Caturday Thoughts – St John’s Eve Jun 23rd

Painting The Feast of St Jogn bySt John’s Eve is the vigil of the feast of St. John the Baptist. It coincides very closely with midsummer or the summer solstice. The Nativity of John the Baptist is one of the oldest festivals of the Christian church and is different in two ways from other saint’s days. Ordinarily the day of a saint’s death is celebrated as his or her feast because that day marks their entrance into heaven. St John the Baptist is an exception, due to the fact he was considered cleansed of original sin in the womb of his mother. It was believed he was born six months before the Christ so his day should have been June 25th but that is not the date used.

It’s been said that Church authorities wanted to overlay a holy day onto the pagan celebration at solstice but this is unlikely because of one pesky detail. In the Middle Ages the solstice took place nearer the middle of June due to the inaccuracy of the Julian calendar. It wasn’t until the institution of the Gregorian calendar in 1582 that the solstice returned to June 21 as it had been in the fourth century. A better explanation for the date selection lies in the way the Roman calendar dated things, counting backward from the first day (Kalends) of the following month. Since June has 30 days instead of 31, counting backward eight days from July 1st takes you to July 24th.

If it was the church’s intention to divert attention from the pagan celebrations it does not seem to have succeeded very thoroughly. Fire is the most typical element associated with the Saint John’s Eve celebration. Bonfires are popular and are lit eve today on the eve in many countries, such as Croatia, Denmark, Hungary and Russia. Perhaps this is why it seems to have been be an evening when beings not of saintly quality are very active. Russian custom has it that as the world turns from longer days to longer nights and darkness takes overm evil spirits, witches, goblins and other creatures of the darkness, best warded off  with the bonfires lit at dusk which comes very late in the north at this time of year. These traditions are the basis of the famous story  “St. John’s Eve” by Nikolai Gogol that in turn inspired Mussorgsky’s “Night On Bald Mountain”, which he originally named St. John’s Night on Bare Mountain. This was  made better known by it’s animation in Walt Disney’s “Fantasia.”. Attentive folk placed needles, thistles or rose thorns on the doorjambs and windowsills to keep the witches out.

Bright yellow Sr John's Wort flowersIn many places St Johns Eve is the time to harvest certain herbs most notably St John’s wort. It gets its name from its traditional flowering on or about St John’s day Hypericum perforatum is native to parts of Europe and Asia but has spread to temperate regions worldwide. The Latin genus name Hypericum comes from the Greek words hyper (above) and eikon (picture), in reference to the tradition of hanging plants over religious icons in the home during St John’s Day, to ward off evil. In medieval times, it was also hung over doors, and windows to keep witches and evil spirits away.

St John’s wort is not the only herb gathered. It varied by area, but include fennel, rue, rosemary, lemon verbena, mallows, laburnum, foxgloves and elder flowers. Herbs are given unusual powers of healing if picked during the night of the feast. In Germany they called these herbs Johanneskraut (St. John’s herbs), and people brought them to church for a special blessing.  Another plant gathered was bracken (Pteris aquilina), sometimes called brake or female fern. The minute spores of this fern were reputed to confer invisibility on their possessor if gathered at the only time when they were said to be visible, i.e., on St. John’s Eve at the precise moment at which the saint was born. Another herb associated with St John’s Eve was yarrow. Since it was used to ward off evil it was burned rather than gathered on that evening.

My back yard is not the place for a bonfire and my cats are indoor dwellers safe from acccusations of being witches familiars, so this is not a big holiday for us. It will be enjoyable to harvest my herbs in the manner of an ancient custom and since St John’s wort is an attractive flower, if I can get some blooming plants I may harvest some and hang it up. I can read Gogol to the strains of Mussorgsky as the dusk turns to darkness. After all I enjoy a good spooky story any time of the year. While burning some fennel to keep us safe from evil I can be glad the evil of mass persecution of cats is in the past and no goblins have been seen in the neighborhood for years.

 

 

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Summer Solstice xià zhì 夏至 Jun 21st

White sun reflected on pond surfaceThis year the summer solstice falls on the 21st of June. This event is celebrated in many places. Not surprisigly in Sweden and Finland it is a big holiday with lots of public festivities. It is a holiday tied to getting back to nature and people get time off for a three day weekend. It’s also celebrated in Norway and  Denmark but is more low key. Of course people have been observing the solstice at Stonehenge for centuries.

