First light on the islands

The weather in Maine this summer has not been as hot as some of us might like, but as far as I’m concerned the sunrises and sunsets have more than made up for the mediocre midday action. I spent last weekend with my family in a small cabin perched on a cliff jutting over the water at the eastern entrance to the Fox Island Thoroughfare.

3shotI’m not sure what awoke me. Maybe the absolute stillness, no waves lapping at the rocks below, no wind rustling the pine boughs. Maybe it was the intense glow, like a fire, a good fire, though.

Once I sat up in bed and saw what was happening I was transfixed.

I couldn’t stop taking photos. The sky and the water were one. The black silhouette of the land was as sharp in the water as it was against the sky, like an ink smudge along the crease of a folded piece of paper.

2shotWho could tell whether the mirror was above or below. A few clouds added softness. The fir trees watched the scene with me.

8shotThe sliver of moon took it’s time going to bed for the day.

14shotThis is the country of the pointed firs, after all

13shotOur little cabin looked like a fairy tale house when I looked back at it from the dock.

12shotThe view toward our boat on the dock and North Haven beyond reminded me where we had come from and which way was up.

11shotThe Schooner American Eagle was moored in the Thoroughfare.

9shotAs I watched from my perch on the narrow porch, boat-builder Foy Brown drove by in his small outboard, commuting to Brown’s Boatyard in North Haven from his houseboat in Perry’s Creek. The buzz from his engine and the ripples from its wake hitting the rocks broke the stillness, but only for a few minutes.


4shot5shotGood morning North Haven; Good morning Vinalhaven; Good morning Maine. I love being a part of you.





Finding home


Many years ago I wanted to write a book called “Finding Home.” The plan was to write a series of profiles of people in the state, asking how they knew when they were home and what that meant to them. It’s a rich topic that has engaged many writers far better than me. That may be one reason why the book never got off the ground.

Still the question lurks in my consciousness each time I write a story, and especially now that I am editing a magazine celebrating life on the Maine coast.

A couple of weekends ago I asked myself again about home as my husband and I headed up to Mt. Desert Island for a friend’s 70th birthday party. I spent 10 years on MDI back in the 1990s, some of that time as editor of the local newspaper.

Our first stop was lunch in Ellsworth where the man behind the counter rang up my sandwhich while saying, “Hi Polly. How have you been?” It took some serious brain rummaging and a quick phone call to a friend to come up with his name. But then the memories started to flow.

Next stop was with Putt at the Stihl dealership in Trenton. Every year for at least 10 years I’ve stopped in to see Putt and pick up the latest Stihl calender for my husband. They feature buxom, scantily clad blonds posing with chain saws and weed whackers and other stuff like that. Putt thinks it’s hilarious that I come all the way up from Camden to see him. “I don’t know about this year’s calender,” he said, as I flipped though, a tad shocked at images a lot closer to run of the mill pornography than usual. “I’ll tell the dealer I had a complaint,” he said with a chuckle as I hurried out with my head down.

We decide to drive through Somesville past a house I once rented, and stop at Long Pond to check out the ice. It looked great. Some people were playing hockey and there seemed to be ice fishermen everywhere. Scraped out by a glacier during the ice age, Great Long Pond is 4 miles long but nowhere near as wide. When I lived on MDI we used to skate there often, down and back. I have a photo at home of me with my old terrier Calhoun on a particularly windy day. Once my brother and I skated the whole way around during an exhausting weekend effort to spend time on every lake on the island.

belovedOn this day we got halfway down and stopped to talk to two bundled up ice fishermen sitting in chairs. They told me two ATV’s went through the ice nearby earlier and to be careful. They and all the other fishermen on the lake this weekend were competing in the Tremont Ice Fishing Derby. As we chatted, one of them looked at me sharply. “Is that you Polly?” It’s a guy I used to know when I lived there. He did a bunch of housepainting and carpentry for me.

I head back up the lake, spreading my arms wide at the glory of the mountains all around reflected in the smooth ice. Some of you may know, I am a skating fanatic. Some people do drugs, I do ice.

By this time, John, nursing a sore ankle, had turned back for home. I promised not to go too far, but it was hard to force myself back. By the time I did return to John near takeout, I was high on skating and memories.

IMG_1051Next stop was tea and gossip with several island friends. Later at the birthday party, we saw still more familier faces. By then, after forgetting that first time, my memory had come back and I knew the names. Dinner was a buffet and we sat at a table of strangers. But even they felt like old friends by dessert. John and I love boats, islands and fish stories and the people at our table wanted to talk about all three.

