29 July 2012

29 July - Saint Martha

Gardening - Sow your cabbage seeds on the first Wednesday after the 29th of July.

Cabbages are a cold-weather crop, therefore by sowing the seed now (or at least 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost), you ensure that the plants will spend much of the warm weather in growing, and will mature in the cold weather of fall.  The first frost in the Smallest State is usually in the first week in October, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, so anytime in the next three weeks is optimum planting time here.  Judge your own planting time accordingly.


“At Tarascon, in France, St. Martha, virgin, the hostess of our Savior, and sister of blessed Mary Magdalen and St. Lazarus.”

I wrote about St. Martha and La Tarasque last year.  And I have the same reservations about Our Lord’s gentle admonishment.  Every time I hear that story, I am reminded of the centuries-old disdain of those who engage in intellectual pursuits for those who work with their hands.  Sneering references to ‘fly-over country’ and ‘corn-fed’, because the ‘intelligentsia’ can only be found on either coast (and only certain parts of either coast.  Try to get an Ivy-Leaguer to admit that there is intelligent life south of the Mason-Dixon line).  Ivory-tower types claiming that only they know what is best for everyone, and that once we get rid of all our silly morals and embrace the New Order, we will be very happy little (corn-fed) people.  Feministas who are plainly horrified that a person could actually contemplate finding fulfillment for her creativeness in caring for a home and family, rather than enduring the best hours of the day in a sterile office with mind-numbing repetitive chores.

Yes, I know that Our Lord made no reference to any of that.  I still hear it. Mea culpa.

John Shea wrote this reflection on Saint Martha in his Pictorial Lives of the Saints (1889): “When Martha received Jesus into her house, she was naturally busy in preparations for such a Guest.  Mary sat at His feet, intent alone on listening to His gracious words.  Her sister thought that the time required other service than this, and asked our Lord to bid Mary help in serving.  Once again, Jesus spoke in defense of Mary.  ‘Martha, Martha,’ He said, ‘thou art lovingly anxious about many things; be not over-eager; do thy chosen work with recollectedness.  Judge not Mary.  Hers is the good part, the one only thing really necessary.  Thine will be taken away, that something better be given thee.’  The life of action ceases when the body is laid down; but the life of contemplation endures and is perfected in heaven.”

Yes, of course.  But in the meantime, even contemplatives need to eat.


I have been asked what recipes are suitable for the feast of St. Martha.  Catholic Culture has several recipes, most of them based in Provence where she evangelized.  They also have a very wonderful idea of honoring the family cook by taking over the culinary chores, or even closing the kitchen for the day and treating the cook to a dinner out.

On the other hand, try thinking like Martha.  If Jesus were coming to dinner tonight (or lunch or brunch) what would you serve?  (Forgetting, of course, that he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – otherwise, we would probably have the whole thing catered and very likely held somewhere else.)  If this were winter, I’d probably serve Shrimp Chowder or Beef Stroganoff.  Right now, with the temperatures so high, it would be, “How do you like your hamburgers barbequed, Lord?  Medium?  Well-done?” (unless he showed up on Wednesday or Friday, in which case, “Do you like malt vinegar with your fish-and-chips, Lord?”)

And because I don’t fault Mary for taking every opportunity to learn from the Greatest of all Teachers, Jesus would have the nice, comfy Windsor chair in the kitchen – He can talk and I will cook.

So, what would you serve Him?

(ahem!  And no asking Him to turn the water into wine.  Bad, bad, bad!)


O blessed Saint Martha, your faith led Jesus to proclaim, "I am the resurrection and the life", and faith let you see beyond His humanity when you cred out, "Lord, I believe that You are the Messiah, the Son of God."  With firm hope, you said, "I know that God will give You whatever You ask of Him," and Jesus called your brother Lazarus back from the dead.  With pure love for Jesus, you welcomed Him into your home.  Friend and servant of our Savior, I too am "troubled about many things."

(Pause for silent prayer)

Pray for me that I may grow in faith, hope, and love, and that Jesus, Who sat at your table, will hear me and grant me a place at the banquet of eternal life.  Amen.


Artwork: "Saint Martha", in a Flemish illumination from The Isabella Breviary, 1497.  See Wikipedia for source information.  [I wonder if that is a cookbook she's holding?]

27 July 2012

28 July - Cromwell and Robespierre

Astronomy: Get up and out in the wee hours before dawn for the next few days to watch the Delta Aquarids. EarthSky says that while it favors the southern latitudes, those in the north may see 15-20 per hour

The Widow is in a rather dark mood today.

Thomas Cromwell, who (among other things) engineered the dissolution of the monasteries and destruction of the shrines during Henry VIII’s government takeover of the Church in England,


Maximilien (Francois Marie Isidore de) Robespierre who (among other things) engineered the destruction of the ruling powers during the Jacobin takeover of the government of France,

went to their government-sanctioned Rewards today in the same way…. sort of.  Cromwell ‘so patiently suffered the stroke of the axe by a ragged and butcherly miser which very ungoodly performed the office’ in 1540, while Robespierre received the much quicker and cleaner kiss of Madame Guillotine in 1794, but the end result was the same – no heads.

