Category Archives: People

Farewell to Shane, a Librarian Extraordinaire

This is the story of how one person can make a big difference in a small town. For the past nine years, Shane Malcolm Billings has worked at our town’s library—Charles M. Bailey Public Library. Shane’s official title was Adult Services Librarian, but like all people who excel at their jobs, Shane was so much more than that.

First there is Shane’s love of books. For a librarian, this should be a given. Why work in a library if you don’t have a passion for books? But for Shane, this love could rightly be called a devotion to literature and to writers. Maybe even a way of life. Small talk for Shane often revolved around books, such as how Anne Tyler can still write a fresh story even though she is nearly eighty.

Then there is his keen memory for the names of patrons combined with what they liked to read. In this way, Shane resembled a bartender in a local pub. But instead of serving drinks, Shane served books, and he had a nearly uncanny sense of what patrons would like to read, often before they did.

The following is a true story.

Several years ago, I went to pick up some books I had ordered through interlibrary loan. Among the books was Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym. Shane happened to be working at the desk.

“Huh,” I said. “I don’t remember ordering this one.”

“You didn’t,” came Shane’s prompt reply. “I ordered it for you because I thought you’d like Barbara Pym, and I know you’ve never read her.”

Shane was absolutely right. I liked Barbara Pym so much that I ordered more of her books when I had finished Some Tame Gazelle.

As if all this weren’t enough, Shane is just plain fun to talk to. He has a wonderful sense of humor yet is sympathetic. Along with remembering books and writers, Shane remembers the names of patrons’ grown-up children who have moved away, and he always asks when they’ll be visiting.

But all good things eventually come to an end, and Shane is leaving our library.

Yesterday, there was a surprise farewell party for him at the lovely home of a library trustee. (There will also be an Open House at Bailey Public Library on Tuesday, August 20th at 6:00pm for the public at large to say goodbye to Shane.)

There weather was perfect—warm but not too hot with nary a mosquito to vex us.

Here are pictures from the party, starting with the setting.

Shane arrived, was duly surprised, and was greeted with a kiss and a laugh.

There was plenty of mingling.

As well as lots of good food.

And, of course, cake.

Farewell, Shane. You have made this town a better place and how you will be missed. Best of luck with the next phase of your life, and whatever comes next, I know you will shine, shine, shine.

 

 

 

 

Nibbles and Tidbits

When Clif and I were younger and my knees weren’t as creaky, we liked nothing better than to cook up a storm and to have people over for dinner. Sometimes the gatherings were smallish—eight to ten people—and sometimes they were largish—twenty or more. Those were the days when I got out of bed like a shot and could zoom through the day.

Sad to say, but those days are gone. I keep busy with my writing, my gardens, and my home, but I don’t have the zip of my younger years. Nevertheless, we still like having people come over for a visit. Somehow, it is cozier to gather in a home than it is to meet in a restaurant, no matter how casual the place.

As the saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way, and we have figured out how to entertain so that it doesn’t take a toll on my creaky knees. Our first strategy has been to have people come over midafternoon for tea and coffee. Most of our friends are retired and now have a flexible schedule. Making up a batch of bars, muffins, or quick bread is no problem at all, and what a pleasure it is to gather around the dining room table and talk. Also, a midafternoon event usually gives me enough time to write in the morning, which is something I do six days a week.

Our second strategy, for friends who have not retired, is to have a nibbles and tidbits gathering late afternoon, around 3:30 or 4:00. On Saturday, this is what we did, and here is what we served.

I am happy to report that the tomatoes and cucumbers came from my little back garden.

Last Saturday, we invited our friend Jill over. Years ago, Jill came to Maine from New York City, and how we met her is an interesting story.

When our daughter Dee graduated from Bard College, she decided to move to New York City. Her first job was with Macmillan Publishing, and one of her first bosses was Jill.

One day, when we were talking on the phone to Dee, she said, “Guess what? My boss Jill is moving to Maine.”

Really? To Maine from New York City?

“Yeah,” Dee continued. “And she’s planning on moving to central Maine, in the Waterville/Augusta area, where you live.”

What the heck is she going to do here?

“She’s going to work for Thorndike Press in Waterville. They publish large print books.”

Well, son of a biscuit. That was the last thing we expected to hear, and we wondered how someone who lived in Manhattan would adjust to living in central Maine.

