Like the Sun Never Sets

In the last few weeks, I’ve been sleeping in one of my upstairs bedrooms.  The east-facing window ushers in the day, so I don’t need an alarm clock.  And I’m close to my office, making it easier to work late into the night and comfortably stumble to the boudoir for a few winks.

During this lovely New England summer season, it’s like the sun never sets.  There is lawn to mow and gardens to tend; I sometimes break from my office work during the dinner hours and come back to it after dark settles on the yard.  The change of sleeping chamber works well, all things considered.

Speaking of seasons, I recently watched a 2001 BBC Timewatch documentary called “Debutantes.”  It first aired on May 18, the approximate date of the Queen Charlotte’s Ball.  Loosely based on Angela Lambert’s book, 1939:  The Last Season of Peace, the documentary chronicles Britain’s 1939 social season with reminiscences by now-elderly men and women who were part of it.

I found the series while doing some web-crawling about the late Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire.  The youngest of England’s infamous Mitford sisters, the Duchess is fondly remembered for restoring and promoting the Cavendish ancestral home, Chatsworth.  Debo, as her sisters called her, “came out” in 1938 and like so many of her contemporaries, was presented at court as part of a social ritual that must appear stifling and absurd to women of the same age today.

The start of the social season, the Queen Charlotte’s Ball, featured the presentation of a large cake while all the attending debutantes curtsied to it.

Ruth Sebag-Montefiore, a one-time debutante, remembered the cake curtsy in the documentary.  “It was a joke, it really was a joke…curtsying to a cake,” she said.  “But again, it was one of those things, that as the Americans would say, you ticked off.  There it was so you did it unquestioningly.”

The 2001 documentary included a bevy of old aristocrats, all well-heeled and proper in sitting room stage sets that may or may not have been their homes.  Considering this cast of interviewees were in their mid-80’s at the time of production, their recollections and storytelling is refreshing and marvelous.  Compared to the internecine ramblings of today’s current crop of celebrities, politicians, and social media pseudo-celebrities, “Debutantes” will leave you longing for a strong cup of tea and a comfortable sweater.

Coming out balls, curtsying, and debutantes…if all these things leave your head spinning a Brit, er, bit, never fear.  The Timewatch crew naturally steers to the usual narrative of “life is so much better now that we are not curtsying to a cake.”  The best example of this is at around 9:20 in the video when former debutante Peggy Cripps, complete with strange and supernatural background music, says of being presented at Buckingham Palace, “I was glad I’d done it, I’d tried that…I don’t know, it was an archaic idea, wasn’t it.”

All in all, Cripps is the only downer in the debutante punch bowl.  The documentary is 50 enjoyable minutes in a place and time that will never exist again.

Posted in Books and Reading | Tagged , , ,

Enoz is Enoz

As early as 2003, I was chronicling my societal decline sightings.  In December of that year, I scribbled the following on a scrap of paper:

“I was struck by the general malaise at Wal-Mart tonight.  Everyone was wearing sweat pants.  I could not help but think some of people’s problems stem from not looking their best when they step out in public.”

I have impossibly high standards.  How can I not?  In my fifth-grade papers, I found a mimeographed copy of Douglas Malloch’s poem “Be the Best of Whatever You Are?”  I grew up hearing “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”

As evidence of this principle, my mother’s trash barrel is cleaner than many homes I’ve visited.  It’s immaculate and it never smells bad.  I love putting the garbage in the barrel for them when I visit.  Lifting the lid is like a step back into another time; a cleaner, gentler nation.

The secret to Helen’s impeccably spotless trash barrel?  Well, she CLEANS it, obviously.  Or maybe Herman does it.  And she’s thoughtful about disposing of things.  No loose liquids and random non-contained meat wastes.  “Meat wrappings smell the worst,” Helen told me.  She carefully recycles things that can be recycled and passes her compost to me every week.  The piece de resistance?  She puts moth balls in the bottom of the barrel so it never smells bad.  Moth balls smell quite nice when the alternate scent is decaying garbage.

Garbage is a problem for me.  I work during many of the transfer station’s open hours.  I don’t like going on Saturdays, when it’s an insane free for all…an accident waiting to happen.

I dated a man who went to the transfer station every day and for some unknown reason, he did not want to transport my garbage.  Seriously.  He went there every damn day to either bring garbage or pick garbage (he’d been “talked to” about this by the powers of trash that be).  And yet he was offended when I asked him to take a bag of garbage to its eternal rest for me.  A few times I paid him, but then I stopped asking.

Look, it was just garbage.  I was not looking for a white knight to save me.  Kind of late for that, don’t you think?

