Friday, January 22, 2021

Insight: Paying the price for the infamous ‘Raisin Toast Incident’

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor


Anyone who would pay $487 for a single slice of raisin toast would certainly have to be out of their mind, right? But it’s exactly how much a slice of bread imbedded with raisins cost me last month.

I normally don’t purchase raisin bread at the grocery store very often, but my wife asked me to bring home a loaf when I did my normal weekly shopping a few weeks before Christmas. We each enjoyed several pieces of raisin toast during breakfast in the days leading up to what I now call the infamous “Raisin Toast Incident.”

On a typical Wednesday morning, I got up, fixed myself some coffee and then woke my wife up so she could eat breakfast and start getting ready for work. Our 4-year-old lab-mix dog, Fancy, was wide awake and waited patiently for me to take her for a walk.

After scrolling through emails on our computers, my wife decided it was time for her to shower as she continued to prepare for work. Having taken the dog for her walk, I thought I’d fix myself some breakfast while my wife was in the shower.

I settled on a bowl of Cheerios, some V-8 juice and a single slice of raisin toast. Fancy sat in the kitchen near me while the toaster worked its magic and I retrieved a cereal bowl and poured the milk for my Cheerios. I put a little butter on the toast, gathered my breakfast on my desk and prepared for my morning meal.

But that was interrupted suddenly by the sound of my wife’s voice coming from the shower. Her towel was in the laundry and she needed a new one. I dutifully got up and stepped away from my desk to bring her a clean towel and was only gone from my desk for less than 30 seconds.

Yet, seeing the piece of raisin toast unguarded was apparently too much temptation for Fancy. By the time I got back to my desk, she was headed out the door and down the hallway with the slice of toast in her mouth. By the time I caught up with her she had swallowed the toast whole and I quickly retreated to my computer to look up if raisin toast could harm our dog.

I read with astonishment that raisins are highly toxic for dogs and told my wife I was going to immediately take Fancy to the 24-hour emergency veterinarian care facility for treatment. I put Fancy in the back seat of my car, and we made it there in a little more than a half-hour.

While I waited in the car, the veterinarian and vet tech team members took Fancy inside and induced vomiting by administering hydrogen peroxide. They were able to get some of the slice of raisin toast back that way, but not all of it.

After an hour, they also did a blood test on her to determine if her kidneys had processed any of the toxicity in the raisins. Thankfully, they had not. The veterinarian released Fancy back into my care and recommended another blood test the following day to ensure that no toxins remained in her system from consuming the raisin toast.

He told me that although raisins can be deadly for dogs, it is unknown precisely how many raisins a dog can tolerate for them to be toxic. Since it was also unknown as to how many actual raisins were in that slice of toast she ate, he thought she would be OK and but couldn’t be sure for a day or two.

The following afternoon my wife took Fancy to our veterinarian for the follow-up blood test and that turned out negative for toxins.

Between the emergency veterinarian treatment ($388) and the local vet’s blood test ($99), the entire sordid episode cost us a grand total of $487 and just a few weeks before Christmas too.

In hindsight, we learned some hard lessons that day. First, always check to see if there is a towel available before stepping into the shower. And second, never, ever, leave unattended food that could be toxic to animals within easy reach of our dog Fancy.

The infamous “Raisin Toast Incident” was entirely avoidable, and I’ll certainly know better in the future. Just glad everything worked out OK, even though our bank account suffered because of my inattentiveness and our dog could have met a much worse fate. <

Andy Young: Daydream Believer

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Not everyone can recall their dreams, which is too bad for them. I often remember mine. Just last week I woke up basking in the afterglow of my first major league base hit for the Chicago Cubs. Not only did we win the game, but I scored our first run when I trotted home in front of a four-bagger by our slugging first baseman, Gordie Howe.

Yes, sports fans, I know Gordie Howe was a Hall of Fame hockey star who never played professional baseball. I also acknowledge I’m at least a generation older than any current Chicago Cub player. But I don’t fact-check my nightly subconscious illusions; I just dream (and occasionally report) them. 

Apparently there's no reliable way to maintain control over what we dream about at night. But daylight reveries are a different story. I've always been an enthusiastic daydreamer because I can control what I fantasize about! Win the lottery? Sure. Negotiate a Middle East peace treaty? Why not? Respond to a sultry temptress's overt seduction attempt(s) with "Beg me!" (in Pee-Wee Herman's voice)? Absolutely!.

