Sunday, December 20, 2009

'twas the Sunday Before Christmas

While the east coast was paralyzed by the Blizzard of '09, we in Western Maine watched it pass on by without a flurry. To take my mind off worrying about Molly and how she would get home from DC in time for Christmas, I went over to my parents house where every day and every event is a party. Today, the house was full of people who work with my mother at the Buckfield-Sumner Swap Shop. That's a picture of my Dad, isn't he cute?

But, the weekend wasn't just spent partying with the In Crowd, I also took advantage
of some quiet time and followed a link from Jayne's
blog to make the perfect gift for this H1N1
Holiday Season. The directions are here.

It's a different sort of Christmas for me this year. Sara will only be here in spirit and through skype, Ethan is going to Kentucky to visit his wife's family, Archie is going to stay in Pennsylvania and work over the holiday, Molly is stranded in 16 inches of snow in our nation's capital and I am flying out Christmas afternoon for a weekend in Dallas for my sweet niece's wedding.

Here's a special story by a favorite author that made me smile this morning.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Update on Dogs 101

Sorry, folks, I guess we were confused. Atticus will be on Dogs 101 on Saturday night, November 21.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Random thoughts of the day

This morning I went by the courthouse to file a motion and found the hallway full of people waiting for their criminal arraignments. Here's the weird thing. Most of them were kind of old. Lots of long gray ponytails on old men--isn't crime a young man's game? True fact: If you are old enough to have gray hair down to your buttocks, you are old enough to behave yourself.

Later, a stop for tea with my parents. I smiled at the beehives all wrapped up in tar paper to insulate them against the winter cold and imagined the bees cuddled up around the queen telling stories as they nibble on honey comb.

Next stop, the county jail to see a young mother heartbroken and addicted and missing her children. My favorite guard, knowing I would be safe, let us meet in the library rather than the sterile rather icky meeting room with its one-way glass and intercom. I looked at the book collection while waiting for the young woman to be brought in--the books looked worn out and the selection leaned heavily toward thrillers and romances. John Grisham and Danielle Steele and lots of authors that I've never heard of. There was a Bible and a textbook on biology. I think my book donations from now on will be to the jail.

As I was leaving and walking down the stairway to the outside, I wondered why is the stairway railing painted orange like the suits that the prisoners wear? I understand the reasoning for the outfits to be orange--they are easy to spot in case of an escape--but the railings on the stairs aren't going to escape--they are just plain ugly--surely orange paint isn't cheaper than a nice rose color. Who makes these decisions?

Then a trip to another town to watch a 2 year old visit with his mom for the first time in 8 months. He reached for a toy lion and put it on top of a doll house and I wanted to tell him a fun fact that I learned last night while reading Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Delia Owens. Under the right atmospheric conditions--when the desert is at its highest relative humidity between 4:30 a.m. and just after dawn--a lion's roar can be heard for 8 miles. The book says that "To roar, a lion draws air deep into its chest, tightens its abdomen with great force to compress the air, and then releases it through its vocal cords, the sound erupting from the throat with such energy that it carries great distances." I didn't tell the 2 year old all that, I just let him play with his mom. But, maybe, there was a roar, there was definitely a tightening in my chest.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A special episode

In February, I wrote about Tom and Atticus being filmed by a crew from Animal Planet for an episode on Dogs 101. The episode originally aired in October and was super duper good. Their segment was the last in the show and the producers gave lots of teasers throughout to increase the anticipation.

The episode will be repeated this Friday, November 20 at 8 and 11 p.m. and my advice--bring some kleenex and a cuddly pet with you to the couch.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rejuvenation and reminder

A month or so ago one of daughter Sara's good friends e-mailed her in Macedonia and said that she was weary of her city life and needed a nature break--did Sara think that her mother (that would be me) would let her come to Maine for a visit? Sara sent me the reply email which said "Are you kidding, of course she would!" So, it was set--Louise and a friend of hers (coincidentally named Sarah) would fly up to Maine from their busy lives in Washington, DC for Halloween weekend. The excitement of the weekend began when I met their plane in Portland late Thursday night and we noticed that Senator Olympia Snowe had been on their plane. I guess she needed a nature break, too.

