Sucking on Nickels & Other Summer Fun

Since fall is almost here, I thought I’d update you on my summer and some of why I haven’t been writing!

I am so grateful for the wonderful trip Jeff and I had with Nate in July.  There were lots of fun moments, many laughs, and much to look back on with a smile.  I am especially grateful because the memories of Maine have sustained me through the last few difficult weeks.

To get an accurate picture of what’s been going on, we must first go back a bit.  I’ve been having pain in my back for several months.  Of course, I’m 48 so dealing with aches and pains is the new normal!  I was also dealing with a cough that began with a cold in February and hung on through mid-June.  During the time I was living with the cough, my ENT performed transnasall esophagoscopy multiple times and prescribed several rounds of antibiotics, steroids and other drugs to combat the cough – unfortunately, the large doses of meds led to a case of oral thrush.  I never really thought much about thrush until I had it….I thought it was something babies got, not adults.

Needless to say, with all of the meds and appointments and poking and prodding of my sinuses I had my fill (more than my fill) of being sick, feeling run down and seeing docs (not that I have anything personal against my docs – they are fine people, but I like them better when I don’t have to see them as a patient!!!).

So when the sporadic backache began, I filed it under the “suck it up, cupcake, you’re getting older” column.  As it continued sporadically and then more regularly, I filed it under the “we need a new mattress” column.  But just before we left for Maine I stared having pain in my lower left abdomen.  Again, I filed that pain under the heading of “getting older” and  But the pain in my abdomen continued to get worse during vacation, so on the last day I called my OB/Gyn and made an appointment for the day after we arrived home.

My regular OB doc was on vacation so I saw another doc in the practice who did some tests and then sent me for an ultrasound that ultimately revealed nothing.  Because the tests showed nothing OB/G related, the doc thought the next best course of action was to see a gastroenterologist.

That takes us to August 5th.  A day mostly like any other.  I wrote a post, did some laundry and some work on upcoming classes and then turned my attention to getting ready for a short trip to NYC that was to start on 8/7.  When Jeff arrived home I was putting a second coat of polish on my toenails and thinking about what to pack so he said three of my favorite words – “I’ll make dinner.”  After dinner we sat town to watch an episode of Homeland.

About three-quarters of the way through the show I asked him to pause – I was VERY suddenly feeling ill.  I was dizzy and nauseated and feeling simultaneously cold and clammy.  I ran into the bathroom – sure I was going to be sick – and arrived just in time to look in the mirror and watch all the color drain from my face.  It was such a strange experience – like a reverse blush.  I composed myself and went to lie down only to have the pain in my back and abdomen rip through me like a boning knife.  I had no idea what was going on, but I knew I needed a trip to the ER.

And so it began.

I could not sit up at the ER and one of the last things I remember clearly is the person checking me in saying that they had nowhere for me to lie down.  I remember thinking, “isn’t this a hospital?” and then finally just saying that I’d just lie on the floor – that’s how bad the pain was.  They found a two-seater chair for me to lie on and Jeff moved another chair near it so I could put my feet up.

I remember the ER doc coming in and talking to me but I couldn’t tell you anything substantive about the conversation.  I know he asked me some questions about my medical history and family history, but I have no recollection of the actual questions or my answers.  The next thing I remember was hanging on to Jeff’s arm as he guided me to a bed where I was finally given IV fluids and pain meds, which gave me a little relief.

The doc came back in to ask some more questions after which he told us he thought, based upon my symptoms, that I was either dealing with a kidney stone or diverticulitis.  He told me he was going to have me drink some contrast in preparation for a CT scan.  The nurse came back in and explained that I’d have 60 minutes to drink the contrast – that I should not try to drink it all at once, but to pace myself over the 60 minutes – and then I’d have to wait 60 minutes before they did the scan.

The first 15 – 20 minutes were ok.  I was able to drink the contrast without incident, but then the pain and nausea came back in full force.  I couldn’t lie still for more than a few seconds.  I drank as much of the remaining contrast as I could within the hour and tossed and turned – waiting for the test – until I couldn’t stand the pain any longer.  Just before the technician came to take me for the scan, Jeff went in search of the nurse, a pan in case I got sick and more pain meds.  I went for the scan and when I came back the nurse added some pain meds to my IV, which helped me relax a bit as we waited for the test results.

The CT scan revealed two kidney stones – one still in the kidney and one in the ureter, just at the opening of the bladder.  I was sent home with a prescription for pain meds, an order to drink as much water as I could stand, and a “hat and strainer.”  Oh they joys of straining your urine each time you pee – it’s kind of like panning for gold only you’re hoping to find that you’ve passed a kidney stone.