Well, they created their destroyers, and caused the destruction of thousands in their own time and millions afterward, but requiescat in pace anyway.

Suitable for today would be a cocktail known as HEADLESS HORSEMAN.

Into a 12 oz. Tom Collins glass, put 2 ounces of vodka and 3 dashes of bitters.  Add several cubes of ice, fill with dry ginger ale and stir.  Decorate with an orange slice.

Imbibe carefully or you’ll probably wish you were headless.

26 July 2012

26 July - St. Anne and St. Joachim

Weather – If it rains on St. Ann's Day, it will rain for a month and a week [however, some people call the rain on this day "Saint Ann's Dower" and consider it a good thing].

If on St. Anne’s day, the ants are building up their sand-hills, it is a sign of coming severe winter.

Gardening – On St. Anne’s day, the July grapes are ripe [and even if they aren’t quite, the July grape leaves are big and afford abundant shade when climbing over an arbor.  To sit in the arbor with a glass of a previous year’s vintage on a summer’s evening…]


 “The departure out of this life of St. Anne, mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.”

In the traditional calendar, (except for the Use of Paris, which celebrated St. Anne on the 28th) today is the feast of Saint Anne, the grandmother of Jesus. Traditionally, her husband Joachim has his own feast day on the 16th of August, and was mentioned also on the 20th of March, the day of his birth, but celebrating them both today makes sense, for theirs is a fine example of a godly marriage, and, let’s face it, in the calendar of saints, there aren’t many happily married ones to use as examples.  We need all we can get.

Here is the account of Joachim and Anne from the Golden Legend:

“Joachim, which was of Galilee of the city of Nazareth, espoused Anne of Bethlehem, and they were both just and without reproach or reprehension in the commandments of our Lord… and thus lived twenty years in marriage without having any lineage.  And then they avowed to our Lord that if he sent to them any lineage they should give it to Him, for to serve Him.”

During one of the great feasts in Jerusalem, Joachim was prevented by the high priest to bring his offering, saying that his offerings were not acceptable to God, who had judged him unworthy to have children, and that “a man cursed in the faith should not offer to our Lord, nor he that was barren should be among them that had fruit…” Ashamed and afraid of the recriminations of his family and neighbors, he went off to the hills and abode there for forty days.  It was there that an angel found him and declared that his lack of children was no reproach to him, but God’s will, and reminded him that several of the great men of the Hebrews – Isaac and Joseph, Samson and Samuel – were born of mothers who had been barren for years. “And when He closes the womb, He works so that He opens it after, more marvelously… And therefore Anne your wife shall have a daughter, and you shall call her Mary, and she, as you have vowed, shall be from her infancy sacred unto our Lord… And I give to you the sign, that when you come to the golden gate at Jerusalem, you shall meet there Anne your wife, which is much moved of your long tarrying, and shall have joy of your coming.”

The angel gave like assurance to Anne, and gave her the same sign, that of finding her husband at the same city gate.

The Meeting at the Golden Gate, with Joachim and Anne joyfully embracing, was a favorite subject for medieval and renaissance artists, perhaps because it was one of the few times when physical love could be depicted in iconography. 

“And Anne conceived and brought forth a daughter, and named her Mary.”

The rest of the story is concerned with the upbringing and dedication of Mary at the age of three years, when, according to the story, she went to live in the Temple.

Not content with that, writers dabbled in genealogy and tried to tie in as many names from the Biblical account as possible. An ancient account, supposedly written by Hippolytus the Martyr, said that Anne was the third daughter of the priest Matthew and Mary, his wife; that the eldest daughter, also named Mary , married a man in Bethlehem and became the mother of Mary Salome; that the second daughter, named Sobe, married a man in Bethlehem and had a daughter named Elizabeth, who became the mother of John the Baptist.

The Golden Legend tells it differently:
“And Anne had three husbands, Joachim, Cleophas, and Salome; and of the first she had a daughter named Mary, the Mother of God… And when Joachim was dead, she took Cleophas, the brother of Joseph, and had by him another daughter named Mary also, and she was married to Alpheus [who] had by her four sons, that was James the Less, Joseph the Just, otherwise named Barsabee, Simon, and Jude.  Then the second husband being dead, Anne married the third named Salome, and had by him another daughter which yet also was called Mary, and she was married to Zebedee.  And this Mary had of Zebedee two sons, that is to wit, James the Greater, and John the Evangelist.”

Yes, they were an imaginative lot.

Ant: A heavenly blessing entered into Anne, through whom the Virgin Mary was born for us.
V: Pray for us, blessed Anne.
R: That we be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Prayer: O God, who vouchsafed to grant to blessed Anne such grace that she deserved to bear Thy most blessed mother in her most glorious womb, grant to us through the intercession of Thy mother and sister the abundance of Thy graciousness, so that we may embrace their commemoration with holy love, and by their prayers be able to reach heaven, our native land. Through the same, our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, O God, world without end. Amen.
From the Suffrages to the Saints, Hypertext Book of Hours.


