All posts by Laurie Graves

I write about nature, food, the environment, home, family, community, and people.

Goings-on in the Backyard in April

So far, April has been very kind to Mainers. The weather has been warm—at times downright hot—and the bugs have been few. The mud is pretty much gone. Accordingly, we have been diligently working on spring chores.

For our wood stove, we get blocks of wood delivered on pallets.  Over the past two years, we have acquired quite a collection of them. Time for Handyman Clif to break out his hammer and saw and take them apart. Some of the wood will be used for projects, and some of it will be used in our fire pit when the kids come for a visit this summer.

As for me…my job is to rake the yard and clear the gardens.

Before, in the backyard.

And after.

However hard we work, we are never too busy to take a break on the patio and watch the fluttering beauties that come and go.

Somehow, I never get tired of taking pictures of cardinals. Part of me can’t believe that we actually have them in our backyard. Cardinals are relative newcomers to Maine, and Clif’s mother and my mother died before ever having a chance to view one of these lovelies. How I wish they had lived long enough to see them.

Here is the flashy male,

and his less flashy but still attractive mate.

We do have other birds visit us, including chipper little chickadees, our state bird.

And robins, which we actually don’t see that often. I think they like open areas better.

We have other birds visit us, too, and I will be ready with the camera to take picture of them.

Now, onward to the front yard!

 

Friday Favorites: A New Frog, Backyard Visitors, a Sara Kays Song

Jackie Knight is an indefatigable gardener with a penchant for owl garden ornaments. On his blog, her husband Derrick Knight has noted that Jackie has 100 or so owls in her delightful gardens.

My penchant is for amphibians, primarily toads and frogs, and I have my own little collection of garden ornaments. Recently, I was inspired by Jackie’s example, and I ordered another frog to add to the group that hangs out by our porch in Toad Hollow. (Frogs are welcome, too!)

This new frog also has a solar light, which gives it an oh-so-lovely glow. I will never have as many amphibians as Jackie has owls. Unlike her, I have to bring my buddies in for the winter. But it’s fun to add a new one to the group every now and then. A simple pleasure, to be sure.

An even simpler pleasure is to sit on the patio in late afternoon and see the little visitors that come to our yard in the woods.

There are cardinals,

mourning doves,

and chipmunks. (This one is a particularly feisty critter who charged a pair of mourning doves. Wish I had gotten a picture of that.)

Watching over it all is Mei Ling, who bears strong resemblance to the chien-gardes, magical relics that are featured in my podcast Tales from the Other Green Door. 

For music for this week’s Friday Favorites, I chose Sara Kays, a very young singer—she’s twenty-two—who got her start on TikTok.   The song I’m featuring—“Remember that Night?”— deals with romantic love and loss, themes that are of central importance to teens and young adults. But even we older folks can cast our minds back to those days when someone we dearly loved stopped loving us. It happens to most people. And while we move on and usually find someone who suits us better, we can remember, with a bit of nostalgia and sadness, an early love that didn’t last. Kays reminds me of Joni Mitchell, a little, and Aimee Mann. I’m hoping to hear more from this talented, soulful newcomer.

Favorites and simple pleasures from blogging friends:

From Book Chat with Shane, his 10 Most Anticipated Books. Shane was once the Adult Services Librarian at our town’s library, and his devotion to books fills my heart with joy. Shane’s favorite genres are literary fiction, thrillers, and mysteries, but from time to time he also adds a dash of fantasy to his reading.

The Curious Introvert, in Today’s Musings, takes solace in both nature and culture. Michigan, where she lives, has been designated as the country’s Covid-19 epicenter. Sigh. Let’s hope that spring and vaccinations soon put a stop to this rampaging virus.

Thistles and Kiwis rejoices in fall colors, food, and an Easter celebration.

And Ju-Lyn, from Touring My Backyard, is fascinated by the art of the staff.

