Thursday, April 29, 2010

Jambalaya and a crawfish pie...

Last Saturday when I went into downtown Augusta to look for curtain material, I found hunger striking just as I was parking. I managed to get through my errand at Cozy Cottage Fabrics o.k., but knew I needed to eat as soon as possible. I had been wanting to go back to the Riverfront Barbeque and Grill, also located on Water Street, where I had eaten once before, with one of my staff and her mother. I had been favorably impressed with the food that time -- had had the blackened haddock, which came with one of the best restaurant cole slaws I've ever had (not too sweet, not awash with mayonnaise) as well as a tasty jalapeno cornbread -- and wanted to see if the place would stand up to a second visit.

It did. This time I had the seafood and sausage jambalaya, again accompanied by the cole slaw and cornbread, which seems to come with everything. The jambalaya was excellent, although one would definitely need to like spicy food to enjoy it. The seafood part was shrimp, small but plentiful, and two crab claws. Oh, crab meat is so delicious. I found the dish properly authentic tasting -- it could easily have been produced by some little hole in the wall in southern Louisiana. Indeed, the restaurant itself could easily sit on some corner in New Orleans' French Quarter: Big, dark wood bar, high, stamped tin ceiling painted a dark chocolate brown, a nice contrast to the vanilla-colored walls, very roomy, dark wood booths all around the walls; in the middle of the room a few small tables along a strip of highly polished black-and-white checked floor that I could see serving as a dance floor. Good blues playing on the sound system.

I have yet to try the barbeque, which comes in all guises, but I know that Barb really likes their barbeque ribs. The place isn't cheap -- my meal cost me $20 with the tip, and I had only water to drink -- but I didn't feel ripped off. As tired as I get of having to eat so often, as much as I dislike to cook -- and as bored as I get with my own cooking -- I do enjoy having a good meal at a nice restaurant. There is a real dearth of good restaurants in the Augusta area -- Slates, just around the corner from my little library in Hallowell, being one of the few -- so I'm pleased to discover another one, that I can recommend to people, and take visitors to.

Now all I need is some visitors.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Let there be light

The other night I watched a PBS program on telescopes, with a large part of it featuring the Hubble Telescope, and the wonders of the universe that it has revealed. It was pointed out that astrophysicists have discovered, thanks to telescopes, that there's a huge amount of what they call "dark matter" out in space; indeed, they believe about 23% of the universe is made up of dark matter, another 73% something they call dark energy, 3.6% intergalactic gas, while only .4% is "ordinary matter" (stars, planets, galaxies).*

And here's the thought that occurred to me as I was listening to all this. Maybe the dark matter and the dark energy are the body of God. Maybe the universe is God, with all the planets and stars and galaxies sort of appendages to that body. Maybe originally, just as it says in the Christian Bible, there was only a dark universe, that is, God, eternal and everywhere, but without form or light. And the Consciousness, the Intelligence that was God got bored, felt like making something happen, decided to try a little experiment, said (or thought) "Let there be light," and there was a Big Bang, and a jillion particles were hurled outward on a long, long journey, during which they coalesced, became stars, planets, galaxies. And God watched, with interest, what was happening, watched the evolution of worlds, of species on those worlds, of cultures among those species. He didn't necessarily take care of any of these results of his experiment -- he let them play themselves out, "naturally," according to the laws that had been set in motion with his first action. But they were all a part of Him.

I could almost accept this idea of God. I have not been able to accept the all-knowing, all-loving God I was brought up to believe in -- have seen too much evidence of an uncaring universe at work -- but such a scenario as I have described would cover the evidence that our sciences have found for evolution, and for the formation of the "ordinary matter" of the universe, while also explaining the sense of God, the ancient sense that there is a God, that all peoples of this world, at least, have had. And it would account for all that mysterious dark matter and dark energy out there!

It's a thought.

