Perfect weekend in Portland (Maine, that is)

I think I’ve discovered the perfect way to spend a weekend in Portland, Maine, that encompasses the gorgeous old architecture, luxurious lodging, heavenly food, arts, and fun events that the area has to offer. So here’s the plan:

  1. Stay at the Westin Portland Harborview to enjoy sparkling holiday decor, luxurious comfort, and walkability to all that the Old Port has to offer. The higher up your room, the better the view! Be sure to savor at least one meal at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant, Top of the East.

  2. If you’re fortunate, you’ll arrive at the right time to take in a First Friday Art Walk. Vendors maintain their sense of fun even in the coldest weather! Offerings, indoor and out, span much of Congress Street and the surrounding area, and include live music as well as arts, crafts and more.

  3. Stroll over to the Portland Art Museum (across the street from the Westin). Take in the architecture of the State Theatre, Hey Building and other historic buildings in the area. Once inside, be sure to visit all the galleries and floors accessible in the museum to view more historic architecture, as well as paintings by artists including Winslow Homer, Monet and Picasso; sculptures by Isamu Noguchi; the blown-glass creations of Dale Chihuly, and so much more!

  4. Take both daytime and nighttime strolls to get maximum impact from the public art and holiday lighting that is prolific in the downtown area.

  5. Bring a friend and share small plates in order to taste as many of the heavenly dishes at Evo Kitchen and Bar as possible. Be struck with awe watching the graceful dance conducted by “Chopped” Champion Chef Matt Ginn and his team as they deliver impeccable service and amazing food to patrons via their open-concept kitchen.

    6. Before checking out on Sunday, treat yourself to Vanilla French Toast, with hints of citrus and pomegranate, at the C2 Restaurant on the ground floor of the Westin.

Caving to curiosity can be a good thing

Have you ever driven by a historic site, a park, a small business, about 100 times, and thought each time, “Someday, I’m going to check that out.” Someday-ing is one of my bad habits. On Saturday, I was out and about with my camera to get shots for nonprofit PR in Dexter and then a potential article assignment back in Sangerville. On the way to Dexter, I passed that tiny little winery for the 100th or so time, thinking, “Someday.”

On the way back, however, since I had the camera and was already in information-gathering mode, I decided to stop. Anthony Lee’s Winery is located in a tiny building adjacent to the home occupied by Mark Libby and wife, Karen Walsh. It doesn’t look like it could be “much” from the road, but as the old adage goes, “Never judge a book by its cover.”

A cheerful greeting from Karen, behind the bar, goes a long way toward that good first impression. The charming interior decor, and the row of award-winning wines on display don’t hurt much, either. The bar can seat five or six patrons, and there’s a cozy table for two in one corner.

Anthony Lee’s produces several varieties of fruit and berry wines with locally grown produce from nearby farms, and from their own small vineyard. Free tastings are offered, and then patrons can select their favorite from the well-organized wine rack — if there’s any left! Created in small batches, the most popular wines disappear quickly. For example, those eager to taste the raspberry wine with hints of chocolate and brandy will have to wait until next May to do so.

I sampled an apple mead, an apple cranberry wine, and the pear wine — the latter was my favorite, for now. I will be waiting for that raspberry to be uncorked next spring! In the meantime, I purchased a bottle of the pear to share with friends, and I got Karen to sign my Maine Wine Trail Passport, so a road trip to sample more of what Maine’s vintners have to offer may be in order soon.

Anthony Lee’s Winery is open Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday from noon to 5 p.m., and by appointment. Call 924-2209 or visit for more information.

When it comes to leaf peeping, timing is everything

Many years, work schedules and lousy weather conspire to keep us from getting out to enjoy the fall foliage at its peak. I was kind of shocked to find that my husband and I could both take time on this past, sunny Friday, to drive our favorite fall loop and take in the scenery. Northern Maine’s foliage is at peak this weekend, with the center of the state being only moderately gorgeous.

