Category Archives: Food for Thought

A Tale of Two Gardens & a Short Break

At my home on the edge of the woods, my gardens look their best in June, July, and August. This time of year, they are at a frowzy stage, with lots of drooping yellow and brown leaves and spent flowers.

The back garden, more formally laid out than the ones in the front yard, is most definitely past its best. The glory of its summer days are long gone.

However, as you can see from this view from one of the windows in our house, the backyard is still a nice place to be, even in autumn.

In the front yard, the gardens are more haphazardly laid out and are not as lovely as the back garden when it’s at its peak.

However, in autumn, the “tangly” nature of the front gardens really shines, reminding me that late bloomers have a certain loveliness. Perhaps the same is true of people as well?

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Next week will be a busy one for me. In between painting and refurbishing one of our bathrooms, we will also be celebrating two birthdays—my 64th birthday on the 15th and Clif’s 70th. His birthday is not until the 27th, but we are firm believers in celebrating early and often.

I will therefore be taking a break from posting, reading other blogs, and commenting.

I plan to come back the week of September 20th.

À bientôt!

 

The Consolation of Tomato Sandwiches

Here we are at the end of August, traditionally one of Maine’s most beautiful months. Time was when the weather was hot—around 80°F—and dry during the day, yet cool enough for blankets at night. It seems this era has passed, and now we veer between a humid 100°F heat followed by a forty degree drop to 60°F. So disorienting, especially to an old timer like me who remembers how sweet August once was in northern New England. It fills me with such sadness to think that those days are probably gone for good, that future generations of Mainers will never know the glories of a Maine August when the weather was nearly perfect.

Fortunately, despite the unwelcome change in the weather, tomatoes still ripen in August in Maine. In my yard by the edge of the woods, I only get six hours of sun at most during the summer. But I have found a variety of tomatoes—Juliet—that actually grows well in part sun/part shade.

Here they are on the vine.

And here are these gems in a bowl.

Juliet is a grape tomato, firm yet sweet and tart, perfect for many uses—sauces, salads, on their own as a side, and, especially, for tomato sandwiches.

Southern readers would probably cry foul if I claimed tomato sandwiches were a Maine speciality. Therefore, I won’t do that. However, old-time Mainers are as keen on tomato sandwiches as they are, say, on blueberry pie or corn on the cob. Tomato sandwiches are definitely a thing in Maine in August and September.

Simplicity in itself, tomato sandwiches consist of three ingredients, garden-fresh tomatoes, bread, and mayonnaise. All right, there is a fourth ingredient if you are so inclined—salt.

Some folks like white bread, untoasted. I am not one of them. I want a good whole-grain bread, and I want it to be toasted, thank you very much.

As I was making this sandwich, Clif asked if I wanted lettuce on it, too. I gave him a pitying look that indicated he should know better. After all, Clif is from Maine. But alas he does not like raw tomatoes and is thus unfamiliar with the protocol of a proper tomato sandwich.

Clif tried to defend himself. “You would have lettuce on a BLT.”

Yes, you would, but a tomato sandwich is not a BLT, and Clif received another pitying look.

With tomato sandwiches, you have a perfect combination of crunch, sweet, tart, smooth, and salt. With such deliciousness, I can almost forgive the high heat and humidity that is now August in Maine.

Almost.

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Nifty Posts from Some of the Lovely Blogs I Follow:

Michele, of Rabbit Patch Diary, writes movingly of her eldest granddaughter starting school and other big changes.

In Change is Hard, Dawn finds beauty close to home, despite Covid, a hurricane, and other shattering events in this country.

On Etikser, rain provides the windows with a dreamy palette.

On Thistles and Kiwi, small pleasures—food and flowers—are still to be had, despite the uptick in Covid cases in New Zealand.

Ju-Lyn, of Touring My Backyard, is inspired by a trio of seventy-year-old men.

 

 

 

 

When Life Gives You Covid, Go on a Picnic

Here we are in the beginning of August, with the Delta variant, reportedly as contagious as chicken pox, ripping through the country. According to ABC News, one year ago, the U.S. was averaging about 63,000 new cases of Covid a day. This year, we’re averaging 62,000 cases a day. No matter how  you look at it, that’s not progress.

At least Clif and I had two good months in June and July. A heady period when it actually seemed as though we were returning to normal times. Friends came over, we gathered at the local Brewery, we dispensed with masks when grocery shopping.

