Breakfast Mutation

Once, I was a big breakfast person.  Mom was a charter member of the “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” cult, and she insisted on our having a “healthy breakfast” before we headed off to school.

In those days, a “health breakfast” meant a big bowl of Frosted Flakes, Captain Crunch, or Quake during the warmer months, and oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, or some other hot cereal — always with brown sugar, of course — and a glass of juice, and a glass of whole milk, and probably some toast with jelly, besides.  Fortified and carboloaded with our “healthy breakfasts” and bundled up against the morning chill, the Webner kids went out to wait for the school bus and take on the world.

But over the years, my tastes and breakfast interests mutated.  Some of it was due to speed; there just doesn’t seem like a lot of time in the morning to make a big breakfast.  Some of it was due to weight; at some point, large mixing bowls of sugary cereal suddenly didn’t seem like such a wise move from a belt size standpoint.  And some of it, frankly, was just a matter of taste.  I got to the point where I didn’t like the feeling of gobbling down a bunch of food first thing in the morning.  Restricting my intake to a cup of coffee and a small glass of orange juice left me feeling a bit lighter and less logy.  And I also figured that if I limited myself to a small breakfast, that would leave plenty of room on the calorie counter for a nice lunch.

Is breakfast “the most important meal of the day,” as Mom’s creed dictated?  Beats me!  Given the ever-changing “science” of human dietary needs and food pyramids, I doubt if anyone really knows.  These days, I pretty much just for go what makes me feel better.  I suppose if I was going out and waiting for the school bus in the chill morning air, then taking a loud, rattling, 45-minute, seat belt-free ride with a bunch of other rambunctious kids headed off to school and charged up by their own intake of sugary cereals I might feel differently.

Tale Of The Scale

Our place in Stonington, like many American households, has a bathroom scale.  It’s a small, square scale — which is a good thing, because the bathroom itself is not spacious and the scale has to be wedged into a pretty tiny space.

And this particular scale, like all bathroom scales I’ve ever owned, seems to chronically overstate weight.  Does anyone else have that experience?  Are bathroom scale manufacturers part of some shadowy conspiracy with junk food producers to disappoint Americans who are trying diligently to shed a few pounds and cause them to give up hope, forget the diet, and dive once again into that bag of pork rinds?

To be honest, I don’t really use bathroom scales.  If I’m feeling especially trim, I’ll step on one in hopes that the scale will confirm my optimism, but then I see that I weigh pretty much the same as I have for the past 15 years, shrug, and decide not to worry about the scale going forward.  When I made my one use of this particular scale this summer, I noticed that it goes up to 320 pounds.  320 pounds!  It’s hard for me to imagine a 300-pounder teetering on this puny scale, or the protests the scale might make if a 300-pounder actually tried.  But it turns out that the a 320-pound limit is on the low side for modern bathroom scales.  Amazon offers a number of scales that have a 440-pound capacity.  It’s hard for me to imagine that many people who might test that limit would be using a bathroom scale, but apparently that is the case.  

Bathroom scales have an interesting history.  They first came into popular culture in the early 1900s, when life insurance companies decided that heavier people tended to kick the bucket sooner, and began publishing tables that showed ideal weights for people of certain heights and then factoring that data into coverage decisions and calculating the premiums for policies.  Setting an “ideal” weight helped to fuel a broader focus on personal weight as a measure of both healthiness and attractiveness, and that meant people needed to start weighing themselves more regularly.  Because people worried about their weight weren’t all that keen about stepping onto the penny scales at the local emporium, in full view of the public at large and neighborhood busybodies, a market for a private means of weighing yourself was created, and the bathroom scale was invented to meet the demand. 

People who obsess about their weight have rued that day ever since.

Rutting Season

The other day we were talking to one of the locals.  Russell mentioned that on his recent hikes he’s seen more deer activity, and has had to be careful driving in the wooded areas of Deer Isle to avoid collisions with deer charging out of the underbrush.  The local nodded sagely and said, simply:  “rutting season.”

(Whenever somebody says anything involving a “season,” my mind automatically cycles to a classic Looney Tunes where Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny are ripping hunting posters off a telephone poll, arguing “Rabbit Season!” and “Duck Season!” with increasing vehemence, only to finally expose an “Elmer Season” poster.  But, I digress.)