As we drove home late in the evening, fighting back drowsiness, I was happy to my core.

IMG_1043Home is a state of mind. You can’t explain it like a dictionary definition. But you know it when you feel it. Home is skating on a favorite lake from the past with my best friend and love of my life; home is reconnecting with familiar faces. Home also is kissing my sleeping children and letting the dogs out when I get back to my own house after a day down memory lane.

Home is Maine and it warms my heart.















The owl and pussycat

Every year John and I forget our anniversary and this year was no exception. That’s ok because we celebrate our marriage all year long. This year, though, we made up for missing the exact day, by planning a short, belated celebratory overnight cruise. As we sailed out of Rockland Harbor, I felt like the owl and the pussycat in Edward Lear’s wonderful children’s book. Only instead of sailing for a year and a day to the land where the bong tree grows, we went to North Haven, picked up one of JO Brown’s moorings and rowed ashore just as the setting sun was working its magic.

3nhtrip I love cruising to a harbor where I feel so welcome!


2nhtripWe rowed around the North Haven Casino which is celebrating its 101st birthday by getting new underpinnings. It has been moved off it’s flimsy pilings onto a sort of steel teepee while Prock Marine rebuilds the piling.


5nhtripA lovely end of the season party at a friend’s house, followed by dinner at Nebo Lodge where we saw more friends, reminded us why we love this small island. We rowed back out to Wild Rumpus in the moonlight across the glassy smooth water — rowing to the light of the moon, not dancing, but it felt just as joyous.

4ntripAfter coffee on board the next morning, a shoreside inspection of work being done under the house my brothers and I own, and chats with more friends, including a cousin who was taking delivery of one of Peter Ralston’s gorgeous photos (he took the photo of the two of us above), we hauled up the sails and headed back across the bay, waters sparkling and just enough wind the keep the engine silent.

A last summer sail, bittersweet but so lovely. It will give us memories to share over the winter and fodder for dreaming about more cruises next year.


The skipper says see you on the water next year!

Parading around

Everybody loves a parade. Especially me. But until now I never got to walk in one. I’ve always been a spectator. Until today, that is.


Today, I walked with my son, Sam, and his Little League team in Camden’s Memorial Day Parade.

What makes this parade so wonderful is that the spectators sitting in their canvas folding chairs and holding small American flags, know the people marching by and vice versa. They yell hi and wave their hands and their flags and we wave back. We walked by my friend Dan and his mother, Gigie; my friend Jackie who was selling raffle tickets in front of the local market; Scott sitting in front of his real estate office; and Jude who rushed out to give her son a sip of water as we passed. In front of us, the high school band played but all we heard was the staccato beat of the drums. Behind were antique cars, local clubs, the humane society and the Lincolnville Band playing in the back of their huge tractor-trailer.


Today, the sun came out after 10 days of rain. The crowds lining the street and those of us marching the two miles from start to finish felt happy just because at long last we could see blue sky.

Before moving to Camden, my experience with Memorial Day was on the island of North Haven, just off the coast from here. There a town official each year reads off all the names of local sons and daughters who died in the service of their county, going all the way back to the American Revolution. Then some one plays Taps and memorial wreaths are dropped off the ferry landing to float out to sea.

Camden is too big to read off the names of all the veterans. Instead, the parade stops at each memorial on the way through town. And when we reach the main cemetery, the high school band plays the Star Spangled Banner and the Naval Hymn and a lone trumpeter plays Taps. A minister recited a blessing; and a veteran read touching lyrics from a country western song about “our boys in blue.”

Memorial Day is when we take time to honor those who gave their lives for our country. But the Memorial Day Parade also celebrates community and the people who hold it together.


Shall we Dance?

Many of the passengers on this ship seem to be here for the dancing. They start in the morning with line-dancing classes, then in the afternoon take ballroom-dancing lessons.
The ship features a live ballroom-dance band, Trevor Newby and the Queens Room Band, including a male singer named Jean something or other. Each evening the floor is cleared for 15 minutes or so to let “International Dance couple Eugene and Daria” glide and leap around, demonstrating the samba, the tango, the rhumba etc. Daria is impossibly thin with long skinny legs and she wears filmy outfits with skimpy tops that must be held on by tape. Both of them have permanent smiles that give no hint of whether they really are having fun or not.