Conceiving of pleasant situations has always come easily to me. I was a daydreaming prodigy. But I learned long ago that sharing my scenarios wasn’t always the best idea. When, as an elementary schooler, I told a slightly older friend I wanted to be a mailman when I grew up, he gleefully related some tall tales that resulted in nightmares involving me being chased by a menacing, overly territorial, postman-despising dog. I’d wake up terrified, sweating and wanting to scream, but the lockjaw I’d contracted from the snarling, foaming cur’s bite prevented me from doing so.

Later on, I consciously fantasized about playing outfield for the New York Mets, catching touchdown passes for the Denver Broncos, teaming with Wilt Chamberlain on the Philadelphia 76ers, and scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Minnesota North Stars. Sadly, each of those dreams fizzled due to a lack of athleticism. Or more specifically, being unable to hit a curveball, dislike of being smacked in the head, lack of height, and inability to skate.

Reaching adulthood didn’t change my penchant for fantasizing but being a gainfully employed dad with multiple adult responsibilities significantly limited my voluntary hallucinating time. For years, any dreams of flying, being a gigolo, or being a flying gigolo had to, by necessity, occur randomly and at night. For the past couple of decades, circumstances haven’t afforded me much extended imagination time.

But now that my children are reasonably self-sufficient and I’m nominally more accomplished in my field of endeavor, the opportunities to daydream have increased.

Thanks to current regulations requiring masks to be worn in public, I like to imagine myself as a dangerous spy, a master of disguise who is totally unrecognizable, even to his closest associates.  But like too many of my adolescent fantasies, this one too often ends with a thud. Last week while on a furtive walk, an approaching jogger waved and said, “Hi, Andy!”

Arriving at the post office, I was recognized by a neighbor. Then on the way home I heard, “Mommy, look! It’s the soccer referee!” from a lad walking with his mother.

How could I have been spotted? Was it the blue plaid flannel pants? The Guatemalan flag neck gaiter? The size XXXL blaze orange sleeveless vest hanging over the 30-year-old Raleigh Icecaps pullover?

I’ll never be a spy, anymore than I’ll be a professional athlete or a flying gigolo. Maybe I should try daydreaming about something more realistic.

Like being a newspaper columnist who actually has something relevant to write about. <

Friday, January 15, 2021

Insight: They sure don’t make ‘em like they used to

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

When I was young, I used to roll my eyes and smile whenever my father would complain about products not being made like they were when he was growing up. Now that I’m an adult, I certainly know what he was speaking about and don’t find it the least bit funny.

Quality, durability and pride in workmanship all seem to have vanished in the creation of things we use every day making our hard-earned money worth less in the long run.

Take for example our kitchen stove. When the old one died in the middle of cooking our Thanksgiving turkey several years ago, we purchased a new one from a nationally known store. It was a respected brand and loaded with innovative high-tech features.

But from the moment we first turned it on, we noticed an odd squeaking sound coming from the oven. Upon close inspection, we discovered that the heating element for the appliance rests on the bottom of the oven on a small flimsy piece of aluminum.  Every time the heating element expands or contracts, which is each time it’s used, the aluminum scrapes the bottom of the oven producing the squeaking sound.

I contacted the store, who told me they only sell the appliances, they do not service them. They recommended I contact the manufacturer directly to resolve the issue.

After several emails and phone calls, I convinced the company to send out a repairman. He looked at it and told us that it was a design flaw and there was nothing that could be done about it. That led to further email exchanges with the manufacturer who eventually told us there was nothing that they could do. I requested that they give us a replacement and they refused to do that.

So here we are two years on and every time we use the oven, which cost us more than $800, we are subjected to the squeaking. I vowed never to purchase another appliance from that store, and I wrote a poor product review for the manufacturer’s website detailing my experience and saying I would never again buy anything with their brand.

Ironically, my wife’s son also had the same squeaking experience in Florida when purchasing the same model of stove from a different nationally known store.

In any case, this coming summer we are hoping to buy another kitchen stove and plan on jettisoning the squeaky one after just a few years of use.   

Tires are another sore subject for me. Less than two years after paying hundreds for a set of snow tires, I happened to be driving by the same store I purchased the tires from when the front driver’s side snow tire suddenly exploded.

Mind you, these tires were only used for one season previously and I was just in the store the week of Thanksgiving, less than two months ago, to have the snow tires put on again for another year. I don’t even think there are 3,000 miles on these snow tires, which were brand new in November 2019, removed for the season in April 2020 and have been stored in the garage since.  

Since this happened near the tire store, I pulled in and asked them to help. The tire store manager was exceptionally kind and inquired if I had purchased roadside hazard protection when I had bought the snow tires.

