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Following Nature’s Lead

“If there is any wisdom running through my life now, in my walking on this earth, it came from listening in the Great Silence to the stones, trees, space, the wild animals, to the pulse of all life as my heartbeat.”
– Vijali Hamilton

The temperature is cooling, daylight hours are shortening, leaves have fallen, migration has happened and plants have ceased their growth. Nature is slowing down. Many of us humans, however, are heading into a busy season with some big holidays on the way. It can feel fun and festive, fast-paced and sometimes even a bit overwhelming. For some it can be a season of mixed or difficult emotions. Tuning in to what’s occurring in nature and following her lead can help us embrace what each season as to offer.

So what lessons does nature have to offer during the fall? These are a few to take to heart (plus some suggestions for related reads, of course)…

Bird’s Nest Fungi – one of the many wonders to notice around the library when you slow down.

Slow Down

Everyone, including nature, needs periods of restorative rest; time to be still and quiet; time to observe and reflect; time to make meaningful connections. Make time in your day to slow down. Be intentional about observing what’s going on around you. Pause to notice the little things.

Slowing Down to the Speed of Life

Embrace Change

Change is necessary for growth and brings with it opportunity. Change is also inevitable. Sometimes it is slow and barely perceptible, others time it happens more quickly than we can keep pace with.  Moving through change with an open heart and mind may help you find the beauty in it. Or at least to find some acceptance of it.

Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedom

Let Go

Organize your priorities so you know what is most deserving of your time. This applies to your thoughts, attitudes and relationships as well as your to-do list and social calendar. Letting go of that which no longer serves you frees up energy and space for more of what nurtures you. Like the trees, let go and focus your energies on new growth.

Nurture Your Roots

Even in this season of slowing down, growth continues. Trees focus their energies on their roots and seek out much needed nourishment. Consider how you might strengthen your own roots. Perhaps you’ll do so by being more present and engaged with loved ones. Maybe you’ll make special time to honor your ancestors and reflect on their impact on your life. Perhaps you’ll revive some familial/cultural traditions or create new rituals to incorporate into your day. Maybe adopt a hygge lifestyle. Whatever it looks like for you, this is the perfect season to be intentional about nurturing your roots.

hygge: a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture). source

The little book of hygge : Danish secrets to happy living

How to hygge : the Nordic secrets to a happy life

Be Grateful

Fall celebrations are a way to express gratitude for nature’s final bounty and recognize the efforts of the hard work in prior seasons. Preserve the feeling of the season by cultivating a practice of gratitude in your daily life. Be mindful of small blessings in your life, things that make you feel good and you appreciate, and intentionally give thanks. Over time you may begin to notice an enhanced sense of well-being.

Until next time, stay curious & get outside to notice nature!

 

Help Maine Authors Write a Mystery

Pictured from left to right: Kate Flora, Barbara Ross, and Maureen Milliken

Is it the estranged son taking out the overbearing, interfering mother? Is it the returned hometown hero taking out the town drunk who knows too many secrets? Is it the retired old spinster trying to keep the skeletons in the closet? And you never know about that innocent looking, always helpful, maybe too helpful, town librarian – did she finally have enough and take out a few unworthy souls?

It’s not a normal author talk, and you do not want to miss it. Wednesday, November 6 at 6pm here at Topsham Public Library, we welcome Kate Flora, Barbara Ross and Maureen Milliken. They are three talented mystery writers whose books are constantly crossing our circulation desk.

But this author night is a bit different than what you might be used to. With intense audience participation, the three writers will build a mystery novel on the fly, or at least make a plan for one. In the process, you will learn how writers make decisions when they create their books and everyone will enjoy some laughs.

Bring a friend, plan a murder, throw in some twists, and have a great time!

Book Groups for All Ages

Do you enjoy reading, but you wish you could discuss what you’ve read with other readers? Topsham Public Library has a number of book groups for all ages. Check the list below and if something interests you, join us. Read a book, participate in lively discussion, meet some new friends, and become involved in your community.

