Adventures with my 105-year-old best friend

My best friend is 105-years-old. She has arthritis, is hard of hearing, and likes to sleep 14 hours a day. She’s my 15-year-old dog, Carmela. Carm has been with me since my early preteen years and has become basically me in dog form – or have I become her in human form? It’s hard to tell, but essentially we’re one and the same. She puts up with my moods, is always happy to see me, and never complains about all of the adventures I drag her along for.

First Maine adventure
First Maine adventure

Over the years I’ve had to be more careful as to what qualifies as an adventure for us. In the old days I could walk her for 2 miles, run her around the park for an hour, let her have a little rest, and she’d be ready for an intense tug-of-war game for more or less the entire evening. However now anytime I want to take her on an adventure with me I have to vet the place first.

Is it going to be too much walking for her? Is the terrain too rough? Is it going to be too hot outside for her? Should I bring water? Can I park close enough so that I can carry her back if I need to?

Adventures with dogs

It may sound silly or a little sad that I have to plan so much for a simple outing with my dog, but it’s just how it is. The difference from how she acted when she was a puppy to how she acts now has been such a gradual change that it’s just become something I have learned to deal with over time. For an example, when her hearing started to go I had to find other ways to get her attention, i.e. hand waving and butt taps—it’s just what you have to do.

This past weekend I decided to take Carm to Bug Light Park. Bug Light is a charming, little lighthouse in South Portland, ME. I had been to Bug Light before so I knew that if I parked close enough to the entrance Carm wouldn’t have to walk too far. It was a sunny and breezy, 72-degree day along the coast and the views were just stunning. I could tell that Carm really liked being near the water. It seemed to soothe her in the same way it does me, but then again that could just be because she IS me.

Happy girls at the lighthouse
Happy girls at the lighthouse

We walked along the path up to the lighthouse and rested for a bit before walking back to the car. She did so well that I thought I would treat her to some ice cream. We stopped at a little ice cream stand in Portland where I had a scoop of Wild Maine Blueberry ice cream (since I’ve now become addicted to it) and got Carm a scoop of Vanilla Bean. The additional walk from the car to the ice cream stand was a little too much for her so she got to enjoy her ice cream in the car with the air conditioning on full blast. Naturally she made a mess of my backseat, but that just comes with the territory.

Dogs and ice cream
Ice cream time

All in all it is sometimes difficult to care for my 105-year-old best friend, but I don’t mind. She adds so much joy and value to my life that I will gladly put up with the minor inconveniences if it means she’s still living a happy life filled with fun adventures.

Have you ever cared for an elderly dog? What were some of the things you had to do for him/her to make their lives easier?

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When someone visits you in your new city

The first time someone visits you in your new city is a big deal. You’re still getting used to your new city and are probably doing things a little differently than you did back home. You’re still forming your routine and opinions on your new surroundings when all of a sudden it’s time to entertain someone else’s opinions!

“Will they like it here? Will they hate it? Will they think I’m crazy for moving here?”

Eastern Promenade

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if they like it or not. You decided to move to your new city for your own reasons, but there’s always going to be a small part of you that wants your loved ones to love your new city as much as you do. It’s not necessarily because you crave their approval as much as it’s about them understanding a piece of who you are.

Recently my boyfriend visited me in my new city and I have to admit I was a little apprehensive. I hadn’t been in Portland for that long and was still crystallizing my feelings on my new city. I was getting used to being totally on my own out here and all that entails. Also Carm and I had finally settled in our routine and I was grateful for a bit of regularity after the crazy couple of months of transition we had. But I digress. I got to as good of a place as I could about it, and welcomed the disruption.

The Thirsty Pig

Maine Beer Company

I wanted him to see Portland, ME in all of its glory: the grit, the history, the beauty and the varied landscape. I wanted him to see and understand why I decided to call this place home. However, I was prepared for the possibility that he may not love it here as much as I do.

“What if he doesn’t like it? Do I love my city enough to endure any criticism about it?”

