All posts by Laurie Graves

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

A Cardinal, Icicles, and Pancakes

February is winding down, and we still have a lot of snow in our yard. Not at all unusual for central Maine. As we are probably at peak snow—at least we hope we are—snow-gauge Clif will soon be making weekly appearances so that we can have a pictorial record of how long it takes for our yard to be snow-free. Stay tuned for the big excitement in the hinterlands!

At dusk, the cardinals usually come to our feeders for a bite to eat before it gets dark. In my bathroom blind, I snapped a picture of Mr. Cardinal. Unfortunately the light was too low to get a real sharp picture of him, but I know how much readers who don’t have cardinals enjoy seeing shots of them. And this photo gives a sense of the dark evergreens in the forest on the edge of our backyard. This is a northern photo, that’s for sure. And somehow, to me, that flash of red looks so brave against the snowy trees.

Icicles are still hanging from the branches of the shrubs in our front yard. Lovely to see them glitter in the afternoon sun.

On another blog I read, there was a mention of American pancakes and how small and thick they tended to be.  While we do have mini pancakes, better known as silver-dollar pancakes, most pancakes served in American restaurants are large and thin. No surprise as America is the land of the big, especially when it comes to food. Not sure where the rumor of little pancakes came from, but never mind. Big, small, thick, or thin, they are all good.

I am lucky enough to have a husband who makes some of the best pancakes in central Maine. Maybe even the best. After so much thinking about pancakes, I requested them for our supper last weekend. While Clif made pancakes, I fried up some veggie sausages. Pretty darned good, and yes, Clif’s pancakes are thick but not small and utterly delicious.

 

 

 

 

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The Comfort of Rituals

Nearly nine years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not a happy time, as I’m sure readers can imagine. But when it comes to having breast cancer, I was one of the lucky ones: my cancer was very slow growing, no lymph nodes were infected, and treatment included a lumpectomy and radiation but no chemotherapy. Four years ago, my doctor pronounced me cured, such a sweet word.

Nevertheless, for every yearly mammogram, I am so nervous and jittery that I can barely think of anything else. (Fortunately, York Hospital, the place I go, gives results fifteen or twenty minutes after the mammogram.) But over the years, I have developed some rituals to help with the jitters.

First, I wear these earrings that belonged to my mother, who had breast cancer in the mid-1970s, the beginning of what can only be called an epidemic. I am still inspired by her courage and fortitude in dealing with her cancer at a time when people didn’t really speak of such things.

Then, in the car, I must listen to Vivaldi, even though my natural inclination is for alternative rock. Somehow I am both cheered up and calmed down by Vivaldi’s joyous, exuberant bursts of music punctuated by exquisite tenderness.

Finally, I meet my friend Susan Poulin for lunch at a place called When Pigs Fly.  Susan is an extremely talented performer and comedian. I don’t think I’m exaggerating by calling Susan Poulin one of Maine’s best.  Her alter ego is Ida LeClair, who is from northern Maine, lives in a double-wide, and has a beloved husband named Charlie. Ida’s zest for life can’t be matched, and here she is, ready to go.

Is it any wonder that having lunch with Susan cheers me up?

Now, I know that in truth it doesn’t make a bit of difference if I wear my mother’s earrings, listen to Vivaldi, or have lunch with Susan at When Pigs Fly. What is, will be.

But these things give me comfort, and for that reason, they are important.

And I am happy to report that this year’s mammogram was all clear.

Phew! Onward to year ten.

Birds, Tea, and Poetry

On Sunday afternoons, especially in the winter, Clif and I like inviting friends over for tea. When the weather is cold, there is something so cozy about sitting around the dining room table as we chat, drink tea, and nibble on something I’ve baked.

Yesterday our friend Mary Jane came over. As I was getting ready, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a female cardinal at our feeder. I stopped what I was doing, grabbed my camera, and trotted to the bathroom, which has become a sort of bird blind. Slowly, slowly I opened the windows—there are two down in the winter—hoping I wouldn’t scare her away. Success!

Cardinals are relative newcomers to Maine. Even as recently as eleven years ago, we didn’t have cardinals in our backyard, and my mother, who died around that time, never did see one in Maine. I sure wish that she had lived long enough to see cardinals in our yard. I suspect that climate change has brought these lovely birds ever farther north, and if so, this is an example of it’s an ill wind that blows no good. We love having cardinals come to our feeder.

After taking pictures of Mrs. Cardinal, I returned to the kitchen to finish making my oatmeal squares and to get the table set for tea. Glancing out the dining room window, I saw a movement in the woods, a flock of turkeys picking their way through the trees. The dining room windows do not open easily. Could I get a good picture through the window? Turns out, I could. Not quite as crisp as the cardinal, but not too bad, especially when you consider the shot was taken through the window, and the turkeys were quite a distance away.

