31 May 2011

What are you reading?

My friend, Connie, whom I don't talk to nearly enough (because she has the audacity to live all the way out in San Diego) always asks me what I'm reading. And she is always reading something new and different and wants to talk about it.


I love all my friends and all they have to offer our friendships, but talking about books and being forced to think about new things and new ideas and new concepts... that really floats my boat. Plus, I've read books I never would have even heard of, had Connie not brought them to my attention.

So I have two must-read suggestions for you today. Just pretend I'm Connie. :)

First, (and I'm not being paid to say this) run, don't walk, and go pick up the June edition of Down East Magazine. There is a very sweet article by the daughter of Robert McCloskey(of One Morning in Maine fame), there's a centerfold of the controversial mural taken down by Governor Paul LePage, and best of all, there's a colorful story about Maine's segment of The Appalachian Trail.

Second, find a copy of Mary Karr's memoir, Lit. I think I've mentioned it here twice this week. It's affected me THAT much. It's phenomenally well written. Read it for that, if nothing else. But it's also funny, insightful, poignant, sad, frustrating, and wonderful. It's real life. Not-so-pretty real life, but written beautifully. And in the end, though not everything gets tied up in a neat little bow, still,... it's all good.

So there you go. You have your marching orders.

And tell me... what are you reading?

Copyright © 2011 - Paulla Estes

30 May 2011

Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day and thank you to all the men and women who have served and to those who are serving now. A special shout-out to our friend, Daniel, who has been in Afghanistan for a couple of months now, and to his fiance who is waiting for him back here in Maine. Prayers are going up for Daniel daily, and for all his fellow soldiers.

Our plan to attend this morning's local parade fell through. Part of it had to do with awakening around 1:00 a.m. to a spectacular thunderstorm that was shaking the house and flashing through our windows. After that, waking up in time to make it to the parade just didn't happen. So out we go now into the heat and humidity to plant flowers, set up window boxes, and put up our flag.

(And no, the heat and humidity is nothing like Texas or Florida, but we have black flies, so Maine still wins).

Have a wonderful day, and remember to thank those who have or who are serving in the military.

Copyright © 2011 - Paulla Estes

29 May 2011

Looking to the Maine Summer

All over our town, the lilacs are in bloom. This is the sole lilac bloom from our two lilac trees.

This is my husband's new summer project.

We have very little sun on our property because of all the tall trees. In fact, 95% of the sun in our yard falls on the leach field. No gardening allowed on the leach field. So maybe by putting the garden up higher, closer to the sun, the veggies will grow.

And no, that's not his reasoning for building this thing. Rather, it's the crappy, sandy soil in our yard. But having it higher can't hurt, right?

Copyright © 2011 - Paulla Estes

28 May 2011

True Confessions

The truth is, I'm sick of the winters here. There, I said it.

When we were looking to move here, back in the later 90s, a friend (who had lived here for a few years) told us that Maine was lovely and safe and wonderful, but that the winters WERE an issue. At the time, we were living in San Diego. San Di-freaking-ego. It was 70 degrees and sunny ALL THE TIME. Yes, even at night. In California, the sun shines at night.

Well, that's what they'd like you to think. But anyway, the weather was a big deal. I didn't want to go to Maine. I thought we'd be living here with Polar Bears and that we'd use snow shoes to get to the grocery store. And those of you who live here with me - I'm not that far off, right?

But if you've read this blog at all, you know that I came here with a make-the-best-of-it attitude. I embraced the snow, the cold, the lugging firewood, the sleeping in flannel and fleece, I taught my kids at home and I held my chin high. I read Little House in the Big Woods to my kids and we pretended it was us. And it wasn't far off, except my husband was going to an office job rather than out hunting bear.

And I loved it. I learned how to work the snow blower, I became a champ at building a fire, I baked my own bread, hung the laundry to dry in the basement by the wood stove, and learned how to keep the house relatively warm in winter, and cool in summer.

And then four years ago, I turned 40.

Around that time, we bought A/C units and space heaters. To hell with suffering and saving a buck, let's be comfortable!

Two years ago, our old snow blower died, and I figured it was a sign - it was time to hire someone to plow our driveway. More than half our neighbors do that, many of them younger than us. I was tired of fighting with that giant machine, fighting with the slush, being sore all the next day. My husband and I had long discussions about the merits of either hiring a plow guy or buying a new machine. Guess who won? I'll give you a hint - it wasn't me.

Also during these past few years, I stopped homeschooling, put my kids in school, and started working. Not only was I no longer home to do all the work that needs to be done to survive in this unforgiving climate, my little worker bees were no longer here either. And during the short time they were home each day, they had homework.

