Maine 2018

We made an impromptu trip to Maine with our friends Sam and Joanne.

There’s a back-story: we were supposed to be camping this week with Sam and Joanne (and others) but a conflict with school forced some to cancel, and eventually everyone canceled.  Since we all had the time off already scheduled I had the idea for a quick road trip with S&J.  Meghan made the arrangements when they bought in, so game on.

dock and reflection
Found this very stereotypical Maine view while biking on Friday morning

Day 1: Foul Weather, Destination Southport

We left home on Thursday.  S&J had the longer drive, but our house was on the way so we met up here and caravaned the rest of the way together.

A bundle of rain followed them from Connecticut, and would continue to follow us all the rest of the way.

Meghan and I neglected to pack until they arrived, as we were running around all morning doing chores, so they got in a short, much-needed break from driving in the rain.

We rolled into the Ocean Gate hotel around 5 pm.  We had rented three rooms: one for S&J and their son; one for Alpha and Beta; and one for Meghan, me, and Butter-the-dog.  We were spread across different buildings in the resort, but the girls were close to S&J so that was ok.

Our room, unlike the others, had a full kitchen — indeed, that was one of the selling points for us.  It was billed as “not having a view” but that was a lie: the view was, in fact, beautiful.

sunrise
Sunrise on Saturday morning. I didn’t mean to wake up at 5 am, but I’m glad I did since I got to see this.

We went out to dinner at a tiny-but-tony restaurant called Oliver’s at Cozy Harbor.  The food was excellent, btw.  Joanne went high-end and got a “lobstertini,” lobster meat served in a martini glass, but most everyone else went basic with burgers or fish-and-chips.

group photo
Sitting down to dinner at Oliver’s. Everyone was tired. and nobody but the server saw me taking the picture, which is why everyone looks bored

We did check out some of the “traditional” Maine sight-seeing, which is to say we took pictures of the fog:

foggy harbor
The very foggy view from Oliver’s [click to expand]

Day 2: Swimming, Shopping, Dinner at Home

Sam and I started Friday off with a bang: we went biking.  The kids started off with fun: they went swimming in the pool.  Meghan and Joanne started off with style: they took a dip in the hot tub.

After everyone felt ready to start their day, we packed into the cars and took a short ride to Boothbay Harbor.  It was hot so we had an ice cream lunch.  The girls shopped, while I took Butter on a walk up and down the main drag.  She’s truly an adorable dog and we stopped to talk to several people that wanted to “say hi” to her.

sam in kayak
Sam braved rumbles of thunder to discover that a nearby island is not, in fact, an island.

We all took a siesta in the late afternoon back at the hotel, except for Sam who ignored the impending thunderstorm and went kayaking.

After a brief downpour and a bit of lightning, we got going on our planned “traditional get together” dinner: spaghetti and sauce.  This is why the in-room kitchen was important, you see.

For years, when we lived near each other, we would gather at one house or the other and feed everyone with a simple pasta, meat sauce, and garlic bread dinner.  From time to time we do it even now, but the drive is much longer.

I made the pasta, Sam made the garlic bread, and the kids watched TV.  This was about as traditional as you can get without being home.

preparing dinner

After dinner I washed up while everyone else played a game at the table until bedtime.

Day 3: Freeport and Home

Our stay was intentionally short because we were trying a too-good-to-be-true hotel and everything came together last-minute.  Much too short.

After a big breakfast we packed up and rolled out, destination: Freeport.  Sam had only passed through Maine before, never stopping, and Joanne has never been at all.  Both wanted to see the main L.L. Bean store in Freeport.  Meghan is always game to go there.  I walked around with Butter while everyone wandered inside the store for an hour because I just can’t even.  We also made time for the Ben and Jerry’s store, of course.

We made our final leg home, where S&J paid us a final visit before making their way home as well.

Neil Gaiman in NYC

Meghan gave me an awesome Christmas present: tickets to see Neil Gaiman read from his latest book, Norse Mythology at The Town Hall on February 9, 2017 in New York City.  She only purchased two tickets and it’s a Thursday night.  Too bad kids — you’re staying home!  (We arranged for our neighbor’s adult daughter Sam to stay with the girls for the night).

looking up the aisle on the trainAs the day approached I watched the weather forecasts with growing interest.  Snow was forecast for Thursday, the day of the event and the day we planned to travel to NYC.  By Tuesday the forecast was clear: snow, and possibly a blizzard.  Driving to NYC was out of the question, and flying would be problematic as well.  We have easy access to trains, though, assuming they would run in a blizzard.

The storm could not wait to arrive and it was snowing hard by the time we left the house for our local train stop.  In order to head south on Amtrak, we take commuter rail from our house to Boston’s North Station, the subway (or walk when the weather is nice, which is to say not this time) from North Station to South Station, and pick up Amtrak there.  The Amtrak train was scheduled to depart at 11:15, so we left the house by 9 am to catch everything on time.  As usual, we forgot a few minor things like toothbrushes, and had to purchase them when we got there.

pink unicorns
We watched people skating at the park for a while, until the pink unicorns came out — then it was time to leave.

