Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Book, a Tree and Adolescence

Yesterday I wrote about the loss of a middle school librarian in our town and Tom mentioned it today in his blog along with a wonderful story about Harper Lee's struggle to write To Kill a Mockingbird--if that isn't a middle school book memory nothing is.

I spent every summer of my childhood in Hopkinsville, Kentucky with my grandparents. There was nowhere I would have rather been in the whole world during those years and I can still conjure up the gentle scents and soft southern voices.

The summer between 6th and 7th grade--1971--I spent a lot of time in the notch of a tree in the front yard high above whatever chaos my brother and cousin were hatching. In my leafy hideaway, I ate delicious juicy ripe plums, played with the calico cat that would sometimes join me and read.

I read To Kill a Mockingbird 3 times that summer.

Whether or not that is why I am a lawyer today, I don't really know but I always give Harper Lee the credit.

Hopkinsville in 1971 was not exactly Maycomb, Alabama during the Depression but it wasn't hard to make the leap in my imagination. From my perch in the tree, I could see a lot of people coming and going on the road and the world just beyond my grandparents' home where the folks that worked in the big houses lived.

It would be impossible to choose a favorite part of To Kill a Mockingbird, but one part that I think about almost every day and use in my professional life is where Atticus sets himself up in a chair outside of the jail because he heard that there might be trouble. Scout, Jem and Dill sneak over in the night and see the mob approaching the jail bent on lynching Tom Robinson. Scout runs to her father and faces the mob recognizing one of the men and in her innocent and trusting conversation with him, reminds him and all of the men of who they are.

What are some of the books that shaped you?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Here in the real world

Last night was the school board budget meeting for our district and I went along with C and a few of the other teachers. Times are hard everywhere. It wasn't a pretty sight, seeing the deep cuts in already minimal programs.

The librarian from the middle school was there, I have always liked her. I have often seen her in the community doing things with her daughter, often at the ski mountain and one time in Portland at a Crosby, Stills and Nash concert. When my youngest was at the middle school--not much of a reader but with a budding interest in climbing--she found him a book (which he actually read) about a 15 year old boy who climbed on Mt. Everest. I think that is what librarians are supposed to do--help people discover books as vehicles for the imagination or as tools for discovery. Her job was cut. Times must be very hard for a middle school, whose very population is at a crux where a good book could make all the difference, to cut a librarian.

Gas went up 13 cents a gallon while we were gone and a new property tax estimate increased our property tax by $600 a year--and still it hurts to lose a librarian at the middle school.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


On Saturday morning, we left my parents behind for another week with Brother. C and I caught a ride for the long 3 hours from Villa Alhue to Santiago so that we could explore the city before our nighttime flight back to the United States. At the airport we stored our bags and found a taxi to take us downtown.

Our driver spoke a little English and wanted to practice. He drove around showing us the important sights and asking questions about pronunciations and contractions. Eventually he dropped us off by a statue of Pedro de Valdivia and gave us explicit instructions to call him when we we were ready (he even gave us the pesos for the pay phone) and he would pick us up in that exact spot and take us back to the airport. He repeated those instructions several times and we were planning to follow them to the letter.

We saw many sights including the Presidential Palace and statues of various leaders including Salvador Allende. We enjoyed watching street musicians and performers and walked through a book fair and what we thought might be some sort of recruitment fair for the military.

The city was very exciting and the architecture was old world Europe and beautiful. Finally, though, our feet which had taken us up mountains and across a dance floor and all over the historic district of Santiago started to wear out, so we called our driver and went to the precise spot where he had dropped us off.

While leaning against a building and resting as we waited, I noticed a man on a bicycle in a pink silk outfit--I thought that might be something my daughter would enjoy seeing so I snapped a picture--BIG MISTAKE. He was a street performer--a mime--we don't have those in Dixfield.

He did not need any more encouragement than the click of my camera to come over to where we waited in our precise spot and begin performing.

I think that he realized we were waiting for a taxi so he stopped every one that came by. He was very entertaining even if we did become part of his props. I put my camera away, hoping that without encouragement he would move on--but he didn't. A large crowd gathered--maybe 300 maybe more--who knows. We couldn't walk away because we were to be picked up in that precise spot. I tried my best to melt into the sidewalk but C, who is the best sport in the world, played along and got plenty of applause from the crowd when finally our taxi arrived. C handed the mime some pesos and then the mime opened the front passenger door of the taxi , stood on the edge and wrapped himself in a red, white and blue scarf and saluted the crowd. It was about the funniest thing that I have ever seen.

