Archive for June, 2015

Scape Season

Garlic Scapes

Garlic Scapes

My garlic crop is coming along nicely this year.  About 6 to 8 weeks before harvest, scapes form on the center stem.  When they start curling, it’s time to cut off the scapes because otherwise the growth and energy goes to the leaves instead of the root, resulting in a smaller garlic bulb.  The scapes may be eaten raw or sauteed, or pureed with other herbs into a pesto.  They have a very sharp, intense garlic flavor and are delicious.

Loving the Lakes

Kezar Lake

Kezar Lake

This past week while people in my home town sweltered with high heat and humidity and rain of biblical proportions, here in Maine the weather was in the 70s F during the daytime, 50s F during the night, and dry.  Other than those pesky deerflies and midges, it was just about perfect.  So I decided to make the most of my day and do some serious kayaking and fishing on 3 nearby lakes:  Kezar Lake, Kewaydin Lake, and Virginia Lake, located 2 – 6 miles from my home.

I didn’t last very long on Kewaydin Lake.  The wind picked up and the water became very choppy.  I love adventure, but when I’m out on the lake by myself with no people around, I don’t take chances. I always wear a life vest, even when it’s very hot and the water is calm and it would be more comfortable to not wear it.  In the colder months especially,  I keep my kayak close to the shore.  If the sky turns ominous and looks like there might be a thunderstorm, I head back to the car.  And if the wind produces lots of chop, I also call it quits.  Being safe is a lot more sensible than death by drowning, hypothermia or electrocution.  (I’m not being melodramatic here.)  Fortunately for me, there are always other opportunities to go kayaking on more favorable days.

I decided to try Kezar Lake by the Upper Bay.  Much of it is protected by coves and islands, although there is often chop in the middle of the lake or sometimes a lot of turbulence caused by speedboats taking joyrides.  But I was lucky.  Other than a father and son fishing by the dock, there were no one else around and no boats on the lake, and the water was smooth like glass. It was fun to watch the little boy – about 8 years old –  catch and release fish after fish (perch, hornpout (the local name for catfish), sunfish, trout, and bass!), with his dad puffed up with pride at his son’s successes.

I was so mesmerized by the silence, the beauty, the fresh air, and the rhythm of my paddle, I completely lost track of time until the sky turned pink and orange as the sun fell behind the mountains, and the water glowed with the sky’s reflection.   I remember thinking how I wished I could have taken my blood pressure at that point because it had to be at a record low; I was so completely relaxed and at peace.   It was dark when I loaded the kayak into the car and headed home.



The next morning I headed to Virginia Lake.


Friday morning on Virginia Lake


This is a bit more off the beaten path and again, I was the only one on the lake.  After a few hours of blissful paddling, thick puffy clouds in white and steel grey started forming, and I realized that I’d soon have to leave lest I get caught in a downpour.  So I paddled back to the put-out and fished for two 20″ trout who teasingly swam around my boat.  The water was so clear I felt like I could have reached down and grabbed them.  They did manage to nibble and steal my worms but I failed to hook them.  As I packed up, I could not help but think that the past two days had been a huge gift, fish or no fish.  I felt a profound sense of inner peace and purity of spirit.  At the risk of sounding corny, dumb and naive, it made me wonder why anyone anywhere in the world would seek to wage war or choose conflict, if they could choose this.

Virginia Lake panorama, Stoneham Maine (click to enlarge)

Virginia Lake panorama, Stoneham Maine (click to enlarge)


The Straight Poop

Fascinating reading has taken on a whole new meaning since living in rural Maine:  books like “The Septic System Owner’s Manual:  Subterranean Mysteries Revealed” by Lloyd Kahn line my shelves.


