November 7, 2006

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Of Birthdays and Bird Feeders

I've always thought that birthdays are for the birds, so I've spent the first part of this birthday morning cleaning and sterilizing all our many bird feeders to be put out for the coming winter. As soon as they finish drying, I'll fill them, set them out, and see how long it takes for the chipmunks and chickens to discover them.

There are two big feeders, one general-seed and one sunflower seeds, that go on poles in a garden out back of the house. Now these poles are set just close enough to the rock wall to allow many non-avian snackers, which is really okay as long as the squirrels don't get too greedy.

Two more feeders go out on the front porch, a few on windows, many more on a line strung 30' between two trees out back. This is where the suet, thistle, and other special treats go.
The only thing I haven't been able to decide is whether or not to use the heated birdbath this winter. It is expensive to run.

I hope you've got your feeders cleaned and ready for the coming cold weather. I also hope you vote today!


October 6, 2006

Friday, October 6, 2006

Wrapping Up the Garden...

Plus, a Recipe for Black 'n' Blue Dip/Sauce

No frost yet so the garden continues to blossom and bloom. I'm not sure I ever remember our first frost being this late, and while the fall weather is so gorgeous, I am just about ready to be done. The last tomatoes to pick, more potatoes to dig, tons of broccoli to cut, and an unprecedented third crop of corn all need attention.

Both the red and yellow onions did well this year and with the last few green peppers, I'm going to take the tomatoes and make salsa for the freezer. All I do is cut up the green peppers, onions and tomatoes into small pieces, add some garlic, parsley and cilantro, plus a good dash of olive oil. That's it.

Although we have canned salsa, we discovered last year that it froze beautifully, thawing to taste fresh-made. One of our favorite things to do with this salsa is to put it in a small fry pan, lay fish fillets on top and simmer until the fish flakes. Then we serve it in bowls with a thick slice of a French or Italian bread in the bottom. Quick, colorful, nutrition and filling.

Most of the broccoli and corn will go in the freezer and the potatoes will join the first crop in the bins in the root cellar. The glads are all out and stored while the dahlias are still blooming like crazy. I've been trying to clean up the garden a bit at a time, as I have a lot of new plant material coming and a lot of older stuff to move. Of course keeping the garden under perpetual mulch really makes things easier.

Now, on to that recipe I promised you. BUT, before I forget... Although I haven't yet figured out how to put pictures into this blog, Suzanne Almy Brown, webmaster par excellence at has put two photos from my time on Mt. Washington on website and they look great. I hope you'll check out both sites.

Black 'n' Blue Dip/Sauce

This is one of those incredibly versatile recipes, a to-taste one that you can easily make your very own!

2 cups sour cream, yoghurt, or cream cheese, or better yet, some combination thereof
1 can black olives, drained (you can use any size olives)
8 oz bleu/blue cheese
2-3 tsp garlic (or to taste)
2-3 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)

I munch up the olives by hand, crumble the bleu/blue cheese the same way then mix all ingredients together. This is excellent with veggies, chips, crackers, on salad or baked potatoes, or best of all, it's absolutely delicious on pasta.

Have a wonderful holiday weekend! Mary

October 1, 2006

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Back Down to Earth...

With a few nights' deep sleep, life has settled into its normal rhythm after my one-week sojourn on top of Mt. Washington as the volunteer cook at the Mt. Washington Observatory. I've been asked LOTS of questions about the experience. Let me share them - and the answers - in case you too, wondered...

How did you get to do this? Everyone seems to think I must have...well, friends in high places! Not so. All YOU have to do to be eligible for this kind of adventure is become a member of the Mt. Washington Observatory and sign up as a volunteer. There is of course no guarantee that you'll get to cook in the clouds - the volunteer coordinator happened to call with a last-minute opening and it happened to be a week I had free - but there are so many ways you could help the Observatory with its education and research missions.

Did you take all your food up with you? I took nothing, just decided to "go with the flow." I'd never seen the facility, had no idea what the kitchen looked like, or who I'd be feeding,
but the info sent to me indicated a well-stocked pantry, and it WAS! If I go up again, there are some things I'd like to take with me... one of our own chickens for roasting, for example.

Was it hard to feed folks I didn't know? Absolutely not! Everyone was so very appreciative of everything served. Even if it was something they wouldn't normally eat or weren't crazy about, they were wicked good about trying things. AND, I kept telling them they'd better be honest if they didn't like something because otherwise I'd cook that same dish every time I ever go back up there!

Will you share the recipes you cooked? Most are in The Frugal Family Kitchen Book, but one that wasn't, the Black and Blue Dip/Sauce, I'll share in the next blog posting.

Would I do it again? Without hesitation! I'd even go up in the winter and believe me, that's no small commitment! If I do this again, I'll take my knitting, I'll invite Bert up for an overnight (he has NO interest in going longer than that), and I think I'll most definitely do some hiking, especially over to the Lake of the Clouds.

If you have any interest in the Mt. Washington Observatory or weather in general, please visit the Weather Discovery Center on Main Street in North Conway. Operated by the Observatory, the Center offers a wonderful array of information, activities, and outreach programs (their education staff makes classroom visits). AND, if you go to the Conway area for leaf-peeping or holiday shopping, be sure to visit the Center for terrific - and unusual - gift ideas. From weather stations for beginning weather observors to some pretty sophisticated instruments for the more seasoned weather buff, posters, maps, and charts , books for all ages from guide and activity books to memoirs, clothing... and much more!

And now it's back to earth... time to wrap up the garden for the year, put the perennials to bed, and put all the beds under mulch for their long winter's nap.


September 27, 2006

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I Have Been to the Mountain...

and it was a fabulous experience! I learned more broadly and more deeply about weather, photography, human nature and the critical value and balance in any environment of independence and interdependence .

What did I miss most while I was on Mount Washington for a week? Of course I missed the garden, the cat, the dog, the chickens... but the two things I really felt bereft of were turning the radio on to NPR first thing in the morning, and... Bert, especially the mid-morning coffee break we usually take together at the bagel shop. It's going to take some time to catch up on sleep, to read the mail and newspapers from the past week, to touch base with friends, to get back into the rhythm of everydayness.

And I'll miss much about being "on the top" ...watching the cog railway train huff and puff up the mountainside like something straight out of a children's book, the scudding cloud shadows over the hills and valleys, the glitter of ice feathers and mica flecks, the rime ice forming and then the crinkle and crunch of it falling, flying...

I have been to the mountain and found there great beauty and deep peace. I have come home to the same!


September 26, 2006

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Milky Way from the Mountain...

Perhaps it's the great prevalence of misty, moisty mornings here on top of Mt. Washington, but the breaks of sun are truly treasured when they come, and for however long they last. We've had several glimpses of sun today, and although the temperature has stayed right around freezing and the winds have varied greatly with gusts to 80 mph, it's been a nice day.

Breakfast was corned beef hash, applesauce and fresh-baked Danish pastry. It was hovering right around freezing all night with just enough icing on the auto road to make the arrival of Michelle's seminar group of teachers questionable. They did make it up by mid-morning and the day settled in somewhat. Tomorrow is shift-change day with everyone's gearing up to go down. Ken, Jim and Mike are leaving for their seven days off, Sunshine went home this afternoon and of course I'll go down tomorrow with the crew. I'm looking forward to being home...

Supper was American chop suey, coleslaw, cornbread and for dessert, peaches 'n' pudding, butterscotch this time. I've mostly cooked out of The Frugal Family Kitchen Book this past week and that's worked out well. This didn't seem like the time or the place to "experiment," and I suspect that the crew has been grateful for that, even if they have no idea just what fate they've been saved from!

Quiet here tonight, only four of us here at the Observatory. Mike came over from the State Park living area and shared a downright scary video of the vicious winds and mammoth storms that batter the Cape Breton area of Canada. After this week, I want to know much, much more about world-wide weather, not just the massively destructive typhoons and sunamis that get so much press, but the daily variations that shape an area's, a village's, a family's, a person's everyday existence. And it's weather not climate that seems especially interesting.

To wrap up an incredible experience, I headed up to the outside observation deck for my before-bed walk-about...and behold! the glorious night sky. I didn't have my sleeping bag with me, but I lay down on the concrete and...just... breathed. To see the Milky Way so close, so clear...

9:30 pm... temp 30F, wind 26.8, windchill 16F, visibility 80 miles.

And so to bed, and tomorrow... down the mountain.


September 25, 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Glorious Sunset, But No Night Sky...

As I start my last few days atop Mt. Washington, I think back on what I had hoped to see while here... a sunrise, the night sky, birds, snow, horizontal rain... except for the night sky, I've seen everything on my list and far, far more!

9:30 am - I had a hard time getting to sleep last night as the wind just roared for hours. This morning is much calmer with no audible wind....temp 31, wind 27.4, wind chill 17. I've just come in from taking some pictures, and it certainly felt like 17 out there.