For children and teens we have a few options:

Young Critics is an ongoing book group for kids in grades 4 and 5. They meet every third Tuesday of the month from October to May at 5pm  to discuss great books and eat pizza that’s provided by Topsham Public Library. The child must be registered to attend. Young Critics is facilitated by Mariah our Children’s Librarian. This is a free program and books are provided. Presently Young Critics is full, but if you are interested check in a few months to see if a spot has opened.

Mariah and Cyndi, Topsham Public Library’s Teen Librarian, host Tween Reads (6th & 7th graders) and Teen Talk (8th & 9th graders).  They are happy to include anyone interested in attending. They try to strike the balance between allowing the participants the freedom to be themselves while maintaining a focus on the books they read. The participants in both groups suggest titles to read and often lead the discussions. The mission is to have fun through reading, build confidence among participants by allowing them a say in how the program runs, and most importantly, make a connection that makes them want to come back next month. Mariah and Cyndi are not teachers, this is not school, this is their choice.  (Thank you, Parents! We could not do it without the chauffeurs!)

Tween Reads meets the first Wednesday of the month from October to May at 5pm. Pizza is provided by the library and registration is required (so we know how much pizza to buy). Their next meeting is Wednesday, November 6 at 5pm and they will be discussing Coraline the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by P. Craig Russell. Copies of the book are available at the library.

Teen Talk meets the second Wednesday of the month from October to May at 5pm. Pizza is provided by the library and registration is required. Their next meeting is Wednesday, November 13. This month’s choice is The Lottery. Please read the short story by Shirley Jackson and the graphic novel adaptation by Miles Hyman both of which are available at the library.

If you have any questions or would like to register for Tween Reads or Teen Talk please email cyndi@topshamlibrary.org or call Topsham Public Library at 725-1727.

The adult options are below:

Book Look is a longstanding book club held at The Highlands’ Kennebec Room in the main lodge on the first Tuesday of the month from September – May (but no meeting in January). For over 15 years, Topsham Public Library’s Directors have been leading discussions about fiction and nonfiction books chosen by the participants of the group. All are welcome to join us – we read, talk, sometimes argue, snack (thanks to the attentive Highlands staff) and always have a good time. Their next meeting is Tuesday, November 5 at 11am and they will discuss Hidden Figures: the American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. For more information call Susan at the library – 725-1727 or email her at director@topshamlibrary.org.

Great Books is a lively discussion group that has been meeting monthly for more than five years. We are always looking for new members. They discuss readings from The Great Books Foundation. They meet at Topsham Public Library on the second Saturday of each month at 10am. Email emma@topshamlibrary.org to find out what they are discussing this month and for any questions you may have.

The Men’s Book Group meets the third Thursday of the month from September – May at 4pm at Topsham Public Library. They need a few good men to join them for this monthly meeting of the minds as they explore our interests through reading. Their next meeting is Thursday, November 21 at 4pm at Topsham Public Library wjere they will be discussing There, There by Tommy Orange. For more information call the library at 725-1727 or email emma@topshamlibrary.org.

Nature Speaks Book Group is a book group focused on – you guessed it – nature. They meet the second Thursday of the month at 4 pm at Topsham Public Library. On Thursday, November 14, they gather to begin a new book, Nature Notes From Maine by local author, Ed Robinson. This book is full of stories and images of Maine wildlife that will delight the nature-lover in all of us. Dana Cary leads this discussion group that focuses on our environment and the wonders of nature. This month the first ten chapters will be discussed. If you have any questions email emma@topshamlibrary.org.

Rare Reads is for those who like reading unusual and interesting popular fiction (and some nonfiction). Find out more at topshamlibrary.org/rare-reads/. Registration is not required. The next meeting is Tuesday, November 19 at 6pm and The Reminders by Val Emmich will be discussed. For more information email emma@topshamlibrary.org.

Are you a graphic novel lover? Reading Between the Panels meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month from October-May at 6pm. If you love art and literature, and at the same time, then join Dale, our IT guy, each month as all things graphic novel are discussed. From classic comic book collections to the latest in graphic novels, they share their favorites, make recommendations, and talk shop about the writing, the art and everything in between. For more information call Dale at Topsham Public Library at 725-1727.

