Diwali

While many in the US and elsewhere prepare for the European/Celtic origin base celebrations of All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween), the Day of the Dead, or Samhain (pagan celebration for the end of the harvest), in India and elsewhere Hindu cultures (and in some places Buddhists join in) will be celebrating Diwali, or Dipawali, whose name comes from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) lit outside homes during the festival to symbolize the Divine light and inner light that protects us from demons, or spiritual darkness. In Nepal Diwali is called Tihar.

This year Diwali begins on October 25, the primary day of celebration is October 27.  It is a holiday of great celebration, of cleaning houses, throwing out old and broken items, visiting friends and relatives with food and gifts, lighting lamps, fireworks….truly a life affirming celebration!

For this first day of Diwali, my little altar is a candle for each day of Diwali, a small oil lamp, flowers and the evergreen herb, rosemary.

Often called the Festival of Lights, Diwali is a five day celebration, each day having specific events and celebrations according to stories of good triumphing over evil, stories found in the ancient Sanskrit writings. In Nepal, each of the five days honors a different animal. Many of the stories celebrated during Diwali come from the epic tales of Rama or Krishna, Divine beings whose life trials of overcoming evil forces and demons through their moral courage and spiritual attunement, as well as their kindness to others, have been guidelines for living a moral and spiritual life for eons. Which tales are celebrated on which days varies from region to region in India. Diwali is a complex holiday! Below are a few links to read more about it.

National Geographic article on Diwali

Diwali in Nepal

Diwali on Wikipedia

I’ve always been drawn to this celebration of light, of overcoming demons, of good winning over evil, which is combined with gratefulness for the harvest. It is a uplifting national holiday in India and Nepal and among Hindus everywhere. As the days become shorter and darker, and as my life at this time is full of unknowns, I struggle with my own dark thoughts and demons and want to embrace the joyousness of this celebration of the Divine Light in life and in each of us!

Happy Diwali!  Let there be Light, inner and outer!

Here are some links to past posts celebrating this time of year:

Festivals & Fruit Crumble

The Driver – A true Halloween story!

A Pumpkin by any other name

What Scares You?

 

Independence as defined by a founding mother!

“If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.” Abigail Adams

These words (and many more!) were written by Abigail Adams to her husband John Adams when the Second Continental Congress was formed and its (all male) members debated and deliberated over the writing of the Declaration of Independence. She argued in many letters to her husband that the creation of a new form of government was a chance to make the legal status of women equal to that of men.

The quote above is prefaced by “remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could…..”

Abigail’s influence and advise to her husband during the Continental Congress, as well being both a wife to one President and mother to another, resulted in some historians referring to her as the “Founding Mother” of the United States. But her ideas of freedom and independence were more inclusive than those of the founding fathers.  Not only did she advocate for women’s rights, she also opposed slavery, stating in a letter that most Virginians, as slave owners, did not have such a passion for Liberty “as they claimed they did, since they deprive their fellow Creatures” of freedom.

When a freed young black man came to her home in Philadelphia asking for her help in learning to read and write she helped him enroll in a school.  Her response to a complaining neighbor was:

[he is] “a Freeman as much as any of the young Men and merely because his Face is Black, is he to be denied instruction? How is he to be qualified to procure a livelihood? … I have not thought it any disgrace to my self to take him into my parlor and teach him both to read and write.”

She also wanted women to be given equal opportunities for education:

“If we mean to have heroes, statesmen and philosophers, we should have learned women.

“you need not be told how much female education is neglected, nor how fashionable it has been to ridicule female learning.”

painting by Gilbert Stuart

She continued to be John Adam’s closest advisor and confidant through his presidency and in her later years continued her political interests by following the career of her son, John Quincy Adams,  though she did not live to see him become president.

Oh Abigail, you were ahead of your times, but your spirit lived on in the early suffragettes, and lives on in the wave of women who have risen to the occasion to run for political offices locally and nationally in the past few years. Called “Mrs President” (meant to be derogatory) by a journalist at the time for her “meddling” in her husband’s presidency, perhaps in the near future that title will be carried by someone with pride as women gain more representation, a dream of her’s over 200 years ago!

