Saturday, May 31, 2008

Rainy Saturday

It seem like I have been going like mad lately, and in great need of a break. The weather this weekend was predicted to be rain followed by rain, followed by showers. Fine, says I, I'll plan to spend the weekend in the basement welding odd bits of metal together to make something interesting.

Only this morning I awoke to find that it wasn't raining. Oh man. In fact, it was kinda nice. The sun even peeked through the clouds for a moment. Ok, then, says I; I'll build the new front steps. Start the burn barrel going to get rid of the accumulated scrap lumber and build the steps. Got the barrel started, chatted with the landlord (heckuva nice guy) and got set up to build the steps. Hmmm. had to reconfigure what I wanted to do dimension-wise, but that's ok. Scratch my head for a bit, got it. Make one cut, fine. Make two cuts, fine. Draw the third line - the raindrops start. Shit.

Shit, shit, double-shit. Maybe it'll pass. I try the Catholic approach (head down, deny anything unpleasant is happening) and finally give in and sprint around the yard to get the tools into the back of the truck. I laid two 12-foot pieces of pressure treated decking on top of the truck's cap and laid a tarp over it so I could sit on the tailgate without getting drenched. I sat. And sat. And cursed the rain. And watched my burning scrap sputter and spark in the downpour.

Finally I got up and went into the house to look at the weather map. Oh hell. I stayed inside and did dishes. Then I made lunch. Then, finally, the rain cleared. I went out, stoked up the burn pile into something respectable, made two cuts and the rain began again. I continued to nail in the rain until I felt the back of my shirt clinging to my skin at the belt line, at which point I retreated to the tailgate again, grumbling. Occasionally I would poke at the tarp to drive off the puddles that were accumulating up there. It was fun to watch the water cascade off into the driveway.

I noticed something as I sat out there. I mean aside from the wet and the chill and the soggy smoke smell. Grass is extra green in the rain. I had forgotten that. The robins were out in force, never mind the rain, hopping around pulling up prime bait to feed their babies. All of the trees have leaves now. All of a sudden, too. It seems like last week everything was still budding out, but today everything has leaves. I could hear the rain hitting them. It was very nice. Even the bamboo where the hummingbirds live has leafed out. For an invasive species, it's kinda pretty. And the hummers like it.

I guess I needed the break that the rain provided. I suppose I could still go downstairs and cut and grind and weld, but it's nice up here, going in and out of the house in accordance with the rain showers and the weather radar. Well, that, and I already took off the old steps. So I think I have to keep at this until it's done. I will just have to learn to adjust my pace to nature's moods. And I think that could be exactly what I have needed to do.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I just had a massage.

Ok, well not JUST maybe. Like a couple of hours ago. The warm fuzzy feeling is gone, but the rumpled hair remains. And now my muscles are complaining as they adjust themselves back into the original (unhealthy) positions they are accustomed to holding.

I have been working pretty hard these past few weeks, jacking and leveling cabins, building big things, lifting and toting and climbing and crawling. Today, I tore out some back steps and the skirting around a mud room so I could replace the rotted skirt and re-route the dryer vent so we won't have to do this again right away. I spent a fair amount of my time on my back, under the mud room, swearing and banging my elbows and knees and head and cursing the crushed rock on which I was laying.

So I've been sore for a while. I suppose it is not really a surprise. I am in my 40s but working like I'm still 20, but with better carpentry skills. The masseuse was so kind.

"You're a mess," she said.

Lovely gal. So kind. So thoughtful. So diplomatic.

But she's right. I was a mess. And I still am, in large part, because a 30-minute massage was not even going to come close to addressing the needs my muscles have.

And now I am one hurting unit. I got just enough to know what comfort could feel like, but not enough to hang onto it for more than an hour or two. I have been working too hard after too much time sitting like a lump, and both of those things are now taking their toll.

Uf-da. As they say in Minnesota. Good god.

My next appointment is not until mid-June, but I am looking forward to it. I have already booked a full hour. I am going to try to plan ahead and investigate whether I should take a bubble in my friend's spa before or after the massage. Before, I think, but we'll see. In the meantime, I will be counting down the days, and keeping track of the aches and pains.

Monday, May 26, 2008


It is unfortunate that the trout stream pictured here, located less than one mile from my home, contained only teeny little fish too small to bring home on a stringer. At least it did yesterday. Then again, we were fishing in the middle of the day. Only the babies will bite then as a rule. Perhaps if I get some gumption and go in the early morning or in the late afternoon/evening, I might have better luck.