Since I could not recall if I had done that or not and the receipt for the tires was not in the glove box, the manager looked it up on his store computer and found that yes, I had indeed purchased that additional protection for the tires. So, I received a replacement tire at no charge but ended up having to pay a $59 fee for the tire balancing and disposal of the old tire. 

The manager didn’t have a plausible explanation as to why my snow tire disintegrated. He said the tire could have had a bubble in it, he just didn’t know. I didn’t press him on it because I was happy it happened right there instead of while driving on the Maine Turnpike and that I did not have to pay for the replacement tire.

It’s said that some classic adages and old expressions are based in fact and I certainly can attest to that when it comes to appliances and tires.

To quote my father, “They sure don’t make ‘em like they used to.” 

Andy Young: Your one-stop place for presidential trivia

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Seventy-eight-year-old Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. will become the oldest man in United States history to be inaugurated as president for the first time when he is sworn in next week.

The previous record holder was Biden’s immediate predecessor, who was 70 when he took office four years ago. The nation’s incoming chief executive will be the first ever to come from Delaware, although he was actually born in neighboring Pennsylvania.

He’ll also become just the second Roman Catholic commander-in-chief; John F. Kennedy was the first.

There’s no shortage of presidential trivia. Until now October was the undisputed champion when it comes to spawning American presidents. John Adams, Rutherford Hayes, Chester Arthur, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Jimmy Carter were all born sometime during the Gregorian Calendar’s tenth month.

But with Biden’s inauguration, November will move into a tie for the designation of top president-producer. Hopefully the soon-to-be-46th-POTUS will enjoy better health than any of the previous November-born presidents did.

None of that quintet won a second term, and only Franklin Pierce lived more than five years after his election. Zachary Taylor, James Garfield (an assassination victim), and Warren Harding each died before completing his term, and James Polk passed away barely three months after leaving office in 1849.

In addition to the dozen presidents who began their lives in October or November, five (Benjamin Harrison, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama) were born in August.

January (Millard Fillmore, William McKinley, Franklin Roosevelt, and Richard Nixon), February (George Washington, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan), March (James Madison, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, and Grover Cleveland), April (Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, James Buchanan, and Ulysses S. Grant), and July (John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge, Gerald Ford, and George W. Bush) have all produced four different commanders-in-chief.

December spawned a trio of presidents (Martin Van Buren, Andrew Johnson, and Woodrow Wilson); May (Harry Truman and JFK) and June (George H.W. Bush and Mr. Biden’s immediate predecessor) can claim two each.

The only president born in September: William Howard Taft. However, if it’s any consolation to other September natives, the nation’s 27th chief executive reputedly weighed as much or more than three pint-sized James Madisons.

Historically, months beginning with the letter J have been perilous ones for American chief executives. Eighteen of the 38 no-longer-extant men who once resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (Washington never lived at the White House) permanently ceased breathing in July (John Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, Taylor, Van Buren, Andrew Johnson, and Grant), June (Madison, Jackson, Polk, Buchanan, Cleveland, and Reagan), or January (Tyler, Hayes, Teddy Roosevelt, Coolidge, and LBJ).

Eerily, all four of the presidents who succumbed in April did so without completing their terms in office: William Henry Harrison and FDR died in office, Lincoln was assassinated, and Nixon resigned in disgrace.

Another quartet of former chief executives (Fillmore, Benjamin Harrison, Taft, and Eisenhower) died in March. November (Arthur, JFK, and HW Bush) and December (Washington, Truman, and Ford) have each seen three presidential deaths. Two former presidents died in February (Wilson and J.Q. Adams) and October (Pierce and Hoover), while assassination ended the lives of two sitting chief executives in September (Garfield and McKinley). The only president who met his end in August was Harding. To date no ex-president has died in May, but as of January 20th there will be six current or former commanders-in-chief who’ve not yet committed themselves regarding when and where they will leave their earthly incarnations behind.

Here’s hoping, for everyone’s sake, that the 13th different president of my lifetime will be an honest, effective, and lucky one. <

Friday, January 8, 2021

Bill Diamond: Back to work on the Transportation Committee

By Sen. Bill Diamond

I hope you and your loved ones enjoyed a happy holiday season together. Even though many of us had to adjust the way we celebrate this year, I was glad for the opportunity to reflect on the things I am grateful for and to connect with family. This has been a very difficult year, but the holidays can still bring joy. I know we are all looking forward to better times in the New Year.  