There is also a Mystery Readers Roundtable that meets monthly and is facilitated by our mystery expert Linda; however, at this time the space is full. If you do enjoy all things mystery and are looking for suggestions check out Mysteries Abound an information source that every mystery reader will appreciate.

Book groups are a great way to try new things, meet new friends and talk all things books! Hope to see you soon!

 

 

 

 

 

I Love My Crock Pot

I use my crock pot year round, but there’s something about fall that draws me to use it much more often. Most of the time, I use my crock pot to make soups, stews, chowders, etc, but I tried The Whole30 Slow Cooker by Melissa Hartwig (it has some recipes for the Instant Pot, too!) because it has recipes that are more varied and not a re-take on chowder.

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I did not know what a Whole30 diet meant when I first saw this cookbook. I soon discovered that Whole30 is a month long (hence the 30) diet plan to eliminate certain foods and discover if there are food groups that are affecting your body negatively. I have not participated in a Whole30 diet and the recipes I tried I tried because I thought they looked good, but I did not choose this book to follow the diet, so my review will not comment on the affectiveness of a Whole30 diet plan.

Melissa Hartwig is a certified sports nutritionist and is the co-creator and CEO of the Whole30 program. She has written a number of books including The Whole30 Slow Cooker published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and released in 2018.

One of the best things, in my opinion, about a crock pot is the dump the stuff in, turn the power on, and walk away aspect of it. Most of the recipes in this cookbook offer that ease, but there are some that require a bit more preparation time. As long as you’re aware of the prep time – and they list a prep time for each recipe – you can plan ahead.

The first recipe I made was Spicy Italian Pot Roast With Fingerling Potatoes, Carrots, Onions, and Pepperoncini. Throughout the book, Hartwig includes recipes from guest chefs. This is one of those recipes and is from Simon Hall of Simon Hall Private Chef. I consider this to be a stew. And a yummy stew it was! It was my first introduction to pepperoncini and wow! It’s spicy – not hot, hot spicy but just a kick kind of spicy. The most labor intensive aspect of this recipe is searing the roast in a frying pan before adding it to the crock pot. This recipe does take all day to cook. It is lighter, though, and it doesn’t have the heaviness of a “normal” stew.

The second recipe I tried was the Mediterranean Chicken Wraps. This recipe is also light on the prep work – chopping some veggies and squeezing a lemon – but it was also quick on the cooking time needing only 2 1/2 hours to cook. The chicken is cooked with some onion, roasted red peppers, olives (but heaven forbid anyone in my house eat an olive so I omitted them), capers, and spices and it’s served on bibb lettuce. It really is pretty and fun to serve. There was only one little glitch. The bibb lettuce became limp from the heat of the chicken. Next time I would use a different lettuce that maintains its crispiness. Again, a light feel to the meal that is refreshing.

It’s probably a little odd to say, but my mouth felt “cleaner” after eating these meals. I keep describing them as light, but that’s exactly how I think of them. Not light in taste, but I felt lighter and full after eating them.

The cookbook is littered with pictures, but some recipes do not have photos. The extras included in the book concentrate on the Whole30 aspect of the cookbook, so if you are looking for how-tos, this might not be the cookbook for you. The recipes are eye appealing, and from what I’ve tried, they are delicious, so even if you have no interest in a Whole30 diet, this cookbook is worth trying.

 

Sense of Place and Nature’s Role

 

 

“An individual is not too distinct from his place. He is his place.”

— Gabriel Marcel

 

Sense of place.  Have you heard this phrase? I first heard it several years ago and although it was new terminology to me, the concept was familiar. To put it simply, it refers to the meaning attributed to a place as influenced by our interactions with it.

Close your eyes for a moment and think of the places that were important to you during your childhood. Was there a certain stream you loved exploring? A favorite climbing tree or place to build a fort? How about a market, museum, or place of worship? What memories are attached to these places? What significance do they hold for you? Chances are that you have strong emotional connections to these special places from your childhood. In addition to emotional ties, places can also hold historical, spiritual, or cultural significance.

