Wednesday, October 28, 2009

mmm, Apple Squares

I started making these when I had 4 lunch bags to fill (5 if we count J, who makes his own lunches). An apple pie would last for one dinner with the 6 of us, but apple squares last several days, travel well and can be held and eaten without utensils.



From my computer I see yellow; my garden is shutting down for the winter. Yellowing hostas, lilies and maples(because our Norway maples not only are invasive plants, but turn only yellow, not multi-colored like normal maples). Two mums are still going strong and add a purple and orange splash.

As I drove into Augusta yesterday, I noticed the wind and rain had stripped the early colors and we had moved into the second stage of fall foliage. If the maples, sumacs and burning bushes are glowing jewel tones, the oaks and birches are burnished metals. Tarnished brass, warm bronze, dull gold and deep copper are the colors of my outdoors now. Soon, it will be just grays,browns and black against either brilliant blue skies, or swirling white. Or a soft woolly gray day like today.

And while I am always sad to see the warm weather go, there is satisfaction in buttoning up the house and yard for another winter. Cleaning up my gardens and looking forward to next spring. Closing the storm windows and putting up winter drapes to make home snug. Making the first beef stew of the season, and freezing some to bring to Sectaurs in his new house. Making apple squares instead of apple pie (pie is easier) because my family likes them better.

I need to focus on the things I like because it is too easy for me to slide into semi-hibernation and depression in the short days of winter. Luckily, I have dogs who insist on making me laugh and get up, if only to let them in and out several times a day.

Speaking of which, the view from my computer now includes a big black head, woo-wooing at me mournfully. Rosie wants in.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mother, May I ?

(I'd like to say that is not me, ignoring my mother, but I think I would be lying)

I went to our library's book sale this morning, and spent an hour checking each box on every table. Came home with about 10 books for $3.50, so a fruitful trip. I amused myself by noting how we each reacted to the subtle body language of our neighboring shopper and moved gracefully aside silently when it was time to swap places.

Tilting my bifocals to the right angle to read the titles of the books in boxes under the table, I saw "Umbrella Steps"  and heard the whirr of the way-back machine. I haven't thought of Mother, May I? in years and years.

We played this and Red Light, Green Light often and loudly.  The umbrella steps were always my favorite, though the boys favored giant steps. Crossing your feet and twirling with your arms over your head didn't get you much closer to "Mother", but it was fun.

We played this at home of course, but the clearest memories I have are in my maternal grandparents' front yard, in the long dusk of a summer evening. We would  cook hotdogs on a fire, drink Tru-Aid from tall colored metal cups, and run around and through the 20+ foot diameter lilac grove, playing hide and seek while the grownups may have gone inside to play High-low-jack.  Good times.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Slinging dirt

J had today off and we hoped to have our neighbor down to smooth out our mountain o'dirt for us.  His son duly showed up on a wonderful piece of machinery and did a great job of eyeballing the levelness from his lofty perch.


He toodled off home and we went out to do our own eyeballing. I should mention here that J has a visual handicap- he can't see straight worth @!*&.  When we work together I point out where the nails need to be to go through the wood and nudge the drill level for him. I am sure he hates appreciates my interference assistance.

It started out well, it was obvious the front needed to be higher, so J started scooping. Then, it went rapidly downhill (as did the dirt) as we crouched down ala Tiger Woods to  look from the side. I could clearly see the crown in the middle that needed to be removed, and assumed (I know, I know) that J could as well. He made it very clear that he did not see it and we stomped around angrily I drew a line in the sand. Literally. Move that dirt over here. It got very silent for awhile, but you know, adrenaline does help a job go faster. And keeps you warmer.

It turned out pretty darn level, or as we like to say, "good enough, dammit".
A friend who is a carpenter stopped by today and told J that we did a good job of leveling it, so yay!  AND, he complimented us on our awesome stairs!  Double yay!

If that cat of ours goes out there and uses it as a sandbox, she better be smoothing it behind her!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Shaking my perspective

Indian summer seems to be this week. The temp today got above 60 and I had to decide the best use of the day. Though I had other things I wanted to do, I admitted that getting the top coat on the front door was the most temperature sensitive chore.

We had saved the leftover white paint from our porch in a gallon milk jug. Why? I don't know, maybe we thought we would be using it within a few months, instead of nearly 3 years later. It held a 3 inch layer of liquid on top of 3 inches of solids. In a milk jug. A paint stick will not work well. No problem, I'll shake it. As I stood over the kitchen sink, my first thought is this is such a workout that Richard Simmons should be singing; then, if J were doing this I would be telling him to take it outside, even though the cap was being held on tightly.

