FAMILY VACATION PHOTOS.POPHAM BEACH, MAINE CHILDREN & FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHER

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ONE PHOTO, OUR FINAL DAY, DAY 18.

The days of no agendas, never knowing the time, and alarm-free mornings have come to an end.

I just needed one final glance at daybreak.

So ironically enough, I set my alarm for 4:50 a.m. Bundled in a blanket, steaming coffee in one hand, camera in the other, I walked down the beach path for the final time in 2014. (Bizarre how the *bang bang* of an alarm on vacation sounds more like twinkling wind chimes.)

It's back to the life we live that gets us here every year.

Schedules, deadlines, errands, chores, and sadly, an absence of ice cream linger in the heat for us back home.

Fourteen people is a lot of mouths to feed, dishes to do, clutter to control, and personalities to please. You might wonder how we manage to end our 18-day vacation on speaking terms after sleeping under one roof (with no ceilings), sharing one shower (that’s never without sand), and one bathroom. (“I WAS NEXT!”)

It’s easy.

These are my people. The foundation of who I am.

And that century old wooden cottage we bunk in night after night?

Is rooted in sand off the coast of Maine. How could we not get along?!

Locked away in my childhood memory bank are our Popham goodbyes. Leaning on my luggage, jaw aching, and my eyes to the ground to avoid losing what little composure I had left, I didn’t want it to be another year before I saw my Nanny and Papa, my Aunts and Uncles, and that front porch view. Tears falling, we’d slowly bump down the dirt road, always turning to see the pair of gray heads and matching khaki pants waving and wiping their cheeks.

20 and more years later, our final farewell feels the exact same way.

The other thing that still feels the same?

Is the gratefulness we hold onto knowing that we’ll be right back next year, bumping back up the old dirt road.

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ONE PHOTO, DAY 17.

My knees are bruised and scarred, my right index finger cramped and tired.

I have chased and crawled all over the sand and spoken in voices only dogs can hear.  I've exhausted every trick and tool in my bag I know when it comes to photographing children.  I've reported from every angle of a princess  sandcastle.  I've thrown a frisbee with my left hand, fiercely swinging my camera into my right to freeze the disc before landing in child-sized hands.  I've dodged waves, flying sand, and the crust of their peanut butter and honey sandwich before being gulped in one swift seagull swallow.

I've become a part of their pattern.  Carlee wants her sandwich whole.  Averee insists on 4 triangles.  Carlee's perfect day on the beach is building sandcastles by mommy's feet.  Just past where Carlee's sandy suit sits, Averee can be seen jumping waves, her pig tails flying in the breeze as she shrieks with joy.  On the other end of the 'fun spectrum', Carlee's fits come during her nighttime routine.  I was concerned for her life one time before quickly realizing she was only getting her teeth brushed.  Averee's fits?  Well, there's no telling when the foot will stomp, arms will cross, and 'hmph!' will be exclaimed, but when it does happen, it's quite cute.  (To Auntie at least, not so much to Mommy and Daddy.)

This summer, I lived vicariously through their vacation behind my camera.  It was imperative.  I needed to, and I couldn't stop.  Each adventure their tiny, tan feet went on, I've been on.  Year after year after year. For 27 years.  Now, it's time for me to gift these kids their summers in Maine.

With photos like this.

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ONE PHOTO, DAY 16. (Day 16!  Blessed.)

Apparently R's aren't always necessary in certain words around here. "Cheeyahs!"  "Suppah."

Our family from Boston arrived today.  A home run derby during low tide, multiple games of washers in the sand, and dinner right off the grill filled our evening (minus the letter R).

Our second to last day couldn't have been better.  What will I miss the most?

Waking up to the seagulls squawking and waves crashing?   Or the hot mug of coffee in my hand, the sun rising out front while the tide rolls in?

Maybe strolling, hand in hand, swatting mosquitos and discussing which flavor ice cream cone we'll have tonight.  It could be the day-long boat ride in and around the bays and coves the coast of Maine has to offer.

You may realize by now that it may be hard for me to pick.

Except it isn't.

Truth be told, no matter the ocean view, the island adventures, or the lack of responsibilities vacation provides, the thing I'll miss the most?

Isn't a thing.

It's my family.

