You cannot find a better spot for a family vacation than Highland Lake in Bridgton, Maine - just ask my three children and my hard-to-impress husband.
Highland Lake was part of my childhood. For nine years, my dad, mom, sister, two brothers and I would make the 10-hour trip. No air-conditioning! No DVDs! The four kids stuffed in the back seat of the Jeep Wagoneer among bathing suits, towels, beach toys, sailboat gear, and snacks for the road.
My dad's three-year battle with cancer made me think about those trips, and I decided we had to do it again, not only for him but also for my children. Searching on the Internet, I found a couple who rent out three cabins. How surprised I was to find it was Bill and Betty Haubert, whose family we vacationed with at the lake each August.
When vacation time came for my siblings and their families, my dad was too sick to make the trip. Each day, he called many times to find out what each grandchild was up to. He was happy that a new generation of Brandinelli kids was enjoying a great lake holiday.
The lake was just as I remembered it - clean, bright and inviting. There was a great beach with beautiful plantings. Islands of all sizes waited to be explored by curious kids in rowboats. There also was a big float in the deep water that was great for diving, silly jumps and (dare I say it?) throwing in children.
My son Brandon's favorite activity was digging canals in the sand with his cousins.
On our 11/2-mile wake-up walks to the main road, we saw deer, chipmunks, squirrels, snakes and finches.
At 5:30 some mornings, my son Ethan would go fishing with a neighbor. They'd come back with great stories of the big one that got away, but they did manage to catch a few trout and perch.
Just as my dad did so many years ago, my husband, John, enjoyed having his sailboat docked a few feet from our front door. His favorite part of the day was getting up early to take advantage of the powerful morning winds.
John also took afternoon motorcycle rides through the mountains with my brother-in-law - John on his Moto Guzzi and Walter on his Harley. Enjoying the peace and beauty of the lake, John finally understood why I had talked about it so much over the years.
My daughter Noelle discovered a stable in town and spent mornings riding, jumping, and playing with horses. Then she'd spend lazy afternoons at the beach, soaking up the sun, splashing around with her cousins, and reading books.
Bridgton has some unique restaurants and shops, including the Cool Moose, complete with a fake, stuffed moose at the curb. At the Bridgton Art Co-Op, you can admire fine artworks and take one home as a reminder of a great holiday. There is a beautiful bookstore, plus a funky used-books shop.
That vacation was three years ago. My dad died that fall. Now, the trip to the lake has become a tradition. I have him to thank for inspiring me to make it happen. I couldn't be more grateful for the sweet memories of my childhood and the ones we're creating each summer for my children.