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. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Evolutionary fitness?

Well, I think I've got a knock-out argument against evolution, and the creationists are welcome to it. The dagger in Darwin's heart? Kids.

Now I know what you're thinking: isn't, like, everything about kids an argument in favor of heredity and, therefore, evolution? Sure, they look like us, they often sound like us, take up similar interests, and have an annoying tendency to replicate our own annoying tendencies.

But here's the thing. If evolution by natural selection was really a thing, it would suggest that children should be little sponges that learn everything they can and trust their parents completely. In my experience, that is far from the case. If I was a stay-at-home cave-dad in paleolithic times, Beans (our 2-year-old) would not have made it much past two. The first time we saw a saber-tooth tiger and I said "Run!" she would be all "No! I don't want to run away!" And I would say "But we'll be eaten by the tiger!" And she would say "I. Don't. Want. To. Run." And she would die of stubbornness and I would die of embarrassment that I couldn't even parent my cave-toddler into avoiding obvious dangers.

Or I would tell her she needed to eat the mastodon I'd killed, or the twigs and berries I'd foraged, and she'd be all "Yuck!" because she only wants mac 'n' cheese or fig bars, and neither had been invented yet.

So there you go. Check mate, Professor Dawkins.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Cookie Dough

I suppose it's the season, with so many people baking cookies and all, but it seems like there's been an alarming rise in the number of alarmist articles about the dangers of eating uncooked cookie dough (at least if it's made with eggs). Now, of course, this is sound medical and/or nutritional advice that I've been steadfastly ignoring for the better part of forty years.

When I was a kid growing up, my parents would engineer some really epic baking sessions. They draped one of our counters in an old sheet that they used for purpose, to put the warm cookies to cool. Mom would fire up her Kitchen Aid mixer and triple every recipe, because what's the point of having a Kitchen Aid mixer if you're not going to strain the capacity of its bowl and the power of its engine? And what's the point of baking cookies if you're not going to bake enough for several months of cookie eating (which, given that we had a "strict" three-cookie limit per meal, wasn't actually as long as you might think).

Mom and Dad worked together to manage this affair, loading cookie sheets with dough and unloading the finished cookies to the greasy sheet designated to the task, and eventually to Tupperware. Usually they would make several kinds of cookies, the most common being peanut butter, Corn Flake cookies (which also included coconut, to give you some idea of what they were actually like), and of course chocolate chip (strictly from the Betty Crocker Cookbook recipe). I think we occasionally had snickerdoodles and somewhat more often sugar cookies.

I apprenticed at my father's knee, mostly learning the fine art of pre-cleaning the beaters with tongue and fingers. Sometimes the spoons needed a similar cleaning. Sometimes you just needed to make sure the dough was still good, I guess. And then you'd have to try the cookies as soon as they were cool enough not to burn the tongue and at regular intervals thereafter.

And it only got worse when I baked cookies as an adult, because whatever checks there may have been to prevent overconsumption of cookie dough were wholly absent in my bachelor pad. Like my mother before me, I would load up my Kitchen Aid with triple batches of dough (as one does). But, at a guess, maybe half of that batch actually earned the honor of being cooked, because ovens are a rather slow cookie delivery system.

So I guess what it comes down to is that it's a miracle I'm still alive, given the dire warnings I've seen and the sheer quantity of raw eggs in the form of cookie dough that I've eaten in my lifetime. I suppose I've squandered a lifetime supply of luck on this survival, otherwise I'd be fabulously wealthy by now.

So it goes. Cookie dough is delicious, and I regret nothing.

You can print that on my tombstone if salmonella gets me.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Scenes from Life with Beans (aged almost 3)

"Don't walk in the snow, you'll get your feet wet and cold."
"I want to!"
Thirty seconds later. 
"My feet are cold!"
Uh huh. 
"And wet!"

Who could have predicted...?

* * *
I turned down the volume on the TV from ear splitting to just above normal. Beans began screaming "I can't hear it! I can't hear it!" Over and over. 

