Virtual Game Night

With our stay at home orders due to COVID-19 obviously social lives have been completely upended. Thank god this is happening in a time when we have plenty of options for staying connected even when we can’t see each other in person. In order to give myself some sort of social interaction with people I have been hosting a virtual game night every Saturday night via Google Hangouts. It’s worked out well. It’s kind of funny to me that I am now spending every Saturday night with a lot of friends who I usually only see a handful of times per year due to our normal busy lives. Now that we’re all stuck at home we have time to get together online every weekend.

So far we’ve played a different game every week. I’m sure we’ll cycle back through some of these eventually if this goes on long enough. But here’s a list of things we’ve played in case you’re trying to come up with ideas for your own game nights.

Trivial Pursuit

We did this with an actual Trivial Pursuit game board. We set it up so that my iPad camera pointed down at the board. Every team had a die they could roll for themselves in their houses. I just moved the game pieces around the board on everyone’s behalf and also read all the questions. I promise I didn’t cheat and read the answers when it was my team’s turn to play. The version I had on hand that we played was made in 1994 so the questions were really old at this point. After starting by playing by the actual rules we soon pivoted to the quick method of you get a pie piece every time you get a question correct if you don’t already have that color otherwise we would have been there all night.

Code Names

One of my friends knows some people who programmed their own online version of Code Names, which is what we used to play. I think you could very easily play this with the actual physical version of the game as well if you again had a camera pointing at the words and then texted photos of the key card to the two clue givers for each round.

Scattergories

This was a fairly easy one to play. I just took photos of all the category cards and sent them out ahead of time. Then during the game I controlled rolling the letter die and setting the timer. I talked to another friend who tried playing with friends who all had copies of the game, but they discovered that having bought them at different times sometimes the category cards were not exactly the same. So fair warning if you go that route. My sister also found some online generator that will provide you a random set of categories along with a letter that we used to play with my nieces.

Family Feud

We used this online version of Family Feud that I found to play. We divided everyone up into two teams and then made my husband the emcee since he doesn’t care that much about playing games. You could also switch the emcee every round if you don’t have someone who wants to do it for the entire time you’re playing.

Drawful 2

Drawful 2 is one of the Jackbox Games. They are a set of games you can buy online and then play with friends over the internet. I actually managed to snag this particular one for free. Only one person needs to own the game in order for up to 8 devices to also be logged into the game. To play via Google Hangouts or Zoom you just share your screen to the game. Everyone does need a second device to actually draw and answer the questions. In this particular game everyone gets their own weird clue that they have to draw. Then everyone is shown the same drawing one by one and they have to provide a title for what they think the drawing is of. Then you get a list of all the titles people came up with plus the real title and people have to choose which one they think is the actual title. You get points for every time someone selects one of the titles you created instead of the actual title and if it’s your drawing you get points for every person that selects the actual title rather than one of the made up ones.

Other Future Options

We haven’t played any of these games yet, but they are possibly on tap for future virtual game night.

Additional Jackbox games

Someone else offered to buy some of the additional Jackbox games, so I think we’re going to do another one of those this coming weekend. There are a number of those we could cycle through if we want to pay for them.

The Game of Things

I think this game should also translate fairly easily to an online interface with answers being texted or emailed to the reader rather than submitted on a piece of paper.

Five Second Rule

This is a game I’ve never played in real life before, but I saw it when I was buying myself The Game of Things and thought it sounded like it would also be able to be easily played online with only one person owning the game. I bought a copy so we can try and attempt it. We’ll see how it goes.

Heads Up

Again I think this should work out okay as long as people can have a camera pointing at the phone on their heads so people can read the clues that they need to be getting the person that is it to guess. Thus I think this will probably be a better game to try when we have a night where it’s only couples and no single players so that one of them can train a camera on the other. The the single person could obviously set up something stationary as well.

Pictionary

I think if we ever do actual Pictionary we will need to do a modified version of it because I don’t think the all draw plays will translate well to an online format. It would be hard to see both people drawing at the same time and the potential internet lag time might disadvantage one team over the other. Otherwise I think it should work to have a phone or tablet camera propped up so that it’s pointing down on the piece of paper someone is drawing on.

Charades

I’ve been a little reluctant to try this one since I’m not sure how clear it will be to see what people are doing, but it might be worth trying at some point. I’ve seen some online charades clue generators that people could use to get their clues.