Luckily he did love Portland and thoroughly enjoyed all of the places we explored from the Portland Head Light and Acadia National Park to the local eateries and breweries. It was an awesome week and we had a lot of great adventures..and a few near-death experiences—thank you, Cadillac Mountain!

Acadia National Park visits

The bottom line is that at some point a loved one is going to visit you in your new city. Will they love it or hate it? Will they demand you come back home or will they want to move out there with you? Will they disrespect it or will they “get” it? Unfortunately there’s no way to know until they actually visit. My advice is to hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and you’ll probably end up somewhere in between.

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What are we supposed to do?

Lately I’ve noticed a recurring theme among fellow twenty-somethings: being terrified of making the wrong decision. We’re at a pivotal point in our lives where we can no longer rely on our parents to make our decisions for us, and as we navigate our mid-to-late-twenties we have to make some big-time decisions. What are we supposed to do?

Should I buy a house? Should I move somewhere else? Should I travel? Should I get married? Should I have children? Should I quit my job? Should I, should I, should I?

Supposed

I’ve listened to my friends so overwhelmed with the notion of making their own life decisions to the point where they’ll exclaim, “Ugh! Can’t someone just tell me what I’m supposed to do with my life?!”

The answer is no. No one can tell you what you’re supposed to do with your life, but instead of being frustrated by that it should empower us! How cool is it that we get to decide what happens to us? Religious affiliations aside there is always a measure of freewill, but somehow we seem to forget that. We’re all too eager to offer up our life decisions to anyone who wants to do it just so we don’t have to deal with the ramifications of it possibly not working out.

I’ve seen people so completely terrified of making the wrong choice that they don’t do anything at all. We are so afraid of choosing “incorrectly” that eventually we become immobile altogether. Like the band Rush says, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

Pier life

The thing is we have no idea what the “right” choice is (if there is such a thing). All we can do is make a decision based on the information we have available to us at the time and our feelings on the matter in that moment. We can’t know any more than that, and we can’t expect otherwise.

“Well, what if I’m not happy in the choice I made?”

Then you change it and do something else! Nothing is permanent, and although that is both scary and awesome it also offers so much freedom.

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Maine may not be the place where I end up, and that’s okay! It was/is something I needed to do for me. I could never regret something that has taught me so much about myself. I have become so empowered and confident since I embarked on this journey. So what if I decide to do something else in a couple of years? Life is about the journey not the destination, and I choose to enjoy the journey—wherever it takes me.

Are you scared or empowered to make your own life decisions? What decision seems to bring out both emotions? Why aren’t you doing it?

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A tale of two cities: How to balance the old with the new

Now that I’ve been in Maine for a little while now, I have to say that I love it. I love the winding streets, the call of the seagulls, the rocky coast, and the slower way of life. Sometimes it feels like I’ve gone back in time to a simpler way of life, or as Mainers like to call it, “the way life should be.” I love being in Maine, but I’ve noticed that I’ve had a hard time shedding my Chicago skin. For me Chicago is where I grew up, where my family is, where I became the person I am today. My roots are in Chicago and I’m not one of those people who wants to forget where they came from. Can’t there be a balance?

Balance

Sometimes we hold on too tightly to the things we’re afraid to lose. The friend who wants their space, the mother who never wanted to be a mother, or something that is such a core part of our being that we’re afraid of letting it go in fear of what we are without it. The truth is these experiences are what make us who we are, not the things themselves. What you learned and your ability to come out the other side is what makes you who you are. For me I was afraid of embracing Maine because it meant letting go of Chicago when actually there are ways to balance your new city with your old one without losing your sense of self.

