Friday, February 28, 2014

The Middle Peninsula

February 28th is a special day in our house,
so we took the day off from work 
and set off for new sights and scenes.
We traveled a short distance out of the Shire 
to Virginia's Middle Peninsula,
setting our GPS for the little town of West Point,
a place where every street has a river view.

West Point is named for a man named West,
and Point because the original part of the town
was established on a small peninsula 
at the confluence of two rivers:
the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi.
The Pamunkey and Mattaponi are Native American Indian tribes.

We didn't get as far as the Pamunkey Reservation Museum,
but it is said to contain artifacts from Pocahontas 
and the reservation, the burial mound of the great Chief Powhatan.

Beautiful bright sunny day, 
friendly people,
beautiful wooded scenery
and mighty blue rivers.

A lovely way to end the month of February.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

That Spring Feeling

When I arrived at work today,
I saw another sign of spring.
Three white-tailed deer ran across the green space
behind my office building.
Suddenly the third  ran back the same way it had come
and began to hop around in a spirit of unbridled joy.

Photo: James Donner

The wind was sharp and cold, but the day was sunny,
and I can only imagine the deer 
were responding to the whispers of emerging spring.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

And Spring Shall Come

Icy cold weather arrived here in mid-January
and rarely left.
And tonight, it is windy and cold yet again.
People begin to wonder if winter will ever loosen its grip.
I'm often one of them.

But yesterday and today, I noticed a few signs of impending spring:
daffodils, some almost ready to bloom;
the muted, early blossoms on a crab apple tree;
pink camellia buds in my backyard;
imperceptibly tiny shoots on our redbud trees.

It occurs to me this is a metaphor for life:
even when things are darkest and coldest, 
unseen hands are gently pushing better days forward.
Things are improving, despite appearances.
And spring shall come . . .

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Changing Sky

Today it sleeted and snowed--but only for about two minutes.
Even though the precipitation was of short duration,
it looked like snow all day.

As I was driving home this evening, 
 the sky changed before my eyes.
The gray froth of clouds gradually 
gave way to darker streaks against a pallid sky.

An interesting metamorphosis, but the sun looked so weak, 
barely shining through the pallor.
And all I could think was 
that this time of February is a bit depressing.
The sky is gray, the temperature is cold,
it won't rain or it won't snow or it does both
when we don't want it to.

Except a funny thing happens on days like this.
As the sun begins to set, the blandness subsides.
Brilliant pink streaks stretch across the horizon,
shooting out from a different kind of sun.
And that's the best part of a late winter sky.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Late Winter in Virginia

As I've walked outside these last few days,
my spirits have been buoyed by 
all the green daffodil leaves emerging from the earth.
And since this is the last week of February, 
I've allowed myself to think of winter as over.

But today I saw a junco in the backyard
and that always means snow.
I checked the forecast for Tidewater
and discovered that Wednesday there is an expectation for snow.
How much remains to be seen.

I'm trying to be optimistic,
but I think I have to agree with comedian and writer Carl Reiner on this one.
Reiner once quipped: 
"A lot of people like snow.
I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water."

At this point in the season, Carl, I'm with you.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Patch of Old Snow

Today and yesterday the weather here in the Shire
has been reminiscent of spring.
Warm and lovely, sunny and bright.
And I'm glad it's been warm 
if for no other reason than the temperatures
finally reached a level of heat sufficient to melt a very stubborn patch of snow.

First fallen from January 21 through the 23rd,
reinforced by snow from February,
this little bank of snow swept itself up against our Asian jasmine
and dug in for the long haul: almost a month.

While other snow banks and piles melted away,
our little patch of snow stayed and stayed.
It's somewhat reminiscent of Robert Frost's poem,
"A Patch of Old Snow":

There's a patch of old snow in a corner
That I should have guessed
Was a blow-away paper the rain
Had brought to rest.

It is speckled with grime as if
Small print overspread it,
The news of a day I've forgotten --
If I ever read it. 

At least our little patch of old snow stayed clean and white for its duration.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Blue Skies

I never get tired of the blue sky.
                --Vincent Van Gogh

This afternoon as I was driving,
I turned onto a parkway and
was startled at how bright blue the sky was in front of me.
There was a crescent-shaped swath of white cloud 
far above the horizon.
It was dazzling.

Vincent Van Gogh  "Wheatfield with a Lark"

I love the way a blue sky can be so ordinary 
and extraordinary at the same time.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Record High for February

This morning was deliciously warm.
It was delightful to be outside without a coat or even a sweater.
Unfortunately, circumstances forced me inside most of the day,
so my pleasant feeling was limited to those few moments
when I was getting in or out of the car or moving from one building to another.
Just when I was done for the day and could really enjoy the weather,
 a thunderstorm blew in and sent the record high of 79 degrees
plummeting back to February levels.