Most people living in urban areas rely on city sewer systems to handle their plumbing waste.  But when you live in a rural area, you have a septic tank.  There are some precautions one must take if you have a septic tank:  you can’t flush Kleenex or sanitary products down the toilet because it doesn’t degrade well.  You can only use toilet paper that is marked “safe for septic systems” on the package.  You can’t dump cooking oils down a drain (but you should not do this anyway if you want to avoid clogged pipes).  Because food waste can rapidly fill the tank, garbage disposals are not recommended in houses that rely on septic systems (surprisingly, I find I do not miss having a garbage disposal.  Vegetable/fruit peels, eggshells and coffee grounds go into our composter).  Certain chemicals, such as pesticides or bleach, can also cause problems, because they upset the balance of anaerobic bacteria that allows the septic waste to decompose.

Our septic tank was installed six years ago.  We had never had it cleaned out, and while we haven’t had problems (I was about to write “issues” but realized that would be a poor choice of words), we also didn’t want to wait until it overflowed.  While I’m all for trying to do things myself, certain jobs are best left to professionals, as one unlucky man in Massachusetts found out just yesterday.

According to CBS-Boston:

Plympton firefighters were called to a home on Forest Street Tuesday afternoon after the man fell into his septic tank.

He was up to his waist in waste.

“I ran up to the hole, found the man in the tank and I got a rope around him,” Fire Chief Warren Borsari told WBZ-TV.

“We got a really good hold of him. He was in an 8-foot tank up to his waist in liquid about two feet below the manhole cover.”

The Plymouth County Tech rescue team eventually got the man out.

His name was not made public.

He had minor scrapes, according to the chief. He was decontaminated right there in the yard and taken to the hospital for treatment.

Borsari said the man may have been drinking before he fell in the tank.

Unfortunately I wasn’t there during the phase of construction that involved our septic system, so I wasn’t sure where the septic tank was actually located.  We knew it was somewhere between the house and the leach field.  To the untrained eye, our leach field looks like a large rectangular grassy field.  But underneath the grass is a maze-like series of trenches and gravel, where liquid waste (called “effluent”) disburses after it travels through the septic tank.  We noticed a large metal rod protruding from the ground and figured that might be a marker.  My husband got out the shovel and started digging and digging.  He dug all the way to China, through rocks and roots and sand and dirt, but there was no sign of a septic tank.


Husband digging fruitlessly in search of the septic tank. The grassy area in the background is the leach field.


Husband digging. When we called in a professional, the tank was quickly found, and the lid was only 6″ below the surface. Live and learn.

The next morning I left a message for Jeff Ward, our excavator who had installed the septic system.  “Hey Jeff, give me a call.  I need to know where our septic tank is located.”

He emailed me back:  “Check your copy of the septic design report if you still have it.  There should be a diagram showing the location of the tank.”

Going through old files, I located the report.  We had hired a septic “architect” (someone with a civil engineering background) to design our waste system, and he had drawn it out.  But that didn’t mean it was completely accurate, because it was up to Jeff to install the system, and certain natural obstacles such as underground rock or tree roots may have forced Jeff to slightly alter the location on the plans.  The diagram looked like a pirate’s treasure map.  But it did give a better idea of where the tank might be found.


That night I had a dream.  We were looking for the septic tank and digging around the corner of our house, when I came upon a Tupperware container with a red top.  Inside the container was $350 cash!

The next day my husband started digging again, this time in a completely different spot closer to the house.  Much to my disappointment, there was no Tupperware container with $350.  After only a few inches, though, he hit pay dirt, so to speak – – the cement surface of the septic tank.   But where was the septic lid?   I did a YouTube search on “how to locate septic lid.”  (Is there any topic that YouTube doesn’t cover?)  Sure enough, a short video tutorial told us how to find it.  But we were missing some key tools, like a tile probe – – a long, thin metal rod with a t-shaped handle – –  and a metal detector.

When I called Doyon’s Septic Service out of the yellow pages, I spoke to co-owner Betsy Doyon.

“Do you know where your septic lid is located?” she asked.  I told her we had an approximate idea of where the tank is, but we couldn’t find the lid.  “No problem, we’ll find it,” she said.  “We do this all the time.”  You have to admire the confidence and pluck of someone whose vanity license plate reads, “Got Poop.”

