Zero Optional Equipment.

Hello…so I’ve been gone for a minute.

Probably the longest minute I’ve been gone in the 13 years I’ve been writing here (an anniversary that passed during my absence. Happy anniversary, self!)


So you remember last fall when I introduced you to Karen Walker

She was my special friend, that lovely ovarian cyst that was responsible for all things horrible and terrible in my August and September.

Yeah, well, so Karen didn’t exactly appreciate me talking about her behind her little cysty back….So for every month following that post (with the glorious exception of October), she sent a new cyst friend (or two) for me to meet, bringing various and horrible issues along with it.

And finally, after more sonograms than I received when I was pregnant and a Gynecologist change (I went back to the practice from which I wandered when, right after performing my hysterectomy, my doctor fled to Africa. Did you follow that? The main takeaway is that I scare doctors to the other side of the world), in mid-January, I finally had surgery to remove whatever iteration of Karen was with me at the time.

But, since the doctor was in there, he decided to do an extraordinarily deep Spring Clean to make sure there was NOTHING left that could EVER go bad again.

And, seeing as I’ve already had to have my tonsils, uterus, gall bladder, and even a foot bone removed, I didn’t fault him for his preemptive strike at all of my remaining optional features, leaving me as a stripped down DX model with crank windows and a stick shift. I’m not even sure if I have power steering anymore.

He removed…
– My right ovary (leaving only my left ovary to tote the hormonal load, whom Chris has named “Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, officially Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Rachel and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith” – no pressure, lefty),
– The current ovarian cyst, Karen Walker 4.0,
– My appendix (which was apparently inflamed and irritable – probably because she thought Karen was the worst as well),
– Leftover scar tissue from two c-sections and a hysterectomy,
– Endometriosis I didn’t know I had (which was probably looking for its Mommy, my uterus, and crying in a corner because she was already gone),
– A few bits and pieces of things he found here and there that he didn’t like the look of.

So the right side of my body is an empty shell. An unfinished basement. An Easter Bunny that you thought was solid but made you cry because it was very, very hollow.

I’ve now had nine lifetime surgeries, so my CARFAX isn’t great. Fortunately, Chris and I are celebrating our twentieth anniversary in a couple of months (though we’ve already begun because why not have a Twentieth Anniversary Season), and he shows no signs of wanting to trade me in.

This week I’ve started to get my energy back, and I’m seeing improvements over my pre-surgery time spent with Karen. So I think it’s about time to plan her belated goodbye party.

… I needed to wait until she couldn’t be invited.

But we’ll be sure to celebrate Her Majesty Lefty’s ascension to the throne.

Carving Out Time in December

From a distance, December always looks like this euphoria of slow, quiet days and a relaxing break from school.

In reality, December becomes a crazed sprint of shopping, planning, gathering, familying, Christmasing, and Birthdaying.

With two children’s birthdays sandwiching Christmas, there’s never a lull in my to-do list. And then I end up in mid-January, shaking my head dizzily, wondering “What happened and how did I get here?”

This year, though, I happened upon the perfect relaxing craft to help me stop and breathe during December. And I immediately had a vision for how the kids and I could do it together and incorporate it into two different Christmas projects.

The craft is stamp carving, which I found via Instagram via @CraftyHope, and further delved into the deep end of stamp carving wonder in the #CarveDecember hashtag – seriously – when you need a calming moment, go search that hashtag on Instagram. It was so lovely I literally dreamed about it. The process just looked so satisfying. So delightful. So patternous.

The Carve December challenge was started by Julie Balzer of Balzer Designs, and she has some great tutorials and information about stamp carving on her site.

And shockingly, it was not an unattainable art – even my very first attempt.

Now. Mine aren’t nearly as perfect and detailed and artistic as the magical people on Instagram, but I was pretty amazed at how simple it was and how I DIDN’T immediately screw it up with my complete lack of artistic abilities.



Furthermore, it was something that both the kids could easily do without my help or much instruction, and they made some pretty amazing designs.

Okay – they’re actually better at it than I am.

So we used our cleaned-off-for-the-holidays school table and set up an entire stamping extravaganza. It is a glorious mess. A mess that I highly recommend.

It takes very few supplies, and is quite simple.

The three main supplies you need are:

  1. A very small carving tool – I’ve only used the narrowest tip. If you want to be really precise, get this one or this one – they have 1mm tips, but are a bit more expensive.
  2. Rubber Stamp Carving Blocks (it’s kinda like eraser material). The pink ones are the standard ones, but these white ones are extra smooth.
  3. Stamp pads – I prefer super dark ones, and this brand delivers:

Other things you’ll need on hand that you probably already have: paper (the thicker the better), a pencil, a ruler, an x-acto knife or something like it, something safe to cut on (I like this cutting mat) and some damp paper towels for your fingertips.

The steps are:

  1. Cut your rubber into small squares (I prefer 1 inch squares) – this is what I use the x-acto knife for, after measuring it out with the ruler. If you’re doing squares, you’re going to want it to be even for repeated designs.
  2. Draw out what you want your design to be with a pencil, or don’t if you’re going to freehand.
  3. Carve your design, scooping away from your body with the tool. Be sure to hold your mouth right.

4. Stamp it in a satisfying pattern. If it doesn’t look great – keep going. The more you stamp it, the better your pattern will look.

5. Branch out into triangles or hexagons or circles – why not?






The other fun thing to do is to figure out all the different patterns you can make with the same stamp. I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of the full therapeutic value this can bring me, because geometric patterns make me SO VERY HAPPY.

I’ll save our bigger project involving our stamps for a separate post after Christmas, but the first project we used our new-found skillz on were gift tags. It was so easy and fun to make patterns on cardstock, cut them out, and tape them onto presents using our go-to Washi Tape decor.


So if you need a cold January craft, or a quarantine craft, or just some satisfying repetitive patterns to make you feel like you accomplished something, I highly recommend stamp carving. It’s done wonders for the inner calmness of my holiday season.

Birdlet, The Overly Friendly Woodland Animal.

Yesterday as we were leaving a hike at Ross Bridge, there was an extraordinarily tiny bird hopping after Luke, one of my kid’s friends, as he got in the car to leave. I found the bird’s actions strange, and Ross Bridge Parkway is a busy place for a strange bird, so we got out of our car to check on him. Noah, with his typical 9-year-old boy no-holds-barred enthusiasm, ran up to the tiny birdlet. But instead of startling or flying away, the bird just enthusiastically hopped around Noah’s feet, presumedly saying “are you my Mommy?”

So of course I assumed the bird was hurt. One does not simply “hop” around a human.

I asked my other friend, Ashley, who had just driven up to check on the commotion, if she had a box in her car – I would take Birdlet to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at Oak Mountain.

She offered me a Chick-Fil-A drink holder, which seemed like asking for a bird-hopping car adventure. But I presented it to Birdlet anyway, and he hopped right in.

Then he hopped from it up onto my arm.

Then my shoulder.

Then down my back.

Then onto the children.

Obviously they were thrilled with this turn of events, as seemed the case for Birdlet, hopping from child to child like they were the best friends he’d always hoped for.

Meanwhile I was just puzzled. He didn’t seem hurt, but he definitely didn’t seem…normal. What the heck is the bird doing? Does he need rehab or not? Perhaps I shouldn’t be so stringent with my bird behavior normalization. But Ross Bridge Parkway is a busy road!! It’s not a good place for overlovable birds to hang out!

Ashley found a big plastic container, which Noah took and stabbed holes in the lid for air, and we mentioned the rehab center again.

