Some Thoughts on Labor Day 2020

This morning the sky was a bright overcast, a perfect time for poking around the yard and taking pictures of small things. The flowers are definitely past their best, but there are a few bright spots here and there.

Perky Black-eyed Susans,

Asters, those stars of fall,

and bright wands of Goldenrod.

In the United States, today is Labor Day, which Wikipedia defines as “a federal holiday in the United States celebrated on the first Monday in September to honor and recognize the American labor movement and the works and contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of the United States.”

I think of my Franco-American ancestors—potato farmers and factory workers—mocked and derided for being “dumb Frenchman.” In truth, these “dumb Frenchman” did much of the hard, back-breaking labor that kept Maine going. Why weren’t they respected for the work they did? Even today, the contributions of Franco-Americans are seldom acknowledged.

If we cast the circle wider to encompass other ethnic groups and workers—the ones who pick our crops, the ones who work in stores, the ones who bravely go forth during this pandemic so that we can eat and have the necessities of life—we see that the same sort of disrespect is extended to them. Somehow these workers are so lowly that they do not deserve a decent wage, health care, or affordable housing and transportation.

To borrow from my blogging friends across the pond, rubbish! Covid-19 has revealed exactly who is essential and who is not.

So on this Labor Day, and indeed on every other day, let’s honor the men and women who work so hard and get so little. And, maybe, just maybe, we can think about what we, as a society, can do to make their lives a little more comfortable.

And then put those thoughts into actions.




What’s Making Me Happy: Our Tri-State Virtual Film Festival

Mugs designed by Clif. The kids have them, too.


As regular readers know, we are family of film buffs. We keep up with current movies, and we also like to go to film festivals. For many years we have been going to the Maine International Film Festival (MIFF), held in Waterville, Maine, about twenty-five miles away from where we live. Dee, from New York, usually joins us, and we have ten days of nonstop movies. When Mike and Shannon lived in Maine, they would also join us on the weekends.

This year, MIFF had to scale way back and hold the festival at a Drive-In that was fifty miles away from our home. Much as we like movies, a 100-mile round trip was too far for us. Also, the kids were not able to join us because of the traveling hazards associated with Covid-19.

Without MIFF and visits from the kids, our summer sure felt flat. What to do to perk things up at least a little? How about a virtual film festival, via Zoom? We would follow MIFF’s lead by starting on a Friday and ending ten days later on a Sunday.

Naturally, we couldn’t pack in the movies the way MIFF does. Shannon and Mike were still working, and so was I. (Books don’t write themselves). So here’s what we did: We each picked a movie, which we would watch one night and then discuss the next.

This worked like a charm. Or, as we in Maine might say, a chahm. What a fun week we had! We each chose five thought-provoking films, beginning with greed and ending with greed. (No, we did not plan it that way.) After watching each movie, I couldn’t wait to hear what the others thought.

Here was our line-up and a brief description about each movie:

Atlantics, 2019. Country of origin: Senegal. Directed by Mati Diop. Available on Netflix. English subtitles.

Atlantics is a moody exploration of love, gender, greed, and money.  A wealthy developer, who is constructing a giant, looming tower, refuses to pay his workers. This sets in motion a migration that separates two lovers, Soulieman and Ada and leads to a startling conclusion. Atlantics has a slow beginning, but it isn’t long before the story snaps into an unexpected place.

Hoop Dreams, 1994. Country of origin: USA. Directed by Steve James. Available to rent on Prime Video.

This extraordinary three-hour documentary came out in 1994 and follows two young men in inner city Chicago through four years of high school as they try to realize their dreams to play professional basketball. But Hoop Dreams goes beyond sports to cast a piercing gaze on poverty, racism, money, and the willingness of some coaches to use and then discard young men. A seminal movie even twenty-six years later.

Transit, 2018. Filmed in France. Directed by Christian Petzold. Available on Prime Video, included with Prime. English subtitles.

Transit is about persecuted minorities fleeing occupied France. I don’t want to reveal too much about this unsettling film. It is best watched without any spoilers. Transit examines the notion of Fascism and how easily societies can succumb to this terrible, repressive ideology. At the same time, it is a deeply humane film as it focuses on how the main characters grapple with the terror of fleeing capture and death and then the tedium of waiting for transport that will take them to countries not in the grip of fascism. Finally, it is a haunting, touching love story.