Where is Christine Lavin when I need her?

We had started the expedition with grand plans to hike the carriage road from the Jordan Pond House down to the cobblestone bridge and fish Jordan Stream back up to where we had begun, but that did not work out as planned. See, we set out at noon on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and headed to the parking lot of the most popular lunch place for tourists on MDI, the Jordan Pond House. There were cars everywhere. People everywhere. Dogs and bikes everywhere. Parked everywhere, and wandering in traffic. When I informed my beloved of my plans to physically and quite violently assault the first person who asked "going fishing?" as we walked into the woods with fishing poles, she suggested we find a less hectic place to fish.

What was I thinking? Jordan Pond House? Memorial Day Weekend? Right.

So instead, we headed into this little brook. It is the stuff of picture post cards, with each turn in the stream offering more perfection. No fish, mind you, but perfect scenery. There were even two Plein Aire painters doing their thing on a sand bar near the beginning of our hike. They seemed a little put out that we had come to fish in their spot, but I was a little put out that they were painting in my brook. I live here, so in my mind at least, I won. We played through and headed downstream.

We hiked and bushwhacked and fished our way downstream for three hours, catching nothing bigger than four inches long. The black flies were moderately aggressive, but at around 3 p.m., the mosquitoes came out. From where, I do not know, but they announced themselves in no uncertain terms. Today I am covered with little swollen welts that itch like mad. I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, so the bites are confined mostly to my face and neck and to the backs of my hands and my wrists. The DEET, of course, was at home in the kitchen. Again, what was I thinking?

Today we are laying low. L awoke with a migraine or something like it, so she had done the reasonable thing and gone back to bed. The pooch has been up, walked, fed, and has retired to her bed near the window to sleep through guard duty. I am the lone soul awake and stirring in the house. I think I shall bake off a lemon pie and prepare this evening's supper. We are having a Memorial Day Cookout, but with a Mediterranean twist. The burgers will be lamb burgers stuffed with herbed goat cheese. They will be served on pita bread and topped with a yogurt-dill dressing. We will also have tabouleh salad, and maybe pita chips and hummus if I get ambitious. The pie will make a nice, light, summery dessert after the cookout, and the lemon flavor will compliment the menu nicely. Perhaps there will be pictures. We'll see.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


How did it happen that I have so much stuff to do and so little time to do it?

I have been working pretty steady of late, and that has been nice, but stuff has piled up at home that needs addressing. The lawn desperately needs mowing, I have a pile of lumber that needs burning, tools and some kind of debris field all over the driveway, and a house that needs cleaning. And it's nice out and I'd really like to go fishing.

I haven't had much of a day off in a while, and it would be really nice to just spend some time drowning worms in a brook. I think what I will do today is this: I will mow the lawn. I will shower off the grass clippings and such, and then we will go fishing. We'll find a nice spot that will let L sit fairly often so as not to aggravate her back too much and we will fish. There is a nice little trout stream not too far from here that I've been wanting to check out.

It's a beautiful day. It seems a sin to waste it working. So, for today, I will work briefly, then play. Happy Sunday, all.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Domestic ghosts

I've been doing another clean-out this week. This time I am in an old estate mansion kind of thing in Bar Harbor. The property is fairly small, with only a small lawn and a couple small gardens, but the view is breath-taking.

I spent a couple days cleaning out the cellar, disposing of scrap lumber and long-dead mice and even some very old, muddy lump coal. But Thursday I worked on the attic. The property owners are getting ready to sell the place and need to get some junk out. I borrowed Josh for the day and we headed up to the third floor of this place.

The third floor is where the staff - maids, actually, used to live. There are three rooms tucked in under the eaves, and each probably held anywhere from two to four girls. The ceilings are slanted at crazy angles because of the roof lines and each room only had a limited area where a person can stand upright. The views from the windows in these rooms were still pretty spectacular, although certainly not what the wealthier residents on the other two floors enjoyed.

As I swept out the rooms, I was struck by the feeling of what it must have been like to be a domestic servant in these rooms back in the day. It was common for girls to leave home at 13 or 14, or even 12 to work for the summer as domestic help. Many came from local farms, and some came from Canada. Some were immigrants, some were migrant workers who came for a season. We found what looked to be some kind of prayer card in one of the rooms. It said something in French about the heart of Jesus.

