Posts Tagged ‘Jean Webster’

Gay Marriage in Maine: Signed, Sealed

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

By Jean Webster

It’s official. Same-sex marriage is legal in the state of Maine, but may face a challenge.

Just four weeks after a majority of Mainers – 54 percent, in fact – voted in favor of same-sex marriage, the referendum has been certified by Governor Paul LePage. Gay couples in Maine can set their wedding dates, though they must wait until the end of the month, when the law goes into effect.

Maine joins eight other states – Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia – in agreeing that gay people have the right to marry. But Maine went one better. It is the first state to approve gay marriage by popular vote. Gay rights activists call it an important step forward.

Prospective couples are rejoicing over the vote and the governor’s swift signing it into law. However, there is still a strong movement in Maine – and throughout the country – to overturn these rights by giving opponents of gay marriage another chance at the ballot box.

For years, many Mainers have supported the rights of gays and lesbians, including their right to marry. In fact, in May of 2009, Governor John Baldacci signed a bill in favor of gay marriage that came through legislative approval. At the same time, the opposition rallied enough signatures to put a referendum on the 2009 ballot, and gay marriage was rejected by voters in a “people’s veto.” If not for that referendum, Maine would have been the first state to legalize same sex marriage through legislative process and a governor’s signature.

That referendum was brought about, and eventually succeeded, through the work of the National Organization for Marriage, the leading opposition group to gay marriage in the United States, along with various religious and family watch groups. Funds in the millions of dollars came into the state from near and far to support the veto resolution.

And, NOM is already rallying its troops to overturn this year’s vote, just as it did in 2009.

According to Justin Alfond, Portland’s State Senator, there is nothing to stop these groups from doing it again. The law does not restrict what can be put to a vote. But Alfond admits it would be more difficult for NOM this time.

“Taking away rights is a much bigger chore than maintaining the status quo,” he said. Also, if the anti-gay marriage groups hope to get on the next ballot, they’d have to collect more than 57,000 names by Jan. 24, 2013.

There is no doubt in my mind that the foes of same-sex marriage are already gathering funds and signatures to get this new law annulled. The cry through much of the country is that marriage should be between a man and a woman, as it states in the Bible. Opponents of gay marriage have come to call heterosexual marriage “a building block of society.”

These opponents say they aren’t attacking the gay lifestyle. They just want to preserve traditional marriage. (If the divorce rate teaches us anything, it is that traditional marriage is pretty shaky.)

Others believe that the marriage of two men or two women endangers the marriages of the rest of us. (I haven’t figured that one out yet.)

Throughout the campaign the hue and cry in television ads claimed that gay teachers would teach their students about the gay and lesbian lifestyle.

In spite of the slim possibility that the new law could be rejected, gay couples are already seeking wedding locations so they can plan their weddings as soon as the new law takes effect, on Dec. 29. Because that’s a Saturday, some towns are considering whether to keep their municipal buildings open to accommodate gay couples.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan would like his city to hold the first same-sex ceremony, but he says that whenever it happens “I want to be there.”

Keep Women-Hating Men from Office

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

By Jean Webster

The 2012 election could have the greatest impact on American women since Roe v. Wade in 1973. But this time the impact would be negative.

If the Romney/Ryan duo wins this election, they could pull in more Republican Congressmen on their coattails. And, I’ve heard enough from these politicians to be convinced that if they are in the White House with a majority in the Congress, the clock will be turned back decades for women.

Just as a reminder, here’s what has already happened, and what Romney’s minions have said in recent months.

This year the great State of Texas cut off funding for Planned Parenthood clinics that provide family planning and other services to about half of the 130,000 low-income women enrolled in the program. The service includes cancer screenings, but not abortions. The reason? The Republican-led Legislature passed a law banning funds to any organizations that are linked to abortion providers, even though no state money goes to pay for abortions.

It does seem that Republicans cannot think about women without their insulting and inflammatory remarks. For starters, there’s Todd Akin, seeking a Senate seat in Missouri, and his “legitimate rape” quote, in which he declared that “the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”

That remark has now been trumped by the Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock who said that pregnancies resulting from rape are a “gift from God” and what “God intended to happen.”

And how did Romney respond to Mourdock’s assertion? He doubled his endorsement of Mourdock’s campaign.

