Written by Natalie Ladd
Along with the holiday season comes the first noteworthy winter storm. The one where people say, "Oh My God! It's a skating rink out there. It is so nasty!" That, while they're sitting at the bar or a cozy table as if somehow Scotty beamed to me work and I didn't have to deal with the lunatics on the road as well. The first storm of the 2013/2014 season was underway, and what an eventful night at the restaurant it was.
Bigger groups consisting of work cohorts and couples make up the bulk of reservations this time of year for holiday gatherings. The recent stormy evening served as a makeup date for those who missed the ugly sweater party and arrived 20 minutes late "due to the weather" without calling us. Then, they complained they wouldn't make curtain for the "Nutcracker" because we gave their table away and our kitchen was so slow anyway. Calling it the "Ballbuster," one guy whispered, half-jokingly, he'd give me $50 if I stalled their food even longer once they were seated. His wife heard him and reached over to smack him on the arm and spilled her drink on the mega-sparkly woman standing next to her. The mega-sparkly woman was already upset as she and her husband had been the only ones to arrive on the dot. And that was just one party.
Also in the house was a group of teachers who had so many little Yankee swap gift bags and goodie boxes there wasn't enough room to put their glasses of "house white zinfandel," salads and entrees on the table. Even though the roads were becoming treacherous, we were fully committed with reservations and the teachers wanted to put their gift booty on a temporarily empty table next to them. (Maybe it's just me, but doesn't it seem like Yankee swaps take forever and ever?) As I was schlepping their schwag to the office for safe keeping, it was a given their table wouldn't be turned over quickly. Even though I was scheduled to be cut first, I knew I'd be what we call, "LTL — Last Table Lucy," with that group of merry makers.
Seated at the coveted window table were two couples who started arguing over who was going to pay the check well before their bottle of wine was cracked. While not uncommon in and of itself, tonight it was the women who were going at it. Come to find out, they both had Portland Dine Around cards, which expire at the end of the month and each wanted to be the one to utilize theirs. The Portland Dine Around people do a nice job smacking down the rules (one card per table, automatic gratuity, not valid with other offers and specials), but I thought it would be accommodating to offer to split their check (and the whole universe knows how I feel about that) allowing them to use both cards. Thinking I'd be splitting the bill evenly down the middle, I shouldn't have been surprised when the pens came out and it was scrutinized closer than Bernie Madoff's financials.
Another sign the holiday season is in full swing is the request for gift cards at the most inopportune times. That is part of the festive process in all retail-like businesses, peaking in the inconvenience factor (for the buyer and seller) as Santa's big day draws closer. Gift cards and certificates make up a huge chunk of business in January and February, giving the restaurant a nice end-of-the-year cash infusion and guaranteeing warm bodies in the aftermath.
As much of an in-the-moment pain gift cards can be to ring up, I long for the days when corporate purse strings weren't so tight. Many of us remember when pharmaceutical reps had to "use or lose" their educational/entertainment budgets. Those legal drug pushers were known to buy mass quantities of gift certificates and statistics show that 20 percent of them were never redeemed.
The first inclement weather of the season had the phone ringing off the hook asking if we would sell gift cards over the phone and mail them out. We took a few phone numbers promising to call back when we weren't in the middle of service (people were pleased with that), but one woman was nice, if not frantically insistent. "I only live a few miles away, but I need it soon and really don't want to go out in this mess if I don't have to," she said. "I know it's a lot to ask but do you think someone could drop it in the mail tonight?" She didn't want to drive but wanted one of us to somehow get to a mailbox ASAP? We all shook our heads, but business is business and who knows her situation. 'Tis the season.
The highlight of the evening was an unexpected visit from Bob and Sheila, a recently reunited couple who consider the restaurant "their place." Agreeing to take the relationship slowly, the couple is dating again (adorable!) and were touched by a letter Steve DiMillo sent the paper wishing them well after reading their tale ("A regular love story," Nov. 26, 2013). They had planned to spend the evening picking out a Christmas tree for Bob's new apartment but the weather persuaded them otherwise. "Take care out there," Bob said. "People are driving like jerks."
The Down Low: My friend Kozetta Zere, and her husband, Mike, have quietly purchased the old Jake's Place/Wake N' Bake Cafe on 302 in Westbrook. Changes will be coming slowly but Kozetta is already making lamb and chicken gyros served with hand-cut fries and plans to expand the menu to showcase some of her best Albanian-Greek family recipes. A custom brick oven is on the way for pizza as Mike has an extensive background in both the business and the craft. Breakfast is still as rocking as ever and a new sign (saying "Kozetta's" of course) will be up soon. Please show these small, local business owners your support.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 December 2013 02:36
Written by James Howard Kunstler
"Federal Reserve officials are closer to winding down their controversial $85 billion-a-month bond-purchase program, possibly as early as December, in the wake of Friday's encouraging jobs report."
