Category Archives: Community Activism

Six Years and Slowing

On the "skiddah"

On the “skiddah”

It is March once again, and the anniversary month of this blog which started out as Outside the Box and is now Localista.

I don’t look too fashionable there on the skidder, but let me tell you, I was THRILLED to have a chance to get into the driver’s seat, turn the ignition key, and roll slowly backward, oops! I was maybe in the thing for a minute and a half before I stalled it. Heavy equipment operator is not going to be my next career.

What I did learn from this experience was 1)guys who work in the woods are great storytellers and hard workers and all-around great people and 2)enough about operating a skidder to finish a writing project.

Harvesting in the Maine woods has long been an economic driver for our state, providing jobs and a marketable resource. It is a local sort of job, and even with improvements in equipment, still requires a human brain. Unlike other jobs which are being outsourced to…robots. Check out this article, “Your Job May Soon Be Obsolete Thanks To Robots,”  on AGBeat from the American Genius Network.

Yes, computers are now writing news articles. Egads! Soon they will be writing books, I suppose, cranking them out from synopses and outlines, or maybe just picking and choosing from scenarios, character lists, and possible turning points from specialized plot and narrative computer programs. I’m typing this and thinking, “It’s probably already been done, but I don’t want to go look. I’m scairt!”

So, I’m still doing the localism thing as much as possible, have incorporated it into my life with room left for improvement, as always. Those hiking boots in the photo up there? Got ’em at Reny’s, one of Maine’s independent stores. It was the only size of its kind on the shelves, the only pair of boots in my size, and they fit perfectly. In fact, they were so comfortable with a pair of wool hiking socks I also picked up, I didn’t unlace them all day. The support felt fantastic!

Today I’m wearing a combination outfit–a sweater from Goodwill, a scarf that was a gift, and a pair of pants I bought full-price at Chico’s at the mall. I ate breakfast at a local restaurant, but then I got a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee. It’s not about perfection. It’s about awareness and small changes and doing the best you can.

Six years later, I’m slowing down but trudging along, one step at a time.

Holiday Concert in a Small Town in Maine

holiday concert

Left to right: Tom Osborne, Kyle Osborn, Michael Saulnier, Brian Saulnier

A Christmas tea featuring live musical performances by a talented pair of brothers was held at the Jeremiah Mason House Bed & Breakfast in Limerick on Saturday, Dec. 13. Hosts of the tea and concert were Tom and Kyle Osborne who have owned and run the bed & breakfast establishment for the past 14 years. For the fourth year in a row, they invited brothers Michael and Brian Saulnier to perform on guitar and piano, a tradition that hosts, guests, and the musicians look forward to as each Christmas season rolls around.

This year, the Osbornes also invited members of the Limerick Historical Society to attend the concert. “We used to hold it during the Limerick Village Christmas,” Kyle said following the hour-long concert. “But that was just too much so we decided to do it this way.”

The music room, adjoining dining room, and the hallway were filled to standing-room only for the afternoon event. Tom welcomed the guests to the historic home and introduced Brian Saulnier as the opening performer. Brian read a brief but touching essay on life in a small town at Christmas and then sang a set of Christmas songs, accompanying himself on his bright blue acoustic guitar.

Brian then introduced his brother, Michael, who had driven up to town from Massachusetts. “My brother Mike is here to play the piano, and I could listen to him all day long,” Brian said.

Michael, who has been seriously studying piano for six years, treated everyone to a variety of folk piano and jazz arrangements by such luminaries as George Winston  and Vince Guaraldi. Two songs, however, were composed by Michael himself. One, entitled “Lavender Falls” and the other a variation on the theme called, “Epicycles” were very much in the George Winston style with a lovely interplay of both right-hand and left-hand notes.

