Sunday, December 22, 2013

July in Christmas

If you are reading this in the Southern Hemisphere you are likely very well acquainted with the concept of Christmas in July. But to explain it to others - the traditional British/European/American Christmas Dinner is a meal centered around a large piece of freshly roasted meat probably accompanied by hot cooked vegetables gravy and more. Now if the temperature outside is at or above, say 70F/15 C (which it very likely is in the Southern Hemisphere because Christmas occurs at the beginning of summer) then you do not really feel like eating a big heavy hot meal.  But by July, when you are in the midst of winter, then it is fun to have your big hot meal and pretend it is Christmas. Hence Christmas in July.

Here and now, we have just had the solstice and should be experiencing winter weather. But in a turnabout, the past couple or three days have been a very balmy 65 - 70 F and a tee shirt has been required on my walk rather than the coat, hat and gloves of the previous week.

Hence my post title.

Moving right along, it is the season for all sorts of fun experiences and displays. Yesterday we went to see the holiday train layout at a local historic mill site.

 There were a number of excited children there including a cub scout troop. For the time of year it is de rigeur to include something like this LGB Christmas train.
 In the background we can see the full Christmas "special"; two locomotives and seven coaches. On the inner track Percy was busily at work with his three open wagons (we noticed they had put some metal rods in the wagons presumably to stabilize them so they did not derail). There were two Thomas, Annie and Clarabel sets but this one in the foreground did not run at all in the forty minutes or so we were there.
 This locomotive was an unusual one to me - it was a see through F3 diesel. The model train enthusiasts who own this layout were there and I heard the owner of this one mention that he usually runs this one on his back yard (outdoor) layout. It looked in very fine condition.
 I clicked the shutter on this and got three trains in the one shot.
 The F3 was set up pulling coaches in the Baltimore and Ohio livery. Are you noticing the very long necked dinosaur peeking out from under the trestle. They are clearly striving to entertain the children and less concerned with historic accuracy!
 In the rear you can see the full extent of the F3 with two locomotives and four coaches. Percy never tired of hauling his open wagons.

I thought I had taken photographs of the other end of the layout but I guess I did not. In doing a little background reading about this I find that this layout has been here every Christmas season since 1990 and is the most popular exhibit that the Colvin Run Mill has all year long. What a wonderful event provided by a small dedicated group of model train enthusiasts. I do thank them.

By the way, I am not a model train expert so if I have made any mistakes here they are not intentional.

 This was the miller's house. Note the open window; an indication of the unseasonably warmer temperature yesterday.
 The model train layout was located in the barn - the building to the right rear.

The water wheel does work at this mill but they do not have it running all the time.

All in all a great day to be walking about outside in December.

Monday, December 9, 2013

An Icy Wonderland

Following on from the posting of yesterday where I focused on preparing the garden for hibernation I thought I would show you a few scenes in my garden this morning.

I had been awakened soon after 3am by the noise of the snowplow trucks outside on the street. Since the forecast was for freezing rain overnight and not snow I knew this meant they were treating the roads for ice. And that this morning there would be some pretty vignettes.

One I won't be sharing is the magical sight of a cherry tree out front; when I peeked out at 4am it was glistening with ice and softly lit up by a nearby garden lamp post. But no, not a good time for me to be outside with the camera.

 All the trees and bushes are encased in ice.
Some of the seedheads, like this coneflower, were left for winter interest and for browsing birds.
 Proving there is still color even if a casual glance seems like a drab winter scene. There are not very many berries on the hollies but interesting looking long icicles on the leaf tips.
Earlier in the year when I included a photo of this birdhouse I was listing it as a "desirable residence" looking for new tenants. It does not look all that desirable today but if it was windy it would provide shelter for a small bird.
 The pansy plants were late in being planted out and so really have not provided any Fall color. And it is hard to imagine, given this view, that there will be any spring color from them either. Let's wait and see what nature will follow though with.
Nope, this looks entirely too chilly to sit at today even if I am carrying a steaming mug of tea.
 This little fellow seems resigned to his place in life in cold surrounds.
 The crepe myrtle at the end of the deck provides me endless options to photograph throughout all four seasons.
The wind must have been blowing a little in the night as it has created this intriguing circular branch growth - or are the two branches holding hands to get through the icy conditions?
A final look at the crepe myrtle.

For a better look at my photos click on them to make them larger. On my computer a left click does the trick.