I will also say that depending on your set up for playing it may or may not be helpful to have a couple of options in your back pocket and to test things out ahead of time if possible. For instance the first night we tried to play Drawful 2 we ran into some technical issues that I hadn’t foreseen because it was difficult to test the game fully on my own. Luckily I anticipated there might be problems and already had Family Feud in my back pocket, which we were quickly able to pivot to. Also at least the way I’m running my game night is that whoever expressed interest in joining has been getting the weekly invite. Not everyone shows up every week so there may be instances where we need to switch things up depending on who comes on a particular night. For instance the Jackbox games can only have 8 logins at a time. Sometimes we’ve had more people than that. The virtual game night has definitely been a great way for me to keep some semblance of a social life though and gives a little bit of structure to what we’re doing online rather than just awkwardly staring at each other through little online boxes.

Magic Containers

I’ve been in awe of these Rubbermaid Freshworks produce containers for years and had previously thought about writing about them here as something that makes me happy but never did. Now in the midst of this COVID-19 crisis I feel like it would be remiss of me not to share my knowledge of them with you. I’ve always been skeptical of any specialized stuff like this claiming to keep stuff fresher longer. In my experience they never work. So when my husband bought some of these containers a couple of years ago I kind of scoffed at him and was like whatever. Those were probably a waste of money.

Boy was I wrong! These things are amazing! They totally do make our produce last longer without getting wilty and sad. With our new reality of trying to go to the grocery store only once every two weeks we bought even more of these to try and extend the life of the fresh produce we’re buying. I highly recommend getting some for yourself. Now if only someone could figure out a way to make it so bananas didn’t get ripe so fast. There’s no way I can buy two weeks of bananas at a time.

“Live” Music Getting Me Through Isolation

I missed out on my normal New Music Friday post yesterday. I’ve been really busy with work this week, and it’s also just been an emotional and draining week so I honestly just didn’t feel like writing it. I still have plenty of new music to write about. I just didn’t feel like it. Since I didn’t write about anything yesterday I thought I would share some of the musical things that are bringing me a little bit of joy right now.

Obviously if you know me or have been reading this blog for any amount of time you know how much I love music and how much I love to go to concerts. Obviously that’s not possible right now. It’s been sad to continue to delete more and more shows off of my calendar. I’m also trying to come to terms with the fact that even after this initial self-isolation period is over and concerts resume I’m probably going to have to refrain for the next year or so until there’s a vaccine or we’ve reached a high enough transmission rate for there to be a decent amount of herd immunity due to my multiple underlying conditions and immunocompromised status. It breaks my heart because live music is one of the things that brings me the most joy in life. Even if the show goes on I’ve already committed to abandoning my trip to Washington State the first week of June to see Brandi Carlile in a fan club only show in Seattle followed by seeing her at The Gorge, one of the venues on my bucket list. I haven’t completely come to terms with it yet, but I’m starting to think through the fact that the Newport Folk Festival is also probably going to be out for me this year as well.

Meanwhile I’m consoling myself with some of the many musical things that artists are doing from their houses. There are way too many of them to even think about keeping up with, especially the ones that are being done only on Instragram and have to be viewed within 24 hours. I’ve watched a few of those things, but obviously I can’t share those with you now so I’m going to concentrate on the ones you can still watch. Also, I was feeling overwhelmed with feeling like I was missing out on something I would love so committing to some of these and just watching other stuff when and if I can has made me feel less bad about missing out on things.

I So Lounging with Amanda Shires (and Jason Isbell)

It is no secret around here how much I love Jason Isbell and his wife Amanda Shires who has her own band, plays in his band when she can, and is the founding member of The Highwomen. Every day at 5 pm Central Amanda performs for about a half an hour from a barn on their property outside Nashville. Sometimes it’s just her. Sometimes members of her band who are quarantining with them show up. Sometimes her mom shows up. And in most of the later episodes Jason Isbell shows up. The format they’ve seemed to settle into is one or two of Amanda’s songs, one of Jason’s songs, or sometimes some covers. Kelly Bueno, so is married to one of Amanda’s bandmates and who works for but does not play in the band, is producing the daily shows and keeps an eye on the chat and passes them questions that people are asking that they then answer. They obviously have a plan for the songs they’re going to play, but otherwise things are pretty loose and can get a little silly. It’s very much a bright spot in my day. You can catch them live on Youtube each or go back and watch the previously recorded episodes.