*Craig, Matthew and Sara Schultz. Invisible Galaxies: The Story of Dark Matter. The Universe in the Classroom, No. 7, Summer 2007.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Spring is bustin' out all over

While I know many parts of the country have been enjoying spring for some time now (in Louisiana and southern California it comes in February!), here in central Maine it's been slipping in just over the past couple of weeks, which is actually a little early. Temperatures in the upper 50s/lower 60s, a decent but not depressing amount of rain making the grass start to grow again (Oh, no! Now I have to start worrying about how to keep it cut again!), blossoming trees breaking out their white and pastel colors overnight, sunshine yellow forsythia and brilliant fuchsia-colored azalea bushes making such a stark contrast with what was still a basically winter-brown background. But fat green buds were beginning to appear on all the branches, and today, for the first time, many trees were sporting a faint green haze.

I suspect that for most Mainers autumn is their favorite season (it is mine), but spring has its own special delights, and thanks to our normally long and snowy winters (though not this year -- we had no real snow storms after the first week of February!), Mainers are always so delighted to see it. Today when I went out to do some errands I saw that the rail trail running through Gardiner/Farming-dale/Hallowell/Augusta was crowded with folks jogging, biking, pushing baby carriages, walking dogs, and just strolling. Out enjoying the beautiful day.

One of my errands was unusually domestic, for me. I had decided I needed a new bathroom window curtain. What I've been using as a curtain for the two years that I've been in this house is one panel of some curtains my stepmother made for me years ago, to match the multi-colored blanket she had knitted for me. Those curtains hung in the windows of several tiny efficiency apartments that I lived in during my 19-year sojourn in Boston. But because they are consider-ably longer than my small bathroom window, I had taken just one panel and draped it up over the curtain rod. I always liked those curtains, mainly because they're so colorful -- bright aqua and blue, hot pink and red, with a small amount of black/white/gold thrown in -- but the pattern is very modern. All those colors appear in stripes of different widths, making it look rather like a painting by Mondrian. Not really appropriate for my conventional little bathroom with the wallpaper of tiny green garlands with cranberry-colored berries.

No, I needed real curtains, that fit properly, of a color that would go with my towels, and the tiny green garlands. And the brown woodwork.

So I drove into downtown Augusta, which basically is one street -- Water Street -- running for several blocks along the river. Augusta, for all that it is the capital city of Maine, really is just an overgrown small town. The numerous empty storefronts along Water Street testify to the fact that the old downtown has been supplanted, as in small towns throughout the country, by a huge shopping center at the northern edge of the city. It isn't a mall, because the stores are not connected, but there's a Walmart (the only store in the area open 24 hours), a Kohl's, a Home Depot, a Pier 21, all the usual suspects. Around the corner from all of this is a Sam's, a Staples (office supplies), a Barnes & Noble bookstore, the local multi-screen movie theatre. All your shopping in one convenient spot.

But I went to one of the businesses still doing business on Augusta's "Main St." The woman who owns the Cozy Cottage Fabrics and Rustic Furniture (how's that for a combination?) relined one of my coats this winter, and did a beautiful job. Even went the extra mile by driving all the way to Portland to get a green satin-like fabric, as she could find none in Augusta (including in her own fabric shop), and still she charged me only $45. So I figured she might just be able to produce a suitable bathroom curtain. I had already looked at Bed, Bath and Beyond, and found that the standard-sized curtains available are too long; and the woman I spoke with there said she'd never seen 30-inch long curtains for sale, anywhere. So it really seemed like custom-made was the only way to go.

I was disappointed that none of the fabrics on display came close to what I'd envisioned, but I finally settled on something I thought was really pretty -- a pattern called Stonehenge, which looks absolutely nothing like the pre-historic site, demonstrating that the people who name fabric patterns are as determinedly creative as the ones who name colors, (e.g., Sea Foam for green) -- and I thought it should go with everything it has to go with. Since I got back home and took another look at the bathroom, I'm having second thoughts, but the die is cast. The very pleasant and helpful woman who waited on me said it should be a couple of weeks...

And my next spring-induced activity? I may just buy a lawn mower!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Burnt peas and...

