The Great Unfurling

Busy, busy, busy. Spring has officially come to Maine—the black flies have reared their nasty little heads—and gardeners have about one month to get their gardens in order. By June, the plants are too big for easy fertilizing, composting, and dividing. So the race is on!

I am happy to report I am pretty much on schedule. My first job is to remove all the leaves that have blown into the various beds, and this is no small thing when you live on the edge of a small forest.

I am about two-thirds done with leaf removal. After that, it will be on to spreading compost and fertilizer then dividing perennials and planting annuals, which is one of my favorite things to do.

In between removing wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of leaves from the beds, I have taken time to admire to admire the unfurling of the ferns, which I always love to see. For couple of weeks, the curled ferns are so tender and delicate looking. Then just like that they spring into sweet leafiness, and year after year, I am enchanted as I watch the process.

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As many of you know, I am also working like crazy to finish Of Time and Magic, Book Four in my Great Library Series. I had hoped to be wrapped up by now, but it looks is though I won’t be finished until either the end of this week or the beginning of next week. I want to take my time with the ending of this book, which is the culmination of ten years of work, when I began the first book in the series, Maya and the Book of Everything.

I probably have three more chapters left to go.  The winds of the writing gods blow me to and fro, but I am getting there.  I can definitely see the harbor and many friendly faces on the dock.

Of Time and Magic‘s current word count: 99, 180

Saturday in the Park

On Saturday, Clif, Dee, and I headed south of the border—to Massachusetts. For many Mainers, our border is the Piscataqua  river that flows between Maine and New Hampshire and the imposing eponymous bridge that spans that river. This bridge is the primary way out of Maine for points south, and it gives the state the feeling of being an island. Silly, I know, but that’s how it always seems to me when I leave or return to Maine.

The Piscataqua River Bridge. Photo taken by Doug Kerr.

Across the bridge we went, through a sliver of New Hampshire and then to Massachusetts where our daughter Shannon and her husband Mike live. Shannon’s birthday was on Friday—Earth Day—and how wonderful it was to be able celebrate her birthday in person. (For the past six years, when Shannon and Mike lived in North Carolina, birthdays were celebrated from afar.)

Saturday was a lovely warm spring day, and for the birthday celebration, we headed to a pretty park in a nearby town.

We set up our chairs and enjoyed the fine weather. Here is a picture of Shannon and Mike. In the background, you can see the fringe of spring green on the tree to the left of Shannon.

We got take-out from Bartlet Street, a nearby restaurant that caters to meat eaters, vegetarians, and vegans. Truly, there was something for everyone.

Dee ordered a bagel with roasted chickpeas and mashed avocado. Quite a feast! I could have a bite of that right now.

As we ate and talked, people and dogs came to the park. A little boy ran in delight, touching and counting rocks and benches. Dogs on leashes sniffed and trotted across the green grass.  A group of young friends, laughing and happy, brought a blanket and had a picnic. Particularly touching was when a couple came with their senior dog, a yellow lab, who was lame with arthritis. They had ramp to make it easier for the dog to get in and out of their vehicle. A much-needed example of how we humans can be kind and thoughtful.

After lunch, we saluted Shannon with cupcakes. Happy, happy birthday!

In honor of this sweet day, here is a song that no doubt many of you will remember.

A Time of Firsts and Beginnings

Spring is a time of firsts, a time of beginnings.

Last week, for the first time, I saw these flowers in our yard.

Thanks to the Internet, I was able to identify them as coltsfoot. According to Mother Earth Living, coltsfoot is too invasive to go in the garden. Fortunately, these flowers are blooming on the side of the driveway, by the woods, far from my gardens.

For beginnings: Clif started cutting up the tree that had fallen in the backyard. The wood is too punky for our wood furnace, but we will be able to use it in our fire pit.

Drum roll, please! On Friday—for what counts as big excitement at our home on the edge of the woods—Clif brought out our small patio table.

The patio is now ready for action. And even though Friday was a little chilly, we had our first drinks (and snacks!) on the patio.

How lovely it was to sip rum and Coke, watch the birds and the squirrels, and admire the red buds against the blue sky.

For the first time this week, we heard the exuberant spring song of the peepers, tiny one-inch tree frogs whose small size belies their robust voices that come together each night in a rousing symphony. They sing, “Spring, spring, spring!”

Dee also heard the melancholy call of a loon, which means they have returned to the Narrows, about a quarter of mile from where we live.

As I’ve written before, spring is an old story that never feels old. The renewal, the rebirth, the sights, the sounds are always stirring, no matter how many springs I have seen.

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Book report for Of Time and Magic

Word count this week: 6,006

Total word count: 86, 795

To continue with the metaphor of writing and being at sea…not only can I now see the harbor, but the docks, ships, store fronts, and houses have also snapped into view.

