naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (spring valley)
I'm currently having a pot of Burnside Winter Frost, from Infusions of Tea. I brew it fairly weak... if I make my black teas too strong you'd be peeling me off the ceiling before lunchtime. :-P But gosh, I love this stuff. I got this Burnside a year or so ago. Every single tea I've ever bought from them has been utterly fabulous. My favorite is still Tidal Wave, but... I left my window open last night and woke up a bit chilly, so today, it's this lovely black tea that tastes vaguely... well, to me, anyway... like curling up under a quilt in front of a woodstove, as blustery grey clouds chase each other across the horizon. I popped some wildflower honey from last summer from Bill's Bees into it, and ahhhhhhhhhh.

Of course, the sun is rising and it looks like it's going to be another 72-and-sunny day in beautiful downtown Burbank, but that's just fine, too.
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (reflective)
The courtyard in the center of the Beckman Institute building here at Caltech is one of my favorite places on Earth. The fountains, the trees, the architecture just speaks to me somehow; it always has.

There are clivia and magnolia plants in bloom in various places all over campus. My parents would be so jealous... they're still dealing with stormy winter/spring weather in Indiana. By contrast, we're having a heat wave here... I think it was between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Pasadena yesterday.
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (winter wonderland)
*helpless mirth* I found a .wav and an MP3 file on line. Mom loves this song and we've been sitting here giggling like loons over my little beanie baby hippo. I don't usually collect beanie babies, but this little fellow is completely adorable!

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas
Words and music by John Rox
performed by Gayla Peevey (1953)

The "Hippo Song" FAQ at is at http://soe.hyperchat.com/newchat/u/yummy/~soe/hippoFAQ.htm
and lyrics are at http://soe.hyperchat.com/newchat/u/lisanne/~soe/hippo.htm

It is available on CD on "Dr. Demento's The Greatest Novelty Records of All Time Vol. 6: Christmas"...

lyrics )
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (Default)
I had a lovely Thanksgiving, and now I'm remembering similar warm, abundant-feeling Thanksgivings as a child. And that made me remember sitting around the kitchen table, writing out wishlists with my parents.

Yes, I wish for a better world, and an end to war and poverty and hunger, and all of the Big Philosophical Stuff that we should all wish for every day. But that's not what a Christmas wishlist is.. not to me, anyway.

Many wishes never come true, but that shouldn't make the wishing any more or less fun. There's a joy in hoping and anticipating and thinking about pie in the sky and winning the lottery and all of that sort of stuff. Especially around the winter holidays, when everything should be fireside-warm and sparkles and glittery and ornamented and toasty and smell like fresh-baked something-with-cinnamon.

I have a wishlist of things I want to do and give for co-workers, friends and family. That's a separate project wishlist, and one which is making me look at the calendar in startlement. When did December sneak up on me?

Anyway, here's my wishlist of things the universe might consider gifting to me, should it be so inclined... click here to read it )

Wow. Yeah, that pretty much gives an accurate impression of my life right now, huh? *grin*
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (winter wonderland)
The Narada Christmas Collection Volume 3: Christmas Blessings

This is one of my favorite holiday instrumental collections. It's perfect for cuddling up under a warm blanket or an afghan or two, watching the flames dance in your fireplace if you're lucky enough to have one, or watching the lights twinkle on your tree, or watching the bubble lights burble away atop your Yule log, or simply for having a few close friends over for holiday tea.

It speaks to me of warmth of hearth and home, in the midst of cold, quiet star-filled winter nights.
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (bountiful harvest)
So it went from being in the high 90s to being in the mid-50s, kind of overnight a few days back. I've had to break out my sweaters and long sleeved-shirts, and it feels strange to be wearing them.

It's time for hot cocoa, and hot tea, and hot spiced cider. It's time for warm, hearty soups and casseroles. It's time for wearing my fleecy lined slippers and my flannels around the apartment, since it's getting down to the low 40s at night.

It feels like winter. What happened to autumn?
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (winter wonderland)
It seems a bit strange to be using my winter wonderland icon for this, but it is January...

