least here in Tennessee the weather is usually pretty summery by the beginning of May, and the longest day of the year certainly seems like a fitting midpoint to the sunny summer season.

Midsummer has a bit of a magical reputation and a traditional connection with the fairy realms (for example, it’s when the events of A Midsummer Night’s Dream take place) so I thought it merited a bit of a twilight frolic in the out-of-doors. I wasn’t disappointed; the sunset-filled sky was a wonder to behold.

Last night may have been Midsummer’s Eve, but today is Midsummer proper. If you’re feeling a little down or stagnant, today is the perfect day to get outside and soak up some rays (with the proper sun protection, of course!) and fresh air. You will feel refreshed and restored!

Candlemas

Candlemas falls in that cluster of holidays at the beginning of February, considered archaic by some but delightful by others. The most famous one of these in the US is, of course, Groundhog Day, when we look to cute, chubby, prophetic rodents to find out how much longer our winter will last. Groundhog Day originates from a similar German holiday, when badgers were consulted about this issue. When German immigrants came to the United States, badgers were scarce, but the native groundhog, it was discovered, was equally capable. This tradition coincided with  the British holiday of Candlemas, which also had weather prognostication associated with it. An old rhyme reads:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

Candlemas comines elements of the Roman and Celtic festivals of Lupercalia and Imbolc, which celebrate the winter’s turn toward spring and the coming fertility of the earth, with the Christian festivals of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the Purification of the Virgin. There are elements of purification involved in all of these festivals, which is symbolized by fire, be it in the form of bonfires, torches, or, of course, candles.

I love traditional old celebrations like Candlemas, and I see no reason not to celebrate them! Just because you don’t have an elaborate gathering planned with a long guest list and a carefully constructed menu doesn’t mean it’s not worth making your own party, even if you are all by yourself, or just have a couple of other people present.

The obvious necessity for Candlemas is candles. I think you should always have some candles around, because they make any occasion more festive. You can always keep them in a drawer when you’re not using them if you want to keep them out of the way. Antique stores are a great place to find candleholders. You can usually find some nice, inexpensive options in brass, silver, or silver plate. If you’re into collecting you can learn how to tell silver from silver plate or about different styles and design periods, or if you’re approaching it more casually, just pick some that you find beautiful. I like getting pairs for balance, but if you find single candlesticks that you love, don’t worry about it; you can always group them in clusters instead. Think about getting varying heights to add some depth to the arrangement. They don’t have to match!

I didn’t stress myself out over the food, either. I cooked some pre-made spinach and ricotta ravioli from Earth Fare and heated up some tomato sauce (you can make your own and store it in jars in the refrigerator, or buy it) and poured over it, then topped it with a little freshly grated parmesan. It was delicious, and took very little effort!

There you have it: an instant celebration, that involved little more than cooking some pasta and pulling some candles out of the drawer. Even with the minimal effort, I think the effect was marvelous. This serves as a reminder to me, and hopefully to you as well, that we shouldn’t deprive ourselves of life’s little pleasures just because we don’t have time to make them into something grand.

Happy Candlemas, and may the coming spring bring many wonderful things your way!

A Lucky Find

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I love farmers’ markets. There’s just something about heading out early on a Saturday (ok, midmorning on a Saturday) to walk around and look at all of the produce and products available in the different stalls. I think the trip is really half the fun!

There are many reasons to support your local farmers’ market. For one thing, just think of the convenience – it’s nearby, and you have experts on hand to help you with any questions you might have. After all, who could possibly tell you more about available produce than the very people who grow it? The stalls are run by individual farmers or farming families, and they are all happy to help you select items, tell you how to prepare fruits and veggies that you may be unfamiliar with, or suggest food pairings.

Take this rope of hot peppers, for instance. It caught my eye at the farmers market with the gorgeous red color and shiny skins of the dried peppers. Just looking at it lying on a table, I didn’t really know what to do with it, but fortunately there was a farmer on hand to help me out! She showed me that there is loop at one end so that you can hang the peppers up in your kitchen, then you just pull the peppers off from the bottom as you need them. Not only do the peppers look beautiful hanging in a garland in your kitchen, but she said they also bring good luck to the kitchen where they hang.

So far, these peppers have been great in tomato sauce for pasta and pizza and for flavoring beans. I can’t wait to see what other uses I can come up with for them!

