Sailing vitamins


The other day we ate lunch outside in the sun and all agreed it was one of the nicest days ever. I think that’s because in September we never know how long the late summer sun will linger. We enjoy each warm bright day with extra pleasure, because it might be the last time we can wear sneakers with no socks, or a short-sleeve shirt outside. Knowing winter is just around the corner seems to make the sun brighter.

The same thing goes for fall sails. Each time I rig Frolic and take her out into the bay, I savor the gurgle of water along the hull, the gentle shaking of the wind in the sails and creak of the spars as though I am hearing them for the last time in a very long while. Perhaps if I breathe in really deeply I can pull into my head and heart the color of the deep blue sky, dark green mountains, rippling ocean, and the dusky pink glow of my sails filtering the sunlight. If I’m lucky they will stay there long enough to sustain me through the cold months of winter — like extra special spiritual vitamins.

Today as I watched the sun reflect on the bay out my office window I decided to leave early to go sailing, because you never know how much longer this will last. Frolic and I headed out in the late afternoon with the schooners. In less than 15 minutes we were out in the bay, sailing past the bright white lighthouse on Curtis Island and beating towards the Graves. I thought of my father who loved doing stuff like this and my husband who persuaded me to buy and restore Frolic. Thankyou.


I turned back just as the already light wind heaved its last sighs and stranded Frolic and me at the entrance to the harbor. Two guys sailing a pinky schooner just downwind hauled in their sails and picked up speed. They would get home before dark, thanks to an engine.

I have an electric engine down below, but do not know how to use it (That’s always been John’s department. It may be time to learn for myself). But my long oar worked fine as a paddle and with a bit of effort it got me to my mooring, just in time to watch the sky turn pink and dress the harbor with its glow. Once ashore (where I had to pull my rowboat across the beach and then up on the dock thanks to the extra low tide), I watched the full harvest moon rise over the bay, emerging from the land in a blaze of orange almost as bright as the sun that just set.


Bring on the cold weather. I’m stocking up on my September sailing vitamins.





Bean vision

Picking green beans is like walking in the dark with no light. At first you cannot see anything; after a bit shapes begin to emerge; and soon you can see more than you want to. It’s called night vision.


For days I’ve been checking my green beans wondering when I would harvest some. Yesterday: nothing but leaves and stems, or so it seemed. Today, an explosion of green goodness. They grow fast, but not that fast. I’ll call it bean vision.

Inchworm reads the Times

After an hour weeding in the garden this morning, I came inside to read the newspaper and drink my coffee. A small green inchworm hitch-hiked a ride. By the time I noticed, it was dancing its way across the front page of the Times — a tiny, but graceful ballet that brought joy to the otherwise dreary news of the day. mobile

The last supper


When I was a child, my parents called the last meal before one of us went away to camp or school the “deathhouse dinner.” It was meant to be a feast of the departee’s favorite foods and we four children posted notes in the fridge noting what we liked best. I always thought the name was morbid. It was as though they were sending us off to die. Last night the garden and I made dinner for Jack and Sam as they head off for three weeks of camp. The last of the peas, the first potatoes, the first cucumbers, grilled chicken. It was delicious and I thank the garden for blessing us with such bounty. But I have new insight into the “deathhouse” thing. It’s what my home will feel like while my children are gone. I will miss them so much and so will the garden, which will keep producing its bounty, but there won’t be enough of us to eat it.



Fiddling Around


Those who like to forage in the woods know mid-May marks the time for fiddleheads. These delectable green coils emerge from the ground and grow up into what most people know as ostrich ferns. The key is to harvest them just as they start to reach for the sky. I have looked all over the woods behind my house and have found only one small patch, so when my friend Bridget asked if I’d like to go with her to her special spot somewhere in Searsmont, I jumped at the chance. Most foragers keep their special places secret, but Bridget is a wonderfully generous person and does not play by the same rules as most people. She gave me a pound of fiddleheads a few years ago when I admired her harvest in a Facebook photo—really one of my best Facebook moments ever.

We agreed to meet at 5:45 a.m. and I was to bring a backpack lined with a plastic bag, a small bucket for picking, drinking water and my boots. She picked me up and off we went into the wilds of Waldo County, down a dirt road past several old farmhouses, before finally parking by a big stream, donning our backpacks and setting off on a faint path into the woods. Bridget says this spot is known to many fiddlehead foragers and that she also often meets people fishing along this stream, which runs into a larger river. But she seems confident we’ll find plenty of ferns today.

The running water provides a steady background to cheerful bird songs and the squish of our feet on the wet ground. The trees have only just begun to leaf out. Instead silvery, lichen-laced trunks stand out in the early light. We soon come to the largest patch of trout lilies I’ve ever seen. Their mottled white and olive-green leaves cover the ground, giving way here and there to tall, fuzzy ferns (not fiddleheads) and a few yellow, trumpet-shaped blooms.


