Apple Picking in a Pandemic

It feels like a fact of life that if you grew up anywhere near an orchard someone took you apple picking at least once as a child. My own childhood apple picking memories are not my favorite. Us kids were grumpy about getting up super early, usually there was at least one dramatic squabble, and we always wound up coming home with what felt like Way Too Many Apples. Oh, and as the morning progressed and warmed up So Many Bees would terrorize the orchard seeking the sweet juice of apples that had fallen on the ground.

I believe these are Jonagolds, a variety of apple that I didn’t know existed before this trip.

So it’s probably not surprising that as an adult I’ve largely had an aversion to apple picking and have turned down several invitations from my friends over the years. The only time I said yes the weather was terrible and we drove all the way out to the orchard only to decide it was too awful out to go apple picking, so we wound up exploring the downtown of a nearby town instead. But this fall when I received an apple picking invite I jumped at it because I was quite desperate to see my friends. Because of covid and the United States’ awful response to it I haven’t spent any time with my friends since March. We’ve been keeping in touch, but it’s not really the same as being able to hang out together in person.

Many of the rows of apple trees led up to this area of mostly leafless trees that were spread out in such a circular way that I joked it looked like a ritual would be done there, lol. My plant-loving mom thinks they’re cherry trees.

It was an exciting moment when we realized that apple picking was a viable option for a socially distanced hangout activity and we quickly arranged a date. The date happened to coincide with my mom being away at her little house in upstate New York, so I invited everyone to come hang out in my backyard afterwards. It -also- happened to be our friend B’s birthday that weekend, so he planned a whole menu of food and entertainment for our little group of six.

Our group setting off an an apple adventure!

And before you cry “social distancing!” we played this gathering really safe. We generally kept a good distance between ourselves (there was no hugging, even though we really wanted to!) and except for eating, which we did sitting apart from each other, we all wore masks the whole time. There was also liberal use of hand sanitizer and hand washing. Everyone had their own sanitizer because 2020, but I also set up a little table that I called the Sanitation Station. Perhaps some people would find this gathering a bit risky, but thankfully we and our immediate circles have been covid-free so far, so we decided to go ahead with the gathering.

Sanitation Station set up in the backyard of my house.

The orchard we went to is called Melick Orchard, which is about an hour from where we live, but was well worth the drive, I think. It was a really beautiful morning to be outside, sunny and just a little warm, and we took a lot of pleasure just from being outside and being together in person instead of over video chat. We made a reservation for 9:30 a.m., which turned out to be a very good choice because by the time we left about an hour and a half later the amount of people around was starting to increase dramatically. It wasn’t quite so many people that social distancing was impossible, but it was starting to perhaps be a little more crowded by the entry areas/little store than we were comfortable with. But out in the orchard there is a lot of space and there are many varieties of apples in long, wide rows. Each type of apples was available in multiple rows so if, for instance, we saw a family taking up a lot of space in one of the rows we could simply choose another one.

If you look closely you can see cows at the farm across the road, which we were very excited to see.

There was also a pumpkin patch in the back corner of the property, in a corner at the end of the apple area, but it looked a little sad and picked over, and none of use were super interested in pumpkins anyway, so we didn’t peruse it at all. Plus I doubted that any of us really wanted to lug a pumpkin over the considerable distance back to the entry area. Melick Orchards also has pick your own fruit during other seasons and on our way back to the front of the property we passed some rows of peach trees that I thought had a certain magical charm.

One of the enchanting rows of peach trees.

Once we paid for our apples we piled back into our cars and drove to my house where we quickly set up a production area for preparing apples for pie, under B’s supervision. Somehow we wound up with an obscene amount of apples cut up! Luckily B had accidentally bought four bottom crusts instead of just two (but only two top crusts). However, even after filling all of the crusts and improvising tops for all of them there were still So Many Apples left. (Don’t worry, the leftovers went home with party guests and did not go to waste!)

This is what we had left -after- I filled the four pie shells. I’m not sure how this happened.

Our original plan was to stay outside and rig up a TV on my family’s picnic table to play an obscure Wii game called Fortune Street that B wanted to show us, but just when I thought this apple picking day would be devoid of bees since we hadn’t seen any at the orchard, we were driven inside by them because one of our group is allergic. My house fortunately has a good amount of room for sitting spaced out, and we opened all the windows and doors so there would be good safe ventilation while we settled in to play.

I turned my back for one second and of course one of the pies suddenly had something lewd cut into it, lol.

Fortune Street is a game that’s kind of like a cross between Mario Party and Monopoly, but there’s a stock market? And all kinds of weird business types? I don’t know, I only got the vaguest sense of it because I didn’t play. Instead, I was fussing about with the pies, trying to make use of the Too Many Apples that had been prepared as I mentioned above. I didn’t mind missing out on Fortune Street, because to be honest, it seemed really confusing. Apart from B, who really really loves the game, my other friends who were playing seemed to be enjoying the experience of playing together more than they enjoyed the actual gameplay itself.

I don’t have any photos from this part of the day, so here’s a dried up cornfield at the orchard that I thought was pretty!

Fortune Street took so long that we were losing daylight fast by the time it was done. So B heated up the spaghetti squash he brought us to have for dinner (and I boiled some spaghetti for those who didn’t want the squash), and we ate in my quickly darkening backyard. By the time we were done it was getting too dark to be out in my unlit backyard so instead of eating pie together we split them up and everyone went on their merry way. Instead of hugging goodbye like we would have in the Before Times we all took turns clunking ankles with each other, which my friend L came up with earlier this year as as a weird, slightly cursed covid handshake.

