All posts by Laurie Graves

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

A Susan Poulin Kind of Day

Today Susan Poulin—aka Ida LeClair—is coming to the Winthrop library to read from her book, Finding Your Inner Moose, which somehow manages to be a humorous, self-help book. I’ve often said that if you follow the advice in Susan’s book, then you will have a happier life. And you’ll do it while laughing.

Before the reading, Susan is joining me for an early supper. Lucky me! I’ll have a chance to chat with Susan for a couple of hours as we eat, something that we don’t often get a chance to do because of distance and busy schedules.

I’ll be making a tarragon chicken salad and bran muffins. We’ll also have fruit—cantaloup and grapes. For dessert, homemade chocolate ice cream.

Susan’s visit sure perks up the week.




Hinterland Photography’s First Show

At the Bizarre Bazaar with cards and pictures

For several months, Clif and I have been talking about selling photo cards.  We both love taking pictures, and in the course of a year, I give or send at least one hundred cards. Lately I’ve been thinking, why not try to sell them as well?

Now, we know we’ll never get rich selling cards. I am mindful of what Jeff Toothaker, of Sweet Tooth Fudge, told me, “Our hourly rate of selling fudge is about what we would make if we worked at Wal-Mart, but we have a lot more fun making fudge.”

Just substitute the word cards for fudge, and I expect we’ll have the same hourly pay. But we would take photos anyway, whether we sell them or not. I bet taking pictures and selling cards is a whole lot more fun than working at Wal-Mart.

In fact, we have sold cards before, when we were publishing Wolf Moon Journal, so we have many of the things we need—table, tablecloth, stands, cash box. We also know the drill—how to set up, how to take down, and everything in between. All we really needed was a new name, and for obvious reasons, we came up with Hinterland Photography.

We decided to start small, with a show called the Bizarre Bazaar, which was held at the Winthrop Center Friends Church, about two miles away from where we live. (The actual fair was sponsored by the St. Andrew’s Women’s Guild.) The fair was close, which meant Clif could stay home and work on other projects while I was at the fair.

Because the church is a bit off the beaten path, the fair’s attendance was low. However, I not only sold enough cards to cover the cost of the table, but I also made a little extra, which I promptly spent at the fair. I now have one Christmas present each for Dee and Shannon.

Best of all, I was invited to participate in another fair, the day after Thanksgiving. Ivan Borja, who was selling some of his beautiful jewelry at the Bizarre Bazaar, came to my table to chat and tell me about the fair in Mount Vernon, which he helps organize. The table fee is low, and he assured me that the fair is very well attended.

Clif and I will give it a try. We know there will be a series of hits and misses before we discover which fairs we should attend. (Ivan said this was true for him.)

For the Bizarre Bazaar, I focused on my flower photos, but for the next fair we’ll be in—The Winthrop Art Fair—we’ll incorporate many of Clif’s photos, too. He’s taken some good ones, if I do say so myself. We’ll also be offering framed photographs.

The Winthrop Art Fair is about a month away, and until then, we’ll be busy, busy making cards.


Pictures from a Garden

When you are a fool for flowers, as I am, mid-July is one of the best times of year. Flowers are abloom everywhere—at the little house in the big woods, by the side of the road, in many yards in town. When I go for a bike ride, I bring my little Cannon, my stealth camera as I like to call it, and I often stop to take pictures.

Joan, a library volunteer, surely has one of the most beautiful yards in Winthrop. I admire her yard every time I bike by it, and Joan very kindly gave me permission to stop and take pictures of her flowers whenever I wanted.

“Come three times a day if you need to get the right light,” she said. “And don’t forget to go around back to get some pictures of the white hydrangeas.”

I didn’t need to be asked twice. After taking pictures of the front garden, I duly headed out back to where the white hydrangeas grew. I was certainly glad I followed Joan’s advice. Here is a picture of one of her lovely white hydrangeas.

IMG_6092I got some other good pictures, too. No surprise. Joan’s garden is so photogenic that it’s easy to get good shots.



Something tells me that in the near future, Joan will be receiving a set of flower cards.

How A Fool for Flowers Learned to Take Pictures of Them

Beauty by the side of the road
Beauty by the side of the road

When I was in my mid-twenties, I fell utterly in love with flowers and gardening, and for thirty years, that love has never wavered.  Despite having “THE worst yard in Winthrop in which to garden,” I have persevered, and I begin every season with the hope that there will be enough (but not too much) rain, that the slugs and snails won’t be too bad, and ditto for the Japanese beetles.  Mostly my hopes are dashed, but that’s the way it is with gardening, and I have learned to be somewhat philosophical about all the shredding jaws that want to eat my plants.

