Saturday, December 30, 2017

A New Beginning

At 3 o'clock the next morning, Kate's alarm sounded, summoning her from heavenly sleep. She was only annoyed for a breath of a second until she remembered why she was crazy enough to set her alarm for such an ungodly hour in the first place.

Moaning, Adam stirred beside her. "Whose idea was it to go see the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain?"

Kate playfully swatted him with the pillow as she rolled out of bed. "I believe all of us agreed to it. Now get up. I don't want to miss it."  She roused Madeline and Chloe and went into the bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth.

On the short drive from the hotel to Acadia National Park, the family of four chatted about the facts they'd learned regarding Cadillac Mountain. 

"Hey, Mom, did you know that Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the North Atlantic seaboard?" Madeline questioned. 

"I believe it." Kate gazed out the windshield in awe of the lightening violet sky as they turned onto Summitt Road, the steep, winding road leading to the top of Cadillac Mountain. "The world looks so different in the dark, doesn't it?" 

"Yeah, but from October to March it's the first place in the United States to see the sunrise," Chloe added.

"But it's June." Adam, ever the competitor, feigned disappointment.

Kate grinned, watching the scenery out her window, still shadowy in the dim light, but mysterious and majestic in the chilly early morning hours. "I'm pretty sure it'll be ok if just this once you aren't first. I think you'll be just fine."

Adam chuckled, and Kate once again fell in love with his fun-loving spirit. After everything he'd been through in his previous relationship, it was a miracle to Kate that he didn't have a chip on his shoulder. Or maybe, she thought, because of all he'd been through, he appreciates the relationship we share a little more.

"Bet you didn't know Cadillac Mountain wasn't named after a car," Madeline challenged as they pulled into the parking lot near the summit of the mountain. "It was named after a French explorer in 1918. Before that, it was just called Green Mountain. How boring is that? Cadillac Mountain is a much cooler name."

"Yeah, well, all the grooves and scratches in the granite were caused by glaciers, and scientists think the summit is actually one edge of a collapsed volcano," Chloe retorted as Adam pulled into a parking spot near the flat viewing area where a small crowd already gathered, each individual with a coffee in one hand and their camera in the other. 

Kate opened her door and immediately pulled on a hat. "Come on you two walking talking encyclopedias. Grab your blankets and let's go claim our spots." At a quarter past four that early June morning at the altitude of 1500 feet, the temperature was in the low forties, and Kate chuckled that though they were on summer vacation, they were dressed like they were ready for winter.

The family of four found a spot to sit on the ground against a short cement wall that bordered the sidewalk, which was fortunate because the wall helped block the frigid breeze. Huddled together, Kate, Adam, Madeline, and Chloe drink hot coffee or chocolate from their thermoses and snapped pictures as right before their eyes the sky changed from one thin pink and yellow ribbon across the horizon to great splashes or orange and red as if someone had thrown a whole can of paint across the blue canvas. 

And then, at approximately ten minutes until five in the morning, a brilliant thumbnail of light poked up above the horizon. Everyone cheered. It was a stunningly spiritual moment for Kate as she understood all too well the value and importance of new beginnings. It didn't seem like that long ago that she and Madeline left their house in Tennessee to move home to Harvest Bay, Ohio. It was the exact sunrise they had needed following the many dark and lonely days after the unexpected passing of Ryan, her first husband and Madeline's father. That's not to say that it was easy, but it was what they had needed, and looking back now, as Adam slipped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer to his side, Kate saw how remarkably beautiful it was.

They sat there for several more moments watching the dazzling ball of light climb higher into the sky. Madeline and Chloe walked down the path a short distance to snap some more pictures. By a little after five in the morning, Adam pushed to his feet and helped his bride to hers. 

"Let's hike to the summit," he suggested. "We can't come this far and not reach the summit."

As much as Kate fancied the idea of going back to the hotel and crawling into her bed, she knew they might not get this moment again, and a few extra z-z-z's could never compare to this amazing experience she shared with her husband, daughter, and stepdaughter. The half-mile hike was only slightly uphill since they drove the steepest part. Standing on the summit of the highest point on the North Atlantic seaboard, with the most precious people in her life nearby, Kate thanked God for all of the sunrises in her life, for the anticipation of each new beginning, and the way they shed light on all the important parts of life. 

At that moment, on that mountain, she became stronger and her spirit soared.


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Tides

The second full day they spent in Bar Harbor promised cool temps and a chance of drizzle. While Kate and Adam didn't mind hiking in that kind of weather (After all, a bad day of hiking is better than a good day at work, right?) they were certain the Chloe and Madeline would have been pretty miserable the entire time. Since the forecast showed improving conditions in the days ahead, Kate and Adam decided to forgo one day in the wilderness and spend the day in town instead, visiting the gift shops and boutiques.

