Other red barns out there

Somehow, a red barn is iconic. Little wonder I latched onto it in naming this blog. My posts have already mentioned Tuttle’s and Red’s Shoe Barn in Dover, New Hampshire, and the Red Barn Motel in Millbridge, Maine.

As for others? Not all of them are on farms.

  1. There’s the fast-food restaurant chain that originated in Springfield, Ohio.
  2. A market and deli in South Burlington, Vermont.
  3. A feed and pet store in the San Fernando Valley of California.
  4. A flea market in Bradenton, Florida.
  5. A home décor store in Wisconsin.
  6. A convention center in Adams County, Ohio.
  7. A trailer dealership in Texas and New Mexico.
  8. A medical marijuana producer and dispensary in New Mexico.
  9. Amish in Maine, who not only allow them but make them their bright signature color while keeping the houses plain white.
  10. And let’s not overlook Tom Waits, singing “There was a murder in the red barn” as the chorus.

America’s largest cities in 1790

Working on a big history project, both my own and in some discussions with a good friend who’s immersed in writing a book that’s all his, has had me reflecting on the growth of America. Just where was the economic and political power centered? The findings can be rather surprising.

  1. New York City (33,131 population). That’s all? It’s about the size of Dover, New Hampshire, or Bangor, Maine. Places we’d call small cities or towns.
  2. Philadelphia (28,522). As you’ll see, that’s a bit misleading, but still small by today’s standards.
  3. Boston (18,320). Well, it was also surrounded by some thriving towns, especially along the Charles River and around the harbor.
  4. Charleston, S.C. (16,359). So this was the belle of the South and diversely sophisticated, too?
  5. Baltimore (13,503). Less than half the size of Philadelphia.
  6. Northern Liberties Township, Pa. (9,913). Of course, had these suburbs been included with Philadelphia, the influence of the City of Brotherly Love would be more apparent.
  7. Salem, Mass. (7,921). Here’s where the New England picture changes and winds up taking up half of the Top Ten list.
  8. Newport, R.I. (6,716). Harbors were key factors for cities.
  9. Providence, R.I. (6,380). As I was saying?
  10. Marblehead, Mass. (5,661). One of three Bay State cities named for a single governor, as the saying goes. Peabody and Athol rounded out the honor.

Fact: Only two cities have ever held the distinction of most populous in the United States. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, it was Philadelphia. But by the time of the first Census, 1790, New York had taken the top spot, a rank it’s held ever since.

Signs that the Summer People are about to descend

  1. First boat on a trailer bouncing down the street. Usually soon followed by another.
  2. Lights on in a seasonal second-home.
  3. Double the number of cars at the IGA from what’s been normal.
  4. Rain rather than snow.
  5. More than one vehicle parked overnight at the motel. And then international flags flying from its deck.
  6. Out-of-state licenses plates from other than a random New Hampshire or Massachusetts or Virginia vehicle. Beginning with Iowa, Wisconsin, Tennessee, but soon followed by Oregon, California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Ohio. Somehow, Florida doesn’t flood in initially.
  7. A change in the quality of daylight, from bright crisp to buttery.
  8. The first Mercedes in town since October. Or BMW, Audi, or Volvo.
  9. Green grass and dandelions.
  10. Somebody actually moving within one of the seasonally closed stores or galleries downtown.

Random notes keep springing up in no particular order

Here are a few more.

  1. Attempting to bridge many unanticipated combinations.
  2. Classical music is a connection to history of social thought and imagination.
  3. In the face of Covid-19, are we facing the death of dining out? And face-to-face shopping?
  4. You treated fame the way you treated me, which may explain everything.
  5. I didn’t really want to be a swami. Now, now I see, I wanted to be a rabbi!
  6. The misapplication of “culture” to be norm rather than higher learning and other downfalls, as in “classic rock”
  7. Cool beans, eazy-peezy.
  8. Chickens in the garden.
  9. What we transplanted last week looks happy, and the rats are gone.
  10. Practice & Devotion. In either order.


See how my mind and heart work? Really?

Pantry items I consider staples

No, not the usual listing of milk, bread, eggs, butter, potatoes – those are givens. Rather, the things special to me you’re not likely to pick up if you’re doing my grocery run.

  1. Olives. Big green stuffed ones, though I love ripe ones as well, elsewhere.
  2. Gin. Where did you think those green olives were going?
  3. Bagels. Or breakfast pastry.
  4. Craisins. They go well in yogurt or on a salad.
  5. Sunflower seeds. On that salad, too.
  6. Cookies and pretzels. Something to snack on.
  7. Garlic. Rather than onion.
  8. Lemons. And limes, for someone special.
  9. Orange juice, or grapefruit. Perk me up in the morning.
  10. Not as frequently but all the same: miso, sesame oil, rice vinegar, almonds.

What’s on your hidden list of essentials?


Ways American democracy is increasingly at risk

Spoiler alert. This is a rant. Here are some of the places I see us as American society being in deep doodah.

