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Monday, August 30, 2010

So Little, So Much

I'm late posting today, sorry!

We’ve reached that time again—the sharp clear days at the end of the summer when, as long as no hurricanes approach from the south, we lose the summer humidity. The skies muscle up cloudless and blue; the pink and purple summer annuals still riot, though if you pay attention, premonitions of rust and orange hint at the tips of lone trees.

I love August and September, October almost as much, though my belly churns a little bit when I think about what comes after that. So I try not to, instead, reveling in the brisk air that flows through the windows in the morning, the cicada’s electric-saw whine in the hot afternoons and the ocean that has warmed to its chilly best. Out on our patio there’s one more reminder of the season; leggy  plants hanging with ripening fruit. Yes folks, we finally made it to tomato heaven. I’d like to say you could set you clock by it, but you can’t.

Last summer it rained for almost the whole month of June. As a result, we didn’t taste a tomato until very late in August, and we were lucky at that, as an end-of-the-season blight turned most tomato crops to mush. This summer, we experienced a lack of rain for seven weeks after June…but kept up with the watering, and the crop burst forth weeks ahead of schedule. For the first time ever, I popped a homegrown tomato in my mouth in July, and darned if those plants aren’t still giving.

Perhaps the magic of tomato season is that that you can’t predict what you are going to get when, so when it arrives, it's always a joyful surprise. We grow in small allotments too, and knowing we will not experience harvest-overload increases the excitement. In my imaginary life, our garden grows lettuce and squash, carrots, green beans, radishes, asparagus and much more, but though I yearn for fresh produce, the shade and ledge in our yard limits the options. Aside from that, there are too many vegetables my husband doesn’t like and even if he did, as close as we are to the woods, rabbits, deer and woodchucks would do a fantastic job ensuring we cultivated nothing more than disappointment.

So I rein my aspirations back to six tomato plants in terra cotta pots, clumps of basil and parsley tumbling from window boxes, a stone planter filled with thyme, oregano, rosemary, plus the sage and mint that come up beside it every year. The herbs make every dish special, and yet somehow, nothing has the same impact as the salty, sweet, acidic succulence of the tomatoes.

As they start to turn orange, I rub my hands, anticipating the taste of fruit that has traveled from the sun to the table. Even  this summer, when we’ve been plucking the harvest for weeks, the tomatoes still make me giddy. Yesterday, I danced a little and hummed as I picked two pints of cherries, snacked on a few and roasted the rest in the oven with garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. Now they sit on the counter, covered, at room temperature.

When I come racing home from the cheese shop at about 7:00 tonight, I’ll toss them with whole wheat pasta, sprinkle the dish with fresh basil and shaved parmesan; serve it alongside mixed baby greens dressed with balsamic vinegar and oil and call it a healthy meal. If  either my daughter or husband get home first and put the water on to boil before I arrive, we’ll call it a quick meal too.

I’ll take kind of fast food any day.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Have Camera, Will Travel

My daughter and I had an hour of bonding time yesterday—meaning we went out to breakfast. Don’t tell her dad, because this involved moola we are not supposed to be spending, but as the days tick away, I can’t over estimate the value of across-the-table time spent with my high school senior, so eggs, bacon and cornbread it was.

Most times I bring the camera with me when off alone but I am less inclined to do so when on a jaunt with my daughter or my husband, since eye-rolling often occurs when I pause for what they call an “artsy shot.” Though I acquiesce to their desires on many occasions, our girl pays a steep price for that, since she spends more time in the car with me than anyone and has arrived at the point where she'd love to throttle me every time she hears me mutter: “Why didn’t I bring the camera?” Yesterday though, it was a foregone conclusion that after we ate in our favorite breakfast spot, a trip by the scenic beach in that town would be in order, so in spite of her grumbling I plunked the camera behind the driver’s seat.

At this point, I could, I suppose, include a picture of the pummeling surf hitting the beach wall after the three-day record-breaking rain storm we just endured, because I took about 20 shots after we ate, but I’ve taken a million of them over the years; you've seen more than enough here at Middle Passages, I'm sure.

