I find myself measuring everything against the cost of gas these days. We used to go to Boston for a day to walk the Freedom Trail or to Connecticut to visit family; now we opt to stay closer to home or consolidate fun trips with necessary meetings and appointments.
I drive 12 miles to take my daughter to her twice-a-week class that meets for just under two hours. I used to go back home to do school with my other daughter, but now, instead, we go to the local McDonalds, have breakfast, and work on school there. Having breakfast out (a cheap breakfast, that is) is less expensive than driving an extra 24 miles in the car.
I can live with that.
In addition, we’ve made a study of how to consolidate errands, appointments and meetings, and I try to schedule everything on the same day and near the same time. It’s a bit insane, but it actually keeps me more organized (I can use all the help I can get.)
Yesterday I heard from my friend, Carol, who lives in England. She said the price of gas there is £1.10 per litre, which comes out to approximately $8.00 per gallon. Can you imagine? She is thinking of all kinds of creative ways to NOT use the car.
At our house in Maine, we live about three miles from the closest stores, gas stations, etc., so walking isn't usually an option. Besides, I do grocery shopping once a week for a big family. If I walk there, how will I get the 20+ bags home through the snow?
Our church is 12 miles away.
The shopping center is 6 miles away.
Several of our doctors are 35 miles away.
The only thing within walking distance of our home is a small convenience store that's about 1.5 miles away, and that's walking down a very busy road without sidewalks. Biking is a possibility, but again, there’s the weather…
I think that if our gas prices go up to $8.00/gallon, it will be more economical to move closer to town, sell the car, and just walk everywhere.
Or buy a horse and buggy. Surely it’s cheaper to feed a horse than to feed a minivan?
We spent our entire weekend at a state basketball tournament.
One ritual we have when going to basketball games or church is to stop at Starbucks so my hubby can get a double tall white chocolate mocha. Whatever that is. I don’t do coffee.
In the fall, I sometimes get a caramel apple cider, but only once in a while. It’s really good – REALLY good – but I think Starbucks is way overpriced and gimmicky, so there you go.
But this weekend, my daughter wanted to get a strawberries and cream frappuccino. Eww, I thought – strawberry coffee? No, she explained, it’s more like a shake.
So she got one and I tried it.
Let me tell you, I am not a person who is easily surprised. Very little shocks me. But that strawberries and cream frappuccino was the best thing I’ve ever had. I kept going on and on about how good it was, and my husband and daughter were cracking up. I told them I could now die a happy person because I had tasted heaven.
Sure, it’s just a little thing, but sometimes the little things make all the difference.
Oh, and on a different note - that HUGE rainstorm we're getting right now - just imagine if that was snow. It would be measured in feet.
Last week as I lamented about making FOUR trips to the dump in one day, someone asked if we brought home anything good.
The truth is, I brought nothing home, because I was in leaf-removal mode… but yeah, I saw a few good things and I thought you might get a kick out of hearing about them.
First of all, there are ALWAYS computer monitors and televisions at the dump. Many, many of them. Last week there were at least two dozen monitors and close to ten TVs. I have no idea if any of them work or if they’re any good, but you never know. We’ve had two dump TVs and they were fine for the price, if you know what I mean.
And speaking of TVs, we saw a fairly nice entertainment center that looked like it once probably came from Sears or some other department store. It was the big square kind that could hold a TV, DVD player, stereo system and a bunch of video cassettes and DVDs. I say that because we used to have an entertainment center that looked a lot like this one. It used to be full of Disney movies for the kids, and it had two speakers that were ruined by one of our daughters when she was a toddler. She turned up the volume on the stereo while it was off, and then when we turned it on by remote, the speakers blasted out (and deafened us) before we knew what happened.
But back to the dump.
