Harbinger of Spring

As long as we kept a fresh supply of sunflower and thistle seeds, we saw one or two brave olive-colored American goldfinches visiting the feeder over the winter. Our winter finches have recently been joined by a larger number of goldfinches just returning to the area and, wow, they are a breath of sunshine in their fresh new yellow feathers, a sure sign of spring.

The males undergo a complete molt of body feathers in the spring, transforming from drab olive green to bright yellow, their breeding plumage. Our friend below still has patches of drab feathers in spots but by May, he should be fully transformed into a striking bright yellow bird. Breeding begins in June when thistle begins to mature in the fields.

Welcome back, good-looking!

American Goldfinch

Abundant Sunshine

“Abundant sunshine” is the Yahoo Weather forecast for today. It is 39° this morning but temperatures will rise to an enjoyable 51° by noon before dropping back to 30° tonight. Forecast calls a welcome warming trend with temperatures pushing into the high 60s on one day early next week. There should not be a flake of snow left on the ground then.

Although we see wonderful signs of spring around the neighborhood like my friend’s crocus below, our home lingers in the shade of tall pines.

Crocus

Crocus blooming in the neighborhood

Where there is deep shade, there is snow. Yesterday I took matters into my own hands and helped some of my newly planted treasures see daylight for the first time in many months. I had no idea what I’d find under the crush of snow and ice but I knew there had to be damage. Plants will live but, darn that snow!

This southern gardener is learning about New England winters. Next fall, the holly below will be tied or wrapped in burlap to protect the shape of the upright growth.

Beneath the snowbank (below), I was most worried about three tiny boxwood I found nearby at Rolling Green Nursery. I fell hard for these dwarf Korean boxwood (Buxus sinica var. insularis ‘Tide Hill’) that were described as ‘rugged.’ The weight of snow from the roof and from driveway and sidewalk clearing was severe in this border. I tried shoveling it off early in the season, but eventually I had to give up trying to minimize or prevent damage to stems. The snow came too fast and too often.

snow

Tide Mill BoxwoodOnce I located all three shrubs, of course I found crushing damage to the top of shrubs…which is sad as these plants only grow about a foot in height.

Thankfully, when handed lemons, my philosophy is to make the sweetest lemonade on the block. Box can be propagated! I carefully removed the stems that were broken, removed the bottom leaves, dipped the stems in a hormone solution, and I’m growing them in a potting mix. Instead of three dwarf boxwood, I should end up with 8 or 9 babies in about 8 weeks. Who knows? My new landscape plan is to have a full border of these most attractive dwarf boxwood.

Tide Hill

 

Strut Your Stuff

From our second floor bedroom at 6 a.m. each morning, we carefully pull back the drapes to witness a crowd hanging out beneath our window. A flock of about 15 eastern wild turkeys (Meleagris gallapavo sylvestris) appear at dawn from the nearby woods and gather beneath crab apple and oak trees where retreating snow has uncovered fruit and nuts. The hens get right down to breakfast but the males aren’t at all interested in food. They’re trying to look their best to make themselves more attractive to the females. Yes, we’re right in the middle of mating season.

Tom TurkeyFrom late March through April, the mating season for turkeys takes place. Tail feathers fanned, iridescent feathers puffed out around the body, head flushed with color, the toms slowly strut in a courtship display dragging their wing tips along the ground around the seemingly disinterested, hungry females.

Toms and hensSo far these wild male turkeys seem to tolerate one another very well but aggression could mount between the toms in competition for hens. The males have spurs, bony spikes up to 2″ in length, that they use for defense and to establish dominance. We’ve seen none of that so far.

Adult male turkey

The tail feathers of an adult male turkey are all the same length. The two juvenile ‘jakes’ below display a fan with longer feathers in the center. Both practiced their struts and puffing but probably won’t attract a mate this season.

young male with dominate maleWe watch the turkey show for about 15 minutes or so, then at some invisible sign the entire flock turns and silently disappears back to the cover of the trees.

