All posts by Laurie Graves

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

The Dog Angel: A Maine Christmas Story

Much of writing involves discipline—sitting at the desk, day in and day out, and working even if you aren’t exactly filled with inspiration. I believe this is called discipline, and it is essential not only for writing but for many other things, too.

However, once in a while a writer gets lucky, and a story seemingly drops out of nowhere, practically whole cloth with only a small amount of fiddling. So it was for me this November with my short story “The Dog Angel,”  with two things coming together to inspire me.

First, there was Aimee Man’s melancholy but lovely Christmas song “Calling on Mary.”

Then there was this ornament, which I featured in a previous post.

Actually, there was a third inspiration, and if you look closely through the glass table, you can see Rumer Godden’s The Story of Holly & Ivy, one of my favorite Christmas tales. Do read it if you haven’t already. Anyway, “The Dog Angel” is a sort of homage to The Story of Holly & Ivy.

In my imagination, I saw a little dark-haired girl and her dark-haired mother, two drifters in the snow, homeless. They were in Waterville, Maine, in the 1970s, in the South End, the Franco-American section of town where I lived when I was very young. Because I like fantasy and folderol, I added a dog angel.

And the rest, dear readers, I will let you discover for yourselves if you are in the mood for a Maine Christmas story. “The Dog Angel” is a free online read available on our Hinterlands Press website. It’s a longish story—about 7,000 words—but it pops along, and you can certainly read it in sections if you like.

Happy holidays to all! May the spirit of generosity be with us not only now but throughout the rest of the year, too.

 

Before and After

This weekend a miserable rain came, melting away most of our lovely snow. I know that for some readers, rain in December is a common occurrence. However, in Maine it is not. Or at least once upon a time it wasn’t. Back in the day, December was a cold month, and when there was precipitation, it came down as snow. This rain business feels weird, and it makes everything look dreary.

Here is before.

And here is after.

To add to the gray, nasty weekend, Dee, Clif, and I had our COVID boosters, and on Sunday, we all felt like roadkill. It was a day for eating Saltine crackers with butter, lying on the couch, and watching easy-to-take shows such as Blown Away: Christmas and 8-Bit Christmas. Although neither show is what you might call hard hitting, they are both fun, in their own way, and worth seeing.

Today, on Monday, we all feel better, and onward, ho to the holidays. Even though I am not much of a list maker, I will be making grocery lists and a cooking schedule. Although my knee is greatly improved, I can only stand for an hour or so before it starts aching. Therefore, planning ahead will be crucial.

Dee has bought the ingredients for peppermint cocktails. I’m still aiming to make a vegan tourtière pie and a tofu chocolate pie.

At our home on the edge of the woods, we know how to party. 😉

 

Of Lemons and Santa

A day or two ago in the mail I received a delightful package from my blogging friend Betsy. In it were lemons from a tree in her very own backyard—how cool is that?—a vintage Santa, and a card with a Nordic design, which, being a northern woman, I absolutely love.

Many, many thanks Betsy!

First Real Snowfall

Yesterday, we had our first real snowfall, three inches of light, fluffy snow. So easy to clean that Clif didn’t even need to use Little Green, our trusty snow thrower.  A shovel did the trick.

Everything is pretty and fresh after a snowfall. Here are some pictures from the front  yard.

Here is one of our backyard by the woods.

And last night when I heard the snow plow go by, it was the real thing, not a phantom sound the way it had been a month earlier.

Winter is here.

Getting Together after Two Years

Yesterday was a big, big day for Clif, Dee, and me. After two years of not seeing our youngest daughter Shannon and our son-in-law Mike, we got together with them at their new apartment in Massachusetts. Previously, they lived in North Carolina, a very long way from Maine. But in November, they moved to Massachusetts, only two and a half hours from our home. We are overjoyed that they are back in New England, where we can have regular visits with them.

Because Covid is still raging in the U.S., we decided we should take extra precautions. Masks for inside, but what to do about lunch? Mike and Shannon came up with a solution—a propane heater for their small sheltered patio. (Who is that strange masked woman in the corner?)

The propane heater was an experiment, with none of us too sure exactly how it would work on a chilly forty-degree day. Readers, I am pleased to report that the heater worked beautifully. All of us, even those who like it hot, felt comfortable for the few hours we stayed outside. When Clif went to the car for something, he said he could feel the difference as soon as he left the patio.

“This is just like a little café,” Dee noted, adding that these propane heaters are common in outside eating areas in New York City.

The café’s bean soup tasted especially good on a chilly day.

Another treat was seeing Shannon and Mike’s two dogs, Holly and Somara. Although it’s been years since we’ve seen them, they remembered us and gave us enthusiastic greetings.

Here is Miss Holly.

And here is Miss Somara.

A final bonus was seeing this tree next to Mike and Shannon’s apartment. I had never seen a tree like this before, and I was fascinated by the peeling bark and the color. I did a little Internet research, and I think it’s a paperbark maple, originally a native of China. If anyone knows differently, please let me know.

Although we have Zoomed with Shannon and Mike many times over the past two years, there is nothing like chatting in person. What a grand time we had talking about books, movies, television shows, and various other things.

