Friday, December 22, 2006

Hair salon, southern style

The temptation is to say “Back home,” or “Up north” when starting a story. But this is where I live now so I will just start by saying: In Maine, I got my hair done every 8 weeks, no matter what. It’s my one concession to a personal indulgence, a cut and color, ever since my hair started going gray at age 34. I remember when day spas became popular and all the rage. Before I worked a lot, I had time to drive to Portland and have my hair done at a fancy spa. Hair salons went from a cut and run place to a place of potentially all day extravagance with aromatherapy and a boutique inside and overhuge mugs of green tea being offered and winged-haired stylists talking in hushed tones, not unlike a funeral home.

Then the day spa idea came to smaller towns like Gray and I started going to one there. It had sophisticated decorations like gilt mirrors and high end products and city-styled hairdressers in uncomfortable looking clothes.

For the second time since I’ve been here I got my hair done at a local beauty shop in town. I like the place. The hairdressers wear jeans and their hair looks normal. The vinyl on the chairs is cracked and the gals take cell phone calls from their husbands while spraying customers’ hair and they talk across the floor to each other and the customers chime in too. They complain about the country song that’s playing on the radio and they finish putting on their makeup after they get the chemicals on your hair and they are jovial and themselves.

It’s a homey place. And now, it’s home.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Luminous Birthday in photos

Meadow Baptist Church on the evening of their Christmas program. The church is next door to my apartment.

Jim the camel handler, a volunteer enacting his part in the Live Nativity scene Saturday night

Someone is happy Christmas is coming!

As they say here, "the reason for the season," Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus, volunteers at the Live Nativity. The family has been doing it for 22 years but this year is the last, they are moving to the mountains. I'm glad I got to see it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Luminous birthday

I turned 46 yesterday. I’m more than halfway through even if I live a generously long life. It’s OK, I’ve packed in 4 lifetimes into this one. And yesterday, I packed in more than a day’s worth of fun for my 46th.

I started as usual with my morning routine while listening to satellite radio's "Classic Christmas,” a station that plays renaissance and classical holiday music. I love satellite radio, no commercials.

A friend had invited me to dinner but early in the day we rescheduled for Monday night because of that cold going around. Our changed plans left me free to tour through the famous Luminaries and Live Manger after dark.

My father had sent me an expensive Barnes and Noble gift certificate so I felt released from my budgetary restrictions and I spent 2 hours shopping for books without worrying about the total. I love bookstores, and the exhilaration of tossing new books into my basket without looking at the price was pretty great.

The reviews were good for "The Pursuit of Happyness" and I agree, it’s a good movie. If I ever think I am in a bad spot then just remember Chris Gardner, who went through the Dean Witter unpaid internship program as a single dad caring for his son while homeless. What an inspirational story.

After the matinee, dark had fallen so I went to see the luminaries and Live Manger. I was so excited I stopped every few feet to take pictures with my newly found "nighttime setting” on my camera. The driveways are really, really long so the candles’ yellow glow sweeps over the knolls, disappearing into the dark under the bright stars overhead. At one small development, every driveway had glowing candles and even the cul de sac was lined. A young boy was dancing inside the circle, arms outstretched, chin to sky and singing.

The Live Manger is a real manger with real people enacting the Holy Night. Sheep and dogs and goats wander around the strewn hay bales and inside the manger are Joseph, Mary, a baby, and three Wise Men in period dress. Angels sit atop and shepherds with crooked staffs care for the camels nearby. Piped music floats over the scene, carols and hymns, “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night.” The warm evening air made for a pleasant and relaxed visit. The scene attracts visitors from many nearby counties who pet the camel and take photos and sing with the music. I’ll post the pictures tomorrow.

Then I came home and watched the end of Much Ado About Nothing which was filmed in beautiful Chianti at a castle I’d visited once. So for my birthday I traveled from Athens to Bethlehem to Tuscany. See what I mean about packing it in? I have more plans with friends for Sunday and there’s the re-scheduled dinner on Monday. Nice birthday weekend. I wonder what the next 46 years will be like?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ephemera: Part 2. Simple Gifts

I have the same routine every day, and not a lot of money to do fancy things to break the sameness. Last week, rooting around the magazine recycle pile at the County Library, I found some old postcards mixed in. Some were from the 1950s, some were from the 80s, but some were from the turn of the last century, tinted and colored with spidery writing on the back.

The cards I like best are the ones with a message and a postmark. In 1910, a woman in Savannah received one from New York City. The scene was of Trinity Church and the message said: “Miss Floran, This place sure looks good to me. Having a nice time but am very tired.” No signature. What I think is cute is the address is written correctly but the message is sideways crooked. And he ran out of room, starting with a huge “Miss Floran” but ending the last tiny word crowded into the corner. Who hasn’t done that? I have, anyway, lots of times.

Miss Eva Mae Palmer of Augusta got two cards from North Carolina’s Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly in 1944, and they couldn’t be more different from each other. One is handwritten, the senders letting Miss Palmer know they are having a “grand time” and are “very happy.” The other is as stern as the first was warm. It’s typewritten, which tells you something. He typed the date, too, not leaving it up to the Post office's postmark. The message says:

“Dear Training Union Friends: Greetings to you as a Department and to each of you personally. Please keep striving to build up and hold up our Training Union work. Your Pastor.” The signature is initialed.

Ephemera is fun because it lets me imagine other times, other places. I like holding something in my hand that dates from a different era, imagining its source and the feelings around it. Was Miss Floran excited to get the postcard from her pastor? Inspired? Why was the other couple ‘so happy’ at Ridgecrest? Was it their first time there? It’s a peek into the past through the dying art of personal correspondence.

Ephemera, it means momentary, fleeting. The postcards were simple gifts that in their unexpectedness helped jog me out of the mundane into the creatively imaginative. And all for free. How great is that?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Mt. Abbess

Why did I post a photo of crumbled up bedclothes? Well, it wasn't to show off my favorite Ecuadoran jaguar blanket. The hump you see is my kitty, Abby, also known as Abbess because she rules the roost, not me.

Now that I have an opportunity to be home most days (semi-retirement IS all it's cracked up to be) I can be part of my cat's routine. Apparently it does not vary and it's pretty durn relaxing. It goes a little something like this. Abby says:

5:30-6 a.m.: Rudely or gently, depending on capricious cat mood, awaken human. Continue to awaken by pouncing, crying, and pawing any exposed flesh, until human gets up by 6 a.m.

6:00: EAT!!!!!!!!

6:02 to 8:00: play with toy, gradually get human to play with toy while I watch. If I am successful, she will end up dragging around the string while I perch on the bed, yawn, and watch amusedly.

8:00 a.m.: begin to wind down. All this activity makes me tired! Climb under the covers and sleep until 5:30 p.m.

[Human allowed a comment: I do not know how Abby breathes for 10 hours under there! But if I look real close I can see the covers move infinitesimally up and down]

5:30 p.m.: Repeat morning routine. But keep it up later than 8 p.m., go at least until 9 or 10. And at night, sleeping is on human's legs above the covers, not under. Even cats don't like bed farts.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Georgia Christmas, in photos. And some narrative

Left, snow in Hotlanta? Fake snow, anyway, the tiny snow machine worked overtime to make a festive scene as Santa's float paraded down Main Street. SO...where else could you sample sweets at the Artists’ Open House, enjoy a terrific parade complete with Santa, and top it off with browsing at the Holiday Fair and then get awed at the Tree Lighting? OK, so maybe lots of American towns have such festive goings on at this time of year, and ours was no exception.

Friday night I enjoyed a wonderful time at the Artist Open House & Supper Club, where local artist Tina and her husband opened their second floor art gallery to one and all. Bring a covered dish, uncover another dish and help yourself, and enjoy the live music with a glass of wine and some great conversation. Tina's family is the original live-work artist family, she and her husband bought the historic anchor building in the center of town and renovated it over the last 5 years. They live and work on the second floor and rent the first to two other merchants. Their dedication has brought attention and other retailers to downtown, sparking a downtown revitalization with art as the central theme/industry.

At the party, I spoke with a former reporter for CNN and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I laughed when she said that she feels a tremendous sense of liberation at now being able to state her opinion in a letter to the editor of the local paper, since as a reporter one must never insert one’s opinion into the article nor express it publicly. Yes, I know just what she means, and we had a healthy discussion about the growth this county is experiencing, our own opinions flying.

Saturday the Holiday Fair in the school gym revealed one thing I’d never seen done before, which I fell in love with right away. Remember the glass prisms in lobbies and breezeways of 1950s houses? Thick and clear, almost like square ice cubes? Well, you drill a small hole, stuff white Christmas lights inside, and wrap ribbon around and other decorative items atop it like gold pine cones or an angel and it makes for a beautiful lit up centerpiece.

Almost the whole county turns out for the annual parade!

Vintage cars were just one part of the long line of floats, animals, and municipal and private vehicles on Saturday. Notice the green lawns, the green leaves, & short sleeves.

