Early Autumn

On a day like today, it would be too easy to say my two favorite words in the English language are “early autumn.”  In the disquieting world of social media, this type of dramatic hyperbole abounds.  Nevertheless, after a few weeks of cool and rainy days, we are in the midst of riotous tree color and summer-like temperatures.  I slept with all the windows open last night.  It was lovely.

It was early autumn.

There is a certain excitement to this time of year and I’m sure I’ve blogged about it before.  It’s hard to describe, but I felt it last week when I went to my old office in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for a work event.  I shed a little tear of happiness and gratitude as I waited for the Memorial Bridge to reopen after a barge passed through.  I’d stopped at The Beach Pea in Kittery for a box of cookies for my co-worker friends and seeing the new bridge in action was fascinating; it gave me a moment to pause in my anticipation of the work visit.

Woody Herman captured what I’m trying to explain perfectly in 1949.  Can you hear it?

Let’s push thoughts of window washing, snowblowers, and winter woolens aside for today and rest in the early autumn vibe, shall we?

The morning glories haven’t given up yet.  Hail early autumn!

Posted in Weather and Seasons | Tagged ,

The Social Season

David Patrick Columbia, the founder and editor of the New York Social Diary, mused last Friday that September is the “transition month to autumn with New Yorkers getting out again.”  He also mentioned today on his blog that his apartment was “already dark except for my desk lamp” at 7:00 p.m. last night.  These slight variations of light and dark and the transition to early autumn are omnipresent here in Maine too.

That small bit of red caught my eye early Sunday morning and stopped me.  The iPhone camera doesn’t do it justice.

Like Manhattan, Maine experiences a sort of “social season” as the temperature declines.  Summer’s many outdoor spectacles transition from beach and deck to restaurants and performance centers.

At the Gendron Franco Center, the Midcoast Symphony will perform their first concert of the 2018 – 2019 season on Saturday, October 20, at 7:00 p.m.  This program will feature French composers of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, including Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.  Tickets are $20.

If classical music is not your cup of tea, you might enjoy Fiddle-icious, also at the Gendron Franco Center on Sunday, October 28, at 2:00 p.mm.  This “orchestra” of fiddlers, join together en masse and play “traditional tunes, dances, and songs passed down from our Scottish, Irish, Québécois, and Acadian ancestors.”  Tickets for this event are $18.

There are many more things happening in October, but these two caught my eye.

I’ve recently had two delicious dinners at a new restaurant in town, Flux.  I’ve interviewed the chef and owner, Jason LaVerdiere, and I’ll be writing a food article for the Lewiston Sun Journal in the next few weeks.  The restaurant was recently reviewed by Portland Press Herald food critic Andrew Ross.

I am not a food critic.  I eat almost the same meals every day, unless I go to a restaurant.  Sometimes I cook for others.  When I do, I think “relatively simple” and “easy to prepare.”  I recently learned that you can buy pre-cooked organic brown rice at Trader Joe’s, so perhaps I am still far behind the curve when it comes to easy preparation.

All this to say, I should have walked down to Flux earlier this year.  They opened in April and here it is October and I’m just now getting a fork on LaVerdiere’s Steak Frites, Korean Cauliflower, and Crispy Chicken Sandwich.  (Andrew Ross thought there was too much house sauerkraut on the sandwich, but I disagree.)

LaVerdiere and I talked about restaurants, food, and life for over an hour a few weeks ago.  Business has been pretty steady, he said, even though he and his brother are only six months into their venture.   I’m still writing my article in my head right now.  I’ll let you know when it’s published.

Posted in Cooking and Food, Weather and Seasons | Tagged , , , ,

Publication Promised

If you are at all familiar with Catholic saints, their veneration and iconography, you know that St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes.  Under the influence, in part, of the Dominicans, devotion to St. Jude spread to the United States in the 1920’s.  Part of this devotion included the ancient tradition of praying a novena.  A novena is a prayer repeated daily for a period of time.  A novena to St. Jude, for instance, may last nine days or nine weeks.

