Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Maine Street

We’ve heard “Main Street” bandied about by politicians this election season. It’s shorthand for small town U.S.A. My town has a Maine Street. No, that’s not a typo. Brunswick is in Maine.

A pillared bank graces the brick sidewalks. The wide street was designed for horse drawn carriages. There were once cobblestones and Elm trees. It’s still tree lined.

I began my first novel, Moose Crossing, with a scene on Maine Street. My second novel, S.A.D, is also set in Brunswick and on the islands of Harpswell. Grand City Variety captures the old time feel of my town. Our daily paper, The Times Record, reported that this retro five-and-ten will shut at the end of this year.

There are other small businesses that are still thriving. I’m pleased to say we have an independent bookstore, the Gulf of Maine. It's a good place to find books by local authors and lots of novels.

Need steel-toed boots and Carhartt work clothes? Try Pennell’s, established 1889. That bright orange clothing is all the rage this time of year. Maine Street fashion keeps you safe. November marks the start of deer hunting season.

Brunswick pulls out all stops for Halloween. School children paint the windows.

My daughter’s team didn’t win a prize for “Horrorscope,” but I award them a blog star for originality.

That’s an underwater Halloween in a crystal ball. Global warming is scary! They painted the Little Dog Café, a great place to settle into a comfy chair with a cup of coffee.

On Halloween Brunswick children gather at the village green and then march down Maine Street accompanied by the junior high school band.

When you cross the bridge to Topsham, the street apparently loses its sense of humor and becomes Main Street. Keep driving and town gives way to farms on Rural Rt. 201.

Stop at Rocky Ridge Orchard in Bowdoin to pick apples or to buy your pumpkin. My teenaged son chose the biggest pumpkin: 56 pounds! He carried and carved it himself. My daughter is a fan of the barn swing.

We got cider and Cote’s ice cream at the farm shop. Their cider press dates from 1935.

The flag in the opening photo hangs from the rafters. Rocky Ridge is stocked full of Americana, country antiques and the best baked goods.

We brought home a mixed dozen of pumpkin, cider and chocolate doughnuts and an apple pie that was still warm.

Another good place for “donuts” is Frosty’s back in Brunswick, but you’d better go quickly. Rumor has it that Frosty’s may also be going out of business after more than 3 decades. Like Grand City Variety, they may not be able to renew their five year lease on Maine Street.

I met fellow blogger Tina Ramsey from In the Garden for pumpkin donuts at Frosty’s. I realized I had a problem once I walked in the door. I was looking for a big yellow dog (Tina’s profile image) and had no idea what Tina looked like. Luckily Tina and her mother, Jean, (another regular commenter on my blog) recognized me immediately. Not too many folks in Maine have long, black, curly hair.

Photo of Tina and me by Tina's husband

Tina and I met through our blogs when I was living in England last year. Tina grew up in Brunswick and attended the same elementary school as my children did. Now she lives in Tennessee after retiring from the army and is doing a degree in horticulture paid for by Uncle Sam. She and her husband are veterans of the Iraq War.

Reading In The Garden’s chatty comments is just like stopping by a front porch in Maine. Tina posted last week about our meeting. I’m suffering from blog lag – too many good things going on in life to keep up. Tina gave me a marker stone for my home, a gift she hand-makes for the bloggers that she meets. Thanks, Tina!

I’ve also connected with Brunswick School Board district 7 candidate Michele Joyce. Her friend from the Peace Corps in Africa is Shauna of Thinks Monthly in California, another commenter on my blog. Michele’s claim was that good people will find each other. I’m happy that a good person like Michele is running for School Board in my town. Isn’t it amazing that two blogging connections could lead back to Maine Street?

While on the topic of Brunswick politics, I'm endorsing Nick Livesay for Town Council At-Large. Nick grew up in Brunswick, graduated from Bowdoin College and has returned to raise his family. His work experience as an environmental consultant will be especially helpful for land use planning after the Naval Air Station closure.

Can you believe that Election Day is less than a week away?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

White Mountains, ME

The White Mountains were at peak color over Columbus Day weekend. The skies were often pure blue, and the temperature was in the 60’s. I’m a fair weather hiker who’d rather a shorter trail than a longer one, but I’ll scale a peak for the view.

