Sam’s Anchor Café

I first visited Sam’s Anchor Café (better known as “Sam’s”) when I was 23 years old. I had just completed a full day job interview in San Francisco, where I was hoping to move from New York. I was exhausted, but still had a few hours before my red-eye flight home. I decided to check out a place on the water in Marin county that friends had described as a Bay Area “must-do.”

So, I boarded a ferry and headed across the bay to the charming seaside town of Tiburon. Just a few doors down from the ferry terminal, I spotted a retro neon sign emblazoned with “Sam’s Anchor Café.” I tentatively entered a dimly lit, smoky bar that reeked of popcorn and beer. I was wandering through the bar when a hostess approached me and asked if I would like to sit outside. I nodded and followed her, quickly realizing that the outdoor waterfront deck at Sam’s was the place to be.

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The iconic Sam’s literally anchors the waterfront in Tiburon, CA

It was a beautiful Thursday afternoon in late June—“five o’clock somewhere,” as my Dad would say. The place was bustling, with groups camped around the deck eating burgers, fried calamari, oysters and fresh crab Louie salads; patrons everywhere sipped a pinkish-white cocktail that I soon found out was Sam’s signature drink, the “Ramos Fizz,” a frothy concoction of gin, egg whites, lime juice, sugar, heavy cream and orange flower water. The large wooden deck overlooked Tiburon harbor and San Francisco Bay. Just off to the right, the dozens of colorful boats docked at the Corinthian and San Francisco Yacht clubs added to the picturesque setting.

I settled into my plastic deck chair and ordered my first-ever Ramos Fizz, sighing contentedly. Just then, two nice looking young men sitting nearby implored me to join them. Already immersed in the friendly openness of Northern California, I gamely headed over to sit with these two strangers. Within a half hour, we were strangers no more. Ted lived in San Francisco and had been there about a year. His friend, Bert, was visiting from Chicago. After exchanging pleasantries and clinking glasses, Bert & Ted apparently felt comfortable enough in my presence to begin snapping their fingers in unison and singing…

“Trailers for sale or rent; room to let, fifty-cents. No phone, no pool no pets; I ain’t got no cigarettes. Ah, but two hours of pushin’ broom buys an eight-by-twelve four-bit room…. I’m a man of means, by no means—King of the Road…”

I did not recognize this song, but over the next two hours I became intimately familiar with the Roger Miller classic, “King of the Road.” To this day, I know all the words and each time I hear the song I insist on snapping my fingers to the beat and belting out the lyrics… and I am always reminded of that special day on the outdoor deck at Sam’s.

I relocated to the Bay Area a year later and Sam’s became a regular haunt. A favorite weekend activity was to bike with friends through San Francisco’s Marina district and over the golden gate bridge, through Sausalito, Mill Valley and Tiburon, eventually landing at Sam’s for lunch. It was always a casual and welcoming place where we easily made new friends and passed the afternoon blissfully. After a few Ramos Fizzes and a nice lunch, we would board the ferry with our bicycles and return to the city.

As much as I enjoyed biking to Sam’s, the quintessential way to arrive was via boat. Fortunately, during my tenure in San Francisco, I had several friends with boats and we would occasionally sail right up to the dock outside Sam’s, moor the boat and saunter up the pier straight onto the outdoor deck. We couldn’t help but feel like VIPs, with everyone on Sam’s deck watching us disembark. Good times.

I moved back to the east coast in late 1989 and in the ensuing years I continued to visit Sam’s many times. I introduced my husband to Sam’s early into our relationship. When our children were young we made a family pilgrimage there for Saturday lunch. Our kids loved sitting outside by the water, until one of Sam’s ‘friendly’ pelicans landed on our table and starting eating right from our plates! We were more surprised than upset, and quickly realized that these winged visitors only added to the local color of this iconic joint.

My most recent visits to Sam’s were last month—in fact, I had lunch there 3 times in a two-week span. First, we indoctrinated our niece who was new to the Bay Area; then, we returned twice with our daughter and her friends, all Sam’s first-timers. Even after frequenting the place over so many years, I still marveled at how tasty the food was—especially for a casual spot that people chose primarily for the atmosphere. During one of these recent meals, I experienced my first-ever Crab Cake Benedict—a rich and delectable combination of fresh Dungeness crab cakes topped with poached eggs and hollandaise. Yum!