Visibility is as usual, very limited, maybe 100' at the utmost. I borrowed an old moose skull from one of the state park people (thanks, Mike!) and was out and about doing my Georgia O'Keefe imitation. I'll be very curious to see how any of the pix I've taken up here come out. I KNOW my next big photo purchase will be a tripod, as Jim is convinced and persuasive that using one will improve my/anyone's photo taking exponentially.

Breakfast was cereals, etc. while I have pizza dough rising now for lunchtime. Supper tonight is baked stuffed chicken breasts with honey-glazed, oven-roasted veggies and cranberry sauce. Raspberry pie for dessert.

Company arrived late afternoon as Michelle Cruz, who does Observatory educational programs for teachers/kids/classrooms, will be leading a seminar for a group of elementary teachers here tomorrow morning. Among other things, Michelle goes into classrooms all over New England doing any one of a dozen observatory programs, not all focused on weather either. It was fun to have her at the supper table...

As I was cooking supper, Ken came into the kitchen... "Turn off that burner and and come upstairs." I moved! The beauty of the sunset... you just can't describe these things... at one point the clouds were underlit and glowing, another minute the sun gilded the cog railway track weaving a golden ribbon up the mountainside, and as I stood nose pressed to the window, a raven swooped by inches away. So very special...

A little later Jim called and I went back up to find a crystal clear twilight, the most totally fog-free I've seen it here. Black and burnt orange defined the horizon, the muted curves of the Presidentials, a distant layer of dark-shadowed clouds, a slim crescent moon, and Venus twinkling brilliantly. So very beautiful...

Supper over and the kitchen picked up, I dragged my sleeping bag up to the outside observation deck planning to spread out in the lee of the small building up there and just drink in the night sky. The fog had rolled back in. RATS!

And so, at 10 pm, it's that time again... temp is 32, wind 49.7, wind chill 14, visibility zero.

Last day quickly this has come to feel like home, these folks like family... Mary

September 24, 2006

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Listen! The Wind...

I have always loved Anne Morrow Lindberg's book Listen! The Wind, and it especially comes to mind today. Although it's been strangely warm up here, at 9 pm the wind is rising, the temperature is dropping and rain's due overnight. The temp is 35, wind sustained at 80 (with gusts to far), and wind chill 17. The howl, whistle and whine of the wind never cease, and I am comforted by knowing that the walls of the Observatory are two feet thick reinforced concrete.

Visibility continues to be near nothing, but still... there was a lovely wedding up here this morning (inside), with all the attendant finery and pomp. I'm not sure how the bridal party and guests came up, perhaps the stage, but this setting will certainly make a most memorable day even more so!

Breakfast this am - since I am up here to cook - was bacon, eggs, hash browns and hot-out-of-the-oven cinnamon buns. It was wonderful to have Mike's mom Leah stay over last night, and everyone enjoyed her company. She was able to get headed down in one of the Stages just before noon. Lunch became a forage-among-the-leftovers, while supper was pasta with hot Thai peanut sauce, mixed veggies, and gingerbread with whipped cream. Eating is a major recreation up here, and all my good ideas of using this time to semi-fast are now downright... laughable!

Yesterday the summit was very busy with full trains, the auto road open and the stages running even with the limited visibility. Many people dropped in for a tour of the Observatory facility, and listening to tour guide Ken, I, too, learned a lot. The mountain will essentially close down for winter by the middle of October, the summit mostly accessible after that only by the Sno Cat.

The crew from the State Park, who live next door to our quarters, will leave and the person who mans the Observatory Museum and gift shop will work her last shift. The crew here will lay in $30,000 - $40,000 of winter food and supplies, and just storing those goods will tighten an already somewhat cramped space.

(I measured our living area this morning so that I can do a good drawing on the computer when I get down. As I've mentioned before, the kitchen and pantry areas here have no windows, are at the back of this space and are actually built into the side of the summit. The bunk rooms are each 7' by 12' with two stacked bunks, and the big bunk room housing six is just as narrow only of course much longer. This facility can bunk 15, but I can't imagine that many people here in very close winter conditions.)

The EduTrips account for most of these over-night visitors, especially in winter. If you aren't already familiar with exactly what the Mount Washington Observatory does, and how it runs, you've got to check out their website which also explains the EduTrips. These fully-led trips covering a variety of subjects (meteorology, geology, folklore of the area as well as flora, fauna, photography, and more) are a way to sample this extraordinary facility in its utterly unique and challenging environment. What a GREAT Christmas present!

Back to today... Very exciting! Early afternoon, I had just walked back across the outside observation deck under overcast skies, mild temps and a 40+/- mph wind. There was a high school group visiting and the half dozen teens were out on the tower observation deck, way above me, having the time of their lives. I had just started making the gingerbread
when Mike called down from the weather room. I hurried the 3-5 minutes since I'd left the observation deck, and the kids had come in from the tower, a fierce thunderstorm had swept in. I got to see lightning, up close and personal...very spectacular and very scary!!

This was actually a double red-letter day... Later, while looking east from the inside observation deck at the clearing sky and sun-and-shadow landscape, I saw a rainbow. Short and thick with wide, distinct color bands, it was sort of wedged between two mountains, not arched up high at all. Wisps of clouds drifted past then closed in. What a gift to catch that first to seven minute window!

And so another day ends. There are not words big enough to even begin to share this experience... the place, the people, the ever-changing, always-glorious panoramas.
And now, Nin is feeling very snuggly and I, very sleepy. A quick trip up to the weather room - no outside stroll for me - and lights out. G'night!

September 23, 2006

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Wild Weather Coming...

This is the mid-day of my volunteer week cooking at the Mount Washington Observatory, 6288' up in the White Mountains of NH. Mount Washington is of course home to some of the world's worst weather. The outloook is for our current weather to deteriorate substantially over the next 24 hours, and that has already begun, much earlier than expected. Maybe I'll get to see lightning tomorrow!

Just before bed last night I went out to the observation deck where the downward visibility was stunning, although above us clouds obscured the night sky. Down in the Valley, the resort at Bretton Woods sparkled and twinkled looking...enchanted! Jim pointed out the glow of Portland on the eastern horizon, the Lewiston-Auburn area of Maine was also clearly light-visible, as were Sherbrooke and Quebec City to the north. The enormity was... awe-ing.

That sun dog... the one I mentioned seeing yesterday. I should have said that the light refraction is very different through a six-sided snowflake as opposed to light coming through a drop of rain. The sun dog is the light coming through and bouncing back from a snowflake... I think I said ice last night.

Breakfast this morning...French toast. At supper last night Jim was telling us about a time in college that he'd set out to make French toast. In the way of college students, the fridge was empty of milk, but there was plenty of alcohol around. Being resourceful, he used Bailey's Irish Cream for his French toast ever he says!

Quiet afternoon with rising temps, getting up to the low 70's down at the base. Just about zero visibility all day after that lovely sunrise. Now, at 10 pm, temp 47, wind 43, wind chill 36, unusually mild.

After a social hour with the guys from the state park staff (I made black-and-blue dip - black olives, blue cheese, sour cream, garlic, cayenne and S&P) with veggies, we had supper... savory herbed veggie pie and chunky applesauce. A fruit salad of oranges, pineapple and bananas, plus an assortment of cookies... I'm absolutely stuffed! Have started the sweet rolls for tomorrow's breakfast, but bed is calling... loudly! I'm not even going out for my evening walkabout.

Oh... someone asked what the Italian butter was that I referred to yesteday. It's just softened butter mixed with dry Italian salad dressing mix... absolutely delicious!


September 22, 2006

Friday, September 22, 2006

Cooking in the Clouds... Day 3

I was up a little after four this morning in the slight hope that the sunrise might be visible. Ken had said that the hour before the actual sunrise is lovely, and with a 60-40 chance it'd be clear this morning, I wanted to check it out. Nope. Temps have risen and the cloud cover is thick here on the summit while a few hundred feet below us, it's clear and seasonably warm.

Spent some time in the weather room with Jim. We looked at the big storm in the country's mid-section, zeroed in on an area of possible tornado development, actually spotting a tiny spot that looks ominous. Jim called up yesterday's national damage report (who knew!) which showed some tornadic activity in that very area, including some in Nebraska, Shaun.

This is the BEST gig...all I have to do is cook! I've died and gone to heaven, or at least I'm a bit closer at 6288 feet! For lunch yesterday, I'd taken the last of the beef 'n' gravy from the night before and made a beef stew. Supper was thick ham slices with a honey mustard glaze, rice pilaf, broccoli spears and fresh out-of-the-oven bread with Italian butter. For dessert I'd made two pies. Some foks - if you can possibly imagine this - don't like chocolate! I made a vanilla cream and a chocolate fudge pie. With whipped cream of course. You wouldn't believe what just five people can do to two pies!

