Friday, October 30, 2020

Insight: The personification of class

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Professional athletes are often saddled with spotty reputations for a exhibiting a lack of manners, using foul language or crude gestures and tirades to fans or critics. Yet in the vast wasteland of professional sports, I can bear witness to many unselfish acts that athletes have made to those who idolize them and follow their every move on and off the playing field.

When I was young, my father would take my brother Doug and me to hockey games in Rochester, New York. The Rochester Americans played in the American Hockey League and the roster in those days was filled with exciting young athletes such as Jim Pappin, Mike Walton, Pete Stemkowski, Gary Unger and Jean-Paul Parisé along with a strong mix of established older players such as Al Arbour, Don Cherry, Bronco Horvath and Dick Gamble.

One night while watching a game between Rochester and the Hershey Bears, we got to sit behind the Rochester bench and somehow as the teams warmed up between periods, I walked over and asked if I could meet a player. A very nice man wearing a suit and tie sitting on the bench asked me my name and what player I wanted to meet. I told him I was a huge fan of Norm “Red” Armstrong, a red-headed journeyman who played every game with determination and hustle.

The sharply dressed man called Armstrong over and we chatted for a few minutes about what he liked the most about hockey. The game was about to resume, so I said goodbye and returned to my seat thrilled to have spent time chatting with one of my hockey heroes.

The game was nearing its final minutes of play when an usher came to my seat and asked me to follow him back to the bench. Once there, the man who was wearing the suit and tie introduced himself to me as Joe Crozier, the coach of the team. He handed me a hockey stick that both he and “Red” Armstrong had autographed for me. To me, that was a classy thing to do and I became an even greater fan of the team in the days that followed.

Decades later, I joined a friend and his son Jimmy in attending a spring training baseball game in Viera, Florida between the Florida Marlins and the Baltimore Orioles. My friend’s son had Down’s Syndrome and loved watching baseball and collecting autographs.

Sitting in the stands, my friend and I noticed a few Hall of Fame ballplayers sitting together behind home plate. Jimmy saw them too and he walked over and asked for their autograph. These two very famous ballplayers both turned down his request saying they only signed autographs when they were paid for them. Jimmy was saddened, but undeterred in his quest to obtain an autograph that day.

At the start of the seventh inning, I noticed that Orioles starting shortstop, Cal Ripken, Jr., was now out of the game and was running wind sprints on the gravel warning track of the stadium along the outfield. Jimmy and I walked over to the leftfield fence and when Ripken ran past us, he politely called out to him asking for his autograph.

The summer before that game, Ripken had broken Lou Gehrig’s all-time record for consecutive games played and was assured of eventual induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame himself. He stopped when Jimmy called out to him, turned around and walked over to us. He smiled and spent five minutes chatting with us and signed both a baseball and a small toy bat that Jimmy had brought to the game.

When other fans saw Ripken speaking to us, they quickly gathered around him and for the next two innings of the game and for another 30 minutes after the game had ended, he graciously autographed anything people in the crowd asked him to, had his photo taken with anyone who wanted one and shook hands with hundreds of fans.

To me, I came away from that experience thinking that Cal Ripken, Jr. was a humble and down-to-earth individual who knew that baseball would be nowhere without the fans and he wasn’t too proud to spend time with anyone who wanted a bit of his attention.

It’s a shame that more professional athletes couldn’t be more like Cal Ripken, Jr. because he’s what I call “class personified,” someone to be admired for their skill as an athlete and their behavior and respect for others outside of sports. <

Andy Young: The Biggest Weekend of the Year

By Andy Young


The upcoming weekend is huge, and not just because it’s the last one before Americans go to the polls to decide not only who’ll be president for the next four years, but also which half of us are going to be rendered perpetually indignant and/or righteously outraged by the results until Nov. 5, 2024.

This weekend also includes a day that’s normally anticipated by youthful types nearly as eagerly as Christmas is. But in 2020 wearing a mask isn’t unique, and as a result of the pandemic trick or treaters will probably be as scarce as people willing to allow costumed cherubs of any size to even approach their front door.

