Wisconsin Layover

I meant to post this all on my last morning in Wisconsin, but last-minute packing and errands got the best of me and I’m really only finding time to review and post this now – my third day in Boston. Sigh – oh well.

I worked my last day at my Chicago job on Thursday. Mostly packed up and ready, I went out for a low-key last-night-in-Chicago dinner. Friday morning came early; my brain wouldn’t let me sleep with all the little odds and ends I still needed to wrap up.

It was all done in time for the movers though and by 11 a.m., we were on the road with the smallest U-Haul truck to put my whittled down collection of belongings in storage in Wisconsin. The ride was smooth; overall, the day was pleasant. I didn’t love saying goodbye to my last Chicago friend, but with that the layover in Wisconsin truly began.

Per tradition, Friday night = fish fry, bowling, and beer. And it was lovely. But I was exhausted, and done before 10 p.m. Sleep is better in Wisconsin – the nights are darker, the world is quieter. When Saturday morning came around, I was ready for a full day.

I am taking full advantage of my last few responsibility-free days. Saturday started with an indulgent coffee treat. We threw in a bike ride on a gorgeous gravel trail. Our first time really biking the area, my brother and I did a quiet, easy 8.5 miles. We then hit the driving range for my first golf lesson which was a blast. Of course, the night wrapped up with a game of Scrabble. (I did appallingly bad. I think my final score was like 80-something. Shameful.)

Sunday was the big day though – family fun day. I started the morning off on a solo bike ride. Saturday’s easy ride was nice but I wanted more of a challenge, and got about 15 miles in. In the afternoon, we had a nice overlap of time where everyone could be here: my parents, all of my siblings, and my nieces and nephew. We went on a mini-hike in the “woods” behind our house, though the kids did not exactly appreciate the nature in the way I had hoped for. We played catch during the requisite cookout though, and I taught my niece how to properly throw a football. (Proud aunt here!) Sunday night, of course, was for cribbage – we’ve already hit bowling and Scrabble, after all.

Monday started with crossing my fingers while my baby brother took (and passed!) his driver’s test. My mom and I hit the gym – my first time back at true strength-training in a long time. We shopped a little, of course. And then we headed up to Oshkosh to check out my old stomping grounds – the history department at UW-Oshkosh. The new building is beautiful, very student-friendly; I sure wish they had that when I was there! Then we drove a bit north and watch the aforementioned brother slip into his alter ego super sweeper superhero role. (They tied.)

There was nowhere better to be on Monday night than in Wisconsin – Monday Night Football, Packers vs. Seahawks! We all indulged in my favorite pizza. I sipped on my serendipitously discovered Tyranena Lake Mills beer. (I had it once in Chicago a few years ago and have not been able to remember what it was called or find it again until this weekend.) And then the game took a turn for the worse… we will not rehash it here, but it was acutely felt.

My last full day in Wisconsin, Tuesday, my sister and I took to the gravel portion of the bike path. As you can see in all of these photos, it’s a gorgeous path, lined with trees and providing real Wisconsin nature basically in the middle of town. All of those pictures above are from my longer solo bike ride. What a beautiful ride… what a beautiful home. The hometown layover was wonderful, a perfect way to set up bouts of homesickness now in Boston.

My sporadic blogging is about to become even less reliable. I need to settle into a basic routine and then add all these extra back in. I trust you will find a way to carry on.

Maine Coast Adventures, Part 3

I cannot think of a better time to publish a blog post than at 5 p.m. on a gorgeous, summer Friday evening. This one will have the most readers of them all! Oh well.

Sunday in Maine started early early early. Like 4 a.m. early. We sleepily headed back up Cadillac Mountain for something that you really just don’t get to see every day – the sunrise. From a mountain top. On an island. In the Atlantic. Wingman was chatty, everyone was a bit shivery, but when the sun rose? Wow. I got all weird-historian on Caitlin and wondered aloud how it would have felt to see something like that before, you know, we knew about science and how that all works. No wonder we had a sun god – it was pretty terrifying and impressive. And I spent a good ten minutes writing the scene for being the first person to see a sunrise (what is that blinding ball of fire oh my god why is there now a black spot everywhere I look?!)

After a three hour nap, we indulged in blueberry pancakes (blueberry everything!) and coffee before heading to the Bar Harbor Farmer’s Market. See, we needed to stock up on some easily transportable and super delicious local food for later that evening.

