Five for Friday: Our Own Little Yard

I know this will probably make me sound like a boring fuddy-duddy,  but one of my absolute favorite places is my own backyard. We only own an acre of land, and our backyard, fenced in for Liam, is probably about one-half acre. But our property, modest though it is, abuts a watershed for the Upper and Lower Narrows Pond, the primary source for Winthrop’s drinking water. So behind our house is a big woods, full of life and mystery.  It’s not ours, but it gives us an expanded feeling, especially as no development is allowed on this land.

From December through March, our backyard is snowed-in, and except for the shoveled paths, it is not accessible to us. (To our great delight, the birds and squirrels, however, still come and go. ) But as soon as the snow melts, the yard is open to Clif and me, and I never get tired of looking around to see what’s going on. Spring, summer, or fall, there is always something to notice.

The goldfinches, who are making a sound and a fury most days, are flocking to the feeder, and the males are slowly beginning to show their beautiful summer plumage.

And speaking of slowly…the irises are starting to poke through the layer of leaves in the garden. Perhaps next week, I’ll clear those leaves and see what else might be coming up.

When I’m  in the backyard, I always like to look into the woods. Right now, I can actually see a little ways in, to the stone walls that once bordered this land when it was all fields and no woods.

Most of the trees have yet to bud, much less leaf, so last year’s beech leaves still provide a subtle yet shimmering beauty.

Finally, I like to look up at the huge pines that border our yard.

After a long winter of mostly looking out the bathroom window—my blind—it is such a pleasure to be out poking around my backyard, watching as spring gradually shows her pretty face.



Weather Report: A Miraculous Week

In Maine, the velocity of change in spring is nothing short of astonishing. So much can happen in seven days, and here are the pictures to prove it. Because the changes have been so dramatic in just a week’s time, I thought it would be good to feature last week’s pictures along with this week’s.

Last week overlooking the Kennebec:

This week overlooking the Kennebec:

As you can see, the ice has really receded, and there is a lot more open water. However, the ice chunks, made thick and stubborn by winter’s extreme cold, still hover by the shore. I wonder how long it will be before they are completely gone.

Now to our front yard. Last week with snow-gauge Clif:

This week with snow-gauge Clif:

There is quite a change in the front yard, but most dramatic is the backyard, where we get more sun. Here is last week:

Drum roll, please! Here is this week:

And all in seven days. Seems almost like a miracle. The patio has begun to emerge, and next week I’ll include pictures of the patio, which we always hope is clear by Shannon’s birthday on April 22.

Last week, I was very doubtful. But now I have  hope. Shannon, it just might happen.


The Merry Month of Mud

Every spring, mud comes to Maine as regularly as the tourists do in the summer. Usually mud season begins Mid-March.  But this year we had so much snow that the mud has not only come later but also with a vengeance that is astonishing even to this Mainer, who has seen her fair share of mud seasons.

Yesterday, I almost lost my shoe in the mud by our house, and Liam hates to walk through it to get to the backyard. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any choice, and he comes back quite literally as a mud puppy. We wipe him as best we can, but oh, my kitchen floor.

Behold the muddy walk in the backyard, which is ever so much worse in reality than it is in this photo.

Clif and I were starting to despair, but last night, salvation came from an unlikely place—Facebook. One of my Winthrop  friends, who breeds dogs, wrote about how her dog yard was so muddy that she needed to get bales of straw to cover the mud.

Bales of straw? Immediately, the idea appealed to me.

Where, I asked, did she get the straw?

Paris Farmers Union, came her reply. Right in town.

This morning, lickity-split, Clif went to Paris Farmers Union for a bale of straw. The clerk who helped Clif told him that one man had come to buy five bales for a  driveway that was so muddy it was nearly impossible to walk on it.

This just goes to show that things could be worse. Our driveway is all right. It’s the walkways to and around the backyard that need help.

The bale was loaded in our trusty Honda Fit, one of the best little cars we have ever owned.

Clif removed the bale and was ready to go.

And how did Liam like the straw walks in his backyard? He liked them very much indeed, and Liam has resumed his rambles around the backyard. (Liam had such an aversion to walking in mud that he reluctantly did his business and then immediately wanted to come back in. Don’t blame him a bit for not liking to trot through the mud.)

The straw doesn’t entirely eliminate muddy paws, but it sure does help. We still have to wipe Liam when he comes in, but at least he doesn’t track all over the floor.

Take that, mud!




