The Joy of the Soul: Part Two

When last we left you, John and I were digesting our delicious pie from a classic Maine diner and winding our way slowly inland toward John’s native soil. I believe you were sitting on the edge of your seat, waiting with bated breath to discover the second simple step to lifting up your spirit. Your patience, dear reader, shall not be in vain.

Step 2. Remember Childhood

When we arrived at John’s mom and step-dad’s, tired and ready to get some dinner, we decided to visit the local ice cream / hot dog stand. The evening was just starting to cool and the air was perfect for sitting on picnic benches outside a building so tiny it’s hard to believe they actually store and prepare quite tasty food inside it. This little ice cream stand is one of the icon’s of John’s childhood, and I confess that between the onion rings and the ice cream covered in sprinkles savored to the sound of families laughing and the sites of dogs looking longingly out the half-open car windows at the passing trays of hot dogs, I have myself become a fan.

Full of deliciously unhealthy food, we went back to the house and quickly got drawn into catching fireflies with our nephew. (Here’s a funny tidbit for you, folks. My blog name is taken from a Mark Twain quote; where I come from, we call them fireflies.) I was exhausted at that point, so I stood on the porch for a while watching John and our nephew romp through the damp grass after the flashes of light, talking with my mother-in-law. At some point in the game, it occurred to me that as much as I enjoy talking with my wonderful mother-in-law, I was missing out on an opportunity that I might one day look back on as rare, so I crept down the porch stairs to chase after my boys and help them imprison poor helpless bugs for a while. (Don’t worry – John snuck out to let them go once our nephew was distracted.)

This is cliche, I’m sorry, but there truly is magic in catching fireflies with people you love.

The next day began bright, but not too early, with some Saturday morning cartoons, pastries, and berry-picking. The last time I remember picking strawberries was when I was visiting my aunt in Massachusetts and she took us out to get strawberries for my absolute favorite pie in the whole world (her strawberry-rhubarb). John swears I’ve been strawberry picking with him before, but I think his brain is starting to rewrite itself to include me in memories I wasn’t yet around to witness. I do remember the day with my aunt and cousins, and the farmer who jokingly tried to weigh us as we left so he could charge us for all the berries we had eaten as we picked. Watching my nephew gather berries made me realize why: he got more around his mouth in juice stains, I believe, than ever made it to the inside of his green cardboard basket.

Can you blame him?

Our day continued in like kind, swimming in an icy lake and hunting crawfish. Tickling one another with grass and enjoying cookies on a dock. Piggyback rides and floating in the sun. The moments are as hard to capture in words as they are to forget: they’re precious. Childhood means different things to different people, but participating in the rituals that have made you feel safe and beloved through your life is not something to be neglected. For your soul’s sake, revisit the moments of belonging and joy, then move on to…

Step 3. Cross Something Off Your Bucket List

I don’t actually have a bucket list, as such. I also think it’s a horribly crude way of naming the repository of hope for what a person can achieve in their numbered days. That said, you know what I’m referring to, and written down or not, we all have certain things we hope to do before we shuffle off this mortal coil, so to speak.

After John and I left his mother and step-father, we turned south to visit with my parents, who brought us back out to the coast on Sunday to enjoy some rather questionable weather in Camden. We drove up Mount Battie, climbed the tower, threw crackers at each other, picked the leftover crackers up, hassled the park attendant, and generally made nuisances of ourselves while we waited to find out if we would be able to enjoy the main reason we had made the trek out to the coast: sailing on the Lazy Jack II.

I have wanted to learn to sail, or at least to experience sailing in some small capacity to find out if I have the stomach for it, since I read and loved Moby Dick in high school. I didn’t learn any great truths about boats or human nature on our two-hour tour, but I did get to feel the exciting tilt of a boat under sail and the wind whipping in my face. And best of all, I got to hoist the mainsail.

Oh yes, my friends. The only thing that could have made that moment better was if a younger Kevin Kline had popped out of the hold and started climbing the rigging and singing….

All the same, it was a fulfilling moment.

And there you have it, class. To lift up your spirit in three steps, simply take the scenic route, remember your childhood (the good bits), and do something new that you’d like to do before you die. Go, now. Do it. Shut down your browser this instant and do what you need to be able to step into the street without knocking people’s hat from their heads. You can thank me later, after you have¬† found the joy your soul is longing for.

What the heck are you still reading for? Didn’t I tell you to get going?

The Joy of the Soul: Part One

Life has a way of tumbling from one day into the next, routines blurring together in a way that makes you feel like life is living you instead of the reverse. Vacations justifiably have a reputation for being anything but restful, but I think rest can be construed in a number of ways. There is physical rest for the body, which I surprisingly get plenty of as an adult with a regular work schedule. And then there’s rest for the soul, but how do you rest something so intangible? You stop abusing it with drab routines and send it on vacation to take hold of life.

John and I had the opportunity to take a four-day trip to Maine this past weekend, which wore my body out completely but has left my mind and heart more content than they’ve been in what feels like a long while. In the interest of sharing this gift of rejuvenation with a hundred of my closest friends, here are my notes on puttering about tourist-style in our home state…

How To Lift Up Your Spirit In 3 Simple Steps

Step 1. Take the Scenic Route

On a light traffic day, it takes us about three and a half hours to drive from our apartment to John’s mother and step-father’s house. On Friday, we left our apartment at 6:30 am. We arrived at my in-laws shortly after 6:00 pm. By the time we got there, we were a bit tired, but we were not sick of one another because we followed the cardinal rules of road trips: (1) Bring tunes everyone can enjoy. (2) Begin the day with donuts and go downhill from there. (3) Do what you feel like, not what you planned.