In this part of Maine, “rutting season” is serious business, and as much a time of year as winter, spring, or summer.  It’s the period where hormones are surging in the whitetail deer population and the cervidae are feeling the overpowering urge to mate.  During the height of “the rut,” Mainers will see antlered male deer “sparring” in fields and clearing, fighting for the right to court a choice female deer.  And when the rutting season arrives in full force, you’ve really got to watch it in the woods or on the roads, to keep an eye out for crazed, wild-eyed deer crashing out of the trees, in the grip of raw biological forces that are totally beyond their control.  Licensed hunters–especially bow hunters, apparently–think rutting season is the best season of the year.

Interestingly, nobody is quite sure when the rutting season truly begins, and some of the more scientific sorts divide the period into “pre-rut,” “rut,” and “post-rut” subperiods, characterized by different deer activity like males leaving scrapes on trees and then “seeking,” “chasing,” and “tending.”  Apparently the onset of the rut is affected by the shorter days, and colder temperatures . . . and it has gotten a lot cooler up here lately.  I’ve noticed increased deer activity even in our neighborhood, with a lot more signs of deer messing with the plants–and changes in eating patterns evidently are another sign of the onset of rutting season.  If we’re not in the “pre-rut” phase, we’re getting close.

So, brace yourself!  “Rutting season” may be near upon us.  And now that we’re going to be dealing with it, I’ll never describe myself as “being in a rut” again.

Salt Intolerance

Do human taste buds and flavor tolerances change as human beings age?  Or are they just putting more salt — much, much more salt — into some foods these days?

I’m guessing it’s a little bit of both.  

I’ve definitely changed my application of salt to food as the years have gone by.  I used to reflexively salt things like cheeseburgers, steaks, eggs, and corn on the cob, but have long since stopped doing that.  These days, I rarely put salt on anything.  I’m a big fan of black pepper, and I like to apply seasonings like paprika and cayenne to give food an extra flavor kick.  But salt has moved to the back of the seasoning cabinet.

But I think it’s also true that many restaurants simply are a lot more liberal with their salting.  I’ve had to edit my list of restaurant foods because some orders are simply too salty to be enjoyed.  I’ve long since stopped getting carryout Chinese, because most places have so much sodium in their General Tso’s chicken that you kind of wonder whether the General was some kind of pathetic salt addict.  And McDonald’s fries are also at the verboten end of the salt spectrum.  Lately some pizzas also seem to be edging toward the forbidden zone.

Sometimes it’s just too tempting to try that piece of pizza, but I always end up deeply regretting it.  I find myself drinking glass after glass of water to make up for the salt intake, and I wake up at night feeling like every ounce of moisture has been sucked out of my body and you could use a straight razor to shave salt crystals off my tongue.  And then I vow that another food item must go onto the roster of banned items.  

This summer the GV Jogger generously got me a great t-shirt that says “Stay Salty.”  It refers to my personality, not my taste buds.

Into Refrigerator Magnet Territory

Yesterday I took the photograph above on my morning walk.  As I looked at the sky, I thought:  “Clear skies are nice, but clouds make the picture more interesting.”

And the combination of the picture and that saying made me think, inevitably, of refrigerator magnets. 

Mom was a big refrigerator magnet person.  Some of you, at least, are familiar with what I’m describing.  The magnets always had both a picture and a saying.  And usually the combination of the photograph and the saying was aiming for purported wisdom and vaguely aspirational notions, in the sense of accepting life’s challenges with a positive attitude and sense of resolve, or maintaining a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity.  An example might be a photo of a crew team rowing on the water, and the saying might be “we make better progress when we all pull together,” or something along those lines.

The picture above with the saying “clear skies are nice, but clouds make the picture more interesting” would be a classic refrigerator magnet of that genre.  Someone would look at it as they are getting ready to make their sandwich for today’s working remotely lunch, nod at its pseudo sagacity, and eat their lunch with a renewed sense of purpose.

At least, that’s the idea.

Where Autumn Comes Early

Today is August 31.  It’s viewed as the traditional last day of summer.  Mentally, we place June, July and August in the “summer” category, while September, October, and November are pegged into the “autumn” category.

Of course, not everyone agrees with this traditional cultural view of the seasons.  The scientists among us would point out respectfully that the fall equinox doesn’t actually arrive until September 22.  And in most parts of the country summer is still blazing on in full, shining force.  The high today in Columbus will be in the 80s, for example, and down in Austin, Texas they’re still dealing with absurd, extreme “fry an egg on the sidewalk” heat, with the thermometer topping 100 degrees.

