Friday, December 22, 2023

Insight: A Christmas like no other

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

At the time I wasn’t sure if 1998 would be my final Christmas or not. Now with more than two and a half decades behind me in the rearview mirror, I can look back and reflect about how it was a pivotal time that changed my life forever.

It sure didn’t feel like it at the time, but Christmas 1998 marked the beginning of a new chapter for me and turned my world upside down and for the better.

I had spent most of that fall on the doctor merry-go-round trying to determine what was causing my dull and aggravating back pain for months, a slow weight loss, and weekends of uncontrolled vomiting even if I had nothing to eat. Each of the four physicians I had visited had no answers and they seemed at a loss as to why at age 45 I was experiencing these symptoms.

Then the fifth doctor I had an appointment with decided to send me for a chest x-ray and it provided some clarity. It revealed a spot on one of my lungs and that doctor suggested I see a surgeon immediately.

As I sat down with the surgeon, and he reviewed the x-rays and the results of a CAT scan I had taken, he turned ominously and told me “This could go two different ways. Either I’m going to save your life, or you need to start putting your affairs in order. We need to confirm what this is through surgery.”

He suspected I was suffering from a form of leukemia or lymphoma and scheduled my exploratory surgery for the day after Christmas. While others enjoyed the holidays that year, I was worried if I would make it to see another Christmas.

When I finally woke up from the surgery and in the first few days thereafter, I began to receive phone calls from friends, family and co-workers and couldn’t understand why suddenly I was the subject of so much attention. Finally, my surgeon met with me in my hospital room while my mother was there visiting. He told me he had good news and bad news. He said the bad news was I had a rare form of cancer and that he had told my mother right after the surgery that I had 90 days or less to live. I asked him what the good news was, and he said he had sent my results to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for a second opinion, and they believed a regimen of chemotherapy and follow-up surgery could be an effective treatment and restore my health.

He had made an appointment for me to meet with an oncologist and begin treatment as soon as possible. That launched six months of chemo where I had a port implanted in my chest and checked into the hospital every two weeks for rounds of platinum-based chemotherapy. My weight quickly dropped from 171 pounds to 100 pounds in a month. All my hair started to fall out and my friend shaved it off for me. I couldn’t eat as everything tasted like ballpoint pen ink. I also had trouble standing, let alone taking steps to walk anywhere.

I’d have the chemo for a week and then spend the next week trying to recover. I kept a bucket by my bedside into which I frequently threw up. Friends stopped coming by to visit for fear they might catch whatever it was I had. I’d have so little energy that I’d call it a day at 4:55 p.m. and head to bed.

But each time I’d go to the hospital for chemo, I’d lay there and imagine if I made it through this, what I wanted out of life. I wanted to return to meaningful newswriting after years of writing about sports in my career. I wanted to own my own home, put up outdoor Christmas decorations, and have a family of my own to share the holidays with. I asked God to give me a second chance at life and thought about how things would be different if I survived.

Six months of chemo and two operations later to remove small pockets of cancer in my chest, I returned home and went back to work. Within several years, my doctors told me I was completely cancer free. I met Nancy in 2004 and she came over for Christmas that year and never went home. We were married the next year, and I inherited three adult stepsons in the process. We bought our first home, then I became a section editor and started writing news stories again for the newspaper where I worked.

Eventually we moved to New Hampshire, where I served as the Editor-in-Chief of the daily newspaper in Laconia, then on to Biddeford where I was the Executive Editor of the daily newspaper there. I’ve been the Managing Editor of The Windham Eagle since May 2020 and my life has come full circle.

I thought of this last week when I was stringing up Christmas lights. No matter how bad your Christmas may be, there’s always someone going through sometime much worse. As long as we all have hope and dreams though, life is indeed worth living.

Andy Young: An initial reaction to the Yuletide

By Andy Young

It’s Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa time, so I really should be overwhelmed by tidings of comfort and joy. But try as I might, I cannot deny what I am actually feeling currently, which is a touch of melancholy that has most likely been triggered by a sudden onrush of sympathy for certain individuals, most of whom I’ve never even met.

Singer Sam Cookie died in 1964 at the
age of 33 after landing 29 Top 40
singles on the Billboard Music Charts.
For example, I’m feeling sorry for Sam Cooke, the singer known by many as the “King of Soul” who had 29 singles land on the Billboard Top 40 charts in an eight-year career that ended prematurely when, at age 33, he was shot to death by a Los Angeles motel manager.

I’m grieving for the late Sean Connery, the Scottish bodybuilder-turned actor who was the first to portray James Bond, secret agent 007, on the big screen. I know I shouldn’t be wasting energy pitying the guy best remembered for having to fend off people like Tiffany Case, Honey Ryder, and Pussy Galore, but what I feel is what I feel.

The inexplicable regret I’m experiencing extends to Sebastian Cabot, the versatile British actor who, despite playing a wide variety of roles in numerous movies, is generally remembered for only one thing: playing Brian Keith’s valet in a saccharin-sweet, late-1960’s television show called Family Affair that no self-respecting non-grandparent would ever be caught dead watching.

Sarah Churchill, the British actress and dancer who died at age 67 in 1982, has been yet another subject of my sympathy lately, and not just because she lived much of her life under a microscope because her father was Sir Winston Churchill, England’s longtime prime minister. By all historical accounts Sir Winston roundly disapproved of Sarah’s first two husbands as well; that couldn’t have been easy, either.

Lately I’ve been feeling badly for Baseball Hall of Fame member Sam Crawford, who was universally known as “Wahoo Sam” due to the name of his tiny Nebraska hometown. I’ve also shed a tear or two for Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman ever elected to the United States House of Representatives, and not just because she didn’t live to see her 100th birthday, which would have occurred next year.

It’s not just dead people I find myself feeling sympathy for, either. Sylvester Croom, still alive and well at age 69, was the first African-American to get a head football coaching job at a major college when he was hired to mentor the Mississippi State Bulldogs in 2004.

Unfortunately, he was also the first African-American head coach to get discharged by a major university, though that fate ultimately befalls 90 percent of the people (of any hue) who get hired to coach for-profit college football.

I have empathy for 54-year-old Sam Cassell, who is currently an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics. A product of a Baltimore high school who prepared for college with a post-high-school year at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, Cassell parlayed a strong work ethic and outstanding athletic skills into a 15-year National Basketball Association career, but despite an impressive resume as a player and an assistant coach, has yet to land his first NBA head coaching job.

I feel badly for entertainers Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell, Senators Susan Collins and Shelley Moore Capito, and every resident of South Carolina, Southern California, and Sioux City, Iowa.

That’s because as long as people believe in a certain jolly old elf in a red suit who lives with his wife and elves at the North Pole, none of them will ever be the most beloved person, place, or thing with the initials S.C. <

Friday, December 15, 2023

Insight: Reflections on some awful jobs

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

I recently read an article about a U.S. Department of Labor report regarding a survey it conducted about the most stressful jobs in America.
According to their polling, at the top of the list for most stressful job is urologist, followed in order by film and video editors, anesthesiologist assistants, judges and magistrates, and telephone operators.
During my lifetime I’ve worked some stressful jobs and none of them were listed in this report. If it were up to me, I’d reclassify some of the jobs I’ve worked at as awful rather than list them as stressful.
In 1973 between my sophomore and junior years of college, I served as an unpaid editorial intern at Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York, writing articles for the company’s monthly magazine. 

To pay for gasoline and other assorted expenses, I also worked two other part-time jobs that summer. 

One was as a cashier at a car wash, and it was easy work, collecting $5 bills from customers and pushing a button to start the automated car wash machinery.

