Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On Location in Maine

After pinching myself a few times, I realize that I'm not dreaming. I am sitting in the loft of a cabin we've rented in Maine looking out at the Atlantic Ocean. Coming to Maine has been a dream of mine since childhood. That dream has grown over the years and now, my dream has come true. For the last two summers, my husband and I talked about coming here, but it didn't work out for one reason or another. Now that we've finally made it, Maine means so much more to me. I've waited a long time, but it has been worth the wait.

In preparation for our trip, we finished reading "Sarah, Plain and Tall" and are reading the sequel, "Skylark" on the road. Most of the story takes place on the prairie, but Sarah was from Maine and we thought it would be fun to see some of the places we have read about while on our vacation.

We arranged for our baby-sitter/mommy's helper, Anna to take care of our animals for us while we are gone. She is coming twice a day to take care of the horses and the cats. We took Annie, our dog to Anna's farm where she is running, jumping and playing with her siblings and corn cobs, pine cones and cattails. We are missing our little puppy, but know she will be loved and cared for until we return.

Packing for nine people was interesting. The older ones packed on their own with Mom coming behind them to see their progress. Since we'd never been to Maine, I really didn't know how to pack for a September trip to the Pine Tree State. We tried to pack a variety of summer and fall clothes, but we still didn't have enough warm clothes. At least the cabin would have a washer and dryer! So, with suitcases, backpacks, coolers, diapers, a portable crib, baby gate, strollers, a bag of snacks and a bungee cord to hold it all down, we were on our way.

As we drove through each state, we would cheer every time we crossed a border. We drove through Pennsylvania and New York where we stopped our first night for a hotel. We listened to Jonathan give us the "hand dryer" report every time we stopped for gas and to stretch our legs. This is his new interest right now. He is intrigued by these machines and pays attention to how many watts and what model each one is. After New York, we drove through Massachusetts and New Hampshire with the excitement building and questions floating through the truck like, "Are we there yet? Are we ever going to get to Maine?" "Yes, Dear, we will be there soon," I would say. Deep down, I was becoming a little impatient myself, but to help pass the time, we listened to an entire volume of Jonathan Park, read the Bible, our book and marvelled at the changing scenery from state to state. When we came to the Pistataqua River Bridge, it was really time to cheer, for on the other side of that bridge was Maine!

After driving through some major cities and little coastal towns, we found our turn that would take us to the Chalet by the Bay cottage. Up winding dirt roads, we made our way through the forests and turned into the long winding driveway to the top of a hill. It was dark with the exception of a few lights left on inside, but we wouldn't see the amazing view until the next morning.

Our cabin is outside the little town of Machias. It sits on a hilltop overlooking the Machias Bay in northeastern Maine. We are surrounded by forest on all four sides. The forest is carpeted with moss and feels like a velvet cushion as we walk. The kids found a hideout that is made of huge boulders and evergreens. The thing I notice the most is the unbelieveable stillness and peace there. Even when the kids are busy exploring animal tracks and picking wildflowers, it is quiet with echoes of laughter bubbling through the trees, as if the trees themselves are laughing. The forest has also become a wonderful place to reflect on the goodness and provisions of God. How I'll treasure the quiet moments with Him in those woods.

For the first full day we were in Maine, we decided to take it easy and stay close to the cabin, only going to town for dinner and a trip to the store. We were all exhausted from that long trek through six states and my husband and I wondered how we pulled it off with our crew. God gave us what we needed for the trip and we were thankful for His protection. At the store, we enjoyed listening to the accent so unique to this area and we stocked up on the things we would need for the week.

The next day was Monday, and this was the day we would visit one of those things I hold dear. I cannot put it into words, but for some reason, lighthouses are very special to me. I've always admired pictures of them and read the histories of many. I've even traveled to quite a few over the years. West Coast, East Coast, or Great Lakes lighthouses. It doesn't matter. They are simply beautiful to me. They seem to offer hope and comfort to me as they have for countless ships that have been guided by them. Maybe I'm just a hopeless romantic or maybe I'm just reminded of the hope I have in Christ and how He is my light through the storms of life. Whatever the reason, I almost get chills every opportunity I have to visit one of these magnificent buildings.

The lighthouse we visited was the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse. This 49 foot red and white candy-striped beauty stands at the easternmost point of the United States. I recently read that this particular one is among the most photographed lighthouses in America. Across the water lies New Brunswick, Canada. We took our share of pictures, circling the lighthouse to capture different angles with the kids shouting that we were "the easternmost home schooling family in America!" We toured the building that used to be the light keeper's quarters, but could not enter the tower as it was not open to the public. We then walked on a trail that led to a steep staircase. Leaving the strollers behind, we carried our two youngest and with the help of the older children, we led the toddlers down the stairs to a beautiful rocky beach. With the lighthouse in view, we could still enjoy its beauty while exploring all of the fun things that come with the territory: tide pools, various rocks, shells, a crab hiding under a rock, ocean waves and water birds in pursuit of food. In an effort to prolong my visit at this special place, I found a big flat rock to stop and nurse little Esther. She probably won't remember that when she's older, but I'll always cherish those moments with her and with my whole family at the West Quoddy Lighthouse.

