Enjoying the Usual Days of Work Around the Home

IMG_2959Not long ago, I said to my husband, Clif, “I have a new hobby.”

“Oh?”

“I like to go in the backyard and collect sticks and branches. The sticks I can break by hand and use for kindling. With the branches, I use the little hand saw. But they’re good for the furnace, too.”

Clif gave me a look suggesting that even though we have been married for 36 years, I still have the ability to surprise him. But all he said was “Well, go for it.”

And so I have. Today, I will be recycling our Christmas tree, stripping the branches and sawing the trunk into smaller logs. “They’ll be good for the fire pit,” Clif had to admit.

Scavenging the woods and backyard for twigs and branches might sound like a weird kind of hobby, but I am the sort of person who enjoys puttering around the home—cooking, yard work, tidying, cleaning—all right, maybe cleaning not so much. Unlike work that is done for others, however necessary or profitable it might be, work done for the home just has a different feel. It’s more personal and more direct, done for the family or for oneself. Somehow that makes all the difference. Simply put, for me it is more satisfying to work for myself than it is to work for others, and I find any work that bolsters the home or the family to be very rewarding.

I realize there is much work that must be done outside the house, and indeed I do my fair share of volunteering at the town library and food pantry. I realize that not everyone is in a position to spend their days at home. Every household needs money. Finally, I realize not everyone has the temperament to enjoy the usual days of work around the home. But I do, and I count myself as one of the lucky ones who not only enjoys work around the home but who also has the luxury of staying home and doing that work.

Times change, as they must, and women are no longer required to stay home, as they shouldn’t be. However, I can’t help but feel that people—men as well as women—who enjoy the little things, the puttering—the work that goes toward making a house a home—have a better shot at a life that is not only full of contentment but one that is rich as well.

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Spring Brunch and Walks in the Woods

Last weekend, spring showed more of its lovely face. Although there was still snow in the woods, the weather was mild, and the water was running.

Spring rush
Spring rush

On both Saturday and Sunday we went for a walk in the woods to a nearby camp where children come in the summer. Our dog, Liam, can run free, and there are lots of enticing scents for him to sniff. On Saturday, we came upon turkeys, and although Liam wanted to chase them, he was good at coming back when he was called.

Turkey tracks and dog prints
Turkey tracks and dog prints

At the camp, there is a peace trail, with painted rocks lining the trail.

May peace prevail
May peace prevail

But what I especially love are bare branches against a bright blue sky.

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On Sunday, our daughter Shannon, her husband, Mike, and their dog, Holly, came for brunch and a walk. After a meal of pancakes, apple sauce made with Maine apples, French donuts, and home fries, we headed into the woods to burn off some of that meal.

Into the woods
Into the woods

Holly, the puppy, had an especially good time. She ran and ran for the sheer joy of it, and I remember doing the same thing when I was a child. “Let’s run!” I’d say to my friends, and off we’d go, as fast as we could, until we could run no more.

Holly at rest
Holly at rest

Shannon, Mike, and Holly will be back at the end of the month. The snow will be gone and most of the mud should be dried by then. We’ll head back into the woods, along the wooded path, where barred owls call to each other, back and forth, and the water rushes and dogs can run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food and Memory—Egg Salad Sandwiches, Chips, and Pepsi

IMG_3237Not long ago, at a foodie meeting I went to in Brunswick, a woman I met—Laura—spoke passionately about how food was so central to everyone’s life and how food nourished more than the body. I found myself nodding in agreement, and my first thoughts were of the writer Proust, whose plain little cookie—the madeleine—triggered a cascade of memories.¬† That a cookie could bring forth such a rush of emotions shows that food is as symbolic as it is real, feeding a person on more than one level.

Well, Proust had his madeleine, and I have my egg salad sandwich, always served with chips and Pepsi. Oddly enough, I am not especially fond of chips. I don’t dislike them, but I’m seldom inclined to eat half a bag at a time, the way my husband, Clif, does. Nevertheless, when I have egg salad sandwiches, I always want chips. And Pepsi.

This goes back to my childhood, to the times my family would visit my Uncle Leo, my Aunt Barney, and my cousins Linda and Carol. They lived in Norridgewock, and in those long-ago days when traveling by car was less common, the trip to their house felt like a real event.

In my memory, which admittedly could be faulty, we usually went on a Sunday, after mass and after dinner, which was at noon. I will pinpoint my memories even further. I am about 8, my brother, Steve, is just a baby. The ride seems long to me, but I don’t care. We are on the way to Norridgewock, perhaps 40 minutes away from our house in Vassalboro.

My aunt and uncle’s house was just as clean and as gleaming as our own house. As a rule, Franco-Americans have a passion for cleanliness that borders on obsession, and if they didn’t also have a balancing passion for fun, then they would be a real drag as an ethnic group.

