Fall Colors

Day 144 of 365

Today, for the first time in more than a week, we went for a bike ride. It was so beautiful and good for me. I smiled a lot. Ron and our son rode more than I did today, so I just decided to take pictures for awhile. These are some scenes of the beautiful foliage in Belfast, Maine today. I hope you enjoy these. I loved some of the yellows.

Apples Part II

Day 143 of 365

photo credit: Robson Melo, Unsplash

In a round about way, apples changed my life–made it better–well, helped me make it better. It was Michael Pollan’s chapter on the apple, “Desire: Sweetness / Plant: The Apple” that made me fall in love both with apples and Michael Pollan’s writing. I had always been a fan the apple. I even tried to like the poor Red Delicious growing up. But, after reading that chapter, I developed a deep respect and love for the apple.

I also started reading anything and everything that Michael Pollan wrote. Through his work, I learned a lot about our food system that I had not fully understood before. I really wanted to start eating “real food,” and that led to Ron and I starting a garden and getting chickens. We wanted to be able to grow the best, healthiest food possible, and we wanted our children to eat very well. When I went and picked up the chickens from the post office and met those little girls, I was a changed human. I have never looked back, and thankfully, Ron is truly a master gardener.

We eat well. We live fairly frugally. We work hard to live sustainably. In a way, it all started with the apple.

Today, apples symbolize all that is good to me. They symbolize a change in my life. The symbolize my move to Maine, where apples, especially heirloom apples (which are just another level of magnificent to me) are grown so abundantly. They symbolize the harvest season and the comforts of things like apple pie, apple muffins, and apple cider. I never had hot apple cider until I moved to Maine. No wonder I love Maine.

It’s really a miracle I love apples so much. I do remember loving them as a small child. We were poorer growing up and didn’t usually have fresh fruits in our home, but my mom bought a bag of apples one time when I must have been about 7 or 8. She told me not to eat too many apples while she was at work. I ate too many apples. She scolded me when she found out and told me not to eat any more apples. But that evening was Friday night, which meant it was my weekend to spend at my dad’s house. Sometimes, though I do not know why, we would go stay at my step-mom’s parents’ house instead. That was the best ever! They were so kind and like my grandparents. They were very nurturing humans; plus they had a pool! Have I mentioned I grew up in Texas? Anyway, my mom told my step grandmother, “Nana” to me, to not let me eat any more apples that day, that I would be sick.

I resented my mom for this, as I wanted more apples. And my Nana was a softie. When we got to her house, I asked her for another apple. She had these beautiful green apples on her counter. She relented, and I ate the apple with great satisfaction. A little while later, as I was so sick that I threw up in poor Nana’s bathroom. I remember thinking about my mom: How did she know? I couldn’t eat green apples for nearly ten years, and it took me about a year before I could eat the red ones again. Still, they were apples, so they eventually won me back.

I also grew up in a religion where the apple was forbidden. Ironically, as I mentioned in my Apples: Part I post, in the Biblical story, Eve just ate some random fruit until Milton made it into an apple in his epic poem. But I was always hearing about how terrible Eve was, eating that darn apple, so apples were associated with women being bad in my understanding of my religion as a child. What a tragedy. Of course, I have to tell you, that, even though I was a people pleaser when I was a kid, there was a part of me that always loved that apple because it represented the knowledge Eve was after. On more than one occasion, my questions in Sunday school led to church leaders having an “intervention” to “save my soul.” Clearly, I was asking some great questions and must have had some kind of understanding of Eve just needing to eat that apple to get that knowledge.

Thankfully, as an adult, I have learned that many other religions and cultural traditions treasure the apple like I do. In Norse mythology, there is a goddess who is the keeper of a box of apples that are eaten by the gods to give them youth when they start to grow old. How fantastic is this story? The Romans associated apples with Venus, the goddess of love. My son and I have been learning about Jewish holidays and just learned about Rosh Hashanah and the tradition of eating apples dipped in honey to symbolize hope for a sweet new year. Apples and honey seems like the most magnificent tradition to me.

This weekend, we are finally going to have time to head to the apple orchard, and I am so thankful for this. We have had a tough few weeks as a little family. A trip to the apple orchard is exactly what we need, and I know my heart will be joyful.

