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Is There Any Point to Making New Year’s Resolutions During a Pandemic?

A New Year’s Resolution to try some new recipes

New Year’s Resolutions have been around for a long time. Four thousand years ago the Babylonians made this day a time to pay off all debts. The ancient Romans celebrated their god Janus, who looked both back and forward, the past and the future. He was charge of doors and the transitions between the stages of life and the shifts of eras.

When I was young I tried to make new year’s resolutions, but I had children, and then I had children and a job. I was busy. Eventually the children grew up, got married and have children – and jobs. Everyone is busy!

But now we are locked-down. That’s the new description of our life. I’m too old to have a job, so what do I do?

  1. I’m combing through my substantial collection of cookbooks and making new treats.
  2. Every month or so I vacuum the floors.
  3. We’re watching old TV shows. Midsommer Murders and All Creatures Great and Small (the old series.)
  4. We take naps.

    The Whole Seed Catalog from Agastache to Zinnias – vegetables, too

  5. I’m combing through the 500 pages of The Whole Seed Catalog. It’s tough to choose which seeds I’ll want for spring planting.
  6. I have a walking regime with my husband. Thousands of steps!
  7. I’m watching the birds in the garden. I’ve never paid  attention to the birds.
  8. We’re zooming with all the children and their children and their children! 3 great-granddaughters! And we get to visit No. 1 son on the porch.

    Prayer Shawl in process for the Charlemont Federated Church

  9. I’m knitting a Prayer Shawl. And praying ‘we’ll all muddle through some how.”
  10. I’m having a good time. Most of the time.

Do you have any new year’s resolutions? Or are you just looking for things to do?

As the Year Draws to a Close – Snow and Flood

Snow on December 20, 2020

We rejoiced when the weather man promised us a white Christmas. We had at least 16 fluffy beautiful inches of snow. We thrilled to the winter beauty.

Christmas Day flood

But wait! On Christmas morning we woke to torrential rains. The windows are frozen shut. I couldn’t get my window open.

December 26 in the morning – greater flood

It was still raining in the morning of Boxing Day. Never have my planting beds been so deluged.

In the evening the flood withdraws December 26

Guess what?  More rain is predicted!  I’m counting on a prediction error.

Those who live in Greenfield would not be surprised or alarmed about these floods. When we bought our house in the early spring 2015 there was a frozen puddle where our lawn chairs live (we have finally taken them inside). In fact, a passing neighbor told us that  that spot was used as a skating rink by neighborhood kids. We were told that the flooding was due to the loss of a giant willow tree.

We immediately saw the need for raised planting beds, but we missed two other reasons for flooding.  First,we learned that a river runs under it. All the houses on our side of the street have flooded basements. In fact the basement ceilings are very low – or another way of looking at it is that the floors are too high in order to be higher than the river below.

Secondly, we much more recently learned from David Sund that our street is right at the edge of the old Pray Brickworks. That explained the heavy soil that looked more like cement than  garden soil.

But there is always a silver lining.  We couldn’t raise  the whole back yard, but we could buy yards and yards of compo-soil from Martin’s Compost Farm to raise the planting beds that created strolling paths between the beds. I could want no more.

A City Christmas as told by Betsy Reilley and Pat Leuchtman

A City Christmas was written 43 years ago when my husband, 5 children and and I were living in  the ancestral apartment in Manhattan.

A CITY CHRISTMAS

Macy’s Department Store and the Con Ed Tower – created by Diane

It was Christmas Eve in the City.

Shoppers filled Herald Square and hurried along Fifth Avenue as it grew late.  The streets emptied. Shop windows glowed like rich jewels and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree sparkled in silent and solitary splendor.

At home parents wrapped the last of the Christmas presents and cursed over unbalanced and empty checking accounts.

Teenagers gathered at parties – and you know what that means.

Only eight year old Teddy lay awake in the dark. He watched the shifting shadows in his room and the patchwork of lighted windows across the courtyard. He heard his parents’ voices in the next room.