On previous nights I have looked down on the dancers from the balcony above, watching them glide and twirl and seeing the action as great wonderful swirling pattern. Tonight we watched from the floor-level sidelines, seeing more of individual dancers and less of the whole.

Behind us, a Korean couple who now live in Seattle, also watched the action. They had come on the boat to dance and had taken a private lesson from Eugene and Daria earlier in the afternoon. “One hour with the two of them for only $50. A very good deal,” the woman said. But she had hurt her knee in the class and was forced to sit out the dancing tonight. Too bad, because this was the night of the Cunard Ballroom Dancing Competition, complete with three celebrity judges — entertainers from the previous nights: the violin player, the Irish tenor and the comedian.

Ten couples signed up and performed three dances, a foxtrot, a waltz and a jive.
Between each dance the judges made comments, such as I liked his shoes, or she completed me on my playing so I like her dancing. But in the end the audience chose the winners, picking a young couple were from Dublin. He wore shiny black and white oxford shoes and a black tuxedo. She wore a puffy short black skirt. The second-place couple were Japanese and said they lived in San Francisco. When asked how much they like dancing, the wife proudly told us that they dance 9 hours a week at home.

Dancing brings out the characters. Every night we have watched an older woman with long blond hair who always wears a Hawaiian-looking pink headband. She makes me think of Miss Havisham– an old woman dressed in fancy cloths more suited for a young one. Tonight she wore a silk tartan jacket and skirt. Getting hot with dancing, she removed her jacket to reveal a strapless top. Her wrinkled skin oozed over a bit in the back. Not a good look. There are quite a few single women like her one this boat. But Cunard has that covered with so-called “Gentleman Dancing Escorts.” Six men, mostly older, wearing white jackets and name tags prowl the dance floor and the tables around it, looking for women who want to dance. Some women, like the older tartan-wearing one, end up dancing every number this way. Many of the contestants in the dance competition included ‘dancing men’ as the spectators call them.

During the competition, an older Scottish lady in front of me asked me to photograph her and the older ‘dancing man’ who was her partner. “Be sure to get him when he goes wild during the Jive,” she said. It felt good to have a job!

One of the dancing men, Andrew Doukas, is from Portland, Maine. He says he has been doing this for 8 or 9 years. Cunard pays for his trip and travel costs but does not give him a salary.

“It’s a great way to get a free vacation,” he says, although he concedes that sometimes it’s not easy. Many of the single women waiting expectantly for dance partners are not young and beautiful — to put it politely.

He’s been on this boat since Los Angeles and does one or two of these trips a year. Tonight he stands out in the dance competition for his practiced swings and twirls, but it turns out his partner is a British woman who is now his girlfriend. He met her on a cruise a year ago.

When not tripping the light fantastic on cruise ships, Andrew works for himself as an attorney in Portland. He’s been ballroom dancing for 25 years and found about the “Dancing escort” gig from a scout at a dance class.

“They were looking for single men who were willing to go on cruises,” he said.

Mom and I cringed when one by one the dancing men came by and asked us to dance because the people out there twirling around know what they are doing and we do not. But on the way up to our stateroom, we both decided we’d like to learn.
The dancers
Andrew Doukas- a Dancing Escort from Portland
Many of the men and their partners wear kilts
Mom and me enjoying the sunny weather on deck





What’s for dinner?

Today we toured the main galley for the kitchen off the
Britannia Dining room. All the top chefs on board lined up like
celebrities to be introduced. Wearing their calf-length white
cotton aprons and tall, white pleated paper chefs hats.

The Executive Sous Chef Steven Peter Schaap, who is Australian, told me
that in the old days the number of pleats on a hat corresponded to
the number of egg dishes a chef had mastered. I think he might be
full of it! He also said that the chefs’ aprons were double
breasted to protect them from burning if they had to carry hot
platters close to their chests.

The kitchens on this vessel process
an extraordinary amount of food. On a 7-day voyage, they will serve
about 45,000 meals and clean over 500,000 pieces of china and
glass. This includes about 800 pizzas, 5,500 scones, 45,000 cups of
tea, 2,000 pints of beer, about 2,600 bottles of wine and 250
bottles of champagne. In terms of raw ingredients, a typical 7-day
trip will require 35 tons of fruit and vegetables, 15 tons of meat,
including poultry, 10 tons of fish and seafood, 15 tons of cheese
and dairy products, 1.5 tons of sugar, 33,000 pints of milk, 2,300
dozen eggs, 4 tons of flour and 1.5 tons of rice.