At which point, apropos of nothing (except the mention of rehab), Birdlet jumped off of Ali and expertly flew away into the woods. As if the love potion had worn off and he was back to being a normal, aloof, woodland creature.

(Either that or Cinderella called and said she needed help with chores.)

I said “Well. That answers that question.”

Noah said “At least we helped him face his fear of flying.”

And I’ve had Amy Winehouse stuck in my head ever since. Because if it wasn’t about Birdlet, it’s about nothing at all.


The Conclusion of Maine – Days Six and Seven.

We have arrived – at last – to my final post about Maine. So that means I may leave immediately to go back to Maine, right?

Saturday was our longest road trip day – there were a couple of high priority tourist destinations that I wanted to experience that were an hour and a half up the coast from where we stayed, so I saved them to do with Chris.

We started in Rockland at the Breakwater. The Breakwater is a mile-long walkway made of giant-sized stones of granite all put together like a puzzle. It is the windiest place on earth, and the most incredible and unique experience we had in Maine.

 

Facts about The Breakwater:
– 1 mile long
– 700,000 tons of granite, but only cost $750,000 to build
– Was built between 1881 and 1899
-The lighthouse at the end of it came years later (and was the least interesting part of the experience)
– The purpose was to protect the city from storm damage

We walked down it, with dozens of other tourists (so far this had been the most crowded thing we’d done) and the further we got, the stronger the wind got. I had never been so thankful that I’d braided my hair, and for a mask – we wore them for the express purpose of our lips not flying off.

There were several gusts of wind that sent me a couple steps to the left or right – and there were little kids out there!

It was actually kind of scary to watch those tiny humans get pushed around by the wind. We got to the end, where the lighthouse was, and walked around to the side of the lighthouse where we were protected from the wind, and breathed a sigh of relief. 

Then I immediately smelled pot.

I looked up to the balcony above us and saw the guy calmly smoking his weed a mile out into the ocean next to a lighthouse. I guess after that chill-removing-wind, he needed it.

This was also when I realized that marijuana must be legal in Maine. Maybe it helps with all the wind burn.

We walked up to the second deck (after Mr. WeedCloud left) and sat on the benches for a few minutes, watching all the people struggle to get down the boardwalk, and taking pictures.

The experience had been completely incredible. It’s the kind of thing that is not at all comfortable or “fun”, but it is so insanely spectacular and different that it’s invigorating and gives you a level of glee and accomplishment and like you’ve “experienced” something amazing. We disagreed on whether Noah would have complained and hated every step (Chris) or whether he’d be screaming at the top of his lungs “THIS IS SO FUN!!!” (me.)

(For the record, later when I described it to Noah, he said he would hate it. I’m still not convinced.)

The walk back was a little easier – the wind was pushing us back down the breakwater, away from its lair. We got to the car and again smelled pot. And then a pile of 6 giggling 20-somethings all piled out of the car next to us, along with long curls of thick white smoke. At this point I was surprised that it had taken me this long in a legal state to run into it, but this was our “tourist destination day” – all my other travels had been to fairly low-key, solitary places that I had only shared with seal/dog ghosts.

We left Rockland and drove 15 minutes further north to Camden. Camden is the Number Two coastal destination in Maine, second only to Bar Harbor. I had considered staying in a hotel there, but first had Google street-viewed the city and realized it was packed out with tourists, and looked like Gatlinburg by the sea. But it was still cute, and mainly I wanted to see it from Mount Battie, a mountain in Camden Hills State Park with a view of the huge Penobscot Bay. We had previously planned on hiking 2.5 miles up Mount Battie, but after our workout at The Breakwater, we easily agreed that we were up for the drive to the top. 

The line to get into the state park was intensely long, and we began doubting ourselves, but waited it out anyway. They were taking people’s money in fishing nets, then handing them maps back in fishing nets. Netting money is slow.

We drove up the winding road and we were so glad we had – the view was amazing. As Chris said, it was almost too much to take in – too glorious to really grasp what you were looking at.




The blue seas, the fall colors, the adorable Camden Bay full of boats…it was just lovely. There were a lot of people up there, but it wasn’t too hard to find a quiet, unobstructed view of the bay below.

One thing we found most fascinating is that even though they were 22 minutes away from each other by road, we could see Mount Battie from the Breakwater,

And the Breakwater from Mount Battie.

We drove back down into Camden with the purpose of shopping and eating, but the traffic was unreal. Chris found a side street to get into town and park. I was already SO GLAD I hadn’t decided to actually stay in Camden. Oh My Gosh this was NOT the Maine I was looking for – give me my quiet little peninsula with not a store for 20 minutes every time.

But it really was precious…when you pushed out of the crowd.

We went in some little shops and got souvenirs for the kids, then went to the wharf to eat. The restaurant I had pre-chosen in my itinerary had a 50 minute wait (even though it was 3pm), but they were calling people on their cell phones, so we put our names down. But I was feeling less and less enchanted by Camden by the moment and more and more annoyed by the hoards of tourists. So we walked a little further then decided we’d rather drive 15 minutes back to Rockland (which was a quieter, quainter tourist town) to eat rather than eating in this tourist nightmare.

Luckily, when I’d itinerized, I’d already chosen a Rockland restaurant too, so no stress. We drove two towns over, parked, were seated, and had ordered food before we got our call from Camden telling us our table was ready. And the restaurant we chose in Rockland was SO MUCH BETTER – the chef had won Bobby Flay’s throwdown with her Triple Decker Lobster BLT, so of course Chris got that.

(Which was $30. A THIRTY DOLLAR SANDWICH. Chris said it’s the first time he’d ever seen a $30 sandwich on a menu so obviously he had to try it.)

(As I write this, in justification, he said “It did come with a side of fries…and it had three slices of toasted sourdough bread!!”)

But the lobster dip was the best seafood dip I’d ever had.

We were quite happy with our choice, and I really have no desire to ever go to Camden again. And if Camden was that bad, without cruise ships or as many tourists (thanks to COVID), I never ever ever ever want to go to Bar Harbor.

We happily headed back to our quiet little peninsula and caught the sunset over Bath on the way.

Sunday was our last day. It was time to go home, but not until late that afternoon.

We woke up and had coffee, then walked around the resort a bit,

stopping by the front desk and asking for a late checkout. They said no problem, we could stay till noon. So we decided to get in one more hike on our peninsula. There are over 31 miles of trails and a dozen nature preserves just on our uninhabited peninsula, and we’d only been to a couple of them! There’s so much to explore in Maine that I was already aching to stay for months.

So we got ready and went to Bates-Morse Conservation Area – a supposedly lovely 2 mile walk through forest and mountaintops and overlooking swamps and beach that takes you to an otherwise inaccessible beach. It was just a few minutes away, but when we arrived, Maine’s sign love was in full force – there were four signs telling us…

The parking lot is full

Turn around. 

Do not drive up to the parking lot.

Turn around right here.

Do not hike in.

There is no other parking.

There is no other access.

Leave and go somewhere else.

Chris was all like “It’s 9:15 on a Sunday morning!! It can’t be full. They just left the signs out from yesterday. Maine just really likes signs. Drive up there and see.”

I didn’t want to, but I drove up the gravel road and we saw the parking lot to the left – and a bonafide guard shack (every state park we’d been to had been unmanned and had the honor system to pay, but this random conservation area on our uninhabited peninsula had a guy??) 

A guy steps out and starts walking toward us.

I said “I told you!!” 

Chris rolled down his window.

I said apologetically “I’m just turning around!”