How difficult it must have been to be a young woman, a girl, still, in those days. A bell was mounted to the wall in the hallway. several wires ran from it, indicating that there were lots of places that a girl could be summoned from. What it must have been like to live in those tiny, cramped rooms, far from home, perhaps not speaking English very well, and at the mercy of the upper class who largely regarded the help as sub-human.

What those girls must have endured - 14 to 20 hour days of washing and scrubbing and waiting and fussing and ironing and serving, in starched, spotless uniforms, for very little pay and one afternoon off each week. They were often at the mercy of the whims of the male members of the household as well, expected to service their sexual needs by unspoken rule, only to be banished in shame from both employ and home family if they came up pregnant. The men, of course, suffered no recourse.

As I swept these rooms, I could almost hear whispers of their voices, laughing and giggling together, quietly muffling sobs alone.

So many Irish girls came over to work as domestic servants. So many women of my stock but of a different world came to work in those grand homes but to live in the stifling garrets.

How lucky I am that I can come into a house like that and charge my own rate, set my own terms, and leave when I choose. How blessed I am to have been born when I was and not 100 years earlier. It has been a thoughtful kind of week. I am glad to be who I am, where I am, now. I am most fortunate.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sundays at home

I wish I could spend this Sunday at home puttering around. I've got stuff to do here, but I've got stuff to do out there, too. And they pay better than I do. Phoo. Up at a reasonable hour without benefit of alarm clock, it was raining steadily. I had hope. Hope for quality snuggle time with my sweetie. Hope for a day puttering in my basement workshop. Hope for a low-key kind of day.

But then the clouds started to break up and then they all blew away, leaving bright blue sky and copious sunshine in their wake. Damn. This means that I will have to mow the lawn, spread fertilizer stuff, and go jack and level three more cottages. Oh dear. And no Josh. Damn. Laura's a great help, but less willing and less able to get underneath the cottages and grub around with jacks and blocks and such. That means I'll be the only one under the cottages and she'll be hand me blocks and cement things. Damn. So much for a lazy Sunday.

We did have popovers for breakfast, which was nice, and we got to watch the local chickadee, goldfinch and hummingbird populations have their breakfasts outside out window, but now the birds all seem to have retreated to their nests to produce or sit on eggs until suppertime.

Delaying and stalling has pretty much run its course and now I must get to it. Perhaps we will fish this evening as a reward for a day's honest efforts.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Rick Charette hasn't a clue

Maine children's singer/songwriter and professional human muppet Rick Charette is said to have a song called "Mud" and I have heard from various sources that pre-schoolers in particular adore it.

After today, I can bet that Mr. Charette has never leveled a summer cottage or he would never have penned a joyous ode to wet dirt.

There is this summer cottage that is quite nice. It has two bedrooms and a one-room kitchen, dinette, living space. It also has a bathroom and a front porch. And a view of the bay. It is quite delightful.

But it was sagging. The roof line looked like a sway-backed old mule, and the floors inside pitched at odd angles. In fact, the floor squeaked and it looked like the floor was dropping away from the walls. Actually, that is exactly what it was doing. You can see how the trim ends nearly three-quarters of an inch above where the carpet begins.

It seems that the winter's heavy snow melted into the spring's heavy sog, which washed away or otherwise made unstable all of the underpinnings of this little cottage. There is a support beam that runs the length of the cabin, underneath. It is designed to keep the floor joists from sagging, and it is generally a very good idea. Only, it was not attached to anything. It was sitting haphazardly on some blocks under there, but was not touching the rafters above it. And the blocks that had been under it were scattered around, as though they had all shifted and fallen out at once. You can see from the picture that there is daylight visible above the big support beam. This is very bad.

So this local kid Josh I borrowed for a day climbed under there and spent four hours jacking and blocking and jacking and blocking and easing everything back where it is supposed to be. We raised that floor by a full five inches. It was more than a little creepy how far that thing went. By the time we crawled out of there, we looked like we'd been dragged behind a pulp truck through the wilds of Upper Somerset County. For a long while. What a mess we were. Here's a picture of Josh and me once everything was jacked and leveled and we made sure the doors all opened and shut.

And here is a picture of my clothes in a heap on the kitchen floor. I dared not bring them into the carpeted bedroom or the bathroom where I tend to step barefoot. They are being bagged for a segregated washer at the laundry place. Ewie.