Stub-cat, a stray cat Teddy had adopted and named because of his leathery, half-missing tale, strolled into the bedroom and drummed a tattoo on the radiator before he settled down to nap.

Then the Con Ed clock began to chime. It was midnight. Stub’s ears pricked up and his whiskers twitched.

He heaved himself up. He was very fat. Teddy turned on the night light and watched four mice creep out of a tiny hole in the wall. Tiny cucarachas (cockroaches to you) joined them.

Teddy sees the city animals join Stub – created by Betsy

A black squirrel leapt onto the window ledge and joined a pigeon that had flown down from the mulberry tree. (Even in the dead of winter, Teddy’s mother made him open the window at night.)  The sound of their squeeks, purrs and coos filled the room  – and all of a sudden Teddy realized he could understand what they said.

“Christmas greetings,” said Stub to his assembled friends.  (At Christmas all enmities are forgotten.)

“Joyeux Noel,” said the papa mouse, for he was a very cosmopolitan mouse.

“Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!” squeaked all the young mice, eager to share their gifts.

Cucarachas dancing – created by Henry

“Merry Christmas!” sang the cucarachas as they did a little dance.

Stub turned to Teddy who was sitting up in his bed amazed with wonderment. “Merry Christmas,” he said.

“Merry Christmas, Stub.” Teddy was so amazed he could barely get the words out, but he was a polite child and did not forget his manners.

“How can you all be talking?” The words burst from him when he couldn’t contain his curiosity any longer.

“On Christmas Eve all the animals can talk,” said the black squirrel.

“Yes,” continued Stub. “that is our gift because animals were the first to greet the Christ Child. No matter how small or insignificant, none of us was forgotten.”

The little mice chimed in. “And every year we celebrate together.”

“Buon natale,” cooed the pigeon. “We are honored to celebrate this night in good company.”

The animals settled into a sedate circle and the little mice and cucarachas distributed the gifts while their elders discussed the blessings of the year past with Teddy. There were hazelnuts and almonds gathered from where they had dropped behind the Christmas tree, as well as splinters of candy cane and slivers of cheese. The black squirrel had salvaged a nearly full tin of truffle pate from the cocktail party next door.

All the animals sing – created by Kate

Then all the animals danced solemnly in a circle and sang.

“O come let us adore Him,

O come let us adore Him,

O come let us adore Him,

Christ the lord.”

The mice and the squirrel’s voices were high and piping while Stub and the pigeon sang the base line.

But then the Con Ed clock struck one!   The animals’ song hung on the air for a moment and then faded.   The animals bowed to each other and then scampered off. Only Stub-cat remained.

Teddy and his parents  – created by Chris

Teddy jumped out of bed and ran to his parents in the living room.

“Mummy, daddy, come quick.  The animals are talking. On Christmas Eve even the mice and pigeons can talk.  Hurry and wish Stub a merry Christmas!”  He tried to pull them into his room, but they were busy.

“Teddy, it’s late. Back to bed or Santa will never come,” said his mother.

“I think you’re very tired, Ted,” said his father.  “You’ve been dreaming, but now you have to go back to sleep.”

No!  It wasn’t a dream.  The city animals celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, too.”

“That’s enough, Teddy.  Now back to bed. I have a lot left to do,” said his mother, and she turn to take pies out of the oven.  She sounded impatient.

His father was stacking the newspapers, and gathering up the teacups.  “Run along, now, Ted.”

Teddy slowly turned and went back to his room. He climbed into bed and turned out the light.  Through the window the stars seemed to dance around the Con Ed Tower; he felt the vibration of music in the air.

The clamor of church bells woke him in the morning and though his eyes flew open he lay quite still and tried to remember.  Was it a dream?

Stub-cat speaks – created by Pat

There at the foot of his bed lay Stub. Teddy whispered to him, “Stub, Stub, it’s merry Christmas.”

