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A few years ago, my mother decided it was time for her to move from her home of 30 years to a less independent living situation. She picked the spot, and we moved her in. It was February, and my first experience with a Maine winter. It was the winter before I moved to Maine so I while I was here helping her get settled in I was actually staying with her in her new “independent living” apartment, and had rented a micro-sub-mini-compact-no-frills-crap-box cheap cheap cheap rental car hardly more than a bicycle, in order to get around during my stay.

Back in those days I was still a smoker. And very happy in my smoking. Loved each and every cigarette individually and specially.

As we unloaded my mother’s belongings and furniture, I find out that there is no smoking anywhere on the grounds of this new “senior paradise.” The nearest “legal lightup” would be over a mile away.

Well, the long evenings there got longer, and as an insomniac, longer still. It was around 10º outside, and nowhere to smoke. I got to getting into the rental not-a-mobile and driving around the block continuously while smoking. 

This got old, and although gas was not at the price levels it is now, and this car probably got ridiculously good mileage, it is very un-kind to the environment to pollute it with exhaust just to then pollute the air with cigarette smoke. This just seemed wrong, and no matter how cheap the gas, that too was adding up. Also, this is a small town, and I was pretty sure the police were already on their way to check out a mysterious smoke belching continuously circling car, after all, this was the middle of the night. I was the only car on the road.

I then figured, really, it is after midnight, everyone here is over a certain age and are all asleep by now, what would it hurt if I sat in the car in the parking lot with the windows closed (ugh) and had a smoke? It’s dark out, no one will see. Even if they see the cigarette end glowing in the dark, (unlikely from above while I’m in the car below) they won’t be able to see my face, and won’t be able to identify the perpetrator in a line-up during the – no doubt –  ensuing congressional investigation, were I caught.

All well and good except for one little flaw in the plan.

The car.

This vehicle barely had wheels and an engine, and also by the way, had no ashtray, and yet it apparently had a computer on board that decides how certain features behave. 

What am I talking about? It turns out that there is no way to sit inside the vehicle with the engine off without the interior light being on. 

I tried every possible sequence combination of the following activities: turning the engine on, turning it off, turning the lights on, turning them off, latching and unlatching my seatbelt, sitting in the passenger seat, even popping the hood. The only way to get the interior light to go off was to start the engine, release the handbrake and put the car in gear, or conversely, shut the whole thing down, get out, lock the door and walk away. No other options, period. I really hate it when machines think they know better than I what is good for me.

Can any of you explain to me a car that costs $12.95 to BUY, that has no electric anything (manual windows, door locks, seats, mirrors, practically even manual windshield wipers), somehow has an onboard computer with seat sensors that know when you are about to light up? 

I’ve petitioned congress to drop the investigation and should be hearing back sometime next week. 

 

I was out of coffee pots.

I had broken my 3 cup Bialetti espresso stovetop pot (called a Moka), which I use daily for my morning coffee. I was forced to switch to my rarely used drip pot, one that I keep in case I have drip-drinking guests.

The drip pot hates me. See, I happen to know that big boulders of grind do not espresso-strong coffee make. Every time I grind beans, I try to find that fine line between too fine and just right for a strong-brewed drip. About 5 times out of ten I go over the line, ending up with too fine of a grind, clogging up the filter, and resulting in a countertop, toaster oven, cupboard front and floor full of weak coffee and trails of wet grinds. This last happened yesterday. I had turned on the pot and left the room. When I came back…..well I just described what happens right?

Fed up, I remembered that I had an old French press somewhere, managed to find it, and made a pot. Tried to drink it. It pretty much spit itself out it was so bad.

You know, I know we all know that the French, while culinary geniuses in general….well, don’t make very good coffee. What I don’t understand then, is why there is such a market for their coffee pots.

No angry cards and letters please, I gave you the “culinary geniuses,” you can’t have everything. If any of you actually like a cup of French press coffee, I won’t stop you from drinking it. But I do reserve the right to turn up my Italy-reared coffee-snob nose at you while you do it.

