Emergency computer shopping

My seven-and-a-half-year-old Macbook is dying. Maybe not today, maybe not even this week, but it’s becoming clear that its demise is imminent.

It started showing signs a few months ago, when that annoying thing that Apple calls the “spinning wait cursor” (and others apparently call the Spinning Beach Ball of Death or the Marble of Doom) started appearing more frequently and sticking around longer. I ignored it.

Now, in the past week or so, it has taken to shutting itself down for no good reason that I can determine, whether it’s running on battery power or plugged in. So far, this has been damned inconvenient, but has not actually caused me to lose any work. (The main reason it hasn’t caused me to lose any work is that I haven’t been doing much writing work this week, what with the strawberries coming on like gangbusters and the weeds trying to suffocate the carrots and one whole day spent having Big Fun in Portland, Brunswick, and the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village.)

Yesterday, I had just finished writing a story for the paper, saved and closed the file, and opened a new document when my laptop shut itself off. This time, when I tried to turn it back on, it went as far as bringing up the gray Apple symbol, then shut itself down again.

This happened repeatedly, about six times, and each time it looked like it was going to come back up, I held my breath and crossed my fingers and felt my heart racing. In the same way they say your life flashes before your eyes when the end is near, I went back over in my mind everything I had worked on since my last back-up, a week ago.

I had emailed the document with my saved progress on my big project to myself when I closed the file a couple of days ago (whew!), but, besides the story I had just finished for the paper, I had another story partly written, and notes for another saved. I had transferred photos for two of the stories to my laptop and deleted them from my camera, so if the computer had crashed completely, they were gone, gone, gone.

Fortunately, on about the seventh try, the computer came back on (and has stayed on ever since—go figure), but I’m taking no chances. Within thirty minutes, I had emailed myself several files, started my weekly back-up, and was on my way to buy a new laptop with my personal computer consultant (my son Will), without whom I wouldn’t know how to do a back-up, what kind of laptop to buy, or how to move my files from the old one to the new one.

This old Macbook, which was originally Will’s, is the first Apple computer I’ve really used much. I’ve had it for a little over a year, and I love it (or, at least, I did until it became unpredictable). At the time that Will bought it, it was fairly state-of-the-art, and he ran a lot of fancy graphics programs and game-design software on it.

I’m a writer, not a graphic designer. I don’t play on-line games (well, OK, Words With Friends, but that’s about it) or create videos. I take a lot of photos, but I use an inexpensive camera, and most of my photos fall into two categories: Adorable Cat Pics (seriously, you have never seen cuter cats than mine—I’m positive about this) and Fun With Food (or “No Wonder I Don’t Get Anything Else Done”). 

We looked at all the pretty, shiny devices in Best Buy, and ruled out several things.

The new (new to me, anyway) combo tablet/laptops looked cool, but extreme portability isn’t high on my list of needs and, besides, they felt flimsy to me. And I have aging eyes that prefer a bigger screen. 

We decided against a touch-screen, since I mostly use my laptop to write, and usually with a separate full-sized keyboard, so I wouldn’t be likely to reach over it to use a touch-screen.

We looked (briefly) at the Macbook Air, but I decided I couldn’t justify spending three times as much to get a Mac vs. a PC when a PC would suit my purposes just as well.

We ruled out the bottom-priced HP laptop we had looked at on the Best Buy website before we left, because it had lousy reviews.

In the end, we came home with a basic Toshiba laptop with a 15-inch screen (two inches bigger than I’m used to, which should be good for my eyes). It’s a little lighter than my old Macbook, but feels solid and dependable, which is all I really ask.

For $400—less than a third of what I paid for my first desktop—I got the computer, a sleeve for it, a wireless mouse, a flash drive, and anti-virus software, all packed up in handy box with a handle on top. We were in and out of the store in thirty minutes.

Will spent several hours last night fiddling with it, getting it set up for me, and this morning he’ll move my files. Luckily for me, he actually likes this stuff, because if it were up to me, the new laptop would probably sit in its box until the Macbook really crashes and I lose everything.



A dad’s legacy

(A version of this post appeared on my previous blog two years ago, on my dad’s 100th birthday.)

Today is June 22, 2014—the 102nd anniversary of the birth of William Walton Wight.

My dad was an amazing man. He was talented, smart, and capable. He could build anything, fix anything, figure anything out. He loved poetry and liked to quote it, especially Robert Frost, Robert Service, and Holman Day. He was born in Oquossoc and raised in Bethel and he was the quintessential Mainer—practical, resourceful, and outdoorsy—until the day he died, even though he spent the last half of his life living in exile in Connecticut.

He liked people, and they liked him. “Everyone loved your father,” my mother once told me. From the way she said it, I knew what she meant—that he had one of those personalities that light up a room, drawing people in and effortlessly holding them enthralled.

My dad majored in metallurgical engineering at the University of Maine and worked at Pratt & Whitney Small Tool in West Hartford. He worked hard at his job, and, with a partner, he started his own small metals heat-treating business on the side—Anderson Specialty Co., which, remarkably, still exists today. (While he was involved with the company, it was very much a shoestring operation—he used to bring metal rods home and get my mother to temper them in her oven.)

But as busy as he was, there was never any question that his first priority was his family. He took my four older siblings hiking, camping, and rockhounding. He helped lead my brothers’ Boy Scout troop. They all built a wooden boat together from a kit—it, too, still exists today. They played Scrabble, did jigsaw puzzles, went to church, got a family dog.

And he and my mother brought the kids to Maine as often as possible. They learned the names of all the trees in the Maine woods and all the Maine minerals they found. In the mid-1950s they bought a lot on North Pond in Woodstock and then, together, they built our camp.

In a way, it’s remarkable that I know this much about my dad, when you consider that he died in 1958, more than eight months before I was born. But it’s a testament to his legacy, to the far-reaching influence he has had on my siblings and, indirectly but inarguably, on their children and grandchildren as well.

And on me.

I remember asking my mother once, when I was quite young, “How old was I when Daddy died?” She looked surprised, and explained gently that he had died before I was ever born.

“But I remember him,” I insisted.

And it seemed to me that I did. His legacy was to remain a vital part of the family he left behind, during my childhood and beyond—even now, more than five decades after his death.

His legacy is in the wooden boat and the family camp, where his musty suede camp jacket still hangs in the loft and his homemade four-foot level is stored in the tool closet.

It’s in the fact that by the time we went to kindergarten we could all identify feldspar, mica, quartz, beryl, tourmaline, and—our favorite because we loved the way it rolled off our tongues—lavender lepidolite.

It’s in the way none of us is afraid to tackle a building or repair project, confident that we can always figure it out as we go along.

It’s in the way, over the years, we’ve all been drawn to the state of Maine—three of us to stay—and the way, I think, we all consider Maine our true spiritual home.

It’s in the way we all love the woods, the water, our kids.

His legacy is in every part of our lives.


I used Dad’s level just yesterday, when I built some new shelves in the tool closet at camp.


Best dad in the world


Happy Father’s Day! Here’s a photo of the best dad in the world.

In ten days, we’ll celebrate the 25th anniversary of our first date. About an hour into that first date, he told me he wanted another child. Actually, what he said was, “I’ve always known that someday I’d have another kid.”

He was the divorced dad of an adorably precocious nine-year-old. He was a competent, confident, and involved father, and he was eager for another child to love and nurture.

I, on the other hand, was pretty sure that I was done having kids. I was recently divorced, and my girls were four and almost six. Annie had just finished kindergarten and Cait would start school in another year. Diapers were a receding memory. I could see their independence—once defined by my sister-in-law as “the age at which you can tell your children, ‘Go take a bath and get ready for bed’ and they can do it without your assistance”—looming in the not-too-distant future.

I looked forward to the end of daycare worries, car-seat shuffling, temper tantrums, and the general stickiness of the preschool years (jam on the table, apple juice on the floor, gum in the hair). I would be able to get a good job, take classes, do craft projects. I would have another name—and another identity—besides “Mo-o-o-om!”

So how did I respond? I said, “I’d like to have another kid someday, too.”

Because an hour into our first date I had already figured out a few important things: That he would be an amazing stepfather to my girls. That we were meant to blend our families, and to have another child together. That I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.

Eight weeks later we got married. A little less than a year after that, we celebrated the arrival of our son Will, who turned out to be exactly what I wanted, too.

Our four bright, funny, loving kids are all grown up now, with adult responsibilities and busy lives. But this weekend we were lucky enough to gather all of our them together at camp, to celebrate Father’s Day with the best dad in the world.


Fathers I have known


These guys…

When I was growing up, I never gave much thought to the celebration of Father’s Day, but I don’t think anyone else did, either. In elementary school, we made construction-paper cards and started marigold seeds in paper cups to bring home for our mothers to celebrate Mother’s Day, but I don’t remember any similar activities for Father’s Day.

Although the idea of honoring fathers on the third Sunday of June had apparently been around since 1910 (the first year that some states officially recognized Mother’s Day, which became a national holiday in 1914), it took quite a while to gain traction.

In 1957, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith, sounding a bit exasperated, wrote to Congress: “Either we honor both our parents, mother and father, or let us desist from honoring either one. But to single out just one of our two parents and omit the other is the most grievous insult imaginable.”

Government bureaucracy being what it is, it took another nine years before a presidential proclamation designated the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day, and it didn’t become a permanent national holiday until 1972.

It’s probably not surprising that Father’s Day went unnoticed in my home, where there was no father to honor. Our father passed away in 1958 (on the day after Father’s Day, as a matter of fact), a year after Senator Smith’s rant. I was born in 1959, so I never knew my dad, but I did grow up with the three best older brothers in the world.

The night our father died, this is how my brothers heard the news, from the well-meaning but misguided minister who had been called to the house: “Boys, the time has come for you to become men. Your father has died.”

They all remember those words, which really did bring their childhoods to an abrupt end, as if they heard them yesterday.

And boy, did they step up.

