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:

Washin’ on sunshine

When it comes to curb appeal, our special spot is sort of middle of the road. We’ll probably never earn a spread in Log Home Living. But, with no dead Subarus in the yard yet, none of our out-buildings caved in, and nothing on the back porch that should have been hauled away in the 90’s, we’re not shackin’ up in one of those places out-of-staters like to poke fun at, either.

I do have plenty of yard pride—just not the kind that inspires me to plant pansies where only road gawkers can appreciate them, or makes me feel superior over my lawn-to-weed ratio. My back yard in particular wouldn’t sell much Scotts Turf Builder. But, thanks to my live-in gardener, it yields enough fresh veggies to make me boast. And the front yard—the way it gently slopes down to the lake without much help from man or mower—well that just makes me burst my buttons!

There’s no doubt that my non-lakeside footage stirs a unique blend of emotions. And since last summer, it’s had me seesawing between brief spurts of backyard pride to a lingering sense of backyard bewilderment—settling at last into a bolder, brighter version of sass ‘n swagger I didn’t know was possible. The catalyst? A backyard solar array. Or, let me rephrase that. The catalyst, from my vantage point, was a towering geometric anomaly of super shiny rectangles technically known as a solar array. A year ago May, just when most folks were fidgeting over fertilizer and when to clean their windows, my seasonal to-do list was overshadowed by a two-and-a-half story stack of solar panels propped skyward just outside my kitchen.

The decision to go solar was almost as monumental as the result, requiring nearly as much wood-fired hot tub contemplation as packing it all in and moving to Rangeley in the first place. We needed better backup power than a generator shaking the bark off the trees as it sputtered through fuel each time a Nor’easter dumped 13 miles of hard sledding between us and the nearest gas station. “It’s the right thing to do, going greener,” we agreed, toasting ourselves with homemade wine and all the tenacity we could muster in a hot tub in November. And, oh yeah, the alternative energy refund bigger than any rebate in our entire tax paying history? Well, there was certainly that, too.

So started the actual planning and design phase—figuring out just what we needed installed to electrify our essentials (and a few of our luxuries) when the power went out in the plantation. (Not if the power went out, but when the next wind gust severed Rangeley Plantation’s grasp on the peripheral reach of Central Maine Power.) The idea was to go from “Oh, crap, the power went out!” and stumbling around the cabin for candles and flashlights, to “Hmmm….power musta bumped. Stove clock says so. We’re running off the battery now!” We weren’t taking ourselves off grid and totally sticking it to CMP. But we’d poke ’em hard enough to feel self-contained, and just a tad superior.

“Not bad for kids who used to leave every light in the house on,” I told myself that winter. As consumers of non-renewable energy, I’d call us comfortably conservative. We prefer paperbacks to battery-operated books. We don’t own phones that talk to us, or laptops smaller than our laps. We do, however, have our share of ghost energy lingering about the cabin. With all the little LED auras glowing each night after dark, it’s like part of us never really leaves the home office. Plus, thanks to our new auto-sensing, super efficient, barely brighter than a firefly bulbs, I still manage to keep my love affair with night lights burning. The time was right to evolve to the next level of conscious consumerism, and we were psyched. By acquiring the technology to make use of whatever “free” energy the sun saw fit to offer each day, we’d be stepping into our power by collecting it ourselves in a way that would’ve made our parents proud—and scared the pants off ’em at the same time. 

“What was that noise coming from the bathroom?” my dad asked each time I came home from college and was bold enough to sneak in a shower.

“It’s a blow dryer,” I’d say. “I use it to dry my hair.”

“I don’t have to plug anything into the wall to dry my hair,” he’d say. “I let the air do it.”

Yeah, but he wasn’t trying to imitate Farrah Fawcett either, I remember thinking. And there was certainly nothing natural or effortless about turning my bangs into wings!

What would my folks say now, coming from an era when anything with a plug never even made it upta camp? In one generation, they’d progressed from the thrill of relying on cloth-corded appliances to the agony of one energy crisis after another. They had a love-hate relationship with gadgets requiring “juice,” which might have prompted them to consider putting a solar collection contraption in the yard. But then they would’ve taken one look at the cost of installation—passed out cold for a few minutes—then gone back to using one or two plugs in the whole house and squinting at their monthly electric bills like night hawks.

“Whaddya think?” Tom asked in early May after I’d been watching the shadows of our solar panel installation loom larger and larger over the kitchen window.

“Where are the beagles?” I asked back. Standing at the sink, I could still see most of the backyard—the mulch pile, the garage, and Tom’s Eliot Colemen-esque hoop houses and raised beds. But my view of my beagles looking back at me from the “porch” of their kennel? Obliterated. I’m not sure exactly what I was picturing during the initial solar installation discussions, but once I ventured outside to take my first look at the real thing, I realized I’d been carrying around a very simplistic schematic in my head. Like when I’d be driving around somewhere and say: “Oh, look, that house has solar panels,” noticing a neat array of them aligned on a rooftop. Our version of that, I knew, would have to be out in the yard versus up on the roof  to catch all possible rays of Rangeley sun shining over our speck of earth. And while I wasn’t naive enough to imagine any outside-the-Louvre-type architecture, I guess I imagined a more aesthetic coupling of symmetry meets sustainability in the Maine woods. “It’s big,” I said, peering skyward, “and…ah…kinda skewed.”

“Didn’t perfect alignment with the sun require geometric balance?” I wondered silently. “The Aztecs and the Mayans sure thought so.” That’s what came to mind as I realized our stack of solar panels reminded me of a giant, unsolved Rubik—one of those puzzles where you try to align the little squares a certain way—and then you finally say the hell with it and walk away.

But nobody ever said embracing solar had to be pretty, I told myself, at least not from an architectural standpoint. It just had to work, to absorb light energy and convert it into wattage. And how that actually happened, at control central down in our basement, was actually quite pretty. The red and green LED indicators, the gauges measuring battery capacity and consumption—I nodded as I crouched next to Tom in the cellar and he pointed out each detail of where and how the magic happened. “Yup, pretty cool,” I said, and then went upstairs to Google it all. Watts, volts, amperage, DC to AC—I still had a lot to learn about the wizardry going on in the back yard and beneath my feet each time I flipped a switch.

