Monday, August 23, 2010

A Little Blue

I'm feeling not-so-bright and cheery these days. Maybe it's the weather we're having--gray and drizzly (don't tell me how much the garden needed it!), or maybe it's all the emails I get from my friend Don about the Gulf oil disaster that only seems to get worse by the minute, and the fascists who seem intent on taking over the world (or at least this little bit), as reinforced by the dozens of campaign signs for the Tea Bag Gubernatorial candidate that I pass every day (I'm hanging my hopes on the gene pool for this one). Or maybe it's that I spent my birthday weekend sick in bed (and am feeling more than a little sorry for myself about it).

I always seem to get sick this time of year. I told C the other day that I'm constitutionally opposed to the end of summer. And I do mean end. While August may be the height of heat and vacation fun in more salubrious climes, in Maine, if you haven't sweat by mid-July, you may as well give up until next summer (or crank the woodstove mighty high this winter).

As happens every year, my inside organs began scrabbling against my chest wall in panic when I drove past the beaver bog up the road last week and saw the red maples living up to their name, and turning crimson. Though it happens every year, it hits me like the acorn on Chicken Little's noggin and I feel sure they're harbingers of the Apocalypse. I begin grasping around me, trying to scoop up last bits of summer--The beach, the beach, we must go to the beach once more; Lemonade! We haven't drunk enough lemonade!; Popsicles! We forgot to make popsicles!--only it's like trying to carry handfuls of water up the beach to your sandcastle near the the time you get there, all that's left are a few salty drops on your damp hands. It usually leads to ill-advised behavior, like marathon water-treading in 60-degree ocean water resulting in near-hypothermia. And it never once has slowed the inevitable march of winter, not by one iota.

I feel the same sense of panic whenever I notice one of my boys is a little taller, or a little smarter or a little more mature. Wait! Wait! I want to cry. We haven't done all the things we were going to do while you were little! I try to put on the brakes long enough to read another picture book, make a silly hat, build a fairy house in the woods. But they ignore my pleas and my mad scrambling to Slow. Down. Time. as resoundingly and heartlessly as the autumn wind does.

I know, as a person who has read more than a few issues of The Sun that life is impermanence and that trying to resist change is the source of suffering. That I should practice non-attachment to things like summer, my children's childhood, my very life. That life is like the beach, where the tide comes in and washes it clean twice each day, and no matter how high up you build your sand castle it too will succumb to the ravages or water and wind.

And that is what is so wonderful about the beach. It is never the same two visits in a row, or even from the moment you plop down your towels and beach chair to the time you scoop all the pails and shovels and sunblock and gritty sandwiches up and drag your damp, salty, exhausted charges back home.

But still, after even the most perfect beach day, I feel a tug of regret...we didn't get there early enough or stay long enough; we never made it to the tidepools; we didn't spend enough time in the water or on the sand; I didn't get to read enough chapters of my beach book. Always, always I feel there could have been more, that I could have tried harder, appreciated it more while it was happening, and now that it's over I've missed my chance.

It's a feeling I imagine I'll still be nursing one day, many years from now, creaking in my rocking chair on the deck, replaying my life (wondering why, oh, why, did I not make photo albums before I had 46 years of digital pictures to sort through with arthritic fingers), watching the leaves fall on a late summer morning.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More Vintage Goodness

When C and I were wandering around Brunswick, Saturday, we found our way to an old mill building that houses a flea market and antique mall. The flea market was horribly dirty and disorganized, with individual booths piled to overflowing with a whole lot of junk (I guess that's the definition of flea market, right?). There was some good stuff tucked in here and there, but everything was priced really astoundingly high. I did find these three little enamel cups (half-price, and still more than they should have been) that I thought would be cute for the boys for camping (of course when I showed them, they all three wanted the green one!):

The antique mall next door was much more pleasant, and had lovely stuff, neatly arranged and displayed, but still the prices were at least double of what I normally see around here. It made me appreciate our middle-of-nowhere antique barns!

The friend who watched the boys was getting rid of some stuff from her house and gave me these sweet little mugs.

