Category Archives: People

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.

 

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Last Sunday in August

Gone are the songs of the tree frogs and the peepers. Instead, we have the buzzing of grasshoppers and the sweet chorus of the crickets. In Maine, summer—lovely summer!—is coming to an end, and what a nice summer it has been. There have only been a few blisteringly hot days when the temperature climbed to the mid-90s. For the most part, it’s been perfect and sunny, between 75° and 80° during the day, and then cooler nights, just right for sleeping.

While autumn in Maine is oh so fine, I will miss summer evenings on the patio, where Clif and I enjoy a drink or two and listen to music. Already, the days are significantly shorter, and by 6:30 it is a little too cool and damp to enjoy sitting on the patio.

Still, we have a couple of months of warm-enough weather so that we can go on bike rides. And with any luck, we’ll be able to ride some of November. After that, well, no matter how much I bundle up, I am too cold to enjoy a bike ride of any length.

One of things I enjoy most about autumn is the nutty smell of the plants as they dry and go to seed. For someone like me, who has a keen sense of smell, every season has its own aroma, each to be enjoyed—even the cold tang of winter.

To celebrate August and late summer, Clif and I invited a few friends over for wine and appetizers. The weather gods were with us, and we had a fine summer’s day to enjoy being outside. As I was bringing appetizers and plates to the table, I noticed a colorful guest on the lawn. While the pictures aren’t very crisp, they are good enough to share.

After a bit of pecking on the lawn, it was back to a tree, where these beauties can usually be found.

Then, I continued setting the table.

Our friends Denny and Cheryl and Judy—neighbors all—came. We sipped wine, drank beer, ate appetizers, which included Clif’s legendary grilled bread, and talked about dogs, books, movies, television shows, movies, and politics.

The hummingbirds whirred to their feeders filled with sugar water. The finches, titmice, chickadees, cardinals, and woodpeckers fluttered, flew, and chirped as they came to the feeders with sunflower seeds.

Dusk came, and the green shadows deepened. By then, the food was mostly gone, and our guests said their farewells. We all agreed this should be a yearly tradition, a salute to the end of summer and a greeting to autumn.

To the Red Barn, Fernwood Nursery, and John’s Ice Cream

Yesterday was a finest kind of day, even though it was hotter than heck—in the 90s. For Mother’s Day, Shannon gave me a gift certificate to the fabulous Red Barn–thank you, Shannon!—and our first stop was lunch. I had one of my favorite things—a delectable lobster roll—and Clif had fish and chips and a side order of onion rings.

After that, it was on to Fernwood Nursery in Montville, where I met my blogging friend Denise Sawyer and her husband Rick. A note about blogging friends in general and Denise in specific: Blogging has enhanced my life  in unexpected and utterly delightful ways. In this country and in many others, through blogging, I have met a wonderful, creative group of people who inspire me. You might even call this a far-flung community of kindred spirits.

I met Denise in a roundabout way, through an Irish blog called The Aran Artisan.  As it turned out, Melissa, of the Aran Artisan, is originally from Maine, and Denise, one of her followers, lives in Maine now. Hence the connection. Denise found out I was Franco-American and very kindly sent me a book about Franco-Americans. I discovered Denise and her husband own a nursery that specializes in shady plants.

I have a shady yard and gardens with, ahem,  a few holes. As Fernwood Nursery is within driving distance of where we live, Clif and I decided to make the trek to Montville after our Red Barn lunch.

What a treat to visit Denise, Rick,  and their delightful nursery tucked in the woods. Truly, it felt like Clif and I were connecting with old friends, even though we had never met. Despite this being a very busy time for Fernwood, Denise graciously took time to talk with us and to give us advice about planting in dry shade. I came home with a Solomon’s seal, just perfect for that aforementioned hole in the garden.

Denise also told us a little about herself, about how she came from an old Connecticut family that dates back to the 1600s. Rick is from the Lewiston/Auburn area, and they own about twenty acres of land in Montville, which not only supports the nursery but also provides about 85 percent of what they eat.