For this love charm, you must start on the 23rd of July,  fasting for three days on bread, water, and sprigs of parsley. Nothing else.  On the eve of St. Anne’s feast day (the 25th) go to bed as soon as convenient, and be silent from the time you undress.   Get into bed, lie on your left side, with your head as low as possible, [?] and repeat the following verse three times:
"Saint Anne in silver cloud descend
Prove yourself a maiden’s friend
Be it good or be it harm,
Let me have knowledge from the charm.
Be it husband one, two, three,
Let me in rotation see,
And if fate decrees me four,
(No good maid would wish for more)
Let me view them in my dream
Fair and clearly to be seen;
But if the hateful stars decree
Perpetual virginity,
Let me sleep on and dreaming not,
I shall know my single lot.” 


Hours of Catherine of Cleves (c1440). Joachim and Anne 

Engraving from a print in the Salisbury Missal (1534) found in The Everyday Book and Table Book (William Hone, 1838)

Detail from Giotto, Legend of St. Joachim, Meeting at the Golden Gate (1305)

22 July 2012

22 July - The Pied Piper

                   Mary Magdalene weeps for her Lord
                    That is why it rains these days.

Today is the feast of St. Mary Magdalen.

"At Marseilles, the birthday of St. Mary Magdalen, out of whom our Lord expelled seven demons, and who deserved to be the first to see the Saviour after He had risen from the dead."  Last year, I included a love charm.

Then, under the wanton Rose, again,
That blushes for penitent Magdalen.

However, “Roses begin to fade on Magdalene's day”, if any are left to fade.

On Magdalene’s day, the nuts are plentiful [and here we are not referring to the ones in the car in front of you who don’t believe in turn-signals or speed limits, although they are very plentiful at this time of year as well.]

Fennel, a spicy, warm, strong herb, is supposed to have sprung from her tongue, but why and how I don’t know, [nor is that a mental picture on which I care to dwell.]  Used with discretion, fennel leaves and seeds add an interesting flavor to salads and breads.  I prefer just to lose myself in the fragrance, like incense, as the plants are warmed by the summer sun.  If you have a Mary Garden, plant fennel in honor of the Magdalene.


This is said to be one of the days that the Pied Piper rid the town of Hamelin in Saxony (or Hamel, in Brunswick, or even a community on the Isle of Wight) of rats and children, at least according to an early 17th century account.  An earlier claim was for the day of St. John and Paul (26 June) and a later account said 20 June, so take your pick.

You should know the story of the Pied Piper, but if not, read on.

The said town had a big problem.  As told by Robert Browning in his poem, the place was infested by

They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
And licked the soup from the cooks' own ladles,
Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men's Sunday hats,
And even spoiled the women's chats,
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats"

The townspeople tried everything they knew.  They tried cats, which are usually a sure-fire solution to vermin problems, but it was like 40-1 odds and the cats – like the poor fellow here – really didn’t have a chance.

They tried poison, which worked for a while, but as any householder knows who has tried this method, the vermin don’t die on the spot, gagging and collapsing in an Oscar-winning death scene – no, they go home to gasp their last, and since home is generally within the walls, the stench of their decomposing bodies can make life unbearable for a long while.

Finally, they decided (as people do whenever possible) that it wasn’t their responsibility – that it was up to the government to bail them out of this overabundance of rats. (Since the government officials were also up to their pay-grades in rats, no one yelled about the 1% at this point)

What to do?  What to do?  The people were angry, because their government wasn’t providing everything for them, as it had promised to do.  The town officials were worried, because they had made all kinds of promises when they first took office and then spent their time enriching themselves and their cronies, all the while keeping the people sedated with government handouts and slogans.  They knew full well, though, that the rats had consumed most of the government handouts and if the people didn’t get their daily bread and circus… well, that could mean the end of a lot of plummy jobs next election day, if not sooner.

While the town officials looked up which countries had no extradition treaty with their own, with a view to extended vacations, a stranger entered the town (cue Man-With-No-Name music), dressed something like this colorful fellow here.  His résumé said that he had extensive experience in pest control, and he immediately proposed a solution.  Of course, now, he was a professional, and professional fees do come high…

“A thousand guilders?” cried the town officials.  “A pittance!  Rid us of these rats and we will give you fifty thousand guilders!”  Where they were going to get all that money, they didn’t know, but like governments everywhere, they didn’t worry about it – future generations could take care of it.

Well, alrighty then!  The stranger pulled out his pipe (something like a clarinet or a flute) and began to play as he walked up and down the streets of the town.  And behold!  From every corner came rats.  From houses, from cellars, from storerooms, from sewers, they congregated in the street and followed the music of the piper.  When he had them all in thrall behind him, ready to follow him anywhere, he led them down to the water’s edge and getting in a boat, pushed off for deep water.

The rats, of course, followed him, swimming, swimming, swimming, until they could swim no more and drowned. Those behind stepped on the bodies of their brothers as they headed for deep water.  Anything, anything, to hear that unworldly music.  Rank upon rank of rats scurried to the water, swam, and sank, until there was not a rat left.

