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A whole hearted tail of sickness and love

When kids leave home for college, boot up for the military or take off for some other semblance of real life, everyone including the dog feels a little askew. For empty-nested single parents, such as myself, the dog becomes even more important than before. All kinds of age-old stuff unconsciously projected on the children shifts, changes a bit and becomes projected on the unsuspecting dog.4-18-14-oped-NL-dog

"Did you get enough to eat?" I ask Bad Dog (a.k.a. Lilly Belle), my 7-year-old yellow Lab. The dog looks at me as if to say, "I'm a big yellow Lab. Of course I didn't get enough to eat. Hey, why can't I lick the gooey brownie bowl like Number One used to do?"

"Are you warm enough? Do you need a bigger blanket?" I ask my canine kiddo. That time she looked at me like I'm crazy and I imagine her responding in the same rolling-of-the-eyes, impatient tone of voice often employed by my younger daughter. "Of course I'm warm enough. Isn't the fact I'm shedding a second carpet all over the house proof positive? And that nasty blanket you put on the bed for me to lie on? It's on the floor."

That sort of thing has been going on since the girls left home last fall but not just inside the house. Like lots of dog owners, I take the dog everywhere. I do it to "get her some fresh air," but also because I like it when someone willingly sings harmony in the car with me. The girls always put their ear buds in when I started crooning, so that has been a welcome addition while enjoying the new Springsteen CD. I've also adjusted my work schedule so I can be home to walk her most nights (not unlike putting a child to bed) and absolutely will not date anyone she won't give the sniff-over to at least twice. ladd-natalie-new-col

Bad Dog is a constant character in both of my columns and I only wish the expression "people and their dogs start to look alike" applied to us. She is after all, a beautiful strawberry blond with big brown eyes and super long eyelashes. She has a muscular (yet huggable) build and an attractive Lab gait as her tail sways from side-to-side when trotting down the sidewalk. Just like my other two daughters, she's stunningly beautiful without being stuck up. She's fun, sweet and everyone likes her. Technically she's a bitch but in reality, she isn't.

Having an actual birth date of 6-6-06, Number One likes to say the dog is poorly behaved for sure but is far too stupid to be the devil. My opinion about her level of intelligence is quite contrary as I believe she chooses her battles carefully. Like many animals, Bad Dog isn't bothered by the little things that are the fallout of thinking and behaving like a human. She doesn't overreact, read into situations or stir up drama. All of these factors and more contribute to why it was so shocking to find out how sick she really is.

For a few months, Bad Dog hasn't been herself. She's been lethargic and not overly eager to slip past me when the door is open. It seemed difficult for her to jump up onto the couch, which has always been such a guilty pleasure. Attributing it to the never-ending winter — when, selfishly, it was hard for get me to go outside and play — I thought she was just a bit bored like the rest of us. Then she started getting sick.

Without going into really gross graphic detail, I had the carpet cleaner guy here twice in three weeks and began wracking my brain trying to figure out which neighbor's thawing compost pile she'd been feasting on. Becoming sicker, she started acting more like a needy child than a frisky dog and stuck to me like Velcro. Like a small child, she couldn't talk and even though she never lost her appetite (as she pointed out, she is a Lab) I leaned on my mother's instincts and knew it wasn't good.

Picking that time as the right one to seek out a new vet, we met with Dr. Cady Lyons at Falmouth Veterinary Hospital. After three visits (equaling a full mortgage payment) we discovered through trial, error, testing and X-rays that Lilly has a "small liver." Although not born that way, Lyons explained the origin of that potentially life threatening problem isn't important since otherwise, she's in good form.

Between then and now, the dog had a rare side effect: an induced seizure (talk about scary) from not being able to process an injection. She has been put on prescription food and medicine and after searching pet pharmacies on the Internet, our best case scenario is around $300 a month. That doesn't include trips to the vet.

