All posts by Laurie Graves

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

Pick-Up Sticks

For whatever reason, spring clean-up has not been too bad this year.  I think it’s because we had fewer wind storms to blow branches down. There is one big exception to this, but more on that later.

Last week, I went around the yard and collected all the sticks and small branches that came down over the winter. I filled the wheelbarrow twice, and the sticks, which will be used in the fire pit, have been tucked into a big garbage can.

As the picture above indicates, the patio is no longer empty and lonely. Clif brought up the blue chairs, and we are ready for warmish weather when we can sit on the patio and enjoy the backyard.

The raised beds, where I plant a few herbs and vegetables, need a bit of tidying. But to my winter-weary eyes, they are a sign of good things to come.

Clif straightened the clothesline, but the ground is still too soft for me to hang my laundry on it. Soon, soon. Like my mother, I am dedicated to hanging laundry on the line. Good for the planet, and good for the budget. Plus, you can’t beat the smell of laundry hung outside.

Now, here is the exception to our easy spring clean-up.

During a high wind a week or so ago, we heard a  mighty roar, and when we looked at out the kitchen window we saw what had caused it—a tree had blown over in the backyard. Fortunately, absolutely nothing was damaged. Next week, Clif will be getting a new chain for his chainsaw and begin cutting up the tree. The wood will probably be used for the fire pit on some chilly spring night when with mugs of tea, we sit around the fire. Always so cozy and relaxing to look at the night sky and hear the night noises in the woods.

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Writing update for my novel Of Time and Magic: For various reasons, I fell short of my 6,000 word goal for the week. Instead, I clocked in at 4,140. Onward I press, hoping for 6,000 next week. My plan is for the book to be about 99,000 words, the same length as Library Lost.  74,000 is my current word count.

25,000 more words to go!

 

 

Snow-Gauge Clif: The Party’s Over

In Maine, winter seems to be over. For this lifelong Mainer, it is nothing short of astonishing that the snow is mostly gone by the end of March. As I have written previously, in winters past, we always hoped the snow would be gone by the end of April for my daughter’s birthday, and we could celebrate on the patio. Some years we did; other years we didn’t.

However, here we are in this age of climate change, when spring in Maine starts a month earlier, and fall starts a month later. Do I like this? Of course I do. We still have plenty of winter and cold in Maine. Nevertheless, the change is disconcerting. Also, not a good sign about how the planet is warming.

But let us turn to Snow-Gauge Clif. Because of the early spring, this will be his last week this season with his trusty snow gauge.

Here are photos from the front yard, where there are only tiny patches of snow left.

The backyard is no different.

Farewell, Snow-Gauge Clif, until next winter when I think we might start measuring the middle of February rather than the beginning of March.

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Long-time readers know that I am working on Book Four of my Great Library Series—the working title is Of Time and Magic. On Saturday, I reached 70,000 words with 30,000 or so to go to finish the novel. Alas, the cover’s deadline is looming, and my plan (hope!) is to have the writing done by May. I know. That’s 6,000 words a week. Doable, but a big push.  Therefore, until Of Time and Magic is done, I will be cutting back to one simple blog post a week, which, with a few pictures and and minimal writing, will probably chronicle spring in Maine.

Friday Favorites will be put on hold until Of Time and Magic is finished. Although I enjoy sharing blogging posts from friends as well as books, movies, and music that have caught my fancy, the posts are more work than you might think.

So onward, ho with 30,000 pages to go! Of Time and Magic will be the last book in the Maya series. But I already have a new book planned that will feature the characters in my Christmas story, The Dog Angel.

Good thing I’m a homebody and don’t mind spending much of the day at my desk.

 

Friday Favorites: The Consolation of Nature

For me, as is the case with many people, nature is a great consolation when there are troubles big and small. Even in March in Maine, there are signs of spring, reasons to be glad and feel a little comforted.