[Except for a little lame rat who couldn’t keep up with the others… but that is another story.]

The townspeople were ecstatic, as were the remaining cats!  They sang, they danced, they rejoiced!  The Piper was a hero!  They would put up a statue of him in the park!  They would name streets and schools and airports after him!  They would give him the keys to the town!

Well, yeah, that’s nice and all, but he just wanted his fee so he could get on down the road to his next job.  And since the town officials were so kind as to augment his invoice with another forty-nine thousand guilders…

His fee… yes, hmmmm, his fee…  Now that the plague of rats was gone, the officials were planning huge demonstrations of loyalty to themselves (and Rent-a-Mobs don’t come cheap), with large bonuses to those who had never wavered from the Party Line.  There were Election Ads to buy, all carefully shopped to show the officials themselves ridding the town of the pests.  There were dinners and birthday parties and rallies to plan, wherein orchestrated praises would shower down around them, and their names would be chanted again and again. 

These things cost money, you know.

“Fifty thousand guilders?  Do you take us for fools?  You did nothing but drown a few rats!”  Oh, they were pleased with themselves.  They had the upper hand.  All those years of lying and cheating came in handy now.  “No sir!  Not fifty thousand.  Not even one thousand.  You can take fifty guilders and be thankful you got that much!”

Now, if they hadn’t been patting each other on the back, they wouldn’t have missed the Stranger’s eyes narrowing as he chomped on his cigar.  He left them without a word…

"Once more he stept into the street,
And to his lips again
Laid his long pipe of smooth straight cane;
And ere he blew three notes (such sweet
Soft notes as yet musician's cunning
Never gave the enraptured air)
There was a rustling that seemed like a bustling
Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling,
Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,
Little hands clapping and little tongues chattering,
And, like fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering,
Out came the children running.
All the little boys and girls,
With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls,
And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls,
Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after
The wonderful music with shouting and laughter."

He led the children through the streets.  The officials merely laughed.  He headed for the town gate.  “Good riddance to him.”  The children followed him through the town gate and into the forest.  “Don’t worry.  They are just having a good time. They’ll come back when we call them.”  There wasn’t a child left in the town.  “I think we’d better call them now.”  The children heard nothing but the music.  “For heaven’s sake, DO SOMETHING!  Give him his money!  Give him everything he was promised!”  The parade approached the mountain. “AHA!  He’s caught now!  He cannot take the children over the mountain.”  The side of the mountain opened, and the children trooped in.  When the last child but one had entered, the door closed so that there was no trace of it.

One child was left outside – a little lame boy who couldn’t keep up.  He told the parents where their children had gone, and the parents put the blame (as people do whenever possible) squarely on the backs of their elected officials.

I often wonder what the townspeople did to their mayor and town council.  The story doesn’t say.

"And, whether they pipe us free from rats or from mice,
 If we've promised them aught, let us keep our promise!"

Image from Warner Brothers, “Scaredy Cat”1948 (Merrie Melodies) [see the Wikipedia article].

No idea where the political cartoon came from.  There are dozens of copies floating around, and maybe one of them has the credits for it.

“The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.” Kate Greenaway.

05 July 2012

5 July - Tynwald Day

Tynwald flag

This is Tynwald Day, the national day of the Isle of Man, in which the country’s parliament, the Tynwald, meets in ancient ceremony to promulgate all bills which have received the Royal Assent, and to hear petitions for redress.

“The observer at St. John's on 5th July, the Manx National Day, watches a ceremony which has continued unchanged, except in detail, for more than 1,000 years. The annual outdoor sittings of Tynwald, the Manx Parliament, date back to the Viking settlements which began in the eighth century of the first millennium AD. No other parliament in the world has such a long unbroken record.”     Tynwald - Parliament of the Isle of Man - History   

The ceremonies and processions take place at St. John’s, beginning with the inspection of the Guard of Honor and the laying of a wreath at the war memorial, followed by a religious service in the Chapel of St. John the Baptist, and the great procession to Tynwald Hill where the laws are proclaimed.  When the business of the day is finished, the Tynwald returns to St. John’s Chapel to sign documents attesting to the promulgation of the laws and to move all outstanding business to a subsequent date. (Wikipedia describes the ceremonies of the day at length.)

Then the real fun begins, for a day like this cannot go by without great celebration.  Tynwald Day 2012, from the Tynwald website, lists the various entertainments that will be held today: dog agility trials, music of all kinds, folk dance, displays of Manx history, including a Living History encampment of Vikings, more music, tours, an exhibition of local artists, even more music, circus performances, Punch and Judy, and fireworks. Did I mention music?  If you are anywhere near, go and enjoy.  If not, check out the many web pages devoted to the Isle of Man, its culture, and its history. 
Isle of Man flag

The best known dish, if not the National Dish, is PRIDDHAS AN’ HERRIN’ (Potatoes and Herring), an extremely simple recipe, which you can find here on Isle of Man.net.  [And I do mean simple: boiled potatoes and salt herring, served with raw onion slices and lots of butter.  So good! It will bring out the Viking in you.] 


