Friday, December 18, 2009

Tales From Rural Maine: "We Went to Live More..."

I had a hard couple of weeks at work. They were the kind of weeks that make you want to quit your job. And Peter, he worked 80 hours in the paper mill. He left before sunrise and came home after sunset for six days in a row.

I spend my days ensconced in the business of technology. I think about it, I write about it, I use it, and mostly, I try to make my company money from other people’s need for it. I got into technology journalism by accident. And after 15 years, my sponge is full. I find that, as the world becomes more busy and more full of smartphone ads and cell phone calls and home gaming consoles that what I crave most are the things that feel more real, more tangible, more solid. I crave what is not disposable; what was not designed for obsolescence. I crave the things that are quiet, the things that last.

As a whole generation of Americans fill up their homes with Wii and its accoutrements, I stuff the cupboards beneath my TV with old board games. Not even the shiny new ones in re-designed boxes; I prefer the battered old version of Battleship that doesn’t make any noises. I don’t want some fancy Clue; I want the original. You can keep your Mario Kart; I’m looking for a circa-1980 Connect Four. (“Pretty sneaky, sis!”)



In my work, I have frequent access to the latest mobile devices. I’ve reviewed the newest BlackBerries and Windows Mobile smartphones. It’s my job to evaluate them well—and I do. But I’m more excited about the big, black rotary-dial phone that hangs on the wall in my kitchen. That rectangular box with an actual bell inside and a cord stretched long enough to reach from my mother’s kitchen to the laundry room is not wired up—in fact, we don’t even have a traditional landline here; VoIP was a better deal—but I still smile whenever I see it, whereas the boxes of smartphones in my office just make me feel something like dread, only more boring.

I think perhaps this is why I moved back to Maine. Not entirely. Not completely. But, as children of the 70s and 80s, who grew up barefoot in the out-of-doors and appreciate creativity and simplicity, Peter and I are enjoying something here together. While Peter would rather give up food than the Sims or his computer, he joins me in my desire to live, if not—forgive us Thoreau—more deliberately, then more authentically.

Perhaps that is what draws me to this place. My family on each side has been here, in this very town (or the village next door) for more than seven generations. As backwards and compressed as this town can be, it is the original—the place of my origin. I grew up in the woods of Maine (and Peter in the wilds of Alaska and Hawai’i) and our access to pop culture and cutting-edge technologies, such as electricity and plumbing, were limited and sweet. We savor our memories of our toys and TV shows, our telephones and video games, because they were so meaningful. When we were moving into this house, Peter found under an old bit of shag carpet in a closet a helmet from the original miniature GI Joe. You would have thought he had found a nugget of gold. (And I confess I marveled at his ability to identify this helmet without its accompanying military hero.) This excitement now about the toys we had then is, in part, because we each had down-to-earth, beatnik/hippie parents who provided us with lots of fresh air and little else; but also because of the very special time we grew up in.




It was a time when cable television and remote controls were life-changing events; video gaming consoles were revolutionary; VCRs, the Walkman, cordless phones! They mattered and they lasted. Rudolph and Frosty, The Wizard of OZ and The Sound of Music you couldn't own them! You couldn't even record them for most of our youths. They were experiences, moments that you counted down to and savored and tried to stay up for year after year.

Children today—maybe all of us today—are just so overloaded. While the thrill of getting your own line installed and having a lavender princess phone to go with it could last through all of high school in the 80s, today, when there is so much, there seems to never be enough. In the last year, my 13-year-old nephew, who could program a VCR before he could read and launch programs in Windows 3.1 before he could talk, has gone through two sexy cell phones and is working on his second iPod touch. When I was in the 8th grade, my best friend slipped me notes on her Garfield stationery, but my nephew and his cohorts exchange thousands of texts in a grammatically strange language that barely resembles the English he will have to use when he writes a college admissions essay. And while I still have boxes of those notes to reminisce over, my nephew when it’s all done…will have nothing.

