Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy Hogmanay (Scottish New Year)!!

In Scottland New Years is a major celebration quite unlike any place else. The tradition stems from the area's ancient deep winter sun and fire worship, which involved a fire ceremony. These days celebrating still includes lighting of New Year fires, torch light processions, and even fireball swinging.

Image: Source

The singing of Auld Lang Syne after the clock strikes midnight is common as is lots of kissing. Scottish dances, or ceilidhs (pronounced "kayli"), toasts and "first footing" follow.

"First footing" is when just after midnight, neighbours visit one another's houses to wish each other a good new year. Women were not acceptible first visitors, nor were redheads or blondes, thanks to the vikings invasion and pillaging in ages long gone. Tradition held that your first visitor should be a tall, dark male stranger, bearing symbolic gifts of cake/bread, coin, lump of coal or the like, so that you would have good luck in the coming year, never be hungry, never be cold.

In exchange visitors were offered food, and a wee dram of whisky or a "Het Pint", a combination of ale, nutmeg and whisky.

Image: Source

Should you want to add a litte Hogmanay to your New Years tradition you can learn more at

I also found the far more Scottish version of Auld Lang Syne just below, so maybe give it a try.

Either way... Happy New Year, and best to all in 2008!

Words adapated from a traditional songby Rabbie Burns (1759-96)

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

CHORUS:For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine,
And we'll tak a cup o kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine,
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit,
Sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne.

And there's a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o thine,
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne

Translation from the Scots Independent

auld lang syne ; days of long ago
pint stowp ; tankard
pou'd ; pulled
gowans ; daisies
mony ; many
fitt ; foot
paidl'd ; wade
dine; dinner-time
braid ; broad
fiere ; friend
willie-waught ; draught

Should old friendship be forgot'
And never remembered ?
Should old friendship be forgotten,
And days of long ago.

And surely you will have your tankard !
And surely I will have mine !
And we will take a cup of kindness yet,
For days of long ago'

We two have run about the hills
And pulled the daisies fine :
But we have wandered many a weary foot
Since days of long ago.

We two have waded in the stream
From dawn till dinner-time :
But seas between us broad have roared
Since days of long ago.

And there's a hand my trusty friend !
And give me a hand of thine !
And we will take a large draught
For days of long ago.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Wrapping paper rampage

See for youself:

The Cat and the Moon

The cat went here and there

and the moon spun round like a top,

and the nearest kin of the moon,

the creeping cat, looked up.

Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,

for, wander and wail as he would,

the pure cold light in the sky

troubled his animal blood.

Minnaloushe runs in the grass

lifting his delicate feet.

Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?

When two close kindred meet,

what better than call a dance?

Maybe the moon may learn,

tired of that courtly fashion,

a new dance turn.

Minnaloushe creeps through the grass

from moonlit place to place,

the sacred moon overhead

has taken a new phase.

Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils

will pass from change to change,

and that from round to crescent,

from crescent to round they range?

Minnaloushe creeps through the grass

alone, important and wise,

and lifts to the changing moon

his changing eyes.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Longer days and a bountiful apple crop!

We celebrated Winter Solstice in fine style last night. Bonfire, friends, food, homebrew, and our old apple tree. The weather was dry, but cold, and we alternated between house and fire.
Just after wassailing the tree. It has a "grotto" in the trunk where a branch was removed many many years ago. We placed a statue there a few years back, and that's where we poured our offerings of cider and toast to the tree spirit.

And here's the top of Stew's head. He decided to participate in the wassail by slurping up the cider overflow. The camera was a bit too slow to catch most of his "sacrilege", but we had a good laugh. Hopefully the tree spirit has a sense of humor and won't hold it against us come harvest time.

Now it's back to the usual winter chores, prepping for the arrival of bees & Stella's calf, and planning the best garden ever!