Here are my tried-and-true methods of practicing balance:

  • I stay connected to my people back home. I have a pretty consistent phone schedule with my friends and family back in Chicago which helps me stay connected to them and the goings-on there.
  • Some things have to change for the sake of convenience. I’m currently in the process of changing over my Driver’s license and my vehicle registration to my new Maine address. Though I like driving around with my Illinois plates and seeing the confused look on a waiter’s face when he cards me, I have to admit that it’s just easier having all of my stuff registered to the same place.
  • Explore somewhere you couldn’t find “at home.” This is a big one for me. Whenever I’m missing Chicago I go explore an area I couldn’t get at home such as a lighthouse, a rocky beach, a mountain, etc. Going on these little adventures centers me and reminds me why I decided to move here.

Portland Head Light

  • Don’t let others tell you how you’re supposed to feel. It’s a process embracing a new city. It’s hard, amazing, frustrating, and incredible. Embrace whatever you’re feeling, because it’s a learning experience all the same.
  • Pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you. Are you really that homesick or are you just scared of embracing something new? Of course you miss your family and friends back home, but does that really overpower the greatness you’ve discovered in your new city?
  • Do what makes you happy. I’m a firm believer in enjoying the life you live. Yes, you probably need to have a boring day job in order to have a roof over your head and food in your frig, but overall are you happy with the life you’re living?

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Death-defying rock climbing at Acadia

Last weekend I finally made the trek up to Acadia National Park. My boyfriend was visiting for the week and since neither one of us had been up to Acadia yet we decided it was something we had to do. Acadia National Park is located on Mount Desert Island which is about three hours away from Portland. We got an early start to our day and headed up North.

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We parked the car and started up the trail on Pemetic Mountain. All was going well until we lost the trail pretty early on in the hike. Oh well! We can hack this! We ended up bushwhacking our way up to the top of Pemetic just as the clouds started to roll in. The view was absolutely amazing.

We then wandered our way back down the mountain (this time on the trail) and along Bubble Pond. There were a few people around, but for the most part it was just the two of us taking in this gorgeous and peaceful sight.

Bubble Pond

Still not ready to call it a day we decided to hike up Cadillac Mountain via the South Ridge Trail which is essentially rock climbing your way up to the top. Even though Cadillac Mountain isn’t that tall (1,530 feet) the fact that we were climbing slick rocks as it started to rain made me feel like we were going to plummet to our deaths. I could see the headline now:

Midwestern tourists fall 1,000 feet to their gruesome deaths on rainy Cadillac Mountain

I have never been more terrified for my life than I was that day. The wind was kicking up as we got higher up the mountain. The trees that at first were shielding us and the rocks from the rain had disappeared. It was just now just us climbing up on slippery rocks with no trees to shield or grab onto for support.

At one point I slipped and slid down a rock for what felt like a full two minutes but what was probably only three seconds. Once I got my bearings again I was paralyzed with fear. I thought about either sitting there in a ball until if/when the sun came out again, or crawling back down the mountain to the safe, stable ground. But I knew that if I didn’t keep climbing and make it to the top that I would always regret it. So I soldiered on and eventually made it up to the top of Cadillac Mountain.

Cadillac Mountain

The views were truly spectacular. The pictures just don’t do it justice. It was incredible to look down and see how far I had come. It also made me feel like I was on top of the world. We rested there for a few minutes before heading back down the mountain. Even though we took the same, scary trail back down the mountain I felt more confident. It was terrifying, but I knew that I would get down that mountain in one piece.

All in all it was an incredible experience. I climbed a mountain that seemed to fight me until the bitter end, but I’m glad I did it. I can’t wait to go back!

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Explore more: Do more of what excites you

One thing I set out to do when I moved to Maine was explore more. Since I’m an introvert and a homebody by nature it’s very easy for me to spend the weekend reading, writing, cooking, and other activities that involve staying in. I enjoy my solitude, but I moved to Maine because I wanted to explore all the amazing things it has to offer. That’s why every weekend I go out and explore at least one new thing.

