Archive for December, 2009

This is the second full moon to shine down on us in the month of December. Blue moons are properly said to occur when there are 4 full moons in a season. By this measure, the next blue moon is November 21st, 2010. However, it is also commonplace to call the second moon in a calendar month a blue moon. This definition of the blue moon is a relatively modern one. The earliest record of this usage dates back to 1946, when it appeared in an issue of Sky & Telescope magazine.

So this is it, the last full moon of 2009, a blue moon seeing in 2010. I hope it portends well for the upcoming year. I hope you have a safe and enjoyable celebration and a year that brings you much joy. Happy New Year!

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There are moose (Alces alces) in the area where Ponygirl lives, an hour plus north and east of here. It is more hilly, less agricultural there, and the Larose Forest stretches for miles. Around here, though, large, flat fields of corn and soybeans are the norm, with intermittent forest cover punctuating the landscape. I hadn’t considered moose a possibility. Where would they hide out? But I was wrong. When we visited a local tree farm to get our Christmas tree recently, I noticed the moose crossing sign, shown above. Really?

When I visited weather.ca a while ago, I was amazed to see a photograph, posted by Linda McCoy, of a moose strolling along a street in Cardinal! Cardinal is a small town pressed up against the St. Lawrence river, about 10 kilometers south of here. How had the moose arrived there? Where was it going? The spot where it was photographed is a spit of land right by the river and the moose is crossing the overpass on its way inland. The photograph was taken back in October.

Hinterland Who’s Who fact sheet says “Before settlement, the large supplies of woody twigs needed by moose were provided by young forest regrowth in the wake of forest fires. Now that wildfire has been largely controlled, the moose’s source of food is often areas that are growing again after clear-cut logging.” Perhaps the regeneration of forest on poor quality agricultural land since World War II has allowed the moose to expand its range back into areas previous cleared for settlement.

View West

View East

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It’s not too unusual to see a flock of wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) when you’re travelling local rural roads. This is especially so in winter, when the large birds show up starkly against snowy fields as they forage. It hasn’t always been that way though. I certainly never saw turkeys when I was growing up. Although wild turkeys are native to southern Ontario, its only Canadian locality, habitat loss and over-hunting decimated the turkey population during the 1800s. The species was extirpated from Ontario by 1909. The last confirmed sighting was in Aurora, north of Toronto.

A program to restore wild turkeys to Ontario was undertaken by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) and the first 74 wild turkeys, imported from Michigan and Missouri, were released in 1984. Since then, additional birds have been imported and released with considerable success, with large population increases over the last two decades. The OMNR ended its release program at the beginning of 2005. It still seems something of a novelty to see flocks strutting and gleaning seeds in fields.

Turkeys do well where there is adequate forest cover, a water source, and open fields, such as corn and soybean fields, for foraging. When spring days begin to warm up, the winter flocks break into smaller breeding groups, with dominant males preventing subordinate males from accessing females. The females construct nests by scratching a depression in the ground in an area where it will be well concealed by grass and vegetation.

When snow is very deep, it limits the availability of food, as the turkeys are unable to forage on the ground. If snow depth exceeds 25 centimetres for more than seven weeks, turkeys may begin to starve to death. Good luck, turkeys. Hope to see you in the spring!

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The Night After Christmas by James Stevenson. Greenwillow Books 1981.

Everyone knows The Night Before Christmas, but do you know about the night after Christmas? James Stevenson’s charming picture book tells the story of Annie, a doll, and Teddy, a teddy bear, who find themselves on the curb with the garbage the night after Christmas. Teddy says “The kid who owned me got a space gun for Christmas.” Annie says “The kid I belonged to got a doll with hair you can curl and clothes you can change plus a bikini.” As they discuss their situation, a big brown dog tells them “A word to the wise. They collect the garbage here first thing in the morning.” Annie and Teddy hitch a ride on Chauncey the dog, who takes them back to his basement room. Annie and Teddy are safe staying with Chauncey, but they can’t be happy without a child of their own. Then Chauncey has an idea. He takes Annie and Teddy with him and places them outside a big building. A bell rings and children flood out the doors in a tumbling rush. When all the children are gone, Annie and Teddy are gone, too.

James Stevenson is best known for his Grandpa stories, especially Could be Worse! If you have youngsters to read to, Stevenson’s charming picture books are worth looking up.

Mr. Corbett’s Ghost by Leon Garfield. Puffin 1969.

A windy night and the old year dying of an ague. Good riddance! A bad old year, with a mean spring, a poor summer, a bitter autumn – and now this cold, shivering ague. No one was sorry to see it go.

