Ruth Doan MacDougall: "Ruth's Neighborhood"

Ruth Doan MacDougall's Neighborhood photo

Facebook Columns:January - March 2020

Current entries are HERE.


March 29, 2020

            Last Monday I decided I should venture forth for the first time in a week, to give the car and me an outing. Would it remember how to start? Would I remember how to drive? Off we went down the road, along the brook, into the village center, past a few cars at the elementary school (teachers teaching remotely?), past the café (the Village Art Café and Country Store), which is closed for dining and shopping but has items for curbside pickup. The library is closed; I parked in its parking lot. Often when I go to the library I bring along a snack so that after my library errand I can have what Don and I called a “car-picnic” and look across the town’s fairgrounds to the view of Red Hill. I did now. And thus my outing took me traveling further in my mind, up Red Hill I’ve climbed so many times, mostly with Don.
            This 2,030-foot “hill” is the inspiration for Mount Pascataquac in the Snowy Series. That fictional mountain rises above Snowy’s Hurricane Farm and atop it is the fire tower tended by Tom. From the Red Hill fire tower, photographer Bob Kozlow took the photo of a view of mountains and a distant village, Sandwich, for the cover of Henrietta Snow. Partway up the Red Hill Trail is a cellar hole that always reminds me of the MacLorne farm in The Flowers of the Forest
            My father put Red Hill into his 50 More Hikes in New Hampshire and wrote, “I lived only 20 miles from Red Hill for 38 years before I climbed it. Now I wish I had long ago known enough to take my two daughters up it before having them tackle Mounts Washington, Moosilauke, and Lafayette. . . What a view we’d have had: lakes all around and peaks arrayed to the north along the Sandwich Range—a fine reward for so easy a hike.” Why the name? Well, “Red oaks grow over most of Red Hill.” It does turn red in the autumn. 
            As you start up the trail, you soon come to that site of a farm. In recent years a sign has been put up here, and I added it into the description: “A turn of the Red Hill Trail to the left circles a barn foundation and cellar hole. A sign tells the story of the farm that once stood here: Site of Horne Homestead, Built in 1828 by Eben and Annie Horne, and later used by their son Charles’s family. Abandoned in 1898.”
            Then on up you go (“Walking time: 3 hours round trip”) to the summit. “Walk past the generator shed and the old garage and the shingled warden’s cabin, and climb the rock to the tower’s steel girders. In the surrounding glade and oaks, the blueberry bushes and grasses compete for the earth that is unoccupied by protruding ledges. Vistas of lakes and mountains open to a 360-degree panorama as you climb up the fire tower and look over the treetops.”
            On Friday I ventured forth again, first to go to the dump, where social-distancing was observed, and then to continue on to the library parking lot, where I had a car-picnic and in my mind climbed Red Hill to that view again.
            My hopes that all is well with you. Bon voyage for the mind-traveling that you too might be doing!

© 2020 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved



March 22, 2020

          There are so many new terms to try to grasp—“social distancing,” “self-isolation,” “community transmission,” “flatten the curve”—that I finally started writing them down to study. And I remembered that during Watergate a dictionary/glossary of Watergate words and terms was published: “redact,” “that point in time,” “twist slowly in the wind,” etc. Maybe we need a pandemic dictionary—or maybe one has already appeared on the internet.
          While I was social-distancing and staying home last Monday, I realized that for what is probably the first time in over a year and a half I was making myself a supper that included more than a single piece of cookware. I was using a saucepan and a skillet!           Although I’ve still been interested in cooking, I’ve not wanted to bother with anything more than basics, just for myself. This, I thought, might now be a silver lining in the pandemic.
          Later I opened my latest issue of the Maine Working Waterfront newspaper (from my sister) and immediately turned to “Journal of an Island Kitchen,” the column by Sandy Oliver, who lives on Islesboro. The headline was: “Winners rise to the top in decades of recipes.” I always enjoy reading her column; now, I thought, I might actually make something again.
She explained, “Apparently, the average American household cooking repertoire contains something like 20 dishes which are the backbone of family meals, frequently repeated . . . Since every year it’s my pleasure and duty to produce 52 recipes for my Bangor Daily News column, I wondered recently how many of them stuck. Since 2010, 520 recipes have flowed through my kitchen into the ‘Taste Buds’ column.” She added that a few of the recipes are her own but “the main premise of the column is the exchange of recipes from readers.” Then she described the recipes that “stuck” through the years.                     
          I’m not sure what I expected, but I was intrigued by her results. Amongst them:
2011 “was the year of garlic-scape pesto.” I’ve made pesto but not with my garlic scapes; these I chopped into salads. In 2012 there was an “old Maine dish, Bean Swaggon, a kind of bean chowder,” new to me. 2014 brought a “summer favorite, Mary’s Quick Lunch . . . egg salad with grated cheese, a little scallion, spread on bread and lightly broiled.” Then “Grated beets mixed with grated winter squash and made into fried latkes was the hit from 2015.” This reminded me of being introduced to beet sandwiches by Don, cold sliced beets with mayo on white bread. In 2019 “Asian-style mussels made with coconut milk, Thai style red curry paste plus garlic, lime juice and white wine made a huge impression on me.”
          She concluded, “It is too soon really to make a calculation on what will last from 2019. These recipes need another decade to test their endurance.”
          And with our endurance now being tested by a pandemic, I thought of Sandy Oliver in her true island kitchen and the rest of us isolated in our own islands, and of course John Donne’s oft-quoted lines came to my mind: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main . . .  Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

