The Better Angels

In these late days of civilization, the internet provides us with an opportunity to connect the words we speak and write with their sources.  For instance, when I titled this blog post “The Better Angels,” I was curious to know where Abraham Lincoln sourced this phrase in his 1861 inaugural address.  Like many expressions in the English language, it goes back to Shakespeare (Othello) and then passes through Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge.  In the novel, published in 1841, Dickens wrote: 

“So do the shadows of our own desires stand between us and our better angels, and thus their brightness is eclipsed.”

Christianity offers a mixed bag when it comes to angels.  Generally, angels are presented as darling and cherubic images with only an occasional nod to the fierce and multi-eyed creatures of the Book of Revelation.  Angels wax and wane in home decorating although I have never seen any at a decorator show house.

I have two ceramic Christmas angels in my house, sentimental relics from my childhood.  They will not make an appearance on the blog today.

Here in Maine, the decade ended peacefully in anticipation of New Year’s Day.  I heard a few fireworks in the distance as I drifted off and I was excited and anxious about the first day of the new decade and another first for me.  Ice fishing!

2019 was a first-filled year…I rolled out a flaky homemade pie crust, I went deer hunting (took two shots), I drove an ATV, learned how to operate a snow blower, navigated a small boat, and drove a decorated golf cart in a parade.  2020 looks promising, with ice fishing added to the list of “firsts.”

What a glorious day it was on Upper Narrows Pond in Winthrop.  The sun was bright and the sky was cloudless when we got there with our traps and started zooming around the pond on a Yamaha Rhino.  Record that…my first time driving a Rhino on a frozen lake.

Here’s my first snow angel of 2020…

Snow Angels 2020

The angel was my totem of peace, safety, and good will for the day, the New Year, and the decade unfolding.  It turned out to be a busy day on the pond, with red and black flags popping up every time we considered sitting down and enjoying the sun.  We caught our bag limit of brook trout before we ate lunch and the clouds started rolling in.

As wonderful as the bright day was, clouds made the pond more magical as they cut the glare and sent many of the fishermen home.  Snow swirled in around 2:00 p.m., creating a shadowy snow globe-like feeling.  I spent a lot of time walking on the frozen pond, contemplating the day and the upcoming year.  Two eagles soared in circles overhead, eyeing our now-frozen fish.

The shadows of our own desires…if they are for good, can they really eclipse the brightness of our better angels?  Perhaps there is a compromise between the shadows of our desires and the brightness of our better angels, all working towards something wonderful for everyone involved.

Much of my 2019 energy was focused on cultivating “good vibes” in my life.  I kept coming back to this notion that I could choose to be happy.  I could choose to be grateful.  That faith could not co-exist with fear.  And that walking on a frozen pond on New Year’s Day felt a little bit like walking on water and I had no fear and no doubt that 2020 was starting out exactly as it should.

As one of the kindest people in my life often reminds me “how lucky are we?”

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The Lover’s Ghost

It’s Sunday morning, the second Sunday of Advent.  On this Sunday in the Christian tradition, we remember the preaching of John the Baptist, the man the prophet Isaiah anticipated as “one crying in the wilderness.”

With Heart and Voice, a syndicated radio program featured on Maine Public Classical stations, just played Orlando Gibbons “This is the Record of John.”  This beautiful anthem from long-ago sounds as magical and mentally de-cluttering today as it did when it was written in the early 1600’s.

You can find it on YouTube or you can stream the entire syndicated program of sacred choral and organ music on any public radio station; I listen to it when I can on Maine Public Classical, not to be confused with Maine Public Radio.  I am disconnected from the news of the world and Maine Public Classical interjects only occasional and tiny unpleasant bits of news into their daily musical playlist.  I experience minimal cognitive dissonance in the segue from Ralph Vaughan Williams “The Lover’s Ghost” and “we’ll discuss what political correctness means today and whether the idea of ideological purity has gone too far on Maine Calling at Noon.”

How long has it been since I wrote about cognitive dissonance?  And societal collapse?  I don’t remember.  These topics are not beautiful or soothing.  But like Boomer Esiason commenting on the Patriots’ 28 – 22 loss to the Houston Texans on the first glorious day of December, “there are problems.”

