Saturday, December 19, 2009

Adventures in Moving, Part II: the trip home

OK, so the move was done. I had my overnight bag, one of those little rectangles with wheels and a handle that goes up and down for easy dragging around, and a bag containing eight tins of cookies for a friend, and I was on the train headed to Grand Central Station. It was cold, and it was after dark, but the train was pretty clean, there was no graffiti or obvious gangster types, so I felt pretty good as I headed to the big city of New York.

I called a friend of mine who lives in Jersey City and told her that I would be arriving at Grand Central Station at 9:25 and she said she and her wife would meet me there. How they planned to find me in such a big place, I had no clear idea, but I figured that the obvious Maine girl in the big city might stand out, so I trusted.

The passengers on the train as it headed toward midtown looked like representatives of the United Nations. It was wonderful to be surrounded by so many colors and styles of people, so many languages and styles of dress, the occasional crazy person (also available in a myriad of colors) and it was all a beautiful tapestry to my Maine eyes. Remember that Maine is the whitest state in the United States, and outside of our (albeit very small) urban areas, we don't have a lot of people of color for me to see every day. So this was a buffet for my eyes and my soul.

As I tend to do, I struck up a conversation with a guy. Big, burly guy, dressed in work clothes of Carharts and layered flannel and t-shirts, he was headed in to begin his overnight shift on one of the construction projects in the city. He works with Local 50 of the union of equipment engineers, meaning he operates backhoes and bulldozers and heavy construction equipment. He's working on a project to build some tunnels under the river - he described it well, but having no understanding of the geography, I didn't really retain it. But it's a five year job, he said, and in these times, he was glad to have it. He works six days a week and takes the train in at night and home again in the morning. He doesn't have to pay for gas or parking in the city, and all he carries with him is his lunch. Not a bad gig. We talked about unions and how they can work well and how they can fuck things up, and how they could do so much more if the people who need them would only understand and join. We talked about how unions are weak in the south and in Maine and how I used to be in the Sheet Metal Workers' Union in Maine and the Teamsters out in Minnesota and then we were in the city and we had to get off the train. We parted company in good cheer and I set out to find my friends.

Now I had seen pictures of Grand Central Station on the History Channel and on Law & Order and stuff, but nothing can really prepare a person for the moment when you step off the platform into the great terminal area filled with hundreds of people all rushing in their own directions, with stairs and doorways in all directions and tiles! My god! The tiles! Millions of tiles everywhere. Polished everything, it was bright and shiny and there were police officers and help desks everywhere, and it didn't look at all scary like I thought it might.

It was huge, though. And I knew there was no way in hell I was going to find two women - one of whom I had yet to actually meet - in that madness. I dragged my wheelie bag over against a wall near the police kiosk and made a call on my cell phone. My friend was amused at how overwhelmed I was and we agreed to meet under the big clock in the middle of the terminal.

Now mind you the big clock in the middle of the terminal is perched atop what looks like a ticket sales and information booth, with windows on all sides. It's round, and maybe 24 feet across. Two parties seeking one another could circle the thing on opposite sides of it for days without ever meeting each other, I thought. Hmm. OK, in an effort not to look lost, I began looking at the schedules. They seemed like a smart thing to be looking at. I might need to get around after dinner with these friends, after all.

Well, it worked. They showed up in no time at all, hugs were shared, cookies handed over and then A & S waited patiently while I ducked into a bathroom to change out of my mover's clothes of Carhart jeans, steel toed boots and stained t-shirt into a more respectable outfit of clean jeans, sneakers and a long-sleeved t-shirt. Hey, I was going to spend some time on trains after dinner, I wanted to be respectable but comfortable for a long time.

We went back up street-side and found their car that they had brought into the city (!!! crazy people!!) to meet me. We stashed the cookies and my bag in the trunk and I got a whirlwind (heated and not walking - yay!) tour of the bright lights of the city. We saw the Empire State Building (several times) all lit up in blue and white for Hanukkah, we drove around Times Square, which was simply overwhelming to the point of stimulation overload, and then we drove in what felt like circles to find a place to park to go eat.

We ended up a block or two from Penn Station and we settled on a little southern-style rib joint right across the street from Madison Square Garden (The World's Most Famous Arena!) and the train station. What a joy it was to sit at a cramped little table in a warm, noisy restaurant/bar, with the Colts/Jacksonville game on (Colts are undefeated now) and people and noise and smells swirling all around us. A and I split an order of "frickles" which are deep-fried dill pickle slices, and then we got ribs and collard greens and some kind of roasted corn and black bean relish stuff that I simply MUST figure out the recipe and make at home. Damn. Yum yum yum.

We sat and chatted and sometime around 11:30 we headed out into the night. The women dropped me at the easiest entrance to Penn Station and we said our goodbyes as people and taxis rushed to and fro all around. The relative quiet of the train station at midnight was a welcome respite from all that is the New York street.

If Grand Central Station is a monument to design and architecture, Penn Station is a monument to the grim functionality of a modern mini-mall. The floors are utilitarian, there are pillars with arrival and departure screens on them, there are newsstands and coffee shops and places to buy Knicks and Rangers gear, but there is no beauty. It works, but that is all. It was really quite sad.

I walked for what felt like miles inside this thing until I found the Amtrak area, bought my ticket to South Station at a machine that looked like an ATM, got a cup of coffee and a puzzle book, and settled myself in for the long wait for the 3:10 a.m. train to Boston. I watched people (some entertainingly drunk) and sipped coffee for a while, then things quieted down and I did my puzzles.

The tired really began to hit after 1 a.m. The hands on my watch ('cause you KNOW I am an analog kind of gal!) seemed to be stuck. They did not move at all. The numbers on the Sudoku grid swam before my eyes. It was cold. Really cold. Like "this doesn't seem right" kind of cold. I figured I was just tired. I noticed that other people had their jackets on too, but they did not seem to be as uncomfortable as I was. Must be tired.

I had been up since 8 a.m., driven over 200 miles of windy highway in a truck, gotten no real sleep the night before, worked hard unloading said truck, and I was a long way from home. Yeah, I was tired. As 3 a.m. approached, I started to pace just a little for fear that I might doze in one of the waiting area chairs and miss my train. I asked the attendant lady about the cold. "That's because they turn the heat off," she said. Huh? Yes, I was assured, it was damnably cold and it was not my imagination and she didn't like it any better than I did. Hmph. I took a card with the Amtrak number on it so I could let somebody know my thoughts on the subject of heating the Penn Station waiting area at 3 a.m. Finally they called my train and I got to get on and find a seat.

The train seemed cold, too, but that could be because I was just three rows from the door. That was kind of dumb, but whatever. I was tired and figured I'd be able to sleep all the way to Boston. The train was due to pull into Boston at around 8, and I could hop a subway over to North Station, grab the 9 a.m. Downeaster to Portland, and another two hours' sleep before Laura picks me up at the Portland station.

If only life were so simple.

I hunkered down on the train, propped my head against the window and tried to doze. The window was cold and it rattled with every stroke of the train's wheels. I shifted around until I found a spot that might work, pulled my Turtlefur head band ear-warmer thing over my eyes to shut out the CONSTANT lights, and tried to snooze.

It was uncomfortable. I was stiff. I tried to shift and that didn't work. I fidgeted and finally managed to settle down.

Somewhere between 4:30 and 5 a.m., there was an announcement that we had stopped because our engine "has just totally died."

Our what did what?

Yeah. The train's engine? It crapped the bed.

We never got any more of an answer than "it just totally died" from the crew. But I suppose that is really all that we needed to know. The engine wasn't working and we weren't going anywhere in the dark and cold of some desolate place in Connecticut.

The lights were off in our car - which seemed like a bonus, until I realized that we had no lights because there was no power, and without power, we also had no heat. And I was three rows from the door. Which people kept opening to go to the dining car to get snacks.

Because apparently if the train is stopped in the middle of the night in December, when the temperature outside is in the single digits, everyone should have pretzels.

Remember how much sleep I have had thus far?

The last decent night's sleep I had was Tuesday night - in my own bed - and that ended at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday when I woke up early to go get the U-Haul truck. It was now nearly 5 a.m. on Friday. Ugh.

