Archive for December, 2010

Street Cred

I can’t believe I missed it.

The biggest blizzard in years (at least two), and I wasn’t there.  Oh, I know that there will be more; nor’easters and blizzards are a fact of life in Maine and the White Mountains.  But still.

Here’s what I missed:

On Sunday, according to the Portland Press Herald, “flights at the Portland International Jetport were canceled, commercial fishing boats raced to shore, and Gov. John Baldacci declared a state of emergency.”  Where our house sits in the White Mountains, about 2 feet of snow fell.  Howling, furious winds that sounded like a freight train gusted to 50+ mph and felled trees, caused whiteouts, and towering drifts during heavy snowfall.  Now that the storm has abated, the sky is clear;  low temperatures remain.  With windchill, temperatures tonight will be -20.  Ice fishermen and snowmobilers rejoice!

There are different types of Mainers.  There are the rural natives, who have lived in their small towns for generations that go back to the Revolutionary War.  There are the very wealthy, old money elitists who hold political sway.  There are the tourists.  There are the Summer People, who have “camps” (rustic homes or cabins) on lake shorelines or in the woods.  There are the Flatlanders, who are “from away” – these are mostly the Summer People and tourists, but it also includes residents such as my husband and myself, who are “wannabes” who will never really be considered Mainers no matter how many years they live in Maine.  The degree to which they are accepted by locals in rural Maine (but never fully integrated) depends on a few factors:

1.  Flatlanders cannot be from Massachusetts, especially Boston.  For some reason, Mainers hold anything or anyone that has a  Massachusetts connection in contempt.  Partly this is historical (since Revolutionary times!).  Partly it’s cultural (urban vs. rural; liberal vs. conservative; rude vs. polite; hurried vs. taking one’s time; aggressive vs. reflective;  being whiny vs.  stoic;  ineptitude vs. self-reliance).

2.  Flatlanders must shop and hire craftsmen and contractors locally whenever possible (but they get a demerit if they can’t do a project by themselves in the first place).  They should be on a first-name basis with their town’s hardware store and lumberyard proprietors, and never admit to going to a Big Box home improvement store (but for some reason, WalMart is okay).

3. Flatlanders must not be afraid to admit they don’t know how to do something (i.e. drive a plow truck or use a chainsaw), as long as they are willing to ask advice and learn (and then they must do it themselves and not rely upon others to do it for them); and NEVER advise a local that there might be a better, more efficient way to do something.

4. To gain “street cred,” Flatlanders must remain in Maine throughout an entire winter, without complaining or histrionics.  This was explained to us by the “P’s,” who readers of this blog have met in an earlier post.

Winter in Maine is bad.  How bad?  It’s so bad that even proud native Mainers move to Florida  during  the relentless Maine winter when they hit old age.  It’s that bad.

Yep, #4  is the biggie.

Our flatlander neighbor 2 miles down the road has street cred.  He and his wife decided to retire to Maine from South Carolina.  True, it helps that he is a genuinely nice person, that he volunteers a lot of his time, money and energy to the local school, the library, the budget committee, and the local conservation group.  It also helps that his former occupation was in the construction industry – – that’s something locals can relate to.  But the real deal is that he stayed alone in his house all winter in 2008 (his wife, a Southern belle, fled to So. Carolina at the first snowflake and returned only in the spring)  – –  a year of numerous blizzards, nor’easters, and whiteouts when temperatures got to -40 with windchill.  He outlasted power outages of more than a week.  He only asked for help once, when snows were so deep and the ice so treacherous that his plow truck (he does all his own plowing, another brownie point) wasn’t powerful enough to handle the drifts on the mile-long dirt access road to his place. (It ended up costing $200 for  a monster excavation tractor to clear his road.)

But now, this flatlander neighbor “from away”  has genuine street cred here in these parts.  Natives practically doff their blaze-orange hunting caps when they see him at the general store.  After surviving the winter of 2008, he has arrived.

It looks like we may have to wait until 2011 to establish our credentials.  Fortunately, January awaits. . .


Sometimes we look at someone and think, “I wish I could be like so-and-so.”  Or, “So-and-so is so lucky.  I wish my life would be like that.”  A person who seems like they have it all may in reality be secretly harboring terrible tzuras of their own, be it serious illness, familial, financial or legal problems.  The truth is, everyone has their “peckelach” (burdens).   When we see people in a particular situation, be it good or bad, we are never seeing the whole picture.  How many times have we thought, “Wow, I’m shocked – – such a nice family! I don’t understand how such a terrible thing happened!”  when we hear of troubles of one sort or another.   The truth is, we can never know what goes on behind closed doors.  This is slightly less true in Israel, where there is less privacy and people tend to live very densely.  But in America, where people dwell in single-family homes and/or have much less of an “open door” policy in their relationships with friends and neighbors, we really have no idea what is going on in someone else’s life.  The reality is, if we really saw a complete picture of another person’s life, we would never trade our own peckelach for theirs.  It is difficult to fathom the depths of another’s suffering.  So many seemingly robust people who are surrounded by friends, family, and financial security are sick, unhappy, lonely, frustrated or overwhelmed. Irrespective of what your “yichus” (pedigree) is, everyone has family dramas, soap operas, and skeletons in their closets.

