Where we’re at: I’m recapping my summer of 2019, including this trip to Martha’s Vineyard in July.
I realize for some this is a difficult time to read about travel. I am writing often about our current global crisis — the impact it’s having on me personally, on the world of travel, and on the world at large — regularly on my social media channels, covering topics like wellness-focused practices, and giving away generously to charities helping those in need.
However, my blog audience has spoken and they have overwhelmingly requested a break from COV-tent (content about, well, you know…), and a place where they can mentally escape right now. So, I will continue to post from my past travels to inspire those who wish to daydream about the day it is safe to travel again. Wishing all of you love and peace in this time of reflection.
It’s not officially summer till my ferry pulls into the Vineyard.
That’s been true since I was little girl and our big annual family vacation took us to Martha’s Vineyard. Except last summer, I wasn’t sure if we’d make it at all.
My mom had been ill for a long time. The July 4th holiday would mark a year, in fact, since she’d been hospitalized and we found out that sometimes, the worst case scenario does come true. Knowing the difficulties of caring for my mom in the 1800’s cottage she’d bought eight years ago and been lovingly restoring until the time she fell ill, I’d been reluctant to stick to our annual tradition. But my stepdad insisted. And by that point I’d realized we all had things we needed to cling to, to stay sane. So we went. And while it wasn’t easy, physically or emotionally, now I look back and I’m so grateful we did.
To me, life in Martha’s Vineyard is bliss: beaches and bike rides and backyard barbecues. Family and tradition and nostalgia, all blowing around in the sand. I have a lifetime of happy memories here, and recently some sad ones too. But when I sit on that ferry deck watching the island get closer, I breathe them all in with that salty sea air, and I feel like I’m coming home. And thanks to my mom’s hard work and her passion, we always will have a home here. It will always be part of my story, of our family’s story.
After a few days by ourselves settling in, where I hung out with my mom and Miller, caught up on work, and left the house only to workout, we had an amazing crew start to descend. My sister and her man John were in from Philadelphia, our Fourth of July besties Ash and J and Lindsay and John were at nearby hotels, and with Ian stuck at work in Canada, Amanda was my very own holiday date.
As usual, our July 4th festivities started with the Oak Bluffs MVCMA campground parade, enjoyed by all members of the historic community of gingerbread houses we live in. I still remember the first year my mom bought the house and sent us all an email declaring we had no choice but to join her the next year, and every year of our lives after that: “It’s like a freakin’ Norman Rockwell painting, girls.”
And as usual, it was.
Later, the kids all decamped to the beach. Packing up the car and waving goodbye to my mom and Miller, with promises one of us would return so he could swap out with us soon, was one of many heavy moments where my heart jumped into my throat.
I’m so grateful for the love of these friends who feel like family, and who we can smile and laugh and also cry with.
Back at the house, after a day spent grazing on a steady diet of tortilla chips and spiked seltzers, it was time to start our family backyard barbecue. Well, we don’t really have a backyard, but we do have the world’s cutest side garden, and boy do we pretty much live out there during a Vineyard summer.
We hadn’t really made plans to go see the fireworks, which go off in Edgartown. But as the sky darkened and the time came near, we decided what the heck, and spontaneously walked down to the pier and nabbed a prime spot along the Oak Bluffs waterfront, watching fireworks going off all along the coast of Cape Cod and on the far reaches of the Vineyard.
We had wine in hand and my sister spontaneously started a sing along of patriotic tunes, to no surprise to us, and much to the amusement the rest of the crowd on the pier. It was a hard weekend and at times it felt like there was little to celebrate. Yet we were here, together, in this happy moment.
These are the memories I treasure.
That night, the kids (I can still call myself that solidly into the early 30’s, right? Regardless, I was still 29 here so in the clear for sure…) hit Circuit Avenue for a night of sweaty dance floor antics. And I do mean sweaty — July 4th is one of the wildest weekends Martha’s Vineyard sees all year.
With the Independence Day excitement over, we still had a whole weekend to work with. Which, the twinning couples bustling through the house proved, we were going to have to majorly level up our summer fashion game for.
Amanda and I took a hint and matched for our bike ride out to East Chop lighthouse. I’ve mentioned before that it’s one of my loose goals to someday visit every lighthouse on the island that guests are allowed to enter — this is the one I go to the most often as it’s perfect distance for a long (for me) run or a short bike ride from our house, but I’ve yet to actually get inside because it’s open like every seventh Wednesday for twelve minutes timed to the cycle of the daily tides or something. But one of these days I’ll make it.
