Saturday, January 28, 2017

Success Story - American Bald Eagles in Maine

I grew up in Maine. My family are an outdoorsy bunch - camping, fishing, hiking, boating - so I spent a lot of time enjoying the natural beauty of Maine. One thing that I never did see, growing up? A bald eagle, in the wild.

That's because, when I was growing up, bald eagles were nearly extinct. The pesticide DDT interfered with the success of the eggs. Their habitats were infringed and badly degraded. Their food sources were poisoned by pollution. Though the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 prohibited shooting them, there was still some illegal hunting, as eagles - pushed out of their preferred food sources - would sometimes take chickens or lambs.

In 1967, eagles south of the 40th parallel were protected, and in 1972, DDT was banned. Eagle populations did not begin to recover until after they received the full protection of the Endangered Species Act in 1978. It was listed as endangered in 42 states and  threatened in six others.

Today I live a quarter mile from the Kennebec River, and I see bald eagles almost every day. They glide over the river. They hassle osprey to drop fish
Photo by Greg Stephens
they've caught. They land on the sand bars and pick at their prize. I see them at Hatch Hill - the town dump - where they prey on the seagulls attracted by the trash.
Eagles are back. But they never would have come back if not for the ESA. This is the story for many species, and many more - Kennebec Salmon, for example - are still struggling.

Now Republican lawmakers want to roll back the Endangered Species Act. This came as something of a shock to me, because I don't know anyone who is not in favor of the act, which has been such an obvious success. In 1973 it passed almost unanimously.

But it's not 1973 anymore, and it seems like the Republican agenda has just become to roll back anything that liberals like. That's Republicans in Congress; as I said, every Republican I know personally favors the act. Anyone who hunts or fishes usually does.

If you think this is a horrifying idea, now would be an excellent time to call your Senators and Representatives and tell them so.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Last of the Tomatoes

Last summer I tended 26 tomato plants, of several varieties. They yielded enough for us to enjoy the fresh fruit every day in August and September, and also to freeze many bags of salsa and puree.

All good things must come to an end (luckily this is also true of bad things!) and today I opened my last bag of frozen tomatoes. They are processed with onion, garlic, basil, and oregano, and I will cook the batch down with some grated carrot to make pasta sauce. It's simmering now; smells marvelous.
I took the opening of the last bag as a cue to dig out the Fedco catalog that arrived in December. I kinda wish it would arrive in January instead; in December I am too busy, and not yet weary enough of winter, to appreciate its arrival. Nevertheless, I am glad it is here now, helping me dream of long summer days.

I'll be ordering Sungolds cherry tomatoes, for sure. They are always the first and last to produce; I was still picking Sungolds when the frost came. I imagine I will have a few volunteers as well, since they are so prolific I always miss a few. And, importantly, they are my mother's favorite! Since I refuse to grow squash for her (takes up a ton of garden space and also ewwww) I owe her these at least.

Garden peaches are another favorite. A small, yellow tomato, they have a relatively short growing season - 71 days - and very sweet fruit.

I'll also be reprising the Jubilees we got last year. They were a surprise, which Fedco substituted for the Cosmonaut Volkovs I had ordered. Their season is a bit on the long side for Maine - 80 days - so it's a risk. If we get cool June, or a rainy summer, they may not produce. But they were so beautiful, and so tasty, that I'm willing to take the chance.

I didn't love the Oregon Spring variety we got last year. The flavor was a little underwhelming.  It is a full size tomato with a very short growing season - 58 days - that will thrive even in cool summers. I was tempted to get it as a hedge against a bad season, but the flavor, while good, suffers in comparison to the other varieties...and flavor is, after all, the whole point.

So, what to get in its place? I could return to the Cosmonaut Volkovs that have performed well in the past, but I do like to try new things, so I am leaning toward the Berkeley Tie Dye, a full size short season tomato said to have an almost spicy flavor. Based on my quick Google image search it appears to be a very handsome fruit as well - maybe that shouldn't matter but I am an artist, after all.