 

Words on Wednesday: Wee Stairs & Episode 5 of my Podcast

The snow has gone, and the ground is fairly dry. Time for yard work, an hour or two each day, tucked in among writing and other chores. While I resent vacuuming, and dusting, I never seem to mind work in the yard. Bring on raking, picking up branches, and clipping unwanted trees and plants. All are a pleasure to me. I suppose it’s because I am outside, under the sky, and all around, I can hear the birds singing their spring songs.

The other day, while I was picking up branches, I came upon these little beauties. They reminded me of wee stairs, and I could visualize sprites and other small creatures climbing them to have drinks on a stump deck. After all, winter keeps them inside, too, and spring is a time for getting out and rejoicing.

Because it’s Wednesday, it’s time for the newest episode of my podcast, Tales from the Other Green Door. In “Donod Ashglade,” Episode 5 of The Wings of Luck, Jace and Thirret meet the elf who is behind it all.

Of Christmas Lights, Sticks, Frogs, and Toads

The snow has completely melted from our shady front yard. Early, when you consider that in the old days, we always hoped it would be gone by April 22, our youngest daughter’s birthday. Until recently, this was never a given. Now, we can more or less count on it.

The mud has mostly dried up, too. In our backyard this year, on a scale from 1 to 10, I would rate the mud factor a 3, with it going away relatively fast, too. I never even lost a shoe in the muck, which sometimes happens. However, we don’t have any kids or dogs to churn up the backyard, and no doubt that makes a big difference.

Now that the snow and mud are gone, it is time to begin spring yard work. Because we live in the woods, there are always branches and twigs to pick up. I am gathering up the sticks and putting them into outdoor trash cans. They will come in handy this summer for our fire pit. (The branches have been stacked on one side of the backyard, and they, too, will be used for the fire pit.) When the kids come to visit, we’ll have fires and make s’mores.  Always fun, especially as it’s been over a year since the kids have been home.

Because we are Mainers, we always wait until the snow is gone before we take down the Christmas lights. This habit is equal parts tradition, negligence, and practicality. After all, it’s not much fun stomping through knee-high snow to take down lights.

Surveying our snow-free yard, Clif and I decided that yesterday was the day for taking down the lights.

Farewell, my lovelies! See you next winter.

To cheer myself up after putting away the lights, I brought out a couple of my toads. More to come, and frogs, too!

To add a little silly fun to frog and toad corner, I bought this sign to cheer things up.

For those in the northern hemisphere, happy, hoppy, froggy, toady spring to you all!

 

 

 

Friday Favorites: Gingerbread Tea, Favorite Muppets & Rainbow Connection song

I am a devoted tea drinker—coffee is too bitter for me—and one of my favorite places to get tea is from Harney & Sons, where tea can be ordered online. (The shipping is free.) For Christmas, my daughter Dee bought me a tin of their Gingerbread Festival tea, and I am hooked. When I ran out , I promptly ordered myself another tin, which came in this week. Happy, happy day! The tea has a lovely gingery slightly sweet taste, a perfect low-calorie drink for late afternoon.

For media: Two episodes of Pop Culture Happy Hour, a podcast that I’m a big fan of. Pop Culture Hour, hosted by a regular rotation of arts journalists, features pieces about books, movies, television shows, and music. Frequently, other podcasts are recommended.

This week, the Pop Culture Happy Hour crew, led by the plucky and perky Linda Holmes, explores a question that is dear to my heart—who’s  your favorite Muppet? I am too old to have watched either Sesame Street or The Muppet Show when I was a child, but I watched them with my children and found the Muppet Universe an utter delight.

On Thursday, the PCHH crew delved into their favorite Muppets. You might disagree with their choices, or you might find themselves nodding in agreement. But really, aren’t all the Muppets wonderful in their own offbeat ways?

On Friday, PCHH revealed the results of a listener’s survey for top ten favorite Muppets. I was surprised by some of the choices and rankings, but I will not reveal the results.