But Halloween's not just about dressing up and shaking down the neighbors for candy. This year it's also when iconic TV newsman Dan Rather celebrates his 89th birthday, University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban blows out 69 candles, and rapper Vanilla Ice turns 53.

Numerous impactful events have occurred on previous Oct. 31sts. Nevada became the 36th U.S. state on that date in 1864. Work on Mount Rushmore was completed on Oct. 31, 1941. And the world’s human population officially reached seven billion on October’s last day in 2011.

This gargantuan weekend’s relevance isn’t just because it’s comprised of the 305th and 306th days of this dreadful year, or that at Monday’s dawn those of us in the northern hemisphere will be a mere 50 24-hour planetary rotations from the start of winter.  Sunday is really the weekend’s big day.

November’s 1st can give October’s last 24 hours a run for the money when it comes to historical importance. The first-ever medical school for females opened in Boston, Massachusetts on Nov. 1, 1848. Pictures of bare-breasted women first appeared on the pages of National Geographic on Nov. 1, 1896. And in Marysville, Ohio on November’s first day in 1982, Honda become the first Asian automaker to open a factory inside of the United States.

There’s no shortage of compelling birthdays this year on Nov. 1st, either. Apple, Inc. CEO Tim Cook turns 60 this Sunday, as does lefthanded pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, the apple of Los Angeles Dodger baseball fans’ eyes in the 1980’s. Longtime media fixture Larry Flynt, who might never have found fame and fortune in the adult publishing industry were it not for National Geographic’s decision to print images of topless women precisely 46 years before the day his life began, turns 78. And for fans of actual ancient history, Frankish King Louis the Stammerer was born on Nov. 1, 846.

But the real reason this weekend seems big is because it is big…literally! It’s larger by 2.083 percent than standard weekends, since it’s going to consist of 49 hours. This Sunday morning 2 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time magically becomes 1 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, which adds 60 minutes to both the weekend and to this particular Sabbath (which, for those keeping score, is 4.166 percent greater than other Sundays).

It’s likely many people will opt to spend their extra hour sleeping. Not me, though. 

I’ll be using it to further my fascinating research on Louis the Stammerer, who in 877 succeeded his father Charles the Bald (brother of Louis the German and son of Louis the Pious) as King of West Francia. Charles the Bald, by the way, was also Emperor of the Carolingian Empire from 875-877, when he died and was succeeded by Charles the Fat.

Or I suppose I could continue to act like Andrew the Bored and start a daily countdown of the 140 days remaining before the start of spring, 2021. <

Friday, October 23, 2020

Insight: Wisdom from the past

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Even though my father died more than 29 years ago in 1991, some of the things he shared with me about life continue to be meaningful no matter how old I get.

An ordinary man blessed with an exceptionally wry sense of humor, my father grew up during the Great Depression and served in the infantry in World War II. In peacetime, he was the first in his family to earn a college degree and somewhere along the way he accumulated a wealth of practical knowledge that was often dispensed to myself and my younger brother.

Dad was a champion of the underdog and never rooted for the favorite in any sporting event. He once told me that “anyone can root for the champion, but real character comes from pulling for teams and individuals who overcome obstacles and beat the odds.” It’s something I’ve never forgotten hearing him say.

For years he cheered on his beloved Chicago Cubs believing that someday they would no longer be loveable losers and finally win the World Series to reign as the champion of Major League Baseball. Some 25 years after his death, the Cubs did indeed win the championship in 2016, and 12 years before that, another one of the “underdogs” he religiously followed and cherished, the Boston Red Sox, also won the World Series following 86 years of frustration.

When I reached junior high school, my father told me a story about why it was important to study every night. “Nothing is ever going to be handed to you and you have to start working on your grades now if you ever expect to be successful in college.”