Obviously, I need to go out and buy another Moka pot, which I was prevented from doing yesterday by Mother nature, who in Maine, is currently having an affair with Mr. Snow (who’s first name is “Wholelotta”), and they are both in cahoots with the city plowman to make sure the mouth of my driveway is absolutely not useable as an exit. I had to wait until this morning after my plowman cleared it out so I could run out before breakfast in search of a pot. I stopped at the local kitchen store to find, as a sad reminder of the current economic conditions in this country, that it is closed for good. The Maine Roasters coffee shop I tried was out of stock. And it was through this series of seemingly non-events, that I drove to the next town up the coast for a Moka pot and a serendipitous Only-in-Maine occurrence.

After yesterday’s severe blizzard, we were left with a huge pile of snow and the parking lot for this 2nd Maine Roasters was pretty deep in it although it was plain to see that efforts to plow it out had been made. As I parked, the woman in the car next to mine was pulling out and her wheels started spinning uselessly in the snow. We made commiserating shrugs at each other as she rocked back and forth trying to dislodge and reverse out. I went around her to see if there were any large hard snow clumps blocking her tires, as it seemed (and there were), and she rolled down her window laughing as I kicked at the clumps that she was in her mother’s old car and “gee, I guess she doesn’t have snow tires on it.” I suggested a lower gear and laying off the gas, which she did and she started to move as her wheels finally gripped. Just a quick moment, 2 strangers, barely connecting, over living in the snow. As I walked towards my new coffee pot, she yelled out “wait, I have something for you.” Turns out she was at the coffee shop pushing her wares, and had a last sample.

Eat Me!

Eat Me!

She gave me what looked like an ordinary sesame bagel, individually wrapped. The last in a large sample box she had in the car. Sesame happens to be my favorite bagel and I hadn’t as yet eaten breakfast, having, if you recall, left the house in search of a coffee pot before eating. 

“Take it” she said. They are wholesalers only, so she wasn’t selling any, it was just a gift. A small kindness – 2 strangers. This is the essence of Maine. I had to ask her for a card. This old mailer was all she had (see left) to give me. 

The bagel, I was informed, is made of spelt, is all organic, healthy, natural, and made locally (click on the image on the left for more info – interesting facts on spelt and the bakery too) in an old mill building powered by the Royal River in Yarmouth. Right up my alley. Made locally, I mean. I am a big supporter of local business and am always looking for new ways to make sure that any money I spend stays right here in Maine. Plus, a water-mill powered bakery? How cool is that?

So, I went in to the shop with a big smile on my face, bought my coffee pot, went home, and made breakfast (and coffee – ahhhh!). 

Can you spelt "Breakfast?"Since I had this beautiful fresh bagel, I couldn’t not eat it, right? I’d never eaten anthing made from spelt that I know of and decided to try it. Karma seemed to be flowing in that direction. I cooked up a few egg whites (my favorite, for those of you groaning “ew” – it isn’t about health or diet, I just like them that way), toasted the bagel, spread a little whipped cream cheese on it, and made an open face sandwich. 

IT WAS DELICIOUS!!!! The taste is hard to describe, like regular wheat bread but with a nutty undertone. Crunchy, light (not overly dense) yet quite filling, great texture, like a good bakery whole grain, but didn’t scratch the roof of my mouth the way whole grain breads do when toasted. 

All in all a great breakfast, eaten with a smile due to a stranger and a shared snow moment. And, what do you know, I just discovered that I like spelt. Or, that I like Spelt Right baked goods. For those readers in Maine, look for Spelt Right products at a store near you (too Madison Avenue? Comment and let me know. But Spelt Right has no idea that I’m writing them up here, ’cause that’s the way I roll – no pun intended).

We are all a bit sick of snow I think. The entire country appears to be suffering a particularly brutal winter. I know I’m just about over it myself. As it is March, Maine has a way to go until she sees spring weather, but in the spirit of the Mainers’ usual coping mechanism, I will just act as if we are already there. 

No, I’m not going to go outside in a tee shirt lugging a baseball mitt and bat looking for a pickup game, I haven’t been here long enough to go that far. But I will post this picture, taken last spring not too far from my house.

It's SPRING!!!! (not really).

