The Last Day of March: In Like a Lion, Out Like a Mess

To borrow from the meteorologist Lou McNally—also known as Altitude Lou—March came in like a lion and went out like a mess. At the little house in the big woods, it is sleeting outside. The road is thick with slush, and there is a layer of ice on our car. What a trickster March is, and it couldn’t resist one last icy prank before giving way to April, which I hope will bring better weather. After all, the snow in our yard is bound to melt sometime before July.

Here is what our yard looks like this morning:

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There will be plenty of scraping if I do errands, as planned, this afternoon.

In the interest of being fair to March, that long, long, temperamental month, I have to admit it does have its moments of beauty, if you know where to look. The following pictures were taken a few days ago, when the sun was shining, and it was relatively warm, say 45 or so.

An ice shack on the Upper Narrows Pond
An ice shack on the Upper Narrows Pond
Open water on the Lower Narrows Pond
Open water on the Lower Narrows Pond
In the woods
In the woods
Leaves and snow
Leaves and snow

Nevertheless, I am certainly ready for April.

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A Sideswipe of a Storm and a Good Day to Make Blueberry Muffins

img_5437Yesterday, central Maine got lucky. The big storm that swept up the Eastern Seaboard brought us wind but not much else. We didn’t even lose our power. “The storm was a sideswipe,”Paul Fitzsimmons, a forecaster from Caribou, said. “Maine was on the western fringes of the storm.”

For that we must be grateful, even though the weather is still brisk, and the little house in the big woods is still surrounded by snow. To celebrate being sideswiped by what would have been a major and destructive storm had it hit us head on, I decided to make sour-cream blueberry muffins with a brown sugar topping. Of course, any day would be a good day to make blueberry muffins.

But a warm muffin and a cup of tea is a fine thing to have the day after being sideswiped by a storm, when the days are getting longer and the birds are singing. And with tea in hand, I stood in my bright dining room and saluted spring. Come, spring. Take the cold weather away. We are ready.

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March Marches On

img_5409Another Day in March. This morning, the thermometer read zero, and there is frost on the windows. Another storm is blowing up the coast, and although there are small patches of blue in the sky, there are plenty of hazy clouds to indicate bad weather is coming. The prediction is that the storm will be mostly coastal, and I am hopeful that central Maine will be spared the worst. Even better would be for the storm to be entirely coastal, as in completely out to sea, but I suppose that is too much to hope for.

On the stove, there are chicken bones simmering with garlic, peppercorns, a bay leaf, salt, and an onion studded with a few cloves. After it has simmered for several hours, the broth will be strained and then go into the slow-cooker to be combined with drippings from a chicken meal we had on Sunday, when I put sweet potatoes under a whole chicken sprinkled with garlic and herbs. When the broth and drippings have simmered for a bit, I will blend the leftover sweet potatoes into the resultant stock and add leftover chicken. Noodles will be cooked separately to add at the last minute, and Clif and I will have some warm soup on this cold March night. I’ll either make biscuit muffins or bran muffins to go with the soup.

While the stock is simmering, there will be a walk in the woods with the dog. There is still plenty of snow in central Maine, and the trail we walk on is packed hard by snowmobiles. It doesn’t feel like spring at all. It still feels like winter. But the days are getting longer, and the birds have begun their spring songs. I tell myself this as I bundle up in my heaviest coat and put on my hat and my heaviest gloves.

In the woods, at the end of the trail, are sap buckets. Unfortunately, it has been too cold for much of a harvest. Nevertheless, those buckets are a cheering presence at the end of what has been a long, hard winter.

Surely warmer weather is just around the corner. Surely spring is coming. Surely sometime before July, the snow will be gone from the yard of the little house in the big woods.

 

The First Day of Spring, When the Mind Turns to Chocolate, Tea, Reading, and a Day Spent on the Couch

img_5402I’m in such a gray funk on this drizzly first day of spring that although there is much I could be doing, I don’t want to do any of it. Quite naturally, my mind turns to chocolate, tea, reading, and a day spent on the couch.

“What in the world?” the Franco-American part of me scolds. “The whole day on the couch? Mon Dieu! Cupboards need to be cleaned, floors need to be vacuumed, and some of the rooms really, really need to be dusted. And have you looked at your closet lately? There are clothes in there that haven’t seen the light of day in years, if not decades. Time to get rid of those darned clothes.”

