We Downsized Two-Thirds of Our Stuff

What I’ve Been Doing Instead of Blogging-Part 2—

My plan to stop squandering opportunities—to travel, write, and experience more—hinges on decreasing our monthly expenses. When Ron and I move to Atlanta, we will downsize from a four-bedroom house and a two-bedroom condo—to just a two bedroom condo.

This means that two-thirds of our belongings had to go!

The easy way out would have been a trip to the dump. (Actually many, many trips to the dump.) I admit to a few dump trips, but whenever possible I’ve tried to find new homes for my belongings. Places where they will be appreciated—or at least kept out of the landfill for a few more years.

I am happy to say that almost everything that was still usable has found a happy, new home! This is what we did:

Reach out to the community. I couldn’t have succeeded without our Peaks Island community email list. (Thank you Chris and Carol). I repeatedly leveraged the list to let my neighbors know what I was selling or giving away. This led to new homes for rugs, couches, desks, dressers, our dining room set, housewares and Christmas ornaments.

Get real about the value of things. Getting the most money possible for things would have taken extra time and effort. I decided that my time was too valuable to waste giving showings of used furniture. Instead, charged only for the most valuable items—then gave the rest away free. And I made sure that the prices I set for the items we did sell qualified as an “Offer you can’t refuse.”

Give away as you go. Rather than piling up the non-keepers for one big yard sale, I sold them off or gave them away every time the pile got large. Otherwise, there would have been no place to store them all. Plus, the continual progress made me feel like I was really making headway.

Leverage the power of “free.” I had things I wanted to do far more than I wanted to spend every Saturday engaged in a yard sale. (Yard sales are fine for people who enjoy haggling, but for me, spending twenty minutes arguing about whether a 20-year old pillow is worth $3.00 or $4.00 just isn’t worth it.)

So instead of selling my stuff, I left most of it in the front yard beside a sign that said: “Free stuff. Donations to Peaks Island Tax and Energy Assistance appreciated.” I repeated this half a dozen times. My front yard became a gathering place. I watched people come and go, often the same people over and over again. I grinned as neighbors departed with our artificial Christmas tree, framed watercolors I painted two decades ago, and the world’s largest assortment of plastic bathroom caddies.

Eliminate in rounds. Trying to cut directly to the keepers made my head spin. So I took an approach more akin to what they do on American Idol. I eliminated in rounds. With my cookbooks, I started by donating the half that I never use—and never plan to use—to the Peaks Island Library Book Sale in July.

That seemed like enough downsizing at the time, but just like the second round of Idol tryouts, I realized that some of my initial picks really weren’t going to pan out.  Over time, I pulled out a few more. How dare you even suggest that I make a dish that requires this much chopping and prep work, I thought as I gleefully tossed Charlie Trotter into the giveaway pile.

A week before the movers arrived I packed the remaining books into five boxes. Still way too many considering that I really only use a dozen of them and I get most of my recipes off of the internet. The following morning, I unpacked my cookbooks for another elimination round. This time my criteria was more harsh. My favorites that I use frequently, like Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites, Cold Weather Cooking and Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza & Calzone stayed. The ones I wanted use, but probably never would use, got voted out. Really, are you ever going to buy a slow cooker or bake your own bread? I asked. And if I do, I can always purchase the book again.

Final tally: four bookshelves culled down to one.

Adopt aggressive sales tactics. No one who visited my home left my home empty handed. Whenever someone came over, I showed them stuff until they agreed to take something. “OK, the couch is too big for your house. Do you need a microwave? Or how about a painting of a crazy rooster?” I said. When my cousin came to tea, I gifted her a cobalt blue Emil Henry soup tureen.

Be merciless in deciding what stays and what goes. When it comes to downsizing, sentimentality is the enemy. I’m not saying there isn’t room for emotional picks. But you do need to exercise moderation. We haven’t put up a Christmas tree in a decade (we do Christmas at Nana’s house) so I gave away all but the three ornaments I like best. I also got rid of all of the gymnastics medals I won in middle high school. I did keep the ‘70s hippie beads I bought at a small shop while my mom got her hair cut next door at Cosmo’s Facory for Hair. I can’t explain it, but those are my priorities.

Now all of the extra stuff is gone, the possessions that made the cut to come to Georgia with us are in storage, and Ron and I are living in a rental while Ron closes up the ice cream shop for the season. Whew!!!!

