Fall Chores

After a month of Jewish holidays spent in our home town and in Kansas City, where my youngest daughter recently moved with her family, we returned to Maine.  We missed the peak leaf-peeping season this year, although I was able to take a quick series of photos with my cellphone the first couple of days while we were settling in (see below).

Many people from my hometown are amazed that I don’t find life in Maine boring, especially since our location is pretty isolated and we don’t live near other people or activities.  “What do you do all day?” they want to know.

Yes, I do keep busy.  It’s just “busy” in ways that are very different from city life.  I don’t do carpools or babysit or participate in childcare while in Maine.  I don’t work in an office.  I don’t visit the dry cleaners and I don’t drive in traffic.

For my husband, location is irrelevant, professionally speaking.  He has worked from home for a few decades as a software developer/architect and his eyes are glued to a computer monitor and his ears to his business phone.  That said, the view out of his office window (located in our walk-out basement and facing the woods) can’t be beat.

The first few days after returning from our home town were really busy.  As the weather turned colder, the clock was ticking for me to complete all my outdoor chores.  First I pulled up the peppers and tomatoes, chard and kale from my raised-bed gardens.  The first two weren’t going to ripen further and it seemed pointless to keep them going.  The latter were pretty scraggly and tired looking.  Instead, I planted lots and lots and lots of hardneck fiery garlic.  I covered the beds of compost with straw to further insulate them against harsh winter temperatures.

I planted garlic in the composted raised beds and covered them in straw.

I planted garlic in the composted raised beds and covered them in straw.

The apple orchard also needed work.  Many new branches grew over the summer and they needed pruning (although many people wait for early Spring for this task).  The branches were growing upward instead of outward, and by doing so, not only would any future apples be harder to reach at picking time, the clumpy crowding meant that apples wouldn’t be exposed to enough air, space, and sunlight.  In order to train the branches to grow out rather than up, I tied small plastic water bottles to the branches to weigh them down.

plastic water bottles help weigh down and train the apple branches to grow out rather than up

plastic water bottles help weigh down and train the apple branches, so they’ll grow outwards rather than upwards

Basic errands are always time-fillers because of the great distance I live from shopping, the bank, the post office, and the dump.  My Maine dentist is a 2 hour drive away.  Our dog’s vet is a one-hour drive one way, and recently he needed emergency care and that was a 3 1/2 hour drive one way!  A once-a-week trip to the supermarket is usually a four-hour foray (almost an hour each way to the market, and I also try to combine the journey with other errands).  “Taking out the trash” is a 45-minute round trip to the town dump, usually 2x a week (no, there is no trash pickup).  I also like to buy certain things “locally” such as eggs from organically fed, free-range chickens, organic kale, organic apples and seasonal pumpkins and squash from nearby farms.  But each Maine farm has their specialty items so it means visiting several farms to complete my shopping list.  The farms involve a 30-mile circuit drive  – – one in Lovell (Flyaway Farm in Stowe sells their produce and eggs in Central Lovell Market) and one in Sweden (Pietree Orchards)  and one in Fryeburg (Weston’s Farm).  And these are still closer than the nearest supermarket! That said, anytime I drive anywhere the scenery is spectacular, and there is never traffic, so the time flies by.

Once I bring produce home, it needs to be sorted, cleaned, checked for bugs and cooked or juiced, and the unusable stuff, composted.  (The pumpkins were especially time consuming and messy.  But besides using the flesh for pies, soups and stews, I managed to save the seeds for roasting – yum.) I easily spend 4 hours per day cooking and baking from scratch; more time is spent in the kitchen on Fridays to get ready for the Sabbath.

