While I’m not quite done with the semester, I did want to urge everyone to attend whatever school board/city council/etc. might be happening in your area to inform yourself and get involved in school budgets.  The school consolidation debacle legislation came along with a requirement that voters approve school budgets.  Even if you are anti-school and yell at children to get off your lawn on a regular basis (hey, I’m pro-school and I sometimes yell at kids to get off my lawn) it’s important that you a) educate yourself and b) vote.  Otherwise – and this is a huge fear of mine – school budgets will be held hostage by people hoping to make a political point.  Let’s not let this happen.  When school budgets are cut and cut and cut again and are then attacked by people who are not up on their facts the only people who suffer are the kids.  Well, no – the kids and the professionals who break their backs trying to help them.

What do I mean by “people hoping to make a political point”?  I mean those people that encourage people to vote “no” on the budgets to “send the city/union/teachers a message.”  You want to send a message?  Call  your reps.  Attend council and board meetings.  Write letters to the editor.  Don’t just check “no” and think you are doing something useful for your city or yourself.

Even if you disagree with me, I want you to get all the information you can and vote.  Give it a thought?

btw: Here is an older but good explanation of the new process.

My apologies for the extended absence.  I was unwise (to say the least) to start this blog at this point in the school year.  As a grad student I have come to realize that I will simply disappear for two or three weeks at the end of each semester, no matter what I do to plan otherwise.  One more year and things will be back to normal…

And I’ll be back here soon, too; I promise.  I’m done as of this Thursday, so each tick of clock brings me closer to a little freedom and breathing space.  I’m got some thoughts to share on the the number of neighborhood stores in the area (particularly in Westbrook, where there is one on every other corner, it seems), Cabela’s, anonymity in blogging (esp. wrt some foodie fights that have sprung up lately), and the promise of the garden, as yet untilled.  I may hop on the soapbox to talk about school budgets, too.  Tantalizing, isn’t it?  Well, if you promise to stop in later this week, I promise to (at least try to) make it worth your while.  Agreed?  See you soon.

If I am not making regular progress towards the “one post a week” goal, it is entirely spring’s fault. It is not cold enough to stay inside and type, but not nice enough to go out and have adventures worth writing about. So I walk around the neighborhood, watching the snow piles melting from massive to moderate to middling to muddy, or kick the ball around with my kids until their bed time and the blog is, sadly, neglected. My hunch is that everyone who might read it is also outside, so I hope I am given a reprieve. If the foot (and bike and scooter) traffic outside my window is any indication, I may just be right.

Is anyone going to Evangeline tonight for its opening? I am envious indeed. I drove by twice today and had to stop myself from just standing out front and sniffing deeply. Erik’s blog has me salivating… and also considering going back to being a vegetarian. But mostly salivating. I will be haunting the blogs tomorrow in search of a review. Chowhound? eGullet? Type A? Someone, somewhere will, I’m sure, come through. Update: Word is – via Portland Psst! – that Evangeline’s opening will be delayed. Much uneaten (but thoroughly-brined, I’m sure) pork and general disappointment ensues.

I actually spent a great deal of yesterday driving around the area, rapidly burning through a tank of gas. Every tank I pump, lately, is the most expensive tank I’ve ever bought. I was keeping my eye on prices during my travels and found them, quite literally, all over the map. The low was $3.21 (on Brighton Ave.); the high, $3.39 (somewhere on the Gorham/Westbrook border). The prices are probably different today. I know it’s a complicated issue right now, but a difference of $.18 a gallon seems a bit extreme, doesn’t it? I won’t drive out of my way for a bargain, but if you’re on Brighton, it’s probably worth filling up.

I understand I am late on starting my seeds indoors. I have no place to actually put them, and no knowledge of what I really need, which probably accounts for (the majority of) my tardiness. If you are more adept, I urge you to comment and instruct me. The pile of gardening books on my night stand are due back at the library and I am lazy. Or better yet, just drop some lovely, locally grown, organic veg off on my door in a few weeks; I will be grateful.

Dropped off on my door step more recently was a copy of Historic Photos of Maine. I’ll give more details after I survive (or not) the end of the semester and take a detailed look, but if you are interested, check out the description of the book and/or the author at Borders in South Portland on April 29th. She apparently works for the Maine Memory Network, which has thousands of images (photos, concert programs, letters, you name it) online. It’s absolutely worth checking out but beware – you will lose an hour or an afternoon or weekend here.