What surprised me was that before I started giving stuff away, I’d assumed that the process would feel sad. And while it did make me a tiny bit sad at first, the deeper I went in getting rid of stuff, the better I felt. In the end, it felt really good. Almost as though I’d been lugging all of those items in my arms all these years and now I was finally free of their weight. Every time a large item like a table or chair left our house, I skipped around the living room and hooted.

Another thing that feels good is knowing that my belongings are now scattered like breadcrumbs around the island and with off-island friends. The other night I found an oversized mug I’d given up in my friend Cynde’s cabinet. Her daughter had grabbed it from among the free stuff , taken it home and adopted it. Standing in Cynde’s kitchen, holding the mug made me smile. I am leaving, but a small piece of me, my mug, is staying behind.

I am proud that my painting of the New Orleans French Market hangs in Robin’s living room. Pleased that Roxanne’s grad-kids eat dinner around my old table. Thrilled that my coffee table presides in the living room of Jean’s father’s house. It all feels very symbolic. Like I’m leaving on one level, staying forever on another.

(Ok, maybe I’m just a little bit more sentimental than I let on.)

The thing I wonder is why did I ever want all that stuff in the first place? And how do I stop myself from accumulating more stuff in the future?

Your suggestions are appreciated…

Community, World Records and Umbrella Covers

Nancy 3 Hoffman is anxiously awaiting final word from the Guinness Book of World Records. Within a month or two she will know if her dream has come true: Nancy wants to hold the world record for the largest collection of unique umbrella sleeves in the world.

Umbrella covers? You ask. Yes. Umbrella covers—the fabric sleeves new umbrellas come in. “Some people call them umbrella condoms,” says Nancy.

The museum makes total sense if you know Nancy 3. Her middle initial—based on a typo on a form years ago—is a number. She makes up for her tiny 5’ stature by wearing psychedelic-patterned balloon pants. She plays in an all-accordion band called The Maine Squeeze. (She once frightened my friend Carol by whipping out her accordion on the deck of the ferry and leading the crowd in a spontaneous chorus of “Roll Out The Barrel.”)

And, Nancy curates the Umbrella Cover Museum.

Elsewhere in the world, Nancy might be one of those people you pass with a wide berth. The wacky woman you point at from across the street, try not to engage.

But here on Peaks Island she is a celebrity, one of Peaks Island’s treasures. She sings and plays piano at concerts on the island all summer long. She is a true friend, quick to volunteer whenever a neighbor needs help.

If Peaks Island were Seinfeld, Nancy 3 would be our Kramer. Wacky, outlandish—but most of all—beloved

(BTW—Michael Richards, who played Kramer stepped into the museum for about ten seconds when he visited Peaks Island summer before last.)

That’s why dozens of people showed up to support Nancy on July 7—for the official Umbrella Cover Count for the Guinness Book of World Records. Nancy is one of us. Part of the Peaks Island community. We want Nancy to succeed.

On the day of the official count, volunteers carried strings of umbrella covers and laid them in rows across the lawn.

 

Solid covers were grouped by color.

 

Patterns were grouped together. Geometrics. Plaids.

 

Animal prints—or as Nancy calls them “Sexy Covers.”

 

There were snacks and beverages. The Maine Squeeze performed.

 

Everyone got an “I Counted” sticker.

 

Nancy procured judges who had been previously approved by Guinness for their suitability to perform these official tasks. They were Dorothy Schwartz, former director of the Maine Humanities Council for 21 years and Paula Work, registrar of the Maine State Museum. Kim MacIsaac, director of the 5th Maine Museum served as steward.

The entire event was video taped for official Guinness Book review.

 

Scribe Elizabeth Nolan kept a detailed inventory to facilitate verification by Guinness. Every umbrella cover was matched against an inventory list. Any and all discrepancies were reconciled. Slow going at times—it took nearly three hours to complete the count. Guinness World Record counts are very serious events.

 

Prior to the counting the judges evaluated each cover to make sure it was unique. Color, size, fabric, stitching and decoration were all appraised. A handful of covers were eliminated that the judges deemed too similar to other covers.

 

After the covers were arranged and organized on the lawn, Nancy led the crowd in her official theme song. “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella,” she sang.

 

Then the counting began. 10, 25, 50, 100 covers…

The crowd cheered.

Nancy has been collecting umbrella covers for 20 years now. It started when she was cleaning out her house a found a few orphaned umbrella covers. Intrigued by this phenomenon, Nancy began to ask people if they too had orphaned umbrella covers. And if they did—what had happened to the umbrellas?

