BGIM does Common Ground…the fair that is

I don’t know how it happened but my life has suddenly become very busy, for some people, they thrive on busy. Unfortunately I am not one of those people, busy and I are not friends, too much busy is just not good for me. Lately the pace of my professional life combined with the storms of life including finding out this week that I need $9000 worth of dental work (guess my teeth will indeed be optional!) have pretty much knocked me on my ass. So I decided that the entire family would play hooky from school and work on Friday and hit the Common Ground Fair.

Maine is a rural state and fairs are a part of life here as I recently posted but in my decade here I had never been to Common Ground. Common Ground is like the anti-fair type of fair. For starters it’s put on by MOGFA which is the oldest and largest state organic association in the country. So this fair is pretty special. All foods must be organic and ideally made in Maine, bottled water is not sold, and instead there are water stations to refill your water bottles that presumably you brought from home or bought on the way up.

Over the years I had heard a great deal about the Common Ground fair and really wasn’t sure what to expect but I will say it started with a really long car ride. A hair over 3 hours to be exact. Now regular readers know I have a driving phobia, but driving phobias fall in to the family better known as agoraphobia, so 3 hours in a car for me is like hell. Yet a need to get away from the laptop and connections meant I swallowed the long ride a little better than I might have normally done until we almost got lost and ended up on some really winding roads in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere.

I admit it probably sounds funny to hear someone who lives in Maine describing parts of Maine as the middle of nowhere but trust me on this. I live in walking distance of vital necessities like Starbucks and the Amtrak train. Our travels took us to a part of Maine, where I didn’t even see gas stations. Instead the closer we got to the little town where the fair was headed; we passed through a town that looked like it was plucked straight from the 1950’s. Needless to say taking my Black ass out the car to snap a photo was not on my list of must do’s.

However when we finally arrived to the MOGFA grounds and the fair, it was so breathtaking that I knew it was worth the ride. To enter the fair we parked and took a 10 minute walk through the woods. Oh my! As we walked through this almost magical looking forest, I literally felt the tension melt away. Did they sprinkle magic dust on the path? I don’t know but whatever it was, it sure felt good to this weary gal.

Area we walked through to enter the fair

In my decade in Maine, I would say that anytime that I have attended a fair, while I have never “not” had a good time, I am always on my guard since the typical fair brings out its share of people who frankly can be a little rough around the edges. The kind of folks who have no problem being pleasant enough to my family and I, but at the same time I can see them letting a n-bomb drop out of their mouth. At which point it would be on like my bowels after a plate of collard greens, but I digress.

Seriously, the Common Ground fair is like a mixture of enlightened yuppies, hippies, organic farmers and a few of us who have no category. Every white person I saw with dreadlocks hit me with the nod like we were members of the same tribe (I haven’t had dreads in years, but hey I take it in the spirit it was given), people seemed mellow and the again the vibe was chill.

Let’s talk food, oh my! After a rough start with a slice of pizza that most likely had vegan cheese and a crust that was just wrong on every level and a maple donut that really could have used some sugar (sugar isn’t made in Maine) we finally got our food choices right. Let’s see, we ate a little of everything and if it wasn’t for that 3 hour drive back home, we might have eaten more. Most interesting thing we discovered was a cheesecake cone thing, take a cheesecake and put it in a waffle cone. It was tasty but a tad too rich for me. Only beef I had about the food was that it was costly, granted I know why but the next time we attend I will make my budget for the fair a tad higher.  The only item I really felt was over the top price wise was coffee, $3 for 12 ounces of coffee with no lid on a cool fall day is insane. I don’t care what you say.

On the other side of food is the farmers market, again had we not had a 3 hour journey back home and a budget I would have went wild, but sadly my budget constrained me. So all I did buy was some maple sugar that I am dying to try on my oatmeal soon and a bottle of elderberry syrup and a watermelon. (Yep, watermelon grows in Maine)

One of the many kid’s activities
Mini me working on her prayer flag

From an activity standpoint, we barely touched the surface instead spending most of our time in the kid’s area, since with a community mural wall; make your own prayer flags and a host of other activities the 7 year old was in hog heaven. I did though escape and do a walk around and peeped some blacksmithing and a few cool discussions. I even had a chance to see a blogger whose work I have followed up close for years as  Soule Mama was present and representing her publication Taproot. Amanda looked to be in the knitting zone and talking her up just didn’t feel right, I mean I can only imagine how many other 30 something year old Mamas probably talk to her. Instead I bought my copy of Taproot, made small talk for a minute with Taproot’s publisher, scored a pencil for the 7 year old and went about my business.

