All posts by Laurie Graves

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

Winter Has Arrived & In the Woods by Tana French

In Maine, it seems that winter has finally showed her frosty face. It is snowing today, and it snowed last week when I took the following pictures.

The backyard looked serene in its muted colors,

and birds came to the feeder to eat.

A female cardinal,

a woodpecker,

and a chickadee.

Out front, the shovel and the buckets of salt and sand waited,

and Clif used Snow Joe to clean the driveway and walkways.

I know you all enjoying seeing our red home nestled in the snow so after the snow was cleared, I took this picture.

On the weekend, after all that snow, I figured we deserved a little treat, and I made these chocolate vegan muffins.

Actually, snow or not, I would have made these muffins. After all, what is life without treats? Six days a week, we eat a low-carb, low-calorie diet, but one day a week we splurge. While the muffins might be vegan, they are certainly not low in calories or carbs. But, as my Yankee husband might say, they are pretty darned good.

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Reading

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and I especially like ones that cover books, movies, and television shows. A few weeks ago, on Slate’s Culture Gabfest, Julie Turner, one of the hosts, recommended the American-Irish writer Tana French, who writes crime novels. This is not my first choice of genres, but Turner praised French’s writing, her craft with words as well as her ability to tell a ripping good story.

I decided it was time for this old reader to learn a new trick, and I requested French’s first novel, In the Woods, through my library’s interlibrary loan system.

In the Woods is about two crimes that happen twenty years apart on the outskirts of Dublin. In the 1980s, three children go into the woods—only one, Adam Ryan, comes back. Adam’s memory of what happened is completely gone, and he is unable to help the investigators. Adam and his parents move; he takes his middle name, Rob; and the past recedes. Rob becomes a detective in Dublin and befriends fellow detective Cassie Maddox.

Then twenty years later, along comes another murder in the neighborhood where Rob grew up, and he discovers that the past is never really past. Are the two murders connected? Will Rob’s memory return to help him solve the original crime? Will Cassie and Rob’s relationship move past friendship?

I will not answer any of these questions, but I will note that although the middle sagged a bit, In the Woods kept me reading, and I raced through the  last fifty pages to see how the story would end. I was not disappointed by the ending, which somehow managed to be both surprising and unsurprising.

French is indeed a good writer, with a pleasingly understated—at least to me—style. Both Cassie and Rob are prickly, flawed characters that I came to care about. Also, French describes Dublin in enough detail to give a sense of place but not so much that it becomes tedious.

I’ll be reading more Tara French, even though crime thrillers are not my preferred genre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January’s Snow Story

Because Monday was a holiday—Martin Luther King Jr. Day—I took the day off, which is why this week’s piece is being posted on Tuesday.

There has been little snow in Maine so far this year, but we do have enough to tell a story of January, of arrival and waiting.

There are the footprints made by the boy next door, who came over with a charming handwritten note to thank us for the presents we gave him for Christmas.

Then there is a sense of waiting…the shovel and the buckets of sand and salt on the porch.

Minerva, nestled in leaves and covered by a snow blanket.

The herbs drooping in my little garden. The oregano will come roaring back, I know, but I’m not so sure about the sage. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

A few dried leaves in the driveway, which will eventually get blown into the woods to become part of the leaf carpet in the woods.

I like this time of cold and waiting, of tidying up and resting after the holidays. The days are still short, and as the darkness comes, I make a cup of tea and settle on the couch, where I read and watch the night come. By 5:00 o’clock the sky is dark, and it’s time to pull the shades. Often there is some kind of bean soup simmering in the slow cooker, a warm hearty meal for a chilly winter’s night.

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Reading

I discovered the British writer Andrew Taylor in a roundabout way. In a recent issue of The New Yorker, Jill Lepore wrote a wonderful profile of Mick Herron, of Slow Horses fame. In the profile, Lepore describes how she tags along with Mick Herron, Andrew Taylor, and crime writer Sarah Hilary as they read from their work at a local bookstore. Because I am such a fan of Mick Herron, I decided to give Hilary and Taylor a try.