China has along history of observing and celebrating the solstice. In ancient China, it was associated with the earth, femininity and Li, the goddess of light. At this time a ceremony was performed to honor the “yin” forces. The concept of yin yang came from thousands of years of observation and documentation of the cycles and patterns of nature. “Yin” originally referred to the shady side of a slope while “yang” referred to the sunny side but the concept of complementary opposites was eventually applied to almost all natural phenomena and human activity. Summer is considered the most yang season, thus the ceremony to honor yin was part of keeping thngs in balance and harmony.

Noodles under chicken, hard boiled egg, green onion and radidhAs with most holidays and celebratios in China there is traditional food to be eaten. In Shandong province there is a saying that you should “eat dumplings on the winter solstice and eat noodles on summer solstice.” Both in Shandong and even in Beijing people eat cold noodles for the summer solstice. While in the west we usually eat our noodles hot, cold noodles are really popular in most Asian countries in the summer months. One of my favorites is cold sesame noodles. You will see a lot of recipes that call for tahini or even peanut butter but the flavor of Chinese sesame paste is quite different. It is worth getting it on line so you can make a version both authentic and safe for those with peanut allergy. If there is no allergy problem or you like peauts, Thai cold noodles are served with peanut sauce. Spicy food lovers should try Sichuan spicy cold noodles. Other good choices are Naengmun, the Korean version and Zaru Soba, cold Japanese buckwheat noodles.  Sometimes I make my own recipes Asian fusion style, which is probably what I will do for this solstice celebration.

While bonfires are popular parts of solstice celebrations in many places my yard is not the best spot for that. I will follow the ideas of Chinese custom and balance the summer yang with some yin activity. The bridge costruction which forced that farmer’s market out of the pavilion finished last week when they reopened the roads to the new bridge. It looks like they threw in some landscaping along the river extending the short trail that was there before so a visit to the park to view the new bridge and trail extension would be in keeping with the idea of supporting yin with water and balancing the fiery yang.

Close up of multiple fountain spouts in pool

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Caturday Thoughts – Househunting for Cats is Hard

White abandoned shack

A thousand a month!! Craziness!

The goal of landlords is to make a profit off a basic human need, that of shelter. They don’t like things that subtract from that profit. Children can be destructive, it’s true. Up until 1968 when the law was changed, they could refuse to rent to those with children. No law protects people with dogs and cats. German Shepherds. used for years to support the blind and as support for other handicapped people, can be classed as a vicious breed by someone who knows nothing about dogs, and banned on that unsupported premise. People can be allowed only one pet by people who have no clue that most small dogs and even cats are often less bored and destructive with a companion. So house hunting with cats is not easy.

Snout house high density development

Snout house hell

It is becoming more and more difficult to buy a house and more and more people are forced to rent. Add that to the fact wages have been stagnent for decades, while housing of all kinds has escalated in price and you wind up in a tight spot. Not to mention that houses available now are huge ugly things that actually have a name, “snout houses”. Even though people don’t like such arrangements and many towns have finally come around to doing somethng about it, for decades that was what builders put up. I am one of those who abhore those houses. I also don’t want a house the size of a Walmart superstore, no matter how architecturally magnificent. I also don’t want an apartment. After my last experience, which became a nightmare when the management and ownership changed, I would rather live in a tent in the desert. I don’t want tennis courts and I wouldn’t put my toe in an apartment complex swimming pool. I want quiet, privacy and the ability to decorate the way I want. I also want my cats.

Interior of 29ft yurtEvery year millions pets are turned in to shelters because their owners had to move and could find no new place to live where they could have them. I have no intention of letting this happen to my furry family. Thank goodness I bought my prepper retreat in New Mexico years ago and if all else failed I have a place to go no matter what. I am hoping to soon be able to erect a yurt out there. The picture at right is is from the brochure of the local yurt compay, Fortress Yurts. Not exactly a scratchy Scout tent. Plenty of light and height for bookshelves and the cat trees I fell in love with at the cat show from Furwood Forest. The big thing is having enough windows for the cats and I to enjoy the views and most yurts can have that. Since my cats are indoor only I wouldn’t have to worry too much about wildlife. We get bears wandering into town here, it can be that much worse. It certainly beats paying thousands to support someone else or the unthinkable, life without my cats.