Eventually there was some shouting about closing the damned door, and traffic subsided. We all grumbled, but quietly. The young couple with the five-month old infant in the seats in front of me seemed worried, but well equipped. The baby had formula and food and blankets and diapers, so if Mom and Dad could stay calm, it would be OK.

Luckily, the baby was fine. He burbled and giggled and cooed. He snoozed and napped and woke and giggled some more. His young parents kept him wrapped warmly, made sure his diaper was empty, and bore whatever discomfort that was theirs quietly and without complaint. I think they set the tone for others in the car. It could easily have gotten ugly, but they set a tone - largely without ever knowing it, I think - about priorities and caring - and others did not complain so loudly.

Eventually, an engine was sent from somewhere up the line to hook to the front of our train and bring us to the next station in North Haven. Then there were some more power outages and stopping on the tracks, and after sunup, we managed to get moving again. Of course, by now, we were several hours behind schedule, so we ran into conflicts with other trains that were on time, so we had to wait for switches and for tracks and rails to be put back where we needed them to be, and where, incidentally, they had been at 4 a.m. when we were supposed to be going over them, but never mind. You get the picture.

When we finally were towed into North Haven, someone had the good sense to meet us at the station with coffee and donuts, which were given to us for free. Caffeine and sugar may have prevented a full-scale riot that morning. Take note, Secretary of State Clinton: Dunkin Donuts can be used effectively to diffuse a very tense situation! Just sayin'.

After sunup some hours later, one girl (18 to 22 years old, I am guessing) did hold a loud-ish cell phone conversation with someone complaining about her situation, but that was more amusing than anything else. Her words "this is the worst train ride ever" caused me to wonder if there were anyone on the train who maybe had parents - or grandparents - who rode a far nastier train to Auschwitz or Buchenwald or Dachau. I think the consensus was that the girl was just whiny and we paid her no mind.

In North Haven, while we were eating out donuts and sipping coffee, there were technicians and engineers scrambling in all directions trying to make repairs. When we got started, we moved only a few feet. Seems our brakes had seized up on the tracks and had to be un-seized. Oh, it was just one thing after another.

For a while, every time we slowed down to stop at either a station or for some traffic light or switch thing, we'd lose power and heat in the passenger car. One of the staff guys would go back and open the door to the control panel with his special key, hit some switches, and the lights and heat would come back on. It got to be routine.

Now I know I was very tired, and when I am tired, it is easy for me to get cold. My toes were numb from the cold by the end of the trip. I felt frozen from the knees down. I was glad for the relative comfort of my thin sneakers, though. Especially when I consider that my other option would have been my steel-toed boots. Having my toes wrapped in cold-absorbing steel for all those hours? No thanks. Ugh.

Once during this trip, the staff had to change shifts. There are laws, they told us, that prohibit crew members from working for more than 12 hours in a row on a train. So local crews were called to the station (while we waited) and our crew took off their uniforms and went to lay down somewhere in the swanky Business Class car. Apparently there are no laws limiting the number of hours passengers can stay on a train or the number of hours a rail car restroom can go between cleanings. The crew on the train contained no cleaning people. Just engineers, the guy at the dining car, and conductors.

Remember that little slip of paper with the contact information for Amtrak? Oh yeah, I can hardly wait for Monday morning to make that call. I plan to write a letter as well, and send copies to my Congressman Mike (the impotent) Michaud and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (because she might actually get something done). Seems Amtrak is federally funded.

I called Laura in the morning and she got on the computer to find alternate routes home for me. She was in Portland staying with a friend (who had also ordered cookies) and used the computer to learn that there was a bus leaving out of South Station in Boston that would drop me in Portland where she could pick me up. Huzzah! I was going to be almost three hours behind schedule, but I would, eventually, get home. The celebration was muted by the tired factor, but it was still there.

A woman from the train also needed to be on that bus, so I followed her at a dead sprint around South Station (I had never been there before) from the farthest corner of the train terminal all around the concourse, down the other side, down some stairs, up an elevator, up an escalator and to the ticket counter, leaving ourselves just six minutes to grab a cellophane-wrapped sandwich that had apparently been made in time for Thanksgiving, and arrive breathless at gate 20 to get on the bus.

A word about buses.

I can't generally ride in a bus.

I can drive a bus, but I can't ride in one. I get carsick. Maybe not actual power-puke carsick, but headache and nausea and misery kind of carsick.

I didn't give a rat's ass about carsick by the time I got on that bus. I was so tired I wanted to cry. My carry-on rolly bag wouldn't fit in the overhead compartment, so I hauled up my knees and jammed it in front of my legs. I ate my tuna sandwich from the previous month and sipped a bottle of water I'd purchased in Penn Station and I sat. I claimed the seat immediately behind the driver so I could ogle his station. The new Greyhound buses are very nice - real motor coaches, with lots of buttons and switches and levers and lights and things. I was a bus geek for a little while, was very impressed with driver Dave's skills in getting the bus around some of Boston's tight spots and out onto Route 1 North, and up through Saugus to the Interstate. He did a nice job in a very nice bus, and I was able to nap. I woke in Portsmouth for the four minutes he allowed people to smoke if they wanted while he checked the local terminal to see how many riders he had, and I was awake when we crossed the Piscataqua River Bridge into Maine, but dozed again right after.

I woke again when we pulled onto St. John Street in Portland, where the Greyhound station is. I don't know that there has ever been a time when I was so glad to see such a seedy little corner as that intersection of Congress & St. John. Laura arrived a few minutes later and took me to a noodle house for a bowl of soup before we drove north again.

We finally arrived in Ellsworth, a little late for my last class to be a new member at the UU church there, but the minister was very understanding. If I fell asleep during the class, nobody said anything to me about it. We finally got home around 10. I called my aunt in Massachusetts to tell her I was home safe and sound, that it had been an awful trip, that I was exhausted and headed to bed and to NOT call in the morning. I was home. I'd call her when I was awake. I showered and ate the rest of my leftover soup from Portland and crawled into bed with Laura and Quinn and some heated socks filled with rice. It was the first good sleep I had had since I woke up Wednesday morning at 5:30 a.m.

At 9:30 Saturday morning, the phone rang. It was my aunt.

She has no recollection being woken or of our 10 p.m. conversation.

Saturday, I resolved to not wear any piece of clothing that is not either flannel or sweatpants. Or my slippers.

I also resolved to NOT strangle my aunt.

The first resolution was far easier, trust me.

Adventures in Moving!

It has been a very long week.

Actually, it's been a very long Wednesday.

This week I helped an elderly friend move to Poughkeepsie, New York.

This comes after a particularly disastrous experience in the same vein from a year or two ago. I took the chance. This woman, whom I will call Grace, has some real challenges in her world, not the least of which is two kinds of cancer for which she is receiving chemotherapy. She also has some mental health issues, namely Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Bi-Polar Disorder. Both are managed well with medication, but they do affect how she handles life and how life sometimes handles her.

Moving is a huge endeavor. Moving in order to get closer to potentially life-saving medical treatment must be more stressful than I can imagine. And doing anything as huge as this while working through Grace's particular dual diagnosis, well, let's just say that I am humbled by her bravery. Please keep this in mind as the story unfolds.

Grace asked me to help her move maybe six months ago. I said sure, and she expected to move in late August or September. Then there were complications and her date got indefinitely postponed. Something about paperwork, Section 8 housing vouchers, availability, and the like. I didn't understand it, but understanding that part is not really my job anyway. I am support staff in this adventure. So anyway, about a month ago, I got a phone call saying she could move and we looked at a calendar and figured out a date when we'd do things. She called and ordered a truck and a tow dolly for the car and we set about getting her some boxes and tape. She packed and packed and packed, and as she packed, she would ferry carloads of boxes to a rented storage unit so she could still move around in her apartment. Makes sense, right? Well, it seems that the damned things breed. She had an apartment full of boxes AND a storage unit full of boxes, AND there was stuff that still needed to be packed in the last minute.

Late last week, I got a phone call that she was overwhelmed with the packing chore. Laura went over and spent a day helping, and another friend came and packed up a bunch for her as well. So she had only a few minor things to pack up on the last day, so we figured we'd all be OK. At 7 a.m. on Wednesday, I met her to go get the U-Haul truck. It was 17-feet long, not very big, but my packing skills are legendary, so I figured we'd be close to OK.