Happy Independence Day for all…….regardless of gender, race, religion, nationality!

A little floral color for your 4th

Tree Fairy Tales for the your holidays…..

A little Tree Fairy kept me grounded through a month of windstorms, power outages, health challenges for both Mike and I,  and the usual “what do we want to do about Christmas”.  I shared her through a series of stories on social media. For those who do not interact with me on social media, I want to share her here and hope you find her to be a bit of delight in your life.

She and I wish for you Happy Holidays! Happy Christmas! Happy New Year! Happy Hearts!

Tree Fairy came to me with her little potted tree, which I offered to decorate, but she ONLY wanted candles, no other decorations. She was VERY particular!

I don’t argue with fairies.

The next day she comes back and wants me to decorate a big deciduous tree, saying they’re the ones needing color in winter and mumbling something about people decorating conifers, already green & pretty.

I told her the Alders and Big Leaf Maples here were too tall to decorate. She gave me a cross look. .

I decorated an alder for her.

Tree Fairy loves her trees but can be very grumpy about people.

On December 9th I told Tree Fairy about Worldwide Candle Lighting Day. She became very sad thinking of young children who have died. She doesn’t tolerate adults well, but she loves children, helping them when she can.

She went and got a very large candle (for her, she’s only 3 1/2″ tall), then left to go into the woods to light her candle and be with her beloved trees.

She too has lost many loved ones this year. .

She told me the souls of all little ones who die, of any species, go to a beautiful forest in a heavenly world. I don’t know how she knows this.

Tree Fairy did not return until Friday when she came to say Happy Solstice! In good spirits, she looks forward to the coming light, knowing her beloved trees will appreciate the longer days, some already budding in anticipation. She brought some friends (not sure who they are, seemed rude to ask, I believe they are tiny seed fairies). .

She’s returned to her trees, we’ve had wind storm after wind storm, she wants to help those who got hurt.

She is happiest amongst her trees, she said come visit wherever you go to be with trees. She loves people who love her trees.

Those that don’t. Well, a cross fairy has her ways…….she is a warrior!

To see more of my recent and seasonal botanical creations check out page two of “Flora Mandalas”

Holiday Full Disclosure and Tolerance

The winter holiday celebrations can be as divisive as politics. Which is sad given what they celebrate. There are some Christians who say Santa, trees, etc. have nothing to do with the birth of Christ, and non-Christians who say most traditions of Christmas were stolen from pre-Christian celebrations. Some Jewish people put up Christmas trees, others say that isn’t right. There are people who love Christmas music, those who hate it……the list goes on and on of other religious and cultural controversies this month.

a bit of whimsy made by a local carver

I thought I was becoming cynical about Christmas. Even Solstice. We celebrate both. What I thought was cynicism was the feeling that I have to be so sensitive this time of year around pretty much everyone as to not offend anyone, and very private about how we celebrate. Often I don’t even know which way is the “right” way to avoid offense.

Here’s an illustration of what I mean. One Christmas, when I had been very ill for months, Mike and I were enjoying a rare, leisurely, festive time together a few days before Christmas. At the gallery of a local artist who illustrates children’s books, Mike purchased a print of a little shepherd boy, taken from a book about the Christmas story. Mike loves Christmas and because of his Basque heritage he identifies with the shepherds in the Christmas story. (The Basque who came to this country, including his maternal great uncles, herded sheep in the isolated hills of California, Nevada and Idaho. A job no one else wanted). We walked out of the gallery and saw a friend to whom Mike enthusiastically showed his purchase. The friend’s only comment, said with disdain after Mike said why he bought it, was “but it’s so Christian.” My heart aches even now when I think of how crestfallen he was.  This person would not think of them self as intolerant. Yet this is the sensitiveness many people have around this season.

