Category Archives: Food for Thought

The Overlooked, the Unnoticed, the Underappreciated

Last night was a cold one. When I got up this morning, the house was a chilly 55°F, and outside it was even chillier—dead calm and two below zero.

It was cold enough for a frosty garden on the storm window in my bedroom.

But by the time I went outside to take more pictures—around 10:00 a.m.—the temperature had risen to 18°F.  Not balmy, to be sure, but  warm enough to take pictures without wearing gloves.

As many readers know, we live in the woods, and in the winter little cones, twigs, leaves, and branches are blown into the snow. Easy to pass by without seeing their modest beauty.

While I love scenic photography as much as the next person, I have always been interested in nature’s small vignettes—the overlooked, the unnoticed, the underappreciated.

Imagine my delight, then, when thanks to John Poole’s piece on NPR, I came across the photographer Janelle Lynch.

At first glance, you might see a jumble of weeds, a thicket of twigs, a heap of dying leaves. You might be inclined to stop looking at this point.

Janelle Lynch invites you to look closer, and slower. She’d want you to see each image as a world in itself — not an accidental grouping of plant matter, but a well-ordered composition created by nature and fixed in time and space by her 8-by-10-inch large-format camera.

Her implicit message is that one needs only to be still, take your time and pay close attention to find the beauty that surrounds you. But, like meditation, this seemingly simple act is often more difficult than it appears.

How I was drawn by Lynch’s exquisite photos, and how I would love to have a bigger camera, which would allow me to take better pictures.

But I have the camera I have, and despite its small size, my wee camera does a pretty good job of capturing nature’s tiny delights. Therefore, out I will go in weather cold, mild, and hot, looking for the overlooked and making do with what I have. After all, that is the Maine way.

I will, of course, also take pictures that are broader in scope, to give readers a sense of what central Maine is like. But Lynch has inspired me to continue following my inclination for the small.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…March

By Maine standards, we are having an extremely mild winter. While we have had a cold day here and there, for the most part the weather has been in the 30s and 40s, not at all typical for Maine in January and now February.

We haven’t had much snow, either, and in sunny spots in town, the snow is pretty much gone. Because we live in the woods, we still have some snow, but it has pulled away from the road, and it seems that we are in late March rather than February.

Readers, it is just plain weird to have weather like this in Maine in mid-winter.

Here is a picture of our road taken in February of last year.

Here is a picture taken yesterday when Clif and I went on a Sunday walk up the road.

As you can see, there is quite a difference. Now, for those who live in a warmer climate, it might seem strange to complain about weather that is still chilly but is warmer than usual for this time of year. And to mourn the lack of snow.

But I was born in Maine and have lived here for most of my sixty-two years. To me, winter means snow and cold, and it feels wrong to have it otherwise. One mild winter by itself would not be a cause for concern, but I am old enough to remember when we did not have ticks, Japanese Beetles, cardinals, or red-bellied woodpeckers. Lots of changes in sixty years.

There are some good things about a mild winter. The ice on the sidewalks and driveways is mostly gone, and it is easier to get around. Warmer weather also makes it less expensive to heat the house, and this is a blessing for those of us who live on a tight budget

On one hand, on the other hand. We humans love to weigh things and make comparisons, to note the bad and the good.

But some of us wonder what it will be like ten years from now, in Maine and around the world.

 

Living in Place

For a New Year’s resolution, Clif and I have made a plan to use our car less and thus reduce our carbon emmissions. Our intention is to cut 1,000 miles from our yearly total, which was 7,800 last year.

Because we live in a rural community with no public transportation, a car is a necessity for us.  We must drive to the grocery store, and we must travel to sell books. Nevertheless there are plenty of ways to cut back, and one way is to become more involved with our town—Winthrop—which has a fantastic library and a new brewery, both of which sponsor many events each month. (This Friday night at the brewery is trivia night. Yes, we will be there.)

Another way is to go for walks and appreciate the natural beauty of the town itself, including our very own wooded road.

Whatever the season, there is something to notice. Sometimes the trees even look back.

As we walk, the crows are always watching. I was lucky to snap a picture of these two before they flew away.

Then there are the brown leaves on the winter trees,

and the little stream that winds through the woods not far from where we live.

