When Maine gets visited by Florida

The old adage for weather in New England is, if you do not like it, wait a day. We laugh about needing the heat in the morning, the air conditioner by afternoon and heat at night.

Earlier this year, we had the wonderful experience of camping up on the Canadian border, the one we cannot cross as of yet. We arrived to beautiful summer weather, warm and dry, perfect for camping. At night it was just cool enough to light a campfire. The next day was very warm and humid, with no real air blowing despite our mountain location and our Canadian neighbors, it was an uncomfortable day. A walk down to Lake Flagstaff revealed water temperature that was a little chilly (remember it was June in Maine, so water temperature is about 59 degrees) but pleasant to walk and wade in. A thunderstorm threatened but did not produce much rain and just a little lightning.

Only one day later we had cool/warm rainy weather as the front from the north started through. It was the sort of day that you cannot make up your mind whether or not to wear a T shirt or a long sleeved shirt. More than once we started the campfire only to have it start to shower. Still, overall it was an outdoors type of day, the end of the day brought campfires off and on between rain drops.

Wednesday dawned bright but seriously chilly. The night before I got out some of the extra blankets and we passed them around not sure we would need them, but it was good that we did. It was really chilly, and easy sweatshirt and long pants day, I tried to bull through it with sandals or clogs on, but of course, I discovered I failed to pack socks so I had to bum a pair off my son as my feet only got colder as the day went by.

Our last day in Eustis was Maine perfection, but it was clear as we drove two hours south, that the forecast summer heat wave was on our doorstep. We would have two remaining nights with fresh air coming in the windows and then descended into the three H’s: hazy, hot and humid. If the wind blows it is hot. If you move a muscle, you sweat. After two days of a four day heat wave, living in a house with no air conditioning makes you reconsider the decision not to at least put a window air conditioner in the bedrooms. Instead, we rely on fans and natural evening cool air to cool down the house and make sleeping bearable. Most summers this is sufficient to be very comfortable- many a summer night we reach for a summer blanket, but when these heat waves hit us, there is a moment when the air inside the house is as warm and sticky as the outside air and the fans just seem to be pushing the humidity around. You know it is bad when the two cats lay like dishrags and my lab begins to seek out the fan to sit in front of.

One month later and Dave and I were in the sweltering heat of Virginia and hoping when we got back to Maine it would be lovely, which it was for a few days. Apparently it rained a lot as well while we were gone, for the news anchors (mostly women) were grousing about the fact that we have not had enough summer (days in the 80’s and 90’s). Here I am thinking that we are having a great summer- no drought, green lawns, no campfire restrictions etc. Guess you cannot please everyone all the time.

Maine is called vacationland for a very good reason. It is a beautiful place with breathtaking mountain, lake and ocean views. There is nothing like sitting lakeside and watching the sun set and listening to the loons as they tune up their night song. A favorite place has always been our rocky coast, where you can watch the lobstermen/women work their boats, smell the tang of the ocean air and seeing outstanding sunrises from the place where the sun first touches our beloved country. Tim Cotton, a favorite author, calls it “the jagged edge of the country”. That is a pretty accurate description of what we call Downeast. It is true that we have our share of visitors from the south during the summer, and I welcome them all, but, I just wish they would leave their hot and humid weather behind. The only time you should see 99 in Maine would be when you are looking at one of our favorite NE restaurants.

However, there is one more person I wish remained in FL for the foreseeable future, our former Governor, Paul LePage. He promised us if there was a Democratic sweep in the State House, Senate and Governor , he would leave and stay gone. He lied. He is back and now says he will run against our Governor Mills in the next election cycle, believing that he can make a comeback. He was a two term governor who won no more that 35% of the vote both times. Under his administration our Health and Human Services Dept. was decimated, our state lost millions in medicare funds over our failure to manage our Riverside Mental Health facility which was placed in receivership under federal jurisdiction. He harped on making the state open for business and yet he paid an out of state business to erect the signage on our border rather than hire a Maine business to have the contract. Then there was the million dollar contract to a Massachusetts firm that produced a bogus report on welfare funding in our state. Much of it was plagiarized and lifted out of context to prove his point. A million dollars. Oh yeah, and then there was the time he called a state legislator and left a message on his answering machine cursing him and his sexual orientation and telling him he wanted to have a duel so he could shoot him. If anyone else had done that they would have been fired and possibly held for either a mental health assessment or arrested for terroristic threats, or both. Paul LePage once said he was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular. This time when he loses I hope he will go back south where he can be friends with the former President and DeSantis, Gaetz and Rubio and stay there.

The Long Goodbye

Anyone who has had someone they love suffer from dementia has probably heard of the phrase “the long goodbye”. Whether it is Alzheimer’s or other kinds of dementia, as the disease advances you lose a little piece of them is so many large and small ways, and in some ways you lose a little piece of you as well, the person who could confirm when you got chickenpox or whooping cough, or some other slice of a long ago memory is gone, never to be retrieved. Sometimes unusual habits surface: it might be the discovery of long lists inside your mother’s closets that clues you into realizing just how much she struggled to remember where her clothes were. Maybe it is the blank look when your loved one struggles to remember your name or the suspicious look you receive as they try to figure out if they know you or not. Your life together enters sort of a moonscape, bleached of familiar memories, each day is new unfamiliar terrain to negotiate.

