Archive for May, 2013

Spring Cleaning House Tour

When it became apparent that winter was finally, truly over and the woodstove could now be retired until autumn, it was time for spring cleaning.

This tortuous process lasted for 2 full days and nights and included dusting, vacuuming, thoroughly cleaning out the woodstove and removing ash dust from every nook and cranny including the ceiling fans.

The sand, salt and dirt traipsed  by our car into the garage was removed (along with the car) and the cement floor soaped, scrubbed and rinsed many rounds until it was clean enough to convert into a temporary bedroom, awaiting summer’s visit of eleven of my grandchildren (all at once!).

Accumulated stuff had to be tossed or rearranged and reorganized.  Winter items, from heavy coats, gloves, and hats as well as crampons, down comforters, and snowshoes were put into winter boxes and summer items were reinstated to the closet.  Our cement floors were re-polished.

Emergency food storage supplies were rotated.

Our food storage supply.  It's not only for emergencies.  When you live 40 minutes from the nearest supermarket, you don't want to make a last-minute trip if you run out of something.  So I make sure to have plenty of staples on hand at all times.  Also, it costs about $10 in gas everytime I make a trip into town.  That forces me to be much better organized about planning menus, and combining shopping, and other errands to keep those trips to a minimum.  When I do go to town, it's usually an all-day venture.

Our food storage supply, kept in the basement. It’s not only for emergencies. When you live 40 minutes from the nearest supermarket, you can’t make a last-minute trip if you run out of something. So I make sure to have plenty of staples on hand at all times. Also, it costs about $10 in gas every time I make a trip into town. That forces me to be much better organized about planning menus, and combining shopping and other errands to keep those trips to a minimum. When I do go to town (about once a week), it’s usually an all-day venture.

Windows and mirrors were washed until they gleamed.  Screens were cleaned.

Seeds were planted in small seed starter boxes and placed on the porch, awaiting transplantation in a few weeks’ time to a summer garden.  (Although it was warm enough to take out the plexiglass panels and replace them with screens, I kept the plexi panels in so that it would have a greenhouse effect and encourage faster sprouting).

Wannabe garden

Wannabe garden

Apple trees were pruned.  Old wasps nests were removed.  The dog got his first heartworm and flea & tick medication, along with a summer haircut.

It was exhausting but satisfying.

In the midst of cleaning the garage, my husband, who reached a momentous birthday milestone recently,  stopped to rest and, looking out onto the woods and the pond,  said, “I don’t know what will be ten years from now.  Will I be healthy or sick? Active and of right mind, or decrepit and feeble?  But I want to remember this moment, right now,  because our time in Maine has been the happiest years of my life!”

It sounds crazy, I know – – he was cleaning the garage, after all – – but it meant so much to me, and I really get it, because I feel the same way.

I took some pictures of our super-clean house because let’s face it, it ain’t gonna stay this clean very long!  Have fun on the tour . . .

Enter at your own risk:

Yes, I know it's kitschy, but how could I not buy this sign for my front door?

Yes, I know it’s kitschy, but how could I not buy this sign for my front door?

My moose hat rack/dog leash holder from IKEA.  That's bear spray at the top of the antler - I keep it by the front door just in case!

My moose hat rack/dog leash holder from IKEA. That’s bear spray at the top of the antler – I keep it by the front door just in case!  We keep our muddy boots under the bench on the left.

Here’s why I love my living room / dining room.  Besides being cozy, comfortable and welcoming, it consists mostly of furniture from craigslist, Goodwill, and the dumpster, closeouts and contractors’ overstocks. Translation:  it was cheap, but it looks great.

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Living room (click to enlarge)

Sofa End Table:  $20 Goodwill

Bookcases:  Total of 4, $5 each from Borders Bookstore that went out of business, found on craigslist.

Mirror:  $50 IKEA. Totally opens up the room, and reflects the woods.

Carpet: $50 Commercial carpet  remnant from contractor’s overstock.

Solid leather recliners:  $400 ea, Costco.  I got these new because I couldn’t find used ones that were comfortable or didn’t smell like cigarette smoke, but in my hometown I did manage to find one on craigslist for $175 that I keep in my hometown.  Recliners are the world’s best invention after the washing machine!

Old futon sofa renewed with new cover:  $15 for cover, Target clearance.

That’s our soapstone woodstove in the rightmost foreground.  Even though we got it on sale, it was not cheap.  But a good heat source is crucial to living comfortably in Maine in the winter.  We bought the best that money can buy, and we do not regret it one iota.