We all know the turkey population has rebounded from near extinction from over hunting and loss of habitat. In the mid-1800′s, New Hampshire had no turkeys at all. A small number was reintroduced to the state in 1975 and the birds have thrived. Current numbers of wild turkeys in New Hampshire are estimated at 40,000 and total estimate puts the turkey at 7 million birds nationwide. We’re just happy to have our little flock that we’ve watched mature from last summer return regularly to entertain us at our house.

March Sprouts

I don’t usually keep plants inside in winter. It’s too hot and dry indoors and I end up watching plants wither and drop leaves all winter. Plants are so much healthier and happier with outdoor sunshine and fresh air and moisture.

That said, I did venture outside late last fall to rescue one tender succulent from winter’s icy grip. All winter, I’ve moved it from sunny window to sunny window.  In a few weeks, it will be returned to the outdoors to be better cared for by Mother Nature. The succulent was a low maintenance venture for me.

succulentAlas, three weeks ago, a high maintenance and potentially huge indoor plant took control of me. The need to touch soil or plant a seed overcame logic because, by this time in Virginia my outdoor gardening has already begun…here, we can barely see the ground for snow. I now I have a new plant that may not make it to the great outdoors. Odds are against it.

After finishing off a cantaloupe one cold morning, I found one lone seed that escaped cleanup. Without much thought, I picked it up and pressed it into the soil next to the healthy succulent and thought no more about it… until three days later when I noticed a tiny green tip of a sprout on the surface of the soil. I watched for the next few days as the embryonic leaf, the cotyledon, emerged from the soil and opened as the first photosynthesis for the plant.

cotyledonOne by one, the vine began to send out hairy shoots and tiny buds. I was totally mesmerized by the miniature plant. We’ve grown melons in the garden before but this time it seems more like a scientific lab experiment on the windowsill. I have a magnifying glass and I am noticing details I’ve never noticed before.

leavesThose who grow cantaloupe know the leaves are fuzzy but I never noticed just how hairy the entire plant is. If by some miracle I keep the plant alive until the end of May after the last danger of frost, I hope to take my cantaloupe outdoors, replant it using a trellis with support for the trailing vines as it matures. We saw how the University of New Hampshire vertically grows sprawling melons several feet high on trellises in their greenhouses. The fruit is supported in small hammocks. Can I do that? My instincts tell me it’s too early to start indoor seedling in New Hampshire but I can hope.

At junctures, small leaves and vines are unfurling in a fuzzy mass. Click on photos to see more details.

leavesAs the leaves on my tiny plant mature, they are becoming more oval or heart shaped with edges that are wavy or uneven. They are very tender and fragile so I’m trying to be careful when I turn the plant in the sun.

cantaloupe leaves

hairy leaves

I have no idea of the variety of my little plant. I am hoping I’m lucky enough to have a quick growing, early maturing variety for our short New England summers. If it lives for the next several weeks, I’ll post on the progress.

 

Buried in Snow

During our first summer in Exeter last year, we saw several unusual mailboxes as we took walks along a rural road. We chuckled as we saw one after another of these swinging mailboxes along the route. We believed that folks were expressing their individuality and creativity. But oh no. We totally understand now. The massive snowbanks are receding along these roadways and today, the first day of spring, we were able to venture out for a walk. Seeing these swinging mailboxes in the receding snow made us realize what these homeowners have created: an indestructible mailbox system.

Swinging Mailboxswinging mailboxswinging mailboxMost mailboxes are damaged by the force of flying snow and ice from the snowplow rather than being flattened by the dreaded plow. These swinging mailboxes move with the snow, then fall back into place. Brilliant!

Their neighbor below had a different solution. He placed the mailbox pole in a large container… probably filled with heavy rocks. Once the snow melted enough, he planned to simply right the container.  But wait… I see he’ll need a new mailbox. The door must be under the snow somewhere.

calusity of snow warsA sad but common sight around these parts…

Greenhouse Yard Sale

When a local nursery publicized a yard sale this weekend in our 38° weather, my curiosity was piqued. So, yes, I attended a yard sale in a greenhouse yesterday. The sale was not mobbed but the customers who arrived early, like the lady below, were staking out their claims and having fun doing it.

