Category Archives: Winter

March Marches On

Farther Afield

Last weekend we again headed south of the border to Massachusetts to visit our youngest daughter, Shannon and her husband, Mike. We also went there to pick up our eldest daughter, Dee, who had spent the past month in New York where she tended to business concerning her apartment. Now she is back with us for a while.

As we ate Chinese food and discussed books, movies, and television shows, I reflected on how lucky it is that we enjoy talking to each other so much. But bad weather was blowing up the coast, and we reluctantly left early before the worst of it came.

On the way home, I also reflected on how lucky I am to have access to podcasts and other other places on the Internet where I can discover new books, music, television shows, and movies. I live in a rural community in a rural state, and while I love all the nature that’s around me, I also love art and culture. The Internet allows me to learn and explore and to listen to new ideas that wouldn’t ordinarily be available to someone who lives in the hinterlands.

I realize that the Internet is not a source of unalloyed good. Plenty of trolls and bad actors make use of the Internet to spread their hate and lies. But there is also much good that can come from being connected to other folks and organizations. Because of the Internet, I have blogging friends around the world, and for this I am ever so grateful.

I hope we can find a way to minimize the harm of the Internet while keeping the many things that are good about it.


Snow-Gauge Clif

Here we are at the end of March. In Maine this is an in-between kind of time, not exactly winter but not quite spring. In our yard at the edge of the forest, there is still plenty of snow, but there’s also a fair amount of bare ground. At least in the sunnier backyard.

It’s still too muddy to start with spring clean-up, but in a week or two I’ll be able to work in the backyard without fear of losing my shoes.

Here is Snow-Gauge Clif in the backyard.

Now around to the snowier front yard.

Just for fun, here’s a photo of this year’s Christmas wreath, which is definitely past its best.

In late March or early April, depending on the depth of the snow, I always take the holiday wreath apart and throw the greenery into the woods. I think the snow has melted enough to allow me to do this fairly soon.

It’s time, don’t you think?



I came across Jorge Glem and Sam Reider on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts. As soon as I heard them I said to myself, “What can be more fun than an accordion and a tiny guitar (a cuatro)? As turns out, not much. But the music can also be soulful. One thing is certain, this is definitely a unique pairing.

An Anniversary Weekend and Snow-Gauge Clif

Our Anniversary

Last Saturday counted as an action-packed day for two homebodies who can be found most days at their house on the edge of the woods. It was our forty-sixth wedding anniversary, and as is our wont, we planned a day of simple pleasures that revolved around food.

First, breakfast. I made a batch of vegan chocolate muffins from my own recipe, one that I have come to be inordinately proud of. With them, we had veggie sausages. A good start to the day.

For lunch we headed to Augusta to the Red Barn, which specializes in fried food. Both Clif and I are crazy about fried food, but for obvious health reasons, we seldom have it.  But for our anniversary we figured, what the heck, and we threw caution to the wind. We brought our own dairy-free ranch dressing for reasons I’ll explain later. The food—piping hot mixed veggies—were oh so good.

Then it was off to our local supermarket to pick up nondairy cream cheese for a taste test comparison. Clif is lactose intolerant and not just a little bit. Because of this, we are always on the lookout for nondairy alternatives to food we love. Time was when supermarkets in central Maine did not offer much in the way of dairy-free products, but that is changing. On Saturday we found two cream cheese alternatives to go with crackers and drinks in late afternoon.

I am sorry to report that neither of the cream cheeses came through with flying colors. Vevan, the one on the left, had a muddy taste where the flavors were jumbled but nothing stood out, and the Kitehill, while marginally better, had a strange undertaste. Readers, if any of you have nondairy cream cheese recommendations, I’d love to hear about them.

Fortunately, we had better results with dessert. We’ve had this before, so we knew what were getting. The “So Delicious” on the carton is no exaggeration. This frozen dessert is one of the most delicious I have ever tasted, and that includes dairy ice cream. It is smooth, rich, creamy, and filled with chunks of cashews and chocolate. Who could ask for anything more? Its one drawback is the price—$5 for a quart. But since it was our anniversary, we figured we could splurge. Besides, $2.50 apiece for a dessert for a special day isn’t so very bad, and it was worth every penny.


