All posts by Laurie Graves

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

Farewell, July!

IMG_6243July is leaving us, and even though some of the days were too hot and humid, I am sorry to see the month end. As we edge into August, night is coming sooner and brings with it a certain chill. The crickets have begun singing, and I even saw an orange-tinged leaf in the backyard.

But Farmer Kev is now bringing us string beans and new potatoes, which Clif and I eat greedily, almost all of them in one sitting. Soon Farmer Kev will be bringing corn and melons and tomatoes, so there is much to anticipate.

But still! One more month of beautiful summer. One more month of hummingbirds. A little longer for the loons on the Narrows. I am not sure when the hermit thrushes leave. I’ll listen this year and note when I can no longer hear their ethereal song.

In the meantime, the flowers are still abloom, and I can’t stop taking pictures of them. Summer hasn’t left us yet.

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Can Everyone Have Forty Acres?

I read a blog called Ben Hewett written by, well, Ben Hewett. He and his wife, Penny, live, farm, and raise their two sons on forty acres of land in Vermont. Hewett’s blog chronicles his rural life, and he does a fair amount of philosophizing as well. Hewett has a strong writing voice, firm and vibrant, that keeps this writer reading.

Sometimes I agree with Hewett, but often I don’t, and this sets in motion a one-sided discussion where I reflect on what he has written. In truth, that is one of the reasons I read his blog because in my solo arguments with Hewett’s take on things, I clarify my own thoughts.

In his latest post, “Something to Chew on,” Hewett writes about poverty and the notion that poor people need more money. On the one hand, Hewett does realize that in our current society, people do need a certain amount of money, but he perceives that the real problem is “that these families simply don’t have the resources to prosper outside the moneyed economy. They don’t have access to land.”

In the piece, Hewett also notes that last year his family officially went below the poverty line, but they do not consider themselves poor because they raise so much of what they need, which is a bit unusual today, but not so much when I was growing up. “We can live this way because we have land and because on that land, we have cultivated both the soil and our skills.”

In one sense, Hewett is right. Being able to produce much of what you eat certainly means you do not have to spend as much money at the store. Hewett and his wife work hard, as do their sons, and they have created a healthy, satisfying life for themselves, even though they are officially poor.

But does this mean that his own solution—farming on forty acres of land—is the catch-all solution for everyone in Vermont, in this country, in this world? It can’t be. There isn’t enough arable land for everyone to have his or her own forty-acre spread. There are simply too many of us on this planet.

According to the World Bank, there are .51 hectares of arable land per person in the United States. This comes to a little over an acre per person. In theory, all families could have between two and four acres on which to grow things, but that wouldn’t leave any arable land for forests or wildlife  or crops that require space. Or livestock.

Let me be clear. I do not begrudge Hewett and his family their forty acres. I am only saying that it is not sustainable for everyone to have this. In fact, it isn’t sustainable for everyone to only have his or her own acre.

Then there is a the matter of temperament.  We are not all the same. Not everyone is suited to be a farmer, and to work at something that doesn’t suit you is a misery.  Some people are keen to teach or be librarians, to be nurses or doctors, to be social workers, to make jewelry, to perform, to dance, to paint, to write code, even to work in a restaurant. The list goes on.

So in principle I agree with Hewett that becoming more self-reliant—cooking, growing your own food, knitting, sewing, home repairs—is a good thing. But I also believe that there are no substitutions for economic justice, for a living wage, for fair taxation, for social services, for all the things that truly do lift people out of poverty.

 

A Summer Evening in Late July

Bee Balm
Bee Balm

Last Saturday, the evening was as fine as only an evening can be in Maine in late July. It was warm, but not too warm. Clif had just mowed the lawn, and the backyard was filled with the wonderful smell of newly cut grass. I puttered in my gardens, pulling a few weeds, nipping spent flowers. Landing on the blue bird bath, a gold finch first fluttered in the water and then drank.

We had invited our friends Paul and Judy over for homemade raspberry ice cream, and when they arrived, I asked, “Outside or in?”

“Outside,” came the prompt answer.

The better to admire the bee balm and the daylilies as we sipped iced tea and ate homemade ice cream.

“I really like those daylilies with the red center and the pink surround,” Paul said.

Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras Parade

The lilies—Mardi Gras Parade—are indeed lovely little flowers.

“Would you like to have some?” I asked. “They need to be divided. I’ll give you some next year, if  you like.”

“I’ll put it on the calendar, so I can remember,” Judy said.

“And don’t hesitate to remind me,” I said. “I never mind being reminded.”

Judy laughed and said she would.

As we ate, hummingbirds came to the feeder and the bee balm for their evening meal. Dusk settled over the backyard and with it came the dampness. We all agreed it was time to go inside for some hot tea, but how good it had been to sit outside on the patio as we talked, ate ice cream, and looked at birds and flowers.

July, When Fecundity Peaks

IMG_6223In Maine, where the seasons are so sharply defined, each month has its own special characteristic, and for July it is fecundity. I was reminded of this yesterday when the dog and I took a walk to the Narrows Pond. Around my head buzzed tiny flies. Larger but still small insects dotted the water. Up and down they went, in some kind of dizzying dance, and occasionally a fish rippled the surface. Dragon flies darted in unison over the Narrows, over the purple flowers of a water plant whose name I don’t know.

All around me is life, life, life, with the insects, plants, and creatures taking full advantage of this warm time. Flowers are in bloom, along the roads and in gardens. Tiny cucumbers are ready to be harvested. Fledglings have begun leaving the nest, and in our backyard at one of the feeders, I have observed what looked like one adult woodpecker feeding another adult.  I am certain this is not the case, but rather a parent still feeding “junior,” who is not quite ready for independence.

Yesterday two crows hopped around the backyard, one crow feeding, the other crow following with its mouth wide open. The feeding crow did not oblige, figuring, perhaps, that it was time for this junior to strike out on its own.

July. One day it is brutally hot and humid, but then a storm comes and clears the air. Sometimes, the windows stay open at night, and sometimes they must be closed. The days are still long enough so that Clif and I can easily go for a bike ride when he comes home from work.

We are edging into buzzing August, one of my favorite months of the year, when the humidity leaves, and fine, dry weather settles over the state, giving tourists the illusion that they have somehow wandered into the Mediterranean.  Even the light seems more golden, more luminous.

We Mainers know better, but we, too, bask in the illusion, preferring not to look ahead to the long dark and cold.  And in late July, with the promise of August just around the corner, the life cycle seems in full swing, filling my senses with its promise and heartbreak.

A Susan Poulin Update: Ida Was a Big Hit in Winthrop

img_4201I am happy to report that on a hot, muggy but fine night, over forty people came to the Charles M. Bailey Public Library to hear Susan Poulin and her alter ego, Ida LeClair.  Susan was her usual funny, brilliant self, and as she read from Finding Your Inner Moose, laughter filled the events room at the library.

By the end of the evening, everyone was smiling, and in a world that is often not funny at all, how good it was to get together with other people and laugh and then laugh some more. Truly, it felt like a gift.

Another gift was having Susan over for supper where we could chat and catch up on what’s happening in our lives. We don’t see each other as often as we’d like, and when we do get together, the time just speeds by.

So, two gifts on a summer night—supper with Susan and laughter at the library.

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

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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.

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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
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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.

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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