My brand spanky new copy of Taproot

Anyway, a day away in nature was just what the doctor ordered, life is still pouring buckets on my head, but I forgot how good it can be to play hooky from life though my 7 year old was a tad concerned that we were breaking the rules. Rules are meant to be broken, sometimes life is meant to be lived. So yeah, if you have heard about the Common Ground fair and wondered if it was worth all the hub-bub, let me say yes, it is. A fair that is light on consumption and heavy on celebrating is worth the hub bub.

The Spousal Unit aka the mule
The fam

P.S: My other food complaint was that there was no soda, can I just say the amazing fries would have been even better with an ice cold Coke instead of the sugarless limeaid I had…yeah, I know.

P.S.S I wasn’t even the only Black Girl at the fair, guess Maine is diversifying.

An open letter to the state of Maine….sweetie I must vent!

Dear State of Maine,

You and I have had a love-hate relationship; of course you knew this all along. The truth is I did not enter our relationship freely of my own will. Life circumstances over a decade ago required that you and I enter a relationship, so I had to accept that you needed to be a part of my life. Initially I planned to leave you as soon as humanely possible, after all what did we have in common? I, of the darker hue, very urban; you, oh so pale and oh so rural. Yet over time I started to develop feelings for you and well sometimes in life settling is not a bad thing, I went from hating your guts and resenting you to truly caring about you. I am pretty certain on some level I even love you. How could I resist your charms? Your natural beauty is hard to ignore, while you are oh so pale, I learned that your paleness could be overcome…maybe I did fall in love with you just a little bit. Yet we both know deep down, my heart will always belong to Chicago. Then again, maybe you do have a slice of my heart too.

However Maine, you have some ways that make me hate you. Maine you are a bit backwards in so many ways. I know you have character, and I have learned to accept that you require a slower pace of existence. Maine, you are a four season state, yet you lose your mind in snow, why is that? Maine, why can the snow not be removed in a timely fashion? Maine, why do you have so many snow days? Chicago is colder than you, gets a lot of snow too but my great love Chicago, does not buckle or bend to snow. Maine, you are not nearly as hardy as legend would have us to believe. I’m sorry to tell you. It’s okay though, I have learned to adjust to the fact that you don’t take snow well.

Yet Maine, where you really piss me off is your car inspection sticker racket. Maine you require your cars to have valid inspection stickers, as you want to keep the cars safe, I get it. The problem I have Maine is that you allow auto mechanics to be the ones to determine the so called safety of the cars. Now Chicago my one true love requires cars to have emissions testing, but Chicago and Illinois handle it themselves, yes the state handles it so there is no ambiguity. Maine, you allow any Joe to get licensed to offer this testing that is only a mere $12.50, but you and I both know that not all mechanics are honest.

See, yesterday Maine, I made sure to get our car to the mechanic so that we would not violate your laws since yesterday was the last day of the month and our inspection sticker was good until the end of January. However my mechanic declared that in order to obtain your stamp of approval I and the Spousal Unit would need to pony up over $600 to get that little sticker. We did not believe that to be true as the car just had work done a little over a month ago, sure enough the Spousal Unit took the car to another place for a 2nd opinion and sure enough our car was deemed road worthy and only in need of a light to get that much needed sticker. Lest you think I was trying to play you, I would never do that, in fact the place that deemed our car road worthy did fail the customer ahead of us. So no concerns that this mechanic wasn’t doing his job, he was.

In the decade that we have been here, we have dealt with this car inspection racket where mechanics under the guise of following your rules, rob us for exorbitant amounts of money to obtain that precious sticker you demand of all your cars. Surely you are not so naïve as to think the mechanics you anoint are all honest and trust worthy. I have heard many others complain about this ass backwards system. Maine, you must change this, set up some state run sites or something.

Now Maine, I won’t go into it fully but I also want you to know that your health insurance laws aren’t right either. You created a monopoly where if one is not insured through their employer which many are not due to jobs not offering it, that if they try to purchase coverage on their own, they cannot afford it. Did you know that bitch Anthem charges over $400 a month for a family plan with a $30,000 deductible…we both know that’s not right? Then that moron you have running this sweet place is wondering why so many are using Maine Care…duh, how else will they get health care? Think about it sweet Maine.