Thankfully we still have power here and I have no urgent need to be out and about on the roads. A good day to stay inside and perhaps write some Christmas cards.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Prepping the Garden for Hibernation

Thursday this week was a relatively clear day with a high temperature of 69 F which worked out ideal for spending the day in the garden getting it ready for the winter hibernation period. For a job of this size I call for help from my landscape crew. Between three of us we got the leaves taken care of one (hopefully) last time, perennials cut back, weeding and a little light pruning- and while they were doing that I worked on renovating the herb garden in between joining in with other tasks.

 The leaves just kept on coming this season as did the grass growing in the garden beds.

 This is a gardenia that has been sitting in a pot on the driveway since the spring alas. It is a new type with more winter tolerance than the older varieties but it still needs a carefully selected spot. While this looked like a good location when I had initially tried to plant it there I discovered an irrigation pipe running plumb through the center of the space and so I had to give up. However, with a little ingenuity, my crew got the pipe relocated back further in the bed and then got the plant installed. I'm not sure if it will survive but it now has a greater chance than it did sitting in that pot. It does look a little lonely there right now as everything else around it (astilbes and hostas) had all died back for the season and been cut down.

 This is the area that kept me busy for several hours. Originally it was a great location for my herb garden but over the years the crepe myrtle tree has grown and now there is a lot more shade there. And I made the mistake of putting a mint plant there. Mint is very invasive and it grows quickly; I resolved to give it a good reduction. This meant pulling out all the edging stones and yanking out a mass of roots. Let's see what happens in spring - I'm sure it will be back. The oregano got a good cut back and the big rosemary bush (just out of sight on the right) and the thyme that grows in front of it also got a good trim up. Pots got moved off the driveway to make it tidier for the winter and easier when we have to move snow.
We decided to leave up the New England asters for a little winter interest. They did not do so well this season; another reason not to mess with them this close to winter.

 This area is looking a little bedraggled. Some of the lambs ear (stachys byzantina) succumbed to being overgrown by the white daisies earlier in the season. I had a session with the pruning clippers and the butterfly bush several weeks back so this bed is a little sparse. But it is the one that I look out at every time I sit down at the kitchen table and I'd really like it to look better than this!
 Next morning I took this photo to remind me how lovely and clean and tidy this corner of the back garden looked after all the work the previous day. This is taken from the same spot as the first photo in this post.
 And here is what I could see from that same spot today. Ooh yes, we were just in time with our seasonal tidy up. The high on Thursday was 69F and the high today has been 29F with a light snowfall which is by now turning into freezing rain.
The lambs ears are getting quite chilled no doubt.

But this is what you get in the garden - variety!

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Thanksgiving Carol

The title of this post is based on a comment made by a friend of my son - the friend is a Marine currently based in Okinawa and he was telling about his Thanksgiving Day. Tucked in at the end of his comments was the line "...and I listened to the one Thanksgiving Carol".

Do you know what he means?

We decided to have a quiet Thanksgiving Day at home with just the three of us. Although we regard having turkey for the "feast" as a given we are not averse to trying new recipes and methods.

In an effort not to feel overly stuffed we decided to break up the meal. And we kept it more casual and ate at the kitchen table.

Soon after noon we sat down to Butternut Squash soup followed by a small mandarin and some bread (see it reappear later). Once that was cleared we needed to get serious about the main event of the turkey. Given that we were only three people a 7.7lb turkey breast was waiting in the fridge. Checking the notation on the wrapping revealed that the "estimated cooking time" was 2 1/2 to 3 hours but since there was also one of those nifty little plastic doodads that pop up when the bird is cooked I thought that sliding the turkey into the oven at 1pm should produce a main course around 4 or 4.30pm. But, by golly, when I peeked in the oven only 90 minutes later that tender timer had already popped. H'mm, what to do?

Speed up everything else was the answer. Besides, the turkey could sit a bit; after all there was nowhere else to be! With two people working in the kitchen we got the mashed potato, the stuffing, the gravy, the roast vegetables and the from-scratch green bean casserole prepared. The molded cranberry sauce had been made the night before.
 And, according to schedule we sat down to our main course around 4.15pm.
 You know what followed; yes, lot's of dishes and careful stowing of leftovers of everything. Do you know where this is going?
 By 7pm or so it was time for the dessert course. On offer were: a very fine apple pie (above),
 a new recipe I renamed Thanksgiving bread (I was following a recipe called Cranberry, Orange, Coconut bread but since I also added in pecans that name was becoming way too long),
and a browned butter pecan pie. True to expectation, the pecan pie is very sweet but with a dollop of sour cream to counteract that it was just fine despite the way it oozed all over the plate.