© 2020 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved



March 15, 2020

            It’s a word from history books, “pandemic.”
I realized that I associate it with the “Spanish flu,” because I first read the word in history books, where the description of this 1918-1920 tragedy seemed more like a footnote to the tragedy of World War I. To read about millions of people around the world dying during and right after the slaughter on battlefields was just too much death to comprehend, too much sadness for the mind to absorb.
            I’d already been thinking about World War I because, as I’ve mentioned here, I recently listened to the audiobook of Tracy Chevalier’s Single Threadwhose heroine is one of the “surplus women” left over in Britain after so many young men in her generation were killed in that war. And last week when I opened Modern British Poetry to double-check a poem I’m quoting in Lazy Beds, I found myself getting sidetracked by World War I poets.
            My copy of this poetry anthology belonged to my mother, with her maiden name and the 1927 date written in it from her college years, with her underlining of favorite lines throughout. I first was sidetracked by Siegfried Sassoon’s poems, particularly “The Dug-out,” whose italicized final lines have always stuck with me:      You are too young to fall asleep for ever;
And when you sleep you remind me of the dead.

Sassoon survived the war. I next looked at Wilfred Owen, who didn’t; he was killed getting his men across a canal. The notes by Louis Untermeyer, the anthology’s editor, reminded me that Owen’s “friend Siegfried Sassoon unearthed the contents of his posthumous volume, Poems, to which Sassoon wrote the introduction. It was evident at once that here was one of the most important contributions to the literature of the War . . . ”
            Then I turned to Rupert Brooke, who had died of blood-poison en route to the Dardenelles Campaign. Maybe nowadays his “Old Vicarage, Grantchester” is his most well-known poem because of the PBS series. The most anthologized poem must be “The Soldier,” with its heartbreaking opening lines, “If I should die, think only this of me;/ That there’s some corner of a foreign field/That is for ever England.” But my favorite has always been “The Great Lover,” especially these lines:

These I have loved:
White plates and cups, clean-gleaming, 
Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;
Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust
Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food;
Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood;
And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers;
And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny hours,
Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon;
Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon
Smooth away trouble . . . 

All things to cherish during a pandemic. 

© 2020 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved



March 8, 2020

            In Henrietta Snow, Snowy is having lunch on a hike:
“Snowy took another restorative bite of her peanut-butter sandwich. After much experimentation, she had learned this was the best energy lunch for her needs, and she packed two fat ones, on whole-wheat bread with a frill of lettuce for an adult touch.”
            This became my hiking lunch, too (no surprise!), and I thought of it when I saw in the Spring issue of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s magazine, AMC Outdoors, an article about “Don’t Fizzle! Nutrition Basics for a Spring Hike” by Steve Holt. It begins, “During a vigorous day hike, an adult may burn as many as 6,600 calories—but not all calories are created equal . . . We asked Nicole Courmier, a registered dietitian whose clients include backpackers and athletes, to share what our bodies need before, during, and after a day on the trails.”            
            In the “Before You Go” section, the dietitian “recommends eating a balanced breakfast.” My before-hikes breakfast was scrambled eggs. And the evening before that I always made a supper of brown rice, a ground-beef patty, and salad; in one of my prefaces to editions of my father’s hiking books I wrote, “Eat a square meal the night before a hike and a good breakfast that morning. Don’t diet. Remember that we need those calories and fat grams for energy and endurance on a hike.” My message was: Hooray, we can eat all we want!
            The “While You’re Out” section of the article is subdivided into “Carbohydrates,” “Protein,” and “Hydration.” Besides the peanut-butter sandwiches, I also brought celery or carrot sticks and, for dessert, sometimes grapes and always chocolate in some form, usually a Hershey bar or a Snickers bar. For snacks I experimented with energy bars, Luna Bars, Clif Bars, and such. Luna’s lemon bar became a favorite. Dan, my father, advised hikers to bring “spare food for two meals,” just in case, so I did, but sometimes it all got devoured along the way (Snowy’s famous appetite). For hydration I brought two quarts of water, one plain water, one with Gatorade mixed in.
            Dan was a diabetic, so the food in his pack was especially important. When I was drafting the preface to the Sixth Edition of 50 More Hikes in New Hampshire, I asked my niece, Thane, for memories of hiking with Dan to include in it. Here’s part of what she wrote: “I remember enjoying hikes with Dan, and especially in my teens being grateful for his diabetic habit of carrying small snacks: cans of pineapple juice and small tins of pudding, little raisin boxes and small peanut-butter sandwich pieces. He would make excuse of hearing a bird in the distance or needing a drink of water and share his snacks, making the hike a delightfully leisurely excursion even while we covered substantial distances.”
            The last section of the article is “Post-Hike,” and hikers are advised to eat a small protein-and-fiber snack after a hike, not to gorge on a big meal. With my Over-the-Hill Hikers group, however, ice cream was the reward. As I wrote in one preface, some of my hiking friends “have suggested, half-jokingly, that I add to this new edition a list of ice-cream places nearest the trailheads. But I’ll leave that to you to discover.”

