Category Archives: Animals – especially dogs

Christmas in February

After going through two years of pandemic quiet, we recorded last weekend in the excitement column in the Ledger of Life. (Thanks to Tootlepedal for introducing me to this term.) The cause of the excitement? At long last, our daughter Shannon and our son-in-law Mike came for a visit.

With them they brought the inimitable Holly

and sweet Somara.

The title of this post gives a clue as to how we celebrated this weekend. The Christmas tree behind Holly in the first picture is also a clue.

For various reasons, Shannon and Mike were unable to join us in December to celebrate Christmas. But because we knew they would eventually make it to Maine, we decided to keep the tree up until they did come, which happened to be last weekend.

We had a jolly time of gift giving and conversation. We played Christmas music, and outside there was a soft sprinkle of falling snow. Although it was February, it felt like Christmas.

After presents, we introduced Shannon and Mike to the board game Horrified, which they both liked very much.

On Sunday, Shannon, Mike, and the dogs left Maine to head home, and we bid them a sad farewell.

On Monday, we got up at God-awful o’clock—3:45 a.m.—to bring our eldest daughter Dee to Portland to take a bus back to New York, where she has various things to take care of.

Now it’s just Clif and me, and, yes, it’s more than a little lonely.  Yet I can’t help but think how grand it is that we so enjoy being with our kids. Both Clif and I feel that there is no better company than Dee, Shannon, and Mike. We are lucky parents, that’s for sure.

When we returned from Portland, we each took a little nap. Getting up at 3:45 certainly isn’t our thing. Then, down came the tree.

The living room is now back to normal.

As soon as her business is taken care of, Dee plans to return to Maine for a while, and in March, we will to go to Massachusetts to visit Shannon, Mike, and the dogs.

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to play a game we bought Shannon for Christmas—The Big Book of Madness, recommended by Carol Ann on her fabulous blog Fashioned for Joy.

More good things to record in the Ledger of Life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Life Gives You Temperamental Weather, Cook

Maine weather tends to be—ahem—temperamental, but for the past two days, it’s been a real whiplash. On Saturday, the temperature soared to 50°F. In Maine in February that, my friends, is akin to a heatwave.

For the first time in a long while, there were puddles in the driveway, and patches of tar peeked through the ice. (The stripes across the driveway are tree shadows.)

Dreaming of spring, Little Miss Watson stared out the window.

However,  despite the warmer weather, none of us—including Little Miss Watson—were tempted to go outside where the dirty snow was piled high and the sides of the road were mucky. Instead, we stayed in and cooked.

Now, the food we make would never be considered restaurant quality or bakery ready. Often, our creations look a little wonky, off center even. Simply put, we are home cooks.

Our pizza wasn’t exactly round.

And our Valentine’s peanut butter cups? Well, judge for yourselves.

But both the pizza and the peanut butter hearts tasted better than their rough looks might otherwise indicate. What we lack in finesse we usually make up for in taste.

The chocolate muffins, on the other hand, had a pleasing muffiny shape. These muffins are egg free and dairy free, but judging from the flavor, you’d never know it. I’ve developed the recipe on my own, and for those who feel daring, I have included it at the end of this post.

Along with food, throw in board games as well as movies and that was our weekend.

And this morning—Monday—when I got up, the temperature had dropped from its high of 50° to a brisk 10°. In two days’ time, the temperature had dropped 40°.

Time to make some more muffins, I think.

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Cocoa Muffins, Egg Free and Dairy Free

Ingredients

  • Three tablespoons water mixed with 1 teaspoon psyllium husk powder  
  • 1 cup almond milk (oat milk or soy milk would work fine, too.)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1/2 cup sugar plus a little more for sprinkling on top
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup of peanut butter chips or chocolate chips (optional)

Directions

  1.  Preheat over to 400°F.
  2. Grease or spray muffin tin.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the 1 teaspoon of psyllium husk powder with 3 tablespoons of water. Let it set a minute or two until it jells.
  4. Into the jelled psyllium husk powder whisk in the 1 cup of almond milk, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.
  5. Stir in 1/2 cup sugar.
  6. Sift together the 2 cups flour, 4 tablespoons cocoa powder, 3 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt, and mix into the sugar/psyllium mixture just until flour is moistened. Note: The batter will be very thick. The muffins come out fine this way, but a tablespoon or two of additional milk can be added for a thinner, batter, which also makes good muffins.
  7. Fold in peanut butter chips or chocolate chips, if using.
  8. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Sprinkle sugar on top.
  9. Bake 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the muffin comes out with a few sticky crumbs.

