Category Archives: Digressions

Early November and My Father

img_4540Today is the anniversary of my father’s birthday, and if my memory is correct, he would be 80 today if he were still alive. Unfortunately, he died far too young—at 54—and enough time has passed so that my memories of him seem distant. Nevertheless, distant or not, he is still with me. Although I loved my mother very much, I was a “father’s daughter, ” with my affinities and inclinations more closely aligned with him rather than with my mom. From my father came my love of books and ideas and the life of the mind. Also the desire to grow things and the strong attachment to the natural world. Like him, I am drawn to photographing nature, and I even use the same brand of camera—a Canon.

As the Irish might put it, my father also had his little ways. Don’t all people? He could be touchy, authoritarian, and short tempered. His word was law in our house, and nobody dared go against him. When I was younger, I silently and resentfully chafed against his domineering personality. Now that I am older, and I am very much aware of my own little ways—perhaps not so unlike his—my attitude has softened. My affection for him remains strong, and I have come to appreciate all that he did for me.

Big ways. Little ways. The whole person. This post, this day, these pictures are dedicated to my father—Ronald James Meunier.



More Foggy Pictures of the Narrows

It is the first of November—All Saints Day—and although the sky is clearing, we have another gray, rainy day on the Narrows Pond Road. The brilliance of October is behind us, and although I love the bright colors of mid-fall, I also love the austere colors of November—the russets, the dark green of the pines and firs, the red of the winter berries.

As I have noted many times, the Narrows, just down the road from me, is always beautiful, but it is especially so on a foggy day. Here are some more foggy pictures of the Narrows, and as I’m sure readers have come to realize, I could easily emulate Monet and take picture after picture of the Narrows through the seasons and at different times of day.





A Few More Tidbits about New York City

The Chinese take-out just down the street from Dee's apartment
The Chinese take-out just down the street from Dee’s apartment

In yesterday’s post, I described going to New York City last weekend to visit my daughter Dee. In that post, I had planned to touch briefly on the highlights of the trip, but the spirit of Samuel Becket seized me, and instead I wrote about the terrific play we saw—Waiting for Godot—and how it remains relevant to our time.

Therefore, today I will briefly describe the other highlights of the trip and share some of the pictures I took.

One of the things I love best about New York City is the wonderful diversity of the people—black, brown, white, Asian, gay, straight, stylish, and frumpy. It’s all there. For someone like me who comes from a mostly white and rural state, the variety is dazzling and a reminder that there are many, many types of people on this planet.

On Saturday, we began our Manhattan foray with a trip to the Chelsea Doughnut Plant for one of their fresh, fresh donuts. Dee had a pumpkin donut, which she let me taste, and it was utterly delicious. My own square coconut donut was also tasty as can be. (Unfortunately, the picture of the coconut donut didn’t come out well.)

Dee's pumpkin donut at the Doughnut Plant
Dee’s pumpkin donut at the Doughnut Plant

Properly fueled, we explored some of the art galleries in Chelsea, ending with an outdoor installation of Francois-Xavier Lalanne’s Sheep Station, which appropriately enough featured sculptures of sheep “grazing” by a defunct gas station. A vision of the future? A juxtaposition of rural and urban? Whatever the case, it drew people’s attention, and there was much picture taking.

Sheep may safely graze
Sheep may safely graze

Then, it was on to McNulty’s Tea & Coffee Co. in Greenwich Village. McNulty’s bills its store as a “journey to another time,” and they are not indulging in hyperbole. The shop is small, tight, dark, and loaded with containers of loose tea and bags coffee. The closest analogy is an old-time smoke shop, albeit one with healthier products. The clerks who work there—they all seemed to be men, but I could be wrong about this—gave the impression that they had spent a long time as tea and coffee apprentices and that they took their jobs very seriously. Not that the atmosphere of the store was glum or stiff. Far from it. Although these clerks took their jobs seriously, they were also relaxed. I bought some Golden Assam for me and Lapsang Souchong for Clif. A white-haired man weighed the tea on an old-fashioned brass scale. Later that night, when we got back to Dee’s apartment, we tried some of the Golden Assam, and it was smooth with a slight tang, a first-rate tea. From now on, a trip to New York will include going to McNulty’s for tea. Among other teas, I’d love to try their English Breakfast and Earl Grey.

After all that walking, from the art galleries to McNulty’s, we were hungry, and we stopped at Spice for a late lunch—curry for Dee and pad Thai for me. At Spice, the food and the service are good, and the food is reasonably priced, not a given at any restaurant, whether it is Maine or New York.