My friend S looking determinedly for apples that sparked joy.

It was really nice to see everyone, but equally unpleasant to say goodbye. The sadness I felt immediately after everyone left me alone in my house almost made me wish we hadn’t met up at all. It felt a bit cruel of the universe to let me have a taste of the time with friends I should have been getting to indulge in all year, only to have to swiftly return to the interminable question — “When will I get to spend time like this with them again?” Don’t get me wrong, I had an extremely lovely day and I’m very glad we were able to have our little gathering, our beautiful warm golden autumn day. But in the immediate aftermath the silence of my house was very loud and very lonely.

A family photo. ^_^

I hate to end this post about a happy day on a downer, but also I prefer to be honest about my feelings and I just miss my friends so damn much! So our day of apple picking turned out a bit bittersweet for me in the end. But I definitely don’t regret doing it, and wish I could live it again now as the cold, dark part of the year creeps over my area and makes me feel pandemic loneliness even more strongly than I did before.

A bin of pumpkins for sale near the orchard entrance that was simultaneously reassuring and disconcerting. “It’s Harvest Time…try”

Putting Pen to Page (or How I Write Best)

In September and October I missed posting blogs again and somehow that makes me feel like trash. It shouldn’t. I’m the only one who cares. One post a month was a self-imposed goal I set at the start of the year, a desperate attempt to introduce a little discipline into my meandering life of picked up and dropped hobbies. I like writing. I’m constantly creating stories and even portions of potential blog posts in my head. And yet somehow I have now for the third time this year missed posting. At least in July I had a good excuse. I was in a car accident in the last third of the month that wound up totaling my vehicle and I was too stressed dealing with the fallout from that to even consider trying to post anything. But for September and October I have no such excuse besides the fact that every time I set up at my laptop to try and put something together the words only reluctantly, awkwardly come out. It’s a fight every time.

The handwritten draft of this post.

Most nights I get home from work and wind up doing nothing more productive than, say, taking a shower or watering my pumpkins in Animal Crossing. For nearly two months this summer I played Red Dead Online every day, saving up imaginary gold to buy an imaginary horse, putting off doing anything in the real world that might improve me in some way like playing one of the instruments I own again, doing one of the crafts I keep meaning to do, or yes, writing down any of the things I have in my head, even if they’re not destined to be read by anyone who isn’t me.

Starting in middle school and continuing up through my college graduation at the end of 2012 I filled multiple notebooks with scrawled stories. Yes they are largely messes that no one should ever read (and my handwriting is such that they’d have trouble trying anyway), but I had fun writing it all down. Even now connecting a pen to paper is the most natural way for me to write and that is the only reason this post exists at all. I pulled myself out of the well of self loathing and guilt I fall into when I know I could be doing something productive instead of looping between the same three or four apps on my phone by hauling myself to my desk and grabbing a notebook and pen, breaking the nightly cycle that I somehow so often find unbreakable.

One of my high school notebooks from my collaging things phase, edited to hide personal information I’d written on the front.

I know I will clean up and potentially rearrange my thoughts before they’re available for you to read on my blog, but I’m realizing that my brain apparently does not like my inner words to exist outside of my head unless it is in some kind of ink. In about half an hour I wrote so much more than in an equivalent time on the computer and what I wrote sounds better overall. Somehow a pen in my hand opens more creative phrasing pathways in my brain than computer keys under my fingers.

So maybe this is how I’ll have to blog from now on, drafting all of my posts by hand first and then typing them up after. And if that’s what it’s going to take, then fine. Because I set myself a goal, made myself a promise, and if I accomplish nothing else in 2020, at least I’ll be able to look back and see that I wrote, see that I didn’t totally waste all of my time due to my persistent lack of discipline because I made 12 little things. I don’t give a shit if anyone reads any of it. I give a shit about fulfilling a commitment that isn’t strictly required and, for once in what feels like a very long time, following through.

Mentally I am here.

There’s this meme that’s been going around Twitter lately of tweets that read “mentally I am here,” captioning some sort of photo, usually setting up something humorous in nature that expresses one of the many depressing vibes of 2020. But as for me, mentally, I am here.

It was the end of August in 2013. I was on vacation down the shore with my aunt and younger brother and was just beginning to come out of the deep, post-college, “shit I’m an adult now” depression that had plagued me ever since I graduated at the end of 2012, but which had especially affected my summer.

Long days of lounging poolside in the sun with my family were followed by evenings cut loose on the boardwalk, my nightly spending money from my aunt in my pocket waiting to be spent on whatever treats or entertainment I wanted. Many 22 year olds would use this as an opportunity to get wasted, but not me.

I bought delightfully unhealthy fried sweets and played my way through the arcades, as one does at the Jersey Shore. I also spent a large amount of time just wandering through the crowds or strolling to the more residential ends of the boardwalk, looking at the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy the previous fall with a melancholy eye.

Here is an ancient video from my defunct YouTube channel that I wrote and filmed on this trip!

But the first thing I did most nights was sit in the sand as close to the sea as I could while staying dry, watching and listening to the crashing waves while the never ending carnival of the boardwalk thrummed distantly behind me.