And the ever popular testosterone truck...flags a-flyin' and representing our country, including a Confederate flag license plate. The town's fire truck had one too.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Christmas down south

In Maine, as early September’s warmth gives way to tart days and cool nights, weekend activities begin to include stacking firewood and Googling the lowest oil price. Or digging up the garden, which won’t be activated again until May. The wood stove crackles. One year, we had a necessary woodstove fire as early as September 5th. Columbus Day passes and the leaves drop, the birds disappear, and there’s only a bare branch skyline and nothing green to refresh the soul for the next 6 months.

The bone crunching cold begins in November, and you’ve taped clear plastic over the edges of your window sills. You use a hair dryer to shrink wrap the plastic tight so it becomes clear like glass with no wrinkles. Literally, you seal yourself in for the winter.

To block the cold from creeping in, stores sell items decorated to look like what they are not, which are draft stoppers. A smiling snake, a puppy with an extra long tail, you set them on the floor in front of the doorways. I just used a rolled up towel.

Laying in wood, oil price searches, car anti-freeze fill-ups, hearing the scrape of a plow blade, dusk at 3:59, after thirty years it gets pretty soul sapping. And there’s something else.

Clutching your scarf, you scurry from cold to warmth. Shivering, you might exchange a few words with your neighbor, but if you’re outside you’re cold or too busy scraping the windshield, if you’re inside your heavy coat heats you up uncomfortably. Even if you’re at a function, you leave early “to beat the storm.” Neighborly relaxation exists in limited quantities or not at all.

I know, many Mainers enjoy cross country skiing, or happily go to the winter carnivals all bundled up. Not me. And I know too, that it gets hot here in the summer. But not for as long. And it’s not as dark. That’s what gets you, the dark, bleak relentlessness of a far northern winter. No matter how this Yankee cajoled herself into enjoying frigid outside activities, I still looked through plastic for half the year.

At Saturday’s Christmas event in my new town in Georgia I could stroll, not scurry. I could sing carols without shivering. I didn’t have to rush home ‘to beat the storm’ but could savor the sights unconstrained. Living life hermetically unsealed means there are fewer barriers to connecting with each other. Now, community kinship is a carol I can sing with gusto.

Above, sunset at my house last night. Civil twilight 5:50 p.m. Length of day: 10 hours 55 minutes.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fundraising: my politically incorrect opinion

There are a lot of programs for kids to get involved in, and some of those require effort on the part of the student to pay for. These days program costs are substantial, and kids are sent out to solicit.

I watch the march of the children across parking lots, driveways, streets, homes and businesses, asking for money. The community only has so much and it’s often a struggle for a limited income family or small business to decide where or who to support.

In my experience, the Gray-New Gloucester community is generous and individually, most people want to contribute. We just can’t give to everyone, and that means choices, with some hopeful kid getting a yes and another getting a no. One fundraising effort I really like is the Family Nights at the High School- the fundraising kids set up an evening of monitored activities, parents leave off their children for a modest fee, so they can go out together or just have a few hours to themselves. A good time is had by all. Another fundraising activity I like are the car washes and bake sales: something tangible is offered and given which I believe helps the kids understand the effort that goes into trade, business, and producing a product or service. It’s also hard work, which never hurt anybody.

Another reason I like those kind of activities is that the fundraising benefits a large group. That’s often my standard for deciding whom to help. An entire sports lineup? Sure, I’ll advertise in the hockey book. The whole Odyssey of the Mind team? I’m there. Windham Center Stage Theatre, where every child who tries out gets a part? I’d give you my last dime.

The programs I have a problem with donating to are the ones that benefit one student. Much is being made of Jennifer Rubinstein’s “creativity” in sneaking a bunch of plastic flamingoes on lawns in dead of night and then taking them down for a fee, which raises money for her individual trip to Australia in the People to People Program. Plus, for an additional "insurance fee," she will promise not to do it to you again. The Tony Soprano School of Fundraising.

Trespassing, vandalism, and extortion are poor lessons to teach and worse examples to set. I’d rather my kids worked for a day in the sun cleaning cars. That’s a healthier lesson. Or go from business to business asking for a donation, they learn how hard it is to sell their product and they learn how to be respectful to business owners. I worry: have we become so inured to what’s right that we praise trespassing, vandalism, extortion, and avoidance of hard work? Right off the bat I’m turned off by Jennifer’s sneaky approach.

In the “People to People” program from what I understand, the kids are supposed to be little diplomats for their country, region, town, for two weeks in a host family’s home somewhere on the other side of the world; without a whole lot of bring-back to the community that sponsored the traveler. It costs $5,000. This sounds to me like Jennifer gets a very expensive vacation.

Between the trespassing onto private property and the extortion involved, and the fact that $5,000 of community-raised money benefits only one child, I say good luck to you little Jennifer, but I don’t think that the chosen fundraising method teaches anything valuable and in fact sets a poor example for others. Have a nice trip, but I’ll donate to where it benefits a wider range of children who are engaged in healthier activities that make me proud, not cringe.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Magazines/Ephemera. Part 1

I love to scrounge. I love ephemera. When those two loves collide it’s grand.

The library has a bin for people to donate their magazines. I like to look through them for reading purposes and also cutting up for collages. One day there was a magazine I’d never heard of: “The Outsider,” a ‘publication of Intuit, the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art.’ I picked up Architectural Digest, National Geographic (Volume 202! Did you know the Geo was that old? I didn’t) , and Nature Conservancy. Those are good for collages because there are a lot of photos.

Another magazine I’d never heard of was called “Southern Seasons.” Brand new at Volume 1, Number 1, it promised updates on the “Social Scene” and “The Spirit of the South.”

Just as unfamiliar to me was ‘onearth’ magazine, spelled that way in all small letters, but that one has been going for 27 years. The recent issue’s headline was “Exclusive: Can Arnold [Schwartzenegger] keep his cool?”

I also threw Smithsonian, Audubon, Blue Ridge Country into the collage pile. I’ll read Blue Ridge before cutting it up and mark nice places to visit. I’m only an hour from the mountains and I’m trying to familiarize myself with nice places to visit. When spring comes I’ll be motorin’.

Surprise! A Playboy was halfway down the pile. Which I thought was an unusual magazine to donate to a library.

I try to pick a variety of magazines for collage. I gravitate to the nature magazines but if I only pick those up then all my collages look the same. So I threw a Wired and Linux World into the mix. The magazines I picked up were worth $40 so you can see the issue of buying them for cutting up. Thanks magazine donors, they will be well used! Also in the pile was some pretty neat ephemera. More on that next post.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Black Friday adventure

My friend Jen read online of Best Buy's super sale, Toshiba laptops for $250. Those particular laptops usually go for $600 to $1,000. Jen wanted to go shopping this morning, and I agreed to go with her. Skeptical of the long Black Friday lines I keep hearing so much about, I reluctantly agreed. I haven’t Christmas shopped in a store for over ten years, preferring to buy online and send the gifts automatically. But the $250 top-quality laptop was definitely a draw.

Jen thought that because we live in a small market that the lines probably would not be bad.

We stopped for coffee at 4:30 a tiny all night gas station. There were five customers, ALL headed to Best Buy. We laughed together, one guy, with gauge earrings in his ears, said his mom told him at midnight he had to go. Shaking his head, he goes, "'I told her Jeez, Ma, you couldn't have told me earlier??' I got 2 hours’ sleep." His friend was after the Toshiba laptop, too. We wished each other luck and later passed each other on the highway. He was a good son to do that for his mom.

I have never seen anything like it: a massive line around the store's perimeter, parking lot full, cops on standby, porta-potties lined up, and about 500 people milling around. Many had camped there overnight. One couple had been in line for 12 hours. 12 hours ago we were just sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner.

Jen wanted to get in line and stay. The Best Buy employees were walking around announcing the Toshiba laptops and desktop computers were sold out (limited quantity, you had to get there early to get a ticket to have any hope at all) and once I heard that I lost interest. Jen wanted to stay and see what else they had for sale. I wasn’t enamored of fighting 500 people so I said let's go and Jen was OK with that.

As we wandered back to the car, we chatted with people in line. We saw the gauge earring guys, they were in line at the end. One guy we talked to in the middle of the line said that four years ago he arrived at 4:30 and was first, last year he got there at midnight and was at the back…this year he arrived a day ahead and camped out. “It’s getting earlier and earlier, he said.” The cops, one male and one female, were standing near the front of the line.

I asked the policeman (a big, tall strapping man in uniform and boots) “How long have they been lining up for?”
He stared down, scratched his chin. “Since Monday.”
“Nah.” Cracking up, he said, “I dunno since when, ask the first guy in line.”
I asked, “Have there been fights?”
“Nah. Mostly we watch. And take bets on who’s gonna make it.”

We drove back. I was in bed again by 6:30...the only upside to my one-time Black Friday adventure were the 55 degree temps, the clear constellations revolving over the pasture, a bright Milky Way, and the bunny rabbits hopping around the yard when I got up at 4 a.m.. Come to think of it, not a bad tradeoff after all.

Did you do the Black Friday thing?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Yard art

Funny, mailboxes as yard art. They're outstanding in their field. har har.

