Category: family

Adventures at Flagstaff

Sorry for the lack of posts for the past few days. I’m entering a busy stretch here. I’m off to Utah tomorrow, and then I’m heading to Machias a week from today, and I was up at Flagstaff Lake camping for the past three days. So the good news is that this hasn’t been a stressful busy stretch, but it’s going to busy nonetheless. (And seriously: I am so out of practice flying. The anxiety I get around it seems to have gone up a few notches over COVID.)

But camping was lovely. Flagstaff Lake is about an hour north of where I live. It’s famous for having been a site of controversy back in the 40s or 50s. There was a town by a much smaller lake at the time, and the government decided they needed to dam the lake for reasons that aren’t quite clear to me. When they dammed the lake, it submerged the town completely, so some of the time you’re boating around, you can actually see asphalt roads beneath you, as well as (potentially) buildings. That’s kind of creepy to me, and I’m sure I could have made it into a wicked scary ghost story one night, but I held myself back.

Creepy drowned city aside, the place is absolutely lovely. We saw bald eagles and loons and tons of frogs (which made Daniela very happy). We went fishing (caught yellow perch, but that was it) and canoed all over the lake, going swimming and just generally having a blast. The weather was about as ideal as you can get (unless you prefer really hot weather for swimming). Mid 70s and breezy during the day, 50s at night. It was mostly clear, though we did have a bit of intermittent very light drizzle. It cleared out enough at night for some star gazing, and that’s always fun as well.

I loved the fact that our site felt very remote, even though it was easy to get to: just a half mile canoe paddle. The site itself was huge. We had five tents scattered around the area, and it could have held many more if it needed to. Just one picnic table though. There were some boats out on the water passing by now and then, but other than that (and a random guy who walked through our site once to go swimming with his dog), the place felt empty.

Camping is definitely something I don’t do a lot, and in some ways I came back home well-rested, and in other ways I’m just plain exhausted. I know when I got back yesterday afternoon, I didn’t want to do anything other than lie there like a slug. Every time I closed my eyes, it felt like I was back on a canoe. But on the other hand, it was so different from everything else I do that it felt like I could approach what was waiting for me from a better position.

The kids all had a great time, and I’m chalking the trip up as a big success.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Sea Glass Hunting on Monhegan Island

It’s interesting that sometimes it takes someone coming from hours away to get you to do the touristy things people do when they come to your state. Denisa and I have lived here for 14 years now, and we had yet to venture to any of the islands off the coast of Maine, despite the fact that many people come here to do just that. For the first while, it was because of the expense ($38 for a ferry ticket?), and then it was because we had kids of ages that didn’t really line up right to do the outing, and then it was because we were busy, and then . . .

There comes a point when you begin to convince yourself that if you haven’t done something all this time, then there must be a good reason you haven’t done it, and you stop even considering doing it anymore.

Thankfully, a friend from high school came up to visit for the weekend, and one of the things he was planning on doing was taking the ferry out to Monhegan Island, famous for its artist colony and beautiful landscape. If that had been all it was, maybe I might not have decided to go, but he also likes to go looking for sea glass, and that’s been something I’ve been curious about enough that I decided it would be fun to tag along and see how it was done. Denisa and MC came on the journey as well. (Tomas had to work, and Daniela had drama camp.)

To get out to the island, we first had to get to the ferry. We took the one out of Port Clyde, which was about a two hour drive for us. Once we arrived, I was surprised to see the range of car license plates arrayed on the dock: Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and more. People were coming from all around to go to this place I’d just ignored the whole time. It took an hour to get out to the island on the ferry, though the company did fill some of that time talking about the history of the island and the surrounding area, and the lobster industry. The ride was choppy enough that by the time we arrived, my stomach was very glad we were about to get off. I had expected a large ferry without too many people on it. Instead, it was a small ferry that was pretty packed, leading me to wonder just how busy the island would be.

Monhegan is only 1.75 miles long and .75 miles wide. In my head, this was a place we’d pretty much be able to completely explore in a couple of hours. No cars are allowed over onto the island, though some of the people there do have trucks they use for transportation. There’s a small village there, with quite a few houses, though many of them seemed like they were probably rentals for people coming out to stay. Cell coverage was spotty, but existent. Restaurants were few and far between, and prices were what you’d expect on a remote island. If you’re looking to come and check out stores, this is not the place to go.