Chris said “So is the parking lot full?”

The man looked sardonically at the backside of all his signs. “APPARENTLY.” And gave us the most wilting you-are-such-imbeciles look of all time.

I got out of there as quickly as I could. Scary angry man in the middle of Maine forest isn’t my go-to way to spend my vacation.

But I had a backup plan. I took Chris back to Popham Fort, where I’d gone on my first day for sunset. I had been wanting to go back there anyway, especially since the waitress had told me that’s where the sea lions hung out and I had yet to see any sea lions (or moose or whales, but who’s counting.)

Chris loved the 360 beauty of the fort area – rocky beach, old fort, sandy beach, adorable little town with a church next to the waterfront, fall colors…it was perfect. We explored the fort and pondered how weird it was that we’d been to two forts from the civil war from opposite sides this year (Fort Morgan in Alabama was the other.) By the way – in Maine they call the Civil War “The Great Rebellion”… which is quite different than “The War of Northern Aggression” that some people call it down here.

Just up the hill from Fort Popham is Fort Baldwin, an older fort that looks out over Popham. So we drove up there as well. The placard info was really interesting. The first settlement came in 1607, built a ship called The Virginia to go up and down the Kennebec river, then a year later decided to go back to England – and used the ship they’d built here to do so. Then another settlement came to the New World in their ship – to Jamestown – and settled. And used the ship built in Maine for many years from Jamestown. And that is where Maine’s shipbuilding industry started. Everything is so much older in Maine than in Alabama – I bet Maine History takes a lot longer than Alabama History.

There was a trail off behind Fort Baldwin, so we walked it for a few minutes. It was lovely and quiet and unique, and our last hike in Maine.


 

Then we headed back to the room, packed up, and checked out.

Our flight wasn’t until 5, so we had time to walk around a city a little more – Chris picked Portland. Which ended up also being super crowded and zero bathrooms for anyone to use (including gas station, starbucks, anywhere.) We finally found a tiny brand new Mexican Restaurant – Jefe Juan’s – to get a lunch snack and blessedly use the bathroom before heading to the airport. It was quite delicious (ceviche tacos) and a perfect last meal before heading off.

First class upgrades had been really inexpensive at check in, and Chris had urged me to get them the day before, which was a perfect way to not feel so anticlimactic about leaving. It was quite cozy and restful in our large, oversized, comfortable seats on the way home and it really helped medicate my “adventure’s over” melancholy. 

It’s been nearly two months since I was in Maine (I know – it took me forever to tell this story), and yet I still ache for it every day. I’m actually glad that tourist season ended a week after I left, because if there were a possibility of going back RIGHT NOW, I’d probably be scheming every way I could to make it happen.

Maine Days Four and Five: Adding a Second to the Trip.

Day four was to be my last day alone – that evening I would be picking Chris up from the airport to join me!

I loved every minute of my silence and solitude, but I was more excited to show Chris the wonderland that was Maine – I felt like I’d discovered a New World, and I couldn’t wait to be tour guide to my husband (and quietly convince him that we needed to come here every fall.)

I stuck to the itinerary better on this day than any other – the plan was to move south, very slowly, and end up in Portland to pick Chris up that night. The first stop was one peninsula south, which was really a peninsula then two islands at the tip of the peninsula, to go to Giant’s Stairs, which were massive rocks at the shore, with one section of large rock “stairs” to get down to the rest of the area. The stairs were big enough that I was a little scared to climb down them with no one there to know if I fell, so I texted Chris and told him where he could find my body.

They were fine and really not as bad as they looked – I just had to sit down on each stair and hop down to the next one.

There was a little valley of rocks and barnacles and mussels – so many barnacles and mussels! The rocks were really shimmery and pretty as well, and had cool veins of clear rock throughout. Then there was another shadowy set of stairs, and then you could climb up onto a ledge and be above the ocean. It was all quite large in scale and spectacular.

After that I started driving back up the peninsula, but stopped at several places to take pictures of the quaint fishing village. 

The winds were still high, but they were highest where I ate lunch – it was a peninsula on the peninsula and the wind was so hard the car was rocking after I parked, and I had to bend in half to walk to the restaurant like Jim Cantore in a hurricane.

To eat at any restaurant in Maine, they take your name and phone number for contact tracing. This restaurant let me fill it out for myself. I felt like I left my number all over the state, but I received no contact tracing calls from it (as much as I would have liked for them to tell me I wasn’t allowed to leave…)

This was my last meal alone. I realized one of the reasons I don’t prioritize food when I travel alone is that, besides the fact that it’s weird eating in a restaurant alone, I really just don’t care about or like food as much when eating by myself. So it was fine, but not amazing. But the view was good, and there was a pirate ship out my window, and lobster traps in a pile outside the restaurant, which lended credence to its freshness.


I left lunch and got off the islands, off the peninsula, back on the highway, and headed for Portland. My next stop was another island that was also a state park and also a school for the deaf.

It was called Mackworth Island, but it was also called Fairy House Island because they have several areas in the woods where they encourage you to use found items to build fairy houses.

But there was also a pet cemetery on the island, where a former Governor really went through a lot of dogs.


So perhaps it’s not fairies that live on the islands, but ghosts of dogs pretending to be fairies so that people will build them doghouses for their little ghosty doggy souls. It is Maine, after all. and Maine is an Extraordinarily Creepy Place.

The island had a 1.25 mile loop trail around the outside of it, which was unbelievably windy on one side, and quite pleasant on the other. 

Then I continued my journey southward and headed to the Portland Head Lighthouse next. The lighthouse itself closes early in the day, but the grounds and trails around it were open, so I walked the Cliff Walk, again with all the wind, and got some cool pictures of the lighthouse.

I was kind of done with the whole wind thing for the day – my face ached and was so wrinkly from scrunching up against the wind and sun, so I headed to downtown Portland.

I went in a couple shops, then found what I thought was a coffee shop to take refuge from the wind in while I waited on Chris’ plane to land. I ordered a Capuccino and cheezecake (“why the z?”, I wondered) and sat in quietly, ignoring the fact that sunset was happening outside and I should care about photographing it, but basking in the stillness of the indoor air.

I took my first bite of cheezecake and realized that something was up – I mean it was not awful but it was NOT cheesecake. I googled my coffee shop, and as it turns out, I was in a plant-based, vegan, gluten-free, allergen-free, everything-free restaurant. I clicked on “cheezecake” – what had they made this stuff with? Everything-free nothing is what they made it with.

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So cheezecake clearly counted as a vegetable instead of my official birthday dessert.

I picked Chris up from the airport, and we headed back downtown to eat. It was in the 40s and there were still gale-force winds, but there were people eating on the restaurant’s deck. And when we walked in, they asked us if we’d prefer to eat inside or out.

These Maine people take every bit of outdoor “warmth” they can get before winter hits.

Inside they had these delightfully cozy couch dining areas, which we took full advantage of. We had a lovely meal of catching up.

I was curious as to how it would feel to talk again – it was now Thursday night, and I hadn’t talked to anyone, other than waiters and front desk staff, since Monday morning – not even a single phone call or Facetime with my family. I did feel as if Chris was talking really fast and saying a whole lot – I think it was just the shock of words formed into paragraphs again. And halfway through dinner I felt like my voice got a little hoarse. It was like “Oh so we’re talking again are we?”

After dinner, I drove us back to the resort. I’ve gotten used to all the curvy Maine roads and my little Rental Rogue, so I didn’t want Chris to have to drive and figure it out in the dark. We saw what we think was a baby bear, then a fox cross the road – Chris was already being good luck in the creature spotting category.

