Winter Delights

Joanna here: Snowman 3

It’s always seemed to me that cold needs snow in it. Cold without snow is like ham without eggs, Jekyll without Hyde, clotted cream without scones — which is to say, sad and pointless.

My favorite winter activity, in fact, is building a snowman. I like this because it’s ephemeral and my art is much improved if it doesn’t last too long. Snow is a medium that does not encourage a quest for perfection. One must accept the limits of the whole snowman realism thing. And it’s childish. I like to be free and deliberately childish once in a while. Making snowmen is, I’m sure, an ancient human activity. I connect to my presocietal ancestors.

Also, you end up with a snowman which is kinda a lucky thing to have about the place.

So I asked the other Wench what was their favorite activity in the winter, assuming I’d get back responses like, “sitting in coffee shops, doing edits” or “drinking hot chocolate with Peppermint Schnapps.”

Here is what they have to say:

Wench anneAnne
— you know she’s in Australia so she’s turned around from the rest of us —

We're coming into spring here, but I live in a city famed — infamed? 😉 — for its changeable weather, so it's teasing us with glimpses of spring and then reverting back to cold, wet and gloomy, which is our usual winter weather. We almost never get snow and when it does hit (about once in a decade) we all get wildly excited and take photos and make miniature snowmen — miniature because there's never enough snow for anything more than about a foot high — and that's pushing it — and the snow only ever lasts a few hours. So, failing the excitement of snow, winter for me is curling up somewhere warm and cosy with a good book, preferably beside a crackling open fire.

Andrea is an expert in snow: Wenches andrea 2

Growing up, I loved skiing. But the icy trails of New England no longer hold quite the same appeal, and as I don’t often get out to the powdery slopes of Colorado or Utah, these days I find oth er means of locomotion when the snow falls. I’ve unbuckled my downhill boots and tend to lace up my hiking boots in winter. I love walking down by the harbor near where I live and enjoying the subtle play of light on the water, both on cold, clear days and in stormy weather. There’s an austere beauty to the limited palette of winter colors and the always changing patterns of shadow and waves. I always go home to my writing desk feeling rechanged by the wonders of Nature. 

Pat takes a California view:

Wench pat 1My favorite winter activity is to run away from winter. We've spent our lives living in snow country, spent a week without electricity and running water, lived on kerosene heaters, the whole rigamarole. Now we live in Southern California and we go whale sailing, take long scenic walks on the beach, and travel. If it qualifies as an outside activity–I sit on the patio and read and write! It took a long time to shake the snow off our boots, but we're enjoying the sand!

Susan is another old winter veteran:

Spending my childhood in a small town in Upstate New York, I grew up doing plenty of winter activities Wench mjp 2 British Virgins– skiing at Lake Placid, sledding and ice skating in the local park (and my dad would flood the backyard, which froze into a perfect skating rink for us all winter). We built snow-people and forts and had epic neighborhood snowball fights. Truly a winter wonderland up there. Fast forward to my high school years, when we moved south to Maryland — where the opportunities for months of snowy winter fun were not so much. Scraping a few inches of dirty snow for a snowball to pelt a sister or a friend – nah. Now and then, though, the Mid-Atlantic does produce some very respectable snow. Years later, I was as eager as my kids to get my coat and boots on to help build snow-people, snow forts and go sledding down our nice steep hill, but good snow just wasn't reliable each year. Nowadays, I still very much love snow and snowstorms. But I'm more likely to be shoveling the driveway (though my husband does get the occasional surprise snowball – I'm cautious about this, as his return volleys are not near as gentle as mine!). I do love to go for a walk in the snow, especially when it's drifting peacefully and beautifully out of the sky. 

Then I stomp the snow off my boots, go inside, make some hot tea and curl up with a good book!   