Then there’s Joe Walsh, who is running against Tammy Duckworth for a House seat in Illinois. In 2004, Duckworth lost both her legs while serving with the Army in Iraq. Walsh compared her negatively to John McCain, who – he said – never used his military career in his political campaigns. On top of that, he’s accused Duckworth of not being “a true hero.” So, she’s not a hero, just a woman who has made her military service central to her campaign.

Then, Walsh said about Duckworth, “What else has she done? Female? Wounded veteran? Ehhhhh.”

“What else has she done?” “The female body has ways to shut the whole [rape] thing down?” “The child as a result of rape is a gift from God?”

The contempt for women – women like their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters – is evident in every one of these remarks.

And, it’s pretty clear that Romney and Ryan are on the same side of the fence. Ryan has been very vocal about his own opposition to abortion and Planned Parenthood. Obviously, Romney chose him for his stand on these issues. Let Ryan talk about it, so the presidential candidate stays clear of these difficult topics.

There’s more.

Earlier this year, Roy Blount, another Missouri Republican, sponsored an amendment that would allow employers to refuse to provide any insurance coverage that went against their beliefs or moral convictions.  When Romney was asked where he stood on Blount’s measure, he said, “Of course I support the Blount amendment.”

Romney later said he doesn’t believe that businesses or bureaucrats should decide whether businesses must offer coverage for women’s contraception. But, that sounds like he’d leave the decision up to business.

And, where does that leave women who need this coverage?

Out in the cold. Without insurance coverage. Without the help of Planned Parenthood.

And, if Romney had his way, without equal pay for equal work, women wouldn’t be able to afford their own coverage.

The choice is clear. Vote them out.


The Honey Harvest

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

By Jean Webster

On a recent Saturday, John and I met a few local beekeepers at Dragonfly Cove Farm, in Dresden, Me., to harvest this season’s honey.

The room we use is just off the big farm kitchen. With a cement floor and enough space for two honey extractors, it’s become the traditional spot for removing honey from beehives. (The extractor is the machine that spins the honeycomb and removes honey via centrifugal force.) Dragonfly owners, Marge and Joe, also raise ducks, chickens, geese and goats; that room holds several ceiling-to-floor freezers for the meat they sell.

Unlike last year’s “take” of 120 pounds, this time we brought only five frames of honey – about 13 pounds. Obviously 2011 was an exceptional season. These frames are smaller than those holding the bees’ year round honey supply. An oblong wood and wax frame, measuring 18 x 5½ inches, it reminds me of small old-fashioned window screens.

To start, the beekeeper uses an electrically heated knife to skim the wax the bees made to hold the seasoned honey in the cell of the frame. (The cell is a hexagon-shaped compartment of a comb. Bees store food and raise brood – immature bees – in these compartments.) The skimmed wax and some honey drop into a wooden box for later enjoyment, or to strain and add to the honey flow. When all is done, this pile is a mixture of some of everyone’s honey.

Since we arrived last, we waited our turn on the extractor. John helped out by turning its crank, while others kept it from jumping off the stand.  The extractor is a simple contraption that stands about four feet high, a plain metal cylinder with clasps inside to hold the frames in place. The method is simple, too. Turn the crank and eventually the honey flows down the inside of the machine, out the spigot and into a container. The best is a plastic bucket with two strainers to separate the honey from any wax or – yes, this can happen – any bee parts that made it into the flowing honey.

Part of the treat of being at Dragonfly Farm is “time out for lunch,” often one of Marge’s hearty soups, homemade bread and honey butter. Her kitchen is large and inviting, with cooking and baking aromas, and a big friendly dog begging to be petted. This year we had a tasty goat meat and veggie soup, with corn bread on the side. The group usually supplements with food to share.

Once everyone’s honey was harvested, we divvied up the wax and honey mixture from the “drop box.” At home we strained our share, adding the golden liquid to our own honey and saving the “waxy residue” for special treats. We’ll share our dozen jars with family and friends.

That’s the harvesting story of  backyard beekeeping. But, people often wonder about the danger of CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) to our bees. The truth is that the backyard honeybee’s life is simpler and less dangerous than the “professional” bees, which are carted around the country to pollinate plants on large farms. Right here in Maine, working honeybees pollinate the huge up-country blueberry crop.

