Saturday, December 6, 2008

Baked Goods in the Cold

Not much to report this week. First real snow due tomorrow and I put "winter" wiper blades on the car. They are very thick blades and the whole mechanism is covered in a rubber boot. Now to get a couple bags of sand from Lowes to put in the back between the back wheels for added weight and traction. Life is more complicated (and expensive) here.
Fruit and vegetables are about twice the price and half the quality. On the brighter side there is a whole bakery culture that I've never seen before. Bakerys are everywhere, little mom-and-pop places, that make a whole variety of European style baked goods and breads. Some serve sandwiches and all have coffee & tea to go with the goodies. People are always comparing and proclaiming they know the best one. I have my own neighborhood "Bakers Bench" around the corner and always stop in for a breakfast pastry on Saturday mornings going to work. This morning they didn't have my favorite blueberry muffin, so I got a raspberry puff pastry turnover that was so sweet I had trouble finishing it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Novice Fishtails in Maine

I trust everyone had a good Thanksgiving, either with family and/or loved ones. Michael and I went an hour north to a little town to a gathering of 8, all new people to me. One is a history professor of the French Revolution, another runs the law department at this university, and assorted other intellectuals. The discussions were weighty and complex, although interesting. Food was good and I brought lobster hor'd oeuvers to help support the failing lobster industry here. All these little towns are very old (to us Californians)(but not to you Europeans) and are patchworks of Victorians and Capes that make you believe this is the 1800's. This town has some notoriety for lawn art, and the history professor showed us a picture book with strange and imaginative folk art in front yards. Come spring he is planning to make a long dragon from discarded crutches.
As I turned into the university driveway on Tuesday, my car fishtailed on the black ice.... you can't see it even if you are looking for it. So, ok we drive slowly in winter, but why does everyone drive slowly in summer too? I don't see banged-up cars from sliding into each other, so they obviously drive appropriately. I also don't see any older cars either. This must be from the salting of the roads in winter rusting out undercarrages. Did you know that salt lowers the melting temperature of ice, so ice on the road, when salted, melts for a short time and traffic then has a chance to slosh it to the curb. Just like the salt in your ice cream maker makes the ice melt into a slurry, which is actually colder than the ice itself.
The next car I get (could be a long, long time) must have heated seats, mirrors, and all wheel drive if I am to continue living here. A large portion of vehicles here are stick shift for better control in snow and ice. For some reason foreign cars like Saab, and Volvo are more prevailant here. Are they better in winter? I have begun to place my sunglasses (yes, it is bright sunshine even when twenty degrees) on the defroster near the windshield for a minute or so, so they don't fog-up when I first put them on.
Maine's slogan is "A Better Way to Live", but I wonder by whose standards?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

No Twilight

It has been below freezing since Tuesday. Hot coffee has never tasted so good. The days are sunshiny and bright and very deceiving if you are sitting indoors and looking out. As I write this at 11am it has warmed to 26 degrees. Nightfall comes early and did you know there is virtually no twilight here? We have no mountains for the setting sun to shine on after it goes below the horizon, so it is dark almost immediately after 4 pm. I am wearing the outer clothing I had that was too warm in California, but very soon I will have to buy a heavy winter coat.... just waiting for sales next week.
Ice on your windshield forms differently when it gets into the teens. It is in long strands with some space in between. Most mornings I don't have to scrape, as I can see well enough until the defroster evaporates it. Yes, it just evaporates with no moisture left on the glass (a solid [frozen] substance turning directly into a gas is called sublimation).
Our friends from the bay area have purchased the Victorian I spoke about a few weeks ago. Michael is flying to SF on Dec. 5 to drive back with one of them to take possession. Anybody else interested in moving to this beautiful place? We have apparently started an enclave from California.
There is news of 2 million in budget cuts to the university where 80% of the operating cost is salaries. You may remember I was only hired a couple months ago, so I may be candidate for lay-off. Only time will tell because they sure won't let anybody know in advance.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Victorian Houses

It's looking a lot like traditional Thanksgiving around here. The trees are still regaling us in "wicked" color, there's a "snap" in the air (we'd call it downright cold), and I even saw a flock of a dozen or so wild turkeys on my way to work this morning. Where's the pilgrims?
There's wildlife here in this sparsely populated state thriving in the woods that I've only seen before in Alaska. Locals say to beware of moose in the road at night. Albert in Alaska says that they stand so tall that their legs come through the windshield and in their panicked attempt to escape flail the car occupants to death with their hooves. What a way to go, huh?
Michael's friends, a gay couple from San Francisco, are looking at a brick Victorian to buy in Portland's west end. They want to move to the east coast because one of them does specialized network consulting overseas and wants to be closer to Europe. The house is a gorgeous 3 story with full basement, bathroom on each floor and wrap-around porch. Asking price is $600K, a great price for the best neighborhood in Maine. If you've got the money, now seems to me like a good time to invest in real estate. Since the housing slump came to Maine later than in CA, I am hoping the market improves in Visalia before here (for my own selfish reasons).
I'm still having difficulty understanding the Boston accent here. I have to ask people on the phone to spell their names because they mostly sound way different than spelled. Even street names, everything. It seems a little like "Fargo" when students are wearing their "McDormund" fur-lined caps with ear flaps. Fashion flies right out the door when it's cold. Who cares what we look like if it means staying warm.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Woopie Pies

Ever had a woopie pie or a pb&j fluffer? Just more food choices of easterners. You'll remember (maybe) that Poutain is a load of fries with cheese curd and duck fat gravy over the top. Something I was sure I would like, but turns out my California palate isn't suited for any of this new stuff. It was not good. A woopie pie is a tasteless cream filling (like in twinkies) sandwiched between 2 tasteless pieces of chocolate cake. Not good either. A pb&j fluffer is simply a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with marshmallow cream. I'm not even going to try that. The ubiquitous macaroni & cheese and baked beans I can eat, but only in moderation. Pizza is very big here too, but not particularly special or different than run-of-the-mill pizza everywhere.
I notice people here walk with a certain conviction, purpose, and yes, even verve. Must be the motivation of the cold, but I can't keep up with most people on the street. Folks bundled up in Mitchelin Man type down jackets are just sailing down the street or crossing in crosswalks, their little feet beating a sticatto rythum. The funny thing is that is seems natural because you realize they have to rush to keep warm.
They say I have to buy special "winter windshield wipers". Apparently they are thicker, harder rubber to handle snow and slush. I have no idea if people are toying with me about all these winter preparation advisements, but I am choosing to err on the safe side. I have 3 windshield scrapers, a snow brush and I will buy a good snow shovel this week. Now I have to gather together a "survival kit" for the car which includes blankets, flashlight, and maybe a little food & water. You have to be careful what you keep water in because it will freeze and burst.
My windshield is leaking big-time (again). I had a leak repaired just before leaving CA, but it's leaking again and this time the whole windshield has to come out for re-sealing. They say it might break in the process, but no matter what, it has to be done. I now wonder how I'm going to dry the soaked headliner. It's too cold to just evaporate.
There. I've gone on again

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Train to Boston

Thanks to all for exercising your democratic right to vote and welcome to a new administration. We can't just sit back and think all is done. We are going to have to work to support our new government in the same way we worked to make this happen. Keep up the good work!
Boston was lovely, even saw John Kerry on the street. The train ride seemed long although the fall colors were better the further south we traveled. I just can't get over the beauty of back-lit maples in clear, crisp air! There is plenty to see walking in Boston, but there is also a subway system to get you quickly between sights. We saw parks (Boston Common, for example), the aquarium (not quite as good as Monterey, but different), Beacon Hill, where the affluent live, Fiuenel Hall (sp?) where there is a mile of food stalls in two long buildings which are flanked on both sides with equally long buildings of mall-type stores. It was the tourist spot of New England and we couldn't make ourselves stay but a few minutes. Michael even found a Trader Joe's. Last stop was an Irish pub for a pint. Next time I want to see a show of which there are many like in NY. We returned home after dark, so the train ride was uneventful with a nice comfortable leather seat to relax in. I recommend paying the extra five bucks for the first class coach.
It just occurred to me last night while driving home from a community play that maybe the reason folks drive slowly here is because of the possibility of deer and other wild critters darting out onto the road from the forest on either side of the road. It felt a little eery alone on the road in darkness and foggy mist with woods all around. I guess that's where Stephen King gets his material. I must remember to take my cell phone at all times, and people here have winter survival kits in the trunk. I think it might be a long winter!
Have you been reading about the crash of the lobster industry here? Nobody wants to buy this luxury food item now that the economy is so bad, so the price of live lobsters has come down to the price of sliced bologna. Lobstermen have begun to stop fishing because it's costing more in gas than they get for their catch. I'll have to make a trip to the docks on Sunday to grab a few.
That's all from this side of the country. Same country, but feels very different. Have a wicked good weekend.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

"Regular" Coffee

Fall has fallen. We're past peak foliage color now with 50 to 75% leaf drop. It is still really pretty, but colors are running to rusts, & oranges without the yellows and reds, but I don't see any brown. Could it be the leaves just drop without reaching the brown stage? We're freezing at night now and only as warm during the day as a typical winter day in the Central Valley. I am even remarking at how "warm" it seems when temps reach 50.
There is still a lot to learn about he northeast and it's inhabitants. I ordered a regular coffee this morning from Dunkin Doughnuts and it came with milk & sugar. I have been tricked before like this, but just thought they made a mistake. Turns out "regular" means with milk & sugar. You have to specify "black" to get it that way! The flock of wild turkeys were out again this morning, an unusual sight, though only for me. They may be out every morning, but it is only Saturdays that I come to work after its light because the gym is not open on Saturdays.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Driving Habits

Scraping ice off the windshield this morning I was marveling at how clear and clean the air seemed to be. It truly makes the colors of the fall leaves jump out with brightness. Then I went back to thinking how cold it was. People here are remarking about the cold, but I've been told they just do this at the beginning of the fall bemoaning the anticipation of "really" cold weather. Then when spring comes and it warms up to 40 degrees, they begin remarking how warm it has gotten and wear t-shirts and shorts.
People back into parking spaces here so they don't have to deal with seeing out of foggy/frosty windows upon leaving. They drive with lights on even before the sun has set, I don't know why. They drive slowly and I suppose it is carry-over behavior from driving in snow (the roads are rough too because of winter plowing). I see your temps have cooled and you must be enjoying the fall.
The Maria Muldaur concert was really good. She must be in her 60's, but really "gets with it" on stage. She is mostly singing blues and identifies with the southern music genre.
My job has gotten more interesting with some projects I can call my own and work on independently. My current one is to organize a collection system for ordinary batteries for recycling at all the residence halls. Maine does not recognize batteries as hazardous waste and disposes of them in landfills. Since recycling them actually costs money, I am crafting a plan to fund the project as well. I send out a recycling tip each week and now, by default, I've become the recycling "expert" (Ha!) within the university system. It gives me something more interesting to do to research all the questions I receive.
I hope everyone is doing well and can wait out our economic downturn. I don't expect to be able to sell the house for 10 years or so, so I'm just hunkering down to this lower paying job and tightening my belt.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fall Foliage

As I drove to work this morning the rising sun backlit the trees overhanging the lane to make a spectacular display of brightened color. (Take note: If you plan to visit Portland for fall colors in the future, plan to be here middle of October.) I came up over a rise almost to the college and before me was a sea of multi-colored foliage with a white colonial church spire planted right in the middle of the scene. Talk about a postcard! There are plenty of driving routes here that will show all the fall color you can handle and one can stop at an apple farm for hot cider, or a local dairy for Maine-made cheese. People here really get into holidays. Almost everyone has pumpkins, corn stalks, and mums on their porches. Everyone else has ghosts and goblins. The American flag is big here too, but not in the chest-beating "America is #1" kind of way. It's a carryover from the colonies and civil war era. Many have a metal stars on their barns or houses, the origin or meaning of which is still unknown to me, but it must relate to the civil war.
Temps have dropped to near freezing at night, but days are still warm (60's). I can already tell my next car must have heated seats. I had the car winterized this week and they put in antifreeze good to 20 below! I was assured this is just a precaution and it usually won't get much below -10. I will be sure to let you know what that feels like.
I'm feeling more and more comfortable here now that I've got the apt. and more friends. Michael has had several visitors from CA and we often go out weekends at least for dinner. Tomorrow we'll see Maria Mauldar right here in Portland. I am constantly surprised at the quality of entertainment in a town smaller than Visalia (but it's the largest town in Maine).

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Get Ready for Winter

The fall colors are spectacular and I think at peak viewing time. We went for a long ride on Monday and wow, what a showing!
Had the car serviced and winterized for Maine with new tires. They use antifreeze good to 20 below here! LL Bean is having their fall sale in our outlet store, so everything that is already marked down (returns, wrong embroirded initials, just didn't want) is 50% more off. I'm not sure what I need, but I'll need something more than I have!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bad Roads

Jack Frost has made his first visit, although 10 miles inland at work and not yet here on the coast. As I drive the 10 miles (half hour) to work, I watch the outside temp display in the car decline as much as 7 degrees. The reason it takes a half hour is because the maximum speed limit is 45 and most of the way is 35 mph, even if double lane in each direction. The roads are rough due to winter plowing and degradation of the asphalt around manholes and water shutoff valves, so going slowly is prudent (and we're saving gas). I often see where repaving has broken away to reveal the original cobblestone street underneath.
Work is going well, but it sure cuts in to life. I go at 5:30 AM in order to use the gym equipment at school before getting breakfast in the cafeteria, then to the office. Food at work is very good and for $4.50 I get all-you-can-eat made-to-order eggs, omelets, pancakes, waffles, breads, pastries, fruit, cereal, etc. It is very much like a restaurant. On Saturdays there is a brunch with even more goodies. Lunch is an almost infinite choice of hot and cold fare. I even had a London broil steak yesterday. I pre-pay for a meal plan (of which there are many choices including "meals" and money credit for the snack bar and coffee nook) I purchased a plan that has 50 meals and $400 cash value. I use a "meal" for the more expensive meals (lunch, brunch) and dollars for breakfast. I get a discount off the cash price and pay no tax. My ID card acts like a Visa card as well as entry key for all doors.
OK, so food is important to me..... The campus feels like a vibrant, busy town with (young) people going in all directions. Most students are bright-faced and actually speak greetings as they come and go in the residence hall in which I spend half the day. I am not used to teenagers acting respectfully to their elders (me) and to each other. It's refreshing.
I remain in Portland at Michael's for another week while I wait for the "POD" to be delivered next weekend when I can stock the garret with a few items of furniture and kitchenware. Dedos will soon have to get used to another home and be confined indoors when winter comes. We'll see how anxious she'll be to go out in the snow!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