There were three sofas at the dump and one of them was hot pink. I was so stunned by the fact that anyone would make, buy or own a hot pink sofa that I can’t remember what the other two sofas looked like. I do, however, understand why the pink one was at the dump. And just as an aside, I would never bring home a sofa from the dump. Sorry, but that’s where I draw the line. I’d rather sit on the floor. Same goes for mattresses, and we saw three of those as well.
My favorite thing that day was one of those little cars for toddlers – you know the kind where they can actually crawl in, close the door, and sit there while making it move with their feet? Anyway, my kids used to REALLY want one of those cars about 12 years ago. Now they want the more expensive kind which requires even more expensive gasoline.
Speaking of which, gasoline is now $3.53 at our local station down the street. I figured out that those four trips to the dump in our gas-guzzling pick-up truck cost us $9.78 in gas. That’s still a lot cheaper than hiring someone else to do it.
This week we’re tackling the garage, which doubles as our mud room. You know, now that the rain is here and mud season seems to be back.
This week, my teenagers won out and we had a second full spring break at our house. And I realized I could live with spring break for the rest of the school year. With this week's weather, of course.
And no bugs.
Wednesday afternoon, rather than succombing to more yard work, house work, school work, or any other kind of work, we did everything in our power to stay in the sun as much as possible while doing as little as possible.
For part of the day, we went to the local playground/soccer field area and played some basketball. Nothing thrilling about that, except that we got creative with the camera. Understand that, for me, the focal point of the photos isn't the best part - it's that gorgeous blue sky in the background.
Many of these are thanks to my 14-year-old daughter's sweet shooting skills (shooting either the ball or the camera)...
Bright, bright sunshiny day.
Fun with shadows.
Is this one cool or what?
The season's first dandelion (well, the first one I've seen). Sandy, over at Gardenpath, beat me to it earlier this week.
Get out there and enjoy the sunshine without the bugs while you can. Rain is forecasted next week. Much as we need it, the sunshine today is a LOT more fun.
* Stoked the fire. Yes, we rounded up all the scraps of firewood that were hiding under the snow (which is now gone, finally) and although the days have been warm and lovely, the mornings are still quite frigid in the 30s.
* Made FOUR trips to the dump. The rest of our raked up leaves and branches had been waiting to be taken to the dump since Saturday afternoon. The dump is closed on Sunday and Monday. This is a huge inconvenience for me. I believe the dump should always be open if it is not raining or snowing. I mean, who wants to go to the dump in the rain or snow, anyway? They can close on THOSE days.
* Stacked firewood that just days ago had been 8 trees standing in our backyard. Hurray that they are chopped and stacked and will cut down on our oil bill next winter.
* Debated with my teenagers about school work. They are almost finished with their studies for the year, and although we had our spring break when my dad was visiting at Easter, all their public school friends are having spring break THIS week, so they are in dire need of ANOTHER break. (I might also mention that they will be out of school in a month, a whole three weeks before the public school kids, so I might as well let them have the week off – but doing school after the first of June just goes against everything in me.) All that to say, I’m letting them have most of this week off anyway, but I’m making them help me in the yard and we are calling it forestry. Just try to find THAT subject on a public school curriculum.
* Marveled at our daffodil. Yes, singular. We have several tulips and daffodils which are waiting – for something. They haven’t yet bloomed. Except for one, lone daffodil my husband planted as a joke last fall. After I ripped out all the bushes along our front walk, unbeknownst to me, he planted one single daffodil. Oddly, in that long stretch of dirt that is waiting for new bushes to be planted this summer, there sits the one flower in our entire yard. Yesterday, we all gathered around and paid homage to it. Yes, we are pathetic, color deprived, and totally ready for spring.
* Saw that the forsythias down the street are starting to bloom. Now all is right with the world.
We had one a few years ago, but it was always falling apart and was basically cheap and lousy.
After saving up a bunch of gift cards he'd been given for Home Depot, he took the plunge and bought a GOOD chainsaw. You know, the kind that will cut through anything.
(As an aside, I accidently wrote "Hope Depot"... a freudian slip, for sure!)
But back to the chainsaw.
