Category Archives: Food for Thought

In Praise of Decency and Hard Work

In the United States, this long weekend is Labor Day Weekend, a time to honor those who, well, labor. In the United States, many people work extremely hard, and hats off to them for all that they do to keep this country running—the teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, librarians, shop workers, volunteers, those who work at home, the caregivers. I could go on and on and have left many out.  For those at the very top who sponge so much out of society, I hope they appreciate the hard work that keeps them in place. (Snarky, I know, but appropriate for this time of widening inequality in the United States.)

Labor Day weekend is also a time when we bid a bittersweet farewell to summer. Yes, autumn is lovely, and there is much to look forward to, but barbecues and patio time are coming to an end.

Accordingly, we invited our friends Judy and Paul over for a barbecue on Saturday. Judy is a pie maker extraordinaire, and she brought over a raspberry pie for dessert. I nearly jumped for joy when I saw the pie because although I’m keen on all kinds of berries, raspberries are my favorite. As my 60th birthday is coming right up, I immediately proclaimed that this pie was a birthday pie. What then could Judy do but leave the leftovers with us? However, as she told me that she had two peach pies at home, I figured I was, in fact, doing Judy a favor by keeping the leftover raspberry pie. Or so I tell myself.

For the main meal we had potato salad made with sour cream and turkey bacon; chicken breasts marinated in a lemon, garlic, olive-oil  mixture and brushed with a mustard sauce; and corn drizzled with brown butter. Farewell, farewell sweet summer.

Over dinner, one of the topics that came up was the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. So many stories of brave, selfless people helping each other without regard for income, skin color, or ethnicity. Pets were rescued, too, which I found particularly cheering.

For the past week, I had been thinking about the heroism in Texas and about how people really do pull together during catastrophes. Now, if we could just do the same thing when there isn’t a catastrophe, in everyday life.

I mentioned this to Paul and Judy.

“Everyday life is hard,” Judy said.

So it is. Most of us can rise to the occasion and be our better selves during a flood or an ice storm or a tornado. But when things settle down, self interest, pettiness, and even greed too often kick in. While we all need to take care of ourselves and our families, it is very easy to cross the line to selfishness, begrudging others what we think we should have as a matter of course. In short, we have trouble being consistently decent to each other.

Decency, a humble concept, is hard work, something that must be continually applied not only to other people but also to how we treat animals, the earth, the water, the air.

Somehow, thinking about hard work and decency seems appropriate for Labor Day Weekend.



Three Brave Republicans Save the ACA—At Least for Now

In yesterday’s post, I had indicated that today I would wrap up the movie reviews from last week’s Maine International Film Festival. However, last night’s vote in the U.S. Senate regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA)  made me change my mind. I just have to write, at least a little, about an issue that is important not only to me but also to millions of people in this country.

For those of us who depend upon the Affordable Care Act, what a weird, scary ride it has been since last November and especially this week. A headline from a recent article in the New York Times captures the way so many of us feel: “The war in Congress over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has brought anxiety to the people whose health insurance is at risk.”

Oh, that is to put it mildly. I have been in turmoil about this because  if the Republicans succeed in repealing the ACA, there is no Plan B for me. My husband is retired, and I would not be able to afford health insurance without the ACA. This means I would go without health insurance for a few years until I qualify for Medicare. As a cancer survivor, that is one terrifying thought.

This past week saw the issue brought to a fever-pitch in the U.S. Senate as Republicans did their best to repeal and replace the ACA. (Need I add that the replacement still would have deprived millions of health insurance?) The Republicans hold the Senate by the slimmest majority, and it would take the defection of three Republican senators to stymie their repeal plans. There were two stalwarts—Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and our own Susan Collins of Maine. (Bless her!) One more Republican was needed, and truthfully, I was not optimistic as the Senate voted last night on what was called “skinny repeal.”

But wonder of wonder, John McCain, from Arizona, returned to his maverick roots and  joined Collins and Murkowski in voting no. This was especially poignant as McCain has been recently diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer and had surgery about a week ago.

Who knows where the ACA will go next? But, for now, anyway, those three Republicans have ensured that millions of people will get affordable health insurance and thus affordable health care. Collins, Murkowksi, and McCain must have been under tremendous pressure. Hats off to them for not bending under that pressure.

In honor of those three Republicans as well as the forty-eight Democrats who held strong, here are some pictures of flowers from my gardens.