It was obvious that our trip to NYC was not to be so we cancelled our hotel and class reservations and waited for the storm stone to pass.  On Monday, I called the urologist as instructed and got an appointment for Wednesday.  I arrived at my appointment a few minutes early to fill out paperwork and give a urine sample.  The nurse took my vitals and then the doc came in and we discussed the situation.  Because of the length of time I’d been experiencing back then back/abdominal pain and because I’d been trying to pass the stone for approximately 5 days since it had been discovered and because I had an elevated temperature, an outpatient ureteroscopy was scheduled for the following afternoon.

On Thursday afternoon, I picked Jeff up from work and we headed to Harrisburg Hospital. I checked in with a wonderfully comforting woman named Nikki – she was so nice and calm and kind -and was taken to pre-op where we waited.  Unfortunately my doc had an emergency surgery to do so that pushed my surgery back; however I was grateful that I wasn’t the emergency surgery so I alternated between talking with Jeff and surfing the web on my phone  (oh, and complaining a bit about how hungry I was). Finally it was my turn…..I was whisked into the OR, my IV had to be moved from one hand to the other because it clotted while I was waiting, and the anesthesiologist came in to get started – little did I know, the anesthesia was already started and by the time the anesthesiologist came in to talk to me I already felt that familiar “2-large-glasses-of-wine warmth.”   The next thing I knew I was waking up in the OR and the nurse told me I was done and that the surgery had taken 10 minutes.  Yes, you read that right!  I spent a little time in recovery, reviewed my discharge instructions with the nurse and was released.  I was no longer as hungry as I had been so Jeff made a quick stop at the grocery store on the way home to get some ingredients to make me a nice soup.  When we got home I changed into my jammies, took some meds and crawled into bed.

Friday was as you would expect – I was recovering, watching television, reading, moving around a lot due to the discomfort from the stent and trying not to wear out Jeff’s hospitable mood with all my requests.

Saturday morning I woke up feeling fantastic – better than I’ve felt in months.  In fact, Jeff commented that my sassiness was back (I believe much to his chagrin).  Longing for a reason to get out of the house, we called my mom and dad and decided to go out for breakfast to celebrate my dad’s birthday.

After being out of the house for a few hours I began to feel wrung out – so we headed home and I climbed back into bed.  I napped with the t.v. on and got out of bed to drink water, get rid of the water I drank and to eat a little dinner, but I wasn’t really hungry.

Saturday night I tossed and turned and woke up several times to drink water.  When I got up to use the bathroom, I felt lightheaded so I leaned against the bed and waited for the dizziness to pass.  I made it down the hall to the powder room and got dizzy again.  After I used the bathroom and washed my hands I headed back to our room – but on the way I started to get that fuzzy, black-out feeling you get just before you pass out.  So I immediately sat down where I was and called for Jeff.

He came out of the bedroom, asked me what was wrong and called the surgeon who sent us back to the ER.  As it turned out, I had an infection and required more large doses of IV antibiotics, which they gave me while I dozed and poor Jeff tortured his back in the uncomfortable chair in my room.  After filling me up with antibiotics and fluids the doctor discharged me with a prescription for more antibiotics and a snarky statement.  She said (and not in a helpful tone), “Good luck getting that stent out.  I’ve never had it done but I hear it’s painful.”  Really?  REALLY?  Did she think she was being helpful – because let me tell you when you’ve already been through the pain of kidney stones (which I’m told is worse than giving birth – since I’ve never given birth I cannot make the comparison), been poked and prodded with your most personal bits on display for all the OR staff to see, and had a stent in your ureter, I can assure you that you do not need or want snarky comments from anyone, let alone the doctor “caring” for you.

On the way home from the ER we picked up the new prescription.  When we got home, I added the new pill bottle to all the others and was completely overwhelmed by the amount of meds on the kitchen counter.  I wanted to just swipe them all into the trash and hide under the covers.

Looking back, I wish I had – because all the antibiotics led to another case of thrush.  I don’t know if any of you have ever had a case of thrush, but to me it was awful.  I felt generally run down and my mouth tingled – as if I’d been sucking on nickels for days.  My tongue was swollen with a white-ish coating.  Nothing tasted like it should and it made my desire to consume water nearly non-existent….which was not great considering I was supposed to keep drinking large quantities of water.

I made it through Sunday, Monday & Tuesday with a metallic taste in my mouth, periodic twinges from the stent and continued back pain.  On Tuesday I nervously went to the surgeon’s office to have the stent removed.  My blood pressure was sky-high because I was so nervous about the removal thanks to the ER doc’s kind words.   Again, I was feeling vulnerable with my personal bits on display, but the doc began asking me questions about work and before I knew it he said, “OK” and was done.  I didn’t feel a thing, which was a relief but made me want to go back to the ER and punch that snarky doc in the face!

