Category Archives: Books

A Farewell Party for Lisa Jepson Wahlstrom of Ovation Fundraising Counsel

Pearl Ames, Lisa Jepson Wahlstrom, George Ames, and Billy Wing
Pearl Ames, Lisa Jepson Wahlstrom, George Ames, and Billy Wing

Last night, the library expansion team gave a farewell party for Lisa Jepson Wahlstrom. She is the founder and principal of Ovation Fundraising Counsel, an organization¬† that works “with nonprofit organizations throughout Maine helping them to increase their fundraising capacity, engage their constituencies, and strengthen their volunteer base.”

For the past few years, Lisa has worked with us on the library’s expansion campaign, and it’s no exaggeration to state that we couldn’t have run a successful expansion campaign without Lisa’s expertise, organization, firm guidance, and good cheer. We have had our ups and downs, but Lisa was always upbeat and encouraging, patiently leading us toward our goal—the addition.

However, the time has come for the expansion team to strike out on its own. As Lisa put it last night, we have about $150,000 left to raise, and we know what to do—more grant writing, more fundraising events, more appeals for donations. We also have a wonderful campaign team, and as we said our sad goodbyes to Lisa, I got a strong sense from the other team members that they would continue to help with the campaign, and a good thing, too. We certainly need them.

Where there is a party, there is food, of course, and the campaign team not only loves libraries but tasty food as well. We put on a pretty good spread, if I do say so myself, and there were lots of yummy tidbits—deviled eggs, artichoke squares, spinach balls, a hot cheese dip, and other good things to eat. I brought my homemade crackers and a rosemary-olive cream cheese spread.

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Joan and Bill Wing generously agreed to host the party at their home overlooking the lake. They have a large living room with a lovely view of the water, and while we ate and talked, the water rippled and sparkled as the sun set.

Naturally, the conversation revolved around libraries—their importance in today’s society despite the dominance of computers, big and small. As I mentioned in a previous post, people are still reading books. The love of story runs deep in our species, and while I hope paper books endure—nothing can replace their feel and smell—I have no doubt that as long as there are people, there will be stories.

And there will be libraries—the repositories of information, ideas, and stories—available to all who live in a town, area, or city. You don’t have to be rich to have a library card. You don’t have to come from a prominent family.¬† Libraries are for everyone, and as such they couldn’t be more vital to our society.

 

Library Update and a Bit about Book Group

IMG_6576The picture for this post was taken on Sunday, September 14. With all the blue, the library’s new addition reminds me of a huge, very deep pool.

I’ll be biking into town today to do several errands, and one of them will be stopping by the library to see how the addition is progressing. If there are any changes, I’ll take pictures and post them in a day or two.

Last night, I went to book group, where we discussed Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, a story about Joe, a young Native-American teenager, and how he deals with his mother’s rape. (For readers who haven’t read this book, I don’t want to give too much away, but I do want to note that there was a lively discussion about Joe’s solution.)

There were eighteen (or so) of us at book group, and for an hour and a half, we discussed The Round House. There was some disagreement, especially with me as I argued that I thought Joe and his friends were too young to do some of things they did. This was hotly contested by those in the group who have sons. Even though I remained unconvinced, it was fascinating to hear the various points of view.

Also, what a thrill that so many people read The Round House and came to book group. Another example of the power of story and books, which despite what some people might think, have not gone the way of the dodo. Despite all the distractions of modern life, people are still reading books. Last Sunday, on NPR’s Weekend Edition, there was even a piece about the millennial generation—those under thirty—and their love of reading. Here’s how the story, by Lynn Neary, starts: “As it turns out, the generation that has grown up in the age of technology has a fondness for a very old-fashioned habit – reading.” A story to warm my heart, that’s for sure.

But back to book group…the leader—Shane-Malcolm Billings, the adult services librarian at Bailey—is also very important. Shane sets the tone, giving background information about the author, making sure that everyone has a chance to talk about the book, and generally keeping the group on track. His love of books is so strong that it just shines forth, warming everyone in the group.

Last night was the fourth anniversary of book group, and I have been a part of this group from the beginning. Shane compiled a list of all the books we have read in the past four years, and what an impressive list! The titles include The Lonely Polygamist, Cutting for Stone, Great House, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, When We Were the Kennedys, Home, and The Good Lord Bird.

