All posts by Laurie Graves

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

The First Day of Spring: Let It Be Known…

Today—March 20, 2015—is officially the first day of spring. Let it be known that I am officially tired of the following:

  • A yard buried in snow. Is there grass somewhere lurking beneath? A patio?  Maybe, but all I see is white.
  • An icy driveway that I have to creep across when I’m taking the dog for a walk.
  • Wearing a hat, gloves, and a heavy coat. Oh, the freedom to step outside without bundling up—a hatless head and gloveless hands seem like a dream from the past.
  • The restless feeling that comes from staying inside too much while at the same time not wanting to go out because it’s too darned cold.
  • The biting wind that makes the cold even worse. It blows down the Narrows Pond Road, and walks are downright painful.
  • The high heating bills that come with all this cold weather. In our house, we keep the temperature low, but it doesn’t matter. The bills are still high.

Evidence, taken on the Narrows Pond Road, to support my complaints:

The swamp, covered with snow, where the frogs still slumber
The swamp, covered with snow, where the frogs still slumber
Dried flowers from last year
Dried flowers from last year
More dried stalks with pods
More dried stalks
Bare branches against blue sky. (All right. I admit it. This one is pretty.)
Bare branches against blue sky. (All right. I admit it. This one is pretty.)

These complaints are now duly noted, and we can only hope that the weather comes to its senses, that we will soon feel the soft touch of true spring.

And maybe, just maybe, see a bit of bare ground.


After Thirty-Eight Years: Thoughts on Marriage

Two goof-balls, after thirty-eight years

On this day, thirty-eight years ago, Clif and I were married. Who plans a wedding in March, Maine’s most unlovely month? We did. We were both students, and we decided to get married during spring break.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about the wedding except that it was unconventional—I wore a red velvet dress made by a friend, and Clif wore a gold velvet tunic that he sewed himself. My father and brother also wore gold tunics, and my mom dubbed them the “Star Trek” crew. (She had a point. Those tunics did have a Captain Kirk look.) I was also very nervous, as most brides are, and I was glad when the whole thing was over.

Every year on this date, I muse about marriage and divorce. How in the world have Clif and I managed to stay married for so long? I don’t think it can simply be chalked up to love because I believe most couples really do love each other when they get married. But for some people, over time, love fades. The reasons can be varied, but I suspect a prime reason is that when the heat dims, as it must, many couples realize that they really don’t have much in common, that they are no longer a team.

I know. This sounds about as romantic as a pair of walking shoes. Nevertheless, I believe common interests, common goals, and the sense of being a team can form the basis for an enduring relationship that leads to friendship, another unromantic concept. To all of this, a very liberal dose of devotion should be added.

My recipe for a long marriage is not the only recipe—there is no one way to do anything, especially marriage—but I do believe it is a good one. It has worked for Clif and me, and it has worked for a lot of our friends, who have also been married for many years.

Do we get on each other’s nerves, from time to time? Of course we do. We have even been known to bicker. But we get over it and usually fairly quickly. Then, we move on to the things we like to do—bike, read, watch movies, get together with family and friends, and cook. (Clif makes the best pancakes and waffles. Ever. And his grilled bread is legendary.)

Tonight, I’m going to cook a homely but special meal of baked chicken, potatoes, and some kind of vegetable. (Because we infrequently eat chicken, it falls under the heading of a treat for us.) For dessert, Haaggen-Dazs ice cream and cookies with Belgian chocolate. I’ll light candles on the table, and we might even have a glass or two of wine.

It will be a cozy and very happy anniversary meal.

Louise Dickinson Rich: The Virtue of Being Useful

IMG_7289Lately, thanks to my friend Mary Jane, I have been on a binge of reading Louise Dickinson Rich, whose We Took to the Woods was a back-to- the-land anthem well before the 1970s, when the movement became a trend in Maine. (And what a welcome trend it was. Thanks to all the young people who moved here in the 1970s, we have a flourishing organic gardening community that nurtures young farmers.)

In We Took to the Woods, Louise Dickinson Rich wrote a meandering but lively account of living in the backwoods of Maine with her husband Ralph Rich. Conditions were basic—no running water, no electricity—and money was often tight as Rich and her husband scrambled to earn a living through writing and various jobs associated with the backwoods. What comes through in We Took to the Woods is not only a zest for life but also a great desire to be useful.  Living as she did, with her husband and children, Rich felt that she was essential to the well being of her family, that her work and effort, along with that of husband’s, kept the little family afloat.

