Work Places: On the Lanai in Oahu

This is the second post in my series about places to do remote work in some of America’s most beautiful vacation spots. Click here for the first post.

Today is the last day of a week-long vacation I’ve spent with my husband and his parents on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. This has been my first visit to Hawaii, and it’s been wonderful. My main advice to anyone visiting Hawaii for the first time is don’t work. Seriously–this is too beautiful a place for you to spend your time inside staring at a computer. If you have a job that truly requires you to check in from time to time, don’t be checking your email on your phone while standing at the edge of the Waimea Valley waterfall or one of the equally stunning vistas you’ll see practically every time you step outside. Instead, build in a day or two when you can hang out at your lodging and get your task list to the point where you feel okay not worrying about it for the rest of the trip. And if you can, stay at a place that has a lanai.

A lanai is essentially a Hawaiian patio. We have been fortunate to be able to stay in a first-floor condo that has one main lanai, plus two smaller ones accessible through the bedrooms’ sliding doors. I’ve been doing yoga each day on the lanai outside our bedroom. On the main lanai, we’ve been eating all of our stay-in meals, playing games, and watching the sun set over the ocean almost every night. This is also where I did at least a little bit of my work on each day that I had to do some grading. There’s no electrical outlet out there, and it does get quite warm when the afternoon sun reaches the lanai (and that’s going to be true no matter what time of year you visit Hawaii). So I did end up going inside and doing some work in the air conditioning at the dining table, which still afforded a beautiful view of the palm trees and the ocean. But as often as I could, I tried to be outside, feeling the breeze, hearing the ocean, and watching the bold birds hopping across the lawn (most common were mynas, Brazilian cardinals, and zebra doves–yes, we bought a Hawaii Audubon Society book at the grocery store) and the occasional mongoose slipping through the bushes.

In summary: Don’t go to Hawaii planning to work. But if you can’t avoid it, you can’t beat the lanai.

Work Places: breakfast and Wi-Fi in Ludington, MI

Since working remotely has been a theme of this blog since it became what it currently is, and since I’m finding myself working in a variety of far-flung parts of America this month, I’ve decided to start a recurring series called Work Places. In each location, I’ll write about the places where I get out my laptop or planner and do anything that falls under the umbrella of work (and I have a fairly expansive definition of the term).

Before I get to today’s location, I’ll briefly mention where I was last weekend. My husband Jordan and I spent Labor Day weekend at a family cabin in Grantsville, Maryland, in the mountainous western part of the state. There’s no Wi-Fi at the cabin, and I didn’t want to spend much of this vacation working, but I did have some grading to catch up on, and one of our days ended up being too rainy for hiking, so I create an iPhone hotspot at the cabin. I worked for about three hours under the sturdy roof of the outdoor kitchen area, while Jordan sat by the nearby campfire and read. For a grading session, it was pretty idyllic. Afterward, we had lunch at the Cornucopia Café, a breakfast and lunch place with a quiet, rustic vibe, a seasonally changing menu (we’ve eaten there several times and always enjoyed the food), and a full coffee menu, within a short walk of the historic Casselman Bridge and the Spruce Forest Artisan Village. We saw a woman using a laptop at one of the tables, so we’re assuming there’s Wi-Fi there, but don’t quote me on that.

All right–now for today’s Work Places. This weekend, Jordan and I are RV camping with his parents in Ludington State Park, on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan (i.e. the Michigan side). Cell phone reception in the state park is terrible, at least in the campground where we’re staying, and in general I think that’s a good thing. (When we came here last year, my phone kept thinking I was in Central Time–it must have been picking up a signal from across the lake. It was like being in a place outside of time.) But today, Jordan needed to do a half-day’s worth of work, so I decided to join him in his quest for Wi-Fi in downtown Ludington.

We left the park when the sun was just coming up; the quiet and semi-darkness made the trip feel more magical than such an errand normally would. Jordan’s dad had scoped out a few locations for us earlier in the week, and his recommendation was Red Rooster Coffee and Community on James Street, so we headed there first–mainly because it’s one of the few businesses in town that opens at 7 am. It has the somewhat sterile industrial look that seems to be so popular in coffee shops these days, but it still manages to feel cozy, mainly because it takes that “community” thing seriously. There are bulletin boards advertising local events and businesses, the baristas are friendly, and it seemed like every other person who walked through the door knew either one of the staff or one of the other customers. The coffee was good (Jordan had a cold brew, and I had a hot cup of their medium roast), and so were the muffins (we split a banana nut and an orange cranberry). We decided to wait until our second location of the morning to have a full breakfast, but the Red Rooster offers oatmeal, an acai bowl (my father-in-law tried this and said it was good), and a variety of breads and spreads. We stayed for about two hours and never felt like we were being pressured to move. The Wi-Fi was strong and easy to connect to, all the tables had easy-to-reach outlets, and the bathroom was clean. The hip youngster music they were playing was a little loud, but not too distracting, though Jordan did have to step outside to made a phone call.

