Vacation 2007.

This summer, Paul and I decided to make a repeat performance of last year’s vacation — with some major improvements. Instead of kicking off the trip with a several-hundred-mile move, we simply packed up our vacation things and went. Instead of spending a week in Maine, we spent two. And instead of running around like crazy trying to visit everyone we could while on the east coast, we focused on seeing family in our last week. The result: we took it easy, we caught up with friends, we didn’t run ourselves ragged, we relaxed. In short: we had a great vacation.
* * *
This was the plan: two weeks at the house in Maine, reserved early this time to make sure we didn’t overlap with any renters, and scheduled to coincide with Laura and Kevin’s wedding (and, therefore, my birthday), conveniently to take place just up the coast from Portland. Time for travel to and fro, plus at least a week for visiting our families, and maybe an opportunity to visit a small liberal arts college town in which at least one of us will be living come fall of ’08. Enough flexibility to ensure that we didn’t feel stressed about getting from one place to the next, and could play things by ear. Ample opportunity to relax.
* * *
I set out from Madison on a Thursday around midday, with a packed car, roof rack and bicycle and all. There was some traffic south of Chicago, but apart from that it was relatively smooth sailing. I arrived in Ann Arbor around dinnertime, and Paul and I picked up a pizza, ate on the porch, went for a walk, and hit the hay early. In the morning, we packed up his car, parked mine on the street, had a good breakfast, and were on the road by nine. Our route took us north to Port Huron to avoid Detroit traffic and across the bridge into Canada at Sarnia. We drove across Ontario to Hamilton, then over the bay and down towards Niagara, where we crossed back into the states. We grabbed some sandwiches at a strip-mall Subway in Tonawanda, called my flks to update them on our progress, and got back on the road for the long Thruway drive to Albany. It was somewhere around 7 when we arrived, the sun setting, the garden lovely in the twilight, the bees all coming back to the hive, describing soft, swooping lines all converging at a single point, like a slow explosion seen in reverse. The cheese and crackers were out on the counter, Dad fixed us swift Manhattans and threw the pork on the grill, we put on Beethoven and helped get the salad ready. We ate a lovely dinner outside at dusk, Dad smoked a cigar, we had berries and cream for dessert in the living room over tea and conversation. Sleep came easily at bedtime.
In the morning, we awakened to a big Dad breakfast, with sour cream eggs and sausage, and were on the road by 10. We took a slower route, crossing the Hudson at Troy and heading to Bennington, from there across Vermont and New Hampshire to Maine. We had bagels in Bennington, met up with the family in Brattleboro (they were heading to a memorial service nearby and the parents had left early to pick up relatives near Saratoga before heading across Vermont), had a nice lunch, then continued on toward Concord. It was late afternoon by the time we reached Portland, so we ran some errands at the grocery store before parking our car in line at the ferry terminal. We stretched our legs with a walk to the fish market and around, had beers and a snack in the bar at Ri Ra, caught a bit of the Sox game on TV, and pretty soon we were on the boat to Peaks. We drove to the house and found it, happily, empty; unpacked our things; and headed down front to grab some dinner. We found a place with a nice view of the harbor and the sunset, had burgers and beers for pretty cheap, and walked back home. We were officially on vacation.
* * *
The next day was Sunday. We had a leisurely morning, with coffee on the porch, hot baths in the clawfoot tub, donuts from Tony’s Donut Shop (the best ever), and an overwhelming feeling of ease. Around midday, we headed down to the landing to catch the boat to Portland, where we ran a few errands, walked around on Congress Street, had a late lunch, and eventually met up with Paul’s friends Elliott and Pierre, who were visiting us for the night. The four of us took the ferry back over, and Paul prepared some baked haddock, I made margaritas, and we all sat around and chatted. Dinner was exquisite, and we resolved to have plenty of haddock on our trip, which indeed turned out to be the case. After sunset, we took a walk along the beach at Trefethen, out to the Point, and around the back shore. The air was cool and salty, and we all wore sweaters.
The night was cool, too, and we awakened to the sea breeze. Paul and Elliott went for a run, while Pierre and I fixed breakfast. We ate on the porch, and then began the slow late morning of baths, coffee, and reading. We had Italians from the island market deli (some of the best sandwiches ever) before our guests had to catch the ferry back to Portland. Paul and I returned home to a house all our own, happy to have no obligations for the rest of the week.
