Monday, April 29, 2019

Maine Seasons: Mud, or Waiting for Baseball

The sun came out after a week or more of clouds, showers, rain, rain, and more rain! The blue skies and bright sun were so welcome. The dogs wanted to go on their morning walk right away. I call it a walk, but it is really a push-pull-stand-wait-pee-on-everything-smell-everything-taste-some-fresh-grass-or-other-doggie-gold exploratory adventure. Its also like going to a doggie bar to pick up ticks! (I call my dogs "tick magnets, not chic magnets!") Often the dogs need a good toweling off too because...

this is Mud Season, Maine's fifth season that falls between winter and the two weeks of spring we enjoy in June. Everyone's yards are soft and mucky, and everyone's floors are constantly covered in dirt. With a lot of dirt driveways and roads in Maine and after the snows melt and the rains come, its a perfect recipe for mud.

One dog has found a nice big puddle in the woods behind our house. Of course he likes to roll in it as if its a personal pool just for him. (But the bad "B" word (bath) follows, and he hates that.) Between kids, boots, dogs, and baseball cleats, the dirt problem in the house can become a real trial.

We are in full-fledged mud season in Maine.
 Notice the garden is barely starting to sprout green things.
As mentioned above, we are also in the dreaded time that the ticks become active. With the snow gone, the ticks emerge from their winter nests in the leaves and dirt. The lyme disease-plus problems are growing, and the mantra is check, check, check, every time for ticks. There's a wealth of information about what to use to prevent ticks and tick bites, but with a proliferating turkey population, birds, squirrels, skunks, deer, etc., etc., ticks come in from all kinds of sources! The saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is very true in this case, but they still seem to catch us all by surprise. I pick them off my dogs multiple times a day. Thankfully there is now much more information available on the prevention of and treatment for Lyme disease and coinfections that can be transmitted by the various ticks in our area. One excellent resource is the Maine Lyme Disease Support and Education nonprofit that a friend of mine started after her own battle with Lyme. She and her cofounder are a wealth of experience, information, and support!

As for flowers, this is also a season of waiting. Snowdrops and daffodils are starting to show their bright heads in the sunniest spots, but in our yard the green stalks of the perennials are still pushing up through the warming dirt. Only last week I found patches of ice and snow tucked under some bushes near my home.

We are also still waiting to have a season-opening baseball game. Either the weather makes it impossible to play or the fields are just too wet and muddy. I remember during one Little League season, the coaches were wearing their boots to practice. Winter can be so very long here, and while most of the country's high schools are probably nearing the ends of their seasons, we haven't really started ours. May will be a fast and furious month of games.

On the bench, waiting to play.

With all this mud and waiting, I've been thinking about why we continue to stay in Maine. There are many reasons, but I know that coming through a long season of winter makes Maine summers very special. Because it takes extra time to arrive, summer can be so very perfect, with days of sun, pure fresh air, ocean breezes, cool mountain air, humid days that are short-lived, and pristine land and wide spaces on land and sea to stretch, swim, and enjoy summer.

First, we have to get through the trial of mud season! But God's timing is perfect. I love this from the book of Ecclesiastes 3:11:

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

This is the kind of summer day and views we live for in Maine.

Locals: What view is this?

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Maine Seasons: Patriot's Day

I set out to write this post early afternoon of Patriot's Day, April 15, 2019, when I heard that Notre Dame Cathedral was burning. The enthusiasm was knocked out of me. Such an ancient beautiful building, a church, crumbling under fire reminded me of U.S. tragedies that have gripped people's attention across the globe. One such was on Patriot's Day in 2013. A year earlier I had spent the weekend of Patriot's Day in Boston with my family attending a Red Sox game, seeing historic Revolutionary war sites, climbing the Bunker Hill monument, touring the U.S.S. Constitution, seeing Paul Revere's
Paul Revere is buried at Boston's
Granary Burial Ground, third oldest
 graveyard in Beantown.
and Ben Franklin's parents' graves, and visiting the Old North Church and Revere's home on the north side of Boston. It was a wonderful weekend as far as being a tourist goes. We also experienced the bottle neck of the streets because of the Boston Marathon, and I remember watching a while, clinging to my son's tee shirt so I wouldn't lose him among the throngs, and thinking about how very easy it would be for a criminal to do something awful at such an event. The next year it happened.

Last year, I visited Notre Dame Cathedral on the same Monday, or Maine's Patriot's Day, while on vacation to Paris during our April school break. (I'm not in any way suggesting my visits have anything to do with these tragedies, but I guess I can say I'm thankful that we were there when we were.)

There is nothing like the video footage of tragedies as they are unfolding to captivate our attention as we sit in unbelief and awe. This is also something many remember from 9/11 and other events further back. It kinda sucks the breath from your insides.

