Tag Archives: books

I (Heart) Snow Days

I (heart) Snow Days

Dear Reader:

We had a little snow covering the ground this morning, and it felt like the kind of day to sit beside the fire with a good book. I didn’t quite manage such a relaxing day, but I CAN recommend a good book to read this winter. Maine writer, Bill Roorbach’s LIFE AMONG GIANTS. (Buy it at your locally-owned bookstore!)

This is a big book, a giant book. Big themes of love and family and longing…so much longing. Big characters. Tall, yes, but also big in scope and heart and personality. Big houses with lots of doors and corridors and secret rooms hidden away. David “Lizard” Hochmeyer, a tall and talented high school football player becomes enchanted with the famous dancer, Sylphide, living next door in a big house, a mansion. Lizard’s parents are murdered because of his dad’s dealings with a crooked boss possibly (likely) involved with the mob, but we don’t know if, how, or why Sylphide is somehow involved. Lizard ends up playing pro football for the Miami Dolphins and later becomes a restauranteur. There is so much here. It is the kind of book to read slowly, to savor.

This would be my ideal day: cozy flannel pajamas, a fur throw, coffee, a great book, soothing music, snow falling, roaring fire, and a scented candle. What about you?

Adventures in Window Cleaning

Vinegar and Water Solution

Dear Reader:

There comes a time in every person’s life when she looks out her window and sees only one thing: dirty fingerprints.

Okay, not really. She sees dirty fingerprints, dirt, bird seed from the window feeder, spider webs, pine needles, and dog-nose smears.

With my freshly-painted walls and new furniture arrangement (Hubby and the Teen both approve) mocking my disgusting window panes, I decided to tackle at least one window a day until they are all finished, and this brought me to a project I’ve been meaning to try, namely, “eco-cleaning.”

Now, this blog isn’t focused so much on “going green” as it is on “going local,” but it seems the two concepts (ideals?) converge quite often. Take cleaning products, for example. It’s not like your local farmer’s market carries a line of locally-produced cleaning products, right? There may be a cottage industry somewhere in the neighborhood that concocts hand-made soaps, lotions, and potpourri, but as yet I haven’t run across anyone selling cleaning fluid. Why? Because ANYONE can make their own cleaning fluid, and your own kitchen is as local as you can get. Here’s what I found out.

A few years ago I was browsing in the book area of One Earth Natural Food Store in Springvale, Maine when I came across a little gem called CLEAN & GREEN by Annie Berthold-Bond.

I haven’t used the recipes for “nontoxic and environmentally safe housekeeping” as much as I’d like, but today was the day to try the glass cleaners. First up, the simple vinegar and water in a spray bottle. I used an old, washed-out spray bottle, poured in the recommended amount of plain old cider vinegar (now see, this is where we could get local out of this. I didn’t have any Maine-produced vinegar, but I will be on the lookout for some in the future. THEN, I’d have a totally-Maine cleaning product), and sprayed the panes of my kitchen door.

The book also recommended using newspaper to wipe the windows. I have a nice stash of old WEEKLY SHOPPERS and SHOPPING GUIDES hanging around, so I took a couple sheets and went to work. Scrub, scrub, squeak, squeak. Did it work? You bet! However…

Printers Ink on Yellow Gloves

I was not happy with the black ink getting all over my gloves and imagining what my fingers would look like if I didn’t have said gloves, and let’s face it, yellow rubber gloves are NOT locally-produced. Also, I found the solution to be kind of, well, wet. I know, I know. Of course it was wet. But it was wet in the droplet sort of way versus a spray sort of way, if that makes any sense.

I decided to try another recipe in the book, called “The Best Window Wash.” I should have tried the best first, probably, but I was drawn to the simplicity of a two-ingredient solution. The Best Window Wash called for the addition of a teaspoon of vegetable-oil based soap. I’ve been using Murphy’s Oil Soap for a long time, and so had this on hand. Plop! I added the teaspoon directly to the vinegar and water solution bottle.

The Best Window Wash ingredients

I also decided to use an old sock instead of the inky newspaper. The addition of the soap made for a much smoother application on the windows, the sock worked fine, and I finished up with a nice polishing with a dust cloth. Now, in a pinch, I could go with the local vinegar/water/local newspaper combo, but I did prefer this soap additive.

