Yesterday was very good indeed, one of those bright September days with nary a cloud in the sky. We packed crab salad sandwiches, grapes, and cookies, and off we headed for our favorite beach—Popham Beach State Park. We love this beach for its broad expanse of sand, especially when the tide is out, but we especially love how the beach is not overdeveloped. On the state park end of things, there is nothing but sand, rocks, sea, and sky, but even when you leave the state park, there are no condos, no honky tonk, no gift shops. Instead, there are a few cottages, one small restaurant, not visible from the state park, and an old ruin of a fort, built in 1807.
After our picnic—a brisk one because of the ocean breeze—we walked the beach. Luck was with us—the tide was going out—and in the clear September light, this beach was even more beautiful and sparkling than it usually is. It was almost as if the beach were saying, “Yes, I show my beauty in the summer to all the tourists, but I am most radiant in the fall, after most of the tourists have left. It is my gift to all those who are hardy enough to stay here year round.”
We brought our wee cameras, of course, and we happily snapped pictures to record our walk.
Because the tide was out, we headed to an island that can be reached only at low tide.
On the way, I found an intact sand dollar, which I tucked in my pocket for safe transport.
At the island, Clif climbed to the top.
While Clif explored the island, I found a rock seat and had my moment of Zen as I watched the water and the sky. Truly, I could have sat there for hours.
My moment of Zen must have given me a pleasant expression because two women—about my age—stopped to speak to me. They were complete strangers, but I was happy to chat with them. (This happens surprisingly often to me when I am at the beach. For some reason, strangers like to chat with me.)
All too soon, it was time to head back. At the edge of the beach, fragrant roses were still in bloom.
All the way home, we thought about the sea, the sand, the sparkling water, and the deep blue sky. A perfect day that needed a special ending.
“Let’s have a fire,” I said to Clif, “and eat supper beside it.”
This we did, enjoying a meal of baked potatoes topped with chili and cheese.
But before we ate, I toasted Clif, wishing him many more birthdays and a happy, creative retirement.
Wednesday is Clif’s last day at work. But that is another story.
Our vacation is over. Yesterday, we dropped off Dee at the bus station and bid her a sad farewell. We had a busy but oh-so-fun week, culminating with a Saturday trip to Rockland, which is on the Maine coast.
Once upon a time, say, when I was young, Rockland was what you might call a gritty place—my mother actually called it “tough.” There was a sardine factory right in town, and the harbor was a working waterfront. But then the factory closed, as so many did in Maine, and as an entry in Wikipedia puts it, “Since the early 1990s, Rockland has seen a shift in its economy away from fishery and toward a service center city.” In other words, Rockland had to reinvent itself.
Being on a lovely harbor helped. A lot. Those from away, as we Mainers call non-natives, were drawn by the area’s natural beauty, and many of those who settled in Rockland are affluent. The same is true for a lot of the tourists who come to visit.
Since the 1940s, the town has been anchored by the Farnsworth Art Museum, and gradually, over the years, art galleries followed. So Rockland went from being a gritty place to being an arty town, which, like so many things, has its pluses and minuses.
But in this post, I am not going to get into the pluses and minuses of what happens when a working-class town becomes arty. Instead, I’m going to share some pictures I took of the town and the lovely harbor. I do want to note that we saw a broad range of first-rate—albeit expensive—art. Yes, there were seascapes, but there were also abstract art, minimalism, and everything in between.
Here are some photos of Rockland.
Now it’s back to work as I try to catch up on all the things that were put on hold while Dee was here. (Library minutes, here I come!)
Yesterday, our friend Diane came over for tea and bran muffins and to tell us about her recent trip to Costa Rica. She brought pictures of lush tropical landscapes, big lizards, sculpture, and buildings with thatched roofs. We learned that Costa Rica has a population of about four million people, with much of the population being clustered in and around San Jose, the country’s capital.
Diane told us that Costa Rica didn’t seem to have the extreme poverty of, say, Mexico. While many of the homes were modest, they were decent, and they all had electricity.
A quick bit of research confirmed Diane’s impressions. According to an article in Wikipedia, Costa Rica has a high literacy rate—well over 90 percent, “with a better record on human development and inequality than the median of the region.” Costa Rica has no military, and the country is known for “its progressive environmental policies, being the only country to meet all five criteria established to measure environmental sustainability.” Costa Rica plans to be carbon neutral by 2021, and they have banned recreational hunting, which gives them a gold star in my book.
As Diane noted, it is easier to get things done in a country with only four million people, and this is certainly true. The vast population of India or China makes progressive reform and action slow and difficult. Nevertheless, more populous countries could learn from Costa Rica. This country has decided to put much of its resources into education and the environment, which benefits many people rather than just a few. (Even more affluent countries could learn a thing or two.)
No country, of course, is perfect, and while Diane didn’t see much extreme poverty, Costa Rica nevertheless struggles with a poverty rate of 23 percent. Still, it is a country thriving in what could be considered a tough neighborhood—Nicaragua is one of its neighbors.
