Archive for December, 2012

We Are the World

I just received a summary of year-end statistics from my blog for 2012, courtesy of WordPress.  Honestly I have no idea how most of you found my blog in the first place, but the statistics revealed some very exciting info:  Midlife in Maine has been viewed by thousands of people from 15 countries, including Israel, So. Africa, Thailand, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, the UK, Italy, France, Canada, Australia, and India.

Blogging is a tool, and like anything, it can be used for good or evil in our incredibly and increasingly shrinking world.  I hope I’ve been able to keep you entertained, informed and educated about a different way of life.  Sometimes we feel trapped in our lives and while I’m not recommending that everyone move to Maine, I do want to say that most of us do have choices, big and small, even though options and change and new things can be downright scary.

As we say goodbye to 2012 and enter 2013, live life to its fullest!   Time is passing so quickly and the clock is ticking.  We don’t always get second chances, so let’s try to take advantage of new opportunities and be all that we can be.  May all of us go from strength to strength!

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Survival of the Quickest

I was suffering from a bad bout of insomnia for several nights and finally I couldn’t take it anymore.  So Friday night, which was layl Shabbat, after dinner and some reading and endless tossing and turning, I made a l’chaim with Nyquil when the clock hit midnight.  I didn’t take more than the recommended dose because one shlug is all it takes for a wonderful night of uninterrupted sleep.

A Nyquil-induced sleep is a beautiful thing, but woe to anyone who is forcefully awakened out of this drug-induced slumber!  If you try to wake before your body is truly ready to be woken, you will feel yourself moving in a slow-mo fog, completely disoriented as you strive to greet the day.  Alarm clocks and previous-night Nyquil do not mix.  But the following day was Shabbat, and I had nowhere that I had to go and other than serving up my cholent, no real obligations to meet, so Nyquil and I had a midnight meeting.

Within moments the Nyquil had its intended effect; I slept a blissful sleep.  When I awoke at 9:30 on Shabbat morning I felt rested and well.  I still had plenty of time to daven the Shabbat morning prayers before kiddush and lunch, so I got dressed at a slowpoke pace and wandered into our dining/living room, where my husband had just finished davening shacharis.

“You aren’t going to believe what I saw!” he said excitedly.  “I didn’t know if I should wake you, but I was worried that by the time you’d get to the window, it would have been too late anyhow!”

It turns out that while davening, out of the corner of his eye, he sensed movement outside the window.  He looked at a tall tree 30′ from the window, and running up the tree was a squirrel.  Chasing the squirrel was a Canada lynx!  The Canada lynx was hot on the heels of the squirrel (do squirrels even have heels?) and my husband thought, “Okay, that’s it for the squirrel – he’s a goner.”  But at the very last second, the squirrel jumped across to a neighboring tree, which stopped the lynx in its tracks – the branch at the top of the other tree was far too thin to support the lynx’s weight.  Slowly, while looking across at the squirrel, the lynx inched its way back down the tree to the bottom, and then scampered off in search of breakfast elsewhere.

Canada lynx are extremely rare – in fact they are on the endangered list – – and many rural Mainers, including outdoorsmen who spend a great deal of time in the woods, will go their whole lives without ever having the privilege of seeing one.  This is our third lynx sighting in 3 years, although the 2 previous sightings were fleeting and at night.  It’s probably the same lynx that is calling this general area its territory, but wow!  It was actually on our property and in broad daylight!  I am so happy my husband was able to witness this natural drama.

“Are you upset I didn’t wake you?”  he asked, feeling a little guilty.

“I am sorry I missed it,” I replied, “but in the life-and-death battle of Nature, animals and mankind . . . Nyquil wins.”

You can find out more about Canada lynx in Maine, and how to tell the difference between a lynx and a bobcat,  by clicking here.