Snow-Gauge Clif

Today is the vernal equinox, and even in central Maine, we are seeing signs that spring just might be coming. I’ve heard the spring songs of cardinals and chickadees.

However, in our shady yard, the snow is still pretty high.

Here is Clif in the front yard.

And here he is in the backyard.

Still a ways to go before we are snow free.



While my favorite genres of music are Alternative Rock and Folk Rock, I am also very keen on Baroque Music. I know, I know. Quite a spread there. When I work on my fiction, I always listen to Baroque music, and I’m particularly fond of Vivaldi.

So on this vernal equinox, here is a farewell to winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: Winter. In Maine, we still might have a snowstorm or two, but we are definitely heading toward spring.

After the Nor’easter

A nasty storm blew across the country, and by the time it hit Maine, the storm had become a nor’easter. Fortunately, central Maine was spared much of the snow and wind damage. Not so for southern and coastal Maine, where the wind blew hard and knocked out power for tens of thousands of folks.

We only got about four inches of snow, and although the lights blacked out once, they came back on, and we didn’t lose our power. Because it is March, the snow was wet and heavy but not hard to clean as there wasn’t that much of it.

Here are some scenes from what we hope will be the last big storm of winter. However, with the way this year has gone, who the heck knows?


Today I came upon Mama’s Broke on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, and I couldn’t resist sharing this with you. How good Lisa Maria Bates and Amy Lou Keeler are! They combine traditional music with innovative techniques, such as using chopsticks to play the fiddle. Enjoy.


Septic System Problems, Snow-Gauge Clif & and a Review of Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
—Joni Mitchell

The past two weeks have been hard ones. First we lost our beloved cat, dear little Ms. Watson. Then, our septic system decided to stop working—toilets wouldn’t flush, and showers wouldn’t drain. As I’m sure readers can imagine, this was no fun at all.

Being Mainers, we tried to fix the problem ourselves. Clif used his trusty plumbing snake to see if he could find a clog. He couldn’t, and we set up a camping toilet in the big bathroom. We used a dishpan for washing up, dumping the water into a bucket and then emptying the soapy water outside. (In the summer, when we haven’t had rain for a while, I sometimes use the gray water on my perennials.) So we had a system, albeit a primitive one.

Eventually, Clif gave up and decided to call the plumbers. I am happy to report that they came came swiftly as did the folks who pumped our septic tank. Finally, after the second time the plumbers came, they found the problem, and with their much larger plumbing snake, they were able to dislodge a big clog that Clif had mistakenly thought was the edge of our septic system.

I thanked the plumbers profusely as they packed up their truck to go off to help someone else with a problem. Smiling, they indicated it was all in a day’s work. For them, I suppose it was. For us, it was something akin to salvation.

Now, the toilets flush, the shower drains, and life is back to  normal. The quotation at the beginning of this piece sums up how Clif and I felt about the situation.

Joni got it exactly right.


Plumbing problems or not, Clif was out with his trusty snow gauge to measure the snow.

Here he is in the front yard by the driveway and then on the walkway leading to the front door.

Over the past week, the weather has been warm and sunny, and the snow has actually gone down a bit. Here are last week’s pictures for comparison.

And here is Clif in the backyard.

Again, last week.

The path to the compost bin was actually muddy this week, and I had to step carefully so as not to lose my Sloggers. In Maine, this counts as progress, but up the East Coast, a nor’easter is blowing, and tomorrow’s forecast is for another foot of snow.

Dang! Snow-gauge Clif and I are ready for the snow to melt, not to accumulate.



Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Note: There are moderate spoilers in this review.