(Aside... homework? They're in school 7 hours a day and they can't cover it all? We used to homeschool in just 4 hours and they knew more than enough.)

The last couple of winters have been tough. It's been a juggling act of trying to do it all, which we all know, no one can really do. It all became very clear to me why many older (and younger) Mainers go South each winter. They just can't take it anymore.

So we took up skiing. We bought the season passes and dragged ourselves out of our dark cozy beds at 5 a.m. to drive to the nearest ski area. It was fun. But we still came back home to all the cold and the work.

Then came this past April 1, when I flew to Arizona to see my son and take my daughter on a college visit. It was 85 degrees where we were, but a foot of snow was falling on Maine. I came home a couple of days later to a wet, slushy mess. And I sort of snapped.

THAT'S IT, I told my husband. WE'RE MOVING TO ARIZONA.

But guess what? His job, which far outweighs my job in the money department, is HERE. Not only that, guess who isn't tired of the winters?

So I whined, complained, and worked myself into a Maine-hating frenzy. I looked at houses out West, and tortured myself by looking at the daily Arizona weather forecast. My husband talked to me about it and helped me make lists of things that would make living in Maine easier. He even told me that we could see about living out there when he retires... in about 15 years.


But I took him up on the making-life-easier thing, and we've been making adjustments to our home that will hopefully help us get through next winter more easily, so I won't drive the snow blower off a cliff. Not that there are any cliffs nearby, but I like the poetic drama and visualization.

When I realized we're weren't immediately moving to warmer climates, I sort of went into an angry funk and started hating everything to do with Maine. The grey skies, grey trees, grey ground.

And then suddenly, one day in May, the flowers all popped up, the leaves popped out and the grass turned green. The bugs arrived in force, the temps leaped up into the 70s and it was time to put away the space heaters and down comforters, and drag the A/C units out of the basement.

And suddenly it doesn't seem so bad. The heavy coats are now put away and I haven't worn a glove in at least a month. We've even started using the sun roof on the car.

Maybe I'll stay a bit longer. After all, the people here are so darned nice. And THAT is not something we'll find elsewhere. Sorry, everyone around the world who isn't in Maine - it's just a fact. I've met you all and though you're all quite pleasant, no one can compare to the people here. If you don't believe me, come for a visit and see.

And next March and April, when I'm ready to bail once again (because trust me, I will be), someone please remind me of this post.

Or just send me to Arizona for a couple of months until the snow is gone and the flowers bloom.

Copyright © 2011 - Paulla Estes

27 May 2011

Making me think...

I'm reading the memoir, "Lit" by Mary Karr. Among other things, it is well written and chock-full of quotable quotes. In fact, one reviewer wrote: "Karr seems to have been born with the inability to write a dishonest - or boring - sentence." (Lev Grossman, Time Magazine)

Understand that I'm a poet on the inside. I likely will never write poetry, and the truth is, I don't even read poetry very often. But I love poetic language. A beautifully written sentence can affect me much like a sparkling spring morning in the mountains - it stays with me long past the initial and momentary enjoyment.

John Steinbeck is a poetic writer, which is why I unashamedly read his books again and again. Rarely do I find an author whose writing measures up even a little, to Steinbeck, but I can safely say that Mary Karr is one of the few.

I say all this only to share one of her sentences that hit me right between the eyes. I've been overworked and overwhelmed and melancholy and downright negative for the past couple of months. I've found myself whining about the not so distant past and dreading the near future. I keep thinking things such as, "life will be easier when..."

No. Life won't be easier when.

There is always a new set of problems with every day, every year, every season of life. We must live in today and make the most of THIS day.

Mary Karr says it like this: "If you've got one foot in yesterday and one foot in tomorrow, you're straddling today - pissing all over it rather than living in it."

So as of this moment, I intend to stop pissing all over today.

You're welcome.

Copyright © 2011 - Paulla Estes

26 May 2011

Surviving without Oprah

I have found myself in the seemingly small group of people in this world who really don't have a strong opinion either way about Oprah Winfrey.

I do remember when she came on the scene 25 years ago. I was in my first year of college and my only memory of her was that she was the first black woman (or black person for that matter) to have a national talk show on TV. That was cool. But other than that, for me, she just sort of blended in with Phil Donahue, Geraldo, and Sally Jesse Raphael. I didn't watch talk shows, so you know, who cares?

Fast forward about seven or eight years and I was a stay-at-home mom with two babies in diapers. I'll admit I watched soap operas. Often, it was my only adult interaction during the day, but I wouldn't recommend it. No adult interaction at all is better. All soap operas did for me was to make me unnecessarily suspicious of my husband and neighbors. And everyone else I knew.

