Friday, December 14, 2018

Baby, it’s cold . . .

. . . . . and WINDY out there today.  Actually, not so cold, nearly 50° but the 16-20mph winds make it feel very, very chilly.  Plus, it’s really noisy here at my house.  I have windchimes – many windchimes – all of which are chiming loudly and somewhat unmusically right now.  At least I don’t have to worry about evil spirits (historically windchimes were used to ward off evil, while attracting peaceful spirits).  

However between the noise and wind, my mind feels like a hamster wheel – whirling too fast in different directions.  I think it is time to do some of my yoga poses and breathing. 

And, speaking of Yoga – today, December 14 is Yoga Day. 

Don’t give me that – yeah, yeah – nothing but tying yourself up like a pretzel – no real exercise. 

First of all, it’s been around for more than 5,000 years – no new fad, this.  Must work or it would have faded into the dark like many others.

Yoga not only burns calories and tones muscles, it's a total mind-body workout that combines strengthening and stretching with deep breathing and meditation/relaxation.  Plus, there are more than 100 different forms of yoga - something for everyone.  Some are fast-paced and intense. Others are gentle and relaxing.  (My teacher combines both intense with relaxing). 

People tell me – oh, it doesn’t supply any cardio or hard workout routines.  Please, come to my class one night and do a round of sun salutations!

Want to tighten those love handles, strengthen your core muscles? Then prop yourself up on one arm and do a side plank.

Want to work on your abs?  Try boat pose.

One of the reasons I like it - Yoga is not competitive. I can focus on my own practice and not how I’m doing compared to other people in class.

Arms, legs, glutes, back – something for everyone!  It’s Yoga Day – find a class and try it for a time!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

embryonic plant enclosed in a protective outer covering

December is Buckwheat Month, National Pear Month, National Tie Month, National Write A Business Plan Month and several other “Month” things. 

It ought to be National (possibly World) Catalog Month. 

Honestly I get catalogs for all kinds of food - fruit, cookies, candy, popcorn, nuts and then others for gift plants, clothes, jewelry, what knots, gegaws, and more stuff than you’d think existed.  It is also the month the SEED CATALOGS start arriving.

I throw most of them straight into the trash.  However, the seed catalogs will sit in a little pile on my desk for a while before they also go out.  Why?  Well, I always think – I should look at all the vegetables, fruits, flowers and such.  I might want to chose one or two to plant.  HA!  One or two packages.  Pffffft.  More like 10 or 20 packages will go on my “I neeeeeeed this” list.

I like to grow things from seed – just to see if I can - and, I’m more rather than less successful at it.  Of course, that means I have a bunch of seedlings that grow into plants that have to be (1) potted and tended (including during the winter) or (2) planted in the ground and tended.

 These are magnolia, catalpa, peach, and walnut tree seeds currently “wintering over” in my fridge.  Heaven only know what I’ll do it even half of them sprout into trees.

So, Saturday I found, in the mail box, a new seed (and I hesitate to call it a catalog – book is more like it) book from a company I haven’t seen before.  It sat on my desk Saturday, Saturday night, Sunday, and Sunday night I gave into temptation and looked through it.

and OHMIGOD!  Fruit and vegetable seeds for very unusual, odd, wonderful looking and sounding things mostly I’ve never heard of before.  The “NEEEEEEED” started to kick in.  Hmmmm, I could dig up the grass from the back fence to my back door, extending the already big flower bed to encompass two more beds, maybe three if I went over as far as the ginger …….  Hold it!  I am not going to dig out more grass.  I am not going to increase the size of an already big flower bed.  GET A GRIP PAMELA!

OK, I’m better now.  Instead of buying exotic seeds, I’ll share some of those that caught my attention, like . . . . . .

Oaxacan Green Corn

Reisetomate Tomato

Brad’s Atomic Tomato
Ohhhhh – wow!

I gave serious thought to actually getting the tomato seeds
But the reviews are so-so with few positive recommendations.
Maybe not.

Romanesco Italia Broccoli
Really? Broccoli

Hmong Cucumber
Hmmm – each cuke would need a hammock

Galeux D’Eysines Squash
CUTE!  Those little “warts” indicate sweetness

Bitter Melon

Fort Portal Jade Beans

OK – I’ll quit now before the whole “NEEEEED” thing starts up again.

Take care

 How ‘bout this little guy – 
Mongolian Giant Sunflower!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Time Travel

 Since today is Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day, I thought I share some travel to the way past.  I recently spent several weeks in the  15/16th century.  My general feeling is - it’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.  My time machine was four books.

