An Eclipse, Bones, a Hurricane, and Trump in Texas, Plus Kolaches

I counted eight dead armadillos on our 1600 mile trip up to Missouri and back to see the eclipse. George ate very little besides french fries and Gatorade, which he called “candy drink”, the whole time. We went to a delightfully gruesome bone museum in Oklahoma City, had an uncomfortable encounter with some nazi regalia in Gainesville, and fell in love with Lawrence, Kansas. Totality lasted 1 minute and 43 seconds where we were and it was so incredible that it made all those hours in the car absolutely worthwhile.

When we got home, Harvey hit, then Trump came to town. Here’s what that looked like, starting with our trip to see the eclipse.

Czech Stop in West, Texas. I like how the line snakes through the narrow shop and how the loaves of sweet bread are smeared with a sloppy coating of white sugar paste. It feels exciting and weird in there. The savory kolaches were okay, the sweet ones, lemon and cherry cream cheese-filled, were an undeniable delight. George only had eyes for a rainbow sprinkle-covered cake pop, and turned his nose up at the pulled pork puff we coerced him into trying, so he ate half a cake pop for lunch. Back in the car, his mood rapidly deteriorated, so we stopped for a second lunch in Gainesville, just before the Oklahoma border.

I didn’t enjoy my time in Gainesville. Andy and I read the history of the town before we arrived- the Wikipedia page for the Great Hanging at Gainesville is short and terrifying. We walked into a Dairy Queen and ordered food for George and a sundae for Henry and sat down. Looking around, I noticed that the fellow cooking our food was wearing an iron cross necklace. I told Andy and asked him if that meant that for sure that guy was a nazi? Or does that symbol represent things besides the complete annihilation of the non-Aryan races? Andy thought nazi, and I texted my mom and sister who thought it was a nazi thing too. So I sat there, twisted up, trying to think of whether I should say something about it, and if so to who? The assistant manager was taking orders, but she disappeared for long stretches of time. Should I not say anything in person and write to the store after we left? Or should I talk to the guy directly? George took a literal hour to slowly slowly eat his food so I had a lot of time to agonize over this. I watched the iron cross guy bring people their food, take orders and talk about the outrageous gun regulations in California, refill the ice machine. He seemed okay. When George was finally finished eating and we were ready to leave, Andy took the kids to the car and I stayed behind to talk to the guy wearing the necklace. He was the only one working out front at the time, and I had figured I ought to just say it directly to him anyway. So I walked up to the counter and asked if I could talk to him for a minute. I said, I know you’re really busy, and you seem like a really nice and hard-working guy, but I have to tell you- your necklace makes me really uncomfortable. He moved to put it in his shirt, where it wouldn’t be seen and said “It’s a World War I necklace, ma’am.” I said he didn’t have to do that, but I wanted him to know that I’m Jewish, that the iron cross was adopted by the Nazis and that it’s a hate symbol and that I didn’t want to get him in trouble, but I did want to tell him how uncomfortable I felt about it. He apologized for making me feel that way and told me that he had family members who had survived the holocaust and then he shook my hand. I said thank you and I left.  I spent a lot of time wondering, while George was very slowly eating his french fries, how many other people had noticed that guy’s necklace and felt the way I did about it. How many other Jewish people end up in that Dairy Queen in Gainesville? Probably not many. But I’m glad I said something. Because now, when/if he puts that necklace on, he’ll know what he’s doing. He’ll be making a choice, one way or another.

Iguana Mexican Grill in Oklahoma City. Onward and upward! I loved this restaurant, and the arty part of town it was in. They had two kinds of rice, red and green, so it was a big hit with the kids too.

Aunt Joanna flew to Asheville, NC to see the eclipse and she sent us a beautiful photo of her girls standing among a copse of tall trees on their journey. We replied with this photo of an impressive array of slurpee flavors- our roadtrip landscape was a lot less scenic. One of the flavors is Pina Colada Paridizzee! Thought you should know.

Meddy’s in Wichita, Kansas. Andy was combing google maps for places we could stop to eat. Our top picks were Spangles, where George could get a hot dog, and Meddy’s, a fast-casual Lebanese chain where everyone else wanted to eat. They had french fries too, so George acquiesced. It was pretty good! And what a delight to find a Kahlil Gibran quote on the wall of a fast food restaurant!

We made it to Lawrence! The main drag, Mass. St, reminded me of the Austin of yesteryear, like South Congress before all the shiny, corporate additions. The indie shops and restaurants all looked really fun and there was progressive art all over the place. I really liked the look of a store called Wonder Fair (Print Palace of the Great Plains!) but we were on our way to dinner, carrying a weary George, and didn’t stop.