Amazingly enough, train service ran perfectly despite being a real, legitimate, certified blizzard.  We had periods where we could not see the landscape at all, but the train continued to rock along at 100+ mph (verified via Waze on Meghan’s phone).  The ride from South Station to Penn Station is about 4 ½ hours.

By the time we got to NYC the snow had wound down, though it continued to snow back home for another six hours.  The streets were messy and wet, with snow piled up at every corner.  The hotel is only a few blocks from Penn Station, a few blocks from Times Square, and a few blocks from The Town Hall — NYC is great that way.

meghan at beer authority
I still wonder what she’s thinking here

We ate dinner around the corner from our hotel at the Beer Authority. The food was yummy, the beer selection is well-curated, and we had a very enjoyable time.  (I thoroughly enjoyed a Founders Porter and Meghan tried a Timmerman’s Strawberry Lambic that was surprisingly tasty.)

top of the empire state building at night
We popped out of the hotel, went around the corner, and had a (relatively) great view of the Empire State Building

We killed a little more time before the show by wandering the local neighborhood.  Times Square is always blindingly bright, but within a few blocks are much nicer views.

Finally, the main event: Neil Gaiman.  “Norse Mythology” was finished some time before the 2016 election, and every story in it is a faithful retelling of stories from the original eddas, but the story he chose to read was eerily appropriate: a book about the gods building a wall around Asgard to keep the ice giants out.   The reading was followed by a pair of previews, one for the American Gods miniseries (based on his excellent book), and one for a movie adaptation of an old story of his, How to Talk to Girls at Parties.  Finally, he came back out with Ophira Eisenberg for a Q&A session.  Mr. Gaiman is, by turns, very thoughtful and very funny.  Despite the cramped seats made for midgets with abnormally short legs we really enjoyed ourselves.

Neil Gaiman on stage
Neil Gaiman. He read a segment from his latest book, Norse Mythology, about building a wall around Asgard

The next morning we ate breakfast at the hotel and killed some more time waiting for our 11 am train.  We visited the Empire State Building’s lobby and checked out a few adjoining blocks.  Our train was delayed for nearly an hour due to “missing equipment”, but we got back to Boston by dark and back to our car by 6 pm.  (Rush hour on the subway is never fun, but all in all it wasn’t too bad.)  Glad to be home!

NYC 2016

nyc vs boston
Finding your way in NYC really is easier

Meghan and I like to keep our kids exposed to the cultural world, giving them a cosmopolitan worldview.  I chose a job near Boston in part to allow frequent trips into the city.  But one city isn’t enough to give them a breadth of experience.

We took an overnight trip to New York City during February school vacation.  Discovery Times Square is currently exhibiting The Vikings, which is of particular interest to Meghan and Alpha.  (That isn’t to say there isn’t interest from me and Beta, they’re just that much more keen.)  Meghan found a great deal on motel rooms (the girls are old enough now that we need two) right by Times Square at Four Points by Sheraton.  The view wasn’t anything to write home about but the location can’t be beat: two blocks from Times Square.  The rooms were clean and neat, and the staff were bend-over-backwards friendly.  I would totally stay there again.

We drove down early Wednesday morning, dropping Butter off at Marty’s and picking up Meghan’s mom (aka Baba) on the way.  Baba loves going to NYC, she knows the lay of the land better than we do, and she’s a bit more adventurous than I am when the kids are around, so we invited her along.  She offered to share the kids’s room to keep costs down — and that provided peace of mind overnight, too.

Meghan yelled at me for this selfie. She insisted that it was inappropriate to do while making 75 mph on I-91.
Meghan yelled at me for this selfie. She insisted that it was inappropriate to do while making 75 mph on I-91.

We rolled into town around noon and got situated in the hotel with time to spare before our exhibit reservations.  We walked from the hotel and poked around Times Square for a few minutes.

woody and olaf
Click to expand

There were a pair of people in costume, one dressed as Woody from Toy Story and the other as Olaf from Frozen, soliciting tips.  They made their own costumes and don’t work for anyone but themselves, so Meghan got photos with each and tipped them a few bucks.

I continue to be amazed how many people are continually in New York City.  The crush of people feel like there’s an event going on somewhere, but it’s really just an every day occurrence.  Dozens of people at every crosswalk, hundreds of people on every sidewalk, all the time.  Boston has nothing on NYC.

alpha holding viking sword
Alpha holding a reproduction Viking sword

We made our way through the crowds to the exhibit and spent about an hour and a half learning about Vikings.  As an aside: the exhibit is self-paced and just about the right length.  They had a number of artifacts grouped into several themes about everyday life, instead of constructing a sequential historical narrative.

