The Old Pine Tree
Bland

Do you ever worry that your life is bland? Or that someone who is on the outside looking in might think it is bland? How do you judge blandness?

I’ve been thinking about these things. If someone who I used to know, or who doesn’t know me, looked in from the outside, would they think I have a bland life? Would they think I settled?*

What do people see as marks of an exciting (decidedly not bland) life? Does exciting inherently mean satisfying? Is excitement a measure of success? Is satisfaction a measure of success? Is it possible to judge another person’s satisfaction through a few pictures or a job description?

I know that travelling a lot and to far off places is a measure of excitement for me. I get antsy when I haven’t travelled in a long time and I get a little envious when I see others doing a lot of travelling**. My life seems somewhat bland when I’m not travelling with some regularity.

I would say I’m pretty satisfied with my life. It isn’t perfect by any means (I make it a point not to share too much of anything that is unpleasant because it just don’t seem like the place, or the vibe I’m going for here), but some things feel deeply right based on what is individually important to me. I don’t think it is always easy to gauge the little things that might be truly fulfilling to a person.

Similarly, taking in new experiences and indulging my interests provides me with deep satisfaction. Relaxing also makes me very happy. Relaxing isn’t very exciting. Is it bland?

I don’t think I settled, but I can see how it might look that way if someone were to see that I moved back to the county I grew up in and took a job working for the City. From the outside that can seem pretty safe, and well, bland. I guess the trick is not caring, and going on about your satisfaction anyway, right? 

Just some thoughts spinning around me this week. What do you think?

*I know, we’re not supposed to care about these things. I think we all do though, even if just a little.

*Just a little envious.. I admit it.

The unwritable girl

Writing a little bit more, just a little bit, these days.

New trail

In the last week I made it my mission to explore all of the trails around town. The one pictured above is one of my new favorites. It is three quarters of a mile and basically goes downhill and then comes back up. The trail is very technical and narrow, but it’s fun and the woods are just gorgeous. I do multiple loops and enjoy the smell of the river, running back and forth a few times over that soft forest floor, hopping over roots and rocks like a jackrabbit, climbing a steep grade before the trail flattens out next to valleys of shaded ferns. 

The wild strawberries are in bloom. In two weeks I will finish my run with stained fingers and rosy lips.

Maine Fare

If you haven’t been to Belfast consider this an excuse to come hang out at one of the parks that looks out over the Bay. Belfast is one of the best things this State has going for it; sometimes I’m glad the secret isn’t really out yet.

Check out more at www.maine-fare.org

Where do you write?

I’d be crazy not to exploit beautiful places like this for the creativity they inspire. I’ve got my pick of perfect places around here. I’ve already walked on the beach today, so I figured I would choose the river this evening.

Where do you write?

I’d be crazy not to exploit beautiful places like this for the creativity they inspire. I’ve got my pick of perfect places around here. I’ve already walked on the beach today, so I figured I would choose the river this evening.

Beach day

On the first of June I took my pen and paper to write on the beach. This is my life now, and that’s quite alright.

Beach day

On the first of June I took my pen and paper to write on the beach. This is my life now, and that’s quite alright.

4 years

Today is The Old Pine Tree’s 4th birthday. It’s hard to believe it has been that long. This time four years ago I was 25 and I had just moved home after living in Pittsburgh, and I was relaxing myself silly before starting graduate school three months later. I was gardening and cooking and walking barefoot and running in the rain and listening to jazz. I enjoyed outdoor community meals with my close friends, swam in the ocean quite a lot, and hiked trails (and high peaks) all over the State. I was inspired that summer, and that inspiration led me here, to Tumblr, to share my creativity with you fine folks.

Some of you have been following me for most of, if not all of, this journey. As with most things, I continue to move forward.

Here is my favorite post from that summer. One of my favorite posts of all time, actually. Short and sweet. Happy Birthday little blog, and thank you to my readers for giving me the impression that it’s worth it.

Rhubarb syrup 

Rhubarb is very nearly a weed here. There’s a patch in my parents’ garden that has been dug up numerous times but it always comes back bigger and stronger. It is one of those edibles that comes up early and helps hold you over until fresh food is in abundance. 

I picked a few stalks last week and thought I would try making rhubarb syrup. I looked at two recipes; one called for 4 cups of rhubarb to 1 cup of sugar. Another called for 1.5 cups of rhubarb to 1 cup of sugar. I only had 1.5 cups of rhubarb so I went with the second option and cut back on the sugar. 

