All posts by Laurie Graves

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

A Seaside Birthday

Kettle Cove
On the Edge of Kettle Cove

My actual birthday was last week, and at the beginning of the month, Shannon hosted a party for Clif and me. (His birthday is this Saturday.) However for the past five or six years, the tradition has been to have lunch in Portland with Shannon for a little extra birthday celebration, and we were joined by our friend Kate.  (Naturally, we did the same for Shannon’s and Kate’s birthdays.)

Alas, our friend Kate moved to Pennsylvania and can no longer join us. (Thanks, Kate, for the delicious raspberry tea, which I am drinking as I write.) However, Shannon and I decided we would still like to meet for our birthdays, even though we will miss Kate very much.

Yesterday was the day that worked best for both Shannon and me, and our original plan was to have lunch at The Green Elephant, a Portland restaurant that specializes in tasty vegetarian food. But the forecast was so fine, so warm and sunny, that Shannon suggested, “How about if you come up a little early, and we’ll go for a walk on the beach?”

Now, there’s nothing this inland girl loves more than a walk on the beach, and I readily agreed. As it turned out, the day was as perfect as the forecast predicted, and as I was driving to Portland I thought, “Why not grab sandwiches somewhere and spend the whole time at the beach? There will be plenty of time for lunch indoors.”

“Sounds good,” Shannon said, when I suggested this to her at her apartment.

Unfortunately, we had to leave the dogs behind because Crescent Beach doesn’t allow dogs on the beach until October 1. But, we went to Scratch Baking Company, not far from where Shannon lives, and bought everything good that we needed for a picnic—sandwiches made with a spicy black bean spread, roasted peppers, a sunflower seed pesto, and mixed greens; drinks; chips; and a brownie and short bread. (That sandwich was especially good! I can still taste it.)

That black bean sandwich!
That black bean sandwich!

When we got to Kettle Cove, which has benches and is adjacent to Crescent Beach, there was a bit of wind. Actually, there was a lot of wind, and I parked the car so that it overlooked the ocean, just in case we had to eat inside.

“Shall we eat in the car?” I asked, watching the wind whip over the grass.

“No, let’s eat outside,” Shannon said. “We’re in all winter.”

True enough. We set up on one of the benches, and the wind lifted our hair. It also tipped over Shannon’s drink and spilled some of it on the ground. No sooner had she righted the drink, then our chips flew off the bench, and our pastries followed not long afterwards.

The line-up, before the wind created havoc
The line-up, before the wind created havoc

“Do you want to eat in the car?” I asked again.

“That might be a good idea,” Shannon said, and we both laughed as we thought about the flying chips and pastries and the spilled drink.

In the warm, wind-free car, we ate our lunch, watched the waves curl and break on the rocky shore, and talked about many things, including the excellent Ken Burns documentary about the Roosevelts.

After lunch, we went for a walk on the beach, where the wind was only a gentle breeze, and the sun was so warm we had to take off our jackets and tie them around our waists. We walked to the state park, where we sat on a log on the beach, watched more curling waves, and, of course, talked about matters large and small.

The view from the log
The view from the log

As is our tradition on birthday outings, we took a selfie.

The two beach lovers
The two beach lovers

Such a lovely day of simple pleasures—I found a round rock speckled with mica to add to my collection on the kitchen window sill. In fact, it was a finest kind of day, and I want to do exactly the same thing next year, if the weather allows.

Rocks on the beach
Rocks on the beach



The People’s Climate March: A Good Planet is Hard to Find

IMG_6610Today, in New York City thousands and thousands of people walked in the People’s Climate March, a coming together of organizations and individuals to protest the inaction on climate change. Oh, how Clif and I wanted to go, but for a variety of reasons we had to stay put at the little house in the big woods. In our opinion, climate change is the biggest issue of our times, and while the world heats up, our leaders fiddle and fiddle. Instead of putting money, energy, and resources into solar and wind power, the powers that be foolishly and destructively continue their quest to extract as much fossil fuel as they can from rocks, from tar sands, from mines, and from the ocean.

