Favorites in Fraught Times?

In these fraught times, it is sometimes difficult to focus on the small joys of life that I feature in my Friday Favorites series. In brief: Worldwide, there is climate change and the pandemic, which continue to grind everyone down. In the U.S. we have the most odious and incompetent leadership that I have ever had the misfortune to see. The pandemic is minimized to the point where it is more or less allowed to rampage at will. Over 200,000 people in the U.S. have died because of Covid-19, and the numbers continue to rise. Mask wearing has become a political issue, and a few months ago, elders were encouraged to face death to keep the economy going.

As if this all weren’t bad enough, the U.S. seems to be on the brink of a dictatorship as President Trump makes plans to do whatever it takes to stay in charge, regardless of the results of the upcoming November election. (For a cogent description of Trump’s plans, read the excellent Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American: September 23, 2020.)

Finally, the cherry on this toxic sundae is that once again the Republicans are on the rampage against the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Never mind that millions of people, including me, depend on it for their health insurance. The Republicans want to abolish it, and hope that the Supreme Court will soon rule in their favor. I try not to think too much about what will happen if, at last, the Republicans are successful in demolishing the ACA.

We live on a tight budget, and there is no way we can afford to buy health insurance at market-place rates. Plus, I have had breast cancer, which qualifies as a pre-existing condition. So if the Republicans succeed in their mission, I am out of luck.

Sorry that this is such a pessimistic Friday post, but the bad news Just. Keeps. Coming.

Somehow, it seems frivolous to post pictures of, say, ice cream or omelets or a favorite music video while the country is literally and figuratively on fire. On the other hand, with all that’s going on, it seems like an act of defiance to enjoy the small things in life.

Drinks outside on a warm autumn evening,

a bright leaf that has fallen on the patio,

and chickadees that come to drink from the ant moats above the hummingbird feeders.

Heather Cox Richardson ends her September 23 piece with this small note of hope: “[T]he future remains unwritten.”

Yes, it is, a tiny ray of light in an otherwise dark landscape.

 

 

That Nip of Fall

Just like that, fall is here. It seems that only a short time ago we were using the air conditioner. However, the temp has dipped so low  that there have even been frost warnings all over the state. So far, our cozy home in the woods has escaped being nipped by frost. Nevertheless, we have to use heat in the morning and at night.  Too sudden? You bet. But this is Maine, and that’s how the weather rolls here.

Fortunately, it gets warm enough in the early afternoon for lunch on the patio. Yesterday, Clif grilled Beyond Beef burgers, and as a side, I had some little tomatoes courtesy of our own Farmer Kev. How nice it was to eat in the sun. (Again, what a change from a mere couple of weeks ago.)

The garden is definitely past its best.

But along the edge of our yard, asters are still in bloom.

And the leaves are just beginning to change.

This is a busy time for me. The proof copy of my YA fantasy Out of Time is in. Now begins the extremely picky task of going over the book line by line to catch any errant typos or formatting errors.

Onward, ho!

A Time for Mourning

By now I’m sure all of you have heard about the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a woman who looked like a dove but had the heart of a lioness. She fought tirelessly for women’s rights, which, in the end are human rights.

Heather Cox Richardson, in her Letter from an American, writes, “Justice Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 15, 1933, in an era when laws, as well as the customs they protected, treated women differently than men. Ginsburg would grow up to challenge the laws that barred women from jobs and denied them rights, eventually setting the country on a path to extend equal justice under law to women and LGBTQ Americans.”

Richardson goes on to quote Ginsburg, who in turn quoted from the abolitionist Sarah Grimke: “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”

I’ll stop here. Much will be written and said about Ginsburg over the next week, and I don’t have anything new to add. But I wanted to take time to honor this remarkable woman.

Rest in power, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and many, many thanks for all that you did.  You rose to the top and made the world a better place. Alas, the same cannot be said of all who achieve great power, and your shining example will not be forgotten.