Some say a novena to St. Jude “has never been known to fail.”

Part of the St. Jude novena agreement is that those praying it publish their results when a prayer is answered.

For instance, a local newspaper might have a small boxed item titled “Thanksgiving Novena to St. Jude” that gives the prayer and then a line that says “I have had my request granted.”

Intercessory prayer is problematic for me.  If we have direct access to God, why would I want to add an intermediary, or prayer broker?

Nevertheless, desperate times called for desperate prayer.  A friend of mine was in trouble and I cared about resolving my friend’s problem.  One day I found a newspaper clipping in my Bible, similar to what I described earlier.  I began praying to God via St. Jude.

I found comfort in a section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Edition, a gift from philosopher At Your Service) called “Guides for Prayer.”  The subheading read “a cloud of witnesses,” which is a reference one of my favorite verses, Hebrews 12:1.  This verse begins “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…”  I might also add that Dorothy Sayers 1926 novel, Clouds of Witnesses, is a fantastic mystery.  But I digress.

The Catechism says, regarding prayer to the saints, “Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan.  We can and should ask them to intercede for us and the whole world.”

I rest my case.  I have had my request granted.

In other news, the Moxie Festival Committee met on Thursday, September 20.  This kickoff meeting was well-attended and there was a lot of energy around selecting a theme.  It is an incredible theme, if I may say so myself.

“Moxie Goes Artsy.”

I’ve already changed my phone screen saver.

And yes, that is a text from St. Helen of Immaculata.  She has an Ipad now and we text each other.  She is making steady progress, being 80 and not concerned about the fast pace of information and I’m really proud of her and glad she has embraced emojis.

She does not like it when I call her St. Helen, what with her not being canonized.  But we are talking of saintly things today.


Posted in You've Got Moxie! | Tagged , , ,

An Altercation on Pleasant Street

From this blog’s 2012 beginnings, I’ve used “Pleasant Street” as a metaphor for places of peace and serenity.  I wove this metaphor into my personal quest to move home and live life on my own terms in this small place.  It’s hard to believe I’ve now lived here in this town for more than five years.  Just the other day I found a copy of the lease I signed on August 17, 2013 when I moved into Rick and Gina Mason’s apartment on the Mason family compound.  It’s filed right next to a Blethen Street house document that begins “KNOW ALL MEN by these present,” and a deed to two acres of land in Topsham that I consider my piece of “The Farm.”  These are human accomplishments, the products of providence and hard work.

My personal quest has been difficult and as I’ve reflected on this chapter in my life, I’ve decided the past five years have sucked.  Whether it was the know-it-alls, the do-nothings, the wizened prevaricators, the convicted felons, the liars, the trolls, or the quislings who I allowed to interfere, God only knows.

Yes, I’ve chosen my words carefully.  Very carefully.

This general discontent reached a crescendo on July 28, 2018.  The following morning, I sat in a small upholstered chair in my personal office, my Bible open on my lap.  Someone suggested I read five Psalms every day; I began there.  I found a small book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer about Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible.  This book appeared in 1940 and was the last of Bonhoeffer’s books published in his lifetime.  He died on April 9, 1945, considered a spy and traitor to the Third Reich.

Every morning since that day I’ve sat in my chair.  Every day.  My alarm goes off at 4:00 a.m. and I put on my robe and climb the stairs.  Bonhoeffer’s book includes a tiny chapter called, “The Blessing of Morning Prayer.”  The priest’s carefully chosen words are powerful and they resonated with me.

“The entire day receives order and discipline when it acquires unity.  This unity must be sought and found in morning prayer.  It is confirmed in work.  The morning prayer determines the day…The powers to work take hold, therefore, at the place where we have prayed to God.  He wants to give us today the power which we need for our work.”

Bonhoeffer’s words, in the midst of sacred readings and meditation, sustained me these last two months.   Things are looking up.

Ironically, I had an unpleasant altercation Sunday morning on Pleasant Street.