Shaking did get the thin liquid mixed in enough to look white, but not well enough. Out to the shed, where I found a scrap of wood thin enough to fit in the jug neck. That got a little more solids, but I decided I had to cut the top of the jug off, which I did with a handy utility knife (yes, I wiped it off, J).  Now I could use the regular paint stirrer, and found a huge chunk was still in the bottom. You know what would work? My potato masher, so back to the house I go. Hmm, would a whisk be better, because I have that one that's rusty and I don't use- no, the masher it is.

Now, if I found J using my potato masher in a paint can I would be outraged. But it worked pretty well, and washed up fine. After 20 minutes of mashing and stirring the curds and whey, I had paint that was almost smooth. Again, the ghost of J was there with me- I would have said holy crap forget about it and use what there is there after 10 minutes max. But, if I were watching J, I would have said he could get it smoother, and the lumps are all the pigment, so I kept on, thinking that geez, I give him a lot of crap. He's an adult, in fact he is 3 years older than I, why don't I trust his judgment? I have my reasons. Let's leave it at that.

Finally the J in my head said it would be alright to let the little stubborn bits that refused to mingle stay in the jug. I poured the rest into a plastic  2 lb. coffee  can with a nice handle, thinking probably I should strain this so the big lumps stay behind. But strain it through what?  Cheese cloth is what you use for straining, but who has that sitting around. My mother probably, or she would say use an old curtain from the rag bag. Great, now my mom is there with J in my head. What happened to Richard Simmons?

Ready to paint, finally!  Aaannnd, the front door is covered with ladybugs! I don't know if this happens in other places, but here in Maine we get a ladybug invasion every October. They crawl into crevices and die. I assume they would die outside too, so I don't know why they do this, but they do. Close the storm windows too late and you'll have a pile of little spotted carcasses in the sill.

So I brush them away warning them not to come back, to no avail. They landed on the wet paint, on me and in the paint can. The good news is that now if anyone questions the lumpy paint, I can say it's the bugs.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Halloween is creeping up

Here are the pictures of the ghoulies who have popped up in our yard. They started off back by the fence.

Then, moved a little closer to the driveway.

A day or so later, I noticed a few more had joined in the fence group.

It's not very clear but there are also some corn stalks there, which is the only useful thing we got from our garden this year. I had one freakin' ear of corn to eat! And J's Indian corn turned out to be all white flint corn, so no pretty colors.  Some animals liked it though and have eaten all the ears after dragging the stalks down.

Finally, I came home last week after training to find this guy sitting in the dark.

These are his little buddies that like to hang with him.

No idea if he's done yet, but I will be looking over my shoulder, just in case.

You know what's sad?  We don't get trick-or-treaters any more. All the neighbor kids are grown up. J is so disappointed each year.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Made it through 2 days of work

That sounds pitiful- 2 days! Well, it's really 2 nights and it was stressful going back to do a job I hadn't done in, oh, 14 years or so. Going well, thank you, and as of 11/6 I will have a 2 hour refresher class and head back to the research area. Which, I belatedly realized means that I can't take the first ending date before Christmas, but will be staying until maybe mid-January.

Sunday night was my first shift on the phones (7:30pm to 1:30pm) and was not all together comfortable. Rather than lactose intolerant, my body is lactose fickle, and it turned out that banana pudding an hour before leaving was not a good idea.
My children have let me know that their father did indeed sing around the house, while I was gone. Hmm. So they had wonderful fun times while I was working and I should feel insulted? Hmm, not good.
Upon further investigation, it seems there was usually a musical device involved, instead of a cappella warbling. Although the reports of "Sixteen Tons" singing while dish washing may have been true.

He also sang a song he swore was by Elvis Presley,  Big Boots but no one else seemed to know the song, until he asked his eldest sister years later and she backed him up.

Lastly, when he bathed the kids, he always sang as he toweled their hair dry. No specific tune, just la la la la la.  (I think he started doing that to drown out the protests over hair snarling, etc)
The weather was not quite so cold today, and I figured I'd get a start on moving the mountain of gravel. Yeah, so that didn't last more than 10 minutes. I think we'll be calling our computer guy, who also has a backhoe (love living in the country) and pay him the $30 for an hour's worth of spreading. Probably take only 20 minutes tops.
J has been getting his Halloween stuff out, and every day after work, he usually gets one more mask or dummy in place. It's a little creepy, sort of stop-action decoration. When I go out I get a feeling like something is different, but what? The guys are closer to the door every day. I'll have to get some photos tomorrow.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Way-back machine #2

My father mentioned raking leaves in one of his recent emails and I thought, I have a picture to go with that. (Hope you don't mind me using you, Pa)
" Just reminiscing about the old days - we'd rake up a big pile of leaves and the kids would play in it for hours! So did we, now and then! No need for Ipods and Blackberries and Game Boys! And much less expensive and simpler, and just plain fun!"

