Monthly Archives: April 2012

Spring Box Step

Repurposed Futon Frame Potting Bench

Dear Reader:

Happy May Day to you! May 1st was (and is) a celebration of the beginning of the growing and grazing season, the beginning of summer in our Euro-Pagan past, celebrated with garlands of flowers, bonfires, and earthy fertility rites. Here in modern-day Maine, we still celebrate the old ways with the creation of May baskets filled with flowers, or maybe some candy, hung anonymously on a neighbor’s door. When I was little, my sister and I would hang baskets and then run. The recipient gave chase and would try to kiss us. What fun!

Crab Apple Blossoms

Even though May 1st is supposed to be the beginning of summer, in Maine we are still smack in the middle of spring. The daffodils have blossomed and are beginning to fade just a bit. Dandelions dot my sparse lawn. The perennial beds are bursting with fresh greenery and a few early bleeding hearts. Best of all, the cutest little johnny-jump-ups are truly popping up everywhere in cheerful little clumps near my front walkway. Even the dark pink crab-apple is blossoming nicely this year. Ahhhh, spring.

I missed my garden boxes last summer while we visited D.C., so this year I am itching to plant. I had purchased four new pre-cut garden boxes at Ocean State Job Lots last spring, so I dragged those out and set them up right in front of my house where I hope they will get more sun than the old boxes. I also moved one of the old boxes up with these four, turning them on the diagonal for what I hope will create some interesting plantings near my front door.

Empty Garden Boxes

I put these right onto the grass, and then I lined them with a few layers of newspaper I’ve been saving down in the cellar (cellah’) for years now. A trip to Lyman to Tibbett’s Family Farm yielded a truck-bed full of the most gorgeous finished compost you’ve ever seen. Tibbett’s removes manure from area dairy farms, mixes it with other materials, and turns it into a rich, moist, crumbly, non-smelly compost just FULL of worms! To a backyard gardener like me, this stuff is pure gold–for the amazingly low price of $35 for a cubic yard!

Garden Gold...Compost!

Not only did the load of compost fill all five new garden boxes, I was also able to top off the old boxes (they were down to about half full), and I still had enough for some small piles I will use to top dress the perennial beds. This stuff is so awesome, I’m sure I will go back for another load and finally get to create the permaculture “Apple Guild” I’ve had in mind for the front of the property for the last couple of years. Permaculture guilds are the planting of companion plants that all work together harmoniously, mimicking the work of nature. In an apple guild, you can plant daffodils and garlic around the tree to deter pests and suppress grass. Artichokes and comfrey as a living mulch. Yarrow, chicory, and plaintain to help get nitrogen and other nutrients out of the ground. Some of these plants also attract beneficial insects for pollination. Plus, it will be pretty!

While outside working with my boxes (which are, in essence, big planter containers), I decided I wanted to make a potting bench. I went “shopping in the cellar” once again and came back with two white-painted arm-rests from a now-defunct futon frame. I figured a couple of plywood boards on top would work fine. Of course, I couldn’t find the power screwdriver thingy machine. I propped everything up the best I could and proceeded to pot up my poor Christmas cactus which definitely needed more room. Later, when I told hubby about my plan, he kindly took over and built my bench. I think it came out pretty snazzy.

New neighbors down the road, D.& D., recently added their mailbox to ours, creating this handsome stand. My contribution would be flowers. I transferred some of the jump-ups to pots and dug the pots into the ground next to the mailboxes. I also amended the salty, gravelly soil with some potting soil (and later, some of the good compost) and transplanted a few little perennial sprigs–ground geranium, bleeding heart, a yellowish-green ground cover, some other dark browny-red no-name plant I know I should look up and record for gardening posterity. And then I took all my old leftover seeds–peas, beans, marigolds, and who-knows-what and pushed them into the soil. I will water the tiny mailbox garden when the soil gets dry, throw some more compost down there every so often, and we’ll wait and see what pops up this summer.

I have very high hopes for a productive and beautiful front yard this summer. How about you? Drop me a note, share your favorite tips, let me know what you’ve been up to this spring. I always love to hear from you, my dear readers. Happy spring!

Next up: Planting peas and lettuces, our cool weather plants. And getting ready for straw bale gardening . . . Outside the Box.

