Category Archives: Winter

Winter Has Arrived & In the Woods by Tana French

In Maine, it seems that winter has finally showed her frosty face. It is snowing today, and it snowed last week when I took the following pictures.

The backyard looked serene in its muted colors,

and birds came to the feeder to eat.

A female cardinal,

a woodpecker,

and a chickadee.

Out front, the shovel and the buckets of salt and sand waited,

and Clif used Snow Joe to clean the driveway and walkways.

I know you all enjoying seeing our red home nestled in the snow so after the snow was cleared, I took this picture.

On the weekend, after all that snow, I figured we deserved a little treat, and I made these chocolate vegan muffins.

Actually, snow or not, I would have made these muffins. After all, what is life without treats? Six days a week, we eat a low-carb, low-calorie diet, but one day a week we splurge. While the muffins might be vegan, they are certainly not low in calories or carbs. But, as my Yankee husband might say, they are pretty darned good.

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Reading

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and I especially like ones that cover books, movies, and television shows. A few weeks ago, on Slate’s Culture Gabfest, Julie Turner, one of the hosts, recommended the American-Irish writer Tana French, who writes crime novels. This is not my first choice of genres, but Turner praised French’s writing, her craft with words as well as her ability to tell a ripping good story.

I decided it was time for this old reader to learn a new trick, and I requested French’s first novel, In the Woods, through my library’s interlibrary loan system.

In the Woods is about two crimes that happen twenty years apart on the outskirts of Dublin. In the 1980s, three children go into the woods—only one, Adam Ryan, comes back. Adam’s memory of what happened is completely gone, and he is unable to help the investigators. Adam and his parents move; he takes his middle name, Rob; and the past recedes. Rob becomes a detective in Dublin and befriends fellow detective Cassie Maddox.

Then twenty years later, along comes another murder in the neighborhood where Rob grew up, and he discovers that the past is never really past. Are the two murders connected? Will Rob’s memory return to help him solve the original crime? Will Cassie and Rob’s relationship move past friendship?

I will not answer any of these questions, but I will note that although the middle sagged a bit, In the Woods kept me reading, and I raced through the  last fifty pages to see how the story would end. I was not disappointed by the ending, which somehow managed to be both surprising and unsurprising.

French is indeed a good writer, with a pleasingly understated—at least to me—style. Both Cassie and Rob are prickly, flawed characters that I came to care about. Also, French describes Dublin in enough detail to give a sense of place but not so much that it becomes tedious.

I’ll be reading more Tara French, even though crime thrillers are not my preferred genre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January’s Snow Story

Because Monday was a holiday—Martin Luther King Jr. Day—I took the day off, which is why this week’s piece is being posted on Tuesday.

There has been little snow in Maine so far this year, but we do have enough to tell a story of January, of arrival and waiting.

There are the footprints made by the boy next door, who came over with a charming handwritten note to thank us for the presents we gave him for Christmas.

Then there is a sense of waiting…the shovel and the buckets of sand and salt on the porch.

Minerva, nestled in leaves and covered by a snow blanket.

The herbs drooping in my little garden. The oregano will come roaring back, I know, but I’m not so sure about the sage. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

A few dried leaves in the driveway, which will eventually get blown into the woods to become part of the leaf carpet in the woods.

I like this time of cold and waiting, of tidying up and resting after the holidays. The days are still short, and as the darkness comes, I make a cup of tea and settle on the couch, where I read and watch the night come. By 5:00 o’clock the sky is dark, and it’s time to pull the shades. Often there is some kind of bean soup simmering in the slow cooker, a warm hearty meal for a chilly winter’s night.

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Reading

I discovered the British writer Andrew Taylor in a roundabout way. In a recent issue of The New Yorker, Jill Lepore wrote a wonderful profile of Mick Herron, of Slow Horses fame. In the profile, Lepore describes how she tags along with Mick Herron, Andrew Taylor, and crime writer Sarah Hilary as they read from their work at a local bookstore. Because I am such a fan of Mick Herron, I decided to give Hilary and Taylor a try.

I started with Hilary and her Someone Else’s Skin but gave up after only twenty pages or so. Far too grisly for me.

Then I turned to Andrew Taylor and The Ashes of London, a historical novel set in London in 1666, the time of the Great Fire.

That was in December, and I was smitten by Taylor’s writing—the vivid sense of place and his two protagonists—grumpy but good- hearted James Marwood as well as the feisty and appropriately named Cat Lovett. The Ashes of London is filled with political intrigue. There is murder most foul. There is sex and violence, but Taylor handles it just right.