I was driving home yesterday and I looked up a road I had not explored before. This house was a few feet in, and I saw the mailboxes with no obvious driveway to get to them. What?? I turned around for a better look. I realized they were art, and when I saw the diving doggies, I laughed and snapped this photo. Isn't it a cute array?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Country supper-City supper

I had a busy Sunday. I was invited to a church supper located on the country corner. I was also invited to a birthday party at one of the nicer Italian restaurants in the city. The church supper was at 5:30 and the birthday supper in the city was at 7. I decided to go to both.

Wanting to meet some of my near neighbors, I arrived at 5:30 to find the Fellowship Hall full to the brim. The church supper was held in the fellowship room of the local Baptist church, and tables were laden with country fare such as chicken barbecue, mac and cheese, jello, and lots of pies. There was the ever- famous Green Bean casserole too, for which I was inordinately grateful. Since watching about a billion commercials touting a steaming dish of it where the tree can't resist either and comes in to scoop some right through the window, I have been tasting it ever since, and now here it was! I could satisfy my craving, and the bonus was it was made with fresh local beans. I had a slice of turkey and some green bean casserole, sweet tea and jello.

The kids were running around the 70's linoleum floors, long folding banquet tables hosted folks of all ages. I sat near the gal who works on the farm where I live, she introduced me to her grandmother, a lovely and stately lady of local note. Dinner was friendly; mostly they tried to understand my soft voice over the echoing kids' chat and through my heavy New England accent. It was nice to meet my neighbors and I had a good time.

Beth was turning 40 and no shrinking violet she, invited 20 of her closest friends and reserved four tables at the fancy Italian restaurant. We ordered chardonnay, bruschetta, pasta with pesto, and the talk was also friendly, among folks who have known each other for many years but were welcoming to the newcomers (me). Beth, being the character that she is, decided to slice the cake and serve it while waiting for our appetizers. Cake first! I like this crowd.

Country or city, green bean casserole or pesto pasta, the food is good and the people are friendly and interesting. I'm thankful for nice people, invitations, and handshakes that mean it.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Elizabeth’s Excellent Adventure

Having had a few weeks of exclusively rural life, settling in and making friends, learning where things are, yesterday I decided to make a foray into the city. I like to pot around, window shop, snack on some item that you can’t get in the country, like cappuccino, or quiche.

For so long I worked 18 hour days, worked 7 days a week, worked days and nights, waking and sleeping, that the thought of a matinee on a weekday was as remote as petting an Antarctic penguin. Now that I have time, I decided to be decadent and go. I downloaded Mapquest directions to the movie theater and armed with purpose and directions, I struck off.

It doesn’t take long to get from my apartment to the city, only half an hour. I parked on a street very much like any street in the Old Port in Portland, lined with small bars, restaurants, funky jewelry stores and art shops. Walking slowly up and down is a pleasure when it’s 55 degrees with a light breeze and strong sun. I ordered a green herbal tea and a quiche at a locally owned cafĂ©, and sat down to read the latest edition of the alternative newspaper.

The gal who served me the quiche was absolutely stunning, a dead ringer for a cross between a nineteen year old Jacqueline Bouvier and National Velvet’s Elizabeth Taylor. The place was filled with a mixture of college kids and professors. Twenty-somethings at the next table discussed whether the girl should break up. A Chinese student hunched over his laptop. A bespeckled tweedy professor read over student papers. It was a nice atmosphere.

The movie theater had stadium seats and being the aforementioned decadent weekday matinee, only had about a dozen people in the audience. The movie was “Borat” and the dozen people, including me, laughed, gasped, and generally acted just like you see in the movie previews. It's a wild ride of a movie.

I know the decadence won’t last. My time is inexorably filling in. I’ll either pick up more part time jobs, like the one I have now as writer’s assistant, or I’ll find something full time. Soon enough, the idea of a weekday matinee will again become a far-flung exotic idea, remote as Tibet. But I’ll always have Borat.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Leaping joyfully

New lives aren’t hard to come by. They’re just scary to start.

I’ve been here six weeks now, and things are beginning to take shape. The first two of weeks were disorienting, because I only knew one couple. The geography, territory, culture, and routines were all foreign. Uprooting myself and propelling my worldly belongings to an entirely new place more than a thousand miles away was harrowing, but in a personal choice, ‘I asked for this’ kind of way.

But by now I’ve picked up two part time jobs. One of them is helping a published author. She is working on a new book so it is very exciting for me to see the New York publishing world from the inside. The rest of my free time I’m devoting to my art and my own writing, so I’m happy about that.

My social calendar is filling. Thursday I ended up at Huddle House for dinner with half a dozen people, Saturday, attend an art show and had dinner with friends, and Sunday, movies with other friends. We ran into a neighbor farmer and got an invitation to come over during lambing season. I cannot wait to see the baby lambs!

I’ve signed up for the Rec. Department’s calligraphy class. I developed my artist pages online with the Altered Book Society, of which I have become a member. I’m writing a regular column in the newspaper, and having my photos published too.

After six weeks, public things are starting to get familiar. The tellers say hello by name. I know about the hairdresser’s son the football player, who is in the playoffs this weekend. The bookstore lady and I chat over coffee. Private things are getting familiar too, my cat is relaxed enough to take naps on top of the bed instead of under the covers, the pony recognizes me and trots next to my car when I come up the driveway.

I love sayings, quips, proverbs. I think about them a lot when I read them or see them on a sign or billboard. There’s one that I particularly love. When facing something big, or deciding about a life change, remember, “Leap, and the net will appear.”

It really does.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Congratulations Gray News

In April, when Ray Clark wrote in the Gray News “Some Gray News advertisers have received telephone calls suggesting that another newspaper has purchased The Gray News. There is no truth to this story. The Gray News has not been purchased, is not discussing being purchased and is not for sale,” I knew the opposite was true. I spoke with Gray News new owner Donato Corsetti in June, and he told me he had been negotiating with the Gray News, and it was going slow.

This week, Mr. Clark shared the results of that negotiation, and it seems the paper has been absorbed into the Windham business man’s chain of newspapers, along with the Windham Independent and New Gloucester News.

My goal was to found and build The Monument into something saleable within 5-6 years and then sell it to an independent company. The idea was to offer the people of the town of Gray some solid journalism and then berth the paper with a stable company.

Though it was always my goal to sell the paper, when the time came it was still a very hard and emotional moment. So to the Gray News Board of Directors: I can’t imagine the heartache surrounding your decision, and I extend deep compassion for you in your time of loss and new beginning, and congratulations, too.

Congratulations, Gray News, as well, you have a new life ahead of you. The people of the Town of Gray have a wealth of journalistic opportunity, two newspapers now adhering to the main tenet of journalism: citizens come first.

And to Mr. Corsetti, the Gray News’s new owner, from one savvy Italian to another, may the best paper win.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Politely running from the tornado

Politeness reins here. Saying hello and goodbye, waving to the other lone car on the road, calling people ma’am and sir, Miss and Mr. I'm 'Miss Beth.' I like it. There is usually some truth to stereotypes, and Northerners’ chilliness and Southern hospitality do have more than their grains of accuracy, I am discovering.

I’ve been extolling the virtues of southern weather. This morning I awoke to a bit of frost on the ground, yet I’d slept without the heat on and my window half open all night and the inside temp was still 64. It’ll be astoundingly beautiful here until May and then it will be hot hot hot. And humid.

But the area suffers from its share of severe weather too. In Maine we get snow, nor-easters, blizzards. In Georgia we get hurricanes. Being next to Florida and the undulating petrie dish of hurricane spawning weather known as the Gulf, by the time it reaches us, the storm has become pounding rains, extremely high winds, and often, tornadoes.

Apparently, there was a pretty bad one spawned by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 that touched down in town. The Librarian gave a talk this week to the Rotary about the improvements to the facility, partly initiated because of the damage the Ivan-tornado had done.

The funny part of her anecdote is that the 11 patrons and staff inside the building all followed the tornado plan to the letter. More than the letter. Since the bathrooms were the most interior rooms, they knew to rush there. But they did make sure that the men went into the men’s room and women went to the women’s. No one wanted to be caught in the wrong room.

Politeness during a tornado. Now that’s strength of character.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Voting day!

I wish I was there to vote YES to the Gray charter referendum which, if passed, will allow voters to vote on the town budget at the polls, like we do on the school budget.

I had forgotten how much there is to learn when you move to a new town. I’ve had just a few weeks to get up to speed on the election issues, the candidates, even where the polling place is. And there are a lot of candidates, with a different system of government than the council-charter-manager system I had become so very familiar with in Gray.

My car is getting an alternator today but when I pick it up this afternoon then I will go vote. Carless, yesterday I spent the day at home, doing art, reading, watching my beloved satellite TV. As much as a tv fan as I am I have become opposite feeling about ads. The Discovery Channel and Hallmark Channel seem to have even more than their share of ads, and that’s saying a lot. Monday night, watching Discovery’s “The Fight for Rome” Caesar’d be gearing up for the big fight with Pompey and then there’d be a Depends commercial. Sort of breaks the momentum, if you ask me.

They should make an ad like this:

“Did the Ionic Breeze blow the hair off your Chia Pet? Call Joe Bornstein.”