That from the much-deservedly maligned John Hilsenrath, widely regarded to be the Federal Reserve's ventrioloquist dummy over at the Wall Street Journal, as in, from God's mouth to the jittery multitudes. Of course the jobs number was just another highly seasoned and over-leavened cupcake from the Bureau of Labor Statistic's magic hedonic oven, so you can be sure that the predicate of that statement is ... how to put it delicately ... the latest arrant lie with hypothetical icing on top.
Everybody knows that the Federal Reserve's money-pumping operations have become a replacement for what used to be an economy. Therefore, no more money pumping = no more so-called economy. It's that simple. But it doesn't mean that the Federal Reserve won't make a gesture and I wouldn't be surprised if they try it during the season that Santa Claus hovers over the national consciousness — or what little of that remains when you subtract the methedrine, the Kanye downloads, the fear of an $11,000 bill for an emergency room visit requiring three stitches, and all the other epic distractions of our time.
The next meeting of the Fed's Open Market Committee (FOMC), where such things as taper-or-not are considered, is Dec. 17. The Fed has to make some kind of gesture to retain any credibility, so I suspect they'll go for a symbolic shaving of five or ten billion a month off the current official bond-buying operation number of $85 billion a month (or $1.2 trillion a year). If they don't do it, no one will ever believe them again. I call it the "head-fake" taper, because it is essentially a false move.
The catch is that the Fed has more than one back door for vacuuming up all sorts of other miscellaneous financial trash paper securitized by promises already broken, moldy sheet-rock housing, college loans defaulted on, car payments that stopped arriving eighteen months ago, credit cards maxed to oblivion, sovereign foreign economies visibly whirling down the drain, and untold casino bet derivative hedges. Loose talk has it that the Fed is buying up way more dodgy debt than the official number of $85 billion a month. And why not? They bailed out way more than the $700 billion official TARP figure back in 2009 — everything from insolvent European banks to Floridian motels on the REO junk-pile — so nobody should take any particular taper number seriously. They'll just backfill as necessary.
But even in a world of seemingly no consequence, things happen. One pretty sure thing is rising interest rates, especially when, at the same time as a head-fake taper, foreigners send a torrent of US Treasury paper back to the redemption window. This paper is what other nations, especially in Asia, have been trading to hose up hard assets, including gold and real estate, around the world, and the traders of last resort — the chumps who took U.S. T bonds for boatloads of copper ore or cocoa pods — now have nowhere else to go. China alone announced very loudly last month that U.S. Treasury debt paper was giving them a migraine and they were done buying anymore of it. Japan is in a financial psychotic delirium scarfing up its own debt paper to infinity. Who's left out there? Burkina Faso and the Kyrgystan Cobblers' Union Pension Fund? The interest rate on the U.S. 10-year bond is close to bumping up on the ominous 3.0 percent level again. Apart from the effect on car and house loans, readers have pointed out to dim-little-me that the real action will be around the interest rate swaps. Last time this happened, in late summer, the too-big-to-fail banks wobbled from their losses on these bets, providing a glimpse into the aperture of a black hole compressive deflation where cascading chains of unmet promises blow financial systems past the event horizon of universal default and paralysis where money stops moving anywhere and people must seriously reevaluate what money actually is.
I think we'll see them try the head-fake taper. They must. It will be backstopped by and saturated in statistical lying, and everyone will have trouble parsing the probable effect because the chronic dishonesty loose in this land will have deformed and impaired all metrics of true value. At the heart of whatever remains of this economy is fire, and the officers of the Federal Reserve are playing with it. Pretty soon, we'll get the un-taper, the final surrender to the crack-up boom that awaits before the western world has to go medieval.
Last Updated on Monday, 09 December 2013 21:53
Written by Robert Libby
Since hearing of Nelson Mandela's death, I have been thinking about his place in society. The extraordinary lessons of his life, his journey, the experiences that he forced us to confront are profound.
To be lifted from the primitive subsistence village of his youth and given the opportunity of education and responding with a remarkable spirit to each challenge in his path provide a template for the potential of humanity. He is rightly honored as the father of his country, the equal of George Washington or Mahatma Gandhi in the struggle of native people against colonialism. He is correctly remembered with Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. for his dedication to the ideal of nonviolent resistance in the face of overwhelming discrimination and denial of fundamental human rights. Mandela's life journey is a message to us all, a model of what can be accomplished by an individual that refuses to be subdued by threats or privations.