At breakfast one morning this week, I looked out the window and spotted this chipmunk on the small wall Clif built to hide our garbage cans, which we use to store sticks and fallen branches. Chipmunks hibernate in the winter. Seeing the chipmunk out and about, even though the weather is brisk, even though there is mud aplenty, is a cheering sign of spring.

Tiny red buds have started appearing on the maples, and here they are silhouetted against a morning blue sky.

The fungi pictured below is not a sign of spring, but this time of year—when the snow is mostly gone and not much is growing—it really stands out.

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Thoughtful Posts from Some of the Lovely Blogs I Follow

I’m guessing that for most of us, Ukraine is never far from our thoughts. How could it be any other way? Not only is the death and destruction in Ukraine horrible to behold even from afar, but it’s being wrought by a tyrant with an arsenal of nuclear weapons. In response, some of my blogging friends have, in their own way, added their voices in support of Ukraine as they chronicle this terrible time.

Donna, from Retirement Reflections, offers practical ways that people can help Ukrainians.

Tanja, from Tanja Britton, takes solace in memories from winters’ past and shares wonderful photos of animals that live in her area.

Xenia, from Tranature, wrote a simple, lovely haiku and lit a candle for peace.

Debbie, from Musings by an ND Domer’s Mom, has written a thoughtful post that asks “What’s Valuable to you?” I was particularly taken with this: “To grumble and complain that we don’t have more — when so many have far less — feels like the gravest of sins to me.” Yes, yes!

Jane, from Robby Robin’s Journey, has reposted an old blog post about a trip through the Soviet Union 1970. Her observations and conclusions are illuminating and help provide an understanding of where Russia is today.

D. Wallace Peach, from Myths of the Mirror, has written a haunting poem about war and hope.

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DakhaBrakha’s music is not the kind I usually listen to, but that’s one of the reasons why I love NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts so much. It exposes me to music and groups I have never heard of. Also, DakhaBrakha is from Ukraine, which is particularly relevant right now. The group’s music is wild, haunting, and arresting, yet another example of how music can be many things. And the costumes? Well, as one commenter put it, “Came for the hats. Stayed for the music.”

Snow-Gauge Clif: Let the Mud Begin

On Saturday, March 19, a heavy rain fell as though it were a day in April. If the rain had been snow, as it would have been in years past, Snow-Joe would have gotten quite a work out. Instead, the rain came down, down, down, and most of the snow went away, to be replaced by mud.

Here are pictures of the tracks I made going to the compost bins in the backyard. The mud was so deep that I wondered if I would lose my shoes on the way to and from the house.

As you might have guessed, Snow-Gauge Clif’s job is coming to an end. Barring any last-minute snowstorms, I expect we have a week or two at most.

The shady front yard still has 7 inches of snow at its deepest and a skim of snow over much of the lawn.

The backyard is quite another matter. There is a spot that has 7 inches of snow—where Snow-Joe threw it—but for the most part, the lawn is bare.

Here’s a better photo of the backyard. Note the patio and how the snow is nearly gone. As soon as the mud dries, and we can walk on the lawn without fear of losing our shoes, the blue chairs will come out.

Finally, here’s a photo of our listing clothesline, which is a little on the tipsy side. When the yard dries out, Clif is wondering if he’ll have to reset the clothesline. Never a dull moment at our home on the edge of the woods.

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In Addition: Cheers to 45 years!

On Saturday Clif and I celebrated our forty-fifth wedding anniversary. We marked the occasion with an appetizer night featuring dumplings, a cashew dip, and other assorted goodies. Appetizer nights are a favorite at our home, where with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of enjoyment, we have many different treats to nibble.

There was also a toast where we used lovely glasses given to us by our friend Doree Austin on our first wedding anniversary.

After our appetizer meal, we watched a film that I highly recommend—Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, a sweet low-key movie from Bhutan that has been nominated this year for an Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.

Filmed in Buhatan and written and directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji, this charming movie tells the story of a young, uninspired teacher, Ugyen Dorji, who is sent to a remote mountain village to fulfill his teacher contract. Does Ugyen want to go to this village, accessible only by foot and a journey of many days? He does not. Instead, Ugyen wants to go to Australia and follow his dream of becoming a singer.

