Thursday, November 21, 2013

Musings for a Late Autumn Day

Today I awoke wanting to write.  I have nothing specific in mind, no designated topic, no real point to convey but, perhaps by the end of this, it will reveal itself.

It's a very busy week here in the Village Wise Woman's household and gardens.  The leaves keep falling from the surrounding trees and I continue to rake them up into the garden beds, partly to keep the property looking tidy but also because I have a nagging feeling that this Winter will be harsh and the garden beds must be as insulated as possible.  The trees are nearly bare, a few leaves still hanging in there, refusing to give up yet.  The calendula and nasturtiums took their final bow last week and I have since removed them.  All the herbs are harvested and put up to dry.  It will soon be time to take them down for storage in jars and bags or to make my smudge sticks.  The resident birds have all settled into their different homes - a bush over here, a hedge over there, the brush beneath a shrub, or the hanging homes I set out for them.  The groundhog has not been spotted for a week or two so I think he or she has settled in for the Winter.  A quiet has settled over my gardens.

My Master Gardener classes are coming to an end and I find myself a bit sad about it.  It has been so much fun and I have learned so much over the past three months.  Although I will be seeing my fellow classmates at meetings or volunteer opportunities or in my project group, I will miss them all.  I will miss heading to class every Thursday and meeting up with all those wonderful unique personalities - students, instructors and long-time Master Gardeners.  I will miss the beautiful spread of food that the Master Gardeners prepare for the students each week for our break time.  There are always lovely healthy salads, fruit, and home-baked cookies.  Somehow gardening and good food go hand-in-hand.  I will even miss my trips on the trolley (something I thought I would never say).  As sad as I am to see my classes coming to an end, I am excited about my future as a certified Master Gardener and all the great things that will come of it.

Thanksgiving is in a week and I am quite busy preparing the house, and myself, for the holiday.  I am again hosting Thanksgiving for my family, as I have over the past 10 years, since my Mom passed away.  We all find ourselves faced with another rough and raw celebration again this year, with the loss of my Dad three months ago.  He loved coming to my house on Thanksgiving, reveled in the food, the company, my ever-growing gardens, and my witchy Martha Stewart holiday d├ęcor.  It will be so difficult to not hear him calling me out of the kitchen so he can praise my arrangement of gourds, pumpkins and candles.  I could always count on him to be impressed by my natural decorating skills.  He always said grace before the platters began their rotations around the table.  This task is now mine.  I am not the great orator that my Dad was so I am working on a written blessing.  I am not even sure I will be able to get through it but I can only try.  My middle sister told me last weekend that she can't even really think about the vegetables for Thanksgiving because they were one of his favorite parts of the meal.  It is strange what can make you fall apart when you lose someone.  But, even with all the sadness of the holiday, we will have joy too.  It radiates from the new addition to our family, my niece.  We will watch her sit at the table in her high chair, sneaking her little teeny bits of Thanksgiving dinner, making her giggle with delight, and sharing in her first ever Thanksgiving.

So, perhaps the point here is that, amid loss, sadness and endings, there is gain, joy and beginnings.  The wheel continues to turn.  Yes, I think that is the message I have been given today.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

So It Ends, So It Begins

I awoke this morning to very chilly weather, downright cold actually, and a light snow falling, looking much worse than it is by the gusty wintery wind.  I stood at the kitchen window, sipping coffee and gazing out.  Golden Autumn leaves held on to branches for dear life and the bright yellow and orange calendula and jewel-toned nasturtium flowers still blooming in my patio garden shivered under the icy blast.  So many emotions washed over me - relief because I prepared the garden for this, sadness because the growing season is over, hope and joy because another is to come, and a bit of a thrill at seeing snow.

Preparing the garden for Winter officially began Saturday afternoon.  I focused on the last of the tomatoes, mostly green, plucking them from the stems and placing them in a basket to bring indoors.  I pulled each plant carefully from the soil, cutting them into smaller bits and placing them in a paper bag to go to the county compost pile.  I hated doing this.  Each plant was still flowering, still sending out new fruit.  It felt wrong, like I was breaking a law.  It had to be done though.  I could not risk the last of the tomato harvest to the upcoming weather forecast.  I underestimated how long this process would take.  Daylight was waning. So I called it quits for the day, vowing to be out bright and early on Sunday morning and leaving a few smaller bruised tomatoes for my resident critters, and headed indoors with a heavy heart and a brimming basket of green tomatoes, spending the rest of the evening researching what to do with all of them.

I returned to the garden at 9 a.m. sharp the next day, turning my attention to my herbs.  I harvested what I could, cutting each plant carefully back.  Sage, thyme, oregano, marjoram, catmint - all could be left there with a bit of mulching to return in Spring.  The rosemary, lemon verbena and lavender needed heavy insulation against the elements.  I encircled each one in some small garden fencing, surrounded them in fallen leaves, and then wrapped them in burlap.  The basil, alas, would not survive the upcoming Winter.  I took a few cuttings indoors for growing and pulled the plants out, their fresh scent enveloping me, making me long for Spring.  While I did all of this, my hubby put away all the tomato cages and trellises and tidied up behind me as I moved along the herb garden.  Another rosemary plant, more like a small shrub and kept on my patio in a large pot through Spring, Summer and early Fall, was moved indoors to the sun porch.  I stowed away some of our Summer patio needs - the candles, the barbecue utensils, some unused empty pots.  As I finished up, I thanked the Goddess for all the joy, all the beauty, and all the gifts the garden gave to me and my family and friends over the past growing season.  I spent the rest of the day dividing fresh fragrant herbs to give to my sisters and a few neighbors and setting some aside to be dried.