The floors are polished cement.  Not only are they easy to keep clean, but in the summer they are cool, and in the winter, thanks to the woodstove and under-floor radiant hydronic heat, the are nice and warm.  They are also inflammable and indestructible.

Paint:  I love, love, love the dark accent color behind the bookcases, which works because it’s only on one wall broken up by the shelving, and the high ceilings and plentiful windows don’t make it feel like a cave. The color is called Bittersweet Chocolate – – with a name like that what’s not to love?  The light color is called Bennett Grey.  It’s a taupe-y neutral, but what I like most about it is that it subtly changes tone and intensity depending on season and time of day.  Another great color is by the entry, a taupe-y brown called Texas Leather (not shown).  It’s just very, very soothing.

Dining Room (click to enlarge)

Dining Room (click to enlarge)

My solid wood, handcrafted pine farm table, which I use as both a work table and a dining room table, was $75 on craigslist.  I found the beechwood chairs left out for the trash at someone’s house in my hometown.  There was nothing wrong with them other than the soiled upholstered seats.  For $20 I recovered them with faux leather bought at Joanne’s Fabrics, attached with a staple gun.  Since our car space is limited, we brought one or two chairs per trip when we’d travel from our hometown to Maine.

Note all the sunlight:   that’s “passive solar” at work!  Even on a snowy day, as long as it’s sunny, the room will get to about 65 degrees!  Between the energy-efficient windows on the southern and western sides of the house,  and the spray-foam insulation in the walls, the house is airtight and it stays warm on cold days!  The heavy insulation and ceiling fans keep the house pleasantly cool during hot summer days.

My Miele washing machine

My Miele washing machine

I really like my Miele washing machine.  It retails for about $2,000!  I found mine on craigslist in southern New Hampshire.  The guy was asking $1200, and I offered him $400.  I was worried lest he be insulted by my low-ball offer,  but he accepted my price.  Shlepping it to Maine in our car wasn’t exactly a piece of cake, but it was well worth it.   This machine is tops for energy efficiency and quality.  It uses very little electricity, and almost no water.  The secret is in the spin cycles – something like 1200 revolutions per minute!  After a spin cycle like that, the clothes are practically dry when the wash is done, and on a clear  summer day my clothes dry outside on the line in an hour.  Although this machine is much smaller than the typical American washing machine, you can really stuff the dirty clothes in tightly so actually it can handle about the same amounts as a traditional American washer.  Anyone who has lived in Israel is familiar with this European style of washing machine, but Miele brand is definitely the best!

My IKEA kitchen, small but functional (click to enlarge)

My IKEA kitchen, small but functional (click to enlarge)

Kitchen:  $1200 cabinets from IKEA, discounted for discontinued style.  Big Box stores estimated $7000 for a similar kitchen!

Spice Rack

Spice Rack

These shelves from IKEA were actually designed as ledges to display framed artwork, but I found they work perfectly as spice racks.  Yes, I really do use all those spices in my cooking on a regular basis!

Screen porch

Screen porch

Our screen porch is off the kitchen/dining room.  When you are there, you feel like you are in a treehouse, in a canopy of the greenest leaves.  In the autumn thru the Spring there are views of the bog below,  with its amazing array of wildlife, and the surrounding mountains.  What I love about our porch is that it can be used all year round.  In the autumn through the Spring, it has plexiglass panels, and thanks to passive solar, it warms up beautifully when it’s sunny outside.  In the summer, we take off the plexiglass panels and replace them with screen panels.  With summer breezes and because it’s under the trees, it always stays cool.  We also keep a futon on the porch where we sometimes read or sneak a nap.  We often have our Shabbos meals on the porch.  This Spring, I used the table to hold my seed starters.  You are looking at future sunflowers, basil, lavender, parsley, and oregano seedlings.  Once the danger of frost has passed, they will be transplanted to my garden.

Milkweed

Milkweed (click to enlarge)

One of our guests asked me if this floral arrangement came from a designer showroom in Manhattan!  I had a good laugh.  I bought the vase from TJ Maxx for $10.  I found the piece of peeled birchbark outside our house in the woods.  I cut the milkweed from a deserted field, while on a walk close to my house.  Since I don’t live anywhere near a florist and I don’t like to pick wildflowers that grow on my property (many are endangered species,  such as Pink Lady Slipper), this makes a nice “floral” arrangement for my Shabbos table and it lasts forever.

This wild iris popped up unexpectedly along the driveway

This wild iris popped up unexpectedly along the driveway

Okay, now on to my husband’s office.  One of the great things about our life is that my husband, a computer whiz with the job title of Software Architect, works from home.  The biggest risk we took in building our house out in the middle of nowhere was the possibility that there wouldn’t be good Wi-Fi connectivity for a computer, and that would mean he couldn’t work from home.  (A dial-up modem would not have been fast enough to meet his needs.)  Miraculously, our phone carrier offers a DSL line, even way out here in the woods!