I was hopeful that the stent removal would be the end of the pain, but it was not.  I still – weeks later – have a significant amount of pain in my back and still have the twinges in my lower left abdominal area.  I’ve been back to the urologist, back to my OB-GYN, and am now waiting for an appointment with a back doc.

Needless to say, it’s been a long summer.  I’ve had down days, but they’ve been very few and far between – somehow I’ve managed to keep my sense of humor through it all.  I appreciate the support of my loving husband and some wonderful friends.  They’ve kept me mostly smiling and optimistic!!!!  A special thanks to Tammy and Brittany who bought me a wonderful recovery gift – chocolate kidneys!  Yes, that’s right – on a trip to the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia they stopped at Mueller Chocolate Company and bought me this:


So, if I have to write the proverbial “what did you do on your summer vacation” essay….I’d say I had all kinds of summer fun….travelling to Maine, kayaking the Casco Bay, spending time with Nate and Jeff, straining my pee, eating a kidney, making dietary changes and sucking on nickels – what more could a girl ask for?

Wherever the Music Takes Us, Kitten…

I’ll warn you now…..this is going to be a packed post.  I’m going to try to tell you all about our trip to Maine in one sitting – a big undertaking, but one that will give you all the highlights about where we stayed, what we did and – most importantly – where/what we ate!

My last post was about the beginning of the trip – the first part of Day 1.  But it didn’t give you any insight into the end of Day 1; so I will start there and continue through the end of the trip!

Day 1 (halfway through):

  • after we picked up Jeff in Nanuet we hit the road and made our way to Darien, CT and dinner at Estia’s Back Porch Cafe.  The decor at Estia’s is funky and comfortable and the food is DELISH.  Nate ordered French Onion Soup and a side  of French Fries – he was obviously in a French mood!  Jeff, wanting to recreate the superb meal we had at Estia’s Little Kitchen in Long Island last summer, ordered fish tacos.  And I ordered the MTK Tuna “Burger” that came with a side of spicy Asian slaw.  I didn’t taste anyone else’s food; but I was incredibly happy with my choice.  My sandwich was served on a toasted English muffin and included an enormous tuna steak, crusted with sesame seeds and cooked to a perfect medium rare.  It was so big that Jeff had to finish it for me, which I’m sure didn’t disappoint him.  The spicy Asian slaw was the perfect accompaniment to my sandwich.

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  • After dinner we drove to and checked into the Hyatt House in Shelton, CT.  Because we were full and it was on the early side, we needed a walk.  So after a few minutes of settling into our room (which included a bathroom, bedroom and a living room/kitchenette combo with a pull out sofa), we got back into the car for a short drive to the campus of Yale.  We walked around campus and New Haven for about 2 hours – happy to stretch our legs and digest a bit.

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  • My dad has often joked that Jeff needs to eat approximately every 15 minutes, so it wasn’t surprising to me when he wanted to pick up a pizza at Frank Pepe’s on the way back to the hotel.  His reasoning – “I only had fish tacos at Estia’s.”  Clearly he had forgotten about eating half of my sandwich!  But I love his enthusiasm and couldn’t turn him down.  So he went into Frank Pepe’s while Nate and I stayed with the car.  I tasted the pizza, which was lukewarm by the time we got back to the room.  I’d definitely be interested in trying the wood-fired pizza at Frank Pepe’s when it’s right out of the oven – based upon the coolish taste I had, I’ll bet it would be amazing!  After our quick “snack” we dropped into bed with a plan to be on the road between 8:00 and 9:00 am.

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Day 2:

  • Although I am usually hassled for sleeping late, I was up and ready to go by 7:30.  We had a quick breakfast at the hotel and got on the road.
  • We drove through Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire (for about 5 minutes) and finally arrived in Maine around noon.  Our first stop, Bissell Brothers Brewery.  Don’t worry, we weren’t corrupting a minor – Jeff just wanted to get some beer to bring back to PA to share with his BFF, Craig.

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  • After a short stop at BBB, we made our way to hotel (The Hyatt Place – downtown Portland) and, although our room wasn’t quite ready, we dropped off our bags and made our way to Commercial Street to wander through Portland.  We strolled through some shops, made a stop at Harbor Fish Market to order some fish to pick up on Tuesday before leaving Maine, and a stop at Nine Stones Spa for me to pick up my birthday gift from my mom and dad.  Thanks for the Kai perfume, Mimi and Pop-Pop!!!!

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  • Next we walked to the Portland Fire Department to see if Nate, a volunteer fire fighter, could get a shirt for his collection.  He struck out on the shirt, but was able to talk with the chief and see the FD.

