The Cat Days of Winter

We refer to the hottest time of year as the dog days of summer.  However, right now in Maine, winter is at its coldest.

Frost gardens have grown on the windows.

Perhaps we can refer to this cold season as the cat days of winter?

The frigid weather has finally frozen the lakes, but there are no villages of fishing shacks as there have been in past winters. I wonder if Covid-19 has discouraged people from gathering on the ice. I miss the busy hubbub of activity that the villages bring to deep winter. This year the lakes seem so quiet.

But there is always the consolation of bare branches against a bright blue sky.  The pandemic cannot take this away.

The first blizzard of the season is blowing up the East Coast. My New York City daughter has reported that it’s snowing like crazy in Brooklyn. Soon, it will be snowing like crazy in Maine, too. A foot is predicted, but we shall see.

However, we have plenty of wood for the furnace, and our snow thrower, Little Green—with its belts repaired—is ready to go.

Time to make a white bean soup for tomorrow so that after we’re done cleaning up the snow, we will have a nice meal that can be reheated with little effort.

Winter is a lot of work, I know, and staying warm can be expensive for those of us on a tight budget. Still, I love this hunkering down time of year, when the world is cold and white on the outside and snug on the inside.

The Danish and Norwegians have a word for this notion of coziness—hygge—and I am sure many of you have heard of it. As someone who loves all things cozy, I feel as though this word, this concept, was made for me.

Essential, perhaps, for a woman who was born north of north in the lower forty-eight states, where winter can start in November and often doesn’t let up until the end of March or the beginning of April.

Friday Favorites: Cookie+Kate; 40 Fingers Play Vivaldi

Even though I have been a home cook for over forty years, there are times when I want to add new tricks to my repertoire, especially now that my husband and I are eating both low carb and vegetarian. (Not an easy combination, that’s for sure.)  One of the blessings of the Internet is that it is easy to find new recipes and techniques.

Got a head of cauliflower you want to do something with? Go on the Internet. Want to learn how to bake tofu? Ditto. How about roasting frozen vegetables? Ditto, ditto.

One site that I kept returning to is called Cookie + Kate, with Cookie being a dog who patiently waits for bits and pieces to drop her way and Kate being one heck of a cook who comes up with delicious, healthy vegetarian fare. I tried several of her recipes, and Clif and I thought they were all very tasty.

I like getting free information as much as the next person, but only to a point. Even though our budget is as big as a minute, I try to support as many creatives as I can—those who create must pay their bills, too. Therefore, after getting so many good recipes free from Cookie + Kate, I decided the time had come to buy her cookbook, Love real Food. And so I did.

At $16.69, this beautiful, hard-cover book is a bargain. It is well laid out, and the photos are gorgeous. The instructions are clear and easy to follow, and the ingredients are neither exotic nor expensive, a real bonus for a frugal cook. My only criticism is that nutritional information is not provided. Because the recipes comprise such healthy ingredients, it’s not a huge problem, but it would be nice to know the carb and sodium count.

After looking through the book, I made the Moroccan Butternut, Chickpea, and Couscous Stew. The verdict? Utterly delicious with its warm, spicy flavor and variety of textures. Definitely a make again. On this cold January day in Maine, I could have a bowl right now.

Next on the list? Classic Tomato Soup, thickened and made creamy with white beans rather than heavy cream. (Clif is lactose intolerant. I’m sure you can picture how much fun it is to plan meals.)

I’ll keep you posted.

Now, onto music! Here is something a little different, courtesy of my blogging friend Frank from Beach Walk Reflections, who featured this video on a recent post. (Do check out his lovely blog if you get a chance.) Along with being keen on alternative rock, soul, and R & B, I’m an absolute fool for Vivaldi, whose music captures both the joy and the tenderness of life. Those 40 fingers in the video below do a fabulous job with Vivaldi’s music. And, holy cats, what a setting!


Here are some favorites from other blogging friends:

In All Things Bright and Beautiful, Ju-Lyn features art from a wonderful exhibit her family recently went to.

Among other delights, Thistle & Kiwis shares pictures of a beautiful evening walk through Wellington’s lovely Botanic Gardens.

Dawn, of Change Is Hard, goes to Detroit’s Belle Island and finds an oh-so-special image.