Now take a few moments to think about your favorite places where you currently live and what special meaning each one holds. Perhaps the Topsham Public Library is one of these places. I dare guess that it is. Like Diane said in the annual report (pick up a copy at the circulation desk or in the latest Cryer), our library is a treasured resource for many. The nature that surrounds you is also an important aspect of your sense of place. If you haven’t done so already, I invite you to include the lovely grounds around the library as part of your visits – enjoy a read on our patio where you can breathe in fresh air and feel the sun warm your skin; stroll through the gardens (see the last post for ideas to deepen your experience) and notice what has changed since your last visit; venture down to the path along the river where you’ll discover a small fern forest, plants you may not have noticed before (did you know there’s Silverrod and Maple-leafed Viburnum growing there?), heron tracks in the mud, and maybe even startle some snoozing ducks.

Why is sense of place important?  Here are just some of the reasons:

  • Connecting to one’s surrounding environment establishes knowledge of and appreciation for its resources;
  • A sense of place supports the development of personal identity and purpose;
  • Having a strong sense of place can inspire stewardship;
  • Understanding sense of place can nurture empathy. 

Every trip to the farmer’s market or coffee shop, every exploration of surrounding trails and nature preserves, every time you pick wild berries (did you see Jen’s Lemon Posset with Blueberry-Cherry Wine Sauce?!), every event attended in our community, every observation made in our own backyard, is being woven together to create our own unique sense of place. How does the library fit into yours?

Until next time, stay curious & get outside to notice nature!

Monique
(your friendly library nature nerd)

 

Congratulations to Our Director!

If you haven’t heard the news, our very own Susan Preece, Director of Topsham Public Library, is the recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Librarian of the Year Award given by the Maine Library Association! We are so proud of her and her endeavors to ensure that Topsham Public Library is a community center for all ages.

The Outstanding Librarian of the Year Award was created in 1993 to highlight professional  achievement and service to the Maine Library Community. Each year, the Maine Library Association presents two awards: the Outstanding Librarian Award and the Maine Library Journalism Award. All nominations are reviewed by the Communications Committee, and awards are presented at the Annual Conference.

Susan has worked in libraries since she was 16 years old. A former children’s librarian, Susan enjoys reading all kinds of books but especially historical fiction and high fantasy. “Public libraries are an essential part of any community,” she says. Susan feels lucky to be working in a community with an exemplary staff, dedicated board and supportive patrons.

It doesn’t take long to realize that Susan is passionate about libraries and making sure all feel welcome in obtaining the services a library provides.

Congratulations, Susan! We are lucky to have you!

The Blueberry Cookbook

I love to pick strawberries. Every summer you’ll find me at a local farm picking those big, plump, juicy berries. I have a little raspberry patch in my yard, and I love picking berries for muffins or jam. But when it comes to blueberries, I confess, I just buy them. The local farmer’s markets sell them and when I run out of them I buy frozen ones from the store. It’s a real struggle for me to pick them. My father loved picking blueberries, but when I was little I felt like I was being punished when he would put a pail in my hand and take me with him to pick blueberries. I picked and picked and picked and after hours and hours and hours the bottom of the pail could still be seen. When I was older, the habit became one in which he picked, and I cleaned the berries when he returned. Regardless, though, whether they are handpicked or bought, I love blueberries.

What caught my attention when I saw this book, was not that it is a cookbook or that it is a blueberry cookbook. What I noticed right away is the beauty of the book itself. It is like a work of art. It’s just a bonus that it is also a blueberry cookbook. The Blueberry Cookbook by Sally Pasley Vargas is a 2019 release from Down East Books and it is delightful to the eye and the palate.

Vargas’ introduction is followed by a section in which she discusses the ingredient choices she makes and the methods she prefers. It is quite informative itself. As a matter of fact, I learned that if I add a little sour cream to heavy cream it will last a little longer once it’s whipped. Though the recipes are divided into six sections, they, practically speaking, can be divided into to groups: blueberries for breakfast and blueberry desserts. Many of the recipes are old recipes with a new twist, but they are well worth trying. There’s even a recipe for the Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins!

