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 , ,

Forget-Me-Nots

On Easter Sunday this year, April 1, Bea Strout died at her home in Lisbon Falls.  She had lived there since 1955.  I remembered Bea as an elderly woman who went to yard sales with her neighbor, Honey Moulton.  Bea’s husband Sherwood predeceased her.  Mr. Strout worked with my father at the Pejepscot Paper Mill.  Sheila and Sandra, Bea’s two daughters, would sometimes babysit me.

One of her sons, Bob Strout, is a local builder.  He graduated from Lisbon High School in 1977 and he and my cousin Kaye were “king and queen” of the prom.

When I lived in New Hampshire and started “coming home” on the weekends, I remember seeing Bob and his wife Aline volunteering at the local high school football games, taking tickets and selling food in the Booster’s snack shack.  The first year my father and I paddled in the Moxie Festival’s river event, Bob and his son were there and I remember him calling my father “Hermie.”

The Strouts are good people.

I wasn’t able to make it to Bea’s funeral, but my parents went; my mother gave me a packet of the Myosotis (forget-me-not) seeds the Strout family gave away in Bea’s memory.

The forget-me-nots are the tiny blue flowers in the midst of the Calendula.

I write all this by way of long introduction to the matter at hand.  On Saturday, I’m interviewing Bob and Aline Strout about their latest venture.  They bought the old Lisbon Schoolhouse and will be restoring and renovating it into apartments.  I featured a picture of the building in a blog post about writer Eloise Jordan, who attended there in the 1920’s.

When the “for sale” sign first went in the ground, there was quite a bit of speculation about what would happen to the dilapidated building.  Some thought the Open Door Bible Church would buy it and raze it for a parking lot.  Then word trickled out that Bob Strout was looking at the building.  When I learned that Bob had purchased the building, I was happy.  As one of Bob’s friends said to me “Bob should have been born 100 years ago.”  He’s an old soul; he loves history and is one of those people who is often posting old pictures on Facebook.  I’ve heard he’s a member of the Joshua Chamberlain Civil War Roundtable.  That would make sense, as his father Sherwood was also a member of this group.

I’m looking forward to learning more about “Bob Strout’s Vision” and how he decided to save the old building from the wrecking ball.  My article will run in the Lewiston Sun Journal.

Until then, you can read more about the project by following “The old Lisbon Village School restoration project” on Facebook.

Posted in Home | Tagged , , , ,

I Could Have Mowed All Night

One day, I am going to read (or at least skim) every blog post I have published and categorize them with better themes.  On that day, I will likely discover that besides Moxie and Jeeps, mowing the lawn is a category I have written about twice or thrice every year.

My first post was on May 28, 2012.  I mowed my parents’ lawn for the first time in my life.

Then there were posts about the variety of lawn mowers I’ve owned since I moved into this house over four years ago.  There was the self-propelled monster that tried to kill me and its replacement that only mildly discouraged me.  Then, in 2016, there was a $100 lawn tractor and a $20 Honda push mower, both found in yard sales and subject to occasional smoking and sputtering.  The lawn tractor was temporary and I’ve had no desire to replace it.  I liked the $20 Honda push mower.  But I knew its time was limited.

Mowing the lawn in August isn’t like mowing in May.  Depending on summer rainfall, an August lawn can either be dying out or growing with an annoying late season urgency.  This year’s lawn, growing with the aforementioned urgency due to recent rains, is a strange blend of electric greens with a few mushrooms thrown in.  Everyone in town seems to be behind on their mowing and there are fields springing up in residential neighborhoods because few can keep up with the green growth spurt.

I dragged out the Honda this week and prepared to get caught up.  I checked the oil and added some.  I pulled the starter and prepared for “away we go.”  A cloud of smoke came out of the muffler.  Not a small cloud, either.  It was practically Biblical, like the one God used to guide Moses in the exodus out of Egypt.  It was so heavy, my neighbor down the street came out to see what was going on.  He said maybe I had overfilled the oil and it was just burning off.  I moved myself, the mower, and the cloud into the back yard to minimize neighborly disruptions.

But the oil did not burn off.

Figuring I was well into the payoff from this $20 investment and taking a “go to hell” attitude, I went into the house for a respirator.  Damn it, I was going to finish the lawn and not asphyxiate myself.  Unfortunately, when I tried to start the mower again, it had seized up.  The Honda breathed its last.

As Charlie Brown would say…ARRRGGGHHHHH!!!!!