You can park on the street for free in downtown Ludington, but the spots (which are nice and spacious for bad parallel parkers like me) are all marked “2 hours.” I am not sure if this regulation is closely patrolled, but I went out to move the car a little before 9:00 anyway. About that time, Jordan came to a good stopping place in his work, so we decided to walk down the street probably a tenth of a mile to Brenda’s Harbor Café, a breakfast-focused diner whose menu looked good to us online. We were seated right away even though the place was clearly busy, and we’re still here (9:48) finishing up our breakfast and working on our back-to-back Lenovo Yogas–yeah, we’re cute :). (There aren’t many outlets, but the Wi-Fi password is clearly printed on the condiment tray. It’s like they want you to stick around.) Although the décor here is nautical kitsch (anchors on the curtains and wallpaper, walls packed with framed photos of boats), this place actually feels a lot like the Red Rooster with its friendly staff and vibrant conversations among the patrons, who seem to be locals. (Again, I’m only exaggerating a little when I say that we seem to be the only people here who don’t know anyone else.) And the food is great! Jordan had a classic breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast, and hash browns, while I went for the slightly fancier option of eggs Florentine (a Benedict variation with spinach and tomatoes), and we both really enjoyed our meal. The waitress kept the water and coffee (a solid standard diner coffee) coming, and I enjoyed doing a little people-watching while surreptitiously writing this post. (I didn’t really want the waitress to know I was reviewing this place in real time, you know?) I haven’t checked out the bathroom yet, but the Wi-Fi is working great, and the music is more muted (I think I’ve heard the Beatles and the Eagles, but I can’t really tell).

I want to emphasize that I encourage setting boundaries around work. It’s important to disconnect regularly, even if you don’t go to the extreme of camping in a park where time zones don’t exist. But if you do have to check in with work while in Ludington, check out these two spots. Stay tuned for more Work Places!

app recommendation: Forest

I’m writing to you today at the end of a productive and surprisingly relaxing day of grading Week 7 assignments (the big, culminating projects on which I try to give students their money’s worth in grading comments) for my online classes. I graded six assignments today (on track with the schedule I made yesterday), plus I did this week’s laundry, had lunch and watched a Friends episode with my husband, and even took a yoga break. I attribute my success and Zen-like calm partly to the fact that my classes are fairly small this term, but also to one of my favorite apps, Forest, which I’d like to recommend to you.

Several years ago, I learned about the Pomodoro method, a popular productivity technique that simply involves working for a period of time (usually 25 minutes) and then taking a short break (usually five minutes). There are plenty of apps for this, let alone the fact that you could easily replicate it with any timer or clock, but my favorite one is Forest, which I’ve been using for about a year. I believe it was my good friend Allison who introduced it to me, and I think I happened to be in England when she texted me about it. I actually did a fair bit of grading during my vacation in the village of Knutsford last summer—I was there visiting my dad, who was on a work project, and during the weekdays, he went to work, and I sat in the flat and graded, punctuating my work sessions with little breaks in the charmingly walkable streets of the village. I remember choosing my first Forest tree style while I was waiting for my takeaway sandwich at a delightful cheese shop/cafe.

So, about those trees: Forest is simple—if you succeed in focusing on your task for your selected span of time (I usually do 25 minutes but have also done 30 with equal success), a little virtual tree (or mushroom, grass tuft, bush…you get to pick) grows in your little virtual forest. If you use the app in Deep Focus mode, which I always do, your tree will die if you do anything else on your phone for more than about five seconds, and that’s a devastating enough consequence to keep me on task. There are gamified aspects to Forest—you can earn coins to unlock fancier tree styles, and you can even choose to have a real tree planted in your honor if you earn a large enough number of coins. But for me, the basic functionality is enough (though I have leveled up my trees a few times). It’s simple and charming (like Knutsford!), and it’s been making grading less dreadful for me since June 2019. Find it in the app store and let me know what you think!