I will, however, share who my favorite Muppet is: the green soulful, slightly melancholy Kermit, who works so hard to keep everything together. As a Franco-American, I am drawn to his sheer froginess as well as his work ethic. 😉

Do you have a favorite Muppet? If so, which one?

As for music, how could I resist “Rainbow Connection” by none other than Kermit the Frog? Brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.

Simple pleasures and favorites from blogging friends:

Thistles and Kiwis writes about a trip to Queenstown, New Zealand.

Ju-Lyn, from Touring My Backyard, journeys back in time to explore the new Gallop extension of the Singapore Botanic Gardens

The Belmont Rooster illustrates how to sneak in the back way and uses Classic Editor in WordPress rather than Block Editor. I am conflicted about this. I prefer Classic Editor, but I have learned how to use Block Editor and can see its merits. Anyway, complete instructions are given should you want to use Classic Editor, which definitely qualifies as a simple pleasure, especially when compared with Block Editor.

Words on Wednesday: After the Wind Blew & a New Podcast episode

On Monday, a storm blew in, bringing strong winds. The power flickered off and on, off and on, and Clif and I decided to abandon our day’s work that involved using the computer. The rain bucketed down, and we even had thunder. But no snow, as earlier forecasts predicted—a nor’easter bringing at least a foot. And, aside from the flickering, we never really lost our power. As we Mainers like to say, things could have been worse.

Tuesday was sunny, and while no damage was done, the wind left its mark on the patio.

Easy as can be to pick up the chairs.

If it’s Wednesday, it’s time for a new episode from my podcast, Tales from the Other Green Door: This week, Episode 4—“To Love a Human”—from the story The Wings of Luck. While Jace reflects on the vagaries of love, danger and destruction hit close to home. Very close.

Snow-Gauge Clif: Week 4 and a new project

It looks as though this will be the last week for Snow-Gauge Clif, unless we get an April blizzard, which happens with some regularity in Maine. Last year we had a corker of storm on April 10. Fortunately, it was soon gone, and I expect the same would happen this year if we had snow. So, in effect, this will be the last week for measuring snow.

Here is Clif in the front yard.

And here is Clif in the backyard.

There is just a wee bit of snow in the back by the house, and I expect it will be gone by the end of the week.

Now, onto another outdoor project. However, first a bit of backstory. Our driveway is a heaving mess, with great rocks being pushed up by the freezing and thawing that occurs every winter and spring. Unfortunately, the driveway was not properly installed. If we had the money, we would hire someone to come in to break up the asphalt, haul out the rocks, and put in some pea stone. But, alas, we have a budget as big as a minute, and a total replacement is not an option.

The other day, when we were outside inspecting the back part of our sorry driveway, Clif looked at a big bulge and said, “I think I can get that rock out.” And this he did. As is the case with so many projects, one thing led to another, and by the time he was done, we were left with a good-sized hole in the pavement.

What to do? We have discussed getting pea stone to fill in, gradually tearing up this bit of driveway that leads to our backyard so that eventually the whole area is pea stone.

But then I came up with another idea: Why not have a moss garden lead to the backyard? As you can probably see, there is already moss growing on part of the pavement. As a rule, no cars park here. We would leave a walkway for going back and forth and for getting equipment out of our little shed. (On the left in the above picture.)

I love moss, which is actually pretty rugged and would certainly survive if guests did step on it on the way to the patio. I was thinking of putting some of my Asian garden ornaments to the side, on the right, along with the rock Clif dug up.

Is moss a silly notion? Would pea stone be better, more practical, in the long run? I expect it would, but I love the idea of a tranquil, mossy way leading to our backyard.

Anyway, let me know what you all think. Have any of you ever put in a moss garden? If so, what were the results?

And a final question: What the heck do we do with the torn-up asphalt? Clif did a quick check online, and it does not look as though our transfer station will take the asphalt. We will call to be sure when the transfer station is open, but we are not optimistic.