However, the island is criss-crossed with plenty of hiking trails. We set off right away into the middle of the island. I had been expecting wide trails with plenty of visibility, like most of Maine’s hiking. These trails were very narrow, and the forest in places was incredibly thick. It reminded us more of the rain forest at times than of most of the other places we’ve explored in Maine. The trails were generally easy to see, though markings were few and far between. In most places, the trail was maybe a foot wide. Some mud, because it had just rained, but the real obstacles were tree roots and rocks. It wasn’t easy hiking, by any means, but it was absolutely gorgeous.

In our three hour hike around the island, we probably saw about 5 other groups total. It was a much bigger place than I expected, and it generally felt like we were alone. If you want peaceful, secluded beauty, this is definitely a good place to go.

The sea glass hunting was less than overwhelming. We headed to Pebble Beach, which we’d heard had the best offerings on the island. We got there as the tide was coming in, which wasn’t ideal, so perhaps there was better hunting farther out, but where we were, to find any sea glass took an awful lot of combing through the boulders and pebbles. The pieces we did find were generally small: tinier than the tip of my pinky. On the other hand, we had a great time doing it. MC loved the sense of exploration, and it was fun to have something to do together. The beach was nothing like a place where I’d want to go swim. Far too rocky. (And it was only 65 degrees that day, anyway.)

(We did try one other spot I’d heard had sea glass: Fish Beach. It was very small, but it had quite a lot more glass. Unfortunately, almost all of it was pretty new. New enough that it was another place I don’t think I’d want to swim, even though it was sandier. There was just too much glass. Go figure.)

We had lunch at a small cafe. Nothing extravagant: some pizza ($3.50/slice) and wraps ($8.00/each). The food was fine. We might have gone to some of the other restaurants, but finding out where they were was a struggle. (Remember: bad internet), and the prices seemed like more than we were really up for at the moment. One of the best things I bought the whole time was the $1 map of the island that included all the hiking trails. We used that a ton, and I’m sure we would have gotten hopelessly lost without it. (We’d also considered bringing Ferris on the trip, but I’m very glad we didn’t. He would have been far too hyper on the ferry, and he would have gone crazy on the island. We’d tried taking him on a short hike a few days before. It was sensory overload for the puppers.)

In the end, we stayed five hours, and I think that was about right. I’d considered coming out to stay with the family on the island at some point, but I don’t know that I will, having been there. I loved the outing, but I think I’d likely get bored if I were there for too long. (Though maybe some boredom and internet-free time would be just the thing. I’ll keep thinking about that.) I’m sure it would have gorgeous night skies if we were to stay over, though it was foggy and overcast the entire time we were there. (Luck of the draw.)

Overall, it was a terrific outing, and a great change of pace. If you haven’t been, I’d definitely recommend it, and it’s got me thinking about other outings we might do in the future . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Hurray for Second Chances: Return of the Bundt Cake

Last Sunday, Daniela and I made another foray into co-baking, and it ended with a pretty spectacular fail. (I should have taken a picture of it, in hindsight. Just imagine a half-baked bundt cake plopped upside down into another pan, and then baked again. It was bad.) I’d say it left a bad taste in our mouth, but that would be a lie, since we ate it the rest of the week, and it tasted incredible. This week, Daniela wanted to give it another go. Not with a new recipe. With the same one we’d messed up the week before.

I’m all about learning from my mistakes, so I readily agreed. For as bad as last week went, it wouldn’t have taken much for this week to go better, but it went pretty much perfectly. For one thing, we both knew what we were doing when we were making the cake. Last week was tricky, but this time, we already had it down to a process. The peanut butter filling also went off without a hitch. (We used chunky peanut butter this time, and these days we’re almost only buying the natural kind (the one you have to stir). I imagine smooth Skippy would make it even easier, though I did like the crunch of the natural after all was said and done.)

