30 May 2009

Overheard at our house today

Today I made my annual summer calendar. It's 14 weeks (today through Labor Day) of final exams, camps, vacations, appointments, fishing trips, yard work days, beach days, etc., all hand written and crammed onto one piece of notebook paper. You'd think I'd have the whole thing computerized by now, but I normally write it all out while sitting outside in the sun, swatting blackflies.

This evening, I showed my daughters the calendar and they wanted to know when the first day of school will be next fall. Labor day falls on Monday, September 7 this year, so we all assumed (and hoped) school wouldn't begin until the 8th.

But when I checked the district website, it shows that school will start on Monday, August 31.


Then this conversation with my husband ensued:

Me: I don't believe it!

Him: What?

Me: School starts in August this fall. August!

Him: You're kidding me.

Me: No, it says so right here on the district website.

Him: (after a moment of silence) Wow, they really don’t like kids in this state, do they?

So it would seem.

C'mon, Maine - give the kids a break. Summer is so short, and you already have them through more than half of the month of June.

Let's hear it for a petition to make a law that NO school can start before Labor Day. And while we're at it, they all should be out of school in the Spring by Memorial Day.

Too bad I'm not in charge.

Copyright © 2009 - Paulla Estes

29 May 2009


It's funny, just about six weeks ago, we were marveling about temperatures in the 40s, throwing off our winter coats, and talking about how warm it was.

Then Spring arrived, the snow melted, the sun came out and all was well. We put on shorts and sunscreen. We planted flowers, packed away our coats, and even went to the beach.

And now winter is back! Ok, not really. But it's in the 40s again.

It's cold. COLD! We turned the heat back on yesterday. I'd have started a fire in the woodstove, but what with our son moving back home from college and the ever-evolving cleaning and purging of our basement, the woodstove is inaccessible. Surrounding by boxes. And stuff. Maybe I should burn THAT?

In other related news, our son is on a vacation sweep across the Southwest, visiting family. This week he's in Phoenix, where it is 100 degrees. Every day. He told me that at 9:00 at night, it was still in the 90s. I asked if he had gotten in the pool yet, and he said they'd only been at the house late at night, and it wasn't warm enough. Ok - NOT WARM ENOUGH? In the 90s? I think I might have to smack him for that one. And for all the texts he keeps sending me about how sunny and warm it is.

Lightbulb moment - - burning his stuff would warm me up and make me feel vindicated all at the same time!

No, I'm not bitter. Or mean. Just cold and wet.

Copyright © 2009 - Paulla Estes

27 May 2009

Panic. American Style.

Last week began with a HUGE moment of panic. I went to our bank account online to make sure our mortgage payment had gone through. I'm still trying to get onboard with making payments electronically. I won't do automatic electronic payments - it's just too much out of my control; but I often pay bills online.

Imagine my horror when, several days after our mortgage was due, I saw that the amount had not been withdrawn from our bank account. A visit to our mortgage holder website confirmed it. I had not sent the payment. I am careful about these things and I have a very reliable system (in my head AND on paper) that I've been using for years. In my head AND on paper, I had ALREADY SENT THAT PAYMENT.

I immediately set up a payment RIGHT THEN and then kicked myself for somehow missing this, knowing that there would be a late fee.

That was last Tuesday, the 19th. On Wednesday afternoon, I got a phone call from the mortgage company, telling me our account was deliquent, etc. Isn't it GREAT FUN to get that news on your answering machine? Sheesh, people, have a heart. Especially in this economy. Thankfully, I can pay our mortgage, but what if I was in a jam? Wow, phone calls like that don't make you feel any better.

I called them back and told them I'd set up an automatic payment the day before. They checked my account and there was no record of an automatic payment. WHAT? As I was talking to them, I went online and checked for myself. They were right - no payment had gone through.

Assuming that for whatever reason, the electronic payment thing was just no longer going to work with this place, I made a payment right then and there, over the phone. The lady told me the payment would go through the next day and all would be well. No worries.

I checked and the payment did go through the next day, which was Thursday. Yay! Finally THAT drama was over. Or so I thought.

On Saturday morning, I online accessed our bank again, and there was WAY less money than there should have been (have you guessed that I'm a bit anal about our finances?) I checked the online ledger and guess what? Remember that initial payment I made when I found out we were late? Yeah, that one went through on Friday.

So now in response to being late with the mortgage, I had inadvertently made TWO mortgage payments. But we do not have the money to make two payments. Sure, the money was there to be withdrawn, but it was already accounted for; and in some cases, checks had already been written.

Can you say PANIC? AGAIN?