Being by the sea has been a balm for my soul my whole life, even before I knew to call it that, and this time spent quietly thinking and dreaming and occasionally scribbling away in a little notebook, was what I needed the most. And since this was my first extended beach trip since I’d received my DSLR on Christmas in 2011 I took so. many. photos. I had a list of photo opportunities in my mind that I wanted to pursue and I checked them all off.

The weekly fireworks show.

Playing with fancy settings like shutter speed by the lights of the rides.

Snapping what I could see on a walk down the jetty.

And in a little place by the part of the inlet where people fish during the day I took a whole series of these sunset sky photos.

I don’t think I can adequately put into words the feelings of freedom and satisfaction I got from my nightly wandering. I think it possibly had a lot to do with feeling in control for the first time that year. I got to determine where I went and what I did. I didn’t have to worry about the unemployed mess my life at home was, especially because my aunt was generously giving me spending money. She didn’t care what time I came back to our motel room because I was never outrageously late and she never asked much about what I’d been up to. I think I just really relished not only being my own person, but being a person who felt like I had options and possibilities.

Seven years later and this is still one of my favorite photos of myself.

I think my mind has drifted back to this particular trip now because 2020 has been a year where I don’t feel like I have a lot of control over my life, which is a sentiment I’m sure is shared by much of the world.

I know I could revisit this location now. The town still exists, after all, and I still make day trips there to this day. But I can’t go back to the feelings I had on that trip, especially given the current pandemic. I confess, I did venture down to this town back in July, and it was an incredibly odd experience. So I suppose, in the meantime, if you need me, mentally I will be here.

My Favorite Distant Worlds Songs

If you’ve been following my overall internet presence for a long time (which let’s be real, probably not?) you’ll know that I really enjoy music and nerd stuff which means Distant Worlds, a music project that turns songs from the Final Fantasy series into grand orchestral arrangements out of them, is right up my alley. I’ll be honest and say that I’ve only finished one Final Fantasy game (7), but I’ve played parts of some others (6, 8, Crisis Core, 10) and have watched friends play parts of others (9, 15) so I think I can say with some confidence that these games have great music (although, you know, that’s not exactly a controversial opinion).

I’ve known about Distant Worlds for a long time, but it wasn’t until 2020 when I found out about the A New World recordings. They describe them as “intimate music from Final Fantasy.” I don’t actually know the size of the ensemble used for A New World, but I keep referring to it as chamber music — it’s a smaller, more stripped down ensemble with less of a bombastic sound than the Distant Worlds pieces, but the arrangements are no less impressive or dramatic.

Buying the whole catalog of both of these music projects was my one big quarantine purchase, after I found myself listening to the recordings on YouTube a lot while I was working and figured I should actually give them money. Somehow the music still hasn’t gotten old for me despite the fact that I listened to it for days on end while grappling with the frustrations and limitations of working from home for two months, and it’s still music I reach for now even though I’ve been working back in the office for about a month (not by choice, I assure you).

So I wanted to share a few of my favorite songs with you all. All of these are available to buy on Bandcamp! Here is the link to the Distant Worlds page. And here is the link to the A New World page.

[Just a quick disclaimer before we get started! Despite playing flute in school concert bands for a decade there are certain instruments I can’t tell apart by ear. And also I can’t tell string instruments apart at all, so if I name an instrument incorrectly, please do not come for me.]

Let’s start with Tower of the Magi, originally from Final Fantasy II. This is from the A New World recordings and it’s literally just a piano and a violin. I almost always love songs that are in a minor key and sound kind of gothic, and this song definitely delivers that. It’s a simple little tune (this song was on the NES originally after all) but it’s made very interesting!

Next let’s talk about Not Alone from Final Fantasy IX, from the third Distant Worlds album. I can’t describe exactly what it is about this song that does it for me, but somehow the big broadness of what I’ll call the B melody gets me very hype. (It’s heard for the first time at 1:17 in this arrangement, but is even more hype at 2:30.)

I played enough of Final Fantasy X to meet Seymour, but did not play enough to actually get to hear his battle theme, which is surprisingly kind of disco-y? They covered it on the first A New World album and it’s one of my top five favorite arrangements in the whole Distant Worlds/A New World repertoire. Here are of the *chef’s kiss* moments for me in this piece: the fiddle riff at 0:40ish, the way the tension builds and the music gets increasingly layered and tense leading up to the beautiful broad long notes at 1:30ish, and when the key changes at 2:10ish and the bass gets especially chunky and prominent. I could go on, but I won’t. If you’re only gonna listen to one of the songs I’ve embedded here, make it this one!

I love a beautifully brassy bombastic boss battle theme, as I’m sure all video game fans do. Distant Worlds has quite a few to offer, but I think my favorite is Battle with the Four Fiends, originally from Final Fantasy IV. I feel like this piece has good ebb and flow dynamically (aka, they could’ve just been hella loud the whole time, but sometimes the song eases off and is quieter). In the section at 1:15 where they play the main melody quietly before playing it big and loud for the first time, there is a single little drum in the background. I don’t know what kind of drum it is, but it is used to great effect throughout the whole song. The loud punctuating brass hits whenever the melody is done loudly are also A+! Also for my fellow rhythm game fans, I picked up Final Fantasy Theatrhythm this winter, and I find this track particularly satisfying to play through for some reason, the chart is somehow just feels really good to play through.