We waited to get lunch until after the exhibit so we were somewhat famished.  A few storefronts down from Discovery is a pizza and Italian restaurant called John’s of Times Square, located in a former church.  The adults had excellent pizza and the girls had excellent pasta.  It might have been a case of hunger making the best sauce, but probably not.

ulfbehrt sword
There’s a great NOVA episode about the “mystical” Ulfberht sword

After lunch we shopped around Times Square a bit.  Alpha bought a New York-emblazoned sweat shirt and Beta got a pin for her hat.  Baba noticed that Phantom of the Opera was playing right in front of us, so she bought three tickets for 8 o’clock that night.  Beta wasn’t interested and I was wiped from driving all day; we chose to stay in.

We wandered back to the hotel to rest up.  I had to step out in search of a pharmacy: we had a snafu when we left the house and forgot to pack our bathroom stuff.

meghan and alpha at phantom
Waiting for Phantom of the Opera to start

Our motel offers complimentary dinner stuffs on Wednesday nights.  We were just coming off of lunch, not particularly hungry, but the food was delicious. Free wine and beer, too!

We finished dinner and Beta and I headed up to our room to watch some TV and get ready for bed.  Meghan, Baba, and Alpha headed out to their show, and didn’t get back until after I was asleep — sometime after 10:30 pm.  They said they had a great time though!

We started the next day with an excellent breakfast buffet at the motel.  We seem to have a knack for choosing motels with great breakfasts; it really makes dollars stretch further if your breakfast is hearty when you’re traveling.

We decided that we could fit in one more museum visit before leaving town.  The American Museum of Natural History was on our way home and is always worth a visit.  We also considered the USS Intrepid but decided to save it for another visit so we can give it the amount of time it deserves.

wrong-way shadows
Notice the shadows. The sun is rising off to the right, but the cars are throwing shadows the wrong way. The strange beauty of a city made from glass.

We got in early and encountered almost no waiting to get into the parking garage and admissions line.  We had three destinations in mind: the dinosaurs, the blue whale, and the gift shop.  We got to see all three, in that order. The life-size blue whale model is stupendously large – and that’s after seeing the full-size apatosaurus for comparison.

baba and girls
Driving home (click to expand)

We made our way out of the city around 1 pm.  We didn’t want to get home too late, and the drive can take upwards of six hours with stops and detours to Willimantic and Hampton. The ride home was uneventful, traffic was mostly light and Waze didn’t let us down.  Butter the dog was very happy to see us when we picked her up, and I was extremely happy to sleep in my own bed.

Maine 2015

Backstory: a long time ago as the ice sheets from the latest ice age slowly receded, an island was carved out of the Maine coastline.  My father purchased a few acres of land shortly before humans showed up in North America to jack up the prices, intending to build a vacation home when modern building methods were developed.

Alpha, Beta, and Butter
Taking a quick break on the trail

A house never materialized but we made annual treks to the island, called Islesboro, for years while I was growing up.  After my parents lost interest, I occasionally went there on my own to go camping until finally I, too, got busy with life and stopped going.

Fast-forward a couple of decades, to last Sunday night in fact.  Meghan and I got to talking and we realized that we’re really only a short drive away from Islesboro nowadays– only about 3 ½ hours from door-to-ferry slip.  Why don’t we go?  So we booked a room for Friday night and started rearranging our schedules.

A little more backstory: When I used to go up by myself, I generally spent a my first night at a little motel on the mainland, just a mile from the ferry slip.  This motel was about as bare-bones as you can get: little cabins with a clean bed and a shower, and if I recall correctly it was about $25 / night back then.  They family that owned it made you breakfast in the morning (Best blueberry pancakes I’ve ever had.)

The hotel is still there, under new ownership and a new name but still relatively inexpensive – and still clean and comfortable.  They also accept dogs, so we could bring Butter instead of trying to board her on short notice.

We left mid-day Friday, after I finished up my tasks and morning meetings at work — my employer offers some scheduling flexibility and I put in a number of extra hours over the course of the week to make sure my promised deliverables were deliverable (I have to explicitly mention this since some of my co-workers may actually read this blog).

Meghan, WW1 memorial tower
Megh standing near the peak of Mt. Battie. The tower is a memorial to the soldiers of ‘The Great War’, dated 1921.

The trip was rainy as hell on the way up.  We detoured into Freeport to visit the LL Bean store — even if you’ve been to a L. L. Bean store, it’s not as big as the L. L. Bean store.  The girl-folk went inside to procure winter jackets for the kids, while I took a nap in the car and walked Butter around in between squalls.  (Did I mention I’ve been staying up late all week to get stuff done?)

