Tag Archives: voluntary simplicity

A Time for New Beginnings

new beginnings

New Beginnings Resale Shop

In a time when many people are facing economic uncertainty and others are becoming more concerned about our impact on the environment, community-minded entrepreneurs are looking for ways to make a living and make a difference. For Janice Bergeron, owner of New Beginnings Resale Boutique in Limington, starting her own business also became a time of incredible personal growth.

Bergeron opened the shop in the Limington Meadows building on Route 25 in October of 2011 following a painful divorce. “The locals call the building the chicken barn,” she said, opening the door to the space where neat rows of clothing hang in well-organized sections. “People come in and say they are surprised at how clean it is. Local people say they depend on New Beginnings, that they buy all their clothes here.”

Bergeron, who grew up in Whitman, Massachusetts and moved to Maine a year after her marriage, was an at-home mom of seven for 27 years. Over the years, she often lamented the bags of clothing she discarded as the kids outgrew items, thinking how she would love to open a shop. After her divorce, she needed income to support herself, and the old dream of a consignment store became a reality.

“With the divorce, I was shaken. I didn’t have any skills. I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive.” At the time, Janice’s sister, Kathy Bergeron, was managing the Limington Meadows building–a space belonging to the late Charles and Cynthia Libby who were well-known antique dealers before their passing in 2006 and 2011 respectively. Kathy asked Janice, “If you could do anything, what would it be?” When Janice said she always wanted to run a consignment shop, Kathy suggested she take her tax return that year and open up the store. That was the beginning of New Beginnings, and the beginning of a new life for Janice.

“It’s given me confidence. It’s given my daughter confidence,” she said.

Janice stocked the shop from various sources. “A consignment shop went out of business, so I bought racks and inventory. I’d go yard-saling. I got two car-loads from a person who was simply looking to get rid of a bunch of clothes.”

As fate would have it, space at Limington Meadows became available at just the right time. “It was a huge leap of faith,” Janice said, and having sister Kathy next door has been helpful. “She’s been the key in teaching me the ropes.” The Limington Meadows shops include antiques, a bakery, a housewares shop, and a jewelry business as well as the consignment shop.

The biggest surprise for Janice has been the response of her customers. “I’ve been in consignment shops before and it’s not personal, like they expect people to just come and go.” But at New Beginnings, customers come in regularly, and there is a connection Janice didn’t expect. “I wasn’t expecting the positive reception from the local people. People are very excited by the option here.”

The boutique stocks children’s and women’s clothing, accessories, wedding and formal gowns, plus sizes, shoes, and jewelry. Janice’s daughter, Shania, works in the shop, as well. “She recently sold her first wedding gown,” Bergeron said proudly, acknowledging that the venture has given her teen confidence, too.

New Beginnings Resale Boutique is open Friday and Saturday from 9-4 and Sundays 1-4.

Adventures in Window Cleaning

Vinegar and Water Solution

Dear Reader:

There comes a time in every person’s life when she looks out her window and sees only one thing: dirty fingerprints.

Okay, not really. She sees dirty fingerprints, dirt, bird seed from the window feeder, spider webs, pine needles, and dog-nose smears.

With my freshly-painted walls and new furniture arrangement (Hubby and the Teen both approve) mocking my disgusting window panes, I decided to tackle at least one window a day until they are all finished, and this brought me to a project I’ve been meaning to try, namely, “eco-cleaning.”

Now, this blog isn’t focused so much on “going green” as it is on “going local,” but it seems the two concepts (ideals?) converge quite often. Take cleaning products, for example. It’s not like your local farmer’s market carries a line of locally-produced cleaning products, right? There may be a cottage industry somewhere in the neighborhood that concocts hand-made soaps, lotions, and potpourri, but as yet I haven’t run across anyone selling cleaning fluid. Why? Because ANYONE can make their own cleaning fluid, and your own kitchen is as local as you can get. Here’s what I found out.

A few years ago I was browsing in the book area of One Earth Natural Food Store in Springvale, Maine when I came across a little gem called CLEAN & GREEN by Annie Berthold-Bond.

