Final Glimpse of Summer

Fall is in the air in New Hampshire. Our birches have lost most of their leaves. The yellows are blazing and the reds are emerging quickly near the seacoast. Leaf Peepers must be planning their trips to New England… hopefully with airline tickets already in hand. We read that the leaf color in the Lake Winnipesaukee area in the Lakes Region is showing early reds and oranges. With temperature hovering in the upper 40’s this morning, it should only get better. We’ve flown to New England in the fall in years past but this year we plan to follow the procession of Leaf Peepers along the roads. Wish us luck.

To catch a last glimpse of summer, my sisters and I visited Stonewall Kitchen gardens (twice!) in York, Maine where colorful annuals attracted butterflies, skippers and bees. Glorious!

Click photos if you want full size….

Out and About for Art’s Sake

One sister arrived a few days earlier than the other so the two of us ventured out to discover the seacoast together. Since she’s a passionate potter, we spent a half day in Portsmouth visiting galleries and shops where she inspected and poured over local pottery. She’s an excellent potter and really knows her stuff. I found just how good when we were in a little shop with local pottery. She pointed to a container and said, “Now that looks like it was made in North Carolina.” The shopkeeper said, “Yes, that one did come from North Carolina.”  It all looked the same to me. One bowl immediately grabbed our attention. A whimsical bowl decorated with fish… a bit of playfulness that we both love. Sis said, “She’s a talented and creative artist, not a potter.” She could tell by just looking that it was a mold that the artist painted and glazed. We both loved this artist’s free design on the bowl…. and I bought it! That night we Googled the artist, Pat DeGrandpre, and discovered that she lives just across the river in Maine and exhibits in a small artist co-operative called Just Us Chickens Gallery. She makes other pieces of art and she knits. “Let’s go visit Kittery,” I said. We recognized her work as soon as we entered the gallery. We were enjoying her pieces and a multitude of other artists’ creations when the lady behind the desk said, “Speak of the devil…”  We turned and there she was. Pat DeGrandpre. We asked her to hold the little hat she made that we were about to purchase. With a smile, she posed while I photographed her with iPhone. We also learned about the studio of a seasoned local potter, Elaine Fuller, and my sister couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit her studio. We met Elaine at The Red Door Pottery where she and sis talked shop and sis bought too much and shipped everything home to California. Sis was over the moon about the talent she saw and encouraged me to enroll in Elaine’s classes. Hmmmm… While in Kittery, we transported our lunch to historic Ft. McClary for a delightful picnic at the site of an original 1690 defensive fortification, now the site of an impressive 1844 blockhouse that provides a commanding view of the harbor. Not sure if the fort ever saw battle but it was manned during 5 wars to protect the Piscataqua River and US Navy Shipyard. On the National Register of Historic Places, it is owned by the state of Maine.

Not one sister, but two!

For close to two weeks we’ve enjoyed the company of my California sister, a potter, and my Virginia sister and husband, both archaeologists and great history buffs. Yesterday was the last day for them and today the house seems eerily quiet today. We’ve spent our time on the go exploring the sights of New Hampshire, Maine and a side trip to Lexington and Concord for the two archaeologists and lots of of art for the potter sister.

We visited the Portsmouth Historical Society’s Discover Portsmouth Center and the Seacoast African-American Cultural Center and learned much about local history before we ventured into Portsmouth to enjoy the rich architectural styles and plethora of shops and restaurants.

Shopping and sightseeing in Portsmouth electrified everyone’s sense of taste, touch, smell, sound and sight. We drifted in and out of buildings and up and down the old streets of this historic town for much of a day.

The Salt Cellar, The Chocolatier, Clothing Shops, and Florists

Later in the week, Strawbery Banke delighted my family.  An outdoor history museum, it’s a neighborhood first settled in 1630, then spans the next four centuries of habitation. We thought we might be only interested in the oldest house, the 1695 John Sherburne House.

Sherburne House, ca 1695

But we were surprised to discover a potter at Strawbery Banke and spent time getting to know Steven Zoldak who is skilled at intricate carving and design. Yes, he and my sisters knew several potters in common and, yes, we all bought his wares….

An adorable Mrs. Shapiro, complete with Russian accent, greeted us in the 20th-century home of Russian-Jewish immigrants. She showed us how to drink tea by first placing a sugar cube on the front teeth and sipping tea through it. The home was completely furnished, soup on the stove, dining table set for Shabbes or Sabbath dinner, and family photographs proudly displayed throughout.