Taking Pictures on a Brisk Day

On Sunday, the weather was fine but very brisk, even by Maine standards. There was a wind—not a gentle one—and with the windchill it felt even colder, below zero.

Nevertheless, faithful blogging friend that I am, I headed to Marancook Lake in hopes of seeing some ice fishing shacks to photograph. I know that blogging friends who live in warmer climates are fascinated by the notion of ice fishing, which is a yearly event in Maine.

But Sunday’s cold snap aside, this winter has been warmer than average, and the lakes have been slow to freeze. Last week when I went to Lake Marancook, there were no ice fishing shacks. Taken from our local paper, here are the guidelines that prudent folks follow: “The state recommends keeping off any ice that is not at least 4 inches thick. It’s recommended that snowmobiles need at least 5 to 6 inches, and cars and small trucks need 8 to 12.”

Had the week been cold enough for the ice to freeze 4 inches thick? Would there be ice fishing shacks?

Just barely. I found two shacks rather than the lively village that is usually on the lake this time of year. In the photo below, you can just barely see them in the distance.

Here’s a closer view.

And closer still.

Those who have taken pictures in cold weather know that it is really hard to do so wearing gloves. (Perhaps there are special gloves for cold-weather photographers?) Therefore with bare stinging hands, I took these pictures, and I did not dawdle to admire the views. Snap, snap, snap, and I was back in the relative warmth of the car.

I drove home the long way around, going by the Narrows Ponds, where there were more ice fishing shacks. But there were too many cars in the small off-road parking area, and if the weather allows, I will take a walk sometime this week to see if I can get some more pictures of ice shacks.

Here’s a final picture from Sunday’s Maranacook Lake series. Just in case in anyone needs a reminder.

Stay warm all you hardy souls who live in the frozen north!


Friday Favorites: Scenes from an Inauguration

Wednesday was a huge day for Clif and me, for this country, and, I think, for the world. Despite the assault on the Capitol two weeks ago, we had a lawful transfer of power. Joseph Biden is now the president of the United States.

Finally, finally, Trump, his family, and their entourage left Washington, DC. I could write all kinds of snarky things about his departure, but I won’t.

Instead, I will focus on President Biden’s inauguration ceremony. Despite the restrictions that were put into place because of the raging pandemic and enough security after 1/6 to make the Capitol look like the Green Zone in Baghdad, the inauguration was a joyous, beautiful event filled with firm resolve and hope.

Here are some scenes, clipped from YouTube, that I was particularly struck by.

First, Lady Gaga, who sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” our national anthem. As the comedian Stephen Colbert noted, Lady Gaga looked as though she were wearing a red carpet instead of walking on one. Yes, she did. Lady Gaga is someone who certainly likes to make an entrance. But holy cats can she ever sing. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is not a song for the fainthearted, and Lady Gaga didn’t stumble even once. Indeed, she knocked it out of the park, as the saying goes.

Wednesday was also a day of firsts as Kamala Harris—the first woman, Black, and South Asian—was sworn in as vice president. Even though it has taken too long to have a woman as vice president, this was a proud moment for this country. I hope I live long enough to see a woman sworn in as president.

Then, of course, the main event—Joe Bidden and his uplifting yet honest, plain-spoken words as his speech outlined the many challenges this country faces. And his confidence that this country was up to overcoming those challenges.

The most beautiful, luminous part of the inauguration was when a young poet, Amanda Gorman, delivered her radiant poem, “The Hill We Climb.” When she was done, I wanted to stand up and cheer.

For comic relief, there was Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders, one of my favorites, complete with mittens and a practical jacket. Bernie is never anything less than who he is, and for this I am grateful.

Finally Demi Lovato’s soaring song “Lovely Day” from the Celebrating America broadcast, an evening program which followed President Biden’s inauguration.

In the background, as Lovato sings, are faces that are black, brown, white. There are women, men, and children of various ethnicities. This is what America looks like, and we should rejoice.

Quercus’s Review of Out of Time

As I have noted before, one of the great pleasures of blogging is having friends all around the world and seeing places that I will probably never visit. To add to that pleasure, blogging friends who have a fondness for YA fantasy often read my novels. Occasionally they will even write a review of my books.