The other job was at a newly opened Carroll’s Hamburgers, a fast-food chain. I liked my co-workers, and all the equipment was brand new, but I despised working certain shifts. The worst shift of all for me was 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday nights. Demand was non-stop at that time and the restaurant’s assistant manager constantly berated the employees about not working fast enough.
He rode me unmercifully because I was nearly 20 and no longer in high school. He expected me to produce milkshakes at superhuman speed and place them by flavor into a cooler where counter employees could grab them quickly to serve customers. He also would inspect the milkshakes I would make and often throw them out for either being too thin or too thick and not meeting his requirements.

One Friday as I was nearing the end of summer vacation and returning to college, he launched into a tirade at me for making milkshakes too thick. I finally had enough and handed him my key and punched my timecard and quit. 

But when I went to pick up my paycheck at the end of that week, there wasn’t one for me. Apparently, the assistant manager had thrown away my timecard. My father called the Bureau of Labor, and I eventually was paid for my work, but I never worked a fast-food job again.
Once when I was in my early 30s, I accepted a part-time job taking dictation from a blind author who wrote children’s books. He would dictate the words and I would type them into a word processor for him for an agreed-upon rate of $10 per hour. When I stopped by his house to receive a paycheck for my 16 hours of work, he said he didn’t have any checks or cash to pay me with. He suggested I go into his garage, open his freezer and to take home packages of meat he had stored inside after purchasing a side of beef as payment for my services.
I helped myself to what I considered to be $160 worth of meat including six steaks, six packages of hamburger, and a roast but the look on my wife’s face when I told her he had paid me by meat instead of a check was priceless. After that experience, during future job interviews I insisted on being paid by check during the job interview.
As I was working on obtaining my college degree, I took a job delivering USA Today newspapers to boxes throughout the county I was living in. The job wasn’t hard, but I never made a profit doing it. Monday through Friday I would pick up the newspaper bundles, put them in my car and deliver them along a route of newspaper boxes on the highway. I would add new newspapers to the boxes and collect the newspapers not sold as returns.
Once a week, I used the key I was issued for retrieving coins in the coin box that the public used to pay for the newspapers. That was always the worst part of the job. Every time I would collect the coins, at least half of what was supposed to be payment in each box was some sort of metal slug in the shape of a quarter. I would have to make up the difference out of my profits at the end of each week. After several months of losing money, I decided to move on to other work.
While I was waiting to be hired by a newspaper when I moved to Florida in 1991, I was hired to place stock on grocery store shelves, and we had to wear a uniform of a white shirt and black pants.

Inevitably, I was assigned to either the flour aisle or the spaghetti sauce aisle and usually my black pants turned white from handling flour bags, or a spaghetti sauce jar would be cracked, and spill all over my white shirt as I placed it on the shelf.
In my opinion, some jobs are just not much fun while others are meaningful and interesting. For me, I prefer my chosen profession of journalism.

Tim Nangle: Resources to help heat your home this winter

By State Senator Tim Nangle

As the temperature drops, the warmth of our homes becomes more than just a comfort — it's a necessity. I want to share some news and resources that can be a massive help to those who are worried about keeping their homes warm this winter.

State Senator Tim Nangle
The Low-Income Assistance Program (LIAP) is necessary to keep many of our friends and neighbors safe during the winter. That’s why I proudly voted to substantially increase funding for LIAP from $15 million to $22.5 million. This increase and expanded eligibility criteria means an additional 46,000 Mainers can receive much-needed financial support this winter.

The Department of Health and Human Services has begun sending letters to 67,000 eligible residents, letting them know financial assistance is available and providing instruction on how to access these benefits. If you receive this letter, simply present it to your electric utility company to automatically receive LIAP benefits. If you haven’t received a letter but still need financial assistance, I encourage you to visit the website to evaluate your eligibility here:

We are continuously working on long-term solutions toward the goal of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Until then, providing immediate support to those in need is essential. The Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) has published its 2023 Winter Heating Guide in an effort to fill this gap, offering tips and links to various assistance programs and energy-saving strategies. From funding to help weatherize your home to understanding different heating fuel options, this guide has many strategies to help fight the cold. Check out the complete guide and frequently asked questions here:

In addition to the LIAP benefits and the GEO Winter Heating Guide, The Opportunity Alliance serves as our local community action agency and plays a vital role in administering the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP). This program aids homeowners and renters with their heating expenses, including emergency fuel delivery. To learn more and start your application, visit or call The Opportunity Alliance’s intake line at 207-523-5049.

In our community, organizations like Windham Neighbors Helping Neighbors perform vital work. This volunteer-driven group provides emergency heating assistance and assists residents in navigating the complexities of securing long-term support. Visit their website at to learn how to receive help.

Additionally, those in need should contact the Windham Town Office and apply for General Assistance (GA). This program, aimed at helping residents of Windham facing financial difficulties, offers confidential financial assistance for essential needs, such as housing, utilities, food, and fuel. To apply, you simply need to schedule an appointment. You’ll be guided through the application process at the appointment and informed of your rights and responsibilities. The GA Department works diligently to ensure applicants receive appropriate referrals to other support services. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact Rene Daniel at or 207-892-1906.

As your State Senator, I am committed to ensuring every Mainer has the resources they need. I encourage everyone to explore the resources available through the Governor's Energy Office and local organizations like GA or Windham Neighbors Helping Neighbors.

Additionally, if you or someone you know is struggling with heating costs, please reach out to my office for assistance, and we can guide you in finding the best resources for you and your family. Reach out at or call 207-287-1515.

Let's work together to ensure no Mainer is left in the cold. By supporting each other, we can make this winter warmer and safer for all. <

Andy Young: Getting dark again

By Andy Young

Of all chores that I despised as a child, my least favorite by far was taking out the garbage after sunset.

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only child who at one time or another suffered from nyctophobia, or for those not conversant in ancient Greek, fear of the dark. I grew up before leash laws or invisible fences existed. In our neighborhood back then dogs, including a sizable German Shepherd or two, roamed freely, and in my mind the only thing they liked more than knocking over trash cans was taking chomps out of frightened kids whose Simon Legree-like parents had assigned them the job of taking the trash out after the sun had gone down.

I wasn’t a total scaredy-cat, though. Darkness in a familiar setting was okay. But before I reached the third grade, being placed somewhere new where there was a dearth of light brought on full-blown dread. I vividly remember an overnight stay at my grandparents’ house, where the guest beds were located in a windowless room in the basement. When Grandma Spaine tucked us in and shut that door behind her, the only thing that kept me from shrieking bloody murder was that I didn’t want my younger brother, who was occupying the adjoining mattress, to think I was more afraid than he was.

Fortunately, I’ve long since outgrown my fear of lightlessness, and it’s a good thing, too. Next Thursday is the shortest day of the calendar year, and even individuals who don’t excel at math know that leaves a whole lot of darkness in a 24-hour period.

However, those of us in the greater Portland area should probably count our blessings, since we’re going to get eight hours, 55 minutes, and 40 seconds of daylight on Dec. 21, which is eight more minutes than the folks in and around Bangor will receive that day. And those lucky Bangorites will get 14 more minutes than Presque Isle, which will get a minute and a half more than Quebec City, which will get three minutes more than Fort Kent.

At least we don’t live in Barrow, Alaska, where the sun set at 1:15 p.m. on Nov. 19, and isn’t scheduled to reappear until the afternoon of Jan. 23 at 1:07 p.m.

Life is better, I’ve decided, when one isn’t plagued by fear of the dark, so naturally I’m thankful that I’ve grown past that phobia. But that’s not the only thing I’ve outgrown since childhood.

