Lyrical Laughs

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Bread, milk – and generators

When my little family moved to Maine from Connecticut at the end of ’97, we thought we knew all about snow and how to deal with it. It didn’t take long to find out we were strictly amateurs when it comes to snow removal, outdoor activities, and not letting a little of the white stuff stop anything.

Two weeks after we had settled into our apartment in Saco at the end of December, and two days after First Born joined her new fourth grade class which had just resumed after the holidays, the Great Ice Storm of 1998 smacked us upside the head. If you were a photographer, the vision of glistening branches bending over the roads and the moonlight striking untouched, crystallized snow was practically heaven. If you were anyone else, this was probably not the case.

From the frigid effects of an ice storm in ’98 to a record-breaking snowfall in 2000, we experienced Maine’s way of dealing with winter, and it was impressive. One morning after a rather severe storm, I witnessed what appeared to be a giant Tonka truck plowing its way down a Saco sidewalk. Chunks of snow were blown with brute force away from the path, forming a thick mountain along the way. It was what Mainers would call wicked cool.

Like any other state in New England, there are priorities when preparing for impending whoppers like the one we are anticipating as I am writing.  Stores become packed with patrons grabbing the last of the bread and milk – necessities when you might be stuck inside for any length of time. Gas stations pick up business because nobody wants an empty tank if they do decide to foolishly venture out in the midst of the mess. But in Maine there is one more reason to go to the gas station, and one item that appears on a regular basis this time of year.

That item is a generator.

Picture this. The power goes out. A short time later you hear its hum from your neighbor’s house where the lights shine, the refrigerator is working and occupants can even charge their iPads. Meanwhile, you sit in the dark surrounded by those weird candles that are supposed to burn for hours, wondering if you’ll have to go and sit in your car by morning to charge your cell phone. You can’t even make coffee.

I’m not sure how it happened, but somewhere along the way we became the owners of a generator. The Spouse bought it from a coworker who was upgrading to a bigger, better unit, but this one suits our little home just fine. I have no clue how to operate it, so even though the point is that we would have at least some lights and electricity, it is useless if I’m left to take care of it on my own. Thankfully, so far the Spouse has been around each time we’ve really needed it.

I have come to admire how Maine doesn’t let snow stop much of anything. We’ve seen ice sculptures and castles, ice skating rinks in neighboring yards, and sledding hills in the middle of a street. I find it fascinating to drive down Commercial Street in Portland and watch loaders pour tons of snow into dump trucks ready for their fill, like puppies lined up for a treat.

Skiing, snowboarding, sledding, ice fishing – this is how Maine conquers the winter blues. You can even try dog sledding. If you’re not into any of these activities, you could just sit by the fire at a ski lodge and enjoy watching icicles drip off snowboarders’ helmets.

This year I may just learn how to operate the generator.  It’s an important step in storm preparation.

After all, my first cup of coffee could be on the line.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Football widowhood and payback

Raise your hand if you are a football widow. I should have just told you to shake your head, because I know that’s what you really want to do.

A football fetish never used to be an issue in our house. For quite a few years the Spouse worked nights and his schedule always entailed weekends. I had no idea how spoiled I was with having full control of the remote until he started working weekdays. Up until then the biggest battle was (and still is) pulling him away from SpongeBob marathons.

Somewhere along the way he became a part of a friendly football pool at work. His first year playing was his best – he won the pool and came home with a trophy of sorts. That was all the motivation he needed to start the next football season yelling at the television and rattling off team stats as if I was actually listening. Football facts are not something I care about retaining in my already clogged brain. I dread when he walks out of the room and thinks I’m paying attention to the score.  Paying attention to football is not my calling.

If these games are going to be blaring from the biggest television in the house all weekend, there has to be a payoff for me. This often comes in the form of not harassing me as I hone in on really bad reality TV, like The Bachelor or Say Yes to the Dress, on non-football days.The Spouse is pretty good about this. He draws the line at awards shows, though. He can afford to be flexible because there are two other televisions available, and both of them are in the basement. Not counting the washing machine and dryer, the cats’ litter boxes, and our steady supply of paper goods from Sam’s Club, the majority of the basement is his man cave.

The best part of being able to send him downstairs is that I avoid having to listen to him make disparaging comments about which women are not exactly hiding their crazy on The Bachelor, or question why the bride dragged along 12 people to help her choose a dress.

I don’t begrudge him his dose of football mania. He doesn’t stand in front of the game with his chest painted team colors, and he patiently answers my clueless questions about scores and injuries if I bother to look at the TV. Of course, the majority of my queries are presented in between plays or during commercials. I know my limits.