“That thing gonna pay for itself?” our neighbor wanted to know the first time he saw our solar array. While Tom stood in the driveway explaining about tax rebates and kilowatt savings and the premise that we hoped to live to be in our nineties, I came inside to do a load of laundry. And then it hit me. The electricity to clean our clothes was being sucked out of the sun, channeled through our Gollum hole of a basement, and right into the side of our heavy-duty, large capacity washing machine! As I pulled out the power dial and let ‘er rip, a song from my winged hairstyle days made me do a special little dance.

“I’m washin’ on sushine! Woah! And don’t it feel good? Yeah, all right now….”

Funky shui

Feng shui. I know it’s the Chinese art of arranging your household environment to achieve a balanced energy flow. I know it’s pronounced fung shway because, back when I lived closer to big universities, folks talked about getting theirs checked. They told me I could pay someone to come in, feel the subtle energies bouncing in an around my knicky-knacks, and advise how to get in better alignment. I never did. And now that I live up here in the woods, I’m pretty sure I don’t have any feng shui. I’ve got funky shui.

“Mugs are here in this corner cupboard if you get up before we do in the morning,” the girls tell first-time visitors. “Help yourself to coffee or tea but…ah…just don’t use this mug with the big fish on it, or the red one here, or the brown one in back of it with the picture of the Grand Tetons. You’d mess up Mom’s mug shui!”

Yes, I must agree, they would. It hasn’t happened yet—no one has grabbed the next mug in my hierarchical ordering scheme, forcing me to use the red Moab Cafe one on a day that I was supposed to be drinking out of the big striped bass mug that reminds me of my Dad. And what if someone did? Well, my world wouldn’t spin off its axis or anything too drastic. After a moment or two of staring at the corner cupboard—mumbling to myself in a hoarse whisper and rocking gently back and forth—I’m sure I’d make do just fine with the red mug or the brown mug or, worst case, a tiny flowered one of no special significance.

I’m not sure what the sages would say about my kitchen feng shui. I imagine they might pronounce my food prep surfaces to be inauspiciously aligned. And, although they believe green to be generally conducive to promoting healing and calm, I think they’d concur the particular shade coloring my walls brings too much of a Key West vibe to the land of moose and loons. Plus, what about placing a microwave where I have to bend over to use it because I ran out of counter space above knee level? Well that must definitely “shway” my kitchen off kilter. But, hey, as long as I’m standing in it drinking my coffee from whatever consecutively favorite mug is clean, I am one with all there is, in perfect harmony.

I’ve got some funk goin’ on with my bedroom shui, too, manifested in my inability to achieve total serenity out here overlooking the lake if my bed lies unmade past mid-morning. I blame it on the beagles and how I don’t want them to get dog fur on my sheets. But deep down, I know it’s a control thing, a coping mechanism for attempting mastery over my own little nest. The behavior began when, as newlyweds, our first apartment was nicknamed the Hobbit Hole. Stuck up under the attic eaves in a downtown Victorian, by the time visitors ascended past two floors of offices, they came hunched over the threshold eye-level with my bedroom. My floral Sears bedspread became folks’ first impression of my homemaking skills. (And, now that I think about it, back when I only had a set of “his and hers” coffee mugs, my only kitchen shui on my one open shelf was the Campbell’s cans lined up next to the Norge like art deco.) Then came many working-at-home years in our new split-level house when I never thought much about kitchen and bedroom alignment. I just knew the TV, refrigerator, and all the potential napping surfaces were upstairs while my potential desktop publishing surfaces were downstairs. Making my bed before “getting down to business” kept me aimed toward professionalism and productivity and away and from turning into a Dilbert character.

“What are you afraid of, that the bedroom police are going to come in and arrest you for an unmade bed?” Tom still asks when he finds me scurrying to make it before I start my day. “Don’t be silly, I’m not afraid of that!” I assure him. But I must admit that, while all manner of inauspicious alignment can be hiding in my closet and dresser, I do feel my yin and yang move into equilibrium as I smooth out the last pillow.

Optimal bedroom feng shui, I learned on the Internet, is really more about orientation than tucked in blankets. It requires laying out my sleeping quarters so my head points in the proper direction while I slumber. In my case, based on my gender and birth date, that would be southwest. Turns out, I’m almost OK with my current layout, as long as I sleep diagonally. And even though that would push Tom out of bed, it would actually be better for him since, based on his gender and birth date, he should be aligned diagonally the totally opposite way when he sleeps! Who knew that waking up side by side sharing our picture window view of the lake could be so skewed? To set things right in the same bed, we’d have to sleep crisscrossed like an old pair of skis hanging over the fireplace at Loon Lodge!

“Back when we first built here, we never knew we’d need room for a computer,” my neighbor up the road commented when she showed me her home office tucked into her upstairs bedroom. “Nope,” I concurred. “Never thought we’d have computers uptah camp.” Or kids that grew taller than three feet, or Tupperware with lids, or laundry shelves.  Heck, my original cabin never even factored in company who didn’t want to live on the screen porch playing Yahtzee around a citronella candle! And, when we finally decided to make the Big Move to live up here full time—consolidating 3o years of stuff into our expanded but still small space—we never once consulted an energy map, mystical quadrant or feng shui compass. We moved sticky note cutouts shaped like our furniture around on graph paper and hoped some magical, unseen force would help us make it all fit. So, when it comes to office shui these days, my teeny computer desk faces northwest because that is precisely where it has to point me. And the fact that it’s a straight shot across from the broadband Internet tower on Bald Mountain while sitting me smack dab in my best possible feng shui “work or study” spot…well that’s where miracles and coincidences intersect in my corner of the universe.

I do find it nice to know that, simply translated, feng shui means “wind” and “water” and the wisdom of aligning yourself with both. That’s what the online experts told me today when I searched from my place of auspicious contemplation. “Very interesting,” I mused, moving a few steps away from my desk and into my kitchen. With my back to the breezes coming down off the mountains and in through one window, and my face toward the big blue lake in my front yard, I smiled like a true sage and sipped coffee from my chosen mug.


You know the commercial. The girl’s never teetered off the pavement in her outrageously silly shoes. She’s wearing some sort of paisley scarf, a tweed skirt and a blouse more ruffled than a partridge on the prowl. Only the blouse is pink, and the necklace she’s draped it with looks like she didn’t bring enough money to a rummage sale. But she does have money—not enough to shop the high-end stores—but enough to go to TJ Maxx more than I brush my hair. At least that’s what she says when she stops mid-strut and smirks into the camera:

“I used to be a fashionista. Now I’m a Maxxinista!”