Did I mention that she had TWO rented storage spaces? Yeah. Both 10 feet by 10 feet, one packed with household things and the other with her art supplies. Grace is a talented artist, working primarily in oils on canvas, although there seemed to be a lot of fiber art stuff there too. Anyway, she had a ton of shit to pack onto that truck.

I enlisted some volunteers (bribed with cookies, actually) and we started moving stuff into the truck. The light boxes went up in the over-the-cab compartment, the couch went up against the front wall, mattress and box spring wedged in beside it on the right, and then we started packing for real. Full-sized beautiful wooden desk and shelf unit, beautiful birch (maybe pine?) headboard and foot board, bureau with mirror, dining room table, chairs, recliner, all of the normal things came out of that apartment and into the truck. Pack, pack, pack, squeeze, wedge, shove -- it was like a three-dimensional game of Tetris. Oddly-shaped things would come out via a volunteer and I would find a place for them on the truck. Tall things, wide things, skinny things, breakable things, pole lights and hat stands and beach umbrellas and walking sticks and boxes and more boxes. I wrapped the nice wooden pieces so they would not scuff and scrape against each other, and I packed that sucker to the roof, jamming thin little things up in there to wedge tight so as to prevent the load shifting once we got on the road.

Halfway through the morning, Grace had to go for her nearly four-hour chemotherapy treatment. We waved her cheerfully off and remembered again why she needed us. We set about our task with greater resolve and humility.

I left Laura and one of our volunteers at the apartment to finish the boxing and cleaning, and I took the other volunteer and the truck over to the storage facility. The truck was over half-full already, and Laura had warned me that BOTH rooms were pretty full. Oh dear.

Well, I had told Grace that we'd prioritize her household stuff first, and if she had to hire me or someone else later to bring down a truckload of her art stuff, then that's what we'd do. We got there to find both rooms pretty much as described: one was pretty full, the other was about half-full and much more loosely packed.

There not being much to do really except start, that's what we did. I stayed in the truck (always my post in moving someone) and M (a big, strongish kind of guy) schlepped boxes from inside the unit to the tailgate. He stayed busy, and I mostly kept up. I found a little wooden chair that had a crushed velvet seat cover that came off. Inside was a bunch of sewing supplies - needles, thread, bobbins, all that stuff. It obviously went with the sewing machine table (did I not mention that? Yes, she had a heavy, antique sewing machine table) but it was perfect for me to stand on to put boxes all the way up to the ceiling. I moved it toward the back of the truck as the truck became more and more full. Packing carefully, we cleaned out the household unit in short order. There was still an encouraging amount of room left in the truck, so I decided that we'd try to clean out the art supplies unit too. M began ferrying canvases and boxes and all kinds of things to the tailgate, and I worked to make them all fit in the truck.

A word about New England roads. Roads here are often rutted and bumpy, and yes, I mean the paved roads. Our dirt is interspersed with what we call "ledge" which is actually the granite underpinnings of the North American continent. What covers that ledge is a mish-mosh of different kinds of dirt and rock and sand. Some is gravel and well-drained. Some is mud and marsh and muck and can get squishy. Some is topsoil, which is scraped away and put on people's lawns to grow grass. The point is, our roads, and yes, the paved ones, get compacted by traffic. Especially heavy vehicles like tractor-trailer trucks and motor homes and tour buses and the like. Not to mention the normal kinds of daily traffic that all roads see - town plow trucks, dump trucks, garbage trucks, concrete mixers, the beer truck, the Coke truck, the home delivery oil truck and all the rest. The point is, our roads get a little beat up and you can expect to roll from side to side a bit when you drive on them. So, anything standing up in a truck could well fall over in a drive as short as a quarter-mile.

So, things that were big, delicate, or prone to tipping or shifting got tied to the wooden side rails inside the truck. I had a nice chunk of rope left over from some project or another, and I simply tied things to the rails, cut the rope there and moved on. The Ironing board got tied to the rails. The bed's headboard and foot board got tied to the rail. Some bookshelves got tied. Anything that looked less than secure got tethered. I had no time to offer therapy, we just tied shit down. If there was insecurity after the move, then that was something that could be dealt with in New York.

So, after that primer on roads and trucks, you can understand why everything got tethered that could get tethered, and the rest got wedged in tight and snug. We got back to the apartment and packed in the last handful of boxes. Grace came back from her treatment and did the last of the kitchen things while Laura and I came home to get my suitcase and any final last-minute things.

Laura drove me back to Grace's apartment, we cleaned the last of everything out, loaded the car, loaded the truck, loaded the car onto the trailer, strapped it down, put the cat carrier in the front between Grace and me, grabbed a big box of Goldfish crackers out of Laura's car, kissed my sweetie goodbye and headed south.

Grace was worried about her cat. She'd spent the previous night in a motel, with the cat, and he had yowled all night. Wednesday he had watched with obvious disapproval all the comings and goings as his possessions (all are his, I understand this) were packed up and taken out of the apartment.

Now, I have met this cat before. He is nearly 18 years old. I know his daily routine generally consists of competitive napping. Like for 26 to 32 hours each day. No kidding. So now we're in the truck and the cat has not moved in his carrier. He has not yowled, he has not complained, he has not moved. Grace is afraid he might be dead. We pull over after 30 minutes and she hauls him out. He's fine, if tired and disgruntled. She holds him on her lap for the rest of the night's journey. He sleeps.

Of course he slept! He normally sleeps for over 20 hours a day, and I had witnesses who could attest to the fact that he got NO sleep on Wednesday as the packing was going on. Apparently, he'd had no sleep the night before in the motel, because Grace assured me that he'd yowled all night and kept her awake besides. So now the poor precious beastie was sleeping. Good for him. He'd been terribly disrupted in the past couple of days.

We drove a couple hundred miles, and in the dark bitter cold and a stiff breeze, it took us about 5 hours all told. The wind was buffeting the truck as I drove, and by the time we stopped after 11 p.m., I was truly exhausted.

We stopped in Amesbury, Massachusetts at a motel just off the highway. Grace went and checked us in while I parked the truck and its trailer. We smuggled the cat in the back door in his carrier, and then his litter box and then our overnight bags. I called Laura, told her where we were and said good night. There was some drama when Grace discovered that her overnight bag did not contain the things she had hoped, but she made do and we turned out the lights at just past midnight.

yowl.

yowl.

YOWL.

Yowl.

Yowl.

Yowl.

Yowl.

Yowl.

Rustling in the dark. Murmurs of comforting words.

Yowl.

Yowl.

Yowl.

More rustling. Some thumping and clicking of cases and carriers.

Yowl.

Yowl.

Yowl.

Yowl.

Yowl.

I tossed and turned and turned and tossed.

Yowl.

Yowl.

Yowl.

I pulled the blankets over my head.

Yowl.

Yowl.

Yowl.

I pulled the pillows over my head.

Yowl.

Yowl.

Yowl.

More thumpings and rustlings in the dark. Doors opening and closing.

(somewhat muffled echo effect here)

yowl.

yowl.

yowl.

The cat was in the bathroom.

Which was next to my bed.

Yowl.

Yowl.

Yowl.

At five a.m., I finally said "Grace, please DO something."

She said something, I don't remember what, but it was not unkind. I think it might have been apologies, and then there was some more opening and closing of doors and it was quiet, save for the normal motel room heater noise.

My aunt called my cell phone at 8 a.m. to sing good morning and ask when we'd like to meet for breakfast. I nearly strangled her through the phone.

Sigh.

I showered, dressed and packed my bag. I gathered Grace and the cat, who was now napping peacefully in his basket in the front of the truck, and all his gear, and we went to breakfast and then hit the road.

The next 225 miles took us almost 6 hours. Again the wind was fierce, and we ran into some traffic near Danbury, Connecticut, but as a rule the roads were fine and we moved along pretty well. We turned north in Fishkill, New York and traveled up the Hudson River Valley through some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever had the pleasure to see. I don't remember ever traveling up this stretch, and it was simply beautiful. I understand now why this section of real estate bred a formidable cadre of artists in the last century or two. Wow.