While many of my peers were out playing basketball after school, participating in Boy Scouts, or taking swimming lessons, Dad insisted I put in at least two hours of study every day when I got home from school. It eventually paid off as I excelled on my college entrance exams and years later received a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of New Mexico. On Graduation Day, he told me “I always knew you could do it” and I flashed back to his words to me when I was entering junior high.     

Growing up in poverty, my Dad could be exceptionally frugal at times. He repeatedly told me that “nothing beats the satisfaction of saving money but sometimes you have to make it happen.”

Many times, our family thought he took this principle way too far, like driving to six or seven different grocery stores in one day just to find the best price offered on chicken. But I also watched him demonstrate how to make things happen in person and it was a beauty to behold.

I was interested in buying a used Buick from a car lot and it was listed in the newspaper at $2,500. My father insisted that I call the car lot and tell them my name and ask again what price they wanted for the car. We then proceeded to drive to the car lot and looked the Buick over carefully.

Before moving inside to the desk of the sales manager, Dad pulled me aside and told me to let him do all the talking. He asked what was the lowest possible price that they would take for the Buick. The sales manager said he could probably knock off $100 because he liked us and would not take anything less than $2,400 for the car. My father then asked if the price would be less if we paid with cash and the sales manager said it would not and $2,400 was as low as he could go.

We thanked him for showing us the car and left. The next morning my father has me withdraw $1,700 in $100 bills from my bank and we drove back to the car lot. The sales manager seemed surprised to see us back.

My father told him, “cash is king and this is our final offer,” and proceeded to fan 17 $100 bills out on his desk in front of him.

I recall the sales manager’s hand suddenly swooping down to retrieve the cash and I drove home in my new-to-me car that day. By being cagy and sensing the sales manager’s willingness to wheel and deal, my father saved me $800 on that car.

His life lessons are worth remembering. <

Friday, October 16, 2020

Insight: A glimpse at predictions, prognostications and projections

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor   

Back in 1975, I purchased a book that still holds a prominent place on the bookshelf in my office to this very day. It is titled “The People’s Almanac” by David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace and is a fascinating collection of trivia, obscure facts and information and untold true stories from history.

In 29 chapters and 1,475 pages, the authors compiled one of the best sources of esoteric knowledge in my lifetime and it spawned two sequels, “The People’s Almanac 2,” “The People’s Almanac 3,” and best-selling chapters from “The People’s Almanac” were turned into books of their own called “The Book of Lists,” “The Books of Lists 2” and “The Book of Lists 3.”

That’s a lot of reading which I highly recommend but focusing on one particular chapter in “The People’s Almanac” has always fascinated me the most. In it, the authors gathered input for the future from popular psychics of the day, psychics of the past and modern scientists, who made bold predictions in 1975 about the world of tomorrow.

Here’s a sampling of predictions they offered in the book and how well these projections have held up over the years:

** From Professor John McHale of the World Resources Inventory at Southern Illinois University – By the year 2010 home computers and flat-screen digital televisions will be developed and sold commercially. McHale was right.

** From Swedish psychic Olof Jonsson – By the year 2000 there will no longer be gasoline-powered automobiles. Jonsson was wrong.

** From Baptist minister David Bubar of Tennessee – By the year 2020 American and Russian scientists will invent a device through which people can become invisible. Bubar was wrong.

** From Desmond King-Hele of London’s Institute of Mathematics – By the year 2000 humans will have colonized Mars. King-Hele was wrong.

** From American psychic and author Jeanne Dixon – By the year 1982 the United States will establish and begin using a new monetary system. Dixon was wrong.

** From John Reeves of Columbia University – By the year 1980, the peninsula of Baja California will break free of land, making it an island. Reeves was wrong.

** From D.G. Brennan of the Hudson Institute – By the year 2018, aircraft capable of orbital speeds will be possible. Brennan was right.

** From American author Arthur C. Clarke – By the year 2020 “video-phones will make possible business lunches with the two halves of the table 10,000 miles apart.” Clarke also predicted home-shopping by computers by 2020. In both instances, he was right.