Here is a short post from a suburban “homesteader” whose blog I follow because she is so inspirational. Check out her blog! I bet you’ll be inspired as well. Especially note how she wrote “My neighbors are happy…” Exactly! Chickens make good neighbors. Just sayin’!

Gardening in the Blind

After sometime, my girls have decided to lay eggs again!  I can’t believe how much I missed the eggs this winter.  It has been so long that I forgot how many eggs I get from them.  My neighbors are happy, but more importantly I am!  Nothing says I love you like a fresh egg still warm from the chicken – that with maybe homemade bacon….mmmmm good!

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Farmer’s Market

What does the fashionable localista wear to the farmer’s market? A skirt from Goodwill, of course. Got this one for a mere $4.99. Bringing your own eco-bags is always a good idea.

Farmer's Market

Burberry Brit cashmere cardigan
£349 – farfetch.com

Rene Caovilla flat thong sandals
$750 – neimanmarcus.com

Marc Jacobs zipper wallet
$559 – mytheresa.com

Stone ring
$11 – gojane.com

Vintage jewelry
$17 – etsy.com

Melissa Odabash floppy sun hat
£16 – debenhams.com

Nude lipstick
$15 – vasanticosmetics.com

Body moisturizer
$11 – bathandbodyworks.com

Farmer’S Market Basket, Small Square
$14 – anthropologie.com

Found: Fashion Outfit Recreated Locally!

Recreated Modern Minerva Outfit

Scarf: $1.99 at Goodwill
Sweater: Van Heusen $5.99 at Goodwill
Shoes: Bass Weejuns $5.00 at Goodwill
Skirt: H & M $7.99 at Zeus’s Closet (locally-owned resale shop in Scarborough, ME)

All I need is a bag…and I’m gonna try to order one from a woman who designs cloth bags here in my town, and an owl ring or other piece of costume jewelry.

View the original by clicking HERE.

What do you think?

Local Season Opener

Spring Daffodillies

Dear Reader:

You didn’t think I was writing about baseball, did you? No, this is my “Spring Season” opening day because the ground is warm enough to walk barefoot in the grass, the daffodils are bursting with golden frilliness, and the rhubarb is sprouting-leafing up through the garden dirt after a winter’s hibernation.

Rhubarb

When we were kids, my sister and I would sometimes visit the rhubarb patch and break off a pink-green stem and chew it, wincing at the tart-sour taste. I wasn’t especially fond of rhubarb pie (strawberry-rhubarb was much better), but now I’m already planning to make a pie as soon as the ‘barb is ready. I even found some REAL lard at The Cornerstone Country Market in S. Waterboro over the weekend. With the whole wheat white flour from the co-op and this lard, my rhubarb and some sugar, I will be able to create an almost totally local pie. Not sure if I could substitute maple syrup or honey for the sugar, but I will look into it.

Speaking of the Cornerstone Country Market, if you live in this neck of the woods, I highly recommend stopping in there. They have a deli counter. They have local (Lyman) beef in the freezer section. Local eggs. Lots of dry-goods. (I heard they had local milk, but I didn’t see any and didn’t ask this particular time). They also carry a dizzying amount of cake decorating products–candies and sprinkles and such for cupcakes, birthday cakes, etc. Baking mixes. Flours.

I purchased some steel-cut oats for my breakfast and a jug of Maine maple syrup since I missed Maple Sunday at Hilltop Boilers a few weeks ago. I would have grabbed some of the beef, but I had just stopped in to Kniffin’s Specialty Meats also in S. Waterboro for “steakburger” and chicken legs for this week’s menu. All of Kniffin’s meats come from Maine farmers. No pink slime here!

Compost Bins In Action

As you can see from the photo, we’ve been busy “harvesting” carbonaceous material (a.k.a. beech and oak leaves) from the lawn to compost. The bin on the far right has been composting for a year or so. The two bins on the left are full of this year’s leaves plus some table scraps thrown in. Beside the right-hand bin is a small, dark pile of nearly-ready-to-use compost that I will spread into a Lasagna Garden later this season over near the rock pile. No, this does not mean I will be growing ingredients for lasagne (eggplant, peppers, onions, oregano, tomatoes, zucchini), though that would actually be cute and fun. Lasagna gardening refers to the preparation of the garden bed through layering of carbon material, nitrogen material, manure, straw, etc.