With its spare, beautiful writing, this gem of a short novel—set in the 1980s—is nearly perfect. In the Irish town of New Ross, Christmas is coming. Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, works long hours to ensure his customers have enough fuel to stay warm over the holidays. At home, his wife Eileen and their five daughters bustle to get ready for Christmas. In her own way, Eileen is as busy as Bill is. I’m guessing many women will identify with Eileen and the hard work of getting ready for Christmas. I know I did.

While making deliveries, Bill reflects on his life as an illegitimate child raised by a single mother who worked as a domestic servant for “Mrs. Wilson the Protestant widow who lived in the big house a few miles outside town.” Mrs. Wilson, frugal but kindhearted, provided Bill and his mother with a warm, stable home and even helped Bill as an adult. Fortunately, in New Ross, there is little antagonism between Catholics and Protestants.

There is, however, a convent in New Ross where on one side is a school and the other side a home for unwed mothers. The convent, in many ways, is important to the economy of the town and especially to Bill, whose daughters go to school there.

In a tense, heartbreaking way, Bill’s reflections of his childhood converge with bringing coal to the convent and what he discovers. Then Bill must must make a decision that will reverberate with his family for years to come.

I’ll certainly  be reading more of Claire Keegan and have ordered Foster through interlibrary loan.


Snow-Gauge Clif & Book Review: Our Spoons Came from Woolworths

During the past week, we had three snowstorms, and the last one, on Saturday, was a corkah as we Mainers would say. Clif measured thirteen inches with his snow gauge, and the snow was wet, heavy, and hard to move. Our electric snow-thrower, Snow-Joe, just barely managed, and I did a fair amount of shoveling. Nature’s gym, as I like to call it.

Here is a picture or our car before we cleaned the driveway. Only a sliver of red shows through the snow.

More red in the snow as Mr. Cardinal comes to the feeder.

Now, on to Snow-Gauge Clif, who stood in a different place so that readers could see the tunnel that is our path to the front door.

Here he is in his usual place in the driveway.

And in the backyard.

It’s funny to think how in January there was so little snow that we were worried Snow-Gauge Clif would be out of a job this year. But Mother Nature said, “Not so fast,” and we now have snow aplenty. Good for the water table and the plants, but I think we have enough snow. I hope Mother Nature agrees.


I want to thank everyone for the notes of sympathy I received in the comment section of my post about little Ms. Watson. I really do appreciate it as did the rest of the family. A lovely example of how kind words of support really do matter.



Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

Note: There are moderate spoilers in this review.

Recently I have begun following a wonderful blog called JacquiWine’s Journal, which is mostly about books and a little about wine. For a book nerd like me, this blog is sheer delight. Jacqui especially likes novels from the mid-twentieth century, and so do I, particularly if the writers were women. These novel chart the ways women’s lives have changed over the twentieth century, and much of it is for the better. In one book I read, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s The Beautiful Visit—set in the early 1900s—a young girl’s parents forbid her from becoming a librarian because it doesn’t seem genteel enough to them.

Jacqui has introduced me to many good writers, and one of them is Barbara Comyns. Our Spoons came from Woolworths is a harrowing novel of living in poverty in the 1930s in England. The novel has autobiographical elements, and it follows the marriage of Charles and Sophia. Charles is a painter, and, among other things, Sophia works as a painting model.

A more hapless couple you will never meet. Charles thinks only of his painting and cares about little else. Sophia is innocent in most every way, including on how babies are conceived. As a result, Charles and Sophia live in terrible poverty, just barely scraping by. Not surprisingly, Sophia becomes pregnant, and there’s a harrowing scene of labor and delivery in a hospital where poor women go to have their babies. The woman are marched, literally, through the system and are left in their bloody shifts for far too long. In short, there is little tenderness, and the care is  minimal.

Sophia’s fortunes improve because of an inheritance, but once that is gone, life becomes even worse.

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is a gripping read. Sophia’s voice is plain, steady, compelling. Through it all my sympathies were with her, despite her poor judgement. For her selfish husband, Charles? Zero.

The end is a bit like a fairy tale, but I have to admit it comes as a relief.