Deer Sign

During deer hunting season I didn’t see a single deer, but now that deer hunting season is over, I have seen two bucks.  Due to a very harsh winter three years ago which resulted in death by starvation, an increase in the predator coyote population, and overhunting (the number of deer hunting permits is limited, but there are poachers), the deer population is down and sightings are rare.  Unless hunters are incredibly lucky and just happen to see a deer when their rifles are handy, it takes some good scouting work to locate areas where deer have visited.  This is usually done by taking long walks in the woods to look for deer signs: tracks (hoof prints),  pellets (excrement), deer scrapes, and antler rubbings.  From the website Foremost Hunting I found the following helpful information:

Deer “scrape” the ground with their hooves- – and at times will do so with their antlers. The scrapes will range from the size of a dinner plate to that of a child’s portable swimming pool. Put money on the fact that if you find a swimming pool sized scrape, you’ve either got one huge trophy buck, or it’s a “community scrape,” where all the deer are together. That type of community scrape usually means younger, or immature bucks. A mature buck will normally stay to himself and scrape distinct areas to announce his presence and mark his territory.

Different types of scrapes mean different types of bucks. Young bucks go along, and they really don’t know what they’re doing. It’s like a 16-year-old going out on his first date – -he has some instinctive idea of what he’s supposed to be doing but doesn’t really know the ball game. So young bucks go out and start marking territory everywhere. There’s no rhyme or reason to their scraping. If they see a scrape from another buck, they’ll scrape in the same area, and in the end the area will become a community scrape, of sorts. The young bucks will return to these areas to check out what’s happening. They don’t really recognize that they’re marking the area.

On the other hand, a mature, dominant buck knows exactly what he’s doing. They scrape, and they announce by their scrapes that they’re marking their territory, telling other bucks to stay out of it.

Savvy hunters recognize what are called “scrape lines.” Dominant, big bucks will move up and down and around their territory marking with scrapes anywhere from about every 30 to maybe a 100 yards. They scrape along a specific trail or “line” as it’s called. These scrape lines will attract knowledgeable hunters who will set up along these lines, taking the wind into consideration (remember – -it’s critical to always locate downwind from your quarry), and then the hunters wait for that big trophy to show up on his scrape line.

Very much like the scrape line is a rub line – which is done on trees or bushes. Bucks use these rubs in two instances. The first is when they rub off the velvet on their new set of antlers. Usually that’s earlier in the year and smart hunters know that these rubs may not indicate territorial markings, but rather just the opportunity for the bucks to get the velvet off their antlers. Early in the year, rubs will mostly appear on small saplings or trees, and you can’t tell much about the size of the deer or if there’s any territorial rubbing going on. As the year moves on and the antlers harden, the bucks instinctively try to get the velvet off as quickly as they can. At that time, you can really begin to estimate the size of the deer that’s rubbing. As the rut approaches, you can look at the diameter of the trees that the bucks are rubbing. The bigger or wider the tree, and the larger the antler marks, the bigger the buck. A little forkhorn will not rub against a huge pine tree. Deer will stick to a tree that befits their size. A big 10 or 12 pointer however with a heavy rack will hit on a big tree. That’s what he’s looking for. The real key is if you see a tree which has been rubbed – and it’s big- – and the tree or trees directly behind the primary rubbed tree also have ancillary rubs from the same deer, then you pretty well know that you’re on to something big. The buck was so large that as he wrapped himself around the big, primary tree he was rubbing, he not only hit that tree, but the ones behind it.

What a lot of hunters do is set up trail cameras along scrape and rub lines, which will photograph or take video of the bucks who are rubbing and scraping. The hunter will then be able to closely determine the actual size of the buck who is in the area.

While I don’t hunt, learning about how to track animals truly enriches one’s enjoyment of walks in the woods.  About a month ago my husband and I were walking around the edges of our property, when we came across these antler rubbings.  Had I not known what they were, I might have passed this tree without noticing anything special.

This young tree shows signs of antler rubbing.  My husband holds his pen nearby to get an idea of size.

This young tree shows signs of antler rubbing. My husband holds his pen nearby to get an idea of size.

This young tree shows signs of antler rubbings.  My husband holds a pen next to the tree so you can get an ideal of perspective.

deersign4

deersign3

deersign2

While most people have romantic notions of wildlife, animals such as beavers, deer and woodpeckers can cause tremendous damage and destruction to  trees.  While on the same walk, we found a tree with some freshly drilled woodpecker holes.

While these huge holes will undoubtedly kill the tree, other animals, including owls and other birds, will use the hole to make a nest.

While these huge holes will undoubtedly kill this tree, other animals, including owls and other birds, will use the hole to make a nest.