“Well whoopie for you, chickie,” I tell her from my TV chair, defiantly crossing my fleece-draped arms over my ancient jammie t-shirt. “I was a Maxxinista before you were born!”

Hard to believe to see me now, with my daily “look” featuring must-have items I pluck off a deer antler hook in the pantry. But I used to go shopping, as in actually going shopping. I’d drive to TJ Maxx, paw through the clothing racks, and drive home with whatever outfits survived me squinting at myself in the dressing room house-of-horrors mirror. Yup, I was a well-dressed up-and-coming working woman once, and I had the shoulder-padded tops and pleated pants to prove it. But that was back when I ran my own marketing communications business, and sometimes I had to match a skirt, blouse and blazer so I looked like I belonged in a boardroom instead of back home working in my basement office in my fuzzy pants. As it turned out, though, the classiness of my business attire was inversely related to my career success. The more skilled I got, the less my wardrobe looked like I drew a decent paycheck. By the time I’d made a name for myself in high-tech, I never got dressier than Dockers unless I wanted to start a rumor that I had a job interview somewhere else during my lunch hour.

Now that I’ve left my office job and moved up to Rangeley, I’ve got the no-nonsense, all-weather, mountain-to-shore wear to prove it. Gone are the blazers and most of the Dockers, and any footwear that can’t function as either slipper-shoes or boot-sneakers. All terrain Tevas are OK, too, as long as they’re loose enough to strap over wool socks. I stay in my computer chair for shopping sprees, pointing and clicking, and hoping for free shipping and a lifetime return policy. Yup, I used to be a Maxxinista. Now I’m a “remote” working-at-home-in-the-woods technical writer who works almost as hard to figure out just the right Rangeley outfit for any given moment. So far, I’ve been a couple weather patterns and a couple layers short of hitting it right.

As I said back in Fashionably Late, we don’t actually have summer, fall, winter and spring in Rangeley. We have summer (for about two weeks in August), almost winter, winter, and not-quite summer yet. Being weather-ready means having a huge row of deer antler hooks draped with all manner of L.L. Bean basics close at hand. It also makes putting anything under the bed or up in the attic because it’s off-season seem pretty silly. And you can bet I never bother to just “accessorize.” I don’t buy a plaid top just because one stripe matches a pair of mauve slacks waiting to be completed in my closet. All purchases must go with at least two other layers and, ideally, be water-repellent and wind-proof.

“Look at this cool top I’m buying,” I said to Tom. He gazed at the sporty little Spandex jacket on the Land’s End website and nodded his approval. “I’ll wear it over my bathing suit when I want an extra layer for snorkeling. It matches my suit perfectly! Plus it’s got some sort of sun shielding properties in the fabric.” Even so, long after I clicked “Buy,” I wondered whether I’d really get $50 worth of wear out of a bright aqua piece of beach wear called a “rash guard”.

“Hey, Mumma, do you think I’ll wear this?” Becky asked last month, “or will it just put me over the weight limit? I don’t want to pay a huge baggage fee for a yellow sweater that only goes with a few things.” Standing amid a sea of clothing, she was holding up a daffodil colored cardigan she’d plucked off one of her “maybe” piles. After spending a couple years living in the desert, a winter on the slopes in Colorado, and then a month rafting the Grand Canyon, she was packing to go teach in the Bahamas for a year. She was climatically confused, for sure, and coming to stay in Rangeley in May and June had messed her up even worse. “Maybe it’ll be good for layering if it gets cool at night,” she concluded, and stuffed it in the side of one of her honkin’ duffel bags.

“Hmmm, maybe,” I said halfheartedly. I was in her room to offer moral support and, hopefully, a bit of motherly advice. But what did I know? I was confused and more than a little off kilter myself. Stretched out on the bed, I was gazing listlessly at the tan still showing on the half-inch of skin between my sock ridges and the cuffs of my fuzzy pants. And I was pretty sure there was still some sun-kissed skin on my forearms where the sleeves of my little aqua Spandex jacket had left them bare and warm, even though I’d been too bummed to look for a month. You betcha, I’d worn the thing—not in Rangeley yet…maybe not ever in Rangeley—but on the balmy island of Bonaire. A month ago, it matched the Caribbean blue sea perfectly and had been my must-have layer for snorkeling and then sitting for hours sinking my sockless feet in the sand. “Yeah, layering is good, Becky,” I sighed, envying her upcoming destination but not her current location in cold, damp Mooselook surrounded by four seasons of gear busting out of giant Tupperware totes.

Ah, this was the year I was going to return to Rangeley with spring in full swing. None of that still winter, not-quite spring crap. This was the year I’d keep my island clothes close by instead of waiting to haul them all out again sometime in August. After all, ice out had come wicked early and folks told me on Facebook that, the minute I went away, it was 80 degrees in Rangeley—”the same temperature” I thought required a long flight south. Strategizing on the plane ride home, I had a smug grin a lot like the girl in the TJ Maxx commercial. I was going to think positive, stay on top of my fashion game, and swap tank tops for sweaters the minute I got home because I’d need that summer stuff soon! And, for the first year in my adult life, I’d done just that. I had all my woollies stored and my light ‘n airy clothes handy. No procrastination. No digging through Tupperware. I was ready to enjoy quality time with Becky, to guide her in being practical yet fashionable, to get her in the tropical spirit.

‘Course all that “it’s so warm we’re drinking beers out on the deck here in April” was only a cruel joke. When I got home, summer was still way far around a cold, rainy corner. It  didn’t get here till after Becky left and had been gone long enough to wonder what ever possessed her to bring a daffodil colored cardigan to the Bahamas in June. And, when summer finally did come, it blinded me. Still in the sweatshirt and flannel-lined pants I’d hauled back down from the attic, I was sweeping trailings from having to get the wood stove cranking in June out the back door. Suddenly, the sun came blazing out from behind a cloud and stayed there, intensely hot! I spun around on my slipper-shoes and went to dig out my cute little Spandex jacket, knowing it would double as a windbreaker over my bathing suit when summer changed its mind again.

March of the medicines

“Grammy’s cookies come from big trays out of the oven!”  Helen announced when she was just big enough to teeter next to the counter on a stool. “And she showed me why those bread things are called rolls…’cause you’re supposed to make dough and roll it out with a big wooden thing and then cut it into circles. Did anyone ever show you?”

