I dream of Genies (remastered)

Green light
So bright
First thing I want in sight
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have it glow again tonight.

I wished with all my heart, clicked my heals together, squeezed my eyes tight then opened them again. Over and over. Aaaand…nothing. I didn’t bother bundling up out on the porch to star gaze into the murky, still-winter dusk. Or even peer out the front window where my “forever Christmas” LED light display brightened up the white birches and my mood until it got buried in a four-foot drift three months ago. Nope, I was holed up in my living room, staring at my DirecTV Genie 2 receiver, hoping against hope that the damn status light would go green.

But, alas, my wish was not to be. No way, no how. Genie had gone back in her bottle and taken her two little sisters—downstairs Mini and bedroom Mini—along with her. And with no fairy godmother or Jiminy Cricket coming to restore my once magical whole-home DVR satellite television, I had no choice but to wait for the next available service tech to show up and rescue me.

“Remember when just being up here in this little cabin was the fantasy? When camp TV meant watching the wood stove or the fire pit and you liked it?” I said to myself, sounding eerily like my father. “Turn that damn thing off and go outside!” he’d bellow if he came home and found me binge watching game shows during summer vacation. “But it’s not summer,” I said to my lifeless screen and the surrounding darkness. “Not even close.” It’s final episodes till fall season! Time to wait out the good weather watching The Good Doctor!

But I couldn’t. Not unless I wanted to stream it off the internet and watch my Verizon Home Fusion data overage surge through the roof. And worst of all, I couldn’t record it. That’s what DVR was for until Genie turned into a gremlin.

For a whole year, I hadn’t even cared what my Genie 2 setup looked like. Didn’t know if its lights were twinkling a certain color, or what lights it even had. So enraptured was I with whatever wizardry the DirecTV guy had performed, I never really checked out what was behind my magic wall of endless programs coming out of the northern sky. Oh, I knew there was a free equipment upgrade back there. And, as a retired technical writer, I knew it wasn’t just running on fairy dust. But why poke around with optimal performance, with what was finally letting me be one of the cool kids who could record stuff while watching other stuff—in two different places, fast-forwarding and pausing every riveting moment in sync with my sleep cycles and biological urges?

And then it happened—the fate my mother-in-law warned about when acquiring anything computerized, digitized, or smarter than a toaster oven. It “all went at once.” And being the hapless dummy holding the control “clicker,” I was screwed, stranded up High Tech Creek without a paddle. Had I not given complete control over to them thinking machines, I would have at least been able to tweak my rabbit ear antennae, replace a blown tube, or dial up a working channel. Instead, there I was, numb as a plugged owl, gaping at a troubleshooting screen in place of my prime time lineup. “Error 775—No dish communication,” it said above a bunch of numbered steps with circles and arrows pointing to plugs and parts I never recalled having before.

My first fix-it step was to sound the alarm to Tom: “There’s snow on the dish! Can you please go scoop it off?” It being a Monday (AKA “those hospital shows you watch” night) and not a Wednesday (AKA “I’m really looking forward to Survivor” night), he might have been a bit more enthusiastic about putting on his boots to trudge out and inspect the situation. But he did as asked, verifying there were “no visible obstructions.” (Believe it or not, we hadn’t just experienced a dish obliterating snow storm. That happened when we had the flu. And I think it was a Wednesday, so Tom powered through like one of those “gotta get the job done” DayQuil commercials.)

A few hours and a bunch of unplugging and re-plugging later, I needed re-verification. “Are you sure there’s nothing blocking the dish and the cables?” I asked, until I got “the look” warning me to stop. “Sure, there’s a crap ton of snow over the dirt that’s burying the underground cable coming toward the house,” he seemed to say. “And a whole mountain of snow blocking me from actually seeing what’s going on when the cable comes from there into the house.”

So I was left to my own devices. Literally. I hauled the Genie 2 receiver, the downstairs Mini, the power adapters, and the cluster snarl of connection cords out onto the rug for closer inspection. “No fairy dust happening here,” I said, “But would ya look at this house dust!” I did what any self-respecting tech savvy girl would do when crawling around behind her home/office componentry. I grabbed a rag and dusted it off. Then, lest that be my only sense of do-it-myself accomplishment with the current procedure, I unplugged everything, untangled it and laid it out in a pattern I thought I could reverse. Next, I plugged it all back in again, checked that each thingum’s power light was green, and waited.

“Green light…so bright…” I whispered, watching the newly-discovered Genie 2 status light. Green is good. Green is good. So’s flashing green, I reminded myself. It means there’s a ghost of a chance you’ll get solid green. Silent drum roll. Inhale and hold. Aaaand…nada. Solid yellow. Never a mellow color when it comes to operational status. As a documentation specialist for many years and many “black boxes,” I’d written my share of front-panel status light descriptions. And I sure didn’t need a how-to guide for interpretation. Basically, flashing green to flashing yellow means “Go get a cup of coffee, put in a load of wash…and hope for the best.” And when you come back and see solid yellow? That’s better than a red light which, of course, stands for stopped dead. But stuck on yellow means “I thought I could, until I churned and burned and decided I couldn’t.” My cue to get up off my aching knees and call DirecTV support.