Though we celebrate in our house the way we want, it is like belonging to a secret society of two. How we celebrate has changed over the years, adopting new rituals, traditions, letting go of older ones. That’s the way life is. Of course new religions incorporate the traditions of older ones, its human nature. Archeological finds show just how long we’ve been adopting the ways of those before us, or from other places and cultures. Life is not either/or, people are not either/or……well, yes they are, and we see the results of that in our divided, polarized country, and in other countries, where everyone on all sides of the political spectrum talk of the “others” as though they had nothing in common and were from another planet. This intolerance of differences generates violence, at least in thought, and too often in action. Violence toward others is not taught in any major religious or spiritual tradition that has stood the test of time.

I’m quite certain I have much in common with someone who may have voted differently than me. We may both love birds, read plant books, support women’s shelters, have had cancer, drive the same car……who knows. I choose not to talk politics with people with different political ideals, but politics is not all life is about. Political choices may represent important individual values, but I know people who vote as I do and do not share all my values. They may not even tolerate how and what I celebrate this month. We are far more complex as a species and as individuals to put each other in boxes and categories based on limited knowledge of the “other.”

So here in our secret society of two, where Decembers past has often been a time of healing and recovery (i.e. recovering from surgeries, colds, flu, etc.) our celebrations are low key. Up until a few years ago we spent Christmas Day with family, usually elsewhere, occasionally here. We miss these family gatherings, but also enjoy just being “home for the holidays”. I have had a long standing “bucket list” item of spending Christmas in a cabin somewhere, then I remember – I live in a cabin somewhere.

the greeter on our front door

So here at this cabin in the woods is what is important to us when it comes to holidays. I apologize if any of this offends you. Actually, I don’t want to apologize, rather invite you to share with me what you celebrate this month that might be different, maybe I would enjoy your traditions and celebration also. Or perhaps you don’t celebrate anything you just enjoy December plain!

1) A nativity set, there are several to choose from, the tiny one from my childhood or various wooden ones. I have few friends who put up a nativity, but to Mike and I that is what Christmas is about.

2) Lights and candles are important because that’s what celebrating the Solstice is about, bringing back the light, celebrating the cycles of dark and light. And because here in Washington December is just plain dark and days are short.

3) We listen to a lot of music. (Mike can watch the same Mormon Tabernacle choir Christmas special DVD every year, me not so much, I like something new!).

back porch trees, two golden crest cypress

4) Though I often vow NO TREE, and NEVER thought I’d have an artificial tree, we always have a tree, sometimes a small table top artificial one, or a potted tree on the porch outside the window, or a cut tree. Sometimes more than one. Mike is delighted when we decorate a tree. In his younger adult years, up until we married, he didn’t really celebrate Christmas with anyone. Thirty Christmases later, he is still making up for it.

advent wreath

5) We now do an advent wreath to help us stop and focus on the spiritual aspect of this holy season, we light a candle each week, do a reading, meditate and slow down. Mike was in the emergency room last Sunday so we postponed our candle lighting to Monday, it helped “ground” us back into the season’s vibrations after a stressful Sunday.

6) We try to take a ride in the mountains, a walk somewhere quiet, depending on my body’s willingness. Connecting with Nature and the calm gray/green of winter in the northwest is very important to me this time of year. Nature reminds us human species that it truly is a time of peace on earth, and at least in the northern hemisphere, a time of rest.

7) Gift giving is minimal, fortunately an attitude shared by extended family and close friends. Something simple or homemade, if anything at all. (And this year I liberated myself from Christmas card sending by sending Thanksgiving cards.)

8) We have a special Christmas meditation with those in our meditation group.

little angel from my childhood on this year’s indoor tree

In a small house, where there isn’t a lot of room for decorating, besides the tree and nativity, you might find these favorite symbols of the winter season and holidays – snowmen, angels, deer, a variety of evergreens and their cones, red and white carnations, and (I have a mixed relationship with them) maybe a poinsettia, which Mike loves.