“Of course,” I told her. I’d spent enough hours watching my Grammies bake that I decided it was called “from scratch” because of their fingernails scraping the counter top as they endlessly kneaded and squished and scratched the last morsels of dough out of the cookie bowl inches from my eager face. “But Grammies usually have more time—and a lot more  space—for things like that.”

Time and space. Before the Big Move to a better kitchen and a simpler life, those were the elemental ingredients that forced me to defer to the Pillsbury Dough Boy and the Keebler Elves. On any given day, I’d have sworn I just didn’t have enough of either. Looking back on it now, though, I’m pretty sure I might have found the extra hours in my stay-at-home mom days to channel more Betty Crocker. But I still would’ve needed more space—lots more kitchen counter space.

Back in the days when “food processors” were out in the field, the coffee maker wore an apron and stood by the stove, and the microwave was still a Jane Jetson fantasy, my “roll model” cooks had miles more counter space. And while I needed half a drug store’s worth of inventory stretching from stove to sink, they got by with a jar of honey that doubled as cough medicine and a bottle of elixir for all other ailments not eased by chicken soup. Come cold and flu season, Nana didn’t have much of a choice. She kept her head bent to baking—making use of all that prime kitchen real estate—and hoped that hearty, homemade food got the family through till spring. I, on the other hand, had so many vials of medicine on my counter top by the end of March that God knows what I may have greased my cookie sheets with or substituted for vanilla extract in her old-fashioned recipes.

“Medicine time!” I’d announce, and two mouths would automatically appear for up-to-the-minute treatment of various symptoms. On good days, they’d get vitamin pills and whatever antibiotic was keeping their little bodies free from the latest viral attacks. On bad days, they’d get an antihistamine and/or a decongestant and/or an anti-diarrheal, salve for any topical reactions, and enough chewable fever reducer to keep them comfortable until the next round of antibiotics. Between bouts, when their facial openings were dry and their cheeks were glowing rather than “burning up” red, I’d begin to see the Formica near my sink and the light at the end of the tunnel. Slowly my optimism would build and, one by one, symptom by symptom, I’d remove the syrups and salves out of the mainstream and into temporary storage.

“All better,” I’d declare, whisking away the Pepto Bismol, the Robitussin and the Tylenol bottle that had given me arthritis in one hand. The girls would each suppress a cough and go on about their business of absorbing germs. They couldn’t understand why I’d bother to move the bottles, having a visceral wisdom about a fact I’d refuse to accept. They would need each and every one of those medicines soon, probably that very night when I’d have to thrash through the darkness of the hall closet, hoping the plastic bottle necks beneath my hands belonged to cold remedies rather than cleaning solvents. Within 24 hours, I’d have my over-the-counter prescriptions back within easy reach out in the kitchen.

At least the girls learned their colors while I dolled out relief. Red pills meant “stop my runny nose,” while the green stuff meant “go night-night and not wake up coughing.” And that pink medicine did not taste as pretty as it looked even though they sipped it out of an alligator spoon. Still, the rainbow was never quite long enough and, deep down, the girls knew that. Their little membranes were always one step ahead of any full alert, color-coded homeland security plan I devised.

“Ears feelin’ O.K.?” I remember asking Becky en route to Rangeley when she was about three. She nodded. “Coughing stopped? Nose better?” She moved her head up and down, up and down. Medical update positive. All secretions in check. My therapy was right on course, I thought, especially crucial since were were going “up to camp” for the weekend. Then she looked at me.

“Becky, what is that coming out of your eye?”

She shrugged and dug at her left tear duct.

“Yucky stuff,” she said after a brief observation.

Nasty infectious stuff, it was, untouched by pharmaceutical fluids already administered—not even that pink panacea we brought from home which was so expensive it should’ve been prescribed with smelling salts in case I passed out while reaching for my wallet. First thing Monday morning this yucky stuff required a detour to the drugstore for special ointment—a tiny tube that kept getting wedged between my stove and the edge of my counter. It was the one thing not in my northern arsenal against sneezing, coughing, stuffy head, drippy orifice attacks. Even though I had a “one butt” kitchen here back then, I backed up my line of defense until I needed a spreadsheet to track which half-congealed or partially disintegrated medicine was in which house at any given moment in time.

“Hey Mom, where do you keep the red pills now?” Helen asked shortly after we moved up here full time.

“In the bathroom drawer!” I announced proudly.

After a delightfully brief search there, she came back to the kitchen, pills in hand, wondering why no one ever told me I wasn’t supposed to keep Sudafed that expired in 1998. Her tone was reminiscent of her Grammy cookie questions 25 years ago, with only a tinge of sarcasm. I hadn’t rotated my inventory since consolidating houses, I told her. Plus, as long as we remembered to wash the Walmart guck off our hands after long runs to Rumford, her dad and I were making it through the winters just fine with my hodge-podge of under-the-counter stash.

And wouldn’t you know, now that I have gorgeous expanses of new counter top, the only family member who needs medicine within easy reach is one of the beagles! Twice a day I administer a plain white pill so tiny I have to be careful it gets in Toby’s mouth and not lost somewhere en-route.

I can’t tell you that all this space has turned me into Nana reincarnated in the kitchen yet. But it has given me room to spread my wings farther than ever before. I do make my own bread, sort of, out of a machine that moves off the counter only if I have to search for a dog pill underneath it.  Tom now rolls out perfect homemade pizza dough like nobody’s business. And Helen, when she visits, makes great use of my uncluttered kitchen, showing us what she learned at culinary school. As for me, when no one is looking, I take a deep Rangeley cleansing breath, run my un-floured hands along my long, sleek counter top, and smile.

Tackling spring cleaning

Spring is in the air and, at last, the sun is peeking out. Finally, you can throw open your windows and exchange a breath of it for the staleness that’s been hanging in your house, along with the ghosts of that corned beef and cabbage you cooked back in March. The birds are singing. You think you might have a lupine or two in the front yard, but you suppress the urge to go and check, knowing you must not withdraw from your domicile and the allegiance it demands. The dust clinging to the window pane in front of you, which has turned your curtains from crisp white to a shade often found on old bread, is as much a harbinger of the season as the robins and the warm breezes. So, you prepare a checklist and steel yourself for spring cleaning. “1. Upstairs: A. Windows and walls; B. Closets; C. Floors…” you write. “2. Downstairs: Ditto, ditto, ditto…” As you’re filling in major categories with more subheadings, you remember last year you had a similar action plan, all nicely detailed on a large sheet of paper, and each time you looked at it you became paralyzed with dread.