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Phillipa Gregory

I actually read this book back in September and mentioned it briefly then.  It’s a 500+ page book about the lives of three women, Margaret Tudor, Catherine of Aragon, and Mary Tudor, all of whom had ties to Henry VIII.  

So just a teeny bit of real history here

Henry VII (the first Tudor) m Elizabeth of York and their surviving children were:
Arthur (Married Catherine of Aragon at age 12.  He died at age 17 and the consummation of the marriage was questioned then to now)
Margaret (Married James IV of Scotland and after his death, married a second time – divorced, then married a third time)
Henry VIII (Married Catherine of Aragon plus several others)
Mary (married Louis XII of France and after his death, married a second time)
Each a queen – Scotland, England, France.  Sisters by birth and marriage.
Margaret Tudor
Mary Tudor
The story is told entirely from the viewpoint of Margaret Tudor, historically the least well-known sister, and is about her relationship with Mary and Catherine.  The three queens find themselves set against each other throughout the book.  Catherine commands an army against Margaret which kills her husband James IV of Scotland.  But Margaret’s son becomes heir to the Tudor throne when Catherine son(s) die in infancy.  Mary steals the widowed Margaret’s proposed husband, but when Mary is widowed it is her secret marriage for love that is the envy of the others.
Catherine of Aragon
And, because I was curious, I did some fact checking and historically, the book is accurate enough.  The fictional part being, of course, the loves, feelings, hurts, joys, jealousies, thoughts, threats, words and everything else that made surviving as a royal possible.    It’s a good book though.

Next I read Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies by Hillary Mantel, books one and two of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy.  Now, you may have already seen the TV ministries, Wolf Hall, starring Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis.  It’s excellent.  However, I had the feeling that giant leaps were happening throughout the show.  And, they were.  The six episodes are based on both books (which are each 500 pages).  That’s a lot of stuff going on.  So, if you haven’t seen the TV ministries, you should read the books first.  If you have seen it, read the books anyway – they will fill in the gaps.

The books are a bit wordy but there was a lot going on during this time.  Once again, as I’d read along, I’d stop and “fact check” the “real” history against the book.  They’re pretty accurate.  According to Ms. Mantel, “To avoid contradicting history, she created a card catalogue, organized alphabetically by character, with each card containing notes indicating where a particular historical figure was on relevant dates”.

Thomas Cromwell
Born to a working-class family of no position or name, Thomas Cromwell rose to become the right-hand man of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, adviser to the King.  He survived Wolsey's fall from approval and became the most powerful of Henry's ministers.  In that role, he observed turning points of English history, as Henry asserted his authority to declare his marriage annulled from Catherine of Aragon, married Anne Boleyn, broke from Rome, established the independence of the Church of England, and called for the dissolution of the monasteries.  There’s a lot more that goes on including the accusations, imprisonment, and death of Boleyn.  I thought Cromwell was portrayed more as a human person rather than a cruel evil bastard.  I’ll want to read the third book whenever it is out.

Lastly, I read The Devil's Queen, A Novel of Catherine de Medici by Jeanne Kalogridis.  
Catherine de Medici
Catherine de Medici was Duchess of Urbino and heir to rule Florence.  When her family fell from power, she was imprisoned and ultimately married off to the young French prince, Henry.  Catherine has prophetic dreams throughout the book and in an effort to understand those dreams, relies on astrology and a knowledge of the “black arts”.  Through war and tragedy, Henry became King and Catherine, Queen.  Henry, however, paid little attention to his wife (instead favored his attention to his mistress) which causes Catherine much distress.  Eventually, Catherine convinces Henry he must have a legal heir and through the use of magical amulets and seduction, she gave birth to ten children.  After the death of Henry, Catherine became adviser and regent for her sons, Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III, each of whom became king of France for a short time.  Like the previous books, I did curiosity fact checking and the book runs true to history with all the extras thrown in to make it historical fiction.  It’s another big book – nearly 500 pages.  Still, it is good and I enjoyed it.