The ship has a
crew of 10 people who handle all the food provisioning when in
port. The storerooms include 17 huge refrigerators, freezers and
dry areas. Fresh products are loaded every 7 days, while dry and
frozen goods come on board every 12 to 14 days, depending on the
ships schedule. All this food is prepared in 12 galleys spread
around the ship, which operate 24 hours a day in shifts, Schaap
said. He and Executive Chef Klaus Kremer supervise a staff of seven
chefs de cuisine, including an executive pastry chef and a chief
butcher, 140 under chefs and 68 cleaners.

We entered the kitchen
through a large stainless steel revolving door. Staff enter through
one of these doors, drop off dirty plates and linen etc. then clean
their hands before proceeding into the inner sanctum. They exit
with new dishes through another door.

It’s all quite industrial
looking. Lots of stainless steel, white-tiled floor and labels at
each station, although the labels might have been added today just
for us. We passed through a beverage area, with machines for tea,
lemonade etc., and on into what looked like a long alley between
cooking stations. Each side was stacked with white plastic
individual dish covers. Each menu item for a main course has its
own prep and cooking area. Chefs on one side cook items, hand them
off to chefs on another who plate them and put them on a rack for
waiters, who have to line up for their orders. The waiters put on
the plastic dish covers.

On the pastry side, chefs were running two
Hobart mixers the size my dishwasher, and unloading silpat muffin
flats containing what looked like 24 chilled chocolate soufflés per
dish. Cold items are prepared in an area of the galley called the
cold larder. The chef in charge will put together a sample plate of
the daily dishes which are then reproduced by his sous chefs. This
same method is used for other dishes, as well.

Kremer, a native of
Germany, who has been cooking on Cunard Line vessels for 25 years,
said Cunard does not have shore-side test kitchens. New dishes are
prepared on board and then tested. Menu items are prepared based in
the demographics of the passengers on any given voyage, according
to Chef de Cuisine Prasad Haldankarr who supervises one of the
largest restaurants on board, the Britannia, which serves as many
as 878 people in a seating. People from different countries tend to
prefer different foods and Cunard keeps track on its computers.
Each order at any given sit-down meal is entered in to a computer
as soon as the waiter gets out to the kitchen, so the company can
track trends. I took a photo of the Sous Chef at his computer,
which is where he spends a fair amount of time. He shares a
glassed-in office with the executive chef in the center of the main
galley where they can easily see the various stations around them.

I was surprised at how few people showed up for the galley tour,
only about 75 of so. Many were worried that our passage through the
clean cooking area might contaminate the food. Not to worry, said
Kremer, the 68 cleaners have it under control. “They do all the
work that we don’t want to do,” he said. Not only does the kitchen
have the capacity to wash and disinfect dishes in about 2 minutes,
it also has really strict sanitation controls.

So where does all
the waste go? Leftover food is pulped and thrown overboard when the
ship is far enough offshore. Plastic and papers are incinerated.
Glass and metals are crushed and taken ashore for recycling. The
most consumed item on this ship, no matter what the demographic is
water. And there is no way, the vessel could have enough room to
store water for a full voyage. The Queen Elizabeth has 2 large salt
water evaporators which process about 45,200 gallons of water a
day, which is about the daily usage onboard. That water then is
treated with chemicals and filtered to make even tap water in the
cabins potable.

It’s almost time for dinner. I think dessert might
be chocolate soufflés.

I did not get a tour of the bridge or the
engine room because Mom and I were too cheap to pay for that
privilege. Oh well. We can do it on our next trip.

Photos: the
Executive Chef The Executive Sous Chef scenes in the kitchen all
the top chefs introduce themselves








The good ship Elizabeth

So today a bit about this ship. Launched 2010, the Queen Elizabeth was built at Fincanieri, Monfalcone Yard in Italy and is 294 meters long, with a beam of 32 meters and a draft of 7.9 meters. She rises up 55 meters from the waterline, holds 2092 passengers and about 100 crew for a ratio of 1 crew member for every 2 passengers. She can go 24 knots, but usually cruises somewhere around 19 knots. She burns 240 tons of heavy fuel every 24 hours. We were invited to cocktails with the captain last night (along with about 900 other people) and he told us that this trip the ship was sold out. The passengers come from 28 countries, with the most people (900 or so) from Great Britain, followed by America (500), then Germany. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen so many men in kilts in one place before.