Five for Friday: Pizza and Fun, with a Dash of Fancy

On Wednesday, Clif and I went back to Cushnoc Brewing Co. for an early supper.  For our anniversary, Shannon and Mike gave us a gift certificate to Cushnoc, and when it comes to having fun, Clif and I never shirk our duties. Our friend, Alice Bolstridge, met us, and before I post pictures of our meals, I am going to indulge in a bit of fancy.

As I wrote in a previous post,  Augusta was established in 1629 by English settlers from the Plymouth colony. Cushnoc, a Native American word meaning “head of tide,” was Augusta’s original name. So far, so factual. Now comes the fancy. I am a fool for Shakespeare, and I started thinking about the dates—how his death in 1616 was just thirteen years before Augusta (or Cushnoc) was established. I began to wonder, had any of the English settlers heard of Shakespeare? Perhaps even gone to one of his plays? Or better still, did any of them ever meet the great man? If the settlers were Puritans—and most probably they were—then it’s highly unlikely they  went to one of Shakespeare’s plays. Still, it’s fun to speculate.

Now back to pizza. When Clif and I go to Cushnoc, we want to sit by a window that overlooks the Kennebec, and for some reason, I really like the juxtaposition of the fire escape with the river.

As an appetizer, Cushnoc offers some fire-roasted sweet and spicy nuts, and we can’t resist them. I’ve decided I want to learn how to make my own so that I can give them as presents for holidays and other events.

And what goes along with spicy nuts? Why drinks, of course—a beer for Clif and a cocktail for me. Clif had a Belgian-style IPA, Eternal Golden Eagle. Quite a name! Clif thought it was good but tends to like the American-style IPAs better. I had a drink called a Belizean   Sunset, a combination of vodka, orange juice, grenadine, and triple sec. My oh my, it was delicious, a creamsicle for adults.

Then came the pizzas. For Clif and me, the Sand Hill Classic, topped with Genoa salami, peperoncini, fresh basil, and red sauce. So good, so good. In fact, Cushnoc’s pizzas are the best I have ever had in Maine. Period. (Portland Pie Company is coming to Waterville, and it will be interesting to see how their pizzas compare with Cushnoc’s. All in the spirit of research, you understand.)

Alice was more adventurous and had the Mill Park Pie, topped with roasted butternut squash sauce, bacon, shaved Brussels sprouts, and balsamic drizzle. Unusual but very tasty. (Alice let us have some of hers.)

You might have noticed that the cooked pizzas are set on cans of tomatoes. A great idea. Just like buildings in a city, going up saves space down below, and at most pizza places, the table is too crowded with the pizza pans, the plates, the cutlery, and the drinks.

So there you have it. Another terrific meal in, of all places, Augusta, Maine. My only complaint with Cusnoc’s is the noise level when there are a lot of people, and on Wednesday, the place was pretty darned crowded. Unfortunately, our aging ears can no longer tolerate a lot of background noise. The restaurant is cavernous, and I don’t think there is anything that can be done about the noise.

But I do have a solution. In the future, we will go for an early lunch, before the place gets crowded. That way, we will be able to have really good pizza and still be able to hear what the other person is saying.



Weather Report: A Softening, but Still a Lot of Snow

Here we are, at the end of March. Finally, finally, the weather seems to be softening. We still have plenty of snow, as the following pictures indicate, but the days have been sunny and if not exactly warm, at least not quite as cold.

The mud and grit have arrived, a little late. All those March snowstorms have put us at least two weeks behind where we usually are this time of year. All we can do is hope that the thaw is quick. Such a mess, inside and out.

However, rather than brood about the mud, I’ll turn to the Kennebec River, which is beautiful and fascinating no matter the season.

Here is a picture Clif took on Saturday. While the middle of the river flows clear, the edges are lined with some pretty impressive ice chunks.

Here is a closer look. Luckily, a bird (a crow?)  decided to fly by just as I was snapping the shot, and this will give you some sense of the scale of those massive ice chunks.

I can’t even begin to guess when those chunks will be completely melted. Mid-April? End of April? I suppose it depends on how warm the weather is.

Meanwhile, back at our little homestead, with snow-gauge Clif.

Here is the front yard. Still a lot of snow, but the driveway has begun to make an appearance. In our yard, that counts as progress.

This week, I’ve also decided to add the backyard, and this, too, will be a regular feature. Over the years, our daughter Shannon has come up with a birthday wish—that all the snow will be gone from the patio before her birthday, April 22.

As you can see, the patio has a long way to go, and it looks very doubtful that the snow will be gone by April 22.

But we shall see.

Finally, here is a picture to show that although it looks as though central Maine is still in winter’s frozen grip, spring is slowly, slowly coming. Note the red buds on the tree.

Perhaps the finches are even discussing when nest building should begin.

Not quite yet.

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