Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Lulu and Lobsters

Besides lighthouses and blueberries few things are more symbolic of Maine than lobsters.  Over the last few years we have been coming to Maine we have become very familiar with lobsters – mostly the cooking and eating side of things.  This year we decided to continue our lobster education by hitching a ride on the Lulu Lobster Boat.  This excursion takes passengers on a ride out of Bar Harbor and Frenchman’s Bay where lobstering and beautiful scenery abound.  But Lulu is more than just hauling lobster pots.  This is two hours of entertainment led by Captain John who is a knowledgeable, funny, and charming man with a background that includes being a chef, licensed boat captain, and lobsterman.


The spring day we chose for our boat ride was chilly with a bank of fog that couldn’t decide if it wanted to hang low or disappear all together.  The fog added a mystical character as the pine-laden rocky coast and Porcupine Islands peaked through and distant fog horns sounded their warnings to mariners.  All traits of classic coastal Maine.  Lulu runs a number of daily tours depending on the weather and demand.  We boarded the 1 o’clock tour after filling up with a seafood lunch in Bar Harbor.  This is a family operation with Captain John running the ship and his wife doubling as deck hand and office personnel.  Captain John is a seasoned mariner and realizes that not all passengers take well to the rocking of a commercial boat so he was quick to pass out anti-seasickness bands to skeptical passengers.  Once underway it was clear this excursion was going to be a very informative and entertaining ride with beautiful scenery to take in.

First up on our tour had nothing to do with lobsters but a sight the captain wanted us to see – baby seals that were just a few days and weeks old.  The spring pups were curious about our rather large floating object and made their way towards the boat only to be reprimanded by a protective mom who quickly appeared from behind and coaxed the young brood back.  The seals hang out on rocks in and around the Egg Rock Lighthouse which is federally protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuges Complex.

Egg Rock Lighthouse was built in 1875 to mark the entrance to Frenchman Bay - standing as the sentinel between Schoodic Peninsula and Mount Desert Island.  The light has stood watch over sailing ships, German u-boats, millionaire yachts, and massive cruise ships like the Queen Elizabeth II and recent modern giants like the Anthem of the Seas.  The lighthouse is one of coastal Maine's architecturally unique lighthouses featuring a square tower projecting through the square keeper's house.  Originally fitted with a fifth-order Fresnel lens, the light was automated by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1976 and transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1999.  Since the lighthouse is not open to the public, the 12.5 acres of land surrounding it serve as a haven to birds and marine mammals for nesting and roosting grounds.   
After admiring the light tucked behind the fog and cute faces of baby seals it was off to what we came for … lobsters!  Captain John skillfully slowed the boat down and grabbed the lobster buoy with a long hook, wrapped it around a wench, and slowly reeled in the heavy trap that would reveal what dared to crawl inside.  Lucky for us our haul was fruitful.  Captain John explained how the trap works, how to size lobsters and determine if they are within the legal limit to keep, delved into the natural history of lobsters, and emphasized the importance of conservation.  What we really liked about this trip was that Captain John was informative in a very entertaining way.  He explained that the lobster industry is one of the few commercial fisheries that is not imperiled and attributed that to imposed regulations.  Limiting the number of traps, equipping derelict traps with means for bycatch (like fish) to escape, prohibiting the harvest of females bearing eggs, and imposing slot limits on lobster size are some of the important regulations that help conserve the species and ensure abundant future harvest.  Something us lobster lovers appreciate!     

Since our boat ride on Lulu Lobster Boat back in the spring, we have recommended this to many campground visitors and tourists that we meet.  The scenery is quintessential coastal Maine beauty and the information Captain John shares is very interesting delivered with great humor and enthusiasm.  It is a pleasant surprise when something you might think is a “touristy” thing to do turns out to be as wonderful as this experience.    

Friday, August 19, 2016

Exploring Downeast Maine's Schoodic Peninsula

Now that we are working girls, our days off are treasured.  Especially since our work schedules are crazy busy and some weeks our days off don’t coincide.  When Betsy is coming home from the campground office at 3 p.m. after an eight-hour shift, I am walking out the door off to a catering gig not too return until well after dark.