** From Stanford University biology professor and author Paul Ehrlich – By the year 2000, a shift of the jet stream caused by air pollution and a persistent drought will turn the midwestern United States into a desert. Ehrlich was wrong.

** From Lloyd Stover of the University of Miami’s Institute of Marine Science – By the year 2020, the ocean will be known as a vast potential resource to feed the world’s populations. Stover was right.

** From Rutgers University political science professor Emmet John Hughes – By the year 2024, “economic necessity will override patriotism and cause the nations of Western Europe to band together, if not under a single government, then certainly in a close politico-economic alliance.” Hughes correctly predicted the European Union.

** From Charles DeCarlo of IBM -- By the year 2020, hand-held personal computers of great speed will allow people to conduct banking, listen to music, and work from home. DeCarlo was right.

** From Daniel Bell, sociology professor at Harvard University – “The society of the year 2000 will be more fragile, with greater hostility and polarization.” Bell was right.

** From Alan Vaughn of Akron University – “In 1981, the United States will go to war with China.” Vaughn was wrong.

** From Orville Freeman, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture – By the year 2020, “space satellites 200 miles or more above the surface of the earth will analyze weather, differences in soil, crops and forests, and spot crop damage.” Freeman was right.

** From Dr. Olaf Helmer of Connecticut’s Institute for the Future – By the year 2000 a permanent colony will exist on the moon. Helmer was wrong.

** From Theodore Gordon of the Futures Group – By the year 1990, advances in science will extend the average human lifespan to more than 100 years. Gordon was wrong.

As for me, I’m with Nobel physics laureate Nils Bohr when thinking about venturing a guess about what lies ahead for us, especially living through this year.

“It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” Bohr once said.

So true. <

Andy Young: Karma pays a dividend

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

I have logged over 2,000 miles on my bicycle since taking it out of the basement back in late April. That fact alone might lead some people to assume I am an experienced, proficient cyclist.

But most competent bikers travel with mini toolkits that allow them to make roadside repairs to any routine problems they encounter along the way. I do not carry any such implements; for me they’d be mere ballast. My mechanical skills are, to be blunt, nonexistent. Giving me a wrench and expecting me to fix a bike is the equivalent of handing a rhinoceros a fishing rod and asking him to tune a piano with it.

Which explains how, late last Friday afternoon, I was wondering exactly how to proceed when I found myself and my bike, which had a rear tire that was flatter than a pancake, stranded on the side of a rural road more than a dozen miles from where I live.

The good news was that I had my cell phone, an item I often forget to stick in my backpack before I go pedaling off seeking adventure. Taking it out, I called my friend Brian, who I know for a fact would drop everything to help someone in need at a moment’s notice. He also has a truck that even a bicycle as large as mine can easily fit into, and he resides no more than five or six miles from where I was stranded. He picked up on the second ring, we exchanged pleasantries, and I explained my situation to him. And as I expected, he said, “I’d love to help!”

“But,” he continued, “I’m already halfway to Houlton.” Which, as I recalled too late, is where he and his family go every year for an extended weekend in early October. (Note: in order to keep from upsetting anyone, I have purposely avoided using “Columbus Day weekend” or “Indigenous Peoples Day weekend” here. Choose whichever phrase you prefer.)

At that point I should have been thinking about my next move, but I didn’t have time to do so, because as I was telling Brian to enjoy his weekend up north, a car that was approaching slowed. Lowering his window, the driver asked me if I was okay. I told him that I was, but that my bike most certainly wasn’t. He pulled over, got out, said, “I can take you wherever you need to go.”

When someone with a disabled bike is stranded in the middle of nowhere with darkness no more than an hour away, the only thing he or she desires more than a random humanitarian to appear out of nowhere is having one arrive with a vehicle that’s equipped with a bike rack. Sure enough, my rescuer’s car had one.

