Saturday, December 22, 2018

Winter Wonderland

It snowed last night: a wet, heavy snow. Not so much as to be a nuisance, just a picturesque coating of the world. I took Beaker out for a walk around the block so she could sniff everything and then go home and poop on the floor. It's our thing.

But anyway, it was a nice walk. Up ahead, across the street, a man and his little boy were making snow men. I was listening to a book about cancer in the comfort of my own hoodie, when a young woman came up behind us, brandishing a phone. Caught up on my own world, I couldn't quite make out what she was asking. A picture of my dog? Me and my dog?

No no, of course not. Obviously no one wants a picture of us. What was I thinking? This young woman from India wanted me to take a picture of her in this winter wonderland, framed by the snow-covered tree behind her. Her first ever snow, to show her family back home. She seemed absolutely thrilled

A little reminder that there's magic everywhere, for someone. And if it's there for them, it could be there for us, too.

* * *

"It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or carve a statue, and so make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, this is the highest of arts."

--Henry David Thoreau

* * *

And since this post just seems like it needs a visual representation, I give you my little snow angels:

How is this not already a thing?

Between toast and PBJs, my kids go through their fair share of jelly. Plus my share, since I don't tend to eat much of those things. In the past few weeks, they've adopted a new favorite flavor, and it's probably not one that most of my readers have ever eaten.

We made this discovery rather by accident. First, we bought strawberry preserves at Aldi, and they weren't berry good. Way way way too thick. Like, unspreadably thick. So we bought preserves elsewhere, and the Aldi stuff languished in the fridge, back behind the tupperware full of pickles, beside the leftover pizza sauce.

Meanwhile, our 4th grader went to a birthday party where the big activity was picking fruit. Primarily grapes, the kind with the seeds in. So she comes home with this big box of grapes, which are a complete pain in the butt to eat, of course, or do anything else with. I decide to make jelly out of this, because waste not, want not. Only in the midst of this project did I realize that we never got a new candy thermometer when our last one broke, so I kind of eyeballed it. Yeah, sure, that looks like 232 degrees or whatever. I assume that's why it never really solidified. 

I got the girls to tolerate it, even though it was functionally like pouring a liquid on their toast or whatever. And then, one day, inspiration struck: combine the too-thick preserves with the too-thin jelly in the food processor. Not only did this result in a better consistency than either on its own, the girls absolutely adored the flavor. 

Unfortunately, my supply is dwindling, and my supplies of thickened grape juice are exhausted. I may try regular old grape jelly--I may have to, or face a revolt from my kids--but the real question for me is why the two most popular fruit spreads the are didn't join forces before now? Why can't I just buy this somewhere?

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Hot Takes

Alexa needs "toddler mode," where when you tell her to play a song, she knows to just keep playing it over and over, ad nauseum.

Say what you will about stinky cheeses, the worst cheese in the history of dairy is, undeniably, ricotta. So useless.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018


Yesterday, my beloved alma mater sent a calendar to me and my wife, to thank us for our support. Cool, thanks! Waaaay better than the one my insurance agent gave me (no offense, Erie Insurance!). However, a few of the pictures raised some questions. Like this one.

I mean, do I really need to see a kid texting? Is this somehow picturesque now? Behold the college student in his natural habitat. He can spend up to 20 hours per day like this, in a staring match with his phone. 

Should I assume that this current generation of students do nothing but stare at their phones all day? Because that's what I'm assuming. Look, he's lost all interest in normal activities like biking, so great is his phone addiction! 

Oh, actually, I guess we should be proud of this youngster. He's not texting and biking. So thanks for that. 

I think the message here is "we can't afford to build more than token fencing, but we do have a certain artistic flair. Please send money.

This poor girl has nowhere to study in peace, so she has taken her books to this tree as the best available option. For just $5 per day, you can help build a library or fund a study area within one of our existing academic buildings. Please donate today.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Walking Neighborhood

When we bought our house this summer, one of the big draws was the neighborhood. It is very much a walking neighborhood (even if people not shoveling the sidewalks makes it harder to walk in the winter).

This was clear from the first day we moved in: as we unloaded our UHaul, we had more people walk by and say hello than we actually had neighbors at our old house. There are constantly people out walking or running, either alone, with another person, or with a canine companion.

