Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Samhain - All Hallows Eve - Hallowe'en - Halloween

Halloween evolved from the ancient Celtic harvest festival of Samhain (SAH-win).. They celebrated the day marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the darker half of the year.  This was also when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld thinned and the souls of the dead roamed the streets and villages during the night. And, while they sought to welcome the spirits of family and loved ones, they recognized that not all were friendly.  Places were set at the dinner table and by the fire to welcome the unknown visitor.  Offerings of food and drink, or portions of crops, were left outside as gifts to pacify the evil and ensure coming years’ crops would be plentiful. 

As cultures changed, Samhain was replaced by All Hallows Eve (ultimately Hallowe’en), a time dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed with prayers, bonfires, and ultimately merry-making and games.  By the 16th century, the festival included mumming and disguises (to protect one’s self from evil spirits). People would go door to door reciting verses or songs in exchange for food.  If the household donated food it could expect good fortune; not doing so would bring misfortune.

While Hallowe’en was recognized in colonial America, it was not overly popular until the mass Irish and Scottish immigration in the late 1700 - early 1800’s.  By the 20th century, it was fully assimilated into mainstream society and celebrated by all social, racial and religious backgrounds.  So, you see, there is a little bit of pagan in all of us.


I love Halloween!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Stingy Jack and the Jack O'Lantern

The Jack O’Lantern legend -  As the story goes, Stingy Jack was a miserable, old drunk who liked to play tricks on everyone – family, friends, his mother and even the Devil himself.  One day, he tricked the Devil into climbing up an apple tree.  Once the Devil climbed up the apple tree, Stingy Jack hurriedly placed crosses around the trunk of the tree.  The Devil was then unable to get down.  Stingy Jack made the Devil promise him not to take his soul when he died.  Once the Devil promised, Stingy Jack removed the crosses and let the Devil down.

Many years later when Jack finally died, he went to the pearly gates of Heaven and was told by Saint Peter that he was too mean and cruel, and had led a miserable, worthless life on earth.  He was not allowed to enter heaven.  He then went down to Hell and the Devil.  The Devil kept his promise and would not allow him entry.  Now Jack was scared.   He had nowhere to go but had to wander about forever in the darkness between heaven and hell.  He asked the Devil how he could leave as there was no light.  The Devil tossed him an ember from the flames of hell to help him light his way.  Jack
placed the ember in a hollowed-out turnip.  For that day onward, Stingy Jack roamed the earth without a resting place, lighting his way as he went with his “Jack O’Lantern.

Carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns is a very popular Halloween tradition.  But did you know, that jack-o-lanterns originated hundreds of years ago in Ireland.  Then they were made out of turnips or potatoes which were set on porches and in windows to protect against wicked spirits on Samhain when, it was thought, the boundary between this world and the Otherworld thinned.

The Irish began immigrating to America in the late 1700- early 1800’s and brought their traditions with them. Once here, they discovered the native pumpkin – larger and easier to carve. And so, an American tradition came into being. 

I found some hints from Professional Pumpkin Carvers (who knew??) ---
1.    Good carving starts with the right pumpkin.  Choose one that is fresh, with a sturdy stem, good “face”, and a flat bottom.
2.    Cut out the lid on an angle, so it won't drop inside the pumpkin when you replace it.  OR you can cut a hole in the bottom or the back if you want to use the stem as part of the face.
3.    Hold the pumpkin in your lap so you can see “the face” as you carve.  Hmmm – doesn’t work for me because my pumpkin is too big/heavy to sit easily in my lap. 
4.    Keep your pumpkin fresh.  There are all sorts of recommendations for this – petroleum jelly on the cut edges, dipping it in bleach, one I saw recommended you spray the finished pumpkin with bathroom cleaner with bleach to control bugs and mildew.  I don’t worry about this because I carve the pumpkin on Halloween day.
5.    Create a chimney.  Light the inside candle and put the lid on for a few minutes.  Then, make a small chimney (hole) in the place where the lid has turned black. 
6.    Keep all the carved away pieces (including the seeds and pulp) to use as accessories.