However, a funny story started my day on this Patriot's Day. My sister, who lives in western New York, shared on social media that on a radio station she listens to, it was said that Massachusetts had a holiday in memory of the Marathon bombing, truly a tragic and scary time for Boston and surrounding towns. And something that is recognized at the Marathon since.

The day the city shut down for its massive manhunt, we had tickets to Red Sox, and got as far as Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, before we turned around. I was listening to live feed about the epic man hunt for the younger brother who was found in a boat in a person's driveway! It was riveting, and as much as I wanted to stop listening, I couldn't. I still have those Red Sox tickets. The game was rescheduled for two days later, and we attended, but as far as the date on the ticket, that game wasn't played.

As much as the lives lost that day and afterward should be remembered, Patriot's Day has more historic origins altogether, and as much as a tragedy as any, but one many citizens felt was necessary--to stand down a bully government. It began as a day of fasting and prayer in Massachusetts, but since April 19, 1894, it has been known as Patriot's Day. Because Maine was part of Massachusetts until 1820, Maine has also celebrated since 1907. Patriot's Day now is always the third Monday of April, and it begins the April school vacation week for many public schools in New England. The date of April 19, 1775, was the Battle of Lexington and Concord when minutemen (local militias made up of farmers and local citizens, therefore the Patriots logo is a Minuteman!) met the British Army near Lexington, Massachusetts, just north of Boston approximately 15 miles as the crow flies, as the British regulars were coming to raid their munitions and rifles. The fighting continued in Concord and then as the regulars retreated back to Boston, other skirmishes broke out along the way. There is so much history in Boston, and I won't get into more, but if you ever wondered why Massachusetts and Maine has this one weird holiday, its not really weird at all, its really where the Revolutionary War got its start. If you've never been to Boston to visit all the historic sites, it is very cool and fun. Our favorites have been
Paul Revere, engraver, Patriot, and
 silversmith, moved into this two-
story house in 1770 with 5
children,  his wife, and mother
in law. This is smallish house,
by modern standards,
in the North End.

Bunker Hill
Home of Paul Revere
Old North Church
Old State House (near site of Boston Massacre)

The Minuteman Park in Concord is a place I have yet to visit, but would like to. There are many reenactments on Patriot's Day and during the weekend. Also of course the Boston Marathon is run. Celtics or Bruins may be playing, and the Red Sox usually have a morning start home game as well.

Other historic sites worth seeing are the U.S.S. Constitution, a historic commissioned Navy ship and base. Boston is full of cultural institutions such as the science museum, Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the New England Aquarium. There is the Freedom Trail and Black Heritage Trail.

Boston is hard to drive around in. Subways can be crowded on days such as Patriot's Day and game days, etc., but it is a walking city as well. There are other smaller historical societies, organizations, and museums, as well as galleries, shopping, and lots of restaurants. There is so much to do in Boston.

So, for those that may have wondered what this special holiday is all about, this is to get you on the right track!
New Englanders, what is your favorite historical place to visit in Boston?

Longfellow's poem has made Revere the man of the hour
at the start of the revolution in Boston; however, many others
have just as much or more reason for claim to fame as Revere.
He was a go-getter in business and in life!

Click here for the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(a Massachusetts/Mainer fyi) poem

Friday, April 12, 2019

For the Love of Libraries: National Library Week

This week has been the ALA's National Library Week:

I hate to say it, but I haven't been to the library in a few weeks! I have, however, been reading for my book group and a history book my Mom passed to me.

I do love libraries so much. And I definitely agree with this year's slogan: Libraries=Strong Communities. I strongly believe libraries are one of the last bastions of true community. They provide so much more than books! Sometimes I visit far-flung libraries via Internet just to see what is going on there. I love to see how libraries seek to serve its community by being more than a book-lending organization. In this post I share with you four libraries that I really love and why.

I blogged about my very first library in the post titled "For the Love of Libraries: My First Library" in 2016. It was housed in the old customs house of my hometown, and the children's section was up very cool wide black-painted stairs. I felt very important climbing those cool stairs. The building definitely had historic character with its very tall windows and big steam radiators clanking. It was wonderful. But it became tooo small. The new building the Waldoboro Public Library resides in now is bright, cheery, clean, and all on one level! Some great benefits of this library is that it allows anyone within the five-town school district to have a library card for free. It hosts a Music Together class, children's story hour, summer reading activities, and more. I'm not as familiar with what they do now since I do not go there regularly, but its a really wonderful thing for the small town I grew up in.

My library now is Skidompha. There is always something going on there. It is such a big part of providing a sense of community to the wider Damariscotta area. Often a theater group is putting on a show, or there are silent auctions set up in the lobby. They have a family ancestry research class, free movies for kids and adults, a series of talks called "Chats with Champions," an art gallery, a revolving display of quilts hanging from the second story railing in the lobby, children's writing groups, books clubs of many genres, and a super new thing--Community Read! It is so great because a book is chosen, copies are purchased and distributed, and the library organizes a variety of readings and events around the book. The library has completed its third Community Read recently. But there is so much more!

