Maine – Pristine Beaches and Lobster Tales

Popham Beach, Maine.

Popham Beach, Maine. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Deep harbors, scenic lighthouses, lobsters, blueberries, rocky coastlines, and thick forests come to mind when one thinks of Maine in summer. If you go by satellite images, its jagged coastline stretches to 5500 miles, if we include all the islands. Conveniently located farther northeast than any other state in U.S., the state of Maine covers nearly as many square miles as the other five New England States combined. Initially a part of Massachusetts, Maine officially gained statehood in 1820.

I have always visited Maine during the warmer months, although all it takes is a gust of wind for us to wrap our cover-ups a little tighter. And if the sun decides to go behind a giant cloud, out come the jackets. The water feels chilly in August, even as the warm sand feels glorious under our feet.

A trip during the icy winter months is one worth thinking about, even as I haven’t yet unpacked from our beaches and lobsters getaway. Did you know that Stephen King wrote his first novel, Carrie, while working as a teacher in Bangor, Maine? It’s hard to write about Maine without a mention of one of its most famous natives who has based many of his horror stories in the state.

On day one, we drove to Popham Beach on Maine Route 209, in Phippsburg. It’s a long stretch of sand beach that undergoes extreme change in shoreline and frequent dune erosion. It’s the marked effect of such beach dynamics that has led to Popham being called a rare geological landform. Visitors are advised to stay on the trails and avoid all vegetated areas.

Popham Beach in Phippsburg, Maine

The sand bar to Fox Island disappears during high tide. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

We timed our arrival during low tide and walked all the way to Fox Island. As with Silver Sands Beach, be careful not to get stuck on the island as the water can rise swiftly during high tide. Undertows and occasional rip tides are not uncommon in this area. The park has fresh-water solar rinse-off showers and clean bathhouses, plus being spread over 500 acres gives it the distinct advantage of seeming sparsely populated, even on busy summer weekends.

The Kennebec and Morse rivers border each end of the beach, and if you ask me, pictures can’t do justice to its pristine beauty. As with all Maine shores, the craggy rocks add a much-needed edginess to the bland allure of the blue and green.

After spending the better part of the day in Popham, we drove to nearby Spinney’s for dinner. If you are in the area, check out Fort Popham, a Civil War-era defense structure which found its place in the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.

Spinney’s Oceanfront Restaurant lets you know that its not a fast-food place so do not expect your food to arrive immediately. A local fixture for quite some years, it’s the waterside location that draws people to Spinney’s. Five year olds are rarely partial to seafood, so my husband and I tried their lobster, which by the way, was not always the delicacy that it is today.

Found in abundance and called “cockroaches of the sea” by the colonists, lobsters were used as fertilizers and fish bait, and routinely fed to prisoners and servants. But then something happened. The railways started to expand all over America, and trashy old lobster began to be repackaged and served as a rare, exotic dish.

Inland passengers lived in their inland bubble and had no idea that lobster was considered coastal peasant food. They loved it, demanded it, and by the 1950s, the rebranding of lobster from yuck to yum was complete. And of course, in keeping with the basic law of economics, as demand increased, so did the price.

Speaking of seafood shacks, we also checked out Percy’s, another local establishment with even lesser frills than Spinney’s and a great view. It’s a convenience store and seafood place rolled into one. Although they tried, it seemed like they were ill-prepared to handle food allergies. As for Spinney’s, as you can see from the picture, they could have eased up on the fries.

Initially a fan of the whole lobster, this time around we stuck to the buttery rolls. If you are in the area sans kids, and with plenty of time to combat the long wait on the sidewalk along U.S. Route 1, do check out Red’s Eats. It’s located at the end of the Donald E. Davey Bridge in Wiscasset, and its lobster rolls are legendary.

Spinney's Restaurant and Percy's Store in Phippsburg, Maine

Seafood Digs in Phippsburg, Maine. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

When you go deep into Maine, away from the crowds and tall buildings, the sky seems to open up and the air turns fresher and saltier. For a while, you wish you lived there. People who actually live there may feel otherwise. That’s not surprising, is it? As they say, the grass is always greener on the other side.

Pic(k) of the Week – Cold Springs, NY

Cold Springs NY

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
— Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

Reading Enid Blyton in 2017

Enid Blyton

My tattered copy of the Bedtime Story. Notice the surreal cover. A clockwork mouse and a real mouse enjoying tea.

I grew up on a daily diet of Enid Blyton’s stories. Adventures, mysteries, boarding schools, pixies, gnomes, elves, wizards, talking toys, farms – she has covered a wide range of genres and ages when it comes to children’s books. I devoured them while growing up in India, often trying to draw parallels between my childhood and the one depicted in the books.