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Crab Cake Benedict

Even the February weather cooperated so we could enjoy Sam’s outdoor deck as it should be: with clear skies, sunshine and comfortably mild temperatures. No Ramos Fizzes for our group, but even so, Sam’s did not disappoint. This venerable Bay Area establishment has weathered the test of time. If anything, it’s even better now than I remember!

As I write this, it’s a beautiful, sunny Sunday… 20-something degrees in New York with snow on the ground and more heading our way soon. I am dreaming of warmer weather and a relaxing brunch outside on the deck at Sam’s Anchor Café where life is always good.

 

 

Stairways to Heaven

Belvedere, California…A picturesque seaside town, less than one square mile in size, just four miles north of San Francisco. Belvedere sits on the south side of the Tiburon peninsula between Richardson Bay and San Francisco Bay, with panoramic vistas of the Bay Bridge, Angel Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. The water views, homes tucked into the hillside and narrow, winding streets with names like Beach, Bay View and Bella Vista, are vaguely reminiscent of the quaint towns along the French Riviera. For those who enjoy and appreciate the outdoors, Belvedere is pure heaven.

My husband and I were fortunate enough to be staying in this idyllic place for two weeks. Exploring the neighborhood on our first day, we noticed a hand-painted wooden sign marking the entrance to a narrow upward stairway. As we meandered, we saw other painted signs and accompanying stairways. Later that day, my curiosity led me to venture up one of the stairways known as Cedar Lane. As I climbed the first few steps, my adrenaline surged… I felt as though I was heading up a secret passageway into a bygone era.

I counted 176 steps to the top of Cedar Lane. After a few minutes of climbing, my pulse had quickened and I was breathing heavily. Not only was this a terrific workout, but also, I was intrigued by the stairways… how many of them existed in Belvedere? What purpose did the stairs serve? Were they all similar or different? And, most importantly, would I be able to climb all the stairways during my stay?

A quick Internet search further piqued my interest in these secret stairways. First, I learned that the locals refer to the stairways as the “Belvedere Lanes.” There are 17 lanes in Belvedere. They comprise a network of stairs and pathways that connect the roadways on the two islands that make up the town of Belvedere: the smaller Corinthian Island and the larger Belvedere Island. The shortest lane has just 4 steps and a passageway, and the longest boasts 195 steps. One of the lanes isn’t actually a stairway at all, but a steep ramp connecting one dead end street at sea level to another road high atop a cliff.

According to historical accounts, in the early 1900’s, Belvedere was a welcome summer retreat for San Franciscans seeking a milder climate and easy water access. Residents arrived by boat from San Francisco and used the stairways to reach their summer houses. Today, the lanes provide passage to areas that are difficult to reach by car via the narrow and hilly streets of Belvedere. They also serve as a means of escape during natural disasters like earthquakes and fires. Many local residents enjoy hiking the island through the passageways of the lanes. And, since I was now a bonafide local for two weeks, I decided that this would be the perfect way to explore Belvedere.

The entrances to the lanes are marked by charming, hand-painted wooden signs. The colorful signs, created by local artists, depict the flora, fauna and beautiful landscapes found in Belvedere and Tiburon. Some of the lanes, like Cedar, Woodwardia, McLean and Woodlands, are divided into upper and lower sections, each marked with a distinctive sign. Every lane is unique. Some lanes are lush and green, others are heavily wooded, and a few are simple utilitarian connective passageways between homes.

I spent my first few days in Belvedere exploring the lanes, a few at a time. By day three, I had been up and down every lane at least once. I was now officially obsessed. A local shopkeeper advised me that residents hike the lanes for exercise, traversing the entire network in one go-around. I decided to attempt this feat the next morning. Following the local protocol, I started at the San Francisco Yacht Club at the base of Belvedere Island, then followed the lanes up and down in order, beginning with Lower McLean, then moving right to left as I tackled each new stairway.

The next hour and a half provided many, highlights, surprises and adventures. Hawthorne Lane offered two pleasant surprises. First, the painted sign depicted a boy walking his golden retriever along the water, which, as a golden retriever lover, warmed my heart. Then, midway up this stairway, I discovered two miniature parks with wood benches, statues and a memorial plaque.