With the leftover ham I made a rich quiche for breakfast. Now, while I'm only actually responsible for putting supper on the table, that seems silly, AND this crew has been wonderfully appreciative of my offerings. (No great accolade for my cooking; they love to eat!) Supper tonight... simple stuff. Corn chowder thick with sausage, a spicy coffeecake, cole slaw and ice cream with mandarin oranges and kiwi pieces.

My friend Nancy asked if I'm cold up here... au contraire! In our living area I've been almost too toasty, most of the crew wearing short-sleeved t-shirts, etc. I can go through the weather room directly to the state park cafeteria and gift shop, inside viewing area, post office and observatory museum and gift shop, but I wouldn't think of stepping outside without my heavy wind-breaking jacket, hat, mittens...

We had a rescue incident here on the summit Wednesday night involving four Canadian hikers
one of whom remains in dangerous condition in a Manchester hospital. Ken's asked me to re-file the incident reports from previous...situations... and also to type up any handwritten reports.
The reports, going back years, are fascinating - hikers over-estimating their condition and abilities as often as they under-estimate the weather and hiking conditions. Makes for very sobering reading.

The afternoon weather was weird... sunshine above and below us, but only breaks in the blowing cloud cover right here at the summit. It's so strange to look down, over, and up at clouds! I did see a "snow dog," which Jim explained to me is where ice crystals (being prismatic) refract the sun's rays in rainbow-y ways. Very cool.

It's very easy to lose track of the days up here, but tomorrow Sharon will go down and Sunshine will come up to staff the Observatory museum and gift shop. Mike's mom is coming up for a visit, and we may well see others on a late September weekend...although the forecast up here is for deteriorating conditions from Saturday afternoon through Monday, with some serious wind and rain expected Sunday.

I'm not even going to think about looking for the sunrise tomorrow! Mary

September 21, 2006

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Winter Arrives at Mt. Washington

5 am. Temp 27, wind speed 55, wind chill 4. I stepped out onto the observation deck, admired the thin coating of crunchy snow, and was almost swept away as I moved away from the doorway. Not as much moisture in the air as last night but visibility measured in feet. Need a cup of coffee! Bee sure to check the MWO webiste as Jim has posted a couple of winter photos.

7 am. Temp 24, wind 56.6 (gusts to 67.8), wind chill 2. Guys coming down from the weather room for breakfast when they can. Egg and cheese sandwiches on the leftover biscuits or blueberry pancakes.

There are few windows in our living area, none in the kitchen, dining area, one in the livingroom, small ones high up in the bunkrooms, all iced over this morning of course. But in the kitchen, there are vents over the 6-burner gas stove, and although they're kept closed and not a hint of cold comes in around them, I can hear the wind, and it's wild.

Mid-morning...up with Ken to see the tower. This is up another flight of the circular metal stairs (like a lighthouse) where you come to a small area where air sampling is being done, and where windows can actually be opened to create a wind tunnel for other testing without having to go outside. From this level there's a straight up flight of metal steps leaading to a Hobbit-sized door and outside onto the highest accessible point on Mt. Washington. The wind was howling and I decided I could go up that last flight and look out, but just could not go out onto that open platform. Good decision. Ken brought in a piece of the rime ice that had accumulated in the hour since his previous trip up, and it was better than 3" thick!

I did get out onto to the observation deck this morning, had a hard time holding my own against the wind, but I did get some photos for you, Hannah, of the sideways ice. The auto road is closed and the Cog Railway may or may not run later today. Only one state park worker made it up this morning, in a state truck with chains. Now doesn't it feel warm where you are!

Afternoon saw clearing, with clouds scudding across the gorgeous blue sky. Wind still fierce but I walked down the service road a ways and back up the auto road, maybe 25-30 minute walk.
The Cog and the Stages were running and I got some photos of the Cog train that I really hope come out. Also took some of the incredibly delicate, feathery ice formations.

I had worried that cooking, especially baking, at this high altitude might be difficult, but there really doesn't seem to be much difference. I've made cookies, breads and pies so far and no problems. The baked goods do dry out quickly though. Actually, it's just plain dry up here, and in the depths of winter, the guys tell me that staying hydrated can be challenging.

As I write this, Ken, Mike and Sharon are watching Lord of the Rings a few feet away. Earlier we watched an old video... of all things, it was an episode of The Voyage of the Mimi which my kids saw in their science classes in elementary school. This episode, from 1984, was all about this facility, with Ken showing the boy around, getting him to help chip rime ice from some instruments, and talking about the weather extremes this mountain has seen:
the world's highest recorded wind (231 mph), the lowest temperature (-47), the confluence of three major weather and wind systems on this peak, and so much more. The neatest part... that 13-year-old kid star was Ben Affleck!

Time for bed... temp is 29, wind 50.6, chill 10. Highest gust in the past 24 hours was 81.1 mph!
Think I'll take a quick walk up to the weather room just in case the late-day cloud cover has cleared and the night sky is visible.

See you tomorrow!

September 20, 2006

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Cooking in the Clouds... Day 1

I'll just close my eyes. I'll just close my eyes tight! Really, really tight!

We were starting up the Mt. Washington auto road, and my last experience here... well... white-knuckeled, Bert and I turned back a quarter of the way up, while Heather and Tim whipped past us on their bikes. The following summer we'd gone up on the Cog Railway, my only visit to the summit. Until now. If I lived through the ride up.

Before leaving Yarmouth at six this morning, I emptied the rain gauge of the 2" of "showers" we got last night then set off with no great hopes for the weather here. I pulled into the base parking lot in warm sunshine, the summit clearly visible. I was about to begin my one week stint as the volunteer cook at the Mt. Washington Observatory. Only three of us coming up today in the van: Ken, who's driven up this mountain between 2,500 and 3,000 times in his 25 years of working here; Mike, a recent college graduate and intern doing his second week on the top; and, me.

Ken stopped a few times on the way up to point out especially spectacular views (which I did somehow manage to look at), places where the wind had dessicated, shaped, and bent the evergreens, spots where the glacial markings and debris were really unusual, and he pointed out the winter road used for access to the summit when snow depths and drifts have blocked the auto road. As we reached the top, the first few wisps of cloud wafted past, soon to close in completely, and I do mean completely!

The living quarters are comfortable and cozy, located in the tower section on the bottom level. The kitchen is about the size of ours in Yarmouth with a pantry about the size of the laundry room and half bath. There's a table seating 6-8 in the narrow area between the kitchen and a small corridor off of which open five doors to narrow bunkrooms. The bathroom backs up to the kitchen while the living room is opposite the bunkrooms, and is probably12' square. One wall is filled with bookshelves, several comfy couches and chairs set around, and a desk with computer, which is where I'm writing this.

There are no views from the small windows at this level, but at the end of the hallway past the bunkrooms (exactly ten steps from my room's door) is an exit door that leads to... great wonders! Up the first flight of circular metal stairs is the weather room (more on this later), then up another flight to the tower door, our main in-and-out access. It is so totally cool as you step right out onto the sweeping observation deck. If you've ever been up here, then you know just where I mean... glorious views in all directions and by the time I first went out, it had cleared off again enough to see 50-60 miles. To see Tuckerman's Ravine. To see the hotel at Bretton Woods. To see what little foliage has turned color in this area. And to see the Cog Railway train chugging up the mountainside. And tooting.

Peggy, the volunteer who was going down, went over the kitchen, pantry, foods and chocked-full freezers, and the chores to be done, then showed me the other buildings and some wonderful outside sitting spots. I met the crew. Now this is going to be a pretty quiet week up here... just five of us including me. Ken, who's a weather observer... Jim, weather observer and phenomenal photographer (check out the website for an incredible number of gorgeous images by Jim and many others) , Mike the intern, and Sharon who runs the Observatory museum and gift shop. Jim and Mike are early to mid-20's, while Ken, Sharon and I are... not!

I'd been told that the crew is easy-going and grateful for any volunteer cook's efforts. But you know me! By the time they'd finished their lunch of soup and tuna sandwiches, I already had a lemon pudding cake in the oven for supper. The supper of beef 'n' gravy, carrots and peas, mounds of mashed potatoes, applesauce and a platter of angel biscuits seemed to be appreciated.

And now, although there's so much more to share, I've got to head to bed. We're on standard time up here, so while the clock reads 9:17, my body knows it's really 10:17, and it's been a long day. But before closing, I've just thrown on my hat and coat, climbed the two flights and slipped out onto the observation deck. Thick, wind-swirled fog... it felt as though I was on the deck of a ship, far, far out at sea. The current temperature is 35 (and expected to go well below freezing tonight), wind speed 42.7, wind chill 20.

See you tomorrow... Mary

September 14, 2006

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Coming Hard Winter...

Well, now, that's a cheery headline, isn't it? Here along the coast of Maine we've had chilly fallish weather for the past several weeks, with few reminders that these same days are only late August and early September, days when we usually still have plenty of summer warmth.