And finally I’d like to shout out love of my life, Zanarkand from Final Fantasy X. I’ve been to two Distant Worlds concerts and this song made me feel mega emotional both times, and if I’m in the right mood I can get pretty emotional listening to the recording as well. This graceful, melancholy song has repeatedly given me goosebumps! They’ve covered this in both the Distant Worlds and A New World repertoires and they’re both very lovely, but I prefer the Distant Worlds version. It sounds like both ensembles are working with the same score rhythmically, but the fuller, lusher sound of the Distant Worlds ensemble is just more to my liking with this song, as is the way the layering sounds in the section starting at 2:17 compared to the similar section in the A New World version.

I’ve avoided what I imagine to be some of the more commonly known Final Fantasy songs in this post in favor of highlighting a couple of deep cuts. But I do have a few honorable mentions:

  • I would LOVE to hear Dancing Mad from Final Fantasy VI played live. Both Distant Worlds concerts I’ve been to have played the Opera (also from VI) as their big really long showpiece song instead of this and it is a PERSONAL ATTACK. (A joke, of course.) (…unless…?) (I don’t care much for the Opera.)
  • Sephiroth’s theme is another song that has been covered by both Distant Worlds and A New World. I prefer the Distant Worlds version. (Shout out to the trombone flick at 1:13!)
  • I can’t possibly leave out Vamo’ alla Flamenco (aka, the Chocobo Hot and Cold song from Final Fantasy IX). It’s just a really fun song!

I could go on, but I won’t because we could be here literally forever because there are so many great songs to choose from in these albums! Even if you’re not big on video games, I promise you’ll probably find something you enjoy. I encourage you to check out anything I’ve linked above. I’m not sponsored by them, obviously, who would pay me for these silly little blogs. I just wanted to share something nice with the world that people might not have heard of!

Black Lives Matter

I want to share some links before I start talking, because my voice is not the most important here:

I was starting to work on something else for this month’s blog post at the beginning of last week, before all of the protesting began. But to post what I was working on now feels incredibly inappropriate.

There is an instinct to say “the world has changed so much in just two or three days,” but that’s wrong. This is the same hateful country I’ve always lived in, people are just being more angry about it than I can remember in my lifetime.

The repeated killings and violence and injustice against people just for being Black is disgusting and outrageous, and it’s not anything new. It’s been happening throughout history, it’s just better documented now.

My town posted a statement that basically sounded like “look, our cops are actually good, unlike those other bad cops” but it didn’t feel serious. Sure, maybe we have good cops. My neighbor’s son is a cop and he seems alright. But I’m sure that there are bad ones too. I saw something online that said something along the lines of “If you have 10 bad cops and 1,000 good cops that don’t do anything about the bad ones then you have 1,010 bad cops,” and I think that is 100% a legitimate sentiment.

I’ve only been pulled over once, for a burnt out tail light, and I wonder how that situation could have escalated if I wasn’t white. To be fair, I haven’t heard of anything happening in my town what like the scores of senseless killings, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened or that it couldn’t happen, especially because my town has a wide range of races and social classes in it. My town also has far less affluent urban towns bordering it and just a short trip down the highway from Newark, a city that people from outside of New Jersey have often heard of because of its history of violence and the race riot in the 60s. I’m sure that unnecessary force against Black people is not uncommon just miles from where I live even if it does not happen in my precise town.

I will be the first to admit that due to my privilege I am undereducated on these types of issues, but I’m reading the words of people who know better than me and learning and I’ve donated what money I could. (I chose Reclaim the Block, Black Lives Matter Fund, and the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund if you’re curious. Here is a list of various local bail funds and tips for protestors.)

My reach here is small, I know, but I just wanted to make it plain that I think Black Lives Matter. How someone could think otherwise, I don’t fucking know!

The Enchanted Hike

I am very good at being alone in the world. This is something that I built up to gradually over time, starting with trips to the movies, progressing having meals alone at restaurants that were not fast food chains, and then finally I finding the guts to go on vacation by myself. This past September was my second solo trip. I think at this point I can say that I am more or less entirely comfortable being many hours from home on my own and really enjoy it very much, although this is perhaps because the destination of these vacations so far has been Cape May, a place that I went to often as a child.

There are multiple positives to traveling alone, but the main one for me is that I get to make all of the decisions. This isn’t my favorite because I’m some asshole control freak, but because when I’m out with my friends I worry a lot about their happiness, especially if I’m the one who planned the outing. “Will all of my friends be able to find something to eat at this restaurant despite their various niche food preferences?” “Do my friends actually want to do this activity or are they just going along with it for the sake of not disrupting the group even though they’re going to be miserable the whole time we’re doing it?” You know, just normal concerns. But when I’m alone, if I want to take an extended hike on a trail of unknown length I’m beholden to no one. And on my Cape May trip in 2019 a hike was one of my major priorities.

Cape May Point State Park is home to the lighthouse that is the root of my fascination with lighthouses. I’d climbed it many times as a child and also on the Cape May trips I’d made as an adult in 2015 and 2017. But the state park is also home to a set of trails and on this trip I chose to ignore the lighthouse entirely in favor of making those trails a major focus. In fact, paying them a visit was one of the very first things I did when I got into town, before I was even able to check into my hotel.

