Clif and I both have birthdays in September, and last week our daughters came home to celebrate with us. What a fine week it was! Having them here was the best present of all, and Shannon, who lives in North Carolina, has decided to make a mid-September visit a yearly occasion. Dee, our eldest, could only stay until midweek. It’s always inconvenient when work gets in the way of having fun.
Shannon stayed for the whole week, and as is our way, we filled it with simple pleasures—visiting with friends, going to a lecture on politics, playing a new game that Shannon got for her birthday. The weather was so warm that we could have drinks on the patio nearly every night.
Saturday, Shannon’s last day, was the grand finale. We went to Lakeside Orchard in Manchester for an apple festival.
Then, it was off to the Red Barn for lunch. I had one of their fabulous lobster rolls, and Shannon had a shrimp basket.
The Red Barn supports many charities, and outside a pet rescue organization—can’t remember the name—had a display, complete with dogs and cats. Shannon, a dog lover extraordinaire, couldn’t resist cuddling one of the dogs, a sweet border collie mix named Linda.
After lunch, we went to Hallowell to sit by the Kennebec River.
The river was aflutter with birds. We saw herons—look closely on the left.
From an even greater distance, we saw bald eagles. (Unfortunately, my wee camera doesn’t get good shots of birds, especially when they are far away, but I always try.)
And, of course, there were ducks that—to borrow from my friend Barbara—are plentiful but never common.
On Sunday, I brought Shannon to the bus station to begin the first leg of her journey back to North Carolina. I was so sorry to see her go, but she and her husband, Mike, will be back for Christmas, which isn’t that far away.
Now, it’s time to settle into our routine, to work on getting my YA fantasy, Maya and the Book of Everything, ready for publication.
There’s just one little hitch that will keep me from working for a few days—Clif gave me his cold. It’s just starting today, and I’m getting chores done before the road-kill phase of the cold sets in. Fortunately, Clif’s cold has not been a bad one, and I expect that by the end of the week I will be back on schedule.
Onward and upward!
Yesterday, on a gray day perfect for going out for lunch, we went to A1 Diner in Gardiner. (Thanks, Shannon and MIke for the gift certificate.)
A1, as it is locally called, really is a diner car, perched on the edge of a rather steep drop-off.
Like the outside, the inside of the diner is a trip back in time. Need I add that this is one of our favorite places in central Maine?
The food is fresh and tasty, and oh, the fries!
The chicken sandwich was pretty darned good, too.
After lunch, we went to Craft Beer Cellar, where we used yet another gift certificate. (Again, thanks Mike and Shannon.)
As Clif is the one who likes beer—I’m more of a cocktail kind of woman—he perused the selection while I chatted with John, the owner of the store. We talked about Gardiner’s main street, how it has gone from being a street with too many empty store fronts to a bustling place with many businesses, which, for now, are thriving.
“The city has been very supportive,” John told me. “None of us would be here without that help.”
Take note other little towns in central Maine, especially those with a less than thriving main street. I’m not going to mention any names. Seeds of growth must be watered and fed before they sprout, and too many town councils are penny wise and pound foolish. (For more about how Gardiner promotes businesses that are apt to stick around, click here to read this piece by centralmaine.com.)
Then it was back home again, where I discovered that the small swamp up the road was finally free of ice. Would there be peepers come nightfall?
No, but there were plenty of clicking frogs. Surely the peepers will soon be singing their spring song.
As the title of this post indicates, I don’t have a bucket list. I have nothing against them, but a bucket list is not for me. Instead, I prefer to focus on each day, on my various projects, on nature, on family and friends.
However, if I did have a bucket list, then seeing Shakespeare’s First Folio—a book published in 1623 that contains thirty-six of Shakespeare’s plays—would be at the top of my list. It might even be number one. (I fell in love with Shakespeare when I was in seventh grade, and it has been an enduring love.)
Well, lucky me, lucky me—the First Folio is now in Portland, Maine. The Folger Shakespeare Library, which has eighty-two copies of the First Folio—has sponsored a First Folio Tour, where in 2016 this great book will be displayed in all fifty states as well as in Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. In Maine, the Portland Public Library was chosen as the host site, and as Portland is only a little over an hour from where we live, getting to the First Folio is pretty easy. (How glad I am that I don’t live in northern Maine. I guess I still would have made the pilgrimage.)
Our friends Alice and Joel, who are also fans of Shakespeare, were over last weekend, and as we discussed the First Folio, I wondered if I would cry when I saw it.