So if you’re in the neighborhood and don’t find our holiday celebrations offensive, drop by, we’ll share a cup of wassail! And if you too like the songs of the season, we could have a sing-a-long!

little china snowmen quartet

Just a few of many other posts of the season…

Solistice Thoughts

Christmas Eve Lessons From Nature

A message of peace

Sweet Silver Bells

Solistice

Seasonal Reflections

Gratitude & Grace

The word gratitude means “appreciation of benefits received” and comes from the Latin, “gratus“, which is also the derivation of grace, a word with many meanings, including “the quality or state of being considerate or thoughtful” and “divine assistance“.

The expression “grace under fire” usually refers to someone remaining calm under duress. Using the above definitions of grace I offer a larger meaning to this expression: recognition, with gratitude, that we are the receiver of gifts, even when under duress. These gifts may include empathy, compassion, acts of kindness and love. No matter how small or large, these are the gifts of grace from others. Certainly recognition that these gifts are there for us can steady us in the storms of life.

When we express gratitude we are manifesting grace, our thankfulness shows consideration to the giver. We also attain grace when we are the givers of kindness, empathy, help, compassion, and love.  Grace flows, it connects us to others and to Spirit. It helps us remember there is good in the world and we are both the receivers of and, when acting with grace, the givers of this goodness.

Even in the most challenging of times personally or in our larger communities, there are elements of grace, acts of kindness and blessings received.

We do not need a calendar date to express gratitude for the grace in our lives, nor to pass it on. However, Thanksgiving, originally a holiday based on a myth, a misinterpretation of history*, has become a time to give thanks for the abundances in our lives. It is a good time to pause, focusing on what we are grateful for, and an excellent time to express not only our gratitude, but to offer our gifts of grace to others.

Gratitude and grace, when practiced often, will change our lives and the lives of others. May you be filled with gratitude and grace this week, regardless of the challenges you may be facing.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

*To read about the myth of a ‘first’ Thanksgiving, this is one of several excellent articles at the National Museum of the American Indian: Everyone’s history matters: The Wampanoag Indian Thanksgiving story deserves to be known

related posts:

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Yummies

Thanksgiving

A recipe for winter

A pumpkin by any other name

.

July 4

Questioning the recent misuse of the word patriot – for July 4th I share words from a few Americans who loved their country and made a difference, and who might not be so happy with current events.

Mark Twain “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.” .

Theodore Roosevelt “This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed; We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (in her 1845 Declaration of Rights and Sentiments) revised Thomas Jefferson’s words to read “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.” She also wrote “A government is just only when the whole people share equally in its protection and advantages.

Happy 242th birthday United States, a work in progress, needing revisions, updates, and lots of fine tuning, but still viable with many good traits and good people. 🇺🇸

Have a Happy 4th!

Decking the halls – wandering thoughts on seasonal decorations

Most know traditional decorating ideas for Christmas go waaayyy back, ‘borrowed’ from early pre-Christian holidays in Celtic, Scandinavian and Germanic cultures. Whether to decorate or not has been as controversial as Christmas itself.  Just as there have been bans on celebrating Christmas, such as in 1647 when under Puritan Oliver Cromwell there were punishments for such celebrations in England (the political climate changed, the King restored, and so was Christmas), there are now bans on Christmas decorations in many schools and public places.  There are Christian churches that celebrate sans decorations.  On the other hand, there are Jewish families that always have Christmas trees, some jokingly calling it their Hanukkah tree.

My theory is that in the short, often dark days and long dark nights of winter, people, past and present, restricted from being outside, needed something to ‘change the scenery’ of their housebound lives, a reason to add color and light.  Ancient yule time festivities brought gaiety and light to the dark mid-winter.  Jesus came along and what better way to celebrate a birthday than with lights and decorations! Okay, the earliest record of celebrating his birthday in December is from the middle of the second century, when Christians were still a persecuted minority, so maybe they didn’t decorate too much.

(note: As for those “modern” Christmas lights that light up dark nights, in 1895 Ralph E Morris of the New England telephone company took tiny strings of lights made for telephone switchboards, put them on his tree to replace the not-so-safe candles, and the rest is history!)