As we walk Bridget tells me fiddleheads are finicky, preferring sandy soil near running water. She learned about fiddleheads from her mother growing up in Aroostook County.


The first patch we find have grown past the fiddlehead stage into two-foot tall ferns. Full grown they can stand up to five feet high. Fiddleheads, so-called because they look like the curved scroll on the end of a violin, must be harvested just as they emerge from their crowns. That’s when their fronds remain tucked into tight coils. Bridget often knows she has found a patch when she steps on the bumpy crowns, one distinctive feature of these ferns. Other identifying characteristics of fiddleheads include their smooth, deep u-shaped stems and a papery brown covering on the coils. I’ve read enough about the ferns to know the importance of proper identification. Eating the wrong ferns can make you sick, as can eating an under-cooked fiddlehead. Bridget says she boils them for at least 15 minutes. This is really important because fiddleheads contain some kind of bacteria or chemical that merely sautéing in a pan does not kill. Food scientists have not identified the cause of the problem, according to University of Maine Professor of Food Safety Dr. Jason Bolton.

“We just know that cooking for a fair amount of time destroys whatever it is,” he says.

Properly steamed or boiled, fiddleheads taste like a combination of fresh grass and asparagus, like Maine woods in the spring. I usually boil them and then sauté them in oil. This year I might also try pickling. My mother’s friend, Peggy, says fiddleheads are carcinogenic. But Bolton says the cancer-causing ferns are some other type. He also told me potatoes contain some kind of carcinogen. But I’ll write about that some other time.

The next patch we find contains loads of perfect fiddleheads and we pick until the sun comes out and black flies arrive. I have been careful to harvest only a few fronds from each plant, figuring that will help promote the health of the fern, although it’s clear many of these fiddleheads are just the first set of shoots. We also have to pick around slightly brown fiddleheads that have been nipped by a frost earlier in the week. Eventually we fill our packs and head back.

When we get back home, I realize the picking was the easy part. Cleaning off the papery coverings requires much soaking and rinsing in the sink. Bridget says she likes to use an air compressor to blow the husks off, but it rained yesterday and these fiddleheads are damp so that won’t work.


I fill my big sink and get to work. As I’m cleaning, my husband comes home and looks at the pile of green. “You’re crazy,” he says as I tell him my haul weighed in at 15 pounds. He quickly adds, “That’s why I married you.”

All is well at my house. And tonight for dinner? Fiddleheads with pasta and sausage. Tomorrow? Fiddleheads again, maybe.

Land Ho

April 7
Land Ho

Our last day on the boat dawned sunny and clear. The cold winds and big waves of the North Atlantic in early spring had washed further south. The ocean also changed color, from a slate gray with wind-blown white caps, to an almost turquoise blue. I think this might be in part due to the depth under our keel, which has gone from 4,000 meters out in the middle to less than 90 as we come to within 250 miles of port.

The warmer weather brought many people outside to what seems to be known as “the promenade deck ” on the third level where you can walk all the way around the boat. Three laps equals .9 miles.

By 10:30 so many people were out there strolling that occasional traffic jams ensued in the narrow spots. Empty deck chairs became scarce. But every one was quite civil, cheery even, warmed up by the sun and the shared experience.

On this last day, the ship’s entertainment director hosted a passenger talent show. Nine people performed including a woman in her last 70s. “Next week I am going to my first folk festival and this is the first time I have ever stood up and sung in front of a crowd and I am scared,” she said before singing an acapella version of “My Bill,” in a tremulous, hesitant voice. The woman who played the bagpipes as we left New York played them again in the talent show, including in her several songs a version of “Auld Lang Syne.” She told the audience she was playing the song for the friends she had made during the crossing and for the camaraderie the passengers had shared.

I was back out on deck at 3 p.m. when we caught our first sight of land, the Isles of Scilly, shimmering far off the port side like a warm mirage. “I had my supposed honeymoon there,” a man on deck told me. We passed a half dozen, high-sided fishing vessels and picked up a scattering of seagulls in our wake. A fellow passenger said they were gannets, the largest English seagull with a wingspan of 5 feet. Some 40 minutes later, we could see a distant mountain off to port. Land’s end in Cornwall where we will be in a week.

We’ve done it. Crossed the Atlantic in a boat. Sure the boat is bigger than most houses, hotels even. We did not have to navigate, stand watch or eat our meals with one hand while gripping the wheel with the other. But still it feels good to know we survived the North Atlantic. It gives me new insight into Samuel De Champlain and other ocean explorers who made these crossings so many times and a new appreciation for their skills and courage. I have always wanted to do this, but never could figure out how to pull it off. Thankyou Mom for making it possible.