Last rule of Jack-o-Lantern carving – it needs to be scary!  Keeping away evil spirits, you know.

Even better – a dreaded pumpkin man sitting beside the door with a weapon of mass destruction

Take care

Sunday, October 29, 2017

…. a pumpkin sitting on my kitchen counter…

OK – I was perfectly fine to set the home-grown pumpkin on the front porch as a fall “decoration”.  Maybe it would last seven weeks without rotting and could be carved as a jack-o-lantern.  Yeeess – it was very humid and hot still - I live in south Texas, you know - but it might have lasted.  Annnd, I got nowhere.  No, said MHN, we (did you see the “WE” part?  That translates to “you do everything and I’ll kibitz”) should make pies.  Pie-S???? As in more than one?  Why???

Here I should explain.  I don’t care for pumpkin – pie, cookies, muffins, cake – I just don’t care for the taste.  Possibly because I was never exposed to it in my growing up years.  My mother never did Thanksgiving.  We always went to the beach and had chili.  (Mother’s comment was – why do a big Thanksgiving dinner in November and then duplicate it three weeks later for Christmas.)  And, we only had ambrosia and angel food cake at Christmas.

Fine – I pulled out the cookbooks.  Now, remember, this was the mid-1980,s – limited to cookbooks only.  I was a pretty good cook but I stayed within my safety net of foods I knew – pumpkin was not in that net.  All the recipes I found called for 2 cups of cooked or canned pumpkin.  Nowhere did it say anything about cooking a pumpkin.  So, I boiled it like I would a potato.  Cut off the top then, clean out all the innards (this time all went into the trash).  Cut it into smallish chunks and started peeling off the outer skin.  Work – mega WORK. 
Please note - a this point, MHN made the big mistake by telling me “You are cutting that pumpkin wrong”.  Excuse me???? Oh, show me how it’s done – gave him the knife and the pumpkin chunks and said – Go forth and give me peeled pumpkin pieces!  When that little chore was done, I put them in a pot of boiling water and about 45 minutes later, had soft pumpkin pieces.  Then, I treated it like making mashed potatoes without adding milk or butter.  And eventually had pumpkin stuff.  This whole process, from uncut pumpkin to now,  had taken several hours and still hadn’t made a pie.  Way more trouble than it’s worth.

OK, so now I know you do this differently.  First of all, you buy or grow pie pumpkins which are fairly small and sweet.  And, after cleaning out the guts, you slice the pumpkin in quarters and put it in the oven at 350° for 45 minutes.  Then, just peel the fruit away from the outer shell.  Much easier.  Drop the pieces into a food processor or blender and puree.  And VOLIA! Pumpkin stuff!

A lot of pumpkin stuff was produced.  A great big huge amount of pumpkin stuff.  Probably enough for 42 pies.  (OK, so I kept out the necessary 2 cups and threw the rest away - bad, I know but I really don't care for pumpkin anything.)
The rest of the pie making was fast and easy.  And, I have to say, it was a pretty good pie.  Fresh pumpkin has a much better flavor than canned.  So, I hear you asking, do I make pumpkin pies, etc. more often now?  Oh hell no.  I am not going to that much trouble (even with the easier method of acquiring pumpkin stuff) ever again. 

Next: Jack-o-Lanterns!

Take care

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Pumpkin Time

We did, many long years ago, plant pumpkins in the backyard garden.  Well, that’s not totally true – the pumpkins were planted accidently.  And the fact that they grew, still, amazes me. 