Lucky for me there are six books that feature Marwood and Lovett.  I have raced through The Fire Court, The King’s Evil, and The Last Protector. There is more political intrigue as Marwood becomes embroiled in King Charles’s business. There is also more murder most foul, but there is a forward momentum to the books that saves them all from being the same.

I particularly like Taylor’s depiction of Cat Lovett, his sympathetic portrayal of a woman who is of her time but who strains against its strictures in her desire to become an architect.

Book five, The Royal Secret, is on its way via interlibrary loan.

I can’t wait!

 

 

 

A Little Snow & More Gifts

In Maine, this winter has been an odd one—relatively warm with little snow, so sparse that Clif hasn’t had to use Snow Joe. A scoop and shovel have been enough. There has been an upside: Clif hasn’t had to worry about scraping the roof.

On Friday, we did get a bit of snow, a dusting as we Mainers would call it. Still, the light snow was better than nothing, and I took a few pictures of the lovely gray day.

Here is our Christmas wreath with a few twinkly lights. Yes, I know Christmas is over, but I do love the sparkle of those wee lights. (Still haven’t taken down our Christmas tree with its enchanting blue lights.)

Standing at brave attention, these phlox stems are sentinels from warmer days.

Finally, I was caught by the pattern of snow on the hedge.

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Now to the gifts. Thanks to my blogging friend Gerrie from Canberra’s Green Spaces, my YA fantasy novel Maya and the Book of Everything is officially in Australia. What a thrill to think that Maya has made it that far. Truly, one of the great pleasures of blogging is to make connections with like-minded folks all over the world.  Again, many thanks, Gerrie.

Betsy, another blogging friend, sent me a box of citrus picked from her very own backyard. How cool is that? It must be such a thrill to have citrus trees in your backyard. Thanks so much, Betsy! (She doesn’t have her own blog. Otherwise, I would have provided a link.)

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Reading

With this post, I plan to to make Reading a regular feature.  I am an avid reader, and I read one or two books a week. I really enjoy learning what other bloggers are reading and have often added their suggestions to my TBR list. I am what you  might call an eclectic reader. While my favorite genres are fantasy and literary fiction—yes, I consider that a genre, too—I am open to any genre that features good writing and vivid characters.

Last week I read:

  • The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean. This is a  horror/fantasy/supernatural tale featuring book eater Devon—she actually eats books and can eat nothing else—and her brain-eating child, Cai, who, you guessed it, can’t eat anything else but brains. As it turns out, there are families of book eaters and brain eaters scattered around England. Drugs have been invented that suppress the urges of brain eaters, but the family that developed the drugs has fallen into chaos, and the drugs are no longer readily available. The book tackles a thorny question: What would you do for your child?

 

  • The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery. This is a true-life story about a woman and the runt pig she rescues from certain death. The pig—Christopher Hogwood—thrives and grows and grows, bringing much joy to Montgomery’s life, opening it up in a way she had never envisioned. I am not ashamed to admit I cried at the end.

 

 

 

Must Be Santa

At least for now, the warm spell is over, and in Maine, December finally feels like December.

This morning I woke up to find we’d had a dusting of snow overnight.

And there was frost on the outside storm windows.

But all is warm inside our house on the edge of the woods.

On Saturday, I started my Christmas baking and made cookies, chocolate chip. Most went into the freezer—raw and rolled into balls. But I baked some to be eaten ahead of time.

The Santas are out, here, there, and everywhere. Carol Ann, of the lovely blog Fashioned for Joy, asked me to share some pictures of my Santa collection. Ask and you shall receive.

This week, more Santas will be coming out. There will also be more baking—pumpkin bread and ice cream. I’ll make a big batch of chili. All for the freezer to be ready for the big weekend.

And of course a flurry of cleaning. After focusing on my new book Of Time and Magic for so many months, the cleaning is much needed.

Ho, ho, ho!

First Snow, First Plowing

Last Wednesday, we had the first snow of the season. It was not a lasting snow—rain followed, and by Friday the snow was mostly gone. However, on Wednesday, enough had fallen for the roads to be cleaned, and late morning I heard the comforting roar of the town plow as it went by.

Somehow, there is always something exciting about the first snow. Before Clif even had time to shovel the front porch, I tottered down the steps to get some pictures. The day was gray, and the tone of the pictures reflects this. Very appropriate for a snowy day.

Here is the front of our house.

I love the way garden ornaments look in the snow. I always leave them out until the first snow so that I can get some pictures of them. Today, most of them will be coming inside for the winter.