One of our first stops on our nature tour was my favorite tree. Since my last posting on the tree, it has been determined to be the second largest white pine in the state of Maine. If I was more competitive that #1 tree should be in serious trouble. After hiking all over the woods checking the beaver dam and the beehives, we went back to my parents' house and had a lovely dinner where my parents fell hook, line and sinker in love with these two girls.

On Saturday, we drove up into the mountains and hiked out to Angel Falls. Angels Falls is a startlingly beautiful waterfall that is really hard to get to. The path to the falls starts 3.5 miles down the Bemis Track which is sometimes navigable by vehicle, sometimes not. We hit it lucky--there had recently been some logging along the track so it had been stabilized for the first 3 miles. After that, we were on our own and the last 1/2 mile was scary. But we made it to the trailhead and then hiked into the falls crossing the river once and then a stream once, twice, three times then navigated our way around a big boulder and there it was. Surprise!

Halloween night in between passing out candy to every little kid in the River Valley, the girls discovered Molly and Archie's craft box and the sounds of their soft voices in front of the fire as they created cute little crafts made my heart absolutely grow three sizes.

On Sunday morning, we headed off to the coast. There were no big storms out to sea and it was low tide so the waves were not impressive, but the setting was beautiful. Sarah looked out to sea, I watched birds on a nearby island with my binoculars and Louise sketched.

After a final stop at L. L. Bean on the way to the airport, we said our good-byes and went back to our lives--all touched by the weekend. Louise and Sarah said that their souls were rejuvenated by being immersed in nature, by being with a family, by having their senses touched with laughing trick or treaters and soft kitties and a warm fire but my soul was rejuvenated because once again I realized that this generation of young people, just coming into their own, is really spectacular. The future is in very good hands.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hip Hopping at the Grocery

On Sunday afternoons, I usually head to the grocery store to stock up on yogurt, skim milk and whole grain bread for the week. That is the giant yawn that has become my life here at 50 with children flown from the nest. Shopping these days is not nearly as colorful or tasty as it was back in the day when the cart was piled full with double-stuff oreos, fruit roll ups and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Until today, though, the most excitement that I had experienced at our local Hannaford was when a daughter who should remain nameless (but linked) was home for a few weeks in between college and the Peace Corps and was bemoaning the lack of social life in her home town. As we pushed our cart into the local grocery store where everybody knows your name, we noticed an older man and a younger man pushing a cart just ahead of us. We did not know these people and more importantly to daughter--the young man was quite handsome. I will admit that we did an admirable job of stalking them that day in the grocery store discerning all sorts of things about their lives from the items that they selected. Daughter and I still talk about that--she'll say, "remember the time that we saw a good looking guy at Hannaford?"

But today, as I mindlessly walked up and down the aisles looking for low unit prices and no transfat, I noticed that my step was a little bouncier, my shoulders were a little straighter, and a smile was on my face. About that time, I realized that music was loudly playing over the PA system. The next thing I knew a youngish looking good old boy on the pickle aisle caught my eye and boogied a bit as he karaokied to Play that Funky Music White Boy. So, a note to all of my male readers in the 20 to 35 age range (I know you are out there) any time that you get an opportunity to dance to Wild Cherry with a 50 year old woman in the aisles of the local grocery store--you really should do it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Grab bag

Is there a statute of limitations on stuff your kids friends have left at your house?

Would you say that if a friend of a daughter left a bag almost six years ago then the bag is up for grabs? Me too. So after six years of lusting for this bag as it hung on a peg in my hallway, I threw caution, patience and good manners to the wind and claimed it as my nature bag. It has pockets for guide books and binoculars and a big pouch for the camera and room for a water bottle on the side--I am OUTFITTED.

So with my new bag, I went off into the woods to see what I could see.

I found some British Soldier Lichen along the path and something that I believe is a lichen but that I have not been able to identify. Ideas welcome.

My mom felt up to walking with me and we made it down to the river. We found a few trees that looked like the beavers had recently been at work but nothing like the activity that we saw last fall and they have not repaired the dam. Their two lodges are still in the river, but do not have any noticeable fresh improvements. So, I don't know what to think about the beavers--the ice will be in soon but I'll keep checking over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Where Have All the People Gone?

This morning walking to the Post Office I noticed an entire street full of empty houses. Walking along and counting I noticed that of the first ten houses that I passed, eight were empty. What is going on? Where are people going?

