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November 2011

October 2011

A Little Reminder

It's come to my attention that Mother Nature has suffered a crisis of confidence.  After giving the Northeast nearly a week of 80 degree days in October of all months, Mother feared we thought she'd gone soft.  She worried that she no longer inspired awe and had lost our respect. 

Here it is, the end of October and the hardware stores are still selling rakes - hardly a shovel to be found.   Brightly colored Daffodil and Tulip bulb boxes still fill the shelves, proof that the first hard frost seems a long way off. 

The tiny, wild violets that began appearing in lawns last week, did nothing to help Mother's confidence.  She appreciated that the squirrels were fattening up on schedule (though if she were honest with herself, she knew they were always looking for an excuse).  The geese were steadily honking their way toward the southern cross, but the sight of New Englanders leaf peeping in shorts and sandals was really too much to bear. 

So this morning it was cold enough to see our breath in the air.  And this evening she reminded us that water comes in three states, not just the two we've grown accustomed to in recent months. 

There's liquid,

Fire glass 090309


IMG_6617I admit to a little creative liscence here

and not tobe forgotten,  solid!

First ice 102711Taken through my windshield this evening

Of Trees and Sidewalks

Anyone who has ever tried to walk  down a classic tree shaded avenue, has probably cursed the very trees that make the location so appealing in the first place.  Tree roots and sidewalks are natural enemies.  As the trees grow, the roots do too, leading to cracks and ridges in more modern paving surfaces, and whole root islands in older ones.

Cracked sidewalk 100911The tree may be gone, but the damaging roots remain

Roots_newburyport 101511
The placement of trees in the sidewalk (as a little square of life surrounded by pavement) has been one of my pet peeves for years.  I don't know if it's common in other parts of the country, but it's ubiquitous in New England.  I love trees, their prevalence is one of the reasons I moved to this town, but trees  in the sidewalk make it incredibly awkward to walk side-by-side and talk.  Have you ever done the 'round the tree two-step? 

It goes like this:

  • stop in place,
  • let your partner by,
  • follow quickly,
  • return beside
  • ask "What did you say?" 

 Add a few low hanging branches to duck below, and the conversation becomes a full body workout.  

Mass Ave Lexington 070111It's lovely...until the trees mature.

Clearly trees + sidewalks = hazard, damage, nuisance and expense.  Right? 

Not exactly.

While I still can't understand why towns plant trees in places that are clearly going to cause damage and expense in the not so distant future, trees set just a little farther back from the sidewalk actually provide a lot of benefit.  I read this summer that Lexington was looking for homeowners who would allow the town to plant trees in their yards "beyond the Town right-of-way but no more than 20 feet from the front of the property" (Lexington's Colonial Times July/August).  While some tree benefits (aesthetic beauty, creating oxygen) are obvious, there are others I'd never considered.

  1.  Trees reduce skin cancer if planted in places where people spend a lot of time outside.  This is really just another way of saying that shade is better for your skin than direct sun, but it goes on to say "Trees absorb up to 90 percent of UV radiation, providing a natural form of  sunscreen - an equivalent to SPF 10-20."   
  2. Help avoid erosion and reduce storm runoff.  
  3. Trees planted around parking lots "reduce automobile hydrocarbon emissions by 2 percent". 
  4. And the one I found the most surprising - the shade trees provide actually extends the life of paved roads.  "Repaving can be deferred 10 years or more for heavily shaded streets."

When it's put that way, I just don't feel right complaining about some exposed roots and low hanging branches.  I'm probably better off with one less pet peeve.

   Lex sign 070511




Gram and Albert



"Life is short

and we do not have too much time

to gladden the hearts of those

who travel the way with us,

so be swift to love

and make haste to be kind."

-Henri Frederic Amiel





Photo - My grandmother and one of her brothers

Better than a Granola Bar

I am always on the lookout for something quick and healthy that I can grab as I'm headed out the door.  This is especially true for evening walks.  When I get home from work each day I tell myself, I'll just have a little dinner and then go for a walk.  By the time I've made my dinner and sat down to eat it, my body has slipped from the motion of daytime life, to a lazy, nearly inert evening state.  Absolutely no part of me wants to go out for a walk. 

This is where the Playground Granola Bar rides in to save the day.  I can walk in the door, grab a couple of these and head straight back out for a walk.  They're filling enough that I'm OK with postponing dinner a little while, and healthy enough that I don't feel like I'm eating desert. 

These bars are hearty and chewy.  The recipe as originally written (see above link) is full of ingredients I typically have on hand, so I don't have to plan ahead to make them.  And best of all, as many people have noted in the recipe's comments, the possibilities for customization are endless.

The first time I made them, I tweeked the fat and sugar content to make them a bit healthier.  I replaced half the vegetable oil with unsweetened, plain apple sauce, a trick that a friend's mother taught me way back in elementary school.  I also cut the amount of brown sugar in half.  That batch tasted so good that I've gotten more adventuresome in my adjustments.  My latest version is an ode to the flavors of fall.

