Maine sidetrip

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So, after the family reunion, N peeled off to visit friends, and K, M and I drove to Maine to poke around a bit.

I made us climb Mt Megunticook. It’s not a big mountain, but so close to the coast that the view is fantastic.

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Then we checked out a farm I really want to buy.

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It makes no sense at all.

I’m thinking about it.

(It has a pond.)

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(Could we just buy a farm in Maine? Why not?)

Anyway — from there, we went to my mom’s (we picked up N on the way). I did a quick load of laundry and then K and I drove to the airport. I flew to Texas, for a conference, and he flew home. Kindly, he lugged the enormous duffel bag full of sleeping bags, tent and boots home.

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The memorial trip

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So, K’s parents were atheists. That’s cool — I’m an atheist, too. It does mean, though, that you’re on your own in the memorial ceremony department. That’s why it has taken us so much time to have a ceremony of any kind. I really think it’s worth it, though. It’s always good to make a time to think about people you love who have died. I’m a big fan.

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At the memorial luncheon in Pittsburgh, K’s brother B made an interesting observation — that the parents were believers in science, and scientific progress and social progress — probably in a way specific to people of their generation. Things have proved to not be so straight-forward, but I think it’s true that in all aspects of their lives, including the straight lines of the furniture and china they chose, they valued reason above all.

I’m not sure it’s reasonable to have a memorial luncheon, but it was a lovely event. Old friends who had been to grad school with T spoke, and a woman who had known E well, too, and it was especially nice for us, I think, to think about them as whole people, and not just parents, or parents-in-law.

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After Pittsburgh, we went to the Finger Lakes (in New York State), and further celebrated the parents by visiting the city where K’s great grandfather worked for an early bicycle company, and by going wine-tasting. (K’s parents were very interested in wine.)

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It was incredibly beautiful up in the Finger Lakes. We visited E’s college, and from there traveled north to E’s brother’s camp, four miles from the town they grew up in, on the reservoir she’d spent all her childhood summers on. We were there a few days, and on one day there was a huge family reunion with all of us (E’s sons and families), and with children of all of E’s siblings. It was kind of great to hear stories and see pictures of E as a girl, and of the rest of her family, too. There was an aunt who married an artist and routinely walked around in bare feet, for one. It was fun to watch the younger cousins hanging out, too.

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After that, we spent a day at K’s brother’s farm, which was beautiful, and then had lunch with an aunt who had been unable to travel to the reunion and then we were done.

It was an enormous undertaking, but I think it was actually worth it. One of the nicest moments was at B’s farm. We hauled the boxes of pictures and other keepsakes up from the basement — there were wonderful pictures of E as a kid, plus cards and poems and reports that boys had done. It was fun to go through all that stuff.

I don’t know — it was very nice.

E had been very ill in the last years of her life, so really the kids had taken on the role of organizing the times we’ve gotten together — so it was not new that we were the ones organizing this event, but it was definitely the first time the three families have been together since E’s death, and it was nice that it felt like a thing we enjoyed doing. The boys were patient and kind with each other, and the cousins in various configurations really enjoy being together. I don’t know why this matters so much to me, but it does. And honestly, one of the nicest things about this summer is having my two kids home and enjoying spending time with each other.

And that is that.

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.