We pulled up to Grace's new apartment building in time for her to grab her key, take a look at the place, make sure the carpet was actually installed (there had been some concern about the timing of that project) and then we headed over to the artists' gallery space where she was going to store some of her work and supplies.

Bless her heart, Grace had the good sense to call a Poughkeepsie Christian High School to ask for some volunteers to help her unload. What met us was the principal, a teacher, and a half-dozen clean-cut boys from the Tabernacle Christian Academy of Poughkeepsie, New York. They unloaded the art stuff at the art place and then we all carpooled back to the apartment building for the rest.

I stayed with the truck while the teachers and boys all went up to Grace's 12th-floor apartment. Soon we had an assemble line of sorts, with boys and men carrying boxes and furniture to the elevators, then ferrying them up to the top floor and unloading them, then back again. The truck was unloaded in record time.

The adults had to leave, but some of the boys stayed. I brought up the cat in his carrier and set him up in the bathroom where he could yodel in tile-surround echo-chamber happiness AND use his facilities without risk of being trampled by enthusiastic teenagers. And then Grace and I had to settle up.

See, she hired me for this job. Only I know that she was running out of money. So that made it tricky. I told her that I would work for pay to pack her stuff and load the truck, but that I would donate my time driving and unloading if she would just pay for my meals and motel room and buy me the necessary train/bus tickets back home. So she paid me some cash, I returned the truck to the rental place, and one of the young men - nice kid named Frank - brought me to the station to catch the 7:40 p.m. train to Grand Central Station, arriving at 9:25 p.m.

Dawn's adventures in New York - and Connecticut - and Rhode Island - and Massachusetts - and New Hampshire - and finally, Maine - tomorrow. Stay tuned. It's about to get good.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey porn

Let's see what kind of hits that title gets, shall we?

In a recent exchange with Asthmagirl out on the left coast, we considered various and sundry ways to prepare a turkey for the table. She brines hers the day before. I never have, but do not rule out trying it some time. It didn't happen this year, though.

What did happen is that turkey dropped to 40 cents a pound at the local supermarket, so we splurged on a 22.7 pound buzzard. The thing was monstrous! It weighed more than our cat and dog combined! It was damned big!

I was so excited about the turkey, I fairly danced it home.

Then I sat down and did the math. Experts say you should cook a stuffed turkey 20 minutes for each pound (that is: what it weighs before you stuff it). hum. That means an hour for each three pounds. 21 pounds means 7 hours. 1.7 pounds extra means about a half-hour to forty more minutes. Dinner is supposed to be on the table at 1, bird's gotta rest a half hour before I carve it, so that means it should come OUT of the oven at 12:30 , so counting backwards that means... oh shit. The bird has to go INTO the oven at approximately 4:45 a.m.

Suddenly, this was not as much fun as it had seemed.

I am not now nor have I ever really been a morning person.

Mornings are reserved for slow movement, generous application of coffee and slow perusal of online newspapers, not wrestling with a naked, wet bird at O-Dark-Thirty.

Uf-da.

I set the alarm for 4 a.m. and rolled out at the second ring. It was indeed quite dark. I stumbled to the kitchen, trying to be quiet so as not to wake Laura (our bedroom is right off the kitchen).

I started the wild rice mixture boiling in two cans of vegetable broth plus a can of water. It looked like this:



Then I got out the vegetables I had prepared the night before. I use chopped onions, celery, carrots and baby bella mushrooms.


When the rice was about HALF COOKED - and still a little sloppy, I poured it into a large bowl and added the veggies and some seasonings - this morning it was just over 1/2 a box of Bell's poultry seasoning, some black pepper, some sea salt, and 1/4 cup dried savory. I know, savory is not a typical poultry seasoning, but I like the way it works. When I stirred it all around, it looked like this:



When I took Tom out of his wrapper, I have to say I was a little disappointed. I mean all his parts were there - giblets and neck and all, but it seemed that our buzzard might have been banged around a bit in his travels from farm to slaughterhouse to grocery to our home. There were a few small tears in his skin on his wings and a large one near the big cavity (you'll see in a minute). In short, Tom looked as though he might have been mugged at some point in his travels. He was in one piece, but a little battered. Oh well, at o-dark-thirty on Thanksgiving morning, there really isn't anyone to call and complain to, so I made the best of it and kept going.

Now to stuff a turkey can be a difficult thing. Stuffing it solo, without the benefit of coffee, well, that's just hazardous. I dug out my grandmother's beef stew pan and stuck Tom in it with his neck end up and proceeded to pack as much of the sloppy wet rice and vegetable mixture as I could into that orifice. It looked like this:


Then I stitched the opening closed using a single skewer and a sewing kind of method. It looked vaguely Frankenstein-ish, but it kept the rice from falling out, so I call it good. It looked like this:

Then I turned Tom ass-over-end and found a problem. He had a tear. Not a tear in his beer, but a tear - a badass rip if the truth be known - in his skin from the opening where the stuffing goes to about the spot directly over the knee of his drumstick. The hole looked like this:


Hmmm. Tricky business. I stuffed him as much as I could in that position, but then tipped him on end again and stuck him in the stew pot so he didn't flop over. Then I stitched up the tear with another skewer like I did his backside (or neckside, actually) and it looked like this:


I finished stuffing him and then closed the skin flap opening in the normal manner, with skewers and string lacing. I forgot to get a picture of the lacing, but I bet you can figure out what it looked like.

Next, I prepared the paint for the outside of the bird. I used about a half to three-fourths cup of mayonnaise, the rest of the Bell's, some paprika, cayenne and garlic powder. It looked like this:



That's the pot with the neck and giblets in it that I simmered on the stove for hours to make stock for the gravy. Mixed together, the mayo paint looks like this:



I painted the underside of the bird with a two-inch pastry brush. It goes on like this:



Once I got the bottom painted, I flipped him over and placed him in the rack in the roasting pan. Then he looked like this:


So I painted the top, then tucked his wings underneath and he looked like this:


The stitched up end where the stuffing went in now looks like this:


Then we endured cooking-turkey smells for 7+hours. When Tom came out of the oven, the mayo had crisped up on the skin and was mostly ready to flake off. It doesn't always look good, but the result is delicious. Here's is "after" shot:


Then we served lunch/dinner buffet-style:

The back row, from left to right in a kind of jagged line are: mashed turnip, peas, carrots, white turkey meat, dark turkey meat. Next row down: rice stuffing from inside the bird, mashed potatoes, mashed buttercup squash with brown sugar, mashed sweet potatoes Last: boiled onions over there on the left. Not pictured: bread stuffing (from a box) and a bowl of the rice stuffing that was NOT in the bird (for our vegetarian), pitcher of gravy (not boat; pitcher - we don't mess around!), plus smooth and whole berry varieties of cranberry jelly.

After the bird was in the oven this morning, I went back to bed for three hours. It was utterly divine. Last night while doing prep work, I made as much of today's stuff ahead as I could. I cooked four pies: custard, (vegetarian) mince, apple, pecan. (A pumpkin pie came with the basket from the food pantry.) I cooked all my mashed stuff and put them in casseroles for reheating today: potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, turnip, and the bread stuffing. But because the refrigerator was filled with a 22.7 pound turkey, we had to stash all of that food in the trunk of Laura's car in the yard. The night air kept it cool and the car kept the raccoons out. Today when I began cooking, all I had to do was cook the carrots, peas and onions, and make the gravy. One of our guests wanted to help, so I set her to stirring the gravy, and it came out the best of any gravy I think I have ever made. It was delicious. And smooth. Not a single lump. Yay!

Now for the explanation of the rice stuffing. First, I like the rice mixture better than the wet bread variety. I don't much care for wet bread, although sometimes I will succumb to its call. I like to put the rice in half-cooked so it can continue to steam the bird from the inside, and so the bird can flavor the rice. At least that's my theory. And the best part is when I make soup from the carcass. I boil down the carcass like you do to make soup, I fish out the bones and nasty bits, pick the meat off the bones and put it into the soup, dump in the leftover vegetables, and then I put the leftover rice stuffing into the soup. Oh, man. It adds so much flavor and texture - it's wonderful! Oh, I also pour in the leftover gravy, too, so that makes the soup even more wonderful. I think I'll make soup on Friday or maybe Saturday - and freeze some for later in the winter. There is nothing like hearty turkey and wild rice soup on a snowy nasty day in February.