When we were kids, things were real. Albums. Cassettes. Even CDs. But MP3s are just data. The smell and feel of a vinyl LP, the artwork and liner notes--a sound file, for me, just can’t compare. You can’t hold a .wav file in your hand; it’s like they don’t exist. One dropped iPod or one crashed hard drive and, as my nephew learned, they won’t.

My stepmother’s sister visited recently and mistook my record player for a device that would turn records into MP3s. I was so stunned by the backwards notion of this conversion that she may as well have asked me when we were going to slop paint over our gorgeous hardwood floors. As we climbed into bed that night, I sang Peter the original Hungry, Hungry Hippos jingle. It just popped into my head and I sang a heartfelt version. It totally cracked us up. It was stuck in our heads for days and—we felt happy.

During times of stress, like these two crummy weeks, I guess I return to my roots. I crave those quiet things that last. Not outhouses or party lines, but the things that were good. Lincoln Logs and Slinkies. Everything today just seems so noisy, metaphorically and literally.

Yesterday, Peter got his first good paycheck since he moved east to be with me two years ago. Monday is our two-year anniversary. And today, Friday, he came home with gifts for me, the first surprise gifts he has ever bought me: a 1959 hardcover edition of a Nancy Drew Mystery (The Hidden Staircase), a record (The Ventures a Go-Go), a copy of Better Homes & Gardens from April of 1963, and a big bag of birdseed (so that I can feed the birds I love watching out my window).

He said they weren’t early Christmas presents or even anniversary gifts. They were just because I had made it to Friday, and they would make me happy. And he was right. They did.

This material is copyrighted. If you are reading it on Facebook, it was imported from my Website, Graychase.com. You can read the original here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: "Going Gluten-free"

It's not easy to be gluten-free; particularly if you live someplace where pizza and Italians (subs) are the only viable take-out and the nearest health food store is 45 minutes round-trip and closes before you even get out of work. Since I've only recently returned here after two decades in more...shall we say..."developed" areas, such as San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Northampton, MA, part of the quest is not just knowing what I need and how to prepare it (big challenges on their own), but where to gather all the ingredients--and then making the time to forage while also working 40+ hours, trying to exercise, having a life, looking for health insurance, and first looking for a house and now owning one that needs work.

I spent an hour in the Shaw's in Ellsworth on Saturday, for instance, looking for non-dairy yogurt. They sell it at Hannaford so I assumed it would be at Shaw's. Truth be told, it took me nearly an hour to remember I wasn't in Hannaford. Nevertheless, even with the help of three determined staffers who insisted it was in the store, we were utterly unable to locate the soy- or coconut-based yogurts for which I quested. (I wanted them because breakfast is one of my real problem areas and since I don't eat meat, gluten, or dairy (mostly), I wanted the alterna-yogurts I'd been used to--the ones I bought in bulk at Hannaford in Brewer.)

Once I learn the ropes, I think the time it takes to acquire things will go down, but for now, there are still a great many hours spent looking for vegan cheeses and miso that could be spent doing something more useful, like painting my laundry room or watching four hours of NCIS on DVD (or actually trying to cook something).

One thing I know for sure: there is no shortage of information. Quite the contrary. If you mention to anyone--even a stranger at the grocery store who spies you loading Bob's Red Mill gluten-free-something in your cart and asks--that you are gluten-free, you will be immediately asked, "Have you read the blogs?" No matter what your answer, you will then be showered with information, suggestions, a torrent of details and stories about afflicted loved ones that is so well-meaning and yet just too much to take.

As I told my friend Mav (in the ancient tradition of mixed metaphor) when she offered to provide copious amounts of great cooking and eating tips in response to my last gluten-free blog post, but first checked to see if I could handle any more input: "I mostly feel like I'm a sturdy little thimble positioned at the mouth of the great Mississippi. Open wide and try to filter *all that information* into something you can eat. So, yes, thank you for the loving restraint when it comes to tips. I DO want them, but my little sponge of a brain is nearly soaked. I'm tired and hungry and frustrated. One meal at a time. Must go slowly. Can't cope with onslaught of advice. You have my e-mail, though: you could drop me gluten guidance there, if you want? And I'll pop in when I can and have a nibble?"