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Using militant language in attempts to persuade

On the graymaine blog, someone chose the pen name, “American Civic Soldier.” I thought his choice was extremely interesting. It revealed much about his approach to civic engagement. It also revealed much about the Carroll Petition movement’s approach to persuasion signifying to us rhetoricians that the Carroll Petition movement is a Militant movement, not a Moderate movement, and there is a big difference.

The Carroll people tried to persuade the Council to keep Gray Dispatch in Gray, and not to combine forces with County. They tried to convince the town and the council during the decision process by using heated language and verbal and written diatribes. They also used a pressure tactic that Militant movements commonly use, to “ensnare the bureaucracy in its own red tape,” as described by rhetorician Dr. Herb Simons of Temple University. Using these tactics they engendered delay and successfully staved off a decision for almost 6 months.

That the blog commenter could have called himself “American Civic Diplomat,” or “American Citizen” but instead chose a warlike name is telling. The ‘soldier’ allusion is indicative of the kind of movement rhetoric that in the professorial realms is called “militant.” More on this in another post.

When the Council’s unanimous decision proved that the Militants had failed to persuade even one councilor, they ratcheted up their war by petitioning. That’s where we’re at now, and the rhetoric they are using indelibly illustrates that their preferred approach is militant, not collaborative or “moderate”, as ‘American Civic Soldier’ demonstrates with his preferred name.

For this week, a Carroll petition supporter on the anonymous hate blog ‘graymaine04039’ compared the Council to the Ku Klux Klan, naming her picture file “KKK AKA Town Council” and writing harshly against the councilors next to the revolting picture. Anyone who has seen the recent History Channel program on the disgusting history of the KKK would be horrified at the petition supporters' comparison of our mild-mannered councilor-neighbors to vicious, bigoted, racist, unrepentant murderers.

It’s evident that the Carroll petitioners are escalating their stance. My hope is that this time, they restrain themselves from violence, particularly on Tuesday as they try to get signatures at the polls. Things did tend toward violence during their last movement, the Recall. And the KKK language is worrisome in the extreme...

Friday, November 03, 2006

I love this

I'm having fun. I love being able to blog about what I want, whether it's the curious horse or the cute trick-or-treaters, or political things in Gray. Stepping out of Gray, I still have an interest in issues that surface, particularly issues that I had covered myself a few months ago. Being human, you don't let the guillotine come down on the town, people, and issues you care about. The caring stays. Of course, the intensity will naturally fade as time marches on and as new issues arise that I have no personal involvement in. But I do care about the town in which I chose to live, work, and make my stand. I always will.

But what I really love is the ability to view all this from a free-agent perch. Having the latitude to study what's going on, form an opinion, and state that opinion. And in ways different from the strict confines of the editorial box. Hoo-boy! It's fun.

The best of all, though, is that I can study what's happening in Gray from a sociological-political perspective. The piece I'd posted on The Monument blog summarizing the recall from a sociological framework was a blast to write. I'm creating another one now, about militant rhetoric used in movements and how that kind of rhetoric differs from that used in 'moderate movements,' a la Dr. Herb Simons of Temple U. I harkens back to an incipient idea I'd had in college about how the rhetoric chosen for various movements shape that movement and eventually determines whether the movement survives or fails. It's the rhetoric, not the people, that is the key factor in a movement's success, I believe. Hence my post on the Council/KKK, and the other myriad things Gray and not-Gray related.

OK, so I'm a geek. But I'm a having- fun geek!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Rumors of Gray News, again

I'm tellin' ya'll, I heard the same, persistent, months-old unconfirmed rumor flying in the air which I plucked out: Gray News been sold, & to the Sun Journal.

Makes sense, they either have to fold or die. Page count is shrinking. There's no news in it. The ads dried up. The deep pockets pumping the bellows to ease its raspy, dying breaths were abandoning ship, and the Board and editor are getting, um, tired.

Sold, sold sold. Of course, the thing that's up sayz this rumor is that they could be folding. I don't think that's as likely, they'd sell rather than see it die. But, hope springs eternal. Folding is preferable to a sale. I'm such an optimist.

So, that's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.

Carroll petition supporter likens Council to KKK

Gray Maine blog catches this, from a Carroll petitioner supporter blog. It's awful, heinous, sickening:

"Fire them all!!""We don't need them!!""Off with their heads!!" wrote the graymaine04039 anonymous blog administrator, whom I believe to be Debbie Shaw Mancini, and/or Nathan Tsukroff on Monday October 30.

"Not only did the anonymous blog administrator, liken the Gray Town Council to the Klu Klux Klan, but they actually named the photo file "KKK aka Town Council."

"Do you really want to sign a petition issued and supported by people who equate the your neighborly councilors to vicious hate crime perpetrators? Is this how they think? Is this WHAT they think?"

Thanks, Gray Maine, for the heads up.

Hallelujah! I second that!

Gray residents should give county dispatch a chance
Portland Press Herald Editorial, November 2, 2006


"...This week, however, a resident has announced he will sponsor a petition drive to overturn the decision, claiming that service will suffer under the council's plan..."

"With such a considerable amount of savings in store, it would seem far wiser to give the county a chance to show it can do the job. Leaping to an unsubstantiated conclusion that the county's dispatch center cannot be an acceptable alternative before a fair trial has even begun seems imprudent..."


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Explanation of the Dispatch vote

Gary Foster, Gray Town Council Chair, explaining the Dispatch vote history today, on the blog As Maine Goes :

Gary Foster: "The Council spent several months reviewing options to reduce costs of our dispatch services. In July our Public Safety Committee requested that they give a presentation to Council on behalf of Gray Dispatch in August, to which the Council agreed."

"In August, due in part to the passing of the Fire Chief, they requested another 60 day to prepare the presentation, to which the Council agreed, including it on an October agenda."

"In October, after having had several public discussions throughout the summer and into fall, that included participants from Cumberland County Regional Communications Center, Gray Public Safety Committee and dispatch personnel, State Police, representatives from Gorham, New Gloucester, and Baldwin, the Public Safety Committee asked for another 60 days to prepare a presentation. With budget preparations beginning in December, the Council decided against any further delays at their October 17 meeting, and chose the most feasible option based on quality of service, technology, and cost, which is CCRCC."

"Two dispatch personnel subsequently resigned, having accepted other job offers, and then a group took out a people’s veto petition to overturn Council’s decision. Similar to a people’s veto at the state level, if the required number of valid signatures is submitted, the Order to enter into an agreement with CCRCC is immediately suspended until voters decide the issue at the next municipal election, which is June of next year."

"Subsequently, with insufficient personnel to staff our dispatch, not until the January 15 effective date of the Order, but now until the June election, the Council and Town Manager scrambled to ensure uninterrupted dispatch service until June. County is the only option that is equipped and prepared to immediately take on dispatch for Gray in the interim, and the Town Attorney opined that in such an emergency, Council is authorized to enter into a temporary agreement with the County."

"Of the three remaining dispatch personnel, one remains doing clerical work for public safety, which was part of the duties of dispatch, another is working as an office assistant in the Municipal office, and the third was let go, receiving all due compensation."

"If the initiative to overturn the Order fails, and Gray enters into a contract with CCRCC, one of our dispatchers is guaranteed employment with County Dispatch and all who so choose will be placed on a preferential hiring list. As part of the Order, we are assembling a transition team to work out details and issues. It would seem that the genuine concern for public safety expressed by our dispatch personnel during the many discussions isn’t as sincere as was presented, and misplaced priorities have disrupted what was planned to be a smooth transition period, to be completed by January 15." end Mr Foster's remarks...

Totally 80s!

How trippin, last night I ended up watching VH-1 “Top 100 Songs of the 80s.” I’m 45 years old, so that means the 80s are “My Decade.” I spent my twenties then, which meant college, Friday night playing video games at the bar with a huge group of friends. It meant carefree dancing, voice and body strong enough to belt out a tune or to play hard and bounce back just fine the next day.

In my mind I’m still there. Elderly people say over and over, “In my mind I’m 25.” Where does the time go?

It was weird to see how the musicians have aged!! I haven’t of course. Hard livin’ has caught up with some. Dee Snider (one of the ones looking good) of the famous heavy metal rebellious song “I’m Not Gonna Take It” is a father of four and comfortably living in a mansion with a model wife and running a radio show and living on hefty royalties. He said, “I’m sorry, I just cannot muster the indignation against the world I felt when I wrote that song. I’m pretty fucken happy.” And then he looked around at his mansion and laughed riotously.

Songs bring back such memories! Instantly I went back where I was or what I was doing when I heard this or that song. Our aerobics group used to do stomach crunches to “Sweet Dreams are Made of This.” Ouch. I still like the song, anyway. Or taking away my fifth grade student’s Walkman during science class. She was listening to Janet Jackson’s “Nasty.” Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry,” about the broadcast news business, I was setting up ditto papers on my student’s desks during recess and I’d put the radio on low. Little did I know I’d end up in the news business! Seems so long ago.

Where were you when you heard “Billie Jean” for the first time? “99 Luftballoons?” “Cruel Summer”?...

I lasted until 11 pm, they left off at number 40. Can’t wait to hear the rest.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Breakfast at Huddle House

There's a neat restaurant about 3 miles from where I live. It's the Huddle House, and anyone driving anywhere in the south has seen one. There's Waffle House too, a rivalry like McDonald's vs. Burger King.

