Archive for June 29th, 2014

Nice Find

I always love experimenting with new products.  I just found this at Wal-Mart, of all places:  Dehydrated Peanut Butter, and Dehydrated Chocolate Peanut Butter.  It’s ideal for backpackers going on long hikes who want protein that is light to carry, and it’s good for preppers who keep emergency food supplies in storage.  You reconstitute it by adding water, but the serving size is as needed, so you don’t have to make the entire quantity at once.  It’s even kosher – pareve.

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The Creed that is Maine

One of the things I love about where I live in rural Maine is that people aren’t just subsistence farmers, they truly care about the quality of the food they eat.  A lot of local farmers are using organic farming methods, seeds that are not genetically modified, and heirloom varieties of vegetables.  Fruits and vegetables are picked when they are ripe.  But the selection can be sparse and the variety limited because of weather.

At my current favorite farm I noticed that the kale is always sweet.  I don’t know about you, but when I buy kale at the supermarket, it often has a slightly bitter edge.  I finally realized it’s because the supermarket kale is probably 3 or 4 days old since the time it was picked.  The kale I buy from my local farm was picked that morning.  It truly makes a difference when produce is so fresh, not only in taste, but in maximum nutritional benefit.

And the eggs!  When you crack open an egg from chickens that have plenty of space to roam around and, well, act like chickens, instead of imprisoned in tight confinement and never breathing outside air, you’ll see that their eggs look totally different from what you buy in the supermarket.  The egg yolks from a naturally-raised laying hen aren’t pale yellow – – they are a deep marigold yell0w-orange color whose flavor is so rich you will wonder how you could ever possibly think of buying a supermarket egg again.

The color of the eggs is determined by the breed of chicken.  There are at least 4 breeds of chickens represented by these eggs.  They vary in size as well.  But they are uniformly fresh and delicious.

The color of the eggs is determined by the breed of chicken. There are at least 4 breeds of chickens represented by these eggs. They vary in size as well. But they are uniformly fresh and delicious.

What I love about Flyaway Farm is . . . everything.  It’s a family farm in the truest sense of the word:  a back-to-the-land sort of family, slightly hippie, living very simply off the grid in a remote area, homeschooling their hard-working kids, growing what they need to survive, and selling the surplus for some extra cash.  Oh my, do they work hard!  There is little respite.  Since they are an organic farm, they are constantly coming up with creative, ingenious ways to thwart the notorious Maine bugs and crop destroyers without the use of toxic pesticides, and improve their soil without the use of chemicals.  Like any farmers, they are at the mercy of nature:  too much rain or not enough; killer frosts.  And still they keep at it, knowing that it’s mostly a losing game but worth the cost because life is good.

There are a lot of good people in rural Maine who barely get by.  Many grow what they need as subsistence farmers and hunt to supplement their food supply.  No one wants to be poor, but I can say with conviction that few people in Maine make it their goal in life to be rich.  Some would arguably concur that Mainers lack drive or ambition.  But most people live in Maine because they want to get away from the rat race, and live slower.  It’s hard to do that while wending your way up a corporate ladder.  Rural Mainers want to make enough to have the basics and a little left over for an emergency or an occasional splurge, but rural Mainers are the least materialistic people I’ve ever known.  Their lives are guided by this question:  do I really need it, or do I just want it?  Can I make something similar with my own two hands, or from spare parts sitting in the shed/barn?   Can I barter for it with something I already have?

 

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At my local farm, I can also buy seedlings for herbs and vegetables for around $2 per plant. The structure above the seedlings is called a hoop house.

 

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Freshly picked greens are put in bags in the stand's  fridge, waiting for customers.

Freshly picked greens are put in bags in the stand’s fridge, waiting for customers.

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The sign reads, “We are committed to using only non-GMO, untreated seeds. Many are heirloom and organic. We feed our plants with certified organic fish/seaweed fertilizer. NO CHEMICALS. It’s healthier for us, our children, and our environment. Thank you for supporting a small family farm.”

 

Each week when I buy vegetables, I write down what it is that I’ve taken (this week it was 4 bags of kale, a bag of snap peas, and some fresh eggs gathered that morning from their free-range chickens), and record how much money I’ve paid.

The owner is not always at the stand, so I write down what it is I've taken and how much I've paid.  You can see the lock box and change box in the rear right corner.