I did learn a couple things on the phone with tech support. That a 775 error message is not caused by snow, rain, or other flying debris landing on the dish. “That’s a 771 error,” the rep said, leaving me wondering just how infinitesimal the list of possible problems could be. I then learned that being walked through the disconnecting and re-connecting procedure again via speaker phone and an exotic accent yielded the same grey screen and no-go status light. And that, surprise…surprise…I needed an onsite service technician.

While I was on the phone, though, did I also know I qualified for some even better DirecTV upgrades? Yup, I figured as much, and preceded to “no thank you” my way through the latest up-sell offers. (As a loyal longtime customer, I’ve also learned that amassing every DirecTV programming “deal” onto my bill is kinda like leaving an old shed unattended during a Rangeley winter. You know snow and ice keeps piling up on it, that the roof is sagging under the pressure. And if you don’t shovel a few layers off now and again…boom…it’s just too much and you need to start from the ground up.)

Nope, I just wanted to resume my status quo, hopefully before I spent any more prime time nights in the dark. Doug, my whole-home service technician seemed tentative but upbeat when he arrived. “Oh, jeez, you’ve got one of those!” he said when he spotted my Genie 2 receiver. “That model was installed for free last year for a reason. But, if it hasn’t acted up until now, maybe you’re one of the lucky customers.” He had an unflappable Foghorn Leghorn voice that seemed like it could recharge anything within range.

By the time Doug was outside getting snow in his boots and wind in his face checking my equipment with his, my hopes were growing dim. “No more magic from this Genie,” I thought. Then suddenly…zip-a-dee-do-dah… there was my status light glowing green and my TV lighting up my living space!

The problem, Doug reported, was up on the garage roof about as close to the dish as possible without being in the dish itself and, therefore, a 771 problem versus a 775 problem. The initial cable was hand tight but not wrench tight. “So I gave it a couple good cranks and there ya go!”

“But couldn’t it loosen up in the future and all go at once again?” I wondered. “Nope,” Doug said. And then he used the old tactic I’d come to recognize as the service tech’s version of “paying it forward.” Doug blamed it backward. “The previous installer shoulda wrenched it down, but he just fingered it in place and probably forgot to recheck his work. I’m surprised it held for a year.” You’ll never see it on the grey screen of death as one of the official DirecTV errors. But other than Acts of God, apparently most loss of connectivity is caused by your previous installer being a Mickey Mouse.

Doug was my hero, I had to admit. I was delighted that I could put my Genie 2 back
behind the TV to secretly work wonders without another thought. And I was in the process of doing so when…oh noooo…whatever daytime drama had been playing suddenly switched to a grey screen. “Error 775—No dish communication,” it read. What the….? Lucky, troubleshooting the cause required only an instant of hunching on the floor in repeat status check mode. The cause was me. I’d shoved the receiver just a bit too hard into the corner and unplugged the damn thing! A classic PEBKAC error, as we used to say in the business. You won’t see that on any official self-help screen either, because it stands for Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair. Meaning the equipment is fine but the customer sitting at her computer desk is a complete doofus. Or, in my case, PEBGAC (Problem Exists Between Genie and Couch). But, no need for another support call and promises of even more magic than I could handle upta camp. I plugged it back in all by myself just in time for Survivor. Zip-a-dee-YAY!

For more “Camp Connectivity,” see:

Permanently de-pressed

“What’s that?” I had to ask Helen recently. I was staying in her guest room where, to my untrained eye, something resembling a coat rack stood in the corner atop a super sleek upright vacuum. Her initial response was probably mild shock. How is this woman my mother? And how the heck did she get through life this far and really not know the answer herself? But she hid it well. “It’s a garment steamer,” she said.

“Oooh,” I said, “That’s cool. You put your dress or whatever on the hanger and you don’t have to iron!” Helen quickly left the room before I could ask her to “bring it up” next time she came to visit. I already saved sewing for her, tossing any mending more challenging then a loose button into a “Helen pile” I’d sheepishly meter out over her trips back home. And she knew I hadn’t bought a new iron since the first Bush administration. Nope, her state-of-the art garment steamer was staying put.

The last time I gave that much thought to ironing, Helen was six years old and wanted to be a golden princess angel for Halloween. I’d done my best to customize a Simplicity pattern, and was pressing out the seams so she didn’t end up looking like a giant Dorito with wings, when a TV ad caught my fancy.

“Take the wrinkles out of ironing!” it promised. On the screen, the latest and greatest in steam irons practically propelled itself over an unraveling blouse while the woman waiting to wear it chatted on the phone. She was barely lifting a finger toward the miracle appliance. Commercial dramatization scrolled across the bottom of the screen.

“Shucks,” I said. “I always wanted a turbo-glide iron.” The regular kind, the kind I needed to push, I could barely justify. I already had one of those and, aside from dragging it across golden princess angel satin and other must-have garments, it had really low mileage on it.

If I can’t totally ignore it, I leave ironing at rock bottom on my to-do list. Even the lowest home maintenance tasks, those involving rubber gloves, mildew repellent, and Goo Gone, get tackled while I let the clothing in my ironing basket go in and out of fashion. These days, my lifestyle forgives such procrastination. I am far removed from professional circles that frown upon showing up looking like a Wheatie. Gone are the years when forging ahead on the career front ironically shackled me to my ironing board and domestic slavery at its worst.