The book’s lay out is eye appealing and very easy to follow. Usually one recipe a page with an exquisite photo that makes it difficult to choose which recipe to make first. The instructions are clear and laid out in step-by-step format.

I made Lemon Posset with Blueberry-Cherry Wine Sauce. (A posset, for those like myself who might not know what a posset is, is a cold dessert made from thickened cream usually flavored with lemon or a drink made of hot milk curdled with ale, wine, or other alcoholic liquor and typically flavored with spices, drunk as a delicacy or as a remedy for colds. Thanks to Google for the definitions.) The lemon posset was firm and bursting with lemon flavor. My tongue tingled from it. My family is big on lemon and we loved it! I want make it again and try it as a filling in a layer cake. The sauce also had a strong flavor, but when they were put together the sauce tamed the posset and the flavors blended superbly. The recipe for the sauce called for cardamom pods, but I didn’t have any so I substituted a combination of cinnamon and nutmeg. The making of the dessert was quick, but I did let the posset sit in the refrigerator overnight and chilled the sauce before serving.

Just like lobster and potatoes, snow and sleet, the forests and the oceans, the lakes and the trails, blueberries are a part of Maine culture. The Blueberry Cookbook is a celebration of the blueberry, and in my opinion, should be a staple in every Maine kitchen!

What’s In Your Wallet?

Everyone, find your library card!  Topsham Public Library is offering its patrons more value with the rolling out of a state-wide pilot program which allows our patrons in good standing to check out items from participating libraries.

The Maine Reciprocal Borrowing Program allows anyone with a valid library card from one of 68 participating libraries to visit any of the other participating libraries and check out materials in person. It’s referred to as “walk-in” borrowing because it essentially turns your local library card into a “statewide” library card!

There are some important guidelines for you to keep in mind:

  1. You MUST visit Topsham Public Library with your library card. We will check your library account and, if you are a member in good standing, we will affix a sticker to your library card. If you are one of our patrons, and you have lost your card we will issue you a new one.
  2. Not every library in the state has chosen to participate in this program at this time, so you must check the list of participating libraries. If a library is not on that list, you cannot check out books from them in person. If they have an item you want, you may request it through the already established inter-library loan process.
  3. When you visit any one of the participating libraries, you MUST have your Topsham Public Library card with you. If you do not have your Topsham Public Library card you WILL NOT be able to check out items from that library.
  4. Each participating library reserves the right to limit what can be borrowed through this program. Generally, however, if an item is available to borrow through inter-library loan, then it is most likely available to borrow through this program.
  5. If you do check out an item from another library, you may return it to Topsham Public Library and it will be returned via the inter-library loan system. You do not have to take it back to the library from which you checked it out (but you can if it is convenient).
  6. The due dates are based on the system’s inter-library rules, so it may not be the same date as Topsham Public Library’s due date.
  7. If you have any questions, please ask! We are happy to help and we will all learn this new system together.

The purpose of the program is to make your experience borrowing materials – and returning them – as convenient as possible. This is an exciting new option that is in it’s beginning stages, so there may be glitches here and there, but we are striving to present you with more, so come join the fun!

 

Joy of the Pen Writing Competition is Open for Submissions

Are you a writer? Do you have some stories or poems that you’ve been working on? Is there a story hanging out in your mind but you haven’t had reason to get it out on paper? Now is the time! We are accepting submissions for our annual writing competition, The Joy of the Pen, from Saturday, September 7 through Saturday, October 5, 2019. The Joy of the Pen is Topsham Public Library’s annual writing competition open to Maine residents, both amateur and professional.

We accept previously unpublished submissions in the following categories: fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, Maine-related nonfiction and teen fiction and teen poetry. Submit online at joyofthepen.topshamlibrary.org.

The Joy of the Pen Reception will be held on Saturday, November 16 at 1:00PM to announce the winners. Joy of the Pen is sponsored by The Cryer, Friends of the Topsham Public Library, Just Write Books and the TPL Teen Room.

You won’t know until you try. Polish off the stories, poems, and/or remembrances and submit them. You’ve got nothing to lose!