This Huddle House is clean, and since the town is small everyone knows everyone. I'm a stranger but won't be for long. They already recognize me, after having eaten there only three times.

The place is full of characters. This morning the short order cook stood in front of the griddle, order tickets fluttering above the in the air conditioning (yes we still need it), steaming plates lined up in front of her, hand on hip, other hand flipping hash browns (the shredded kind) and singing along to Shania Twain on the radio.

The District Manager came in, and the two got to talking. It's Halloween today, and around here that's a big deal. The cook noticed the Manager wore orange socks with pumpkins, and he said, "Oh yes, I have over 200 holiday socks. All kinds. A special three drawer chest to put them in. I love holiday socks." After a second he said, "I love the holidays. At Christmas, I put up 10,000 lights. My electric bill goes from $140 to about $400."

"So you really get into the spirit of it," said the cook.

"Oh, yes! Halloween is my second favorite holiday!"

"What's the first?"

"Christmas. And third is Easter."

An interesting holiday sandwich.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Incredible Vanishing Conflict of Interest

Donnie Carroll, I blogged earlier, is behind the petition to overturn the council decision regarding dispatch. Being an executive director Southern Maine Emergency Medical Services, his participation in the petition process would likely be seen as a conflict of interest, I had said.

Here are additional developments.

So Mr. Carroll knows that his involvement with the emergency dispatching services petition overturning a unanimous council vote would be a conflict of interest. He admits to making a phone call to town office inquiring about it.

OK, Let's back up a few days, now. For the background, the truth and the heart of the matter.

Mr. Carroll had actually sent a note to town office written and signed in his own hand, received by Town Manager, forever making him the initiator of this petition process.

Then Councilor Skip Crane spoke with County. Uh-oh.

After the confab with County, Mr. Carroll suddenly decided that his father should pick up the petitions. Mr. Carroll Senior was a Gray ambulance driver. Donnie's stance now is, 'Who, me? Oh, goodness no, I am not involved. Otherwise, it'd be a conflict of interest, you know.'

So the 'Let's Protect Carroll Family's Dispatch Jobs' petition process stinks already. If we are being kind, we can say Donnie forgot about the note he wrote. In his own hand. With a pen.

Otherwise, the straight face test says: Donnie Carroll started this thing with a conflict of interest, continued it with a lie, and perpetuated the process with eager petitioners bent on protecting his personal turf to the detriment of 7,200 taxpayers. Oh, yes, Mr. Carroll's brother is also with Gray Fire-Rescue. Me-smells a wee bit o'blarney. Or maybe a pile of it.


I spent a magical morning on Sunday driving around and snapping photographs. It’s so heartbreakingly beautiful around here, I just cannot feast my eyes enough.

It’s rural, and that means lots of animals. On my outing, I saw baby sheep, cows, deer, geese, fighting cocks tethered in their mini-quonset huts, goats, turkey vultures, hawks, an eagle, and horses. It’s glorious to see so much life, during the day.

At night, it’s a different story. A friend of mine, Gray farmer Dick Wood, made me laugh with this phrase: “The city folks come here to be among the farms and say ‘isn’t it pretty.’ But as soon as I come around with the perfume wagon, they start to squawk.”

The perfume wagon, colorfully, is manure, and is a natural part of rural living. The animals used for agriculture stay within their pens and on their ranches, but the wild animals don’t. Sometimes the two worlds collide. When that happens, you’ve got roadkill.

Driving along, I see the results of plenty of tragic accidents between cars and animals. The worst, of course, are the doggies and kitties that didn’t make it. I resolved that when I drive home from my friends’ house at night, I would not take the back roads, and stick to the highway, where there is more traffic and less, slightly less, chance of running into or over something live.

Because man, it’s dark. There are no towns between my friends and my apartment. There are no streetlights. There is no ambient light from anywhere, except the stars. While the main roads are well-maintained, the back roads have no stripes or fog lines to guide a driver.

Well, inevitably, last night it happened. I was tootling along at a cautious night time 40 miles an hour when a possum shot out from the left side of the road. I didn’t know they scoot along so fast! And I was the only car on the gol’darn road. I jammed on my brakes, but it was too late. I ran it over.

This was the first thing I ever ran over, and I hated that ‘THUNK’ sound. While I was relieved it wasn’t a cat or a dog, it still meant hurting a living thing and that hurt my heart. Getting used to it won’t be easy. But the reality is, being in a rural area means the clean and the messy, the nice and the smelly, the births and the deaths.

In other words, in all its sorrow and glory, life.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Split personality town

Saturday I went to the library just before 10 a.m. opening. The lights were off and there was no one around. As I waited in the car, I saw another woman waiting in her car two parking spots over. "Good, so I'm not the only one," I thought. The technology librarian arrived and I thought that any second the library would open for the day. It was just 10 a.m. The other woman got out and talked with the technology librarian. Not going in. Waited more. Not going in. What's up? I thought.

A small Honda zoomed up and a woman got out and opened the library doors. The other car-waiting woman laughed as I came in, she said, "It's the case of the lost keys!" Oh, so that was it. They didn't have the keys. The woman pointed to the Head Librarian, who it turns out was the one who had zoomed up. She said, "I wish I had a camera!" The Librarian was in PJ's, robe, and slippers. The be-robed librarian was the only one who had the keys, and when she heard the library had not opened on time and no one else had the keys, jumped in her and zoomed over, not stopping to dress but her only thought was to serve the patrons.

Cut to the afternoon, beading bracelets at a jewelry shop with two friends and the proprietor of the store. We were talking about the place down the road called "Snug Harbor" which features a gate, a Confederate flag, and two military trucks painted in camo parked out front. "Sure, he's a survivalist," the jewelry proprietor said. "He visited this store when I first opened up and told me about his AK 47s. He said if I stepped one toe on his property he'd shoot me."

We gasped and laughed and said 'Well I guess we won't be turning around in his driveway.' The jewelry lady said, "He strings razor wire across his driveway every night."

From the Librarian in PJs to the Razor Wire Survivalist...this town has it all.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A really excited ghost


Someone commented in a previous post that a neat site is It's a list of phrases that hang two words together that mean the opposite, you know, like jumbo shrimp. It's neat to read through them all, some I had not thought of as being oxymorons. Like 'bad health.' Good one!

Here's the pony at my apartment saying hello this morning, which dawned cool and windy. The leaves change, but do not get as vibrant. It's still gorgeous, though.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Donnie Carroll of Emergency Services is behind the petition

Donnie Carroll has taken out a petition to veto Council's decision to contract with the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center. If they get the required number of valid signatures, the Order to combine dispatch with County is suspended until the next municipal election in June.

Mr. Carroll is Executive Director of Southern Maine Emergency Medical Services(EMS). One can say either he is intensely interested in the issues around emergency management because he is a samaritan...or he has a vested interest for himself and/or his friends.

Do you think they will get 750 signatures?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Politics of the angry disaffected

The Dispatch and recall people who were so incensed at the unanimous vote of the council switching dispatch from Gray to County, are talking about taking out a petition. According to the charter, the only official petitions one can take out are for a recall (been there done that) petition to enact an ordinance (which does not apply in this case) or to overturn action of council (bingo!)

It appears that there is a petition to overturn the council vote to outsource dispatch to Cumberland County. Petitioners need approx. 750 signatures then the council decision will be held until a vote in the next municipal election.

The Gray Town Charter Article IX describes the process. The charter is available online at click on 'town council' then on 'town charter'.

The politics of the politically disaffected angry recall folk are destructive. They are fight-a-holics in the extreme. (I cannot claim that apt turn of phrase. It is the anonymous person on the new Gray Maine blog that used to be run by Tinman.) I would much rather see citizens working with, or persuading respectfully, than railing against. Don't they ever get tired of fighting?

How to succeed in influencing opinion leaders

Like from people who can't take no for an answer and spend their time with pointless recalls, angry audience rhetoric, hate blogs, and ineffective persuasion.

How refreshing it'd be to have a group of people who though they were dissatisfied with an outcome worked respectfully and positively toward their desired outcome. A fine example of citizen intervention was the Rt. 100 rezone group, who worked tirelessly for two years and never raised their voice, never started a recall, never tore down-- but instead worked within, and eventually prevailed. I so respect that kind of citizen engagement with government.

Because the hate-posse is so negative and therefore has been unsuccessful to date, and since they have ignored the positive methods and subsequent success of the Rt. 100 folks, and since they have such heartburn over the Council's County Dispatch vote, here are some helpful tips for advocating for your position with elected leaders. It comes from a website discussing youth health. Some tips I deleted in the interest of space, and I put the tips I think need the most attention on top. "Be professional, Tell the truth, and Do not create enemies." Good advice!

Chapter 6. The Art of Persuasion: Getting the Support of Opinion Leaders and Policy Makers. General Tips for Advocacy

Be professional. Be professional in both dress and manner. Avoid criticizing other leaders, public figures, or organizations.

Tell the truth. There is no faster way to lose credibility than to give false or misleading information to an opinion leader.