Well, maybe if you'd stop shrieking so loudly, you could...

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Under the wire

Almost missed today, and it didn't help that I ran out of hotspot data (our only home internet comes through our phones), so I can't use my computer to write this blog post. Doing it on the phone is pretty much the worst. Except that I found something super cool: an app called Gboard keyboard. I'm still getting used to it, but the basic idea is that you can swipe through words instead of hunting and pecking, and the keyboard figures out what you're trying to type. I'm using it right now, and it kind of feels like magic.

Speaking of phone hacks, my wife just showed me this thing where you can hold down the space bar and then move the cursor kind of like a mouse. No more poking with sausage fingers and praying the phone figures out what you're trying to do. Though if it was designed by Google like this keyboard, I might trust my fat little fingers to do just that.

Seriously, still seems like some kind of magic here as I type this. I barely have to fix anything, and it's so much faster and easier.

I heard about the keyboard, btw, from this article about the way that the author sets up his phone to maximize productivity. I've really only started digging into his suggestions, but a lot of these look like game changers.

Of course, the mobile version of my blogging site is not all that phone friendly. It's impossible to see the whole thing you're typing on here, and even worse with the keyboard up to type. Sooner day we will live in a digital Utopia where everything is optimized for mobile while also still looking good on our computers, but now is not that day.

Also, no keyboard on Earth, no matter how advanced, can currently make the process of inserting a link on here, especially when you need to look up the URL from elsewhere, so I cheated and commandeered my wife's phone to use HER hotspot data to get on my computer to do that.

Just a side note: I'm still very much in the "playing around" phase, where it's really cool, but also not yet in any way natural. It feels weird, which makes it kind of challenging to write the post and also type it, if that makes any sense.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Wintertide in a small world

Wednesday night, one of the choirs I sing in had its dress rehearsal for our upcoming concert. Lots of professionals joined us--brass, percussion, harp, and two soloists. The soprano soloist looked really familiar when I saw her.

And then I realized it. Once upon a time, this woman was my mother.

* * *

Hold on, I'll get back to the soloist in a minute. I'm really excited for our concert. It's been great this fall and winter to be singing regularly in a choir. Almost all the pieces we're doing were either instant hits with me, or else they've grown on me over time.

Oh, and I should add right up front, for anyone local (east side of Cleveland): the concert is this Sunday at 7:00. See flier for details!

Pro tip: the church is huge, and the best sound is going to be 10 rows back from the front (and further), because it takes about that far out for everything to blend. If you just want to hear the trombone, by all means sit front row on the right.

* * *

I first started singing in choir because of drama. That is, doing theater in high school, not people being all crazy, though that's also a good enough reason to sing. I was basically pulled into drama by one of my best friends (isn't that always the case?), auditioning for the fall show and getting a small role, auditioning for the winter and getting another small role, and then auditioning for the spring musical, ending up as pretty much an all-purpose chorus member in Fiddler on the Roof. I was a Jewish boy, a Russian dancer, and a bottle dancer (despite no dance experience). Singing in the chorus, one of the older girls said that I should be in choir, and when you're a freshman boy and an older girl tells you something, you tend to hear that just a little bit better. So I joined our church choir (not, incidentally, a great place to meet girls) and then I ended up pulled into the choir for my sophomore year as an accompanist (we changed directors, though, and I bailed out of playing the piano--because I wasn't very good--and started singing instead.

Even though the choral program was something of a dumpster fire that year, I found myself singing in the show choir as well as the concert choir, and so when we got a great new director my junior year, I was ready to go and found myself a section leader in the regular choir, men's ensemble, and show choir. Our new director not only raised the musical level of our choirs tremendously, but he also brought in several elements that spoke especially well to the adolescent male soul. First, the men's ensemble was something new and special. We sometimes rehearsed during the school day, but often we met in the evening. Now, I'll argue that there's just something special about the harmonics of a male vocal ensemble that makes it inherently amazing, but beyond that I think that there's also something magical about making the extra commitment, spending the extra time together, working toward a common goal.

