Westward Ho!

We're packin' up our every possession and headin' West!  Our ten-day road trip will include Niagara Falls, Mackinac Island, the world's largest ceramic figurine, the Spam Museum, parts of Canada, Mt. Rushmore, an old west town inhabited entirely by robots, Carhenge (think Stonehenge with cars), and a zillion other quirky sights in between.  Farewell Cape Ann, we're headin' out to see America!

Doing Without

Thanks to Marc, we never ran out of firewood.  That pile was always stocked.  But we did do without a lot of stuff in this experimental year, which is ending at the end of this month.  We've really enjoyed doing without some things (*), and some others we'll be happy to have again (§), and still others come with both pros and cons, and we'll be happy to have them, or not, in the future.

Stuff we did without:

TV *
Driveway (road access to house) *
Any non-homemade decorations *
Blender §
Mixer §
Couch §
Mixing Bowls §
Radio/Speakers §
Piano §
Cell Phone
Doorbell (or knocker, or any way for visitors to show they're here)

Cape Cod Surprises

Before now, I'd never been to Cape Cod.  But I'd read a few novels set there, and the Cape Cod of my imagination was dreamy and mystical and quiet.  I couldn't wait to take a camping trip with Daniel and Michelle and see it for myself!   Turns out, Cape Cod was full of surprises. 

In my imagination, all of Cape Cod was windswept sand dunes.  But it's actually very wooded.  It felt very New Englandy, which surprised me.  And the woods, it turns out, are chock-full of ticks.  Beastly things!  Nasty creatures!  Horrible, loathsome bloodsuckers!  We had eleven ticks between us all, and seven just between Marc and me!  I googled "Cape Cod lyme disease", hoping to find something that said, "incidents of lyme disease on Cape Cod are extremely rare," but instead came up with this: 

"Lyme disease on Cape Cod has reached near epidemic proportions, with Nantucket being called the Lyme capitol of the world."  

oh goody!  

Another surprise: giant horseshoe crabs!

I had also imagined sleepy, dry hot summery days on Cape Cod.  But instead, we got a monster thunderstorm with hail the size of dimes pounding down on our heads!  Here Marc and Daniel are rushing to save our tent from the pool of water that surrounded it in a matter of minutes:

Another surprise is that there's an amazing Portuguese bakery out on the tip of the cape, that makes the most amazing malasadas!

Maybe my favorite surprise, though, was the one we offered to other beach patrons.  Harnessing our European sensibilities, we decided that it was fully permissible to be semi-nude on the beach.  Shirt or shorts, take your pick.

The Shakers: it's not too late to join!

I've always liked the Shakers.  What's not to like about a people whose intention was nothing less than to build Heaven on earth?  Plus, they ate apple pie almost every day.  And made really excellent chairs.  And worshipped by dancing.  

They believed in simplicity above all, and were the most successful communal society America's ever seen.

They pooled their possessions and built perfect little towns, where they worked hard everyday to sustain themselves.  They considered good work a form of worship.  They sang a lot.  They ate beans and cream for dinner and said it was the most delicious thing in the world.

The didn't believe in nuclear families.  Instead, they organized into large, communal groups.

 They believed in gender equality waaay before anyone else did -- we're talking equal rights in the 1780's!  At their peak, there were thousands of Shakers, in Shaker towns all across the eastern US.
A few of their towns are open to the public.  There's one in Canterbury, New Hampshire.  Meredith and her friend Lexie were visiting from Utah, so we took 'em along. 

The place is gorgeous and peaceful...

...and empty.  Because, well here's the problem:  Shakers believe in celibacy.  So, without a steady influx of new converts, they're destined to die out.  They believe in keeping men and women separate.  When we visited their meeting house, there was a door for the men, and a door for the women on the other end of the building.  We sat on opposite sides of the room.  Quirky.  Lovable.  But inevitably unsustainable.

There are now three Shakers left in the world.  They live in Maine.  And they're happy to accept new recruits!  Actually I really wonder why they haven't had an influx of new members lately.  It seems like it's just the thing for these insecure times.  Simple, old-school, dependable living.  The lifestyle seems charming.

I was completely enticed by the Shakers' simplicity, their connection to the seasons, their industrious hard work, their worship-through-music-and-dance, and their true sense of equality.  Marc and I would totally join --it would be a next great adventure!-- if not for he whole becoming mere brother and sister thing.  ...and the religion thing.  ...aaaand the beans and cream thing.  But other than that, we're so in!