But all this was conditional. Clif and I are firm believers in science and data, and we continued to keep track of the Covid numbers. We decided that if the numbers rose, then our behavior would change. Unfortunately, the numbers rose. Our masks, tucked away, came back out, and we have been wearing them whenever we go shopping or to any other indoor place.

On a happier note…as I mentioned in a previous post, our eldest daughter Dee has come to stay with us until her office calls her back in. For now, she can work remotely, and we are thrilled to have her here.

But what to do on days off? Going inside with bunches of people no longer seems like a swell idea. However, never fear! We hit upon a solution that is both safe and fun—picnics. While central Maine does not have the dramatic beauty of the coast, there are still pleasing spots to enjoy that feature fields, rivers, and hills.

One such spot in nearby Hallowell overlooks the Kennebec River. There’s a small waterfront park that has jaunty chairs dotting a long boardwalk.  Perfect for a picnic lunch, and perfect for watching the river and the wildlife that thrives there.

So on Saturday, a beautiful sunny day that was not too hot, we headed to Hallowell. Other people, it seems, had the same idea.

Who’s that guy in the front? Could it be Clif?

Here’s a view of the river going north,

with mallards resting by the water’s edge.

We also saw ospreys, which were flying too high for the wee camera to get a good photo.

And even more exciting, for the first time ever, I saw an Atlantic sturgeon, a big one about four or five feet long, jump not far from us. Too quick for a photo, but the image of that leaping prehistoric fish is embedded in my memory.

What a great way to start our season of picnics.

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Nifty posts from some of the lovely blogs I follow:

For daylily lovers, the Strafford County Master Gardeners Association blog features a post about John Hric, an Ohio gardener whose passion for daylilies has led not only to growing them, but also to breeding them.

From Canberra’s Green Spaces: Birds, beautiful birds. What could be better? How about tree kangaroos? Wowsah! This Mainer had never heard of tree kangaroos before.

Ju-Lyn, of Touring My Backyard, celebrates the changing seasons.

From Thistles and Kiwis, a week of small pleasures that included food and a trip to the museum to see an exhibition featuring surrealist art.

Horses, horses, horses! Derek J. Knight gets some great pictures of horses that are allowed to roam free.

Enter the Yellow Jackets

Life is not always idyllic at our home on the edge of the woods. True, we have trees and birds and a patio in our backyard where we can enjoy the cool mysterious green of the forest. But this year we also have yellow jackets, lots of them, swarming the hummingbird feeders and scaring away those whizzing beauties.

Here is how yellow jackets are described on The Home Depot website: “Yellow jackets are a type of wasp that typically live in the ground…Yellow jackets are extremely aggressive insects that are drawn mainly to sugary liquids and meats. Each insect stings multiple times and injects venom into its victim.”

No wonder the hummingbirds have stopped coming to the feeder!

Funny thing is, we have had hummingbird feeders for ten years or more, and we have never had a problem with yellow jackets.  Perhaps there is a nest nearby? Readers, if you have had a similar experience, please do share it in the comments section.

Yesterday afternoon, in an uncharacteristic act of bravery, I took down the feeders and moved them to the far edge of the yard. As I removed the feeders, there were lots of yellow jackets buzzing around, but Chance was on my side, and I escaped injury. The yellow jackets did not follow me. Instead, looking for the absent feeders, the yellow jackets circled the pole. I suppose they were wondering where their sweet cornucopia had gone.

Hummingbirds have been sitting forlornly on the post where the feeders once hung. As soon as the yellow jackets went away, which they did after a while, I hung up the feeders. I’m sure you can guess what happened. The yellow jackets zipped back faster than you could say “blueberry pie.” Away went the hummingbirds and down came the feeders again.

Fortunately, the bee balm is still in bloom in the back garden. Hummingbirds adore bee balm, which appropriately are a-buzz with bumble bees, who are not as fierce as yellow jackets.

Such is life in the backyard. I never hold it against animals or insects for doing what is, after all, in their best interest. The yellow jackets were looking for food, which they need to survive as all living creatures do. Bingo! They found a sweet, plentiful source.

That’s not to say that anything goes in the garden—if there were a ground nest of yellow jackets right by the patio, we would have to get rid of it. However, I do try to be as tolerant possible. When a bear raided a feeder with sunflower seeds, we took the feeder down for a couple of weeks, and the bear never came back. When a racoon raided the same feeder, we found a baffle that foiled the clever creature. Sometimes sterner measures must be taken, but we save those as a last resort.