Friday – My Birthday.

I’d spent four days exploring new places and taking risks at things being great or not, so for my birthday, I wanted to take Chris back to the “best of” places I’d been and re-enjoy them with him. And I wanted to take our time and relax and not be in a hurry.

We sat on the balcony and drank coffee, and as we were sitting there, a bald eagle came and perched on the top of the tree one house over. I couldn’t believe it. I quietly freaked out to point him out to Chris, then quietly went in to get my camera.

He let me get about six shots in before he flew away, and I was so excited. Clearly Chris was EXCELLENT luck in the creature category. Maybe now I’d find my moose.

Chris cracked me up on the way to breakfast. He was more covered than he’d been in his entire life. My husband, who wears shorts and a t-shirt all year round, was wearing actual pants (lyme disease protection), a jacket (wind protection), a mask (COVID protection for breakfast requirements), a hat and sunglasses (sun protection), and he made sure to tell me he was wearing chapstick (lip protection.)


HE WAS INVINCIBLE. And I wasn’t sure if he was my husband.

After breakfast we walked around the resort to familiarize Chris with it, and I showed him all of my favorite adorable touches.

We walked back to the lake and there were two more eagles on it! They looked larger, but they were too far away to take pictures. They were sitting on rocks on opposite sides of the lake staring at each other. It was fantastic.

We got ready for the day’s adventures and I drove us again (I wanted him to look around and see the sights) through Bath (down a few of the roads with the gorgeous houses and churches) and on to Reid State Park – the park with the lagoon, the reversing inlet, the moose prints, and the beaches with the rocks and the fall trees.

We walked down and tracked the MANY moose and deer prints (there seemed to be more this time), then walked up to the rock peaks. The ocean was completely calm this time, as opposed to the violently crashing waves of two days beforehand. The wind was still there, but much less so. 




We decided to reverse the walk I did to get the wind at our backs on the beach, and also add in the 2.2 mile “ski loop trail” to our walk. The trail was lined with Christmas Trees. Some tiny, some huge, some short needled, some long needled. They were adorable. 


The fall trees were also lovely and I kept getting dizzy from looking up.

The loop seemed more than 2.2 miles, but we eventually made it to the beach. We stopped  to eat a snack and enjoy the view, and I found a bigfoot footprint in the rocks.

When we got back to the parking lot, I told Chris that I wanted him to Google and pick a restaurant in Bath while I drove – it was my birthday and I didn’t want to do any more picking. But I did tell him I’d seen what looked like a traditional Maine seafood, so he looked up the one I remembered seeing and after a bit decided on it – Taste of Maine.

It was the quirkiest, weirdest, hugest restaurant. It was like a Cracker Barrel but creepier and less standardized.

There was stuff everywhere – clowns, a full-sized Dobby, lanterns, lobsters, crafts made out of lobster shells, and especially weird stuffed doll/puppets made by a local artist, and also used creatively to socially distance the tables.

But the food was delicious (definitely better because I wasn’t eating alone) and we tried a new sauce called Newburg sauce that was amazing to dip our lobster in.


I also got my REAL birthday dessert there – a very rich peanut butter pie that ended up being three servings worth of dessert.

It was now about 5pm, so I was ready to head back to the resort. We sat on the balcony and drank coffee, watching the gorgeous sunset and the resort’s tour boat going through it.
I got a burst of energy right at sunset, so we hiked up the mountain in the dusk to see the resort from the top – which ended up being really cool because once the sun went down, you could see all the lighthouses on all the peninsulas and islands flashing. We could pick out the lighthouse in Portland, over an hour away, and we could see mountain ranges in Vermont or Massachusetts or both (we couldn’t decide.) 

THEN we were ready to get cleaned up and really relax for the night. It was most likely the best birthday I have ever experienced.

Moose Tracks, Signs, Gales, and Heaven: Maine Day Three.

The day started with my phone alerting me with a gale warning, so I decided to scrap the itenirary for the day, which had included a 1.5 hour drive inland, and limit my adventures to one peninsula over, Georgetown Island. That way I wouldn’t be more than 40 minutes away from my room if I needed to outrun the gale, whatever that was.

Was it wind? Was it rain? Was it going to take me to Oz? Was it a lady with a poorly spelled name? Who knows.

And yes, one peninsula over can be anywhere from a 20-40 minute drive, because you have to go up and out of your peninsula, then down and into the other one. Google Maps doesn’t seem to understand this concept AT ALL, and every time I looked something up that I needed like, say, a grocery store or a restaurant, Google maps would pop up a list of places 2 miles away, but when I clicked “directions”, it would be 40-50 minutes away. Apparently Google thinks I’m grocery shopping via canoe.


2.1 Miles away. Bah, Google.

But I took my time leaving. I ate some snacks I’d bought at the grocery store rather than going to breakfast, and I made sure I had everything I needed, including more snacks, since I planned to stay out until the gale arrived at 3pm, per the local meteorologist. Then I stopped by the gift shop to buy bug spray to help ward off the ticks, and also accidentally bought 3 local fiction books.

My first stop was the Josephine Newman Audobon Sanctuary. It had hiking trails and looked like it might have some pretty views. The road to it was uphill, narrow, rough dirt, and perfect. The signs, however, were a bit scary.

I triple sprayed my legs and tucked my pants and stayed carefully on the trails. But..the drive was 40 minutes, and I needed to pee. And it seemed like a terrible idea to lean against a tree and not a great idea to expose any unnecessary flesh. So I just held it, which probably made the nature preserve slightly less lovely  than it would have been otherwise.
It was a nice hike with pretty views and some lovely trees and really funny squirrels who seemed to want to be my friend and to also to beat box with me and also to scare me away.

But I wasn’t blown away. Although lovely, it wasn’t different enough to feel like I was in another world.

And I needed to pee. And I was struck by the weirdness that somehow I’ve gone from feeling like I should worry about contracting COVID from a public restroom to contracting Lyme from squatting in the forest.

It’s a weird world.

Also, the irony is not lost on me that I refer to Alabama as the The Hunger Games Arena because we have so many items nature that want to kill us, yet I don’t think twice about any of those things when I enter our woods, yet I go to Maine and fear the ONE THING (that is microscopic and therefore somehow freakier) that they have.

(I’m not afraid of their moose, which I hear I’m supposed to be. I really wanna see a moose. But not a deer tick.)

I decided to head to the state park further down the same peninsula next – Reid State Park, up against the ocean, which blessedly had bathrooms, though they were one-way bathrooms – with 25 signs to make sure you knew it.

Me and the zero other people in the bathrooms definitely felt safer from COVID for their efforts.

Maine LOVES signs. This state park showed that off repeatedly, such as their very specific closing time at sunset,

Their warnings about how the ocean and also moisture works,

And their prejudice against horses.

But despite the signs, THIS was the park I was looking for – it absolutely blew me away. This tree said “same.”

It had a lagoon behind the ocean with wide fields and lovely trees and MOOSE PRINTS.

The shore had  giant rocks and Christmas trees on the rocks.

The waves were the biggest I’d seen here yet.

People had built impressive structures out of driftwood.

This one felt very Alligator to me…

And this one circus tent.

It even was outfitted with wind chimes.

And most importantly, you could see FALL FOLIAGE AND THE OCEAN AT THE SAME TIME.

Still no sea lions or actual moose spottings, but it was perfect. I walked a mile down the beach, then walked back on the road, and I was so glad I did because the road had the prettiest leaves.