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  • In need of a reprieve from the heat, we made a stop at The Thirsty Pig for a beverage and a nosh.  Our bellies were getting hungry, but we didn’t want to ruin our appetites for dinner at Fore Street.
  • After a quick snack, we checked into the hotel, showered, changed, relaxed and walked to Fore Street on Fore Street for dinner.  We were a few minutes early for our reservation so we started with a drink in the bar…..Nate had a fizzy blueberry juice, Jeff a Manhatten and me a glass of Albarino.  After being shown to our table and taking a quick look at the menu, we ordered appetizers.  Nate had a salad of mixed greens with a yummy vinaigrette and over the top croutons made from homemade bread crisped to perfection.  Jeff had Wood-Fired Pork Belly with Allium Hush Puppies, Horseradish Mayo and Sunflower Shoots.  I had the dish of the night – Jet Star Tomato Tart with Herbed Goat Cheese & Butter Pastry.  We shared our appetizers with one another, ooh’ing and aah’ing as we ate.  Although I could happily have stopped after my appetizer, I just had to listen to all the recommendations I received from students to try the Wood-Fired Mussels with Garlic Almond Butter – so I ordered those for my entrée.  Nate ordered the Marinated Natural Half Chicken with Duck Fat Fried Sourdough and Wilted Greens, which we all agreed was incredible and still talked about days later.  And Jeff ordered Garlic Scape, Sweet Corn and Ricotta Salata Ravioli with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and Smoked Squash, which he billed as very good but not excellent.  He has since told me, “I was jealous of Nate’s chicken to be quite honest with you.”  Because our meals had been so good, we had to try dessert.  Jeff ordered the Mini Ice Cream Sandwich with Hazelnut Coffee Ice Cream and Nate and I shared the Chocolate Custard Tart with Raspberry Coulis and Basil Ginger Ice Cream.  The tart was incredibly rich – just what you’d want when you have a chocolate craving – and the ice cream was a wonderfully interesting combination of basil-y freshness and gingery warmth.  It was a darn-near-perfect meal – the food was inventive and delicious and our waitress was friendly and attentive.  The only thing that bothered me was that our waiter in the bar used phrases like “what are WE having to drink” and “OUR table’s not ready yet.”  That’s just too touchy-feely and a bit condescending for my taste.  But, as Frasier and Niles would say, the only thing better than a perfect meal is a perfect meal with one tiny flaw you can pick at all night!!!!!

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  • After dinner we set out for a walk to aid digestion, but decided to cut it short when it began to rain.  We hit the hay in preparation for another early morning – the start of our kayak/camping trip.

Day 3:

  • After a quick breakfast at the hotel and a quick checkout, we loaded the car, stopped for Jeff’s beloved ice block, made a quick stop for fizzy juice at Bow Street Market and made our way – with much enthusiasm – to LL Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School for the start of our kayak/camping trip.

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  • We met our guides – Ros and Pete – and our fellow islanders for the weekend, including (I apologize if I spell any names incorrectly):
    • 4 members of a family having a boys weekend – Terry, Bryan, Kiegan and Brendan
    • a couple from the Allentown area (near where I grew up) – Andrew and Angie
    • a couple from New Brunswick – Andre & Johanna
    • three brave women flying solo – Lorri, Ennie & Laurel
  • Including Jeff, Nate and I we made a group of 16 who would partner up and paddle tandem for the weekend
  • We had our orientation, packing session, lunch-making, lessons, stretching and finally headed to the dock to embark on our adventure.
  • After leaving Flying Point we paddled around Sister Island, Upper Goose, and Lower Goose and finally made our way to camp on The Goslings.
  • We chose our campsites, set up tents and “the restroom” and began exploring the island while we waited for dinner.  We had wine/beer/fizzy juices and got to know our travelling companions.  Then we sat down to a yummy lobster and steak dinner – Nate’s first lobster experience.  Except for someone touching his food – he seemed to enjoy it!
  • After dinner, the dishes were done and we trickled, one-by-one, to the beach for sunset and dessert – Pete’s specialty – Pineapple Upside Down ?Pudding?  It was supposed to be a cake baked in a cast iron Dutch oven; however the mix was gluten-free, which if you’re not used to it, can mess up your camp cooking skills!!!!  However it tasted great and less-than-firm-texture didn’t stop anyone from eating it! Of course, having it served at sunset on your own private island didn’t hurt either!

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  • Then one-by-one we trickled off to bed – tired from the sun, the wind, the paddling and the early start.

Day 4:

  • Jeff and Nate (and perhaps others) got up early to watch the sunrise.  Except for the pics Jeff shared with me I missed it, but was glad for a little disco nap.  As those who know me might expect, sleeping without air conditioning isn’t my thing.  Combine that with Jeff’s snoring and it’s a recipe for not much sleep.
  • The blueberry pancakes Ros and Pete made fueled us for a long day of paddling.  After breakfast we did the dishes, played some cards, had a little island time, packed our lunches and got ourselves prepared to hit the water.
  • It was a hot, but gorgeous day for paddling.  We left the Goslings, paddled around Little Whaleboat and then made our way across the channel to Whaleboat, where we stopped for lunch.  After lunch we polled the group and decided to paddle all the way around Whaleboat, which is a long, beautiful paddle!  For our hard work, we were treated to an eagle sighting and Nate got some great pics of it!!! After conquering Whaleboat, we took it easy paddling back to the Goslings.

