All posts by Laurie Graves

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

A Gray Day After the Election

IMG_6972Today, the gray skies exactly match my mood. For a liberal and a progressive, yesterday’s elections brought little to cheer about. Come January, the U.S. Senate will be controlled by Republicans, and Republican governors were re-elected in far too many states, including Maine. I was so hoping that Mike Michaud, the Democratic candidate, would win. While Michaud is neither as progressive nor as liberal as I would like, he certainly beats the alternative, and one of his campaign platforms was to increase funding for alternative energy.

Instead, we got Paul LePage, who, among other things, seems to be a real fossil-fuel enthusiast.  If Maine were an oil-producing state, I expect LePage’s mantra would be drill, baby, drill.

The really depressing thing is that 47.9 percent of the state voted for LePage. In my own town of Winthrop, a majority voted for him. I’m not sure whether I feel as though I live among a group of aliens who have been hoodwinked by our bully of a governor, or if I am the alien who has been dropped in. Either way, it is not a good feeling.

You would think that at fifty-seven, I would be used to these upsets. After all, they happen with depressing regularity. A friend even called to tell me that the last three presidents who were in office two terms had the same thing happen to them in their sixth year. But somehow I never get used to it, and I have to let the despair burn through me like a fever.

In a day or two, I’ll regain my equilibrium. I’ll be thinking of ways to be part of the solution to the terrible problems the world is facing. Because I am not a political animal, it will probably be through reading, writing, lifestyle, and community involvement. Perhaps these things aren’t as effective as political involvement, but it’s just not in my nature to become a gung-ho political activist. I see too many things wrong with the Democrats to be that kind of ardent supporter.

This afternoon, I’m going to make chocolate chip cookies to sweeten this bitter day. Tomorrow, Clif will bring most of them to work—Megan, I haven’t forgotten you—and we’ll keep a few to munch on. Tonight, Clif and I will watch something light and fun—no dystopian movie for us.

Onward if not upward! And by gum, the sun even seems to be coming out.

Gunshots and Voting

This morning, I woke up to gunfire. Hunting season began last Saturday, and today in the woods a hunter was getting an early start. This is not my favorite time of year, when people—mostly men—dress in orange and carry loaded rifles in the woods. It is always a relief to me when hunting season is over.

I, too, wear orange when I work in my yard during hunting season, and I usually have a radio with the volume turned up very loud so that hunters will be aware they are near a house.  In November I am grateful that Liam is such a noisy dog who will bark at everything and nothing. More noise to alert hunters.

Today is also election day, in Maine as well as in the rest of the country. Clif and I voted early—a little after 8 a.m.—and already the parking lot was full, with cars lined up on both sides of the drive leading to the town office.  Upon putting my ballot in the machine, I was told I was voter 51, and between all the cars in the lot and the people inside the town office, I was not surprised. Winthrop not only cooks, but it votes, too, it seems.

Normally, I don’t write very much about politics in this blog. I prefer to focus on nature, people, food, the environment, libraries, and other small-town matters. But as someone who freely and proudly admits to being both a liberal and a progressive, I feel as though I must stray, at least a little, from my usual topics. Simply put, today is a real nail-biter day for me and my family. In varying degrees, several family members have been adversely affected by the state’s current administration—I’m not going to go into details—and four more years with the same people in charge is a discouraging thought.

The bigger picture is no better. From health care to the environment to social services to the economy, it feels as though Maine has taken many, many steps back. Nowhere is this clearer than with alternative energy. Because of Maine’s location by the sea, we are in an ideal position to not only produce our own electricity, carbon-free, but to also export it to other states thereby reducing their carbon footprints. Unfortunately, we seem to be no closer to accomplishing this than we were four years ago. Given the state of our planet and the warming climate, this cannot be counted as merely being stalled in one place. This has to count as regression.

And for those who think that Maine’s recent spat of cold winters disproves climate change, think again. Apparently, the melting Arctic ice affects the jet stream, which, in turn, has made our winters colder. Yes, it’s complicated, but it’s a clear case of a warmer world and climate change.

But I digress. All over Maine, people are going to the polls, and if Winthrop is any indication, then voter turn-out should be quite high.

My day began with a bang. Let’s hope it ends with a bang and a new direction.



Snow, Snow, Go Away!

IMG_6953Like a most unwanted guest, snow came to Maine yesterday. At the little house in the big woods, the snow fell on the patio tables and chairs, the unraked leaves, temple dog in the back garden, and my collection of toads and frogs in the front gardens as well as many other ornaments.

Clif and I were out before breakfast, before the snow really got started, and we hauled in the tables and chairs. How lonely the empty patio looks, and there will be no more nights in the backyard until next summer.

As we hustled to get the furniture in, I thought about this early snow and how common it has become for the East Coast to get funky weather the end of October and the beginning of November. A few years back, when Clif and I visited Dee in New York, there was a raging blizzard where the snow flew sideways as it pelted us. Folks in Connecticut lost their power for a week or more. A year or two later came Hurricane Sandy, which was even worse.  Now this.