Makes 6 large muffins or 12 medium muffins.

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.

 

A Scorchah of a Week

According to the weather forecast, Maine is supposed to have a scorcher of a week. Or scorchah, as we Mainers pronounce it. (Mainers have a complicated relationship with the letter r. Someday, for blogging friends unfamiliar with Maine lingo, I will write a post about this.) Anyway, today there is a heat advisory, with heat values of up to 100°F. Thank goodness we bought an air conditioner last year. Hats off to Eva, who is keeping the house at a bearable temperature.

Is this Maine in June? I know I keep harking on this, but I’m old, and I remember the days when June in Maine was cool and rainy. Once upon a time, summer in Maine was oh so sweet, and I sure do long for those summers.

Fortunately, last weekend was not as hot. Instead, the weather was just right.  On Friday, my friend Claire came over for tea and chocolate chip oat bars. She brought her dear dog Hannah over, and how nice it was to have a dog visitor. Pretty nice to visit with Claire, too.

On Saturday, we went to one of my favorite places in town—van der Brew, a craft brewery and tasting room. Claire’s son Patrick (on the right in the picture below) was playing there that night, and a group of us went to hear him play a variety of rock and roll songs. Such a good singer and musician.

Before Patrick started playing, we bought pizza from Brick Oven Bakery, a food trailer that features pizza, bread sticks, and baked goods.

While waiting for our pizza to bake, we sat outside. Clif had a chat with our friend Jill, whom we hadn’t seen for a long, long time.

Next to our table was another dear dog, Beau, who gave me a high-five with his paw when I gave him a dog biscuit provided by his person.

Then came the pizza. Jiminy Cricket, that pizza was good! I could have a piece right now.

While unfortunately I can’t have a slice of that pizza right now, Brick Oven Bakery will be at van der Brew’s every weekend except one for the month of July.

This Friday night is trivia night at the Brew’s. Clif and I just might head down there for good food and plenty of folderol.

Nifty posts from blogging friends near and far:

Check out New England Garden and Thread for one the cutest little vegetable gardens I have ever seen.

From Thistles and Kiwis, food, glorious food.

From Tranature, a poignant poem about Xenia’s grandmother.

Canberra’s Green Spaces features winter pictures of one the most beautiful capitals in the world.

Ju-Lyn, of Touring my Backyard, features two snappy sculptures by the same artist. Then she asks, which is your favorite? I immediately knew which one I liked the best.

 

A Couple of not too Bad Pictures of a Hummingbird

Two weeks ago, on May 9, it snowed in Maine. Here is the picture to prove it.

Today, in the shade, the temperature was over 80° Fahrenheit, probably 85°  in the sun. What a difference two weeks can make in Maine.

This afternoon, I was going to divide and move some hostas but it seemed too hot to do this, both for me and the plants. I will go out tomorrow morning and tackle those hostas. (Frances Williams, one of the hostas, is a formidable plant to divide, especially now that I have arthritis in my hands, knees, and feet.)

In truth, the whole week has been warm but not too warm to take a picture of this cardinal,

and this little red squirrel peeking out.

And finally  a couple of not too bad pictures of a hummingbird.

Again, I will keep trying to get better pictures.

Stay tuned.

 

Remembrance of a Mother’s Day Past

In the United States, Sunday, May 10 is Mother’s Day, but because of the pandemic, most of us will not be able to get together with our children, no matter how close they live. Many of us will make the best of it through Skype or Zoom, and that is exactly what Clif and I will be doing on Sunday morning. Despite having bad points, technology really is a blessing. Being able to see and talk to my children makes me feel ever so much better.

Recently, as I was scrolling through my vast library of pictures, I came across Mother’s Day photos taken seven years ago. I was younger and in better shape. My hair was still dark. Liam was alive, and my daughter Shannon and son-in-law Mike lived in South Portland, an easy drive from where we live. (Dee, in New York, was too far away to join us, but she would come later in the summer.)

Shannon with her dog Holly, and me with my buddy Liam

For a Mother’s Day treat, Shannon made her signature low-flour chocolate cupcakes with peppermint cream. Oh so good. I could have one right now.

The day was cool and green. We took the dogs for a walk and then had cupcakes and tea when we came back.

These pictures make me both wistful and grateful, aware of both loss and happy memories.

Life is like that, isn’t it?

 

First Lunch on the Patio

On Saturday, the weather was so fine—at least by Maine standards—that Clif and I had our first lunch on the patio. The temperature was about 65°F with a gentle breeze. For two winter-weary elders, it was warm enough for us to leave our jackets inside as we sat and ate.