Artwork: Isle of Man website discusses the Manx flags here.

04 July 2012

4 July - Saint Martin Bullion

Weather - If Bullion's Day be dry, there will be an early harvest.

If the deer rise up dry and lie down dry on Bullion's day, there will be a good harvest.

If it rains on Bullion's Day, it will rain for forty days.

If it rains on the fourth of July, there will be no grapes that year.


In medieval calendars, the translation of the relics of St. Martin of Tours [NOT ‘of Bullion’] was celebrated today.

At Tours, the translation of St. Martin, bishop and confessor, and the Dedication of his Basilica, which took place on the anniversary of his elevation to the episcopate some years previous.
Roman Martyrology

This is the same Saint Martin celebrated on 11 November, who divided his soldier’s cloak to cover a beggar, only to see a vision of Christ wearing it.  He later became a bishop.

Pace Robert Chambers and all who copy him, but the ‘Bullion’ part of his name comes from the French le bouilliant (the boiling), a perfect description of his summer feast day, and a way to differentiate it from that of November.

This is also the Widow’s wedding anniversary.  You’ll never guess what our wedding colors were.
The Shot-gun wedding photo (no it actually wasn't, but thanks for asking)

The local bakery had a lot of fun with this

My love, I promised ‘til death us do part’. 
Not even death, my dearest friend, not even death…

4 July - Independence Day in 1837

Frederick Marryat was an English naval officer and novelist, whom some of you might recognize from his novel of shipboard life, “Mr. Midshipman Easy”.  He visited North America in 1837, and published the diary of his travels in 1839 under the title, A Diary in America.  This is an excerpt from that diary, written when he was in New York City:

“The 4th of July, the sixty-first anniversary of American independence!”

“Pop—pop—bang—pop—-pop—bang—bang—bang! Mercy on us! How fortunate it is that anniversaries come only once a-year.  Well, the Americans may have great reason to be proud of this day, and of the deeds of their forefathers, but why do they get so confoundedly drunk?  Why, on this day of independence, should they become so dependent upon posts and rails for support?—The day is at last over; my head aches, but there will be many more aching heads to-morrow morning!" 

"What a combination of vowels and consonants have been put together! what strings of tropes, metaphors, and allegories have been used on this day! what varieties and graduations of eloquence!  There are at least fifty thousand cities, towns, villages, and hamlets, spread over the surface of America—in each the Declaration of Independence has been read; in all one, and in some two or three, orations have been delivered, with as much gunpowder in them as in the squibs and crackers.  But let me describe what I actually saw.”

Just as today, the police issued warnings previous to the day that those letting off fireworks would fall afoul of the law; just as today, this was answered by an immediate and continual volley of every possible form of firecracker and artillery, lasting well into the night.  How better to show our independence than by thumbing our noses at the law? 

“This continued the whole night, and thus was ushered in the great and glorious day, illumined by a bright and glaring sun (as if bespoken on purpose by the mayor and corporation), with the thermometer at 90° in the shade… in the meanwhile, the whole atmosphere was filled with independence.  Such was the quantity of American flags which were hoisted on board of the vessels, hung out of windows, or carried about by little boys, that you saw more stars at noon-day than ever could be counted on the brightest night.”

“On each side of the whole length of Broadway, were ranged booths and stands, similar to those at an English fair, and on which were displayed small plates of oysters, with a fork stuck in the board opposite to each plate; clams sweltering in the hot sun; pineapples, boiled hams, pies, puddings, barley-sugar, and many other indescribables. But what was most remarkable, Broadway being three miles long, and the booths lining each side of it, in every booth there was a roast pig, large or small, as the centre attraction. Six miles of roast pig! and that in New York city alone; and roast pig in every other city, town, hamlet, and village, in the Union. What association can there be between roast pig and independence?"

What indeed?  And to drink?  You probably have a hint already from his diatribe against inebriates…

“Let it not be supposed that there was any deficiency in the very necessary articles of potation on this auspicious day: no! the booths were loaded with porter, ale, cider, mead, brandy, wine, ginger-beer, pop, soda-water, whiskey, rum, punch, gin slings, cocktails, mint juleps, besides many other compounds, to name which nothing but the luxuriance of American-English could invent a word. Certainly the preparations in the refreshment way were most imposing, and gave you some idea of what had to be gone through with on this auspicious day. “

And of course, music!  We can’t have a celebration without music!

“Martial music sounded from a dozen quarters at once; and as you turned your head, you tacked to the first bars of a march from one band, the concluding bars of Yankee Doodle from another.  At last the troops of militia and volunteers, who had been gathering in the park and other squares, made their appearance, well dressed and well equipped, and, in honour of the day, marching as independently as they well could. I did not see them go through many manoeuvres, but there was one which they appeared to excel in, and that was grounding arms and eating pies.”

From there he went to Castle Garden to see the artillery and infantry troops in line, their officers in bright regimentals on white horses.  “The scene was very animating; the shipping at the wharfs were loaded with star-spangled banners; steamers paddling in every direction, were covered with flags; the whole beautiful Sound was alive with boats and sailing vessels, all flaunting with pennants and streamers.”

