Archives for category: Maine

On Labor Day, I thought we should be doing something.  It’s a lot of pressure, that third day of a long weekend, and I wanted to make use of it but I wasn’t sure how.  So I asked the three-year old.

“What should we do today?”

I don’t know what I expected her to say.  A bike ride to the frog pond, maybe.  Going out for ice cream. A trip to the lake.

“I want to go to the park.”

“The park? Which park? The playground?”

“No. The park where we go to eat pizza.”

“Really? By the water?”


It’s just a plain old park.  Nothing special there except a nice view of the harbor and a decent proximity to the pizza place.

“What would you like to do there?”

“Run on the grass with Sam.”

“Really? Huh.”

Sometimes a request is so simple, even my grumpy brain can’t think of a reason to say no.

So we went to the park.  And she did run around a good deal, circling benches full of tourists and swooping around flower beds.  Sam, who still isn’t a steady enough walker for uneven terrain, spent some quality time butt scooting around on the paths and the soggy grass.  There was giggling and chasing.

When their initial energy began to flag, we suggested a walk down the shorefront.  I fetched the backpack from the car and we tucked Sam into it on Michael’s back.  I picked Annabel some rosehips to eat on the way, which she liked and insisted on calling “cherries,” mostly so I would keep correcting her.  When we came to a spot with an easy path to the water, we headed down and sat on the rocks.  We tossed pebbles around the beach for a while, watching them ricochet.  I managed, in an impressively flukey shot, to balance a small rock right on top of a large boulder.  I was very proud of myself for about a minute-and-a-half, until Michael, in an impressively non-flukey shot, pinged it off again.

Michael remembered that he had promised our nephew a family picture for a school project.  So he propped the camera up on a rock and we took two quick timed shots before we ran out of patience.

Annabel climbed up and down a piece of ledge while singing “The Bear Went Over the Mountain.”  Michael built a cairn on my leg.  Sam built a cairn on Michael’s leg.  Michael and Sam engaged in a cairn building/destroying game.

Annabel and I wandered down to a tide pool and watched snails slide around on the rock.  She rescued a few that were out of the water.  I tried to explain the basics of snail anatomy.

Sam got a bit cranky because we wouldn’t let him sit in the tide pool, so we put him back in the backpack and headed back towards town.  A few more “cherries” for Annabel and a brief discussion about how we weren’t having ice cream for lunch later and we were back at the car.  We stopped at the grocery store and then headed home for sandwiches and snacks.

It wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a picture-perfect day.  But it was a nice day.  It was a reminder that although sometimes the grass is wet, the picture comes out crooked, and one or more members of the party might get a little snippy, if you can just hang in there for the ride, it all works out okay.  We don’t need perfection, we just need everyone to show up for the game.  I forget that a lot.  I’m glad I got a reminder.

And all I had to do was ask the three-year old.

She could have at least looked at the camera, though.

I wish I could tell you what he said to her.  It would be a better story if I could. You’ll have to forgive me this one.  It happened 14 years ago, which is unbelievable but true, and while that summer 14 years ago was memorable for many reasons, his particular words were not one of them.  But it will suffice for the purposes of the scene if I tell you that he was an unfairly dissatisfied customer and he was taking it out on my coworker rather rudely.

She, of course, being an experienced professional, handled the situation as best as it could be handled.  He left, not happy, but no longer yelling.  She took a deep breath and slid her hand under the counter where she kept something for these very occasions.  She pulled out a Cujo mask, glued onto a popsicle stick for easy handling, and held it up in front of her face.  She leaned over the counter towards me and yelled out at the top of her lungs: “AUGUST PEOPLLLLEEEE!”


This weekend is Labor Day weekend.  Traditionally, it marks the beginning of the end of tourist season.    And not a moment too soon, really.

Living in an area that’s heavily touristed gives you a perspective on human nature that’s pretty much unbeatable.  People on vacation are weird.  They are tense, yell-y, and unfathomably sick of each other.  They are frustrated because they don’t know where anything is, they are annoyed that they have to spend so much money, and, despite living in an age when every town is completely Googleable, they didn’t bother to look up the sights and now they have no idea what to do with themselves.  It’s true of everyone who visits our state, but the tourists of August are especially evil.

I don’t know why August People are the way they are.  It’s just true.  Anyone who has spent a summer working in this area knows its true.  Theories include:

They are on a vacation they cannot afford.

It is the height of the season, so everything is crowded and expensive.

Their children have now been out of school for two months and that family time that seemed so welcome in June is now…not.

Some combination of all of the above.

All I know is that August people can really suck the joy out of a day.