Dennis Doyon drove his septic truck up our driveway Friday morning.  The truck was painted a shiny bright yellow with gleaming chrome trim.  The truck was only 2 weeks old.  (I wondered:  do septic trucks have a “new car” smell?  I was too shy to find out.)


The shiny new septic truck

Dennis didn’t need to see our septic plan diagram; his years of expertise guided him as he made a beeline right to the area in my dream.  Using his tile probe – – that YouTube video had been right on the mark – – he found the parameters of the septic tank within seconds.  But where was the septic lid?

The tile probe

The tile probe

“Do you know who installed your septic system?” Dennis asked.

“Yep: Jeff Ward,” I replied.

“Oh, Jeff buys his septic tanks from American Manufacturing.  That lid would be located around here,” he said, pointing to a spot on the ground.  Sure enough, the lid was found immediately with minimal digging.  (It always pays to hire local labor when you live in a rural area.  Besides helping the local economy, someone you have to see at the Town Meeting is unlikely to do bad work, because word travels fast.  And everyone knows everything about everyone, which often proves to be useful.)

Eureka!  Dennis unburies the septic lid

Eureka! Dennis unburies the septic lid


The square metal septic lid, which fits over the cement septic tank

Ever curious, I’m sure I drove Dennis crazy with all my questions and picture-taking.  I mean, how many customers stay to chat with the septic man while sludge is being sucked into the truck?  How many people find sludge fascinating?  (Actually the biology of it all is quite amazing.)  Whatever prejudices or preconceptions I had about men who drain septic tanks were flushed away by Dennis, who was clearly very intelligent and quite dapper in his preppy polo shirt and immaculate jeans.

Did we have a baffle or a filter? (A filter, which is a newer design.)

Dennis cleans off the red plastic filter with my garden hose.

Dennis cleans off the red plastic filter with my garden hose.

How often did he think we should empty the tank?  (Every 5 – 6 years, since except for a couple of weeks in the summer, it’s just my husband and myself.) Have there been any recent innovations in septic design?  (Besides filters which replaced baffles, a guy invented a way to clean baffles that cut maintenance and repair time significantly.)  Where does the sludge get disposed of when he drains the truck?  (At one of two sewage plants in the area.)

Gettin' Pumped!  (draining the septic tank)

Gettin’ Pumped! (draining the septic tank)

How did he get started in the septic business?

“I was helping my friend build a basement,” he replied, “and he needed to have a septic system installed.  Unfortunately the septic guy in our area had a year-long waiting list until he could take care of my friend.  So the demand was there.  Shortly thereafter I heard about a guy in the septic business who was thinking of retiring and selling his old septic truck.  Two weeks later, I signed a ‘non-compete;’ I had a license and a truck; and I was in business.  That was eleven years ago.   I’ve never looked back.   And now my son and daughter-in-law are joining me in the business, and we just got this new truck.”

“Was it hard to get used to the smell?” I asked.

“Actually it’s not so bad.”  (He was right.  There was very little odor when he drained our tank.)  “There are really only two instances when the smell gets you:  when people don’t call until their tanks are overflowing; and when people are on chemo.  You know how they say chemotherapy kills the good cells along with the bad cells?  Well it also kills the good bacteria in the septic.  I don’t know why – – but the waste products from someone who is undergoing chemo are really . . . different.” (Interesting!)

“But I’ll tell you this,” Dennis continued, looking a bit sheepish.  “To this day I still can’t change a baby’s diaper.  It just makes me sick.”

For a good basic explanation of septic systems, click here

Midges From Hell: A Lesson in Humility

After my husband was bitten by a deer fly the other day and his hand swelled up like a giant sausage, I thought it was appropriate to re-blog my post about deer flies and midges.

Midlife in Maine

You may think you see 3 midges in the red square, but if you click on the picture to enlarge it and look very closely, you will see that there are actually 3 additional very tiny  biting midges that give them their well-deserved name of "no-see-ums." You may think you see 3 midges in the red square, but if you click on the picture to enlarge it and look very closely, you will see that there are actually 3 additional very tiny biting midges that give them their well-deserved name of “no-see-ums.”