The sign marking the entrance to Upper Woodland Lane depicted a powerful soaring eagle. This lane, lined with tall trees, shrubs and ferns, featured a rustic wood stairway and evoked a dense forest.fullsizerender-36

Another wonderful surprise came at the top of Pagoda Lane. At its entrance, this stairway appeared to be an unassuming ramp with just six stairs, but quickly morphed into a monster climb of 190 steps straight uphill. Waiting at the top of the stairs was a white golden retriever named Maverick (ironically, a virtual twin and namesake of my former beloved dog!) He greeted me with excited barking and then followed me on the next three stairways, until I eventually walked him back home.

My most challenging stairway was Harry B Allen Lane, but not because it had the most steps. This lane is designed as a steep metal stairway leading down from Beach Street to the harbor and rocky beach below. The stairs are open grates so as you walk you can see the ground below… a frightening proposition for someone like me who is prone to bouts of Vertigo. After meticulously counting 104 stairs and finally touching ground, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. Moments later, I was rewarded with an extraordinary selection of beach glass that had washed ashore during a recent storm, making this intense descent and return climb completely worthwhile.

The Lanes of Belvedere comprise 1,888 steps. All these stairways together, plus the roadways in between, span a total of 4.2 miles. Not a bad workout in a town that’s less than one square mile in size!

Hiking the lanes proved to be a fun and exhilarating experience as well as a perfect way to get acquainted with this magnificent area. The best part was that this exploration combined many of my favorite interests and passions—adventure, history, curiosity, artistic expression, and rigorous fitness—all in one outing! The ultimate in multi-tasking.

 

Today

As we begin a new year, I am seeking fresh inspiration and challenges. One such inspiration found me last week…

I was driving to an appointment while listening to Brad Paisley’s song, “Today.” The powerful lyrics spoke to me: “I don’t know about tomorrow, but right now the whole world feels right.” And, in that moment, the whole world did feel right. The sun was shining on that cool, crisp morning; I was filled with purpose and determination, singing shamelessly to a great song. I was awash in peace and contentment. Within minutes, I came upon some road construction, then standstill traffic, and soon became anxious that I would be delayed. I hate to be late and keep others waiting. The mood was broken. But for those few, brief moments, I was living life in the moment, and it felt perfect.

I began reflecting upon the crazy lives we lead, filled with nonstop multi-tasking and fear of missing out (“FOMO” as my daughter calls it.) We are a society that dwells on our past, while worrying about the future and what awaits us somewhere else, tomorrow. The proliferation of 24-7 social media exacerbates this situation by causing us to focus more on capturing the moment in Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat photos rather than enjoying the beautiful hike, ski run, beach walk or dinner out with friends that we are currently engaged in. These continual, stress-producing distractions leave us enervated and unable to fully enjoy where we are, who we’re with and what we’re actually doing now, in the moment, today.

A good friend shared a favorite saying that seems quite apropos:

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called THE PRESENT.

Such a simple message, yet one that is so challenging to live by. Sure, there are certain occasions in our lives when we are forced to live entirely in the moment (one example for me is water skiing… when I am being pulled by a speeding motorboat, ski skimming atop the crystal clear water, I have one thought—and one thought only—to remain upright, or risk crashing into the wake below!) I have never gone sky-diving or tried scuba but I imagine those activities produce the same exhilaration and adrenaline rush.

Vacation is a period during which work, study and other usual activities are suspended and typically replaced with rest, recreation or travel. Like most people, when I am on vacation, I find a Zen-like existence easier to embrace. I wake up early with few or no plans and let the day unfold organically. On a recent family holiday in California, I discovered joy in just being outdoors, breathing in the fresh mountain air, exercising daily, eating delicious, healthy food, and being with the people I love most. We hiked, played golf, took long walks, played beach volleyball and did yoga. Each day in the shank of the afternoon, we relaxed and read our books.

Very rarely during that vacation did I dwell on the past or worry about what awaited me when I got home. The usual stress was replaced with more energy, spirit, spontaneity and personal fulfillment. There is so much that life has to offer and it’s all right in front of us. Today. I know it’s not realistic to live the way we do on vacation every day of our lives. If that were the case, vacation would not exist. But living in the moment and enjoying what we’re doing now is something worth striving for.

