Vals tomatoes 580x435 GARDENING AND DEPRESSION

Val’s heirloom tomatoes

Gardening for many people is a cure for depression, a calming and even cheering activity.  That is true for me except towards the end of August, when the angle of light changes,  the echinacea dries out, daylily blooms give way to wrinkly green blobs, the seasonal birds start leaving; the whole end of summer is disheartening.  It will be another six to eight weeks until fall color kicks in and last year’s sweaters will begin to look inviting.  The dog days of summer are hard on flower gardeners because we watch all that we planted and tended wither and die, or at least look as good as dead.  Last week I saw a goldfinch picking seeds out of a dried flowerhead and it gave me a temporary boost, but it takes a relentlessly positive outlook to enjoy the waning of one’s garden–especially if, as in New England, six months of winter lie ahead.

But all is not discouraging.  In late August, there’s another time-honored way to ward off The Glums:  the end-of-summer harvest of home-grown tomatoes, cukes, corn and all the other tasty bits from the kitchen garden.  It’s enough to turn one into a temporary vegetarian.

Vals cukes e1472361411608 580x773 GARDENING AND DEPRESSION

Val’s cucumbers

Photos of her vegetable garden by Valerie Knott, gardener extraordinaire.


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A keeper but we didn’t keep her.

“The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.”
                           –John Buchan, Scottish politician and writer, 1875-1940

Last Friday morning at 5:30 a.m. Bill and I set out with legendary guide Tony Biski to “fish the rip” for striped bass off Monomoy Island near Cape Cod. If you know what that means, you’re way ahead of me. I learned that “the rip” is an area where the incoming tide hits the sandbar and speeds up, trapping the smaller fish. The big predator fish, such as the bass we sought, wait in the calmer water on the other side of the sand bar where “the rip tide” pushes the smaller fish in their direction. The result: a breakfast banquet for the bass.

Though I am granddaughter of a Croatian fisherman, my gene pool let me down.  I couldn’t remember how to cast with a spinning reel—when do I flip the bail? The last time I held a fishing rod was eight years ago in Patagonia, where I caught and released a 45-pound salmon. That was then; this is now. While I fretted and Tony tactfully offered helpful directions, Bill was catching fish—many, many fish.

If I was frustrated, it was nothing compared to Tony’s distress that I wasn’t catching fish. He worked very, very hard to make sure we caught fish. That involved moving the boat to different areas, watching the birds diving, changing lures, rods and strategies. Tony takes it personally if everyone doesn’t catch fish. I take it personally if I’m not casting well and can’t remember when to flip the bail. Other than that, I have low expectations. Often I don’t catch fish. One of the many corny sayings I’ve heard too many times is, “That’s why they call it ‘fishing,’ not ‘catching.’” My favorite description is from my daughter Sara, age eight at the time, who declared, “Fishing is boring but it’s supposed to be.”

The real charm of fishing is watching the sunrise, admiring the terns, who seem to catch a fish on every knife-like dive, enjoying the water and the spectacular view of Monomoy on a beautiful summer day. The gray seals were both curious and nervous. It turns out we were in prime Great White Shark territory. A shark-tagging boat passed us, we saw floating shark markers and Tony was very careful when hauling in the fish—Great Whites like to snatch fish as they’re being pulled into boats. Can you imagine what it would be like if a Great White leapt onto the side of your boat? That would not be charming.

Alexis bass 580x773 THE CHARM OF FISHING

NOT a Keeper

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Sea Lions Antarctica 580x386 ONLY A FEW FRIENDS

Friends in Antarctica*

All anyone needs is three to five close friends. This surprising (to me) information comes via Kate Murphy’s New York Times piece, Do Your Friends Actually Like You? That title caught my attention because it hadn’t occurred to me that people I consider to be friends don’t like me all that much, but according to recent research, only approximately 50% of so-called “friendships” are mutual.

This is a dilemma. How can one know who’s a true friend and who isn’t. It’s too humiliating to go around asking friends, “Do you like me as much as I like you?” And what makes someone a friend? In my twenties, I considered my friends were almost everyone I knew. These days, Facebook Friends may be that equivalent.  However,  I suggest you not compare others’ Facebook Friend numbers to your own. I tried this and learned that my son Ben has ten times the number of friends I have.

So what makes someone “one of my best friends?” Vassar English Professor Ronald Sharp, who co-edited “The Norton Book of Friendship,” defines friends as people you take the time to understand and allow to understand you. That means revealing things about yourself that you don’t let most people know. Under that definition, it’s easier to understand why we don’t have many “true friends.”