I phoned the mortgage company and explained the situation. But it was Saturday, so nothing could be done until Tuesday. !!! I obsessed about it all weekend and I checked my bank account online every five minutes. Thankfully, yesterday the payment was reversed and now I can breathe easy.

But I'm seriously considering just going back to the old reliable method of writing checks. It's worked for me for years, so why mess with a good thing?

Copyright © 2009 - Paulla Estes

19 May 2009

Bathroom Makeover

A year ago, I asked for opinions about which flooring to put in our bathroom. We didn't go with either one.

After spending WAY too much time trying to decide which tile to use, we went with a fake wood floor. It's tile material, but it looks like wood.

The whole thing was finished last fall, but I totally forgot to tell you.

Now, after all these months, you can stop losing sleep over it. The floor is in, the toilet is in, and all is well. :)

Copyright © 2009 - Paulla Estes

18 May 2009

First Time on Craig's List

As luck would have it, we have added another casualty to our list of dying appliances, otherwise known as, homeowner hell. Our oven is the latest to succomb to old age. It is the original cheap model that was put into the house when they built it 25 years ago. It's actually impressive that it lasted this long.

When we moved into the house 11 years ago, the two large burners on the stove didn't always work. About a year later, one of them stopped working completely. The remaining large burner is sketchy at best. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but it tends to choose never to work on holidays or when we are having people over for dinner.

The brackets holding the heating elements inside the oven have completely disintegrated and the broiler parts are hanging by a thread. For quite a while now, every time I use the oven, smoke drifts out of one of the burners on the stove. Yes, one of the two that works. Can you say, fire hazard?

So we are currently shopping for a new oven. Although I am not originally from New England, the New England Thriftiness has rubbed off on me and it pains me to think of spending money on a BRAND NEW oven. So I checked out Uncle Henry's and Craig's List for used models.

Uncle Henry's is as much a part of Maine as lobsters, lighthouses and moose. Craig's List, however, is much larger, and kind of scary. Yeah, the only thing I really know about Craig's List is that several of my friends love it, and that some nut case down in Boston used it to do bad things to women. Creepy.

But hey, that was a one-time deal, right?

So I searched for ovens on Craig's List, and lo and behold, there was a DREAM OVEN - a very, very nice one for $250, regularly over $1000 - in a town less than a 1/2 hour from us. I emailed the owner and asked if I could set up a time to go see it (with my husband of course - and maybe a rottweiler, just in case) so I could look it over, turn it on, make sure everything worked, etc.

I received a very pleasant email telling me they would LOVE to have us come see the oven, that it is wonderful and works fine and we will love it, BUT - - we couldn't turn it on to see if it works. They explained that after remodeling their kitchen and getting a new oven, they moved the old one into the garage and it cannot be plugged in. The only 220 outlet was in their kitchen.

When I next asked about using an extension cord, they said no, that their new oven is plugged in and that they'd have to move it to do that, which they won't do. But they urged me to come see it because it's such a nice oven and I should first see if it's what I want before deciding whether or not I'm willing to buy it on their terms. Huh?

Ok, so then I asked if they'd be willing to sign some kind of a guarantee, because if we were going to fork out over $200 for a used oven, we needed some kind of a safety net.

No. They said the oven would be sold AS IS, no guarantees. They also seemed shocked and appalled that I would even ask. And AGAIN they urged me to come see it anyway.

Can you say, "Boston Killer Weirdo?" Yeah, that's all I could think of. Maybe there WAS no oven. Maybe they are simply trying to lure unsuspecting people into their home so they can read Stephen King books together and then act them out. Eww.

So I wished them good luck with selling the oven, and I told them I'd be curious to know if anyone buys it under those conditions. I don't think they liked that and I got a "Good luck with your irrational and unreasonable oven search!"

Ok, not really, but the parting email DID have that tone. At least my paranoid brain thought so.

The bottom line? We still need a new oven. Home Depot and their one-year interest-free deal is looking better and better.

Copyright © 2009 - Paulla Estes

15 May 2009

The Firewood is STACKED!

It's funny what can float your boat as you get older. Or maybe it has nothing to do with getting older. Maybe, instead, it has everything to do with living through long, cold winters in Maine. Maybe it has to do with the fact that *I* did most of the wood stacking last year. Maybe it has to do with running out of firewood early one winter, and fearing an ice storm or some other weather disaster that would prevent our oil heater (that requires electricity) from working.

Or maybe it does have everything to do with getting old.

Either way, yesterday we had three cords of firewood delivered to our home. Last year, after the whole fuel price crisis of the previous winter, and after some serious negligence on our part, we didn't get our firewood delivery until November. Which means we had to buy it already seasoned. Translation: more expensive.