Likening my dog to a third child or not, the truth is I have two human daughters in college and simply cannot afford to feed and medicate her. I've written the companies that make the food and medicine requesting a scholarship of sorts and have explored recreating the food from scratch. While there are recipes out there, even the most holistic of vets agree the liver is nothing to mess with and the diet she's been prescribed is the best to ensure she gets all the nutrients, minerals and supplements she needs. I've started a "Bad Dog help! WOOF" GoFundMe account (www.gofundme.com/8es5ko) account, and I am looking for stuff to sell on eBay. The bottom line is I am floored at how much this dog has filled a whole hearted hole left vacant by the girls leaving home. Her sickness is devastating.

One of the biggest fears around being single and empty nested is the reality of suddenly being alone, not being needed and having no one to shower with love and affection (do not confuse that with a request for money disguised as a loving phone call). The fear of losing Bad Dog before her natural time compounds that sensation infinitely.

But guess what? There is a silver lining because friends and family have rallied around Bad Dog and me in droves so far. A colleague offered up her outstanding artwork to auction off for the cause. My California crazy ex immediately sent a chunk of cash, and my daughter's boyfriend (who ever said I didn't like the guy?) donated $20. People are crawling out of the woodwork and my embarrassment at having to reach out now feels like a brave, smart and healthy thing.

Bad Dog and I may be going it solo but we definitely aren't alone. I'll keep you posted on her progress. She's already feeling better because I just found her asleep on Number One's bed, which is even more off limits than the already hairy green couch.

NOTE: Last week's column was supposed to be the third part of "The Work," which was a series about prolonging the facial aging process via dermal fillers and Botox, and the mystique surrounding them. Four local women were going to share their experiences firsthand and opted out at the last minute for "personal reasons." Many thanks to Dr. Matthew Steuer (Facial Cosmetic and Oral Surgery Center) at Dental Specialists of Maine for his assistance with the series.

(Natalie Ladd is a staff columnist for The Portland Daily Sun who has spent the last two decades becoming empty nested. Although blindsided by the ordeal until her youngest graduated from high school, she is pleased to address all-and-any empty nested considerations, no matter how random they may be. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

Last Updated on Friday, 18 April 2014 01:25

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Hobo News

Apologies to The Portland Daily Sun, but I've got a new favorite local publication.

It's not one that many have heard of, and although it's filled with typos and it doesn't cover any of the stories that you'll find in a traditional newspaper, there are important and lasting messages within its pages. shorr-chris

Portland, allow me to introduce you to "Hobo News" — the brainchild of local activist Matt Coffey.

Coffey, 35, is homeless, but he doesn't let that stop him from using his voice:

• He was one of the outspoken "Occupiers" a few years back who helped call attention to the income inequalities and wealth disparities plaguing our society.

• His struggle for survival on the streets (and in the woods) of Portland has been documented by several local news outlets in the past few years including The Portland Press Herald, The Bangor Daily News, the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, and WGME news channel 13.

• He led the march down Congress Street last September from Congress Square Park to the steps of City Hall in protest of the sale of the park to Rockbridge Capital.4-18-14-oped-CS-hobo-news

• He even attempted to get on the ballot for the same at-large City Council race that I ran unsuccessfully for this past fall against Jill Duson.

He fell about 20 valid signatures shy of the 300 needed for inclusion on the ballot. I can speak from firsthand experience that collecting signatures is hard, often humbling work.

I saw Coffey collecting signatures at some of the same events as me such as the Art Walk in August. I was having pretty good luck at the popular Portland event, collecting about a signature every couple of minutes. Coffey was having a harder time of it — people were refusing to sign his forms, taking wide berths around him to avoid being asked, one woman even proclaimed loudly enough for me to hear from across the street, "No, I will not sign your paper, you smell terrible. You're frightening everyone!"

Coffey shrugged off the woman's heartless comments and continued smiling and asking for signatures.

Even though he would have been running for the same seat as me, I was disappointed when I found out that he hadn't collected enough to make the ballot. It would have been incredible to see him with a chance to voice his opinions and spread awareness for the struggle of the homeless through the (temporarily) elevated platform that being a city council candidate provides. He told me not to worry about it, "this isn't the last you've heard from me," he promised.