Hiking Mt. Battie
Hiking upwards on the Tablelands Trail, Mt. Battie

We arrived in Lincolnville around 5:30 pm.  The rain was still coming down and occasionally pouring, but the breaks were getting longer.  After settling into our room, and letting everyone (including Butter) stretch their legs a bit, we headed back up to the road to downtown Camden in search of dinner.

We found a nice tavern, away from the main drag, called the Smokestack Grill.  Not much ambiance inside — it looks a bit like a sports bar with large TVs over the bar — but the building is an old mill so there’s architectural interest.  I had a jalapeño cream cheese and bacon burger, Meghan had calamari, and the girls split a fried shrimp dinner.  The bill was quite reasonable, our server was attentive and friendly, and the food was delicious.  Butter, sadly, stayed in the car and waited for us.

Afterwards we went back to our room and got ready for bed – except me, I stayed up until the rain stopped so Butter could get in a short walk — she is a princess and doesn’t like to get wet, and sleeping in close quarters with a wet dog is not high on my list of things to do.  I  didn’t have to wait too long, and we were all in bed early.  There’s something about travelling that just makes you tired, even if you’re sitting in the car all day.

Saturday morning was sunny but really breezy and chilly.  The kids were divided on whether or not to go to the island, so I cast the deciding vote: no, the seas are rough and I don’t want to spend $70 to have two seasick kids and a sick dog – we’ll come back for that.  Lets go do something else this time.

Right up the road, between the motel and downtown Camden, is a state park called Camden Hills State Park / Mt. Battie.  We drove in, paid our fee, found a place to park, and went hiking up the ‘Tablelands Trail.’  It takes you right up to one of the peaks, which overlooks both the Penobscot Bay and downtown Camden, from nearly 800 feet up.

After playing around on the peak for while, and after the clouds started playing peek-a-boo with the sun, we headed back down to find some hot chocolate in Camden to warm us up.  The breeze was making us chilly even when we were ascending on the trail, so without the sun we got downright cold.

Camden starts to shut down before October, so while a majority of shops were still open there were a few that have already closed for the season.  We window-shopped and walked around downtown for an hour, and hit the road for one last stop down Route 1.

Maine State Prison showroom
The Maine State Prison “showroom” for prisoner-made woodcraft. The store is still staffed by prisoners and prison guards. The items inside are made with impressive quality, including furniture that is as nice as a high-end store (but much lower cost)

For whatever faults the Maine prison system may have, they maintain an intriguing program of teaching trades to prisoners, including woodworking.  The finished products are then sold to the public.

I’ve been stopping at the Prison Store in Thomaston for as long as I’ve been going to Maine.  The last time I was there was in 2001, and the store was still attached to a working prison; in 2002 the prison was closed and subsequently torn down, but the store remains.

Unsurprisingly, we came out with some gifts for family and a few things for ourselves.

After Thomaston, we made a bee-line for Bath (home of the BFC – Big Friggen Crane – at the Bath Iron Works) and the interstates so that we would be home in time to make dinner.

All in all, it was a fun little jaunt, even if we didn’t actually step foot on the island.  Next time I think I’ll try to just take the day off instead of squeezing five days worth of work into four.

Penobscot Bay
Over looking Penobscot Bay – Islesboro is the big island in the middle, stretching the width of the picture. If you click to view the full-size version you can see the ferry.
View of Camden from Mt Battie
Looking down on Camden from Mt. Battie. There is a trail that descends from here into town, which looks like it might be a good hike for next time. The color is a little washed out because we’re pointed right into the light.
SE view from Mt. Battie
Taken from the tower on Mt. Battie, looking off to the south east.
View of Mt Megunticook from Mt Battie
Mt. Battie isn’t the highest peak in the park, it merely has the best view. Mt. Megunticook stands 400′ higher — I think I’d like to tackle that next time.

Cape Cod 2015

Time for our annual trek to the Cape! Last year the Market Basket imbroglio occurred while we were away; we’re curious if anything similar happens this year.

Day 0: Getting There

Hawksnest Nature Preserve, Cape Cod
Hawksnest Nature Preserve, Cape Cod

Going away for a week’s vacation always leads to more work just so you can relax.  After a very busy week at work, I still had significant cleaning to do around the house — I don’t really want our pet sitter to know that we live like this.

Preparations are complicated because we choose to take Butter, the dog, back to her old day care in Willimantic for boarding.  (We haven’t found boarding near us that is satisfactory, due to arbitrary breed restrictions, but Marty’s is also located near Baba’s house so it’s not entirely inconvenient.)  Meghan and Beta left Saturday morning and drove to the cape with Baba, leaving the bulk of the work for me.  By lunchtime Alpha and I were ready to roll!

Traffic to the cape was moderate, more than we’ve experienced in the past, but we normally go later in the afternoon due to other obligations.  I think next year we’ll just wait until later in the afternoon for an easier drive — whether we have obligations or not.