  1. Out-and-out lies, delusions, and false expectations “Making America great again” has done the exact opposite. And ideological preconceptions block any reality of what needs to be done. It’s a great sales pitch, but if you’re promising to fix something, you better master the details. Think about making your car or computer or anything else run better and who you’d trust doing the job.
  2. The center is coming apart, along with the breakdown of face-to-face community. Who belongs to a lodge or bowling league or even a church anymore? Without those, just how are our opinions tested and refined? It’s part of a decline of civic awareness and participation.
  3. Refusal to give and take, i.e. compromise, to work out solutions for the common good. Health care is a prime example. Any faults with “Obama-care” can be laid at the feet of those opposed to any health insurance for Americans who didn’t have union jobs or the like. And we know who’s opposed those unions.
  4. Disproportionate representation by rural states. Not just the Senate, either, but especially the Electoral College, which was a faulty way of accommodating Southern slaveholders to begin with.
  5. Disenfranchisement of voters, one way or another. Want to talk about “stealing elections”?
  6. PACs and other big-money corruption, leading to the undermining of the middle class. It’s why the rich are getting richer.
  7. An uninformed electorate, along with the economic collapse of responsible journalism coupled with the tainting of “liberal media” by certain self-interests. Where on earth have the left-wing editorial page columnists been in the past half-century, anyway?
  8. Blaming the victims rather than the super-rich. Talk about “entitlement”? Add to that the myth of the “self-made man.”
  9. The collapse of the tax system. I’m no fan of the Internal Revenue Service, but it’s been gutted to let those with the most to get away scot-free.
  10. Without excusing the left for its too-often sanctimonious airs, I’d say the real threats are coming from an increasingly barbarian right-wing. Or should that be “anarchists”? They’re not conservatives or patriots, OK?

Look, unlike many, I’ve read the Federalist Papers closely, the arguments behind the American Constitution. I can say definitively that MAGA is dead-set against its principles.

Your turn to weigh in. Just be polite.


Some things I thought I’d take up in retirement but didn’t

Looking back on my pre-retirement visions, I’m facing the fact that much of what I had anticipated has instead fallen by the wayside.

Here we go.

  1. Meditation: First thing in the morning, just like the ashram. Instead, I go pretty straight to the computer and start writing or revising. The clarity of those early hours is treasured for creativity, rather than the wee hours of my earlier years.
  2. Hatha yoga: Along with chanting, hymns, or even Bible study that I anticipated in the calm of early morning. Nope, none of these have even made into the afternoon or evening, either.
  3. Fasting, mauna observance, retreats: Again, this would have sprung from my ashram roots. Fasting had been a one-day-a-week routine – no food, rather a restricted diet. Mauna was a period of non-speaking, which could initially be very difficult before turning liberating and enhancing. The idea of getting away from it all for a week at a time definitely deserves renewed consideration.
  4. Tennis: I never have figured out the scoring, but there were a few friends who seemed willing to teach, if I ever had time, so, hey, why not? . Alas, fate intervened and they were no longer able once I was open.
  5. Bicycling: My original regular-exercise option, this was about to take off (pardon the pun) just about the time our younger daughter decided she wanted her long-neglected, high-quality wheels to join her in Greater Boston. Here, I had just paid to have it tuned up and ready, too, and even purchased a helmet and lock. Admittedly, all those gears – which we didn’t have back when I was a kid – were rather intimidating.
  6. Camping: I had purchased a tent and stored it in the loft of the barn, but when I finally pulled it down, it wouldn’t open – the weatherproofing had melted over the years.
  7. Hosting a monthly Poetry in the Meetinghouse series: There would have been a featured reader followed by an open reading.
  8. Travel: This fell away largely because of our budget but also because of the other things impinging on my time – the writing and revising, especially. Destinations would have included the annual Friends General Conference, writers’ conferences, Tanglewood concerts, as well as a return to the Pacific Northwest and then on to Alaska. There might also have been England, Ireland, Scotland, Alsace, and Switzerland, for genealogy. Italy, for opera and cuisine. Spain, Morocco, Japan, utter curiosity. Macedonia and Greece, retracing the trip my wife and elder daughter made a few years ago. More likely is visiting Quebec City, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia, all neighboring my current home.
  9. Boston weekends or midweek jaunts around New England: Again, mostly budget, even when it involved little more than an Amtrak senior-discount ticket. I could add visiting old friends around the country.
  10. A regular deep-reading routine: I am a booklover, after all, but am not checking off a book or two each week, much less one every day or two.


There are some other, more general, things I could add, such as taking up a social activist role after all those years of being stifled as a journalist, or specifics, such as getting serious about getting back to making and baking bread, as I did in the ashram, or forcing bulbs to bloom in the depth of winter.

And I likely won’t ever introduce my wife to the mountain laurels in full bloom along the Merrimack River at Newburyport, Massachusetts, or the springtime wonders of the Garden in the Woods in Framingham, west of Boston, now that we’re centering ourselves at the far eastern fringe of Maine.

One item especially amuses me – “second home (mountain lake or Maine island)?” The turns in our budget wound up ruling that out, but I am living on a Maine island now. You never know what might happen when you start sky-lining.


It’s mostly a downward slope, right?

