Marcia Strykowski

The Cottages of Martha’s Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard is an island off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. It’s a smooth 30-40 minute ferry ride to get across from nearby locations. The island has become quite touristy in season and with good reason as it’s very scenic. But we’ll save the gorgeous rock cliffs and beaches for another day. What I was most excited to see when I visited last summer were the celebrated cottages, sometimes called ‘gingerbread cottages.’ After I got home I was curious to learn more about the history of these unique dwellings, each one competing with the next to be the quaintest. The Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, which used to be known as Wesleyan Grove, was developed by a group of New England Methodists connected to the religious camp-meeting movement of the early 19th century. In the beginning, meetings were held at various places each year. They usually lasted around a week. The Vineyard’s first camp meeting was in 1827 and participants slept in crude tents.
These first meetings took place all day and night with plenty of praying and preaching. Attendance grew rapidly during those early years. Wesleyan Grove was one of the largest and best-known camp meeting sites in the country. In 1835, they had nine tents and by 1868 there were 570 tents sheltering 12,000 people. Often there were dozens of organized prayer meetings going on at once.
Although they were still religious, between 1855 and 1865 the meetings began to change and weren’t solely connected to any one faith. Visitors from all over began to take just as much pleasure in the other benefits of this amazing location by the sea. Family tents were built and people stayed for longer periods of time. Eventually, small wooden buildings were built in place of the tents. They kept the same size doors and were side by side like the tents they replaced.
Between 1859 and 1864 a new American building type: the Martha’s Vineyard cottage, became known for its  originality in appearance and structure. As mentioned, the architecture of these cottages was inspired by tents and kept to that same basic design. (We got to go inside the little museum where you can see traces of their unique beginnings.) Porches and various trims and frills began showing up in the 1880s. Some of the cottages were moved to other parts of the island, others were combined to make bigger cottages, and still others were torn down, but today there are still about 318 cottages.

A picture’s worth a thousand words, so here are some of the cottages as they stand today!The above pink house was built circa 1865 and I’ve been told there is lots of pink inside, too. You might think the last picture is a repeat, but if you look closely at the windows and nonmatching filigree, you’ll see it’s the other side of the cottage. Several artists have lived there over the years.

For new readers who may have missed earlier posts, here are two that also have connections to New England history: Cog Railroad in New Hampshire and Monhegan Island in Maine. Or, if you’re just into cute little houses, be sure to take a look at Little Free Libraries.

2017 Middle Grade Fiction

After recently sharing some of my library’s new picture books and enjoying all your comments, I realized I should do a second post featuring middle grade books. I’m only starting to dip into the fun task of reading these new books, so to avoid playing favorites I won’t attempt to review them at this time. Below are what we’ve added to our library collection so far this year. More on the way!The middle grade selections shown here are limited to those with a 2017 copyright date. In case any readers aren’t sure what middle grade means, these books are usually for readers between the ages of 8 and 12. We call this category juvenile at the library. Funny story: when I told a friend that my published books were middle grade, she said “Oh, you shouldn’t say that. I’m sure they’re good.” She has a PhD, but no children in her life, so being unfamiliar with the term, she assumed it meant the same thing as grades of gasoline or fertilizer. 🙂 Anyway, I’m extremely impressed with how well children’s books are holding their own while today’s technology continues to shout at kids from all directions. Each of these authors is to be congratulated on standing out in this highly competitive field. Can you believe that some traditional publishing companies receive up to 1000 manuscript submissions a month? And that maybe 3 out of every 10,000 actually get accepted for publication?!Today’s editors and publishers also get a gold star for insisting on top quality writing encased in beautiful covers. A shout out to all the artists of these striking illustrations.We’re right in the middle of a big blizzard here in New England, perfect weather to snuggle up with a good book. I hope some of these titles catch your interest. Until next time, Happy Reading!

2017 Picture Books

Below are a baker’s dozen of new picture books in alphabetical order that we’ve recently added to our library collection. All were released in 2017, so brandy new. Well, except for Piggy who came in at the tail end of 2016, but really, who can resist him?