As you must have guessed, it was not an easy task.

She wrote about castle-like schools on the edge of the ocean, rocky bluffs, verdant greens, abandoned islands, sea-washed caves, horses, lacrosse, high-tea, and English manners. Most of her stories were set in the English countryside in the early 1900s. I was growing up in a city in India, in the eighties. Similarities were hard to come by. And maybe, that is what made her books more attractive to me.

The schools in her books provided a wide range of extra-curricular activities. My school was focused on studies. So in order to be more like those freckle-nosed outdoor-loving English girls, I started playing tennis. It was the one sport that my family had in common with the books. Nobody played lacrosse in India. I don’t think they do even now.

The moment I opened a book, I could go to a world, far far away. And when I wanted to come back to modern-day amenities and city life, it was all there. Waiting for me. But truth be told, the lives depicted in the stories, with their midnight feasts and laugh-out-loud classroom tricks often won.

Her adventure stories had the kids getting up in the middle of the night, still in their pyjamas, with a dog at their heels, going out to explore some fishy going-ons. Throw in a smuggler, some hidden treasure, a secret cove, a hitherto-unknown passage in an old dilapidated building, and a bunch of curious kids and see the magic unfold.The kids always had enough scones and biscuits and ginger beer to see them through whatever mess they had found themselves in. They were smart and brave, and above all, honest.

And in keeping with Blyton’s character trend, most of her characters, at least the good ones, loved the outdoors. They would go on camping trips, hike for days, go tobogganing in winter, and swimming in summer, all the while trying to stay out of trouble. But in vain. Whichever picturesque corner of England they chose to holiday in, trouble, or more aptly, adventure, would follow.

Nothing really bad ever happened, and the good guys always won at the end.

But in recent years, I have read critics who have pointed out (sometimes rightfully) that her stories were often not politically correct. It was the early 1900s for crying out loud. Things were different then.

With that in mind, I have started reading her bedtime stories with my five year old. We began with Enid Blyton’s Fifth Bedtime Book, which I recollect to be perfect for his age.

The story is called Sammy and the Spider.

It’s about a boy named Sammy who is scared of spiders. One day, on coming across one, he is about to kill it, when his mother tells him to gently put the spider outside the window. Amongst other things, she says “You must be kind to things even if you don’t like them. Don’t turn yourself into somebody cruel and unthinking, when you see something you are afraid of.”

Later, Sammy comes across another huge spider and instead of killing it, he lets it climb on his cricket bat and ushers it out into the garden. After a few days, on a windy Saturday, his birthday money flies out of his open bedroom. After searching high and low for it, guess where he finds it? Yes, stuck on a huge web spun by the huge spider he had recently freed.

Spiders are essential for the ecosystem. So this story teaches kids about caring for our environment.

And, it teaches them to be kind. Kind in the face of the unfamiliar, the weird.

These are the sort of kids who will go sit next to a child having lunch by themself. These are the sort of kids the world needs. And has always needed.

Enid Blyton’s books aren’t so dated after all, are they?

HubSpot Academy – Inbound Certified

Inbound Marketing is what we see happening all around us. Gone are the days of pushy, interruptive, seller-centric efforts aka traditional marketing. These days it’s all about the buyer’s persona and their journey. The buyer persona is created through extensive research, it’s a semi-fictional representation of an ideal customer.

Apart from being buyer-centric, this new kind of marketing is tailored to provide information, not withhold it. It’s all about leveraging the right content through the right distribution channels to the right person at the right time.

Contextual content is created, amplified by social media, distributed, and analyzed. Over and over again.

Marketing and sales people work as a team and share a common revenue goal, giving rise to the term “smarketing.” It’s a non-linear effective way of reducing duplicated contacts. It helps increase both marketing and sales ROI.

While studying for the certification, I covered the following topics –

  1. Essentials of an Effective Inbound Strategy
  2. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – the process of improving your website so that it attracts more visitors from search engines
  3. Creating Content with a Purpose
  4. Fundamentals of Blogging
  5. Social Media
  6. Enticing Clicks with CTA (Call to Action)
  7. The Anatomy of a Landing Page
  8. Guiding the Next Step with Thank You Pages
  9. Sending the Right Email to the Right Person (If done right, email has an ROI of 4300%)
  10. The Power of Smarketing
  11. Taking your Sales Process Inbound
  12. The Pillars of Delight (Innovation, Communication and Education)

So, if anyone out there is looking to brush up the above skills, HubSpot Academy is the way to go!