I have to say I was impressed with young Josh. At 19, he still lives at home and helps care for an ailing parent. He does not drive, so I picked him up, and he was ready to go when I pulled into the drive. He worked his ass off all day, and never once complained. I had him toting cement blocks back and forth, schlepping lumber and blocking here and there, bottle jacks and tarps and tools every which way. I had him crawl around under the cottage with me, jacking here, leveling there, digging a hole (!) under the cottage so there would be room for the jack, essentially, if there was a nasty job, he got it. And he never, ever complained. Well, he whined a bit after spending three hours on his belly (and man bits) in the damp, cold, very rocky dirt beneath the cottage. Since some of my favorite parts are also located on my front, I sympathized.

When I am tempted to say bad things about "kids these days" I think I will try to remember Josh today. He worked hard, got dirty, and remained cheerful through it all. Jack it up, block it, let it down and do it again. Okay. And that's what we did. I told him at the end of the day that I'd be glad to work with him again, and he even expressed a similar opinion of me. What a good kid. Young man, actually. Whichever. A good person. And I am glad to know him. Not all "kids these days" are slackers and techno-dweebs. Some, at least one here on the island, are real people, unafraid of hard work, and able to remain cheerful even while filling his shorts with rocky mud.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A little less stress

My sweetie got a job yesterday - I am so proud of her! She has been much more diligent about a job search than I was when I was first out of work. Certainly having regular unemployment checks helped ease the stress for me, but then having both of us out of regular, steady work was really stressful. I've been working mostly steady for a couple of weeks now, to the point where I am beginning to feel like I might be able to make it in this venture. But then yesterday Laura landed a job and that helped a lot. I know there will be at least some money coming in on a fairly regular basis, even if it rains and I can't do what I had planned.

I don't think I really knew how much stress I had until it lifted yesterday. It's not all gone, certainly, but it's better than it was. And we might get to visit Nova Scotia for free. That would be so incredibly cool.

Yesterday I weeded and pruned and chopped and trimmed for a lady who doesn't know my regular rate, so she pays me what she can afford, which is substantially less. That's ok. Every now and then it is good to do a little discount work to help someone out.

As I was pruning the ornamental cranberry tree (??) in the front yard, removing all the dead branches and cutting back the ones that were causing trouble, a chickadee landed on a branch not four feet from my head and proceeded to dress me down in no uncertain terms. Chirp. Chirpety-chirpety chirp. CHIRP! I apparently was doing something of which he did not approve, and he was telling me just that. I could have reached out and touched him, I swear. It was remarkable. I could see his mouth open and this throat move around as he chirped his different notes at me. His tiny little feet were like little wires wrapped around the branch, and his beak was so small, about the size of a sunflower seed in the hull. But he made such big sounds, and such beautiful ones, so close to me. The notes were nearly overwhelming. It was awe-inspiring. Such power and music coming from such a little source. And such fearlessness to approach a human interloper and voice such a beautiful protest.

I eased up a bit on my trimming efforts.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Having faith is touchy stuff.

Sometimes I can believe that the world is running according to some grand plan and that it all makes sense of a sort, and other times it seems like all is madness.

What is faith? Some would say that it is superstition, a belief in something that cannot be seen or touched or verified, whether the adherent has faith in a deity or a grand plan of sorts.

I guess I have faith in nature and its science. Stuff runs. The sun comes up and goes down, the stars dance their way across the heavens, and seeds somehow always know which way to send the roots and which way to send the leaves. And delightfully, this is all done without the consent or approval of humans. There is so much that happens in this world that we try to control. We dam rivers to control flooding, we try to straighten streams and we build sea walls to prevent erosion. Nature doesn't give a darn. The ocean will take what is hers, no matter how much work we put into keeping a particular patch of real estate dry. Rivers will wash away intrusions built too closely along their banks, although downtown Augusta seems to stand resolutely despite nature's efforts to cleanse herself. Up north this spring, the waters of the St. John Valley illustrated precisely what is meant by the term "flood plain." Will it teach people not to build there? Not likely.

I guess I have faith in stupidity as well as nature. The stupidity of humans. We build our shelters in utterly ridiculous places. Mountaintops, flood plains, fault lines, tornado zones. And then we get alarmed when mother nature comes in and puts the smack-down on our efforts. And the kicker here: We rebuild. Of course. Talk about nuts. Oh well. Stupidity, like gravity, seems to be universal.

I saw a marvelous thing last night. I was at a meeting where a guy celebrated 27 years without drinking. He's a great guy, and his wife and daughter were there to help him celebrate with lots of friends. Many of the people in the room had been in the recovery program for nearly as long as this guy, and I was struck by the simple faith of these folks. They do not necessarily believe that there is a white guy with a beard and a lightning bolt who will strike down bad people, but they all had faith of a sort.

