All posts by Laurie Graves

I write about nature, food, the environment, home, family, community, and people.

Unexpected Beauty between Cumberland Farms and Rite Aid

Finally, finally the heat broke last week, and no longer do I sweat just sitting at my desk and typing. A good feeling! In fact, today is chilly enough so that I actually have on a sweater as I sit and work. And we have had a few glorious August days, typical for Maine but getting rarer as the climate changes: Hot,  sunny, and dry during the day—about 80°F—and deliciously cool enough at night so that blankets are needed.

One night, as I lay in bed with the windows open—I leave them open until it becomes too cold to do so—I listened to the song of the crickets, high, sweet, and sad. I heard the hoot of a barred owl. No cars drove by. Next door, no little boy tooted on his horn. No work across the street on a garage being built. Only the symphony of animals and insects, free from the noise of humans.

We humans have such a way of intruding. You might even call us invasive, and we have the gall of criticizing other species that seem to take up too much space, too many resources. But who are we to wag the finger as we burn through Earth’s resources?

I thought of this the other day when we went to our local Cumby’s, to get air for our car’s tires. As I sat and waited for Clif to fill the tires, I noticed an unlikely strip of beauty, wedged between the gas station and the road, with a Rite Aid on the other side. Luckily I had my camera with me.

This spot is a wet area, in its glory right now, and from this picture, you’d never guess how small and cramped it is. But here is an opportunity, and nature filled in. No doubt water creatures live there, too, caught between the parking lot and the road.

You have probably also noticed the purple loosestrife, which has been dubbed invasive, and I guess it is. But despite its name—did Dickens come up with it?—and spreading ways, it is a lovely flower that attracts lots of pollinators. Even though purple loosestrife is the bane of naturalists, I have sympathy for this plant that, along with with goldenrod and cattails, can bloom in a wet spot surrounded by asphalt and traffic.

One day, I wonder, will we be grateful for this tough beauty that has the ability to thrive in such a cramped area?

Who knows? But here in Winthrop, Maine, purple loosestrife has at least one admirer.

 

Part Three: Success!

The other day, with a few containers in our bag, we made a trip to the Gardiner Co-op to check out their bulk food section. We wanted  to see how easy it would be to use our own containers. We considered this a scouting trip and only brought a couple of containers.

We found that the Co-op has a small but practical bulk food section, with items such as rice, beans, and lentils, among other things. These are staples in our house, and we eat them, in one form or another, every week.

We needed chickpeas and black beans, and the clerk cheerfully weighed our empty containers before we filled them. We didn’t feel at all odd or as though we were asking him to do something that was an imposition. In fact, he acted as though it were a normal request. So all in all, we felt bringing our own containers was a smashing success, and we will definitely return to the Co-op. Here is what we came home with.

The big container with the black beans once held peanuts. (Yes, we do love peanuts.) As it turns out, this container is the perfect size for getting bulk food out from the bins without spilling anything on the floor. The jar that we used for chickpeas was a little too small, although Clif did avoid any spillage.

Although the peanut container is made of plastic, it is sturdy and fits easily in our cupboards. For now, at least, we will continue to buy peanuts in that packaging as we will be reusing the containers for bulk purchases. When we have enough of those containers, we will have to reassess how we buy peanuts.

A day after we went to the Gardiner Co-op, we went to our local Hannaford grocery store to find out about their bulk food. Their selection is not as practical as the Co-op’s and runs more toward treats—chocolate-covered peanuts, granola, and sesame sticks, to name a few.

However, I am a person who, ahem, loves treats, and let’s just say that of all the food that comes in wasteful, non-recyclable packaging, treats are at the top of the list. So I am totally into bulk treats.

But there was a bit of a snag at Hannaford. When I asked a clerk whether it was all right to bring in our own containers for bulk food, he hesitated before saying, “Yes, but we don’t weigh the packaging.” This means that you have to pay for the cost of the containers when the food is weighed.  H-m-m-m, I’ll have to think more about that one.

Finally, on a different but related subject, here is something that should go into the Green Hall of Fame. After going to the Gardiner Co-op, we met our friends Alice and Joel at a local Mexican Restaurant. They always order enough so that there is food leftover for a meal at home. And here is what they do.

They bring their own containers from home, including the cardboard ones for the condiments. And Alice assured me that she finds plenty of ways to use the little condiment containers.

Do we have awesome friends, or what?

Part Two: It’s Not Easy Being Green

The world is in transition—either burning or flooding. This summer has been especially bad in too many places. Clif and I have decided to take action in our own small way. Being two green beans for a long time, we have always aimed to live lightly, and by American standards, we have a modest lifestyle. For many years, we have been a one-car family, very unusual in this country.  We limit our driving.  We don’t fly. We recycle. We don’t use plastic straws, at least not most of the time.

But that’s the low-hanging fruit.