My husband works in the basement since it’s less distracting than in the main part of the house.  But it’s not all doom and gloom:  since our house is built on a slope, it’s a walk-out basement and mostly above ground.

Busy at work

There is nothing fancy about his work environment:  a folding table, chair, and computer.  But the view . . . !!!!

Office window view of the woods

Office window view of the woods

The view from my husband's office window

The view from my husband’s office window

To the left of his desk is the table holding his ham radio station.  (He’s been begging me for 35+ years to get a ham radio license so we can participate in this hobby together.)  From this little station he has spoken to ham radio operators from all over the world.

The Man Cave:  Amateur (Ham) Radio Station

The Man Cave: Amateur (Ham) Radio Station

One thing about rural living is that property taxes might be lower, but you don’t get what you don’t pay for!  We don’t have a police force (we have to call the county sheriff, and he could be between 1 – 2 hours away).  Both the rescue and fire departments are run by volunteers, who might be at their workplace when you call in an emergency.  So you have to wait until they get to the station, and then travel to your location, which can be 15 or more miles away.  (Though neither of us suffer from heart disease B”H, we are seriously considering purchasing a defibrillator as a first line of defense.)  There are no fire hydrants for the fire trucks, so when the pumper truck runs out of water, he must make a run to the lake (5 miles away) to refill the truck.  (If G-d forbid you have a fire, the typical approach is unfortunately not to save the house, which under these challenging limitations is almost impossible, but simply to ensure that all occupants are safely out of the building, and that the fire is prevented from spreading to other homes or creating a forest fire.)

We also have no garbage collection; we must take all trash to the dump 8 miles away, and it is open only for limited hours a few times a week.

Let me tell you, when you are responsible for the trash you create, you create a lot less trash.  Suddenly you become conscious not only of what you buy and use, but the containers things come in.  What is recyclable or reusable before it has to be dumped?  Also realize that there are no sewer lines, and everything that goes down the sink or toilet goes to a septic tank, which is under a “leach field.”

The leach field.  Giant boulders prevent cars from parking there, because if the earth gets too compacted the septic waste will not decompose properly.  The whole thing sounds worse than it is - - it is odor free.

The leach field. Giant boulders prevent cars from parking there, because if the earth gets too compacted the septic waste will not decompose properly. The whole thing sounds worse than it is – – it is odor free.

We cannot have a garbage disposal due to the septic system.  But, we can  – – and do – – have a composter.  Egg shells, coffee grinds, tea bags, and  fruit and vegetable peels all go into the composter.  It’s a painless, odor-free process, and eliminates a huge amount of refuse that would otherwise go into a garbage disposal or trash can.  After approximately  2 months of “stewing” the composted food waste creates a rich black humus soil that can be transferred by wheelbarrow to my garden.

We try to run the house on solar power as much as possible.  Unlike most people who use solar power, we are not tied to the grid and therefore do not “sell” any energy back to the power company.  What most people do not realize is that if they are tied to the grid, then if there is a power outage, you will be without power too!  We wanted to have complete independence from the power company, so we opted to go “off” the grid.  The solar panels generate electricity which is stored in a huge battery array located in the basement. These batteries look something like golf cart batteries.  They are very heavy, and frankly, they will be a landfill nightmare when they finish their lifespan in about seven years’ time, so I hesitate to call this system “green.”  We also have a backup to our backup:  a propane-powered generator.

Generator

Generator

The 1000-gallon propane tank is buried under the ground.

The cover to the propane tank.  We keep a marker so we can find it in the wintertime!  We lift the cover to monitor usage so we know when it needs to be refilled.

The cover to the propane tank. We keep a marker next to it so we can find it in the wintertime when it is buried by snow! We lift the cover to monitor usage so we know when it needs to be refilled.  We fill it once a year, in the summer, when propane prices are lowest.  Winter rates are 30 – 50% higher.

Despite the government’s position on encouraging “green” living, did you know that you cannot get a government-backed mortgage if you run your house on solar power off the grid?  We also realized that not everyone appreciates living conservatively in terms of electricity usage amounts.  So we designed our house so that with a flick of the switch, we can go from solar power to being connected to Central Maine Power (CMP), our local Maine electric provider.  This has come in handy when we’ve been without sunshine for a week or more, or on winter days when the days are very short and the solar panels don’t have enough daylight hours to collect any substantial electricity and we need a bit of a boost.