Winter 2023: The Return of Snow-Gauge Clif

This is the time of year that longtime Hinterland readers all around the world have been looking forward to—the return of Snow-Gauge Clif. Beginning on March 1 and then on subsequent Mondays, Clif will be out there with his trusty snow gauge—really a yardstick—to record the rate of melting snow. (Even in Maine it eventually melts.) Clif will do this until the snow is gone, usually sometime in mid-April.

So here, on March 1, 2023, is Snow-Gauge Clif in the front yard.

And here he is in the backyard.

And here are few more snowy pictures. Last night, we had a storm that gave us about eight inches of light, fluffy snow. Easy to clean, pretty to look at.

First the backyard.

And then a picture of our house nestled in the snow by the edge of the woods.

In Maine, winter isn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.

The Miracle of Longer Days

Note: I accidentally posted a version of this piece well before it was finished. I tried to delete the partial post, but I was apparently unsuccessful. My apologies! This post is the complete post.

Last week saw record-breaking high temperatures come to Maine. Our thermometer is in the shade, which means the temperature was closer to 60°F. Holy cats! I never thought I’d see such warm weather in Maine in February.

However, despite the unseasonable weather, we knew we’d need wood for the next month, and on that warm day, a load of wood bricks was delivered for our furnace down cellar.

Fortunately, Clif has his trusty cart that he’s modified to easily haul the wood bricks. Note that Clif is not wearing a jacket. Even when there is snow on the ground, when the weather is 60°, a sweatshirt is enough.

The next day, on Friday, the weather turned, bringing a dusting of snow to our home on the edge of the woods. Clif was glad the snow hadn’t come the previous day when he was hauling wood.

This Thursday, a proper snowstorm is in the forecast with a predicted snowfall of between 8 and 10 inches. Winter is not quite done with us despite last week’s warm weather.

Still, the days are getting longer. In late December, the dark came at 4:30. Now, it stays light until 5:30. Yesterday, as I was looking out the window into the woods, I was thinking about Earth on its tilted axis as it travels around the sun. Suddenly, it struck me how marvelous and magical it all was—short days in the winter, long days in the summer.

I know we all have to focus on practical day to day to things and those who are near and dear. There is always work to do, projects to start, loved ones to care about. But it seems to me that every once in a while we should take time to reflect on what a miracle the universe is and how wonderful our own dear planet is.

My backyard, filled with its own small miracles.



I haven’t shared a Tiny Desk Concert in a while. But when I came across the Gutiérrez brothers and their chill but engaging music, I knew the time had come to share this concert on my blog. Perfect for a winter’s day, whatever the temperature.


The Polar Punch Pastes Our Public Library

What a difference a week can make. On February 10, Allison Finch, of AccuWeather wrote, “In a remarkable weather turnabout, [in the Northeast] temperatures throttled up from the lowest levels of the year to late-March levels within a week.”

She was absolutely right. Here was the temperature at our house on Friday, February 3.

And here it was one week later on Friday, February 10.

A case of weather whiplash, that’s for sure.

Unfortunately for our town’s library, the polar punch did its dirty work before it left the state on Sunday, February 5.

In the Kennebec Journal,  Richard Fortin, the library’s director, explained what the librarians found on February 4: “We came in around 8:30 on Saturday morning and the building smelled like heating oil. We went into the furnace room and basically found that the oil filters and oil lines were encased in ice. There’s a fresh air vent in that room, and that extreme cold just came in and froze those lines.”

Frozen lines, of course, spell trouble.

“[Fortin] said this caused the oil’s consistency to resemble sludge or mud, so it was not able to get through the lines. This backed up the system and caused a major oil leak.

“The entire boiler was basically encapsulated with oil,” said Fortin. “It leaked through the cast iron. And the nozzle was spraying oil into the room.”

Not good. Not good at all. The library was closed for a whole week as the problem was dealt with. On Wednesday, The Maine Department of Environmental Protection “determined…the harmful materials in the air had dissipated enough that the library [was] safe.”