Lucia Beer Garden and Grill in Lawrence, Kansas. Andy got a bright blue fruity alcohol drink. I very much enjoyed my fried plantain cups filled with mango, avocado, and black beans. Henry and George stayed on the solid grounds of their preferred food stuffs, rice+beans and french fries, respectively.

Sylas and Maddy’s Homemade Ice Cream in Lawrence, Kansas. I’d just eaten a lot of food at Lucia and wasn’t hungry, but I did hope the kids would pick good flavors so I could eat a few bites of theirs. But George picked strawberry and Henry picked blueberry cheesecake and neither of those had chocolate or cookies in it so I lost interest.

Eclipse Day! We had hoped to stay close to Lawrence for the eclipse, but the forecast said if you wanted a shot at a clear sky, your best bet was to drive east of Kansas City, Missouri. We weren’t about to have just spent two long days in the car with the kids to miss the eclipse, so we started driving.

When we got to Maple Leaf Lake, the parking lot was full of people tailgating the eclipse and the sky was completely overcast. We didn’t know if we should drive south, out of totality, but into clearer skies where we could at least see something, or stay put. The radar showed the clouds heading north about half an hour before totality, so we stayed.

And it was okay! The clouds moved off the sun a little before totality, and we had a completely unobstructed view.

George is checking out his shadow. It proved to be impossible for me to capture the weird quality of the light with my camera, but it was very cool in person. Everything felt a little askew. The colors were off, like they had been dialed down a little bit, duller and browner than normal, and the shadows looked shorter than they should have been.

A minute or two before totality, George fell on one of those concrete parking spot dividers and happened to land in the very spot where a piece of rebar was sticking up out of the concrete. He cut his shin and started screaming and it was awful. It looked painful but also, the total eclipse was seconds away. Thankfully, the eclipse was mesmerizing enough to make George stop crying and marvel at the sky- that’s why he says in the video that ‘it was so cool it made me feel better!’

But, yes. Do you know that scene in Contact, where the aliens make Jodie Foster a fake Pensacola beach and it’s all black and pink and purple and starry? That’s how the eclipse felt to me, with the sunset colors all around and the corona and the solar prominences glowing eerily and the planets you never get to see because they’re so close to the sun shining brilliantly. The temperature dropped and you could hear night time animal sounds and we got to see the diamond ring, just like we had seen in so many pictures. It was neat too, to hear everyone in that parking lot gasp and cheer when totality happened. Aren’t people incredible? That scientists know exactly when and exactly where this will happen, and then where you should drive if it’s cloudy in the first spot? And that people listened and gathered together to marvel at this amazing thing? I love that. I loved that my kids loved it too.

On our walk back to the car after the eclipse ended, George spotted this big, disoriented night crawler, who found himself in the middle of a suddenly sunny parking lot after a very short night. Andy put him back in the grass.

The drive from Kansas to Oklahoma takes you through several miles of that old Microsoft desktop image.

Warning: I’m about to show you a picture of beetles eating the flesh off a skull.

It belongs to a coyote. This is what greets you when you first enter Skeletons: The Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma City.

They have a collection of scavenger hunts for a variety of age groups that help kids explore the museum. Henry and George loved it!

The museum is one big room, two floors, so it’s the perfect size for kids- they get to see a lot of cool displays without it being too overwhelming.

The stuff of nightmares.

There was no way I wasn’t going to include this picture of a walrus’ giant penis bone in my blog post. Fun fact: the gift shop sells a wide variety of baculums! We opted for an owl pellet instead.

Did you know that elephant skulls were the source for the legend of cyclops? I didn’t! Thanks, Museum of Osteology!

Ya gotta stop at Sonic. We did, and then we drove the rest of the way home.

When we got there, the power had apparently gone out, because our clocks were flashing and the fridge felt warm. We figured it had just happened. So I went to the store and bought a lot of meat and vegetables and milk and things that weren’t rice and french fries and brought them home and discovered that the fridge was actually broken. Otto let us put all of our groceries in his fridge (neighbor of the year) and Andy researched refrigerators. The next day, he drove up to North Austin, bought a new circuit board, came home and replaced the old one, and fixed the damn fridge like a boss. Pretty neat! I’m going to take a few points off though because he did this with our oven a couple years ago too, fixing it when it was broken, I mean, and I fear this means I’ll be stuck with the same sort-of crappy but totally operational appliances for the rest of time because Andy knows how to fix everything.

Then Hurricane Harvey came.