I wonder how one makes vegetable oil soap? Could someone take local corn, for instance, to make the vegetable oil and from there make soap? How exactly does that work?

I’ll let you know if I find out.

Clean Window with spider plant

In the meantime, I recommend Berthold-Bond’s book if you are interested in low-cost, environmentally-friendly, and kinda’ neat ways of cleaning your house. Oh, and that spider plant in my window? According to the book, the plants act as natural air purifiers along with aloe vera, English ivy, fig trees, and potted chrysanthemums. Green may just be my new favorite color!

See You in 2012

Shirt found at Goodwill store

Dear Reader:

Outside the Box has been a fun and productive and creative place to be in 2011. I may have strayed from the original path a bit . . . but isn’t that what being Outside the Box (like coloring outside the lines) is all about?

Meat and Butter from Local Butcher Shop

This year I’ve joined a buying co-op, found a few new local places for meat and other Maine-produced goods, bought jeans and shirts at consignment shops and Goodwill stores, traveled to D.C., continued to knit, wrote some poems, read some great books . . .

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to more adventures in 2012, trying to support all things “local” while continuing to be aware of national and global trends.

If you’ve been reading my Christmas story, Unlikely Objects, the final installment can be found in the Fiction Corner. As always, thank you for reading, and I’ll see you in 2012 . . . Outside the Box.

Shelley 2011

A World Without Borders Bookstores

My Bookshelves

Dear Reader:

I am taking a break from Outside the Box in D.C. to comment on the news about Borders. Remember when the big-box bookstore rolled into town? Independent bookstores weakened and died. Patrons mourned, but they ended up shopping at Borders anyway because, let’s face it, Borders carried just about everything you ever wanted to read and more . . . plus you could have some great coffee and feel chic and intellectual sitting at a cafe table, sipping lattes and reading your Philip Roth, your Stephen King, or your Candace Bushnell.

Image from IMDb website.

Movies were made. Who can forget Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen Kelly, in YOU’VE GOT MAIL? She tried so hard and loved her store so much, and it just about broke your heart when her authors jumped ship for bigger booksignings at the megastore “around the corner.” The movie ended with this feeling of inevitability. Little guys will lose. Big guys will win. End of story.

Image from Amazon.com

Image from Amazon.com website.

And what is bigger than a big-box brick and mortar bookstore like Borders? An internet retailer. The virtual shelves of an internet bookstore are endless. End-less. Was the closing of Borders inevitable?

Probably. First, the rising tide of online shopping ate away at the retail giant’s sunny shores. According to some analysts, Borders did not adapt quickly enough with their online platform. Annie Lowrey wrote an article for Slate magazine slamming the bookseller for outsourcing their internet sales to Amazon early on. Then the tsunami of electronic books & magazines rocked the publishing world.

Some of us (read: older) readers love our hardcovers and paperbacks and glossy print magazines. We like the smell of books. We like the feel of turning the pages. We like dust-jackets. But as time goes on, I see more and more people reading on their Kindles and Nooks, and if we haven’t already reached a tipping point there, the time is fast approaching. In fact, I’m wondering how much longer we will have any new printed materials at all.

I still have certain reservation about e-publishing, namely: what happens if the power goes out? In a low-energy world where we’ve used up all the easily-available oil, where a non-renewable resource–coal–continues to power the electric grid of large cities, where that grid infrastructure is vulnerable to decay and terrorist activities, where we haven’t yet ramped up our alternative, sustainable options such as solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal energy technologies . . . in a world like that will electronic readers, tablets, laptops, and smartphones really be a reliable platform for information storage?

How will we make sure that the least affluent in our democratic society still have access to information? Will the rich and middle-classes be willing to buy e-readers for the poor via library programs, education initiatives, or flat-out charitable donations?

Will “somebody” be printing out at least a few hundred copies of the most important works, storing them in a secure location just in case? The thought of losing our collective knowledge gives me the willies! We will need all the information–scientific, sociological, historical, psychological, anthropological, etc–if, indeed, the fit hits the shan.