When we got home Satuday afternoon, there was a package in our mailbox. My mom sent me this fabulous yellow Harlequin creamer and strawberry print dish towel for my birthday (thanks, Mom!)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Vintage Swap

I participated in the Vintage Swap for the first time this summer. My partner, Amanda, went way overboard in the generosity department and sent a box packed with: four hand-crocheted doilies/tablecloths, four small woven cloths (napkins?), vintage sewing tools (including electric scissors, of all things, which I haven't tried out yet!), a dress, a rooster basket, a piece of cloth, a set of embroidered pillowcases, a book on ceramics, two Corel ware mugs, and a glass horse. All passed down from her grandmother, great grandmother and a dear friend of hers.

My favorite is this doily, which is exactly my shade of orange. I think it will find its way onto a pillow very soon.
Thank you, Amanda!!

I sent Amanda these little bits (she said her favorite colors are reds and browns):

A table runner (or dresser skirt, perhaps?) embroidered with poppies and wheat.

A handkerchief apron (which I've actually had my eye on for a while!).

A crocheted potholder (I was in a store recently where they had a row of antique crocheted potholders hanging along a wall and it looked so cute!).
A bit of embroidered brown linen.

And a red glass (hope it made it in one piece!).

It was fun going through the antique malls with my eye tuned to a different channel...and not worrying about whether I actually needed something before I bought it, since it wasn't for me! I did suffer a bit of anxiety over trying to find the exact right thing, but I think I did OK!

Monday, August 16, 2010

And they danced by the light of the moon, the moon, the moon...

When C and I got married, eleven years ago this past Saturday, it must have been The Summer of Marriage, because it seems like we attended a lot of matrimonial festivities that year (twenty-five must be the age at which one's biological clock begins to tick on overdrive). Many of those ceremonies turned out to be solemn affairs, with a surprising amount of heavy-handed godliness for a bunch of hippies from COA.

I wanted to bring a sense of joy to our ceremony, a light-heartedness and a bit of irreverence. We didn't want our friends to be bored, and we certainly didn't want to depress anyone. So, along with a number of pagan-ish readings from this book, C and I read Edward Lear's nonsense poem "The Owl and the Pussycat." C's friends appreciated the reference to the "land where the bong tree grows," while mine (those bad girls) snickered over the owl's waxing poetic over his "lovely pussy." Everyone got a huge kick out of the two being married by the "turkey who lives on the hill," at the expense of our officiant, our dear, dear departed friend Al.

"The Owl and the Pussycat" was one of my older sister's and my favorite stories when we were young, and we heard it many, many times (oddly, I can't remember what book it was in, or what the illustrations were like). It's one of the few poems I know by heart (along with about half of "Kubla Khan," and "Candy is dandy/But liquor is quicker." My sister, just to show how psychic we sometimes are, got us the book (illustrated by Jan Brett) for a wedding present and planned to read it at the reception for her toast. She was not pleased to be upstaged by the bride and groom.

This is just a really, really long way of explaining why I was so thrilled when Heather Ross came out with Owl and Pussycat fabric this summer...I knew right away exactly what I needed to do with it...a commemorative pillow for our anniversary (in disguise as my gift to C). I found a picture M drew of those very characters when he was about five years old and visiting friends of ours. I embroidered the picture and framed it with happy, sleeping moons and owls and pussycats in their beautiful pea green boat, sort of following the quilting technique form Patchwork Style, only I didn't read the directions very well and missed some steps. It's all a bit crooked and wonky...I'd like to blame my old sewing machine, but it was probably more due to me a) being lazy and b) starting the damn thing at 10:30 Thursday night (it did give me the chance to step outside sometime after midnight and view one shooting star--the Perseids were peaking that night).

(The back)

We dropped the kids off at friends' on the coast Friday night (the very friends at whose house M drew that picture), and went out to our favorite restaurant, El Camino (here's me savouring my Mexican Chocolate Pot de Creme with ancho chile powder...mmmm),

then spent the night at a bed & breakfast--yes our first night away from kids since we went to Philadelphia almost two years ago. We did not dance by the light of the moon (it was a new moon), but we did sit in the park in Brunswick and, you know, have an actual conversation. With complete sentences and stuff. We even played a few hands of Rummy (like the old days when we didn't have kids or a TV). I have to say it ended far, far too soon Saturday afternoon (why is it one's children always seem so much louder and, I don't know, like there are more of them, after one has been away from them for a bit?). Next time, we're taking a week!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Summer Books and a Day "Off"

One day last week E had a high fever and I had to stay home with the twins (M was staying with friends at their lake house), and--not that I would wish illness on anyone--it was a wonderful day.