O.k., I've burned up another sauce pan. So many I've destroyed over the years, by going off to do something else while something was cooking, and forgetting all about that something until I suddenly smelled burning steel. Have also burned a large number of tea kettles over the years. It's all part of my I Hate-to-Cook Syndrome. I can't just stand there waiting for the water to boil, or the whatever it is to finish cooking; my God, I've got more interesting, important stuff to do. Although I suppose the loss of all those pots could also be attributed to my I-Don't-Remember Anything-for-Longer-Than-Thirty-Seconds-Unless-I-Write-Myself-a-LARGE-Note-About-It Syndrome.

At any rate, I do get tired of having to go out and buy another $24 pot. Oh, for a cook. Which I have said for most of my adult life. Any takers?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Neighbor Update

The latest on the neighbors with the noisy trucks and yapping dogs. (See Notes of July 3 and 9, 2008, June 13 and Nov. 28, 2009). They're moving out! Actually, what they're moving is their stuff, since they themselves have been gone for virtually all of the past eleven months. I said in my note of Nov. 28 that they were back in residence, but that proved to be true for only a short time. The mysterious white trailer remained in the driveway, but they were elsewhere, except for the very occasional appearance, usually to snowblow the driveway.

A couple of weeks ago the roaring trucks began appearing every few days, and there was much activity in the house and the yard. Eventually there were others with Matt and Patty, loading up the white trailer, which had proved to be, when opened...empty! Ach, what a disappointment. No mysterious experiments going on, no little house-on-wheels, not even a couple of motor cycles or -- much more likely in Maine -- All-Terrain Vehicles. They had an empty trailer sitting in their driveway for all these months, apparently waiting for spring weather to come so they could pack up and move out.

While they've been moving out, the presence of one of the obnoxious trucks -- the one with the license plate FIDDLER (Patty plays the violin -- how about that, a violin-playing truck driver) -- has reminded me of just how lucky I was that they were living elsewhere for most of the past year. So goddamn loud, that truck, like a locomotive idling. I got over my vague feelings of loneliness -- from not having neighbors on that side -- long ago; and it really was so wonderful not to be awakened, or kept from getting to sleep, by that damn roaring.

I keep wishing I had the physical and psychic energy to press for laws -- that were enforced -- against this kind of noise pollution. I honestly believe cars driving around with the bass on their radios tuned so loud you can hear it blocks away, and cars and pickups that are intention-ally made noisier than they need to be, are a modern scourge that negatively impacts people, whether they realize it or not. I believe our lives are made less gracious, less civilized, more nerve-wracking and stressful, by this kind of noise pollution.

What I have to hope for now is that it will take Matt and Patty a while to sell the house -- in the current market, a good possibility -- and that whoever they do sell it to will not be into stereo music with the bass turned extra loud, but will have ordinary, quiet vehicles, and cats.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What is happiness?

O.K., I'm moving to Bhutan. I realize it's not an island, which here-tofore has been my habitat of preference -- have long harbored a desire to live on either an island off the west coast of France, or else Jersey, which was my first-ever island experience -- but Bhutan does have mountains, which I love; it's physically beautiful, which is very important to me; it is more often cold than hot, which my body prefers, and it has a new policy of basing social, economic and political changes on how well they contribute to the Gross National Happiness.

And what is Gross National Happiness (GNH)? According to the Center for Bhutan Studies, which formulated the GNH Index for the government, it involves both objective realities -- enough food, a roof over your head, enough classrooms and teachers-- and subjective perceptions -- do people like the food they have to eat, do they feel comfortable in the classrooms and with the teachers, do they derive satisfaction from their work?

There are nine broad categories that the Index is meant to measure, in determining GNH. They are:

1. Psychological Well-being
2. Time Use
3. Community Vitality
4. Culture
5. Health
6. Education
7. Environmental Diversity
8. Living Standard
9. Governance

I especially like the Time Use category. The government of Bhutan actually acknowledges the importance of leisure time to people's sense of well-being, and thus to their overall happiness! Bhutan is not a rich country, and its people must work hard, primarily as farmers, which is a hard life. But it is felt that it is important that people have time for religious celebrations, community gatherings, sports activities, education; as these help produce a well-rounded life, which is more likely to generate contentment.