But more to the point, there are places to walk to. I mean, I enjoy walking in circles around the block as much as the next guy, but the main draw of this walking neighborhood is that there are some really neat places to walk to. One of those is the library, and we take advantage of that all the time. We've been here 5 months, and we're only now really exploring these pedestrian (and yet also not pedestrian) opportunities.

I got some taste of this back before Thanksgiving. One of my former students was returning home (to the town just south of us), and we made plans to get together and explore some of the restaurants/bars of my locality. While he had to drive to meet me there, I walked the not-quite-a-mile, and it was quite nice.

This weekend, though, we made full-family moves to take advantage of our proximity to this really cool area. On Friday evening (before the fiasco), we walked as a family the 2/3 of a mile to get pizza.

Image result for dewey's pizza cleveland

The pizza was good, and Lauren and I got side salads. Mine had figs on it, which was a new experience, but one that makes as much sense as craisins or raisins or any other fruit. We got a veggie pizza, which would have been better with meat, but was still quite good. We spent a little more on dinner than we might have liked, but everyone enjoyed it, and I loved that we walked there instead of piling in the van.

And since we were walking past it anyway, we pretty much had to stop for dessert.

Image result for sweet fix bakery cleveland
When I walked in and said "We'll take one of everything," my tummy was serious, even though my wallet insisted I was joking.

Sweet Fix's cupcakes we quite good. I liked the Red Velvet, Lauren liked the German Chocolate, the 6 devoured a chocolate cupcake so fast it was hard to know how much she liked it, the 2 made a huge, delicious mess with hers, and the 8 loved her Peach Cobbler (not a cupcake, in case you were confused, just a big serving of peach cobbler).

The next morning, we got up and did it all again!

Well, okay, not the pizza. And not the cupcakes. But the walking, we did that. The local treasure that is our independent theater was showing The Polar Express, so we reserved ourselves some tickets and made the trek. The expedition was not without incident. Near the end of our not-quite-mile walk, the 2 took a tumble and cried while I carried her the rest of the way. Then she was "a little bit hungry" in the middle of the movie, so I had to go out here and get her some snacks. I didn't buy what she really wanted, but she still scarfed them down.

Image result for cedar lee theater
It was almost this empty in the middle of the film. 
And she also threw a tantrum on the way home when we said she couldn't watch videos on the phone while walking. We walked away from her, which is usually enough to get her to come along, not wanting to be left behind to become homeless, but this time she stood her ground, even going to sit on someone's steps to express her displeasure with the turn our walk took. But anyway, notwithstanding some bumps in the road, it was a delightful trip.

Oh, and we also enjoyed stopping in at Heights Arts to look at beautiful, locally made arts and crafts that we mostly can't afford.

Image result for heights arts
Oh, shoot, I should have listed sources for all those photos I didn't take! This one, at least, was from here.

But which nevertheless delight the soul with their beauty, and all that.

I can't wait to walk more and explore further!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Not Dashing Back

This time of year, we may think of "dashing through the snow," and I've done my fair share of that, but the kind of dashing I'm thinking about now is the kind done by those of us who are "independent contractors" for Door Dash, a food delivery service. Not working full-time outside the home, I've been occasionally driving to get a little extra cash. Being new to the area, it's also a way to get paid to explore and get to know the area better, so there's a bonus.

In general, Door Dash has been fine. On a good night I might average around $15/hour, and it's usually at least $12 or so (though I did have one time where I was "Dashing" for two hours and didn't get a single order (Saturday mornings are hit or miss, I guess). Here's a downside, though. With Door Dash, as with services like Uber and Lyft, you can opt to turn down a request, but if you turn down too many, it's apparently not good for your driving career. The thing is, there are definitely areas not too far from me where I don't feel particularly comfortable making deliveries, especially after dark. East Cleveland isn't the safest place to go, and it's also dangerous for your car because of the car-sized pot holes. And there's another area where I literally witnessed a gun fight going across the road in broad daylight on a Friday afternoon. So yeah, it's not a neighborhood I want to revisit, particularly after dark. And the Door Dash app isn't very helpful, because the map is so tiny that it's hard to see exactly where you're going, especially when you're a noob who doesn't know the area that well anyway. And there's a clock going tick-tick-tick for you to make your decision of whether or not to accept. It's a lot of pressure.

