Category: family

A Weekend Away

Things have been crazy hectic this semester, as I’ve noted on here multiple times (to the point that most of you, I imagine, are getting sick of it). So it was very nice to reach Indigenous People’s Weekend, where the kids had Friday and Monday off, and the university gives us Monday (and I don’t have to teach today!)

Looking at the semester ahead of us, Denisa and I decided back when this all began that it would be a good idea to head somewhere else for the weekend. As is usually the case with me, by the time the appointed date came around, I was seriously beginning to question why in the world I’d decided to do this in the first place. I was stressed, I had a ton of things to do, and we were just driving 1.5 hours away to go be in a house that wouldn’t be that much different from the house we live in every day. Sure, it was on a pond, but I can drive to a pond any time I want. Why in the world had I thought it was a good idea to spend a bunch of money, just to give myself something else I had to do?

But the nice thing about spending all that money ahead of time is that it forces me to actually go through with things. So we packed up and headed out. I was in much less than a good mood.

However, as is also usually the case, by the time I reached the end of the vacation, I was very glad we had gone. Yes, technically it was about like being at home, but there’s something to be said for not being at home. When you’re at home, there are a bunch of little things you know you need to be doing. They’re always there, nagging at the back of my mind. Going somewhere else makes them all go quiet. We could just relax and spend time together as family without worrying about pretty much anything.

Did we do anything stellar? Not really. We paddled around in kayaks, went swimming (yes, in cold water), watched movies, ate good food, played board games, and generally lazed around. We did go to a rather epic corn hole tournament a friend hosted on Saturday, but other than that it was just taking a nice breather.

And that’s the thing about breathers: yes, breathing is something you do all the time anyway. Do you really need to take some time to just keep breathing? Well, when you’ve been running at a full sprint for far too long, yes. Yes, you do. Taking that time to catch your mental breath can be incredibly refreshing. I felt much better heading home than I had heading down.

Now if only our cabinets would come. The current “delivery date” is tomorrow. I’m crossing my fingers, toes, and eyes . . .

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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 this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It 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.

Favorite Birthday Gift This Year

Yes, it was my birthday yesterday, as so many of you noted with your well wishes. Thanks for all of those by the way. I didn’t really do that much to celebrate on the actual day. I considered my trip out to Utah my birthday trip in most respects. (A birthday trip sponsored by my publisher, no less. Thank you, Sourcebooks!) However, we did do a family dinner, and there were a few gifts involved as well.

I’m always a fan of gifts from my kids, as I’m never sure what to expect, and I always appreciate the time they took to figure one out. Last year (or was it the year before?), MC gave me a cardboard xylophone she had made, along with a written piece of music she had devised for it that was the tune of Happy Birthday. I still have it on my desk here at work. This year, she gave me a “Storybook Brawl and Magic Coupon,” which gives me permission to play those games whenever I want to, regardless of what else I have going on. (I have to see if they’re valid with my boss . . .) Again: very inventive. I love the way she thinks.

But I have to say that my favorite present this year came from Daniela. A few months ago, I had decided I wanted to surprise her with a frog stuffed animal. She loves frogs and I remembered Tomas had one when he was little that we had in a box in the basement. I went down early that morning to find the box, and when I did, I discovered that a family of mice had found it long before I had. To make matters worse, it had one of my old favorite stuffed animals in it: Benji (the dog). I’d had him for years growing up, and seeing him in there covered in wood shavings and mouse pellets was really heartbreaking to me that morning. I wasn’t prepared for it. (This is probably Toy Story’s fault. No one wants to see Toy Story 7, where Woody and Buzz get left in a box in Andy’s basement for twenty years, and mice proceed to invade and take over the place. It sounds like a good horror movie, though.)

So instead, I took the box out of the basement, stuck it in the garage, and tried (unsuccessfully) to stop thinking about it. Benji deserved better, but I didn’t have the time to figure out if I could wash him properly, and how to go about doing it. This semester is just too crazy.

Well, fast forward to last night, when Daniela presented me with a fully clean and sanitized Benji. She’d taken the time to figure out all the things I couldn’t, and she’d moved forward and gotten it all done on her own. It was a fantastic present.

My family often talks about how hard I am to get presents for. Anything I really want, I go ahead and get. But the things that I really remember, in terms of presents, are the ones that show time and effort. The ones that signify real love. Benji’s sitting on my side table by my bed again, happily keeping watch over me as I sleep once more, and every time I see him there, I will remember Daniela and what she did for me. Huge props to her for such a thoughtful gift. (And reminiscent of the gift Tomas gave me eight years ago. That’s still on my desk at work, as well.)

Thanks, guys. You’re the best!

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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 this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It 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 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.

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