I hope you get out to enjoy the riotous colors this fall. For the full “where-to” details of my favorite route, visit the Articles section of this website and read Fall Foliage: The loop tour that offers more.

For now, I’ll just leave a few photos for you to enjoy — just in case work, wind and rain steal your opportunity as they have mine so many times. #MaineFoliage #MaineThing

New event venue is a pleasant surprise

          When I received not one, but two Facebook invitations from friends to attend a Sip & Swap event at a place I’d never heard of, my curiosity was piqued. The event page encouraged each attendee to bring something to sip on, and 10 unwanted items of clothing. Each guest would then choose five items to bring home, with the rest donated to a local thrift store. I’m a big fan of reduce, reuse, recycle, and wanted to support this concept, so on Saturday night, I grabbed a bottle of pinot and an armload of clothing and headed into the wilds of East Sangerville.

          To say I got more than I bargained for would be a vast understatement. I was expecting a small, informal gathering of friends and acquaintances in someone’s home – charmingly dubbed The Timber Hitch Farmhouse. I knew this was going to be something different as soon as I located the place and saw the barn doors flung wide and twinkling fairy lights glowing within.

          The Timber Hitch Farmhouse, it turns out, is a beautiful, rustic event venue just a short distance from the East Sangerville Grange. Hostess/owner Jennifer Jay had spared no effort to show off the space even for this humble clothing swap. A long, wooden-plank table was laden with beautifully presented nibbles. Round tables for guest seating featured candles and fall décor. The interior was decorated from floor to ceiling in a manner fit for a country queen – or a bride.

          As to the clothing swap, Jennifer had long tables labeled on the end for the type of clothing (short sleeve top, long sleep top, dresses, jackets, etc.), and by size going down the length of each long table. Very organized!

          We all enjoyed the food and a glass of whatever we’d brought, and chatted about the space or whatever. Eventually, it was time to select our “new” clothing. I scored two jackets (one fleece, one suede), a nice pair of jeans, and two cute tops. Sadly, I needed to leave before the rest of the guests played games and enjoyed the nearby bonfire.

          A quick check of the website,, revealed that the post-and-beam barn is a replica of the Benjamin Lane barn, which was a popular inn and stagecoach station along the route from Bangor to Moosehead Lake. The farmhouse, built in 1847, is located at 328 East Sangerville Road.

          The website provides all the details for those interested in holding an event there, as well as much better photos than I was able to capture at night on my cell phone. The images below don’t do the space justice, so I do hope curious readers will go check out the site.

          And a huge thank you to Jennifer, both for hosting the type of socially conscious event I would like to see more of, and for pulling out all the stops to treat the attendees to a night of rustic elegance and fun!

Designing downtown for women benefits everyone

            On Friday, the book Design Downtown for Women (Men Will Follow), was released. David Feehan, president of Civitas Consultants LLC and the mastermind behind this project, describes it this way:

“Downtown is the heart and soul of every city. Yet, despite improving conditions in many cities, downtowns have failed to achieve their full potential. Why? This book argues persuasively that those who are responsible for the design of the downtown experience have failed to understand the needs and desires of their most important demographic – women. Here is an opportunity for those who plan, design, construct and manage downtowns and business districts to learn from experts in the field – to look at downtowns through fresh eyes, through the eyes of women, and understand what makes so many downtowns dull and unappealing to more than half of our population. 

            “This is not about painting the bathrooms pink, although color is important. This is about changing the way architects, urban planners, developers, brokers, lenders and in particular, downtown managers design an experience that serves the needs of a group of users who make more than 80 percent of retail decisions and residential decisions, and who are increasingly well-educated and wealthy. This is about attracting entrepreneurs, shoppers, visitors and residents to a place that is truly clean, safe, attractive, friendly, and exciting. This book can change the way we think about our most vital asset – our downtowns.”

            David, being acquainted with my work as editorial director for the Downtown Development Center, invited me on as editor for this project. The book is a compilation of chapters addressing the many ways downtown could be more attractive and accommodating to female customers, written by a wide variety of respected experts from various disciplines. While wrangling so many different writing styles into one document was challenging, it was an honor to help move this project forward.