The owner is not always at the stand, so I write down what it is I’ve taken and how much I’ve paid. You can see the lock box and change box in the rear right corner.

I put the money in a little lock box, although there is another box with about $20 in bills and coins in case I need to make change.  It’s all about the honor system and it’s not just a convenience, it’s a creed here in rural Maine.  It’s a great and holy thing when you can trust not just your most intimate acquaintances, but the majority of the population, even if they might be strangers.

When you live in an environment that is consistent in honesty and decency it changes a person.  Life just seems more livable and more meaningful.  And soon, you can’t imagine living any other way.

The thought of returning to the city, where people are cynical and skeptical and mistrusting, because they’ve been burned more than once and expect to be burned again, is astonishing.  Why put up with such ill-begotten behavior if you don’t have to?  And you learn that we all make choices, and then wonder why anyone would choose to live in chaos, or get so used to the corruption of certain values that they forget that life can be different in such a positive way.

The state motto is, “Maine:  The Way Life Should Be.”  There is a lot wrong with the state of Maine, but mostly there is a lot that’s right.  It’s the important things that count:  that basic decency and honor and craftsmanship and pride of place that is the very definition of rural Maine, that is sadly lacking in so many other places.

 

The most popular supplier of organic vegetable, herb and flower seeds, bulbs, potatoes, and trees in Maine is Fedco Seeds.  That’s where I order my garlic bulbs and they’ve been great.  They sell to commercial organic farmers, serious hobbyists,  as well as weekend gardeners. You can order a print catalog or just look online.  Their catalog has a wealth of information and makes for great reading.  They only sell seasonally.  I highly recommend them, and they ship all over the US.

Luna Moth

We’ve been visited nightly by luna moths.  These guys are huge – – with a wingspan of something like 4+ inches.   A luna moth is a type of silkmoth.  For all of you who are afraid of bugs, no, they don’t bite.  You can  learn more about luna moths here:

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I let it inside a few minutes so I could take a picture of its back.  I released it outside immediately afterwards.

I let it inside a few minutes so I could take a picture of its back. I released it outside immediately afterwards.  Click on this picture to see the moth in greater detail.

I've placed my hand alongside the luna moth so you can get an idea of its size

I’ve placed my hand alongside the luna moth so you can get an idea of its size

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On the Wild Side

Friday was just about a perfect day.  The sky was a deep blue, with puffy white clouds, and the air was clear and dry, in the mid-70s.  The breeze was light enough to keep away the bugs (although the blackflies are gone, huge swarms of mean-spirited deerflies have replaced them and can make a walk outdoors an exercise in masochism) but not so windy that there would be chop in the water at the lake.  In other words, a perfect day to go fishing.

Kayaking and fishing on Virginia Lake.  I was the only one there.

Kayaking and fishing on Virginia Lake. I was the only one there.

It was my first visit of the year to Virginia Lake, an off-the-beaten-track sort of place that even most Mainers don’t know about.  While the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife stocks many local ponds, lakes and rivers with trout and land-locked salmon, they don’t stock Virginia Lake.  Yet because of its more remote location, it isn’t over-fished and I often have good luck there (I’ve caught bass, trout, and white perch at Virginia Lake).

Two days before, there had been a 24-hour downpour of Biblical proportions.  Fortunately I live on the side of a mountain with good drainage, instead of along a river or valley, because there was plenty of flooding.  Virginia Lake was so full from the latest rainfall that the shoreline was covered a good 10 or 15 feet with deep water.

While June is known to be a rainy month in Maine, it has severe implications for the Common Loon population.  The loon is an amazing bird.  Similar to a duck, it has several unique characteristics that make it a favorite.  Its black and white markings and beady red eyes are beautiful; its call is haunting, eerie and magnificent; and its capacity for diving for its food and staying submerged under water for up to 3 minutes is nothing short of remarkable.

Also unique are its webbed feet; the loons’ legs are placed way back on its body, which enables loons to dive as much as 200′ under water.  That is not a typo:  two hundred feet!

The downside of their feet being placed so far back on their bodies is that while they are adept at swimming and diving, they are extremely handicapped when it comes to walking.  Because of this, they build their nests at shoreline, because they are mostly helpless when they are not on water.