Ebenezer and the Jordan

I promise I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth; I’ve just taken a break from my blog that lasted a little longer than I had planned. I am still figuring out how writing fits into my priorities during this busy, exciting year, but at present, I have no plans to put the blog on a longer-term hiatus.

Today, I want to share an observation that some of you might, rightly, find a little cheesy. All I can say in my defense is that I value symbolism because it helps me begin to grasp the abstract, something that does not come naturally to me.

Let me back up. A few years ago, I wrote a post about the Old Testament account of Ebenezer, the stone that the prophet Samuel set up to commemorate God’s leading of the Israelites. (I recently wrote a short story about this, which I hope to see in print soon–stay tuned.) The word “Ebenezer” is an important symbol for me; I have it engraved on a necklace, and I love its odd, archaic appearance in verse two of my favorite hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” If one can have a favorite biblical memorial stone, Ebenezer is mine.

But there are other memorial stones in scripture, and the speaker in a webinar I was listening to this past weekend reminded me of the memorial pile of stones (which doesn’t share a name with a Dickens character) that the children of Israel set up in the middle of the Jordan River after God miraculously allowed them to cross it on dry land. And then I thought about how God has led me to a Jordan of my own–my fiance, whose first name is Jordan. (I told you this would be cheesy.) When I moved out here to Michigan in August 2018, I was excited about my new job and ready for a reboot of my life, but the question remained in my mind–why Michigan, in particular? (No offense, by the way. Honestly, you can read here and here about how much I like Michigan.) And now I know why: so that I would be in the same eHarmony orbit as this wonderful man I’m going to marry in May.

Hither by God’s help I am come.

trains on Thanksgiving

Very early tomorrow morning, my fiance is arriving in Pittsburgh on a train to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I am already here at my parents’ house, benefiting from a work schedule that I admit is almost embarrassingly privileged (I get the whole week off) and the fact that I finished up last week at a conference in Baltimore, about 3.5 hours from my parents. Jordan, who had to work this week like a normal person, is taking an overnight train and then hitching a ride back to the Midwest with me on Friday.

Although it means waking up at an ungodly hour, I am excited to see Jordan at the station. (I’m thinking about making a little sign with his name on it.) There seems to be something inherently romantic, or at least heartwarming, about meeting loved ones at transportation hubs on holidays–just watch the end of Love Actually. Bonus points if it’s in a train station, which is inherently more romantic than an airport–just watch the middle of White Christmas. But my mom and I both went to a different movie reference today: We imagined being late to the station tomorrow morning (a distinct possibility; let’s be honest) and finding Jordan sitting forlornly on a bench with his mittens on and all his worldly possessions (or, you know, his overnight bag) sitting next to him, like Del Griffith at the end of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, a movie that is actually about Thanksgiving and that I have written about twice over the past year. (This post is about the movie’s theme of “radical hospitality,” as I put it; this one consists mainly of an embarrassing story about something dumb I did, but it does reference the film several times and is also of historical interest since I wrote it shortly after meeting Jordan).

I don’t think I’m saying anything profound here: There’s something special about picking a beloved face out of a crowd. There is something special, too, about the look on the face of the person you have come to pick up. I know from my own experience that even if, unlike Del Griffith, you know someone is coming for you, there’s still a moment of relief: “Oh, they didn’t forget me.”

Keep those feelings in your heart as you celebrate Thanksgiving this week. Don’t take for granted the beloved faces around you. And don’t forget about the people who feel like they have been forgotten. Fred Rogers used to remind us to look for the child in each person we speak with. I would add: Look for the child who is afraid of not getting picked up after school. I think there’s a little bit of that child in all of us still.

a pep talk for me

I’ve been feeling a little down the past week or so, and while I think there are several reasons for this, probably the biggest one is that my much-anticipated first summer of freedom (since college, that is, and with “freedom” defined as not having to report to work) has come to a close. I spent basically the whole summer going from one trip to the next, with people I enjoy being around and with something to constantly look forward to. I didn’t have to go grocery shopping or mow my lawn or take out the trash–all tasks that I don’t mind (sometimes even enjoy) when I’m home but that it feels exciting and slightly transgressive to be able to ditch for weeks at a time. Now that I’m back home but not yet back into the rhythm of the school year, I feel let down, broke from all the money I spent on my travels (I’m not, but it feels that way), and a little lonely. This last part has surprised me–normally, I’m all about my independence and totally capable of entertaining myself, but the past couple of weeks, I’ve felt like I’m suddenly not an introvert anymore.