Los Angeles has had temperatures in the mid-seventies the past few days. I had to contemplate turning on my air conditioner in the heat of the afternoon on Saturday, because the apartment has no insulation and the walls and roof collect the heat and radiate it straight into my apartment. I don't have sunshades any more thanks to the last big windstorm (gusts up to 70mph in the canyons tend to do that, either because you take them down yourself or the wind does it for you).

25 years ago, I was a young child in the worst blizzard Indiana had seen in decades. I remember making tunnels in the drifts in my parents' side yard, and going for walks with Dad... I was nearly as tall as he was, since I could walk across the top of the drifts after one sunshiny day had left a crust of ice on them. I remember giggling and giggling and giggling that I was as tall as Daddy... and coming in for hot chocolate... and helping Mom and Dad hang blankets over the windows to help keep out the cold... and letting Mom comb out my hair after a shower, sitting in front of the woodstove with my warm fuzzy pajamas and slippers on. We kept a pan of water on top of the woodstove in the wintertime to combat the lack of humidity in the house. The electricity kept going out. Some of those memories might be the winter after '78, or the year after that, but they're all kind of blended together in my mind, and '77-'78 was the winter we got the most snow.

I guess that year must have been formative for me, because on some level, that's what I expect winter to mean. Crisis management and weather that is actually bad enough to alter humans' routine behavior...

Today, I could see snow on the top of Mount Baldy above and east of here, and if I really wanted to, I could drive up there from here and it'd only take a few hours. But it doesn't really feel like winter to me here unless it's actually raining in Los Angeles.

One of my favorite courtyards on the campus where I work has citrus trees which smell absolutely wonderful right now. I think some of them are blossoming, and the others have fruit. I now park so I can walk through that courtyard on my way to and from my office each day.

Another section of campus has purple and white magnolias blossoming.

I think I'm going to go for a walk in Descanso Gardens this weekend... because it's supposed to be sunny and warm and clear and wonderful, and because most of my non-Southern-California friends consider a January heat wave to mean temperatures above freezing in the daytime, and above zero Fahrenheit at night.

Happy January, everyone... wherever you are.
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (winter wonderland)
I meant to write about this before Christmas, but things got busy. Oh, well. Most of the snowy weather is yet to come for most places anyway, so this is OK.

When I was little, my parents and I lived in a house at the back edge of a new housing development. At the edges of Indianapolis' sprawling suburbs, developers plowed over fields and planted houses, so behind our house was still farmland. There was a small creek running past the back of our property, and a row of tall trees, mostly buckeyes, and then a big field, with overgrown and tree lined fence rows on all the other three sides, bounded by more fields.

Somewhere back in there was also an old pond, with random junk laying about and tossed into it, and a run-down house, and an old barn or two a few fields away. I remember there being a broken mirror or two in the upper level of the house, so you could see light reflecting oddly through the window opening if you looked at the house from just the right angle. Outside the house, there was a tree that grew very long glistening blackish-brown seed pods. We always joked that that was a witch's house, and that she had died or left and the remnants of her presence in the house made the tree outside grow witches' fingernails, those marvelous seed pods.

Dad and I used to go for long walks in the fields and fence rows in the fall, after the first frost and the harvest was over. The field behind us grew corn some years, but I most remember walking with Dad through the stubble of brown soybean stalks, finding here and there a fuzzy pod of dried soybeans.

When it snowed, we went on Woozle Hunts.

Anyone who has read the Winnie The Pooh stories will remember woozles. There is a lovely story about Pooh tracking a woozle in the snow, walking around and around in a great circle about a large tree, and being wonderfully startled when the tracks of the woozle are joined by a second one! A bit later, Piglet joins him, and they track the two woozles together until they notice that the two woozles have been joined by a wizzle!

Dad and I would bundle up and go tromping off across the field, wandering in any direction that seemed interesting. We'd see how the edges of the creek were freezing, little crystalline sheets of ice trying to infiltrate the flowing water. We'd see how the winter weather was affecting the plants, look for raccoon prints in the mud and gravel next to the creek, hunt for scratched trees marking a bobcat's territory, look for prints of rabbits running from a fox, search for the small trails of squirrels and the tiny trails of mice. We'd try to decipher the story told by whatever tracks and droppings we found on the snow. We'd see ice melting a bit in the sunshine, hanging from tree branches, and listen to the creak of branches rubbing against one another in the cold, and the rattle of dried grasses and weeds rustling in the wind.