Silver Sands State Park in Milford – Beaches, Pirates and Buried Treasure

Silver Sands State Park in Milford CT

Silver Sands State Park. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Silver Sands State Park in Milford CT

Silver Sands State Park. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Legend has it that Captain William Kidd, notorious pirate that he was, may have buried some of his treasure on Charles Island, off the coast of Milford in Connecticut. The island is accessible from Silver Sands State Park during low tide but it’s off limits for most of summer as it’s a designated natural preserve for local birds. The slippery half-mile sandbar (or tombola if you will) gets submerged during high tide and beach-goers are encouraged to be careful on it.

Compare the pics above and watch the sandbar disappear like magic. On a pedagogical note, it’s a good opportunity for kids to get to the bottom of this so-called magic and learn about gravity and tides.

Going back to 1699, the story (which many historians vouch for as true) of Captain Kidd goes like this – being a marauder of sufficient merit, he had a ship full of spoils, only part of which he buried on Gardiners Island, while stashing the rest away on Charles Island. After being captured in Boston and sent to England, he claimed to have tempted the authorities with the possibility of yet-to-be-discovered buried treasure in Connecticut. This could very well have been a last-ditch effort to save his life.

Also, going by local folklore, Kidd’s ghost haunts the island so as to protect his riches from up and coming treasure-hunters.

Connecticut’s coastline with its gentle waves could do with more such stories, as they add a certain charm to the place. We had a ghost-less, pirate-free, pretty unremarkable but quite pleasant day at Silver Sands. Sand castles were built, decorated with seashells, the water was tested, waded in, and splashed around. The day was not too windy with just the right amount of sun.

To go along with the cut-up watermelon and drinks in our cooler, we got seafood wraps with French fries in Chinese take-out boxes from the nearby Greek Spot Cafe and Grill. The fries were crunchy and served with four different types of dips, each tastier than the next. You can probably guess that we will be going back to the Spot.

The salty sea breeze made everything taste better. The sun continued to shine, the water remained cold and refreshing, and the seagulls didn’t tire of looking for food in picnic baskets. A relaxing day like this is by itself a treasure, don’t you think?

Sweet Summer Spots in Fairfield County

Westfair Fish and Chips

Westfair Fish and Chips in Westport, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

New England summers are all about the surf and sand, and of course, seafood. As someone who has been dutifully doing her rounds of beaches and eateries, I can tell you about a few places I tried recently.

The first one is Westfair Fish and Chips in Westport, Connecticut. A hole-in-the-wall place, Westfair is a seafood lover’s haven. Not many people know about this dive. The credit goes to my friend for finding this tiny, tiny shop with a flair for the perfect batter and the freshest fish.

While the fish and chips is to die for and the crab cakes hold their own, the place itself is not great for a sit-down meal. So my friend and I picked up our lunch from Westfair and drove to Sherwood Island State Park, also in Westport. We had a picnic on the benches by the ocean, away from the prying eyes of the seagulls. As I have said before, Sherwood may not have the finest sand or the tallest breakers, but it does have a nice relaxing vibe.

Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, CT.

Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

It’s a place you chill out with a cold drink and a good book. And of course, a good friend. Away from the bustle of daily life.

The other place I would go back to is Down the Hatch in Brookfield, Connecticut. Fabulously located alongside Candlewood Lake, the place is open only in summer, but boy, is it always hopping! Bikers, boaters, families, teens – they are all there. The food is standard fare. It’s the view that draws people in. The drinks help them stay.

Seafood

Down the Hatch in Brookfield, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

You get to sit on a sort of picnic bench and have fried seafood with chilled beer, or a glass of wine, depending on your taste. They do have non-seafood options and a basic kid’s menu as well. On its own, all this sounds rather mundane, doesn’t it? But throw in the rippling waters of the aquamarine lake set against a summer sky, and you have found your favorite summer spot.

It’s the perfect place for Utepils (pronounced OOH-ta-pilz), a Norwegian word that translates to something like sitting outside on a sunny day while enjoying a beer. If you don’t believe me, look at the picture.

Candlewood Lake in Brookfield, CT

Candlewood Lake in Brookfield, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Pic(k) of the Week – Happy Fourth of July

Candlewood Lake in Brookfield CT.

Candlewood Lake in Brookfield CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Social Media – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Quite recently I stumbled upon this talk on TEDxTysons. It’s by Cal Newport and he is all for quitting social media. Before you think he is too old or not enough tech-savvy, get this, he is a millennial and a computer scientist. Did I mention he is an author as well?

I am on every bit of social media available to humankind. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and even Whatsapp. But a couple of days before hearing Newport’s talk, I had deleted the Facebook app from my phone. It was partly because of privacy issues. I started seeing ads for products I had discussed with my friends on Whatsapp.