2017-pb-10ABC Pasta an Entertaining Alphabet written and illustrated by Juana Medina—Viking. Very clever! Who knew there were so many different types of pasta–enough to match every letter of the alphabet. Illustrations are light and lively, combining real pasta with digital art. Although recommended for ages 0 to 3, I think older kids will get a kick out of this circus-themed book, too.

2017-pb-11Bunny’s Book Club by Annie Silvestro, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss—Doubleday Books. I don’t think many will be able to resist this special book about Bunny and his friends and their love for books. Lots of funny lines (can bears really fit through book drop slots!?) Lovely soft illustrations add a cozy feel. You’ll want to dust off your library card and start your own book club after reading this one!

2017-pb-1The Green Umbrella written by Jackie Azua Kramer, illustrated by Maral Sassouni—North South Books. Everyone Elephant meets while strolling insists his umbrella is really theirs, claiming it to be their boat, tent, flying machine, or cane. I love the generous nature of Elephant as he shares his precious umbrella with each of them. A beautiful tale of friendship. The unique illustrations are magnificent (keep an eye out for little mice with their own umbrellas). My only criticism is that commas look pretty much identical to periods in this otherwise lovely type font.

2017-pb-9A Greyhound A Groundhog written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Chris Appelhans —Schwartz & Wade. Rhythmic text reads almost like a song IF you don’t get your tongue twisted. Not a whole lot of story, but vibrant illustrations add much to this rollicking fun read aloud.

2017-pb-4Mingo the Flamingo written & illustrated by Pete Oswald and Justin K. Thompson—Harper Collins. The personable Mingo loses his whereabouts during a bad storm. After a crash landing on a farm and a bit of amnesia, it takes much work and determination to finally figure out who he is and where he belongs. Cute story and pictures!

2017-pb-7Mr. Fuzzbuster Knows He’s the Favorite by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Edward Hemingway—Two Lions Press. What a fun book. Lily’s cat, Mr. Fuzzbuster is sure he must be her favorite, but what about the other four pets in the house? Hilarity ensues when Mr. Fuzzbuster goes from one emotion to the next, sometimes confident, sometimes worried, and sometimes comforting to others. Adorable illustrations make this a good read aloud book with a surprise ending!

2017-pb-6Mouse and Hippo written and illustrated by Mike Twohy —Simon & Schuster. Another very funny book. Such a great way to show how things can look quite different from various perspectives and how art can be enjoyed on many levels. Wonderful illustrations lend much to the laugh-out-loud humor in this tale of friendship.

2017-pb-12Piggy written and illustrated by Trevor Lai—Bloomsbury. Cute story about book-loving Piggy who’s never had time to make friends until one day he notices a special kitten who also loves to read. He tries desperately to get her attention and finally succeeds by sharing their common interest. The pictures of the already famous Piggy (popular emoticon) really make this a fun book.

2017-pb-2The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! written by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin —Scholastic Press. Beautiful strong message in this gorgeously designed and illustrated story. With mob mentality the villagers bring about great change and too late realize the error of their ways. Enter a brave rooster who refuses to be silenced. ❤ his steadfast refrain of “But I will sing.” Timely and timeless!

2017-pb-13Who Ate the Cake? written and illustrated by Kate Leake—Alison Green Books (Scholastic). Things are crazy enough but when a newcomer arrives, everything spirals out of control. Lots of funny situations with colorful detailed pictures to match. This is a story about secrets, collections, mysterious packages, misunderstandings, and a bit of rivalry between a pooch and a pelican.

2017-pb-8Wolf in the Snow  written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell—Feiwel and Friends. Before you ever get to the title page, the scene is set in the opening pages as a little girl sets off for school and later gets lost in a snowstorm. At the same time, a wolf pup also loses his way. Quite an adventure awaits you in this nearly wordless tale of watercolor and ink paintings.

2017-pb-5XO, OX A Love Story written by Adam Rex, illustrated by Scott Campbell—Roaring Brook Press. Humorous picture book romance told in letters. Through persistence Ox finds a way into the heart of the gazelle of his dreams. Nice message of respecting differences.

