Thursday, December 31, 2020

Andy Young: Looking forward (and backward)

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Wouldn’t it be nice to get some sort of sign, like some rare, non-catastrophic event, that 2021 is going to be a better year than its predecessor was?

Earthquakes, cataclysmic floods, or cases of non-aquatic rain (a phenomenon which I am not making up) definitely aren’t harbingers of improving conditions ahead. But something along the lines of a lengthy solar eclipse, the appearance of Halley’s Comet, or Cleveland’s baseball team winning the World Series might portend that humanity is indeed going to emerge, sooner rather than later, from the grip of the ongoing worldwide viral pandemic.

But sometimes good omens are simply hiding in plain sight.

This just in: the date of the new year’s second day (1-2-21) reads the same backward as it does forward. Could this be the indication that the miracle cure for the Coronavirus pandemic is just around the corner?

Well, probably not.

It turns out eleven of the 31 days of January 2021 are numerical palindromes. In addition to 1-2-21, Inauguration Day (1-20-21) is a numerical palindrome. So is the day after that (1-21-21), and the day after that (1-22-21), and the day after that (1-23-21). And the six days that follow, right up through 1-29-21. Something that happens on over 35% of a month’s days doesn’t qualify as portentous.  

And it’s not just January. The first nine days of December (12-1-21 thru 12-9-21) are numerical palindromes too, and so are the 11th and the 22nd of that month.

There’ll only be eleven palindromic dates in 2023 (3/2/23, 3/20/23, 3/21/23, 3/22/23, 3/23/23, 3/23/23, 3/24/23, 3/25/23, 3/26,23, 3/27/23, 3/28/23, and 3/29/23), and the same goes for each year from 2024 thru 2029. But even in those years, having a date that reads the same forward as it does backward doesn’t qualify as particularly unusual. The sad bottom line: 1/2/21 does not foreshadow an early end to the world’s troubles.

But while numeric palindromes apparently don’t auger any imminent solutions to our planet’s problems, playing with palindromic words or phrases can help pass the time until dining out,  interstate travel, and everyday interactions without facemasks once again become acceptable.

Looking for palindromes in everyday life is something anyone (not just MomDadPopNanAnnaOttoBob, and Hannah) can enjoy. For example, outdoor enthusiasts like to kayak. Motor sports aficionados dream of piloting a crimson racecar, one that’s redder than any other. Some people work out at the YMCA, but I prefer my gym. I can also refer to opera singers who excel at solos, or sagas of late-rising do-it-yourselfers who wait until noon to begin to repaper their walls.

Participating in elections is a tenet of all democracies, and should be on everyone’s radarStats indicate a record number of males did their civic duty this year and responded when someone commanded, “Rise to vote, sir!”

Last week I needed to go out and shovel some snow. Too bad I hid a boot.

True fact: the city of Yreka, California has a Yreka Bakery.

Which reminds me: zero is a number that is never odd or even.

Protocol dictates that every decent person step on no pets, not even senile felines that try to swap paws, and that we treat every person with respect, even though to some, lepers repel

So many dynamos don’t attend church regularly because, as one skittish flock member explained, “We panic in a pew.”

Full disclosure: I found most of the above palindromes on the Internet. (Don’t nod.)  

Now I’ll try writing some of my own. After all, how hard can it be?


Yltnerappa drah ytterp. <

Insight: Reflections on a year like no other

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

If you think that 2020 was a total waste of a year, you are probably not alone. Millions worldwide share your sentiment but there are quite a few reasons to reject that notion too.

I’m certainly fortunate to have escaped the medical carnage that 2020 brought to so many as a result of the pandemic, yet like everyone else, I learned quite a few things about myself and my family over the past 12 months.

First, I have discovered how determined we all are to make our lives as normal as possible despite overwhelming challenges. I was skeptical when major league baseball returned in 2020 with an abbreviated 60-game regular season schedule and without fans in attendance, but for all the years I’ve watched baseball, I don’t believe I’ve ever observed so many teams having a chance to win a spot in the post-season playoffs. Even my lowly Baltimore Orioles were in the hunt late into the schedule for a wild card playoff game.