After reading We Took to the Woods, I wanted to learn more about Louise Dickinson Rich. Therefore, I turned to Alice Arlen’s biography of Rich—She Took to the Woods—where Arlen not only writes about Rich’s life but also includes some of the author’s essays and letters.

Louise Dickinson Rich lived a long life—she died when she was eighty-seven—and in a letter to her friend Hortense, she writes movingly about one of the greatest losses that comes with old age. That is, of not being useful anymore. “Growing old is not easy, I have found. I, too, have twinges of regret when Dinah [Rich’s daughter] and her family take off on an expedition leaving me home alone….Alice [Rich’s sister] and I were talking the other day and both agreed that one of the hardest things about being old is that one feels so useless, with nothing to offer. But I guess that nothing can be done about that except to try to learn to adjust and accept gracefully. Which—for me at least—is damned difficult.”

Being useful, much like the freedom to be weird, sounds like faint praise. There are so many other things we could be: beautiful, kind, rich, athletic, artistic, good with our hands, a good cook. If someone said, “Laurie, you are so useful,” I might first wonder if the speaker was being ironic and then wonder if that was the nicest thing that could be said about me.

But if we think about it a little more, it doesn’t take long to realize that while being useful might be a modest, homely virtue, it is indeed a  virtue. When a person is useful it means she is contributing something essential to home, work, or community. She is needed. Her usefulness means the work gets done and because of this there is less chaos, less stress. Being useful often means you can work as part of a team, where even more can be accomplished, especially if others on the team are also useful. (Unfortunately, I have had the misfortune of working on committees with people who, to put it mildly, were not useful. It was a real misery.)

Being useful also brings meaning to a life. I am convinced that one of the reasons why teenagers in this country have such a hard time is that they are not useful, and they know it. They are stuck in a sort of limbo—no longer a child, not yet an adult—with no sense of purpose to order their days. The very rich can have this problem, too, with day after boring day stretching ahead of them.  Is it any wonder that drugs and alcohol are often used to relieve the tedium?

So lets hear it for being useful, and may we be useful for as long as we can.




An Anniversary Trip to Portland, Where We Walked on the Beach and Ate Mussels

IMG_7942On Thursday, Clif and I will celebrate our thirty-eighth wedding anniversary. Yikes! We certainly have been married for a lot of years.  To celebrate, on Monday Shannon and Mike invited us over to their home for a dinner of mussels, crusty bread, and salad.

A trip to Portland usually means a trip to Trader Joe’s, where I stock up on such things as cruelty-free laundry detergent, shampoo, and toothpaste. Because it was a Monday afternoon, the store was fairly quiet, which meant we finished our shopping sooner than we had anticipated. We had over an hour before we were supposed to be at Mike and Shannon’s. Although I knew we could stop by anytime, I also know how inconvenient it can be for guests—even family—to arrive early and interrupt the hustle and flow of getting ready.

“Why not go to Crescent Beach for a walk?” Clif suggested.

Why not, indeed? The day was reasonably warm, the sun was shining—at least some of the time—and wonder of wonders, it wasn’t snowing. For me, unless the weather is terrible, a walk on the beach is always a good thing.

“Great idea!” I said.

Crescent Beach is one of my favorite beaches. It isn’t grand and doesn’t have the broad sweep of, say, Popham. But except for one Inn, tucked discreetly away from the beach, it is undeveloped.  No condos crowd the sand. No board walk.  No hot dog stands. No honky-tonk. Instead, there are rocks, sky, sand, flats, and water. Just the way I like a beach to be.


On Crescent Beach Clif and Liam ranged ahead, while I walked by the water’s edge and looked for pretty shells, rocks, and sea glass. Especially on an anniversary walk, I like to bring home something from the sea.

Clif and Liam on the beach
Clif and Liam on the beach


After our walk, we headed to Mike and Shannon’s, where we had delectable mussels, crusty bread, and an herb salad. I ate too much but it was so good.


In honor of our anniversary, Shannon and Mike made a donation to Good Shepherd Food Bank, which does so much to help alleviate food insecurity in Maine.

