Category Archives: People

Paul Johnson: A Celebration of Life

In March, our friend Paul Johnson died. In the 1990s, I met Paul through his wife Barbara. She was a dear friend, and we spent many happy hours discussing books. In 2005, Barbara died—far too soon—and I still miss her.

After Barbara died, Paul remarried, and I became friends with his new wife, Judy. They had many wonderful years of traveling together. Then Paul was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and gradually the traveling came to an end. Throughout Paul’s long illness, Clif and I visited often, bringing treats such as apple crisp, oatmeal squares, and cake. Now with Paul’s death, it feels like the end of an era.

Yesterday, at Absolem Cider Company in Winthrop-–about five miles from where we live—friends and family gathered together for a celebration of Paul’s life. Paul, a forester, loved the rural life, and Absolem Cider Company was the perfect place for such a gathering.

This description from Absolem’s website captures the rustic charm of the Cider Company: “Our farmhouse cidery and nascent orchard is located along the western side of the Cobbosseecontee Lake nestled between dense woods, and rolling farmland. A short distance from the neighboring towns of Augusta and Gardiner along the Kennebec River that cuts through the heart of Maine.”

Here are some pictures of this beautiful place. Unfortuantely, the day was grey and rainy, and they don’t do justice to  the simple elegance of Absolem Cider Company.

The restored timber-frame barn from the outside

and from the inside, where old and new meet.

There’s also a picnic area for sunnier days when food trucks come.

And best of all, chickens.

After a tasty buffet, various people spoke about Paul. Among them were his son, Alan, who told about Paul’s passion for pigeons, and Paul’s friend Gary, who marveled over Paul’s skill with a chainsaw.

I, spoke, too. I related how one day, Paul stopped by with his chainsaw.

“Laurie,” he said, “some of those trees around your house need to come down.”

Indeed they did. As I have mentioned many times, we live on the edge of the woods, and not to put too fine a point on it, neither Clif nor I are skilled at taking down trees.

Without hesitation I said, “Go for it, Paul.”

And down those trees came.

I also spoke about Paul’s grace and courage and acceptance in dealing with a terrible disease that slowly, slowly takes away so much. Paul never complained, and he did what he could for as long as he could. An example for us all as we age and deal with an inevitable diminishment of some sort.

Finally, Clif and I fell in love with Absolem Cider Company. We had always wanted to stop by but somehow never had. We sampled their wine and thought it was delicious. We admired the lovingly restored barn, which is worthy of being featured on the television show This Old House. We plan on returning sometime soon, perhaps on Father’s Day weekend.

This was a wonderful celebration of life for an old friend. We miss him very much.


Spring & In Memorium: Jason Kay

Snow-Gauge Clif

Spring is tiptoeing into central Maine. I won’t say that we are bursting with blooms yet. We will have to wait another few weeks for that in this area. But the snow is nearly gone from our yard by the edge of the woods, and this will be Snow-Gauge Clif’s last week to measure the melting snow in 2023.

It’s always astonishes me how quickly the snow goes away. About a month ago, on March 6, this is what the front yard looked like.

This is what it looks like now.

Last month.


Here is the backyard last month.

And here it is yesterday.

Snow-Gauge Clif, we’ll see you in 2024!


In Memorium: Jason Kay

A week ago, the blogging community lost a beautiful spirit—Jason Kay of Garden in the City. For the past few years, Jason had been sick with pancreatic cancer. Chemo kept the cancer at bay for a while, but at the beginning of 2023, it became clear that the chemo was no longer working, and Jason decided to stop treatment.

Jason’s family has written a lovely memorial piece about him. By clicking on the link in the paragraph above, you can read about Jason, about his love of gardens and his dedication to social justice, to making our country a better place for all people.

I had the great good fortune of meeting Jason and his wife, Judy. In October 2021, they came to Maine for a visit and to our home on the edge of the woods for a socially-distanced lunch on the patio. Alas, my gardens are not at their best in October. But never mind! It was a beautiful, warm sunny day, and we had a delightful time talking and getting to know each other. Clif, of course, made his legendary grilled bread.