Chickens looking for low-hanging fruit

 

To continue with the metaphor, the higher up you go, the harder it gets.

Chicken jumping for fruit higher up

 

In short, it’s not easy being green, and it would be remiss of me not to write about this issue. Every person has a different situation, and what’s hard for us might not be hard for you, but I suspect there is enough overlap so that our problems are common to many.

But never fear, I have also included possible solutions to our problems.

Item One: Being green is more expensive. Local, organic food costs more, and ditto for electric cars and bikes. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Clif and I have a budget that’s as big as a minute, and we have to be careful not only with our nickles and dimes, but also with our pennies. For us, this is a large obstacle that must be dealt with creatively.

Solution: Lucky for me, I can cook. I am not a gourmet chef by any means, but I’m a good home cook who has mastered the basics. My immediate plan is to bake from scratch—even more than I do now—so that most of our bread and other goodies come from my kitchen.

Item Two: We live in a world of packaging. The next time you go grocery shopping, take a good look at what’s in your  cart. Note the boxes, the plastic, the foil, and various other wrappings. Cereal, milk, cheese, butter, eggs. Shampoo. Laundry detergent.  Everything comes in a package and must either be discarded or recycled. And now that China is no longer accepting much of our plastic trash, recycling has gotten more difficult.

Possible solution: We will be making a greater effort to buy food  that isn’t packaged. Not too far from where we live is the Gardiner Co-op. They sell bulk items and will let customers bring in their own containers. We will be giving this a shot very soon. I also plan to check with Hannaford to see if they will let us use our own containers for bulk items.

Item Three: Being green is not convenient. Or, we want to go where we want to go,  and in this country, for most of us, that involves driving. You want to go to a movie? Get in your car. Visit with friends and family? Get in your car. Go shopping? Travel? Get in your car, or even worse, fly.  This is a very tough nut for Clif and I to crack. The town we live in—Winthrop—is beautiful but not exactly dynamic when it comes to anything cultural. We do have museums, cinemas, and theaters in nearby towns, but going to any of things involves driving as we don’t have much in the way of public transportation.

Short term solution: Bike as much as we can and limit our driving. Longer term solution: We would like to buy an electric car, and every year, the technology improves. But even then, we need to be mindful about how much energy we use.

There. That’s enough for now. I’d love to hear from all of you about your problems with being green and  your solutions.

Part One: Climate Change Is Here

Today, It was 90° outside, and the air was so heavy that it seemed as though I could feel it press against me. Because of this, I set up a temporary office in our basement—or down cellar, as we would say in Maine. Once we had a family room in part of the basement, but when the kids left it became a sort of catchall, a jumble of castoffs that we aren’t ready to part with. Let’s just say that this room has zero ambiance, especially when you add the litter box for the cats.

But it was cool down cellar. I was not sweating as I typed on my laptop, and man oh man, was that a good feeling. To heck with ambience.

We have lived in this house in the woods for thirty-four years, and in the past the trees and the shade have protected us from the worst heat of summer. A fan in the attic was enough to cool the house down at night. For the most part, no air conditioner was wanted or needed.

How things have changed in thirty-four years. Our once pleasant Maine summers have become brutally hot, and there have been ozone alerts on the coast. Extreme fires are burning in this country and in other countries, too. In California, one fire was so hot and so large that it had its own weather pattern. There was even a fire tornado, something that sounds like it came straight from hell.

At least there are no fire tornadoes in Maine, and we have had enough moisture to keep us out of a drought.

But it is beyond my comprehension how anyone can deny that climate change is real and is happening right now. Some people do, but it seems to me that most folks, whether liberal or conservative, understand that a big change has come to this planet, and it’s not especially good for us humans.

In my heat-induced stupor, I accidentally published this before I was ready, and I know some of you have received the email notice. So consider this to be Part One, with more coming later this week.

In the next post, I’ll write about changes we are planning to make in our lives so that we are living more lightly, more minimally, more sustainably, whatever you want to call it. Because we are all responsible, at some level, for climate change, and while big corporations certainly must play a larger role in addressing the problem, I feel I must play my part, too.

Onward, ho!

 

 

Steampunk in Kennebunk

On Saturday, Clif and I headed to southern Maine, to Kennebunk, to set up our wares at a Steampunk Fair sponsored by the Brick Store Museum. The weather was not with us, and it poured midmorning. Fortunately, indoor provisions at the town hall were made for the vendors, and we were dry if a little warm—there was no air conditioning in the auditorium.

But never fear! Fans were on sale and were a big hit.

And even those without fans seemed perfectly happy.

But this deep sea diver must have been oh so hot.

Along with our books, there were other nifty things for sale. Among them were sweet little pins by Miss & Niff’s Trinkets and Treasures,

as well as funky lamps by Light- Q  Creations.

What a good day we  had being with these quirky, creative people. While the rain kept some folks away, we sold enough books to make the trip worthwhile.

Next year, we will return.