Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Maine Maritime Museum in Mud Season

March 21st marks spring in most places. In Maine it’s the start of mud season. All that snow has to melt. Mist hangs heavy. Sometimes it snows; other times it rains. Mud happens.

It’s a good time to visit the Maine Maritime Museum although not all the buildings are open. The museum is set in the old shipyard from back when Bath built tall ships. The white pines of the region were harvested for masts.

The caulker’s shed is open year round. There is a nice view of the Kennebec River from inside. You can imagine the work that went into crafting huge clipper ships of wood in such a cold climate. It’s still below freezing at night in March.

Bath has been a city since 1854 and has lovely architecture and cute shops. The current population is just under 10,000. The city is the ideal location for shipbuilding because the Kennebec River flows down to the ocean by Popham Beach.

These days naval battleships, frigates, cruisers and destroyers are built at Bath Iron Works. There’s a navy saying since WWII, “Bath-built is best-built.” You can see the movable dry dock and cranes from the museum grounds just a bit further up the Kennebec River. It’s a big employer in our area. You do not want to drive past when the 3:30 shift ends.

The museum holds onto Bath’s long heritage as a shipbuilding city. There are lovely paintings and sailor uniforms on display. It’s well set up for visitors of all ages as my children show below. During the summer there are seal watching and light house spotting cruises.

There is so much to see and to touch.

Don’t you love lanterns?

I could imagine sitting down at this old desk to write a nautical tale. It got me thinking of a character . . . a curator of a nautical museum! Why not?

Blog Watch: if you need a laugh, read this satirical post and book review at A Cuban In London. Expat Bee@From the Desk of Bee Drunken blogged nostalgically about Mothering Sunday in England and how it differs from Mother's Day in the USA. Elizabeth@About New York wins the diligent blogger award. She’s been blogging live from India during her month long vacation and even posting comments. Cool photos and commentary! Her last India post was up yesterday. Safe journey home!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Diaries, Cyberspace and Privacy

Sunset from Bailey Island, Harpswell

Did you keep a diary? I still do, but I write in it less frequently since I started my blog two years ago. Visiting my family in NYC, I brought back a stack of diaries that I’d kept since 1978 (I was turning eleven in 5th grade.)

These pages are the secret garden of my childhood. They show me the world through younger eyes.

I started my first journal as a response to an exercise at school. We had to keep a daily journal for a month. I loved the regular writing and reflection. I kept it going on my own, showing nobody. I did it for fun, the first indicator that I would grow up to be a writer. I played with words like blocks, safely in private.

In 1978 I was reading Harriet the Spy, The Secret Garden and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I started writing a novel but never finished it. I saw the King and I on Broadway and the movie of Grease. On TV my favorite show was Charlie’s Angels and Roots moved me deeply. I couldn’t understand the cruelty of slavery. I asked, “What happens when you die?” I gave my 1979 journal the name Janet after reading The Diary of Anne Frank – Anne’s diary was called Kitty. I mentioned the meanness of kids at school, the embarrassment of our sex ed. class and the thrill of my first boyfriend and kiss.

There is something special about writing only for yourself. You can be more honest. Perhaps that’s the wrong word. I’m honest in my blog, but I’m very selective about what I share. I fuss over grammar and style. My audience is always there. My rule of thumb is to assume that the last person I’d want to read my blog will find it online. My blog is as much a product of what I omit as what I include.

Omission is the dark matter of cyberspace. Do you remember the concept of dark matter from Astronomy? It makes up the bulk of the universe, but it is invisible. It has mass but no luminosity. We detect dark matter only by the gravitational force that it exerts on galaxies. Dark matter is the missing mass in our universe. My secrets are mine.

The best and the worst thing about blogging is its public nature. I love being able to share my thoughts and to get feedback. The community that has assembled around my blog is very special. I just don’t want my words to hurt someone or myself unintentionally. I’m a private blogger – is that an oxymoron?

I have been thinking about privacy issues in cyberspace lately. My 11-year-old daughter opened a Facebook account using her real name without my permission. She hid her face in the profile shot, and the pages were only accessible to her “friends.” Still, I was not comfortable with her real name being visible. Cyberspace has predators who target children.

Youthful indiscretions can get a child in trouble or even hurt her future employment prospects. My daughter’s lack of self-awareness in a public arena had already been revealed: she posted photos of a sleepover party at 2:45 am. It didn’t occur to her that her parents would see the time stamp. Think of all the dumb things you did as a teenager; would you want your mistakes to haunt you later?