Scary times.

Addendum: So, about 5 minutes after I hit publish on this, there was a knock on the door. A nice lady and her husband who are buying the empty house next door. Would I do the closing? Of course! Work and a neighbor all in one day! Brighter days ahead?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Shuffle Songs

It's a Sunday of nesting activities--cleaning the house and working on a baby blanket to send to a new mother in Estonia who translated for us and made us feel welcome when we visited in August.

I love days like this with no demands.

To set the mood, I set my ipod to shuffle songs and turned it up loud enough to function as my personal soundtrack. The random shuffle had gone through Pachabel's Cannon in D, Muleskinner Blues, Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy and Alan Jackson's version of The Old Rugged Cross--in the time it took me to do a load of laundry. As Welcome to the 60's from Hairspray began, it occurred to me that I really like every song on my ipod but there is probably not another list exactly like it. Our ipod lists are like snowflakes or fingerprints--unique--just like us!

Many years ago, I stayed up late talking to the man who owned a bed & breakfast that I was staying in in Wales. As we traded thoughts into the wee hours, he said something so profound that I think of it every day. It's all part of the tapestry of life.

Yes, indeed.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Tippy Tops of New Hampshire

On Saturday, we hiked the Signal Ridge Trail to the top of 4700 foot Mt. Carrigain for my final New Hampshire 4000 footer climb.

I read a lot of mountain climbing books and blogs and it occurs to me that 4000 foot tall mountains aren't really that tall--Colorado climbers have their 14,000 foot club and Europeans have the Alps and don't even get me started on the Himalyas--but for we New Englanders who hit the trail near sea level, 4000 feet is the best we can do and doggone it, our trails are plenty hard enough for middle-aged weekend warriors like me! So yesterday on a picture perfect September day, we climbed up Mt. Carrigain. From the observation tower at the summit we could see 43 of the 48 peaks and we named them and remembered the climbs to reach their tops.

Ethan came up from Pennsylvania to share the hike. Charlie's sons Caleb and Jacob joined us, too. Net result of so much testosterone--I did not have to carry a backpack!

We ate our sandwiches on the summit and as we ate, I pointed out a beautiful gray jay keeping watch from a nearby spruce. He was so pretty and just weeks away from a long, long winter--so I gave in to temptation and shared a corner of my peanut butter and jelly with him.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Today, Carrigain

Today is the day to finish climbing the 48 New Hampshire 4000 footers. Caleb is driving up from Massachusetts to meet us at the trailhead, Ethan is here from Pennsylvania and Charlie will be at my side as we hike Mt. Carrigain.

See you at the top.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Scales of Justice

One morning last winter, our morning news reported a man dead after a train hit a car on the railroad tracks in the wee hours of the morning in a nearby town. At first blush, that sounded unfortunate but not out of the realm of sad but ordinary. As details emerged, it became clear that it was anything but ordinary. The car was down the tracks away from the crossing. More details--the train was only going 25 miles per hour and the man in the car had died from injuries unrelated to the train crash. Oh dear, this began to sound grisley--more like Law & Order than the bucolic life in the mountains.

A young man was arrested on circumstantial evidence.

One of my friends took the case as the defense attorney and yesterday the young man was acquitted after a week long trial.

There are lots of feelings in the community when something like that happens and I would not presume to characterize or minimize all of the emotions, but I am very proud of my friend. He protected his client and he protected the Constitution and he held the State to its burden of proof.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mountain Trails

So, I turned 50.

It happens.

Others have done it and lived to tell the tale. Maybe it's no big deal, maybe it is--I guess that's something I'll have to think about. But whatever it is, it is a round number and round numbers provide an opportunity for sizing things up. So, size it up I will and I think it's ok. Life is full and beautiful and everything that my young self would have hoped for. No regrets.

But enough about age, let's go hiking.

After a miserable New England summer full of rain and cold temperatures, fall is turning out to be pretty darn perfect.

At one point, early in the season before the rain and before the super duper vacation, I had thought that maybe I would finish climbing all of the New England 4000 footers by the time I turned 50. That plan was de-railed by early July but I kept hiking whenever good weather and opportunity collided.

The hike to Bondcliff Mountain in New Hampshire was the one that I had the most trouble visualizing. There is no easy way to get to Bondcliff--it is in the middle of the Pemigewasset Wilderness and requires a long hike into the wilderness just to get to the mountain trail.