A day to give thanks, that’s for sure.


An Illuminating Week

Last week was a week of illumination, where I learned so much and also had so much fun. I guess you could call it a nearly perfect week of good movies, good food, a wonderful play, a fine lecture, and time spent with my nephew and daughter. Who could ask for anything more?

Once again, I am grateful that we live in a rural area with lakes, rolling hills, and forests yet also have access to plays, art, lectures, and independent movies. This definitely falls under the category of having the best of both worlds. We are also three hours away from Boston and seven hours away from New York City. In short, central Maine rocks.

First, the food. When Dee comes for a visit, one of her favorite meals is a waffle breakfast. I know this is bragging, but Clif’s homemade waffles are pretty darned good. We bring the waffle maker and batter to the dining room table, and out the waffles come, hot and fresh. This time, for sides, we had fresh strawberries and veggie sausages. (Dee is a vegetarian.) We had this breakfast not once, but twice.

Dee is a pizza hound as well as a movie buff, and it seems this pairing is not unusual. Next to Railroad Square Cinema is Grand Central Cafe, which makes pizza in a wood-fired brick oven. I am not a pizza hound, but I have to admit that Grand Central’s pizzas are very tasty.  The pizza featured below, which Clif and I shared, had cheddar, chicken, mushrooms, and barbecue sauce and was served piping hot.

And as far as Clif is concerned, pizza and beer go together the way chocolate and peanut butter do. This particular beer came from Bar Harbor.

Now for the illumination. Colby College, a liberal arts college with an incredible art museum that has become a destination, is a major sponsor of the Maine International Film Festival (MIFF). This year, in conjunction with MIFF showing one of Disney’s most beautiful, films—Bambi—Colby hosted a lecture called “Bambi and the Art of Tyrus Wong” presented by the filmmaker and animation historian John Canemaker.

I had never heard of Tyrus Wong (1910-2016), a Chinese immigrant who suffered poverty, discrimination, lack of recognition, and at a young age, the loss of his mother. Despite the hardships, Wong became an animator extraordinaire who worked on Walt Disney’s Bambi. Wong’s luminous, Asian approach of soft, blended backgrounds enhanced the vivid, memorable characters in this movie.

During the lecture, I also learned that Bambi was based on Felix Salten’s 1923 Austrian novel, Bambi, a Life in the Woods. When I came home, I Googled Felix Salten and discovered that his book “was  one of the first environmental novels ever published.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend MIFF’s presentation of the movie Bambi, a 35mm Academy Archive print shown on the huge screen at the Waterville Opera House. It meant leaving our dog buddy Liam unattended for too long.

Ah, well! I really can’t complain as I learned two things I didn’t know about—the animation of Tyrus Wong and the Austrian writer Felix Salten.

And I saw some first-rate movies, which I’ll write about tomorrow.

A Sad Fourth of July

Tomorrow—July Fourth—is a big day for our country,  a time to celebrate its birthday. Accordingly, there will be parades, picnics, barbecues, and fireworks.

We will be having friends over for an appetizers and salad party, where Clif will make his legendary grilled bread. I’ve made a homemade vanilla ice cream pie, and I’ll drizzle blueberry and strawberry preserves over the slices for a touch of red and blue to go with the white.

I wish I could write that I am approaching this holiday with excitement and joy, but I am not. Never, since I have been politically aware—a necessary qualifier—have I seen the U.S. in such a terrible state,  with a leader who feels perfectly comfortable tweeting about women and blood and a congress gleefully intent on stripping millions of people of health care while giving huge tax breaks to the rich. In short, it is heartbreaking to see what this country has become.

I know. We’ve been in dark places before, and we’ve somehow manage to work our way out of them.  So perhaps we will  be able to shake off the greed, hate, nastiness, and fear that has gripped this country and emerge better and wiser. But, of course, there are no guarantees.

Therefore in sadness and in hope, I am posting a picture of this lily, a lone survivor of lily beetles and marauding  skunks intent on finding grubs.

May this country survive its marauders and bloom, bloom, bloom.


To Manchester and England, My Heart Goes Out to You

Today’s post is dedicated to Manchester, England. The bombing of the arena was a horrible thing to do.  As someone who lives in the United States, I know all too well how such an attack can rattle the whole country. (On September 11, 2001, I had a daughter in New York City and in Washington, DC. It is a day I will never forget.)