Stub opened his eyes slowly and purred.  “Felizzzze navidad.”

“You said it again! I knew it wasn’t a dream, but they didn’t believe me.  Merry Christmas, Stub.  Merry Christmas.”

After suffering many hugs, Stub returned to the foot of the bed and gave Teddy a long look.  And Teddy was sure that before he closed his eyes , Stub gave him a slow wink.

Merry Christmas to All!

Fats (also known as Stub-cat) purrs  – created by Henry

 

The Man Who Invented Christmas with A Christmas Carol

Even Charles Dickens, who wrote many books , 20 to be precise, can have periods  when he cannot think of a plot and when his recent books are not getting the attention he got after writing The Pickwick Papers in serial form.

Nowadays Dicken’s book A Christmas Carol is everywhere, as it was after its immediate publication shortly before Christmas in 1843. But it was rough,  going.  The Man Who Invented Christmas, “based on the inspiring true story.” as noted in the publicity of the 2017 movie, gives us a view of a young man who was desperate to meet a deadline for his book, come to terms with his father who was so profligate  with money that a very young Charles was sent off to slave in a grim blacking  factory when his family was sent off to debtors prison. He and wrote a novel that continues to enchant us – and maybe teach us about the important things that give us love and joy.

When we turned on our television a few days ago we did not know what we were getting, but I  recommend this movie as a Christmas treat as we endure the pandemic. And maybe some of us will read the book aloud. Maybe some of us will read more books by Dickens. The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In was written earlier, but after he wrote A Christmas Carol he wrote other Christmas stories. The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairytale of Home was published shortly before Christmas in 1845. The Battle of Life: A Love Story, published in 1846, did not gain the same popularity. The The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain, A Fancy for Christmas-Time is the final Christmas book, and is not as much about the Christmas activities as about the spirit of the holiday.

So ended his run of Christmas books, but it was The Christmas Carol that changed Christmas for us all. Now, as Tiny Tim said, I wish us all “A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!”

Dreaming of a White Christmas – Mission Accomplished

A White Christmas is beautiful and quiet

A white Christmas is a sure thing. When we woke up on December  18, one week before Christmas, we received 16 inches of  lovely snow – not too heavy. It took a good part of the day to clear streets and sidewalks. I think we were all glad to return to  our houses where we could sit near our brilliant Christmas trees and enjoy a hot toddy – or a cup of hot cocoa. We watched the old musical “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye  and enjoyed a perfect evening of delight.

Garden in the winter snow

On December 19 we are enjoying  some sun but chilly temperatures. There is no traipsing out  to  the shed or any tools. When we celebrate white Christmas weather we hope it lasts for days.

Social Distancing seating

We have been sitting out on the gravel ‘patio’  where we could visit in proper social distance seating. The table is now covered with 16 inches of snow. A friend donated a metal cradle to hold a campfire, but our wood was wet and we never got it working properly, but we have hopes, after we dig out some. I don’t think the watchful Krishna has ever seen anything quite like this.

I wonder about other landscapes and will be watching.

Our Christmas tree with treasures old

Snow in Massachusetts north

Daughter Betsy sent us photos of snowfall in the northern part of the state, shown deep on the patio furniture. In just a few hours it  will officially be winter.

Daughter Kate has a very different readiness for Christmas In Texas.

Merry Christmas to All!

University of Massachusetts Famous Garden Calendar – 2021

University of Massachusetts Garden Calendar 2021

The Annual Garden Calendar means you don’t need to have been a University of Massachusetts student to benefit on their studies which is shared generously with all of us.

UMass Garden Calendar with General Information

This is just the beginning of information about vegetables and flowers – and weeds.

Information about planting. pruning and dealing with bugs.

The gardening year is very long – happily for us who love working in the garden – and strolling through our garden to admire our  work, and  the work of Mother Nature.

