New Scotland?

Good Morning!

Technically, my vacation ended today. Which I am celebrating by getting up at 6 to write before a workday that ends at 8pm. But I have coffee in my Maine mug, and yesterday was a hot and steamy day in Milwaukee, so it’s basically the same thing, right? Probably.

We woke up on the misty fifth morning of vacation in a whole new world. The evening before had been pitch dark and foggy, so beyond some blurry headlights and the outline of our B&B, I had no real concept of what we would see. My first impression was that the room was startling in how comfortable and well decorated it was. I always try to add one “fancy” stay to my travels, as I usually go for the cheapest safe option. Ye Olde Argyler Lodge of Argyle, NS exceeded every expectation. A four-poster bed, an equally comfortable daybed for Best Friend; vaulted ceilings, and a rain shower.

As if that weren’t enough, the crown jewel of the space was the enormous window overlooking Lobster Bay. The sun was just rising (something is wrong with me, where I cannot sleep in on vacation – far too excited to see new things, I guess). I looked out the window to see the water at a perfect flat calm. Not a single ripple. No wind either, and pure silence. Imagine the silence of South Dakota, with the addition of forest and sea. We were in some other place.

My travel style is always seeking a balance of exploration and restoration – which is why I’ll seek out pubs with crazy traditional music, and spend hours in museums or cemeteries. Action and silence. Portland had been action – exploring, sweating, talking to lots of folks. Nova Scotia was the source of silence. It was also, finally, thankfully, about 30 degrees cooler than it had been in the States. As the sun rose, the breeze picked up slightly, and I think the temperature topped out around 75. With C, it’s hard to tell what’s really going on out there.

We eventually got up, got dressed, and headed down for breakfast. I was reminded of a college-era trip to Wales where they greet you and then tell you what’s for breakfast – on this day it was a lovely omelette with other lovely things and fresh orange juice. Fantastic coffee. After breakfast, we took our coffee to the porch and watched a few boats head out of the bay. THINGS I LEARNED: Fishing is done in the winter – especially for lobster, they shed in summer and are not good. A good fisherman makes the bulk of his money in the first six weeks of the season, and you almost never see him except he comes home to shower and head out again. A lobster over 2lbs is hard to eat and you need tools to cut the shells. The more you know.

At this point, the universe decided we’d had enough peace. The hostess came out to ask if we had plans for the day. We asked what was in walking distance, and she was like “…nothing…you don’t even have bikes?” Nope. In my defense, the website suggested that there were lots of options for recreation – and did not suggest that the closest was 10 miles away and that we would need a vehicle. Oops. We actually weren’t really bothered by this (there was a hiking trail nearby and we had books and stuff). So I asked, “when do you serve lunch or dinner?” “We don’t….the dining room is only open on the weekend.” Huh. That definitely is not clearly stated on the website. It’s becoming clear that we are here until the shuttle pics us up in 24 hours, with no more food until breakfast, and no way to get food for ourselves. Hilarious. Still not that bothered, but this is clearly a huge problem for our hosts.

They checked in with us all day to see if we were ok, connected us with some other guests who did have a car to take a ride into Pubnico, the nearby town, for the Acadian Heritage Festival. These ladies were hilarious and welcoming, but the festival was…cute. And small. And over when we got there. We saw some really lovely quilts, and signed the guestbook…and headed back. Around 6pm the room phone rang with an offer to give us a ride back into “town” for dinner at the Red Cap. I actually think that all the miscommunication was worth it because it led us to this spot.

Tiny, unassuming restaurant that also offers a few hotel rooms. We arrived at 7:50, and though it technically closed at 8, there was no rush, no break in the friendly service. The food was amazing (possibly slightly flavored with relief over actually eating dinner). Scallops and oysters from the nearby bays. Lovely local wine. Coconut cream pie for dessert. Medium coffee, but not a big deal. Really lovely service – I have to say, as I work my way through my thirties, I increasingly appreciate when people refer to Best Friend and I as “you girls”. This is totally tied up with my South Dakota life, and it still makes me smile. We ate everything possible and then wandered outside to wait for our ride back.