Do not create enemies. It is easy to get emotional over strongly felt issues. Be sure to leave the relationship with the opinion leader on good terms to permit working with him or her again. Do not argue heatedly, and never threaten a leader. Even if he or she opposes this issue, the opinion leader could be a strong supporter on another!

Be focused.
Be prepared.
Make a specific request.
Follow up.
Target efforts.
Be gracious and respectful.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Dad approves

My father flew down to take a look at my new apartment and to have me show him around my new life. We spent a nice day driving in the sunshine. I took him through the town I do laundry and banking and library internetting, to my home town where the only restaurant was closed but a 6 year old girl in a baker's apron waved hello from behind the glass door. So we ate at the Chevron station Subway instead. We drove over roads that wound between prosperous farms with shiny silos to 'highways' that had only one or two cars on them. He was thrilled to buy gas for $1.99 a gallon, and impressed with the State park complete with bridle trails and covered bridge only a few miles from my place.

I gave him a tour of my apartment and when he saw the lump under the covers on my bed, I said, "That's my cat." He was astounded that a cat would get under the covers and sleep there all day. "Isn't she breathing her own carbon dioxide?" he asked. Yes, and for the life of me I don't know why Abby doesn't asphyxiate.

So, dad approves! Tonight we're going out to eat at a nice Italian restaurant in the city with a couple of friends. Best of all, late in the day we finally figured out how the car's GPS works. 'Approaching exit, turn right' the well modulated female voice says. We both laughed at the amazing-ness of how the car knew where we were, and a little unnerved when it stopped letting me program it once the car was underway ("Driver may not program while car is in motion, press enter to have passenger continue...") Scary. I programmed the GPS for the airport so he should be all set for tomorrow's early morning departure for the big airport.

Onward, spaghetti with carbonara sauce awaits!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Another hate blog bites the dust

The Tinman-run has been erased by the administrator. The latest in a run of blogs in Gray, Maine began in July of this year, and focused on hating the council and hating everyone who loved what the council was doing. I had commented in an earlier post that there seemed to be a plethora of blogs focusing on government in Gray, Maine, and the revolving door is turning ever faster. is but a distant bad memory, and now the casualty in the form of has become a happy reality as well.

I was no fan of either of those blogs, but the Graymaine blog by tinman was poisonous and immature. I defend Tinman's right to speak freely and to create such a forum, but I am happier to defend his or her right to stop speaking so hatefully and to erase the poisonous evidence.

Goodbye graymaine blogspot and hopefully the next blog that surfaces, if one does, will be a more mature and informative.

Some photos, and flamingo carnage

My beautiful cat, Abby.

Horses in the misty morning fog across the street from my apartment. The brush on the field is just now starting to turn reddish in the fall coolness. It's sorghum, I found out. Though the cool weather was fleeting, it will be 82 degrees for the next few days. Soon to return, I am sure.

There's this house I pass on the way to the Post Office. The owners have decorated their lawn with about 20 small pink flamingoes. They looked cool the first day they were up, it really looked like a flock had just landed.

But the next day there came a cool wind, blowing some over. Now when you drive by, about 6 of them are laying on their sides among the ones that are standing. Unfortunately, the tableau now looks like the fallen ones are dead. Flamingo carnage of the highest order. I am not kidding, I've driven by there about half a dozen times by now since the windstorm came, and every time, it looks like the of Jonestown of flamingoes.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

'Money cannot buy what I feel'

Fall Festival morning dawned gorgeous, no humidity, temps about 72, bright sun and gentle breeze.

The town center park had been transformed into a fun-looking festival grounds. The gazebo in the center of the green was adorned with corn husks and ribbon. Morning dew damp hay bales were arranged amphitheatre style around it, and the guitar led quartet "Eternity" was singing old timey gospel music. Leather dressed dads with little kids in tow, toothless grandpas, young moms with cell phone to ear and chasing after scooting toddlers wound their way in and among the hay bales.

Every few minutes Papa's Little Choo Choo with laughing kids in the caboose would chug by and toot, drowning out a few gospel song lyrics. A young teen aged boy dressed against the cool air in camouflage gear, cradled a small boxer pup inside his partly unzipped jacket. The boxer's head just poked out and the teen caught my eye and we smiled. A four year old girl atop a sequin-saddled pony laughed, her father holding her tightly on the saddle.

The School of Dance held a demonstration on the lawn and parents and kids of all ages thronged the space three deep, applauding heartily at each class's 2 minute demo. The kids got such support, even the shiest ones smiled and kicked their steps with confidence after a few minutes.

Funnel cakes were selling like hotcakes. These concoctions are dimpled light pancakes, fried and sprinkled with confectioners sugar. A doughboy with crunch. Ribbon potatoes were also popular. The vendor pokes a potato on a spindle, which twirls it against a knife, spiraling it completely, then the ribbon of potato is quickly deep fried. It comes out looking like a necklace of potato chips.

It was such a great day and everyone was in such a good mood...the music, families, children laughing... "Money cannot buy what I feel" Eternity sang in one of their tunes...and it's true. Sitting in the sun among a friendly townsfolk enjoying wholesome Saturday, money cannot buy what I feel.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Why Maine needs TABOR

On November 7, Maine voters will go to the polls and vote. One of the issues on which they will be asked to decide yea or nay is the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). Maine needs TABOR, and needs it in the worst way.

I had run a business in Maine, The Monument Newspaper, and paid my share of taxes on it. I was also owner of various properties and paid my share of property tax, owned vehicles and paid excise tax, I'd gone to college in Maine and earned both my undergraduate and graduate degree in the state. I was a teacher in Maine, worked other retail and manufacturing jobs. It's a struggle to live in Maine- everything is expensive. Food...gas, fuel, rents, taxes. Everything. And the pay is low.

Then I sold my business and moved to Georgia. What a difference! I had not realized how much of my money went to the Maine Government until I moved away and experienced the difference.

A common myth is that the southern states, particularly Georgia, lag in their commitment to and delivery of quality education. That the New England states far exceed them. I have not found this to be the case. For example, average teacher salary in Georgia is: $42,210. In Maine, it's $36,250. Since Georgia's goal to reach the national average was adopted in 1995, the average teacher salary in the state has risen from $32,291 to $41,023 in 1999-2000, an increase of 27 percent (compared to 14 percent for the nation) and in 2006 is now over $42,000.

In Maine, one works and works and works and pays a lot of taxes for the privilege. Most of your paycheck goes to pay taxes and to the government, and with lower salaries and higher taxes that means more struggle. To top it off, Maine government spends $6,988,554,697 per year...and this does not include local spending, like for education.

Maine Cigarette taxes are 122% of national average, $1 to the national average of 45 cents. Gas is 15% higher than the national average, property taxes rose 5.2% annually OVER inflation from 1987 to 1997, which was the fastest increase in the nation. Maine has the seventh highest top income tax rate in the nation. "Top" in Maine means if you make more than $16,500. Overall, Maine has the highest state and local tax burden in the nation.

Georgia, on the other hand, has a state income tax 1% lower than Maine, 4%. Income tax rates go from 1 to 6%; in Maine they go from 2 to 8.5%. You get the idea. Maine is expensive, other places are less expensive to live. That means less struggle, more disposable income. Higher quality of life.

TABOR is all about spending limits in government. It is NOT about cuts. There are no cuts. Spending increases are even allowed, at 3% per year. Taxes and fees in place are allowed but any future increase of taxes and fees would require a 2/3 majority to pass by any governing body, and a majority of the voters.

TABOR is about limiting spending of Maine's runaway government and increasing citizen input on future increases to spending. It's your money they are spending, after all. And that is something that Maine government forgets. It's not their government, and it's not their money. If I was still in Maine, I would vote for TABOR. It makes sense.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Jesus is here

This is a hefty, well constructed footbridge. It cracks me up...the creek it goes over is small and easily gotten around. I have no idea why it's here and so expensively constructed compared to the closed up and boarded vacant retail buildings surrounding it.

Anyway, here's another thing I'm noticing. God and Jesus are main topics of conversation. Like the grocery store clerk who invited me to her church. People are just as likely to talk about how Jesus figures prominently in their life, or how the hand of God is working in them, as they are to talk about horses, cows, and the weather.

It's something you don't hear up north. Religion and the celestial aspects of life are kept under wraps, and talking about them up there will likely get you some funny looks and people slowly edging away. If you do hear a conversation outside of church, it's probably a whispered one. Here, it's the opposite. At a consignment antique store last weekend, I heard the proprietor and a farmer talking happily about how Jesus was working in his grandfather's life and also helped the farmer after his grandfather passed away. The store owner was agreeing, and chipped in with her own story. Their tone was confident, excited, and joyful.

Jesus is here, and 'round these parts, He lives in the hearts and minds and lives of the people who embrace Him. And if you don't, you are invited to.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Beauty is Skin Deep

Andrew Krasnow's "OF THE FLESH: SKIN WORKS 1990 - 2005" will be on display on LA. His artist statement says, "Of the Flesh: Skin Works 1990 - 2005 is a survey of Andrew Krasnow's works in human skin. His interest in the political history of skin scalping, branding, Buchenwald and its use for propaganda purposes... While Krasnow's work nearly always garners controversial attention, this is not the reason the artist chooses to work in humanity's first and most basic material. In American Skin, an Installation, Andrew Krasnow has transformed the skin of white Americans into works that examine the issues of dehumanization, iconography and taboo, arranged to engage spectators in an exploration of America's political process and its fixation upon the externally manifest identity of its citizens...In recent years Krasnow has worked in private, developing highly crafted works in human skin and allowing himself to be more organic in his approach." It was linked on Boing Boing by Xeni Jardin and I agree about the squick.