Dinner and pies have been consumed. Dishes and pans and more silverware than I knew we owned have been washed and stacked to dry. A turkey sandwich - toasted Canadian White bread with mayo, ground black pepper, turkey, cranberry sauce and bacon - has been eaten. The dog got bacon grease and some turkey liver in her kibble this evening. All is well here. We have virtually no money, but we have plenty of leftovers to hold us for a while, good company in the person of my aunt, who is up for the weekend from Massachusetts, and the memory of a wonderful dinner spent with friends. Oh, and we sent out a couple TV-dinners for a friend who is nursing a sick partner. With a whole plate of slices of pie. Because caregivers need pampering too. Now I am off to find my bed and hibernate until morning, when my alarm goes off at a much more reasonable time than 4.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

SAFE!

under the wire? I hope so, even if it is this lame.

NaBloPoMo, you are so screwing up my world, I swear. This happens again, I'm going to let midnight come and go. Oh well.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Food porn


Have adapted a recipe I found on line for a thing I love made locally in Portland, Maine by one of my favorite sushi chefs.

The magical thing is called a Spicy Scallop Roll.

It involves the normal sheet of nori, rice spread out on it, and fish laid down and then rolled up, but in this instance, the fish is cooked.

The recipe I have here should make 6 to 8 normal sized rolls.

1 pound bay scallops (or you can use the big ones if you feel like spending the extra cash)
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon (or more) cayenne
1/4 teaspoon sri racha (or more to taste)

Clean and chop the scallops

Mix the mayo and the spices, and mix that into the scallops, tossing to make sure they are all coated.

Put them in a shallow pan and pop them min the broiler for five minutes or so until they are cooked and a little bubbly on top.

Remove from oven and allow to cool a little. Prepare your nori sheets with rice. Divide the scallops up and spread like you would a regular sushi roll, then roll up tight and cut into six or eight pieces. Plate the pieces and top with the extra bits of scallops that fell out the ends as you rolled it up.

There are six rolls in the above picture. The large circles in the middle are tuna rolls with avocado and the smaller circles at either end are the spicy scallop rolls. I rolled them, and it's a little tricky to roll large rolls of material that is chopped. Our friend M made the tuna rolls.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Perhaps I mis-spoke

Hmmm. In the past, I have said that writing fiction is too difficult for me. Non fiction is the stuff, I'd say. I was a reporter for too long to make stuff up when I write. Gotta be real. Gotta be accurate. No funny stuff. Grr.

Well, now I am in a writing project that is pure non-fiction.

And it sucks turkey giblets.

(How's that for an image?)

I decided that my opinion was worth listening to, and I managed to convince a few other people that I might have something of value to say, so I have a date with some pretty smart people set up for next week. Where I will tell them what I think. Without using cuss words, if possible.

To prepare for this adventure, my beloved has compiled scads and scads of data. She has created spreadsheets that would arouse the freakiest of accountants. Wait. That sounded way stranger than I had planned. But damn, it's good enough that I am going to leave it in. Just because.

So anyway, to accompany these scads of spreadsheets and oodles of data, I thought it might be wise to have a narrative to explain what the circles and arrows are all about. (Apologies to Mr. Guthrie.)

Only, for the first time in my life, I am jammed up writing. I can't get the damned thing down on the page. I can tell it out loud, I can explain it over nachos at a restaurant, and draw maps of congressional districts in crayon on the back of a place mat, but sit at the computer and type it out? Not so much.

My solution? I have two extremely devoted assistants (thanks, Laura and Louise!) who allowed me to dictate my rant into various and sundry recording devices so they could transcribe it, so I could combine it, and now I have nine pages when what I need is three.

So now I am going through, eliminating the duplications, cleaning up the data and citations, and generally doing some kind of damage to my frontal cortex every time I bang my head against the table.

Perhaps when this is done, I might share it. Perhaps I might not. It might be classified as top-secret super-duper political strategy material meant only for the eyes of those at the highest levels of queer political leadership.

Or, like in my newspaper days, someone will use it to train a puppy shortly after they looked at the pictures. You can't tell.

But what I can tell you is that this dry kind of non-fiction stuff is miserable, miserable writing. There is no room for humor, no room for sarcasm, no room for soul, and barely any room for passion. Gah. I wish we had a tub so I could soak in it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

duh! I could have done this earlier!

Back just after the election, I was interviewed by a woman named Amy from our nearby community radio station, WERU in East Orland, Maine. She interviewed me on the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 4. To say I was a little burned out and sad is the understatement of the year.

Well, as it turns out, I sounded pretty good - at least enough that she could edit and get the non-crying bits to sound worth-while. She submitted her story to a nationally syndicated program called This Way Out, and they used it in their weekly radio magazine for the week of Nov. 11.

They used a clip of what I said at the very beginning, as a teaser, then they go into a bunch of news from around the country and the world, and then they come back to the main stories, of which Maine was the lead story. My interview with Amy lasts about 2 or 3 minutes and I think it went pretty well. You be the judge, though.

As I seem unable to embed an MP3 file, here is the link to download the file so you can hear the program:

Oh, and if anyone can tell me how to embed an MP3 file, you know how to reach me. Thanks.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

corrections

Oops. I made an error the other day.

In the post where I complain about glbt stuff disappearing from the White House Website, I was wrong. It's still there. It just does not seem as huge as it once appeared.

And the chairman of the Democratic National Committee is Tim Kaine, otherwise known as the invisible/silent man for the low profile he keeps.

Another busty day and I'm pooped. This is all you get. Sorry.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

ouch

OK, so I haven't been doing much physical work for the past, oh ... six months, I think? But let me tell you - I hurt today.

Yesterday I built 80% of a shelf/entertainment center for a customer, and today I did a half-day of garden work, followed by a couple more hours at the business end of a leaf-blower.

Now my arms are rubbery and my hands don't want to grab things and hold on with any kind of reliability.

Damn. This working for a living is rough stuff.

More coming tomorrow, too, and Thursday, and again on Friday. I'll be lucky if I can drink out of a cup without using a straw by the weekend. Wow.

I'm off to bed. The NaBloPoMo gods have been appeased for another day.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

fishy lessons

lessons learned recently:

1. five sushi rolls, even (or perhaps especially) the home-made kind, per person, is too many.

2. it does not take much fish to fill a sushi roll.

3. like even a half pound of raw fish will fill two very hungry people.

4. that spicy sauce they put on the scallops is wicked easy to make.

5. even light soy will make me very, very thirsty.

6. our cat does not like raw fish, but the dog will tip over the trash can to get at the tiniest sliver of raw fish in the deepest, darkest corners of its recesses.

7. ice cream after sushi requires at least a 60-minute waiting period, like before you can swim after eating.

8. nori paper is perhaps the handiest stuff ever, however freakish the science behind it.

9. do not rub your eyes after handling pickled ginger.

10. or wasabi.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

post your comments please

It feels like I hit a wall today.

I was energized and fired up about a bunch of stuff and now I am pooped.

We had an informal post-mortem on the campaign today at a local pol's house, and it seems like we all were in agreement on the basic things that went well, went not-so-well, and what we'd like to do better with in the future. I think it was good to have such a meeting, and I wonder if other groups in the state did the same thing.

I am so tired tonight. I don't know why, but I am. I was fired up and now I'm spent. I guess I just am going to tire more easily for a while. Oh well. Forgive this lame post, but I met my NaBloPoMo obligation and now I'm going to bed.

Oh, if you are so inclined, this fun thing has been flying around on facebook. If you and I woke up in a jail cell together, in FOUR WORDS ONLY, what would you say? Post 'em in the comments section, if you would, please. I need a laugh.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A day for milestones

This felt like a day for milestones.

Bernie passed this morning from this realm into some other. Rest in peace, Bernie. We will do our best to carry the message as you showed us how to do it.