But anyway, it's all generally been fine. Last night, though, was pretty terrible. It started off okay, with a short delivery close to home. I picked up food at the local Ethiopian recipe and took it a mile or so down the road, where I parked illegally in front of an apartment building. I had to call the guy to come down (good customers in apartment situations are tracking your movements and come down to meet you--just sayin'), and when he gets there, he apologetically tells me that the restaurant called him to say that they had mistakenly given him two orders, and that I should bring the other order back.

Are you kidding me? One, I barely get paid enough to deliver this stuff, and I don't get paid anything to bring it back to you. And can they even legally serve that to someone after it's been out of their custody for 10 minutes or whatever? From a practical perspective, once I mark an order delivered, Door Dash could call me for another order, and then the clock's ticking (I get graded on "on time" deliveries). So I decided that I'd do this: I'd head back in that direction, since it's a hot spot for orders, and if I didn't get an order before I got back, I'd return it. Or I'd get an order and some (presumably) delicious Ethiopian food for an evening snack. No such luck, though I don't know what they did with it.

I found myself sitting around for a little while, but I did get another order before too long. It was a couple blocks down, so I drove down there... wandered around unable to find parking closer, and ended up back at my original spot walking a couple blocks to the place. That delivery took me out of my area, though, and then it was a looong time before my next order came in. I decided to drop in to CVS to get a drink, because as usual I'd forgotten to bring water with me. I bought coconut water, but I got the cheaper one with coconut pulp in it, because that didn't sound bad. And it wasn't for the first half or so. Then it was terrible.

Then I got an order headed to what I'm 90% sure is exactly where I saw that shooting, so no thanks. It's kind of stressful to say no, though. And sometimes that same order will come back around to you, and then you have to either take it or have it count against your acceptance rate twice. I mean, I get it, they've got to get someone to take the order, but it still doesn't seem quite fair. So I drove to a different area to wait for orders. And wait and wait and wait. I finally got one, and I made another bad drink choice (I thought it was just green tea, but it tasted like burnt rice) and again I had to wait a long time for someone in an apartment to come down and get their food. Come on, people.

I drove around looking for a grocer that was open, as it was getting toward the end of my scheduled "Dash" and I knew we needed eggs for this morning. No orders, no orders, no orders. I ended up at Walmart getting eggs. As I approached 10 pm, it looked like I was going to conclude 2.5 hours with just three orders netting me about $18. And then an order came through with 10 minutes to spare. A little over $7, and while it was taking me further from home, it didn't look like it would be too bad, so I might as well take one more and get my average back up a bit.

Spoiler alert: that wasn't at all how this was going to go.

The GPS had trouble finding the food place, and I wasn't familiar with it, so there was that. Wandering around looking for the place and for parking, which was't close. It was fairly busy, though they seemed to have plenty of staff, but it still took 20 minutes after I got there for the food to be ready. It had to have been ordered at least 10 minutes before that. And we're not talking about gourmet food here: it was fries with a bunch of stuff on top of them and wings. I texted the customer to let them know that it was slow going, but didn't hear back.

There was another Door Dash driver there, and he's like "Man, I was just gonna take one last order..." And I'm like "Right?! Me too!" The staff wasn't particularly helpful or even apologetic. When it was finally ready, I asked if everything was in there, and they said yes, so I hustled it out to my car. It didn't seem like much, so I opened it up, and there was a big box of fries and exactly one wing messily wrapped in foil. I'm thinking "Is this right?" Because really, who orders one wing? So I trekked back to double-check, and they looked at me like I'm the biggest idiot they've ever seen. Yes, they just ordered one wing.

So as I'm making the drive, in the back of my mind, I'm wondering if the customer screwed up their order and if they'd be upset with me for their mistake. It seemed reasonably likely, all things considered, with how the night was going.

The delivery was going to this complex of several huge apartment buildings, none of which were particularly well indicated with signs. No street numbers above the main entrances, nothing. But judging by Google maps, I thought I found the right building. It's locked, of course, and I don't have information about which apartment it is to buzz them to let me in. So I call the number Door Dash gave me and... nothing. It goes to voicemail. You've got to be kidding me. I waited all this time, drove all this way, and now the customer has gone to sleep or let his phone die or whatever? There was actually a second number listed for the customer, so I called that one and got an identical voicemail response. So I cycled between the two (and left a message for good measure).