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ONE PHOTO, DAY 15.

My hands still reek of its juices, the cracked shells sending it squirting in every direction.

Tonight was our annual lobster feast.  It's a family tradition, not just because you can't leave Vacationland without tasting Maine lobster, but because of the entire experience.  In years past, it was Papa who placed the lobster order directly with the lobsterman who hauled in their daily catch to the general store.  Now, Dad hauls the paper bag of hardshell lobsters down the porch steps to the lobster pot, but not before calling me over to photograph all the kids holding the squirmy sea creatures, swiping their banded claws and flipping their barnacled bodies.  Empty pots are scattered across the porch to catch broken shells and empty claws.  I cracked and picked like my Papa taught me, savoring each bite, all the while imagining him securing his napkin bib in the back of his collar while wiping the splashed juices from his beard.

With only a few sunrises and sets remaining in Vacationland, we're left to squeeze in any adventures we've yet to chase (which, in my book, is a never-ending list I'll be checking off for eternity).  With minutes left before the sun kissed the horizon, and help from my family, I loaded my Aunt's kayak in the car, waded into the tide, and set off for a rendezvous in the bay.   The waters lapped at the sides of the sunny yellow kayak as I paddled against the current, taking in the scenery I love so much.

Just me, the sea, and a backdrop I bottled up for safekeeping.

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ONE PHOTO, DAY 14.

We squeezed out every last drop of the sun today.  It had only been shining bright for a mere 2 hours before I was down on the beach building a princess club house for all the girls.  We filled our day with sand pails, seagulls, and chasing the frisbee into the ice cold waves.  Sunscreen was applied for a second and third time, boogie boards rolled with the waves, and the pages of our books turned in between breaks in conversation.  Our sun-soaked skin was relieved by early evening to allow the 10 of us to rotate around a single shower.  Our usual 'grab a paper plate and head to the porch' dinner was traded in for an evening out to celebrate my sisters birthday -- an occasion we love to celebrate here at the beach!

Today, I could have chosen a photo of the princesses in their beach club house, or a set of tiny pigtails running away toward the waves.  We also managed to squeeze in family photos, wearing actual clothes, shoes, and clean hair free of sand and salt.  Instead, I chose warm, homemade blueberry pie, savored with my loved ones surrounding the table.  Behind me, boats bob in the calm water, mirroring the setting sun.  The kids, excusing themselves to join the nearby whiffle ball game, take turns racing back to the table for gulps of lemonade and chocolate milk.

Tonight?

100% MAINE.

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ONE PHOTO, DAY 13.

She twirled and giggled just as much as she worried about dirtying her new, flowing dress.  With each giggle, her button-nose crinkled between her eyes, drawing my attention to the freckles painted across her cheeks.

This girl is SO much fun.

Tonight, we set out in search of sand dollars and sunsets, but it wasn't long before Hannah Bear was in a pile of drift wood, picking the perfect washed-up stick to adorn the top of a sandcastle.

The sandcastle we'll build tomorrow.

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ONE PHOTO, DAY 12.

"                                                                      ."

Silent with wonder.

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ONE PHOTO, DAY 11.

Day 11 of vacation brought us 8 new family faces to the cottage.  Weary from travel and anxious to relax on the beach, we did just that.  All day.

Spaghetti dinner for 20 was a team effort by all (the cooking part AND the devouring part), and the evening ended in our usual style:  ice cream cones at the General Store.

More than half of us have been tucked in tight for bed.  I'm not far from crawling under the covers and drifting off to dreamland.

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ONE PHOTO, DAY 10.

You may have heard this story before.

The one about me seeing his face and that tow-head of hair light up the screen on the back of my first digital camera.  I marched over to my sister, leading with the back of my camera.  "Look!  I need to send this into GAP Kids!"

That photo, taken nearly 6 years ago on the same sand as you see in many of these photos, sparked the hunger in me to learn this craft.

His hair is still blonde (nearing white, now that we're ten days into our vacation), but now, at almost 8 years old, he's quickly approaching my height, inquisitive about everything ("but why?"), and swiftly before my eyes becoming a young adult.  He might say "I know" as a response too many times, but this kid is on his way to big things.