Instead, I’ll tell you about this. The “scenic” route home travels down a stone-lined straight-a-way with long grass fields flowing on either side, leading to two gray antique farm houses sitting close to the road across from each other. As we came upon these fields, we noticed a lump in the middle of one. When the car took us closer, I slowed down to investigate and at the same moment, my daughter and I began babbling: “Is it a fox? Yes, no, yes, no! No, it’s a coyote!” By this point, I had pulled over and we stared at the mangy juvenile, who sat in the middle of the sunny field at 11:00 a.m. with his ears perked and his head cocked as he gazed back at us. Then I cried: “OMG. For once I have the camera.”

Maybe it’s an age thing, because that coyote looked like a teenager, and as my daughter took off the lens cap, you could almost see the animal thinking the same way she does every time I try to take her picture— “Camera? Nope. I’m out of here” and with that, he got up and jogged away. Nonetheless, the seventeen-year-old got a few shots off before he disappeared completely.  And, yea, okay, just for fun, I'll offer a few ocean photos too.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Running on About Moving on

Someday, you might reach a stage in life in which your biological balance is off at the same moment you hit the cement wall, where it is etched that no matter how much you love to write, finding a market for your talents will always be a chore—and this could happen while money is  tight, groceries prices are rising; your only daughter is scheduled to pack for college in a year and the tools (computer, camera) you depend on to get you through these nasty spells threaten you with expensive repairs—thereby provoking enough worry that you throw up your hands and apply for jobs—part-time jobs, full-time jobs, writing jobs and, sigh, jobs like the one that employed you for over twenty years.

But then, other things could happen.

For example, you could come face to face with a hummingbird,

or remember there is a writing project hovering on the horizon;

or realize—on a specific day, that even though you resorted to picking violets out of the lawn since you’ve written all you could for yourself and the house is clean and you don't want to go anywhere that could tempt you to spend money—that life resolves itself however it is supposed to, and it's likely you'll live to write about it which will make you happy especially if you do it overlooking a weed-free lawn.

And, for some odd reason this thought could trigger a reminder of two blog awards you forgot about, and, that you won a package in a blog contest that includes one of your all-time-favorite books, plus a DVD by the same name…

at which point you might offer:

a belated thank you to Robin at Your Daily Dose for the “Beautiful Blog" Award and “A Blog with Substance" Award because not only are you six weeks late in expressing your gratitude for these, but also for all the Thursdays on which she has featured you in her “Here’s to You” posts, in which she imbeds a YouTube video into her blog as a tribute to an essay you’ve written over the past week—

plus you could express:

a more current, but still tardy, thank you to Courtney at Southern Princess for running a contest in which you won a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and a DVD of the same, you hope arrive in your mailbox soon because then, if you have another anxious period, you could stare at Gregory Peck,

and if all this were to occur, it might very well cause:

an improved outlook which inspires you to go window shopping at a place where an unexpected part-time job featuring cheese pops up (Who doesn't love a luscious gouda?) while you were pursuing another creative outlet that has potential to cover additional grocery costs, (more about this later) after which, possibly, just possibly, you would recognize that when life drags you below ground, all you can do is to inhale, exhale, and wait to float up again…because somehow, you always do.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Treasures from the Sea

Flower-petal designs etched into gray sand dollars dotting the fine granuals on a deserted crescent of beach

Two unbroken scallop shells

Laughter erupting and a cold wash splashing as we launch the yellow kayak into an oncoming wave

Sea grass flowing with the current, locks of tangled hair waving beneath the surface

Churning whirlpools as the ocean crests over submerged boulders

Unending giggles as water from the upturned kayak pours into an open car window

And later:

My first osprey, folding black wings, tucking his head and plummeting toward gray water

A slick-headed seal, poking up in the middle of Casco Bay

Two white Adirondack chairs overlooking tumbling shale on a rise at Great Diamond Island

Teal wake churning behind as we powered past Peaks Island, Long Island, Cliff Island, Little Diamond

The red roof and crashing surf; Portland Head Light viewed from the sea

A screened porch, lobster and drawn butter; fresh corn, our family—our friends

Twenty-four hours in Maine and perfection

Portland Head Light, Photo Credit: ARS 8/21/10  (Thanks Ali)
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Friday, August 20, 2010

A Small Taste of Success

The word “unctuous” has been on my mind in the last several days—as in; the heirloom tomato we rescued before the squirrels bit into it (yes, we’ve graduated from chipmunks) tasted sweet and lush and unctuous.