The Kat & Dave Show

The Kat & Dave show is Katharine McPhee Foster and David Foster doing performances and being silly together. It started out a little loose and they have since gotten much more planned with themed episodes. They even say that they’re rehearsing for these for a couple hours, so they’re obviously putting a decent amount of work into them even though they still seem a little off the cuff, which I find fun and really enjoy. They’ve done 10 episodes so far and are now on a little hiatus to supposedly plan more shows. Hopefully they do return and soon because I really love them. You can go back and watch the already recorded episodes on YouTube. They go live from both of their accounts so that both of their fans can follow along, so there are two versions of every episode listed. You can just pick whose phone you want to watch it from.

Choir! Choir! Choir! Distan-Sing-Alongs

If you are unfamiliar with Choir! Choir! Choir! is a weekly drop-in sing-a-long in Toronto hosted by Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman. They also tour now so you can potentially sing with them wherever you live. I saw them perform at the Newport Folk Festival a few years ago. What they’re doing online is different from the live shows where you only sing a couple of songs and they walk through teaching the songs to everyone with half the room doing the melody and half singing harmony. In these obviously you aren’t singing with a whole room of people. You can only hear them and yourself and whoever else might be in the room singing with you. They are still a lot of fun and just seeing the people participating in the chat from all over the world while you know we’re all singing together makes me feel way less alone through all of this. We’re literally all going through it together. They’ve done two so far the Choir!intine: Epic Social Distan-Sing-Along! and the Epic Love Song Social Distan-Sing-Along. They’re doing a third one tomorrow at 3 pm Eastern where we’ll be singing songs about spring. You can watch either on Facebook Live or Youtube Live. I highly recommend. It will definitely brighten up your day I promise.

Christopher Paul Stelling

Christopher Paul Stelling has played a couple of times in the past week just sitting down with his guitar and playing for a good long time. The first one was an hour and half and the second was two hours. He’s just an amazing guitar player and I find his music so calming. His song “Scarecrow” with its chorus of “So breathe, breathe it out, lay your burdens down, to rest. Breath, through the doubts, never let them get the best, the best of you.” has long been one of my go to songs when I’m having a bad day and is moreso now than ever. I was really happy that he played it during the second show and was highly amused that it has obviously been awhile since he had to stop, figure out what the lyrics were, and then start again. If you just want some music that give you a little peace in these troubled times I recommend some Christopher Paul Stelling.

 

20 Things in 2020

I’ve always been a little bit of a homebody and someone who is averse to going into situations that I am unfamiliar with. As I’ve gotten older and more tired and my neighborhood has gotten more and more things to do I have gotten worse and worse about getting out and about in Baltimore. So in 2020 I decided that I want to try and do 20 things in and around the Baltimore area that I’ve never done before. It could be as simple as trying a restaurant I’ve never been to or going to some event.

My neighborhood does a New Year’s Eve ball drop and the guy who organizes it always dresses up as Baby New Year. I’ve never gotten my picture taken with him until last night because my friends said that could be my first thing. I did do it and probably wouldn’t have otherwise because my instinct is never to push further into a crowd so that I can take a picture with a mostly naked man. It kind of goes a little bit against the idea of this though in that I did not have to leave my neighborhood to do it. Maybe I’ll count it as half a thing and if I do something else new in my neighborhood over the course of the year I can count that as a half thing as well.

I have a few ideas in mind, but am open to suggestions of things I should do. I keep wanting to go to the concerts they’ve been doing at the Peabody Library that they’ve been hosting, but come that weeknight I can never muster up the motivation. Going to the BMA earlier this week and seeing a video art installation that featured the Great Black in Wax museum I was reminded that it was something I had on my list of things to do a long time ago. I’ve always wanted to go to the Great Halloween Lantern Parade in Patterson Park but have never gone.

I of course will be blogging about whatever adventures I have so you can all follow along.

11th Anniversary Celebration

My husband and I always buy each other gifts based on the traditional or modern gifts for each anniversary year. Usually they aren’t anything big, but we try to be creative and get something the other one will like. Sometimes more successfully than others. The traditional gift for the 11th anniversary is steel. It is also apparently the year where we almost wound up giving each other the same thing. The only reason we didn’t is because I was waiting closer to our anniversary to order my gift and when we got home from some trip and were going through the mail I saw the return address on the package. I immediately opened up my computer, spun it around, showed my husband the tab that had been sitting open my browser for weeks, and said I guess I know what I’m getting for our anniversary. Sorry for the terrible pic, but I couldn’t find a way to take it without the shadow in it. It’s a map of Baltimore cut out of steel. He also threw in an ornament of Maryland.