There really isn’t any rhyme or reason to the lengthy list of once-significant things that now play little if any role in my life. Other once-meaningful items I’ve grown out of include all-you-can-eat buffets, grape popsicles, Sugar Frosted Flakes, commercial television, Hostess Twinkies, major league professional sports, the Three Stooges, and Cheech and Chong. (Fun fact: given his career path, it appears that Cheech himself has long since outgrown Cheech and Chong.)

I’ve also grown into some things which I formerly spurned. For example, beets. During my childhood, beets were nasty-smelling purple things in a jar that Grandpa Young, for some inexplicable reason, loved. However, thanks to a few significant friends and a slightly more open mind, I’ve grown to love beets, particularly when they’ve been roasted just right. They’ve got to be fresh beets, though. I won’t eat anything that’s older than I am, and the actual age of beets in a can or jar can be determined only with the help of carbon dating.

I’m grateful that I no longer fear beets, or the dark.

Now if only I could conquer my anxiety about taking out the garbage. <

Friday, December 8, 2023

Keeping Warm: Heating Resources for Windham Residents

By State Rep. Jane Pringle

Now that the holiday season is here, we can look forward to gathering with friends and family to celebrate traditions, new and old. The warmth of the season's festivities can often feel like a sharp contrast to the drop in temperatures outside. While gearing up for winter is never easy, there is positive news: the cost of heating your home will likely be lower this year than the previous two years. However, Maine still has some of the highest home energy costs in the country, due largely to our cold weather and reliance on oil as a heating source.

State Rep. Jane Pringle
To ease this financial burden, there are several state and local energy aide programs to help folks in need of heating assistance this winter. The first is the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), which provides money to eligible low-income homeowners and renters to help manage the cost of heating. The state administers the program via the Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA) in conjunction with Community Action Agencies like the Opportunity Alliance, which handles the application process for Cumberland County.

Another resource available is the Low-Income Assistance Program, which assists homeowners and renters with their electricity costs by providing a credit on monthly electricity bills. The MSHA also established a Weatherization Program that provides grants to eligible individuals to help make homes airtight and more energy efficient. In order to apply, a home must be structurally sound and the household must be eligible for HEAP. For more information about the relief programs mentioned above, please visit

Efficacy Maine Trust (EMT) also has resources for folks looking for help heating their homes. The agency was established to help provide incentives and rebates for those looking to lower their energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint. EMT helps thousands of Mainers afford efficiency and cost-saving tools like heat pumps and solar panels, which lower energy costs in the long run. To learn how you can utilize their services, go to

If your home relies on wood as a heating source, it is essential to remember a few cautionary steps to remain safe and comfortable all season long. With safety in mind, first and foremost, it is vital to ensure that your smoke detectors are up to date. Next, schedule a chimney sweep and double-check that your wood-burning system is appropriately installed. Finally, the state has compiled a list of firewood dealers that can be found on the Forest Service webpage. While it is not a comprehensive list, it is meant to be a starting point for those looking to use local or heat-treated wood to stay warm.

Locally, we are fortunate to have a resource like Windham Neighbors Helping Neighbors (WNHN). The nonprofit, which can be contacted at 207-749-1336, was established by a number of Windham volunteers who work together to provide one-time emergency assistance to our neighbors who are critically low on heating fuel. All contributions to the organization go directly back to those who need it most. While it is not a long-term solution, the WNHN has a history of helping those in crisis and directing individuals toward further assistance from state and local agencies. If you are able, please consider donating to WNHN so they can continue providing emergency fuel services to our neighbors in need.

Looking toward the upcoming second session of the 131st Legislature that begins in January, I promise to continue working with my colleagues to develop and improve cost-effective methods to help Mainers remain safe and comfortable in their homes this winter. From my family to yours, happy holidays and stay warm!

State Rep. Jane Pringle is serving her second non-consecutive term in the Maine House, representing a portion of Windham. She is a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Coverage. Contact her at <


Insight: Age before beauty

By Ed Pierce

When I first started following baseball, my interest was for my hometown team, the Rochester Red Wings, who were a minor league affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles at the time.

1963 Rochester Red Wings baseball cards
show Joe Altobelli, top, Luke Easter, bottom
left, and Steve Bilko. All three players
shared the first base position that season
for the Red Wings. COURTESY PHOTOS   
Back in 1963, Triple A affiliates had some local autonomy to acquire players and competed at the highest level of minor league play. Most of Rochester’s roster were younger players competing for a chance to make the major leagues with a sprinkling of older players trying to return to the majors.

Some of those older players were well past their prime playing days and had little to no hope of ever playing in another major league game but were signed nevertheless for their experience and ability to be role models for the younger players.

During my first year following the Red Wings, not one but three such older players were on the team and not surprisingly became some of my favorites. First baseman Luke Easter, first baseman Steve Bilko, and first baseman-outfielder Joe Altobelli had all played in the major leagues but suited up for Rochester to continue playing.

Easter, age 47 in 1963, stood 6-foot-4, weighed 240 pounds, and batted left-handed. He had served in the Army during World War II and had played for the Homestead Grays in the Negro League, leading the Grays to the 1948 Negro League World Series title. His towering home runs drew the attention of the owner of the Cleveland Indians, Bill Veeck, who signed Easter to play first base as a 34-year-old rookie in 1950.

His first three years with the Indians showed promise, with Easter among the league leaders in home runs and runs batted in, but ongoing knee and ankle injuries limited his time on the field and by 1954, he was sent to the minors, waiting for another opportunity. Determined to keep playing, Easter wore the uniforms of the Ottawa Athletics, Charleston Senators, and Buffalo Bisons, and was International League Most Valuable Player for Buffalo in 1957, before joining the Red Wings in 1959.

He was beloved by Red Wings fans and players alike for his perseverance and love for the game. But after playing in 77 games for Rochester that year, Easter chose to give up his roster spot and become the first base coach for the Red Wings for several seasons before returning to Cleveland for work as a union steward there. In 1979, Easter was shot and killed by two armed robbers in Cleveland after refusing to give them $5,000 in payroll checks he was carrying to the bank.

Steve Bilko, age 34 in 1963, grew up in a coal mining town in Pennsylvania and rose to prominence as a power hitting first baseman in the Pacific Coast League in the 1950s. His major league playing career included stints as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit Tigers, and he was the original first baseman for the Los Angeles Angels in 1961. But by 1963, he was a Rochester Red Wing, appearing in 101 games but only mustering 8 home runs that year and by the following spring he was out of baseball for good. He died at age 49 in 1978.

Joe Altobelli, age 31 in 1963, grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and had parlayed strong defensive and batting skills to slowly work his way up through the minor league system of the Cleveland Indians in the 1950s. He did eventually play for the Indians from 1955 to 1957, but by 1958, he was once again a minor leaguer. He played for Triple A teams in Indianapolis, Toronto, Montreal, Syracuse, and Omaha before signing with the Red Wings and replacing Easter as a fan favorite for his clutch hitting and ability to drive in runs.

Altobelli remained a Red Wing through 1966 and eventually became a minor league manager, leading Rochester to four league titles. He managed the San Francisco Giants for three seasons and then when Baltimore manager Earl Weaver retired, Altobelli led the Orioles to the 1983 World Series championship as manager.

In 1991, Altobelli agreed to serve as general manager of the Rochester team and in 1997 began work as a color analyst on the Red Wings radio broadcasts, a job he held through 2009, when he retired for good. Through the years he became known as “Mr. Baseball” in Rochester and in 2010, a statue of him was placed on the ballpark concourse there. He passed away in 2021 at the age of 88.

By all accounts, 1963 wasn’t an exceptional season for Rochester as the team finished in third place with a record of 75-76 overall. But when you combine the stats of the three men who played first base for the Red Wings that year – Luke Easter, Steve Bilko, and Joe Altobelli – it’s not too shabby with a combined total of 29 home runs, 116 runs batted in and a batting average of .258.

