December 2009 Archives


Roots Vacation: Genealogy in Downeast Maine

SarahLamoine is an affordable place to stay while  exploring Acadia and getting some serious ancestor research done.   Like in many historic towns in New England, the nearby Ellsworth, Mount Desert, Bar Harbor & Southwest Harbor Libraries are stocked with tons of material covering family history. Local Historical Societies are ready to help. Researching my family history has become a passion in the past year, and I’ve made great progress. That’s fourth great grandma Sarah Root on the left (you could say I’ve been finding my Roots).  Much history can be revealed when you simply read the census reports of your ancestors. If they were farmers (almost everyone before 1880!) you will notice huge families, unrelated farm help and often early mortality, especially infants and young mothers. I have one great great granduncle who had 18 kids with two wives, the last one born after he died at 65! His name was Joseph Sterling Gillet, and I think just about every Kansas Gillet(te) is descended from him.

JohnHillman The other amazing part of tracing your family history is that if you can get back to colonial times, you will undoubtedly begin to find family connections to famous people of all eras. Civil War and  Revolutionary War soldiers, actors, even presidents and their spouses are in my family tree and probably in yours if your people emigrated early enough. But the most startling  revelation is that all these people survived, often against outrageous challenges, to give you life. All of us represent millions of years of evolutionary struggle and success. Maybe that’s why ggg grandfather John Hillman looked so tough.

While most of my ancestors came to the East Coast from England in the 17th and 18th centuries, John Hillman moved straight from Somerset, England to Farley, Iowa, arriving in November of 1848, at the age of 55. He was disgusted with the English system of tenant farming and was resentful of the fact that he was obliged to pay rent to the Church of England, the landlord. He bought 160 acres of land about 4 miles north of Farley for $1.25 an acre and farmed again for many years. Soon his 4 sons who made the trip with him were established on farms in the vicinity, the daughters were all married and on nearby farms with farmer husbands. One of his four sons, Albert Luke, moved to Michigan. His daughter married my great grandfather Rev. George Gillett, who had recently moved from New York and sooner or later I was born.

Maine is a great place to search for family history if your ancestors ever lived here. The first European settlers arrived in the early 1600’s to tap the rich fishing grounds and timber resources. By  the 1760’s the Midcoast was settled and soon after, Ellsworth and Lamoine. Acadia has a slightly different story. While permanent settlements came later, many islands along the coast had been visited by european fishing fleets for centuries. They came to collect rocks for ballast, trade with Native Americans and dry their catch in the summer sun. But this is a subject for a future post…

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From Bangor to Bangalore

IndiaOur close proximity (50 min.) to Bangor International Airport in Bangor Maine (pronounced “bang-gore”, not “bang-er”) gives us access to just about anywhere. Even the Space Shuttle can use the long runway to land in an emergency. On the day after tomorrow our daughter will board a plane in Bangor, and will end up in Bangalore, India.  She is taking a two week course in the culture and religions of that great and ancient civilization.  Remarkably, the cost per credit hour will end up being less than at her public U, and she’ll still be back in time for regular spring term.

In preparation for this trip we have been planning a series of meals inspired by Indian cuisine.  Last night we made paneer, a simple farmer’s cheese which forms a vital part of  South Asian cooking. We brought a gallon of milk to a boil and stirred in 12 tablespoons of lemon juice and returned to the boil. Almost immediately curds began to form and the amber liquid whey separated.  After cooling, the curds were poured through cheesecloth and pressed in the fridge overnight.  Today we will be cutting up the nice firm block into cubes, lightly browning it in ghee and simmering it in a tikka sauce. Paneer tastes quite bland, but it’s a step up from tofu and is a good source of protein. Like tofu, paneer is only as good as its sauce and is well suited for a variety of bold spices.Paneer

Speaking of spices, one of my daughter’s goals will be to buy a good variety of Indian spices on her trip. We’ve only scratched the surface so far. At least we’ve begun to create our own spice mixtures by dry frying a selection of whole seeds like mustard, cumin, fenugreek and black peppercorns until they smoke and pop. Then it’s into the mortar and pestle for a good grind.

The kitchen at SeaCat’s Rest, our vacation apartment is well suited to serious cooking or wild experimentation. We can even provide missing ingredients or tools to make your project complete.  Some guests come to make jam from the local wild blueberries, others stir up a fresh chowder.  Many leave the cooking to others, but at least they have a choice!

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Dark Sky Available at Lamoine Cottage

night skyA nighttime December adventure awaits in Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park.  Seacat’s Rest is about to receive it’s first December visitor to Lamoine. Our newly lighted staircase is a welcoming sight together with the warm and welcoming fire in the woodstove. December can be a magical time to visit Maine either for business or family events.

We think of the Solstice as the shortest day of the year, but actually it is better thought of as the longest night. SeaCat’s Rest has two restful comfortable sleeping rooms as well as a full great room with living, dining and large kitchen for your next adventure. Well stocked with comfy quilts and extra towels, it can be a great getaway from/for your next family reunion in Maine. If you need more space, we have neighbors that also rent their places and we can help connect you with up to three rentals within a short walk.