After celebrating the winter holidays, our ancestors had a "getting back to work" tradition called Plough Monday. While local practices may vary, Plough Monday is generally the first Monday after Twelfth Day (Epiphany), 6 January, a day when ploughmen traditionally blackened their faces and wore white shirts.
Plough Monday was the day when village life in many agricultural areas focused on the dragging of a decorated plough by bands of young men who would knock on doors and ask for money, food and drink. They were accompanied by someone acting the Fool. This character would often be dressed in skins and a tail, and carry a pig's bladder on the end of a stick. Households not contributing money for the celebration would often have the path to their front door ploughed up in playful retaliation. The Plough Monday customs declined in the 19th century but have been revived in the 20th.

One area of England has an even rowdier custom which takes place the Saturday before Plough Monday in which the whole parish plays a game called Haxey Hood. Here is the probable origin from their website:

In folklore, when a custom is too old for its origins to be remembered, a story is often devised to rationalise what would otherwise be baffling. The 'official' story of the Hood's origins are unlikely, but strangely enough there are parallels between the Hood and bog burials in Europe.The game takes place on the border of bogs where naturally-preserved mummies of prehistoric sacrificial victims have actually been found. The game takes place in midwinter, one of the traditional times for sacrifices, so perhaps the smoking of the Fool is symbolic of a sacrifice? The sticks that the Chief Boggin holds may be a remnant of the sticks frequently found with the bog mummies, but the leather hood may be the most significant link of all - several bog mummies have been found with leather hoods tied to their heads.In fact, the origins of this rowdy village battle are obscure. It has similarities to other village combats, such as Asbourne's Shrove Tuesday Football and the Hallaton Bottle Kicking contest in Leicestershire.

This modern day version celebration as fully explained sounds like a blast, and a good excuse for blowing off steam in the middle of a long dreary winter. There is an old chant as part of the festivities that goes:

"Hoose agen hoose, toon agen toon, if tha meets a man nok im doon, but doant ‘ot im"
(This translates as: House against House, Town against Town, if you meets a man, knock him down but don’t hurt him.)

The website continues:

The event is as much about the drinking in the pubs as anything else. Just as with Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve, more ale is probably drunk on Hood Day, and Hood Eve in Haxey, as any other. The pubs are always heaving. The landlords prepare for this by covering their carpets with thick black plastic, to protect them against all the mud that will come off the fields on people's feet from the game.

Go check it out at Haxey Hood and read more about the Lady of Mowbray, slaughtered bulls' heads, Fool's right of kissing, shoving parked cars off the road, John Barleycorn, and much more old fashioned madness!

Smoking the Fool

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Stews last stand

Chickens are moving in for the kill. Stew's looking scared or guilty... maybe both.
Maybe they'll be gentle.

Mercia's soft fluffy tummy, begging for a rub.
Gotta love the smile... she must be dreaming about saucers of cream.
Honestly, open the fridge for milk and the buggers'll mow you down trying to get some!

The rocking chair has become a favorite kitten hang-out. That is when they are not ripping around the house like rocket cats!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

We interrupt this blog for Critter Porn!

Will the rain EVER stop? I need more cud.

Where are the cat treats?!

Got your "partridge in a pear tree" right here... in our bellies!

Adore me in my basket.

Fetch my slippers... before I lose my temper!

Stew attempts for lift off velocity with his tail. Fergus is noticeably skeptical as any Corgi would be.

Not the flash... Doh!

Passed out from cute overload...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What's buzzing at Seven Trees?

We just ordered our bees from the Bees Neez Apiary - 3 lbs of workers and 1 queen! They won't be ready to pick up until April, so we have plenty of time to get the gear ready and read up on the magical little insects.
Here's a photo of English garden hives, borrowed from a beautiful website called Honeybees-by-the-Sea. This style of hive has slightly different insides than a regular set-up, but the biggest difference is the pretty copper roof.

While reading up on one of our favorite topics, Customs and Folklore of Rural England (by Margaret Baker), I came upon some interesting beliefs about "the family bees". In both England and North America, bees were considered part of the household. They were without fail told of family happenings, and when one of the household married, white ribbons were tied around the hives as the wedding news was "told" to the bees. It was also claimed that bees might choose to attend the wedding on the bride's bouquet. But more important than wedding news, bees must be told of deaths in the family, or the bees themselves would die. One anecdote from an old Worcestershire family involved the family nurse going out to tap the straw skeps with the housekey, saying: "Your master's dead but don't you go, your mistress will be a good mistress to you". The bees would then hum to show approval of the new owner.