Second, I am convinced we are a strong and resolute society willing to adapt to new challenges to overcome obstacles. Prior to last spring, I had never heard of Zoom and I don’t think many would have thought on New Year’s Eve 2019 that it was a company that millions worldwide would depend upon heavily during the pandemic. Everyone from teachers to students to government officials to families holding impromptu reunions use Zoom to conduct remote meetings. Using Zoom is not preferable to in-person meetings, but the opportunity to see and visit with a soon-to-be 2-year-old granddaughter in Connecticut instead of talking to her just by phone is exciting for my wife and our family.

Third, Americans have developed a new-found appreciation for those who for years have worked behind the scenes to make our lives better, our so-called essential workers. I used to think it was unusual when my mother would leave a card with a $10 bill inside as a gift for the mailman every Christmas when I was a child, but I am coming around to her way of thinking after all these years. Our postal carriers were a lifeline and worked tirelessly in 2020 to bring us countless packages we ordered online because we just couldn’t get out to stores thanks to the pandemic. The same holds true for those who work in the fast-food industry, ring up and bag groceries, clean facilities to prevent the spread of the virus, ensure that our children are learning remotely, respond to fires or automobile accidents, defend our national security, or stand ready to assist during a medical crisis and provide care for our loved ones in the hospital or the nursing home. The real heroes of the pandemic have always been visible elements in our lives and deserve long overdue recognition.

Fourth, I’ve learned a lot about myself in 2020. I’ve rediscovered how truly blessed I am to be surrounded by cheerful and loving friends and family. I’m grateful for them boosting my spirits during some rather trying times and making me smile. There’s simply no better gift to give one another than to produce hearty laughter and it’s something each of us, no matter who we are, dearly crave. When I was growing up, my father used to tell me of what life was like when he was a child during the Great Depression and how his large family of five sisters and two brothers depended so much upon each other. They had little money and few luxuries, but they all pitched in to survive and knew they could rely on each other for anything. I am as tired of the pandemic as everyone else is but have found that my friends and family are more than I could have ever expected and I’m lucky to have them in my life.

If living through 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that we all have an inner strength and resolve to go on and move forward with our lives. We are all deeply connected and dependent upon each other and we all share the common bond of life. As we greet 2021 and the pandemic subsides, let us all try and remember the struggles, the shortages, the heartbreak, the inconvenience and the devastation that the pandemic forced upon us. We’re all much better people for having lived through this time and if we just try and remember that fact, 2021 will indeed be a much better year for all of us. <

Friday, December 18, 2020

Andy Young: The curse of late December birthdays

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

With the exception of those suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (AKA Multiple Personality Disorder), a person’s birthday comes around only once a year. I always eagerly anticipate mine, which I consider an annual special treat. I like having (or at least imagining I have) one day per year when the universe, or at least the portion of it consisting of my friends, family, and co-workers, revolves totally around me.

But sometimes I wonder if the reason my birthday is always so festive is because it occurs when there isn’t much else going on.

I have a friend who is attractive and successful in every way imaginable.  She’s adventurous, athletic, creative, honest, courageous, intelligent, perceptive, and patient. She’s also a great listener who comes equipped with a terrific sense of humor. She enthusiastically greets each day and treats everyone she encounters with a kindness and inclusiveness that invariably brings out the best in all who surround her. I thought her life was ideal, until she confided in me that, well… wasn’t.

It seems no one’s ever gotten terribly excited about her birthday, which falls between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Those born during the last week in December rarely have decent birthday parties. It’s tough competing with the numerous galas celebrating various religious holidays, not to mention the festive commemorations of the old year’s departure and the new one’s arrival.

Regardless of how incredibly special an individual is, birthdays that fall during the most holiday-fraught time of the year are doomed to afterthought status. Late-December birthday parties have as much chance of success competing with Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day as I would in a game of “Horse” with LeBron James…. after I’ve spotted him the H and the O!