Four years in this house; four lawn mowing devices.  I texted my mother, she conferred with Herman and responded:

“I’ve spoken to Dad and Bob.  When Bob goes to McDonald’s, he will bring Dad’s lawn mower.”

Like clockwork the next morning, there were the Baumer boys, unloading a small “Yard Machine” push mower.  It’s cute and light as a feather, even lighter than the Honda.  And we know the Honda was an improvement on the self-propelled monster that tried to kill me in 2014.  Herman’s mower is so light, I was able to mow the pitch slope along the road without any assistive devices or clippers.

To use the popular expression: “Who knew?”

I’ll be on the hunt for a brand-spanking new lawn mower this weekend because I can’t borrow Herman’s forever.  Price is no object; you get what you pay for.  But one question I’ll be asking is “how much does it weigh?”

Posted in Weather and Seasons | Tagged ,

Grandpa Ott is Everywhere

We had a magnificent thunderstorm last night, with sky-cracking lightning and crashing thunder; rain in torrents!  It was a perfect ending to my birthday, which I celebrated with little fanfare.  I will not bore you with the details, but only share a snippet of an e-mail I got from dear friend “At Your Service.”

“You certainly chose a great place and delightful time to be born: In the most timbered state of the greatest country with the best yet government ever devised, early in the most significant decade of the twentieth century, right in the middle of the  Maine summer, long before global warming or climate change impugned man’s right to exist.  Nice going!”

It made me smile as the first late afternoon clouds darkened the sky and far off rumbling crept closer to my little town in this “most timbered state.”

Today, I share with you my post-birthday “Garden Tour.”  It will be mostly pictures with comments as needed.  A few caveats:  I am not a professional photographer, gardener, or blog stylist.  I am a writer who likes to garden.  On with the tour!

No tour should be without signage and I have carried this old Junior League of Boston Decorator Show House sign around with me since I moved home five years ago.  The Junior League retired it and I bought it at auction.

You’ll notice the pile of gravel stones; this will be the second summer I’ve had stone delivered and I use it for edging and other projects.  Moving stone by hand is a wonderful work-out; better than cross fit.

This spot is behind the sign and the rock pile; next to the garage.  Speaking of the garage, let’s take a few steps back and see the “little garden” in front of it.  Faye the Barber once painted her barbershop steps the same blue as I painted that old chair frame.  The geraniums look a little tired, don’t they?

Taking a few more steps back, we are now at the front porch.  I would like to restore the porch to its original state.  The current structure is circa 1970’s.  Behind the galvanized container is a spot that glows with sun drops earlier in the summer.

Careful on the banking next to the front porch garden!  One day, after the porch restoration, I would like to get rid of the grass on that section of lawn.  It’s difficult to mow and it’s ugly.

The next image is Madeleine’s Garden, which looks best at the end of June, in my opinion.  The hostas are large and fading and it’s mostly greenery now.  I do think I will use bark mulch in it next year to keep the weeds down.

As we turn right, we are at a raised bed installed in 2014.  I have a few tulips here in the spring and the Kennebec Valley Garden Club iris.  This year, I threw some old pie pumpkin seeds in this spot and I’m happy with the results.  Someone, who I will discuss later, has been nibbling at the leaves, but not enough to do significant damage.

This is one of five pumpkins currently on this planting.

Moving along, we are now at the back door and the Grandpa Ott morning glory trellis.  I have planted other colors, but these purple ones are all volunteers from last year.  Grandpa Ott is an old heritage seed; it’s very hardy, probably like Grandpa himself.

This is the view looking out from the back porch.  I decided to use bark mulch in the main garden spot because the grass and weeds were significant and made it difficult to keep it looking good.  I don’t know why I was hesitant to use bark mulch.  I think it’s a great help in keeping weeds down and creating visual lines.

Let’s call this my “oops” garden, or the one I haven’t spent much time on this summer.  I am planning to remove the peony, because peonies need more sun and they need to be with other peonies.  I don’t know what I will put here; maybe tulips and then some annuals.  I like the liatris, though, and you can see the green garden frog to the right, faithful and true.

This spring, I had some tree work done.  The arborist removed the remaining twin tree from a blizzard casualty a few years ago.  Then he leveled off the stump and I put this galvanized planter there.

This spot is another project.  In the spring, there is a row of daffodils along the barn side, but I’ve not found the right thing to plant.  I’ve grown potatoes here twice, but I stuck some buckwheat seed in the ground this spring and I’m going to mulch it in soon.  I’ve decided to plant all daffodils next spring.