Long Sand Beach

1st weekend: Visited the Portland Head light, The Holy Donut, and had my first steamed lobster

2nd weekend: Hiked along Damariscotta River and visited the Pemaquid Lighthouse

3rd weekend: Explored downtown Portland

4th weekend: Wandered around Deering Oaks Park and my new neighborhood

Deering Oaks Park

5th weekend: Wandered through the First Friday Art Walk, the Portland Museum of Art, downtown Freeport, and hiked Bradbury Mountain

6th weekend: Went to a concert at Port City Music Hall and visited the Portland Public Library

7th weekend: Hiked Pleasant Mountain

8th weekend: Visited Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park and the Portland Breakwater Light, aka Bug Light

9th weekend: Visited Long Sand Beach, Cape Neddick (Nubble) Lighthouse, and Spring Point Ledge Light

Explore Cape Neddick

My sister made the all-true joke that I’ve done more in my short time in Maine than I did in 10 months living in downtown Chicago. She had a point. The truth is there were a lot of things to do in Chicago—museums, bars, bookstores, architectural must-sees, The Lake, etc.–but I had either seen them already (since I had grown up in the area), or I simply had no interest in seeing them at all.

I have a Maine bucket list that somehow seems to be getting longer instead of shorter. Every time somebody tells me I HAVE to see something I jot it down to research later. My weekends have quickly become a “so what interesting thing will I check out this weekend?”

Some weekends I may be up for a hike, or a drive up to a lighthouse, or maybe I just want to check out a cool restaurant people keep telling me about. Whatever mood I’m in there’s something on my bucket list for it. The way I reason with my introverted mind is reminding myself that I can spend the other day of my weekend staying in and recharging. Knowing that there is a balance between my new, adventurous attitude with my old, reclusive behavior makes me feel like I can do anything. It really is all about balance.

Wolfes Neck

This weekend true to form I already have a couple of adventures planned. First up I will check out the First Friday Art Walk again. It’s a monthly art festival on the first Friday of every month where art galleries open their doors free to the public and many local artists sell/show off their work all up and down Congress Street. I will also go on a little road trip to see three lighthouses – Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, Owls Head Lighthouse, and Marshall Point Lighthouse. Can you tell I have a thing for lighthouses? Beyond that, I’m not sure. I’ll have to consult my bucket list.

Do you have a bucket list of things to do/see in your area? How many of them have you done so far?

The good, the bad, and the odd: A 60-day check-in

Today is June 1st which means that I’ve been in Maine for two months now. It’s been such an incredible experience so far. Somehow in this short amount of time I’ve been able to land a job, a pretty decent apartment, and have met some interesting people. I thought it’d be cool to do a 60-day “check-in” and outline the good, the bad, and the oddities of my experience so far.

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THE GOOD:

  • I’ve been on several amazing hikes around Maine. Some of these hikes have been with a group, and some I’ve done all by myself. So far I’ve hiked along the Damariscotta River, Bradbury Mountain, Pleasant Mountain, and Wolfe’s Neck State Park.
  • I’ve met some pretty awesome people. I work with a lot of young professionals and have gotten to know some of them socially which has been pretty cool. I’ve also connected with a few amazing ladies through the various hiking groups that I’ve joined.
  • I’ve stumbled across great restaurants. Now that my office is only about a 20-minute walk I’ve had the opportunity to take several different routes and explore new restaurants. For example, if I’m running late to work and need a cup of coffee and breakfast sandwich there’s no place like The Crooked Mile Café. Or if I want to treat myself to a tasty and affordable lunch I head over to Mainely Wraps and take advantage of whatever $5 wrap they have on special.

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THE BAD:

  • My dog has had TWO big health scares since we’ve been here. One was a pretty rare tick disease and the second was a quick but disgusting bout of acute colitis. I guess I deserved it since I’ve uprooted her life so many times.
  • No deep dish pizza. I never knew how much I loved it until I moved to place where it doesn’t exist. Even though I didn’t eat it all the time, it was nice knowing that I always could. It’s totally normal to have dreams about eating a deep dish pizza and wake up with the meat sweats, right?
  • Being so far away from my people. I’ve gotten a pretty good phone schedule down so I can check-in with my friends and family back home, but nothing beats the real thing. There are days that I get so incredibly homesick that I feel like nothing can cure it. But then I have a glass of wine, phone a friend, engage in a small pity party, and am ready to go again by morning.