We live in a strange world.

(Platycodon grandiflorum does not stink.)

A few months ago, I told my parents about my garbage problems.  Well, I told them about this particular garbage problem; not all of them.

Herman was incensed that the “garbage man” could not assist me.  Helen had a few choice words.

The solution?  Helen and Herman now pick up my garbage every week.

Yesterday, Helen brought me a package of Enoz moth balls and I’ve popped a few in the trash can.  I even sprinkled a few in strategic places around the garage.

So much for airing dirty garbage and chronicling societal decline…enoz is enoz.

Posted in Just Writing | Tagged

Sanctuaries of Lost Time

I am currently working on a patchwork of writing assignments.  Most of them are yeoman’s service in support of people, events, or projects I love.  The word “yeoman” has fallen out of favor, possibly because it contains the word “man.”  I like the word and a general definition of “yeoman’s service” means “faithful and useful support or service; loyal assistance in need.”

Spending a beautiful June day in a high school gymnasium as a clerk in a primary election is a type of civic yeoman’s service.  Although election clerks are paid the minimum wage for their time, it is a long day.  Yesterday’s service was 16 hours.  It’s discouraging to explain over and over that if you are an “unenrolled voter” in the state of Maine, you are not a member of the “Independent” party.  You may consider yourself to be “independent,” unshackled from both monolithic and established political parties, but you still cannot cast a ballot in a “party primary.”  The rules of the state of Maine’s election system do not work that way.  Even the biggest “Independent” in the state of Maine, Senator Angus King, caucuses with the Democratic party.  Why?  For committee assignment purposes.  You see, there are rules in Washington, too, and in order to get “assignments” the iconoclastic Senator King must observe some modicum of procedure.

Shoulder to the plow, prior to my Election Day duties, I spent an hour in the late Gina Mason’s home office.  The former member of the Maine House of Representatives was not “independent” or “unenrolled.”  Her bulletin board was anchored by pictures of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, nestled next to a “Coffee by Design” sticker and a nursery school collage made by her daughter, Haley.

What a sad and strange opportunity it was to see her neat desk and organized professional space.  There were telephone numbers, photographs, and inspirational messages.  The bag she carried her Moxie meeting materials in was on a credenza, with her notebook and an orange onesie still inside.

Written in her distinctive handwriting on an isolated post-it above her fax machine was this Bible verse:

“”He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt though trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.”

Her office was a sanctuary of lost time and I wished to rest there much longer, reflecting on Psalm 91.

My good friend, the philosopher “At Your Service” reminds me that “everything you’ve ever thought, said, and done, will be eternally available to you. Hence, memorabilia is only useful in this life, i.e., records, transactions, to help you remember what others may have forgotten.  Nostalgia is an indulgence, like a fine, old, wine and, like wine, it can bring comfort and joy. Also like wine, it can only be drunk by one person at a time and people always throw out the empties after you die.  Love, however, never comes to an end.”

That’s encouraging.

Local blog readers have two opportunities to indulge themselves in nostalgia and rest in sanctuaries of lost time.

Tonight, at the Lisbon Historical Society, I’ll be speaking about my Basilica writing project.  My talk will be held in the society’s archives located at 18 School Street, in Lisbon Falls.  The Basilica series, which appeared as weekly stories in the Sun Journal over a year’s time, has now been released as a book and copies will be for sale following my talk.

On Friday, June 15, 2018 at 7:30 p.m., organist Dr. Thomas Fielding gives the opening concert of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul’s 2018 “Concerts at the Basilica” season.  Dr. Fielding, Director of Music and Liturgy at St. Augustine Cathedral in Kalamazoo, MI, is an award-winning performer and composer.  He has performed on some of the world’s finest instruments, including the Grand Organ of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  His works have been performed by soloists, choirs, and orchestras internationally and broadcast on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition and Pipedreams.

Fielding will perform works by Bach, Widor, Franck, and Langlais.

The Basilica’s Casavant organ, the largest church organ in the state of Maine, is the centerpiece for the annual concert series that extends through October.  Local, national, and international performers visit the Basilica to perform, both on the historic organ and with other musical instruments.  Diverse selections range from Bach to contemporary compositions.

The Basilica, like most historical society archives, is a sanctuary of lost time.  Yes, it’s an active church with a regular Mass schedule, but it is also steeped in history and meaning.  The summer concert series is a wonderful opportunity for non-Catholics to visit the Basilica and experience the historic space.

I will continue on in my yeoman’s service.  I love these sanctuaries of lost time and I will continue researching them, talking about them, and sharing their stories.