Crossing back across the lawn, we find ourselves at the “vegetable garden.”  Apologies for the blurry Grandpa Ott’s.  This year, I’m growing cucumbers, tomatoes, and kale.  A baby woodchuck snuck in through the wires and ate my squash plant, so I’ll be putting some chicken wire along the bottom of the fencing.  The little one is probably too big to squeeze in now, but I noticed a few hungry squirrels inside the fence this summer and they did quite a bit of damage to my sunflowers, as you will see.

Here is a “Lemon Queen” sunflower, one of my favorites.  Standing tall and strong, this beauty wasn’t attacked by squirrels.

But others were.  Rats with tails, as my father likes to call them.  It was very dry earlier this summer and I think the squirrels were unable to get enough acorns out of the ground.  They resorted to eating sunflowers.  It makes sense, but unfortunately, they were too heavy for the stalks and they broke three in my garden.  I was able to stake and restore all three of them.

Honestly, it made me cry when I saw this one go down.  I ran into the garden and said out loud “I’ll save you!”

Baby woodchucks don’t seem to like cucumber leaves, fortunately for me.  And I shouldn’t be stealing Uncle Bob’s cucumbers, either, because I’ve got plenty of my own.

Outside of the fenced-in vegetable garden is another gravelled area.  I will be expanding this in the coming weeks.  There is a steep banking that goes down to a gully.

I love terracotta pots.  I got this one and the one by the garage at Surry Gardens in Surry, Maine.  Oh, such a wonderful greenhouse on the back road to Ellsworth.  Go there and be filled with delight.

Here is another angle along the back of the vegetable garden.  It’s lovely in the spring, that iris clump.  But at this point in the summer, even the daisies have gone by.

Here’s another Grandpa Ott, probably from last year’s garden cleanup.  It’s growing from the gully area, where I throw my grass clippings, weeds, and spent flowers.

One garden I left out is the one next to the back steps.  I have a lavender plant and lots of tiger lilies there, but it was just a tad messy.

I hope you have enjoyed today’s garden tour.  I would be remiss if I failed to mention that portions of my garden were built on the work done by former owner, Madeleine Perron; I am thankful for the roots she established here.  And of course, many thanks to the true Master Gardener.

I’m looking forward to more sunflowers, cucumbers, and ripening pumpkins.  And mums and early autumn.  But not until we get our share of the most wonderful month of the year…blessed August!

Posted in Garden Chic | Tagged ,

He Won’t Miss One

I was peddling past Uncle Bob’s the other day.  He was going somewhere in his truck and he waved as he passed by.  On his porch steps was a bucket of cucumbers and I took one.  He won’t miss one.  Or maybe he will, because he counts his cucumbers as he picks them and writes the total on his calendar each day.  This is how he judges the weather and seasons.  He remembers many small things.  He remembers how many pitches he threw at an Auburn Asa’s baseball game fifty years ago and he remembers the price of gas the day Kennedy was shot.

I ruined his pitch count.

It’s the first day of August, that glorious gateway day to the most beautiful month in Maine.  Cucumbers, beans, squash, and pumpkins are running, bees buzz around flowers and flowering plants, and there is a gentle fade as these earthly delights begin their slow decline towards early autumn.  Mainers are busy trying to jam the month with beach trips, summer festivals, and mowing the lawn.  The big decisions?  Deciding which pair of L.L. Bean flip-flops to wear.

Speaking of the Kennedy clan, there’s a big Kennedy-esque wedding this Saturday on the Mason Compound.  The tent arrives today.  They’ve already installed a fountain on the pond.  As I’ve observed Garrett and Rebekah’s wedding preparations over the last six weeks, I often think of year I lived on the Compound.  I wrote many blog posts about that interesting time in my life and here’s a link to one of my favorites.

Next week here on the blog, I’m presenting a “garden tour.”

Following this, we’ll get back to more interesting topics.  Enjoy this beautiful day.

Posted in Weather and Seasons | Tagged , , ,

The Deluge

I’m currently intrigued by the erudite weather prognostications of meteorologist Paul Cousins heard streaming on the internet and over the terrestrial radio stations broadcasting Maine Public Classical.  Over the weekend he predicted “a deluge of rain.”  It sounded magical and I raced around preparing my rain barrels for the “presto” of precipitation promised.

Today, Cousins is talking about “this current weather regime” and telling us there will be “little diurnal weather variation.”

“Oppressive humidity continues…some towns may never see the sun.”

Oh, Paul!