As I have done for the last 15 or so years, I planted a row of sunflowers in Uncle Bob’s garden.  This year they were mammoth in every sense of the word.  But their giant seedy heads were drooping and it was time for them to go.  With an old four-tined digging fork, I loosened the roots.  I pulled them up and piled them near the road.  When I was halfway through, one of Uncle Bob’s cronies walked by on his way to nowhere.  I waved “hello” and kept digging.  Unfortunately, he stopped to address me.

“I know he’d never say anything, but Bob is not strong enough to dig up those sunflowers.”

Knowing many, many things about my uncle, including his medical and financial histories, I found it ludicrous that this gnome of a man should say such a thing about my beloved Bob.  My blood pressure quickly elevated.

“Do you see what I’m doing?” I asked the gnome, pointing to the uprooted sunflowers lined up like a cord of wood.

“I’m just saying,” he said, “that he’s not strong enough to dig them up.”

I did not know what this little man’s true intentions were in speaking these words.  I knew him to be a general know-it-all.  He was also a fortunate beneficiary of Uncle Bob’s kindness and generosity.  I looked at him and said “Why don’t you mind your own business.”

He sputtered gnome-like in a way only Gina Mason could appreciate were she still alive to receive my post-altercation string of texts.

Then I looked him square in the face and said “I have nothing more to say to you” and I stuck the four-tined digging fork once again into the earth.

He turned and walked on.

Twenty minutes later, there were four sunflowers left standing and Uncle Bob came around the corner with his work gloves on.  I gave him an abbreviated version of the altercation and said “you’d better not help me.  You’re too weak.”

He laughed and said something akin to “the gnome is crazy.  Everyone knows that.”

We finished pulling those sunflowers and I made sure Uncle Bob did not exert himself.  We loaded them into his truck and brought them to my house where they are now resting in peace in the gully-like area Uncle Bob once tumbled.

Bonhoeffer was right.  God gives us the power we need for our work.

Posted in Garden Chic | Tagged ,

Smoke on the Water

I searched in vain this morning, looking for a picture of my father and me paddling in the now-defunct “Chief Worumbo Androscoggin River Race.”  The year eludes me; maybe it was 2003.  Uncle Bob put our aluminum canoe in his truck bed and brought us to the Durham boat launch.  Faye Brown organized and coordinated the race; she checked us in.  The race was called “Smoke on the Water.”

Someone had set up a cassette player with Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” blasting in a continuous, albeit scratchy, loop.

Hermie and I were oblivious to the lyrics of this 1972 classic rock and roll flame thrower.  Even today, though, when I hear the intro guitar riff, I think of that day at the boat launch.

What I remember most and best was the time we spent waiting for the starting gun to go off.  Lawrence Barron and his daughter Jane were in a speedy canoe, a few yards ahead of us, treading water.  A contemporary of my father, Larry was an athletic man well into his 70’s.  He died just this year at the age of 89.

He and Jane ended up finishing the race before us, smoking us by three minutes.

Stalled alongside our canoe was also Bob Strout and his son Ryan.  Bob called my father “Hermie” and asked how he was doing.  They talked about work and Bob’s father, Sherwood.  Then the five-minute blast sounded and we prepared to paddle.

This Sunday, the Sun Journal published my article about Bob and Aline Strout and the Lisbon Village Schoolhouse Restoration project.  I am pleased with the story and although there is one tiny typographical error (found after publication by my high school English teacher, Merton Ricker), the article accurately portrayed Bob and Aline Strout.  The article was much-shared via Facebook and the Sun Journal editor told me it was the top-read story on the paper’s website on Sunday, better than any other story in the paper that day.

I’m glad, for Bob and Aline’s sake.  And I loved the time spent researching the building.  It was like the Basilica, except more familiar and cozier.

The headline of the story was Bob’s quote “It’s still here for a reason.”  That was perfect, given Bob’s love of history and preserving the past.

You can read it here.

I have not had much time to think about the story or to contemplate what I might write about next.  As the lyrics to the Deep Purple song say, “Swiss time was running out…” and it’s time to face the business of the day.  There are trolls to confront, things to do, and projects to complete.

