Friday, July 6, 2012

Life in Milltown Maine Explored

Book Review by Theresa Gillis


Monica Wood is a Maine author and my former high school guidance counselor.  While she probably doesn’t remember me as a student, I have been an avid reader of her fiction.  Her latest book, “When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine” is a step back into. Wood’s childhood and a revealing look at life in a Maine milltown. 
For those of us who spent time growing up in “milltowns,” the descriptions of smoke-filled skies and towering smoke stacks is familiar.  Mexico, Maine, like many of the milltowns in Maine, was made up of families, often with deep ties to each other, to the mill and to a local church.  And like other paper mills, the Oxford Paper Company provided security then uncertainty as times changed. 
Within the backdrop of her hometown, Wood shares her deeply personal memories of both her father and mother. These memories include her brother, her sisters and a treasured uncle and a slew of relatives from Prince Edward Island. Wood recounts time in her Catholic school and the trip her family takes to Washington DC just after the assassination of President Kennedy.
As a reader, I was drawn into this memoir because it felt like a familiar story - the story of a Catholic family growing up in milltown Maine.  This could have been my story - with many exceptions of course.  My parents still live in their milltown of Westbrook, but neither worked at the mill; my siblings and I have moved away from the mill while remaining in Maine; and I don’t have an uncle who is a priest.  You don’t need to have a family like Monica Wood’s to enjoy this deeply engaging memoir, however.  For those of us from Maine, there is the flavor that may not be present in all memoirs (including the frequent mention of Moxie).  But Moxie and gumption are with the Woods family throughout “When We Were the Kennedys.”  You will be rooting for Monica and her family as you enjoy her touching memoir.

Monica Wood will be at Kennebooks, 149 Port Road in Kennebunk, on Thursday, July 12, at 7 p.m. reading from “When We Were the Kennedys,” and signing this new book.

Kennebunk Native Writes from Japanese School

I am a native of Kennebunk.  I have been living and teaching English at a private junior and senior high school in Sendai, Japan, for the past fifteen years.  Sendai was near the epicenter of last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.  As you can imagine, our school and homes were severely damaged by the quake.
It has been more than fifteen months since the disaster and although the emotional scars of students and staff alike run deep, there has been a return to normalcy.  Aftershocks are constant reminders, even fifteen months later.  But overall things are back to a new kind of normal.
On a much lighter note, as part of my recent English classroom lessons, I have been making cultural comparisons of the summer vacation routines of American and Japanese students.  My students really enjoy cultural comparisons in general, and we often use The Weekly Sentinel as a classroom tool.  My dad still bundles them up for me and sends them overseas four or five times a year. It has provided my students enjoyment and learning over the years, and has been a wonderful way for me to share my love of Maine with my students.
Together with my students, we have written a letter.  It talks about the Japanese school summer vacation system and the education system of Japan in general.  I hope your audience will find it both entertaining and informative.

From Richard Meres

LETTER from Richard Meres and his Japanese students

As most children around the state are settling into their summer vacation routines of sleeping in, cooling off by the pool or at the mall, and watching those summer reruns, I thought it would be interesting to point out how their counterparts half a world away in Japan are spending their summer holiday.
First of all, the Japanese academic calendar is quite different than America’s.  The school year begins in April rather than late August or early September, and it ends in March rather than June.  So essentially Japan has a year round system where students join their new classes in April and move on to the next class or graduate the following March. So summer vacation is more like a midterm break and respite from the summer’s heat, than a time to clean out the lockers and say goodbye to classmates.
The length of the summer break is the most obvious difference.  Since students in Japan attend school about 240 days per year, compared with the 180 days in the United States, it goes to reason that vacation time will be shorter.  In fact, students in Japan are still in their classrooms counting down the days to the start of their holiday.  Most summer vacations begin at the end of July and continue for less than a month.
For the sake of reference here are some details from the actual school calendar of my junior high school.
Monday, July 23: Last full day of lessons
Tuesday, July 24: School cleaning day (Yes, students in Japan routinely clean their own schools, toilets included!)
Wednesday, July 25 to Friday, July 27: Morning lessons only
Saturday, July 28 to Tuesday, August 21: Summer vacation!
So, how do the students in Japan spend their precious days off?  Mostly by doing their homework.  Since summer vacation is technically an interruption of the academic semester, students get an extra load of homework during this time to assure they keep up with their studies.  Schools remain open during the break to allow students to get their work done, and it is not uncommon to see a school bustling with students over the break.
When the students aren’t working on their history reports and math assignments, most of them are putting in extra time with their school club activities.  In Japan, students traditionally join a club when entering junior or senior high school and stick with this club until their graduation.  Most of these clubs, particularly the sports clubs practice six days a week, including weekends, and practice year round.  So, the summer break offers a chance for more lengthy and rigorous training.
Although Japan’s abbreviated summer vacation, and the education system as a whole may seem a bit overwhelming from an outside perspective, you will rarely hear a complaint from students, parents and educators.  Schools in Japan tend to be highly organized, safe, and fun places for students to hang out with friends.  There is never a shortage of school pride.  The education system in Japan seems to produce students with an overall sense of social awareness and community responsibility that plays a tremendous role in shaping the fabric of Japanese society as a whole.  And this strength of character was clearly evident in the country’s response to last year’s earthquake and tsunami disaster.
On a final note, it is worth pointing out that students in our area of Japan, an area directly impacted by last year’s earthquake, will be looking forward to getting back to their usual summer vacation routine, as short as it may seem.  At this time last year our school, like many of the schools in this area, was closed for repairs and grieving the loss of students and staff.  A brief holiday of homework, club activity and quality time with friends is a welcome return to normalcy.