Nicola says:

Nicola here. My favourite outdoor winter activity is taking the dogs out for a walk in the snow on a Wench nicola 1 Monty in the snowcold, crispy day with a blue sky overhead and the wind on my face. I find it refreshing and reinvigorating and the dogs go completely mad with excitement. It’s great fun watching them! I think maybe everything smells sharper to them on a snowy day. They also love the texture of the snow, jumping in it and running through it.  Ethel saw snow at the beginning of this year as a tiny puppy but if we get any this winter she will be able to go out and play in it. Angus loves it almost as much as going to the seaside! The picture is of Monty, our old Labrador, helpfully fetching my hat from out of a snowdrift.

Of course being so weather-dependent, this isn’t an outdoor activity you can guarantee and there have been plenty of years when all we have had is grey rain and dull skies. It’s difficult to whip up the same enthusiasm for a dog walk under those circumstances! The forecast this year is for a hard winter so we will wrap up warm and get out there.

And finally,

Mary Jo here.  I can't honestly think of any outdoor winter activity that matches up to curling up inside Wench mjp 1 with a good book and a cat on the lap!  But I admit that after a fresh snow, I enjoy a gentle stroll to appreciate the beauty of pristine winter. 

But I have much more enthusiasm for that winter activity known as a visit to the Caribbean!  Appreciated all the more because of what we've left behind. <G>

What about you?

As November swings past Thanksgiving and into December, what do you look forward to doing outside? What did you used to do that stays with you still in memory.

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The Story of a Fork

Wench fork circa 1600 mother of pearl and beads VandAIf you figger folks in ye olden days had it tougher than we do now, you don’t have to look further than the matter of forks. Oversimplifying like mad, one may say that Europe went from a state of no forks whatsoever, to the slightly more satisfying condition of two-pronged forks, to the multiply pronged jobbies we enjoy today.

Let us go back to the very beginning of fine dining in Europe. Here’s a Medieval feast. White cloth, pretty

Wench bosch wedding at cana crop

click for closeup

dishes, probably wonderful food  and wine or mead or whatever. But the guests were expected to manage the food with their knives and spoons, which they brought with them, and their fingers which they also brought with them and washed from time to time with fingerbowls and clean linen.

See how that table has knives set about here and there. There’s no soup or stew in evidence so folks

Wench 1656 maes crop

I don't know why the knife is pointed at her

haven’t taken their spoons out.


Here's another picture. Her dinner is soup and fish and maybe a veggie. She has a spoon, I think, in her bowl and a knife, but she has no fork. It's 1656. 

We are pre-fork.

Of course, there had been forks in the kitchen forever, poking roasts and holding meat down to be carved and fetching beets out of boiling water. Now the fork emerged into the culinary daylight and took a place at the table. It served two purposes there. It secured food so your knife could cut it. And the fork could be used to convey food to the mouth, a job that had heretofore been performed by the sharp point of a knife or the bowl of a spoon. Or, you know, fingers.

I have no doubt folks were nimble at this eating food off a razor-sharp knife tip. However, I’m glad I didn't have to teach a three-year-old the knack. Knives doubtless made food-fights in the nursery an altogether more deadly affair.

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In for a Penny, In for a Pound

Moneylender and wife detailyJoanna here, talking about … well … money.

‘Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves.’ 
Before 1724


In the change purse of your average Regency housekeeper or light-hearted debutant or even your evil-eyed villain you might find farthings and halfpence, pennies, two pence — all of those in copper. Then the silver coins, which would be four pence, six pence, shilling, eighteen pence, and half crown.

You can see what they look like — that loose copper change and the gold coins that you, as a Regency person, probably wouldn’t have been carrying around in your pocket every day — here.

There is a whole possibility of coins in that purse. When you reached in and pulled one out, maybe the most likely of all would be the humble and fascinating penny.

‘A penny for your thoughts
Dates to 1546.

Gaming purse late C17 french met museum

French 'gaming purse' attrib Metropolitan Museum

The 1800 English penny was a substantial coin, more valuable than our current British penny.

How valuable? Talking the long general period around 1800, a pint of beer or a cup of coffee cost a penny. A one-pound loaf of bread cost penny happence.

A latte at Starbucks, you will have noticed, costs a bit more than a penny, and a London coffee shop threw in the newspapers free. Gerrit van Honthorst Old woman examining a coin1620



‘In for a penny, in for a pound.’