Any ideas what to do with the asphalt if our transfer station won’t take it?

Friday Favorites: Fruit & Veg, Great Pottery Throw Down, Bruce Hornsby and The Range

Today is a typical Maine March day—gray, drizzly, depressing. In Maine, Covid-19 cases have not dropped, and according to the New York Times, Maine’s Covid risk is deemed very high. In addition, there are forces throughout the country that are on the rampage, trying to make voting as hard as possible for people who don’t look like they do, as Bruce Hornsby would put it.

Plus, WordPress has cast its wicked magic, and I am trapped in the kingdom of Block Editor. I know some bloggers actually like it, and that’s great. But for a poor old hack like me, who has more projects to fill my time than there are hours in the day, the last thing I need is a new blogging format to figure out. (Whine, whine, whine just might lead to wine, wine, wine late this afternoon. 😉 ) Eventually I’ll get used to Block Editor. I just hate spending this much time on it when I have other writing to work on.

Therefore, this Friday I really, really needed simple pleasures to cheer me up, and just in the nick of time, all the way from my blogging friend Betsy in California, came this assortment of deliciousness. An added bonus is that I had never had kumquats before, and what a treat to sample these tart, citrusy gems, which come from Betsy’s backyard. (The lemons come from her backyard, too, and the artichokes from a farmers market.) Many, many thanks, Betsy!

Onward to media! For a soothing, fun show—much like The Great British Baking Show—you can’t beat The Great Pottery Throw Down, recommended to me by my blogging friend Quercus. Several things make Throw Down a bingeable series: quirky judges, plenty of time spent getting to know the various contestants, and the sheer audacity of some of the items that are made. For example, toilets. Have you ever thought of constructing a toilet out of clay? And then actually have it flush? No? Neither have I, and to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to go about it. While I could probably manage a badly constructed plate or mug, a toilet is an engineering feat far, far beyond my capabilities.

We watch the show on HBO Max, which requires a subscription. You might be able to get the show on other channels.

Because I mentioned Bruce Hornsby in my opening paragraph, this week’s featured music is “The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range. Some of you might remember this terrific song from 1986. Unfortunately, Hornsby’s message is still relevant today.

But on a happier note—dang, that man can play the piano.

Here are favorites and simple pleasures from other blogging friends.

Ju-Lyn, from Touring My Backyard, is enjoying a new extension of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

From Thistles and Kiwis, so many delightful simple pleasures, including food, dance, books, going to the hairdresser, and blogging friends. Hear, hear for blogging friends, who not only expand horizons but remind us that there are so many good people around the globe.

Snow-Gauge Clif: Week 4

The fourth week of March has brought some big changes to our yard in the woods. The past few days have been warm—60°, very mild for this time of year—and sunny. The snow has shrunk to the point where it seems we are in April rather than March.

Our shady front yard still has a fair amount of snow, but it is slowly melting.

In the backyard, however, real progress has been made, and much of the snow is gone. The expression on Clif’s face indicates he can hardly believe there is so little snow in our backyard in March.

Last week, going against Tootlepedal’s wise advice to the contrary, I decided to tempt the weather gods. Grabbing the metal shovel from our dilapidated shed, I chipped ice and shoveled snow from our patio. Normally, I just let the snow and ice melt on its on, but this year I was keen to have the chairs back out so that I could sit in the sun on nice days. And, because Clif and I have not yet been vaccinated, safely have friends over from time to time.

Voilà! Snow-Gauge Clif taking a much-needed break after he was done with the exhausting work of measuring snow.

Today, the temperature rose to 60°F, which really is a heatwave for this time of year. My friend Judy came over for a visit, the first since around the holidays.

How nice it was to sit in the sun and chat with her. We were actually both a little hot.

Will the snow gods send us an early spring blizzard? Perhaps, but I sure hope not.

Stay tuned!