The town was busy but not crowded on this early June day as Kate, Adam, Chloe, and Madeline made their way in and out of dozens of stores specializing in everything from outdoor apparel and equipment to Bar Harbor labeled sweatshirts and gifts to merchandise for your pets. They sampled lobster-flavored ice cream (and then got a different flavor to enjoy) and spent far too long in the bookstore.     

By early afternoon, the family of four and wandered their way down to the waterfront.

"Hey, the rangers at the Visitor Center yesterday said the tide would be well on its way out by now. Let's go check out the land bridge just up ahead," Adam suggested, after seeing the sign, and they all agreed it sounded cool.

When they got there, "cool" was an understatement. Magnificent seemed more appropriate.

"Wow," Kate breathed, taking in the sight. At one-thirty in the afternoon, the water had parted just enough for people to cross to the tiny island on the other side. Along the short walk, Chloe and Madeline searched the residual pools for sea creatures and shells. Kate picked up an ordinary pebble, still damp from the departing water. The flat, smooth, and heavy stone reminded her of the faith David showed when he faced Goliath, and even though she knew you aren't supposed to take anything from the natural environment, she slipped the pebble into her pocket, just a simple memento for whenever life's different Goliaths may rise up.

 On the other side of the land bridge, the rocky shore gave way to lush, green trees and plants. Kate, Adam and the girls followed the short trail through a field of wildflowers, up a rocky incline, and finally stopped on the island lookout. Kate must have taken a dozen photos of the view of the Maine coast and the Atlantic Ocean beyond that. This was a view, and a time spent with her family, she never wanted to forget. 

Upon reaching the shores of the mainland once again, Kate glanced back. The tide had gone out even further. Now enough land was exposed, trucks could actually drive out to Bar Island! Kate grabbed Adam's hand. He was her anchor, her support and help through all kinds of weather. He was there for her when her beloved Grandpa Clayton died. He taught her how to love again. She gazed up at him, her eyes brimming with affection.

"It's kind of like life, isn't it? Some days are low tide where it's easy to get from point A to point B. Some days are high tide where it seems you have to struggle to stay afloat."

Adam leaned down and kissed Kate on the bridge of her nose. "Sure, but it's all about perspective. Low tide is for enjoying. High tide is for growing."

There was so much truth in his words. And right now, Kate enjoyed everything about her life, but she knew just like how in a few hours, the tide would return and this magical bridge would once again be under water, she would have a difficult day here and there . . . until it was time for the tide to go out again.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Loop Road

Light filtered through their hotel window earlier than Kate was used to in Harvest Bay. She cracked an eye but, feeling the weariness of spending many long hours in the vehicle, she rolled over and pulled the pillow over her head.

"Are you awake?" Adam murmured. He was accustomed to waking up early, even on summer break, because of facilitating early morning football practices. Kate, on the other hand, wanted no part of being awake before half-past five on her first week of vacation.

"No," came her muffled response.

Adam chuckled. "Okay, but there's a National Park nearby just waiting for us to explore."

"Not before 5:30." Her grumbling response only awakened her more, and soon she and Adam tiptoed to the hotel lobby for breakfast while the girls continued to sleep in.

The forecast indicated the day would be cloudy and cool, not unusual for the first part of June in Maine. Adam and Kate decided over their continental breakfast that it would be a good day to take a drive on Park Loop Road and become familiar with the lay of the land.

By eight o'clock, the family of four had loaded back up into the Expedition and began the short drive to Acadia National Park. They stopped briefly at the Visitor Center, where Adam and Kate gained valuable information from a park ranger regarding family-friendly hikes and other points of interest, as well as the times for the tides, sunrise, and sunset. Adam grabbed a few maps of the park, Kate bought a couple souvenirs, and they climbed back into their vehicle ready for the day's adventures.

There were many, many pull-offs along Park Loop Road where tourists could get out and take in the stunning scenery, and Kate and Adam took advantage of a handful of them. Even with the cloudy weather, the landscape seemed magical to Kate. The rugged beauty - the contrast between lush, green plants and jagged rocks, mountains and valleys, calm lakes and the wild Atlantic Ocean - took her breath away. It never became monotonous. Every turn they took on Park Loop Road, there was something new to see.

Around one of those turns was a sign for Sand Beach. Even though the weather was definitely not ideal for swimming, and they didn't bring their bathing suits, they decided to make the stop and check it out. Sand Beach was a little, inconspicuous gem, hidden between the rocky landscape on both sides. Kate had to walk to the water's edge, bend down, and touch the ocean. Chloe and Madeline each drew their name and the year in the sand while Kate snapped pictures of them. All four of them cautiously climbed on the slippery rocks off to the side of the beach, searching the tide pools for little sea creatures. Before they left, Adam spotted and pointed out a small pod of dolphins just offshore splashing and playing in the frigid water. It was the perfect way to end the experience at Sand Beach.