December is a great time for sky-viewing too. A recent article in the Bangor Daily News tells us about the Acadia Night Sky Festival held 14 to 21 September 2009, and the Dark Sky Initiative for Bar Harbor and the surrounding area. The article tells us about amateur astronomer Marc Fisher, who came all the way from Norridgewock because he recognizes the fact that Bar Harbor “happens to be a dark site. It’s relatively rural and there is nothing but fish to the east.” Fisher, a state employee, set up three of his telescopes near Bar Harbor’s town dock for the festival. The festival, a collaboration of the Island Astronomy Institute, the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce and Acadia National Park sponsored numerous exhibits, panels, activities and interactive events throughout downtown Bar Harbor.

Island politics are also lit up over the dark sky issue. Three towns on Mount Desert Island have passed ordinances aimed at limiting the impact of artificial lighting on the night sky, what is now known as light pollution. Helping to write these ordinances was Peter Lord, director of the Island Astronomy Institute.  We had these laws in mind when we designed the lighting for our new railing. We used energy efficient LEDs shining down and a timer which limits light to a few hours after sundown.

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Acadian Splendor in Lamoine Maine

Old Point beautyI can look out my window at the Lamoine shore and see seals, lobster boats, eagles and sometimes deer. The mountains of Acadia are now capped with snow. It is the human tendency to take everyday beautiful things for granted.  We feel compelled to watch the latest CNN disaster unfold rather than the gentle snow falling on the pines. This is one main reason why we welcome guests to SeaCat’sRest, to remind ourselves that we really do live in a special place. Sometimes guests arrive at night and awaken to an ocean panorama they tell me takes their breath away. “So much better than the pictures!”, they say. We who live in this paradise continue to find fault. Too cold, too windy, loud crows, garden slugs, can’t get the right computer parts. I’m sure there is beauty where you live too. I visited a friend in San Francisco a while back, and every day he drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to San Rafael to work at George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic. While we were crossing the bridge he was complaining about the usual stuff; traffic, his job, the weather.  I looked at the view and all I could say was “Wow!”

winterH2Oscene2It is my concern that guests will ignore little problems when they see the setting. A missing kitchen utensil, writing paper, etc. Please don’t refrain from mentioning these things, we don’t live in the apartment so we don’t always do the best possible job at noticing what’s missing.  Similarly, we often need reminding about the beauty around us, but our guests seem to have no problem with that.

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Crime in Maine

It’s time we come clean about lawlessness in Bar Harbor and the State of Maine: there’s not much. This could be my most boring blog entry yet. We’ve been hearing a lot lately about New York City being the safest big city in America for 2009, with 89 homicides in first three months in a population of 8,345,075. This works out to an annualized murder figure for 2009 of 356 and a rate of 4.3 per 100,000.  Here in Maine we had 26 murders in 2009 in a population of 1,316,456. This works out to a rate of 1.98 per 100,000, and in 2008 it was 2.35 and in 2007 it was 1.59 per 100,000. The  jumps just reflect the fluctuations in a small population, over time the rate is pretty close to 2 per 100,000, half the rate of the safest city in America (2009, projection) and 37% of the average for the entire U.S. (2008).  There were no murders here in Hancock county in 2008.

To look at state comparisons, I’ll have to rely on 2004 data, but the conclusion is the same. Maine is 47th in the overall crime rate, followed only by Vermont, South Dakota, North Dakota and New Hampshire. In Violent crime, Maine is 50th, bested only by North Dakota (there are 51 total including D.C.). Finally, in property crime Maine stands at 46th.  Anyone who has studied capital punishment knows that the states which still execute tend to have higher crime rates, and Maine fits the pattern, we abolished executions in 1887. The Maine Morning Sentinel also reports that we incarcerate fewer of our citizens per 100,000 than any other state. The nation as a whole puts one out of 100 in prison compared to Maine’s 1 in 366.

A quick read of the “police beat” section of our local Bar Harbor Times usually provides more chuckles than horror. Loud parties, a bear in a tree at City Hall, summons for not wearing seat belt, drunk tourist needing help finding cruise ship, youth driving golf cart on the road and one resident complaining, “some function at the Baptist Church was shaking my house”. The more serious cases often involve an advanced state of cabin fever psychosis, when someone snaps and shoots a family member. Thefts, for some reason always end up with the perpetrator, after being caught with the stolen rifle or chainsaw,  “running into the woods”. He turns up at the nearest convenience store six hours later and gives himself up.

When you come to Maine, be assured that crime is not a big problem. You should still lock your car but if something goes missing it might have been taken by another tourist! Maine crime rates peak in the months of July and August. Remember, the police don’t have a lot to do so please be aware of our .08% blood alcohol limit for driving. And wear that seatbelt!

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