These days minor league baseball is strictly a pipeline for developing talent for major league teams and the days when older players could continue their careers as journeymen are long gone. I’m truly fortunate to have watched some of these all-time greats. <

Andy Young:: The New England Patriots are wrecking my life!

By Andy Young

The New England Patriots are awful this year, and I’m not happy about it.

It’s not like I’m a longtime devoted follower of New England’s National Football League team, or even a casual one, for that matter. Unlike legions of other people in this neck of the woods, I haven’t had to leap from the Patriot bandwagon this season, since I never climbed aboard in the first place.

And please don’t think I resent Philadelphia Eagle fans who currently plan their Sundays around their favorite team’s schedule, the way people around here used to do with the Patriots. If they’re enjoying their squad’s success, more power to them.

It’s been many years since I’ve followed professional football. In fact, I find the contemporary game actively off-putting. The NFL’s uber-rich team owners shamelessly exploit their performers, and indirectly the thousands of wannabes who aspire (but never get) to play in the league. Significant numbers of these modern-day gladiators end up physically and/or cognitively compromised, and often at alarmingly early ages.

But my attitude regarding professional football clearly isn’t typical. Most red-blooded American men (and also disquieting numbers of red-blooded women) can’t get enough of the NFL. Brutal or not, their product has been brilliantly marketed for decades; that’s why owning any of the league’s 32 franchises constitutes a virtual license to print money.

However, what bothers me even more is that the Patriots’ incompetence is playing havoc with what had, until recently, been my carefully orchestrated, extremely efficient personal schedule.

Like many who work full time Monday through Friday, I have to do my grocery shopping on Saturday or Sunday, when the stores are mobbed, the checkout lines are endless, and the parking lot resembles a demolition derby.

But for years I was able to avoid the chaos involved with picking up provisions on weekends by finding out exactly when the Patriots were playing and heading for the grocery store right at kickoff time.

As long as Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and their pals were winning (or threatening to win) Super Bowls, my ingenious plan worked like a charm. Casually piloting my shopping cart down virtually deserted aisles at the local supermarket, I even had time for leisurely chats with the half-dozen or so other non-football fans who planned their weekly food shopping trips the same way I did.

But this year the Patriots are terrible, and the stores around here are packed every Sunday, regardless of the hour. What’s worse, it doesn’t appear things are going to improve for New England’s professional football team any time soon. It’s too bad they can’t play all their games against teams based in New York, since their two lonely victories have come at the expense of the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets.

Two weeks ago, the Patriots had a golden opportunity to win a third game against an Empire State team, but somehow managed to lose to the dreadful New York Giants, whose quarterbacks have performed nearly as ineptly as New England’s have this year.

The Pats still have return engagements with the two teams they’ve beaten, but Buffalo is much better than their record indicates, and the Jets are one of only two teams with a victory this season against the Eagles, who own the league’s best record at 10-2.

Professional football (and yes, this includes the big-time college programs) is a dirty, exploitative, obscenely profitable business that I want no part of. But I wish the Patriots would become relevant again, because it’s getting awfully expensive (not to mention time-consuming) to drive to Philadelphia every Sunday to grocery shop. <

Friday, December 1, 2023

The Rookie Mama: The hap-hap-happiest holiday hacks and the passing of the tourtiere torch

By Michelle Cote

It’s a great one, this time of year.

And never do I appreciate my working toward preparedness more than during this yuletide blitz that stamps the last month of the calendar.

Michelle Cote
Over the years, I’ve learned through trial and much error that it’s helpful to plan ahead for budgets and organization as I ready myself to dive in to the fa-la-la fantastic time of year.

I’ll start with something I admittedly never put into practice until only this past year – and what a game changer – I created a savings account fund specifically for contributing a bit monthly in the lead up toward eventual Christmas shopping.

For the past several years, I’ve done this for various ‘adulting’ expenditures if you will – plowing, heating, summer travel adventures, the like – all fund buckets into which I deposit small amounts monthly so when big payments are needed, I’m ready to rock.

How did we manage before online banking, anyway?

During the last quarter of the calendar, costs for many of us increase because we’re inundated in holiday shopping here and there all around the square, and so it’s easy for our December-end balances to creep up.

So for anyone who could use that same ease during the holidays; just add an approximate twelfth of what you think you’ll spend into a Christmas fund beginning in January – 12 months prior – and your credit card statement will give you holly jolly vibes when Christmas comes around, rather than a heavy figgy pudding dread.

I suppose this is theoretically layaway for yourself, with the purpose to leave you in fiscally cheerier bliss.

Other ways to plan ahead for the holidays –
• Create a spreadsheet early to help stay on budget, list gift ideas, people, and keep track of purchases.

• Prepare crafty, creative gifts first – Handmade presents require the most care and time, and are most meaningful. Save store-bought purchases for afterward. Our family loves to make photo gifts, hand-made ornaments, canned goods from our family farm, painted signs, to name a few. Sincere and expressive, but time-consuming on the creation end.

• Designate and organize a space for Christmas gift prep – Make Post-Its your best friend.

• Buy holiday wrap on clearance Dec. 26 to prepare for the following year.

• Don’t buy gift bags. If you know, you know.

Plan ahead for what you can so you can allow yourself room to adapt when plans go awry – I’m looking at you, unexpected cold and flu and that other illness named for a beer.

Finish your Christmas shopping early so you can spend quality time all December long doing what you really love, surrounded by the joy and cheer of those you hold dear. Our family prefers to spend these ‘Advent-ageous’ weeks soaking up traditions – making gingerbread houses, watching old Christmas movies, baking seasonal goods to deliver to neighbors as we tour locales lit up for holidays.

If I can get the Amazonian task of shopping out of the way ahead of time, these days will sure be merry and bright.

Joy and cheer and quality time segues perfectly into this next segment – Keeping holiday traditions alive folks, as we weave them in with new customs!

My family’s French-Canadian heritage celebrates Christmas with tourtiere – or pork pie. It’s the traditional dish passed down through generations of our Quebecois family, the showcase of many dinner tables as, say, turkey reigns supreme a month earlier.

My husband and I both come from French-Canadian ancestry, so tourtiere was a staple at both our Christmas tables throughout childhood. We are also partial toward mustard on pork pie, which gives it a spicy kick, much to the chagrin of, well, most people we know.

Traditionally, diners of tourtiere prefer ketchup as the condiment of choice.

I find this revolting.

And the debate that ensues each time we mention the spiced brownish-yellow goodness is always a deeply controversial one for the ages.

But however everyone chooses to consume this delicious, hearty pie, there’s no denying what makes this tradition truly treasured is that it’s unique to our heritage, warmly passed through the generations.

Many traditions and customs forever changed in 2020 for all of us. My husband and I made the most of our lockdown times by inviting grandmothers, aunts and uncles to join us for a ‘Pork Pie Zoom,’ where we each Zoomed from our kitchens and baked our pies as we shared stories, recipe deviations and hacks, among other family traditions. It was a positive and modern spin on a years-long tradition, which we continued for three holiday seasons – a Covid-era cooking show that allowed us all to bond like potatoes, pork, onion and garlic in a whole new way.

Last week, I asked my mother when she planned to make her pies.

She sighed subtly; I braced myself.

She asked if I wouldn’t mind making the pies this year, since I had brought it up.

And with that, she had slowly, gently tiptoed out of a decades-long role she’d owned and maintained so proficiently.

She was ready to pass the tourtiere baton, with an unspoken understanding between us that I’d too one day pass it along, lest my boys and their eventual partners become inevitable vegetarians.