This video is terrible and weird because I recorded through a screen so I could stay inside and watch listen to the kids while looking at my phone but I liked their conversation so I’m sharing it in spite of the crappy quality.

Sad chickens as viewed through a dirty window.

On the second day, we walked down to the normally dry creek that runs through our neighborhood. George was terrified that the wind was going to blow away his umbrella.
In Austin, Harvey brought much needed rain (we got 8.5 inches), and knocked down some trees and left some people without electricity. Joanna and Javi’s farm was in a wind tunnel that ripped a lot of the shingles off their roof which lead to several damaging leaks, but all their animals are okay and didn’t blow away, which is pretty amazing.
Andy’s brother Dan’s house in Houston is very luckily okay too, as is Uncle Dan. Friends of friends were not so lucky, including a young family with 4 kids, the youngest being 4 months old, whose house flooded. They’ll be in Austin while things get sorted out, but they’re lucky to be among the only 15% or so of Houstonians with flood insurance. It’s all so awful. What do people in the fifth ward do, whose homes were flooded and they lost their cars and they can’t get to work?
I want to drive down there and cut fallen trees up with a chainsaw, bring sacks of hot burgers and breakfast tacos to people working to fix their houses, give blankets and clothes to people who need them. The reality of my helpfulness probably wouldn’t match the dream, though. I can’t cut up trees because I don’t know how and my kids likely wouldn’t tolerate a trip to Houston to sit quietly and wait while I do things. Also I don’t own a chainsaw. I could maybe do the sacks of food delivery idea? And I have bought donations for trucks heading to Houston, but I’m not sure that was the best use of money either- I spent $50 on some non-perishable food and socks and deodorant but if I had just given $50 to the Houston food bank, they would have done a lot more with that money than one sackful of snacks from Target. I’m going to bake donations for the Austin Bakes for Harvey fundraiser, cuz baking things and buying baked goods is in my wheelhouse. We’re making welcome kits for Harvey evacuees in Austin at Yawp on Tuesday afternoon, and for that at least, I’m confident that my giving is less imperfect. Anyone who wants to is welcome to join that effort and kids are gonna be there too, so send me a message if you want the details. If you know of good ways to help or a charity that you really like, will you tell me please?

Then, last Tuesday, President Trump came to Austin and the kids and I went to protest him. I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that politics ends during a crisis. Trump is ending DACA today or some other day soon, he’s pushing for legislation that takes funds from FEMA and puts them into the construction of his border wall, he banned transgender-ed people from entering the military in spite of all the evidence that says they are an asset, and pardoned the racist monster Arpaio, and that’s all just stuff that’s happening RIGHT NOW.  Should he get to show up in Texas for his photo ops and only see people in MAGA hats cheering for him giddily? I don’t think so. I don’t think you get to, on a whim, plunge 800,000 people who were brought to the US as children, who are working and paying taxes here legally, into the chaos of being suddenly unable to work legally and face deportation to a country they might not even remember without a blip of protest.

In spite of all that reasoning, and knowing it was the right thing to do, I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to drive up to North Austin and stand in the sun for an hour with my kids. None of my friends could go and it was so tempting to just opt out too. We ended up going because of March.

Just before Charlottesville, there was a post in an unschooling facebook group where people were sharing their favorite novels for children. I shared mine and followed the thread and realized that all the books I read and loved as a kid were super white. Very few included people of color and none, I think, were written by people of color. We get lots of diverse picture books from the library, and have read a lot of books about the civil rights movement, but we don’t own many and we don’t have any novels like that. So I asked for recommendations on facebook and got a lot. We started reading March, John Lewis’ graphic novel about his experience in the civil rights movement, and I read book one to the kids. It was hard to get through the parts where the protesters at the lunch counters were pulled from their seats and beaten up, spit on, and then arrested, and the whole time, thanks to all their non-violence training, they just stay quiet and calm, finally singing ‘we shall overcome’ together on their way to the paddy wagons and jail. I said to the kids, can you imagine bravery like that? To be calm when someone is screaming at you and hurting you? I asked the kids, what would you do if you saw a white person treating someone like that? Henry said, “I would say, everyone has the potential for good, but you are giving up that potential.” George said he would say that too. So, when we were talking about whether or not we should go to the protest, we talked about March, and about how brave those civil rights protesters were, and how, if they could do what they did in the face of so much hate, we could show up at this Trump protest for a bit and hold our signs. My sign said “We Support DACA”, George’s said “Don’t do that, Donald Trump” (which I thought was brilliant, and worked for almost every application), and when I asked Henry what he wanted, he said Trump with a frog mouth with the words he would say to people who were being racist.