And that was also something that our director brought: a focus on goals and competition. I assume it's more or less ubiquitous, but our choirs and bands played in district competition each year, where groups were rated from 1-5, with 1's advancing to the state competition. The previous year, with our one-year director, our best choir got a 3, and our other choir got a 4. Ouch. We were acutely aware of what losing looked like, but I think it was pretty clear early on that our director, with clear goals, a plan, professionalism, and attention to details was not taking us to another district competition massacre. From day one we learned to sight-read,which also spoke to my soul as a pianist (however mediocre) and trombone player (again, however mediocre). I already knew how to read music, but it was another thing entirely to do so with vocal music, and I loved the challenge.

Anyway, long story a little less long, we got 1's at District that year and 1's at State. Well, except our men's group, which got a 2. Hugely disappointing, considering all the work we put in, but also hugely motivating for those of us who were juniors. Spoiler alert, we got 1's at State the next year.

* * *

I've already gone on at length, and there's one more story that I've committed to telling at this point, so I'll just say that my college experience with choral music was even better, and better in very different ways from the ones that made my high school experience good. My experience was such that I was happy to go off and pursue a master's degree in choral conducting afterward. And not just because I had no idea what else I could do with my liberal arts degree.

To bring down the curtain on this post, I have to go back to elementary school. I think it was back in 6th grade, I was one of a handful of my classmates who got the chance to audition to be in a high school play. I got the part, and I and a 4th grader from my school became children in this play (speaking lines and all!), Life With Father. Obviously, "Father" played a big role. Mother, though, was the teen-aged version of the woman I saw again Wednesday night for the first time in maybe three decades. Her path took her from our little high school's theater and music departments to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and on to a professional career that found her in Cleveland, where she took this gig as a soloist with our choir. And obviously own circuitous route through music degrees brought me here as well.

I'm not sure if she remembered me with any specificity, and I can't blame her. I was in a show in high school that used elementary kids, and if one told me that we were in a play together, I can confidently say that I have no memories of working together. Though, to be fair, I was a pretty memorable kid, and there were two of us (as opposed to the gaggle of brats that infested The Best Christmas Pageant Ever). Still, it was nice to connect briefly with her, to talk about the family that still ties us to Bellevue, Ohio, and the paths that brought each of us to Cleveland, and the apparently-small-world of its choral music scene.

Thursday, December 6, 2018


Today, my middle daughter, age 6, had her first wrestling practice. She saw the coaches at a school assembly making a pitch for the lower school kids to come out and try wrestling, and she really wanted to try it. My wife and I were really only surprised that it's taken her this long: she's been physically dominating her older sister since she was, like, two.

Anyway, we're supportive, but you never know how something new like this is going to go. While she's the most coordinated and athletic of our children (so far), that's not necessarily a ringing endorsement. As anyone who knows me from my childhood can attest, she's not getting a lot of athletic genes from me, and wrestling isn't exactly noted for its laid-back, easy practices. So I was interested to see how it would go.

We came in under-prepared, equipment-wise, but the coach (the assistant coach, who was taking the practice solo today) very graciously tracked down shoes and headgear for her to use. Considering he had more than a dozen elementary school kids--and not just any kids, but the ones who would join wrestling at this age--to wrangle, I'm particularly grateful.

So how did she like it? Well, we had to leave right after practice so we could get home and I could get some dinner before I went to tutor a student, and she cried through basically the entire 20-minute ride home, because she wasn't able to stay and play "wrestle ball" or spend more time working on her wrestling moves. She was equally distraught by the thought that it would be "SO LONG" before she has practice again (which is to say Thursday evening to Saturday morning).

I'd say she liked it.

And I did too. I wasn't hovering to watch practice (I was hovering because the seats were far away), but I kind of kept tabs, and I was impressed with the way that the coach taught skills and made corrections and built skill progressions. My daughter feels like she's way behind, as not only one of the youngest on the team but also coming in late, after everyone else has had at least a few practices. But I'm sure she'll be fine, in no small part because of the coaching she's getting.

