Category Archives: People

Snow-Gauge Clif: Nearly Done for the Year

As you can see from the pictures, Snow-Gauge Clif’s job is nearly done for the year.

There is still a bit of snow on the ground, a holdover from the last little storm we had. Will we get more snow in April? Maybe, maybe not. This is Maine, and when it comes to the weather, anything can happen.

But we are definitely sliding toward spring.  Bird song swirls around our home in the woods, and when I go outside, it makes me smile to hear it.  No silent spring, thank goodness.

Our neighbor next door left eggs on our steps, and those eggs were very welcome as our supply is dwindling fast. She left a sweet, concerned note taped to the carton, telling me she had wiped the outside with Lysol and to let her know if we needed anything.

So very nice to get a note like that. Especially as Clif and I are now considered elderly by the CDC. (Us? Elderly? How could that be?)

Coronavirus News from Maine

From the Portland Press Herald

A Cumberland County man in his 80s was the first person in Maine to die from the coronavirus.

From Maine CDC

Maine’s number of cases of the coronavirus: 168

The News from All Over

From CNN

The United States is now the epicenter of a shifting global pandemic. With more than 82,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, it has surpassed China, Spain and Italy, the hardest-hit countries to date.

So how did America get here? A series of missteps, and missed opportunities: a failure to take the virus seriously even as it brought China to its knees, a fumbled federal government response to testing that left the US in the dark about the magnitude of the outbreak, and a desperate shortage of masks, personal protective equipment and ventilators that has put both medical workers and patients at risk.

And in a stunning development, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced today he had tested positive [for Covid-19.]

From NBC

The House on Friday passed the $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus bill, and President Donald Trump is expected to sign it quickly.

The Latest Numbers

Global Cases: 549,604

Global Deaths: 24,863

My Take: No doubt the stimulus bill could have been bigger, better, and fairer. (When oh when are those at the top going to start taking responsibility and paying their fair share?) Nevertheless, many, many everyday people will be helped by this bill. For some, it could mean the difference between staying afloat and drowning. And that is no small thing.

 

 

A Weekend of Trivia, Chocolate Pretzels, Music, and Friends

What an action-packed weekend we had! It started on Friday morning when Clif dipped pretzels in Ghiradelli chocolate to bring as a treat to trivia night at Van der Brew.

Now what could be better than beer, popcorn, and chocolate-covered pretzels?

I’ll tell you what. During the trivia game, I actually answered a sports question correctly. As I’ve mentioned before, sports is not my thing, and I always dread those questions because I never, never know the answers. Except this time I did. The question was this: Which baseball team won the World Series in 2016 after not having won since 1908? Readers, I almost fell out of my chair. Thanks to Chicagoan Scott Simon, the most excellent host of NPR’s Weekend Edition, I knew it was the Chicago Cubs. (I can still recall how excited Scott Simon was in 2016 when the Cubs won.) Holy cats, I was thrilled that I remembered this. The rest of the night had its ups and downs, but through it all I basked in the glow of my knowledge of the winner of the 2016 World Series.

For someone who lives in the hinterlands, the excitement of Friday night would have been more than enough for one weekend. But, readers, there was more. Much more. On Saturday I went with friends to Mount Vernon (population 1,640) to listen to the Sandy River Ramblers, a blue grass band. All the players and singers were good, but my oh my that mandolin player—Dan Simons—was outstanding. His fingers flew so fast on the strings that I thought my heart was going to break. Here’s a picture of Dan Simons playing the mandolin. Unfortunately, the light was not good, and I wasn’t sitting near the stage.

Then it was Sunday. Friends invited us over for for a late afternoon dinner. Other friends were also invited. We drank wine, we had delicious macaroni and cheese, and one of the best homemade cob salads I have ever eaten. I made my not-so-famous apple crisp. Kittens romped around us as we talked about music, books, and politics. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures.

But what a way to end a terrific weekend.

 

 

Scrummy Afters: Chocolate Front and Center

It is time for another confession: My childhood love of candy has stayed with me as an adult and has even followed me into my senior years. At times, I feel a little foolish to have such a yen for candy, especially chocolate.

I wish I could say that this yearning for candy extended only to high-end chocolate, but that would be a lie. Oh, no. I also enjoy Rolos and Butterfingers, and…well, you get the point. However, I think it would be fair to say that when I can get really good chocolate, I am especially happy, and all thoughts of everyday candy are gone from my mind.

You can imagine my delight—bliss might be a more appropriate word—when seven years ago, a candy shop, Scrummy Afters, came to Hallowell, a city about ten miles from where we live. Hallowell is within the loop of where we occasionally drive, and we stop in from time to time to indulge my passion for high-quality chocolate.

