The House of Big Salads

On April 28, the Pickwick Club, Maine’s only Charles Dickens reading club, will reconvene to discuss Jenny Hartley’s book Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women.  Perhaps you don’t know a lot about Mr. Dickens, other than the omnipresent A Christmas Carol.  You are not alone.  Suffice it to say, Dickens had a great interest in London’s poor.  His own father spent time in a debtor’s prison.  Whether his interest stemmed from personal experience or the need to produce content (translation:  sell magazines and books) is not clear to me at this point in my study of the author.

But this book, the Hartley book, is poorly written and I’m struggling to make my way through its paltry 250 pages.  It’s not answering my questions of who, what, where, when, why, and how.

I’ve now resorted to reading the book backwards in preparation for the upcoming club meeting.  I wonder if other club members will echo me when I paraphrase Dorothy Parker and say Hartley’s book is not a book “to be tossed aside lightly.  It should be thrown with great force.”

I’ll get through it, the Pickwick Club meeting, and then it’s on to Great Expectations.

One of my friends reminds me that Charles Dickens wrote his books for our enjoyment, “so we would laugh at his ridiculous characters.  We must always consider the context in which he wrote.  This context is reflected in the story and cannot be separated from the story and analyzed as some sort of modern CNN commentary.  Sometimes ‘a banana is just a banana.’”

She signs herself “Sigmund Freud.”

Speaking of tossing books and bananas, another friend is helping me get my food act together.  She stopped in for a visit and then chopped, sliced, tossed, and assembled a week’s worth of salads for me.

It was a wonderful kickstart to spring and it’s kept me from stressful snacking on pretzels and chocolate-covered graham crackers every afternoon as the counting house spins out of control.  So it’s the “House of Big Salads” here and I could not be happier.

Viva La Lettuce!  And kale and broccoli and cauliflower and celery…

Posted in Cooking and Food | Tagged , ,

Keep Digging

This is a schematic of the coal mine located on the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border.  It’s the Enlow Fork Mine.

Here is a video of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. touring the mine.

I toured this mine once, like Dale, Jr. did.  It was amazing.

Life is a coal mine, baby.  Keep digging.

Posted in Just Writing | Tagged ,

Buy the Book!

The book is out.  The talk is done (merci, bon Dieu!)  The roaster is clean (finally) and I have no more things to say in the passive voice.

Now go…buy the book.

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The Jewelry Bag Explosion

On Friday, I went to a photo shoot.  Not for myself, but for this Sunday’s “Easter Bonnet” article.

My friend Gail offered her hat collection as props for my Sun Journal story.  Gail loves hats, she wears hats, and she encourages other women to wear hats.

She also offered Les Troubadours, Lewiston’s French language singers, as hat models.

When I arrived at the photo shoot, Gail and Les Troubadours were there with 20 hats and a whole dressing room full of theatrical props.  There were scarves and gloves; there were extra jackets for color changes.  There were mirrors, make up, and hair spray.  The piece de resistance was a large jewelry bag filled with costume jewelry.  Like a shoe bag you hang on the door, it was a sack of sparkle better than anything Santa baby might bring down the chimney.  Rhinestone pins, chandelier earrings, lacquered bracelets, and so much more.

It was a chaotic scene and the photographer, Andree, was making picture perfect order of it.

Someone made a costume change and then, suddenly, there was jewelry all over the floor.

Gail did not miss a beat and because the show must go on, she calmly pushed all the jewelry into a heap in the corner of the room and said “don’t worry about it.”

The jewelry bag explosion was unsettling to me and I made a few attempts to sort earrings and put them into order.  The whole situation felt like my writing process.  The sentences, the words, and the ideas are like jewelry on the floor.  It is the chaos of a million potentially bright and sparkling things that need to be reined in and put into place.

Today’s blog post will be the penultimate piece of jewelry going into the bag today.  I’m still working on my presentation for today’s talk at L/A College.  A junior high school French teacher helped me write my introduction.  I’ve got 16 of Russ Dillingham’s photographs loaded into my PowerPoint presentation so far.

I’m using this image of Ronald Bosse’s painting in the slide show, too.

Who is Ronald Bosse?  I don’t know.  But maybe he will be at the presentation.

When I told Gail about my response to the jewelry explosion, she shared a secret and some wise counsel with me.

She said “I, like you, live so much of my life like ‘jewelry on the floor…’  But every time, I have to ask God to help me through…I don’t want things to turn chaotic because God is not a god of chaos.”

If you can’t make it to the presentation today, it will begin like this:

Je voudrais remercier Madame Bonneau, la Presidente de la Collection Franco-Americaine, pour m’inviter de vous addressez aujourd’hui.   

C’est une honneure pour moi d’être ici aujourd’hui.

