Our Trip to Scotland – Part One

This post is a recap of our trip to Scotland from June 2016. 

Leaving Fort Leavenworth has the reputation of being a bit of a cluster due to the fact that every June 1000+ majors graduate and PCS at the same time. But Clay and I didn’t let that deter us from squeezing in a week-long trip to Scotland while my parents watched the kids. We knew that Clay’s schedule would be crazy once he signed into his new unit so it made sense to vacation en route to Texas. So we made the trek to Georgia after graduation, chilled for a couple of days, kissed and hugged the kids, profusely thanked my parents, and then found ourselves at Atlanta airport drinking beers and waiting for a flight to Edinburgh.

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An overnight flight ensured that we arrived in Scotland mid-morning with plenty of time to secure a rental car, drive to our hotel, and then explore before crashing due to lack of sleep. The first thing we noticed (aside from the gorgeous green countryside) was the cool air – the average temperature in June is in the low-sixties, which is one of the many reasons we chose to vacation in Scotland before moving to San Antonio (where it has been 100+ degrees for the past five days). Scotland is home to almost 5.3 million people. And as any guidebook is quick to point out, Scotland has more sheep than people.

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The Wharf – A Mix of New and Old

There are times when Clay and I stroll through Washington DC, weaving in and out of the monuments before hopping on the metro to Eastern Market to grab a bit to eat,  wondering what it would have been like if we were stationed here right out of college. The night he had to rank his top stationing choices during his senior year, I remember sitting next to him on my bed with my laptop, plugging in the possibilities into Map Quest (t’was before Google Maps entered the scene) to see how far they were from Clemson University. Because he’s a whopping 11 months older than me, we planned to do the long-distance dance while I finished my senior year. We’d have a summer wedding, honeymoon in Costa Rica, and then I’d join him at Fort Meade, Maryland – the installation at the top of our list, where I would then put my Political Science and Economics degree to good use in our nation’s capital.

In reality – we ended up scrambling to have a December wedding during the winter break of my senior year, we honeymooned in New York City for three-days because that is the only amount time for which his unit would release him, and I joined him at Fort Drum, New York six months later, after I graduated. It would then take me another six months to find a full-time job quasi-related to my career-field. It was our first experience with, as my friend Sheena so lovingly put in my previous post, the Army showing us that ultimately she’s the boss.

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I realize now that this is quite the long introduction for a post about the District Wharf. Basically – it’s nice to experience the things that we long ago dreamed of doing as newlyweds stationed in this area. Granted, I have yet to work in the district using my undergraduate degree and having two kids means that we don’t attend nearly as many cocktail parties as we did our original scenario, but we get to do things we enjoy and spend our free time exploring a world class city. We’ve been wanting to check out the District Wharf since the grand re-opening in October 2017. The gray and drizzling sky on a Sunday afternoon provided the perfect backdrop to walk around where DC meets the water.

My Glass Half Full Attitude – A Story

A few months ago, a fellow blogger suggested I write about my glass half-full attitude and how it impacts my outlook toward this crazy, unpredictable, and at times frustrating military life (thanks for the suggestion, Erica!). I’ve never been ashamed about my belief in the power of positive thinking and my desire to see the glass half full. And if I am being honest, there is not much that bums me out more than being subjected to someone else’s negative outlook. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m currently reading You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life and there is one passage in particular that has really resonated with me…

When you hang out with whiners, pessimists, tweeters, bleachers, freaks-outers and life-is-so-unfaireres, it’s an uphill climb to keep yourself in a positive headspace. Stay away from people with tiny minds and tiny thoughts and start hanging out with people who see limitless possibility as the reality. Surround yourself with people who act on their big ideas, who take action on making positive change in the world and who see nothing as out of their reach (p. 99).

Yes. Insert the ‘person raising both hands in celebration/hallelujah emoji’ here. My glass half full attitude has served me well over the years and while I do give myself time to be upset or cranky, I work very hard to ensure that it doesn’t consume me nor define my existence. And I really try not to whine. And I avoid people who do. Because time is precious and in the words of Kimberly ‘Sweet Brown’ Wilkins – ain’t nobody got time for that.

While there are countless moments in my life where my glass half full attitude has served me well, there is one military life moment in particular that will likely be forever etched into my soul as a testament to my desire to look on the bright side of life.

One brutally cold day in 2007, I was typing away on my computer at my office in the Key Bank building in downtown Watertown when the Hawaii-5-O theme song blared from the Razr laying on top of some intake papers scattered across my desk. Was it Clay? It had been a few days since I had last heard from him via email. But it wasn’t an unknown number, therefore it wasn’t my husband. It was Fran. My stomach sank. She wouldn’t be calling during the work day unless it was bad news.