Home now, only a few snow piles remain on the north side of the house--the kitties, the bunny and the houseplants all survived and tomorrow it's back to the real world. What an adventure it was! Thanks for sharing it with me.

The Fiesta

Brother's bride encouraged a friend of hers to build a venue for celebrations in Villa Alhue--the happy couple provided the start up funds by agreeing to hold their wedding reception there. The construction is sticks woven together, filled in with adobe and covered with cement.

It is a large room with plenty of area for tables and dancing. The last of it was finished the day of the wedding.

The ceiling was made of linen draped and tacked to the rafters. It was a nice effect.

The meal was delicious with grilled chicken and beef and plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit. Brother even had the caterer make southern sweet iced tea to go along with the Chilean wine.

After we ate, we danced to the strong Latin beat from the orchestra. I was self-conscious and concerned about not knowing how to dance in Chile, but C assured me that we should just jump in and do our own thing--we did and had a great time. Brother said "Wow, you two are good--do you dance a lot in Maine?" I thought that was funny because actually we don't ever dance in Maine--we hike, we shovel snow, we watch Jeopardy! and baseball but we don't ever dance.

We never made it to the cake cutting, as we had an early ride to Santiago to start our journey home and Mom and Dad were ready to go back to the guest house but we did manage to kick up our heals until after 1 a.m.--a new record for us.

The Wedding

The wedding was truly beautiful. The church in Villa Alhue is an adobe structure that dates back 300 years to the settlement of the valley for its agricultural resources--long before anyone discovered that the mountains contained a heart of gold.

After the 1985 earthquake, the church was rebuilt.

The wedding mass was entirely in Spanish--Brother had considerately given us a printed version in English but I didn't follow it, preferring to watch and let the beautiful, faintly familiar words flow around me.

Mothers are very important in Spanish society and in the wedding program, Brother's name was written with his surname (our father's name) followed by our mother's maiden name. He was given in marriage by our mother who walked him down the aisle.

It was truly beautiful and I wish them the very best of happiness.

Friday, April 25, 2008


I could live forever on fruit, vegetables and bread and Chile is the right place for all of the above! We have passed acres and acres of plums, avacodos, corn, kiwis, strawberries, wine grapes, table grapes, pomegranate, citrus, tomatoes, olives and probably other things that I didn't even notice.

One delicious dish is creamed corn cooked inside of the corn husk--it is so yummy. Unfortunately, Brother's patience for translation does not seem to extend to recipes so I am not sure what was in it other than corn.

Another dish that I am enjoying is called Chilean Salad and is made of tomatoes and onion--you can't go wrong with that--I imagine that there is more to it than just the tomatoes and onion, but until I find a Chilean cookbook in English I am out of luck.

The bread is baked daily in outdoor adobe ovens. Today while walking around town with my dad we came across a lady making empanadas and she was kind enough to let us watch and take pictures--or at least we think she said we could. We theorized that she made a fire in the oven early in the day and let the adobe get very hot then when the fire was just down to coals she banked the coals around the edges of the oven and put the empanadas in. But Brother wasn't with us and so I'm not real sure about the method--in other words don't try it at home and say "Beth said this would work"

The wedding starts tonight at 8:30 p.m.--the wedding fiesta is afterward and the orchestra is booked until 5 a.m. We're a long way from Dixfield where it's lights out at 9 p.m.

Seeing the Cordillera

After our nearly disastrous hike on Tuesday, we spent a day nursing our wounds and studying Google Earth. Then on Thursday we decided to try again.

The rest of the family was busy figuring out the flowers for the wedding and various other things that confused me so C and I headed back up the mountain using the route that we had discovered on the way down two days earlier.

We started out at 2:30 p.m. and set a turnaround time for 5 p.m. since it is full dark here by 7. By 4:30 we had climbed high enough to see over the Coastal Range and to the mountains of my dreams--the Andes--rising up into the sky like clouds. By 5 we were at the summit and I was the happiest lady in the world.

I can remember once on a car trip when I was a little girl crying as I looked out the window upon realizing that the mountains that I had been looking at were actually clouds--this time they were really mountains and no tears were shed.


While driving back from the coast on Wednesday, we noticed some men beside the road making bricks. Being curious folks by nature, we stopped and learned how bricks are made in Chile (and probably a lot of other places in the world.)

First mud and sawdust are put into this pit and a horse is attached to an implement that stirs the mud The horse walks around and around the pit to distribute the sawdust evenly throughout the mud.