There were also reversing tidal streams that filled and emptied the large lagoon – the ocean was pumping water into the lagoon when I arrived, and out of it when I left.

This park is when I was finally completely overwhelmed by how perfect Maine is. It’s everything I hoped and so much more.

I was parched and starving by the time I got back to my car – the wind had really taken it out of me. It was starting to look weird and overcast, but no rain was on the radar, so I decided to make a lighthouse stop before I headed back. 

Right outside the state park, though, a really large deer crossed the road in front of me, stopped on the side, waited for me to quit staring at her and start driving, then crossed the road again behind me. I reached my phone out the window and shot a picture blindly. This photo has zero edits – except to crop out the side of the car. Maine needs nothing to be dreamy – just a blind iPhone shot behind your car.
The lighthouse on the way back was a couple miles down a gravel/dirt/mud road. It was privately owned, but there were many signs luring lonely travelers to it, because Maine Loves Signs. It felt a bit creepy, but I went with it. And it was adorable.

But as I got out of the car, it was exactly 3pm, and it started to rain. Because Maine weather is apparently very punctual. So I didn’t have long to shoot pictures at the lighthouse, but I did walk all the way out to the end of its boardwalk and turned the door handle – and I swear there was a dog or sea lion or ghost dog on the other side of the door that started whining and barking at me.

Then as I got back in the car, the lighthouse light started flashing.

Stephen King is from Maine for a reason.

The state is creepy as crap.

And I don’t hate it.

I came back through “town” to head down my peninsula, and it was shift change at Bath Iron Works, which appears to be currently building a cruise ship and a Navy ship.  There were literally hundreds of hardy men pouring out of the iron works, and a few dozen hardy looking women.

They didn’t care that I and others were driving – they clearly had the right of way. It looked like Lumberjack School just let out – it was an incredible scene to attempt to drive through.

(Speaking of hardy people, there are no diva women in Maine. They do not wear Lululemon and they are not Ladies who Lunch after getting a spray tan and acrylic nails. They are full-on LL Bean, cargo pants, Hiking boots, sensible cropped hair, and their jaws are set like they’ve walked into many a gale in the middle of a snowstorm in the middle of an ice lake while having an arm wrestling competition to see who pays for the twentieth round of beer.) 

(Several of my friends could definitely not survive Maine at its harshest.)

(And also I could not.)

I finally made it through Lumberjack Rush Hour and to the resort, where I showered (and scrubbed my head really really well because Maine Loves Signs About Their Ticks), then  walked below my room for sunset.

The gale was still offshore – I could see it in the distance. But as soon as the sun went down, it hit me smack on the shore, blowing me nearly over. It made the sunset spectacular, though, and I loved every minute.




By then I was super hungry – it was 6:45pm, and I hadn’t eaten a hot meal since 4pm the day before, because food is not high on my priority list when I travel alone.

I fought my way through the gale (just wind, no rain) to the restaurant and had a nice quiet meal. It was the first time I’ve ever eaten Haddock – which is apparently a local fish around here. I’m always leery of new fish because I want my fish flaky (not chewy) and light (not fishy). But this was exactly the way I like it – and so, so fresh. Yay for Haddock.

The walk back in the gale was quite bracing. The Rogue had definitely been gale-hit. The poor nondescript Rogue was nondescript no longer.

The Maine Diaries: Days One and Two.

I did a lot of research before going to Maine, because every time I thought I’d found the end to the goodness of the state, I’d come upon something else and be like “WHAT?! There’s a mile long granite walkway into the ocean that ends at a LIGHTHOUSE?! And I’m just finding this now??” and I’d keep researching, for fear of missing something even more amazing.

My vision of what I wanted to experience in Maine included these main points:
– Fall colors
– Quiet rocky coastlines
– Lighthouses
– High views of bays below
– Moose, Whales, and Puffins

I experienced all but the last point, but I did see a bald eagle instead of moose, whales, or puffins. I wasn’t willing to go on a boat tour to see the whales and puffins (and they weren’t willing to visit me on shore – rude), but I did find a bunch of moose tracks, but no moose at the end of them.

What I didn’t want:
– touristy locales
– crowds
– aforementioned boat rides

To miss hoards of tourists, this was the absolute perfect year to go – since international tourists are almost at zero due to COVID, there are no cruise ships docking, and even domestic tourists are subject to stringent requirements (we had to get negative COVID tests within 72 hours of traveling), it’s the least crowded year ever.

Because I would have half the trip to myself and half with Chris, and I wanted to maximize my time and not spend it trying to decide what to do each day, I actually made my first ever travel itinerary.Chris is the travel planner in our family – I usually make it up as I go along or happily go with his plan. I didn’t stick to it perfectly, but having the options already laid out with travel times between them and pre-chosen restaurants in each town took the chaos out of last minute changes. I might even make an itinerary again some day.

So. It might be too much for anyone, but a lot of you have told me that you also pine for a trip to Maine, and have asked me for the details of my trip so that you can plan yours. I kept a diary each day while I was gone that I sent to a few of my friends who wanted to know what exactly I would do all alone on the other side of the country, so this is a shortened(!) version of that diary.

Monday.

I didn’t sleep well the night before, and we got up at 5am to get me to the airport in time for my flight. So I was sleepy, but excited. Security made me more nervous than normal, but I had no Paris-like incidents.

It was only two flights, and a total travel time of less than six hours. Miraculously I had no one beside me on my first flight. That made it a nice slow entry into the world of COVID air travel. The stewardess assured us that the plane had been thoroughly sanitized before we got on, and handed us all an antibacterial wipe as we boarded. They were quite strict that we could not taxi until everyone was wearing their masks PROPERLY (“Sir put your mask OVER YOUR NOSE”) and we had to keep it on the entire flight. I had a feeling that the plane smelled AMAZINGLY clean, but I couldn’t know for sure.

On the next flight I had a lady next to me, but we did our best to keep our distance. As we dipped down to land, I thought I saw hills covered in red flowers. Until I realized they were hills covered in red trees. I had finally arrived in fall.

The Portland airport is Birmingham-sized or smaller, but they have a stuffed moose. Which I definitely took a picture of just in case I couldn’t find a real moose while I was there. I was determined to try, though.

I got my rental car – a tiny nondescript silver Nissan Rogue, and decided to drive down to Old Port (the restaurant / tourist district of Portland) before I decided whether I’d deviate from my plan or not. I did deviate. It was too crowded and touristy and parking-metery and not what I came to Maine to experience. So even though I hadn’t eaten since 6am, I forged ahead and left Portland behind.

Half an hour away, right in between Portland and my destination, is the adorable city of Brunswick. It’s alongside the Androscoggin River, and there’s a pedestrian swinging bridge, a dam, and a lovely Maine Street. I found a restaurant and had lunch outside. The weather was INCREDIBLE – it was both sun-warmed and fall-chilled AT THE SAME TIME.

I had my first ever lobster roll – it was good, but not life-changing. Definitely tasted fresher than any other lobster I’ve ever had, though.

After I ate, I walked back to my car to get my camera. I was distracted by the leaves and wasn’t looking as I pulled on my door handle – which is when I realized that there was a very disturbed looking older lady sitting in the silver Nissan Rogue…that was actually two cars down from my silver Nissan Rogue.

THIS is why I can’t have a nondescript car.

I frantically waved and said apologies and walked quickly to MY silver Nissan Rogue. I was embarrassed enough that I decided to drive away, rather than grabbing my camera and walking, so I drove half a mile to the swinging bridge and walked back and forth over it, taking pictures of it and the river and the leaves.