 

 

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Hot Summer Days and Light Summer Reading

Storm cloud building against skyWe are finally getting days of heat and humidity, the kind that will have clouds piling up by noon and dark skies by two or three. The wind begins to pick up and you hear the thunder. It means working in the yard come to an end and it’s not the best time to head out to run errands. It may last a couple of hours or it could carry on into late evening. When I was young we had family friends who lived in Cape Cod and we often vacationed there. Late afternoon thunderstorms were not uncommon and I remember cleary sitting in an upstairs bedroom and reading by lamplight as a thunderstorm boomed overhead. I read a lot even then and this was actually a very enjoyable experiennce for me.

Rabbit Hill book cover of leaping rabbitTo recreate this experience on these more recent stormy afternoons I light a candle, make a cup of tea and pull out some childhood reading. I still can read these books with great enjoyment. For a brief interlude they are familiar light reading, the equivalent of comfort food and a diversion into a less troubled world. Around missummer I may return to Rabbit Hill which climaxes on the summer solstice. Written in 1944 by Robert Lawson, the story chronicles the adventures of animals living around a vacant farm onto which a new family moves. There are aspects of it which are dated, and some of the characters are stereotyped, but it’s a quick read with a great message about sharing and generosity and respect for wildlife.  This is a good choice for those quick pop-up storms, as it’s quite short.

Blue and gold 1st edition cover Wind in the WillowsMy all time favorite book with animals as the main characters, another candidate for summer storm reading, is the Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. The characters in this English classic are really fully developed and there is no dumbing down of the story. The infamous Mr. Toad is portrayed as his own worst enemy, seduced by technology to his undoing. There are summer chapters, like the very first, where Mole abandons his housecleaning in disgust to answer the call of a beautiful day and meets and becomes friends with the Water Rat.  Most of Toad’s adventuretake place in summer as well, which is a good thing as they involve being tossed ito a canal and driving around in open topped cars. There are winter chapters, too, but unless I am reading the book straight through, I like to save those for around Christmas time or when the storm is snow rather than rain.

1919 cover At the back of the North WindAnother children’s book I use for summer escape is At the Back of the North Wind by Scottish writer George MacDonald. A young boy is befriended by the North Wind personified by a magical woman who takes him with her on her travels. She does good things but also seemingly bad things and the book is never simplistic as so many children’s stories are these days. It belogs to another age, but that’s what makes it a good book for and afternonn or evening’s escape. I know that MacDonald wrote other children’s book and I would like to explore them but not in a watered down or abridged editions. Fortunately, Project Gutenberg has MacDonald’s work available. Reading of the laptop does not have the same quality as reading from a book but for older worksit is often the best choice.

Wyeth cover of Treasure IslandLast, but certainly not least, I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure stories, like Kidnapped and Treasure Island. My grandfather introduced me to Stevenson and other Scottish writers as well as many other things Scotiish. Kenneth Grahame is also Scottish, there is a definie pattern here. Most of the time my recreational reading is mysteries, science fiction or ghost stories and other occult fiction. While I was writing this I looked at my bookshelf and realized I am still favoring Scottish authors.  Ian Rankin, Val MacDermid, Arthur Conan Doyle Ian Banks and William McIlvanney are all there.

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Caturday Thoughts – A Day of Recreation

Map of Frontier Culture MuseumI really wanted to get out and do something different on the Monday of the holifay weekend but most activities were on Sunday or Saturday when I volunteer at the rescue thrift. Finally I found that a local museum, The Frontier Culture Museum, was having their big day on the Monday. Just ten miles away from where I live, it is a collection of historical dwellings itended to show life on the colonial frontier and the lives of the immigrants before they came. In all the time I’ve lived in the area, I’ve never visited. Sot hat Monday I did. We had a lot of rain and I was very happy to wake up that morning to blue skies. The temperature was warm but not hot and humid so I had a wonderful day and did a lot of walking. I don’t get enough exercise living in town and I know I need to do more, so that was a bonus.