But up the mountain Ugyen goes, finally making it to Lunana, a poor village that has some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen. During the course of the movie, lessons are learned and taught. In its own gentle way, Lunana examines the notion of culture, of whether to leave or to stay.  Best of all, Lunana manages to avoid being predictable, which gives the movie a nice twist.

For those who have Kanopy, Lunana is available free for streaming. For those who don’t have Kanopy, other streaming options include Vudu and Prime Video, where the movie can be rented for $6.99.

Lunana is definitely worth $6.99, and so far it is my favorite foreign film of the year.

 

What’s on Your Bookshelf: March 18

This Friday, I’m joining Donna at Retirement Reflections and some of her blogging friends for their monthly What’s on your Bookshelf?

Even though I’ve read five books this month, I decided to focus on just two of them, both set in Maine but very different. That way, I could go into a little more detail about each book. For future What’s on Your Bookshelf?, I will probably continue to focus on two or three books.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Confession time: Romance novels aren’t my thing. I don’t mind reading books that include a romance, but I usually want some larger plot to bind it all together. However, Evvie Drake Starts Over is indeed a romance novel, with the central story being the relationship between Evvie, a young widow, and Dean, a baseball pitcher who can no longer pitch.

I decided to read this novel because I’m an admirer of Linda Holmes, one of the hosts of the excellent podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour. Despite not being a fan of romance books, I stayed up late to finish Evie Drake. Holmes makes us care about Evvie and her struggles with depression and anxiety as she deals with the her husband’s death and the memories of her unhappy marriage. Meanwhile, Dean is dealing with his own issues, and I cared about him, too. I wanted things to turn out well for Evvie and Dean. Do they? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.

One final note: This book is set in Calcasset, a fictitious Maine town. And—not to put too fine a point on it—Linda Holmes is “from away,” as we would say in Maine. Because of this there were a couple of missteps. Evvie calls her father Pop, and I’ve never heard any Mainer call his or her father Pop. Usually, it’s Dad. Also, I’ve never heard crickets sing in Maine in the spring. As far as I know, late summer is when they begin their sad, sweet songs. But these are small errors that most people wouldn’t catch, and overall Holmes did a fair job of portraying Maine, albeit from an outsider’s point of view.

We Were Not Spoiled: A Franco-American Memoir by Lucille Verreault Ledoux with Denis Ledoux

We Were Not Spoiled: A Franco-American Memoir is a quiet book about growing up in Maine from the 1920s, when Lucille Verreault Ledoux was born, to the 1950s, when she was a young adult with a family of her own. While nothing exciting happens—this is a chronicle of everyday life—I found it compelling nonetheless. Perhaps it’s because I’m Franco-American, too.

A quick note for readers unfamiliar with the Franco-American ethnic group. Between 1840 and 1930 nearly one million French Canadians came to the United States. The largest number of these  immigrants settled in New England. The immigrants worked in factories, in brickyards, in shipyards, and on farms. They formed French-speaking communities that were known as Little Canadas. Today in Maine, Franco-Americans comprise 25% of the state’s population.

In 1920, toward the end of the French Canadian migration, Ledoux’s parents settled in Lewiston, Maine’s Little Canada, where French was the common language. They were originally from Thetford Mines in Québec. Ledoux, born in Lewiston, was the eldest of twelve children. In We Were Not Spoiled, she describes how they were crammed into small apartments and homes where the children often slept three to a bed.

We Were Not Spoiled is not a nostalgic book about how magical life was in the old days. Instead, Ledoux writes frankly about the hard times she and her family endured and how poverty and class limited her opportunities. Her parents valued work over education, and Ledoux dropped out of school when she was sixteen, working at odd jobs to help support the family.

When Ledoux marries and begins her own family, she and her husband, Albert, who also dropped out of high school, vow to do everything they can to encourage their children to finish high school.