As it turns out, that year when I cleaned out the annual Halloween pumpkin, I put a handful of seeds and pulp in a small bowl with the idea of maybe roasting the seeds.  That never happened because I put the bowl on one of the corner shelves beside the window and promptly forgot about it. Then, some months later, I noticed the bowl, took it down and looked inside to find an icky mess of mildew covered seeds and pulp.  Yuck.  Took it outside and dumped it in a back corner of the garden and again, forgot about it.  Come spring (like late February or early March – I live in south Texas, you know), Michael called me outside – “What is this”, sez he, pointing to a small green plant growing.  Well, that’s about where I dumped the pumpkin seeds, so maybe pumpkins?  Actually, this is not the way to  plant pumpkins …..
Pumpkin plants are either indeterminate (that is creeping vines) or determinant (shorter more compact vines).  They prefer a well-drained, loamy soil, but they will grow in heavier clay soils.  They are deep-rooted and like deep watering along with balanced fertilizer.  (Interested in making your own fertilizer? 1⁄2 cup blood meal (for nitrogen), 1 cup bone meal (phosphorus), 3⁄4 cup greensand plus 1⁄4 cup hardwood ashes (potassium), 2 tablespoons agricultural lime (calcium), 2 table­spoons pelleted sulfur, and 1⁄3 cup Norwegian kelp powder.) Pumpkins need ample space to grow and if they are indeterminate, they need a large space.  They are sensitive and will need shelter from wind and frost. Try to protect pumpkins from the worst of the elements by covering them during heavy rains, or putting up some kind of barrier to protect the vines from high winds or using shade tents during summer’s hottest days.

And so the accidental pumpkins began to grow and grow.  We had a couple of vines and as the months went by, one began to produce flowers.  The others were pulled up and all attention was placed on the one remaining.  The flowers would bloom and drop off, no pumpkins.  Michael called his father as asked about the “no pumpkin” situation.  Lack of pollinators.

Pumpkins produce both male and female flowers that need to be pollinated. The female flowers are open for only one day.  A standard method in the horticultural world to ensure good pollination is to use a small paint brush or Q-tip and brush pollen from the male stamen onto the female stigma.  A good female flower candidate (for a large pumpkin) should have a stem angle which is almost perpendicular to the vine. (I don’t know why – I am not the farmer.)  

And so, Michael became a bee.  Every morning he would go outside and buzz around his pumpkin vine pollinating flowers.  OMG – it worked!  Several small pumpkins were born.  MHN did, of course, want to have a mega giant pumpkin.  Because I had a new computer at work, I did a little research on “growing a pumpkin”.  Now, back in the dark ages of computer searches, there was not nearly as much information as is available today.  But, the general consensus was to give it lots of water and/or milk.  Which he did (well, not the milk so much but the water certainly) and his baby pumpkin began to grow.

Since vines put out roots at every leaf, carefully tear out the roots of the vine where it is close to the pumpkin. This will give it free room to grow without damage to the vine. Gently train vines away from the pumpkin to prevent it from crushing them, try giving them a nudge in the right direction every day.  To ensure a rounded pumpkin, every day give it a gentle turn to the left and the next, a turn to the right.  Allow at least 4 months for your pumpkin to grow, longer for a larger fruit.  Remember that there are 100 or more leaves to each vine and if you are trying to grow a 300-pound pumpkin, each leaf is responsible for up to four pounds of weight in your pumpkin.  Keep your vine healthy and as weed free as possible.

Every day he went out and turned it one way and the next day, the other.  Then, tragedy struck.  He came in one evening dragging his feet with a very sad face.  “I turned the pumpkin the wrong way.”  Stem cracked and now we had a pumpkin sitting on my kitchen counter.  It was September then, too early for Halloween.  Oh what to do!

Next – Decisions

Take care

Friday, October 27, 2017

October - crisp days and cool nights (please, please, please)

October (and don’t we all wish it looked like this here!!) – With cooler weather coming upon us here in south Texas (and please, do not let it return to summer next week!), there are a number of good things to do now –

This is a good time to plant trees, rose bushes and other perennials.  Planting them now gives them more time to work on establishing a good root system and come out earlier in the spring with growth and blooms.  It’s a good idea to cover an area the size of the root ball with mulch.  It will help keep roots warm in cold weather and cool in hot.  And, no, I have no idea exactly how that works – I just know that it does.  Also – don’t forget to water. 