We have about a million trees currently residing on our home property, which is less than a full acre. You may think I'm exaggerating about the million trees, but if you've spent any time in the Maine woods, then you know.
For years, my husband has been trying to convince me that all these million trees give us wonderful shade in the summer time, which cools our home and makes us smile.
The reality is that only ONE of the trees is big enough to make the required amount of shade to cool the house. The rest have few redeeming qualities, in my opinion. They produce lots of humidity and lots of leaves, neither of which is on my list of favorite things about Maine.
Last summer, I finally convinced dear hubby that we need to get rid of some of the trees. Not the evergreens, as they only dump pine needles (and not all at once); and not the maples, as they are so pretty in the fall. But the oaks had to go. Besides, bringing down oaks helps twofold: it eliminates all the icky oak leaves and it gives us wonderful firewood.
I walked around the back yard on Saturday, pointing out all the trees that I wanted gone. Most of them were over 50 feet tall and could not be brought down by one man and a chainsaw (unless we wanted to risk breaking our house in two) so I was content to have him bring down the smaller trees.
With that new chainsaw, my hubby cut down a total of 8 trees. Two tall dead pines and six oaks (hurray!). And I'm proud to report that although he has very limited experience in using a chainsaw, he severed only trees and no limbs of his own; a happy report, as my friend Judy's husband came close to losing a knee to a chainsaw this weekend.
Now we have a million minus 8 trees in our yard. I'd say Mr. Chainsaw has his work cut out for him.
But, kind-hearted man that he is, he left the yard covered with sawdust, firewood to be stacked and branches to be hauled away. All for me.
It's happening, but once it starts, it's never quickly enough.
It was warm enough for us to start on our back yard on Friday, but you can see, there's still snow in the shady areas.
The tulips and daffodils are popping up, but no blooms yet. I'm predicting they will be here next weekend. That is, if the forecast for lots of sun this week is correct, and if all the stars are in alignment.
I lived many years in Colorado, Southern California, and Washington, D.C., each of which has a large variety of ethnic representation. Colorado has a large Hispanic population, as does California. California also has a large Asian-American population. Washington, D.C. has a large African-American population.
Each of these places has many other diverse backgrounds represented, as well – I’m not trying to leave anyone out – I just want to give you a sense of how they all differ from Maine.
Suffice it to say, I grew up and spent the first several years of my adult life in areas with rich ethnic diversity.
I am white and I was raised by parents who both grew up in Texas during the 1940s and 50s. THEY were raised by parents who were openly racist. If someone wasn’t Caucasian, then my grandparents had a name for them, and it usually wasn’t pretty.
My parents (thankfully) wanted to break that legacy and they taught (by example) my brother and me to accept, befriend, and love all races of people. In fact, the really great thing about my upbringing is that I was taught not even to notice color, race, or ethnic background. Though my parents were far from perfect (sorry, Mom and Dad) they did do THIS right.
Yet when my husband and I came to Maine with three little children, I noticed that most of the people were white. Again, not all, but let’s face it, the vast majority of Maine is white. There is little ethnic diversity here.
This greatly concerned me. How was I supposed to raise children who wouldn’t see color when there was so little color for them NOT to see? Would they grow up to be ethnocentric? Would they be uncomfortable around people who were not white? Worst of all, would they judge or look down on others based on their ethnic or racial differences?
Well, I soon learned that it wasn’t so much about my kids’ experiences, but rather, the way I taught them to think. Call me paranoid, but I spent a good part of our early homeschooling years trying to educate my children about ethnic diversity. And I think they’ve turned out ok.
I’ve never seen any racism in my little circles in Maine, but I know it’s out there. It’s nothing like what I saw the year I lived in Texas during college. I was appalled at how I saw an African-American guy treated by a couple of white guys on a Christian college campus. Totally appalled. It haunts me still.
Of course that was 20 years ago, and in the South. I’d not only be appalled, but shocked if I heard of that kind of behavior here in Maine. Am I completely ignorant? I don’t think so.