Not so in Stonington.  Here, autumn seems to have come early.  The last few days the morning temperature has been around 50 degrees — which is a bit bracing, candidly — and from the wood smoke smell you can tell that some people are using their fireplaces already.  Our daily highs are now in the 60s.  Add in a hefty breeze when you take your night-time walk, and you’re definitely in long pants and windbreaker territory.  The leaves haven’t started to turn — yet — but there’s definitely that whiff of fall in the air.

For many of us, autumn is a favorite season, and in many parts of the country we bemoan its brevity.  Summer heat hangs on into October, autumn passes in the blink of an eye, and then we move directly into the winter doldrums.  It seems that things will be different in Maine, where fall’s early arrival suggests that it plans on staying for a while.

In short, if you like autumn, come to Maine.  And bring your sweater.

Another Reason To Make Your Bed

When you were a kid, your Mom probably reminded you — like, maybe a billion times — to make your bed.  Of course, your Mom wasn’t looking for army barracks/being able to bounce a quarter off the bed precision.  Her desires were simple:  when she walked past your bedroom, she was just hoping for a room that looked reasonably tidy.  If your Mom was like our Mom, when she reminded you — again — of the need to make your bed, she might have added that your bedroom looked “like a tornado hit it.”

It turns out that in this, as in so many things, your Mom was right — again.

A recent survey found that people who make their beds are more likely to report getting a good night’s sleep, and also are having more sex than the non-bedmakers — apparently because an unmade bed is a turn-off to many people.  Let’s set aside, for a moment, the issues of exactly how scientific the survey was, and let’s forget that second result, because this is, after all, a family blog.  Let’s focus, instead, on the notion that people who make their beds are more likely to report getting a good night’s sleep.

The survey result that a well-made bed equates with better sleep seems intuitively right to me, for several reasons.  First, I think beds that are made tend to be cooler.  “If your bed is made, the sheets are in the shade” — and I think most people sleep better when their surroundings are cool.  It’s the same reason people often flip the pillow to enjoy the cool underside.

Second, I think if you get into an unmade bed you’re going to spend the first few minutes trying to get the bed into some reasonable semblance of order, anyway.  While the members of the Made Bed Brigade have slipped between the sheets, enjoyed the cool cotton feel, and are slipping blissfully off to dreamland, the non-bedmakers are wrestling with the hot sheets and covers, trying to get them unsnarled so they can lie down in peace and comfort.  In effect, they are trying to make the bed while they are already in it.  Fussing with the bed, and getting out to tuck in the sheets or smooth the comforter, is not exactly the best way to start the process of falling asleep.

And third, most people tend to subconsciously crave order, and a made bed speaks of order.  The inner voice of your Mom has been obeyed, and you can feel good about checking one of the boxes for the chores to be done during the day.  And when you come back to the bedroom that night, your bed will look attractive and welcoming, rather than like — well, like a tornado hit it.

So, make your bed, already!  You’ll sleep better.  And who knows?  There might be other benefits, too.

Moxie Insistence

Kish found a bottle of Moxie — the legendary official soft drink of Maine — in one of the local grocery stores and brought it home for us to try. I can report the Moxie is actually quite good. In fact, I liked it a lot, from the very first sip. It’s like a bold, flavorful, no-holds-barred root beer with an unknown additional ingredient— like ginger, maybe? You’d expect Mainers to go for something that packs a wallop, and Moxie definitely delivers.

Plus, I love the label on the bottle. When a guy who looks like that insists you drink Moxie, you’d better listen to him.

The Bane Of The Reminders

We’ve been working remotely for a while now, and with the coronavirus refusing to go away peacefully and quietly, it looks like we’ll be working remotely for a while longer.  That means technology will continue to play a key role in our ability to earn our living, and on a regular basis, new programs and applications will be rolled out for us to use in the remote working space.  And then we’ll have to learn them, and figure out how to incorporate them into our work days.

I accept all of this — really, I do.  I’m grateful for the tech geeks and programs that have kept the ball rolling during the shutdown period.  But there’s one thing about these new software applications that really, really bugs me — the reminders.

Here’s what always happens.  The new application is rolled out.  You sign up for it . . . warily.  And then the onslaught of reminders begins.  At first the reminders are somewhat friendly, like “Hey, we’re glad you’ll be using McGuffin.  Learn how!”  But quickly they become increasingly insistent.  “The McGuffin will help you collaborate seamlessly.  You can be trained on it through this free webinar!”  “Follow this link to take your McGuffin training!”  “Don’t forget your McGuffin training!”  “Hey, buddy boy — nice little remote working arrangement you’ve got here.  Be a shame if something happened to it because you didn’t take the McGuffin training.”  (OK, that last one is a bit of an exaggeration.) 