Sometimes we'd make tracks intended to confuse anyone else who might happen upon them... walking forward for a while, then walking backwards, putting our feet into the tracks we'd already made, and then leaping onto a log or a rock and jumping off in another direction. That way, anyone trying to follow us would have, in theory anyway, have followed the track until it simply stopped, a mystery in the snow.

We'd spend a good chunk of the afternoon wandering around, until our feet got really cold and the tip of my nose was bright red from the chill. Then we'd head home for hot chocolate and a warm dinner... I think Mom usually made soup or stew or something else hearty, but honestly, I don't remember much of those dinners. I remember how pink and frosty my cheeks felt, and how strange and wondrous the first wash of warm air from the utility room would be as we stepped in, closed the garage door behind us, and started stripping out of wet boots, snow pants, scarves, hats, coats, sweaters, double thicknesses of socks...

One year, on Christmas Eve afternoon, Mom and Dad let me ask my friend Irene on one of our Woozle Hunts. They had to explain how she'd need all of her cold weather clothing, and I think her Mom brought her over to our house. I don't remember how she got home... but her Mom called mine sometime later and said something like, "Oh, I understand now! She fell right to sleep! That never happens on Christmas Eve!"

:-)

Keeping warm, hiking around for hours, even at a leisurely pace, and trudging little booted feet through drifts of snow... well, it was the perfect way to both enjoy the natural wonder of winter and to wear out excited little girls.

Woozle Hunts are magical. Thanks, Dad and Mom...
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (winter wonderland)
At our house, growing up, the Christmas tree was taken down sometime during the day on New Year's Eve. And on New Year's Morning, there would be one or two small presents left in the space where the tree had been.

The New Year's Cherub always came to our house, and he always comes to my apartment.

It makes it easier to pack away the holiday decorations, makes the dreary days of January seem a bit more festive. And it's a great excuse to hit the after-Christmas sales and clearances... our family took turns being the Cherub for each other, and it was usually arranged before Christmas, if I'm remembering correctly.

Happy New Year, folks! May it be a joyful, healthful, wonderful year!
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (winter wonderland)
There's nothing quite like curling up under a heap of blankets and quilts and comforters on a cold winter's night, with a purring sleepy cat making a nest in the comforters at your feet.

Of course, there's also nothing like being forced onto the edge of your bed by said cat, who decided sometime in the middle of the night that the very very center of the bed was the warmest place to be...

*grin*

I still haven't mailed the rest of my holiday cards, but cocooning just had to be done these past few weeks. I feel a bit like I'm struggling to wake up from hibernation, trying to wake to the wonder of life. But one cannot wake if one hasn't slept.

Anyone wishing an interesting read... go here for a lovely webified version of John Greenleaf Whittier's Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyll.

And for everyone else, here are online links to two of my favorite winter-themed paintings, both by Andrew Wyeth... Crescent and Last Light. Note that there are strict copyright things associated with these images... but aren't they beautiful?

Happy winter!
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (winter wonderland)
Pfeffernusse are German spice cookies. They're dusted in confectioners sugar or icing, and they're kind of ball-shaped. They're wonderful. Archway, Bahlsen, and Trader Joes all make them prepackaged, and a local bakery called Berolina, in Montrose, CA, makes a very tasty fresh version.

There are bazillions of different recipes out there if you want to try to make them at home. Here are some:
http://christmas.allrecipes.com/az/Pfffrnss.asp
http://www.apexfitness.net/html/nutrition/recipes/desserts/holiday/pfeffernusse/
http://www.cookierecipe.com/AZ/PfeffernusseKuchen.asp
http://www.fabulousfoods.com/recipes/dessert/cookies/pfeffernusse.html
http://www.recipecottage.com/german/pfeffernusse06.html
http://www.pepperfool.com/recipes/desserts/pfeffernusse.html

Heck, there are ten recipes given at this page alone! http://www.kitchenrecipes.com/files/German/more1.shtml

Oh, and anyone out there on a low-carb diet? ;-) This link is for you: Low-carb Pfeffernusse recipe

Happy holidays, folks!
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (winter wonderland)
A friend of mine forwarded me an email which is supposedly from USA Today... it's about celebrating the holidays rather than trying to avoid anything that tastes good because it might not be healthy for you. Quite entertaining... "1. About those carrot sticks. Avoid them. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they're serving rum balls."