I haven’t used the recipes for “nontoxic and environmentally safe housekeeping” as much as I’d like, but today was the day to try the glass cleaners. First up, the simple vinegar and water in a spray bottle. I used an old, washed-out spray bottle, poured in the recommended amount of plain old cider vinegar (now see, this is where we could get local out of this. I didn’t have any Maine-produced vinegar, but I will be on the lookout for some in the future. THEN, I’d have a totally-Maine cleaning product), and sprayed the panes of my kitchen door.

The book also recommended using newspaper to wipe the windows. I have a nice stash of old WEEKLY SHOPPERS and SHOPPING GUIDES hanging around, so I took a couple sheets and went to work. Scrub, scrub, squeak, squeak. Did it work? You bet! However…

Printers Ink on Yellow Gloves

I was not happy with the black ink getting all over my gloves and imagining what my fingers would look like if I didn’t have said gloves, and let’s face it, yellow rubber gloves are NOT locally-produced. Also, I found the solution to be kind of, well, wet. I know, I know. Of course it was wet. But it was wet in the droplet sort of way versus a spray sort of way, if that makes any sense.

I decided to try another recipe in the book, called “The Best Window Wash.” I should have tried the best first, probably, but I was drawn to the simplicity of a two-ingredient solution. The Best Window Wash called for the addition of a teaspoon of vegetable-oil based soap. I’ve been using Murphy’s Oil Soap for a long time, and so had this on hand. Plop! I added the teaspoon directly to the vinegar and water solution bottle.

The Best Window Wash ingredients

I also decided to use an old sock instead of the inky newspaper. The addition of the soap made for a much smoother application on the windows, the sock worked fine, and I finished up with a nice polishing with a dust cloth. Now, in a pinch, I could go with the local vinegar/water/local newspaper combo, but I did prefer this soap additive.

I wonder how one makes vegetable oil soap? Could someone take local corn, for instance, to make the vegetable oil and from there make soap? How exactly does that work?

I’ll let you know if I find out.

Clean Window with spider plant

In the meantime, I recommend Berthold-Bond’s book if you are interested in low-cost, environmentally-friendly, and kinda’ neat ways of cleaning your house. Oh, and that spider plant in my window? According to the book, the plants act as natural air purifiers along with aloe vera, English ivy, fig trees, and potted chrysanthemums. Green may just be my new favorite color!

Quick Post–Invest In Yourself

Seed Heads for Winter Birds

Dear Reader:

I found a really good, simple, layman’s-terms explanation of the housing bubble. Here is the article. http://www.stock-market-investors.com/stock-investment-risk/the-subprime-mortgage-crisis-explained.html

My question is still this: How do we prevent such a thing from happening again? Maybe the answer is, we can’t.

As we head toward Thanksgiving Day, I’ll leave you with some thoughts. Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. Take your pleasures where and when you can. Save for a rainy day. Be thankful for your blessings. Invest in community, in friendships, in knowledge, in healthy activities, in things that are important to you. Take a class. Learn something. Vow to eat a healthier diet. Cut back on the stuff that’s not so good for you. Exercise. Build muscles and stamina instead of a fat stock portfolio. Invest in yourself.

At least that’s how I’m looking at it today Outside the Box.

Dumpster Diving Part One

This episode fueled by Green Mountain Southern Pecan coffee.

Dear Reader:

I love coffee. I love the smell of it brewing first thing in the morning. I love the steam caressing my face when I lift the cup to my lips for that first, oh-so-delicious sip. I like my coffee bold, dark, intense. I enjoy the way the caffeine zips along my nerves, waking up my sluggish brain. I’ve cut pictures from magazines that feature people drinking coffee. It’s my one true addiction. Giving it up makes me cranky. Once I did give it up when I was following a macrobiotic diet, but I substituted a “grain” coffee instead. I managed to survive, but I felt deprived. A trip to Hawaii and access to that state’s incredible Kona ended my seven-months’ cafe-deprivation period, and I have no regrets. Coffee is one of my greatest pleasures, my strongest of comfort foods, a most dependable beverage because no matter where you go, no matter how bleak and terrible the location, you can usually find a cup of java.

