When your grad student springs back from the dead…

Or: How we celebrated the arrival of warm weather & Sean’s break from grad school

The spring semester was tough on us. It was dark all the time, it snowed basically every day, it never got above freezing, and Sean was so busy with work and two classes that we almost never saw each other. And even during our few fleeting moments together, nothing was open or worth braving the elements to visit, so we never left the house. It was so boring and gross and depressing that I eventually started referring to myself as a grad school widow.

But mercifully, spring sprang out of nowhere at the end of April, just as Sean was wrapping up his spring semester classes. The perfect storm of nice weather and free time was on the radar, and we knew we only had about three weeks to enjoy it before his summer class started on May 26, so we were determined to take advantage by:

Driving around Cape Cod.
I swear, since the day we arrived in Boston, we’ve been asked at least once a month if we’ve been to the Cape yet. And up until last month, the answer was always a sheepish “no.” The Cape is the vacation destination for New Englanders, yet somehow we missed it on our epic Year One tour of this place. I dunno. But because it’s such a hot spot, it gets really crowded in the summertime. We decided to make our first visit early in the season so our opinions wouldn’t been tainted by traffic and long lines. And it worked. Cape Cod is a delight! Coastal houses and endless beaches and seafood shacks and lighthouses galore. Even though it was a little chilly, I really, really loved it and would happily go back…in September once everyone else has left.

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Going to our first pub trivia match.
Sean and I are both a little bit a lot obsessed with trivia. We listen to a trivia podcast whenever we’re in the car together and we’ve played our Trivial Pursuit game so many times we’ve memorized the cards. So I’m not sure why it took us so long to try pub trivia. But try it we did—at a local brewery with our fellow New England Tex-pat Erin—and it was a damn revelation. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun on a weeknight. We didn’t come close to winning, oh no, but it was a privilege just to play the game. (Har.)

Watching the Before trilogy.
After my cruise to Germany and the Czech Republic, I was on a bit of a Europe kick. So the time was ripe for us to re-watch one of our favorite European movies: Before Sunrise. And we enjoyed it so much that we couldn’t help but watch the the other two movies in the trilogy in quick succession (as you do). They’re so wanderlust-y and funny and refreshingly real. Not to mention perfect for enjoying with a glass of wine and a whole lotta cheese. Once you pop, you just can’t stop!

Spending a day in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Have I mentioned that I love coastal New England? We checked Maine off the list last year (LUV U, MAINE! Be back soon!) and the Cape, clearly. But despite of our best intentions, we hadn’t found time to visit New Hampshire’s little sliver of coastline…until last month. We spent the morning exploring Strawbery Banke, a living history village with houses that have been restored to different eras in Portsmouth’s history. (We visited a tavern from 1771 and when I told the owner we were from Texas, he said he’d never heard of it. Well OF COURSE NOT.) Portsmouth is known for its craft beer scene, so after indulging in history, we did a different kind of indulging. (The best/most interesting brewery we tried was Earth Eagle Brewings. And I say that in spite of the fact that I drank a beer made with cow heart there. I mean, it tasted pretty good, but cow heart.) Our last stop on our Tour de Portsmouth was the local lighthouse because, hi, have we met?

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Making indoor s’mores and watching The Sandlot.
I’d been jonesing to re-watch The Sandlot for months (good news, millennials—it holds up) but Sean was adamant that we wait until it actually felt like baseball season. And in true Sean and Sarah fashion, when the weather finally warmed up enough, we turned watching The Sandlot into An Event: We made s’mores (how could you not?) and timed it so it would coincide with…

Going a Rangers/Red Sox game.
Before I moved to Boston, I didn’t consider myself an especially ardent baseball fan. But I love, love, love Fenway Park so much that I just can’t help myself these days. I was anticipating this game almost as eagerly as I anticipate football season. And that’s a lot of anticipation!

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Visiting my brother in Minnesota.
To cap off our three-week freedom fest, Sean and I flew to Minneapolis to visit my brother over Memorial Day weekend. I’d never been to the Midwest before (Chicago notwithstanding) and I really, really dug it! The people are so nice! The cheese curds are so fried! The beer is so plentiful! (We made a day trip up to Lake Superior and had dinner over the bridge in Wisconsin, where you can buy a 50oz. beer for less than $9. WHAT.) Not to mention, there’s so much incredible nature in Minnesota—lakes everywhere (10,000 in fact), the raging Mississippi River, a waterfall in the middle of Minneapolis, and *ahem* a lighthouse…

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My fair Big E

On Sunday, Sean and I set out on our first trip into western Massachusetts in search of The Big E — the state(?) fair of New England.
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Everything I know about fairs I learned from The State Fair of Texas, which means my experiences are basically: eat every new deep-fried offering in sight, take a picture of the giant Ferris wheel, pay respects to the illustrious Sir Tex, and try not to get sick on the way home. What’s the draw, I wondered, at fairs not famous for their super-sized attractions?

At The Big E, it’s the Avenue of the States — basically Epcot, but on a New-England-sized scale. There are six life-size statehouses on the Avenue — one for each state up here — all modeled after the state’s original statehouse.
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Inside, the houses are full of vendors hawking local wares:

  • Connecticut: LEGO, wine, and other things I can’t really remember because the wine samples kicked in
  • Maine: Potatoes, lobster, lighthouse paraphernalia
  • Massachusetts: All sorts of produce (apples, cranberries, pumpkins)
  • New Hampshire: Maple syrup and (oddly) a lot of cat stuff (New England is the most cat-crazed region of the country…)
  • Rhode Island: Seafood and Del’s lemonade
  • Vermont: Maple syrup, apples, flannel, and cheese glorious cheese

(If you’re ever wondering, as we were, whether you should purchase your maple cotton candy [you read that right] from the New Hampshire house or the Vermont house, just ask yourself one question: “What would Jed Bartlet do?” EXACTLY.)

Maybe it’s because I’m a stranger to these shores, but I was incredibly tickled by how all the states represented themselves. I could’ve walked around in the houses all day.

Food may not be as big of a deal at The Big E as it is at The State Fair of Texas, but there’s still plenty to eat. My only request was that we not buy anything that we could get at any other fair. (Though I was tempted by The Big E’s epic corn dogs — bigger than any I’ve seen in Texas, y’all — and the funnel cake sundaes.) Our first instinct was to get one of the loaded baked potatoes that everyone was carrying out of Maine, but there was a 45-minute wait(!) and I can make a baked potato at home faster than that.

Then we spotted them — people carrying around spice-rimmed glasses of pumpkin beer. Imagine a margarita, but instead of salt it’s pumpkin pie spice and instead of margarita it’s Shipyard Pumpkinhead (AKA the most pie-tastic beer I’ve ever tasted). The place that was selling the beer was also selling Irish nachos (chips loaded with cheese and corned beef hash) so that was an easy enough decision.
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After lunch, we checked out a horse show then wandered around the midway for a bit. I wanted Sean to win me a stuffed donut, but after one attempt we decided we could use the $20 he’d inevitably spend trying to win the donut on something more useful. (Like, say, real donuts.) We then perused the craft booths (most of them chocked full of Halloween-related goodies) in the fair’s 19th century New England village before eventually ending up back at the Avenue of the States to pick up a dessert we’d spotted earlier in Massachusetts.
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Pumpkin raisin bread pudding — and how!

In all honesty — plug your ears, Big Tex — The Big E was one of the most varied and interesting fairs I’ve been to. I tip my deep-fried 10-gallon hat to you, Yanks.