We left our respective locations at different times without coordinating but somehow Meghan and I arrived at the cape house within a couple of minutes of each other.  Talk about timing!

So long as Baba invites us to spend a week at the cape, we offer to prepare all the meals (except when she wants to treat).  We immediately went back out to Orleans to go shopping for food and a package of spare underwear for one of the kids.  (A poorly timed growth spurt.)

After dinner the only ones who felt like moving were Beta and me, so we ventured out for ice cream.  There’s a new-to-us place down the street called Short n Sweet.  Good ice cream, but I was a little taken aback that they were cash-only — it’s not uncommon on the cape, but it wasn’t posted anywhere.  I was short of cash but they gave us our ice cream anyway.  I returned a few minutes later, after rolling Meghan for money, to settle up.

Long day, so we went to bed early all around.

Day 1: Beach pt 1, Chatham pt 1

Sunday spawned a beautiful day.  Megh whipped up a breakfast that couldn’t be beat, and we toddled out to Sea Street Beach (a.k.a. Crows Nest Beach) in Dennis – our traditional bay-side destination.

Beta's fake mustaches
Beta purchased a package of fake mustaches in Yarmouth and modelled all of them when we got home.

We got a late start, though, and arrived after the parking lot had filled up.  No legal parking anywhere within walking distance.  I gallantly offered to take the car out for a spin while the womenfolk got started on their ocean- and sun-bathing activities, thinking that if I came back at lunchtime (only 30-40 minutes hence) that one or more spots would open up.

After coming back and confirming that no spaces existed, Baba offered to switch with me so I could enjoy the beach for a bit.  She carries the luck of the Irish, though, because a spot opened up before she left the parking lot.

We were part of a group of people that made a minor faux pas and spread our blankets on the private side of an invisible property line on the beach.  A geriatric citizen appeared around noon to inform us that we were infringing on “his” property, even though we were below the mean high tide mark.  (The quotes will be explained momentarily.)  He demanded that everyone move, but Meghan stood her ground and said she would be happy to move if asked — which he did, so we moved.  I love this woman.

A group of twenty-somethings took umbrage at this and verbally challenged this claim; the “owner” called the police and stood there to wait for them.  The guys stood firm, poked some harmless fun at him, and waited for the police because they felt they were in the right.

When the police arrived they calmly and politely let us know that the property actually has deeded rights to the water line, not the high-water mark.  We also found out that this guy doesn’t actually own the property: his son does.  The officer very expertly talked the twenty-somethings down as well, averting any more bad feelings.  I think they respond to frequent calls from this guy when he’s in town, but the son is much more easy-going.  Meghan actually called the station to talk to his supervisor, in order to compliment his performance.

Megh and Alpha selfie
Meghan and Alpha paused mini-golf for a selfie

The water was cold but clear, and I had a good time frolicking with the kids in the water.  We left before sunburns could really get started.

A plan for meals now in hand, Meghan and I headed back out with a shopping list.  Among our purchases: a single package of 2 1/2 dozen eggs, in addition to the dozen we had purchased the night before.  That seems like an absurd number of eggs but we still ran short of eggs by day six, as well as pretty much everything else.

After dinner of BBQ chicken sandwiches, Meghan and I ventured to downtown Chatham for a little date, while Baba watched the girls.

Day 2: Chatham pt 2

Weather: there were overnight rumbles of thunder.  The day was hot and humid.

Baba at the beach
Baba @ Harding Beach

We had a particularly late start, because hey we’re on vacation.  The general desire was to head into town and poke around.

We started at the west end of town, by the parking lot.  At Beta’s insistence we popped into the Black Dog shop, where she found and fell in love with a giant (life-size) stuffed black dog toy.  At $65 I immediately balked, but she had over $100 in savings and birthday money so we couldn’t really deny her request.

We only delayed the inevitable by requesting she wait until the end of the day to make the purchase, hoping she would find something she wanted more, or forget about it, or listen to reason (our reason, not hers) that she should save her money for later.  She did not do any of those things so we now own a giant stuffed black dog.

I think Baba was worried that she would quickly tire of sandwiches, as she took us to lunch at the Chatham Squire instead of letting us pack it at home.  The food was generally good, but they had some of the best fried calamari I’ve had anywhere — tasty and light, not greasy at all.

For dinner I made tacos with fajita-marinated chicken.  Our plan of eating leftovers on Friday started to wane early, as there were no leftovers.

Day 3: Hawksnest, Yarmouth, Beach pt 2

Another lazy morning was in the offing, but I wanted to get to know the area.  There’s a conservation area near our house that I wanted to see.  Alpha was a little bored and wanted to go immediately; Beta decided that she wanted to go when she realized we might actually see wild animals.  Meghan and Baba wanted nothing to do with activity so early in the morning (9:30 am).