On Tuesday, after a little breakfast and clean up at the cabin, we packed everyone in the truck for that day's adventure. We were heading to Bar Harbor, pronouncing it, "Bah Hahbah" like the locals, and then, to Acadia National Park. Upon our arrival in town, I turned around to make sure everyone was getting out of their seat belts and found that Hannah who had been happily chewing gum was now looking quite dismayed. Her gum had fallen out of her mouth and into her pretty long hair. Sometimes, I'm able to get this annoying substance out of hair, but not this time. So after a homemade haircut, we plopped some of the little ones into strollers, threw out some trash, did a quick head count and began our stroll through Bar Harbor. The first stop was a souvenir shop that had a huge sale on T-shirts. That day was warmer than we had planned and most of us were wearing long sleeved shirts, so we bought and changed into our new shirts and were ready to go "on the town". But, wait! A familiar question was raised by a few of the kids, "Can we go to the bathroom?" Let's not forget some diaper changes and a certain little one wanting to nurse. After the bathroom break, the changing of diapers, nursing little Esther and some pigeon chasing in the park thrown in, we were really ready!

We went to some nice little shops and watched sailboats and a big Cruise ship in the harbor. We also stopped at a whale museum which was of special interest to the oldest three kids. We received the usual stares and comments, "Are they all yours? You sure have your hands full!" We appreciated the kind smiles from others, too. We were enjoying the day, but I was aching to get to Acadia. Bar Harbor is a pretty town, but I prefer the quiet of the forests, the mountains and the portions of seaside where there are less people.

We began our drive on Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park and what a drive it was! We saw almost indescribable views of distant lighthouses, the ocean, the shoreline, and the mountains. Even the sounds were like a melody. The sea gulls soaring in the air, the waves crashing against the shore and the Maine breeze blowing through the pine. I quickly realized that this was one of those places I would want to come again and again. We made several stops along the way, but one stop in particular was Sand Beach. We didn't think to bring swimsuits that morning, so the children were just going to walk in the sand and shallow parts, but the waves were just too tempting for them to avoid. The children thought it great fun to jump when each wave came. At first, they were successful in not getting too wet, but that did not last! The children rolled up their pants, but were still soaked to the skin. They will always remember the long drive back to the cabin in wet clothes, but it was worth it! They had so much fun playing at the beach that day and we even met another home school family vacationing there.

The next day was my birthday. I did not ask for any gifts as I thought that spending my birthday in Maine was quite enough. My dear husband and children still made my day special, however. Breakfast was sausage and French toast with wild blueberry syrup. My husband then took all of the kids except for the youngest two into town for a few hours. I had the cabin to myself. I straightened up and made sure the table was ready for the party that we would have later. After some quiet time, the family returned with a bouquet of flowers and fresh lobsters that were caught by a local fisherman. He had just caught them shortly before my family went to pick them up. We planned to have "Surf & Turf", so David fired up the grill for the steaks and with Rachel's help, began heating the lobster pots. Of course, I couldn't resist having a little fun, so the kids and I put the live lobsters on the floor for awhile. I had named some of them, so when it was time to drop them in the pots, I left the kitchen! I didn't stay sad for too long though. It was a delicious dinner. After stuffing ourselves, we lit the candles on my birthday cake,(peanut butter chocolate from a restaurant in town), and my family sang to me. I love all of those sweet voices! We completed my day with an episode of "Andy Griffith" and then fell into bed.

On Thursday, we made the trip to Camden, Maine where "Sarah" from the books was from. Camden is a charming little town. The houses are quite fancy and expensive as are the shops. Maybe I misread a price tag, but I was almost sure I found a toss pillow that was nearly $200! It was nice to look. The boats in the harbor were beautiful. My husband was especially interested in them as he had lived on sailboats when he was young. We walked the streets and tried some tasty treats at a bakery, but we were more than ready to head back to the cabin that evening. Camden was a too expensive for our liking, but we also felt extremely out of place, traipsing around with our large bunch.

Friday was going to be our last full day in Machias, so we decided to keep the day simple by visiting a few shops and sight-seeing just outside of town. We found a thrift shop that was a bit messy, but we came out of there with a huge bag of clothes for only $2. That was more my kind of shopping! We drove past Fort O'Brien which was the site of the first naval battle of the American Revolution. We stopped at Roque Bluffs State Park where one side was saltwater and the other side was freshwater. We even pulled into the parking lot of a factory where they process wild blueberries. The smell of blueberries permeated the air. We spent the rest of the day back at the cabin, resting, hiking in the woods, washing clothes and packing, since the next day was the day we had to begin our trip home.