Happy ShopperWhat did they offer for sale? Not plants like I hoped. Phooey. But there were some interesting leftovers from holidays, surplus stock, and slightly damaged garden items from last season that made it fun to poke around.

Click to enlarge

I didn’t go away with much. But I did purchase some new slip-on garden clogs, a precious little porcelain bird bud vase from Two’s Company, some garden soap, and two attractive cache pots. The pots look like they came right out of an Italian countryside and they were reduced to $2 apiece! They had about 6 or 8 left. I bought two and we went home for lunch. As we ate our noon meal, my thoughts drifted back to the attractive cache pots. Why’d I only get two? I need an odd number. Matter of fact, I want several more. I could keep my three and use the rest planted with small flowering plants as fabulous gifts.

mister gardener offered to dash back and buy at least 5 for me.  Ten minutes later he reappeared in the doorway… empty-handed. “They were gone. All of them. Sold out.”  Sad faced, I could only hear the words of my dear departed mother, the official World’s Greatest Consumer, whose shopping philosophy she oft quoted and lived by, “He who hesitates is lost.” This time she was right.

cache pots

Winter Walk-Off 2014

I enjoy following Les over at A Tidewater Gardener. His garden and adventures are much appreciated links to my home state, Virginia. For the last few years, he’s challenged readers to a winter walk-off and it’s been fun to participate…. although winter is tougher in New Hampshire for a walk-off. I fully understand why the Eskimos have 50 different words for snow.

A very common scene around here as folks shovel out their mailboxes.

A very common scene around here as folks shovel out their mailboxes following the snowplows.

I’ve been a little hesitant to walk in the snow after a series of falls that my sisters have suffered. Misfortune began on cobblestones in Paris when a sister slipped to her knees right in front of me. Result: a hairline fracture just below the knee. A second sister fell in England, breaking her arm. She was just recovering from surgery when my sister-in-law fell in her home, breaking her arm. The last victim was my youngest sister who fell while hiking in Maui a week ago, breaking both arms! Yes, she is sporting two casts. Now they say it’s my turn for a tumble. It ain’t gonna happen, girls!  When temperatures hit a mild 49° yesterday, it was a good day for a very basic winter walk-off.

We first passed a marsh of Phragmites australis that is rampant in New Hampshire’s seacoast area as it is in low-lying areas almost everywhere. It’s an invasive monoculture replacing cattails, but not entirely all bad according to Dr. Carl Hershner of Virginia Institute of Marine Science. I heard him state in a lecture that it can prevent shoreline erosion and create stability with a mass of roots that can go 6′ deep. It is attractive and full of birds on this day, but I’d rather see a marsh of cattails.

phragmitesTraveling on, we decided to drop in on our friend, John, a master carpenter who was hard at work in his workshop.

JohnJohn and his father built his two workshops beginning in 1955, working on them when time and funds were available, finishing it all in 1957. We could sit forever with John in his toasty workshop soaking in information and history of the area and just watching the master at his work. The atmosphere in the workshop takes you back in time, a better time, and I hope he never changes one thing inside.

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dogsWe continued along our slushy pathway passing only two people and 3 dogs along the way. As we trod along, we noticed a few interesting winter flora and we stayed on the lookout for signs of spring. The following is a sampling of what we saw:

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Did you know that the U.S. Forest service recognizes this tree as the most common variety of tree in America? This lovely tree with red twigs, buds, flowers and fall foliage is one of the first plants to flower in the spring.

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Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)

sumacBuds are quite small on hairy twigs that will soon grow into a small tree or upright shrub and expand into a colony along this trail. In the fall we are awed by the rich reds and scarlets of the leaves of this woody perennial.

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Red-twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

red-twig dogwoodRed Osier Dogwood spreads by suckering, forming dense thickets and gives us amazing bright red stems in winter.

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Milkweed Pods

milkweekSeeds are spent from the pods of the common milkweed (Asclepius syriaca). Some folks collect these pods for craft projects.