Here is a photo showing both our composter and our solar panels:

WP_001195And here are photos taken from the utility room in our basement, showing the cistern, on-demand furnace, hydronic radiant heat lines and battery array:

The Utility Room.  The grey tank in the left corner is our cistern.  An electric-powered pump draws the water from the well and directs it to the cistern.  The water is so pure and delicious!   The propane-powered furnace provides unlimited hot water on demand. The tubing leads to the radiant heat under the floor.

The Utility Room. The grey tank in the left corner is our cistern. An electric-powered pump draws the water from the well and directs it to the cistern. The water is so pure and delicious! The propane-powered furnace provides unlimited hot water on demand. The red tubing leads to the radiant heat under the floor on the main level.

Our house runs on battery power!

Our house runs on battery power!

We spend a great deal of time in the summer months preparing our wood supply.  That means cutting the downed trees into chunked logs, splitting them, drying them for 3 months to a year before they are sufficiently “seasoned” (otherwise there is too much sap and moisture and they don’t burn well), and then stacking the split and dried wood into the woodshed.    I remember once upon a time, both George Bush and Ronald Reagan were shown on television at their homes in Texas and California, splitting wood with an axe and maul.  This is really, really hard work, especially with the amount of wood we need to split.  We pay someone to do the splitting, and he uses a massive gas-powered splitter.  Each log (especially the oak) is very heavy, but shlepping them undoubtedly beats going to the gym for exercise.

Pile of logs

Pile of logs

The woodshed.

The woodshed

Here is a picture of the back of the house (which is really the front entrance).

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Yes, our skies are really that blue!

The house looks bigger than it really is.  The lower level has a small office, but otherwise it's just a utility room for the furnace and cistern, and a one-car garage.

The house looks bigger than it really is, thanks to high ceilings, lots of windows, and an open floor plan. The lower level has a small office, but otherwise it’s just a utility room for the furnace and cistern, and a one-car garage.  The total living space is around 1000 square feet.

Many people wonder why I didn’t build a log home.  Log cabins are indeed very  romantic, not to mention beautiful.   However, besides their tremendous expense, they are extremely high maintenance.  Wood is slowly but surely constantly drying out and “shrinking.”  This means that the chinking (the white filler stuff that goes between the logs) must be re-applied every few years.  Also, the outside logs must be re-varnished and treated every 2 to 4 years, a big and pricey job.  We assume that we will be on a very limited income once my husband retires, and won’t have the funds for major maintenance costs, so we specifically designed the house to be as maintenance-free as is humanly possible.  We opted to go with fiber-cement siding for the exterior cladding.  It is highly rated as a fire-retardant, but more importantly, it is guaranteed to not need repainting for 15 years!  We chose the color that most resembled the color of the surrounding trees.  It blends in so well with the immediate environment that you can’t  see the house from the road unless you already know it’s there.

Our property is located in a very windy location.  About 3 miles away, back in the 1980s,  there was a historic blow-down that permanently destroyed many acres of forest landscape.  In the summer there is almost always a breeze, but the wind can sound pretty scary during a storm.  The roar of wind is frequent and regular, and we figured based on the noise that some of the gusts had to be at least 75 mph.  We bought this anemometer (a wind-measuring device) from the store at Mt. Washington Observatory:

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The anemometer

But it turns out that our maximum recorded wind speed so far was only 37 mph. It just sounds much louder and scarier because of all the trees.  Placing the anemometer was a bit tricky, since we have to be careful that it isn’t damaged when huge sheets of snow and ice fall off the roof in the winter.

Here is a picture of my orchard.  This heavily wooded area was cleared to allow for more sunshine on the solar panels.  I planted 8 Honeycrisp and Macoun apple seedlings there in place of the thick stand of oak, pine, beech and birch trees that were felled.  Since these semi-dwarf apple trees will only grow to about 15′  high, they won’t create shadows on the solar panels that are placed on the other side of the driveway.

Two-year-old apple seedling:  hopefully only 4 more years to go until mature enough to bear fruit.

Two-year-old apple seedling: hopefully only 4 more years to go until mature enough to bear fruit.

Last summer I also planted 6 blueberry bushes.  I also planted  kale in raised beds, with great success.  This past autumn I planted garlic, and it’s doing beautifully.

Garlic growing in a raised bed

Garlic growing in raised beds

One corner of the orchard has 3 beehives which are not owned by me; I let someone use my property as a bee yard.  He gets the honey, and I get to watch and learn about bees and my plants benefit from the pollination.  At one point I thought I might get into beekeeping, but after observing the Bee Man I decided it’s more physical labor than I can realistically handle.