But, when our days off jive together you can bet we are out to make the best of it.  Recently, we took a drive over to Schoodic Peninsula where you will find the sleepy towns of Winter Harbor, Prospect Harbor, and Corea.  Here is also where you will find the less-populated and amazingly beautiful section of Acadia National Park

This area is part of the Schoodic National Scenic Byway and it doesn’t take long before you understand why there is no doubt it is crowned with that title.  The road meanders through quaint fishing towns with working harbors and an enjoyable 5.5 miles along the quintessential rocky Maine coastline.


Our morning started with a beautiful hike in the park.  This section of Acadia is far less visited but that is changing.  The park has recently gone through a bit of a transformation by developing more recreational opportunities.   Last year, Schoodic Woods Campground opened with 94 tent and RV sites and added was a maze of newly created carriage roads and hiking trails ready for nature-lovers to explore. 


We hopped back in the car and drove a short distance south to Frazier Point – a place we always stop for a sweeping view of Winter Harbor and out to the sea where islands rise up and Cadillac Mountain takes a prominent place on the horizon.  But mostly we stop here because it is a great place for Spirit to cool off in the water while we take in the views from a shady picnic table and rehydrate from our hike.  Frazier Point has picnic tables, fire pits, drinking water and restrooms.


Much of the Schoodic Peninsula was once owned by John G. Moore, a Maine native and Wall Street financier.  In the 1920s, Moore’s heirs donated the land to the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations with the stipulation that the land be used as a public park and for other uses, including the “promotion of biological and other scientific research.”  In 1929, Congress authorized the boundry expansion of Acadia National Park thus allowing them to accept land on the Schoodic Peninsula.  Shortly afterwards, the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations donated the former Moore property (2,050 acres) to the National Park Service “for the public good and for the extension or improvement of said park, forever.”  In the 1930s and 1940s, some of this land was transferred to the U.S. Navy for use as a radio communication station which was in operation until 2002 at which time the land was transferred back to the National Park Service.  The former base has become the Schoodic Education and Research Center – which happened to be our next stop.  The facility houses a wonderful welcome center that introduces people to the natural and historical wonders of this area.  The welcome center is housed in Rockefeller Hall dating back to the 1930’s.  In 2009, a park benefactor and long-time Winter Harbor resident Edith Robb Dixson gave a very generous monetary donation to the National Park Service to renovate the building.  The building now houses a Welcome Center, offices for Schoodic Institute, and six overnight guest suites for visiting researchers.


Quickly lunch was upon us and there was a new place we were wanting to try – Warf Gallery and Grill – a lobster shack and gallery overlooking the busy little harbor of Corea.  They advertise, “Serving up great food and beautiful views since 2011.”  Betsy settled on the lobster roll and I opted for the grilled lobster and cheese sandwich.  Perfect Maine lunch!  And congrats to them for being the Downeast Magazine’s 2016 Best of Maine “Editors’ Choice” for a Lobster Shack.


With lobster in our bellies we were off to continue our excursion.  Darthia Farm is a family-run organic farm we have stopped at before and love the rustic, natural vibe. They not only sell their local produce but feature hand-made items from their “friends.”  We like that!


As Spirit was giving us some pretty big sighs from the back of the car, we decided to start heading for home but felt the urge to stop at Bartlett Maine Estate Winery and Distillery.  Bartlett is “Maine’s First Winery” and produces 7,000 cases a year offering more than twenty wine varieties, ranging from dry and semi-dry blueberry reds to refreshing pear-apple whites, sweet blackberry dessert wines, and refreshing honey meads.  Recently they started distilling rum, adding to their repertoire. 

One final stop was at Jordan’s Snack Bar for an ice cream cone to end our perfect day exploring parts of Maine.  Somebody didn’t seem to notice we were stopping for ice cream! 


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Summer in Maine

Summer always seems to fly by.  Whether it is back to your childhood when you rejoiced at being out of school or a hard-working adult enjoying a well-needed vacation from the office.  Our summer in Maine has certainly been moving at warp speed. 

