30 April 2012

Spring Clean-up

Today was perhaps the perfect Spring day in Maine, which is sort of sad when you figure that it's all downhill after this... until that one day in Fall when we get another perfect day.

Yes, we only get two days like this each year, so if you missed it, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

I was fortunate enough to take advantage of it. I've been waiting for the right day to start on the Spring yard work. Many of our neighbors are already well underway on this process, and as much as I do not like yard work, peer pressure is a strong incentive. I was hoping, however, that the perfect day would land on a weekend so I'd have some help from the rest of the family. Yesterday was lovely other than about 30 mph winds, and raking is bad enough without adding wind to the mix.

So now the gardens have been cleared out, the deck cleaned off and swept, and the hastas are popping up out of the soil. When I was finished, I plunked myself into a lawn chair to read and savor a bit more of the sunshine.

Sure, we'll have more Spring days like this where the weather is fairly warm and dry, but after today, there will be bugs. I know this because I saw one black fly today. There is never just one black fly. Black flies are prolific in the Maine woods and if you see only one, you know there are a zillion more for each one you see. And they are all waiting to fly up to your head in that haphazard way they fly, and manage to take a bloody bite out of your scalp without you knowing it until the blood is running down your face.

That one little guy flew off to tell his friends and that's when I knew it was time to fold up the lawn chair and go back inside. Back inside where I'll stay until October when we have our next perfect day.

Copyright © 2012 - Paulla Estes

28 April 2012

Cannoli

Our daughter spent yesterday in Boston with a friend. They visited Northeastern University and scuttled around the city, seeing the sights, going to museums, and eating the great food.

And the best part? They stopped at Maria's Pastry Shop in the North End.


And brought back cannoli.

Yes, that's cannoli, not cannolis.

I only know this because a friend of mine said she didn't know what a cannoli is. I looked up an official definition for her and it turns out cannoli is the plural of cannolo. I have never heard anyone refer to one of these decadent treats as a cannolo. It just doesn't sound right. I can't do it. It may be wrong, but I will still refer to one cannoli as a cannoli. I've been saying it that way all my life and I'm not going to change now.

Sort of like I won't say cacti. Cactuses works just fine. Most times I am a bit of a grammar nazi, but there are a few areas in my vocabulary where stubbornness wins out over correct terminology. I may WRITE cacti, but you won't catch me using the word aloud.

Cannoli anyone? :)

Copyright © 2012 - Paulla Estes

27 April 2012

The Duke

This is what I see while I'm writing at my desk.


My in-laws brought this to us the last time they came for a visit. Understand that my husband is a huge John Wayne fan. HUGE. No really, H-U-G-E. He can tell you anything and everything you want to know about John Wayne.

When our kids have friends over for dinner, he will ask them if they know who John Wayne was. If they do not, they are promptly sent home with a video (usually True Grit), but this only after he rolls his eyes and tells them their parents have been negligent in not teaching them about the best American that ever lived.

No, I'm not kidding. This really happens. Has happened. Many, many times.

Often during the day if I ask my husband a question over text messaging, he will reply with, "Well I'll tell ya, Pilgrim,..." and then he will proceed to answer my question. You see, my husband and John Wayne were fraternity brothers. No, they didn't go to college at the same time, but they were in the same fraternity, and for those of you like me who haven't a clue about such things, apparently, that's all that matters.

We have John Wayne coasters on our coffee table. We have John Wayne books on our bookshelves. We have John Wayne magnets on our refrigerator. We even have a roll of John Wayne toilet paper - un-used, of course - it sits in our living room, on display.

It's funny, I've gotten so used to the fact that John Wayne is a part of our lives that I forget he's no longer living. We watch True Grit at least once a year, and we'll turn to his other movies when the mood strikes.

Now that I think of it, it's a good thing I like John Wayne too. I mean, if I didn't, I hate to say it, but I know my husband would choose him over me. And really, I'm not bitter at all. Only, don't look to closely at that life-sized cardboard cut-out of him - there may be dart holes in it.