More Weather

Seems like we get the tail end of all the hurricanes. Hanna dropped more than 5 inches of rain in one evening last week. Our Sept. cumulative to now is 6 inches which is half the annual rainfall in Visalia. Ike will be giving us more on Sunday & Monday, but not as much.
With no mountains to speak of here to stop them, the clouds drift by like time-lapse photography. It makes for interesting weather changes even from hour-to-hour. Though our temps have cooled somewhat, mid September still yelds fresh corn, tomatoes and other garden delights that would have been finished in CA. There is no Trader Joe's here, but the Whole Foods store provides the specialities our spoiled lifestyle demands. There seems to be only 2 grocery store brands, but they provide everything a good grocery should. Food costs more because it all has to be shipped in. We are at the "end of the road" for the supply chain.
I am surprised how quickly my perception is changing from travel observer to resident and worker. I notice much less difference in my new town now that I drive to and from work each day. There is less time to observe and I am not out looking for differences as much.
Work is going to be very easy, but it is paying about a third less than my job in Visalia. I am mainly answering student and parent questions about everything associated with the university experience. The upper class dorm I work in half time is brand new and too much like a hotel for students. There are "gender neutral" rooms and alcohol allowed in for students of drinking age. Gosh, so much has changed in the 30 years since I was at Fresno State!
I'll finally will unload the packed boxes in the back of the truck on Monday when I take possession of the garret. I've ordered the POD to be transfered to Maine and expect to unload it next weekend, some stuff goes into the apartment but most into a self-storage unit.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


I never paid attention to east coast weather before moving here. Who cares when you are living in CA? Tropical storm Hana passed through last night dropping an estimated one inch of rain per hour. Do you know what that looks like?? I've never seen it rain so hard in my life and the radio and TV often have flood warnings for the nearby rivers. Winds were mild compared to what locals say a tropical storm is usually like. Apparently hurricanes and tropical storms sometimes follow the coastline up from the south. These storms are called "Nor' easters" that you hear about from offshore fishing vessels. In winter they say they are really fierce and cold.
With work starting on Wednesday, I am anxious to get at it and get an income rolling again. I signed a lease on a tiny garret (top floor) of a place in the town of Westbrook yesterday. Move in date is the 15th, so I'll be able to begin settling in soon. The big barn-like house has one other renter and the owners live in the downstairs. It has lots of windows and a huge side and back yard that look like a park. The cat will love it if we can figure out how she will be able to get into the yard. The front door opens onto a driveway near a busy street, so I think she won't want to go out there. I have a small private deck off the back and may try to figure out a way for her to get up and down from there.
Westbrook is 5 miles from work, and 5 miles from Portland. It's a small mill town with the Presumptscot river running through passing over a couple mill dams and some rocky rapids. There are street banners that say "Artists Live Here". I will be anxious to explore it further. The paper mill is closed (like most of the mills) and has been converted to artists lofts.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Employment Success

Got a job! No, not with the IRS. I'll be working at the University of Southern Maine, a state college on the campus in the town of Gorham about 10 miles outside Portland. I'll be doing part time administrative assistant work and part time overseeing student workers in the newly built, state-of-the-art, enviornmentaly green upper class residence hall. It will be refreshing to be working on a college campus. I'll be glad to be out of healthcare which is said to be the most regulated industry outside of nuclear power. Perks include the offer of taking 2 classes per semester with free tuition. I have chosen the work schedule of Tuesday through Saturday, which gives me Sunday & Monday off. It will be nice to be able to take care of errands on a business day. Benefits are generous and start the first day of work. I am pleased.
"When it rains, it pours!" I also have a per-diem job at the Portland Public Health clinic. Just helping with front desk work and with the volunteer database.
Next task is to find an apartment. I'll be looking to settle in a town half way between Gorham and Portland for easy striking distance of work and city. Rents seem to be the same as in Portland, but I believe I'll get more room for the money outside the city.
Soon I'll be settled and inviting folks for a visit. Remember we have spectacular fall color which will be starting soon. Boston is just 2.5 hours away by Amtrak (The Downeaster). I plan to take that trip when the colors are at peak. Our jetport hosts Jet Blue as well as Delta, American, and others. A fun plan might be to fly to Boston and train to Portland. Our international ferry cruises 5 hours from Portland to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Another fun outing is taking the 3 hour "mail boat" that delivers mail and cargo to 5 nearby islands. I want to take that ride in winter which must be spectacular. Lobster is cheap if you cook it yourself and we have more restaurants than Visalia (and only 2 or 3 are chains). More than a few of our chefs are James Beard award recipients. Hiking trails abound as well as many miles of bike paths. Enough said?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Rugged Folk