Since beginning this blog, I have lost count of the number of people who have written me, saying “I have fantasized about making a major change in my life for many years.”  Many people are not necessarily in need of a drastic change; they simply need time off to de-stress.  I consider “time off”  different from “vacation.”  Our move to Maine has opened a floodgate of heartache, as readers of this blog have shared with me the tremendous challenges faced by them in their relationships with others, mostly family.  There is so much anger, resentment, and fatigue out there.  Out of respect to their privacy, I will not share their stories here.  Perhaps if you are reading this, you are thinking, “Oh, she’s talking about me.”  I am not singling you out.  Unfortunately, “you” are one of many.

I recently checked out a book from the library, entitled “Let Go Now: Embracing Detachment” by Karen Casey. It’s one of the most “Jewish” non-Jewish books I’ve ever read.  I am not a fan of pop psychology or self-help books, but this one is a winner.  If you can go through it slowly, and actualize some of the suggestions, it might help a little bit.

Word of the Day

I was reading a New York Times article online about Jewish author and educator Erica Brown, when I came across this line:

“During our coffee, she criticized the way some observers bury moral teaching under legal casuistry and the way some moderns try to explain away the unfashionable things the Torah clearly says.”

I had never before heard of the word “casuistry” (ˈka zh (ə)wəstrē) , so I looked it up.

“The use of clever but unsound reasoning, esp. in relation to moral questions; sophistry; the use of fallacious arguments, esp. with the intention of deceiving.”

I can think of so many examples of casuistry when I read the news, especially in the shoddy treatment of Israel and the moral relativism thereof.   Honest Reporting recently released their 2010 Award for Dishonest Reporter (spoiler: Time Magazine “wins”).  Reading such blatant examples of casuistry is downright scary.  So for now, “casuistry” shall be my favorite word of the moment.

Small World

Every morning my husband, a software developer/engineer,  has a meeting via conference call with members of his team.  Employees live all over the place, but usually near main offices in Virginia, Massachusetts, Canada, and India.  One of the people in Virginia, where they had a snowfall of 2″ yesterday,  asked my husband, “so how’s the snow in Maine?”

Before my husband could answer, one of the team managers in the conference call piped up, “Who wants to know about Maine?  I live in western Maine!”

My spouse said, “Where in  western Maine?”

“Oh, I live in a small town . . . on a dirt road . . . in a remote location ” which turned out to be the town next to ours, only  5.6 miles from us!  Her parents bought a lakefront summer place there years ago, and then decided to retire there.  Recently this manager bought land near her parents; she and her children and spouse are living with her parents while their new house is under construction.

My first reaction was, “This is unbelievably cool!  Of all the places in the world, and it turns out this person is working on the same project, and lives 5 miles down the road from us in such a remote area! What are the chances?  Who would have guessed?”

As I thought about it some more, this strange coincidence invoked my neo-Luddite side.  I find it amazing that we can be so immersed in something such as our jobs, work with the same people everyday, yet not know a thing about them because we may not have any personal contact with them, all thanks to technology.  Being technically savvy with one’s computer (and the use of email and texting) has allowed us to keep in touch with far-flung friends, but has decimated the art of letter-writing.  Who has the time or desire to sit down and write a 10 -page letter when you can zip off a 2-line email?  We can’t even write without abbreviating (lol, gtg, ttyl, omg).  We rarely make the effort to go for a cup of coffee or speak on an intimate, deep level with good friends in person.  We can “friend” someone yet how many of us really know what it is to be a true friend?  Do our relationships with our friends have the same level of intensity and love as the friendships that our parents and grandparents cherished? And:  did our parents’ generation experience the degree of loneliness that people feel today?

Recently three of my grandsons ages 8, 9 and 10, went on an all-day field trip with their school.  While they enjoyed themselves, they found the long bus ride boring.    The root of their displeasure was based in the fact that they were the only boys who didn’t have a Nintendo DS hand-held game machine.  Each of the other boys was unto himself, playing away for the long hours the bus was en route to their destination.  There was no talking or singing or interacting (although I am sure the bus driver and chaperones were blessing the Nintendo corporation for the zombie-like quiet).

When I was a kid we survived long bus rides  singing endless renditions of “100 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall” at the tops of our lungs.  But I can’t say I was bored, singing and  laughing the entire way with my friends.

How are these same little boys going to relate to their wives 15 years from now, I wondered aloud, if human interaction and conversation becomes an annoying interruption that keeps them from their hand-helds?  My daughter replied that it wouldn’t be a problem, because their wives would meanwhile be so immersed in sending and receiving text messages to their girlfriends, they wouldn’t realize they were being ignored.