But you didn't hear it from me.

Copyright © 2012 - Paulla Estes

24 April 2012

We have a Winner

While visiting the college in North Carolina last week, my daughter asked very sincerely, "How will I ever decide between this and the school in New York?"

I didn't have an answer for her. It's one of those times when there's not a wrong decision. Both schools are good, both are reputable, both have family friends nearby, both have the degree plan she's looking for, and both have extracurricular activities that interest her. Either school would be a good decision. And sometimes those are the hardest decisions to make. We know that shifting our compass just a few degrees one way or the other will completely change how our lives will turn out in the future. Which path to take? When you're 18-years-old, how can you be expected to make life-altering decisions such as that?

We discussed these matters all along the drive from North Carolina to New York. Pros and cons, likes and dislikes, city vs. small town, private vs. state school, weather, climate, local people, politics, future life plan,... world peace! Ok, not world peace. That would have been too much for us to handle.

And then we drove into campus at the school in New York just before sunset. She took one look around at the school she had visited last fall, the one she loved and the one that had been at the top of her list from the get go. "Oh Mom," she exclaimed, "How could I have ever wanted to go anywhere else? This is definitely where I belong. This is ME."


And that is how an 18-year-old makes a life-altering decision. After months of applications, essays, visits, waiting, thinking, dicussing, and prayer, it all came down to how it felt to be there.

It felt right.

And thankfully, it felt right to me, too. :)

Copyright © 2012 - Paulla Estes

18 April 2012

Whirlwind

My daughter and I are in the mountains of western North Carolina. We've visited the college, had special times with local friends, and up until last night, the weather was perfect. Now it's raining like crazy and in the 50s. Of course back in Maine, it's sunny and clear. Go figure.

Today we'll see more friends, buy all the necessarily paraphernalia at the campus book store, and then we have a fun-filled evening of concerts for me and youth group activities for her.

Tomorrow we drive twelve hours to upstate New York for the second of two visits, and then she'll have about a week to decide. Both schools have their pros and cons and there really isn't a wrong choice, which makes the decision that much harder.

Regardless of which school she chooses, I will look back on this trip with the fondest of memories. I treasure these days with my youngest girl; of course I'd enjoy it even more if there weren't a constant lump of emotion stuck in my throat.

Copyright © 2012 - Paulla Estes

11 April 2012

Decisions, Decisions

We're in the thick of college decisions at our house. Our youngest daughter was accepted to 6 of the 8 schools she applied to, and was wait-listed to one. There's only school one that thought she was too smart for their crowd, but I won't mention any names. (UConn).

The final decision has come down to two universities, and as life and our financial situation would have it, it's the two schools which will be least expensive. Thankfully, one of those schools is her favorite and top choice, while the other is very high in the running. Ironically, the Maine state school to which she applied is no less pricey than the private school in New York nor the state school in North Carolina. Of course, the private school offered a scholarship, which brought its cost down, but out-of-state tuition at the state school in N.C. is the same price as in-state tuition in Maine. Something is definitely wrong with that picture if you ask me.

But somehow in these situations, nobody ever asks me.

Next week I will take her on a round robin trip from Maine to North Carolina to New York, and then the final decision must be made by May 1.

Our son is graduating from grad school next month and will soon start a new job teaching in Phoenix. Our middle daughter is taking a semester off to stay home, work, and make a few changes in her educational plans. They're grown up and finding their own way. I raised them fly out of the nest and to find their own way, yet, when I see them doing that, I can't help but wonder, "What was I thinking?"

Seriously, I'm proud of them all, but now I know why moms get grey hair. Thank God for Miss Clairol.

Copyright © 2012 - Paulla Estes

08 April 2012

Happy Resurrection Day

I'm not trying to be cute, I just like the idea of calling the holiday what it was originally intended to be - a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. Even to me, a Christian, the word "Easter" conjures up little more than chocolate and colored eggs. NOT that those are bad things. They are very much a part of our Easter. But they are secondary. I once heard someone say, "Eternal life is in all our futures, one way or another, so we really ought to come to terms with who Jesus said he was." Yeah, it made me think, too. Big time.