When I was born, they were 15, 13, and 12, and they were the first father figures in my life. They were the ones who put on the storm windows in the fall, took them off in the spring, and fixed things around the house for our mom. With their overdeveloped sense of responsibility, they got newspaper routes to help with the family finances and stayed away from any kind of trouble throughout their teens.

When we arrived at camp for the summer, they put in the dock and float, installed new spark plugs in the outboard motor, and moved whatever heavy objects needed to be moved. (Andy chipped his front tooth carrying an iron crib down the narrow stairs from the loft for me when I was a baby.)

They picked me up and carried me on their shoulders—my mother used to say that my feet never touched the floor for my first few years. Later, they helped with my homework, taught me to play cribbage and chess, and let me help them build things in the shop in our basement. They introduced me to organic gardening, cross-country skiing, and classic country music—all things I am still enjoying four decades later.

And, long before anyone had come up with the idea of nurturing kids’ self-esteem, long before “IALAC” (I Am Lovable And Capable) became a mantra, even before Mister Rogers told us how special we all are, they made me feel lovable and capable, confident and special.

They all became wonderful fathers who raised amazing children, who in turn became wonderful parents raising their own amazing children. I like to think it helped to have me to practice on.



David Sedaris at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, NH


There aren’t many things that will make me willingly leave camp in the summer (or leave Oxford County, Maine at any time of the year, for that matter), but when my best friend told me she had scored a pair of tickets to hear David Sedaris at her local bookstore, I didn’t hesitate to say, “Ooh—pick me! Pick me!”

Sedaris, whose popularity means he could fill an auditorium every night if he wanted to, is currently on a month-long tour of independent bookstores like the tiny RiverRun Bookstore in downtown Portsmouth, NH, which was filled to capacity by the standing-room crowd of 60 or 70 people. He’s promoting his most recent release (Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls), signing his books, and connecting with audiences in a way that wouldn’t be possible in larger venues.

Sedaris is every bit as funny in person as he is on NPR. After he apologized for being late (his hotel room wasn’t ready when he arrived to check in), he read from some of his new work (“I like to try it out on audiences before I send it to my editor”) and took questions from the audience.

Before he moved to the back of the store to sign copies of his books, he recommended and read from books by two other authors, and told us anyone who bought one of their books could go to the front of the line. It was a great way to boost sales for those writers, and for RiverRun.

While everyone who had gotten tickets to the reading had their books signed, a crowd was lining up on the street outside for the next wave of signings. Sedaris seemed in no hurry to get through it quickly, chatting and joking with each person in line. Two hours later, according to RiverRun’s Facebook page, he was still at it. Not surprising—when he signed my book, he mentioned that the night before, at the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, he signed books for over eight hours.

Thanks to the great folks at RiverRun for a wonderful event, and thanks to David Sedaris for understanding so well the importance of independent bookstores.


(I’m there in the photo, peering over the left shoulder of a really tall guy with glasses.)


It’s safe to sleep in the loft–really!

My camp neighbor Joan was working in her garden yesterday when she felt something fly (at least, it felt like it flew) into her ear. A black fly, she thought. It’s black fly season in Maine, and those buggers are notorious for flying into eyes, ears, and open mouths. We’ve all inhaled more than a few over the years—coughed, sputtered, and spit, and finally decided swallowing was the best way to go. (If my vegan daughter spent more time outside at this time of the year, she wouldn’t actually be a vegan.)

A bug in your ear can drive you crazy if it stays there long, but it’s usually a brief annoyance: it either finds its way out, or you stick your finger in and remove it. When Joan couldn’t dig this one out with her finger, she asked her husband to take a look with a flashlight.

At first, Pete couldn’t see anything. Then, he said, he saw a leg. He went for the tweezers, grabbed hold of the leg, and carefully pulled.

What came out was not a black fly after all, but a spider, carrying an egg sac. It was a big spider, Joan said. (Apparently, from the way she spread her hands apart to show me, it was at least the size of a dinner plate.)

I asked her whether she had saved it. She said, with genuine regret, that when it fell to the floor and started to crawl away, Pete had dispatched it with his shoe.

We often have spider-squeamish visitors at camp, people who are reluctant to sleep upstairs in the loft because they fear being attacked by spiders in their sleep. I confess that, having spent about twenty summers sleeping in the camp loft, and never having had any interaction whatsoever with a spider up there, I have reacted to these fears with some impatience. (I may have gone so far as to use one of my mother’s favorite phrases, “Oh, don’t be ridiculous!”)

The worst part about this spider-in-the-ear incident is that it sounds like an urban legend come true. (Well, that’s the worst part for me, but then, I wasn’t the one with a spider in my ear.) If spiders actually can (and do) crawl into people’s ears, how am I going to reassure visiting arachnophobes that—despite the abundance of cobwebs in the loft—we seldom see any actual spiders up there—and so what if we did?

It’s not like they’re going to crawl into your ear or something.


My mom was prepared for every buggy situation at camp. I’d get rid of this stuff, but I think some of it might have antique value.