Like many Mainers, I don't mind winter, but I spend much of it dreaming of spring.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

10,000 Strong

...and that's just in Augusta. All over Maine today, people marched to speak for the rights of the marginalized, to protest racism, sexism, and corruption. I am proud to be a part of #theresistance. Our work has just begun.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Morning Monkey

The Morning Monkey

Everybody knows about Chunky Monkey Smoothies, right?

1 banana
1 tsp cocoa
2 Tbsp peanut butter
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup coconut milk

While this version is delicious, it has one drawback: I have to buy coconut milk for it, which I don't use in anything else: by itself, or in other smoothies, it tastes like soap. (Turns out it is high in lauric acid, which is a saponin.) And, frugalista that I am, I noticed there was often a bit of coffee left over every morning - sometimes more than a bit. It's about impossible to guess exactly how much we are each going to want! I started saving it in a pitcher, to maybe drink as iced coffee later in the day, but then got a better idea.

I switched out the coconut milk in the Chunky Monkey with leftover coffee, and man is it delicious! Now I often have this in place of my morning brew. Wakes me up and gets breakfast out of the way at the same time. The slight bitterness of the coffee is the perfect balance to the sweetness of the peanut butter.  Not only do I use my leftover coffee, I can remove an item from my shopping list. This is a very satisfying breakfast. It's a little on the caloric side - 382, but who's counting? - but between the protein, fat, and fiber, I find I don't get hungry until mid-afternoon. Frugal and fabulous, a winning combination.

Morning Monkey Smoothie

1 banana
1 tsp cocoa
2 Tbsp peanut butter
1/2 cup plain ypgurt
1/2 cup cold coffee

I put away the dishes in the rack while the blender is whirring.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

This Old Staircase: Final Steps, Probably

Ooops, I arted
In the last installment of This Old Staircase, I was deciding whether the stairs needed a pop of color - scarlet maybe, or gold .Those of you who know me will be unsurprised to learn that the answer was yes, both.

Several people suggested that I paint the rail and balusters to match the treads, and while I don't disagree that the project might look better as a whole, I couldn't bring myself to paint over the patina of 100-year-old wood. The stairs were different - they'd already been painted, and the wood underneath was badly scarred and discolored. I might spiffy up the surface of the balustrade a bit, but the natural wood color stays.

I didn't know when I painted them, but the posies are stylized Egyptian Star Flowers. Or, wait, perhaps they are Asiatic Lilies. Yes, that's it. I'm ready to put down my brushes (and stencils, and paint pens) now, until the next painting project, which is threatening to be: These Old Cabinets.

Followed closely by This Gross Peeling Countertop, and then This Laughably Dated Backsplash.

Stay tuned.

The Frugalista in Winter: Coffee Ground Magic

An especially icy spot on the deck
Like many folks, I love love love coffee. We drink only a moderate amount (most days!) but enjoy it to the hilt. Not only do I never waste a drop (any leftovers in the pot find their way to a Morning Monkey Smoothie [recipe in a future pot!], or just plain old iced coffee) but I don't waste the grounds, either. Black gold, they are! I use them in making soap, in the garden, and even in my pottery.

Today I discovered one more use: in place of sand on an icy walkway!

Salt and sand don't go away. They build up in your walk, and kill the soil on either side. Coffee grounds enhance the soil as they biodegrade. Grounds do little to melt the ice, so occasionally you may have to resort to salt, or an eco-friendly alternative, but more often than not a thorough shoveling makes salt unnecessary. Coffee grounds provide the same grit that sand does, to make the ice less slick.

This winter has been a series of snow/thaw/freeze cycles, resulting in a treacherous buildup of ice on driveways and walkways. Lacking money but having no shortage of coffee grounds, you Frugalista sprang into action! Feeling safer already.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Below: The Story of Flagstaff Village

In 1950, the towns of Flagstaff Village and Dead River Plantation, established in the 1800s, were submerged when Central Maine Power constructed the Long Falls Dam on the Dead River, creating Flagstaff Lake. I've been to Flagstaff Lake - it's a nice spot - and never thought twice about the people who lost their homes so it could exist. Kind of creepy, thinking about all the history below the surface.