I am also psyched about the idea of trying Straw Bale Gardening. I ordered Joel Karsten’s pdf manual (easy, easy) and now have all the info I need on a file here on my computer. Hopefully, this will allow me to grow tomatoes on the one part of my lawn that gets adequate sunlight–on the leach bed. I think the straw will lift up the plants so they won’t be in any danger from the leach field, the beds won’t take up much space on top of the field or interfere with its processes in any way, and the extra heat generated by the composting straw will be perfect for those heat-loving globes of red juiciness (heirloom tomatoes? Lead me to ’em!)

On my way back from the meat and lard shopping, I stopped into the antique store to see if I could find a ring or pin with an owl motif, as I’m still recreating my Modern Minerva outfit on the local scene. I scored the red sweater at Goodwill last week. Alas, no jewelry fit the bill, though they had mucho floral pieces I will revisit later.

Moooooo!

However, this adorable creamer pitcher just had to come home with me! Now, I need to start buying raw milk again so I can get some thick, rich, yummy cream into the pitcher . . . and then into my morning coffee.

Speaking of coffee, where oh where is the Green Mountain Island Coconut java this year? It is not to be found in any of the usual spots, not even the branch of the used-to-be-Maine-but-now-owned-by-a-multinational-conglomerate supermarket chain. I once worked for said chain and truly enjoyed the experience. So disappointing to me that it is now part of a multinational . . . and no matter what the advertisements say, shopping here is NOT like shopping “local.” When the profits travel out of town, out of county, out of state, out of COUNTRY, it is not local. Some CEO somewhere is making a hugemongous salary, and he’s not paying local property taxes (unless a Belgian businessman has bought land in south-western Maine and I didn’t hear about it.)

However, to be fair, said supermarket does employ many Maine people, and they pay good wages. The working conditions are very good. I would still work for them . . . and then spend my paycheck at Kniffin’s and Goodwill and Plummer’s Hardware. I’d call it “operation reverse money drain”…sucking money from the conglomerate and dispersing it to the local businesses via my purchasing power.

As we head into the growing season, dear reader, I wish you all the best with your gardening, harvesting, and preparing of early crops. Peas. Spinach. Rhubarb. Strawberries. Don’t forget to visit your local farmer’s markets and roadside stands and berry farms. Consider locating local meat markets in your town or state. The prices may be a little higher, but consider the greater nutritional value. Eat less but gain fewer pounds while enjoying a nutrition-dense product that suports the local foodshed. It’s a win-win . . . Outside the Box.

Eat, Read, Love

Inspired by Style Theories here on WordPress.com, I have gone to Polyvore.com to create my own design that may work in my house.

Eat, Read, Love

What a Ham!

Home-Grown Ham

Dear Reader:

There is just no ignoring the truth any longer: home-grown ham beats the factory-farm type hands down. Not that I ever really questioned this, but sometimes we see what we want to see, or in this case, taste what we expect to taste. However, this past Sunday there was no denying the vast superiority of my Easter ham. It was that good.

Let me start at the beginning. My sister and brother-in-law like to raise animals. They used to have a mini-farm with a couple of cows (one who had a penchant for jumping the fence to visit the bull at a neighboring dairy farm), some pigs, some chickens, and some turkeys as well as a fairy large kitchen garden. All this on a couple of acres in a small town outside a larger town . . . not acres and acres of farm, just an average-sized country lot for a single-family home.

Sis and Bro moved to a bigger house eventually but started a business and decided not to raise animals anymore, save for the occasional dog–for companionship, not for eating. This past year, I was delighted when I found out they were planning on raising a couple of pigs and immediately put in my order for half a porker.

So, I just phoned Sis to see what they fed these glorious producers of meaty, pink wonderousness (in no way can you compare this to the “pink slime” we’ve been hearing so much about lately). Once she quit laughing, she told me: “Well, some grain. Some commercial pig food, of course. A bunch of fruit and veggies that had been damaged or had gone by at the grocery store that we were able to take off their hands. We also got some leftovers from a pastry company . . . so maybe that’s why the meat was so sweet, haha. But we aren’t going to do that this year because there are chemicals and stuff that really aren’t so healthy in those prepared foods.”

And how did they house and fence in the animals?