Earlier in this piece, I mentioned how that on an anniversary walk, I like to bring home something from the sea. On yesterday’s walk, I was lucky enough to find a sand dollar and a piece of sea glass.

A lovely reminder of a lovely day.


March Doldrums

Last Wednesday, I made granola bars, and I forgot to add salt. I also forgot to turn down the oven after I roasted the oats. On Saturday, I made chocolate cream pie in honor of pie day, and I didn’t add enough sugar or cornstarch. Clif has been sick, and the dog is so restless that he constantly runs down the cellar stairs so that he can wait by the bulkhead, which leads to the backyard. I let him out, and a few minutes later, he barks to come in.

I chalk it all up to the March doldrums. Yesterday, here was the view from my front porch.


More snow. Enough to shovel. Enough to make the road a mucky mess, yet again.

However—and I always like to look on the bright side whenever I can—even though they were overcooked and didn’t have any salt in them, Clif loved the granola bars. I was able to salvage the chocolate cream pie by adding more sugar, and Clif is feeling a little better. (Liam, on the other hand, still longs to be outside.)

March marches on, as it always does. But we are half way through.

April is just around the corner, and in Maine, it is definitely not the cruelest month. Not by a long shot.

The Freedom To Be Weird

IMG_7931Several years ago, an acquaintance called and asked me if I would be willing to take a short poll about Winthrop. I said yes. He asked me several questions and ended with the big one, “What is it you like best about Winthrop?”

I thought for a few minutes. “What I like best about Winthrop is that you can be as weird as you want to be, and as long as you don’t hurt anyone, nobody bothers you.”

The man laughed. For reasons that I won’t go into, he knew exactly what I meant.

Now, I realize this sounds like faint praise that perhaps doesn’t acknowledge Winthrop’s other fine features: its lakes, its woods, its library, its schools. It is also a safe town with a responsible and pragmatic police department. These are all important things.

But the freedom to be as weird as you want to be is a very great freedom indeed. This means you never have to worry about keeping up with the Joneses. Or anybody else for that matter. If you wear scummy jeans to Hannaford or to Rite Aid or to the library, nobody gives you a look that indicates you should have thought twice before stepping out of the house. You can drive an old car. You can bike all over town, and people think it’s cool. Heck, you can even ride your bike through the drive-through at the Credit Union, and the teller will smile at you. (I mention the this because unfortunately, Winthrop is not a biking community where such transactions are taken for granted.)

Another biking story. One day, I rode my bike in the rain to the Winthrop Food Pantry, where I was volunteering. When I got there, I was a little dishevelled, and I went to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and fluffed up my hair. Unfortunately, I did not look at my backside until I got home, where I discovered  a line of mud that went from my butt all the way up my back from where the rear tire had splattered me. Nobody said a word. Nobody even gave me a funny look. They just came along with me to select their food.

Do you make bread and crackers? Good for you. Do you buy most of your clothes at thrift shops? So what. Are you a liberal black man in this mostly white and somewhat conservative town? Then you just might get elected to the State House of Representatives.

I credit this live and let live philosophy, which can be found in many other towns in Maine, to our Yankee heritage, which encourages a high tolerance for eccentric—aka weird—behavior.  Again, as long as you don’t hurt anyone, you are free to be as unconventional as you want to be.

In Frugalwoods, a blog I follow, Mrs. Frugalwoods wrote about how she has had to work through worrying about what other people think and about living up to societal expectations. Because of this, nothing she did was ever good enough, and she writes, “I was stressed, anxious, preoccupied with doing ‘the right thing,’ and out of touch with who I really am and what actually makes me happy. I wasted so much time, energy, and creativity worrying about what people might or might not be judging me for.” At the ripe old age of thirty-one, Mrs. Frugalwoods has made much progress with this ultimately self-defeating attitude.

Mrs. and Mr. Frugalwoods are considering a move to Vermont, another Yankee state that has a high tolerance for eccentricity. The Frugalwoods dub themselves as “frugal weirdos,” and I’ve no doubt that Vermont will let them be as weird as they want to be.

Just as Maine would.



Signs of Spring

Another walk without hat or gloves.

On the side of the road, next to the hard, dirty snow, the water has begun to flow in little rivulets.


Up above, a hint of buds.


And, as always, the crow flies.


More light, more warmth, more melting. Spring is eight days away.