I’m sharing all this not to whine but because I think this particular brand of mild seasonal depression may be more common among adults than we realize. It might not be an end-of-summer thing for everyone; I think it happens after Christmas for many people. But it’s something we should talk about so we know that we’re not alone. If you’ve ever felt this way, I’d be happy to listen to your story in the comments. (Or, if we know each other, let’s chat off the blog!)

Because it’s started off so poorly, I’ve been dreading the remainder of August, so I’m going to spend the remainder of this post listing reasons I have to be optimistic–if not manically excited like I was at the beginning of the summer–about what’s to come. I realize this is a totally self-indulgent use of my blog, but maybe it’ll inspire you to make a list of your own.

  1. School starts in 21 days, and classroom teaching (NOT meetings or assessment or filling out forms, though I understand why those are important) is the part of my job that I really love. I’m looking forward to meeting the freshmen in my composition classes and seeing some former students again in my literature class. I’m also teaching my first-ever independent study, on dystopian literature, with a really great, motivated student. And I’m excited to restart the creative writing group that meets at my house. I can’t wait to make food for this little community and share stories with them.
  2. I have a new boyfriend! He’s the sweetest, and that’s all I’m going to say about him here because, frankly, it’s none of your business, blogosphere. 🙂 (Yes, I tend to overshare, but I do have boundaries.) I’m excited about the adventures we have planned, such as Hippie Fest in Angola, Indiana, next month (I already know what I’m going to wear)–as well as the less adventurous but no less precious times we will be able to take walks, share meals, and keep getting to know each other. (I like what I know so far.)
  3. Fall in West Michigan is beautiful, but I didn’t maximize my enjoyment of it last year because I was still getting used to my new job and home (actually, I was still renting and home shopping last fall) and generally getting on my feet. This fall, I intend to hike, pick apples, go to festivals, and be outdoors as much as possible. As my siblings and I ironically-but-secretly-unironically like to say, it’s almost time for hayrides, hoedowns, and all things pumpkin spice.

Next year, I’ll probably spend my summer a little more quietly (then again, who knows?). But although I’m feeling the crash right now, I don’t regret my summer of carpe diem. (I know that’s grammatically incorrect in Latin.) And, especially now that I’ve written this post, I’m looking forward to what comes next.

Georgie plants a garden

Good morning to those of you in the US–I’m in Knutsford, Chesire, UK, and it’s afternoon here, but since most of my readers are five hours behind, I’ll accommodate your greeting preferences.

I am here to tell you a short story today. I heard this story while on a Beatles-themed electric bike tour in Liverpool on Sunday. I have not checked the veracity of this story, and I’m not sure if I will–I have no reason to distrust the tour guide who told it, and besides, I like the story, even if there should turn out to be an element of urban myth to it. The story goes as follows: In Sefton Park, one of Liverpool’s many green spaces, there is a lovely Victorian conservatory called the Palm House. It took a beating during the bombings of World War II, and when the future Beatles were growing up, though it was forlorn, dilapidated structure, plants still grew in it, and young George Harrison used to sneak in through the broken glass and look at the plants. (There’s a lot of trespassing in Beatles childhood lore.) It was here that he developed his alleged lifelong love of gardening, which, as a contemplative practice, makes perfect sense to me as a George Harrison pastime.

Many years later, in the late 1990s, a fund drive was undertaken to restore the Palm House. When the fundraisers approached Harrison to ask for a sizeable donation, he wrote a check to cover the entire amount. And today, the Palm House is restored to its former splendor and the site of city events like the choral concert we heard a bit of on Sunday.

I love this story, I love plants, and I love George Harrison. That’s all for today.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, take two

In a post this past November, I argued that the John Hughes classic Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is about radical hospitality. I would now like to add that it is also about learning to be calm during travel mishaps. I mean, duh–but I’ve really come to need that lesson over the past few days. I’ll explain momentarily, but first, can I take a John Candy detour?

Okay. I watched The Great Outdoors for the first time recently. It’s no Planes, Trains; in fact, it’s basically just a loosely plotted series of sight gags related to the outdoors–waterskiing, racoons getting into the trash, comedic bear attacks, you get the picture. But what makes it a delight is the actors. Dan Ackroyd plays a horrible person, but he’s very good at it, and he comes around in the end. John Candy plays that character he’s so good at playing–an affable, long-suffering, optimistic on others’ behalf, Really Good Guy. I have no idea what he was like as an actual human being, but I have a hard time believing he wasn’t at least a little bit like this character type he made famous. I think we need more guys like him, in movies and in life.