Science Team to Begin Seafloor Mapping

photo courtesy of
A collaboration of state scientists from several state agencies, universities, and non-profits will head fifteen miles out to sea next week to map the ocean floor off the coast of Maine and to observe sea life in the region.
Sailing on the Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold – the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s only ocean and coastal monitoring vessel – the sixteen scientists and observers hope to map as much as an 800-square-mile area off Maine’s coast at a depth of up to 300 feet.
The five-day research expedition includes scientists from the Maine Department of Conservation (MDOC), the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR), and the University of Maine (UM).
It is expected to result in significant scientific information that should aide in managing multiple uses of the ocean, such as shipping, fishing, aquaculture, and energy development, as well as aid in making informed decisions on marine matters and off-shore development.
“This innovative scientific research hopefully will provide more answers than questions concerning the interaction between our land-based natural resources and the ocean floor,” said Agriculture Commissioner Walt Whitcomb.
“The Bold’s survey work in Maine will provide the Department of Marine Resources with updated data on benthic habitat in parts of the Gulf of Maine with modern mapping technology that provides much greater accuracy than previous mapping efforts, including important lobster fishing grounds and areas proposed sites for wind turbines,” said marine resources commissioner Patrick Keliher. “The DMR is mounting a multi-beam sonar system that will complement R/V Bold’s existing mapping capability and enable the DMR to obtain information in offshore areas that are difficult to reach in our smaller vessel. 
“We appreciate the efforts Sens. Snowe and Collins made to ensure this critical mapping will be conducted this summer,” the commissioner said.
“Maine’s ports are already 700 miles closer to Europe and the Middle East than are Southern U.S. ports,” Bill Beardsley, the conservation commissioner, said. “The expanded Panama Canal in 2014 will reduce the super-container ship distances from Maine ports to China by forty percent. The multiple use of our ocean resources off the Maine coast are evolving and are critical to Maine’s future global economy. We simply need to better understand our offshore submerged lands.”
Matt Nixon, Maine Coastal Program senior planner at MDOC and one of three principal investigators on the expedition, said no such collaborative research has ever before been attempted by the State of Maine.
“We want to get more accurate information about the ’lay of the land’ of the ocean, much like a surveyor does on land,” Nixon said. “A better picture of what the seafloor looks like provides us with information about marine habitats and species.”
The OSV Bold is the EPA’s 224-foot-long research vessel equipped with state-of-the-art sampling, mapping, and analysis equipment. It was docked at the International Marine Terminal in Portland before it shipped out on Tuesday, July 3. It is scheduled to return on Monday, July 9.
The vessel was able to come to Maine for the research trip through the efforts of Maine’s two senators, U.S.Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins, who were able to have the Maine research added to the ship’s summer schedule. “We are very grateful to Sens. Snowe and Collins, who made this important endeavor possible,” Nixon said.
The scientific party will be led by EPA Chief Scientist Matt Liebman. The two other principal investigators are Stephen Dickson, Maine Geological Survey marine geologist at MDOC, and Carl Wilson, DMR senior lobster scientist. Other scientists and observers are from the Biodiversity Research Institute, the University of Southern Maine and the University of New Hampshire.
The scientists will be divided into three teams; eight members conducting the benthic (seafloor) mapping; two scientists making avifauna (bird and wildlife) observations; and five scientists and observers making observations of large marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins.
The primary reason for the research effort, said Nixon, is because the state lacks sufficient data on the ocean floor. In 2009, the state did a needs assessment of its coastal marine data, and “the most important, and by far the largest gap is in this kind of high resolution seafloor mapping,” he said.
“All we have now are depth estimations, 19th-century lead-line soundings, and sporadic, high resolution maps focused on very specific, small locations, typically inshore,” the MDOC coastal planner said. “It will be good to have an idea of true depth out there with sound-generated pictures of what the bottom looks like.”
The scientists will issue a final report within two months after the trip, including a summary of information collected, plus maps and observations. Much of the data will be available on line as part of a coastal atlas.
“It will be exciting to get out on a research cruise like this,” Nixon said. “It will allow us to integrate our knowledge and skills with that of other professionals, enabling us to draw a more comprehensive picture of our marine environment.   
For more information about the OSV Bold, go to: For more information about the Maine Department of Conservation, go to:
For more information about the Maine Department of Marine Resources, go to:

Kittery Fire, Police & Estates Compete in Barbecue Throw Down to Benefit Food Pantry

The first annual Kittery Barbecue Throw Down will be on Saturday, July 14, at 3 p.m. at Kittery Estates, 220 State Road in Kittery.
The barbecue battle will be a friendly competition between the Kittery Fire Department, Kittery Police Benevolent Association and Kittery Estates. Teams from the three groups will be competing for bragging rights and a trophy while proceeds will benefit Footprints Food Pantry in Kittery.
The public is invited to attend and support their favorite team. Each team will submit their best barbecue ribs using secret rubs and recipes while a team of judges will select the winner.  The barbecuing competition will begin at 3 p.m. Kittery Estates will offer a drive-through barbecue plate for the public for $5 per person with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting Footprints. Judging will take place at 5 p.m. The event will be held rain or shine. Kittery Estates will also be accepting non-perishable food donations for Footprints. 
Already the competing teams are posturing.  Patrolman Brian Cummer of the Kittery Police Benevolent Association is confident his team will win. “We are looking forward to smoking the Fire Department in this competition,” Cummer says. “This competition is a friendly rivalry against our friends in the Fire Department and Kittery Estates while benefiting our community’s food pantry, Footprints.”
Barbara Fernald, executive director of Footprints is thrilled to be the beneficiary. “This time of year our Food Pantry is running low and proceeds from this event will allow us to replenish to help many people in need. We are grateful for the opportunity to be aligned with this fun event,” says Fernald.
Please contact Kittery Estates at 207-438-9111 with any questions.