 

 

 

 

With Baby Steps, Spring Comes on Tiptoes

Slowly, slowly Spring is tiptoeing into Maine. In May, she will be in a rush, but right now she is just leaving hints here and there.

The male goldfinches have begun their change from drab feathers to bright summer yellow. Not wanting to scare them, I took this picture through our dining room window. The bird on the left illustrates how the male’s feathers are becoming brighter. When I go outside to do yard work—another sign of spring—I always bring my camera, and I’ll try to get a better picture.

Speaking of which…when I was outside, I did get this picture of Mr. Cardinal, that red beauty who graces our yard. I was especially pleased to get him in a maple tree with its spring buds, also red.

When I turned my gaze downward, I was thrilled to see the green shoots of irises in my back garden. I so love this tender color of Spring.

Now that the snow is gone and we can actually reach our front deck, Clif and I figured it was time to take down the Christmas decorations, which were looking more than a little frowzy. We also put away the shovel and the blue bucket with salt—you can see a glimpse of them behind the wreaths. Farewell until next winter. We hope. 😉

Finally, here’s a picture of a chipmunk that I took while I was resting on the patio and soaking in the birds and the trees and the natural beauty that comes from living on the edge of the woods. Truly a gift, one that gives in every season.

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I am happy to report that this week I made good progress on my YA fantasy novel Of Time and Magic.

Word count this week: 6, 605

Total word count: 80, 789

Here’s a metaphor that describes how I feel with each book I write: When I start out, I’m leaving my safe port and heading out to sea. I know my destination, but I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to get there. In the middle of the book, I am completely surrounded by water with no land in sight. I usually hit the doldrums, where I seem to make little progress. This winter, I was there for several months. But now, come spring, I’ve escaped the doldrums and can finally see land. I’m still some distance away, but I will soon be reaching the book’s ending port.

Onward this week to another 6,000 words. Or maybe even more.

Pick-Up Sticks

For whatever reason, spring clean-up has not been too bad this year.  I think it’s because we had fewer wind storms to blow branches down. There is one big exception to this, but more on that later.

Last week, I went around the yard and collected all the sticks and small branches that came down over the winter. I filled the wheelbarrow twice, and the sticks, which will be used in the fire pit, have been tucked into a big garbage can.

As the picture above indicates, the patio is no longer empty and lonely. Clif brought up the blue chairs, and we are ready for warmish weather when we can sit on the patio and enjoy the backyard.

The raised beds, where I plant a few herbs and vegetables, need a bit of tidying. But to my winter-weary eyes, they are a sign of good things to come.

Clif straightened the clothesline, but the ground is still too soft for me to hang my laundry on it. Soon, soon. Like my mother, I am dedicated to hanging laundry on the line. Good for the planet, and good for the budget. Plus, you can’t beat the smell of laundry hung outside.

Now, here is the exception to our easy spring clean-up.

During a high wind a week or so ago, we heard a  mighty roar, and when we looked at out the kitchen window we saw what had caused it—a tree had blown over in the backyard. Fortunately, absolutely nothing was damaged. Next week, Clif will be getting a new chain for his chainsaw and begin cutting up the tree. The wood will probably be used for the fire pit on some chilly spring night when with mugs of tea, we sit around the fire. Always so cozy and relaxing to look at the night sky and hear the night noises in the woods.

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Writing update for my novel Of Time and Magic: For various reasons, I fell short of my 6,000 word goal for the week. Instead, I clocked in at 4,140. Onward I press, hoping for 6,000 next week. My plan is for the book to be about 99,000 words, the same length as Library Lost.  74,000 is my current word count.

25,000 more words to go!

 

 

Snow-Gauge Clif: The Party’s Over

In Maine, winter seems to be over. For this lifelong Mainer, it is nothing short of astonishing that the snow is mostly gone by the end of March. As I have written previously, in winters past, we always hoped the snow would be gone by the end of April for my daughter’s birthday, and we could celebrate on the patio. Some years we did; other years we didn’t.

However, here we are in this age of climate change, when spring in Maine starts a month earlier, and fall starts a month later. Do I like this? Of course I do. We still have plenty of winter and cold in Maine. Nevertheless, the change is disconcerting. Also, not a good sign about how the planet is warming.

But let us turn to Snow-Gauge Clif. Because of the early spring, this will be his last week this season with his trusty snow gauge.

Here are photos from the front yard, where there are only tiny patches of snow left.

The backyard is no different.

Farewell, Snow-Gauge Clif, until next winter when I think we might start measuring the middle of February rather than the beginning of March.