Our compromise was that my daughter had to cancel her Facebook account and open a new one with a dummy name. As her “friend” my husband can view her pages. In monitoring our children and setting rules, we are protecting our daughter from herself. The issue of parental guidance is the same as in past generations, but the universe has expanded. My daughter keeps a handwritten journal too that we don’t check. There is room for personal exploration and raw honesty in private. My daughter wants to be a writer too.

Parody of Facebook on BBC’s The Wall

Blog Watch: I created this column to share the highlights of the blogs I read regularly. The visibility of blogs might pose a challenge to privacy, but it brings us together in a good way too. This week I want to draw your attention to David McMahon@authorblog. I listed David under “expat blogs” in my sidebar since he grew up in India and now resides in Australia. David is a journalist and an author, but he blogs about cyberspace and travel more than about writing books. He has a fun sense of humor and takes stunning photos. Check out his “Posts of Note” which is like my “Blog Watch.” Thank you, David, for expanding my horizon.

Our Backyard Forest at Sunrise

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Skiing at the Brunswick Naval Air Station

Help! I’m feeling a bit snowed under. I think our barbecue is under that pile to the left, but I haven’t seen it in months. It is snowing right now. Welcome to Maine in March. While the rest of you are admiring your daffodils, Maine gets the most snow all winter this month. This year and last year were unusually snowy. During the day, the drifts shrink under the warm sun. At night it falls below freezing, and un-groomed snow becomes a treacherous sheet of ice.

What is a Mainer to do? Head to the Brunswick Naval Air Station to ski. The sailors have kindly groomed a double track through the woods and a single track around the golf course. There’s a sign on Rt. 123 across from Mere Point Road, welcoming visitors. Drive in the open gates and park in the golf course lot to your left. You can ski from either side of the road, but most of the trails are directly across the road from the parking lot.
Start off skiing into the woods. It is a flat, easy trail leading to the water in under a mile. That’s my son who is on his school’s Nordic Ski team. He competes in classic (ie regular cross-country) skiing too. These trails are groomed for classic, not for Nordic/skate skiing. I taught my son how to ski, and now I get a work out trying to keep up with him. He goes “slow” for me.

After you reach the coast, reverse back through the woods. Halfway back, take a right to the golf course. There are a couple of fun hills, a treat in flat Brunswick.

The marsh is beautifully peaceful if you don’t mind the roar of jets on the nearby runway.

You’ll ski by the water once again. The whole loop takes under an hour. I’ve seen wild turkeys and other birds. There are moose in these woods too. The base is in the process of closing by 2011, and hopefully this land will revert back to town commons.

Here’s my friend Barb (middle) skiing with our friends Alida and Jean. She’s a Special Ed. teacher and a ski instructor. You might remember Barb from my post Mixed Religions & Mud Season. Her husband is a commercial pilot who used to be in the air force.   There are also commercial pilots in Brunswick who used to fly for the navy.

In addition to being a college town, Brunswick has been a naval town since World War II. For decades the base has brought naval families into our community. Their children used to comprise 20% of our school population. Despite their short stay of 2-3 years, parents and others frequently volunteer in our community and in our schools. My daughter’s soccer coach trained bomb dogs.

MA2 Shaun Hogan with MWD Paco, bomb dog 2006
(U.S. Navy photo)

I’ve been to the base a couple of times for research. My yet to be published novel, S.A.D., tells the story of a navy wife making the transition to civilian life in Brunswick. It’s an end of an era, seeing the base shut and the land opening to the public. Bitter sweet.

Blog Watch: Congratulations! Jane Green got married and is just finishing the final edits on her latest novel, Dune Road/Girl Friday, which will be out in June 2009. Donna@The Doll Sweet Journal is pregnant. Jamie and Randy@Creating our Eden posted a heart-warming story about bloggers helping a garden in need after a tornado. It’s especially nice to hear some good news these days.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress by Maria Padian

Seguin Island Lighthouse, Maine

I have a thing for lighthouses. My passion came from spending summer vacations on Nantucket Island. I fell asleep to the lonely call of the foghorn. I read Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse.

Author Maria Padian

There’s a new author, Maria Padian, who listens to the call of lighthouses but through the ears of a 14-year-old girl. Brett McCarthy’s family summers on their own island. This is less extraordinary than it sounds. As Brett explains, there are 3,500 islands on the coast of Maine, and their island cabins have no facilities. The McCarthys build fairy houses for fun and watch the stars instead of TV.