You may have turned to the self-help aisle at the bookstore for a little motivation, where you were met with reams and reams of training in the science of domestic engineering. Trouble was, you probably spent so much time reading that you were still pecking away at your checklist when your daffodils had given way to tiger lilies. You certainly don’t want that to happen again, so consider this: Our foremothers—who firmly instituted these seasonal scrubbing rituals so that, come warm weather, we’d forget about Gloria Steinem and begin worshiping Donna Reed—called it “spring cleaning” for a reason. Even pre-emacipated wash women intended for a brief respite before fall cleaning, if only to save up their energy for canning and baking all the fruits of the harvest they never got to savor on the vine.

To complete your checklist before you’re dripping sweat into your Spic ‘N Span, you do need to keep in mind some of those nifty tips you read up on last year while procrastinating. The experts would recommend you begin by tackling household focal points first—rooms where family density remains fairly constant over time. Try to view your home as a casual visitor might, drawing your attention to major accumulations of dust, debris and discoloration. A visitor would see, for example, what happened to the rug when you let the family eat spaghetti in front of the television, not what’s under your bed or in your corners. Adopting this perspective will let you prioritize to get maximum results where it counts. After all, it’s not so much for sanitary reasons that we clean, it’s to give the general impression of sparkle and shine to the viewing public—our company. (They probably won’t be crawling around on their hands and knees or hopping high enough to see most cobwebs. But, if they do, spike their coffee so they won’t care anymore.) It’s important to forget about feels clean and lemony fresh clean and go for looks clean first. Seeing the immediate outcome of such well-focused housekeeping will motivate you to organize closets and scrub unknown substances from your surfaces later, when the weather’s lousy and when you’re not taking an Irish coffee break.

When you’re ready to start tackling your spring cleaning list, an obvious place to start is that kitchen window you just opened—the one your family and friends have been politely ignoring since you put the hibachi right under it late last fall. The experts would agree. It’s small, not time consuming and requires few supplies—big pluses when you’re just getting in gear and are easily discouraged. And, once that window’s clean, you can move onto other windows without losing your focus. Begin by gathering your supplies: glass cleaner, paper towels, sponges and some sort of scraping device for splatters that have no respect for ammonia. If you’re unable to locate your scraper right away, start looking for it in the basement first because, that way, you can toss the kitchen curtains in the washer and they’ll be clean when you’re through with the window.

Now, don’t let the fact that your washer and dryer and surrounding shelves have been collecting dust since the Carter administration distract you. You’re on a window-washing mission and wiping down basement appliances would be totally senseless right now. However, since you may never be standing there with paper towels and Windex in hand until the end of the Obama years, no harm will be done by taking a few swipes at the dirt.

By the time you find your scraper in a closet that demanded total reorganization, you’ll probably be out of paper towels. That’s O.K., though, because newspaper—for some undocumented reason—does a better job on windows. If you’re like most Americans, you’ll have an ample supply of really old papers to use. And, if you’re like most Americans, you won’t be able to resist reviewing some of what’s in the stack. Half an hour later, after re-reading accounts of oil spills, tsunamis and tornadoes, you’ll naturally be depressed and lethargic. Ten million gallons of black goo floated around Alaska and you can’t even bring yourself to clean a simple window!

At this point, a cup of regular coffee will be just the thing to restart your motor. Do not, however, under any circumstances look closely at your coffee maker while you’re making one! Then you’ll have no choice but to sponge it off, especially up underneath the drip mechanism where it looks like you’ve been brewing with swamp water. Make yourself sit with your cup of coffee and do your best not to stare at that window you still haven’t cleaned. Lower your eyes, if you have to, to that grungy spot of crud clinging to a juice spill next to the refrigerator. Well, you do have the sponge handy…

When at last you’ve finished your first spring cleaning chore, stand back and admire your accomplishment. The curtains look brand new, except for those grey fingerprints you got on them when your hands were covered with newsprint. You’re exhausted, but you’ve got one-sixteenth of a clean floor, a coffee maker that would impress a contortionist, one organized closet shelf, a washer and dryer gleaming where the sun never shines and, voila, one heck of a spotless window. The sunlight will now stream into your kitchen and straight through your livingroom, pooling right on that pile of ashes under the wood stove you told yourself back in February you’d “get to” if it ever got to be spring again.

Mustang memories, Subaru soul

It was one of those Indian summer afternoons that had us fooled into thinking we could get by awhile longer with light fleece and no gloves. Tom and I were in the Subaru, glad to have the windows open enough to blow the dust off one last time. With errands done and weather just right for moseying around without spoiling our groceries, there was no particular place to go but home, and no particular sense of urgency propelling us there. We had that footloose feeling of driving aimlessly we’d felt as pre-oil crisis teenagers, balanced by the wisdom that we now needed to suck every last drop of practicality out of each $50 tank of gas. We were “riding around” Rangeley-style. Having shuttled ourselves to all points on our plotted route and, circling back from the grocery-dump-PO loop, we were optimizing our fuel consumption by poking along and enjoying the ride.

“No regrets, you know,” I proclaimed. “Not even a twinge.”

I’d told Tom as much on several occasions. As always, he gave me his “good thing ’cause you’re stuck now anyways” nod. But on this particular day, I wasn’t simply making a general observation about our new lifestyle compared to our old lifestyle. I might have sounded like I was riding around just repeating myself to keep my vocal cords limber, but my reaffirmation was prompted by something so specific and serendipitous I’d spotted along the road that it demanded comment.

A red Mustang convertible had just passed us with its tunes blaring and top down. The driver was heading from the overlooks toward town, not looking in the least like he was concerned with groceries or gas. He was lettin’ that pony just run wild, grinning and singing along, with the wind in his hair. He flew down Route 17 like a shiny red rocket, blowing by the Subaru in a blast from my past.

Not too long ago, I had a car just like that. Torch red she was, with black leather interior and a black convertible roof. I called her the Joyride, a name she wore proudly on her license plate, never allowing me to drive anonymously anywhere near where I used to live. (Technically, her license said JOYR1DE. When I went into the DMV to claim my vanity plate, some other New Hampshire Joy just as clever with word games had already beat me to it. I stood there crestfallen, with no second choice, until the DMV clerk offered a solution. “The numeral one is often used when the letter “I” is not available, and it’s an acceptable substitution,” she stated. Her tone said she didn’t care nearly as much about making my license plate dreams come true as she did moving me the heck out of the way of the next person in line.)