Pad Thai at Spice
Pad Thai at Spice

In New York, the streets are crowded with cars and trucks, but bikes are making inroads. I have been going regularly to New York City since 2000, and never have I seen so many bikes and bikers. There are bike lanes, relatively new, and stands of city bikes, which can be rented. Mayor Bloomberg, apparently, can be thanked for the bike promotion, and this is a lesson that shows the importance of visionary leadership. I am all for community-based action and projects, but with big things, such as bike lanes, the initiative must come from the top down. And if  such services are provided, people will use them, as was clearly demonstrated on my New York trip.

Bikes by the bike lane
Bikes by the bike lane
Bikes for rent
Bikes for rent

Sunday, was Dee’s day to choose the activities, my birthday present to her, and being a movie buff, she chose movies. We saw the excellent 12 Years a Slave, and this movie was so good it is my guess it will turn out to be the best movie of the year. The acting was outstanding, the cinematography was beautiful, and the story was gut wrenching. Set in the 1840s, the story revolves around a free black man named Solomon Northup and how he is tricked, captured, and sold into slavery. A must-see movie, that’s for sure. Interesting that the director as well as many of the actors are British.

We also saw Claire Denis’s Bastard, a stinker of a movie. But you can’t win them all.

All too soon the weekend came to an end, and it was time for the long bus ride home. But what a weekend! A stellar play, an equally stellar movie. Donuts, tea, good food. And best of all, a visit with my daughter.

A tree grows in Manhattan
A tree grows in Manhattan



Back from New York City: Some Thoughts about Waiting for Godot

img_4501What to say about my weekend with my daughter Dee in New York City? It was packed with so many good things that it’s hard to narrow it down for a blog post.  First and foremost, we both agreed that the time we spent together was too short, and we both wished we could have had a few more days. Now, there is nothing that warms a mother’s heart more than hearing her adult child say, “Mom, I wish you could stay longer.”

Second was the play Waiting for Godot with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. It was an absolute thrill seeing these two fine actors on stage together. They brought spark and energy to what, for all its popularity, is a difficult play. There is no straight narrative, where the characters move from one point to another. Instead, there is symbolism, dread, futility, and loneliness as the the two tramps, Estragon (McKellen) and Vladimir (Stewart) stay exactly where they are, waiting for someone who is never going to come. One has lost his memory, the other has prostate problems, and so it goes. To liven things up, there is the brutal master Pozzo (Shuler Hensley) and his downtrodden slave, ironically named Lucky (Billy Crudup).

Somehow, though, Samuel Becket was able to endow Estragon and Vladimir with enough warmth, sympathy, and earthiness to balance the symbolism and the absurdest elements of the play. In addition, Waiting for Godot also addresses poverty, old age, and decay.

Waiting for Godot is a masterpiece, and the existential dread it depicts is as relevant today as it was in the 1950s when Becket wrote the play. For many, many people, God is no longer the center of existence. Instead, it is puny little mankind and our puny little selves, neither of which gives much larger meaning to life. To compound this, at least in wealthy nations, most of us have reached a level of comfort where we don’t have to spend every minute of our lives providing food, clothing, and shelter for ourselves. For the most part, we don’t have to worry about our children dying before their fifth birthdays. On the face of it, these things seem like a blessing, and in many ways they are. But how do people make meaningful lives now that survival, like God, is no longer the main point? (Again, I want to stress this the case for those of us who live in wealthy countries.) How do we avoid living in perpetual dread of the nothingness? Sixty years after Becket wrote Waiting for Godot, we are still grappling with these questions, and I hope to return to those questions in a future post.

I expected both Mckellen and Stewart to be very good, and I was not surprised by McKellen’s natural, shambling Estragon or Stewart’s ringing, intelligent Vladimir. What did surprise me was how Billy Crudup, as a drooling, haggard Lucky, and Shuler Hensley, as the cruel, commanding Pozzo, were as impressive as McKellen and Stewart. It can’t be easy to be on stage with two such famous actors, but when Crudup and Hensley played their parts, all attention was focused on them. Dee quite rightly noted that this was also a sign of what good actors McKellen and Stewart are. They know how to stay in the background when it comes time for them to do so.

For this post, I had planned to write a paragraph or two about Godot and then write about what else we did in New York, but Becket and his play took over. Tomorrow, I’ll write more about what we ate and what else we saw.