This time, we only filled the Bundt pan 2/3 of the way, and we used the leftover batter (of which there was a TON) to make 12 peanut butter-filled chocolate cupcakes. The cake was done in an hour, and the cupcakes were done in 20 minutes. When the cake was finished, we were both a little apprehensive. We used a wooden skewer to check it this time (much longer than a toothpick, to ensure we weren’t missing any pockets of raw batter), and we checked it about five times in five different places. Each time it came out clean. Picturing another mess, we steeled ourselves, flipped the cake out . . . and it was perfectly done. It cracked a little on the way out, but Daniela made a ganache to cover that up.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a real baking experience if we didn’t make a goof here or there. This time, it was that we forgot to get extra butter, so we didn’t have enough for the ganache recipe we usually use. Daniela decided to pull an audible, mixing oil and chocolate chips and milk in amounts that felt generally good to her. It seemed to have turned out fine at first, but it was done well before the cake was cool enough to put it on. Once the cake had cooled, it had solidified, and when she went to reheat it, the oil separated. It looked very (very) gloppy.

I tasted it, and it was super dark as well. We were also out of powdered sugar, and we only had about a half cup of white sugar left in the house. I threw caution to the wind and added all the white sugar we had left, and Daniela added some more milk, hoping that would fix it.

It did not. It tasted good, but there was no way it was going to turn out as a ganache. After some reflection, we decided to try whipping the heck out of it in the stand mixer, thinking that might be enough to mix the oil back in. A few minutes later, that turned out to be successful. We ended up with a (very) dark, smooth ganache that went perfectly over the cake. I’m chalking that up to divine intervention.

In any case, I was happy to have such a great object lesson to talk to Daniela about how to respond when things go wrong. Take some time away, think about what you could have done differently, and then try again, incorporating those changes. We still had to improvise, but the end result was delicious.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Adventures in Bundt Baking

Sunday, Daniela and I decided we wanted to make a cake for our Fourth of July dinner later that day. After debating the merits and proper “Americanness” of various cake and frosting combinations, we settled on a bundt cake (because we hadn’t made one before) that would be chocolate with a peanut butter filling. How hard could it be?

(Note: When you’re setting out to try something new in baking, the phrase “how hard could it be?” should usually tip you off that it will, in fact, be much harder than you think. Because “how hard could it be?” doesn’t actually set a limit, you know.)

Since it was Sunday, we were limited to using only the ingredients that were in our house already. We weren’t going to make a special trip to the store for anything. This made some problems for us, since the recipe we found that we really wanted to use was this one in the New York Times. However, that one called for cream cheese for the peanut butter filling, and heavy cream for the glaze, neither of which were in our fridge. So I called an audible and used the chocolate cake recipe from the NYT, and swapped out the peanut butter filling for this one (that I didn’t want to use the chocolate cake recipe for, since it was just a box cake, and who needs that?)

We got to work on baking. Everything went off without a hitch. It was complicated, sure, but nothing the two of us couldn’t handle. It came time to fill the bundt pan, and we hit a slight snag: we had too much cake batter. So much, that it filled the pan right to the top. I knew from experience that cakes typically rise, so for a moment, I was concerned this was too much batter.

“Maybe it just doesn’t rise that much,” Daniela pointed out. That seemed like a good enough answer for me. Into the oven it went!

An hour later, and the cake had not, in fact, flowed all over the oven. It had risen a little, but mostly it had puffed up in a ring around the middle. We took it out and tested it with a toothpick. The recipe called for baking at least an hour, so I was skeptical that it would have been done already. However, no matter how many times we put the toothpick in, it always came out clean.

“I guess we should just dump it out and see what happens,” I said. Daniela concurred. (Note: “Dump it out and see what happens” might not be the best approach for baking, but we’d been baking for a while by then. We were tired.)

We got out a cooling rack, I paused for a moment, and then turned the bundt pan over in one fell swoop.

Reader, the top two or three inches of that cake (the bottom of it, once it was turned out) was done to perfection. The peanut butter filling was great. But the part that was beneath the peanut butter filling? That was still molten cake batter. It oozed right through the cooling rack and spread out in a puddle all over the counter.

If I had been left to my own devices, I think I would have given up then. The beautiful bundt cake we’d worked so hard on was more of an amorphous cake-like mass. There was no way it was getting back in the oven in anything remotely bundt shaped. Denisa, quick thinker that she is, sprang into action. “Just put it back in a regular cake pan and finish baking it,” she said. “It’s still hot.”