I wish I could offer a photo of a basket of colored eggs, but we didn't color them this year. Our babies are all grown up and we aren't yet into grand-baby territory, so the egg dye kits stay in a box in the basement. We didn't go to an egg hunt either, though my youngest daughter went to one with a family who still has a "little guy".

I wish I could offer a photo of an Easter Lily, but I didn't buy one this year. I could have taken a picture of one at church, but it didn't occur to me.

I wish I could offer a photo of my family, but we didn't take one this year. Nobody thought to.

I wish I could offer a story about our hike up Bradbury Mountain for the sunrise service, but we skipped it because of the snowy forecast we saw last night. Of course, this morning, there was no snow and even some breaks in the clouds. Go figure.

However, we had a lovely Easter. We all did get up and share goodies together. We all went to church together and ate more goodies there. We chatted with old friends and made new ones. We sang, we prayed, and we celebrated the resurrection. Then we came home and ate lasagna, that oh-so-traditional Easter meal. Chocolate pie for dessert. Does that count?

Sometimes a celebration means doing things a little differently so we'll remember why we're celebrating. Or maybe that's just how my demented mind works. Definitely possible.

Copyright © 2012 - Paulla Estes

04 April 2012

The New Cats (from 2 years ago)

Blogger just changed it's format, and while looking around, I found this story in my list of draft blogs. I wrote it two years ago, but for some reason, never posted it. Maybe because it's so long and wordy. But it IS a good story, so I'm posting it now...

Ok, so if you read my story about Lucy, you know that the best thing for a cat-lover to do in the aftermath of losing a beloved cat is to get a new one when the time is right. Well, I decided not to wait until the time was right. Stupid me, I went to the local shelter right after Lucy died. I mean, not the same day, but it was so soon after that I'm too embarrassed to admit exactly when it was. Alright, it was the next day, OK??

I only went to LOOK at the cats and kittens, to see what was there. My husband said that we should get two kittens (because we all know kittens come in pairs, right?)  But after having very docile adult cats for many, many years, I didn't know if I wanted to deal with the insanity of having kittens. They'd get into everything, climb the walls and furniture, keep us up at night, and generally wreak havoc on our peaceful home that has known only old pets in recent years. Plus, my thought is that kittens will be placed easily. Older, full grown cats are not as appealing to most people, and usually get overlooked. But with an older cat, you can know what you're getting; with kittens, you never know how they'll turn out.

Our local animal shelter, it turns out, has THREE rooms dedicated entirely to cats. Grown cats (kittens are kept separate). In each of these rooms, the cats run free. There are litter boxes, bowls of food and water, and many beds, shelves, toys, and towers. Walking into one of those rooms is a bit daunting as a couple of cats will run over to say hello, a couple more will sniff you warily, several will wake from their naps and look at you menacingly, and still more will ignore you outright. But basically, all the cats are there, living in relative peace, just doing their thing. Some are friends, some are enemies, but they all seem to get along well enough.

Walking into those rooms can be heart-wrenching on one level, as you see cats that are antisocial and clearly will not be adopted out (though this shelter does not euthanize it's animals, so for that I'm thankful). But the cats are so well-cared-for, and the staff of volunteers obviously love their jobs; it gave me a whole new perspective on shelters. I can actually see why people who have to give up their pets, give them to that place. While I never imagine myself giving a pet to a shelter, if I ever had to, I know it would be ok there.

So back to the story.

A friend told me that the friendliest cats in the world are orange males. Although experience has shown me that males are generally more outgoing than females, I wondered what the color has to do with it? So on the day my son and I first visited the shelter on that fateful day, I figured I'd look for an orange cat. Not that I'd get one for a few weeks, but I'd just look.

When we walked into the first cat room, we saw about 20 cats in various stages of play and sleep, all around the room. One very friendly black cat ran up to us and tried to climb up my son's leg. It was friendly to a fault but almost a little creepy. After spending a few minutes checking out the cats in that room, we went on to the second room, which was pretty much identical to the first.