Anyway Maine, I am sorry to dump on you, and I hope you can forgive me, but I just had to get this out. Let’s continue to like each other.

Warmly,

BGIM

I must confess….I am a buy local dropout!

I just realized that unless someone offers me a fabulous job back home in Chicago by March that this year will mark ten years that I have been in Maine. Yikes! Where did the time go? Maine has been a journey, some good, some bad with a great deal of adjustment, hell I am still adjusting to life in Maine.

One of the biggest adjustments that frankly I never thought about prior to moving to Maine and landing in a city of 16,000 folks is how important it is to buy local. Frankly buying local is great regardless of if you are in a big city or small hamlet; it’s just that in small places like where I live the impact of folks supporting their local shops really makes a difference.

In the past decade, Southern Maine has seen a great deal of growth with big box stores setting up and frankly it’s a battle for the souls of shoppers. When we first moved here, the only big box store within a 10 minute driving distance was Wal-Mart. If you wanted Target, that meant traveling to New Hampshire or heading over to the Maine Mall area, the state’s largest mall/shopping experience. Now we have Target, Kohl’s TJ. Maxx, Panera, Starbucks and others just mere minutes away. The impact of these stores opening up have hit Main Street hard, and truthfully it sucks, hell it sucks monkey balls but sadly Main Street and small mom and pop shops need to stop blaming others for their demise and look inward.

As much as I have tried in the past decade to support the local Mom and Pop operations because they are my neighbors, our kids go to chorus together, whatever the reason, I just can’t do it anymore. I am tired of rewarding people for half assed attempts. My biggest pet peeve with small locally owned shops is that in 2012, many of them operate as if this were 1984. I am sooo tired of hours that don’t jive with real life in the 2000’s…I know you want Sunday off but today is my day to get shit done. Also do you really think closing at 5:30pm on the weekday is a grand idea? I don’t. Even in Maine people are commuting further distances which means the days of being able to pop by your quaint little shop at 5pm are ridiculous. Most folks I know in Maine who are not self-employed or in a position to work from home, basically haul ass for work. I have a friend who traveled daily from Wells, ME to Boston 5 days a week until she took early retirement at 59. As you can imagine she rarely shopped local, the shops were never open when she was able to shop.

I hesitate to write this because I know many professionally and personally who are truly gung ho about buying local and ya know what, it’s great but again why reward mediocrity? I have a confession…when I want a splurge breakfast, I mean a caloric splurge, my new favorite place is IHOP. Freaked me the hell out since I had been on the outs with IHOP since my Mom’s death, see the last meal my Mom had before she essentially spent the last 6 weeks of her life in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities was IHOP. Her last outside meal was IHOP pancakes and strawberries….so yeah; it was a bad association thing.

Anyway some weeks ago with the College kid home we needed a place to eat breakfast at 1 in the afternoon and I will be damned IHOP came through in a clutch. The cinnastack pancakes are my new guilty pleasure, they make shredded hash browns not the home fries most local joints in Maine prepare and every time I go there, the meal is the same. Let me repeat that the meal is the same. No wild variations, no showing up at the door and seeing the sign saying closed today. Nope when I have a hankering IHOP makes me happy and I don’t have to spend damn near twenty bucks on my breakfast alone. Helloooo, breakfast is typically a cheap meal but many local places in Maine, if they are good at what they do, they charge insane prices. People are you aware of what people actually earn here?

Oh I have tried so hard to love the local, non-chain, non-big box styled places in my town (note, I really do dig most of the stuff in Portland compared to where I actually live) but the truth is the love is just not there. I am tired of being asked to support businesses that don’t support me, the consumer. I admit that I would hate for Southern Maine to start looking like the real ugly parts of MA which are like loaded down with chain restaurants and shops but maybe a little change is good.

I constantly hear talk of what can be done to get people to not go to the big box and chain places, well my two cent opinion is maybe you need to change the way you operate. Sure I get it that staffing is costly but maybe running a shop with no outside help is not realistic unless you plan on living and breathing that business. I have never seen a big box store closed on Mondays (normal in Maine for locally owned restaurants) or closed for vacation. Also I need local folks to embrace technology, seriously you need websites that provide real information and are updated often. I know, I know….but still it is 2012.

So yeah I am a buy local dropout, now if I spend my dollars with locally owned shops it’s because they offer me value. In these trying times I want and need to know that my dollars are valued.