I started with Hilary and her Someone Else’s Skin but gave up after only twenty pages or so. Far too grisly for me.

Then I turned to Andrew Taylor and The Ashes of London, a historical novel set in London in 1666, the time of the Great Fire.

That was in December, and I was smitten by Taylor’s writing—the vivid sense of place and his two protagonists—grumpy but good- hearted James Marwood as well as the feisty and appropriately named Cat Lovett. The Ashes of London is filled with political intrigue. There is murder most foul. There is sex and violence, but Taylor handles it just right.

Lucky for me there are six books that feature Marwood and Lovett.  I have raced through The Fire Court, The King’s Evil, and The Last Protector. There is more political intrigue as Marwood becomes embroiled in King Charles’s business. There is also more murder most foul, but there is a forward momentum to the books that saves them all from being the same.

I particularly like Taylor’s depiction of Cat Lovett, his sympathetic portrayal of a woman who is of her time but who strains against its strictures in her desire to become an architect.

Book five, The Royal Secret, is on its way via interlibrary loan.

I can’t wait!

 

 

 

A Little Snow & More Gifts

In Maine, this winter has been an odd one—relatively warm with little snow, so sparse that Clif hasn’t had to use Snow Joe. A scoop and shovel have been enough. There has been an upside: Clif hasn’t had to worry about scraping the roof.

On Friday, we did get a bit of snow, a dusting as we Mainers would call it. Still, the light snow was better than nothing, and I took a few pictures of the lovely gray day.

Here is our Christmas wreath with a few twinkly lights. Yes, I know Christmas is over, but I do love the sparkle of those wee lights. (Still haven’t taken down our Christmas tree with its enchanting blue lights.)

Standing at brave attention, these phlox stems are sentinels from warmer days.

Finally, I was caught by the pattern of snow on the hedge.

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Now to the gifts. Thanks to my blogging friend Gerrie from Canberra’s Green Spaces, my YA fantasy novel Maya and the Book of Everything is officially in Australia. What a thrill to think that Maya has made it that far. Truly, one of the great pleasures of blogging is to make connections with like-minded folks all over the world.  Again, many thanks, Gerrie.

Betsy, another blogging friend, sent me a box of citrus picked from her very own backyard. How cool is that? It must be such a thrill to have citrus trees in your backyard. Thanks so much, Betsy! (She doesn’t have her own blog. Otherwise, I would have provided a link.)

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Reading

With this post, I plan to to make Reading a regular feature.  I am an avid reader, and I read one or two books a week. I really enjoy learning what other bloggers are reading and have often added their suggestions to my TBR list. I am what you  might call an eclectic reader. While my favorite genres are fantasy and literary fiction—yes, I consider that a genre, too—I am open to any genre that features good writing and vivid characters.

Last week I read:

  • The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean. This is a  horror/fantasy/supernatural tale featuring book eater Devon—she actually eats books and can eat nothing else—and her brain-eating child, Cai, who, you guessed it, can’t eat anything else but brains. As it turns out, there are families of book eaters and brain eaters scattered around England. Drugs have been invented that suppress the urges of brain eaters, but the family that developed the drugs has fallen into chaos, and the drugs are no longer readily available. The book tackles a thorny question: What would you do for your child?

 

  • The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery. This is a true-life story about a woman and the runt pig she rescues from certain death. The pig—Christopher Hogwood—thrives and grows and grows, bringing much joy to Montgomery’s life, opening it up in a way she had never envisioned. I am not ashamed to admit I cried at the end.

 

 

 

Happy 2023

The holidays flew by at such a dizzying pace that I hardly had a chance to take any pictures. But what a good time we had! Our daughter Shannon, her husband Mike, and their two dogs stayed with us all the way through Christmas and beyond to the next day.