We spent the next couple of hours meeting folks in character in different homes. In the Pitt Tavern, we met the owner’s daughter who greeted us and said word is arriving about the sad deaths in the Revolutionary War. Although the Marquis de Lafayette (a favorite of my brother-in-law) lodged at the tavern, the mistress knew nothing of this since she was in character for the beginning of the war, before his visit.

Among other buildings, we toured a twentieth-century grocery store, a weaving shop, and the Victorian gardens at the mansion of Sarah Goodwin, the wife of the former New Hampshire governor, Ichabod Goodwin. There we met Sarah dead-heading her flowers in her colorful garden.

Children’s Garden

Garden paths

Having been raised in Williamsburg, Virginia, I think it’s difficult not to have have a critical eye when touring other restored areas BUT we delighted in Strawbery Banke and the colorful 400 years of history. It’s a not-to-miss adventure.

My sister has landed…

My California Dreamin’ sister is visiting New England and I’m pretty excited. Her plane has landed and she’s on her way. Greeting her at noon will be a familiar edible from our past. Our mother loved tomato jam and since the tomatoes at local farmers’ markets are at the peak of perfection, I decided to cook up a little surprise last night. It’s fun to browse through favorite tomato jam recipes online, but all I really needed for our favorite recipe were three main ingredients: tomatoes, lemons, sugar.

I’ve made the jam using peeled tomatoes but much prefer the consistency of jam made from unpeeled tomatoes.  Just coarsely chop the tomatoes and toss them in a pot.

After squeezing the juice from the lemons into the tomatoes, I toss in a few lemon slices. It adds a little bite to the taste.

I can’t wait to see sis’ face when she walks in the door. It’ll be any moment now. Chicken salad with a dollop of homemade tomato jam… just like mama made. How divine!

Isles of Shoals

I spent the last 7 days on a rocky, wave-swept island 9 -10 miles off the coast of New Hampshire. Star Island was host to a photography course that I signed on to attend with a friend from Virginia.

Arriving on a replica steamship from the Portsmouth dock, our first view of the Oceanic Hotel was impressive. The grand hotel with its expansive porch and boardwalk connected a number of smaller buildings arranged in a row. Once a popular 19th-century vacation resort, the non-profit Star Island Corporation has adapted the facility as a personal or family summer retreat and conference center.

People and groups came and went from the island all week. As newbies, the entire experience was a bit confusing to us. The closest thing that came to mind as I wandered the island was the Chautauqua Institution in New York.  We had to check our group’s chalkboard among several other groups’ chalkboards in the lobby that listed the day’s agenda. Name tags identified our group as photographers and other groups as poets, song writers, the mid-weekers, Plymouth NH 6th graders, watercolor artists, Granite State Marine Biology students, a paranormal group, lighthouse group, Unitarians, a yoga group, the New Hampshire Photography Club, and ISHRA (Isles of Shoals Historical and Research Association). We were still confused near week’s end as we stumbled into ISHRA’s annual group photo. “On three, say Cottage-D,” the photographer shouted. “Cottage-D,” we all chortled together. Just wait till they try to id the two interlopers in the midst of 30 illustrious ISHRA members. Folks, we are really sorry!

Our agenda and shower days

Our photography course was enjoyable under the tutelage of our learned instructor, Arnie. Four hours or more each day was spent in the classroom demystifying the digital camera, exploring the intricate camera settings, lighting, color, and numerous ways to compose photos. We had plenty of time for photographing spectacular sunrises, rainbows, sunsets, sea birds, ocean sprays, rocks, and quaint island cottages.

Watercolor artists at work

Reflection of our photography group

Visited in 1614 by Captain John Smith (he dubbed it ‘Smith’s Isles’ but the name didn’t stick), nine small islands make up the Isles of Shoals, some in Maine and others in New Hampshire. After exploring the dozens of paths and seaside boulders and cottages on Star Island, I saw early on that the islands really belong to the gulls, both Herring and Great Black-backed. They dominated every surface on the island and other islands we could see through our telephoto lenses. But we experienced cedar waxwings, tree swallows, warblers, vireos, sparrows, and more. We also found lots of shorebirds and water birds to identify. On Appledore Island, we were lucky enough to observe bird banders hard at work banding migratory songbirds.

Cedar Waxwing

A young gull stretching

Releasing a banded Philadelphia Vireo

All in all, I’d rate our experience a 10… in spite of the tight quarters we shared and the every-other-day-cistern-fed-slippery-hold the water on-showers. Finally home again and adjusting to cars, computers, telephone, television, and election prattle.

To read three excellent postings on a blog about our photography classes and information about the islands written by a classmate, Ray: click here.