Awaken Your Senses in the Garden

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”
–  John Burroughs

Have you visited our gardens recently? Some blooms are starting to fade away but there is still plenty of color and interest. Sarah has done a wonderful job designing so that there’s always something in bloom throughout the garden out back and the Topsham Garden Club makes sure you are greeted with attractive plantings each time you visit. The weather has been lovely as of late. Why not take a stroll through our grounds the next time you visit? Before you do, may I share a secret with you? To enjoy the full beauty the garden offers, you must slow down and engage all of your senses. A world of details and sensations will open up for you and you’ll notice things that perhaps you haven’t before.

The more senses you use, the more information you will receive. Since each sensory system utilizes different parts of the brain, you’re also boosting your brain power; combining the use of one’s various senses leads to more and stronger connections within the brain and the result is a more thorough, meaningful experience. In addition, there’s increasing science-based evidence that tells us time spent in nature is good for us. A quick online search will lead you to some of the studies in a promising, growing collection. Benefits being reported include:

  • reduced stress and anxiety and lower risk of depression
  • improved blood pressure and cholesterol
  • better able to direct attention / focus
  • feeling more positive emotions and outlook on life
  • an increase in compassion, generosity and other prosocial behaviors.

I’m guessing that you already know through personal experience that you simply feel better and your mood is improved after spending some time outside. It takes only a few moments of your day to enjoy nature and reap the benefits. Here are some things to try to awaken your senses in the garden:

Before you begin, stand still for a moment to take in the general sights, sounds, smells, temperature, sun and breeze on your skin. Take a few deep breaths and center yourself in the present moment.

Patterns: The gardens are full of patterns! Pause to look at any one plant and you’re sure to notice a variety. Look for spirals & coils, symmetry, fractals & branching, spheres & circles, stars, spots & stripes. I’ve provided a book list below if you’re interested in learning more about patterns in nature.  Some of them are children’s books but I recommend you still take a peek.

Textures: When is the last time you felt a leaf out of curiosity? Chances are likely that is has been a while. It’s so easy for us adults to become indifferent to things we have experienced often enough. Reconnect with your childlike wonder and notice how some of the plants feel. The Lamb’s Ear is a favorite for children and adults alike – it’s so soft and fuzzy! Try contrasting the texture of the stiff Yucca leaves with some delicate and frilly leaves. I recommend you also feel both the top side and under of different leaves. Trust me, the two sides can feel quite different on many leaves.

Scents: You may be surprised to learn which plants in the garden have unique scents and that it’s not just flowers that can smell good. Rub the foliage of the Yarrow and take in the scent left on your fingers. Take a whiff of the flowering panicles of the Prairie Dropseed grass. What do you think it smells like? I’ve heard everything from cilantro to vanilla to buttered popcorn. What other plants can you find that have unique scents? Don’t be afraid… experiment a little and take a sniff.

Sounds: One of my favorite discoveries in the garden is that the dried seed pods of the False Indigo sounds like a rattle when shaken. Now I can’t help give them a shake when I pass by in late summer or fall. I also like how the stiff Yucca leaves sound against one another when I wiggle my hand back and forth among them. Notice other sounds around you – the breeze through tall grasses, birds calling, crickets chirping, etc. Closing your eyes can help you focus more when listening.

Color & Light: Compare and contrast the shades of green. You’ll find deep greens with a red or purple tint, pale yellow-greens, blue and silvery greens. Watch how foliage colors change throughout the seasons. Notice how light and shadows play on the plants highlighting certain features, changing the tone of a color, adding depth and contrast.

“Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.”
–   Henry David Thoreau

If you have only a few brief moments or want to start with a limited amount, I suggest the following plants as you’ll be able to explore through most, if not all, of your senses.

  • Yarrow
  • Russian Sage
  • Wooly Thyme
  • Lamb’s Ear
  • Dianthus
  • Catmint
  • Salvia
  • Mullein

Be sure to visit regularly. You’ll notice something different each time you do and you’ll be well on your way to developing keener observation skills and awareness of the natural world.

Until next time, stay curious & get outside to notice nature!

Monique
(your friendly library nature nerd)

Resources to cultivate your curiosity: