Saturday, March 4, 2023

Google and recipes and friends

My oldest is in the middle school musical (a big role, and she’s killing it, if I do say so myself). I signed up to bring desserts to tonight’s cast party and I was trying to knock that out this morning before things got busy. One idea I had involved a butter yellow cake mix, so I looked up a recipe for THAT thinking I could finesse that based on what would be added to a box mix. 

Within a minute I had an answer… gleaned from a Google image search. Of course I could have done that myself, and I felt a bit sheepish. 

But then something pretty cool happened. 

My high school theater director chimed in: “are you making gooey bars?”

Yes, I was! Wait, chimes in the person who originally answered me. What are those, they sound delicious! 

So I shared that they are a bar version of the St Louis classic Gooey Butter Cake. My mom always called them chewy bars, because somewhere in the passing on of this recipe its origins were lost and its name misheard as “chewy bars.” Only after marrying into a St Louis family did I realize what I really had. 

And I dropped in a photo of the recipe:

(I was in the process of making crepes for my kids during this exchange)

And my theater teacher shared a photo she had of the recipe, also in my mom’s handwriting, and my other friend is going to make them to try them out. Side note: it’s funny to think that when this recipe was circulating, there must have only been one size box of powdered sugar!

And later a cousin chimed in, was I too young to remember Grandma Mom’s molasses cookies? Yes, but please share the recipe!

But anyway, if there’s a point to my story, it’s just to note that, as much as I could have googled this myself (and, btw, another friend googled and shared the answer to the question I really wanted to know: a substitution for the cake mix), if I had I would have missed out on these wonderful interactions with friends and I wouldn’t have shared the recipe with them or with you. It’s convenient to be able to Google and find your own answers, but it’s easy to forget that there’s an invisible trade-off in that choice. Like every choice, really. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Ivymas and the Ivy Fairy

The night before our youngest, Ivy, turned 7, she and her mom were drawing a fairy that was somehow involved in a heretofore-unknown holiday called Ivymas. They had to stop for bath time, but Ivy told me in no uncertain terms that I had to write a story about the Ivy Fairy and Ivymas. I think it came together pretty well:

There is a beautiful and tenacious plant called ivy that grows on the side of buildings, covering them in a thick blanket of leaves. You may not know this, but these thick curtains of ivy are a favorite place for certain kinds of fairies to make their homes. They have a name they call themselves, but most people call them Ivy Fairies.

These fairies love to have fun. They play through the air with reckless abandon, turning cartwheels with cardinals, doing roundoffs with robins, and somesaults with sparrows. Because of their colorful wings, humans often think they are seeing butterflies, when really they are seeing Ivy Fairies.

Ivy Fairies are carefree, fun-loving, sweet, and just a little mischievous. But they have one thing they take very seriously, a sort of duty that they have taken upon themselves: they love the ivy that provides them homes and identifies to human beings, and they honor this connection by keeping a special eye out for little girls--or boys--named Ivy, and when they find such a special child in their neighborhood, they undertake to celebrate this child on her or his birthday, which the fairies call "Ivymas."

While an Ivy is sleeping before their birthday, in the middle of the night, the Ivy Fairy creeps up the side of the house--just like an ivy vine--and slips quietly into Ivy's room to deliver a special note with birthday good wishes and perhaps a small gift as a token of affection between an Ivy Fairy and the Ivy that it loves so well.

So: if you ever see a fairy that looks like a butterfly, you might want to yell "thank you!" to her. The fairy will appreciate it, and if it's just a butterfly after all, well, butterflies like to feel appreciated too.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Goodbye my friend

Just over 20 years ago, I got a new neighbor, both in the dorm and over in the Fine Arts building where I taught music and he taught theater. "Kapoo" became one of my best friends and colleagues, a collaborator on fine arts programs, teaching English, D&D adventures, blogging, and assorted pranks and tomfoolery. Brian was the officiant at our wedding (and we couldn't have asked for a better guy to play director, stage manager, and best supporting actor for our big day), and then he and his wife were our neighbors in a freshman dorm our first year of marriage. With our connected apartments it was like one big family or some kind of commune.
My heart breaks as I try to find the words to honor and say goodbye to my wonderful, larger-than-life friend, but looking through old pictures to put together this post, I'm reminded of the joy and fun that he brought to, well, basically every situation. I'm one of so many who will miss him, and whose lives were made better by knowing him.

Monday, December 19, 2022


I got word today that a friend of mine is in the hospital and is transitioning into palliative care. They don’t really know if he has days, weeks, or months, but it doesn’t look good. 

I’m in shock. We worked together in a boarding school for five years. We were literally neighbors, living for several years in the same dorm overseeing kids, and since I was the music teacher and he was the theater teacher, we also worded closely in the classroom, with the theater where he taught and the music room where I taught being adjacent. Not to mention collaborating on programs. The first year my wife and I were married, we lived in a freshmen dorm an an apartment that connected directly with the apartment he and his wife lived in. It wasn’t quite one big apartment, but it was pretty close. 