That is an uncle with me in our front yard.  A yard filled with oak trees which provided many, many leaves to rake and play with, and best of all, burn! Yes, the good old days when no one knew about the ozone layer and everyone burned their little piles of leaves on the gravel driveways.  My father was in charge, but we got to push the edge leaves in further and let them catch on fire.  I don't remember ever being in charge of a fire, but maybe the younger kids got to do that later on, when they were the only ones home.

I do remember my brother had the chore of burning the trash out back (another thing everyone we knew did back then) until the day he somehow set the backyard on fire. Not a big fire, just a little more than he could quickly douse before being noticed.  

I miss the smell of burning leaves in the fall- the crisp days and bright colors just don't seem complete without that sweet aroma. We do have the smell of woodsmoke in the air since several neighbors heat with wood, and that's nice, but it's not the same.

Mr Crazy sings- or not

I've mentioned before my constant desire to burst into song + my tone deafness = keeping my singing private. A few days ago I was once again lamenting my lack of talent, when J kindly told me I sounded fine. In reply to my raised eyebrow, he said he hears me in the shower and it's not bad.  Maybe, I do sound better in the shower because I'm not worrying about inflicting my dulcet tones on others. Maybe I shouldn't be so self-conscious and dare to sing aloud.  Maybe I better remember J's hearing loss.

This morning, after a fine rendition of "It's a small world, after all" I realized I have never heard J sing in the shower. 32 years and the man has never sung in the shower?

"J, how come you don't sing or whistle? "
"I listen to music, I don't sing it"*

Later, as we drive by an organic beef farm, I point out two little baby calves. As I fondly think how endearing wobbly baby creatures are, and check out the lambs in the next field, I hear: "I haven't had veal parmigiana in a long time".

I look at him and Mr Crazy says with dignity "I don't sing, I ponder."

*However, he has been known to sing at parties 

Friday, October 16, 2009

Back to work

This was it- the end of my 6 month vacation from work. I had 6 hours of refresher training tonight and 6 more Friday, during which I will take live calls. Yikes.

I am going back to the same workplace for the seasonal ramp-up, but taking order calls, at least at first. My job used to be taking internal calls from reps, and the escalated customer calls. At first I thought, no way will I ever go back to the old days, but as it grew closer and closer to spending 6 or 8 hours at a time taking order after order, I caved.  When I was asked to go back to the research job, I said yes, but it will be 3 weeks or so before I change over.

 I was pretty relieved when I was able to remember how to place an order - I mean of course I can take the information and by golly, it will be accurate, but there is a mandatory call flow to maximize the time/cost ratio and I worry about that. But, since I am scheduled for just 4 shifts before I switch over, I should make it okay. I would hate to not do the job well. Seriously. I don't want someone telling me I did it wrong. And have to be gracious about it and thank them for the constructive criticism.

Since I told them I had no restrictions as to days or times, my schedules are all over the place, ranging from starting at 2pm to 7:30 pm. Which means my end times are 8pm to 1:30. Another plus to changing from order taking- I will have a more set schedule.   It was strange driving home at 11 tonight- I haven't been out that late in a long time. I've been up, just not out.

And then, adrenaline rush at the train crossing! The back road I take runs parallel to the tracks for a mile or so, then crosses it. Sometimes the freight trains stop there to pick up or leave cars at the siding, which can really mess up the timing of my drive to work. I don't usually leave much margin for error, and sitting there for 5 minutes is not good.

What is equally annoying is sitting there at 11:30 at night and watching the train go by slowly, slowly and praying that the last car will come into sight. Then, just as you watch the car get to the crossing, the entire train shudders to a stop, groans and starts backing up! It is 8 minutes to my house from there. If I turn around and go the long way around to town to get home, it takes closer to 15 or 20 minutes. I sit there and watch the clock, trying to decide when it would have been the ideal time to detour.

So, I drove down that road tonight and saw the train was moving, but couldn't tell for sure in the darkness which direction it was going. As I pulled closer, I saw the giant headlight pointing the same way as I was, and sped up a little. Could I get to the crossing before the train? And how far ahead of it? There is a flashing light but no rail that drops down, so no barrier to driving except common sense, or the train itself.