Iron willed. Iron clad. No wonder a word meaning heavy-handed still describes the chore, even though the implement used has advanced beyond the triangular slab of metal for which it was originally named. My great grandmothers, who propelled their irons with elbow grease, would have rejoiced over today’s plug-in models. And they would have burst their buttons over the technological breakthrough that automated repetitive ironing motions to the tolerable level we modern women enjoy. The best advancement, in my opinion, had nothing to do with steam vents or fabric thermostats, and more to do with RCA than General Electric. Because it was actually the television that truly liberated us from the drudgery of pressing out wrinkles.

Growing up, I always thought taking on responsibility for my own wrinkles would be no big deal. How difficult could a job be that moms accomplished without taking their eyes off General Hospital? “There’s one chore that’s not even worth bothering to observe for future reference,” I decided. As a result, I soon had to come up with my own ironing solutions. Sprinting to the dryer to extract crinkly clothes mid-spin and, when that failed, consulting the garment care instructions for a second opinion. (In my book, a tag that said “cool iron if needed,” meant don’t bother, whereas “warm iron,” left room for dispute, and “iron, steam setting,” meant the shirt was out of circulation for at least a month.) For occasions when I absolutely could not dodge my ironing board, I kept a few handy helpers close by: steel wool for scraping molten materials off the back of the iron, rust remover for whatever the forsaken apparatus decided to unleash and, most importantly, the TV Guide. On good days, I managed to look somewhere between what my mother would call “put together” and what my Nana would classify as “something the cat dragged in.”

Fabric trends were forever complicating the job, too. Pure cotton, for instance, became popular when the high fashion gurus decided polyester was out and, full steam ahead, turned their attention to natural clothing fiber. It’s versatile, they said. It’s comfortable but crisp. It’s the fabric of our lives. What they should have also said is it crumples! One washing and it turns from easy breezy into something that crawled out of the back of a gym locker. If I’d written it, the tag on that stuff would read: “Machine wash, warm. Tumble dry. Beat down with a baseball bat, as needed, while ironing.”

I thought I caught a break when garment manufacturers introduced “crinkle cloth”—a puckered up material that looked like you slept in it and was supposed to stay that way. Trouble was, permanently unpressed fashions made from it were never properly labeled and I was left to wonder: Am I wearing “new wave” wrinkles with confidence or just in denial, wearing my distaste for ironing on my shirt sleeves?

Luckily, now that I live in Rangeley and telecommute from the woods, my wardrobe is perfectly “put together” for my lifestyle. Except for extraordinarily special events (and requests made far in advance) my iron stays shelved, my attitude Zen-like. If a shirt gets wrinkled and no one is around to see it, does it make any impression? And if someone happens to get hot under her crisp little collar because the loon on my tee shirt isn’t swimming on smooth, placid water, or my tie-dye looks more grooved than groovy, what am I gonna do about it? Nothing that involves turning away from the lake to slam pressurized steam into my camp duds, that’s for sure.

On occasion, the subject still does come up in conversation. Some friends talk about their ironing pile—how long it took them to forge through it, etc., etc. A few even mention travel irons. Not wanting to dis an apparent source of gratification and fulfillment, I smile, nod, and try not to look like I’m watching paint dry. To me, travel and iron is a complete oxymoron. The last time I touched an ironing board while on vacation, I was on my way out of my condo heading for the beach. My favorite sundress looked scrunched, even to my standards. So I propped the folded up ironing board next to the lanai and hung my dress over the end. By the time I needed to put myself together for dinner, the wrinkles had magically disappeared in the moist, tropical breeze. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d stumbled across garment steaming at its finest.

For more fashion fun, see:
•  Real Rangeley bathing suit support
•  Fashionably late



Coloring my world

The editors from Country Living haven’t called yet, but when they come to do a feature on my interior decorating style, I’ll bet they describe it as “L.L. Carib-Bean.”

The new touches I’ve added to my 20-plus year-old dwelling have not, I don’t think, placed it outside the quaint little cabin category. It’s definitely not one of those places you’d drive by and wonder “Don’t they know they’re in the Maine woods for crying out loud?” But while it may not qualify as froufrou, my decor is by no means a standard fishing and hunting “it gets us out of the rain” type place either.  As the pros would say, I “brought the outside in” with natural earth tones, lots of pine paneling, birch floors and dark cherry cabinets. I added a tile hearth in the same vivid blue that, on a good day, matches my view of Bald Mountain and Saddleback. And, of course, I threw in plenty of prerequisite forest (a.k.a. Rangeley green) accents. Then I kicked it all up a notch with splashes of color not often naturally occurring in the environment, at least not at this latitude. The end result makes a unique statement about my remodeling influences, including:

  • I’m making up for the fact that, in my formative decorating years, I defaulted to brown. Thirty years ago, when I moved into my first and only completely brand new house, I had little decorating experience and even less furniture. I did, however, have a tan Naugahyde couch and chair set and a couple beige lampshades. So I put in brown and rust-toned carpet that would “go with everything” I hoped I would later have, while “not showing any dirt” from the  outdoor dog I had and the kids I eventually would admit I hoped to have. My kitchen and bathrooms featured harvest gold, avocado, copper and all those other stuck in the ’70s shades. Behind closed doors in my bedroom, I even had a bright red carpet. But my living room stayed brown and blah for at least a decade.
  • Tom and I agreed we wouldn’t just go with the typical moose and loon motif when making renovations. We do love moose and loons, of course, and still are left with almost as many inside as we see outside. We just strived to be a bit different. So, instead, we came up with wild flower bathrooms. To contrast the knotty pine paneling throughout the rest of the house, we had the two bathrooms and the kitchen sheet-rocked so they could be painted. Buttercup yellow was my choice downstairs, accessorized with Black-Eyed Susan print curtains and (coming soon) wild flower art. For the upstairs bath, I chose the palest pink to compliment my purple, pink and white lupine shower curtain, my hummingbird and lupine stained glass in the window, and one of my favorite pieces of artwork: A moose standing in a field of lupines! (He’s your typical Maine moose picture, but just a bit different, hanging there in his pink and purple habitat.)
  • My color scheme was dictated primarily by stained glass. As I showed you in Come and Meet Those Dancin’ Feet (Part Two), my favorite keepsake and interior focal point in my previous house was a piece of stained glass – a particularly vivid piece featuring green grass, cobalt lake water and three bright red roses. I’m sure in reality my decision-making timeline spanned several months, but here’s how I remember it: 1) Tom told me I had a window of opportunity to decide on colors for paint, countertops, etc., for the Rangeley reconstruction. 2) I didn’t take him seriously enough quickly enough because: a) I had been living in the same quarters for so long that picking stuff out meant a quick trip to the Home Depot for either damage control or camouflage, and b) having a virtually clean redecorating slate was too good to be true and, in a twisted way, scared me into inactivity. 3) I was sitting in my Rochester kitchen, drinking coffee, gazing at my stained glass in bewilderment, wondering how the heck I was going to not screw up my one big chance to showcase my treasures in a new home, when my “window of opportunity” suddenly solidified right in front of me. I knew I would hang the stained glass in my new Rangeley kitchen. It would be a focal point forevermore, shedding light and color throughout my first floor, contrasting beautifully with my dark woodwork, matching my mountain-blue hearth and my grandmother’s blue Danish plates I’d hang on the beams! And the green glass of the grass would make a perfect paint color!
  • I matched the color of my kitchen walls to green stained glass (see previous bullet) on a really sunny day. With my new focal point in mind, I immediately marched off to Home Depot and made color choices in record time. (A true believer in supporting the Rangeley economy rather than a big box store, I wasn’t going to buy paint, countertops or Congoleum there. My mission was to match up swatches to bring to the Rangeley Building Supply for them to make the order.) What I described as New Leaf for my green kitchen color, the paint manufacturer actually called Swamp Splash. While this lively spring green did match perfectly with my stained glass still hanging in Rochester, it initially alarmed our building contractor with its incandescence. Adding in appliances and dark cabinets toned it down considerably and, to my knowledge, hasn’t scared anybody since. The end result is a Key West sort of ambiance in the western  mountains of Maine. 
  • I have a serious passion for red. Red cars, red-headed men, red carpeting (see first bullet). Fortunately, when devising my scheme of rustic jewel tones, I tempered my passion and incorporated red as an accent color only. I have a bit in my area rug, a few pieces of my mother’s ruby glass displayed here and there. Tastefully toned down, I’d say, and not what people expected I’d come up with given free rein. Those who knew my passion for red and pictured me remastering Belle Watling’s front parlor on the shore of the Big Lake seem relieved.
  • My other favorite place in the whole world is a tropical beach. I hope my readers aren’t dismayed when I admit that, even surrounded by Rangeley’s four-season splendor, I still often dream of turquoise waters and beaches lined with palm trees and hibiscus. In terms of decorating direction, this polarity has left me somewhere near the intersection of Rangeley Plantation and Coconut Grove.

Whatever collection of quirks has influenced my unique style, I’m glad all those decorating decisions are behind me, literally. The color wheel has stopped spinning, the paint palate is dry and I am most pleased with how I made my window of opportunity shine. I am especially glad this time of year, when I look past my hearth and my ruby window ornaments to the reds, greens and golds of fall in Rangeley. Country Living will call it “Kaleidoscopic!” That is, if they hurry up and come out here while the leaves are still on my trees.

Any given Saturday

I was browsing the greeting cards at a local gift store recently when the announcement was made: “Oh….it’s Saturday!”

It came from a woman standing in between the complimentary coffee carafe and the cash register. Her tone was not one of dismay or panic, but rather matter-of-fact with just a hint of urgency. She chuckled, pleased at her own sudden recall, made her purchases and left to go about her business.

“Yup, it’s Saturday, all right,” I thought. And then it hit me. There I was, reading through the same cute moose and hummingbird cards I’d seen repeatedly, wondering which critter went best with which upcoming birthday, and I hadn’t even been distracted by the woman’s announcement. I’d simply nodded in silence. I already knew it was Saturday. And, without even looking up, I felt I knew this lady just as if we’d sat down and had coffee face to face. She must be a local, I realized, and I must be almost one, too.

