Kick(starter) It!

Last year, we interviewed fellow Upstate New York author Paul D. Smith about his debut novel, Jason and the Draconauts. (You can read the interview here.) Paul has been working on the sequel to this rave-review-garnering YA Fantasy. Now he could use our help to get the sequel out there. Check out his Kickstarter campaign here. Not only can you earn some cool rewards, but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping produce quality books for kids.

Help Jason continue his tale.

Help Jason continue his tale.

Find Jason and the Draconauts on Amazon. Connect with Paul D. Smith on Twitter and Facebook. Our best wishes go out to Paul for continued success!

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Our Summer Travels: Cedar Point

Cedar Point sign

I’ve had Cedar Point (“The Roller Coaster Capital of the World”) floating around in the back of my mind for a few years now. I was waiting for that perfect moment when our three boys would all be old enough for the coasters and my husband would still be young enough for them! 🙂 This summer seemed like the perfect time, so off to Ohio we went! After almost six hours in the car, we were pretty happy to arrive at the beautiful Hotel Breakers. This hotel just underwent a massive renovation and is gorgeous! It’s right on the beach at Lake Erie, yet steps away from the amusement park. The location could not have been more perfect.

Hotel Breakers

Our suite was pretty awesome! It was made even better by the gluten-free baked goods I’d arranged to have delivered by Jam Gluten Free Bakeshop. It was nice to walk in and find our GF goodies waiting for us. They were the best we’ve tried so far!

boys in room

Mmm... gluten-free goodness!

Mmm… gluten-free goodness!

As soon as we settled our things into the suite, my husband and the boys headed for the park while I sorted out a small question about our tickets. While we’re on the topic, a few thoughts on Cedar Point park tickets…

  1. If you’re staying at a Cedar Point hotel, purchase discounted tickets at the front desk rather than paying full price at the theme park.
  2. If you plan your trip way in advance (like I did), check for a special package deal. I booked our trip last December and was able to take advantage of a deal where we received our suite plus 1-day Fast Lane Plus park tickets for all five of us for a really good price! With the long lines of summer, those Fast Lane Plus wristbands sure came in handy!
  3. If you arrive in the late afternoon or early evening on your first day, you can purchase “after 4pm” park tickets for a reduced price. Again, buy these at the hotel’s front desk to get them even cheaper than at the park.

On my way to catch up with my fam, look who I ran into!

It's Snoopy!

It’s Snoopy!

The first night at the theme park was super fun! By the time the park closed at midnight, the crowds were pretty sparse and the wait times were low. Plus the park lights were very pretty.

The view from the Sky Ride.

The view from the Sky Ride.

The next morning, we took advantage of Early Entry. Because we were staying on-site, we could get into the theme park at 9am instead of 10am. Short lines again – yay!

Morning at Cedar Point

Morning at Cedar Point

I can't believe I let me kids go on this thing!

I can’t believe I let my kids go on this!

We even found some good gluten-free options in the park.

joe cool cafe

GF at joe cool

And I found something historical!

Commemorating Helen Keller's appearance at Cedar Point in 1925.

Commemorating Helen Keller’s appearance at Cedar Point in 1925.

And educational!

dinosaurs alive

dino sign

Controlling an animatronic dinosaur. How cool!

Controlling an animatronic dinosaur. How cool!

A mock archeological dig site. With a degree in Anthropology, this part really appealed to me.

A mock archeological dig site. With a degree in Anthropology, this part really appealed to me.

big dino

The next day, we slept late, went into town for lunch, lazed on the beach, played mini golf, and had a fun hibachi dinner.

Lake Erie

Lake Erie

On day four, it was time to head home. However, since our route took us right through Cleveland, we simply had to stop at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Rock and Roll HOFThey were having an exhibit called Herb Ritts: The Rock Portraits. It was amazing!

My favorite of the Herb Ritts exhibit: Dizzy Gillespie.

My favorite of the Herb Ritts exhibit: Dizzy Gillespie.

View from inside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

View from inside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

After enjoying a few hours in Cleveland, we were back on the road. A mere five hours later, we were home, and trip #4 of the summer was on the books!