Silent Running, 1972. Country of origin: USA. Directed by Douglas Trumbull. Available to rent on Prime Video.

Silent Running is a 1972 science-fiction tale that takes a stern environmental stance. Earth’s green and growing spaces are gone, and the last biomes are being stored in space on huge freighters. When an order comes to destroy the biomes, Bruce Dern’s Freeman takes matters into his own hands to try to save the last forest. The special effects are astonishing, given the time and the budget. The acting is over-the-top, but the environmental story still resonates today.

Jean de Florette, 1986. Country of origin: France. Directed by Claude Berri. Available to rent on Prime Video. English subtitles.

Jean de Florette is the first movie in a two-part series that concludes with Manon of the Spring. Jean de Florette takes greed and personalizes it with the excellent Yves Montand as Cesar, who yearns to own the land that the hunchback Jean de Florette has inherited. Cesar plots and connives to get that land from the stubborn, unsuspecting Jean, and there is nothing Cesar will not do to get what he wants. All the acting is excellent, but as my son-in-law Mike pointed out, Yves Montand is outstanding, showing how evil can be both banal and ruthless.








If a Tree Falls in Your Backyard…

You most certainly hear a crashing sound when a tree falls in your backyard. Clif and I had just finished breakfast when we heard a loud bang. It didn’t take us long to discover what had happened—the dead tree at the edge of our yard finally came down.

Why this morning, when there was hardly even a breeze? Why not in the past two weeks when we had extremely windy weather? Who knows? But once again, we got lucky. The tree fell on the gardens, but no real damage was done. The tree missed the bird feeder and my beautiful blue fountain. It missed our glass table and the solar panel.

Here are views from the back.


Sherlock, of course, had to inspect the damage.

Clif and I were oh so glad Sherlock wasn’t out there to get hurt when the tree fell. Ditto for his sister Miss Watson.

Now there is much clean-up to do, and because of this, my day has taken a different turn. I was going to write about our Family Virtual Film Festival, but I will save that for Friday as the Film Festival made me very happy indeed, a bright spot during these isolated times of the pandemic.

So out back I go, to help clean up the wood, which we’ll be able to burn in our wood furnace.


What’s Making Me Happy: Late Summer Weather, Great Numbers, Norah Jones

When it comes to the weather, living in Maine requires a lot of flexibility and a certain amount of stoicism. One week it might be 90° F, and we need to use the AC to be comfortable. The next week it will dip down to 55° during the night, which calls for blankets at night and a wee bit of heat in the house.

After a spell of dripping hot weather, I woke up this morning to find this delightful temperature:

This afternoon, it is 74°F—dry, bright, sunny—and tonight it’s supposed to go down to the midfifties, which I am sure it did last night.

This is typical late summer weather in Maine, and how I love it. In truth, I could have 350 more days just like this, with some rain thrown in, of course.

In a couple of hours, Clif and I will head to the patio for drinks and some nibbles.  We’ll listen to the crickets sing and watch the hummingbirds zoom to their feeders. Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal will come, red against the green of the woods. What a wonderful time of year.

The second thing that is making me happy is by far the best. Clif went to see a nurse practitioner this week for a test to check his blood sugar. Good news, good news! After two months of a very low-carb diet, Clif’s blood sugar is down. Way down.  In February, his number (A1C)  was so high that the nurse practitioner wanted to increase Clif’s medication. Now, the number is so low that Clif is in the pre-diabetes range. We are hopeful that Clif will be able to bring his numbers down to the non-diabetic range and will be able to stop taking medication all together.

So happy day! I will admit that it has not been easy to shift our diet away from pasta, rice, and potatoes. It’s been very hard. But we have done it, at least in the short term, and we are determined to continue with this regimen.

Last, I will leave you with Norah Jones, a fine, fine singer. I especially like the first song—soulful and melancholy.



And here’s what’s making Thistles and Kiwis happy this week.

Slowly, Slowly Getting Back into My Schedule

Last week was truly a gift. The weather was August perfect, a reminder of why people come to Maine in the summer. The days were hot, but not too hot, and the nights were cool enough to need blankets for sleeping.  Much of my time was spent on the patio, where I read, napped, took pictures, and ate. It was absolutely wonderful not to hurry through the day.

One night we had shrimp and Farmer Kev’s corn on the cob. Delicious!