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The trails are split up into red, yellow, and blue. They all start at the same entrance and then diverge. I would say that none of the hiking is very difficult since it’s all on mostly flat land and a large portion of it is on walkways made of plastic boardwalks that are elevated maybe a foot or two off of the ground, likely in an effort to damage the environment as little as possible. These walkways wind through the woody marshlands that border the state park’s beach, and the paths actually lead out to the sand in some places.

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You’re probably thinking that the red trail is the most difficult one because that’s often the way of things, but I’d say it’s the easiest. It’s entirely on the plastic planks and while it branches off into a series of little paths and loops, it basically brings you back to the parking lot without having to double back. It’s also very tree-y, providing long stretches of shade, which is important when it’s hot and humid, like pretty much my whole vacation was. Additionally, because it is entirely on the plastic boards, I would argue that the red trail is handicap accessible! I’m no accessibility expert, but I imagine there are many nature areas and trails that cannot say the same.

On the other hand, the yellow/blue trails (which run concurrently for nearly their entire length) is much longer than the red trail and it doesn’t loop – if you walk out there, you will be retracing your footsteps to get back to the car. I recall there was less shade overall than the red trail. There were also portions way down the trail where the path became dirt which was occasionally disturbed by tree roots. This was not a difficult section for me to walk through, but it may be for others.

I did the red trail first. I had done it in 2017 and it’s a pleasant little walk. There are multiple areas with benches to stop and rest, some of which overlook ponds that provide good opportunities for bird watching. I kept running into the same nice woman who noticed my camera and kept giving me a heads up to good photography opportunities that I’d be passing, like the group of ducks at the pond in the lighthouse photo above. When I finished the loop I still had a lot of time to kill before I could check into my hotel room, so I decided to make a go of the yellow/blue trail. I expected it would be largely like the red trail, but I was very wrong.

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Maybe this will sound overly dramatic or cheesy to you, but I think that sometimes in life a moment comes along that feels literally enchanted, just steeped in magic to the core, and my time on the yellow/blue trail is something I would describe that way. It felt like it was there just for me on that sunny September day, a feeling that likely came over me due to the nearly complete lack of other people compared to the several pairs and small groups of other tourists that I saw on the red trail.

I first traveled over plastic plank paths surrounded by tall grasses and some trees. It wasn’t so unlike the red trail, but then suddenly I came upon something new. The plastic path suddenly ended and after a bit of following a slightly sandy dirt path through trees, the trail opened up wide and I passed into a strange little grove. It felt sort of like a clearing despite all of the trees. The trail curved around a set of trees that were widely spaced enough that I could have just cut through if I hadn’t cared about disturbing the underbrush.

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The canopy was a little thicker here, so it was cooler than the previous sections of the trail and the light coming through had a kind of green-gold tinge. The wind was gently shaking the trees and I felt quiet peace come over me. I’m not terribly religious, but I felt a sort of reverence that I can only remember feeling when I visited old churches on a family trip to Germany. Somehow this area felt like one of the the most special, most enchanted, places I’d ever been even though it was just an area of trees and a curved path. I thought I had taken better pictures, but I didn’t, or maybe it’s the kind of magic that’s impossible to capture on camera, so you’ll just have to trust me.

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After leaving the grove the next thing of note that I came across was a long straight stretch of plastic boardwalk. It cut across a huge open field of grasses. As I mentioned earlier, a beach is not far from these trails and wind from the water rustled the grasses into a symphony as bugs chirped musically all around me. I walked across, my sneakered footsteps clunking on the boards, and when I reached the other side I found dirt under me again.

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The next section of path ahead of me was really only wide enough for one person to walk and it was fenced in by foliage that was taller than I am.

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Soon after that I came to another area of trees. There was a wooden bench and roots were poking up through the ground in places. Late afternoon light streamed through the branches, dappling the area in golden spots. I stopped to rest, drink water, and wrangle with the remote for my camera to take a picture of myself while hoping no one would come along and see me doing so because that would be awkward. (The greatest downside to traveling alone is, obviously, there is no one to help you take pictures.)

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After my rest I walked further down the trail and after a little longer the path split into separate yellow and blue trails. One of them, I don’t remember which color it was, soon came to a dead end. The other led me out of the trees to a bridge over a little river. From my vantage point on the bridge, I could see that the path would soon split in two again and curve away around separate corners, but the grasses where high again and I couldn’t see what was ahead. The ground looked like it was turning more to sand and I thought maybe the trail was curving around to the beach. I was intensely curious about what lay around the bend, but after a moment of debate I regretfully turned back, mainly motivated by not wanting to ruin my good walking shoes with sand on the first day of my trip and the fear that I probably needed to reapply my sunscreen (which I’d left in the car) or risk burning. So I made my way back out, past the bench, down the narrow path, through the grove.

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I enjoyed the rest of my vacation, but the part I still think back on the most is my hike alone on the yellow/blue trail.

When I returned to work after my trip, I showed my coworkers photos that I’d taken and when I mentioned that I had been alone one of them, a middle aged woman with sons around my age, said, “You’re crazy!” And maybe, probably, I am a little.

I’m not completely without sense. It did cross my mind that if I hurt myself while hiking I at least could use my cellphone to call for help. At one point on the yellow/blue trail I passed an older man and felt momentarily nervous, but he was too engrossed in a phone call to pay me any mind. I am not unaware of the risks that face any solo traveler, particularly a woman alone. But somehow Cape May feels so comfortable and familiar to me that I found myself doing things that I would never do at home, like taking extended walks through the quiet post-Labor Day town after dark. Hell, I even went to the beach one night at 10 pm to watch the nearly full moon paint the waves and that was another enchanted moment in itself.