It had been 12 months since our husbands left for the remote mountains of Afghanistan. The morning Clay deployed, we sat in his Jeep trying to processes the unknown experience that spilled out in front of us like wet asphalt. Hot, sticky, and unpleasant. There were tears. I love yous. And the reminder that “This soon will only be a blade of grass.” But a year later – we were hardened. There had been deaths, injuries, blackouts, memorial services, and months without communication. During that time, I had found my tribe – my Fort Drum girls – a group of fellow spouses with husbands in the same unit. We were sisters. We relied on each other with each devastating phone call received informing us of another injury. Another death. As of that day in my office, our husbands had been okay. They were alive. And they were finally coming home in two weeks.

I remember staring at my ringing phone, trying to convince myself that Fran was just calling to firm up dinner plans for our group that evening. But I answered knowing that it wasn’t something so benign as a bunch of 20-somethings verifying a social outing. That wasn’t our life. We weren’t that carefree.

Fran quietly asked, “Have you heard?

My mind immediately went the member of our group whose husband arguably had the most dangerous job of all our husbands – Jackie. It seemed like he was always on a mission. He’s dead, I thought. He’s gone.

Tears fell as I began to run the first words I would say to Jackie through my mind. In that second or two, I couldn’t do any better than “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry” over and over again.

I answered, “Heard what?” – my voice cracking – bracing myself for the inevitable news of another unit casualty.

They’ve been extended four months,

I exhaled the breath I didn’t know I was holding. Jackie’s husband wasn’t killed in action. Fran wasn’t calling to tell me that uniformed officers were currently at her house. She wasn’t on the phone trying to figure out what our next steps needed to be in order to get to Jackie’s side. She was simply calling to inform me that our husbands weren’t coming home in two weeks as originally planned. Our husbands were okay. They were alive. It was good news.

Once the news that the brigade had been extended for another four months sunk in, I cried at my desk. Hard. Ugly. Messy. My coworkers surrounded me and allowed me to work through my emotions of frustration, anger, sadness, and exhaustion. Later that afternoon, Clay had managed to secure a satellite phone on a mountaintop and we talked for the first time in weeks. Obviously morale was down among the guys. I told him that while I wanted nothing more than to finally have him home in two weeks as originally scheduled – receiving that phone call from Fran and thinking that Jackie’s husband had been killed, really put the news of the extension in perspective. The families of the soldiers who had been killed during that deployment would have given anything to be able to receive a phone call informing them of the extension if it meant their soldier were alive.

Yes, the extension wasn’t ideal. It fact, it pretty much sucked. But whenever I found myself wallowing in self-pity, I’d think back to that phone call and the wave of relief that ran like current through me as I was informed about the extension rather than given news of another casualty. It could have been worse. Much worse. And eventually, 16 months after we sat in his Jeep, unsure of what the next year would bring, we were together again.

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It may not seem like a big moment to anyone but me, but that phone call exemplifies my outlook on life. There will be times that life simply sucks. There is no avoiding those sucky moments. But they can be a lot less sucky when you focus on the positive, no matter how small the positive molecules may be at that moment in time. Whether it be that feeling of relief when the news isn’t the absolute worst you could hear or simply the smell of fresh cut grass or the sound of the waves crashing into shore, those little specks of positivity can be a life line. They certaintly are for me.

Amelia Island, Florida

When we learned that Clay would actually be home over President’s Day weekend, we made plans to fly down to Florida so we could checked out my parent’s new beach condo on Amelia Island. My dad retired this past summer so my parents decided to really lean into their new phase of life and get a second place on the ocean. However, due to Lucy having some health issues, we scrapped our initial plans and decided to drive down to the sunshine state to avoid having to board her. And that is the story of how ended up spending 24 hours in the 4Runner in order to spend 60 hours at the beach. Yes – we’re slightly bonkers, as evident by the wide-eyed looks we received when people found out about our plans.

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She’s worth it though.

We left Thursday night after Clay battled holiday weekend traffic on the commuter bus. We drove for about four hours and spent the night in rural North Carolina where pet-friendly hotels are not readily available but we managed to find one with good reviews on Trip Advisor (no murders!). After breakfast at McDonalds (it was slim pickins’), we fought our way through I-95 traffic and were driving onto Amelia Island by early afternoon in 70-degree weather.

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We Probably Should’ve

A couple of weeks ago, I changed the news alert settings on my phone because I was growing weary of of the constant bombardment of breaking news. When my phone would buzz, I’d be met with alert about Kylie Jenner instead of an email for which I’d been anxiously waiting. I was over it.

