Thursday, January 31, 2008


Imbolc/Candlemas is a very ancient traditional seasonal holiday observed on February 1st & 2nd, by both pagans and christians, to welcome the first signs of spring.

From an very detailed and informative history of the original pagan holiday at The Wheel of the Celtic Year:

The First of February belongs to Brigid, (Brighid, Brigit, Bride,) the Celtic goddess who in later times became revered as a Christian saint. Originally, her festival on February 1 was known as Imbolc or Oimelc, two names which refer to the lactation of the ewes, the flow of milk that heralds the return of the life-giving forces of spring. Later, the Catholic Church replaced this festival with Candlemas Day on February 2, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and features candlelight processions. The powerful figure of Brigid the Light-Bringer overlights both pagan and Christian celebrations.

In most parts of the British Isles, February is a harsh and bitter month. In old Scotland, the month fell in the middle of the period known as Faoilleach, the Wolf-month; it was also known as a’ marbh mhiòs, the Dead-month. But although this season was so cold and drear, small but sturdy signs of new life began to appear: Lambs were born and soft rain brought new grass. Ravens begin to build their nests and larks were said to sing with a clearer voice.
In Ireland, the land was prepared to receive the new seed with spade and plough; calves were born, and fishermen looked eagerly for the end of winter storms and rough seas to launch their boats again. In Scotland, the Old Woman of winter, the Cailleach, is reborn as Bride, Young Maiden of Spring, fragile yet growing stronger each day as the sun rekindles its fire, turning scarcity into abundance.

From a favorite source of traditional lore, Legendary Dartmoor:

The 2nd of February is Candlemas Day or if you are working by the old Julian calendar it is the 15th of February. The day marks the end of the old 40 day Christmas period and marks the halfway point of winter. This ancient day has been a day associated with the meeting of witch's covens and pagans celebrate this as the 'Festival Of Lights' or Imbolc. It was from this point onwards the days got steadily lighter and heralded the approaching Spring and the flush of spring lambs and calves. As always the Christians found some excuse to steal the event and they called Candlemas Day - the 'Presentation of Christ in the Temple' or the 'Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary', I know what name I prefer. The name Candlemas derived from the Catholic practice of blessing the church candles that were to be used throughout the coming year. Hones (1846, p.52) describes such a service:

"On this festival, the second day of February, the Romish church celebrates with great pomp, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin. It stands also as a holyday in the calendar of the church of England... It is called Candlemas, because before mass is said this day, the church blesses her candles for the whole year, and makes a procession with hallowed or blessed candles in the hands of the faithful".

On Dartmoor it was always important to take down all the Christmas greenery that had decorated the house on Candlemas Eve. Not to do so was inviting a death in the household during the coming year. Robert Herrick wrote a verse on the ceremonies of Candlemas Eve (Hesperides, 1852, p.92) :

Ceremonies upon Candlemas Eve.

Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and mistletoe;
Down with holly, ivy, all.
Wherewith ye dressed the Christmas Hall;
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected, there (maids trust to me)
So many goblins you shall see.

Candlemas Day was an auspicious day for omens and predictions as it was thought that if you hear the church bells on this day it would warn of an imminent death of a close friend or relation. It was also the custom to light the last Christmas fire and let it burn until sunset. The fire must them be doused and relit and some of the charred wood kept to light the following Christmas log or Ashen Faggot, not to observe this was asking for a years worth of misfortune. Again, Herrick pens a verse on the ceremonies of Candlemas Day:

The Ceremonies for Candlemas Day.

Kindle the Christmas brand, and then
Till sunset, let it burn;
Which quench'd, then lay it up again
Till Christmas next return.
Part must be kept wherewith to tend
The Christmas log next year,
And where 'tis safely kept, the fiend
Can do no mischief there.

In some households it would be the custom to light a candle and put one in every window of the home. This was meant to attract good luck throughout the coming year. One superstition states how if anybody heard the sound of the soul bell on Candlemas Day then this was a warning that a member of the family or close friend would be die. The number of bell tolls that the person heard corresponded to the number of days that would pass before the death took place. The rest of the winter could be forecast from the weather on Candlemas Day. If it were a bright and dry day then the rest of the winter would be long. cold and wintry and visa versa:

"If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another fight,
But if Candlemas Day be clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again".