Here is a picture of Judy and Jason in our backyard.

Judy and her family plan to update Jason’s wonderful blog: “[W]e hope you’ll stay as we continue to post occasional updates and photos of the garden and our family. As mentioned in an earlier post, we have hired a wonderful garden service, Vivant Gardens, to help maintain the garden.”

If you haven’t visited Garden in a City, please consider doing so. I have learned a lot about gardening from Jason, and I have marvelled at his gardens throughout the seasons and the years.

Farewell, Jason. Many thanks for all that you’ve done. You will be greatly missed.


The memoriam to Jason seems like the right way to end this post. Next week I’ll return with reading, watching, and listening recommendations.


South of the Border for a Birthday

On a brisk Saturday morning,

Clif, Dee, and I headed south, south, south…to Massachusetts, to celebrate our son-in-law’s fortieth birthday. Mike’s actual birthday was at the beginning of the month, and he and Shannon had a weekend extravaganza in Boston, where they went to a French restaurant and were served food  that was oh so good.

Mike is a pizza hound, and the natural choice for our get together was, of course, pizza from one of his favorite places.

The pizza was pretty darned good as my Yankee husband would put it.

There was a toast to the birthday boy. Some of us had wine, and others had beer.

The dogs waited patiently for their pieces of crust. Somara in her comfortable spot on the couch. (Sorry the picture is so out of focus.)

And Holly at attention.

Finally, there was chocolate cake, and here’s a happy picture of Mike and Shannon with Holly in between.

For a special present, we all chipped in some money so that Mike could pick out a nice watch. He is still doing research on various watches and hasn’t decided what he wants.  No need to hurry because as Mike noted, this is a watch he will have for the rest of his life.

So happy birthday, Mike. It’s wonderful that we live within driving distance and could celebrate with him, Shannon, and the dogs.


Watching: Navalny

Navalny, a CNN documentary about the Russian opposition leader Alexy Navalny, is as gripping as any spy novel. In 2020, Navalny was poisoned in Russia, and what follows is so astonishing that I will end the synopsis here. Best just to watch this incredible story unfold without knowing too much. Navalny has been nominated for an Oscar for best documentary feature, and I hope it wins. This gripping movie is showing in theaters and is also available on HBO Max.



At Last, a Proper Snow Storm & Lolly Willowes

Weather Report

This January has been warmer than average. However, cold weather from the Arctic is forecasted to blast us this weekend, with a projected temperature as low as -20°F (-28°C). With the windchill factor, it might even drop to -40°F. That, my friends, is cold even by Maine standards.

Good thing, then, that we got a proper snow storm last week. Otherwise, my perennials would be in serious trouble when the cold snap hits. There’s no telling how many plants I would lose. As it is, they are covered by a nice insulating blanket of snow, at least ten inches.

Here are some pictures of our yard during the storm. My beds and the perennials are tucked under the snow.

I like the way the snow-covered fence ripples with snow.

As I shoveled the pathways to the compost bins and the bird feeders, I stopped to take a picture from backyard to front yard. No hanging laundry until spring.

Little Gideon, the guardian of our yard, is nearly buried beneath the snow.

The lantern out front has a cap.

And the snow on the porch rail curves like a wave of water.

Another picture of our home nestled in the snow.

With so much snow, Clif had to clean the roof. Otherwise ice dams form on the eaves, and this in turn leads to leaks inside.  I took this shot through an open window, which is why everything is at a slant.



Today I received this lovely card from blogging friend Jodie Richeal. If you have time, do check out her snappy website, Poppiwinkle, that features her work. Jodie wrote to tell me how much she was enjoying my recent book Of Time and Magic. Do I spy William Shakespeare on the lower right-hand side of the card? I believe I do. Many thanks, Jodie!


Reading: Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Spoiler Alert: I can’t discuss this book without revealing crucial elements in the plot.  If you haven’t read the book and would rather not have spoilers, now is the time to stop reading.

Lolly Willowes, published in 1926, is a novel full of oddities and curiosities. The first half of the book is realistic to the point of almost being dry. The second half crackles with the supernatural.