We were in Hampton VA recently. We were struggling with a reluctantly functioning camper and some health problems. Did I mention it was 97 with 99.8% humidity and a heat index of 105? We were trying, for the third time to visit Williamsburg, and for the third time it was a no-go. These two old Maine folks were not very happy to say the least, and were heading slowly back up the east coast towards home when I received a text. An old friend from our former church had passed away. He had suffered from dementia for the past few years. Back in the day, we spent many a Sunday singing in the choir and attending our “Almost Adults” Sunday School class. Given the average age of that class was early 30’s to early 40’s tells you something about the mindset of that group! Since the funeral coincided with our stopover that Friday, we planned on going to the service and sharing some long awaited hugs with friends. A quick foray into the shopping world (someplace I avoid at all costs),was necessary first however. Our camp clothes consist of soft, well washed shirts, shorts and jeans. They include faded, stained and hole-y (not holy) items. My 20 minute dash amongst the racks of clothes, yielded a dress and a shirt suitable for us to look presentable.

Going back to a place where you once lived for some three decades, but left twenty years ago is always a challenge. We have all aged and most of us are getting well acquainted with the holes in our memory that especially plague us when we are trying to remember names and faces. As we entered the church through the social hall we met the “new” generation of kitchen ladies (those we remember are long gone). In the receiving line, we met Bob’s grandchildren who were either not yet born when we left or were very small. Next in line were their parents, once teenagers, now middle aged, and of course his widow, Mary, with whom we hugged and hugged and hugged some more. On that walk through the social hall and the kitchen, down the hallway, and into what we used to call the “green room”, I confess I also saw “ghosts” of those long gone who were always there, but now are not.

Years ago, an older minister told me that he did not approve of music during a funeral, “too emotional”, he said. Of course I argued with him, as politely as I could, that a funeral was a very good place to release a little emotion in our tears. As Dave and I sat through this service we were stunned by, and grateful for, the beautiful singing of the gathered group in this lovely old church. I wish I had recorded it, especially It Is Well With My Soul. Yes, it was emotional and yes, there were tears. I suspect each of us had our own memories triggered by where we were, why we were there, experiences we shared and those absolutely glorious voices. Speaking for myself, the time we lived in East Berlin was both the “best of times and the worst of times”. As we sat in that gathered group it was impossible not to remember: working on the social hall addition; helping with Live Nativity; singing in the choir; attending Almost Adults; serving dinners to the Lions Club; and of course, making Pot Pie for Colonial Day. So many memories.

We drove by our old home as we headed to the campground, and the little trees that lined our drive are now quite large and the house is a different color, but our tears and the laughter of 30 years are still soaked into the soil there. We can see our three little children (now middle aged themselves) running up and down the drive or sledding down the hill. The pheasants and the bunnies that would run on the driveway, the horses grazing in the pasture in the hot summer sun, beside the barn. The barn is still there, but the horses, pheasants and most of the bunnies are long gone now, children are grown and scattered across the country. I can almost see the hint of the worn track on my drive that I made running twelve round trip loops every day to make my three miles of exercise. I confess it makes my knees hurt now to even think about it and these days I doubt I could hobble the length of the drive once, never mind twelve times . Increasingly, it is not unusual to hunt for a familiar landmark only to discover it is either gone or has been remodeled so dramatically it is nearly unrecognizable. It seemed to me like each visit is another chapter of a long goodbye to the life we had when we were younger, stronger, and had good knees. It is important to remember that with age comes perspective and, if you are lucky, wisdom.

It was good to see friends, and to visit our son who is now a PA resident again. We got to see their “new” house near the Susquehanna River. We stopped at what was Nell’s market to get Martin Potato Rolls and of course, had to get our subs from Rocco’s. Each year we ask young Rocco if he would consider opening a satellite shop in Maine. We planned our next trip down in the fall, when the weather will be cool. And then we headed back north to the familiar and beloved bridge where you see a relatively small, simple, sign in the middle of the Piscataqua river that says “Maine”.

As you cross the bridge there is a larger sign that says “Maine- Welcome Home”. Our sentiments exactly.

When every town is in the history book

This summer we took a trip to Hampton, VA for a clock meet. It was a big one, the National, and we were hoping to sell some clocks and come home with some money. We decided to take our camper and camp our way south, through PA, MD and Virginia, avoiding the dreaded 1-95 corridor.

Our first stop was Promised Land State Park in PA. Not sure this place is in any history book but we were treated to Rhododendron Way, a portion of the highway to the Park that is solid wild rhododendrons or mountain laurel as I always called them. They were close to 7 feet high and in full bloom, just a gorgeous welcome to a lovely park.

As we traveled down Rt 15 we came to Gettysburg, a place we were very familiar with, having lived in that area for nearly 30 years, but still appreciate the history of the Battle that happened there and the tremendous cost paid by the nation in the midst of civil war. As we moved through Maryland to Virginia more and more familiar towns/battles passed by our window: Spotsylvania, Manassas, Bull Run, Antietam, Harpers Ferry, and Richmond. We stopped outside of Manassas to camp the second night, and a pretty hefty thunderstorm rolled in from the West. The thunder showed up first, a distant krump, krump, krump. I could not help but look over the fields and wonder if the Union and Confederate soldiers camped near by and residents heard the familiar krump, krump, krump of the cannons. It struck me how close we were to D.C. and how that would have made residents of Washington feel to know the battles were not all that far off. I wondered what plans did parents make for the safety of their children if the war came too close? Or did they accept it as inevitable?

We got to Hampton finally and set up for the clock meet. I sat next to a lovely lady from South Carolina, who retired there from Chicago about 20 years ago. We talked about retirement and what moved us to choose different areas of the country to retire in. She told me her mother’s family lived in South Carolina in the early years of this country. She told me her 8th or 9th grandfather had a plantation not so far away. She lowered her voice when she mentioned plantation and quickly substituted house. She was mindful of the two black men who shared our table a few feet away. It was heartening to see her acknowledgment in her choice of words, of the harm her ancestors had done enslaving African Americans for her ancestor’s (and eventually her own) economic benefit. I think even a few years ago, that awareness would not have been there.

