Thursday, December 29, 2016

This Old Staircase

My blessing and my curse is that I can see what things could be more easily than I can see what they are; so when I bought my century house more than ten years ago, I saw what I would make of it, overlaying and obscuring the reality of it.

As I say, this is a blessing and a curse. The house was and is perfectly livable, and I got it for super cheap; but the grand dame I imagined still awaits behind a miles-thick layer of hard work and expense. I've been chipping away at it here and there; did some external painting, painted a guest room & added a wallpaper frieze at the ceiling level. The biggest projects, however remained untouched. My kitchen is a horror show of dirty-looking dark yellow cabinets, a cracking, curling lino tile counter, and a hideous, hokey backsplash. Each of these things seems to require fixing the others simultaneously - no point putting a new counter on cabinets you hate, right? So the job remains too huge; there's nowhere to begin.

Partway between "pecking at the edges" and "impossibly daunting" lie my front hall stairs. They are badly scuffed and chipped, in a gray more suited to a cellar floor than an entryway. For more than ten years I have looked at them thinking they need an update, and, finally, this week I set about making it happen.

First that awful old paint had to go. There were many layers, and someone had already painted over chips and peels and divots. There was just nothing to do but take it off. So: paint stripper.

Paint stripping is nasty work. The chemicals are caustic and smell like the fumes alone ought to kill you. I had to close up the kitties in bedrooms, for fear they would step into the stripper and burn their little pads or worse, poison themselves trying to clean it off!

I discovered the wood underneath was discolored and unlovely, which meant I would be repainting rather than staining. Nevertheless, I tried to strip off nearly all of it before sanding - in an old house like this, there's a good possibility of lead paint, and I'd rather not have that dust flying around. Since I would be painting over it, there was no need to remove ever speck of old paint, though: it just needed to be smooth and clean, to take the layer of primer.

Here's where I left off yesterday, with three stairs left to sand. Should be easy to complete this step today, along with all the taping; tomorrow I start painting, primer first, of course. I am still considering my color options: I am thinking a dark chocolate brown for the stair, and either a teal or some version of spring green for the riser.

I'm excited to finally be making the changes I envisioned eleven years ago, and it marks a change for me as well: Do the thing. The thing won't do itself. 

Hunker Down - Nor'easter Coming!

If you look really close, you can see me there in Augusta, in the 10-16" section, starting late Thursday night. This is said to be a true Nor'easter, bringing moisture from the ocean to inland Maine and dumping it in a huge white heap.

Snow storms are almost always over predicted so I am expecting the lower end of that range, but still: ten inches is a lot of snow. Not a life-threatening amount - we aren't going to suffocate in our homes, snow covering the windows - but it's sure going to shut Friday down.

But hey! It can be fun having an enforced day off (if you don't lose power. That sucks.) Get a good book (and some batteries or oil for your lanterns, just in case) and settle in.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Friday, December 16, 2016

Maine Restaurant Named as one of the Best in the World

Eventide Oyster Company, in Portland's Old Port, was described by Conde Nast Traveler as "the oyster bar of your dreams."

I confess, my dreams do not have an oyster bar, but maybe yours do. If so, you want to check out Eventide, at 86 Middle St in Portland.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The View Across the Scarborough Marsh

I grew up in Scarborough. The marsh with all its attendant wildlife was ordinary to me; cormorants and heron and egrets were just birds. I didn't know what an amazing place it was until I moved away.

My first awareness of environmental issues came because of it. I was six, and my family had just moved to Scarborough from Brewer, an inland city in Central Maine. One we drove by an abandoned building - more of a shack, really - bordering the wetland. Someone had painted this graffiti: Save the Marsh! - The Gull.

My mother explained that there were people who wanted to fill in the marsh, to build houses and businesses. I pondered on that: houses and business were good, right? But where would the thing that lived there go? Some other marsh? What if that one got filled in also?

This was before environmental laws protected areas like the Scarborough Marsh, but blessedly the marsh survives. I visit it frequently; my father's ashes are scattered here, and I go to smell the salt air, watch the birds and think of him.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Woolie Bear Wisdom

I'm not much of a believer in folklore, horoscopes, fortune cookies, or any other woo-woo - unless it tells me something I want to hear! In this case, this woolie bear is telling me to prepare for the mildest winter ever.

The wives' tale tells us that the broader the brown band in the caterpillar's middle, the warmer out winter will be. I have never seen a wider brown stripe on a woolie bear, ever! Gentle January, here we come.

In actual fact, the brown strip is wider when the previous spring was earlier. But what fun is that? Even the easiest winters in Maine are hard, and long. It's good to have something to give us some hope!

Monday, October 24, 2016


I'm a tomato gardener.Not in a truck-garden, farmer's-market kind of way, but we plant four raised beds, and the largest - 10" x 6" - is full of tomatoes. I usually get short season varieties: Sun Golds, Oregon Springs, Consmonaut Volkovs. But I get my seeds from Fedco, and I always check the box that says if you re out of the variety I ordered, send me something else.

This year they sent me Jubilees. Wow, what a beautiful tomato! Large, smooth, yellow-orange fruit, a little seeter than a regular tomato...and still producing. It's late October, and I just plucked this beauty. My freezer is full of bruschetta, salsa, and tomato sauce by now, so all Ocotber fruit are sliced and eaten. On BLTs, in omelets, in salads, or just by themselves.