My 14-year-old son took the photo of me. I feel most myself in the mountains or by the sea. My make up was the flush of the climb. We were joking over NOT taking a step backwards. Our expedition was my son’s idea. He chose the hikes, ordered the maps and even found an inn that would take our dog.

Henry (my husband) and Stella

When I was 20, I spent a month living in a tent and backpacking in the Wind Rivers Range of Wyoming. After the trails these days, I want wine with my dinner, a hot bath, a comfortable bed and a full cooked breakfast.

L’Auberge Country Inn and Bistro in Bethel provided it all.

Our room was most unusual. At one point it had been a theater complete with stairs leading to a Juliet style balcony. Now a four-poster takes center stage. There were 2 closet-come-bedrooms, a kitchen and a full bathroom. The food was satisfying, especially the goat cheese and caramelized onion tart. I caught up on sleep.

Bethel even has an internet café, The Mouse and Bean. My son checked the radar on our one rainy morning. Our young forecaster was spot on.

The rain cleared for our hike up Blueberry Mountain. The photo is of the part before it gets steep. My kids and dog bounded up the rocky face on all fours like mountain goats. “Scrambling” is what that type of hiking/climbing without ropes is called. Terrifying is what I’d call it. I couldn’t bear to look down until we reached the summit.

Was it worth it? Check out the view here and in my opening shot.

I’ve never seen so many leaves peaking all at once. The blueberry bushes turn bright red in autumn, offset by the grey-green lichen.

We hiked up the White Cairn Trail and down the Stone House Trail, which was opposite from what John Gibson’s 50 Hikes in Coastal and Southern Maine recommended. Looking at the close contour lines, we decided it would be better on my bad knees to go up the steepest way. At 1,400 feet Blueberry Mt. is one of the smaller mountains in the park. The White Mountain National Forest stretches from Maine to New Hampshire.

I’ve seen crowds of leaf peepers in New Hampshire. In Maine we rarely encounter a soul on the trails. It’s so quiet but for the wind in the trees or a gurgle of a stream, and, oh yeah, the kids chatting. We didn’t see much wildlife, curiously.

On Deer Hill Road near North Lovell there is a wonderful blind for viewing (not shooting!) beavers, but you need to come at dawn or dusk to see them in action.

I noticed a political divide in the mountains. The few houses with year-round residents (as opposed to luxurious summer cottages) had McCain signs in their yards. All the parked cars at the trailheads had Obama stickers; most had Maine plates. On the more densely populated coast you see mostly Obama signs.

Maine is an unusual state. We have just two congressional districts, and we are one of only two states that can split our electoral college vote in presidential elections. Maine is expected to vote Democrat for the presidency even though we have two Republican senators, both moderately liberal women. Mainers are strong individuals.

Single Pole Mountain in South Paris is a good hike to break up the 2 hour drive from the White Mountains back to the coast. The leaves were just gorgeous on this easy trail.

Wind ripples made an abstract painting in an old quarry pond.

Golden leaves against the blue sky became a Japanese woodblock print.

From the summit we viewed purple mountain majesties. Those are the White Mountains. They will be snow white only too soon.

We lay on our backs to admire the perfect sky.

The leaves glowed in the late afternoon light. It was the end of the trail.

After the excitement of selling a painting at the 10X10 Art Show followed by this fun 4-day weekend, I was having trouble getting back to work on my novel. I love working for myself at home, but it requires motivation and discipline. It can get lonely. I was chatting about this with author Jane Green, and we made a pact to write a chapter on Monday and check in later. It worked so well for both of us that we did the same thing yesterday. NOT CRICKET (A MATCH FOR EVE) is back on track. Thanks, Jane!

Blog Watch

Andrew Sullivan has a really good article in The Atlantic Monthly on “Why I Blog.” Andrew is a political journalist and was one of the first bloggers. He taught me political theory at college and was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. Andrew was also at Oxford with my husband in the 1980’s. It’s a small blog world.

Dave at Home Garden is hosting an on-going Fall Color Project.  Check it out for more foliage.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fall Foliage and Books

Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife grabbed me on page one, in the presidential bedroom. The wife, a cameo Laura Bush, questions her choices and ponders her unique situation given her regular midwestern roots. Alice can’t sleep while her husband snores. This fictional memoir can be funny and very personal. It is painfully true to our times. Along with Barack Obama’s memoirs (my blog on the first,) American Wife is “the book” to read this election season.