The National Meet was an overall disappointment. Dave’s angry hip certainly made it difficult to do all the walking and the horrendous heat did not help us. We decided we are done with traveling to meets to sell, and it would not break my heart if we did not go to another one ever. The last two or three have been a disappointment in the venues themselves and the overall programming.

We then moved to Cheatham Naval Base to rest up, having run into a fairly serious health problem limiting Dave’s ability to walk. Williamsburg in 97 degree heat was not doable for these two Yankees. So, we enjoyed the birds that inhabited the naval base. Several species had fledglings take their first flight lessons. They would fly from branch to our pick-up to a site post. The mourning dove baby was only a little larger than a fluffy ping pong ball with legs. The bird tried to fly from our truck to the neighbor’s very large motorhome, as it flapped its wings wildly trying to climb the windshield to the top, it began to lose lift, like an airplane going into a stall. After sliding back down the windshield it regained some lift and flew sideways to a tree branch. I am sure the parental units were somewhere nearby coaching the little one.

Our next stop was Pohick Bay regional park and a side visit to Mount Vernon. We decided, despite Dave’s angry hip to give it a try. It did not hurt that Purple Heart Veterans get in free at Mount Vernon, and they were very accommodating to disabilities- a generous drop off area, plenty benches placed strategically (unlike Disney World) to allow a person to rest and catch their breath. The mansion house was air conditioned, much to our surprise. We enjoyed the knowledgeable docents who explained the function of each room, the important paintings or pieces in it. We loved looking at all the architectural details, especially the many fireplaces. Little was said about the slaves, at least in the cabins I saw and in the references to the work they did, until we made it to the museum . Finally there was a whole video and discussion as to Washington’s attitude towards slavery and his wife’s as well. Upon his death, his slaves were freed, not so Martha’s. It would have been interesting if someone had figured out the financial contribution the black enslaved workers contributed to his overall wealth. If that was addressed I did not see it, but it is possible it was part of another presentation that I did not attend.

The weather cooled just as we turned out camping unit gratefully to the north to head home.

Reflections on #53

Subtitle: When Stubborn meets Tenacious

Random thoughts for 53 years of marriage:

  1. Always make reservations for your honeymoon or you might end up sleeping in a car or in a room over a kitchen.
  2. Trust your instincts- when you both think it is time to go back home, it is.
  3. It is best not to start a marriage in the middle of a war. It is hard to when you are thousands of miles apart to build a strong foundation.
  4. When one person is 21 going on 45 going on 12 and the other is barely 18 chronologically and emotionally, there will be miscommunications, you will be in for a very long haul but do not give up.
  5. It is tempting to think love can heal all wounds. So far I have not found it to be true, no matter how much we love or how hard we try. Healing wounds takes time, help and is largely the responsibility of the one who is wounded. You cannot do it for them and they cannot do it for you.
  6. Children are a blessing from God. The greatest gift you can give a child is to love their mother/father.
  7. Before you marry, or at least early in the marriage, it is a good idea if you can stop for a second and discuss, openly and honestly, your attitudes towards money and children. Discover if one of you is a saver versus a spender, and what your parenting styles are, it just might prevent some hellacious fights.
  8. You do not have to attend every fight you are invited to.
  9. Having said that, learn how to fight constructively and not destructively, especially if you come from families with very differing approaches to conflict. Leave the kitchen sink alone.
  10. It is not a bad thing when your timing is not in sync. That way you both do not come to the idea that divorce is necessary at the same time. By the time the one person gets there the other has cooled off a little.
  11. When you look in the mirror and decide you should call a lawyer, call a marriage counselor instead. If that counselor is not a good fit, keep trying, your partner and your marriage and your children are worth it.
  12. In time, your timing improves and you do find you discover, together, that love gets richer, if a little less exciting, over time.
  13. It is a good when both spouses snore together- you either drown each other out or you can appreciate the need for two bedrooms without hurt feelings.
  14. It is a shock when you find you cannot get up and get moving quite as fast as you used to- then you watch your spouse and discover you are not alone.
  15. You may find that sitting quietly on a bench watching birds/children/the ocean and holding each others hands is just the berries.
  16. If you are blessed with grandchildren you will discover what it is like to fall in love all over again and you can join the BGE club (best grandchildren ever).
  17. If there is one quality that will improve your married life, and life in general, it is being kind. Cultivate kindness in all that you do. Give your spouse the same measure of kindness (if not more) than you do strangers or friends. It takes such a long time to overcome the pain of a mean and cutting remark and so little time to give a smile or a kind word. It is more important to be kind than be right.
  18. Tell your life partner that they are beautiful, precious, wonderful, handsome, sweet, kind, loyal, funny or any other sweet nothings you can come up with. Tell them often and tell them from the heart so that they know you are glad they are in your life.
  19. Oh yeah, it does not hurt to laugh a lot.

2021 the year of the roadtrip

Since 2020 was the year of going nowhere, it only makes sense that 2021 will be the year of roadtrips. Now that many of us are vaccinated and beginning to gather again, it seems like the country is anxious to get back to “normal” or something close to it. We still need to carry our masks- some stores/restaurants/hotels require them in public spaces, even if you are vaccinated, but those are getting less and less each day as more and more are vaccinated and covid numbers continue to drop dramatically.

Our first excursion this summer was from Maine to Ohio. It was a familiar route to a friendly venue of clock collectors in Wilmington, a pretty town not far from Cincinnati. It is home to the Roberts Trucking Co and the Roberts Event Centre. Apparently the Roberts family also loves horses, as they own some lovely horse farms south of town. Judging from the RV’s and horse vans we have observed at their farms, there are some big horse events there as well and they are home to Dog Shows and host Agility trials and such held at the Centre. Loving dogs, I always hope for a dog show or agility trial to break the steady diet of the Mart (selling clocks), the presentation on specialty clocks or watches and the not-so-silent auctions. It is a two book meeting.

