Friday, February 25, 2011

Nellieland in snow

This is the scene out my window today. . . The heavy flake clumps are falling faster and will soon morph into the dread RAIN. The optimist in me whispers, "Fret not, sign 'o spring." And it is, and after the deepest, whitest winter in many memories, we are all honing our spring sign-sighting senses to a razor's edge.

This is the news from my office today. . . After nearly a decade of sending a seasonal newsletter from Nellieland via e-mail, thanks to a growing list of recipients and spam filters, I can no longer send it out that way. I resist templatization of the simple, homey newsletter, so will, for now, be simply posting it under Nellie News on our website. The Winter News is up, so check it out and look here from now on for our quarterly seasonal news.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Cost of a Bargain

It is December 1 and already I can tell this will not be a good season for us. It may even be worse than last year which was, of course, bad. Not horrible. We won't go under as many small businesses recently have or soon will. We will survive, but we are not feeling complacent.

First, I must confess. I, too, have plucked from that fresh bloom of bargains that the internet is flogging so effectively this year. As a natural born thrift-lover (aka cheapskate), I feel virtuous when I save. But I am freshly aware, as I sit in the silence of a phone that is not ringing (much), of the cost of "saving."
Take Nervous Nellie's. Handling orders and making gift boxes this year are three regular NN employees: women who've raised their families on Deer Isle and appreciate that rare commodity here: a year-round job. Most of their menfolk are fishermen. Patty has cooked and poured tens of thousands of jars of jam here since her son went into first grade. This fall he shot a four point buck that will help feed the family this winter. Most of the fruit cooked at NN is grown in Maine, on family farms like Bradshaw's in Dennysville, less a business than a way of life. The gift cards, designed by my husband, Peter, were printed by a family-run print shop. The fresh balsam greens topping our gift boxes were picked by local fellows who livelihood also includes harvesting worms from the mud of a neighboring cove: Pickering, pictured here as it will look in a few weeks. It's a small and personal world.
We live on the margin geographically and in fact. Every package we ship bolsters and makes possible this life on the edge of things. That "free shipping" or "30% off" would kill Nervous Nellie's. It would be all over. Our business is really a web of relationships in a rural economy that is a culture of such relationships: the way life used to be most places and still is here. For now.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lovely November

Until this year, I thought that was an oxymoron. November means gray, dark, cold, damp, colorless. Not so this year. King Neptune here, who sits outside my office window shares my view of things: the pear tree bulging with fruit, the ravens massing in spruce tops, the "alpineglow" like a banked fire fueled by the westering sun. It's been lovely. Warm, fair, gentle. Very not November. I'm pleased to be proved wrong about this. Perhaps I shall look forward to November now.

We just got our delivery of "tips" yesterday: 250 pounds. Ed and Dave are new suppliers to me. They came recommended and we made our arrangements by phone. Their office is a small gang of aging trucks; office equipment comprised of several cell phones, most with full mailboxes. As I began giving Dave directions to Nervous Nellie's, he stopped me, saying,"Oh, we know where y'are. We go wormin' down to the cove there." That would be Pickering Cove across the road and the childhood stomping ground of our jam cook, Patty, who confirmed that, in addition to plentiful mussels and clams, there are abundant worms in the mud. Best left right there and not given another thought, if you ask me. Too late now.
Anyway, tips. Balsam fir tips. Good balsam greens with needles "set" by several hard frosts are central to the appealing look and scent of our holiday gift boxes. The cafe--home to scones and coffee in the summer--is now carpeted with fragrant balsam tips. It's lovely. Ed and Dave are good--they know brush and they know worms, and that's all I want to know about that. . .

Thursday, July 9, 2009

4th of July

Here are a few images from the island's favorite holiday: the 4th of July. Anyone can be in the parade and this year's "Anything Goes" theme afforded even more creative leeway than usual.

Some things never change, however, such as the man in the top hat: our 1st Selectman for the past 41 years.

The red truck, which pulled a large float, belongs to Mike Weed. You'll have to ask him who is driving....

The Donkey was seen on the evening of the 3rd on the stage of the Stonington Opera House playing in Midsummer Night's Dream...