Laura and I have been compiling some numbers and studying them and developing some strategy ideas for how we can do better with glbt issues at the ballot in Maine's Second Congressional District. I've got some ideas and some rough sketches of a plan, and I have secured a meeting with some of the campaign leadership to offer these ideas and strategies for consideration. I am working in channels now. It's kinda scary, to be honest. It's not generally my style.

Our friends Dan and Tyrrell are moving to Bozeman, Montana, of all places, and tonight was their going-away party. Lots and lots of friends and neighbors turned out to wish them well, nearly all I recognized from one house party or another. It felt like half party, half wake. There were lots of hugs and "I'm so sorry"s from everyone, including Dan and Ty. They have been a powerful and influential force for progressive politics in this little section of Maine and they will be sorely missed.

I went to my Friday night meeting after the dinner and heard some good stuff. It feels good to have gone to meetings on each of the last four nights. It sort of feels like I am going to the spiritual and mental chiropractor. The kinks are getting worked out, things are coming back into alignment, and I am feeling better all over.

Now here are a couple of things I want you to watch. There are two videos, they're not that long, but they had to be split up because of the YouTube time limits. Please watch. Many of these people are my friends. The footage is all from the Portland area and was filmed in the last 24 to 48 hours of the campaign.



And now that you've watched, if you're a registered Democrat, it would be nice if you could send a note to both of the following entities. And please write it out, PRINT IT OUT and MAIL IT. E-mails disappear. Written letters on paper must be noted, opened and saved. This is important enough to spend 44 cents on a stamp, for crying out loud.

So please write to President Obama at:

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Switchboard: 202-456-1414
FAX: 202-456-2461

TTY/TDD
Comments: 202-456-6213
Visitors Office: 202-456-2121

And you might want to mention that there is no longer a GLBT page on the White House issues page. There was one when he got elected. There is no longer anything about the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act or that dumb-ass Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Where the hell did our "fearless advocate" go? Hmm?

And to the Democratic National Committee at:
Democratic National Committee
430 S. Capitol St. SE
Washington, DC 20003

Main Phone Number:
202-863-8000

I thought equality was a solid plank in the Democratic party platform. You're happy to take our money and use our volunteers, but what have you done for me lately?? I mean besides take my money and then ignore me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I hate deadlines

especially when I don't have enough time between remembering one and hitting that same deadline to write something terribly witty and clever.

Which, of course, is what I prefer to do.

Witty and clever are easy for me. I like the easy stuff. Blood and guts and fear and vulnerability? Eeeeeeessssshhhhhhh, that's tough stuff.

Last year when I did this NaBloPoMo thingitz, I set the bar exceedingly high. The Seven Deadly Sins. The seven Virtues. Oh, and there was a presidential election in there, plus an assortment of things that gave me ample fodder for the copy factory that is my keyboard.

This year, I have yet to find that muse. We just came off a campaign that ate my summer and my life. I stuck my head into it in July and woke up last week wondering where all the leaves had gone. Fishing season is over, too, I understand. Damn.

The truth is, I just don't have the energy level this year that I had last year. Maybe if we won I'd have more zip, I don't know. My gut tells me that I'd be this tired even if we'd won. Although I could be boring you all with wedding plans.

Louise from Pam's House Blend came up yesterday and we had a marvelous visit. She brought home-made pickles and apple butter and fudge and we all went out to lunch at Geddy's and got the nachos on a hubcap and then to Ben & Bill's to buy goodies for the folks back home and then a short tour through the park. We stopped at Thunder Hole, which was not thundering at all (low tide) and we showed her where those people got washed off the rocks into the ocean, and we saw some deer and some nature and it was good.

We laughed and cried a little; over lunch we talked politics and Maine stories and discussed our experiences gutting deer. The young hetero couple at the next table barely blinked. I do love a small, rural town. We talked some more about politics, and came up with some ideas that have had Laura and I doing research and data entry and trying to coalate things so that I can look at them and get what I need easily. I've got some ideas for future campaigns, but I want to have them properly organized before I offer them for public consumption. Stay tuned, though. I'll share them here eventually.

Today I worked, sort of. I did a bunch of prep work and made ready for a nice little project that I think will make the customers very happy. I'll try to take pictures if I can remember, and post them here.

Gads but I wish I had more time to be witty, but I don't. I need to hit publish soon or I won't get to win the zillion-dollar grand prize for having posted every day for a month. Right. I'm planning on that money to retire to an island where there is warm sun, blue sky, blue ocean, white sand, palm trees and scantily clad women. Ahem. Right. Or maybe just pay off my student loans. That'd be nice.

OK. That's what you get today. We'll try again tomorrow for brilliance, but I make no promises.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

an old friend

Went to a meeting at the hospital tonight. It's not one I usually go to, but I went, and it was good. Got to hear a newbie talk for the first time, and that was rewarding. I remember her first meeting all those months ago, and I remember seeing her off and on since then. I had to confess, though, that I did not realize it had been eight months. I thought it had maybe been three or four. Seems I stuck my head in the campaign and woke up last week wondering where all the leaves on the trees had gone.

After the meeting, three of us women went upstairs to visit an old guy from the program who is not well.

Bernie is a great guy. He has brain cancer. It's terminal. It's been bad for a while now. I think they keep him pretty heavily sedated so he doesn't try to move around too much and injure himself. But he was alert when we got there. Some of his adult kids were there, sort of milling and foot-shifting and not knowing quite what to do. They seemed stunned by the sheer number of people who are streaming into their father's room, expressing their love and moving on. The were kind enough and generous enough to step out for a few minutes so we could each have a moment with Bernie. They cautioned us that he really couldn't talk, and that he was very sleepy and seemed to not always recognize people.

My friend C was the first to go to him. She got close to his face so he could see, took his hand and spoke his name. His eyes opened and there was a familiar spark. The corners of his mouth turned up just the slightest bit. He knew her. They shared a few moments and then I took a turn at his bedside. I was thrilled to see the recognition in his eyes.

"I love you Dawn," he said.

I nearly fell over.

I held his hand and kissed his forehead.

Daring not to linger, I passed my turn off to M, the member of our small troupe with the shortest amount of sobriety. She remembers Bernie some, but he has sort of fallen off the radar for the past few months as his health has steadily declined. His eyes sparkled, though. M is pretty. And Bernie, well, let's just say he has always had a way with pretty girls. Always respectful and sweet, that respectfulness and sweetness got him more attention and affection than any strutting lewdness by younger, cockier men. M leaned over and kissed my aging friend, and he positively beamed through his gray grizzles of a beard.

He might be terminally ill, but he is neither dead nor stupid. Have I mentioned that I adore Bernie? Yeah. He's my bud.

M and C went out in the hall to talk with the family members, and somehow I ended up back at Bernie's bedside. I held his hand and his grip was strong. His eyes found mine and sparkled. He couldn't really talk much, so I talked to him instead. I talked about how we always seemed to meet of a workday lunchtime at the local really bad Chinese restaurant and how we always were glad to share a table and conversation. I talked about how I used to love talking with him about this engineering disaster or the other (he is an electrical engineer), how people built towers in the dumbest places imaginable, and how summer people really have no business trying to fix their own homes. We talked about contractors who cut corners, and ones that did things right, and we solved many a construction dilemma over plates of shrimp with lobster sauce (his) and Szechuan chicken (mine).

I told him he needed to get a prettier nurse (the nurse on at the time was a man) and his eyes blinked his agreement.

I told him that he had some fine children and that they seemed to care for him a great deal. I told him that he'd done good, and he blinked his appreciation. It was the long, slow blink of a man who has spent a long time wanting to reconcile with his kids after drinking for so many years. Bernie's been sober a long time now, but when kids are young and Dad's an alcoholic, well, some wounds take a very long time to heal. For his kids to be there means an awful lot to him. It also probably tells him that he is nearing the end of his time in this world. Especially if they're all there, even at 9 p.m., and the nurse was making arrangements for reclining chairs so they could spend the night by his side.

I bent low and told him that I had to go and that he should probably rest some and spend some time with his kids. He squeezed my hand one more time while I kissed him and told him that I loved him, and as I let go his hand, his gaze shifted to his children in the room.

What a gift that was. To see Bernie one more time. I was afraid I was going to come back to meetings after this campaign and learn of his funeral some two weeks previous.

What a blessing it was to have him recognize me and speak to me. To share some warm memories. Wow.