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New England Aster

asterThese New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) have already offered their seeds up to birds. We hope to see new growth soon.

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Queen Anne’s Lace

queen anne's laceDried seed heads of Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) decorated the edge of the paths.

After about a 3-mile walk-off, we returned home… soaking wet socks but invigorated by the outing. And, guess what… no one fell down!

Spring Tease at the Winter Farmers’ Market

Spring officially arrives in a matter of days but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. With snow still piled high outside our door, we sought refuge at the Wentworth Greenhouses Farmers’ Market where local farmers have been toiling straight through the harshness of winter to bring their wares to market. We were thankful for a rare sunny day that warmed the greenhouses and brought us all out of hibernation.

Wentworth NurseryThere is something special about meeting the farmers and bakers and venders (and often their families) to say thank-you for bringing us the freshest of local wares. We usually visit vegetable stands first and stock up.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Baked goods were too delicious to pass up and on the way to being sold out. The breads from Sunnyfield Bakery were a hit and, yes, we took home our share.

From soap to wool to rugs, beer and preserves, to cheeses and meats, the variety and quality of merchandise is always marvelous!

And, as usual, we shopped to toe tapping entertainment. Sandra Koski

Romancing the Maple Tree

As springtime approaches each year with cold nights and warm days, it is sugaring time around here. Maple trees are being tapped now and when temperatures are just right, the sap flows.

The nights are cold, the days are … supposed to be warm (over 40 degrees) to get the sap flowing but it’s been too cold for that
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/gardening/A-madeleine-moment-with-maple-syrup.html#BE0D68qEbEbWV5ig.99

sugar houseThe maple sugar operation in New Hampshire is celebrated on Maple Weekend every March by throwing opening the doors of participating sugarhouses across the state and inviting in the public. Some serve pancakes or waffles with maple syrup or they may offer hay rides, but with a grandbaby in tow, we decided to visit the one closest to our home.  Willow Creek Sugarhouse in East Kingston is about a 20 minute drive from us and sounded perfect.

This being our first exposure to sugaring, we were there to observe the maple syrup operation and to learn all we could. Brad Rice and his family own and live on the property at Willow Creek Sugarhouse. The business of sugaring looked like a family affair. We were able to see the pipelines snaking through the woods to large holding tanks, watch the sap dripping in buckets, stand around the wood fired boiling listening to Brad explain the business of sugaring. We introduced our grandson to chickens and chicks, and left with Willow Creek honey, maple covered nuts, maple pancake mix, maple sugar candy. What a way to spend a morning!

Last month we learned that Willow Creek Sugarhouse won second place overall in the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association’s Carlisle Award.  Boy, do we know how to pick them! This year Maple Weekend dates are March 22-23 and we’ll be there!

Some of our memories of 2013 Maple Weekend at Willow Creek Sugarhouse. Click to enlarge.

      Here is a video of Brad explaining the process of tapping a red maple:

New Hampshire Bobhouses

According to the NOAA, we have about 20″ of snow on the ground. The tally came after about 7 or 8″ of fresh snow yesterday. It’s snowing again now with an inch or two more expected tonight. We don’t go out in it much. We stand at the window and watch it fall in awe and disbelief.

A warmup is in the forecast. We’re jumping to 48 degrees on Friday. Where will all the melt end up? That’s a worry for all who have basements…us included.

After shoveling a pathway (not me but mister gardener!) to feed our our avian friends, we decided to drive down to the river and see how the bobhouses fared in the snowstorm.

pathway in the snowWe’re just learning about bobhouses. It’s certainly a huge New Hampshire tradition, perhaps a bigger thing on Lake Winnipesaukee than on our local rivers, but we do have a number of bobhouses where diehard ice fishermen have some protection from the elements.

In other states, I’ve heard the huts called by names like ice shanty, ice house, or ice shack but here they call these portable buildings ‘bobhouses’ and no one really knows why. Theories are that fish ‘bob’ on the line, that the houses ‘bob’ in the water if not removed before the ice is thin, but I like the theory that the verb ‘to bob’ means to cut short, such as in a hair style or in bobsled with short runners. And, indeed, these shanties are small structures, some bought, many handmade, painted, plywood, metal… very individualized and colorful.

