2019 in Review

Right about now, my Twitter feed is filling up with snarky tweets that #SumsUp2019. Was this year really so bad, or is it easy for people to focus on the things that didn’t go right at the year’s end? This year wasn’t always easy or enjoyable for me, but I think it is easier for me to find and reflect on all of the amazing things that happened this year as opposed to all of the bad things.

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Family Fun: Slate Run Living Historical Farm

I used to live in Ohio (the Columbus metropolitan area), but that was twenty years ago, and it was much quieter back then. Now, the population seems to have exploded, and driving down to visit family usually means I’m white-knuckling it through congested traffic once I hit Delaware. But, not everything is so urban there. Columbus has a great metro park system, and one of the coolest metro parks is the Slate Run Living Historical Farm (1375 OH-674, Canal Winchester, OH 43110).

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More on Maine | a travel guide to Portland, Maine part 2

Eating donuts, BBQ, pizza slices the size of my head, and playing pinball barely scratch the surface of what we did during our vacation in Maine last year. If you’re planning a trip to Portland, Maine, be sure to check out these places as well:

Where to Stay

Inn at St. John | 939 Congress St. Portland, ME 04102

The Inn at St. John is Portland’s oldest, continuously operated inn. It’s an old, Victorian building  located on the northwest side of downtown Portland, which is fairly removed from where most of the restaurants, shops, and nightlife are located– about a 25 minute walk. What initially drew us to this hotel was the price; the Inn at St. John is about $100/night cheaper than the rest of the hotels in the city. What would keep us coming back (aside from the price) is the incredibly kind hotel staff, the most comfortable bed ever, and these cozy bathrobes! The Inn at St. John comes so highly recommended on Trip Advisor and Google, and it’s worth every star. Plus, the savings in hotel accommodations allowed us to splurge in other areas.

Inn at Diamond Cove | 22 McKinley Ct. Portland, ME 04109

We spent a few days in downtown Portland, Maine, and then we hopped a ferry out to Great Diamond Island to stay at the Inn at Diamond Cove. The stars must have aligned because when we arrived, we learned that we got a free upgrade from our King Room to a King Suite. Aside from a king size bed that swallowed us whole and a shower with the dreamiest shower head ever, which would have come with the room we booked, the suite also had a kitchenette stocked with dishes and cookware, a dining area, a balcony, and a living room. I have never stayed in such luxury before, and I swear, it was bigger than the apartment we were living in at the time.

The Inn at Diamond Cove also offers a lot of extra amenities like bicycle rentals (since motor vehicles were not allowed on the island), a recreation room with duckpin bowling, ping pong, and PINBALL(!!!), tennis courts, an indoor basketball court, a pool and hot tub, and so much more.

To top off the experience, Inn at Diamond Cove had some of the nicest staff, and the greeting at the ferry when we arrived set the tone for the customer service experience. One of the staff members helped us load up our luggage into a golf cart and drove us to the hotel; along the way, she gave us a little history about the island and pointed out places to check out as we explored the island ourselves. I also recall spending all evening downstairs at the lobby bar drinking Moscow Mules and chatting with the bartender. (True story: one of them went to school at Western Michigan University, which is my alma mater; small world, right?!)

Where to Eat

Bayside American Cafe | 98 Portland St. Portland, ME 04101

Jon is notorious for packing the wrong kind of shoes for walking during vacation, so by the end of the first day, his feet were aching. Later in the week, when I suggested we walk to Bayside American Cafe for breakfast, which was a mile away from the hotel, he made sure to express his displeasure. And then, when we arrived we discovered we had to stand in line just to get a table at this popular brunch place. The trek and the wait was worth it though; Bayside served the best breakfast we had the pleasure of eating while in Portland. Make sure to try their Classic Eggs Benedict and Rocket Fuel coffee. And if you’re in need of a little hair of the dog, try out their Absolution, which is a mimosa with Absolute Raspberry and a splash of grenadine or the Honeymoon, which is Maine Meadworks wildflower honey mead and Brut champagne.

The 5 Spot | 935 Congress St. Portland, ME 04102

When hunger struck us late at night, and we were too tired to trek to the east side of downtown Portland, we walked next door to the 5 Spot for authentic Philly Cheesesteaks (the kind made with cheese wiz). I also had my first taste of Moxie, which was an experience in itself. Moxie starts out tasting like root beer but then morphs in to something herbaceous and medicinal. I liked it, but I might be in the minority.

Hot Suppa | 703 Congress St. Portland, ME 04102

If you find yourself craving grits while in Maine, make sure to visit Hot Suppa for some Southern-inspired cooking. Even if you’re not craving grits, go to this restaurant and order their impeccable Geechie Boy grits. I also had my first taste of kombucha here; I’ve never seen that on a menu before.