Then in the third room, we walked in and the first thing I noticed was a skinny orange cat lying on a shelf that was eye-level with me. Anyone who knows anything about cats knows that you don't go touching a strange cat. But there was something about this cat. I went up and started talking to it, and it rolled on it's back. When I pet it, it started purring and asked for more. This was one friendly cat. And yes, it was a male. An orange male.

My son came over and the cat rolled around for him, too. When I asked the volunteers about the cat, they all agreed that he's a sweetheart. Then we started looking at the sleeping cats. One huge grey long-haired cat was sleeping with it's back to us. I gingerly touched it's back, and it whipped its head around and gave me what I perceived to be an evil glare. I spoke softly to the kitty and told him how pretty he was. Soon I heard faint purring, and when I walked away, the big grey guy jumped off his shelf and followed me. It turns out the big grey guy is a big grey GAL and the volunteers thought she was part Maine Coon. Her markings were beautiful, and although the marks on her face made her look angry, she was very friendly.

I had to get out of there. But first, I put a hold on those two cats - the friendly orange male and the angry-looking Maine Coon mix. I was told that they could only hold them for 24 hours, at which point, they would be available for someone else to adopt. 24 hours. My family, especially Molly, would never go for that.  It was too soon.  Molly had just lost her beloved cat.  IT WAS TOO SOON.

I took one last look at the two cats, and left. The first thing I did was to phone my husband and tell him I'd found two new cats. After asking me why on earth I ventured into the shelter THE DAY AFTER LUCY DIED, he told me not to go back - that it was too soon.

I knew this. I KNEW it was too soon. It was obscenely too soon.

But I also knew that my little girl was heartbroken and that we all needed a kitty to snuggle under our chins. We needed to hear a purr and feel the soft, kitty fur. We needed healing from our pain and while much too soon, these cats could fit that bill.

Early in our marriage, I often disregarded my husband's advice. As a result, we acquired new dogs and cats while our children were still babies and we were still moving around a lot. Not a great combination, though it all worked out. In recent years, I've been more inclined not only to listen, but to take his advice, which is always good and usually right.

But in this case, I lost my head. I had to have those cats. My little girl was hurting and since she was no longer small, and since I could no longer sit her on my knee and kiss away the boo-boo, I had to do so something. This seemed like THE THING TO DO.

Later that evening, I took Sam, my older daughter, back to the shelter with me to see the cats. She didn't want to go. She told me it was stupid and WAY TOO SOON. I took her anyway, and when she saw our two cats, she fell in love with them, just like I knew she would. She told me that if only Molly could see them, she'd love them too.

I asked the shelter if there was any way I could go ahead and adopt the cats, but keep them there for another week or so. The answer was no.

So how was I to bring this up to Molly? Molly, who had lost her best friend, her special kitty, her childhood pet?

Later that night, I confessed to Molly that I'd gone to the shelter and that I'd found two new cats. She didn't say much, just that it was too soon. There were tears in her eyes.  Sigh. Much as I wanted those cats, I couldn't hurt my girl more.

The next day we talked about it a bit more, and I explained the dilemma to the kids, that if we were to get these two really good cats, it had to be today.

Ok, I recognize that those two cats are not the only two good cats in Maine. But remember, this was no ordinary time in our lives. In my mind, these cats had been sent to us by GOD to help us through our grief, and I had to act soon or I would lose them. Yes, I am good at justifying just about anything.

We discussed it further, and although my husband was still not fully in favor of it, all three kids, even Molly, agreed to consider getting the cats.

I took Molly to the shelter with me when I picked them up. When she walked into those rooms full of cats, she smiled for the first time in about three days. I took her to see our two cats, both of which she loved, and then one of the volunteers asked if we'd like to see a new cat which had only been brought in the day before (we hadn't seen him because he was being neutered when we had visited). Sure, why not - let's see the new cat.

