The Reading Habit

By Tamara J. Collins

My dad’s side of the family called Marlboro, Vermont, home for over two hundred years. I called it home for fourteen years. I was an only child, and my parents quickly learned that introducing me to our local libraries was a wise idea. My father would plead with librarians to allow me to take out twenty books per week and proudly assure them that I would read them all. He was right. I did read them all. I devoured the stories the way an ultramarathon runner can eat an entire pizza or box of pasta.

My father taught me how to read when I was around three years old. The first book that I read on my own was The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone.

For her part, his mother subscribed to Cricket Magazine and had it sent to her house, where she would urge me to read it. Marianne Carcus, whose intent was to create The New Yorker for children, founded it in September 1973. Years later, I would subscribe to The New Yorker.

I remember the beautiful artwork on the covers and inside. There were sections of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, games, and puzzles. I would read it cover to cover, rereading each page before moving onto the next.

When I was in Kindergarten, I wrote my first story, “The Ant Called Bant.” My mother encouraged my crazy creative cranium and my love of reading and telling stories. She obtained library cards from two libraries. One was in the town where she worked, and I attended elementary school: The Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro. The other, The Dummerston Library, was closer to our house and we went there on Saturday mornings.

Both of my parents used books as rewards. When I received good grades, achieved a new brownie scout or figure skating badge, or had a terrible day, they would reward me with a trip to the bookstore or more than most kids were allowed to order from the Scholastic school order. I was never limited to one book and often would come home with three new ones.

My mother passed away two weeks before Christmas when I was fourteen. Just over a year earlier, we had toured Europe for two weeks with her mother. We visited the homes of my favorite authors: Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and William Shakespeare. And from London, we rode the Trafalgar bus through Brussels, Amsterdam, Rhineland, Munich, Innsbruck, Lucerne, and Paris. We also sailed down the Rhine River and floated around Venice. I had no sign that she was ill. Though I did think it was odd that she wanted to lay down in our hotel room after dinner instead of going out for an evening walk. My grandmother would retreat to the hotel room with mom. I would find other adults from the tour bus to allow me to join them in exploring our surroundings.

The cancer had been there a while, undetected. The disease was silently snowballing within mom’s five foot four athletic frame. Her doctor suggested that maybe she was pregnant. She was in her late forties, and this notion made her laugh. He indicated that her headaches and tiredness was from consuming too much caffeine. My mother couldn’t a 12 oz can of diet coke in a day. She was more of a half a cup of coffee or can of diet soda person. Mom was one of those health freak types. You know bought our food from the farmer’s markets, food co-ops, and we always ate a lot of fresh fruit, veggies, cheeses, pita bread, granola, yogurt, and things that would delight a nutritionist which was no surprise considering that was a subject mum had studied.

So when the doctor said she was either pregnant or drinking too much caffeine, my mother disagreed on both accounts. As soon as she switched physicians, from her doctor to my father’s doctor, it was too late. She had stage IV breast cancer. She underwent a double mastectomy. And she tried every experimental drug recommended in addition to chemotherapy, but disease raged on and spread to her lungs. Her breasts were gone, Frankenstein-like stitches covered where they once were. Her hair was gone. But the light in her green eyes and smile were still there as she tried to prepare me for what life would be like without her.

She knew the end was coming. She was at peace. She tried to talk to me about what life would be like without her. I refused to accept it. I thought if I acted like she was okay, then she would be okay. Because if I refused to acknowledge it, then it wouldn’t come true. So, I didn’t help her around the house. I didn’t make her last six months easier. I wasn’t a good daughter. I thought in my stubborn head that if I pretended as if she wasn’t sick and dying that she would recover. But she didn’t improve. She was strong enough to hold on in her hospital room until my father and her cat that I snuck in, a grey cat named Smokey Robinson, and I arrived and then she told us she loved us and closed her eyes holding my one of my hands and one of my father’s hands, and she was gone. That day was the first time I ever saw my father cry.

Mom’s death was devastating. She was my best friend. Television helped me hold onto my denial. I could escape into a story for a short amount of time. My inability to face the truth came from uncertainty and fear of what life would be like without her. Reading is what helped pull me back into reality.

During my denial period, my father’s mother passed away. Six months after my own, but it was not unexpected. (Her husband had passed away before I was born). She was old. She did not manage her diabetes well. My father encouraged her countless times to at least walk from her living room to her mailbox each day, but she ignored his advice. She was stubborn — a family trait.

My father drove nearly three hours to bring me home from the summer boarding school in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, for her funeral. He needed me to be there. I had only seen my father cry once before, the day my mother died.

