One holiday to the next…

Last week, I felt blessed to be in the midst of family for Thanksgiving, thinking about those family members who couldn’t be with us and reflecting on those who are no longer with us. Somehow those family traditions and tried and true recipes make everyone’s presence felt. What a week it was!

It was all good with some minor setbacks: three little children with colds, one mother fighting a cold, and at my house, a computer that bit the dust, a dishwasher that kicked the bucket, and signs of an impending cold. So, with houseguests, dishes piling up in the kitchen, and no computer, I’ve technically been offline (except for emails on my iPhone) and not checking the blog world. Thankfully, my recovered computer was plugged in two days ago and the dishwasher was repaired yesterday. Life is better.

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We did all the usual fun things over the week…eating too much, watching the Macy’s parade, walks, shopping Black Friday sales in Portsmouth and encountering a very New England Santa passing out local coupons…img_0221

Exciting for two sons and a son-in-law was a weekend trip to the Ohio State-Michigan game in Columbus. With two of them OSU fans and one a Michigan grad, someone had to come away disappointed in this double overtime matchup.

With the turkey off the table, the glitter and lights of Christmas are in full swing everywhere. I’ve barely rolled my pumpkins to the curb at my house. I think it’s time for a little holiday music and a trip to the tree farm….

 

Prepping for the Holiday

Yes, our flock is back. They wander through our backyards and strut their stuff down the middle of our quiet street. Several neighborhood crabapple trees are an attraction, a bit of spilled birdseed another. The acorn crop was overly abundant this autumn and will keep the birds well-fed until spring.

Tom Turkey

Of course, seeing these big birds reminds us of the holiday on the horizon…. Thanksgiving! Foods and recipe ingredients for our meal have been ordered or bought and the baking will begin this weekend. We will combine family food traditions to make the holiday special for everyone.

For me, that tradition is a special ham. My favorite salty Virginia ham, on the table with the turkey, is mandatory, and it must be an Edwards Virginia Smokehouse country ham. We slice it paper-thin and serve it stacked on buttered southern buttermilk biscuits… and eaten warm. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without this Thanksgiving tradition.

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Added to desert menu every year are chess pies from a ‘secret’ recipe that has been passed down for many generations in my father’s Appomattox VA family, along with other choices: apple crumb pie, pumpkin custard pie, chocolate balls, buttered caramel and one birthday cake. Lots of sweets! We always eat early enough in the day to guarantee an appetite for delicious leftovers by the time darkness falls. I think a lot of folks do that…

We are looking forward to the week. One granddaughter will arrive from Bennington College by car, however we’ll be racking up the auto miles for airport transportation: once on Sunday, twice on Wednesday, once on Friday, and once the following Sunday. They’re worth every mile and we have much to be thankful for!

*Edwards Virginia Smokehouse photo

A Tiny Princess

They may look like miniature pine trees or small hemlocks with their tiny needle-like leaves but they are not. This tree, commonly called princess pine, that we see on walks through the woodlands in New Hampshire are “fern allies” that produce powdery spores that disperse in the wind. It’s too early in the season to see the “clubs,” the appendage at the tip of the plant that produces spores but click HERE to see them on our Virginia property.

Princess Pine

We don’t see too many of these living fossils on walks in New England, but we had them fully carpeting our sandy woodland on our Virginia acreage. Perhaps it is a different variety that thrives in the warmer zone 7b but they certainly look the same.

clubmoss princess pine

The plant is in the clubmoss family (Lycopodiaceae), a prehistoric group of plants that grew before there were dinosaurs or pine trees. The princess pines grow about 6 “- 10” tall on cool, moist forest floors and spread by spores and by underground stems… that can surface and cross obstacles that may be blocking the runners beneath the surface.

If you heat your home with coal, you may be burning this fossil. Ancient tree clubmosses could grow about 100′ tall. Like the giant tree ferns, they grew in warm, swampy areas in the Carboniferous era 360 million years ago and were transformed into coal beds that are mined today.

princess pine

Through the years, people have used them for Christmas decorations on church altars, wreaths, arrangements, the spores used in powders for the skin, to coat pills, as flash powder for photography or fireworks… but moderation is advised in pulling up these clubmosses for it will be easy to destroy an entire group. In at least two states, they are endangered and protected and threatened in other states. So when you come across these tiny trees, stop and be amazed, and walk on….

 

The American Beech

Last but not least in stunning fall yellows is the beech tree, perhaps my favorite tree of all. The maples have shed their leaves. Oaks are hanging on to drab leaves. Soon the forest will be owned by hemlock and white pine trees but now it’s all about the beech tree. This forest was aglow with shades of yellow as we trekked about 3 miles on beautiful trails.

White pines in the picture below grow through and tower above the slow-growing beech tree’s lemony fall canopy.

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The leaves of beech trees are alternate with toothed margins and straight parallel veins on short stalks. The trunk in the background below is a white pine.

Beech leaves against white pine bark

The beech trunk is said to resemble an elephant’s leg with the smooth, thin, wrinkled light gray bark. What do you think?

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The leaves that fall and cover the ground are springy and odorless, thus the perfect filler for mattresses for early Americans and those in other countries.

“The leaves of the chestnut tree make very wholesome mattresses to lie on… [Beech leaves]… being gathered about their fall, and somewhat before they are much frost-bitten, afford the best and easiest mattresses in the world to lay under our quilts instead of straw; because, besides their tenderness and loose lying together, they continue sweet for seven or eight years long; before which time straw becomes musty and hard; they are thus used by divers persons of quality in Dauphine; and in Switzerland I have sometimes lain on them to my great refreshment…”
John Evelyn, Sylva: A discourse of forest-trees, 1670.

Beech Leaves

To see the massive old beech tree we left behind in Virginia, click HERE. Beneath the tree we recovered a wine bottle from the late 1700’s or early 1800’s and very large oyster shells discarded in a pit. It was fun to think the tree sheltered those folks at an early American oyster roast.

“I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow
to keep an appointment with a beech-tree…..”
– Henry David Thoreau, 1817 – 1862

Cubbies!

Holy Cow! Life is good when the Cubs win the World Series and your son and his wife are there to witness history.