A parade followed in which neither the horses nor the troops marched in good order, the horses sometimes parting company with their riders, and wagons and other vehicles cutting into the lines.

“Notwithstanding all this, they at last arrived at the City Hall, when those who were old enough heard the Declaration of Independence read for the sixty-first time; and then it was—" Begone, brave army, and don't kick up a row."

“I was invited to dine with the mayor and corporation at the City Hall. We sat down in the Hall of Justice, and certainly, great justice was done to the dinner…   The crackers popped outside, and the champagne popped in… I waited till the thirteenth toast, the last on the paper, to wit, the ladies of America; and, having previously, in a speech from the recorder, bolted Bunker's Hill and New Orleans, I thought I might as well bolt myself, as I wished to see the fireworks, which were to be very splendid… “

“Look in any point of the compass, and you will see a shower of rockets in the sky: turn from New York to Jersey City, from Jersey City to Brooklyn, and shower is answered by shower on either side of the water.  Hoboken repeats the signal: and thus it is carried on to the east, the west, the north, and the south, from Rhode Island to the Missouri, from the Canada frontier to the Gulf of Mexico. At the various gardens the combinations were very beautiful, and exceeded anything that I had witnessed in London or Paris. …all America was in a blaze; and, in addition to this mode of manifesting its joy, all America was tipsy.”

“There is something grand in the idea of a national intoxication. In this world, vices on a grand scale dilate into virtues ; he who murders one man, is strung up with ignominy; but he who murders twenty thousand has a statue to his memory, and is handed down to posterity as a hero. A staggering individual is a laughable and, sometimes, a disgusting spectacle; but the whole of a vast continent reeling, offering a holocaust of its brains for mercies vouchsafed, is an appropriate tribute of gratitude for the rights of equality and the leveling spirit of their institutions.”
Captain [Frederick] Marryat, C.B., A Diary in America, with Remarks on Its Institutions (1839). pp 31-34.

before our leaders, elected or otherwise, destroy it

Well, if you too have 90+ degrees in the shade (and it feels like 106), I don't recommend roasting anything else.  Poach the salmon as you did last year, chill it, and serve it on lettuce with a CUCUMBER SAUCE:

Peel 1 to 2 cucumbers, cut them in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and cut them into thin slices.  Place them in a colander, sprinkle them with salt, and let them drain for about 20 minutes.

Mix 1/2 cup of mayonnaise with 1/2 cup of sour cream.  Stir in 1 tablespoon each of chopped fresh dill and chopped fresh parsley, with salt and pepper to taste (the recipe calls for white pepper. Use what you have).

Rinse the cucumber slices and pat them dry. Stir them into the mayonnaise mixture and chill the whole until ready to serve.

Cold roast beef, chicken, ham, a cold-cut and cheese platter, chilled marinated vegetables... these are good for a heat-wave picnic.  Include lots of very cold drinks (and please remember that alcohol and heat are one deadly combination - alcohol and fireworks are another).
Artwork: John Simpson, Portrait of Frederick Marryat, c1826.  National Portrait Gallery, London.  Swiped from Wikipedia.

03 July 2012

3 July - Dog Days

Weather: As the Dog Days commence, so they end.

If it rains on the first day of the Dog Days, it will rain for forty days [pessimist]
It it rains on the first day of the Dog Days, it will rain for thirty days [optimist]

Dog Days bright and clear, indicate a happy year.
But when accompanied by rain, we hope for better times in vain.

Dog Days begin.  Now do we begin to swelter and remember nostalgically the days of winter.

These hottest days of the year once coincided with the heliacal rising of Sirius, the Dog Star, hence the name, and included a certain number of days preceding and following (heliacal rising being the time when the star, after being in conjunction with the sun and invisible, now emerges to be visible in the morning before sunrise). 

The ancient Egyptians hailed the rising of the Dog Star as the harbinger of plenty and prosperity, as it signified the time when the life-giving Nile would overflow its banks and fertilize the fields.  The ancient Romans, on the other hand, believed that the days bore the combined heat of the Dog Star and the Sun, causing the seas to boil, wine to turn sour, dogs to go mad, animals to turn languid, and men to fall subject to "burning fevers, hysterics and phrensies".  [Well, I don't know about the wine turning sour, but I can vouch for growing languid, and yes, it does seem that drivers are more frenzied now.

During this time, new undertakings were considered unlucky.  It was equally unlucky to go swimming now [in the time before the polio vaccine, this was probably good advice, but good luck with that today].

Modern almanacs, along with those from the last two hundred years, commence the Dog Days on the 3rd of July and end them on the 11th of August, a change said to date from the correction of the British calendar.  Prior to that, there have been quite a few different start-and-end dates, to which some people still adhere:

  • Bede’s calendar (8th  century) started them on July 14.
  • From various other medieval calendars:

                 July 13 – September 5;
                 July 17 – September 5;
                 July 14 – August 6;
                 July 14 – September 13;
                 July 20 – August 6.