The rise of “Mindfulness” and the popularity of yoga and meditation practices suggest that people are aware of the benefits of being more present in their lives and want to capture that feeling on a regular basis. For several years, I resisted practicing Yoga because I found the focus on breathing annoying and, as a form of exercise, Yoga seemed very “slow moving.” More recently, I have embraced Yoga and welcome the balance it brings to my life.  It is, in fact, the ideal antidote to the Type-A personality. I do not pretend to be an expert on mindfulness or yoga, but I do know how I felt that day singing in the car, and I know how I feel when I’m waterskiing, or standing atop a mountain I’ve just climbed. Joyful and exhilarated! And, I want to hold onto that feeling.

Right now, my today moment entails writing this blog post and snuggling my beloved dog, as he nestles contentedly at my feet. (Incidentally, dogs have this totally figured out. They naturally live completely in the moment… then immediately move on to the next wonderful thing. We can learn a lot from our dogs!)

In 2017 and beyond, I am determined to live a life of mindfulness, relish the moment I’m in and enjoy today as much as possible. I challenge you to join me.

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Casseroles, Comfort & Community

Last weekend, my husband and I traveled to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for a memorial service to honor our brother-in-law’s father. While the purpose of our trip was sad and somber, the people of Baton Rouge and the community we visited transformed a potentially difficult weekend into a heartwarming, uplifting and eye-opening experience.

Our flight from New York landed in Baton Rouge during the Friday rush hour. Within minutes, we were greeted outside baggage claim by a lovely couple, Alice and Larry, whom we had never met, and whisked into their car. Alice and Larry, close friends of the bereaved family, could not have been kinder, taking time out of their busy lives to retrieve two strangers from the airport. We chatted amiably during the entire car ride, feeling like we had known this couple for years. Alice and Larry drove us directly to our accommodations, the home of Sandra and Jay, close friends and neighbors who would be our hosts for the weekend.

Sandra and Jay, whom we had also never met, graciously welcomed us (as well as my parents, my sister and brother-in-law) into their spacious, elegant home. From the comfortable private bedrooms and wide selection of amenities to delicious homemade cooking—including a traditional southern breakfast of “grits and grillades” which our hostess cooked over a 24-hour period—we were treated as special guests.

My personal highlight of our stay at this house was observing our hosts relaxing in ‘his & hers’ recliners in front of a ginormous flat screen TV, each with a glass of bourbon in hand, cheering on their beloved LSU Tigers. Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in New York anymore….

Two doors down, we gathered with our extended family to comfort each other, reminisce and share treasured photos, as a continuous stream of friends and neighbors passed through to pay their respects. No one came empty-handed. People brought homemade casseroles of every variety: pasta, tuna, vegetable, chicken & rice, egg & sausage, you name it. There were also salads, meats, cheeses, dips, vegetables, cakes, pastries and other sweet treats. We ate and drank nonstop for two days. Our usual gluten-free, fat-free, dairy-free, healthy eating habits were temporarily discarded as we soon realized that “comfort food” really does soothe the soul.

This was southern hospitality at its finest. But the comfort extended far beyond the food. The entire weekend was an overwhelming testament to a supportive community caring for one of its own families. Yes, people cooked and delivered food for each meal, they shuttled out-of-town guests around (in addition to our airport pickup, other thoughtful strangers gathered my sister and parents from their flights) and they showered the entire anguished family with heartfelt love and support. In short, everyone went above and beyond the call of duty, not because they felt obligated, but because it was second nature to them to step in and help. These kind actions may have been precipitated by a tragedy, but they were not reserved for this sad occasion. Rather, these were typical, everyday occurrences for the people of this community who always conduct their lives with grace and kindness to help those around them. As they say in the South, these are “good peeps.”

In the wake of one of the nastiest, most contentious presidential elections in our nation’s history, it is evident that stark divisions and deep wounds remain that desperately need to heal. In this spirit, the southern hospitality and sense of community that we experienced last weekend is a perfect example of how we should all conduct ourselves…. cast judgments aside, be kind to one another and work together as a team to make those around us stronger—not only in a crisis, but always. Thank you to the people of Baton Rouge for inspiring us and leading the way forward.