If the weather was good, we would go for a walk in the pine grove behind their house. If the weather was bad, Carol and I would play with her toys while the adults chatted. Linda, who is a few years older than Carol and I, mostly stayed with the adults. Then came the magic hour, supper time, around 5:00, with everyone grouped around the small table in the kitchen. Was Steve in a high chair? I don’t remember. Unlike the taciturn Yankees, Franco-Americans are a chatty ethnic group, so there was always a lot of talking. And then, of course, along with the talking and the fellowship of the family being together, there were the egg salad sandwiches and chips and Pepsi—everything so entwined that it cannot be separated.

My brother also has fond memories of these egg-salad suppers, so I am sure the tradition carried through long after he had grown from a baby to a toddler to a little boy.

Not long ago, when I met Carol and Linda for breakfast in Waterville, I mentioned egg salad sandwiches and family suppers and what good memories I have of them.

Carol said, “Neither of our families were large, so when we got together, it seemed as though we were a big family.”

She is right, and, as a bonus, our families got along really well.

But along with the kinship, egg salad—humble, hearty, and oh so good—was the food that bound us together.

 

McGee Waits for Spring

IMG_3228It seems I am not the only one waiting for spring in central Maine. McGee is waiting, too—very patiently—for the planting to begin in the Inch-By-Inch Garden at the grade school in town. Not for a while, McGee. (I don’t know what his real name is or whether he even has a name, but I’ve dubbed him McGee.)

In the meantime, today—as spring is taking its time to come—the crockpot has white beans simmering along with some chicken bones, and I’m thinking about how food is more than nourishment for the body. If the white bean dish is tasty, then I’ll post the recipe some time this week. I also plan on writing about food and memory.

McGee, on the other hand, doesn’t care about any of those things. He’s just ready for spring.

 

Late March in Pondtown

IMG_3219March in Maine is not the most beautiful time of year. The snow is heavy and gray, and there is so much mud that it sometimes seems as though it is going to pull you down to some dark, unknown kingdom. In fact, last year on a walk, I had to help a young boy get his boot out of the mud at the edge of his driveway. He couldn’t pull it out by himself, and while he hopped on one foot, trying to keep his stocking foot from touching the dirty ground, I pulled and pulled and with great effort yanked the boot from the mud.

However, I live in a pondtown, where there are so many lakes, streams, and ponds that it sometimes seems as though Winthrop is an island. And where there is water, there is beauty. Even in March.

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Maine Maple Sunday 2013—March 24th

IMG_3165This Sunday is Maine Maple Sunday, and as far as I am concerned, any day that celebrates maple syrup is a great day. This year, unlike last year, promises to be a good year for maple syrup—plenty of warm but not too warm days and cold nights. From Maine Public Broadcasting, I learned that Native Americans taught European settles how to boil sap and make syrup. Thank you, thank you, Native Americans! I had never given the origins of maple syrup much thought, but it makes sense that the Native Americans would have come up with the idea many, many years before the Europeans arrived.

On Maine Maple Sunday, Clif and I plan on doing our bit to celebrate this sweet substance. For breakfast, there will be either pancakes or French toast served with plenty of maple syrup. I’ll be making some homemade vanilla ice cream so that later in the day we can have ice cream with maple syrup and roasted walnuts for dessert. Best of all, in the afternoon, we’ll be meeting with our friends Chuck and Erma, who will be bringing some of their own maple syrup for us.

It promises to be a very sweet day.

Spicy Cabbage Soup for a Cold Spring Day

IMG_3212 Here in central Maine, even though it is spring, the ground is still covered with snow. In my refrigerator sits a great green cabbage purchased for 39 cents a pound before St. Patrick’s Day. What to do with this formidable vegetable on a cold day? Why, make soup of course, which is just what I did yesterday. And because my day was busy with a meeting, I made the soup early and put it in my crockpot so that it could simmer away while I was at the meeting. As a bonus, the house smelled spicy and good when I came home. Now, cabbage does not have the best reputation for smelling good when it cooks, but this soup somehow incorporates the flavor of cabbage without the traditional—ahem—pungent smell.

The soup itself is all vegetables and would certainly be fine as is, but my husband, Clif, and I like a little chew with our soup, so I cooked some small pasta to add to the bowls after the soup had simmered most of the day. Pasta can be mixed right into the soup for the last 45 minutes or so, but a funny thing happens to pasta in leftover soup. It swells and swells and swells like some kind of science-fiction creature until it gets too big and soft. Clif and I have decided that we like pasta and rice in soup much better as last minute add-ins.

Clif went back for seconds—always a good sign—and gave it his Yankee rating of “Pretty darned good.”

On a less¬† upbeat note…at the meeting I went to—a board meeting at the Winthrop Food Pantry—I learned a sobering statistic. Maine ranks with Mississippi and Louisiana for its number of hungry, food-insecure children—18 percent. I was shocked and so were many of the other board members. I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked. In Maine, wages are low, and the cost of living is high. It only stands to reason that families would have a hard time buying good, nutritious food for their children. But still!

This cabbage soup is made with basic ingredients, which means not only is it spicy, warm, and nourishing, but it is also a very frugal dish, even when you use Muir Glenn tomatoes—purchased on sale—as I did.

This soup has a lot going for it—healthy, low-cost, aromatic, reasonably low in calories, and tasty. Eat up!

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