© 2020 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

And there’s a delicious discovery at the conclusion of the article, a recipe for “Courmier’s S 


March 1, 2020

            As the month of February ended, I realized what a social whirl I’d had. In Site Fidelity, Blivit’s Aunt Izzy remarks that “on the island it seems we keep even busier in the winter than in the summer,” and this certainly seemed true for me here in my small-town life this February.
            There were the usual Wednesday senior lunches, affectionately dubbed the Old Fogeys’ Lunches. Last week’s menu: chicken cordon bleu, mashed potatoes, gravy, peas, squash, cranberry sauce, and blueberry cake! I also filled up on news and reminiscences. And laughter, such as when, into a sudden silence in the room, from the “men’s table” came a male voice saying, “—keep the women warm!” Replies from women and other men at the two other tables: “We heard that!” I’m still having fun wondering what preceded that scrap of a sentence.
            There was a “Books Sandwiched In” review at the library last week, this one of A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell. An ironic title; the woman was Virginia Hall, an important American spy in France during World War II, whom I’d never heard of until now.
            And of course there was the New Hampshire Primary. Voting at the town hall always becomes a social event, chat with friends and acquaintances before and after we vote, everyone amused or bemused by the procedure of hauling out our IDs to identify ourselves to the checklist people who are friends and acquaintances, too. (Delving into my wallet for my driver’s license, I almost took out and presented my “Do Not Attempt Resuscitation” card by mistake. That sure would’ve caused laughter!)
            Then there was the comfort of the visit from my sister and niece—and our discussion of bathrobes I wrote about here; also, the periodic get-together with two old friends for a pizza lunch at Giuseppe’s in Meredith, as I did with Don for years; and, in the meeting room of a Sandwich church, the ninetieth birthday party for an Over-the-Hill-Hikers friend with whom I climbed many a mountain.
            Even errands were social occasions—in Sandwich chatting with folks at the post office and the dump, in nearby Center Harbor shopping at the small supermarket. At the Center Harbor gas station, I went inside to pay and to my delight found myself amid ice fishermen just off the lake across the road talking about the fishing: “Kind of slow today.”
            What a whirl! 

© 2020 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


February 23, 2020

            I’ve recently listened to the library’s audiobook of A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier who wrote, among other novels, Girl with a Pearl EarringA Single Thread is about a “surplus woman,” a term I learned long ago in books about the First World War but had forgotten.
           As the back of the CD set says, “1932. Since the Great War took both her beloved brother and her fiancé, Violet Speedwell has become a ‘surplus woman,’ one of a generation destined to remain unmarried after the war killed so many young men.” She is supposed to live with her tyrant of a mother, but she makes a break for freedom to Winchester, “home to one of England’s grandest cathedrals,” moves into a boarding house, and gets a job as a typist in an insurance office. She also “falls in with the broderers, a disparate group of women charged with embroidering cushions and kneelers for the cathedral.”
           And she meets the group of men who are the bell-ringers at the cathedral. The detailed description of bell-ringing reminded me of Dorothy L. Sayers’s Nine Tailors, which I’ve read approximately a million times and now want to read again.
          In A Single Thread the themes of embroidery and bell-ringing demonstrate that “hobbies” can become the most important part of a life.
           The audiobook of Making Toast: A Family Story is read by the author, Roger Rosenblatt. It’s a triumph that he could get though reading it aloud as well as writing what E. L. Doctorow describes as “A painfully beautiful memoir . . . Written with such restraint as to be both heartbreaking and instructive.” After listening, I decided I must read it, too. The back cover explains the title: “When Roger’s daughter, Amy—a gifted doctor, mother, and wife—collapses and dies from an asymptomatic heart condition at age thirty-eight, Roger and his wife, Ginny, leave their home on the South Shore of Long Island to move in with their son-in-law, Harris, and their three young grandchildren ... As he marvels at the strength of his son-in-law and the tenacity and skill of his wife, Roger attends each day to ‘the one household duty I have mastered’—preparing the morning toast perfectly to each child’s liking.”
           In addition to finding heartbreak and joy in these two books, I’ve also found them in a magazine. A “vintage” magazine. A friend has sent me this treasure: a March 1955 issue of Photoplay! I had never bought a copy of Photoplay, movie magazines being an unheard-of splurge with my allowance, but I eagerly read it when there was a copy at the hairdresser’s or someplace. And now here is this issue, with articles such as “Audrey Hepburn—the Girl, the Gamin and the Star” and “Most Promising Actress of 1955: Grace Kelly, the lass with the delicate air and the sturdy talent.” And the ads: Breck and White Rain shampoos, Mum deodorant, Ipana toothpaste, Midol, Playtex Living Bra, Evening in Paris cologne, Winston cigarettes! Don and I began dating in February 1955, so reading and rereading it is extra-poignant—and great fun. 

