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Archive for the ‘Issues, and What To Think about them’ Category

Oh, Maine, how do I love thee? Let me count the signs.

Most signs are practical, sturdy bits of information. We’re Open. We have an ATM machine. We will inspect your car. Other signs show the personality of the author, and pre-date social media. It used to be that wit was local. Now with Facebook and Twitter, and whatever new technology is lurking on tomorrow’s horizon, wit is shared with the universe. Most of it isn’t worthy. There are pearls out there, but they are few and far between. The tsunami of humor on social media makes me appreciate a good bit of signage even more.

I’ve kept a photo album for years of signs that were so funny I had to pull the car over and photograph them. It’s a good collection. “Lawless for District Attorney” (Cape Cod), “Used Furniture and Tropical Fish” (Martinsburg, WV), “No Parking Except for Bob” (Kent, CT), to name a few.

Maine is nothing if not funny. I appreciate this state so very much, because its humor is wry and witty. I’ve been pulling to the side of the road ever since we moved to Damariscotta, and I thought I’d share the collection, so far.

It’s clear: You are welcome here as long you mind your manners:

10mph

Three signs from a harbor-side restaurant, with instructions, cautions, and graphic red ink:

KeepCritters

Slippery

NoRunning

This sign is a menu at a wonderful pub, once again making the point that if your family hadn’t settled in by 1604, you’re “from away”:

FromAway

Here’s one with a nod towards tourists’ expectations:

CentahOfAttention

Here are two signs from the glorious Common Ground Festival, agricultural fair and source of Maine food, practical ideas, and wit:

CounterIntelligence

YieldToDraftAnimals

A sign that truth is often charming:

WeeHoose

Evidence that those only lucky enough to be in Maine during the summer, long for it all year:

OhioLobster

Truth in Advertising — no promises made that cannot be kept, so don’t arrive too early:

OpenIsh

And finally, three signs that tell you where you are. Sort of:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And my favorite for last. What I wouldn’t give to have this be my address:

LMNOP

I keep my camera with me at all time now. Maine is just that good.

WORDS FROM OTHERS
“Wit is educated insolence.”

–Aristotle

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That would be Husband and me: primed to save on our heating bill but unprimed as to how.

Enter Topher Belknap, Habitat for Humanity, Midcoast Green Collaborative and Round Top Farm. Mr. Belknap introduced his design for interior storm windows at the 2nd Annual Midcoast Sustainable Living Expo, to enormous acclaim. The Midcoast Green Collaborative estimates that 10,000 windows have been built to his design, by and for Mainers. We built 2 of them.

We were first told of these interior storm windows by our locksmith. One of the advantages of moving and having contractors in your house, is the constant recommendations for who you need to meet, places you need to go, and things you need to do. The locksmith advised us on weather-stripping our rattling doors, and that led to a discussion of heat loss, and that led to the workshops on how to build interior storm windows.

The workshops are free, held every Saturday morning, and are run with the precision of a finely tuned engine, or an efficiently sealed window, take your pick.

We arrived armed only with a piece of paper with window measurements. Six other people attended, a varied assortment of folks, mostly first-timers like us, and a few repeaters. Topher asked the first question: Primed or Unprimed?

That was the wood frame – and we chose unprimed for our first window. It seemed the basic, sensible choice. (We’re trying to fit in here, in basic, sensible Maine.) There was a stack of 1 x 2’s, and because our window is large (height = 63”), we also needed a 1 x 1 for a mid-frame brace. Everyone grabbed their lumber, and Topher cut the pieces for us.

1_MeasuringWood

Because the frames would ultimately have ¼” weather-stripping on all sides, he had a jig ready that subtracted ½” from our measurement. The lumber was quickly cut.

2_Cut

The frames are assembled with two long screws at each joint. Again, jigs made drilling these holes so easy – Rookie-Proof.

3_Jig

4_Drill

5_Jig2ToDrillHoles

Please note: I had an advantage over all of the other attendees: Husband. He is a skilled and artistic woodworker. He just “got” the concept, and took off. I was the Cheerful Lackey.

Then it was time to assemble the frame:

6_AttachJoint

Next came a critical decision: deciding the front and back of the frame (knot holes, and whether you think they are attractive or not, played a big part in this), and labeling the window’s location in the house (to make it easier to re-install next autumn). Done and done.

Double-stick tape came next, applied to the outside edges of the frame:

7_PeelDoubleStickTape

And then, the star of the show: the plastic sheeting:

8_RollOfPlastic

We cut the plastic, unfolded its 40” width, and (“Seam up! Seam-side up!”) carefully stretched it taut and laid it down onto the tape.