We spent the afternoon perusing shops, participating in a free beer tasting at Bar Harbor Brewery (seriously, they have everything on this tiny island), and then taking in the “Indians and Rusticators: Wabanakis & Summer Visitors on Mt. Desert Island 1840s-1920s” exhibit at the Abbe Museum. This was really extraordinarily done. I was quite impressed (and a bit winsome for missed career opportunities – that is right in my preferred academic era). 

But honestly, the highlight of the day, the apex of the trip, was our sunset sea kayaking trip. Walking boot be damned, I was going kayaking! So, sure, I was pretty nervous – the ocean is a bit intimidating. But after about an hour or so, we had this down. We were basically pros, paddling our kayak to the front of the group, CMM steering that thing like she drives a kayak to work everyday, and expertly landing on the beach for our snack break.

Terrible photo – delicious food. You win some, you lose some.

I maintain this is because CMM and I are both oldest children. We take direction well, learn quickly, and excel at pretty much everything. (Also apparently modest about our awesomeness.) I certainly got some real satisfaction from mastering how to paddle without splashing everyone in our group with gallons of water, and feeling the power of pushing that paddle through the water, and propelling our kayak forward. It’s no surprise that I’m already set up with some kayak “lessons” here in Chicago, huh? I don’t think it will compare to sea kayaking, but at least I can work on my form.
Kayakers! We’ll see you next summer when we’re leading out twice daily trips of our own.
One evening ice cream trip later and Maine kind of ended there. On a sweet, sweet note. I left around 9 the next morning, made it back to Boston around 3 p.m. and spent the late afternoon, early evening at Marina Bay – dinner and drinks with a new friend, discussing the life woes we Millennials have as we start to become full-fledged grown-ups, and admiring a new skyline. A skyline that impressed, and perhaps inspired, me more than I anticipated.
Disposable cameras are not “cute” and will give you terrible pictures. 
If you ever forget your camera on vacation, buy a new camera.
I may have rushed through this a bit, but frankly – I kept great travel notes and this trip was so important to me, that I’m a bit selfish with those thoughts and feelings. Suffice to say that I fell in love with Mt. Desert Island, and fell harder still for Boston (sure, three trips in two months might have helped with that).
This weekend: look forward to some Jane Austen updates, confirmation that I am practicing the ukulele, and a countdown of getting out of this walking boot and into wearing both shoes of a pair again (7 days!)

Maine Coast Adventures, Part 2

I’ve neglected you, my robust audience close friends and family, but there is a secret project in the works. If it comes together, it’ll make an appearance here soon and become a good project to pick up when Summer of Austen wraps up. If it doesn’t result in anything, I’m running through ideas, including: tile mosaics, making my own stationary, and making my own candy (all good options).

Saturday started off the only way a Saturday morning in Maine should start: Lobster Eggs Benedict at 2 Cats, so called because there are cats – real cats and pictures of cats, everywhere. And from there we were off, and my notes from Saturday are brief and disorganized. My notes appear below in italics and any memories they triggered follow.

Early morning – off to Sand Beach… Reading, and chatting on the beach, leaving before too crowded. 
Ah, yes, that was our first destination! In the early, single digit hours of the morning, we arrived at Sand Beach, the one sandy beach on the island, spread out a blanket and pulled out our readings – a book for CMM and the latest issue of The Atlantic for me. I wanted to read Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” piece in print form and this was the perfect time to do it. We took reading breaks to watch young children and teenagers tempt their hardiness in the cold Atlantic water. And as the beach started to fill up, we packed up and headed back to pick up Wingman.

Drove all around Acadia – up Cadillac Mtn, Seal Harbor, Naturalist’s Notebook, Caitlin’s stomping grounds last summer, Lower ___ Pond, those gardens.
Yes, clearly I was trying to cram a lot of memory triggers into very short notes. I remember writing this out at the very end of the night, after a long day and facing an early-morning wake-up. As a reminder, this trip to Maine was tinged with the frustration of being in a walking boot and that affliction ruling out any chance of real hiking. So CMM drove us to the top of Cadillac Mountain so I could still see the views, and then gave me the best driving tour of the island anyone’s ever had. Through the lovely gardens (below), to a wonderful lookout where I marveled at the Rockwellian views. Everything I saw was augmented with interesting anecdotes and history from my dear friend. Oh, and it’s Lower Hadlock Pond, too – I looked that up, and the short stroll there counts as my “hiking in Maine.”