Spring Roundup

Photo-tour of ways we tried to distract ourselves from the fact that Spring was just a cold wet mess this year in New England: 

The Big Apple Circus came to Boston...
...and we got to go with the kidlets, who were sometimes in awe and sometimes very bored. 
Figure drawing night at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston -- what a sight!  
3-wheeled car, love at first sight. 
Newport, Rhode Island: a little bit of coastal England...
...and a tiny bit of China.  Plus a zillion gigantic mansions.  What a place! 
Intense egg dyeing.  Masterpieces were created. 
Easter feast at our house.  In America! With family! 
The season's first surfers offer hope.  Summer is going to come.  right? .....right? 

Living Deliberately

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
the pile of rocks left by pilgrims who visit thoreau's cabin site.  

Thoreau and Marc are two peas in a pod.

So many times I have been delighted to be attached to Marc, because he makes me cool by association.  He's always doing the thing I don't dare to do.  Little things, like swimming in our yard even though it's 59 degrees outside.

And joining the local Shakespeare Troupe.  And composing beautiful music.  

And setting up our nephew with the event of his five-year-old lifetime by befriending the guys working construction nearby. 

We took a trip to Concord a week or so ago.  sigh!  New England is so beautiful!  

We paid our respects at the graves of Thoreau, Emerson, and Louisa May Alcott.

And crossed the bridge where they fired the "shot heard round the world".  The best part, though, was this pithy inscription on the grave of the British soldiers who died there:

We hiked around Walden Pond...

and took a brisk swim in the pond.

I think Marc's willingness to do is the number one reason we make a good team in life.  It's my job to dream the big dreams, and convince us that it's possible.  Then, at the crucial moment when, if I were on my own, I would be too afraid to really take the leap, Marc grabs my hand and takes the leap for both of us.  Thanks to him, when we come to die, we will have lived.


Ocean Trash

On Earth Day we had ourselves a little coastal cleanup.  There's nothing like cleaning up other people's litter to make you depressed about humanity.  Just along our local coastline we collected this heap of junk:  

(the pile is higher than it seems in the photo)

I know that most people weren't lucky enough to be raised on Don't Waste Utah ads (that guy came to my elementary school.  Rock star status).  But littering really gets my knickers in a twist.  

True story:  

Early one morning last winter, just as dawn was breaking, Marc was standing out on the rock and saw, up the coast,  a hunched old man in a tattered sweater slowly working his way down toward the water.   He had a bulging garbage bag in his hand.  

"He's not gonna..." Marc thought.  

I mean, no way, right?  This is an elderly gentleman who lives on this coast in the winter, which means he's gotta have a serious love of harsh mother nature.  

The guy hobbled on down to the rocks above the water, and then just stared out onto the icy sea.  

"Yeah, he's just soakin' it all in, like I am," Marc thought.  

And then the dude hurled his bag of trash right out onto the water, and watched it slowly float away.  

What the hell?  

Kids get it.  Grown-ups don't.  Is this how it's always going to be?  

We've belonged to the Ocean Conservancy for a long time.  They do good things.  But also, kids around the world do good things for the ocean and then send their findings to the Ocean Conservancy.   
Nothing beats a good bar graph, except a good bar graph in kids' handwriting. 

Based on what we've seen, our stats around here pretty much match what these kids saw.  Plastic everywhere.   It's amazing, the plastic garbage we produce.  We go big.  We don't just litter our coastlines with the stuff.  We create land-masses.  

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a floating glob of plastic garbage twice 

the size 

of Texas.  

In some places the floating garbage is 90 feet deep.  And in other places, garbage outweighs plankton by 6 to 1.  That is a monster island of our own disgusting waste.    

Animals eat it.
In 2006, a UN survey concluded that every square mile of ocean has 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.  No wonder we get a new batch of trash here with every high tide.  It's bleak.  It's bad.  It's sad.  

Even though what I do won't make even tiniest difference, I'm gonna keep picking it up.  And mark my words: when I'm a billionaire, I'm taking a thousand cargo ships out there, and I'm cleaning up that crap!  Then maybe the Don't Waste Utah guy would take me for a ride in his awesome car.  