We finally settled on heading into the Wilderness on a Saturday afternoon with a tent and sleeping bags and camping 5 or 6 miles in, leaving our gear in the woods and summiting on Sunday with just day packs then returning to our big packs and hiking out Sunday afternoon. The plan worked like a charm--mainly because Charlie didn't mind carrying all the heavy stuff. Anyway, we hiked in and put our tent up in the woods off the trail, ate supper, went to sleep and woke up to head up the mountain that I had dreamed of the most.

When I first started hiking the mountains, I read every book that I could get my hands on and invariably the authors would talk about Bondcliff. It was at the top of almost everyone's list of favorite mountains and its inaccessibility added to its allure. So for the last four years, I have been wondering how and when I would experience it--the conditions had to be perfect for this most anticipated of mountains and on our weekend, they were. It was just incredible--like being on an island in the middle of a sea of mountains. A flat topped mountain with sheer cliffs dropping into the Pemigewasset.

We spent time on the top taking pictures of the views and each other then we hiked out retriving our heavy gear along the way. With Bondcliff under my belt I only have one more New Hampshire 4000 footer on the list. There are still more in Vermont and Maine to check off but I should complete the 48 peaks in New Hampshire this month.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sweden with Sara

Sara and I actually hatched the plot for this vacation in an early Sunday morning google chat conversation several months ago. We desperately wanted to see one another and she felt that she could use a restful respite outside of her peace corps posting. Charlie had expressed interest in the Baltics to follow his ancestry and shortly after I woke him up that Sunday morning with my jotted notes of prices, times and possibilities, it was a done deal.

So, the first week was spent in an incredible journey through art history and cultural history in Latvia and Estonia and then we flew from Riga to Stockholm. As we exited through customs, there was an adorable little American girl with a backpack, a sweet smile and a sign that said MOM. There is no picture because I was flying into her arms.

On the internet, we had found a little inn on the banks of Lake Siljan about 3 hours north and west of Stockholm called the Klockargarden. In our rented Volvo (oh yes, a Volvo--how can you not love Sweden?) we made our way out to the Swedish countryside. Charlie drove while Sara told us all about Macedonia and her experiences. We arrived at our destination just in time for dinner at the Inn. Reindeer! Yes, we ate reindeer! It was delicious and didn't taste anything like chicken. I could eat reindeer every day. Oh I love Sweden.

The Inn was just what we had hoped for. Everything was beautiful, restful and comfortable. Just the place for three people to spend time saying a year's worth of words to each other.

We spent 3 delicious, happy days in the Swedish countryside before heading back to the airport in Stockholm for one last night--and it was a doozy! Sara had found our accommodations for us. It was called the Jumbo Hostel and was located at the airport and was inexpensive and was inside a jumbo jet--yes, you heard right--a jumbo jet. I expect to post more about that some day when I am short on material.

After stowing our belongings in our overhead compartment, Charlie settled down to listen to a baseball game on the internet and Sara and I took a bus into Stockholm for one last mother-daughter evening until the next one.

The next morning, we flew off in our different directions--tears were easy for me as we headed back across the Atlantic but my ears are still full of her stories and laughter to get me through.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Last Days in the Baltics

Over the weekend we took our rental car and a good map of the Baltics and went off to see two churches that had paintings by Johann Maddaus over their altars.

The first church was in north central Latvia in a town called Tirza. Charlie had e-mailed with the pastor and he had invited us to their Saturday evening bible study. We attended and were treated like celebrities.

Charlie was asked to talk about himself and his great-grandfather which he did as we sat in a group with the pastor translating. I noticed an inchworm making its way across Charlie's lap as he spoke and gently removed it to my hand. During the bible study of I Corinthians which was entirely in Latvian, I tried to keep my inchworm within the confines of the cover of the Book of Common Prayer--it gave me something to do.

After the bible study, we went into the sanctuary and knelt before the altar for communion. Then, we did what must be universal--coffee and treats put out by the ladies of the church. We heard more stories through translation of the horrors of the Soviet Times. This church was spared the fate of being turned into a factory because the Soviet administrator in their district was kind but the church was used to store fertilizer. What I understood was that the Soviets did not actually close the churches, they taxed them at an extremely high rate and when the taxes could not be paid the churches became the property of the State. Bible study could only legally be conducted in churches and they were closely monitored by KGB. This pastor said that after he first attended church he was no longer allowed to travel.