Now to end on an up-note with a bit of beauty, another picture of these daylilies. I wish I knew their name. I think it might be “Summer Wine,” but if anyone knows differently, please tell me.

 

 

 

 

Another Scorchah

As the title of this post indicates, today is another hot one for Maine, complete with a heat advisory warning. The heat index values are projected to be from 95°F to 100°F. Because we live inland, I’ve no doubt we will be on the 100°F side of things.

Here was the temperature yesterday afternoon. Note: The thermometer is in the shade.

Recently, I read that more people die from heat than they do from cold. I was a little surprised to learn this, but after discussing it with Clif, I understood. With the cold, you can bundle up to keep warm, and small structures, ranging from igloos to tents, will trap body heat. Sleeping bags will keep you toasty even in frigid weather.

There is no real equivalency for coping with extreme heat.  It is true that insulation and building color make a difference, but they only go so far.  We human beings are not equipped to deal with high heat.

Except we have no choice. Temperatures are rising, and those of us who are older know from first-hand experience that the weather is much hotter now than it was when we were growing up. Those old days are gone, and we must cope, which no doubt will involve air conditioners for folks like us who never thought they’d need them.

From time to time I have wondered if Clif and I have been too extreme in our response to climate change. Unless there is some sort of emergency, we will not fly. We severely limit our driving. Rare is the day when we leave Winthrop—good thing we live in such a sweet little town with a great library, a grocery store, and a brewery that has become a gathering place. Every two weeks or so, we drive to Augusta, a small city and the state’s capital. We pick up things that we can’t get in Winthrop and meet with friends at a local café for coffee and tea. We have a farm share with our own Farmer Kev and receive bi-weekly deliveries of fresh veggies from his farm. Finally, we don’t eat beef (or any other meat), whose production is a huge source of greenhouse gas.

But with the heat wave that has hit the country, I realize we have not been too extreme. Rather, we are not extreme enough. We should replace our gas hot water heater with an electric one. We should add more insulation to the attic to help reduce the amount of fuel we use. We should replace all our windows, which are the original ones from when our fifty-two-year-old home was built. And topping the list of all those shoulds: We should be driving an electric car.

Scorching heat leads to sobering thoughts, and to lighten the tone, I’ll end with some pictures of flowers and my gardens, which are still looking their best. Somehow, even during this time of climate crisis, we can be delighted by flowers and things that grow.

 

Taking Stock: One Year into The Pandemic

Here we are, one year into the pandemic. Other bloggers are noting this anniversary and rightly so. Covid-19 is one of the seminal events of our lifetimes, affecting not only states, regions, or certain countries but also the entire world.

Did I see it coming? Yes, I did. Starting in January 2020, I was keeping close track of where the virus was and how fast it was spreading. When Covid-19 left China at the end of that month, I knew it would travel easily to the rest of the world. Planes, trains, and automobiles became friends of the virus. (Click here for NBC’s timeline of the pandemic.)

In February, I started preparing. I can smugly report that I stocked up on toilet paper and other essentials that became nearly impossible to find. We put up plastic shelving in my husband’s office, and the room soon came to resemble a grocery store. I like to think I wasn’t hoarding and instead was stock piling, but I know there can be a fine line between the two.

What I hadn’t anticipated was how long the pandemic was going to last. In my naivety, I expected Covid-19 to be gone by summer, much like the seasonal flu. How wrong I was. Despite what certain politicians initially wanted us to believe, Covid-19 is no seasonal flu. Instead, it is a new and deadly virus that our bodies are unprepared for.

The first week of March, Clif and I went into a personal lock-down. How lucky we are to have our own modest but snug home and pensions that  cover the necessities of life.  We could easily hunker down and stay safe.

But our eldest daughter Dee lives in New York City, which soon become one of the epicenters of the pandemic. Day and night, ambulances rushed patients to the hospitals, and in the background we could hear sirens wailing, one after another, when we spoke to her on the phone.

Again, luck was with our family. Despite having plenty of opportunities to be exposed to Covid-19, Dee, along with the rest of her office, somehow dodged the bullet. More good fortune: She can do her job from her own apartment. Sometime in March 2020, Dee’s office allowed everyone to work from home and has continued to do so.

Still, we worried terribly about her, and many is the time I wished Dee were with us in Winthrop instead of by herself in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn. But that woman has fortitude in spades and has weathered the pandemic with courage and resourcefulness.