Unlike those bees, ours have a varied diet. Within a few miles of our property, they have the choice of flowers, weeds and other plants from early spring through the fall, as well as the sugar water we feed them in the off-season. The “professional” bees generally feed on one crop – like blueberries – for a long period, making for a less healthy diet.

Also, at a meeting this summer we learned the results of a Harvard University study investigating the effects of pesticides – specifically neonicotinoids – on honeybees. Large agra-farms inject pesticides into their seeds to make them resistant to disease. The Harvard study found that incorporating even a small amount of these pesticides into a hive’s sugar water in the spring caused significant honeybee deaths. But not all at once.

That first spring, bees feeding on the treated sugar water survived into fall. Soon, though, the researchers found dead bees in and around the hives. The pesticides were being passed from one generation to the next, weakening the “hive.” By the time the snow flew that winter, hundreds of bees had dropped dead. The longer the pesticides were in the hive, the worse the results.

A quote from the Bulletin of Insectology states that “researchers found that 94 percent of the hives had died after exposure to the neonicotinoid pesticide.” (Read more about the Harvard Study at

Backyard beekeepers cannot combat the practices of the large agra-farms. But we can maintain a centuries-long tradition.


No Cell Phones at Nana’s Table

Monday, August 20th, 2012

By Jean Webster

When our children and grandchildren visit during the summer we total ten people around the yellow wood dining room table. The three extra leaves mean we all fit at the same table at mealtimes.

This July the view from my kitchen made me smile, at first. It brought to mind my Italian grandmother’s basement dining room. That table held all our family for Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter dinners. While her tablecloth was white, we use cloth place mats and (often) cloth napkins, with a different colored ring for each person.

But, the difference between Grandma’s table and mine is more than tablecloth versus place mats. That 1950’s tableau included no extraneous gadgets … no “social media.” The only annoyance was when “the boys” started jiggling their legs in rhythm, making dishes and silverware bounce around on the table.

When I looked over my family scene last month nearly everyone waiting for blueberry pancakes was looking down, engrossed. Our son on his Mac, checking projects at work. Our daughter and daughter-in-law checking emails on their iPads. The grandchildren – including an 18 year old, a 15-year old and two 13-year olds – were likewise captivated by their phones or iPadS. All at my dining room table!

(The only person not on a phone was our son-in-law. He was reading the newspaper. How to please the in-laws. )

I know this isn’t a new topic among people of a certain age and their younger family and friends. I too grew up in the mid-20th century, with one telephone in the house, a mailbox on the door, and paper and pen for writing letters.

I admit that I’ve been working on computers since the early ’80’s, and I couldn’t do without mine. It’s much easier than a typewriter, even the electric ones. And, I love email. It gives me the chance to keep in touch with family and friends all over the world.  And yes, I have a cell phone. But that’s all it is. A portable phone. For emergencies, or to let people know I’ll be late, or … “Help, I need directions.” Honestly.

It wasn’t easy convincing a bunch of grownups that there were just too many gadgets at Nana’s table. We got some stony looks – mostly from our own children. (Shades of their teenage years.)  And excuses. “Checking in at work.” “You know, we’re never off, even when we’re hundreds of miles away.” In the end, we convinced them: No electronics at mealtimes.

Eventually, after everybody but the 15-year old and a 13-year old had left, we were stricter. No electronics at the table at any time. That included evenings when we were playing games after dinner. “Mexican Train, anyone?”

In Maine we have a “distracted driving law,” but because a few pedestrians  have been struck when crossing the street while “on the phone,” there is now talk of a law regarding distracted walkers. It’s still in the talking stage.

However, we had to come up with our own “no cell phone” decree in our 125-year old candy store in Boothbay Harbor. To us, cell phones and a 19th century candy store do not mix. But, it took an annoying customer for us to generate a rule.

Last summer a woman stood in the midst of our store talking in full voice on her phone while her two young kids ran around. When one of them asked her, “Can we get this candy?” she snapped back, “Can’t you see I’m on the phone.” After she left, we decided we needed a new rule. We put up a nice colorful sign on the door, which says “Welcome! You are entering a cell phone free zone.”

Does it work? In fact, one day this summer a man came in and dropped his cell phone on the counter by the cash register. He picked it up when he paid the bill.