To be honest, I have zero interest in which team is winning or what player is injured. Not that I want someone to be injured (it’s a mom thing), but as far as its effects on the game – don’t they have spares? You know, like understudies who are supposed to be at least comparable in talent and ability?

I did pay enough attention to hear hooting and hollering (from the television, not the man) about the New England Patriots winning some game and going on to some other game in a week or so. Is that right? Oh, come on, I’m kidding. Even I’m not that clueless. Usually.

The truth is, I ask occasional questions and may even comment on a play to be a small part of what interests the Spouse. He spent a lot of years missing out on the opportunity to just relax on a Sunday afternoon and watch something he considers entertainment. My sole purpose at that moment might be to refill the cheese and cracker tray, read the newspaper or check out Facebook as I sit next to him on the sofa and join him in a beer. That’s fine by me.

As long as it’s not SpongeBob.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Jury duty comes a-callin'

I spent last Monday morning in a dungeon with 229 other people. Fine, not technically a dungeon… it was the basement of a courthouse, which is very similar on a Monday morning where you are surrounded by sleepy souls, two coffee carafes and no cream.

Yup, I was beckoned for jury duty.

As tough as it is to get moving on a Monday in general, I made sure I got on the road to arrive on time so I wasn’t arrested. Once I got to the parking area it was pretty easy to figure out where to go… just follow the hoards of half-awake folks holding the same letter requesting our presence that I was clutching.

After passing through security where dangerous-looking women were stripped of their life-threatening knitting needles, we were shuffled to the basement like cattle and told to take a seat. Picture that game where there are five people and four chairs. Now multiply that by about 50. These were not the most comfortable seats. The few of us that had bonded considered a revolt when a latecomer was given a nice, comfy chair with arms.

I was fortunate enough to wrangle a seat next to a couple of folks with personalities, and we chatted amiably and joked a bit while we were standing (sitting, actually) by for some type of instruction. I compared the trip’s mileage with the young man next to me and discovered he is from the same area and happens to work in the produce department of a grocery store that I frequent. He even recognized me, which led me to those all-important, internal questions. Does he question the frequency with which I buy bananas? Has he heard me muttering about the cost of cantaloupe? Did I demand to know why they were out of shredded carrots? These things I pondered until I realized my glazed expression may have been frightening him.

My sister warned me to take snacks, lunch, and reading material. Naturally, I packed a notebook because you know I couldn’t help but use this experience as a writing exercise. There is something about being trapped in a windowless room with a couple hundred strangers that makes me just want to eat. My snacks were gone by 10 a.m., but I was hesitant to drink much water. The odds were slim to none that I would make it to one of only two restrooms on the same floor without having to battle at least 50 other women when they gave us a break.

Most of my morning was spent trying to disregard an almost visible cloud of odors floating through the room. It’s not anyone’s fault that I was picking these scents up. I happen to have a very sensitive sense of smell. Cigar smoke, stale coffee, cologne, and the faint scent of egg (possibly from the beard of another prospective juror) wafted by, causing me the tiniest bit of nausea, compounded by claustrophobia.

A film was shown about the workings of the court system and our civic duty. I believe we should be willing to serve. I just can’t promise I won’t find something humorous about the whole thing.

Of the list of 230 people who had been called for jury duty, my number was too high to be called on that particular day, so I was released around noon, along with at least 100 others. I may be back, since I am technically committed for the next month. On the bright side, this can only lead to more material.

Though I admit to hoping jury duty would have a weather cancellation – as did many others, I discovered that morning – the day had its interesting moments. As of the writing of this column, I remain in jury limbo until the weekend, when a recording will tell me whether I will be called back. I’m not worried.

I am more concerned about having to behave in the produce section of the grocery store from now on.

Update: Looks like I'll be heading back to the dungeon Tuesday morning. From the point of being chosen to a jury on I will be sworn to secrecy. It could be a long month.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Rabbit ears - the re-gift that keeps on giving

For the past four or five years we have gotten together with a group of friends for a few hours of foods, festivities and re-gifting. That’s right, we exchange gifts that we received and will never use, don’t know how to use, or possibly can’t quite identify.

Here is how it works. Everyone brings a wrapped item, which is placed among the collection of assorted, brightly wrapped packages and gift bags. Each participant picks a number (we used a deck of cards with different numbers written on them). Whoever has Number One is first to choose something from the gifts. When the second person has their turn they might decide they don’t really want their re-gift, so they can trade it for what the first person has. Here is where the trading and the fun begin.

The higher your number, the better chance you have of collecting something that you might really like… at least until someone with a higher number eyes it. Once everyone has had a turn and several trades have taken place, Number One has the chance to choose from everyone else’s booty.

As of last weekend, Spouse and I are the proud owners of an adorable holiday candleholder and the world’s smallest cast iron skillet that accompanied a cornbread mix.  I like them both, thanks to luck of the draw and decent numbers.