If you’ve used your compost pile over the year, this is a good time to renew or create one.  The materials that go into a compost pile mostly come from your yard and kitchen.  In building a compost pile, you are helping to keep those things out of the landfill and put to good use. Yea!  So what is good to put in – leaves, grass clippings, fruits, vegetables, peelings, coffee grounds, tea leaves, old wine, dust from your vacuum cleaner, wood shavings, old herbs and spices.  As you add materials, turn the compost over to help it along.  And, if it doesn’t rain – water it occasionally.

Plant fall veggies and herbs – Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, cabbage, peas, dill, cilantro, parsley, Swiss chard, mustard greens, etc. With our mild winters, those vegetables and herbs do very well.

Plant wildflower seeds now through November.  If you’ve never planted wildflower seeds – don’t just throw them out into the yard.  While you may have some blooms, if you will designate a wildflower area, sprinkle out your seeds and then cover with a thin coat of soil and water them, you will probably have better results.  What to plant -
Bluebonnets (seeds may need scarifying and there are several ways to do that.  Myself, I put them in the freezer overnight and then cover with very warm water for 12 hours.) 
Indian paintbrush (these are little seeds so – good luck!  I’ve never been able to grow them.)

Indian blanket (pretty red, orange and yellow flowers.)


Pink evening primrose  (also known as buttercup).

Texas bluebell (this is one of my all-time favorite flowers and you seldom see them blooming anymore because they have been picked to death.  If the flowers are not left alone, they won’t go to seed to product more Bluebells)

Mexican hat


And last and most important - mulch, mulch, mulch.  A 2-3 inch layer of mulch will help keep plants protected during winter’s cold, maintain moisture, and act as a weed control.  Any kind works – from pine straw or leaves or store-bought hardwoods.

Take care

Thursday, October 26, 2017


Sept. 2006  Some friends and I drove to Rockport for the annual HummerBird Festival.  We had heard that the ruby-throated hummingbird paused in that area before beginning their very long (800 miles long) migration across the Gulf of Mexico.  They stopped in Rockport to eat and eat and the people of Rockport assisted them by setting out doz
ens of feeders.  There were lectures to attend, a craft show, plant show, and a bus tour of the area to see all these little amazing birds.  The Coastal Bend Audubon Society and Rockport host this event.

The drive to Rockport is not very interesting (no scenic views, no alligator farms – lots of flat) but it doesn’t take long either so I guess it all works out.  Once there we signed up for an afternoon tour and set out for the first seminar – “Hummingbirds – Myth and Fact”.

OK – here are a couple of myths and facts.  Myth - Hummingbirds have tongues that, like straws, can suck up their liquid nectar.  Fact - Hummingbirds have a very long tongue that sort of scoops up nectar and rolls back into the beak.  Myth - Hummingbirds exist on a nectar diet only.  Fact - They also eat little tiny bugs. Myth - Hummingbirds will only feed on red tubular flowers.  Fact -  They actually will feed from the sweetest nectar flowers and some experts believe that the flowers in the warm ultra-violet spectrum of light (yellow, peach, pink, orange, light red, dark red, and purple) may contain slightly sweeter nectar.  As a point here – I see them at my Mexican Bird of Paradise and those blooms are orange and yellow.  Interesting.
The second seminar was “How to Identify Birds” Well, they really needed to call it “Exotic and Weird Birds” because there was no talking about identifying anything we might see in the backyard. Well, maybe the odd turkey vulture but certainly not a kiwi.  Not so interesting.  However, we did learn according to the Texas Audubon Society, bird watching is becoming the fastest growing sport in the US.

We visited the Plant Sale – so/so.  And then the craft show which was pretty nice; a good selection of handmade things along with hummingbird-related resale items. 

