Back to some obsessive binge viewing

The rest of the family keeps trying to get me to spend more time at the digital big screen they put in our parlor. Not that it’s anywhere near the Black Wall of Death I’ve seen elsewhere in our midst. Admittedly, winter can be a long emotional struggle in this remote fishing village, and for much of it, I’ve been alone in our toehold here. Even as a writer’s retreat, those depths can be a challenge.

As an additional aside, let me admit I’ve always been more of a “radio guy” rather than TV, one skewered toward classical, opera, jazz, and folk music at the more esoteric edge of the dial.

Now, as I must confess, their push has led to some binge viewing, as if I even knew the term previously. Being able to stream programming does make a huge difference in the selections. Maybe this is what I get in a remarriage that has made everything (and kept everyone) younger except me.

And yet, I hate to confess, much of what I’ve viewed has even been extraordinarily fine writing, acting, and production.

The latest round they’ve introduced me to, though, might be considered slumming. It’s the so-called reality show Project Runway in its several incarnations.

The appeal is puzzling. I’m anything but a fashionable guy, despite my personal flair. And I’m definitely counter-consumerism, even in the face of the TV series’ shameless appendage to the clothing industry and the lingering impact of “brand placement”.

But I do understand having to work against a deadline, with little or no time for correction. That’s the daily news biz where I made my career, for one thing. The idea of having to create quickly within limits and obstacles also resonates, even or more commonly on a low budget. Oh, yes, do look to newspaper newsrooms for that. Besides, as the series demonstrates, the reasons an editor or a reader or a fashion judge goes for a certain work or rejects it outright is another connection for me. For that reason, I do love the insights into a decision, even when I’m vocally objecting to the outcome.

Many facets of the Project Runway series deeply bother me, even offend. Much of the judging is blatantly biased and a strand of cruelty is engrained in the series, yet overall, what remains is addictive.

I think that the center of that is the fact that within the creative process, fashion creates something that is more concrete on video than say a poem, a dinner, or a string quartet.

As a male, I see that there’s far more to wear than long pants or shorts, or an oxford dress shirt versus a T-shirt. You know, a very limited range. As for neckties? I doubt most young men even know how to tie one today, something that was a requirement for employment in many careers in the past.

There are glimpses into the much wider range of decisions women face, but even that soon hits barriers, as we find in the the show’s focus on women’s wear, still largely in the realm of dresses.

As for the line between “fashion” and “costume” or just “clothes”? Or “youthful” and “juvenile”? If the labels were more definable, this could be educational.

Beyond that, some of the young designers become fascinating characters in their own right.

Fortunately, my binge viewing’s moving out a bit with “Shrinking,” “Community,” or the quirky, original, rough-edged, and hard-to-follow “Reservation Dogs,” which almost puts Oklahoma just one town over from us. Or some other series that should be back soon with more episodes.

Don’t I have better things to do in my “spare” time? Or, for that matter, others in my now scattered family?

What’s off with Microsoft’s log-in algorithm?

You know, the changing photo that keeps appearing when you log in. The calculations have no idea, really, of what I like or don’t. My sensibilities are far more complicated than its simple “mountains” or “seashores” calculus.

In one photo, for instance, a single bright-colored backpack at the bottom of the scene threw off the entire wilderness message. It looked like trash. That sort of thing. I didn’t like the particular photo for that reason, but I loved the bigger landscape.

It’s like living with a painting and one day you finally observe something that becomes a flaw. You loved it up to that point. And then?

It’s a binary switch rather than a scale of one-to-ten.

For now, I’m finding some comfort in that, sensing they still aren’t outsmarting me.


Going, going, Gohn

About halfway back in my life, I found myself among Plain-dressing rural Christians. Some of them were also Plain Quakers who retained the “thee” and “thou” speech of Friends’ tradition. My bff of the time was one of them.

Plain dress, should you ask, is what the Amish wear, as well as old-order Mennonites, Brethren, and some other strands, in their own subtle distinctions.

There were reasons I didn’t go all the way, but I did acquire some items, including broadfall pants that have no zipper or belt loops. They were surprisingly comfortable and very well made, in America, no less. After 35 years or so, my denim and blue corduroy pairs are finally showing some wear. I have no idea how many regular brand-name blue jeans these have outlived, but now it’s time to order more of the Plain style.

For many folks, that means Gohn Bros. in Middlebury, Indiana, whose no-nonsense, illustration-free catalog can be downloaded online or ordered by phone or mail. The owners of the store, we should note, aren’t Amish, though they’ve served that demographic for generations. I’ve heard of other faithful buyers who found the store through the Whole Earth pages of hippie lore. Maybe this post will add to it.

I am happy to see that the small-town emporium survives. A few minor changes appear in the options as enhancements rather than copouts. For instance, I can now substitute belt loops for the suspender buttons or opt for gray or black denim rather than blue. My, my.

Here I am, actively paring down my possessions, trying to use up what’s already on my hangers and in my dresser drawers, yet I’m feeling tempted to order a few new shirts, maybe a dress coat, too.

Don’t worry, it’s not Armani. Instead, these selections are much more everyday practical me. Just think, too, they’ll always be in timeless style.

Somehow it looked different

Seeing this photo of the painted rock along the state highway in Newbury, New Hampshire, had me doing a doubletake. Twice.

First, I realized I have never seen it in winter. Even in summer, it’s easy to miss, and I can’t recall any reason I would have been up that way other than August.