Bees were also given pieces of the funeral cake, and a bit of every food and drink served at the funeral feast. This being done, the bees would return to work again. In some areas the bees were even formally invited to the funeral. Check out Songs of the Ridings for an old Yorkshire song called Telling the Bees.

Here's a rather smallish picture of a print by J.P. Davis called Telling the Bees. You can see the woman is draping the hives with black crepe funeral cloth, as in the poem by John Greenleaf Whittier.

There will bee lots more updates as we start assembling what we need to house and care for our first hive. And more on bee folklore as well. It seems our ancestors not only depended on these little critters for their main source of sweetness, and wax for candles, but they respected them as vital members of the family with their own body of knowledge and customs to be observed.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Santa's goaty helpers?

In case anyone was worried that Lassie & Berry left Seven Trees for a new career as pet chow, here are some pics we just got from their new people. I wonder if New Years Eve will mean the ever-popular "lampshade on the head" photos!

Here's what their new person says about them:

"They are doing very well. Lassie shares her world with 11 other does and 2 alpaca girls. Berry lives with 4 other goat wethers and the 5 of them have a big goat barn and a maze of a pasture where they can walk all around the 6 llama boy runs. Berry is such a love and is full of the devil, so the halo was wishful thinking. Lassie bullies the other girls around, and some of the older ones give it right back to her. I think she is happy but some days it is hard to tell. I do get hugs from her but at first is it not willingly on her part then she decides well this is not so bad. Berry love hugs and to walk through your legs, well he is too big for that now but he forgets."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Soylent pet food?

Where does pet food come from? It's a question many of us don't think about. We see pictures of whole grains, prime cuts of meat and human grade vegetables on the bag, and we assume there's some chef in a pet food kitchen cooking up the best for our loved ones. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.

Most of what makes up dog and cat food comes from the rendering plant. When chickens, lambs, cattle, swine, and other animals are slaughtered for food, usually only the lean muscle is cut off for human consumption. This leaves about 50 percent of a carcass left over. These leftovers are what become what we so commonly find on pet food labels, such as "meat-and-bone-meal" or "by-products." So basically, what pets eat are lungs, ligaments, bones, blood and intestines.

Some other things that may go into rendering are:
  • Spoiled meat from the supermarket, Styrofoam wrapping and all
  • Road kill that can't be buried on the roadside
  • The "4 D's" of cattle: dead, dying, disease and disabled
  • Rancid restaurant grease
  • Euthanized companion animals

For a more detailed, and very disturbing, look at what goes into a rendering plant and into your pet's food, read here - Health Hazards of Meat-Based Commercial Diets for Cats and Dogs

To prevent the condemned meat from being rerouted and used for human consumption, government regulations require that the meat must be "denatured" before it is removed from the slaughterhouse. (Denaturing in this context means altering the carcass enough so that it cannot be mistaken for human-quality meat) The denatured carcasses and other waste can then be transported to the rendering facility.

According to federal meat inspection regulations, fuel oil, kerosene, crude carbolic acid, and citronella (an insect repellent made from lemon grass) are the approved denaturing materials. The condemned livestock carcasses treated with these toxic chemicals can then become meat and bone meal for the pet food industry. (From Wendell O. Belfield's site, a veterinarian who spent seven years as a veterinary meat inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the State of California.)

And it isn't just livestock and roadkill carcasses that go into the rendering plants. Companion animals, cats & dogs euthanized by shelters and vets, are also part of the rendering industry's "raw materials". Most rendering plants and pet food manufacturers claim that pet carcasses do not go into the manufacture of pet food, but many people claim otherwise. A reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, John Eckhouse, brought the issue to light in the 1990's.

He quoted an employee of Sacramento Rendering as saying, "Thousands and thousands of pounds of dogs and cats are picked up and brought here every day." When a vet tells a grieving owner that they'll "take care" of their dead loved one, they usually mean sending it off with the disposal company for rendering. This is all perfectly legal. Many veterinarians and especially shelters don't have the money to bury or cremate animals.