Christmas decorating and decorations in homes is very personal. Look at someone’s tree and you see ornaments full of family tradition and stories. Our trees are so familiar to ourselves, but to an ‘outsider’ it’s like peering into a private room in the house! I do not have children, yet like many families, I have child-made Christmas decorations from nieces. Everyone has ornaments and decorations given as gifts, or bought on a special day, or a vintage find, or maybe an after-Christmas deal on a  box of pretty glass balls. Most trees are a miscellaneous collection of family history.  Yes, there are those who carefully arrange and coordinated “designer” trees, with color themes and ornament “collections”, those trees too give insight into the decorator.

60s set of gauzy angels – my first very own decorations.

The decorating touches people place around their homes, hang on their doors, or put outside often have stories too. If there’s no story, they at least reflect something about the person or family. As traditional and universal some Christmas decorating themes might be – Santas, snowmen, angels, wise men, the nativity, reindeer, bells, etc., individual expression and interpretations of those themes are endless, and new themes often very unique!

When cleaning out my parents house I brought home a few Christmas decorations. Some of the old ones held childhood memories. Though sentimental, I realized those  ornaments made from tin can lids, covered with glitter, were really old, no longer attractive and I was never going to use them. I kept only a few items from mom’s decorations.

50s ceramic ornaments made by mom

One year, after we’d all left home, Mom decided she wanted a blue and white tree and went out and bought blue and silver balls and white birds. Sort of a “designer” tree.  She used those ornaments exclusively only a year, maybe two. Soon more colorful family ornaments were added back in and most of the blue-tree-theme ornaments were stored away, along with the old glass ball ornaments of our childhood. Her tree eventually became an eclectic collection of little wooden figures and craft ornaments, no glass balls.

Closest I came to a “theme” tree was the tiny-teddy-bear tree one year, the santas & snowmen tree, or the all-angel tree, though none of these were without small red, green, silver and gold balls. In a small house, even a “big” tree is relatively small and easy to “themeize”.

My love of decorating for Christmas began to wane not long after Mike and I married. Besides decorating at home, I decorated the Quilcene Community Center for 9 years, and later the Port Townsend Visitor Center for 7 years, plus various parties for seniors, volunteers, etc.  I was decorated out! Marrying at 43, Mike had never celebrated Christmas as an adult, never had a tree in his “shed-boy” cabin, and he enjoyed the wonder of all my little ornaments. I kept at it quite a few years, but over the past decade, as my health and energy has been more challenged, half my ornaments have gone to garage sales and Good Will.  A pattern set in where every year I’d announce in November I did not want to “do” Christmas and if I did, it would be minimal. In early December I’d put a few boughs in a vase, set out some angels, a few Swedish gnomes and santas, gifts from my friends in Sweden, hang lights around the window, make a swag, get out the music (we both love Christmas music) and say, “that’s it.”

Then a week later I’d go in the attic, (or the years I couldn’t due to recovering from some surgery or broken bone, I’d ask Mike to go in the attic, it’s the crawl in type) to find the box of nativity sets. I’d see favorite little snow angel ornaments, or tree shaped candles, or the Lenox Christmas bowl, or we’d want more lights for dark NW evenings. Out would come boxes and suddenly there’d be Christmas everywhere! One year, after swearing we’d have no tree, I bought a previously cut, but rejected, small noble fir at a local already-closed-for-the-season u-cut tree farm on Christmas Eve and decorated it by the time Mike came home from work. For several years I decorated a potted tree on the porch with outdoor ornaments, within view of the living room. Then came the table top artificial trees (one I’d bought for mom) something I, Nature girl, NEVER thought I’d do, but a great show case, that takes up little room, for favorite tiny ornaments. Then after Christmas, every year, I’d say, as I gathered, boxed up, and put away all the stuff I’d dragged out – I’m NOT doing this again.

So here we are – first week of December. I made my November announcement. Yesterday I put boughs in a vase (they’ll dry before Christmas and need replacing – maybe with a little artificial tree?), set out a few bits of Christmas stored in my closet, played Christmas music off my iPad (forget the box of CDs, tapes, and old 33 rpm albums).  Crippled up with a painful foot (re-injured this week by a #@#* doctor), I can’t walk and can’t possibly go up to the attic. This may be the year I succeed at minimalist Christmas decorating. But there ARE those little snowman angels, the tiny nativity set and I’ve got three weeks to go.