Before that, I’d been a Subaru girl for years. The first brand new car that was really mine  was a cute little mallard green 1997 Impreza. I called her the Hovercraft because, unlike our Jeep and Tom’s horrible little commuter sh**box, she seemed to hover over the road. Thanks to her high MPG rating and all-weather dependability, she made traveling to my job assignments along the Massachusetts tech corridor feasible. Eventually, my resolve and sense of adventure for Route 128 started to wear out long before that first Subaru.

So how did a practical, all-wheel-drive girl end up joy riding in a Mustang? Well, like most other flights of fancy not rooted in Rangeley, it began in the tropics. For our silver anniversary trip to the Keys, I splurged beyond our usual sh**box car rental and surprised Tom with a silver Mustang convertible. Somehow during that vacation week my dream shifted from allowing myself to enjoy a recreational splurge to seeing myself in the driver’s seat and my name on the bumper.

About a year later, the Joyride was in my garage. Actually, she came to me in NH by way of Wiscasset. Although every salesman in this half of the universe tried to sell me a green, blue or black Mustang, it turned out that the only Ford franchise with my specific car on the lot was Downeast. When I finally got her, it took me at least six months for her bright, fire engine red newness to stop scaring me enough to chill out and just drive. Even then, I was in a perpetual state of awe and disbelief each time I got behind the wheel. In my head, I still felt like I should be driving my little Subaru. But then a cop or a high school kid would look at me differently, or I’d catch my reflection in a store window and realize this was not your average Mom bus. “Now that’s a midlife crisis car!” people would say. “No, it isn’t.” I’d insist from under my matching red visor. “It’s a midlife celebration car.”

She was the boldest, raciest, biggest show of status symbolism I’d ever allowed myself to acquire. She made me beam with pride and sing my gratitude to the open air every chance I got. But, at the same time, she made me want to justify, to somehow explain that I wasn’t just spoiled or shallow, that this wild pony exterior was actually cloaking a utility vehicle soul. I needed a new car, after all. Tom had traded his latest commuter heap in for an Outback and Becky would be taking the Impreza off to college soon. Plus, the time was right for me to let myself live outside the box a bit, to run unbridled by my inner critic. “Who would have ever thought?” I’d marvel when I’d climb in and see the galloping pony stamped on her steering wheel. She had ponies all over—one on the grill I polished compulsively, one on each door, on the glove compartment and even on the rubber door casings. My favorite embellishment, though, was something I added aftermarket: A tiny angel with blond hair, a festive red gown, and a playful smile hung on my visor, always watching. She was my Prudy angel, a pin my step-mom wore on her johnny during her too frequent stays at Maine Medical battling leukemia. Prudy smiled nearly nonstop. To her, everything was wonderful, the sun rising and setting, my job, my vacation plans, even my cooking on a bad day. When she lost her battle, she left me with her angel pin, a fierce desire to seize all the wonder in life, and enough of a nest egg to go out and grab it with the wind in my hair.

“How do you get that thing through the snow?”folks would want to know out in the parking lot each winter. I’d tell them about my Blizzak rear tires and the 50 pounds of dog food in my trunk which, in theory, got me around town without fish tailing. No putting the Joyride up on blocks, she was a practical, four-season sports car, I’d explain as I scraped ice off her vinyl roof. “After all, I didn’t name her FearRide,” I’d remind myself as I clenched my jaw and spun away. Luckily, for five years, I was blessed by more than enough smooth cruising to balance out our few treacherous excursions. Then, slowly but steadily, I found myself noticing how pinkish my pretty car looked covered with road salt, how impossibly heavy those low-slung doors were, and how the backseat was sort of a joke. I started to see my prize Mustang as just a work horse. Another dream—of a new house and a new beginning on a rough, lakeshore road—had captured my attention. Sure, there’d be some rare Rangeley days when we could pop the top and take her for a spin. But one trip down our road would have left the Joyride battered and bruised.

“Thank you, Prudy. It’s been a wonderful ride,” I said when I gathered up my CDs and unpinned my angel from the visor. We’d traded in the Joyride for a new Forester—a nice Rangeley mountain top blue model—and I was saying my goodbyes in the Subaru lot. She didn’t sit there for more than a day before she was whisked away on her next adventure. Her new owner, I’m told, calls her Kitten (or maybe K1TTEN) now. 

I did expect to miss my Mustang. Those one or two days I would have taken her up over the Height of Land or to the Pine Tree Frosty would’ve been sweet, for sure. But, these days, nothing compares to the joy of getting there and back with the dogs and the groceries and the building supplies in all-wheel drive dependability. We haven’t given this car a name. She’s simply The Subaru. And, I can’t for the life of me remember what my license plate says anymore. What I do remember, though, each time I see my Prudy angel hanging from its visor, is how grateful I am to have arrived here—safe and sound, and just this side of practical—with fond memories of my little red party car.

Keeping up with clutter snarl

One thing these bone chilling days are good for, besides standing at the back door peering at the thermometer, is catching up on my reading. Lately, I’m finding women’s magazines particularly entertaining. When I’ve memorized the latest Rangeley Highlander, I’m tired of the Mother Nature bashing on Facebook, and the novel I started is tucked somewhere too far away from the wood stove to make it intriguing reading, I turn to my pile of magazines and open a window to another world. As the mercury plummets and my tea goes tepid, they show me how many ways I’m not keeping up with “most” women, and how much I’m really not missing out on living in the Maine woods.

According to the editors, the top item troubling most women at the start of this new year is household clutter. Really? What happened to not enough family time, world poverty,  shrinking our carbon footprints, or maybe just our growing waistlines? Nope. Categorizing, containing and covering up our stuff is supposedly keeping us awake at night more than hugging our high-fructose filled kids, or wondering if we’ll keep our jobs long enough to pay our cell phone bills. An orderly life—or at least one that looks that way—trumps all.

Phew…check off that box!” I congratulated myself as I tossed the magazines into the burn pile. “I know exactly where all my stuff is!” And, at any given moment, I’m within ten minutes, two flights of stairs, a couple cupboards, drawers, boxes, baskets and/or totes away from laying my hand on whatever item becomes crucial to my well-being. Who knew that moving everything up to Rangeley was fulfilling my dreams and achieving what eludes most Good Housekeeping readers?