If I make it again, which I probably will, I would go with the 4 cups option. The syrup ended up being more sweet than rhubarb-y. I stripped off the red skin, because that’s what you usually do when you make a pie, but for the syrup I would keep it on so the pretty red color would come through in the syrup.

Here is my proposed recipe:
4 cups of rhubarb, chopped
1 cup of water (you might need more, since that is what I used for 1.5 cups of rhubarb)
1 cup of sugar

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain liquid into a jar.

Try adding it to sparkling water or cocktails.

Alive on a Sunday

Breakfast on the porch and then a walk down to the water. I collected sea glass and felt just a little too warm in jeans and a t-shirt. June 1st seemed like a good day to wade into the water for the first time this year. I hope you have a happy June 1st too.

The True Cost of Commuting

When I read this article I wanted to scream “YES!” because it does such a good job articulating what a long commute by car does to a person.

As many of you know, this past January I gave up my long commute and now walk 6 minutes to and from work every day.* It has truly changed my life. This is not the first time that I have lived close enough to walk to work. I could walk to work when I lived in Boston, and I walked to work (a whopping two blocks) when I lived in Pittsburgh. 

I appreciate my walk to work now so much more because the long commute I had prior was so hard on me. A number of people at my old job had the same commute and it didn’t seem to bother them as much. I struggled with it though. I struggled with what a waste of money it was, with how much time I was wasting (six hours a week, and that was only because two days a week I was allowed to work from home. When that privilege got taken away from people I knew it was time to leave), with how much time I was sitting, and with the opportunity costs of all of those things - what I was missing because of my long commute. It is a fair statement that I was generally less happy because I spent two hours each day (that I had to be in the office) in a car. 

Now I sleep more, I obviously walk more, I have more time for friends, for family, for running (yay!), for cooking and eating good food, for writing, for taking in the beautiful scenery that surrounds me here, and so on. And did I mention I sleep more? I sleep now! I get enough sleep!

*actually, I walk to and from work twice a day, because I walk home for lunch.

Watermelon and open windows

Watermelon and open windows

These Days

May has seemed long, hasn’t it? 

This is traditionally the time of year I feel least inspired. I have little to say (as you may have noticed). I’m not thinking about anything particularly interesting. I’m just going about my business, doing my thing.

The flowers are in full force here, crab apple blossoms outshining those cherry blossoms you all talk about, in my opinion. The lilacs have filled the air with the sweet smell of nectar. I stop and smell them every chance I get. It has been rainy and cool quite a lot. May can be that way. We’re hanging on, like we do, for these transition months to be over. The cold winter was followed by a cold spring and we all feel a little defeated. At least I get to go to Aruba for ten days in the fall.

I ran my first trail race since 2006, when I was running cross-country in college. The second half of the course was brutal. Trail running is tougher than road running. It just is. Don’t try to argue with me on this one. I forgot my Garmin watch and had no idea how fast I was going. I knew I had gone out too fast and I knew I was finishing really slowly. I finished 4th in my age group, only missing 3rd by 45 seconds (and the age groups were broken up 1-29 instead of 20-29 like they usually are, in which case I would have taken 3rd). I didn’t run a particularly great race but I was proud of myself for running a reasonable race. Racing a 10k might be my least favorite distance, turns out. I’m glad to be without a race for a little bit to settle into regular running without pressure. Then I’ll think about my next race.

I spent Memorial Day weekend in Portland and it was great to be back. I visited a bunch of new, really awesome spots. The food and drink scene there continues to grow and improve, if that’s even possible. It only made me miss the culinary scene more. 

The dandy wine I started is chugging along in the ceramic crock. Within three weeks it should be in bottles. It will be a while, perhaps a whole year, before I’m able to crack it open. Sometimes the wait is worth it. I may also try to make rose wine this summer with petals from a rugosa bush. I’ll be sure to show you pictures of the bright pink wine if I do.

I’m checking off a lot on the to do list these days, and wondering about myself as a writer. I owe a friend a letter that I think I’ll write next to the ocean. That’s a good place for me.

