Friday, January 31, 2014

Chinese New Year 2014: The Year of the Horse

The last day of January brings one more reason to celebrate.
Today is Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, as it is sometimes called.
Today begins the year of the horse,
the wood horse to be exact.
I tried to find out some of the significant characteristics
 the wood horse symbolizes,
but frankly everything I found on the internet was boilerplate, worthless babble; 
for example, people born in the year of the horse "love being in crowds,"
are "energetic," and "independent" and "exceedingly witty."

And there are "expert" predictions: this will be a year marked by conflict 
(as opposed to all the others, I suppose); 
volcanoes may be active (see previous comment)
and leaders may be unwilling to compromise (hello).

Outer Banks wild horses of corolla

And since all of that describes just about anyone and life in general,
it appears the year of the horse is simply the year of the horse.
What we do know is that in
in the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 220 BCE) 
when the animal years were established,
the horse was admired for its stamina and swiftness.
So go for a long walk, splash some red around the room, 
eat some Chinese food, and celebrate.
And for all of our Chinese friends,
Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Today the morning temperature was a whopping 7 degrees;
soon the sun came out and the temperature
rose to a tropical 35. 
And the snow began to melt.
And as the snow melted, 
icicles formed along the rooftops.

Sun shining on icicles creates more icicles:
clear, sparkling curtains of ice.

So pretty.
Icicles are a pleasant aftereffect of cold and snow
and paradoxically, an assurance that winter won't last forever.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Snow Holiday

As expected, a dry, powdery snow sifted over us through the night.
At times, it was peaceful and beautiful:

By this morning, about 8 to 9 inches had fallen.
Here's our deck:

And the stairs (they are under there):

This morning, 
everyone--kids, dogs, neighbors and friends--emerged from their houses.
Birds flocked in--even birds we don't usually see at the feeders
like Oregon juncos and mockingbirds.

It's a big deal when it snows here.
A real holiday for lots of people.
Cold, but a snow holiday nonetheless.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Snow Day--Again!

Well, there's a lot I could write about today:
the composer Bach's birthday, Elvis's first television appearance, 
the death of Henry VIII.
But the real story here is that we are once again huddled
at home, waiting for several inches of snow to fall.
Most places are closed even though the first flakes didn't start to fall 
until about five o'clock. 
And lots of places have already announced they will be closed tomorrow.

We just don't "do" snow very well here. 
Nor do we do below-freezing temperatures.
Or bone-chilling wind.
Or ice.
But here we are.
I won't be sorry to see you go.
Don't let the door hit you on your way out.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Happy Birthday Mozart

Today in 1756, two hundred fifty-eight years ago,
Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart--
also known as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart--
was born in Salzburg, Austria.

Google Images

Although Mozart did enjoy crass and "off-color" humor,
Alex von Tunzelmann, writing for the Guardian UK,
says the characterizations of him as spoiled and self-centered are not true.
But what is true is that no one can  match his musical genius.

Mozart's Fortepiano, an earlier version of today's piano

And what a gift it is to all of us.
What better way to celebrate during winter's cold 
than an evening by the fire listening to Mozart.

In honor of the anniversary of his birth,
listen to some of his most popular works.
The link below contains about two hours of his music.

The Best of Mozart, compliments of Halidon Music:

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Going South for the Winter?

I always thought that robins 
were some of the songbirds that flew south for the winter.
And yet, Friday, when the temperature
barely got above 20 degrees here
and there was snow and ice stubbornly clinging to every surface,
I saw robins and  red-winged blackbirds and starlings
flocking together on the frozen lawn of a house on the north shore of the Lafayette River.

Photo by Ingrid Taylar,

I wondered if the robins were bemused
at the arctic temperatures in their southern playground.
But it turns out that some American robins
spend winter in more northern regions
because they migrate based on food source instead of temperature.
Here's a web site that explains:  

So I guess the robins I saw weren't confused at all.
They apparently know that Tidewater is full of berries to dine on
(and ordinarily, unfrozen earthworms)
all through the winter.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ice Castles

The snow arrived on Tuesday.
It's still here. 
Along with ice.
And a cold, bitter wind.
And frankly, Shire folk aren't accustomed to riding out
 this kind of winter weather.
At least not the Shire folk in this house.