We had thought to stop in Portland to catch the ferry out to Peaks Island, but our timetable would have had us just missing the 9:15. We’ve been meaning to go wander around Peaks together since we first started dating, but somehow the timing never quite works out. Someday we’ll get out there, or not. Friday, we decided to head straight to Bradbury Mountain instead.

The hike up the Summit Trail was actually too easy, so we meandered our way down the North Ridge Trail, where we discovered some awesome mushrooms, an oak sprouting from an acorn, and a downed tree across the trail. It was small and easy to climb over, but I felt like a good citizen when I reported it to the ranger, who hadn’t heard about it yet. Even if I did call it a maple when it was apparently an oak. Ah well, you can’t not look like an idiot all of the time.

The trip from Bradbury to Popham Beach took us through Brunswick, where we stopped to pick up some grilling food. We had some charcoal and lighter fluid and a deep conviction in the pleasure of bratwursts and mustard with a hint of sand. Neither John nor I had been to Popham in years, and I’m not sure either of us had ever grilled there,¬† so we were operating on the assumption that my memory of the information on the one website out of several I had looked at the night before was accurate in telling us there were grilling facilities. We parked close to the bathhouse on the right side of the parking lot, loaded ourselves up with our beach gear, and struck out in search of grills.

The path to the beach revealed a very grill-free area, so we went back to the parking lot and walked over to the bathhouse on the left side. There were no signs, so we assumed that the beach on that side would be equally grill-free. Still laden with our stuff, we trekked over to the booth at the park entrance to ask the ranger if there were, in fact, grills. After waiting five or ten minutes for her to process incoming cars and answer phone calls, we were told that they were, in fact, up the left beach path just a short ways. D’oh.

By the time we got to the grills, we were very hungry and, therefore, very impatient with the way the sea breeze kept blowing out our charcoal. After three douses of light fluid, we thought we finally had the coals going. They weren’t nice and grayish-white, but we were so hungry that we decided to put our brats on anyway. Three minutes later, we realized the coals were out again. My brilliant solution, instead of moving the brats, was to squirt the lighter fluid in sideways. My family history may have endowed me with a slight subconscious tendency toward pyromania; I really have no sense of moderation when it comes to using accelerants to get a fire going. When I flicked the fire finger on, the flames billowed up at me and around the brats in really a very impressive way, triggering chuckles from the older couple watching us grill from a nearby table.

What can I say? Lighter fluid has never seasoned meat so deliciously.

We left the gorgeous beach decidedly sunburned with a camera full of waves, sand dollars, and driftwood to drive straight through a raging thunderstorm for pie at Moody’s Diner. Seriously–do you see how blue the sky is behind me? The morning had been gorgeous, but we hadn’t been in the car ten minutes when the sky broke open and starting dumping on us. It poured steadily all the way to Waldoboro and let up just before we pulled into the diner’s parking lot.

If you don’t know Moody’s, it’s a Maine tourist tradition of sorts. It’s just a diner, but it has a long history, as diners go, and their coconut cream pie is otherworldly.

If you want to find out what steps 2 and 3 to lifting the spirit are, I’m afraid you will have to exercise patience and diligence. Bringing joy to the soul is a topic worthy of a series, don’t you think?

From Mainer to Flatlander with Nine Easy Murders

If you’ve ever been a tourist in Maine, you know what our big money-making schtick is: moose, lobsters, and blueberries. If you walk into a gift shop, the magnets, t-shirts, potholders, mugs, shot glasses, and collectors’ spoons are dripping with the stuff. Whenever I happened to pass through such a shop, I was always left wondering why people would pay money for knick-knacks memorializing the beauty of bottom-feeding shellfish or over-sized, accident-causing deer. My experience of our various mascots, growing up in Maine, did not mark them as things to get excited about.

For one thing, I’ve seen maybe three moose in the course of my life. They’re not exactly as sociable as squirrels. One of these moose nearly startled my mother into crashing the car. My dad loves to go looking for moose, but then, he’s the sort of person who actually likes the adrenaline-inducing experience of ticking off a bull moose during mating season and running for his life. Moose also happen to come right under the platypus as evidence of God’s sense of humor, if you’re measuring by looks, making them an overall bizarre attraction for flatlanders (as Mainers fondly call out-of-staters, regardless of how mountainous their home terrain might be).

The appeal of blueberries is easier to understand. Having been subjected to the big, mushy, flavor-challenged berries that you can get from the grocery store, I get it. Maine blueberries are just better. As a kid, however, I had no interest in blueberries whatsoever, because we only got them if we picked our own. Picking low-bush blueberries, by rake or by hand, is painful work. It has to be done in the hottest, muggiest month of the year, without shade. And once you’ve managed to gather a large enough quantity to do anything with, you have to pick through them by hand to remove the stems and leaves that the winnowing machine leaves behind. So yes, they’re delicious, but I never thought they were really worth the work.

And then there’s lobster. The cockroach of the sea. It eats trash, and in order to eat it, you have to pull out its food-filled intestines. The meat is tasty enough, but I just don’t need to get that close to my food’s living form. Until Tuesday afternoon, I had very deliberately never taken apart a lobster in my life.

The past two days have been something like being a tourist in my own state. John and I drove up with the Friday night traffic rush out of the city so that I could spend Monday canning blueberry jam with my mother and Tuesday learning how to take lobsters apart so I can cook lobster for Mom on her birthday–things I would never have done as a kid. But I guess part of growing up and leaving home is learning to appreciate the things about home that struck you as weird and slightly disturbing.

Or something like that. The moose thing is still an utter mystery to me.

Anyway, here are a few pictures of our jam-making and lobster-shelling adventures….

Here are half of the uncleaned quarts of berries…

And here they are after cooking.

Here are the nine lobsters I willfully murdered in cold blood…

And here are their ravaged remains.

Anybody hungry for a trip to Maine yet?