            Not every observation or suggestion in this book resonates with me, because women are not “one size fits all” any more than any other group of people. The authors also come not only from different disciplines, but cities of varying sizes, and are of both genders and a variety of age groups. Being in my 50s, and having lived in rural areas for most of my life, my expectations and perceptions of city centers are bound to be different than those of a life-long city dweller, a male, or a woman of a different age.

            That said, what did come through loud and clear is that the recommendations in this book could make downtowns better not just for women, but for everyone. Who doesn’t want a safe, clean city center with plenty of parking? And adaptations to make wayfinding signage more readable, buildings more accessible, and street furniture more suitable for persons of different sizes can benefit not only women, but the elderly, visitors unfamiliar with the area, and any person trying to juggle packages or a stroller/carseat.

            I had not given a lot of thought to the lack of color downtown, but I have always thought downtowns lacking in attractive landscaping and public art were boring and utilitarian in appearance – not places I enjoyed walking or would have cause to linger. In contrast, a downtown featuring interesting art, beautiful flowers, and maybe a street performer or two, will keep me in the vicinity all day long and into the evening – which means I spend money for lunch, dinner, drinks, and maybe a little shopping along the way. It also means there are fun things to photograph and share on social media, thus providing free marketing for that particular destination.

            The book is available at


            I hope if you have anything to do with the design and operation of a downtown, you will give the recommendations careful consideration. Meanwhile, meet our editorial team:


Carol Becker recently completed her doctorate in public administration at Hamline University. She is also an elected official in Minneapolis, serving on the Board of Estimates and Taxation, and is former chief of staff to Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton.

Stefani Danes is an architect and urban designer whose practice focuses on neighborhood-building. Since 1979, she has been teaching in the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon, where she is an adjunct professor. She also serves as a Fellow of the Remaking Cities Institute. Formerly a principal in the firm of Perkins Eastman, her work has been recognized with awards from the American Institute of Architects and the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

David Feehan is a world-recognized expert in downtown revitalization. For more than 40 years, Feehan has provided leadership and management to successful downtown and business district organizations, founded and directed a technical assistance center for community development organizations and a public policy organization, and taught at two universities. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and meetings, and has provided consulting services to many government agencies, organizations and associations. He has served on numerous boards of directors, and has chaired the boards of the International Downtown Association and other organizations. As the chief executive of three downtown organizations, Feehan managed major real estate and infrastructure projects, successful business attraction and retention programs, and an award-winning parking system. As a consultant, Feehan has helped downtown and business district organizations as well as units of government develop visions and missions, strategic plans, innovative programs and transformational processes. As an author and professor, he co-edited and wrote the most recognized textbook on downtown management, “Making Business Districts Work,” and is a frequent writer for journals and trade publications.

Virginia Gehshan, FSEGD, is a principal at Cloud Gehshan, a design firm known for placebranding, wayfinding and storytelling. Her clients include cities and towns, universities, medical centers, public gardens and parks. Virginia graduated cum laude from Cornell University with a BS in Design & Environmental Analysis.

            Sheila D. Grant was the editorial director of the Downtown Idea Exchange and the Downtown Promotion Reporter, publications of the Downtown Development Center, for the past seven-plus years. Sheila has also served as a community development specialist with the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, and has been writing about downtown revitalization issues as a freelancer for more than 20 years.

 Allison Harnden is the nighttime economy manager for the city of Pittsburgh, PA, overseeing and advising nightlife planning and managing strategies citywide and coordinating with the city’s departments, services, policies and resources needed to assure safe, vibrant and sustainable opportunities to socialize. She was formerly the vice president of the Responsible Hospitality Institute, and has conducted RHI forums in nighttime economy issues in numerous cities.

 Jessica Mathews is the outreach coordinator for Consider Biking, an organization that promotes all forms of bicycling by providing educational resources, as well as advocacy to improve safety and conditions for cyclists. Mathews has also presented on the topic of women bicyclists for TEDx Columbus. 