That seemed like a ridiculous idea. Keep baking it? How do you bake what’s rapidly turning into a raw pancake with some chocolate and peanut butter cake heaped in the middle of it? But it was better than my idea of just giving up, so we let Denisa give it a try. We scooped up pieces of the cake, stuck them in a new pan, and then she used a spoon to get as much of the batter in as she could.

Back in the oven it went.

Twenty minutes later or so, the cake was finished. It looked about how you’d expect it would. Spots of it still had ridges from the bundt pan, and other parts looked like someone had just sort of thrown cake batter around and hoped for the best. In short, it looked like a disaster.

The taste, however . . . The taste was just right. Chocolate and peanut buttery goodness we’ve been enjoying since. When it’s dark and you’re watching a movie, it’s not like you need to look at your cake to enjoy it, you know?

In hindsight, we should have filled the pan only two thirds of the way, and cooked the rest of the batter in cupcake form. We think there was just too much batter for the heat to really get everywhere it needed to. But despite how big of a pain it all was, I think Daniela and I might give it another go at some point.

It really is a good tasting cake . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

A Very COVID Timeline

Not that we haven’t been open already to the university crowd, but starting Thursday (July 1st), Mantor Library (where I’m the director) will be back open to the public to use, with no phone call or reservation needed. This is the last major step toward “reopening” that I think we’ll take (well, aside from the university lifting its mask mandate at some point.)

In honor of the occasion, I thought it might be interesting to see just what the timeline has been for me over the pandemic. A little waltz down memory lane, to remind myself of how far we’ve come. In some ways, I’ve been trying to resist thinking about all of it. But I think it would be a good activity to review just what happened when. And lucky me, I keep a daily journal (beyond the blog), so reconstructing all of it shouldn’t be too hard . . .

Ready? Deep breath. Here we go.

  • January-February 2020–I watch with growing concern as more and more reports of this new disease start to circulate. I remember reading Reddit posts when it was just in China. Someone had supposedly smuggled out a video of Chinese hospitals overwhelmed, contrary to what most reports were claiming. I wasn’t sure how accurate the video was, but it was alarming to say the least. I watched it move from China to Europe and over to the US, though it had yet to actually affect me in any immediate way other than general anxiety.
  • March 10, 2020–The first time “coronavirus” appears in my journal. Tomas had a robotics meet in Massachusetts that was cancelled due to it. He was bummed, to say the least. So was I.
  • March 11, 2020–The university tells us all students will be in quarantine when they return from spring break, which was slated to run from March 16th-March 20th. I scramble to try and figure out what that’s going to mean for the library.
  • March 12, 2020–The university changes course, deciding students will leave for the semester and not come back to campus after spring break. We’ll be switching to remote learning for the rest of the semester, instead. (Also, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cancels all in-person meetings worldwide. There was a fair bit of scrambling to figure out what that was going to mean for me and my family.)
  • March 13, 2020–We find out our school district intends to close for “a couple of weeks” to do some deep-cleaning. (As a side note, this really illustrates how up in a tizzy everyone was about COVID at this point. The disease was almost non-existent in Maine (we were averaging two cases/day). True, that wasn’t nothing, but in all likelihood, there was nothing in the school to deep clean. (Well, not from a COVID viewpoint, at least . . .) Still, things were very upsetting, and we were definitely in the “something must be done, and this is something” mindset. Taking two weeks to figure stuff out made a lot of sense.)
  • March 18, 2020–We close the library to everyone. This is my first day of working from home. The library is still staffed with workers to keep the books moving (requests, orders, interlibrary loan, etc.), but the doors are locked to everyone else. I decide to stop trimming my beard until I have to go back to work in person.

Please note the huge gap that now comes in the timeline. About four months of just staying at home, day in, day out. That was . . . unpleasant. One of the worst things was being uncertain when, exactly, it would be over. At first I thought we’d be able to make our planned trip to Disney World over July 4th, no problem. Then that seemed like a 50/50 shot. Then . . .