And tonight for dinner? Why we got to do it all over again!

And in case you're still wondering about what the Thanksgiving Carol comment was all about...Have you sat down and really listened to the lyrics for the Arlo Guthrie song "Alice's Restaurant"?

Yep, a Thanksgiving meal that just couldn't be beat.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Falling towards Winter

Yes, it has been a while since I found anything to post about. But I was away from home and while I was gone leaves that were green when I left had changed color and fallen off by the time I returned only two weeks later.
This photo, taken November 14, provided my inspiration for a blog post I was going to title "Flying South for the Winter" - but I never did get the posting done.
 In mid October there were a lot of leaves down already but yet, as you see, some bushes still defiantly green.
 Before I left the country on October 23 I thought I should take down this tomato plant for the season. As you can see it was still loaded with tomatoes; I have saved a few to try and harvest the seeds because I don't know what this plant was (it was purchased with a label that clearly did not belong to it). The sweet potato was from a so-called ornamental sweet potato plant I had in a planter on the deck this year. There were two such plants but only one developed a tuber.
By November 7 there was quite the variety of color out front. In the foregound the butterfly bush was still holding on to leaves while behind it the viburnum was a rich Fall red and the ornamental plum tree had a spectacular orange coloration.
 A high shot of the back garden shows trees in varying stages of their Fall wardrobes...and lots of raking needed.
 Around the 20th of October I decided I better harvest the butternut squash that had been the big surprise of the garden year in the front garden bed where I had newly planted shrubs. This one plant grew out of the load of compost I applied before the shrubs were put in. With no other fertilizer or special care you can see the plant really produced good sized squash so it must have been an ideal spot.
 For dinner on November 20 I cut into the first squash and it tasted delicious served alongside pork tenderloin with gravy, gnocchi, broccoli and cauliflower and a pineapple ginger salsa.
 This is not quite as pretty as the August view of the caryopteris but it does have a certain charm don't you think?
 On November 21st I looked out and saw how the sun was slanting through the treed area and wanted to try to capture the moment. As I dashed outside with my camera I grabbed a vase of flowers that are also fading and past their best but they did give a pop of color to the scene.
This morning I could see that this one bush was still holding on to a late display of Fall red although most everything else has let go of the leaves now. And with the temperature today not rising above freezing for the first time this season I'm thinking I have almost seen the last of the color in my garden.
I'll close out with this sunset view from October 8 and hope that it will not be quite so long before inspiration for a new set of photos and thoughts to share with you occurs to me.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Weather Watches and Warnings

This morning when I turned on my computer I discovered the weather service had posted a tornado watch up through 5.00pm. Mindful of how I had a big ceramic pot blown over and broken on a similar day I thought I better go outside and ready things for high winds. The weather gurus are always very conservative and do not want weather (any weather it seems!) to happen without them first having told us "it might".

Not knowing how much wind there might be I started to take photos:

 A big maple tree across the road has started to change colors despite the two 90 degree days we had over the weekend.
My front garden has a Fall look to it with the coneflower seed heads, the big yellow dill seedheads and more although the smaller of the two butternut vines is still hanging in there.
 The big butternut vine has rambled all the way around to the driveway and is still producing flowers. I know I really should cut it back but it is entertaining me with it's prodigious growth and is always a guaranteed conversation starter with anyone who comes to my front door.
Looking up the hill you can see the sky is starting to look like a weather event might be going to happen. Closer to the camera the bigger butternut vine rambles on and off the front walk.
 In the foreground the chrysanthemums are beginning to bloom and some self seeded ageratum are having a big show despite their late appearance (h'mm, there's also a big weed there that I must pull out.) Keep your eye on the sky.
 The viburnum is also beginning to change into it's fall wardrobe.
Are you still watching the sky with me?
 Oh my, this event might almost be here, I better head back inside.
Look at the leaves swirl off that tree previously seen in the first photo.

And down comes the rain! It almost looks as though the house on the right is being toppled in the wind and rain but I guess it was me standing unevenly in my mad dash to get in out of the rain.

They did take down the tornado watch by midday. Heavy rain did not last more than about thirty minutes and has continued on lightly until now.  But it was exciting to watch this storm come in.