I was reminded of these societal problems during Tom Brady’s December 2, 2019 appearance on WEEI’s The Greg Hill Show.  Many, many media outlets have already chronicled Brady’s late-season funk and his low vibe.  Some thought Brady may have had a cold or a flu, as it was reported that other players on the team were sick.

The Greg Hill Show’s co-host Danielle Murr asked Brady if he was physically sick on Sunday.  She then asked him “…are you a giant man baby when you do…” have a cold?

I don’t care for The Greg Hill Show.  I listen to it on Monday mornings to hear Tom Brady or when I’m desperate for the sound of male voices in the house.  I miss John Dennis and Gerry Callahan, but I think their ideological purity went too far and “cancel culture” destroyed them.  They are mere ghosts of the airwaves now and instead we have Ms. Murr asking Tom Brady if he is a “giant man baby.”

Maybe I’ve changed as I’ve gotten older, but I don’t think I would ever ask Tom Brady if he was a “giant man baby” during times of sickness.  I wouldn’t ask any man that, even one for whom I had no respect.  Maybe such questions improve ratings, but they do nothing to promote human thriving, peace, and understanding.  And Tom Brady is too damn smart to go off script and fall for a “gotcha” question.

As I near the end of this long ramble, I’m sighing.  I need to get into my Christmas storage closet and find a bow, go to my father’s land to cut some more pine and fir boughs for decorating, and then prepare for the week ahead.

A letter from a friend reminds me that I must “continue standing against the collapse all around us.”  I will.

Pearl Harbor Day 2019

I was honoring the birthday of another friend yesterday on Pearl Harbor Day.  Warmed by my restyled vintage mink coat and fortified by four glazed molasses donut holes from The Cookie Jar in Cape Elizabeth, I stood against the collapse all around and the nineteen degree temperature.

Onward I go, to walk about the world and consider an invitation to join a garden club and learn to tend roses.

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A Searching and Fearless Inventory

Articles and memes circulate on social media and sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between the two.  You know the articles…with titles like “Women Who Spend Time with Their Sisters Live Longer than Loners” or “Scientific Research Proves People Who Have Three Cats Make More Money than Those with Labrador Retrievers.”

In the last week, two different Facebook friends shared such an article, based apparently on research done by a professor of behavioral science.

“Unmarried Women with No Kids are the ‘Healthiest and Happiest Population Subgroup,’ Says Expert.”

I exercised a great deal of restraint when I saw these posts.  In my mind, I wrote a pithy and tart comment like “that’s a lie from the pit of Hell, but whatever.”

The hunting man and I have been out on the stand three times now; morning hunt, evening hunt, and rainy afternoon hunt.  We saw nothing and after the latter expedition, he dropped me off and said “you should go out on your father’s land by yourself.”  He suggested a familiar spot I’d written about here on this blog.

I was nervous.  I geared up early Saturday morning and went through the motions he’d taught me.  I drove over to our land 45 minutes before sunrise and parked the Jeep where I always do.  Baumer’s Field was breathtakingly beautiful in the dawn light.  I was drawn to that field and starting walking quietly through it and away from where I needed to be.  I looked down on my boots and thought of the Andrew Wyeth painting “Trodden Weed” even though my boots and the landscape looked nothing like Wyeth’s.  In a surreal moment of mystery and beauty, I was captured inside a canvas.  There was another painting I saw in my mind’s eye; I snapped out of my trance and turned around.  I was not where I needed to be.

I’m embarrassed to admit the first thing I did when I settled into my spot was post a picture on Instagram.  I wrote “I should be watching, but instead I’m thinking about #andrewwyeth paintings like #turkeypond and “troddenweed.”

Wild Woman

I put my phone down and looked up.

Damn, there was a buck in the field, halfway between the hackmatack tree and me.  I put the deer in my sights and noticed it had two small spike horns, about four inches high.  I would later learn this aged the buck at about a year and a half.  I took the safety off the rifle and watched.  The buck came closer and I sat unmoving.  My mind was racing.  Was it big enough?  What would happen if I killed it?  What if I missed?  How would I get it out of the field?