Twenty-ish minutes later we were in my driveway, and along the way I learned a bit about an ordinary, extraordinary fellow who I hadn’t known before. I figured he wouldn’t take any money for gas if I offered it to him, and of course he didn’t. That’s why, when he wasn’t looking, I a dumped a HUGE load of good Karma into the back seat of his car, one that I expect will last him and his family well into 2021.

At the risk of sounding a little too giddy over my unlikely rescue, I believe the man who extricated me from my predicament last week was more than just a Good Samaritan. I think he was my guardian angel.


Well, because - and I swear I’m not making this up - his name was Gabriel.<


Friday, October 9, 2020

Bill Diamond: Imported prescriptions can save Mainers real money

By Senator Bill Diamond

We all know that health care in this country is expensive. Chances are, you or someone you love has struggled to pay a doctor’s bill or put off going to the doctor because you had other bills you needed to pay first. For many people, the high cost of prescriptions is a big part of what makes staying healthy so expensive. We all try to budget for our health and wellness, but that can become difficult when the cost of our medicine strains our pocketbooks. About half of all Americans take at least one prescription drug, and almost 30 percent of those Americans say they’ve not taken their medicine as prescribed because of money. None of us want to choose between putting food on the table and taking needed medicine.

Over the past two years, my colleagues in the Legislature and I have prioritized passing laws that will make a real difference for Mainers and their pocketbooks when it comes to health care. This includes a law that improves transparency about how drugs are priced; a law that creates a Prescription Drug Affordability Board; a law that makes sure Mainers, not corporate middlemen, benefit from savings on rebates for prescription drugs; and a law that caps the out-of-pocket cost of insulin at $35 for a 30-day supply for those on certain insurance plans. All of these bills were passed with strong bipartisan support, and many of them with unanimous or nearly unanimous support in the House and the Senate.

One other law we passed in 2019 will allow the importation of drugs from Canada with approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Under this law, only drugs deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are allowed, and those imported prescription drugs must result in savings for Mainers. Many medications are sold abroad for much less than they are sold for in the United States. A 2018 study by DHHS shows that drug manufacturers charged U.S. wholesalers and distributors 1.8 times as much for certain top drugs as they charged other countries. America spends about $1,200 on prescription drugs per person each year, which is much more than any other country spends. If importing prescription drugs can save people money, then we have a responsibility to make sure there is a safe and legal process to do so.

Earlier this year, Maine submitted its plan for drug importation to the federal government for approval. A small handful of other states, including New Hampshire, Vermont and Florida, have taken the initiative to do the same. Last week, DHHS and the FDA announced that they’ve finalized rules for states and drug wholesalers to use in importing drugs from Canada at the direction of the President. This news from the federal government is a step toward making safe prescription importation a reality, but there is still more work to be done to make sure Mainers see real savings from prescription importation.

By lowering the cost of prescriptions, we can help folks stay healthy without breaking the bank. As your state senator, I will keep doing my best to make sure that working people can afford to stay well by looking for opportunities to innovate our health care system.

If there’s anything I can help you or your family with, or if you have any questions or concerns about affording your prescriptions, please send me a message at or call my office at 287-1515. <

Andy Young: On Good Neighbors

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

The people who live across the street from me are going to be moving. They’ve found new and intriguing employment, which they can take advantage of since their two fine (and now fully-grown) sons are both fully capable of striking out on their own. So two of the best neighbors I’ve ever had are moving to a state south and/or west of here. Which, now that I think of it, means they’re moving to one of the other 49 states.

If there were a place you could shop for people you’d want to live near, these two would be highly sought after, regardless of price. In order to protect their anonymity, I’ll call my soon-to-be-ex-neighbors “Andy” and “Emily.” (Plus it’ll be easy for me to remember, since those are their actual names.)

Andy and Emily were the first to welcome me to the neighborhood when I moved in a little over five years ago. And in ways both overt and covert they’ve never stopped making my family and me feel welcome. I chat with one or both of them every so often, like when I go to the mailbox, when we’re out doing yardwork, when we’re all clearing our driveways after a snowstorm, or for no particular reason at all.

