Category Archives: People

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.

What I’ve Been Reading Online: “I Haven’t Always Been an Activist”

As I have written previously,  I follow many different kinds of blogs, but the trait they all share is creativity, which comes in many, many forms.  As far as I’m concerned, creativity is as essential to life as breathing. It is the spark that keeps us going and makes life worthwhile. But there. I’ve written about this before, too.

Because I am so frequently blown away by the creativity of my blog friends, from time to time I’m going to share a particular post that was especially inspiring. I do want to note that, in fact, I could be featuring posts every single day as so many terrific posts come my way. Now, if that isn’t something to grateful for, then I don’t know what is.

Today’s featured post is “I Haven’t Always Been an Activist” from Beth Clark’s blog Piecing It Together. Along with being a blog friend, Beth is also a personal friend—she and her husband live about an hour away from us—and I have known her for many years. Not only is she a good writer, but she also cooks, sews, knits, does a multitude of crafts, and takes lovely pictures. Those things alone would be fine examples of someone living a creative life, but Beth has currently added “activist” to the list.

In her post Beth chronicles the process of how she became an activist and how this did not happen overnight. It was a slow process, speeded up by the political events of the past six years. Spoiler alert: Here are Beth’s powerful concluding lines, written in reflection after calling an elected official: “I am not a robo-caller; I am not someone outside your legislative district; I am not being paid or coerced into calling your office. I am a woman and a voter and you cannot close your line to me. I will be heard. I am an activist.”

Wow seems like an inadequate response, but wow is what I feel. How proud I am to be her friend.

Here is the link to “I haven’t Always Been an Activist.”

The Fabulous Susan Poulin and Ida LeClair

On Tuesday, the fabulous Susan Poulin came to the Charles M. Bailey Public Library to read from her newest book, The Sweet Life: Ida LeClair’s Guide to Love & Marriage. Full disclosure: Susan and I are friends. We’ve known each other for many years, and as Susan mentioned to Shane, the adult services librarian, the first time we met, it was as though we had each found a sister.

“Kindred spirits,” I added.

Nevertheless, even if we weren’t friends and kindred spirits, I would still be a true-blue fan of hers. Susan is an incredibly gifted story teller, humorist, and performer.  In fact, one of the best I’ve ever seen.

img_5027

The warm and wise Ida LeClair, from the fictional Maine town of Mahoosuc Mills, is Susan Poulin’s alter ego. Ida “came” to Susan twenty years ago as a character who lived with her husband Charlie  and their dog Scamp in a double-wide mobile home.  But if grim images of poverty and degradation come to your mind, wipe them away. Immediately. Ida and Charlie, married right out of high school, still love each other very much. The double wide is neat and tidy, and Ida’s joie de vivre thrums through every story and performance. (This is Susan’s second book, and she has done several one-woman shows that feature Ida.)

In addition, Ida has good friends and is rooted in her community. While she and Charlie might not be wealthy, they are rich in all the things that really matter.

To get a sense of Ida’s voice, here’s an excerpt from Chapter One, page one of The Sweet Life: “I’m…a certified Maine Life Guide…The way I see it, life guiding is…like a gentle nudge in the right direction. Someone to lend a hand when you need a little help getting out of the pucker brush and back onto the trail.”

Ida, in her inimitable way, goes on to explain, “[I] f you…are ready to get up off your duff and do what needs to be done to make it happen, welcome aboard.”

Welcome aboard, indeed! As Susan noted at Bailey Library, The Sweet Life is about sharing the good life with your partner, your friends, your family. It’s also about coping with the loss of a spouse. Each chapter deals, humorously but wisely, with various aspects of relationships, and my favorite chapter title is “There is no ‘I’ in Team, but Maybe There Should Be.”

As Susan read various sections of the book, she made us laugh, and, yes, she even made us a little tearful.  She ended with a scene of  Ida and Charlie spending time at camp with best friends. “We eat breakfast on the screened-in porch, overlooking the lake, all of us talking and laughing. Charlie smiles and squeezes my hand, looking so relaxed. And I think, at this moment, at this place here on Moose Megantic Lake, regardless of what we have been through, everything is wonderful in our world.”

What a way to end.

img_5032