The stillness was augmented by the huge bright moon, which I fully failed to take an accurate picture of. The whole landscape was lit up, and the water of the bay was shining in the light. Fireflies abounded. Crickets and frogs sang. The peace had returned.

A day in a series of images. Travel is never not an adventure.

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One more morning in Maine

…ok I didn’t forget – in fact, I think to myself almost hourly “now, there’s a thought for the blog”. WordPress needs an app-like feature for those of us hopping in and out of wifi range. So, now I’m about five days behind in documenting the Grand Adventure. In my defense, I’ve written several Yelp reviews, instagram captions, and text messages, so I’m obeying my birthday resolution to “write every day”. Anyway, I digress.

The last day of the Grand Adventure: Maine dawned cool and cloudy. It was a travel day for Best Friend and I – headed to Canada that afternoon! In the morning, she had some work to catch up on, so I headed out on foot to see what’s shaking on a Sunday morning in Portland. Turns out, it’s a lot – temporarily free of the heat wave, but with highs projected to reach 90 again, the Eastern Promenade was in full effect. I walked up the hill to get coffee (Hilltop, I miss you already), and saw, in no particular order: yoga, dog walking, basketball, little league, soccer, and countless joggers. Rain moved in briefly, but did not interrupt the exercise rituals happening all through the park.

For myself, I walked up to Hilltop, got another excellent cup of Jamaican coffee, and took my ham and brie sandwich to go. With the sun peeking through, I sat down on a dry-ish bench to enjoy a final look at the mist rising off the bay. If I had this view, I would be late to work every single day. I could not move off the bench until the sailboats were in full view and my coffee cup long empty. Dang, Maine. I’ll have to try a sunrise trek down to the lakeshore back home and see if I see a similar effect.

Back up at the apartment, Best Friend was done working, so we headed out for breakfast. It being Sunday morning, everywhere had a wait so we would up at the strangely empty “Lolita Venoteca”. Empty to the point that the staff seemed surprised to see us. We sat outside and enjoyed an array of breakfast tapas (fantastic coffee, medium food). Before heading back to get packed up – Sunday was ferry day!

We scurried around getting the apartment ready for check out and hopped in an Uber to the ferry terminal (so close! If it hadn’t been so hot, we could have walked it). We got to the terminal and sat. And sat. The CAT ferry is newly back in commission after several years hiatus (US vs Canada in: “Who Pays For This Boat, Eh?!”). With one crossing per day, we arrived early so there could be no mistake…on this day, we needn’t have bothered. It turns out, there was a customs hold on an entering passenger, which delayed boarding by over an hour. An hour spent in a hot, airless holding space. Where the vending machine was out of everything except Diet Pepsi. Ugh.

Eventually we were shuttled to the boat and boarded – and instantly all was forgiven. I love ferries. Every since Scotland pushed my perspective on what this can be, I would prefer to travel by ferry everywhere. Huge plushy couches for resting. Movies on screens. Scallops for dinner. Ice cream. A little travel desk to ask your random questions about Canadian travel. Plus, an outside area where you can go if you are brave (more on that in a sec). I loved every second of this crossing. Not the least because the “factoid” presented by our captain was that we had made our crossing in record time. 4.5 hours! Considering that it wasn’t too long ago that the same crossing took nearly 22 hours, I think we were all suitably impressed. Best Friend worked some and napped some. I read some and explored the boat – which prior to its current incarnation, was a Hawaiian cruise ship and a hospital ship after the Haitian earthquake. All of the signage still says “Mahalo”.

