From procrastination to vacation

Hola, amigos! By the time this publishes, I’ll have been in Mexico for the past few days.

But of course, as happened three or so times last year, a weekend out of town coincided with a column weekend. Usually I’ve got until the Friday afternoon to submit, but since I left town on Tuesday, I was right up against the wall.

So I did what I had to do: turned a ridiculous half-concept into a column deemed suitable for print in an actual newspaper.

Behold: My pre-trip to-do list.


Beards a lifestyle choice in the wild northeast


False advertising. That face is far hairier now.

False advertising. That face is far hairier now.

Last Saturday night, I was greeting a couple who’d just come in to the bar when the guy turned to me and said something that made me chuckle.

“This sounds weird, and I don’t know if you read the paper at all [Ed note: I did everything in my power not to laugh right out loud], but you look an awful lot like a columnist they have that’s Australian and writes about his life in Maine…”

I admitted that it was me, and we joked about it for a bit. Later, they asked me what I was writing about in the next day’s paper, and I told them: “It’s about having a beard.” Mishearing me, he said: “But you write about having a beer every week!”

Shit. Do I have that much of a one-track mind?

Anyway, here’s last weekend’s column, which indeed is about having a beard. It’s similar to a blog post I wrote back in January, only with interviews with REAL LIVE BEARD-HAVERS!

Mum’s the word this September

Nate Dogg: A man for many occasions.

Nate Dogg: A man for many occasions.

If the title didn’t give it away, the secret is out: My mother’s coming to Maine later this year.

I hadn’t intended to write a column about it until the time drew closer – or after the visit – but as you well know by now, sometimes the wellspring of material gets a little parched.

With no particularly wild weather to muse about, and having done no interviews towards two of the column ideas I’ve got bouncing around in my skull, I trotted this one out the day before deadline, as always.

It’s also historic in that I might be the first columnist in Maine newspaper history to start with a quote by late rapper Nate Dogg, so there’s that?


Adapt or perish

Are you trying to tell me something here?

Are you trying to tell me something here?

On my first full day in Augusta (December 11, 2013, if you’re keeping track at home), I had a solid list of appointments to view apartments for rent.

I had a rental car, but the coworker I was temporarily staying with offered to drive me around to a few of the meetings while he was running errands.

We pulled up outside one place, on Summer Street, and Joe let me out on the sidewalk before he parked so that I could safely traverse a snow bank or particularly nasty patch of ice.

When he got out of the car, he asked me: “The thing we just pulled up on; how would you spell that? Kerb or curb?”

I was stopped momentarily in my tracks. I knew one was the American English version, and the other conformed to the Queen’s dictionary … but which was which?


Blog post + extra effort = column

IMG_8952It’s no secret that when times are tough, I look to blog posts for inspiration for my columns. But rest assured, dedicated reader! They’re not all total ripoffs. I wrote a couple weeks ago about how I’m heading to Mexico at the end of April, and last Sunday’s column was about the same subject. Instead of regurgitating the same ol’ words, though, I actually put some damn effort in and did a couple of interviews. This is far more interesting than the original blog post was (in my opinion, anyway), so hopefully you’ll enjoy it. (more…)

Last Wednesday, I think cabin fever may have set in. I spent an hour of my free time before work voluntarily shoveling snow. Nuts, right? The weather was glorious during the middle of the week. I think the mercury even tipped 55°F during the mid-afternoon.

I took the opportunity Wednesday morning to shovel around a foot of snow off the back deck of the place I’ve recently moved into in Hallowell. I probably wouldn’t have bothered if the warm sun hadn’t started the job for me, but with spring (briefly) in the air, I thought I’d be productive and see what the back patio looked like when it was clear.

But as I shoveled, in a T-shirt and shorts without temperature-related discomfort for the first time since before Thanksgiving, I caught myself half-wishing something particularly blasphemous.

“I wish it would stay cold and miserable until the end of April.”

Now before you storm the newspaper offices with pitchforks and flaming torches, hear me out. I said something very similar last spring, for more psychological reasons. This time it’s selfish: I only want another month of winter so that the contrast can be particularly striking in late April when I head to Mexico for a week.

Over the years I’ve followed along on social media as dozens of my friends shared postcard-perfect photographs of white sandy beaches with gentle, lapping waves, umbrella drinks and all of the other stereotypes associated with vacations in paradise.

And while I’ve got a couple of trips to Indonesia under my belt, I was always somewhat bemused by the concept of the tropical getaway. Y’know, since we as Australians live in a pretty envious climate to begin with.

But now, after moving to a part of the world that’s been on the receiving end of what, 70? 80? inches of snow this winter, I finally feel like I’ve earned an escape to more idyllic climes, even for a week or so.