Clif and I might not have been able to participate in the People’s Climate March, but we watched some of it live, courtesy of Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! As Goodman noted, this is the largest climate march in history, with “people as far as the eye can see.” And indeed there was an incredible stretch of people up and down the street. Many of the people looked like everyday folks—running the gamut from very young to quite old. Of course, there were some exotic folks, too, dancing in gauzy costumes and doing their best to look like Stevie Nicks in her younger days. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marched, and so did the actor Mark Ruffalo. Ditto for Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio.

To get to this historic march, people walked across the country or took the Climate Train. Some even biked. Bus loads came from Maine, and, I expect, from other parts of the country that were vaguely within driving distance of New York City. Meanwhile, there were similar events in England, Germany, and many other countries.

Amy Goodman, normally quite reserved, had clearly caught the spirit of the climate march. “Something is coalescing,” she said, and there was a decided sparkle in her voice. “There is a turning of the tide.”

Oh, we hope so. This problem is so big that it needs to be addressed at all levels—from government policy to individual action. Clif and I try very hard to do our part—by buying as much local and organic as the budget will allow, by combining  errands so that we don’t drive unnecessarily, by not overconsuming. But there must be structural changes as our society turns from using fossil fuels to using renewable energy, and our leaders must initiate those changes.

In honor of the People’s Climate March, we decided that today would be a no-car day. We took the dog for a walk to the Narrows, where I snapped some pictures of leaves just beginning to turn. The day was overcast, with the sun breaking through here and there, making the water glimmer.

I was reminded of a sign we saw in the People’s Climate March: “A good planet is hard to find. Let’s save this one.”

Yes, yes.

Addendum: According to an article from Reuters, posted after the event, there were 310,000 people at the Climate March in New York. No wonder Amy Goodman was so enthusiastic!

A Farewell Party for Lisa Jepson Wahlstrom of Ovation Fundraising Counsel

Pearl Ames, Lisa Jepson Wahlstrom, George Ames, and Billy Wing
Pearl Ames, Lisa Jepson Wahlstrom, George Ames, and Billy Wing

Last night, the library expansion team gave a farewell party for Lisa Jepson Wahlstrom. She is the founder and principal of Ovation Fundraising Counsel, an organization  that works “with nonprofit organizations throughout Maine helping them to increase their fundraising capacity, engage their constituencies, and strengthen their volunteer base.”

For the past few years, Lisa has worked with us on the library’s expansion campaign, and it’s no exaggeration to state that we couldn’t have run a successful expansion campaign without Lisa’s expertise, organization, firm guidance, and good cheer. We have had our ups and downs, but Lisa was always upbeat and encouraging, patiently leading us toward our goal—the addition.

However, the time has come for the expansion team to strike out on its own. As Lisa put it last night, we have about $150,000 left to raise, and we know what to do—more grant writing, more fundraising events, more appeals for donations. We also have a wonderful campaign team, and as we said our sad goodbyes to Lisa, I got a strong sense from the other team members that they would continue to help with the campaign, and a good thing, too. We certainly need them.

Where there is a party, there is food, of course, and the campaign team not only loves libraries but tasty food as well. We put on a pretty good spread, if I do say so myself, and there were lots of yummy tidbits—deviled eggs, artichoke squares, spinach balls, a hot cheese dip, and other good things to eat. I brought my homemade crackers and a rosemary-olive cream cheese spread.


Joan and Bill Wing generously agreed to host the party at their home overlooking the lake. They have a large living room with a lovely view of the water, and while we ate and talked, the water rippled and sparkled as the sun set.

Naturally, the conversation revolved around libraries—their importance in today’s society despite the dominance of computers, big and small. As I mentioned in a previous post, people are still reading books. The love of story runs deep in our species, and while I hope paper books endure—nothing can replace their feel and smell—I have no doubt that as long as there are people, there will be stories.