Brett and her school friends are working on a pre-electrical solution to illuminating the 1803 lighthouse on the island. This lighthouse lighting scheme on its own would have been enough to capture my imagination as a child, but this engaging young adult novel sails into more turbulent seas.

What worked for Brett during her tween years, being a prankster and a boisterous jock, isn’t working anymore. Her best friend, Diane, is trying out for cheerleaders and attracting the attention of the hottest guy in their class. A new girl, Jeanne Anne, is taking Brett’s place as Diane’s BFF (Best Friend Forever.)

Brett strikes back and gets herself in worse trouble. Can you remember those pits you dug in childhood? You half-accidentally did something bad that led to something worse. Before you knew it, you’ve dug yourself in so deep you couldn’t climb out.

The only one holding out a hand to Brett is her beloved grandmother who lives in a tiny house in their yard. The problem is that Nonna now has troubles of her own. She’s fighting cancer. This sounds like an awful lot to serve up in a novel meant for girls aged 10-14, but Maria handles these topics with sensitivity and, more importantly, a sense of humor. This is a book that is designed for tweens; it speaks their language.

Brett is a tough talking soccer ace with a big vocabulary and an even bigger mouth. Personally, I did not like Brett’s bratty, aggressive behavior or her initial inability to take accountability for her actions. As the book progresses, Brett becomes more self-aware, and you can’t help but feel for her as she matures:

“Fine, be a jerk,” I said. It struck me that I was talking to myself.

I loved the character of Nonna and the relationship she has with Brett. This book would be an excellent choice for a child who has just lost a grandparent or for a girl having trouble with her friends or at school. The story is very easy to read and to understand.

Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress is an English teacher’s dream with each chapter titled with a vocabulary word. I found the didactic definitions and the dictionary style book jacket a turn-off, but at least they are good words like “apoplectic” that work well in the narrative. Our protagonist is trying to redefine herself, but perhaps this connection could have been made a bit more subtly.

The paperback edition due in October has a laughing girl on the cover. I wish it had a lighthouse. Don’t judge this book by its covers. Authors don't have much say.

Brett McCarthy won an American Library Association Notable Book Award for Young Adults and was a summer read recommendation in Parade. To do this as a first book is impressive and speaks to Maria’s talent as a young adult author. She’s willing to tackle the big issues but writes in a style that will appeal to kids. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

Maria has just finished writing a new YA novel, Jersey Tomatoes are the Best, about 16-year-old best friends separated over a summer. One goes to tennis camp and the other to ballet camp. The novel deals with issues of competition and body image and how girls respond to pressure. Inner voices are key. Maria drew on her own childhood in New Jersey as well as the experience of raising two teenagers in Maine now. Maria is an avid tennis player and skier herself.

Maria and I met for a ski in Brunswick to talk about our writing. Does the trail look familiar? Flash back to November’s Walk in the Woods for some fall color. Snow transforms a landscape into a winter dream world. Yes, March is still winter in Maine.

I’ve gotten to know Maria over the years as we’ve both been vocal in local politics on environmental and educational issues. Our children (Maria’s are a bit older) went to the same elementary school, and we both turned to writing fiction at that time. In a small town we’re lucky to have found a community of authors including Charlotte Agell and Cynthia Lord.

We were also lucky to have such a perfect day. After the big snowstorm, the skies returned to bright winter blue.

I noticed with relief that the birches I admired in November had survived the winter storms. We glided past farms and through sun-speckled woods.

As we skied, Maria explained the appeal of writing for young adults. It’s an age when books make a huge impression on a personal level. To reach them, the author needs to evoke feelings and to avoid long passages of descriptive detail. The characters must sound like real kids and drive the narrative. Peer relationships are central. Maria finds this a fun age to work with because tweens/teens are going through big transitions and have such passion for stories that touch them. They reread favorite books and carry them close to their heart.

The end of the trail brought us to a frozen estuary leading to the open sea. Those are islands on the horizon. Maria’s fictional Mescataqua in mid-coast Maine sounds a lot like Brunswick. Maria writes about what she knows well.

Blog Watch: This post is part of Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club. Click on the typewriter icon for links to more book review blogs. An index of my other book reviews is in my sidebar. Library lovers check out this link to Curious Expeditions' photos of the world's most beautiful libraries.

Snow Watch: we had our fourth snow day on Monday, and I heard it stretched as far south as Pennsylvania. The Maine school system budgets for 5 snow days a year. Between snow days, teacher workshops, conferences and vacations, the kids have not had one full week of school this winter. They have used the time constructively to build a snow fort as high as the garage. This led to a new house rule: no climbing on the garage roof or using it as a slide.