  • July 9, 2020–We break down and buy a dog, even if we won’t be able to pick him up until August. Thus, our “typical American COVID summer” is complete.
  • July 15, 2020–In preparation for in-person church coming up (and because I had long since discovered that yes, Virginia, there is a beard length Bryce really doesn’t want to have to deal with), I trim my beard again. There is much rejoicing.
  • July 19, 2020–I go back to church in-person for the first time. Meetings are capped at 25 people. We had been doing Zoom church up until then, having switched over a week or two after the in-person meetings shut down. For the next while, we go to church in-person once or twice a month. No singing. Face masks required.
  • August 12, 2020–My first day back in the library in-person.
  • August 15, 2020–We pick up Ferris and bring him home. Puppy!
  • August 17, 2020–The library opens up via keycard to all UMF students, staff, and faculty. The public can call and get curbside checkout of materials, and they can make a request to come into the building for specific reasons. In practice, this meant around 5 people from the public ended up coming in over the next academic year. Each one came to use our microfilm collection, which had to be used in person. I didn’t turn down other requests; I just didn’t get any. Most people seemed reluctant to come to campus for fear of COVID. Most employees thought we had slim chances of having the semester last past the middle of October. The plan is to have the semester run until Thanksgiving, and then be remote after that.
  • September 8, 2020–The kids go back to school in person. Tomas is there every Monday and Tuesday (remote the rest of the week). Daniela and MC go in person every other day, and are remote the other days. For Tomas and Daniela, “remote” means “sitting in front of a computer in a Zoom meeting.” For MC, it means “no school.” (Practically speaking. I think she had a few “assignments” every day, but nothing that really took MC longer than a bit to complete.)

Another huge break in the timeline here. In a way, so much happened in these six months. In another way, almost nothing did. Reading over my journal entries for this period is actually kind of traumatic. You can see things deteriorate in a way I just was unable to recognize at the time. Maybe I’ll write more about that at some point, but I’m not up to it right now.

The good news was that the university had its classes as scheduled, and we made it the whole time with that plan. It worked for the next semester as well. The kids’ school also went off without a hitch (more or less). We were doing Zoom church still, though at some point they raised the cap to 50 people. (I forget exactly when.)

  • March 20, 2021–Denisa and I get our first vaccine shots.
  • March 21, 2021–We have our last Zoom church. The Maine CDC raised its cap on people in a building to a point where anyone who wanted to come to church in person, could come to church. Zoom broadcasts would still be happening, but my family and I would be able to go in person each week. (Still masked, still socially distanced in the building, still no singing.)
  • March 28, 2021–We had our first “no cap” in-person church. About 75 people showed up, more people than I’d been around in a good long while.
  • April 16, 2021–Denisa and I get our second shot. Two weeks until we’re “fully vaccinated”!
  • May 10, 2021–With the semester over, the library “opens” to the public. People can now come for any reason, though they do have to make an appointment ahead of time to come. Masks are still required.
  • May 9, 2021–Our trip to Puerto Rico, which really represented the end of the pandemic for us in many ways. Things began to feel more and more normal.
  • May 30, 2021–Mask mandate is now lifted for church. Singing resumes, as well as in-person second hour meetings.
  • July 1, 2021–The library doors go back to being unlocked to everyone (during our open hours). In preparation for this, the furniture returns to its normal positions throughout the building. (Thanks, Facilities!) The library feels like it’s largely back to normal as well, even though masks are still required. (And there’s no sign of that being done away with any time soon at the moment.)

This list is in no way comprehensive. There are definitely some events I’ve left out, but it gives a good general overview of the arc of this whole thing. It’s a good reminder that even in world-changing events, a family still finds its equilibrium and hammers out a new normal. Looking back on it all, I’m impressed we managed to do as much as we did. I finished the final draft of one book (coming out in a bit more than a month!) and the first draft of another, then did two more drafts of that book to get it ready for my editor to see. The kids came through everything with all A’s in school, even. Incredibly proud of the whole family for banding together and barreling through.

Here’s hoping the next while sees more bright days ahead. It’s going to take some time to get over all of this. Right now, I feel like I think I’m back to normal, but every now and then I’m reminded of just how abnormal things were, and how “normal” now is really just a codeword for “better than things were a year ago.”

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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