The Garden Calendar makes a great gift and there is time to get your own Garden Calendar but it may not come before Christmas. Believe me, it is worth the wait.  I love the beautiful images, room for my own notes AND its easy to write on the paper

For many years, UMass Extension has worked with the citizens of Massachusetts to help them make sound choices about growing, planting and maintaining plants in their landscapes, including vegetables, backyard fruits, and ornamental plants. Our 2021 calendar continues UMass Extension’s tradition of providing gardeners with useful information. This year’s calendar offers tips on getting started with a vegetable garden with an emphasis on the basics, raised beds, and growing in containers.

Go to umassgardencalendar.org to see images from this year’s calendar and to order online, for a printable order form to order by mail, and the chart for bulk discounts, or call (413) 545-0895 (info only, we can’t take orders over the phone).

May – blueberry flowers and honey bees!

Gardener’s and Their Books – Gifts All Year Long

Windcliff by Daniel J. Hinkley

Apparently many gardeners are finding the need to leave their beautiful old gardens and move on to new gardens, and finding books to find a new way. I can speak to this urge myself, having left my gardens in Heath, to create a compact stroll garden filled with trees, shrubs, flowers and a place to sit in Greenfield. I also needed a garden that would not need so much work.

Windcliff: A  story of people, plants and gardens

Daniel J. Hinkley, plant hunter, nurseryman, and lecturer, had been living on the grounds of the Heronswood Plant Nursery in Kingston, Washington, which he created in 1987. With his husband, Robert Jones, they built a home, a great business, and a beautiful private garden. In 1999 they bought the property Windcliff located on a bluff above Puget Sound on the Kitsap Peninsula, but practically next door to Heronswood. Now they could build their own garden all over again.

Hinkley is an engaging author. In Windcliff: A Story of People, Plants and Gardens (Timber Press $35) He tells stories of how they went about answering the question we all ask when facing the prospect of a new garden space – what type of garden do we want? He answered that question as he slowly planted and created amazing vistas. From his overlook he admired the Puget Sound basin and the Olympic Range beyond.

The book really gets going with Design Principles, and talks about the garden as play, the need to evaluate and edit, the impact of texture and foliage, height and movement and more. Later he gives special attention to the house and terrace and the potager. He said he never knew the meaning of the word potager, but from the very beginning of his career he was a vegetable gardener.

Hinkley was the gardener, but Jones was the architect. Hinkley explains that he nobly kept himself under control and watched as the house was re-imagined and rebuilt with three pavilions joined by glass enclosed connectors. I was particularly fascinated by the idea of a library pavilion. Hinkley and Jones agreed that the plan concentrated on the “communication with the views framed by existing trees along with a sense of privacy.”

There is no way our gardens in Massachusetts will look anything like the exotic plantings at Windcliff. Our climate is very different. Our soil is different. The space we have for our gardens is different.

Even so, Windcliff gives us lots of advice and lots of ideas, or we can just enjoy Hinkley’s charm. The photographs are fabulous and we can thank Claire Takacs for that.

Uprooted: A Gardener Reflects on Beginning Again

Uprooted: A Gardener Reflects on Beginning Again

Page Dickey has been a gardener and a writer for decades. Her house and famous garden, named Duck Hill, was located in North Salem, about 50 miles from Manhattan. For 34 years she lived at Duck Hill, but she realized the time had come to find a place where she could make a garden with fewer demands. She married her husband, Bosco in 2000 and he was about to turn 80. Their house 50 miles from New York City was expensive. In Uprooted (Timber Press $27.95) she tells her story.

But where? In the end they moved to Litchfield County in Massachusetts. New England might be colder than New York City, but they would have the beauty of the seasons, and the expanses of the countryside with its green hills. She had happy childhood memories of relatives and events in Massachusetts. Even Bosco, a teenage refugee from Hungary, had visited New Hampshire, and spent a summer waiting on tables. He also went on to college in the Berkshires. They both had familiarity and affection for those days and landscapes.