Before I set out into the chill,
I stood in the window with some other people 
and watched the rain and wind 
flatten some hardy yellow pansies.
"That's life," we consoled each other.
But secretly, I was happy that winter had been held at bay
for a little while.
It's very reassuring.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Daffodil

The daffodil is our doorside queen;
she pushes upward the sword already,
to spot with sunshine the early green.
                     --William Cullen Bryant

Our weather turned a little warmer this week,
still cool, but not cold.
But warm enough for us to shed our coats 
and feel the hope of spring.

And then Tuesday I saw a robin and some dandelions in bloom.
Spring seemed closer,
but I still didn't want to commit any optimism to the prospect just yet.

But then today, I noticed the shoots of daffodils
rising tender and green from a mat of brown leaves and pine needles.
Perhaps we can start to think spring after all.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Signs of Spring

Robin's here in coat of brown,
And scarlet breast-knot gay.
         --William Allingham

Today was again warm and sunny,
and right on cue, a robin appeared
in the backyard.
Since robins sometimes winter here,
I didn't want to make a rush to judgment
about spring's early arrival.

Yet, later when I was walking,
I was surprised to see yellow dandelions 
popping up in the grass.
And I really started to think 
we may be finally coming out from winter's shadow.
And it seems Emily Dickinson felt the same way:

The dandelion's pallid tube
Astonishes the grass
And winter instantly becomes
An infinite alas.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Camellias and Snowdrops

A flower hidden ... does not become less beautiful ... .
                                                    --Tsunyota Kohe't

Ordinarily this time of year, 
I would look out the breakfast room window 
and see deep rose-pink camellia blossoms.

And if I were to look out the dining room window,
I would see a cluster of pure white snowdrops
basking in the sun.

But this year, after weeks of unusually cold weather
and freezing temperatures,
there are no camellia blossoms and no snowdrops.
Even the evergreen leaves are dark, almost black, and hanging down. 
It all looks a little forlorn.

And despite today's warm sunshine and temperatures in the 50s,
my winter flowers remain hidden.
My only consolation is 
that this will make the arrival of spring
that much sweeter.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Afternoon in February

Afternoon in February 

"The day is ending,
The night is descending;
The marsh is frozen,
The river dead.

Through clouds like ashes
The red sun flashes
On village windows
That glimmer red."

--  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

In the Northern Hemisphere, 
February has been described in uncomplimentary terms 
for centuries.
For some, February is a restless and inhospitable month.
The cold, the snow, the being cooped up inside longer than we want to be
all coalesce into cabin fever.
Others find February merely a bland and unremarkable bridge 
between the sympathies of January and the promises of March.

But in cold February,
the sun is more appreciated 
when it breaks through the heavy gray clouds
and sends them on their way.
I can attest to this: 
There is nothing more enjoyable
than taking an afternoon nap 
stretched out under the blanket of a February sun.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Still Waters

The earth has  music for those who listen.
                 --George Santayana

Happy Birthday to us!
Today the Still Waters: Notes from a Virginia Shire blog
turns two years old.

I started the Still Waters blog because I wanted to 
provide readers a moment of tranquility, a respite if you will, 
from the pressures and busy-ness of daily life.

Still Waters blog strives to connect to the rhythms of the seasons
and the day-to-day changes taking place in nature as it unfolds 
imperceptibly around us.

Photo by Liz Larson

And as part of that unfolding,
I also write about how we mark the passage of time
through holiday celebrations and customs that have often been handed down 
over hundreds and hundreds of years.

And there's no place better to do that than from this Virginia Shire.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

February Sunshine

Yesterday, the gray skies disappeared,
cast aside by rays of warm sunshine.
February sunshine.
As Williams Cullen Bryant once wrote:

The February sunshine
steeps your boughs and tints the buds
and swells the leaves within.

buds in snow Photo by to.wi

Of course, today the gray rain returned
 along with another blanket of winter's chill.

But it's good to stop and remember 
that even as the snow falls
and the winter wind swirls around us,
that somewhere we can't see,
spring is stirring.

Friday, February 14, 2014

St. Valentine's Day 2014

What could be better on Valentine's Day
than beautiful fresh flowers?
I love all kinds of flowers, but roses are special.

I love yellow ones for sentimental reasons:

and white ones because they are so pure and delicate:

 and pink ones because they are joyful and fun:

And even orange ones for a little spice and brightness:

Of course, roses on Valentine's are often passionately red:

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cookies for Valentine's Day

I could say I never met a cookie I didn't like,
but as long as there are raisins and candied fruit lurking in cupboards,
 I won't be making such a sweeping statement.
But I do love cookies.
I don't think anyone can be completely sad 
as long as there are cookies nearby.

So for Valentine's Day--let's talk cookies!

Aren't these the most creative cookies ever? 