Many thanks to Shane for leading this group, for all his hard work, and especially for his deep love of books.

A Sunny Day and a Remembrance

Yesterday was finally a warm, sunny day after too many cold, rainy days. From time to time over the past week, we have needed to turn on the electric heat. When the house is only 60 degrees, it is simply too cold for Clif and me.

But all was forgiven on a day when the sky was a cloudless blue, and it was fine enough to hang laundry on the clothesline. It was even warm enough to have lunch on the patio,which is right beside a large garden bed, where I could see that the dwarf irises were starting to pass. However, the flowers still smelled as sweet as ever.

The dragonflies have emerged, and one clung to Temple Dog’s small stoney face. “Come, little mosquito eaters,” I said. “And do your thing.”

Over lunch I perused the newest Daedalus Books catalog. I saw lots of interesting titles—some for presents, some for me. As I spotted one book after another, I was sadly reminded that my friend Barbara is gone, dead for 9 years this spring. Barbara was the one person with whom I could share all my bookish enthusiasms, and I so miss our regular book talks.

Now, it must be noted that I am blessed with a literate family and many literate friends, but somehow Barbara was the one whose tastes almost exactly matched mine. In the catalog, I saw What There Is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell. We both adored William Maxwell, a legendary editor at the New Yorker and a fine writer as well. And we, of course, admired Eudora Welty. When I came to a section featuring books by Angela Thirkell, I wondered if Barbara had read her. Ditto for The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith, who also wrote The Hundred and One Dalmatians.

How lucky I was to have Barbara as a friend for so long—12 years, I think. On the other hand, is that all? I felt as though I knew her all my life. One thing is certain, friends like Barbara only come along very rarely.

 

To Portland for a Book Launch Party for Talking Walls

img_5214Last Friday, I drove to Portland for a book launch party for Talking Walls: Discover Your World, written by my friend Margy Burns Knight. (Clif was supposed to go, but he had caught a nasty virus and quite sensibly stayed home.) The party was held at Mainely Frames & Gallery, right on Congress Street, and the whole store was decked out with Talking Walls related displays—from art work by the talented Anne Sibley O’Brien, who illustrated the book, to a mannequin “reading” Talking Walls in the big window at the front of the store.

That Friday was also Portland’s First Friday Art Walk, and Congress Street had the air of a carnival. Lots of people were on the street, and many stores were open, featuring art displays and offering free food. There were even street artists, set up with little stands to display their art. Where else but in Maine would anyone even think of doing this in February? I wish I had had some extra money. I would have bought something from one of those plucky street artists.

I did, of course, buy a copy of Talking Walls, and it was beautifully signed—I mean this literally—by Anne Sibley O’Brien and Margy Knight. This book will go to Sara, a young woman who will soon be having a baby. I have known Sara since she was a little girl. I went to her wedding several years ago, and now I am going to her baby shower. And, as I’ve mentioned previously, when I go to baby showers, I like to bring books as presents.

The food at the reception was made by Margy’s daughter, Emilie Knight and her partner, David Gulak. The food was delicious, especially a blueberry ricotta spread with balsamic vinegar and roasted garlic. Using what I think might be the right proportions, I will definitely try making this spread at home. Emilie and David are starting a catering service called Knilak’s Catering, and their business is so new that it doesn’t have a website yet. However, for information about catering, Emilie can be reached at emilie.m.knight@gmail.com.

Tasty food provide by Knilak's Catering.
Tasty food provide by Knilak’s Catering.

Lots of people came to the book launch party, and many of them were Margy’s friends from central Maine. Books, good food, friends, and art. What a fine way to spend a clear, cold night in February.

I’m going to end this post where I began, with Talking Walls. Here is a quotation about the book from Margy’s website: “Visit walls of joy and of sadness, walls built to protect people or to keep them apart.”

Yes, indeed.

Anne Sibley O'Brien and Margy Burns Knight
Anne Sibley O’Brien and Margy Burns Knight

Reading: The Best of Stillmeadow: A Treasury of Country Living by Gladys Taber

img_4421A couple of years ago, Nan, in her blog, Letters from a Hill Farm, introduced me to the writer Gladys Taber, who was born in 1899 and died in 1980. Not only did Gladys Taber live a long life, but she was also a prolific author who wrote plays, memoirs, and fiction. In addition, she was a teacher and an editor.