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  • Somewhere along the line, some of the group members started playing cards – Golf – while others hiked the island, hung out on the beach, got to know one another, swam or napped.  Dinner – chicken fajitas – was served, dishes were done, sunset was watched on the beach, brownies were eaten “in the kitchen” and one-by-one we trickled to bed – exhausted from a hot day in the sun paddling our little hearts out!

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Day 5:

  • It was a dark and stormy morning…..well it was!  So dark and stormy that we were instructed to batten down the hatches and stay in our tents until the storm blew over.  After the wind and rain subsided briefly, we broke down our tents, packed our equipment and personal belongings and headed to “the kitchen.”  Pete and Ros served coffee (hallelujah) and began making breakfast.  Some of us played cards while we waited.  Others enjoyed the beach and a swim for the last time on this trip and others sipped their coffee.  Somewhere along the line it started to pour again so we all tried our best to fit under the tarp and stay dry.
  • After breakfast, still riding the storm out, the dishes got done, cards got played (and soaked), camp was packed up and we all readied ourselves for our paddle.  We wanted to be ready to jump  into our boats and paddle like crazy once the rain stopped so that we could make it back to Flying Point before the rain began again.
  • Once the rain ceased, the last step before leaving the island was to dismantle “the restroom.”  That done we all headed for the beach, quickly packing our boats and getting into the water.  By the time everyone was settled and on the bay, the sun was shining brightly so Pete and Ros decided we didn’t have to rush back to Flying Point.  We would keep our eye on the sky and paddle as much as we were able.  We left the Goslings and headed between Upper and Lower Goose Island, then toward William’s Island, detouring around Sow & Pigs to Pettingill for a brief stop, and back around William’s Island to see the eagle’s nest. Finally, we headed back toward Flying Point – the weather still cooperating.  As everyone else was making their way into the dock, Jeff and I stayed further out with Ros and, in the quiet, were able to see a seal pop up very near to us.  He was so close we could see his whiskers.

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  • Just as we were pulling up to the dock at Flying Point, Jeff and I got a terrific surprise!  Kevin, one of our guides from last year’s trip, was paddling near the dock.  We had hoped to meet up with him at the Bath Fire & Rescue, where he works; but weren’t able to make the timing work.  So being able to talk with him for even a few moments was a gift.
  • The folks on the dock who helped us out of the water waited patiently as we caught up with Kevin for a few minutes.  Then we unloaded our kayak, made our way up the dock and back to the Outdoor Discovery School, turned in our borrowed equipment, had our team debrief and ate a quick lunch for the few folks who weren’t rushing to get on the road to home.
  • Finally, happily exhausted and ready for a shower, Jeff, Nate and I began our short trek to The Embassy Suites in South Portland – our home for the next two nights.

While I thought I could get through the whole trip in one post, I am tired from reliving the first part of our grand adventure.  If I got any of the paddling routes wrong, I hope Ros or Pete will correct me in the comments below.  When you’re doing the paddle you think you’ll remember; however we were able to cover so much “ground” (and frankly, I just turned 48 so the memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be) that I may have gotten some of it wrong.

I will catch up on the end of Day 5 and finish our adventure through Day 8 in my next post!  Thanks for reading!!!!!

The Journey of 1,044 Miles Begins with the First Hot Dog

Vacation is FINALLY here!  I’ve been packing for three days – at a leisurely pace, mind you – and am finally on the road.  My travelling companion for the day?  Not Jeff…..don’t worry – we’re on our way to pick him up……our nephew Nate.  And so far Nate has been a great companion.

We are heading to Freeport, Maine for another kayaking adventure on the Casco Bay.  And to say we’re excited is an understatement. But first we have to get there.  Right now, as I type, Nate and I are sitting in a Starbucks – perhaps in NJ, perhaps in NY (it’s too close to call) – waiting for Jeff to finish his training at Crestron.  He should be done in approximately 1 1/2 hours; so for now, we wait and I write.

To recap the day:  Our adventure began at about 11:30 this morning when I picked Nate up at home.  We wound our way around Palmyra, Annville, Lebanon, etc. to get to 81 and “set sail” when we hit the highway.

Our first stop was Yocco’s “The Hot Dog King” – a Lehigh Valley tradition since 1922.  Nate ordered a cheese dog and I ordered a chili-cheese, both to go.  We hopped back in the car and tried our best not to get dirty as we enjoyed our dogs.