It's hard not to be put in mind of the coming Maine winter. Last year we were very lucky, with a soft, mild winter and an early (if very wet) spring. Last winter was easy on the heating bills and on the psyche. Can we possibly have two warmish winters in a row? The Old Farmer's Almanac says it's not likely, their predictions for cold, snowy months ahead..

What can you do now to get ready for the coming tough times? You know all the usual hints about checking the house for drafts and blocking them, making sure that you have storm windows or combinations and that they are a good tight fit, and considering window coverings for the inside if you don't already use them. There should be a solid windbreaker around any outside entries so you don't let tons of cold in every time you open the door. All common sense, all stuff you've been dong right along, and all just the beginning.

If you didn't do it in the spring, make absolutely sure your heating source, whether it's an oil burner, gas unit, woodstove, or fireplace, has been checked and cleaned for this next heating season. It is especially important that you have chimneys inspected and cleaned.
Is there anything worse than waking up in an icy house with no hot water, everyone needing to get off to work or school? Well, off course there is... it's waking up in the middle of the night, let's say on a long holiday weekend, to a frigid house AND realizing just how much that service call is going to cost! Do you have a service contract?

This is just the beginning of getting your house ready for the winter season, but what about getting YOU ready? We'll look at this the next time we get together, but in the meantime, I want you to think about your usual winter patterns: How does the lessening light affect you? Do you eat more, as most of us do, in the dark months? Are you likely to overspend at Christmas time only to be whacked with those bills plus the usual January-February-March demands? Do you get out much in the winter? What do you do to keep your spirits up if there are days and days when it's just too blustery to get out?

On another note - or maybe not as it'll certainly be wintery - I'll be heading up Mt Washington next Wednesday, the 20th, to be a volunteer cook at the Mt Washington Observatory for a week. I'll be sharing that incredible experience through daily blog entries and hope you'll join me as I take my passion for cooking to new heights!


August 16, 2006

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Week at Gram and Gramp Camp...

We had so many things we wanted to do, a l-o-n-g list and great plans. But mostly what Baxter (8) and Katie (5) wanted to do was hang out picking blueberries, collecting eggs from the chickens, and playing many, many games of Blink, Uno, Skip-Bo, Labyrinth, cribbage and Chinese checkers. It all made for a wonderful week of memory making.

We started the week with a train trip to Boston and the aquarium with Baxter, while Katie got to go to Circus Smirkus here at home. In Boston we joined forces with the kids' other grandmother, Nancy, who led us to the very best pizza in the North End, with Baxter impressed as always at Nancy's mastery of Italian.

The IMAX movie, the aquarium, a stroll through Faneuil Hall, the much-considered purchase of a Blue Angels model airplane, and finally, supper on the train all rounded out a wonderful day. Arriving home to find Katie sitting on the front steps in her pajamas just bursting to tell us about her day was truly frosting on an already rich cake!

Gram and Gramp Camp, in its second year, has already begun to find a clear rhythym. There are ice cream sandwiches in the freezer and they can each have one a day, any time of the day, just ask. We go back-to-school shopping where they each pick an outfit completely of their own choosing. One of this year's projects was to count the coins in an old carboy we've been filling for the past few years. It was a huge pile of quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies and dollars as well as a number of foreign coins. And every day there is a quiet hour after lunch... guess whose idea this is!

There are "specials" after supper each night too. One night they wanted to play tag, another night we walked to a nearby playground, we watched a video one night, and had s'mores and sparklers out by the firepit the last night.

We read and cooked together, and they spent a lot of time loving our cat Sam and feeding the fish, Marco and Elizabeth. We went rockhounding where Baxter and Katie (wearing safety glasses) enthusiastically split rocks hoping to find tourmaline. And we had water balloon fights.

I had hoped we'd have time to find some monarch butterfly caterpillars, paint dowels for giant-sized pick-up-sticks, and... and...

We've already started a list for next year, ahhhh... great plans...


July 12, 2006

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Some Chickens and a Fox...

Although I know it's a fact of life, it's one I really resist accepting: If you raise chickens and you let them free range, there will be problems with predators. And today there was.

Earlier this spring we lost a couple of chickens to what I thought was a fox, but which several men at the school next door were certain was a coyote. Now I most definitely don't live in a rural area. We live next to our town's high school, seven tenths of a mile from Main Street, with plenty of houses right around us. BUT, there are also a few remaining fringes of woods.

I let the chickens out of their house and pen early each morning, and if I know I'm going to be away for more than a downtown errand, I put them back in the pen. But this morning I didn't even think about it as I'd had overnight company, an early run to the airport, and I left the house when the rest of my company did, about 10 am.

Without hesitation I knew what had happened when I turned into the yard an hour later. Seven of the hens were clustered by a lilac in the front yard, hyper-alert but at the same time... frozen. The only other time I'd seen them act like that was earlier in the spring when that hungry mother coy-fox stopped by for a hot chicken dinner.

Sure enough, red feathers all over the back yard, very, very upsetting. I managed to gather the remaining girls back into their pen and found that we'd lost one Rhode Island red and one of my two beloved aracunas. I wondered, I worried... had a dog come through the yard or was it the same earlier predator?

A beautiful small fox with a white-tipped tail circled the chicken pen this afternoon and I had my answer. And I honestly feel better for knowing. Somehow, it's less painful to think that a hungry wild animal did what it's beeen doing for centuries rather than a dog just... playing.

But it's still painful.


July 4, 2006

Tuesday, July 4th, 2006

At Long Last... Summer!

And to celebrate, a poem from Nancy Forrest...




Nancy Forrest

June 30, 2006

Friday, June 30, 2006

Picking Peas for the Fourth of July...

I wonder when the New England tradition of having new peas and fresh salmon on the Fourth of July started. Although I have several good food history books, all of which stress how very welcome fresh peas were as one of the summer season's earliest vegetable offerings, none mentions peas-and-salmon specifically.

Well, we certainly will have those peas this years; in fact, we've been picking peas for weeks now. And, while we're heartily sick of this cool, clammy weather, there are many things in the garden that have loved it, the peas especially. The early potatoes are also thriving as are the broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, as I guess you'd expect.

But of course, the green pepers need heat, the tomatoes need sun, and, well... I need summer! Many of the herbs are doing just fine including the cilantro, fennel, and dill as well as the usual tarragon, thyme, sage, oregano and basil. I use the cilantro in flower bouquets for its feathery foliage, tiny white flowers and gorgeous citrus-y scent. Dill, which traditionally garnishes that holiday salmon, is absolutely one of my favorite cooking herbs.

The weather report holds out a tantalizing promise of clearing later today, but a certain scepticism does creep in on hearing such a forecast on the Friday before a long holiday weekend.
We'll see...

Have a glorious Fourth! Mary

June 14, 2006

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Nephelococcygia and Other Summer Delights!

I was working in the garden this morning when I paused to admire the ever-changing, rapidly moving clouds, a brief break I take often during any outdoor day. I saw so many things in the clouds... a mountain, a swan, flowers, rolling ocean waves, a sundae topped with tons of whipped cream. Ahhh, back to weeding the peas...

According to the website, nephelococcygia is the word that describes that day-dreaming phenomenon of finding figures, seeing shapes, in the clouds. Who knew! I happened across the word when Bert and I saw a summer home with that name. I HAD to find out what it meant!

According to the website, it's from the Greek play The Birds by Aristophanes. When the title birds see shapes in the clouds, they are told they are... well, in cloud cuckooland, which is essentially what nephelococcygia means.

Do kids today ever just loll out on the lawn looking at the sky, seeing shapes in the clouds? What a shame if they don't... And isn't nephelococcygia a neat word!


April 26, 2006

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Gone Fishin'...

Back soon!

April 9, 2006

Sunday, April 9, 2006

Life Lessons: The Scent of a New Day

Walking out each morning to pick up the newspaper is a perfect time to greet the new day and appreciate the fresh start it brings. I listen to, I look at, and I certainly smell the awakening world. The fragrance of an early morning is often fragile, faint, requiring a little more attention than the looking and listening do.

First of course, I always smell the weather. Coming rain, an approaching snowstorm, even the hot dry heat of summer, each has a subtle scent. If it's precipitating, that mositure, too, has its very own perfume, and during an unusual early morning thunderstorm, you can certainly smell the ozone of the lightning. On some frigid winter mornings, the cold itself has a clean and clear breath.

But richest of all are the ever-changing scents of the seasons. In the winter, there's often a waft of woodsmoke, sometimes the evergreens, especially the fir balsams, give off a wonderful scent, and there's also occasionally the all-too-obvious odor of the cat spruce! The air often seems especially pure in winter, making those man-made smells such as the diesel fumes from snowplows and gas-and oil combination from the neighbors' snowblowers even more... intrusive.