I go for the books mostly, but I also love to absorb the atmosphere of the place, where so much takes place. My son likes to check out dvds, but he used to love to check out the DK Lego Star Wars book (this link takes you to an updated version). It got so that the librarian would see us coming and go look on the shelf for it. Finally the day came when we told her he had received his own copy as a gift. I almost think she was disappointed. There is nothing like building a relationship with someone who encourages you to read as a child.
My son's favorite library
 book ages 5-9.

Another library that I visited a couple times with a friend and our young children was the Patten Free Library in Bath. They have a large children's room decorated with an animal mural by Maine artist and illustrator Dahlov Ipcar. It is a wonderful space to meet with other young friends. According to its website, Patten Free offers a large number and variety of other learning, social, and community opportunities.

Last on the list is the newest library I know of in my county--the Whitefield Public Library. I am especially excited for the town because I once lived there, and it was disappointing there was no local library. I would go to Gardiner or Hallowell's libraries just to be IN a library. I love the story of how the small farming community got started on organizing a library (it involves a child writing a letter asking for a place to go do something in the summer!), and that they are fund-raising to buy the Grange building they are renting (a win-win for both organizations). I have yet to visit it as I only recently read about it in my local paper, and it won't open for the summer until May 18. It is especially exciting to see how libraries are still relevant, wanted, needed, and supported in small towns. People understand the need for community hubs and more opportunities for reading for everyone.

Another graphic by ALA encouraging social media conversation about you and your library!

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Maine Seasons: Maine Maple Sunday

For 36 years, Maine has celebrated a tradition that has one foot firmly in winter and one in spring. It is called Maine Maple Sunday. It happens the fourth Sunday in March, which according to the calendar is spring but can often still be wintry in Maine. This year, on March 24, it was definitely both, with a mix of snow and mud on the ground and temps in the 40s with the sun brightly shining, a perfect day to get out, visit a local sugar shack or farm, and sample some freshly boiled maple syrup.
My hubbie at this sweet sugar shack.
 Notice the smoke rising in the top right from the boiling operation.
We took a quick visit to a local farm in Newcastle called Sweet Woods Farm. This family-run farm only started its sugaring operation in 2018, but already they have a fine set up for brewing sticky maple sap into maple syrup. From the tapped trees they've run a long line to storage tanks. (You can see more of their operation on their Facebook page.) There the sap is boiled down until it becomes the thick sweet pancake topping we all love.

There are many uses for syrup beyond breakfast. Online I read suggestions for putting it in your hot drinks, and the Maine Maple Producers website offers other recipes that utilize maple syrup. The brochure provided by Sweet Woods Farm also offered that maple syrup has "a larger percentage of naturally present nutrients and antioxidants compared to other sweeteners." Those natural ingredients are riboflavin, manganese, and zinc. This is a great sales pitch in the age of eating healthy. I'm in!

Going to a Maine Maple Sunday event got us out of the house in the long fallow mud season when spring fever is setting in hard. It is great for kids and allows for some outdoor exploration and learning. It also gets you out in the community, supports a local farmer, and gets you breathing in some of that winter/spring air. Plus there is nothing quite like the smoky sweet steam rising from a pot of boiling sap. The fresh-off-the stove taste definitely can't be beat. Most farms offer free samples, usually on vanilla ice cream. So delicious. Boothbay Craft Brewery was also offering samples of a beer made with Sweet Wood's maple syrup and then set to age in bourbon barrels that had previously held syrup! It was most flavorful, although admittedly I can't stand beer. Blue Tin Farm from nearby Edgecomb, Maine, brought their goats to visit and goat milk soap and lotions to sell. Tours of the sugar bush were offered to get a better understanding of how the how process works. Every open sugaring operation offers different things. Some simply say to come over and visit with us while we boil. Its a long process and takes many hours of feeding the fire so syrup makers have to be on hand the entire time and can use some company!
Sweet little goats from Blue Tin Farm at Maine Maple Sunday.
The Maine Maple Producers website offers so much more information, recipes, news, events, a member directory, and farms that participate in the open farm day.

From the website I learned that native Americans would boil sap by heating stones and dropping them into containers with the sap before colonists arrived with cast-iron kettles.

It seems like an unlikely time of year to produce something so yummy but I also learned that the magic of maple sugar season is directly tied to the "warm, sunny days and below freezing nights" of late winter and early spring that cause the sap to start running through the maple trees. So March is the actually the perfect time of year. As more hobby farmers and young people are returning to agricultural practices in Maine, more people are tapping trees it seems than I remember in my childhood. Many do it for a hobby but its important to producers to have open farm days such as Maine Maple Sunday because it can jump start sales and introduce people to the magical process of sugar sap season. Go buy ye some Maple Syrup from Maine!