Rather than look at me as though I were crazy, they just nodded, and Joel compared the First Folio to the Holy Grail. Or something like that. And how right he was. For those of us who love literature and plays, Shakespeare is at the top, reigning supreme.
Readers, I did not cry when I saw the First Folio on Tuesday. I was in too much awe. An attendant led us into a small darkened room, which, when the doors opened, came the blast of Handel’s Messiah. Just kidding about that last bit. The room was as quiet as an empty church.
The First Folio, of course, was in a case, and the book was opened to Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech. I stayed for some time gazing at this beautiful old book with its gold-edged pages. The First Folio is very modern in its layout and very Elizabethan in its spelling. It looked pretty much the way I thought it would except for the large size and thickness. This was not a book for everyday folks. According to the Portland Public Library’s website, the First Folio “originally sold for one British pound (20 shillings)—about $200 today.” And in The First Folio, Peter Blayney writes that “nothing quite like it had ever been published in folio before….The folio format was usually reserved for works of reference…and for the collected writings of important authors…”
In Elizabethan times, plays were not considered “important” but instead trivial, the mass entertainment of the time “unworthy of serious consideration as literature.” But somehow, two of Shakespeare’s fellow actors thought it worthwhile to publish the First Folio, and to them we must be forever grateful. Without that First Folio, many, if not most, of Shakespeare’s plays might very well have been forgotten and lost.
What to do after such an experience? Why, on to Lewiston to Fuel, my favorite restaurant in Maine.
I had a cocktail. In fact, I had two cocktails—after all!—and Clif had two beers. (He was the designated driver that night.)
We both had burgers, which come with delectable fries at no extra cost. On Tuesday, everything on the bar menu is $9 or less, which means the food is quite the bargain. Especially if you can limit yourself to one cocktail or a glass of wine or beer.
Home we went in a happy haze, full of good food and good drinks. What a way to end First Folio day.
Last Sunday, Clif and I had planned to ride from Hallowell to Richmond—a twenty-three-mile bike ride—but when we got up, we changed our minds. Although the day was bright and sunny, there was a very brisk wind and the temperature was about forty degrees. Too cold!
“Let’s go to Plan B,” I suggested. “How about a trip to the Red Barn, for homemade chips and fried chicken, a walk on the Rail Trail in Augusta, and then dessert at the Dairy Queen?” (Full disclosure: I love peanut buster parfaits. Fortunately, I only indulge once during the summer/fall season.)
“Sounds good to me,” Clif said, and to the Red Barn we went. The place was packed, as it always is on Sunday afternoons, and we had to drive around a bit before we found an empty space. However, the terrific staff—who are paid a living wage, I might add—were their usual cheerful, quick, and competent selves. I waited no more than five minutes for chips and chicken, cooked fresh and piping hot.
Because the day was sunny and involved a walk, we brought Liam, and by then it was warm enough to eat outside rather than in the car. The Red Barn is extremely pet friendly, and other people brought their dogs, too. At first Liam was excited and yippy, but he soon settled down so that we could eat our meal with only a minimum amount of barking and disruption.
After the big meal, a walk was certainly in order, and we drove to Hallowell where we could park the car and walk a portion of the Rail Trail. In Liam’s younger days, he would zip right along, and we would go several miles. However, Liam will be ten in January, and nowadays he likes to amble and sniff. Clif and I don’t mind. When we take the dog for a walk, we are doing it for him, not for exercise for us, and we let him take his time.
On the trail, I met Denis Ledoux, a writer who is in the Franco-American artists group I belong to. It was a bit of a surprise to see him out of context, so to speak, as he lives a fair distance from Augusta. He had come to visit a friend, and they were walking the trail together. Denis and I talked about what many Francos talk about when they get together—cleaning the house, garage, and yard.
As I’ve written before, Francos have a zeal for cleanliness and order that borders on fanaticism, and it is one of our big topics of discussion. There are, of course, individual Francos who buck this tradition, but even so, cleaning the house usually hangs heavy over their heads. It’s a rare Franco, male or female, who breaks free from the grip of cleaning the house.
We also talked a bit about writing and the goings-on within the Franco Artists Group, one of the best groups I have ever belonged to. So many talented writers, artists, and performers in this group.
After saying goodbye to Denis, we continued on for a little longer. Asters and thistles were in bloom, giving modest bursts of color to the fall landscape. The wind had stopped blowing, and it was so warm that I had to take off my jacket.
“We could have gone on that bike ride,” I said.
“I know,” Clif replied.