That night, we could see lights out our windows and by early dawn, the vessel had stopped. When I went on deck at about 6 a.m., the Queen was inching sideways alongside a long pier, in between two tankers. Men stood watching on the shore and two blue gantry cranes taller than the ship moved into place with hooks to lift up the shoreside gang planks. Towards the bow of the ship, about halfway up, the starboard side of the bridge sticks out like a small wing. Inside stood two men in uniforms looking up and down the pier and occasionally looking through binoculars–the captain landing his ship. We are in the Solent in Southhampton.

It took about 20 minutes to move the ship 10 feet into the pier, then long, thick lines emerged from the sides of the vessel and were thrown over massive bollards.

We have arrived. Our packed bags have been taken from our rooms and we are off for the shoreside portion of our adventure. As we leave the ship, porters are loading supplies. The Queen leaves this afternoon at 4 pm headed for Madeira.

A chart of our voyage signed by all the officers was auctioned off the last day, fetching $350

Docking the vessel

The captain on his bridge

tugs heading out the Solent to bring in the next big ship






What do people do all day

What do people do all day

So you spend a week on a big ship and what do you do all day? Well on the Queen Elizabeth there are many options. Today I wandered around the ship checking out all the different ways passengers keep themselves busy. The crew keep busy, as well. While we were at breakfast, it sounded like a giant woodpecker was trying to come down through the roof. Workers up top were chiseling at the endless rust. Get a bit here, and tomorrow it’s popped up over there.

Some passengers start their day at an early fitness class in the spa, or go to work out on their own on one of the many machines facing out to sea. Some go to catholic mass while others head off to collaborate on crossword puzzles. I checked up on four tables of people learning how to play bridge and on the way passed someone doing a large jigsaw puzzle. A space that mimics a British pub at night was home to a giant trivia contest in the morning. Heard through the door: “In what western state would you open your door and look out into the town of Ding Dong.” I never did get the answer because I heard the cheery chirp of the line-dancing instructor just down the corridor. “Now does anyone remember the steps we learned yesterday to Independence?” One step forward and back and cha cha cha. I tried to follow along but could not keep up, and truthfully got a little out of breath.

My mother went off to a workshop on using your digital camera, but when I looked in, they were learning what button did what and it seemed pretty basic. Enroute to something called a “Baggo Tournament,” I passed people lounging in chairs reading, chatting, looking at their computers, or heads thrown back, completely relaxed in sleep. In the “Royal arcade,” a crowd of ladies were looking over purses and bags that were on sale at half price for two hours only. Folks were looking at art for sale, jewelry, knick knacks, and even a wall of photos. Buy a portrait of yourself taken by the ship’s roving photographer.

I never could figure out what or where the Baggo was, nor could I find the watercolor class, but I did get to the theater in time to catch a bit of historian and mariner Paul Covell’s talk on ocean voyages. You could not get in without bumping in to the ubiquitous Purrell dispenser. Not only are these machines everywhere, but each time you enter a restaurant to eat a small flotilla of waiters chases you down with little squirts of the stuff.

My son Sam has been asking me via email whether I have been swimming yet. So today I decided to brave the pool, yet another activity. The motion of the ship rocks the water back and forth like a giant tidal wave. One moment, you are swimming uphill and the next, you’re shooting towards the end of the pool like a rocket.

More people than you might think, many of them men, spend much of the day in the laundry rooms. There is one on each floor, a narrow space with three washers and driers each. So far none of the men ironing their white shirts has agreed to iron anything for me.

After lunch, the activities continued. Bingo, darts, a shuffleboard tournament. A man and his son playing chess on the giant roof-top chess set. A ballroom dance class, a lecture on hymns of the sea. A movie: Life of Pi. Interesting to watch a large ship sinking in the ocean, just as ours hits some big swells and starts to pound. Several viewers left early, one muttering under her voice “too much water.” An art talk, solo travelers get together, a lecture by a former Olympic gold medalist runner, a knitting and needle-point group, alcoholics anonymous, a golf chipping tourney, too many spa lectures to list, and lots of music. Every afternoon, the Friends of Dorothy meet in an upper deck bar. This is a group for gays and lesbians.

On the way back to my stateroom after lunch, I stumbled on a band playing reggae, to a group of catatonic, largely large white people.

Last night, there were five different venues of live music. A jazz band with a fabulous sax players, a rock band playing for a dance, two piano players, a classical harpist and even a British comedian. Don’t want life music? how about the sound of the roulette wheel or slot machines. The onboard casino is open all day.

Tonight, in addition to similar musical line-ups, there will be an “Elizabethan Ball.” Too bad I missed the afternoon ballroom dancing class. But a dancing partner will not be a problem, as there are six assigned “escorts” who are paid to dance with single women.

Bed looks good after all that.

I’ve been so busy, checking out all the activities, walking and eating, I have barely read any of the books weighing down my suitcase. I guess I can catch up on my reading when I get home.

Good night!













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.