I had an interesting conversation this weekend that was ostensibly about where to locate a new business, but that held another meaning for me about perspectives and changes in the area.  I came to Maine just over four years ago and, this being Maine, it’s as if I arrived yesterday in many people’s minds.  That’s fine. I was an older timer where I grew up, by virtue of the fact that I lived there year-round and survived the summer people coming and going each year.  I graduated from high school with people I started kindergarten with, and still thought of the boy who moved to the area in 1st grade as the new kid.  So I get it, on some level.  I’ve also been the new person in a lot of places, and I’m comfortable with that role, too.  As soon as we moved here, however, I started volunteering, I did the mommy and me circuit, I started working at a local school.  I met a lot of the community very quickly, to put it mildly, and I got to know my way around.  Deep down, I’ve come to believe that I might be new here, but that I’m not really new here, if you know what I mean.  But when the topic of where to start a particular business came up I found myself second guessing a decision to plunk it on Congress St., and I put in a word (or two or three) for Westbrook.  The Congress St. idea was a good one, but I think there’s a ton of potential for Westbrook to continue its trend of revitalizing and reinventing itself and this kind of business could really capitalize on that.  It’s the same thing I like about Portland – the “go ahead and burn me down, I’ll just spring up again” attitude (resurgam, indeed).  It’s nice to see it bearing fruit in Westbrook, too, and I think that I favor the city in some ways because of it.

Someone else in the room didn’t share my feelings, however, and I didn’t realize why until we were finishing up the discussion.  He shook his head and said, “I just think of Westbrook as… the smell.”  And there it was – this person has lived in Maine for something like twenty years, so of course he’s got a different image of the city.  In a larger sense, the place he lives is very different from where I live.  I see what’s happened in the very recent past – changes are more dramatic to me, and new images sharper.  He sees the long term view, and will have his opinions changed more slowly, or perhaps not at all. It’s true for any place, I know, but seems a bit more pronounced in this neck of the woods, where love of place tends to run deep and time can move at a different, sometimes slower, place.

Speaking of slower (and also, ultimately, Congress St.)… it takes me a while to check out the “new” restaurants.  This can be good – the abject failures that close down in a month and the extensive waits for the places that come on strong generally pass me by.  But I lose in the sense that it takes me forever to get to some great places.  Case in point – The Front Room.  I finally made it today, in the snow and the sleet, and I’m pretty bitter about the meals I’ve missed out on over the last year +.  I had brunch this morning with my mother and daughter and all three generations came out thoroughly impressed.  It’s nice to be in a place that’s comfortable and affordable and serves knock out food.  The gnocci (pan fried) with spinach, bacon (I did my best Homer drool), two eggs, and a just-right hollandaise was great and probably the only thing that kept me from weeping while watching the snow.  And bonus points to the wait staff for accommodating and not blinking an eye at the voracious 15 month old shoveling some very tasty blueberry pancakes in her mouth as fast as her fat little fingers could get them there.  She actually became the topic of conversation at a few of the tables; the other people having brunch were as comfortable and welcoming as the space itself.  I’ll go back for sure, and will try to get to The Grill Room, whenever it may open, before its first anniversary.

Maine Maple Sunday – one of my favorite days of the year. Maine Maple Sunday is hope – hope that winter has truly left, even if there is still snow on the ground, that the buds will turn into leaves, that our farms and gardens will produce things green and new sometime soon.

Plus, there’s that wicked good syrup.

This was one of the things that helped convince me to stay in Maine when we first landed here and thought it was temporary. I loved the lines of people tromping through the mud to peek into buckets tacked to trees. It seemed both absurd and glorious, like the people lining up in the snow and freezing wind for ice cream (see the previous post). We’ve gone every year in one of the few traditions we have as a family, each time to Coopers in Windham. This year was a little rushed due to Easter dinner, but well worth it. The winter has been long and hard and even though there’s still more snow than there has been since we started going, the mud was abundant and the little maple syrup sundaes were heavenly.  And don’t worry about it conflicting with Easter next, that holiday won’t happen this early again for something like another 200 years.

It’s been a long week, but I made it out one night, at least. The Great Lost Bear may not be a big stop on the local gourmet scene, but if you want beer they certainly have it, and the buffalo wings are the best in the area. Again, not a major food stop but a great place for a pint. I also stopped by the new Whole Foods. All I can say is that I badly miss Trader Joe’s and am at a loss as to why they aren’t up this way. With their great prices and more down-to-earth selection they are a much better fit for Portland than Whole Foods, at least in my mind. Do you share my Trader Joe’s infatuation? Click here and ask the nice people to come set up shop in the neighborhood, won’t you?

I tend to join rewards programs with wild abandon.  There are no support groups that address this problem; I’ve checked.  Wading through newsletters and email updates for the occasional coupon for 10% off – is it really worth it?  The answer, generally, was no.

Until now.

I joined the Romeo’s (pizza) rewards program last year and have placed exactly three orders there since then.  I got myself off their email list, but still get their hard copy newsletter (The Pizza Press).  This issue, though, makes it all worth it – they used it to announce “Bald Tuesdays.”  I love the copy so much I have to share it here (I hope they don’t mind) – “No longer will you be ridiculed for your Hair loss.  At least not at Romeos.  The less hair you have… THE MORE YOU SAVE!”  It’s 10% off for anyone with “a receding hair line or crown balding.”  For “extensive” hair loss?  A cool 20%, baby.  They go on to say: “We at Romeos feel your pain and want to help ease your suffering by filling your bellies.  You must ask to qualify for this discount because we are definitely not going to bring it up!”  For their awesome sense of humor alone, I say – go get some pizza, people!