But it wasn’t long ago that any article on household organization would have featured me as a “before” profile, not an “after.” Heck, I’d have earned my own little side bar devoted to how my kitchen had more junk drawers than fully functional ones. “We all have at least one,” the lead in would say, “that retractable wooden rectangle about four inches deep hiding about six inches of worthless odds and ends under our countertop. It’s the great American junk drawer.”

Up until a year ago, I was a junk drawer junkie. With limited counter space in my previous kitchen, I put all manner of things “away for later” in drawers until, eventually, only two  were functional. The remaining six held everything but silverware, napkins, utensils or other sorts of necessities that kitchen drawers are supposed to keep easily accessible. The last time I managed to pull it out far enough to look, the biggest drawer held birthday candles with frosting still stuck on them, three boxes of toothpicks, a hospital ID bracelet, a bubble blowing wand, half an envelope of Rapid Gro, that special doohickey I needed for my dehumidifier back in July, keys to my ’68 Rambler, and a gadget I should have entered in Yankee magazine’s “What the Heck Is This?” column. The whole ungodly mess was tangled up with string, pencils, a couple shoe laces, and laying on top of some weird wooden utensils I’d received as wedding gifts and hadn’t prepared any food items in the last 30 years that had given me cause to use them. From the outside, of course, all my drawers looked identical—right down to their decorative brass knobs. My guests never needed to know what secrets lay within but me, unless they made the mistake of offering to help set the table. They’d pull out what they thought was a logical place for forks and spoons and realize too late they were wrong. Leaping back, they’d beg for assistance, and I’d have to free a rusty spatula or old tape dispenser imbedded sideways before I could level off the underlying junk and roll it all out of sight again.

It’s funny how quickly even the most ingrained habits can change with the promise of greener pastures (or, in my case, greener woods and a better kitchen by a lake)! One moment, Tom and I were talking to our realtor about market values, and the very next day I was “staging” my property for selling. “Staging” is realtor-speak for the crucial steps I needed to take to make my old house look like the best show in town. Stage One: Clear out all the furniture and knickknacks not worth the space they’d been taking up for decades. Stage Two: Pack up everything else, including what’s in storage nooks, closets, cabinets and, you guessed it, junk drawers. Basically, this stage entails dealing with all the places you hurriedly stashed stuff so Stage One buyers wouldn’t see it as clutter. If you’re lucky, like I was, Stage One lasts just long enough for you to wish you’d had that much elbow room years ago. Stage Two, on the other hand, can drag on until just before you leave the keys on the table and walk out the door.

Moving out took weeks of sorting, selling and selective packing, plus a four-page spreadsheet, a storage pod and, I’ll admit, a couple sleepless nights. On the Rangeley end, as I explained in Self Storage Ins and Outs, it took a pledge: “All crap goes out. No crap comes back in.” But when the move was finally complete, I’d managed to conquer clutter snarl, to use my beautiful new pantry with reverence and respect. Now that I’m really settled in, I sometimes need to remind myself how I originally labeled the sketches of my kitchen layout. “Silverware…cereal…Tupperware….” Not one square inch of storage was reserved for junk. It is still tempting to hoard, though, living 20 miles from a hardware store with a husband who I know can fix a toilet with string, duct tape, and a plastic fork. We haven’t stopped hanging onto stuff for reuse, since we do live in Maine, after all. We’ve just become craftier about where it takes up space before it’s brought back to live. 

“Wow, my clutter control must qualify for a Good Housekeeping seal of approval,” I told myself as I stoked the fire with another magazine. And I have no intention of returning to my days of snarled, sub-counter chaos. Besides, now that I’m caught up on my reading, what better do I have to do on these long, winter afternoons than keep my crap compartmentalized and where it belongs? It’ll be at least another month before any more magazines come and I get a whole new stack of burning issues to look into.

Fashionably late

When it came to fashion, old-time woods hermits had the right idea. Clothes were for covering up, keeping warm, and for pocketing tools and bait. One outfit was sufficient, typically consisting of overalls and various inner and outer seasonal layers. Weather permitting, she would put a lump of soap in the pocket of her overalls, fasten them to a low branch over the water and let the current do her laundry. What she wore during wash day is a mystery, but I’m pretty sure it had a lot to do with why she was a hermit.

I don’t want to be a hermit. I do plan to go into town more than once a year. But I still envy the simplicity of a hermit’s clothing options. If a particular layer wasn’t hanging on the deer antler by her bed, or out in the lake rinse cycle, it was on her back. She didn’t have to dig through a closet full of hangers for just the right shade of slacks or find the Tupperware tote marked “Christmas sweaters” before it was too late. While I’ve never been what you’d call a clothes horse, I still have inventory control problems this time of year. I can’t seem to keep my available wardrobe in pace with the seasons, and end up either freezing or roasting while my timely seasonal stuff stays packed away.

My most fashionable period came and went in the early ’90s. As sole proprietor of my marketing communications business, sometimes I had to match a skirt, blouse and blazer so that I looked like I belonged in a boardroom instead of back home, working in my basement office in my fuzzy pants. Fortunately, I gave those outfits the heave long before moving up to Rangeley. Convinced by my daughters that shoulder pads were not coming back into vogue, and that pleated slacks did not flatter my midsection, I purged at least half of my wardrobe before I began packing. I only held onto a couple of “nice” outfits, just in case I win tickets to Broadway, or Tom surprises me with a big splurge down to Portland, and I want to look presentable. I also tucked away my default “really fancy” dress with the sincere hope I would be dragging it out for more weddings than funerals. Otherwise, I’m now devoid of couture and career wear, reserving closet and dresser space for my Rangeley “business” attire.

Rangeley attire, I’m figuring out, is not nearly as snazzy as L.L. Bean portrays. I don’t own any “casual countryside” pants, or a parka that’s only good for “those occasional summer showers.” And, if I did, they would still be packed under the bed on that one fraction of one day I’d fit the exact scenario described in the catalogue. The business of living here  requires plenty of L.L. Bean, but mostly the plain stuff you see in the “Tried and True” and “Classic Comfort” sections – the stuff no one needs to model because everyone already owns a pair. Being here year-round also requires a new definition of dressing for the seasons. Although “getting ready” for spring, summer, fall and winter is a marketable notion in other climates, seasons can’t be categorized neatly enough to sell any special ensembles up here. We don’t actually have summer, fall, winter and spring. We have summer (for about two weeks in August), almost winter, winter, and not-quite summer yet. Being weather-ready means having a huge row of deer antler hooks with all manner of L.L. Bean basics close at hand. It also makes putting anything under the bed or up in the attic because it’s off-season seem pretty silly.

