Category Archives: Holidays

Holiday Concert in a Small Town in Maine

holiday concert

Left to right: Tom Osborne, Kyle Osborn, Michael Saulnier, Brian Saulnier

A Christmas tea featuring live musical performances by a talented pair of brothers was held at the Jeremiah Mason House Bed & Breakfast in Limerick on Saturday, Dec. 13. Hosts of the tea and concert were Tom and Kyle Osborne who have owned and run the bed & breakfast establishment for the past 14 years. For the fourth year in a row, they invited brothers Michael and Brian Saulnier to perform on guitar and piano, a tradition that hosts, guests, and the musicians look forward to as each Christmas season rolls around.

This year, the Osbornes also invited members of the Limerick Historical Society to attend the concert. “We used to hold it during the Limerick Village Christmas,” Kyle said following the hour-long concert. “But that was just too much so we decided to do it this way.”

The music room, adjoining dining room, and the hallway were filled to standing-room only for the afternoon event. Tom welcomed the guests to the historic home and introduced Brian Saulnier as the opening performer. Brian read a brief but touching essay on life in a small town at Christmas and then sang a set of Christmas songs, accompanying himself on his bright blue acoustic guitar.

Brian then introduced his brother, Michael, who had driven up to town from Massachusetts. “My brother Mike is here to play the piano, and I could listen to him all day long,” Brian said.

Michael, who has been seriously studying piano for six years, treated everyone to a variety of folk piano and jazz arrangements by such luminaries as George Winston  and Vince Guaraldi. Two songs, however, were composed by Michael himself. One, entitled “Lavender Falls” and the other a variation on the theme called, “Epicycles” were very much in the George Winston style with a lovely interplay of both right-hand and left-hand notes.

Following the concert, Tom thanked both musicians for sharing their gift. “Music has big healing power,” he said. “I want to thank Brian for sharing his voice and for introducing me to his brother, Mike.” Michael’s recorded cd was offered for sale, the proceeds of which were to go to the York County Shelter. Tom then invited the guests to partake of a variety of cookies and sweets baked on  and tea sandwiches which were provided by the Clipper Merchant Tea House.

When asked about his performance schedule, Mike said that he plays mostly for personal enjoyment and occasionally for the public when asked. Brian has also been busy this year, billing himself as The Musical Medic and playing at Maine Medical Center, nursing homes, and community events like the Research Club’s cookies and hot cocoa gathering following the tree lighting at the town’s A Village Christmas Festival. “There are infinite choices about what to do with limited time,” Brian said. “This is what I chose to do with mine.”

A Very Cranberry Christmas

Chutney in Bowl

Chutney in Bowl

(This article also appeared in the Waterboro Reporter newspaper, soon to be found online, but for now check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TheWaterboroReporter)

Here we are, smack-dab in the middle of another holiday season, singing along with the carols playing non-stop on 94.9 WHOM (if you live in Maine), finishing up our shopping and wrapping of presents, and turning thoughts toward special holiday foods.

Yes, this is the season of Christmas cookies, nut bread, fruit cake, and eggnog. Peanut brittle, peppermint bark, snickerdoodles, and hot cocoa with whipped cream. Depending on our family traditions, we may enjoy turkey, ham, lasagna, baklava, corn-bread stuffing, sweet potato casserole, or those glorious Franco-American pork tourtieres.

And anything cranberry.

In my family, a traditional treat is cranberry bread. My mother serves it on a silver tray at her Christmas Eve dinner of fish chowder and crackers, jello fruit salad, and homemade sour pickles. Cranberries are fun to string together and hang as a garland on the fir tree. Frozen into an ice-ring, cranberries add a splash of color to a holiday punch bowl. Added to champagne cocktails, frozen cranberries not only keep the beverage chilled, but look very pretty rolling around in the glass. (A mint leaf provides good contrast, too!) There are cranberry sauces and jellies, cranberry pancakes, and don’t forget cranberry nut muffins with a little spread of butter to warm up chilly winter mornings.

There is something just so festive about those bright red berries that contrasts with the uber-whiteness of the snowy winter world outside!

As more and more people are coming to realize that eating locally with the seasons makes sense from a health and environmental perspective, here in New England we can feel confident about choosing cranberries in late fall and early winter. According to the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, cranberries–along with blueberries and Concord grapes–are a native North American fruit. Native Americans used the cranberry in a sort of protein bar called pemmican which was made of crushed berries, deer meat, and melted fat. They also used the berry as a dye and as a medicine. Later, American sailors took cranberries with them on sea voyages to stave off scurvy as the cranberry has a high vitamin C content.