In addition to the hard times, Ledoux also writes about the good times—skating, playing with her friends, joining a Drill Team. She notes how despite the challenge of feeding fourteen people, nobody went hungry in her family. No small accomplishment when you have to feed that many people on a tight budget.

The book ends when Ledoux is thirty and is about to move out of Lewiston to nearby Lisbon Falls to begin a new life with her husband as a chicken farmer.

I was sorry to come to the end of this book, to not be able to read about Ledoux’s years in Lisbon Falls.

But then again, wanting to read more is the sign of a good book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Erstwhile Marches of Snow-Gauge Clif

Here we are in the middle of this long, long month, when most Mainers are heartily sick of March marching on. We had a nasty little storm on Saturday that prevented us from visiting our daughter and son-in-law. A March gift.

But, if you look at it the right way, we are making some kind of progress.

To illustrate this, I must start with the backyard rather than the front. Last week there were 15 inches of snow. This week, 7 inches at its deepest with the snow gone from the edges of the yard.

Now to the front yard, which still has 15 inches of snow, same as last week.

Why the difference? The pictures provide the clue. They were taken within five minutes of each other, and the contrast between the two couldn’t be greater. The backyard actually gets some sun. Hence the melting snow. The front yard? Not so much, and in the spring, I swear our front yard is the last place on our road to have the snow completely melt.

The pictures below are from erstwhile Marches. I thought readers might enjoy seeing how much snow we had in mid-March for the past four years. The last picture, taken in 2018, reflects the usual amount of snow we once had in central Maine in mid-March.

As the pictures indicate, the trend has definitely been for less snow and earlier springs. And Snow-Gauge Clif, with his trusty red yard stick, will continue to measure the melting snow to see if the trend continues.

March 15, 2021

March 13, 2020

March 15, 2019

March 19, 2018

Friday Favorites: Of Bluebirds & Bluegrass

This week birds, birds, birds are making me oh so happy. A male cardinal sings his spring song in a bush right outside my window, and when I look out, I often catch a flash of red. I wish I could get a picture of Mr. Cardinal, but he’s very wary and flies away every time I go to the window for a closer look. Certainly can’t blame a bird for being wary.

Even more exciting are the bluebirds, which for the first time ever  have come into our yard. Generally, they like fields and open spaces and don’t usually hang around in the winter. However, for reasons known only to them, the bluebirds have decided to stay in Maine during the cold season. To my delight, they have discovered the feeders in our yard at the edge of the forest.

Our dining room has big windows that look out over the backyard, and from the dining room I have been able to get reasonably good pictures of the blue beauties. (I knew they would fly away if I went outside.) A male is on the left, and a female is on the right.

Unfortunately, they aren’t very nice to each other some of the time. In the picture below I caught the male giving the female a look that clearly says “back off.” (I guess we’re still a few months away from mating season when a male bluebird probably wouldn’t be so cavalier.) And although I didn’t get a picture of it, I saw the female bluebirds doing the same thing to the males. It’s a rough and tumble world out there for birds.

Nevertheless, after living here for thirty-eight years, I am thrilled to finally see these lovely bluebirds in my backyard.

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Nifty Posts from a Few of the Lovely Blogs I follow

To carry on with the bird theme:

Julie of From My Window featured fabulous close-ups of a male cardinal. Oh, I am envious.

All the way from South Africa—courtesy of Anne of Something Over Tea—comes this photo of the dignified streaky-headed seedeater.

On Change is Hard, it’s bird central at Kensington.

Coincidentally, Tootlepedel’s recent post is called “Birds, Birds, Birds,” and it is chock-a-block full of those fluttering, flying beauties.

Bon Anniversaire (or Happy Birthday)!

From Touring My Backyard: Bon anniversaire to Ju-Lyn’s “Baker Fiend Younger Child.”

From Rabbit Patch Diary: Bon anniversaire to Michele’s mama.

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Now to music, but from humans rather than birds.

Along with alternative rock, I really like bluegrass. While it has its roots in traditional Irish, Scottish, and English music, bluegrass has its own sound, and to me it sounds American—peppy yet at times melancholy. Sad even, reflecting the full range of human emotions.