Love never comes to an end.

Posted in Just Writing | Tagged , , , ,

Touching the Clouds

“For those of you who are passing through, we hope you will return to enjoy our hospitality.”

Self-Guided Historic Tour brochure of The Mount Washington Hotel

A few years ago, I motored through Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.  I parked my car in the visitor’s lot of the grand resort hotel and carefully approached the main entrance.  It was the peak fall foliage and I was one of many happy motorists slipping into the Great Hall.  An impressive place from another time, I thought.  It will soon meet the fate of the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, the once-stately retreat that closed in September, 2010.

I returned to The Mount Washington Hotel a few days ago, to enjoy their hospitality.  I am happy to report the hotel lives on.

The story of resort culture is not a new one.  According to The Grand Resort Hotels of the White Mountains by Bryant F. Tolles, Jr., improved transportation and changed attitudes towards recreation and nature in the 1820’s and 1830’s “encouraged people to seek the resort experience.”  “Prompted by a new romantic fascination in spirituality, ethical and moral standards, healthfulness and the landscape, tourism grew to such an extent that by the 1830’s there were a number of first class hotels located near popular attractions in the Northeast.”

This fervor to visit remote natural landscapes continued and accelerated with the harnessing of steam for ships and railroads.

Joseph Stickney (1840 – 1903) was a wealthy New Hampshire native.  He hired architect Charles Alling Gifford to design a resort hotel that would be Stickney’s crowning career achievement, The Mount Washington Hotel.  Built in the Spanish Renaissance style, the hotel opened on July 28, 1902 after an eighteen-month construction.  The largest wood structure in New England, the building’s foundation is made of local cut granite.  The wooden building has a steel infrastructure.

Stickney died following the hotel’s first full season and his wife, Carolyn ran the resort until she died in 1936.  She left the property to her nephew, Foster Reynolds.  The hotel closed in 1942, due to World War II, and then Reynolds sold the property in 1944.  Oddly enough, the international monetary conference held that same year at the resort may in some way be responsible for the locale’s preservation.

According to the hotel’s self-guided tour brochure, “When the government decided to host the Monetary Conference here at Bretton Woods, they needed to bring in workers to overhaul the hotel since it had sustained damage while it sat empty during the war.  Roofs had collapsed from the weight of heavy snow, wallpaper was peeling off the walls and everything needed to be painted.”

And paint they did.  The federal government sent in 150 workers and gave them each 50 cans of white paint.  Some at the hotel still refer to this time as “the great white paint massacre” since these federal employees painted EVERYTHING white, including mahogany doors, brass light fixtures and Tiffany windows.

Following the Bretton Woods Conference, the hotel continued operating on the resort schedule of May through Labor Day, closing for the winter each year.  Then, in 1999 after a massive renovation, the hotel opened for the “winter season.”

The hotel is now owned by Omni Hotels & Resorts and is open year-round.

I did not know what to expect during my one-night stay.  The Omni’s website features stock photos of the resort, but would it be peaceful?  Would it be that trip back through time to a lost past I am always seeking?

My personal impressions of this grand and gentle place are too numerous to elaborate here.  They might bore those who seek the thrill of the swipe and the filtering of images.  The weather was imperfect; it was too cold for golfers and left the wind-swept 18-hole course available for my delightful and contemplative afternoon hike.  The rooms were clean and crisp.  The food was good.  My traveling companion was five-star.

But I must temper my thrill of this new place with the potential of its imperfection and defer final judgement until I visit the resort again for a longer stay.

Posted in Lady Alone Traveler | Tagged

The Weight of Memory

If my home were a bed and breakfast and I had a website with pictures, one of my spare bedrooms might be described as “The Memory Room.”

“The Memory Room is ideal for the ‘morning person.’  Bright sunlight streams through northeasterly windows offering solemn views of trees, telephone lines, and a neighbor’s solar panels.  The Memory Room features a full-size bed, a dorm refrigerator, and full access to the owner’s college ephemera, photographs, and writings.”

I was working in “The Memory Room” this weekend, looking for my flower and vegetable seeds (stored under the full-size bed).  I found a ring binder with typewritten, photocopied pages.  It was Professor Jack Wilson’s Writing the Academic Essay, our “text” for a mid-level writing class I took at the University of Maine at Orono.  How I admired Professor Wilson.  I can see him in my mind’s eye now, always wearing khaki pants and a light blue short-sleeved Oxford shirt.  He was a generally stern and scholarly professor, confident in his knowledge.  I took one other class with him, “Literature of the Bible.”