I’ve paid my dues with August People.  I’ve scooped ice cream; I’ve folded t-shirts; I’ve sold tickets.  I’ve given directions; I’ve explained the weather; I’ve made restaurant suggestions.  I’ve been yelled at; I’ve been hung up on; I’ve given math lessons to people who don’t believe I really did give them the 10% off that they were due.  I’ve been cursed at in French, had conversations via handwritten notes with the deaf, and attempted to demonstrate “seasickness patch” via pantomime.  Even now, when nothing that I do for a living is at all related to the tourist industry, I still spend a lot of time directing the lost, consulting on the best way to manage the take out line, and explaining for the 753rd time exactly what it is that lobster buoys are.  Hint: they are not merely decorative.

[Oh, stop it. You do too know.]

[FINE. They mark the location of a string of traps so the lobstermen know where they dropped their gear and each lobsterman has his/her own unique colors that are registered with the  state and I am NOT SAYING IT AGAIN.]


August is a long month, is the point.  We were having a little family walk through town one afternoon and we ran into a friend who was outside taking a breather before opening up his restaurant for the night.  “How’s August?” I asked, probably a little too jovially.  “August is terrible,” he replied, shaking his head.  “There is nothing good about August.”

So now it’s September, Labor Day weekend, and soon the August People will have taken their cranky, lost, perennially dissatisfied selves back home, where I can only hope their lighter, happier sides take over.  The fall is still busy with cruise ships and the more sedate crowd known fondly as the Newly Weds and Nearly Deads, who will keep coming in reduced waves through the end of foliage season.  There will still be days when the crowds make me twitchy and impatient and, of course, we haven’t even hit full-on RV season and its accompanying road rage.  But for now, I invite you to take a moment and wave with me as we say good-bye to that crowd that can bring out the Cujo in the best of us: the August People.

We don’t get many hurricanes up here, really. Every few years something will sideswipe us, but it’s not something I spend much time fretting about. Hurricanes: not really my gig.

However, we certainly are used to other kinds of storms.  We lose power regularly, usually a few times every winter and once or so in the summer.  When we built our house, we planned for the occasional, extended power loss.  Our stove and oven are gas and easily lit with a match.  Our woodstove, while not mighty, will heat the house to a comfortable level if necessary.  We always have food on hand that can be easily heated on the stove and our coffeemaker is a simple stovetop espresso maker.  Sadly, our water comes from a well and the water pump doesn’t work without electricity, but we keep a few gallons stashed away for an emergency source. We keep a good pile of books, games, and puzzles at the ready.  Although we’ve never had to, I estimate we could hunker down without power for a week fairly comfortably, if necessary.  We’d smell a bit, but we’d otherwise be fine.

All this to say that our preparations for Hurricane Irene looked like this: buy milk, pick up loose stuff in the yard, run a few more gallons of water.

And, most importantly, following a lesson learned after a very unfortunate morning without power last winter, we pre-ground the coffee.

Bring it, Irene.

The sun, which hadn’t felt hot when we’d arrived, seared into my back.  Sweat pooled under the edges of my hat.  My knees and ankles ached under the pressure of holding a squat for far longer than I should ever hold a squat.  I moved aside a few green leaves and saw some flashes of red.  I gently lifted the berries and checked for green spots or holes left by birds or slugs.  Then I pulled them off, one by one, and reached back to put them in the box behind me.  I was stretching for more when I heard a shuffle, shuffle, shuffle behind me, then a quick scrabbling noise, and, finally, a mushy gulp.

“Sam,” I said as I lifted the leaves of the next plant.  “Get out of the strawberries.”


Blueberries for Sal  is one of those children’s books that I assume everyone knows.  But I’ve met many people who haven’t read it, so isn’t universal, much to my dismay.  If you haven’t read, and you are partial to books about cute little kids and cute little bears heading up to Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries with their mothers, or, rather, eat all the blueberries being picked by their mothers, then you certainly should read it.  It’s a nice flashback to the time when property rights were a bit more laid back and whoever owned Blueberry Hill was happy to let the local folks come gather a couple of quarts, as long they didn’t mind occasionally getting entangled with bears or having their children eat all their hard work out from under them.

I don’t know if you can pick berries like that anymore.  These days, I don’t live in an area with a lot of wild blueberry fields.  At least, none that I know of.  There are a few patches here and there.  We have a small one in the utility easement on our property, but it only produces a few cups each season. That’s enough if you’d like a few days worth for your yogurt but isn’t so helpful if you want to make jam or pies or feed my particular children.

I grew up in an area with more extensive blueberry barrens. They were commercial fields owned by large blueberry operations, yes, but still they were still pickable.  All you had to do was wait until the rakers went through and were done with the field, and you could then take your bucket and go pick the areas they missed. Those were usually tricky areas around rocks or in hollows, places that someone looking for the fastest harvest would skip.  It was possible to pick quarts of berries that way, if you had the time and inclination to pick quarts of an item that was an average of 1/3 of an inch in diameter.  But I did, because I’m a forager by nature and once I start gathering I must gather until there is nothing gatherable left.