There was also a saying which went - "A farmer should, on Candlemas Day, have half his corn and half his hay." Which basically meant the winter was halfway through and anybody who had less than half of their feed left could have problems later. I know of a farmer that still today refuses to start his "Candlemas fodder," until the 3rd of February. Oddly enough in 1851 Dartmoor had not seen a single snowflake fall by Candlemas Day which was something unheard of in living memory. Alternately there is this rather morbid piece of farming advice:

"On Candlemas Day if the sun shines clear,
The shepherd had rather see his wife on the bier".

Here there is a warning that a sunny Candlemas Day heralds the onset of cold weather which to the shepherd may well mean losses amongst his ewes and lambs, although on most of the moor the lambs do not arrive until much later in the year. It was also considered that by Candlemas Day the daylight hours should begin to lengthen and so there was less of a need for candles, hence the saying:

"You should on Candlemas Day,
Throw candle and candlestick away."

At one time the strong winds that normally accompany the moths of February and March were known as 'Candlemas Eve Winds' because with the old weather patterns this was when they arrived howling across the moor. So, all in all the second of February has been a special day in the calendar since early pagan times, is another feature of global warming going to be the loss of such traditions?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

There's no day like a snow day!

23 degrees this morning, and still snowing! If you're not on the freeway, you're on compact snow & ice. Or if you're at Seven Trees, you're taking a break from catching snowflakes.

Stella just wants her breakfast, snow or not.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Cats and tatties

Magnus and Mercia with their laser eyes.

Mercia relaxing.

Magnus being a flat cat.

Must be treat time for everyone to hold still this long.

Snap the picture monkey, and I am sooooo gone!

And in other news... the recent steady bout of 20 degree weather has done in our Reddale seed potatoes that we'd harvested and kept over from last year. We'd made a makshift cold storage on the back porch, but the steady cold finally froze them. They'd done great until now. We seriously need a root cellar or house cold room for just this reason. Have to see when/where we can get something better built!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Latest project - impromptu bathroom face lift

Check out the side-by-side before & after pics!
After having a couple of paint chips tucked behind the light switch plate ever since we moved here, we finally decided to paint. The colors we originally chose all those years ago are a close match to our barn/house exterior colors, and we have plenty around, so that's what we used.
Once we got the first coat on, it was pretty obvious that the tacky "rental" decor we inherited wasn't working, so off to Lowe's we went.

We got a new light fixture, towel bar, towel ring, toilet seat, light switch/outlet and plate covers, and a shower curtain rod. $200 and 2 days later, it's a really lovely transformation. Next up, replacing the vanity & faucet, and having tile flooring installed. We pondered doing the tile ourselves, but it's small enough it will be faster and less painful to contract it out. We'll do the vanity replacement though. We'll save the tub/shower replacement for after we win the lotto.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Melon-collie baby?

Since the Blacktail Mountain watermelons did so well last year, we're going to grow them again, and also try Emerald Gem melons, in the greenhouse.
We don't have beds dug into the floor of the greenhouse yet, so we'll try 5-gallon buckets of luscious composted manure. Last year's melons did fine in a container. as long as we kept them well-watered.

Here's a description of Emerald Gem:

'Emerald Gem', also known as 'Netted Gem' is an heirloom variety of melon generally weighing 3 pounds, with a globular shape. The melon is ribbed evenly, and the greenish skin has fine netting. The flesh is pale orange in color, and very sweet with a spicy aroma reminiscent of cinnamon. Melons can be a challenge to grow, so dependant are they on good soil and hot weather. Starting them in pots can also be useful, as the roots will be less disturbed by transplanting. Vine productivity can be improved by pruning. When the vines are 2.5 feet long, remove the end buds, which will encourage lateral growth. Keeping the vines short will preserve the plant's resources for the fruit.