With house moving check lists, real estate deadlines, and 9-to-5 work weeks behind me, most days I’d be hard pressed to tell you what day of the month it is. I do have a calendar pinned to the refrigerator like everyone else. But unless it tells me it’s time to send off a cute card, pay a bill, or remind Tom to stop fishing and start hunting, I don’t use number dates to monitor my activities much anymore. I’ve switched over to a day of the week system instead. It doesn’t so much matter which calendar week I’m in, as long as I know “What day is today?” (Except when you’re talking about the third Thursday of the month. Everyone knows that’s pot luck dinner night at the Rangeley sportsmen’s club.)

Out in Rangeley Plantation (see my description in Finding Community), Saturday is dump day. It’s also fresh seafood truck day, post office and bank in the morning day, library before 2 o’clock and building supply store before 4 day, and make it to the IGA before last week’s sale items run out day. But, first and foremost, it is dump-is-open-all-day day. As you can imagine, Waste Management curbside pickup stops way south of here, leaving us responsible for our own garbage disposal. I can’t run out to the curb at the last minute in my slippers hauling green bags in one hand and pulling a recycling bin in the other. Tom and I need to haul our own by-products to the “transfer station,” so-called because it’s not really a dump, but a place where we dump all our refuse and recyclables so they can get transferred somewhere else to be dealt with. And, if for any reason, we have a total brain freeze on the dump hours of operation (meaning when the gate is left open), we can’t transfer our garbage out of our garage and must deal with those consequences for another week.

“Jeez, is it Saturday yet?” I wonder long about Thursday during unseasonably mild weather when what’s left of what I bought off the fresh seafood truck the previous week is in desperate need of transfer. (While most welcome in all other respects, Indian Summer is a bummer when it warms the garage after the dump reverts back to its winter schedule. In the “winter,” meaning after Labor Day, I lose the respite of having the dump open for a couple hours on a couple week nights.)

So if our noses haven’t reminded us, our bio-rhythms hopefully have and, come Saturday morning, we load up and head off for the dump. But, unless we are in dire need of emergency garbage transfer, we are not headed just to the dump. Out in Rangeley Plantation, 13 miles from the post office and 20 miles from the hustle and bustle of the Town of Rangeley, we strive to never make the 12 miles to the dump our only stop. We do what we call “the loop.” The loop will take us around to all the previously mentioned places of business. It consolidates our errands and conserves on gas, while preserving our sanity and rural way of life. And, more importantly, it reminds us why we came and why we don’t care so much about forgoing bigger city conveniences. At the dump, we are greeted as “hun” by the longtime attendant who has told me she will sort my recycling for me. A true honor, indeed, in these parts where co-mingling and other offenses have banished others to a lonely life of digging through their own smelly cans and sour bottles. At the post office, we aren’t a box number, but Joy and Tom who have a book from Amazon that was too big to put in the box so is handed over with best wishes for our well-being and weekend plans. On any given Saturday, one of us might stop in at the only hair salon that’s on a pond next to an ice cream store, where we have a good hair day as long as we don’t giggle too hard at the proprietor’s jokes and make him slip with the scissors. In our travels, we might also run into the guy who installed our TV dish and wonders if our reception is OK. He’s the Rangeley installation guy, not the DirecTV contractor sent from Waterville who refused to go up on the roof and told us we were out of luck. Our local guy runs into us in the building supply store or in the bank and wants to make sure we’re happy because, if we’re not, he’d “make the trip out” again. On any given Saturday, our “loop” is bigger now, but connected by people who would go the extra mile with us.

Maybe the woman in the gift store realized it was Saturday since that’s the day they switch over to Back Woods Blend in the free coffee carafe. If she was a renter, chances are she wouldn’t have even been there to make the announcement. Come Saturday, she would’ve hung her head and headed south while a local guy picked up her garbage at her rental cabin and transferred it for her. Nope, my guess was that she was a local and headed out of the store to make it to the dump before the gate closed, and after she got fresh seafood and did the rest of her loop.

“You know, when you retire, every day is Saturday,” our neighbor reminded Tom and me when we were making dinner plans awhile back. “Jeez,” I thought, smiling at the possibilities. “You mean the dump is open every day?”

Finding community

Isolation, we’re figuring out, is more a state of mind than a geographical predicament.

It is a valid concern, though, voiced regularly by those closer to bigger lights and brighter cities. “What do you expect to do all by yourselves way out there?” That’s what they wonder out loud, anyway. And even though we rattle off our list of comings and goings and the lakeside decathlon of events we engage in on any given day, silently they seem doubtful. What they’re really saying behind their raised eyebrows and nervous giggles is: “Yeah, but summer’s not going to last forever. Then what?”

Sure, it’s only September still, but as fall begins and we enter into the “then what” phase of this wonderous experiment called early retirement, we don’t feel loneliness encroaching. Call us naive, totally in denial, or just plain stupid, but we don’t expect to be lonely, either. Right from the early planning stages of deciding to live in Rangeley permanently, building a new sense of community has been just as important to us as building a newer house. So far, we’re finding what we came looking for.

When we moved, we went from being two of the 30,000+ residents of the City of Rochester, NH, to becoming new additions number 154 and 155 in Rangeley Plantation. (Technically, you see, we live in a “suburb” of the Town of Rangeley given the Maine-unique distinction of a “plantation.” I always thought the name stood for a place with tons more trees than people. But, according to Wikipedia, in colonial times when Maine belonged to Massachusetts, this term described a “minor civil division.” As far as I can tell, when Maine split off on its own, places like Rangeley Plantation kept the name and a lot of summer folks, but dropped all other Massachusetts correlations.)