The weather was unseasonably warm yesterday afternoon, which is why a lot of parents gathered at the playground after school and chatted while our kids ran their little hearts out. A group of us moms discussed our concerns over the testing culture in our country and the rigorous coursework at our particular school. It was a casual conversation but also one that had the occasional shimmer of “are we doing the right thing for our children?” We also chatted about life, shared funny tales, and corrected our children when necessary.  After about an hour, we gathered our kids, their backpacks, and their Valentine’s Day boxes and walked home.

This Is Us

I didn’t participate in the thousands of crock-pot discussions that have peppered social media in recent weeks. Truth be told, I have only seen the pilot episode of This is Us. I liked it but not enough to watch another episode. At least, not right now. Milo Ventimigila wasn’t even enough (Team Jesse).  I’ve never really full-on embraced a weekly network television drama to the point where I have to watch the latest episode. It’s not in my blood. I’m sure I’ll end up watching This is Us the same way as Parenthood – on Netflix at my own pace.

But this post isn’t about the hit television show. Nor is about the Mark Knopler and Emmylou Harris song This Is Us from their 2006 album, All The Roadrunning (sigh – such a great album). Today is Valentine’s Day – the day makers of giant teddy bears and bad chocolate rely on to keep them in the black for the year. In our house, we acknowledge the day and exchange little gifts with the kids and each other but we’d rather chew off our own arms than go out to eat tonight and he knows better than to give me jewelry. Clay will be back after the sun sets so my gift to him this year involves bombarding his phone with questionable love-related GIFs and an inappropriate card I picked up at Target. Love is not dead in this house, folks.

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When Did Reading Become a Luxury?

As I type this post, I’m watching curling on the television and toggling between this screen and Wikipedia in attempt to have 2018 finally be the year I fully comprehend the sport. The kids are asleep upstairs, Lucy is next to me on the couch, and I’m awaiting text confirmation that my betrothed has safely arrived at his intended location. I could be using this alone time to strengthen my mind and actually read but instead, I am writing about books that I want to read. Life can be funny that way. We’re heading out of town for the Presidents’ Day holiday – while winter has been a bust snow-wise in the Washington DC area this year, we’re still escaping the cold for warmer temperatures. And my goal is to actually read a book (or maybe two!) during our little break.

In 2016, The Washington Post explored the long and steady decline of literary reading. The article mentioned how studies have shown that  literary fiction boosts the quality of empathy in the people who read it. So one could theorize that the decline in literary reading has resulted in a decline of empathy. I want to read more for many reasons, including this one. The Harvard Business Review listed 8 ways to read a lot more books this year. One such way is making a public commitment, which guess what? I am totally doing right now. At this phase in my life, reading feels a bit like a luxury. There is always something I could be doing instead of reading – cleaning, cooking, interacting with my kids, working, etc…

I love to read. But I am an all-consuming reader. When I read a book, it takes over my existence. I’m not able to simply put it down and go about my life. I sneak pages when I can and skirt real-life responsibility for printed words. For this reason, I struggle to incorporate reading into my daily life and it is usually saved for moments when I remove myself from everyday existence. I wasn’t always this way but the introduction of children, social media, and multiple streaming options into my life have all seemed to contribute to my issue. I want this to change. So I’d like to read the following books over the next handful of months…

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Our New England Adventure – Newport, Cape Cod, and Ogunguit

During the summer of 2014, we took a weeklong tour of the New England coast. We returned to northern Virginia with bellies full of fresh seafood and as much of a tan as the Massachusetts and Maine sun allowed.

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We’re apparently machinists because we chose to drive through New York City and Connecticut on a Friday afternoon. In June. It quickly became obvious that we weren’t the only ones heading to the shore that weekend. I’m sure the big city hotshots in Maseratis (we spotted five!) were rolling their eyes at our Subaru with a car top carrier but that’s how we roll – we’re so pedestrian that it hurts. After about 10 hours, we finally arrived in Rhode Island.

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The next day, we drove over the largest suspension bridge in New England to Newport and spent the morning exploring one of the oldest cities in the United States. Newport also has a strong Navy presence so as is the case with most Navy towns we visit, we cursed the majority of Army locations throughout the world (Fort Polk anyone?).

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We ate on the water, enjoying a lunch consisting of fresh steamers, grilled shrimp, and a hot lobster roll.

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After lunch we walked around the harbor some more before getting back on the road. We left fans of the smallest state and hope to return someday. After leaving the Ocean State, we rolled up the coast along Route 6, marveling at the quaint architecture found in New England, specifically the Shingle Style, Colonial Revival, and of course the Cape Cod. Before long, we were in Massachusetts.

