All posts by Laurie Graves

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

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

Help! They Put Barcaloungers in My Cinema!

For Father’s Day, Clif got a gift certificate for Regal Cinema, which mainly shows blockbusters, silly comedies, and movies that appeal to teenagers. We don’t go to this cinema very often, preferring the more independent movies that are shown at Railroad Square Cinema. (Hint to Railroad Square: Make your gift certificates available on your  website.) However, there are certain blockbusters we do like to see, and Clif has a very soft spot for comic book films. Therefore, the current X-Men movie was calling to him, so to Regal we went on Sunday.

We hadn’t been to Regal Cinema since Christmas, and what a surprise we got when we walked into the theater showing our movie. Gone were the old, quite comfortable seats. They had been replaced with row after row of black Baracloungers, seats wide enough for even the most ample body, seats with little movable trays for refreshments. There were also gigantic cup holders and a special designated holder for popcorn. But the best feature was the footrest, popped up by a lever on the side of the armrest.

It didn’t take long for Clif and me to pop up the footrest and recline. Did it feel strange to be sitting in a recliner at the movies? Yes, it did. But I must also admit that it was very comfortable, especially for someone like me who has restless legs. When I sit, I usually squirm and fidget, and sitting with my legs up is a great help.

As we waited for the movie to start, Clif said, “They did this to make going to the movies feel as comfortable as being in your own living room.”

I agreed that this was probably the case. With movies coming so soon to DVD or to Amazon and with modern television sets being so crisp and clear, staying at home to watch a movie gets better and better.

Then there is the cost. For a family of four to go the movies, the admission is over $30, and that’s the afternoon price. Throw in popcorn, drinks, candy, and the tab comes to over $50, which for many people is a pretty hefty price for a trip to the movies.

Back in the old days, when I was a teenager, the price of a movie and popcorn really wasn’t an issue. I don’t remember what it cost, but I can’t recall ever thinking, “Wow, going to the movies and getting popcorn are just too expensive for me.”

I expect the Barcaloungers aren’t going to entice more people to go to more movies. It’s my guess that cost is the issue. Make it affordable, and more people will come.  It’s that simple, but I don’t foresee cinemas lowering their prices any time soon.

One last comment about the new seats: A woman who sat in the same row as we did brought a blanket and slippers with her. Now that’s really getting into home comfort at the cinema.


A Parfait Weekend

IMG_5905Last weekend was a busy one filled with good friends and good food, my favorite kind of weekend. A parfait weekend, if you’ll pardon the pun, as on Friday we made parfaits with homemade ice cream for our friends Dawna and Jim. There was lots of good talk about photography and family.

On Saturday, we went to our friend Diane’s house in Brunswick, where we talked about our various projects, art, literature, and the places we love best.

The place I love best, aside from Maine, is England. You might even call it my heart’s home. It is the land of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Tolkien. It is bursting with flowers. In England, there are lots of dogs, plenty of tea, and lovely hot scones. And the green, rolling countryside seems to stretch in every direction.

For my friend Diane, Italy is her heart’s home. Art infuses all aspects of everyday life, and that really resonated with her. For her friend Jeff, it was France—the food, the climate, the people. For Jackie, another friend, it was Japan.

It’s funny how your heart’s home can be some place different from where you were born.

First Day of Summer, A Remembrance of My Mother

Rochelle June Dansereau, the queen of June
Rochelle June Dansereau, the queen of June

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s birthday, and a beautiful, fine day it is. Sunny, not too hot, not in the least humid. A perfect day for a birthday barbecue. (As I mentioned in a previous post, most of her birthday barbecues were foiled by rain.)

Mom died 6 years ago, and I still keenly feel the loss.  The picture accompanying this post was taken when she graduated from high school. Such a fancy dress! To me, she looks like the queen of June—la reine de Juin. Very appropriate for someone whose birthday fell on the first day of summer.