I did not waste the elderberries…

Day 142 of 365

Well, not all of the elderberries.

I had hoped to write more about apples, but it’s Thursday. This means I am grading essays all evening. This means I cannot write much tonight. No apples tonight, but I have been thinking about them all day.

On the bright side, by some miracle, not all of my elderberries in the refrigerator went bad in the couple of weeks between picking them and finally having time to do something with them. I have been wanting to make elderberry jelly for years but always ended up making syrup. Of course, the last couple of years, there have been no elderberries. The birds ate all of the berries.

Interestingly, this year, I discovered it’s the Robins eating all the berries. I did not know Robins would eat berries, but that’s who was doing it. This year, I managed to make those little birds share with me, but with everything going on, I couldn’t manage to get to those berries. It takes forever and a day to get those tiny berries off to the branches, but it seemed tragic to take the berries from the birds and not do something with them.

Anyway, some of the berries had dried out in the refrigerator, well, about half of them, but I spent several hours getting the rest of the berries off of the branches and researching a good recipe for elderberry jelly. And I did it! And the jelly is beautiful. Because we usually take elderberry syrup for colds and such, the jelly reminds me of medicine, but Ron thinks it’s fantastic. Elderberries are so great for you that I don’t mind the little bit of bitter in the aftertaste.

The only bad thing is that I worked all day and just got these two tiny jars of jelly, plus about a half of one more. Hopefully, now that I know how to make the jelly, I will do better next year. Hopefully, I can make the Robins share again.

Apples: Part I

Day 141 of 365

I was in graduate school before I learned that the Bible doesn’t actually say that Eve ate an apple. It just says she ate a fruit, and I had always thought it was an apple. In art, it’s always the apple. It turns out John Milton, author of the epic poem, Paradise Lost, published in 1667 about the fall of man, said it was an apple. I guess that stuck. Maybe it’s because we really like the aesthetic of apples.

photo credit: Vera De, Unsplash

I have often wondered about this, when a food has an aesthetic we love so much that it becomes a central part of art or decoration in our culture. I wonder about eggs in this same way. Why are eggs so beautiful to me? And I am not alone. Every chicken lady I know spends way too much time taking pictures of eggs and then sharing said pictures on social media. Are the eggs beautiful to us because of something deep inside of us on a primitive level? Eggs are so full of nutrition. Maybe that’s why I love them so, or are they just beautiful?

With apples, I have to believe that their beauty plays a big role in our love for them, but they are nutritious–perhaps not as life giving as the egg–but still. Of course, there’s also hard apple cider, so I supposed apples bring us joy and give humans something in that way too.

This week, our family will go pick apples at a small local orchard. I love picking apples. We have wild apples that grow on our property, which we do not eat, and we planted two apple trees a few years ago. But, so far, the planted apple trees have yet to produce. It could be we have done something wrong for them. Ron and I have much to learn about fruit trees. It’s an area of weakness in our homesteading knowledge, but the pear trees produce most years and were planted just one year before the apple trees.

It’s okay though because we can visit the orchard, and the whole experience is wonderful to me. We will pick a bunch oaf apples. I will make apple pies, apple crisps, and we invented a family treat where I make homemade tortillas and then fill them with cooked apples and cheddar cheese. They are wonderful to me! We will also freeze many bags of apples for future apple pies, apple crisps, and our apple tortilla invention. I wonder if other people would like these. Maybe I will share the recipe. During the pandemic, we had a terrible storm that knocked down or broke many of the big trees on our property. Ron hired a “tree guy” to come in with his team and take down the dangerous trees. It was a group of young men, and they were so sweet and kind. So we made all of them snacks, which included our apple tortilla invention. They seemed to love them. I don’t think they were just being polite. But I digress.

Apples were the first food I fell in love with for its history. If you have not read Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, I highly recommend his chapter on apples. It was a life changer for me. Of course, there is also Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Wild Apples” published in The Atlantic in 1862. Oh, how I wish The Atlantic still published essays on apples. Well, maybe Thoreau said all there was to say.