In springtime the earth exhales its own perfume, long before the trees bud or the flowers bloom. It is the smell of green, of freshness, of a crisp clean. I often wonder in April... does hope have a scent?

There are not words enough to describe the bouquet of a summer morning. Now remember, this five-senses centering is only a very few minutes each morning, but smell most of all can saturate your very being in those few moments. The lilacs, the roses, the sharp sweetness of the tall bearded irises all stand out. But one of my most favorite summer scents is the the dusty-attic smell of bridal wreath. Sometimes I just close my eyes and try to pick one flower's fragrance out of the hundreds and hundreds in the garden. Heliotrope is... delicious!

The days begin to cool, the mornings start to dawn later and there is the nutty smell of the drying leaves in the fall. The air is redolent of apples hanging heavy on branches or becoming tangy on the ground. The smell of the earth itself is as strong as in the spring, but it's very different in this season. First it's the ripening smell of harvest gathering, then in late fall there's that hint of death and decay perhaps. While, to me, spring smells so... new, autumn mornings smell so ... melancholy. But later in the day, standing around a small mound of burning leaves, sipping fresh cider, I take a deep breath and realize that each new day, no matter what the season, brings to each of our senses... great promise.


April 5, 2006

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

This In-between Time...

The ground is totally bare, not even a small pile of lingering snow under the evergreens on the north side of the house. Small shoots of green are popping up and buds are beginning to swell.

It's been unusually warm, and the strong sun is very enticing. It certainly looks as though the gardening season has arrived, but the reality is that the soil is still frozen deep down and that the cold earth is very hard on the hands.

I have lettuce and radishes started in the unheated greenhouse but it's much too early to put anything more fragile out there. I'd planned to put some peas in the garden last weekend, but then decided that was really pushing things a little too much. So, I sit... I'm ready, but the garden isn't!


April 2, 2006

Sunday, April 2, 2006

Life Lessons: Look! Look Until You Really See...

Several weeks ago, we talked about starting the day with five-senses centering, a way to anchor yourself, at least for a moment, in the here and the now. When I walk out my short driveway to get the paper first thing in the morning, I listen to the sounds of the world waking up. I also take a look at the new day dawning...

I'm always truly stunned when I read studies, statistics, of all that our eyes take in during the course of each day. That is NOT to say what we look at, or what we see, both very different from what our eyes scan, a myriad of images that may be imprinted on some snippet of our brains.

In the early morning, after I've listened to the world waking up, I start to look around, always checking the rising sun and night/day sky first. I so, so love light that the first day-rays are terribly important to me, to say nothing of reveling in the glorious, ever-changing colors of the varying seasonal sunrises. Often the second half of the old seaman's adage, "red sky in the morning, sailors take warning" comes to mind. In the winter, the sun may not even have cleared the tree-line of the horizon, while in summer it may already signal a blazing hot day ahead.

Are there any clouds this morning? Low, thick, billowing ones, maybe heavy-laden with rain or snow? Or high , thin cirrus clouds heralding a fine, fair day? Gilded by sun? Moving in what direction? Are there any stars still visible? Oh, usually Venus of course, but in the dark-dawn seasons, I check for old favorites Orion, Cassiopeia, Perseus, Pleiades.

And remember, it's taken me far, far longer to write about this part of five senses centering than it's ever taken to just pause... and... look!

My gaze comes down to earth, to the yard, to the trees, to the flowers in their seasons. Believe me, no matter what the time of year, in this place where I've lived for over forty years, there IS something new to see each and every new day! Sometimes, I'm just noticing that a piece of rain gutter has come loose, or I make a note to trim back the gone-by lilac blooms. Or maybe I realize the neighbor's dog is coming to visit me. No matter what I notice, it's always the evidence of the passing seasons that makes this piece of the morning ritual so very... rich!

The incredible glory of the slanted winter sun on diamonds of snow, or on shimmering ice-encased branches never, ever grows old. The uncountable shades of... white. The shadows of blues and purples and grays, so, so many subtle and delicate tints.

In spring, every single morning brings new greens, thickening buds, unfurling blossoms. More and more birds darting about. The sometimes-reluctant awakening of the perennials. After a Maine winter, the light now seems clearer, stronger, richer, deeper, yellower!

Glancing around the yard on an early summer morning sometimes brings an almost blinding abundance of beauty ~ every imaginable color and shape, combined and mixed, just strewn about in a new way every day.

And then, there's fall... First the goldenrod in August whispering, "autumn, autumn." Then, there's one particular maple tree with a small cluster of leaves that almost always turns red in late August, w-a-a-ay before any other leaves in the yard. There's the heart-filling, Jack-Frost foliage of October, and the few tattered leaves lingering in late November winds.

Just as listening through the layers helps to center us in the here and the now, so, too, can looking, truly looking until we see, not just with our eyes, but see the wonders, the gifts, of each new day with our hearts and souls.


March 15, 2006

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Ides of March...

Instead of being wary of this day, I rejoice that this l-o-n-g-e-s-t month is half over. Well, okay, with 31 days, I suppose it really isn't technically half over...

I've been on a cooking binge lately as I'm working on a booklet of honey-based recipes. One I've really liked uses all kinds of cubed root vegetables coated with a mixture of 1/4 c honey and 1 TBSP olive oil, then cooked for 35-40 minutes at 450, giving the veggies a nice carmelized glaze. I even added brussel sprouts to the white and sweet potato, squash, turnip, carrot, parsnip and onion chunks. Excellent!

A couple of weeks ago I made several citrus flavored honey butters, one was lemon-lime, another orange-lemon and one orange-grapefruit. Each was outstanding. We used them on biscuits, pancakes, popovers and anything baked, but I've tried them this past weeks on green beans, steamed broccoli and cauliflower, and even mashed sweet potato, all with very tasty results. (Hmmm, I wonder how one of these would be on hot popcorn...)

Finally, I made honey-orange-almond scones, glazed with a mixture of honey and orange juice then sprinkled with sliced almonds. Needless to say, they were way wicked good too. NOW, just don't ask me how the old diet's coming along...

If you'd like this scone recipe, just email me and I'll send it along...


March 12, 2006

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Life Lessons: Listening Through the Layers

Last week we talked about starting the day with five-senses centering, a way to anchor yourself, at least for a moment, in the here and the now. When I walk out to get the paper first thing in the morning, I listen to the sounds of the world waking up.

On weekdays the first sound I register is one both distant and insistent: traffic on a somewhat nearby highway. It's high-speed, low rumble, much like the background noise of life itself. Next I often hear birds, maybe just a crow, maybe an early flight of geese passing overhead from their nightime nesting spots to their daytime gathering place, a wonderful open field that may host several hundred geese on any given day. As we get toward spring, I hear more small-bird chirps, the black-capped chickdees now mixing with a cardinal's call.

I may hear the sussuration of wind in the trees, soft if in the evergreens, harder if rustling through the dry deciduous leaves left over from last fall. (I just love the word "surration," don't you!) Rain makes for a positve cachophony of sounds, while snow often blankets the world in an incredible hush.

As the sounds get smaller, closer, I hear the slight metallic tinkle of a dog tag against a collar as the neighbor's dog makes its morning rounds. The next layer of listening brings me quiet, close-by little noises, the small scratch of a branch against one edge of the house, a soft flutter as the breeze ruffles a corner of the paper I'm carrying, and the tiny rolling of a pebble I've just dislodged. And, then... finally... I can hear my own quiet breathing and peaceful thoughts.

AND, f I listen very, very closely I just may hear that still small voice of my heart and know that this IS the day that the Lord hath made!

So take the time to listen through the clatter and clutter of daily life, and truly hear with the ear of your heart!


March 8, 2006

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Planning the Garden: Hay Bale Planting

Have we talked yet about hay bale planting? It's an unusual and practical method of growing some flowers and certain vegetables in a small space, especially as the bales can be used to define an area, be placed casually around a patio, or be set out to get a new ground ready for the following year. Let's take a look at what's involved...

Of course you start with a bale of hay, and it does need to be hay, not straw. It can be at any stage from freshly baled to partially decomposed. Taking a trowel, hollow out holes in the top and even the sides if you want. I usually do anywhere from seven to ten holes in the top, each hole trowel-wide and trowel-deep. Fill with rich compost, plant either seeds or seedlings, keep well watered and stand back!

As the roots develop they spread out throughout the bale, decomposing the hay in the process and that of course generates heat for those roots. The plants grow to a self-mulching size very quickly, but I do water them with a grow solution once a week.

I've grown the tiny pumpkins, terrific peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant and several other veggies this way, always with good results. Wave petunias or mound nasturiums make a positive mountain of color! Geraniums interspersed with dusy miller, coleus, and/or low ageratums will do well. And, you can also use this method in shady areas, filling the bales with begonias, impatiens and again, coleus. The possibilities are just endless and experimentation is half the fun!

Of course I've assumed here that you know where to come by bales of hay for trying this!