My Winter of Hibernation: Restoring Antique Chairs

Sunset in the Windows
Our landlady had a whole bunch of antique chairs in sad shape.  I agreed to bring them back to life in exchange for part of the rent!  I knew how to refinish the wood since my dad forced me to help him refinish chairs when I was younger (hated it then, love it now. typical).   But during the winter I also learned some sweet new seat-weaving skills.  

I'll just go ahead and admit that this makes me a whole new brand of geek.  

Whatever I don't care.  Because seat-weaving is really, really satisfying!  Here's the basic process for each caned chair that needed a complete makeover: 

I did a few of them, most of which were in a sad state at the beginning.  (Marc did all the paint-stripping for me, because he is the nicest man.)  You can see on the bottom left that I ran out of caning pegs and started using chopsticks.  Making do.

The cool thing was that most people who saw these chairs in their original state (myself included), thought, wow, these need to go to the dump.  there is no saving these chairs.  They were so sickly.  And so wobbly they seemed about to fall apart.  But they are beautiful now, ready for another solid two hundred years.
Two Cane Chairs - Right, finished; Left, in Progress
Other chairs, that have a groove around the seat instead of holes, require sheet cane, which you buy pre-woven and then install.  It's way faster than hand-caning, but really annoying!

Sheet Cane Installation in Progress

With some other chairs the wood was fine and I just wove new seats.  This one was an old shaker rocker that had the wrong kind of seat:

Blue Rocker Before - With Dilapidated Old Cane Seat

Blue Rocker After - With Shaker Tape
And here's two antique fiber rush rockers... the one on the right is really old:

Fiber Rush Rockers Before

Fiber Rush Weaving
Fiber rush makes a really sturdy, pretty seat, but my hands were always covered in blisters after a few hours of weaving!

After weaving, you can stain the rush to match the chair.
Fiber Rush Rockers After
After a winter of this, I am completely converted.  Learn new hobbies and pay the rent?  I'll take it!

I plan to scour second-hand shops from now until I die, in search of dilapidated old chairs to bring back to life.  So if you ever see any, grab 'em for me!

My Winter of Hibernation: Knitting

Last winter I busted out the knitting needles for the first time since we moved to England, and kind of went berzerk.  
I had about twenty projects I wanted to undertake, but yarn (especially good yarn) is expe-hen-sive!  Something had to be done.

So I learned how to "recycle" yarn by unraveling sweaters.  Once you learn what to look for in the way sweaters are constructed, you can really cash-in.  I went to the Goodwill Outlet (praise it forever and ever amen), and perused their mountains of sweaters.  I came away with a bunch of 3XXX sweaters made of really nice yarn, many of which were still brand new with tags attached!  Then the unraveling began.

With this sweater alone, I got at least $50 worth of yarn for $1.50.

Plus, it came with the satisfaction of unraveling a sweater, which was irresistible even to Marc.  We spent a couple days sitting by the fire unraveling stuff.  It's like popping bubble wrap, but better.

Now, after a winter of knitting, I still have TONS of yarn left.

In addition to all the projects I have sitting around unfinished, here are some I did finish:  
Kangaroo (with front pocket) and Bunny bean bag dolls for Logan and Eva
Juggling Balls 
Tea Kettle Cozy and Mug Cozy
I should add that Marc will knit, too, when coerced.  And for Christmas we did some teamwork on a knitted shopping bag for his earth-friendly brother Peter.  It's made out of plastic grocery bags.  After cutting the plastic into slits and then weaving it into a "yarn," it knits up into super strong stuff.  We forgot to take a picture of ours but it basically looked like this:

We were working on the project on the train and got so many curious looks and people asking, "Sorry to interrupt, but what on earth are you doing?"

The process was much slower than we expected, so at the end we declared we'd never do it again.  But lately I've seen some pretty amazing stuff online knitted out of plastic bags, including umbrellas and clothes, and I'm tempted to take it up again.

I also made my first piece of "real" clothing for little Eva.  This cardigan took forever, too, but it was really satisfying and inspired me to launch full-force into knitting clothing.

All these hands-on projects were really satisfying to a part of my brain that's probably been dormant for a while.  I don't feel like a full-blown knitting geek yet (right?  ..... right?), and I'm sure I'll never be an expert because I'm too impatient, but if you need an old sweater unraveled and turned into a hat, I'm your man.