My heart is at once full and hollow.

Blessed be Bernie. May your journey be gentle, however long it takes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

little bits

Money is still tight, but it seems to have slightly less of a stranglehold on my world right now. I got paid for that cellar clean-out, which is nice. We can pay the cable/Internet/phone bill now and see if they'll come fix the damned cable box so it doesn't sound like it's inhabited by crazed squirrels. No audio makes for tough watching on football Sundays. We can also get some heating oil, which will be nice. And maybe pay back one friend who lent us money last month for rent.

I did some writing this morning in my journal. Journal writing for me is very different from what I write here. Here I know I have an audience (all both of you, bless your devoted little hearts), but in my journal, I write for me. Sometimes it is like a meditation, sometimes it is like a prayer. I try to do some exploration, and I allow myself to write in a free-form, flowing style much like that old "stream of consciousness" stuff we played with in years past. What I write here is thinned by my internal filters. You get the funny stuff, the witty stuff, the sarcastic and zippy stuff, but not the vulnerable stuff. Not the scared stuff. Not the really, really scared stuff, the shame, the self-doubt, the insecurities, the negative stuff voiced by the chorus of demons that are my alcoholic thinking, my dysfunctional upbringing, and the sometimes hostile world in which I live.

I can dig pretty deep here, and get pretty honest, but the stuff I write before I have my first cup of coffee is the stuff you don't even dare whisper aloud in the dark. It is the stuff I keep hidden from myself, and it scares me sometimes to even put it on a page. After that first cuppa joe hits, the really intimate stuff fades back to the interior and hides. The witty stuff comes out to shine and get the attention. And the writing gets just a little bit less real. Less close to the bone. Less dangerous.

So this morning? Well, this morning I got started on that financial step work stuff I talked about yesterday. The thing that is scaring me is the personal inventory I need to take, where I look at my behaviors and my feelings and figure out what is worth keeping and what needs to be thrown out. When I was ready to do this step with regards to my alcoholism, my sponsor at the time said to me "all you have to do is be ready to change everything about yourself."

That's huge. Everything about myself is, well, everything about myself. My identity is what it is. It is how I define myself, for good or bad. To look at the parts of my life as they pertain to my financial mental health and discover that big hunks of stuff really have to go, well, that's a scary proposition.

I did it with my previous inventory, and while I did change some things about myself, I don't think I actually really changed everything about myself. I think maybe I changed a whole lot about my behavior and how I think and feel, and I suppose that might seem like a lot, but from where I sit, I am still me. I have not changed my identity. I am a new version of me, not a different person. I guess I can have faith that this new inventory thing that I am doing will have a similar effect upon me. I can look forward to a new version of me. And I guess I can handle that. We'll see what tomorrow's writing session brings for me...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday, some steps, and money issues

Up early, swallowed some pride, got some help, did an estimate, offered some advice, did a favor for a friend, had a nice visit and yummy lunch, and headed home. Over all, not a bad day. Tomorrow will hold some similar kinds of plans. Probably some humility in the morning, followed by some work stuff, and then some recovery work. Not much glory on the agenda, but that's okay.

I find that I am still healing. I told some friends today about some of the support I got to my blog posts in the past week, about how Jen in Denver lit a candle at the same time we were having a candle-light church service here, and I started to cry. I didn't fight it, just told the story, let the tears flow, and mopped up when I was done. It seems to be going that way. I am not fighting the feelings. Which for me is a pretty big deal. I spent a lot of time and energy trying to avoid my feelings, so just letting them be is remarkable.

I have some work to do on myself these days. I need to address my relationship with money. It is a huge scary thing for me to undertake. I need to apply the same kind of effort to this endeavor as I do to my sobriety. I am tired of being broke. I am tired of owing people. I am tired of the anxiety associated with this stuff. I dearly hope I have had enough. I need to apply the tools I learned in my recovery program to the problem at hand. I need to come to grips with what I am powerless over and what I am not, I need to know where and how to ask for help, and then I need to do that. And then I need to take areal and meaningful inventory of my behavior and feelings around money. It's going to be a big job, but it needs doing and each day that passes is more time I spend on the unhealthy side of this equation. And I would like to think I have had enough of that.

I also need to deal with this stuff if I am going to have any credibility when it comes to being a financial fund raiser. How can I tell members of a church or a non-profit how to raise money, how to be transparent, how to get over their shame and secrecy issues when it comes to money if I am unable or unwilling to discuss my own affairs frankly? If I am going to seriously think about creating a business where I help groups and organizations raise money, I need to be able to speak honestly and with integrity and authority.

So, tomorrow I start anew on this journey. That's the plan. I shall report as I am able. It may or may not prove to be compelling reading, we'll have to see what I discover.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

counting my blessings


The past week has been rough, that is certain. But I am beginning to be able to put some things in perspective.

Five years ago, if anyone had asked me about the possibility of seeing gay marriage become a reality in Maine, I'd have said "not in my lifetime." Tuesday last week, over a quarter of a million Maine voters cast ballots in favor of just such a concept. That is amazing.

I am trying to get back on track now, and I have a few little jobs that are coming together. I don't have a ton of work, but I have a few things lined up, and the skills to do them. I am blessed in that regard. I have a multitude of talents that I can use to earn my keep.

We don't have any money, this is true. In fact, I have an appointment tomorrow morning with the church food pantry. Not to sign up as a volunteer or a coordinator or fundraiser, but as a client. You can imagine how much pride I had to swallow to make that call. But, I am blessed to know how to reach out for help when I need it. And right now I need it. I knew things were getting tight toward the end of the campaign, and since it's over, we've had to take stock of things and the truth of the matter is, we need help. I am grateful that I have the clarity to recognize this. I am also grateful that I am able to work past the shame I feel about asking for help. If people didn't need help at times, organizations would not be created to serve that need. My goal is to work as hard as I can to get to a place where we won't need this help as soon as we can. And perhaps to address my need for prepositional phrases.

I know how to cook and how to be creative on a budget. We will not go hungry, nor will we have to eat gruel. We may have to make adjustments, but we will not suffer as badly as some have or will.

And I am exceedingly grateful for Laura. She has been my rock through this campaign. She has worked phone bank nights while I did house parties. She set up my laptop with the commercials on a continuous loop and left me very simple instructions on how to make it go. She encouraged me when I needed it and brought me down to earth when I got a little over-inflated. She has been wonderful. And yesterday, when I needed to get away, we went. We visited a friend far away, had a marvelous time and then drove home again today. In all, we're out a tank of gas and a couple bags of groceries, which perhaps we could ill afford, but the good that escape did to my spirit is immeasurable. She knows what I need and will do what it takes to see that I get it. I am truly blessed.

And I have a little dog who is a real rock star. She reminds me daily of what unconditional love looks like and what is important each day: breakfast, snuggles, taking care of business, and enthusiasm for each task as it presents itself.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

time for some r and r

We're headed south to visit a friend. It's just an overnight trip, and on our budget, we won't spend much more than gas money, so that's good. But we need this little break. It may or may not be written up elsewhere. We'll see. Right now my concern is getting all the appropriate stuff jammed into an overnight bag and remembering all the pieces to my c-pap so I can sleep through the night. Quinn will come with us - she has friends to visit as well. Big, dopey, awkward, gawmy friends, but friends nonetheless. Now I am off to pack our gear. Will check in again tomorrow. Happy Saturday, everyone.

Friday, November 6, 2009

funny how it works out

I went to a meeting tonight - for the first time in a very, very long time. It felt good to sit in the metal folding chair and sip instant cocoa from a Styrofoam cup, even if it was in the basement of a Catholic Church. I was there for my 12 step group, not to genuflect and do the rosary. I got asked to chair the meeting, and I'm not sure why, but I was ready to do it.

I did the normal things one does when chairing a meeting: talk about what it was like before alcohol, what it was like when I drank, what happened, and what it's like now living sober. Standard spiel. And then I talked a little bit about this mourning process I am in. How this has been a tough week for me, how I am hurting, but working through it. I can be healthy and still be in pain. I have no regrets about what I did. I gave everything I had. I put everything I possibly could into the campaign, and it turns out that this time, it was not enough to win. I can't get married. I cried. I didn't whine or carry on, I didn't accuse anyone of anything. I talked about how I felt and how I was dealing with it, and how drinking sure as hell was not going to make anything better.