Most of the land remains wooded, and Denise is quite rightly proud that they get so much out of a small footprint, their livelihood as well as a lot of their food.

As we sat outside in wicker chairs, I heard the clucking of chickens in a nearby pen, big with plenty of room to peck and scratch. In the background came the melodious song of large wood chimes, and it almost seemed as though the woods were singing.

Denise and Rick have what can only be called a flair for making their nursery a lovely place. Green, green, and green, so bright yet soothing. Lots of little containers tucked with different varieties of hens and chicks. Double-blossom white trilliums. Arresting sculpture.

Here are some pictures of Fernwood Nursery.

As Denise noted, “It’s a good place to be.”

It most certainly is, and we look forward to visiting again.

Now, you might be wondering how in the world we ended the day that would be in keeping with seafood and a delightful nursery.

Following Denise’s suggestion, we went to John’s ice cream.

As the sign indicates, the ice cream is handmade and oh so delicious.

What a good life we have!

Our Favorite Nephew Graduates

Last Saturday, I got up before breakfast, as my mother would have put it, and was on the road by 6 a.m. Off to the University of Maine at Orono I went to see my favorite nephew—Patrick Meunier—graduate from college. The ceremony started at 9:30 a.m. As there were over 1,000 students graduating, it was important to arrive at the university a couple of hours before the ceremony began in order to get a good place to park and good seating.

This I did, and I was even able to save seats for Patrick’s parents—my brother Steve and my sister-in-law Rose—an aunt and uncle, and his maternal grandmother. Unfortunately, Clif was not able to come. It was simply too long to leave the dog, and now that Liam is blind, we don’t feel comfortable asking any of our friends to take care of him if we are to be away for a long time. But Patrick is a dog lover, and he understood about Liam.

My mother passed away nine years ago, and how I wish she had lived long enough to see Patrick graduate. She helped take care of him when he was little, and she loved Patrick very much. To bring a piece of Mom to the ceremony, I wore one of her favorite bracelets, and it was comforting for me to have something of hers on my wrist.

Because we arrived so early, we naturally had to wait a while before the ceremony began. Somehow, I didn’t mind at all. I watched the people stream in. I chatted with Steve and Rose, and the time just zipped by. The ceremony was held in an arena, and there was a jumbotron flashing scenes from the inside. But then, a little before 9:30, the cameras turned outward and focused on the large stream of students  in blue marching toward the arena. Later, we found out from Patrick that there wasn’t any rehearsal. The students were told to march in some semblance of a line, and by gum they did.

Into the arena they came, and our little party strained eagerly to see Patrick. And there he was, smiling and radiant and looking oh so happy to be graduating. “After all,” Clif would say later. “He’s worked hard to get that degree.” Indeed he has.

Here’s a picture of the marching students. Can you guess which one is Patrick?

As I watched his beaming face, I felt my eyes prickle with tears. I’ve known Patrick since he was a little baby, and I’ve watched him grow into a fine young man—kind, energetic, and determined—who loves art and theater and movies. I had to speak very sternly to myself so that I didn’t go from being misty eyed to outright blubbering. I am happy to report I was successful.

Considering how many students were getting their degrees, the ceremony moved along smartly. The commencement speakers were Heather and Abe Furth, local entrepreneurs and a power couple who started their first business—Woodman’s Bar and Grill—when they were twenty-three. The Furths took turns speaking not only of the importance of fearlessly going forth in life but also of making a commitment to local economies and communities. Very impressive.

Then the graduation ceremony was over, and out we went into the blessedly rain-free day, the first in a while. Naturally, we took pictures.

After pictures, we went to a restaurant in Brewer, the High Tide, right beside the Penobscot River. Such a lovely view! To mark this momentous occasion, I had one of my favorite things—a lobster roll—and as we ate, there was much merriment and joy.

The title of this piece indicates that Clif and I are playing favorites when it comes to Patrick. As Patrick is our only nephew, this is not strictly true. However, even if he weren’t our only nephew, he would still be our favorite.