The bees are buzzing!  The hives are surrounded by a solar-powered electric fence, to deter bears.

The bees are buzzing! The hives are surrounded by a solar-powered electric fence, to deter bears.

In early May, the leaves are still not on the trees.  You can barely make out the apple saplings.  The beehives are on the far right.  In the distance in the middle of the photo, you can see part of my neighbor's cabin, which he uses only occasionally, on weekends.

In early May, the leaves are still not on the trees. You can barely make out the apple saplings. The beehives are on the far right. In the distance in the middle of the photo, you can see part of my neighbor’s cabin, which he uses only occasionally, on weekends. (Click to enlarge)

The same view of the orchard 2 weeks later, with leaves on the trees.

The same view of the orchard 2 weeks later, with leaves on the trees.  The cabin in the distance is now completely obscured by the foliage.

This is my latest future project:  I am having more woods cleared to make room for a raised-bed garden.  I hope to plant squash, cucumbers, herbs, beets, and kale for starters.  The downed trees will not go to waste:  the wood will be used to heat our home in the coming winter.

Site of future garden

Site of future garden

Our property sits on 5.6 acres of woods, and backs onto the White Mountain National Forest.  The WMNF abounds with trout streams, ponds, bogs, lakes, waterfalls, wildlife, and hiking and snowmobiling trails. With each season, the landscape changes.  I never get tired of the woods.  Every day I thank HaShem for enabling us to experience this wonderful, spiritual, and healthy way of life in the woods of Maine.

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Early spring, when tiny leaves are just starting to show. Two weeks later, these trees were covered with heavy foliage.

The driveway.

The gravel driveway.

The same view of the driveway two weeks later, when the leaves are on the trees

The same view of the driveway two weeks later, when the leaves are on the trees

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Late Night Visitors

11:15 p.m. 

Plagued by my usual insomnia, I am listening to sounds from the woods.  I hear a loon’s cry in the distance – – probably from either Kezar Lake (2 miles away) or Horseshoe Pond (3 miles away):  sound travels far here.  A pair of owls call to one another, hooting “hoo-hoo-hoo-HOO.”  And then I hear the sound of something traipsing through grass.  Something big.  Something loud.  Right under my bedroom window.

“Wake up!” I whisper to my husband.  “Get the flashlight!  I hear something!”

We run to the dining room window, peering outside into the night’s blackness, moving the flashlight to and fro towards the direction of the sound.  I am worried it’s a bear, making its way to our beehives.

Suddenly, a glow:  two pairs of eyes stare back at us.  It’s a cow moose and her calf, munching leaves from trees and bushes!  They stop and survey us with interest, and decide we are a threat.  They quickly move back into the woods.  I am glad they have circumvented my apple tree saplings, because my homespun fence (poles with a few wires strung across) is certainly not moose-proof.

“Well, they’re gone now.  I am sure they won’t be back tonight.  Instead of counting sheep, try counting moose,” my husband says, referring to my insomnia.  I scowl and he quickly falls back to sleep.

Sleep?  How can he sleep?  We just had TWO MOOSE under our bedroom window!  My adrenalin is pumping, my insomnia is roaring.

“Wake up!  I think they’re back!” I say, an hour later.

My husband groans, but dutifully he follows me back to the window.  Yep, the same two moose are munching away.  They don’t like the glare of the flashlight, and so they move back into the woods.

I am happy with the knowledge that while we sleep, unbeknownst to us, our property is pulsing with activity. Despite our physical presence, humans can really never conquer the woods.   I feel almost childlike, like those storybooks about children whose lives are scheduled, patterned, innocuous.  But at night, when the child’s  parents go to sleep, all the toys and stuffed animals in the child’s bedroom spring to life.  The child shares a secret experience with the toys that are his and his alone.   At night there is an entirely different reality but it’s one to which only he is privy.  It quietly empowers him.

This time I fall asleep quickly,  smiling softly to myself.  Even the owls can’t keep me awake.

Homemade Yogurt

My husband jokes that I am turning into a hippie homesteader but I have to say, I really enjoy all the little projects that result from so many new and positive learning experiences in my goal of living more consciously and conscientiously.

I recently came across a homemade yogurt recipe by Claire Criscuolo, owner of Claire’s Corner Copia vegetarian restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut, located across from Yale University’s old campus on the corner of  Chapel St. & College St.  On her website’s FAQ page,  she lists a recipe for homemade yogurt:

If you eat 2 cups of yogurt a day in your family, you will save $1,000.00 a year by making your own – and, you’ll save hundreds of plastic cups a year, too.