When the pandemic started Emily made sure I knew that if I ever needed flour, she had a surplus of it. The pool table in our basement would probably still be in the box it arrived in, unassembled, had Andy not come over the day it arrived and asked, “Hey, need any help with that?”

People who have great neighbors shouldn’t take such good fortune for granted. No one appreciates that particular gift more than those unfortunates who have had bad neighbors. Some years ago some good friends (who I’ll call Arlene and Tom, because those are their actual names) had to sell the lovely house they had renovated because of the people next door, low-grade sociopaths who got frequent visits from disreputable individuals arriving in muffler-less vehicles at hours when most of employed humanity sleeps, or at least tries to. But what ultimately convinced them it was time to pack up was the habit the offspring of the neighbors from Hell had of driving, often while impaired, 25 to 30 mph over the posted speed limit on the straightaway section of their street. Since they valued the safety of their own (much younger) children, Tom and Arlene reluctantly decided it was time to pull up stakes.

I never knew any of the nearby residents when my roommates (who I’ll call Tom, DeLion, and Jeff, because those are their actual names) and I resided in a Raleigh, North Carolina apartment complex, but that was because our jobs involved frequent travel and unusual hours. When I lived In Fairbanks, Alaska I’d regularly see a couple of people I presumed were neighbors, but that was while I was stepping over their prone, unconscious forms in order to get into our building, which was located in one of the sketchier sections of town.

I’d like to get a nice gift for Andy and Emily before they depart, but like most people who are relocating to someplace hundreds of miles away, they’re looking to divest themselves of possessions, rather than acquire more of them.

I think the appropriate way to honor my departing neighbors is to welcome the people who move into the house across the street to the neighborhood the same way I was welcomed by Andy and Emily.

And I’ll refer to them by their actual names, once I find out what they are. <

Insight: Ghosts of Halloween Past

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

The familiar old pattern just might be shaken up a bit this Halloween for our family.

With my wife being an elementary school teacher and not having much time to shop for Halloween candy, that task usually falls to me and it’s a responsibility I do not take lightly.

For me, I can recall how exciting it was to decide on a costume to wear to go out trick or treating every Halloween in the 1960s and then dumping out my collection on the kitchen table when it was over to see what goodies I had amassed.

Among the assortment of saltwater taffy; Razzles; Fruit Stripe Gum; Atomic Fireballs; Dum Dums; Bazooka Bubble Gum; Dots gumdrops; Bottle Caps; Oh Henrys; Junior  Mints; Sugar Daddys; Milky Ways; Baby Ruths; and Hot Lips, there were always a few apples and occasionally some pennies to go to the corner store and buy a pack of new baseball cards.

This was before the days when “snack size,” or “bite size” or “mini” bags of candy was sold and I could end up with a haul of full-sized candy bars that would last well into the month of November.

Bearing that in mind, at some point in the 1990s, when I had worked my way up to a consistent income, I made the decision to purchase full-sized candy bars for trick or treaters who visit our home every Halloween. My wife thinks I’m crazy for insisting on doing this and chides me for the money that I spend doing this.

But I want the kids who stop by our home to know what it was like back in the 1960s before Halloween candy was merely an afterthought and neighbors wanted to buy the cheapest candy possible available and be done with it.

Every year I buy around 100 full-sized candy bars and typically end up with about 65 bars left over. I probably buy more Halloween candy than I should, but I believe it’s always better to have more on hand rather than to run out early and have to disappoint the trick or treaters.

With that much candy left over, it’s inevitable that I end up eating what remains, so in my book, it’s a win-win situation. Not so for my wife, who will always try to give the leftover candy away to neighborhood children instead of letting me overindulge my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup habit each year.