Cecil Williams' photo "Icicles"

But there's always a silver lining to every situation,
and if it were not for such cold, 
we'd never have ice castles.
And there are some real ones out there.
For example:

Somewhere in Scandinavia:

Saranac Lake, New York, 1987:
Ice Castle

Here's one of the Disney Castle, Times Square New York:

Lake Louise, British Columbia

And if you really are smitten with the romance of an ice castle,
you might be able to spend the night in one.
Here's one from Quebec's Hotel de Glace

I have a feeling a couple of animal skins
just wouldn't be enough for some of us.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Burns Night

Oh my luve's like a red, red rose
that's newly sprung in June ...
                        --Robert Burns

For those of you who love the poetry of Robert Burns, or Scotland,
or haggis--this is a night you should be celebrating.
Burns Night is an annual celebration in Scotland,
dating back to the night in 1801 that friends of Burns gathered
on his birthday to remember his life and to recite his poetry.

It's been going on ever since.
And there is a traditional meal called Burns Supper:
 haggis, tatties (potatoes) 
and neeps (turnips, also called swedes.)
Oh yes, and scotch whiskey.
To read about Burns Night, click here:  

Haggis. Don't forget the ceremonial piercing.

Burns Night here is freezing cold, bitterly cold,
so Burns' poem "A Winter Night"
is a propos:

A Winter Night
When biting Boreas, fell and doure,
Sharp shivers thro' the leafless bow'r; 
When Phoebus gies a short-liv'd glow'r,
Far south the lift,
Dim-dark'ning thro' the flaky show'r,
Or whirling drift ...

So if it's really cold where you are,
and you like poetry, gather your friends 
and lift a glass to celebrate the life of Robbie Burns.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Winter Carnival

I was reminded today about the annual
Winter Carnival that takes place in Norfolk from mid-November 
through mid-January. 
Since I'm not one for winter festivities--
besides drinking tea and watching old movies while wrapped in an afghan--
I never have gone, and I missed it again this year.
I hadn't known about the ice palace though.
I hope it returns next year so I can go see it.

The ice palace at MacArthur Center Mall in Norfolk, Virginia

And really, cold weather aside, the Carnival looks like a lot of fun.
It includes an outdoor ice skating rink,
Ferris wheel, and indoors until Christmas, an ice palace.
Those who enjoy cold weather activities would probably love this Carnival.

The year we lived in Wisconsin,
 we went to a winter festival in Milwaukee.
And Milwaukee, like other cities in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan,
 celebrates winter in all its frigid glory.
The best elements of winter festivals are the ice sculptures.
They are so breathtakingly beautiful.
They make the freezing temperatures worth it.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Snow on the Rooftops

Last night snow began to fall.
The flakes were fine and dry
so I could only see them by looking at the street light.

I had planned to turn the outdoor light on 
and watch through the window,
hoping to see the snow fly through the light.
But I couldn't see anything.
This morning I woke up and the first thing I saw: snow-covered rooftops.

The ones in my neighborhood didn't quite look like this,
but this BBC photo of rooftops in Meissen, Germany
gives you an idea of how charming it was.

Snow-covered rooftops--and sunshine too.
Overnight, we had 3 inches of snow--pristine, 
white, sparkle-in-the-sun-like-diamonds snow.
And because snow is infrequent here,
lots of places closed until tomorrow.
Snow Day!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Snow Clouds

Today is most peculiar, weatherwise.
Most of the day has been like spring:
full of warmth and sunshine, blue skies and gentle breezes.
Not even a sweater required.
And yet, tonight it is supposed to snow 
anywhere from a skiff to 8 inches.
Area schools have already closed in advance of the possibility.

By 4:00 p.m. the spring day became a distant memory
as the sky turned cloudy and gray,
and the wind turned cold as the temperature dropped.
And so we are all keeping a vigil.
Watching for fluffy white flakes of snow
 to start falling from the snow clouds
 in the next two or three hours.
And so we wait....