I have to admit that Thoreau would be ashamed of me that I don’t eat the wild apples on our property, but after rereading his essay this week, I think we should at least get a press and make cider. But then what would the deer eat? Maybe the deer are willing to share?

Uncommon at the Common Ground Fair

Day 140 of 365

Tonight, I have a special blog post from a guest blogger—my husband. He has observed my process of writing every day and seems to admire my dedication. I was hoping, at some point, he would offer a guest blog or two. I have written about him often in my posts. Ron is also the poet and author from the journal, only he writes under “James,” his middle name. I’m excited to have him offer some insights into and, for the purposes of my little blog, a final word of sorts on our experiences at the Common Ground Fair. Truly, I was impressed by my husband’s ability to “people,” and to my surprise, I found he was better than I was most of the time. Ron always has a fantastic perspective on the events of our lives. I am happy to share that perspective with you for tonight’s post. 

A notable variety of surprisingly non-similar footwear—this was, in part, my Common Ground experience. Tilting at windmills—metaphorically of course—from the Farmer-ish “booth”— I use the word booth, but it felt more like a synthetic desert dweller’s pop-up in a hastily erected, gold-inspired, pseudo-nineteenth century future ghost town—I had ample opportunity to watch the passers by.

Normally, I initially glance at faces. After a time, however, I decided to start at the shoes, then, if inspired by a particularly interesting pair, pilot my gaze upward to glimpse the features that went with the feet. I was amazed at the diversity—in both features and feet. Seemingly, humans have an inherent need to distinguish themselves from the group while being simultaneously firmly ensconced in it.

photo credit: Steady Hand Co., Unsplash

It was a great circular migration. There was rain the night before and on the day we arrived to set up the 10 x 10 nylon nomad. Our Subaru navigated through sodden ground, widening puddles, endless mud, and ever-deepening ruts to get to our predesignated plot of hallowed vendor ground. The fair opened Friday morning; by Saturday morning, all of the ruts had been compacted and packed into fairly convincing pretend pavement. According to the Bangor Daily News, 60,000 people passed through the gates. The herd was relentless; its shoes were extremely effective pavers.

Where were they all going and what was leading or driving them? In some measure, I suppose, it was a seasonal migration—the Common Ground Fair being an annual event that occurs every fall, except when it doesn’t. To a certain degree, it also appeared to be a migration for food. On Saturday afternoon, I ventured from the safety of the nylon nomad for a bit and saw lines at the food vendors longer than the packed dirt avenues, which served as their arteries.

Perhaps defiance also stood as partial inspiration. 2020 rendered the ground in Unity, Maine uncommon and kept it that way for two consecutive years. Maybe this was humanity trying to take back its freedom. Even so, I did see the occasional “masker” quickly skirting the margins of the crowd. It did seem everyone I saw wearing a mask walked faster than those who were without masks, which, irrational though it may be, I understood.

I interacted or came close to interacting with maybe one percent of the 60,000. It was enough. I met some kind, friendly people—down-to-earth souls both generous and encouraging. I had some great conversations—even without sales. I discussed philosophy with professors and lawyers, farming and gardening practices with farmers and gardeners—both those experienced with as well as those new to the soil, and environmentalism with all who cared to. I heard a variety of stories—some more unusual than others.

There were lonely people who just wanted to talk; though introverted, I generally obliged them. One man claimed to have the secret to unlimited energy. After some in-depth engineering conversation bordering on late-night infomercial sales pitch—which seemed to go the entire thirty—he informed me he was just waiting for the right moment to reveal his miraculous technology so he could bring down the oil conglomeration and save the planet.

One harried-looking woman stopped by in a lull and told me she was a nomad who lived on the road and had done so for thirteen years. A couple minutes into the conversation she apologized for being sad and told me she was tired and hadn’t slept the previous night. She also told me she was a “targeted” individual, then blurted a couple hasty sentences about what being “targeted” meant, after which, she looked around worriedly and said, “I better go,” and walked quickly away.