I was in the car with my 6-year-old when I got the call and I started crying and then I had to explain to her why I was sad. And it’s amazing how putting things into words makes them more real. Like, thinking “my friend is dying” is very different from saying it out loud. 

I’m going to head out to see him and his wife and some of our mutual friends tomorrow for a couple days, so if I don’t manage to blog, that’s why. 

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Adult gifts

In my wife’s family, we decided years ago to have the adults draw names and just get one person a gift (everybody buys for all the kids). To facilitate this, we all send out a list of things we’d like, and this is the worst part of Christmas. 

I just have no idea each year what to ask for. I spent a solid hour h  free other day Googling “gifts for Dad” to figure out what I might like to receive on Christmas morning. Because I definitely want to receive a thing or two on Christmas. 

The problem with gifts for adults, I think, is that as an adult, if you want/need something, you either buy it for yourself or there’s a reason you don’t, such as it being ridiculously expensive. Like, a cooling mattress topper sounds super cool, but at like $800+ for something I’ve never even tried out? Yeah, no. I’d LOVE to have an in-home sauna but, again, very expensive. A new laptop? Yes please. Oooh, or recording equipment to put together a home studio. Or home gym equipment… the list goes on, of things I’ll neither buy myself nor request as a gift. 

I finally came up with three things: new sweatpants to support my work from home lifestyle, wool socks, and an Audible subscription. 

I’d love to get something totally unexpected yet absolutely perfect, but I’m not expecting it any more than I’m expecting to share cookies with Santa. It’ll still be a great Christmas, I’m sure. 

Saturday, December 17, 2022

The Waker and the Sleeper

 I suspect that evolution has programmed us to seek out a mate with the opposite sleep tendencies of our own, so that one half of the partnership can wake up at the smallest twig cracking and protect the family from sabretooth tigers, etc, particularly during the child-rearing years, and the other partner can sleep like the dead and get a good night’s sleep to be happy, healthy, and live into old age. 

Certainly, I’ve always been the former while my wife has been the latter. When we were young and parenting only a small dog, she knew exactly who you come to in the middle of the night to go out to potty, because it was only possible to awaken one of us. 

And that’s why I’ve been awake since 6:30 on a Saturday, because our hungry-hungry six-year-old also knows who to wake up. 

There was a brief period in our relationship when this dynamic flipped: when any of our children were still breastfeeding. Then and only then my wife was on high alert to the needs of another living thing (a living thing that alternated between sharing our bed and sleeping right next to it). For that all-too-brief period, I was allowed to sleep pretty well through the night (unless the dog needed me or the baby REALLY started to cry). 

But those times are long gone, and none of the routine needs of our children is powerful enough to lift the weighted blanket of sleep from the other side of the bed. 

Friday, December 16, 2022

2022: The Year in Books part 3 (Non-Fiction)

I don't tend to read nearly as much non-fiction as fiction. I generally like history, but there was only one book that fell into that category this whole year. So it goes. Here are the highlights. 

It's been on my list for a while, but I finally read Open by Andre Agassi, and absolutely loved it. I started playing tennis in high school in the 90s, more or less at the height of the Sampras-Agassi rivalry, so it was both a bit nostalgic to revisit that time through Agassi's eyes and also revealing to get to know him and his journey through tennis. It's so well written, so authentic and rich--I would imagine that even people who aren't tennis fans would get a lot out of it. 

I read From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life after hearing an interview with the author, Arthur C. Brooks. Truthfully, I probably got as much out of the interview as I did out of the book, but both were good. The central insight is that our brains naturally change as we age, such that we may not retain the strengths that helped us in our younger years as we age, but we also tend to grow into other strengths, and the key is embracing those changes as we age to go, as the title suggests, from strength to strength. 

Another book I found after an interview with the author was Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic by Paul Conti. There's a quotation that's stuck with me from the writer Robert Anton Wilson: "Under the present brutal and primitive conditions on this planet, every person you meet should be regarded as one of the walking wounded. We have never seen a man or woman not slightly deranged by either anxiety or grief. We have never seen a totally sane human being." I think Conti would agree: under the influence of repeated traumas, both large and small, we are all suffering to one degree or another, even as we find ways to get by. This was a fascinating and helpful treatment of the subject of trauma, its effects, and how we might better deal with it. 

Far and away the most important and best non-fiction book I read this year was Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour. Our oldest officially becomes a teen this January, but she's already started on this transition. It was nice to see some of the signposts more clearly through Damour's analysis and to feel like we've got some help navigating the years ahead not just for our oldest but for the next two as well. I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, and it was particularly nice to hear the humor and warmth in her tone. But I also bought a copy, as I expect to return to it frequently in the next several years.