In our house, Clif is the photographer, and he has a terrific eye, if I do say so myself.  (Yes, I know I’m prejudiced.) However, he doesn’t have the same zeal for flowers that I have, and sometimes I would have to coax him to take a picture of a certain flower. More than once, I thought about learning how to take pictures, but his camera—a digital one—seemed too complicated for this techno-nummy.

Then along came the little Cannon, which we bought for taking pictures of food when I was writing posts for A Good Eater. I could slip the Cannon into my pocketbook and bring it wherever I went, and for such a small camera, it took amazingly good pictures. But the chief attraction for me was that the Cannon was very simple to use. It wasn’t long before I branched out from food pictures to flower pictures and to nature pictures in general.

At first, I wasn’t very good. I’d see the beautiful flower in front of me, but I wouldn’t notice that pile of dirt nearby that was not at all photogenic. Clif helped me “see” what was really around the flower. My friends Jim and Dawna, who are also accomplished photographers, gave me some additional tips. I kept taking pictures, and I learned to not only download them but also to edit them.

After four years of taking hundreds and hundreds of pictures—maybe even thousands—I do believe I’ve improved, and I’ve decided to start making flower note cards to sell at local craft fairs. I’m also thinking of selling them on Etsy.

There is a lesson in this post. I have always thought of myself as a words and story person, not as an image person. While I’ve admired other people’s photographs, I never thought I’d be able to take good pictures. But the simple little Cannon allowed me to overcome my fear of the technology of a more complicated camera, and once I relaxed, I could see, practice, and improve.

So here’s the lesson: Don’t automatically peg yourself into a particular niche. Allow yourself to branch out, to explore, to create. What you produce doesn’t have to be great art. It can please only you or your family and friends. And with this relaxed attitude something wondrous just might happen. You will get better, until one day you will look at what you have created, and think, “Not too bad.”

Yellow in blue
Yellow in blue
Red against green
Purple and white
Purple and white





Oh, Frosty’s!

On Tuesday, I went to Gardiner to deliver flyers for Railroad Square Cinema—I do this every 6 weeks or so—and when I drove into town, I saw something that made my heart beat fast. Very fast. On the corner, in bold red, stood a sign for Frosty’s Donuts.


Frosty’s Donuts, which sells the freshest, most delectable, most melt-in-your-mouth honey-dipped donuts in the area, maybe even in Maine, started as a small shop in Brunswick in the 1960s. The hours were, ahem, flexible, and for those who didn’t live in Brunswick, getting a donut from Frosty’s was pretty darned hard.

June and Bob Frost had run the shop in Brunswick for decades, but when June died in 2011, Frosty’s was sold to Nels Omdal and Shelby St. Andre. John Frost, June and Bob’s son, taught Omdal and St. Andre the fine art of making donuts, and Frosty’s, which had been closed, reopened on February 11, 2012.  But for Clif and me, the problem of accessibility remained the same—the hours were from 4:00 to 1:00, and we are rarely, if ever, in Brunswick before 1:00.

I felt certain I was doomed to a life without Frosty’s donuts, and becasue I am crazy about donuts, even desperate for donuts, as I once wrote, this was not a happy thought. But then something verging on the miraculous happened. Omdal and St. Andre decided to expand their Frosty’s empire to Gardiner, which is much closer to us than Brunswick is. Maybe, I thought, just maybe I’ll be able to get to the Gardiner Frosty’s before it closes for the day.

Therefore, I didn’t fool around when I saw the cheery sign on the sidewalk. I parked, grabbed some Railroad Square flyers, and went straight to Frosty’s, which was not only open but still had a good selection of donuts. Clutching those flyers, I stood in a happy daze, surveying the donut case. Initially, I had planned to buy two donuts, one each for Clif and me. But somehow, that seemed confining. Two out of all those wonderful flavors?

All right, then. Four. I would buy four donuts, each of them different so that we could have a little sampler. But what about that honey-dipped twist?

“Oh, add one of those, too,” I told the woman behind the counter.

“Well,” she said with a smile. “If you’re going to buy five, you might as well make it six. You’ll save money.”

How could I resist? Two of the things I love best—donuts and saving money. “Throw in a chocolate glazed,” I said.

Now, you don’t have to be a math genius to figure out how many donuts apiece that makes for two people. And if you think that any of those donuts made it until the next day, then you would be wrong.

“Clif,” I said later that night. “We have to plan a donut strategy. I go to Gardiner every six weeks. That Frosty’s is open until 5 p.m., and I’ve been given permission to leave Railroad Square flyers there.”

“We’ll eat whatever you bring home,” Clif said philosophically.

I certainly knew that. “But how many should I buy? One twist to be shared by the two of us?” The twists are big, and both Clif and I have a special weakness for them.

Clif shrugged. “It’s not like you’re going every week.”

“A twist each?”

Clif just grinned. “That lemon-filled donut was pretty darned good, too.”