People began giving Nancy their covers. The first was a golden one from a friend in Miami. The friend, an Audubon member, had purchased an umbrella with a duck head for a handle. The umbrella was accidentally left on a bench when the friend boarded a boat to Bermuda. But the cover, which had never made it out of the closet, remained.

At first, Nancy pinned the umbrella covers to the wall of her kitchen. Each cover was accompanied with a note documenting who had donated it and an anecdote chronicling the cover’s story. “It’s about elevating something that is nothing and raising it up and making it into something,” says Nancy.

Nancy, who obviously loves performing, thrilled at peoples’ responses to her collection. She wanted to share it with as many people as she could. After three or four years she moved her collection to the front room of a house near the ferry and turned it into a museum.

The Guinness record attempt count continued. People cheered at the big milestones: 150, 200, 250…

In 2008 Nancy first approached Guinness and asked them to create a new category for umbrella covers. Understandably they the just didn’t get it.

Nancy persisted. And explained. And persisted and explained again—before she finally convinced Guiness. “It took them awhile to wrap their heads around it,” she says.

The counting continued. 300, 400, 500…

 

Nancy told stories about some of her favorites. “This cover was found by the Hanley family in Ireland—while Hilary Clinton was passing by. We have no idea if it has any actual connection to Hilary or not,” she said.

As the count continued, a few people left. But the core group of Nancy’s supporters remained. 600, 700, 715 covers…

Nancy saved her specialty covers until the end. There were ultra-large covers made for patio umbrellas. And a paper cover from a Japanese paper umbrella.

Another unique specimen was donated by Marissa MacIsaac, who works in the U.S Foreign Service. It was cylindrical, black and felt like rubber. “This one is an old one from Czechoslovakia. In the old Soviet Union, they had one standard-issue style of umbrella and this was the cover,” said Nancy.

720, 725, 729…

 

The final umbrella cover was a plastic case. Nancy held it up, whipped the umbrella out of the cover and opened the umbrella.

730!

The crowd cheered and Nancy joy-dove right into the middle of her beloved covers.

Soon Nancy will hear whether 730 umbrella covers is enough. Frankly, she’s a shoo-in since there is no existing record to beat. But she’s taking it as seriously as if she had dozens of rivals.

All of Peaks Island is behind her.

Regardless of the outcome, in my opinion, Nancy 3 has won big. She’s built something that has brought her great joy. And she’s found a community that supports her in all of her quirky, accordion-playing, umbrella condom-collecting glory.

Does it even matter what the Guinness people say?

I Won a Dump Truck

Ok. It isn’t my dump truck really. It belongs to Peaks Island. The whole island.

Actually, that’s an exaggeration too. If you want to get technical, the dump truck belongs to Lionel Plante Associates—better know on the island as LPA. But I can’t help feeling a sense of ownership for the truck because I helped win it. The whole island did.

I got a dump truck! I got a dump truck!

LPA is a business owned by the Mulkern family. (Lionel Plante died in 1998. His wife, Catherine Mulkern Plante and her siblings Coley, Terry and Bridget continue to run the company.)

As this is a small island, the Mulkerns run a highly diverse business. They own a marina. They run a barge service that transports large publics works trucks, dumpsters and such to Peaks and other Casco Bay islands. LPA does excavating and heavy landscaping (say you need to rebuild your sea wall). They have a heating oil business. There is an automotive gas pump. And they own a laundromat. They also own the only helipad on the island—which gets used approximately once a year. There are probably two or three other lines of business that I’ve missed…

The dump truck, obviously, is for the excavating and landscaping part of the business.

The story behind winning the truck went like this. In October, Caterpillar ran a contest where 300 companies submit videos on its website explaining who they were and why they deserved to win a new dump truck. The Mulkerns entered. (Their winning video is the fourth one down on the right.)

You would have thought that the odds were stacked against Peaks Island, a community of just 800 year round residents/5000 summer residents. How could we get more votes than a construction company a larger market—say Boston or Modesto or even Toledo? But we have a secret weapon that no one else does: A fabulous community email list.

Twice during the two-week contest, Coley Mulkern, vice president of LPA sent out an email with a link asking everyone on the island to vote. Each person was allowed to vote once every day.

Turns out that for a very small community, the Internet can be a great equalizer. A total of 50,000 votes were cast in the contest. When the votes were counted, LPA was the winner with 3,000 votes.