As soon as she walked away, I was left with a counter-full of rolled pie crusts, spices, and a whole bunch of meats, taunting me. The pressure was real.

Here we go.

I baked tourtiere pies solo, folded in the comfort of knowing that this curated tradition will carry on, among other holiday conventions we’ve made our own.

So cheers to making time for your traditions, the old and the new, and glad tidings and wishes of pork pie with mustard to you!

­­– Michelle Cote lives in southern Maine with her husband and four sons, and enjoys camping, distance running, biking, gardening, road trips to new regions, arts and crafts, soccer, and singing to musical showtunes – often several or more at the same time!

Insight: No sugarcoating candy and Christmas

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

For those who are inclined to have a sweet tooth, like me, we are entering the most favorable time of the year as candy is everywhere and baked goods are in plentiful supply as the holidays are celebrated.

Since I was young, my favorite candy treat that shows up each year during the holiday season has always been colorful ribbon candy. It’s hard to find, but well worth the search. I remember receiving a small box of ribbon candy in my Christmas stocking when I was 7 and thinking I had hit the proverbial jackpot, while my parents envisioned a huge future dentist bill.

Over the decades since, I’ve sampled many other candies made exclusively for the holidays, but none can match the taste and texture of ribbon candy for me, and it just wouldn’t be the holidays without receiving a box of ribbon candy from my family.

Before her passing in 2018 at the age of 95, my mother preferred receiving a different type of candy each Christmas and it wasn’t hard candy. She enjoyed chocolate covered cherries and her personal favorite was dark chocolate covered cherries instead of milk chocolate. The box didn’t need to be gift wrapped and it was a product that was always offered in stores every Christmas season.

Like many other people, I enjoy marshmallow Peeps at Easter, but for some reason, I can’t get into Peeps for Christmas or during Halloween for that matter. I suppose it’s difficult for me to envision Peeps as anything other than chicks or bunnies, not pumpkins, skeletons, or snowmen. And for the record, changing the color of candy corn to green and red and selling it as “Reindeer Corn” is pretty lame in my opinion.

Speaking of snowmen, recently while I was in the checkout aisle at the supermarket, I noticed they were selling a product called “Snowmen Popcorn Bites.” I didn’t buy it, thinking it was popcorn topped with drizzled sugar and shaped into a mini snowman.

If ribbon candy is not readily available, there have been years where I have received a generous selection of hard candy or a LifeSavers StoryBook in my Christmas stocking.

My appreciation for hard candy stems from my mother always having a filled glass candy jar in her living room. By summer, if nobody had opened the candy jar and sampled the goods inside, the candy contained there would be sticky to the touch and clumped together. That meant if you wanted a green hard candy you had to pry it loose when it would be stuck to a piece of purple or yellow hard candy.

Her hard candy selection always included these small pieces of candy with what looked like a rose inscribed in the middle of them. They almost looked too pretty to eat.

I had liked LifeSavers candy for years when the company came out with its LifeSavers StoryBook product in the mid-1960s. Having six rolls of my own of different flavors such as cherry, raspberry, watermelon, orange, pineapple, or butterscotch, was thrilling and it was gone in just a few days.

It’s kind of interesting that different areas of the country have different holiday candy traditions.

When I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico in the 1970s, the featured Christmas candy there was candied pinon nuts. They had sort of a sugary and salty taste at the same time.

After my wife and I met and married in Florida, we would stop at a roadside orange grove every Christmas and send a bag of oranges to family living out of state. Once when we were there, I spotted the fudge counter and sampled their homemade orange creamsicle fudge. It was to die for and was immediately added to our holiday candy selection for years before we moved to New England.

I’m indifferent as far as Christmas fruitcakes go. If no other snack is available, I might be tempted to eat it, otherwise, I’d probably opt for something else. Back in the 1990s my mother gave me a small fruitcake that a relative had mailed to her as a gift. She apparently had received the same fruitcake as a gift from another family member, so she gave me one of them.

It sat in my refrigerator for several months before I opened it during the 1992 Duke versus Kentucky NCAA men’s college basketball East Regional tournament game. The game went into overtime and by the time Duke’s Christian Laettner scored the winning basket as time expired, I discovered that I had eaten the entire fruitcake during the game. I can also trace a sudden weight gain to eating that same fruitcake.

I’m not much for divinity, peppermint bark, soft candy, or candy canes at Christmas, but they’ll do if I’m looking for a sweet snack. I have always liked receiving jellied fruit slices, York Peppermint Patties, peanut brittle, Hershey’s Kisses, or boxes of chocolates for the holidays along with my favorite, ribbon candy.

There seems to be no limit to my sweet tooth cravings when the holidays arrive every year and if asked, I recommend my wife Nancy’s Oreo Pie as the perfect way to top off the Christmas season.

Barbara Bagshaw: Maine appears to be moving toward eliminating gas-powered vehicles

By State Rep. Barbara Bagshaw

Maine citizens have a right to make informed decisions on issues that affect their everyday lives. This should apply to everything from educating their children to what kind of car they purchase. Unfortunately, those in control seem intent on limiting our choices and directing our tax dollars toward causes and groups that keep them in power. This disturbing trend is most evident in the recent move toward eliminating gas-powered vehicles.

State Representative Barbara Bagshaw
I am not against people who choose to buy an electric vehicle and can afford it. It is a matter of consumer choice.

Right now, unelected bureaucrats are on the verge of moving Maine toward elimination of gas-powered vehicles. If the unelected Board of Environmental Protection votes to adopt a proposed “California Rule” mandating electric vehicle (EV) sales at its December meeting, car dealers will be required to meet the absurd goal of: 43 percent of new sales in the 2027 model year be electric vehicles, increasing to 82 percent of new sales by the year 2032. That move, if adopted would, would put Maine on the path toward elimination of gas-powered vehicles by making them artificially expensive.

All it took to initiate this insane idea was signatures from 150 “environmentalists” under an obscure provision of Maine law. What followed was a proposed Rule 127-A petition public hearing that drew testimony from 1,600 people. 81 percent of the testimony was against adopting the “California Rule.”

Currently, Maine generates less than about 6 percent of sales from electric vehicles. The lack of enthusiasm for EVs can be attributed to a number of factors, including cost, limited charging stations, unsuitability for cold climate, limited range, negligible effect on climate change, and many others raised at the public hearing.

When confronted with the lack of consumer enthusiasm for EVs, the prevailing Board attitude seemed to be that “the reason that they don’t sell is because we haven’t mandated them.” That attitude is exactly what is wrong with many of the people that control our government or try to determine what is best for us. The fact that unelected bureaucrats have the power to impose draconian measures on us is scary.

Despite the overwhelming opposition of citizens and small businesses to the adoption of the “California Rule” electric vehicle proposals, four of the seven unelected Maine Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) regulators voted to have staff prepare for adoption of the rule change for action at a future meeting before the end of the year. Two were opposed, with one member absent. All seven BEP members were appointed by Governor Mills.

The California rule will eliminate consumer choice, mandate higher auto prices, and result in economic hardship for no appreciable impact on climate change. I am not against people choosing to buy an electric vehicle if they can afford it. But public opinion should matter, and the government should not require us to buy things we do not want or need.

Several legislators attempted to introduce bills for this coming session to require a legislative vote in the event the BEP adopts the rule in December. All but one of the Democrats that control the Legislative Council rejected consideration of those bills. Proposals of this magnitude should be decided by the people. At the very least, it should be voted on by elected representatives. The potential for economic and social harm is far too great to let four people impose their will on the rest of us.

– It is an honor to represent part of Windham in the Legislature. If there is any way that I can be of assistance, please contact me at .My office phone number is 207-287-1440. You can find me on Facebook at To receive regular updates, sign up for my e-newsletter at

Andy Young: Is it time to rebrand December?

