Wednesday, September 9, 2020

On My Shelf: The Magic Ship, a book set in Maine with a historical backdrop

A big ship, summer breezes, and a world about to change.

I finally finished The Magic Ship by Sandra Paretti. I picked this one up time and again, and it didn’t grab me, but this summer it finally did. Maybe reading pandemic style helped as this book is also about lives disrupted and somewhat "quarantined" by a world-wide event, World War I.

It is a tale of summer romances (clean) that emerge when a German liner takes refuge in Bar Harbor during the height of the summer “cottagers’” season, August 1914.

Don’t expect huge fireworks or a scandalous mystery. This is a nice easy-reading story about an unexpected event in the life of a small harbor town and the new and unexpected relationships that change people’s lives. It also tells a story from Maine history that I didn’t know about, that is of the German ship Kronprinzessin Cecilie holing up on Maine’s coast until the authorities of Lloyd (the North German shipping company that owned it), government officials, and ship officials can figure out what to do about the ship, its passengers, and its cargo (loads of gold!). The passengers are off-loaded (many to their disappointment at not completing their journey in England or Europe as expected) and given passage via train back to New York as is the cargo, but some passengers choose to stay in Bar Harbor, as well as the crew, and that is where the story gets interesting as the lives of the crew intersect with the lives of the summer residents. In the backdrop is the ship, always the ship. Some of the characters are based on real crew members of the Cecilie. The rest are likely fictionalized, but they are believable character portrayals of wealthy socialites of that time. You can read more about the real story of the Cecilie here, here, and here, and its service to the United States military!

I read this earlier in the summer, and then this week I read in Down East Magazine, published in its October issue, a story about another cruise ship that just this summer tied up in Eastport, Maine's harbor to quarantine. It was fascinating the way the townspeople were intrigued by the ship and its occupants and tried to connect with them from a distance (pier to deck). Unlike in the Magic Ship, the crew was not allowed to disembark. I had not heard about this ship coming to rest in Eastport’s deep fishing harbor, right along its newly built pier, for a month, while awaiting orders about its next "safe" voyage. The story by Jaed Coffin definitely caught my attention. It's worth a read.

Maine has a fascinating history of coastal exploits; sometimes it takes an old book to make us aware of them. Don’t disregard older books, there are treasures waiting to be mined.

Also of note is that Sandra Paretti was not a Maine author, or even American, but a German authoress who wrote historical fiction and whose books were very popular in their day. Also Sandra Paretti is not her real name. The author bio in my copy of The Magic Ship says her seven novels had been translated into 11 languages (from German) and that she was a “number one bestselling woman novelist.” This was published in 1979 and listed as $10.95. The end page has a pencil inscription of $12.50, so apparently on the second-hand market, its value went up. 

While there is nothing truly magical about this book, and as it was written in the 1970s, it doesn’t have the same catchy themes and writing styles that contemporary authors and publishers use today, I thought it was an engaging read, especially because I am a sucker for old-style straight-forward real-time narratives (old school writing). Plus there's the fact that it is based on a historical event, right here in Maine in the summer.

The "magic" of reading this book is in catching the feel of a place and its people in a short moment in history, in an idyllic summer setting during the heady pre-World War days. In a word, it’s a little piece of historical summer magic.

On My Shelf: Monica Wood's Books Set in Maine

Books set in Maine By a Maine author

I love to read books that are set in Maine. Some are memoirs, some are fiction, and some are children's. Today I want to tell you about two I read by Maine-born and raised author, Monica Wood. One is her memoir and one is fiction.