So when I saw him at Monument Square passing out papers during the lunch rush last week I stopped what I was doing and walked over to him to see how he's been and what he was up to.

After the usual "Hey, dude, how's it been goin'?" he handed me a copy and told me a little about Hobo News: "Everything in here is written by me and other homeless people. I want to get more folks involved, it's all about spreading awareness."

On the cover a donation of $1 is suggested beneath a description of the paper's mission:

"This paper is written, distributed and printed by the homeless. All proceeds go directly to those who worked on its distribution. This is an attempt to get our ideas and experiences out into the public conscience so that we may be represented and empowered as a vital part of this and any community."

The edition I received is listed as the paper's second volume. It contains several gritty human interest pieces (one of them is handwritten and photocopied), as well as poetry, artwork, a crossword puzzle, a list of free events at local places like Preble Street Resource Center and Congress Square Park, and even an advice column providing help for things like suicide prevention, escape from abuse, and tips for getting off the streets and into housing.

After getting his permission to write this story, and coupling multiple exclamations of how pumped I am that he's doing this with high fives and fist pumps, we said goodbye. I walked to my car, hopped in, and flipped through the paper to read some of the articles.

One writer, who only uses her first name of Christina, tells the story of how she wound up homeless in Maine in a piece titled, "My Life":

"Relationship problems with my ex. Money got hard. Unloving, relationship. One day he woke up and said he couldn't take care of us both. Rent got three months behind, so he told me I'm sending you on a bus back to Maine and I am going back to Michigan to live with my mom. So I packed up my stuff and I took a rough 3 day bus back to Maine from Nebraska. And here I am, in Maine and homeless."

In another piece titled "Happiness is ...", written by Coffey, he writes:

"Happiness is not just an emotion, I think it's a frame of mind. I believe that one can choose to be happy and that you can despite your circumstances rise above and decide I am not going to allow my current situation to dictate my mood. Sure I am homeless, but I have a home. I am poor in monetary means, but rich in spirit."

"Too many times as a society I think we look upon what we do not have instead of what we do, the glass being half empty, half full syndrome. Both statements are in fact true, but I think most would agree it is better in terms of happiness to look upon the latter like Shakespeare said, "It is best to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all."

"For instance, my wife Holly committed suicide and it pains me that she's dead but she did live and she did for a time make my life and everyone else's around her lives that much better for having known her. I think much of life is perspective and this is the best way perhaps to overcome our sadness is to look for the joy no matter how hard it is hiding."

After reading this I quietly put down the paper and started the car in a daze. I imagined the fear and hopelessness that Christina must have felt on that long bus ride from Nebraska. I pictured the agony and heartache that Coffey must be dealing with in the wake of his wife's suicide.

As I headed home to an apartment that I complain about for being too small, in a car that I complain about for being too old, with money in my pocket earned at a job that I complain about for being too hard — I passed back by Monument Square.

Matt Coffey stood there peddling his newspapers. Some people refused to acknowledge him, some people took a wide berth around the statue to avoid him, some people even sneered at him to go away, but it didn't matter to Coffey. He just kept on with a focused gaze and a stubborn smile, knowing that for every person who reads Hobo News another light is turned on in the dark dungeons of stigmatization.

If you see a copy floating around town, give it a read. You'll be happy that you did, you might even learn something about the world and about yourself.

I know I did.

(Chris Shorr is a lifelong Portlander who works on a lobster boat, advocates for the marginalized and downtrodden, and occasionally ruffles feathers in City Hall and Augusta. He blogs at tides.bangordailynews.com and writes this column for the Weekend Edition of The Portland Daily Sun. Contact Chris by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)


Last Updated on Friday, 18 April 2014 01:25

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The frozen time of tragedies