I’ve been contemplating the kinds of foods one might consider unctuous, and keep coming down to a couple.  For starters, pate, which I don’t experience in any regular way, and cheese. For me, a good slice of ripe cheese imbues the mouth with a salty fullness that ratchets up the swoon factor—you know, that eye rolling, shoulder wiggling, smile-while-you-groan reaction that comes when you taste something at the peak of ripeness or prepared to the pinnacle of deliciousness? Chocolate can do it too, and yes, I’d call the most decadent, rich-with-whole-cream chocolate bread pudding I make for special occasions—unctuous.

Unctuous is one of the words hand painted as a border on the walls of the new cheese shop I discovered by accident the other day, along with the words: ripe, runny, smooth, salty, pungent, moist, young, complex and crumbly. I had started the engine in the car after a quick errand before realizing that the downtown parking space I’d scored in a neighboring burb was smack in front of a recent addition. Once I grasped that the storefront featured food, well, far be it for me to deny myself the pleasure of walking in. I turned the engine off.

Inside, immaculate tile floors, creamy yellow walls and a polished harvest table invited me to step further. A cupboard filled with artisan spreads and oils and the cheese case filled with Northeastern cheeses added to the welcoming feel. At the counter, colorful salads made with beans and fresh veggies beckoned; bowls of Nicoise olives glistened, lovely mixed pastas tempted. A chalkboard contained a short menu of made-to-order sandwiches; crusty fresh bread lay in wicker baskets against the wall. My mouth watered, but the meager contents of my wallet deemed this mission as reconnaissance only. Then, one of the owners offered me a taste of luscious cheddar and we started chatting.

I'll tell you this.  When my mother realized her stories were dragging on, she used to say, “To make a short story long…” and I can feel myself doing the same thing.   So let's cut to the chase.  I didn’t buy anything, but the conversation with the owner took an unexpected turn.

My part-time job starts Monday.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Going Every Which Way

As expected, it’s been a wild week, though not in the ways I anticipated. Let’s just say that although it feels like I’m treading water backwards–if it’s possible to do such a thing–I’m pretty sure the current is pulling me ahead.

Here’s something to let you all know I’m thinking of you.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday Sigh

Last week, a talented photographer friend who is beginning her own photo business was kind enough to give me a lesson while we shot images around my town. Many of you know I have an addiction to a certain scene involving two simple dories and still water. For almost a year-and-a-half now, I’ve been stalking a peaceful causeway in town, hoping for the perfect photo opportunity.

Before we got started, my friend and I stopped into a local gallery and discovered the picture I have dreamed of taking—framed and on the wall, for sale by a professional photographer, Mike Sleeper. I sighed when I saw it, first in envy, and then awe. If you’d like to see what I’ve been dreaming about, click here.

After that humbling moment, cameras strapped around our necks, we walked around town on a day when, no word of a lie, everywhere we stepped a photo opportunity arose. She taught me more about my camera—shutter speeds, F-stops, but most of all, how to look through the lens like a photographer. As a result, we didn’t get very far, but the morning was a blast and I’m thrilled with my amateur results.

Please bear with me, but my Middle Passages posts are going to be sporadic or perhaps non-existent this week. As a thank you for your patience, I’ll leave you with some pictures from my tutorial session, though if you click my friend’s FB Page—you’ll see how a pro does it.

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Oh, and happy 17th birthday today to our beautiful girl!!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Don't Eat the Yellow...Tomatoes

Dear Chipmunk Family Residing Under the Step and Extended Relations:

You will agree that we have been the most obliging of hosts, having granted you full reign in the development and subsequent expansion of your accommodations underneath our patio step. We did not complain, increase the rent, serve you with an injunction or cause you to cease and desist when you failed to acquire proper permits and added a west wing, which appears to have necessitated a tunnel entrance between two mid-patio pavers. In spite of our identification of these transgressions, you must concur that we have remained generous in granting you predominance on the property, having turned a blind eye to the summer enclave you formed under the Hosta plants in the middle of the backyard, as well as the several tunnels leading to a mountain retreat atop the stone wall at the side garden.