This year, I phoned the firewood guy in March. Yes, you could say I learned that lesson, after we furiously stacked firewood during many cold days last fall, hoping we could get it all done before the first snow.

Yesterday, this year's wood arrived. The truck left the wood in a big pile in the usual place next to our garage. Normally, we look at the wood for a few days, daunted by the hugeness of the pile. Then we'll send the kids out for an hour or so each day to begin the long process of stacking the wood. My husband and I stack here and there, as time allows. As the summer wears on, tall grass begins to grow up through the unstacked pile. Chipmunks set up residence in the maze of cut logs, as do all varities of spiders and other creepy crawlies.

These facts only worsen our procrastination with the stacking.

So this year I did what I've been talking about doing for many years now. I hired four young men who are friends of my daughter. They are nice guys. They are totally trustworthy. They are hard workers. And they are STRONG.

The guys were out of school today so they showed up around 10:00 a.m. The sun was shining, the weather was perfect, the radio was loud, and they attacked that pile with a vengeance. Just after 4:00 p.m. they finished. FINISHED. But wait - there's more. A couple of them went out back and split a bunch of big logs from some trees we took down last year. I had already paid them and told them they didn't have to do any more, but they did.

I told them I think they need to come live with us. They thought I was joking.

I assure you, I was not.

Honestly, when I looked out at that neatly stacked wood this evening, I don't know if I'd ever seen anything so beautiful in my life.

This is what my life has become: I drool over stacks of firewood and I want to acquire more teenagers.

Quick, someone get me a glass of wine before all hope is lost.

Copyright © 2009 - Paulla Estes

14 May 2009

And about the tulips...

I refuse to put up photos of our pathetic tulips; or what USED to be tulips.

All over town the tulips are giving Mainers much needed doses of color after the long, grey winter. Tulips, like so many of the spring flowers, are fleeting. They pop up for a week or two, and then they're gone as quickly as they came.

I'm so thankful for the town's tulips, for my neighbor's tulips, for the library's tulips, for the nursing home's tulips... because our tulips were sabotaged by local vandals. Yes indeed, after only ONE DAY, our red and pink tulips, which were not incredibly impressive to begin with, were decapitated and ripped to shreds.

These vandals live in the neighborhood, I'm sure. I think I've seen them. They often hang out in our yard, lurking in the woods, peeking out from behind trees and shouting obscenities at the neighborhood cats. They also steal food. They raid the bird feeders behind our house and they even come into our garage and try to rifle through the garbage.

Worst of all, I've heard them on the roof. Why can't they be content to stay in their own homes and OFF mine?

The problem is, destructive and annoying as they may be, they are cute little guys. Look - there's one breaking in right now!

Buy at Art.com

I told you.

And there really isn't much I can do about them.

So much for the tulips.

Copyright © 2009 - Paulla Estes

12 May 2009

Reality Gardening

Two summers ago, upon turning 40, I discovered gardening. (Hey, better late than never, right?) I've dug up parts of the lawn to put in flowers and I've studied up on how to keep them healthy and make them look better.

The soil in our area is sandy and lousy for growing anything other than thistles. Many of our neighbors practially re-do their lawns each year, because the sandy soil, combined the havoc wreaked by the snow plows and the serious ant problem (and yes, it is serious - they have taken over the neighborhood) makes the lawns look like they are constantly gasping for life.

We don't do this. We mow our lawn when it needs it and we let the rain water it. Once in a while we'll put weed & feed on it, but not often. As you can imagine, it doesn't look great - but my motto is, "Hey, weeds are green, too!"

To make it worse, our next door neighbor has a lawn service visit once a month and his hobby is taking care of the grass, the flowers, the trees, the bushes, and even the surrounding woods. It's lovely to look at, but it also makes our yard look THAT MUCH WORSE. Oh well, in all honesty it probably bothers him more than it bothers us.

But back to the flowers. I babied them all last summer, and they behaved like a finicky child, not sure they wanted to live with me or commit horticultural suicide. Some of them chose that option and have not returned this season. Many of the others have popped up but look like they might reconsider the other option. My sweet talking and coddling may still work; after all, it is early.

But then when I look around, I wonder why we all don't just focus on the weeds. Even though I give the dandelions no food and I regularly put weed killer on them, they still seem to THRIVE. This year, while many of my beloved flowers have popped out of the ground, they are still small and have not yet bloomed. The dandelions, however, are everywhere. They are beautiful and healthy and HUGE.

What the heck?

I'm definitely going to re-think this. If I let the dandelions just take over the entire yard and garden, it won't take long for them to spread their seeds and they will be everywhere. And let's face it, they are pretty when they bloom.

Somehow I don't think my neighbor will look kindly on this. Especially when the seeds descend on HIS yard.