“We made a shelter out of an old truck water tank with straw. In the winter, we left a small opening so they could go in and out, but they would dig right in under the straw and huddle up and were fine like that all winter.”

An old, experienced farmer had once told Bro that animals that are allowed to do this in the winter–rather than being coddled in heated barns, are less likely to catch pneumonia and other sicknesses in the spring when they venture out into the cold, wet Maine weather. So far, that old farmer’s wisdom has proved correct.

“We put up a fence so that they could go into the woods in good weather to root around in there. We put the shelter in the woods during the hot summer months so they’d stay cool. Also, we put some sand in their shelter so they could root in that which is where they get some necessary minerals.” Huh! Cool! I thought, imagining my ham snuffling around the cool Maine woods on a brilliant autumn day.

If the pig is getting essential vitamins and minerals and fresh air and sunshine and rooting around in good dirt and under trees, is it any wonder that the meat is delicious? Not to mention, it is probably much more nutrient dense than some bland pork chop raised solely on grain and questionable material from other farm-factories (chopped up animal parts, anyone?) in a crowded, stinky, closed-in pig farm somewhere in the mid-west.

Glazed Expression

Sis tells me that this year’s four piglets have come through the winter wagging their curly tails, and I am determined to go up to take some pictures. I raved some more about the delicious ham–not to mention the bacon, the chops, and the roasts.

“How did you cook the ham?” she asked.

Here’s how: It was 5.5 lbs. I put it on a rack in a shallow baking pan, and baked it at 325 F for two hours (I might have overcooked a little. Note to self: Use a meat thermometer next time.). I made a glaze from about a cup of pineapple juice, a half-cup of brown sugar, a teaspoon of salt, a sprinkling of ground cloves, and the juice of half a lemon and some corn starch. This I pourrrrrrred over the fat on top, which I had scored. Another fifteen minutes in the oven, and voila! I put the glaze/meat juice mixture in a pitcher, let it sit a minute so I could spoon off some of the fat (one of those gravy fat separators would have come in handy), and used that as a sauce.

But we didn’t really need the sauce because the meat was sweet, juicy, and just salty enough to perfectly balance the mashed potatoes and roasted carrots (from the Crown of Maine MOFGA certified co-op order) and roasted sweet potatoes and steamed asparagus (from the locally-owned grocery store here in town) and the deviled eggs (from Sarah’s chickens down the road!).

Add my mother’s homemade sour pickles and, yes, a Orange Jello/Cool Whip/Pineapple dessert and some jelly beans and chocolate bunnies (who says we have to be PERFECT?), and we had a meal fit for royalty.

Other than the dessert and candy and sweet potatoes, this meal could have been created totally locally. Well, maybe not the asparagus this early. Can you freeze or can asparagus? I’ll have to check. Some boiled onions could have replaced the asparagus. Or some early greens from a cold frame, maybe? The roasted veggies were enhanced with spices from far away lands, but people have been importing spices for centuries. I don’t worry about spices or coffee or brown sugar. We can’t grow them in Maine. That is what fair trade is for.

As we head into spring (and this equinox time of year certainly turns our minds to rebirth and fertility and planting), let’s continue pushing ourselves as far as we can toward enjoying locally-sourced foods. Plant some of your own–even if just a few greens or tomatoes in pots. I’m going to start begging again for a chicken-allowance here in my community. I was also encouraged to see a sign up at the public library announcing a meeting to discuss plans to create a garden at the elementary school!

Exciting things are happening! It is spring. A new beginning . . . Outside the Box.

Revision Isn’t For Dummies

Yeaton-Fairfax House

Dear Reader:

Okay, so revising isn’t usually a writer’s most favorite part of the job, but it is necessary. When we are in the flushed excitement of creation, we are carried away into that subconscious part of our minds where the stories live and we try to get it all down on paper as fast as we can before we can lose any of the details we are discovering down there in the deep. We are explorers wearing headlamps strapped to our foreheads, digging around in the cluttered shelves of our internal archives, sending messages back to “home base” where the fingers type and the hand grips the pencil and moves it across the paper. We aren’t thinking so much as transcribing. And it is good.

However, after a couple of days or a week (or in this case thirty years), we know it is time to send in the internal editor to do the dirty job of cutting, pruning, pursing of the lips and shaking of the head in disgust, pointing out weak spots, examining the structure for soundness, and causing us pain and suffering in general.