Good

THE ODD:

  • You can’t really get things done on the weekends here. Back in Chicago it was easy to schedule a Saturday vet visit, utility hookup appointment, or trip to the DMV—not the case in Maine. Most offices are only open Monday – Friday 8:00am -4:30pm which means in order to get anything “done” you have to take time off of work.
  • Pedestrians aren’t really concerned with the “right of way”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve nearly hit someone with my car because they were jay-walking across the street unconcerned about the oncoming traffic from either side of the street.
  • People marry young here. I have met so many people who are roughly around my age and I am always shocked when they mention a husband and/or a couple of kids. In Chicago it seemed like everyone was single, or basically single (us millennials love those complicated relationships). This will be a full post later on, but I knew I had to mention it here as well.

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All in all I’m really enjoying my time in Maine so far. Of course I get homesick and severe hankerings for deep dish pizza, but then I take a visit to a new lighthouse, or hike up a mountain, or wander through Portland and I remember why I moved to this awe-inspiring state.

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College world vs. the real world

Tell anyone that you moved across the country for no other reason than you really wanted to and you’re guaranteed to get a few stares. Some think it’s brave, others think it’s stupid, and the select few will tell you it’s exactly the same as going away to college.

College

I, myself, never went away to college. I spent a couple years at the local community college before ditching that and diving head first into the real world. To me it was more important that I support myself and do what I want when I want. I also love to learn, but I disliked learning things I wasn’t interested in. So I never had the real college experience, but I have to tell you—this move to Maine is nothing like it.

In college everyone is in the same boat. Most kids come from all over the country and don’t know a soul (except maybe their new roommate). Luckily college is one big social environment. It’s easy to meet people. In fact, you are forced to meet people – dorm, classes, orientation, the quad, snack bar, library, etc. Plus there’s a myriad of social events designed to encourage everyone to find their tribe, and avoid becoming the Boo Radley of the school.

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When you move away to a totally new place as an adult you have to start from scratch. There are no dorms or classes where you can bump into the same people day after day and eventually become friends. There are no forced social interactions. You have to find them for yourself. Luckily in this day and age we have things like Meetup and Eventbrite, but even that can be hit or miss. And if you do make a new connection (dare I say friend) it’s hard to coordinate schedules in order to meet up.

College: “Hey, since we both have that history test tomorrow do you want to come by my dorm around 7-ish to study?”

Grown-up world: “Hey, it was great meeting you at that event last weekend! My schedule is crazy this week…and next week, too. Want to meet up in two weeks for coffee after work?”

Another thing that makes this experience so incredibly different from the college experience is that I am completely supporting myself and there are no breaks. I don’t have anyone adding money to my meal plan if I run low, no one is buying me new furniture to deck out my new space, and I can’t go home for a visit after every quarter. I’m stuck here until I have the money and time-off from work to afford it.

The college world does offer a lot of value and lessons about the real world; however, nothing can fully prepare you for what lies ahead once you get there. It’s sometimes hard being in the adult world, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

How did college prepare you for the real world? In what way did you wish it did?

Must-try places in Portland, Maine

If you spend even a short amount of time wandering around the streets of Portland, Maine you will notice that it’s a food lover’s paradise—or maybe just mine. There are so many unique cafes and restaurants intricately woven into this amazing city. I’m trying to explore at least a couple of new places a week and still have many, many more to go but here are some of my favorites so far!

  • The Holy Donut – Possibly 50% of the reason I moved to Maine. These amazing potato donuts are simply out of this world. Plus they use natural flavors and local ingredients so it’s a snack you can feel less guilty about.