They all trust in something they cannot see, they cannot touch, the cannot scientifically verify, to help them through their days. Some were Christian, but not all of them were. In fact, there were many in the room who would probably identify themselves as "unchurched." But they all had faith.

Sometimes, I wonder if my existence is so much fluff and noise. What great difference will my time on this earth make? What lasting impression will be made by my rental of this particular group of hydrocarbons? Is it all for naught? Is it all just an exercise in chemistry, a slow rearranging of atoms on the earth's surface?

I suppose I make an impact of sorts on the people and things around me. I have been told as much. But to what end? What purpose does this life, or any life, have in the grand scheme of things? A hundred years from now, will anyone remember me? Will they remember what I said or wrote or thought? Probably not. A thousand years from now? Certainly not.

So what makes us go on? Faith, maybe? Maybe. Against all reason, I have a feeling that what I do might be important to someone. Even if the only someone is me. I have to believe that there is a reason for all of this stuff we call life, for to stop believing in that would mean an end to any kind of purpose for living. I don't know what the reasons for me being here and now might be, but I can have faith that there is a reason and keep going.

Perhaps my reason for today is to weed a garden that belongs to an elderly woman who used to ride my bus. Maybe my work for her today is what is important. Ok. Maybe my purpose for today is to have lunch with a friend. That might be true as well. It is in my book, so it is in my plan for today. Tomorrow I will jack and level some cabins. It is the humble, necessary work that makes life work for others. That's what I seem to do. And I like it. I like knowing that I have eased people's path through the world, that I have made life more comfortable for them, even if they are unaware of my efforts.

Perhaps it is kindness that I have faith in. Maybe that is the whole reason for everything. I don't know.

Nature and science are a marvel to me. Grass is green, water flows downhill but is drunk up through roots and tendrils, and the most complex chemical processes take place in a leaf smaller than my littles fingernail. Whole ecosystems establish themselves and burn out of existence beneath the shelter of a mushroom cap. And I have nothing to say about it. Nature is amazing stuff. As humans, so are we a part of that nature. We're probably the only part of it that spends so much time thinking about our role in it, but never mind. We are a part of the grand complex thing that is the planet earth. There is much within our command, but far more beyond it. And that is good. It reminds us to be humble. A flood can change our world. Or an earthquake. Or a storm. And yet still we go on. Perhaps it is faith in ourselves, our own importance, that makes us do that. I wonder.

For today, I will weed a garden. I will luncheon with a friend. I will try to clean out the basement. And I will have faith that there is a purpose, that there is a divine order of some kind, and that I am neither in charge of it nor do I need to be.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The tide has turned

It seems more and more inevitable now that Barack Obama will get the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States. I never thought I would see in my lifetime a black candidate with a real chance at becoming president. I am at once thrilled and terrified.

I am thrilled that America has come so far. I remember growing up with a father who adored Archie Bunker. He missed the genius of the satire completely. Rob Reiner's brilliance was utterly beyond his grasp. He really believed that Archie Bunker was right. For all I know he still may.

And that is what terrifies me. We are pretty well insulated in our liberal little corner of the Northeast. A guy I know refers to Bar Harbor as being "behind the tofu curtain" for its dearth of hippes-turned-entrepreneurs. Free range organic flax seeds are available at the grocery store here. Yeah, it's kinda liberal compared to the rest of Hancock County, and quite liberal when compared to any number of rural counties in the midwest and the deep south. Now before all you southerners and midwesterners get your panties in a knot, please understand that I know that not all southerners are rednecks and not all midwesterners are nazi-sypathizing offspring of German immigrants. Let's just say that I know that not everybody in America is as cool and hip and progressive as we are here in the liberal northeast.

I worry what will happen to Obama. On the campaign trail, who will guard him? The same secret service guys who put a noose in the work area of a black colleague? What happens if he wins? Will he have to travel around in a bullet-proof bubble like the pope? How tragic for us if he does.

On the other hand, what happens if he does get elected? What kind of progress can be made with a new approach, a new mandate, a new way of doing things? There is so much to hope for, it is sometimes difficult for this lifelong Red Sox fan to deal with. I have become reluctant to hope. There is a part of me that looks at the last few years of Red Sox and New England Patriots' championships as a fluke. It's too good - it can't be real. It will be taken from us. We know what that is about.