And I got enormous support. Lots of the people there knew I was working on the campaign. Some didn't. One or two might even have voted yes. I noticed that they did not approach me after the meeting like the others did. By and large, though, the vast majority were wonderfully supportive and sympathetic. My wise and ancient sponsor (he's my "auxiliary" sponsor, we've decided) made a special point to come up to me and tell me to call him. I will do that. He is a wonderful man. An Elder in every sense of the word, not just in his Penobscot Nation heritage. One of the original guys who started meetings on the island years and years ago, he's got 30-some years of sobriety and the wisdom of generations. I must make it a point to see him.

But what I notice now, after coming home to comfy clothes, a cup of tea and two medicinal cupcakes, is how nurtured I feel. One meeting, and I feel back into it. I fell back into the rhythm and cadence, I looked around the room and knew all the faces, and was able to feel all the love.

And that just struck me. I was able to feel all the love in that room tonight.

That is different for me.

Usually I can see it, but I don't always feel it. Tonight I felt it.

And I was not afraid of it.

Oh wow. This is the difference that HAI weekend has made.

wowowowowowowow.

I could see love, accept it, welcome it and feel it.

Without concern over any one's motives.

That is huge. More than I can possibly describe.

I've got to figure some way for us to be able to make it to the Level 2 weekend in December. Crap. Gotta gotta gotta.

We did Level 1 back at the beginning of October. It was intense, and wonderful and enlightening, but until just this moment, I had not seen a real, tangible example of how it had changed how I relate to people. Wow.

Gotta go digest this.

Back tomorrow.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

tired of crying, but apparently not done yet

Tuesday night was heartbreaking.

Wednesday felt like the day before a funeral. People called all day, sent e-mails, chatted on facebook and left notes here on my blog. One asshat was classy enough to leave an anonymous note "Losah". I left it there.

This is what we were up against. Anonymous jerks who prefer to snipe from the shadows and write hateful things on websites and yard signs. Gotta take real guts to run over a paper sign. That'll show everyone what kind of man you are. Pissant.

The loss has been devastating. We poured our hearts and souls into this campaign. We took the high road. We did not bring up the sins and hypocrisy of the Catholic Church trying to take any kind of moral high ground after raping children and covering it up for a hundred years. We did not attack our attackers. We stood our ground, spoke our truth and fought a clean fight.

They lied and spread fear. They made accusations about us wanting to indoctrinate children and of conspiracy theories that would make the Roswell crowd blush. And we took the high road.

And you know what? If there is any fault to be found in our side, it might be that we were too polite. We did not point to abusive priests and the bishop who covered up for them and paid off victims. We did not call out the lies as LIES, but used words like "misleading" and "not true."

When it all boils down, we won the urban and coastal counties and lost the inland, rural vote. And Lewiston/Auburn, Maine's largest center of Franco-American Catholics, well, they voted against us in record numbers. It was harsh. The Catholic Church that just put churches up for sale, closed a bunch of schools around the state, bulldozed a beautiful Gothic stone church because it was getting too expensive to heat, and continues to protect priests who raped children entrusted into their care, told people how to vote and they did. It boggles my mind. What part of Christian charity is this? To deny people access to dignity and security? I don't understand.

And what hurt the worst was seeing the joy and celebration when the numbers were announced. The were so happy. How can you be happy to be so mean? so cruel? I don't understand.

We had a service at the UU church in Ellsworth last night. I wasn't convinced I was going to need/want/benefit from such a thing, but Laura wanted to go, and Leela was going to the effort, so we went. It was enormously cathartic. Leela and Wayne (music director) both held me as I sobbed and sobbed. We were all aching and raw and hurting and we came together and held each other and it was good.

When I went to bed last night, my eyes were puffy and red from a day of crying. When I woke this morning, they were dry and sore, but better. Today we worked a little bit - cleaning out a cellar. Just the kind of mindless work I need right now. Lift and heave. Tote and toss. Shovel and sweep. Bring it all to the dump and reverse the process. Good stuff, this manual labor. Although this evening my arms were all rubbery and weak. I wasn't prepared to find that I was so badly out of shape. Apparently a political campaign, wrapping up with 9 days of the flu and followed by two days of emotional hell was sufficient to do damage to my muscles. I'm sore tonight, but at least I have identified the cause.

And then I was chatting on line with this group I like, and this guy was making insensitive and obnoxious statements about why must gay people always flaunt their sexuality. The moderators tossed him out on his ass, but not before I was trembling and sobbing at my computer. I was surprised and horrified at the strength of my reaction. It overwhelmed me in an instant. I had no control. I was simply reduced to a sobbing heap. Again.

You all know me pretty well by now. Being a sobbing heap is not something I generally make a habit of doing. But in the past two days, it seems to have blossomed into a real talent of mine.

I don't know what I need or want right now. Except maybe the patience of people around me. If I am crying, just let me be. Don't tell me it's all right, because it's not. It hurts. It sucks and it hurts and it is NOT all right. It will get better, I know that. But I don't need you to tell me that while I'm crying. Just let me feel it, experience it, and get through it. And it's not likely to be pretty or graceful. Too bad if you can't handle that. I can't really handle it either, so we're even. If I wave you off and say please, don't touch me, that means please don't touch me. Don't hug me if I don't want to be hugged. If I am able to accept touch, I'll reach out or present myself in such a way that you will know. If I am unable to accept touch, it will likely be because I am teetering on the edge of total collapse. I prefer to do my total collapses privately, with one or two very close friends, not in public. If I wave you off, I mean it. To touch me after that will be a violation. Please respect my boundaries, both physical and emotional. If I don't want to talk about it, let's talk about football please. Or those rat bastards the New York Yankees. Or the price of heating oil, or what job you'd like me to do for you. If I want to talk about the election, please let me, even if I cry through it. There is much to be proud of this fall, and I can be proud through the tears. But mostly, just let me get through this at whatever pace I need to do.

I had planned to do this NaBloPoMo thing like I did last year - pick a series of enormous and grand topics and write my brains out. I may still do some of that. But for now I need to deal with this mourning process. Thank you for your patience.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

we lost

it's after midnight and we're down by more than 20,000 votes. In Maine, that's more than we can recover from the remaining 20% of precincts left to report.

It's over.

We lost.

I guess it's a good thing we hadn't set a date.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

put up or shut up time

This is it.

The big day.

Election day 2009.

Our chance to make history.

Our chance to march to Selma.

Here in the Dowling-Fortune household, we're starting to get twitchy.

We slept in and rested, but I think we've had just about all of that we can stand. We need to get to campaign headquarters soon or Laura might explode.

I've made my big tracker board thing with all the towns in Hancock and Washington Counties on it so we can write down the results as they come in. I made two dozen cupcakes that are now cooling in anticipation of frosting. And I made lunch, which we are eating. I will shower soon, get dressed, and we'll head out.

Before we return home, the voters in Maine will have decided whether we should be allowed to get married. I expect we'll have enough of the results in before midnight that it will be called one way or the other. That makes my stomach just a little bit sick, to be truthful.

Tonight we'll be watching the results online. I know some of my readers are not here in Maine, so here are some links to Maine television stations so you can follow along if you are so inclined.


And here is a link to the Bangor Daily News, where all election results are called in by each town clerk. I presume they will be doing some sort of live update thing through the evening.


And here is the link for Maine Public Radio, which I also imagine will be doing some kind of live update thing throughout the evening.


and here is the link for the campaign website, which will also be doing live updates all night:


And finally, for those of you who are familiar with her, Louise from Pam's House Blend will be live-blogging from the party in the Maine Ballroom at the Holiday Inn By the Bay in Portland. I don't know if everyone can join the live chat or not, but she'll be keeping us all up-to-date on what's going down at the statewide campaign headquarters.

I have no idea if I will be able to write anything later tonight or not. I'll have my laptop at the party, but chances are good that I'll be kinda busy tracking returns and such.

I will report in as soon as I am able. In the meantime, please keep your fingers crossed for us. We've all worked awfully hard on this for it to not go our way now.