Not far down Park Loop Road, Adam pulled off again. The park ranger at the visitor center had suggested seeing Thunder Hole.
The conditions at that particular moment weren't right for the "big show" - a thunderous clap of water hitting the narrow cave-like hole in the rocks gouged out by many years of erosion, followed by an extreme spray of the water onto the observation deck - but it was still an amazing sight. Kate and Adam learned that the right time to visit to experience the boom and spray was about 2 hours before high tide and on a day when the ocean waves weren't too calm.

After a quick bite for lunch, Adam and Kate decided to drive up to the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard, Cadillac Mountain. It turned out there was a right time to visit the mountain, too. On such a chilly, cloudy afternoon, standing on Cadillac Mountain was downright cold and the winds were brutal. Kate pulled on a winter hat and gloves she had thought to pack just in case she got cold, as reviews had warned of chilly temperatures at the beginning of June. Standing on top of Cadillac Mountain, the wind literally took her breath away, but the views warmed her heart. Kate struggled for words to describe the way this beautiful sight made her feel, but when Adam came up behind her and wrapped his strong arms around her, and Madeline and Chole stood nearby happily snapping pictures on their phones, only one word came to her mind: perfect.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Road Trip to Acadia

Kate Sullivan woke before her alarm. Although 14-year-old Madeline and 16-year-old Chloe were less enthusiastic, Kate couldn't wait for their road trip to Maine. Adam worked long hours, especially during football season, but this year he promised to take the first week in June off for a family vacation. She dumped the tray full of ice from their freezer on top of the bottles of pop and water in the cooler and slung the tote bag of snacks over her shoulder.

"Let's go!" she called out through the house that had been in her family for generations. Sometimes she could still see her Grandpa Clayton on the front porch swing with his arm around her grandma. Hurried footsteps drummed through the house as both girls rushed past her and into the attached garage to claim their seats in the family's Expedition. Adam was just behind them, snatching an apple off the counter and taking a bite before flashing Kate a smile and grabbing the cooler by the handle.

"Are you sure it's a good idea to be trapped in a vehicle with two teenage girls for fifteen plus hours?" He wrapped the arm with the apple-occupied hand around her waist and kissed first her lips and then her nose.

The sweet scent of a Honeycrisp filled her lungs and she licked the lingering juice from her lips. Kate grinned up at him when he pulled back. After six years of marriage, he still knew how to make her insides all gooey. More importantly, he still tried. They glanced through the screen door into the garage where the girls were waiting in the back seat, faking gagging at their parents' display of affection. She giggled. "You know, they might be wondering the same thing about us."

"That's true. At the very least, it'll be interesting, if not entertaining. Lead the way, copilot. Lead the way."

Kate headed to the packed up vehicle and climbed into the passenger seat while Adam slid the cooler behind his seat and then took his place behind the wheel. Adam backed out of the driveway, closed the garage door, and they were on their way.

Within just a couple hours, they were out of Ohio and not long after that the landscape began to change. From the time Kate was little and went on vacations with her dad, mom, and sister, Elizabeth, she recognized the valuable time spent in such close quarters with her family, singing to the radio, playing traveling games, and just talking. Kate's eyes grew misty as she clutched her pointer and middle fingers, the number years before Chloe graduated and went off to college. Truthfully, it was never far from her mind. Madeline would fly the nest a few years after that. These were the days to make memories.

They stopped for the night at a campground in New York and then continued on up the East Coast the following day. They reached Maine by late morning and Mt. Desert Island, where Acadia National Park is located, by early evening. After checking into their hotel in the quaint touristy town of Bar Harbor, they had some dinner and rested. The next day was sure to be an adventure . . .

Friday, November 24, 2017

Time for a Change

This is my first blog post, my first attempt at writing anything, as J.L. Riffle. "Why the change, Jen?" you may be asking. Well, I don't know exactly, but I know it's time.

I don't know a lot about a lot, but I do know one thing with 100% certainty: change is a part of life. Often it's the hardest part of life, but sometimes it's a breath of fresh air. Like, for example, that first warm spring breeze after the deep freeze of winter. That's one of my favorite changes, topped only by the crisp, woodsy scent of fall after a scorcher of a summer. You know what I'm talking about, right?

Jen Stephens was my name when I didn't like who I was. No, that's not correct. I didn't KNOW who I was. I was married. I had two great kids. I was a teacher and I had a fun hobby as a writer. But who was I? Sadly, I had to go through a valley to figure it out, and unfortunately so did people I care about, but the thing I learned about valleys is they can be a moment of rest and relief if you let them. No, you don't have a mountaintop view. Yes, there are long, dark shadows. Yes, there is loneliness, and often confusion, as well as the utter desperation, but when you scream out, "WHO AM I AND WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BE CONTRIBUTING TO THIS WORLD???" and you hear your own voice echoing back to you, it's kind of a bit of a revelation.