More of my library

Which is why we need to keep some of this (see pic above) even as we move into a new bookselling era.

The role of independent, brick and mortar bookstores will become increasingly important, I believe, in the coming years. For those of us who love “real” books, these stores will be suppliers for our fixes. They will also be micro-conservators of information, as will those of us who keep home libraries. Locally-owned bookstores will continue to provide spaces for book-lovers to meet, to talk about literature and the issues that literature explores.

Will we survive in a world without Borders? Sure thing. Click on the Indie Store Finder and check out a local, independent bookstore near you. Shop there. Buy something. Build a family library. Be picky. Go to a used book store and find some unusual books on subjects most interesting to you. Become an "information saver." If your bookshelves are already full, go through your collection and weed out the books you'll never want to read again and make room for some classics. Donate your old books to library book sales, swap groups at a community center or transfer station, or bring the best of them in to used bookstores to trade for some credit.

And, yeah. Go ahead and buy a Kindle or Nook or other e-reader if you want to. It's the wave of the future . . . the near future, anyway.

Days 20 & 21: Shoe and Tell

Dorothy's Ruby Slippers

Dear Readers:

I think it would be fun to create a D.C. scavenger hunt based on shoes. I’ve heard about these scavenger hunts. Someone makes up a list of unusual places/sights/objects around the city and sends tourists off to find them. I would create a shoe-hunt. One of the places I’d put on the map would be the Museum of American History.

Most people who come to view the First Ladies exhibit focus mainly on the fabulous gowns. Granted, these are spectacular, and if you are at all interested in clothing design and fashion, you will be in heaven here. What you may not tend to notice, however, are the smaller articles displayed around the dresses. Mirrors and combs. Dinnerware. Silverware. Fans.

Shoes.

Abigail Adams's Slippers

These pretty embroidered leather slippers were worn by Abigail Adams in the late 1700’s. Over two-hundred years later . . .

Michelle Obama's Jimmy Choo's

. . . we have the Jimmy Choo’s that Michelle Obama wore with her Inaugural Ball gown.

Michelle Obama's Inaugural Ball gown

Both the Teen and I enjoyed looking at the gowns and shoes and designer sketches. We viewed a short video of Michelle Obama’s speech at the museum when she donated the gown to the exhibit, and I was impressed once again by the First Lady’s down-to-earth demeanor, her humor, and her intelligence. I also can’t help loving her for her passion for healthy eating, starting the Let’s Move program to fight childhood obesity, and, of course, planting the Victory Garden at the White House. Click HERE to watch a video of this year’s spring planting at the White House Garden.

George Washington In A Toga

This is the funniest thing I’ve seen in Washington so far. I can’t help laughing. Here is George Washington in his Colonial wig and a toga. A toga! Did you check out his feet? Sandals. I’m sure the sculptor had some grand vision for portraying our first president in this way–yes, democracy has its roots in Greece and all–but in my opinion, this is just wrong. Eh, can’t win ’em all.

The Teen shushed me. “Stop laughing, Mom.” So on we went.

Bon Appetit!

Here I am with another of my heroines, Julia Child. Why is she my heroine, you ask? Okay, I’m not really into gourmet cooking, but she inspires me because she never gave up trying different things until she discovered her true passion. Once she found that passion, she jumped into it with both feet. When she had ample reason to give up when trying to finish her cookbook, she persevered. And she continued to follow her passion the rest of her life.

The museum exhibits her famous kitchen . . . no shoes, unfortunately, but I’m sure Julia would think the cooking utensils were more important than shoes.

Julia's Kitchen

Giant History Poster Project

I loved this wall collage (is that the right word?) of all things Julia. “Wouldn’t it be fun to be the person who works here putting these exhibits together?” I said. I got a shrug in return. Okay. Guess I’m a dork.

Julia's books

Here are a couple editions of Julia’s book, MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING.

The Paper Engineering Exhibit

Speaking of books, we were delighted to discover this exhibit dedicated to the art of paper engineering. Students at our local elementary school have a wonderful librarian who teaches lessons every year on various bookish subjects, including paper engineering. I believe the Teen was more interested in this exhibit because of that early introduction. Connections between school learning and real-life learning. So important.