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And somehow, despite the little voice in my head saying “you were being foolishly risky” I can’t help but long to do it all again.

I want to go back to that enchanted green-gold grove.

I want to find out what lies around that bend.

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I’ll be honest, I can’t remember where on the yellow/blue path this was so I left it out of the tale above, but it’s an actual! wooden! boardwalk! in an area of plastic ones and is therefore a very enchanted place all on its own and deserves to be part of this post.

Creating Joy in Crisis

At the start of the year I promised myself I would write a blog post every month, and this month I have procrastinated that pretty badly. As I sit down to write this it is 10 p.m. on the last day of March 2020. To be fair, there’s been a lot going on this month that has made it hard to find the focus to sit down and write. If you’re reading this from the far off future, this was the month that COVID-19 finally hit the United States and my day to day life still feels very unreal. The other day I wrote a very long post about how exactly things have progressed and changed for me, but thinking about posting that right now feels wrong because if I’m being honest, on the whole, compared to many others, so far this virus crisis has been little more than an inconvenience to me on a personal level. 

So what if I have to work from home on shitty, frustrating remote work software? At least I’ve still got a job. So what if I’m stuck at home? At least I live with my family and don’t have to worry about getting lonely. So what if the news is increasing the anxiety of me and everyone around me? At least everyone I know personally is still well. I have come to the conclusion that no one wants to hear my mediocre problems when people are literally dying. 

So instead let me tell you a couple of ways that I’m keeping anxiety at bay and distracting myself from thinking too much by creating a little bit of joy in my life. Because, yes, this is a highly serious situation, but I’m scared of becoming overwhelmed by my fears and not being able to continue getting necessary tasks done.

My friend Brenda taught me the concept of “laughing so you don’t cry” and that is a concept I’ve clung to for the past few years, especially now. My current favorite way to have a laugh lately is by watching a British show called Taskmaster. I first found out about this show in the fall by spending too much time in British comedian YouTube and it’s rare for an episode not to make me laugh extremely hard. The concept of the show is that a set of comedians are all given ridiculous challenges to do, usually completing them in creative or unusual ways.

The best part is that they upload full episodes to their YouTube channel. I’m not one for binge watching and yet I watched almost all of a series in one day last weekend. I’d like to point your attention to series 4 in particular, which is the series I first watched because I’m a Joe Lycett fan. It’s got a good mix of personalities and it’s still my favorite series that I’ve watched so far. (I’ve now seen S1 and S2 as well.)

The other thing bringing me joy right now should come as no surprise to you if you follow me on Twitter, and that is Animal Crossing New Horizons. The previous game in the series, New Leaf, was my crutch through the biggest depression of my life back in 2013, so it feels weirdly correct that the new game has appeared during a dark time as well. It’s just one of the cutest freaking games out there! I managed to start off with one of my all time favorite animals on my island (after resetting 4 times because I kept starting off with really hideous animals).

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The routine of all the little daily tasks to do to take care of and grow the community on the island is very comforting to me now, just as the last game was in 2013. And it’s also been a nice way for me to spend time with friends in a way while we’re all separated!

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I understand not everyone has access to a Nintendo Switch, so please allow me to recommend a couple of other games. Stardew Valley is available on computers and other consoles and I found it to be a pretty relaxing time sink last year and lost large chunks of time to tending my farm and making friends. I’ve also downloaded Neko Atsume to my phone. It’s a cat collecting game that was first big around maybe 2013? 2014? It doesn’t have much in the way of gameplay per se, but it is very cute! I also 100% recommend Untitled Goose Game, available on all consoles and computers, to everyone who loves being a hilarious agent of small stakes chaos.

And that’s all I’ve got to say for now. I hope you all are doing as well as possible! These are rough times, but nothing lasts forever and we will get through one way or another.

Flowers (Meditations on Dating)

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It’s just after the new year when I finally make it to the salon for my quarterly haircut. It’s the coldest day of the winter so far. My hairdresser’s coworkers are gently teasing her about the massive flower arrangement she received at work that afternoon. She’s embarrassed, but excited, pink with the flush of new romance. Her joy could turn the winter to spring. I’m happy for her, and her mood is adorable and infectious, but my heart twists slightly with jealousy as I admit to her that no one has ever given me flowers. (Well, my grandma did once when I was in a play in middle school, but that doesn’t really count, does it?)

What I don’t mention is that the lack of flowers is entirely my own fault. When I was younger most of my partners were the kinds of immature guys that would never think to buy flowers, but when I sensed someone might try to buy them for me I said “don’t.” This wasn’t because I didn’t appreciate the thought or how pretty they were, but because it seemed pointless and wasteful to spend the money on something with such a short shelf life, to spend so much on something that would inevitably die. 

And yet, when I think about it I see how I have repeatedly spent so much of myself on situations with short shelf lives. If I had paid attention, I perhaps could have protected myself from being left to wilt. The past shouldn’t be changed because we are who we are because of our experiences, but who I am is so tired, especially by the thought of dating. 

My mom keeps a big ornamental grass in our backyard. Every winter she cuts it low when it dries up and every summer it grows back, full and lush. My last date was about two and a half years ago. Part of me was cut back then too, but I have not yet found the energy for regrowth.