This kind of “oppressive humidity” promotes weed growth.  I cleared out a lot of purslane from my garden before the deluge and I laughed to myself as I pulled it.  A woman on Facebook, notorious for “sharing” information I’m sure she’s never used herself had just contributed her annual purslane post.  Sure, Mother Earth News says it’s a tasty, easy to grow “weed” and a rich source of omega-3’s, but I’m not having it in my garden.

I’m sure Paul Cousins wouldn’t say such a thing, but I will.

GET OUT OF MY GARDEN, PURSLANE!

Posted in Weather and Seasons | Tagged , ,

The Collective Sigh of a Community

The Maine town of Lisbon pulled off its 36th Moxie Festival over the past weekend.  It’s a distinctively different event, difficult to define.  30,000 people converge on an old mill town to celebrate a soft drink.  They wear orange.  They run, march in a parade, and obviously, drink soda.

For the organizing committee, the festival is more of an endurance race.  Planning starts in September and rolls along at a steady pace, picking up speed in April.  June is frenetic and lots of things happen behind the orange-hued curtains of festival preparation, although social media creates a continuous façade of excitement.  The committee has always been small, but as the Moxie Festival machine gains steam, it picks up volunteers who show up and give their time and energy.  The three-day event happens.

This year, I worked behind the scenes on the festival.  I wrote a few press releases, created 3,000 words of content for an advertising supplement, sold Moxie gear all day on Saturday, and then worked in the snack shack at Sunday’s car show.  This year’s festival was difficult and different without parade organizer and community leader, Gina Mason.  I think many of us were going through the motions and “doing it for Gina.”  But you know, we pulled it off.  The festival was pretty awesome, from what I’ve heard and seen.

For festival organizers and the town of Lisbon, this is the week we pat ourselves on the back and breathe a collective sigh of relief.  We go back to weeding our gardens, taking vacations, and enjoying the rest of summer.

Today, I share with blog readers, a portion of the newspaper insert’s content about Lisbon’s beloved Gina Mason.

(Gina Crafts with her neighborhood posse, photograph courtesy of Bryce Hamilton)     

If you’re of a certain age, you may remember Clara Desjardins.  A renowned dancer, Desjardins operated a studio in Auburn for 60 years, ending in 1997.  Decades of dancers learned the basics from Desjardins, with each year’s lessons culminating in a May recital.  As the recital approached, it was not uncommon for performers to get the jitters and Desjardins would adamantly remind them that no matter what happened, “the show must go on.”

Gina Mason started walking when she was 11 months old and according to her mother, Carmella Crafts, she took her first dance classes with Desjardins when she was 2 years old.  A glance at the 1971 dance recital program features an 11-year-old Gina performing both a solo routine called “Senorita” and with friends Andrea Graziano and Susan Stass in a number called “Hawaii Five-O.”  Gina Mason learned early that “the show must go on.”

After many years of dancing, Gina started taking baton lessons and then marching in parades.  According to her mother, she loved parades.  “We went to every parade around,” said Crafts.  Soon, Gina was twirling with the high school majorettes and by the time she entered high school, she was the head majorette and ran her own baton twirling business called “Gina’s Stepperettes.”  Photos of early town parades show Gina leading the high school band or her “Stepperettes.”

(Gina Crafts after an early town parade, photo courtesy of Bryce Hamilton)

After she married, she and husband Rick started building parade floats for the Open Door Bible Church.  Their floats won every year.  In 2000, she took over the coordination of the Moxie Festival Parade.  Work on parade planning would go on almost year-round from the Masons’ home in Lisbon.  Their dining room table was “command central” for mailings and parade line ups.  The night before the event, the whole Mason clan would be washing vehicles, putting flowers in the front of Gina’s John Deere Gator (which she used to coordinate floats and follow the parade), and loading the Gator and parade supplies on the trailer.  At 4:00 a.m. the next day, the Masons would be on the road to Capital Avenue and the parade line up.

Rick said, “I just think it was in her blood” regarding Gina’s love of parades.

Gina died unexpectedly on Tuesday, September 5, 2017.  On a chair in her home office, her Moxie bag sits, packed and ready to go to the first festival planning meeting of 2018.  Her loss has left a hole in the hearts of her family, friends, and the Moxie Festival committee.  Her unmatched energy, her hometown pride, and her drive to present a wonderful parade each year…Gina Mason is irreplaceable.  Those who knew Gina knew she always faced difficult circumstances head on.  Under her guidance, the parade always started on time and this year will be no different.  She will be loved and missed and in her honor, the show will go on!

(2013 Moxie Festival Parade, Gina Mason in the Gator)

Posted in You've Got Moxie! | Tagged