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Our Summer Travels: The Lewis County Fair

My brother Dave lives in Lowville, NY. It’s up north, not far from the Canadian border. Oh, and “Lowville” rhymes with “cow-ville.” That’s pretty appropriate, considering there are more cows than people in Lowville. The dairy and cheese industries are very important here. There also happens to be a bowling pin factory. And, my favorite bit of Lowville trivia, Peter Ostrum is a veterinarian here. He takes care of cows, of course.

The view from Dave's front porch. Yes, it's a cornfield. The cow pasture is a bit to the left.

The view from Dave’s front porch. Yes, it’s a cornfield. The cow pasture is a bit to the left.

One of Lowville’s biggest claims to fame is that, each July, it hosts The Lewis County Fair. This charming little fair dates back to 1821. For the past few years, my boys and I have made the 3-hour journey for the fair. It’s so worth it! The first night, always a Tuesday, boasts the big parade.

Waiting for the parade to begin.

Waiting for the parade to begin.

Should every parade have an antique cheese cart? And yes, they're throwing cheese off the back.

Shouldn’t every parade have an antique cheese wagon? And yes, they’re throwing cheese off the back.

She caught one!

She caught one!

I <3 volunteer firefighters.

I ❤ volunteer firefighters.

Shouldn't every parade have a float featuring a robot, kids in a cast iron bathtub, and a shack with a working chimney?

Shouldn’t every parade have a float featuring a robot, kids in a cast-iron bathtub, and a shack with a working chimney?

The Lewis County Dairy Princess and her court. Because cows.

The Lewis County Dairy Princess and her court. Because cows.

The next day, we went to the fair!

The midway from afar.

The midway from afar.

Naturally, we stop by the dairy industry building.

Naturally, we stop by the dairy industry building.

Then we check out some award-winning quilts.

Then we check out some award-winning quilts.

At the Historical Building, these strange contraptions were on display. They're like computers, but without the screens. Hmmm...

At the Historical Building, these strange contraptions are on display. They’re like computers, but without the screens. Hmmm…

Time for a taffy break!

Time for a taffy break!

Between the rides, displays, shows, and the amazing fair food, it was quite a day! We made our way back to Dave’s house and collapsed, exhausted and sugared out, onto the couches. After a good night’s sleep, we had a nice day of swimming and playing board games with Dave and his family. Doesn’t that sound like a sweet, old-fashioned kind of vacation? We’re already looking forward to next year’s fair!

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Our Summer Travels: New Orleans

My husband and I just returned from our third trip to New Orleans. Why do we love this city so much? Well, it was perfectly summed up by a young woman from Taiwan with whom I chatted while waiting for a music club to open. I asked her if she’d been to New Orleans before, and she said that this was her first visit. When I asked her what she’d done so far, she said, “I have taken many pictures of the architecture, but I am here for the food and for the music.” Architecture, food, and music – yup, that about sums it up!

This time around, we decided to stay at the Cornstalk Hotel. As the story goes, in the mid-1800s, the homeowner’s wife was homesick for Iowa. To ease her sadness, he had a fence made in the shape of a row of cornstalks. The grand Victorian home has since been turned into a hotel. We loved it there.

Cornstalk Hotel

The Cornstalk Hotel

the famous fence

the famous fence

The only problem was that our beautiful leaded glass window, as seen in the photo below, had no blinds or curtains! This made for quite a bit of street noise and sunlight coming in.

Cornstalk room

So, we didn’t get to sleep in… but the room was lovely!

On our first night in town, we had dinner at one of our favorite New Orleans restaurants, The Green Goddess. We sat outside and enjoyed the nice, warm evening and delectable food.

Balsamic watermelon burruta salad

Balsamic watermelon & burruta salad

Smoked duck breast slices with roasted fingerlings

Smoked duck breast slices with roasted fingerlings

Berkshire pork with plantain cakes and purple rice

Berkshire pork with plantain cakes and purple rice

After stuffing ourselves silly, we strolled around the French Quarter for a bit. When we were finally ready for dessert, we stopped in at Sucré for coffee and macarons.

macarons

Mmm… macarons…

The next morning, we slowly made our way over to the Jackson Square area for a leisurely Sunday brunch. Sunday brunch is a VERY big thing in New Orleans. Along the way, we admired the beautiful old buildings and their ornate iron balconies.

I loved the cute flowerpots on this balcony!

I loved the cute flowerpots on this balcony!

Jackson Square, a historic park.

Jackson Square, a historic park.

We opted for brunch at Stanley.

We opted for brunch at Stanley.