British evolutionary psychologist Robin I. M. Dunbar takes a brisker approach. He says, “There is a limited amount of time and emotional capital we can distribute, so we only have five slots for the most intense type of relationship.” He doesn’t sound like much of a people person—emotional capital? relationships as “slots?” And he uses bad grammar besides (“we only have” instead of the correct “we have only”).

Every week, Facebook reminds me to add a “Call to Action” at the end of this blog—something I seldom do because it seems silly and embarrassing. This particular blog is no exception. PLEASE don’t respond by telling me you are or aren’t one of my true friends. I’d rather assume you are.

*Sea lions photo by moi.

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Sunset Bay of Fundy 580x386 PHOTOGRAPHY AND STORY

Sunset on the Bay of Fundy,
Northern Maine 2016

The best thing about great photography is that it tells a story without words. It may set the stage for different stories, but that’s not important. The crucial part is that the photo “says” something for every viewer, something that stimulates the imagination.

When I first became interested in photography a few years ago, the idea of its telling a story was easy to accept; I love stories. But translating the story of the photo’s image–the sense of the scene’s significance, what it “says” about the life of the person, place or thing—is another talent altogether. Great photography requires multiple talents: technical proficiency, an eye for design, and a storyteller’s sensibility.

Today I spent time reviewing photos I took in northern Maine two weeks ago. These are some examples of the dreadful, the okay and the not-too-shabby.  The photo above, of a sunset, is pretty and kind of dramatic; at least it gives a sense of place.

Terns on rocks 580x546 PHOTOGRAPHY AND STORY

No story here. These Arctic Terns aren’t doing anything interesting.



Tern with tude 580x770 PHOTOGRAPHY AND STORY

The close-up of the Tern on the left shows the gleam in his eye and a little attitude, which I like.

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Sunset Campobello 580x386 FAST FRIENDS

Photographing the sunset at Campobello  last week.

There are many kinds of friends: old friends and new, childhood friends, false friends, school friends and fast friends.

Last week my husband and I had the pleasure of making fast friends, or, more specifically, making friends fast. We spent only four days with a group of photography learners but by the end of that time, we were attached. The occasion was a four-day workshop in Northeast Maine with nature and landscape photographer John Slonina.

There were ten of us altogether: our leader John, who specializes in national park photo tours, my husband Bill and two other men, and five women including me. Most of us drove to upstate Maine; one woman flew from Florida. All except me were experienced photographers, well equipped but not overloaded with unnecessary equipment. They dressed appropriately for the changeable weather, did not complain, no matter how early or late the hour (NOTE: photography tours always include time shooting sunrises and sunsets), were patient and upbeat throughout the inevitable delays. In other words, this was an ideal collection of folks

I am a veteran of photo-centric trips. I approach these journeys warily but always hopefully. Some of the trips have been in large groups, others in small ones and all have been enjoyable and instructive, even one that was contaminated by a pathological liar (see my blog, (“Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire”).  But the friends we made last week were special: there was no drama, lots of cooperation and consideration of others’ right to good vantage points for taking photos. The pleasure of finding a group that “clicks” is confirmation that there are good people everywhere. Whether they become lifelong pals or passing Fast Friends, they were a pleasure to be with. So thank you John, Stan, Allison, Mary, Tina, Betty and Harvey. We will remember our time together.

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Dear friends and family,  I usually spend the week prior to posting this blog thinking about what to share. I try to write about what interests me and can be approached from a humorous angle. But sorry, folks, this week–the news from Baton Rouge to Minneapolis to Dallas, Nice, Turkey and Baton Rouge again–really knocked the wind out of me. I want to hold everyone I love close. All I have to offer by way of a blog today are these two things: a photo* of our visiting family (Sister Liz, her husband Steve and daughter Angela, along with the usual suspects*) and this pleasing link from CNN, “Wisdom For Every Decade of Your Life.”

*Photo by William C. Popik, MD

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Gardening and being grumpy usually don’t go together but they did for me today. I woke up feeling out-of-sorts, itching with free-floating irritation. After last night’s thunderstorms, the Buzzards Bay weather was perfect for gardening—cool with a light wind and low humidity. I decided that a few hours in the garden would restore my equilibrium or equanimity or something…whatever (or as they say in Massachusetts–whatevah!).

The positive effects of gardening on mental health are well documented. For one, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and “The Father of American Psychiatry,” wrote in the 1700′s about the positive effects working in a garden had on people with mental illness. Gardening doesn’t involve sitting still and counting breaths while focusing on being “mindless” (in fact, it’s quite the opposite) yet it has the same physiological benefits: stress relief, feelings of well-being and increased brain function.