I would think most bobhouses are pretty basic, however some bobhouses may have a woodstove for warmth, a camping potty or a generator and a t.v. We were hoping to see some activity on the ice today but our bobhouses looked vaccant after about 8 inches of snow last night.

Click photos to enlarge.

Faux Spring in Wintry Weather

During the winter season in Virginia, I engaged in a craft project or two to help ease the pain of not getting outdoors enough. I’m tackling a few more indoor activities now because of the longer winters in New Hampshire.

To bring springtime indoors, one familiar craft I’m enjoying again is faux flower bulbs in faux water. I love finding daffodis and muscari with the bulbs and roots attached. But a simple cut daffodil stem looks nice, too. Craft stores carry faux everything from faux dirt to faux moss to make projects fun. I don’t think these florals look exactly like live plants, however I loved it when a visitor once said, “The water looks low in that container. You’d better add a little more water or the plant will dry up.”

BulbsI like the look of pebbles beneath the bulb with roots and perhaps a little faux dirt still attached here and there.

I search for bulbs that are on sale. These 11″ muscari plants were under $2 each.

A small bag of pebbles should cost under a dollar.

pebblesI position the plant atop the pebbles and add a couple of strips of tape to hold the bulb steady.

There are different faux water products, some are ready-mixed and some you must combine before using. Follow directions exactly. Pour around rocks carefully and be on guard to prevent any spillage on the side of the container or anywhere! Old newspapers beneath the project help.

Acrylic Water KitIn about a day, maybe two, you’ll have your own faux touch of spring for your windowsill.

faux water

Let it snow, let it snow!

People tell me they can sense subtle signs of spring. My Kentucky daughter tells me that, although they’ve had a very severe winter in Louisville with temperatures that mirror ours, there are signs “spring is right around the corner.” She senses more light during the day, her garden seeds are bought, and her fingers are tingling to get in the soil. Closer to home, Keene, NH blogger at New Hampshire Garden Solutions posted photos of skunk cabbage emerging through the ice and snow, something I didn’t expect to happen for a couple of weeks. The signs are here but I honestly cannot feel spring at all.

Our arctic freeze may tease us with a partial thaw yet refuses to lessen its grip. Snow drifts are waist deep around the house and 10 times that deep at the edge of parking lots…. with more snow in our forecast for this week. We have spent the last couple of weeks trying our best to thoroughly winterize this home. We have sealed the house, added a couple of more feet of insulation in the attic, and cleared the skylights of ice and sealed sealed them well. No, I just can’t feel spring yet.

Jack Frost on skylightAlthough I know nature is preparing for spring, an activity we attended last weekend seemed to confirm winter’s grip. On Saturday, we traveled to Keene NH to visit family and were entertained at the 12th annual Ice and Snow Festival. We could partake of hot cocoa and cotton candy while strolling the streets of downtown Keene watching the ice sculpting artists at work. That’s not all. We could have fun making s’mores over a bonfire, join in the snowball throwing, watch snow sculpting artists at work, jump on a horse drawn wagon, and meet the official Ice Princess!

Click to enlarge:

Spring is certainly on the way in New England, but winter weather is still being celebrated in carnivals and festivals across the state. Hundreds of New England folks bundle up on weekends and enjoy ice skating contests, ice fishing derbies, snow golf, sled dog racing, and horse drawn carriage rides. As a southern transplant, it’s all new to me and I’m having a ball….

Blue Snow…

Frigid temperatures have plunged us back in an unwelcome deep freeze this week. Snow on the ground is frozen solid like a glacier, dangerous to walk on. Oh, but last week we were able to enjoy a perfect snow (in my opinion), a nice wet snowman building snow that created a flocked winter wonderland. No matter how tired we are of the white stuff, the view was breathtaking.