Autumn Granola Bars

Dry Ingredients

Dry ingresdients 100811

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup bran flour
  • handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips/chopped baking chocolate
  • handful of pepitas
  • handful of hazelnuts

Wet Ingredients

Chopping raisins 100811

  • 3/4 cup golden raisins (chopped, if like me you can't stand biting into the gooey ooze of a cooked raisin)
  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup honey (or more honestly,  whatever comes out before I'm tired of holding the bottle upside down while squeezing)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup apple sauce
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  
  2. Grease a 9 x 13" pan (I usually use a 9" cake pan because it's what I have)
  3. In a large bowl mix the dry ingredients.
  4. Make a hole in the center and add the wet ingredients. 
  5. Mix thoroughly.  The dough will become quite thick, so you may want to use your hands for this.  I've found a wide spatula makes a good stirring tool and helps to capture any flour at the bottom of the bowl.
  6. Spread into the pan.
  7. Bake 30-35 minutes until golden.  Allow to cool.  The original recipe recommends cutting the bars before they've completely cooled.  I've never found this necessary, but that may be due to the extra moisture I've added through the apple sauce and pumpkin puree.

I usually store half of mine in the refrigerator and freeze the other half. 

Autumn granola bar 100811Bowl courtesy of my grandmother's collection.  Squash from The Food Project (see sidebar)





Walk for X

After telling myself a couple years ago that I was done with the whole idea of walking to raise money for a cause, I find myself leading a group of kids to do that very same thing this weekend.  Being in this position has reawakened all my old ambivalence toward these walks. 

Food project greens 083110
The very first charity walk that I was involved with was the CROP walk back in middle school.  I remember walking through the golden autumn light, away from the familiar roads of downtown and out into rural parts of town I'd never seen before.  Discovering that there were still unfamiliar parts of town, after living there most of my life was exciting, and exploring them powered by my own two feet created a sense of adventure.    I assume I was there with my church youth group, but in the murky way of memories, I also think I remember being with classmates.  The identities of my fellow walkers may be lost, but the feeling of camaraderie and being part of something larger and more powerful than me, remains crystal clear.   

Fast forward ten or fifteen years and I was walking through unfamiliar neighborhoods of Boston, surrounded by a sea of strangers and feeling that same camaraderie and do-goodery.  Again the cause was hunger, an issue whose very existence in this country strikes me as unacceptable.  This time, instead of the seven miles of the CROP walk, the route was twenty and I have to admit I was as driven to see if I could walk that far, as I was to raise the money. 

I did the full twenty miles (and was really proud of the achievement) until the next year when I collected double the money  while only walking half the distance.   This time I had a walking partner who was more into the doing good part and less into "extreme" walking, so at the half way mark we took the courtesy bus back to the beginning and called it a day.  

Architecture 071711

Even though all of my sponsors had made a flat donation, rather than a per mile one, I still felt like I'd cheated.  I hadn't suffered for the cause; I'd taken a nice walk with a friend.  And that's when I realized that how much I walked, the part I could truly control, was meaningless.  It didn't affect how much people donated.  They donated what they were comfortable with, regardless. So why were walkers and all the expenditures of a massive walk even necessary?  And that's when I finally understood why charity walks work. 

Charities hold walks, because it's a lot harder for an individual to say no to a friend who asks for a donation, than to ignore a faceless organization asking for money to help strangers.  Boom.  With that realization, nothing about the system had changed from what it had always been, but I felt a bit dirty.  My relationships were being used, and even if it was for a good cause, I felt uncomfortable.   So I stopped.  If I wanted to support a cause I would, but I'd leave my friends out of it. 

Pavement heart 052911

So here I am, about to chaperon a charity walk and having mixed feelings about it.  I hope the kids enjoy that same sense of being a drop in a much larger ocean of good that I did at that age.  I hope they enjoy themselves and look for more opportunities to get involved in the community.  And as for me, I'm looking forward to a walk in the golden light of autumn, exploring parts of Concord I've never visited before.

If you'd like to make a donation to Sunday's CROP walk, your money will go toward local food pantries and international disaster relief. 

Here are a few links to other organizations involved in the fight against hunger.

The Food Project - Bringing fresh, reasonably priced vegetables to Boston and educating a new generation of farmers along the way.

Project Bread  - Check out their beautiful holiday card selection. It's a great way to support their year long effort to feed the hungry children of MA.

Share Our Strength - If you watch the Food Network you're probably familiar with their work.

UNICEF - An organization that needs no introduction


It was a beautiful day for a walk.  There was something wonderful about a long ribbon of people walking through historic (and rather affluent) Concord to bring some relief to those in need.

Concord Crop walk 101611Taken near the Old North Bridge

Crop Walk crew 101611