Conquest Cupcake

I read the Yelp reviews and decided after the fourth 5 star rating to pick up my mat and go, find, seize the Salted Cupcake.

I had some unclaimed time at the conference, and who knew when I would make it back to these parts. With the brazen confidence that Siri inspires, I set out with a heavy bag on my journey. The spring sunshine of western Michigan beat down on me as I traversed subdivision after 1960s-era subdivision. This was not quite the Grand Rapids I had expected.  Did an indie cupcake shop not imply that this was to be the cool hipster zone of commerce? Where were the bike couriers with ill-fitting pants? Where was the independent coffee house? Where were the artisanal everythings?

I finally came to the main drag which was like one of those repeating cartoon backgrounds where the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote keep passing the same set of cacti and canyons. Only instead of cacti and canyons, this backdrop was a neverending concourse of plazas. Generic, segmented plazas full of big box chains where you have to drive and park and drive and park and consume. Everything wrong with America.

I walked past an Infiniti dealership for crying out loud. When does one ever walk past an Infiniti dealership?

I was into the second hour of my journey, feeling all kinds of guilt that a pastry had derailed me this far. I came upon the street where I was to find the oft-desired cupcake of all of my sugar-coated dreams, except something was awry. This street was decidedly residential. I neared the location that GPS had confirmed. This was the house that would have made Hansel and Gretel stumble and fall hard.

A sign outside of a little white boutique in the midst of a line of bungalows read:

Salted cupcake

I went in, expecting a cozy cottage with some tables and chairs where a grandmother in a gingham apron would pour me some milk with the famed Salted Cupcake upon which her Midwestern fame rested.

Instead, there was no bakery case. There was a chalkboard wall with displays of individual cupcakes. There was a table but it was covered in the accoutrements of a cupcake caterer working on a huge order on a frantic deadline. There was a cashier who did not know of my unlikely pedestrian-hood and how far I had come for my Salted Cupcake.

“That’ll be $3.50,” she said, boxing up my cupcake.

Salted cupcake

I waited for my Uber which would take me to the decidedly more hipster den of Grand Rapids where I would sit in a public space with homeless people and tourists and happy corporate lunch-eaters and I would devour my cupcake sans fork or napkin. And I would do so with relish. It was easily one of the best cupcakes I’ve ever eaten in my entire life: cake was moist, icing was thick, fluffy, flavorful. Nearly divine.


There is no grand metaphor at work here. Maybe Antoine de Saint Exupery would say that it was the time I had wasted for my cupcake that made my cupcake so important. Maybe Bob Goff would say that I should have shared the cupcake with the homeless, maybe Anne Lamott would say that the cupcake was like my spiritual WD-40, loosening up some of the stiffness about schedules and gotta-dos in order to enjoy the serendipity of a sweet confection.

But they didn’t taste this cupcake. Nor did they walk the hour and a half (I hope they didn’t) through suburban wasteland to the cupcake cottage. There was not much joy in my journey nor in the sunburn I earned en route. The destination wasn’t what I expected, but the cupcake exceeded all of them.

Sometimes it’s just about the cupcake, the reward, the trophy, the oversized teddy bear at the fair. Sometimes you just have to carpe the cupcake and have no regrets.


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Charleston with Kids


One of our FamiLee goals is to take our children to see all the major cities in the South. We are covering some good ground but Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi are still relatively unconquered for us. One of the things that strikes a tourist about the American Southeast is how well-preserved many structures are, largely because the weather is more gentle than, say, Boston where colonial homes have weathered Nor-easter after decades of Nor’easters. The exception to this preservation is the many buildings that suffered fires which were incredibly common–even into this past century.

Our recent visit to Charleston, SC took us on the requisite carriage tour where we learned about the importance of the fire insurance medallion. I’ll spare you the history lesson but Baby Girl was fascinated with how volunteer fire squads would totally leave a building to burn to ashes if it didn’t have this emblem near the front door, indicating that it wasn’t insured. Baby Girl talked about it at length, the whole phenomenon of that, and it gave me hope that maybe our daughter would grow up to understand the travesty of racial profiling, to resist the temptation to judge others’ based on their income or insuredness, to be a real pillar of justice. Meanwhile, Little Man was downright indignant that he had missed seeing The Medallion. He was obsessed for the rest of the carriage ride with seeing a bona fide medallion, like it was a gold coin in Mario he kept bypassing, and his life, virtual or otherwise, would perish without.