  • In a calendar from the time of Elizabeth I (16th century), the days began on July 6 and lasted until September 5.
  • At the Restoration (17th century), this changed to July 19 through August 29.
  • My local paper in the 1870s faithfully reported that the Dog Days began on the 25th of July and ended on September 5th.

An old rhyme says that they start on July 20 (St. Margaret’s day) and end on August 10 (St. Lawrence’s day):

“The dog-star’s melting course to trace
This rule will never fail –
His nose adorns St. Margaret’s face
And Lawrence wags his tail.”

[Something poetical in that, if you consider the days to be as hot as dragon fire (Margaret) or a slow roasting fire (Lawrence)]

However, if their calculations are correct, those who say that “if the Dog-Days were restricted to their original place in the calendar, they would by this time bring with them frost and snow instead of intense heat” may not be far wrong.


The Etesian Winds, blowing from north to south, particularly over those European countries bordering the Mediterranean, are said to commence about now and continue for forty days without interruption.
“The etesian winds were considered by the ancients the most remarkable of the periodical winds in Greece; Aristotle and Lucretius tell us that these refreshing breezes were felt after the summer solstice, and the rising of the Canis Major; they blew from the west of north in western climates, and from the east of north in eastern expositions.  Aristotle says that they blew during the night and ceased during the day, from which it might be inferred that they were land winds…”
Conrad Malte-Brun,  System of Universal Geography (1834), p. 400.


Take time to be languid - in between the harvesting and the canning and the vacation trips (they never are restful, are they?) and all the summer activities with which we fill our days.

Don't be frenzied -  be languid.


Artwork: Engraving of a carved gem representing the Dog Star.  William Hone, Everyday Book and Table Book (1838), p. 897.

Engravings of Skiron, the North-west Wind, and Kaikias, the North-east Wind, from the Tower of the Winds, Athens.  Sir Napier Shaw, Manual of Meteorology, (1919), Vol. 1, p. 82.  Ordinarily, winds from the north were considered cold and destructive, but during the summer, they show their nicer aspects with refreshing breezes.

01 July 2012


Then came hot July, boiling like to fire,
That all his garments he had cast away.
Upon a lion raging yet with ire,
He boldly rode, and made him to obey.
(It was the beast that whilom did foray
The Nemean forest, ‘til the Amphitrionide
Him slew, and with his hide did him array.)
Behind his back a scythe, and by his side
Under his belt he bore a sickle circling wide.

“As the fifth month in the old Roman year, this was called Quintilis, or fifth.  It was the birth-month of Julius Caesar, and after his death Mark Antony named it Julius in his honor.  In the old Alban calendar it had thirty-six days.  Romulus reduced the number to thirty-one, and Numa to thirty, but Julius Caesar again made it thirty-one.  The early Saxons called it Hegmonath, it being the month in which they usually mowed and made their hay-harvest.”     William Walsh, Curiosities of Popular Customs (1898) p. 586.


Astronomy for July: Full Buck Moon on the 3rd.

Meteor Shower: Delta Aquarids on July 28th and 29th. [Those are the peak dates, but EarthSky says to watch in late July and early August.  Look south in the pre-dawn hours, after the moon has set.]


Weather for July
According to the Twelve Days of Christmas: Warm. Overcast.  Looks like rain.
According to the first twelve days of January: Sunny and very warm.
According to the Ember Days: Overcast and humid.

Weather Lore for July:
As July is, so will be next January
[does this refer to extreme weather? If it is really hot in July it will be correspondingly cold in January? Because, trust me, while I may want July weather in January, it doesn't happen.]

Never trust a July sky.
[Indeed!  It might look beautifully clear in one direction, but turn around and notice those massing cloudbanks]

It never rains at night in July.

Rain in the third hour of a July afternoon is the heaviest of the year.

The first Friday in July is always wet.

A shower of rain in July is worth a plough of oxen.

When July alternates between rain and sunshine, the harvest will be abundant.

July thunder indicates that the wheat and barley will suffer harm [especially if accompanied by heavy winds and hail]
                        On the other hand
Thunder in July signifieth the same year shall be good corn, and loss of beasts.

If there is a tempest in July, the corn will be blighted with mildew.

7/1 - If it rains between the first and the fourth of July, it will rain for forty days.
        If the first of July be rainy weather, it will rain more or less for four weeks together.

        If it rains on July 1st, it will rain seventeen days in the month.

        If it rains on July 1st, there will be no grapes that year.

7/2 - If it rains on St. Mary's Day, it will rain, off and on, for four weeks.

        If it rains on St. Mary's Day, it will last until St. Mary Magdalene (July 22)

        If it rains on the feast of Saint Processus and Martinian, there will be great rain storms and hail.

        If it rains on the feast of Saint Processus and Martinian, it suffocates the corn.

7/3 - As the Dog Days commence, so they end.

        If it rains on the first Dog-Day, it will rain for forty days after [or for thirty days after.  Take your pick]

         Dog Days bright and clear, indicate a happy year.