While racism and prejudice will always exist, I think Mainers are on top of it. The schools all preach diversity. My son, who is an R.A. at a local university, is required to be on the diversity committee. He tells me he never sees racism, and that actually the diversity committee is mostly concerned about how to treat homosexuals... which is a whole ‘nuther subject that I’ll just have to address some other time.
Anyway, even though I’m sure, like my own parents, I’ve ruined my kids and given them countless reasons to need therapy later in life, hopefully they won’t be judgmental or prejudiced in their insanity.
Earlier this week I was sitting in our local McDonald’s, as I do one morning each week while my daughter has Latin class at a nearby school. I might add here that in spite of never having taken Latin myself, I did, in fact, attempt to teach it to (or learn it with) my children a few years back. We’re all still laughing about that.
Anyway, as I’ve sat in this particular McDonald’s every week for an hour or so, I’ve come to know most of the employees and many of the regular customers.
One of the ladies who cooks in the back is Jane, a grandmother who goes to our church and who used to be my kids’ Sunday school teacher. She always calls out and waves from the kitchen.
The man who takes out the garbage, shovels snow off the front walk and sweeps the floors is Herbie, and he’s got to be well into his 70s. He always has a ready smile, white moustache twitching.
At that time of the morning, there are no teens working there; just moms, grandmas and grandpas.
The customers vary; parents with their kids heading off to school, people on their way to work, and the once-in-a-while cold-weather tourist.
But there is a group of regulars that never ceases to crack me up. It’s a group of about eight or nine retired men, mostly veterans from what I’ve surmised, which meets on the same morning each week. Sometimes their wives accompany them. They begin trickling in around 8:30, and by 9:00, coffee is being enjoyed, pancakes consumed, and fascinating conversations abound.
This silver-haired boys club talks about gardening ideas, politics, the war, their neighbors, and the many maladies that accompany the later years of life. They discuss the local TV news team, the town council meeting, and of course, snow removal. Mostly, they love to talk about “the weathah.” What self-respecting Mainer doesn’t?
This week, as I sat at my usual table by the window doing paper work, I only half-listened to their banter. Sometimes they are loud and I can’t help but listen, chuckling all the while; but more often than not, I just tune them out. On this morning, Herbie walked by and suddenly stopped at my table, with something clearly on his mind.
“Did you hear that?” he asked. I looked up blankly, lost in my work.
“Them,” he gestured back over his shoulder with his thumb toward the silver-haired guys who were in a heated conversation. “They’re givin’ up on the Red Sox!” he exclaimed in his thick Maine accent. “The Red Sox lose two games and they give up on them. Do you believe it? I had to set ‘em straight!”
Apparently I had just missed Herbie’s soft-spoken tirade directed at the group. Herbie was dead serious (I mean, this is the Red Sox we’re talking about) but he also had a big, toothy grin on his face and a sparkle in his eye.
Before I could give much of a response, Herbie wheeled around and headed back over to the guys, obviously encouraged and empowered by his helpful talk with me.
You know, if it weren’t still so chilly outside, I would swear I was in Mayberry. I just love these people.
Just look at the photo on that link – they really look like that and they use those beady little eyes to stare you down right before they pounce. I never know exactly where they end up after they pounce because I’m too busy stomping, shaking my hair, and screaming, hoping beyond hope that I flung the little monster into oblivion.
Really, I’m pretty much ok with spiders in general, but the jumping ones totally scare me.
All that to say, it looks like spring is here.
And I guess Wednesday wasn't so wordless after all.
We hadn’t been living in Maine long when our son went to a summer camp in China. While there, he made several friends: one from Denmark, one from Poland, one from Norway, one from Peru, and one from Mexico.
Ok, I embellish. He didn’t REALLY make friends from all those places, but he did make a friend from Poland.