My grades slipped after I lost my mother and my grandmother. I was no longer an A student; I was a below-to-average student. However, I continued to turn to books: The Interview with a Vampire and North of Boston. I wrote poems. I filled a black sketchbook with them.

In high school, I wrote my first novel. It still needs polishing, and I have never submitted it to anyone for review. The only person who has ever read part of it was a classmate who urged me to keep writing.

The summer before my junior year, my father remarried. I lived in the girl’s dorm on the campus at Vermont Academy. The following year, I moved to my stepmother’s house in Durham, NH, and switched schools. I took my first journalism class at my new school, and I wrote features articles, mostly music reviews of albums and concerts for the student newspaper, The Mouth of the River.

In college, I studied with James Krasner and Charlotte Bacon, who both furthered my passion for books, reading, and writing. When my financial strain became obvious, Bacon convinced me to stay in school and to keep reading and writing, telling me she would feed me if I got hungry. I took a couple of journalism courses. I wrote features articles for the student paper, The New Hampshire. I also worked in sales, then sales management, and then I pivoted into working in public relations and publicity while in college full-time.

When I was twenty, my father, who had continued my mother’s tradition of rewarding me with new books, passed away. His death by heart attack was sudden and unexpected. I had spent the prior weekend in Vermont with him and my stepmother. Again, there was no sign that he was ill.

Again, I lost myself in books: Anthem, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and Their Eyes Were Watching God. I kept a journal. When that journal ran out of its lined pages, I threw it away and started a new one, and the process repeated itself. I wish I had kept them. I have often thought this over the past couple of years.

I wish I had kept them so that I could read them now and see how I’ve grown and changed positively since then. I threw all of my journals out because I was afraid that a roommate would find them and read them. And I wasn’t ready yet to share my story with anyone else.

After college, I took a job as a copywriter for a full-service marketing communications firm. I loved the job and the people at the company. And, after a couple of years of working remotely for them, they wanted me to come to the mothership and move from Portsmouth, NH to St. Louis, MO. At the time, I was dating someone who didn’t want to move, and I turned the offer down and became a full-time freelancer. I worked with individuals, organizations, and businesses in a variety of consultancy and contract work. I also served on a variety of arts and community development nonprofit boards and committees.

Today, I own my own company, Mapkey Creative, and I work as a copywriter, and I help build businesses.

Reading has always grounded me. It makes me feel less alone. The following three memoirs, read after graduating from college, I have found particularly healing: Blackout by Sarah Hepola, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, and Wild by Cheryl Strayed.

My passion for books has helped me navigate loss and stay focused on my own unfolding story.

I’m currently reading and loving Caroline Leavitt’s Into Thin Air and Peter Heller’s Kook.

5 Outrageous Ideas to Soothe Your Cabin Fever

We are in January. Spring begins in two months, and Daylight Savings is too many weeks away. And as all Live Free of Die staters knows Spring sometimes is just another word for “Second Winter” with more snow, ice, and cold, wet weather. So what do you do if you live on the NH Seacoast and can’t afford the luxury of a season pass or the daily lift ticket prices at the ski and snowboard resorts? Well, I put together a list of things that helped me beat cabin fever and the depression that comes along with what can feel like an isolating winter where it’s easy to work, go to the gym, and come home and watch Netflix and repeat. 

I put together a list of things I’ve found successful in keeping the winter blues at bay. I hope they help you as well and remember summer is coming. But if you want to surf without fear of Cabot, the Great White Shark and his buddies, now’s the time before the ocean reaches between 12 and 24 °C (54 and 75 °F). What? I’m serious.

5 Outrageous Ideas to Soothe Your Cabin Fever

1.Ride at Rye Airfield in Rye

At Rye Airfield, you will see people of all ages riding everything from BMX bikes to skateboards and scooters to inline skates and roller skates. I started skateboarding here a few winters back and last year became a rye airfield member because I enjoyed it so much! Rye Airfield is a great place to go on a date, or meet friends, or go alone and make new friends.

2. Invent a new sport

Say what? Yes, that’s right. I said it. Invent something new. Ski Bikes and Fat Bike Skis were all once some person’s crazy invention tested on backyard hills. Not to mention snurfingsnowboarding, and snow surfing, which though sound similar are all very different – have fun googling, and you are welcome! Oh, and let’s not forget the newest craze downhill mountain kayaking

Downhill Snow Kayak Races video credit: Red Bull

3. Backcountry Snowboarding

No lifts. No lines. No money. No problem.

I did a lot of this during my senior year of high school when I moved to New Hampshire from Vermont, mostly because I didn’t have a car, and the mountains were too far away for my parents to give up their time to take me. These days I prefer it over the crowded ski areas.