Next stop, Bloomsbury, NJ for gas – gas is much cheaper in Jersey and they pump for you.  After that quick stop, we got back on the highway and navigated our way through NJ, around NYC traffic and onto the Palisades Parkway.

We made a quick pit stop at a scenic overlook to see the Bronx and Manhattan and to stretch our legs.  Finally, we drove past Volvo US Corporate Headquarters and Crestron and finally landed at Starbucks to chill until Jeff calls for a ride.  I don’t want to jinx things; but, except for one congested intersection, we made great time and hit very little traffic.

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Tonight’s dinner will be at Estia’s in Darien, CT.  Jeff and I ate at Estia’s Little Kitchen on our trip to Long Island last year and are excited to see if Estia’s in Darien lives up to the excellent meal we had in LI.

Then tomorrow we hit the road again and travel to Portland, ME for an overnight stay and dinner at Fore Street (which has been recommended by several of my students).  Stay tuned and I’ll let you know about dinner at Estia’s and Fore Street. Then we’ll be “off the grid” for three days while we kayak the Casco Bay.  Not sure where the wind will take us after that, but I’ll let you know!!!

A special thanks to Kara, Ashley, Mimi, Pop-Pop, Rob, Casey and Reagan, who are holding down the fort and catering to Macy’s every whim!!!!

Vacation Part 3: Kayaking & Camping

So much to write, so little time……

I put up a mini post about the kayaking and camping trip while we were still on vacation, but I wanted to give you more details….so here goes!!!

We started our kayaking adventure at the LL Bean Outdoor Discovery School at 8:00 am on our 22nd wedding anniversary.  My idea of celebrating does not include getting up early, but for kayaking I made an exception!!!

Our Arrival

Our Arrival

Although we had no idea what to expect, we were so excited to finally be there and so ready to set out on this journey.  We met up with our guides and our group in a conference room in the Outdoor Discovery School.  The school itself looks like a lodge and is quite welcoming so being in their conference room was nothing like being in one at work!

LL Bean Outdoor Discovery School

LL Bean Outdoor Discovery School

Our guides, Kevin and Bob, were so organized and put us all at ease.  There were 10 people in our group, including Jeff and me.  There was one other couple, two sisters and the rest were singles – a great mix.  Luckily our group had an even number of people because we learned we would be travelling by tandem kayak.

As soon as I heard the words “tandem kayak” I broke out in a sweat.  Shortly after those words were uttered, we were asked to introduce ourselves, sharing our name, what we hoped to get out of the weekend and if we’d ever kayaked before.  When it was my turn, I said something like:

“Hi.  My name is Jan.  I’ve been kayaking for about 12 years and I hope to still be married at the end of the trip.”

Of course, that got everyone’s attention and I went on to explain that 12 years ago, when Jeff and I first began kayaking, we rented a tandem kayak.  We got it into the water, situated ourselves and began paddling.  We then proceeded to spend three hours going in a circle and cursing at one another.  That day we vowed – for the health and longevity of our marriage – to never get in a tandem kayak together again!!!!  Oh, but God has an amazing sense of humor!!!

When it was Jeff’s turn to introduce himself, he told everyone that we were celebrating our 22nd anniversary and reinforced what I had shared by saying that we’d made it this far because we had honored our promise to never again get in a tandem kayak!

Our guides were not swayed by the idea that our marriage was in jeopardy.  They still moved us forward with the tandem kayak.

Bob & Kevin - Orientation

Bob & Kevin – Orientation

The next bomb they dropped on us was that each person would have two dry-bags in which to carry their belongings for the entire trip.  If it didn’t fit in the dry-bag, it stayed in the car.  Seriously?  I thought, “I cannot pack for three days and two nights in two tiny bags – it just cannot be done!”  After they dropped the bomb, they passed out the bags and sent us to our cars to rethink what we needed to take with us.  One salvation was that if we had wine or beer to bring it would be taken by boat (not our kayaks) to the island on which we would be camping. The wine and/or beer would not have to occupy any precious real estate in our dry-bags.  That made things slightly better, but I was still worried about what I would have to leave behind.

In the end, it seems I worried for nothing.  I was able to fit my toothbrush and other toiletries (a few – not the usual makeup, essential oils, hair products, etc.), pajamas, clothes for 3 days of kayaking, clothes for at the camp site, a pair of camp shoes, and a raincoat into the two dry-bags with a little room for air!

Having a little extra time, we made a quick run to the closest grocery store for a bottle of wine and some beer.  When we got back from that run, we packed our lunch for day 1 from the array of lunch items LL Bean provided.  We each made a sandwich and packed some other snack goodies.  We filled our water bottles, slathered ourselves with sunscreen, and headed downstairs where we were given our paddles and life jackets.