Ditto for our North Carolina kids, Shannon and her husband Mike. North Carolina, so far away from Maine, was another Covid-19 hotspot, but Shannon and Mike were able to work from their apartment much of the time and thus far have not contracted this dreadful disease.

Hoo-boy! Worrying from afar is no fun. At all.

What to say about the rest of year? Holidays spent lonely and alone. Zoom calls serving as visits. Socially-distanced gatherings with friends on the patio. Masks, an essential accessory.

On a national level, it has been nothing less than a surreal experience as we watched politicians lie and deny and make a bad situation ever so much worse. You all know whom I’m talking about. History will not judge them kindly even if today they are still bloviating and lying and in the news.

This country endured a nail-biting election, a big lie about the outcome, a beautiful if subdued inauguration of a new president who has hit the ground running and is doing his best to get the country back on track.

Then, the assault on the Capitol. With horror and grief, we watched on the news as this horrible event happened in real time. Another impeachment followed by more lies and an acquittal.

What. A. Year.

However, there have also been bright spots. Essential workers—doctors, nurses, grocery store clerks, farmers, bakers, teachers, and many others—kept society running, often at great risk to themselves. Building on past research of other coronaviruses, scientists from many countries worked together and raced to find vaccines for Covid-19. And by gum they have. The roll-out has not been smooth. How could it be when our goal is to vaccinate the world? But great progress is being made.

Technology has been a blessing, a way to stay in touch with loved ones.

And you, my blogging friends, have also been a blessing. Near and far, you have helped keep me connected and sane.

I will end with this song by R.E.M. Oddly enough, despite this crucible of a year, I do feel fine.

The Weather Gods Laugh

This weekend, our friends Beth and John came over for a socially-distanced visit. The weather forecast had indicated that the temperature on both Saturday and Sunday would be in the mid-30s, which it was. Unfortunately, when Beth and John came on Saturday, there was also a brisk breeze, which made it just that much colder.

Here are Beth and John, bundled up.

With the cold, they could only stay an hour, but it sure was nice to see them. Naturally, we talked about the horrible events on Wednesday. How could we not speak of this day of infamy when it hasn’t even been a week since the mob stormed the Capitol? We are all still reeling.

Then the weather gods enjoyed having a little laugh at our expense. The weather on Sunday was still and sunny and thus felt much warmer even though it was still in the mid-30s.

A perfect day to walk down to the Upper and Lower Narrows Ponds, which are big and deep enough to be considered lakes. (I’ll write more about the Narrows in a future post.)

The sky was a brilliant blue that usually only comes in the winter in Maine. Here is a picture of a pine tree against the sky.

The lower Narrows, churned by a current that runs through a culvert under the road, still has a fair amount of open water.

Enough for a few ducks resting on a skim of ice.

The Upper Narrows, on the other hand, has a sweep of snowy ice. Friends who live on the shallow end have told me that folks have begun ice fishing.

A short walk, but a good one. So cozy to come back to a warm home, make a cup of tea, and have a nice long talk with our eldest daughter.

Technology is no substitution for seeing her in person, but it certainly is better than nothing.

 

 

 

 

No Friday Favorites this Week

After all that has happened in our country in the past two days, I simply don’t have it in me to share this week’s simple pleasures.

Clif and I did go for a walk yesterday, and I took this picture, which not only reflects Maine in January but also the way I feel right now.

However, this morning, on the phone, I had a jolly good rant with a friend and felt strangely cheered. This evening, we will have a another jolly good rant—via Zoom— with our children, and no doubt I will feel better still.

I do believe that right now is the time for completely inhabiting these uncomfortable feelings, for acknowledging the great damage that has been done to our country, damage that has been accumulating for many years. Gradually, emotions will settle down to be replaced by the resolve to vote, to speak up, to write letters.

And to also take heart from the positive changes afoot. Almost lost in the furor of Wednesday was the news that the citizens of Georgia elected two Democratic Senators—Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock, the first Black man elected as U.S. senator from Georgia. The state is changing in a very good direction.

If Georgia can change, then so can other states.

 

 

A Heartbreaking Day

Yesterday was a heartbreaking day for this country. A mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol as Senators and Representatives convened to count the presidential electoral votes and formalize the choice made by each state. Make no mistake: Joe Bidden was the winner in November’s election with a solid lead over Donald Trump. But the mob, egged on by Trump not long before they rioted, maintained that the election had been stolen and that they wanted to “take back America.”