(P.S. Mike read this and helpfully headed to the attic! I complained as he pulled out boxes, but with great reservation, took only a few more items and sent the rest back to the attic!)

Happy decorating!

See photo below for a tree from the late 1930s. my dad’s family (he’s in the middle) and a very tinseled tree (tinsel, originally made of silver in Germany, was eventually made of lead until the 1970s when it was realized lead was toxic. Yikes!)

My favorite book of Christmas trivia, used in writing this:

The Christmas Almanack, Gerard and Patricia Del Re, 1979. (Yes, that’s how they spell almanac)

other December and holiday posts:

A Christmas Eve lesson from Nature

Sweet Silver Bells

A Chaplin’s Christmas message of peace

Solstice Thoughts About Our Thoughts

O Tannenbaum!

Seasonal Reflections

Thanksgiving Yummies

This week of dark days and rainy weather here in the Northwest makes it a time for coziness and comfort food so I thought I’d share a few of our recent favorites.

It is also a time for counting our blessings, though I try to do that every day.  Among the many things I am grateful for are all who take the time to read my posts.  As my web site title suggestions, they wander over many topics, but I hope they add some interests, insights, knowledge or smiles to your life, if just for a moment. Thank you for following my wanderings!

with goat cheese

Quinoa Sweet Potato Patties   (30-45 mins. to prepare) incorporate several traditional winter holiday foods into one non-traditional dish. This simple recipe could be a peace maker at a holiday meal, meeting various dietary choices. It’s a good main dish protein source for vegetarians and vegans, yet can also be served along with meat or fish. And most people on a gluten-free diet can tolerate quinoa. These could be made without the quinoa, but they would not be as protein rich. (My photos did not turn out well of these, they actually are quite nice looking with the chopped cranberries in them!)

1/2 cup dry quinoa – cook separately while preparing other ingredients

1 small onion or white part of a medium size leek (my preference) chopped fine by hand or put in food processor

1 LARGE sweet potato
Peel and grate or chop fine in food processor. You could also bake a sweet potato then scoop it out to use. This adds to prep time. Sauté in water all the chopped ingredients (see options below) except nuts (if using them) in a skillet until the sweet potato is a soft, mushy consistency. Be sure not to use too much water or they might not hold together. Add salt and your favorite seasonal spices. Sweet potato is your binder so be sure to use a large one or a few medium size.

Options to add in with sweet potato and onion:

1/2  cup cranberries roughly chopped
4 large crimini mushrooms chopped fine
1/2 cup ground nuts (cashews and pecans work well, I mixed them)

good combinations are cranberries & mushrooms or cranberries & nuts. Be creative and add what you think would be good!

In a large bowl mix the cooked quinoa into the cooked sweet potato mixture and add chopped nuts. Make small, firm patties, lightly cook in a skillet using coconut or olive oil, turning once to brown both sides.

with vegan mushroom gravy

Topping options:
Goat cheese
Yogurt
Mushroom “gravy” made with coconut milk and cashews (vegan)

Served with a green vegetable and cranberry sauce, you have a tasty, balanced, holiday meal, or an everyday easy meal! This recipe makes about 12 patties, they keep well in refrigerator for a day.  Leftovers are good for breakfast or lunch!

(want to know more about quinoa, this ancient protein rich food of the Americas? Here’s a short history: Origin & History of Quinoa)

And for dessert…….

Pumpkin Tapioca Pudding combines two of my favorites, tapioca pudding and pumpkin pudding, into a gluten free, vegan dessert. It is easier and quicker to prepare than pie but gives you the warming, comforting seasonal spices everyone loves. I ONLY use Edward & Sons Trading Company Native Forest organic coconut milk and Lets Do Organic tapioca. Their “classic” coconut milk is rich and creamy, like cooking with cream.