And that's just it. I love Mav for understanding that I couldn't just get battered by tips: because that's what they usually feel like. Battering. No matter how lovingly given, I'm like a plant that's been overwatered. (Hurray! Another mixed metaphor!) I do want help, but first I just really need to absorb what I already have.

I do thank Renee from Hannaford in Bucksport, though, who saw me checking out with Mike's Hard Lemonade this summer and let me know that malt means gluten. Rats! And to Mark (my sweet friend and realtor), who was the first to tell me that Hannaford in Bucksport sells Redbridge, a gluten-free beer. Problem identified. Problem solved. (Want more gluten-free beers. Here's a super site.)

Some tips are really helpful. Other tips, like, for instance, "You can Google it," are not. One is a tiny, well-aimed drop; the other is like turning the hose on me.

I do thank everyone who is trying to help. And I ask you to please poke your hand gently in my soil before you dump in any more water, lest I drown (or catch you with a thorn).

The exception is actual food delivery. Presenting me with recipes or lists of blogs means I have to do more reading, more thinking, more foraging, and potentially more failing at preparation. Then I have to clean up. But, if you want to invite me to a gluten-free, semi-vegan meal--or, say, drop a suitable hot dish off at my place--well, then, my friend, you are always welcome to feed me.

I decided to start blogging about being gluten-free with my own particular parameters (the nearly vegan, onion-allergic, mushroom-averse me) because I do think it's worthwhile and helpful for all the celiacs and gluten-challenged among us to speak up and share on this great cyber river of muddy information we like to call the Interweb. If you are looking for help or hope or company, here I am. I'm glad you found me. Just don't expect me to read your blog.

Here's the latest one-day-at-a-time menu update:

November 17, 2009
1.5 cups coffee w/2 cubes raw sugar
coconut milk yogurt (from Hannaford in Brewer!)
gluten-free granola (I can't remember now where I landed that. Rats.)
soy chocolate pudding (which I think is located either in the dairy case or the produce section at Shaw's in Ellsworth)
1 bowl homemade vegetable soup (You can find the recipe on page 251 of The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone.)
gluten-free french roll toasted with raw, organic honey and earth balance margerine
one glass Riesling (I hope it was gluten-free? I don't know. Can wine have gluten?)
Grilled salmon with mashed potatoes and cole slaw (restaurant)
water
Andes mint

November 18, 2009
1.5 cups coffee w/2 cubes raw sugar
water
3 gluten-free waffles with margerine and real syrup
organic applesauce
homemade veg. soup (note to self: make LESS soup next time!)
gluten-free crackers (they're made from nuts!)
vegan cheese (it's made from nuts!)

3 Junior Mints Deluxe Dark Chocolate Mints (both gluten-free and vegan, I think)

1/2 Fuji apple
soy chocolate pudding
Shahi Korma, 3/4 lunch-sized portion (Taste of India, Bangor)
papadam (it's made from lentils!)
basmati rice
Polar orange dry seltzer

That damn soup is finally gone. And I think I might be out of non-yogurt-yogurt. Damn! I should have had Peter get some today when he was in Bangor. See? This is what's hard about it. Stock up and re-supply. It's like planning for a freaking revolution.

This content is copyrighted and may not be reproduced. If you're reading it on Facebook, it was imported from my blog at Graychase.com. Read the original here.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gluten-free diet: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Eating gluten-free is a total pain in the ass, especially when you're first learning. There's a lot of frustration, mix-ups, and starvation. There's a lot of effort and aggravation--and slip-ups.

In my first month of being gluten-free, for instance, I drank non-alcoholic beer frequently, never imagining I was guzzling gluten. Slowly, I'm learning. I try not to beat myself up or worry. I'm doing the best I can. That's my motto. And, about half-way through my third month, I am actually feeling better.