And there will be libraries—the repositories of information, ideas, and stories—available to all who live in a town, area, or city. You don’t have to be rich to have a library card. You don’t have to come from a prominent family.  Libraries are for everyone, and as such they couldn’t be more vital to our society.


Library Update and a Bit about Book Group

IMG_6576The picture for this post was taken on Sunday, September 14. With all the blue, the library’s new addition reminds me of a huge, very deep pool.

I’ll be biking into town today to do several errands, and one of them will be stopping by the library to see how the addition is progressing. If there are any changes, I’ll take pictures and post them in a day or two.

Last night, I went to book group, where we discussed Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, a story about Joe, a young Native-American teenager, and how he deals with his mother’s rape. (For readers who haven’t read this book, I don’t want to give too much away, but I do want to note that there was a lively discussion about Joe’s solution.)

There were eighteen (or so) of us at book group, and for an hour and a half, we discussed The Round House. There was some disagreement, especially with me as I argued that I thought Joe and his friends were too young to do some of things they did. This was hotly contested by those in the group who have sons. Even though I remained unconvinced, it was fascinating to hear the various points of view.

Also, what a thrill that so many people read The Round House and came to book group. Another example of the power of story and books, which despite what some people might think, have not gone the way of the dodo. Despite all the distractions of modern life, people are still reading books. Last Sunday, on NPR’s Weekend Edition, there was even a piece about the millennial generation—those under thirty—and their love of reading. Here’s how the story, by Lynn Neary, starts: “As it turns out, the generation that has grown up in the age of technology has a fondness for a very old-fashioned habit – reading.” A story to warm my heart, that’s for sure.

But back to book group…the leader—Shane-Malcolm Billings, the adult services librarian at Bailey—is also very important. Shane sets the tone, giving background information about the author, making sure that everyone has a chance to talk about the book, and generally keeping the group on track. His love of books is so strong that it just shines forth, warming everyone in the group.

Last night was the fourth anniversary of book group, and I have been a part of this group from the beginning. Shane compiled a list of all the books we have read in the past four years, and what an impressive list! The titles include The Lonely Polygamist, Cutting for Stone, Great House, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, When We Were the Kennedys, Home, and The Good Lord Bird.

Many thanks to Shane for leading this group, for all his hard work, and especially for his deep love of books.

Supporting Farmer Kev and Maine Farmers

All from Farmer Kev’s garden

Yesterday, Farmer Kev delivered the last of the summer CSA vegetables, which were actually fall vegetables—potatoes and a variety of squashes, all things Clif and I really love. However, my heart was not too heavy over this last delivery as Farmer Kev, for the first time, is expanding his CSA into the fall and winter.

Kevin and his trusty band of workers—some paid, some just helping out because they want to see Farmer Kev make a go of it—have been busy blanching and freezing vegetables for the winter CSA. In addition, there will be root vegetables—carrots, potatoes, beets, and squash—delivered until February.

Clif and I are signing up for the winter CSA, and we are doing it for a number of reasons. First, and foremost, Farmer Kev is one of our favorite farmers. We’ve known his family since he was very young, and what a pleasure it has been to see Kevin become a dedicated and hard-working farmer. This reason alone would be enough.

However, close behind comes the value of Farmer Kev’s CSA. His vegetables are fresh and organic and delivered. There is no way I could buy the equivalent for the same price at a farm stand. Again, this reason alone would be enough.

Finally, there is the larger picture—where our vegetables come from and the miles they travel. In grocery stores, many of the fruits and vegetables come “from away,” really far away, as in California, which over the years has become the country’s agricultural hub. Now, I am grateful for all the bounty that comes from California, and I am especially grateful for the labor of the underpaid workers who harvest the fresh vegetables and fruit.

But there is the little problem of climate change—actually, a big problem, one of the biggest yet. It takes a great deal of energy to transport those vegetables across the country, and there is a lot of carbon spewed into the air as a result.