After that I decided to head on to Sebasco, my home base resort, and arrive before sunset. It was nice arriving before dark, and my balcony faced the sunset and the lighthouse – so abandoning the itinerary on day one was perfect.

I went down below my balcony and climbed on the giant rocks at the shoreline up against the windy Maine Sea and I was so happy and felt “arrived” – this was EXACTLY how I’d envisioned coastal Maine. My “The Penderwicks at Point Mouette” vision had been fulfilled and I couldn’t have been happier.

I sat on the rocks and did nothing for quite a while, just staring at the growing dusk.

 

Tuesday

I woke up at 5am since I went to bed super early because of travel  exhaustion. Sunrise wasn’t until 6:48am, so I tried to go back to sleep, but no luck. So I got up and felt wide awake and surprisingly not hungry considering I’d had nothing but a bag of airline pretzels since 4pm the previous day.

(Maine Planning Note: I forgot how my lonely little peninsula was in the middle of nowhere, and the gift shop at the resort closed at 12:30pm and the closest grocery store was 20 minutes away and after I showered the night before I didn’t feel like getting ready and going to the on-site restaurant…so I had nothing to eat but a tiny bag of pretzels and nothing to drink but water. Chris would have never let that happen.)

The restaurant wouldn’t open till 7:30am, and I realized that since the sunset was a perfect angle from my balcony, I’d need to drive to the other side of the peninsula if I wanted to see the sunrise. So I looked around Google maps to see what I could go to before dawn. There are two public areas on that side: The first is Popham State Park, which is a 2 mile sandy beach that is, based on how big their parking lot is, wildly popular because it’s one of the biggest sandy beaches in Maine. It didn’t open till 9am, and I didn’t come here for sandy beaches, so I wasn’t feeling it. The second was Popham fort, a historic site and old fort a mile further down. It also didn’t open until 9am, but I felt better about it being unique, and about my ability to break and enter at a fort. 

But it was very dark. And I hadn’t been on these roads before. I didn’t want to hit a moose and the roads were windy and narrow. Thankfully I figured out how to use Nissan Rogue’s headlights not too long after pulling out of the resort, and I emailed Chris telling him where I was headed lest he wake up in a few hours and need to fly to Maine and search for my body.

But the adventure of it all gave me bravery.

I passed the state park first, and sure enough, it had a bar down blocking entrance to its giant parking lot. As hoped, it was easier to trespass at the fort. So I parked my Rogue all by itself in a lonely dark lot and walked down the rocks next to the fort.

It was lovely. The sky was a foggy pink, and there was a blinking lighthouse in the distance.


I climbed down the rocks (which I later found out usually houses sea lions, but they weren’t up yet), and I ended up walking down the sandy beach after all.

The village behind the beach was adorable and lovely and fally – the church was so white and New Englandy and reflected in the harbor. I ended up loving the village more than the beach.

There was a restaurant right there – one of the only other eateries on the entire peninsula, and though it advertised breakfast (and I was very hungry by now), it didn’t open until 11:30am – on Thursday. Rude. 

So I drove back to the resort, dumped all my gear, and headed to one of the on-site restaurants. It was on a second floor, and I was the first patron of the day. 

My waitress told me about the aforementioned sea lions, and also pointed out that bald eagles perch amongst the sea birds on the big rock island right in front of my room’s balcony. She told me I could canoe and see the eagle’s nests later, and that I could see whales from the top of Merritt’s mountain, a hiking trail on the resort.

When I walked back to the room, it was windier and colder than it had been that morning, so I decided to go ahead and go to “town” to get the groceries I needed for the room. I drove back to Bath – 20 minutes away. After that, I decided to walk around Bath a bit – it was adorably quaint with extraordinarily old churches and buildings and lovely trees and a riverfront. 


I also found my first perfect tree there, at which I took way too long setting up a solo selfie situation. 

I got back, unpacked my groceries, and decided to check out the resort’s hiking trail, by way of walking by the lake and seeing if I saw any eagles or nests (negative. But I did find Frozen-Christoph’s ice business.)  

Merritt’s Mountain was a magical trail made of the same lovely rocks of the shoreline and covered with some of the most vibrant leaves I’d ever seen. I kept thinking that Maine was ruining Birmingham’s fall forever – these were the colors I always thought leaves SHOULD be. I picked up the best leaves on my hike, then to keep them from blowing away when I got to the top (where there were two nice picnic tables and an incredible view of the resort and harbor), I put them in my hat that I wasn’t wearing.

I took some pictures, and then right before heading back down, took pictures of the leaves – and noticed weird tiny eggs on them.

And then all of a sudden I remembered all of my mom’s warnings throughout my life about deer ticks and lyme disease in Maine. And remembered that I had put those leaves IN MY HAT.

So of course I itched all the way down the mountain, and held my hat out in front of me like it was an extraordinarily dirty diaper.

I stopped in to see the concierge and asked him about deer ticks. He said that he hikes the trails every day, and hasn’t seen a tick since July. But that one should always wear long pants when hiking in Maine.

Oops.

But he did say that he could always feel them (I was worried they were too small to feel) and he really thought I was fine.

I put my hat in a ziploc back to de-tick itself just to make sure.

After that little hike, I decided it was time for a shower. I needed to scrub myself to rid myself of suggestive itching. It was late afternoon but not sunset, so I got dressed and went to the other on-site restaurant for my second meal of the day. It also was excellent. My waiter told me that October 18 is the last day of the season, and the entire resort and all amenities shut down – and that they expect snow shortly thereafter.

Incredible. We wouldn’t even fully be into fall in Alabama on October 18.

After dinner I hurried back to my room, changed into hiking gear, grabbed my camera, and power-walked (without picking up a single leaf) back up Merritt’s Mountain. I passed a couple that was probably hoping to have a more romantic moment at the top of the mountain than they got, seeing as how I was there with a camera.

Oh well – they didn’t make exclusive reservations.

The sunset was lovely, then I headed back down the mountain while it got dark.


I left my sliding balcony door open and listened to the ocean and thought about how exactly perfect this resort was for me. Lovely, quiet, and with all the amenities (except groceries) – but without the people. There were maybe half a dozen other families there during the week, if that. Perfection for an introvert seeking solitude.

If you made it this far, I appreciate your tenacity and/or desire to go to Maine. My next few days included seeing all the sites nearby in Maine – blog post coming soon.

Mainely Alone: Silence and Beauty.

“This is your fall. You should maximize it.”

Chris said those words to me because this would be the first fall in 22 years that we haven’t spent most of our fall Saturdays going to Alabama Football games. (More falls than that for him – since he was 13 – but that’s just my fall count spent footballing.)

I mean, Tuscaloosa is great and all. But fall is my favorite season. And my birthday season. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I get a little (lot) wistful when I look at a football schedule and see five home games in a row, right smack in the middle of peak fall birthdayness.

But COVID. And although Chris did get awarded the opportunity to buy some of the very limited tickets, he opted to forgo attending this strange, strange season.

And so he told me to seize the day and fully appreciate MY fall.

So I replied, “I want to go to Maine. For a week. For my birthday.”

And he said, “Um, that’s not exactly what I had in mind…”

And I said “But you said it was my fall.”

And he said “I was thinking a weekend trip to South Carolina or Georgia or something…”

And I said “I want to go to Maine. In the fall. If I can’t do it in my fall, then when can I do it?”

And he said, “Well okay then.”