        But when accompanied by rain, we hope for better times in vain.

7/4 - If Bullion's Day be dry, there will be a good and early harvest.

        If the deer rise up dry and lie down dry on Bullion's day, there will be a good harvest.

        If it rains on Bullion's Day, it will rain for forty days.

        If it rains on the fourth of July, there will be no grapes that year.

7/6 - The weather on St. Godelieve's day foretells the weather of the next six weeks.

         If it rains on St. Godelieve, it will rain for forty days.

         If it rains on St. Godelieve, the Lord is blessing the vegetable garden.

7/7 - Rain today means rain for the next four weeks.

7/10 - If it rains on July 10th, it will rain for seven weeks.

          As the weather is on the Feast of the Seven Brothers, so will it be for seven weeks.

7/11 - If it rains on St. Benedict's day, it will rain for forty days.

7/15 - Saint Swithin's Day, if thou dost rain, for forty days it will remain
           Saint Swithin's Day, if thou be fair, for forty days will rain no more.

          If on St. Swithin's day it proves fair, a temperate winter will follow; but if it is rainy, stormy, or windy, then the contrary.

         If it rains today, Saint Swithin is christening the apples, and the early sorts can be picked.

7/20 - If St. Margaret's Day be dry, God will give us a fine autumn.

7/21 - If it rains on the 21st, we will have fair weather following.

7/22 – Mary Magdalene weeps for her Lord
           That is why it rains these days.

7/25 - As the weather is on Saint James' Day, so it will be on Christmas Day.

          If St. James' day is clear, then Christmas will be cold and frosty [that's a pretty good bet, either way].

          On St. James' day, the weather before noon foretells the winter before Christmas, and the weather after noon foretells the winter after Christmas.  If the sun shines, there will be cold weather; if it rains, there will be warm and moist weather; if it is between the two, it will be neither too warm nor too cold.

7/26 - If it rains on St. Ann's Day, it will rain for a month and a week [however, some people call the rain on this day "Saint Ann's Dower" and consider it a good thing].

          If on St. Anne’s day, the ants are building up their sand-hills, it is a sign of coming severe winter.

7/27 – If it rains on the day of the Seven Sleepers, it will rain for seven weeks.

            A wet Sleeper’s day is not good for barn or barrel.


Farming and Gardening:
July, God send thee calm and fair
That happy harvest we may see.

Cut thistles in July,
Then they will die.

Against St. Swithin's hasty Showers,  (July 15)
The Lily white reigns queen of the Flowers;
And Poppies a sanguine mantle spread,
For the blood of the Dragon St. Margaret shed. (July 20)
Then, under the wanton Rose, again,
That blushes for penitent Magdalen. (July 22)

7/9 - St. Kilian sets the reapers going (July 9)

7/20 – Start harvesting on St. Margaret’s Day (July 20).

7/22 – Roses begin to fade on Magdalene's day (July 22).

          On Magdalene’s day, the nuts are plentiful,

7/25 – If you plant turnips on the 25th of July
           You will have turnips, wet or dry [i.e., no matter what the weather]

7/26 – On St. Anne’s day, the July grapes are ripe.

Sow your cabbage seeds on the first Wednesday after the 29th of July.

Cassell’s Illustrated almanac 1871 for July:
Flowers.Carnations and picotees should be layered when they have done flowering. Hydrangeas may be propagated freely by cuttings or layers. As soon as pergoniums have flowered they should be cut down; and if plants in pots have done blooming, they should be transferred to the ground, where, after a short time, they will again bloom freely.
Vegetables.— Plant out your cabbages and other plants; and transplant cauliflowers in moist situations. Stake your scarlet runners, and sow your last crop of kidney beans in the first few days of the month. Plant celery in shallow trenches, and keep it earthed up as it advances in growth. Remove weakly shoots, etc, from cucumbers, and keep them well watered.
Fruit.— Cherries and plums may now be budded in the same manner as roses (see operations for last month). Select some of the strongest runners for making new plantations of strawberries, which, if put in now in showery weather, or kept well watered, will be strong plants by the winter. Keep back the summer growths of all fruit trees, except those portions which are suitable for training.

My 1817 Almanac advised its readers to "Sow Turnips and Onions to stand the Winter; as also Carrots, Coleworts, and Cauliflowers.  Keep your Garden clean from Weeds, and do not neglect to weed frequently your new-planted Quicks*.  Gather such Seeds as are ripe, as also Flowers; dry them in the Shade, then in the Sun."
   "Plant out Celery, Cabbages, and Broccoli in cloudy Weather.  Earth up Peas and Beans."

* Quicks: Quickset, a living plant set to grow, especially for a hedge.  Specifically, hawthorn planted to form a hedge.
Health for July:
"Forbear superfluous Drinking.  Use Cold Herbs.  Shun boiled, salt and strong Meats, and abstain from Physic."

July. Engraving by Samuel Williams. William Hone, The Everyday Book and Table Book, (1838) p. 683.
July – Haymaking. Engraving based on an 11th century manuscript. William Walsh, Curiosities of Popular Customs (1898) p. 586