Hawksnest Preserve, Cape Cod
Hawksnest Preserve in Harwich, Cape Cod

The preserve is decently sized and pretty, but it all appears to be new-growth forest.  I figure it can’t be more than 30-40 years old, based on the tree-trunk widths.  The only wild animal we saw, besides birds, was a Fowler’s toad.  We all got to hold it a moment before sending it back on it’s way.  I’m very proud of my girls that they don’t shy away from things like going hiking and holding toads.

After lunch we all left Baba at home and cruised to Yarmouth for some shameless vacation fun.  We tried a mini-golf place with animals all over, checked out a few stores in search of boogie boards, and stopped at our traditional salt-water-taffy-store.  The afternoon was pretty hot and humid, with the occasional sprinkle, so we kept the convertible’s top up.

Boogie boarding at Harding Beach
Boogie boarding at Harding Beach

After we got back we met up with Baba, who had spent the afternoon at the beach and wanted to go back.  The girls jumped in their bathing suits and headed to Harding beach while I ran to the store for an impromptu dinner on the beach: bread, cheese, and grapes (our so-called French dinner).

The ocean-side water was surprisingly warm so we ate and swam until a fog rolled in and the breezy air became chillier than the water.

To finish the night, we took the kids to Schoolhouse Ice Cream.  We really like their ice cream better than Sundae School (but Sundae School has better atmosphere).  We sat outside and ate our ice cream and met a local young woman named Emily.  She mistook us for someone else, but we wound up talking until it was time to bundle the girls home for a very late bed time.  (An aside: I’m pretty sure Emily has Asperger’s; both my brother and my older daughter are diagnosed aspies so I tend to recognize them quickly.  I purposely engaged her in conversation, but I went easy because I didn’t want anyone to be uncomfortable.  She was very nice and seemed a little happy to be social for a bit.)

Day 4: Beach pt 3 & 4

Fog rolling in at Harding Beach
Fog rolling in at Harding Beach. It went from sunny to this in about 15 minutes.

I really dig hiking, especially on vacation when I can go to all-new places.  I had noticed on the maps that there’s another nature preserve at the south-eastern tip of Chatham, which is also the south-eastern tip of Cape Cod.

Neither kid was interested in hiking on this fine day, but Meghan was up and interested so we went out on an adventure together.

Morris Island is part of Monomy National Wildlife Refuge.  Contrary to what the name implies, Morris Island can be driven to, while the rest of the refuge can only be accessed by boat.

We hiked about a quarter of the shoreline (plus a brief detour into the interior to see where a particular trail through the marsh led to) before turning around.  We stumbled across a number of horseshoe crab molts, including three perfect ones that we brought home, as well as some live starfish that were caught on the sand as the tide went out and one old snail shell with some possibly-live oysters inside.  We moved the living things back to the water’s edge.

We were all hungry when we got back, as no-one had eaten breakfast — Meghan and I didn’t eat before leaving so that we could leave early, and everyone else was apparently uninterested in actually making food.  It was almost lunch time, so Baba took us out to an awesome lunch at a newly-discovered diner for locals, Larry’s PX.  This is the kind of place that hangs a “Sorry, We’re Open” sign on the door, and the local cops eat here.  Our mixed breakfast and lunch totally lived up to expectations.

Megh and Alpha, minigolfing in Yarmouth
Minigolfing in Yarmouth. It took forever to get Alpha to crack a smile.

Afterwards Baba and Megh went shopping at the local pottery places, while the girls and I tagged along.  The girls were bickering a bit so I started making plans to split them up for a bit.

Pottery shopping done with minimal damage to our wallets, Baba and I took Beta to a different bay-side beach in Brewster called Robbins Hill beach.  Much like Sea Street beach the slope is very flat; the water was somewhat dirty with life, but the tide was high so that may have been responsible for washing in extra junk.  It was a small, almost personal beach and the parking fees in Brewster end at 3 pm (instead of 4 pm in Dennis), so I think we’ll go back again.

Tim and Delta were due to arrive in a bit so we stopped at the local liquor store to pick up a little wine and beer.  It was seriously disappointing and we won’t be going back.

Tim arrived shortly after we finished dinner, and sooner than he should have if he had obeyed all traffic laws.  I, personally, was glad they came.  Living in a house with four women and no men gets old very quickly.  At home I have a cat for male company, at least.

Day 5: Nantucket

We have a rotation of “specials”: one year we go on a whale watch (or similar), one year we go to Martha’s Vineyard, and one year we go to Nantucket.

Tim and Delta on Nantucket
Tim and Delta @ downtown Nantucket. Master/Blaster?

With Tim and Delta on-board for Nantucket, we set out in search of tickets.  There are three ferry options that we know of: the Nantucket Fast Ferry out of Harwich (very convenient to get to from Chatham); Hy-Line Cruises (consistently lowest price); and the Steamship Authority (the priciest option, but most frequent sailings).