The Yard Sale

img_4022On Saturday, we had our yard sale, and for the proceeding 3 days, there was a great flurry at the little house in the big woods. Shannon and her dog, Holly, came on Thursday night. (Our dog, Liam, resigned himself to Holly’s exuberant presence. The cats did not.) All day Friday, Shannon and I washed items for the sale and organized what was already washed and packed so that we would be ready for Saturday. When Clif came home from work, he made terrific signs using poster board and stencils. We brought tables around to the front yard. We had money for the cash box. There was an ad in the local paper. Heck, I even swept the driveway. Would the weather hold?

Yes, it did. Saturday was a sunny day, cool in the morning but warm in the afternoon. There was only one problem. Hardly anyone came to the sale. For the most part, the people who did come bought something, and it was gratifying to see our things go with folks who would obviously enjoy them. However, when the day was done, there was a lot to pack in the car to go to Goodwill—it would take two trips to get rid of it all—and let’s just say we didn’t make very much money. We all wondered if perhaps it was too late in the season, and people just weren’t interested in going to a yard sale. There were several other yard sales listed in Winthrop, and I wonder if they did any better than we did.

The ladder of books
The ladder of books

Never mind! As Shannon noted, even though we are a family that can’t sell things and probably will never be rich, we are also a family that likes to look on the bright side. And here is the bright side of the yard sale:

First and foremost, we cleaned a lot of stuff from our basement room, and without the yard sale, we probably wouldn’t have had the motivation to do this. Now that so much has been cleaned from that room, Clif and I will continue the process, doing some each Saturday morning until the room is as clean as we want it to be. I cannot overemphasize what a good feeling this is. Because the room was so cluttered with things we no longer wanted, we could not use that room for anything else. And what would I like to use the basement room for? Why, a pantry, of course, with honest-to-God shelves so that I can buy in bulk and stock up on food when it goes on sale. Although our family is down to just Clif and me, I cook a lot, not just for us but for family and friends as well. Having a pantry that can be easily reached and organized will be, well, a dream come true.

Second, our friends Judy and Paul dropped by, and we got to chat with them.

Third, Tim, Farmer Kev’s father, came over to give us some corn and a melon. He had noticed we weren’t at the farmers market and stopped by to see if we would like some vegetables. When I tried to pay for them, Tim shook his head and waved me off. “Just take them. You’ve been so supportive of Kevin.” I think that very soon there will be a homemade apple pie for Farmer Kev and his family.

Corn and a melon from Farmer Kev
Corn and a melon from Farmer Kev

Fourth, we got to see how impressively easy it is to drop off things at Goodwill in Augusta. They have a special place for donations. You just drive up, and out someone comes with a big cart to collect donations. (This is also a somewhat sobering lesson on how much “stuff,” wanted and unwanted, churns through our society, but that could be a topic for a whole separate post.)

Finally, what a treat to have Shannon and Holly here for 3 days. And even though we worked really hard for those 3 days, we so enjoyed having them with us.

After the yard sale, we gathered on the patio. Clif grilled some burgers, and we steamed Farmer Kev’s corn, which was as sweet as only fresh corn can be. In fact, everything tasted so good. The crickets sang, the dogs ran and barked, and it didn’t start raining until we had long finished the meal and were ready to go inside.

There will be no more yard sales for us, but at least we have made huge progress in decluttering our house.

The dogs look out, wanting to be out front with us
The dogs look out, wanting to be out front with us
Corn and burgers at the end of the day
Corn and burgers at the end of the day
Shannon and Holly
Shannon and Holly





Riding Our Bikes on an August Evening

img_3935Last night, as soon as my husband, Clif, came home from work, we went on a bike ride. The heat of the day had subsided, and the air was lovely and warm, perfect for riding in a T-shirt. Up our road we went, past some old apple trees that have already begun dropping their fruit and past a field with hay that had just been cut. Big rolls of hay were lined by the edge, and they looked like the backs of large, slumbering animals.

We went on our usual route, on Memorial Drive, which goes by Maranacook Lake, and the water shimmered and rippled in the setting sun. All along the drive, people were grilling their supper. We always have our supper after our bike ride, and the smoky smell of cooking meat was irresistible to us, making us even more hungry than we already were.

Our town’s moto is “Winthrop Plays Outside,” and we even have nifty little signs, many on Memorial Drive, proclaiming this.

“Winthrop also cooks,” I called to Clif as we passed yet another house with a smoking grill.

“And sometimes they cook outside,” Clif called back.

What a town! Not only do we play outside, but we also cook outside.