Gelato Fiasco | 425 Fore St. Portland, ME 04101

Is any vacation complete if you don’t consume at least one scoop of ice cream or gelato? Probably not, which is why you should visit Gelato Fiasco. The Gelato Fiasco offers irresistible flavors like Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Gelato, Maine Wild Blueberry Crisp Gelato, and Torched Marshmallow S’More Gelato. Side note: I just learned that Gelato Fiasco ships their Gelato nationwide. Be still my beating heart!

Inn at Great Diamond Cove (Lobby Bar) | 22 McKinley Ct. Portland, Me 04109

On top of living in luxury for a few days at the Inn at Great Diamond Cove, we also feasted like kings. Jon ordered the lobster roll for lunch and dinner, and if it were offered for breakfast, I’m sure he would have ordered it then too.

Things to Do

Portland Museum of Art | 7 Congress Sq. Portland, ME 04101

The Portland Art Museum is perhaps one of the best art museums I’ve visited. Sure, I’ve been to the Art Institute of Chicago, and sure, that collection is incredible. But, if you’re looking for a well-curated collection that you can view in one day, the Portland Museum of Art has it. I think my favorite part of the PMA collection was the pieces showcasing Maine’s artists.

The Green Hand Book Shop | 661 Congress St. Portland, ME 04101

The Green Hand Book Shop offers an eclectic collection of second-hand books. There seemed to be a book for every kind of customer. I found myself drawn to the children’s book section because it had so many books I remember reading when I was four or five. I didn’t leave empty handed…

Soakology | 511 Congress St. Portland, ME 04101

Remember when I said Jon is notorious for packing the wrong kind of shoes? Well, after dragging him a mile to breakfast, I promised him a foot soak and massage at Soakology. We also got to sip on hot tea while relaxing. Jon had a refreshing ginger mint tea, and I had an enticing pine smoked black tea. Jon experienced a second wind after that, and he wasn’t so grumpy as I dragged him around the city more.

Visiting Maine with my Main Squeeze

I miss Portland, Maine.

I miss flying in to the city and thinking, I don’t think I’ve seen this many pine trees in my life. I miss meandering the streets, exploring the shops, and being overwhelmed by all of restaurant choices. I miss hearing the sound of the ferry horns honking as they entered and exited the harbor. I miss tasting as many of the IPAs on the menu at Salvage BBQ and Slab Sicilian Street Food that our livers could handle and determining that Substance IPA from Bissell Brothers was the best (but still not quite as good as Michigan’s own Two Hearted). I miss how the temperature dropped what felt like 20 degrees the moment we rode the ferry out into Fore River/Casco Bay. I miss having Great Diamond Cove all to myself, or so it seemed, and I miss riding bikes all over the island. I miss the pickles– the weird, mustardy pickles. And the lobster rolls. I miss the lobster rolls too.

We spent most of our days roaming around the city streets in search of pinball machines, comic books, craft beer, and the best restaurants, and we hit the jackpot in Portland:

Featured donuts: Triple Berry, Salted Chocolate, Maine Apple, Allen’s Coffee Brandy, Orange Creamsicle, and Maple Bacon

The Holy Donut | 194 Park Ave. Portland, ME 04102 or 7 Exchange St. Portland, ME 04101

The Holy Donut offers a sweet treat like no other. The key ingredient in their delicious, fried treats…is the potato. Yes, the Holy Donut puts potatoes in their donut dough, which creates this incredible yeast donut/cake donut hybrid. It’s cakey and moist but also fluffy and chewy, and the outside has just the right amount of crispness. Jon and I intended to just buy four donuts, but there were so many enticing choices that we walked out with a six-pack. If you visit the Holy Donut, you must taste the Salted Chocolate donut (which Jon and I fought over), Allen’s Coffee Brandy, and the Orange Creamsicle.

Salvage BBQ | 919 Congress St. Portland, ME 04102

When you visit Maine, you probably wouldn’t think to eat at a BBQ restaurant. Honestly, neither did Jon and I. The only reason Salvage BBQ ended up on our radar is because it was located right next to one of the hotels we stayed at. Thankfully. Their chopped pork sandwich topped with coleslaw and side of mac and cheese was dreamy. Salvage BBQ also offers 17 taps, most of which were Maine microbrews, which is how we discovered Substance IPA from Bissell Brothers. Or, if bourbon is more your taste, they have an extensive selection of bourbon as well.