It is the cynics and the most bitter among us that would tarnish that life by naming Mandela a terrorist and a communist that deserved imprisonment. It is a hating mind that would tolerate apartheid and the subjugation of the native people by a colonial empire perhaps in the interest of economic stability. Property interest in opposition to fundamental human dignity is fundamental injustice. Many of those haters ignore that the historical Jesus was called a subversive by a colonial power and crucified for his political action.
Assessing the impact of Mandela's life, one must be impressed by the humility of circumstance from which he rose. Washington represented the most privileged stratum of colonial life, Gandhi, the highest caste of an ancient society, even King was a member of a gentry in a segregated society. When Mandela refused the advantages of compromise and chose the independent path to pursue his education, the seeds of his individual integrity were sown. Even when imprisoned for 27 years for opposing colonial degradation of his race, he managed to continue his education in the rule of law, in a philosophy of justice.
Most notably when he was finally released from prison after overwhelming international demand for an end to the apartheid system, Mandela had become wise enough to resist retribution and include the former ruling class in the future of South Africa. Studying the ideas gleaned from the speeches of Nelson Mandela focuses on a single brief statement: "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite." This is the legacy of Nelson Mandela that we must focus upon and use as a guiding principle as we go forward.
(One Man's Island columnist Robert Libby of Chebeague Island is a teacher, writer, organic gardener, executive director of the Maine Center for Civic Education.)
Last Updated on Monday, 09 December 2013 21:54
Written by Natalie Ladd
Leading by example is one of the top three "to-do's," in almost every parenting survival guide. We all know it, but the expression, "Do as I say, not as I do," has gone through the minds (if not the mouths) of every parent who ever existed. We've all had those minor moments where we profess social/moral/ethical correctness but, because we're human, may occasionally exhibit behavior otherwise. Saying but not always doing things like: "Buckle up. You'll get a ticket"; "Turn off those lights, we're not the sole supporters of CMP"; "Where's your coat? It's the arctic north out there."
One such mantra-inducer is the never boring topic of smoking pot (Don't believe it's never boring? Ask Crash Barry.). It's long been a gray area for many but recently in Portland, the complexity of being a parental-hypocrite can be heard in many different conversations involving the new pot legalization ordinance. Those conversations go on even though no one is really sure what the law means. It's legal to have and smoke but not to buy. It's still a state and federal offense and too much of a good thing is still a bad thing. Regardless, pot is a very hot empty nested topic because most kids who smoked "a little pot" in high school are probably smoking "a little more pot" as college freshman.
Let me clarify right now that I don't smoke the stuff. Not because it's illegal but because it makes me feel funny in a way that isn't fun. It's been that way since I hacked up a lung after my first toke in junior high, and it's probably a good thing. Therefore, I had no problem sincerely telling my kids to stay away from marijuana. I was saying, "Just say no!" more than Nancy Reagan did in 1986 but, somehow, I felt like a bit of a hypocrite anyway.
No matter how black and white parenting rules are, pot is one of those areas where, for many, the blinders automatically come on. Pot spans the generations and some Baby Boomers incorporated its usage into their everyday lives — prior to having children. Many of us spent the first half our lives hiding stuff from our parents and are spending the second half hiding stuff from our kids.
But certainly not all of us. I have friends who smoke pot with their college-aged kids and "legal" or not, it feels "wronger" than sitting around drinking a few Miller Lites with a still-underage freshman home on break. Those family-smoking friends will read this and say, "Look at Natalie (that Tito's cosmo snob) on her high horse over smoking pot." But that isn't it at all. The point is, I don't think our kids stop looking to us for guidance just because they've grown up a bit and moved out. If anything, they're seeing the world through a bit more mature eyes. Hopefully, our decisions will be perceived as less "control freakish," while they learn the meaning of life. Leading by example becomes more important than ever.
A lame but pervasive argument for the advantage of one potentially harmful substance over the other is a Miller Lite might escalate into a shot of Jagermeister, and smoking weed can lead to progressively stronger and stronger stuff (not that alcohol doesn't lead to alcoholism). "What are we going to do next," asked one of my super-strict parent friends, "legalize LSD and do that with them?"