After finding out that Groupon had some expired deals for the other ferries (WTF Groupon!), I found a special weekday-only deal for SSA out of Hyannis on SSA’s own website, which made it cheaper than the other options by quite a bit.  I guess the overall higher prices give them some wiggle room for specials.

Meghan and I were up really early, before 6 am, because that’s our normal schedule.  The rest of the house, not so much.  I think Baba wanted to treat a nice breakfast for everyone at Larry’s PX, but we ran out of time and skipped it.

That we didn’t stop for breakfast before the ferry was probably best.  We made it to Hyannis, found parking and a shuttle, and made the ferry with some time to spare — but only 20 minutes, not the hour or more a sit-down breakfast would have taken.  We made-do by grabbing a bite at a kiosk in the terminal.

The ferry trip was pretty routine, not much to say except that it was packed full and we all sat in pairs, scattered across the boat.

Our first stop after arriving was a couple benches to eat our lunch: PB&J and fluffernutters.  When we had finished, we turned around and realized we were sitting in front of the Whaling Museum.  This became our second stop.

The Whaling Museum is arguably one of the best small museums that I have ever attended.  They have well-thought-out exhibits that provide interest; they have unique artifacts, from paintings to period items, from an actual whale skeleton to the last remaining whale-oil press known to exist.

We sat for a talk on the Essex, a whaling ship that was known to be attacked and sunk by a sperm whale and served as the inspiration for Moby Dick.  The presenter stayed for Q&A afterwards and was highly knowledgeable and pleasant.

Whale skeleton at Whaling Museum
Adult sperm whale skeleton hanging in the Whaling Museum in Nantucket. The whale washed ashore and died of natural causes back in the ’90s. This is NOT from a hunted whale.

Meghan, who had been to the museum before, kindly kept the littlest ones busy in the kids room while the rest of us explored the museum.  She was eventually spelled by Baba, and Megh and I had a fun time following an exhibit about the Essex where you pick a crewman and uncover his fate (died, eaten, or survived).

After staying for a couple of hours, we finally re-entered the present day.  We walked around a bit, did a circuit around the block, I bought ice cream for the kids, and we considered an early dinner.  We uncovered a tavern called Brotherhood of Thieves that seemed intriguing.  The atmosphere actually matched the name – dark, low-ceilinged, a little moody.  The service was attentive, the nacho appetizer was excellent, the entrées were delicious (and probably too big – we all left food on our plates), and the prices were exorbitantly high.  (I’m not considering the premium for eating on the island when I say that – other restaurants were probably comparably priced, but I was a little taken aback.)

I pause here to note something: Nantucket is preppy central.  Megh and I noticed a preponderance of kids and adolescents in the ‘preppy summer uniform:’ guys in polo shirt, khaki shorts or pants, and topsiders without socks, and a particular Kennedy-esque haircut (not too short); girls in thigh-length one-piece dresses.  The adults were in the adult version of the same: men in khaki shorts, nice shirts, and possibly sandals; women in shorts or pants, and polo shirts or button-down shirts.

After dinner we split up and wandered downtown in groups.  At one point Meghan had Beta and was watching Delta, and lost him to ‘potty tourism’ in a book store.  We all converged on the store but he was located quickly by Tim (who was aware of his tendencies).

Beta drying out her tongue
As we drove to the Nantucket ferry Beta decided to dry her tongue out, to see just how dry it could get. She seemed to find the experience interesting, but it didn’t impede the remainder of her day.

The book store was also site of a funny shared experience of sorts.  I was people-watching outside the book store after the potty-tourism incident, Baba was shopping down the street, and Meghan was back inside.  A couple walked in the door, both probably about fifteen years old.  The girl was mostly unremarkable in her white dress but the boy was in full preppy regalia.  They both looked conspicuously uncomfortable, as if they were on a date and trying hard (too hard) to impress both each other and strangers.  Independently, Baba noticed them down the street, I noticed them going into the store, and Meghan noticed them shopping in the store.  We realized it later when we were comparing notes, because they stood out to all of us enough to mention to each other.

Meghan and I took the girls outside the downtown a bit to see the houses and non-shopping sites, like some pocket parks and the Coffin School.  We all met up on the pier for the 6:15 ferry and had another pleasant ferry ride back to the mainland.  The shuttle bus was standing-room-only back to the car.

The ride home was practically made for a convertible.  When we got off the Route 6 expressway Megh and I turned on the radio and caught a local rock station playing some late-80’s songs that we know well by REM and Tears For Fears.  We sang along while cruising over local roads and the girls shrank into the back seat and tried to disappear.

Tim and I had passed each other a couple of times on route 6, which turned into race once we got off the expressway.  (Tim took a different route than us.)  Megh and I won, but barely, by rolling through a right-hand turn at a stop sign, and kind-of, sort-of cutting off Tim (who was about to come straight through the intersection).