Yesterday, I was out in the garden again.  I gathered up all the fallen Autumn leaves I could, from my property and, I must admit, from a neighbor or two, and covered all the beds with them, to protect and insulate perennials and to mulch down into the soil.  I do this every year and I have noticed, with each Spring, that the soil is even richer than the last, dark and moist, perfect for growing and nurturing.  As the last of the tree leaves fall over the next week or so, I will gather more and put them in the beds, until I have a thick layer over everything.  Then I will only have to prune a few shrubs and pull the annual flowers out of their beds and it will be done.

But it will also be beginning.  Deep below the surface of the soil, the roots of perennials, the seeds sown by Summer winds and the bulbs of early Spring flowers will be resting, waiting to burst forth with the first stirrings of warmer longer days.  I will be waiting too, gardening catalogs and notebooks piled around me wherever I rest in the house on the coming cold Winter days and nights, making new plans, sketching new visions, researching new additions to the garden.  Just as my garden will be preparing to grow anew, so will I.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Bad 'Isms

Today, a Facebook friend of mine, shared a blog post from two years ago in which she wrote about how retailers were bombarding us with Christmas just as Samhain/Halloween was winding up.  (You can read that here: )  This started me reminiscing about Christmases past, thinking about Christmas present, and wondering how bad things will be for Christmases future.
When I was a kid, there was not even a mention of Christmas in my house until Thanksgiving.  My sisters and I would awake Thanksgiving morning, waft downstairs on the aroma of roasting turkey, and find a little gift from Mom for each of us, our first hint that Christmas was on its way.  It was always the same gift.  A Night Before Christmas coloring book and a small box of crayons.  While we colored away at the kitchen table, Mom continued the dinner preparations.  In an annual tradition on a local radio station, at 10 a.m. sharp, a longtime Philadelphia DJ, Pierre Robert, would play Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant (he still does to this day).   Crayons down!  Time to sing and dance with Mom!  For 20 minutes!  Wait for it to come around again on the guitar!  Then, back to cooking and coloring until, at noon, right after Santa appeared miraculously in both the Macy’s parade and the Philadelphia parade (how did he do that?!?), there would be the annual Thanksgiving tradition of watching Miracle on 34th Street.  And none of these colorized or updated versions!  The good old 1947 black and white film with Edmund Gwenn was what we watched on an old little TV in the kitchen, one that you had to use pliers to change the channel.  And that’s when the first of the Christmas commercials, usually from Gimbels, Folgers, Coca Cola and Budweiser, would be aired.  Ahhh, remember those days?

Well, not anymore, Folks.  Not in 2013.  No.  Instead, picture this.  It was the Monday before Samhain.  I needed more pumpkins and Halloween candy.  The hubby and I headed to the local supermarket where there were a ton of pumpkins lined up outside on Sunday, just one day before.  The hubby let me out in front of the store and he took the car to gas up.  I looked around.  No pumpkins.  I headed inside, thinking that they must have moved them indoors.  Maybe they were afraid of the upcoming Mischief Night shenanigans and did not want their merchandise destroyed.  I get inside and walk around the store - the produce aisles, the front, the back, and the middle where the seasonal aisle was.  No pumpkins.  Ok.  Just get my candy and then hunt for a clerk to point me in the direction of the hidden pumpkin display.  Right?  NO!  Where did the Halloween candy go?!  Lucky for me, there was a clerk right there, STOCKING CHRISTMAS CANDY!  And here is the conversation that ensued:
“Excuse me, Miss.  Could you tell me where the Halloween candy is?”

“We have a couple of shelves left around the other side here.”
“Oh.  Okay.  Could you also tell me where the pumpkins are?”

“We don’t have any.”
“Will you be getting another shipment tomorrow?”

“Why would we?”
“Because it is three days before Halloween and 30 days before Thanksgiving.”

Blank stare.
“Oh, I get it.  You guys feel the need to push Christmas on us BEFORE HALLOWEEN EVEN GETS HERE!”

Yes.  I admit it.  I did yell at the poor girl there.  I didn’t mean to do it.  It just happened.  I was just so angry.  My hubby found me wandering aimlessly in the store and I proceeded to rant about commercialism, capitalism and the power of the almighty dollar.  He calmly got me back into the car, drove to another store where they had six – count ‘em! Six! – pumpkins, and picked out the best one.  Mission accomplished.
But that supermarket where I yelled at the poor clerk was not the only offender.  I saw Christmas displays up in all different stores from early September onward.  Really?  I mean, really?  While I was trying to get into the spirit of Mabon, department stores were already decking the halls.  There I am watching The Good Witch series marathon the weekend before Halloween and that channel was advertising that Christmas movies start airing as of November 2nd.  Where are the Thanksgiving movies?  (Are there any?)  I should have known this was where we were headed when I saw Christmas trees for sale a week before Thanksgiving last year.  And people were actually buying them!  I could not imagine a Thanksgiving dinner with a Christmas tree already up in a corner of the living room all aglow, browning as quickly as the turkey.  It’s just…unnatural.