Coffee is egalitarian. Run-down diners on the edges of small towns serve coffee and so do fine restaurants. Elisabeth Ogilvie in her Bennett’s Island books about fishermen and their families is forever referencing the “mug up” of coffee. (If you want a shot of pure Maine literature this summer, I highly recommend Ms. Ogilvie. Click HERE to read a little bit about this author.) Coffee tastes good served in thick, heavy mugs and in thin, delicate bone china. It even tastes good in paper cups, as Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts are well aware. Coffee complements both sedentary and active pursuits–reading, talking, driving. I wouldn’t recommend it while playing tennis or soccer, but celebrating after the game with a large cup? Sure! My family usually heads over to a Dunkin Donuts after the Maine Class A Boys Basketball Tourneys, for example. It is comfort in defeat and celebration in victory, with or without sugar and cream.

So what does all this have to do with Dumpter Diving? Well, yesterday morning I filled my coffee filter with some Green Mountain Southern Pecan, poured in the water to the six cup mark, and pressed the ignition button. The cheery red light came on, the pot began to gurgle and croak and sigh the way it always does, and I went over to the computer to check my emails while the lovely smell of fresh-brewed filled the air . . . except it didn’t.

Investigating the cause of such a wacky turn of events, I discovered that while the unit was ON, it certainly wasn’t working. The machine had, as all coffee makers eventually do, died.

Now, it wasn’t the end of my world because I tend to be rather inventive around the house. I’m pretty good thinking outside the box. The coffee filter was still full of fresh grounds. The glass pot was still intact. All that was needed was a manual application of boiling water. I could do that myself. I grabbed the tea kettle and set the water to boiling, poured the water over the grounds a little at a time, stuck the coffee pot beneath the filter cup, and voila! Not-so-instant coffee!

I couldn’t be too upset by the breakdown of my coffeemaker because, you see, I didn’t pay a penny for the thing. I know what you are thinking, but no, I did not dive headfirst into my neighbor’s trashcan for their old, discarded unit. I did the next best thing, however. I went to the dump.

The call it a transfer station now, but basically our town has a nice little dump where you can sort your recyclables, discard your old tires and furniture, throw your brush onto the community pile to be burned at a later date, and stow your meager bag of excess garbage in the “household trash” bin where I believe it is picked up and taken somewhere for energy-production or possibly a landfill. An attendant greets you from a cute little gardeny-looking cottage as you drive in and directs you to the proper areas. (I’ve noticed a big pile of wood mulch, too. I need to ask if that is free for the taking.) These are all wonderful components for a dump, of course, but the best part by far is the Swap Shack.

The Swap Shack is where you bring stuff that you no longer need/want that someone else may find useful or fun. I like to go in there and poke around. There is usually a halfway decent selection of used paperbacks. I’ve picked up drinking glasses and baskets and a couple of VCR movies. One day, on the back shelves with the old Crock Pots and frying pans, I saw this coffeemaker. My old one was pretty much done, its heating element dying like a red giant star growing cooler and less effective every day. I signed the book at the front of the Shack indicating what I’d taken, and brought the white, Black & Decker twelve-cup capacity coffeemaker home. If it worked, great. If not, I’d just return it. No problem.

And it wasn’t a problem because it worked fine. I’ve had it for a couple of years (my husband says one year, but I’m pretty sure it’s been at least two), and it has been dependable and hardworking. There was one idiosyncrasy–if I failed to push the filter holder cup thingy all the way down, the pot cover wasn’t able to reach the lever that opened the bottom of the cup allowing the coffee to drip down into the pot. This resulted in a bit of a mess a couple of times as the water entered the filter cup and had nowhere to go but over the top, spreading coffee and grounds everywhere. Once I figured out what was going on, I simply took care to make sure everything was lined up and tucked in nice and tight. That Black & Decker worked liked a charm–and it was free.

The Swap Shack isn’t all take and no give. I’ve donated outgrown Halloween costumes, paperbacks, toys, and even a couple pots and pans over the years. It’s a means of exchange among neighbors, and it saves us time and money. It fulfills the “reuse” portion of the Three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. The less stuff that goes into the landfills, the better. Plus, it’s fun. You never know what treasure you’ll dig up in there.