A website called confirms the obvious; even those paid to create special “Days” steer clear of the holiday season. Whoever designated Christmas Eve as “Eggnog Day,” Christmas as “Pumpkin Pie Day,” and the 26th as “Candy Cane Day” was clearly waving the white flag, and Fruitcake Day (the 27th), Card Playing Day (28th), Tick Tock Day (29th), and Bicarbonate of Soda Day (30th) offer further evidence of the advertising industry’s collective surrender during the year’s final week. The first weekend of the new year isn’t too exciting as far as special days go either, unless you can get fired up over Copyright Law Day (Jan. 1), World Introvert Day (Jan. 2), and/or Humiliation Day (Jan. 3).

People born between Christmas and New Year’s Day have an inherent disadvantage. Even those who’ve prospered despite their undeserved handicap have paid dearly for their success. Mao Zedong, who was born Dec. 26, 1895, headed a revolution that led to the founding of the People’s Republic of China, but he’s remembered more for repression and murderous totalitarianism than for helping birth a powerful nation. President Woodrow Wilson (birth date: Dec. 28, 1856) shepherded the United States through World War I and the worldwide Spanish Flu pandemic but a crippling stroke during his second term left him a virtual invalid for the final half-decade of his life. And beloved television actress Mary Tyler Moore (born Dec. 29, 1936) may have won seven Emmy Awards, but she also battled alcoholism, and endured the unimaginable pain of her only child’s tragic and untimely death.

Knowing of all the misfortune people born late in the year are prone to gives me even more respect for all Lebron James has accomplished, particularly given his birthdate: Dec. 30, 1984. Maybe I’ll spot him three letters when he comes over for that game of “Horse.”  <


Insight: My mother’s cringeworthy daytime television favorites

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

When my family mentions that they think I watched way too much television as a child, I nod and smile and attribute it all to my mother Harriett’s peculiar viewing habits.

She detested daytime TV news programs and loathed the standard staple of situation comedy reruns or the abundance of copycat soap operas that populated the daytime broadcast schedule when there were only three channels available back in the 1960s.

During the summer or when I was home from school, her favorite daytime programs always left me shaking my head though for pure shlock and campiness.

She never missed an episode of “Queen for a Day,” a pity party to end all as women told the saddest stories you could imagine to the host, Jack Bailey, in order to win a prize. Each “Queen for a Day” contestant would be asked what they needed the most and why they needed it.

The tales of woe often descended into crying, sobbing tearjerkers and litanies of life gone oh so wrong. For example, eight of the 15 kids in the family were hospitalized and required open-heart surgery, the husband’s truck broke down and would need $2,000 to fix and that money was being saved for Uncle Zelmo’s hearing aid and wheelchair. Of course, this all happened the night before the house burned to the ground with all their worldly possessions inside on Christmas Eve. Each contestant told their sad plights to top the previous one before a final vote was taken of the studio audience and tabulated live using an “Applause-O-Meter.”

Once a winner was chosen, Bailey wrapped her in red velvet robe and placed a crown upon her head and handed her a dozen long-stemmed roses while “Pomp and Circumstance” was played loudly and she was led to a jewel-draped throne. Each winning “Queen for a Day” was then regaled by Bailey of a lengthy list of household appliances, silverware, clothing items, a vacuum cleaner, cookware and frequently a trip to a city in California in honor of her selection that particular day. As the show’s credits rolled on the screen ending each episode, Bailey would proclaim, “This is Jack Bailey, wishing we could make every woman a queen, for every single day." And with that, my mother would take her waste basket full of tissues from wiping her eyes to the kitchen.

I learned early on not to make wisecracks or jokes about the “Queen for a Day” contestants, lest I risked having her tell my father about my sarcastic remarks, usually leading to a lecture about inappropriate behavior or something sterner.

As she neared 40, Mom also became interested in fitness and staying in shape and she became a devoted viewer of the syndicated “The Jack LaLanne Show.”