LPA invited the entire island to celebrate the arrival of the truck. Several hundred people came out despite a gray and damp day.

 

People crowded under the tent.

 

There were free t-shirts. Maybe not a big deal to you, but most Peaks Islanders don’t get to many trade shows. Plus, most Islanders are notoriously cheap. So around here, free t-shirts are a very big deal!

 

The guys from the Lions Club grilled burgers. These were free too–so they went really fast.

 

People from Caterpillar corporate and the local CAT dealer shot video and made speeches.

 

The CAT people’s speeches sounded like pitches for us all to buy more CAT dump trucks. Honestly, I felt a little bad for the CAT folks. I’m sure their trucks are every bit as dependable, rugged and durable as they said. But in a community this small, we only need so many dump trucks. In reality, the dump truck LPA had won will take care of our needs for years to come. There will be no dump truck purchases here for a long, long time.

 

The crowd roared when the guy from CAT handed the keys over to Coley. Then we all stepped out into the drizzle to wait for the arrival (by sea) of the new dump truck.

The build-up was very dramatic. Everyone squinted into the fog as dynamic John Williams-type music roared through speakers. Da da, da-da-da DA DA….

 

Then, the fireboat emerged from the mist spraying water into the air.

 

The LPA barge followed carrying the new truck and 50 cheering CAT employees.

 

Note the ribbon on the hood of the truck–like in those car commercials around the holidays. Imagine waking up and finding a dump truck in your driveway on Christmas morning. Now that would be a surprise.

 

Twenty-year old Nathaniel Mulkern received the honor of driving the truck off of the barge. Years ago, Nathaniel was one of my daugther’s classmates in the combined 3rd, 4th and 5th grade class at the Peaks Island Elementary School.

 

Nathaniel piloted the truck down the ramp and onto land. The truck was christened by Catherine and cake followed.

As an additional thank you to the Island, LPA donated $2100 of heating fuel to Peaks Island Energy and Tax Assistance (PIETA)—a program that helps families who need assistance paying their fuel and tax bills. Between the free burgers and t-shirts, the free dump truck and the free fule oil, this was one time where everyone did win.

Whenever I see the truck go by, I can’t help thinking, “There goes my dump truck!”

Score: ten points for small community—rest of the world, zero.

 

 

Ode To My Egg

As part of my ongoing effort to slow down a little and stop stressing out over EVERYTHING, I’m trying to enjoy the simple things in life. Lucky for me, both simplicity and happiness can be found by the carton-full right here in my refrigerator.

Let me just come right out and say it: I love eggs.

LOVE eggs.

And being a food snob, the eggs I like best are fresh farm eggs. The kind with a huge fiery-yolk that stares back at you like a full moon in the middle of the plate.

When farm eggs are available, I eat one every day for breakfast. Almost always sunny-side up or over easy.

Grocery store eggs, I eat lots of ways. Scrambled, hardboiled, poured into an omelet and filled with cheese. But farm eggs I leave intact. Preserving the yolk’s integrity is my way of celebrating its gloriousness.

I eat my morning egg with a half-slice of toast, torn not cut, no butter or jam or anything else to distract from the yolk. And only half a slice of toast because that’s the optimal amount to slop up the yolk of a single egg. A whole slice would give the toast too much weight. This is not about the toast.

Farm eggs taste like goodness and open fields. Rainbows and ducklings. Like the infinity of the cosmos.

Ok, maybe not. But they do taste, well, eggy. Very. Eggy. Like the best possible version of themselves. It’s just like the way fresh farm tomatoes taste in comparison to those bland orangey grocery store tomatoes that never really get fully ripe. Both are tomatoes, but if you compare them, the mass-market tomato tastes like a watered down version of the farm tomato. I prefer both my eggs and my tomatoes at full flavor.

The color of the yolk is the result of what the chicken has been fed. Factory chickens are usually fed wheat—which produces a light-colored yolk. Chickens that lay dark yellow yolks are usually corn fed. (I’m not sure what a chicken factory looks like, but I assume the worst: a chicken tenement house with dim lighting, cages stacked 30-feet high, narrow aisles, chickens gasping for breath in the stale air)

For me, the right answer here is to give the chicken a diet closest to what it would have eaten in the wild. And when I think about pre-domesticated chickens roaming around and what they would have stumbled upon to eat—I think seeds, acorns, some bugs, the remnants of a few wild fruits and vegetables. Corn wins for me because it seems closer to this natural diet. Wheat would only be available to those chickens habituating wild in, say, Kansas.