A year already? Boy, that went quickly.
Or not.
Iconic tragedies like last year's Boston Marathon bombing can wreak havoc on that whole space-time continuum thing. They begin by freezing the time when you first learned of the event, and that was true for adults hearing about the Kennedy assassination or when 9/11 happened or watching Katrina play out across our screens. robinson-curtis-new
But then the iconic events quickly become more personalized than our Internet marketing profiles.
Those of us with children might remember that 8-year-old and that "peace" photo taken just before he was killed watching runners cross the finish line. Others recall different victims, like the dancer who lost a leg.
Since I'm in media, I also tend to recall that horrific Rolling Stone cover with the surviving suspect dolled up like the second coming of Jim Morrison — that story actually reported that "...Wick Sloane, an education advocate and a local community-college professor, sees this as a widespread condition among many young immigrants who pass through his classrooms. 'All of these kids are grateful to be in the United States. But it's the usual thing: Is this the land of opportunity or isn't it? When I look at what they've been through, and how they are screwed by federal policies from the moment they turn around, I don't understand why all of them aren't angrier. I'm actually kind of surprised it's taken so long for one of these kids to set off a bomb.'"
Say what?
See, that's another reason noting anniversaries of such things remains important: they refresh our outrage.
Eventually, the "space" of space-time helps determine how relatively fast or slow tragedy moves in the rear-view mirror. The closer you are, the slower things get — I imagine the last year in rehab may have gone slowly for the hundreds of injured.
It goes beyond direct victims and, while newcomers to New England naturally have their cultural links with Boston, if only as one of the cities where people thought up a new country "of the people," it's a different space-time ratio for natives.
For them, those blood-soaked streets were more personal, closer to childhood memories or home to favorite places. To those memories, they have to add death and terror.
Remember how they locked down Boston that day?
It won't be that bad, but this year's race brings about 36,000 runners, up from last year's 27,000, say organizers. They are doubling the number of police officers, saying 3,500 cops will be on hand, along with a hundred or so additional security cameras, bomb-sniffing dogs and all the rest.
There will also be new rules. For example, containers with more than 1 liter of liquid are banned, as are "costumes covering the face" and the wearing of "bulky clothes," and flags or signs bigger than 11 inches x 17 inches are also banned from marathon "venues" like the finishing area.
Still, as a policy spokesperson said, "In this world, you never eliminate risk; you never bring it down to zero." That seemed true enough when an apparently mentally ill 25-year-old man visited the finishing line with a backpack last week.
It was a reminder that "owning the finish line" is one thing, but policing 26 miles of marathon course is another. It's also a reminder that the space-time of tragedy may speed up or slow down, but it never really lets us go back.


Local race to benefit Boston bomb victims
If you want to note the Boston Marathon bombing one-year anniversary locally, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine's Alumni Association is celebrating its 85th annual Patriots Day 5-Miler on Monday and donating part of the proceeds to The One Fund, the nonprofit set up to honor the bombing victims.
The race, considered one of the region's longest-running runs and perhaps second only to Boston's in terms of longevity, is usually held on a Sunday but was moved to Monday this year. It is a fundraiser for the Club, but organizers say this year that at least $1,000 will go to the Boston efforts.
Officials say this year's event will feature more than 400 runners along a five-mile loop from the downtown Portland Boys & Girls Club around Baxter Boulevard. That begins at noon Monday.
There's also the annual "Kids' Fun Run" at 11 a.m. and anyone under age 18 who runs the 5-miler receives a free one-year membership to Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine (locations include Portland, South Portland and Auburn).

(Curtis Robinson is the founding editor of The Portland Daily Sun.)


Last Updated on Friday, 18 April 2014 01:25

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Reform Congress with populist pensions

In the never-ending salvos fired between the legislative and executive branches over budget cutting and our nation's debt ceiling, President Barack Obama once proclaimed all government spending "on the table." But putting aside the separate and considerable deliberation on tax hikes and how they relate to deficit reduction and unemployment, a good place for our leaders to start would be with their own benefits. Halkias-Telly

Consider this for a moment: In full disclosure, my military service qualified me to receive veteran's benefits. As the years pass, many have eroded. According to the Department of Defense, more cuts are on the way as part of the endless Beltway belt-tightening. Just recently the proposed reductions to military retiree COLAs sparked a national firestorm, causing Congress to take a step back, almost on its heels.

