Posts Tagged ‘living in rural Maine’

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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Autumn Preparations

This past Sunday we had planned on doing a big hike but life intervened, and my husband had to work. September is arguably the best time of the entire year for hiking.  The temperatures are cool but sunny, with brilliant blue skies; the leaves are starting to change; there are also no fallen leaves as yet to cover tree roots, potholes and other tripping hazards; the lack of leaves also makes the hiking trails still visible; and best of all, NO BUGS!

Rather than hike alone, which I can do any other day of the week, I decided to use the day doing all the chores that would put our house into “autumn mode.”  We will be leaving Maine this weekend for the duration of the Jewish holidays, and returning next month when the cold has already set in, so spending the day preparing the house in this way was quite sensible.

First I went through our closets and drawers, making two piles:  “Put Away” and “Give Away.”  The put-away pile is all our short-sleeved and lighter weight shirts, pants and my skirts, and socks.  Then I brought down our huge storage bin of warm clothes, and filled the closet back up, this time with turtlenecks, sweaters, and down vests and jackets, tights, wool socks, and long underwear. Next to the front door/mudroom I replaced the bug net hats and bug spray with wool hats, gloves, and blaze orange vests (for hunting season, so we won’t be mistaken for a deer by hunters who might be a little trigger happy).  I also brought out the winter blankets.

This mess is part of the closet changeover process from summer clothes to winter clothes.

This mess is part of the closet changeover process from summer clothes to winter clothes.

Then, with some regret, I started uprooting my garden.  The temperatures are such that at this point, nothing is going to ripen further, and weather reports are now calling for frost at night.  So I decided to pick whatever was left (a few red peppers that never got red, a couple of tomatoes and lots of green tomatoes, the rest of my kale and Swiss chard) and put the spent plants into my compost bin.  I turned and smoothed out the soil and added a few scoops of compost.  I will plant lots and lots of garlic in October, so now the space is ready.  I am pretty much done with fishing for the year (although I am hoping to try ice fishing for the first time this coming winter) so I dumped the tub of live worms that were stored in my fridge into the garden soil.

I cleared out the veggies.  Now making this raised bed ready for planting garlic bulbs.

I cleared out the veggies. Now making this raised bed ready for planting garlic bulbs.

I also replaced my tired purple petunias by my front door with some cheerful purple asters.  Right now every store in rural Maine is fairly bursting with mums and asters (and pumpkins, which came in early this year, and corn, which came in late).

Asters at my entry

Asters at my entry

Then it was on to the screen porch.  We took out the screens; I hosed them down and once they were dry, put them into storage until next Spring.  Acrylic panels went up in their place.  The nice thing about the panels is that when the sun is out, even in freezing temperatures, the porch gets to about 65 degrees thanks to passive solar.

Our screen porch.  The screens are removed and awaiting clear acrylic panels.

Our screen porch. The screens are removed and awaiting clear acrylic panels.

I scrubbed the screens and stowed them in the basement until next Spring.

I scrubbed the screens, put them in the sun to dry, and then stowed them in the basement until next Spring.

Next came the wood shed.  Currently we have an over-abundance of cut and split wood due to some trees we took down last year.  They have been drying outside on the wood pile all year and now it was time to stack the pieces neatly inside the wood shed.  Our house is so energy efficient that despite last year’s long and brutal winter, we only used 1.5 cords of wood!  (Typically people might use 6 – 9 cords to heat a house sized like ours, so this is really fantastic.)  We still have plenty of wood stacked in the shed from last year, so I could only bring in about 1 cord’s worth as there wasn’t room in the shed for more due to the wood that was already there.  So I got out some large tarps and covered the wood pile, where it will continue its “seasoning” process (drying) for another year.  I also gathered kindling and put that in a pile, and brought several logs into the house since we will be using our woodstove for the first time this year any day now (according to weather reports, evening temperatures will be below freezing by the end of the week).

Stacking wood in our shed

Stacking wood in our shed

Bringing some logs indoors for our woodstove.

Bringing some logs indoors for our woodstove.

Once my husband finished work, he did the final year’s weed-whacking (the bees, who get grouchy in colder temperatures, were not too happy with him getting close to their hives, and a dozen started swarming him.  He was lucky to get only one sting.) I removed the summer tools from the shed, cleaned them and put them in the basement along with tomato cages and flower boxes, and took out the autumn and winter tools (rakes, shovels, and the long-handled scraper that takes excess snow off the roof) and put them where they’d be handy when needed.

Putting away garden stuff till next Spring.

Putting away garden stuff till next Spring.

The weedwhacker has been emptied of gas, and will be stored till Spring, along with some now-emptied window boxes.

The weed-whacker has been emptied of gas, and will be stored till Spring, along with some now-emptied window boxes that held flowers.

By now I was getting hungry and a bit tired.  That’s when I remembered the huge kosher rib steak that’s been sitting in my freezer for a special occasion.  I originally planned on grilling it for our 37th wedding anniversary last week, but we ended up going to a friend’s wedding on that day and we had dinner there.  I thought a grilled steak would be a great way to officially end the summer.  So we put some logs on our fire pit, made a campfire, and when the fire died down I started grilling the steaks for my husband (I don’t eat red meat) and a turkey burger for myself.

Once the campfire settles down a bit, we'll be ready to start grilling.

Once the campfire settles down a bit, we’ll be ready to start grilling.

Dinner

Dinner

We ate dinner outside around the fire, just relaxing, breathing the nippy air, and reliving and relishing summer adventures and looking forward to Fall.  Life is good.

Steak:  It's a guy thing

Steak: It’s a guy thing