Greeting cards have all been sent, the Christmas rush is through. But I still have one wish to make, a special one for you. Merry Christmas! (and yes, I borrowed the lyrics from the Carpenters!)
In the spirit of relaxing and relishing this time, I am borrowing heavily from Christmas songs for this post, rather than put in all the work of writing my own prose. Perhaps that is as much a gift to you as it is to me!!!
For me, the Christmas season officially begins the day after Thanksgiving, the first day Spousal Unit will let me play Christmas music. I wasted no time on that, as well as creating pine swags for our fence and near our front door.
Some aspects of Christmas start earlier in the year, such as selecting designs for cross-stitch ornaments for the "kids", and then executing them. I can show these to you now since they have already opened these presents!
Haul out the holly Put up the tree before my spirit falls again
Fill up the stocking I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now
For we need a little Christmas, right this very minute
Candles in the window, carols at the spinet
Yes, we need a little Christmas, right this very minute
Hasn't snowed a single flurry, but Santa dear we're in a hurry
The snow was late in arriving (the ski resort had to delay opening two days, and with limited terrain) but in the last week or so, Mother Nature has been making up for lost time!
My Mother would have turned 93 on December 22, and that was a tough day for me - the first birthday she has not been with us. In her honor, I made Divinity for the first time in my life. It was one of her favorite treats to make at Christmas.
Winter sports help me outweigh eating my way through the holidays! At the encouragement of my Dear Neighbor Friend, I am now the proud owner of a set of cross-country skis. Swishing my way through the woods and meadows near our house is just about as Currier and Ives as you're going to get!
Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"
A week ago, the moon rose over the hillside opposite our house, and we were in awe. It wasn't the Star, but I could easily imagine how the Three Kings might have felt upon observing it as I gazed at that shimmering orb.
O star of wonder, star of light, star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light.
Have you enjoyed the posts about our trip to the UK in October/November? Good, 'cause there's more!
Along with my in-laws, we drove south to Keighley, with an initial destination of East Riddlesden Hall. Nestled against a duck pond, it is a picturesque 17th-century mansion built on the foundations of an earlier medieval hall house. The main part of the medieval house was rebuilt around 1630, with further remodeling in 1648 and again in 1692 when a new wing, now ruined, was added to the earlier structure.
We have toured scores of historic homes while living in and visiting the UK, and yet we still learn fascinating facts (and maybe a few fictions, too). East Riddlesden was staffed by knowledgeable docents, and in one of the rooms, the volunteer pointed out the plasterwork on the ceiling. She went on to tell us that "back in the day", plasterers used stale beer (the main form of beverage as water was unsanitary) to "stick" plaster artwork to ceilings. A workman who imbibed his own product might have been tipsy, hence the use of the word "plastered" to describe a person who is inebriated. I LOVE that!
Interesting features of the house include well-restored living accommodations on two floors, two Yorkshire Rose windows, a walled garden, and the ruined Starkie wing. (Edmund Starkie built a large extension to the Hall in 1692. The architecture is more Classical than the older part of the Hall. Unfortunately, most of the wing had become dangerous and was demolished in the early 20th century, leaving only the north facade.)
In one of the bedrooms, I spotted this bedspread and was immediately intrigued. I discovered Spanish Blackwork! The story goes that Catherine of Aragon and her maids brought the art of Blackwork to England when she married Henry VIII. In the same room, they had scaled-up examples of Blackwork. As you can see in the mosaics below, the patterns are worked just like cross-stitch, with a variety of stitches and back-stitches.
I was delighted to discover that the gift shop had a book on the subject. Upon reading it, I have learned that Blackwork typically involves people creating their own designs - different stitches and thread thickness can result in some elaborate creations - that will be a new adventure for me!
East Riddlesden was used as a filming location for the 1992 film Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. It's not hard to see why.
Walking the public footpaths of the UK has to be one of my favorite activities on Earth. Idyllic topography. The flora and fauna. An occasional pub for an adult beverage. Dry stone walls. It brings back memories of the first walks with my husband-to-be, when we discovered a shared passion for hiking and the outdoors. Be still, my heart!
So, of course, on our recent visit to the UK in October/November, we managed to squeeze in one walk for just the two of us, somehow sandwiched in between the rampant rain!
We began in Middleton-on-Teesdale, so named for its prime location in the valley where the River Tees snakes its way among banks lined with trees.
Barns and dry stone walls, withstanding wind, rain and decomposing moss, are ubiquitous.
Not too far into our walk, I erupted in laughter when I saw this sign.
Style (noun): a distinctive appearance
Stile (noun): an arrangement of steps that allows people but not animals to climb over a fence or wall
Below, Spousal Unit is standing on a stile with style. (Enlarge if you don't believe me! LOL!)
Along the path (can you see it in the picture below, hugging the left side of the wall?) our passing disturbed groups of pheasants, both male and female. Did you know? A brace of pheasants is a pair. A brood is a family group. A group of pheasants may be known as a flock or a bouquet. A large group is a nye or nide.