 

 

 

 

 

Turkey Dogs

You’re likely thinking July 4th barbecue— a healthy, tasty grilling option alongside the traditional hamburgers and hot dogs. Yes, possibly. But I am actually referring to a different type of turkey dog. These turkey dogs are real, live, purebred Golden Retrievers from Istanbul, Turkey, who are being rescued and relocated to the United States to enjoy new lives.

As background, Golden Retrievers were once considered a status symbol among the wealthy in Turkey. A few years back, it became popular and even fashionable to own a Golden Retriever puppy, which most Turkish families bought from a pet store. (There are few traditional breeders in Turkey.) But once the pups grew up, things changed. The tiny balls of fur that parents had given their children as holiday gifts were now large, energetic dogs that many found difficult to keep in their small homes. So began the abandonment of Goldens into the streets and forests. Unlike typical stray dogs that could astutely navigate the streets, find food and fight for space, the Golden Retrievers were ill-equipped to roam free. Gentle and non-aggressive by nature, these canines were used to being with their human families and could not survive well in the cold. With few shelters available in Istanbul, the dogs would frequently starve or become prey to the thousands of feral dog packs in the forests around the city. Few lived to see old age.

That is, until the onset of Operation Turkey Dog, a program founded in 2014 to rescue these dogs and find them new homes in the United States. The program originated at Adopt a Golden in Atlanta, Georgia (“AGA.”) AGA established a large network of compassionate, dog-loving volunteers and created the process and infrastructure to bring these dogs to the US, then turn them over to caring, adoptive families.

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The typical journey of a “turkey dog” from Istanbul to the United States is an arduous one. It begins on the ground in Istanbul where dozens of committed, selfless volunteers work alongside local dog trainers and veterinarians and literally drive through the streets rounding up the Golden Retrievers (along with other non-aggressive breeds) and sheltering them in makeshift doggie hotels. Once the canines are fed and their medical needs addressed, many are designated to travel to the US. While awaiting their departure dates, the dogs often spend a few interim weeks in local municipal shelters. These massive shelters house hundreds of dogs and, while life there is better than on the streets, the conditions are less than satisfactory—with both food and space scarce and frequent dog fights. Fortunately, most Goldens do not remain in these shelters for long.

Before leaving Turkey, the dogs receive complete medical exams, are spayed or neutered and are issued health certificates and pet passports. They travel on nonstop flights with Turkish volunteers who meet the US volunteers upon arrival. Multiple Golden Retriever rescue groups from around the nation—who have partnered with AGA—work together in teams to bring the dogs to their new homes in different regions where pre-screened American families excitedly wait to meet their new adoptees.

Since the program’s inception, 680 turkey dogs have been re-homed in the US and Canada, with more arriving each month. These dogs appear to be thriving and the demand for them is far from sated, as Golden Retriever rescue organizations routinely have many more potential adopters than dogs ready for placement. Adoptive families post daily photos of the dogs playing with other dogs, chasing toys and tennis balls. The turkey dogs have their own beds. They enjoy swimming, frolicking and even riding on boats! Many have canine and/or human siblings. But mostly, they are happy just loving and being loved. Simply put, they’re settling in wonderfully and are thoroughly enjoying the American life.

When I first heard about this rescue operation from a friend, I was incredulous that people could willingly abandon these sweet, gentle souls who exist solely to provide unconditional love. I immediately wanted to get involved. A few months ago, I began volunteering my time to walk and care for the new turkey dog arrivals, helping to prepare them for their adoptions into forever homes. I was amazed to see how affectionate and friendly the turkey dogs were upon immediate arrival on US soil. Literally moments off the airplane, after spending 15+ hours between holding stations, transit time and customs, their tails were wagging like crazy and they couldn’t wait to receive hugs and give wet puppy kisses. I sensed these were special dogs.