We arrived in Trenton, Maine (just a few miles up the road from Bar Harbor) in mid-May, which happens to be a wonderful time to be here.  The trees are just starting to bust out of their long winter dormancy, the slew of tourists have not arrived, and the lobstermen (and women) have traps in the water and are pulling the sweet lobster from the cold ocean water.  We are back at Narrows Too Camping Resort where we have spent the last two summers.  There is something (actually, a lot) about the area that keeps pulling us back and it is hard to believe that we are already mid-way through the summer.


Just seven miles down the road from the campground is Acadia National Park and a huge draw for us.  With over 40,000 acres to explore through hundreds of miles of hiking trails, ponds and lakes to kayak, and 47 miles of carriage roads to enjoy leisurely walks the park seems to be part of our daily life here.  Acadia NP consistently ranks as one of America’s Top 10 National Parks and with 2016 marking the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service, crowds of eager onlookers and outdoor enthusiasts are sure to be flocking in. 

Our secret for beating the crowds . . .  go early.  With sunrise just before 5 am we try and hit the park around 6 or 6:30 to enjoy it all to ourselves.  Which then leaves plenty of the afternoon to hang out on the deck of our favorite lobster pound or take Spirit for a swim in the ocean.

But, mind you we are working girls so not everyday is for leisure.  Betsy is working in the campground office and store handling reservations and day-to-day operations of the campground.  With over 200 RV sites, 10 cabins, three cottages, and an event line up that keeps the marque lit up, the office stays busy (and open to 7 pm).  One of Betsys’ ideas from last year was to offer a “Lobster Experience” event.  With two years working in the office under her belt she realized that a common theme of new campers to the area was lobster.  How to eat it, what is the best way to cook it, where should they buy it, what is the difference between hard and soft shells, etc.  So she stepped in and decided to offer a “Lobster Experience.”  She partnered with the Lulu Lobster Boat in Bar Harbor who offers famously entertaining and informative boat tours where you haul traps, talk about the lobster fishery, learn their life history, and coast around some amazing Maine scenery. 


Afterwards, participants stop at Downeast Lobster Pound where they get to see how lobsters are housed and pick out their dinner.  In the evening, we all gather (lobsters too) in our activities building where we have pots of boiling water ready to show them how to cook them.  After quick pictures, in the pot they go.  The campground provides corn, potatoes, butter, and blueberry ice cream so all leave pretty happy and with the confidence of how to cook and eat lobster.  Something tells me Betsy is the largest advocate and promoter of the Maine Lobster Industry and should be on the marketing department’s payroll! 


This summer, I headed in a different direction opting for an apron and knife with a catering company instead of lawn mower and weed wacker at the campground.  I work for Bar Harbor Catering Company as an Event Chef which is in full swing during the busy summer wedding season.  The job has been a wonderful opportunity to work with an amazingly talented culinary team, sharpen my kitchen skills, and has taken me to some beautiful scenic Maine locations.  Events range from a private chef lobster dinner for a dozen guests in a rental cottage to a pig roast for 50 in a back yard to a 250-person formal wedding overlooking the ocean. 


Our plans are to stay in Maine until mid to late – September, but if this year is anything like the last two summers, we will be hanging around until mid – October.  We have a hard time leaving our Downeast paradise and love that that time of year brings cooler temperatures, post card fall scenery, less people, and, of course for Betsy, a continuous source of lobster!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Land of Lincoln-Springfield, Illinois

Presidential Libraries are always on our “must-see” attractions list.  So when driving from St. Louis to northern Indiana 285we had our GPS set on Springfield, Illinois to get a little more acquainted with our 16th President, Mr. Abraham Lincoln.  Two centuries after his death, it is clear that Springfield’s best known resident is a revered icon and his life and legacy are celebrated throughout the town.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum does not rank as an “official” Presidential Library; however, we are pretty sure old Abe deserves a “Library” of his own.  Let’s stop there briefly and explain something about “Presidential Libraries.”  The Presidential Library System is a nationwide network of 13 libraries administered by the Office of Presidential Libraries which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).  These are repositories for preserving and making available the papers, records, collections and other historical materials of every President of the United States since Herbert Hoover (our 31st President).   Before the NARA was enacted, documents, gifts, and other materials amassed by Presidents were considered their own personal property.  This meant that over the decades materials were lost, destroyed, sold, or went who knows where.  Today, these items are the property of the U.S. Government and are housed until a Presidential Library is built and transferred to the federal government.  So since Lincoln's presidency came before the NARA, it is not an official Presidential Library.