Every evening we had drinks.

As we sipped our drinks and chatted, hummingbirds visited the last of the blooming bee balm. Soon those little lovelies will be gone, winging their way south to warmer weather.

Cardinals also came. But instead of bee balm nectar, they wanted to eat seeds at the brown feeder.

Truthfully, I could use another week off, but there is much work to do over the next few months. However, I am going to ease back slowly, first with blogging and then with other writing—my podcast and the final editing of my book Out of Time.

But all is not labor and toil at our home in the woods. This week we are having a Tri-State Virtual Film Festival where one night the whole family watches a movie and the next evening we get together—via Zoom—to discuss it.

We’ve already seen two movies, and I’ll be writing more about this on Friday as our Tri-State Virtual Film Festival is definitely making me happy.

Turtle Time, Rest Time

We are in the middle of August, buzzing August. The hot weather has slacked off, at least for now, and the landscape has a slightly frazzled late summer look that perfectly captures the way I feel.

In May, Clif suggested we create a podcast called Tales from the Other Green Door. This involved writing a new story, and I came up with The Wings of Luck, a twelve-episode spin-off from my Great Library series. Running at about ninety pages, The Wings of Luck could be considered a novella, and last week I finished tightening and tweaking it. In between, I gardened furiously in May; put together an information packet for the cover to Out of Time, my fantasy novel that will be coming out in November; and dealt with the ongoing stress of life during a pandemic.

And now, to borrow from Bilbo Baggins, I feel like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. I need a break, a week off where I bob through the days and rest from time to time, like this turtle on the rock.

Clif and I have decided to make a proper staycation of it, with various treats—mostly low carb and low cal—and drinks on the patio when the weather allows.

Then, it will be on to recording the podcast. I will also be getting Out of Time, Book Three of my Great Library Series, ready for printing this November.

Have a good week, everyone.

I’ll catch you on the flipside.

What’s Making Me Happy: Twigs in My Hair, Pita Bread, and a Finch on the Bird Bath

Once upon a time, I used to write real book reviews where I read with great care, marked passages of note, and labored on the actual review. Alas, those days are gone. With a book coming out every other year, all my energy is going into my own work. I feel bad about this as I really enjoy bringing attention to other people’s books.

So for the past few years, it’s been all or nothing for me: Because I didn’t have the time to write a proper review, I didn’t write anything. Then I had a belatedly brilliant flash—it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. When I come across books of interest, especially if they’re written by friends, blogging or otherwise, I can simply feature the book on my blog and write a few lines about it.

Therefore, here is a book I’d like to bring to your attention—Twigs in My Hair by Cynthia Reyes. Twigs in my Hair is for gardeners and would-be gardeners or for people who simply like looking at gardens. Also, for those who are interested in a memoir told through gardening stories past and present. And surely Twigs in my Hair must be one of the best titles ever. (Full disclosure: My husband did the page layout.)

Cynthia, a blogging friend, has a warm, vivid writing style that pulls a reader in. The book features gorgeous pictures taken by Cynthia’s husband, Hamlin. I am not ashamed to admit that I had an acute case of gardener’s envy as I read Twigs in My Hair.  Readers, put this book on your TBR list, and with the holidays just around the corner, it would make a lovely gift for friends or family.

From books we go to food, a subject that is ever on my mind. As I’ve written in previous posts, my husband, Clif, is on extremely low-carb diet. We are a carb-loving family, and cutting back on carbs has proven to be a great challenge. Fortunately, we have found ways to eat a low-carb diet and even enjoy it. Joseph’s flax, oat bran, and whole wheat pita bread is one reason why. This pita is a soft and tasty bread substitute. It can be folded in half, toasted, and used as a taco shell. Untoasted and folded, it makes a dandy roll for a burger. Or sausage. Or whatever.

How low carb is this pita bread? Take a look, and keep in mind that a whole wheat roll has about 20 grams of carbs. (Clif aims to keep his carb intake to around 70 grams a day.)

I do want to emphasize I’m not getting any kickbacks when I endorse a product. I am to Joseph’s as a flea is to an elephant.

Finally, what’s not to like about a finch taking a drink from a birdbath at dusk as you sit on the patio? Nothing at all. Pure happiness to watch that little beauty.

To read what small pleasures are making Thistles and Kiwis happy, click here.



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