After Diane finished telling us about her trip, the talk turned to other subjects, to politics, to family, and to one of our favorite topics—movies. Outside, a wet snow fell, making the April landscape look more dreary than it already did. However, when I looked out one of the dining room windows, I saw a crow gathering materials for what must be a nest. So the crows, at least, think spring is coming.
We drank tea, ate bran muffins, and decided we would like to get together once a month to watch a movie together. A perfect frugal activity for Clif and me.
“But we have to plan ahead,” Diane said, “and mark it on the calendar.” Indeed we do. Busy schedules make planning ahead a necessity.
The afternoon passed all too quickly, and it was time for Diane to leave. I sent her home with a couple of bran muffins, which she thought were tasty. It is a good bran muffin recipe. A friend gave it to me many years ago, and it’s a family favorite.
I’ve posted the recipe in my former blog, A Good Eater, but that was a while back. This recipe is so good that it seemed worthwhile to post it again. These bran muffins go well with tea, with soup, or as an accompaniment to almost any meal. I often add a cup of thawed blueberries to the batter. Somehow, I just love the combination of bran and blueberries, and it’s good for you, too.
Tasty and good for you. A winning combination.
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1/4 cup of maple syrup or honey
2/3 cup of milk
1 egg, beaten
1 cup of flour
1 cup of wheat bran
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 12 muffin cups.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the flour, wheat bran, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, blend the oil and brown sugar. Add the maple syrup, milk, and egg. Mix well. Add the dry ingredients, mixing until the ingredients are just moistened.
Scoop batter into the greased muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes or until muffins are brown.
On Thursday, Clif and I will celebrate our thirty-eighth wedding anniversary. Yikes! We certainly have been married for a lot of years. To celebrate, on Monday Shannon and Mike invited us over to their home for a dinner of mussels, crusty bread, and salad.
A trip to Portland usually means a trip to Trader Joe’s, where I stock up on such things as cruelty-free laundry detergent, shampoo, and toothpaste. Because it was a Monday afternoon, the store was fairly quiet, which meant we finished our shopping sooner than we had anticipated. We had over an hour before we were supposed to be at Mike and Shannon’s. Although I knew we could stop by anytime, I also know how inconvenient it can be for guests—even family—to arrive early and interrupt the hustle and flow of getting ready.
“Why not go to Crescent Beach for a walk?” Clif suggested.
Why not, indeed? The day was reasonably warm, the sun was shining—at least some of the time—and wonder of wonders, it wasn’t snowing. For me, unless the weather is terrible, a walk on the beach is always a good thing.
“Great idea!” I said.
Crescent Beach is one of my favorite beaches. It isn’t grand and doesn’t have the broad sweep of, say, Popham. But except for one Inn, tucked discreetly away from the beach, it is undeveloped. No condos crowd the sand. No board walk. No hot dog stands. No honky-tonk. Instead, there are rocks, sky, sand, flats, and water. Just the way I like a beach to be.
On Crescent Beach Clif and Liam ranged ahead, while I walked by the water’s edge and looked for pretty shells, rocks, and sea glass. Especially on an anniversary walk, I like to bring home something from the sea.
After our walk, we headed to Mike and Shannon’s, where we had delectable mussels, crusty bread, and an herb salad. I ate too much but it was so good.
In honor of our anniversary, Shannon and Mike made a donation to Good Shepherd Food Bank, which does so much to help alleviate food insecurity in Maine.
Earlier in this piece, I mentioned how that on an anniversary walk, I like to bring home something from the sea. On yesterday’s walk, I was lucky enough to find a sand dollar and a piece of sea glass.
A lovely reminder of a lovely day.
Yesterday, Shannon and I went to Boston to reunite with Saranya, whom we haven’t seen for seventeen years. (In previous posts, I have written about Saranya—an AFS student—and how she stayed with us for a year when she was a teenager.) We had such a wonderful day in Boston that I hardly know how to describe it.
First, there was the bus ride, which doesn’t sound like much of a thrill, but it was a treat to be with Shannon for the trip—two hours from Portland and then back again—and to chit-chat about this and that. We see each other often, but usually there is a flurry of food, husbands, dogs, and friends involved. We seldom have two peaceful hours—four actually—to just talk.
At South Station, we met Saranya, her sister Eve, and Eve’s friend Anan, and although Saranya was the only one Shannon and I knew, we all came together as naturally as if we had known each other for years and were in the habit of getting together. After hugging and greeting each other, we walked from South Station to Union Oyster House, less than a mile away.
Saranya wanted boiled lobster—from Maine, of course—and that was one of the reasons why we chose the Union Oyster House. Saranya insisted that Eve and Anan have lobster, too, and the dinners were a big hit. The service at Union Oyster House was what you might call leisurely, but that suited us just fine. Basically, all we wanted was to be together and to talk.