Lincoln faced tumultuous times during his presidency.  He led a country that was deeply divided in the Civil War and issue of slavery.  When he became president in 1860, seven slave states had left the Union to form the Confederate States of America.  Four more state followed suit.  Lincoln vowed to preserve the Union, uphold federal laws and end the succession.  But the bloody war would rage over four years and bring the death of some 600,000 lives lost on battlefields across the eastern U.S. 


Midway through his presidency Lincoln issued the controversial Emancipation Proclamation which called for all slaves to be free.  This transformed the war from one which was to preserve the Union to a battle for freedom.  The country and even Lincoln's administration were fiercely divided over this act.  In the end, Lincoln was successful in preserving the Union. 


A week after the Confederacy surrendered an assassins bullet claimed Lincoln’s life.  His commitment to preserving the Union, ending slavery, and demonstrating that states were not sovereign over the federal government have led many historians to conclude he was America’s greatest president.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is a city block-long complex that immerses you in Lincoln's world and time in which he lived.  The Lincoln story is told through an array of interactive exhibits, displays, artifacts, and holographic theaters.  Visitors journey from his poor childhood growing up in a rustic cabin, his life as a public servant and president to his early demise in the Ford Theater.   

When you first enter the main gallery the wide open space is filled with a replica of the White House as it looked during Lincoln’s presidency with the first family greeting you.  This also serves as a popular spot for taking selfies with Lincoln.  This exhibit takes you through some key parts of Lincoln’s time in the White House most notably the Civil War, his gravely ill son, and declaration of the Emancipation Proclamation with his divided cabinet.  

But before Lincoln made it to the White House he educated himself by firelight in a rustic cabin that served as the family home.  The rustic cabin is a replica in which Lincoln grew up in and emphasizes the family’s level of poverty and his determination and hard-work as he became a militia captain, respected lawyer, Congressman, and U.S. President. 

Two of the most dynamic exhibits are the holographic theaters that create dynamic and magical presentations.  In “Ghosts of the Library” an onstage actor appears to control the ghosts that appear as misty images wafting through the library on the quest to answer the question, “Why save all this stuff?”  The presentation explains that objects and papers housed in libraries are important in connecting people and events and who we are as a country. We were wowed by the presentation!  

The museum and library are an amazing explanation of Lincoln's life and legacy but you're not done exploring the Land of Lincoln yet.  The Lincoln Tomb, housed in Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery, is the final resting place for Abraham, his wife and three of their four sons.  The 117-foot tall granite obelisk is a stark feature on the landscape marking the final resting place of the president.  Inside the rotunda is a replica of Daniel Chester French’s statue of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.  The curved marble walls lead you in a hushed silence to the burial room. 


Another popular attraction in Springfield is the Lincoln Home National Historical Site - a four-block area featuring Lincoln’s 12-room Greek Revival home set among a restored 19th century neighborhood.  The free tours (of which you are required to obtain a ticket) are led by a park ranger and takes about two hours. 


Being that Springfield is the capitol of Illinois meant we could not leave without a swing by the capitol building.  The building took 20 years to complete, costs $4.5 million (which is a bargain by today's standards) and held its first session in 1877.  The structure is designed in the shape of a Latin cross with a 361-foot high dome making it nearly 75 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol.  Free guided tours are offered or you are free to wander about on your own during the week.

We stayed at the Illinois State Fairgrounds which is a great location to all the town's attractions and only $25/night for a full hook-up site.  The park has a range of sites from full hook-up to dry camping, paved to grass, and level to unlevel.  We chose a full hook-up site on pavement and were quite content there for the few nights we were in town.  While the campground is nothing special we really liked the in-town location and plenty of room to wander around the fairgrounds and walk Spirit. 

There is a lot of history in Springfield of which we just scratched the surface.  Maybe on our way back to St. Louis in the fall we will stop again to hit more sights.   Included are one of the most lavish Frank Lloyd Wright houses ever designed, the Korean War Museum, and the Cozy Dog Drive In – a Route 66 classic.