Good thing I’m already an expert on wearing the “layered look.” Back when I was a warm weather resident, I kept some camp clothes in the old dresser – mostly stuff that should have been left at Goodwill decades ago. I had some stain-splattered dungarees, a couple t-shirts, turtlenecks, the obligatory hooded sweatshirt and my really versatile red camp sweater. If I got overly optimistic about the weather on Memorial Day weekend and didn’t pack any warm clothes, I could just layer my camp duds. If the temperature rose, off they’d come. Factor in menopause, and I acquired incredible agility and speed, peeling off and piling on clothing like Superman turning back and forth into Clark Kent. These days, I’m outfitted for any given excursion with short- and long-sleeved layers and at least one layer of fleece. I top that off with a waterproof parka that looks almost as sporty tied around my waist as it does zipped up to my chin. In my pockets, I’m packing gloves, sunglasses, and a variety of head coverings. When I get caught in those occasional not-quite spring or winter squalls, I’ve discovered that I can tie my hood over my hat even when it’s already over my ear muffs.

I’m still figuring out which fashion essentials are my “must haves” – which combinations protect me from the elements, keep my thermostat adjusted, and won’t draw stares in town. I haven’t bought any overalls yet, even though I could really use the extra pockets. The hardest part in updating my fashion statement has been throwing away my retro red sweater. When I first unearthed it from the bottom of the Hefty bag it was packed away in during our cabin reconstruction year, I couldn’t bring myself to part with it. “I found my camp sweater!” I sighed, as I saw its familiar red silhouette, felt its comforting chenille. Then it disintegrated in my fingers, falling in a heap of soft shreds atop the mouse-eaten blanket it had been layered next to all winter. I had no choice but to make that sweater a piece of my fashion history, comforted by the knowledge that my taste in clothing was shared by a really stylin’ camp mouse.

Self storage ins and outs

It’s not a saying you’re likely to see made into one of those overpriced wooden wall trinkets. But while moving our belongings from the old camp to the new camp, and then from the old house to the new camp-house, Tom and I had a motto that became so ingrained in our psyche, it may as well have been burned onto a pine plank and hung in our entryway.

“Crap goes out. No crap comes back in.”

Three years ago, “out” referred to moving all our Maine stuff to our garage. Since the roof was coming off to build our cabin up two stories, everything had to go or risk being demolished by a Sawzall. Back then, we weren’t experienced movers. In 30 years of marriage, we’d moved our things only twice: once from an attic apartment nicknamed the Hobbit Hole to our first house, and once from a water-access-only camp we’d sold as furnished (minus a moose steak-sized cast iron skillet too well seasoned to leave behind, and a few other must-have items for setting up our next rustic kitchen we’d thrown in a Roughneck dish pan). No biggie, we figured. Carting stuff across the back lawn to the garage in Rangeley would be a logistical breeze compared to lugging it down those Hobbit Hole steps and into the back of our pickup, or ferrying it across the northern end of Moosehead.

So, standing at Point A, my kitchen, looking out the window across the relatively short expanse to Point B, my garage, I felt pretty cocky that Memorial Day of 2007. Not too much packing required, I figured. No moving boxes even necessary. Nope, the only box I’d need was my box of drawstring garbage bags. And why bother labeling them? After all, I was only packing camp stuff and moving it 70 feet for a few months until construction was finished. Come Labor Day, I’d just cart it all back in…..

Not-so-fast forward to February 2008. Camp-house reconstruction is almost done. I’m thrilled with my new kitchen, living room, bedrooms and bathrooms, and am eager to outfit their brand spanking newness with a few household essentials. “At least one lamp. That big old spaghetti pot. Definitely the coffee maker and, if I’m lucky, another flashlight.” I’m rattling off a wish list of items to retrieve as I make my way out to the garage along our Iditarod Trail, so-named by our builder who’s had to shovel his way to work since early December. Turned out, my Labor Day end-date for construction was, as we’d say in engineering support operations, an “aggressive” deadline. Tom and I had made short work of moving all the old camp crap out on that balmy May afternoon, stacking bulging bags atop our old book shelves and cramming all manner of things into dresser drawers. “It’s getting real now,” we declared as we bid farewell to the empty log shoebox of a camp that used to be our summer home. Our part of the project was done, now “presto-chango, full speed ahead,” and we’d back in before snow flies, right?

So…I miscalculated by several months. Meanwhile, snow had definitely flown, drifted, blanketed and flown again while I acclimated myself to what was real and possible when erecting a three-story salt-box out of an old shoebox shell 20 miles from the nearest building supply store. Also unrealistic, I discovered that winter, was thinking stuff could just be moved back in as effortlessly as  it had been moved out. That would have meant I could actually find the coffee pot resting inside an old wastebasket atop the bookshelf, that I could pinpoint whether the flashlight was in my old sock drawer or at the bottom of any given garbage bag. Actual pinpointing of any sort, it turned out, was impossible in the freezing garage. Who knew back in May that drawstring garbage bags don’t reopen for gloved fingers and only expose their contents to mice who find what they’re looking for among the ancient camp towels?

Yup, the Iditarod Trail hampered all but a staggered approach to the garage-to-camp return trip. And, actually, abiding by our “no crap comes back in” motto had to be a staged effort as well. We did immediately rid ourselves of the really ancient junk – things like plastic juice tumblers that probably came free in boxes of laundry detergent back in the 50’s, a sugar bowl I think my mother got with S & H Green stamps, and assorted nicky-nacks we’d accumulated from well-meaning relatives who figured our camp was one step better than Salvation Army. In all practicality, though, since selling our Rochester house was still a ways off, we had to hang onto the old spaghetti pot and the lamps and such that had already lived a hard life before being deemed good enough for camp. Until we could move to Rangeley permanently, our motto had to be revised to “some crap comes back in, but goes back out as soon as its newer or better replacement arrives.”

I think we’ve succeeded. Six months since our big migration up the mountain for good, we are packing and moving experts. We rented a storage pod and tracked its contents with first-in-last-out precision. We bubble wrapped and boxed and carefully labeled. We merged and purged until there’s only traces of semi-serviceable camp junk mingled in with our new stuff. We’re all unpacked now, except for a few miscellaneous boxes tucked away on the third floor we’re ignoring till the dead of winter. Like the one labeled “Hall closet crap.” That one’s gotta go back out to the garage.