The novel is about Laura Willowes, who was brought up on a country estate in Wales. When Lolly Willowes opens, Laura’s father has just died—her mother died years earlier—and it’s decided that twenty-eight-year-old “Aunt Lolly” should move to London with one of her brothers, his wife, and their children, Fancy and Marion. In the London Home, Laura is given the smallest spare bedroom as the larger one can’t be spared. This decision sets the tone for how Laura is treated, not cruelly, but as an afterthought, to be put up with rather than cherished.

And so it goes for twenty years with Laura trotting unobtrusively through domestic life with her brother’s family. Fancy, as an adult, wonders why her Aunt Lolly didn’t set up housekeeping by herself. After all, when her father died, she was left with a comfortable income. Fancy concludes, “How unenterprising women were in the old days.”

What holds Laura back? The traditions and conservatism of her family, which she accepts without question. It will take something very big to knock Laura off track.

In short, it takes demonic intervention. First, the devil, an invisible force, leads Laura into a small shop with homely items that remind her of life in the country and how much she longs for that life. This longing tips something in Laura, and against her family’s wishes, she up sticks to the countryside, to a small village filled with witches who don’t seem to do much. Mostly they roam at night and tend to village business by day.

All goes well until Laura’s nephew, Titus, visits her and decides to settle in with his aunt. Once again, Laura must put the needs of her family first. The freedom she longs for is gone.

It is then the devil really comes into it. Laura makes a pact with him—she will serve him if he keeps family away. This the devil does in a way that is more humorous than menacing. Soon Titus is gone, and Laura is free to be herself. The devil, having made his conquest, leaves her alone.

After finishing the book, I puzzled over the ending. Did Warner believe that in 1926 women could only be free if they shucked family ties and made a deal—symbolically, of course—with the devil?

Laura had the financial means to be independent. But it seems she did not have the emotional means to break away and could only do so with supernatural help.

This slim book certainly made me think about the role of women.


One of the Highlights of My Year

On Saturday, I went to The Art Walk in downtown Winthrop. It’s a lovely shop that features handcrafted items from local artists, authors, and crafters.

As it turns out, The Art Walk features my books, and I am happy to report that my novels have been selling well there and in many other places, too. So well, in fact, that almost every day, UPS comes by with another box of books to replenish our supply.

While I love to go to The Art Walk to buy special gifts for family and friends, last Saturday I was there for a book signing. (In between signing books, I did manage to buy several presents.)

As I sat by my table and listened to Christmas music and the happy chatter of holiday shoppers—somehow small stores have such a good vibe—two women, a mother and daughter, walked in and came right over. I am friends with both on Facebook, and I knew they might be coming, but because it has been thirty years since we last got together, it was such a treat to see them. Thirty years ago, the daughter was a little girl. Thirty years ago, they lived in Winthrop. Thirty years ago, the mother helped me bake a peanut butter cake for Clif’s birthday.

But then, as such things happen, they moved out of town, and we lost touch with each other. I know there are a lot of bad things about Facebook, but thanks to Facebook, we reconnected.

And here’s the most wonderful thing—we chatted as though we had met as recently as last week. There were no awkward silences, and the conversation just flowed. As the title of this post indicates, seeing them was one of the highlights of my year.

They bought books, and I signed them. Before they left, I promised to have them over next summer for lunch on the patio when the flowers in the back garden are in bloom.

The mother promised to make a peanut butter cake to celebrate finally getting together after thirty years.

Can’t wait! I’m already planning what I will make for them.


Too Darned Hot

For the past four or five days, the temperatures have been 90°F and very humid. With the heat index, it has felt closer to 100°F. Too darned hot. Is this really Maine in August?

It seems that it is.

This heat has knocked the stuffing out of me. (A Facebook friend described it as feeling depleted. Yes.) Our little air conditioner, whom we’ve named Eva, is simply not up to the task of keeping our home cool. The best we get with her is 80°. Better than 90°, I know, but not much of a relief. Strange to think that until a few years ago, we didn’t even need an air conditioner in our home in the woods. An attic fan did the trick.