Scrummy Afters has all sorts novelty candy, including many delights from my youth, but what really draws me in is the chocolate they make themselves, which over the years has expanded from a few items to a large selection of delights, including but not limited to turtles, caramels, and toffees.

Our friends Alice and Joel, who are well aware of my candy obsession, very generously gave us a gift certificate to Scrummy Afters for Christmas. Therefore, with a happy heart, I went to this most excellent candy shop about a week ago. Clif, who likes candy well enough but is not as obsessed as I am, came with me and helped select some delicacies to bring home. I could have one of those beauties right now.

Because it was quiet when we went in, I had a chance to talk with one of the owners, Hilary Vallani. (The other owner is her mother, Kim.) Hilary told me that when the store first opened, she had experience in retail but no experience in chocolate making. In school, Hilary studied art—fashion design with a concentration in costume. This focus on art and design is evident throughout the beautifully decorated shop.

A few years in, Hilary took a class and learned about the chemistry, science, and precision of making fine chocolate. Now it is time to go out on a limb: I can without hesitation write that Hilary has mastered the art of chocolate making. I will even go one step further and state that of all the Maine chocolate we have tasted, Hilary’s is the best. Period.

As Clif put it, “The fillings are good, and so are the the shapes. But ultimately,  it’s chocolate front and center.” Here is my take: Scrummy’s chocolate has a fresh, smooth, clean taste. It is creamy and chewy, just the way I like chocolate to be. No matter how good the fillings are, I am not a fan of chocolates with hard, almost tasteless, shells. I like deep, rich chocolate that melts easily in the mouth.

Recently, Scrummy Afters has branched out into making funky chocolate that might even be called edible art.

In addition to making the finest chocolates around, Hilary wants Scrummy Afters to be more than a candy shop. They have sponsored community events, including a Harry Potter scavenger hunt, which I know has become a big hit for the young and the young at heart.

Lucky, lucky us to have a shop with chocolate of this quality. We will be returning soon, very soon.

 

Fun and Folderol at Van der Brew: The Dennis Price Comedy Hour

Last night Clif and I went to Winthrop’s very own Van der Brew for the Dennis Price Comedy Hour.  Van der Brew is a huge—but comfortable—place, and it was full, full, full of fans eager to see Dennis’s show.

The line for beer was long, but Clif was patient and eventually got a pint of Lily Bay IPA, which seems to be glowing. No surprise. After all, Van der Brew is a special place.

I have known the buoyant, inimitable Dennis Price for over twenty years. I met him when he was a young intern at the Theater at Monmouth, a summer theater the next town over from us.  Dennis is from Virginia, but lucky for us, Dennis decided to stay here, settling in central Maine. Along with acting, Dennis has taught at area high schools and is now the manager of Capital City Improv, where according to its Facebook page, he and his merry band of comics “present world-class improv comedy right before your eyes, ears and funnybones.”

After all, “The world needs more laughter…” It certainly does. As Roger Rabbit put it, “Sometimes in life, it is the only weapon we have.”

And laugh we did as Dennis and company romped, did impersonations, asked trivia questions, and most impressively, perhaps, came up with skits on the spot with prompts from the audience. In particular, their take, wit, and verbal agility in telling a story about the transfer station (once known as “the dump”) had everyone laughing.  Holy cats, they were good.

When the humor is lighthearted—as it was last night—it is a wonderful feeling to laugh along with a crowd of people.  It lifts the spirits, and if ever there were a time when spirits needed lifting, it is now.

The one and only Dennis Price

 

 

 

Green, Green with EV Envy

Just before Christmas, my friend Dawna called and asked, “Could I stop by for a little while? I have something to show  you.”

“Sure,” came my answer. “I’ll put the kettle on for tea when you get here.”

Dawna is a talented photographer and graphic artist who sells cards at various local shops and online through Etsy.  (Do check out her beautiful work if you get a chance.) I thought she was going to show Clif and me a new line of cards, which I always enjoy seeing.

Therefore, as soon as Dawna came into our dining room, I said, “Let me put the kettle on, and you can show me what you brought.”

“Well…” she said in a hesitating way as I trotted into the kitchen to put on the kettle.

When I went back into the dining room, Dawna was grinning. “I got a new car.”

I’m sure there was a click, click, click as I processed this information, looked out at the new snazzy blue car in my driveway, and understood exactly what she meant.

“Oh, my God!” I exclaimed. “You bought an electric car!”

“Yes, I did,” Dawna said, and if my knees weren’t so creaky, I would have jumped with joy.

Here is a picture of her new EV beauty, a Hyundai Kona:

All thoughts of tea were forgotten as Clif and I went to admire the new car

“After Christmas, ” Dawna said, “I’ll take you for a ride.”