We watched through laughter (and fear of having our precious prizes traded) as decorative paper was ripped off time and time again to reveal, among other treasures, a cheese slicer, a set of wine glasses, a toy motorcycle, something that resembled an urn… and a donkey. Much to his wife’s bewilderment, the guy who unwrapped the donkey decided not to trade it. Come to think of it, this might be the same guy who kept the football helmet ice bucket.

Some re-gifters choose to keep what they started with and hope nobody else will decide they want it. Some re-gifters keep what they have just to antagonize the person they came with. See donkey reference above.

The one re-gift that keeps returning to haunt us all made its debut during the very first re-gifting party. At that time a certain bachelor who apparently didn’t quite grasp the concept of a re-gift, entered the depths of his cellar (or maybe it was his attic) to unearth a forgotten, grimy device that hardly anyone under the age of 30 would recognize – a television antenna, better known as rabbit ears. It had been wrapped up with the original, inch-thick dust, rusty antennae protruding from the base and wires hanging off the back. Needless to say, that sucker was traded more times in an hour than Wall Street trades stocks in a day.

Over the years this prize has made its way in and out of various homes where it resides for a year before returning to the scene of the Christmas crime. Ironically, the ancient relic has become a staple of the event.  I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that everyone more-or-less dreads picking the wrong package and spending the next year with this contraption. Still, it has become part of the hilarity and weirdness that we can always count on at these gatherings.

This event could be a test of your sense of humor if you open something more along the lines of a booby prize. In the long run, though, it’s just a fun night with people you probably don’t get to spend a lot of time with, especially during the rush of the holidays.

If you didn’t have a funny bone before, you will after you’ve been to a re-gifting party, where your luck can run out with the flick of a pretty red bow. There may be presents and pranks, but the connections and conversations we finally take time to nurture truly make it worthwhile.

Rabbit ears and all.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Confessions of a non-shopaholic

Three days after Christmas...

Me: I think I'm going to try and find new curtains for the kitchen. 
Spouse: Why don't you see if Tammy wants to go?
Me: I don't think that's a good idea - she likes to shop.

My best friend Tammy has the patience of a saint when it comes to one (but really, more than one) particular aspect of our relationship.


She understands and accepts me for who I am and who I am not.

I am not a browser.

When it comes to shopping, my normal rule of thumb is to shop by myself because I hate the whole process, so it is no pleasure cruise for anyone that is forced to join me. When I drag Tammy along with me to shop, she is aware that I have a hard time with investing the necessary time to enter more than one store and sift through various styles for what I want. I get tired, impatient, cranky, and thirsty. Fortunately, since we live in New England, there is almost always a Dunkin Donuts within a half-mile radius.

The weekend after Christmas was no exception. I wanted to see my BF and I wanted new kitchen curtains. This meant my not-so-lucky buddy was forced to witness my lack of commitment as well as my ignorance in choosing colors that complement the kitchen.  Of course, it’s hard to complement mismatched cabinets and sheetrock that the cat has taken a chunk out of for some inexplicable reason.

I started out positive, venturing into an actual curtain shop. That’s where they sell nothing but curtains and the accessories that make them stand out.

I found nothing.

Truth be told, I did admire a couple of curtain sets but my purse somehow locked itself shut with one look at the prices. Tammy smiled in understanding and suggested a nearby department store with after-Christmas sales.

At The Mall.

Few things strike fear in my heart the way a visit to the mall does. This is the ultimate shopping sentence for someone like me who prefers a place with a quick getaway that doesn’t spill out into a whole world of retail. I went along with the idea, determined to strut into the mall department store, find exactly what I want and swoop back out with Tammy in tow before she even saw the white sale.

As expected, the choices were lacking there, and that store was nowhere near another mall establishment that might have curtains, thankfully. However, my BF turned me on to a gorgeous comforter – another item on my this-really-needs-to-be-replaced list. After waiting in line behind someone returning what was probably a duplicate set of Frozen sheet sets, I approached the nice Mall Department Store Sales Lady and asked if they had the right color and size in stock. Records showed they did not but that it may still be available when it was restocked. That meant coming back to the mall. I’m thinking being warm is overrated.

Off we drove to another town and another department store, which, it turns out, did not carry curtains. That was fine with me because I could see more than one escape route and  for reasons I can’t quite define, I happen to like this particular store. Besides, the lack of curtains left me with spending money for a new purse. I know, I know – this was breaking my own not-browsing rule, but on occasion I can sniff out a good bargain, and the best part of this purchase was that I didn’t have to try it on.

It’s a wonderful thing to have a best friend who will deal with my idiosyncrasies… and who knows never to give me a gift certificate to the mall.