We arrived in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia around 10pm, in a flat calm and a thick fog. The fog horn had been going throughout the final 30 minutes of the voyage. When they led us all down to the “disembarkation” area, the fog was rolling in and filling the hold. Everyone was quiet, as we waited for the dock to be lowered. We crossed, passed through customs and were on our way! We were fortunate that our cab was still able to pick us up, despite arriving hours later than planned. George, of A to B Taxi service, drove us the 24km to Argyle, while sharing fishing stories (some funny, some vague “you’d have to be there – to know how it could be in winter…I’ve seen some things) and navigating the fog with ease.

We arrived at Ye Olde Argyler Lodge – the next adventure about to begin!

IMG_9079 Lovely, lovely Promenade, with sunlight peeking through.

The sailboat stayed alongside for an impressive length of time. These two lighthouses were the final farewell from the States before they were lost to view.

Me on the outside deck of the ferry ^

  1. Hell no, this is nuts! (Back pressed against the wall, instantly dizzy and unable to move).
  2. 3 ish minutes later. Ok, maybe can peel self off wall and take two steps so that can take better pictures.
  3. Tentatively approach rail and place one hand. Still on ship. Possibly this is not so bad.

Am now mesmerized and spend 30 minutes taking 1 million pictures of sunset, water, spray, and generally enjoying the view. Success!

IMG_9098 (1)Waiting to leave the boat, looking out into the foggy, silent darkness.

IMG_9100 (2)Why is Canadian money so pretty? And clear in parts? Dang, y’all.

Annnd…I’m back!

This blogging thing though – is my perennial New Year’s fail, but I’m trying again.

In the interim, since the Great Escape of 2014, the following travel has happened, and will be updated in the future:

  • Myriad boring work trips (will not be featured – planes, chain hotels, conference rooms)
  • NYC take 652 (approx), September 2015 – special Brooklyn edition
  • Dominican Republic, January 2016 – in which I try a new kind of travel
  • Big Powderhorn and Michigan UP, January 2016 – skiing, snowshoeing and polar vortexing
  • Door County and Washington Island, July 2016 – in which I sleep outside and live (camping)

All to be illustrated and shared beginning in September of this year. In the meantime, the makers of “Great Escape 2014” bring you…

“Grand Adventure 2016!” In which we explore Portland, Maine; Yarmouth and Halifax, Nova Scotia; and as much of Prince Edward Island as a person with determination and a rental car can fit into four days.

So buckle up – or, as many boats are involved, batten down those hatches for the ride!
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Thinking Thankful

Wow. What an incredible month after a long year when it seemed that nothing could or would go quite right. November notwithstanding, I find myself feeling grateful for the events of the last month, and looking forward in anticipation to all that is yet to come.

To briefly recap; on the first of October, I stood in the chilly darkness of a Dublin morning, waiting for a bus. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would spend that day hiking the cliffs on the west coast of the country, and eating steak and Guinness stew to the music of fiddles and drums. It would be a day to soothe my soul, and remind me of the great beauty in the world.

After returning to the states, I experienced one of the most resplendent fall seasons in my memory. The colors could bring you to tears. Day upon day of crisp sunlight, as though the universe was making up for the misty, grey spring. I picked apples. I drove back roads. I carved pumpkins and roasted the seeds. I put the flannel sheets on the bed and I sipped apple cider. Nearly every day brought another gift. Trick or treat was warm enough to sit on the porch and pass out cupcakes. Children wore costumes without snowpacks.

The final week brought another trip-this time to NYC for work, but with the option to stay longer. An opportunity to see Halloween in with my little cousins, and get excited all over again for costumes and candy. An opportunity to shiver with thousands at the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, and compete for a cab when it started to rain. October was an amazing month, and a daily reminder that all seasons pass, hard or easy, and that there is so much in this world to make us happy.

Today it’s raining. Today it’s cold. Today it’s November. I sip a peppermint mocha and begin to steel myself for the holidays, for the mad dash to 2015. There will be events to coordinate, gifts to buy, baking to do. There will be snow to shovel and ice to salt, a furnace to have inspected, and Halloween decorations to pack for another year. It will be tiring.