I am ME! And I have a voice! I have a big heart and consequently a lot of feelings, which isn't always a great thing, but it allows me to connect with people on a personal level. I've been through hardships, I've caused some hardships, but now I feel like I understand myself and my unique place in this great big world a little better. It's time.

When I was young, I think I mentioned this in my previous blog post a few months ago, my dad and stepmom would take my sister and me on vacations, usually into the Great Smoky Mountains and often on a hike or two. Over Christmas break when we would visit, I remember going cross country skiing on trails in the Michigan woods. I didn't know it then, but an intense passion for nature and hiking was being instilled in me.

Fast forward about 25-30 years. I was a newly divorced single mom with another failed relationship under my belt (talk about a slam to your self-worth), and a friend, whom I met through his daughter and one of my students, suggested that I "get out of the house." He took me on the first hike I'd been on in years and years. It felt nice. A few months later, we decided to try having a relationship. Truthfully, there wasn't much trying involved. Some, yes, but this relationship was as much a breath of fresh air - and as NEEDED - as that hike. Yes, I needed this relationship to open my eyes and see what a good relationship looked and felt like. It was time. I was ready. And four years, and MANY hikes later, I am so blessed to call Brian my husband and my hiking partner for life.

"Why are you telling us all this, Jen?" you may be asking. Well, because it's time. And it's not anything most of you don't already know. I'm a pretty open book. I'm not opposed to sharing my struggles as well as my triumphs because I know I'm not a phenomenon. I know there are individuals who are experiencing the same things, and while they don't want to hear, "I know what you're going through, and everything will be alright," they also don't want to feel alone. You are never alone. And I am living and breathing proof that as long as you keep putting your feet on the floor each morning, God's not done with you yet. Grieve the chapter you just finished for as long as you need to, and then turn the page and start writing a new one.

I'm also telling you this because it is time to take Harvest Bay outdoors. My brilliant and supportive husband has encouraged me to write about what I love - nature and hiking, traveling and camping. So, I'm in the process of beginning book #1 of the Harvest Bay Outdoors series. It will likely take me some time as I am also working on completing my Masters of Education in Reading this year, but the process has begun. The working title ("working" means it IS subject to change) is Wilderness Experience and it will feature Kennedy, the sister of Adam and Owen, for those of you who have read The Heart's Journey Home and The Heart's Lullaby.

I will also be working on turning this blog into a travel blog of sorts written in the viewpoints of some of my characters. (That was my husband's idea!) It's taken me some time to wrap my brain around this idea, but now that I have, I think it will be FUN! I hope you will think so, too. I also hope it gives you the inspiration to get outdoors and experience nature with the ones you love. In my opinion, it's my favorite way to get quality time with my husband and girls, and quality time is the best gift to can give a person - it's priceless, it can't be taken back, and it comes in one size fits all. Lots of happy memories have been made on the trail!

On that note, happy belated Thanksgiving! I hope this holiday season is the most memorable yet!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

To Everything There is a Season

The thing about seasons is they never last long. Some may SEEM to last F-O-R-E-V-E-R (for me this would be winter) while some SEEM to be over in the blink of an eye (for me this would definitely be summer), but in reality they all last about 4-ish months. Similarly, life's seasons come and go. Some don't even last 4 months, some last years and years.

My third book, The Heart's Hostage, took a long time to write and finally was released last summer (June 2016). Since then, I've taken some time off while teaching and pursuing my Masters of Education in Reading.

Also, during this time period, I've rediscovered a passion of mine - hiking! It's a passion that was instilled a long time ago on vacations with my dad. Even as a child, I understood the value of walking with my family in nature and making precious memories by just slowing down and taking in God's beautiful creation. There is so much in this country and world to experience! It's exciting!!!

But there is indeed a time to write. And I have become inspired again. I'm hoping to continue the Harvest Bay Series, but I'm also intending to returning to this blog in a different way than before. With my husband's encouragement, I'm planning on revamping this site into a TRAVEL BLOG and sharing the many adventures my husband and I and the rest of our family enjoy together, as well as including updates about my writing.

That's it for now. Forgive any grammatical errors. I'm actually writing this blog post on my phone from inside my hammock. I hope you are as excited about this new endeavor as I am. The bottom line is life is short. We all know that. But I think some of us don't know how to live. We as a society are tied to our jobs and our other commitments. I will be the first to admit I am. It's part of being an adult! But I'm trying to learn how to really live each and every day. This is a start. It's a journey. It's an adventure. Until next time, friends . . .