Then we went to watch the bird banding.  The Hummer Banders were located at several private homes.  This was really cool stuff.  We watched a man gently take a little hummer, attach a metal band to its leg (the band was not bigger than a metal shaving), weigh and measure the bird, check its body fat and ….. place the hummer in an outstretched hand.  Those little birds would sit for a second or three and then take off. Yep, very cool.  This particular house had dozens of feeders and hundreds of birds. It was a lovely place with a beautiful woodsy yard setting. The next place also had many feeders and little hummers darting all around. This house faced the bay; the landscaping along with an ocean view AND hummingbirds – what more could you want!!!.  The bus toured us to other homes with dozens of feeders, more bird banders, and pretty landscaping.

All-in-all, it was a very nice day trip. 

Note:  The HummerBird Festival takes place each September and unfortunately this years (2017) festival was canceled due to the catastrophic arrival of Hurricane Harvey.  As Rockport repairs and regrows itself, hopefully the festival will take place again in the not too distant future.

Take care.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Special Days and Weeks and Months

I tend to be a collector of unusual facts.  Did you know that every day of the year has some sort of special significance?  Could be it’s your mother’s birthday or a religious holiday of one sort of another or for instance, today October 24, is

Food Day – as far as I can tell, mostly a day to eat better and leave a small carbon food print.

United Nations Day   Interesting
“ .. is devoted to making known to people of the world the aims and achievements of the United Nations Organization. United Nations Day is part of United Nations Week, which runs from 20 to 26 October.” 

World Development Information Day  Yes, absolutely
“.. to draw the attention of the world to development problems and the need to strengthen international cooperation to solve them”.

Then, just about every week in the year also has some sort of special meaning –

Kids Care Week: 22-28      hmmm – seems this should be an everyday thing

Rodent Awareness Week: 22-28   every single day!

Red Ribbon Week: 23-31   yep this is a good one.
“The 2017 Red Ribbon Theme: YOUR FUTURE IS KEY, SO STAY DRUG FREE.™”

World Origami Days: 10/24-11/11   pretty cool
.“Celebrate origami by spreading the joy of paperfolding during World Origami Days.”

Next, of course is months – which all have many, many, many things to celebrate.  Everything from “Adopt a Dog Month” to “World Menopause Month”

Bat Appreciation Month
“Do you like bananas, cocoa, or agave? You can thank bats for that! (Pollinators) Do you hate pesky insects like flies, mosquitoes, and gnats? You can thank bats for eating those! Bats are an extremely important part of the ecosystem, and now is a great time to celebrate how wonderful they are.”

Right Brainers Rule! Month
“Do 3 things at once and do them all well. Come up with a list of 100 things to do with peanut butter. Organize the clothes in your closet by color. Assign a wall or bulletin board for sticky notes and put some up there with silly messages just for fun to break it in. Write a song about how great it is to be Right all the time.”

Squirrel Awareness Month  hmm – rodent pests, sorry
“The Squirrel Lover's Club is an international organization whose membership is open to squirrel lovers of all ages around the world. Viva la squirrels!”

Workplace Politics Awareness Month
“Plan something to help the people you work with come to peace with workplace politics. You could do more in October to raise productivity than all the downsizing, reorgs, acquisitions, spinoffs and whatnot have done in the past decade.”

And, finally, today October 24, the moon is Waxing Crescent, growing larger toward the full moon coming in November.  It is a good time to begin a new venture, experiment with new ideas.  Throw out what you don’t need and “clean house”. 

Take care

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Hold the Weed and Feed!