And if you do take the training, the emails don’t stop.  “Please rate the McGuffin training.”  “We’ve made great new  improvements to McGuffin.  Click here to find out about them.”  “We noticed you haven’t been making full use of McGuffin.  We’re monitoring what you’re doing, in case you have any doubt about that.”  (OK, that last one is a bit of exaggeration, too.)

The constant nagging quickly reminds you that you are up against a soulless computer program that will never tire or falter in its relentless quest to get you to click on the links and complete the stupid training.  You can’t ignore it.  It will keep bugging you to do its bidding and filling up your inbox with totally unwanted reminders.  It’s like an annoying, whining kid constantly tugging at your pant leg and asking you to buy it an ice cream cone.  Its need for immediate attention and responsiveness on your part becomes unbearable.   

There’s probably some new application out there that could stop the never-ending flow of reminder statements.  But if I sign up for it, the whole process will start over again.

A Visit To The Shack

It’s been years since I’ve had my hair cut by anyone but the Platinum Stylist.  After a disastrous experience getting a hair cut on a Florida vacation several decades ago — when I emerged from the barber shop looking like a patient who’d gotten a bad buzz cut during a stay at a ’50s-era mental institution — I’ve learned that you should just find somebody who cuts your hair well, as the PS does, and stick with them.  So I do.

But the coronavirus affected that approach, as it has affected so many others.  After going three months without a haircut, I just couldn’t take my shagginess anymore.  And in Stonington, getting a hair and beard trim means going to one place — Suzy’s Scissor Shack, housed in a quaint little building on Main Street near the post office.  I walk past it every day on my morning jaunt.

In addition to being a real tongue-twister, Suzy’s Scissor Shack is strictly a one-chair affair, where you are tended to by Suzy herself.  I am happy to report that she did a great job of freeing me from all of those annoying long hairs and returning me to my customary reasonably professional look.  And while I sat we got a chance to chat a bit about everything from Stonington to lobstering to the issues involved with small businesses, like Suzy’s, trying to navigate through the red tape for the PPP loan program.  It was an educational half hour where I feel like a got a glimpse of what it’s like for a person to run a small business in modern times.

It feels very good to have lost the shagginess, thanks to Suzy’s deft clipping.  And now I know that, if I need a haircut up here, I can rest assured that I will be in good hands.

A Cat And His Kingdom

Our little corner of Stonington has a neighborhood cat. It’s a brown, very furry cat that looks somewhat like a raccoon. That’s him (or her, I’m not sure which), down there by the sprinkler, doing his basic prowling.

This cat cares not a whit for property boundaries or human social conventions. He goes where he pleases, does what he pleases, and routinely does the rounds of the ‘hood at his leisure. You’ll see him, out of the corner of your eye, strolling along the rocks by the creek or walking the fence line, and the next thing you know he is right next to you as you’re weeding, startling the crap out of you. At times he’ll appear outside the screen door of our place, peering in and meowing loudly, clearly offended that he isn’t allowed in at his whim. It’s exactly the same sense of expectation and entitlement a medieval lord would have if he showed up at the door of one of his peasants’ hovels.

In short, the cat really owns the neighborhood — we just live here.

Red Sky In Morning . . . .

My grandmother had a poetic saying for every occasion.  UJ and I spent a lot of time with her during our childhood, and heard every one of her sayings multiple times.  They’ve become part of my permanent mental landscape and simply pop into my head, unbidden, from time to time.

Like when I saw this morning’s sunrise, shown above, with its striking red sky.  It immediately made me think of one of Grandma’s weather-related favorites:

Red sky at night, sailors’ delight,

Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.

To my knowledge Grandma never lived in a coastal community.  She didn’t have any close friends or relatives who were mariners, and I don’t remember her telling us any stories about receiving instruction from a grizzled sailor about his rules of thumb on the weather.  She may have been on a boat once in a while on her travels, but being on the open water wasn’t a regular part of her life in land-locked Akron, Ohio. 

Nevertheless, as a kid I believed that Grandma knew what she was talking about.  But these days I’m not so sure.  This morning the lobster fleet chugged out of port as it always does, without batting an eye about that red sunrise.  And my weather app indicates its going to be sunny today, with a high in the mid-70s.  Could Grandma have been wrong?

Or maybe the warning to sailors was about sunburns.