Thanks for your e-mails keeping me up on what you are up to. Glad to see you've been mostly under 100 degrees in CA. We had some high fog form overnight and this AM. I'm in long sleeves and shorts. It will be low 80's today as it has been all this week.
Mainers are a sturdy sort of folk. This week I have noticed they are not scared of germs like the west coast. Twice now I've been asked "how do you want you hamburger cooked" (and no, not at McDonalds). I never got that choice at least in Visalia 'cause of the rare-meet E-Coli concern. A clam shack yesterday had unwrapped straws standing in a glass, so you had to touch several to get one out. A favorite restaurant in town keeps fistfuls of silverware (business end up) in a glass on the table and you have to touch several to retrieve your utensils. I notice these things especially coming from working at a hospital where cross-contamination was on the high priority watch list. I'm not offended, just noticing the difference.
Maine, the pine tree state, does indeed have lots of pine trees, but more noticeable are the hardwood trees that line all roads. Oaks and maples mostly are so dense that one feels "boxed in" driving out in the country. You don't have open vistas unless passing a cleared dairy farm or wheat field up on a rise. You can pass within yards of the many "ponds" (I would call them lakes) and never see them. Sometimes the top canopies of the trees can overlap up high and you drive through a "tree tunnel". Streets are only occasionally signed, so for the novice, navigating the area can be a challenge. Of course the locals don't need signs, so there is little need to put them up. I looked up the active ingredient in poison ivy and it is the same as poison oak, phew... last I checked I am not reactive to poison oak, but they say it can change. Ivy looks only vaguely similar to oak, but still "leaves of three", but much more like other forest gro
Finally... I am starting to get calls for job interviews. It's taken 7 weeks and I was beginning to wonder if I was blacklisted for being "from away" (or old). My thoughts were running to what it would be like to live on the streets in winter. They have a city division that oversees the homeless population for soup kitchens, but I don't know if there is housing. More on the job front as it unfolds. Michael has been a prince for putting up with me and Dedos for 2 months. I have no idea how I am going to show my thanks when this is over and I can get an apartment.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Job Callbacks

Now the call-backs have finally started for interviews. It just seems like it has taken a long time, but feels so much better when you start questioning why nobody is calling. Interesting that things like self-worth come up and dreams have me lost in some way or other. Funny what your mind does to you (me).
Got to get out now for an afternoon walk along the Western Prom which overlooks the back part of Portland and is lined with very expensive Victorian mansions. Difficult to take pictures because the trees obscure the houses. I have a roll of film almost ready to develop and I'll start to include pictures in my reports.
Round the world sounds like a great trip. Just take your time as you go. There are programs that are all set up with optional stops. It will be some time before I can travel again, darn.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Job Hunt

Sorry to hear of your triple digit temps in CA this week.
After 6 weeks in my new town, I finally got an interview with a large health insurance company. It was a 3 hour interview and computer testing and exhausting. It produced an offer of a temporary assignment until the end of the year at a low wage. I declined the offer in order to be considered for full time. At least something is starting to happen in the job search. It just seems things happen slower here.
We have houseguests from California this weekend who are looking for new digs near Boston. One travels a lot for work and needs to be near a major airport, so they are looking there, but they really love Portland. We'll take them out to the 2-lights lighthouse park and stroll along the waterfront, perhaps have a lobster roll at the lobster shack there, then go down to the Old Port for the tourist experience.
The longer I am here, the more I am enjoying being on the water, in a really nice Victorian housed neighborhood, and having the best weather ever. I think I'm really going to enjoy the change, but I need to reserve total judgement until spending a winter here.
Michael is looking at buying a farmhouse away from Portland, so we will go see 2 of them tomorrow, both an hour away.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Social Life

August already! This week was a social one, an educational one, and a rainy one.
Started to meet some of Michael's friends this week. Dinner out at a nice little Pub kind of place with good food and reasonable prices. Also went South past Kennybunkport (while the president was there) to a dinner club to hear more folk music. The musician was American, but lives in Buenas Aires. Then a dinner party of 11 people just out of town. I guess I've met 15 or 20 folks already.
I finally took the "Downeast Duck Tour", the amphibious tour vehicle. I learned Portland has the tallest building in Maine at a whole 16 stories! We splashed into Casco Bay to see a nesting family of Ospreys, the yacht club marina, and under the bow of the 3,000 passenger cruise ship that happened to be in port. Portland will see 48 cruise ships this summer and tourism has become the leading industry.
5 inches of rain already this week! We can get up to 3 inches in a 24 hour period. I understand this is unusual for this time of year, but I'm still enjoying it even if Mainers are complaining its cutting into their summer outdoor activities. Portland actually gets more rain (46") than Seattle (37") . The difference is it rains hard here, then the sun comes out. Summer temps are very similar to Seattle (mid 70's), but it's 20 degrees colder here in winter.
Will take my daily walk downtown after writing this to see today's ship (Holland America's Maasdam) with only 1,200 passengers. The town skyline changes when a ship is in because it towers over all the buildings in the old port area and can be seen from everywhere. Passengers are off on land tours to various locations including the L.L. Bean store just 30 minutes away. Some people roam the Old Port for shopping and I always see people staying on the ship looking out, or eating in tall glassed-in dining rooms.
I am making a conscious effort to refer to Visalia as "there" instead of "home" to get used to the fact I live here now. It still feels a bit strange and not "home" yet, but time and familiarity with the place and people helps.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Long Days