It was then that we discovered that Poland was not only a country in Eastern Europe, but also a lovely little town in Maine. I might also mention that the summer camp in question was in China, MAINE. The other aforementioned country names with the fictional friends from camp are also towns in Maine.
So you see, you can travel the world and never leave the state of Maine. JUST when you didn’t think Maine could get any better. Even with all the mud.
Yes, mud season has sneaked up on us. Aren’t you jealous?
Ok, I didn't actually stand on any corners. I did once, however, stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona (like in the Eagles' song) but it wasn't as romantic as it sounds - it was in front of a convenience store during one of our moves across country during a Navy relocation.
This is a lousy picture, but let's face it, the outside of this establishment belies the AMAZING food you find there.
When I say amazing, you have to understand, my daughter's basketball coach ordered three pancakes. Yes, only three. No big deal. But the pancakes at Big G's were larger (yes, larger) than a LARGE dinner plate. They had to be 13-14 inches in diameter, and they were about 1/2 inch thick. They were obscene. And there were three.
My husband ordered an omelette that was about a foot long. The raisin bread which was on the side was an inch thick and each 1/4 slice (yes, 1/4 of a slice) was larger in width and breadth than your average slice of bread.
Are you getting the idea? The portions at Big G's are, in the words of Will Ferrell, "Ginormous!"
My daughter's salad could have fed six people. My 1/2 tuna sandwich (yes, 1/2 orders are available and encouraged) was larger than a foot-long sub sandwich.
After lunch, the whole team had whoopie pies and chocolate chip cookies. Both fit into the whole Big G's theme of HUGE. Here is a photo of my daughter and her friend sharing a cookie: (yeah, they're freaky. Teenagers. What can you do?)
Another thing that the unimpressive exterior of Big G's belies is the large seating capacity inside. Big G's was packed with more than two basketball teams, as well as the regular Saturday lunch crowd, but there was plenty of seating for everyone.
If you are ever anywhere near Winslow, I highly recommend a trip to Big G's.
In other news, we made our first trip of the season to the local Dairy Queen tonight. It was 41 degrees and we wore our coats as we ordered our blizzards and malts, but hey, spring is here, right?
We received our latest oil bill yesterday and I now have another reason not to buy a puppy.
I’ve mentioned before that we primarily use fire wood to heat our home; we only use the kerosene-fueled monitor-heater if we’re going to be out or if we just need a back-up.
Yet, this year, we consumed more fire wood than we thought we would and we began to run out about a month ago. Rather than use it all up, we saved a few loads of wood for the illusive spring ice storm and/or blizzard. Or washing machine mishap, as the case would be.
Consequently, we’ve used only oil to heat our home for the past many weeks.
When the time came for the most recent fill-up and billing, the price was twice what I had budgeted. In fact, the extra money that we’ll be doling out to pay for the oil could have paid for ¾ of the wood we’ll get for next winter. Or a new German Shepherd puppy.
Yes, that’s how expensive oil is, and how much more economical it is to use wood.
But the whole thing works only if you have ENOUGH wood at the beginning of the winter. Or if you just don’t mind being cold.
There is talk in our house of getting another dog. Correction: a puppy.
You may remember (with a bit of help from the photos I posted yesterday), our beloved German Shepherd, Roxanne, died just days before Christmas. It was traumatic for us all and one of my daughters is still having a very hard time with it. Yet, we do still have our little Corgi/Beagle mutt and our two cats, Lucy and Ricky.
In spite of living in wonderfully peaceful and quiet Maine, we have managed to build for ourselves a very busy lifestyle. We practically live in our car as we go from classes to sports practices, to sports events, to activities, etc. Homeschooling is a misnomer, as we find that we are so seldom home. Plus, our cat, Ricky, is the one with kidney disease and I have to give him an I.V. of fluids every other day. All that poor cat needs now is a new puppy to add to the fun.
Having read the above paragraph, can you guess who is NOT in favor of getting another dog?