These have an intricate  and delicate design:

These look warm and comfy:
Photo by Lain Bagwell, via

These are very sophisticated:

I'd have to say if I had a choice between Valentine's Day chocolates and cookies,
it would be an easy decision to make.
I'd look at the cookies and say just one thing:
Be mine.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Valentine's Day Food Ideas

I once saw a cooking program 
that showed how to make palm trees out of carrots and green peppers,
and little penguins out of hard-boiled eggs and black olives.
It's silly, but I like the creativity.
So I browsed the Internet for creative food ideas for Valentine's Day
and found some cute things.

This first photo is of apples and watermelon cut into tiny heart shapes.
For some reason, skewers elevate the ordinary,
and people love them.
Aren't these cute?

Heart shaped pizza with heart-shaped toppings:

Isn't this creative? A red apple and a green one
trade little heart cut outs:

And more fun with food:
grape tomatoes cut on the diagonal and then joined together in a heart shape:

I think I'm officially in love.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Candy for Valentine's Day

It's hard to imagine St. Valentine's Day without chocolates,
but there are other candies equally emblematic of this holiday.
For example, where would we be without our "conversation hearts"?
Conversation hearts are those chalky little pastel hearts
with pre-printed messages:  "Be mine," "True Love," and "Hug Me"
all come to  mind.
The web site tells us that the conversation hearts 
we're familiar with date back to 1902, 
manufactured by the NECCO Candy Company.
An earlier version dates back to the 1860s,
so they've been around a very, very long time.

But nowadays, non--chocolate candies come in a wider variety of shapes and sizes.
These little red, white, and pink candy hearts would be so cute in a glass dish:
Google Images

These Valentine's Day lollipops are fun, too. 
If you click on the link, there is a recipe for making these at home:

This next one is an innovative way 
to salvage the tiny candy canes leftover
after Christmas. Click on the link for this recipe too:

And let's not forget red hots:

and jelly beans:

To paraphrase Shakespeare: All sweets for the sweets!

Monday, February 10, 2014

St. Valentine's Day and Chocolates

Somewhere deep within the folds of our memories, everyone can recall 
the first heart-shaped box of Valentine's Day chocolates received.
I never gave the history of Valentine's Day and chocolate much attention
because really, my enthusiasm for a box of chocolates 
normally outweighed any interest in why they were a fitting symbol for the holiday.

But today, with the chances of my receiving a heart-shaped box of chocolates
 this Friday coming up pretty slim,
I did start to wonder why we give chocolates for St. Valentine's Day.

Thanks to, we have the connection.
It seems that in the mid-19th century in Victorian England, 
when everyone was snapping up lace-covered,
love bird laden, cherub and flower bedecked paper valentines,
Richard Cadbury was fashioning delicious chocolate candies.
And he reasoned, why not put those chocolate candies
in pretty heart-shaped boxes for those who wanted to give more than a card.
And so he did. He made the first heart-shaped, decorated box
filled with chocolate.

This frilly, now-empty box was recently sold on ebay:

So this year, if  you've been holding back from giving
chocolates for Valentine's Day, you might want to give in.
And for old time's sake,
make sure they're inside a heart-shaped box.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Vintage Valentine's Day Cards

Not so long ago,
 Valentine's Day couldn't be properly celebrated
without the exchange of paper valentines, 
each decorated with shiny red hearts, cherubs, paper lace
or sweet verses.
But even those valentines seem slick and commercial when 
compared to the elaborate artistry of Victorian Valentine's Day cards.
Here are a few I like best:
(all images are from Google Images)

This one has it all: a touch of lace, birds, hearts, and flowers:

Not just cherubs, but seraphim and cherubim:

And more little angels:

Plump, apple-cheeked children are a recurring theme:

The flowers in this one are particularly beautiful. 
Peonies are frequently depicted, as are roses and violets,
probably because of their sweet perfumes:

A sweet way to tell someone you're thinking of them.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

St. Valentine's Day Crafts

I have been working on a special Valentine's Day craft
for a few days now,
and it is taking me much longer than I expected.
I plan to mail them out to my family,
but  the finished product may not  arrive before the 14th.
Next year, I will need to find something that doesn't take so long to dry.

 I was looking at some Valentine's Day crafts online,
and found some that look like they would be fun to make.
I thought this garland of paper hearts was really pretty.
They look like they would be easy. 
All you'd need is a drop of glue and some strips of colored paper.
I especially like the "print" hearts in the center:

Here are two other versions using nylon line and string:
valentines craft Made with love – your guide to Valentine’s Day DIY

Not to be outdone, Martha Stewart brings us 
paper Valentine's Day baskets filled with candy.
All these need are folded card stock and ribbon.

How about painted wine corks?
DIY wine cork heart
Photo My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia
via Mother Nature Network at 

These bookmarks have got to be one of the cutest things I've seen.
All you need are purloined paint sample cards, ribbon, and a heart-shaped punch:

I love the creativity and resourcefulness of all of these.
If  you travel through the internet, there are hundreds more.
Something for everyone.
And with Valentine's Day six days away,
there's still time to wow your family and friends.