Ten things I don’t like about growing older:

  1. Fragile skin and easy bruising.
  2. Moles and stray hairs.
  3. Balding and graying.
  4. Forgetfulness.
  5. Sexual withering and incontinence.
  6. Slowing down in general.
  7. Inability to sleep in late. Worse yet, apparently I snore more … and louder.
  8. A receding gum line.
  9. Declining stamina.
  10. Lessened agility and equipoise, too. As for balance?


What’s hitting you? No matter your age.


A few things I actually took up in retirement

Most of these weren’t on my radar, back when I was planning.

  1. Singing in the bass line: On the eve of the big change, my wife the incredibly insightful gift-giver presented me with a choral workshop session with the Boston Revels. Though I could hold my line in Mennonite four-part, a cappella hymn-singing circles, I was intimidated – the Revels Christmas production’s chorus was one of the best in the city. This all-day event led to the formation of the organization’s amazing community chorus, Revelssingers, with me as a charter member. Other singing opportunities have included Dover’s annual Messiah Sing and a world-premiere for a music director’s 50th anniversary on the job.
  2. Swimming: Taking after her mother, our elder daughter (the next Christmas, I think) gifted me with an annual pass to Dover’s indoor pool. Again, I was intimidated but ventured forth, embarrassingly, truth be told, by how out of shape I was. The only swimming I’d done lately was in the ocean. Had I even been in a locker room more than once or twice after high school? But swimming those laps soon anchored my weekday routine, and I patiently worked up to a half-mile a day.
  3. Blogging: Again, credit our elder daughter, who suggested a blog when I was considering establishing a Web site. It started out modestly, but you can see where it’s led.
  4. Photography: As I realized the need for visual support for the blogging, digital photography soon followed. Back in high school, I had considered a career as an artist – and the protagonist in three of my novels is a photographer – so I now had a way of visually showing much of the way I see the world around me. The camera I’m now using, and the cell phone that will likely supplant it, are later gifts from the said Mother-Daughter duo.
  5. Spanish: My first Spanish teacher, back in high school, was great, and we became pretty proficient. Not so, the second. So I switched to French in college – a big mistake. They rather wiped each other out. Flash ahead and trying to communicate with visiting Quakers from Cuba. As I was thinking about a refresher course, the said daughter – a linguist by nature and training – suggested Duolingo, the free online program. Now my daily routine had a second anchor.
  6. New England Yearly Meeting Ministry and Counsel committee: Think of Yearly Meeting as an archdiocese, if you will, and ours covers all of New England, tending to about 5,000 Quakers. My work schedule had precluded my serving on M&C, a big committee with big responsibilities, requiring attendance at its retreat and full-day meetings through the year around the region. It’s also meant getting to know and work with some amazing members.
  7. DARLA: This informal fellowship of religious leaders in Dover, both clergy and laity, meets once a month, serving both as a support group for its members and as an information swap for their congregations. It also presents some community-wide events, including a Thanksgiving service that’s turned into a festival of choirs and readings. Again, I can tell you of some amazing folks I’ve come to admire as friends and colleagues.
  8. Dancing: I had planned on resuming New England Contras, now that I had my evenings free. The Greek dancing was what was new, thanks to the Dover Orthodox church’s annual festival. Well, that led into experiencing their worship and fellowship, too, even if it is quite a leap from my Quaker base.
  9. Reading the Bible straight-through: You can follow the experience and my reflections in the archives of my As Light Is Sown blog. What I came away with is nothing like what you’d hear from a Fundamentalist.
  10. Writers’ circles: The first was the Poetry Society of New Hampshire, before my retirement focus shifted away from the poetry and over to book-length fiction. Still, for the first several years I was active in the Granite State group’s meetings four times a year and other readings. Their schedule, unfortunately, clashed with Ministry and Counsel’s, and something had to give. The second was Writers’ Night Out, usually on the first Monday of the month, when many scribes of all sorts around the Granite State get together at any of ten or so locations to socialize. For me, it was in Portsmouth, just down the road from Dover. While some of the groups had pretty big agendas, even programs, our joy came in schmoozing and swapping information. It’s where I learned about Smashwords, for one thing, where my novels then appeared as ebooks.

Since moving to Eastport, hiking has also resurfaced. It’s taken a while to get back to this, but relocating to the wilds of Downeast Maine leaves me no excuses not to. I’m just not going to be back to the distances or speeds of my Boy Scout days, OK?

What new activities are you up to? Or perhaps hoping to engage?

What you can do with a banana

They do come in bunches. Here are some fine uses.

  1. Make a sinful split for dessert.
  2. Or banana bread.
  3. Or a smoothie.
  4. Daiquiris!
  5. Or, with the peel, become a pratfall comedian. (Are they really that slick?)
  6. You can also soak the peel in water to use as indoor plant food.
  7. Or rub it over bug bites, poison ivy, or rashes to relieve itching and promote healing.
  8. Or use the peel to polish leather and silver.
  9. Now, back to the full fruit, we won’t go into what can happen in private.
  10. My favorite? Feed ’em to a bunny! Which gives us more peels.