Pretty, delicious, and lucky? This peppers were a deal that I couldn’t refuse!

Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun

The light is getting that mellow, golden quality, the smell of dry leaves fills the air, the weather gets cooler (some days)… And the dogs want to go outside and gallop around playing. Of course Jake couldn’t resist joining in. Florence is even getting into the fall spirit with a festive bandana!

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May Day

Today is one of my favorite holidays: May Day! Beloved of the cavalier poets, I always think of May Day as a time to revel in nature and seize the joys of life. I always make sure that I spend part of May first outdoors every year, feeling the sunshine (or wind, or rain) on my face, and reading some of my favorite carpe diem poems. Their message – live life to its fullest, because sooner or later death comes to us all – is a great reminder to make time for the pleasures in life, and, though bad things are often unavoidable, not let them obscure everything else.

So go outside, take a deep breath, and remember to look for the beauty all around you. Maybe even take a few minutes to read some Herrick!

Snow Days

Over the past week some much-publicized snow storms have blown across the country, bringing thick blankets of fluffy white snow to cover the land. Here, we were at the outskirts of the storms coming across Kentucky and Tennessee, so we missed the majority of the snow, but still got enough to leave us snowed in for a couple of days.

Walter, of course, loved having everyone shut up in the house with him for much of the week. He thrives on companionship and, given the choice, would require it at all times, with the possible exception of during his late morning-noontime nap. He was perfectly content to just look out the window; the couple of times he was given the opportunity to get out in the snow, he was actually afraid of it, and turned tail and ran back inside as soon as he got the chance.

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There was certainly plenty to see outside, though. The snow and cold brought out all manner of wildlife. The bird feeders are always popular, but during the snow they were absolutely covered. Though they are less immediately recognizable in their winter plumage, the goldfinches were out in full force. I don’t think I have ever seen so many in any one place at one time. That’s right: all of those round beige splotches in the tree will soon be gloriously dressed in bright yellow.

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Even though it isn’t much snow volume wise, it was enough to make roads icy and close schools. I almost slid down twice in one trip walking the dogs, and Florence actually did slip and fall on her walk. Needless to say, there isn’t a whole lot to do besides stay inside. We’ve perfected the art of relaxing; it’s going to be a shock when the world starts going again.

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Ghosts of Thanksgivings Past

Back in the day, my grandmother was the grand hostess of Thanksgiving. She cooked a huge meal attended by all seven of her children, her many grandchildren, and later even great-grandchildren. Though her daughters helped, the majority of the work was done by Granny. When I got a bit older, I started frying the ham out on the enclosed porch; it was really a tiny drop in the ocean of everything there was to be done, but it made me feel like an important part of the event to help out even in that small way.

The group that gathered for Thanksgiving was large enough that it filled three tables. The dining room had the most formal place settings, and was the unofficial men’s room, filled in with the oldest daughters and wives. The second table was in the kitchen, where the daughters and oldest granddaughters sat. The children’s table was a card table out on the enclosed porch off of the kitchen. Out there we sat in some old ladder back chairs, which had an unfortunate tendency to flip over backward if you tried to sit back in the chair and lean against the backrest.

My first associations with Thanksgiving will probably always include those tippy ladder back chairs (which still show up occasionally if we have a big Thanksgiving crowd) and sitting at that old oak table, backed up against the house plants on the window sill. We are making a new set of Thanksgiving memories, however, with Thanksgiving dinner in a new location. My mother, the only family member who has thus far managed to replicate Granny’s rolls, is the obvious heir to the throne of Thanksgiving hostess, and we do our best to make it continue to be a special time for our family every year.

We’re a smaller group than we used to be, and we sit at different tables and eat off of different plates, but at the heart of it, we enjoy the same things about Thanksgiving that we always did: the reunion with family members that we don’t see as often as we’d like, the traditional foods that make Thanksgiving dinner so happy and comforting (turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce, green beans, sweet potatoes – and of course rolls and pecan pie!), and even some little family heirlooms that remind us of all of those wonderful Thanksgivings at Granny’s house.

As much as I’d like to travel back in time for another Thanksgiving at Granny’s, I know that we can’t turn back time, and we have to make the best of what we have. I am thankful for the Thanksgivings I was able to share with my family in that dear old house, and that I am able to share them with my family now in my own home.

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