Now that I have my own home, which means my own kitchen, it's much easier to work on eating gluten-free than it was when I was living in the camper. Living in rural Maine, I don't have easy access to gluten-free products or other necessary supplies, but now that I have my own space, I can bulk buy and store multiple loaves of rice-based bread or tofu steaks in my freezer, if I want to.

Because I'm also a vegan-leaning vegetarian who eats fish and "happy" chicken, but who gets sick from eggs and most dairy and is allergic to onions, I'm extra-special pinched when it comes to feeding myself. Most gluten-free cookbooks rely heavily on meat dishes; most vegetarian cookbooks rely heavily on gluten-infested breads, pastas, and fake meat products--or the dreaded hummus or mushroom-based meal. (I don't like most hummus or mushrooms and I can't stand olives, goat cheese, or sundried tomatoes. Gag me.)

With everything that's been going on in my life since the advent of the gluten-free diet decision, I haven't had the energy or time to dig up recipes that are palatable and realistic. Living where I live, it's not easy to find a daikon radish or some ghee. Or seitan? Forget about it. Plus, have I mentioned? I am a terrible cook. No. Really. I am. I burn toast. I under cook and over cook. I make good flavors go bad. It's a giant comic tragedy almost every time I try to make food.

But, I *have* to eat. And I have to eat healthy. So, in a gesture of solidarity with anyone else out there with the same dietary restrictions as me, I offer a sample menu. Here's what I ate today:

1 bowl gluten-free organic cereal with rice milk, sort of a knock-off yet pricier version of Cocoa Crispies.
Lots of water
1 glass water doused with packet of Emergen-C
1.5 cups coffee with two raw sugar cubes
1 bowl homemade vegetable soup, leftover from a surprisingly successful attempt at cooking (by me) this weekend. You can find the recipe on page 251 of The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone.
1 gluten-free "french roll" (really more like a biscuit) toasted (so as not to be frozen any more) with organic raw honey and smart balance margerine. (So yummy!)
one large serving organic jasmine rice, frozen (microwaved)
one gluten-free, vegetarian chili meal, frozen (microwaved) ("Helen's Kitchen Simple Health Hearty Bean Chili with Vegetables & TofuSteaks")
dollop all natural sour cream
3 Junior Mints Deluxe Dark Chocolate Mints (both gluten-free and vegan, I think)
1 sandwich made with gluten-free bread (frozen) toasted, with melted almond-based vegan cheese and vegenaise, and a leftover tofu steak (originally frozen, also Helen's Kitchen brand and totally delicious)
Two organic celery stalks
Handful of Lay's potato chips

I'm still hungry, but it was a successful day--the kind of day that makes me think I can actually do this.

This content is copyrighted. If you're reading it on Facebook, it was imported from my blog at Graychase.com. Read the original here.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Monday, November 02, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: "Question 1"

Earlier this year, Maine legislators took the admirable step of granting equal marriage rights to all Mainers, including same-sex couples. The governor signed the legislation into law and ever since the spring, it has been legal for any two adults to marry in this state, should they choose to. The governor, who once spoke out in favor of civil unions instead of true marriage, says he signed the law because he came to realize that separate is inherently unequal. He is now an advocate for equal marriage rights (bless him).


Unfortunately, shortly after the new law was passed, some Mainers gathered signatures to create a ballot initiative similar to California's tragic Proposition 8, which took marriage rights away. Tomorrow, Mainers will go to the polls to decide the issue.

I moved back to Maine this year in part because of this law. I might like to get married someday soon, but as a bisexual citizen and native Mainer who happens to have a male partner, I feel that any law which denies civil rights to lesbians or gays denies them to me, as well. For this reason, I take the No on 1 campaign personally (as with Californa, a No vote means yes, gays can marry) and it's been deeply upsetting to see Yes on 1 signs sprout up all around me. I have at least one friend and, I suspect, at least two close family members who will be voting to deny me my right to marry tomorrow. This hurts. It hurts so much that I decided not to engage with them about it. Will they have a revelation, as the governor did, before tomorrow and either vote No or abstain? I hope so. Could I have persuaded them by engaging in debate? Definitely not. So, I've left them and their consciences to it.