A few weeks ago, Legislative leadership announced committee assignments for the next two years. There are currently 17 joint standing committees in the Legislature. Each committee has three members from the Senate and 10 members from the House of Representatives, with one Senator and one Representative serving as co-chairs. Each committee is responsible for overseeing legislation on a set of topics, discussing and debating relevant bills and hearing from experts and the public on how the bill would affect Mainers. After doing this, committees decide if a piece of legislation should go to the full legislature for further discussion and votes, or if it’s not a good fit for the state right now. 

I’m happy to share that I have been reappointed as Senate chair of the Transportation Committee for the next two years. The Transportation Committee is responsible for the safety and upkeep of Maine’s roadways, waterways and railroads; public transportation; the Department of Transportation; and other matters of transportation policy. I served as chair the past two years, and I’m proud of the accomplishments we were able to make in that time. This includes passing the hands-free driving law, a law I sponsored that banned the use of handheld electronic devices while driving. Safe and efficient travel around our state is essential for nearly every part of life. It allows us to go to work, school, and the doctor. It allows us to enjoy the beautiful and unique landscapes and cultures Maine has to offer, and to share those with visitors who are an essential element of our economy. 

I know for many people it can be hard to see government at work in their daily lives, so I will share one example. Those familiar with the intersection of Route 202 and Falmouth Road in Windham know that it is a dangerous intersection that frequently sees traffic backups, fender-benders and sometimes worse. The intersection has been labelled a high-crash location by the Department of Transportation, meaning it had more than eight crashes over a period of three years and has a higher rate of crashes than similar intersections elsewhere in the state. After listening to community members share their concerns about this intersection, the Windham legislative delegation, which includes myself, Rep. Mark Bryant (D-Windham) and Rep. Patrick Corey (R-Windham), worked with the Department of Transportation and with local officials to get a traffic light installed at the intersection. This is projected to be completed by Feb. 1. 

As we all know, the pandemic has impacted the livelihoods and pocketbooks of many Mainers, and it has also affected the financial outlook for our State. Maine has seen drops in revenue that will impact our ability to budget over the next few years. However, much of the work the Transportation Committee does is funded by a separate budget, called the Highway Fund. This money comes from fuel taxes, excise tax, and licensing and other fees related to the use of vehicles on public highways. While both the Highway Fund and the General Fund are expecting shortfalls in the coming years, I will continue to vote for fiscally responsible legislation that will ease the burden on Mainers. 

The issues facing our state over the next two years are great, and we’re going to need to work together to find solutions. As I wrote in my last column, the public now has more opportunities than ever to participate in their government, with the option to give testimony in front of committees live, by video or by phone. I hope people will take advantage of this, so that we can build a path forward together.  

As always, if I can be of assistance to you or your family, or if you have ideas you would like to share, please reach out to me at diamondhollyd@aol.com or 287-1515. <

Insight: Climbing the Scrabble Mountain

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

I was unaware when I married Nancy how great a Scrabble player she truly is. She mentioned her love for the game a few times when we were dating, but I had no idea what a competitive whirlwind I would spend my time engaged in a jargonistic war of wits against. 

She told me that she started playing as a child and combining her extensive experience with a voracious love of reading has added significantly to her vocabulary. It leaves me constantly having to challenge unusual words that she places on the Scrabble board. Her world-class ability to make words from a tray filled with vowels amazes me and puts me at a disadvantage each time we play.

This past weekend’s game was typical of how they often go. Somehow during the game, she ended up with two B’s, an R, the letters A and I and a T which she turned into R-A-B-B-I-T which isn’t unusual, but a few hands later she added an I, and the letters N and G to it for a triple word score forming the word “Rabbiting.”

Of course, I challenged that, since I could not recall ever using that word in a sentence or an article in my 45 years as a journalist. And, as usual, the Scrabble dictionary we purchased at a yard sale a few years back included the word “rabbiting.” It is defined as “the sport of hunting rabbits.”

“Rabbiting” has now been forever enshrined in the Nancy Pierce Scrabble Hall of Fame as one of those words I will not forget from our games. It joins previous inductees such as “Jo,” “Riced” and “Id” as words that are regretfully found in the Scrabble dictionary.

She originally played “Jo” as a term that she recalled her mother used to call a cup of coffee, but the Scrabble dictionary describes “Jo” as a Scottish term of endearment.

Same thing for “Id.” When she first played that 15 years ago and said it was a term to describe self, I thought it was preposterous and she was trying to pull a fast one on me. But there in the Scrabble dictionary, I discovered that “Id” was defined as “part of a set of three concepts in psychoanalytic theory describing distinct, interacting agents in the psychic apparatus. The three agents are theoretical constructs that describe the activities and interactions of the mental life of a person.” Just so happens I was one of the few college students in the 1970s that never had to take psychology and missed hearing about the “Id.”