Now back to the topic at hand. I was supposed to fly to Manchester, UK, last Friday for a week with my dad, who is working over there. When I got to the airport and tried to check in, I learned, to my horror (not an overstatement), that my passport was expired. It was devastating on a number of levels, perhaps the deepest being that it was a shameful mistake on my part. I take pride in being on top of the details of my life or at least appearing to be, but over the past few years, I’ve found myself increasingly absent-minded, whether because I’m getting older or because I have too much to keep track of (probably both). Often, I can get away with making a joke of my forgetfulness, but there was no humor to be found in this passport screw-up. I have no doubt that many of the well-traveled people I’ve told this story to over the past few days (including some of you reading this post) have been puzzled and silently judgmental over my failure to check on something so obvious. Thank you for keeping it to yourselves.

There followed a series of emotional phone calls to my dad, the US State Department expedited passport automatic scheduling service, American Airlines, Walgreens (to find out if they take passport photos all day), my mom (basically just to cry), the guy I’d met on eHarmony and had talked to for the first time that very afternoon (who was kind enough to call again and make sure I was okay after I texted him the story), and a friend I’d been meaning to visit. I came up with a plan: apply in person for an expedited passport in Detroit Monday morning (the closest and earliest I could get an appointment), reschedule my flight for June 26 (today), and try to distract myself over the weekend. I ended up traveling two hours south to the Michigan-Indiana border to spend Saturday and Sunday with my friend. She was a gracious last-minute hostess and even took me on a kayaking trip down the St. Joseph River that was as relaxing as anything I’ve experienced in a long time. (I mean the part where we were being carried downstream. Upriver was harder.) And, as it turned out, my friend lives less than half an hour away from my eHarmony guy, so I got to meet him Sunday afternoon, more than a week earlier than we had thought we’d be able to meet, and that was lovely too.

I got the passport on Monday, a story in itself that I won’t take the time to share here. Today, I was understandably anxious about checking in, so I showed up at the airport excessively early. (I won’t tell you how early because I’m embarrassed.) There were no mishaps.

Somewhere in the midst of my rushing around and hardcore crying on Friday evening, I came up with a Planes, Trains, and Automobiles mantra for the weekend: Be more like Del and less like Neal. Neal Page (Steve Martin) has many good qualities, but I simply meant that I should enjoy the adventure, mishaps and all. As I’ve written before on this blog, mishaps make good stories.

What am I going to do this summer?

I just walked home from meeting with my supervisor to go over my first annual evaluation in my new job. This should be the last time I have to go on campus until August–not that I don’t want to be there. It’s just that this is my first summer since starting college that I haven’t been working a job that has regular hours. I’ll be teaching online throughout the summer, which is real work, but it’s work that I can do anywhere (such as looking out at the Atlantic Ocean, which I may do while at Myrtle Beach next week) and anytime (including on BST, British Summer Time, which I’ll be observing while in the UK the following week). So I’m determined not to set foot in my office until my contractual obligations begin again in August.

My summer is almost comically full. For most of June and July, I will be making periodic stops at home just long enough to repack my suitcase, mow my lawn so that it doesn’t look like a jungle, and get the chiropractic adjustments I’ll need after all the flying and driving I’m going to do. Oh, and somewhere in there, I’m getting a haircut. Besides the trips mentioned in the previous paragraph, I will be visiting family in Pennsylvania and friends in Virginia. I also have tentative plans to visit the famed Upper Peninsula of Michigan during the short sliver of the year in which it’s not covered in snow, and I may combine this with a pilgrimage/research trip to northern Minnesota to see the town (Hibbing) in which I set my zombie apocalypse novel but which I’ve never visited. I’m a little nervous to see the real Hibbing, but if I find that my portrayal is wildly inaccurate, I can always change the name to Unspecified Northern Midwestern Town–or chalk the differences up to zombies.

I almost just typed the sentence, “But I don’t want to waste this summer,” and then the smarter and kinder part of my brain was like, “You know that resting, spending time with the people you love, and seeing more of this beautiful world is not ‘wasting’ the summer.” This is true. However, there are a few things I’d like to accomplish besides traveling and teaching online. One is to continue the dent I am making in my reading list. Last fall, I took inventory of the books I had been buying over the past few years and realized that my to-read list was out of control. So I divided the books into categories and have been making my way through a selection of them each month. In my suitcase for the beach trip, I have packed Roald Dahl’s The BFG, which, in the form of a small mass-market paperback, even looks like a light beach read. But I’m also probably going to bring along the massive hardcover biography of Thomas Hardy that might take me into July.