Holy Donut, Portland, Maine

  • b. good – It’s actually a chain here in New England, but doesn’t have the feel of your average run-of-the-mill chain. They have excellent salads, quinoa bowls, and burgers. What I like most about them is that they only use local and seasonal ingredients. They pride themselves on being able to tell you which farms they get every individual ingredient from. It’s a great, healthy option…I just wish it wasn’t next door to the Holy Donut—always makes my lunchtime decision 10x harder than it needs to be.
  • Bard Coffee – For the serious coffee drinkers who want more than just a quick jolt. These baristas seriously know coffee. The proof is in the pudding…and being named Portland’s Best Single Location Coffee House.
  • Portland Lobster Company – This mostly outdoor venue has the best in-town lobster rolls. It has a fantastic deck right on the water which is perfect for listening to the live music they have most nights.

Portland Lobster Company

  • The Crooked Mile Cafe – Tucked away on the little, inconspicuous Milk Street in the Old Port this café is well worth finding. They have an extensive breakfast and lunch menu and great, funky décor. It’s the perfect place for a leisurely lunch or a quick to-go breakfast sandwich.
  • Tandem Coffee Roasters – I have a soft spot for this place because their West End location is right by my apartment. They also have excellent coffee, tasty pastry options, and a large outdoor seating area.
  • Five Fifty-Five – Hands-down the best truffled lobster mac & cheese I’ve ever had. It’s a guaranteed food coma experience, but with the great wine and romantic ambiance it’s totally worth it. The reason for the name? It’s located at 555 Congress Street.

Five Fifty-Five, Portland, Maine

  • Rosemont Bakery and Café – This place has a little bit of everything! They have your regular café staples, but it’s also a great place to pick up some local produce, snacks, and some prepared meals—perfect for those nights when you just cannot eat leftovers again but don’t want to go out to a restaurant.

I’m still exploring this incredible city so stay tuned for more great finds!

Hiking: Pushing yourself to your breaking point in the best way possible

This past weekend I went on a hiking adventure that nearly pushed me to my breaking point. I like to think that I’m pretty healthy. I walk about three miles a day, I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and I do yoga. Overall that’s pretty good, but when you’re climbing your first 2,000 foot mountain it means diddly-squat.

Pleasant Mountain, Maine

Having lived in the flatland of Illinois my entire life up until recently I have been ill-equipped to deal with any kind of elevation. Hills? What are those? Mountains? You’ve got to be kidding. For me part of Maine’s allure is that it’s so different from Illinois. Drive an hour outside of Portland, ME and you’ll be in the mountains. Drive an hour outside of Chicago, IL and you’ll see nothing but flat farmland.

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That’s why I was so excited to meet up with about twenty women of the Alpine Women Collective to hike Pleasant Mountain in Bridgton, ME. It was 72 degrees out and sunny—perfect weather for a hike. I got to talk to a lot of amazing women—a couple of whom are from the Midwest, too! It’s pretty cool how much people will open up when they’re engaging in an activity. I was doing pretty well for the first three miles since it was more of a gradual incline. However, the last half mile was at such a steep incline that I was panting like crazy and my legs felt like they were on fire.

“Am I dying? Is this what dying feels like? Everything hurts!”

I was pretty sure I wasn’t dying, but decided to wait until I got to the top of the mountain to be sure. I pushed myself harder than I ever have before. Since I was on a mountain and not a treadmill I couldn’t just stop if it got too hard. I was out in the wilderness. I HAD to make it to the top…and I did.

Breaking point

Getting to the top of Pleasant Mountain was incredible. I had never conquered anything as big or amazing as that in my life. The views were absolutely breath-taking and I felt such a high from accomplishing it and not giving up. There are many parallels that can be made for conquering a mountain and conquering life in general, but I’ll refrain since they’re pretty obvious and a bit cliché anyway.

Yay! We made it!
Yay! We made it!

If you ever have the opportunity to hike up a mountain I definitely recommend that you do it. Take as many breaks as you need, but you have to make it to the top. I promise you that you’ll be glad you did.

In what way have you pushed yourself to your physical or mental breaking point? What was the outcome?