I don’t think things operate that way any more.  One of the fields near my old house now has giant boulders, the ones that litter every blueberry barrens, piled up around the edges of the field.  It must have taken a monstrous effort and some heavy duty machinery to pull all of those chunks of granite out of the ground, chunks of granite that have been there since the glaciers dropped them off on their way through.  But I suppose it was worth it because now they can harvest the blueberries in straight shots, up and down, possibly even with machinery.  There probably isn’t anything left for foragers like me and Sal after that.


Annabel and I went to pick wild strawberries a few weeks ago.  I’d noticed a patch while I was on a walk and after she woke up from her nap I brought her back out with me.  They weren’t in a picturesque little field or conveniently located beside a babbling brook.  Instead, they sprawled out of the ditch by the side of a busy road.  I’m not surprised no one else picked them.  It wasn’t a very inviting location.  But she and I turned our butts to the passing traffic and gathered up several cups of the little buggers.  I tried not to dwell on the fact that these berries were basically raised on car exhaust.  I just wanted to see if she would like picking them.  She did.

We gathered just shy of two cups. It was enough for Sam and her to have them as a snack when we got back home and some on top of their cereal the next morning, besides.


Back at the pick-your-own-strawberries place, red juice ran down Sam’s chin and onto his shirt.  He smiled at me, reached into my box, and took another one.  After he ate all of the berries in my container, he scooted over to the row and began pulling berries directly off the plants and cramming them into his mouth.  I tried to run interference at first, as his technique definitely ran less toward foraging and more towards fruit-napping, but I finally realized it was more effective to just let him go while the rest of us picked as fast as we could.  In the end, we picked four quarts, leaving one a bit shy to try to compensate for Sam’s strawberry bacchanalia.

It wasn’t true foraging.  It was a farm and we did have to pay.  But I guess that’s how things work these days if you want berries free of carbon monoxide.

And, of course, there were no bears.

I have many, many backed up posts, but it’s been a bit of a crazy time around here. First we had nice weather, which meant sitting inside at the computer wasn’t an option, then we had crazy weather, which brought a 30-foot spruce down on top of our power line (see: sitting at computer not option thing again), then we had sick kids, and is that enough excuses? Right. Great.

I’ll be back soon with more works of eye-popping genius.  Until then:

The floats are still out.

And, apparently, wreaths are still in.

Today is my mother’s birthday.

That’s not an April Fool’s joke.  It really is.

I’m not going to tell you how old she is, but it also just occurred to me, right this very second, that she was the age I am now when she gave birth to me.  For the next ten months, she will be twice my age.

Funny stuff, that math.

I was the third of three girls that she gave birth to, although the first two were twins so that skews things a bit, somehow.  She was, for the 1970s, an older mom.  I remember being embarrassed when I was in school because she was older than everyone else.  Once I came home and announced that we had been talking about our mom’s ages at lunch and I had lied about how old she was.

“What did you tell them?” she asked.

“I told them you were 39,” I said.

I think she laughed until she fell over.  She was really in her mid-40s.

39 seemed old to me then.  Even that was older than most of my friends’ mothers.  Breaching the 40s seemed unspeakable.

I was stupid.  Luckily she knew that.

I didn’t come here to tell you any of that.  I came here to tell you the story of my mom’s birth, which is an awesome one.

The island that my mother grew up on didn’t have a doctor, at least not a doctor that would deliver babies.  So when my grandmother went into labor, my grandfather bundled her up on the lobster boat and made the 15-minute crossing to the nearest town, which had what they used to call a “laying-in hospital.”  My grandfather dropped off his wife in the capable hands of the medical staff and asked, “What is this going to cost?”

The doctor told him.

My grandfather got back into the lobsterboat and headed out into the bay, where he proceeded to pull lobster traps until he had enough.  Then he motored over to the lobster pound and sold them.  He tied up the boat and walked to the hospital, where he handed the doctor $25.  And the doctor handed him my mother.

This is the stock from whence I came.

It’s no wonder she never had any use for my crap.

For a few years in my 20s, I lived in Washington, DC.  I never expected to stay there forever, so I didn’t put down too many roots but I enjoyed the city for what it was.  There was plenty to enjoy.  Free museums, numerous entry-level jobs, lots of people of a similar age in search of the best happy hour deals, and, best of all, a real spring.

Maine doesn’t typically have a spring, where “spring” equals an actual span of time lasting for more than two days, so I was pretty blown away by March in a more southerly place.  DC has glorious springs.  Days upon weeks upon months of gradually unfolding green, flowers, and, of course, cherry blossoms.  Oh, cherry blossoms.  I loved the cherry blossoms.  I would leave my office at 5, take the Metro down to the Mall, and walk all the way around the Tidal Basin, breathing it all in before heading home.  If it was a particularly nice cherry blossom season, I would perform this little ritual daily.  March in DC was really a season of miracles.