The first is When We Were the Kennedys.
This title appealed to me because my family name is Kennedy (no, not those Kennedys). This is Monica's childhood memoir of growing up in Mexico, Maine, a mill town, but her name was not Kennedy. 
The story takes place around 1963, the same year President John Kennedy was assassinated. She writes about how she lost her own father earlier that year suddenly when he was on his way to work at the paper mill. It is a sweet story about surviving loss together as a family in a close-knit neighborhood. Although I didn't grow up in a mill town, I can relate to the feel of growing up in small town Maine. I've been to Mexico and can see that mill town feel as I read this. Her writing is clear, and if you like somewhat sad but not downer memoirs, you'll enjoy this. I also love the cover that shows Monica's family in their now retro clothing styles. It screams summer in Maine circa 1965. 

I recently finished Wood's 2015 work of fiction The One-in-a-Million Boy, that also deals with a death, that being of a young boy. It is a sweet story that shows the difference one life, even a child's life, can make. The story is also set in Maine but admittedly it has less of a Maine feel than her memoir. It has a lot of characters who need healing. I at times felt a little lost, and didn't connect well with the parents of the boy in the book. The boy and the older woman, Ona, are very likable, and I wish the story had been more focused on the nameless boy and his 104-year-old friend, Ona.

I recommend both of these books that take place in Maine.

Here is a link of Monica Wood describing her memoir,
Here is a link of Monica Wood discussing The One-in-a-Million Boy.
Here is Monica Wood's website.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Maine (Favorite) Seasons: November

How can November be one of my favorite seasons, you may wonder. November can be cold and dreary, a preview to the long winter to come here in Maine. But November IS my favorite month of the winter "half" (more like 3/4s) of the year. I have always enjoyed the first Saturday morning of November.

Usually dawning cold and crisp, the day may start with going to the local Early Bird Sales where the shops open at 5:30 or 6 for deals to start holiday shopping. Maybe I've made
The dogs are hunting season ready
with their colored bandanas.
We enjoyed the sun and 64 degrees on our
south facing deck on the first weekend in November.
muffins, popped a movie on, taken a walk, or curled up with a good book and some tea. Halloween is over, which I have a love/hate relationship with; the weather has snapped to cold, we've started having morning frost, but by noon the sun can feel warm, and maybe we will see a snowflake or two soon (the forecast says, yes, maybe this week!). Hunting season and wreath-making starts as does the craft fair season. Wood smoke curls from chimneys, the sun glints through the bare trees (and with shorter daylight hours and the sun lower in the sky, we get to enjoy what sun there is), and the sun is up in the mornings again with the "fall back"/reversal of Daylight Savings Time. Folks finish up yard work, planting their garlic and other spring bulbs, and finish topping off the wood pile. I've already seen a few pickups with plows loaded on.

November also marks my birthday month, which is followed by the holidays, a time for family and friends, remembering, thankfulness, and looking to the Advent season.
Baby shower cupcakes,
an early birthday candle,
and pumpkin candy represent
 the various celebrations of November.

This year I started November with no power due to a rainy, windy storm on Halloween night. Then I got to host my sister-in-law's baby shower, which is super exciting because this will be my brother's first baby! Next we get to celebrate my son's fall baseball team with a team party.

With all that's wrong in the world, it's good to look around and see what we can be thankful for this November. I choose to keep it simple and focus on all the blessings God has given me. Life is not easy. It throws us curves. We have challenges, bad days, tough years...but God is good, even in November.

Surviving November Links:

Hate "Falling" Back One Hour? Read "5 Tips to Help Your Body Adjust to the Time Change."

Easy Thanksgiving and Christmas Activity to Encourage Gratitude: Make a Gratitude paper chain for your Christmas tree. We did this a few times when my son was younger. Every day we each had to write at least one thing we were thankful for on a strip of construction paper, and we added to them our chain. Then we added to our Christmas tree.

Did you have a November kind of year? Are you in a tough place right now? David Jeremiah is doing his series "When Your World Falls Apart." Good, good stuff straight from years of study, experience, and Biblical teaching.

Tired of Halloween Candy? I love Squash Soup. Here's a recipe, or Panera Bread makes a delicious one that I find in the deli at my local grocery store.