Then the mud is shaped into bricks one by one and stacked to dry. After they air dry, the bricks are stacked in a pyre that is covered with mud and a fire is lit between the brick stacks. The fire is kept burning for four days and then it takes another eight days before they are cool enough to be handled.

This pyre contains 10,000 bricks and while the men keep the fire burning they are also getting the next one ready to be lit while the first one cools.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pablo Neruda

On Wednesday we made our way to Isla Negra and the ocean-front home of the great 20th century poet, Pablo Neruda. Neruda had three homes in Chile. One in Santiago, one in Valparaiso and his favorite one in Isla Negra with its spectacular view of the Pacific coast. The home is now a museum and we were able to get an english speaking tour guide to take us through it.

The home was designed like a ship and the living room contains enormous figureheads salvaged from ships from all over the world. The figureheads are arranged in various locations around the large two story room but they are all oriented toward the sea which is part of the room through the floor to ceiling western windows.

Neruda was a collector and the home contains impressive collections of butterflies, moths and seashells among other things.

In his study there is a desk that he made from the hatch door of a ship. The story is that he was laying in bed and saw it floating out on the surf and told his wife, "Here comes my desk." He went down to the rocks and waited several hours until it made landfall.

Neruda is significantly mentioned in Isabel Allende's 1982 novel, House of Spirits as The Poet. He was renowned for his verses of love and inspiration for political change.

Hiking Villa Alhue

Villa Alhue is surrounded by mountains of the coastal range. On Tuesday, C and I decided to explore and hike up into the one closest to the village. It is a cirque-shaped (kind of wrap around mountain ridge) and our plan was to head up through the center and climb the headwall wherever it looked most feasible.

There was no path, but we followed an animal trail as far as we could. Brother's cocker spaniel followed us. We kept expecting the pup to turn back but he stayed with us through thick and thin.

Eventually the animal trail dwindled and we headed up through increasing steepness using different landmarks for a guide--a rock for a while, or a cluster of brush. The top was always visible because there were no trees. We scrambled up through terrain that we did not want to go down. Our hope was that when we gained the ridge we would find a better way down.

The sun was beating down on us and I was pretty dizzy from the sun and the exertion--but then disaster struck. As we climbed the headwall we entered an area of solid yucca. With no way to get down our only hope was to go up despite the shredding of our skin. For a while it was possible to use the exposed roots for support and only get slightly cut up but eventually we got to a place where the roots had been burned by a lightning strike or something and we could no longer depend on them and had to use our hands and legs on the spiky yucca plants themselves.

We were both dripping blood and on our last bit of strength when Charlie said he saw a tree ahead that was on the ridge. With a tree to give me hope, I focused on that and we made it, collapsing on the top. The oranges in our backpack rejuvenated us enough to really enjoy the spectacular view. We shared our water with the pup that had stayed with us through it all.

As C had hoped, from the top we were able to find a much better route down the mountain. We made our way back to Villa Alhue dirty, bloody but very happy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Villa Alhue

Villa Alhue was destroyed in an earthquake that struck central Chile in March of 1985. Some buildings have been rebuilt using materials salvaged from the old buildings and some were never rebuilt. The evidence of the earthquake is everywhere.

At 3 a.m., we were awoken to the ground trembling. A regular phenomenon here but one that we had never experienced before.

Texican asked about my mama and papa, Here is a picture of them under the grape arbor showing pictures of their world of snow to the family.

The people here are lovely and generous. They have good manners that bridge our language barriers but I wish that I had taken the time to learn more than pleasantries in Spanish so that I could really get to know them.

Today we are heading to Isla Negra on the coast to visit a museum and home of Pablo Neruda.

On the way back from the coast, we hope to stop in San Pedro and see a group from the Untied States who are here to help build a church. I learned of them in a comment from Rondi at May's Day

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Chile -- Day 1

Hola, Friends!
We arrived in Santiago Sunday morning and circumnavigated the Coastal Range until we arrived in the Alhue Valley and the tiny village of Villa Alhue where Brother now lives. His family greeted us with a feast of native dishes which we ate beneath a grape arbor.

After lunch one of the young boys climbed an avacado tree and brought us fresh avacados. Later we climbed up into the hills and they picked fresh pomegranates which we ate as we hiked to a shrine. With Brother being the only one who was bi-lingual, we still managed to all smile and nod and laugh a lot together.

After we walked into the hills, we met again under the grape arbor for more food as the full moon and the Southern Cross lit the skies. Someone produced a guitar and C strummed a few chords until we realized that everyone was saying "Hotel California" then "Eagles" then Creedance, then Elvis. I guess certain words transcend translation. We spent hours singing and clapping to old Rock and Roll.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Look who showed their pretty faces two days after the good husband shoveled the snow from the flower bed.