A couple hundred protesters came out that day, and we were with them and I’m glad of that.

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Our first set of books to expand our perspectives. We’re reading Brown Girl Dreaming now, and it’s been a really great follow up to March because it’s set in the same time, but from a little kid’s perspective. The Witch of Blackbird Pond might not fit in this mix, but it is about fear-based hatred so I bought it too (I’ve never read it).

If you have ideas for other books we should read, ways we can help with Harvey recovery efforts, or other ways to be good humans, I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading, friends.

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Scones and Baby Cows and Fancy Cloaks and Other Vacation-y Things

We went to Boston for a convention, to Portland to eat every baked good we could find and to soak up the cool sea breezes, to Salem to buy witchy things and to be witchy people, to Connecticut to see Billy and fireworks and to eat the world’s best scones and chocolate chip cookies, and then home, to never go out to eat again and to, in fact, not go outside again at all. This post is all about our trip!

It’s a long one so let’s just jump into it, shall we?

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These kids got carried around Boston on the backs of any grown up willing to do it (almost exclusively Grandma Mary) because it was too hot (say the Texas boys!) and they didn’t want to move their legs. They did really like the baby ducks at the public garden though.

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Let me stop here and sing the praises of Grandma Mary, who traveled with us to Boston and let us abandon her with the children each and every time we wanted to. This is the first year since having kids that Andy and I got to do all of the convention activities without having to stop and head back to the hotel room to put kids to bed or put them to bed again after they woke up in the middle of the night. Mary did all of it! And she played approximately 400 games of Yahtzee with Henry too. It was so wonderful and freeing! Thank you for everything, Mary!

We went to the aquarium together on Friday afternoon because it was rainy and it seemed like our best option and every other family in the Boston area had the same idea. It was insane in there. Highlights included a 3D Imax movie about sharks and seeing a big giant sea turtle. Lowlights included walking anywhere for any reason because people filled every square inch of the space.

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A rare photo of Andy and I inside the National Puzzlers’ League convention, (we’re called Bonus and Expelliarmus while we’re there) taken by Randi Rosenblum. Here we’re working with one of our favorite people, Hathor, a lovely and charming beer goddess, on a packet of cartoon rebuses in the style of an old puzzle type from Games Magazine, created and drawn by Toonhead!, another one of our favorite people. If you’re interested in checking out the sorts of puzzles we tackle at NPL conventions, most of the puzzles from this year’s convention are available here. The Saturday night puzzle extravaganza was one of my very favorite parts of the convention this year. This year’s theme was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory(!) which meant lots of candy-related puzzles to solve. We had such a fun team and we worked together to solve every last puzzle and loved the whole thing. Here’s one of the extravaganza puzzles– the easiest one to link to and the most ear-wormy. I got to work on a cryptic crossword with Jeffurry, who I love, play Tablesaw’s hilarious 2000’s TV-version of Remote Control (do you remember that show on MTV?), solve Lambda’s Punana Split puzzle (a totally innocuous and fun wordplay mystery puzzle with a name that he warned us not to seek out in urban dictionary. I had to do it, so I’ll save you the googling, if you, like me, aren’t on the up-an-up on these things: punana can mean a funky vagina!), play Capital R’s brilliant Mystery Jeopardy and Saxifrage and Cazique’s also brilliant Last Minute Jeopardy, and lots of other things too, but no matter what I was doing, I reveled in that magical atmosphere that comes with being surrounded by 200 brilliant, creative, and kind people who we see once a year but who feel like a family.

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Cape Elizabeth. With the end of the NPL convention, we drove Grandma to the airport (we were all sad to see her go! the kids were morose the whole afternoon) and headed up to Portland, Maine. Which is, I guess, the greatest place in the world. It’s gorgeous! And temperate and lovely in the summertime and filled with good food too. Our first stop was to Cape Elizabeth, which has a lovely lighthouse that you can’t get close to without disobeying a lot of no parking signs. Andy and I are both ardent sign followers, so we didn’t get close and went to the nearby beach instead, which was thrillingly beautiful. Look at those rocks! They look like huge monstrous chunks of petrified wood. And the same kids who couldn’t walk a city block in Boston without breaking down in sobs ran for miles along the coast here.

