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While visiting Rockport earlier this month, we discovered the stunning Beech Hill Preserve. The 295-acre preserve offers family-friendly trails alongside protected fields of organic blueberries and wildflowers. Beech Hill is one of those magical, Maine places where visiting feels like a privilege. We arrived at the Beech Hill Road trailhead and decided to take the short 3/4-mile hike to a stunning hilltop that overlooks Penobscot Bay.

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MP and CP#1 took turns taking pictures along the way, while the boys forged ahead to the summit. They were looking forward to exploring the grounds surrounding Beech Nut, a historic stone hut (circa 1917) located at the top. MP and CP#1 passed a few dog walkers on the dirt trail (dogs are allowed here on leash) and families of all ages. When the Penobscot Bay came into view, we hiked faster, eager to join DP and CP#2.

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The Beech Nut Hut is a beautifully restored stone structure with a sod roof. The interior of the house is open to the public twice a month, May-October, but visitors are always welcome to explore the outside. There is a patio all around Beech Nut, and when we arrived, a group of six were enjoying snacks and drinks together, chatting happily among themselves. MP made a note to bring a picnic dinner next time. With its sweeping, 360º views of the Penobscot and Camden Hills, this is a place you’ll want to linger awhile.

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While visiting, we learned the Coastal Mountains Land Trust—a group that works to protect land in the western Penobscot Bay—opens the Beech Hill Preserve for free blueberry picking to the public once a year. This year, the preserve opens Saturday, August 2 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. If you can’t make it that day, the farm stand on Beech Hill Road sells blueberries through mid-August. FMI: visit here. The CMLT also hosts many family-friendly activities throughout the year, including a story hour, poetry walk, and Kites and Ice Cream event.

Happy adventuring!

PS: More blueberry picking in Limerick, the Kennebunk Plains and Sebago.

Captain Daniel Bennett spends his summers sailing out of Rockland Harbor, where he offers day trips on Bufflehead, his refurbished, six passenger sailboat. The father of two gives families a chance to create the sea faring adventure of their choice, sailing anywhere between one hour to a full day. The fee for adults to sail is modest, and for children, Daniel simply charges by age per hour. For these reasons, coupled with the opportunity to see the mid-coast from the water, we decided Bufflehead would be just right for our crew.

A captain who juggles? Right on.

A captain who juggles? Right on.

We arrived on the dock at 10 a.m., lugging a cooler of snacks, drinks, and sandwiches along with a bag full of extra layers and sunblock. Daniel’s seven-year old daughter Raya and a recent college grad named Kat made up the crew. Our captain asked Raya to raise the sails, and she did so with the skill of a seasoned sailor, never questioning her father’s instruction. Kat, who is studying to get her captain’s license, told us she regularly volunteers to help on Bufflehead, sailing any chance she gets.

Raya prepares the sails.

Raya prepares the sails.

Kat volunteers on Bufflehead to earn hours for her captain's license.

Kat volunteers on Bufflehead to earn hours for her captain’s license.

Our trip out of the harbor was a slow-going at first, but after some brief help from the motor, we caught a steady breeze. We chatted with Daniel, and learned he began building boats at the age of 11 and began a life at sea at 16. His travels have taken him to Ireland, the Caribbean, and beyond. All totaled, he has logged 100,000 nautical miles at sea, which he says is enough to travel around the world.

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Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse

After settling in Rockland, Daniel received Bufflehead for $1 from a local family who admired his boat building expertise and passion for sailing. The stipulation? Daniel needed to restore Bufflehead within a year’s time. He spent a long winter working on the wooden sailboat before bringing it back to its former glory.

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Our four hour trip on Bufflehead took us past Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, Owl’s Head State Park, and the island of Islesboro. A couple from Oklahoma, who joined us for the sail, caught sight of a porpoise swimming alongside the sailboat. Later on, DP#1 pointed to the sky, where a Bald eagle soared overhead. We also spotted impressive schooners, lobster boats pulling traps, and more vessels out enjoying the water. MP never imagined our sail would provide so much to see.

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Further out, the wind picked up and all of us added layers. The open water sparkled in the sunlight and the sound of the sea breeze hitting the sails sent us all drifting into our own thoughts. Daniel hummed a chant… “wind, wind, wind… “ and  told us he makes up silly wind songs to keep the boat going.

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The combination of sun and wind made CP#2 a bit sleepy, so Kat kindly made room for him below deck. He was content to have his own cozy space for awhile, but it wasn’t long before he climbed up to join us again. Although he’d never admit it, CP#2 couldn’t resist staying below deck when there was so much beauty above —islands rich with evergreens, a sandbar Daniel called Maine’s own Caribbean, and a vast blue sky.