Before we got to Wilmington, I most enjoyed the hours spent traveling through Pennsylvania and Ohio. Having lived in Pennsylvania for nearly three decades I was mostly familiar with the I- 84, 81, and 83 corridor. After being away twenty years, we got to see some places we have not visited for a very long time. This trip took us west on I-80 where we passed through Licking Springs to Bellefonte, Altoona and Holidaysburg. We even passed by Penn State and Beaver Stadium with its lovely little Nittany Lion logo, and wound our way through Pleasant Gap, which indeed is a pleasant little gap between two ridges of some rather old and gentle mountains. In the dusk they were wreathed in blue haze reminiscent of the larger and perhaps more impressive Blue Ridge Mountains further south in Virginia. Still on a warm and pleasant summer evening they were rather lovely. Our journey the next day through the south western part of PA brought us to Washington and Greene Counties, home of many of Dave’s extended relatives on his mother’s side. We both remember Martha talking about her PA cousins. Grandma Harvey (nee Luta Grime) was beloved by her family and she passed down our signature home- made donut recipe! I learned that the Grimes family was once the Graeme or Graham family from Scotland, and they emigrated to this area of the country back in the 1800’s, Americanized their name to Grimes to make it easier to understand. As we said goodbye to Grandma’s old stomping grounds, we quickly found ourselves in a tiny slice of West Virginia called Wheeling. It seemed to be all mountains and bridges, and before we knew it we were in the rolling hills of South eastern Ohio.

I love to watch the evolution of architecture and farms as we pass from one state to the other. New England’s farms, what is left of them are rimmed with stone walls and being traditional Cape Cod or Colonial style, change to PA’s two and a half story German square field stone or log farmhouses, and in Ohio, older homes seem to be more in the Victorian style with much larger windows. The further west you go you see more and more of what I call the four square Sears and Roebuck houses which were popular around 1900 or so. People ordered them from a catalog and then built them in place. Ohio is much flatter and the farm houses are surrounded by wind breaks and the fields go for miles. Of course most of the modern houses, those built in the last 60 years are pretty much the same no matter what state, but residents will vary the size, lot placement and landscaping to make it there own.

Dave, of course, is intent and anxious to get to Ohio as quickly and directly as possible. For many years he never recognized how driven he was to get there and heaven help the person who did not “move along” in front of him. After 52 years of marriage he recognizes that the trip for him is the clock meet while the trip for me is getting there and getting home. I get bored at the meet, while he gets excited and energized. So I bring books to pass the time, and he makes a great effort to make the trip down and back enjoyable for me. We took a different route home and went north to Akron and across I-80 and renewed our acquaintance with Sharon, Clarion, Shippenville, Snowshoe, and Milesburg. As we passed Buckhorn I could not help remembering how in an effort for Dave and I to see each other when he was an over-the- road trucker, I drove there one night with our four year old son to meet him at the Buckhorn Truck Stop. It was very late at night, he was driving east from Kansas and I was coming north from Stewartstown on the Maryland/PA line. There musthave been a hundred trucks as I crept through the lot driving my little Honda civic hoping to spy, in the dark, our Peterbilt truck and find David. Of course, there were no cell phones and we had no way of knowing who made it to the plaza first. After hours of looking, exhausted, we finally found each other and got a room at a nearby hotel. Today such a rendezvous would be cinch with cell phones and GPS, not so in 1977 with a map and a flashlight.

A last Covid related observation. Many hospitality venues are hurting for help and have been since their staff were laid off due to covid shut down. Their staff were laid off, and many sought work elsewhere or are still caring for their children who have not returned to school. The Roberts Centre usually runs like a well oiled machine, yet when we went to check in (with our reservation in hand), we were told the room was not ready yet. We expected it would be just a short wait so we found a comfortable place in the spacious lobby. After driving such a distance we were looking forward to getting in our room, relaxing, using the facilities and even taking a quick nap before dinner. Not to be. Three hours later our room was finally ready. They were so short of housekeepers that there were staff still cleaning rooms at nine o’clock at night. We learned that the hotel had a massive check-out at 1:00pm the day BEFORE and 36 hours later were still not caught up with cleaning all the rooms. It made me wonder if somehow our federal, state and local communities could work together to bring some of the immigrants seeking asylum in the south to areas where there are not enough housekeepers, waitresses, camp staff, maintenance and support staff etc. to provide jobs for short-handed businesses. I know Maine is suffering from the same kind of shortage- when Trump eliminated immigrant visas for summer help, many of the hotels, restaurants and venues in Maine were hurting for staff and unable to fully open due to being short-handed. Four years later they are still struggling, understaffed and overworked due to the extra covid precautions still in place. It would seem like a win-win situation to me.

Stay tuned for roadtrip #2.

On the Road Again….

Now that we are vaccinated, road trips have again become possible. Visits to children, camping trips and a couple of clock meeting trips quickly filled the calendar for April- August. Two trips we will exclusively stay at hotels, the others involve some camping or combination of camping and hotels. Of course there are multiple reservations to make, the kennel to reserve, arranging for house-sitting in our absence. When we get to camping my job is packing the camper and making sure all the necessary items are in there and weathered the winter in good shape. Dave makes sure the camper is roadworthy, that the water system and fridge is a go, and packs the clocks for sale. When we have a series of camping trips planned, it gets easier with each one, because we get back in the camping swing of things after the one or two trips. The first one is an exercise of “darn it I forgot the _____”. Despite my lists, there are always a few items that are overlooked.