Pretty gardens… I did not take enough pictures, I know… sigh… 

Rest break w/Julie and Julia. Dinner at _____ – so fresh scallops. That play, Fully Committed – so good!
The driving tour was sucking some energy away and we took an afternoon rest to watch Julie and Julia – which I had not seen (though I read the book a few years ago), but thoroughly enjoyed (due primarily to the genius of Meryl Streep). We prettied up and headed out to dinner – and CMM will have to remind me where, but the scallops were local and the best I’ve ever had, the wine was crisp, and the blueberry basil sorbet was divine. We then went to see the Acadia Rep’s staging of Fully Committed – a play so good that I’ll only tell you to see it, if it’s ever staged near you. To tell you any more would take out so much of the pure delight we had in experiencing it.

The stars!
My last note for Saturday and, yes, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen stars like that. This is why we go camping, sleep outside, go nature-y on vacation. Those stars…

Part 3 – the last piece – tomorrow, I promise.

Maine Coast Adventures, Part 1

Another of my resolutions this year was to go somewhere in the US that I have not yet been. And pretty quickly, it became apparent that place should be Maine, specifically Mount Desert Island: Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.

Early on the 4th, I fled the cruel Chicago summer heatwave for the welcoming weather of the East Coast. Sure, I got to Midway three hours early, but it was an air conditioned utopia compared with my breeze-free apartment. With my closest Boston friends out of town, when I arrived, I truly got to pretend as if I lived there (a tourist tip from
BKJ). Three trains and 1.5 miles of awkward walking-boot travel later, I was comfortably settled on the Cambridge side of the Charles River, waiting for fireworks and surreptitious champagne toasts.

The fireworks were, of course, amazing. The warm summer rain that started in synchronization with the first fireworks was welcome and just inconvenient enough to create a good story. After all the sparkles and boom!s, we headed back to the Chateau and discussed how chance affects evolution and whether intelligence is a good or bad thing for human survival (…only in Boston) until 2 a.m.

The next morning, with no alarm clock (because who needs one on vacation?), I took my time waking up and readying for the next leg of my trip: a four hour bus ride to Bangor, Maine. And that was much better than expected – the bus more comfortable and the trip more beautiful than I had hoped. I read Christopher Camuto’s
Time and Tide in Acadia most of the way, which easily increased my anticipation for “nature!”

CMM picked me up in Bangor and we made the hour-drive to Bar Harbor, listening to This American Life at first, and then pointing out landmarks. After a lovely dinner – my first lobster roll of the trip, it was time to call it a night. I was tired from traveling all day and my host had to wake up early for work the next day.

Friday rolled around and I woke early while CMM got ready for work and then alternated between light dozing and finishing Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. By 11 a.m. though, I was out the door and started on my first journey, The Shore Path.

This path is a little less than a mile (good for my awkward walking) and provides lovely views of the rocky shore and the unattainable and gorgeous houses on the waterfront.

The end of the path, where I paused to take my one and only work call of the trip, 
brings you back into town. From there I meandered through the shops of Main Street and Cottage Street before heading back to Friday night’s dinner spot for my second lobster roll (what? how often do you get lobster that was caught right there just that morning?!)

Lobster Roll at Side Street Cafe in Bar Harbor, ME.

After a short rest, my favorite canine and I headed out for another walk – to visit the sand bar to a neighboring island. It was high tide, as I suspected, but I thought it worth a view so I could compare on a subsequent visit during low tide. You know, you see a town differently walking a dog. And that was another very perfect part of the trip. (Come on, isn’t he just the prettiest dog?)

Hello readers – meet Wingman, the dog who convinced me to get a dog asap.

CMM returned home and we popped out to dinner (no lobster roll this time, ok), drinks at a narrow  bar, and wrapped up the evening with a show at
ImprovAcadia. A pretty fantastic day, it was an auspicious start to a vacation where nothing could go wrong. No – that’s not foreshadowing, nothing went wrong!

Saturday and Sunday brought all that nature I had been anxiously waiting for, and provided much material for Part 2.

Blog Recommendation: If you like beautiful nature writing, so much so that it warms your cold, city heart to trees and flowers (but not too much to birds), then check out 3rdcoastfieldnotes.tumblr.com.