Slab Sicilian Street Food | 25 Preble St. Portland, ME 04101

I knew I was going to love Slab the moment I saw the restaurant host; he was wearing a pair of lime green hot pants and singing along to Just a Girl by No Doubt. Also, the slices of pizza were as big as my head. Sorry, I shouldn’t say “slice”; they are referred to as “slabs” and serving sizes are measured in pounds. POUNDS. Be sure to order the Crisps and Dip starter with the White Bean dip and the original slab pizza. And if it’s Sunday…try the Hangover Wedge; who knew potatoes on pizza could be so amazing?

Slab also has an extensive drink list of micro brews and ciders. Jon and I both ordered one hard cider and one IPA. Yes…that dark brown liquid in Jon’s glass is not a stout or a porter or a brown ale. It is an IPA. I want to say it was Doom IPA from Founders (a Michigan brewing company); whatever it was, it was over 12% apv, and it tasted like regret.

Coast City Comics | 634 Congress St. Portland, ME 04103

Okay, so we didn’t come to Portland for the nerd culture, but when we found it we were delighted. Coast City Comics had shelves upon shelves of graphic novels, and in the back of the shop, there were several pinball machines waiting for us to spend our quarters. We spent an afternoon here playing games, browsing through graphic novels to add to our collection, and picking out t-shirts featuring artwork from local artists.

It’s been over a year since Jon and I took the much-needed, week-long vacation to Portland, Maine, and not a month goes by where I don’t think about it. It was probably the best vacation I’ve ever taken, and the only reason we ended up there is because airfare to Maine was the cheapest, ha! It is the vacation I measure all future vacations against (which actually kind of sucks because I didn’t anticipate booking THE BEST VACATION EVER on my first try). I think that had less to do with me though and more to do with how incredible the city is.

Our vacation to Portland also encouraged us to set the life goal of visiting every state in the U.S. for vacation. Pre-baby, we had set our sights on visiting Montana or Massachusetts or Alaska next, but now I think we will stay a little closer to home (Ohio? Wisconsin? Indiana?) until Oliver is a little older and won’t wail on airplanes.

What is your favorite vacation experience? Have you ever visited Maine? What are some places you would love to visit for vacation?

Wandering Through Chicago

Chicago Night

I don’t know what I was thinking when I accepted an invitation to visit Chicago at “month end” (ie. the beginning of October. Accounting is weird like that). It’s the worst time to be away from work when you’re a bookkeeper, but I decided to ignore the anxiety brewing in my chest anyway; I submitted a time off request, booked a round-trip train ticket for $54 (how can you beat that price?!), and tried to push the thought of having to complete three days worth of work in 1.5 days out of my mind.

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Wandering Through North Dakota

Walking in North Dakota

After reading Greyhound by Steffan Piper, I couldn’t help but reminisce about my most recent cross-country trip.  And by recent, I mean a trip I made in August 2008.

I’d always wanted to ride a train.  There is something so fantastic about trains, assuming of course you don’t live right by a railroad where a train roars through at 3:00 in the morning as I did for the past three years.  Still, to me, they seem like magnificent, old relics of the past.  Or even better, they are full of magic and take people to places like Hogwarts!  But, who has time to take a train anymore?  With business meetings to attend or families to help take care of, taking a 23 hour train ride to a destination is preposterous especially when planes cut the travel time down by 21 hours.  So, when my brother invited me to visit him in Cavalier, North Dakota, I decided I’d make an experience out of it and take a train cross-country.

The train was a mammoth!  I’d only ever seen the piddly Amtrak that came through town– from Chicago to Detroit.  But, the one I rode from Chicago to Fargo was a double-decker and incredibly spacious!  I’d packed all sorts of things to keep me entertained, but not once during the 23 hours trip did I get bored.  Looking out the window as we passed through each state was entertainment enough.  It was so beautiful.  I only wish I would have had the courage to find the lounge car with the big picture windows. What a thrill it would have been to see the land like this.

I felt pretty accomplished knowing I could check North Dakota off my list of States to Visit Before I Die (unofficial name).  The land was so flat and sparse which made the North Dakota sky seem extra big compared to Michigan’s sky.  The only things that occupied the sides of the road were sprawling fields of sunflowers, abandoned farmhouses, power lines, and…well, actually, that’s it.  There was much more in Fargo, but I was hours north of any city that would be considered “big”; Pembina county only had a population of 1,500.  There wasn’t a whole lot to see or do, but I’d go back in a heart beat.  It was nice to be away from my hectic college town.

My brother has since relocated to Colorado; he moves around a lot because he’s in the Air Force.  He much prefers Colorado over North Dakota since there is much more to do.  I’ll actually be visiting him at the end of March.  Sadly, I’ll be stuffed onto a plane instead of a train.  I dislike planes.  They fill me with such fear!

Have you ever ridden on a train?  What did you think of it?  Have you ever made a cross-country trip before?