But there have been a couple of bright spots.

Unlike me, the container plants seem to thrive in this heat and humidity.  I have never had such a burst of impatiens on my front steps.

The begonias look pretty darned good, too.

Then there are the tomatoes, “the jungle” as we call it. Lots of green tomatoes and enough ripe ones for a sandwich or a wrap at lunch.

Also, on Saturday, we had a visit from Shannon and Mike.

Along with their dogs, who were thrilled to see us, Shannon and Mike brought donuts—fresh, thick, and perfectly fried. I’m a fiend for donuts—I once wrote an essay called “Desperate for Donuts”— and these were oh so good. The half-donut in the picture  is the result of me not being able to wait and grabbing half before we had our lunch.

For readers in or near Tewksbury, Massachusetts, those delectable donuts came from Donna’s Donuts.

This week, the heat is supposed to break, and we’ve even been promised night temps in the lower 60s. Oh, yes, please! This Mainer really doesn’t like the temperature to go much above 80°, and my happy place is between 65° and 70°.

Well, I’ll have to adapt to this warming world. Soon Clif and I will be checking into heat pumps, which cool as well as provide heat.

Until then…

Getting Together after Two Years

Yesterday was a big, big day for Clif, Dee, and me. After two years of not seeing our youngest daughter Shannon and our son-in-law Mike, we got together with them at their new apartment in Massachusetts. Previously, they lived in North Carolina, a very long way from Maine. But in November, they moved to Massachusetts, only two and a half hours from our home. We are overjoyed that they are back in New England, where we can have regular visits with them.

Because Covid is still raging in the U.S., we decided we should take extra precautions. Masks for inside, but what to do about lunch? Mike and Shannon came up with a solution—a propane heater for their small sheltered patio. (Who is that strange masked woman in the corner?)

The propane heater was an experiment, with none of us too sure exactly how it would work on a chilly forty-degree day. Readers, I am pleased to report that the heater worked beautifully. All of us, even those who like it hot, felt comfortable for the few hours we stayed outside. When Clif went to the car for something, he said he could feel the difference as soon as he left the patio.

“This is just like a little café,” Dee noted, adding that these propane heaters are common in outside eating areas in New York City.

The café’s bean soup tasted especially good on a chilly day.

Another treat was seeing Shannon and Mike’s two dogs, Holly and Somara. Although it’s been years since we’ve seen them, they remembered us and gave us enthusiastic greetings.

Here is Miss Holly.

And here is Miss Somara.

A final bonus was seeing this tree next to Mike and Shannon’s apartment. I had never seen a tree like this before, and I was fascinated by the peeling bark and the color. I did a little Internet research, and I think it’s a paperbark maple, originally a native of China. If anyone knows differently, please let me know.

Although we have Zoomed with Shannon and Mike many times over the past two years, there is nothing like chatting in person. What a grand time we had talking about books, movies, television shows, and various other things.

Late afternoon, we left reluctantly. But with Shannon and Mike so close to Maine, we will soon be seeing them again. And as long as the weather isn’t too cold, we can eat outside at Shannon and Mike’s café, with the propane heater providing plenty of warmth.


Komorebi: Sunlight Streaming Through the Trees

In a recent post, I featured this picture of glowing November leaves.

In the comments section, my blogging friend Susan Rushton noted “[t]he sunlight through the trees illustrates the Japanese word Komorebi I was reading about earlier in the week.”

Although I have long admired the Japanese for their ability to use a single word to express a concept, I had never heard of komorebi before. I decided to do a little research.

From the Chicago Botanic Garden I learned “[t]he dapples of light and leaf are caused by the pinhole effect—the same concept that allows a pinhole camera to work. Light passes through a small hole—or in this case, the gap between leaves—and projects an inverted image on the other side. This effect is especially notable at dawn or just before dusk, when one can observe a cascade of shimmering amber light. While the sight is familiar and nostalgic, there is no English word for this phenomenon. There is, however, a Japanese word: komorebi.