9_PeelTapeBeforeStickPlastic

The plastic is applied to both sides of the window. Next came the hair blower, and we watched all of the wrinkles shrink away, and the plastic tighten on the frame. Those are my fingers, as seen through two layers of plastic sheeting. The clarity will be welcome when the window is installed – we will still have good visibility through the window this winter.

10_ClearAfterShrinking

Clear 2” packing tape applied on all 4 sides of the frame sealed the edges.

Next came the tabs that will be so useful when taking the window OUT next spring. Each tab is just a strip of packing tape, folded in the middle with the two ends attaching to the frame, about 10” from the bottom.

10a_Tab

We weather-stripped the window and proudly received this notation on our card: DONE

11_UnprimedCard

Cost for a 33 x 63” interior storm window? $20. An incredible bargain! We immediately made a second window, and the workshop ended. We took our window home and installed it. We think it looks very nice, and I swear, the room feels warmer already.

A look through the window, with the brace featured.

A look through the window, with the brace featured.

Our view, through the double-plastic'ed interior storm. I think it's just fine.

Our view, through the double-plastic’ed interior storm. I think it’s just fine.

Gordon gives the new storm window his "I can still see the chipmunks through this stuff" Seal of Approval.

Gordon gives the new storm window his “I can still see the chipmunks through this stuff” Seal of Approval.

That’s the good news. The bad news? We have 22 more windows to go. The only way to build that many before spring returns is to buy the material from the collaborative (they buy in bulk and pass the savings on to us), and build the windows in our basement workshop, instead of building them two-at-a-time each Saturday.

Another obstacle is Husband. He’s decided Primed/Unprimed is not an acceptable look for the frames, and he’s already planning to paint each frame the same color as the window trim, so that it looks better. I appreciate that, but am once again reminded that Life with an Artist is always beautiful, but never easy.

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There is the surface, and then there is what lies beneath.

Our lives are so often spent frantically skimming across the surface, racing from one event to the next, one milestone after another, phase to phase, ice flow to ice flow. It can be treacherous. It is often unsatisfying.

Appreciating abundance is a familiar state. If the snow is deep enough, we can ski. If there is enough food, we can feast. If the tide is in, we can surf or swim or fish. We look for abundance. We cheer its presence.

Nature offers more than abundance, and Rachel Carson understood this. She would quietly sit by the shore in New Harbor, Maine, observing the tides, appreciating the birds and the salt and the sounds so abundant at high tide. And when low tide pulled the watery covers off of the beds of rocks and mollusks and plants, she observed, appreciated, and learned anew.

All of the songs, and maxims, and greeting card mushy banalities have that germ of truth: Stop and smell the roses. Slow down, you move too fast.

It seems so obvious that it is tempting to skim over this truth each time, and race to that next event. But kneeling by a tidal pool at low tide, I paused. I hope I don’t stand up again too quickly.

Photos of that day:

The Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve:  looking north.

The Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve: looking north.

The view to the south.

The view to the south.

The ocean, the land, and that very compelling tidal pool.

The ocean, the land, and that very compelling tidal pool.

Just offshore, a lobsterman hauls up his traps.

Just offshore, a lobsterman hauls up his traps.

And the point of all of this: The insight that is low tide:

RCSaltPondPool2Better

WORDS FROM OTHERS
“In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.”

— Rachel Carson (1907-1964), American biologist, conservationist, author

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I’m having epiphanies all over the place.

This has been a Season of Milestones, and while I have been appreciating, I have also been re-evaluating, and have concluded that I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’m going to fix that. Here’s how:

1. I’ve made this blog too hard for me. I started it as a communication device, quickly found it was also a source of solace, and then proceeded to sabotage that last fact. I added “Field Notes” and “Field Photo,” thinking I needed those two widgets, and not only do I not need them, but I think no one reading this blog does either. And they take a lot of time and thought. So this blog will feature the last of the notes from the field. I will take the more honest tack from now on: I’m writing inside, not out in the field.

2. I don’t like deadheading petunias. It’s a lot of work, and I don’t like petunias all that much anyway. I bought them because we were eager to spiff-up the outside of our house for an event, and they were the closet blooms at hand at the garden store. I regret my moment of weakness that resulted in a season’s worth of annoying upkeep. These are the last petunias I will ever serve.