After getting home, I realized I was missing my ‘home’ key-ring: front and back doors, various retailer loyalty tags, and key-ring multi-tool.  There’s no directly-identifying information so I’m not worried about burglars, and there weren’t any car keys so nothing will be expensive to replace, but I’m going to miss that particular multi-tool.  Maybe a good samaritan will find them and return them to one of the stores I have a tag for, and the store will get them back to me.

Day 6: Beach pt 5, Chatham pt 3

Dad
Dad driving to Nauset beach

Last year we discovered Nauset Beach in Orleans, which has bigger surf than the southern-facing beaches in Chatham.  The beach is long and made of fine white sand, except for the very edge of the water where erosion has left larger stones.  We made a half-day of it this year.

Alpha claimed in the morning that she didn’t want to go, and through some gentle prodding we uncovered part of the reason: she’s having body image issues.  (She thinks she’s fat, which she’s not.  Oh boy, this will be a loooong adolescence.)  After lots of reassurances, plus some tickling to get her off the couch, we were finally ready to go — all of us: Baba, Joneslings, Tim, and Delta.

Without storms in the area the surf was subdued compared to last year, but that’s all relative: it was still big enough to knock me on my ass when I chickened out on the cold water (which got me into the water anyway, of course, ready or not.)

Delta, anonymized
Delta preferred to remain anonymous, using Baba’s hat.

The girls had a great time with their new boogie boards, riding the waves, while Megh and I worked our way out a bit until we could barely touch bottom – we were brave enough to go that far but not to tempt fate (and rip currents) out further.  Delta, who is still a bit small for the waves, mostly played on the beach, digging holes in the sand and snatching rocks from the water line.

There were a pair of seals in the area, cruising the beach about 50 yards out.  They occasionally came in close and popped their heads up, and the pair came up to no more than 20 yards away from me, where we could stare at each other.  That was cool.

Unlike earlier days, we stayed during the ‘sunburn’ hours: 10 am – 2 pm.  Meghan and I were lightly burned on our upper arms and shoulders when we left.  Baba and Tim had slathered up in sunscreen, and didn’t burn at all.  They’re still bright white today, so I’m not sure which decision was better.  Alpha and Beta were “brown as pagan babies” before we went, and are even browner today.  Alpha also has “battle scars” on her legs from wading through the rocks at the water’s edge.

Delta missed his afternoon nap and tried to catch it on the way home, which led to a very unhappy youngster when we reached home and he woke back up.  He recovered quickly, though, and powered through the rest of the day in good spirits.

After washing up, Meghan and I headed to Chatham for another mini-date.  Meghan picked up my next Christmas present (a gorgeous watercolored engraving) from one of the galleries, while we noshed on some iced drinks from Carmine’s.  We also stopped into Gallery Antonia, a fascinating high-end gallery owned by a rather classy and erudite man name Dominic.  We enjoyed talking with him for a good twenty minutes about nothing in particular.

We had planned a pizza-and-movie dinner for the family, and on Dominic’s recommendation we tried out the Sweet Tomato.  They serve a fantastic thin-crust pizza; we tried Margherita, pepperoni, and Hawaiian-style pizzas.  We also stopped into the Chatham Liquor Store next door and discovered a new sangria called Mija — Meghan and Baba enjoyed it very much.

After dinner the adults stayed out on the back deck and talked until the mosquitoes came out, at which point it was bed time for the kids.  Tim, Meghan, and I stayed late up to watch X-Men 2 with RiffTrax.

We hiked out to a wildlife preserve and ran across these tracks all over the sand.  Morris Island Nature Preserve, Cape Cod.
We hiked out to a wildlife preserve and ran across these tracks all over the sand. Morris Island Nature Preserve, Cape Cod.

Day 7: Homeward Bound

The last day is always bittersweet: sad that vacation is over, but glad to be heading home.  We all cleaned up, packed up, ran the dishwasher, and were ready to go with lots of time to spare before the final check-out time.

We finally broke with a tradition this week: we did NOT go to Wee Packet for Irish breakfast.  We went back to Larry PX instead.  Alpha was a little put out, but Larry PX puts on a very good meal, so she was satisfied with chocolate chip pancakes.

After breakfast we headed for home while Baba, Tim, and Delta went to the beach for one last dip and to wait out the traffic.

Our ride home was easy, the Sagamore bridge wasn’t too bad going west at noon.  East-bound up to the bridge was backed up for miles, though.  A small traffic snarl on route 3, but Waze took us through secondary roads to get around it, and we were home in about two hours.

Upon arrival, Mel was very glad to see us and spent the afternoon rolling on the floor in front of us at every opportunity.  Oolong had gone feral again while we were away and hissed at the kids, but calmed down and (mostly) returned to normal by bedtime.

We picked up Butter from boarding the following day.  She was most excited to see us; Mel was not excited to see her, though — I think he hoped we had lost her during the week.