Next up was Amanda’s one request of the weekend: visiting the furry star attractions at Island Alpaca, another more recent favorite attraction of mine. Most people think of this island as unattainably expensive but there’s actually tons to do for free or cheap — my Budget Guide to Martha’s Vineyard has list of things to do under $10, including visiting this natural day-brightener.
We’d decided to splurge and go to Walking with Alpacas for $25, one of the many daily programs the farm holds in the summer, including alpaca yoga. However, I totally blew it — we waltzed right up thinking we’d sign up on the spot, only to be told the walks were sold out not just for that day but for the whole week! Womp womp. I actually wanted to cry — I couldn’t believe I’d had this major hosting flop.
Luckily, one of the staff took pity on us and briefly brought over one of the alpacas for us to meet. What a rockstar! We had a blast, Amanda fell in love, and I put the real deal (with a pre-registration well in advance) on my radar for Amanda’s next annual trip.
Speaking of annual, it was time to make our yearly trip up-island. Why is it such a special occasion? I’m not sure, considering the whole island is 87 square miles and the farthest drive we can make from our house is forty minutes, it’s not like it’s the wildest journey. But it seems to be a special occasion routine we reserve for first time visitors.
With Miller generously loaning us the old Jeep, me, Amanda, Lindsay and John set off for an up-island adventure, starting with Aquinnah Lighthouse, the most far-flung landmark. Except, for the first time in my life, it was playing hide-and-seek behind a fog so thick, we could barely see the light beaming from the top.
We quickly moved on to our next stop, a sunset picnic in Memensha. En route, we’d stopped at a liquor store, and Lindsay jumped back in the Jeep with two bottles of wine, claiming “one for love, and one for Instagram.” This girl gets me.
While the seafood eaters lined up at various shacks for their favorite finds, I took our quilt down to the beach and started setting up a beautiful spread.
Doesn’t food just taste better when it’s this pretty?
The fog began to lift just in time for golden hour, and eventually, the island’s quaintest town beckoned us for a wander.
It was the perfect spontaneous summer night. May sunsets at Menemsha Beach never get old.
Back in Oak Bluffs, we met up with the rest of the gang for a nightcap on the roof deck at Nancy’s, just steps away from our cottage.
For our guests’ final day on the island, we planned an excursion to Edgartown, and I can’t say that visiting our favorite ice cream place wasn’t the main motivation. Hey, that’s what summer is all about, right?
But first, a stop at the Vineyard’s hot new summer hang out Nomans. I’d been crushed when the previous tenant, Lola’s, closed down — but understood that after twenty five years and the death of her husband, the owner was ready to move on.
Nomans is named after Nomans Island, a 628 acre uninhabited atoll three miles off the coast of the Vineyard. The brand’s own home-distilled rum is a nod to the fact that the rock was once used by rum runners to stow their bounty during Prohibition. But it’s far from a seedy, pirate-like lair. Instead, it’s a bright and airy spot for a day drink, a bite to eat, live music, or games with the family.
We continued our bike ride towards Edgartown with a stop at Bad Martha’s Brewery, also a great spot for games on the outdoor patio. With the summer holiday crowd, though, the small outdoor space was packed, and we didn’t stay long. With its huge lawn, Nomans is definitely a better pick for a busy day.
Soon we were starving. Heading into the heart of Edgartown, we decided to do lunch at a new (to us!) spot — Behind the Bookstore. I’ve been wanting to try it for years and it was definitely worth the wait. Right behind one of the most adorable book shops you’ve ever seen is a hidden garden with a great menu of cocktails, sandwiches, salads, and more. It was our first visit but it won’t be our last.
And then finally, the main motivation of our mission — ice cream at Scoop Shack. The best ice cream on the island is a hotly debated topic on Martha’s Vineyard, but Scoop Shack has always had my vote. Lucky for me, they are all the way in Edgartown, which somewhat limits my summer indulgences!
Back home, we prepared for another cherished family meal together.
After dinner, much to anti-crafter Amanda’s horror, we took part in a longstanding Baackes tradition: the annual Martha’s Vineyard cupcake decorating competition! Amanda, who at the time worked for a PR brand that repped many spirits, and I came up with an idea that truly reflected one of our shared life passions: drinking.
We created a martini, a mojito, a daiquiri, and a cider — pretty cute, right?
It was a bittersweet but beautiful weekend full of poignant moments but also powerful memories. On Independence Day, I couldn’t help but reflect on the personal freedoms I missed so dearly, but also feel grateful for the family and that grounded me. One thing was for sure — on this island, in this moment, I was home.
I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Here’s hoping we can be back together for this cherished weekend in 2020. Do you have Fourth of July plans?