I’ve lived in a number of places in this country – rural, suburban, quite urban (I lived a block or so away from the Ashby BART station, for those of you who know Oaktown).  I’m not saying I’ve never seen this kind of attitude before, but I will say I see it significantly more often here in Maine.  While it sometimes comes off as clumsy or (at worst) unprofessional, I love the fact that there is a certain genuineness in our local advertising, newscasts, newspapers, and etc.  “Genuine” often is shorthand for “unintelligent” and that’s not what I’m suggesting here.  There is a disproportionately large percentage of extremely smart and creative people in this state; I really believe that.  What I’m suggesting is that, perhaps, we care more for content – as goofy as it may be – than image.  And maybe we don’t take ourselves quite as seriously as some of our neighbors to the south.  I’m still struggling, obviously, to find a way to express what is now just my general sense of this.  Comments are quite welcome.

I can see blades of grass through the footprints we made in the snow last weekend, despite the recent “flurries”. What we brush off as just a snow shower in March would constitute a storm in late December or January. Why is that? Are we so unaccustomed to winter weather that we panic in early in the season, or are we so acclimated by March that we feel there is no cause for concern? Or is it, as I suspect, just a collective desire to move on and be done with it? A desire to put away the shovels and start turning the earth in the garden, a desire so strong that everyone simply turns a blind eye to the snow and sleet and freezing rain and pretends it is clear and warming… In any case, I’ve noticed that nothing gets canceled due to snow in March, or hardly anything. Which is fine if you have good winter tires and don’t mind the messy driving, but which is difficult when you have late Wednesday and early Thursday appointments, as I do, and have to keep going 25mph on Rt. 25.

While events may not be canceled, attendance at everything is low, and I’ve noticed that everyone has been sick the past few weeks. “Everyone,” unfortunately, does include me. I very nearly made good on the promise to post weekly; I certainly would have had I not been participating in our area’s group illnesses. The joys of being connected to a place, no?

One real joy, however, has finally arrived. That’s right, Red’s has opened for the season. My son suggested we drive by on Friday and I agreed, despite my own doubts they’d be open. But there it was – the line out to the road, full of people in hats and gloves, stomping themselves warm in the wind. That area of South Portland, incidentally, is always cold. When it’s 90 degrees in August, it’s cold. But Red’s has reemerged from the piles of snow, as it has every year since 1952 (do, please, click the link and see their website for the full history). I’m delighted. No, Red’s doesn’t have the best ice cream in the area (another post for a warmer time), nor is it my first choice for grabbing a cone on the way home from the beach (that would be Beals) but it is an event when it opens, and it is decent and cheap and I love it.

Speaking of cheap, I should be clear about that fact that I am living in this place as a monetarily challenged person. That is, broke. So while I discuss this area, please keep in mind that I am exploring and enjoying on what is most generously called a budget. I do get to Fore St. or 555 about once a year but most days I simply fog up their windows while my nose leaves a little smudge on the glass. This is important information for you to have as you read about my experiences at Rosemont Market and Bakery.

Someone left a comment on an earlier post with the good advice to discuss things “off peninsula” when talking about Portland, and I whole-heartedly agree. So when I found myself driving by Rosemont last week, I decided to stop in. I first noticed the bagels and baguettes. In my perfect world, every store has bagels and baguettes in the window, even laundromats and butchers. I wanted to poke around before buying, though, so I turned my attention to some of their “homemade” items – chicken pot pies and dips and etc. It all looked great. Then I noticed a meatloaf. I’m a sucker for meatloaf, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. When I lose my appetite for meatloaf I will happily go back to being a vegetarian. This meatloaf, however, was clearly better than me. Beyond my means. From the other side of the tracks. This was a $14 meatloaf. I may have been in shock, but I’m pretty sure it was a regular loaf size. $14??? I mean, okay, they probably used organic and/or local beef, and they probably actually had pork and veal thrown in, and there were probably fresh herbs and some freshly grated,cheese and so on. I get it. But meatloaf, to me, is not only the ultimate comfort food but also the ultimate comfort food for people without a lot of cash. Sure, I might order it in a restaurant, when it comes all gussied up and ready for a big night out. But generally, it’s a way to stretch the grocery money. So the $14 meatloaf was more than a little amusing to me.

This is nothing against Rosemont, by the way. I’m sure the meatloaf tastes great. And this is not a review, because while I was standing there chuckling at the meatloaf a line eight people deep formed, and I ran out of time to buy anything. I will go back, though, for the bakery and to see if they’ve got the Cinque Terre frozen pasta they had listed on the freezer but were apparently out of (or was I delirious with illness already?). And especially for the Thirty Acre Farm foods I saw in a cooler. The link is a description of them, by the way, their own web site doesn’t seem to be up and running yet. I buy from them during the summer at the farmers’ market and love everything I’ve had. I think everyone should have some Ruby Kraut in their fridge, and Rosemont seems to agree. So score one for Rosemont. Perhaps it will help them in the inevitable Rosemont vs. Scratch bagel smack down…