Mimosas!

Mimosas!

Bananas foster French toast. To. Die. For.

Bananas foster French toast. To. Die. For.

After brunch, we slowly made our way to Frenchmen Street, stopping in at little galleries, art shops, and antique stores along the way. Once on Frenchmen, we went to our favorite club there, The Spotted Cat. As always, the music was excellent!

Yvette Voelker at the Spotted Cat.

Yvette Voelker at The Spotted Cat.

We hit some other little music clubs along Frenchmen Street, had a lovely dinner at Sylvain, and called it a night.

Monday started with beignets, of course!

Beignets and café au lait at Café du Monde

Beignets and café au lait at Café du Monde.

We then walked along the Mississippi for a spell.

The river was quite high!

The river was quite high!

Just for something different, we decided to take the ferry across the river to Algiers Point, a quiet and charming little neighborhood. At $2.00 per person each way, the ferry ride was the best bargain of our trip!

View of New Orleans from mid-Mississippi River.

View of New Orleans from mid-Mississippi River.

Back in the French Quarter, we decided to hit Latitude 29 for drinks and apps. This tiki bar is both delicious and fun!

Tropical drinks!

Tropical drinks!

The Lapu Lapu, a drink meant to be shared!

The Lapu Lapu, a drink meant to be shared!

After our little happy hour, it was time for a rest. Once refreshed and ready for dinner, we made our way to Angeline for an excellent meal, stopping to take more pictures along the way.

Beauregard-Keyes garden.

Beauregard-Keyes garden.

After dinner, we went back to Frenchmen Street for more musical entertainment. We enjoyed a street band, wandered through the Frenchmen Street Art Market, and ended up at Snug Harbor for a performance by the Charmaine Neville Band. Ms. Neville’s cousin, Garrett Morris (one of the original cast members of SNL and currently on the sitcom 2 Broke Girls), was in the audience (which was only about 30 or 40 of us due to the intimate size of the venue). He even got up onstage and joined in for a song. What a great show!

Tuesday was our last day in NOLA. We packed our bags and left them at the hotel, and then wandered back to the Jackson Square area. We stopped by the St. Louis Cathedral before having lunch at Muriel’s.

St. Louis Cathedral

St. Louis Cathedral

The gorgeous interior of the cathedral.

The gorgeous interior of the cathedral.

Muriel's has become our last-lunch-in-NOLA tradition.

Muriel’s has become our last-lunch-in-NOLA tradition.

A po boy and fries.

A po boy and fries.

With just a few hours left before heading to the airport, we decided to visit The Presbytere, one of the Louisiana State Museum locations. The first floor was all about hurricanes, mostly Katrina. It was very moving. The second floor was all about Mardi Gras. It was very entertaining!

There were many gorgeous costumes on display.

There were many gorgeous costumes on display.

Even the restrooms were themed to Mardi Gras!

Even the restrooms were themed to Mardi Gras!

And with that, we headed back to the hotel to catch a cab to the airport. As it turns out, there was no need to hurry. Our flight out of New Orleans was delayed due to weather, which meant that we missed our connection in New York. Which meant that we spent the night at JFK International Airport. But that’s a story for another day.

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Our Summer Travels: Philadelphia

With Independence Day right around the corner, what better way to celebrate than with a quick trip to Philadelphia? We were there last weekend, and it was amazing! I’d never been to Philly before (except for many, many layovers at the airport, but that doesn’t count), and found myself almost overwhelmed by the sense of history. Here are a few pictures that totally don’t do the city justice, but will hopefully convey the feel of our long-weekend getaway:

Our first glimpse of Philly from afar.

Our first glimpse of Philly from afar.

First night's dinner at City Tavern: smoked pork chop.

First night’s dinner at City Tavern: smoked pork chop, 18th century style.

long gallery

The “long gallery” at City Tavern.

View of City Hall from Love Park.

View of City Hall from Love Park, en route from our hotel to Reading Terminal.

The Liberty Bell as seen through a side-view window (the line to get into the building was hours long).

The Liberty Bell as seen through a side-view window (the line to get into the building was multi-hours).

Visiting Betsy Ross at her home.

Visiting Betsy Ross at her home.

Elfreth's Alley - America's oldest residential neighborhood.

Elfreth’s Alley – America’s oldest residential neighborhood.

Eastern State Penitentiary, now a museum.