Makes about 16 cups

1 gallon organic whole or 2% milk

2/3 cup plain, organic yogurt

Heat the milk in a large, uncovered 8 quart pot over medium-high heat, without stirring, until the milk foams and rises about half way to the top of the pot, about 10 minutes. When the foam reaches about half way to the top of the pot, remove from the heat. Pour the heated milk into a large bowl (a tempered glass or pottery bowl is best). Set the bowl on your counter to cool until you can insert your “baby” finger into the center of the bowl of milk, just comfortably, for 10 full seconds. This will take about  20 minutes or so, depending on how cold it is in your kitchen. Measure the 2/3 cup yogurt into a separate bowl. Measure 1/2 cup of the heated milk into the bowl of yogurt. Stir well to mix. Pour this yogurt mixture into the large bowl of heated milk, using a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl clean. This is the point when Sadie said a blessing over the bowl, so I always do, too. Cover the bowl with a dish large enough to fit the bowl without touching the yogurt. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel, then a thick bath towel. Leave the wrapped bowl on the counter for 8-10  hours, (you can make your yogurt  before you go to bed or before you leave for work) whichever is more convenient for you, without disturbing. After 8-10 hours, remove the towels but leave the dish on. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours, but it’s ready to eat after 8 hours. Before enjoying, remove about 2/3 cup of the top layer and spoon this into a jar. Cover the jar and refrigerate for up to two weeks. This will be your yogurt “starter” for your next batch. You may now begin eating and enjoying .

I just had to try it.  It was fun, easy and successful, but not without caveats.  Instead of a letting the ingredients “set” in a large bowl, I used a giant Bell jar (the kind used for home pickling and canning).  Because of the tall, narrower shape of the jar (I used a 1/2 gallon size), I found that the first 2/3 of the finished product was a bit on the thin side, more resembling kefir (but much more delicious).  The bottom 1/3 of the Bell jar was indeed a thicker, yogurt-like consistency.  So next time, I will be more exacting in following the directions, and use a very large, very wide bowl to make my yogurt.

Also, I used goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk –  – this has a higher fat content but it’s oh, so delicious and healthy.  Also, it was not as tart as store-bought yogurt, but this could be because I used goat’s milk – – I haven’t experimented enough to know for sure.

Not only is it more economical to make yogurt rather than buy it, as Claire suggests; it is so much more delicious!   For those who consume only chalav yisrael dairy products (which are hard to find in smaller Jewish communities, not to mention extremely pricey), this yogurt recipe is really handy.  It’s easy to make a parfait with fruits like strawberries, blueberries and bananas, or as a base for tasty smoothies.  It’s a great way to benefit from protein and calcium.  There are no additives or chemicals, and it’s so much fresher than anything you can buy in the supermarket.  So here’s a shout-out to Claire . . . thank-you for sharing this wonderful recipe on your website!

Striking It Rich

We returned to Maine on Sunday night, and the next day, after the rain cleared and the sun shone, I decided to go hiking.  Ten days before, I had gone walking in the woods in Evans Notch, on an easy, underused 5-mile-long trail that meanders along the Cold River.  It was my “farewell hike,” as we would be traveling the next day to our hometown for the holiday of Shavuot, along with the yahrzeit of my mother-in-law.  We would be in our hometown for only a week, but it was wonderful to see our kids and grandchildren again and reconnect with friends.

The water was flowing nicely, when I reached an area of quiet, deep water.  The water was crystal clear, and lo and behold, I saw two groups of thirty brown trout, all 18″ – 21″ long!  Sadly, I didn’t have a fishing pole with me, but I promised myself to return.

Brook trout in Cold River

Brook trout in Cold River

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(too bad this was taken with my cell phone, instead of my camera and polarizing lens . . . )

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I walked back to my car and drove a couple of miles further to The Basin, where I parked my car and ate a picnic lunch.  There I met a retired gentleman who was fishing at Basin Pond.  He and his wife were staying at the campground there.  Within 15 minutes he had caught his limit of 5 brook trout.  When I told him about the brown trout I had seen in Cold River, his eyes lit up.  He told me that New Hampshire Fish & Game sometimes stocks their “old” breeders there, which makes sense, since several nearby lakes have been stocked recently (Kewaydin Lake, near me, was stocked a week ago by Fish & Game with 400 trout).