 

Friday Favorites: Ice Cream, Omelets, and a Gothic Thriller

Calories and carbs be damned! Tuesday was my sixty-third birthday, and for the first time this year, we went to my favorite ice cream stand—Fielder’s Choice, where I got a hot fudge sundae made with their fabulous peanut butter ice cream. So, so good!

On a less caloric but still delicious note, Clif has come up with an omelet that uses four simple ingredients—eggs, water, crumbles, and sriracha sauce.

This morning, Clif made me one for breakfast. How tasty and satisfying it was.

This year, my birthday was a little on the quiet side. Usually the kids come from New York and North Carolina, and we have a jolly celebration as we combine three birthdays—mine and Clif’s, both in September, and Dee’s, which is the end of October.

This year, of course, there was no jolly celebration with the kids. And, yes, I missed it very much. We’ll be having a Zoom party on Sunday, but it’s not the same as having everyone at our cozy home in the woods.

Therefore, on my birthday, I gave myself the gift of time, something I rarely do. The day was fine, and instead of doing household chores in the afternoon, I allowed myself to take time out for reading.

Mike, my son-in-law, had recommended Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and relaxing on the patio, I read several chapters of this book.

What a snappy, excellent novel! As the title suggests, this is a Gothic story story set in Mexico in the 1950s. Noémi, the spunky heroine, must travel to the hinterlands of Mexico, to find out why her cousin Catalina, recently married, has sent Noémi and her father a desperate letter begging for help. Off Noémi goes, somewhat reluctantly, from Mexican City to an old, shabby mansion high in the mountains.

Catalina’s husband, Virgil, and his family are satisfyingly creepy, and it isn’t long before Noémi is determined to rescue her cousin. From what, I will not say. I don’t want to spoil the story. I will, however, add that Moreno-Garcia manages to weave in class and race in a satisfying way while never detracting from the vividness of the various characters, especially Noémi, the determined star of the novel. I always admire a heroine who can run in high heels, something I could never do.

While this is a horror novel that builds to an exciting conclusion, Moreno-Garcia allows her characters space to breathe, something I think is essential for any novel, regardless of genre. For me, a story with relentless action is tedious, and the characters are usually flat.

Moreno-Garcia is a young writer with a good writing style and a keen sense of who her characters are. I definitely will be keeping an eye out for her next book.

 

And click here to read about Thistles and Kiwis small pleasures.

Once More to the Narrows

Time was when I walked to the Narrows every day with my trusty Sheltie Liam beside me and my wee camera tucked in my pocket.

But Liam died two years ago, and without a dog to walk, my creaky knees grew even creakier. Walking down the hill to the Narrows and back up again proved too painful.

But this year, facing Covid-19, Clif and I resolved to do what we could to become more healthy. I have chronicled Clif’s successful low-carb diet. For me, becoming more healthy meant losing weight and exercising regularly.

I am happy to report that after losing twenty-five pounds and riding my exercise bike at least five days a week, my knees are no longer as creaky. I can walk to the Narrows and back again without any great discomfort.

A wonderful feeling, and I plan to walk at least weekly to these two beautiful bodies of water—the Upper and Lower Narrows—that are called ponds but are really deep and big enough to be considered lakes. I’ll chronicle the seasons, because the Narrows are beautiful any time of year, even in March, when Maine is in peak ugliness.

Here is what they looked like in mid-September, with the leaves just starting to change.

First, the Lower Narrows.

Then the Upper Narrows.

Sometimes, you even find surprising creatures like, say, a dragon or an orca.

Like our hummingbirds, the dragon and the orca will soon be going away to someplace safe, albeit much nearer than where those tiny winged creatures fly.

I imagine the dragon and the orca tucked away in a snug, dry shed or garage. As the snow falls and the Upper Narrows freezes, they wait, wait, wait until soft spring comes and then summer, when they can return to the water.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Technically, fall isn’t here at all, and there might be a week or two left of swimming. But the nights have been getting colder, and in northern Maine, there have been frosts.