However, there is something equally alarming to consider, and that is the drought in California. According to that state government’s website, “With California facing one of the most severe droughts on record, Governor Brown declared a drought State of Emergency in January and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages.” (For some horrifying pictures of before and during the drought, click here.)

No one can see the future, of course, but what if the drought continues? What if California stops producing so much bounty? How will we eat? What will happen to prices, which have already risen 40  percent over the last fourteen years? These questions should worry all of us.

Maine and indeed New England is blessed with abundant rainfall. Sometimes too abundant, as those of us who want to be outside in the summer like to grumble, but really we have no cause to complain. Most of the time we get the right amounts of rain to produce bountiful  crops, and this year, in particular, is bursting with tomatoes, one of my favorites.

With careful, mindful, and prudent land management, Maine could grow a lot more of its food. (Once upon a time, in the mid-1800s, Maine was even considered the breadbasket of New England.) Sometime soon, if the drought in California continues, we might very well have to grow more of what we eat. But—and it’s a big but—the infrastructure to do this can’t happen overnight. Fields must be cleared, soil must be fertilized, and people need to learn the art of farming. One isn’t born a farmer. It requires years of study—formal or informal—and lots of hard work.

Supporting Farmer Kev, and other farmers as well, feels like, well, an investment in the future of food in Maine and New England. This might sound like overstatement, but I don’t think it is. In the years to come, we might be extremely grateful that so many young farmers have decided to settle in Maine, and right now, we should support them in whatever way we can.

And, that readers, is reason enough to join Farmer Kev’s CSA or any other CSA, or that matter.


Changed Plans: The Red Barn, the Rail Trail, and the Dairy Queen

IMG_6568Last Sunday, Clif and I had planned to ride from Hallowell to Richmond—a twenty-three-mile bike ride—but when we got up, we changed our minds. Although the day was bright and sunny, there was a very brisk wind and the temperature was about forty degrees. Too cold!

“Let’s go to Plan B,” I suggested. “How about a trip to the Red Barn, for homemade chips and fried chicken, a walk on the Rail Trail in Augusta, and then dessert at the Dairy Queen?” (Full disclosure: I love peanut buster parfaits. Fortunately, I only indulge once during the summer/fall season.)

“Sounds good to me,” Clif said, and to the Red Barn we went. The place was packed, as it always is on Sunday afternoons, and we had to drive around a bit before we found an empty space. However, the terrific staff—who are paid a living wage, I might add—were their usual cheerful, quick, and competent selves. I waited no more than five minutes for chips and chicken, cooked fresh and piping hot.

IMG_6550Because the day was sunny and involved a walk, we brought Liam, and by then it was warm enough to eat outside rather than in the car. The Red Barn is extremely pet friendly, and other people brought their dogs, too.  At first Liam was excited and yippy, but he soon settled down so that we could eat our meal with only a minimum amount of barking and disruption.

After the big meal, a walk was certainly in order, and we drove to Hallowell where we could park the car and walk a portion of the Rail Trail. In Liam’s younger days, he would zip right along, and we would go several miles. However, Liam will be ten in January, and nowadays he likes to amble and sniff. Clif and I don’t mind. When we take the dog for a walk, we are doing it for him, not for exercise for us, and we let him take his time.

On the trail, I met Denis Ledoux, a writer who is in the Franco-American artists group I belong to. It was a bit of a surprise to see him out of context, so to speak, as he lives a fair distance from Augusta. He had come to visit a friend, and they were walking the trail together. Denis and I talked about what many Francos talk about when they get together—cleaning the house, garage, and yard.

As I’ve written before, Francos have a zeal for cleanliness and order that borders on fanaticism, and it is one of our big topics of discussion.  There are, of course,  individual Francos who buck this tradition, but even so, cleaning the house usually hangs heavy over their heads. It’s a rare Franco, male or female, who breaks free from the grip of cleaning the house.