Tonight, our adventure took us up the beach to climb rocks, down the dock to check out the boats, rickety ladders, and discuss what sea creatures lurked under the dark water.  We ended the evening at the general store, taking our time deciding on which flavor ice cream to choose.  At the counter, he turned to me, with his exhausted, bloodshot eyes fixed to mine and asked, "Auntie?  Can you buy me that really cool wooden airplane kit I've been wanting?"

Tomorrow, we'll be building a really cool wooden airplane.

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ONE PHOTO, DAY 9.

Directly in front of me, the sky fades from pink, to purple, to dusk.  I'm exhausted.

The sand and sunscreen has been showered off, dinner dishes have been washed and put away, and s'mores have been savored.  The kids barely make it up the stairs and under the covers before their bloodshot, exhausted eyes become too heavy to fight, closing peacefully until morning.

Our day started early with tiny whispers heard over the cottage's wooden partitions (here, there are no ceilings, so every toss, turn, and snore is heard), coffee in front of The Today Show, and recalling the tide chart to confirm the time for low tide.  The few miles of beach widen during low tide, allowing us to extend our walks and adventure across the sand bar to Fox Island.  By 9:30, swimsuits were on, sunscreen was applied, and the 10 of us trekked down the path, to the beach, and off to Fox Island.

As a kid, we loved long walks on the beach.  One of the sandbars that formed during low tide granted us access to a private island, known as Wood Island, home to a single, two-story vacant home with grey siding, crisp-white double doors at the entrance, and 9 windows stretching across the front.  I daydreamed about living there, arriving by helicopter or boat and walking up the dock under the 'NO TRESPASSING' sign.

This morning, our walk took us beyond Wood Island, around the sandy bend, and on to Fox Island.  The island is made of layers of rock, some covered in slippery seaweed, barnacles, or porous boulders, worn smooth in places by constant sea water splashing with the current.  Our bare feet, finally accustomed to walking here and there with no shoes, climbed the rocks toward the top, anxious to see the view of the ant-sized people in the distance following in our footsteps, nearby lighthouses, and a horizon spanning the background, so vivid it looks like you could fall right off the earth.  I watch the kids take in the island, their tiny footsteps carefully climbing to the top, curious of it's creation and in awe of the perspective of the beach from that point of view.

As kids, we always flocked to Aunt Susan.  Each summer, she'd have new toys for us to play with, never before seen adventures to take us on, and rainy day activities to occupy our boredom and give our parents a break.  Even now, we drive past the local playground, newly renovated, and laugh at the memories (and splinters) we made with her there.  Or the time we spent the night in her basement, giggling uncontrollably until I decided to jump down the stairs and crack my head on the wooden beam I failed to notice.

The day my first nephew was born, I was ready to be the Aunt Susan of our family.  Playful, full of youth, and eager to be a kid again.  To this day, Aunt Susan continues to have a following of tiny bare feet, this time, the next generation.

When I'm not in the thick of all the laughs, I sit back and take notes, because I want to be remembered just like I'll remember Aunt Susan...

...As their #1 Auntie.

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ONE PHOTO, DAY 8.

They tossed my arms around their shoulders and heaved my legs off the sand, careful not to drag my bleeding foot.  I wailed the entire ½-mile trek back to the cottage.

Roughly 20 years ago, we had been running wild on the beach, barefoot and free, when I stepped on a broken clam shell, slicing the arch of my foot.  Back at the cottage, my Papa, hearing the commotion coming up the path, raced to the tub room to grab his medical bag, the same bag he carried in the dark of night up the front steps of his patients’ homes. As a child, my mom used to tag along with him to his house calls. Then, in the 1960's, an office visit to seek Dr. Hill’s medical advice would cost you an even $5.00.  Later, he increased his prices to $8.00.

Years ago, take a seat next to Dr. William Hill, Jr. and you would be lectured (in a good way) the importance of your health, hear stories from his extended years of schooling (including the interruption for the draft of WWII), and be in awe of the nights he crept out of their Naugatuck, Connecticut home to visit those who urgently needed him at any hour of the night.

At 80 years old, he was sharp as a tack, sure to check our blood pressure each year, and quick to spread his grand smile when he reminisced of his profession he was so passionately proud of.