When we go to Regional Clock Meetings we like to stay in the hotel where it is held, simply because we (I) get tired and like to take a break in the middle of a full day of activities for a little reading, tv or nap. Dave understandably is energized by seeing all the clocks on hand and talking to other collectors, but I can OD on them fairly quickly and so I especially like having a place to go where it is quiet and clock talk is absent, but books and music are plentiful.

April brought our first trip to visit our son and his family in PA. Since we lived thirty years in PA we knew what the weather could be like: hot or cold depending on which face April chose to show. Our weekend it was cold- colder than it had been in Maine no less! However, Spring was much advanced as far as flowers and trees went and it was wonderful to see all the varied shades of green that is Pennsylvania in April. We attended the funeral for our daughter-in-law’s mother, got her meet some of her extended family, and just be there for support. We also got to visit with an old friend (at a safe distance and still masked, despite the vaccinations for PA had had a recent spike in Covid) and to stop at an old haunt and get the best subs ever. Despite twenty years the staff still recognizes and greets us when we walk in the door and I always ask them when they might be talked into opening a second shop in Augusta Maine.

While we look forward with hope and excitement about seeing a little more of the country, at home we are still focused on two major events: the first being a home renovation of one of our upstairs room- with it’s old plaster and a mixed bag of electrical outlets. The contractor/plasterer will tackle the updating the old horse hair plaster and repairing the damage done years ago, before we owned it, from a serious water leak. Our electrician will continue his quest to make this old house absolutely safe electrically. It has had several renovations electrically since the first power was installed in the house a hundred years ago or so. By 1919 when it received it’s first “modernization”- the house was over a hundred and twenty years old. Relatively speaking, being electrified is a fairly “modern” addition. Of course it was updated over that 100 years and we make certain every time we do a room the electrical work is checked and old work is rendered cold or removed in an effort to help us sleep at night. One of our first repair projects revealed two electrical wires which were stripped of insulation and attached – bare wire to bare wire- to each other. Needless to say the electrician was immediately called to remedy that arrangement and ever since has been our diligent ally in assuring that our lovely old home does not burn down to the ground due to an electrical fire. In two weeks or so, it will be time for the painting crew (Dave and I) to paint the ceiling, walls, trim and floor. Very old houses in New England have these beautiful wide pine floors-traditionally the first floor is refinished, the second floor is painted. Our second major project is our renewed our efforts to clean out closets and attics in an effort to keep thrift stores, antiques shops, and auction houses going with new items to sell. We continue to sell stuff via yard sales and Facebook. Looking down the road to the time when Dave or I will not be able to manage this big, old house- we are hoping by doing this now, we will make it easier for our kids.

It is amazing after 57 years of being together how much stuff we have collected and inherited over that time period. Both his family and mine, were collectors and they retained “old family pieces” to pass down to our generation. The next generation has their own ideas about what is worthy of passing on, and it is good to be able to have those conversations now so stuff can be moved on to its new home whether it is a child’s home, someone else’s home or the landfill. I will say that it is easy to get lost in opening boxes in the attic, for it is like an archeological dig or entering a time travel machine, all of a sudden you remember warm summer days at the town beach, ice cream at the dairy bar, and the Beach Boys singing Surfer Girl.

Be well, be vaccinated, and do not forget to tell your loved ones how you feel and enjoy Spring.

Voting rights and gun control

Since the inauguration watching the news has been less stressful. The success of this administration’s Covid roll out has given us hope that we may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for the Covid pandemic. Certainly there seems to be other news that now gets covered in addition to Covid. Since Trump fled to Florida, there has definitely been much less attention paid to his antics, with the exception of the announcements of arrests and prosecution of the insurrectionists of January 6th. However, this past week we have seen two dramatic upticks: proposed changes in voter regulations/voting rights and a series of mass shootings which have broken out over the country causing destruction like spring tornadoes.

There is a move on by some legislatures to limit or tighten up voting regulations. The Republican Party has said if they do not do this they will not win any elections or far fewer than they want. Their solution is to make it more difficult for people to vote. Their claim is that voting by mail, using drop boxes for the convenience of the voter, and voting early favors one party over another. Their other claim is that there is fraud, despite the fact that all investigations have found little to no evidence of fraud at all, and no fraud at the level that the current GOP alleges. As someone who works the polls I can tell you that there are ample people present in the counting of ballots. People who vote in person put their own ballot in the machine and receive confirmation it is counted, their paper ballot is then retained in case of a recount. Mail in ballots are checked to ensure they meet state requirements and then are processed in front of other election officials of both parties. Ballots are retained in the event of a recount. Mail in ballots have been used by millions of military serving overseas, by absentee ballots when people are traveling, sick, or otherwise unable to vote in person. There has been no charges of voting fraud in any of the past elections that I can recall and that covers nearly 50 years of voting.

Only this year was their allegations of fraud. It began far before the election and was part of Trump’s strategy when I believe he knew he was going to be beaten. He declared if he lost it would be because the election was stolen and much of the fraud challenges were aimed at those who voted by mail, largely because those votes were often counted last and there would be large blocks of votes as they were tallied especially since the Democrats really made an effort in the get-out-the-vote effort via mail due to Covid. Another voter limitation is to limit polling places in areas where the population is spread out or where there are millions who need to vote and by limiting number of polling stations would guarantee 1) increased difficulty in getting to the polling station, 2) long line and 3)waiting for hours, a difficultly for elderly and infirm individuals. In one state (Georgia) the law would make it illegal to provide food or water for people in line to vote even if they have been there for several hours. Other ways to limit who can or can’t vote would be to insist on a voter showing an ID before voting. This is a problem because not everyone has a picture ID or the ability to drive to a local DMV or some other government office to get one, or the funds to pay for a picture ID. If you vote by mail how would one provide the copy of the picture ID unless you had your own copy machine or scanner. While you must have a license to drive, not everyone drives or even owns a car, which is something many wealthier, connected, privileged Americans forget. People living in cities simply use public transportation and may not need or be able to afford a car and the parking costs associated with ownership. The vast amount of rural area in the US needs to be considered because the distance may make it more difficult to vote. Voting by mail allows people who cannot get to the polls, who are too sick, or infirm, or whose family situation prevents them from traveling distances to exercise their right to vote. This year requirements were relaxed due to the covid pandemic, and people of both parties took advantage of those opportunities to vote by mail or vote early.