Kids, man.

But we love them and we like to travel with them and explore new terrain with them. Here are some pointers I can offer if you venture with kidlets to Charleston, the belle of South Carolina:


Our favorite lodging situation is always AirBNB, especially as having separate bedrooms is really nice now that our kids are getting older. We stayed on James Island at a fantastic home that I highly recommend. It had 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, games, DVDs, a beautiful fenced backyard with deck + grille, and the host was very cool. Here’s a code for $20 off your first AirBnB stay anywhere.

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Loverpants calls the beach “Nature’s Babysitter” because our kids could dig in sand and troll for seashells for almost as long as you could binge-watch a whole season of “Fuller House.” Although we were only in the Charleston area for about 48 hours, we made visiting Folly Beach a priority. We walked the boardwalk and hit the beach in the evenings and our last morning there. Even though it was too cold to swim, I recommend bringing the standard beach pail and shovel accoutrements if you’re ever near sand and have kids who need to be thoroughly worn out in order to hit the pillow in peace each night.

Exploring King St. with one of my besties Ashley
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As mentioned, we took a carriage ride through the Battery district in downtown Charleston. Lovely thing, that. The carriage tourism is highly regulated and I’m told all the companies charge the same and give roughly the same tour depending on what lottery ball the driver draws. This blogger explains the system better than I could. Tours cost $25/adult and $15/child. There are always coupons, if you are inclined.

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King St., College of Charleston, and Rainbow Row were all destinations that we tried to check off our list, with intermittent reminders that whining was prohibited in Charleston and that using public restrooms that were not trees was encouraged. Hashtag five year-olds out in the wild.
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We generally try to bring our breakie with us (instant coffees, bagels, Clif bars) when we travel because waking up hungry and uncaffeinated and tending to the needs of littles who are hangry is not a winning way to start the vacation day. We kept lunch casual in Charleston (may I recommend Freshii on King St.) and had the best sorbet/gelato/coffee at this place down by the water. I’m serious. It was so fresh and so good.

We had two unexpectedly great dinners on Folly Beach. The first was at the ‘Wich Doctor who carried Maine Root Beer which was my first sign that this place didn’t mess around. Some fusion menu items that you wouldn’t expect from a beach cafe, and the sweet potato pizza was just really good. Our second dinner was at Rita’s, which looks every bit tourist trap but is actually a good family eatery. Kids’ meals were served on frisbees as plates. Hard to beat.

Pizza-holding photo-bombing at ‘Wich Doctor

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This place was nice, too, and they have a laptop-free policy 😉
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That time we flew across the country to stare at Legos

I do so love a good vacation review, complete with field notes from pros who’ve masterminded a trip for a family of seventeen to see Paris on $4/day. Santé!

How I plan vacations:
1. Overhear my husband buying a plane ticket for his parents to Los Angeles.
2. Get psyched when he says we can buy ones, too.
3. Sweat bullets that we won’t be able to make rent on account of our bicoastal lifestyle.
4. Remind self that we don’t have a lifestyle.
5. Pack cute outfits for kids that are not climate-appropriate for destination.
6. Look through TripAdvisor the night before we go to LegoLand and laugh at all the cranky people on the internet.

How I prepare my kids for the vacation of their young lives:

How I vacation with my wonderful, ridiculous family for a week in SoCal:

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Tidepools in San Pedro
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Marine Mammal Care Center – San Pedro (adorable!)
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Korean Bell of Friendship – Fort MacArthur
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Santa Monica Pier mall
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(skeptical Baby Girl)
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Our AirBnB in Vista – amazing hosts – highly recommend if you want the rec, let me know
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Our mecca: LegoLand
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Thanks, California
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