Monday, January 20, 2014

Lee-Jackson-King Day in Virginia

In my quest for reasons to celebrate in January,
which for some of us presents a dismal stretch of icy cold
moving at a glacier's pace toward February,
I decided to pay more attention to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 
than I usually do since it comes at the beginning of the semester
and I'm always over-scheduled.

In Virginia, this is not just King Day,
It's Lee-Jackson-King Day,
a peculiar legislative compromise hatched many years ago
to satisfy diverse political opinions.
So the existing state holiday to honor heroic southern generals
Robert E. Lee  and Stonewall Jackson
serves double duty as a state and federal holiday for Dr. King,
although lately Lee-Jackson day commemorations
have been moved to the Friday before King's Day.

Nonetheless, since I'm always working on that day,
I figured I can finally celebrate it by at least having a southern meal
and contemplating the significance of the day.
That means fried fish or seafood, hush puppies,
cole slaw, mashed potatoes, candied yams, greens,
sweet tea, and pecan pie.
That, or I'll just eat a tomato over the sink.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Edgar Allen Poe

Yesterday was A. A. Milne's birthday.
Who doesn't love Winnie the Pooh and his gentle nonsensical views?
But today is Edgar Allen Poe's birthday,
and most of us agree
he would  have little in common with the cuddly and charming Pooh.
However, despite the morose sentiments expressed in poems like "The Raven"
or "Annabel Lee," Edgar Allen Poe
did have a sense of humor and whimsy.

photo from google images

Here's a poem by Poe called "Epigram for Wall Street,"
which takes a light view of one's relationship to money:

I'll tell you a plan for gaining wealth,
Better than banking, trade or leases — 
Take a bank note and fold it up, 
And then you will find your money in creases! 

This wonderful plan, without danger or loss, 
Keeps your cash in your hands, where nothing can trouble it; 
And every time that you fold it across, 
'Tis as plain as the light of the day that you double it! 

I wonder if he'd be surprised that today's popular culture
associates him exclusively with the grim, the dark, and the macabre?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Wisdom of Pooh

What day is it?
It's today! squeaked Piglet.
My favorite day, said Pooh.
                        --A. A. Milne

Today is A. A. Milne's birthday.
He was born in England in 1882
and wrote several books besides the Winnie the Pooh series,
including a murder mystery and several plays.
But he's best known for Winnie the Pooh.

So to celebrate Milne's birthday on a cold winter's day,
here is some of the wisdom of Pooh, courtesy of A. A. Milne:

People say nothing is impossible,
but I do nothing every day.

The things that make me different
are the things that make me.

Oh Tigger, where are your manners?
I don't know, but I bet they're having more fun than me.

And as someone who loves potatoes,
I can't disagree with this one:

What I say is that, 
if a man really likes potatoes,
he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.

Think it over, think it under.

Pencil drawings are by EH Shepherd  via Google Images

Friday, January 17, 2014

New Year for Trees

When I was looking for January celebrations,
I ran across one that I had never heard of before,
but I thought it sounded beautiful.
It's called Tu B’Shevat and it usually takes place January 15th - 16th.
 It's an observance in Israel that is a kind of a "new year for trees."
It's also sometimes called "Jewish Arbor Day."

If I understand it correctly, 
this is the season in Israel when the earliest blooms emerge on flowering trees,
and a new cycle of growth begins.
It is customary to eat fruit. 
Also carob, which takes many years to mature, is eaten
because it symbolizes our acknowledgment 
that we must patiently work today to invest in our future, 
even though there is no visible or immediate gain.    

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Winter Sunset

I have seen some dazzling winter sunsets here in Tidewater.
Dark blues, violets, oranges, golds, and creams
streak across the western horizon.

This evening I glanced out the window.
The trees were black, back-lit by a steel gray sky
that turned the palest of ivories at the horizon.

And then in a few minutes, I looked again.
The sky had turn the deepest, darkest inky blue
and the ivory part had nearly sunk below my line of sight.
Only the pale glow of the disappearing sun
stretched across the place where earth meets sky.