3. I write for others for pay, but I need to write for myself, too. So I will frequent this blog more often, and I’m going to start that manuscript (whatever form it will take) that has been disturbing my sleep for the last several months. It wants Out.

4. I need to decide if I am a hobby farmer, just horsing around, or a farmer that raises enough food to feed her family. After the third season in a row of a pea and spinach harvest that literally resulted in one meal for the family, I am done feeling foolish. I think the right plan is to buy a lot more seed and plant the entire garden in peas and spinach at the first opportunity. If I start the peas and spinach earlier, and start my peppers and tomatoes indoors later, I believe I can coordinate the Crop Timing so that by the time I harvest the peas and spinach, it will be time to plant out the warm-weather seedlings. I would like to have enough peas to feel rich.

5. Water is Nature’s artistic toolbox. We had a torrential downpour yesterday. My early morning walk through the woods with the dogs found the sandy path adorned with swirled pine needles, as if painted with a water paintbrush, and rippled sand carved with Nature’s water-sculpting chisel and mallet.

6. Husband and I are planning to leave New York, our home for the past 37 years, and move to Maine sometime in the next few years. We cannot bear the high taxes any longer, and are turning our face to an area that is more rugged in climate and demeanor, but gentler monetarily. As I have always found finances to be ferocious, and hated hot weather, I realize that my true place is in Maine. I look forward to weather that can be accommodated with an additional warm layer of clothing, and to financial peace of mind. A sign at one entrance to the state says, “Maine. The Way Life Should Be.” I suspect that’s correct.

I’ll share photos in my next post. This time I just needed to talk.

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I like to think that I am the Boss, and of course that means I have Staff.

Husband just smiles when I bring this up. He works endlessly on my garden whenever I ask, but make no mistake: I am not the Boss. This doesn’t stop me from trying to direct all activities, but even I know where I belong in the Universe. Next to Husband, always. Not above, not below, next to.

The dogs, however, are another story. MacKenzie, the 5-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever, and Gordon, the 7-month-old brown mutt report directly to me. I can make them happy just by inviting them to sit within 30′ of me when I work in the garden, and I can break their hearts with a cross look. It is a power I wield gently and with great respect.

MacKenzie is a gentle giant — 80 pounds of Soft. She is well past the puppy stage, and is settled.

Enter Gordon. He rocketed into our lives last November, throwing himself across the room, jumping on MacKenzie’s head when she was sleeping, teething on anything — hands preferred. He does not stop.

MacKenzie adores him. Evidence, from his first days at home:

Gordon was about as big as her head, and they simply could not get close enough when it came to nap-time. More evidence:

Gordon now weighs about 55 pounds, and while he has gained some ground, MacKenzie is still bigger and still protective of her pesky little brother. Proof:

Puppies are tough. If you live through the first year, and parent consistently, you will have a lovely companion for life. Gordon is 7 months old, and we’re hanging on to that 1-year anniversary. He is a tough little guy. Still teething, still male, still hysterically happy, and now, incredibly strong.

This is a challenge in every aspect of our lives, but it is a serious issue in my garden. I have learned where I draw the line, and trust me, the dogs know, too.

“Digging in Master-Mom’s Garden Is Grounds (ha) for Dismissal”: Gordon was almost fired when I turned around after a long dig in the garden, thinking he was quietly sleeping on the clean straw in the garden path. He was not. He was digging a hole approx. 1 foot deep in my beautiful, no-till, richly composted, bed-intended-for-tomatoes-not-dogs.

He was dismissed, muddy nose and all, to sit next to my son in the Adirondack Chairs. Outside the fence. Gordon was dismayed.

MacKenzie has learned the No-Dig rule, but to be fair, she learned this years ago, at our other house, where I did not have my spectacular vegetable garden. The stakes have risen, and so has the risk to my staff.

Gordon spent one hysterically happy morning (the only kind he knows how to have) tearing through the garden, breaking the string marking the beds, kicking up compost, and scattering tools. I kicked him out and incarcerated him in the house. He did not like being in jail.

But now, my staff is trained. (I believe.) MacKenzie accepts the limits, and seems to understand that the garden is now off-limits. She probably doesn’t appreciate that I have seedlings emerging, but she does understand tone of voice and body language, and rarely asks to come in. She lays down near the Adirondack chairs, or the garden fence (whichever is shadier) and is content to simply be near. I love that.

Gordon has not accepted this new Rule for Employees. He lets me know, with the most tragic of faces, and the most plaintive of whines, that I have broken his heart. He wants to come in.