Cranberries are also grown commercially right here in Maine. According to the Maine Cooperative Extension, cranberry production is a new “old” industry since cranberries were grown here in the past, disappeared in the first half of the 1900’s, and then experienced a rebirth in the 1990’s when new commercial production began. Last year, I bought a ten-pound box of the ruby-red berries from a local food co-op organized by Ossipee Towns for Sustainability (check out their Facebook page). The group orders from Crown o’ Maine Organic Cooperative which markets products from Maine growers.

I had good intentions when I bought those berries, but somehow after sticking that box in my freezer I forgot about it…until last week. All of a sudden, as we rounded the corner to Christmas, it hit me. Cranberries! I decided I wanted to try making chutney to include in my Christmas dinner menu and also to give as handmade gifts. It doesn’t get much more local than your own kitchen, right?

I searched the internet for a recipe, found one I liked on the Ocean Spray website, gathered my ingredients, and set the pot to boiling. The first batch came out a little more runny than I wanted, but the flavor was tangy-sweet and spicy. Making a few modifications the following evening, I ended up with a firm, spreadable chutney with a glorious dark garnet-red color and just the right blend of spices. I can’t wait to serve this with my Christmas turkey, not to mention all the leftover turkey sandwiches!

If you would like to try it yourself, here is the recipe.

Shelley’s Second-Batch Christmas Cranberry Chutney

1 ½ cup water
1 ½ cup sugar
2 cups frozen Maine cranberries
1 cup vinegar
1 cup raisins
½ cup small dice apple
½ tsp each allspice, ginger, cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves

Put sugar and water together in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring often to avoid sticking. Pour into glass bowls and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate. Stir before serving to show off all that chunky deliciousness.

If you like your chutney more saucy, reduce cooking time. The longer you cook, the more “set” your chutney will become. Happy holidays!

A Localista Valentine’s Day

How do I love thee? Let me count the quotes.

How do I love thee? Let me count the quotes.

Dear Reader:

So, it is that day of the year again where we turn our thoughts to love and romance. And candy. And flowers. And candlelight. And jewelry.

Well, a few of us turn our thoughts to jewelry. Others bemoan the commercialism of a “made-up” holiday. Some vow to ignore the candy hearts and the smoochy pictures and the sappy sentiments popping up all over social media (“What photo of the pink lovebirds?” she asks with an innocent look on her face.) A few, like my friend, Amy, get really creative and do things like send heart-shaped egg salad sandwiches in their kid’s lunchbox…awesome idea, Amy!

This year I’m treading down the middle of the road. I like Valentine’s Day because it falls in February, which is a nice month. The bitter cold of January has eased into soft snow, stronger sunlight, longer days, and moderate winter temperatures. Christmas and New Year’s revelry has faded in memory. Spring, with St. Paddy’s Day and Easter, seem far away here in the north where the earth is still covered in white, and the bare branches of deciduous trees crisscross against the sky with no sign of swelling buds, let alone a hint of green.

Mostly I like the sentimentality of Valentine’s Day, the one day in the year where you can let yourself get as mushy and gushy as you like, the mushier and gushier the better, and hardly anyone will scoff at you. What about those people you know will scoff? Ignore them, smile, and plop another chocolate covered strawberry in your mouth.

A Library Card

A Library Card

You can celebrate love and romance without spending any money at all. For instance, I made handmade valentines at the local library, where one of our high school volunteers had organized a wondrous variety of craft materials and offered assistance. When I got up there, three children and three adults were happily cutting, pasting, stickering, and drawing–and this was ten minutes before the end of the event. The card above was crafted by one of our creative library patrons for her granddaughter. So imaginative and pretty!

What else could you do? Draw a sketch. Write a poem, even a sappy poem. Pen a love letter…how long has it been since you passed a note to the love of your life?

Don’t like paper tokens? Play “your song” on the stereo and take a long, slow dance. Read the “interesting” parts of a romance novel aloud to each other. Bake brownies together. Light some candles, pour some scented oil into the tub, and take a bath together. Your imagination is as good, probably better, than mine. Use it!