We also talked a bit about writing and the goings-on within the Franco Artists Group, one of the best groups I have ever belonged to. So many talented writers, artists, and performers in this group.

After saying goodbye to Denis, we continued on for a little longer. Asters and thistles were in bloom, giving modest bursts of color to the fall landscape. The wind had stopped blowing, and it was so warm that I had to take off my jacket.


“We could have gone on that bike ride,” I said.

“I know,” Clif replied.

Ah, well! We had made our decision. After the walk,  it was on to the Dairy Queen, where everyone had ice cream, even the dog. As the young woman made up Liam’s doggy ice cream, she said, “When you make a dog a treat, it should be a real treat,” and she studded his ice cream with four dog biscuits.

After we finished our ice cream, it was late afternoon, with plenty of daylight left. On the way home, I said to Clif, “Let’s go for a short bike ride along Memorial Drive.”

And so we did, sliding the bike ride into a day filled with good food, sun, the dog, a walk, and an unexpected meeting.

My Birthday

The Kennebec River on a fine September day
The Kennebec River on a fine September day

Today is my birthday, and  with the sun shining and a bright blue sky, what a lovely day it is. I’ve had plenty of treats, but I’m going to slide in a few more as well as visit with my friend Esther. I hope to squeeze in a bike ride, too.

It doesn’t bother me at all to share my age—fifty-seven. After having had breast cancer four years ago, every birthday seems special and worth celebrating.

So off I go, to enjoy this bright day.

Later: A day of visiting. In the morning, it was with Debbie and Dennis, where we discussed library matters and, ahem, politics. Then it was home for lunch on the sunny patio. As I was eating, I saw a hummingbird by the edge of the woods. So they are not gone yet! (Seeing that little darting bird felt like a real gift.) Then it was with my friend Esther for several hours. She suggested that next time I visit we might go out to lunch at a place called the Green Bean Coffee Shop in South China, where on Fridays they make donuts. Yes, indeed.

All in all, a relaxing day that was different from normal routine. There was even a bit of cake.

The view from Esther's house
The view from Esther’s house


Fall, a Time of Subtraction

The ragged garden
The ragged garden

Today is cool and brisk and breezy. Too chilly, I fear, for lunch on the patio, but a very good day for hanging laundry. The hummingbirds seem to be gone for the season, and I am reminded, yet again, what a time of subtraction fall is as various birds head for warmer places For many birds, fall is the time for the great migration, and how far some of them travel. The birding community is agog with this seasonal occurrence, and dedicated birders find migration flyways where the birds group en masse as they go south. Casual birders like me note the comings and goings in our backyards and bid a sad farewell to the summer birds.

This time of year, the gardens are ragged—there is no other word for it. There is a burst of pink here, a sliver of red there, but nothing is really in bloom, and its lovely days are mere July and August memories. But the finches are still cheeping and the males are still bright yellow and the bees are still working what’s left of the bee balm. Grasshoppers jump from tattered leaf to tattered leaf, and the crickets’ songs are loud and sweet.

With its deep blue skies and sunny days, September in Maine is beautiful, and I am glad it is my birth month. I especially love the nutty smell of the various wild plants as they go to seed. The days are still long enough for bike rides when Clif comes home from work. I make sure that vegetables are chopped so that dinner goes together lickety-split when we return at 7:00 or 7:30. The night before, it was turnips and potatoes for patties, and there was fresh homemade bread and green beans to go with the patties. This afternoon, I’ll put chicken, potatoes, and carrots in the slow cooker, and a hot meal will be waiting for us after a cold ride.

This weekend, we are planning our annual Hallowell to Richmond ride, an event I always look forward to. We’ll probably go on Sunday, and I’ll bring my camera so that I can take pictures as we bike along the Kennebec River.

We are nearly half-way through this lovely month, and the next event I eagerly anticipate is the making of apple pies with crisp, fall apples. I’ve already found a couple of people who would like some pie—a whole pie is simply too much for Clif and me. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find some more people who would like pie, and I can make three or four of them.