While for me, the denial of marriage rights is personal, for my straight friends, there is no reason they should be compelled to vote No--no reason, apart from a passionate commitment to equality, freedom, and American values. I have been profoundly moved by the fire with which my straight, married and unmarried friends have fought on behalf of my minority. (For the record, I would have rather been a lesbian, but I had no choice in the matter. You love who you love and there it is.)

We, the not-heterosexual people, cannot attain equality without the consent of the majority. We cannot be equal unless enough people who aren't like us believe this to be so. Fortunately, amazingly, almost all of my straight friends get downright furious when they even think about Yes voters. And I love them so much for this fury. This fury is love, it is fairness, it is the good fight. And no matter what happens tomorrow, I am buoyed by this love and righteousness.

I am also moved by the continuous stream of unexpected No voters. One straight, married friend's dad, an elderly man with conservative views, for instance. He is legally blind, so my friend was tasked with doing his voting for him. She was very tempted to vote No for him--he'd never know!--but of course, she would never actually do such a thing. She had to make her peace with the act of ticking that Yes box for her father.

When the day came (he voted early) she read him the question. Then she read it to him again. After one more time, he gave it some thought and then he said, "I think I'll vote No. Let's give them a chance."

As much ugliness has risen up around Question 1--a great many No on 1 signs in our town have been found flattened with tire treads embedded in them, for instance--there is also this beauty. For every neighbor who stakes a Yes on 1 sign in her yard, there is someone like my friend's dad who says, "Let's give them a chance."

In the picture (above), my first girlfriend (a native Mainer) and her fiancee (whose Mom lives in Maine) stand in Bucksport with me and my sweetheart, Peter. We are all created equal and endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. Among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. While some joke that marriage is not happiness, we would all like a chance to try. If you agree we have that right, please vote NO tomorrow on Question 1 and urge your friends and loved ones to join you at the polls.

This content is copyrighted. If you are reading it on Facebook, it was imported from my blog at Graychase.com. View the original here: http://tinyurl.com/yg8ruhy

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Monday, September 28, 2009

Smith College Class of 1994 Memorial Service

My dearest classmates,

I'm having trouble posting to the Smith94 blog at Graychase.com. While I work to resolve the issue, I'll post here in the hope that you will still find it...What follows is the post I've been trying to get up at the class blog.

We Remember, Class of '94 Memorial Service (2009)

On Friday, May 22nd, 2009, after our Groove is in the Heart Yoga class, members of the class of '94 gathered in a clearing by the pond on the other side of the crew house. We were joined by the parents of Laura Swymer-Clancy '94, who brought four daughters to Smith and have lost two of them far too early.

This is what I read:
"In Memoriam"


Four years ago, I attended the wedding of a dear Smith friend in Mystic, CT. Despite some of us not having seen each other in several years, and despite the many different paths our lives have taken, the Smithies at the wedding embraced one another with jubilation, appreciation, and great affection. We were as familiar to one another then as we were on the last day we sat down together for Sunday Brunch in Cushing House more than a decade earlier.

During the outdoor reception at the Mystic Seaport, I stepped away from the dance floor for a moment and I watched my friends dancing as the sun set into the water behind them. The sky was filled with brilliant swaths of color, the last vestiges of day embraced by the first dark arms of night. In that moment between the bright shining day and the deep velvet night, there was a pause for celebration, a great joining together of colors, a hello and a goodbye all in one. The sky, like the bride and the groom, and my glorious friends dancing beneath it, was gaining something and losing something both.

I wanted to be in that moment forever, but since that was impossible, I reached for a pen so I could write down what I saw.