The problem is that when heavy June rains flood the shoreline, their nests are often destroyed, and this adversely affects the loon population.  Naturalists have tried to encourage nesting loons by building floating platforms or rafts on the water, and while at first wary, loons eventually come to accept the floating “arks,” as is evident on Virginia Lake.  The platforms are intentionally placed on parts of the lake that are not easy to spot from the ground, so they will remain undisturbed by humans.  Many other lakes and ponds in Maine are experimenting with different types of floating structures to encourage loons to nest and stabilize or increase the loon population.

The loons at Kezar, Kewaydin, and Virginia Lakes, while far from tame, don’t seem to mind sharing the water with kayakers such as myself, and they often swim within 15′ of my boat.  Last year on Virginia Lake I was able to follow the progress of a mama and papa loon and their one chick over a two-month period.   At first the baby would mostly hitchhike on its mother’s back but within a couple of weeks it swam alongside its parents.  I was privileged to see the incredible patience of the parents trying to teach their baby to fish!  The adult loons would swim directly in front of their baby, and then dip in the water.  Then they’d go diving for a fish.  When they’d catch the fish, they would lay it in front of the baby on the water.  As the dead fish would start to sink, they’d urge the baby to dive to retrieve it.  Again and again they placed the fish in front of the baby, trying to teach it to dive.  This went on for days until one day, the baby finally got it!

On Friday I discovered the location of the floating platform, and sure enough a mama loon was nesting there, resting atop her eggs.  It was a good thing the platform was there – – the nest would surely have been wiped out due to the recent storm had it been on the shoreline.

Nesting loon on Virginia Lake.  It is on a floating platform built for this purpose.

Nesting loon on Virginia Lake. It is on a floating platform built for this purpose.

If you want to hear the call of a loon, click here.

This was not my lucky day, however, in terms of fish.  I caught a white perch but it was too small to keep, so I threw it back into the lake, to live another day.

All around me, neon blue and black & white dragonflies and damselflies flew, occasionally landing on my kayak or on my sleeve (they are completely harmless, and in fact help keep the mosquito population at bay).

Suddenly near a more isolated, marshy section of the lake I heard a splashing sound.  I was very excited – – I knew it had to be a moose  (imagine the sound of an adult person walking the length of a swimming pool whose water is 4′ high – – that is the sound of a moose in water).  I quietly paddled my kayak closer to the sound.  There were a lot of marshy plants separating my boat from the area where the moose was wading, so it was hard to see anything except the top of the cow moose’s head (female, no antlers), who was about 50′ away.  What a thrill! Once she heard my paddle in the water, she left the marsh and disappeared into the woods.

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You may have to use your imagination for this one. The red arrow points to the head of the moose. There was heavy vegetation separating me from the moose, and since I was sitting in the kayak it was hard to see up over the plants. I wasn’t about to stand up in my kayak for a better picture – – I would have capsized!

Returning to the shore where my car was located, I stowed my boat  and went for a dip in the lake.  The water was freezing at first but I soon got used to the chill and relished the clear, clean water.  Bass were swimming under me, flitting away as I splashed!

As I left the lake, I saw a (non-poisonous) snake crossing the dirt road, and a snapping turtle looking for a place to lay its eggs.  A huge grey heron flew in front of me.  A porcupine scuttled off into the woods.

What a show!  It was almost as if the wildlife were welcoming me back to Maine.

 

Israel, Day 11: Harish and Zichron Yaakov

Even though we were completely exhausted after taking the psychometric exam, we had promised good friends who live in Petach Tikva that we’d come for dinner, and we couldn’t disappoint them.  How we originally met the “F” family is a story in itself.

Many years ago, our eldest son was volunteering for Bikur Cholim, an organization that provides practical as well as emotional support and guidance to people who are hospitalized or seriously ill, as well as their families.  At the time, there were several Israelis who were undergoing kidney transplants at an East coast hospital, and since he is fluent in Hebrew, our son volunteered to be of assistance via the Bikur Cholim organization.

Although Mr. F’s transplant was successful, he would be unable to return to Israel in time for the Passover holiday.  He was in the US with his wife; his children (the youngest was only 9 years old) were staying with relatives in Israel and would have to celebrate this very family-oriented holiday without their parents.

Our son asked if we would mind having them as our guests during the Passover holiday; otherwise they’d be staying in a hotel near the hospital and eating alone.  Well, as it says in the Passover Haggada, “Let all who are hungry come and eat!”  and so they came and stayed with us in our home over Passover.