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Since I didn’t think we needed two steel cutout maps of Baltimore I had to come up with something else. I wound up getting him an engraved spatula. I couldn’t resist using one of the silly puns I had seen on keychains replacing the word still with steel.

20191020_120423

To celebrate our anniversary we went out to dinner at The Black Olive. Somehow even though I’ve lived in Baltimore for over 19 years this was the first time I’ve been to The Black Olive. I mean when I first moved here and I was a poor twenty-something grad student it made sense, but now I go to plenty of restaurants at this price point. I guess there’s always been something newier and flashier that I wanted to try, but I finally decided it was time we made our way to The Black Olive.

It’s a Greek restaurant known for it’s fresh fish. They prepare whole fish that you can see in their fish case beforehand if you want. They then filet it at your table for you. I kind of wanted to try the lamb chops, but I figured on my first visit I should get some sort of fish since that’s their thing. I went with the bronzini, which is a Mediterranean sea bass. I suspect it was prepared in a way that I was supposed to eat the skin as well, but that creeps me out so I didn’t. It left the fish kind of bland even with the added sauce they poured on for me. If we go back again I’ll definitely try the lamb chops next time.

My husband had the veggie combo. I’m actually not entirely sure everything that was on it. There were definitely some mushrooms and a piece of village pie along with some other veggies and something neither of us could identify but almost seemed like a slice of baked stuffing. He really liked it. We started with saganaki plate which contained pan seared, paper-thin zucchini, tzatziki, two Greek cheeses Kefalograviera and Haloumi. It was all delicious. I would go back just to eat that again. For dessert we had baklava and a tarte tatin. They were both delicious as well. It was a nice meal, well paced with good service. I would definitely go back again at some point.

Happy 11th Anniversary to My Husband

Today my husband and I are celebrating our 11th anniversary. It’s been 11 wonderful years since we got married and 15 years since we started dating. It’s hard to believe that it has been that long. Time has flown by. Neither of us are super gushy romantic people. We don’t generally do the types of things that the culture at large would necessarily consider romantic, but I think the life we live together and the way we take care of each other is the best romance of all.

Me being me of course can think of no better way to express my love than through a song. If you read my post from yesterday, you’ll know I mentioned that I was bummed that Ray LaMontagne didn’t play my favorite song of his when I saw him on Wednesday night. That was partly because I already knew I was going to be using it in this anniversary post. If I had gotten married any later this song would have been the song I chose for our first dance. However, the album it’s on didn’t come out until four days before our wedding and somehow in that four days while I was in the midst of last minute wedding prep I did not find this song, fall in love with it, and then decide to make it our first dance song. (Our actual first dance song was Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” in case you were wondering.) I love this song and think it perfectly encapsulates our marriage because my husband is the best thing that ever happened to me. He makes my life better every day. I look forward to many more years together.

Summer Clothing Staples

I’m trying to get a little bit better about posting non-music stuff around here. Let’s face it, it’s probably still going to be like 90% music related content, but since no one who reads this blog cares that much I’m trying to mix it up every once in awhile. I used to try and write about stuff that makes me happy no matter how small. With summer starting to wind down (not that you’d know it based on this heat wave), I thought I would share a couple of my favorite summer clothing items.

I few years ago Target started making these tank tops. They were originally under one of the house clothing brands that Target retired. When I saw that they were getting rid of that brand I was super sad because I thought it meant these tank tops were going away, but they just started making them under the A New Day brand (which whenever I see the tags I always think says And Away). I own this tank top in approximately one million colors. Since white tanks get dirty so easy and the tanks are so cheap, when I need something to fill out an online Target order to get the free shipping I will toss one in my cart.

The other thing I absolutely love are these Abeo Kadie flip flips from The Walking Company. I posted here once before about a pair of flip flips that I loved, but bit the dust because they were so old and I wore them so much. Those flip flips having nothing on these. It took me literally years and so many wasted flip flop purchases to finally find a pair that I really loved and I felt like I could wear without tearing my feet apart. These are great. They are super comfortable. They have great arch support and most importantly the straps don’t rub at all. From the very first second I put them on I could wear them with no issues. I’ve owned far too many flip flips that I just hoped the straps would eventually soften up or my feet would get used to. Not so with these. I can wear them for long periods of time with no problems. They have never cut my feet or caused blisters. They are just plain comfortable. They are definitely more money than I ever wanted to pay for a pair of flip flops, but they’re really worth every penny. I wish that I had managed to snag another pair on summer clearance as backup before they sold out of my size. Now I just have to hope they bring them back again next summer.