I also made some delicious pickled turnips this week.  It’s odd but if I eat a few of these before bedtime, even though it’s quite spicy, it totally cures my gastric reflux problem.  I guess it’s the “alkaline” balancing out the “acid.”  This recipe is actually a Middle Eastern recipe.  You will find pickled turnips used in street-side cafes in Israel as a relish that is used in pita and felafel sandwiches, or in shwarma and pita, and it couldn’t be easier to make (other than the peeling and chopping time).
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  • Pickling jar:  wash in very hot soapy water and/or sterilize, and air dry. I prefer the wide-mouthed Ball brand.
  • Peel some purple-top turnips, and slice them into small “finger-sized” pieces.  Put a layer of these turnips into the glass pickling jar.
  • Peel some garlic cloves, but leave the individual cloves whole.  Add a 1 – 3 cloves on top of the turnip layer.
  • Peel a beet, also slicing into “fingers.”  Add a couple of pieces on top of the garlic.
  • Now add a whole hot pepper to the layered mix.  I would suggest habanero, jalapeno, or serrano.
  • Add one bay leaf.
  • Repeat this layering order until the jar is packed tight and full.
  • Add 1 Tablespoon of coarse salt to the jar (per quart-sized jar).
  • Now make a mix:  1 part vinegar, 1 part cider vinegar, and 2 parts water.  Add this mix to the packed jar until it’s filled to the very top.
  • Seal the jar.  Shake the jar.
  • Let the jar sit on your kitchen counter for 7 days, shaking the jar intermittently every time you pass by.  After 7 days the pickles will be ready to eat.  Store the glass jar with the pickles in the fridge once the 7 days of pickling are complete.

I also baked corn bread (to go with a pumpkin-and-bean-based chili I made) in a heavy cast-iron skillet.  It was the first time I had tried making corn bread in this old-fashioned way and it was a huge success.  I now own several different sizes of pots and pans and skillets and grills that are made of heavy cast iron.  They are made in the USA by the Lodge Logic company which has been around for a gazillion years.  Their products last for generations and they are extremely reasonably priced.  Food really does cook differently and taste better when made with cast iron, whether on top of a stove or on the ashes of an outdoor campfire.  The more they are used, the more a natural non-stick coating forms, making cleanup super easy.  The important thing is to dry them immediately after cleanup so they will not rust.  Since making the switch to cast iron, I rarely use my Farberware pots anymore.

It was fun to bring out the mittens, gloves and hats and put away the bug spray and bug nets until next Spring.  We also shut off the outdoor water pipes, and put summer tools in storage while bringing out the shovels and rakes to the shed.  I also spent a couple of hours collecting kindling from dead wood and fallen branches in the woods, so that starting our wood stove would be an easy undertaking.

Doing laundry takes a lot longer when you don’t have a dryer and must hang it piece by piece outside on the clothesline.  I also try to get in a walk of 2 – 4 miles every day: more time.  And I am involved in several writing and photography projects at the moment.  And:  am I doing nothing when I am just sitting along a brook or pond, contemplating and praying and thinking things through?  We also try to host guests for a weekend or even a week at a time on a frequent basis.

My point is, I am managing my time differently than I did in the city, and while there is nowhere near the same level of stress — and yes, I am living slower – – I don’t think I am “accomplishing” less than I did in the city and my days are certainly filled and worthwhile.  I do work hard physically and am kept busy, but it’s at tasks that I enjoy. The busy work doesn’t feel like busy work.  And that is a huge thing.

And now for some glimpses of the end of leaf season, taken with my Samsung Galaxy S4 cellphone:

Only 2 days after this photo was taken, all the leaves are gone.

Only 2 days after this photo was taken of our house, all the leaves are gone.

We replaced the screens with acrylic panels so we can enjoy the porch even during cold weather.

We replaced the screens with acrylic panels so we can enjoy the porch even during cold weather.

Now that the leaves are gone, we can see the pond at the bottom of the driveway through the trees.

Now that the leaves are gone, we can see the pond at the bottom of the driveway through the trees.

We actually disassemble the fire pit/campfire every year because it's where the snow plow guy pushes the snow from the driveway

We actually disassemble the fire pit/campfire area every year because it’s where the snow plow guy pushes the snow from the driveway

Our solar panels.

Our solar panels.

The yellow box at left is our backup generator, fueled by propane, which is buried in a 1000 gallon underground tank.  You can see the top of the tank - it's the black cylinder in the middle of the bottom of the picture.

The yellow box at left is our backup generator, fueled by propane, which is buried in a 1000 gallon underground tank. You can see the top of the tank – it’s the black cylinder in the middle of the bottom of the picture.

Taken through the windshield of my car, this is the road leading to my house.

Taken through the windshield of my car, this is the road leading to my house.  You turn left at the second hill.

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My favorite summer swimming spot, Kewaydin Lake, is beautiful in every season.

 

 

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