But we should thank our internal editor . . . because without him/her we might be tempted to send a story out into the world before its time where it will flop around and be humiliated and tossed into trash buckets and fade from memory as fast as a snowflake held in the palm of your hand.

So, when it is time to critique your story, or someone else’s, what are you looking for?

I took some of the suggestions from HOW TO WRITE SHORT STORIES by Sharon Sorenson (MacMillan Reference USA, Simon & Schuster MacMillan Company, New York, 1998, 3rd edition.) and went down a list from the chapter “Checking Your Story” (page 73) as follows:

Does the beginning capture the reader’s attention?
Does the beginning allow the reader to entire the character’s world?
Does the beginning start the conflict?
Are the characters believable?
Do the characters’ dialogue and actions fit their personality?
Does the story establish the characters’ motivations?
Does the setting contribute to the tone and premise of the story?
Is the point of view consistent?
Does the conflict make sense?
Do the events arise out of character choices rather than from outside the characters?
Are there vivid sensory details?
Does the resolution grow naturally from the conflict?
Are the conflicts resolved?
Is the ending satisfying?
Have I used conventional grammar and punctuation?
Are the words spelled correctly?

Checking your own work for these elements may not be the most fun thing in the world, but if you give yourself a little bit of time in between first draft and revision, glaring issues will most likely jump out at you. I like to go through first with a quick read and mark places that jar or irritate me. This can be done using “track changes” or “balloons” on the revision tab of Microsoft Office Word if you are using that program. Other programs probably have similar tools. Otherwise, print out your story or look at your notebook, grab a pencil and make notations on your paper.

Next, I go through the story again, analyzing the spots I marked, asking myself, “What isn’t working here?” I make notes. I might try a few different things—getting rid of sentences, adding words, crossing out entire paragraphs. If I make very big changes, the plot may also need to be revised.

Finally, I make another draft, incorporating any changes. Then I begin the process again. When I am satisfied that it is as good as I can get it, I proofread it for grammar and spelling and punctuation. Then, only then, do I ask a trusted “first reader” to take a look at it and give me an opinion.

Unless I don’t wait . . .

Because sometimes I want to make sure the story is even worthy of all that work, so I might share a first draft with a first reader. Or if I’m stuck and want some suggestions.

It’s all about what works for that particular story.

If you would like to read a short story I composed in high school and read more about revision and my own revision notes for the story. . . click on Lesson Five: The 30th Day.

I welcome comments and suggestions. As always, thank you for hanging out with me . . . Outside the Box!

Local Shopping Paid Off

I am obsessed! Polyvore.com is my new guilty pleasure. I’ve discovered that in addition to using pre-loaded images on the site, I can also “clip” images from the internet to use in creating fashion “sets” which allows me to showcase two of my recent LOCAL shopping finds. Last Sunday I zipped over to the Biddeford Mardens and discovered that a shipment of J.Jill clothing had arrived. What joy! What luck!

I picked up the black dress shown below for $9.99 and another one in grey linen with eyelet lace cutouts for $12.99. The Birki’s sandals like the ones shown were also at Mardens, only white with tiny black polka dots instead, for about $30.00.

I will be on the lookout for pink accessories to complete the look, preferably made by a local artisan. The books I can find on my bookshelves or at the public library. Be sure to check out the Pinky Doodle Bug book written by Maine’s Elizabeth Hamilton-Guirano and illustrated by my good friend Sandra Waugh at http://pinkydoodlebug.com/.

Elizabeth and Sandi recently participated in the Maine Festival of the Book, and Pinky Doodle is available at lulu.com and Amazon. Take a look at the website to learn more. There is a second book in the works, and I will be blogging more about this creative duo in a future post.

When I’m on Polyvore.com, my name is Flabbercrabby in honor of my fashion line Flabbercrabby & Stitch.
I’ll have to get to that “stitch” part one of these days!

In the meantime, I hope this inspires you to search your locally-owned stores for fabulous fashion finds at a fraction of the retail price. Happy shopping . . . Outside the Box!

PS: Notice the owl in the corner? My familiar should be familiar to my dear readers by now, but for the uninitiated, the owl was the goddess Minerva’s sidekick.

Children's Day at the Library