As he assessed my foot and shhh’d me calm, I trusted his hands as he cleaned, bandaged, gauzed, and wrapped my foot, with instructions to allow him to clean it daily. Thankfully, he allowed sand play and believed the salt water would help it heal.

Papa, known around town as “Doc”, lived a full life after retiring from the medical field.   He boated us down East in his beloved lobster-styled boat named 'Persephone', putzed around the cottage, and just when we thought he’d never sit to enjoy the scenery, he’d take a seat on the porch, grab the binoculars and admiringly gaze at the boats passing by.

He was a loveable Papa who'd let us comb his white, wiry beard, a cancer survivor, and had a heart of gold, never leaving our Nanny's side as she quickly faded from this life.  He carried her obituary in his breast pocket until the day he joined her.  Cause of death?  Heartache.

Earlier today, I slipped into my Nanny's rain coat and set off on the beach for a damp, drizzly run*, soaking in my surroundings in admiration of this place, thinking of him, and the time he doctored my foot to good health. The tiny beach town we know forwards and backwards is our second home, buried in nostalgia of growing up here with our Nanny and Papa.

Still today, I have a scar, tightened across the arch of my foot. Every time I feel it, I think of Papa.

And I smile.

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* When the rain continues up the coast all day long, there's time to work with my camera and try new things, like the auto-timer.  :)

ONE PHOTO, DAY 7.

Each summer, we pack our suitcases full of bathing suits, shorts, tanks, tees, and what we call "winter clothes."

Winter clothes are meant for days when the fog rolls in, the wind blows directly off the Atlantic, the temps drop, and we deem it a "let's-go-to-town day."  While we love days full of sand and sun, a cool, foggy day trip into town is always admired by all.  Where we are (population 2,100), the closest grocery store is a 20-mile stretch of curves, pines, inlets, bays, and ponds.  Trekking into town to visit the local 'Made In Maine' shops, delicious cafe's, candy stores, and a stop into the grocery store is planned every year when the future forecast calls for foghorns and drizzly days.

Today, we woke to the lighthouse foghorn blaring in the distance, rain rapping on the roof, and an overall damp, dark day.  In other words, a perfect day to shop the town. We threw on our sweatshirts, begged the kids to behave for Uncle James, took the scenic route to town and arrived by lunch to walk the quaint streets of Brunswick.  We perused with the locals, gossiped during a relaxing pedicure, and wrapped up our girls day patio side for lunch.

Back at the cottage, the kids greeted us with snacks in each hand, remnants of ice cream left on the corners of their mouths, endless amounts of energy, and stories of their day spent with Uncle James.  Before we could ask him his side of the story, he had disappeared, leaving us with 4 kids packed with pent-up energy, sugar highs, and accidental chatter about the four cookies they each savored at lunch because "we told Uncle James that's how many we were allowed to have"

Yes, he believed them.

Needless to say, we took them for a gloomy, damp walk to free their energy (and save our sanity).

Here they are on our 'venture, climbing boulders down by the dock.

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ONE PHOTO, DAY 6.

Chasing the green disc towards the ocean, I hope to catch it before my feet plunge into the cold ocean, splashing and dodging what feels like flying ice cubes.  Over the ocean waves, I hear Carson giggling uncontrollably at my expense.  In my world, a playful game of frisbee is the ultimate beach pastime. Threading it between strolling beach-goers and the vast ocean, I aim for Carson, who chases it in one direction until the wind snatches it and carries it in the opposite direction.  At 7, he already has an arm for the big leagues.  (And, oh my word, an appetite to match!)  At times, I'm happy as a clam in my beach chair, lost in a book, and remorsefully decline his begging to play catch, paddleball, or whiffle ball.  Mostly though, I'm eager to jump in, rewind to age 7, play equally as hard, and crash even harder at bedtime.

It doesn't take long for me to realize I can't keep up with his unlimited endurance, but trying to will only keep me young at heart.

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Laundry day.ONE PHOTO, DAY 5.

The styles, sizes, and owners may have changed over the years, but since 1924, the laundry that has hung on this line has been of the same generation.  Inside the cottage, scribbled on the walls of the wooden partitions between bedrooms are names and dates of those who have bunked here.  The builders, a family from New Hampshire, initialed in bold white in the back bedroom, way back in 1894.  It's clear my grandfather's brother had recently learned to write when scrawling BOB, as each letter is shakily written in various sizes, too large to be completely hidden by the photos hanging on the same living room wall.  Above his name, written in lead in small, cursive penmanship is a clump of various cottage visitors, only 'J.M.' and '1921' being legible.