Honestly, I am more comfortable sometimes working from an underdog position. It is familiar. The work is hard, but it is comfortable. I know it and I am good at it. Operating from a position of power or authority is foreign to me, I don't trust it.

So I worry about getting a big majority in both houses of Congress and capturing the White House at the same time. Good God. It might be too much. We'll screw it up. Just like the Rs did after '96. They came on strong, like the bullies they were, and kicked ass and took names. I fear that we might do the same after being back-benched for so long. That or we might just fart around and get all tangled up in our own importance and get nothing done. Like the Red Sox do (or did) and the Patriots (ditto there).

Tom Allen threw his support to Obama today. That was nice. I am getting more and more impressed with Tom Allen every day. For a straight white male lawyer from Portland, he is remarkably good on a variety of issues. Unspeakably dull to listen to, but dead-on when it comes to the issues. I must remember to donate to his campaign this week.

I must learn to feed my hopes and sooth my fears. In politics as in life. I must learn to put one foot on front of the other, to do the next right thing and to move forward, trusting that what I need will be there.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Cleaning Daze

We've been cleaning out a cellar this week. Hot, dirty, dusty, sweaty work. Bleah.

When we showed up, the cellar looked, as my grandmother would have so delicately put it, like a shithouse in distress.

There was the oddest assortment of stuff down there - things to do with camping and fishing and photography and ham radios and home brewing and woodworking and all kinds of stuff. And it all needed to come out of the cellar and be sorted for keeping or throwing. What a job.

After the first day, we learned that the foundation had been poured backwards, so that the bulkhead through which we had been schlepping crap all day was, in fact, on the wrong end of the house from the original plan. Hell, we could have told her it was on the wrong end of things. At least it was good to hear that it was not designed badly on purpose.

So then there was this desk. It was one of those old teachers desks that they cranked out in the 1960s, maybe. It was 5 feet long, maybe a little longer, and battleship gray. It has three drawers on the left side and a cabinet door on the right with a little metal slide-out platform. And a lap drawer. It was FILLED with radio parts and odd bits of wire and screws. Holy crap. I filled a 30-gallon trash can with what came out of that thing, lugged the can up and dumped its contents, came back down and discovered that the desk still weighed a ton. Shit.

Laura and I tried to get the thing up the steps on a four-wheeled hand truck, but that didn't work. I tried to lay it flat on some planks up the steps and push, and that didn't work any better. Finally, Laura got the idea to call a guy whom she used to work with to see if he could help. God bless this young man. Big, strong, 19 years old, still more enthusiasm than brains or sense. He was perfect. She went and fetched him from his house down the road and we had that desk humped up over those stairs and around the yard into the garage in about 15 minutes. What a guy. We gave him $20 and Laura brought him home again. He was a lifesaver.

Three days of steady work with two people, plus the kid we hired, made for a nice little job, however nasty it was at the beginning. Here's what it looked like when we were done.

And here's supper when we finished. That's a beautifully grilled rib-eye steak with two big slabs of bleu cheese on top. Oh, man. It was the perfect end to three days of miserably dirty, physical work. I think I am ready for a smart job again.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

cookies and cellars

It's almost time to start up the home-based cookie factory for the summer. I made some macaroons tonight for a customer/friend I met at craft fairs last fall. We're trading a bunch of macaroons for her and her booth buddy plus the recipe (its from a book, really) in exchange for some cash and a recipe for her white chocolate fudge with dried cranberries. I am looking forward to trying that recipe.

Meanwhile, I have a couple dozen leftover macaroons sitting here calling my name. Either that or I have to put them away in a container, and that sounds like work after a long day. Bleah. It might be easier to just eat them.

Today was hot and muggy and the bugs are starting to come out. We're cleaning out a cellar for a woman here on the island, and it is hot, dirty, sweaty, heavy work. I am trying to find a home for a big old metal teacher's desk. The thing must weigh a ton, and it's got to come up out of that cellar through the bulkhead. Ugh. Today we tried it with a hand truck rolling up some planks laid over the stairs, but that didn't work. Tomorrow, I think I may try thumping it up one step at a time and see how that goes. There is no room to get a vehicle into position to tie a rope around it and haul it up that way. We'll have to see how it goes. Perhaps a lever of some kind could lift it where it needs to go. I have to say, this is way better than building another screen porch. The worst I have to come up with is how to get a heavy thing up and out, not how to weave shingles or flashing or hang doors or whatever. This is much, much easier on the brain. Tougher on the back, but easier on the gray matter.