Year of the Cookie

I’ve made no secret here about how the past couple of years have really worn on me psychologically. At the beginning of 2018 I felt like I really needed to do something to try and bring a little bit of joy into the world while also doing something to try and get me out of my funk. Also, around the same time I got an e-galley of the Sally’s Cookie Addiction cookbook. There were many delicious looking cookie recipes in it, but there is no way I was going to have any reason to try that many cookie recipes. That sparked my idea for Year of the Cookie. I thought I love to bake and people love eating my baked goods so why not send a little joy out into the world by making people cookies.

I put the word out on my social media accounts telling people that I had declared 2018 the Year of the Cookie and if they wanted to receive some cookies at some point during the year they should fill out the Google form I created, which in addition to name and address asked people what their allergies and dislikes were so I could hopefully make sure people got cookies they would like and be able to eat. I also found some take out containers that were cheap and would just fit inside the smallest USPS flat rate shipping box so that I could pay for all the shipping online for the ones that needed to be mailed.

I basically made cookies whenever I had a chance. Sometimes that meant several weekends in a row and other times there were long stretches in between batches due to travel and other life events. I tried to give everyone around a dozen cookies, but it mostly depended on how many fit inside the container I bought. Since most recipes make 2-3 dozen cookies multiple people got the same kind of cookie and I was able to give out multiple batches at a time. There wasn’t much rhyme or reason as to who got cookies in a given batch other than whether it didn’t have something they disliked or were allergic to in them, whether the cookies seemed like ones kids would like if the receivers had kids, and whether I just wanted to be able to drop cookies in the mail or whether I had time to drive around Baltimore dropping them off in people’s mailboxes.

My only other rule was that I wanted people to be surprised when they got them. Several people said oh I figured you would just bring me cookies at some point when we were already getting together, but I wanted people to receive a nice surprise one day when they opened up their mail (Year of the Cookie also taught me some of y’all don’t check your mail on the regular based on when I know they were delivered and when you let me know you got them.) or walked in their front door. Multiple people let me know that their cookies came at the perfect time when they were having a really crappy week, and I’m glad that serendipity worked out but am also just as happy for the people who just got a little bit of joy in their day. It made me feel good to see my cookies pop up on people’s social media and know I made someone’s day.

I also loved the people who told me how much they loved this project and were really happy following along with it even though they didn’t want any cookies of their own. That was something I hadn’t anticipated, and it’s nice to know that I brought even more joy into the world than I thought I would be when I started this project.

I do have a list of all the types of cookies I made during the year, but I unfortunately don’t know what the exact recipes were for all of them. I often just googled for a recipe and didn’t keep track of which specific one I used when it was a pretty generic cookie. The list of cookies is below. I linked to the recipes I know that I used. The ones with (SCA) beside them are recipes that came from the Sally’s Cookie Addiction cookbook, and most of those recipes are not online.

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies (SCA) – These were the first cookies I made for the Year of the Cookie, and I think it was one of my favorites.

Funfetti Chocolate Chip (SCA)

Homemade Berger Cookies – I thought the cookie part of these was decent, but the cookie is kind of beside the point with Berger cookies. The fudge topping tasted nothing like a Berger cookie. I’ve been wanting to try these again but swapping in my own attempt at the frosting.

Ginger Pistachio (SCA)

Rolled Sugar Cookies

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip – These tasted good, but I thought they turned out a little flat.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chai Spiced Shortbread (SCA)

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cookies (SCA)

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

Chocolate cookies with Chocolate and White Chocolate Chips

M&M Cookies

Lemon Ricotta Cookies 

Lemon Sugar Cookies

Funfetti Cookie Pizza (SCA)

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies – I’m not sure what recipe I used for these, but you wouldn’t want to use it anyway. They were blah enough that I wound up not even sending these cookies to anyone.

Koulourakia (Greek Easter Cookies) – I don’t know what recipe I used, but it was one without sesame seeds

Toffee Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies – These were probably my favorite cookies that I could make for any occasion.

