Category Archives: Food for Thought

Let’s Not Pretend

During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, different people handle it in different ways. Some people prefer to focus on nature and flowers. Others do yoga and meditate. Still others crochet and create. The really ambitious might do a combination of all these thing. What I do is read and write and try to make sense of what’s going on. It’s how I run. But any of these approaches are good.

However, what none of us should do is pretend that everything is all right, because it’s not. We are dealing with a world-wide pandemic that is swamping the medical community in many countries, and it’s my guess it will soon swamp the U.S.’s. In addition, soon there will most probably be a world-wide recession/depression as the economy comes to a halt.

Recently, a new term has popped up: Toxic positivity, the ridiculous notion that no matter how bad things are—your dog just died, then your best friend died, then your husband lost his job, then your mother-in-law died—you should smile, look on the bright side of life, and count your blessings.

Fifteen years ago, all those terrible things really did happen to me in the span of six months. And, yes, I was grief-stricken, depressed even. It eventually passed, as most grief does, and the time even came when I was happy again. But I had to go through my grief. I couldn’t go around it, or worse yet, pretend it didn’t exist.

I have a group of friends I have known for over twenty years. One friend’s mother is dying, and my friend can’t be with her mom because of the nursing home’s quarantine in response to the coronavirus. That same friend’s daughter is home from college, taking all her classes online. Another friend has a granddaughter who will be graduating from high school with no prom, no graduation party or ceremony, no last play, no last concert.

My friend with the dying mother wrote: “Emotions are hard for folks to keep in check with so many unknowns, but this is the world we have today. ”

Here was my response: “As for emotions…don’t deny them. They will have their way no matter what you do. Acknowledge the fear, grief, and panic you are feeling. Then, of course, do what you must do to keep things going.”

After having written the above, I want to emphasize that people should indulge in whatever simple pleasures they find soothing: flowers, nature, books, chocolate, comforting series, or movies. Or, in my husband Clif’s case, a bowl of potato chips at night. Whatever. When the world is in chaos, the spirit needs to be bolstered.

But let’s not ignore or minimize our fear, grief, or panic.

No good will come of it.

Coronavirus News from Maine

From Maine CDC

Maine’s number of cases of the coronavirus: 56

From the Portland Press Herald

Faced with a potential critical shortage of pandemic supplies – such as masks, shoe coverings, gloves and gowns – Maine hospitals are scrambling to conserve what they have, add supplies and keep workers healthy to treat COVID-19 patients.

From the Kennebec Journal

Wastewater treatment plant operators warn that flushing toilet paper substitutes is likely to clog sewer lines and could lead to costly repairs.

A Time Like No Other

Well, here we all are in the midst of a pandemic. In my memory, it is a time like no other. Schools and theaters are silent. The shelves in grocery stores are empty. Our town’s library is closed. Even 9/11, a horrible event, wasn’t this bad. People could still go out, meet each other, live their everyday lives. Schools weren’t shut. The library remained open. The coronavirus, a tiny but potentially deadly enemy, has taken away normalcy.

When the coronavirus struck China, I took note. Right from the start, it seemed to me that this was not business as usual, equivalent to, say, a cold or to the seasonal influenza. This particular virus, a novel virus, was something our bodies had never encountered and was terribly contagious. In addition, the mortality rate was much higher than the seasonal influenza. The numbers are still in dispute, but the death rate from the novel coronavirus is anywhere between 1% and 3%, compared with 0.1% from the seasonal influenza.

Even worse, perhaps, was the novel coronavirus’s rate of infection. It just swept through people, overwhelming hospitals and the medical community in China, making a bad situation even more lethal. Nevertheless, for a while in January, it looked as though China just might be able to contain the novel coronavirus. But no. Our society is too mobile. People travel from here to there without a thought, and cheap airfare encourages them to do so. We consider it our God-given right to go where we want whenever we want. Perfect conditions for a pandemic.