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Fried Clams, Lobster Roll, a Burger, and a Fried Shrimp Boat at The Lobster Shack. We ordered these things more because it’s what one does while on the coast of Maine than because of actual inclination. In fact, I don’t love or even really like shrimp or clams or lobster. The texture, to me, ranges from objectionable to tolerable, and doesn’t ever move beyond that. This meal did nothing to change my opinion. I think everything was done reasonably well, but the lobster didn’t taste like much more than the glob of mayo on top of it, and the clams were just chewy fried things. And they’re so expensive. We paid $70 for this meal and I just don’t get what all the hype is about.

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On the drive home from Cape Elizabeth we stopped at a farm and picked a basket of strawberries and bought some fresh shelling peas too, that Henry and I ate for breakfast the next morning. Then we went to another lighthouse, the Portland Head Light cuz it was there, and when in Maine and all that.

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And then we got to drive across a drawbridge when the bridge part was up to let a ship pass through! It was neat- we got out of the car and sat on the median and watched it pass very slowly by. Then we got back in the car and waited. We waited a super long time, long after the bridge had lowered back down, until it became clear that something had gone wrong. The barricades that should have lifted after the bridge went back down did not, so the cars couldn’t move. Lots of folks got out of there cars again to wait. Henry was pissed at the inconvenience of it all (we were headed home to do nothing). He yelled at the cars and the bridge and the world. Andy and I talked to him about circumstances that are completely out of your control, and how you might as well take it easy and enjoy yourself if you can but he wasn’t swallowing our garbage and remained furious until the problem was sorted out an hour later and we were on our way.

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Yosaku. This was a real shit show. And the straw that broke the camel’s back for eating dinners out with the kids. Henry did fine- he loved his gyoza so much and will eat all manner of eel rolls. But he also eats rice by picking up big sticky handfuls and working them into his gaping mouth. Which stresses me out in a fancy restaurant setting. But George was the one who couldn’t cope. He was so excited to eat Japanese food, but when we got there he was screamy and wanted to rub his chopsticks along the wooden slats separating our table from another one, the way an old-timey cartoon prisoner would drag a metal mug along the bars of his jail cell, and he insisted that he only wanted rice, nothing else, and spilled most of it on himself, but didn’t want more, and I had to take him out of the restaurant because he wouldn’t stop yelling, right when my food came out and I was hungry and I just hated every second of it. George is three, and it was the end of a long, full day, and it was just too much. But I was sad, because I had so many restaurants I wanted to try in Portland and I saw that it just wasn’t going to be possible to do it. So we ate as quickly as we could and drove home, where George promptly burst into tears because he was hungry. Blaaarrrgggh.

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The Holy Donut. The next morning we made a quick run into this donut shop and I ate the best donut the world has ever known. I picked the dark chocolate sea salt and it was moist and dark and salty and I loved it so so much. Henry and Andy both got the blueberry lemonade and George got the fresh lemon, and they were all good but mine was the best. I’m the Best. (That’s from a Lucy Cousins book that my friend Candace gave us, which she bought because she liked the dog’s shorts. They’re pretty great shorts and it’s a good book too!)

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We drove up to Freeport, Maine, and spent the rest of the day at Wolfe’s Neck Farm, which has everything that is good in this world. We got to get licked by a 10 day old cow, meet goats and sheep, walk through a lush vegetable garden and orchard, meet a baby skunk (too young to spray!), and canoe through the bay and up a windy little river. Also pizza and ice cream (espresso toffee!) and hot dogs with onion jam.

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Blue Spoon. After we got back from the farm, we fed the kids (we were staying at a lovely airbnb with a kitchen), did their bedtime routine, and while Andy was lying in bed with the boys, I went out and explored the neighborhood. I got us a bloody steak and a trio of dips with flatbread from the restaurant right next door and brought it home for a late, but delicious, dinner to share with Andy.

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This is what happens to Henry when you put him in the sun. Poor kid! He ate an olive roll a few minutes later and perked right up. You can see George’s incredible pecan financier if you look real close. They were from Standard Baking Co., which is across the street from the ferry terminal.

Helen had been urging us to go on a whale-watching expedition while we were in Maine, but I looked into it and tickets were $50/person and it was a 4 hour boat ride. I didn’t want to spend $200 and I didn’t know how the kids would do on a boat. I decided to just do a quick ferry ride to a nearby island instead- tickets were $7 for a 20 minute ride to Peaks Island, and it was perfect. Meanwhile, Helen called our mom to suggest that she buy us tickets on a whale-watching boat, so my mom called me and offered to do just that. I said no thanks, and explained about the ferry ride instead, so she said, if you see something later in your trip that you want to do, but don’t want to spend money on, let me know. Oh, I did. More on this later.