March 5, 2006

Sunday, March 5, 2006

Life Lessons: Five Senses Centering

Have you ever woken up in the morning and even before your feet hit the floor, your mind is racing with all that you have to get done that day? You're behind before you begin!

For several years, I've been using five senses centering throughout the day to remind myself that "I am here, I am now." By stopping, coming to a complete stop!, for just a few seconds and truly registering the here and now through the five senses of hearing, looking, tasting, smelling, and feeling, I can stop the merry-go-'round, take a deep breath, feel refreshed, and keep going with a new/renewed calm. This is truly invaluable for me.

And so I found myself facing another frenetic morning, mentally ordering the tasks of the day, the appointments, the errands, the mundane, all starting to loom monumental - at least that's how everything began to seem at some point between deep sleep and hot shower.

Every morning after 20 minutes on the treadmill, I walk out to the mailbox to get the newspaper, no great distance, just to the foot of our driveway, maybe 100-125 feet. But now, as I step out the door, I clear my mind by saying out loud one of several things. Some mornings I quote Kahlil Gibran to the rising sun, "Awake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving." Or perhaps I remind myself that "This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."

Whatever I say, and it does need to be said aloud, the words never fail to re-focus the entire day, opening my five senses to the re-centering of my thinking, energies, and most of all, hopes for the coming day. It's such a gift.

Next week, we'll look at the first of our five senses for centering, looking, truly seeing... See you next week!


March 1, 2006

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

The Many Purposes of Planting Flowers

Last week we talked about choosing varieties of vegetables for your garden beginning with a look at the purpose for which you're growing each veggie. For example, you'd grow different potatoes for winter-keeping than you might for new potatoes to enjoy fresh out of the garden.

It's the same with flowers; with so, so many possibilities you might want to consider your purposes in growing them too. I'm a strong believer in inter-mxing veggies and flowers, both for the bnefits of companion planting and for the sweet scent and visual beauty of such a garden. Companion planting, growing different plants near each other to benefit one or both of them, can be very useful for certain veggies. We've always inter-planted marigolds with tomatoes and nasturiums amongst the vine crops for pest control. There are many, many other mutally beneficial combinations that you may want to explore too.

Other reasons for growing specific flowers may include attracting bees, birds, butterflies and other wildlife, for hanging pots and patio planters, for cut flowers of course, and for craft uses such as dried or pressed flowers, potpourri, papermaking, soapmaking and more. Many flowers are grown as screening, some as supports for other plants, some to define an area or pathways, and of course many are grown just for their showy display.

Let me give you a few examples. Buddleias, which are fairly fragile in Maine winters, are a must for the bees and butterflies. I buy these plants as transplants, treating them really as annuals, although I do mulch them heavily and have been rewarded with multiple seasons for some of them.

Sunflowers at the back of a bed may support morning glories or even the miniature pumpkins. They can also be planted to support pole beans very nicely. Because I grow most of my flowers for cutting, I need a variety of textures, shapes, and shades of the usual colors. I've found flowers I loved and thought would be wonderful for bouquets only to discover that they are too dainty to hold their own in a bouquet, they are too delicate, or sometimes that their vase life is too limited. On the other hand, dahlias, asters and zinnias are old reliables.

So, just as with the vegetables, before you become absoltuely overwhelmed with those gorgeous pictures in the seed catalogs, think about your planting purposes, make a list, then fit the best varieties into your garden this summer. AND, with both veggies and flowers, keeping a notebook from year to year is essential, an invaluable aid for remembering those specific plants you loved and those you loathed.


February 23, 2006

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Planning the Garden ~ Planting for a Purpose...

We have entirely too, too many choices of both suppliers of and varieties of both flowers and veggies to plant in our gardens, especially compared to even ten years ago. When it comes to tomatoes, onions, peppers, and definitely, corn, that array of choices can be overwhelming, not fun at all.

I always start by considering the purpose of my planting. Tomatoes: do I want them to eat out-of-hand, to can, for sauce, for juice, to winter-keep or even to dry. Do I need to look at the low-acid tomatoes, or would I like to try some of the heirlooms? Am I going to plant extra for the local plant-a-row-for-the-hungry program? Each of these purposes may be best served by specific varieties, with certain maturities and other unique characteristics.

And, no, I'm not generally going to recommend specific varieties because what grows best in my micro-climate here in Maine may not be best for a field even ten miles inland, let alone in another state!

Okay, let's look at onions... My primary crop will be for winterkeep and here I will state a preference: I've not found a better keeing onion than copra. Other than that, I do want a few of the big, mild white ones, a few red ones for fresh salsa, and lots of sturdy ones for canning in sauces, relishes, for the multi-vegetable juice I make. You make want some of the small spicy cocktail onions or even the small whites for pickling.

Corn... well, the maturity time is perhaps the first consideration here. But, after that, the use is really important as some certainly freeze better than others, while you may want lots of bi-color for eating fresh. And, thinking ahead, will you want nice tall cornstalks for fall decorations too??

Anyway, you can see what I'm saying here. What I end up doing is making a list of the veggies I want, the purposes I'll grow them for, and THEN, and only then, will I start making my buying list. There's lots of veggies I didn't even touch, and then the flowers are another whole story altogetter, one I'll look at next time!


February 19, 2006

Sunday, February 20, 2006

Time to Start the Garden...

While the sun today is strong and bright, there's no question but what this is a mid-winter morning in Maine, one with temperatures in the low teens, accompanied by piercingly frigid winds. It's a perfect day to spread out a gadzillion seed catalogs, to pore over garden notes from last year, just the right day to enjoy a fragrant fire in the fireplace while planning for the coming summer's most perfect pumkins, the most glorious gladiolas, the most tempting tomatoes and the lovliest lisianthus!

It's probably the same at your house... Tons of seed catalogs arrive in our mailbox each winter, starting in early December with the reliable old standards and continuing until April, including catalogs that range from narrowly focused, to folksy and informative, to well, just plain strange! For our short season here on the coast of Maine, I rely on Vesey's, Johnny's, Pinetree, a local seed store and Green Mountain Transplants, which deals in seedlings of all sorts rather than seeds. I do a lot of seed-saving from the previous year, and of course there are many plants, especially flowers and herbs, that can be counted on to self-seed, although some such ambrosia, lemon balm and chamomile a little too invasively.

Where to start, where to start! Well, it's easy to go through the veggies alphabetically choosing this bush green bean, a great carrot-shaped slicing beet, and at least three or four kinds of cucumbers for eating and pickling. We'll get several varieties of both summer and winter squash including a new Japanese variety we grew last year, and have loved both for keeping quality and for its deep orange, dry, rich flesh.

The flowers will be more challenging as the photos are all gorgeous, and the write-ups all so enticing, but sadly, the blooms are often disappointing. One flower that I have come to consider a backbone plant is lisianthus, commonly substituted for roses in florist's bouquets. Although I have grown some from seed, they require a very long season for full blooming, so for the past four or five years, I've gotten transplants from Green Mtn. Transplants (which is now actually located here in Maine).

Ahhh, but this day is just for the first read-through of catalogs, the first sketchy ideas of what this year's garden will look like, that first check of budget realitites... Hmmmm, those climbing roses are gorgeous, that new broom corn very intriguing, those unusual gourds really would make great birdhouses (in spite of the fact that we have a trash barrel full of dried birdhouse gourds downstairs)...

In the next few blog posting, I focus on selecting specific varieties for specific purposes. We'll also look at hay-bale planting which is a lot of fun and very practical. But in the meantime, can't you just smell the summer savory, the basil, the sweet peas, the heavenly heliotrope...

It's exactly ONE month from tomorrow until the first day of spring, ONE month of lengthening days, strengthening sun, and... dreaming!


February 15, 2006

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

High Fat, Low Fat, Good Fat, No Fat...

When will they make up their minds! Between this major study and that breakthrough research, this diet plan and that weight lose program, no wonder everyone's confused.

A few weeks ago I heard a speech given by a Maine doctor who specializes in the treatment of diabetes. He is of course alarmed at the nation's (and particularly our state's) rising obesity rates. And yet, anything having to do with weight loss, books, plans, programs, pills, supplements including the new African herbal "miracle," sells as fast as it appears. There's a disconnect somewhere here, and it seems to be between good intentions and the next meal!

This Maine doctor, whose name I don't recall, made the point that while Americans have reduced their fat intake (minimally to be sure) over the past five to seven years, we have increased our sugar intake dramatically. And while we are buying more fruits and veggies, perhaps we are eating them in rich desserts and creamy sauces.

It's a battle, isn't it? I've been on a cooking binge lately, with special emphasis on low-fat, low- sugar, high-nutrition eating. For example, for Valentine's Day dinner, instead of preparing some lobster in cream-rich stew or sauce, I made a dish of lobster, dried tomates, parsley, minimal butter, lemon juice, and white wine, served over pasta. It was delectable, definitely good eating and good nutrition.