Soon after settling in, we went from numbers 154 and 155, to Joy and Tom, or just “the new folks living on the old Upper Dam Road all winter.” And in the four months since, we have mingled, been entertained, reciprocated, and basically hung out with people more frequently and more intensely than we did in the 35+ years we spent packed closer together with them in Rochester. Why? Well if you’re a Rochester reader and are about to stop because you’re feeling this is a Rochester vs. Rangeley “the grass is greener and the people sure are swell” comparison, please don’t. I love you and want you to still spend gas money to come see us because you were included in the friendship intensity I just mentioned. And, if you’re a Rangeley reader, please don’t stop because you think I’m saying you aren’t above and beyond what neighbors should be. You are. You see, I don’t think there’s such a thing as a geographical cure for loneliness. I believe you get what you look for in people, no matter where you go, if you choose to look. I believe people are giving, open and nice to be around unless and until proven otherwise, and I trust them to believe in me the same way. Whether I’m talking to the clerk at the DMV or someone I meet out walking, that’s what I put out there and, in large part, what I get back. So, the difference – the reason Tom and I are more closely knit with friends even though we moved “away” has not been so much a change in attitude or a change in population. It’s been a sharpening of focus, a recommitment to building relationships and the luxury of time to make it possible.

“Having the time” to stop in for coffee, to check in on our nearest neighbors, to participate in town and township events, has really been nice. ‘Course we had the time all those years we were commuting to jobs and busy with kids and any number of other things that put friends further down the list, but we didn’t take the time. Now that we have more time, taking advantage of it is a top priority. We’ve joined clubs. We’ve been to three festivals named after fruit harvests, and are reaching the limits of my “friends over for dinner” menus. One new friend has even invited me to join her group of bikers who pedal to the Oquossoc Grocery for muffins and coffee each morning! As the farthest away, with a 13-mile one-way trip on dirt roads to get there by 7 a.m., I can’t imagine what she’d ask me to do if she didn’t like me. (Just kidding. I love my new friend and am sure I’ll accept her invitation sometime between now and July 2012.)

So, while building a sense of community isn’t as cut and dried as building a year-round house, we are just as glad to be surrounded by friends this winter as we are to have R30 insulation in our new walls. We are glad to be finding what we’re looking for – friends new and old to keep us company, to call us by name and ask what’s up as we come out of the IGA or the bank. And when we look over their shoulders while chatting with them and see the gorgeous Rangeley lakes and mountains that are now our back yard, we’ll know we are doubly blessed.

Book smart

When it comes to home improvements, I’m not what you’d call a do-it-yourselfer. Conditioned since early in childhood to “just stay out of the way so you don’t screw this up worse,” the only thing I tend to do completely by myself is bathroom chores. I am definitely a “build it for me, let me try to use it for a while, and then I’ll make silly suggestions on how to improve it next time” type of girl. About the only thing I have ever tried to build solo is my self-esteem. Way back before Barnes and Noble devoted a whole section to self-help books and I had to search around the shelves in the back corner, past all the alternative lifestyle manuals I didn’t want to crack open, I’ve been a self-help journeyman. Rowing my own boat, discovering what color my parachute is, chasing after my cheese, and manifesting my own destiny, I’ve studied it all. But books that teach you how to make something concrete, something three-dimensional and real enough so that, if you’ve pictured it this morning you can be using it this afternoon, I never cracked a one. They were always on the other side of the bookstore, away from me, along with the readers who had already manifested their destinies and were celebrating by building themselves a patio.

I should point out here that, as a technical writer, I can write those kinds of books. I can interview computer hardware engineers, refer to their schematics, figure out how they expect Joe IT manager to install networking component A into device A without electrocuting himself, and write the book about it that gets shrink wrapped and shipped with each sale. I have published volumes of guides for propeller-headed audiences,  filled with words like flange, rack-mount, configure and counter-clockwise, and illuminated by little number-and-arrow-annotated diagrams. I once even devised a whole table to describe recommended torque values for G3G134-P installation! 

I can successfully tell someone else how to assemble something because, typically, I’ve had long, drawn-out pre-deadline test phases when engineers would follow my words like gospel, give me endless prototypes to monkey with and, ultimately, would take ownership of my instructions if none of us electrocuted ourselves by following them. I can do this sort of work for pay because I’ve had middlemen. And by far the most valuable of those middlemen was a genius graphic artist named Bob. You see, while I was referring to engineering schematics, Bob was actually understanding them and transforming them into drawings that illustrated component A sliding into device A. He would take the G3G134-P from a flat, one-dimensional CAD print out and actually show its tiny assembly screws and its rack-mount adapters and all of its networking interfaces in drawings that would make its black, boxlike features practically leap off the page in high-def. Once I could study Bob’s drawings, I could wrap my text around them, layer on the little numbers and arrows, and I’d have some step-by-steps even I could follow. And if the steps were really complex, Bob and I and our engineering team were bolstered by the caveat that empowers all cutting-edge technology to make it out of the development lab and into the hands of users: Depending on your operating environment and your specific device configuration, your results may vary from those depicted in these instructions.