I do like making apple pies.


Library Stories: Ballinrobe Library, Ireland

The church-library. Photo by Bill Burke.
The church-library. Photo by Bill Burke.

Over the past three years, as I have worked on the committee to build an addition to our town’s library, two things have occurred to me. The first and most obvious one is the importance of libraries, big and small. Maine is very lucky in that most towns, no matter how tiny, have a library. We are doubly lucky that Maine has a terrific interlibrary loan system so that the broader world of books, stories, and ideas is open to the entire library system, regardless of how small a particular library might be. Need I add that libraries are open to all, regardless of status and income? Not really, I know, but I always like to make that plug.

The second thing I have realized is that so many people have library stories, which usually revolve around the importance of libraries in their lives. Often times, the stories also feature some unusual aspect of a library, thus illustrating the ingenuity of towns and librarians and the people who support them.

For sometime now, I’ve been wanting to write a series of posts that feature library stories, and yesterday, on Facebook, I read a library story that made me think now was the time to begin this project.

Shari and Bill Burke, a couple I know, recently moved from Brunswick, Maine, to Ballinrobe, Ireland. Ballinrobe is in County Mayo in the west of Ireland, and it is a small town with a population circa 3,682.

Both Shari and Bill are avid readers, and it didn’t take them long to get a library card from their local library, which is in a converted church complete with a stained-glass window. This is Shari’s library story, which she generously agreed to share on my blog. Her husband Bill took the pictures, which he, in turn, generously agreed to share. In fact, you might say this whole story is one of generosity, which, along with decency, is too often underrated.

Shari wrote, “After lunch this afternoon we headed out with a backpack of books to return to the library and Bill’s jump drive with a document to print. We walked in the bright sunshine to the library, where Bill took a seat at a computer and I went to the desk to return the books. Mary, the librarian, commented on how beautiful the weather has been…. Somehow we ended up talking about a bunch of other stuff and she told me she’s lived in Ballinrobe for 35 years and working at the library for over 20. She said that it used to be located in a tiny thatched building on Cornmarket—I cannot imagine having a library in the building she means—it really is small. They moved into their current location about 17 years ago, all because of a library patron named Dorothy, who had a dog friend named Coco.

“Dorothy was ‘Church of Ireland’ and she was increasingly disturbed by the sorry state of the unused church. She was also a book lover and frequent visitor to the library. One day she approached Mary and asked if the county council might be able to use the old church building as a library. Mary said to talk to them about it. Dorothy did and in the end, Church of Ireland leased it to the Mayo County Council for 1 cent. It needed some restoration work, not least on the stained glass window, which was sent to Dublin piece by piece and cleaned at a cost of 70,000 pounds (this was just before the Euro, I guess).

The stained-glass window and Shari at the table. Photo by Bill Burke.
Shari working, and behind her is the beautiful stained-glass window. Photo by Bill Burke.

“Dorothy, the woman that set the move in motion, continued to use the library a lot. She always came in with Coco and Coco was the only dog allowed in the library. Once, when Mary was away on holiday, her sub told Dorothy that the dog was not allowed in the library and Coco had to be tied up outside. Dorothy was not happy and I’m guessing that Coco wasn’t, either! When Mary returned, she said, ‘Don’t ever do that again! Do you know whose dog that is?’ Coco was never banished again!

“When it became difficult for Dorothy to get into town, Mary would pick her up on her lunch hour and bring Dorothy to town to do her shopping and pick up her library books. When Dorothy was unable to get to the library, Mary brought her books to her. Dorothy was found passed away in her bed with an open library book in her hand and Coco at the end of her bed. Coco died two days later.”

There’s really nothing I can add to this lovely story, so I won’t. Again, many thanks, Shari, for agreeing to share your piece, and Bill, for the pictures.

Inside Ballinrobe Library. Photo by Bill Burke.
Inside Ballinrobe Library. Photo by Bill Burke.