Bowdoin College, Maine
where my husband teaches politics

American Wife follows the president’s wife from her small town childhood to the White House. Sittenfeld is a master of creating a sense of place. By the book “she writes what she knows.” The author was raised in the midwest like her protagonists in American Wife and in Prep, her first novel. She taught at a similar exclusive prep school. In Prep I pictured a campus like Bowdoin College’s.

Bowdoin College campus

Sittenfeld’s descriptive prose is lovely and not overdone. Her writing is understated and truly beautiful in places, and yet it’s quiet enough not to distract you from the first person narrative. You see the world through her eyes. Alice is a totally sympathetic character. In this way Sittenfeld’s third novel is the opposite of her first novel, Prep, with its unlikable protagonist. She has grown as an author.

I find the midwestern setting in Sittenfeld’s writing personally appealing. My mother’s family is from Kansas City. My aunt Virginia Huber lives in Madison, Wisconsin where part of American Wife is set. I can also relate to small town life after moving to Maine. American Wife will give you a real sense of the American heartlands, and it does so lyrically.

Farm in Brunswick, Maine

If the strengths of American Wife are the protagonist, the setting and the fine writing, then the weakness is the caricature husband, the president. There isn’t much nuance between Sittenfeld’s kind-hearted Democrats and her spoiled, wealthy Republicans. The story also rambles a bit like a memoir. It still is a book well worth reading and admiring.

A maple near my house

So how do I choose the books I review? I look for books that I think I’ll like so the book list in my sidebar is recommended reading as opposed to critical reviews. I never give an ending away or reveal too much of a book’s plot as I hate it when critics spoil a book I plan to read.

I read commercial as well as literary fiction, with an interest in books that straddle that divide. I’m especially interested in new releases. I’m a sucker for good writing and books that tackle the issues. Character and setting matter. I want to fall in love. What I look for in my reading is what I aspire to in my writing. The best teacher is a good book. Having a unique voice is important too.

My reviews are short and part of the personal story I’m telling. I have never torn apart a book in my blog because I would share the author’s pain. I’m an aspiring novelist myself, and authors are habitual self-googlers. I’m still going to be honest about a book’s strengths and weaknesses.

Bowdoin College Chapel

I first heard about American Wife in my most trusted book review source, The New York Times. I also read reviews in People Magazine, The New Yorker etc. That etc. gets shorter every year. Sadly, book reviewing seems to be a dying art in the print media. Newspapers keep cutting those sections. Then again newspapers aren’t doing well either.

Happily book reviewing is finding a second life in blogs. It was author/blogger Jane Green who urged me to read American Wife. The novel had favorable reviews, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it. I’m no fan of the Bush administration, with markets crashing and the war even less so. Add to that, I like to think of women as more than wives, but American Wife was so much more than that. Thank you, Jane!

Readers: What was the best book you’ve read lately and why?
How did you choose it?

Gardeners: these wildflowers are the only thing left blooming in my garden. What are they called? The leaves are at peak color in Maine. I’ll have more photos next week from the our White Mountains hike over Columbus Day Weekend. This post is part of Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day. Visit to see what else is blooming around the world or to add a link to your garden post.

The woods in my backyard

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

10X10 Art Show

This week I swap my writer’s hat for my artist’s hat. On Friday night October 10th I’ll be one of 120(!) Maine artists in the 10X10 Art Show. It’s a fundraiser for Arts Are Elementary. AAE is a non-profit organization that brings local artists into Brunswick public elementary school classrooms.

For example, AAE sends Charlotte Agell to help first graders write and illustrate their own picture books. Before Charlotte began writing young adult fiction (I reviewed her latest,) she wrote and illustrated 9 picture books. The painting above is one of three she has in the 10X10 show. Even cooler, Charlotte’s daughter and mother each contributed three pieces.

The blue jay pastel is by Anna Simmons, Charlotte’s daughter. Anna photographs the flighty birds, and then works from her photos. She’s a student at Maine College of Art.