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Long-time readers know that I am working on Book Four of my Great Library Series—the working title is Of Time and Magic. On Saturday, I reached 70,000 words with 30,000 or so to go to finish the novel. Alas, the cover’s deadline is looming, and my plan (hope!) is to have the writing done by May. I know. That’s 6,000 words a week. Doable, but a big push.  Therefore, until Of Time and Magic is done, I will be cutting back to one simple blog post a week, which, with a few pictures and and minimal writing, will probably chronicle spring in Maine.

Friday Favorites will be put on hold until Of Time and Magic is finished. Although I enjoy sharing blogging posts from friends as well as books, movies, and music that have caught my fancy, the posts are more work than you might think.

So onward, ho with 30,000 pages to go! Of Time and Magic will be the last book in the Maya series. But I already have a new book planned that will feature the characters in my Christmas story, The Dog Angel.

Good thing I’m a homebody and don’t mind spending much of the day at my desk.

 

Friday Favorites: The Consolation of Nature

For me, as is the case with many people, nature is a great consolation when there are troubles big and small. Even in March in Maine, there are signs of spring, reasons to be glad and feel a little comforted.

At breakfast one morning this week, I looked out the window and spotted this chipmunk on the small wall Clif built to hide our garbage cans, which we use to store sticks and fallen branches. Chipmunks hibernate in the winter. Seeing the chipmunk out and about, even though the weather is brisk, even though there is mud aplenty, is a cheering sign of spring.

Tiny red buds have started appearing on the maples, and here they are silhouetted against a morning blue sky.

The fungi pictured below is not a sign of spring, but this time of year—when the snow is mostly gone and not much is growing—it really stands out.

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Thoughtful Posts from Some of the Lovely Blogs I Follow

I’m guessing that for most of us, Ukraine is never far from our thoughts. How could it be any other way? Not only is the death and destruction in Ukraine horrible to behold even from afar, but it’s being wrought by a tyrant with an arsenal of nuclear weapons. In response, some of my blogging friends have, in their own way, added their voices in support of Ukraine as they chronicle this terrible time.

Donna, from Retirement Reflections, offers practical ways that people can help Ukrainians.

Tanja, from Tanja Britton, takes solace in memories from winters’ past and shares wonderful photos of animals that live in her area.

Xenia, from Tranature, wrote a simple, lovely haiku and lit a candle for peace.

Debbie, from Musings by an ND Domer’s Mom, has written a thoughtful post that asks “What’s Valuable to you?” I was particularly taken with this: “To grumble and complain that we don’t have more — when so many have far less — feels like the gravest of sins to me.” Yes, yes!

Jane, from Robby Robin’s Journey, has reposted an old blog post about a trip through the Soviet Union 1970. Her observations and conclusions are illuminating and help provide an understanding of where Russia is today.

D. Wallace Peach, from Myths of the Mirror, has written a haunting poem about war and hope.

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DakhaBrakha’s music is not the kind I usually listen to, but that’s one of the reasons why I love NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts so much. It exposes me to music and groups I have never heard of. Also, DakhaBrakha is from Ukraine, which is particularly relevant right now. The group’s music is wild, haunting, and arresting, yet another example of how music can be many things. And the costumes? Well, as one commenter put it, “Came for the hats. Stayed for the music.”

Snow-Gauge Clif: Let the Mud Begin

On Saturday, March 19, a heavy rain fell as though it were a day in April. If the rain had been snow, as it would have been in years past, Snow-Joe would have gotten quite a work out. Instead, the rain came down, down, down, and most of the snow went away, to be replaced by mud.

Here are pictures of the tracks I made going to the compost bins in the backyard. The mud was so deep that I wondered if I would lose my shoes on the way to and from the house.

As you might have guessed, Snow-Gauge Clif’s job is coming to an end. Barring any last-minute snowstorms, I expect we have a week or two at most.

The shady front yard still has 7 inches of snow at its deepest and a skim of snow over much of the lawn.

The backyard is quite another matter. There is a spot that has 7 inches of snow—where Snow-Joe threw it—but for the most part, the lawn is bare.

Here’s a better photo of the backyard. Note the patio and how the snow is nearly gone. As soon as the mud dries, and we can walk on the lawn without fear of losing our shoes, the blue chairs will come out.

Finally, here’s a photo of our listing clothesline, which is a little on the tipsy side. When the yard dries out, Clif is wondering if he’ll have to reset the clothesline. Never a dull moment at our home on the edge of the woods.

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In Addition: Cheers to 45 years!

On Saturday Clif and I celebrated our forty-fifth wedding anniversary. We marked the occasion with an appetizer night featuring dumplings, a cashew dip, and other assorted goodies. Appetizer nights are a favorite at our home, where with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of enjoyment, we have many different treats to nibble.

There was also a toast where we used lovely glasses given to us by our friend Doree Austin on our first wedding anniversary.

After our appetizer meal, we watched a film that I highly recommend—Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, a sweet low-key movie from Bhutan that has been nominated this year for an Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.