Ah, well! We had made our decision. After the walk, it was on to the Dairy Queen, where everyone had ice cream, even the dog. As the young woman made up Liam’s doggy ice cream, she said, “When you make a dog a treat, it should be a real treat,” and she studded his ice cream with four dog biscuits.
After we finished our ice cream, it was late afternoon, with plenty of daylight left. On the way home, I said to Clif, “Let’s go for a short bike ride along Memorial Drive.”
And so we did, sliding the bike ride into a day filled with good food, sun, the dog, a walk, and an unexpected meeting.
For Clif and me, last week was action packed. First there was the Kick-Off Celebration of our library’s expansion project. (I wrote about this in the previous post.) Then there was Railroad Square Cinema’s celebration party for its own expansion project, which Clif and I went to on Saturday night.
Clif and I decided to go early and meet our friends Joel and Alice at Buen Apetito, the busy Mexican Restaurant attached to the cinema. The restaurant also was expanded, and now it has its own entrance as well as a snappy new bar where customers can gather to drink margaritas—take care as they can be strong!—and eat chips and salsa. Clif and I shared an order of tasty pulled-pork nachos, and 2 margaritas each put us in a jolly mood.
After dinner, we went next door to the cinema, and the dear little place hardly looked like itself. There is a spiffy new entrance, where tickets can be purchased, and the concession stand has been moved across the enlarged lobby. The lobby was packed with people, and on the walls was an exhibit, edgy and sharp enough to be shown in a museum. (The lobby was so crowded that it put me in a daze, and I didn’t get the name of either the artist or the exhibit. Clif and I hope to go back soon to get that information.)
There is even a new closet in the women’s room. Another patron and I regarded it suspiciously. “What is that?” she asked. “A storage closet?” I ventured. A quick peek indicated that this was indeed the case.
Railroad Square Cinema opened in 1978, and Clif and I have been going there from the very beginning. We’ve seen many changes, but Railroad Square remains an important cultural center in Waterville, and it draws people from miles around. In fact, Railroad Square, combined with Colby College, the Waterville Opera House, and a wonderful public library, makes Waterville a very attractive place for seniors to retire.
So congratulations Railroad Square Cinema! May you continue to give us good movies, good art, and good times for many years to come.
Yesterday, with a merry heart, I drove to Portland to meet my friends Joan and Susan at Petite Jacqueline, where we celebrated Joan’s birthday. (Yes, I know. I’m involved in a lot of birthday celebrations. And I just love it.) The food is oh so tasty at Petite Jacqueline, and the servers let us talk long after the restaurant had closed for the afternoon. I also must admit that I have a soft spot for any restaurant that has a “Bonjour” sign at its entrance. The sign seems like a sweet little nod to the Franco-American population of the state, a population that at 30 percent is so large that it’s almost not a minority.
We talked about many things—my writing projects; Susan’s various performances—she’s a very talented actor; and Joan’s renovation of the family farm, a huge endeavor that Joan is approaching with pluck and energy. But one of the most interesting parts of the conversation was Susan’s description of getting insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, also sometimes known as Obamacare. (Sorry, Joan! I know how you hate that term.)
A bit of a backstory: Susan Poulin and her husband, Gordon Carlisle, are one of Maine’s power art couples. She is an actor, he is an artist, and they are able to support themselves through their work. This is a testament not only to their prodigious talent but also to their hard work and organizational skills. To say I admire them is quite an understatement.
Because they are self-employed, Susan and Gordon have had to buy their own health insurance, and for years they went with Dirigo Health, a state-sponsored plan. As with most freelancers, Susan and Gordon’s income varies, and sometimes they had to pay $500 per month for insurance while other years they had to pay as much as $900 per month, a hefty price for an actor and an artist. Quite a burden, in fact.
Now that the Affordable Care Act is in effect, Dirigo is ending, and Susan and Gordon had to change health-care plans. With the help of a certified “navigator,” Susan and Gordon successfully enrolled in the silver plan offered by the Affordable Care Act. Their new cost? $188 a month, with benefits as good as their old $500 to $900 plan.
“When I heard the price, I had tears in my eyes,” Susan admitted. “We can easily afford $188 a month.”
Her advice for people who have affordable health insurance through their work or through Medicare yet like to gripe about the Affordable Care Act? “Shut the ‘bleep’ up. You have no idea how expensive it is to buy health insurance on your own.”