Avant de partager mon histoire de la Basilique de Saint Pierre et Saint Paul avec vous, je voudrais offrir ma gratitude pour trois choses:

Je voudrais remercier le bon Dieu d’avoir eu l’occasion d’etudier et faire recherche de la Basilique.

Je voudrais me souvenir de tous les fideles de la paroisse.

Je tiens à exprimer mon honour et mon appréciation pour mon héritage franco-canadienne et franco-américaine. 

Pour tout ça je suis reconnaissante. 

I might even ad lib a little bit.

Merci, bon Dieu.

Posted in Just Writing | Tagged , ,

Great on Their Shoulders

It is fun to occasionally talk and write about yourself in the third person.  As a literary technique, it has its merits.  The Charles Dickens Dombey and Son character, Major Bagstock, pompously talked about himself in the third person.   Often.

It was glorious and fun to read and Dickens didn’t overdo it.

I’ve tried not to write about myself in the third person at this internet venue.  From time to time, though, I have written press releases about myself in the third person.  After all, I am a freelance writer with no agent; just a speck of dust on the trash heap that is the literary world.

On Wednesday, March 28, I’ll be speaking about the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul at the Franco-American Collection at USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College.  I wrote a press release about it and passed it along to the Collection for their own amendment and distribution.  Being predisposed by work on the presentation and at the counting house, I have no other words to offer up to the content gods today.

Julie-Ann Baumer will discuss her research on the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul on Wednesday, March 28, 2018 as part of Lewiston’s Francophone Month celebrations.

Her talk, “Great on Their Shoulders” will include a historical overview of the Basilica’s construction, its role as a focal point in Lewiston’s Franco American identity, and how the research and writing project she undertook — which appeared as weekly stories in the Sun Journal over a year’s time and will soon be released in book form — affected her personally.

“I always had a sense of being French,” Baumer says. “Maybe it was the distant memory of hearing the language and living in the traditions. But spending so much time at the Basilica and being immersed in 150 years of Lewiston’s French Catholic history increased my reverence for these ancestors who imagined a grand church on that hill. Their sustained vision and perseverance inspired my work as I dug up new information. It was a constant reminder of the importance of history and that we are only great on the shoulders of those who came before us.”

Baumer, a Lisbon Falls native and resident, is a freelance writer and blogger. She also works as an insurance analyst.  She is currently on the Gendron Franco Center’s board of directors, serves on the Moxie Festival Committee, and is involved in other local projects. She is a sustaining member of the Junior League of Boston.

Her talk will be held in Room 170, the Franco-American Collection at U.S.M.’s Lewiston-Auburn College, 51 Westminster Street in Lewiston.

The event is free and open to the public.

Doors open at 2:30 p.m.

Posted in Just Writing

Talking out of My Hat

As predicted in last week’s blog, I got my Dickens copy to the Sun Journal editor on time.  It ran almost as delivered, with just a few editorial improvements.  The finished piece was artfully embellished by senior designer Heather McCarthy’s work.  McCarthy’s additions are like the glaze on a donut hole from the Cookie Jar in Cape Elizabeth.  Just enough sugary sweetness sinks into the fresh fried donut hole, but not enough to rattle the metal fillings in your mouth.  I never see McCarthy’s work until the paper arrives, so it’s always a fun surprise.

I am still reading Claire Tomalin’s biography of the great writer man and I recently ordered Jenny Hartley’s Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women in preparation for the Pickwick Club’s April 28 meeting.  The Pickwickians will discuss the latter book and although I have never been a “book club person,” the reading schedule is manageable and not overwhelming.  What do I have to lose?

Today, I’m chasing another story idea.  It’s due on March 26, a feature or “front” for the Sun Journal’s Sunday “b Section.”  I’ve promised Mogensen something on Easter bonnets.

Since the due date is still 12 days out, the story currently rests in a loose outline in my mind.  I’ve written a letter to my friend Sherry about it.  Another good friend in California found some archival images of Lewiston churchgoers in Easter finery.  I’ve got a line out to the Androscoggin Historical Society, looking for some information about Star Millinery, formerly located at 234 Lisbon Street and Vida’s Hat Shop, location unknown.  My mother is scribbling her recollections.  I’ve found an expert milliner to interview and a local woman who still wears hats.

And here’s an ad for Zelia Robie-Roy, “chapeaux de distinction” formerly located at 173 Lisbon Street.

I love hats.

Not the kind of hats women wear for political demonstrations, virtue signaling, elderly clubbing, or any other type of theatrical presentation.  And no odes to Auntie Mame, either.


In Gotham, the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy hosts the Frederick Law Olmstead Awards, more affectionately called “The Hat Lunch.”  It’s a major fundraiser and everyone wears hats.  Some are campy, but many are breathtakingly beautiful.

You can read more about it here.

We can’t forget the Royals, either, who still wear hats from time to time.

So you see, there’s a lot of ground to turn over in the next 12 days.  Right now, though, it’s time to don an old knit hat and head out to turn over the snow from yesterday’s storm.