This guy caught 5 trout in 15 minutes

This guy caught 5 trout in 15 minutes

One of the brook trout he caught

One of the brook trout he caught

The Basin in Evans Notch, site of my picnic lunch

The Basin in Evans Notch, site of my picnic lunch

Another view of The Basin

Another view of The Basin

Now back in Maine, I was eager to revisit this “secret” fishing hole and I encouraged my husband to come along after work, so at 5:15 p.m. we drove to Evans Notch, parked, and walked the 20 minutes to the site I remembered.  Alas, even though we spotted the fish, they were not biting.  Disappointed, we made our way back to the car and began the 6-mile drive home.  We turned down the dirt road at Deer Hill and halfway to our house at the 3-mile mark, my husband spotted a cow moose (female) at Deer Hill bog, grazing in the water.  Our first actual moose sighting of the season!

Cow Moose at Deer Hill Bog

Cow Moose at Deer Hill Bog

The itch to fish was not over, however.  It was now 7:30 p.m.  and there wouldn’t be much daylight left, but I dropped my husband off at home and set out alone for Kewaydin Lake.  Within a mile of our house, along the road, I saw a cow moose walking along the road.   I couldn’t believe my luck – – two moose sightings in one day!

The sunset on Kewaydin Lake was beautiful, and best of all, the fish were definitely biting!  I caught a smallmouth bass almost immediately and called it a day. . . or so I thought.  As I neared my house in the near-darkness, I suddenly sensed a shadow – and as I slowed my car I saw a bull moose, his antlers in velvet, running alongside my car.   I stopped and watched it run off into the woods, and then continued home.  About 100′ feet before reaching my driveway, I saw a moose calf walking along the road.  That’s four moose in one day spotted in my neck of the woods . . . a new personal record.  I only felt bad my husband had missed the excitement.

Two years ago, my husband and I made a deal.  I had bought him a fishing license, but he was just too grossed out impaling a worm on a hook to continue fishing!  Since non-resident fishing licenses are not cheap ($64 a year), I told him that unless he could get over his phobia, I would be putting the fishing license in my name the following year.  And so, I have been the family fisherman ever since.  He told me if I would catch the fish, he would clean it.  I guess he thought that he wouldn’t have to make good on this promise, since I am a newbie and don’t really know what I’m doing.  And I was beginning to wonder if the only fish we’d ever eat would come out of a can:  I caught plenty of fish, but they were either not good eating fish (yellow perch) or too small to meet Fish & Game regulation size.  I always had to throw them back.

Well, now it was payback time.  The fish was still alive and swimming in a water-filled ice chest, surviving the bumpy ride home.  I left my husband the gruesome task of killing and cleaning the fish.  It seemed cruel to let it die by slowly suffocating out of water.  In a fit of manliness my husband got the idea to behead it quickly with an axe and proceeded to clean it at the kitchen sink.  Now, why killing and gutting a flopping fish is less gross than threading a worm on a hook I don’t understand, but I’m not complaining.

I dipped the fish in a beaten egg white, dusted it with flour seasoned with pepper and parsley, sprayed some oil on an iron skillet, and moments later the fish was sizzling in the pan on the fire.  I was careful not to over cook.  It was truly the sweetest, most tender and delicious fish I have ever eaten – and certainly the freshest!  (Not to mention expensive – I called it “my $64 fish” – since this was the only fish caught so far on the new fishing license.)

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For me it was a kind of test.  I wanted to know if I was capable of “hunting” and eating my “prey,”  albeit in a kosher manner.  Or would I be too sentimental?

I guess I’m too cold-hearted (or perhaps I was too hungry!) but I confess I was not particularly emotional about the entire experience.  Yes, I felt bad about the poor fish to some extent, but it also gave me an appreciation for the workings of nature in HaShem’s world, and the idea that He has created things for our sustenance – –  that is a chesed (kindness).  The fact that we have to work so hard for our food makes it impossible to take life and death casually or for granted.  I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the convenience of going to the supermarket for my food!  But by shopping for our food we have lost that hunter-gatherer connection, and the many important life lessons that go along with that.  Fishing does serve to reconnect us to those primal and spiritual roots.

What a great Maine day!

Honor Flight

One of the greeters who welcomed the Honor Flight

Something to think about:  “If you can read this, thank a teacher.  If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.”  One of the greeters who welcomed the Honor Flight

Returning to Portland (Maine) from Chicago on Southwest Airlines, I had a 3-hour layover in Baltimore.  Unfortunately that didn’t allow enough time to rent a car and go into the city,  which meant I was stuck at the airport for the full three hours, and I was dreading it.

Well, there is a reason for everything and clearly I was meant to have that layover.  Because about an hour into my wait, an announcement was made over the intercom:

Attention all passengers.  Please make your way to Gate B4 to welcome our Honor Flight veterans!  Please show your support for the men who have served our country by welcoming them from Arizona as they arrive at BWI for their tour of Washington, DC.  Again, that gate number is B4.  We hope to see you!