Another girl handed me a small card as she walked by. “Some alternative information,” was all she said. This was early on the first day before the crowds formed, so I read her alternative information. I discovered Covid-19 is not contagious and not spread by individuals who have it. In fact, it is not a virus at all; rather, it is a type of radiation poisoning contracted from exposure to 5G. I thought about maybe trying to catch a few of the maskers, so I could give them and their features some freedom, but they were too fast. Instead, I walked next door to the trash tent, which was sedentary and deposited the card into the recycling bin. It seemed like a good alternative for the information.

I ate a lot of imported Canadian scones, drank a lot of well water brought from home, and put a fine edge on two of my pocket knives. Though not my customary mode, I learned I can be gregarious—maybe even charming—if needed. I learned I can sell journals, books, t-shirts, and bags—maybe not like a carney—but I do alright. And, after three long people-filled days punctuated by too short nights and, either white knuckle morning or nodding out night, drives, I also, like Dorothy, but without the benefit of red shoes, learned there really is no place like home. Though I do not regret the experience, next year, the ground in Unity likely will not be quite so common for me.

Homesick

Day 139 of 365

On Saturday morning, while we were sitting in our little booth at the fair, I was people watching a bit, which was one of the coolest things about the fair, I realized how much I missed the sounds of our chickens in the morning. The sounds of the fair was so foreign, and while they were certainly interesting to me, I found myself longing to hear my roosters crowing or the sounds of Ruby and Juliet singing their egg songs. The are both big singers of the egg song. Everyone seems to sing some sort of song, but some are far more vocal than others. As you might imagine, Juliet and Ruby are super stars in this department. Anyway, I missed their sounds,

Oh, and as an aside, I learned thanks to the fair that Ruby likes to sleep late. We were getting up very early in the morning–before sunrise–and all of the chickens were still asleep as I started doing their water and food. Gradually, they would all wake up and get going–but not Ruby. She seemed annoyed we were waking her up.

I also missed Boudica’s energy more than I can say. She is used to us being home and devastated when we would leave. Of course, I was used to be with her; I was kind of devastated as we would leave too.

Today, Boudica was so happy we were staying home with her. Ron cooked a big farm breakfast for us of eggs from our hens, hash browns from garden, and homemade jam on homemade bread. The food at the Common Ground Fair is so much better than typical fair food. It’s all organic, and there is some great stuff there. Still, you have to stand in line forever to get something to eat, and it’s still not as good as the organic food we eat straight from our little farmstead. Boudic “helped” me finish my breakfast.

I am pretty sure I saw her smiling.

Day 4 of the Common Ground Fair: We Made it!

Day 138 of 365

I am too tired to write tonight. I had to grade essays when we got home from the fair, and I was literally falling asleep sitting up grading. I am still processing all of that people study anyway.

I thought I would just share a quote tonight because it seems relevant to my experiences this weekend, though, again, I am still processing.

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

~Henry David Thoreau

Day 3 of the Common Ground Fair (a Perfectly-Timed Kindness)

Day 137 of 365

Today was our third day of experience with the Common Ground Fair with just one day to go. It has been fascinating and exhausting. Our sales were much worse today than yesterday, but the day was so much better overall. And we made many good connections for the journal, so that was wonderful.

Yesterday, I had a really tough experience at the fair. It was windy and cold, and I was so tired. Ronan and I were scheduled to read poetry in the children’s area. It was printed in the schedule that went out to everyone, but when we showed up, they had double booked someone else for the same time and sent us on our way. The worst was the lady was really, really rude to me, acting as if I was making it up that we were on the schedule. This bothered me because it happened in front of my son, and he seemed a little upset. He didn’t say much but acted kind of weird about it.

When we got home last night, I was crying to Ron and telling him that it was so hard to be humiliated in front of my kid. Our son has a lot of pride (too much sometimes, but we try to help him work on this), and it worried me for him to see me treated like that.

By some miracle, the universe gave me the perfect gift today. I was scheduled to give a talk on chickens and sustainable living. I was very nervous about actually getting to present after what happened yesterday, and I was so tired, I didn’t get to prepare much. Still, I know this stuff in my bones and decided to just wing it. When my son asked to come, I was worried though. What if this went badly?

I am so happy to report it did not go badly. It was, perhaps, the best presentation I have given in my life–and I used to present a lot. The audience was full and loved it, and laughed at my jokes and asked the best questions and listened to my chicken stories. One lady called me “a chicken whisperer,” and she meant it in an admiring way, not a making fun of me way, which I sometimes get.