Naturally, I was thrilled to hear that because of the Affordable Care Act, Susan and Gordon soon would have affordable health insurance that provided great coverage. It’s not only good for them, but it’s also good for other people who want to work for themselves. They now have the freedom to do so without worrying about the cost of health care, and it is my guess the Affordable Care Act is going to be a huge boon for artists and entrepreneurs and, in turn, for this country. Without affordable health care, there can be no freedom, no security, and this stifles creativity.
I was also thrilled for Clif and me. Clif is 6 years older than I am, and in 4 years he will be able to retire with decent if modest benefits as well as Medicare. However, I will only be 60, and I most definitely have a preexisting condition—I was diagnosed with breast cancer 3 years ago. I hated the thought of Clif having to work until he was 72 so that I could have affordable health insurance, and now he won’t have to do so.
Susan gave me permission to use her story because she wanted readers to know the good news about the Affordable Care Act. It is true that the beginning has had a rough start. Nevertheless, the good that will come from the Affordable Care Act far outweighs the bumpy start.
It is my guess that in the future, Obama (BHO?) will attain the same status as FDR and LBJ when it comes to progressive legislation that has done so much good for so many people.
Despite rough beginnings, sometimes this country does move forward.
In yesterday’s post, I described going to New York City last weekend to visit my daughter Dee. In that post, I had planned to touch briefly on the highlights of the trip, but the spirit of Samuel Becket seized me, and instead I wrote about the terrific play we saw—Waiting for Godot—and how it remains relevant to our time.
Therefore, today I will briefly describe the other highlights of the trip and share some of the pictures I took.
One of the things I love best about New York City is the wonderful diversity of the people—black, brown, white, Asian, gay, straight, stylish, and frumpy. It’s all there. For someone like me who comes from a mostly white and rural state, the variety is dazzling and a reminder that there are many, many types of people on this planet.
On Saturday, we began our Manhattan foray with a trip to the Chelsea Doughnut Plant for one of their fresh, fresh donuts. Dee had a pumpkin donut, which she let me taste, and it was utterly delicious. My own square coconut donut was also tasty as can be. (Unfortunately, the picture of the coconut donut didn’t come out well.)
Properly fueled, we explored some of the art galleries in Chelsea, ending with an outdoor installation of Francois-Xavier Lalanne’s Sheep Station, which appropriately enough featured sculptures of sheep “grazing” by a defunct gas station. A vision of the future? A juxtaposition of rural and urban? Whatever the case, it drew people’s attention, and there was much picture taking.
Then, it was on to McNulty’s Tea & Coffee Co. in Greenwich Village. McNulty’s bills its store as a “journey to another time,” and they are not indulging in hyperbole. The shop is small, tight, dark, and loaded with containers of loose tea and bags coffee. The closest analogy is an old-time smoke shop, albeit one with healthier products. The clerks who work there—they all seemed to be men, but I could be wrong about this—gave the impression that they had spent a long time as tea and coffee apprentices and that they took their jobs very seriously. Not that the atmosphere of the store was glum or stiff. Far from it. Although these clerks took their jobs seriously, they were also relaxed. I bought some Golden Assam for me and Lapsang Souchong for Clif. A white-haired man weighed the tea on an old-fashioned brass scale. Later that night, when we got back to Dee’s apartment, we tried some of the Golden Assam, and it was smooth with a slight tang, a first-rate tea. From now on, a trip to New York will include going to McNulty’s for tea. Among other teas, I’d love to try their English Breakfast and Earl Grey.
After all that walking, from the art galleries to McNulty’s, we were hungry, and we stopped at Spice for a late lunch—curry for Dee and pad Thai for me. At Spice, the food and the service are good, and the food is reasonably priced, not a given at any restaurant, whether it is Maine or New York.
In New York, the streets are crowded with cars and trucks, but bikes are making inroads. I have been going regularly to New York City since 2000, and never have I seen so many bikes and bikers. There are bike lanes, relatively new, and stands of city bikes, which can be rented. Mayor Bloomberg, apparently, can be thanked for the bike promotion, and this is a lesson that shows the importance of visionary leadership. I am all for community-based action and projects, but with big things, such as bike lanes, the initiative must come from the top down. And if such services are provided, people will use them, as was clearly demonstrated on my New York trip.
Sunday, was Dee’s day to choose the activities, my birthday present to her, and being a movie buff, she chose movies. We saw the excellent 12 Years a Slave, and this movie was so good it is my guess it will turn out to be the best movie of the year. The acting was outstanding, the cinematography was beautiful, and the story was gut wrenching. Set in the 1840s, the story revolves around a free black man named Solomon Northup and how he is tricked, captured, and sold into slavery. A must-see movie, that’s for sure. Interesting that the director as well as many of the actors are British.