I did manage to take a picture of our Christmas morning brunch. The pumpkin bread was homemade; the cinnamon roll was not.

On Christmas Eve day, my brother, his wife, and their son came over for a celebration. By gosh, with everyone grouped in our small living room and the coffee table filled with appetizers, it felt like old times. Lots of talking and laughing.

As for COVID…all our guests had had it recently, and they were up-to-date with their vaccinations.  We felt as though the odds were in our favor, and as it turned out, they were. None of us caught COVID over the holidays.

Good things sometimes arrive in the mail. From two of my blogging friends, I received two delightful Christmas packages.

The first one came from Judy of New England Garden and Thread. She knows how much I love my home, and she sent me this beautiful calender with a picture of her own home. Her granddaughter did the artwork, and what a wonderful job she did. You can bet that this calendar will never be used to wipe hands or dishes. There is a pocket for a dowel, and I plan to hang it in my office, where I can see it when I work.

The second came from my friend Betsy, who follows my blog but doesn’t have one of her own. She knows I have a Santa collection, and she sent me this delightful duo. The larger one is a candle, which will never be burnt.

Many thanks, Judy and Betsy!

After Christmas, there was a much-needed week of rest. Our daughter Dee, who is staying with us, took a week’s vacation from her job, and we did the same with our work. Except for an errand or two, we stayed home. We also took a week off from our rather stringent low-carb regimen and ate what we wanted. We slept late. We read. We played board games. We watched, among other shows, two seasons of Britain’s Best Home Cooks. In short, we had a wonderful time.

Reflecting back on our staycation, I am both amazed and gratified by how little it takes to entertain us. The term low maintenance really does describe us, and I can’t help but think that if you take pleasure in simple things, then your days are full and happy.

On New Year’s Eve, the three of us—Clif, Dee, and me—had a tasty appetizer night.

We watched Avengers: Endgame and nearly timed it right so that Iron Man snapped his fingers at midnight. (We were off by 30 seconds or so.) Ah, well! The New Year came anyway, a little after Iron Man’s snap of the fingers.

In 2023, I plan to continue blogging once a week, on Monday, unless something comes up and I need to change the day. Occasionally, I might add an extra post.

A very happy New Year to you all. I am so grateful to be part of this blogging community, and I look forward to reading your posts in 2023.

The Countdown Begins

In the northern hemisphere, we have less than a week until the shortest day of the year, less than a week until Christmas, less than a week until our home will be filled with dogs and family.

I am happy to report that my cooking is right on schedule.

I’ve made chili,

more pumpkin bread,

and I put together a pie using peppermint ice cream made by Gifford’s, a Maine business.

All are in the freezer waiting for the big day, and the cupboards are bulging with goodies to go along with what I’ve made.

On Friday and Saturday, to get us all in the mood for a Maine Christmas,  Mother Nature obliged with a nor’easter.

During the storm, here was the view from our living room,

and here was the backyard from another room.

Unfortunately, the snow was wet and heavy and knocked out power to more than 100,00 customers in central and southern Maine. Today, there are still over 18,000 customers without power. Given that the entire state only has a population of a little over a million, a fair number of households lost their power last weekend.

We did lose our power, but only for a few hours in the middle of the night, and we scarcely noticed it.  As I’ve mentioned before, although we live on a country road, we are lucky to be on the same line as the town’s fire department. Every time a bruiser of a storm comes, we give thanks that our power line is linked to the fire station’s line.

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My new book, Of Time and Magic, continues to sell very well. In fact, Of Time and Magic has sold better on release than any of my previous books. Many thanks to all my blogging friend who have bought Of Time and Magic. If you haven’t bought a copy yet and want to, never fear! We have plenty of books in stock and would be happy to mail them in the U.S. after the holidays if that is more convenient.