             Drew McLellan is the co-founder of the award-winning McLellan Marketing Group. Founded in 1995, MMG offers national expertise in creating, launching and invigorating brands, as well as client retention/growth, social selling/content strategies, and more.

 Karen Nelson has been a commercial real estate agent for 16 years. She regularly works as a consultant with the Washington, D.C. Office of Planning and Economic Development, advisory neighborhood committees and community development corporations. Nelson is a member of the District of Columbia Building and Industry Association, and a founding member of the Retail Committee, as well as being a member of the International Council of Shopping Centers and the Urban Land Institute.

Alicia Scholer is the associate director of the Responsible Hospitality Institute, and is recognized as an international expert in the nighttime economy. She has coordinated logistics and developed summary reports for more than 20 Hospitality Zone Assessments and seminar services throughout North America.

Vanessa K. Solesbee is president of The Solesbee Group, and the Parking Matters Committee co-chair at the International Parking Institute.

 Ken Stapleton is president of both Ken Stapleton & Associates and The SafedesignTM Institute. He is a nationally recognized expert in urban revitalization, economic development and urban safety programs.

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Travel puts an end to many assumptions

If you believe you understand the Earth beneath your feet, you might wish to re-evaluate. At least, that's what I've done, after a visit to Yellowstone National Park last week. It's one thing to see a geyser or pretty "paint pots" on television. It is entirely another to stand on dangerous ground, with sulphur fumes permeating your sinuses, hair and clothing, and watch the planet literally boil up around you! Did you know that Old Faithful is not the park's only, or even largest, geyser? Or that Yellowstone has its own Grand Canyon? That paint pots are plentiful, and that walking these grounds sometimes feels like being on another planet? Me, either. 

Here in Maine, we tend to call folks from away "flatlanders." That, also, requires readjustment after seeing the never-ending mountains throughout Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The terrain is rugged, majestic, awe-inspiring -- inside the NP, and throughout the vast country surrounding it. Here, one can see the buttes and mesas over which "Indians" appeared to menace wagon trains in the old, very biased Western movies of our childhoods. At one park, interpretive signage explained the hunting technique during which Native Americans would stampede buffalo in hopes that some would run off a cliff and be captured for meat, clothing, and more. Nothing went to waste. A trail at the park leads to one such cliff. 

If, like me, you have thought that Salt Lake City, which grew up to large extent around a religion, would be rather staid, rethink that, too. Ditto for labeling the state of Idaho and its neighbors as "boring." There is more to see and do in this region of our nation than I would ever have dreamed possible, from public parks and public art to museums, fantastic eateries, scenic road trips and more. 

Come take a photo tour with me, and if something in particular captures your fancy, don't hesitate to contact me for details. I love sharing new discoveries with fellow travelers!

Warning: birding can be addictive

I never envisioned myself as one of "those people" who creep through the woodlands with binoculars trying to spot and identify every bird. I'm still not quite that far gone, but I have developed a great curiosity about the birds that I see, and more often, hear, as I explore the recreational trails in the Dover-Foxcroft area. 

I've also developed a great deal of respect for "those people" and their prey. Birds instinctively know to put camouflage between themselves and potential enemies, and they blend in so easily! It is maddening to spot a bird and have it disappear before my eyes long before I can get my camera zoomed in on it. Birds can simply step behind a leaf, hop around to the back of the tree trunk, or land in a tangle of dead branches -- and it's as if they are not there at all. 

I completely understand why many people opt to "bird by ear," learning the various calls in order to check a species off of their "Life List." Birders able to learn and memorize all of those intricate trills, chirps and other calls will have far more check marks on their lists of North American bird species than I will ever achieve. Unfortunately, my method is to try to capture a decent photo and then come home and use the images to try to identify the species. 