Best of luck, Patrick, as you begin your creative journey!

 

 

 

Earth Day and a Birthday

Today is Earth Day, a very special day in our family. Not only is this a day to honor the beautiful blue planet we live on, but this is also the birthday of our youngest daughter, Shannon. We’ve always thought it was oh-so-cool to have a child with a birthday on Earth Day. (Our eldest daughter just missed having a birthday on Halloween, and that’s cool, too.)

So happy birthday, Shannon! I know you will have the finest kind of day in North Carolina. And by the by, your yearly birthday wish has come to pass this spring—the snow is completely gone from the yard and woods by April 22.

A birthday celebration two years ago

As for Earth Day—I’m going to paraphrase what Scrooge said in A Christmas Carol: “I will honor Earth Day in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

 

Tea with a Young Reader

Yesterday  morning, I got an email from my friend Cheryl, who lives up the road from us. Her granddaughter Iris is visiting, and they had had a conversation about my YA fantasy novel Maya and the Book of Everything. Cheryl had gotten Iris the book for Christmas, and Iris really enjoyed the novel.  Cheryl wondered if she and Iris could come for a visit.

Yes, yes, and yes! As it turned out, Sam—Iris’s dad and Cheryl’s son—came, too, and what a delightful time Clif and I had talking with the three of them, book lovers all. We chatted a bit about Maya and the Book of Everything. Cheryl wondered where my ideas came from. I couldn’t give her much help on that one. Somehow, the ideas just come.  Iris hoped that Andy and Maya would eventually wind up together. (I gave her the answer, but you, dear readers, will have to wait and read Library Lost to discover  Andy’s and Maya’s fate.) Sam wondered how long it took me to write the book. My answer: About a year, but there was a lot of editing and tinkering with the story after that.

Then the conversation turned to other books.  Iris told me what she was reading, and as I knew I wouldn’t remember—oh, the aging memory!—I jotted them down. When I’m through with the current batch I’ve borrowed from the library, I’ll request Iris’s recommendations through interlibrary loan. The list includes the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan and the Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale.

When asked what I was reading, I replied, “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.” This slice-of-life novel centers on a young girl—the Calpurnia of the title—who lives in Texas in the late 1800s. She’s a budding naturalist at a time when young women aren’t supposed to be interested in such things. But Calpurnia has an ally in her grandfather, an amateur naturalist who teaches her how to look, draw, record, measure, and do research. Calpurnia is a spunky, satisfying heroine, but the pace of the novel is deliberate, and I was wondering how young readers would like it.

Today, I found out. It seems that Iris has also read Calpurnia Tate. She liked it very much, and this caused me to have an epiphany, of sorts. That is, young people who love books are patient readers, and it’s a mistake to think they need an explosion a minute to keep them interested.  It’s not that plot and narrative flow aren’t important, but well-developed characters are what keep young people interested in a story. If a novel’s pace is leisurely, then that’s perfectly fine as long as the characters are interesting.

So, all in all a terrific day. Tea with a wonderful, bright family and insight into the patience young people bring to reading books.

You might even call it a finest kind of day.

Iris and me

 

For Derrick and Jackie: A Drink on the Patio

On April 1, while snow fell on central Maine, I was in England, at least in spirit, visiting Derrick and Jackie’s glorious gardens.  (Oh, the wonders of the blog world and the Internet. )

I practically inhaled picture after beautiful picture of daffodils and tulips. It might have been cold and snowy outside my home, but I could feel warmth and sunlight pouring out of my computer as I toured Derrick and Jackie’s garden.

Then, at the end of Derrick’s post, I came to this: “For the first time this year we took drinks in the rose garden before dinner. I hope it is not too long before Laurie and Clif can do the same on their patio.”

Well, I thought. Well, well, well. Our patio is still buried under snow, but where there is a will, there is a way.

Derrick and Jackie, this post is dedicated to you as Clif, on our patio, raises his glass to daffodils and tulips and spring and the glory of an English garden.