Long before a new generation came to know Jack LaLanne as a pitchman for juicers and an advocate for healthy eating habits in late-night infomercials of the 1980s and 1990s, my mother would spend a half-hour each morning doing exercises with LaLanne.

Each show was geared specifically for housewives and he would demonstrate every exercise with a joke and smile and a simple explanation of their value.

For me, Jack LaLanne held my interest at the beginning and conclusion of each episode because he brought in his dog to do tricks, a well-behaved pure-white German Shepherd he called Happy and I didn’t care about the exercises. 

Occasionally, my mother would finish watching “The Jack LaLanne Show” and remark about what a handsome man he was. As a 10-year-old boy, I never wanted to hear things like that. I also thought LaLanne dressed funny because he always wore the same dark-colored one-piece workout jumper and what looked like my sister’s Mary Jane shoes for each program.

LaLanne professed to be able to show viewers how to “Feel Better, Look Better, To Live Longer” and it must have worked for my mom because she lived to the age of 95.

Another of my mom’s favorite daytime shows happened to be “The Newlywed Game” with host Bob Eubanks. I never understood why couples would appear on that show to be humiliated by questions such as “How will your husband complete this sentence? Which of the two of you is more likely to embarrass the other today?” And all of it just to win a Broyhill Custom Dinette Set or a billiard table or something similar.

Were my mom’s shows rather cringeworthy? Indeed, but the time we spent together watching them was priceless. <

Friday, December 11, 2020

Insight: The true meaning of the holiday season

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

As someone who has reported the news for quite a while, I’ll be the first to admit it’s very easy to become jaded with the seemingly never-ending parade of tragic accidents, violent crime, political corruption, destructive storms, missing people, crucial town budget issues, taxes and racial intolerance. So when someone does something kind for someone else, it easy to overlook that sort of gesture in the 24-hour news cycle.

Several years ago, I had the good fortune of meeting a young Maine girl who believes in helping others and expressing her creativity while doing it. Emma Brennan is now 9 and has been making multimedia sculptures from sand, shells, driftwood and pinecones since she was just 5 years old. She sells her colorful creations online and then uses the proceeds to purchase food for animals currently residing in shelters and for other pet rescue organizations. 

Each multimedia sculpture she makes takes more than a week to complete and they are priceless to those who own them or whom she chooses to give them to.

In 2017, Emma made one for Jacob Thompson, the 9-year-old Saco boy who loved penguins and was dying tragically from Neuroblastoma cancer. She also created two more sculptures in 2018 upon learning of the deaths of former First Lady Barbara Bush and President George H.W. Bush and left them for the Bush Family at their Walker’s Point compound in Kennebunkport because she found out how much the couple loved animals.

She works on these animal-themed sculptures at her family’s kitchen table and is involved in every aspect of them, everything from fusing the sand for a sculpture base together with glue, to shopping for and then selecting animal figurines to adorn each piece and hand-painting each sculpture she creates herself. She even goes to the beach to collect the sand she uses for them.

She sells her animal sculptures online at Emma Brennan’s Rock Message on Facebook, and to date she’s sold dozens of them to people in Alaska, California, Nevada, Oregon, Florida, Virginia, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Idaho, Arizona, Texas, Arkansas and even to families overseas in England and St. Martin’s. 

This story all started when her grandmother, Judy Chambers, found a painted rock. Emma got an idea to make animal creations but to use her creativity and artistic ability to help stray, lost or suffering animals.

Emma told me she merely wanted to do something nice for any animal who had been hurt and wanted to use the project to show love and kindness to all of God’s creatures.

At first, she’d find a suitable rock, paint it and then leave it in random locations for people to find, She distributed those rocks inscribed with the message, “Love for all animals. Find me, post me, re-hide me.”

That led to more elaborate and themed sculptures as she got older and eventually a successful Facebook page, all done with love on behalf of suffering animals and a truly supportive family.

Once a sculpture has been sold, Emma and her grandmother will go to the store and purchase large bags of dog food and cat food and they then take them to the local shelter to be used by animals there. 