As Cal says, social media offers “shiny treats in exchange for minutes of your attention and bytes of your personal data which can then be packaged up and sold.”

Not all social media platforms are created equal though. For example, Tumblr and Reddit are struggling with profitability, while Facebook and Instagram are not. Tumblr is a blog based social network with a user base nearly as big as Instagram’s, a reblog framework unlike any other, and it is smack in the middle of what is known as “internet culture.” Fandoms love Tumblr. Advertisers don’t. Reddit, the self-proclaimed “front page of the internet,” much like Tumblr, has not yet been able to turn its prominence and influence into profit. Twitter and YouTube are struggling as well.

So when Cal talks about shiny treats and use of personal information, Facebook comes to mind. It seems to be making good use of “attention engineers” and extensive data-mining processes. It’s not a place for creativity or funny gifs, it’s a place where you update your school and work information, post pics of your vacation (sometimes an entire album), and list your favorite songs. It’s clean (Tumblr has a porn problem). It’s bland. It’s monitored. It has reached 2 billion users. Your aunt’s best friend’s twice-removed third cousin is on it, and most likely, he has sent you a friend request. And as I have found out the hard way, the ads are unnervingly specific.

Did I mention that it’s also the most profitable?

Other than selling targeted ads, social networks like Facebook fragments our attention and leaves us feeling isolated. We post photos of parties while they are happening. We check our phones constantly. We “check-in” to restaurants and movies, letting the world know our whereabouts. We post pics of our food. It could all seem boring when listed like this, but to advertisers and marketers, this data is gold.

Social media is also responsible for spreading fake news. There’s so much of it online. As in real life, you have to learn to filter out the crazy. The hateful, and the harmful.

Then there’s the safety concern. It’s best to keep things like your address and the name of your child’s school private for reasons not unknown to us. Sharing your location via Foursquare or Facebook’s check-in or even the newly introduced Snap Map from Snapchat is not a great idea, strictly from the point of security.

As with everything, social media does have its ups. Awareness for causes, like say animal cruelty, gets a big boost. I follow some of these Facebook pages like the Born Free Foundation, and I don’t know if I would have known half as much if it was not for their daily updates. As the name suggests, “social” media helps in spreading the word. People share stuff and that’s good for humanitarian causes. I know a friend who has raised money for a playground for under-privileged children in Asia through social media.

Apart from doing good, social media often has this niche segments that can only be viewed by logging in. For example, a certain section of the New York Times Book’s videos can be viewed solely on their Facebook page. It’s like a mini-show with children’s books authors drawing and painting while they discuss their work.

As Cal points out, social media is a form of entertainment, not a technology by itself. Spending time online can be both fun and productive. It depends on what you do. You can do research, you can learn a new language, do online courses, earn a degree, you can watch movies, you can pay your bills, you can shop, you can play games, etc. All these activities can be separated from social media. Social networks by themselves are mainly here to distract.

The idea behind social media is connection. That’s its USP. That’s why it thrives. We like being connected to other people. Preschool friends, college room-mates, far-flung relatives and what not. It’s nice to have that sort of virtual group.

Being a travel writer, I need social media. I need to connect. I want to network. I love to collaborate on projects. I want to share my stories and photos. I want to see where my colleagues are going, read their stories. Like their photos. But I can choose to separate the interesting from the useless. I can choose to filter my feed and use my time on social media wisely.

As in real life, moderation is key.

Famous Pizza

Famous Pizza in Bethel CT

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Every town has its pizzeria.The one place that’s always been there, a part of the town’s fabric. A place known as much for its slice of pie as for its people. Often a hangout for teens, local sports teams, it hosts birthday parties for kids and has ample seating. It’s one of those places where you can relax by the window with a pint and watch the town go about its business.

For Connecticut’s Bethel, that place is Famous Pizza, owned and operated by the Anastasakis family. Their dough is homemade, and if you ask them, they will make it egg-free or gluten-free as needed. No matter what the toppings are, their pies are always delicious. We order our usual one with sausages, roasted red pepper and onions. And can’t say that we were ever disappointed.

Famous Pizza in Bethel CT

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

I know we all want to stand by our local businesses, but isn’t it wonderful when they serve good stuff and make it that much easier to support?

If you find yourself in the neighborhood (it’s close to route 53), drop by for a slice.

Recent posts about Bethel, Connecticut:

Byrd’s Books in Bethel

Note Kitchen and Bar

Summer Saturdays at Sycamore

Pic(k) of the Week – Weir Farm

WeirFarm National Historic Site

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©