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Peaks Island. We spent the day at the beach, watching the tide creep ever higher. I saved a lady’s shoes from being washed out to sea, so you might say I’m a hero. Henry made 40 identical sand balls which he lined up in rows and then did not throw. George threw sand at a lot of rocks.

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For dinner on our last night, we ate up all the odds and ends that had accumulated in the fridge over our four days in Maine, with a bowl of noodles for George and a bowl of rice for Henry, who wanted simple, empty calories.

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The backyard at our airbnb! (The price listed now is more than double what we paid, I don’t know why. That kind of bums me out because I was fantasizing about going back to stay there again someday and this knowledge is going to add an unpleasant dose of reality to that daydream!). We didn’t go into the backyard until the last day of our stay, what a pity. The house was great, in a neighborhood full of amazing restaurants and shops (Otto, LB Kitchen, Lolita) and a great tiny market with fantastic breads and whoopie pies right across the street. On the table you can see the remains of George’s ball, which he picked out at a toy store next to the donut shop the day before. Within 24 hours it was deflated and several shades darker.

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Duckfat. Before leaving town, we had to stop for an early lunch at this place, which had been recommended to me by everyone I knew who had spent any time in Portland. Happily, George and Henry were super into it, and, it being 11 in the morning, had fresh reserves of manners and patience. They did beautifully and we all loved our lunch there so much. George ate a mountain of fries, Henry ordered the tomato and fennel soup, but ended up loving the pressed cuban sandwich that I had ordered to split with Andy, so we traded. Fine by me- that soup ended up being my favorite thing we ate there. The drink is a wild cherry phosphate, and we all shared an order of the gorgeous lemony doughnut holes with a salted duck caramel dipping sauce. Amazing, top to bottom.

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Then we went to Salem! I love this town- it was the one place from my old days at Boston University that I really wanted to go back to on this trip. And we got perfect weather for our two days there too- it was chilly and overcast and made the whole town feel spooky and wonderful. We walked around and went in witch-y shops. This one was so beautiful and had bundles of dried herbs hanging from the ceiling and artfully arranged bowls of animal bones and it felt legit, y’all. We walked around the farmers’ market and the boys both found sticks that looked like magic wands and we dipped them in a magic fountain to make them really really magical.

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There was a table for kids to make art at the farmers’ market- here’s Henry’s. I loved it!

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The Lobster Shanty. We ate at a lobster shack and a lobster shanty on our trip to New England, so I feel like we can officially say we’ve done the thing up right.

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Red’s Sandwich Shop. Have you ever seen a kid look more serious in front of a plate with a giant Mickey Mouse-shaped pancake?

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Doesn’t Henry really and truly look like he’s been caught mid-hex?

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Witch Pix. On our wanderings in Salem the day before, we had passed this place and I had been more than a little intrigued. I floated the idea of actually doing the thing to Andy, who was politely but emphatically not interested in spending money on witch glamour shots. Aha! I thought. This is the perfect time to call my mom. She agreed right away! And honestly these pictures are now one of my most prized possessions. We got 77 pictures, in front of three backdrops. The broomstick one had a wind machine! And the costume part was so fun too. I picked the simplest black dress and cape I could find, and then I turned around to find that Andy had chosen the most spectacular bedazzled velvet cloak in the shop. He came around on the pictures after all! I’m going to get a few framed and bring them out every year on Halloween for the rest of time and I’m just so so happy we got to do that. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for buying them for us! And thanks to Helen for pushing for the whale watching trip and inadvertently making this happen!

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Mianus River Gorge. Here’s where I make a joke about my anus. After Salem, we drove to Connecticut to see our friend Billy, whose family has an annual summertime party which Andy and I have been invited to every year since meeting Billy in college. We had never been able to attend, but this year, with the NPL convention in Boston the week before, the stars aligned so we could go. We had some time to kill that morning though, so we went for a long hike to run some energy out of the kids.

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Billy!! Billy has a twin brother named Larry. When we first got to the party, Larry (who also knows Andy because they worked at Microsoft together for a summer) ran up from behind and jumped on Andy’s back. Andy crumpled a bit but managed to stay standing. When Billy showed up an hour or so later he ran at top speed and jumped onto Andy, like a bear hurtling into a telephone pole. This time Andy promptly crashed to the ground. I’m saying this to illustrate to you that Billy is fun! And his family is too. We ate a lot of food and rode a little kayak around the pond in their backyard and stayed for the deservedly famous fireworks spectacular at the end of the night. There are dozens and dozens of huge fancy fireworks, set up to detonate in time with some of the most wildly patriotic tunes I have ever heard. The kids got glowsticks and cupcakes and we got to talk to our old pal Billy, so everyone had a real good time.