A few days later, I found the note I’d written on a napkin crumpled at the bottom of my purse. And all it said was this: “Describing my love for these women is like trying to draw the sun with nothing but a crayon.”Even eleven years after moving away from our shared Smith home, words failed to capture the light that dances between us when we come together in any room. Our happiness in one another’s company is almost impossible to describe (particularly if there is music and a meal involved). This, I believe, is the Smith Experience.


We are here today, exactly 15 years after we graduated, to honor that unique connection, the inimitable togetherness that a Smith education affords, and to mark the loss of seven of our classmates:

  • Kimberly Tyler, who passed away 2/11/1991.

  • Linda Miller, who passed away 10/15/1995.

  • Judith Grubbs, who passed away 11/20/2000.

  • Carol Boyer, who passed away 4/17/2001.

  • Laura Swymer-Clancy, who passed away 10/21/2001.

  • Deirdre Flaherty, who passed away 8/12/2004.

  • Jennifer DelVecchio Gustafson, who passed away 8/1/2007.

[At this point, I was overcome with emotion. I gestured for the Reverend Alyssa May ('94) to join me, and she was kind enough--and composed enough--to help me invite the group to offer a moment of silence to these women we have lost.]



After our moment of silence, Lesley Reidy, who was very close with both Laura and Jen, read a poem--Snow Geese by Mary Oliver--and shared some of her memories. She also described some of the ways in which she still actively feels the sweet presence of her good friends in her days, and the ways in which she shares that love and warmth with her children.

Laura's mother, who brought along photos of her daughters, also read a moving poem. And both of Laura's parents shared their appreciation at being able to experience our remembrance of their wonderful daughter. Other friends and classmates shared their grief at losing friends and their gratitude for having known them.

And then I led us into our offering:

Earlier today, I came to this clearing, I said a blessing, and planted seven lilies-of-the-valley, one for each member of our class who has passed away. Lily-of-the-valley is also known as Ladder to Heaven and Our Lady’s Tears. It is said to have magical properties and is used to improve the memory and the mind. When placed in a room, these flowers are supposed to cheer the heart and lift the spirits of anyone present.

It is my hope that these lilies-of-the-valley will grow and thrive in this clearing. So that we can return year after year to this quiet spot and witness their bloom and remember how we were when we were young here and what a special thing we have become a part of.I have filled this watering can with water from Paradise Pond. I invite you now to join me in offering a drink to these lilies we have planted, in recognition of the life that this water gives, and as a symbol of our connection to Smith and t o Smithies, whether they can be here today in body or only in spirit.

As those gathered came up one by one, to offer water to our lilies, I read our benediction:

In this moment between the bright shining day and the deep velvet night, let us pause for celebration, a hello and a goodbye all in one. Even fifteen years after moving away from our shared Smith home, words fail to capture the light that dances between us when we come together. Our happiness in one another’s company is almost impossible to describe (particularly if there is music and a meal involved). This, I suppose, is the Smith Experience.


After the benediction, I thanked everyone for coming. There were hugs and tears and, I think a great deal of joy at our connection--followed up, most appropriately, by music and a meal at our class dinner.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: "I Know Exactly Where That Is"

One of the things I love--I mean, really and truly love--about rural Maine is the way people give directions.

My family has been here in this same town on both sides for more than two centuries, and I myself have never been away for more than six months at a time in 37 years, and yet I don't know the names of most of the streets. People don't say, "Go up Mill Street." They say "Go up the Post Office Street." (In fact, I don't think it is "Mill Street." I genuinely don't know the name of the street on which the Bucksport Post Office is located.)

And I am not alone in this. I don't know the name of the street because almost no one local uses its name. Most directions are given with points of reference being, not street names or number of blocks between things, or even in miles, as might be common in other places, but rather in terms of details based on where people live or where something happened or what is located on the street (such as the post office or the library).

My favorite part is that the directions are always correct and reliable, but utterly inscrutable to outsiders because they most often begin with where something (or someone) used to be.