As soon as we heard the news in the early afternoon, Clif and I were unable to focus on anything else. We turned on the television and watched in real time as the mob broke windows, looted, scaled walls, waved Confederate flags, took over Nancy Pelosi’s office, and snapped selfies of themselves as they committed what can only be called sedition. Later, in the New York Times, I saw a picture of a gallows the mob had erected.

Yes, we have had riots before in this country, and property and stores have been burned and looted, but never in my lifetime has a mob stormed the Capitol in an attempt to change the lawful results of an election. To my way of thinking, this puts yesterday’s event—an attempted coup—in a whole different category from previous riots, on par with countries that govern by dictatorship rather than by democracy.

Even the reporters, used to seeing many hard things, were shocked. An ABC reporter maintained that “history will remember January 6, 2021 as a day of infamy, the legacy of Donald Trump.”

While the Capitol police did a good job of protecting the Senators, Representatives, reporters, and other folks working there, they seemed woefully understaffed, and the mob more or less roamed at will for quite a while. Eventually the mob was cleared out. Some were arrested; most were allowed to go free. One woman was shot and killed. Others were injured. Pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails were found.

According to the New York Times, “Congress reconvened around 8 p.m. Eastern to certify the Electoral College results, and members of the National Guard from D.C. and Virginia were mobilized to prevent Trump supporters from entering the Capitol again.”

This time, the mob was foiled. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are officially the president and vice-president elect of the United States. Given there is no successful coup, Biden and Harris will be sworn in on January 20.

As for Trump? There are rumblings about removing him from office, but I will surprised if anything comes of that. I suppose it all depends on what he does between now and January 20. While Trump continues to falsely claim that the election was stolen from him, he promised there will be an orderly transition on January 20. That’s big of him, isn’t it? Well, we shall see.

Last night at the Capitol, Maine’s Senator Angus King spoke eloquently, and I will end with part of his speech: “We are a 240-year anomaly in world history. We think that what we have here in this country is the way it’s always been. It is a very unusual form of government. The normal form of government throughout world history is dictators, kings, czars, pharaohs, warlords, tyrants. And we thought 20 years ago the march of history was toward democracy, but it is in retreat in Hungary and Turkey, goodness knows in Russia. Democracy, as we have practiced it, is fragile. It’s fragile, and it rests upon trust. It rests upon trust in facts. It rests upon trust in courts. In public officials, and, yes, in elections…”

Wise words, and we would do well to heed them.

Unfortunately, a sizeable part of the population in this country does not, and what follows next remains to be seen.

 

A Satisfying Sunday

Sunday was one of those happy days where everything just chugged along in a quiet but satisfying way. In the morning, we Zoomed with “the kids.” It’s always wonderful to see their faces, especially since we won’t be seeing them in person until next summer at the earliest.

After Zoom and lunch, I made a lentil soup for our supper. My blogging friend Mr. Tootlepedal frequently makes lentil soup, and I vowed that as soon as the weather was cool enough, I would make some, too. Well, it’s October in Maine, and the weather is certainly cool enough now for lentil soup.

I follow a recipe from a Moosewood cookbook. I make modifications—that’s the kind of cook I am—but the results are always good. This soup that will be on a regular rotation for our supper until it gets too hot in the summer. Best yet, a serving size has a reasonable amount of carbs. It’s a hearty and filling soup with lots of spices. Perfect for a cool, fall evening.

Back before I lost weight—about 30 pounds ago—making soup would have pretty much done my knees in, and I would have had to rest before doing anything else. But losing that weight has put a new spring in my step, and after cleaning the kitchen, I was ready to head outside for a fall chore.

What to do? How about rake the driveway? Because we live in the woods, this must be done regularly when fall comes.

Before:

And afterward:

When I was done, I went out back to sit on the patio—something I won’t be able to do much longer. Naturally, I took my camera with me, and I was able to snap a picture of this fine fellow.

I think it is a purple finch, but I know house finches look similar. Any thoughts, blogging friends?

For the past week, this finch and his mate have been coming with a gaggle of fledglings, and how I love to watch those youngsters flutter and beg for food from the adults. I always have tender feelings for fledglings who look full size but are still immature and uncertain.

Right now, their parents feed them, but the day will soon come when the parents decided that it is time for the fledglings to feed themselves and make their own way in this wild, beautiful, dangerous world.

It is the way of things. But nonetheless it makes me teary eyed to think about it.