* * *
Life on the island is slow and steady, and so to describe he majority of our time there with a blow-by-blow account would be a less-than-engaging read. Days usually begin early, with a sea breeze and sun — or, if it’s cloudy or misty, with a sea breeze and a chorus of foghorns making weird and random chords when their tones coincide. It’s beautiful and somewhat eerie. Whoever’s up first makes the coffee, and turns on the radio for a little morning news. We have coffee on the porch, and a bite to eat, and we read whatever we are reading. Eventually, someone will draw a bath and take book and mug in there to soak for a while in the hot water while cool air blows in the window with either sun or foghorns, depending. Then the other person will bathe in similar fashion, and we’ll lounge around for a while more before we really get going on the day, which usually consists of walking around, going swimming, playing wiffle ball, exploring the island, going to Portland, or hanging around the house and reading some more. The biggest decision of the day is usually what to have for dinner. Everything else sort of works itself out.
There was one day that week on which Paul and I planned to do something in particular, which required us to keep to a schedule. We wanted to go see the Portland Sea Dogs during their home stretch, so on Thursday evening we headed over on the boat, had dinner at Ri Ra, and walked up and over the hill the couple of miles to Hadlock Field. To our utter disappointment, we found that the game was completely sold out, presumably due to the hordes of summer campers streaming off the half dozen or so schoolbuses parked in front of the stadium. Fortunately, it was a beautiful night, and we’d had a lovely dinner and a nice walk, so we didn’t feel too bad about having come over the hill for nothing. We strolled back along a different route, trying to decide whether we wanted to stop for drinks somewhere, or just go back to the island and cuddle up for the night. By the time we got back to the ferry terminal, we were feeling in a sleepy mood. It was dark, and we were ready to head home. We caught the ferry and got the best seat, up top and in front. It was getting chilly, but we huddled up and were soon out in the harbor.
The moon was just about full, rising up above Casco Bay. Its light illuminated the brightly-colored lobster trap floats speckling the water. We were enjoying the view immensely, but were beginning to be a little disconcerted by the course the boat was beginning to take. Instead of heading between Fort Gorges and House Island, it was staying close to the shore of South Portland, facing Portland Head Light and the open sea. The moonlight cruise was so enjoyable, though, and everyone on the boat was remarking on it, so we leaned back and enjoyed the change of route. We eventually docked at Forest City Landing as usual, and I popped my head inside the cabin to thank our captain for mixing it up. It was a perfect end to a lovely day.
* * *
The next thing Paul and I had scheduled was a visit from the A-Side crew: Mike, Scott, Josh, Jill, and Lydia were coming up on Friday after work. My plan had been to spend the day in Portland at a coffeeshop doing some work, then meet up with folks and head back to the island for diner, where Paul would be waiting. However, it turned out that Scott and Lydia’s train was delayed, and so we had to revise our plan. When dinnertime neared, Paul hopped on a boat to Portland, I met up with Josh, Mike, and Jill, Mike and I got some groceries while Josh and Jill picked up Scott and Lydia at the train station, we regrouped, parked the car, and headed to $3 Dewey’s for dinner.
Dinner, though, was fabulously disappointing. Service was bad, the food was b-side, and it took us over two hours to get out of there. Morla of the story: a good place to have a beer and watch the ballgame; a bad place for dinner.
It was pretty late by the time we caught the boat to the island. Paul drove half the crew back to the house, while Josh, Jill, and I walked. We set up the beds while Josh played some piano, and eventually everyone retired for the night.
The next day, though, was a great deal of fun. We had a big breakfast of the food Josh, Mike, and Jill had obtained at a rather sketchy store called the “Sav-a-lot” or somesuch: eggs (fine), bacon (unbelievably fatty), maple breakfast sausage (looked and tasted like small sweet hot dogs), and hash brown patties (of the kind one gets at McDonald’s). Josh became quite skilled at wrapping the sausages in strips of bacon as they cooked. Bacon up that sausage, boy!