Brownie Cookies

Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie – This recipe says you can use a 10-inch or 12-inch skillet, but I made it in a 12-inch skillet and I wouldn’t make it in anything smaller.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – I hate oatmeal raisin cookies. Raisins are the devil’s fruit and these cookies are evil because they too often masquerade as chocolate chip until you’ve bitten into one. I swore when I started this project that I would not bake any cookies with raisins in them, but when my uncle, aunt, and parents visited me in May they were all going on about how delicious it oatmeal raisin cookies are and how it is really too bad I wouldn’t make any, so because I love my family I went against my own rules and sent the these cookies.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Soft Ginger Cookies – These cookies were probably my favorite overall cookie from the year, but they seem very season specific so they can’t be an all around go to cookie. They are super soft and almost melt in your mouth. This recipe is definitely a winner.

Eggnog Cookies – I don’t really like drinking egg nog because I don’t like the consistency, but I like the flavor of eggnog. These cookies are the perfect delivery system for that eggnog flavor.

It was a really fun project and I’m glad I did it, but to answer the question everyone has been asking as the year comes to a close, no I will not be doing it or something else in 2019. I will still be baking, but not on this scale. Also cookies are really the only realistic food I could do this with. Nothing else mails as well. It also was not a cheap project between the supplies for the actual baking and spending $7.20 on every batch that had to be sent via the mail, so I think I’ll be giving my wallet a little bit of a break in 2019 too. I’m super happy I made 2018 the Year of the Cookie. It did exactly what I wanted it to do and more.

40th Birthday Celebrations

I turned 40 a few days ago. I’m not bothered by turning 40, but I know it’s one of those ages that’s supposed to be a big milestone birthday (although by the amount of 50 related birthday things compared to 40, I think 50 may be the new 40). Honestly the only birthday that ever really bothered me was 36 of all ages. I think because that felt firmly middle aged and sent me into a new demographic category that did not include any 20s.

Anyway, I used turning 40 to have some fun celebrations. I know a lot of people do big trips or something like that for their 40th, but I wanted to do something that let me celebrate with all my friends. I knew that if a good number of my friends were going to come I had to make it a kid friendly event, so I decided on renting a pavilion at a park and having it catered.

Really I had been literally thinking for years about having blacksauce kitchen cater a 40th birthday party. Alas that dream was not to be fulfilled as they suffered a fire a few months ago and told me they currently didn’t have the capacity in their temporary space to cater a party that size. As my second choice I went with Blue Pit BBQ, which lets be honest is still a great option. I rounded it out with fruit and veggie trays from Eddie’s. I also got my cake from Eddie’s because I’m not going to lie as much as I love more sophisticated cakes I will forever and always associate birthday cake with sheet cake. Give me that overly sweet frosting with tons of it piled on in roses and other decorations. I mean not all sheet cake is good. Some of it’s pretty terrible, overly dry or made with that oil slick whipped frosting which should be outlawed. Eddie’s however makes an A+ sheet cake and it was exactly what I wanted for my birthday cake. And because my friend Alison is the best she surprised me with tons and tons (I have no idea how many, but there were a lot) of biscuits from Mason Dixon Biscuit Company to make up for my inability to have my blacksauce biscuits for my birthday.

I wound up renting a pavilion in Wilson Point Park in Middle River. I had never been there before or even heard of it as I have spent little to no time in Middle River in all my years in Maryland. I was just searching around online trying to find a park that had a pavilion big enough. A lot of them topped out at 40-50 people. Ultimately one of those would have been fine, but since I was inviting around 80 people I wanted to get something big enough in case most people showed. I found the website for Wilson Point Park that said they had a pavilion big enough, but I wasn’t sure since I didn’t know anything about the park. God bless the person who posted this video on YouTube because it’s pretty much what sold me on it. I did a quick drive by in February to make sure it did look okay in person, which it did. After going out there and realizing its location near I-695 and I-95 I also thought it would be a nice sort of central location for my friends who would be coming from all over the Baltimore area. It also had a nice big parking lot so there were no worries about parking. And there was also a nice big playground near the pavilion for the kids to play on. There was also plenty of lawn space to set up various lawn games as well.

I couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. After months and months of seemingly endless rain here in Baltimore the weather on Saturday was gorgeous. There was a nice breeze and the shade of the pavilion made it the perfect temperature.