In our efforts to receive the highest, um, chipmunk landlord rating, we have allowed the games of tag up and down the flight leading to the basement window, in addition to your long pauses to sniff the air on the back steps, even though these antics caused the resident indoor cat to moan, howl, chatter and claw at our screens. We have even giggled as you skittered across the patio table on an occasion or two.

In spite of this aforementioned leniency, failure to take the following decree seriously could have severe consequences:


To wit: All potted tomato plants located on the patio across from your primary home are hereby off limits. This proclamation holds for four cherry tomato pots currently drooping with green produce, one heirloom Brandywine with fruit that might squash you anyway and, for the yellow plum tomato plant from which, no less than seven almost-ripe specimens have been filched over the last few weeks.

Please note that having nurtured, via regular irrigation, fertilization, proper staking and re-staking of these plants over a two month period, the complainant has a vested interest in the results of this crop. Particular attention has been conferred on the plum variation, in anticipation of teeth-sinking bites into yellow sun-warmed flesh, an experience which has yet to be achieved over the lifetime of the owner. This eager gardener spent the last 60 days anticipating yellow tomato sandwiches (with fresh basil mayo), yellow tomato panzanella and the possibility of a sublime dinner of garlic, roasted yellow tomato, onion and olive oil, tossed with whole wheat pasta.

However, on no less than seven occasions the plaintiff left a ripening sample on the vine for a necessary 24 hours, only to return the next day to discover an act of heinous thievery had been conducted between fruit reviews. As you no doubt recognize, this caused severe emotional distress.


The “accidental” opening of the screen to the sliding door, which, you may have witnessed, tends to jam and remain stuck. This action will allow the family feline a romp on the patio, which could be repeated at regular intervals. Should you infer a lack of severity in regards to this punishment, we will offer you a guided tour of the mice cemetery recently established in the back woods.


With reluctance, I am forced to communicate that failure to abide by the terms of this letter in spite of increased cat security, via continued liberation of tomatoes, specifically those of the yellow variety could result in extreme measures. I am not at liberty to share the specifics of these, other than to suggest that they could involve a five gallon bucket filled to a one-third mark with water, birdseed, and a ramp.

Yours Faithfully,

Monday, August 9, 2010

Touching Yesterday

Over the many years my sister has lived on a different continent, she and her family have visited often. Last week for the first time though, our 25-year-old Australian niece arrived in town without her mum—having spent the last few years working to afford a quick stopover with US relatives, followed by a back-packing jaunt through Europe. Before she arrived, I wondered if my husband, my daughter and I, two almost-old farts and a blossoming 17-year-old, could offer enough entertainment for this eager world traveler.

Five minutes after she stepped off the train, the answer to that question voiced itself in a resounding “yes,” as a result of ropes of comfort and attachment that thread though bloodlines from one generation to the next. Though my niece is taller, with a different hair color and a clear Australian accent as opposed to her mother's hybrid inflection, I could close my eyes and almost believe my sister stood in front of me. Even when I opened my eyes, bits of my sibling presented themselves—in front teeth that overlap the same way, in the light curve of a narrow nose and almond shaped eyes that smile a chocolate glint, though my sister’s eyes are cornflower blue.

Further reiterations emerged as, just like her mom, she voiced enthusiasm for a car tour as soon as she stepped off the train and the way, as is my sister’s custom, she paced our yard, exploring the gardens once we arrived back home. Her mother’s habits appeared in the glass of water she refilled regularly, her eagerness to help in the kitchen and subsequent ease in doing so.

On Friday, this lovely Australian and I hiked through World’s End, a coastal park heaving with mounds called drumlins, spoon-shaped eruptions formed by early glaciers. In 1890, Frederick Law Olmstead, a renowned landscape architect, designed the layout for a large subdivision on the property. Thankfully, the houses were never built. Unpaved carriage roads remain however—wide expanses lined with the thick trunks of ancient maples, cart tracks that twist by waving grasslands, fields of Timothy and clover sloping toward the harbor.

This unspoiled landscape looks that way it did 100 years ago and though we were handed a map upon arrival, most of the paths were as well marked as they might have been back then. That is to say, not.