Then we had a few minutes of paddling instruction and stretching and we were headed for the dock by about 10:00 am.  We were assigned boats, stowed our gear, received some instruction and were launched by 10:30.  Then the fun began.

The day was a windy one so there were waves on the bay that made for challenging paddling in some spots, but I was loving being on the water with the salty wind in my face and the sun on my shoulders.

What I wasn’t exactly loving was sharing a boat.  You see, for 12 years I’ve been paddling solo.  That means I know exactly which way my boat is going to go when I make a stroke with my paddle.  I know how to turn, how to stop and how to adjust course for myself.  But God clearly had other plans for me.

Throughout the weekend He revealed to me that in 12 years I’d learned a lot about kayaking, but I hadn’t learned squat about cooperation!!!!  A lesson, really?  I wanted to have a relaxing weekend.  But God knows that what I need is infinitely more important than what I want.  So He continued to whisper to me throughout the trip. Each time I got frustrated because we weren’t going the way I wanted to go, He reminded me that kayaking is like marriage.  He showed me through paddling that without communication we can veer quickly and far off course.  He showed me that being a part of a team – a real team that is working together, not working at cross-purposes – would build a stronger, healthier marriage.  He reminded me that I cannot fix everything by myself – that I had to rely on Jeff to steer us, even when I didn’t want to submit to Jeff’s way. Oh, He is an awesome God!

Now I don’t know if I was the only one of the group having these revelations.  And truthfully it doesn’t matter.  I’m glad I was having them.  Clearly I needed and still need them.  And the trip was the perfect time to hear from God because I wasn’t so distracted by a million things – I was really listening!

One of the very best parts of the trip for me was having no access to technology. Oh, I know we say we’re going to unplug – we go on Facebook fasts – but we still have television and kindles and cell phones,etc.  On this trip I had no phone (at least while we were paddling – when we were at camp I turned my phone on once a day to snap some pictures), no television, no radio, nothing electronic to mess with my reception.  There were no distractions between God and me. And what a blessing that was because I was able and willing to simply listen!

On the first day we stopped for lunch around noon and then paddled for about 3 more hours.  We arrived at “our island” around 3:30, set up our tents and other gear, chatted with our group members, were given a lesson on the “bathroom” and were treated to a fantastic dinner.

Setting Up the Tent

Setting Up the Tent

Home Sweet Homeish

Home Sweet Homeish

Around Our Tent

Around Our Tent

Out Our Tent Window

Out Our Tent Window

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The menu – lobster or steak, fresh corn on the cob and salad.  We were all starving and it seemed like the meal went so quickly, but not without many ooh’s and ahh’s and mmm’s.  After dinner, several of the group members worked together to do the dishes camping style – in three buckets of boiled water – one with soap, one to rinse and one with bleach for a final rinse.  By the time the dishes were all done and put away dusk was beginning to settle over our little island. Bob invited us all to the beach (a small sandy area that grew or shrank depending on the tide) for brownies that he had baked in a cast-iron Dutch oven.  And not only did he have brownies, but he also had whipped cream.  I’ll tell you, LL Bean doesn’t miss anything (except bathrooms with running water)!!!!

Sunset Night 1

Sunset Night 1

We all turned in early with the promise that we would have a leisurely breakfast before setting out for another wonderful day on the water.  Unfortunately, turning in early did not mean I slept.  Although it wasn’t hot out, it was moist and I’m an air conditioning girl all the way.  Not only that, but Jeff was sleeping so soundly that he was snoring – snoring so much, in fact, that I was glad we had chosen to set our tent up on the opposite side of the island from the majority of our group.  Needless to say I was a little cranky in the morning.

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But, the coffee flowed freely and that helped make up for my lack of sleep.  Kevin made pancakes and Bob made sausages, fresh fruit was served and soon we were cleaning up the dishes from breakfast and packing our lunches for another day of adventuring.  We were instructed to use the “bathroom” one last time and to pack up what we needed for a day on the water.  Next thing we knew we were in our boats again and I was feeling incredibly free.  No schedule, no to-do list, no agenda…..ahhhhhhh!  We paddled and enjoyed the scenery, including some really cute seals (which Kevin described as resembling yellow labs without ears – and he was right) in the water!  We paddled for a few hours and then stopped for lunch, where we stretched our legs, sunned ourselves on the rocks and filled our bellies so that we’d be ready for several more hours of paddling.

If you’ve never been kayaking, you should give it a try.  It’s a great way to see the sights.  It’s different from being on a boat because you are really, really close to the water level – so you have a unique vantage point to take in what is around you.  And you can get into small spaces that many boats cannot go.