We continued down the drive. I waved to a couple sitting on their porch overlooking the lake, and they waved back. We slowed down to chat with another couple who was walking 3 dogs—a border collie, a puggle, and a terrier. The puggle was their dog, and they were dogsitting the other two. I expected the border collie to lunge for us as we pulled away from them and picked up speed, but instead it was the terrier. Fortunately, they were all on leashes and under control.

We went our 5 miles and headed back. Even though we were hungry, we took a few minutes to sit at the public beach and watch the water and the swimmers. We smiled as we listened to the exuberant shrieks of the children as they splashed and played.

We live only a mile from the beach, so it was a short ride back to our home and to our supper. We passed Mia Lina’s, and the smell of pizza was just as enticing as the smell of grilled meat.

“Let’s stop for pizza on Friday,” I said.

“Sounds good,” Clif replied.

As we topped the hill of our road, the big orange moon, oddly enough called a blue moon, rose just over the horizon. As we sped down the hill, the moon gazed serenely down on us, and it was so beautiful and fantastical that it seemed as though it had come directly from a George Méliès movie. No wonder the moon is a constant inspiration, spanning generations and centuries.

No grilled meat or pizza were waiting for us when we got home, but there was freshly baked corn bread, cold chicken, and pasta with vegetables. After a 10 mile bike ride, we were both good eaters, savoring every bite.

Digression: Being Moved by a Movie

This post is going to be a digression, being mostly about art and movies and hardly about food at all. On the other hand, the subject of this post could be considered cultural food, which art in all its wonderful variety—movies, dance, music, theater, literature, visual—most certainly is. At least to me. While we need actual food for the body—and lord knows how food obsessed I am—we also need cultural food or else, as the late great Canadian writer Robertson Davies put it, we will get “cultural rickets.”

I have realized the importance of art since I was a teenager, and I have known it is something I need and crave almost as much as I need food. My husband, Clif, feels the same way, and once upon a time, we were diligent about going to plays and art exhibits. Although we live in rural central Maine, we are within driving distance of many places that host cultural events—the art museums at Colby, Bates, and Bowdoin, the Theater at Monmouth, and the Public Theater, to name a few. Clif and I took full advantage of our many opportunities.

But then, as the saying goes, life happened. The recession hit, and like so many baby boomers, we got hammered. Clif lost his job, but luckily, we did not lose our house. My mother died. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Clif broke his arm. Unfortunately, the usual stuff of life. We rallied, somewhat, from these challenges, but in dealing with all these things, we got stuck in a bit of a rut. Part of it was financial—our budget has never recovered from the hit it took during the recession—but part of it was that we just stopped making the effort. (The college art museums are free. There is no reason not to go to them.) We hunkered down, and home, family, and community became our world.

Now, home, family, and community are not bad things. In fact, they are very good. To use a food metaphor, you might even call them the cake of life. But cake needs frosting, and when I saw the movie Museum Hours,  I realized that’s what our life was missing—the frosting—or art, if you will. (Do watch the trailer if you have time.) Several posts back, I wrote about Museum Hours, where a museum guard befriends a Canadian woman who has come to Vienna to be with a cousin who is critically ill. The movie is very leisurely, and much of it was shot in the fabulous Kunsthistorisches Museum. Some of the museum’s art was examined in beautiful detail—in particular work by the painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Vienna is also featured, and the movie’s gist is that art is all around us. It never stops. We just need to take the time to look. I felt as though the movie were talking directly to me and that I’d better darned well find the time and the energy to start looking at art again.

And so I have. To begin our return to art, a couple of weeks ago, Clif and I went to the Colby Museum of Art, where unexpectedly, we met our nephew, Patrick, who is majoring in art. We walked around the museum together, where we looked at art in the fabulous new Alfond-Lunder Family Pavillion. It was one of those special evenings where everything just clicked—the art, the company, and, yes, even the food. (There was a reception with some very tasty appetizers, among them little biscuits with ham and mustard, and chicken with toasted coconut and a tangy dipping sauce.)

It took some effort to do this. We only have 1 car, which meant that I had to bring Clif to work and then pick him up again in the evening. But the evening was terrific, and the effort was worthwhile. A very auspicious return to art.

Museum Hours (2012) Poster



After MIFF: Includes Recipe for Marinated Tofu

Well, the Maine International Film Festival (MIFF) is over, and my daughter Dee has gone back to New York. The day is cool and rainy, and you know what the song says about rainy days and Mondays. The Maine International Film Festival is always a blast—seeing lots of movies, getting together with friends, spending time with Dee—and while it is somewhat hectic, it is also a let-down when it is over.