At the heart of the GNH Index are the Buddhist beliefs that are the religious foundation of the country, which includes a detachment from the pursuit of worldly goods and pleasures. I have always despised consumerism -- the idea of just "going shopping," because you can't think of anything else to do, has always suggested a very paltry imagination to me, besides being a huge waste of time and money -- so I suspect I would fit right in.

You can find out more about the concept of GNH, and about Bhutan, at

If you're wondering what brought all this on: PBS strikes again. Last night I watched a program about this tiny country at the southern edge of the Himalayas that I have never in my life given a thought to. I've long been aware of Tibet, and its problems, Nepal, and its problems. But Bhutan? Well, it also has its problems, of course, but any place that is working hard to preserve its stunning natural environment, and maintain its traditional cultural heritage, while bringing sustainable development to its people...any country whose guiding principal is its peoples' Gross National Happiness...has got a thing or two going for it, in my book.

However. Looking online I find that immigrating to Bhutan may take a bit of doing. You can't travel independently there, but only as part of a pre-planned, paid-for and guided tour. They don't want tourism to corrupt the country, as it could be argued it has in Nepal and Tibet. So they limit the number of tourists they let in, and they control where they can go. Are they likely to be any more lenient for people who actually want to settle there? I'll just have to find out.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A rule made to be broken?

I recently read a very short, insignificant, moderately entertaining book called Rules for aging: Resist normal impulses, live longer, attain perfection. You can see the author's tongue planted firmly in cheek even in the title. The author, by the way, is Roger Rosenblatt, whose publisher, HarperCollins, refers to him as an "award-winning essayist for Time and PBS."

Rosenblatt's Rule #1 (which is both Garrison Keillor's and Jim Lehrer's favorite of the rules, according to the inside front cover of the book) made me laugh out loud when I first read it. To wit:

"It doesn't matter. Whatever you think matters -- doesn't. Follow this rule and it will add decades to your life. It does not matter if you are late, or early...if you were clever, or if you were stupid; if you are having a bad hair day, or a no hair day...if you don't get that promotion, or prize, or house, or if you do. It doesn't matter."*

And of course, "it" doesn't. Not in the Grand Scheme of Things. Or, as we used to say when and where I was growing up: "What'll it matter a hundred years from now?" And no doubt Rule #1 is really an encour-agement to keep ones perspective, similar to the now-annoying cliche "Don't sweat the small stuff...and it's all small stuff."

But. After I'd read the whole book -- which takes maybe half an hour, and which provids plenty of other chuckles (e.g., "Just because the person who criticizes you is an idiot doesn't make him wrong.") -- and I went back and read Rule #1 again, I didn't laugh so hard. It is, in fact, if you think about it long enough, a depressing rule. A depress-ing idea. If we don't make things matter, or don't at least convince ourselves that things matter, we become in danger of losing our sense of purpose. And people lacking a sense of purpose tend to sit around staring at the walls or the T.V., living on McDonald's takeout and beer. And, come on, what kind of a life is that?

So we make things matter, we make what we do seem important, necessary, at the very least to ourselves. Thus, we are able to make ourselves get out of bed, prepare decent meals, go every day to a job that we don't much like (or even hate), do this that and the other thing. Because it's necessary, it matters.

Of course, in some cases what we do really is important-- many of the things President Obama (or any president) does, or might do, could have drastic repercussions for millions of people. The dastardly suicide bombers could be said to be doing something that matters, in a highly negative sense, to at least the dozens of innocent people they kill, as well as to those people's families.

But for the rest of us...all us "little people"...let's face it, the ups and downs, the ins and outs, the wins and losses, it just doesn't matter.

But pretending it does can keep you sane.

*Rosenblatt, Roger. Rules for aging: Resist normal impulses, live longer, attain perfection, New York: Harcourt, c2000, p. 1.