She’s not even out of grade school yet, but Emma remains fully committed to the project. She takes no salary for her work and does this 12 months a year, because as she says, animal suffering doesn’t take a vacation, and somebody has to show them love and that somebody does care about them.   

Whether she knows it or not, even at such a young age this little girl has tapped into the true spirit and meaning of the holiday season. She is doing something unselfishly and without any ulterior motive that is meant to improve the lives of animals in need of help and assistance.

She’s not just talking about doing something of worth for her community, she actually saw a need, stepped up and continues to make a difference without requiring compensation or fanfare. Emma does this out of pure love and a sincere desire to make things better for innocent creatures struggling for survival.

It’s too bad more of us couldn’t take a cue from Emma Brennan and do something similar at Christmas and throughout the year just like she is doing.

Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we did? < 

Tips to keep your pet safe this holiday season

By Andrine Belliveau DVM

It's the most wonderful time of the year!  The holiday season is filled with warmth and joy, but it also can present some unexpected hazards for our pets.  Pets view our Christmas trees like toddlers do – they are shiny toys that must be played with! 

Tinsel is less commonly used in decorating now, but if you do use it, be careful!  Cats find the shiny strings irresistible and can develop an intestinal blockage if they consume tinsel.  Cats and dogs may both try to play with the lights and cords on the tree and could be shocked if they chew through the cords.  A severe electrical cord injury could even cause lung damage or death. 

Finally, if you have pets and a live tree, be careful not to add anything to the Christmas tree water.  Pets often enjoy drinking the Christmas tree water, and many common additives, such as aspirin, are toxic to pets.

Speaking of toxicity, unfortunately many common holiday plants, such as holly and poinsettias, are also be toxic to pets.  The ASPCA maintains a thorough online database where you can check and see if any plants you want to decorate with may be poisonous.  If you have plants in your house that are hazardous for pets, make sure they are kept where your pets will not have access to them.

One of the most common issues veterinarians see around the holidays is a condition called pancreatitis.  Pancreatitis means “inflammation of the pancreas,” one of the organs involved in digestion. 

Both cats and dogs have relatively sensitive GI tracts when compared to humans. Pets tend to eat a very similar diet from day to day, so fatty or rich foods can really upset their system. During the holidays, lots of owners like to treat their pets with rich foods like mashed potatoes, or turkey with gravy.  This can cause severe GI upset in pets, often resulting in vomiting, diarrhea, and pancreatitis. 

If you want to give you pet a special treat for the holiday, either select a pet-specific treat or food, or keep it bland – offer meat with minimal fat trimmings and no gravy, and vegetables without sauce. 

Have a safe and happy holiday season! < 

Andy Young: Reforming the justice system, one misdemeanor at a time

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

The death penalty creeps me out. Assuming my parents were correct about two wrongs not making a right, government-sponsored killings combine ghoulish vengefulness with hypocrisy in a way that’s quite literally toxic.

However, if a death penalty proponent asks me if I’ve got a better idea of what to do with remorseless serial killers, terrorists who blow up crowded buildings, or other unrepentant, convicted sociopaths, I’d have to confess I do not.

That’s because capital punishment, like so many other issues, is complicated. Few of society’s problems have easy solutions. If they did, they’d have already been solved.

Thankfully, some everyday issues can be ironed out expeditiously. The key is making the punishment fit the crime.

In a perfect world, courageous public servants would formulate and implement the legislation necessary to eliminate society’s imperfections. But since courageous public servants have been in short supply lately, I’m going to selflessly use this space to make a few modest proposals aimed at reducing more common (albeit less violent) crimes. With luck maybe one of these suggestions will get the legislative ball rolling.

