Celebrations December 12, 2014

It’s celebrations Friday again, and time for the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop, a brilliant idea conceived by Viklit .  Every Friday we post about the things that have happened that are worth celebrating, however small.  It’s fun, free, and makes  you think – and there are some wonderful bloggers who participate. 

Today I’m kicking back and enjoying the season.

There are all sorts of things about this season that I like:

the end of the ‘blast furnace’ heat that seems to come in July and August.

falling leaves (to really like those, I need to celebrate a willing neighbor child who will rake leaves for me)

And for the rest, some images:

You *are* wearing your slippers and have your (chose 1) cat on your lap, dog at your feet, main squeeze in your arms…

They left out the cognac!

The difference between ‘hot cocoa’ and ‘hot chocolate has been discussed.  I prefer ‘hot chocolate’, but if either is brought by a smiling loved one, then I am happy.  I do, of course, eat the whipped cream (if any) first.  A jigger of cognac helps matters, too…

Ah!  The snowplow is com-  Aaack!  Run!!!  **WHOOSH!**

Ideally, this last is a view out the window.  …although after a nice day of making snow-angels in the snow, watching the dogs romp through the drifts, and seeing that your local municipal snow removal concern has managed to (a) remove the snow without (b) destroying your mail box or (c) blocking your driveway with icebergs that will require dynamite to shift, it is pleasent to bundle up and sit on front step and watch the snow.

…though, for myself, perhaps I will look at this scene out my picture window while toasting my toes by the fire and sipping hot chocolate.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

What are you celebrating?


Friday Celebrations, November 22, 2013

Happy Friday!  Thanks to Vikki at Scribblings of an Aspiring Author, who had the idea, we pause every Friday to think about the small things to celebrate, and share them with others.

I tend to be a sky-watcher.  A beautiful sunset or sunrise will make me stop and stare and fumble for my (phone) camera, which never quite does the trick.  I have a star chart in my bedroom.  It’s the kind of thing that allows you to figure out what constellation is hiding behind the clouds.  You can get an idea of date, time, orientation..  It came in very handy when I had a character who loved to gaze at the stars.

And it is late November, the time of year when one of my favorite constellations goes striding across the sky:


I’m looking forward to stepping outside, frowning at the leaf-less trees (with the piles of leaves that must be raked tomorrow), trusting that my dog has gone nowhere near there, raising my eyes to the northeast sky and counting all the stars.

  Cheers, all – have a wonderful weekend and enjoy your own celebrations!

(And visit the other participants – see below!)

Color-Starved by Winter – ah, Spring!

I love most seasons, though I admit that the seasons that hold February and August sometimes wear my patience a little thin.  Nevertheless, each season has its own beauty, from the splendor of Autumn to the silvery pastels of winter.  Scents, sights, sounds-all combine to fill the passing seasons with their own special pleasures.

My favorite?  Autumn, I think, though it’s near thing.

Spring, though, where you watch breathlessly as the first crocus pushes its way up through the curls of dry oak leaves, comes close.

By springtime I am ready to turn my shoulder on the silvery pastels and clean-washed skies of winter (and the ‘snirt’ – snow with dirt that edges roadways) and seek color and fragrance.

That is when I head to the local greenhouses.   I went this morning.

One place was a riot of Impatiens and begonias, sitting in hanging baskets or pots ready to be put on front doorsteps.  I admit to a weakness for pansies.  A bowl of them is on my front step right now – velvety amethyst and midnight blue petals.

People walked along the rows of plants, looking for purple torenia (I love those) or gazing dreamily at flowering almond shrubs.  I like the flats of ground cover (and delighted I was to discover that periwinkle – Vinca – is now growing in my yard).

Reds always catch my attention – the many colors of red or reddish that you see in geraniums, begonias or red salvia (which I don’t care for).  I did select poppies in coral and tender red to put in an ornamental garden with a stone bench, a wind chime, two stepping stones, black mulch and white river rocks as a border.  (My sister gets credit for the design.)

One of the workers at the greenhouse smiled when she saw that I was purchasing Summersweet, which blooms in July and August and attracts hummingbirds.  “Very wise of you!  People are so tired of winter and they want color, and so they get what’s in bloom and in a month have a boring garden!”

Hm.  I hadn’t thought of it that way.

I bought bunny tail grass (guess what it looks like) and then spent the rest of the time sighing over heliotrope, sniffing roses, dithering over rich wine-colored pansies (did I mention that pansies, violets, violas and Johnny-jump-ups are my favorite?)

I spent some time in Hawaii as a child, among plumerias, birds of paradise and the other lovely flowers.  Back in the mainland US, we were all exclaiming over buttercups, daisies and irises.