It was so nice to have so many of my friends gathered in one place. It made me feel very special to have so many people come out to help me celebrate, and made me realize how blessed I am to have so many wonderful people in my life. The day went by way too fast and I definitely didn’t get to spend as much time with everyone as I would have liked. I feel like there were some people I didn’t really get to talk to at all, but I hope they had a great time and know that I appreciate them being there. It was the perfect day and just what I wanted.

The party on Saturday was my big celebration, but I of course had to celebrate on my actual birthday. I took the day off work because I try to never work on my birthday if I don’t have to. I started the day off with a massage. Then I took myself to the movies to see Hearts Beat Loud. It was a sweet little movie starring Nick Offerman as a single dad whose daughter is about to leave for college. They manage to write a song that gets some traction on Spotify causing him to try and use that as an excuse to keep her at home while she’s still trying to spread her wings. There was lots of great stuff for the music lover in me along with a wonderful story about family and support and letting go.

My final birthday fun was making my husband take me out to a fancy dinner at The Charleston. It’s been Baltimore’s most renowned fancy restaurant since I can remember helmed by multiple James Beard Award nominee Cindy Wolf. The menu is presented as a tasting menu with around 20 dishes on it and you decided how many courses you would like from 3-6. It’s not like a prix fixe menu where you get one appetizer, one main, and one dessert or something like that. With this you could order 6 meats if you wanted. Their dessert is also included in the meal and not counted as one of your courses. Even so it is definitely pricy and something I always had a hard time justifying to myself. In addition, the menu is definitely meat heavy so it felt doubly hard to justify going with my vegetarian husband. He even whined about it when I told him we were going. But as with all fancy restaurants where they are actually prepping the meals from scratch and not reheating something they ordered from U.S. Foodservice or somesuch, they were able to make him something not on the menu. He ultimately wound up having a better experience than I did. I had notified them during the reservation, and they addressed it as soon as we got there and walked him through the veggie friendly options already on the menu and then pointed out some of the things that could be easily converted to vegetarian. And then said they could put something else together with any other ingredients on the menu. He wound up getting essentially one dish from each category.

Ultimately I think he enjoyed his dinner more than I did mine. Either it didn’t say on the menu or I missed it but I didn’t expect the seafood in my second course to be curried. If I had known I would have ordered something else so that was disappointing, but completely my fault. Even though I don’t love that curry flavor the dish was still good and probably would have been great to someone who loves curry. The bronzino I ordered as my third course was delicious until I got the very center and it was not as done as I would have liked. There wasn’t enough left to bother saying anything about it. I have no doubt that if I had they very quickly would have brought me another piece of fish or replaced it with something else of my choosing as the service was very attentive and they even removed the beer my husband spilled from our bill. I am kind of still dreaming of the blue cheese that was in the salad I ordered as my first course though. My husband left extremely pleased with everything he ate. We’ll probably make it back for another special occasion at some point.

So far 40 has been a great year. Hopefully it keeps up.

Friendsgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The food is delicious and feels special because it’s really the only time of year that you eat it. There’s no pressure for figuring out gifts like there is at Christmas. Instead it’s a time to give thanks for all the things we already have.

One of the things I’m very thankful for is my friends. And one of the other great things about Thanksgiving is that it does lend itself to large gatherings of friends over a delicious Thanksgiving meal. I’ve participated in these Friendsgivings in various forms. Sometimes it’s like this year getting together with friends I don’t always get to see that often anymore over a delicious meal prior to the holiday. Sometimes it’s gathering together a group of Thanksgiving orphans who aren’t spending the holiday with their families on the actual holiday to share a Thanksgiving dinner, or gathering together with friends and having a potluck dinner with everyone’s Thanksgiving leftovers.

It’s always fun to see all the variations on the standard Thanksgiving food recipes that people have. Also there are always the random things people have that for some reason whether cultural or family tradition always show up on their Thanksgiving table. I’m still not ever eating that sauerkraut weirdo Marylanders think is Thanksgiving food though.

This year I had the pleasure of attending three different Friendsgiving meals over the last few weeks leading up to the holiday. They were all wonderful gatherings with friends, some of whom I definitely don’t get to see nearly enough anymore. I loved getting the chance to catch up on each other’s lives, share food, great conversation and laughter, and remember that these are all the things I’m thankful for. It’s been hard to focus on the good things this year, so it was nice to have some great reminders that there are still lots of simple good things in this world.