The new cat was a skinny grey number who rubbed against Molly's leg as soon as we walked into its room. She picked him up and he immediately put his little paws around her neck and started nuzzling her ear. Yes, really. She laughed and tears came to her eyes. She hugged and snuggled the friendly little guy for several minutes, and then you can guess what she said.  "Can we get this cat, too?"

Now, imagine pausing this little scenario for a moment so we can take a look at all the factors.

1. Our cat died two days before.
2. My husband told me we shouldn't get the new cats so soon.
3. Molly was unsure about getting new cats so soon.
4. I made a unilateral decision that we were getting the cats.
5. Suddenly Molly, who had not smiled in three days, was smiling and wanted a third cat.

Let me ask you, what would YOU do in a situation like that?

Yes, I adopted the third cat.

Copyright © 2012 - Paulla Estes

03 April 2012

Reminded.

I had to drive through downtown Portland today because of a detour, and I realized how rarely I actually go into the city. Usually I stay on the interstate until I get to the airport or the mall or Trader Joes.

Today the detour took me past Hadlock Field and around Lincoln Park. It was a sunny day and there were a lot of people out.

And then I remembered.

The homeless people.

I lived in the D.C. area for many years and I never became used to seeing homeless people on the street corners with their makeshift cardboard signs, asking for work, for help, for money, for food.

One night I was walking down a city street with a friend when a homeless-looking guy came up to me and asked for money. I learned long ago that I can help some, but I can't help all. I had a little cash but I needed it to take the Metro home, so I told him No. He pressed and said that surely I had a little cash I could give him. It was then that I noticed he was smoking a cigarette. I was annoyed at being pressed and I told him maybe he ought to spend his money on something more useful than cigarettes. Then he called me a nasty name and thankfully, went on his way.

After that, I spent several years on the California coast where the homeless population was so large that we really DID get used to seeing them, which I now find sad. Though in retrospect, if I had to be homeless, I'd much rather be homeless in San Diego than in D.C. Or Maine.

Today I saw a homeless man in downtown Portland standing on a street corner with his cardboard sign. I didn't have any cash in the car other than maybe few pennies, and besides, I was on the other lane from where he was standing. But I felt that familiar guilt - guilt at having a car, at having had lunch, and at having a home to which I was driving right then and there. Where will he sleep tonight? There are shelters in the area, and thank God the weather is getting warmer, but it's no San Diego. And what about that man's future? Where will he go? What will he do?

In the small towns of Maine we forget about such things.

But we shouldn't.

Copyright © 2012 - Paulla Estes

02 April 2012

The Cost of a Mild Winter

The snow is gone and I'm thinking it won't be back. What a difference a year makes. This time last April, I was winging my way back from 90 degree Arizona while Maine was recovering from a heavy, wet Spring snow storm.

This year? The snow has been gone for weeks and the daffodils are already in bloom. A month early. Which explains the fleas.

What, didn't I mention the fleas?

In January, we discovered our three cats had worms for the second time in as many months. Our vet didn't blink an eye when he told us we have a flea problem. A flea problem? I've never seen so much as one flea in our house or on any of our pets - our INDOOR pets - in all the years we've lived in Maine. How could we have a flea problem if I haven't seen any fleas? No one's been bitten, the cats aren't scratching, and, well... YUCK.

I spare you the details, but apparently we did have fleas, so I spent much of the last part of February and early March bombing and fogging and spraying and treating everything in our home, including the three cats.

According to the vet, the flea problem in Maine is well into its second year and it is because we've been having such mild winters. It seems that even people without pets are having flea problems. That made me feel a bit better.

So now we're (knock on wood) flea free, the lawn chairs are out of the shed and the trees are budding. If fleas are the only payment for a mild winter, I'll pay that bill. Though of course the bill included a wrenched back from moving all the furniture for flea fogging and spraying, but let's not get technical.

And it really isn't the fleas I'm worried about, it's the black flies. They usually don't show up until mid-May, but from what I've heard, there have already been sightings. If we could have mild winters AND do away with all the black flies, then Maine actually would be paradise.

Copyright © 2012 - Paulla Estes