Soapbox moment: Library programs are important to the education of our children and foster self-directed and life-long learning skills. These programs should be retained and restored in our schools.

Leaving the pop-up books behind, we toured the American On The Move exhibit. We weren’t sure we were all that interested in transportation, but we ended up glad we decided to give it a try. We saw trains and carriages and cars and a police motorcycle and an early bicycle and a trolley car. I enjoyed the exhibit’s focus on how transportation changed commerce from mostly-local economies to our current, vast global economy.

Early Train

Trains started off rather small and plain.

Pretty Train

But they soon got much bigger, more efficient, and startlingly beautiful.

Loading boxes of produce

This scene shows how boxes of produce are loaded from the train to a horse-drawn cart and then unloaded at the local store.

Shipping Containers

Today, products are shipped all around the world in these huge metal containers. In 1960, 25 million tons of goods were shipped into West Coast ports in these containers. By 2000, 250 million tons. That’s alot of containers! There are so many laying around, in fact, that some people are building houses out of them. Click HERE!

Both the Teen and I agreed that this was an excellent exhibit. Don’t miss it if you get a chance to get to the museum.

The Original Muppets

We made our way upstairs and found the ruby slippers, Kermit the Frog, and a wonderful doll house donated to the museum by Faith Bradford, a retired librarian.

Faith Bradford's Dollhouse

The house has twenty three rooms, each filled with the appropriate furnishings.

The Wash room

Hungry and getting a little tired, the Teen and I reluctantly left the museum, chosing to find lunch up in Penn Quarter rather than eat at the cafe or the larger downstairs cafeteria in the museum. We strolled around the Quarter feeling a little out of place in our tourist garb amidst all the suits and ties out on their lunch break. Unfortunately, we ended up at a Starbucks again. I’m having a hard time finding local coffee shops. Time to deliberately research instead of hoping to run across them serendipitously.

On the way home, we zipped into the Hirshhorn so the Teen could have a look. “It looks fluffy but it is made out of pins,” was the Teen’s observation about this piece. I agree that the irony is pretty cool. What wasn’t cool was being told by a docent that I wasn’t supposed to be using flash. This was weird because I deliberately asked the docents on Monday if there were any restrictions on camera use. They told me there weren’t, and so I proceded to go around snapping beaucoup snaphots with flash all around the museum. Now I feel guilty . . . but glad I got the nice pictures.

This incident flattened my mood a bit, but when the Teen said, “We should do this every day, Mom,” my spirits lifted. I hope this experience is something that she’ll remember the rest of her life. I also hope it inspires some interests in art or history or fashion or travel or social issues or architecture . . . or all of the above!

Kermie

No shoes on this guy!

Where are your travels taking you this summer? Drop us a line . . . Outside the Box.

Days 7 & 8: A-List Neighborhoods

Urban Garden in Adams Morgan

Dear Reader:

The end of the week found us exploring two very different kinds of neighborhoods with one thing in common: they both start with the letter A. Read on to hear about our Old Town Alexandria and Adams Morgan experiences.

On Thursday, Hubby and I biked into Alexandria on the Mt. Vernon Trail. The trail took us along a highway, down along the Potomac, across a pretty marsh area (where we saw a smiling woman sitting on a grassy bank, sketching, her lavender-colored bike parked a short distance down the path), and past an old industrial site with its rust and peeling paint juxtaposed against the blue river dotted with sailboats. Crossing a grassy, old railroad track, we found ourselves in Old Town Alexandria–a quaint, Colonial-era village. I forgot my camera, but if you’d like to armchair travel today, click HERE to go to the official website.

We parked our bikes at the foot of King Street near the Old Dominion Boat Club where the boats were moored and bobbing around. The Potomac is a wide, calm river, and watching the white sails cutting through the water gave me a pang of homesickness for Maine–the park in Belfast where we like to sit and drink Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, the Bangor Riverfront where we watch the fireworks on the 4th of July, Pine Point in Scarborough. Shaking off the longing for home, we made our way up King Street, past trolley buses waiting for tourist groups and well-dressed couples strolling along the brick-paved sidewalks.