Heat 1 1/2 cups full fat coconut milk
Add 1/4 cup tapioca granules
Cook a few minutes then add
1 1/2 c. puréed pumpkin made from a fresh pie pumpkin or a sweet winter squash.

Cook until it begins to thicken and tapioca is clear. It will thicken more when cooled so don’t worry it not very thick.

Remove from heat. Add maple syrup to taste, 1/2 t. cinnamon, 1/8 t. each of cloves and nutmeg.

Let cool in refrigerator briefly to set up, but it’s best (and a great comfort food!) served a bit warm.

Serve with a coconut/cashew “cream” made by combining 1/2 – 3/4 c. full fat coconut milk and 1/2 cup cashews (roasted unsalted or raw) in food processor or blender. Add a sweetener such as maple syrup and vanilla extract.  Spoon on top. Obviously you could use whipped cream instead!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Other Thanksgiving posts:

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Recipe For Winter

A Pumpkin by any other name

this year’s porch booty, where the pumpkins, squash & gourds gather every fall!

Did you know pumpkins are squash? The word pumpkin does not actually describe a botanical distinction, it is a common name used for some squash. Generally, in the United States and a few other other countries, it is the name for round orange hybrids of the Cucurbita pepo squash species, the ones used for jack-o’lanterns. In Australia and New Zealand all winter squash varieties are called pumpkins. Commercially, most pumpkin pies and canned pumpkin pie fillings are made from other types of winter squash.

Mike’s jack-o’-lantern, face design by our friend Ke

Even more misleading, the tradition from Ireland of carving lanterns from vegetables, calling them jack-o’-lanterns, did not start with pumpkins, which were not grown in Ireland long ago, but were carved from turnips, or occasionally potatoes or beets. In America folks found the pumpkin, introduced to them by Native Americans, made bigger, brighter jack-o’-lanterns. And were a lot easier to carve than a turnip!

Since the word pumpkin comes from the Greek word pepon, meaning big melon, clearly the term pumpkin has a loose application and those round, orange winter squash have an identity crisis, which may be why so many jack-o’-lantrens look like they are in shock! 🎃

cheese pumpkin – which is a squash!

A very popular pie squash is called a cheese pumpkin, which is a type of moschata squash. We recently bought one, and though the folks at the farm where we bought it didn’t know the specific variety, it is definitely a type of cheese pumpkin, or squash. The name might come from the shape, similar to a cheese round, or from the “pumpkin cheese” early settlers in the US made with any pumpkin or squash that didn’t store well. If a squash showed signs of going bad they’d cook it down to what we would now call pumpkin butter as a way of preserving it.

Pumpkins/squash, have been around a long time, thought to have originate in ancient Central American. They’ve not only been around over 7,000 years, they’ve traveled around the globe. New varieties have come back to the Americas via the West Indies, England, France and other countries. There are hundreds of varieties, many developed in the United States. Varieties of the same species of squash easily cross-pollinate so when growing more than one type it is a good idea to grow varieties from different species.

We have pumpkin addiction issues in our house, and it’s not just me, I know when to stop, but Mike always thinks we should get more. He also campaigns for more gourds. I tell him we can at least eat the pumpkins, so I vote for more pumpkins. I adore gourds. The history of gourds, which are relatives to pumpkins and cucumbers, is older and more complex than that of the pumpkins/squash ancestry.  Some believe, from archival evidence, gourds may be the oldest cultivated plant, thought to have been introduced to the Americas from Asia 10,000 years ago.

Gourds have been used as food, vessels and utensils , musical instruments and in the creative arts for thousands of years. Early settlers found some Native American tribes used them to make bird houses to attract birds to control insect pests. There is something innately attractive about gourds, often very colorful and naturally decorated with designs and textures.  And the small ones are quite cute! The year we had three volunteer plants appear in our back yard, their long vines growing off into the woods, I felt rich with abundance as the harvest filled two baskets. Given their multiple uses and long association with people, it seems every household would do well to have a basket full!

Enjoy whatever you want to call your favorite colorful fall vegetable! But be warned, if you Google it you will find conflicting information on these ancient vegetables.