Gladys Taber is perhaps best known for the memoirs she wrote about Stillmeadow Farm, a house built in 1690 in Southbury, Connecticut. Gladys and her husband, along with her friend “Jill” (Eleanor Mayer) and her husband, jointly purchased Stillmeadow Farm in the early 1930s. The two families lived in New York City, and they wanted a place in the country where their children could freely play outside on weekends and holidays. Because there had been a murder in the house, the two families were able to buy Stillmeadow below market value. Taber writes, “The previous owner had shot his wife and killed himself….The ghosts never bothered us…They had loved our house, that I knew. And I felt they were happy because we were were giving it life again.” Eventually, after Glady’s divorce from her husband and the death of Eleanor’s husband, the two women lived full time at Stillmeadow Farm, where they grew much of their own food.

I started the Taber oeuvre with Stillmeadow Daybook, and I was immediately hooked. Taber is exactly the kind of writer I like to read—smart, generous, shrewd, funny, and wise. She was someone who appreciated and took solace in the natural word and in everyday things. Taber loved Shakespeare, and she loved to cook and feed her family. (The two interests are not incompatible.) She loved dogs. Finally, Taber had a fine writing style—vivid yet precise—and a fine mind.

Right now I am reading The Best of Stillmeadow: A Treasury of Country Living, a compilation of previous books about Stillmeadow. The Best of Stillmeadow is edited by her daughter, Constance Taber Colby, and the book is divided into 12 sections, with each section corresponding to a month at Stillmeadow. The Best of Stillmeadow starts with a Foreword, which, of course, chronicles how Gladys and Eleanor (she is called Jill in all the books) came to live at Stillmeadow Farm. From the Foreword the book moves to January, the first month of the year, back in the days when even Connecticut had lots of snow and very cold weather. (Taber’s descriptions of Connecticut winters then sound like Maine winters now.)

Here is a description of the comforts of January: “Those of us who stay in the valley make out very well. We build up the fires…and the soup kettle over the hearth makes a pleasant simmering sound….corned beef and cabbage and flaky potatoes cooked in the rich liquid make a handsome meal for anyone….Open a well-done potato and spoon over some of the long-simmered juices, and there you have a dish fit for anybody.”

And much later, in July, here is Taber’s take on squash: “People who do not care for squash are usually those who rely on store vegetables. A crook-necked squash should be picked when it is not much thicker than two thumbs. The skin is pale and waxy, not knobby and mustard yellow. It should be easy to slice with a table knife.”

In The Best of Stillmeadow, I’ve only reached July, when the farm pond is thick with algae and, Connie, Gladys’s daughter, watches with horror as her mother swims in the pond anyway, this pond with “frogs, turtles, waterbugs, and…a water snake now and then gliding along the edge.”

I’ll eagerly keep reading, and when I’m done, I plan on checking out Taber’s Still Cove Journal, which is available at Winthrop’s own Bailey Library.

 

Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan Make the Case for Cooking at Home

Yesterday the New York Times featured two of my favorite food writers—Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan. In his piece, “Pollan Cooks!,” Bittman writes about Pollan’s new book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. (I’ve already reserved my copy through interlibrary loan, and I expect it is a book I will want to add to my own collection.) Bittman also interviewed Michael Pollan, who makes a clear and convincing case that we, as a nation, were healthier when we ate mostly home-cooked food.

Simply put, when we cook at home, we use better ingredients than is commonly found in most commercially-prepared food. We use fewer chemical additives—if any—as well as less fat, sugar, and salt. We tend not to eat fried food because it takes so much time and is so messy. (I can attest to this. I love fried food, but the only time I get it is when I go out to eat, a couple of times a month.)

Perhaps just as important, home cooking, which includes meals for family and friends as well as celebrations throughout the year, nourishes the spirit as well as the body. When we come together for meals, we slow down, we talk, we connect. My own special memories of eating seldom include restaurant or commercially-prepared meals. Instead, those memories tend to revolve around going to the homes of family and friends, sitting at their tables, eating what they have prepared, and talking about all the things that concern and interest us. The food can be very simple—I recently wrote about eating egg salad sandwiches in my aunt and uncle’s kitchen—but when we come together to share a meal in the home, something very special happens.