That conversation happened over a couple of months, interspersed with great uncertainty of Maine even being a possibility, thanks to Karen. But Karen is behaving (even though right before my trip a sonogram revealed that Karen now has a little sister, Kimmy), and my dream came true.

Chris couldn’t take the entire time off of work, so he told me to go on Monday, enjoy an introverted half-trip, and he’d join me on Thursday, and we would fly home together on Sunday.

I realized some years back that there’s something invigorating in traveling alone. The first time I did it, I got terribly homesick and missed Chris and Ali (no Noah yet). But something clicked the second time I did it and I realized how freeing it is to be emotionally bound to no one within several states of one’s body.

I’ve come to realize that I feel other people’s emotions much more intensely than my own, and they sometimes overwhelm and exhaust me. This year via understanding my Enneagram and spiritual gift more, I’ve become even more aware of this phenomenon, and as such it’s become more overt in its exhaustion of me. So to be completely alone, in another time zone from everyone I love and care for, and only to be surrounded by people that I have zero need to interact with or emotionally feel, is so refreshing and helpful.

(It also helps that Chris knows this about me so he wouldn’t tell me if Ali got a tattoo and Noah broke both his legs while I was gone. Fortunately, I can confirm that no tattoos or broken bones were achieved in my absence.)

So I researched thoroughly, scouring Maine’s incredible 3,478 mile coastline (they have a LOT of peninsulas), to find the exact place my heart desired to go. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be because I had a very specific vision of Maine, and I realized halfway through my research that the most notable destinations did not fit my vision.

My vision was a lonely peninsula. Quiet, uncommercialized, unpopulated, and quaint. With rocky shorelines and sparse houses.

thought I wanted to go to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, until I looked at the Google Street View of Bar Harbor and realized that it was basically Northern Gatlinburg. (Gatlinburg is Southern Code for packed streets and cheesy tourist shops and sidewalks stuffed with tourists.) Then maybe Camden – it looked adorable. Street View: Nope. Same as Bar Harbor.

So I did some research into the setting of one of the books that gave me my desperate vision to visit Maine – The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. Although I ADORE The Penderwicks series (I read them aloud to the kids and then reread them just to myself because middle grade books are the best), the Point Mouette book is a bit of a train wreck – but the setting was so overwhelmingly intoxicating that I noticed it more than the plot. In my research I found the location that inspired the author to create her fictional peninsula.

Then I started searching the peninsulas in that general area, investigating each and every quiet lonely hotel and resort on each and every surrounding peninsula, and finally found the exact place my heart was yearning for: Sebasco Harbor Resort in Phippsburg.

In all my exploring of Maine while I was there (and I did a LOT of exploring, which I will share in another post hopefully next week), I found nowhere I would have rather stayed than Sebasco. It was my Maine Fantasy In Real Life.
I love traveling with Chris and I cherished our days together at the end of the week, but the opportunity to be completely alone for 84 hours while exploring an absolutely gorgeous setting that I’ve always wanted to see was such a unique, healing, worshipful experience.

As I drove through the Maine countryside by myself, seeing fall colors in a vividness that I had only wished fall could be painted in, not having to answer any questions or have my brain split between any tasks, I found myself gravitating toward playing and singing worship music, thanking God for His unbelievably gorgeous creation that I was continually overwhelmed by. And just being silent.

I didn’t talk to anyone except quick commercial exchanges of conversation from Monday morning to Thursday night – not even a single phone call. I texted with Chris and the kids, but I didn’t use my words.

The silence was good for my soul.

It taught me a lot about mental habits I’ve gotten into that need to be addressed. I realized how often my first reaction is internal stress, and began addressing that. By the end of the week, that knee-jerk anxiety when I’d think about something I needed to do, or something I said two weeks ago that might have offended someone, had largely faded away. So much background mental clutter seemed to clear out at the insistence of the silence and beauty.

I also realized how many things I mindlessly do / check / browse on my phone on a daily basis – things that I didn’t even think about doing while I was in Maine. I discovered these habits when I was in Macedonia last year too, but they came back after the trip. This time I’m determined to stay aware and curb my finding mental distractions without even thinking about it.


Overall, the trip gifted me with an internal calmness. Even when I came home and was thrown right back into the chaos of life, including a kid who got sick the night he came home, I felt much more peaceful. I don’t know how long the calm will last, but I definitely think that every introvert (and heck, maybe even extroverts, but I doubt it) needs an occasional trip of natural beauty and silence.



…Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t have some typical misadventures, including accidentally making an elderly lady think I was carjacking her. But that’s for the next post.

Karen, The Unwelcome Ovarian Tenant.

Note to fellow men, from Chris The Husband: Fair warning, this post is about lady things. Lady parts, lady problems, lady doctors, lady procedures, and lady fluids. If you are squeamish about such things, reading this post will be a great help in your desensitization process so you will no longer be squeamish about the magical cave where you entered the world.

“I do NOT understand the woman’s body!!”

That was Noah, not too long ago when the topic of breastfeeding came up, a phenomenon that he had completely forgotten existed. At first he insisted that surely HE did not take part in such atrocities after he was outside my body. Maybe that’s how I fed him when he was inside, but certainly not post-birth. I assured him that actually, he breastfed for 13 months post-birth.

“I do NOT understand the woman’s body!!”

I agree, kid. I agree.

I’ve had approximately 8 weeks of woman’s body unwellness, which started with 3 weeks of scattered unwellness for which I couldn’t decide which doctor I needed to see, so I just put it off, hoping the unwellness would go away. The reason for my uncertainty was because we women have so many vital parts shoved and crammed into one area (was God using those vacuum sealed travel bags when he packed our suitcases?!?) that if one tiny area goes awry, it affects five different categories of organs, and good luck figuring out which one is causing the problem.

Men are so much more…compartmentalized.

By a bit of serendipity, I ended up at the right doctor on the first visit – but not because I chose the right doctor. It went like this..

After three weeks of many and varied issues to which I couldn’t pinpoint the aggressor, I decided that my pain and suffering finally needed to be addressed. So I set an appointment with my gastroenterologist.

Except my gastro is an extraordinarily popular man (I guess that’s why he chose that specialty…to be the Cool Kid…), so he was unavailable – but his nurse practitioner could see me – in a mere four days.

Insert a long weekend out of town spent drinking an entire bottle of Pepto-Bismol and half a bottle of Maalox, along with a significant amount of ibuprofen and Tums.

We were on our way home on a Sunday evening, me somewhat hunched over in pain, counting down the hours until the next morning when I could finally see a professional about my malaise, when I got a voice mail from said professional, letting me know that she had a sick kid and so could not see me the next morning. And I’d have to call in the morning to see if I could reschedule my appointment.

I’d never been so crushed to be stood up by a gastroenterologist’s nurse practitioner in my entire life.

The next morning, I called and made an appointment with her for the following morning, making sure she’d return by then – which they assured me she would.

That afternoon, I got another call. She would actually be out for another day, and there was no one else who could see me, and would I like to schedule an appointment with her for Thursday?

No thank you, Ma’am. I will be dead by Thursday.

So in a fit of Doctor Desperation, I decided to go the other suspected route of specialty and called my gynecologist’s office.

(He and I don’t go very far back, because my long-term OB/GYN relationship ended a week after he gave me a hysterectomy, when he announced to me that he was retiring early to become a medical missionary in Ethiopia. I knew my health issues were complex, but until that moment I did not know that they could motivate doctors to flee to Africa.)

Despite my new and budding relationship status with my replacement gyno, he actually could see me, the very next morning.