For example, Hubbard Squash, which for the obvious reason of it’s name, I’ve known about all my life, has a debatable lineage. What we called Hubbard squash growing up was a larger, darker green, squash than what most farmers grow, and markets sell, here in Washington, which is a small Hubbard variety called Blue Hubbard, a cross between Hubbard and another type. The origin of Hubbard squash is thought to be the James Gregory Seed Company. Mr Gregory brought it to the seed market from seeds given to him by his neighbor, Elizabeth Hubbard. But not all agree on where Gregory claims Mrs Hubbard got her seeds. Regardless of its origins, it is a flavorful, very popular squash served at many Thanksgiving feasts, and what a great name!

Happy Halloween!🎃

Past Halloween posts:

The Driver

Festivals and Fruit Crumble

What Scares You?

Familiars

Some of the Pumpkin and Squash articles I read to compile this pumpkin biography.

http://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/history-pumpkins-recipes/
http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=12109
http://www.allaboutpumpkins.com/history.html

Spring & Rosy Jam

Cold air keeps the Pacific Northwest in a holding pattern between seasons, at least for us two-legged ones, but in the world of flora and fauna, where there is light there is action!  Birds are hassling each other and singing their breeding and territorial songs, the robins being the last to go to bed. The chipmunk population in our yard has exploded! (This usually means the weasel population is low, and does not bode well for garden vegetable sprouts and peas, which the chipmunks “harvest” before us!)  A cold winter left our evergreen woods less green, many dead fern fronds make for an unusual brown underbrush.  New growth from wild bleeding hearts, vanilla leaf, false lily-of-the-valley, red huckleberry and other plants are a welcome sight of new life.   Longer days means more activity not only for nature but for us,  we take after dinner walks and work outside later in the day….bundled up as though it were January!

(Click on a photo to see slideshow, or move your cursor over pictures to read captions)

Though I’ve been harvesting nettles for steaming and pesto, and munching on miner’s lettuce while walking in the woods, as these and other fresh new plants and herbs become available for a spring diet it’s also time to use up old “stock” that I’ve hoarded all winter.  I forget, a lot, I forget to add dried Calendula blossoms to soups, dried spearmint to tea blends, etc.  Out of sight out of mind in our small house where jars of this and that get stored and tucked away many places.  I was surprised, while making a tea blend for a friend with a cold, to discover a pint jar of dried rose hips I didn’t know I had. Forgetting I’d bought some last fall, I’d bought more in January!  So this year, an “Easter treat” to share is rose hips jam.  It is the easiest jam in the world to make, and not only is it tasty, but with our lingering cold weather, there are lingering colds going around.

Rose hips are packed with the disease fighting antioxidant vitamin C. I’ve collected hips, but separating the fuzzy hairs from the seeds inside the fruit, or “hip”, is a challenge.  They can be used in tea whole (thus no fuzz) if simmered a bit. When you buy rose hips you get nice little pieces of dried red hips, clean of fuzz.

Pouring water over dried hips reconstituted them. Soak overnight and you have instant jam! My pint of rose hips reconstituted when I filled the jar with water, but it was very “solid” so I mixed in: honey, (which smooths the astringent taste) and added more liquid in the form of a warm spicy infusion (tea) made from fresh ginger, a teaspoon of cinnamon chips, a few cardamom pods, and two clove buds. After simmering on the stove 30 minutes, in a teapot, I added the infusion a little at a time until I got a smooth, spreadable paste.  Spread on crackers, it goes nice with a cup of ginger spice tea!

This is a great way to get vitamin C, especially for children or anyone who prefers tasty jam over pills!

Have a lovely Easter weekend, whether you celebrate Easter or just enjoy this season of hope and renewal! Mother Nature reminds us every spring there are always new beginnings and beauty to be found regardless of outer circumstances.

 

Past Easter posts:

A Season of Celebrations, A Season for Forgiveness

Egg Enchantment

Hare Hare Everywhere

Memories of the Season

Celebrating Cycles