I worked in my garden for two hours this morning without a single positive mental-health-inducing thought. I caught myself muttering about the rocky soil. I thought about what I would tell my neighbor who wanted gardening advice: “Flowers are just pretty weeds. Don’t pamper them. If they can’t make it, they aren’t worth growing.” I cursed the bits of poison ivy lying in wait for my exposed forearms. At that point, I decided that it was worth looking into the topic of gardening and grumpiness.

I found this purported quotation from Sigmund Freud: “Flowers are restful to look at.” Obviously, Freud wasn’t a gardener. I don’t know any gardeners who look at their flowers without thinking about what needs to be weeded, deadheaded, or moved to another, better spot in the garden. I also found a blog called, “The Grumpy Gardener.” I’m not sure what’s grumpy about him, but he certainly is knowledgeable. Here is a link to The Grumpy Gardener’s website. As for my grumpiness, gardening didn’t help today but, as in most cases, the passage of time and a good nap did.  Whatevah!

Have a good week and, if you haven’t already done so, please “Like” my Facebook page.  Google will be nice to me if you do that.


*”Grumpy” image from Photobucket, Timelord_album.


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Barack Obama plays Words With Friends? Yes!!!
I am saving a place for him on my roster, just in case.



Barack Obama stays up half the night, according to the New York Times, reading, writing, texting and playing Words With Friends. It’s good to know that he is normal human being who needs time alone to concentrate, to be mindful and also mindless. I suspect that the need for solitary time is uncommon among most politicians. What I learned from years of working on the less glamorous end of the political spectrum is that most people in public office crave attention, respect and power and don’t value solitude.

My mother, who had four kids and a full-time job, used to get up at 4:30 in the morning so that she could read and have a cup of coffee, blessedly alone, before the rest of us awoke. She would have been happy to know that she shared with Barack Obama the need to be by herself and quiet.

The President reserves his time alone at the end of the day. He is reported not only to read a multitude of documents that require concentration, but also to write and revise speeches, text friends, watch ESPN, read novels and—this is unfortunately the only thing he and I have in common in the middle of the night—play Words With Friends. So what about it, Mr. President? WWF is neither mindful nor mindless and I’m betting that unlike these past eight years, you’ll have an easier time winning against me than against Congress.



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It’s time for an update on a few of the subjects I’ve covered in the past six months.

 The Lemon Tree Lives!

Lemon Tree 580x580 SUMMER UPDATE: CATS, etc. The lemon tree whose life was spared survived and is flourishing. An added bonus: I get to feel virtuous for granting it a reprieve.

 A Downsizing Tip

The piece on downsizing was very popular and several readers sent me comments about how they were either getting rid of “stuff” or feeling guilty about not doing so. Jennie Scott suggested that one way to hold onto childhood memorabilia is to take a photo of the object so that it can bring back memories without taking up space.  A new book (January 2016) by Marni Jameson is highly rated and worth checking out:  Downsizing the Family Home:  What to Save, What to Let Go.

 Learning to Relax

FullSizeRender 7 580x435 SUMMER UPDATE: CATS, etc.It can be difficult to find a balance in life. It seems like a paradox to work at learning to relax but many of us have to do just that. For some, it’s no problem at all.  Just ask your cat.  A newly popular method of stress relief is the adult coloring book (no, not that kind of “adult” book).  One of Amazon’s best sellers combines stress relief and cats.  I believe they may be on to something: Creative Haven Creative Cats Coloring Book.

Have a relaxing week.


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rose 580x389 FATHERS DAYMy father was a lifelong gardener. I spent part of yesterday, Fathers’ Day, gardening in his memory. This past week I thought about  him and knew I couldn’t, in 350 words, do him and my feelings about him justice. Dad’s father died when he was two years old. His mother was abused by his stepfather and she died of a brain tumor when my dad was ten. His stepfather made him kiss his mother in her coffin; he remembered that her face was cold. Dad and his four brothers were placed in separate orphanages for a few years after their mother’s death. When the boys were reunited, they had a new stepmother and then later another stepmother.  How does someone coming from that background manage to be a father to four rambunctious kids of his own? He did his best. He wasn’t perfect.  I’m sure being a father was hard for him and he did well despite his own experience.  We always knew we were loved and we loved him back.

As long as I can remember, my dad had flower gardens. What I remember most are the roses he grew, the time he spent in the yard watering them (probably the only solitary time of his day) and their scent. In the fall he would break the tops off the dried-up annuals, put them in a paper bag tacked to the garage wall, and re-sow the seeds the next spring. That impressed me the most.

Yesterday I transplanted some perennials and a couple of hostas midday when the weather was at its hottest—in other words, not the best conditions for the plants’ survival. I thought about my dad and how I drew from his efforts my own gardening philosophy, my attitude towards plants: “Life is hard,” I reminded them.   “You can do well despite that.”

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.  (And yes, that’s what all four of us called him.)


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