I also knew that I wanted to adopt one of these turkey dogs. My husband and I have always loved golden retrievers and had already raised two; caring for those two incredible dogs had a profound impact on our lives. After mourning the loss of our 2nd Golden last spring, we were finally ready to adopt another dog. We considered going to a breeder, but after hearing about Operation Turkey Dog, we decided this was our best option. After a rigorous application process—which included a telephone interview, home visit and several reference checks—we were approved to adopt a turkey dog through Golden Retriever Rescue Inc. of NJ. Then the waiting began…

Two weeks ago, our wait ended, and our dream of adopting one of these wonderful turkey dogs was realized when our beloved “Casper” arrived at JFK airport from Istanbul, Turkey. The local rescue group had named him Casper, along with the other Halloween-themed turkey dogs: Wendy, Trix and Treat, all of whom arrived in America this October. We considered several other names for our dog, but after spending a few minutes with him and witnessing his friendly nature and playful, mischievous spark—not to mention his white coat—Casper seemed like the perfect name.

This sweet, handsome boy came into our home and our hearts. It is amazing to think that just a couple of months ago he was roaming the streets of Istanbul foraging for food and fending off attacks from dogs and other wild animals. Walking him a few days ago in torrential rain, I became misty-eyed as I realized that, instead of wandering through the forest looking for a dry, safe place to wait out the storm, Casper now has a warm, cozy home with plenty of healthy food and a family who adores him. I am saddened to think of all the other dogs who remain in Turkey, waiting for their ticket out, and the countless others who will never know a better life with a loving family. So, I prefer to focus on this one dog, our Casper, whom we were able to save. In closing, I’d like to share a favorite quote from the head of our local Golden Retriever rescue group:

“Saving one animal may not change the world, but for that animal, their world is changed forever.”

I’m so grateful we could help change your world, Casper… and even more blessed that you were able to change ours.

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“Casper” is a happy boy and is enjoying his new life in America…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Find Your Beach

As a marketing consultant, I appreciate an advertising campaign that reinforces a distinctive brand positioning and instills an emotional connection with consumers. Corona Extra is the #1 imported beer in the U.S. thanks, in large part, to its long-running Find Your Beach campaign. This campaign challenges consumers to explore inward to discover their own beach—not necessarily a physical place per se, but more a state-of-mind—or, better yet, a “state of being and living,” according to Corona’s EVP of Marketing.  In today’s frenetic world, it is critical for us to carve out time to relax and enjoy life with the people we care deeply about.

As I write this, I am sitting in one of my favorite spots in the world, gazing out at a picturesque, softly rippling lake in Southwestern Maine. It is the shank of the afternoon, the sun slowly fading in the sky, the icing on a perfect late summer day.  I breathe deeply and savor the moment.  Tomorrow is Labor Day— the psychological close to summer—and I am clinging to every last drop of summertime’s joyful spirit and peaceful mindset.

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For 20 years, my family has vacationed in this idyllic site on Sebago Lake known as Migis Lodge. Our children were two and six months when we first ventured to Migis. This has always been that special place where I can truly be my best self. It is my beach. I breathe a little easier here. I enjoy living in the moment. My heart quickens a little each time the car approaches the entrance, especially if it’s been awhile since my last visit. It is difficult to describe the overwhelming feelings of contentment that envelope me as soon as I step onto the property or the profound sense of sadness I feel when it’s time to leave.

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Majestic pines frame the pristine lake

I treasure everything about Migis Lodge. The tall, majestic pine trees… the rustic yet comfortable and cozy cabins (with no locks on the doors) nestled into the woods… the gentle pathways blanketed with pine needles that connect different parts of the property… the magnificent lake, still and flat as glass in the early morning and softly shimmering in the evening… the cries of the loons echoing through the air as dusk sets in… the water ski dock where children and teens of all ages happily hang for hours, taking turns riding in the speedboat as they ski, wakeboard and cheer each other on… (Both our children learned to water ski here.)

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The water ski dock during a rare quiet moment

…the weekly Friday night lobster bake with fresh, local steamers, lobsters and corn-on-the-cob, which takes place at a lakeside cookout area… the outdoor pancake breakfast each Sunday, complete with Maine blueberries and homemade maple syrup… the private island you can visit by canoe, kayak or motor boat for a special picnic… the large, traditional New England porch at the front of the lodge where guests gather to sip cocktails and unwind… a swim in the crystal clear, refreshing lake which cleanses body, mind and soul, making me feel more alive than anywhere else on earth.