And talk we did, as we walked the streets of Boston. The skies were gray, and a fine sprinkle of snow fell on us. We wandered around Faneuil Hall Marketplace, admiring the big Christmas tree and all the lights on the other trees. We had drinks and dessert at a Starbucks—alas, we couldn’t find a local shop that was open—then it was back to Faneuil Hall just in time for an outside light and music show.
To the thundering strains of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, the lights on the trees flashed and alternated colors. It was completely over-the-top and utterly enjoyable.
All too soon, it seemed, it was time to return to South Station, where Saranya, Eve, and Anan would take the train back to New York City, and Shannon and I would take the bus back to Maine. Before we parted, Saranya told us how much her time in Maine as an exchange student had affected her. It not only broadened her outlook, but it also made her more independent. I suspect this is true for most exchange students. After all, to live in another culture for any length of time is bound to stretch and change a person, especially one who is on the cusp of becoming an adult. We saw a similar change with our daughter Dee when she spent time in France.
Still it was lovely to hear Saranya mention this and to know we played a major role in her life. Actually, it was a great feeling. All too often we just blunder through our days, not thinking of the ways we affect people.
“Seventeen years is too long,” Saranya said before she left. “Could I come and stay at your house sometime?”
“Of course, of course!” came the immediate reply. “You are always welcome, along with your husband or your sister or anyone else you want to travel with.”
“When is the best time to come?”
I told her to come in August or September, when the weather is fine, and we could spend a lot of time on the patio. Clif could grill chicken and bread, and I could make homemade ice cream. Or maybe we’d have a fire in the fire pit and make s’mores. As dusk settled over the backyard, we could listen to the crickets sing, and then as the sky became really dark, we could look at the stars. Late summer is one of Maine’s most beautiful times.
So come to Maine in August or September, Saranya, and don’t wait seventeen years.
A good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever.
From the time I was a young child, libraries have been an important part of my life. In North Vassalboro, where I grew up, there was a tiny library made from a converted cottage that had been hauled by horses across an icy China Lake. My family regularly went to this library. Once a week, we also went to the Waterville Public Library, a bigger library with a much larger and more enticing selection of books. So I guess you could say we were fools for libraries, and this perhaps explains why I so enjoy seeing other libraries when I travel.
On my recent trip to New York City, Dee and I visited two libraries in the New York Public Library system—“the iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building,” and the much smaller Hudson Park Library. The contrast between these two libraries couldn’t be greater, but both have their appeal and place.
The Schwarzman Building—the one with the lions—is nothing less than a temple devoted to books and words and learning. There are pillars and marble and frescos and chandeliers and statues, and as I tiptoed through the hallowed halls, I looked up, down, and around until my neck began to hurt. I’m sure my mouth was agape as I took in the splendors of this magnificent library. I felt like a country bumpkin in the big city. Is there a more splendid library in this country? I can’t imagine it, but I would certainly be interested in finding out if there is one.
At the Schwarzman Building, we saw two exhibits: Over Here: WWI and the Fight for the American Mind and Sublime: The Prints of J. M. W. Turner and Thomas Moran. Over Here illustrated how posters, songs, books, and even movies, a new technology at the time, were used as propaganda to encourage the American public to support WWI. And apparently the public did need to be persuaded. On one side was the progressive activist Jane Addams, who maintained that war “affords no solution for vexed international problems.” On the other side was Theodore Roosevelt, who decried “flabby pacifism” and urged America to join the fight. We know who won that argument.
From a historic point of view, Sublime was interesting, but there is no way around it—the prints lacked snap. Both Turner and Moran had a vision of nature that hardly resembles nature at all. With only a few exceptions, the prints were stiff and lifeless yet over the top at the same time. A difficult combination to achieve, but somehow they managed. I’m not sorry I saw the exhibit—Turner’s vivid paintings are completely different from his prints, and I was fascinated by the contrast. Before this exhibit, I had never heard of Thomas Moran, and it is always good to learn about an artist, even if his work doesn’t exactly speak to you.
The next day we visited the Hudson Park Library, to see paintings by Elliot Gilbert. Where the Schwarzman Building is grand and imposing, the Hudson Park Library is small and humble. The Hudson Park Library is tucked on a tree-lined street in Greenwich Village. The reading room was small but filled with various people reading and using the computers. It felt cozy and homey and well loved, a community center for Greenwich Village, and while I admired the grander Schwarzman Building, I felt at home in the Hudson Park Library. In fact, given enough money, I could even see myself living in one of those brick homes next to the library, where I would be close to shops and good Chinese restaurants and cinemas that play foreign film such as the terrific Diplomacy, which Dee and I saw after going to the library.
Unfortunately, Gilbert’s paintings were shown in a little room where people where studying and reading, and we weren’t able to get a good look at the paintings. But that’s all right. It was still fun visiting the library and walking through Greenwich village, which is much more relaxed than other parts of New York City.
A final note: The quotation at the beginning of this piece appropriately comes from a fortune cookie I had the first night in New York. What a fun way to start a trip that was centered on libraries!