Sawdust from the freshly-drilled holes on the trunk lays at the base of the tree.

Sawdust from the freshly drilled holes in the trunk lays at the base of the tree.

Not There Yet

“Tai Chi class is ON for today!” That was the email I received yesterday at 7:30 a.m.  “Even though the roads may be a bit messy– especially north of Bridgton, we will be at the Town Hall for the 9:30 AM class today.”

This came as a surprise.  The roads outside were truly treacherous following the recent snowfall, which was followed by an ice storm, leaving our winding, steep mountain roads both icy and slushy and all-around dangerous.  My Tai Chi class is made up of 45 Mainers, mostly ages 60 – 85.  As the second youngest in the class, I felt a bit embarrassed by my own wimpiness.  “If the 80-year-olds can make it, surely I can too,” was my thought.

What I should have remembered is that Mainers tend to understate things.  A guy who is crippled by arthritis will say his “bones are misbehavin’ today.”  A woman sick as hell  from the effects of her chemotherapy treatments will say she’s “a bit undah the weathah today.”  A speeding motorist who crashes into a tree, totals his vehicle and survives his injuries will say, “I guess I gave (the car) a bit too much gas.”  These comments are made calmly with straight faces and stony expressions.  This takes some getting used to when you are a loud Jewish woman from the city, given to excessive and expressive emoting, including hand wringing and lots of “oy veys.”  So I should have realized that “roads a bit messy” really means, “the roads are extremely perilous!”

My husband was kind enough to drive the car down the driveway.  The plow guy had been there the day before, but now there were an additional two inches of snow mixed with ice.  My husband figured he’d make a new path in the snow with the tires, thereby making it easier to get down the driveway when I left.  It was a good plan – – but unfortunately conditions were so bad, that once my husband brought the car down, he couldn’t get it back up our impossibly steep driveway.  He parked it at the bottom and I only hoped the town’s snowplow wouldn’t be coming by until after I left, because the last thing you want is to be in the way of a snowplow on a narrow mountain road.  I walked down to the bottom of the driveway wearing my MicroSpikes, which are sharp metal crampons you put on the bottom of your boots, which grip the ice so you won’t slip and fall.

Unfortunately he had parked the car facing the wrong way, and there was simply nowhere to turn around.  I had to drive a mile up the road to the Inn, and only then, and with some difficulty, was I able to turn around and start my journey to my Tai Chi class.

I was less than a mile from our house when I saw an abandoned Ford F-250 pickup truck that had gone off the road and slid down an embankment into the woods.  The truck wasn’t damaged and it was clear it was not a case of his having gone too fast; the road was simply too slippery and he had spun out around a curve.  This is a 4×4 truck that is quite large and heavy and should have had enough traction due to its sheer weight.  It was an ominous sign, but I (stupidly!) pressed on.

I was driving about 15 miles an hour when I got to the main road; but despite the fact that the main road was clearer and more frequently plowed and sanded than the rarely traveled  street that leads to our house,  the main road wasn’t looking much better (after they plow they sprinkle the roads with a  mix of sand and salt to melt ice and improve traction).  There were barely any vehicles driving on the road (I should have taken this as a sign) and after 35 minutes – – normally a 15 minute ride – –  I reached our post office.  Katie, our new postmistress, comes all the way from the town of Mexico, Maine which is about 1 1/2 hours away.  (Our former postmistress just quit, deciding to pursue her Mary Kay cosmetics career.  Talk about an untapped market!  I can’t recall ever seeing a  rural Maine woman wearing makeup, so she has a lot of hard selling to do.)  Katie described her “wicked scary drive from hell” and my first thought was, “Well, she’s not going to last long at this job,”  because she is going to have to make that commute every day this winter.  But irrespective of her crazy daily commute,  I don’t expect her to be around much longer anyhow, since our little post office is likely up for closure along with 4,000 other rural post offices across America.

As I was leaving, a woman customer walked in carrying packages containing the Christmas gifts she was going to mail to her children, who live in other sates.
“I got to be 65 years old for a reason,” she said. “It’s because I didn’t go out in weather like this!”

At this point I was seriously thinking of giving up on the Tai Chi class and returning home.  But the road ahead was clear, and the road behind me to my house was awful, so I pressed forward.  I had already warned my husband that if things got worse, I’d simply find a room at a motel in Bridgton and spend the night.  In my car I carried a blanket, warm clothes, a flashlight, and food, and my cell phone was fully charged.

