All posts by Clif Graves

The Beauty of Moss

I’ve decided to add a new category—A Closer Look—to this blog. Sometimes it will be close-up shots of food. Other times, it will be of nature or of everyday things around the house. As I noted in a previous post, too often I have the tendency to rush through my days and not take the time to look closely at what is around me. While it is good to get things done, too much rushing and not enough looking leads to a much poorer life. I have vowed to look more closely.

This is a photo of moss I removed from my garden and set on the glass table on the patio.


We tend to see moss as “green,” and green it certainly is. But look at the different shades of green, bright and dark, and look at the little balls on the stems. This could be the landscape of a fantastical world.

Look, look, look.

The New Addition at Railroad Square Cinema

img_5717For Clif and me, last week was action packed. First there was the Kick-Off Celebration of our library’s expansion project. (I wrote about this in the previous post.) Then there was Railroad Square Cinema’s celebration party for its own expansion project, which Clif and I went to on Saturday night.

Clif and I decided to go early and meet our friends Joel and Alice at Buen Apetito, the busy Mexican Restaurant attached to the cinema. The restaurant also was expanded, and now it has its own entrance as well as a snappy new bar where customers can gather to drink margaritas—take care as they can be strong!—and eat chips and salsa. Clif and I shared an order of tasty pulled-pork nachos, and 2 margaritas each put us in a jolly mood.


After dinner, we went next door to the cinema, and the dear little place hardly looked like itself. There is a spiffy new entrance, where tickets can be purchased, and the concession stand has been moved across the enlarged lobby. The lobby was packed with people, and on the walls was an exhibit, edgy and sharp enough to be shown in a museum. (The lobby was so crowded that it put me in a daze, and I didn’t get the name of either the artist or the exhibit. Clif and I hope to go back soon to get that information.)

The new entrance at the cinema
The new entrance at the cinema
The concession stand has moved
The concession stand has been moved
The crowd in the lobby
The crowd in the lobby
Art in the lobby
Art in the lobby

There is even a new closet in the women’s room. Another patron and I regarded it suspiciously. “What is that?” she asked. “A storage closet?” I ventured. A quick peek indicated that this was indeed the case.

Railroad Square Cinema opened in 1978, and Clif and I have been going there from the very beginning. We’ve seen many changes, but Railroad Square remains an important cultural center in Waterville, and it draws people from miles around. In fact, Railroad Square, combined with Colby College, the Waterville Opera House, and a wonderful public library, makes Waterville a very attractive place for seniors to retire.

So congratulations Railroad Square Cinema! May you continue to give us good movies, good art, and good times for many years to come.

Charles M. Bailey Public Library’s Kick-Off Celebration: What a Town of Readers

Mary jane Auns, trustee chair, and Richard Fortin, libary director, beside the new sign
Mary jane Auns, trustee chair, and Richard Fortin, libary director, beside the new sign

On Thursday, we had our Kick-Off Celebration at the Charles M. Bailey Library to begin the public phase of the library’s expansion campaign. We need to raise 1 million dollars for the addition, and to date we have raised almost $750,000, enough to get us started some time in the next few months.

For most of Thursday the sky had been gray, but just before the Kick-Off, the sky cleared, and it was sunny and warm. Bailey Library sits close to the street and has very little land. Therefore, the police department graciously agreed to close off part of the street so that the short ceremony could be held outside.

And a good thing, too, because people came and came, spilling from the sidewalk and onto the street. We clapped and cheered as the various speakers—members of the community—extolled the virtues and the beauty of the library. They all spoke from the heart, and it was clear that Bailey Library was dear to them all and of vital importance to their lives.

The crowd listens
The crowd listens

Our library is of vital importance to many people’s lives. Winthrop has a population of about 6,000, which increases in the summer as people come to stay at the many lakes in town. In April, circulation at the library was 4,888, with half of the materials borrowed being honest-to-God books made of paper. As Mary Jane Auns, the chair of the trustees, put it, “What a town of readers!”

Yes, we are!

Judi Stebbins, chair of the campaign team, spoke at the Kick-Off Celebration, and the sentiment she expressed mirrors what I have been thinking for the past week or so. She spoke of how Charles M. Bailey, a wealthy Winthrop resident who helped established the library in the early 1900s, started something that not only benefited the town in his own time but has also benefited Winthrop residents 100 years later. Now, she said, it was our turn to pay it forward so that residents 100 years from now will be benefiting from the work we have done to expand the library.