Take this table, for example. There is not a thing wrong with it except the handle needs tightening. It tends to spin around like a mad whirligig if I hit is just right. It caught my eye at the Swap Shack because it looked as if it perfectly matched my computer desk. I thought the little table could go in my upstairs office with the desk, but it ended up at the end of my upstairs hallway near the clothes hamper, instead. Inside I’ve placed a bunch of Harlequin Superromance novels I won in a writing contest. The short shelves inside are the perfect height for the little books. It could be used to store stationery supplies, cd’s, dvd’s, maybe even jars of jam. Decorating philosophy #1: You can’t have too many small tables. Decorating philosophy #2: You can’t have too many bookshelves. This cute thing fulfills both at the same time. Lovely!

According to some, every woman, especially every woman writer, needs a room of her own. I have a tiny office upstairs where I store my books, my photo albums, my writing files, and other inspiring items. (Ironically, I do the bulk of my writing downstairs on the laptop these days . . . it’s closer to where the coffee lives.) Without quite meaning too, I’ve pretty much furnished my office with free stuff. The reading lamp beside the bookcase was another Swap Shack find. It works perfectly well, and I like the brass finish. Someday I’ll replace the lampshade. Maybe. Although I have good interior design intentions, I’m not very ambitious with the follow-through when it comes to refinishing my finds.

Take this file cabinet, for instance.

I dragged this home from the dump last summer. My plan was to buy some bright pink spray paint and make it pretty. Well, here it is, still gray and sitting beside my computer desk. This find was a bit disappointing as the top drawer likes to slip off the little plastic wheels and drop down in one corner if I try to open it too fast. However, I don’t need to get into the top drawer all that often, and when I do, I simply remember to apply a little upward pressure when I slide it out toward me.

I understand that there is an element of the ridiculous in all this. We are a family with two college-educated people, one of whom has a very decent job. What am I doing “shopping” at the dump?

I could go on about the recycling aspect, the staying out of the box stores aspect, even the saving money aspect, but I suspect that to get closer to the truth I’d have to say I simply like the idea of getting something for nothing. I don’t think this makes me a terrible person. After all, I give many hours of my time away in volunteer activities, doing for nothing. Perhaps on some level I consider getting something for nothing is a just reward. Mostly, though, I think I love the idea of cutting out the middle man, the money, the means of exchange. This way there is just plain exchange. This works for used items, and it also works for new goods as well as services when people engage in a barter system. Economics in this century is complex, convoluted, and dare I say twisted? Bartering and trading cut to the chase. I give you something in exchange for something. It’s the oldest kind of trade there is. What could be simpler?

In recent years, perhaps due to the economic downturn (recession? depression?) I’ve noticed that people are turning to barter, swapping, and trading. One local business,Nurturing Tranquility Salon & Spa , holds regular Swap Parties for clients. A local “Mothers” group organized a clothing swap in the clubhouse of our neighborhood association. An artist friend of mine, Sandra Waugh, swaps artist trading cards (ATC’s) with other artists around the country and the world. (Check out her art at http://waughtercolors.deviantart.com/gallery/)

None of what I’ve described so far fits the literal definition of Dumpster Diving. So far. But I do have in my possession at least one piece of furniture rescued from an actual dumpster. Stay tuned later this week for Dumpster Diving Part Two . . . Outside the Box.

Flabbercrabby Purse and Proseal T-Shirt Makeover

Born to be Flabbercrabby

Oh, Baby-Doll

Dear Reader:

For those of you who were waiting to see how the T-shirt makeover turned out, here it is! For some reason I woke up this morning interested in accomplishing all things domestic. I scrubbed the floors, washed the dishes, did a couple loads of laundry . . . and looking at the clock I could see it was only ten o’clock in the morning. What can I do with all this extra time and energy, I pondered. Aha! The t-shirt!

Dragging out my rather dusty Singer sewing machine my parents bought me for Christmas around, oh, 1989, I wiped it down, cleared off the dining room table, and spent the next forty-five minutes trying to find the website that had the cute baby-doll t-shirt project. Once I finally found it, the cutting and sewing went smoothly, and by two-thirty the shirt was finished. Click here for the webpage and instructions.