But the library still reeked of oil—the children’s section smelled especially bad—and there was major rearranging to do so that the library could open today, Monday, February 13.

Most of the books I read come from the library, and this polar punch incident at the library made me realize, yet again, how much I love my library and how much it gives to me. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the library is a cultural mainstay for me. Because of the library and its interlibrary loan system, the world of story and ideas is completely open to me. I don’t have to worry about cost or bookshelf space.

Whenever I go to events and sign my own book, Library Lost, I always add “Love Your Library.”

I certainly do love mine. I am so glad it’s reopened.



The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

This murder mystery novel is as airy as a chocolate soufflé and just as delicious. At an upscale senior retirement village in England, four friends—Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron—meet weekly on Thursday to talk about unsolved crimes. Naturally murder strikes, not once but twice, and the sleuthing seniors sally forth to discover who the killer is.

There are several storylines that converge in a satisfying way. Two detectives, Chris and Donna, become involved in investigating the murders. Although Chris and Donna aren’t fools, the seniors are always several steps ahead of them.

Osman has a deft touch that snaps the story along but allows for character development, a must for me as a reader. And although The Thursday Murder Club could be categorized as a light read, the novel touches on many aspects of aging—physical and mental diminishment, loneliness, regret, and grief—that are not so light.

However, friendship and community provide solace and bring purpose as well as happiness to Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron.

There are two more books in the series—both on the bookcase in my living room—with another slated to be published in September 2023.

Thanks to Barbara at Thistles and Kiwis for bringing Richard Osman to my attention. One of the great joys of blogging is to be introduced to writers I’ve never heard of. The same is true for television shows, movies, and podcasts. I really enjoy getting suggestions.


Polar Punch

Weather Report

On Friday we had what has been referred to as a “Polar Punch.” Cold air from the Arctic blew into New England, and in central Maine the temperature dipped to -23°F, with the wind chill making it seem like -50°F. As a Mainer, I am used to cold weather, but this, as the saying goes, took the cake. I don’t remember winter ever being this cold when I was a child.

On Friday night, as the temperature plummeted and the wind blew hard, the house cracked in loud protest. At first, Clif and I thought a bird had flown into a window in the dining room, but when we checked the ground below the windows, we didn’t see anything. However, when the cracks continued, we realized the noise was coming from the house itself, and it felt as though we were being visited by restless spirits. Two Facebook friends described how their dogs were spooked by the sharp cracks, which sounded like gunshots or large branches breaking. I could sympathize with the dogs. Clif and I were disconcerted, too.

Through it all, we stayed cozy and warm and mostly inside. (Clif braved the Arctic blast to check the mail.) We have three kinds of heat—electric, gas, and wood. We used them all. I expect we won’t  be too happy to see next month’s heating bill, but staying warm is important.

And what is the forecast for next week? Highs in the 40s. What the heck!

Here is a pictorial record of the Polar Punch at our home on the edge of the woods. While I didn’t get a shot of the thermometer when the weather was at its coldest, this is what the temperature was on Friday night before we went to bed. Still a bit on the brisk side, and with the wind blowing, it felt even colder.

When I got up on Saturday morning, it was still pretty darned cold.

Ice coated the inside of the dining room windows. (We have insulated shades that we pull down at night.) The leaves are decals we use to help stop the birds from flying into the window. If you look closely, by the last leaf at the bottom, you can the circles my finger left behind as I tested the window to see if the ice was on the inside or outside.

The window in my bedroom was completely covered. Fortunately, this ice was on the outside.

In the kitchen, at least, we could peek outside, but note the layer of ice on the inside at the bottom.  I’m not sure why there is such a difference in ice build-up on the various windows, but it’s probably due to the age of the glass and the variation of the insulating shades, which were not bought at the same time.

The fierce wind blew sticks and debris into the yard. I’ll be waiting until spring comes to clean them up.

Lucky for us, the polar punch didn’t stay long. By Sunday, the ice inside the window was gone, and the temp was 25°F and climbing.

For now, at least, the extreme cold is over.