By Andy Young

Months are just like human beings.

No normal person wants to be inaccurately prejudged. But when it comes to stereotyping, many otherwise rational individuals only recognize the injustice of prejudice when they sense, justifiably or not, it’s being aimed at them. The sad reality: far too many people unjustly profile folks they don’t know based on one or more preconceived (and usually erroneous) notions.

It’s unlikely there’s anyone currently living in America who hasn’t felt the sting of being unfairly or wrongly characterized based on race, nationality, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, profession, mode of dress, or a combination of those things at some point in their life.

And even if such an inordinately fortunate person did exist, they couldn’t be female, African-American, Irish, Jewish, Asian, Italian, blonde, Hispanic, male, Islamic, Democrat, Republican, introverted, extroverted, Polish, French, gay, straight, nonbinary, an evangelical Christian, a baby boomer, a Gen X-er, a Gen Z-er, a car dealer, a lawyer, a vegan, a cigarette smoker, a government employee, a city dweller, a rural resident, a recipient of public assistance, a billionaire, a celebrity, or a billionaire celebrity, given the proclivity contemporary Americans have for being judgmental.

Are there positive stereotypes? Sure… sort of. But while complimenting someone based on their appearance and/or perceived talent(s) may seem like a kindness, the fact is not everyone over 6’6” is good at basketball, or has even the slightest interest in the sport, for that matter.

Which brings us to unfairly stereotyped months, specifically December.

Sure, being associated with Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa is nominally better than a wide variety of lesser distinctions. But every month has something that makes it stand out. To wit: January: New Year. February: Valentine’s Day. March: St. Paddy’s Day. April: showers. May: flowers. School’s out in June, July, and August mean endless summers, which thankfully don’t include triple digit temperatures around here. September (Labor Day weekend), October (Halloween) and November (Thanksgiving) all have specific celebrations as well.

But having an entire month classified as “holiday season” is too generic. December is overdue for a strategic rebranding, and there are a myriad of directions in which the final month of the calendar year’s perceived image can go.

For example, America’s December is, unsurprisingly, already National Eggnog Month and National Fruit Cake Month. It’s also National Impaired Driving Prevention Month, although with no disrespect intended, every month ought to be National Impaired Driving Prevention Month.

A trio of American presidents, Martin Van Buren, Andrew Johnson, and Woodrow Wilson, were born in last 12th of the year, but since three former chief executives (George Washington, Harry Truman, and Gerald Ford) died during December, labeling it “Commander-in-Chief Month” seems a bit of a stretch.

Less USA-centric types might point out that December 2nd is Armed Forces Day in Cuba, the 9th is Navy Day in Sri Lanka, the 22nd is Unity Day in Zimbabwe, and the 26th is Thanksgiving in the Solomon Islands.

Maybe “Innovation Month” would work, since Chiclets (1905), Monopoly (1935), Scrabble (1948) and Count Chocula (1970) were all trademarked and/or patented during December.

Many accomplished musicians (Taylor Swift, Frank Sinatra, Ludwig van Beethoven), athletes (Larry Bird, LeBron James, Sandy Koufax), actors (Denzel Washington, Mary Tyler Moore, Brad Pitt) and other impact makers (Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, Walt Disney) were born in December. But so were Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Emperor Nero, Generalissimo Francisco Franco, and General George Armstrong Custer, so “Great Birthdays Month” is probably out.


After considering the alternatives, it’s abundantly clear: no rebranding of December will be necessary. For now, continuing to be “Holiday Season” month will have to suffice. <

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Insight: A father does know best

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

In my profession as a newspaper editor, my free time is limited because of work. Somehow, I missed watching sportscaster Joe Buck’s television interview show “Undeniable” when it aired from 2014 to 2019.

Ed Pierce is shown with his father, Ed. Sr.
about 1958 in Rochester, New York. 
On the program, Buck sits down in front of a live audience for hour-long interviews with some of the most prominent sports stars ever. During the past week, I made time to watch two of these exceptional interviews, one with tennis star John McEnroe and the other with hockey Hall of Fame legend Wayne Gretzky.

What I discovered is that they both had fathers who envisioned tremendous careers for their sons and were encouraging and supportive of them years before anyone had heard of them. Their keen insight and guidance regarding their sons resulted in five Wimbledon championships, 77 career tennis titles and four Stanley Cups and nine National Hockey League Most Valuable Player Awards.

I enjoyed learning about their early lives and how both of their dads realized their talent and suggested ways to continue to improve their skills so they could go on to lead productive lives.

When I was young, I had two dreams, one was to become a sportswriter and journalist, and the other was to coach the men’s college basketball team at Syracuse University. I had fallen in love with basketball from the first time I attended a Rush Henrietta High School varsity game at Christmas in 1966 and had watched a player named Bill Smith compete in a tournament for our school.

Smith, a 6-foot-11 center, graduated from high school the following spring, and enrolled at Syracuse. He went on to be one of three Syracuse players to average more than 20 points a game during his career there and set the all-time single game scoring record with 47 points in 1971 against Lafayette, a mark that still stands nearly 53 years later. 

Today I am friends with Bill, who played in the NBA, and is retired and lives in Oregon.

My own basketball career came to a crashing halt at Rush Henrietta when I became the first player cut from the team on the first day of tryouts in November 1969. The coach offered me a position as a manager and wanted me to keep the scorebook for the team.

I remember speaking to my father about this and he thought it was a great idea, telling me that if I couldn’t play, it was the next best way to stay involved with the team. He also reminded me of something that I had done several years before.

When I was in Fifth Grade, I watched a sandlot baseball game in Brighton, New York between my brother’s elementary school, Queen of Peace, and my school, Our Lady of Lourdes. I jotted down details of what happened in the game and produced an account that was published on Sunday in the church newsletter. My father thought that it was a remarkable feat for being just 10 years old and never forgot it.

I accepted the scorebook job, but it was the responsibility of the coach to call in the box score after each game to the daily newspaper. Because he was so busy, sometimes the coach would bring me into his office after games and have me call the sports desk at the newspaper to tell them what happened.

Once, the assistant sports editor asked me if I could watch a game in a neighboring town when our high school was not playing and call in the results. I did it and received a $5 check in the mail for doing that the next week.

But by the time I was graduating from high school, I was torn between the decision of going to college and studying physical education to become a basketball coach, or to study journalism and pursue a career as a sportswriter.

When it came time to fill out my college application form, I had made up my mind and was determined to follow my dream of coaching basketball. I handed the application to my father, who had to sign it as my parent. He said he’d do that and take it to the post office and mail it in for me.

After a month of waiting, a letter from the college arrived for me and informed me that I had been accepted into the freshman class that fall. I spent the summer getting ready to travel across the country and preparing to take the first steps of living on my own for the first time. Before I got on the plane, my father told me to work hard in school and that he believed in me.

When I arrived at the college admissions office to receive my class schedule, I was surprised. My schedule was filled with journalism classes, not physical education classes. When I was shown my college application, I found my father had erased physical education and in his own handwriting, had replaced my major with journalism. Now 48 years into my career as a journalist, I can’t thank him enough for doing that for me.

I’m not John McEnroe or Wayne Gretzky, but I understand when they speak with reverence about how their fathers influenced their lives. I can say the same.

Andy Young: 192-plus reasons for giving thanks

By Andy Young

Orange-purple sunsets. Dried apricots. Indoor plumbing. Selfless police officers. Brilliant autumn leaves. Refrigeration. Basketball. The Smothers Brothers. Rice Chex. Kind neighbors.

Public libraries. Generous colleagues. Long-distance phone calls. Wheat back pennies. Southern Maine Community College. Prunes. Apple cider. Grandparents. To Kill a Mockingbird. Bicycles.