 © 2020 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


February 16, 2020

            My sister and niece visited last week, and one of the subjects we had fun discussing was bathrobes. Thane, my niece, recently bought a new bathrobe, the cozy and soft type of polyester bathrobes that Penny and I have had for several years. Thane chose a white one; Penny’s is baby-sister blue; mine, a present from Thane and Penny, is lavender. 
            And I told them about this coincidence: my friend Winifred had just e-mailed me about bathrobes and the many names we call this type of clothing. When, Winifred asked, is a bathrobe a bathrobe and when is it a housecoat or a dressing gown or a peignoir or a negligee? Or? 
            I immediately remembered that our mother always called a bathrobe a “wrapper,” so that’s what Penny and I called it in our youth. Dan, our father, automatically used the word in the manuscript (typed by Ernie, (our mother) of his novel Amos Jackman—and the publisher’s copyeditor questioned it. When Dan told us we were all taken aback. He was amused; Penny and I pondered; Ernie was indignant. 
            And after Winifred’s e-mail, I pondered again. I use two bathrobes, the lavender one for evening reading and TV, and, for after my morning shower, a shorter cotton lavender one (not terrycloth; I can’t seem to find good terrycloth bathrobes anymore). I call them both bathrobes, but are they, really? As I contemplated the cotton one, another word for bathrobes popped into my mind: duster. This post-shower bathrobe is a duster!
            I also remembered that a friend used to call her housecoats, jokingly, Koffee Kasuals.
            I reported these thoughts to Winifred. Meanwhile, her daughter Molly (my Facebook manager) had come up with two other terms for bathrobe, kimono and dressing sacque.
            This was certainly a fascinating subject!
            I asked Penny if she remembered our first wrappers, but, having been so young  she didn’t recall what was a wisp of memory for me, the matching full-length plaid winter bathrobes made by our grandmother Ruth. Later came flannel wrappers.
            By college I had something more sophisticated, a short bathrobe of heavy cotton, and I called that a duster.
            I suddenly wondered if I’d ever had something I could’ve called (but didn’t) a dressing gown or peignoir or negligee. Aha, yes! When we were living in Dover, NH, and I was about thirty, at a nice dress shop I saw a lovely summer bathrobe that was so delicate I usually would have just paused to admire it and then dismissed it as impractical. But it was on sale—and so very lovely. I bought it. And despite its delicacy, it did last for years. I called it a bathrobe, but now I know it was the one dressing gown in my life.
            Thank you, Winifred, for the bathrobes subject.

 © 2020 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


February 9, 2020

           Last Monday I went to the “Books Sandwiched In” get-together at the Sandwich library for the first time since Don died.
           Other libraries across the country have these book-reviewing programs; ours began in the 1980s, when a Sandwich resident suggested it as one way to combat cabin fever during the winter. (The name of our town added to the fun.) A Sandwich person would choose a book to review or would be asked to review a book, once a month, a different person each time, and everybody would be invited to come to the library’s community room to listen and discuss. The programs would be held on a Monday at noon, and we—the public—would bring a sandwich for lunch afterward; the library would have beverages and dessert. And, because it was winter, if there was a snowstorm the program would be postponed until the following Monday.
           Well! Who could resist? I was making mainly pita sandwiches in those days, so I packed a couple of pita sandwiches and Don and I went. I can’t remember who reviewed what book, but I do remember what I myself was reading; having recently discovered E. F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels while browsing in the stacks, I was deep in the adventures of Queen Lucia and Miss Mapp. And I was finishing up work on one of my own novels, The Flowers of the Forest.
           Last Monday the book was Susan Orlean’s Library Book, which I’d read last year and liked a lot. It was reviewed by Lois Brady, who has been a librarian at the Sandwich and Laconia libraries. She was terrific! After her review and the discussion, card tables were set up. I sat at one with old friends and over our sandwiches (mine not pita bread but gluten-free bread, ye gods, another sign of how many years have passed since those first programs), with the library’s coffee and tea and cookies and brownies, we talked about libraries and local news and our families, the comfortable chitchat of longtime residents remembering. 
           I remembered the book reviewing that I had been doing back in the 1980s. I wrote here about this three years ago:
           “At the outset I mostly reviewed books for the Christian Science Monitor. I had been asked to do a monthly column about first novels; the book editor wanted a novelist for this job. Eventually the newspaper needed the space for other things, and I went on to review for other newspapers, particularly Newsday. I had developed my little rules, such as reading a book twice. If I was choosing the book, I chose one I was pretty sure I’d enjoy. Why waste everybody’s time on a bad review? If I was sent a book by an editor and was disappointed by it, I tried to warn off readers from spending their money buying it but tried to find something positive to say. (“Workmanlike” was a handy adjective.) If I really hated it, I wrote a first draft ranting, and then, having got that out of my system, I wrote a second calmer—and, I hoped, fairer—draft. When Don and I started our caretaking business, I only had time for writing novels, not reviews too, and thus ended my reviewing career.”
           And now I’ve rediscovered the pleasures of listening to reviews with friends at “Books Sandwiched In.” 

© 2020 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


February 2 ,2020

        A friend has sent me an Avanti card that has on its front an old photograph of thirty-seven (I counted!) rural mailboxes on three long shelves, trees behind them and a glimpse of a house. The back of the card has the caption: “A Letter Home 1950s.”
      It reminded me immediately of the groups of mailboxes Don and I saw when we took boat trips on Lake Winnipesaukee, once on the mail boat, the Sophie C, when I was doing research for A Woman Who Loved Lindbergh (a great excuse for a boat trip). There’s something both businesslike and personal and also hopeful about a mailbox. When there’s a group of mailboxes gathered at a main dock awaiting the mail boat, they seem to be chatting.
        One of the new experiences about buying our first house was buying a rural mailbox; the previous owner had got his mail at his store. Our mailbox had to be one of the large ones, in order to hold returned manuscripts (alas), and it had to be set up on the main road because we were the only house on our little dirt road. So jogging or walking for the mail became my daily exercise, weather permitting. I turned this into fiction in Wife and Mother, as Carolyn tries to adjust to life in the boondocks:

        She walked for the mail every afternoon except during downpours. The walk to and from the mailbox took half an hour. Sometimes it was a chore but she went anyway because of the exercise. She bought a big canvas shoulderbag in which to carry the mail home—and the litter. The four-wheel drivers who used the road were evidently beer drinkers; she picked up beer cans and six-hole plastic carriers and beer tabs and, cursing the bastards, carried the litter home and put it in the garbage can for John and Alex to take to the dump. One Monday she found an entire Sunday newspaper.
        She learned the walk. In the woods on either side, stone walls curved with the land. The stone walls were full of chipmunks who set up a chipmunk chorus as she passed. The halfway point was where a brook had spilled over into a swamp that was covered with scum like green lace. On the way home, there was a flat rock in the road and she always paused on it to look back and get her breath before she climbed the last hill.