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If you celebrate Christmas, I wish you a very merry Christmas or Joyeux Noël as we Franco-Americans would say.  I will be taking a blogging break until the new year. Wherever you live, whatever you celebrate, I hope the last days of December are filled with warmth, merriment, good food, family, and friends.

And a happy New Year to all!

Must Be Santa

At least for now, the warm spell is over, and in Maine, December finally feels like December.

This morning I woke up to find we’d had a dusting of snow overnight.

And there was frost on the outside storm windows.

But all is warm inside our house on the edge of the woods.

On Saturday, I started my Christmas baking and made cookies, chocolate chip. Most went into the freezer—raw and rolled into balls. But I baked some to be eaten ahead of time.

The Santas are out, here, there, and everywhere. Carol Ann, of the lovely blog Fashioned for Joy, asked me to share some pictures of my Santa collection. Ask and you shall receive.

This week, more Santas will be coming out. There will also be more baking—pumpkin bread and ice cream. I’ll make a big batch of chili. All for the freezer to be ready for the big weekend.

And of course a flurry of cleaning. After focusing on my new book Of Time and Magic for so many months, the cleaning is much needed.

Ho, ho, ho!

One of the Highlights of My Year

On Saturday, I went to The Art Walk in downtown Winthrop. It’s a lovely shop that features handcrafted items from local artists, authors, and crafters.

As it turns out, The Art Walk features my books, and I am happy to report that my novels have been selling well there and in many other places, too. So well, in fact, that almost every day, UPS comes by with another box of books to replenish our supply.

While I love to go to The Art Walk to buy special gifts for family and friends, last Saturday I was there for a book signing. (In between signing books, I did manage to buy several presents.)

As I sat by my table and listened to Christmas music and the happy chatter of holiday shoppers—somehow small stores have such a good vibe—two women, a mother and daughter, walked in and came right over. I am friends with both on Facebook, and I knew they might be coming, but because it has been thirty years since we last got together, it was such a treat to see them. Thirty years ago, the daughter was a little girl. Thirty years ago, they lived in Winthrop. Thirty years ago, the mother helped me bake a peanut butter cake for Clif’s birthday.

But then, as such things happen, they moved out of town, and we lost touch with each other. I know there are a lot of bad things about Facebook, but thanks to Facebook, we reconnected.

And here’s the most wonderful thing—we chatted as though we had met as recently as last week. There were no awkward silences, and the conversation just flowed. As the title of this post indicates, seeing them was one of the highlights of my year.

They bought books, and I signed them. Before they left, I promised to have them over next summer for lunch on the patio when the flowers in the back garden are in bloom.

The mother promised to make a peanut butter cake to celebrate finally getting together after thirty years.

Can’t wait! I’m already planning what I will make for them.

 

Simple, Quiet, and Good

At our home on the edge of woods, Thanksgiving was simple, quiet, and good. I made two loaves of pumpkin bread and thought we would have one to eat and one to freeze for Christmas. Silly me! We ate those two loaves as quick as can be, which means I’ll have to make two more for Christmas.

We had a nice little brunch on Thanksgiving morning. As you might notice, we even had dessert, leftover homemade chocolate pudding from the pie I made. Good thing we don’t eat like this every morning.

I forgot to take pictures of our Thanksgiving dinner. Too busy cooking and getting ready for our little feast. Afterward, we were all too stuffed to do much of anything, and we settled in for some episodes of Season 4 of The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition. Past seasons of the Baking Show—British and American—are available for free on the Roku channel. There are commercials, and they are often clumsily inserted, but the shows are still worth watching.

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Outside, the snow has all melted, and the gardens are in a strange in-between state, not quite fall, not quite winter. There’s still plenty of green on the lawns, but one morning there was a skim of ice in the ornamental bird bath.

Black-eyed Susans, their petals long gone, lean into another plant, whose name, alas, I have forgotten.

And Minerva, in her wisdom, presides over the front garden.