Following the concert, Tom thanked both musicians for sharing their gift. “Music has big healing power,” he said. “I want to thank Brian for sharing his voice and for introducing me to his brother, Mike.” Michael’s recorded cd was offered for sale, the proceeds of which were to go to the York County Shelter. Tom then invited the guests to partake of a variety of cookies and sweets baked on  and tea sandwiches which were provided by the Clipper Merchant Tea House.

When asked about his performance schedule, Mike said that he plays mostly for personal enjoyment and occasionally for the public when asked. Brian has also been busy this year, billing himself as The Musical Medic and playing at Maine Medical Center, nursing homes, and community events like the Research Club’s cookies and hot cocoa gathering following the tree lighting at the town’s A Village Christmas Festival. “There are infinite choices about what to do with limited time,” Brian said. “This is what I chose to do with mine.”

My Evil Pellet Stove

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Dear Reader:

I live in Maine, and in Maine the winters are cold. Correction, the late autumns, winters, and the biggest part of springs are cold. In order to survive, humans who live in Maine need a source of warmth in order to thrive. So it has been, I believe, ever since the first people took up residence in our fair state.

Over the past five years, I have explored various issues pertaining to sustainability, localism, and culture. I was inspired, first of all, by the notion of “Peak Oil” which is really “Peak Energy” or–to be more colloquial–“When the Juice Runs Out.” I read about the End of Suburbia and the Geography of Nowhere and about how we need to Powerdown.

Throughout the book reading and eco-film watching, I heard much about weaning off oil and using, instead, renewable energy. Things like wood, geothermal, and solar were touted as better options. I was cool with that.

I grew up with a wood stove. I am fond of that dry, heatier-somehow kind of warmth that is thrown out by a wood stove compared to a forced hot-air furnace. Plus, you know, it is traditional, and I like traditional.

It took a few years to make the switch, but eventually hubby and I decided on a pellet stove. We bought one last fall, used it all winter, and were pleased. We rarely filled the oil tank (for the hot water heater; replacing that is a future consideration), and I was warmer than I’d been in many years since I had taken to reducing the thermostat down to 60 degrees–way too cold for me to be comfortable, even with a sweater and knit hat. I was thrilled that the pellets were made out of a local resource–wood from Maine or neighboring Canada–and would burn more efficiently and cleanly than a traditional wood stove. Yay! We were doing our part for the environment!

Or so I thought.

Today I learned of an article expressing shock and dismay that some major corporations are–gasp!–producing pellets, shipping them overseas, and making a profit! I went in search of the article and think this might be it. OUTRAGEOUS: U.S. Forests Logged, Pelletized, Shipped Overseas in the Name of Renewable Energy. (from EcoWatch.com)

It does seem rather appalling.

Sigh.

I get it. Trees are beautiful. They are a wonderful resource, and we should manage them with care. Burning them throws carbon into the air. But wasn’t the whole idea of switching to “renewables” dependent on, um, actually USING the renewables? And what other choices do we have? Solar? What about those solar panels? What are they made of? What kind of energy is used to manufacture and transport them? What about batteries and storage of energy for when you need it? And if we all switch, will we then be told by the likes of EcoWatch that we are evil for supporting a corporation that is profiting from the production and sale of the technology?

I’m not saying “going solar” is wrong or in any way a poor choice. I would love, love, love to see our communities transition to using solar, but please don’t act as if 1)sustainability advocates are blameless in this burgeoning market for wood pellets and 2)there is no environmental cost to ramping up solar energy solutions.

Human beings use resources and make an impact on the environment. Period. Perhaps the only way we can TRULY reduce our impact is to stop making more humans to warm, feed, clothe, inoculate, and hydrate.

In other words, don’t throw out your pellet stoves. Instead, buy some birth control. Or just say NO to sex. (WARNING: CRUDENESS ALERT! 31 Ways to Say No To Sex)

Whatever works best for you.

ps: Just watching the national news and learned that China is lifting their “one child only” rule. And so it goes and goes and goes…

Social currency

Waterboro Reporter

Waterboro Reporter

The photo above was provided by the owner/publisher of the newspaper for which I work. The Waterboro Reporter is a locally-owned, weekly community paper that pays me for the articles I write–many about sustainability, local farmers and business people, local non-profit organization, school news, town government and activist groups. The Reporter is, I believe, an important part of the “local circle.” It is a free-to-read newspaper, with printing costs and content (read: writers like me!) costs covered only by advertising dollars, not readers.