As I made my way through the towns of Albany and Waterford, I never went past 20 mph.  By now my class had started, and I was still 15 miles away, but I simply could not go any faster.  Just before I made the turn to the town of Bridgton where the class was being held, I made a detour through the town of Harrison, because the road there wasn’t as steep or curvy, and it was a good decision.  But it meant that despite my extra-early departure, I’d arrive 40 minutes late for my class, and by now I was pretty tense from my vise-grip clutching of the steering wheel.  I’d been driving for almost 90 minutes at 20 mph – – it usually takes me only 35 minutes – – and I was so exhausted I simply couldn’t imagine concentrating on intricate Tai Chi moves.

Instead, I pulled into my auto mechanic’s garage, where I had made an appointment for later that day to have studded snow tires put on my car.  I had hoped to combine my errands and intended to go there anyway after my Tai Chi class.

“Any chance you can fit me in earlier today?” I asked.  Fortunately, they could.  I was SO happy to have those tires on my car!  The difference was remarkable.  I was no longer slipping and sliding along the road, but I still had to proceed very slowly and cautiously.  All the way home, the weather kept changing.  One moment it was snowing, the next it was raining or sleeting; ice pellets were pounding my window.  Sometimes it was a combination of all of the above.

When I got to the bottom of our driveway, I said a little prayer.  The first time I tried to drive up, I got stuck in snow.  I was able to coast back down, and I tried again.  This time I paid careful attention to the tire tracks from my husband’s earlier descent.  By following the tracks and putting the car into 2nd gear (it’s an AWD stick shift), I was able to get to the top!

“I can’t believe you made it up the driveway!” my husband exclaimed.

“To heck with the driveway,” I said, “I can’t believe I made it home alive, period!”

Lesson learned:  I simply don’t know what I was thinking, and why I allowed temporary insanity to overtake me:  when the weather is bad, there is simply no reason to go out except in cases of extreme emergency.  I may be a wimp, but I am an alive wimp.  Tai Chi will have to wait.

Post Script:  Early Friday a.m.  I need to pick up a guest at the Portland airport who is coming to visit us, and of course the weather report is calling for heavy morning fog and more snow!

First Snow

Shortly after a visit from our plow guy, the driveway is once again covered by non-stop falling snow

Shortly after a visit from our plow guy, the driveway is once again covered by non-stop falling snow

The downside to a one-car garage in a two-car family!

The downside to a one-car garage in a two-car family!

It’s been 24 hours of non-stop snowing, with snowfall expected for the next 4 days.  The plow guy has cleared the driveway once already, but by the time the FedEx man came by to deliver a package, he couldn’t make it up to the top and had to trudge the six hundred uphill feet through the snow to deliver it by hand to our front door.  (You would think that they’d give FedEx delivery men 4×4 vehicles in rural Maine, but they don’t.)

I went out to make a path to our compost bin and to clean off the solar panels, and a huge owl, probably not expecting to see a human being in this weather, flew away right in front of me.  The chickadees and woodpeckers and wild turkeys are enjoying the bird feeder!  Life isn’t easy for animals during the winter months here in Maine.  Yesterday I saw two sets of paw prints that made their marks across a frozen pond.  One set of prints was bigger than the other.  They told a story:  the larger animal in pursuit of the smaller; their dash across the pond; and then, suddenly, about 15′ from the opposite shore, the ice thinned . . . and both animals fell in.  There were no more tracks leading out of the holes they made in the pond, so both animals must have drowned.  Nature isn’t always idyllic!

I have my annual appointment to put studded snow tires on my car tomorrow, but hopefully the roads will be clear and a lot safer than they are now, or else I’ll have to wait until next week.  Right now we’re holed up with plenty of food and good books and a crackling fire.

Today is actually cause for celebration.  It’s my husband’s first day at his new job.  I didn’t want to mention it until I had good news to report, but he was unceremoniously let go, effective immediately, along with all his co-workers; and the entire office was shut down.  He only got 5 weeks’ severance pay so it was a bit worrisome whether he’d find something in this difficult economy.  Fortunately, there did not seem to be any overt age discrimination during his search, and he got two offers of employment from companies impressed with his level of expertise.  The good news is that the new job allows him to work 99% of the time from home, so  our Maine adventure will continue without interruption, please G-d.