I enjoy re-telling particularly excellent examples of rural directions as anecdotes and recently attempted to regale my father with a narrative about the directions a friend had given me to his house in Happy Town. Peter and I had been invited to have dinner with him and his wife, and he issued us the following directions via e-mail:

From your Dad's home take Upper Falls Road to Bald Mountain. I don't have mileage from there but from Bald Mtn you go down over the stream, then up two steep hills, after the hills go a couple of miles, the road sweeps to the Left with some cows on the side of the hill at Wee Bit Farm. Look for Winkumpaugh Road on the Right, take it and go to the next stop sign at Happy Town Road, the sign is frequently stolen and I can't recall if it is there at present. Go 1 mile up the hill on Happy Town Road and we are on the Left @xxx. Our house has a carport, shingled exterior and green trim. Most importantly my cell is xxx-xxxx should you get lost.


I was cracking up by the end. I mean, isn't that a riot? Aren't those directions just so awesomely rural-perfect? Start at your Dad's, go all these crazy ways, turn (no idea which direction) at the stop sign with the missing road sign all to end up in some place called "Happy Town"? Awesome, right?

But my dad, who had been following along intently to my narrative, picturing all the roads and turns in his head just said, totally straight-faced, "I know exactly where that is...But he should have told you the cows have long hair."

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: Something’s Gotta Give

Peter and I came to Maine because it was time. We were miserable where we were. We examined every other possibility and we decided, for a variety of perfectly sensible—and a few more intuitive—reasons that Maine was the place to be for now.

Our plan hinged on a few things, however. The most essential was the weather. Second to that: a job for Peter.

We have been here now for three weeks living in a small camper on my father’s lawn. Part one of the plan was to live rent-free in this manner, the upside of living in a tiny, awkward space was that we could enjoy a Maine summer while also getting Peter out of debt and saving toward a home of our own. We would barbecue on the deck and swim every afternoon. It would be great.

Those of you who live in mid-coast Maine are already laughing a rueful laugh. For those of you who don’t know: it’s raining. It doesn’t matter when you read this—today, tomorrow, next Thursday, September—it will still be raining. It’s rained almost every day since it stopped snowing and the forecast for the next ten days? Rain. In fact, the forecast for the foreseeable future? Rain. Having almost entirely given up any real hope of summer, I am now beginning to tiptoe toward the genuinely dreadful thought of what this precipitation will mean when the temperature drops. Do you have any idea how much snow ten inches of rain translates into? Or what life is like here if it snows day after day after day for months? Especially if you didn’t get a chance to regroup in the warmth of summer? It’s a thought so horrifying that I can’t even think about it. I start to…but when I get close, I turn and run away. That door must stay closed for now or I’ll never make it.

As though you hadn’t heard, the recession is also making it hard to find work, even here, where we thought old family and friend connections and the boom of a summer economy would mean at least temporary or part-time work for Peter.

We were wrong.

And, maybe worst of all: the camper smells. I have tried everything. Baking soda. Vacuuming. Spraying various potions both natural and chemical, which claim to remove odors of all sorts from fabric. Almost every inch of the interior of the damn thing is covered in this terrible, scratchy brownish/tan fabric from 1986. We don’t keep smelly trash, dirty dishes, recycling, or dirty laundry inside. I run a HEPA filter 24x7. Essential oils are diffused, windows are opened, and litter box deposits (and twice daily wet food leftovers) are whisked away so quickly our stunned Norman cat can only stand looking dazed as his whiskers blow back in my wake.

We’ve washed all our bedding and doused it in fabric softener. We keep shoes locked away. But nothing, I fear, nothing can save me from this smell. (Where is it coming from??)

What is truly problematic about this is that because I work from home (which makes this move possible—hurray!) I have to sit in that smell all day when it’s too wet or too cold to work outside (boo!).