And here’s a picture Clif took of the backyard. He was in the dining room and got a pretty good shot through the window.

Time for the chairs to come in, too. The covered table, along with the grill, will stay outside for the winter.

 

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For a completely different landscape, courtesy of my blogging friend Alys of Gardening Nirvana, here is a postcard she sent me not long ago of California beauty.

Quite a contrast to the Maine countryside, and I so love seeing what other places look like. Yet another blessing that comes with having blogging friends here, there, and everywhere. Many thanks, Alys!

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This Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States. For those who celebrate, a very happy Thanksgiving to you all. Ours will be quiet, and because we are vegetarians, turkey will not be the centerpiece. Ours will be a dinner of sides.

Nevertheless, it will be a weekend of simple pleasures—board games, decorating the tree, and—at long last—Christmas shows, which I have been eagerly waiting for.  There are quite a few new ones this year, ranging from an animated Christmas Carol to A Guardians of the Galaxy Christmas special.

Let the festivities begin!

 

 

 

The Erstwhile Marches of Snow-Gauge Clif

Here we are in the middle of this long, long month, when most Mainers are heartily sick of March marching on. We had a nasty little storm on Saturday that prevented us from visiting our daughter and son-in-law. A March gift.

But, if you look at it the right way, we are making some kind of progress.

To illustrate this, I must start with the backyard rather than the front. Last week there were 15 inches of snow. This week, 7 inches at its deepest with the snow gone from the edges of the yard.

Now to the front yard, which still has 15 inches of snow, same as last week.

Why the difference? The pictures provide the clue. They were taken within five minutes of each other, and the contrast between the two couldn’t be greater. The backyard actually gets some sun. Hence the melting snow. The front yard? Not so much, and in the spring, I swear our front yard is the last place on our road to have the snow completely melt.

The pictures below are from erstwhile Marches. I thought readers might enjoy seeing how much snow we had in mid-March for the past four years. The last picture, taken in 2018, reflects the usual amount of snow we once had in central Maine in mid-March.

As the pictures indicate, the trend has definitely been for less snow and earlier springs. And Snow-Gauge Clif, with his trusty red yard stick, will continue to measure the melting snow to see if the trend continues.

March 15, 2021

March 13, 2020

March 15, 2019

March 19, 2018

The Return of Snow-Gauge Clif

March 1 might be meteorological Spring in the northern hemisphere, but in Maine true Spring doesn’t  come until April. And it isn’t until May that Spring, in a froth of blossoms, really kicks up her heels.

Unfortunately, March in Maine begins in snow and ends in mud. March always feels like a kind of purgatory, an in-between time that seems to last more than its thirty-one days.

However, there are some bright spots in this miserable month. One of them is the return of Snow-Gauge Clif, who, with his trusty yardstick—or snow gauge as readers have dubbed it—makes his appearance the first Monday of March. Then each Monday, until the snow has gone away, Clif is out in the yard, measuring the ebbing snow. (When you live in Maine, north of north, such activities are wicked exciting as we Mainers would say.)

So drum roll, please! Here is Snow-Gauge Clif’s first 2022 appearance.

In the front yard the snow depth is 14 inches.

In the backyard, where the snow depth is also 14 inches. As you can see, Clif takes this noble job very seriously.

How long will it take for the snow to leave our yard? We always hope it will be gone by April 22, our youngest daughter’s birthday as well as Earth Day. But we shall see.

Let the melting begin!

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Favorites: March 4

I’ve decided to bring back Friday Favorites, where I highlight some of the things that have made me happy during the week—music, TV shows, movies, podcasts, food, nature. On the third Friday of the month, I’ll feature books I’ve read and tie in with Donna at Retirement Reflections, who is one of the hosts of the monthly “What’s on Your Bookshelf?”

Each Friday, I’ll provide a short list of nifty blog posts from some of my lovely blogging friends. Let me tell you, it’s not easy to winnow the list down to a few choices. So many good posts from blogging friends near and far. But never fear! I will get to everyone eventually.

In the comments section, if you are so moved, feel free to let me know what has made you happy this week. It doesn’t have to be anything grand or exciting. I’m especially fond of simple pleasures, and I always enjoy getting suggestions of what to read, watch, or notice.

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This week I watched—all right binged—the delightful sitcom Abbott Elementary, a mockumentary about a group of teachers and the challenges they face in an inner city school in Philadelphia. The humor is gentle rather than uproarious, and this a show with warmth and heart. The ensemble acting is fabulous, and each of the actors shines like a tiny jewel.  Abbot Elementary is an ABC show that’s also available on Hulu.