After that, I was glad to be back in the 21st century.  As I said before, interesting time to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.  Or if I did, I’d rather have been the wife of a prosperous merchant.  Being a noble or royal woman was certainly not all gallant knights, jewels and roses.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Oh, by gosh, by golly; It’s time for mistletoe and holly

While we were walking around the castle grounds (that would be Castle Newman in Bellville), we chanced upon a shrub with the prettiest, almost translucent, red berries.  I thought “holly” but the leaves didn’t seem right; “pyracantha”??.  No, no thorns and the berries looked too red and fresh.  Hmmmmm.  Back to holly.
I’m pretty sure it was Yaupon Holly.  It’s an evergreen shrub or small tree native to the southeast US.  In the spring it produces small white flowers and then, red berries through the fall.  Yaupon Holly grows best in maritime forests, salt marshes, and the woods and swamps of the coastal plains (which includes Bellville).  The berries attract and provide food for birds and other wildlife, including white-tailed deer.  Each berry contains 4 hard, oblong seeds (well, shuckie darn! I should have picked a couple).  It grows in full sun to partial shade and once established, it’s a drought-tolerant plant.  For those interested in planting natives - this is a good one.

Now, if you are lost in the wilderness and come across the Yaupon Holly, you can make a tea with the leaves.  (After performing the Universal Edibility Test, of course – need to make sure you’ve got the right plant.)  The leaves contain more caffeine by weight than either coffee beans or green tea.  In fact, it has the highest caffeine content of any plant native to North America.  It’s also high in antioxidants and less bitter than green tea.  In the way-back-times, made as a very strong brew, it was used to induce vomiting and for purification.  And, during the Civil War, southerners substituted Yaupon Holly tea for coffee and black tea.

During the drive home, we passed a number of trees bereft of leaves but sporting clumps of dark green Mistletoe.  I always think I just might be able to reach a clump, forgetting of course, the ground is several feet lower than the highway.  Even standing on the roof of the car I couldn’t reach it.  Grrrrrrr.

Mistletoe is a partial parasite (a "hemiparasite"). As a parasitic plant, it grows on the branches or trunk of a tree and actually sends out roots that penetrate into the tree and take up water and nutrients. But it can grow on its own producing, like other plants, food by photosynthesis.  Now, there are two types of mistletoe - Phoradendron flavescens (native to North America) and Viscum album, (of European origin). 

The North American Mistletoe produces small white flowers which mature into the traditional berries you think of when you think of mistletoe.  However berries of the North American mistletoe can be red, orange, yellow and white.  Birds love them.  And while they’re not considered highly poisonous, it’s best to not eat any.

Mistletoe was a plant held sacred by the Druids.  It was considered to bestow life and fertility; as protection against poison; and an aphrodisiac.  Branches of mistletoe were hung from ceilings to ward off evil spirits.  In Europe they were placed over house and stable doors to prevent the entrance of witches.  In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace, under which enemies could declare a truce or warring spouses kiss and make-up.

Frigga and the Mistletoe
A Norse Myth

Frigga (also known as Freya) was the goddess of beauty, love, and marriage. Wife of the powerful Norse god Odin, Frigga was a sky goddess, responsible for weaving the clouds, and therefore responsible for rain and for thunderstorms.

Sitting at her spinning wheel weaving the fates, she was also a goddess of divination and credited with the creation of runes...more precisely she was a 'seer', one who knew the future but could never change it or reveal it to others.

Frigga was the mother of Baldur, the best loved of all the Norse gods. And she foresaw his death. Knowing that there was nothing she could do to avert his fate; the hapless goddess extracted a promise from all things that they would play no part in his death. Unfortunately, thinking the poisonous plant was too insignificant to bother with, she neglected to secure its pledge.

And when the malevolent prankster Loki discovered her oversight, he crafted a dart made from the mistletoe. Devious and evil, he brought it to Baldur's brother who was blind, suggesting a game of darts and agreeing to guide his hand. And this he did, directing the dart directly at Baldur's heart, killing him.

The mistletoe's white berries were formed from Frigga's tears of mourning.  As the berries fell upon his chest, Baldur was restored to life, and the goddess Frigga was so grateful that she reversed the reputation of the baleful plant, making it a symbol of peace and love and promising a kiss to all who passed under it.

Take care

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Castle in the Woods

So, the other day a friend mentioned he’d heard about a castle in Bellville or Brenham.  Had I heard of such a thing?  Nope.  So we googled and Surprise! there is a castle in the Bellville area.  Immediately an adventuring day was planned.

Bellville is a small town about 50 miles north of here on Hwy 36.  And, Did You Know? it was named for Thomas B. Bell, one of Stephen F. Austin's Old Three Hundred.  Interesting.

We left early Wednesday morning and arrived in Bellville at the appointed time.