Mr. F (the transplant recipient) was born on the island of Djerba in Tunisia.  He emigrated to Israel when he was a small child, but he had a thick Sephardi accent and he spoke a rapid-fire Hebrew, so it took our complete concentration to understand him.

Mrs. F was a Cochin Jew from India, having also immigrated to Israel as a small child.  Now working as a Hebrew teacher,  she enunciated very clearly and we were able to understand everything (in Hebrew) that she said.

Although our backgrounds could not have been more different, we quickly became close friends and have remained so to this day.  We love the fact that despite our very different backgrounds, the thing that binds us together is our diverse Jewish heritage which meets and melds and binds us as one in the Land of Israel.

Every time we’ve visited Israel, we make sure to spend time with the “F’s”  where we relive the miracle of Mr. F’s successful kidney transplant and the journey from near-death to a happy, healthy life.  Mr. F has lived to walk his daughter down the aisle and recently, experience the joy of becoming a grandfather.

While we were at the “F’s” we told them about our quest for a home in Israel.  They suggested we take a look at Harish, where their daughter and son-in-law had just bought an apartment.

“Not that there is much to see – – yet.  It will be Israel’s newest city, built from the ground up.”

About 15 years ago, Israel built a planned city all at one time, from the ground up, called Modi’in, located in the center of Israel.  It’s now a city of 50,000 and prices have quadrupled.  In fact, we could not consider Modi’in for ourselves – – it is just not within our budget.  But here was a chance to invest in a similar project model.    We decided that our last day in Israel, we would check out Harish.

But first, since we were staying in Rehovot, I wanted to visit the town of Mazkeret Batya.  A small village only 3 miles from Rehovot, it was founded in the 1800’s.  Only recently, on its outskirts, has the village started to expand with new building projects.  But the inner core of the village retains its quaint, cobblestoned appearance, with many art galleries, boutique inns, cafes, a delicious bakery, and small museums.  What I loved about Mazkeret Batya was that it had the look and feel of Zichron Yaakov, minus the constant arrival and departure of busloads of tourists and schoolchildren on class trips that sometimes turn Zichron Yaakov into a Zionist Disneyland.   It’s as if parts of Mazkeret Batya are suspended in time.

From there we traveled north to the not-yet-built massive pile of dirt that will be the new city of Harish.  Just across the road from the town of Pardes Chana, right now there isn’t much to see.  Currently the hilltop that will house Harish is full of monster trucks and excavation trucks.  Electricity, sewers, and roads are all being laid out; only a handful of apartments have begun construction.  Mostly there is just noise and dust.  There is a small lane where several builders have set up offices in modular trailers.  There you can see apartment plans and architectural renderings and maps of what Harish will look like not too far into the future. It’s easy to be dubious.  But seeing the success of Modi’in from the ground up, there is no reason to believe that Harish will be any different.  It will house a population of 25,000.

At the entrance to Harish, various contractors and developers have their signs posted, along with a map of the future Harish

At the entrance to Harish, various contractors and developers have their signs posted, along with a map of the future Harish

A look at the future:  right now there isn't much to see

A look at the future: right now there isn’t much to see

One of the first apartment buildings being built.  The block-like rooms seen here are the steel-reinforced "sealed rooms" that are used as both bomb shelters and in the event of chemical warfare.

One of the first apartment buildings being built. The block-like rooms seen here are the steel-reinforced “sealed rooms” that are used as both bomb shelters and in the event of chemical warfare.

Apartments under construction.  Right now there's lots and lots of dust.

Apartments under construction. Right now there’s lots and lots of dust.

Road-building

Road-building

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From Harish we went to visit Zichron Yaakov.   We visited the Baron Hirsch synagogue and were delighted to find ourselves in the middle of a local school’s first grade end-of-the-year performance coinciding with the upcoming celebration of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot (Festival of Weeks), which commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people on Mt. Sinai (and is also a harvest festival, and it’s when the Book of Ruth is read in the synagogue ).

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  The children were very proud of the little Torahs they had made and decorated.

Alas, our trip to Israel was at an end.  The next morning we would be traveling via Turkish Air to Boston, and then back to Maine.  We saw so much, and would need time to absorb the vast amount of information we gathered.  But I think we felt closer to making a decision about where we will make our home, as we contemplate our future and final destiny.