My go-to reference is "Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America." It was a gift from my daughter, a wildlife major. I consider this whole birding habit to be her fault, in fact. There are hundreds of bird species on the Life List in the back of the book -- I've checked off 86 so far, and all but one were visuals. In the case of the evening-loving whip-poor-will, I settled for birding by ear, as I may never get lucky enough to see one. 

I'm including images of only the birds I've spotted in the D-F area with this blog, in case they pique the curiosity of locals or visitors to the area. I know many of the species: mourning doves, cedar waxwing, red-winged blackbird, northern flicker, various ducks. However, there are many that I have either not had time to look up yet, or for which I lack enough angles to achieve identification. So much goes into a proper identification that you almost need a head shot, and one from the front, rear, and in flight! One frustrating shot among these features a bird with a bright orange blaze across its chest -- with its entire head hidden behind a branch as if to spite me for my curiosity. 

If you are an avid birder, feel free to offer some identifications to go with these images. Lacking a more experienced birder to hike with most of the time, I would be thrilled to have one to "blog bird" with. After all, I still need about a thousand check marks on that Life List!  

Sharks, 0; Whales, 3

Seeing and photographing sharks is pretty high up on my bucket list, so when two reports of a 20-foot basking shark came out of Boothbay Harbor last week, I was excited to get on a boat. My husband and I braved the morning rain on Friday, hoping that as forecast, the precipitation would clear out by the time our afternoon cruise left the harbor. Almost -- we did sit in light drizzle when we first boarded. However, we were soon air-dried as we picked up speed once clear of the harbor. 

There was a lot of chop, and I was told by our marine biologist/narrator, Dominique, that the odds of seeing a basking shark were not good. These sharks like to cruise the surface on calm, sunny days. The ride aboard Cap'n Fish's Harbor Princess was exciting in its own right, however. The boat would dip down into deep trenches and rise again on the next big wave. It's a sturdy boat and Captain Steve looked like he knew what he was doing, so I wasn't nervous. Some passengers were whooping it up every time the boat bucked, but I suspect it was more for fun than from any anxiety.

Various members of the tour group spotted seals and dolphins on our way out to the deeper feeding grounds where big whales might be found. We also passed scenic light houses, and observed with some awe an illusion creating "mountains" out of clouds along the horizon. 

We were in luck, as a pair of humpback whales decided to stay near the boat, coming up for air every three-to-five minutes and then treating us to a wave, a spy hop, or a fluke before diving again. A third whale was seen some distance off the starboard side toward the end of our visit, but then our pair of nearby whales decided to swim under the bow of our boat and appear directly beside it, so we stayed put to get more photos!

The ride back to Boothbay Harbor was calmer, but no less scenic. There were seal and dolphin sightings, light houses, and as we neared the harbor, plenty of colorful boats, lobster traps, and historic buildings along the shore to admire and photograph. 

I'm sad that I didn't see a shark (I had seen a blue shark on a previous whale watch tour out of this area). That said, spending time with playful humpbacks is great fun, too! While some of my shots are blurry (let's blame the choppy seas), I managed to get a few fluke shots that may help Dominique identify which whales graced us with a visit, which will be interesting. 

And really, if I manage to cross sharks off my bucket list, what excuse will I have to run off to sea now and then? 

UPDATE on July 10: I've heard back from the marine biologists at Cap'n Fish's, who said: The whale on the left [with the black dot on it's fluke] is named Owl. She was born in 1986 and her mother's name is Falco. She has since had at least 4 calves of her own! The whale on the right [black fluke with white edging] is named Ravine. She is a whale that we've seen here in previous years! Two years ago, she let us watch her calf! Glad to know she's returned.

You can take the woman out of the wild, but...

When we gave up our rural home on a three-acre lot after 22 years to move closer to the conveniences of "downtown" last summer, I had mixed feelings. I could see the benefits of the move, but I was sure I would miss my flower gardens, all of the birds that visited our feeders, and the opportunity to stroll a nearby river walk.

