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Archive for December, 2009

The Darkest Day

The end of December is a time for celebration. Whether you are Christian, Jewish, Agnostic, Hindu, or even an atheist, there is something about the lengthening of daylight that should put all of us in a good mood. This year, December 21st was the shortest day of the year. Each day from the 22nd of December until the Summer solstice, days will get longer.  While religious traditions are held near and dear to our hearts, what is often forgotten is that many of these celebrations are truly “festivals of light”,  and are celebrated during this time of year because they are historically tied to the winter solstice. 

Many people believe that the reason Emperor Constantine chose December 24-25 to commemorate the birth of Christ was because it fell at the same time as the Roman Feast of Sol Invictus (the Undefeated Sun). Sol Invictus had been considered the most important Roman god for the previous 200 years. The twenty-four days of Advent leading up to Christmas, in which a new candle is lit every Sunday, is further evidence of this connection. Being the first Christian emperor of Rome, Constantine had a strong desire to unify his empire. Its seems that one way he tried to do this is by combining both pagan and Christian traditions. (*fingers crossed* an evangelical doesn’t hunt me down and kill me for posting this!)

Hanukkah, which involves lighting a new candle every night, and Diwali are also feasts of light around the time of winter solstice.

In Mexico and Central America there are various feasts of light that involve bonfires. In one Guatemalan  festival, “Burning the Devil”, huge bonfires are built on December 12th to drive away the devil (the dark). There are several versions of these festivals throughout Central America. (Although I did read that they are curbing some of those festivals to help with climate change!)

In Sweden, on the morning of December 13th (the 13th was the solstice in an older Christian calendar), St. Lucia’s Day, a young woman is chosen as the light queen. She wears a white dress and wreath of lighted candles in her hair. And in Holland, on November 11th, children carry lanterns from house to house, singing songs in honor of St. Martin – who gave a poor man his half of his clothes on a dark and stormy night.

How does your family celebrate this time of year??? If you are interested in learing more about how other cultures celebrate this time of year, I found this interesting site

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One of my favorite things about reading blogs is finding out about so many great books and resources that are out there. I came across a book this week that is truly fabulous. It is a book full of folktales “for strong boys”. Every so often, finding a book makes me feel like I found a new best friend. I read it and instantly know that it will become a part of my life forever. The introduction to this book was so warm and inviting that I feel it must be shared. The author is a woman by the name of Jane Yolen. She has written more than 200 books for children and adults and have received some of the highest awards in children’s literature. She divides her time between Massachusetts and Scotland.

An Open Letter to My Sons and Grandson:

This book is for you. It is for you because this book did not exist when I was growing up. This book is for you because for the longest time boys didn’t know that being a hero was more than whomping and stomping the bad guy. They didn’t understand that brains trump brawn almost every time that being smart makes the  battle shorter, the kingdom nearer, the victory brighter, and the triumph greater.

This book is for you because “hero” is a word for winner, not whipper; for smarty, not smarty pants; for holding on, not holding back. “Hero” is about being clever, learning from your mistakes, being kind and compassionate, and finding good friends. Picking up a sword doesn’t make you a hero — sticking to your word does. ………

….. This book is for you because the stories have always been there, not only in folk traditions but in history as well, if you know where to look.

Think of heroes like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., who taught us that one can win simply by refusing to bow down to power. Gandhi helped free India from British rule by showing the British that he would fight by resisting passively. ……Think of heros like Charles Darwin, who changed the way we think about the world simply through the power of his mind. As did Sir Issac Newton and Albert Einstein, who made greater differences in the world than Attila or Napoleon or Hitler…..

This book is for you not because I think one should never have to fight, but because I think the true heroes are the ones who solve their problems – and the problems of the world – without ever having to resort to force. The tongue is mightier than the sword. As is the pen.

This book is for you because I want you to be that type of hero.

While I left out a few paragraphs about silent heros, I imagine you get the point. This book has recently become a part of my life and I hope, over time,  it will become a part of Liam’s as well.

* If you happen to be the mother of a little girl, she writes a similar collection for them; it is called “Not One Damsel in Distress” – how lovely!

 

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The only thing better than growing your own produce is eating it in the off-season after you have preserved it! However, to say that I grew these fabulous peaches and tomatoes would be far from the truth. In fact, the only thing I grow every season are herbs and tomatoes. It is sad, but it is the truth. What’s even sadder is that the tomato plants that I did plant, were actually scorched by the Seattle sun this year (yes, Seattle does have sun) and produced a mere 5 tomatoes.  Each year I tell myself I will figure out a way to grow more vegetables. In Florida, my homes had lots of space and sun, so it was quite natural that one could plant some seeds and watch a bunch of things grow very easily. In Seattle, it is quite a different story. First of all, the ground is not warm enough to start many of your early spring seedlings, so you either need a greenhouse, or a place in your home with a lot of counter space and growing lights. I have neither. I did manage to fill the few windowsills that we have out of reach from tiny toddler hands with some seedlings in those plastic little “greenhouses” you can buy from the garden store. They did very well, but unfortunately, I lacked space to actually plant many of them once it got warm enough. Part of the problem is that we are still renting. It really hard to be inspired to dedicate the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into planning and in my case, creating a garden space that could very easily only last me one season. (Who knows how long we will live here) The second issue is, in order to really grow a great garden here, it would require that I plant in the easement or dig up a bunch of plants already in the front, which our landlord may not be too happy about. But what about the community garden you ask??? Well, it looks like I am not the only one with space areas in Seattle! I signed up for the P-Patch Program when I moved here and am STILL on the waiting list. Needless to say, I relied on the farmers at the local markets to supply me all of produce seen in these pictures. And it was actually fun!! I spoke with a least a half-dozen farmers, and in the process learned more than I ever thought I could know about tomatoes and peaches.  

Peaches come in earlier than tomatoes so they were first on my list to preserve. I decided to dry them, so I could have a quick, delicious snack for the cold winter months ahead. They turned out as delicious as I thought they would. The only problem is that they only lasted me until late summer! While drying is easy and fun, it takes a looooonnnnggg time and there is really not that much space in the dehydrators. I know you can always use the oven, but who wants a hot kitchen with no air-conditioning in the summer???

Tomatoes were next on this list. I really wanted to can them, but had no dishwasher and really didn’t want to undergo such as task alone. Luckily, one of my good friends M is a canning pro (ok, well perhaps not a pro, but a seasoned veteran!). My job would be to hunt down some local, organic tomatoes at a good price (not as easy as you think) and her job was to host the all day event. I tracked down a farmer, Richard Ness, who owns the Kittnas Valley Greenhouse in Ellensburg, WA. I was able to purchase 60 pounds of the most beautiful tomatoes at the market for a really great price. I forgot to take a picture until the very end, so here was shot of the ones with spots. Out of 60 pounds these were the only ones with blemishes.  

Overall, I think both project went very well. We only messed up one batch of tomatoes by adding a little too much water, but the rest of the batches came out perfect. If you are thinking of doing some canning next season, I dont think it is really necessary to add any water at all. The tomatoes are really juicy enough. The ones we canned without water, came out perfect!

Our last project of the year will be apples. I have already picked up 20 pounds of Cameo apples from Kurt Tonnemaker and am planning to can lots of apple butter and sauce this weekend. Look for some pictures later this weekend on my Flickr page.

Thinking about canning, but not sure you are ready to jump into tens of pounds of produce?? Well then I have a perfect recommendation for you. I just picked up Well Preserved by Mary Anne Dragan and it is truly a gem for anyone interested in trying it out.

Happy Canning!

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