I would say "if these walls could talk" but thankfully each generation is talking, telling the stories so we'll never forget.

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ONE PHOTO, DAY 4.

The days of him being 79 are dwindling down, yet he's eager to brag about 80. 

14 years ago, he decided he would build a 40' boat. Newly retired and nothing for his working hands to do but steer across America on an RV journey, hopping from capital to capital with his partner-in-crime of 28 years, the moon to his tide, the Rand McNally to his life adventures.  

So in 1999, he laced up his work boots, swooped up his brown bag lunch and headed into his new office - the boatyard.  Some days, it was only the AM/FM radio, tinkering of tools, and the young bruisers sharing the shop that soundtracked his work day.  Other days, Aunt Susan tagged along and he doled out tasks for her to tackle, like varnishing the hand rails or painting the hull the cleanest shade of white you'll see slice through water.

By 2004, it had a name, thanks to Aunt Susan.  "Fred, what a brilliant idea to build a boat" she said, dripping with sarcasm.  Brilliant.  It was perfect.    

Every summer we'd arrive, anxious to witness the latest.  We'd walk the gravel road to the barn, swatting off mosquitos, and find Uncle Fred deep in the bow, surrounded by power drills and tiny parts.  He'd describe in detail the obvious progress and the minor setbacks.  I'd watch his hands as he'd describe from the beginning, starting with an extensive hull mold, all the way down to the details, angles, and design, chronicling it all as he grasped an oil soaked rag with his seasoned hands, never without a black and blue bruised fingernail.

Did I mention he does all this with one leg?  I sometimes forget, as he's never once used it as an excuse.   

Satisfaction, exhaustion, pride, and 10 full years later, it was launching day.  A crowd formed, unsurprising to us as everyone is a friend of Fred.  Brilliant was hoisted and gently placed into the rippled navy waters of Robinhood Marina.  Uncle Fred stood back with his arms casually crossed, supervising the launch and most likely, reminiscing back on every day of the past 10 years.

Fast forward 5 years and the FOR SALE sign that once glared at me in the window has been taken down.  We're granted another summer ride up the coast, this time taking us up close to a lighthouse, a stop for a seaside dinner, and a scenic route home, leaving us splattered with salt water and smiles.

How do I even put today into words?

Oh wait...

It was brilliant.

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ONE PHOTO, DAY 3.

Cousins: the exclusive kinship only some are grateful to know.  Some grow up only to see theirs at intermittent family reunions, with too many years apart to become anything more than forced friends for the day.  Others are fortunate enough at the chance to love like sisters, fight like best friends, and age together through mischief and adventure.

They may not see this gift until they've grown old, but these girls have it.

I hope they keep it.

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ONE PHOTO, DAY 2.

25 years ago, this was me and my sisters.  All that's missing is the overworked Slush Puppie machine swirling cherry Icee's on the countertop.

To single out my favorite memory of our summers in Maine is like asking me to pick a favorite parent, sister, or niece or nephew: it's out of the question.  But walking to the general store after dinner for a hand-packed ice cream cone ranks high on my list.  If you're aware of every sense of a memory, like the repeated clang of the wood door opening and closing, the smell of seaside diner food wafting through the aisles of beer, wine, and essential beach-day snacks, the cool concrete floor on your sandy bare feet, and the familiar faces buzzing behind the countertop, it's deep-seated permanently.  To sit back and watch these kids walk in our sandy footsteps is like getting to do it all over again.

Only better.  

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ONE PHOTO, DAY 1.

One 4:20am hotel wake up call, two talkative toddlers and two sleepy toddlers, four adults, three Dunkin' Donut large coffees, two long plane rides, one (very) short layover, zero naps, six suckers, four packages of princess gummies, four over-packed pieces of luggage, one overjoyed Nanny Lou, one delighted great-Aunt and Uncle, one delicious seaside dinner (with an unknown number of thoroughly enjoyed adult beverages), one family, one cottage, and two words: "we're here."

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