Littering is an everyday scourge that cries out for enforcement of appropriate yet reasonable penalties. My proposal for reforming detritus-tossing environment despoilers is three-tiered. For first-time offenders: two hours of supervised trash pickup, preferably at or near the very location where they committed their misdemeanor. A second-time violator would be fined $100, be required to do four hours of picking up litter, and have to do so while wearing a neon-yellow t-shirt with the words, “I’m selfish and lazy” emblazoned on it. A third offense would result in a $1,000 fine, plus eight hours of picking up trash while wearing a bright orange jumpsuit. Nothing would be printed on that garment, since the matching dunce cap the miscreant would have atop his head while publicly beautifying the environment would provide ample evidence to passers-by that the individual sporting it is, on top of everything else, not a very fast learner.

Another group of people desperately needing limits are those who think it’s okay to make their neighborhood sound like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway while doing yardwork early on weekend mornings. I propose that anyone lawn mowing, leaf blowing, or snow throwing on a Saturday or Sunday will be fined $10 for every minute before 8 a.m. they turn on their machines. In addition, every adjacent neighbor will be allowed to dump any and all of their snow, leaves, or grass clippings anywhere on the offender’s property, without fear of reprisal.

And then there are those who refuse to turn down their high beams while driving at night. I’ll admit to having forgotten this basic law of decency once or twice. However, my proposed reform for this driver-blinding crime is aimed at willful and habitual violators of vehicular protocol.

Vigilant police officers would hand out a written warning to first-time violators of the “turn down your high beams when someone’s coming in the other lane” statute. But more significantly, the offender’s name would be entered into a national database that would compile a permanent record of such things. A second violation would result in a nominal fine, say $100. But on the third offense, the peril-creating driver would have his car’s headlights removed for a period of six months. Half a year of night driving prohibition would, in my view, effectively teach a hard but necessary lesson.

But what should the penalty be for someone who, for whatever reason(s), decides to drive headlight-less and after dark anyway, thus putting countless other unsuspecting drivers at risk? 

Oh, that’s an easy one. 

Death.  <

Bill Diamond: A new chapter for Maine’s Legislature

By Senator Bill Diamond

Last Wednesday, Dec. 2, I had the honor of being sworn into the 130th Legislature as the State Senator representing the people of Baldwin, Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish and Windham. I am humbled by the fact that you have once again chosen me to be your voice in Augusta. It is always a great honor and responsibility to represent you, and that is truer now than ever before. Our state and our people face a challenging road ahead, but I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues from all over the state and both sides of the aisle to get us through. We especially need to find a way to balance the state budget without raising taxes on our businesses and people who are struggling to make ends meet.

The Legislature will be doing business a little differently this time around, and that started with swearing-in day. Usually, each new Legislature is sworn in at the State House by the Governor, with family and friends in attendance. This year, we were sworn in by Acting Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Court Andrew M. Mead, because Gov. Janet Mills was quarantined at home after potentially being exposed to COVID-19. The ceremony took place at the Augusta Civic Center to allow for physical distancing, and in the interest of public health, friends and family stayed home. This isn’t how any of us wished it could be, but these changes were necessary, and we got the job done. It was an honor to be sworn in alongside my colleagues, and I am energized for our work ahead.

With the new Legislature officially sworn in, senators and representatives are submitting ideas for legislation that we think will make life better for Mainers. Soon, we’ll gather in our committees to discuss and debate these ideas. Perhaps the most important parts of this process are public hearings, when Mainers from all walks of life come before a committee to share their thoughts on a bill. Some bills draw dozens of pieces of testimony, and every person’s voice is critical to shaping the final piece of legislation.

Usually, if someone wants to testify about a bill, they come to Augusta and do so in person. For some this is easy, but for many this means taking the day off of work, finding childcare, and driving one, two, three or more hours one way. That just isn’t something a lot of people can do.

On Wednesday, after the Legislature was sworn in, we voted to make it possible for committees to meet virtually as we do our work over the coming months. The biggest reason for this change was so that we wouldn’t have to gather in person and risk the health of the public, our staff and each other. But this also means that the public can now join us and give testimony virtually from the safety and convenience of their own homes. This is a great step forward in making sure that all Mainers can see and participate in their government, and it’s a change I hope stays once we’re all able to gather in person again. I’m sure we’ll face some rough patches along the way, and we must also remember that for many Mainers internet access at home isn’t a reality.