 

Migis Lodge represents the quintessence of balance— a unique atmosphere in which one can enjoy fun, active outdoor pursuits, while also relaxing in a peaceful, bucolic, stress-free environment. As the sun sinks into the sky and sets on this wonderful summer, I close my eyes, deeply inhale the familiar and comforting pine scent and feel the caress of the gentle lake breeze… realizing all the while that Migis is in my soul.   I have found my beach.

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Unforgettable sunset over Sebago Lake

Olympics

I have always loved the Olympics. It is four days post-Rio and I am already experiencing withdrawal. Like all of the past Olympics I have followed, this one became an obsession, with nightly viewing of events and keen interest in the athletes’ backgrounds and inspiring stories.

In these troubling times and during one of the most contentious of political seasons, this Olympics not only served to unite our fractured nation, but also, brought families together, bonding us in a special way that other national events—sports or otherwise—could not.

Prior to the proliferation of electronic media, thousands of cable channels, live streaming as well as hundreds of computer and mobile phone apps, families would gather around the television, brimming with national pride, and watch top athletes from around the world compete. Even though today’s technologies make it easy to watch continuous coverage of the games all day and all night from a phone or laptop, there remain many families who convene and watch the old-fashioned way—in their living rooms on live (or seemingly live) TV.  Fortunately, mine is one such family.

As avid sports fans, our family watches NFL football; we love the annual spectacle that is the Superbowl. We meticulously research the college basketball teams in the NCAA tournament and pore over our March Madness brackets. We particularly enjoy following the NBA (despite being long-suffering NY Knicks fans) and view every playoff game no matter where we are. We watch the tennis “Slams” and the golf “Majors.” Basically, we follow all sports all the time.

Yet, something feels different about the Olympic games, though it is neither the sports contests themselves nor the outcome. It is something more. The uniqueness of the Olympics is rooted in the exceptional athletes who, unlike NBA and PGA players, are generally out of the public eye. The vast majority are only in the public view for two weeks out of every four years. During that time, we become immersed in their “back stories”—their work ethic, the sacrifices that they and their families make, the extraordinary effort expended, the physical and mental strength required and the toll it takes on their bodies—all in hopes of representing their country and challenging other top athletes from around the world.

Certain Olympic athletes like Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Kerry Walsh Jennings and the USA women’s gymnastics team, do become mega-superstars, with lucrative sponsorships, commercial endorsements and national tours. But the vast majority do not win medals. They do not become superstars, and their Olympic experiences do not make them rich. They are passionate about their sports, strive to be the best they can be, and view the Olympic games as the pinnacle of competition… this, in and of itself, is reward enough. The unwavering dedication and sacrifices like pre-dawn daily workouts, continuous travel, school tutors, and missed rites of passage like homecoming and prom, are well worth it— for the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream. For these athletes, and for their families who have guided and supported them every step of the way, the realization of this dream is priceless.

The Olympics has always been the ultimate “family event,” as the entire world tunes in to watch. Family members of competing athletes are in attendance in support of their child, grandchild, brother, sister or cousin; as fans, we get to know these families as well as the athletes themselves. A different, though equally important, kind of family bonding also occurs at home for the viewing audience. Our family reveled each night in the Olympics, enjoying each competition and discussing the events and athletes with great enthusiasm. We even enjoyed watching sports we have never seen played competitively, like archery, table tennis and badminton. Never mind that we were sleep deprived, having stayed up until the wee hours to watch the gymnastics, swimming, diving, track & field and, of course, the midnight beach volleyball “parties” live from Copacabana beach… but it was all worth it.  We never tired of listening to the “Star Spangled Banner,” as the USA won medal after medal.

And, as we congregated around our TV like days of old, raptly watching the competitions and unique stories unfold, I smiled contentedly with the realization that family togetherness was back in full force in the USA. I will miss feeling the distinctive pride of being an American and cheering for all these awe-inspiring athletes whose talent, spirit and personalities filled our homes and hearts for two weeks. I will miss the comfort and camaraderie of sitting around the television, enjoying unforced, organic family time.

Thankfully, two years from now we will get to do it again… I am already looking forward to the 2018 winter games in Pyeongchang.

Go USA!!!

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