Songwriter Slaid Cleaves, who grew up in Maine, put the story to music.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

This Old Staircase: Am I Done?

I kind of want to be done. This project is entertaining but I've got other stuff to do, you know? Doug thinks it's done. But...

But, damn aesthetic intuition says it is not yet done. Specifically, the contrast between the white stencil and the teal of the riser is too stark, and needs either a balancing contrast - some accents in gold, maybe, or scarlet - or to be stencilled over, in kind of a double-exposure effect, with one of the lighter teals already a part of the design.

In any case I am done for today. I'll sleep on it and look at it fresh tomorrow.

Books by Maine Authors: Monica Wood, One-in-a-Million Boy

Of the many Maine authors whose works I follow, perhaps my favorite is Monica Wood. Her debut novel, Any Bitter Thing, was luminous and entrancing, and I was immediately a fan. A memoir, When We Were the Kennedys, followed, which I loved for many reasons, not least that it's always a thrill to recognize the locations I am reading about, and to know people who live similar lives.

Now Monica Wood has a new book: The One-in-a-Million Boy. I just purchased it and can't wait to get reading!

Here's what Amazon has to say about it:
The incandescent story of a 104-year-old woman and the sweet, strange young boy assigned to help her around the house — a friendship that touches each member of the boy’s unmoored family
For years, guitarist Quinn Porter has been on the road, chasing gig after gig, largely absent to his twice-ex-wife Belle and their odd, Guinness records–obsessed son. When the boy dies suddenly, Quinn seeks forgiveness for his paternal shortcomings by completing the requirements for his son’s unfinished Boy Scout badge.
For seven Saturdays, Quinn does yard work for Ona Vitkus, the wily 104-year-old Lithuanian immigrant the boy had visited weekly. Quinn soon discovers that the boy had talked Ona into gunning for the world record for Oldest Licensed Driver — and that’s the least of her secrets. Despite himself, Quinn picks up where the boy left off, forging a friendship with Ona that allows him to know the son he never understood, a boy who was always listening, always learning.
The One-in-a-Million Boy is a richly layered novel of hearts broken seemingly beyond repair and then bound by a stunning act of human devotion.

When I dive into to a book, I sometimes don't come up for air until I am finished, so it may be awhile before I post again. No worries: I am happily lost in Monica Wood's fictional world.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Pumpkin Breakfast Smoothie

The familiar One-Pie label has not changed in half a century. It reminds me of childhood holiday baking, literally the only time cans of pumpkin puree were found in my mother's shopping cart. One-Pie has been canned in West Paris, Maine for 50+ years.

Pumpkin is having something of a resurgence, though: not just for pie, anymore! Pumpkin soups are often found on menus at trendy restaurants throughout the cold weather months, and I see pumpkin bread & muffins everywhere. Not to mention the so-trendy-it's-comical Pumpkin Spice Latte.

While I like my pumpkin pie and bread and muffins as well as anyone, I am something of a smoothie fanatic. Thick, sweet, creamy smoothies make healthy breakfasts seem like dessert. One of my requirements for my breakfast smoothie is that it not have any weird-ass ingredients like chia seed or pollen or spirulina (what even is that?) Nothing, in short, that I would have to make a special trip to Lois's for. (Nothing against Lois's - I just don't want to have to plan ahead that much.) So my version of a pumpkin smoothie is pretty simple:

Lori's Mostly-Maine Pumpkin Smoothie
1/2 cup One-Pie pumpkin puree (West Paris!)
1/2 cup apple cider (from The Apple Farm, in Fairfield)
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
1 tsp honey (from a beekeeper friend in Southern Maine)
1 good shake of cinnamon

So good, and good for you!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Maine Winter Car Kit

I spent several years in St .Paul, after which I swore I would never complain about a Maine winter again. And I haven't....much. After all, it's rare for temps here to drop below zero; double digits below are almost unheard of, at least in southern and central Maine, where I have spent most of my time. (The western mountains are another story.) Maine winters are highly variable, though; sometimes they are placid as Belties; other times, we get, well, belted. Maine was rated by Thrillist as #5 on their list of shittiest winters, by state.