Thyme plantOne thing I enjoyed was investigating the gardens at the different houses. Nearly every one had an herb and vegetable garden and I easily recognized all the herbs and vegetables. There were costumed docents at all the houses and these included a group of high school students who are part of a secial program. They all seemed to enjoy learning history as an activity rather than sitting in class and being bored memorizing names and dates. I hadn’t visited any place like this in a long time and realized I needed get back to doing things like I did when I lived in other states. I enjoyed the museum so much I bought an annual membership and plan to go back at the end of the month when they have their wine and jazz festival.

Natural bridge see from walkway belowIts been almost seven years since I took a day trip just to do something different. I went to Luray Caverns. I have loved caves since I was a kid. Virgina actually has a lot of caves and I’ve decided I want to see some more of them. I am making a deal with myself.  I will treat myself to a trip when I finish that darn thesis. About an hour south of where I live is a state park with a natural bridge and a lot of hiking trails. There is also a cave nearby and you can get a combo ticket for both so why not?  There are several other caves and I may just try to visit one a month until I’ve seen them all. No two are alike, oviously and each one always has something special. There is one over the border in West Virginia that offers a wild cave tour. The chance to go for that would be a great motivator for getting back in shape. Wild caving is just that, there are no lights and railed walkways. You need headlamps and good boots and a bit more energy. It’s more like what you see on a National Geographic special than a leisurely stroll. Life is short and there’s a lot to do and see. I am not likely at this point in my life to summit Everest, winter over in Antarctica or discover a lost city in some jungle, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be some adventure.

Stalagmites in cave

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Grain in Ear máng zhǒng 芒种 Jun 6th

Head of ripening wheatOn June 6th the solar term of Grain in Ear began. China is divided by climate into a wheat growing north and a rice growing south. At this time in the north the wheat becomes ripe and in the south the summer planting starts.  Chinese farmers are also now planting a lot of corn, most of which is fed to livestock. Many more Chinese are eating meat now than in the past. So corn is now ripening  in much of China now as well. Due to our cool weather so far we may very well see corn later than usual this year uless it is brought in from othr parts of the country. The whole point of sumer corn, though, is that is be local and fresh.

Green corn growing in fieldCorn as a vegetable is quintessentially American. Even in Europe they don’t eat it very much. You are more likely to find roasted corn in India or Pakistan, where roadside vendors will offer it with chili powder or other spice mixes spread on with slices of lime or lemon. This year has been cool and corn is not yet abundant. When it is I will be fixing mine in this fashion. It seems a little strange that this food combination of corn, chili powder and lime comes from the Indian subcontinent, not from Mexico. Mexican corn on the cob is served with butter, mayonnaise and grated cotija cheese on it and the lime slices on the side. Some people add chili powder or cayenne pepper and some don’t.

The rice crop in China is actually four different crops. The earliest is that grown n the south and along the Chang Jiang (長江) river, known to westerners as the Yangtze. The third longest river in the world, Chang Jiang literally means “long river”. The first of three crops is planted here from February to April and harvested in June and July. Intermediate and single-crop late rice grows in the southwest and also along the Chang Jiang; it is planted in March to June and harvested in October and November. Double-crop late rice, planted after the early crop is reaped, is also harvested from October to November. Rice grown in the north isn’t planted until April to June and not harvested until September to October. Little rice is grown in the north, the wheat growing region of China. So the grain in ear referred to in the solar term refers to the first crop of the year.

Head of rice grainsI eat quite a bit of rice. I like rice for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I make fried rice or eat it plain with stir fries. My favorite way to eat rice however, is sizzling rice soup. I love hearing the sounds when i pour the soup over the crispy rice crusts. Modern rice cookers often don’t leave a crust in the bottom the way making rice in a pot used to do. There are two solutions to this. In many Asian groceries there are prepackaged sections of crisped rice you can use. Easier still is to cook the rice in the cooker and then leave a layer in the bottom to dry out a bit. Then you can properly prepare those crusts for sizzling rice soup. The soup liquid is made separately according to whatever recipe you like. Just before serving you lightly quick fry the crusts, which will puff up slightly, then place them in a soup bowl. Before they can cool add the soup liquid and enjoy the sizzling sounds, the tempting odor. and the delicious soup.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Caturday Thoughts – This Saturday Meet Mi Sun

The thesis is coming along but the rain means I am spending a lot of time keeping the yard from looking like a tropical jungle. So once again I am letting one of the cats guest post. I have been reminded that Mi Sun got only passing mention in Simba’s post. Since she considers herself “top cat” she thinks she should have been the first to be introduced. She is in many ways exactly that. She is the one who reminds me when I am late in serving meals. She is my morning alarm, on those few occasions when I am tempted to oversleep.  I sometimes refer to her as the empress dowager. Here is Mi Sun’s contribution.