It's SPRING!!!! (not really)

Doesn’t looking at that make you feel better already? More alive, more full of hope? Less likely to reach for a packet of razor blades? Like spring really is just around the corner? You can thank me later. In the comments section. Under this post. But for now, just enjoy the view.

I’d much rather look at that photo than the current blizzard raging right now just outside my window, so-called not by me this time, but by the National Weather Service.

So today when I light the fire and cozy up in front of the fireplace under no less than four layers of winter clothing, I will be imagining its heat as the sun’s warm rays while I stare very hard at this picture, trying to blot out everything else.

Hey, its cheaper than a trip to the Caribbean, and I don’t have to worry about boarding the dog. Win-win, right?

You have to forgive my prolonged absence (just 4 days!) from the blogosphere recently, I haven’t been feeling so well and was not making much sense in writing (or in any other medium either). As a favor to you, dear loyal readers, I decided not to subject you to my crazier than usual rantings – which is a nice way of saying, GET OFF MY BACK ALREADY! But, as long as I’m here……….

When I first moved to Maine, I was regaled with all sorts of useless advice from a whole cross-section of people “from away,” as if they had anything worthwhile to contribute on coping with life in this remote northern corner of these United States.

The one piece of useful advice I did get was from an older brother who lives in upstate New York. He told me that I absolutely without fail had to buy myself a Subaru Forester if I were going to survive Maine roads in the winter. Not that he’s an expert on Maine, far from it, but he does live and drive in the snow in winter and he happens to have lots of experience with just about every car there is.

In his opinion the Forester, which is All Wheel Drive (as are all Subarus), is the best possible snow car, better than any vehicle for any amount of money, domestic or imported (not that “any amount of money” was in my budget, but you get the idea).

I did some checking upon arrival in Maine, having donated my barely functioning California vehicle into the open arms of Father Joe’s Villages,* and found I could not get a four wheel drive hybrid – so with “green running” off the table, safety and survival became key. Off to the Subaru dealer I went.

I found and bought a barely used (300 mi) silver Subaru Forester, LL Bean model – what else? VW has Karmann, Lincoln has Bill Blass, Subaru has Bean. Price couldn’t be beat, all was well, and I bought the car.

First trip to a rather large Hannaford’s supermarket with the new car, I go inside with my list, do my shopping for the week, come out with a cart full of groceries, and…….Uh oh!

You see, it appears that my dear brother is not the only one who knows that the Forester is the best snow car.

All I can say is thank goodness for remote door locking/unlocking with attendant beeps and light flashes or I’d still be wandering around that parking lot looking for my car, and my groceries and I would all be frozen solid by now!

Who knew that Maine had a state car?

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*Father Joe’s Villages (St. Vincent de Paul) will take your unwanted vehicle as a donation. Go to http://www.fatherjoesvillages.org/donations.html for more information

Remember The 2 Bushes?

No, not those 2 Bushes. These Bushes:

The Bushes in Fall

The Bushes in Fall

The 2 bushes that stand outside my living room window from my “A fungus among us…..” post. Well, here they are today:

The Bushes - Not much of an approval rating.

The Bushes - Not much of an approval rating.

Uh-huh. We had a doosey of a storm last night, dropping up to 2 feet of snow in parts of Maine (as you loyal readers know, that’s 2 – 3 inches in Mainer-speak).

Here’s the thing. Snow isn’t just snow. You see, there’s all kinds of snow. There is light, fluffy, dry snow – the kind you can’t even make snowballs out of. Then there is heavy, wet, sticky snow. Which is what we got last night. Snow this heavy turns big fluffy pine tress into scrawny telephone pole looking things by virtue of the sheer weight of the snow on the branches. Snow laden birch trees bend over in big arches, their tips almost touching the ground. And bushes, my precious bushes, get flattened like pancakes. Not to worry, as soon as this melts, they’ll pop up again and do something else photo-worthy.

Now along with this blizzard – so named in Onlyinmaineland because all of this snow fell in one overnight session and did so with 20-30 mph winds – we got another phenomenon. Let me see if I can explain. When it snows this kind of sticky snow and the wind is blowing at the same time, the snow sticks to everything, including vertical surfaces, like tree trunks.