Late afternoon, we left reluctantly. But with Shannon and Mike so close to Maine, we will soon be seeing them again. And as long as the weather isn’t too cold, we can eat outside at Shannon and Mike’s café, with the propane heater providing plenty of warmth.

 

The Air Had a Certain Chill to It

On Saturday, we had our first dusting of snow, enough white to see but not really enough to count as a first storm. Still, the sky was a severe gray, and the air had a certain chill to it that let a person know winter was not far away. Even at my age that nip brings an expectation verging on exhilaration—winter is coming, a hushed time of brilliant and blue days mixed with stormy weather.

To take some pictures, I hobbled out to the slippery porch. To say I was mindful of where I put my feet doesn’t begin to describe how I moved.

Here are the pictures I took from both inside and outside.

This one is from the aforementioned slippery front porch.

Still on the porch, looking downward at the red bow on a wreath.

Then from an open window in the living room—snowy leaves on the hedge,

and a frosty birdbath.

Finally from an open window in the bathroom, a picture of the backyard and patio.

If the weather isn’t too cold, we’re hoping to have some more time on the patio with a fire in the firepit. We shall see.

My knee continues to improve but ever so slowly. I still limp from room to room and often use a cane. But, I can bend the knee now, and I don’t spend quite as much time on the couch. I haven’t returned to working on Book Four in my Great Library Series. I plan to do so this week. Again, we shall see.

With Dee’s and Clif’s help, Christmas decorating has begun, making the house look bright and festive. And, most important, now that Thanksgiving is over, we have begun watching Christmas specials. Not surprisingly, the ones that have fantasy and folderol are my favorites, and last night we watched Robin, Robin, a sweet, short stop-motion film from Aardman Animations (Chicken Run, Wallace & Gromit). Next on the list: A Boy Called Christmas.

I have some cooking planned—a tofu chocolate cream pie, a vegan tourtière pie—wait, what?—and other goodies. Regardless of whether I fail or succeed, I will be reporting on how they turned out.

The lights, the decorating, the cooking, and the holiday shows all combine to make dark December, right around the corner, a cozy month. Like winter, much anticipated.

 

 

 

 

 

Grateful Not to Have Broken My Nose or Anything Else

Several days ago, when I went shopping with my daughter Dee, I fell flat on my face outside of Kohl’s.  I mean this quite literally. One minute I was upright, and the next minute I had pavement pressing against my forehead and mouth. The fault was mine; I wasn’t paying attention. When I came to the curb, I walked along as though it weren’t there. But it was there, and down I fell.

A woman came rushing over. “Are you all right?”

Was I all right? As Dee helped me to my feet, I tasted blood, but miraculously no teeth seemed to be broken. I felt my nose. That, too, was fine. As far as I could tell, nothing was broken.

“I think I’m all right,” I said. “Thank you.”

“That darned curb!” the woman said, making me feel a little less stupid.

Yeah, that darned curb! Why the heck is it there, right in front of the entry way?  What purpose does it serve? In the end, of course, I should have noticed the curb and stepped over it, but I appreciated the woman’s kind words.

Dee and I went shopping in Kohl’s. I was in a bit of a daze, but I followed her around, giving her advice for Christmas presents.

Afterward, we went grocery shopping, a grim event as my right knee was really starting to ache. By the time I came home, I could hardly walk. It seems I had sprained my knee.

Ever since, I have been one with the living room couch, where I can sit with my legs outstretched. I do have a cane, which has been a big help, and every day my knee continues to improve. Today I even feel well enough to sit at my desk and write this post of my woes. (Never fear. If my knee hadn’t improved, I would have gone to the hospital for X-rays.)

In the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, and it is a time for feeling grateful. You can bet I am feeling grateful that when I fell on the pavement, I didn’t break anything. It still amazes me that all my teeth are in my mouth and that my nose wasn’t broken. And I feel nothing but gratitude for having such a sturdy body.

You can also bet the next time I go anywhere, I will be on the lookout for curbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Maine, Winter Is Never Far

As we wend our way through fall, Clif and I have been getting ready for winter. On Monday, we got our first pallet of wood blocks for our furnace.

Time was when we ordered five or six cords of wood, stacked it outside in rows so that it would dry, and then hauled it down cellar. This provided lots of warmth through exercise, but we are getting older and have decided to give ourselves a little break. We get these blocks from a local store, and they are made entirely from sawdust waste. One pallet is equal to about a cord of wood, and we can order the blocks as we need them.

Clif has rigged up a cart that, in about an hour and a half, allows him to haul the blocks and stack them down cellar. About the only bad thing about these bricks—which burn hot and dry, leaving little creosote behind—is that they are, alas, wrapped in plastic.

, of course, 

Here is a fun Maine saying for those of you who “are from away.”  When someone does something considered a little odd or off, we often say, “Well, that one is a few logs short of a cord.”

Which just goes to show that heating and cold weather are never far from our thoughts. When you live this far north, winter is always on the edge of your mind. Even during the balmy days of summer, we know that snow and icy winds are just around the corner.

The other night, as we were watching television, I heard the phantom sound of the town’s snowplow as it roared down the road. There were, of course, no lights flashing against the blinds in the living room as the plow went by. There was no plow.

But some sound jogged my memory, reminding me that winter is near.