My Sun Golds are still fruiting, also. This was one fantastic year for tomatoes.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

My Favorite Lunch Spot, South Portland

On Monday afternoons, I often find myself in the Portland area with some free time. If it's a warm day, I like to grab a sandwich and head for Spring Point Light. There's a nice shore walk to get there, or you can park nearby the campus at SMCC. The granite block breakwater is about 300 yards long, and provides many spots to sit, dangle your legs, and watch the passing boat traffic. On any given day you can see the ferries on their way to the islands of Casco Bay, and some times The Cat, the giant double-hulled ferry which runs between Portland Harbor and New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, as well as innumerable fishing and recreational boats.

As the weather turns, the jetty will become treacherous! Enjoy the Big Light walk before the snow falls. If it's Monday afternoon, I may see you there.

Friday, June 24, 2016

"I Love This Place!"

I had the nicest interaction this morning! I walked the greenbelt to Portland's East End beach. As I was standing at the fence overlooking the water, a young Ethiopian man stopped beside me. 
"Is this the ocean?" he asked.
"Yes," I said, "that's the Atlantic Ocean."
"Is it cold?"
"Yeah, it's pretty cold. "
"Too cold to swim?"
"Probably right now."
"But you can swim? It is safe? If I swim, I won't get sick?" 
"It's clean. People swim in it all the time."
He broke out in a huge grin: "I love this place!"

So do I, friend. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

This Is Why We Live In Maine

I want to hold this moment in my mind, so I can call it up next January when the sun is setting at 4 pm, the snow is falling AGAIN, and the temp never gets about 20 degrees. This is what makes that worth the wait. Sitting on the deck, with my feet up, drinking my (iced!) coffee, watching the garden grow...

...aaaand, here comes my neighbor with his weed whacker. I swear that man has more noise-making devices than anyone else alive. Weed whacker, lawn mower, leaf blower, snow thrower. A motorized whine for every season! Ah, well. It's meant to be 90 degrees today. He'll have to sit down eventually, right?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Then Leaf Subsides to Leaf

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay
. -

Robert Frost

I've been meaning to take photos for this post for over a week, and I almost missed the window: the brief hour of gold. 

I took a walk today on Macworth Island, just north of Portland. A causeway leads to the island, which houses the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf. It's an easy hike, about 2.2 miles, with lovely views. It's good to go early in the season - Macworth has a very small parking lot, and when that lot is full, no more visitors are allowed. Even today, only one spot was open when I arrived, although there were more by the time I left. 

Must Eden always sink to grief? Maybe. But Macworth abides. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Late Winter Ritual: The Fedco Order

Though we've had an amazingly warm and hopefully brief winter, I am a bit late with my Fedco tomato seed order this year; or perhaps I am late with it because of our unseasonsable season. It's usually a late January event, that reminds me in the deepest part of winter that warmth will come again, and things will grow.

My husband and I have tried many different hybrid and heirloom tomatoes over the years in our raised beds. Due to our relatively short growing season, some varieties - easpecially those which make very large tomatoes - just don't work out. Regular tomatoes - as opposed to cherry or grape - can have a germination-to-havest time of about 60 - 90 days. I aim for the low end of that range, but I do try to spread the harvest out, so I don't have pounds and pounds of tomatoes all in a two-week window. This year I am going with three tried-and-true varieties, and test-driving one that looked too appealing to resist. Making return appearances this year are:

  • Sungolds! Bright yellow-orange cherry tomatoes, on the small side; impossibly sweet, early, prolific: even people who don't like tomatoes like Sungolds. They'll make fruit from the first week in August right up until the frost. Fruit 57 days from germination.
  • Oregon Spring. Has one of the briefest growing periods of any full-sized tomato, at 57 days. Good-sized fruit, smooth, and sort of classically tomato-looking. These are nice and flavorful but nothing special; I mostly choose them because if we get a crap summer, as sometimes happens, they will fruit anyway. A pretty good workhorse tomato, they are good sliced or in salsa or sauce. They are my hedge bet. 
  • Garden Peach - These are on the small side, pale yellow and slightly fuzzy. Sweet and very juicy. Great to eat sliced or in salsa. They struggle during cold or rainy summers, but produce prolifically if the weather cooperates. 

Oregon Spring
Garden Peach
And my gamble this year :
  • Jubilee - an 80-day tomato, orange with 8 oz fruit. If you can't tell, I favor the yellow & orange varieties! I like to have some red, orange, and yellow in my salsa, so pretty with the dark green bits of jalepeno. 80 days...if I plant on Memorial Day, 80 days is...mid-August? Sounds doable, even if it runs late, because September is often our biggest tomato month. 
We alwasy use Fedco, because they are right up the road in Waterville, so they know what will do well in a Maine garden. Time to start saving egg cartons to plant in! And eggshells, which provide calcium for tomato-growing soil.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Ice Dam, Downtown Augusta

The Kennebec River has overspilled its banks into a downtown Augusta parking lot. The rapid temperature change, combined with teo days of precipitation has caused ice dams n the river, backing water up over the banks.

Over the weekend we had temperatures in the double digits below; then a few inches of snow on Monday, then heavy rain and weirdly warm temperatures yesterday. The river narrow right at downtown, so when the ice breaks up, it sometimes gets clogged up at the bottleneck. This isn't the first time that lot has flooded.
Here's downtown today from the opposite bank.

Back home, though, things look considerably springier! Since we've had such a warm season overall, I thought I'd check to see if we've got any crocus shoots up yet; and YES! we do! This is the earliest the crocuses have come up since I started paying attention back in 2005.