Judi Stebbins
Judi Stebbins

I want to add to Judi’s lovely, generous notion. It’s not every day that ordinary folks can come together to work on a project that is larger than themselves, for something that will benefit not only their current time but for something that will also ripple forward to benefit children who haven’t even been born yet. Our lives are short, but the library will continue long after we are gone.

What a good feeling it is to be part of this project.

Now, onward and upward!




A Double Batch of Gingersnaps for the Library’s Kick-Off Celebration

img_5678This afternoon, I spent a couple of hours making a double batch of gingersnaps for the Charles M. Bailey Public Library’s Kick-Off Celebration for the new expansion. The Kick-Off will be held tomorrow, Thursday, May 15 at 5:30 p.m. at the library on Bowdoin St. Those of us on the expansion team are hoping we’ll get a good turnout for this event.

For those who come, there will be plenty of homemade treats as well as a chance to talk to members on the campaign team and to maybe, maybe make a donation to this very worthy cause.

Initially, at the beginning of the week, rain was forecasted for Thursday, but as I write, the weather report looks pretty darned good for tomorrow.

I am going to take this as an auspicious sign.


A Sunny Mother’s Day

On Mother’s Day, in central Maine, we got oh so lucky with the weather. The day was sunny and warm.  At the little house in the big woods, Shannon and Clif made a bang-up brunch for me and Gail, Mike’s mother. While brunch was being prepared, Gail and I sat on the patio, chatted, and luxuriated in the sun. How wonderful to be able to sit outside without a jacket! And how nice, just for once, not to have to fuss over a meal, to relax and talk while someone else fussed.

For our Mother’s Day brunch, Shannon and Clif made home fries, waffles, a sausage and cheddar breakfast casserole, and a fruit salad.


Then there was dessert, chocolate soufflé cupcakes with mint cream, a Smitten Kitchen recipe. This cupcake is rich and flourless and has become a favorite of mine. Shannon made it last year for Mother’s Day, and I requested it this year. Best of all, these cupcakes can be made the day before and still be moist the next day.


We had dessert outside on the patio, while the dogs ran and sniffed around the backyard, and the goldfinches tweeted and twittered. Gail and I complimented the chefs—Clif for his wonderfully light waffles, and Shannon for the tasty breakfast casserole, crisp home fries, and incredible cupcakes.

I commented on how Shannon only started cooking when she was in her late 20s, and Gail was surprised. “She’s such a good cook. I thought she had been cooking for a long time.”

Then Shannon said something that I’m still mulling over. “Even though I wasn’t interested in cooking, I had a mother who cooked, so I knew the basics—stir frying, sautéing, baking. I wasn’t completely inexperienced.”

Maybe so, but if my memory is correct, Shannon didn’t do many of those things when she was at home. Could watching me really have given her a head start? Or, is she just a quick learner? Whatever the case, Shannon has become a fine cook, and I’m always eager to eat a meal she’s prepared.

After everyone left, it was still light, and Clif and I went on a bike ride. After the ride, we sat by shimmering Marancook for a while, watching the sun set and some brave souls wade in water that must be very cold.

A lovely ending to a lovely day.


Notes from the Hinterland: In Bloom and Unfurling

Although everything is late, spring has finally come to Maine. The hermit thrushes are back with their pan-pipe songs. Yesterday, I saw a hummingbird—time to put up the lovely red feeder Clif bought me for Christmas. It’s been sunny and warm enough for lunch on the patio, and mild enough, even, for an hour on the patio when Clif comes home from work. Best of all, the black flies, the scourge of the north, have yet to rear their ugly little heads. Dare I hope that this will be a sparse spring for black flies? I sure do!

In the garden, in the woods, by the road, flowers are blooming, and plants are unfurling. Here are a few pictures I recently took:




Such a busy time of year. For the next few weeks I will be digging, planting, and, in general, grubbing in the yard. There is also a lot going at our library, with the expansion entering its public phase. (I’m a trustee and a volunteer.) There will be a kick-off celebration next week, and—surprise, surprise—I was the one to organize the food.