Breakfast kind of destroyed us for the rest of the morning, so showers were taken slowly, and then we started a little wiffle ball game outside in the backyard. Soon, the day had grown hot enough that we decided it would be best to move it to the beach. So we grabbed some beers and our bathing suits and headed down to play ball on the sand. Eventually we got hot enough to want to jump into the ocean, which was very cold, but which felt great nonetheless. It started to cool down and cloud over after that, so we headed back to the house and started to think about what we might do for dinner.
It rained that afternoon, rather heavily at times, so we spent a good deal of it inside reading and playing the piano. Paul and folks made a gorcery store run, and we decided on sausages, haddock, mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables, and salad for dinner. Scott and Lydia had to catch a train back to Boston that evening, so we dropped them off down front in the late afternoon. It cleared up enough after that to grill up the sausages and veggies. I picked a so many raspberries that I decided to bake a pie. Mike made some amazing mashed potatoes with scallions and garlic. Paul baked some more amazing haddock. Mike and I threw together a salad, and Mike and Paul grilled up the sausages and veggies. When we sat down at dusk, we were quite hungry.
The meal was delicious. It was probably one of the best meals we had the entire vacation, not only food-wise, but company-wise as well. We finished everything we made. We had margaritas and a couple of bottles of wine. We talked as the pie cooled. We were eventually able to eat some, piping hot, before Josh and Jill had to take the ferry back to drive home. Mike stayed with us another night.
The next day, the three of us went over to the Fifth Maine for their annual pancake breakfast, which turned out to be delicious. We ate on the porch overlooking the water and Cushing Island. Afterwards, we headed over to Portland to have lunch with Laura and Kevin, who were heading up to Maine that day for a week’s relaxation prior to the wedding. We met up at Flatbread on Commercial, and had a great meal. Afterwards, Paul and I walked Mike up to Congress Street so he could find his way to the train station. Then he and I ran some errand sin Portland before heading back home. We’d missed the Sea Dogs’ home stand, but we weren’t feeling too bad about it.
* * *
The next week was much like the previous one: baths, coffee, reading, relaxation. Paul thought about home improvement and made sketches and measurements. I did some work. One day, we took a biking adventure up the coast to Yarmouth, and had some amazing ice cream on our way back at a roadside stand. Pretty soon, Saturday had rolled around, and it was time to head to the wedding.
Since we needed the car to get to the wedding, we packed up everything the night before save for an overnight bag for each of us, and took the car ferry back to the mainland. We drove up to Freeport, where we had lunch, and where Paul found some very nice shirts at the Brooks Brothers outlet. We drove the rest of the way up to Bath and then down to Georgetown, getting there just in time to change (hurriedly, in the car) into our nice clothes. It was hot and humid, and we sat in the sun, but the ceremony was both brief and beautiful, clearly assembled with love and care by the couple and people who love them. Relatives sang “When You’re Next To Me” in two-part harmony with guitar accompaniment, and friends performed a dance they had choreographed in honor of the bride and groom. (While they danced, I had trouble deciding whether to watch the dance, which was enchanting, or to watch Laura watching the dance, which was perhaps even more moving.) We were all sitting on a promontory overlooking an ocean cove, and we could see the tide coming in. It was breathtaking.
After the ceremony, we found our table under the tent and grabbed drinks. A quick rainshower came and went, muddying the lawn and forcing me to change from heels into flip flops. Unfortunately, the rain only seemed to bring the mosquitos out full force instead of cooling and drying things out, so we spent much of the evening swatting at bugs and sweating. In spite of all of this, it was one of the best weddings I’ve ever been to. The ceremony was touching, the speeches heartfelt and eloquent, the bar open, the family friendly, the food delicious and the dancing fun. Which brings me to the DJ. Let us speak of him a moment.
The DJ was the fellow who played guitar while Laura’s cousins sang during the ceremony. He also did the entire sound system. And he sang, and played the sax, and several other instruments during the course of the evening. He did this kind of karaoke-style thing as well as just played songs from CD or whatever, and at first it seemed really cheesy and odd but on further consideration (and further performance) was absolutely awesome. This guy had a crazy range of stuff, and he was totally into every bit of it. I think he won everyone over by the end of the evening.