As we inched our way with the heavy table down the bulkhead steps, I said to Clif, “We better make plans to visit Dee the middle of October. That way, we can avoid the end of October “treat” that we seem to be getting. After all, once is a fluke. Twice is suspicious. Three times is a trend.”

“Good idea,” Clif agreed.

In the afternoon, I went back out to collect my frogs, the temple dog, the citronella torches, and various other garden ornaments. I threw snowballs for the dog, who loves the snow and would stay out with me as long as I wanted. By the time we came in, my hair was plastered to my head—no hats for me until I absolutely have to wear one—and the dog’s fur was wet, but not all the way through. His thick coat gives him ample protections from the cold and wet, which makes him a perfect northern dog.

When we came in, I made popcorn. Clif and I settled on the couch in the living room. The dog was between us, all the better to beg for popcorn, and the yellow cat was on my lamp. All was cozy, but the dark came so soon and with it the long night. We’ll adapt, of course, to the short, short days, but it always takes us at least a week to do so, to stop feeling so closed in.

This morning when I woke up, the sun was shining, and the meteorologist on MPBN promised that in most places the snow would melt by tomorrow. I am holding him to his word. There are leaves to rake, perennials to cut back, and a few more things to bring in. I can only hope that the true winter snow has enough sense to wait until the end of November or the first of December, the way it did in the old days, when I was young.

Snowy Day Pictures





And finally, Liam, dog of the north.


New York Trip: Libraries

A good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever.   

From the time I was a young child, libraries have been an important part of my life. In North Vassalboro, where I grew up, there was a tiny library made from a converted cottage that had been hauled by horses across an icy China Lake. My family regularly went to this library. Once a week, we also went to the Waterville Public Library, a bigger library with a much larger and more enticing selection of books. So I guess you could say we were fools for libraries, and this perhaps explains why I so enjoy seeing other libraries when I travel.

On my recent trip to New York City, Dee and I visited two libraries in the New York Public Library system—“the iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building,” and the much smaller Hudson Park Library. The contrast between these two libraries couldn’t be greater, but both have their appeal and place.

A temple for books

The Schwarzman Building—the one with the lions—is nothing less than a temple devoted to books and words and learning. There are pillars and marble and frescos and chandeliers and statues, and as I tiptoed through the hallowed halls, I looked up, down, and around until my neck began to hurt. I’m sure my mouth was agape as I took in the splendors of this magnificent library. I felt like a country bumpkin in the big city. Is there a more splendid library in this country? I can’t imagine it, but I would certainly be interested in finding out if there is one.

Laurie by the lion
Laurie and the lion

At the Schwarzman Building, we saw two exhibits: Over Here: WWI and the Fight for the American Mind and Sublime: The Prints of J. M. W. Turner and Thomas Moran.  Over Here illustrated how posters, songs, books, and even movies, a new technology at the time, were used as propaganda to encourage the American public to support WWI. And apparently the public did need to be persuaded. On one side was the progressive activist Jane Addams, who maintained that war “affords no solution for vexed international problems.” On the other side was Theodore Roosevelt, who decried “flabby pacifism” and urged America to join the fight. We know who won that argument.

From a historic point of view, Sublime was interesting, but there is no way around it—the prints lacked snap. Both Turner and Moran had a vision of nature that hardly resembles nature at all. With only a few exceptions, the prints were stiff and lifeless yet over the top at the same time. A difficult combination to achieve, but somehow they managed. I’m not sorry I saw the exhibit—Turner’s vivid paintings are completely different from his prints, and I was fascinated by the contrast. Before this exhibit, I had never heard of Thomas Moran, and it is always good to learn about an artist, even if his work doesn’t exactly speak to you.

The next day we visited the Hudson Park Library, to see paintings by Elliot Gilbert. Where the Schwarzman Building is grand and imposing, the Hudson Park Library is small and humble. The Hudson Park Library is tucked on a tree-lined street in Greenwich Village. The reading room was small but filled with various people reading and using the computers. It felt cozy and homey and well loved, a community center for Greenwich Village, and while I admired the grander Schwarzman Building, I felt at home in the Hudson Park Library. In fact, given enough money, I could even see myself living in one of those brick homes next to the library, where I would be close to shops and good Chinese restaurants and cinemas that play foreign film such as the terrific Diplomacy, which Dee and I saw after going to the library.

Unfortunately, Gilbert’s paintings were shown in a little room where people where studying and reading, and we weren’t able to get a good look at the paintings. But that’s all right. It was still fun visiting the library and walking through Greenwich village, which is much more relaxed than other parts of New York City.

The little Hudson Park Library
The little Hudson Park Library

A final note: The quotation at the beginning of this piece appropriately comes from a fortune cookie I had the first night in New York. What a fun way to start a trip that was centered on libraries!