Next post will be from Chile!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Touching Spring

The snow melt has all the rivers high but not overflowing. This is the Webb River which flows from Webb Lake near Mt. Blue into the Androscoggin River in Dixfield. Webb Lake is often mentioned in books by Bernd Heinrich.

Today I walked to the post office without a coat and in my sneakers. At a house between here and there I saw a lady raking her flower bed from a wheelchair.

It reminded me of another moment in early spring a few years ago when I passed a house and was startled to see a woman half laying, half sitting in her flower bed attached to an oxygen tank and weeding her flower bed.

The desire to be outside and touch spring is powerful.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

It took a month but the snow pile is gone

The picture on the left was taken on March 16 when we despaired of ever finding the flower bed underneath the snow pile.

This afternoon, C shoveled the last of it into the yard to melt.

Pink Eye

I woke up Monday morning with a piercing headache and a feeling like there was a splinter in my left eye. I got up, turned on the coffee pot and tried blinking and rubbing. The pain just got worse and my eye was oozing and not at all attractive. This was not good. My first thought was that it might be some rare kind of eye cancer but my eye hurt too much to even go to the computer to google "eye cancer".

As I sipped the coffee, I remembered pink eye--one of the kids had it once and maybe that was it. This was not a good week to be put on the disabled list. In fact, there isn't even a disabled list for self-employed attorneys who are due in court 4 out of 5 days this week and who have tickets to Chile on Saturday.

Fortunately, my doctor said she could see me and with a hand over my left eye and squinting at the glare of the sun on the snow I drove toward her office in Livermore Falls. The road from Dixfield to Livermore Falls winds along beside the Androscoggin River for about 20 miles. At the big bend in the River called Canton Point there is a large dairy farm called Conant Acres. Conant Acres has large fertile fields where the snow is receding and on this particular day when I was in pain and didn't have my camera, there were hundreds of Canada Geese in the field. It was a beautiful sight even with one eye. Today, I will take my camera with me and detour home by the field and hope that the scene is replicated.

I am starting to see birds other than European Starlings at my feeders. On Saturday there were six Common Grackles looking very majestic and two black and white warblers. Spring is arriving even here in Maine as the birds either come to stay or pass on through to find spring arriving even farther north.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sunday Sunrise

This was Sunday's sunrise over the Dixfield hills. Next Sunday, we will be flying through the sunrise over the Andes as we prepare to land in Santiago.

Brother has bought plane tickets for our parents and for C and me so that we can celebrate his wedding and new life in a small village in central Chile.

When Brother and I were young, there was a map of the world pinned up on the wall by our kitchen table. He and I sat on opposite sides of the table and against the wall. His seat was by South America and mine was near Africa. I wonder if all those childhood years of comfort food coupled with the appealing visual of that 2700 mile tendril of a country contributed to him finding happiness in Chile?

My traveling companions are all seasoned international travelers, I am not. My last foray from North America was an April, 1986 trip to England during which the United States launched an air raid against Libya. That was the beginning of the days of scary air travel. There was a concern about our plane on the return trip and the passengers were taken off for 3 hours as the plane was searched. Our luggage was put on the tarmac and we had to go out and identify each piece. It was a quiet and tense flight. The passengers all applauded when we landed safely in Atlanta.

But that was then.

Brother has arranged for our seats on the plane to be on the side that will show the sun rising over the Andes. We will see Aconcagua. At 22,841 feet Aconcagua is the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas. Have I ever said how much I love mountains?

We will see places that I can barely imagine, places that are now home to the only other person who shares my parents.

Friday, April 11, 2008


One of my first posts was about my daughter, Sara. I just re-read it and cried a little bit. Sara is a senior at The George Washington University and is going into the Peace Corps after she graduates.

When she left Maine for college in August of 2004, it was in my little VW Jetta with me nervously driving through some of the scariest roads in the northeast--talk about taking your life in your hands--she's lucky she even made it to college. That Jetta was really little and the trucks on those roads are really big and go really fast. The drive might have been frightening for us both, but her arrival in Washington, DC was like fitting a hand into a glove--it was just right. She stood on the corner of H and 22nd and held her arms open wide to the city and said, "I'm here!"

Sara loved the school and Washington instantly and her experience has been everything that a parent could hope for a child. She has always been a good thinker and talker, when she was little and my friends would come over to visit me, they would end up spending their time talking to Sara while I kept them all supplied with tea and cookies.