So what will it be in another ten years?  Christmas displays rolling out just as the kids get out of the school for the Summer?  Christmas music and movies just as they go back after Labor Day?  People sipping hot cocoa around a blazing fire, the Christmas tree shining brightly with lights and ornaments, at Easter?  I hope not.
I will continue to follow the rhythm of nature.  My home will be filled with Autumn nearly to the end of the season.  Yule decorating begins in my home right around the second week of December.  My holiday gift shopping will not begin until the week after Thanksgiving.  I do not go out shopping Thanksgiving night or on Black Friday!  My Yule tree will be picked out and brought into my house only a day or two before the Winter Solstice.  I won’t listen to a holiday song until…well, right after Pierre plays Alice’s Restaurant.

It’s all so sad really.  People are missing out on the beauty of Autumn because they are being forced by retailers and corporations to think about the most costly holiday of the year.  There’s a scene in Miracle on 34th Street where Kris Kringle is talking with the young janitor, Alfred, about the commercialism of Christmas which I think sums it all up:  “Yeah, there’s a lot of bad ‘isms floatin’ around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism.  Make a buck, make a buck.”

Sunday, November 3, 2013

November in My Magical Garden

It is November in the Village Wise Woman Garden.  Samhain, the final harvest, has come and gone.  Yet, some inhabitants of the garden apparently did not receive the memo.  The tomato plants are still in flower and new fruit emerges every day.  The nasturtiums and calendulas continue to unfurl bright green leaves and to send out a flower here and there.  A lone coneflower plant has suddenly appeared with three buds of purple unfurling as we speak.  All of the herbs - catmint, thyme, sage, and basil among them – are still abundant and fragrant.  But it is time to set my mind to the tasks ahead to prepare the garden and my magical household for Winter.

November is my time to dry and store the herbs from my garden.  I cut all of my herbs back, most by two-thirds, and tote them indoors in large wicker baskets.  My kitchen then becomes a processing center.  The herbs are all trimmed, bundled, and placed upside down in labeled paper lunch bags.  The bags are then tied off at the top with a rubber band, have holes poked into them to allow for some air circulation and to prevent molding, and then hung from my kitchen ceiling.  The kitchen becomes a fragrant haven over the next few weeks.  A cool November breeze through an open window carries the various herbal scents through the house.

After about three weeks, the herbs are prepared for their assorted uses.  Smudge sticks of sage, lavender, and rosemary are made for use throughout the year.  The leaves and/or flowers of many herbs for use in teas, cooking and magical workings for the coming year are stored in jars or bags and placed on shelves in my kitchen in a colorful crowded display.  I will make candles and soaps with some of these herbs come February.  Some will be ground down and used in holiday meals while others will be used to help overcome Winter chills or colds.  Any seeds are stored in small jars in the refrigerator for blessing at Ostara and later plantings.

There are some herb plants that I just cannot live without through the Winter months.  Some basil from the garden is transplanted into a pot or two for indoors.  My rosemary plants, more like shrubs now, are dug up, potted up and put on my enclosed sun porch to protect them from Winter storms.  Both of these plants scent the air beautifully and uplift the spirits of all in the house.  My geraniums are also brought in and continue to blossom through the darkest coldest days of the year, reminding me that soon the days will grow longer again and the garden will once again burst with life.

And the last of the tomatoes?   Many are not ripe yet.  There are many recipes for green tomatoes so, most likely, that is where they are headed.  I am thinking a green tomato relish could work well and be used through the Winter.  So it looks like I will be branching out into the world of canning in the next week or so.  The ripened tomatoes will be used immediately for salads or tomato sauce, adding a little love magic to dinner.

The rest of the garden will be allowed to die back, the withered leaves and branches falling back to the soil to insulate what lies beneath to be reborn in Spring.  A layer of compost followed by a layer of mulched Autumn leaves will be placed over every garden bed for extra protection.  The coneflower seed heads will be left right where they are to reseed for Spring or for the birds to feast upon when the feeders are in need of replenishing.  Watching my feathered friends from the kitchen window will bring me joy when the Winter weather keeps me indoors.  The flowering shrubs and bushes will go dormant to await pruning right after Imbolc.

I have much to do out there in the garden and here, where I sit right now, in my kitchen in the coming days of November.  By the time Thanksgiving arrives, the Village Wise Woman Garden will be protected and ready for the Winter’s onslaught of elements and I will leave an offering of thanks to the garden spirits and to Mother Earth.  My garden has given me an entire year of gifts – delicious flavors, heady scents, breathtaking colorful sights, and bountiful magic.