We also saw Claire Denis’s Bastard, a stinker of a movie. But you can’t win them all.
All too soon the weekend came to an end, and it was time for the long bus ride home. But what a weekend! A stellar play, an equally stellar movie. Donuts, tea, good food. And best of all, a visit with my daughter.
Yesterday was my 56th birthday, and it was filled with all things good. First, I met my Franco friends Joan Vermette and Susan Poulin for lunch at the terrific restaurant Petite Jacqueline in Portland. (A very appropriate place for Franco-Americans to meet.) Franco-Americans are a chatty bunch, and Joan, Susan, and I talked well past the closing time. Yikes! I felt a little foolish when I realized the restaurant had closed, and we were still there talking, but the tolerant staff remained pleasant.
After lunch, it was off to SoPo to join Clif and Liam at Shannon and Mike’s home. After cake and presents, we went for a walk on the beach at Pine Point in Scarborough. It was dusk, and the sky and the ocean were silver gray. The dogs frolicked, and I found a piece of sea glass to add to my collection. While there were people on the beach, it was far from crowded. As I mentioned to Shannon, given it’s not too cold, off season is my favorite time to walk on the beach. Lucky Mike and Shannon to live so close to the ocean.
After the walk, it was back to Shannon and Mike’s home for a dinner of appetizers—chicken wings, chocolate hazelnut spread on bread, cheese straws, brie, and crackers.
What a great way to celebrate the start of my 56th year. If only Dee could have joined us…
My birthday in pictures:
Last night I met some old friends—Lynne, Sherry, Joyce, Perian, Cindy, and Peggy (and her husband, Mark)—for dinner at Cook’s Lobster House on Bailey’s Island. Cook’s is on a spit of land, and the ocean surrounds the restaurant on 3 sides. While we were eating, the sun set in a clear sky, but as dusk came, a chill mist rolled in, bringing swiftly moving gray clouds. A very, very beautiful place. I ordered a fish sandwich that was so large and so fresh that I could hardly believe the price—$10—and that included fries. Unfortunately, the fries were only so-so—lukewarm and probably not fresh cut. However, with such good fish, the fries were beside the point.
In some ways, the food was beside the point, and for someone who is as obsessed with food as I am, that is quite a statement. I have known most of these women for 20 years. We were all part of Maine Media Women, an organization that supports women in all aspects of the media. Because of the distance—many of us live over an hour away from each other—and busy schedules, we have often been able to meet only once a year. Nevertheless, after knowing each other for such a long time, we have a history together.
However, life brings change, and at 55, I certainly understand this. Two women in the group—Lynne and Sherry—will be moving. Lynne’s move is not that far, and it is likely that we will be able to get together with her at least once a year. But Sherry is moving across country, and while she might come back to visit us, she cannot be a regular part our gatherings, the way she has been.
Still, as much as I understand that things change, last night was bittersweet, a breaking up of the “fellowship,” so to speak. There was an underlying sadness as we ate, even though we joked and laughed and were lively until we said our goodbyes and posed for pictures, at which point there were some tears. One part of our lives was ending, just as another part was beginning for Lynne and Sherry.
And so it goes. We come together and support each other as best we can. After 20 years of knowing a group of friends, it seems as though the routine is going to continue forever, but of course it doesn’t. It can’t. Impermanence is a permanent part of life. Nothing lasts forever. Deep down, we all know this, and we try not to think about it too much.
I’m going to end on a more upbeat note, with a little account of an exchange between Perian and me. Before going to Cook’s, we went to Perian’s house for drinks and appetizers. I brought a bottle of Chardonnay and some cashews. When it comes to being frugal, both Perian and I are peas in a pod, as the saying goes, and I don’t remember how the topic came up, but it went something like this:
Me: That Chardonnay is not too bad.
Perian: It’s very good.
Me: Worth the $3.99 I paid for it, don’t you think?
Perian: $3.99?! Where did you get it?
Me: Trader Joe’s.
Perian: I thought you had paid at least $5 for it.
The last of the big-time spenders, as my mother might have said. Oh, Perian and I had a good laugh over that one, the kind of laugh you only can have when you’ve known someone for a long time.
Addendum: For some silly reason—chalk it up to my aging brain—I forgot to mention that Perian’s beautiful daughter, Laney, joined us. Sorry, Laney! You were the brightest star of the gathering.