Chanuka Gifting

P1110022Philosophically, I am opposed to giving gifts on Chanuka.  I have no problem with Christmas for Christians, but I do get upset with Jews whose insecurities lead them to feel they need to compensate, by turning Chanuka into a mini-Christmas.  A child whose family celebrates Sukkos by building and decorating a sukka will not feel like he’s missing out by not having a Christmas tree (l’havdil); a child who makes and gives shalach manos and dresses in costume on Purim will not feel deprived on Halloween.   I’m no Grinch, and there is nothing wrong with a token, modest gift or gelt to help a young child associate a Jewish holiday with a sense of joy, but an over-the-top present for each night of Chanuka?  Ick.

Which is why it is weird that I went to such effort to give gifts to my grandchildren this year.

Yep, I was one of those nutcases who patronized Wal Mart on Black Friday.  The thing is, in rural New England it’s not the riotous free-for-all, sickening survival-of-the-fittest escapade that occurs in other cities, where people wait out in the cold for hours before the store opens and then attack one another in their quest for the limited supply of bargain-priced gifts.  There are no massive lines or outdoor queues.  It’s orderly, it’s polite, and it’s friendly. (“After you!”  “No, it’s okay, you were here first!”)  Bargain-wise, I  did well.  Really, really well!  It was fun.  And it was definitely worth it.

But why, only recently, have I felt this need for Chanuka gift-giving?  Blame it on the grandmas!

Both my mother and mother-in-law a”h were very into Chanuka gift extravaganzas.  In a Very. Big. Way.  Even though I was philosophically opposed to it, and it made me feel somewhat embarrassed and uncomfortable, I realized that it brought both our mothers and their grandchildren (and great-grandchildren) great joy as both givers and recipients.

And now our mothers are gone.

It sounds funny, but I gave my grandchildren gifts not so much for the kids’ sakes, but for our mothers, as their representatives and as a memorial to them. It’s also a bit of a guilt offering,  because I never really expressed appropriate gratitude to our mothers for their efforts in shopping, shlepping, gift wrapping, and ensuring that each child had just the right present; I was more concerned with religious dogma than expressions of love.

I did reap nachas at the grandkids’ happiness when they liked their Wal Mart Super Specials, but mostly I felt, in some strange way, that I was honoring my mother’s and mother-in-law’s wishes, and that they were smiling down on us from shamayim.

Happy Chanuka!  P1110070

The Elephant in the Room

I really do try to keep my blog “pareve,” but on this one, I just had to speak out.

Recently there have been trials and convictions of pedophiles from the Orthodox community in New York.  Besides the sorrow, shame, horror and chilul HaShem, I would just like to point out a few things:

1. There is no “cure” for someone who is tormented by sexual desire for a child.  Even if the abuser doesn’t physically act out, his mind is always filled with desire.  It is usually only a question of time before he can no longer control his need to act upon this desire.

2. Castration (or medication which accomplishes a similar result) is not effective.  Abuse can occur with hands or other body parts just as easily as with a sex organ.

3.  Victims of abuse suffer for the rest of their lives.  That doesn’t mean that a victim of abuse cannot go on with life and live a happy life, but s/he will always be affected by the abuse s/he experienced.

4.  When school administrators, teachers, rabbis, youth organizations, camp counselors, friends, and family are aware of abuse and do not report it, they are enablers of said abuse.  Firing a teacher or youth leader guilty of abuse but then turning a blind eye when the accused moves to a different city/state/country and gets another job that will place him in contact with children and more opportunities for abuse, without the previous administration informing his new place of employment of the abuser’s past history, is intolerable, and an accessory to crime.

5.  If rabbis that give piskei Torah or administer kashrus organizations know about specific abusers but do nothing, why should we trust them as reliable when it comes to their rulings or their hechsherim?

6.  We must not send our children to a school that harbors abusers, even if our own child is not specifically targeted or affected.

7.  A false accusation of abuse will change an innocent person’s life forever.   While false accusations are rare, they are completely despicable and inexcusable, and should not go unpunished.