(This reminds me of Chef Dan Barber’s TED talk about sustainable fish farming—and how he found out that one supposedly sustainable fish farm feeds its fish chicken meal. “After that conversation, the fish tasted like chicken,” Barber says.  I now consider wheat-fed chickens to be the Wonder Bread of eggs.)

Each morning I sprint to the kitchen and fry my egg in my favorite pan. I add the tiniest bit of butter so it won’t stick, but not enough to taste the butter.

When the white is just cooked and the yolk is still runny, I slide the egg onto my plate and tear my toast half in half again. With a toast piece in each hand I confront my egg. I feel a tiny shiver of excitement as a corner of toast punctures the yolk.

I submerge the toast bit in my right hand deep into the golden liquid—and use the toast bit in my left hand as a pusher. I eat some of the yolk first, then the white—and then the remaining yolk. I only pick up a fork after the toast is gone. When no one is with me—or when I forget that people are with me—I make satisfied uummmm sounds.

Many Peaks Island families have their own chickens. We don’t have chickens because I can barely keep up with work and life—and chickens to feed in the winter would probably push me over the edge. But thanks to the Weiser family, who sell eggs at their cottage on the island from their mainland farm, I have a farm egg source that I can walk to all summer long.

The Weisers place cartons of eggs that come from their farm into a mini-fridge that sits next to their cottage porch.

 

You can walk up any time you like, take a carton of eggs and deposit three dollars into the mailbox. It’s a fast and painless transaction (No account or a password that you will never remember required.)

 

The Weiser’s egg cartons are a miss-matched collection. They are all reused cartons obtained from various grocery stores. I feel good when I return my own empty egg cartons to the Weisers for refill. It’s the circle of life…(cue Lion King music).

The best thing about the Weiser’s eggs is that none of them match. Because different types of chickens lay different types of eggs. The eggs in my carton are a mix, brown, white and every tone in between. Sometimes, but not today, there are light green eggs that look like they’ve been dyed for Easter. The eggs come in lots of different sizes and shapes too. Short and squat. Long and narrow. Sometimes the shell is bumpy at one end.

In comparison to farm eggs, grocery store eggs look like they came off of an assembly line. I guess that’s why they call it factory farming. Now that I think about it, the homogeny of every egg being so close in color, size and shape, it creeps me out a little.

Thank goodness for the Weiser family. And for all the little niceties of life.

So how do you like your eggs? Share the egg love with a comment below…

Clamshells and Community: Everyone Wins

Every community has its own July 4th tradition. On Peaks Island, ours is the annual Clamshell Race to benefit the Peaks Island Health Center. Without the Health Center, every trip to the doctor from Peaks Island would entail a ferry ride.

I can tell you from experience that when your child has a fever, the four or five hour round-trip excursion to visit a doctor in town is no fun.

Yea! for the Health Center.

Unfortunately the Health Center, which is only open a few days a week, isn’t financially sustainable. And that’s the purpose behind the Clamshell Race—to raise funds to ensure that the Health Center keeps going.

What makes the Clamshell Race special is that it is a relay—run in teams of two—so families get into it in a big way. It’s not unusual to see a pair of elementary school-aged siblings running as partners, a Dad running while pushing a stroller, a grandfather and grandson partnered-up.

 

 

 

Even the volunteers get into the spirit.

 

The team member running the first leg starts at Greenwood Gardens and sprints about a quarter mile to the Fifth Maine—where he picks up a clamshell. He then runs back to the starting line where he hands-off the clamshell to his teammate.

 

The handoff is highly important.

 

The teammate then runs down to City Point, dips her clamshell in the bay, and runs back to the finish line. This second leg is about a mile.

 

There is a prize for the fastest time. But more important, there are prizes for team with the Lowest Combined Age, team with the Largest Combined Age, and team with the Largest Age Differential.

I remember the first summer I lived here, my cousin, Carol paired then seven-year old Maxine with sixty-ish year old John. They, of course, won team with the Largest Age Differential.

 

Which brings me to another thing I like about the Clamshell Race: athleticism is entirely optional. There are a few people who come out in compression shorts and sprint to win—but there are more people who come just for fun wearing red and white umbrella hats.

 

Or they dress as The Flash. Gotta love the socks!

 

The point is that when it comes to the Clamshell race, there are infinite ways to win. I wish all of life were like that.