Strawberry picking. Bowling alleys. Kindergarten teachers. School nurses. Butterflies. Cherry tomatoes straight from the garden. Cribbage. Role models of all ages. Jack Benny’s violin. Blue skies.

Summer rain. Dental hygienists. Paved bike paths. Low-maintenance houseplants. Stuffed animals. Refrigerator magnets. Fresh salmon. Tennis. The 1984 Alaska Goldpanners. The post office.

John Denver. Generic Wheat Thins. Living far from the equator. Family photos. Board games. Spaghetti. Snowplows. Goalie masks. Maple syrup. Genuine journalists.

Elevators. Spanish rice. Butte, Montana. Tina Turner. Anything written by Carl Hiaasen or Leonard Pitts, Jr. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Loaded Questions. The 1969 New York Mets. Electric cars. Ramen Noodles.

Acadia National Park. The Baseball Hall of Fame. Kool and the Gang. Almond milk. Electricians. Flashlights. Oral history. Alfred E. Neuman. The two goals I scored playing intramural hockey in college. Exploding Kittens.

Amtrak. Bean boots. Blueberry picking. Landscapers. Jimmy Carter. The 1985 Durham Bulls. Golden kiwis. Yosemite Sam. The University of Maine. Applesauce bran muffins.

Snidely Whiplash. Rocking chairs. Thick soup. Fairbanks, Alaska. Oregano. Sharpies. Bobby Hull table-top hockey. Firefighters and first responders. Oprah Winfrey. Jeopardy!

Bus drivers. Welders. Crossword puzzles. Living indoors. Sunshine. Italian Ices. Angus King. The 1994 Butte Copper Kings. Fresh spinach. KC and the Sunshine Band.

Potable tap water. My three amazing children. Garlic. The Spinners. Haiku. The Red Cross. Multihued sunrises. Librarians. Mushrooms. Social workers.

Babbling brooks. Curbside trash pickup. Wavy potato chips. Boris Badenov. The New York Knicks (when Willis Reed was captain). Orange groves. Bigfoot-shaped air fresheners. Old baseball cards. Scenic overlooks. Bugs Bunny.

Short grain rice. Summer breezes. Islands in the Stream (the Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers version). Cloth shopping bags. SpongeBob. Letters from former students. Ball Four. Apple Pie. Ice Cream. Apple Pie Ice Cream.

Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Prosthetic hips. People with the same birthday as me. Bluefield, West Virginia. Pea picking. Schnecksville, Pennsylvania. Stewed tomatoes. The 1979-80 residents of UConn’s Lady Fenwick House. Sudoku puzzles. Pez dispensers.

My son’s vegetable stir fry. My mother’s spaghetti sauce. My mother-in-law’s ginger cake. My siblings. My cousins. Memories of my parents and grandparents. Phones that flash “Spam Risk” on nuisance calls. The Glory of Their Times. All my children’s teachers. Band-Aids.

The three-quarter-court shot I hit from the opposite foul line against the Atomic Moles. My older son’s soccer coaches. My daughter’s Taekwondo instructors. My younger son’s tennis coach. The men and women of the military. Surprise packages in the mailbox. Ocean State Job Lot. My Memorial University of Newfoundland backpack. Spring flowers. Extension ladders.

My 15-year-old-Pittsburgh Pirates pullover. My 30-year-old Raleigh IceCaps pullover. My 40-year-old UConn baseball pullover. The quilt my grandmother made for me, and that my sister rescued and repaired four-plus decades later. Warm winter days. Cool summer evenings. Crisp fall mornings. Disinfecting wipes. Living close to Canada. Guidance counselors.

Nature. Street hockey. Weird postcards. Upbeat waiters and/or waitresses. People who see the innate good in others and can look past their imperfections. Different color highlighters. Leaf rakers (as opposed to leaf blowers). Courteous drivers. Apple orchards. Bullwinkle.

My children’s friends. Baseball before designated hitters. Random kindnesses. Finding a quarter. Fredericton, New Brunswick. Coaches who know winning isn’t everything. Motels with free breakfasts. The Simpsons. People who say, “thank you.” Farmers.

Six hundred words a week to use however I please.

Discovering (yet again) that 600 words aren’t nearly enough to list everything I’m thankful for. <

Friday, November 17, 2023

Insight: Examining life and death

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

My wife and I recently watched a TED Talk on YouTube presented by author and hospice and palliative physician Dr. BJ Miller called “What really matters at the end of life” and we found it fascinating how he was able to convey that as death approaches, many people just want respect, love, and comfort.

Author and hospice physician Dr. BJ Miller is known for
his TED Talk 'What really matters at the end of life' and 
says his own near-death experience has helped him to
transform how he looks at life. COURTESY PHOTO
Miller himself faced death as a sophomore student at Princeton University when after a night out with friends, he climbed onto the roof of a parked shuttle train and was electrocuted by 11,000 volts of electricity. First responders saved his life, but through his injuries, he lost both his legs below the knees and half of his left arm.

He was inspired to heal and adapt by his mother, who was disabled and in a wheelchair after contracting polio as a child. Spending months recovering in the hospital’s burn unit, Miller had time to think about how his mother embraced life with her disability and how despite his own physical limitations, he too had something to offer that would transform his life.

During his TED talk, Miller said he believes that a disability is not something to be ashamed of, not something to overcome or to put behind you, rather, he said he found it to be something to work with and it led him to seek a career in medicine specializing in hospice and palliative care, which he described as easing the suffering from physical pain.

According to Miller, through his work and his own near-death experience, he has been able to recognize and distinguish two separate fears that people have regarding death. One is the fear of dying and having to endure the suffering and pain associated with that, and the other is the fear of being dead and missing their loved ones and how the world will continue without them.

He said that from realizing those two distinctions, he can help address each concern and it’s made him a better hospice and palliative care physician.

Back in 1998, I had been experiencing lower back pain for several months and had unexpectedly lost weight. Four different physicians were unable to pinpoint what was wrong with me. Then I had CT scan, and it discovered a suspicious spot on my lung. It was recommended that I make an appointment to see a surgeon.

I met with the surgeon in his office on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and after examining my scan results, he suggested I might have leukemia or some type of cancer and scheduled me for exploratory surgery the day after Christmas. It goes without saying that the holiday season that year was not very merry for me, and I felt like I had the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head.

After my exploratory operation, the surgeon informed me that I had a rare form of cancer. He had confirmed the results with the Mayo Clinic and recommended a course of treatment that included surgery and chemotherapy and said my odds of survival were 50-50. My thoughts while driving home from hearing that news turned out to be exactly what Dr. BJ Miller describes. I was fearful of the pain and suffering I would endure in treatment and wondered if this was indeed the end for me that I had accomplished very little in my life and I was unsure of what my purpose in living had been.

I spent many sleepless nights during my treatment reviewing my relationships with others, debating what I might have done differently and why this was happening to me. I came to accept that if I was going to die, that it was part of life and was my time to go. But I prayed that if I was to survive, I’d focus on being a better person and use my writing talent to tell stories that inspired others.

Miraculously, I survived, and within a few years, my life and career were back on track. Through personal experience, I can tell you that when you learn the end might be near, it’s not much of a fun and liberating time. The anticipation can be paralyzing and the stress of coping with it all can be utterly overwhelming.

Nowadays when I reflect on my health issues of 25 years ago, I am in awe that powerful medicine and some great physicians saved my life. It certainly gives me confidence to know I could have died but somehow didn’t. Because of that experience my outlook on life changed too. Some things that used to really get under my skin and bother me are now just trivial annoyances and not important in the greater scheme of things.