        Here in Sandwich, our mailbox is near, at the end of the driveway. For extra convenience, Don attached a metal stick to it, one that swings up when the mailbox is opened, so you can tell from the house when the mail has been delivered and thus you don’t trudge through a snowstorm to check in vain.

© 2020 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


January 26, 2020

         Recently I did some ironing for the first time since—well, so long ago I can’t remember, but it’s been quite a few years.
         I was still ironing regularly ten years ago when I wrote about it in “Ruth’s Neighborhood”; indeed, I ended up writing three pieces about laundry, a chore that, I realized, is part of women’s history.
         Here are some excerpts:
My mother grew up in Lexington, Mass., so of course she was a Red Sox fan, but she had never really paid attention to the games until she found herself married, listening to the radio while doing the ironing. Baseball games were her favorite distraction from the chore. A predominant sound of summer in my memory and my sister’s is a radio sports-announcer’s voice and the whoop of the crowds . . . 

         I learned to iron in the bathroom. My mother kept the ironing board set up in the downstairs bathroom off the kitchen, where the washing machine resided (most people didn’t have dryers then) so there was some logic to the location. I later realized how convenient it was, for never afterward did I live anyplace where there was room to leave the ironing board open . . . 
         . . . as Penny and I progressed into junior high and high school, we did lots of extra work on our clothes, starching our blouses, rolling them up in towels and stowing them in the refrigerator, every Sunday ironing five blouses each for the school week ahead. We stiffened our crinolines with gelatin or starch. A friend later told me, “In Illinois we used starch or sugar, ironed them wide and stored them in a cone-shaped stack in the corner.”

          . . . Don’s mother had a mangle, and during his high-school years she pressed his khakis in it as well as sheets and other linens, so his crisp-pressed pants were added to the charms that we girls noticed—and no doubt they helped him be voted Best Dressed in his yearbook, an honor that delighted his mother, who by implication was also honored along with her mangle.

         [After reading that, a friend asked, “What’s a mangle?” and in another website piece I replied that the dictionary just defines it as “a machine for ironing laundry by passing it between heated rollers,” so I’d asked Don to explain it.] He said, “It’s a rotating cylinder controlled by the operator, rather like a sewing machine. The iron is a crescent-shaped press brought down upon the material being fed over the rotating cylinder. Wherever the name came from, the items often were mangled.”
         [About my introduction to married-life ironing in our married-students’ barracks apartment I wrote:] 

         On Sundays I tackled this part of domestic bliss, ironing the week’s worth of clothes for Don and me, his shirts and khakis, my blouses and cotton dresses and skirts. To keep from going mad, I listened to LP record albums and even found a radio station that played old programs I’d listened to in my childhood, “The Lone Ranger” and such.

         . . . Days of yore. From my grandmother’s house I still have a couple of the old iron flatirons that women had to heat on stoves. One I use as a doorstop, and the other is a bookend on my desk. My gaze falls upon the latter more often than the former, but I’m usually not really seeing either, and then suddenly at my desk I realize with a jolt what the bookend is, its history, and I see women through the ages working at this chore.

© 2020 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


January 19, 2020

       Earlier this month, inthe Laconia Daily Sun and the Meredith News two headlines grabbed my attention: “Baking show finale a real cliff-hanger” and “Local baker applauded at ‘Holiday Baking Championship’ viewing party.”
       I read on and in Adam Drapcho’s article in the Laconia newspaper I learned that Jennifer Clifford, the head baker at Moultonborough’s coffee-shop and bakery with the delightful name of the Cup & Crumb, had been a contestant in the Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship and in the final episode “came up just short of winning the grand prize. She succeeded, however, in representing her hometown with distinction and proved that a self-taught baker from a small town in New Hampshire can hang with professionals who have far more impressive resumes.”
       He added, “Clifford never sought fame. A Food Network representative reached out to her, after taking notice of her work on Instagram, to invite her to take part in the show.”
       The viewing party for the final episode was held December 30th at the Moultonborough Community Auditorium. Erin Plummer in the Meredith newspaper wrote that “Even though she didn’t win the finale, Clifford was the star of the Moultonbough viewing party. Members of the audience were holding signs saying ‘We love Jen’ . . . As the show was already filmed [in July], Clifford was required to keep strict secrecy . . . She said keeping the secret of who won was difficult.”
       Also difficult was the last challenge of the competition. As Drapcho wrote, the finalists had to “bake a cake that was plaid, both inside and out,” and it had to match the colors of the blankets that were distributed. Jennifer Clifford accomplished this but in her last maneuvers the cake began to break apart. “Clifford, who in previous episodes had proven her ability to improvise under pressure, made a chocolate ganache she could use as a kind of cement to hold the cake together.”
       Wow! I was particularly impressed because I have trouble concentrating in the kitchen even doing everyday meals if even a family member is present. (Early on in our marriage, Don realized he didn’t have to offer to help.) Cooking on national television, Jennifer Clifford kept her concentration!
       Jennifer Clifford’s courage and achievement made me resolve to be brave and finally go to the Cup & Crumb in its new home. Don and I had enjoyed stopping in at its previous home, a tiny place with only a couple of tables, armchairs, barstools—and a serious coffee selection and a beautiful array of goodies. Since it moved down the road to a larger place, I haven’t dared go in for fear I’d get weepy. 
       Last Tuesday I pulled into the new parking lot and started laughing. A sign beside the Cup & Crumb’s door said: “Congratulations, You Made It Out of Bed!”
Indoors, the place was indeed somewhat larger but had the same snug feeling and dark-brown aroma of coffee. And the delicious display. I wasn’t up to brunching alone there yet, I’ll wait to go with Penny during one of her visits, but to take home I chose an almond croissant and an oatmeal-cherry bar.