I do miss those things, but have been delighted to discover that, at least in downtown Dover-Foxcroft, nature is never far away. Our home is not far from some of the town's mixed-use recreation trails, which I am enjoying more than words can say (thus the many photos with this post). 

On June 24, I discovered a doe with twin fawns hanging out in a bog along one of the trails. The first time I spotted the twins, they were nursing just a short ways off the trail. Mom stood there patiently, keeping an eye on my husband and I. It would have been a perfect "Kodak moment," if I had brought my camera. Instead, I got a few so-so shots with my phone. 

Yesterday, I spotted Mom laying down on the trail side of the bog, so I scanned the area, and spotted the twins over on the far side of the bog. They appeared to be browsing, so may already be weaned. I got a few shots, but then Mom got nervous and began working her way across the bog, snorting to alert her kids to potential danger. Their alert attention to Mom's signals was adorable to watch. Once she had joined her offspring, the doe relaxed and so did the twins. They browsed their way off into the deeper brush.

This morning, I thought I might be out of luck, but then I spotted a splash of reddish-brown in the brush on the far side of the bog. This big doe was laying down, munching the greenery around her, and did not spot me at first. I don't think this is the twins' mother, as that doe has a white face and this one has a darker face -- but it could also be a trick of sunny day/cloudy day lighting. She eventually realized she was being watched, and not wanting to interrupt her meal, I moved on. 

I generally walk a mile, passing two bogs, then turn back. When I returned to the first bog, I discovered a fawn grazing all by itself. I am not certain if this is one of the twins or not, but I can't imagine there are other does with young hanging out in the same spot, so I'm guessing yes -- and that Mom and the sib were laying down nearby. The fawn was very alert, and worked its way into deeper brush to lie down and hide after I had taken a few photos. 

I walked on, looking for the rest of the family, and then doubled back. Sure enough, the little one had come back out to graze and I got a few more shots. I feel so privileged to see wildlife during my daily strolls, and so grateful that I did not give up "communing with nature" when we moved last summer. 


Celebrating Whoopie (pies, that is)

If you bake often enough, you're bound to improve over time. That's also the case with event planning. This year's Maine Whoopie Pie Festival in Dover-Foxcroft on Saturday, June 23 was the result of a decade of "recipe adjustments" that made the day that much sweeter for everyone. A new website and ambitious marketing campaign, incentives for vendors, better detour signage, and a new festival footprint meant more vendors, more customers, and more fun! 

This year, whoopie pie bakers were located downtown, intermingled with restaurants offering on-street dining, the Kiwanis Club of Dover-Foxcroft's annual BBQ at the fire station, and a wide variety of food trucks. There were so many whoopie pie bakers to choose from that it was difficult to decide where to spend my four wooden nickles. By the time I had nibbled on the four whoopie pie samples that are included with the price of admission (a whopping $5), all I could manage was a burger and bottled water. The food court in the middle of the main thoroughfare is a fun change of pace, so I didn't want to miss out on eating there. 

The music stage was relocated this year, as well, and I could hear the band throughout most of the festival footprint, which was not the case last year. Vendors of crafts and other local products displayed their wares in colorful booths winding from downtown almost up to the Rite Aid on East Main Street. There were free samples, and raffles, and always, friendly and helpful folks willing to chat about their various products. 

Not having any little people in tow, I didn't spend any time in the children's area, but with all those inflatables and a little train and a pony offering rides, it looked like a lot of fun. Children of all ages also seemed to be enjoying the multiple mascots wandering the festival this year: Sweetie Pie is the festival's mascot; Monty the Moose was greeting the crowd on behalf of the Maine Highlands Federal Credit Union; and a dancing coffee bean who I've not been formerly introduced to was representing Center Coffee. 

I didn't make it to the Piscataquis YMCA's morning Earn Your Whoopie fun run and walk, either, or to a new event added on Sunday, which offered participants the opportunity to sip beverages of their choice while creating really neat paintings of colorful whoopie pie trees. I'm not a runner or a painter, but I excel at eating whoopie pies. Go with your strengths, I say!