Something isn't quite right when, as a nation, we chip away at the promises we make to veterans. We woo them as young recruits, and then continue to re-enlist them with varying incentives. The sense of having the rug pulled out from under one's feet comes to mind, particularly in light of the past decade of multiple combat deployments to the Middle East.

This is also exacerbated by the fact that only the highest ranking generals make close to the base salary of a Congressman or Senator ($174,000), not to mention the millions apportioned annually to each member in operating expenses and allowances. So the earnings, as well as savings, of a veteran over a minimum 20 year career is far less than that of any member of Congress.

On face value, that's fine. Congress has long been criticized for voting itself raises even in the toughest of economic times, but let's grant them that doing the nation's business is momentous work that commands such action.

Yet in the middle of what now seems to be the annual ritual of a debt crisis, it would be a fitting matter of leadership and principle to see even a token debate on scaling back Congressional pensions, which are not tied to the Social Security system.

Why pensions, even symbolically?

For starters, one of the three tiers of benefits allows a representative or senator a pension at age 62 after only five years of service. (The other two programs: 50 years old with 20 years of service, and 25 years of service at any age — all pretty good deals.)

To be sure, no one is getting rich on these stipends. The amount of a congressman's pension depends on the years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of these retirement annuities may not exceed 80 percent of final pay.

It doesn't take a class warrior to demagogue that issue into a painful place for our nation's leaders. Everyday people wonder about it. While many private retirement systems have vesting timetables, and five years is not uncommon, it's virtually impossible to find even one taxpayer funded system that hands over annuities — at any age — based on just five years of employment.

Let's not forget that members of Congress have considerable marketing cachet and career opportunities when their legislative days are done. Most of this influence comes from association with the office, not necessarily any measure of success or failure while occupying it.

Residual income potential comes from many lucrative corners: News analysts. Speaking engagements. Book deals. Professorships. The same can't be said, though, of a Marine Corps gunnery sergeant.

To be fair, there are a few members who refuse to participate in the Congressional retirement system, and also (unsuccessfully) vote down pay raises. And we should not begrudge anyone in America their just desserts — it just doesn't seem kosher to approve your own increases using someone else's money (read: ours).

Also, for those who would claim that monetarily this move amounts to a grain of sugar in a pot of coffee, they would be correct. But sometimes you don't need to sweeten the drink heavily; rather, just show the willingness to do so.

Billionaire Warren Buffet has famously developed a list of Congressional reforms he feels would totally break the careerist mindset so steeped in the House and Senate. At the heart of those proposals are term limits and, yes, compensation reform, starting with pensions.

When the citizenry's work is at hand, even a gesture toward a more populist pension would be welcome. As a sign of leadership, it goes a long way in restoring faith and hope with the shrinking middle class.

Those aren't just buzzwords. Neither is "sacrifice," another term we hear quite a bit, but rarely see demonstrated from the halls of our federal government.

(Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist from Portland's West End. You may contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or follow him on Twitter at @TellyHalkias.)

Last Updated on Friday, 18 April 2014 01:26

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'Star Wars' worlds

There's an adage, though not particularly old: "Today's science fiction is tomorrow's science fact and the next day's obsolete technology." Some people call it a dance. Unromantic people refer to it as a marriage: the fecund blend of a fiction writer's fervent imagination and a scientist's extensive knowledge. If it can be conceived, it can be built. (Just look at the teleportation pods that are now even commonplace in rural airports.)

We bear this notion in mind as we address your intriguing question: Can the "Star Wars" worlds exist in reality? We know that myriad exotic worlds populate the "Star Wars" Universe, and therefore we must be selective in our search.

HOTH: The ice world
Ice-covered worlds certainly do exist in reality. Our solar system consists of a few moons and Plutoids that are frigid, ice-shrouded spheres. Enceladus, Pluto, Europa (Jovian moon) are local examples. Provided a planet is far enough away from its star, it can be little more than a rocky core enveloped in deep ice. Hoths are out there.