When the coronavirus spread to other countries, I knew it was only a matter of time before it would come to the U.S. Our mobile society all but guaranteed it.

Several weeks ago when the shelves were full, I stocked up on groceries and that precious material—toilet paper. A week or so ago, Clif and I began practicing social distancing, an unfamiliar term before the novel coronavirus. I felt a little foolish to turn down invitations to go out with friends, but I figured better safe than sorry.

I don’t feel foolish anymore now that the novel coronavirus has come to the United States. As it spreads daily, the novel coronavirus is something to be taken seriously. In fact, Clif and I consider it our civic duty to stay the heck away from other people. It is true that eventually we might become infected. However, if we can help it, we  want to avoid being part of the first wave of sick folks that overwhelms the medical community. What’s happening in Italy right now is heartbreaking. They didn’t take the coronavirus seriously and now  there are too many sick people and not enough supplies. This means many doctors are having to make decisions about who lives and who dies. Elderly people are dying without anyone to hold their hand.

Over the next few weeks or months or however long we stay home because of the novel coronavirus, I will be writing about how it has affected various aspects of our lives. Along with staying the heck away from other people, I feel it is my duty as a writer to face this horrible pandemic and to record my experience from the hinterlands.

But I will also continue to record what is going on in our very own backyard as winter turns to spring and the flowers begin to bloom. That is part of dealing with the virus, too. The return of life is a great consolation.

So dear blogging friends, stay safe, be well. And we will try to do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

Peak Ugliness, but Also Resilience and Sweetness

Here we are in March, which in Maine means peak ugliness. The snow is melting. There is mud. There are dirty snowbanks.

This little beauty is not far from our home.

See what I mean? I wasn’t exaggerating even one little bit about peak ugliness in Maine in March.

Flowers are still only a dream. Instead, we have last season’s dried remnants clinging to branches.

But, but, and but. I am an American, and even in this time of the novel coronavirus—whose true name is now SARS-CoV-2—and the terrible lies and incompetence coming from those at the top who should know and do better, I wanted to find something good in this God-awful month.

And, lo and behold: I did find something. Two somethings, actually.

Just up the road from us is a magnificent tree that was horribly damaged during the Great Ice Storm of 1998. After the ice storm, the tree looked as though it had been maimed. (Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the tree when it was in that sorry state.) Even though this tree is not on our land, we love it dearly and worried about it.

But twenty-two years later, the tree is thriving, beautiful in any season, even March.

Not far from this magnificent tree there are other smaller trees providing sap to a neighbor who taps them every year.

While March brings peak ugliness, especially this year, it also brings the running of sap, which in turn is boiled down to one of nature’s sweetest gifts—maple syrup.

Can pancakes be far behind?

 

 

 

Lessons from the Ice Storm of ’98: How I Learned to Stockpile

Twenty-two years ago, Maine was hit with the mother of all ice storms that lasted for two days and left three inches of ice on the branches. Guess what happens to trees that have ice that thick? Lord, how their branches crack and break! On the night of the second day of the storm, I lay in bed listening to what sounded like a nonstop volley of gunshots ringing through the woods around our house as branches came down. Reverting to my Catholic girlhood, I said my Hail Marys over and over, praying that our house would not be damaged by falling branches. Perhaps Mary heard my prayers because our house was spared.

But the storm left behind a terrible swath of destruction. More than half the state lost its power, and because the weather was so cold, restoring power was difficult. Lines would no sooner be repaired when more branches would fall and break the lines again. We were without power for eleven days, and as I have noted many times, because we have a well, no power means no water. In those days, we had five people in the house, and five people go through a heck of a lot of water.

Now, from reading recent posts where I write about being prepared for, say, other ice storms or a certain nasty virus, you might think I was completely ready for the ice storm of ’98. But you would be wrong. We had no extra water stored in buckets down cellar, no supply of canned soups, no extra propane for our camp stove, not much oil for our lamps. We did have plenty of wood for our furnace, but that’s only because that’s how we heated our house back then.