Turkeys are another newcomer to Maine. Or rather, they are a species that has been reintroduced. Twenty years ago, I did not see them in the woods behind my house. Between habitat loss and overhunting, turkeys had been wiped out in Maine. The technical term is extirpation, meaning that the species is not actually extinct, just no longer in an area. A cold word for a brutal act.

Well, the turkeys are back. Hunting is more controlled than it was in the old days, and Maine is actually more forested now than it was in the 1800s, proof that not everything is going to heck in a handbasket.

With all that excitement, it’s a wonder that I managed to bake the squares and set the table. But somehow, I did.

Mary Jane came over, and we had a wonderful chat. Clif and I even shared some poetry from From a Far Corner, a new book that we received from my friend Jerry George, who lives in East Machias, way up north by the Canadian border. But Mainers call it Downeast, a sailing term that sailors used to describe how they utilized downwinds to sail east from western ports. Downeast Maine is a beautiful, remote place that, believe it or not, is hospitable to poets and retirees. The cover of the book, taken by the talented Ray Beal, gives a good indication of the stark appeal of the area.

All in all, it was quite a Sunday.

The Wonderful, Interconnected World of Blogging

A couple of weeks ago, Clif and I went to see a movie called The Kid Who Would Be King, a modern retelling of the King Arthur tale. We had seen the trailer, and  being either young at heart or in a state of arrested development—take your pick—we could tell right away that we would like this movie.

And we were right. Although the delightful The Kid Who Would Be King is aimed at a young audience, it is also a crossover movie that adults will enjoy.

Here is a short synopsis. In modern-day England, life is going to heck in a handbasket, and there is the clever use of newspaper headlines to illustrate this. (Brexit, anyone? ) What England needs is a hero to help restore some semblance of order and defeat the dark forces led by King Arthur’s sister Morgana, imprisoned underground and itching to get out.

Enter shining-faced Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of the great Andy Serkis). Alex is the modern-day Arthur, living with his single mother, bullied by older kids, and the defender of his best friend, who is also bullied. When Alex finds an embedded sword in a construction site, he, of course, easily removes it. Merlin is summoned, and the adventure begins. Alex must assemble a team and face his own sorrows before he can confront the wicked Morgana.

The movie goes at a cracking pace. The children are terrific, the special effects are great, and the adult actors did a pretty good job, too. Elder Merlin is played by Patrick Stewart, which seems only fitting. After all, Ian McKellen has played Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings movies. Younger Merlin is played by Angus Imrie, who did a fantastic job portraying the otherworldly Merlin. Imrie is someone to watch for in future movies.

By now readers might be wondering how this movie ties in with the world of blogging. It just so happens that Joe Cornish, the writer/director of The Kid Who Would Be King (and also the wonderful Attack the Block) has a direct connection with Tootlepedal, one of my blogging friends. Cornish is the partner of Tootlepedal’s daughter.

Did Tootlepedal and his wife get to go to London for a special screening of The Kid Who Would be King? You bet they did, and Tootlepedal chronicles this event in his post King Size Entertainment. Oh, the excitement!

I know. Clif and I are movie nerds along with being many other kinds of nerds.  So it was a real treat for us to discover this connection between Tootlepedal and Joe Cornish, whom we have long admired.

A cool winter’s tale, wouldn’t you say?

 

 

 

 

Another Way to Support Writers: Ask Your Library to Purchase Their Books

Recently, courtesy of my daughter Shannon, my book Library Lost traveled south to the public library in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Shannon asked the Chapel Hill Public Library to purchase Library Lost to add to its collection.  And voilà! They honored her request, and Library Lost is now in the library’s young adult section. (Two years ago, Shannon did the same thing with Maya and the Book of Everything.)

Readers, this is such a wonderful way to support writers—not just me—and it only costs a little bit of time. Now I know very well that not all libraries have big book budgets, but it never hurts to request the purchase of a book. And if the library does honor the request, checking out the book, even if you’ve already read it, gives the book a good start.

Finally, when returning the book, take a few minutes to tell the librarian how much you liked the book and provide a brief synopsis. By calling it to a librarian’s attention, you will have given the book a little leg up, something that cannot be overemphasized, especially for indie writers. Librarians’ recommendations go a long way toward promoting a book.

In the spirit of practicing what I preach, I’m going to ask my own Bailey Library to purchase Myrtle the Purple Turtle written by the fabulous Cynthia Reyes

In addition, I will request Myrtle’s Game, again by Cynthia and also with her daughter Lauren Reyes-Grange. Both books would make for a terrific and timely program on bullying and inclusion, and I will be sure to mention this when I ask my library to purchase these books.

Finally, if you do ask your library to purchase my books, and Maya and the Book of Everything or Library Lost are added to your library’s collection, I have a favor to ask. If you have time, take a picture similar to the one of Library Lost in front of the Chapel Hill Public Library.  Send the picture to me, and I will feature it on my blog.

What fun it would be to see either Maya or Library Lost or both in front of different libraries.