Anyway, a month or so ago, she told me that she was going to audition to be the student speaker at commencement. Commencement at GW is held on the national mall in front of the Capitol with a crowd of over 20,000. I was happy that she was trying and was impressed with the speech that she wrote, but really could a little girl from the mountains of Western Maine who is neither rich nor famous have a chance at such an honor?

The first hurdle was to compete within her college and then the winners from each college would compete. A couple of weeks ago she won for the College of Arts and Sciences. When I was with her last weekend we talked about it a little, but she was very low key--still waters run deep.

Today, she competed against the winners from the other colleges and graduate schools. She called me on her way back from the competition and said that she felt like she had done her best and she was just going to put it out of her mind. She wasn't able to put it out of her mind for long, because within a few hours she received a call saying "Congratulations, you are the student commencement speaker."

So on May 18, 2008 at 10:00 a.m. on the National Mall in the shadow of the Capitol and the Washington Monument, my little Sara is going to stand up and speak for her class. Her speech is incredible and so is she.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Like a brain massage

I never win anything--well that's not exactly true. When I was 19, I won a year's supply of bacon--a pound a week from the grocery store--fortunately, I moved away before I could consume it and lose my girlish figure.

Then one time I won a free coca cola--the bottle cap said "You are a winner!" I kept it on my kitchen window sill for a boost anytime my self esteem bucket was running on empty.

Then a few weeks ago, Bookbabie decided to give away a copy of Remember me by Sophie Kinsella. Somehow the stars must have been smiling down on me, because I won!

It was very generous of Bookbabie. When I picked up my mail just before leaving for Washington last week there was a package waiting for me with the book in it. The delivery was well-timed, I needed an engrossing book to get through the flight. I hate to fly and have often held the hand of a perfect stranger sitting next to me just to get through take off and landing. So far, my random handholding has been taken with a good dose of humor--but it is embarrassing and you never know when my luck might change on that. So, with the book in my lap and reading glasses on my nose, I was able to totally ignore my seat mate and dive into the world of Lexi Smart who wakes up in the hospital and discovers that somehow she has misplaced 3 years of her memory--years in which she apparently had gotten a big promotion, cosmetic dentistry, a handsome and rich husband, collagen implants and a new set of friends.

As Lexi drew the pieces of her new life out of her Louis Vuitton handbag, I couldn't help but feel like she was someone I might have known--she was the kind of girl who might have won a years worth of bacon from the supermarket, kept a winning bottle cap or held the hands of strangers on an airplane--well at least she had been that girl--the woman with the Louis Vuitton bag was someone else altogether--a hard-edged professional who despite the outward appearance of wealth and success had a carb-free lifestyle and was known as the cobra.

The story is highly entertaining--I took off and landed twice while reading and never once had to muffle the urge to scream. I noticed that the book was prominently displayed in the airport gift shops, so maybe it is known for it's calming effect on fearful flyers.

Thank you bookbabie, you are kind and generous and provided me with a wonderful reading experience. In keeping with the blogging tradition with which I got the book, I'm going to pass it on to friend and fellow River Valley Blogger SJ.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Cherry Blossoms and Memorials

For about ten days each April, Washington, DC is pink and frilly enough to be the setting for a debutante ball.

The cherry trees which bloom so sweetly each Spring were a gift from Japan in 1912. The United States reciprocated by giving dogwood trees to the people of Japan in 1915.

While walking around and enjoying the blossoms, we were able to get to several of my favorite monuments.

On this day, someone had left flowers at the Vietnam Women's Memorial.

The facial expressions on the soldiers at the Korean War Memorial are haunting.

It was a wonderful long weekend. My two daughters are students at The George Washington University and took time from studying, socializing and working (not necessarily in that order) to spend time walking around the city with their mom. My son and daughter in law live in Pennsylvania and drove down to spend the weekend with us, too.

We lived in DC when the kids were little, so it was fun exploring with them again--a lot easier now that none of them are in a stroller!

The Korean Memorial and the Vietnam Women's Memorial are two of my favorite memorials but my extra-special #1 favorite is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial--more on that in another post.

But I'll leave you with this, from the FDR memorial.

Friday, April 4, 2008

All I could want

Leaving Dixfield on Thursday afternoon, there was at least two feet of snow on the ground. A little less than two hours later at the airport in Portland, there was almost no snow.

A little less than two hours after that, my plane landed in DC and there were flowers growing.

There were robins and green grass.

And there a daughter climbing a cherry tree in the shadow of the Washington Monument.