I’m optimistic that this Legislature will be the most transparent and accessible one that Maine has ever seen. Hardship and adversity often drive innovation, which is a rare silver lining of this difficult time. But I’m confident that if we work together, we can get this done.

As I return to Augusta – even virtually – please know that I am always available as a resource to you. You can call my office at 287-1515 or send me a message at <

Friday, December 4, 2020

Andy Young: Three for the price of one: challenges, storage facilities, softball

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Years ago, I wrote for a newspaper where columns were limited to 800 words or less because, as the editor eloquently put it, “No one wants to read more than that.” Which is why I faithfully adhered to that guideline. Until joining The Windham Eagle.

Hoping to prove even old dogs can learn new tricks, I decided to abandon my comfort zone, which is why I arbitrarily decided that going forward, each column I’d write for this publication would consist of 600 words. Precisely 600 words. No more, no less. Not 599. Not 601. Exactly 600.

This requirement wasn’t forced on me by a sadistic, power-hungry, numbers-obsessed bean counter. The truth is that Ed Pierce, the Eagle’s managing editor, has given me free reign to write about what I want, how I want. But I was up for a new challenge, and clearly, completely, and concisely expressing random but specific thoughts into a precise number of words seemed like a worthwhile one. The 600-word minimum/ceiling I’ve adhered to since July 8 was completely my idea.

But after 19 straight 600-word essays, I’m satisfied. It’s time to try something else. But what?

How about three 200-word essays in the same column?

Americans have too much stuff.

When I was growing up people didn’t accumulate more belongings than they could comfortably house. Those who acquired more tangible possessions than their residence could accommodate could stash it in the garage (if they were fortunate enough to have one), the basement (if they were fortunate enough to have one that stayed dry in the spring), the attic (if they were fortunate enough to have a family member under 3 feet tall, who could help move things around when the need arose) or, for the uber-wealthy, a barn or stand-alone shed.

Today the country is being overrun with what society euphemistically refers to as “storage facilities.” The first such places were often created by retrofitting existing buildings that had become vacant. Later, repurposing underutilized warehouses or motels seemed like a great idea. But there’s currently an epidemic of new buildings being created solely for the purpose of housing excess items whose owners lack the space (or in many cases, the need) for. I’m not sure what the monthly fees are for renting space in such facilities, but I do know that for those who limit themselves to needs rather than wants, the expense is zero.

I really should retire from competitive athletics.

Last summer I got talked into playing in the Greater Portland Over-50 Men’s Softball League.

Okay, no one twisted my arm. It didn’t take much convincing to get me to sign up. And although initially I was unsure if the “Over 50” requirement was referring to age or IQ, I wasn’t worried, since I definitely qualify in the former category and most likely do in the latter.

Naturally I had a blast! The people on my team were great guys, as were the players on all the opposition squads. I got some hits, made a couple of nice catches, and even got to play shortstop and bat cleanup in a few games near the end of the season. But I also tweaked my hamstring three or four times, including one night when we had no subs, which necessitated me having to play first base statue-style for the last couple of innings. And when we had games on back-to-back nights, my prosthetic hip got awfully sore.

So that’s it. I’m done. 

Unless I start getting the itch again next spring.

One eighty-eight. One ninety.  One ninety-two. Yes! I can do it!

Next challenge, please. <

Insight: Confessions of a Christmas candyholic

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

When it comes to the sugar-filled holiday season, I confess I’m probably the poster child for dentistry.

Be it Christmas ribbon candy, milk chocolate Santas, peppermint cream patties, pecan divinity or old-fashioned gumdrop nougats, I find the holidays to be one huge rush of pure sugar adrenaline. Whether it be Hershey’s Kisses adorned in green and red foil, Christmas M&Ms, candy canes, an enormous Nestle’s Crunch bar, LifeSavers Christmas Story Books, or even those enticing chocolate oranges, I’m down with it all.