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Nifty Posts from a Few of the Lovely Blogs I follow

The Sydney Opera House aglow with Ukraine’s colors. Birds, gardens, kangeroos. Gerrie, of Canberra’s Green Spaces, features them all in a recent post. As always, this Mainer is agog over the beauty of Australia.

On the blog Now I’m Sixty-Four, Platypus Man takes us on a tour of the Burghley Sculpture Garden. Oh, be still my trembling heart. I have always loved sculpture gardens but had never articulated why. Platypus Man hits it right on the piton—as we Franco-Americans would say. He writes “In galleries and museums sculpture is contained, hemmed in by walls and ceilings, often difficult to fully appreciate. In sculpture gardens and parks however, sculpture sits comfortably within a spacious, natural environment, with room to breathe. And the sculptures and the landscape in which they sit enhance one another: the gardens and parks frame the sculptures, while the sculptures become visual anchors within their surroundings.” Yes, Indeed!

On Going Batty in Wales, there’s a recent post about the kindness and generosity of a blogging friend from far away. This line really struck me: “I never thought that writing about my simple life in this rural backwater would result in my having wonderful friends all over the world.” Same, same, same. And what a delight!

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This incredible performance of songs from the Broadway musical  Hadestown was recorded on NPR in the “Before Times,” as Stephen Thompson put it—just before Covid cracked down on the world. Wonderful, wonderful music, and the last chilling, thrilling song, “Why We Build the Wall” is especially relevant.

 

 

River of Change

Last Wednesday the weather was so warm for February in Maine that it broke records.

The driveway was filled with puddles and melting ice.

On that warm February day, Clif and I went on a rare outing where we got take-out from the Red Barn in Augusta, about ten miles from our town. Mostly we cook and eat at home, and our meals are vegetarian. However, while we will not eat mammals or birds, we do, from time to time, eat shrimp, clams, and scallops.

At the Red Barn, we ordered fries and the Barn’s delectable shrimp. Then we headed down the road to Hallowell, to the parking lot that overlooks the Kennebec River, which is neither wide nor mighty but is nonetheless dear to us.

As we ate, we watched the river. It was iced over, but because of recent rain and the warm weather, there was a skim of water on top. A strong wind blew the water this way and that, as though it were sand.

When we were done, we headed to another spot on the Kennebec, where there’s a turnout with a deck, and you can look down the river into Augusta, our state’s capital. In the distance, a little to the right, is the white dome of the capitol building.

The cropped picture reveals a small black smelt shack, also in the distance. If the thaw continues, the owner will have to remove it lest the shack be carried downriver.

On the deck are posters, in both French and English, that describe how important the Kennebec River was when goods were moved by boats and ships. Back in the day, rivers were superhighways. Because of  this, Hallowell was once a bustling community, and there are many fine old homes that are remnants of a more prosperous time.

But times change. Trains and trucks displaced river ships, cement displaced granite, and refrigerators displaced ice. The Kennebec is no longer a superhighway to and from the Atlantic Ocean. Deprived of a vital economy, Hallowell fell on hard times, and in the 1960s and 1970s, it was a dumpy, depressed place. The river, too, fell on hard times, becoming dark and dirty, polluted by the many factories lining the banks.

But all is not gloom and doom. Thanks to the Clean Water Act of 1972, wildlife now thrives on the river, and the Kennebec is a place of recreation and rejuvenation for humans. Artists and creative types, drawn by affordable homes, moved to Hallowell, and the once depressed town has become funky and vital.

The Kennebec River and Hallowell are object lessons in how change can be both good and bad. Sometimes change is out of our control, and we just have to cope with it as best we can.

But sometimes it’s not. And to borrow from the Serenity Prayer, it’s up to us to have the wisdom to know the difference.

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Nifty Posts from Some of the Lovely Blogs I Follow

Ju-Lyn, of Touring My Backyard, featured the fascinating bat flower.

Despite these turbulent times, small pleasures abound in this post from Thistles and Kiwis.

Tootlepedal’s blog always features fabulous photos, but in a recent post, with some help from his son-in-law, he outdid himself

In a timely post on Robby Robin’s Journey, Jane provides maps of Ukraine that really clarify the geography of the area.

Katie, of the Cozy Burrow, never fails to amaze with her beautiful creativity. Sew on, Katie!

On Retirement Reflections, Donna does her bit to spread peace with with three travelling copies of The Little Book of Inner Peace. What a wonderful idea!

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This is more than a little Christmasy, but I couldn’t resist sharing Aimee Mann’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s The River. The song is so lovely, and it fits beautifully with my own river post.