As it turned out, Jill has adjusted just fine and loves it here. Over the years, we have become friends, and we always look forward to getting together with her.

On Saturday, Jill brought over chips, salsa, and an utterly delicious homemade guacamole, which we scoffed down. (Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of her lovely tray of food.) We talked into the early evening, the conversation ranging from family to politics to books.

We didn’t solve the problems of the world, but we sure made a stab at it.

But one thing is certain—having nibbles and tidbits with friends  is a fine way to entertain.

 

 

 

Drop Scones Come to Central Maine

Oh, the things I have learned from the wide world of blogging. For example, before I started following Tootlepedal’s excellent blog, I had never heard of drop scones. Tootlepedal lives in Scotland, and he writes about everyday life—music and biking (hence the name Tootlepedal), family, nature, cooking, and friends. In short, all the things I love.

Tootlepedal has given the nickname Dropscone to one of his friends, and at first I thought it was simply a play on words because this particular friend often dropped by with scones. Imagine my surprise when Tootlepedal recently wrote that Dropscone stopped by with drop scones.

“What?” I said to myself. “Drop scones are an actual thing?’

It seems that they are. When I looked up drop scones on the Internet, I discovered that they were what we Americans would call small pancakes.

“Oh, cool!” I said, continuing the conversation with myself. I am a huge fan of pancakes, and I am lucky enough to have a husband who makes delicious pancakes.

Recently, Tootlepedal actually posted a picture of some drop scones delivered by none other than Dropscone. And those drop scones sure did look like pancakes, little but thick.

Filled with a longing for pancakes or drop scones or whatever you want to call them, I said to Clif, “How about if you make some drop scones on Sunday?” (Our friends Joel and Alice were coming over for tea and coffee and conversation.)

“Sure,” Clif said, who’s always ready for a food challenge.

Before Sunday, Clif read a bit about drop scones and decided that unlike his usual pancakes, his drop scones should have some sugar. Following Tootlepedal’s suggestion, Clif also decided that he would use a spoon rather than a ladle to drop the batter into the frying pan.

And so he did.

Here are the cooking drop scones.

Clif made a big plate of them, but they didn’t turn out exactly as he had hoped—he wanted the drop scones to be thicker. Nevertheless, Clif’s drop scones were good enough, and by the time we were done, there were only two drop scones left on the big plate. We certainly tucked to, as we would say in Maine. Because they were officially drop scones, we served them with butter and jam rather than maple syrup.

There is a lesson here. Sometime good enough is just fine.

 

Quercus and Lisa Save the Scones

For the past couple of months, I have been trying to make scones. Note the word trying. You might also remember Yoda’s pithy advice about trying.

But readers, try I did. I used one of Alton Brown’s recipes, and although my scones tasted good, they came out flat as a cookie (American for biscuit). This meant I couldn’t easily cut them in half and spread butter on them. And what is the use of making scones if you can’t cut them in half and spread something on them, whether it be butter, jam, or cream? None, as far as I could see.

But being persistent, I didn’t give up. After all, I reasoned, I have a light hand with biscuits (the American kind) and pie crust, and there seemed to be no good reason why I couldn’t make decent scones.

As I have come to do with so many things, I asked my blogging friends for guidance. Lisa, from arlingwords, suggested placing the scones closer together so that they would rise rather than spread. And the inimitable Quercus had three pieces of advice: Add more flour,  use a two-inch cutter, and make sure the dough is thick.

Yesterday, in another attempt to make good scones, I followed Lisa’s  and Quercus’s suggestions. I am happy to report that I finally had success. My scones were light, they could be cut in half, and they were not too sweet but sweet enough.

My scones were square rather than round or triangular, but Quercus had assured me that shape didn’t matter.

Clif, undeterred by their square shape, pronounced the scones “pretty darned good,” which is Yankee for delicious and high praise indeed. After eating one, he hurried back for seconds.

Now that I have figured out how to make good scones, the time has come to make them for friends when they come over for tea or coffee.

 

 

Nobody’s Environmentally Perfect

On Saturday, our friend Diane came over for lunch, and Clif made his tasty pizza. As a hostess present, Diane brought a jar of her delectable applesauce, made from old-timey apples from an orchard in southern Maine. Those apples are so sweet and so good that the sauce doesn’t need any sugar. What a treat!