Even scarier, for me, is the move to take the election board responsibilities away from the Secretary of State which is currently the case. This year GA Secretary of State- a Republican no less, held fast under Trump’s pressure to “find” enough votes for him to win. He stood firm in verifying the recount which was not in Trumps favor. He followed the law, not the party’s will. If the Secretary of the State is removed from this responsibility and replaced by someone appointed by the Republicans legislature you could end up with someone without the same standards to the rule of law.

At the heart of it all is the belief that if we do not restrict voter access then only one party will consistently win. If that is the case than the other party needs to rethink it’s platform and message. Many will say that the restrictions on voters that are proposed before 45 states are based in systemic racism. The proposed changes make it harder for people of color and for the poor to vote. By limiting the vote of persons with black and brown skin, by limiting the Native American vote, the Asian American vote, it will ensure governing with continue to be largely the province of white people, and that white people “know” far better what should be done for the country versus a truly representative government reflective of a country that is home to a wide variety of ethnicities, cultures, religious beliefs. Nationalism and patriotism are thought by some to be the same, but they are not. You do not have to be an isolationist or believe “America first” to be patriotic- in fact patriots have consistently been the ones who have answered the call to serve, and they have fought for the rights set forth in our constitution that are there to protect the right for all Americans to vote. Patriots value all of the constitution, including those amendments that protect the rights of all Americans to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness- the changes that our country has made from its inception to level the playing field, allowing women and people of color the right to vote and to own property. We have added protections against discrimination based on color, gender, LBTQI to prevent people from losing their jobs, their housing, their rights to adopt children and other benefits that many of us experience automatically. We still have more to do to ensure all Americans have the opportunity to participate fully as a citizen of this country.

As time goes on, the government and the people making the decisions are going to be more representative of the country as a whole. That means we will have Native Americans, more Black, Hispanic, and Asian people represented in the Cabinet, in both Houses, and in Federal Courts, and as future candidates for the Presidency and Vice Presidency. There will be more women, more openly gay or lesbian candidates, a variety of religious viewpoint will be represented, including agnostic or atheist, rather than just white Christian traditions. This may dismay some, particularly white Christians who have enjoyed the privilege of holding the majority of those positions in the past. It will undoubtedly make white men more nervous as they yield positions of power, willingly or unwillingly. The January 6th insurrection was a product of the changing demographics and beliefs in this country. The slew of voting laws being proposed is an effort to stem the tide of change.

I wish that people who are all fired up about non-existent voting fraud, would get fired up about getting some common sense gun control laws in place and stop these ceaseless mass shooter situations. It is clear that the terrible toll from these mass shooter events are because of the weapons they have and the high capacity ammunition they use. They do not attack people with rocks, or a knife, or a bow and arrow. Sadly, in addition to their choice of weapon is the common denominator of gender. With the exception of a terrorist mass shooter event in CA which was conducted by a husband and wife, all mass shooters in recent years have been men and most have been white men. Certainly some have been mentally ill. Others were known to have violent or aggressive tendencies, but some are simply people who targeted certain people out of hate or some twisted idea. It is time to put into place some laws addressing who can and can’t buy a gun. A red flag law would allow guns to be taken temporarily from a person demonstrating mental health or aggressive violent acts. We could eliminate selling ammunition that allows someone to shoot 30 bullets in a very short period of time and eliminate the sale of AR-15 type rifles. No one needs an assault-type weapon to protect their home or person. If it were up to me, a person would have to attend a class to learn how to manage a weapon (just like driver ed) and carry liability insurance as well in order to own the gun. If you can afford a gun, you can afford the insurance. Just like owning a car. Thorough background checks would identify people with mental illnesses and individuals with histories of violence and assault. If a woman has to have a thirty day waiting period to get her tubes tied why is it an imposition for a gun owner to wait thirty days before being allowed to purchase a gun? None of these proposals would prevent a person from owning a weapon for hunting or target shooting or for safety purposes, therefore the second amendment rights would be intact. These changes can be tracked over time and we can see if they will make a significant impact on the number of mass shooter events. If they do not then we might have to regroup and come up with another approach, but the old fall back that says the only thing to stop a bad shooter is good guy or gal with a gun needs to talk to the family of the police officer who died in Boulder this past week. He was more fully trained than 99% of the gun owners in the country and he was still killed in the line of duty.

I know we are all tired from the ongoing Stop the Steal harangue, but we need to be vocal about the right of all Americans to be able to register to vote and once registered be able to vote in person or by mail. We also need to finally, finally, stop offering ” thoughts and prayers” to those victims of mass shooters and pass some thoughtful, meaningful, gun control measures.

Parenthood- a life-long journey

This week was my eldest son’s forty-eighth birthday. I went into labor on the 13th of March but did not know it, thinking it was “only” back pain, normal stuff for the last month of pregnancy. I had just been to the doctor and was assured I had three weeks to go before delivery. I was helping my mother-in-law shop for groceries and that hour trip felt like it last three days, with me hunched over the grocery cart and praying for it to end. I was still under the impression the pregnancy and birth would be “normal”. Turned out it would be anything but. Labor was far more prolonged than any doctor (and pregnant mother) expected. Medicine given to make labor more comfortable could not be given due to the fact that the labor was not moving along as it should.