How pointless to give time to someone, to become comfortable and open up, when they can suddenly decide you no longer fit the scheme of their garden, yank you up at the root, and chuck you out.

How wasteful to spend time grieving something you could not preserve, clinging to the memories like you’re pressing flower petals for framing only to have the blooms dry up too much and crumble to dust.

But when romance is freshly blooming, when they send you flowers at work, when they smile at you in a way that makes your heart feel so full it could blossom out of your chest, that is the point, that is the opposite of waste.

So when I see Sara, flush faced, caught up in something new, the flowers not yet wilted, I think that maybe this will be the year I try dating again. Maybe this time I’ll wind up with a field of bright blooms.

Goals for 2020

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My first selfie of the year!

I typically don’t like to set annual goals/resolutions for myself because I have a tendency to not complete them and then a tendency to really beat myself up about that. It’s not like I was in the habit of setting crazy goals — for the most part I picked things that I thought were attainable. And…then…still managed to not make them happen either through the universe conspiring against me (hello, years of saying “I’m gonna get a new job this year” and sending out resumes that no one responded to) or via my own lack of discipline (see: any time I said “I’m gonna do creative thing X more!”). 

So generally, I’ve found that it’s better for my relationship with myself to not even bother, even though I know that setting goals and making efforts to reach them is a way of growth, even if I do not ultimately succeed. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve never been able to set my mind on any big concrete lifetime goals. I have multiple friends that want to be published authors and others that want to improve at art while maybe getting to make money from it. I have two friends that aimed to be teachers, and now they’re doing it, which is awesome! 

I have two goals in life, neither of which are particularly concrete:

  • to be able to fully support myself financially; and
  • to be at least mostly content in my day to day life (because I know it is horrifically unrealistic to expect 100% happiness).

The second one I tend to do reasonably well at usually, which I am thankful for. The first one? Well, I’m currently typing this from my bedroom in my mother’s house, so, uh, there’s that. I can say, however, that even though I can’t afford to put a roof over my head, I don’t have to ask my family for money with help with my personal bills. And I will get closer to having the finances to move out when I finish off my college loans later this year!!!

But lately I’ve been thinking that having such vague goals is probably to my detriment. I’ve been having a bit of an existential crisis where it occasionally hits me that I do the same set of things every day and will probably be doing them over and over with slight variations until I die. My life feels really really pointless to me. The closest analogy I can think of is when you reach the endgame in an MMO, you’ve maxed out your level, and you’re stuck doing the same few dungeons over and over, just because you’ve put so much time in that you can’t give up on playing.

I am a person who loves having a routine and finds comfort in it. But I feel I am getting to a point where the repetition is starting to drive me a little mad. The path I’m on leads nowhere and in some ways I wish I didn’t have to continue on it. (But don’t worry, I will continue because there are good things in my life!)

So I’ve set myself two goals for this year, which I feel are highly, highly doable.:

  • Write at least one blog post a month. (I enjoy writing, but my lack of discipline the real challenge.)
  • Finally clear up some of my gaming backlog, starting with World of Final Fantasy, which I’ve been chipping away at for two years or more. (Too many games that I want to play have been coming out in the past few years and I tend to dip in and out of them, and not get around to finishing any of them, which is what keeps happening with WoFF. It’s cute and I’ll play it in long spurts and then abandon it for equally long spurts. I thiiink I’m reasonably close to the end, but I don’t want spoilers so I haven’t looked at a guide.)

There is a third goal I have in mind for the second half of the year, which is to get a new job (for real this time, I swear, guys). I’m holding off because I have some travel coming up in the spring and don’t want to start off a new job with “sorry, but I need to take these 7 days off scattered across the next few months” especially when many jobs do not start you off with any paid leave. My sixth anniversary at my current job is in May and I have once and for all finally fully come to terms with the fact that they will never pay me a living wage for our area there, despite telling me repeatedly what an asset I am to the office. That coupled with a ton of bullshit that happened in 2019 (not to me personally for the most part, but just things I witnessed) has me feeling very “fuck you guys, I’m done.” 

Besides all of that I think I really do need to get some kind of hobby that I need to work at and set time for me to do it on a regular basis. Because I enjoy video games, but at the end of the day they don’t go anywhere once the story is done. I’m not putting huge pressure on this for myself, but maybe I would feel better about myself if I could say “okay, maybe no one is willing to hire me, but look how much better I’ve gotten at watercolors.” Or maybe I could take up the guitar again. Or even if I just would read more books, and not only just cram in reading on my Kindle during lunch, I would feel like I was making progress at something. Doing more reading would also give a bit of a break to my hands, which have been feeling increasingly terrible since I was promoted to a position where I type a lot of dicatations a year and a half ago. 

Is this stupid? I don’t know. All I know is that this is the last year of my 20s (my 29th birthday is 1/31) and ever since the tenth anniversary of my high school graduation in June a part of my mind has been fixated on the notion of “ten years have gone by and I have nothing to show for it.” Which logically I know is very wrong, and I also know I’m not alone in this feeling, but I find it difficult to quiet the part of my brain that feels like I hasn’t lived up to my potential so here we are.

Six Lighthouses in One Day!