Paul and I left before things really started winding down, as we had a longish drive back, and we had to leave Maine in the morning. We left the car in a garage and took the ferry back to the island, feeling tired but relieved that the air in Portland was far cooler and drier. But when we got to the house, which we thought we had for another night, there were lights on and another car in the driveway! We were shocked. They weren’t supposed to arrive until the following afternoon, we thought. So we knocked and retrieved the few things we had left behind (save for the brand new bar of fern soap in the bath — we were kicking ourselves about that!), and went next door to the Litchfields’s, who were waiting on the porch for us, gracious lifesavers that they are, and already had a bed made.
We had breakfast with them the next morning, as we had been planning all along; then we said our goodbyes and hopped on our bikes to head to the ferry. We enjoyed our final crossing of the year, then found the car, put the bikes on top, and got on the highway. We spent the day driving down to Paul’s house in Westchester, and dinner and drinks were waiting for us when we arrived, after having gotten very frustrated and turned around both trying to find the Merritt and trying to remember the right exit of the Hutch (we ended up driving around in New Rochelle for a while, much to Paul’s chagrin). Our Maine vacation was over: family vacation had begun.
* * *
Let that not be interpreted as a bad thing, however! Paul and I had a great time visiting family and friends in New York. Our first full day in town, we went to the New York Botanical Garden in the afternoon, met up with Teresa in Manhattan for dinner, and joined her and her friends for pub quiz, and in our attempts to get to the Metro-North station at 125th St. had a ride with the worst cabbie in the city of New York. He was so completely ignorant of New York geography that, driving east on 110th, he kept trying to turn right, when we wanted to go to 125th and Park. Halfway, he just said to us, I think it’s better if you get out and walk from here, and he discharged us somewhere in the middle of Harlem at 10 at night. Marvelous. Fortunately, David was nice enough to pick us up at the Crestwood station. We then went home and he drank bottles of Miller Chill (disgusting) while I made margaritas for those of us who didn’t want to drink the “cerveza.”
The next day Paul and I did some shopping, had lunch at a wings place on Central Park Ave. with Kristin, hung out with David in the afternoon, then changed and went to dinner with Helen and David at Legal in the newly yuppified part of White Plains (it’s really strange). The following day, we were off to Albany — but on our way up we stopped to see David at his place of employment in Peekskill, where he gave us the tour and me a copy of A Figure in Hiding (Hardy Boys), which I read aloud on the remainder of our drive up. It was a kick.
In Albany, we had dinner with the ‘rents and a friend of the family. Friday, the relatives came down to celebrate my belated birthday; the rest of the time we relaxed. We had champagne, and my mother made a delicious flourless chocolate cake. We chatted in the living room in front of the fire after dinner, and turned in early to bed. The next day, both my mom and I were feeling under the weather, and after Paul and I went out on a used book run, we pretty much hung around the house having tea and napping. Paul had a chance to go for a run before dinner, and the four of us had a lovely meal on the deck before we turned in early again. By morning, my mom and I both felt much better, and so we were able to enjoy a hearty breakfast before Paul and I hit the road to head back to the midwest.
The drive was long, but we listened to The Hobbit, traded off driving, and actually made it to Ann Arbor in time to grab groceries and cook ourselves a nice dinner. We watched a movie and hit the hay relative early. I decided to postpone my trip back to Madison for a day, so that I could relax in Ann Arbor with Paul for a little while before climbing back in the car again. I was very happy that I did: we spent a lovely day downtown, going from bookstore to bookstore, having a nice lunch, and even squeezing in a trip to a nice wine store. Paul made us another excellent meal, and we slept soundly.
The drive back to Madison was relatively uneventful. It’s a pretty boring drive: the fun of it comes if you have company, or in the knowledge that you are heading somewhere inhabited by those you care about. It was late afternoon by the time I got in and had brought all my stuff in, and I was tired and thirsty and hot. But it was fabulous to be home after so long and wonderful a vacation, to see Abby for the first time in months, to be greeted by Bella’s snorts and snarfles and wagging tail, to sleep in my own bed after many weeks. Our new housemates are great, the farmer’s markets were sorely missed when I was gone, and I am optimistic about the new semester. For vacation pictures, see here. More to come on home, bikes, the semester, and reading children’s books as an adult.

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