© 2020 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


January 12, 2020

       I expect that you too were inundated with catalogs during the holiday season. (I do still prefer the look of the old “catalogue” spelling, but I’ve yielded to the trimmed version.) Their arrivals kept reminding me of catalogs that have been or still are part of my life.
       Starting with Sears Roebuck. Basic household items were bought from Sears (as well as actual houses!), but I daydreamed over girls’ clothes, learning what was in style, and, when the Christmas catalog came, over dolls. As for Don, I wrote here a couple of years ago that he “vividly remembered how his grandmother visited the family before Christmas and sat down with the Sears Roebuck catalog on her lap, young Don and his brother on either side of her. She would go through the pages asking her grandsons what they saw that they liked. Oh, temptation! For Don, it was such an exercise in controlled greed that he didn’t recall asking for anything at all. But Sears Roebuck gifts resulted.”
       By high school, my best friend and I had graduated from studying Sears clothes to those in the Lana Lobell catalog. I couldn’t resist putting it into The Cheerleader:

       Julia said, “I guess we’d better mention Bev’s birthday. She wants that dress in the Lana Lobell catalog?”
       [Snowy replied,] “Yes, the mattress-ticking dress.”

       I’m recalling that my best friend did purchase that dress in high school. And I definitely remember that when Don and I were married by a justice of the peace in an apartment over a grocery store in Bennington, Vermont, I was wearing a Lana Lobell dress bought for more formal attire at college, light wool little-blue-green plaid.
       There was the Montgomery Ward catalog occasionally, but it was like a stranger, not so familiar. However, I did buy our first dining table and chairs from it, blond “Danish Modern,” which Don assembled in our apartment in the Keene Teachers’ College married students’ barracks.
       The Miles Kimball catalog had so many interesting things! I bought our first toothbrush holder. And wasn’t that where, for years, my whole family got boxes of stationery with our names and addresses printed in blue? 
       Later came the Tog Shop catalog; I bought a bath towel with an elasticized edge so you could wear it after a shower. The Lillian Vernon catalogs were packed so full of such a variety of stuff that I can’t remember what I did buy, but I know I must have. Also, the Walter Drake catalogs.
       And throughout my life, the L.L.Bean catalogs. My first purchase involved saving up my twenty-five-cents-a-week allowance to send for, with my mother’s help, a birthday present for my father, a knife to cut open the fish he caught. (Price: $1.25.) My latest purchases were two T-shirts and a chamois shirt to refresh this winter’s wardrobe.
       The Vermont Country Store catalogs have been around a long time, and nowadays I study them more thoroughly because they cater to—ahem—senior citizens. When the battery in my wristwatch gave out last fall, I said the hell with struggling with batteries again and found in their catalog just what I wanted: a wind-up watch from my past.

© 2020 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


January 5, 2020

         In recent audiobook-listening, I’ve been traveling near and far.
         Richard Russo’s latest novel, Chances Are, is about three men who were best friends at their Connecticut college in the 1960s. They get together again all these years later for a weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard cottage that belongs to one of them, the cottage where they last were together for a weekend after graduation. There are shared memories, but also secrets and a mystery. As the back of the audiobook CD says, “Russo reveals how friendship—a tiny community within this insular island’s larger society—is as strong as any other tie that binds.”
         So I traveled to that setting, Martha’s Vineyard, in the book and in my own memory. My mother’s best friend, Sally, and Sally’s husband lived year-round on Martha’s Vineyard, in Chilmark, where Russo’s fictional cottage is located. After my mother’s death, Sally stayed in touch with my father, and after he died, I took up the correspondence. She invited Don and me to come stay in their guest cottage. Thus we visited Martha’s Vineyard—a very different sort of island from the Maine islands we knew!
         Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious is written by Seth Kugel, who was the New York Times’s “Frugal Traveler” from 2010 to 2016. The back of the CD says, “Woven through with vivid tales of his perfectly imperfect adventures, Rediscovering Travel explains—often hilariously—how to make the most of new digital technologies without being shackled by them. For the tight-belted traveler and the first-class flyer, the eager student and the comfort-seeking retiree, Kugel shows how we too can rediscover the joy of discovery.”
         Remembering instances of this joy, I looked up one of them in the journal I kept when Penny and I went to England in 1990 and spent three weeks in the Cotswolds, mainly visiting famous gardens. We stayed in three “self-catering cottages” in three different towns, the last week in Chipping Campden, where I bought a walking guidebook, Campden Town Trail. We set off to the High Street and followed the trail and saw the historic sights, but then our attention was caught by a sign on a house saying that its garden was open, for Autistic Society donations. We looked at each other. A private garden! Bravely, we made a spontaneous decision to depart from the guidebook. We went in. Later that day I wrote, “We walked through a front room (doors to rooms off it closed—and locked?—but the staircase was open) out the back into an amazing garden about 150-feet to 200-feet long, Penny estimated, where other people strolled and admired too. Plants, apple trees, serenity behind the High Street hubbub.”
         Then at the Old Bake House “we had tea and a ‘cream slice’ and a scone with strawberry jam. Paying, Penny glimpsed out back a sign she wished she could steal for Don:
                  It’s a Great Day.
                  Watch Some Bastard Spoil It.”