Overbuying Halloween candy has become a tradition in our household every year as is hiding the stash of full-size Hershey chocolate bars, full-size Skittles, full-size Kit Kats and full-size Butterfingers until Oct. 31 rolls around. Typically, a handful of the full-size bars always seem to be missing ahead of when we fill the candy basket for our Halloween visitors.

And speaking of visitors, a trend I’ve noticed lately in my neighborhood is parents pushing young infants and children under the age of 2 coming up to our door trick or treating. The full-size candy bars are probably not being consumed by these very small kids and my suspicion is Mom and Dad are eating the candy when they get home. But in my book, it’s all good. It’s Halloween and who can be unhappy, other than dentists, about a holiday in which candy is freely distributed across America?

There’s nothing better than to open the door and see excited little ones who have spent hours preparing their costumes while their moms and dads truly look on in awe when they find they can reach into a large bowl and come away with a full-sized candy bar. It makes me happy to hear them proclaim to their parents that they want to come back to our house again next year because we give away the best Halloween candy.     

And that brings me to this year with the uncertainty about health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Do I buy my usual complement of full-size bars again and if so, how many children will be trick or treating this year?  

My thoughts are that I’m probably going to scale back my purchase of full-sized candy by at least half of what I normally purchase.

In years past, we’ve had about 35 kids stop by our home and I just don’t see that many visitors this year. It saddens me that a virus has disrupted our lives to the point that even timeless traditions such as Halloween are affected. Hoping we can soon return to normalcy and the doorbell rings many times on the evening of Oct. 31, 2021. <

Friday, October 2, 2020

Andy Young: Exploring the back of the freezer

I had just purchased a generous supply of frozen perishables when a brief but violent storm precipitated a 16-hour power outage in my neighborhood midway through the summer just past. Fortunately there was no spoilage, but that near-miss motivated me to start working on consuming what I have on hand before resuming random impulse-buying in the frozen food section at the grocery store. Besides, I’ve resided in my present home for almost five years, and thus was already thinking of giving the freezer its first-ever defrosting.

My de-clutterization plan involved eating existing inventory from the back of the freezer first, so the initial meal I had was Veggie-Made Zucchini Lentil Pasta, a product which had “shopped while I was hungry” written all over it.  The attractive microwaveable bag it came in said, “NEW!” It also had, in much smaller print, an expiration date which said, “Best if used by Feb. 09, 2019.” 

Maybe it would have been better had I eaten it 18 or more months earlier, as was recommended, but my final verdict on zucchini lentil pasta is that it tastes a whole lot like… pasta.

As the back of the freezer slowly became visible again, I began applying the same culling policy to the aging food in my pantry. The first target: some Fiber One Bran Cereal that may have come with the house. The box’s front declared, “NO high fructose corn syrup, NO colors from artificial sources, NO artificial flavors.” It also should have said “NO discernable flavor.” On the box’s top flap, under “Better if used by,” it said, 16 Sept 2017.

The back of my kitchen cabinet contained a treasure trove of expired items. There was a Chicken Sriracha-flavored gluten-free “protein bar” that looked suspiciously like shrink-wrapped roadkill; it’s “Best if used by” date was 24 August 2019. Next to it was something I assume came in the same Christmas Party Yankee Swap gift some years ago: a Vermont Smoke and Cure Gourmet Sausage, an item which looked like something one would obtain at one of those windowless “adult toy stores,” rather than at Hannaford or Shaw’s.  It probably had no expiration date because none of its ingredients are found in nature, and thus can’t spoil.  

The nutrition facts printed on the wrapper of an 0.5 oz. package of Swedish Fish (exp. Date 8 February 2017) I found near the back of the cupboard claim that 0.5 ounces of Swedish Fish contain 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of protein, 20 MG of sodium, and 22 grams of sugar. That’ll likely still be true if I open them next week, or in 20 years as a treat for my still-unborn grandchildren. But they’ll likely be just as valueless nourishment-wise on whatever date they’re released from their tiny bag as they are today.