Snow or extreme cold can both be dangerous for travelers, and I do a lot of driving. Not only that, but I drive thousand-dollar cars, so my chances of breaking down are better than most, even in fine weather. With that mind, I drive prepared to be stranded.

From January to March, you'll find a shopping bag in my backseat, with the following items:

  • Blanket
    My winter traveling kit
  • Knit hat
  • Wool sweater
  • Half full jug of water
  • Jar of peanut butter, with spoon. 
  • Flashlight
  • Book
A cell phone is nice, too, but we have some big blank spots where you can't get service, and even if you can call to let someone know where you are, weather may prevent them coming to get you immediately.

You might wonder why you'd need water, but you can't always count on clean snow nearby; and if you are stuck in extreme cold, it's better not to get out of the car. It's far more dangerous in blizzards or extreme cold to go in search of help than to just hunker down and wait. Maine is not the Yukon, and you are not the Donner party. It will not snow forever. The State police will find you sooner than later.

The jug of water needs to be only half full, because when it is not busy saving your life, that jug is just going to be riding around in your car, repeatedly freezing and thawing. Water expands when it freezes; if the jug is full, it will split.

The peanut butter is another story. The suggestion I usually read is to keep a candy bar in your car for such emergencies, but I find the emergency that usually happens is, I really want a candy bar. I'd have to be awfully damn hungry to just start scooping peanut butter, if I had other options.

You want a book, because you may be stranded for hours, and you don't want to die of boredom before you are found.

My kit serves as a kind of talisman: whenever I have had it, I have not needed it. [Knocks wood]

Only nine weeks - probably - 'til first crocus! Stay safe, stay warm, drive carefully. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

This Old Staircase: Progress!

The chocolate & teal are dry now, and looking pretty fabulous if I do say so myself.

Of course they make the walls & baseboards around them look shabby, so I foresee more painting projects in my future! Still have the best part to go on this one, though: the decorating! I did get a start, so here's a preview:

As you can see from the close pic, the wood is pretty rough and scarred, which is why I went with paint rather than stain. Shabby chic, right?

Friday, January 6, 2017

This Old Staircase - A Learning Experience

There are a lot of edges & borders in a set of stairs. A lot of taping, if you are painting them in two or more colors. What, I asked myself, is a more efficient way to handle this?

Do all the taping at once, I answered me. Then paint. Like so:

Oh, I thought I was sooooooo smart! But, yeahno...don't do this.

I taped all of the edges just before knocking off for the day, thinking it would be all ready to go and I could hit the ground running in the morning. It was, and I did. And then....

Turns out there is a right way to use painter's tape, and where there is a right way, there is - you guessed it - a wrong way. The right way is to tape only the area you are immediately going to paint, paint it, and remove the tape, before the paint is even fully dry. Otherwise the painter's tape sticks to the paint or primer underneath and removes some of it when you take it off.
So, wait...what even is the point of painter's tape, again? That's pretty much what regular tape would do. It's quite a hassle to do it the correct way; you have to keep interrupting your flow to tape, and then removing the tape while the paint is wet without smearing it creates a whole new set of challenges.

So, I had to sand and repair the primer, then let that dry, before I could move on to the fun part: the colors!

The second coats are drying now. I settled on a dark chocolate for the tread, and teal for the riser. So far they look good, although the dark steps show every cat hair - and we have plenty of those. Still need to go back with a tiny brush and touch up edges - in old houses, nothing is a straight, clean line, and there are lots of little bumps and divots that challenge the steadiest hand. And actually, mine is not the steadiest hand, but I am pretty good with a brush, due to my profession.

And then comes my favorite part: the grace notes. Little additions - stencils, decoupage, free brush designs - that charm and engage the user. I tend to plan on a light hand with these but sometimes they take on a life of their own. We'll see! Photos when I have them.