I've said it before: Look for new, better ways to make old favorites. Keep reading recipes (I really find the recipes in Cooking Light magazine useful). Try to eat fruits and veggies as close to their natural state as possible. Watch the salad dressings and sauces with an eagle eye.

There is no way around it and even the very latest studies emphasize this: No matter the carbs, the glycemic index, the fiber, the phony fat or the fake sugar, you still need to count calories. You still need to m-o-v-e.

So, just keep repeating -- Buy Lean, Cook Light, Eat Less, Move More. It works!!


February 12, 2006

Sunday, February 12, 2006
Posting on Wednesdays and weekends

Life Lessons: The Gift, The Giver, The Gift

I stood in the Spean Bridge Woollen Mill store in Edinburgh Scotland, almost overwhelmed by the softness and gorgeous colors of all the mohair throws. I just couldn't decide on which two to get for my mother and for myself. Finally, I settled on one in blues and green, and another in the same tones with some purple too, the colors of the hills and heather of Scotland itself.

Home again, I started to wrap my mother's, the one with the purple, but oh, I just loved that one and couldn't part with it. I felt the tiniest twinge of... something... at keeping it. Not that the second one, the blues and greens, wasn't equally beautiful. Not that she didn't absolutely love the one I gave her.

My throw quickly became my snuggle-down-and-read blankie, well worn and getting a bit grubby. One day a helpful child washed it for me, and dried it too. Of course it... tightened up... a bit. Still lovely colors and soft, but... denser. I continued to use it but it just wasn't the same.

Some years later, my mother died and as I sorted and sorted, re-read my daily letters to her, threw things out, set other things aside, and packed and packed, I came across that lovely mohair throw in blues and greens. In the way of mothers probably in every place and probably in every age, she had decided that the throw was too beautiful, just plain too good, to use. It was pristine, packed in layers of tissue paper, as soft and cozy and new as when I'd bought it in Edinburgh. It was such a gift...

It became of course my new snuggle-down-and-read blankie. And it has taught me many, many lessons. Some very obvious, such as what we give, we get, sometimes literally. I have been reminded everytime I run my hand over that throw about the timeless and wonderfully-woven nature of love.

Other learnings have been more subtle as I've really thought about saving things for good. And those lessons have not been lost on the next generation either. A few years ago Sally gave me a really nice, and I'm sure expensive, pocketbook with the admonition that if I put it away and didn't use it because it was too good, she'd come and take my old pocketbook and throw it out.I use it! We also use the good china for everyday, and hard as it is, I'm trying to keep my closet clearer of ratty, old, bang-around, everyday clothes!

Years ago, a trip, a far-away shop and a gift, soft and warm. Who knew, who could possibly know... The gift, the giver, the gift... more lessons for a loving life.


February 8, 2006

Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Posting on Wednesdays and weekends

Slimming Down Your Usual Foods...

Midweek, a bright and crispy cold winter day. Hmmmm, supper, what to have for supper? I don't have menus done ahead for this week, winging it from day to day instead. Check the cupboard. What looks good...

We'll be having baked beans, brown bread and cole slaw for supper tonight. Now, Bert will have a piece of ham from the freezer with the beans, which are vegetarian for me. I've already made the brown bread and the cole slaw earlier this morning. If you haven't tried the recipe in The Frugal Family's Kitchen Book for easy un-steamed brown bread, it's a gem.

Made with two cups whole wheat and only 1/2 cup white flour, this brown bread has no added fat. There's molasses, raisins and chopped nuts and two cups of sour milk which I make with low- or no-fat milk. This makes a dense, fragrant loaf loaded with good nutrition.

So far, so good for a high fiber, low fat supper. Now , that cole slaw. Very tempting to make it as usual with some mayo or mayo-yoghurt mixture for dressing. But, I saw a recipe, no added fat, in one of my cookbooks, and I made that slaw while the brown bread was baking.

You finely shred four cups cabbage (I used a mixture of red and green), mix in some finely chopped onion and green pepper, sprinkle with 1 tsp. celery seed and two TBSP sugar, then add 1/4 cup vinegar (I used wine vinegar) and 1/4 cup water, mixing well. The recipe says, that like most slaws, it'll be even better if it sets overnight, but I made it early enough that at least it'll have all day for the flavors to get acquainted. I've made a recipe similar to this before where you made almost a syrup for the dressing, and it was good, but this was even simpler.

For one week, try to pick just one dish each day to prepare in a more healthy way. Just that one small step. Boy, do I feel virtuous about this supper! Now, if I can just keep from slathering cream cheese on the brown bread. Well, it really doesn't need it...


P.S. I noticed when I posted this that it listed the time as something ridiculous, like 6:45 in the morning. Good heavens! I wouldn't want you to think I was up cooking at that hour... It's actually about 10:30 as I post this!

February 6, 2006

Monday, February 6, 2006
Posting on Wednesdays and weekends

I'm Late, I'm Late...

for a very important date! Here it is Monday and I'm just sitting down to write. But, of course, there's a good reason...babysitting the grandchildren for the weekend.

It's always fun to spend time with Baxter and Katie, and this time we decided we'd pick the flick for their usual Friday night movies. We reached w-a-y back and shared the classic Disney Alice in Wonderland with them. Now of course, I'd seen it as a kid, I'd watched it with my kids, but oh, one more generation removed... how very different it looked!

The good parts were all there... The harried, hurried White Rabbit, "Off with her head!" Tweddle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Cheshire Cat, and best of all, the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. But this time, I saw and appreciated Lewis Carroll's sly subtleties, some of which weren't so subtle. Maybe this is one more gift from the grands, a new perspective on the old and familiar. Ahhhhh, through the eyes of a child...

Now, I can't wait to see Pinocchio with the grands. But in the meantime, I wish you a Very Merry Unbirthday!


February 1, 2006

Wednesday, February 1, 2006
Posting on Wednesdays and weekends

Soooo... How're You Doing on Those Resolutions?

Well, somehow we have gotten through January, a month filled with good resolutions about losing weight, getting in shape, watching our money, getting organized, and... and... All those wonderful plans were challenged of course by after-holiday bills, the dire desire to eat, eat, eat on dark winter days, the call of the comfortable couch, and well, life in general, right?

Let's just look at that weight losing resolution and see if we can get back on track. My TRP(Tonnage Reduction Program!) had centered on happy thoughts that "I'd be careful what I eat," "watch it," and "cut out junk." HA! On the last day of the month I weighed exactly what I'd weighed on the first day of this new year.

Time to get drastic! Going back to the work I've done over the years when I have lost weight, I thought about my three biggest challenges: eating slowly, portion control, and social eating. What to do, what to do!

Well, last night I was playing in a cribbage tournament, doing well with my Diet Coke, UNTIL a birthday cake appeared for one of the regulars. And it was chocolate... Well, of course I had to have a piece, and as I wasn't cutting, it was a b-i-g piece. Did I eat it all? You bet! RATS!

A new day... I have to measure what I eat much as I absolutely hate doing that. AND, far, far more important, if someone else is serving, I have to eat only, ONLY, what would be a reasonable amount even though it's way wicked hard for me to not "clean my plate." The measuring... for years I've had juice, cottage cheese and chopped walnuts for breakfast, a great start to the day for me. But, ahhhh, that 1/3 cup of cottage cheese had crept up... up to a generous 1/2 cup. No big deal really, but then, yes, it IS a big deal, really.

S-L-O-O-O-O-W down! Good advice of course, but oh-so-hard! I think I learned my bad speed-eating habits during ten years of teaching. If I was very lucky, I'd have 12 minutes to wolf down my lunch. IF I didn't have lunch duty! That same good advice tells us to pause between bites, eat smaller bites, savor our food, etc. Yup, sounds good. Conscious effort is the only answer. Okay, then...

And so, on February 1st, I'm re-resolving! How about you? Mary

January 29, 2006

Sunday, January 29, 2006
Posting on Wednesdays and weekends

Life Lessons: Learning Patience

I tend to deal with almost everything head-on and full speed ahead, not always the wisest approach to challenging situations, people, or perhaps even life in general. Somehow, I thought that mellowing would come with age, but, ahhhhhh, not so! I find I want to fill the faster-moving days with even more... and more.

Now I love to knit, not being able to stand idle hands when we're on the road, or even watching the evening news. A few weeks ago I started a top for my daughter Hannah, a vest with a fairly intricate pattern for the first 35 rows of 196 stitches per row. It will be a gorgeous garment, knit in a luxurious and expensive silk yarn.

I got three rows done and realized there was a mistake. Rip out. Start over. Cast on 196 stitches. Got to ten rows. Unknit. Check the pattern every so often. Six rows. Rip out. Start over. Cast on 196 stitches. Tediously count the stitches at the end of each row. Fourteen rows. Scream! Rip out. Cast on... And so on through eleven attempts. I worried that I was wearing the poor yarn out, that the top would look used before it had ever been worn. And I was getting more and more impatient.