I have two questions: how can an artist become more organic than using actual skin? And, where does he get it?

Changing from public person to private

That's a pretty covered bridge at the State park 3 miles from my home.

It's nice to acclimate to being a private person again. It's also interesting to note the body changes as I smooth into a new life.

For example, as I leave the apartment, for the first time in almost 7 years, I do not have to load myself up with work-related materials before leaving. I always made sure to have with me in hand my camera, notebook, and a pen or two. My left hand was always carrying those three items with my right hand closing the door as I crossed from private space to public. How strange to leave the apartment unencumbered, both hands free! And I had not realized that I had trained my body to react differently as I left the one space and entered the other.

As I left the library yesterday, a woman and two teens where un-potting mums in front of the building in preparation for planting them in the nicely landscaped front garden. I reacted to the sight by reaching for my notebook, while my brain said 'volunteer story'! That happens a lot. I see things happen and my body tenses and reaches for the camera or notebook and my brain starts to organize the story as I approach. It always takes a few seconds for me to realize that I do not have to do that any more.

Apparently my brain and body had inculcated itself into a watchful, tense, observant mode, and my brain was always ready to see a story and leap on it. It's really nice to slow down, and to buy tomatoes from the tomato man parked outside the post office without having to think if it was a story. Or to see the hay tractors trundling up the highway without having to wonder if the hay production was better this year as opposed to last. Now I can just enjoy the hay.

It's true that all towns are the same, with the same issues and concerns no matter where you are in the country. I notice that Falmouth had an issue with a town employee transporting alcohol in a town vehicle and in our county, the Selectmen this week determined to create a policy outlining the same thing. The Selectmen here just voted to enforce time limits on speakers, after hearing people wander off subject too many times (A citizen describing Washington crossing the Delaware apparently had kept the Selectmen transfixed last meeting). In Gray, time limits will be set up for speakers at council meetings.

Same same.

Here is one piece of news from our county that I never have heard anywhere though. The 2006 tax bills will not go out until 2007, if that. I guess when the Selectmen fired the tax appraiser for spending $4 on the county credit card for making a personal purchase, and have been fighting about who to hire ever since, that they forgot the rule that no tax bills can go out unless there is a certified appraiser in place. Oops.

I think I will adjust very well to being a private person again, noting these things for my own self and not having to balance them against whether they would make an informational or interesting story for the people. What will I do with my time?


Thursday, October 12, 2006

things you see along the road here

There was also a sign at the edge of a field listing the Ten Commandments. In case you and your passenger were in the middle of an argument as to which Commandment was number 6 and which was number 7, you could stop and read all ten on this helpfully placed sign, which was done up in a shape to replicate stone tablets.

A handpainted sign on plywood, nailed to a phone pole in the middle of a hay field, "Okras are not peppers."

And poignantly, an elderly man standing on his front lawn was hammering a 'for sale' sign onto his bass boat...his walker propped against the bow.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A snippet of what it's like here

Little things let me know that though I'm still in the United States I am now dwelling in a different culture. We really do live in a patchwork quilt of intersecting and coexisting sceneries, cultures, and mores. For example, the typical signs at the library are 'no cell phone use', ' no borrowing materials without card.' But there's also a printed sign at the circulation desk from the American Cancer Society that states "Thanks for not smoking" and under which someone added in marker, 'or chewing tobacco or dipping snuff.'

The streets all have three names. "Mama B Drive," Harmony Bog Road." An exception to what seems to be the norm is "Chicken Alley". This last one is actually a cute little drive between historic brick buildings in the middle of town.

Y'all is as ubiquitous as 'ayuh'. As in, "I heard y'all had a killing frost already." Down here we have apples right through to Nov 21. The fruit season goes like this: Blackberries June 1-July 30; Blueberries June 1-Aug 15; Cantaloupes June 1-Aug 20; Muscadines (whatever they are) July 1-Nov 1; peaches May 8-Aug 25, Strawberries march 1-July 1; and watermelons June 25-Sept 1. There's lots of others too, of course, my favorite being figs. My friend has three fig trees which this year bore fruit for the first time. Picking figs was a first for me.

It's a little bit cloudy today but if the sun peeks out later I'll take a video of the area and post it.

One of my science haikus will be published!

Dave Ng of the Science Creative Quarterly has accepted one of my haikus for the Phylogeny Project!

Wikipedia says phylogenetics "In biology, phylogenetics (Greek: phylon = tribe, race and genetikos = relative to birth, from genesis = birth) is the study of evolutionary relatedness among various groups of organisms (e.g., species, populations) etc.

It was interesting to create freely in a medium that usually restricts creative liberties in the written expressive form. Same with journalism. Freeing up from a particular medium's constrictions is exhilarating. Writing creatively in science is an inspirational juxtaposition. So is, for example, the genre "creative non-fiction." I always enjoyed writing editorials because it offered limited liberation from the constrictions of strict journalistic writing.

Anyway, here's my haiku, a poem that contains three lines, with syllables in pattern of 5-7-5.


Coral, grows real slow
Beautiful colors rise high
Boat prop, the end is real quick

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Current newspapers win journalism awards

At, the Current newspaper online site, it is reported that:

"Current Publishing wins 26 journalism awards"

SCARBOROUGH (Oct 10, 2006): Current Publishing newspapers received 26 awards - 10 of them first place - at the Maine Press Association’s annual fall conference Saturday in Bar Harbor. Awards went to Current Publishing’s three newspapers that were members last year – the American Journal, the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly and the Current...

Congratulations!!! As former owner and founder of The Monument Newspaper, now under Current's umbrella since it merged with the larger company in May 2006, I am so proud of you and for you. Current Publishing, keep up the good work.


Monday, October 09, 2006


The leaves are just barely starting to turn here, and the haying is in full swing. Flowers are still blooming, and the weather has been a mild 75 each day. This fall-turning tree is next to my driveway.

These are my neighbors. I like them because though they are intensely curious about me, they are polite about it. They stare at me, but they don't take any photos. And truly, after a few minutes of staring, they get bored and they move on. What a concept! And they keep their crap on their side of the fence. Good neighbors. Real good!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A weekend morning in the country

I left this morning ahead of my landlord, so that meant drive slow, watch out for grazing horses and open the gate to get out. She lets the horses graze in the larger pasture at night, just closing the main gate at the end of the three tenths of a mile curving gravel driveway. I got out of my putting Honda, unchained the green metal gate, drove thru, and got out to chain it up again. A farm for sure.

I was surprised about the laundromat. I've been thinking about it since yesterday. It's a little building on the corner where the one and only traffic light is. There are banks of double washers and dryers, tables for folding, and wheeled baskets for unloading your wet clothes. A change dispenser and a machine for soap. The only thing not there was an attendant. The doors are propped open with a rock and you just go in do your laundry, and leave. Cool.

I went into town this morning and said hello to a local store owner and got the scoop on retail and merchant doings in town. Apparently three more stores are coming, including a year round holiday shop, a coffee shop and a florist. Three more stores just about doubles the current retail commerce.

On the first Saturday each month, Jose the famous bread maker sets up his bread wares on a table outside the herb shoppe. Apparently his breads, cookies, muffins and cakes are famous in these parts. They did look wonderful. I bought a kalamata olive boule for my friend and a muffin for myself, in addition to having a nice conversation on this beautiful morning.

And best of all, this day dawned crisp and clear. Not hot!

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Rural South

It's been an interesting week, convincing the state bureaucracy I exist, I'm not a felon, I will be responsible with my checking account, and I won't use the cell phone in the library. For all the rural south's relaxed ways, they take establishing residency pretty seriously.

When you go from bureau to bureau, it's gridlock. To get a checking account, you need a state driver's license. To get a license, you need a postal mailing address. To get a postal mailing address, you need a license. Sigh.

After pleading on bended knee, I got the PO box and then I could go ahead and order utilities, go to the licensing bureau and get a license (photo: not bad, time spent: under an hour) and then I could go to the bank and establish an account. The license was required for the checking account thanks to our friends in Homeland Security in these Post-911 dayz.

I bought a car: a 1987 Honda that despite its cigarette ash laden dog hair carpet is remarkably zippy, in good shape, and gas efficient. Hey, I bought gas for $1.99 the other day! I've been cruising on a half tank for a week now, and loving every fuel-efficient mile. And for a paltry $35, I found an "extreme car detailing" place that made the thing look like new. It is so clean it squeaks.

For the miles do rack up when you're in the country. The mover guy arrived Tuesday as scheduled, but as he got out of the truck, he said with hands on hips, "You are out in the middle of NOWHERE!" True enough. But the roads are in great shape and I am zipping around from here to there organizing all the details you take for granted when you have an already established life. Like, hey, all my clothes are dirty and where's the laundromat? The grocery store? The registrar of voters? Which bank do I choose? Is this pizza place any good? (It better be, there are only two restaurants in town).