After a week living in our neighborhood of modern, concrete high-rises and shopping malls and New Urbanist village squares, walking in an historic town felt cozy and familiar. Buildings here are two-stories tall, three at the most. Church spires rise into the blue, early-evening sky. Cafes offer sidewalk seating, black metal chairs and tables filled with people chatting and enjoying glasses of wine or mugs of coffee or plates of delicious food. For those who enjoy shopping, Alexandria offers boutiques and shops of all types. We passed clothing stores and shoe shops and even two wig emporiums.

For a few blocks, we wandered behind a couple of women wearing long, linen skirts and simple tops and the kind of flat, stocky shoes you see on women in Portland’s Old Port or strolling through L.L. Bean, and that feeling of familiarity hit me again. It must be the Colonial influence here that brings Alexandria closer to New England than other neighborhoods I’ve seen so far. The ladies crossed the street and we continued on, passing bakeries and an art gallery and pubs with an Irish theme.

Alexandria is a classy, well-heeled neighborhood. I felt a little conspicuous in my plaid Bermuda shorts and tank top and pink sneakers– fine gear for bike riding but not up to par with the coiffed and perfectly-made-up women heading off to meet friends for dinner at the bistro on the corner.

The sun sinking lower, we strolled back to the boat club and biked toward home and a glass of chardonnay out on the balcony before bedtime.

Mural in Adams Morgan

The following day, the Teen and I hopped on the Metro to Adams Morgan, a neighborhood not far from the National Zoo and a world away from the colonial charm of Old Town Alexandria.

Adams Morgan is known as a “gateway” community for immigrants, and because of this cultural diversity, the neighborhood is colorful, multilingual, and filled with every kind of food you ever wished to sample. I saw Greek restaurants and Ethiopian establishments, a falafel joint next to a Mexican eatery, an Irish pub and an airy bakery/cafe called Tryst with what looked like a fantastic assortment of cheesecakes and pastries as well as a full seating area with couches and farm tables and comfy chairs crowded into the space. We also spotted a well-known blues bar called Madam’s Organ, a place that sports a mural of a large-breasted, red-haired “Madam” along with its delightful word-play of a name.

To get here, we took the Metro to the Woodley Park-Adams Morgan stop and walked across the Calvert Street Bridge. Soon we found ourselves walking past gorgeous row houses painted in different colors and planted with tiny gardens–some quite lush and beautiful–behind iron-rail fences in front.

Adams Morgan Row Houses

The tree-shaded street gave way to the busy intersection on Columbia Avenue. We wandered around, absorbing the atmosphere, and looking for Tryst. According to guidebooks, this neighborhood has more independently-owned shops than what you usually find in D.C. areas. Sure enough, I spotted a natural food store on Columbia, a Peruvian goods store, and the shop in the photo below. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you’ll know how intrigued I was by the name stenciled on the window.

Urban Sustainable!

The Teen and I were hungry and thirsty (it hit 90 degrees here Friday). I let the Teen decide where we’d eat since she is being such a good sport letting me drag her away from her friends and home this summer to spend eight weeks in the company of–gasp–parental units. So, with all those ethnic foods to chose from, where did we end up?

Pizza Mart

The Pizza Mart for a jumbo slice . . . something you see advertised around here all over the place. This was a hole-in-the-wall joint, maybe the size of my kitchen, with two short counters,five or so ripped, red-leather stools, and the largest slices of pizza you’ve ever seen! Seriously, I didn’t know what to expect, but I certainly didn’t imagine a slice of pizza the equivalent of a 10″ from back at home.

Jumbo Slice

The guy at the counter was friendly, and the cook delivered the pizza to the table on two paper plates. We were joined by a family chatting to each other in Spanish, gladly moving aside so they could grab handfuls of paper napkins and shakers of garlic. The pizza? Delicious. Good choice by the Teen. We felt like native Adams Morganites.

After lunch, we browsed a wonderful used bookstore called Idle Time Books where the owner had a lovely, lilting accent (Irish?) and the narrow, two-storied space was crammed full of reading material on every subject. I spent some time in the “writing” section and picked up a couple of paperbacks–one a memoir called THE JOURNAL KEEPER by Phyllis Theroux and the other issue 38 of GRANTA with a newly-discovered story by Raymond Carver featured and a theme called “Love Stories” which, of course, I couldn’t resist.