Nervous Nellie's own Diana Rhys dusted off her sax to Play in the pre-parade concert given by the Community Band aka whoever shows up on the 4th to play.

And this is, of course, lunch....

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Float Rope Story

I sold five yesterday. Doormats. $49.50 for the medium and $79.50 for the large. Three are going to Nova Scotia, one to New Jersey and one is going a few miles down the road. That's a lot of doormats for a tiny shop (12 x 15) located 40 miles from the nearest traffic light, 2 1/2 hrs from the nearest Starbucks and on a deadend that dumps you into the Atlantic just 3 miles down the road. But these are doormats with a story...

Once upon a time, a right whale became entangled in the floating rope that a lobsterman used to tether his traps together. One of about 300 right whales still remaining in the Atlantic. Federal environmental regulations to the rescue.... Hear ye! Hear ye! All lobstermen shall now replace float rope, which could entangle, with sinking rope that oughtn't. Many cuss words and $$ spent later, rope sinks, the whales are better off and the already beleagured fishermen are themselves further threatened with endangerment. I digress, this was a doormat story...

So, all that unemployed float rope was headed for the landfill when it was diverted to a cordage factory in Waldoboro, Maine. Now it is being woven into colorful, indestructible doormats that are adding fun and function to doorways from... Nova Scotia to New Jersey. I am donating 10% of my proceeds to Penobscot East Resource Center, which is working to ensure the survival of the species known as fisherman. But that's another story...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Nervous Nellie Stories

Nervous Nellie is the protagonist in a 9-part quest tale written and illustrated by Peter Beerits. That's one story, literally: the written word on pages illustrated with color drawings. But what about the story behind the business---how did it come to be named Nervous Nellie's? Who is Nellie? Why is she nervous? The truth is that Peter just made up the name because it was more fun than, say, Island Jam Company. No one is nervous, there was no Nellie. Though once the moniker was manifest, a character to animate it was the next obvious step for a quirky artist like Peter. And that led to a logo of Nellie, wielding a wooden spoon, chasing Razzie (a raspberry with legs). I think the story on that will come out in Episode 9--the finale of The Nervous Nellie Story, "The Song of the Thrush."

Meanwhile, making jam, chutney and armalade has been the core of our business here on Deer Isle--since 1986. And Peter has been making sculptures--for here and "to go"--for almost as many years (he had to replace himself in the kitchen first...). Our several acre property still shows traces of the small island farmstead it was 100 years ago: gnarly apple trees, tiny weathered barn, vintage car lacy with rust, sinking into the forest duff. Now the woods are enlivened with dozens of whimsical sculptures (including that rusty hulk), a small shop and tea room, a studio and the artist's version of a living history museum: Red's Lounge (juke joint), Hardy's General Store, the Grail Castle, and the Silver Dollar (western saloon) now under construction.

Many thousands of people visit here each year: to partake of the free jam samples, to wander through the woods and meadow looking at sculptures, to play in the sandbox under the old apple tree, to step into the kitchen and take a whiff of the latest batch, to savor a homemade scone and jam with a mug of hot tea. As travel writer Laura Purdom put it, " Nervous Nellie's was another of my favorite places--part open-air gallery, part jam kitchen, part playground. It's very cool." The jam is an easy story. Peter's sculptures aren't so simple. With rough materials and simple lines he conveys whimsy, benevolence, power, compassion or profound grief. Some images make you laugh out loud, some are spooky and haunting. One recent visitor said she'd felt she fallen into Middle Earth. Another, on the heels of a trip to Europe said, " I've just been to the Louvre, and this is better!" An acquaintance, widowed this winter, said that her husband, bedridden and tethered to oxygen, had said several times he wished he was at Nervous Nellie's having a scone with his grandchildren.

It seems that Nervous Nellie's is a place with storybook qualities: an idealized summer place (an island!), colorful, surprising, populated with characters, and visited by people from all over the world. Please send me an e-mail with your own Nervous Nellie stories and watch this blog for more about life on Deer Isle, island food, quirky Maine and a morsel or two about how Nervous Nellie's has added flavor to someone's life.