I didn’t follow the instructions exactly. The designer/crafter simply cut the arm and neck openings and left them raw as jersey does not unravel. I wanted my shirt to look a little more “finished” and I didn’t have any black thread for my sewing maching. I decided to use yellow thread to match the “Proseal” lettering and zig-zag stictch the raw edges. I tacked down the tiny triagular “lapels” with little embroidered x’s and used gold-colored yarn for the drawstring. I’m not especially happy with the yarn, so I may cut the bottom off the t-shirt and use the material to make a jersey drawstring which cinches the shirt above the belly to make the baby-doll silhouette.

Instead of using the yarn to gather the arm “straps” I took the cut-off sleeves and made two tubes of cloth. There was still plenty of sleeve material left, so I made a matching headband. I intend the wear the ensemble to aerobics class tonight, field-testing my new/old shirt. Here are before and after pictures.

Before . . . . . .

. . . . after!

If anyone in the mid-state area needs to have their driveway or parking lot sealed, I highly recommend Proseal for all your hot-cracking needs.

For you Flabbercrabby enthusiasts, here is the premier item of the label: The “Little Striped Dress” Felted Purse. Notice the cell-phone pocket? As my husband and I are considering dropping our land-line telephone service because, let’s face it, cell phones are redundant (but who can do without one or two in the family these days?), I wanted a purse that would allow me have my phone handy at all times, except when driving, of course.

I knit the bottom and ruffley top with a bulky-weight yarn with some wool and the middle stripes with medium-weight 100% wool. I was guessing the middle stuff would shrink alot more than the top and bottom, creating a “waist” for the purse . . . and it worked! I think the handles give it a sundressy look. I still have to attach a button to the pocket flap and may sew in a cotton lining to give the bottom more stability. But isn’t it cute? It’s really darn cool to be Flabbercrabby.

Remember, anything you design and handmake can be labeled “Flabbercrabby.” Go ahead and put your creativity to work. Send me a photo of your masterpiece and I’ll post it here. . . Outside the Box.

How’s Your Ki Today?

Squirreling Away

Dear Reader:

The squirrels have formed a regular food court underneath my bird feeder and the flower bed near the beech trees. Twenty times a day, my poor little dog, Delilah, jumps to the window and barks to be let out, races out the door when I open it, and charges over the snow. Unfortunately for her, but infinitely fortunate for the squirrels, Delilah never manages to capture one of the furry, grey mauraders of bird sustenance. The squirrels know the quickest route up the beeches. They know she can’t chase them across the road. They high-tail it, wait for her to retreat to the house, and then they resume foraging, taking time off to chase each other across the crusty snow and past the compost bin in fits of squirrely joy–or maybe in a less benign territorialness.

While I find squirrel culture mildly fascinating, I am much more amazed by the variety of sub-cultures present in our society. There are the usual circles with which we are all familiar, i.e. political groups, motorcycle enthusiasts, wine lovers, church-goers, and those guys that jump into icy water in the middle of January in nothing but their Speedos. There are goths and DAR members, needle-pointers and Beanie-Baby collectors, people whose aim in life is to tattoo every square inch of their body and people who go to ashrams to learn meditation practices. Whole non-profit organizations have been formed for comic-book lovers, STAR TREK fans, and romance novel writers. It’s a wild and wonderful world out there. No matter who you are, you can probably find likeminded individuals who have organized themselves to some extent. If I were to become a journalist, I might make exploring all these sub-cultures my life’s work. Who needs to travel to India or Venezuela or some island off the coast of Africa in order to study another culture? The United States is a smorgasboard of social rituals, symbolic adornments, lexicons, taboos, and ceremonies.

Just recently, thanks to one of my current writing projects, I’ve been introduced to one such sub-culture found here in America and around the world–the Reiki community. Reiki (pronounced Ray-Key) began in Japan in the early years of the twentieth century when a man named Mikao Usui fasted and meditated for three weeks and either received or developed (depending on your view of these kinds of things) a system of energy work that he used to heal people–spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Click here to peruse the FAQ section of the International Center for Reiki Training website.