         And, reading the journal entry, I burst out laughing over this sign, which was definitely so Don! 

© 2020 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

RDM titles collage

Current entries are HERE.



Audiobooks (March 26)
The Cheeleader's 50th Anniversary (Mch 19)
The Lot, Revisited (March 12)
Parking and Other Subjects (February 26)
Concord (February 19)
Bird Food & Superbowl Food (February 12)
The Cold Snap (February 5)
Laughter and Lorna (January 29)
Tea and Digestive Biscuits (January 22)
Ducks, Mornings, & Wonders (January 15)
Snowflakes (January 8)
A New Year's Resolution  (January 1)


Jingle Bells    (December 25)
Fruitcake, Ribbon Candy &Snowball
.(Dec. 18)
Christmas Pudding (December 11)
Amusements (December 4)
Weather and Woods  (November 27)
Gravy (November 20)
Brass Rubbing (November 13)
Moving Day (November 6)
Sandwiches and Beer (October 23)
Edna, Celia, and Charlotte (Octobert 16)
Sandwich Fair Weekend (October 9)
More Reuntions (October 2)

A Pie and a Sandwich (September 25)
Evesham (September 18)
Chawton (September 11)
Winter's Wisdom? (September 4)
Vanity Plates (August 28)
2022 Golden Circle Luncheon
(August 21)
Agatha and Annie (August 14)
National Dog Month (August 7)
The Chef's Triangle (July 31)
Librarians and Libraries (July 24)
Clothes and Cakes (July 17)
Porch Reading (July 10)
Cheesy! (July 3)

The Summer Book (June 23)
Bears & Goats & Motorcycles ...(June 19)
Tuna Fish (June 12)
Laconia (June 5)
More Publishers Weekly Reviews (May 22)
Shopping, Small and Big  (May 15)
Ponds  (May 8)
The Lakes Region (May 1)
TV for Early Birds; An April Poem    (April 24)
Family; Food; Fold-out Sofas (April 17)
Solitary Eaters (April 9)
National Poetry Month (April 3)
Special Places—Popular Cakes(March 27) Neighborhood Parks ( (March 20)
More About Potatoes—and Maine (March 13)
Potatoes (March 6)
Spring Tease (February 27)
Pillows (February 20)
Our Song (February 13)
Undies (February 6)
Laughter  (January 28/30)
A Burns Night  (January 23)
From Keats to Spaghetta Sauce (January 16)
Chowder Recipes  (January 9)
Cheeses and Chowders  (January 2)


The Roaring Twenties (December 26
Christmas Traditions (December 19)
Trail Cameras (December 12)
Cars and Trucks(December 5)
Return? (November 28)
Lipstick (November 20)
Tricks of the Trade (November 12)
A New Dictionary Word (November 7)
A 50th Reunion (October 31) "
Sides to Middle" Again
(October 23)
Pantries and Anchovies (October 1i7)
Fairs and Festivals (October 10)
Reunions  (October 3) A Lull  (September 26)
The Queen and Others (
Sept. 19)
Scones and Gardens (Sept.12)
Best Maine Diner (September 5)
Neighborhood Grocery Store; Neighborhood Café (August 28)
PW Picks of the Week (August 21)
A Goldilocks Morning_and More (August 15)
Desks (August 8)
Sports Bras and Pseudonyms (August 1)
Storybook Foods (July 25)
Rachel Field(July 18)
The Bliss Point  (July 11)
Items of Interest  (July 4)
Motorcycle Week 2021 (June 27)
Seafood, Inland and Seaside  (June 20)
Thrillers to Doughnuts (June 13)
National Trails Day  (June 6)
New Hampshire Language (May 30 )
Books and Squares(May 23)
Gardening in May (May16)
The Familiar (May 9)
Synonyms (May 2)
"Bear!" (April 25)
Blossoms  (April 18)
Lost Kitchen and Found Poetry (April 11)
More About Mud (April 4)
Gilbert and Sullivan (March 28)
St. Patrick's Day 2021 (March 21)
Spring Forward (March 14)
A Blank Page (March 7)
No-Recipe Recipes (February 28)
Libraries and Publishers Weekly (February 21)
Party; Also, Pizza (February 13)
Groundhog Day (February 6)
Jeeps (January 31) Poems and Paper-Whites (January 24) Peanut Butter (January 17)
Last Wednesday  (January 10)
Hoodsies and Animal Crackers  (January 3)