I think some people don't understand how I can welcome the brawn-over-brains work like this sometimes. I used to work on an assembly line in a factory, and there is a real rhythm that I can get into doing mindless work. There is a simplicity to it that reminds me that some things do not need to be figured out, they just need to be shoveled. I pick up a load of stuff, carry it to its new place and go back for anther. It can almost approach a zen-like state if I let it. Lift, walk, place, walk, lift, walk place.... I can unplug my brain, let it float and keep on keepin' on. Before I know it, things are looking really good and I cam feeling good about ow much has been accomplished. It is sort of like mowing the grass or shoveling the driveway. There's nothing to do for it really but pick up the shovel and get started. With this cellar, there is nothing to do but pick up the first pile of boxes and get started. I'll post pictures tomorrow when we finish up.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Mission Accomplished!


The Screen Porch is DONE. The cottage it is attached to is not square, level, plumb or straight, so the pressure was not high for my portion, but it did not make it any easier to erect. The roof shingles were old and rotted in some places, so putting the flashing in was a challenge, but with enough caulk and spit, I think it will keep mother nature from getting in. Through the roof anyway. Through the screens, there isn't much I can do about that.

It will be good to spend a couple days just doing physical work that does not involve quite so much heavy thinking and figuring out. I am cleaning out a basement this week, and it will be a nice change. Yes, the work will be heavier than what I have been doing, but it will tax my brain less, and after creating the porch from scratch with no plans but an idea in my head, this will be nice.

There is talk of a Ferron concert in Bar Harbor next week. I think we might go to it. I think it might be required as a lesbian to go. I have seen Melissa Etheridge (several times) Melissa Ferrick (once) and the usual assortment of angry lesbians with guitars, plus Christine Lavin, Cheryl Wheeler and a bunch of other folkies, but somehow I have never seen Ferron. Or Ani DeFranco. Probably have to do that before I die. I saw Joan Armatrading once. Good God. That was amazing. Abso-fucking-lutely amazing. And then there was Joan Baez, the Indigo Girls (who opened for Joan) Tracy Chapman, Dar Williams (who also opened for Joan) and a bunch of others through the years.

It's been a while since I have been to a concert. Perhaps we should go just for that reason alone. Besides, it might be fun.

Not much to talk about today. Somehow that feels good. I shall save the heavy thinking for later. For now, I simply have to take out the trash.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Lemon Pie

Aha! The Lemon Pie recipe came from a story about the Shakers on the National Public Radio site. Here is the official version:

Shaker Lemon Pie

At the restored Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in central Kentucky, chef Tony Adams prepares original foods such as this Shaker lemon pie for visitors. "You've got to watch it, take care of it, pamper it," he says. "You can taste the difference." If you're looking for a sweet gooey dessert, this isn't it. Rather, this pie is quite tart and very lemony. Lemons were one of the few foods Shakers bought from the outside world, though there is some evidence lemons were grown indoors in some communities.

Makes 1 pie

2 large lemons

4 large eggs, well beaten

2 cups sugar

Slice lemons as thin as paper, rind and all. Combine with sugar and mix well. Let stand at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, blending occasionally.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Add beaten eggs to lemon mixture and mix well. Turn into 9- inch pie shell (recipe below), arranging lemon slices evenly. Cover with top crust. Cut several slits near center.

Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 and bake for about 20 minutes or until knife inserted near edge of pie comes out clean.

Cool before serving.

Pie Crust

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons shortening

2 tablespoons cold water

Mix flour and salt. Cut shortening into flour until it forms very small balls. Sprinkle in water, 1 tablespoon at a time, while mixing lightly with a fork, until the flour is moistened. Mix it into a ball that cleans the bowl.

Divide in half. Roll each out onto floured board. Makes top and bottom crust.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sunday afternoon

So I saw this recipe the other day, and it looked interesting. Lemon pie.

Not lemon meringue pie, which is wicked complicated; but lemon pie. I think it was in the Portland Press Herald. It was in a story about the Shakers, a marvelously simple community of brilliant engineers. But more on that later. This is about pie.

Seems that lemons were one of a very short list of things that the Shakers actually purchased from outside. Everything else they grew or made themselves.

But this recipe. Oh, man.

Not sweet like the old meringue version, not puckery like rhubarb, but somewhere delightfully in-between.

And the recipe? Shaker simple, baby.