“There are three important parts to this word: 木 (ko) meaning tree, 漏れ (more) meaning to escape from, and 日 (bi) meaning sun. Together, the characters mean something like ‘sunlight filtering through trees.'”

Inspired by komorebi and the Japanese, I went out in search of more amber light filtering through the leaves of trees. I was not disappointed.

By the edge of my deck, I came across this astilbe. Even though the astilbe is not a tree, it seems to me that the sunlight glowing through the plant’s leaves captures the beautiful quality of komorebi.

Thank you, Susan, for introducing me to komorebi, a concept that I both knew and didn’t know, which has come to me each fall as the leaves change to russet and yellow and the sun slants sideways not far above the horizon, casting a golden glow over the landscape.



The Last Golden Days of October

October, one of the most glorious months in Maine, is coming to an end. This year, the leaves were a blaze of glory, and the slant of the sun just added to nature’s pageant. By the last week of October, many of the leaves have fallen, and I have raked the driveway clean while Clif has used his electric mower to pick up the leaves on the lawn.

Still, that slant of the sun and the last golden bits make a fine ending to this wonderful month. Soon, austere November will be here, but for now I am enjoying every last bit of October.


To make an already terrific month even better, our eldest daughter’s birthday is this week. For the first time in over twenty years, she is here with us, and we will be able to celebrate with her. Ages ago, she took this week off to go visit her sister in North Carolina. For various reasons, the trip didn’t work out, but she decided to still take the week off. This means we can celebrate early and often, our favorite thing to do.

Unfortunately, the week promises to be a rainy one. Never mind! We are keen on movies and board games, both of which are perfect for rainy days. Pizza just might be in the mix, and, of course, cake. After all, what is a birthday without cake?

And, if the weather allows, we just might slide in another trip to Wolfe’s Neck State Park.

Fingers crossed that the weather gods smile on us.

Meeting Blogging Friends from Afar—Jason Kay and his wife Judy Hertz

For me, one of the great pleasures of blogging has been getting to know so many wonderful folks, near and far. Over the years, the bloggers have become friends as they’ve shared details of their everyday lives—their gardens, their cooking, their families, what they’re reading, and other enthusiasms.

Last week I actually got to meet one of my blogging friends from afar—Jason Kay, of Garden in the City, a very accomplished gardener. He and his wife Judy Hertz came all the way from Illinois to visit Maine. Jason emailed me, wondering if we could get together for lunch.

Yes, yes, I replied. Come to our home for a picnic, and Clif will make his legendary grilled bread.

This Jason and Judy did, seeing a part of Maine that is definitely off the beaten path and would never qualify as quaint.  While central Maine has some lovely countryside with lakes, forests, and hills, it is also the home of many factories, now abandoned, and there is a certain grittiness—earthiness if you want to be polite—to the area.

We all hit it off immediately. Because Jason and I have been reading each other’s blogs for a while, we already knew quite a bit about each other. And, as it turned out, the four of us have similar interests and tastes, which meant the conversation flowed.

Here are Judy and Jason in our backyard on the edge of the woods.

Clif’s grilled bread, as to be expected, was the hit of the picnic.

We didn’t think to take a picture of the grilled bread served that day. For those unfamiliar with Clif’s legendary grilled bread, here is one from another picnic.


Naturally, we talked about plants and all things green and growing. (Alas, my gardens were way past their best.) Jason has been interested in gardening since he was young, and the gardens around his home are a beautiful sight to behold. Visiting his blog, of course, really gives a sense of what he has accomplished over the years.

However, for a delightful overview of Jason’s gardens, here is a piece from Fine Gardening. Read, look, and marvel.

All too soon the afternoon was over, and Jason and Judy left.  What a fine afternoon we had, with the weather in the 70s and barely a cloud in the sky. Even the yellow jackets more less behaved, with only one or two buzzing around us.

Here’s an invitation to blogging friends who are thinking about visiting Maine when the weather is warm: You are welcome to join us for lunch on our patio at the edge of the woods. Clif will make his legendary grilled bread. I will provide other goodies.

See you next summer?