My son sat in the audience and made a perfectly-timed joke or two, and it was the best. When we were walking back to our booth, Ronan said, when a man got up to leave at the end, he leaned over and said to my son, “Your mom is fantastic.”

I am crying writing this. What a kindness. What a perfectly-timed kindness. I needed my kid to see me do well. I needed it badly.

It was a slow day sales but a great day otherwise. I’m still trying to process it all, and I am so overwhelmed by the people I realize I can NEVER do this again. It’s just not possible.

Plus, our son (he’s 13 and 6′ 3″) has been eating so much at the fair that I think he’s eaten all of our profits from sales of the annual. I told Ron I wanted to go get a handmade wooden spoon before we left the fair (this has always been my tradition at the fair), but Ron said “After all of our kid’s eating, if you buy a wooden spoon, we’re going in the hole.”

He’s not wrong. Sales were weirdly slow today. Oh, and at the end of the day, our came back to our booth and said he spent the last of his food money buying a round of lemonade for his friends (he has made friends with the other vendor kids). Lemonade at the fair costs $7 per cup!!!! I love that kid, but also, I was like, I’m never getting that wooden spoon.

Day 2 of the Common Ground Fair

Day 136 of 365

Today was our first day to be open for business at the Common Ground Fair, and we are all exhausted around here. Honestly, I am a little worried about our ability to make it another two days with this. I will keep this brief, as I really need to wrap up my work and get to bed.

Things didn’t got as well as we had hoped, but I noticed this was the case for a lot of vendors. It could be it was cold and windy. It could be something else. We are hoping for a better day tomorrow though. Of course, right now, we are just hoping our tent doesn’t blow away tonight. We did all the things to make it extra secure, but the wind is a worry.

I hope to have more to say tomorrow. I think I’m still processing. It was a lot to take in.

Day 1 of the Common Ground Fair (set up)

Day 135 of 365

Today was scary tough. There is a part of me who is so proud we overcame so many obstacles, but there is another part of me, my superstitious side, that is worried about so many obstacles. Are we doing the right thing? I guess we will know soon enough.

At the end of day, after setting up in the rain, the rain stopped. Our son noticed this beautiful sky. It was magnificent.

Today was set up day for the Common Ground Fair. It was pouring rain all day. After working all afternoon to get the camper shell on Ron’s pickup, so we could haul all of our books and such to the fair in the pickup, we discovered the pickup had a flat. Ron was so upset. There has been a lot of road construction going on in our area, and he picked up metal spike of some kind. So we are going to have fit everything in that Subaru somehow. I swear, that car is a miracle. I hope it can pull this off. Thankfully, it fit the tent we had to set up today without any issue. My fingers are crossed for the table and books tomorrow.

On our way to the fair grounds, the main road was closed. We had to take a big detour. As we are taking the detour, my mind was starting to race. Why is this so hard? Why is the path blocked? I had no idea what else was coming. The path was about get more difficult.

When we arrived at the fair grounds, it was a muddy, chaotic mess. The place where we were supposed to have for our booth had other booths there. Things had been moved by someone, but nothing was marked. After nearly an hour, we found help, but even then, there was more chaos. They put our booth next to a parked car that took up a bit of our space. They told me to try to find the owner of the car. I spent half an hour searching the fair grounds asking about a light blue Camry. No luck. I am just thankful they didn’t put us in the spot where the Camry was. That was suggested, but I refused on that point. In the end, we just had to move our both over a few feet, as I never found the owner of the blue Camry.

Thankfully, in the rain, we worked together and got the tent set up. It looks great. We will decorate tomorrow. I am thankful for my husband. I am thankful for my son. I watched the fancy journal doing their booth set up. They had a whole team of women and a double tent and so many cute decorations. But I have my guys, and even if our booth isn’t as good, it’s going to be so full of love and hope.

And on the way home, Ron said to our son, “Look at all we overcame today. We had to persevere, but we did. We got it done.” He added, “Sometimes, in life, you have to do this.”

Somehow, despite the worry in the back of my mind, my heart is still hopeful.