In the morning, while the boys played Lego's, I was able to finally finish reading an essay from a back issue of The Sun that I had started reading weeks ago, and got interrupted every time I picked it up (I have let my subscription expire and am not allowed to renew it until I've read all of the back issues I've been accumulating for nearly a year).

We played several rounds of Round Up and The Sleeping Grump, then I sent the boys back to the Den O' Lego's so I could sew...finally making our summer book basket.

After lunch, we walked to the mailbox, then, because E was feeling hot and tired again, I laid out our picnic blanket and they drew while I embroidered the word "Summer." Later we read a couple of chapters out of On the Banks of Plum Creek and they resumed Lego's while I started dinner.

It was so nice to just relax and not have anywhere to go or anything to do--it was just like those days off I used to get every week, without the rush to get M's bus. We did not even succumb to the TV temptation. I think I need to work on a scheme to get more days like that, don't you?
Now, as to the summer book basket, inside we have:

and lots of books about bugs and gardens. I'm sorry to say we've read hardly any of them! Between hardly ever being home, reading chapter books at bedtime (the Little House series) and my getting them out so late (I did get the actual books out a few weeks earlier, after we went raspberry picking and needed to read about Little Sal), we just haven't gotten around to it. (Perhaps we need another sick day?).

I'm glad to have all four book baskets done and tucked away, neatly on top of the bookcase at the top of the stairs(see Autumn, Winter, Spring--looking back, I see that all of them, except winter, were completed well into the season in question, so I guess I'm just continuing tradition here). I can picture myself, a lonely old (middle-aged) lady in a couple of years, taking down the seasonal books, reading them to myself (perhaps I'll need to get a cat) while my boys are off driving fast cars or something. Sigh.
What are you reading this summer?

Monday, August 9, 2010


We managed to (mostly) maintain our local-foods diet over our weekend camping trip. As it turned out, the food was practically the best part of the trip.

The campground we stayed in, though having been tauted as spectacular by many people, was just kind of meh. Granted, having grown up camping in Colorado, where you can't throw a rock without hitting spectacular, I'm kinda biased (in retrospect, maybe no one ever used the actual word "spectacular," but the way in which they described it I expected spectacular).

Our campsite was hemmed in on three sides by dense trees and brush (and on the fourth by the road), so there was nowhere for the kiddos to wander, resulting in a similar effect to them being trapped in our living room for too long--bickering and fighting over important things like lawn chairs, sticks of wood, etc.

We got them out as much as possible--walking around the camp road, playing boccie ball in "mossland" and we went on one big hike to the other end of the state park--the end with the beach. The trail was lovely, along the lake shore, through tall trees. Along the way we played "Tree Quest" (E wore the Fundana as a cape).

By the time we got to the beach, however, everyone was worn out and it was too cold and windy for the water to hold much appeal (we found lots of cool tree roots and big hunks of birch bark along the way, however).

An impromptu nature table from hike finds.

I intentionally did not bring any toys along--Z packed his own accoutrements--broken headphones, walkie-talkie with no batteries, a deck of cards describing the edible plants of South-East Asia, a heavy webbing and brass Army belt, and other essentials--in his raccoon bag, and C took along boccie ball and a Frisbee. Otherwise, they were left to their own devices (accounting, perhaps, for some of that bickering). They put our modest supply of firewood to good use--E and Z built cabins and M spent at least a good hour building Rube Goldberg devices with the wood, a lawn chair, pebbles and his shoe.