Tough.

And now you have been properly introduced to my Garden Staff, MacKenzie and Gordon. Lest you think I am an uncaring Boss, please know that they get vacations daily, sick days whenever requested, multiple lunch breaks, and free snacks almost on-demand.

I pay them in love. And they pay me back.

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult.”

– -Rita Rudner, comedienne

“Do Lipton employees take coffee breaks?”

— Steven Wright, comedian

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I had it wrong all along. I thought the 7 dwarves were singing happily about going TO work. In fact, they were heigh-ho-ing on the way home. Witness:

We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig from early morn till night
We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig up everything in sight
We dig up diamonds by the score
A thousand rubies, sometimes more
But we don’t know what we dig ’em for
We dig dig dig a-dig dig

Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho
Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho
Heigh-ho

[Chorus]
Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho
It’s home from work we go
[Whistle]

I guess if I were digging gems by the score, but didn’t know what for, I’d heigh-ho about leaving, too.

This is my 100th post, and I had always planned to write it about Work (yes, cap “W”). Ironically, I was laid off two weeks ago, and so I have been thinking a LOT about work since then, and mostly outside the structure of this blog. I have my breath back, I am gearing up for re-entry into Interview World, and while I appreciate that the dwarves were happy to go home, I still feel that an additional verse with the dwarves singing heigh-ho about having a job would be appropriate, and appreciated by millions of Americans.

Work has so many definitions. Here’s a snippet from Merriam-Webster, that I’ve edited heavily for space reasons:

1
: activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something: a : sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result
2
a : energy expended by natural phenomena b : the result of such energy (sand dunes are the work of sea and wind)
3
a : something that results from a particular manner or method of working, operating, or devising (careful police work) (clever camera work>)
4
a : a fortified structure (as a fort, earthen barricade, or trench)
5
plural but sing or plural in constr : a place where industrial labor is carried on : plant, factory
6
plural : the working or moving parts of a mechanism (the works of a clock)
7
a : something produced or accomplished by effort, exertion, or exercise of skill (this book is the work of many hands)
8
plural : performance of moral or religious acts (salvation by works)
9
a : effective operation : effect, result (wait for time to do its healing work)
10
: the material or piece of material that is operated upon at any stage in the process of manufacture
11
plural a : everything possessed, available, or belonging (the whole works, rod, reel, tackle box, went overboard) (ordered pizza with the works)

Clearly, I am not the first person to consider the import of this word!

My husband and I are typical New Yorkers when it comes to Work. We always had our job that paid the rent, and our “real” job, which was our art. The New Yorkers I knew that didn’t have this incredible drive didn’t last long — they moved to another part of the country, or to another country entirely. New Yorkers are much maligned by the rest of the country for being pushy, rude, loud, entitled.

That’s correct, we are. I take those charges as a point of pride, because we are like that not because we’re raised poorly, but because we are DRIVEN.

New York is all about work, about being the best, all the time, and first, if you can manage it. It is exhausting, and a source of great satisfaction. And while I find it intolerable to live in Manhattan because of the noise and lack of the scent of fresh soil and living plants, I find proximity to the city’s energy and tremendous drive to be Life affirming and the best incentive to work I have ever found.

Husband and I always said that we couldn’t wait for retirement, because then we could work full-time at our real jobs. For him that means his art, and for me that means my writing. And my gardening. And my animals, and pressed flowers, and cooking and preserving. And writing (again!).

As I was thinking about this blog, and what work meant to me, I wandered around the garden and the house, and took photos of all of the different kinds of work that I regularly do. I know I am not unique, and I’m not looking for praise. I just wanted to demonstrate how busy we ALL are, and how work can be defined, even outside of Merriam-Webster, in so many ways.

Of course, it starts with my computer, where I am sitting right now, talking with you:

And to my right is a laundry rack, pressed (ha) into service as a drying rack for my wooden alpaca ornaments. I thought it would be interesting to make alpaca ornaments in various woods that match the natural colors of alpaca fiber. I’d noticed at craft fairs and farm stores that while there are often ornaments of sheep, there were no ornaments of alpacas — and I figured I was just the gal to do this work:

And here is a close-up of an ornament. It is made from tulip wood, to suggest a rose-gray fleece:

Husband painted 6 original paintings of alpacas and then made notecards of them. They are boxed for me to sell. And this work was a labor of love:

The front of a boxed set....

....and the back of a boxed set.

Less satisfying kinds of work include:

The horror of housework....