Suddenly I heard a roar.  Loud cheering, whistling, and calling out.  Since I was in Terminal B, I wandered over to Gate B4.  I couldn’t get as close as I wanted to . . . there were hundreds of people, men and women and children, young and old of every race, crowded together waving flags, smiling, and clapping in anticipation of the veterans’ imminent arrival.  Now the veterans began disembarking and entered from the plane through gate B4  into the terminal .  Most of the vets were men and women in their 80s and 90s, many in wheelchairs; veterans of WWII and the Korean War who proudly wore labels with their name, branch of service, and where they had served.  They were greeted with handshakes and hugs by these hundreds of airport greeters:  “Welcome!  Thank you for your service!”

All of the veterans smiled, some laughed, some cried; so overwhelmed were they by the outpouring of love and gratitude for their service almost 70 long years ago.  It was one of the most touching, spontaneous moments I’ve ever experienced – – the coming together of complete strangers who wished to show love and appreciation and honor to people who they’d never even met before.

Honor Flights were started by retired USAF Captain Earl Morse.  You can read more about him here.  This wonderful man was on hand to greet the arriving veterans and his entire persona literally radiated kindness.

Earl Morse, founder of Honor Flights, greets a veteran at BWI.

Earl Morse, founder of Honor Flights (middle), greets a veteran at BWI.

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I took a video (sorry about the bad lighting etc, it was truly spur of the moment) with my cellphone which I’ve posted on youtube.  You can watch it by clicking here.

Apparently a documentary has been made about honor flights, and you can see the trailer by clicking here.

For more information about this worthy organization, click on honorflight.org.

Chicago JCC

My granddaughter attends preschool at the Jewish Community Center in Chicago.  It was my job while I was visiting to take her to and from school.  One day the following sign was posted on the entry door of the JCC:

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I had a good laugh over this (hopefully they didn’t think I was too weird taking a picture of the sign), but the next day the sign was updated (click to enlarge):

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Some things are just too gross to think about . . .

Chicago

My youngest daughter is expecting her second child, but unfortunately is having a difficult pregnancy.  Her husband had to go out of town for a lengthy period (he is finishing up his last semester of medical school in Israel).  Mom to the rescue!  Fortunately Southwest Airlines began service from Portland (Maine)  the week before I flew in.  Even better, they had great introductory prices to celebrate their new presence in Portland.

One thing that struck me:  why is it so much easier caring for a child – even if that child is an adult – – than a parent?  I honestly didn’t mind the cooking, cleaning, laundry,  errands, marketing, transporting, outpatient visits, childcare, etc.  It’s our nature to nurture our children, I guess, but taking care of a parent seems to go against nature.  We can never pay back our parents for all the time, care, and love they’ve invested in us.   So why is the mitzvah of kivud horim (honoring our parents) so hard?  (I am thinking of the final years of my own mother’s life, when she was stricken with Alzheimers and caretaking was so emotionally overwhelming for me.)

A fringe benefit of my trip is that I got to spend a lot of one-on-one time with my 4 1/2-year old granddaughter.  For only the next 2 months, she remains an only child, and the transition to being a big sister will, I’m sure, be quite an life changing experience for her.  My other children have multiple children, and I very rarely get to have one-on-one time with those grandchildren.  Although I enjoy the commotion, sometimes in their excitement they talk to me all at once.  I simply can’t filter their individual voices and wants and needs, and I tend to “shut down.”  From my time in Chicago with my granddaughter, I learned that it’s important to schedule “alone time” with each grandchild, so that I can develop a special relationship with each and every one, and better meet their individual needs in a way that I cannot when they are part of a “herd.”  Besides, it’s very hard to come up with an activity that everyone will enjoy, since their interests are so diverse as are their developmental stages and age ranges.

I really liked Chicago –  – it’s probably the nicest city I’ve visited.  It has everything New York has – a beautiful city skyline, lots of cultural activities,  great parks,  a vibrant Jewish community, plus the beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline, but unlike New York, people are not in such a hurry to go nowhere.  They’re mostly friendly and polite and when driving, never use their horns in place of the brakes.  But one thing I simply could not get used to was the close proximity of residential buildings to each other – sometimes as little as 6′ apart.  Although my daughter’s apartment was spacious, you could never open the window blinds because to do so meant looking right into the neighboring occupants’ apartment (and this was true of single family homes as well).  It was as though I was living in a sealed box, and after living in the Maine woods and looking out onto wide open spaces and sky, it felt terribly claustrophobic.  The more I am here in Maine, the more I realize that I don’t think I could ever adapt to city life again – –  nor do I want to!