Welcome, 2021December 27
Cornwall at Christmastime( December 20)
 Mount Tripyramid ( December 13) 
New Hampshire Pie ( December 6)   
Frost, Longfellow, and Larkin ( November 29)
Rocking Chairs ( November 22)
Thanksgiving Side Dishes ( November 15)
Election 2000 ( November 8)
Jell-O and Pollyanna ( November 1)
Peyton Place in Maine  (October 25)
Remember the Reader  (October 18)
Sandwich Fairs In Our Past  (October11)
Drought and Doughnuts  (October 4)
Snacks (September 27)
Support Systems, Continuing (September 20)
The 85 Best Things to Do in New England (Sept
Dessert Salads?! (September 6)
Agatha Christie's 100th Anniversary (August 3
Poutine and A Postscript(August 23)
Pandemic Listening and Reading (August 16)
Mobile Businesses (August 9)
Backyard Wildlife (August 2)
Maine Books (July 26)
Garlic (July 19)
Birthday Cakes (July 12)
A Collection of Quotations  (July 5)
Best of New Hampshire (June 28)
Hair (June 21)
Learning (June 14)
Riding and "Broading" Around (June 7)
Sunday Drives, Again (May 31)
The Passion Pit (May 24)
Schedules & Sustenance (May 17)
Doan Sisters Go to a British Supermarket (April
National Poetry Month 2020 (April 12)
Laconia (May 10)
Results (May 3)
Singing (April 26 )
Dining Out (April 19 )
Red Hill (March 29)
An Island Kitchen (March 22)
Pandemic and Poetry (March 15)
Food for Hikes (March 8)
Social Whirl in February (March 1)
Two Audiobooks and a Magazine(February 23)
Books Sandwiched In   (February 9)
Mailboxes February 2)
Ironing (January 26)
The Cup & Crumb  (January 19)
Catalogs  (January 12)
Audiobook Travels  (January 5)


Christmas Weather  (Dec. 29 )
Christmas in the Village  (Dec. 22)
Marion's Christmas Snowball, Again  (Dec. 15)
Phyliss McGinley and Mrs. York  (December 8)
Portsmouth Thanksgiving.  (December 1)
In the Dentist's Waiting Room, Again.  (Nov. 24
Louisa and P.G.  (November 17)
The First Snow  (November 10)
Joy of Cooking  (November 3)
Over-the-Hill Celebration  (October 27)
Pumpkin Regatta  (October 20)
Houseplants, New and Old(October 13)
Pumpkin Spice  (October 6)
Wildlife  (Sept 29)
Shakespeare and George  (Sept 22)
Castles and Country Houses  (Sept 15)
New Hampshire Apple Day  (Sept 8)
Maine Woods and Matchmaking  (Sept 1)
Reunions  (August 25)
Sawyer's Dairy Bar  (August 18)
Old Home Week  (August 11)
Summer Scenes  (August 4)
Maine Foods (July 28)
Out of Reach  (July 21)
This and That, Again  (July 14)
The Lot  (July 7)
Pizza, Past and Present (June 30)
Setting Up Housekeeping (June 23)
Latest Listening and Reading (June 16)
Pinkham Notch (June 9)
A Boyhood in the Weirs (June 2)
The Big Bear (May 26)
It's Radio! (May 19)
Archie (May 12)
Department Stores  (May 5)
Spring Is Here!  (April 28)
Dorothy Parker Poem  (April 21)
National Library Week, 2019  (April 14)
National Poetry Month, 2019  (April 7)
Signs of Spring, 2019 (March 31)
Frost Heaves, Again (March 24)
Latest Reading & Listening (March 17)
Car Inspection (March 10)
Snowy Owls & Chicadees (March 3)
Sandwiches Past and Present (February 23)
Our First Date (February 17) 
Ice Fishing Remembered (February 10)
Home Ec (February 3)
A Rockland Restaurant (January 27)
Kingfisher (January 19)
Mills & Factories (January 13)
Squirrels (January 6)


Clothesline Collapse   (December 2)
Thanksgiving 2018
(November 25)  
(November 18)
A Mouse Milestone (November 11)
Farewell to Our Magee   (November 4)
Sistering (October 28)
Sears (October 21)
Love and Ruin (October 14)
A New Furnace (October 7)
Keene Cuisine September 30)
A Mini-Mini Reunion (September 23)
Support System  (September 16)
Five & Ten  (September 9)
Dining Out Again  (September 2)
Summer Listening (August 26)
Donald K. MacDougall 1936-2018  (August 19)
Update--Don (August 12)
Telling Don (August 5)
Don's Health (July 29)
Seen and Overheard (July 22)
Donald Hall  (July 15)
Fireworks (July 8)
Off Season (July 1)
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place (June 24)
2018 Motorcycle Week (June 17)
Springtime Sights (June 10)
Seafood at the Seacoast? (June 3)
Lilacs (May 27)
Going Up Brook, revisited  (May 20)
The Weirs Drive-In Theater  (May 13)
The Green and Yellow Time, (May 6 )
Recipe Box and Notebook (April 29)
Henrietta Snow, Second Printing (April 21)
Miniskirts and Bell-Bottoms (April 14)
The Poor Man's Fertilizer (April 7)
The Galloping Gourmet (April 1)
The Old Country Store (March 25; First  FB entry)

Earlier: :Ruth's Neighborhood
(multiple entries, 2011 - 2017)