I love the idea of currency circulating from one local business to the next local business via paychecks and purchases. This is the essence of a local economy. It also creates a type of social currency: measured only in goodwill and reciprocity.

Here is a real example: Last month, the Reporter sold advertising space to local businesses and printed up some ads that readers were sure to notice as they read the content of the paper. Then the Reporter collected the advertising money from those businesses. Last week, the Reporter sent me a check for my articles. I cashed my check on Saturday and went immediately to the Newfield Farmer’s Market–where I bought close to $25 worth of stuff. Now, if the market then took out an advertisement in the following week’s paper, the local economic circle would be complete! The money would just continue circulating–maybe going to out to a local antique store or the local supermarket–but eventually, hopefully, coming right back around and around and around.

THIS cycle is exactly what I’ve been writing about/advocating for the past four years!

Over the course of a year, with money earned from my writing gig, I’ve bought local maple syrup, a Community Supported Agriculture membership from a local farmer, and an order for a year’s worth of beef from a Limerick neighbor. I’ve shopped at the local supermarket and had countless lunches at local restaurants like the Clipper Merchant Tea House and the Peppermill. I’ve donated money to charitable causes (guess where I went on Saturday afternoon, after the market? The Limerick Historical Society penny auction.)I’ve bought incense,books, toys and other interesting stuff at local gift shops. My love for Plummer’s Hardware and the Limerick Supermarket is well-known.

Much of this I’ve documented here on Localista and shared with my facebook friends and my email list, which is also free publicity for the local businesses I love. In turn, these businesses provide me with excellent customer service and great products.

The money I spend comes from a locally owned paper whose only income–I will stress this again–is advertising. This is a newspaper that has been amazing to publish all the stories I’ve written with a sustainability slant, promoting the kind of “buy local” philosophy I hold dear. The Reporter doesn’t “sell” newspaper coverage. It covers stories we think are interesting and important whether or not an ad is purchased; however, think about that local cycle a minute. Now think some more…

Readers, please shop locally, and if you shop at one of our advertisers, let them know you saw their ad in the paper. Supporting each other, in a local economy, is the foundation of freedom from corporate control. Be part of the circle!

Shopping Local for the Holidays

Sandra Waugh Watercolor of Red Rowboat

Sandra Waugh Watercolor of Red Rowboat

Dear Reader:

How are you doing on your holiday shopping so far? I’ve been taking advantage of lucky opportunities that pop up–like yesterday’s trip to Portland for a Jim Brickman performance at the Portland Museum of Art.

Heading toward the museum for the performance, I noticed a Reny’s department store across from the parking garage. Hello! I don’t get into Portland that often, so the chance to pop into one of the branches of a Maine-owned department store was like an early Christmas present to myself.

Reny's Department Store Logo

Reny’s Department Store Logo

I’m fairly pleased with my local shopping progress this holiday season. I’ve bought books by Maine authors at public readings, handcrafted jewelry from the funkiest little shop--Maine Jewelry and Art--in Bangor on Plaid Friday (local answer to the mall’s Black Friday horror story), c.d.’s directly from musicians at performances (ahem, did you catch that Jim Brickman reference up there?), makeup from a local Avon rep, clothes from that Reny’s excursion yesterday, and a few things at Goodwill.

Fly Fisherman painting by Sandra Waugh

Fly Fisherman painting by Sandra Waugh

I’ve also ordered Christmas cards from my good friend and fine artist, Sandra Waugh, who lives right here in my town. That is her “waughtercolor” at the top of this page, such a cute, little red boat skillfully rendered, floating between sea and sky. This and other select paintings are for sale right now, but Sandra also creates beautiful watercolor portraits of loved ones, children, and pets from photographs you mail to her, like this one of the fly fisherman.