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Blueberry Scones, Cinn-ful Cinnamon Scones, Chubby Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies. I have never in my life and probably never will again be handed a box full of things this delicious. A longtime food52 friend and personal hero, Liz (mrslarkin), lives right around the corner from Billy’s parents. Round those parts, she’s known as the Scone Lady, and for good reason- the scones she brought us- wild blueberry and cinn-ful cinnamon, were absolutely the best scones I’d ever eaten. So rich and moist and crunchy and soft and all the best things in the world in one sugar-encrusted triangular package. My mouth is watering now, thinking about them, and I’ve got the urge to leave the house to try to find a sack of frozen wild blueberries so I can make them and eat them post haste. The cinnamon scones, with a drizzle of icing on top, were every bit as delicious. And the chocolate chip cookies! Fuck, y’all. I think they’re the best I’ve ever had. I love that Violet Bakery version, that uses all egg yolks, but I think these were even better. I’m making them on Saturday for a bake sale that you should definitely come to. (I’m also making salted caramel almond bars!) Anyway, these treats sustained us during the long drive from Connecticut back to Boston and there were enough left over to serve as our very early breakfast in the airport the next day. Tiny George loved the giant chocolate chip cookies so much that he ate two of them. I am the model of a selfless mother.

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Liz met us at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center and I got to bask in her loveliness while we ate farmers’ market snacks and walked around the grounds of the farm, looking at pigs and woolly cows and giant horses. Henry, who is notoriously reserved when meeting new people, fell completely in love with Liz. He held her hand and shared every thought that came into his head with her. Thank you for coming out to meet us Liz! And for bringing your perfect scones and cookies too- we love you!

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And then we flew home and never went out to eat again. (For real, check out that sweet-ass cloak on Andy, though!) See you all next post, when it’s back to the reality of Texas in the summertime.

All the Food from All the Parties

We’re getting ready to set off for our big summer vacation to New England. The first stop is Boston, for the annual National Puzzlers’ League Convention. Andy’s mom is flying with us to watch the kids while we’re convention-ing, and nobody drinks my milk anymore and they mostly sleep through the night now, so this is pretty damn exciting. Convention stuff happens at night, so we’ll explore the city by day and then do lots of trivia games and solve anagrams till the wee hours of the morning. If you live in or near Boston and you like wordplay games, you should come visit us! After that, we’ll rent a car and drive to Portland, Maine to a little beach house. We’ll eat lobster rolls and look at lighthouses and do whatever else people do in Maine. Then we’re headed to Salem, one of my very favorite places (I’m a wannabe witch, after all), and then to Connecticut to see our friend Billy and eat Mrs. Larkin’s scones. It’s gonna be pretty sweet. Do you have places that you’d recommend that we visit while we’re in Massachusetts, Maine, or Connecticut? If you do, will you let me know? I have done precious little planning for this trip.

Anyway! I wanted to stop in here before we left to share photos (all taken by my sister, Helen!) of three parties we’ve held in the last couple of weeks. I gotta get on a place in 45 minutes though, so I’m gonna have to be brief. Here we go!

Party No. 1: Summer Solstice.

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Caprese Salad with Spicy Goat Cheese. I saw this in a Good Housekeeping mag at my mother in law’s house and thought it sounded fantastic. I loved it.

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Bean and Corn Salad. My mom made this while we were in Portland and I thought it was so great- I’ve made it several times since coming home. Fun story: I took it to a Father’s Day cookout and then accidentally left the leftovers in a cooler on the floor for 24 hours. I found it as I was putting dinner together the next day and moved it next to the bowl of scraps for the chickens, and then got distracted because Otto came over and I had to talk to him about our damn broody chicken, and asked Andy to finish putting the dinner stuff on the table. He assumed that old corn salad was part of our dinner and George devoured it. When I came back in I was horrified and said George couldn’t eat anymore because it could make him sick. He was outraged and stayed mad at me for most of the rest of the evening. I made him some more the next day. Anyway, it’s a good salad.

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Grilled Chicken with Herbes de Provence. My brother Caleb makes the most incredible grilled chicken. I tried to replicate it once I got home and I feel like I got pretty close. Here’s what I did. Make the rub: mix 1/4 of brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, 2 tablespoons of herbes de provence (without lavender, unless you like that sort of thing), 1/2 tablespoon of garlic powder, and a lot of freshly ground black pepper. Rub this all over 6 pounds of skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks, then grill over indirect heat for an hour, until the fat has rendered and dripped off and the chicken skin looks thin and roasty.