The concept of “snowbirds” – the folks who check out of the colder states during the winter and fly south for warmer weather – isn’t a new one on me. In fact, the same sort of thing happens back home in Australia, albeit in reverse, when people from the cooler southern states retire to Queensland, the subtropical state where I’m from. But since I (for some reason) still revel in the unfamiliar winter conditions, I never thought I’d be doing it myself.

Paul Dube, the president of Lewiston-based Dube Travel, has been selling vacations to Mainers for 53 years, and he reassured me that I’m certainly not the only one looking to thaw out, “especially in the last two [to] three years as the economy in Maine has started getting rolling again.”

“It’s really ticked up and we can see that when people are booking in the fall for the winter,” he said. “I would suspect that this fall is going to even be busier than the past because of the rough winter we’ve had. People are going to say ‘If we’re going to have another one of those, we’d better start booking early.'”

Weather can be hard to predict, though, even for the experts, so not everyone can plan ahead. Dube said he deals with customers who’ll book on a moment’s notice.

“We’ve had it this year, absolutely,” he said. “In February, people are just ready. Cabin fever was really setting in. They did come in and they’d say, ‘Get us anywhere we can go that’s warm,’ they didn’t care where they were going, ‘just get us out of here!’.”

For some, though, it’s not a vacation as much as a permanent relocation. I feel like I’ve seen enough sunny-all-year-round seasons to last me a lifetime, but it seems Mainers feel the same in reverse.

Deb Holtz, formerly of Augusta and Winthrop, told me she lived in Maine until she was 11 and in the northeast until she finished her schooling. The lure of tropical climates enticed her to visit Hawaii in 1976.”

“[I] met the nicest people, and decided to move to Hawaii “for a year”. No more snow!” she told me this week.

“I was working in the ICU at Queens Medical Center, Honolulu, and met my future husband about 14 months later. He was a Pharmacist there. He was from Milwaukee, Wisc., had moved to HI with a friend and … they too were escaping the snow.”

Their mutual love of sailing and diving took the Holtzes to Florida, where they now live in Dunedin, bordered by the Gulf of Mexico. Sounds great, but what about Vacationland?

“I love the fall colors, and the change of seasons, but I’m very cold intolerant,” she told me. “I only go back to Maine for family events now, and would not consider moving back to the cold climate. In 2011,  we bought a foreclosure home on the Big Island, and that’s where I hope to retire. It has the open spaces, beautiful water, and year-round nice climate, that my body and psyche prefer.”

Makes sense, right? So you’ll forgive me for having been stunned when I met Sonja and Don Fraser, a couple who picked up and moved from Tampa Bay to Hallowell last summer with their two kids.

“After living in a much bigger city, we enjoy the lack of traffic, the friendliness of the residents, the low crime rate and the overall sense of community we have here in Hallowell, Sonja, 47, told me. “We just couldn’t imagine liking anywhere else as much as we do Maine.”

That’s not to say it’s all roses, of course. Sonja said there have been “brief moments” this winter when the family wondered whether they’d bitten off more than they could chew.

“And then we remember how sweltering hot August is in Florida and we realize nowhere is absolutely perfect,” she said.

“We have been stuck in snow and had to push the car. Those were less than perfect moments but overall, our attitude is that it’s just weather.”

That’s not a bad philosophy, if you ask me. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to cancel my vacation.

It’s 45 degrees? It might as well be summer!


“It’s practically beach weather!”

Let the record show that March 4 was the first day of 2015 on which the weather was comfortable enough for me to walk to the gas station to get a mid-shift coffee.

Even after I first started driving here, I’d always bundle up and walk the quarter-mile or so to the handful of dinner options near the office, rather than using the car. I was still paranoid about “warming the engine up” properly, you see, so I figured I’d be better off just hoofing it to Wendy’s or the Chinese place, cold weather or not.

That changed this winter, whether it be through indifference about my car’s mechanical wellbeing or just plain laziness. But for the first time today, we all got a glimpse.

Spring is coming!


Getting all serious with my readers

IMG_8952As much as I didn’t want to do it, the last couple of columns reverted to the tried-and-true format of “making fun of myself for being a fish out of water.”

I wrote back-to-back pieces about winter, or the initial lack thereof, and what did we get? Over 40 inches of snow over two weeks.

This week I put my serious-writer face on (momentarily), and wrote about…terrorism. What did we get? Well, no blizzard, and no terrorism, thank God.

I also interviewed a handful of other Aussies living in Maine for their perspectives on “the lucky country” since they’ve left.



Skipping the country

Pictured: Not Mexico.

Pictured: Not a tropical locale.

For the better part of a decade, since I started my career, I’ve been using the same spreadsheet to keep some semblance of order over my budget.

My dad – a far more capable financial mind than I – helped me put it together, and it’s simple as hell to modify and adjust based on my income and expenditure.

Ever since I moved house last June, I’ve been meaning to get my shit together and re-evaluate my budget, given my rent went up and my pay stayed the same.

But I really need to do it now, because I finally have a savings goal again: my first overseas vacation in almost two years.