Did I tell you how long the days are here? You might notice we are pretty high in the latitudes which means it gets light here at 4:00 AM and dusk is around 9. I guess its not a lot more daylight than CA, but noticeable especially when your cat thinks 4 am is an appropriate time to start pestering her sleeping master for breakfast.
There are other differences too: The sun rises out of the sea instead of into it, Halibut is Haddock, Mayonnaise is "Hellmann's", Poison Oak is Poison Ivy, Houses are close to the road so you don't have so much driveway to clear of snow, Houses have no eve overhangs because you want all the sun you can get, Some folks have window air conditioners not to cool, but to take the humidity out of the air for the few weeks in summer that are humid. My research also reveals that Mainer men do not pee on the toilet seats of public restrooms! I find toilet seats either in the "up" position, or down and dry. Is this because their friendliness extends to anticipatory courtesy of others? I don't know and I won't be asking those questions until I get to know people better (or just appreciate it and leave it at that).
Some other facts to waste more of your time: Maine has more woodlands than any other "lower 48" state. Maine supplies 80 percent of the nation's lobster at about 65 million pounds annual harvest. It takes a lobster 7 years to reach harvestable size (about 1 pound) and sheds it's shell about a hundred times in that timespan. Lobsters urinate in the face of other lobsters for identification and mating courtship. Because of the economy, whole lobster prices are at an all-time low at $5.50/lb (fewer vacationers and they are eating cheaper food).
Still no job yet, but there seem to be plenty of openings and more all the time. Despite economic gloom-and-doom in the daily newspaper, I've started to relax into a routine of job hunting and submitting applications the first part of the day, then getting some exercise walking or biking and exploring the rest of the day.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Boy, we got rain last week! Lightening and thunder and buckets from the sky... it was wonderful to see by someone from the desert. Days now are in the 70's with some sun and clouds and a breeze to keep the sailboats tacking out in Casco Bay. How could it be any nicer?
Gas is $3.97 at its cheapest and $4.17 at the most expensive. Luckily I haven't had to drive much, since I have the luxury of time to walk to town when necessary just a mile away. Michael has been very good to me. Yesterday we went to the art museum to see the showing of Georgia O'keefe paintings and photography. What a fine museum with world-class art by masters. One room had nothing but Andrew Wyeth. Michael has given me a ticket to the "Portland Duck Tour", which is an amphibious vehicle that gives a guided historical land tour and then splashes into the bay for a waterfront tour. I'll fit that in soon. Today I walked to town to see "Up the Yangtse" sp? at the "art house" movies. It was the story of the 3 Gorges dam and displacement of 2,000 people from their homes. It followed a young girl's life from a subsistence farm family to working on a tour boat. I found it interesting and would like to take a boat t
Kris, my former next door neighbor reports that the Visalia house has rented, hurrah! She says it is a couple in, perhaps, their 50's with a chihuahua and she (the wife) is some kind of nurse. Sounds good to me.
No job offers yet and it's already been 2 weeks! I apply to someplace new every couple days. Today I've applied for 3 jobs at the University of Southern Maine, but they won't even begin to look at applications until Aug. 6. I hate the waiting, the dependence on Michael, the uncertainty of life, but I am getting to know this town more intimately.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tourist in Maine

Before I forget to report, the bird I saw shortly after arriving here was a cardinal. I got a closer look while on a walk yesterday and it was unmistakable, and remarkably beautiful.
I am really enjoying the afternoon lightening storms with real rain! There is plenty of time to walk or bicycle downtown, check out the port for cruise ships, have a snack, and generally goof around before the dark clouds roll over. It humid, but that's ok when temps are in the 70's. When its sunny and 80's, AND humid (which it isn't always), it is sticky. I'll still take this over the heat at (my former) home.
It still feels like I'm on vacation since I am at loose ends and generally acting like a tourist. Michael and I went to West Maine last week for some really good folk music and my dinner was a fantastic lobster and corn "chowdah". Yesterday went to a nearby town for their annual clam festival. I had fried scallops and a "lime ricky". There are tons of artists and craftpeople here. I've never seen so many booths for both. I assume people do these activities during the cold winter months to keep active. I wonder what my winter activity will be once I'm settled and in the swing of things? Went to the mall today to buy a special tool at Sears to fix Michael's cupboard hinges. Could have been any mall across America.... young, better dressed types. Not so many tattooed young men as I see on the streets. I've never seen so many tattoos as here. I'd call them punks in California, but I think it is just the normal kid
No job yet, but not destitute yet either. Hope my house rents soon so I'll have a little income in case this dry stretch lasts longer than the money.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