We got our seeds from Seed Savers, and here's what they have to say about this tasty-sounding melon:

Introduced by W. Atlee Burpee in 1886 from seed sent by William Voorhees of Benzie County, Michigan. The most popular melon of that period, hailed as "altogether unapproached in delicious flavor and luscious beyond description." Pale-orange rich juicy flesh is sweet and somewhat spicy in flavor. Very heavy producer, compact plants. Fruits weigh 2-3 pounds. 70-90 days.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What's New...

Not a whole lot actually. Just trying to stay dry and warm in this cold, damp, rainy weather as the days slowly get longer. We added a Concept 2 rowing machine last month to aid in staying in shape as well as to prep for summer hiking season. Apparently Magnus feels it's also the perfect lounger for kitties. We really love the rowing machine and both use it 5 days a week. We're also part of a "virtual" rowing crew, and combine our miles on the Concept 2 site as we participate in online rowing competitions.

We bottled a 90 shilling Scotch Ale last night. It was a gift to us and came from Seven Bridges Cooperative purveyor of organic brewing ingredients. As usual we were subject to supervision by one of the kitties.

Feel the love...

Feel the disapproval! Crichton, obviously doing his ST-TNG Worf impression, "I should kill you where you stand!"

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Garden planning - 2008

We've finally completed the annual agony of poring over seed catalogs, last year's garden map, and climate change predictions. Here is one new squash variety we'll try this year. Last summer was very unkind to the Cucurbita family, and the Potimarron & Long Island Cheese squashes didn't produce or ripen well. So this season's strategy is to plant cold-tolerant varieties and hope they can adapt if summer turns hot, or at least mature before the heat hits. (If you want to read more about what may be headed our way climate-wise in the PNW, the Climate Impacts Group is a great resource.)
So let me introduce Uncle David's Dakota Dessert squash from Fedco Seeds:
(95 days) Cucurbita maxima Buttercup squash at its best. This outstanding strain which David Podoll calls “the original buttercup” has been in his family for 70 years. They’ve been selecting it for 40 years, crossing it with hubbards and other maximas, primarily for color, taste, sweetness, and vigor and hardiness in cold weather, but also for thick flesh, small seed cavities and higher productivity, while maintaining the buttercup look. The results show. Our five hills produced 18 ripe squash averaging 4.5 lb. The Podoll family bake it into pies without using any other sweetener. But this is also a versatile main dish squash, with all the character that makes buttercup a New England favorite. And it is one rugged buttercup, withstanding several cold summers and all those temperature extremes in each of the past four years without skipping a beat, and persevering to produce a lot of squash.
Should be easy to spot under all the squash vines with such dramatic coloring. And the 95-day growth period is a lot better than the 110 days of the Long Island Cheese squash we tried. With a little soil preheating via black plastic, and being planted on a manure/straw pile, I have high hopes for this one. Our other winter squash choice is a repeat from last year, the Sweet Dumpling bush delicata. Mainly because we like delicatas, and have seed left over.

Otherwise, Seven Trees is still in project-planning mode, as well as a shift change at work. There are starting to be rumbles and whisperings of another summer shindig to celebrate Lughnasadh, a Celtic first-fruits festival.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Cowboy Leg Beautiful Pole - or - why not to use a machine translator.

A slight deviation from Seven Trees' usual topics today. I just had to share this.
I have laughed so much at this translation of a menu from China, that I can't remember how I stumbled on it. It was originally posted on Engrish, a site I highly recommend visiting. The menu items are actual jpgs of the menu, interspersed with commentary from the blogger, so you have to go to the original site to participate in the madness. But here are a couple of samples: The Cowboy Leg Beautiful Pole mentioned in our blog title is an actual item on this menu. See if you can find it.

There are also hundreds of comments, some funny, some not so funny. So take a deep breath, make sure your mouth is empty so as not to spray your keyboard as you bust a gut, and go to for the entire painfully hilarious menu.

BTW, Mark the Evil Quaker had a wonderful time mocking my helpless laughter, but I think the other critters were a bit concerned.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Animal Interlude

Can you spot the "cat"alogue?

Laser-eye's set to kill... sure they LOOK cute, but they're also deadly!

Post dinner somnombulance...

Mercia snoozing near the wood stove.

Seven Trees short project list:

milking stall/stanchion,

bees and hive,

baby chicks,

garden planning,


winter yard clean-up...

for starters!