Gray clouds that seemed to spread a bluish cast over the snow. That blue cast was actually due to the density and heaviness of the wet snow. Snow is colorless. Dry, fluffy snow contains more air bubbles to reflect light out, thus looking more white.  The heavy, wet snows absorb more red light and the more red that is absorbed, the bluer the the snow. Image Image Walking through the neighborhood was like walking through a movie set where every branch, auto, and blade of grass has been sprayed with faux snow. Image Image Image Image Image And we weren’t the only ones out and about. We passed a steady stream of walkers, runners, and canines out for a slushy snow excursion.

walkers

Nationale Tulpanday 2014

Every now and then, a request is made to use one of my photographs and I gladly comply…especially if they’re nice enough to credit me. Yesterday a digital lifetime magazine, ScoutieGirl, used one of my photos from a trip to the Netherlands a couple of years ago. From her article I learned something new: last weekend was National Tulip Day celebrated in Amsterdam, the official kickoff of tulip season that lasts from January until the end of April.

Organized by growers, about 200,000 tulips are displayed in Dam Square in Amsterdam where visitors can browse the blooms and pick a free bouquet for their home. Last year, there were about 10,000 folks who happily tiptoed through the tulips picking their favorite colors.

A youtube video of the 2013 Nationale Tulpenday gives us a peek into the joyful event.

We were lucky enough to accompany Virginia bulb growers, Brent and Becky Heath, for a once in a lifetime adventure through public and private gardens and behind the scenes look at the operation and fields of several growers who are associated with the Heath’s business. Here are a sampling of my photos that give me a little hope that spring will eventually come to this frozen New Hampshire landscape.

Click on any photograph to enlarge.

A Perfect Winter Salad

Since mister gardener is of German heritage and does almost all the cooking in this house, he routinely prepares meals with cabbage… just like he had growing up. The only time I ate cabbage growing up was a bit of coleslaw on pork barbeque sandwiches. It took me a while, but I’ve learned to like and appreciate the numerous ways it is presented at dinner. Besides, cabbage is good for you!

Last night’s Winter Salad, a salad that may be familiar to many, was terrific. This sweet and tangy salad that he adapted from a recipe his mother served, had the flavor of my favorite Waldorf Salad.

Winter SaladApple-Cabbage Winter Salad

3 cups finely shredded green cabbage
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup raisins, plumped with hot water, then drained
1 large Gala or Fuji apple, cored and chopped
1/2 cup of toasted sliced almonds

Dressing:
1/2 cup Hellmann’s Light Mayonnaise
1/4 cup white sugar
2-3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
pinch of sea salt

Combine the shredded cabbage, apples, onions, and raisins. Whisk the dressing until sugar dissolves and pour over the salad mixture. Toss and serve on a bed of spring greens. Top with the toasted sliced almonds.

Freeze, Thaw, Snow, Rain, Fog, Sun, Wind

They say you should move to New Hampshire if you want to see all four seasons on the same day. I laughed when I heard this, but no more. This weekend brought a heat wave early in the day (55°), followed by the heavens opening with a deluge of rain, then thick fog billowing from the cold snow, twisting and blowing across the landscape like smoke. Snow began to disappear and chunks of frozen icebergs slid from rooftops… large enough to do great damage to any unfortunates who could have been beneath. Surprise! We awoke the next morning to sunshine and blue skies and less snow.

We had to get outdoors! For our walk today, we chose the riverside path along the Squamscott River, a tidal river that empties into Great Bay, then the Piscataqua River, an inlet of the Atlantic. After the thaw and rain, what better time to check the ice on the river and just have an adventure after being snowbound and iced-in.

Seagulls were hanging out everywhere on the ice. I’ve always liked these birds. Yes, they can be pests but they are entertaining and simply do what they have to do to survive…. just like every living thing.

Squamscott RiverBrrrr… Stopping to observe the 50 or 60 birds dozing on the ice made my feet feel cold.

seagullsAlong the edge of the river, the high temperatures, rain, and tidal action had done the job on the ice along both sides of the waterway. There will be no ice fishing on this river for awhile.