Making Dandelion Wine

In Review: Pai Men Miyake

The hardest thing about leaving Portland has been the distance between me and all those great restaurants. Sometimes when I walk home from work I imagine where I would eat dinner if I still lived in Portland. And then I imagine what I would write about if I were to review it after. And then I get home and whine a little bit about not having sushi anywhere near me, and how hard that makes life.

A few weeks ago, when 60 degrees still felt like 80, I was in Portland for a night with my mom. I asked her where she wanted to go to dinner and she picked a place that is always always always at the very top of my list: Pai Men Miyake

It’s a treat to be able to get good ramen in Portland, let alone the State of Maine. I have never once been disappointed with the food at Pai Men Miyake. Ever.* I always order one of two ramens (shojin or tokyo abura) and they are always consistent and taste exactly the same as the last time I ordered it. The flavor is bold and salty and the broth is hot and the noodles are cooked to perfection. The pickled ginger is a nice, tangy touch to the whole mix.

The appetizers do not disappoint either. I’m obsessed with the brussel sprouts. I always share them when I go, but I secretly don’t want to, I want them all to myself. I have a friend who fessed up to sipping the last little bit of liquid from the bottom of the bowl and refraining from licking it clean. There are three places in town where you can get really great review-worthy brussel sprouts (Boda, Green Elephant, and Pai Men Miyake), and Pai Men is the best of that bunch. Heck, go there and order a bowl for your entree. Who am I to judge?** I also recommend the gyoza. It will be difficult to share these too, so order the sprouts too and at least be glad there’s more to go around.

There are a few downsides to Pai Men. In the winter it is impossibly steamy and moist inside (some might call it cozy and comforting on a frigid winter day?). They seem to have replaced their ventilation system and remedied this to some extent. The window still fogs up, but the air inside is better (once I went there and my dining mate was seated under a pipe that was dripping…). The other issue is that you leave that place with the smell of fresh cooked ramen in every fiber of your clothes, over every hair on your head, and in every pore in your skin. You literally are assaulted with the smell of ramen. Some people might be into this. I am sensitive to smells and it bothers me. This past visit though the smell was gone from my jacket within 24 hours, so perhaps the improved ventilation made a difference, and I sat right next to the action.

If you’ve been to Pai Men you know what I’m talking about; this place is a gem. If you haven’t been there go tonight. If Portland is on your vacation list this summer hit this place up, even if it’s hot out.


*I knew two people who got food poisoning there in the same weekend (thank goodness I don’t order meat at restaurants!), and it never stopped one of them from going back over and over 
again. I am not sure about the second person, but I have a hunch she still frequents it. You might cringe, but there seems like no better compliment, right?!

**I’d be sitting there across the room all jealous.

 

The best secrets are down dirt roads: My first taste of dandelion wine

The same sunday that I found myself down at the end of a muddy dirt road to paint Ukrainian easter eggs, I had my first taste of dandelion wine.

I had been talking about making dandelion wine all winter and by mid-April I knew that in a month I would be searching for a spot to pick those yellow flowers from their bitter underparts. What’s curious is that now, looking back on it, I don’t know what got me on a dandelion wine kick in the first place, because I certainly hadn’t tried it before. Somewhere along the line it seemed like an easy way to try some new fermenting and come up with a unique alcoholic product to share with those who share their brewed bounty with me.

At just about the time I finished my egg (three hours later) it was time for snacks and I got the offer for some dandelion wine. I looked up from my finishing touches. What?! Yes please! This was the moment I would taste what it was all about. Our lovely hostess handed me a tasting glass from the Guggenheim (how appropriate given our evening activity) and I tried my first sip.

It wasn’t bitter at all. In fact, it was sweet, much like mead. It also had a slight dryness to it that gave it a distinct wine appeal. I fully enjoyed it and was further committed to making my own.

I left my easter egg to join the others in the kitchen and share in the treats. After talking more about making dandelion wine our host pulled out her cookbook and told me to copy the recipe. I felt like I had hit the jackpot. Here was the recipe to the wine I was drinking. I wouldn’t have to guess at the best recipe I would find on the internet; I knew this one would work, or, could work, as is always the case with brewing and fermentation.

I snapped photos with my phone (I also got a recipe for blackberry wine which is so short and to the point it takes up less than half a page) and had another glass of wine.

When we left that evening, the rain still urging the mud up around the tires of the car, I had two holidays treasures I would keep for years to come: a pysanka and the recipe for dandelion wine.