And training my dogs to the invisible fence. While useful and ultimately life-saving, it is a tough job for a parent of puppies.

...and sometimes being asked to help Youngest to review her schoolwork. It is very hard Work for me to not reveal how much I've forgotten about every subject she's studying.

Happily, Will has his art as work:

"Light Song, The Beeches" And yes, it is for sale!!

And of course, I have my beloved garden. Here are a few photos of garden-related work:

My leather gloves, so worn, and so beautiful.

The slope garden in this Winter That Wasn't, resting, and preparing to release all that stored energy as soon as the daylight hours lengthen.

My vegetable garden, fortified with compost, and waiting for the sun to warm the soil. I will be out there immediately, planting peas and spinach when that happy event occurs.

Even the prospect of weeding, at least in the early spring, is pleasant to anticipate. And I do admire their tenacity and chutzpah: Where do weeds get the nerve to survive the winter in such colorful fashion, when the soft gray-green lambs ears have faded so?

And so, while I wait for the time to roll around to do the work of starting seedlings indoors, I read, and I think about work.

I know that it is important to me as a means to support my family, of course, but I have also concluded that it is a part of who I am. I am Amy that works all the time, and likes it, who looks forward to retiring so that I can work full-time at the all of the worthy tasks I have found in my life. Well, except housework.

WORDS FROM OTHERS

I’m not the only one that has sometimes found it difficult to do good work:

“It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper.”

― Rod Serling (1924-1975)

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I doubt I have anything new, useful, or profound to offer on the subject of Time. But like every other writer, that’s not going to stop me from commenting.

I think about Time all the time. When I was younger, unmarried, and delighted with my life in New York, I was always happy in the moment (work! after work with friends! nesting in my apartment!) and still racing towards the next event. There was never enough Time for what was and what was about to be, and it was all very exciting. When my children arrived, Time became more about survival. How would I manage to move my children through the day, helping them grow and improve and find Time for myself to….forget rest, think, or bathe. How about just time to eat?

Time has brought about my evolution as a parent (from primordial down-on-the-rug mom with an infant on a bright quilt, to cro-magnon mom bent over for the toddler, to upright homo sapien mom as the child-adult packs her OWN suitcase for college. No one ever tells a new parent that part of her evolution will involve not being involved.).

Gardening has rearranged my concept of Time. I realized on this hot summer morning that my time spent gardening changes with the seasons as surely as plant activity changes. I am more in synch with Nature than I realized. Here’s how:

Winter: My gardening time is spent in an armchair, reading. I have seed catalogs for dreaming, coffee-table garden design books for inspiration, garden books for my education, and my garden journal (sharpened pencil at the ready) for planning. Time is fluid, because the armchair is always available, and the temperature inside is always constant.

Spring: Garden time is mid-day, when the sun has warmed both the air and me. I work better when I can feel my nose and fingertips. I dig in the earth with the sun on the back of my neck. As soon as I feel that first subtle shift in the air temperature and the light changing from warm yellow to cool white, I go inside. Garden Time is done for that day. I go back inside to the constant conducive temperature to pretend I am gardening. I watch my seedlings grow, and try not to interfere with those delicate unseen roots, moving through the potting mix. Apical Meristem Time – I am not invited to that activity.

Summer: There is so much to do in the garden, and yet I can no longer work in the yellow light, because now yellow = hot. That means planning my Garden Time for when the sun is up but the air is either still cool or cooling down. I plan my days so that I can be in the garden from 6 a.m. until Life calls me away (the office or the grocery store, both persistent callers), or from 4 p.m. until Life calls me away again (Family wanting my company or my Kitchen Contribution towards dinner. I am so tempted to suggest that they do without me entirely in the summer. Couldn’t they just prop up a photo of me on the dining room table while they eat? Cereal at 9 p.m. is so fine for me.).

Fall: Time = hysteria. The temperature has moderated so that there are no longer Forbidden Zones of time. The plants are producing furiously, unaware of the calendar or the clock. But I am aware. I know that the arrival of the first frost means the loss (well, except for the husband-hated kale) of harvest. Reap what was sown, and prepare for the freeze. It’s hard to know what to do first, and as in those Toddler Years, there is no Time to rest, bathe, think, or even eat. Still, it’s a nice problem to have.

It is already 8 a.m. Time to switch hats, from Writer to Gardener, while the summer air is still cool. I have new string, and the Florida Weave needs another tier. The Garden Hours beckon.

WORDS FROM OTHERS

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.

— Henry David Thoreau

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