To let ourselves down easy, my husband, Clif, and I went to Railroad Square Cinema last night—admission is $5.50 on Mondays, which is a steal, as Dee likes to say. We saw Museum Hours, a slow but lovely meditative film about art and friendship and loneliness and death. Because the pacing is so deliberate, this is not a film for everyone, and indeed my friend Joel Johnson really disliked it. But for people who don’t mind very slow films and who love art, this is a fine movie. The gist of Museum Hours is that art never stops. It is everywhere, if you just take the time to look. It was filmed in Vienna, Austria, and much of the movie takes place in the Kunsthistorisches Museum. I would actually like to see Museum Hours again, and if it comes to NetFlix Instant View, then I will.

At MIFF, I watched “only” 10 movies, which was perfect for me. Enough to feel as though I was a part of the festival but not so many that I felt like stale popcorn when the festival was over. Dee and Clif, true movie buffs, saw 24 movies—that’s a lot of movies in 10 days—but neither of them looked particularly tired at the end of the festival.

In between going to the movies, we managed to cook some healthy meals. This is July, after all, and despite the lousy weather—either too much rain or too much heat—the vegetables are growing. One day, I made a stir-fry using Farmer Kev’s zucchinis as well as his sugar-snap peas and garlic scapes. There is no recipe for this. I just season to taste with some soy sauce, white wine vinegar, sesame oil, and a little sugar. I don’t use a lot of the seasonings. I mostly want to taste the fresh vegetables.


Another day, I marinated some tofu in teriyaki sauce—Dee is a vegetarian. Then, Clif cooked it on the grill. We have grilled many things, but never tofu, and we were pleased with the results. I bought extra-firm tofu, and the sauce and the grilling gave it a nice flavor. Because this was his first time grilling tofu, it did not come out exactly as Clif would have liked. Next time, Clif will grill the tofu a little longer so that it is crisper, and we will cut the tofu in smaller chunks so that it can be grilled on all sides. Nevertheless, the tofu was very tasty, and we will be grilling it again sometime soon. We’ll have it with new potatoes and corn on the cob. August, high summer, is right around the corner, and Clif and I are hoping for hot, dry days and cooler nights, perfect for eating on the patio.


And as I have no Monday meetings in August, we just might see a few movies at the square. After all, Dee is right. A movie for $5.50 is a steal.



A Woods Walk on a Gray Day in May

img_3450Today was a gray day with much-needed rain. In between showers, my husband, Clif, our dog, Liam, and I went for a woods walk. The ground was muddy underfoot, and above us a raptor flew, its high-pitched calls echoing around us. Was it a hawk? Was it an osprey? Unfortunately, I don’t know bird calls well enough to distinguish the different raptors.

Various spring flowers are in bloom. In contrast to the circling raptor, the flowers are close to the ground. But like the raptor, the flowers are hard to see, and often only those who have “flower radar” can spot these modest little jewels of the forest.







Finding Solace in Helpers and Nature During a Sorrowful Time

I have many things to write about in the upcoming weeks: two wonderful, frugal Crock-Pot meals for the price of one; an exploration of Franco-American food and the lack thereof in Maine restaurants; a review of a terrific book—Best Food Writing of 2012; the celebration of spring and our backyard and our patio.

But all these potential posts have been superseded by the terrible incident at yesterday’s Boston Marathon. Whoever is responsible, this much is clear: The event was an act of terror, one of destruction and fear. People were killed and maimed at a celebratory event that encourages people to push their physical limits.

What drives people to do such horrible deeds? That I certainly can’t answer. There is a dark strain in humankind, one that finds pleasure and even power in inflicting pain on others. To reflect on this, as there is unfortunately ample opportunity to do, can lead to a kind of despair.

As an antidote to the despair, there is a quotation attributed to Fred Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Who knows if Fred Rogers actually said this? In the end, it doesn’t matter. At yesterdays explosion, many, many people hurried to help, and that is always heartening.

But for me, in hard times, my chief solace lies in nature, in its beauty and vitality and serenity. In its completeness. So here is a picture taken in our backyard in mid-April. The backyard is small—perhaps a half-acre—but it borders a big woods that flickers with birds and other creatures. As I’ve observed before, the backyard feels as though it is cupped by the hand of the forest, and above is the beautiful sky.

This picture is in honor of those who are suffering because of the explosions at the Boston Marathon—to the families of those who have been killed, to those who have been maimed, to those who had to flee in terror.