The building they found in Litchfield County was an old meetinghouse. They quickly called it Church House. This old house did need work and an addition was planned. As a wife myself I know that husbands and wives sometimes have different needs. Dickey’s old house was filled with books. Every room had books. Bosco firmly required that the new living room have no books. I have to say the bright and sunny living room is a delight. It has sun and flowers and really comfortable places to sit. But no books.

There were beautiful plantings around the house, but new gardens were just waiting to be installed.  The new gardens included the front borders around the house, an enclosure around the swimming pool, and a cutting garden.

Anyone who has left a long-tended garden will bring some of those ideas to the new garden. Dickey recreated an orchard, a small greenhouse for Bosco, and cold frames for forcing bulbs. Many of her plantings are very familiar to me including Virginia sweetspire, fothergilla with its spring blooms, Clethra with its amazing fragrance, and Viburnum opulous var.americanum, to feed the birds.

In one of her last chapters Dickey talks about putting different emphasis on the importance of the habitats of wild creatures, ecosystems and biodiversity. One unexpected joy was the number or birds that enjoyed their gardens, a horned owl, barred owls,  pileated woodpeckers, Baltimore orioles and others. There were new delights in this larger, wilder landscape.

Spirit of Place: The Making of a New England Garden by Bill Noble

Spirit of Place also allows for dreaming. In his book, Spirit of Place: The making of a New England garden, (Timber Press $35.) Bill Noble describes looking for a new home and finding an “early Greek Revival cape set close to the road” in Norwich, Vermont. This property had been a farm ever since 1767, but by the 1950s it was no longer being farmed. Noble found the property in 1991.

As he started cleaning the collapsed barns Noble began uncovering the history of the farm. That was the beginning of restoring plantings, and designing new gardens.

He describes his various gardens, each one named, with details and plant names. There is the flower garden, the front border, the barn garden, the rock garden, the long border, and the fruit and vegetable garden. I was glad to see his interest in wildlife, providing shelter and food for birds in all seasons, and all other creatures that wander in the fields and forests of farmland.

On his property and over the years, Noble has created many gardens on the property. He began slowly, but made an amazing list of his guiding principles when he began. He says they changed over the years but I found the principles thought- provoking and useful to all of us. What are the goals of any garden? Consider the views. The garden should be maintained according to ecological principles. Vegetable gardens should be organic. Garden management should be manageable. Native plants should be considered and used. Noble also wanted his garden to have an emotional impact.

I think we all look for many of these ideas and plants in our gardens even though we might never put them in words. It is helpful that Noble can be so clear about what he wants. Many of his plans clarify our own plans.

Spirit of Place is a beautiful book. The many excellent photos almost bring us right into his gardens.

Noble’s stunning home gardens are included in the Smithsonian Institution’s Archive of American Gardens. He is also the former director of preservation for the Garden Conservancy. He has worked with individual garden owners as well as public and private organizations. His beautiful website is billnoblegardens.com.

All of these books are very special and make wonderful gifts. Christmas is here!

Feast of Saint Nicholas and My 13th Blogaversary

Saint Nicholas, made by my mother and made its first appearance in Beijing in 1989

Christmas Ornaments saved over the years

The Feast of Saint Nicholas is the beginning of our Christmas. December 6, 2007 is also the beginning of my commonweeder blog which I celebrate with great pleasure. Every year on this date I have thought about the many  wonderful gardeners and others who have shared their skills and talents with me.  I have learned and laughed and given thanks for my good fortune. This year as I celebrate my 80th birthday all these happy days of the past shine brightly and I thank all those who have made it so.

This afternoon we got our ornaments out of the attic. There are so many memories attached to these ornaments. I have used the wooden star for 50 years at the top of my tree. Over the years I have collected many little birds, some made of wood, and some more feathered, but all treasured. The ornament of hens, The rooster crows but the hen delivers, was given to me by Bob Keir, who was my boss for a number of years at Greenfield Community College.The little felt children were handmade one year when  the children were young. My mother gave me Heart-in-Hand which is a symbol of Mother Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers. The phrase “Put your hands to work and your hearts to God” is a good thought to carry all year.