But what about flowers and chocolates and the rest? I told Hubby that he really and truly does not need to buy me an expensive bouquet of flowers this year, but if he absolutely feels he must go floral, then would he mind buying a little something from our local flower shop, Nature’s Way Greenery? Buying from a locally-owned shop means more of that money stays local, zipping up to town hall in the form of property taxes, that money goes to pay the guys who plowed the roads after the big winter blizzard last weekend, maybe they spend their paycheck at the locally-owned gas station and to buy bread and milk down to the small, locally-owned supermarket. Maybe the supermarket owner is ready to plant some rhododendrons this spring, so he goes down to Nature’s Way to get some. Loop closed (minus a few State of Maine sales taxes, but that is a story for another day.)

The moment that money is spent at a national or multinational retailer is the moment the cycle is broken. A portion of the local economy just got sucked into paying the bonus of a CEO in Belgium or India or Bentonville, Arizona.

So shop your town first, and then the towns next door. Today I moseyed over to Waterboro and popped into the Cornerstone Country Market, a locally-owned and operated shop. There, I picked up an avocado and greens for lunch and a tub of lard (really!) from a Pennsylvania producer of Amish meats and cheeses. I use the lard for popping my own corn, for pastries, and for frying up pancakes, but I would love to find a local producer this year.

Love in paper and sugar

Love in paper and sugar

Anyway, while checking out at the cash register, I spied old-fashioned stick candy in all these pretty colors, five for a dollar. Excellent, I thought! Perfect to go with my handmade valentines.

I’m not the only Localista in the family. The Teen, too, chose to present handmade gifts to her “crush” this year: a book of her original black and white sketches glued onto craft paper and bound with yarn, a love letter, a colored-pencil drawing mounted on thick paper stock, and one of her beloved stuffed animals (there is some story behind it, but I’m not privy to the details). All this was squirted with her signature perfume, of course, and stuck in a paper gift bag. Local, handmade, thoughtful, and an expenditure of time rather than cash.

How did you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Drop in and share your wisdom, your wit, and your words.

Happy Love Day, Dear Reader!
XOXOXO

A Winter Solstice Wish

Peace, Love, Joy

Dear Reader:

On this day of Solstice, when we celebrate light returning to our world, I send out a wish. I wish for a societal shift toward rejecting violence and embracing, instead, kindness and respect and love.

I started here in my house by deciding NOT to finish watching a TV series. The other night Hubby and I sat mute as a fictional FBI agent pulled out a gun, took a prisoner out of his SUV, pushed him up against the vehicle, and shot him in the neck and body five or six times. The prisoner was unarmed and cooperative. Blood splattered, and I asked myself, Why would I want to watch this? How does this enhance my life? What message is this sending to kids who are watching it?

I don’t care if it is “make believe” or “just a story.” Stories are a wrapping in which we package our values and give them, like a gift, to the world. Perhaps it is time we think about those values and begin to question whether or not our music, games, movies, television, books, and art represent the values our higher selves hold dear.

I challenge each of you to think about your values as we enjoy the holiday season. What is most important to you? Family, spirituality, education, earnings, possessions, art, beauty, environment, health, love? What values lift you up? What values lift up an entire community?

When it is time to chose a movie, a music album, a video game, an activity, ask yourself which of your choices best reinforces your values. Reject the ones that do not. Embrace those that do. In this way we can signal our values to our entertainers, to our creatives, and most important, to our children.

In the coming year, I will strive to signal that I do not value violence. I do not think it is heroic or admirable or even brave, only justifiable for self-protection as a last resort.

Pre-emptive violence? Nuh-uh. Not anymore. It is time for a new way of thinking.

I believe it is time for our society to have this conversation about values, starting with an internal dialogue and expanding outward to family, community, state, country, and the world. What do you think?

Shopping Local for the Holidays

Sandra Waugh Watercolor of Red Rowboat

Sandra Waugh Watercolor of Red Rowboat

Dear Reader:

How are you doing on your holiday shopping so far? I’ve been taking advantage of lucky opportunities that pop up–like yesterday’s trip to Portland for a Jim Brickman performance at the Portland Museum of Art.

Heading toward the museum for the performance, I noticed a Reny’s department store across from the parking garage. Hello! I don’t get into Portland that often, so the chance to pop into one of the branches of a Maine-owned department store was like an early Christmas present to myself.