I call this kind of close attention “living in place,” and it seems to me that focusing on what is nearby is a kind of meditation, which, in turn, can lead to an abiding of love of where one lives—town, city, country, or suburb.

In this time of climate crisis, a love of place is of utmost importance. Because in the end, we pay attention to what we love. We nurture it. We take care of it. We don’t destroy it.

Viewed in this light, living in place might be the most important thing a person can do.

Welcome, 2020!

As my mother-in-law, Ethel, would have put it, the holidays went by in a mad dash. We had lots of fun, but I will admit to being more than a little tired. Never mind! Plenty of time to rest in January, which, believe it or not, is one of my favorite months. I love the snow and the quiet and the clarity of the light.

I was too busy to take pictures during Christmas, but on the last day of the year, it snowed and things slowed down. (Shannon, sorry you missed this. I know how much you like cozy days.)

We started the day with waffles and veggie sausages. I realize this is bragging, but Clif makes the best waffles. Ever.

Here is the master by his machine.

Then there was the snow, to make everything feel snug and warm inside. We had just the right amount—about five or six inches—and clean up was easy.

Here are some more snowy pictures.

Ending with some snowy frogs.

For some reason, I am starting 2020 with a hopeful feeling. I know. I know. Australia is burning—oh so terrible!—and the politics of hate, racism, and lies continue to rage in this country as well as around the world. Nevertheless, I feel hope stirring inside me.

Maybe it’s because today I have read several pieces where other writers have felt the same way. Or because a very good friend did something so cool I would have jumped for joy if my creaky knees had allowed.

Or maybe it’s because on New Year’s Eve, we timed Avengers: End Game so perfectly that at the stroke of midnight, Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, snapped his fingers. At which point, the evil Thanos and all his minions blew away. (I’m not going to put too fine a point on the symbolism of this.)  But it was indeed a thrill to have those snapping fingers precisely at midnight at the dawn of a new decade with a number that implies clarity.

Who knows why I’m feeling this spark of hope? But I am. And for a while, anyway, I will be sharing hopeful things on my blog.

Happy 2020 to you all, dear blogging friends. I look forward to reading all your wonderful posts in the upcoming year.

From Baby Yoda to Waiting in Line

My Christmas shopping is nearly done, but after watching The Mandalorian, I was keen to buy some Baby Yoda T-shirts for my nerdy family, from my husband to my daughters to my son-in-law to my nephew.  (I was even going to sneak one in for myself.)

Is it any wonder that we all wanted a shirt with this adorable child?

I had read the T-shirts were available at our local Kohl’s, and that’s  where I went.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t successful. Although there were many Star Wars shirts available, there was nary a one with Baby Yoda.

Another woman was looking carefully through the stacks of folded T-shirts, and I asked, “Have you seen any with Baby Yoda?”

She shook her head. “No. That’s what I’m looking for, too.”

“Bet they sold out,” I said sagely.

“Yeah,” she agreed with a sigh. “Probably on black Friday.”

We continued to look through the folded shirts and then shrugging philosophically, we conceded defeat.

I did find other goodies, and I had to wait to pay in a line that really wasn’t too long. However, with only three registers open, the line moved slowly. Being a mother, I am used to waiting, and it takes more than standing in line for fifteen or twenty minutes to fluster me.

This was not the case for the woman behind me. I could hear her complaints before she even reached the line.

“In the old days, it wasn’t like this. Service has gone downhill. I’m not patient. I hate waiting. You’d think at this time of year they would have more cashiers. This is awful. What’s the matter with them?”

Her companion, a man, agreed placidly, “Yup.”

On and on the complaints went, and the man was either a saint or a fool.  His unruffled good humor never waned as he agreed with her.

Finally, she said to me, “Don’t you hate waiting in line?”

“No,” I said in a tone that brooked no further discussion. “It doesn’t bother me.”

I could have said more. If the woman hadn’t been so busy grousing, she might have noticed that one of the cashiers, a young man, had a luminous personality that on a scale of one to ten was fifteen. His goodwill flowed from customer to customer, even though he pretty much had to say the same things over and over. It didn’t matter. He greeted each customer afresh, as though it were the first time that he had ever done this.