First Impressions of Portland

First days in Portland, Maine July 11, 2008

It rained last evening! And a good amount at that. It’s so nice to actually have some weather changes. It’s been mid 80’s and pretty humid… feels like 90. Michael reminds me this only lasts a couple weeks each year. Just a few days later the temps are in the 70’s with no humidity, exactly what I signed up for!

Everything is different here including the tree, bird and plant species. It will take some time to familiarize myself with the hardwoods and cold-tolerant garden plants. There are some ubiquitous blue birds that act and sound suspiciously like blue jays, but look significantly different. I saw a bright orange bird today, but didn’t get a close enough look to try to identify it. Michael’s bird book indicates it might be a Tanager. Of course there are seagulls and an array of shore birds. It’s a mild culture-shock for me here.

People are a little different too. Most are very friendly and speak to one another more often than in the SJ Valley, or anywhere in California. They engage each other wherever and whenever circumstances bring them together as casual conversation. There seems to be a New England comradery among people. Even though I am “from away”, I am spoken to in waiting lines and at checkout stands. I haven’t identified the accent yet, but it’s different. I detect some Minnesota/Swedish thing (reminds me of the movie “Fargo”) and another Bostonian drawl where the “a’s” replace the “r’s”.

I’ve been turned down from 3 applications already and I thought I was well qualified for each of those jobs. Perhaps I applied after the interview process was completed. Anyway, there are several more apps to wait on. I went to Maine Medical Center and Mercy Hospital today to see if there was anything more I could do to increase my chances and all they could say was “it’s a waiting game”; thanks a lot. The cafeteria at MMC was having a run on macaroni & cheese for lunch although they had several stations for deli, hot sandwiches, prepared hot food, salads, & specials of the day. Quite an array of choice, but it is, of course, twice as large as Kaweah Delta. We have a Whole foods store and people seem to be into health conscious foods for the most part. We have several bakeries making specialty breads and lots of young people who are into new age eating habits. The farmers market in mid July has a lot of vegetables, but no fruit and gobs of plants, both ornamental and herbatious. Offerings included unpasturized goats milk & cheese, farmstead home made sausage, and blueberry honey. Michael bought a big bunch of sunflowers to dress up the condo. There are several colleges in town, so it seems like a young town.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Staying fit, bicycled to farmers market this AM, then around the back cove for 4-5 miles and past the huge cruise ship in port. There seems to be a new one in every other day or so. It is cool and breezy and perfect for outings, walks, bike rides.
Chris & John; I'm saving your Caiola's gift certificate for the special occasion of getting a job... I hope it is soon. Michael has been wanting to try it because he's heard it has wonderful food and never felt comfortable going alone. I pass it often on walks (it's only a couple blocks away from Michael's) and it smells absolutely fantastic.
Thanks again for your thoughtful and heartfelt send-off. I miss you all.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Background of Move

Attached is the last posting of the travel journal. Having arrived in Portland, there are a few of you who know nothing about what's been happening to my life the past few weeks. The rest, please indulge me while I fill in the newcomers.
My job at Kaweah Delta was eliminated, well, eliminated but reinstated with a second job in addition. The district imposed a hiring freeze 3 months ago and lost lots of employees due to attrition. With Medicare and MediCal payer cutbacks, they needed to get rid of more of the workforce and laid off 54 more employees (my job was one). So.... I gave my termination notice of 2 weeks and in that short time, packed up house and storage in a "POD" which is stored in Fresno until I call for it. I've put the house up for rent and thrown the cat in the car and swept cross county to Portland, Maine where I plan to make my new home. I am staying with my good friend Michael until I can get a job.
I am sorry not to have contacted more of you, but as you can imagine, my hands (and head) were full of the details of making my break in a short 2 weeks. I've been contemplating leaving Visalia for some time and it just seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Okay, so here I am spending hours and hours on the internet applying for jobs and now sitting by the phone hoping to get called. In the meantime Michael is showing me around, eating lobster, getting tickets to concerts and enjoying the cooler weather. Everything social and outdoors happens in the 3 months of summer, so one must get cracking and enjoy life before it turns cold.