There were also several tiny green envelopes of what might be dried garlic peas. Unfortunately, other than, “Product of Taiwan,” all the printing on the packages is in Chinese, so I’m unsure of their age. Or of their nutritive value, if any. 

There were also some very old rice cakes, but I doubt they ever expire. Too-stale rice cakes are like too-wet water.

At this writing my “out with the old” efforts are continuing. I’ve eaten most of the aging inventory, and with no ill effects afterward. But if there’s anyone out there who’d like some shrink-wrapped chicken roadkill and/or an obscene-looking sausage, well, drop me a line and they’re yours. I’ll even throw in some garlic peas.

You can’t have the Swedish fish, though. The grandkids still have first dibs on those. <

Insight: Lessons learned from an afternoon of apple picking

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

With the weather warming into the low 70s last weekend, my wife Nancy and I decided that Saturday afternoon would be a great time to go pick some apples at a local orchard.

We decided to visit one particular orchard about 20 miles from our home based upon recommendations from friends and its large abundance of different varieties of apples grown there.

The last time we went to an orchard together was about five years ago when I worked in New Hampshire and things were a little different here at this orchard in Maine.

First, in our haste to start picking almost as soon as we got there, we neglected to notice the ribbon system used to identify the rows of the apple tree varieties posted at the entrance to the orchard. When you miss knowing what kinds of apples they are, you have to rely of your taste buds to determine if the row of apples that you’re in will be great for snacks or better when baked into an apple pie.

We wandered in and out of rows marked with pink, purple, yellow, green, candy-striped and blue ribbons without learning what specific kinds of apples they were. Turns out the orchard we visited grows more than 25 varieties of apples, but we spent most of our time in the rows of Macouns, Braeburns and Gala apples and never actually saw any McIntosh or Red Delicious apples.

Second, dress appropriately. We had on long-sleeved shirts and jeans, but with the sun beating down on us and lugging around a half-bushel bag filled with apples while wearing a preventative COVID-19 mask made for a very warm and tiring experience.

Third, know what you are sampling. As we were nearing the end of one of the rows of trees in the orchard, some were marked with a black ribbon. The fruit on the trees was small, dark and sort of resembled plums. My wife thought they might be crab apples, but I thought I could discern what there were by trying one. I picked one off the tree and when I bit into it, I found out that this particular kind of fruit was something that was rather bitter and not at all ripe.

Fourth, remember to take photos. The last time we went apple picking I thought it would be a fantastic location for photos, but for some reason I forgot to take any even though I planned on doing so before we left home originally.

Fifth, try not to shake the trees when picking the apples. Some perfectly good apples fell on the ground and I later saw a sign while leaving the orchard that the employees are not allowed to pick up the apples on the ground. Seems like such a waste that some of those apples couldn’t be turned into apple sauce or cider or cattle feed rather than lying there rotting away. 

Fifth, hit the orchard snack bar early. On the way into the orchard from parking our car, I noticed people standing in line for the snack bar or sitting at a nearby picnic table enjoying a bag of apple cider donuts. I thought that we could drop by as we were departing and buy some cider donuts for the ride home. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the snack bar, all they had left was popcorn and we were advised that a new batch of cider donuts would be ready in about a half-hour if we wanted to wait. Being hot, tired and hungry, we passed on waiting for them.

Sixth, bring lots of cash. The half-bushel plastic bag we filled was $32 at the checkout counter.

Lastly, know your surroundings. Within two miles of the orchard we spent the afternoon at, I spotted a small farm with a roadside store and knowing that my wife really wanted McIntosh apples, we stopped and went inside. They had bags of apples for sale grouped by type and we purchased a bag of McIntoshs for half of what it cost for the half-bushel bag at the larger orchard. And they also had small brown paper bags containing four “apple pie” donuts for $5 that we enjoyed driving home.

My best advice if you’re heading out to the orchard to pick apples is to have fun, appreciate the natural beauty and surroundings and make it a memorable time. Now I can’t wait for a slice of Nancy’s apple pie. <