So how did it ever come to pass that I could articulate remodeling instructions for my home renovation? How did I take a firm stance at the conception end of such a major redesign process and still want to be the end-user of the product? And how in the world did I do this in partnership with practical, level-headed Tom, who is so handy that he once fixed a toilet with nothing but a plastic fork, some string, and his own ingenuity? He bought me a book.

From the down to earth part of the bookstore I had previously only imagined, Tom purchased The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live by Sarah Susanka. At first wary of the “blueprint” part of its title, I soon discovered this handy book had pictures. It showed actual before and after illustrations of homes like ours that needed to do a lot with not much space. It had tips and tricks and conversion charts, gathered from families that, I felt fairly certain, were living happily ever after with their own handiwork. When I figured out I could refer to various parts of this book as my prototypes for a kitchen layout, for how to translate my desire for “casual, open living spaces” into real nuts and bolts lingo, it became my bible.

“I want the new kitchen cabinets to be this color, but this style,” I’d proclaim to Tom, flipping through the book and pointing. “And I want that place where we said we could hang my special blue plates to be something like this, but without that wall in the way.” Soon the The Not So Big House book was dog eared and crammed with sticky notes bearing numbers and arrows that eventually corresponded to a building plan and workable instructions. I never had to say “flange” or talk about torque, but I began to feel like a real engineer. If I couldn’t articulate what I did want, I could refer to what I didn’t want and work from there.

My initial reference manual soon became part of a mini library of do-it-yourself remodeling books. I even graduated from Barnes and Noble and Amazon to hardcore purchases straight from Home Depot, right on the shelves by the duct tape. What drawers fit my lifestyle, how light fixtures could add the perfect accent, and how to store pots and pans without needing a head lamp to find them — I had a book about it.

They’re in storage now, gathering dust on our do-it-ourselves book shelves. I sure was glad to have them, knowing there could be no prototype phases and my results couldn’t vary if I wanted to live with and in them with my specified husband. I got book smart, got my head out of the clouds (where I was drifting, attached to my imaginary self-discovery parachute) and helped execute the biggest project of my life. Not only is the end result exceeding my requirements while conforming to the strictest of all regs – those mandated by the Maine Land Use Regulatory Commission – it is the perfect operating environment for rowing my own boat.

My fork in the road

Oprah would call it my “Aha!” moment — that pivotal point in life where I had to choose one course of action over another and forge ahead. Living in logging country, I now know to ponder a fork in the road, hypothetical or otherwise, much more seriously. Both directions may look passable, but not too far off, one turns into a gnarly spur road taking you way, way off course. Five years ago, though, when I stood at my crossroads with my “smart thing to do” blinders on, I walked right into danger and almost lost my bearings for good. “Aha!” would have been too poetic. My change of direction, when I finally let my heart lead the way, was more like a “Holy crap, what did you almost just do, you idiot?” moment.

Direction “A” was the common sense thing to do, the “right” choice according to our bank book and, no doubt, all those level-headed, man on the street-type people I imagined grouping themselves on the side of reason. It first came into focus as a hot tub conversation. It was fall, near closing up camp for the season time, when it was necessary for Tom and I to adopt an all-business, end of summer attitude so we could forget that we really didn’t want to leave Rangeley, didn’t want to go back to school/work, didn’t want it to be September already. Practicality went way beyond talking about packing up and shutting down, though. On this night, it watered down the wine, drowned out the loons calling, and pretty much counteracted the whole purpose of a hot tub soak. Topic of discussion was our tiny, four-room cabin which, after 20 years of use and sharing it with the critters, needed a roof and other major improvements. Sneaking up on early retirement, would we be able to add enough living space to relocate comfortably and affordably? Not according to the Land Use Regulatory (LURC) guidelines, or so we first imagined. LURC said our setback from the water, originally 85 feet when we built the place, would now need to be 100, minimum. We couldn’t add rooms to each side, either, without infringing on our neighbors’ property lines. So, even though we loved our waterfront property, our discussion kept coming around to how it just wouldn’t work to keep it, to sink more money into it to live there, only to have our dreams of a fulltime residence constrained by LURC and other logistics. And, more than anything else, our thread of conversation kept winding its way back to one huge positive in the midst of all the negatives: Our tiny cabin on its beautiful spot of shoreline, even needing some repair, had appreciated in value four times more than our investment. Our real estate in Rangeley could fetch double the selling price of our four season home near the bright lights and bigger cities.

Sell it, we decided. With the profit, we could build from scratch “exactly what we wanted” in any of those just as nice towns like Farmington. We wouldn’t have to be right on the water. We’d have college-town culture, brand spanking new everything and money….money to travel wherever and whenever we wanted. Course we probably wouldn’t come back to this lake, to Rangeley. That would be too sad. But we would go to Alaska, to Jackson Hole, to Yosemite, to all those other lakes Maine was famous for. Wow, we’d even start exploring islands we’d earmarked in Caribbean Travel and Life. Our girls were grown up now, they’d understand how we couldn’t keep camp, given our exciting new agenda!