Lemon Pie

Take two large lemons and slice them super thin, SKINS ON!!! pick out the seeds. Put the slices in a bowl with two cups of sugar and mix them around (gently - don't smash the slices). Leave them for a couple of hours, more is better. I sliced in the morning, then baked at night. Stir them around every so often.

Make a regular two-crust pie crust. For god's sake, don't buy one - for this recipe it would be blasphemy.

Beat the hell out of four large eggs. (I whizzed them in the magic bullet.) Mix them in with the lemons and sugar, then put into the pie shell. Make sure the slices lay as flat as you can or it will get weird. Put on the top crust, seal it up and slice a few vent holes in the middle.

Bake at 450 for 15 minutes, then turn the oven back to 375 and bake for about 20 more minutes. You can stick a knife in to check it - when it comes out clean, it's done.

Let it cool before you serve or it'll be soup. We stuck ours in the fridge overnight.

The rinds on the lemon slices get candied after all that time in the sugar and the eggs give it just enough body to be short of custard, but creamier than a gelatin. It is utterly divine.

'tis a gift to be simple.

Sunday morning

It's a lazy kind of day. Wet and cold outside, too wet to work. I have to go see my recovery mentor later this morning, but before I do that I have some cinnamon rolls to eat with my gal. I woke up early, and accepted it. I welcomed the quiet time to get my head together before the day begins in earnest. Since I was up, I made some sweet bread and turned it into cinnamon rolls. Laura is up now, the dog is walked and we will sit down to the shared table.

As it is in our world, the table is cluttered with fish hooks, bobbers, doggie treats, laptops and recipes for other things.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Live TV at its cheesiest

I love the public television auction.

We found it on tv tonight by accident, just flipping through. I love the volunteers. I love that many of them go directly from work to the studio, only grabbing a drive-through meal on the way. They show up in jeans and t-shirts, tired and a little rumpled, but they're ready to be cheerful and answer phones. They're willing to stand awkwardly next to the auction item in the studio to "liven up" an otherwise lifeless image of a garden trellis. Or a crate of jam jars packed in pine shavings.

I love especially the volunteers who read the descriptions of the items being auctioned. I love the people from the city trying to pronounce "Mooselookmeguntic" or some other such name with noble Native roots. I love the people who are transplants, who love Maine so very much, but who have no idea where things are or what might attract someone to a motel in Lincoln in October (think foliage and/or bow, then black powder season).

I love the locals who know to pronounce Dougherty "Dorrity" and Michaud as "Mee-sho." I love the real locals who say Auguster and Wataville and Loyston (Lewiston).

I love that artisans can donate stuff with thousand-dollar price tags and bring in a couple hundred bucks for public broadcasting, but the coupons and certificates to Houle's Plumbing and Pat's Pizza regularly go for their face value. I love also that places from Fort Kent to Kittery and from Owl's Head to Umbagog (pronounced Um-BAY-gog) donate things and they get all get bids.

I don't usually bid on things on the auction. I am too frugal (broke) for many of the items, most of which fall into my definition of luxury or convenience items. I've got a truck to get fixed up before I go bidding on something frivolous, however yummy it sounds. Once I did get a certificate for 18 holes of golf for two, plus cart, from the Bangor Municipal golf course for fifty bucks. I had never played there before, so it was kind of fun. I remember standing on the fairway as a big military plane took off from the nearby international airport. It was so huge and so low in the sky I felt like I could hold up my four iron and scrape its belly as it went over. I watched its shadow, outlined sharply in the very green grass, pass over the rolling fairway and sand traps and then disappear out of sight. It was a moment to feel very small indeed.

I did not work today on that porch. I awoke this morning sore and tired and more sore and more tired. It was cold and damp outside, and warm and snuggly inside, so I stayed. It does not look much better tomorrow weather-wise, but at least I'll have have a day of rest behind me so I can get back to work. Until then, though, I will continue to rest with enthusiasm. I have a pie in the oven and my flannel pajamas on. I shall rest until I must work.


I have a new sympathy for friends who blog. I used to pester with demands for new posts. Give me something interesting! Give me something entertaining! Write!


No more.

I have had a long-ish, kind of miserable week working on this project, but it is almost done. Which is good, because so am I. I am so tired and so sore and so exhausted I cannot describe it. I have learned a valuable lesson about my own physical abilities and just how many little steps are involved with building something of this size and scale. Good grief.

Here is a picture of what I've got so far, plus the supervisor on site. I'll write more when this job is finished. I think Laura and I might try to go fishing in the morning... wouldn't that be delicious!