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.