It turned out that it was almost stopped a good 200 feet or so from the road and the warning lights were not flashing, so I cruised over the tracks safely. Still gives you a jolt though when you see that big light shining straight at you as you cross its path.
That's as close as I get to being a daredevil.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

He'd die without me

My husband loves to watch movies: war movies, scary ones, zombies, ninjas, spies and stupid giant anaconda movies. You'd think he would get useful tips from all of these, but no. He would be fated to be one of the folks that get killed by the vampire/psycho/backwoods mad scientist, because he NEVER looks behind him.

When he gets up from the table, he's done. Not talking dinner time when we both clear up afterward, but when he has a snack or fixes his own, he can happily abandon the bowl and the parmesan cheese sitting on the table, waiting for Rosie to slide her nose over to grab them.

He can walk out of the bathroom, and ignore the puddle of water on the floor that I step into.  He has no idea how it gets there. "Did you forget your towel and have to grab one around the corner?" Nope . "Did you grab a razor? Open the curtain for any reason with the water on?"  Nope.  It's there because he doesn't make sure the curtain is flat against the wall. Behind him.

Trims his mustache and lets the little hairs fall where they may. Leaves his slippers in the living room with two crazy dogs.  You get the idea.

So, if a homicidal alien came to town, J would never see it coming. He'd be that person with his back to the door, crossing the room to close the shades and getting zapped. "Did you hear that funny slurping sound as you left the room?" Nope.
Of course not, it was behind him.

And if he keeps walking faster than me in parking lots, he won't have to wait for a homicidal alien to get him.  Just saying, it gets annoying.

(Of course he does his own laundry, including ironing, cooks at least half of our meals and feeds the hens, but for the purposes of this post- none of that matters)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Not quite 16 tons, but lots o'dirt

So, I woke up to a surprise in the front yard- This is what 6 yards of gravel looks like:

(J adds a little to his Halloween displays every day. Hmm, and we have to remember to close the chicken coop windows)

I'll just have to keep thinking of the money we are saving while we move this stuff around. Basically, half of the pile has to get over to the left side.

 We have 3 weeks to get it done and may get snow tomorrow- just a little though, and I am still expecting Indian summer to come through for me. Meanwhile, we did manage to get the paint around the front door.

So, not much to say today that would interest anyone other than family. Sorry.

Friday, October 9, 2009

She wanted to do it, honest!

Sorting through some family photos this week, I came across some from the way-back machine.  I was five when these were taken, fifty years ago. Wow, that sounds old when it's written down. It doesn't feel like that long ago. Anyway.

We often dug holes and played with water, but it was supposed to be out in the backyard, over where the sandy soil was. Not at the edge of the driveway where the hose was handy. I do have a vague memory of this, and the most important part is that we (my brother, #2, and I) were happily digging our mud pit, when #4 asked to go in it.

 Nevermind that she was about 18 months old, she was always a clever little thing and knew what she wanted. What were we to do?

My mother thinks we should have said no.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What is it, girl? Timmy's in the well?!?

A wee flutter of excitement here this evening, involving (what else?) the dogs.  We heard frantic barking outside, which usually means someone is daring to walk by on the road, and the animals are warning them to keep off the grass. J went to call them in, and Rosie came galloping into the living room where I was reading.

Just Rosie, and I could still hear Boomer's high pitched yips. I asked Rosie what was going on as she leapt up at me, and turned in circles. When she kept this up, I stood up and her gyrating became more urgent. This is a big lanky dog whose jumping resembles that of a cow. Have you ever seen a cow suddenly run and kick up it's heels? No, well, it doesn't happen often because they look like fools! Rosie obviously wanted me to go outside with her.

We met J coming back in and he informed me that Boomer was outside barking at something. I told him Rosie had already told me that he needed help. Sure enough, Boomer had gotten himself inside the fenced garden area, where they are forbidden to go. Rosie had already been scolded for being in there earlier. The fence is 24 inches high and Boomer, unlike Rosie, can jump twice his height and twirl about at the same time. His captivity was purely psychological (he must have climbed over a board that was leaning up against the chicken wire) and I had to go lift him out.

Both dogs did happy dances and were sent to bed.

No pictures due to the rapid development of events.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Got the green light...well, the orange tag

I went down to the town hall and got our building permit for our new shed today. We are good to go.  Since we first started this project, it has been changed from a do-it-yourself garage to a pre-built workshop.  Finances and a reality check on our actual construction speed/stamina resulted in ordering a 14x24 building. Which hasn't been ordered yet, since there is a non-refundable deposit due, we wanted the permit in hand first.

Next up, order it and get the site ready in the 4 weeks we have to wait. The raspberries are down to a small 8x8 remnant and then we get the gravel base in and leveled.  Finances once again dictate that we will probably be spreading that ourselves, unless we are pleasantly surprised with a price quote.  Not likely.