Now, onto the food! Our menu:

Friday night: Grilled Pizza (dough from an old Martha Stewart magazine--do not try this with no-knead refrigerator dough; it will ooze through the grates and into the fire--and flour, yeast and salt from our pantry) with: a) red sauce (tomatoes from a partially filled bottle of puree in the fridge) and chevre (from a local farm); b) cherry tomatoes (from the farmer's market), garlic and oregano (from our garden) with feta (local farm); and c) blueberry pesto (blueberries from local farm, basil and garlic from our garden, peccarino romano from the fridge and sunflower seeds from the pantry) with chevre. Yum.

Saturday morning: French toast (bread from local bakery--bought already sliced, which is a rare treat! local farm eggs and milk), sausage from the farmer's market and our own syrup and blackberry jam.

Saturday night: Hot dogs for the boys (from the farmer's market, served with leftover from breakfast bread) and grilled eggplant and peppers with leftover feta cheese and flatbread for the Mama (farmer's market). Maine mustard.
Sunday breakfast: Pancakes (Maine-grown oats, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, from the pantry, local farm eggs and milk) with more syrup and jam. Oh, yes, butter is also Maine-made.
Lunches: Local bread, salami and hummus from the farmer's market, Maine-made cheeses from the regular grocery store.
Snacks: Granola bars from this recipe (using local cranberries instead of cherries and sunflower seeds instead of almonds--I bought a lot of sunflower seeds last winter--next time I would add some cinnamon or vanilla for flavor and maybe an egg to help hold it together better, and double the recipe); cucumbers and green beans from the garden, little purple carrots from the farmer's market, and lots of blueberries and blackberries.

Special treats: Maine Root root beer and sarsaparilla, vegan marshmallows that a friend of mine gave us (and which made three small boys very, very happy--although I sometimes pretend I don't know there's gelatin in marshmallows and eat them when offered, I never, ever buy them). And one big cheat--when I stopped at the store to get ice and a pastry brush on the way (yes, we're most refined campers and require a pastry brush for our pizza), C said the other "c" word and I very generously bought two Green & Black chocolate bars (so very NOT local, but so very good...oh, yes, and I took a little vacation from the not eating sugar thing).

I would say that this was a very satisfying way to eat while camping--although it involved a lot of extra preparation (and a very late night Thursday), it somehow took up less space (no big bags of chips or boxes of crackers and cookies) and this little ice bag is all the trash we ended up with:

Admittedly, we did use paper napkins--a stash of them that I've saved from when you get too many in a restaurant--and burned them, along with the parchment paper from the pizzas. I'm going to be hunting the thrift/antique stores for cloth ones. We also had some returnable bottles, recyclable jars and lids, a bit of paper for recycling, and two yogurt tubs of compost.

After checking of our campsite, we returned to the beach for lunch and saw this amazing teardrop trailer:
I've been encouraging C to build me one for years. Look how neat and tidy everything is inside,
compared to this:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Because I can't leave well enough alone...

After I finished my shawl--you know, the one on which I became a knitter--I had to start another one right away. I had a yummy rainbowy skein of Noro that I bought last November just waiting to be loved.

The trouble is, my knitting buddy, Edna, mentioned this class on Continental knitting to me. She said that it's a much faster way to knit and she wanted to learn (unfortunately, the class was full). Suddenly, all around me everyone was knitting with the yarn in their left hands (my knitting books admonishes to not call it "European" or "Continental" knitting, because not all European countries knit this way)--a woman at work, my sister-in-law, a family friend, while here I was wasting all this energy with my right hand looping my yarn around and back.
So, of course, I had to join the crowd, and another shawl was the perfect project for lots of knitting and purling practice. Let me tell you, it's not faster. Especially when you stick your knitting in a bag and ignore it for weeks. And when you actually have to pay attention to your stitches (wait, is that one twisted?) so you can't knit while watching TV. That shawl was growing very, very slowly (doesn't help that I'm not that drawn to knitting in the summer; and that the first pair of colors was red and blue which is not my favorite combination--call me unpatriotic).
I dug it out a couple of weeks ago, once again inspired to get things moving. I put it in a basket, so that I can see it, and sit down and sneak a row in here or there (and the left-handed thing? Really not so hard, except on the purl rows). I'm finally getting into some more exciting colors, too, which is nice.
I need to get moving on this, you see, because I have plans. Big plans.
Yes, indeed, I am finally going to take the plunge and try my hand at a sweater. A luscious, tangeriney-pumpkiny sweater (I believe it's actually called "nasturtium"). I know. Exciting. Scary. About fr*akin' time. Oh yes, and there's a little ball of cashmere there too, just because it's so soft (and was half price). So lots of work to do...time to get busy!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

One Small Change: July & August

My One Small Change for July and August has been to eat all locally-grown* food and cook with the solar oven as much as practicable.