Tonight we met one of the chief chefs. He supervised 65 underchefs in one of the ship’s 12 kitchens. Overall the vessel has 165 chefs, he said. Meals are planned according to the nationality of the passengers. Cunard, he said, has figured out what people from different countries tend to order and plans its meals accordingly. They are so good at it, that on a night like tonight, they may end up with just five to 10 servings left over of any one dish.

While my mother and I have been taken aback by all the extra charges — for example, if you want to visit the bridge and the engine room be prepared to shell out $120 per person– we also have been amazed at the extent of the things this company will do. Today, we met officers on the deck who were preparing for a funeral service for someone who had asked that their ashes be thrown off the Queen Elizabeth in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Apparently this is not a rare thing. We said we hoped they threw the ashes downwind, and this officer said yes he had seen people try to do this upwind and end up wiping ashes off their faces.

Lunchtime today we hit the halfway mark between New York and Southampton. We have travelled 1,650 nautical miles. The wind has dropped and the sun is trying to come out. Hard to believe this is the North Atlantic in winter. Still some people on board are seasick. We went to hear a piano concert this afternoon. The pianist played one song and then stood on the front of the stage and told us all he could not continue because he felt ill. Still there are other people who apparently think they are in the tropics. They are swimming in the outdoor pools, rolling back in forth with the water in the pool as it shudders in the swells.

As I look out at the waves rolling by and feel the gentle swell under the ship, I keep on wondering what Samuel de Champlain who did this 27 times would be thinking now. We did see a seagull flying around the ship. I wondered what kind f gull it was and went to check in the library. Most likely it was a kittywake. We also learned today that the ship plots its course according to something called circle sailing. Apparently taking the circular route is faster than going in a straight line because it follows the curve of the earth.
The photos below show:
The north Atlantic, Emmy at lunch, A wooden veneer image of the Queen Elizabeth designed by David Lindley (Princess Margaret’s son), the ship’s library and our favorite magazine displayed there (who could have delivered them!!??), dancers in the ship’s theater and the Captain introducing his officers to the passengers.









We head to sea

This part of my blog will chronicle my adventures with my mother on a 7-day cruise on the Queen Elizabeth from New York to Southampton, England. We drove from Boston to New York on Saturday, arriving at the pier at around noon. The Queen Elizabeth was berthed right next to the aircraft carrier Intrepid, complete with the Concord and space shuttle Enterprise parked on its decks. They look small compared to this towering ocean liner. As far as I can tell this ship has 12 floors and at least 2 very fancy stairwells. We are on floor 5 on the port side with a small balcony. Just below us are the lifeboats. We’ve been given all sorts of instructions for where to go in the event of an emergency. But I plan to jump out the window and into one of these handy lifeboats. Our room is about 20 by 10 feet, with just enough room for two beds, a desk and a sofa. But It’s cozy and somehow I do not think we will be hanging out here much during our voyage on this ship with its spa, five or more restaurants, library, lounges and endless recreation areas.

The ship left the pier at 4:29 p.m. We barely noticed she was moving at first, but suddenly the shoreside cars disappeared and we ran up on deck to watch as a Moran tug helped ease the great liner out into the Hudson River. As the tug pulled away it honked four times, a high beeping sound. The Queen boomed back with a long, shuddering moan of a horn. And we were off.

Heading down the river in the afternoon sun, with a light breeze and warm sunshine, the buildings in the city sparkling in the light was glorious. An older Scottish lady had brought along her bagpipes and played on deck as we eased along. As we passed the southern end of Manhatten she played Amazing Grace, saying it was for the people who died in 9/11.

River ferries zipped back and forth below us like bugs. As we approached the Statute of Liberty off to starboard, a cloud covered just enough of the sun to create a spotlight that dramatically silouetted the statue. A rich tycoon’s massive (300-440 foot long) private yacht was moored quite close to Ellis Island, which seemed ironic to me — give me your tired, your poor, oh yea!

Next came the Veranzano Bridge, which we cleared by 89 CM, according to the captain. As the sun began to set and New York disappeared into a pink haze, a small pilot boat pulled alongside just below our room to take the pilot back into port. Once he was onboard it zoomed back behind our stern and met up with a larger pilot boat. We are headed out into to ocean, going about 18 knots. We’ll be in the Gulf of Maine for Easter.