Large crowds you know the kind at music festivals and ski resorts I find overwhelming, and thus though I enjoy riding a groomed trail, I sometimes get anxiety over getting on and off the chair lift quick enough. Therefore, I enjoy the peacefulness of the backcountry.  Chris, aka Trail Chick has some tips on how to start How to Get Started Backcountry Snowboarding.

4. Join a Book Group   

Most of us don’t have time to sit and read a book anymore. I swear the last book I read took me two months to finish. Two months. However, when you join a book group, there’s a bit of peer pressure to read what the group has selected, and you get to help choose the books. Also, even if you haven’t read the book, it’s an excuse to be social and eat snacks. And who doesn’t like to eat? 

5. Winter Surfing

Don’t let anyone fool you. It’s going to be cold. Cold AF. Wear the appropriate gear because if you don’t, you could get hyperthermia or worse. Also please don’t surf alone. If something happened to you like say, your board knocks you unconscious, no one would know if you are out there by yourself.

Okay, now for the fun parts – no sharks, no parking tickets, no accidentally bonking tourists with your longboard as your walking from your car down to the water. Your non-surfing friends will give you a look of respect reserved for the particularly daring, crazy, and brave. You may get windburned. Pro-tip I slather my face in Bag Balm post surfing in the fall and winter to heal my skin. 

 If you do decide to try winter surfing do not attempt it without reading these Winter Surfing Tips from local surfing guru, Ralph Fatello.

Top 10 Winter Tourism Destinations in Merrimack County

When most Seacoast people think of embracing winter in New Hampshire, they think of winter surfing and nature walks or eating and drinking their ways around the coastline, but I’m here to tell you that Merrimack Country has a lot to offer too. From the hiking alongside the babbling brooks and the whistling mountains to river view luncheons and cozy dinners, the people of Merrimack county have fun while keeping warm during these cold months. Read on to find out the top 10 winter tourism destinations in Merrimack County! 

I recently moved to Merrimack County from the Seacoast, and over the past few months, I’ve done some exploring. I’ve compiled a list of some diamonds in the rough, and locals-only secret spots of ways to make the most out of the winter in Merrimack County that maybe you haven’t tried yet. 

Top 10 Winter Tourism Destinations in Merrimack County

1.Breakfast at the Allenstown Country Diner in Suncook

Don’t blink, or you may drive past it. Don’t let the outside of this little place fool you.  There’s a reason their parking lot is always packed. The food is good, and the coffee is hot and refilled before you can think to ask. The Allenstown Country Diner is the perfect place to have breakfast with your best pal or your partner. Even though it’s busy and bustling, it’s quiet. You can have a conversation and hear each other talk without the noisy clatter of plates banging or music blaring, and if you are new to the area like my best gal pal and me, the waitresses will immediately make you feel at home. 

2. Explore the Trails at Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown

The physical fitness course at Bear Brook State Park is a fun way to challenge yourself and your friends while walking in the woods. Why pay for a gym membership, when you can buy a state park plate and play outside? When testing your agility and fitness, you can make your way to Catamount Pond for free public ice-skating, which can be magical, like something out of a Disney movie, depending on the day. 

3. Lunch at The Roots Cafe in Hooksett

Beets, carrots, and parsnips come to mind when you hear the word, ‘roots,’ but fear not the menu at The Roots Café at Robie’s General Store feature much more than your winter CSA offerings. You will have to wait in line for a table almost any day you visit, or at least so far, myself and my partner and our friends have had a short wait. While waiting, many museum-like pieces are covering the walls, as well as photos that it has a real, local vibe to it. The owners have done well preserving Robie’s General Store as a well known historical landmark. The Roots Café provides farm to table dining and quality food and service. Seated in the secret back annex on a busy day, I enjoyed a veggie signature omelet and a view of the Merrimack River. How much more quaint could it get?! 

4. Skiing and Snowboarding at Pat’s Peak in Henniker

If you have always wanted to learn how to ski or snowboard but don’t want to fork over $78-$100 for a lift ticket plus an additional $49 for boots, helmet, and skis and poles or snowboard then here’s your chance for one third of what you’d pay at other mountains to learn. Check out “Under the Lights on Saturday Nights at Pat’s Peak”, you pay one price to ski, snowboard, or snow tube with all lesson tips, equipment rentals, and entertainment included for $52 per person. Ski or Ride on a Saturday Night from 3 pm to 10 pm for only $52. Saturday Night POP runs from Dec. 28, 2019 to End of Season 2020. Lesson Tips from 4 pm to 6 pm in the Beginners Area. Snowtubing is from 5 pm to 10 pm.

My partner Michael and his buddy Chris at Pat’s Peak.