So was the raspberry-filled donut, the chocolate coconut, and the chocolate glazed. They were all tender, flavorful, and moist, without a hit of the awful dryness you find in donuts from another shop that will remain nameless.

Stay tuned. I’ll report back on Frosty’s donuts in six weeks.

Delectable Donuts
Delectable Donuts



A Rainy Fourth and the Legacy of Presidents

The Fourth turned out to be rainy, but after the blistering heat of the previous few days, I didn’t mind a bit. Our barbecue beans and hot dogs are good inside or out, and the little house in the big woods can easily accommodate 7 people.

As we gathered around the dining room table, I surveyed the bounty—Jill’s potato salad, Alice’s pasta and greens salad, Shannon’s wheat berry salad—and I mentioned how lucky we are to have family and friends who can cook. I quickly added that we would love them even if they couldn’t, but it’s a real bonus that they are all such fine cooks. Because of this, our feasts are truly feasts.

We ended with homemade ice cream pie drizzled with blueberry sauce and raspberry sauce. Alice said, “If I wasn’t in polite company, I’d lick the plate.” Words to warm a cook’s heart, that’s for sure.

As is our wont, after the meal we stayed at the table for quite a while—two or three hours—and made an attempt to solve the world’s problems. Appropriately for the Fourth, we discussed presidents. Jill is making her way through Robert Caro’s biography of LBJ, and as there are 4 volumes published, with a 5th on the way, this is quite an endeavor.  Our son-in-law, Mike, is reading The Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Teddy Roosevelt.

So we jumped back and forth among the presidents, from Obama to LBJ to Teddy Roosevelt. All presidents want to hold onto power. That we know. But are they ever sincere in their desire to leave a legacy that goes beyond power? In other words, do they want to do something good for the country just because it is the right thing to do?

At the table, we argued about this for some time. LBJ, it seems, was a ruthless politician who used unscrupulous means to gain power. Yet, his Great Society programs and his support of the Civil Rights Act belies the notion that he was in power only for himself and for his cronies. Indeed, the Civil Rights Act cost the Democratic Party dearly, with Southern Democrats leaving en masse to join the Republican Party after the bill was passed. It took grit for LBJ to stand up for two groups of people—the poor and African Americans—who didn’t have much political clout. Certainly LBJ was mindful of his legacy, yet the direction his legacy took must have had something to do with his beliefs and ideals.

The same could be said of Obama and the Affordable Care Act. Obama did something that presidents, starting with Teddy Roosevelt, have wanted to do but have been unable to accomplish—have some kind of national health care system that would guarantee coverage for all people. It has been said that Obama spent most of his political capital on the Affordable Care Act. But who, really, benefits from the Affordable Care Act? Is it rich people who don’t have to worry about how their medical bills will be paid? Of course it isn’t. The ACA benefits people who are struggling to find decent health care coverage, and while these same people might have voted for Obama (or maybe not), they are unlikely to have donated large sums of money to his campaign. Could it be that Obama genuinely thought that affordable health care would be good for the country? I think it’s quite likely.

Good discussions on the Fourth, as the rain came down and night settled over the little house in the big woods.

Food for the Fourth, Rainy or Sunny

Every year, for the Fourth of July, we have a gathering at the little house in the big woods, and we always hope to spend most of the time on the patio in our backyard. Unfortunately, summer in Maine is a hit or miss affair—some days are sunny, and others are rainy, especially in June or July. Naturally, you never know when the rain will come, and this makes it particularly difficult to plan a Fourth of July “barbie,” as the Australians might put it.

Some years, the weather has been fine, and Clif has been able to grill at his leisure, beginning with bread and ending with chicken. Other years, the day starts out sunny, but by midafternoon the clouds gather, and it’s a rush to grill the food and eat before the rain comes. And some years, Clif has been out there with his umbrella, trying to keep things dry as he grills.

Last year, we finally came to our senses and planned food that could be eaten indoors or outdoors. We decided on hot dogs, either grilled or pan fried, and a crock-pot full of beans in barbecue sauce. Our guests brought various side dishes, and we all agreed that this was a very tasty way to celebrate the Fourth.  Clif and I were so pleased with the results that we decided this would be our new tradition for upcoming gatherings on the Fourth.

As I write, two kinds of beans—black and kidney—are simmering on the stove. Tomorrow morning, into the crock-pot they will go along with peppers, garlic, onion, and barbecue sauce. Because Hurricane Arthur is blowing up the East Coast, it is my guess that we’ll have to dig out the cast iron frying pans to cook the hot dogs indoors.

No matter. There will be seven us, a good number for the little house in the big woods, especially when the furniture in the living room is rearranged a bit.

Tomorrow morning, on the Fourth, I expect I’ll wake up hearing the various hosts, reporters, newscasters and commentators on NPR reading the Declaration of Independence. NPR has been doing this for over 20 years, and it is a tradition I have come to love. I am always moved by the language, the style, and the promise of the Declaration of Independence.  The promise, of course, hasn’t always been kept, but it is there, and I believe that, in part, it is this promise that gives the American temperament its optimism, its energy to look ahead, to move forward.