IMG_7614We weren’t ready to go home after this short jaunt and decided to follow the river by car for a few miles to the tiny town of Newfields, a quaint village that we’d only driven through previously. You couldn’t miss the country store in the middle of town and I hoped they were open on this Sunday…. and they were!

IMG_7704We were greeted by faded Christmas greens and a delightful Christmas pig sitting on an Adirondack chair made from recycled skiis.

Christmas PigStepping inside was like stepping back in time, a virtual museum of yesteryear. I had immediate flashbacks to our small country store in the Ware Neck area of Gloucester where I spent summers growing up and eventually bought a home as an adult. That country store, Nuttall’s, has not changed much in all those years… still the same grocery store/restaurant/post office… that now has wireless!

The aromas hit us as soon as we entered the Newfields store. Freshly made soup was hot off the stove and the sandwich menu was immense. We each decided then and there to sit down and have a little lunch.

Newfields Country Storepotato soup at Newfieldsmister gardener enjoyed a fabulous just-made potato chowder and I enjoyed my choice of curried chicken vegetable soup. A half sandwich for each of us completed our lunch.

While we waited for our sandwiches, we poked around this slice of Americana. There was a miniature bakery in the back that produced inviting homemade breads and desserts. We browsed the shelves of candies, snacks and the well-stocked with drinks including wines, beer, ale and other spirits. Click for larger photos.

A bit of Yankee ingenuity seems to greet us wherever we go around these parts. So many talented folks offer their crafts for sale and this store was no exception.

On our way out, we made sure we added our bottle caps to the bucket!

IMG_7658

First Blizzard of 2014

Portsmouth NHA blizzard is on the way for New Hampshire tonight. I always check the live webcam in Portsmouth NH to see updated conditions in the area. It’s a beautiful sight right now with traffic and street lights. Click on the photo to enlarge it and get the full appreciation of a snowy city with motorists hurrying home for the night.

The camera snaps a photo every couple of minutes on Market Square. This scene was captured at 4:30 p.m., just minutes ago.

We are snug and warm and staying home overnight. Tomorrow we are supposed to be keeping our daughter’s pooch as she and her family are scheduled to fly to Michigan to visit her in-laws. Somehow I don’t think that will happen…

Ice Storm

During the sleet and freezing rain this morning we could see the shadow of a bird hunkered down in the bird feeder that, like everything else outdoors, was decorated with glistening icicles. It couldn’t have been a pleasant morning for anyone but we were curious to know who seemed to find permanent refuge in the feeder.

ice on feederSoon, up popped a head. It was an American Goldfinch. He was hunkered down eating and staying dry in the shelter of the feeder.

finchWhen he saw me at the window with my camera, he hopped to the side. But he didn’t leave. Soon the lure of food and shelter outweighed the fear of me watching him and he returned to his safe harbor snug in the sunflower seeds.

goldfinchThe American Goldfinch can remain in New Hampshire for the winter if there is a food supply. Not to worry, little fella. You came to the right yard.

Buckeye Bars

It’s been eons since I’ve whipped together this sweet for my children. Just hearing my daughter talk about making it for her children gave me a hankering for this super chocolate-peanut butter treat. It’s such an easy recipe with just 5 ingredients and no cooking! Is there anything better than the blend of peanut butter and chocolate?

Buckeye Bars

1 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups peanut butter (creamy or crunchy) + 3 tablespoons
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Melt butter by microwave and add to graham cracker crumbs and powdered sugar. Stir until smooth.

Buckeye BarsAdd peanut butter (I love crunchy!) and mix well.

Buckeye BarsPress evenly into a 9 x 13 casserole dish. (Optional: Line the pan with parchment paper for ease of removal) Melt chocolate chips and 3 tablespoons of peanut butter in the microwave. Stir until smooth.  Pour over peanut butter in casserole, covering all of the peanut butter mixture. Refrigerate for an hour. Cut into small squares. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Take out 10 minutes before serving.