Understand that we got all our pets when our children were small. Then the children grew up and turned into teenagers. The pets are all now very old and their lives are drawing to a close. Sad as it is, I’m not sure I want to start over. When all my children grow up and move away, I’m not going to have another baby… so why, now that the pets are dying, would I want to get another puppy?
My husband doesn’t understand that logic. Guess who IS in favor of getting another dog?
He thinks another dog – not just any dog, mind you, it HAS to be a German Shepherd PUPPY – would be good for our daughter, as well as the whole family. He, who works long hours, who didn’t train our last German Shepherd, who’s never had to find a dog-sitter, and who didn’t have to clean all the dog barf and diarrhea off the carpets over the years – HE is the one who wants another dog.
Pardon me while I hyperventilate.
Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs. LOVE them. I miss my Roxanne terribly. She was the perfect dog. I worked hard to train her right and to train her well, and it paid off. She was completely obedient, highly intelligent, and loving to a fault. As big as she was (nearly 100 pounds), she was light on her feet and so careful about being a big dog in such a small house.
Just last week, we all watched I Am Legend, with Will Smith. If you’ve seen it, you’ll understand why we all sat there and bawled our eyes out. Seeing Will Smith with that awesome German Shepherd hit very close to home.
So there you go. In the end, the decision is up to me, because in spite of the weak protests from the family, we all know that I would be the primary caretaker of the new puppy. I would get up with it during the night, and I would take it to the vet to be spayed or neutered, and I would train it. I would also love it and have my heart torn out once again when it dies in 10-12 years. By then, all our kids will be grown and they will have moved on (that’s our plan, anyway). Not me, I’ll have lost another beloved pet.
But not only are the work and heartbreak factors in this decision, there are also the little things: being able to just leave for the weekend on a moment’s notice without getting a house sitter or hiring a neighbor to feed the little beasts; finally being able to have a decent rug in our living room, one that won’t need to be replaced every couple of years because of the stains from illnesses and such; not having the money we’d been saving for a vacation suddenly be poured into an unexpected surgery or medication regimen for a sick pet who is going to die in a couple of years anyway. I’m sorry to sound so crass, but these are the realities of pet ownership.
So in the end, while the decision is up to me, and while I keep telling the troops that the decision has already been MADE, the requests and pleas keep coming. Hubby is leading the charge. In fact, now that I think of it, he is the WHOLE charge. The kids seem ok with the status quo. Hmmm.
Just to make matters worse for myself, I picked up a copy of Marley and Me at the used bookstore when I was in Rhode Island over the weekend. And I LOVE it.
What was I thinking?
The really sad fact is that knowing me, I’ll probably cave eventually. I love dogs and I hate saying no to my family.
When the 16-year-old washing machine breaks and floods the basement, and you scramble to gather all the towels in the house to stop the flood, and then you realize that the towels are in said washing machine - all nice, wet, and soapy.
This is my life tonight.
Though the heater had to be unplugged in a hurry, thankfully we can still use the wood stove to dry out the basement. The last of our firewood should do it. You know, since the towels aren't helping.
Every time I start up my computer, it silently laughs at me and then shuts down all on its own.
I'll spare you most of the gory details, but each time I start it back up, it makes all kinds of nasty threats, taunts me a few times, and then laughs and shuts down again.
It's evil, I tell you.
Thankfully, we have two other computers in the house. Yes, even here in Maine, we're technologically sound. Perhaps not advanced, but definitely sound.
Well, we will be, I supposed, when we can exorcise this demon out of my computer. Then, once again, all will be right with the world.
Until then, happy April. I'm back from Rhode Island and I saw my first robin of the season today - several of them, in fact - no fooling. They were all digging in the snow, wondering "what the heck, I came north for this?"
Still, the thermometer is pushing 50 today and the snow is melting like gangbusters.
Whatever that means. I'm not sure I've ever written that phrase before right now. Must be my evil computer influencing me to do odd things. I'd better step away now before I say something REALLY weird.