And speaking of squash. My local community hosts an epic Pumpkinfest every year. I wrote about it years ago. It keeps growing, right along with the Giant Atlantic Pumpkins that are grown, weighed off, and then decorated along Main Street and in front of many area sponsor businesses. The weekend is full of tons of activities and a parade, which we participated in for the first time ever with two of the teams my husband coaches. The kids had a blast despite how long it was to wait to start and then finish the parade route!
Parade time at Pumpkinfest.

A literary themed great pumpkin
at Damariscotta's Pumpkinfest 2019

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Maine Seasons: Apple Picking Time

T'is the season for apples, apples everywhere. Even though it seems (to me) that apples are clearly a special Maine harvest because they go so well with the fall colors and cooler temperatures, apples are actually harvested in all 50 states and produced for commercial sales in 32, with Washington state being the top producer. There goes my idea that Maine has the market on apples!
Apple picking is a great
family activity!
Photo at Biscay Orchards 2009.

As for the statement "As American as apple pie"? Well, did you know the apple originated in Kazakhastan and that China is the world's leading producer of apples?

Orange Pippin lists 77 apple orchards in Maine. Another source says 84 apple farms produce 1 million bushels from 2000 acres of orchards.

I think Maine is a great place for apple picking. And now is prime picking season. The weather is glorious, a great time to be outside. I swung by my local orchard to buy an already picked bag of macs because I've promised an apple pie for homecoming.

However, apple picking has always been one of our favorite family activities. Many orchards offer other fall activities such as corn mazes, hay rides, and pumpkin patches, and products like honey, fresh pressed cider, homemade donuts, fudge, corn...yum!

Here in no particular order are my favorite midcoast-area Maine apple orchards:

Hope Orchards, Hope, offers a wide variety of apples with limited picking hours. They encourage you to bring your own bags. I noticed on their Facebook page that last week they had beautiful peaches available. A few years ago they offered pick-your-own carrots, which my husband did to make harissa pickled carrots! Check the website or call for times/prices!

Biscay Orchards, Damariscotta. You can pick your own or stop by for an already picked bag. Here you drive right out to the orchard and really get to wander around and pick to your hearts' content, or till your bags are full. An attendant is there to offer direction to your favorite varieties and bags, and will weigh your apples on the way out. You pay at the apple shack near the road. I have been here a lot with my family and class trips. Friendly locals own and keep the farm going, and it offers beautiful views of Biscay Lake. If its a warm day and you're so inclined, pull into the small beach area to eat your fudge or apple tart from the apple stand. They usually offer samples of apple varieties and tastes of their yummy fresh nonpasteurized cider! So good! Also be aware, they are a cash or check only business!
Orchards often offer more than
apples. One year Hope Orchards
had pick-your-own carrots.

Bailey's Orchard, Whitefield. I hate to say I haven't picked here in years, but when we lived a bit nearer to it, Bailey's was our go-to apple picking spot. This orchard also offers the sense of adventure of walking up (a bit hilly if my memory serves me) into the orchard and feeling miles away from civilization. Its a beautiful orchard set on 100 acres offering up to 50 varieties. In the barn they offer squash and other fall treats.

School House Farm, Warren, is a full-on three season farm stand that has been family-owned and run for 38 years! Along with the full complement of spring, summer, and fall offerings they have orchards that are pick your own, open until November 1, according to the Facebook page. Check them out if you want a full farm stand buying opportunity. They make homemade donuts as well.

Where is your favorite place to pick apples?

All Things Apple!

U.S. Apple Stats: Maine is NOT even on their list of top apple producers! Oh well. How many bushels does the U.S. produce overall? Find out here!

Maine Apples is the website of the Maine Pomological Society! Look for an orchard near you on their website and a lot more on the Maine apple industry, history and recipes.

Want to know which variety works best with your recipe? See this list from the Farmer's Almanac with a few recipes attached.