My point is not to diminish the many fine restaurants we have in Maine and the talented chefs who devote their lives to cooking good food. Nevertheless, I think that eating out should be an occasional treat rather than a daily event. Once upon a time, way back when I was a child, this was the norm, and we were healthier as a result. (I’ve also written about this.)

So let’s hear it for home cooks, for both women AND men getting back into the kitchen to cook, cook, cook. Yes, it takes time, but why not spend some of that precious commodity cooking rather than watching TV or sitting in front of the computer? And either before or after dinner, as the days get longer and warmer, you might want to fit in a walk or a bike ride as well. If you do these two things, you just might find that you are hardly watching any TV and that your waistline is beginning to shrink.

Book Review: Finding Your Inner Moose by Susan Poulin

IMG_2932In December, when my husband, Clif, broke his wrist before Christmas, it wasn’t long before I started feeling frazzled. By a stroke of organizational good luck—unusual for us—all the presents had been wrapped, but there was still a lot of cooking and cleaning to be done. Fortunately, I could rely on Ida LeClair for advice, who came up with a list of “December De-Stressors,” one of which involves buying pre-made items from the store when you don’t have time to bake or cook. Yes, homemade bread is best, but it was a great relief to just buy bread and English muffins in between chauffeuring Clif to work and to the doctor’s office.

Then there was the time, earlier in the year, when I needed new bras.  I quite naturally turned to Ida, who advised buying two black bras as well as a flesh-colored one. I did as she suggested, and I have been completely happy with my choices.

Clif recently observed, “I’m beginning to think you learned everything you know from Ida.”

While he might be exaggerating, he does have a point, but there is only one slight problem with my reliance on Ida LeClair—she doesn’t actually exist. She is the alter-ego of my friend Susan Poulin, a very funny and talented performer who has created a series of theatrical works revolving around Ida. (If any of Susan’s shows come to a theater near you, then don’t hesitate to see them. Not all of them are about Ida, but they are all terrific.)

Susan’s most recent endeavor is a humorous advice book written from Ida LeClair’s point of view, and that book is Finding Your Inner Moose: Ida LeClair’s Guide to Livin’ the Good Life. Ida, who is Franco-American and from the fictional Maine town of Mahoosuc Mills, lives in a “tidy and tastfully decorated double-wide with high school sweetheart Charlie and adorable dog Scamp.” She works as a cashier at the local grocery store, and her best friends are Celeste, Rita, Betty, Dot, and Shirley. She also has a niece, Caitlin, who is as “cute as a button,” and is into “New Agey stuff” such as feng shui. (Ida refers to Caitlin’s New Age interests as “woo-woo.”)

With Caitlin’s help—woo-woo or not—Ida discovered that the moose was her totem, her symbol. (Actually, the moose chose Ida, but that is a story unto itself and best told in Ida’s inimitable voice. So read the book for more details.) Caitlin informs her aunt, “Moose teach us to value ourselves and to reward ourselves for a job done well done.” This certainly clicked with Ida, and she was “off and running” with her Inner Moose book.

Each chapter in Finding Your Inner Moose covers a topic—marriage, friendship, aging, attitude at work, even death. Here is Ida’s take on aging. “”There’s something to be said for aging gracefully, but you don’t hear much about that nowadays. It’s more trendy to fight aging tooth and nail. But I say, let’s bring the ‘aging gracefully’ concept back” Here is her advice about diet and health: “Start from where you are…If you’re waiting for your life to be perfect before you start living it, your life will consist of lots of waiting and not much living.” Then there is the title of her chapter on marriage, which needs no explanation at all: “A Good Marriage Starts with Please and Thank You.”

In each chapter, Charlie and Caitlin get their say, with a little section of their own—Straight Talk from the Barcalounger and Caitlin’s New Age Nook. Again, no explanation needed. Charlie’s masculine voice and Caitlin’s “New Agey” voice make nice counterpoints to Ida’s own earthy voice, which is sassy but wise and warm.

It is not every day that you find a humorous book that is also an honest-to-God self-help book, one that makes you laugh and learn at the same time. Finding Your Inner Moose is such a book. As Charlie puts it, Ida “just loves giving advice to people, whether they ask for it or not.”

That might be the case, but when Ida gives advice, I listen.