I forgot I had an “any deer permit” and I forgot rifle hunting season ends on November 30.

The buck looked up, smelled the air curiously.  It didn’t see me.  It eventually walked into the woods, looking bigger with each step it took away from me.  The title to the social media article I’d write would be “Maine Women Hunters Facebook Page Keeps Unmarried Childless Woman from Shooting Her First Deer.”

Moment of truth…I’ve been following the page on Facebook and noting all the big-ass bucks Maine women have killed this season.  Some of these women are really beautiful and put-together in their Cabela camouflage.  Comparing my potential buck to theirs influenced my decision.  The hunting man brought that to my attention last night as we talked through my future “hunting alone” strategy.

He hates social media.  I wish I did too, because I regret not taking that shot and going up to Butcher Boys in Bowdoin to have my deer weighed and processed.  Life is not a flat and sanitized canvass of images and feel good lies from the pit of Hell.  If you’d ever been to Butcher Boys at the end of a hunting season day, you’d know that.

Hashtag damn it all.

I’ve got to take a searching and fearless inventory of my refrigerator and cupboards today; get organized so I can go out hunting more next week and put a Thanksgiving dinner on the table.

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Tips for Holiday Peace

My friend Perry says blogs are out of fashion.  I wish I’d scribbled down his exact quote…it was something like “they’re so 2005.”  As I look out over the ever-changing digital landscape, I can see that Perry could be right.

But since I’m “so 1949” I’m ahead of my time and I will write on in this virtual space.

Last Thursday, I gave a Marjorie Standish talk for the Pejepscot Historical Society.  Executive Director Larissa Vigue Picard and Museum Services Manager Catherine Cyr crafted a lively History Happy Hour at The Brunswick Inn.  Guests were invited to cook and bring a recipe from one of Marjorie Standish’s cookbooks.  Brunswick celebrity food personalities judged the entries and then everyone had a chance to try such things as “Walnut Strips,” “Hello Dolly Squares,” “Famous Webster Squash Pie,” “Porcupine Meatballs,” “Shrimp Wiggle,” and “Mock Lobster Sandwiches.”

There were 25 entries in all!

The Brunswick Inn is a beautiful venue and everything was perfect.  The joint was jumping and jam-packed!  Marjorie would have loved it, affable gal that she was (according to Hope Weston, an acquaintance from the Kennebec Valley Garden Club, who I interviewed in 2016).

I provided a brief biography of myself, explaining my research and writing to date.  I gracefully referred to my corporate job as “that type of work.”

I shared Marjorie’s general biography and then shared interesting quotes from her columns.  As her writing style developed over the period of 1948 to 1973, she revealed interesting aspects of her personality.  Like her love of her hometown, Brunswick.  And her passion for the bread making tradition with an annual January column.  And of course, her tolerance for husband George’s Sunday afternoon obsession with the New York Giants.

“It seems a year ago I caused quite a rustle, especially among the men folks in Maine, that I dared to mention I knew how they would be spending New Year’s Day.  I guess we are not supposed to talk about it, for have you heard the lowered voices of Maine women discussing ‘those football games.’?  I tell you, women natives of Maine are restless.”

We’ll come back to feminine football restlessness in the future because I tell you, this particular Maine woman is also restless.

“That type of work” has been busy, stressful and distracting lately.  There is so much work, it is hard to focus and hard to know what to do first.  It’s not how I was hoping to head into the holidays.  Sometimes I take a break in my workday, stand at the kitchen island, and look out over the river.  It’s visible now that all the leaves are gone.

In her November 29, 1964 column titled “Marjorie Has Tips For Holiday Peace,” Standish described a similar experience.  After sharing a poem with her readers, she wrote “I just taped this favorite Christmas poem on the window above my sink.  I read it over every time I am there and I look across our little valley and think about you folks.  That is why I used it this year in my column, so that you might share it, too.  Several years ago, a friend sent it to me, when she knew I had been in a particular rush…ever since, the poem has helped.”

It’s a sweet poem and it made me tearful when I read it aloud at the end of my talk.  Why?  Because it’s peaceful and pleasant living in the past of Marjorie Standish’s life.  There’s bread to knead, friends to have lunch with, and Butterscotch Clusters to make, because “right now, I expect you are on the church and club Christmas Fair circuit.  Knowing that you are being called upon for sweets for the candy table, I decided to do some candy making myself.”