Reiki is a concept that includes the belief in a creative force (what some call God), a higher intelligence that acts as a guide for the universe and for the individual and a belief that everything is made up of energy, material things being simply a denser form of energy than say, air . . . or the soul. Reiki teaches that individuals can be more in tune to this energy, can use it to manifest peace and health for themselves and for others. Meditation is a big part of this process. Those who have studied and practiced are also believed to be able to help others by placing their hands on a client during an “attunement” which clears any blockages in the clients’ energy centers. For practical purposes, these energy centers are often referred to as “chakras” and are symbolized by the colors of the spectrum, but this is just a way for practitioners to visualize the concept, not necessarily the reality of the energy itself.

A quick journey around the internet reveals hundreds of testimonials from people who claim to have been helped/healed by Reiki. Spas regularly offer Reiki attunements along with their hot-stone massages, seaweed facials, and French manicures. Hospitals encourage trained Reiki volunteers to work with their patients–including the terminal ones.

“No way,” you might say, shaking your head. “It’s just the placebo affect. I don’t believe in any metaphysical energy mumbo-jumbo.”

I say, “Maybe . . . but so what?” If patients are getting some benefit from it, no matter what the underlying reality is, then great. If someone is feeling depressed and stressed out and goes to the spa for a Reiki treatment and comes out feeling calm and happy, does it really matter why? Maybe her energy centers were cleared or maybe she needed some quiet time away from the hassles of work and kids and the daily commute. Either way, she gets to go home, make a nice dinner, and not scream at her husband for leaving the tiolet seat up again. Everyone’s happier!

Can these results be accomplished without Reiki? Of course. Whether or not the energy concept is reality or a mirage, I believe the pschological affects of concentrating on various aspects of your life can be liberating. Too often we travel through life without analyzing where we are going, why we want to go there, and where we want to end up. We mindlessly cram food and alcohol into our mouths without taking the time to enjoy the flavors or ask ourselves if what we are eating is good for our bodies. We feel angry and upset and lash out, but we haven’t practiced analyzing why we are reacting in that way, dealing with the analysis, and then letting go of the emotions that bog us down. We strive after more . . . more money, more prestige, bigger houses, fancier cars, status jewelry and clothing . . . not realizing that greed is maybe just another form of insecurity, that stopping and appreciating what you already have can fill that space that thinks it needs more and more and more.

The Reiki energy centers, as I understand them so far, correspond with psychological concepts that a counselor or pschiatrist might discusss. Taking the time to focus on first, the basic survival instincts, and then moving on to the higher levels of our psyche–communication, intuition, spirituality–can be of great benefit to the individual, to the community, to the country, to the world. When we begin to realize we have enough, we will stop mindlessly trying to get more. We’ll be healthier. We’ll be happier.

Maybe Reiki is just one of many schemas that provides a design for understanding what is real and common to all of us. The Rei of Reiki may be just another way of talking about God. The Ki of Reiki may be just another way of talking about the id of psychology or the strange attractor theory of modern physics. The point is, if you keep an open mind, life lessons can come to you from many different directions . . . Outside the Box.

Creative Website–Check It Out!

handspun yarn buttoned scarf

Dear Reader:

This scarf is the finished product crafted from the mohair fleece I carded and spun and plied on a borrowed Kiwi spinning wheel. The Kiwi is a beginner wheel, and because I’m a beginner, it works for me. I also have a more traditional wheel given to me by a good friend of the family. My next spinning project will be done on that wheel in hopes that I have acquired the skill necessary to spin the thin yarn that wheel requires. Learning a craft isn’t an overnight project. I’m expecting at least three years to even become halfway proficient. However, the journey may be more important than the destination. Every time I sit down at the wheel or hold a couple of bamboo knitting needles in my hands, I feel connected to the age-old crafting tradition . . . and so can you!

One of my online writing friends has started a new website geared toward crafting and do-it-yourself projects and the creative impulse each of us has inside us. They will be offering projects “in a bag” and blogs and articles. I’m very excited to see these kinds of sites going up on the internet. With all these resources at our fingertips, we can explore and experiment to our hearts’ content.

Make 2010 the year you learn to produce something useful and/or beautiful. I strongly believe that along with relocalizing, we also need to become a society of skilled craftspeople. Imagine producing clothes, furniture, houses, vehicles, toys . . . you name it . . . that are meant to last a lifetime rather than a few months or years.

Check out http://www.creativemindandhands.com/ and make something . . . Outside the Box.