Now J and I amuse ourselves by discussing size and placement of various workbenches. It will be so nice to have each saw ready to use without having to move the others out of the way first.

J will be in heaven with all the empty wall space.  The attached shed we have been using for tools is stocked like a hardware store. Shelves of screws all in little boxes, flat head, round head, machine and wood screws. Nails from brads to 16p, steel and galvanized. Screwdrivers- straight slot and phillips head- so many of those I don't know why he gets upset when I use one to pry something open!  When all of this stuff gets moved to the new shed, we should actually be able to park a car in there if needed. 

Let the fun commence.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Yes, really

If you saw my last post, you know Boomer had ripped open the cushion on my porch glider and started on the foam layer underneath.  I cleaned it up and thoughtfully left the flat foam under the old slipcover for the doggy comfort. (I would like to make plain that the dirty slipcover was for the dogs, so that the cushions below stayed clean for human use. Sadly, the cushions are no more)

Now, I would like to say Boomer is a slow learner and that I was too optimistic thinking he had all the fun possible already and would appreciate the cover over the springs. But, maybe I am as slow as he is?

This is what we found tonight after it got suspiciously quiet outside:

Boomer tried to look dignified as we got the camera, laughing unmercifully. We got him out and he went off to bed in his crate.

Everything gets cleaned up tomorrow. Unless it rains.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


This is what you get when you don't remove a cushion after noticing a little nibble and a few pieces of foam.

It looks like those pictures of a shark-bitten surfboard. Boomer's mouth is not that large, but he does get ferocious with foam attacks.

Sigh.  I did pay just .50 for the slipcover and I can pick up the foam for reuse, but damn, I wish I had taken the cushions in earlier!   And that he would stop with the gnawing.

Guest Blogger today

To start off October with a bang, I have a guest blogger, Michael Harling, who usually writes about his life in Great Britain, but decided to take me up on my offer to drop by when he found himself in the neighborhood. Just in time for the foliage to be turning color. Take it away, Mike.

Endless Summer : The Postcards Tour Finale

I started this tour just as summer was beginning, so it seems fitting to end it just as summer draws to a close and autumn takes over. It's been fun and I've met a lot of great people, but touring is tiring, even in the virtual world, so I'm taking advantage of that magic we call the Internet to round up the Kindness of Strangers Tour by relying on the kindness of several strangers at once. In a way, making my final tour stop to ten locations simultaneously seems the perfect ending for it, one big autumnal burst before quietly fading away.

This tour began as a means of promoting my book, but it soon became an end in itself and took on a life of its own. Very often, I found myself having such a good time "visiting" people around the globe that I forgot to mention the book. To date, my trip has taken me from Britain to Canada, Australia, sunny Spain, Tenerife and even back to my own hometown, ending up here in Maine with Linda.

In case you've never been here, Maine is a big place, with lot and lots and lots of trees. My wife and I spent two days driving through them two summers ago. Mistakenly believing my British wife would get a good glimpse of the stunning scenery that is New England, I scheduled a car trip from one end of Maine to the other during our visit. All she saw for two straight days was a huge trench made up of pine trees on the left, pine trees on the right and a straight ribbon of macadam for a base where she sat in a car looking out at pine trees to the right and pine trees to the left! You get the idea.

I tried to tell her that Maine was a beautiful state containing stunning, rugged wilderness. And if you go out as far as Monmouth, they still have Indian attacks. But she wasn't having any of that; mostly she just played the licence plate game and got occasional enjoyment by punching me every time she saw (or imagined she saw) a VW Beetle (c'mon, you remember "Punch-Buggy!" from when you were a teenager).

Time to wrap this final post up; Linda is telling me I have to help her close the stockade doors and bolt the shutters.

I have to say, of all the adventures I might have imagined for my life as a young boy, touring the blogsphere on other people's blogs was not a contender. But then the idea of leaving my quiet, rural life, moving to England, marrying a foreigner and writing a book about it never occurred to me, either. I'm glad and grateful for having done both, however, and although the tour is coming to an end, the adventure continues.

May yours continue as well.

Thanks and Good-bye from


Visit the Tour Page for the latest Tour updates.

Michael Harling is the author of
"Postcards From Across the Pond" dispatches from an accidental expat.

"Laugh out loud funny regardless of which side of the pond you call home. Bill Bryson move over, there's a new American expat in town with a keen sense of humor." -- Jeff Yeager, author of “The Ultimate Cheapskate�

Buy the Book:

Follow the Tour:

Visit the Home Page: