Sunday, May 28, 2017

To Bee or Not to Bee

Every year, long about in February, I start to think about keeping bees. I google a few kinds of hives: Kenyan top bar? Flow hive? Occasionally I even take a book out of the library before I remember: oh yeah. This is a shit ton of work. You have to clean the hive. You have to inoculate the bees. You have to treat for mites. You get propolis all over everything. And that's before you think about harvesting the honey. I'd probably have to take an extension course.

I'm not really up for a shit ton more work, or spending my little disposable income on a class. I like honey but not that much. I'm more interested in supporting pollinators.

In my annual internal soliloquy - to bee or not to bee? - this year I discovered the perfect compromise: mason bees! These are tiny native bees, about the size of houseflies, but they are power-pollinators: they 4 -5 times more efficiently than their non-native cousins the honeybees.

They are also a lot less work. Basically make a suitable home for them, and they take care of themselves. There are supplies you can buy - paper tubes to go in the holes, to make cleaning the nest out easier - but I went with basic this year. They want holes, preferably facing south or east, and tehy want a source of mud (I can do that - I'm a potter!!) They want some protection from rain and wind. The holes I drilled are a little shallow, probably only about 4 inches; apparently 5 or 6 is better, to protect against the predation of woodpeckers.

A 5-16th inch drill bit works best. Wood should be untreated.
I knew I was keeping those old license plates around for a reason. 
It turns out I may be a bit late for my little friends this season - everything I am reading is that they make their nests while the trees are blooming, which is late March & April here. But maybe we'll get a late bloomer or two! In any case, if they have need of a home it'll bee here. 😉

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Happy Memorial Day Weekend

Dad, looking so handsome in his uniform. 

I enjoy a long weekend as much as the next person - maybe more, if the next person is a curmudgeon! - but I do want to take a moment to recognize the people who risked all, and in some cases sacrificed all, to make the gardening and the barbecues possible. Thank you to our military service members, active and retired, past, present, and future. A special and heartfelt thanks sent to heaven for those who lost their lives defending our freedom.

My father was in the Air Force, before I was born. It was how he paid for college. He was stationed in Germany and though he came back well and whole and singing German songs, he enlisted during the Korean War. He didn't see combat, but he could have. He was willing to risk it, for his country.

My nephew is a soldier today. He is training right now for his specialty, and I fear in my heart he will be sent to Afghanistan, or some new war. He is a brave young man - they all are, to be soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in the first place - but I can't help but hope that his courage is not needed. I'm not much good at praying but I use whatever ability I have to ask that he be kept safe, that all our young men and women in the military be kept safe; that, if they should be forced to fight, let it be for a good cause and let justice prevail.

Enjoy the weekend, and thank those who made your enjoyment possible.

Be well.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Freeport Belted Galloways

Photo by John Bourassa
More belties.

I like belties, a breed found mostly in Maine, on this side of the Atlantic.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Snowshoe Hare, Newcastle, Maine

All photos by Carrie White

I was leading a group firing at the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts last weekend, when we encountered this guy! This is a snowshoe hare. They are found throughout Maine but not commonly seen. They don't want you to see them.
It did what hares do: froze in place when it saw my student, and then sprinted away. Here are a few more shot she took:

I've seen them before in other years, at Watershed. Meaning no slur on the rabbit, it always strikes me how un-cute they are. Like, this is NOT the Easter bunny, or a bunny of any kind! Its proportions seem off, compared to rabbits we are used to seeing. Its head is small and legs long. A few other fun facts about snowshoe hares:

  • They aren't really rabbits at all! They belong to the same order of mammals -  Lagomorpha - but they are different species, like foxes and wolves are both canids, but different species. 
  • These are the kind you've heard about which turn white in the winter. 
  • They eat meat! They don't hunt of kill but will eat dead animals if they encounter them. That gives me the creeps, a little - it just seems so wrong. 
  • Eastern Cottontails - Maine's other lagomorph - are endangered but apparently snowshoe hares are still hanging in. 👍

We see all kinds of cool things at Watershed! I'll detail the firing adventure over at my other, pottery-specific blog, once the pots are out of the kiln.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Chocolate Bowls Update

If you, like me, find it encouraging to read about other people foibles, to know that other people are fuck-ups just like you are but they muddle through (so you can, too!) you should read the first entry on my chocolate balloon bowls. That one is all about the fuck ups. This is the got-it-figured-out part!

So, the quick-&-dirty is:
  • Use good balloons! Like, go to the Party Store and pay $5 for a bag of SHINY (but not mylar! use latex) balloons. Get the 5" ones. 
  • Use good chocolate, and melt only half of it. Then add the unmelted part & stir until it's all melted. This will cool the melt so it won't pop the balloons. 
  • Put a little blob of chocolate on wax paper to be the "stand" for the balloons to sit on. Forget the pizzelle cookies, they didn't work out. 
  • Rinse the balloons (obvs), dry them, and then spray the very bottoms only with cooking spray. I did one without this, and it worked but it was alot dicier. 
  • Plan to dip a second time, after the chocolate has cooled  completely, for thickness. Do not try to get them as thick as you need with one dip! (BANGSPLAT. Guaranteed.)

  • Here's the balloon removal process, the part that gets skipped in all the videos:

    • Put a piece of tape where you are going to piecer the balloon with a pin, to prevent popping. 
    Balloon shrinks as air escapes. You may have to gently pry balloon away from chocolate.
    Lightly squeeze and tug on the balloon to release it from the bottom of the bowl.

    That's it! That's all. Well: they need to be filled, in this case with frozen yogurt & fresh raspberries, and whipped cream. I learned something new and I got to eat lots of chocolate mistakes, so I'm happy.

    Update to the update: Here's what they looked like full. I assembled slices of raspberry frozen yogurt, whipped cream, nuts, and fresh berries. Putting the shapes, textures, and colors together is the best part, right after eating it. :)

    Saturday, May 13, 2017

    The Chocolate Balloon Bowl Adventure

    First let me tell you: there are about a zillion videos on youtube on how to make chocolate balloon bowls. If you want to try it, you should definitely watch those! And then you should come back here, and I will tell you all the difficulties that you are going to encounter, that those videos sorta gloss over.

    I decided to make these after a heavenly experience with chocolate balloon bowls at the Portland Pottery Cafe. I suspected it would be harder than it looks, but at first I thought I was pleasantly mistaken:
    I knew it couldn't be that easy

    Waffle cookies for the base: check.
    Ghiradelli chocolate, because it's more chocolate and less...not-chocolate, I guess? Check. Melt, dip, place on cookies...all so easy, all so neat! Who knew?, how do you get the damn balloon out of the bowl? I mean, deflate it, obviously, I did that; but the balloons just tore and the part inside the bowls stayed inside the bowl. No amount of persuasion would get them out of the chocolate bowl, and the bowls are fragile, so they fell apart with my efforts. Fell apart with the balloon shreds still stuck to them! Also where it did come loose it left a gross balloon residue, even though I washed them.
    I asked the chef at the PP Cafe, and she said, I dunno, I just popped mine & the came right out.

    I got another bag of chocolate for Take 2. This time I washed the balloons thoroughly with soap and water, rinsed them, and before dipping each one in the chocolate, sprayed them with cooking spray. I tried to make a thicker layer of chocolate on each one...that was a mistake. I also, when I ran low on chocolate, added some white chocolate baking chips so I could keep trying; also a mistake!
    Both the thicker bowls and the added white chocolate caused the balloons to pop and  splatter chocolate  all over the kitchen, which was not entirely unexpected - I was sort of surprised when that didn't happen the first time through. It was sort of hilarious and experiential, the first few times. After about the fourth one it was less amusing.

    I did get four useable bowls, which is fine because I only have one mother.
    The four good bowls

    All the videos just gloss right over getting the balloons out of the bowls, where as in real life it is possibly an absolute fucking deal-breaking disaster! Use the spendy balloons that are meant to be water balloons, wash & dry them, and spray them with cooking spray.

    Use the good chocolate, and only the good chocolate! I think the cheaper chocolate has to get hotter to melt, maybe? Which pops the balloons. You don't want the gooey chocolate-covered balloon to pop in your kitchen, or anywhere else. Melt half the bag of chocolate melting discs, then add the other half to them, to get the temperature you need. If you use the microwave (which, don't) be very attentive! A few seconds, check, mix, a few more seconds...or get this:
    A burned mess on one side, and not even melted on the other!
    Anyway! This might look like a disaster, but it was actually a fun learning experience. I kind of want to try it again - call me crazy - but I can't afford more chocolate! If I remember I'll take photos of the assembled desserts so you can see what all this effort was for.

    An Amazing Thing Happened on the Way to Project Kitchen Island

    To refresh your memory, yesterday I started a new project: transform Maine's Ugliest Dresser into a kitchen island. I had to empty the drawers to get started.

    Imagine my surprise when I discover this:

    That's right, a gift card...a wedding gift card, to be exact. From twelve years ago. For almost enough to cover the project! I checked it out to make sure it was still valid, and yes indeed it is! In fact I already used part of it to buy some tongue & groove bead board for the facing of the island.

    The rest of my materials list looks like this:

    • ¾" plywood, for top
    • Ardex Feather Finish, a skim-coat concrete surface. 
    • Dex-o-tex 2-part epoxy sealer
    • Primer (already have!)
    • Antique White paint (I think my sister & her boyfriend have some left over from a project)
    • Corbels, to support the wider countertop, so stools can fit under. 
    I think that's all! This is going to be easier than I thought...and it paid for itself! Almost.

    Friday, May 12, 2017

    Project Kitchen Island

    Ugly Bureau, front

    Even uglier back
    My house is what you might call vintage. Long in the tooth, if it had any teeth. Seasoned, perhaps, like a fine wine. Like a lot of older homes, it has a big kitchen. While not exactly a farm house - it's in town, in Augusta, and was in a row of homes even when it was built in 1888 - it is built in a farmhouse style: kitchen in an ell, so it doesn't heat up the rest of the house. As I said, it has a big kitchen (with a pantry! Yeah, you wanna be me but you can't be me.) But a lot of that space is wasted - just acreage that I have to cross between table, counter, sink and stove. The answer of course, is an island, but I get all balled up when I think about installing an island island: should it have electric? Should it have a dishwasher? Should it match my (painfully ugly) cabinets, and if not, do I have to redo all the cabinets or it will look stupid? What about the countertops? Everything spun out into a huge, overwhelming, and completely out-of-budget project.

    And then we gt a truck.

    There was a long chain of events leading to the truck, involving me stranded by the highway and a large puddle of motor oil in our driveway, but the short of it is, we got a truck! But when you get a truck, things happen.
    One of the things that happened was my husband decided he wanted to bring home his mother's Wurlitzer organ. She doesn't play anymore, and he does, so it made sense...and now we have a truck, so...

    The only place the organ would fit is in an alcove in our dining room currently occupied by the Ugliest Dresser in Maine. (That, BTW, would put it in the running for the national title. ) The Ugliest Dresser in Maine currently functions as sort of a sideboard on Thanksgiving, and a storage receptacle for junk the rest of the year. I was trying to figure out what the fate of the Ugliest Dresser in Maine might be, when it occurred to me: it's about the right height to be a kitchen workspace.  And about the right width for the space in the kitchen where my future island would go. Hmm and hmm.

    A little googling, and I discover I am not the only one to have this brainstorm. What this dress needs is some beadboard wainscoting, a different (wider) top surface - I am thinking 3/4" plywood with an Ardex coating? And maybe a couple of stools?

    So, for those of youwho enjoyed the Stair Project, watch this space: the Ugliest Dresser in Maine is about to become the Perfectly Acceptable Kitchen Island That Doesn't Cost a Mint!

    Calling All Mainers!

    Here's a new one: a Boston casting company is looking for residents of Maine, aged 20 - 70 who are active and love outdoor recreation. Sounds like me! Unfortunately I am not available on that day. But Maybe you are? You might find yourself in a commercial!

    Interested parties should email a photo & phone number to 

    See ya in the pictures! 

    Saturday, May 6, 2017

    Maine Pottery Tour

    Looking for something to do this weekend? The first weekend in May is pottery weekend in Maine! Ceramics studios around the state open their doors to the public during this annual event. It’s a chance to watch creativity at work and see the spaces where the magic happens. Meet the potters, peek in the kilns, maybe try the wheel or paint a plate, and shop for fine handmade pottery, from the hands that made it.
    Event hours are:
    Saturday, May 6th 10-5
    Sunday, May 7th, 11-4
    Except where otherwise noted

    2017 is the sixth year of this event, which began when a local potters’ guild, the Central Maine Clay Artists, decided in 2012 to hold their spring open studios event concurrently, to pool their promotional efforts. This year 39 studios, from Alfred to Warren to Phillips, will participate.

    “The Pottery Tour is starting to get some attention,” said organizer Lori Watts, of Fine Mess Pottery in Augusta. “Last year we had visitors from as far away as Minnesota. There was a couple from Massachusetts who visited every single studio.”

    Many studios are offering activities during the tour. The Potters House, a studio in Litchfield, will be holding a decal workshop May 6th at 10 am, and again May 7th at 2 pm. Tyler Gulden, a potter from Walpole who is hosting several guest artists, will be opening his kiln Saturday morning. Watts’ studio, Fine Mess Pottery, will be offering a drawing to give away a handmade bowl, and a chance for visitors to paint their plates with their own designs.

    Check out the slideshow for a sneak peek at some of the potters you'll meet on the tour: 

    Wednesday, May 3, 2017

    Portland Sky, May 2

    If the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel were a cityscape, it might look something like this. With bonus rainbow!