This week, there will be no Reading Section on this Monday post.  While Clif and I are pretty unflappable when it comes to cold weather—we are Mainers, after all—this weather gave us the jitters and pretty much dominated our thoughts and conversation.

Next week, I’ll discuss another book.

At Last, a Proper Snow Storm & Lolly Willowes

Weather Report

This January has been warmer than average. However, cold weather from the Arctic is forecasted to blast us this weekend, with a projected temperature as low as -20°F (-28°C). With the windchill factor, it might even drop to -40°F. That, my friends, is cold even by Maine standards.

Good thing, then, that we got a proper snow storm last week. Otherwise, my perennials would be in serious trouble when the cold snap hits. There’s no telling how many plants I would lose. As it is, they are covered by a nice insulating blanket of snow, at least ten inches.

Here are some pictures of our yard during the storm. My beds and the perennials are tucked under the snow.

I like the way the snow-covered fence ripples with snow.

As I shoveled the pathways to the compost bins and the bird feeders, I stopped to take a picture from backyard to front yard. No hanging laundry until spring.

Little Gideon, the guardian of our yard, is nearly buried beneath the snow.

The lantern out front has a cap.

And the snow on the porch rail curves like a wave of water.

Another picture of our home nestled in the snow.

With so much snow, Clif had to clean the roof. Otherwise ice dams form on the eaves, and this in turn leads to leaks inside.  I took this shot through an open window, which is why everything is at a slant.



Today I received this lovely card from blogging friend Jodie Richeal. If you have time, do check out her snappy website, Poppiwinkle, that features her work. Jodie wrote to tell me how much she was enjoying my recent book Of Time and Magic. Do I spy William Shakespeare on the lower right-hand side of the card? I believe I do. Many thanks, Jodie!


Reading: Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Spoiler Alert: I can’t discuss this book without revealing crucial elements in the plot.  If you haven’t read the book and would rather not have spoilers, now is the time to stop reading.

Lolly Willowes, published in 1926, is a novel full of oddities and curiosities. The first half of the book is realistic to the point of almost being dry. The second half crackles with the supernatural.

The novel is about Laura Willowes, who was brought up on a country estate in Wales. When Lolly Willowes opens, Laura’s father has just died—her mother died years earlier—and it’s decided that twenty-eight-year-old “Aunt Lolly” should move to London with one of her brothers, his wife, and their children, Fancy and Marion. In the London Home, Laura is given the smallest spare bedroom as the larger one can’t be spared. This decision sets the tone for how Laura is treated, not cruelly, but as an afterthought, to be put up with rather than cherished.

And so it goes for twenty years with Laura trotting unobtrusively through domestic life with her brother’s family. Fancy, as an adult, wonders why her Aunt Lolly didn’t set up housekeeping by herself. After all, when her father died, she was left with a comfortable income. Fancy concludes, “How unenterprising women were in the old days.”

What holds Laura back? The traditions and conservatism of her family, which she accepts without question. It will take something very big to knock Laura off track.

In short, it takes demonic intervention. First, the devil, an invisible force, leads Laura into a small shop with homely items that remind her of life in the country and how much she longs for that life. This longing tips something in Laura, and against her family’s wishes, she up sticks to the countryside, to a small village filled with witches who don’t seem to do much. Mostly they roam at night and tend to village business by day.

All goes well until Laura’s nephew, Titus, visits her and decides to settle in with his aunt. Once again, Laura must put the needs of her family first. The freedom she longs for is gone.

It is then the devil really comes into it. Laura makes a pact with him—she will serve him if he keeps family away. This the devil does in a way that is more humorous than menacing. Soon Titus is gone, and Laura is free to be herself. The devil, having made his conquest, leaves her alone.

After finishing the book, I puzzled over the ending. Did Warner believe that in 1926 women could only be free if they shucked family ties and made a deal—symbolically, of course—with the devil?

Laura had the financial means to be independent. But it seems she did not have the emotional means to break away and could only do so with supernatural help.

This slim book certainly made me think about the role of women.