The foodie part of me also chimes in. “And you know that too much chocolate isn’t good for you. A little yes, but not one of your chocolate fests where those tin wrappers make a tottering pile beside your tea cup.”

“All right, all right,” I mutter. “I won’t spend the day on the couch where I read, eat chocolate, and drink tea.”

As I finish typing that sentence, I look out the window at the rain and the drooping branches. Snow slides with a whoosh from the roof. The road is thick with slush, and there will be no walk in the woods today. The dog will be restless tonight, and I know how he feels. In, in, in. We have been indoors for too long, and we want to be outdoors. It’s funny how well matched the dog and I are. On a nice day in the summer, we both could spend the day outdoors from dawn to dusk. And I mean this literally.

Around this time of year, a snow-free yard, a sunny day, and picking up branches and twigs start looking good. Indoor chores, not so much, even though there are plenty of them.

The snow will melt, but that day seems to be some time in the distant future. Intellectually, I know this isn’t true, that by the end of April, the ground will be bare, the mud should mostly be gone, and there will be a flush of green.

But the reality of now, of March, of cold gray, almost overcomes the imagination.

Well, maybe just one cup of tea and a few chocolates. And a chapter or two.

After all, those chores aren’t going anywhere.

 

Our Wedding Anniversary—37 Years

img_5380Today is our wedding anniversary. Clif and I have been married for 37 years, and, yes, this makes me feel very, very old.

‘Tis more fun to celebrate an anniversary on a weekend than midweek, and thanks to the generosity of my brother and his wife, who gave us a gift certificate for Christmas, we were able to go to 18 Below in Waterville. As soon as I walked down the long stairs—they don’t call it 18 Below for nothing—I knew it would be my kind of place. I could see that many people were drinking cocktails, and I must admit I have a fondness for mixed drinks.

“I’m getting a cocktail,” I said to Clif after we were seated.

“I was sure you would,” Clif said, handing me the drinks list. “And they have plenty to choose from.”

I ordered a Vermonter—Gray Goose and maple syrup—and it was good and simple enough so that I am planning to try this at home sometime in the summer, when we can invite friends over for grilled bread, appetizers, and drinks. Clif also ordered a cocktail—I can’t remember its name—but it had the taste of a fresh margarita.

After drinks came the tasty food—pork for me and seafood for Clif—and the restaurant was full of happy people eating and drinking. There was even a birthday gathering, and after the birthday song was sung, we all clapped.

“That’s what happens when you serve cocktails,” our daughter Dee observed when we told her about the jolly mood at 18 Below.

Indeed it does, and although you wouldn’t want to make a habit of drinking cocktails on a regular basis, one now and then does add a splash of fun to an evening.

So happy anniversary to Clif and me. After 37 years of marriage, I can honestly say that we are true friends. We share so many of the same interests—biking, movies, theater, art, books, and food as well as a love of family and friends. I know this doesn’t sound in the least romantic, but it is my guess that nowadays most long marriages have this element of friendship that strengthens and sustains the relationship.

I know I can’t imagine a marriage without it.

And a cocktail now and then doesn’t hurt, either.

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Some Fun

Clif with shovel the elder and shovel the younger
Clif with shovel the elder and shovel the younger

This morning, Clif and I had some fun outside. For over an hour, using metal shovels that are not only old enough to vote but are probably old enough to collect social security as well, we chipped away at a wall of ice at the end of our driveway and by the mailboxes. It’s nature’s gym, that’s for sure, when snow is followed by sleet and rain and the plow truck goes by and plugs the end of the driveway.

It is pretty outside, I’ll give it that. The dirty snow is covered up—at least for the moment—and the trees are frosted with white. As we worked, the dog had a blast jumping and barking, and after such exertions, he is taking a nap at his favorite spot by the door, where he can keep track of things as he snoozes.

After my exertions, I felt as though I deserved 2 cookies with my mug of tea, even though it was only 10:00 in the morning. Those cookies tasted pretty darned good, as my Yankee husband might say.

To look at the bright side…at least we didn’t lose our power, and April is only a few weeks away. To my way of thinking, April is not the cruelest month of the year. Not by a long shot. It is a time of warmer weather and awakening, when the water runs and gurgles in the ditch by the side of the road and the birds are in full song and they are telling us that spring is coming, spring is coming.