I don't think I have seen as many pheasants on one outing as we saw at various points on this day. We were also blessed to glimpse not one but two weasels within an hour of each other. Each one scampered into a hole below a stone wall, and how I longed to linger and see if it emerged!
At times, the footpath followed the banks of the river with military precision. Then, it would climb the foothills, offering spectacular vistas of the river and fields beyond.
Several tributaries flowed down the hill and into the river. We were thankful for this bridge to cross one of the larger ones. Near here, we had to jump across a swollen creek!
The video below shows the high water level of the river itself.
As we approached our turnaround point, a rock escarpment known as the Holwick Scars jutted up into the gathering clouds. How would you like to have this in your back yard?
Suddenly, we came upon an area bedecked with Fly Agaric, a beautiful and photogenic mushroom, despite its toxicity. Maybe they are always in this area, or maybe it was a function of the extra rainfall. Never mind the reason - I was entranced!
Have you ever noticed that, once you see something, your eye is attuned to it and in a flash, you see more of it everywhere? Check out these other mushrooms.
At this point, we entered Moor House - Upper Teesdale National Nature Preserve. One of the largest in England, the Preserve covers some 88 square kilometers of special upland habitats. It is Britain's leading site for research into the effects of a changing climate on the natural environment.
The reserve is famous for its unique Arctic-Alpine plants which have survived here since the last Ice Age and are today conserved by traditional farming and moorland management.
Our turning point was Low Force, a waterfall that tumbles over the Whin Sill, a layer of hard rock called dolerite, known locally as whinstone. The Whin Sill formed 295 million years ago, when molten rock rose up from within the Earth and spread out between layers of limestone, sandstone and shale. The molten rock cooled and hardened underground to form a vast sheet of rock known as a "sill". Millions of years of erosion have exposed the Whin Sill at the surface here at Low Force. (The Holwick Scars are also part of the Whin Sill.)
The still photo does not do the waterfall justice - check out the two videos!
On the way back, we sped up a little, in light of the heavy clouds overhead. Good thing, too, or we might have been out in the heavy downpour for longer! Just before the heavens opened, I managed a final shot of Holwick Scars - even more majestic from this vantage point!
God works in mysterious ways; far be it from me to question His wisdom at any time. So, when I went to Ohio this week to visit my brother in the hospital, I was focused on silver linings. An opportunity to be helpful. A chance to invest some time with his wife and son. An opening to build on all three relationships. (And aside from that, precious evening hours with my sister, a nephew visiting from Chicago, #1 Daughter and the Fiancé. A completely serendipitous occasion to visit my parents' gravesites, a mere mile from the hospital.)
Sitting here now, in Denver, more than mid-way through my return journey, my heart is heavy. My brother has been moved from the hospital to a rehabilitation facility, and the road ahead will be arduous.
Life is not simple, or predictable. At any moment, life can turn upside down. I can't take any pleasure in the fact that it's someone else who is in the hospital, but I can count my blessings every day. I can go out of my way to be kind to people, to look them in the eye and consider what they might be going through right then. Look after my own health, and do what I can to make sure those around me do the same. Show the people I love how much they mean to me. Be thankful for where I was born, and pray for healing in our country and around the world. Notice the trees and the sunrise, and work to preserve the planet for future generations. Be a good neighbor, in the physical and the metaphorical sense. What are the blessings you are overlooking?
Visiting gardens is a favorite activity when we travel to the UK, and our recent trip was no exception. Often, the gardens are a feature of a historic home we are touring, but in this case, Royal Horticulture Society Garden Harlow Carr is a destination in its own right. The Garden has grown to 58 acres; originally, the Society leased 26 acres of mixed woodland, pasture and arable land at Harlow Hill from Harrogate Corporation, and opened the Harlow Carr Botanical Gardens in 1950.
The gardens stand on what was once part of the Forest of Knaresborough, an ancient Royal hunting ground. Springs of sulphur water were discovered here in 1734 but development of the site as a spa did not take place for more than 100 years.
In 1840, Henry Wright, the owner of the estate, cleaned out and protected one of the wells and four years later built a hotel and bath house. The hotel known as the Harrogate Arms and the land surrounding it was acquired by the RHS in 2014. The wellheads in front of the bath house (at one time six wells were in use) were capped off but remain beneath the present Limestone Rock Garden. The guide to garden noted that at certain times the smell of sulphur in this area is quite distinct, although it was not on the day of our visit.
Sitting in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, Royal Horticulture Society Garden Harlow Carr offers a variety of growing landscapes, from running and still water, to woodland and wildflower meadows. Highlights include the lavish Main Borders, bursting with generous prairie-style planting, and the lush, moisture-loving plants around Streamside.
The Four Seasons, an extraordinary collection of busts inspired by the seasons and created by contemporary American artist and filmmaker Philip Haas, were on display throughout the grounds. Somehow, I missed one of them!
One building housed only alpine plants, and I was fascinated to see many of the families of plants that populate Montana mountains.
Although much of the garden was past its prime during our visit in early November, we still encountered plenty to enjoy.