Optimism can at times seem foolish, naive, and misplaced. But optimism can also propel a country through hard, bitter times when it looks as though there is no place for optimism. Solutions to seemingly intractable problems such as climate change can come from optimism.

So happy birthday, United States. May optimism continue to guide us.




Bribing Oneself During High Summer

IMG_6026-1High summer is here. At 11:30 a.m., it was 90 degrees in the shade at the little house in the big woods. Relative humidity? About the same. (Take note, Shari Burke. This is too hot and humid even for me.)

We are hosting a gathering here for the Fourth of July, and I have assigned various chores to various days. Yesterday was make ice cream pie. I made vanilla ice cream and put it in a graham cracker crust. Tomorrow I will make a raspberry sauce and a blueberry sauce, and we will have a refreshing red, white, and blue dessert.

One of today’s big chores was to weed-whack around the edge of the patio and various other places the lawn mower can’t get. I had hoped to go outside before it got really hot, but I am not an early riser, and by late morning it was, well, 90 in the shade.

Still, the chore needed to be done, and I knew that by the time the sun set, I’d be spent because of the heat. So I bribed myself.  If I weed-whacked, then afterwards I could have a cool drink, a couple of hard candies, and spend as much time as I wanted going over photos I took before I did the weed-whacking.

The bribe worked. As I labored and sweated, I thought about that cool drink and how pleasurable it would be to go over my pictures. In fact, the bribe worked so well that I even threw in a few other chores, just for good measure.

Now I can relax with a clear conscience for the rest of this hot afternoon.

Here are the pictures I took before weed-whacking. Lots of yellow in the garden. Funny, but that’s the color that seems to grow best at the little house in the big woods.



July Gardens at the LIttle House in the Big Woods

Dwarf snapdragons
Dwarf snapdragons

At the little house in the big woods, it is not easy to grow flowers and vegetables. There is too much shade and too much ledge. We bought this house before I became smitten with gardening, and I’m not sure we would have bought it had I realized how difficult it would be to grow things here.

Still, even though I constantly grumble that we have the worst yard in Winthrop in which to garden, I do like living on the edge of the cool, green forest. During these hot, humid days, all we need is our fan in the attic to get the house down to a nice temperature in the evening. And when I sit on the patio at dusk, listening to the hermit thrush and the loons, I can’t help but think there is no finer place to be in central Maine.

I also have to admit I have had some success with flowers. Over the years, I have learned what will grow here. Unfortunately, I also have spent a fair amount of money discovering what will not grow here. At any rate, here are some pictures of my July garden, when the little house in the woods is at its prettiest.

Astilbe, the fairy flower of the garden
Astilbe, the fairy flower of the garden
Evening primroses
Evening primroses
Little winged visitor in the backyard
Little winged visitor in the backyard

Farmer Kev and the Weather

Columbines by the side of the road
Columbines by the side of the road

A quiet, gray day at the little house in the big woods. Rain is forecasted, and it is much needed. We’ve had a long stretch of sunny weather, and the plants could use the refreshing rain. So far, what a wonderful summer it has been. A little cool, perhaps, but just the right amount of water and sun. The plants—both in pots and in the ground—are thriving, bringing bursts of color to all the green surrounding the house.

Much different from last year, when it rained for 20 straight days in a row. So much rain stunted my potted flowers and herbs, and they never recovered. The tomatoes were watery and prone to rotting. To my way of thinking, a bad year for tomatoes is a very bad year indeed. We only get those luscious tomatoes once a year, and what a blow it is when the crop isn’t good.

Yesterday, Farmer Kev delivered our CSA vegetables. (Yes, he delivers.)

“How are the gardens doing?” I asked.

“Not bad. Things are growing pretty well,” he answered. Then he shrugged. “I hope it continues. I always hope for the best but expect the worst.”

Oh, my! Farmer Kev is only in his early 20s, but farming has taught him to be cautious about expecting too much from the weather. For most of us, weather is a matter of personal comfort—we don’t like being too cold; we don’t like being too hot. But for farmers, it is a different matter. Their livelihood depends on weather that is beneficial for their crops—the right amount of sun and rain. Too much of either can ruin the yield, and because the weather is so capricious, Farmer Kev has every right to be wary.

Well, so far, so good. Today the rain will come and bring moisture to all the gardens in Maine. This morning when it was just sprinkling, I slid in a walk to the Narrows and took a few pictures.

The Upper Narrows
The Upper Narrows

When I came back, I made bread, and tonight for supper we will have baked chicken and potatoes and fresh peas from Farmer Kev’s garden.

A lovely kind of gray day in June.

The Lower Narrows
The Lower Narrows