Another ludicrous word that arose during our Scrabble games was when she played the word “Riced.” I asked her to use it in a sentence and she said she saw it once in a cookbook. After a good laugh, I challenged that word and once again wound up on the wrong side of Scrabble history. It seems the Scrabble dictionary defines “riced” as “a cooking term meaning to pass food through a food mill or "ricer" containing many small holes, producing a smoother result than mashing, but coarser than pureeing or passing through a sieve.” 

I also recall challenging her use of the word “yo” in another memorable game. I thought she was going to describe it as half of a popular children’s toy, but instead she told me it was an expression of greeting another person. Sure enough, when I looked “yo” up in the Scrabble dictionary it was there and shades of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa, it is defined as “an informal greeting between people who know each other or as an expression of approval.”

Unfortunately for her, my challenge of her play of “Ja” as a Scandinavian expression of approval could not be found in the Scrabble dictionary and she had to take that one back on a triple-word score play using the 8-point J letter.

I also recently won a game against her by challenging one of her go-to favorites, notes from the music scale. She played “Ra” defining it as the second musical note, but it was actually spelled “Re” as in Julie Andrews’ classic “Do-Re-Mi” from “The Sound of Music.”

Despite some of these successful challenges, I’m positive that the next time we play that Nancy will dazzle me with some word, term or expression that I have never heard of before. It’s just part of her Scrabble DNA and indubitably will throw me for a loop in our never-ending mental competitive skirmish. <

Andy Young: Renewed self-esteem, thanks to the pandemic

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

For openers, let’s establish that the world’s ongoing battle against the deadly coronavirus (and its emerging mutations) is both horrific and terrifying.

But it does have some silver linings. Pandemic-related limitations in 2020 allowed me to pedal 2,000 miles on my bike, put 10,000 fewer miles on my car, and read over 80 books, or about 77 more than my usual annual total.

I’ve also, in the same odd way I did more than three decades ago, gained a renewed sense of self-worth.

At the time I was young, single, possessed a full head of lush hair, and drove an eight-year-old ‘vette. Yet I voluntarily went dateless on a consecutive series of Friday and Saturday nights, spurning every invitation to socialize, no matter how alluring the opportunity. And I wasn’t pledging a fraternity, involved in a 12-step program, or contemplating joining the priesthood, either.

But for the duration of my self-imposed social isolation, the person I saw in the mirror wasn’t a lonely, pathetic, awkward loser, but an upstanding, attractive, socially responsible Prince Charming.

The full story: earlier that year I had begun what was supposed to be a two-year stint in the Peace Corps, determined to become fluent in Spanish while simultaneously ending poverty and suffering in Guatemala by teaching fundamental basketball skills to children.  But less than three months later a skeletal version of me returned home, in need of a medical appraisal to determine exactly why I had lost 35 pounds in such a brief period of time. After jabbing me with more needles than most pincushions contain, the evaluating physician solemnly informed me I’d need to return six weeks later to re-take a required blood test, one which would determine whether or not I was HIV positive.

In the late 1980’s an AIDS diagnosis was akin to a death sentence, but while the doctor’s pronouncement took me aback, I wasn’t overly concerned. The Peace Corps medical staff had thoroughly educated its trainees on exactly how one contracted the dreaded virus, and since I hadn’t engaged in any of the behaviors which put one at risk for acquiring it, I figured I was in the clear. But on the off chance I was going to make medical history (first person to get HIV from using an unclean fork?), I obeyed the doctor’s strong recommendation and stayed resolutely celibate until the re-test, which unsurprisingly came up clean. The unexpected bonus: staying home alone those Friday and Saturday nights reminded me that in reality I was an ethical, selfless, and noble hero, not a lonesome, socially inept pariah.

Now, a third of a century later, I’ve been holed up in my personal fortress for the past several months, emerging (dressed like a train robber) solely to go to work or get groceries. That’s taken some getting used to. But I’ve gradually lost track of how long it’s been since I’ve gone out to eat, seen a movie, or entertained visitors in my humble abode. In short, my in-person socializing has simply ceased to exist. However, as was the case more than three decades ago, I currently see myself not as isolated and forlorn, but gallant and altruistic.

Still, I’m looking forward to the day (hopefully sooner rather than later) when I’ll be able to spend a maskless night out (or in) with a friend or friends.

I just wish I had that same great car I did 33 years ago. It’d be a classic today. But it really wasn’t the lure I thought it would be. Not many women, it turned out, were drawn to guys who drove Chevettes. <