"Monhegan Island" by Margaret McDonald, Charlotte’s mother

“Two Fish” by Catherine Worthington

Howard Solomon’s collage “Free American Men” jumps out of the box, challenging our assumption of what constitutes art and how we define American men.

I was impressed to find two paintings by my children’s pediatrician, William Wilkoff. Will has also written four parenting books. This town is crawling with multi-talented people!

All artworks are ten inches by ten inches in black frames. The show is called 10X10 for the size and the opening date (10/10/08.) The overall effect is like a patchwork quilt, and there are more than artists in this quilting circle.

Local businesses like Portland Glass donated the framing materials which volunteers assembled. Judith Long (left)and Lucy Cooney (right) were the masterminds behind the black frame show concept, borrowed from the Bayside Neighborhood Association in Portland. Many, many other volunteers helped out. Thank you!

The art above and many other pieces are on display in the Morrell Meeting Room at the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick.

The library is but one of the three locations for this huge 250 piece art show. Don’t forget to cross Pleasant Street to visit the two other venues.

The opening poster art by Natasha Kempers-Cullen, my two watercolors and many other works will be on display in the Brunswick Business Center at 18 Pleasant Street, almost directly across the street from the library. The art is hanging in the Points of View Gallery. Isn’t that the perfect venue for an artist/novelist?

Regular blog readers might remember my post Art and Lunch at Bailey Island about painting the first watercolor. The second watercolor I painted at the same place where Charlotte Agell and I hiked. Seguin Island is also in my header painting and in several posts about Popham Beach. Every artist was asked to write a statement. Here’s mine:

Moving to coastal Maine inspired me to paint landscapes. My medium is watercolor because it captures the flow of the ocean. It is also easier than oil paint to take on location. I usually complete my watercolors in one afternoon, racing the tide and waiting for the sun to reveal the shadows. A challenge for me in this show was working smaller and squarer than I usually do. A long rectangle works more easily with the coastline, yet I’m pleased with these square compositions.

“Sailing by Bailey Island” by Sarah Laurence

Bailey Island is one of my favorite places to paint. After a refreshing swim off Cedar Beach, my children built a seaweed fort while I painted. I had to work quickly as the tide was shifting, swallowing the sand. I let the watercolor flow like the incoming sea. At just the right moment, a sailboat breezed by. I love those serendipitous moments that make painting on location so special.

“Seguin Island from Morse Mountain” by Sarah Laurence

Morse Mountain in Phippsburg is really more of a hill, but it affords a great view of the flat coast. In September the leaves were just beginning to turn. I bushwhacked from the peak to an outlook of Morse River and Popham Beach. Seeing Seguin Island was a welcome surprise. The painting didn’t work well as a rectangle, but when I cropped it into a square for this show, it clicked.

A little farther down Pleasant Street toward the town center is Gallery Framing, the third venue for the 10X10 show.

Every art piece is priced at $200 and will be sold off the walls starting Friday night October 10th 5-8pm. We artists will be at the opening and eight Brunswick restaurants donated appetizers. The live sale continues Saturday October 11th 10am-4pm. The remaining works will be up until November and will still be available for purchase. The artists and AAE will split the profit.

The10X10 show is part Brunswick & Topsham Art Walk. On the second Friday of every month, you can visit many artist studios, galleries and café displaying art for sale. The art walks are sponsored by Five Rivers Arts Alliance.

October is a lovely time to be walking around Brunswick and Topsham. The maples are blazing red.

10X10 on 10/10
Benefit Art Exhibit & Sale
Friday Oct. 10, 5pm-8pm
and Saturday Oct. 11, 10am-4pm
Brunswick, Maine

1. Morrell Meeting Room at Curtis Memorial Library, 23 Pleasant St.
2. Points of View Gallery in Brunswick Business Center, 18 Pleasant St.
3. Gallery Framing, 12 Pleasant St

All artwork priced $200 and ready to hang to benefit AAE

Read more about the 10X10 show in this Times Record feature.

The pond in the woods behind my house.

P.S. I just stopped by the Brunswick Business Center to see where my paintings were hanging in the Points of View Gallery. The show opens tonight (Friday 10/10.) Ha! Here's where you can find my art:

You can read or leave comments by clicking on "comments" below.
I'll be adding comments about the art sale's progress too.