Photo courtesy of Idle Time Books website

If you are ever in D.C., I highly recommend making the trip to Adams Morgan and Idle Time Books. Then stop in at Tryst for a latte and a pastry and fit right in with the local literati. We were running short of time and our bellies were over-stuffed with pizza, so we had to forgo the cheesecake and cafe au lait and instead walked around a bit more before heading back over the bridge to Woodley Park.

Diversity statue in the park

The park/square was shady and full of vendors selling “fast” food and drinks beneath the tents–if you want to call homemade, authentic, regional foods wrapped in foil and colorful drinks dotted with ice floating in glass drink dispensers “fast.”

Bright paint on a sunny day

I love the color on the buildings . . .

City plantings

. . . and the gardens in front of the row houses.

King in D.C.

‘Course surprises are always just around the corner, and it seems that Maine has a presence even in this quirky, diverse section of D.C. Oggling the gardens on Calvert Street, I looked down and saw this hardcover edition of Stephen King’s NEEDFUL THINGS, just laying there in a garden plot like a missive from my home state.

All in all, the excursion to Adams Morgan was a success. Even the Teen enjoyed it. I think she felt comfortable up here where the people and restaurants are more laid-back–a little shabbier, perhaps, but with a very natural, easy vibe. I’ll be heading up there again, maybe mid-morning for a coffee and bagel at Tryst and another peek into the bookstore and a definite visit to Urban Sustainable, which we had to skip as the day was getting late.

As different as these two neighborhood were, I enjoyed each of them–Alexandria, for its familiarity. Adams Morgan for a shot of adventure. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life.

As my Dear Reader, Mary Ann, mentioned in a comment, there are opportunities for exploration right around the corner from you own house. When is the last time you walked around the town next door? Or checked out the local tourist spot? This weekend, I encourage you to put on your walking shoes, grab your camera, and take a look around through a different lens. You may be surprised by what you see.

Town-Love

Baby & Me

Dear Reader:

Spring has brought daffodils to my flower beds, leaves cluttering my lawn, owls hunting for peepers in the boggy places, and a chance for me to bottle feed a baby goat at Downhome Farm (isn’t that the cutest white baby goat?).

Spring also brought me back to 1987, freshman year at the University of Maine at Farmington, the season I took my first (and only) poetry class, ate Gifford’s ice-cream for the first time, took beginner rides on the back of a motorcycle, and began the slow process of falling in love with the man who would eventually become my husband.

And I DID fall in love. With the town. I’m still smitten.

This month, I drove up to UMF to meet my college roommate and two of our friends from down the hall in Scott South, the all-female dormitory where we ended up freshman year–me because my parents wanted to protect me from co-ed distractions and the other three by chance, I think. We lived on the first floor, not a bad set-up, and because we were the only all-female dorm, we also had the only co-ed bathroom on campus (for the visiting boyfriends to use). Oh, the irony.

We were to meet in the Gifford’s Ice Cream parking lot. Arriving early, I grabbed a cup of coffee at a new cafe “overtown” where a pizza place used to be, walked around the block to stretch my legs, admired the gazebo still standing in the tiny park. I drove back past the big, old Main Street houses, now repainted and divided up into apartments, and parked my vehicle in front of Giffords to watch the traffic turning onto the Intervale Road. There were kids playing tennis on the courts beside Hippach Field and a group of Little League players trying out the baseball diamond where my father and uncle played for the Farmington State Teacher’s College team in the mid 1960’s.

(Farmington State became UMF later on, but it still remained primarily a training college for future educators. Now it presents itself as “the liberal arts college of the UMaine System.” Once there were first-generation-to college Mainers wearing sweatpants and L.L. Bean boots to class. Now, it’s topless parades to protest inequality for women. No matter. It’s still UMF. The “Beach” in front of the main dining hall may be called something else now, but it is still the same old hangout. There’s a great athletic center with a pool, indoor tennis courts, weight rooms, and the like. The library has been slightly remodeled. A beautiful education center was constructed where the little white psychology building used to be, and I hear a new art gallery is going in. It’s all good.)