Consequently, just as when I tramped this area with my sister a few years back, my niece and I got lost, but it didn’t matter. Eager for adventure, she agreed to a trek over loose shale on a winding pathway over the course of which we were forced to sidestep dense poison ivy. Emerging into a clearing, we stopped open-mouthed atop a granite cliff, staring down at a quiet waterway I’ve never seen before—which was empty with the exception of two small vessels hosting a group of picnickers far below. Far away, a lobster boat throbbed and churned a white wake through teal seas; closer in, swan parents guided juvenile cygnets calmly across still water.

Retreating from the ledge, we retraced our steps toward a more traveled path and walked for a couple of hours, ever conscious that the scenery appeared the way it always has. We were mindful too, I think, of things that transcend time—for my niece it may have been way the knock-kneed step of her hiking partner mirrored her mother’s gait—for me; it was traveling through history as if parallel to a soothing echo, distant reverberations sounding from a favorite sister.

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Friday, August 6, 2010


Courtney over at Southern Princess included a quote in a post this week that resonated with me:

"It's not what's happening to you now or what has happened in your past that determines who you become. Rather, it's your decisions about what to focus on, what things mean to you, and what you're going to do about them that will determine your ultimate destiny." -Anthony Robbins

Today, I decide to focus on our niece who is visiting from Australia, and the pictures we both plan to take on our tour of the area today.

Here is a warm-up for you.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

8/7/09 Repeat

I'm cheating again. Here's a post from the early days...between a work project, volunteering and prep for a visitor arriving tomorrow, the post I planned for today is not in shape for publication. Hope you don't mind this from 8/7/09 instead.

Just Because

There is something to be said for living in a town where you can drive by a common centered by a white steepled church surrounded by antique homes, and turn down a country lane bordered in granite stone walls to encounter two towheaded boys and one equally blond girl shouting “Lemonade for sale!” This, after the night before, when you attended a weekly farmer’s market selling fresh corn, green beans, tomatoes and zucchini on the aforementioned common--then wandered down to a “Village Stroll” where local merchants kept their doors open, leaving racks of goods unattended and served popcorn, cupcakes, cheese, and wine to their customers.

There is something to be said for a free visit (donation only) to a local museum in the middle of town, and touring a 300 year old, four-room house that used to sleep eleven, peering out the original wavy glass windows at the laughing crowd below, and at 5’3” feeling like an awkward giant when required to duck as you traipse sideways down a narrow stairway so you don’t hit your head.

There is something to be said for living in a town where 10-year-olds throw their life jackets on over their bathing suits, yank on their bike helmets and peddle furiously up hills and down rutted streets to the still harbor for an early morning sailing lesson. And for taking a steno pad to the beach and writing about the eight white sails leaning on the horizon off toward Boston, of the kayakers paddling past East Shag Rock and the lobster boat bobbing among a small tornado of sea gulls that dive as the captain pulls his traps hand-over-hand. And, for the brown haired toddler in her pink skirted suit who runs fearlessly over sharp stones to the water, red plastic buckets in each hand--who fills them and then stands at the edge flapping her arms because they are too heavy--then hugs her dad's knees when he wobbles over the rocks to help her out.

There’s something that should be said about all of this, just because you can.

Monday, August 2, 2010


It is possible to stand in your garden beside the spindled arms of a Bee Balm plant and end up eye-to-eye with a hummingbird. I know this, because as I yanked at weeds in a red sleeveless t-shirt yesterday, this happened to me.

At the sound of his hum, I stood up, then froze as he hovered, dead ahead, less than two feet away, brain synapses visibly clicking while his pulsating wings held him aloft. He hovered, we both stared. He was, I suppose, intrigued by the color of my top, and I held my breath for long seconds--until prudence won out over nectar and he veered toward the bush, then up to the sky.

Cameras are meant for moments like these, but sometimes you stumble on an image unprepared, so you attempt to record it via memory, cataloging the see-through blur of his green wings, the red blotch at his throat you wanted to touch, the way his black eyes glimmered like tiny onyx in the sun.

Then you brush off your hands, and swallow a little hope that you never forget the moment--because it's unlikely you'll get that lucky again.