The penny was bigger and heavier than either a US or UK penny today. Current currency (I loved writing that) is ‘token money’. We don’t expect a dime or a quarter to hold ten cents or twenty-five cents worth of silver. Currency in 1800 contained its value in metal. A penny held a penny’s worth of copper. About an ounce.

That means a big, heavy coin. If you decided, in your Eighteenth Century way, to grab a coffee coming home from work, pick up a loaf of bread, some fish, a few veggies and a nice French wine . . .  you might find yourself walking around with a half pound of coins in your pouch.

‘Penny wise and pound foolish.’

Here’s a close up view of one Penny 1806of those pennies. A George III 1806 penny. I am just going to say that if I looked like George III I would not put my profile on a coin. The reverse shows Britania.

If you click on the picture and have very good eyes you might see that down below Britania’s shield is the word SOHO — where it was minted.


Cartwheel penny 1797Our Regency purse might contain an earlier minting of the copper penny that had an incised design and a particularly thick rim. These were nicknamed ‘cartwheels’.

These 'cartwheels' were minted over several years but were all stamped 1797, and this is exactly the  the sort of thing that makes us cynical about the whole monetary system.



Since there’s so many very thrifty proverbs about pennies . . .  What’s your favorite way to be frugal with your pennies?
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What the Animals Got for Christmas

Cat in chair smallI don't forget the animals at Christmas. They may not know what's going on, but they know it involves food.

If I left them out of the festivities, the dog would gaze at me sadly, wondering how she'd failed me. What she'd done wrong.  
The cat would stomp over and bite my ankles. Mandy with toys 2

So they both got finely chopped chicken served to them in a lordly dish with much crooning and praise.

Up there's the cat in her accustomed cat-coma, sleeping off Christmas dinner, cat version.
I didn't buy her any toys. She turns her nose up at toys.

Christmas birdAnd to the right here is the dog, slightly more alert than the feline. Note the new squeaky toy. It's blue. It has eyes. And spots. And three (count 'em three!!) air bladders inside, each squeaking at a different note. The dog has a high old time playing tunes on it.

Outside is the accustomed tribute for the birds. Sunflower seeds. Only the best for my feathered friends.

The dog is grateful.

The cat, as usual, accepts my tribute.

Who knows what birds feel?

The Oldest White Horse on the Hill

Joanna here, talking about a British hill figure, the White Horse of Uffington.

Uffington horse attrib davepriceThis is Nicola’s neighborhood, as you see here.  I will nonetheless forge on bravely into her bailiwick.

Okay. Let’s say you’re a Regency miss visiting friends in Oxfordshire in the parish of Uffington.  Even though the White Horse can be seen twenty miles away, your carriage arrived in the Vale of the White Horse at night. You had to pull yourself out of bed at dawn to creep out in the garden and finally see it.

A skimped, hurried breakfast and you’re off.  This is Midsummer’s Day. You drive through throngs in the morning to get to the White Horse. You’re not surprised there’s a fair and foodstalls, jugs of beer, and sports. Midsummer’s Day is always  a big event. You have a village fair back home in Yorkshire. But this is huge. Beyond Cerne_Abbas_Giant_Renovation_(10) There must be thousands of people here.

You’re in time to see the festivities start. The young men gather in a troop, up spade, shovel, mattocks, and hoe, and head up hill for the “scouring of the White Horse.”  All the nearby towns, you’ll be told, claim a role in the scouring and restoration of the White Horse by ancient custom.

Now I will break into your Regency scene here and say that I have been to the White Horse of Uffington myself.  It’s impressive. There it is, carved into the endless green, 374 feet long, 227 feet high.  Designed to be in proportion when viewed from below. It’s . . . big.

The figure is on the side of that sloping hill, just a lazy walk from the road below. It was clear and quiet when I was there.  The figure feels very old. The artistic convention of it is sophisticated, but alien.  And it’s beautiful.

There’s a superstition that if you stand in the ‘eye’ of the horse and make a wish, it’ll come true.  So I did that. And it pretty much did.

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