Dawna kept her promise, and last Friday she took us into Augusta, where we had brunch at Downtown Diner, which serves breakfast all day long.

As we ate, Dawna’s spoke about her decision to buy an electric car. Her previous car had become unreliable, and the time had come to replace it. She asked herself, why buy a polluting ICE (internal combustion engine) car? Dawna knew that the range of EVs had  improved, and when she did some research, she discovered that the Hyundai Kona got a peak mileage of 258 per charge. (Less, of course, when the weather is really cold.)

And that was that. Because there were so many rebates available, Dawna bought the car in December, not wanting to take the chance that the rebates wouldn’t be there in 2020. (Let’s face it: The current administration in DC is not exactly concerned about the environment.)

Here is what she got:

$2,500 from Efficiency Maine.

$500 from a Hyundai rebate.

$7,500 from a federal government rebate.

Her Hyundai EV Kona sold for $38,000, and the rebates brought the cost down to $28,000.

And how does Dawna like her new EV? Very well, indeed. As Clif and I noticed, the Kona is smooth and quiet and has great pick-up. Even on a cold Maine January day, Dawna can take the Kona to Portland, about a 120-mile-round trip, and still have 50 miles left on her battery. The Kona’s seats are heated, and Dawna and her husband, Jim, take advantage of this, which means they don’t have to use the car’s heater as much.

While most EVs come with a charging cord that can be plugged into a standard receptacle, charging this way is slow, and Jim has installed a charger that does the job much more quickly.

Southern Maine has a number of places to charge an EV,  but as you head north, their numbers dwindle. Dawna has decided to become an advocate for EVs, and she is writing a letter to encourage Governor Mills to support the installation of more charging stations.

Go, Dawna, go! And kudos to you for taking the leap into our electric future. I hope that someday soon Clif and I can follow your example, and I also hope many others will, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Impossible Blue

In central Maine, today is a perfect example of the exquisite beauty of winter’s light. On Saturday, we had seven more inches of snow, but on Sunday the weather cleared, and now the skies are an impossible blue. Only in January and February, with the cold weather, do we get this kind of piercing clarity.

After going to a Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast at the local Catholic church, we stopped by the lake to take pictures of the sky and the snow and the trees. And, of course, the ice-fishing shacks.

Some people have their own kind of piercing clarity, and surely Martin Luther King Jr. was one such man.  It seems appropriate, then, to end with a few of his quotations:

There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

And…

There comes a time when silence is betrayal.

Finally…

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

Yes.

 

 

 

Whoopie Pies and Fudge and Cupcakes, Oh My!

Last weekend, Clif and I took our books to the Waterboro Elementary School Craft Fair, a two-day event.  Because the fair started at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday and was an hour and a half from our home, we had to get up at God-awful o’clock to get there in time to set up before the doors opened. Never mind. We had our thermoses of tea and coffee, which we drained dry, and we had a fantastic time where we sold lots of books.

This was a down-home craft fair with a broad range of items, from knitwear to handmade cutting boards to baked goods. One table in particular—Bluebird Baked Goods— caught my attention.

As I like to say, I don’t have a sweet tooth. Instead, I have a whole mouthful of them. Is it any wonder, then, that I stopped to gape at these gems from Bluebird Baked Goods?

Here’s a closer look.

Readers from New England will immediately recognize that these are whoopie pies, and I am a huge fan of this delectable treat. These particular whoopie pies attracted me because they were so neat and tidy and professional looking. Did I buy one? No, I bought two—one on each day.

Now, handsome is as handsome does, but as it turned out, the whoopie pie was as delicious as it looked. The cake was moist and chocolatey, and the filling was thick and creamy. The best I have ever had, and I have eaten my fair share of whoopie pies.

As the table was only three down from ours, I had ample opportunity to gaze lovingly at those beauties and sample other goodies from Bluebird Baked Goods.

Allie Owen, an extraordinarily gifted young baker, is the owner of Bluebird Baked Goods.

Before the fair started on Sunday, I had an opportunity to chat with Allie and—in Paul Hollywood fashion—shake her hand. She started her business when she was nineteen and has a commercial kitchen in her home. Allie’s mother is her inspiration and her teacher. One of Allie’s favorite pictures is of herself when she was a baby. Sitting on the counter, baby Allie is stirring batter in a bowl. Thus a young baker was born.

Allie told me that she loves playing with sugar. Laughing, she said, “Sugar is my medium.”

And Allie is certainly an artist who also designs custom cakes for weddings, birthdays, and other events.

If only we lived closer to Waterboro!

As we don’t, I’ll be dreaming of those whoopie pies and hoping that we go to another fair where Bluebird Baked Goods has a table.