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I’ll admit that before this trip, my knowledge of Massachusetts was pretty much limited to American Revolution history, The Departed, and Mitt Romney but not surprisingly, we fell in love with Cape Cod.

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One of the first things that struck us was just how large Cape Cod is – for some reason, I pictured it to be much smaller. We learned that Cape Cod originally only referred to the very tip of the peninsula, but over time the name become synonymous with area known today. After crossing the Cape Cod Canal, we drove along Route 28 until we reached our resort in South Yarmouth – a Red Jacket Resort.

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 We checked into our room and promptly changed for the beach.

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 Where this little girl proceeded to take her first steps.

Go Violet, go!

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The little guy spent his time on the beach building sand castles and digging holes.

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We absolutely loved staying on the beach. There is nothing I like more on vacation than being able to walk to the water. While the resort wasn’t anything fancy, it had a private beach, an outdoor pool with a splash pad area for kids, an indoor pool, and plenty of chairs, umbrellas, and toys free for use.

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We did leave the resort to eat at local restaurants and explore the area but we spent the majority of our time at the beach.

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We were only in Cape Cod for two days so seeing the Cape Cod National Seashore was our top choice for an afternoon outing. We never made it to Provincetown or the tip of the cape but I know we will travel to Cape Cod again at some point. We were able to visit Marconi Beach free of charge due to our National Parks Pass courtesy of the military, which was a pleasant surprise. Marconi Beach is known for its sand cliff (also called a scarp) that fills you with a sense of solitude because there is not a building to be seen on the horizon.

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We had a wonderful time in Cape Cod (even if Weston’s face tells another story) and had trouble wiping the drool off our chins when seeing some of the available real estate. Having a vacation home in New England does sound quite nice, doesn’t it? But Maine was calling our name.

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As we crossed the Piscataqua River Bridge, we were welcomed to Vacationland. A quick drive up Route 1 and we reached our destination – Ogunquit, Maine, which means “Beautiful Place by the Sea”.

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 Quite deserving of the name, right?

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We checked into our hotel and immediately walked to the beach. Clay grew up vacationing in Ogunquit every summer and has many childhood memories tied to the seaside town. Continually voted one of the best US beaches, Ogunquit has three and half miles of white sand beaches along with rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean. We sat on the beach with our toes in the sand, watching the tide come in before heading back to hotel for dinner. After putting two tired kids to bed, Clay and I sat out on the balcony watching the waves while savoring a cocktail or two.

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Weston and Violet had us up early the next morning so we set out to walk the Marginal Way soon after sunrise. A little over of a mile walkway from downtown Ogunquit to Perkins Cove, the Marginal Way came to be when Josiah Chase Jr. donated his land back in 1925. Described as rocky, rugged, and wild, the path itself is paved but there are plenty of rock-lined coves to explore along the way.

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Obligatory family photo.

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One of the many coves on the Marginal Way we enjoyed climbing up and around.

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Gorgeous Perkins Cove.IMG_6120

Once in Perkins Cove, we found a lobster boat departing with the hour and quickly reserved seats. We ate breakfast at a cute little coffee shop on the water while waiting to come aboard and before we knew it, we were off on our very first family lobster adventure.

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 Being out on the water in Maine was about as amazing as you’d imagine it to be.

 

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After our time on the water, we ate lunch at The Lobster Shack and the meal was easily in the top three of our entire vacation and they won our award for Best Clam Chowder (it is obviously a highly coveted award – ha!). The restaurant is unpretentious, casual, and the epitome of Perkins Cove. Go there. Now.

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 Photographic evidence.

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 We spent most of our afternoons in Ogunquit at the beach.

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One morning we drove south to York and checked out Nubble Light, the Cape Neddick Lighthouse.

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Thankfully there was only one afternoon/evening of rain. We didn’t mind too much because it gave us the perfect excuse to drive around and explore. We ended up in Portland, walked around the harbors, and ate lunch at Duck Fat, which will now make every fry I ever eat again pale in comparison.

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Clay was also super excited to introduce us to Congdon’s Doughnuts. I am happy to report that they live up to the hype and are every bit as delicious as Clay’s family herald them to be – simply marvelous. I had the maple cream and I am still dreaming about the delicious morsel of perfection.

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Coastal Maine is magical. I will forever hold the memories of this vacation close to my heart. I can’t wait to go back and explore further north on the Maine coast. And I don’t just want to return during warm weather because as Paul Theroux writes, “Maine is a joy in the summer. But the soul of Maine is more apparent in the winter.” I’d love to find out for myself.