Mainers are of the opinion that almost anything goes with applesauce—I think it’s because not so long ago, fresh fruit was not easy to get in the winter in this northern state. However, we draw the line when it comes to eating applesauce with  pizza. Instead I made a salad and a homemade vinaigrette. But that night with a supper of egg and toast, we broke into our jar of apple sauce.

After lunch, we settled into the living room, and our talked ranged from politics to the environment. Diane is as keen about green living as we are, and at one time she lived in a solar home on a dirt road in a town so small that it makes Winthrop look big.

So I look to her for green advice. While Clif and I have made good progress with the trash we produce—we’ve cut the amount in half—there are things we still struggle with. One of them is Ziploc bags. We wash and mend them, but eventually there are so many holes in the bags that we must throw them away. And there they are in the landfill for a long, long time.

Slowly, we’re weaning ourselves from Ziplocs. We use jars for leftovers, both in the refrigerator and in the freezer. If we buy rolls or bread—mostly I make my own—we save those wrappers to be reused. But we haven’t quite made the break from  those darned Ziplocs.

I explained this all to Diane, and she said patiently, “Nobody’s environmentally perfect. The important thing is to do the best you can with the resources you have.”

Wise words. As I’ve written before, Clif and I live on a budget as big as a minute, which means we can’t buy as much local and organic food as we would like. But we buy as much as we can afford, and I cook most of our food from scratch.

Both Clif and I are conscious about what we use and what we discard. Because we are Mainers, this is not that hard for us. We were both brought up to keep things until they were so worn that, really, nobody else would want them.

Then, today in Treehugger, I read a piece by Sami Grover that questioned how much difference personal responsibility makes when it comes to tackling climate change. Grover writes, “In a world where unsustainable choices are the default option, where fossil fuels are excessively subsidized, and where environmental costs are not borne by those responsible for the damage, living a truly sustainable life means swimming upstream.”

Even though I like to think that Clif and I are making a difference by living as lightly as we can, in fact we are just two tiny fish “swimming upstream.” Until the system changes, it will indeed be very difficult to turn the tide of global warming. (Thought I’d stick with the water metaphor.)

Nevertheless, Clif and I try to live ever lighter. Somehow we just can’t go back to our old ways when we produced four or five bags of trash a week. A week! Most of it was household garbage—paper, plastic, boxes, food scraps. While we might not be environmentally perfect and perhaps never will be, we have made progress, which gives me hope.

Readers, do you have any thoughts about this?

 

 

March Misery

Readers unfamiliar with Maine might think I’m exaggerating when it comes to the horror of March in northern New England. Au contraire! And I have the pictures to prove it.

This was the view this morning from my office window.

Here is another one from a slightly different angle. Note the spitting snow and the hard, dirty snow banks.

Yesterday, Snow-Gauge Clif did  his measuring duty with his trusty red yard stick.  Hats off to Clif for looking so cheerful.

In the backyard, Clif doesn’t look quite as cheerful. Maybe it was the penguin-walking he did over the icy paths to get there. Fortunately, he didn’t fall and break anything.

Despite all the griping, I do have to admit that some progress has been made in the driveway.  There are actually bar patches of tar amid the ice and snow.

So onward, ho! April is just around the corner, and as I sit at my desk and write, I can hear a male cardinal singing his sweet song.

Spring is coming, albeit ever so slowly.

 

Crazy Mainers and Ice Cream

Not far from where we live is a fabulous ice cream stand called Fielder’s Choice. They make their own ice cream, utterly delicious and reasonably priced. Even by American standards, the servings are huge.

Right after Christmas, Fielder’s Choice closed for a few months, but with spring supposedly on the horizon, they are back. In what has become an annual ritual, Clif and I, along with our friends Claire and Mary Jane, went to Fielder’s Choice for opening day.

Here is Clif, posing by the listings of ice cream. No, he is not a double-fisted ice cream eater. Instead, he is holding my peanut-butter ice cream cone. My absolute favorite.

Note the down jacket Clif is wearing, and the next picture will illustrate why my cone was in no danger of melting. Here, standing by a snow bank on a cold March day, are three lovely Mainers with their ice creams. We northerners sure know how to have fun.

To complete the frosty theme of this post, here is snow-gauge Clif in the front yard.

And in the backyard.

I hate to be pessimistic, but it seems to me that even though Fielder’s Choice has reopened, spring is not right around the corner. Not by a long shot.