One register over, there was an elderly lady in a wheel chair, and she  was buying lots of glassware that had to be wrapped. The manager came over to help the cashier, and I was struck by their patience and kindness. As they wrapped, they chatted and smiled, and the elderly lady went away smiling, too. I can only hope that I will be treated with such care if I am ever in a wheel chair.

Eventually the complaining woman took her complaining self to the register with the charismatic young man, who thanked her for letting him know that she was upset.

Now, I am aware that there are times when we should complain, but having to wait in line for twenty minutes is not one of them.

In all fairness, I must admit that in the past, I have complained about trivial things. But the next time I’m tempted to do this, I will keep that griping woman in mind and remember how much she missed.

 

 

 

 

Giving Thanks for the Courageous Men and Women Who Speak Out

In the United States, next Thursday is Thanksgiving, a holiday that is not without controversy. I expect for Native Americans, the arrival of the Pilgrims was not something to celebrate. Yet to set aside a day to give thanks is not a bad thing, and that is what we focus on while not forgetting the past.

Because we are vegetarians, we don’t eat the traditional Thanksgiving turkey. Instead, I will make stuffed shells, something we all love. I have never cared much for traditional Thanksgiving food, and to my way of thinking, stuffed shells are a big improvement.

However, I will still be making pumpkin bread, a favorite in this house.

I have already put together—made is probably too grand a word—a peppermint ice cream pie with hot fudge. Waiting for Thanksgiving, it sits in the freezer.

Our daughter Dee, from New York, will be coming to Maine on Tuesday to join us. (Unfortunately, our North Carolina daughter and son-in-law live too far away to come home for this short holiday weekend.) As always, it will be great to have Dee here, and we will have a jolly time of movies and good things to eat. Therefore, I will be taking a week off from the blog and will return on November 25.

Because this is a blog about home, books, friends, and living in place, I don’t often mention politics. However, longtime readers will know that I am a progressive who, like many others, has been incredibly pained by the direction this country has taken with the election of President Trump.  For the past three years, I have felt battered by the coarse language, the hatred, and the actions coming from those at the top.

This week there were impeachment hearings investigating President Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine. Brave men and women from the State Department have stepped forward to testify, revealing a pattern of an abuse of power from those who should not only know better but also do better.

The men and women who have testified have received dire threats and still they speak out. To these courageous women and men, I give thanks. Their bravery shines forth as an example, urging us all to hold on to our convictions even when it might be dangerous for us to do so.

 

 

 

After the Storm

Early this morning, a fierce storm blew up the coast of Maine, knocking out power to more than 217,000 homes. (A notable percentage in a state that has a little over one million people.) In coastal communities, especially in southern Maine, trees came crashing down, roads were filled with debris, and schools were closed.

In central Maine, where we live, there was wind and rain, but the storm lost steam as it came inland. As far as I can tell, there are no widespread power outages in our area, and there was nary a flicker of lights at our cozy house in the woods.

We knew the storm was coming, and we were ready. The larder is well stocked with cans of baked beans, soup, cookies, crackers, and peanut butter. We have a little camp stove to heat the soup and beans.  In our cellar, we have big covered buckets filled with water because for us, no power means no water. Fortunately, we did not have to resort to our stash of storm supplies.

I am an ocean person, and once upon a time, I longed to live closer to the coast so that I could go for frequents walks on the beach. Not anymore. In these days of climate crisis, the storms along the Maine coast have gotten stronger and more frequent. Once upon a time, when I was young, October in Maine used to be a placid month, known more for its brilliant foliage than for powerful storms that would surge up the coast and take down trees. But for the past several years, October has been a month that has brought at least one corker of a tempest that has knocked out power, primarily in the southern part of the state right by the sea.

Occasionally, in central Maine, we get hit, but not with anywhere near the frequency that southern Maine and the coast do. I am glad I live sixty miles inland, and even if I suddenly came into money, I would not move closer to the ocean. Sad, especially for someone like me who loves the sea, but this is our new reality.

Around our house, the wind—thank goodness—did not take down any trees, but it did take down more than a few leaves, and there is now a carpet rather than a sprinkle.

Some of the trees are downright bare.

But a peak through branches at our house reveals that despite the wind and rain, there are lovely leaves left on some of the trees.

And best yet, the crickets are still singing.