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Owl's Head Lighthouse

Owl’s Head Lighthouse

The trip was so peaceful, MP forgot all about the time. Four hours went by in a flash. Daniel says a day on the water is like a week’s vacation, and MP would have to agree. We left with windswept hair, rosy faces, and the taste of the sea on our lips. Maine is beautiful by land, to be sure, but from the water in the summertime, our state is pure magic.

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Many thanks to Captain Daniel, Kat and Raya for the experience! To learn more about Bufflehead Sailing Charters, visit here.

PS: Our Portland sailing adventure.

Camp Weekend

Earlier this month, our team enjoyed a memorable Open House weekend at Camp Bishopswood in Hope. Camp director Mike Douglass invites potential campers and their families to stay and play, so they can get familiar with the grounds, their peers, and what camp is like. So smart!

Bishopswood, which is located on the western shore of Megunticook Lake, is everything you would expect from a Maine camp. A long, dirt road shaded by pines brings you to the entrance. Near the lake, there is a swimming area, dock, and a colorful array of canoes and kayaks. Mike greeted us in the parking lot with a hearty welcome. He directed us to drop off our things in our cabin and then join the rest of the families staying for the weekend in the Great Hall. 

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CP#1, who attended Camp Bishopwood’s 3-day Mini Camp for 6-8 year olds last summer, was thrilled to see some old friends. We walked together to the Great Hall—a beautiful building that overlooks the lake. Inside, Mike set up chairs in a circle next to an impressive fieldstone fireplace. We began with some fun ice breakers to get to know parents, kids, and counselors who were visiting Bishopswood for the first time.

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After our ice breaker, our group headed outside to the campfire for s’mores and camp songs. The cool evening air and the smell of woodsmoke made MP long for her little cabin bed. We had a big day ahead of us, after all! 

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The next morning, we woke to the sounds of a bell, indicating it was time for breakfast. And what a beautiful meal! A long wooden table in the dining hall was arranged with bowls of fresh fruit, yogurt, and granola. Each table was also served generous trays of scrambled eggs and sausage. Not surprisingly, meal time became one of MP’s favorite camp activities. We sat with different families for breakfast, lunch and dinner, swapped stories and listened to our children chatter away. And MP was so impressed by the homemade and healthy offerings we enjoyed all weekend long.

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Our days at camp were full. We played kickball, fished the lake, sang silly campfire songs, kayaked, crafted and built fairy houses. CP#1 even swam, despite the cold! Truth be told, MP felt like a kid again herself. The camp weekend was such a special time to share with CP#1 and #2.

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We closed out the weekend in the same way we started – in a big circle with our new friends. Each of us shared something we loved about camp. What a challenge to pick one thing! MP was so thankful for this weekend. It offered all of us a chance to slow down, enjoy the outdoors and each other. She can’t imagine a better way to kick off summer!

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Do you have a memorable camp experience? We’d love to hear.

PS: Camping in our own backyard.

It’s nearly the end of the school year and there’s not a parent alive who is not busy. There are school events, barbecues and birthday parties, summer schedules to figure out, and so much more. With all of this to juggle, it’s no wonder Father’s Day seems to sneak up on us. It’s a good thing we have so many great resources in Maine to make gift giving a little easier. Here are a few ideas for all of the fantastic fathers out there:

1. Outdoors with Kids: Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont
by Ethan Hipple & Yemaya St. Clair

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Our family loves discovering new hiking trails in New England. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) book, “Outdoors with Kids: Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont” features 75 of the best family hiking, camping, and paddling trips in our region. There are some familiar trails highlighted, including favorites like Mackworth Island, Bradbury Mountain, and Gilsland Farm, but there are dozens more—both in coastal and inland Maine—that we have yet to explore. MP also loves that there is a quick, at-a-glance guide that gives parents an idea of what to expect, including trail difficulty, whether or not you can bring dogs, park fees and more handy information.

2. Gifts from Folk

Folk, which is located in Kittery Foreside, is one of MP’s favorite new gift shops. Owner Amelia Davis has a great eye for design. She offers lots of smart suggestions for Father’s Day gifts, but MP especially likes the striped Fog Linen apron (top left) and Maine made leather wallets from Nomad Leatherwork (bottom left).

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Amelia’s other suggestions include: canvas and leather dopp kit bags by Meyelo, “The Meat Hook Meat Book” by Tom Meylon, which offers tips on selecting and cooking locally raised meats, natural scents from Juniper Ridge Wilderness Perfumes and Dude No. 1 from MCMC Fragrances, plus travel notebooks from Rhodia.