I have no idea how this works: will I get paid for all this nonsense if I'm unable to deliver the order? I suspect that's the case. And I do not want to go through all this for nothing when I could have been home a half hour ago for the same nothing. Finally I get an answer and the guy sounds completely out of it. "Oh great," I think. "He sounds like he's high or drunk," which would explain not answering his phone. He says something about trying the door "on the right" instead of the center door, and that his apartment is 601.

So it sounds like he's expecting me to bring the food up to the sixth floor. Great. But first I have to get in, and I'm thinking maybe I should park my car legally if possible. So I find a parking space on the right side of the building, but the side door there is locked. He calls me back at this point, and and says that the door on the left side from the front is usually open. So I hustle over there, and it's locked. Now he asks me what I see inside, I describe it, and he tells me that, no, that's not his building. So I go back to my car, and apparently it's a couple buildings over from where I am and, oh yes, here is finally the first first sign I've seen indicating which building is which. But apparently the guy can't buzz me in, so I have to bang on the door and get a couple women who didn't look entirely like they trusted me to let me in. Lobby smells like pot, by the way.

Up to the 6th floor. The apartment that appears to be 601 doesn't have a number on it. Seriously? Every other apartment has a number on it, and this one has nothing. It has to be 601, though, right? I knock. Nothing. I wait and knock again, nothing. Well, what the heck? Is this not apartment 601? Nothing else looks more like it could be 601, but there's no number. I could be banging on a broom closet for all I know. I knock again, and finally the door opens.

The man who answers the door is in a wheel chair, has a nasty-looking sore on/above his upper lip, and the apartment smells strongly of weed. So, okay, I guess there are reasons why it's been hard for this man to help me out here, but it also doesn't change the fact that it took me a good 20 minutes from the time I got there to actually drop off the food. Some clearer directions would have been helpful (people do that). Answering your phone would have been helpful (that too). Since, you know, you ordered food and all.

So let's see, by the time I got home, it was almost 4 hours that I'd been out, and I got $25 for my trouble. When you take out gas and all that, it barely beat my salary working at McDonald's in high school. When the minimum wage was $4.25.

On the flip side, I had a phone interview for a full-time job that I would absolutely love, and not just because it's better than driving Door Dash. But also because I'd be happy to never Dash again at this point.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The sweetest cake

There's something absolutely fantastic, if a little surreal, about Facebook. I got a notification that a friend had mentioned me in a comment. This is a friend I haven't seen in person in, I don't know, maybe fifteen years, but Facebook keeps us connected. And the post he was commenting on was a post from his ex-girlfriend, who I've seen even less recently and have not kept in touch with. Here was the post:

And really, I was just kind of blown away. I mean, first, this was taken from a cookbook that my best friend and I put together for a bunch of our college friends 20 years ago when we were just barely out of college. We solicited recipes from the other dudes and compiled it, though quite a lot of the recipes came from the two of us. This was--more or less--a recipe that I got from my mom (the final admonition there was my own, from hard-earned experience). But first, it's weird to see this familiar recipe in a digital form on Facebook, because I'm used to seeing it printed out. 

And then, of course, it's touching to realize that someone I haven't seen in a long, long time thinks of me every so often, still making this recipe (which I still sometimes make, too, by the way). 

And I was struck by the mention of making cupcakes out of this recipe, because I had been contemplating how I could make cupcakes work from this recipe, so I asked about it, which revealed that she and my friend had been reading the recipe in a fundamentally different way from the way that I had. 

Now, it's entirely possible that I've been interpreting the recipe wrong all these years. I mean, it's not like it doesn't make sense to mix everything together. You know, as one does when baking a cake. But it is so good when you have this pumpkin layer and then a cake layer and then--the real star of any cake it's on--the cream cheese frosting. 

But anyway, the point is that everything about this just made my day. Also, this recipe is fantastic. If you like pumpkin and cream cheese, make this sooner rather than later. 

And remember: never every use low-fat--never mind fat free--cream cheese. It is seriously assy.