Here is the poem Marjorie shared, written by Grace Noll Crowell.  This popular poem once appeared in December 1933 Good Housekeeping.  Enjoy it, long for a slower life, and Godspeed to you in finding your way out of “that kind of work.”

I shall attend to my little errands of love

Early this year

So that the brief days before Christmas may be

Unhampered and clear

Of the fever of hurry.  The breathless rushing that I have known in the past

Shall not possess me.

I shall be calm in my soul and ready at last

For Christmas; “The Mass of the Christ.”  I shall kneel

And call out His name;

I shall take time to watch the beautiful light

Of a candle’s flame;  

I shall have leisure – I shall go out alone

From my roof and my door;

I shall not miss the silver silence of stars as I have before;

And, oh, perhaps – If I stand there very still,

And very long–

I shall hear what the clamor of living has kept from me;

The angel’s song.

A special thank you to my friend and fellow writer, Karen Schneider, for visiting me this week for an impromptu ladies lunch.  I enjoyed our hour of “leisure.”

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For All the Saints and Cousins

We had another Halloweenie here on Blethen Street and although the weather was not ideal for little ghouls and goblins, I enjoyed a visit from six of them.  I handed out “Power Crunch” kids protein snack bars.  And Moxie.  It warmed my heart when one mother told me “we like coming to your house because we know you will have Moxie.”

All Hail Halloweenie!  If you’re lamenting the passage of my least favorite red letter day, here’s my favorite post about it.

Life has been intensely busy and surprisingly beautiful lately.  Martha Stewart (who is apparently a Halloweenie kind of person) might say “It’s all good.”  Yes, it’s all good, but I’m spread very thin.  And working diligently to hide how very thin I’m spread.  Blogging and writing has taken a back seat to things like…

An impromptu family birthday celebration for my Aunt Rita’s 88th.  This blog post features a picture of youthful Aunt Rita.  Like my father, Rita too was “Tops Among Teens” when she was in high school.

My cousin Joanne planned everything.  I merely made sure my house was clean and supplied two coolers full of ice.  I love a party and I was ecstatic to have 21 people in the house.  We took a lot of pictures and this picture of my Baumer cousins was a favorite.

The Cousins(Top to bottom, left to right are Rick Helfen, Julie-Ann Baumer, John Baumer, Beth Baumer Leblanc, Joan Nigro, Peter Rovnak, Kaye Bell, Joanne Baumer Huston, and Mary-Ann Morgan.)

All Saints Day was a repeat of this day in 2017.  Remember?  When that big pine tree blew down in my back yard?  It was mild and the wind blew ferociously all day.  No trees blew down here, thankfully.

And today is opening day of hunting season for Maine residents.  This year, I’m both a Maine resident and a licensed hunter.  I’ve got an “any deer” permit, a blaze orange vest, and a Weatherby rifle.  The hunting man and I will go this afternoon “just because.”  I’m not in a hurry; I’d actually like to get my deer on our family land at the end of November when things cool down.

“Do you have room in your freezer for a deer?” the hunting man asked me.


I’ll just push aside the blueberries in my freezer.  I have them so I can make Marjorie Standish’s “Melt in Your Mouth Blueberry Cake” all winter.  I’ll be giving a talk about Standish at the Pejepscot Historical Society’s “History Happy Hour” on November 14 at The Brunswick Inn, 165 Park Row, Brunswick.  The event starts at 5:00 p.m.

In spite of the disorganized mess that is my life, I made it to church for All Saints Day.  I will need all of the saints on my side to get through the many things leading up to this most wonderful time of the year.

“The golden evening brightens in the west; soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest.  Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest…”

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Times Shall Be Good

On Saturday evening on September 21, Cyrus Lavers had a motorcycle cycle accident.  It happened up on the Ridge Road, not far from his home.  Almost immediately, word went out on the ‘netz and we began praying for his recovery.