Clif made potato pancakes for our lunch. In the picture, they look like regular pancakes, but they had a lovely mashed potato and Parmesan taste. We slathered them with butter and liberally sprinkled them with salt. Very tasty indeed. Especially when eaten on the patio.

As we ate, we were treated to all manner of fluttering birds and their spring songs. The wary goldfinches, cheeping loudly, clustered in a big cedar as they waited for us to leave.

But this bird was a little braver. (I’m thinking it’s a flycatcher. Eliza, what do you think?)

And the mourning dove felt perfectly comfortable patrolling for spilled seeds not far from where we sat.

Watching over everything was the backyard Spirit of the Woods.

I know. It’s really a dead tree that should come down before it falls where we don’t want it to fall. But I will be sorry when the tree no longer stands. Not only will we lose the wood spirit, but the birds will lose a place to hunt for tidbits.

But there. For several years, Clif and I have talked about taking that tree down, and still it stands. I am hoping the tree will be there for several more years.

After lunch, I worked on removing leaves from the beds in the front yard. Why is it that outside work is more satisfying than inside housework? It probably has something to with the sun and the sky and the birds, none of which are as present when you are inside.

Later on during the weekend, thanks to technology, I visited with my daughters and my son-in-law, and much of the talk was about politics and the coronavirus.

I also “attended” Rassemblement, a yearly gathering of Franco-American artists, writers, and creatives. Usually it is held at the University of Maine at Orono, but in this time of the coronavirus, it was held virtually.

The theme of this year’s gathering was legacy. This is from the Franco American Programs website: “The dictionary definition of legacy is, ‘Something handed down from an ancestor or a predecessor or from the past.’ As Franco Americans, what was handed down to us? And how does this gift act as both an impetus to create and as a restriction on our creations? What are we handing down to those who come after us? What was and is our legacy?”

Someone—ahem!—might have brought up that one of the legacies of Franco-Americans is that it was a patriarchal ethnic group, with an unhealthy separation of men and women. A spirited discussion ensued.

But more about that later.

 

 

 

 

 

Saving Soup

In a little swampy swamp just down the road, the peepers have finally started singing their spring song. For those who are unfamiliar with peepers, here is what they look and sound like. Peepers are tiny—one inch according to National Geographic-–but when they sing together, they make a sound and a fury. Clif and I wait for their song every year, and it wouldn’t be spring in Maine without peepers.

A post or two back, I wrote about giving a toy dinosaur to the boy next door for his birthday. Via Facebook messaging, his mother sent me a short video she made of him thanking us for the dinosaur. He was wearing a dinosaur t-shirt and was holding the dinosaur we had given him. Oh, that made us smile. Ingenuity in this time of the coronavirus.

On Facebook I also read some sad news. Scrummy Afters Candy Shoppe is closing their sweet little store in Hallowell. Recently, I posted a picture of some of the delectable chocolates that I had ordered online and had come through the mail. Here they are again. After all, who gets tired of looking at pictures of chocolate?

Fortunately, Scrummy’s is not going out of business entirely. They will continue to have an online store and a Scrummy’s van that will go to events when they are allowed to do so. But still, a blow for Hallowell, and I fear a harbinger of things to come for many small businesses.

But I am going to end this post on an upbeat note of how I saved some soup I made at the beginning of the week. It was a white bean soup. I simmered three cups of white beans, and when they were tender, I dumped them into a crock-pot. I added a bay leaf, dried thyme, sage, oregano, a little soy sauce, celery, and carrots. Onion and garlic and more water. When it was done, a half-cup of nutritional yeast.

And how did the soup taste? Well, it was edible, but it was blah. The thought of eating this for the next few days did not excite me. In truth, it filled me with a sort of dread.

But then I remembered something that the cook Samin Nosrat explained in her excellent series Salt Fat Acid Heat. That is, most soups and dishes benefit from a dose of something acidic. Lemon would have been perfect for this Mediterranean-flavored soup, but I did not have lemons.

I did, however, have diced canned tomatoes, which are acidic. I didn’t want the soup’s flavor to be dominated by tomatoes, but what if I added two cups to this big batch of soup? What then?

I’ll tell you what then—those tomatoes saved the soup without overpowering it. It jazzed up the soup in exactly the right way. No longer did I dread eating that soup until it was gone.

Instead, I actually looked forward to it. Clif felt the same way, and we ate every single bit.

I think this falls under the category of an old dog learning a new trick.