The pattern was in multiples of ten stitches plus six more stititches divided between the beginning and the each end of the row. So I decided that the only way I could conquer this project was to slow down (oh, NO!) and make sure that each 6-stitch beginning and end, each ten-stitch pattern, and each row of 196 stitches was right. UGH!! At that point I just wanted this vest done so I could move on to the next project on my knit list.

I am now on row 24, and moving along oh-so-slowly, but surely. I have had to unknit maybe one or two rows, but have done that most patiently instead of just ripping out the whole damn thing and starting again. And, I love the way this vest is going to come out!

Taking my time has been a hard lesson for me, one I'm sure has not been learned for the last time! But slowing down, even just a little bit, even when I've dropped a stitch and have to un-do/re-do, is a lesson I hope to knit into other areas of my life, because life, with all its ins and outs, ups and downs, hard work and beauty, is certainly the most intricate pattern I'll ever attempt!

I hope you'll share your life lessons with me. You can leave a comment by clicking below on Comments. You don't have to be a blogger, register, or even leave your name.


January 25, 2006

Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Postings on Wednesdays and weekends

Soup and Stew Weather...

Last week, it was spring-like here on the coast of Maine, but this week winter has returned. Not a deep-freeze but the every-other-day pattern of light snow, perfect weather for soups and stews, meals that are hearty, tasty and decidedly frugal.

Let's look at some mix-n-match possibilities

Soup/Stew / Salad/Side / Bread

baked bean soup / chunky applesauce / cornbread

rich carrot soup / spinach with goat cheese and toasted pecans / biscuits

chicken stew / four-bean salad / dumplings

beef 'n' gravy / cole slaw / focaccia

All of the soups/stews can be left simmering in your slow cooker and all salads/sides can be made ahead of time or by that child or spouse who gets home ahead of you. The cornbread, biscuits and dumplings make up very quickly while the focaccia does take some planning ahead.

If you've made focaccia or other bread on a weekend, hopefully you've put some in the freezer for a mid-week supper. Or you can always take whatever bread you've got handy (French or Italian is super good), spread with butter, sprinkle with garlic salt and a heavy layer of parmesan cheese and toast.

The recipes mentioned about are in The Frugal Family Kitchen Book, but if there's one you especially want to try, just send me an email ( and I'll send it on to you.


January 22, 2006

Sunday, January 22, 2006
Posting on Wednesday and weekends

Do You Remember...

When someone says that, don't you find yourself leaning toward them just a little, anticipating the connection of either a shared memory or a memory question you might well be able to answer. "Do you remember" is such a wonderful invitation!

We've talked over the past few weeks about the power of shared memories in strengthening connections and building community, and we've acknowledged the conscious effort it takes these busy days to make new memories. But it is in the reinforcing, the "Do you Remember-ing" that we see the true beauty and bounty of a shared moment or past.

Consider for a minute one situation with two outcomes, both of which I bet you've experienced:

You are driving down a county road in the springtime with a friend when you see a big snapping turtle lumbering across the road, probably pregnant and looking for a spot to nest on the swampy side of the street. You swerve around the turtle and go a little further before you screech to a stop saying to your friend, "You know the next people coming along this road, just may not miss that turtle." You back up, both hop out and head toward the slow-moving turtle,nothing but kindness on your mind; you'll help her to the other side and safety.

But of course, you also remember that snapping turtles can be well, a bit tetchy, to say nothing of vicious under the right/wrong circumstances. Somehow between the two of you, with great seriousness and much laughter, you... encourage... the turtle to hurry a bit. Then just as she starts down the bank on the far side of the road, you slip down that same banking ending up mud-covered from neck to knees. But, still laughing!

You get back to your car, get brushed off, cleaned up as best you can, still talking and joking about "rescuing" the turtle who's probably back in the swamp telling all her friends about you. And you head off, back on your way to wherever you'd been headed.

Now, here are two scenarios you may have experienced after an incident such as this: You and/or the friend re-inforce the shared memoriy with a small bobblehead turtle for the other's dashboard, or send a silly email, or make it a point to tell the story when you're both with a group of friends. All these things make you feel... how?? That the time with you hada been valued? Do these little follow-ups re-inforce the spirit of fun, connection, and even community you felt. Do these reminders bring you a bit of warmth all over again?

Or, have you experienced the second scenario... you have an experience like this with a friend, nothing world-saving or earth-shattering, but with the makings of a good shared memory, and yet, it's never mentioned again. "Oh, it's just something that happened..." Yes, that's true, but it can be much more.

So, this week, send a note (email or snail mail such a delight to receive these days!) to someone asking, "Do you remember..." or "I was thinking about you the other day and remembered..." Even better, do you have a shared memory involving two or three people who have somewhat fallen out of touch with each other? Send each that note, and maybe even end it saying "We've really got to get together and make some new memories as good as the old ones!"

Most of all, if you know someone who lost a person (or even a pet) this past year, please take a minute and send them a shared memory. Connection, community. Some things truly are priceless.


You can leave a comment on this posting by clicking on Comments below. You don't have to be a blogger, or register, or even leave your neam. Keep in touch, I'd love to hear form you!

January 18, 2006

Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Postings Wednesdays and weekends

One Small Step At a Time...

In a recent posting, we talked about not trying to climb the mountain all at once, but rather taking small steps, one foot in front of the other. One small step whether that mountain is weight loss, saving money, managing your time better, or some other goal you truly want to accomplish.

Very strange how these things happen! Shortly after I wrote that I was at the library (absolutely one of my favorite haunts!) and a small book caught my eye and came into my hand: One Small Step Can Change Your Life - The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer, Ph.D. I'd never heard of it, but it is a gem, and I strongly recommend it if you're having trouble getting those mountains down to molehill size so you can start climbing.

One Small Step is a very pragmatic, practical little book, its focus entirely on the do-able, no matter how small that may be. One major change I'm making is when I think of a project or something I want to do and find that my immediate reaction is, "I can't do that!" Now, I keep asking what Maurer calls "little questions" until I get down to whatever tiny, trivial part of the project I can comfortably do, the itsy-bitsy step where I find myself saying, "I can do that!" and then I do that tiny bit. Period.

Just discovering what kaizen is and how the concept evolved is valuable for shifting thinking from the big impossibles to the gadzillion possibles. And that alone makes reading this book well worthwhile!

Another rainy day here on the coast of Maine, very cosy but quite unusal for mid-January. While we may often have a mid-month thaw, this year we have no snow cover after a series of rainstorms. I keep telling myself ahhhhhh, less snow to shovel, less deep frost in the ground, less heating , but still I'd love a soft swirly snowstorm, the kind that hushes the whole world.
To leave a comment, click on the word "comments" below. You don't have to be a blogger, register, or even leave your name to leave a comment.

January 15, 2006

Sunday, January 15, 2005
Postings Wednesdays and weekends

Building Community Through Shared Memories...

"So," a friend asked me after reading last Sunday's posting, "since you're talking about "shared memories" as a working definition for "community," what's the difference between a shared experience and shared memories?" What a great question!

To me, a shared experience means people and a commonality: perhaps in the same place, perhaps at the same time, perhaps doing the same thing, perhaps even interacting. But, I think a shared memory goes a step further and includes the concept of connecting.

Beyond a purely personal sense, think about the explosion of the shuttle Challenger. What takes that from shared experience to shared memory is the ways in which we connected at the time, and how we continue to connect through memories of the event whenever it comes up. The same is true of other "cohort" experiences that cross all socioeconomic considerations, events that we as a people have lived through together - for an older generation Pearl Harbor, for baby boomers the assassination of JFK, and most recently for all of us, 911. For many, these shared memories provide a powerful sense of community.

But how about our daily lives, often rushed, filled with unending demands on our time and energy, demands that make maintaining familyships and friendships a challenge. We need to make memories, share memories, treasure memories, and of course reinforce them. But, HOW?

Making memories would seem easy, but keeping-in-touch has come increasingly to depend on email, the telephone and other, well... not-really-shared togetherness. So, first off, we need to re-commit to actually seeing people, getting together. And, that's never as easy as it sounds, is it? I cannot believe what it took a few weeks ago to "negotiate" a date for dinner with two other couples!!

So, think about it... with whom would you like to strenghten your connection, your sense of community?? Someone in the family, a group you've lost track of, a few old friends you realize you miss? Now that the "who" is firmly in mind, how about the "what?" Something as simple as a walk, a few games of cards, working together on a small project? Okay, got an idea? Good! Now... the biggie... WHEN?

Let's check in next week and see what we've both come up with. Then we can look at wonderful ways to build on this, or to use it to re-connect... Community is so very valuable and so well worth a little time and thought. Don't you think??

See you Wednesday! Mary