I knew Cyrus from my own time living up on the Ridge.  He was Gina and Rick Mason’s nephew.  I remember the day I discovered a tree stand in the woods and climbed up into it.  I later learned this one belonged to Cyrus and his brother Mason.  I knew I had trespassed into the secret world of boys as I looked out over the beautiful expanse of the Botma’s field.

When I moved into town, I hired Joel Dunham to do some tree work.  Cyrus worked for Joel at that time and he brought his bright and lively spirit to Blethen Street along with a crane, many chainsaws, and the rest of the crew.

I kept up on his life tangentially from his sister, Cassidy, who was my hair stylist for a time.  I’d always ask “how’s Cyrus doing?”  It was hard not to like a young man like him.  He was kind and honest, a free spirit.  I might see him at Food City once in a blue moon.  I heard about the time a rabid fox bit him and how he killed the fox before it could hurt anyone else.

After his motorcycle accident, many people posted pictures and thoughts of him; we all hoped and prayed for a miracle.  Cyrus lived his life with such passion and energy.  Some might say he took risks.

Cyrus died on Friday, September 27, 2019.  His friends and family began the work of his funeral.  Much of this grief journey was chronicled humbly on Facebook.  Young men and women worked into the evening with chainsaws, headlamps, tears, and memories to carve his coffin from a large tree trunk.

Yesterday, his brothers, sisters, and friends dug his grave on the family’s property.

I hardly know what to think and what to say about all of this.  This family has lived through this tragedy with grace.  They’ve lived through it with their hearts wide open.

But mostly, I’ve thought about the brave and boyish way Cyrus Asa Lavers lived his life.  He refused to be bubble-wrapped and honestly, I found it refreshing.  I saw one of his young friends at the convenience store the other day and said “this world needs more young men like Cyrus.”

The 4th century theologian, St. Augustine of Hippo said “Bad times, hard times, that is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good.  We are the times: such as we are, such are the times.”

Cyrus Asa Lavers lived well.  I’m so grateful I knew him.  I’m comforted to know his friends who are young men like him.  If such men are the times, times shall be good.

Cyrus Asa Lavers.JPG

Rest in Peace, Cyrus Asa Lavers.

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Autumn Smoke and Thunder

Yesterday was the first day of autumn.  It was also part of the “Global Week for Future,” a youth event focused on ending climate change.  During the autumn of my college years, the hot topic was apartheid.  I remember a rally on UMaine Orono’s mall spearheaded by Peter Neilson.  There was a chant; it went something like this:

“Hey hey, ho ho, apartheid has got to go.”

Neilson commandeered an office in the Student Union to encourage then-college President Arthur Johnson to divest university monies from South African investments.

It’s a dim memory now.    It may have been then-college President Paul Silverman.  The memory of it came to me on Saturday, standing in line to buy a homemade donut at the Georgetown Town Market.

Here in my part of Maine, the first day of autumn was gloriously warm and balmy.  In the late afternoon, I did some work in the back yard.  The mosquitoes were out and I torched up some paper and kindling in my fire pit.  The blaze created a cloud of smoke and the heavy air caused it to linger over the walking path and slowly drift towards Blethen Street.  It reminded me of the time my old lawn mower died.

I laughed to myself.

Autumn is such a busy time.  I don’t know where to start, both yard-wise and blog-wise.  My friend Shelley would suggest I make a list.  Here goes…

  1. Does This Blaze Orange Make me Look Fat?
  2. The Governors of the Passing Lane
  3. Tips for Talking to the Steelers Fans in Your Life
  4. My Moral Dilemma with Antonio Brown
  5. The Autumn Thunder of Sam Spence
  6. Aunt Tomato and the Overgrown Garden of Delights
  7. How Long is a Legacy?
  8. Dirty Dancing at Le Club Calumet
  9. Hemingway Didn’t Write That
  10. Eventually Everyone Ends Up at Dot’s

That last one is Dot’s in Lincolnville.  It’s been my foodie inspiration for the last two months.  Shelley and I had a long and leisurely lunch there on Sunday.  The food is beautiful; the food is delicious.

Beautiful Food

Dot’s will inspire you to make beautiful food in your own kitchen.  If not, just bring your Yeti and you can bring Dot’s cuisine home with you.

Gorgeous food.  Go there.

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