 

If anyone knows the joke behind “Clamerica,” please let me know. I suspect it is something very funny that I am missing out on.

 

Before the race, people purchase raffle tickets. There are lots of choices—gift certificates from Standard Bakery, swim lessons from Rhonda Berg, a couple of Peaks Island sweatshirts from our store. Sometimes it’s hard to choose.

 

It’s a particularly good day for the lemonade business.

 

I love watching people prepare for the race. Families talk strategy. It’s interesting to see who warms up and who psychs up.

 

At the finish, some people celebrate.

 

Others grimace.

 

If your brother hands you a cup full of water it is perfectly acceptable to pour it over your own head as you cross the finish line.

 

After the race, Chuck, a physician who lives on the island, acts as master of ceremonies.

 

Chuck lets the kids take turns helping him draw raffle winners.

 

The golf cart parade follows the race.

Honestly I’m a little mad at the golf cart people this year. They drove by so fast I couldn’t get many pictures.

 

The cart with a supersized Barbie strapped to its roof is always my favorite. I think that would be a great place to watch the festivities from. Perhaps I’ll be invited to ride along with her next year.

How was your July 4th?

 

I Got Served (Not)

In case you are wondering how the system of delivering a subpoena works on the island, the answer is—Not that well.

The serving—or non-serving—of my recent subpoena went like this:

On Wednesday morning I got a call.

Sheriff: Is this Lisa Sinicki? This is Officer B from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s office.

Me: (to myself) Oh no! Someone’s been hurt. Or robbed. Or both. I looked for Ron, who had left for work at the ice cream store hours earlier. I thought of Lindsey who was away with friends. I my heart accelerated.

Sheriff: I have a subpoena to deliver to you.

Me: (to myself) ?&%*G????V$$!!!!????

Sheriff: I was wondering if you were coming to town anytime soon.

Me: What?

Sheriff: I can’t get out to the island until Monday to serve you because I’m going out of town. I was hoping you were coming into Portland.

Me: I’m not coming into Portland until next week.

Sheriff: Ok. Well here is the lawyer’s phone number. You can call him and maybe he can get the information over to you. I’ll call you Monday when I get back.

I called the lawyer and got the information. It turned out that one of my former clients was involved in a lawsuit with one of their former employees. I called my lawyer and started fulfilling the “requests” outlined on the subpoena.

Monday rolled around and I didn’t hear from the Sheriff.

On Tuesday, my lawyer and I finalized and submit our response to the subpoena. Still now word from the Sheriff.

No word from the Sheriff Wednesday.

No word Thursday.

Thursday afternoon I learned that the lawsuit had been settled.

It is now Sunday and I still haven’t been officially served.

Did the Sheriff forget me? Or is it just too much trouble to take the ferry out to Peaks Island?

I’ll probably never know.

Lobster and Laughter

My friend Priya and her husband Jamie came to visit last week. We ate our required lobster dinner at the Portland Lobster Company. I don’t know what I enjoyed more—the lobster or the laughter.

Actually I do know. Definitely the laughter.

Pryia showed up at exactly the right time—which is something good friends know intuitively how to do.

My anxiety had been in full rage. Red if you rated it on the old Homeland Security Threat Advisory Scale. A former client had subpoenaed me to turn over all documents and correspondence between me and one of their former employees, S. S is also a close friend.

I cramped up immediately. Stress always goes right to my stomach. How could emails about decorating my new condo in Atlanta be useful in a lawsuit?

But being me, I jumped to (and dwelled on) the worst possible outcome: What if something I’d written could be used against S? How could I live with that?

My muscles ached. Every morning I stared at the ceiling over my bed until well after the time when I should have been at my desk. I didn’t feel like cooking, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to write about. Even taking photos—my current favorite activity in the world (with the exception of vacationing with my family)—didn’t appeal.

Late Thursday afternoon, I got a call from S. The lawsuit was settled. Amicably, whatever that means. I felt better, but just a little

It takes time for my head and body to go from severe alert (red) to their standard guarded state (blue).

Two hours later Priya arrived—exactly on cue.

Saturday night, we went to the Portland Lobster Company for dinner. It is a traditional lobster shack right on the Old Port Portland waterfront. Tiny building, white-shingled exterior, barely enough room inside for the kitchen, steam piping out the round metal chimney.