I could go work inside at my dad’s—or impose on friends or family—but there are a couple of problems with this. One is that it’s inconvenient. The other is that, apart from foul odors, faithful friends and readers of my blog know that noise unsettles me. You might say it has the potential to destroy me. And even when my dad’s house is completely empty (which is rare given that a teenager, a teacher, and a retiree with a vicious, barky dog also live there), the house itself makes unbearable noises. Like today, I sought refuge in the empty house only to be driven back out again by a loud and creepy repetitive noise coming from the freezer. It sounded like the creaks a big ship makes. (Peter said that’s called “delisting,” so at least I learned a new word today.)

While this place is a huge improvement over the horror that was Hampton Terrace, locals know that the traffic on the Upper Falls Road is constant and fast-paced. The deceptively rural and unassuming road, green and lovely, bordered by blueberry fields, the tail end of a lake, forests, and a few quiet homes, is a pass-through for all manner of vehicle, from passenger cars to large delivery trucks to rumbling farm equipment, racing to or from Route 1 and Route 46. I was warned about the noise, but after the booming bass, shrieking hordes of unwelcome children, and the chainsaws—oh, gawd, the chainsaws!—at our previous address, I really thought…how bad could it be?

It turns out, it can be pretty bad. I know this because even Peter is bothered and he slept for four years on an aircraft carrier in a tiny metal “bed” beneath fighter jets taking off and landing. (Don’t even get me started on how bad the sleeping accommodations are…that’s probably a whole other blog, but suffice to say…we are both tired and sore.)

Today, despite the gray skies and high humidity, it wasn’t actually raining when I got up, so when I just couldn’t take the stink of the camper any more, I carted all my work junk out to the picnic table, dried it off, and went to work. But the rush of wheels on pavement recurred just often enough and just loud enough that I couldn’t get my work done. I was trying to watch an informative video about a product I’m reviewing, but whenever a car passed, it drowned out my audio, even on the loudest setting.

I finally packed up and went into the house. But then the delisting freezer—and the arrival back home of grandpa and dog—drove me back outside.

Which is how I’ve come to be here, on the back porch, listening to the soothing hum of the hot tub and the gentle swish of the breeze through the trees—and trying to ignore the dog that’s been barking for the last hour and, of course, the traffic.

I haven’t mentioned that for most of these three weeks, I’ve also been starving. Finding dairy-free, gluten-free, semi-vegetarian food in this burg is a project. Take out is an impossibility. I drove all the way to Bangor just to get some microwaveable Amy’s meals—at Target. And the cat throws up at least twice a week, sometimes twice a day. And for a while he had a diarrhea so pungent it brought tears to my eyes and woke me several nights from a rare and precious deep sleep.

Like the icing on our cake, for several days, the septic system was also blocked up—turns out it was a tree branch, not Peter (phew!)—so we had to commute three miles each way to my brother’s whenever we needed to poo or bathe. (Good thing we have our own house key!)

On the up-side, our expenses are minimal. I can hug my niece and my nephew whenever I want. There’s a weird little yoga class on what used to be the stage at my elementary school twice a week. And Peter’s not being at work means that today, when I was absolutely on the brink, he washed the stinky cat dishes, took out the trash, found our missing plate and bowl, hugged me, got the mail, and drove to the grocery store for two different kinds of air freshener—keep hope alive!—and the ingredients for my favorite meal, which he is now cooking.

I will finish this review, dammit, despite the traffic noise and my hunger and fatigue (you’ll be able to read it later at www.wi-fiplanet.com<==plug). I will eat a delicious lunch, which will improve things greatly. Later, we will look at houses with our realtor (who is the first boy I ever spent a Valentine’s Day with) and then we will return home, to spray the air with our new cans of Fabreeze and settle in for the next installment of Torchwood on our tiny, satellite-equipped TV (god bless my father for making that happen). We may even take a dip in the hot tub.

That is, of course, if I don’t just refuse to leave whatever house we look at last…

©Copyright 2009, Naomi Graychase. If you are reading this on Facebook, it was imported from Graychase.com and should not be reproduced without permission. You can find more stories or poems like it at www.graychase.com.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,