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The Saturday after Thanksgiving, we put up our Christmas tree. It is an artificial one, and while I miss having a real tree, I don’t miss the mess or the expense—in central Maine, $50 is about the least you can pay for a decent-looking tree.  (I know it is much higher in other places.)

Still, it gives me pleasure to put up our ornaments—some plain, some silly, some old, some new, some poignant. The house ornament was made by my blogging friend Judy of New England Garden and Thread. 2020 was indeed the year we stayed home, and to me the ornament is a lovely reminder of all the ways we stayed in touch during that first terrible pandemic year. Many thanks, Judy.

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A couple of days ago, a special card came into our home—another beauty from my blogging friend Alys of Gardening Nirvana. Alys made this card from a 100-year-old National Geographic. In the lower-left-hand corner is the word Maine. In the middle, White Pine. The white pine is Maine’s state tree, and the tassel is its state flower. My oh my! Thanks so much, Alys.

Yet again, as the day grows shorter and the nights grow longer and the cold settles into our yard, I am reminded of how much there is to be grateful for.

 

 

First Snow, First Plowing

Last Wednesday, we had the first snow of the season. It was not a lasting snow—rain followed, and by Friday the snow was mostly gone. However, on Wednesday, enough had fallen for the roads to be cleaned, and late morning I heard the comforting roar of the town plow as it went by.

Somehow, there is always something exciting about the first snow. Before Clif even had time to shovel the front porch, I tottered down the steps to get some pictures. The day was gray, and the tone of the pictures reflects this. Very appropriate for a snowy day.

Here is the front of our house.

I love the way garden ornaments look in the snow. I always leave them out until the first snow so that I can get some pictures of them. Today, most of them will be coming inside for the winter.

And here’s a picture Clif took of the backyard. He was in the dining room and got a pretty good shot through the window.

Time for the chairs to come in, too. The covered table, along with the grill, will stay outside for the winter.

 

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For a completely different landscape, courtesy of my blogging friend Alys of Gardening Nirvana, here is a postcard she sent me not long ago of California beauty.

Quite a contrast to the Maine countryside, and I so love seeing what other places look like. Yet another blessing that comes with having blogging friends here, there, and everywhere. Many thanks, Alys!

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This Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States. For those who celebrate, a very happy Thanksgiving to you all. Ours will be quiet, and because we are vegetarians, turkey will not be the centerpiece. Ours will be a dinner of sides.

Nevertheless, it will be a weekend of simple pleasures—board games, decorating the tree, and—at long last—Christmas shows, which I have been eagerly waiting for.  There are quite a few new ones this year, ranging from an animated Christmas Carol to A Guardians of the Galaxy Christmas special.

Let the festivities begin!

 

 

 

Presenting: Of Time and Magic

It wasn’t that time stopped in the library. It was as if it were captured here, collected here, and in all libraries—and not only my time, my life, but all human time as well. In the library, time is dammed up—not just stopped but saved.                                                                                                          ~The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The big day is here with the release of Of Time and Magic, Book Four in the Great Library Series. Of Time and Magic concludes the story begun in Maya and the Book of Everything, when Maya began her fateful journey on that train from New York to Boston and gained possession of the enigmatic Book of Everything.

Already the response has been excellent, and I’ve begun receiving orders.

If you would like to order a paperback copy of Of Time and Magic, this link will bring you to our Hinterlands Press website. Shipping is free in the U.S., and I would be more than happy to inscribe your book.

Even though the ebook is available through Amazon, the paperback book is not yet available through them. Unfortunately, we have been having problems with Amazon, and the issues are yet to be resolved. But Of Time and Magic is available through Ingram, which means that you should be able to order the book at your local bookstore.

Finally, dear blogging friends, you might be interested in knowing that Of Time and Magic is dedicated to you.

Here is what I wrote:                                                                                                       Of Time and Magic is dedicated to my wonderful blogging friends. Because of your support and encouragement, my Great Library novels have traveled all around the world. No small feat for an indie series.

Many, many thanks to you all!