But, there will be magical, crystalline mornings and hot chocolate. There will be music, food, and family traditions that have endured, no matter what. There will be starlit nights and peaceful, contemplative Sundays. First snows and “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I’ll visit my best friend and celebrate my baby brother’s 14th birthday.

I’m committing to retaining the joy of the last month. I’m deliberately choosing positivity. And now, I’m choosing Chinatown for lunch. All this cold rain is making me feel like pho. And it will be excellent.

The Way

So…it happened. I turned 30 (cue all relevant fanfare) one week ago today.

Bring. It.

Entering my third decade has me reflecting on a number of things, including the title of this blog.  The original title was to be “Exit 29”, but that was taken. Now, I feel as though I should call it “Highway 30” or some such thing. Which led to further rumination on why I am so stuck on the highway references (my friends have blogs on everything from running, to politics, to food and cooking)…and then it occurred to me – the entire span of my twenties involved traveling, and the vast majority of said travel was on highways. Highways, and everything they symbolize, form the frame of those years.

If I start with how I learned to drive, I find a recurring theme.  My dad’s method of teaching me to drive involved 3 things – learning to put gas in the car, then how to get on and off the highway safely, and then how to navigate the endless milk roads of rural Wisconsin. This was awesome – except for the fact that most driver’s tests are conducted within city limits, and I am kind of bad at red lights.

There seem to be a lot of them here – but minus the speed cameras, which I appreciate.

Driving to college on 151 – at that time, a sleepy two lane highway that ran through 3 towns, including Belmont, site of my first ever speeding ticket. I learned to drive in the dark in those years – the real dark, no streetlights or spillover light. Dark like driving in a mineshaft. I also learned about snow – to ride with the slide and to remember that the car is designed to stay upright. This parallels the lessons of those college years – trust yourself to navigate unfamiliar territory; don’t try to control every situation; things mostly work out the way you’d hoped, providing you put in the work.

The years I lived in Madison, and the months in London, my driving habits shifted down to almost nil. During those years I learned to lean on my friends when I needed to – and to survive in a world where the rules were unexpectedly reversed.

When I moved to South Dakota as a part of Teach For America, the road shifted again. I used to joke that from my mom’s apartment, to my house out to He Dog, it was “10 hours and 4 turns”. Which is actually more or less true – right to get on 90, left to get on 18, right to get on 44, and right to get on the ranch road.  What that doesn’t reveal are the details and pitfalls of the miles between.  The dead flat calm of Minnesota that makes you call someone, anyone, and beg them to talk to you until you get across. The winding road south of Murdo where I saw everything from a semi on fire, to a herd of antelope, to a kid with a skateboard, just walking along. The “limited maintenance” ranch road with it’s mud holes, wandering cattle, and tumbleweeds.

This is actually the Lakeview road, which is similar, but better maintained. Seriously.

The lessons of those years were similar – teaching kindergarten? Sounds like a cakewalk! (wrong). Two year resume builder? Cool! (about the farthest thing from the truth – I am forever changed by those years) South Dakota? Sounds…boring. (no.) I learned to persevere. I learned to find the joy in small moments every day. I learned to listen to the world – from owls, to coyotes, to wacipi drums, to ranch road music. I acquired all kinds of skills – how to use a 4 wheel drive, how to not spin out of wash board ruts, how to hook my truck up to a bulldozer with a chain to break it out of an ice block. How to teach reading, how to keep my voice gentle, and how to balance work and play.

Living here helps you focus.