Kevin and Bob enhanced the trip with their knowledge of Casco Bay, its islands and the native wildlife.  They shared many interesting factoids with us and kept the group together and moving forward – no easy job, I assure you.  Our group had new paddlers and veteran paddlers, young folks and older folks, in-shape folks and not-so-in-shape folks.  It had rule-followers and those of us (myself included) who view rules as arbitrary guidelines that apply to other people.  But, everyone was respectful of one another and of our guides and we all did our best to overcome our challenges to stay together as a loose unit.

Several hours later we returned to camp for some R&R.  After a sleepless night, I was ready for the first R and was grateful that we had some free time before dinner – I used mine to change out of my salty clothes, into some clean camp clothes and to have a nap.  I didn’t sleep long, but I sure slept hard.  Then Jeff and I took a little walk around Gosling Island  (it’s a little island).  And by the time dinner rolled around I was refreshed and hungry.

Dinner on night two was chicken fajitas with all the fixin’s.  There’s something about spending time on the water that makes everything taste great – and it certainly didn’t hurt that Bob and Kevin have some mad skills when it comes to camp cooking.  Dinner was followed by dish duty and conversation with our fellow campers.  Then we had our evening treat – gingerbread from the cast-iron Dutch oven and I should tell you that I am a sucker for gingerbread.  Although I don’t have it often, when I do I think of fall and chilly weather and sweatshirts.  From now on I’ll also think of kayaking and beautiful sunsets!!!

Red Sunset Over Our Little Beach

Red Sunset Over Our Little Beach

Our Little Beach

Our Little Beach

Sailboats at Sunset

Sailboats at Sunset



After we had our treat I browsed through the “library” – a plastic tote containing a few books – and picked out a book called Into the Wild. Unfortunately I got sucked into the book but didn’t have enough time to finish it before the end of the trip so now it’s on my library list!!!

Knowing that morning was coming more quickly than I would like, I turned off my headlamp, put in my earplugs (thankfully I remembered they were packed in the dry-bag) and actually slept!!!!  This may fall under the heading of Too Much Information, but getting up in the middle of the night for a bathroom break is a whole new thing when you do it in the woods with no actual bathroom!!!! Enough said!

Morning 3 = made to order omelets! I was the last one up, but thankfully there was still coffee!!!  Breakfast was delish and not only fortified us for a day on the water, but also for breaking down camp.  Whoever designs the bags that sleeping bags and sleeping pads and tents come in has a great sense of humor – and apparently some high level degrees in engineering.  I had been worried about setting the tent up, but that turned out to be a breeze.  What I should have been worried about was getting it back into the bag.  If this turns out to be something we do again, I’ll have to take a course in re-packaging – which incidentally I could use at work too for getting small appliances back into their original boxes!!!!

With camp tidied up, all our belongings and our lunches packed, and our bellies full we headed out for the last day of kayaking.  I have to tell you I was a little sad.  I was looking forward to the day on the water but I didn’t want the trip to end.  Oh yes, I really wanted a shower!  And yes, I was soooo looking forward to indoor plumbing.  But I wanted to spend more time on the bay exploring the islands and seeing the sights.

We enjoyed our last day immensely.  And, as if by magic, Jeff and I seemed to be really in sync when it came to paddling – apparently we could conquer the tandem kayak.  If Glenda the Good Witch had been there, she’d have told us “you’ve always had the power.”

As we paddled I thought about the lessons I’d learned on the journey.  God had spoken to me about marriage and cooperation and submission.  Good lessons to be sure.  I also thought about how the first day I was paddling so hard – trying to get the tandem boat to do what I wanted it to – that my shoulders were sore after about the first 30 minutes.  I was reminded of a weekend hiking /camping trip I’d taken several years ago on the Appalachian Trail when I hiked so hard for the first 30 minutes that I got dizzy and had to sit down, then when I started up again I had to continue to remind myself that I didn’t have to do the whole hike in one step.  The third day of kayaking I was reminded that I didn’t have to cross the entire bay with one stroke. I have a tendency to take on challenges with this mindset – finish the whole thing immediately, do it all NOW….but most of the fun is in the journey so I need to enjoy sitting back and seeing the sights, I need to pace myself so that I have stamina to finish and I need to set smaller, more realistic goals so that I don’t burn out before the end of the adventure!

No matter how badly we wanted to shower, we were so sorry for our trip to end.  When we arrived back at LL Bean, we unpacked our boats, cared for our equipment, made a beeline for the indoor plumbing, said our goodbyes and hit the road.  Parting IS such sweet sorrow!

This past week I was asked, “what was the highlight of your summer?”  Far and away, the 3-day, 2-night kayak/camping trip on the Casco Bay through LL Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School was the highlight of my summer!!!

What was the highlight of yours?

(Just a note – Jeff and I each used our cell phones to take pictures and we shared our little camera, so I cannot tell you with any certainty who took which pictures!!!!)

Some snaps of the trip:

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