You have to check in at Newman’s Bakery to get directions to the castle itself.  I loooove Newmans – it smells so goooood in there.  Like, you can gain 5 pounds walking in the door, good

So, you take Hwy 36 to Old Hwy 36 (there’s an old one?).  From there it’s just a drive in the woods.

We rounded a curve

 ….. and saw

Duke, an Irish Wolfhound.  He’s a really big dog (like 150 lbs and stands chin high on me), very friendly and glad to see you.  I do have to say though, it was a bit alarming to see a giant dog bounding toward me as I got out of the car. 

Walking around the corner we saw our first glimpse of Newman’s Castle.

Newman’s Castle was built, starting in 1998, by Mike Newman (yes, owner of the bakery) and one or two helpers.  And, 8 years later, he moved in.  Yep – the man lives in a castle in the Texas hill country woods.

The castle features a moat, a working drawbridge, a portcullis, a chapel, five round corner turrets, a courtyard, a dungeon, a bell tower, and a central keep. There is a perimeter wall that encompasses the castle, ensuring visitors are kept safe from marauders during the visit.

King Newman advising all the youngest visitors of the rules and then knighting each of them (yes, the girls too) and commanding each to (1) find all the castle dragons and (2) save any ladies in distress. 

Yep – a working Trebuchet

Barbican and Gatehouse



Banquet Hall

Crow Cage hanging in the Dungeon.
If you look at the left corner, you’ll see part
of the bed of nails.

Peering through the Crenels while
standing on the Battlements

Visitors are allowed to go everywhere including the King’s private quarters (hmmm – that was a little uncomfortable).  The place is full of secret tiny spiral staircases that go up to rooms or lofts.  You can climb up ladders to the top of the bell tower if you’re so inclined.  A large number of the rooms are unfinished and are referred to as “guest” rooms.  So I assume work is ongoing.  Personally though, I don’t think I’d like to stay in a room with only a skinny Arrow Slit Window. 

And, what do you think you find on the bakers Christmas tree?

Cookies, of course!

If you want to come and see – call Newman’s Bakery in Bellville to make a reservation.  They can give you all the pertinent information.  It’s a fun day trip and Bellville itself has some very cute antique and gift shops to visit.

Take care

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Weekend – Sunday

Sunday’s are always busy for me – that’s the day to do laundry, vacuum (ick), dust, scrub and clean.  This past Sunday included those things . . . and  . . . mowing (oh my god, the leaves are practically up to my knees!), and deciding about Christmas decorations.

OK – back up a bit here.  Starting in 2010, putting up a tree and anything else became a mental argument – did I really want to??  a lot of work . . . had to put it all away again . . . Bah Humbug!  But I did put up a very small tree and pulled out a few of the many ornaments in those first years after.  Why?  Because, for me, they evoke happy memories.

Fast forward to today.  On Thanksgiving day, this sprouted up in my living room.  Well, actually, my very tall grandson put it up for me.  And, it just stood there until Sunday.

Saturday, I started bringing in these . . . . .

And by Sunday, taadaa

To me, unpacking ornaments if like – uhmmmm – opening a treasure box or time capsule.  Along with each ornament comes a memory of when and who and where. 

One year I discovered the Legend of the Christmas Pickle. 

In the 1880s Woolworth stores started selling glass ornaments imported from Germany and some were in the shape of various fruit and vegetables, including pickles.  Around the same time it was claimed that the Christmas Pickle was a very old German tradition and that the pickle was the last ornament hung on the Christmas tree and the first child to find the pickle got an extra present. 

Then, another suggested origin is that the tradition came from Camp Sumter during the American Civil War. The Bavarian-born Private John C. Lower had enlisted in the 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry, but was captured in April 1864 and taken to the prison camp. As the story is told, on Christmas Eve, starving, he begged a guard for a pickle. The guard provided the pickle, which Lower later credited for saving his life. After returning to his family, he began a tradition of hiding a pickle on their Christmas tree each year.  And still another story is a Victorian era tale of St. Nicholas saving two Spanish children who were trapped in a barrel of pickles by an evil innkeeper.

Probably – it’s all a myth and most likely an 1880 ornament salesman with a lot of spare pickles to sell, invented any or all of the legends of the Christmas Pickle! 

Okay - just a few more to share

Some are old

Some, not so much

Some are covered with beads

Some just a little (strange?different?odd?) unique!

Some were made by little hands

Some remind me of people now gone to the Summer Lands.
Aunt Doll

 Aunt Mimi





Take care – Ho Ho Ho