I’m sure I wanted to do well in the class, but as I look through the margins of Writing the Academic Essay, my scribblings tell a different story.

“I don’t know what this is we’re doing because I was taking my vitamins when class started.”


“I don’t like the word ‘subjectivity.’”

I would never want to open a bed and breakfast in my home.  No airbnb, either.  But I would like to file all those college papers, photographs, and scraps of paper into meaningful piles and places.  For some things, like the blurry photographs taken before iPhones, that might mean burning them in the fire pit out back.  For others, it might be blog material.  It’s slow progress sorting through everything and making decisions.  These things are heavy with memory, each picture a leaden story relevant to almost no one but me.

With my list of 27 things to do in the garden today, I may only sort through a small stack of pictures.

How about that bearded iris, though?  Sharon Pardis, who hosted a stop on the 2016 Kennebec Valley Garden Club tour, was giving them away.  It took forever, so it seemed, to plant them that summer.  They did not bloom last year.  But here they are, finally.

I just added “clean rain barrel” to my long list of things to do in the garden.  I’ll leave Jack Wilson’s guide book for another day.

Posted in Garden Chic, Home | Tagged , ,

Pedal Power

Somewhere in my office, I have a short list of entrepreneurial projects for the future.  Some rely on a large inheritance or a winning lottery ticket, like staring my own foundation devoted to the preservation and proliferation of truth and beauty.

Since I am not privy to any wills and I never buy lottery tickets, the Baumer Foundation will have to wait.

There are smaller projects, though, that seem within reach.  A food truck and the backyard greenhouse both have potential for fun times and at least a tax deduction.  But my “project du jour” is the pedicab.

The pedicab, or the bike taxi, is built like a tricycle.  Its design morphed from the human pulled foot rickshaws popular in Asian cities beginning in the 1880’s.  Today’s pedicab is a three-wheeled bicycle with a single drive train.  A seat over the rear wheels can comfortably accommodate two passengers.  Some pedicabs have motors to assist the driver; others are completely human-powered.

Here in Maine, the pedicab hasn’t really made it out of Portland.  The popular destination has two different pedicab companies and most of the summer business comes from the tourist trade.

I first starting thinking about pedicabs five or six years ago as a novelty addition to the Moxie Festival.  Since the festival takes place in different locations within town, the committee decided a “shuttle” was needed for Moxie maniacs who might not be able to walk from one location to another.  I suggested the pedicab.  An ambitious duo or trio of pedicab drivers could taxi folks the mere quarter-mile from the parade to the MTM Center activities in no time.  And it would cost the town nothing.

My idea was met with curiosity and probably the line I’ve heard a thousand times in my life.  “You’re so creative” followed by a backwards complimentary hat tip to my “eccentricity.”

There will be no pedicabs at the Moxie Festival again this year.  But it’s still on my list and the dream is within reach.  I’ve been doing some homework.

(Photo courtesy of Shelley Tebbutt.)

Thanks to Joe Dunham-Conway, of Portland’s Flow Pedicab, I “rented a rickshaw” and took my parents for a ride on Lisbon’s own Paper Mill Trail.  What started out as a crazy co-writing idea about the Kennebec River Rail Trail turned into something closer to home.  My two favorite octogenarians never tell me I’m eccentric and they’ve happily ridden shotgun with me on more than one hare-brained scheme.  Fortunately, there was no speedometer within sight and I did not have to hear the concerned voice of my father asking “how fast are you going?”

Turning this hour of pedal power into newspaper prose will take more than a few cranks of the drive train today.  Do not fear; I love the Sun Journal too much to let them down.

Now that I know I could potentially pedal the pedicab with paying passengers, it’s time to research buying one.  My part-time writing gig is the gateway drug to making all my dreams come true.

Posted in Just Writing | Tagged , ,

Lawn Chair Season

Spring.  It’s a busy time of year here in Maine.  I’ve written about it before, the way the grass grows three inches a day, birds show up en masse, and a woodchuck lurks around the backyard.  These are some of the signs and seasons of life in this place.

There are other signs.

Celebrating twenty years of retirement, my father Herman kicked off lawn chair season two weeks ago.  Opening day varies from year to year, but there was a certain feeling in the air on May 2.  Thinking it was “the day,” I pedaled over to my parents’ house and as I suspected, my father was reclining in his vintage lawn chair.

I’ve written about the lawn chairs before.

We are in an unsettled weather pattern this week and it’s putting a damper on the lawn chair lineup, but everything else in the natural world moves forward uninterrupted.

Posted in Weather and Seasons | Tagged | 1 Comment