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Cold Cucumber and Avocado Soup with Mango Salsa. I love this summer soup- you throw some shit in a blender and call it a day.

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Lemonade Jello. The kids live for this stuff. I just buy a jug of lemonade and follow the instructions on a box of gelatin to make it extra jiggly.

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These two love each other like siblings and also fight like siblings. George had a real hard time sharing anything with Phinnie during our party, but they made up by the time we were ready to build a big fire and eat some s’mores.

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Squee! She is the dearest. I clench my teeth every time I look at her. Someone ought to tell her that stick is gonna be hopeless for roasting marshmallows though.

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We made flower mandalas with flowers Joanna brought!

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We burned sage and then threw fat pinches of mugwort and vervain into the fire to send dark and evil things far away from us.

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When Andy got home, we went to the Liz Carpenter fountain so the kids could stay up late on the Solstice and took so many pictures and they were all pretty bad. Here’s one of em!

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And here’s another! I have no pictures with Andy- we’ve gotta work on that.

Party No. 2: Going Away Dinner for Amanda.

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Emma hosted the dinner at her beautiful house in East Austin. Since Amanda is forever bringing us gorgeous bouquets of her homegrown flowers, we decided we’d all try our hands at making some for her. Here is my large and gangly one on top of Emma’s pretty oven.

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Helen made this one!

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Emma grew these tomatoes! And she gave us all sack-fulls on our way out the door.

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Christy made these! I probably should’ve swapped the tomato picture and this one, but I’ve only got ten minutes left to write so let’s just move on.

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Helen’s Tomato, Peach, and Burrata Salad with a Fig Balsamic Drizzle. I ate fully half of this platter.

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Marcarpone and Sweet Corn Lasagna. I had this for the first time at Amanda’s house and loved it so much. It’s a perfect summertime potluck offering, I think.

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Some ladies and some food.

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Someone’s dinner.

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Christy’s Dark Chocolate Raspberry Torte. This is an almost-flourless chocolate cake, topped with the richest, creamiest chocolate mousse, topped with whipped cream and raspberries. It is everything good in the world.

I’m still in denial about Amanda leaving. I’m going to miss you so much, friend!

Party No.3: A Birthday Party for Christy.

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The Almost-Birthday Girl! We had this party way early, because it was the only day that worked for everyone. Helen and I had a number of elaborate ideas for what we wanted to do for Christy’s birthday, but then we talked to her and she said she just wanted to go swimming at Garrison (a shitty city pool near my house) and eat some snacks on some towels. This didn’t fit into Helen’s and my vision board (we didn’t actually make a vision board) and we hated the idea. But then Helen had the idea to ask Amanda if she could ask her parents to let us use their pool for the party. Genius! There pool is a paradise- surrounded by lush palms and pride of barbados, and with a gorgeous Grecian pavillion with lovely furniture and a fireplace next to the pool. They said yes! Helen said “what a nice party Amanda is throwing for Christy!”

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Cheese Plate with Amanda’s Tomato Jam. Christy loves Pure Luck goat cheese, and it was even more incredible topped with tomato jam made from Emma’s tomatoes and Amanda’s homegrown onions.

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Peach and Nectarine Salad with Candied Pecans and Goat Cheese. This salad is supposed to have a lavendar syrup, which Christy loves, but then I couldn’t find any at central market, so I infused the syrup with herbes de provence instead.

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Helen’s Crudites Platter. Hey, broccoli! I’ve got nothing to say here.

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Ceviche Accessories.

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Flounder Ceviche with Pineapple and Ginger. I ate this for breakfast and lunch the next day. It’s so easy and it feels so fancy and tropical. I leave out the Peruvian chile stuff and just add a diced jalapeno and some pineapple.

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Gluten Free Brownies. I’m out of time to write! We have to leave for the airport. So brownies!

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Violet Bakery’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. My favorite egg yolk chocolate chip cookies.

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Dr. Bobby! Huge thanks to Bobby and Crisitina for letting us have the most beautiful pool party! They mowed and watered and cleaned the pool area and were just wonderful.

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Amanda’s Flowers. Supplemented with flowers and herbs from Joanna’s garden. Aren’t they wonderful? Everything was so pretty and perfect and we got to swim without our children for hours. I think it’s the first time I’ve been swimming without the children since I had them and it was glorious. Happy Birthday, Christy! We loved celebrating you!

And that’s it! I super have to go. I’d love to hear if you have ideas for places to eat and things to see and do in Boston, Maine, or Connecticut, please and thank you! Happy summer, friends!