Maybe one more thing to celebrate about January
on a mid-winter day.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Misty Morning

As with many things in nature,
fog can have good qualities and bad.
Yesterday it rained almost the entire day, 
and this morning was damp and warm.
So all the slender branches held tiny, clear drops of water.

And I awoke to fog lingering around the trees and houses.
A light fog like this softens all the hard edges 
and muffles the reverberation of sound.
It's a lovely way to start--or end--the day.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Winter Lights

Here in Tidewater, our winter temperatures on average 
stay in the 30 to 50 degree range.
The days are often sunny, and flowers like camellias and pansies
bloom all the way through winter.
Yet, it is still winter, and the days darken early.
So I confess I am still lighting white Christmas lights in my house--
even on the fireplace mantel.
The Christmas trees have been taken down, 
but the lights remain.

I'm sure I'll pack them away in the next couple of weeks,
but for now, they cast such a warm and inviting light.
It's a little like having a handful of sparkling stars 
twinkling indoors.
And that, I cannot resist.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Winter Shadows

I've never been particularly fond of winter,
but I occasionally see something
that reminds me winter carries its own beauty.

One of the things that I enjoy about winter 
is the look of the bare tree branches against a clear blue sky.
For some unfathomable reason,
the image always makes  me think of winter afternoon visits 
at my maternal grandmother's house.
I don't know why.
It's just one of those peculiar associations 
that settle into one's mind for no apparent reason.
But it makes me feel warm and fuzzy

This afternoon, the sun cast soft shadows of tree branches
on the brick wall of my neighbor's house,
and I caught sight of it as I passed by the window.
Silhouettes of slender branches
on a January afternoon...
one of the nice things about winter.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

When Words are Too Much

Words are a pretext.
It is the inner bond that draws one person to another, not words.

Sometimes, words aren't enough.
Or they come at the wrong time in the wrong way.
Or they don't come at all.
I have read of people who devote every Sunday
to complete silence.
They simply don't speak the entire day
in order to feel peaceful.

I wonder what that would be like.
As close as I can come to that right now 
is to share some images of  nature without commentary.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Run or Walk in the Rain?

Today in the Shire was cloudy and damp.
The sky was filled with lots of heavy rain clouds,
the kind that move fast and swirl like a cat chasing its tail.
And then around four o'clock, the wind picked up
and the sky turned as dark as night and the rain pounded down.

I went out to do some errands anyway.
I always keep an umbrella in the car in case it rains,
but I often find myself debating if I should use it.
In heavy unrelenting cloudbursts or downpours, yes. 
But if it's merely a steady rain shower, 
I begin to think about carrying a messy wet umbrella 
around with me in the store or gym,
and I hesitate.
And then I decide to brave the rain without it for convenience sake.

So without an umbrella, 
should I run or walk to stay a little drier?
According to Adam Daichis at,
running will keep you driest,
especially if you lean forward.
Daichis observes that when he sees people 
running in the rain,
they always have a confused and bewildered look on their faces.
I think when I was running to and from my car in the rain tonight,
I had a look of quiet determination.
At least  I hope so. ;-)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Winter Rain

The arctic cold has departed for now.
The temperature climbed into the 40s today;
tomorrow it is to be in the 70s.
And that means winter rain.

I don't mind rain,
and in the winter, I find it more appealing than snow and ice.
I found this quote by the 19th-century art critic John Ruskin:
that puts it all in perspective:

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing,
wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating;
there really is no such thing as bad weather,
only different kinds of good weather.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Winter Flowers

I received a lovely gift in the mail this week:
an amaryllis bulb called "Red Lion."
My grandmother had several bright red amaryllis, 
and I was fortunate enough that my mother gave me one of them.
Unfortunately, it died the unhappy year I lived in Wisconsin--
that metaphor wasn't lost on me, I can tell  you.

Regardless, the amaryllis I received this week reminded me
how beautiful and uplifting it is to have flowers in winter.
If I manage to nurture this amaryllis to adulthood,
it will join one of my favorite winter flowers: snowdrops.

Every winter when the inevitable sunless days arrive,
I'm heartened to see a cluster of white snowdrops blooming outside  my window.
Flowers inside, flowers out.
What could be a better way to spend winter?