Exhausted, thirty eight hours later, Benjamin, my “preemie” finally made his appearance. He weighed 7lb and 8 oz. and looked twice the size of any other child in the “special care” nursery (this was before NICU’s existed), but he was lethargic, had blue lips, fingers and toes, and was unable to nurse, even struggled to drink from a special bottle. His initial APGAR score was dismal, his second one only a little better. From that moment on, nothing went the way we expected, and it was our introduction to “this is the way we expect it to go, but anything can go wrong”. From that time on, every time an expectant mother assured me she was going to have her baby on a certain day with details of how the birth would go (c-section or natural or some other plan) I would just smile and think… yeah, that is what I thought too.

I love to watch the TV show “Call the Midwife”- in part because the way babies are born and the practical, calm approach the midwives have towards the very natural process of childbirth is so far from the experience of women in the last 50 years here in America. The show is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth and her years of midwifery in a poor part of London. Tragedy and loss are still experienced but it exists within a larger supportive community of midwives and other mothers. Here in America we have had a very different viewpoint of childbirth and preparation for both the labor and the new child, and I think in many ways our attitudes and preparations, particularly in the 60’s and 70’s were sadly lacking compared to the straightforward, natural approach portrayed in other cultures.

There is, of course, no manual for being a parent. You can read all the books you want, but there is nothing like having a real, live, support system, preferably several people, who have walked the road before you and can encourage you when you are sure you are doing it all wrong. There are so many times when parents need to hear “trust yourself”. You know your child better than anyone else, if you sense something is really wrong, it probably is. Of course, you also need to grant yourself some grace: you will make mistakes. I used to tell my three kids that if they got to 35 and were not sitting with a therapist and deciding that their parents were to blame for everything, I would count myself lucky.

Nearly 50 years after giving birth to my first one, I have a much clearer view of where we succeeded and didn’t and like most parents I wish I could go back and change things for the better or wished to recapture some of those sweet moments and just drink them in, instead of thinking about all the things I needed to do or being preoccupied with what needed to be done for the other children. By child number three, I do remember cherishing the two AM feedings where I could nurse her in peace, with my husband and boys asleep, and no one needing anything allowing me to simply enjoy Kate. I watched her nurse, smile gleefully, we rocked and rocked to get those bubbles up. She easily went back to sleep, and we both enjoyed those late night feedings. It is a cherished memory.

All these years later, being a parent is still challenging. Parenting adults, as they negotiate parenthood presents its own worries. While we get another chance to be that support, walking the fine line between being supportive of both generations at once gets trickier and trickier. As the grandchildren get to young adulthood, we get to step back a bit, allowing yet another generation to make their own way, and their own mistakes, and we get to watch our children negotiate the path of being parents of adults. Probably one of the greatest gifts is to let them know we all make mistakes and mostly we live to tell about them.

Then, of course, sometimes you live long enough that your children “parent” you. I remember the moment I became the “parent” of my parents. I had come home from work and headed next door to my parents house to check on them. My father had had a series of strokes and my mother was trying to get my Dad to do something he did not want to do. As I got near to the steps I heard my mother threaten “Wait till Katherine gets home”, to try to get my Dad to do what she wanted. I realized that I had become the parent, the one in charge. They had recently granted me power-of-attorney over their financial and medical affairs in case they were unable to make such decisions. That was twenty-five years ago, and now, with them gone, and Dave and I hitting our 8th decade of life, we realize we are not all that far from getting to the point where we may have to ask our son to shoulder those same challenges.

This adventure called parenthood has many chapters. Some we negotiate with ease; some we stumble through, convinced we are the worst parents ever; some we hold our breath and pray we are making the right decisions. Some of us experience being the sandwich generation- taking care of our children/grandchildren and our parents all at once. All we can do is the best we can do, and forgive ourselves for our less than stellar moments. The key to it all is to simply love them as the wonderful gift that they are.

Tales from the Grand Banks

This past week, March arrived, coming in like a lion, just as the adage says. Tuesday morning it was -42 degrees with the wind chill a hour or so north of us. It was much milder outside our window, probably closer to -21 wind chill. Now the actual ambient temperature was probably -5 or something-, I never even looked, but the 50 mile an hour winds contributed to the low wind chill temps. The weather man will tell you that inanimate objects do not feel wind chill but DO NOT BELIEVE HIM. Park your car outside during this kind of weather and you will notice a distinctly more difficult effort to start it than if you park it inside a garage or even a three -sided car barn like we have. It is still cold, but it does not act like it will shatter into pieces when you try to open the door.

Needless to say, even farm animals who tend to be hardy in our cold weather are often bundled inside buildings and in some instances even brought into the “back house” part of our farm houses. In the old days up here in the north, houses were built with additions connected to each other: It starts with the main house, the Big house. The next addition is the little house (sometimes the oldest part of the house, where the summer kitchen, and the birthing room might be), and then there is the back house (where outer wear, barn boots, snow shovels etc might be kept). Our back house room is about 16×16 and houses my looms. Back in the day when this was the poor house there was a jail cell in the corner to control a rowdy resident. It is cold but better than being outside and if we kept baby goats or lambs or alpacas they might be brought into the back house for protection during the absolute worst weather. Finally there is the barn or carriage house on the end, and you can walk from the Big house to the barn without ever going outside. Very practical.

The high winds rattled this old house (which given the age and size says something), and we lost a good sized branch off the pine tree out front, but the huge pines were still standing when it was over. The metal cover of the can which holds my birdseed was torn off by the wind and traveled probably 60 feet underneath the forsythia bush and headed down the embankment towards the road. I put it back on and anchored it with a heavy piece of wood, but it was not sufficient- it is missing again. It certainly felt like we were going to be blown out to sea and would find ourselves somewhere far off the “jagged edge of the continent”(as one of my favorite authors, Tim Cotton says), headed for the Grand Banks.