Winter is coming, and we all know it, but until then Clif and I will revel in autumn, surely one of the best and glorious times in Maine.

Friday Favorite: Between Heather and Grass

I decided to change the title for my Friday posts. Formerly, it was What’s Making Me Happy, but I had borrowed this from the excellent podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, and I thought maybe it would be best to have something different. There is a fine line between admiration and plagiarism, and I didn’t want to cross it.

So now the title will be Friday Favorites, but the content will be the same as I list things that made me happy or caught my attention during the week. Often I list three things, but today there will only be one as it needs to stand by itself.

Long overdue to be featured on this blog is the very beautiful book, Between Heather and Grass: Poems and Photographs Filled with Love, Hope and Whippets. It was published by my blogging friend Xenia Tran, who has the lovely blogs Whippet Wisdom and Tranature. Both blogs feature fine poetry as well as gorgeous photography of Scotland. Whippet Wisdom, as its name suggests, also features two graceful whippets, Eivor and Pearl.

Between the Heather and Grass also features fine poetry, gorgeous photographs of Scotland, and those two elegant whippets. In addition, there are short paragraphs of prose that expand on the poetry and photos.

About Between Heather and Grass, Xenia writes, “We are donating thirty per cent of any net profit from the sale of this book to a children’s cancer charity in memory of our nephew Jamie Baker and another thirty per cent of net profit to the UK’s largest dog welfare charity in memory of Flynn, Fergal, Seamus and Ruby. ”

Readers, I have a confession to make. I was moved to tears by the poignancy of the photos and words in this book combined with the dedication to Xenia’s nephew, who alas, did not survive his bout with cancer. I, too, have a nephew who had cancer, but fortunately he survived.

Anyway, this is a book to cherish, to have have in your own library and to give to others who love photography, poetry, and dogs.

Addendum: Oops! I had meant to delete this music video and include it in next week’s Friday Favorites. But it was pushed so far down that I didn’t notice it was on this post until a reader commented on it. Well, two things are featured this Friday.  Enjoy Jon Batiste’s fantastic music.

 

Addendum 2: Hoo-boy! Really missing the beat this week. On my Friday posts, I always like to include Thistle and Kiwis small pleasures for the week. Because let’s face it, especially during these times, you can’t have too many small pleasures.

Some Thoughts on Labor Day 2020

This morning the sky was a bright overcast, a perfect time for poking around the yard and taking pictures of small things. The flowers are definitely past their best, but there are a few bright spots here and there.

Perky Black-eyed Susans,

Asters, those stars of fall,

and bright wands of Goldenrod.

In the United States, today is Labor Day, which Wikipedia defines as “a federal holiday in the United States celebrated on the first Monday in September to honor and recognize the American labor movement and the works and contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of the United States.”

I think of my Franco-American ancestors—potato farmers and factory workers—mocked and derided for being “dumb Frenchman.” In truth, these “dumb Frenchman” did much of the hard, back-breaking labor that kept Maine going. Why weren’t they respected for the work they did? Even today, the contributions of Franco-Americans are seldom acknowledged.

If we cast the circle wider to encompass other ethnic groups and workers—the ones who pick our crops, the ones who work in stores, the ones who bravely go forth during this pandemic so that we can eat and have the necessities of life—we see that the same sort of disrespect is extended to them. Somehow these workers are so lowly that they do not deserve a decent wage, health care, or affordable housing and transportation.

To borrow from my blogging friends across the pond, rubbish! Covid-19 has revealed exactly who is essential and who is not.

So on this Labor Day, and indeed on every other day, let’s honor the men and women who work so hard and get so little. And, maybe, just maybe, we can think about what we, as a society, can do to make their lives a little more comfortable.

And then put those thoughts into actions.

 

 

 

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