Busy or not, I’m still cooking dinner every night, of course. Clif and I hardly ever eat out, and I even have a recipe to share—chickpea cutlets—and another to experiment with—chili made with black bean “meat balls.” But these recipes will have to wait for either a rainy day or June.

In the meantime, here is a picture of the chickpea cutlets, adapted from a Mark Bittman recipe. My, my, they were tasty, if I do say so myself. A definite make-again dish.


This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and at the little house in the big woods, there will be a waffle brunch, complete with home fries, fruit salad, and an egg dish. I’m told there will even be chocolate cupcakes for dessert.

Happy spring and Happy Mother’s Day to all!

Notes from the Hinterland: Slowing Down to Observe

img_5615Spring in Maine continues to be cold and gray. I am still wearing my winter garb—turtle neck, sweater, big corduroy shirt—and that is inside the house. Outside, I am even more bundled up.

Despite the recalcitrant weather, the grass is turning a bright green, and undeterred by cold, the perennials in my garden are bravely emerging from their winter sleep. However, I’ve heard that many farmers are behind in planting peas. The soil is just too cold for seeds to germinate.

But right on schedule, the maple flowers have started falling from the trees. Although May brings many delights that are much showier than this delicate flower, I’ll miss the cheerful red fringe on the maple trees in my backyard.

Until I took a picture of a maple flower and then cropped the photo, I had never really examined this little flower. I had never noticed the wave of stamens, the burst of petals, the lighter center. Instead, I had seen them the way an impressionist painter might, a welcome dab of red in a landscape just beginning to show color.

The maple flower is a reminder for me to slow down, to look closely at what surrounds me. All too often I rush through my days, checking off one chore after another: Vacuum, make bread, tidy the kitchen, work in the garden, do laundry, write, type the minutes for the last library trustee meeting, bike to the food pantry to volunteer. Chores certainly need to be done, but there must be some kind of balance between doing and looking. Listening and smelling should also be added to looking. Perhaps a better word would be noticing. Or observing.

After all, what kind of life do we have if we are so busy doing that we never take the time to notice, to observe?  Whether you live in a suburb, in a city, or in the countryside, there is always something to notice—the changing of seasons; nature, even in cities; the weather; sun and rain and clouds and sky; other people; buildings; animals. There is so much to observe, wherever you are.

Best of all, you don’t have to have a lot of money to observe closely. This is something the greedy financiers, who have grabbed and ruined so much, cannot take away from us. Despite how much actual money you might or might not have, a life spent observing, looking, and noticing is a rich one.

I’m thinking it might be time to buy a magnifying glass, so that I can look even more closely at the little marvels all around me.





A Franco-American Doc, Poetry, and Potluck

Yesterday, I went to the Lewiston-Auburn College with my friend Claire Hersom to the third annual Poetry & Peace Potluck. Not only did this event include an abundance of poetry and food, but there was also a documentary called Down by the River’s Edge. The film is about the Otis Paper Mill in Chisholm, the southern end of Jay, and the people who worked in and lived by the mill, which closed in 2009. Not surprisingly, the predominant ethnic group was Franco-American. (By one estimate, Franco-Americans make up 30 percent of Maine’s population.) But Chisholm also had Italian and Slovakian immigrants as well. Who knew there were so many ethnic groups in the Jay/Livermore Falls area? I certainly didn’t.

Down by the River’s Edge is a combination of stills and clips of interviews with people, some of them quite old, who had worked in the mill. The film did a nice job of weaving in the various elements of life in a mill town—the history, the hard work, the big families, the crowded living conditions, the sense of community, the Catholic church, and the fun that people made for themselves.

Susan Gagnon, the writer and director, was on hand for a discussion after the film. She told about how she wanted to expand the stories told about mill towns, which usually included the words “dirty” and “working class.” Growing up in Chisholm, Susan saw a vibrancy and a keen sense of community. She became aware that the story of the workers at the Otis Paper Mill had never been recorded, and Susan had to “beg and borrow but not steal” the many stills featured in Down by the River’s Edge.

The story of Maine is also the story of the Ku Klux Klan, who were a major presence in the state and marched against Franco-Americans and other Catholics. Susan decided not include that segment in her film, and while I understand that her focus was on the people and the community of Chisholm, it seems to me that to not include something about the Klan was a major omission.