TATOOINE: the desert circumbinary planet
Well, first of all, astronomers have located circumbinary planets already. These planets have established orbits within binary star systems. The first such planet was found in 2003 within the Globular Cluster M4. However, this binary system consists of a millisecond pulsar and a white dwarf. This planet a bloated gas giant that is unlikely to harbor life.

In 2005, astronomers did find a circumbinary planet around in an actual star system — HD 202206. This system contains an active star and a brown dwarf. Yet, again, though, the planet is more massive than Jupiter. Others have been found since and the current total of confirmed circumbinary stars is 18. So, planets do exist around binary stars. They will either be in orbit around one of the two stars or, perhaps, travel along a figure eight orbit between them. None of these CB's have been found to be deserts, however.
We know that desert planets exist, of course, as Mars is essentially a desert planet, Its surface is arid: no oceans, or any oasis of any kind. Dormant volcano cones protrude from its terrain and canyons criss cross its plains. So, we know of circumbinaries and we know of desert worlds. Perhaps out in this galaxy somewhere exists a desert circumbinary: an actual Tatooine! If so, let's hope it doesn't have a Sarlaac pit that slowly digests its victims over a thousand years. Damn!

DAGOBAH: the swamp world
It's strange. Years ago, many astronomers believed that Venus was like Dagobah. They knew that Venus was close to the Sun and cloud covered. Therefore, they reasoned that it must have had a tropical climate from pole to pole. A verdant globe where flora proliferated in the constant heat and humidity. Alas, this supposition was woefully incorrect. Venus is a hell world where torrential sulfuric acid rains pour down into a surface baked in 900-degree heat. The exoplanet search has not yet turned up any swamp planets, although we have found a furiously hot planet where iron falls as rains and actually forms a dense fog.

Swamp worlds could exist provided they have the right conditions. Stores of heat so it's warm from pole to pole. Prodigious amounts of water, in streams, lakes and rivers. Granted, according to botanists, you just can't have rain and clouds. The photosynthetic process requires an abundance of solar energy. If your swamp world cloud banks won't even permit a little starlight to penetrate, your eco-system won't even get off the ground. Ha ha! (MB, I want you to share that joke with all your friends and give the credit to the Jordan Planetarium in Orono.)

A wholly urbanized planet! Well, we only have Earth as an example. According to recent UN estimates, urban areas comprise about 4 percent of the planet's surface. While other UN reports indicate that the majority of the planet's humans will reside in cities by 2050, the actual land area occupied by cities will likely not exceed 10 percent. The issue is food. Sustaining mega-cities requires a great deal of agriculture and, by extension, quite a deal of land. That having been said, of course, countries like South Korea are planning "smart cities," in which skyscraper-top gardens and other hydroponic centers can furnish city dwellers with some of the nutrients that the country once provided.

Perhaps as our technology evolves, we'll develop the ability to build self-sustaining cities. This would be the only type of city that could cover an entire planet. Having a planet that is steel, girder and asphalt from pole to pole is a nifty idea, especially in places like Maine where everybody hates the environment.

I know you didn't ask about it, but we wanted to mention it. Awhile ago, some people started a White House petition to construct an actual death star. (Note for those who are really bored — the White House is obligated to address any petition that garners at least 25,000 signatures.) This petition drive found enough signatories to elicit a response from the President, himself, who opposed the notion of a Death Star. Though it would employ every single human being alive today and at least three trillion not yet conceived, the $115 Quadrillion trillion price tag was a mite steep. Chicken.

As we explore our galaxy, we're likely to find many of the planets one encounters in the "Star Wars" Universe. And, if there is an actual Death Star, it will likely find us.

(Edward Gleason is an astronomer and manager since 1999 of the Southworth Planetarium in Portland. He also was employed at the Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium in Orono. Gleason writes the daily e-mail article, “The Daily Astronomer.” Visit http://usm.maine.edu/planet for more about the planetarium.)

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 00:27

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