My blogging friend Quercus, who lives in England, recently read Out of Time, the newest book in my Great Library Series, and took the time to write a review. Here is an excerpt:

According to the Amazon details the book has 276 pages. It didn’t seem like it. Time flew,and although I spread it over two nights, it finished too soon. If there was another in the series I would definitely buy it right away. Unfortunately, there isn’t.

That’s really all you need to know. It’s less than £3 on Kindle, so what are you waiting for?

Of course, book reviews are supposed to be slightly longer than that so I’ll just add a bit of waffle. The action takes place in a magic county called Elferterre (somebody is showing their French roots again!) , which is a convincing place, and has an excellent talking cat. There are very few books that can’t be improved by the addition of a talking cat, so this is good to see.. Even  a talking cat couldn’t improve Don Quixote, but I won’t go into that..

Click here to read the rest of the review.

It really tickled me that Quercus caught Elferterre’s French connection. I was also very pleased to read that he would have immediately bought Book 4 if it had been available.  (I’m working on it!)

Many thanks, Quercus,  for giving Out of Time a close reading and then writing a review of it.



A January Kind of Day

Last Friday was the kind of January day that makes a Mainer glad to be alive. The sun was shining and the sky was a brilliant blue that only comes in winter. A good afternoon to be out, but as my holiday vacation is over, I had much work to do, and it therefore fell to Clif to do various errands.

“But take the camera,” I said. “And get some pictures.”

“All right,” Clif said, and off he went.

Winthrop is a town of lakes, ponds, and streams. While not an island, our town is surrounded by water, which brings life and beauty to the area. After seeing the pictures of drought from blogging friends in different parts of the world, I have come to greatly appreciate all the water we have in Winthrop.

On that beautiful sunny Friday, Clif headed to Maranacook Lake, about a mile and half from our home, in the opposite direction of the Narrows Ponds. There is a public beach, where our daughters learned to swim. There is a sweet little park with picnic tables and grills, a perfect place to sit and relax on warm sunny days.

But in January, there are no swimmers or picnickers, and the beach and park are empty.

Instead, we have sky, snow, and mostly water, some of it frozen, some not. Note: I did not fiddle with the colors at all. They are exactly as Clif took them.

In a usual winter, life on the beach and the park heads out onto the ice, where fishing shacks are set up, and hardy souls go fishing. The frozen lake becomes a village where people fish and talk and laugh and children play. While I am not into ice fishing, I always enjoy seeing the villages, a bright accent in a frozen world.

Unfortunately, there are no ice shacks on the lake. As the open water by the shore indicates, the weather just hasn’t been cold enough.

But a cold snap is coming, and February is often as brisk as January. So there might be time yet.

Clif and I will be watching.

Friday Favorites: The Solace of Heroes, Nature, and Music

It has been over a week since a right-wing mob attacked and ransacked the Capitol—1/6 is a new date to remember for its infamy. Right now, silver linings are pretty hard to find, but I can offer you the story of a hero, of how Eugene Goodman, a lone Capitol police officer, using himself as bait, lured the mob away from the Senate Chamber. I am in awe of how this man had the courage and the presence of mind to do this. I salute you, Eugene Goodman. I also salute Huffington Post reporter Igor Bobic, who filmed the event on his phone.

Closer to home, January continues to provide cool solace for the ills of this country. Many people in the north dislike January because of the long nights and cold days. I am not one of those people. I have always found January to be beautiful and brilliant yet soothing, a time to reflect and rest before boisterous Spring makes her appearance.

Here is a January picture of the Lower Narrows, peeping through the lacy fingers of the trees and bushes.

What would Friday Favorites be without a Tiny Desk Concert and the solace of music? This time the fabulous Andrew Bird, who not only can play and sing but also whistle like, well, a bird. As someone in the Tiny Desk comments section asked, “Is it wrong, do you think, to envy someone’s whistling ability?”

To read about more favorites from blogging friends from around the world:

Thistles and Kiwis, who surely eats better than most people I know.

All Things Bright and Beautiful: Really, Ju-Lyn? A cobra?

A blog about nature, home, community, books, writing, the environment, food, and rural life.