Nevertheless, Down by the River’s Edge, four years in the making, is a good film. Not only is it worth seeing, but it also tells the stories of people who for too long have not had a voice.

After the documentary came poetry, and many of Maine’s notable poets were at the Poetry Peace Potluck. Henry Braun, Gary Lawless, Robert Farnsworth, Jeri Theriault, and my personal favorite, Claire Hersom, are just a sample of the fine poets who read yesterday. The general themes were peace, May Day, and workers.

Claire read “In America Dreaming,” which ties in Walt Whitman, the Civil War, and the Vietnam War. She gave me permission to quote from the poem, and here are the last two stanzas, especially lovely and poignant and wistful.

Isn’t that what you wanted, to have a place
and a breeze
blowing against your face.
And when it got too loud to hear the birds,
to hunker down, hold on the the sway of the world?

Sometimes at night, I think I hear you
endlessly calling to the universe.
I see you illumed in the night’s shadows
rambling across the meadows
climbing the old stone walls
searching for a way back.

In the front row, Susan Gagnon is third from the left, and Claire Hersom is fourth from the left.
In the front row, Susan Gagnon is third from the left, and Claire Hersom is fourth from the left.

Sing Little Bird

At the little house in the big woods, we are lucky to have birds year round. However, in the spring, we have even more, and the trees are a aflutter with the little beauties. In addition, they sing to attract mates and to establish territory. This means the backyard in spring is an audio delight as well as a visual one.

Needless to say, the birds don’t pose for me so that I can take their pictures. As I sit on the patio, I have camera in hand, waiting, waiting for a good shot. Because the birds are always on the move, I take a lot of bad photos of them, but occasionally I get a relatively good one in the mix.

Here is one of a purple finch, caught in the act of vocalizing.


Sing, little bird. Sing. Spring is here.

Of Squirrels and Maple Blossoms and Spring Chores

img_5582This year, spring is coming in fits and starts. One day it will be warm and sunny, and I can have lunch on the patio. The next day it will be cold and gray, and time spent spent outside involves wearing a fleece jacket and maybe even gloves. (Thank goodness I’ve been able to ditch the hat!)

But however fitfully, spring is here. Above the bird feeders, the maple tree is fringed in red. In the garden, irises and day lilies are a tender green. Finally, the peepers are singing at night. A most welcome sound.

Chickadees, purple finches, goldfinches, tufted tit mice, and nuthatches come to the feeders. So do the squirrels—red and gray. They are stymied by two of the feeders—one has a baffle, and the other is weighted so that it closes when the squirrels step on the bar. The birds, much lighter than the squirrels, can land on the bar and eat without the feeder closing on them. The squirrels yearn to eat from the feeders, but experience has taught the squirrels that it is a waste of effort to try to get seed from them, and nowadays they seldom try. Most of the time, the squirrels just gaze longingly at the bird seed, so close, but so inaccessible.

It seems to me that it is unfair to think of squirrels as rats with bushy tails, as some people do, and to resent them. Like the birds, squirrels are concerned with making a living, and they must deal with harsh weather and predators, two of which live with me. Given the opportunity, my cats would gladly kill the squirrels, but the squirrels are fast and watchful and so far have eluded capture.

However, it can’t be denied that squirrels will clean out a bird feeder in a day or two, and my budget simply isn’t big enough to support the squirrels’ big appetites. (Like me, they are good eaters.) So I compromise. Once a week, I fill the tube feeders that are not squirrel proof, and when the seed is gone, it is gone until the next week’s filling. As always, life is a series of compromises, some big, some little. For me, this is an acceptable compromise. The squirrels, no doubt, have a different take on the matter.

After the hard winter—the snow and the storms and the wind—the backyard was a tangle of blown-down sticks, pine cones, and dog-do. In other words, a real mess. I am happy to report that while almost nothing is in bloom, the backyard is clean and raked. It is ready for us and for family and friends as soon as the weather allows.

Now, onto the front yard, to rake, to remove the leaves from the flower beds, and to the most dreaded chore of all, cleaning the heavy sand from the edge of the lawn and the end of the driveway. Last year, I hurt my back when I scooped that heavy sand, and I was out of commission for several days. This year, I am going to take it very, very slowly.

This is no time of year to be out of commission for several days.