Monkey King and his companions

I have other boxes of lights and shiny balls, of garlands and other simpler ornaments that remind me of the blessings of each year. In 1989 my husband left for a year in Beijing, China. I left my job at GCC and Henry took a sabbatical that would bring him back to UMass when we returned.

We arrived in Beijing in the middle of  the night, met by my soon-to-be co-workers. They took us to  The Friendship Hotel where we would spend the next 12 months. When we got to the hotel we could hear  strange chanting. My new boss explained that it  was the students chanting  in Tianenmen Square, the beginning of the Tianenmen Massacre that changed the atmosphere of our year.

We learned many things about China, the government, and its history. I liked to hear the old stories of gods and magical characters. Monkey King is a mischievous hero, getting into as much trouble as doing good. He can jump into the clouds and he has a magic wand. The book of his adventures, Journey to the West is one of the Four Great Classics, and describes Monkey King accompanying the Monk on his white horse, Sandy who was also there to protect the Monk and Pigsy. We met another American family with a six year old who had memorized great sections of the story – in a child’s version. Very exciting.

Double Ginger Shortbread

Of course, since this is the Feast of Saint Nicholas I always bake cookies in honor of the treats that Saint Nicholas leaves in the shoes of good little children.

This year it is not easy to arrange this. The pandemic keeps all of us in our own houses, celebrating as best we can Zoom-ing, and bringing cookies to neighbors – who have to wait to eat them until they are are not touched my Covid-19.  Below is my recipe for a holiday treat.

Double Ginger Shortbread

2 c flour

1 t ground ginger

¼ t salt

½ lb butter

2/3 c confectionary sugar

½ c crystallized ginger, cut into little pieces

 

*Cream  butter and sugar

*Add flour mixed with ginger and salt

*Add minced ginger

 

*Make 2  balls of dough and chill 1 hour

*Roll our dough to ½ inch and cut with cookie cutter

*Put on ungreased sheet (I use Silpat)

*Bake about12-15 minutes in 350 degree oven

*Let cool til firm and enjoy. You can store for two weeks.

Pat with brandied fruit

The most recent treat is a large jar of brandied fruits, raisins, currants, dried cranberries, dried cherries, dried apricots, zest of orange peel, then orange flesh and juice, lemon juice and one cup of brandy. The jar must be turned a couple of times a day.This will be ready to use with other pastries in another week.

So on this Feast of Saint Nicholas and my 13th Blogoversary I wish you all well, and happy holidays and good health.

View From The Office Window – December Flood

The Center of the Garden has the first December flood

Photos of my garden from the view from my office window is one way I keep track of weather and changes in the garden over all the seasons. After the drought this summer I did not expect three days of rain, sometimes very hard raid. Our garden sits on clay and a high water table. There are many floods but to have such a drenching at this time of the year is very unusual.  You can see we have left out our old summer chairs so that we can still visit family and neighbors at social distance.

Eastern planting bed and center bed

Such flood are not unusual, and when we began our garden here we knew we would need to create raised beds, and to choose water loving plants. Examples here are of the river birches, yellow twig dogwood, and winterberries which do no show up well from this distance. Winterberries, Ilex verticillata, is an American native holly and it loves living in a swamp, even a part-time swamp. Other water loving plants that thrive in our wet garden include buttonbush, viburnams, summersweet and daylilies.

Unexpected water movement

I was surprised that the flood waters came so far east. The red twig dogwood and the viburnam don’t mind the water, we though this area was safe for  the roses. The water left this section within a day and a half, so I have hope the roses will continue to thrive.

This morning on December 4 the garden has dried , but the weather report suggests more rain coming. Maybe snow. But the snow is only  for the hills. I hope.