Archive | December 2015

Snow, At Last


A dusting on Dec 27

A too warm winter follows too warm every other season in 2015 here at the farm in Maine.  Fall was long and balmy and extended into December.  It was in the 50s and sunny on Christmas Day. To celebrate the day and burn off some of the Christmas morning cinnamon buns, we went for a long walk on our snowless property.

November and most of December weather consisted of sunny, warm days separated by spells of driving rain, even some flooding.  We received two dustings of snow that quickly melted. Had those massive rain storms been snow, we’d be covered by several feet by now.


Today’s storm

The joy surrounding the arrival of an actual Nor’easter, as New Englanders call these storms off the ocean with northeast winds and bands of heavy snow, can be understood and even forgiven. Maine needs snow in winter.  How are we supposed to snowshoe and ski and ride our snowmobiles without it?  And what will protect the roots of the hay grass from brutal arctic blasts if there is no insulating blanket of snow?  How will we make it through a long, hot summer drought without the snow to fill up the water table? Most Mainers love snow.

This storm promises to drop 8-12 inches of white stuff, enough to make us all happy.  The only Mainers less than enthused about the storm are the mourning doves and other birds scrabbling in the snow for their meals.a3

Miniature Rose Blooms


My miniature rose is blooming just in time for Christmas and I wanted to share the beauty.  The little rosebush has nine blooms, the most ever.  The flowers are a peachy pink and smell wonderful.

During the summer the rose lives outdoors.  It was becoming root bound so before I brought it in the house this fall I re-potted, pruned and fertilized it.  The reward was rapid growth and lots of buds.

A couple weeks ago spider mites attacked.  A thorough soaking with Safer soap got rid of the nasty little bugs.  I’m hoping they won’t return.

This miniature rose is over a foot tall.  I’ve had it about four years when it started as a tiny 3″ plant I found in the grocery store floral department.  The variety is Kordana rose.

Mistletoe Myth


As do many others, I like to hang a few sprigs of real mistletoe in my home every Yule season.  This year I acquired a nice big bunch with berries attached and adorned with a red velvet bow from an eBay seller in S. Carolina.  The mistletoe was harvested and shipped fresh.

I suspend the mistletoe from the pull chain of the ceiling fan in the livingroom, a perfect spot to catch the unsuspecting for a quick peck or to entice my husband for something a bit more romantic. I’ve often wondered about the origins of the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe.

The plant is classified as hemiparasitic, meaning it is a tree parasite, growing on branches and trunks and sending roots into the host to take water and nutrients, but it also can live by its own photosynthesis. There are over 1300 species of mistletoe in the world.  The most familiar are the European and American species. My mistletoe is Phoradendron flarescens, from N. America.  While mistletoe grows on oak, it particularly likes apple trees.

The balls of mistletoe shrubs in trees make good nesting places. The flowers are visited by insects.  The berries are eaten by many species of birds and mammals.  These berries contain a sticky substance that causes the animals’ feces to adhere to tree branches, spreading the plant.  Mistletoe also employs forceful seed ejection.  A touch will scatter an explosion of seeds, allowing some to catch in crevices of bark.

Mistletoe has been an honored plant since at least the time of the Greeks.  They associated it with fertility and life and used it in marriage ceremonies.  The Celts also bestowed these magic qualities on mistletoe and the most revered plants were taken from the sacred oaks.  Druids harvested mistletoe for use during solstice rites.  Frigga, Scandinavian goddess of love, favored the mistletoe.  It is interwoven in the tale of the death and rebirth of the sun god (the winter solstice.)  Truces between battling war lords in Scandinavia were made beneath the plant.

With all the connotations of love, fertility, life and peace, it is small wonder that mistletoe was used by Europeans as part of holiday celebrations.  Couples who kissed beneath sprigs or balls (kissing balls) of the plant were said to be bound for marriage.  (If they were kissing, it’s a pretty good assumption they would wed anyway!)

Traditions migrated with people and the mistletoe myth came to America.  So that today, we can enjoy a laugh and a quick peck or a good snog under the leathery leaves and tiny white berries of this venerable plant.


Sarre Windmill

When the weather turns cold, dark and damp (as it has been for five days) my thoughts stray to warmer climes than Maine. Places where the air is balmier and the sun shows more frequently. I revisit in my mind the spots I have toured.

One delightful side trip was to the windmill at Sarre in Kent, UK, near my mother’s home in Birchington.  My mum and I hopped the bus for a short ride to the mill.  From miles around the windmill is visible rising above the fairly level farmlands of Kent.  Locally grown grain is milled at Sarre.


Mum at Sarre mill


At the time we visited, several years ago, there was a visitors shop and tea room on the first floor.  The windmill is operational and produced the flours available in the shop and used to make the baked goods for tea.  I’ve read that since our visit the place has been converted into lodgings, although the mill still runs.  It might be a fun place to stay on my next visit to Mum.

The mill was built in 1820 on the site of a previous mill, and operated until the 1930s.  It had a steam engine installed as alternate power on calm days.  After 1920 it ran on a gas engine as the sweeps (also called sails) were removed to another mill. From the 1930s till 1985 the mill languished and deteriorated. Then, some energetic people bought the place and restored the mill to operation.

The building stands 4.5 stories tall including a 1.5 story brick base and the sails.  It is termed a smock mill due to the particular construction of a fixed timber tower with a movable cap and attached sweeps.a2

When the wind turns the sweeps there is a noticeable whoosh as they rotate.  Inside the building, the squeaks and squeals and rumblings of the turning machinery are very impressive.

Several cogged wheels convert the action of the turning sweeps down to the stones set in the base that grind the grain.

A visitor could climb nearly to the top via narrow stairways.  The windows afforded wide views of the surrounding countryside.a7a9

We visited the mill on a brisk spring afternoon.  The fields were green, trees budding, the sky bright blue with wispy clouds and a soft breeze gave the sails a lazy spin.  So nice to remember this sojourn far from the browns and grays of a snowless December in Maine.

Baby Kittens


Granddaughter Lia and the babies

My foster kittens are now about 3 weeks old.  The last week has been a blur of feedings six or eight times every twenty-four hours. They are kind kittens and let me sleep six hours at night.

We have come through a terrible bout of diarrhea.  I was very worried a few days ago.  Diarrhea can kill small kittens fast.  I had to give one subcutaneous fluids to fight dehydration.

I figured out that the likely reason was bad formula.  After scratching my head, puzzling over the cause of the diarrhea, I finally noticed a faint smell of sour milk in their liquid KMR, kitten milk replacer.  I switched them to powdered and brought the kittens away from death’s door.

The liquid formula had an expiration date of Jan 2018, but I suspect it must have been stored improperly at too high a temperature, causing it to sour.  The odor was so faint that I did not notice it at first, unfortunately.

Now the babies are mostly back to normal stools, have lots of energy and are starting to gain weight again.  Looks like they will have to stay with me now.  After battling them through near fatal illness, I can’t let them go!