Buckeye Bars

I don’t mind winter but I hate ICE

I don’t mind winter. I don’t mind cold weather. I rather like snow. I don’t mind doing a little shoveling of the white stuff. Cold winds don’t bother me.  But I simply hate ice. I’m terrified of driving on it, walking on it, and hate scraping it off sidewalks and windshields. The Northeast has had a lot of snow followed by fast thawing, then freezing sleet and rain with more of it expected overnight tonight.  Even my cute little deck snowman has shrunk into a solid block of ice.IMG_7490We didn’t see icicles when we moved in March of last year but the ice stalactites we now see around Exeter, including our house, could be a scene from Virginia’s Luray Caverns. Take a look at the similarity of structures…

English: An image of the Drapery or Flowstone in Luray Caverns known as "Saracen's Tent". (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wikipedia: Luray Cavern stalactites

icicle stalactites

Our icicle stalactites

When you have a freezing and thawing and freezing pattern, you can easily develop ice dams. This is all new to me but evidently our home inspector was wrong when he said our attic insulation was just fine and dandy. We developed ice dams that trapped water melted by escaping attic heat. Ice dams can destroy gutters and force water into a home. When we saw a drip inside, we knew we had to take action. We have now contracted to have the attic insulated much MUCH better but we found a trick from This Old Home that temporarily saved us.

We filled a stocking with a calcium chloride de-icer and laid it over the ice dam. It melted a channel to the gutter to help water to flow. We also sprinkled it on the ice along the gutter. It worked like a charm! All clear now and we know a lot more about New England ICE.

“Neither Snow nor Rain…”

Roads have been cleared enough for us to take a peek at our community and see how these folks are coping with the snow.

IMG_7347This was a common sight along our drive. We saw many homeowners who were excavating by hand, however two out of three vehicles we passed were trucks with snow plows. It’s a huge business here.

shoveling snow in ExeterSome people can’t wait for freezing weather. This family floods their front yard annually for a little ice hockey at home. As long as the weather holds, this rink is full of kids. In the warmer months, it reverts back to healthy green grass. How does that happen?

IceNeither the frigid temperatures nor the snow has had much effect on hardy New England shoppers… although it’s all single-file on the sidewalks. IMG_7356

The most unusual sight we witnessed was St. Nick heading toward his sleigh…err… car in a parking lot. Heads turned but we saw no one chasing Santa down to hand over a last minute wish list.photo 2We do admire these New England residents and their adoption of the unofficial US Post Office motto. As for us, we are back in the warmth of home, fire in the fireplace, Christmas carols in the background, a good book to carry us through the afternoon.

There’s just something about snow

There is something magic about the first snowfall of the season. It transforms the drab colors of fall into a pristine blanket of white. Somehow it transforms us, too. The stresses of daily life seem to fade, allowing our minds to slow down and simply enjoy the moment.

New Hampshire had the first REAL snowfall over the weekend, super timing for the weekend when most could thoroughly enjoy the experience. The snow fell softly through the night, covering bare branches and blanketing evergreen boughs, shrubs and the ground, allowing us to see nature in a fresh way. Mister gardener and I donned our boots, down coats, scarves and hats and enjoyed walking through the drifts to a neighborhood Christmas party where the excitement of the holiday season, enhanced by the falling snow, was contagious.

snow 12/14/1013In the stillness of early morning, we shoveled our way to the bird feeders to make sure our feathered friends were well taken care of and an ice dam had not frozen the food supply. And we sprinkled enough seed over the snow to assist the ground feeding birds.

Shoveling to the feedersWell-received by the birds is our new heated birdbath, not for bathing, but allowing a fresh drink of water in this frozen landscape.

heated birdbathAlas, the peacefulness of a snowy morning was eventually broken by the din of snowplows, jolting us back from the land of snow castles and daydreams and hot chocolate to the land of must-do’s and our endless lists of chores.

snow removalOh well. We’re back on the road again… but I’m thrilled that the weatherman announced that the accumulation of snow we received over the weekend guarantees us a blanket of snow for Christmas. Matter of fact, over half of the USA is covered in snow, said to be the most in 11 years on this date. It should be a white Christmas for many!