 3. Treat him to a day on the town

Last Father’s Day, we visited the East Ender for brunch and played soccer at Bug Light. It was such a fun day out for all of us. DP hasn’t revealed what he’d like to do yet, but MP has a feeling that a visit to Little Tap House in Portland might be in order. The cozy restaurant and bar is hosting a Super Dad Day event from 3-5 p.m. with a special happy hour. They call the event Bring Your Own Baby, but MP is hoping that 7- and 9-year olds can come, too. CP#1 and #2 are still her babies after all!

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Whatever your family has planned, we wish all the great dads, uncles, and grandfathers out there the happiest of Father’s Days! And before we forget, our kind friends at the Appalachian Mountain Club are offering a free copy of “Outdoors with Kids: Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont” to one lucky Cute Potato reader. To enter, comment below and we’ll pick a winner at random. Contest ends Sunday, June 14, 2015 at midnight EST. Good luck!

PS: Some other ideas for Father’s Day here. Plus plan a family trip outdoors using this AMC site.

Now that the kids are in elementary school, the sight of baby clothes makes MP feel nostalgic. Parents have a short grace period when it comes to choosing what their kids wear, which lends itself to the wistful pangs a Mom feels when she walks by the baby and toddler section of a store and realizes how much her kids have grown in a few, short years.

This is exactly the state of mind MP was in when she came across the BAOBAB Organics booth at the Common Ground Fair last year. Textile designer Vero Poblete-Howell makes beautiful kids’ clothes and stuffed toys at her studio in Waldoboro. Her company, which is named after the largest tree on earth, prides itself on using organic, sustainably produced fabrics. There’s no denying the quality, and Vero’s great eye for design.

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Irresistible, right? And we’re so proud to have such an environmentally responsible children’s wear company in Maine. In fact, Down East Magazine awarded BAOBAB “Best Green Children’s Garb” in 2014.

Just for Cute Potato readers, BAOBAB is offering 15% off your purchase of $30 or more in their Etsy shop. All you need to do is enter the code: CUTEPOTATO15 at checkout. Offer ends June 17, 2015.

Happy shopping, and enjoy your little ones! xo, MP

FMI: Visit their web site here.

Last weekend, we visited the East Point Sanctuary in Biddeford Pool. The sanctuary, which was donated to the Maine Audubon in the late seventies, is tucked away, but once we spotted cars parked on the road, we knew our destination couldn’t be far. Our team followed a short, woodland trail that parallels the Abenakee golf course. The trail opens to green pasture with sweeping ocean views. Wood Island Lighthouse also dots the skyline. IMG_5279 IMG_5285 IMG_5295 IMG_5311 The kids were taken with all of the little discoveries along the way — snails resting in tide pools, stones etched by the ocean floor, and curious seabirds cuddled close on the rocks. IMG_5332 IMG_5314 IMG_5335 (1)The sanctuary is also perfect for kite flying. In the field above the ocean, there is plenty of open space for running with a kite so that it catches the sea breeze.

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IMG_5340 All of us were content to linger here for awhile. What a way to celebrate the unofficial start to summer!

FMI about the East Point Sanctuary in Biddeford Pool, visit here.

PS: Two more favorite places to explore in Cape Elizabeth and Wells.

Memorial Day weekend. Huzzah! It’s finally here. As always, we have lots of fun plans in mind. Here are a few on our weekend wish list:

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Listen
We’re hoping the weather will be kind to us tonight, so we can check out Cassidy Holden and the Orleans Kids at Congress Square Park in Portland. The event is part of the Portland Swing Project, which showcases music and dance from the 1920s-40s through live music, dances and performances. CP#1 and #2 love all kinds of music, and we can’t wait for them to experience live jazz.

Explore
CP#1 broke her foot while running in heels (true story), and after six weeks, she finally has a clean bill of health! We are looking forward to getting outside and exploring some new trails. Our family is curious to check out East Point Sanctuary Biddeford Pool with its promises of rocky shores and open fields.

If we can get on the road early one morning, we may also take a road trip to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. This weekend, entry to the gardens is free for all Maine residents with a valid drivers license.

Treats
We’ve been saving our special treats for weekends these days. MP has heard good things about Boulangerie bakery in Kennebunk. A friend who lives nearby says their crusty baguettes are served warm in the morning, and perfect for picnic sandwiches. We’ve also had our eye on The Scoop Deck in Wells for ice cream. Their flavor board is one of the most expansive we’ve seen.

Garden
Our seedlings are coming along nicely on the deck, but we always buy our tomato plants and lettuces at Wealden Farm in Freeport. The roadside stand not only features flowers and plants, but you can also find locally made baked goods, meats, cheeses, honey and maple syrup.

Celebrate
On Monday, MP is running this road race for the first time in four years! Afterwards we’re all planning to check out the Cumberland Memorial Day parade.

Wherever your family adventures take you, we hope you have a fun, 3-day weekend!

PS: The unforgettable place we visited last Memorial Day.

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