Fun fact: Maine is one of the top states in the U.S. when it comes to the number of lighthouses located there! I have a personal history with lighthouses as well, or at least one particular one down in Cape May, New Jersey that I’ve climbed on a series of vacations throughout my life. (A scan of my post history tells me I have somehow never blogged about Cape May — note to self: fix this oversight!)

Early into my trip to Portland with my friend Kristen in September 2018 we found a particular guide on a Portland tourism website that detailed a driving plan for visiting six lighthouses located close to the city all in one day. Being a pair of overachievers, on the last full day of our trip we decided to make the journey. Since we weren’t local, we weren’t really sure what the most efficient route would be for visiting all the lighthouses and decided to just follow the guide from top to bottom.

So we started at Two Lights State Park, a place where it is impossible to take photos of both lighthouses at the same time and also a place where you can climb neither lighthouse because they are both on private property. If I’m being honest, in reviewing my vacation photos for this post I wasn’t even sure if I photographed both lighthouses, because one of them was further off and harder to photograph.

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But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that this location was freaking BEAUTIFUL. The small peninsula that made up the park is made of rocks worn away in surprisingly geometric formations. It looks craggly and intimidating, but is easier to get around on than it looks. I loved it so much! If I was local, I could totally see myself stopping over here on a regular basis to decompress. (Also, the shape of the rocks totally gives off Dragon Age: Inquisition Storm Coast vibes if you’re a nerd about the same things that I am.)IMG_2465.JPG

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I always take way too many pictures when I am confronted with crashing waves, and this place was no exception. I honestly could fill a whole blog post with just pictures from this location and feel satisfied with the results.

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I found it! The second lighthouse! …Waaaay off behind that big house in the center.

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After a good chunk of time spent here while we both took way too many pictures, we set off for the next location, Portland Head Light. This lighthouse is located in a big state park area that had a lot of people walking around on trails, picnicking, etc. Used to money grubbing New Jersey, I was pleasantly surprised when they didn’t ask for money for parking.

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Portland Head Light is not only the oldest lighthouse in Maine, it is also still operational. Please note that speck on the horizon near the middle of this picture — that is Ram Island Light out in the middle of the water. It’s a very picturesque area. The travel guide we were using described it as one of the most photographed lighthouses in the country. I can see why!

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However, I was very disappointed that we could not climb this lighthouse either. There was a little museum on the ground floor, but they wanted money to enter, which is totally fair, but we decided it didn’t seem worth it as from the outside it looked like it was just one smallish room.

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We spent some time trekking around the grounds even as the sun came out. This was a bit of a pleasant surprise, because sun is nice! But it was also an unpleasant one, as we had not brought sunscreen in the car (and might not have brought water either, but my memory is not 100% sure of that). Somehow we avoided getting seriously sunburnt, thank goodness!

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Here’s a slightly closer view of Ram Island Light, the best we were able to get since it was way out there in the water alone.

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Once we’d had our fill, we got back in my car and drove off to what was probably the weirdest location on the list, Spring Point Ledge Light. This location is only weird because you literally have to drive through a community college to get to it. There were only a couple of parking spots set aside for the lighthouse, which were all occupied when we arrived. So we briefly illegally parked in a nearby college lot where we could still see the lighthouse and snapped a photo, just so we could say we saw it and check it off the list. I was kind of disappointed that we couldn’t get closer to this one because the guide we were following specifically noted that some days people are allowed inside, and our “lighthouses entered” count was still zero.

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The final lighthouse we visited was Bug Light and it was a very short drive from Spring Point Ledge Light. It wasn’t very tall but made up for that by being very scenic!

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Once you got up near the lighthouse there was an excellent view of the Old Port area of Downtown Portland. (If you read my previous Portland post, you will already realize that this is “you cannot escape the Old Port” in action, lol.)

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Kristen is about 5’6″ish, I think? Bug Light is not nearly as many Kristens high as you think a lighthouse would usually be!

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It me!

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Near the parking area of Bug Light is this neato giant ship sculpture that we checked out on the way back to the car. It houses an exhibit about shipbuilding in the Portland area that was pretty interesting!

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And that was it! By visiting Bug Light we checked the sixth lighthouse off of our list!

There was one thing I was slightly disappointed about as we drove away from the last lighthouse– we had not been allowed to climb up to the top of any of the lighthouses we viewed! We do have to take Spring Point Ledge Light out of the picture because we couldn’t actually walk up to it and see if it was open, but it didn’t seem like this situation was matter of not being at the lighthouses on the right day. They were all either inaccessible due to being on private land or didn’t allow visitors inside.

You might say, “Hey, but should you really be going up inside lighthouses that are still operational and serving their purpose?” To which I reply, Cape May Lighthouse is still operational and you can go up to the top. And also

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Jokes and slight disappointment aside, I had fun visiting all of the lighthouses. They were all located in beautiful places and it was a fun little adventure! It also doesn’t take too long, depending on how long you spend at each location, of course. We started off probably around 10 am and were finished by a reasonable lunchtime. It was a lovely day to cap off a lovely trip!

But of the lighthouses in this post, I really would only suggest visiting Two Lights State Park and Portland Head Light as they have the most to walk around and look at on the grounds as well as the loveliest scenery. But as I said at the top of this post, Maine has SO MANY lighthouses and if you research a little more than we did I’m sure you can find some other cool ones worth visiting!

This post is companion to my Portland, Maine trip overview post which you can check out HERE!

I hope you’re all having a good week! I’ll try to post again soon.