This magical time of the year brings a wide array of caramel treats, gummies molded into the shapes of snowmen and reindeer, and a rainbow of hard candy, gumball, jelly bean and salt water taffy  Christmas mixes sure to please anyone secretly tempted by sugar. Christmastime also marks the return of extra-large Snickers and gigantic Hershey bars primed to be stuffed into stockings on Christmas Eve. It’s all good.

And thanks to my late mother’s sweet tooth addiction and holiday sugar indoctrination, I even welcome those annual last-minute gift contributions of a box of chocolate-covered cherries or as she would call them “Walgreen’s Specials,” Whitman’s Sampler boxes of assorted chocolates purchased on the way to her home for a Christmas Day visit.

I once asked my mother why she loved candy so much and she told me it was because one of her first jobs after graduating from high school was working at a Fanny Farmers candy store where her taste buds were  bombarded daily by multiple kinds of fudge, toffees, marshmallows, truffles, walnut clusters, dark chocolate and molasses cordials, and raspberry and coconut parfait delights.  

I never turned my nose up when I received a Santa Claus or Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer Pez dispenser or a huge half-pound Sugar Daddy in my stocking on Christmas morning. Those special treats and the oversized Peppermint Patty along with the holiday Andes Mints were usually gone by the time the Christmas turkey was cooked and served.

No matter if it’s Ghiradelli Peppermint Bark, Swiss chocolate gold coins, Christmas-glittered nonpareils, peanut brittle, Peeps gingerbread men, Brach’s fruitcake nougats, Jordan Almonds or holiday fruit-flavored Tootsie Roll chews, count me in. And although I’m not a big fan of sour flavors, I make an exception and gratefully accept Jolly Ranchers, Smarties, Sweet Tarts, Red Licorice, Mentos and Sour Patch Kids just because it’s Christmas.

Even though I’m well past middle age, a smile comes to my face when I go through my Christmas stocking and discover a Lindt Milk Chocolate Bear wrapped in shiny gold foil, brightly colored holiday lollipops or a Raffaello coconut bar. Be it white chocolate shaped like Santa’s elves, Christmas-tinted spice drops, a bag of Celtic sea salt caramels, or my all-time favorite Mallo Cups, I refuse nothing if it contains sugar. 

There’s usually a regional twist for me regarding Christmas candy, depending on where I’m living when Christmas arrives. When I was in the Air Force stationed in Germany, I loved German holiday marzipan teddy bears. In Florida, I made a special trip each year to a store that sold creamsicle fudge. In New Mexico, each Christmas I had to have pinon candy, a brown sugar center surrounded by caramel and then rolled in crunchy pinon nuts. 

For much of the past 25 years or so, I’ve observed some trendy novelty Christmas treats creeping into stores, such as bags of black jelly beans that are labeled as “Santa’s Coal” or whimsical Green Pickle or Yellow Macaroni and Cheese flavored candy canes. There’s even a “Sooper Dooper Reindeer Pooper” that dispenses root beer candy pebbles when its antlers are squeezed.

Every holiday season I look forward to any holiday packages arriving in the mail from our friends Phil and Christina Buck in Cleveland, Ohio. They know how much my wife Nancy and I enjoy treats from Malley’s Chocolates, a premier local candy store there. One Christmas they sent us a holiday Malley’s “survival” box filled with peanut butter Christmas trees, wrapped Malley Oh’s (chocolate-covered cookies), a bag of fruit-filled Gummi Bears, two chocolate-covered pretzel twists and milk-chocolate covered Pretzel Crunch and regular Crunch bars.

And sadly, when the Christmas holidays wrap-up for yet another year, it’s safe to say I turn my sights to the arrival of Valentine’s Day candy in stores and then patiently await the candy extravaganza that the Easter Bunny brings in the spring. But for now, I’m geared up and ready for the onslaught of my holiday Sugar Fest and subsequent dismay stepping on the scales thereafter. <