Copyright © 2009 - Paulla Estes

11 May 2009

New Hampshire Weekend

We had our last (knock on wood) basketball tournament over the weekend. If you're interested, our daughter is #34 - the one shooting the foul shot. And no, she didn't make the shot, but she has great form!

The tournament was in lovely Nashua, NH, where they have movie theaters that double as restaurants. I know this because I unknowingly took my family to one. As we walked in, I questioned the ticket-taker when she handed me a stack of menus. She told me we could order food from waiters who would come to our table.

This was the coolest thing ever! I've traveled abroad, lived in multiple states coast to coast, and have a college degree. But let me tell you, sitting in a reclining chair watching the new Star Trek movie, while pushing a button so the cute young waiter would bring more mozzarella sticks and hot wings - it just doesn't get any better than that.

I might add, here, that apparently everyone but ME has heard of this great invention. Where have I been all these years? Oh yeah, in the Maine woods - not able to see the forest for the trees. Or the restaurant/theaters.

Upon our return to Maine yesterday, we mistakenly took the scenic route and one simple wrong turn poured us out onto Route 1A in Hampton, NH, right on the coast. Understand that we had been seeing little more than rain and fog for nearly a week. This was a gorgeous, dry sunny day, and as we came around a turn, suddenly there was the ocean, perfect and blue, with the rocky shore stretching for miles. Another surprise - almost as good as the restaurant/movie theater! Ok, probably better.

Upon arriving back in Portland, we converged on my favorite Mexican restaurant in Maine - Costa Vida. I'd been talking for WEEKS about going there. But when we arrived, we found them to be closed on Sunday. Another surprise! But not a good one! We went to a local steakhouse instead and had a great Mother's Day dinner. I got to eat my steak while this guy hovered above my head:

All in all, it was only about a 36 hour trip, but sometimes that's all one needs to get a bit of R&R and a fresh perspective.

Copyright © 2009 - Paulla Estes

08 May 2009

One Morning in Maine

It's funny, I think of the title of that wonderful children's book just about EVERY day. I love the mornings at any time of the year, but the Maine mornings in springtime are especially magical.

Happy Friday, friends.

Copyright © 2009 - Paulla Estes

05 May 2009

Swine Flu in Maine - and Elsewhere

Ok, I've been told that we're no longer calling it the Swine Flu. It's now the H1N1 Virus, or, the artist formerly known as Swine Flu.

Either way, I'm wondering what's REALLY up with this illness?

First of all, last week there was news that we had three confirmed cases in Maine. Then we were told there were five confirmed cases. On Friday, I heard that a high school in Augusta had closed because of an outbreak. But just now I visited the CDC Website, and it lists Maine as having no cases of H1N1.

Second, we were originally told that there were well over 100 deaths in Mexico; but over the weekend, I heard that most of those deaths apparently weren't really from H1N1. There were conflicting reports. Which is true?

Third, and also according to the CDC, the U.S. sees thousands of deaths from influenza each year. We're talking 40,000-ish deaths each year. From the CDC website:

During the 2007--08 influenza season, the percentage of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza (P&I) exceeded the epidemic threshold†† for 8 consecutive weeks in the 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System during the weeks ending January 12--May 17, 2008 (weeks 9--16).

Wow, "exceeded the epidemic threshold?" Did you hear about it at the time? I didn't. Did anyone?

Currently, we have 279 confirmed cases of H1N1 in this country, and one death; but the words "pandemic" and "epidemic" are being thrown around very liberally. So what is a pandemic? Definitions online all basically say that a pandemic is an epidemic that is geographically widespread. And an epidemic? An epidemic is an outbreak of an infectious disease, where many people are infected at the same time.

Oh wait, although the CDC website doesn't list Maine, as I write this, the TV morning news stated that the first H1N1 case in Maine was confirmed yesterday. So which is right? Which media frenzy do we listen to?

Over the weekend, my husband developed a fever of about 99.7, and one of our daughters had a fever of 100.2. Neither of them had any other symptoms, and normally we'd really think nothing of it. But these fevers made us paranoid - not so much that we were having a Swine Flu outbreak in our family, but rather, because we might be contagious. Should we go out in public? Should we wear masks? Should we quarantine ourselves in the house and put yellow police tape across the driveway? It felt a bit like hiding the fact that we might have the black death. In spite of the fevers, everyone felt fine - but was it a trick?

As of this morning, there are no more fevers in our house. I'm also happy to report that there have been no deaths and no one has coughed up a lung.

I just wonder who to believe. Sure this is a concern, but is it any different from all the other years and all the other flu seasons? I wonder.

Copyright © 2009 - Paulla Estes