Reny's Department Store Logo

Reny’s Department Store Logo

I’m fairly pleased with my local shopping progress this holiday season. I’ve bought books by Maine authors at public readings, handcrafted jewelry from the funkiest little shop--Maine Jewelry and Art--in Bangor on Plaid Friday (local answer to the mall’s Black Friday horror story), c.d.’s directly from musicians at performances (ahem, did you catch that Jim Brickman reference up there?), makeup from a local Avon rep, clothes from that Reny’s excursion yesterday, and a few things at Goodwill.

Fly Fisherman painting by Sandra Waugh

Fly Fisherman painting by Sandra Waugh

I’ve also ordered Christmas cards from my good friend and fine artist, Sandra Waugh, who lives right here in my town. That is her “waughtercolor” at the top of this page, such a cute, little red boat skillfully rendered, floating between sea and sky. This and other select paintings are for sale right now, but Sandra also creates beautiful watercolor portraits of loved ones, children, and pets from photographs you mail to her, like this one of the fly fisherman.

I am in awe of that kind of talent! Please visit her website at http://www.waughtercolors.com/ and/or private message her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/messages/waughtercolors

With the shopping well-underway, I guess it is time to start looking toward decorating the tree and holiday recipes. Food shopping for holiday meals can be a bit challenging (I need an egg source!), and I will write about that in another post as we get closer to Christmas. In the meantime…

I challenge you to buy at least ONE item this year from a local merchant or small-business owner, knowing that when you do so, much more of that money gets sent back into the local economy than if you spent the same $$’s at a mega-corporation. Want more reasons? Visit the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website for the Top 10 Reasons to Support Locally Owned Businesses.

Happy Holiday Shopping, everyone!

Small Town on a Waterway

july 18 2012 084
Little Ossippee River flows to the Saco.

Dear Reader:
Once in awhile I feel the need to remind myself why I started writing this blog in the first place, so I click on James Howard Kunstler’s blog, Clusterf$#k Nation, and get a zap of possible-future angst.

From his blog post, Modernity Bites this week: Find a nice small town on a waterway surrounded by farmland and get ready to have a life.

For Kunstler, this is an optimistic piece of writing, with many sentences starting, “If you are young…”

In other words, his vision of the world is that we are devolving, slowing down, no matter what the yahoos on t.v. say about shale oil and how the U.S.A. is going to be the largest oil producer in the world. But there is good life to be lived even in a “World Made By Hand” (the title of one of Kunstler’s books), and those young enough and strong enough and clever enough to take advantage of opportunities can not only survive, but thrive.

In a post-oil world, we will be much more local–whether we like it or not. Wouldn’t it be wise to begin investing in our local communities now? That is why I encourage you, my dear readers, to shop locally, to get involved in community government and activities, to learn one or two “low-tech” skills. Even as we use technology to discuss these things (hello! blogging here!), we can inhabit, in part, that other world of handmade stuff–clothing, tools, food. Check out a craft fair or two this holiday season. Make something yourself to give to a family member or a friend.

This weekend in my town, we are celebrating our community with an annual event called Village Christmas. There will be two craft fairs, community breakfasts and lunches, hayrides (low-tech transportation!), a parade, raffles, tree lighting, carol-singing, cookie-eating. I’ll post some pictures next week.

How does your community celebrate the solstice season?

Writing My Mind To Hawaii

Beach At Waikiki

I have finally perfected the magic of teleportation. On this wintery Valentine’s Day in Maine, with a cold front settled in over the landscape like a cool-pack, I have been luxuriating in Hawaii. Waikiki to be exact.

I’ve been listening to slack-string guitar played by an older man wearing a splashy shirt and a lei (thanks to Pandora Radio).

Giant Shirt

I’ve been laughing with my sister at a luxury hotel while the lights from the tiki torches dance, reflected, in the water of the pool while we slurp down tropical drinks garnished with pink umbrellas stuck in pieces of fresh pineapple (thanks to my imagination).

The air is warm and balmy (thanks to the electric heater).

What exactly is this, you ask? Inspired by a trip we took a few years ago, I’ve been writing a story set in Hawaii, and what could be better than that on a mid-winter day? The story is aimed at the confession market because, well, I have to confess that I love writing them.

Bird of Paradise Plant

I hope that this story will find a home in one of the two confession magazines, True Story or True Confessions, but even if I don’t make a sale on this one, at least I’ve had a most enjoyable trip writing my mind to Hawaii today.

Sunset on the North Shore

Aloha! And Happy Valentine’s Day.