After the lovely Saturday evening service, we drove up into Estonia for a Sunday service at a church in Paistu where there was another altar painting and another group of believers who have lived through times that I cannot even imagine.

This marked the end of our art tour and our reservation that night was in Otipaa, Estonia, which is the location of a World Cup race in Nordic skiing. We stayed in a guest house that used to be the old Soviet athlete dormitories--can you say ugly? But, it was definitely another experience to add to the mix.

Now, we are back in Riga, Latvia and heading to the airport soon for our flight to Stockholm where my beautiful daughter will meet our plane. She flew in last night and stayed in a hostel at the airport--we will all hop into a rental car and drive to Lake Siljan for a few days of relaxation, conversation and hugging. I can't wait.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

White Storks in the Baltic

This trip has not just been all about visting churches and un-earthing old art--there have been WHITE STORKS everywhere!

Estonia, where we are today, is the northern reach of their breeding area. They are beautiful birds with enormous wingspans. They weigh up to 10 pounds, are about 3-1/2 feet tall and have wing spans that reach almost 8 feet.

Apparently, they bring good luck and seem very sociable, nesting near farm houses.

I got too close to this one and he took flight--I'll spare you the pictures of the struggle to get his 10 pound body off the ground, but once it was off the ground, it was grace all the way.

Soon, I saw him again perched on top of the highest, biggest, sturdiest nest that I have ever seen.

This and that

After staying in downtown Riga for a couple of nights, we rented a car and moved out into the suburbs to a hotel that we found on called Mezaparks. It was located right on a beautiful lake. An added bonus that was not mentioned in the information was that it was on the site of the Latvian Olympic Committee grounds. It looked like much of the construction on the facilities had ceased when the economy tanked--there were half-finished dormitories and buildings and the fields were not in the best shape but I saw enough to have me rooting for Latvian athletes at the next Olympics.

Once we checked into the Mezaparks hotel, we drove south to Rundale Palace near the Lithuania border to see an exhibit of 19th centuries portraits. The curator at the art museum had told us that one of Johann Maddaus' paintings from the museum had been loaned to the exhibit. So we drove down expecting to see one portrait and were surprised to find five! While not an art historian, I am self-employed and can imagine that perhaps portrait painting was dependable, steady income.

We toured the rest of the palace and were impressed with the opulent life style of the Russian and German nobility who used the palace prior to the 20th century. I did not find any information on how it survived the years of occupation.

The next night was Riga fest with music and art in all of the plazas. We had spent the day visiting churches and learning about the struggle for freedom and the cost of occupation but set out in the evening to experience the joy of freedom Baltic style.

At 10 p.m. (way past our Maine bedtime), Charlie joined 4000 runners in a 4.5K race through downtown Riga. What fun this all is!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Churches into Factories

This morning a Lutheran pastor who Charlie had corresponded with came and met us at our hotel to take us to see the site of a church that had one of Johann Maddaus' paintings on its alter. Foreshadowing: note the word had in the previous sentence.

He pointed out a little church in the woods as we drove past it and told us that in 1987, when he was a teenager, he read an article in Soviet Youth magazine about the pastor of this church who knew karate. He indicated that while the article was meant to ridicule the man and his congregation, he was intrigued and set out to visit the church. At that time in Latvia (what the Latvians refer to as Soviet Times) there were few churches and the ones that existed were full of KGB. Only four years later, freedom flowed through his country and they were all free to worship and to speak without fear. This pastor told us that he and many other of the current Latvian Lutheran pastors came out of that congregation.

Today, this man pastors two churches. One that has been restored from its days serving as a factory for the Soviets and the other which has not yet been restored but where services are held twice a month. It is this un-restored church where we believe one of Charlie's great-grandfather's paintings was over the altar. Whether it is in storage with some of the other artifacts saved from churches before they were turned into factories, we were not entirely clear about. I hope so.

Churches into factories
Cemetaries into roads
The systematic destruction of a culture.

Here today, even with the hardships of the difficult economic climate you can feel the energy of a culture pulling things out of the attic and digging their memories out of storage.