As is the case with all such attacks, the Manchester bombing was just plain evil, bringing tragedy, pain, and death to what should have been a joyful event. I suppose that was the whole point. But what a vile, cowardly act to target children.

The one consoling note to this catastrophe was hearing on the radio about the kindness and generosity of the people who live in Manchester.  A cab company gave free rides to shaken survivors. People took strangers into their home. There is indeed a coming together when such a tragic event occurs.

What follows will be a time of grieving and sorrow.

Manchester, my heart goes out to you.


What Can You Do Without?

Earth Day was on Saturday, but as I mentioned in my previous post, I make every effort to “honor Earth Day in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

By American standards, Clif and I live modest lives. We eat little meat, we only have one car,  and we put a lot of thought into our purchases. We don’t buy willy-nilly. (I also realize that we are blessed with many things—running water, electricity, toilets—that other people don’t have, and I am very, very grateful for these conveniences.)

However, as I discovered when reading a current piece by Melissa Breyer in TreeHugger, there is plenty more we could be doing to lead a more Earth-friendly life. The title of Breyer’s piece is “10 Things Not to Replace Once They’re Used Up or Broken.”

Here is the list:

  1. Microwave Oven
  2. Ziploc Bags
  3. Liquid Soap
  4. Keurig Coffee Maker
  5. Plastic Food Storage Containers
  6. Wet Wipes
  7. Non-Stick Pans
  8. Scented Cleaning Products or Air Fresheners
  9. Toxic Personal Care Products
  10. Disposable Plates, Cups, and Utensils

For some of these items, Clif and I pass with flying colors (Numbers 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10). Others, not so much. But it is all food for thought, so to speak, and throughout the year I will be considering the other items on the list, one at a time, so that it is less daunting to make the change. Baby steps. And I’m going to be honest about Number 1—I really like my microwave, and I use it for all sorts of things. Therefore that suggestion has a big “maybe” beside it on my own personal list.

A note about Number 10—Disposable Plates, Cups, and Utensils. Clif and I rarely eat out, and when we do, we usually go to restaurants that have reusable cutlery and plates. We always say no thank-you to straws, and we seldom order more than what we can eat in a setting. However, we have friends who love taking home leftovers from restaurants, and they bring their own reusable containers to eliminate waste.  What a great idea!

That particular tip wasn’t mentioned on Breyer’s list, but no list will be complete.

Also missing was the suggestion to give up a clothes dryer. When ours broke, several years ago, we decided not to fix it, to see if we could do without. As it turned out, we could do without just fine. There are only two of us, and from spring through fall, I hang laundry on the line outside. In the winter, I have racks in the basement, where everything, including sheets, goes to dry. Clif teases me about my Rube Goldberg arrangement of racks, but I suspect that he’s secretly impressed with the set-up.

When the girls were little, I’m not sure we could have managed without a clothes dryer. However, as now there are only two of us, we don’t miss the clothes dryer at all and have no plans to buy a new one.

How about you, readers? What have you given up? What could you give up?



April Fools? Au Contraire!

Here was the view from our front porch this morning.

Mother Nature’s quite the trickster, isn’t she? Now, if this had come in, say, February or even mid-March, no problem. But in April? Sigh.

All right. In the spirit of my blog friends who celebrate Three Things Thursday, where they share three things they are grateful for, I’m going to celebrate Six for Saturday.

  1.  We only got four or so inches of snow rather than the twelve predicted. This is something to be wildly grateful for because this April 1 snow is wet and very heavy. There’s a good chance that twelve inches would have knocked the power out in many central Maine homes, including ours.
  2. It’s pretty. The snow clinging to the trees makes our yard and road look like a winter wonderland. Even if it is technically spring and April 1 to boot. But wait. Here I am, sliding into ungratefulness. How easy is the slide.
  3. We are warm and snug in our home, and Clif and I will be making bean soup this afternoon in preparation for friends who are coming over tomorrow.
  4. The mud and grit outside are temporarily covered, which means we don’t track in much when we go in and out of the house.
  5. We have four more seasons to go of the television series The Walking Dead, my newest obsession.
  6. My blog friends from Fernwood Nursery sent me a book—many thanks!—and this will be the perfect afternoon to read it.

Despite the snow, there is much to be grateful for.