 

We sat under a tent at a lobster-red picnic table on the dock. We gazed at boats, sipped beers and listened to a band called the Matt Damons. Jamie overheard the Matt Damons talking and reported that they had just assembled two hours earlier. They played remarkably well together for a two-hour old band.

I love this old boat Portland Discovery uses for its tours.

Pryia smiled—which made me smile.

Jamie held the lobster-shaped beeper. When it began to vibrate and flash he retrieved our lobsters.

Priya and Jamie are newlyweds. They shared their hopes and concerns regarding family life. I warned them that sometimes, despite our good intentions, parents just can’t win. Like when a teenage girl says she doesn’t feel pretty. You can tell her she’s beautiful (which you truly believe). Or you can tell her shirt doesn’t fit her right and she’d look better in something else (possibly true also, but definitely the wrong answer).

“Either way, she will stomp off grunting, ‘You don’t know anything,” I said.

Priya laughed, which made me feel good. I like feeling like I’m funny.

Priya and Jamie had spent the afternoon on a lobster boat tour—and had procured dinner from their catch—then brought it to the restaurant to have it cooked. “Jamie caught the lobster with his bare hands,” said Priya, with a very slight eye roll. We laughed again.

We ate corn and fries—and the lobster that Jamie hadn’t really caught with his bare hands. (I believe the full story was he had picked it up out of the holding tank once it had already been caught. The lobster tasted light and fresh and so weightless that I could have eaten two. No butter necessary as that would have just masked the lobster flavor. The fries had that crisp outside creamy interior combination that only happens when you get them just out of the frier.

The sun was out, the water sparked, the Matt Damons hummed in the background.

Portland Lobster Company is the perfect spot—to just be.

I realized that I was relaxed. Finally. The corset of the lawsuit had loosened its grip. Ahhhhhh.

I hope Priya and Jamie come back soon.

PeaksFest—Eat Your Pie and Wear It Too

Chocolate pie eaten without utensils. That’s right—No. Hands. Allowed. A chance to eat and wear pie. Small wonder that practically every kid on Peaks Island was crowded around the table.

I squeezed my way under the tent erected on the lawn at St. Christopher’s church and pulled out my camera.

The Peaks Island Pie Eating Contest is part of the annual PeaksFest celebration. PeaksFest includes concerts, a small fair, and an art walk. But based on attendance, the Pie Eating Contest is by far the most popular event. “Hi,” I said to M and S and P and other friends and neighbors who’d shown up to cheer the kids on.

“How are you?” they reply with big smiles. Because today everyone has big smiles.

I was pleased that this year there were four age groups plus adults. Finally: everyone could play.

The pie isn’t fancy. Technically, it’s not even pie. It’s Jello instant chocolate pudding, plopped over a chocolate wafer cookie and topped with Reddi-whip. But it is served in an aluminum pie pan—which, it seems, is enough to qualify it to be called pie.

No matter, this contest is about quantity, not quality. To win, you have to gulp down everything in your pie pan—including the chocolate cookie. And as I mentioned before: No Hands Allowed.

Contestants took their places around the table. They donned Hefty bag full-body bibs and waited for the judges to say, “go.”

E charmed me with her pie eating gusto last year, so I butted my way through the crowd and grabbed a spot where I could observe her up close. Her philosophy is that if you want to win, you have to commit full-face. We are talking deep pudding submersion.  Her commitment and all-in attitude earned her second consecutive win in her age category. I suspect it will take her far in life as well.

The youngest kids received tiny servings presented in cupcake papers—which their older siblings held in place. In return, the preschoolers cheered on their siblings. “Put your whole face in the bowl,” R directed her brother.

Some competitors focused strictly on the bowl in front of them. Others managed to peek up and keep tabs on the rest of the field.

R emerged from her pie with pudding stuck to her forehead and whipped cream stuck to her hair. For her, getting messy is at least half the fun. Maybe more.

Little M won her age category and her father competed in the adult category. Two Halloweens ago, my husband, Ron, upset Little M’s mother. Seems she overheard Ron hand Little M a giant purple Pixi Stix and say, “Put these in with your Cheerios in the morning. They make the milk turn pretty colors.”

M’s response at the time was a threat. “Watch it or I’m going to teach your daughter to smoke cigarettes,” she said. (She was just kidding. I think…)

Now that I’ve seen M’s husband attack a pie—he went at it so aggressively that the entire plate lifted off of the table and stuck to his face—I’m going to have a talk with her. I have to say that it’s not Ron’s influence on her kids eating habits that she should be worried about.