Down to Giffords, I stared, dreamy-eyed, at the yellow Victorian Chester Greenwood mansion high up on the hill overlooking the Sandy River. I gazed at the square, brick campus building, remembering Alice Bloom’s booming musical rendition of a poem by Blake, remembering watching THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY on Sunday movie night in the auditorium there, remembering the buzzing of a lawn mower and the scent of fresh-cut grass while trying to pay attention during Russian history class my final spring at UMF.

I glanced over at the golden arches of the McDonald’s where a bunch of us used to walk after a Wednesday evening children’s lit class. Remembering. Remembering. Remembering and missing the Farmington Diner where my parents met, where my husband-to-be treated me to giant platters of fried clams and french fries loaded with ketchup while we listened to lame eighties hits on the individual jukeboxes situated at every booth. “Lady in Red” and “Lean on Me” and “Maggie May.”

Heart-bursting love for everything.

I rolled down my window and sniffed . . . yes, Farmington has its own scent, probably something to do with the river water but maybe also the farmland surrounding the town and once in awhile, when the wind is right, a whiff of the paper mills in Jay. I recognized this smell. It was the smell of home. Or of a homeplace.

I have family roots deep in Farmington and the surrounding towns. While I was growing up, my grandparents lived here, in a white-sided farmhouse built by my grandfather’s father out on Rt. 4 in West Farmington, on an embankment next to a cornfield beside Temple Stream. My parents took my sister and me to visit often, and for two years of college, I rented a room in the house, sipped camomile tea out on the granite steps, typed up college papers in the old, screen porch office at the front shaded by big old oaks that dropped so many acorns it hurt to run across the lawn in bare feet.

My grandmother’s family tree goes all the way back to some of the first settlers of the area, the Butterfields, who built homesteads up on Porter Hill. My grandfather’s family goes back aways, too, though I don’t know as much about them. My mother grew up here. My parents met here. I met my husband here. I dream of moving back, someday. Maybe.

Bill Roorbach's Book

Mostly, though, I just want to continue to love this town with its human-scale Main Street shops, its steepled churches, its college campus, its river. Others have moved here and felt its magic pull. On our recent visit, my friends and I ducked into Twice Sold Tales, a wonderful used bookshop housed in part of the old Newberry’s five-and-dime store, and I picked up Bill Roorbach’s memoir, TEMPLE STREAM. Professor Roorbach came to UMF to teach just after I graduated, but I enjoyed his first memoir SUMMERS WITH JULIET and wished I could have taken a class taught by him.

With the new book, Roorbach had me at the title, but I was impressed on every single page. Funny, insightful, informative, and warm, TEMPLE STREAM made me fall in love with the area all over again. Thank you, Mr. Roorbach.

The visit, the spring season, the memoir all worked a kind of magic and inspired me to write a new poem. I will leave you with the new, spring-inspired poem plus an old, winter-inspired poem written back when I was in college. Both are about the Sandy River in Farmington, Maine. Happy Spring, Dear Reader!

WINTER WATER (old poem)

It is not black
but deepest blue
piercing the whiteness
of snow crusted over
a somnolent river . . .
Chilled blue
water gurgling beneath
that hardened surface, I imagine . . .
Walking this bridge
from there to there
and wondering how it would be
to be a stone
rolling on an icy current,
opaque whiteness for a sky . . .

January, 1990.

and


POETRY & FARMING (new poem)

There is something
about this town
that invites
poetry & farming.

Town born of a river
rushing thick in spring
with sticks
& mud & thrown-away
stuff like bottles, rubber tires,
cardboard, rags.

Does the rushing & roaring
of the water seep
into the brain cells?
Permeable membranes susceptible to river notes,
gurgles like syllables,
voice of water whispering
“This and This and Thus” &
“Write it Down! Remember!”

After the floods in spring
the river draws back
gifting the plains
with organic riches, minerals
dredged from the riverbed or scraped
with a scour of deep ice.

This river made
lush green fields shot through
with meandering streams
like fool’s-gold threads. In later Spring,
swaths of pasture grass are dotted
with buttercups & milkweed & vetch.

The dairy cows lie beside
the water, listen
and chew while their udders fill
with sweet, white milk.

April, 2011