I am in awe of that kind of talent! Please visit her website at http://www.waughtercolors.com/ and/or private message her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/messages/waughtercolors

With the shopping well-underway, I guess it is time to start looking toward decorating the tree and holiday recipes. Food shopping for holiday meals can be a bit challenging (I need an egg source!), and I will write about that in another post as we get closer to Christmas. In the meantime…

I challenge you to buy at least ONE item this year from a local merchant or small-business owner, knowing that when you do so, much more of that money gets sent back into the local economy than if you spent the same $$’s at a mega-corporation. Want more reasons? Visit the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website for the Top 10 Reasons to Support Locally Owned Businesses.

Happy Holiday Shopping, everyone!

Election Day–Does It Really Matter Who Wins?

U.S.A. Election Day

Ralph Lauren vneck sweater / J.Crew twill jacket / Levi’s Made & Crafted mid rise jeans / Converse shoes, $14 / Tommy Hilfiger bag / Tommy Hilfiger Sid Cable Knit Multicolor Scarf, $98 / Tommy Hilfiger perfume, $52

I am voting today–and I’m going to check a box for President–but I’m really only going because of the state and local races and questions, where I (perhaps naively) believe my vote actually makes a difference in my life and my community. When it comes to the Presidential race, eh, shrug, not so much.

Either Obama is going to win and we’ll continue with this gridlock as the Republicans block everything for the sake of politics…or Romney is going to win and we’ll start hearing, “I inherited this mess…so don’t blame me” as the Dems begin to block everything for the sake of politics. And they’ll all start talking about 2016.

Meanwhile the Federal Reserve and corporate cronies will go ahead and do their own thing, laughing (at us) all the way to the bank.

Read what economists think about the affect of the election on the economy on CNN.com

Am I Rita Skeeter?

Dear Reader:

When I dressed up in a green and black feather boa and headpiece on Halloween night and headed out into the community to take pictures and jot notes for my newspaper column, a few people yelled, “I know who you are…Rita Skeeter!”

My response? “Um, I didn’t plan to be Rita Skeeter, but I guess I’m glad I’m somebody.” In truth, I picked up the costume pieces on a whim a couple months ago, and on a whim dressed up on Halloween before heading into town. I guess with the fluffy boa, my signature red lipstick, my glasses, and my notebook and pen, I did bear a slight resemblance to the Harry Potter newshound.

My new life as a journalist keeps me out and about in the community, talking to the people who run the town as well as the regular people who live and work here but keep out of the spotlight. I’ve been to selectmen meetings, covered events at the elementary school, interviewed community members for profile pieces, and even slurped down some green juice at a free showing of the film FAT, SICK AND NEARLY DEAD at the public library. I practically beg people to send me tidbits of news that I can expand into articles. I am in my element. I can be nosy but detached, involved but not imbedded. I stand outside it, observe, and report what I see and hear. It’s awesome!

I’m also humbled by the responsibility. Okay, so it isn’t the end of the world if I spell someone’s name wrong, but I do need to be cognizant that everything I chose to highlight and everything I chose to leave out creates meaning in the story. I can chose to underscore the positive or I can spotlight the conflicts and negativity. Is this choice to highlight the positive a kind of skewing of the truth? Is it an angle?

Of course it is.

I hope I’m NOT Rita Skeeter, the reporter in the Harry Potter series who slants everything toward the sensational and titillating. I hope I have more journalistic integrity than to take others’ innocent behavior and twist it into something scandalous, but I also hope to write the truth, to capture this place in all its weirdness and its normalcy, its high moments and its times of adversity, its people and its industry. In other words, I do have an agenda. My agenda is to strengthen the community by showing my fellow citizens who we are, what we do, how we do it here in our small, rural town.