I pretty much think everyone detests the invasion of spring weeds.  It always seems to me that one day the yard is in a winter holding pattern and the next, big giant weeds are everywhere.  However, before you start pulling out the weed and feed, DID YOU KNOW

Chickweed.  Now, myself, I have always thought of chickweed as an invasive, annoying, frustrating, evil weed.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered it is considered an herb.  And, even more surprising – you can get chickweed seeds and have to pay real money for them.  All I can assume is that it actually freezes in places (like maybe Antarctica) so it never becomes the pest I think it is. So, according to many, chickweed is very nutritious, high in vitamins and minerals, can be added to salads or cooked like spinach.  Medicinally, made into an infusion, it is used to relieve constipation, coughs and hoarseness and is beneficial in the treatment of kidney complaints.  Actually, new research indicates its use as an effective antihistamine.  A decoction can be used as a medicinal poultice externally to treat rheumatic pains, wounds and ulcers and itchy skin conditions. You can also use it to feed chickens, pigs and rabbits.

An infusion is what you do when you put a tea bag or tea ball in a cup of hot water and allow it to steep a couple minutes before drinking.  A decoction requires boiling for at least 10 minutes then allowed to steep for several hours. 

PlantainPlease note – I am talking about the common grass weed, not the big banana.  Yes, another annoying, invasive pest with all sorts of surprising uses. Plantain has astringent properties, and can be used to treat minor skin irritations such as stings, bites, burns and cuts. You can chew up several leaves and slap it right on the afflicted area. The leaves can also be made into a tea or tincture, and to help with indigestion, heartburn and ulcers.  In addition to insect bites, Plantain has been used for snake bites, and as a remedy for rashes and cuts.  A tea, tincture or salve made with plantain also greatly eases the itch of poison ivy, oak, or sumac.  The leaves are actually edible and again, somewhat similar to spinach, though slightly more bitter. Use the leaves in salads as they don’t do well being cooked.  I have plenty in my front yard if you want to try some!

A tincture is made by putting an herb into a jar and cover with Vodka or Everclear.  The jar is left to stand for 2–3 weeks and shaken occasionally.  You take it by dropperfuls – usually 2 drops to an eight-ounce cup of liquid.  You can make a salve using coconut or olive oil and beeswax as a carrier. 

Wild violets Now, I have to say, I love wild violets and they grow EVERYWHERE in my yard. Note - I’m talking about Wild Violets here, not African Violets which are NOT edible.  Given the opportunity, they will take over your flower beds.  Keeping that in mind, wild violets can add color and a sweet flavor to your favorite salad or sandwich. You can use them to decorate desserts as well. The flowers can be used to make violet vinegar, violet jelly, violet tea, violet syrup and even candied violets. Try freezing a few in ice cubes for a pretty looking drink. They are rich in vitamins A and C.  Violets can act as a mild laxative so I wouldn't eat two double hands-full. They are also known to strengthen the immune system and reduce inflammation. Eaten or taken as a tea, they can help soothe sore throats, colds, sinus infections and other respiratory conditions. Native Americans made a poultice from violets to treat headaches.  A violet tea can also be useful in treating insomnia. Pretty (sorta invasive) and useful.

Dandelion – I always like to include dandelion because it is such beneficial herb.  OK – first of all, this is a really old the plant, believed to have evolved about 30 million years ago in Eurasia. Dandelion is a rich source of vitamins A, B complex, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium and zinc. It has been used to help digestion, anemia, nervousness, and relieve symptoms associated with the common cold and PMS. Dandelion sap can be used to remove corns and warts. And it is currently being looked at by researchers for treatment of liver disease. Dandelion can consumed as a leafy vegetable, whether cooked or eaten raw (the young leaves are less bitter). Flowers are used to make wine and jam, eaten raw in salads, or dipped in batter and fried. The root can be dried, roasted and ground as a coffee substitute. When placed in a paper bag with unripe fruit, the flowers and leaves will release ethylene gas ripening the fruit quickly. A dark red dye is obtained from the root. Wow – just a little bit of everything.

OK so everyone remembers the rules, right?  You don’t want to eat something unless you are certain WHAT it is, WHERE it came from, and HOW it can be consumed.  So, the best thing is to carefully identify, make sure it comes from a place with no pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers, and consume small portions to make certain you don’t have some sort of undesirable reaction. 

Take care.