Saturday came too early. Even after my husband and I stayed up late the night before, we still had so much to do. We were aiming to have the cabin cleaned and the truck packed by a certain time, but as always, we continued to find more things that needed done. We couldn't put the younger kids on "pause" either, so we needed to attend to them from time to time. My dear husband is quite good at packing the truck, but even he was getting a bit frustrated as we had to rearrange things to fit just right. We went to the woods and sat on the front porch to take in the view one last time, stealing a kiss from my Hubby and then we finally pulled away from the little cabin which had been our home for the last week.

We headed back to Acadia National Park for a few hours. There was a mountain that we had heard about. Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the eastern seaboard. It was a slow, but beautiful drive to the top. When we finally made it, we parked the truck and gathered our things. We hadn't found a place to eat breakfast or lunch that day, so we opted to pull the peanut butter and jelly out of the cooler. Carrying the kids, the cameras, and our lunches, we found a nice spot to sit and enjoy the view. We're still convinced that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches never tasted better! It was a sunny, but windy and cool day at the top of the mountain. The view was gorgeous. We could see faraway islands and the town of Bar Harbor below. Even though our time was limited since we really had to begin our trip home, it was so worth seeing.

Our next stop was the L.L.Bean outlet store in Ellsworth, Maine. We didn't have time to go to their big headquarters in Freeport, but this was the next best thing. It was fun to shop for things firsthand instead of through a catalog. We were behind schedule by a couple of hours, so we only got as far as Portland that night. We stopped at a Denny's and prayed that God would provide an affordable and safe place to stay as it wasn't a very good area. We were searching on the internet and weren't finding anything, but just then, the manager of the restaurant came to our table and helped us to find a motel. It wasn't very big, but it was all we needed and the kids got to witness an answer to prayer.

Sunday morning, we said goodbye to Maine. My husband and I mapped out a different route home which took us through New Hampshire and Vermont. The leaves were just starting to change, so it was a lovely drive. As always, we had to make some stops for the babies, assembly line diaper changes, bathroom breaks and gas, but we wanted to get as far as we possibly could without getting too tired. We wanted to take it easy on our return trip, so we finished driving for the day and found a motel in Herkimer, New York. There was a Denny's there, too, so we went there for dinner. Like Dunkin Donuts, Denny's was becoming an all-time favorite in our family. The hostess led our family to a back room where there was only one other party. We had settled in and ordered our dinners when the folks next to us began singing the familiar song, "The Joy of the Lord Is My Strength". Our family started humming along and soon, we were all singing the song together in the restaurant! The people next to us were a singing group in the area that ministered at nursing homes. We sang hymns and other praise songs and then, prayed together. It was a powerful and encouraging time for all of us.

On Monday, we began the last day of the trip. We were determined to stop at a certain waterfalls on the way home. Seventeen years earlier, my husband and I had traveled to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls for our honeymoon and now, we were going to take our seven children! This time, we visited the American side and I could almost see my dear husband and me across the falls. So much life has been lived since that time. It was a strange and yet wonderful feeling to be back and to share it with our children. It was definitely worth it to drive a little out of our way, so the kids could experience this amazing place.

We continued driving until we arrived in Pennsylvania where there was a welcome center. Here the kids could run and play and slide down a big hill. Lake Erie was in view and beside the parking lot beyond the fence was a sweet smelling vineyard. The smell of Concord grapes was a strong as the smell of the wild blueberries back in Maine. It was refreshing.

We arrived in Ohio and made one more stop for dinner and gas. All of the kids were sleeping when we finally pulled into our driveway late that night. It was good to be home. We thanked God once again for keeping us safe and for bringing us so far.

I started this post in the loft of that cabin in Maine and I am finishing this post in my kitchen, looking out over the pasture where the horses are contentedly grazing. I thought I was dreaming weeks ago when I was so far away from home and sometimes, I still feel like I'm dreaming. But, I'm not. We really did make it to Maine and we really are home again. I miss Maine very much and hope one day that we can return, but as "Sarah" says in "Sarah, Plain and Tall", "I will always miss my old home, but the truth of it is I would miss you more." No, Maine has never been my home, but it was a place that I always wanted to visit. Sometimes, I think I made visiting there more important than I should have and perhaps, that is why God did not allow me to go for so long. Whatever the reason, I am thankful that we could go as a family, but even more thankful FOR this family. I am content to be with my family, wherever God has us. God used us on our trip to minister to people. We were ministered to and grew closer to Him and to each other during this time. God continues to use us and to work in us at home. And, one day, we will all be in the most wonderful place that we could ever imagine. We will forever be with our Creator. I pray that I long for there more than any other place.

"When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be.
When we all see Jesus, we'll sing and shout the victory!"

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