2017-pb-3Yoga Bunny by Brian Russo—Harper Collins. This is a sweet book filled with yoga poses acted out by an adorable bunny and his friends. The end papers show lots more poses, too. Something about this little bunny forming the poses makes them look easy to do even for beginners who aren’t feeling flexible. Good motivation to slow down and join in.

And that’s the roundup! As usual, I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of great new titles, but these are the ones that caught my eye with their subject and visual appeal as well as their good reviews. Without even realizing it, the majority of those I ordered featured nonhuman characters. And it’s not just because I’m partial to animals. I’m thinking, along with dropping word counts, there might be a resurgence of this style book. Many also have the timeless theme of making friends. Any thoughts?

Gluten Free Dining in New England

It’s amazing how much gluten free dining has improved over the last few years. I thought it might be fun to take a look at what various restaurants are offering. Below is just a sampling of great places to find tasty meals in New England. First we’ll head over to Burton’s Grill. When a manager always delivers gluten free meals separately, you know you’re in good

burtons-comboNext, we’ll pop over to downtown Newburyport, MA to visit the Grog. Filled with history, art, music, and more, this place is always fun and they take careful consideration for those with allergies. After dinner, you can take a short stroll past all the fancy little shops and down to the pier to watch the boats coming and going.

grog-smallCan’t you almost taste these sweet potato fries from their dedicated gluten free fryer?gf-pic-1Not too far from Newburyport is a newer restaurant located right on the ocean at Salisbury Beach.

gf-pic-3gf-pic-4I have to admit the main attraction of the Seaglass Restaurant on Salisbury Beach isn’t the food, but the atmosphere. Order a corner table and this will be your view!
sea-glass-window-view-smallFlatbread Company can make just about any flavor pizza gluten free and their crust is pretty tasty. It would be hard to find someone in the area who hasn’t heard of this popular restaurant with over a dozen locations and growing. One of my favorite places is the original spot in North Conway, NH. Although they use dedicated ovens, do be aware there could still be a lot of gluten-filled flour floating around.

gf-pizza-flatbread-coThis carrot cake at Not Your Average Joe’s (many locations) is so sweet and delicious!
gf-pic-5Not a restaurant, but the Maine Pie Company makes all gluten free pies, from apple crumb, blueberry, pumpkin, to lemon and chocolate tortes. You’re sure to forget this brand is gluten free. Frozen pies ready for your oven can be found at many grocery stores, such as Hannaford and Whole Foods. maine-pie-coThere are way too many unique places to choose from, such as Silly’s in Portland, ME. Oh, and Federal Jack’s in scenic Kennebunk, ME has an extensive gluten free menu and a fun atmosphere, as well. But since many of you don’t live anywhere near most of these, here’s a few restaurant chain favorites you can always count on to have good gluten free options.
Ninety Nine Restaurant has locations throughout New England and beyond. Most can boast of well-trained staff in handling special orders.
Legal Sea Foods has more than 30 locations and just about all of their meals can be prepared gluten free. And they have a knowledgeable staff. Before ordering fried food, do ask if they use shared fryers.
P. F. Chang’s also has a good gluten free menu with lots of choices and locations throughout the world.
Seasons 52 has a large gluten free menu and quite a few locations—two in Massachusetts as well as handfuls in 18 other states.
British Beer Company with more than a dozen locations, also has a lot of gluten free options on their menu.
Thought I was done and then I remembered two more restaurants with plenty of gluten free offerings: Outback Steakhouse and Chilis. Both have many locations, not only in New England, but throughout the USA.

That’s my roundup of restaurants that do a good job with gluten free orders. Feel free to add more to this list in the comments. It just might keep new visitors to the area from going hungry. 🙂 I’d also love to learn of good places to dine in your own neck of the woods. Happy eating!