Summertime,  friends ask me if they can come up to visit us in Maine for a few days.  My answer is always:  “Sure.  But don’t even think about it until the very end of July.  You will be so tormented by bugs that you will be unable to enjoy yourself.”

Besides lobsters, LLBean, Acadia National Park, hunting, fishing, and long winters, Maine is known for its bugs.

Unlike Maine, Spring in my hometown is awash is cherry blossoms, tulips, cool sunny weather, and brilliant blue skies.

But in rural Maine, Spring skies are usually a dull gunmetal grey and  there is thick, oozing mud…

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Close Call

Evergreen Valley, Stoneham Maine

Evergreen Valley, Stoneham Maine

Yesterday about 11 a.m. I walked down the road and noticed that there were beautiful wildflowers by the abandoned golf course in Evergreen Valley.  I didn’t have my camera with me and planned to come back later in the afternoon so I could take some pictures.  When I returned around 4 pm, the wildflowers petals had closed up completely and the light was all wrong.  So I made sure to return around the same time today and try yet again.

Monarch Butterfly, Stoneham Maine

What a beautiful day!  After suffering from the high heat and humidity of my home town in the month I was away, it is great to be back in Maine with day temperatures in the 70s, nights in the 50s, and low humidity.  The bugs are not too bad.  The conditions were perfect for taking pictures, so I snapped away for about 30 minutes.

As I was packing up my gear, I heard a noise in the distance approaching me.  It was the caretaker of Evergreen Valley on his riding mower!  Within minutes the entire field of wildflowers was gone, and sadly they will not appear again until Spring 2016.

Be Fruitful and Multiply

And He brought him outside and Look now towards heaven, and count the stars; if you are able to count them.  And He said to him, So shall thy seed be. (Genesis 15:5)

Because I shall bless you, and greatly multiply your seed as the stars in the Heavens and as the sand on the shores of the sea . . .    (Genesis 22:17)

Every single culture throughout the world welcomes a grandchild with utmost joy.  In my own community of Orthodox Jews, grandchildren are not only a blessing, but something of a status symbol, embraced not only for the joy they bring but as a fulfillment of G-d’s promise to Abraham.  It’s where quantity and quality are on equal footing, because every grandparent knows that his grandchild could never be anything less than perfect, so deep is the grandparent’s unconditional love. Ergo, the more, the merrier.

I never really expected to reap the blessing of grandchildren in such a formidable way.  When my oldest son got married, his wife’s huge numbers of cousins, aunts and uncles, siblings, nieces and nephews required bleachers to fit them all into a family picture.  This was not the case with our side.  Much of my already-small family had married “out” and did not practice Judaism at all.  On my husband’s side, all his relatives besides his brothers, parents and grandmother had perished at the hands of the Nazis.  Between his side and mine, there were only a paltry dozen of us posing for the photographer, an almost laughable number when compared to the multitudes that were in my daughter-in-law’s family.

But my mother-in-law, a Holocaust survivor, saw it differently.  “Who would have believed it? she said, overcome with emotion.  “We lost everyone and came to the US with nothing and no one.  And now will you look at this?  Five grandchildren, now getting ready to establish families of their own.  G-d is good!”

My four children married young and happily, and every year over the next many years brought us the gift of another grandchild.  And now, in my fifties,  there are sixteen!

What We Missed

We are currently in our home town to celebrate several life cycle events with children, grandchildren and friends.  While we are away, our webcams caught this early morning visitor running up our driveway.  It looks like he was heading for the front door.  Ironically if we had been home we would have probably missed him altogether, since our webcams would have been turned off and at 6 a.m. we were unlikely to have been next to the window.

(Postscript 6/16/2016: when we returned to Maine we found the moose had tried to wander into our orchard, got caught on the fencing, and dragged a fence post and wire 15′ until he could get untangled.   Fortunately only a small branch on one of my apple trees was damaged.)

A bull moose in velvet trots up our driveway

A bull moose in velvet trots up our driveway