So we didn’t freeze, but we struggled with all the things we didn’t have, especially water. Fortunately, the town has a public water spigot where residents can get water in a crisis such as this, but because of the treacherous roads, we couldn’t get out for a while. In addition, we weren’t caught up with our laundry as well as many other small things we take for granted when we have power.

We made do. What choice did we have? But for a while, the toilets were hideous, and we parceled out every drop of liquid we drank. As we struggled through the aftermath of the storm, I vowed we would never be caught flat-footed again. Going forward, we would have a stockpile of food, water, and supplies to help us get through emergencies big and small.

I have kept my vow. We now have a stockpile of supplies that have served us well. There have been other storms and other power outages. In 2017 we had a violent windstorm that again knocked out power to half the state, and we were without electricity for a week. (Many rural Mainers have a generator. We’ve thought about it but have not yet bought one and so far manage pretty well.)

The Coronavirus is a different type of crisis, but I am using similar methods to prepare. I know some people are probably shaking their heads when they read about how we have four or five months worth of toilet paper, facial tissues, peanut butter, and other necessities. When I look at our stockpile of treats, even I feel a little foolish. But I also feel secure knowing I have prepared the best I can for this virus.

I’ll conclude by sharing what Rhonda wrote on her excellent blog Down to Earth: “It does make sense to have extra food and medications at home to cover you if you need them. Worst case scenario, the virus will run through the community… and you’ll have enough food at home to feed everyone without having to go out. Best case scenario, the virus is a fizzer and you’ll have a cupboard full of food and you won’t have to shop for groceries for a couple of months. Win/win.”

Exactly.

As Clif’s photo illustrates, the ice storm of ’98 left us with beauty as well as destruction.

 

 

Brooding about Politics and Coronavirus

“It appears we are in the chaos that churns in between more stable eras.”  –Heather Cox Richardson

As an American, I know I have a cheerful reputation to maintain, especially for my blogging friends across the pond. And mostly I am pretty cheerful, no small thing for someone who worries. A lot. But there you are—we all have contradictions, and for the most part, I am a worried optimist.

However, lately events have come together to leave me completely frazzled, worn out. First and foremost, there is politics. Between the Democratic primaries and Trump’s responses, everything is on full screech. What got us to this point has been building over the years and isn’t likely to go away soon, but how I wish this country would regain its footing. Everything feels off-kilter to me, off balance. And oh so ugly.

Therefore, when something like, say, the Coronavirus comes along, it makes everything feel even more unbalanced. I know. The virus isn’t supposed to be that bad, no worse than a usual cold or a mild case of the flu, at least for most people. (Some people have indeed died from it.)

But do I have any faith in the leadership at the top to steer us safely through what will more than likely be a pandemic, however mild it might be? No, I don’t. So I do what I can on a small scale. I have a nice stockpile of supplies, and because I am someone who is, ahem, more than a little food obsessed, this makes me feel secure. Dry milk, cereal, canned pineapple? Check. Green lentils, plenty of chocolate, and eggs? Ditto. If things go to heck in a hand-basket—and I sure hope they don’t—we are well stocked. If things don’t go to heck in a hand-basket, then I won’t have to go grocery shopping for quite a while. No harm in that.

Along with having plenty of food, I also live in a beautiful place. For me, the Maine landscape always provide great solace—the blue of the sky, the trees in every season, even when the branches are bare, the hushed feeling of the winter-white woods, the lush green ferns. Every season brings something different. All I have to do is look out my windows to see it.

So I’ll end with a picture of a tree by the town’s public beach, about a mile from our house. Right now, the tree is stark against the sky, but soon spring will come, and with it buds. Then green leaves to provide shade in the summer followed by a glorious burst of fall colors. The leaves drop, and we are back to dark branches against blue sky. A lovely cycle to console me.

 

 

 

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.