There are no cherry blossoms in Maine.  There is no real spring in Maine.  There’s winter, and there’s mud, and then it’s summer.  After a few years of March desperation–that vague sense of doom and dread and conviction that the whole world will be brown forever–I began to see the value in adding a little color to this time of year.

So I planted some crocuses.  Which I do not in any way mean to suggest are equivalent to cherry blossoms, but as crocuses are really the only thing that grows in Maine in March, it’s the best I can do.

Anyway, it’s all working out splendidly.

Check out my crocus bed:

Isn’t that springy?

Just for comparison purposes, here’s a shot of the cherry blossoms:

Photo borrowed from Radio Rover on Flickr.

Downright uncanny how I have recreated that atmosphere, isn’t it?

Here’s another angle of my handiwork:

I like how the splash of color offered by the kayak and the “don’t hit this, plow guy” stick really make everything pop.

In short: there is no spring. Spring is a lie.  I will never see flowers again.

Also, if you are a friend of mine still living in DC?  Please go smell the cherry blossoms for me.

This is what Annabel’s boots looked like when she came home from day care yesterday.

It appears that mud season is upon us.

It’s possible that I exaggerated just a smidge in the last post.  We do have some concept of how to tap maple trees.  Well, I do, anyway.  I have done this before.  One year, when I was 13 or so, my father decided to tap some trees and try the syrup thing himself.  Given my age, I was enlisted as his helper.  And, again, given my age, I’m sure you can imagine how absolutely delighted I was to spend some quality time tromping through snowy woods with a parental unit while collecting tree snot.  I’m not sure I actually called it tree snot, but that certainly seems like something 13-year-old me would have said, so let’s go with it.

I’d love to give you a rundown on how much sap we gathered and how much syrup we boiled down and how our homemade maple syrup was a million, skillion, trillion times better than store bought maple syrup, but I really can’t.  Because I was 13 and 13-year-olds really don’t care about any of that.  So while my journal from those days is full of all sorts of exciting woes and loves and slights and plans, in many different and exciting pen colors, it is woefully vague on maple syrup notes.  However, I do remember one thing, and it’s exactly the sort of thing that you would expect a 13-year-old to remember.

You see, a key part of the syrup-making process is the boiling.  It takes a notoriously large number of gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.  Sadly, I can’t remember how many. I’d look it up for you but I’m lazy.  A lot.  It takes a lot of sap.  Massive amounts of sap and massive amounts of boiling.  In traditional sugar houses they do this by building a gigantic, hot fire outside and using a wide, flat-bottomed pan to speed to boiling process along.

My father did not employ the giant fire/giant pan method.  I’m not sure why, really, as he was both a champion fire builder and someone who really enjoyed finagling things, so given those two facts I would certainly have expected a bonfire the size of Manhattan under a pan fashioned from an old oil pan.  But no.  He decided to boil the syrup in a plain, old, standard-sized stock pot on our plain, old, standard-sized stove which was inside our plain, old, standard-sized kitchen.

You don’t find many recommendations for boiling down maple syrup inside a house.  In fact, most discussion about boiling sap suggest very, very clearly that you should do this sort of thing outside.  There’s a reason for that.


Boiling gallons and gallons and gallons of sap down into syrup produces a truly frightening level of steam.  A fill-a-sauna level of steam.  A run-a-train-with-it level of steam.  Enough steam to clean the pores of every starlet in Los Angeles.  Enough steam to chug out open windows and make our house look like that cartoon guy who is really, really angry.

Except, of course, it was March in Maine so our windows weren’t open.  In fact, it was an old house with drafty windows so some of them were even covered in plastic.

Which explains why, on the night we started boiling down the sap, I was walking through our kitchen when I suddenly felt a drip.  And then another drip.  And then a whole shower of drips.  So I looked up.  And I noticed that our ceiling was looking rather…wet.  Because steam, when it cannot escape out doors or windows or some other proper ventilation system, goes up. And when it goes up, it collects.  It collected on our otherwise undistinguished beige ceiling tiles. And those otherwise undistinguished beige ceiling tiles dripped.  They dripped for days.  They dripped so much and so long that we learned that while they were really undistinguished, they weren’t actually, really, in truth, beige.

They were white.


Who would have thought?

13-year-old me certainly wouldn’t have thought that.  I’m still a little amazed by it, frankly.

And that’s pretty much all that I remember from my previous experience of boiling down maple syrup.

This time around, we aren’t exactly sure how we will boil down our syrup.  But we definitely will not be doing it inside.

There are some things about my house that I don’t really need to know.

The things that are beige in this house are just going to have to stay beige.

We have no idea what we are doing.

But that certainly has never stopped us before.