Well, then

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So, I’ve been gone for a long time, right?

I barely know where to begin.

I guess I’ll begin with the end. We’re all back home again for a very brief moment before the kids fly off again.

I just got home last Friday, and then disappeared again for the weekend. Needless to say the house is a disaster. I am looking forward to this coming weekend to get organized again, like, to sweep up the sand, do the laundry, and put away the suitcases.

You can see that Lucy did not think much of our vacation plans . . .

Okay, more later.

But, I’m back!

Let the summer begin

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Ok, guys, it’s really and truly summer, now — although we have been acting like it is all along.

For my birthday, the four of us, plus A, went on a long hike. I realized, as we were walking along through the dappled sunlight on a foresty trail, that that was the perfect thing to do. Everyone was there, various groups of people combining and recombining, N and M often walking ahead talking to each other. It was perfect.

Then a few people came over for a bonfire. We did have mussels and homemade fancy drinks, chocolate cake and homemade ice cream and other wonderful salady things.

It was pretty great.

And now we’re into it. We leave at the end of the week for the wandering memorial tour — our trip back to Pittsburgh and NY State to remember K’s parents (there will be a party in each place for friends and family in each place). I think it will be fun, actually — we’ll stay across the street from a big community farm in Pittsburgh, and then on one of the Finger Lakes, and then on another lake near the tiny town where K’s mother grew up. And then we’ll spend a few days in Maine before flying back.

Let the games begin!

[Cake from IKEA, of course, because what birthday is complete without a trip to IKEA -- even better, two!? We've been building better shelves in M's room -- no more hideous piles of books on the floor!]

World cup!

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I love the World Cup.

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As a rule, Americans don’t care much about soccer, although that appears to be changing. I don’t see how it can not change when so many kids have grown up playing soccer.

But the guys who work in the cafes around campus are all from Mexico, and passionate about soccer, and then we have a lot of graduate students from Europe who, for some reason or another, are spending the summer here and they are passionate about soccer.

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This was England v. Uruguay. As I got my hot chocolate this afternoon I hung out to watch the end of the game, when Suarez scored the winning goal for Uruguay. As I stood there, a guy came in and asked the cafe guys who’d scored the goal. “Suarez?” “Yes, Suarez.” Then another guy came in and started talking with a student sitting in the cafe who was watching the game. The sitting student, who I believe might have been from Iran, wondered where the other guy, who said he was supporting England, was from. He was Swedish, and for some reason was hoping Bosnia did well, because Sweden didn’t qualify. They both agreed that it was a very high level of play this time around.

There’s something very neighborly about it — it causes people who might not otherwise have any reason to talk to each other to have detailed conversations.

Hey, wanna come over?

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I’m making preparations for the birthday fete.

There will be cake, mussels, and a bonfire.

Perhaps you would like the recipe for the best birthday cake in the world? Oh, okay.

Chocolate Dump-It Cake
Adapted from Judith Hesser
By AMANDA HESSER

Ingredients

2 cups sugar
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups Nestle’s semisweet-chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups sour cream, at room temperature

Preparation

1.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place a baking sheet on the lowest rack to catch any drips as the cake bakes on the middle rack. In a 2- to 3-quart pot, mix together the sugar, unsweetened chocolate, butter and 1 cup of water. Place over medium heat and stir occasionally until all of the ingredients are melted and blended. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
2.
Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, stir together the milk and vinegar. Grease and flour a 9-inch tube pan.
3.
When the chocolate in the pot has cooled a bit, whisk in the milk mixture and eggs. In several additions, and without overmixing, whisk in the dry ingredients. When the mixture is smooth, add the vanilla and whisk once or twice to blend. Pour the batter into the tube pan and bake on the middle rack until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool on a rack. (This can be tricky — if someone is around to help, enlist him.) Let cool completely.
4.
Meanwhile, melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler, then let cool to room temperature. Stir in the sour cream, 1/4 cup at a time, until the mixture is smooth.
5.
When the cake is cool, you may frost it as is or cut it in half so that you have 2 layers. There will be extra icing whether you have 1 or 2 layers. My mother always uses it to make flowers on top. She makes a small rosette, or button, then uses toasted slices of almond as the petals, pushing them in around the base of the rosette.

YIELD
10 servings

You are welcome.

As there will possibly be 10 people at my party, I am seriously considering having another cake as well — this cake is pretty exceptional the next day, too, so I want there to be leftovers. I’m thinking maybe a peach cobbler. Somemores?

Then — maybe a salmon, with potato salad, lentil salad and roasted vegetables or a green salad?

Fancy cocktails? (I went out for dinner with an old friend last night and we drank fancy cocktails which were pretty delicious. We sampled 4.)

It has to be easy — well, we’ve discussed that already. I still have not picked the hike, but there’s still time.

Having fun

I’ve been having so much fun I want to crawl under my desk and take a nap.

It feels like there’s not quite time for anything.

What have we been doing? Eating out with friends, going to concerts with friends, looking at open studios, going to the farmers’ market, buying bookcases at IKEA and putting them together, doing laundry and hanging it on the line, watering the garden, drinking all the milk and needing to buy more, putting the winter clothes up in the attic and bringing down the summer clothes, collecting books to redistribute, cleaning out drawers . . .

I think I may need to up my chocolate intake to sustain this level of excitement.

Hey — the garden looks pretty good!

Better get started

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Okay, then.

It’s nearly summer, and we’d better get started.

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I’m looking for a good birthday hike.

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It has to be scenic, and a little bit difficult so it feels like we’ve accomplished something.

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I suppose it could have a symbolic number of miles — that would be reasonable.

Should it be new, or an old favorite?

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I don’t know. I do know it has to be the sort of hike where at the end you say, wow — that was a great hike.

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Luckily, there are a lot of those.

Morning

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It was kind of a nice morning, today, although here it is nearly lunchtime . . .

I think it’s because I had a few errands to run on my way to work. I watered the garden and then walked a different way, stopping by the drugstore (new dental floss!) and the post office before catching my bus up to campus. The newly redone Quaker church is close to reopening, and they’ve done a nice job. A house is being renovated, with new paint, a nice new fence, and sleeping porch windows that will open (hmm). The postman was friendly to a visiting two year old. A blind man sat opposite me on the bus, reading a braille book, his black lab tucked patiently under the seat with his head resting on the man’s shoe. And I still got in early.

I’m leaving early, too, to go home and work on the new compost bin with N.

M. feeling newly emboldened by her successful trip to NY, has plans for her future. She wants to work in a print shop, or perhaps become a butcher.

It all seems okay, and that’s just fine.