Eastern State Penitentiary, now a museum and National Historic Landmark.

My 11-year-old's breakfast buffet plate. Future food stylist, perhaps?

My 11-year-old’s breakfast buffet plate. Future food stylist?

We loved our trip to Philadelphia, but left wishing we’d had time to do so much more. Methinks a return visit is in order. Have a wonderful holiday weekend!

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My nearly-yearly Mystery reading

Yesterday, I finished re-reading my favorite book, Mystery by Peter Straub. I’ve read this book almost-yearly since its release, which means I’ve read it nearly 25 times. (Which means I’m quite old.)

PS Mystery

What keeps me coming back? I notice something new each and every time. This time around, I gave more attention to Sarah Spence’s mother. This ditzy social climber uses her daughter to try to reach the highest level of society on the island nation of Mill Walk. But is she really a ditz? Or does she use this as a facade? We know that she came from Mill Walk, went to college in Iowa for a couple of years, met her husband there, and returned to Mill Walk upon her marriage. Her husband was hired by one of the island’s wealthiest patriarchs as an accountant, and the Spence family’s social ambitions soared. But why was Bill Spence, a non-islander, hired in the first place? And why was he instantly successful? Is there some sort of connection between Mrs. Spence and her husband’s employer?

Perhaps I’m over-thinking it a bit. But after 25 or so readings, you get into the minutiae. Do you tend to re-read favorite books, or are you of a once-and-done mindset?

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Canadian (Easy) Bakin’

International Year of Light and Light-based Technology World Tour Stop 5:  O Canada

International Year of Light and Light-based Technology World Tour Stop 5:
O Canada

Well, it’s a new month, which means a new stop on the United Nations International Year of Light and Light-Based Technology 100-Watt Culinary World Tour, or “United Nations International Year of Light and Light-Based Technology 100-Watt Culinary World Tour” for short. This month, we make our shortest trip of the tour, hopping in my car and driving an hour north to cross the St. Lawrence Seaway and enter Canada.
So why are we heading to Canada in May? For Victoria Day, of course. This is, to the best of my extensive holiday knowledge, the first and only day celebrating Victoria Posh-Beckham, former Spice Girl and current wife of some guy with lots of tattoos and apparently no shirts.
Now we must ask: what is the most Canadian food? A year or two ago, I would have said something like Canadian bacon, a term that may have originated in Canada, but is now almost exclusively American. Kind of like William Shatner. But then, a year or two ago, my eyes were opened to the beauty, majesty, and gravy that is poutine.
For the uncultured few who don’t know the glory of poutine, it’s simple: French fries, gravy, and cheese curd. How will we handle these three ingredients? For one of them, it’s easy. We’ll just buy it at the store. You see, the county I live in has a person-to-cow population ratio of 2:1. Dairy is huge here. In town we have a dairy store that proudly proclaims over 75 kinds of cheese, all of it locally made. We always have a bag or two of cheese curd in our refrigerator.

Lewis County's top two exports: dairy and snow

Lewis County’s top two exports: dairy and snow

How about the gravy? Well, faithful readers will recall previous mention of a vegetarian daughter. We’ve found a vegetarian brown gravy recipe that’s easy to make and tastes pretty darn good, considering it doesn’t have any actual beef in it. The recipe makes about two cups of gravy, so scaling it back to make an Easy Bake Oven portion would have been a little difficult (as in “add half a thimble of flour to two drops of melted butter”). Plus, we already had some in the refrigerator, so I just warmed that up.
It all came down to the French fries, the only part that would actually come through the Easy Bake Oven. Faithful readers (both of you) will recall the same problem with March’s Fashion Week Cleveland Polish Boy. I took the same approach, Julienning the fries and Easy Baking them for what felt like two days, but it was more like 40 minutes.

Raw taters (do they call them taters in Canada?)  ready to Easy Bake

Raw taters (do they call them taters in Canada?)
ready to Easy Bake

Once they came out, I threw a few small chunks of the cheese on and topped the whole thing with enough gravy to choke the cow whose life was, ironically, spared by the fact that it was made with vegetable broth. In about two mouthfuls, it was gone.

Ready to eat

Ready to eat

So there you have it. Next month, we’re off to the Philippines in honor of Philippine Independence Day. Anything in particular you’d like me to try? Just tell me what you want, what you really really want.

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