Here’s a hat song to enjoy this fine Wednesday.

“Fare thee well, cold winter!”

Posted in Just Writing | Tagged , ,

It’s of No Consequence

If you are an astute blog reader, you have noticed a change in blog content over the past six years.  In my early days of blogging, I chronicled my relocation dream.  I wanted to kick the Hampton Beach sand from my feet, sell my chicken coop-sized condominium, and move home to Maine.  I first settled into an apartment on the outskirts of my Maine town and then into a house right in the middle of it.  Then, I started freelance writing.  My childhood desire to “be a writer” had not diminished, although the realities of “working for pay” consumes the time needed to “write for pay.”

A trifecta of unfortunate circumstances in 2016 caused me to reconsider the blog as a first-person narrative of my life.  I made a conscious decision to write less sentimentally and more factually.  Part of my rationale for this was born of necessity and self-protection; I did not want to process my grief in the public sphere.  Another part of my rationale was a dislike of “I feel” being passed off as “I think” in news, social, and fake media.  It troubled me and so I began to use my blog as a place where I could work out the stories I was writing for publication.

Like this post about a granite quarry in Jay, Maine.

I wrote this while investigating the granite used to build the upper portion of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine.

There is an old canard that “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”  The opportunity to write for the Lewiston Sun Journal was a lucky one for me.  Was I prepared?  It didn’t matter because I was writing for Managing Editor Mark Mogensen, a patient and gifted “boss” who presented me with numerous opportunities to write about interesting topics and then made my submitted sentences better.  I’m grateful he tapped me to work on the paper’s 2017 year-long series about the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, which will soon be published in book form.

When I send content to Mogensen, I use the word BREAK to delineate the place in my content where I am changing direction.  I learned this technique from him.  In the early days of my freelance work, he’d send my stories back for review with slashes and the word BREAK in the places where his sharp editor’s eye divined my thoughts.  I don’t know if this is a technical term from an AP style guide or something from Mogensen’s magic book of copy-editing tricks, but it’s been a great help to me as a writer to know I could end one thought and go to another.  Just like that.

As noted, Mogensen is a patient guy and he’s been unruffled by my lack of production for January and February.  But it’s March now and I need to get some content to my easy-going editor.  I’m working on a story about Auburn’s Pickwick Club.


I pitched my Pickwick Club story idea to editor Mogensen early in February and I started “working it out” here on the blog.

When you read big books in the middle of other life commitments, it requires discipline.  I drank a little extra coffee to get through 35 pages of Dickens a day, but I finished Dombey and Son in 25 days.  I laughed.  I cried.  I loved the characters.  I started dropping Mr. Toot’s line “it’s of no consequence” here and there.  I was sad when I finished, as it had been a welcome distraction from the cares of the present day.  I looked forward to meeting the Pickwickians, albeit anxiously.

As I would learn from attending the meeting on February 24, the Pickwickians love Dickens and talking about all aspects of the great writer’s life and work.  The conversation around the table was energetic and interesting.  There were no hard and fast rules and it was not overly academic, per se.  The modern world did not intrude, except if there was a recent article, book, or event about Dickens.

Not everyone liked Dombey and Son.  One member said it was “a cry fest and a comfort fest.”

As a newcomer, I didn’t make many comments, although I did express my enjoyment of the work.  How can one not feel intellectually stronger after reading a good book?

As of February, 2018, the members of the Maine Pickwick Club have read 14 of Dickens’ 15 major novels since their 2012 founding.  Additionally, they’ve tackled novels by Victorian contemporaries Henry Fielding, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Anthony Trollope.  The group has also covered biographies of Charles Dickens, his wife, and his mistress.

But that’s nothing for the Pickwickians because they all love to read.  Some of them are in other book clubs and participate in reading-themed events like the New England Great Books Spring Retreat and the upcoming Winter Weekend, sponsored by the Maine Humanities Council and hosted by Bowdoin College.

I enjoyed my time among the Pickwickians and was encouraged to buy Charles Dickens:  A Life by Claire Tomalin.  Pickwick Club co-founder Alexis Des Roches also recommends Life of Charles Dickens by his contemporary, John Forster.  As Des Roches says “you can’t beat a bio by someone who actually knew and loved the author, although, of course, he tries to make himself and Dickens look good.”

It was reassuring to know that even Charles Dickens got distracted from the task of writing.  Tomalin’s biography notes that while writing Dombey and Son, “he was still unable to settle to work, disliking his study, unable to find a corner anywhere else in which to write, moving the furniture about, distracting himself by writing letters…”

By the time I post this blog, my content on the Pickwick Club will be sitting on the editor’s desk.  I’m relieved to know, though, that I am in good company when I was walking, reading books, writing letters, and rearranging furniture instead of writing as the deadline loomed.

Posted in Books and Reading | Tagged , , , ,