Filmed in Buhatan and written and directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji, this charming movie tells the story of a young, uninspired teacher, Ugyen Dorji, who is sent to a remote mountain village to fulfill his teacher contract. Does Ugyen want to go to this village, accessible only by foot and a journey of many days? He does not. Instead, Ugyen wants to go to Australia and follow his dream of becoming a singer.

But up the mountain Ugyen goes, finally making it to Lunana, a poor village that has some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen. During the course of the movie, lessons are learned and taught. In its own gentle way, Lunana examines the notion of culture, of whether to leave or to stay.  Best of all, Lunana manages to avoid being predictable, which gives the movie a nice twist.

For those who have Kanopy, Lunana is available free for streaming. For those who don’t have Kanopy, other streaming options include Vudu and Prime Video, where the movie can be rented for $6.99.

Lunana is definitely worth $6.99, and so far it is my favorite foreign film of the year.

 

What’s on Your Bookshelf: March 18

This Friday, I’m joining Donna at Retirement Reflections and some of her blogging friends for their monthly What’s on your Bookshelf?

Even though I’ve read five books this month, I decided to focus on just two of them, both set in Maine but very different. That way, I could go into a little more detail about each book. For future What’s on Your Bookshelf?, I will probably continue to focus on two or three books.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Confession time: Romance novels aren’t my thing. I don’t mind reading books that include a romance, but I usually want some larger plot to bind it all together. However, Evvie Drake Starts Over is indeed a romance novel, with the central story being the relationship between Evvie, a young widow, and Dean, a baseball pitcher who can no longer pitch.

I decided to read this novel because I’m an admirer of Linda Holmes, one of the hosts of the excellent podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour. Despite not being a fan of romance books, I stayed up late to finish Evie Drake. Holmes makes us care about Evvie and her struggles with depression and anxiety as she deals with the her husband’s death and the memories of her unhappy marriage. Meanwhile, Dean is dealing with his own issues, and I cared about him, too. I wanted things to turn out well for Evvie and Dean. Do they? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.

One final note: This book is set in Calcasset, a fictitious Maine town. And—not to put too fine a point on it—Linda Holmes is “from away,” as we would say in Maine. Because of this there were a couple of missteps. Evvie calls her father Pop, and I’ve never heard any Mainer call his or her father Pop. Usually, it’s Dad. Also, I’ve never heard crickets sing in Maine in the spring. As far as I know, late summer is when they begin their sad, sweet songs. But these are small errors that most people wouldn’t catch, and overall Holmes did a fair job of portraying Maine, albeit from an outsider’s point of view.

We Were Not Spoiled: A Franco-American Memoir by Lucille Verreault Ledoux with Denis Ledoux

We Were Not Spoiled: A Franco-American Memoir is a quiet book about growing up in Maine from the 1920s, when Lucille Verreault Ledoux was born, to the 1950s, when she was a young adult with a family of her own. While nothing exciting happens—this is a chronicle of everyday life—I found it compelling nonetheless. Perhaps it’s because I’m Franco-American, too.

A quick note for readers unfamiliar with the Franco-American ethnic group. Between 1840 and 1930 nearly one million French Canadians came to the United States. The largest number of these  immigrants settled in New England. The immigrants worked in factories, in brickyards, in shipyards, and on farms. They formed French-speaking communities that were known as Little Canadas. Today in Maine, Franco-Americans comprise 25% of the state’s population.

In 1920, toward the end of the French Canadian migration, Ledoux’s parents settled in Lewiston, Maine’s Little Canada, where French was the common language. They were originally from Thetford Mines in Québec. Ledoux, born in Lewiston, was the eldest of twelve children. In We Were Not Spoiled, she describes how they were crammed into small apartments and homes where the children often slept three to a bed.

We Were Not Spoiled is not a nostalgic book about how magical life was in the old days. Instead, Ledoux writes frankly about the hard times she and her family endured and how poverty and class limited her opportunities. Her parents valued work over education, and Ledoux dropped out of school when she was sixteen, working at odd jobs to help support the family.

When Ledoux marries and begins her own family, she and her husband, Albert, who also dropped out of high school, vow to do everything they can to encourage their children to finish high school.

In addition to the hard times, Ledoux also writes about the good times—skating, playing with her friends, joining a Drill Team. She notes how despite the challenge of feeding fourteen people, nobody went hungry in her family. No small accomplishment when you have to feed that many people on a tight budget.

The book ends when Ledoux is thirty and is about to move out of Lewiston to nearby Lisbon Falls to begin a new life with her husband as a chicken farmer.

I was sorry to come to the end of this book, to not be able to read about Ledoux’s years in Lisbon Falls.

But then again, wanting to read more is the sign of a good book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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