It is the Sun shining on the Rain...and the Rain falling on the Sunshine

This is the last of my collection of wintery photo scenes for awhile.  The ski boots are stacked together in the barn promising of winter fun to come again.  I've swept out the mud room over and over again from the constant debris left from trailing in snow and ice from outside. We swung open the big wooden barn doors and pushed the ancient sliding doors wide open so that softer winds can sweep out the corners from the long months of winter chill.

One of the reasons we wanted to move back to the New England area is because we missed the distinct four seasons.   We are certainly not being disappointed.  Winter is hanging up his checkered wool hat and kicking off heavy muddy boots as Spring slips into a flowing floral dress and swishes and swoons up and down the hillsides creating pretty scenes of feminine beauty.  Days here unfold with such dramatic flourishes of scene changes as our calendar slips gloriously through a quarter turn from December to March to May...

These photos are from a few weeks back.  So much about the New Hampshire landscape has changed dramatically since then.  Each day started to get just a few degrees warmer than the previous day.  The water dripping from the huge wrap around porch sounded like someone tap tap tapping a xylophone to create a sweet tinging chorus as if we had chimes hanging outside. 

 The mist would hang low and soft over the Mink Hills behind the barn creating a scene of such contrast between barn red and ethereal milky whites.  Winter was amazingly quiet and so very still in the woods.  Lately, birds are beginning to chirp from high in the woods, squirrels are scrambling under my bird feeders to catch fallen bits of seed, and we finally spotted the otter we heard about slipping up and down in the water down at the now unfrozen river.

Cajun Gumbo with Seafood, Chicken, and Okra

I am knee deep in discovering and unearthing my own secret garden here at the farmhouse. This historic home hasn't been lived in for about 4 years until we arrived on the back porch doorstep 2 days before Christmas.

For 4 months now, the ground has been covered in snow and ice.  We had little idea what the lot looked like without snow.  There are summertime photos from several years ago of the house in our seller's packet. As we moved through the winter months, we would stare at the photos to get an idea of what trees and plants are on the property and how the front lawn looked cloaked in green instead of blanketed in white.

The river down below the hill behind the house is flowing faster and more powerfully.  When we sit with our morning coffee on the back porch, the sound of water tumbling over the huge boulders is mesmerizing and calming.  

Just as we were burning the last of our wood pile in the wood burning fireplaces, the weather warmed just enough to pack away the long down coats and double thick mittens that had become our daily uniform.  I'll miss the snow.  I love winter.  But the absolute burst of drama unfolding before us as a new seasonal act has begun is nothing short of captivating.  It is difficult for us to stay indoors at this point and my hands are daily deep in the cool earth weeding and planting.  Well, weeding would be the more accurate word at this point...planting is coming soon!

Our last winter meal was around our long kitchen table with new friends.  We had a gumbo weekend several weeks ago and since one of our neighbors from up the road is also from Louisiana, the cajun quota way up here in New Hampshire was doubled for the afternoon.

What a wonderful day we had enjoying the last days of winter, anticipating the impending change of season, and basking in the companionship of  like-minded friends.

Gumbo is always welcome and anticipated at our house during the frigid days of winter.  Everyone in my family likes gumbo and I always throw a medley of seafood, chicken, and sausage in my huge pot along with handfuls of chopped okra.  I'm not a gumbo purist and it is fare game what lands in the pot...mostly because I like all the flavors that meld together and don't want to leave anything out.

When I was laying out the bowls on the table, a memory from years ago came to mind. Growing up in Louisiana, seafood and chicken gumbo was always served on Christmas Eve before we would walk from my grandparent's house up the road to midnight mass. 

The huge gumbo pot would be simmering away on the stovetop in my grandmother's kitchen.  It was her maid, Rose, who would be tending the roux and carefully stirring it until just the right golden brown color.  

I was a child that liked to eat everything.  I would try anything...and Rose knew it.  Often, if she was bringing in a steak from the grill, she would call me over by her side.   Even if  I were flying through the kitchen from one room to the next, I was always half aware of sniffing the air to estimate what Rose had cooking on the stove or on the grill.  

One time it was steak.  The smell of the cooked meat was intoxicating.  But I knew what particular treat she had in store for me as I whizzed through the kitchen stopping right by her side.  With a twinkle in her eye and a quick wink she would slice off a fatty piece of the tip of the steak she was grilling and offer this juicy tidbit to me.  I would take a taste...she would take a taste...we would smile conspiratorially at each other and  chorus "...Mmmm" before I would race off again on whatever adventure I had assembled in my mind.

But I digressed.  Back to gumbo memories.  The first gumbo of the winter season (not that Louisiana really has winters, but we thought we did...) was always served on Christmas Eve.  As a child, when I spotted the gumbo pot simmering on the stovetop in the kitchen, it was a signal to race to the dining room to check the place settings on the Christmas Eve table.

My eyes would dart around the table taking in which way the gumbo bowls were placed at each setting.  If the bowls were turned upside down, that meant we were in for a yearly surprise. The bowls would stay turned upside down as my grandparents would comment that "upside down bowls at the dinner table are perfectly normal.  Doesn't everyone set their tables with bowls placed upside down?"

For dessert, Patrick's delicious warm cranberry walnut stollen

Every year, feigning ignorance we would act as if we had no idea what was underneath those bowls.  As I sat around, what seemed to my younger self as a larger than life dining room table in my grandmother's very fancy dining room, I fingered my huge gumbo spoon in anticipation of the yearly surprise.  We all maintained the guise that upside down bowls were perfectly normal and that there certainly couldn't be anything underneath those bowls.

Somehow a signal was given and everyone was given permission to turn over his bowl all at the same time.  One crisp new green bill was laying underneath each person's bowl.  Some years it was a $50 brand new bill and other years it was a whopping $100 perfectly flat new bill.  The thrill of this sight was always just as shocking and delightful as the previous year. I would smell the bill, feel its dusty smooth surface with my fingers, examine all of the drawings printed on it and feel entirely rich at that moment.  The sky was the limit as to what goodies could be bought with that bounty in hand.  No wonder gumbo triggers such pleasant memories.  It was a meal steeped in mystery, aromas, tastes, and finally...treasure!

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