Garfield’s story is to New Year’s Eve what Dicken’s Christmas Carol is to Christmas, a spooky story of redemption and second chances. Young Ben Partridge, an apothecary’s apprentice, is anxious to be off. It’s New Year’s Eve, but still Mr. Corbett, his master, won’t let him leave. He finds one trifling job after another until poor Ben could scream with frustration. Finally, he sends Ben far out of his way to deliver a package to a strange customer who arrives at the shop late in the evening. Ben is furious, and when the chance to make a deal with Death is offered up, Ben signs away a quarter of his future earnings for the satisfaction of being rid of Mr. Corbett forever! Death keeps his end of the bargain, but Mr. Corbett, while dead, isn’t exactly gone…

Garfield is a master storyteller. His tale of how Ben is changed forever deserves to be better-known.

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Winter Eve

Winter Door

Winter Maple

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The Christmas Present

The fields are wrapped in silver snow,
Tied tight with grey stone walls,
While cardinals flutter in the drifts
Like cheery Christmas balls.

I wonder what the Spring will shout
When she unwraps the box,
And finds to her extreme delight,
A toad, a mole, a fox?

Patricia Hubbell

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Louis

Merry Christmas from Louis, and everyone here at Willow House. Hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

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Christmas Eve

Christmas Lights

Have yourself a merry little Christmas!

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At this time of year, poinsettias are everywhere, it seems. I need go no further than my local grocery store to purchase an inexpensive plant, chosen from a beautiful display. A poinsettia, (Euphorbia pulcherrima– meaning the most beautiful Euphorbia) these days, cannot claim to be exceptional nor unique. Rather, it has come to be ubiquitous. That hasn’t dimmed the plant’s appeal for me though. Those bright red leaves! So lovely in the dark days of winter. So perfect for the Chrismas season. Decorating for the holidays wouldn’t be complete without a poinsettia.

Poinsettias have an interesting history. Native to Mexico, they were used by the Aztecs, who extracted a purplish dye from the bracts for use in textiles and cosmetics. (The red “flowers” are actually coloured leaves, or bracts, while the flowers are the small yellow buds in the centre, called cyathias.) They also used the white sap, now known to be latex, in a preparation to treat fevers. Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779 – 1851) was appointed the first American minister to Mexico in 1825. An avid amateur botanist, Poinsett was charmed by the plant and in 1828, he sent samples back to his South Carolina hothouses on his Greenville plantation.

Although the poinsettia owes its common name to Mr. Poinsett, it owes its popularity to the Ecke family. Albert Ecke, a German immigrant, arrived in the Hollywood, California area in 1900. It had been his intention to move on to Fiji to open a health spa, but he settled in California instead. Around 1911, he established a fruit orchard and dairy farm, but his real interest was flowers. He and his son Paul saw that the bright red poinsettia had potential as a holiday plant and began the production of field-grown plants. The operation was eventually moved to Encinitas, 2 hours south of Los Angeles, and until the mid 1960s, poinsettias continued to be field-grown. In 1963, developments in poinsettia breeding produced a plant appropriate for greenhouse cultivation and a new era of greenhouse-grown potted plants began.

Owing to a technological secret, which involved grafting two varieties of poinsettia together to get a bushier plant, the Ecke family had a virtual monopoly on poinsettias until the 1990s. Close to 100 percent of all poinsettias sold were Eckes’ plants until the secret was discovered by a researcher. During the 1960s, Paul Ecke Jr. promoted the plants very successfully. He sent free plants to television stations for them to display on air from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and he also appeared on television programs like The Tonight Show and Bob Hope’s Christmas specials to market the plants. In 1997, the Ecke Ranch began growing poinsettias in Guatemala, and today it is the largest poinsettia stock production facility in the world, employing over 700 people.

Poinsettias have been developed in many colours and forms, but it’s still hard to beat that bright red when it comes to Christmas decorating.

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Our Scottish roots haven’t given us many food traditions, although my grandmother did make Beef and Barley soup regularly in the winter, and we always had oatcakes (although not homemade). The one item that I can say is a genuine Scottish recipe, handed down through generations and still made today by a new generation, my own daughters, is shortbread. My grandmother made shortbread, and no doubt she learned to make it from her Mom, growing up in Ayrshire, Scotland. My own mother, not one to do a lot of baking, made shortbread at Christmas. Our recipe could not be any simpler. I’ll share it here.

2 cups of flour
1 cup of butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar

Mix the sugar into the butter and blend well.
Add the flour gradually, mixing well.
As the dough becomes stiff, add remaining flour by kneading it into the dough.
Continue adding flour until the dough loses its stickiness.
Shape the dough into a square about an inch thick.

Prick the dough with a fork dipped in flour.
Cut into rows, and then pieces.
Place the squares on an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake at 350 for 25 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.

Allow to cool, and then enjoy!

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