Port Clyde Fishermen Dolls

sewing-clipartFrom previous posts, you might remember my treasured connection to Port Clyde. Well, I figured it was time to share a little more about this special fishing village on the Maine coast. There is a sewing circle there which has been going strong for over fifty years (and maybe a lot longer!). fishermen-dollsThe group started out as the Port Clyde Baptist Sewing Circle, but now they are open to all and are simply called the Port Clyde Sewing Circle. My grandmother was a member back in the early years and president of the club for most of that time. This friendly group of women spent their free time hand-stitching quilts and various stuffed toys. Then, in 1977, the first fisherman doll was created after one of their members saw a similar idea in a magazine. These pictures–one above and two more below–show some of the dolls as displayed in the museum at the Marshall Point lighthouse.fishermen-dolls-2fishermen-dolls-3A few years later, along came the fisherman’s wife, a sturdy woman usually sporting a rolling pin. Everything is done by hand. Some members of the group excel in knitting sweaters and caps, others sew dresses and aprons, and still others provide facial features or lifelike hair Even those who don’t feel particularly skilled in crafts are valued, especially if they know how to stuff the filling in! fishermen-dolls-on-2In the early days the dolls could be bought for $8. But now these felt dolls, most standing about 13” – 14” tall with no two looking alike, can cost as much as $70, with lines going out the door at the annual fair that is put on to raise money for charitable causes. Baked goods and other crafts are also available for purchase, but it’s the limited dolls that create the mad dash to be first in line. Below is a picture of my sister’s dolls (The man is one of the earliest dolls, crafted around 1977-78; he met his wife years later). fisherman-dolls-bj-smallThere are new character types each year (along with the old favorites) including an artist doll who sports a beret. Although these unique works of art are now owned by collectors worldwide, the only place the dolls can be purchased is at the annual fair and no two dolls look alike. Here is my lovely couple, circa 1980. fishermen-dolls-m-smallerAnd a back view (notice the lace trim and hair clip). Under all their fine garments you’ll find an authentication label stitched onto the dolls’ backs.
fisherman-back-2fisherman-label-smallFor pictures of my grandmother’s sewing box (over 100 years old) and a few of her little creations, please click and scroll to the bottom of this post.

And here’s a new little lady late to the party. Thanks to my sister for sharing this one I missed, so pretty in her soft mohair sweater!fisherman-c-copy

And the winner is…

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in my New Year’s Day Giveaway. I appreciate that so many  of you took the time to comment whether you wanted to win a book or not (and hey, if you’re not a winner today, you could always borrow or request one of the Amy  books at your local library!).
My plan was to accomplish more writing this month and I guess you could say I did that. Much of my time was spent on editing (believe it or not, I’m smack dab in the middle of a huge scifi/fantasy book). Other time was used for polishing and submitting two projects (one a middle grade and one a picture book—wish me luck!) Some nights I spent reading and reviewing new books or kicked back with a bit of illustration thrown in for good measure. This plus library work and hanging out with (most important!) family and friends kept me busy.
What about you? Been busy? Do you ever feel you have too many interests? Jill of all trades, master of none? So hard to squeeze in eating right and exercise, but somehow we manage to do that, too. (Well, most of the time…)

But you don’t want to hear about all this, you clicked on this post to see who won. Right?  

I couldn’t have asked for a better turnout…a hatful of entries!
name-drawing-3And then my lovely assistant reached in and selected two names.

drum-giAnd the winners are…… drumrollll……. Oh, oh, I just thought of this jingle which will bring New Englanders back a few years. Anyone remember Community Auditions? It ran for 40 years and was very similar to today’s popular talent shows, but on a local scale and with one huge difference—viewers voted for their favorite of the six contestants by sending in postcards by snail mail. Here’s part of the theme song: “Star of the day, who will it be?” But back to our winners, here they are:
name-drawing-2Congratulations to Leandra and Ashley! I will make sure they know they’ve won and then they can privately send me their addresses. As described in the last post, they have their choice of prizes, either a signed copy of Call Me Amy or a signed copy of Amy’s Choice.

Whether you practice one interest or many, support one cause or several, I hope everyone is making great headway in accomplishing their own 2017 dreams. It seems the first step to making your wishes come true is to at least show up to the challenge. This is no dress rehearsal, be who you want to be on this the first day of the rest of your days. It’s never too late, go out and grab all you can from life! (Did I throw enough clichés in there?)
Most of all, be good to yourself, take time to rest, relax, and pat yourself on the back. If you prefer just chillin’, good for you (an enviable pursuit!) As for me, in this year of political turmoil, I’m going to try to focus on what’s bright and right with the world. 🙂


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