Although many in the pet food industry deny that they use euthanized animals, proof that the practice goes on continues to surface. Over a few years in the 1990’s, veterinarians began reporting to the FDA/CVM that the drug they used for anesthetizing, and euthanizing, dogs—sodium pentobarbital—seemed to be losing its effectiveness. This prompted the CVM to explore the most likely cause: animals were becoming immune to the drug because they had been eating food with trace amounts of sodium pentobarbital for years. The likely source of the drug in their food? Euthanized animals. (The FDA/CVM claims the pentobarbital found in pet food comes from euthanized cattle and horse, but large animals are generally killed by cheaper, mechanical means. Read their report and draw your own conclusions.) In 1998, the CVM went about testing dry dogs foods containing the ingredients meat and bone meal, animal digest, animal fat and beef and bone meal. They found the drug in 31 of 37 foods tested. (Borrowed from a very informative website - The Truth About Pet Food.)

Though the rendering industry is understandably reluctant to allow much investigation into their proecesses, the outcry regarding making pets into pet food has caused some changes. Most of this rendered material is now going to China, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan according to Martin, where it is used as a protein source for fish and shrimp food. These fish are than sent back to the US and sold to brokers all over the country. According to one report the FDA finally blocked the sale of five species of farm-raised seafood from China because of repeated instances of contamination from unapproved animal drugs and food additives.

Ann Martin, author of Food Pets Die For, who has been investigating the multi-billion-dollar, commercial pet food industry since 1990, says that "She feels that it’s extremely doubtful if the FDA tested these fish for levels of pentobarbital.In fact Martin said that the FDA inspected only 0.59% of the seafood imported to the US in 2006, this, given the fact that the demand for seafood has grown tremendously in the last five or six years. (Read more at - "Pet meal backfires in shrimp" from AllAboutFeed.)

So it seems that not only are our pets most likely eating recycled companion animals in their cans & kibble, we humans are also taking part in the recycling effort by eating cheap farmed seafood, raised on rendered cats & dogs. All the more reason to be an educated eater. Read labels, buy local, and vote with your dollar!

On a more cheery note - today is Repeal Day!

Raise a glass to the 74th anniversary of the repeal of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing alcohol. And read more about it at the Repeal Day website:

"Unlike St. Patrick's Day or Cinco de Mayo, Repeal Day is a day that all Americans have a part in observing, because it's written in our Constitution. No other holiday celebrates the laws that guarantee our rights, and Repeal Day has everything to do with our personal pleasures.
It's easy!
There are no outfits to buy, costumes to rent, rivers to dye green. Simply celebrate the day by stopping by your local bar, tavern, saloon, winery, distillery, or brewhouse and having a drink. Pick up a six-pack on your way home from work. Split a bottle of wine with a loved one. Buy a shot for a stranger. Just do it because you can.
Thanks for reading about what we hope will become a celebrated day in this country. Please help spread the word about Repeal Day, and tell a friend."

Monday, December 03, 2007

Snow, wind, rain, and a bad cold

We had about 4" of snow here over the weekend. Luckily the 50-60mph winds brought rain from the south to wash it all away. Now we're on flood watches for most rivers and streams in the area. NOAA has a site called the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service with realtime monitoring of major river levels across the country. Just click on your region and it will pull up a map of water sensors and you can see if they're nearing flood stage.

A local business, Bellingham Cold Storage, runs a weather station and web cam from their rooftop, which is handy for seeing just how strong those wind gusts really are. They have a few different ways of looking at weather data, and it's a really nice service to the community.

One of our neighbors is a bow hunter, and got a lovely 3-point buck the other day, his first one. Since they don't have a digital camera, we loaned them ours for a bit. Which means new pictures will be scarce for another day or so. And I've also managed to pick up another nasty cold, so I'm taking a brief break from writing more juicy posts. I do have one in the works about what pet food is made of - not for the faint of heart. I did manage to can up some oxtail soup for the humans, and some liver & veggie stew for the dogs. Mmm mmm!

In the mean time, yet another kitten pic, doing what they do best when they aren't sleeping - beating the crap out of each other....