The big challenge now is to plant the things.  I don’t know how many flats of geraniums have given up the ghost while I fiddled around doing other things.

Not this time, though!

Enjoy Your Pretty Fire, But…

I have enough Irish in me to allow me to wear a shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t have enough to allow me to enjoy green beer, but I love Celtic designs, and I enjoy the lilt of poetry.  I also have one Irish trait that can be troublesome: I sometimes get the ‘feeling’ that I really, really need to do or say something. Not because anyone I know needs to hear it or have it happen, but… but because I need to say or do it. 
So with this post. 
I was setting the morning’s fire in my wood stove. It heats things very well, and the window gives me the pleasure of watching the fire. Someone described a burning log as being the result of all the sunshine, stored within the wood over years of growth, uncoiling and returning to the air. Pretty thought. However it comes about, it is warming and beautiful.
I scooped out the ashes, set them in their bin, lifted an eyebrow at some glowing embers safely inside the bin – and the thought hit me – You Must Write A Post. And I remembered why. Here is my post, about having a fire. The ‘why’ will be at the bottom of the post.
I have a wood-burning stove inset into my fireplace. I went with this because while I enjoy fires in the winter, it occurred to me that I could cut down fuel bills by burning ‘smart’ fires. So I bought an insert by a company named Regency. I wish my fireplace looked as nice as this, but this is the model:
 It has worked very well, especially last year when we were without power for a week. The platform at the top gets hot enough to boil water or, if you’re patient, heat a frying pan. In fact, when the power came back on last year, I had just put a casserole with chili and hot dogs on to heat. After gasping ‘What on earth?’ and realizing that we did have power again, I shrugged and continued cooking the hot dogs.
That’s my situation with a wood stove. I had an open fireplace before that, with a number of important things. Whether you have a wood stove or an open fireplace, the things I am going to list are very important. This is what you need to have:
Something to screen the fire from the surrounding area. Depending on what you’re burning, bits of flaming material can fly out of the fire and onto your floor with some pretty bad consequences. My wood stove has a glass door. Some have metal doors. That’s good. Just be careful not to come up against them. They can become very hot.
What of an open fireplace? You need a screen.   Here is one I like: It is mesh, so air can circulate. (The insurance industry has things they call ‘friendly fires’ and ‘unfriendly fires’. I have heard a lot of hilarity and annoyance about those terms, but there is a chilling truth to them.
A fire, controlled and burning where it is supposed to be is a thing of beauty, warming and comforting. Put that pile of flame in the middle of your living room carpet and it is a dreadful danger. Screens will help keep your fire ‘friendly’.
 If you look at the photo above, you will see that there is an expanse of what appears to be black stone or tile between the fireplace and the very nice wooden floor. I think a fire inspector in my New England home state would find this one a little too narrow. Wider is better, just make certain it is nob-flammable.  Better still, talk to the Fire Marshal or a reputable store that sells and services wood stoves. 
Fires produce a lot of ashes.  These need to be scooped out regularly.  You will need to have, beside the fireplace a receptacle for the ashes.  You want something that will hold the ashes, as well as any glowing embers you did not happen to notice, and not go up in flames.  Galvanized steel works just fine.  You can get some prettier ones.  Here is a photo of a black ash can and sturdy shovel.  I have the shovel, but a different (uglier) can.  I may get this one.  This is listed on eBay.  Do a search with this:  Wood Stove Ash Bucket & Shovel Set.
Whatever you get, make sure there is a lid that will stay on if, say, your toddler or your dog happens to knock it over.  Ashes on carpet are hard to get out.  Embers are worse.
 I could list tools you need: a lighter (the long-ended ones are good), a poker – get one with a hook, which will allow you to shift logs easily.  A dustpan – of metal – and a brush. 
You also must get your chimney cleaned annually.  
But why am I posting this?
Last year, a house in a historic neighborhood burned down on Christmas morning.  Two grandparents and three young children were killed.  The mother of the children was dragged from the house by her boyfriend.  She survived.  The Fire Marshal completed his investigation and issued his report. 
The cause of the fire?  A stupid mistake.  Never mind who made it.  When the cold fireplace was swept clear of ashes, the person performing the task placed the cold ashes in a plastic bag in one of the rooms of the house.  As I saw this morning, dumping the cold ashes into the steel bin, glowing embers can survive a long time.  Sure enough there was one. I placed the lid on the bin (smothers the ember) and remembered.
If you have a fireplace and are using it and not following my advice, please read this post and take some steps.  At the absolutely very least put in a hearth apron and take your swept-out ashes outside and far from your house.
Do I sound bossy?  It’s the Irish in me.