Admittedly, none of this is that simple. There have been strong arguments for the legalization and taxation of marijuana, along with personal freedom and the right to choose. It is here that hands-on parenting, leading by example and boundaries drawn in the sand get tricky. The parent mentioned above is someone I have an immense amount of respect for. He would never dream of caving to be cool or compromising an inch on what the law is, be it booze, pot or jaywalking. His life is simplified by his boundaries and while he is a dad with an iron fist, he oozes compassion.
Unlike that man I admire so much, I have been known to share wine with my girls in an attempt to educate them in the basics. We have ceremonial wine (they learned at a young age it is swill) at our holiday table, and both have tasted my house made adult beverages. I am able to justify all these actions as a matter of personal choice in the privacy of my own home.
As far as pot goes, the daughter of one of my friends had her own little "summer of love" a few years back. She had a little elephant (or was it a turtle?) shaped glass pipe in the glove box of a car registered and owned by her mother, which mom rarely drove. One Saturday morning, my friend impulsively decided to take the car to the grocery store and got pulled over for a rear tail light that was out. Upon taking the insurance and registration cards out of the glove box, the animal shaped pipe fell on the floor in plain view of the officer. There was an extended moment of collective silence and she blurted out, "That isn't mine!" She almost threw her own kid under the bus.
She left the scene with a warning on both transgressions and skipped the grocery store. Finding her daughter in front of the TV watching cartoons, they talked and the cloud lifted, for good, very shortly thereafter. It was a phase and upon retelling her story, some people think getting busted would have been "good for her daughter." I didn't.
Our new city motto may be, "Portland. Pot is good here," but it doesn't make parenting decisions any easier. Many people will think I'm missing the point of the new pot laws and that may be true. However, societal rules are made for the common good (think motorcycle helmets), and no matter how old our children are, where they live or what other people are doing, leading by example with good results is the best high of all.
Last Updated on Friday, 06 December 2013 02:27
Written by Karen Cummings
In skiing, size — the size of the hill, that is — matters when it comes to your pocketbook.
The average price at Maine's big four — Sugarloaf, Saddleback, Sunday River and Shawnee Peak — is $72 per Saturday for adults with Sunday River topping out at $87. The average at the four relatively small ski areas close to Portland — Camden Snow Bowl, Lost Valley, Mt. Abram, and Spruce Mountain — is just $39/Saturday, with Mt. Abram the most at $49 and Spruce just $25 ($15 for Juniors).
So, for beginners (all provide ski lessons), those skiing with young children, or others who are just looking for a leisurely day out on the slopes with close, convenient and affordable meaning more than steep and deep, Maine's smaller mountains may be just the ticket.
Closest to Portland at 45 minutes is Lost Valley in Auburn. With its opening scheduled for Friday, Dec. 20, at the beginning of the holiday weeks, Lost Valley offers two lifts and 17 trails on 240-feet vertical, plus a very popular terrain park. The area caters to locals with night skiing every day except Sunday throughout the season and every day during vacations and holidays. If you have teenagers at home (or are one), every Saturday night is "teen night" with lift tickets just $15 (and all are welcome at the same rate). www.lostvalleyski.com
With a 300-foot vertical and 11 trails, Spruce Mountain in Jay is 90 minutes from Portland. Referred to as a "blast from the past" on its own website (www.sprucemountain.org) for its definitely retro rope tows (and the mountain info recommends heavy duty gloves for rope tow novices), Spruce also offers cross-country skiing. A small, friendly area, it's run mostly by volunteers and is open for daytime and nighttime skiing weekends and holiday weeks, and only open for night skiing Wednesday and Friday nights.
Located in Greenwood, Mt. Abram, which at 1,150-foot vertical and five lifts, might only be considered small because of its proximity to the extensive Sunday River. Just a little bit further from Portland at an hour and 40 minutes, Mt. Abram is planning on opening on Dec. 14. From opening day until Christmas Eve, all skiers can be generous and bring five canned goods to exchange for $10 off their lift ticket cost. For those interested in participating in a Friday night race series, check out the Mt. Abram website to learn more: www.mtabram.com.
While the Camden Snow Bowl is a bit of a drive — nearly two hours from Portland — it's another classic small Maine ski area, but this one offers a view of the Atlantic Ocean. With snow tubing, ice skating, cross-country ski trails, and even a toboggan run, the Snow Bowl has four lifts and 850 feet of vertical. Its scheduled opening is Friday, Dec. 20: www.camdensnowbowl.com.
Next week's SkiME column will cover the many cross-country ski options close to Portland.
(This winter, Karen Cummings, who lives and skis in Maine, brings quick insights into what not to miss at your local ski areas in her SkiME column.)
Last Updated on Thursday, 05 December 2013 22:07