Blockbuster Nostalgia

With the year 2020 being what it is — and we don’t need to belabor the point, do we? — can we expect to see an increase in nostalgia for years and things gone by?  Even things that, at the time, seemed like unexceptionable, even annoying, elements of our daily lives and routines, like, say . . . Blockbuster video stores?

exterior-hero-newsroomfeaturedThere is reportedly one — one! — remaining Blockbuster store in the United States.  Once a standard tenant in virtually every strip mall in every town in America, as overwhelming in sheer number as the immense clouds of passenger pigeons that formerly filled the skies of the Midwest as they flew by, Blockbuster video stores have followed the passenger pigeon into extinction.  The last of its kind is located in Bend, Oregon, where the local residents have apparently made a conscious effort to keep the store afloat.  I suppose there is a certain point of civic pride in having the last Blockbuster in your town.

And now the proprietor of the last Blockbuster wants to thank its supporters and give those who are interested a little up-close-and-personal taste of the ’90s video rental experience.  For a measly $4.00 — one penny more than a movie rental — you can rent the store and spend the night taking in every kitschy detail of the Blockbuster experience, from the familiar blue and gold ticket stub shaped sign on the wall, to the racks of movies and “new releases” in their sturdy plastic boxes, to the impulse purchase shelves groaning with supplies of candy, chips, and soda.

I guess I can understand the urge to immerse yourself in an earlier, pre-coronavirus experience, when no one wore masks and everyone handled the same plastic video containers without giving it a second thought, but spending the night in a Blockbuster store gorging on junk food, guzzling Mountain Dew, and watching Independence Day wouldn’t be my choice.  For too many years, my overwhelming emotion in walking into a Blockbuster was a brimming rage at having to pay late fees for some crappy Hollywood product — late fees that were totally avoidable if the person who rented the movie had just watched it and returned it promptly.  Even thinking about it now, years later, I feel a sour taste of that unique combination of anger, disgust, and embarrassment.

I guess I don’t need to spend the night in a Blockbuster to relive that sensation.  The scarring late fee experience will be with me, always.

The Great Puffin Photo Challenge

Yesterday we took a “puffin tour” — a boat ride that took us several miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. Our destination was Seal Island, where we hoped to find puffins, and seals, and any other marine creatures or birds that might care to drop by. It was a beautiful day and a very enjoyable ride. We saw puffins galore, lots of seals, cormorants, sun fish, and even a few porpoises.  One person on the boat claimed to see a whale in the distance, too.

But puffins, really, were the reason for the excursion.  Puffins are cute little birds that look somewhat like a cross between a penguin and a parrot.  But here’s the thing about puffins: they’re pretty much impossible for the amateur nature photographer to capture. They float and bob on the ocean water, looking simply like indistinct black spots on the sun-dappled waves, as the photo above reflects. The water shots therefore don’t exactly make for striking pictures.  And when the puffins decide to fly, they take off very fast, beating their wings as rapidly as hummingbirds, and stay low to the water, skimming its surface. They’re notoriously shy, too, and scatter when a boat gets too close — so no close-ups. You might take hundreds of photos and be lucky to find one, like the one below, that gives even a reasonably decent look at a puffin in flight.

Seals, too, aren’t exactly easy to photograph. Yesterday they were in the water, looking at us, rather than lounging on the rocks and inviting a photo shoot. And seal heads popping out of the water to gander at a boat basically look like more black spots on the waves. 

Fortunately, the cormorants of Seal Island were willing to perch on the rocks and give us a chance to take a snapshot. They were far away, and they may not be as cute as those adorable puffins, but at least they stand still.

The puffin tour was fun and interesting, and the whole experience gave me a new appreciation for National Geographic photographers.

The Lobster Pot

Last night we broke out our trusty lobster pot for the first time this year.  With guests in for a visit, we needed to properly welcome them to Maine with a traditional lobster dinner.

Pretty much every household in Maine has a lobster pot.  They get handed down from generation to generation, or passed along to new people who are moving into the area.  We got our pot using the latter method.  We bought it at an estate sale, which is about right:  Mainers typically won’t let go of a good lobster pot until the Grim Reaper gives them no say in the matter.

The lobster pot has one essential function:  to hold huge quantities of water, and lobsters, until the water can be brought to a boil and the lobsters properly cooked.  Our pot, which has the kind of size and industrial appearance you’d expect to see in a kitchen of an army base, serves its role admirably.  I have no idea how much water it holds, but it’s enough. 

An important part of the whole lobster preparation process is turning the stovetop burners to high and then patiently but expectantly waiting for those uncounted gallons of salty water to come to a boil so the cooking can really begin. 

You don’t watch the pot during that time period, of course.