Oprah says you can navigate your way through an “Aha!” moment to your best possible course of action by quietly posing the alternatives to your inner self. Does one make you feel more “open” and light-hearted, while imagining the other drags you down? Does one make your gut clench while the other expands your solar plexus? YES a small voice was saying. But still I hauled myself and my sinking innards into the realtor’s office that Columbus Day afternoon and signed a contract to put my camp on the market.

Looking back on it, I don’t so much remember it as a gut clenching moment. It was more like a hole opened in the floor of the realtor’s office and swallowed me whole, pen in hand, along with the sinking realization that the dollar signs in my head would never buy my way back to solid ground. I did manage to get out of the real estate office, and the quaint streets of Rangeley framed in fall foliage blurred as I got in the car and cried all the way back to Rochester, NH. I cried past all the property for sale signs just outside of Rangeley, where Tom said we might be able to build a cute house by the river. Through Farmington and south to the turnpike, not able to pick my head up to look out the window or even for a Subway sandwich, I cried. Not crying tears you dab with a Kleenex, but two-year-old bawling, gooey, hiccuping sobs.

Luckily, the universe didn’t allow me to ignore instinct for much longer. Waiting for us in our driveway back in Rochester was Becky, one of our grown up girls who needed to hear our news and would, reluctantly, agree and understand. Even more rooted in Rangeley than us, Becky had found her calling working as a counselor for the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust environmental camp. And now, what a coincidence that she chose to make her first trip home from college (where she was learning to be an outdoor educator) on the night we agreed to sell the source of her inspiration!

“We’ll be able to go to such cool places,” Tom said after he dropped the bomb. But Becky didn’t hear anything about Jackson Hole or meeting up in any of her future home bases. “No, no, no!” she said as she stomped off to her room and slammed the door. “We are not having this conversation! Not now. Not ever!”

Fast forward a few years to August. Tom and I have slept in the garage loft above all the stuff from our camp we’ve shoved into storage when the old roof was torn off to rebuild two stories higher. I am standing in sawdust looking out at my new view from what is shaping up to be the best bedroom I could ever imagine. Thanks to Becky serendipitously slapping us upside the head, plus umpteen different remodeling plans to fit enough square footage on our tiny footprint, a realtor grateful we would be staying to support the Rangeley economy, and a builder who worked miracles, I was enjoying my second-story panorama. I now know without a doubt that we couldn’t have gone through with selling what was rooted in our souls. My “Aha!” moment, the poetic one, came after I got a timely shove down the road less traveled. And looking through my white birches, across the lake to Bald Mountain and Saddleback in the distance, gratefully breathing in the new cabin smell, my heart soared and still does.

You can get here from there

So how does an out of work writer and her recently retired teacher husband “leave it all behind” to move permanently to their cabin in Maine? What’s it really like living ten miles from the nearest stop sign and 37 miles from the nearest traffic light on a big lake with a long name that, in Abnaki, means “moose feeding place?” 

Good questions. In the three months since my big transition north, I’m starting to come up with some answers, which I’ll share in the following posts. As they come, I’ll also share answers to things I’m still pondering, sometimes in the middle of the night, and sometimes after embarking on a chore I used to take for granted that now involves bug spray, a change of clothes, a water bottle, an ice pack and an itinerary posted on the refrigerator so loved ones can come find me. I’ll share how I came to uproot myself after living in the same house in the same city for all of my adult life to move year-round to what had previously been my summer camp. I’ll share how I got here and how I intend to stay.

For now, I do know for sure, that my transition from Flatlander to Rangeley transplant would never have grown past a whim without a few prerequisites. To take this leap of faith and begin to make it work, I needed:

  • Enough money and enough faith to believe that enough will be enough
  • A  vision for a new lifestyle with the guts to follow through when opportunity allowed and the grace to back pedal or change course if it didn’t
  • A sense of adventure
  • A sense of humor
  • A logistical, up-to-the minute project plan that would impress even the most detail oriented spreadsheet gurus from my office working days
  • A soul mate who instigated and inspired and, more often than not, just plain took charge of all of the above necessities, and still thinks he wants to pull up his Adirondack chair next to mine when it’s all said and done

Some folks say we’re crazy. Some say we’re “too young” to retire, to which we say we’re “just young enough.” Some say we’re taking a huge risk leaving the malls, the curbside garbage pickup, and ambulances that can reach the emergency room fast enough to resuscitate us.  Even one friend says we’re way to far from a wine and liquor outlet to make this lifestyle feasible. It’s a bit too early to say they’re wrong. The jury’s still out…at least until next April or May when we can, hopefully, still claim victory with whatever  the winter thaw leaves in working order. And if we can’t, and we truly are crazy, let’s hope it’s sweet old Nana who could marvel at the same birch tree over and over like she’d never seen it before kind of crazy. Let’s hope it’s not standing out in the driveway with a shotgun and a tin foil hat kind of crazy.

Meanwhile, I also know for sure I already have the most crucial element in this whole leap of faith, and have possessed copious quantities of it for the past 23 years. I love Rangeley. I love this place, its people, my new-old house here that holds all my treasures. I love the way I feel when I walk down to my waterfront and can still see my daughters as toddlers running ahead of me eager, as I was, to jump in. I am rooted in this land of lakes and mountains. Always will be. With that grounding force, along with the previously mentioned keys to survival, plus lots of blankets, dried beans, homemade wine and stacks and stacks of reading material, the saga begins!