Congratulations to Bob and Aline Strout, for doing the heavy lifting of preserving a piece of Lisbon’s history.

Posted in Home | Tagged ,

The Counting of Days

I’ve been calendar-focused these last few months, with many deadlines and personal red-letter days interwoven with the weather and seasons of life.  Additionally, I’ve been studying last year’s calendar, confirming that it’s been a year since I got my last text from Gina Mason.

It was the Tuesday after Labor Day, September 5, 2017 at 5:18 p.m.  It was simple; she asked me to “please RSVP to me if they are, please.”  She was asking me to RSVP for my parents about her son Garrett’s campaign kickoff event.  I did not respond until 6:11 p.m.  I do not know the exact time of her death.  I do not know if she read my text in the earthly realm.

Last night, the Tuesday after Labor Day, at about 5:45 p.m. I was westward bound for a Council meeting at the Lisbon Town Hall.  The topic?  The Moxie Festival.  It was a “workshop” to discuss the general finances and administration of the event, determine if there were efficiencies that could be accomplished, and affirm the mission and direction of the festival work.  It was a good meeting and it was well-attended.  At the end of the meeting, Rick Mason spoke briefly and eloquently.  He said the most important element of the Festival was it’s “hometown spirit.”

I couldn’t have agreed more.  And I’m glad it was Rick Mason who spoke those words and reminded everyone in the room of his late wife’s passion and vision for our town.

How easy it is to forget the basics in the counting of days.  We busy ourselves, we rush here and there.  We text, we talk.  I do not know how much we actually accomplish.

Gina Mason’s obituary is in my Bible and I look at it almost every day.  I have learned a great many things in this last year without Gina.  I was invited and welcomed into the Mason family’s grief.  I have learned many things from observing their sorrow, grace, and endurance.  And mostly their faith.

Last year, on the day of Gina’s funeral, my “Heavenly Blue” morning glories finally bloomed.

This year, I celebrate my friend with a white morning glory.  I’ve seen only one so far.

“Grandpa Ott” has overpowered the morning glory spots this season, but graciously made room for this beautiful flower.  It resembles the moonflower in color, but has no fragrance.  It’s smaller than a moonflower, too.

Onward, to “run with endurance the race set before” me.

Posted in Weather and Seasons, You've Got Moxie! | Tagged

Horrible, Horrible, Horrible

I’m not a mathematician, but if I were familiar with analytics and algorithms, I would research what question people ask most often.  Crap, I could probably just Google it and get a reasonable answer.  I’d also get a list of crappy blogs that are actually research engines to drop cookies and find out what I’m doing on the internet.  Fake news…I think that’s what it’s called.  Paul Little, in the classic Christian apologetic book writes “the question as to why God allows suffering and evil is one of the most pressing of our time.  More pressing than the question of miracles, or science and the Bible, is the poignant problem of why innocent people suffer, why babies are born blind or why a promising life is snuffed out as it is on the rise.”

Being familiar with grief, I’ve heard a similar question.  “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  I will not be able to answer that question today, next week, or perhaps ever on this blog.  I am not a theologian.  But I think about this question daily and when horrible things happen to me personally and to those I love, I wonder why.  Then I walk out into my garden and look at a beautiful sunflower.  I think about an expression repeated many times in Scripture.  “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Speaking of horrible, I’ve had some gnats here in the house over the last few days.  What attracted them?  This problem has puzzled me and providentially, I found the source this morning.  An old can of Italian cut beans had given up the ghost in cupboard.  A thin layer of bean juice seeped from the can.   Who knew gnats liked Italian cut beans?  I cleaned it up and vowed I’d investigate all my canned goods this Labor Day weekend.

I do not know why bad and horrible things happen.  But I will continue to walk in the garden in the cool of the day and remember God’s steadfast love endures forever.  And I’ll continue cleaning up messes and eliminating gnats.

Posted in Just Writing | Tagged , ,