In my later 20s, New Orleans provided new roads to explore, and new challenges to endure. 94 to 39 (stop for gas in Normal); 39 to 55 (last Culver’s is in Missouri, and it’s not good); 55 to 10 (don’t spend the night in Mississippi if you can help it); then past the Superdome, off on the Tchoupitoulas exit, right at the Whole Foods, and park next to the banana trees – a world away from my lonely trek across the Sandhills. The drive was longer, with more intense challenges (seriously, if the Jackson, MS interchange doesn’t get you, the Memphis, TN one will). Life was different too – starting over in my third state, my fifth or sixth city. Working hard, without the saving grace of small people to teach. Heat, rain, storms, bugs, carnival, oysters, music, and color. A confusing welter which left me inspired and exhausted in equal measure. This was a time to accept. To experience and to strive to stay open to possibilities. And to see just how far I can push my comfort zone before fault lines start to give way.

In 2011 I packed up my things one more time – and reversed my steps back to 94. A midwesterner after all – you can take the girl out, and so on. Now my highway rambles are confined to the 94 corridor, and 43 up to schools and back again. It’s strange to me that after all this long time, most of what I need is close at hand. It’ll be interesting to see what the total of those miles comes up to – in distance and in heart.

The scene of the four hour drive of terror in Morocco. If nothing else, I leave my twenties with a sense of adventure!

Winter Hiatus

Sooo- despite my initial interest in the 365 day photo project, I simply could not maintain interest. We were visited with an extremely mild winter here in the Brew City – which, as a recent return from 3 years in New Orleans, I appreciated. I had been looking forward to long, cozy snow days, and pictures of the frost patterns on my windows, but it was not to be. We basically had a six month November, featuring gray skies, mud, rain, frost, sleet, and a few handfuls of snow thrown in. It was the perfect impetus to keep my head down, stay in the office, and pray for warmer days. In February, I finally took the plunge and bought myself a MacBook Air (yes, this is the first computer that I have ever owned!) and a Nikon 4300 Psi. Owning the proper tools makes my hobbies so much more enjoyable. So, I return to the blogosphere – hopefully to stay awhile!

Here is the recap of the interesting things that happened since January 1, 2012.

February is a blur – it was my mom’s birthday though! I have the distinct impression I spent a lot of that time trapped in a hotel in Dallas. No photographic evidence survives, which is probably for the best.

March, however…

Bought my camera! Celebrated by taking random pictures of things in my house!

Flowers from a friend- tulips were early this year!

Bought some new toys – and threw out (recycled) the vintage microwave!

If my house was burning down, and my dog was safe, this is the first thing I would grab. No question.

Spent time with family, celebrating my Uncle’s birthday! It feels so great to be in proximity to these events again!

Surrounded by family. :

Went to New York to visit family – and enjoy the early spring!

Marcus Garvey Park in full bloom

Little cousin

Battery Park and Liberty Island. “Give me your poor…”

Went to Morocco with my best friend, and stayed at a resort for the first time. I would have liked more local color, and less sitting around, but all new experiences are good ones, right?

The infinity pool at the resort

Nearby homes…a little contrast

Trekking up into the Atlas mountains!

April –

Went to Alabama for the single most influential experience of my Teach For America staff career!

The scene of Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday, and the March to Montgomery. Selma, AL

Pie Lab breakfast – proceeds going to the Hero Project. Greensboro, AL

Catfish Capital of the World! Catfish plants provide most of the non-agricultural employment. Also, it’s delicious.

Started having monthly brunches for our teachers and staff!

Breakfast burritos!

Coffee and mimosas!

Followed my mom’s lead and started gardening!

Mom’s been gardening for over a decade now…amazing.

I planted bulbs last fall – my first gardening success!

May –

Celebrated Leo’s 2nd Birthday! (Don’t judge me – look at that face!)

Yes, he got a cake. One of us should be able to eat cake!

It was met with approval.

Went back to South Dakota!

Yes, this is what it looks like. No, it was the best part of my adult life.

Core values.

My school home, always a He Dog Bulldog

Buffalo on the side of the highway. Since I can, I took a u-turn and drove into the grass…

Wide open spaces

And celebrated my brother’s amazing achievement!

The winner!

Scenes from the wacipi

It’s been an incredible five months – looking forward to what the summer will bring!