New York Trip: Food

IMG_6901Now, I would go visit Dee wherever she lived, even if it were in a place where chain restaurants reigned supreme, and the Olive Garden was the height of culinary attractions. (Actually, that description could apply to central Maine.) But Dee lives in New York City, where terrific food can be found on nearly every corner. Some restaurants are very expensive, but there are also restaurants that offer great deals, and every time I go visit Dee, we find good places to eat at a reasonable price.

This time when I went to visit Dee, I was on a Chinese food kick, and I have just cause. In short, Maine is a Chinese food wasteland. The state has many, many Chinese restaurants, but the ones I have been to can’t even be called fair, and some of them are outright terrible. (If anyone reading this knows of a good Chinese restaurant within driving distance of Augusta, then please, please let me know.) Chinese food, along with Italian food, is one of my absolute favorites, so it is especially discouraging that I haven’t found any decent ones in Maine.

As it happens, less than a block from Dee’s apartment is a little Chinese take-out, and it has been our tradition to get food there on the night I arrive. This time was no different, and we ordered steamed vegetable dumplings and mixed vegetables with bean curd, otherwise known as tofu. For the two of us, the meal came to $16, and that included drinks. The dumplings were moist and tasty, the vegetables were crisp, and the sauce was good. Can it get any better for that price?

It seemed that it could. Two days later, on our way to the Hudson Park Library, in Greenwich Village, we passed a little Chinese Restaurant—Grand Sichuan—and I saw a Zagat endorsement sticker on the door.

“If there’s time  before our movie, maybe we can come here after we see the exhibit at the library,” I said, even though we had already eaten Chinese food twice in two days.

“You’re just going crazy with the Chinese food,” Dee said.

I agreed and reminded her of the Chinese wasteland I live in. Dee, who knows very well what the situation is with Maine Chinese food, couldn’t argue.

As it turned out, the exhibit at the Hudson Park library was very small, and there was plenty of time to have lunch before our movie started. We were seated by a window where the light was great should I want to take a picture of my food. And I most certainly did. I ordered vegetable lo mein, and it had the kind of sauce that I crave but never get in Maine, a rich brown—but not sweet or cloying—sauce with a slightly smoky taste. The vegetables were cooked to crunchy perfection. The meal came with an appetizer, and we both ordered vegetarian egg rolls, which were all right but certainly not outstanding. Never mind. The lo mein was so good that the egg roll really didn’t matter. And the bill? A little over $13 for the two of us.

Lovely lo mein
Lovely lo mein

However, it wasn’t all Chinese food on this trip. The day before going to the Hudson Park Library, we did take a break from noodles, rice, and crunchy vegetables. After visiting the main branch of the New York Public Library, we went to Broadway Bites, “a seasonal culinary pop-up market in Greeley Square Park…” A friend of Dee’s had suggested we go there, and Dee knew it would be right up my alley. Indeed it was. Lots of little stalls selling different types of food? For me, it doesn’t get much better.

Everything we got was delicious. From the donuts made fresh on site

The birth of donuts
The birth of donuts

to the flaky, crunchy cheese sticks

Those cheese sticks!
Those cheese sticks!

to the hand-cut fries, cooked to order, with garlic and truffle oil.

Fries, fries, fries
Fries, fries, fries

What a way to spend the afternoon.

New York Trip: City Birds

Yesterday, I returned from my trip to New York City, where I visited Dee. As is always the case after I travel, I’m completely bushed—too little sleep, an ongoing issue for me even when I’m home, and too much stimulation. Therefore, in this post I’m not going to write much about New York, and I’m going to divide the trip in three sections—birds, food, and libraries.

City Birds





Finally, here is a sign in Greeley Park, and it seems to me this is certainly a case of the pot calling the kettle black. After all, who is the most invasive species of all? Not pigeons, that’s for sure.


Getting Ready for the New York Trip

IMG_6881I am busy, busy getting ready for my trip to New York. Things not to forget:  train tickets, umbrella, camera, notebook and pen, books for the trip, Dee’s birthday present, and perhaps the most important of all—chocolate chip cookies, which will travel in a tin layered between the clothes in my suitcase.

Dee is a cookie monster, and she has said, more than once, that chocolate chip cookies are my speciality. Well, everyone needs a speciality.

Last year for her birthday, I brought her homemade spiced pecans.  She was happy enough to get them, but I could tell she was disappointed that I didn’t bring chocolate chip cookies.

This year, no such mistake will be made.

On a more serious note…Ebola has reared its ugly head in New York City. A doctor who worked with Ebola patients in West Africa has contracted the disease and is being treated in a New York hospital. As someone whose middle name should be “worry,” I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t admit that Ebola is on my mind. However, it won’t stop me from visiting my daughter. In Texas, none of Thomas Duncan’s friends and  relatives caught it, and they were in very close contact with him. I figure my chances of getting Ebola are very small indeed.

Onward to New York City!