Monday, July 7, 2008

On The Road

Well folks, time has passed and I haven't kept up with the journal. Just don't feel like writing after a long days drive. The gas prices in the first installment was, indeed a typo. gas was low $4, not the $1 as reported.
I am actually in Portland now, but reflecting on previous days on the road. Attached is TWD #2.
Dados did wonderfully, even without the tranquilizers and is happy to be in one place. She learned to put front paws up on the back armrest and press the down button on the window. She loved the wind in her face. I had to read the car manual to activate the child lockout on the windows.
BTW, Thanks to Shirley for the US road atlas. It was very valuable and more detailed than the big US map. Also to the group who supplied me with Arco gift cards. Arco only has stations in CA, NV, AZ, WA, OR. I never saw an Arco station the whole trip!! I'll return the cards to Irene as soon as I locate stamps, envelope and maybe a postcard.
Already had lobster today for lunch and am walking downtown to meet Michael at the wine bar for a pre-dinner sip.
All the best to everyone and another "thanks" for all your encouragement and travel gifts.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Day 4, Denver to Des Moines

Now that I have arrived in Portland, it is difficult to remember past days. Gas in the Midwest was $3.99 at its lowest and as high as $4.17. I quickly abandoned my resolve to travel under the speed limit because 1) Everybody else was going fast and 2) with gas prices lower than expected, I rationalized I could afford the extra cost. I have to say that America is not driving slower to save gas. Neither are truckers traveling slower. I would guess that 50% of the trucks on the road were traveling faster than the car speed limit. Diesel remained a steady $4.50 across the nation. I cannot sympathize with complainers about gas prices. If you can’t stand paying for your driving, just stay home. Europe has been paying these prices for decades. Eventually America will adjust and we’ll settle in with the “new normal”.

Day 5; Des Moines to Chicago

I made a reservation at a pet-friendly hotel in Chicago for two nights. It will be another welcome break after another couple days on the road. The hotel was really nice and “in the Loop”, which means downtown. Dados has decided she likes the $150 hotels much better than the $38 motels. I suppose they smell better and the bedspreads are not plastic.
I loved Chicago. I got into a crush of humanity at the “Taste of Chicago” where there were a reported 1.2 million people the day before the 4th. I had to attach myself to an aggressive black woman who eventually led me to freedom. I gave her my food tickets in appreciation.
On the 4th I took a nap in order to stay awake for the fireworks. In the afternoon I took the open-top double decker bus tour of the city, then a boat tour of the river and Lake Michigan waterfront. Nice town that Chicago. I had dinner at the famous and co-worker recommended Chicago Chop House, then walked close enough to Navy Pier to view the fireworks, yet not be in the middle of another crowd.

Day 6; Chicago to Syracuse
Can’t remember, my brain is mush.

Day 7; Syracuse to Portland

After a car ferry across Lake Champlain, I enjoyed the rolling, verdant hills of Vermont. The reason Vermont is so wonderful I’ve figured out is that there are large breaks in the tree cover and you can see vast expanses of countryside of green rolling hills and large farms. Once you get into New Hampshire, the trees close in and there are no vistas to see from the road. After taking back roads through bucolic villages of Vermont looking out for Martha Stewart’s estate, I got back on the interstate and jammed on into Portland.

Both cat and man are very thankful to be finished with the trip. No flat tires, engine problems, broken windshield or other eventful trials. Now that I’ve finished the travel log, Michael and I are going out for a lobster lunch in celebration.

Tomorrow I’ll take stock of my finances and figure how quickly I must return to the working force of America.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Leaving Home

Driving out the driveway this morning was a bit surreal knowing I may never see this house again. The house I’ve spent 15 years remodeling, well, more like a couple years of remodeling spread out over 15 years.

Dedos yowled for about half an hour and slithered from place to place within the car finally settling between my feet on the floorboards voicing the occasional “ow”. Throughout the day, she alternately settled in 5 different places depending on temperature and comfort I suppose.

Having traveled this route many, many times when I worked for the charter bus company, I was surprised to find a new freeway bypasses Mojave and Barstow altogether. It’s difficult to pee when you don’t go through a town. It was hot and as I drove past “the tallest thermometer in the world”, it registered 110. Thankfully we were comfortable in the car watching the heat gauge barley move climbing the steep grade out of Barstow. By the time I stopped in Vegas for gas ($1.19) it was 114 and the cat never made a move to escape when I opened the door.

We pulled into Mesquite around 3:30, past Las Vegas where I had a reservation at the Best Western. After Dedos examined our room then hid under the bed, I went out for gas ($ 1.29/gal) and to the Virgin River Casino for the $ 4.95 prime rib. Reflecting on why anyone would want to live here, I guessed that some are trapped and can’t escape and others have come here for a job. There were a lot of very fat people eating the cheap food in the casino and some vary skinny people serving said food. I have to believe the young Asian women waitresses came for the job and apparently the overweight people live here. I overheard one couple taking about things they do in town, so I think lots of locals eat at the casinos. As I was slowing to exit the freeway here, I saw several golf carts on the course with people playing in the 112 + heat. I guess I am such a wuss, I can’t even imagine doing that.