*By locally-grown, I mean grown/produced in Maine.

So far, things have gone very well. I first tried the local-foods thing three summers ago, and it's gotten easier every year. For one thing, more and more grown in Maine foods have become available and/or I've become better at finding them. For another, I'm getting better at using ingredients at hand and modifying recipes when necessary.

I made this Bolivian corn chowder (from this gorgeous cookbook) for a party a couple of weeks ago:

Almost everything in it (carrots, corn, Swiss chard, potatoes, herbs) was from either our garden or the farmer's market. Even the sunflower oil was grown and processed in Maine (more on oil in a minute). I did used some bottled tomato puree instead of fresh tomatoes, because I happened to have some in the fridge that needed using. Other than that, some paprika, salt and one bullion cube were the only "away" foods (which I had already in the house and didn't buy for this purpose).

One of the side benefits (or challenges) of this project is to use up stored dry goods off the shelves. So far I've emptied:
-a baggie with a few tablespoons of wild rice (added to carrot top soup).
-a bag holding one pound of kidney beans
-a jar of coconut oil (I finally figured out what to do with that stuff which is supposed to be good for you but imparts a strange flavor to foods--use it in granola!)
-a jar of peanut butter (in some not well-received peanut sauce)
-a jar of cashew butter (also used up in the aid of making granola; now I'll have to try tahini)

I've also made a dent in a bag of garbanzo beans, a jar of no-longer-very-poppy popcorn, 25 pounds of brown rice, five pounds of quinoa. I'm eyeing yellow split peas, red lentils and soy beans. Suggestions?

The best part is now I rarely have to go to the Hannaford (i.e. big chain supermarket). All they carry that I can buy is toothpaste, mustard and butter (actually, they have a modest display of local produce that I'm glad to know about, in case I can't make it to the farmer's market some week and really need a yellow squash for some inexplicable reason).

I have had some cheats: lemons (I intentionally went into this planning on buying as many lemons as I want; what's summer without lemons??); sugar (for all that jam); three red onions (I needed them in recipes; really I did!); baking powder (a staple; exempt from all requirements).

The first time we did the 100-mile diet, our Waterloo was oil. After we ran out of both safflower and olive oil, we didn't last long (turns out not everything tastes good fried in butter, much to my surprise). So I was excited to find Maine-grown sunflower and canola oils through my co-op.

Unfortunately, the canola oil (despite coming in the groovy whisky bottle) smells horrible (C and I don't like canola to begin with, and this is very, very, unrefined canola oil). The sunflower oil is nice, and I'm getting less scared of using it (The World Food Cafe actually calls for it in many of their recipes). I think it could be used pretty much anywhere olive oil is used--dressings, low-temp sauteeing, that sort of thing. It is expensive, but so is olive oil (I haven't compared them on an ounce-to-ounce level). We'll see how long we last on the stinky oil once our olive oil can is depleted.

The second year we tried the 100-mile diet, I balked when planning a camping trip. I really, really wanted to just buy easy, packaged foods like granola bars and spaghetti sauce. We're going camping this weekend, so we'll see if I make it through (I'm thinking grilled pizza with blueberry pesto and chevre; local hot dogs and roasted veggies; french toast for breakfast; lots of blueberries for snacks. Sound good?)

I'll let you know how it goes. And part two of this already really long post was supposed to be about solar cooking. We're getting there...figuring out what it can and can't do (pinto beans...amazing! the most fantastic roasted eggplant ever! mushy rice. really, really hard bread. tasty potatoes!). I've gotten C in on the act, which works out great because he often works from home, so he's here during the day to monitor it and rotate it toward the sun.

So that's it for me. Don't forget, it's never too late to make One Small Change!

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