Mi Sun torbie cat face

Hello, my name is Mi Sun.  I am originally from Los Angeles. I came to Virginia with my sister Simba and Master Kim. Master Kim rescued us when we were young and took us with him wherever he moved. One day there was a knock on the door. Simba came running by and we knew there was a stranger there. We hid under the bed. We heard Master Kim talking to someone for a while and then the bedspread was lifted and a face looked at us under the bed. A while later she came back and moved into the empty bedroom. At first I wasn’t so sure about this arrangement but then I realized that she really loved cats. She won me over with lots of petting and cuddling.

Master Kim called me Tae Sun because I am a big girl, but umma catta (that’s mother of cats in Arabic) changed my name to Mi Sun. I always seem to need to loose weight and she says changing big to beautiful will help me keep my weight down. My name for the mother is what a man at her bank nicknamed her. He said she made him think of his mother back in Tunisia who fed and took care of all the community cats. I like the sound of that nickname. She has lots of nicknames for me, too. She calls me Grumpy Girl. I don’t like my routine disrupted and I don’t like the other cats in my space too much. I let Dolly and Simba sleep with me and sit with me but that’s my limit. Otherwise I complain.

She also calls me Plushy Girl. I have a really thick triple coat and she loves my soft fur. I love when she brushes me. I could let her brush me for hours. Sometimes she stops too soon and I try to get her to keep going. Usually she gives in. Simba says I am bossy but it’s just that I know what I want. I pay her back with my loud purring. Most nights I sleep right next to her and purr. She needs to get a good night’s sleep so she can stay healthy and take care of us. She promised us and master Kim she would always take care of us and she does. We get good food and treats and brushing. We have nice fountains with running water. There are lots of toys too,  but I am not so interested in those.

My two favorite things are eating and sleeping and as I said, getting brushed. You won’t catch me chasing that red dot around like a maniac. Once in a while I will bat the feather and ribbons on a wand but I am mindful of my dignity. Some times umma catta makes this hard. I have a freckle on my nose leather. Sometimes she calls me freckle nose and I don’t thing that’s very dignified. She also keeps telling me “No!” when I ask for more food. Sometimes I have to meow for a long time before she gives in. Sometimes no matter how much I meow she won’t give me more. She says the vet says I need to loose weight and she agrees. Once I hurt myself getting off the chair and I had X-rays. That was no fun. I had some medicine in my food and I felt better. But now she tells me I have to be careful because I have arthritis. She bought some stools so I could get on and off the chair and futon more easily. We don’t want me to hurt myself again.

I am getting older now and mom takes me to the vet more often. I do not like the carrier or the car.That sister of mine, Simba, has gotten caught napping in the carrier more than once and whisked off to the vet. You won’t catch me napping in that carrier. Unfortunately, I can’t run like I could when I was a younger cat, it must be that arthritis stuff mom talks about me having. So she catches me and puts me in it anyway. I try to hang on with my claws but she overpowers me.

Mom says my personality comes from being a torbie. That means my fur is a combination of tortoiseshell with tabby patterns. Tortoiseshell cats are famous for having “tortitude”, a more assertive personality. She read to me about a study at the University of California at Davis that documented this.

As Simba said, I know not everyone who reads this blog is cat crazy like mom and I hope you don’t mind us helping her while she is so busy. If she had her way all the grass would be gone and all those bushes that grow so fast too. She would have only flowers, and vegetables and herbs. I don’t care about flowers and I don’t much like vegetables but herbs means catnip and valerian, so that would suit me. Soon her thesis will be done ad I’ll be glad there will be more time for brushing.

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