I recently came across the Del McCoury Band on—where else?—NPR Music Tiny Desk. Utterly charming, Del McCoury is bound to make you smile, both with his music and storytelling.

The Return of Snow-Gauge Clif

March 1 might be meteorological Spring in the northern hemisphere, but in Maine true Spring doesn’t  come until April. And it isn’t until May that Spring, in a froth of blossoms, really kicks up her heels.

Unfortunately, March in Maine begins in snow and ends in mud. March always feels like a kind of purgatory, an in-between time that seems to last more than its thirty-one days.

However, there are some bright spots in this miserable month. One of them is the return of Snow-Gauge Clif, who, with his trusty yardstick—or snow gauge as readers have dubbed it—makes his appearance the first Monday of March. Then each Monday, until the snow has gone away, Clif is out in the yard, measuring the ebbing snow. (When you live in Maine, north of north, such activities are wicked exciting as we Mainers would say.)

So drum roll, please! Here is Snow-Gauge Clif’s first 2022 appearance.

In the front yard the snow depth is 14 inches.

In the backyard, where the snow depth is also 14 inches. As you can see, Clif takes this noble job very seriously.

How long will it take for the snow to leave our yard? We always hope it will be gone by April 22, our youngest daughter’s birthday as well as Earth Day. But we shall see.

Let the melting begin!

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Favorites: March 4

I’ve decided to bring back Friday Favorites, where I highlight some of the things that have made me happy during the week—music, TV shows, movies, podcasts, food, nature. On the third Friday of the month, I’ll feature books I’ve read and tie in with Donna at Retirement Reflections, who is one of the hosts of the monthly “What’s on Your Bookshelf?”

Each Friday, I’ll provide a short list of nifty blog posts from some of my lovely blogging friends. Let me tell you, it’s not easy to winnow the list down to a few choices. So many good posts from blogging friends near and far. But never fear! I will get to everyone eventually.

In the comments section, if you are so moved, feel free to let me know what has made you happy this week. It doesn’t have to be anything grand or exciting. I’m especially fond of simple pleasures, and I always enjoy getting suggestions of what to read, watch, or notice.

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This week I watched—all right binged—the delightful sitcom Abbott Elementary, a mockumentary about a group of teachers and the challenges they face in an inner city school in Philadelphia. The humor is gentle rather than uproarious, and this a show with warmth and heart. The ensemble acting is fabulous, and each of the actors shines like a tiny jewel.  Abbot Elementary is an ABC show that’s also available on Hulu.

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Nifty Posts from a Few of the Lovely Blogs I follow

The Sydney Opera House aglow with Ukraine’s colors. Birds, gardens, kangeroos. Gerrie, of Canberra’s Green Spaces, features them all in a recent post. As always, this Mainer is agog over the beauty of Australia.

On the blog Now I’m Sixty-Four, Platypus Man takes us on a tour of the Burghley Sculpture Garden. Oh, be still my trembling heart. I have always loved sculpture gardens but had never articulated why. Platypus Man hits it right on the piton—as we Franco-Americans would say. He writes “In galleries and museums sculpture is contained, hemmed in by walls and ceilings, often difficult to fully appreciate. In sculpture gardens and parks however, sculpture sits comfortably within a spacious, natural environment, with room to breathe. And the sculptures and the landscape in which they sit enhance one another: the gardens and parks frame the sculptures, while the sculptures become visual anchors within their surroundings.” Yes, Indeed!

On Going Batty in Wales, there’s a recent post about the kindness and generosity of a blogging friend from far away. This line really struck me: “I never thought that writing about my simple life in this rural backwater would result in my having wonderful friends all over the world.” Same, same, same. And what a delight!

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This incredible performance of songs from the Broadway musical  Hadestown was recorded on NPR in the “Before Times,” as Stephen Thompson put it—just before Covid cracked down on the world. Wonderful, wonderful music, and the last chilling, thrilling song, “Why We Build the Wall” is especially relevant.