In addition to reading, I would like to start writing the sequel to my zombie novel. I’m still trying to decide what to do with the first one, Sam’s Town (yes, that’s an intentional reference to The Killers’ album), though I’m leaning toward self-publishing it as an e-book. (My reasoning, in short: I want some people to read it, but I don’t have any expectation, need, or desire to make an income from it, so I might as well send it out into the world in the quickest and most straightforward way possible so that the few people who are going to read it can get started on it.) And I plan to make some more revisions to it after my beta readers are finished with it. But in the meantime, I want to start working on the sequel, Sam’s Home. (It’s a pun! “The home of Sam” or “Sam is home.”) I wrote a 200-word scene last week, and I want to keep going while I have the momentum. I know it will involve another road trip, some romance, and probably the death of one of the main characters. But more on that later.

So that’s what I’m going to do this summer. I’m not sure how much blogging I’ll be doing, but I won’t go completely off the radar. Do you have any big plans for the summer?

stuff I’m enjoying right now

It’s time for one of those posts I do every once in a while about things I’m into, from no particular category, in no particular order.

1. The Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden. The book club I was part of in Virginia (I keep in touch with these friends and try to read the books when I can) chose book one, The Bear and the Nightingale, as this month’s pick. I voraciously consumed it in a little less than a week, and now I’m on book two, The Girl in the Tower. (I decided to buy the whole trilogy yesterday in book form yesterday even though I already have two on my Kindle. They’ll look nice on my shelf.) I’m loving this historical fantasy about pre-tsar era Russia, with its beautiful descriptions, nuanced and mostly likeable characters, and a fairy-tale quality that comes through in unexpected ways.

2. Audm. This subscription app allows me to listen to long-form journalism pieces from some of America’s most respected publications. It entertained me (and provoked thought) throughout most of my drive from Michigan to Pennsylvania on Friday. I’ve listened to articles (just to name a few) about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, why most Americans don’t cheat on their taxes, and a man who got out of a white supremacist group in Britain and started working against them at risk of his life. I also listened to a profile of folk singer Rhiannon Giddens, which alerted me to her new album there is no Other, which I then looked up and listened to for the rest of my drive. (item 2.5) It’s a haunting, minimalist album that I’m not going to try to describe because I’m already using pretentious music review cliches. Two thumbs up.

3. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)My mom is working her way through all of Adam Sandler’s movies because she and I are going to see him live next week–another story for another time–and I joined her for this 2017 Netflix original featuring Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, and Emma Thompson, among others. It’s about an ageing artist who has a chip on his shoulder about his declining reputation and, more importantly, who’s made a mess of his relationships with his children. Then he collapses and ends up in a coma, and the kids and his flighty current wife have to figure out what to do. That sounds unpleasant, but the dialogue is fascinating. It’s how real people talk. I aspire to write dialogue like that. There were many moments when I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. And the ending was pretty hopeful, believe it or not. Two more thumbs up.

4. Dirty Turtle at The Meadows Frozen Custard. Last night I made my mom go with me on a sort of summer-kickoff mini-adventure. I wanted to watch the sun set from a spot where I’d never seen it before, visit a war memorial (in honor of Memorial Day), drive with the windows down, and eat ice cream. It was a cloudy evening, so we didn’t see much of a dramatic sunset–plus we were nervous that the community park was serious about closing at sunset and that we would get stuck in there overnight, so we just did a driveby of the war memorial and then drove to a nearby housing development where we parked by a vacant lot on top of a hill and watched what was left of the sunset. But we did get a delicious frozen dairy treat, even though I was envisioning hand-dipped ice cream rather than the soft-serve custard that The Meadows dishes out. That’s okay, though–I ended up really enjoying the Dirty Turtle my mom recommended: chocolate custard with walnuts and salted caramel. I’m not sure why places like this think it’s cute to put “dirty” in the title of their food and drink items; I think in this case it just meant that the ice cream was chocolate? I don’t know. But I could definitely eat one of those again. FYI, The Meadows is a chain of custard parlors (? is that a thing?) in Pennsylvania and Maryland only (I think); perhaps those of you in other locations can suggest this flavor combination to your favorite local ice cream joint.

Let me know what you’re enjoying in the comments!