I think it’s worth noting that all of first place winners, across every age group—were girls. I’m not sure what this means.

As the competitors slurped and gulped and guzzled and breathed pie, I fell into a photo snapping frenzy. So many chocolate cheeks and whipped cream noses to capture over a few short minutes. And oh, the kids’ smiles.

I think that’s what I like best about the pie eating contest. So many happy faces. Win or loose, everyone has fun.

And really, there are no losers. Everyone gets to eat pie.

And wear it.

 

 

 

 

 

One Man’s Nothing Is Another Man’s Treasure

“Turn around, there’s nothing back there.”

A couple of summers ago, a trio of tourists mistook me for a fellow tourist and warned me not to visit the Backshore of Peaks Island. They had made it two blocks down Island Avenue from the ferry when they discovered there is no Starbucks, no mini-golf—and no authentic re-creation of a quaint whaling village/mega souvenir emporium. Not on this island, at least.

They decided that the walk around the island wasn’t worth their time, and felt that by sharing with me, they were delivering a generous public service announcement.

I tried not to giggle as they sprinted back to the dock to catch the return trip of the same ferry they’d just arrived on. What these people didn’t know was this: The number one reason they should have continued to the Backshore was exactly what they’d said—there’s nothing back there.

The Backshore is the part of Peaks Island that faces east, toward the open ocean. Located about a 15-minute walk from the ferry dock, it is a part of the island where nothing is built between the road and the coastline—leaving close to a mile of unobstructed sea views.

For me, the Backshore is the absolute highlight of the four-mile walk around the perimeter of the island. It’s even better than the chartreuse house.

Yesterday I arrived at the Backshore from the north, traveling around the island clockwise. This is the more dramatic way to arrive, because the road cuts through the woods near Tolman Heights first. Stepping out of the woods gives you the sensation of emerging from, say, your basement, which you’ve been cleaning out for the first time in a decade. It’s trees, trees, trees….OCEAN!—which makes the panoramic view even more impressive.

If you arrive from the south walking counterclockwise around the island, you go through the woods after you pass the backshore. It’s till pretty, but you miss out on that big ta-da moment.

On the Backshore, ocean extends everywhere. Gulls squawk. You smell earth and sea. The sky seems a little more blue. Sometimes, when I walk alone and no one else can see, I allow myself to get a little choked up. It feels like I’m making a new discovery and reconnecting with an old friend—both at the same time. I imagine this was how Odysseus felt when he glimpsed Ithaca after his Odyssey. How Columbus felt when he stumbled on the New World. How Imelda Marcos felt the first time she visited the shoe department at Neiman Marcus.

I am so lucky to have been able to spend ten-plus years living in this wonderful place. Why am I moving to Georgia again?

Yesterday was an amazing day on the Backshore. Small waves rolled, water swished against the rocks. A few Eider Ducks—those black and white beauties coveted for their ultra-soft down—picked their way across the rocks.

I slowed down near the spot where my family scattered Grandma Amy’s ashes ten years ago.  Near the spot, because the shoreline shifts continuously. Waves erode the granite boulders and deposit pebbles that fill former coves. It’s evolved so much over a decade that I can no longer recognize the exact spot. Grandma is here because she loved nature—so much that she allowed my adolescent father to keep a large bullfrog in the bathtub of their Scarsdale home. Aunt Matoo says it stank like a stagnant pond, but Grandma put up with it.

I know Grandma loves her resting spot—wherever it is.

Around the bend, Kate and Molly jogged past me. Both girls worked in my husband’s ice cream store when they were teens. That was almost a decade ago. Now Kate is a nurse and Molly leaves for grad school at Yale in the fall. Seeing them grown up fills me with Auntie-like pride.

My walk continued south. Rather than bore you with the details, here is–as they say in marketing–the high level summary: Cattails glowed on the marsh. A panting golden retriever trotted his master around the bend. Seagulls swooped. A woman lounged on a green bench. A young couple stared across the bay at Ram Island light.

More nothing for me, please.

People’s Choice

Jim and Emily have painted four bright-colored swatches on the side of The Moonshell, the house they are renovating on Island Avenue. There is also a ballot box so people can vote for their favorite.

I’m not sure if this color is for the front door, the trim, or for the house itself. There are a lot of boldly painted houses on the island, but any of these colors would certainly raise the bar.

The work crew said that it was a joke and that Jim and Emily don’t plan to use any of these colors. Only time will tell…