YES PLEASE I MIGHT LIVE UNTIL THEN.

So I went into the office and met with his nurse, who seemed somewhat skeptical of my extremely lengthy list of maladies and my professed level of pain, and she said with a twisted half-smile, “Well, your urine is clear, so…”

Lady, my blood and urine has looked clear on every test I’ve ever been subjected to. THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME.

I didn’t say it though. But I must have thought it hard enough that she said “We’ll get you back to sonogram and see if we can see anything.”

The sonogram tech was the much more friendly and the extraordinarily chatty kind of nurse – going on and on about her kids and family and friends and…until she said “OH…oh.”

Which is when she got penitently quiet, while clicking and zooming and screenshotting and measuring. She was trying so hard to remind herself that if she sees something amiss in my body, she’s probably not-so-much allowed to tell me about it – that’s a doctor’s job.

But in then end she couldn’t help herself.

“So have you ever had an Ovarian cyst before?”

“Not that I know of for sure…”

“Well you’ve definitely got one now.”

And she sent me back out to the waiting room to await being called back for my official diagnosis, and to google feverishly to assure myself that ovarian cysts weren’t usually malignant and actually part of the normal female experience.

Then back in a room, back undressed, waiting my turn, reminding myself that it’s totally normal. Totally normal. Totally normal for my ovary to turn on me, the little Benedict Freakin’ Arnold.

My short-term Gyno walked in.

“Well, you’ve got an Ovarian Cyst. But not to worry – it’s clear. We’ll do bloodwork just to make sure, but there should be no cancer. It’s 7 centimeters, which is quite large – normal cysts are 4 centimeters. But we can’t take it out unless it’s 10 centimeters. So it looks like we’ll need to see you back in 4-6 weeks and see if it’s grown or ruptured, which is what it’s supposed to do.”

“Um, but, did you see all the problems I’m having? The cyst is most definitely sitting on my bladder and intestines at once and neither system wants to work.”

“Yes, sorry about that. You’re going to have a very painful month. But I’ll write you a pain pill prescription.”

“But…my bladder…”

“Let me feel the cyst and see how soon it will rupture.”

What he proceeded to do, without telling me first, was to actually attempt to rupture my quite large ovarian cyst. Imagine putting a water balloon under the covers of your bed, then reaching in blindly with one hand and trying to burst it while using your other hand on top of the covers to also help your bursting efforts. Then JIGGLING IT BACK AND FORTH AS HARD AS YOU COULD like you were juggling it from one hand to the other all in an attempt to – actually why would you want to pop a water balloon in the bed? I don’t know.

“It’s pretty thick-walled, so it’s going to take a lot to rupture it. I couldn’t make any progress. But it’s free-floating, so that’s why it’s causing trouble everywhere else.”

I wiped my tears away and said thank you sir may I never have another.

I went home and googled how big 7 centimeters is – estimating measurements is not my strong point, and I needed to visualize what this foreign entity was that had taken root in my already-crowded basement apartment.

7 centimeters is a baseball.

A flipping baseball.

No wonder everything hurt.

And how big would it be to qualify to be removed….well, there was no ball equivalent, but the first thing that came to mind is that 10 centimeters in diameter is the size of a freshly-birthed slightly squeezed baby’s head.

I was unnerved by this object living in me – this object that either had to fulfill its destiny and rupture, causing immense pain and discomfort, or grow to a large enough size to qualify for removal. And in the meantime, it would still be allowed to act quite unthoughtfully toward its host, stumbling around and running into walls and knocking over chairs and falling over and cinching every hose in my body.

As Chris and I walked around the neighborhood that night and considered our new friend, he said, “I think you need to name it.”

“True.”

His first few suggestions, such as Bellatrix LeStrange, were way too intense.

“I can’t have something THAT evil living inside of me. She’s more of an annoying  drunk friend – a friend that you keep around because she really was a great friend at one point, but now she’s just kind of selfish and nutty and causing trouble.”

“So…what about Karen? It goes with the 2020 theme.”

“Karen is too easy. And overused. In my head I’m picturing that character from Will and Grace…that was played by Megan Mullally.  what was her name? She’s exactly what I picture my cyst acting like.”

I Googled.

“Oh. Her name was Karen Walker.”

It was meant to be. She was a Karen after all.

And she came with a whole host of gifs to express my feelings and discomfort of the moment.

Another week went by of all the Karen trouble that Karen could possibly cause.

I functioned when I could, and didn’t function when Karen was misbehaving.

I explained it to the kids, but Noah never picked up on the term “Ovarian Cyst” and instead latched onto my explanation of “Like a bubble” … and for the next many weeks, he said at least four times a day “I hope your bubble leaves soon” or “Is your bubble hurting you?” or “I hope I don’t get a bubble – could I have a bubble? I have a stomachache.”

(“No, son. You don’t have ovaries.”)

(“Oh, good.”)

(“You have no idea.”)

I hoped she’d rupture, I hoped she wouldn’t rupture, I hoped she’d grow, I hoped she wouldn’t grow.

But by the next Wednesday, the pain TURNED.

It got sharp and moved around my body in a whole new way – up into my rib cage, for one.

KAREN, GET YOUR HAND OFF MY RIBS!!

Then I started having trouble taking breaths – It felt like I had to lift a two pound weight with every inhale. Not all the time, but positionally. Driving was the worst because I was sitting out with my arms in front of me – the most constricted position for one’s rib cage.

The next morning, so I called short-term gyno back, and they told me to come in right away.

Another sonogram. Another picture of Karen. I sent her to Chris.

He sent her back to me, but as original art. As a husband should.

Next, a nurse asking “Do you mind if a nurse practitioner student examines you? She needs to know what an abnormal ovary feels like.”

That’s what I’m here for. To train medical professionals on the essence of “abnormal.”

Short-term Gyno came in.

“Well this is good news! It’s ruptured! It’s down to 3 or 4 centimeters, so it’s a slow leak. That’s the best case scenario.”

“But..why can’t I breathe?”

“Well, your diaphragm is inflamed from all the fluid and blood floating around in your body cavity from the rupture. It’s like a giant bruise. You just have to wait until your body reabsorbs it all.”

Okay…well, at least it’s productive pain, right? That’s better than waiting-around-for-this-foreign-object-to-self-destruct pain.

I think.

She got worse, then she got better for a couple days, then she got worse again – much worse this time.

The breathing issues got more severe, and now I was dizzy all the time and blacking out when I stood up.

(Which, granted, can also happen on a bad day of Dysautonomia any old time, but this felt different than my normal normal. This had a touch of KAREN to it.)

Also, I was having trouble thinking clearly. So I didn’t call the doctor until Chris got home and he realized how bad off I was – but by then it was after hours. And when I did call, they told me to go to the Emergency Room to make sure I didn’t have an internal bleeding problem.

So I did. And they were great. And the checked for internal bleeding and blood clots and COVID (because sure) and everything else they could think of, and while they were in there, re-measured Karen (she was down to 2 centimeters now, that tiny little demon,) but ultimately, my diaphragm was still just highly irritated and inflamed from the extreme amount of fluid that can fit inside a Baseball from Hell.

They told me I’d still have a week or so of pain and trouble breathing and sent me on my way.

I’m still recovering, and Karen will have another measurement in a week to see if she’s decided to vacate the basement apartment or stick around for another round of fun.

And meanwhile, Karen’s having the time of her life and completely oblivious to the fact that she’s slowly shrinking, which is kind of like her peeing on herself. And me.

You go, Karen. And by go, I mean let yourself out the door.