Dr. Miller’s TED Talk explores what's most important to people who are closer to death, and he lists those as personal comfort, feeling unburdened and not being a burden to those they love, finding existential peace, and living out your remaining days with a sense of wonderment and spirituality.

Those of us who have been given a second chance in life understand what he means. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all applied those attributes to our daily lives too?

Andy Young: Intro to mattress shopping

By Andy Young

I’ve long believed that everyone should sleep on the floor at least once a year. However, that’s not because I think it’s great for strengthening the spine, building character, or toughening up one’s personal resolve.

An annual “sleep on the floor night” would help folks more fully appreciate what they have, which in the case of nearly everyone reading this essay includes a roof over their head, hot and cold running water, and a reasonably comfortable mattress to sleep on. Few people fully appreciate the value of a pad which comfortably supports a reclining body in need of rest.

Until such time as none is available, that is.

Most people sleep on multiple mattresses, not all of which are ideal, during their lifetime. A 5-year-old’s optimal mattress becomes unsuitable as its user grows taller, wider, or both. And like other products, mattresses aren’t designed to last forever. I’ve slept on some for which the warranty, if one ever existed, had pretty clearly expired.

Some years ago, I traveled to Kenai, Alaska on business. There weren’t any available hotels there, but my resourceful, frugal employer took care of that by arranging for my colleagues and I to spend three nights sleeping in the local national guard armory, where the mattresses seemed to date back to World War II. It was impossible to recline on one without immediately rolling downhill into its center. At least they were bedbug-free, which isn’t always the case with cheap temporary accommodations.

However, in retrospect the most challenging thing about those aging mattresses was extricating ourselves from them in the morning. Several colleagues weighing over 200 pounds needed help from less-hefty team members to escape from the mattress-encased fissures they had sunken into overnight.

I recalled that adventure recently while sharing aching back stories with a similarly afflicted co-worker. She suggested trying a new mattress, and since the one I’d been sleeping on for the past three decades was looking a little threadbare, I decided to heed her advice.

I must have looked uncertain when I entered the showroom, because an enthusiastic salesperson who had evidently just finished her third Red Bull raced over, introduced herself, and began quizzing me on what type of mattress I was looking for. Did I prefer soft, medium, firm, Superfirm, or uber firm? Was I looking for an innerspring mattress? A hybrid? Memory Foam? Gel-infused foam? Latex?

The fawning clerk encouraged me to try out several different models. The problem: each one, from soft to Superfirm, just felt like a regular mattress to me.

I found one that seemed decent, but when she revealed the price ($2,300 plus tax), I felt my back begin acting up again. The bottom line: I didn’t make a purchase that day.

The following weekend I visited, on a whim, another furniture outlet. A friendly fellow quietly greeted me, asked me to let him know if I needed any help, and then left me alone. Twenty minutes later I bought a brand new, hopefully better-for-my-back mattress for less than a third of what the overzealous salesperson had wanted me to spend the week before. The low-pressure (and ultimately successful) merchant also suggested I write down how I slept each night, because, were I dissatisfied, I could exchange my new mattress for a model with a different firmness, as long as I did so within 30 days.

I sure hope this mattress works out, because more than a month has passed, and the sale is final. Unfortunately. I never did get to record how rested I felt each morning.

I kept falling asleep before I could write anything down. <

Friday, November 10, 2023

Joe Kellner: Hope for the future

By Joe Kellner

I am writing this as I wrap up my first ever campaign for an elected position in which I’m running for RSU 14 School Board. I am writing this prior to the election, but by the time this is published, it will be behind us with the outcomes likely known. I write to share some of my observations and hopes for the future.

Joe Kellner was elected Tuesday to a
three-year term on the RSU 14
Board of Directors.
These observations are mine and mine alone, shared not because I feel one iota superior to anyone else, but rather because I hope to start a dialogue. I felt compelled to write this after my experience campaigning where I spent a lot of time talking to individuals with hugely varying views and mindsets. I want to thank those that took the time to support my campaign – the unsolicited outpouring was truly moving. I also want to sincerely thank all those voters and community members that have taken the time to talk to me regardless of whether or not you chose to vote for me. Anyway, here goes:

When it comes to policymaking and government in our country, I believe we’re inherently structured for divisiveness and disagreement. We are poorly structured to accomplish anything truly meaningful. Of course, we do accomplish good things from time to time, but I often feel it happens despite ourselves. This is less true at the local level and becomes progressively more toward the national level. Where we see the best policy that tends to get made is in non-partisan bodies.

We predominately live in a two-party system. Each of these parties has a general core fundamental set of ideals and beliefs. More importantly when it comes to how policymakers get elected in partisan races, the parties come with vast sums of money. Candidates, in order to access these coffers, must generally get in line with what the party feels is the right “set” of principles and by declaring their ongoing allegiance. Success in a large race will often come down to “get in line” or “be irrelevant.” The money in politics, at its core, inhibits good policymaking and creates tremendous propensity to pick a polar side. This is why we almost never see strong and formidable independent candidates.

We, on the outside of this day-to-day reality, are profoundly influenced by this. The ads we see and the news we watch or read is often the result of incredible spending by groups that endorse candidates or support certain ideals, and seldom by those who would welcome compromise toward good policy that moves us forward. Our views and beliefs should be a-la-carte – in other words choosing those beliefs that we most align with based on our experiences and value systems - regardless of which party may support those ideals. One could, for example, support both universal healthcare and small government even though the “institution” tells you that’s a faux pas.

It's wild how much this has changed in the last 50 years. Presidential elections, for example, used to regularly be won by enormous margins in one direction or another (check out Reagan or Clinton round 1 as examples). We didn’t feel we had to always vote with our team and make decisions based on our own thoughts and values. What happened? In my opinion, vast sums of money and social media.

Our nation (and in many respects our community) has become disturbingly divided. We have picked sides. We have dug our heels in focusing on an opposing team mentality vs. a diverse group of mindsets coming together to find the common good. I also think social media has harmed us. It remains true that a Facebook comment debate changes few, if any, minds – you’re almost definitely wasting your time. The dopamine hit from that zinger of a good comment really serves to accomplish nothing positive in the long run. With respect to social media, if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product. Sure, it can be a good tool, but know its dangers and limitations.

I encourage you to take some time to turn off MSNBC or Fox News (or insert your favorite information sources here). Much like national politics, those are all about money, too. Getting you to keep watching and to feel something while doing it is how they get ratings – how the hosts get paid their millions upon millions. If you don’t want to do that, at least occasionally change the channel to the opposite one and truly listen. Try to understand how those that don’t think the same way as you are feeling. This will either help you better understand your own value set or maybe even shift your thinking on some beliefs you’ve held. With the degree of influence we encounter within our lives, it takes an active process to distill various pieces of information to form thoughts and opinions that are our own.

Through my work in healthcare, one of the key principles we employ is never judging a patient. We have no idea what they’re going through, and everyone is going through something. In our relatively short time on this Earth, a fact we have been unfortunately reminded of recently, let’s find time to be kind to one another. We have no idea what each other is going through or have experienced. As simple as this sounds, let’s talk to each other – have a real conversation – you may be surprised at what you learn. When you have that conversation, practice really listening, and do it with openness to being persuaded, the long-term benefit is clear. Also remember that while value sets may be different, and there are of course exceptions, the vast majority of people have truly good and sincere intentions.

I want to see us work together to do better. We can find common ground. We can make good policy. Asking good questions is far more productive than declaring strong opinions. Most importantly, we can re-learn to disagree respectfully and enjoy each other’s company while we grow and progress together.

I have no idea if, by the time you read this, I will be an elected official or just some guy that looks vaguely familiar at the supermarket. Regardless of that answer, I end with a question – will you join me? <