If you are looking for an amusing read, check out The Detective in the Dooryard by Mr. Cotton who also happened to do a stint as a detective for the Bangor Police Department and now is their Information Officer or some such title. He writes for FB for the Bangor Police Department- his Got Warrants missives are very entertaining and a real day brightener. Just plug him in on Facebook and enjoy whatever he writes on whatever platform you can find it.

On a more serious note, on the same day, an elderly couple was driving on the Pond Rd in our town, when a spectacular gust of wind splintered a pine tree and part of it drove through the dashboard of the SUV and into the dear lady in the front seat. She survived, but she has 7 broken ribs, and other injuries to recover from, never mind the psychological trauma of being impaled by a pine spear from a tree. I have never heard of this ever happening before, but frankly, I would gladly take several 24 inch snow storms over one wild wind storm any day.

I have no doubt that winter is not done with us yet. We never really got any decent snows this year, best effort was about 8 inches. Far more were between 3-6 inches with copious amounts of sleet and ice. The normal 18-24 inch snowfalls common to central Maine, have been nowhere to be found. March and April in Maine are still winter months, so there is time for a big one yet. More likely though we will have a series of nuisance snows and then it will finally warm up. Mud season and frost heaves have started already so spring is really not that far away. It will be official when we see the orange warning signs on the telephone poles which prohibit big trucks from going down our road until mud season is over. It is the only way to save our roads from total annihilation. If you have never been to Maine in the winter/spring, a friendly warning, if you see an orange BUMP sign, you need to believe it, or your shocks will pay the price.

Be well. Get your shot if you are able.

February past times and brutal cold…

Somewhere during the autumn months, I noticed a portion of our TV screen was getting darker. If it was on one channel for very long (Nascar or football) and then you switched the channel there was a ghost image of the previous show on it for a few minutes. Anticipating that the TV would die about 15 minutes before the Superbowl or Daytona 500 I decided to be proactive and buy a new one for myself for Christmas and my January birthday.

Now I usually like smaller size televisions but as I get older the bigger ones make it easier to see without glasses. I decided on my annual visit to Walmart (that tells you how much I do not like that store), I would look at TV’s and I came home, after consulting an adult child, with a SmartTV that has capability of hooking up to Wi Fi. Even I could hook it up and was amazed at the lack of cords needed to get both the DishTV and the other offerings on the Smartcast format. All of a sudden Prime was easily available as was Hulu and Netflix. Our kids added us to their Netflix so the binge watching could begin!

First thing I did was watch Call the Midwife from the beginning. Dave calls it my baby show, as I love the stories and of course, since I no longer have little babies to cuddle, I do it vicariously. Dave, of course, does not want to be reminded of painful child birth, but I just love the period work of the show and the attention to detail of the sets, clothing, and transportation. The wisdom of the midwives and their amazing acceptance of those living in desperate poverty, is a much needed antidote today, when our society seems to believe you are lazy or at fault for being poor. Based on the memoirs of Jennifer North, CTM is a reminder of the difference that people can make in simply taking care of one another with acceptance and compassion.

Just so I do not get addicted to too much TV I have set up puzzles in another room of the house. The current one is a National Parks puzzle, which is nearly completed. It amazes me how you can look and look and look for a particular piece and then later walk in sit down and put your hands on that very piece! Dave found one today that I spent four days looking for! A lovely country house and garden is next for the puzzle table.

While we are tucked away in our warm house, we are aware that in Texas, life is brutal. Cold that we accept as part of living in Maine is wreaking havoc in a state known for its intense heat. Years ago our son lived in Texas while he was stationed in San Antonio. The intense heat and the degree of crime were dismaying to us visitors. To leave the lovely air conditioned house and enter a hot car (felt like 150 degrees!) then to have the air conditioning blowing so that your face and chest are 68 but your back is still 150 was disconcerting to say the least. After two days, my husband was sick from the changes in temperature and confined in an air conditioned house for the duration of the visit. There is a reason we moved to the cold north. I remember asking my son if I could jog a couple of miles in his suburban development at 11pm when the temp dropped to 90, and he told me absolutely not, he reluctantly walked with me a block along with three dogs. Safety, despite the very nice homes, was a key issue.

Now they are thrown in the frigid temperatures more commonly found in Maine and life is not good at all. Jogging could be done in the daytime and perhaps safely at that but only if you have grips on the bottom of your sneakers. There is no doubt the misery that all are experiencing with frozen pipes, broken water mains, and no way to even warm the house to tolerable temperature. While some sit in their car with the heaters on, travel is not feasible for some, given the roads are covered with snow and ice. I laughed when a newscaster in NY asked a mayor about snowplows… the mayor responded- we do not own any. Of course.

From what I can learn from interviews, it seems as ERCOT failed to harden their system and prepare for uncommon cold winter storms (in this day of global warming and the “storm of the century”, that seems a bit short sited). Being an independent system the Texas grid does not dovetail with other state systems which would enable neighboring states to help them with the current problem. Independence is great sometimes, but this time it seems to have contributed to the problem, and to the misery of so many Texans. Finally, by not being part of the Federal Energy Grid ERCOT was able to avoid regulation that would have prevented this wholesale failure- in order to keep prices low and increase profits. I hope the people of Texas will remember this and not be fooled into thinking that a few wind turbines that froze (because they were not hardened) were to blame for the massive failure of their energy grid, and they will insist on a hardened systems for all the sources (oil, gas and nuclear plants) which failed in order to prevent another disaster. They also need to remember this when the time comes to vote for Governor, Senators, Representatives etc. to watch what the current leaders say and what they did and where they went during this time of crisis.

In the meantime, we pray for the people of Texas, we hope they can soon be warm.