Second, though, I slowly noticed the lettering is different. It’s obviously been repainted, which is supposed to always be done on the sly, and this time the lettering is thicker, bolder.

The slogan and its history did inspire a blog related to the Red Barn, and if you haven’t visited there, please take a tour. It can be an enriching experience.


Where the local beer’s listed as ‘Imported,’ not ‘Domestic’

Welcome to the Hansom House in Dennysville, which is sometimes open on weekends. The stained glass is by the owner.


This is some of what’s over your head.


And this is some more. The shark’s not on the menu.


The red shoes belong to the stool, not the patron sitting on it.


Well, they do promote themselves as the World’s Most Absurd Bar.

And we’ve concluded the reference isn’t just to the décor.

In case you’d rather have your drink and nibbles by the fireplace.

Locally, ours is known as the Baskerville House

The broker listed our house as being built in the 1860s, but even then, we thought it went back further. I’ve since seen maps from the mid-1830s showing a footprint for a house like ours, which seems right, confirmed in an 1855 map of town.

We know it was here before 1886, as the charred rafters affirm, reflecting the great fire that destroyed the downtown. (One historian had primed us to look for that touch.)

The 1855 map even shows this as the Estate of J. Shackford, a member of a prolific local family that originated in Dover before scattering to Portsmouth and Newburyport, Massachusetts, and then resettling up here quite successfully.

But to everyone we’ve met, it’s the Baskerville House.

I love the literary allusion, of course, to Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles (and the fact it takes place largely in Devonshire, which plays into so much of my history of Dover). Hound/house are, of course, nearly homonyms. Beyond that, there’s also the fact that Baskerville was a basic serif typeface back in the letterpress days when I entered journalism. It’s an old style that largely didn’t make the leap to digital, though I see it has recently joined my Windows options. (Not so for my beloved Caslon of the same era.)

Facing the sunrise

What we liked about the place, besides its location and TLC potential, was the fact it felt good inside. Close-your-eyes, even when the room’s chilly. I’ve certainly felt comfortable in extended solitude and all the writing that’s come within it.

Something that struck me after moving to New England was how often people – even highly rational professionals – calmly asked new homeowners if their place had ghosts. I’m not kidding. And Maine seemed especially prone to that.

Nobody’s asked us, though. Instead, they confirmed that ours always felt good to them, too.

The Baskerville at the heart of this story is Anna, a retired Black nurse who came to Eastport in 1999 to live with her son and daughter-in-law, also named Anna.

From what I’m told, she was stout, had red hair, and loved to sing – especially in all of the churches, where she was always welcome. And she, too, found this place hard to heat but stayed in it, after her son remarried and moved to the other end of town.

When I said no ghosts but the place feels good, others piped up that’s likely Anna’s presence or spirit. I’ve known similar imprints elsewhere, especially in old Quaker meetinghouses.

Naturally, we want to know more about her.

One story I heard was about her introduction to the town. She had a longstanding fear of deep water, and because her new residence was only a block from the ocean, the family arranged for her to arrive after dark and get used to the house first. Maybe they figured they could deal with any trauma better in the morning.

So, as I’m told, when Anna awoke and opened the blinds and saw the expanse of water, she inhaled and, as she proclaimed later, “I knew I was home.”

Yes, we know the feeling, too. And we still want to know more.

In the meantime, we’re trying to keep our renovations in line with what we hope she would have approved. There are good reasons to respect the past.

What do you know about the place where you’re living?

Oh, for the glory of pickles!

Not everybody shares my delight in pickles, at least the kind you put on sandwiches, but I pile them on, when I can. I’m not much for lettuce there, by the way – I prefer that as a separate salad.

I like the crunch and acidity the pickles add, or even the sweetness, depending on the variety.

My wife grew up in Mount Olive, North Carolina, where many of these originate today.

My eyes were opened to this reality the year we went largely vegan when we practiced the Eastern Orthodox feasting for Advent. The hardest part for me was finding snack food. (Well, that plus a satisfactory creamer substitute for my coffee and something in place of cheese and … the list goes on.) Fortunately, my wife makes a great humus, and the wraps can be filling, though bland over repetition. And that’s when the pickles took center stage. A row of the green orbs in the torpedo was truly heavenly.

Not that I stop there. When we’re out to eat, the rest of the family puts their kosher pickles on my plate. Not that I’ll argue.

And then there are the summer pickles, meant to be consumed shortly after the cucumbers taken from the garden and put into canning jars. Sometimes it’s a challenge to keep up with the harvest. As if I’m complaining.

Only in the past few years have I begun to appreciate other kinds of pickles – beets, green beans, and eggs, for instance – dishes that used to appear on family dinners at Grandma and Grandpa’s. Especially on big events like Thanksgiving and Easter. Just how far back in our heritage does that go through generations of farmers?

Anybody else love that pickled ginger they serve with sushi?


Living in sweats

The thought had once appalled me. Like was this the epitome of laziness, that you really didn’t bother to get dressed for the day? Or that perhaps you’d gained so much weight you wanted something that would hang loose rather than accentuate anything?

Skip ahead to retirement and then the Covid shutdown, and I’m having to admit there have been days when I’m living happily in sweats, especially in the depth of a northern New England winter.

Sometimes I even think of it as luxury, not having to venture outdoors.

Oh, what a bum I’ve become kind of feeling!

How do you dress for everyday comfort?