It snowed sideways.....AGAIN

It snowed sideways.....AGAIN

Once it stopped snowing, the wind started in earnest, and the most horrible noises ensued. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was going on and it sounded like the house was being battered by a Mack truck.

I couldn’t not go investigate, no matter how hard I tried to ignore it. So I forced myself out of my toasty warm bed, put on my snow gear and knee boots and waded out into the deep snow and howling wind to see what was going on.

With all that wind, dang if the tall birch tree next to the house that was bent over in an upside down “U” shape under the weight of snow wasn’t bitch-slapping my house!

Giant gobs of snow were flying off of the trees and slamming up against the windows. The dog was going nuts and I spent the entire night feeling like I was being attacked by Visigoths hurling cannonballs…..

Never a dull moment.

Not to go all dramatic on you or anything but I’ve been following the story on the bushfire in southwestern Australia and am absolutely too horrified for words.

One of my favorite bloggers, Magneto Bold Too, is right smack on the edge of this disaster feeling the heat, breathing the ash and watching her friends and relatives lose their homes, or worse – their lives, in the flames. Needless to say, she’s not in a lighthearted mood these days. I have no idea what to say to her to try to alleviate some of her pain. I don’t think there is anything I can say other than “hang in there” and “don’t take any foolish risks.”

After living in Los Angeles for 25 years, summer/fall brushfires became a way of life for me, and stories of lost homes and animals – pets, livestock and wild – were an annual occurrence. Fire was laughingly called one of the four Southern California seasons (fire, earthquake, Santa Ana* and the Oscars or more properly “awards season”) But never ever have I heard the words “171 lives were lost in this fire” until today.

* The Santa Ana winds are the hot dry offshore winds driving heat and dust before it, coloring the sky, much as the Sirocco turns the sky red in Rome every year from the Saharan sands it brings to the Mediterranean. Fires started during “Santa Ana season” are deadly and unstoppable.

Officials have declared the fires in southern Australia as set on purpose – Arson. Kevin Rudd, Australia’s Prime Minister, calls it “mass murder” and I agree with him. One of the fires was apparently immediately re-set, again arson, after firefighters had already swept through, put it out, and moved on to the next hot spot.

This area of Australia also has its annual share of “summer” (for this is their summer) bushfires spurred on by dry weather and heavy winds, much like Southern California so they too know to prepare, but how do you prepare for this? The entire country is praying for their brothers and mourning for their losses – donations of blood are being solicited, people are sending help where they can.

And it isn’t over yet.

What kind of person does this?

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For those of you that want to help, go to http://secure.salvationarmy.org/ and donate directly.  Be sure to designate “Victoria Fires” in the “Specific Use” box under “Donation Details” or your donation will go into the Salvation Army’s general fund.

OK, I promise that this isn’t going to be a “weather blog” but you gotta go with what’s out there, you know? There will be all sorts of other stuff, I promise, just not today.

This morning, before getting dressed to leave the house, I checked my usual internet weather feed….

 

Today's local weather forecast....

Today's local weather forecast....

So far so good right, “Fair,” “Sunny”….But WAIT! What do we see there up top in red? Does that say “SEVERE WEATHER ALERT?” Why yes, I believe it does. What severe weather could be in store if the powers that be are predicting “Fair” and “Sunny?” Conversely, if they know that severe weather is coming, why aren’t they predicting “Severe Weather” instead of “Fair” and “Sunny” with a side of alerts?  

I hear that a side of alerts is always good with katsup, but I digress.

Moving right along, curiosity and common sense had me immediately clicking on the appropriate hot button which yielded this bit of no-longer-surprising news:

 

SEVERE WEATHER ALERT!

SEVERE WEATHER ALERT!

I say “no-longer-surprising news” because after living here for 2 and a half years, I’ve already figured out how they manipulate their weather findings

To recap:  According to the prediction, today’s weather is going to be “Fair” and “Sunny” with winds topping out at 18mph but I should watch out for 35mph winds and snow so thick, it’s going to reduce visibility to half a mile?????  

How much snow?  

Only an inch, of course!

I’ll write an epilogue for this tonight when I’m snowed in under a foot of the stuff…….