My phone is not hooked up yet, which makes calling from place to place to check on the status of my utilities' installation a challenge, but the phone is key: for, you see, I will need to access the internet through dial up. No DSL or cable goes by my farm road, and won't for at least another 6 months. Maybe. I am accessing e-mail and internet at the library now, which is eminently doable, but there is a time limit, and my penchant is to be online for, like, 24 hours a day. Nothing like dial-up to make you break the habit and go outside for once.

And the weather has been sunny and in the low 80s since I got here last week. There are tomatoes, butterflies, greenery, heat, sun, and lots of birds. There's a heron that lives in the pond across from my window. He make a racket every morning, which I love. Even describing it sounds like a romantic spy movie: 'The Heron Squawks at Dawn.'

There's a small farmer's market on Saturday mornings, and I hear through the small town grapevine that there will be a guy selling fresh bread this week. Sounds like the place to be. And what could be better than sitting outside in the sun on a bright weekend morning chatting with friendly neighbors, buying fresh bread and grabbing a cup of coffee at the cafe afterwards? Mmm, welcome to the south.

Oops my time's up, but next time' the library's open, I'll be back with another snippet. Thanks for reading and enjoy the weekend.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


The movers are coming this morning so I will be unplugged for a while. Next time I post it will be from my new apartment down south!

Thanks for reading and I'll see you later,


Monday, September 25, 2006

Thank you!

The Farewell Party was the best party ever. My friends laid out a collage of Monuments under glass. There was a buffet table laden with lots of fantastic food they had cooked themselves, from soup to pasta and shrimp salad to meatballs, fruit, cheesecake and brownies. And more. People wrote their sentiments in a handmade book Jeanne created. Music was playing and two coffee urns percolated.

By 1:30 people were wandering in. I said hello and lots of hugs and soon people helped themselves at the buffet and we all sat down. Animated happy conversation for the next hour. People said nice things to me in clusters of knots of groups.

At 2:30 Alex played a song on his guitar and then came the remarks which were extremely nice. People got up to the microphone and talked. 'You have integrity. 'You were fair and honest. 'You were always there to help. 'You inspired us. 'You changed the town.' I was astounded and overwhelmed sitting still as a rock in front of all those people not knowing what to make of it. I hope I looked appropriately appreciative...mostly I was shocked.

Then they presented me with gifts, an engraved jewelry box, a cross pen, Tuscan CD, southern style napkins, 2 dozen roses. Then I spoke, saying a few words and thanking them.

I can't express how wonderful the day was. That so many people worked so hard to put on a farewell party for me was such a tremendous gift, and something I'll never forget. But the greatest gift of all is that people said they now feel empowered, able and willing to speak up, and know how and where to get the information they need. That's the best, and was the whole point of us starting The Monument. I am truly grateful for the so very many people who helped with The Monument ... it really was a labor of love to bring a good newspaper into the world and help it grow, and with it, a community grew, too.

Gray is filled with so many wonderful people, we truly are a community of givers and great good souls. I'm the one who feels lucky to have been here.

Thank you!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Traveling light, embracing change

He who would travel happily must travel light.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I'm just about done packing my small apartment, and though I'm leaving much of my furniture behind (my new one's furnished) it still means that when I sort through my stuff, I still have to examine every possession and assess its aesthetic quality, gauge its emotional attachment, judge its purpose in my life, and then dispense with it. I'm Hamlet, packing the castle, "To take or not to take. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous backache, Or to take arms against a sea boxes, And by opposing move them?"

Nothing gets your emotional juices up like moving, but forcing myself to do it means that I grow. I like to challenge myself to do new things. I've done it all my life, and it never gets easier, as a matter of fact it gets harder. But what a necessary thing. I like traveling off the normally prescribed path and vaulting myself into the world to see what's there. When I do I learn new things, contribute in new ways. Scary, but Measure for Measure, "Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Invisible Councilor

The Story of the Invisible Councilor
Alison, you gotta run for Council.
It's too much work.
C'mon...we need someone to hold that seat until we can scrape up a real puppet.
It takes too much time.
Look, we'll paint a couple of token signs, you don't have to put your number in the paper, make any speeches, or deal with the public. All you have to do is show up on Election day and shake hands. We'll take care of the rest.
I don't want to give up my free time.
Let's sweeten things. You don't have to show up to any council meetings. OK? Please?
I don't have to go to any meetings?
OK, I'll do it.

And that is how Alison Libbey became the Invisible Councilor.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Civility? Gosh darn, they keep trying

Gray Maine now boasts its 9th blog. I blogged about the plethora of blogs, on The Monument site a couple of months ago. At that time, there were 7.

Anyway, the townspeople of late have gotten on the blog bandwagon. Me included, of course. But when the recall heated up last spring, so did the blogs. Blogs about Gray sprouted like mushrooms and some died as quickly. Many of them claim to seek 'civility.' There is a difference in seeking it and living it, though. If you lead by example then you will receive what you sow.

Aside from this blog, there’s “Black and White in Gray” run by Paul Proudian and the Gray News. It claims to expose the dysfunctional politics of Gray, Maine by calling people 'viral implants' and 'Hitler'. Paul Proudian's blog exemplified incivility and worse. The blog is moribund, now. Maybe the town is no longer 'dysfunctional'. It's good the blog isn't functioning, frankly.

Gray activist Sharon Bondroff started one called but it petered out, though it still exists online.

For a while there was a blog run by anonymous “Batgirl” called Batgirl’s blog got ugly fast and then it was deleted by the originator. Common knowledge put that blog's authorship on Gray News's Nathan Tsukroff.

Almost immediately, though, a blog that mimicked the Batgirl blog was started by anonymous BiasBuster. It busts the bias of The Gray News. It has kept going and nobody knows who Biasbuster is.

Recently another blog started called The Heart of Gray Maine: Finding The Truth Within Heart of Our Community.” It’s run by an anonymous person called “TinMan” and its tagline is: “Finding the TRUTH Exposing the LIES Healing the HURTS Stopping the HATE.” That blog we now know is run by Debbie Shaw Mancini. Debbie stops the hate by calling opinions she doesn't like 'vile spewings.' Civility eludes that particular blog, in my opinion.

Then, a mimic blog to Debbie's started called “Land of Doh-z!: The Soul of Gray, Maine: Saving the Soul of a Community.” It’s run by an anonymous person called “Tiny-Man” and it's absolutely hilarious. Not politically correct, but spoofily hilarious. My favorite post was Fall Movie Releases

I started The Quiet Life this summer. And now we have "A Gray Agora" run by Publicus, who says he wants "civil, constructive, and productive debate on the issues " and goes on to mention that occasionally we "get whipped up into that old mob mentality, and we capriciously execute our charges ...Often just because we can." Capricious executions and civility are usually mutually exclusive.
Personally, I think it's Paul Proudian again. Or his clone. Decide for yourself:

Paul Proudian, Gray News: Down the Iraq Memory Hole
Publicus, on his blog: A View Down the Rabbithole

Publicus's favorite phrase: 'fails to grasp' .
Proudian's favorite phrase: 'fails to grasp'.

Given the recall people's track record with blogs, I hold slim hope that Publicus's blog will fare any better. It already started off with an unfortunate tone of derision. It's not easy to run a blog that encourages thoughtful debate, but I hope that one of the blogs, at least, will make people proud that their town's name is in the title.
Blog on.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tiny fire-crackers popping over nothing

There are a few people in Gray angry that the new Manager hasn't appointed Bob Ryan to the Fire Chief's position yet. They are angry over the fact that the new manager is choosing to delay hiring until she can gain an assessment of the Department's personnel, skills, weaknesses, and therefore make an informed decision about potential candidates for Chief. This makes sense to me.

This same group, the group that tried to get their way by usurping a local election by starting a recall, since the failed recall has challenged our local government for seemingly "rushed" decisions. Just last month regarding the proposed shift of public safety dispatch duties from Gray to County, they cried "We need to stop look and LISTEN to the reasoning behind the proposed changes." Alternatively, they think that "Now for the town manager to delay one iota in this obvious decision to appoint Bobby Ryan as Chief of Gray Fire & Rescue is a travesty." Is it stop-look-listen? Or don't delay one iota? Can you help me out with this one?

In other moments, this group has said, "It is important to allow the town manager to do his job and not try and micromanage operation of the town. Unfortunately, when people who don't understand or perhaps trust the nature of government step into a position of authority, they can make a real hash of things." Bunker, Proudian's BWG blog, March 2, 2006.

I agree, Bunker, I agree.


Town Administrative Code, section SECTION 2 - DUTIES [Manager]

He or she shall perform such duties as are specified in Article III of the Town Charter, including complete executive direction of the administrative services of the Town.

Gray Town Charter Article III says: "The Town Manager shall be administrative head of the Town and shall be responsible to the Council for the administration of all departments assigned. The Manager shall appoint, remove and fix the compensation of all Town officers or agents whose elections or appointments have not been otherwise provided for by this Charter. All such offices shall serve under the direction of the Town Manager."