But I also watched Oprah from time to time. I can't say I was a follower, but she had an entertaining show, and my mom often phoned to tell me to tune in. She had current singers and movie stars, as well as all sorts of self help. It was good stuff.

A few years later I started homeschooling my kids, and that was pretty much where my quasi-relationship with daytime TV - and Oprah - ended.

Over the years I caught the show once or twice by accident, if I had the TV on while making dinner, or something, but Oprah's career took off and flew mostly unbeknownst to me. Somewhere along the way I saw her on magazine covers. I do remember hearing about her ups and downs with weight-loss. And at one point, there she was with her OWN magazine, which I didn't read. Not because I didn't like it. I just didn't even think about it. It was like picking up Popular Mechanics - why would I do that?

In more recent years, I've been aware that Oprah's had a book club and a few books I've read have had her stamp of approval. I saw a clip from the Tom Cruise sofa-jumping episode on YouTube. And along the way, I knew that Oprah had developed quite a following. On the news I'd hear about all the good she was doing in the world, buildling schools and such - and there really was a lot of good, from what I heard. I knew people who thought she hung the moon, while others thought she had become too political and couldn't be trusted. I didn't have an opinion because I just didn't know. Or care.

Then on the news a few weeks ago, I saw that Oprah was soon going to air her very last Oprah Winfrey Show. I was on the treadmill watching the morning news when I heard this, and I thought hey, maybe I should try to catch that show.

That was the last I thought about it.

Yesterday I was home, having come back from a trip to California, only to find the house in a disastrous state. Last week my husband had dental surgery and the girls had prom, so they pretty much let everything go. I decided to clean up their mess since I wasn't working anyway. Around 4 p.m. I sat down to take a break, flipped on the TV, and there was Oprah's very last show. Who knew?!

It was very sweet. Lots of thankfulness and tears. I admit I even teared up a bit. Looks like I missed a lot of neat shows over the years. This went on for TWENTY-FIVE YEARS. How was I not a part of it? Oprah and I have grown older together - yet separately. Her show has been around for over half my life, and I feel so removed from it all.

Somehow I've survived without Oprah guiding my way.

I imagine the rest of the world will, too.

Copyright © 2011 - Paulla Estes

25 May 2011

Busy Busy

Excuses, excuses. And yes, I have them.

The big one is that I lost my voice, but I've found it again. No, not my real voice - my writer's voice.

I probably lost it among working nearly full time, losing our 16-year-old dog to old age, getting the girls ready for prom, flying to San Diego for my dad's 70th birthday, and getting ready for an upcoming graduation, not to mention another trip out west to take one of my daughters to college.

I get out of breath just re-reading that last sentence. While I was gone to San Diego over the weekend, however, I didn't take my computer and I got the chance to do a lot of reading and pondering on the plane. I'm reading a book that has inspired me to pick up my pen (or keyboard, as the case may be) once again.

For me, not writing, is like not exercising. After a while I feel sluggish and sad and slightly hopeless. Writing fulfills me in a way nothing else can.

That said, the next several weeks are still crazy, but I'm determined to do this. I need it.

On that note, I'm off at a sprint again, but here is what the scenery was like at our house last week... notice the absence of snow. :)

Ah, youth. They won't know how cute they are until they're old and look back on these times and realize they no longer look like this.

Speaking as one who knows.

Copyright © 2011 - Paulla Estes

02 May 2011

Spring has Sprung

Over the past few days, something wonderful happened. The sun came out, the daffodils and forsythias bloomed, the lawn began to turn green, and the car felt warm when we got in. Warm enough to open the window and sunroof.

We attended a high school track meet on Friday afternoon. As track meets go, we were there for several hours, but it was lovely with the warm spring weather. We marveled at the blue sky and laughed as we slapped at some of the first mosquitoes and black flies of the season.

And I realized something.

We in Maine are so completely demoralized by our winters here, that when the black flies and mosquitoes (and tourists) arrive each May in hordes, we really don't mind so much. All we know is that the sun has come out and we are warm again. We look up on our roofs and see shingles rather than snow banks and ice dams. We see the grass growing along the edges of our driveways, rather than icy canyons we've made with our snowblowers. Sure, we might be covered in bug bites and our scent of choice is Deep Woods Off, but at least we're WARM again.

And if this stops you from moving to Maine, well then so be it. That's part of the reason we like it here too - because the tourists all go home again eventually, and we have the snow and black flies all to ourselves.

And if that's not a slap-happy spring-time post for you, I don't know what is!

Copyright © 2011 - Paulla Estes