Color (exterior)

I am a person who agonizes over color. When it came time to paint the interior of my house in my home town, i put up 100 swatches of paint on the walls – and they were all shades of off-white.

I wanted my house in Maine to blend in with the environment, as though it were engulfed by the woods. I didn’t want the house to be visible from the road, though of course it would be once the leaves fell and there was no coverage from the trees. So when it came time to choose the siding colors, much to the amusement of my builder, I stuck the two pieces of fiber cement siding samples that were my top color choices into the ground next to tree trunks and earth, trying to decide which was the closest match.  My spouse thought they looked the same.   Sheesh.  That is such a man thing to say!  Since when does heather grey look like taupe?

Grey or Taupe? (click to enlarge)

I moved the little fiber cement samples in front of different kinds of trees, in different types of light and shadow on site.

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

That was important because color looks different based on atmospheric conditions.  The colors looked very different when I held them up in my home town, vs. on the  property in Maine.

Why fiber cement siding?  It doesn’t look as fake as vinyl nor does it fade, chip, dent or scratch. The color is baked on and is guaranteed for 15 years.  It’s extremely energy-efficient and no-maintenance, unlike log cabins which despite their rustic beauty require a new coat of wood preservative and rechinking every few years.  Fiber cement is  less expensive than most siding materials.  It’s available as shingles;  vertical or horizontal siding;  in different sizes and widths; with a choice of many colors.  What’s there not to like?


The house as seen from the driveway. The metal roof is a dark bronze, which also blends in nicely. This type of roof is energy efficient and low-maintenance. (click to enlarge)


Here is how the fiber cement siding color looks on the completed house.  Even when there is no foliage, the house “becomes one” with the surroundings.  Although it’s visible from the road in winter, it’s not noticeable.  You really have to look for the house to see it.

The house as seen from near the bottom of the driveway (click to enlarge)

Can you find the house? From the snowy unplowed road below, you can see it peeking from behind the trees, up the hill. (click to enlarge)











What Color is Your Angel?

Coming back to my hometown led me into a vortex of racial tension,  as an unfortunate series of neighborhood events nearly turned into a media-inspired incitement to riot.  The local daily’s online accounting of what transpired led to such hateful, vitriolic comments it’s downright frightening.  The people who I stand in line next to, drive behind, or visit at the bank or supermarket and who serve me with a smile might in fact be the very same people who, under the cover of Internet anonymity in the Comments section, want Jews dead, the sooner the better.

On Friday I was standing in line at my local Dollar Store, where it so happened I was the only white person in the store.  I was buying decorative cookie tins so I could send home-baked cookies to all those in Maine who had provided me with quality service and kindness in the past year:  various subcontractors, our woodcutter, the postmistress, the town clerk.  Next to me in line stood two ladies, talking loudly enough to ensure I’d hear their conversation.

“I really am going to complain to the manager,” one said to the other.  “All the gift bags have white faces on them,” saying the word “white” as though she were sucking on a lemon.  “There ain’t no reason he can’t get gift bags with black faces!”

“Yeah,” the other woman huffed, “and now I have to go to the other Family Dollar store up the street, because they don’t have any black angels for the top of my tree!”

But I had to admit: I, a white person, wouldn’t necessarily buy gift bags with black faces on them.  Then again, I wouldn’t buy gift bags with white faces, either.  Personally I gravitate towards gift bags in solid metallic colors.

I left the store, deep in thought about black angels.

Will they watch over me?



Post Office: Maine vs. Home Town

I’m back in my hometown to celebrate Chanuka with my children and revert temporarily to babysitting duty.

It’s been quite a culture shock.  So many people, and all of them in such a hurry! Traffic! Lines!  I’ve been to a mall (no parking left!) and the library (ditto!).  The density amazes me which is kind of ridiculous because my home town is a fraction of the size of NYC or LA.  But it’s ginormous compared to rural Maine.

I had a very difficult encounter at the local post office in my home town.  I waited in line for the standard 25 minutes but I was at the counter itself for 45 minutes, and there was no shmoozing at all.  I was attempting to mail a package while trying to keep a smile on my face and maintain a pleasant demeanor as the clerk, bless her, made it the Day From Hell.  ‘Nuff said, but it made me reflect on my last day in Maine.

I had gone to our rural post office to pick up mail from the PO Box, and told “H,” our postmistress, that I would not be seeing her until January.  In case our mail forwarding request back to our hometown was not going to work properly, I apologized in advance for the possible avalanche of mail she’d receive and have to hold aside for us, especially since we rented a teeny-weeny box that holds less than bubkes.

“Ill tell you what,” she said, “how ’bout if I hold the mail for you until the middle of December, and then I send whatever comes to you here in Maine to  your home town address?”

“That would be great, ” I said, “but how will I know how much postage to give you to do that?”

“Don’t worry about it,” H said, “I’ll cover it out of my own pocket, and you can pay me for the postage when you get back here in January!”