5. Try a Vegan meal at Willows Plant Based Eatery in Concord

If you like Susty’s in Northwood, then you will love Willows! Willows is owned and operated by Susty’s daugther. And both are a real treat. I never liked tofu until I had a Susty’s fried tofu sandwich with veganise, and then I was hooked. Willows has tofu sandwiches, but her Hearty Bowls are my favorite, in particular, the Wicked Simple Hearty Bowl. The décor is funky but inviting in a crisp, clean casual way. 

6. Go climb the walls at EVO rock + fitness in Concord

Are you going stir crazy? Too cold for your regular outdoor workouts, but you cringe at the thought of joining a regular gym? Dying to pretend you are at least doing something fun yet physically active? Give EVO rock + fitness a shot and see what you think. A day pass for adults is $28 plus, you can rent a harness, shoes, belay device, and chalk bag for an additional $10. 

7. See a movie at Cinemagic in Hooksett

Sometimes the best way to enjoy winter is to stay inside and relax. My partner loves to see films and enjoys the IMAX experience. I never used to be a fan of going to the movie theatre. I have long legs, and I like to stretch them out when I watch a movie. Cinemagic & IMAX has recliner seating, which means I don’t feel like a pretzel when I come here, and I can enjoy my film-watching experience. 


8. Take Equestrian Lessons at Red Oak Stables in Allenstown

Allenstown’s Bear Brook State Park is a hidden gem of fun-filled family activities.  The park’s amenities include campsites, a picnic area, over 40 miles of hiking trails, swimming, and fishing ponds, archery range, camp store, a ball field, playground, bathhouse, shelters, picnic tables, canoe, and rowboat rentals, and a physical fitness course. And if that’s not impressive enough, it also has a beautiful small family-owned and operated equine center nestled in the heart of it. Red Oak Stables resides at the former Bear Brook Stables. The Red Oak Stables is bustling with private lessons, equestrians exercising their horses, and equine training programs. The cost to board your horse is $600 a month, for the cost of private lessons or training programs message them on Facebook for their rates. 

Teagan’s first solo canter on Turner at Red Oak Stables

9. Meet friends for Dinner & Drinks at The Pizzaman in Hooksett

Looking for a low-key place to meet your friends for dinner and drinks that have parking and won’t break the bank, this is it. The portion at The Pizzaman are large, like two people can split the entry and not be hungry after large. Also, they sell homemade chocolate chip cookies the size of your face that is delicious. My favorite things aside from the chocolate chip cookies here are that they offer a cauliflower crust for their pizza, and they serve diet and regular Mountain Dew. What? Oh yes. Do the Dew. 

10. Pay a visit to Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord

I love the smell of new books. I also love uncracked book spines and pages that have not been dog-eared. If you aren’t sure what you are in the mood for, the friendly staff at Gibson’s is more than happy to make recommendations, and they are so spot on that I’d already read what they recommended for me. The bookstore hosts over 100 author events a year, so that’s about two per week. You know what’s fantastic, seeing an author you admire read, then going with a group of people with the author out for drinks after. 

We may not have the luxury of jumping in the ocean every day with our surfboard or skateboarding at rye airfield every evening. Still, Merrimack County does have some pretty cool things going on in the winter. I’m willing to bet you haven’t tried at least one of these. Grab your significant other, or your family members, or your friends and learn to enjoy winter, because there’s 8 more weeks until Spring, compadres. Let the countdown begin.

Recipe: High Protein Smoothie

After years of eating egg whites for breakfast, I got inspired by my friend Matthew Prescott’s book Food is the Solution.

The breakfast smoothies in the book inspired me to make the following my daily breakfast for the past couple of months.

Chocolate or Vanilla Green Berry High Protein Smoothie


  • 1 cup Almond Cashew Milk
  • 1/4 cup Blueberries
  • 1/4 cup Blackberries
  • 1/4 cup Raspberries
  • 1/4 cup Strawberries
  • 1 scoop of Chocolate or Vanilla protein powder (I use Garden of Eden Brand) 
  • 1 cup Smoothie Greens (Kale, Spinach blend) 


In your blender pour in 2 cups of Almond Cashew milk. Then add one scoop of vanilla protein powder. Then add one scoop of chocolate protein powder. Then add in the 1/4 cup of each of the berries. Then add the 1 cup of smoothie greens. 

I do them in this order with the protein powder as the second ingredient; otherwise, it doesn’t blend as evenly. Puree on high until desired smoothness then pours into your preferred smoothie glass. I use a 28-ounce plastic Jaxx Protein shake bottle, and the mix fills it right to the top. The one I use is from this set with the portion container cups.

Enjoy! What’s your favorite breakfast smoothie recipe? Please let me know by commenting below!