Now, I don't advocate eating anything that will kill you... and enough of my friends and family are on special diets for very good reasons, so I'm not joking about it. However, there's no reason to make yourself feel less than jovial, less than festive... less than abundantly in the holiday spirit.

Everyone celebrates differently, but anyone that goes through the holidays with no decorations anywhere, living on celery and carrot sticks... well, in my humble opinion, they're missing the point.

:-)

Most years, I do a lot of projects and bargain shopping all throughout the year, so that by the time December rolls around, I've got a huge stash of goodies in a big box or two in the closet, all ready and waiting to be sorted and wrapped and shipped and tucked under trees.

This year, I've been working too hard at my job to the exclusion of many other things, and am now feeling quite drained and tired, and the holidays feel rushed. Actually, this whole year has seemed very rushed. Whatever happened to November? October? May? Eeeeeeeep.

Mom tells me that everyone has years when the holidays sneak up on them, that this is normal and expected and all that. However, it's the first time it's really felt that way for me, and I've had some rather busy and/or stressful times in the past without feeling this way.

But, after taking a few deep breaths, I remember that I should have more faith and more calm. Everything works out if you just relax.

I've braved the mall and a few of my favorite shopping haunts the past few days, and special items have found me for most of the folks I really really wanted to have presents for. Some of them were even nice bargains! So I haven't blown my budget too frightfully, and though I still have some unchecked people on my list, I'm feeling not as off-kilter as I was a week ago or so. At this rate, I might even get my holiday cards into the mail before New Years...

The way I see it, most people stress about getting their gifts and cards out on time. And most people feel a post-holiday slump in January. So for those of us who might not manage to get our holiday shipping and mailing done in time, our gifts and cards just brighten up that post-holiday slump in January!

This is not to say that procrastination every year is desirable... I'm just saying that we should give ourselves just one more reason to forgive ourselves and make the best of whatever we have to share with those we love this holiday season.

So, whether early, on-time, or belated... happy Hannukah, joyous Solstice, jolly Yule, merry Christmas, and happy New Year, everybody!

This is a reminder to me, but you're welcome to it, as well:
Be thankful for the good things in life. There's plenty of time for resolutions to fix the less-than-good things in January. Even if only figuratively, or long-distance, hug those you love close this season. It's not the gifts or the food or the decorations, though they all can make the season brighter. It's about love, the warmth of caring, about relaxing into the embrace of our loved ones, and loving humanity at large. And not sweating the small stuff.
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (path less traveled)
It's pouring rain here. That is a very strange thing... it doesn't happen very often, and we usually go months and months between storms. I have my fall umbrella with me at work today, bright fall leaves and plaid.

Everyone should have interesting umbrellas.

First, it's difficult to grab the wrong one at the office if yours is the only one with ducks or flowers or lightning bolts or racecars or eyeballs on it. Second, when the weather's damp and no one is smiling, making them smile is a really good thing. Third, if you're walking along a sidewalk filled with black umbrellas, and people above you in office buildings are looking down, it's obvious that you're a true individual if you're the one with a bright green umbrella with huge eyes looking up at them... just for instance. :-)

Thanks for the cool fall umbrella, Mom!
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (path less traveled)
Simple thought for the day: My folks are wonderful, and it feels great spending time with them.

Mom has introduced me to the DASH diet, which is hearty food and reduces hypertension, cholesterol, and other nasties. I think I'll be writing more about that next week sometime. Suffice it for now to say that taste-tests of various winter squashes have been quite entertaining.

Descanso Gardens is truly a marvelous place. If you live in the LA area and have never visited, I highly recommend it.

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