I was particularly impressed near the end, by the way the coach handled a situation. I didn't catch the precipitating event, but he pulled them all into a small circle and got their attention, made it clear that he was very serious about what he was going to say, and then outlined the situation. I gather one of the boys either has a speech impediment or just freezes up when he's trying to say something and struggles to get his words out, and some of the other kids laughed at him or made fun of him for it, and the coach let it be known that we don't treat each other that way on this team. "We're going to cheer for our teammate, support him, and I know he's going to be a really good wrestler." They all did 10 push-ups as a team, and the boy who'd been made fun of led the team cheer at the end.

It's the little things that make a great coach. The attention to details.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

False Advertising

I got stopped behind this car at a stoplight one rainy night.

So I ran up to the driver’s side and banged on the window yelling “Tell me about Christ! TELL! ME! ABOUT! CHRIST!”

He drove off—rather quickly, I might add—and not one word about our lord and savior.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Enjoy the journey--sometimes' that all there is

Inspiration struck today, as I decided to take Beans (our almost-three-year-old) to the library for story time. The brilliance of the plan was that I had the idea early enough to bring it to fruition.


Story-time is at 11 am, I floated the idea around 10:20. She loves going to the library, so that was an easy sell, but she also loves to walk there and hates wearing a coat. Since it's around 30 degrees today, I was afraid I was in for some tough negotiations, but she was actually pretty reasonable (on this issue).

She did, however, want more to eat. Say, her sister's leftover Nutella toast. Fair enough. I cut it into smaller pieces and let her have at it. So now I had to budget in time for cleanup, because Nutella might as well be called a hazelnut spread-all-over-everything. Still, no problem. I gathered my own things, got her to put socks on while she contentedly made a chocolatey mess of her face and hands. Then we cleaned up... and then she wanted more of the Nutella toast, so we had to clean up again. These things happen. When you're not-quite-three, it's hard to predict that maybe you should eat all the Nutella toast before cleaning up.

Okay, ready to go. Except someone is "still hungwy!" How about a fig bar to go? No! No!!!

Oh wait. Okay, yes. Had to think about that for a second. 

So we got set to start walking, but time was getting tight. We probably weren't going to make it for the start. Oh well. Onward!

Before we were one house away, "my hands are a wittow bit code." Especially the one holding her fig bar. Back we go. Now, where are those mittens? How about these gloves... nope, comically large. Um... How about we just accept that we're going to be a little cold? She agreed.

It's just under half a mile to the library, and well before we were halfway there, she declared that she was too cold and I needed to carry her. Or, as she says "I pick you up!"

We got to the library after story time had started, but it was still going. We hung up our backpacks and coats and went in through the tiny door and found a place on the floor. Two songs and two stories later, she declared that she wanted milk.

Like, now.

My explanation that they didn't have milk at the library, and that we'd have to go home to get milk led to an inevitable conclusion: "Let's go home." Seriously? You'd rather walk home 5 minutes after we got here than get to the best part of story time (bubbles at the end) or play with the toys in the kids' section? Because once we get home, we're not going back to the library.

Yeah, she was good with that.

Not only did I have to carry her all the way home, though, I also had to carry her all the way through the library. I don't know, just in case it got drafty, I guess. But we made it home and she got her milk.

Now, it would be easy to look at this as a failure of sorts, or at least a pretty lousy deal for what we got out of it. I had planned to connect to the internet (saving my phone hotspot data), get some things done on-line, and then cuddle up with a book while she played with toys and made friends. Clearly none of that happened (glad I carried all that stuff in my backpack, btw).

Nonetheless, wins were had. First, we got outside and got some fresh air. The ratio of my exercise to her exercise was more than a little skewed, but it's probably for the best, selfishly speaking, if I want to avoid slouching into "dad bod" territory. And as much as we only had five minutes of story time, it was actually a huge step forward. In past story times, she has basically ignored the stories and avoided the singing and movement, and just burrowed into my lap. This time, from her safe little warren, she did answer questions ("which animal's ears are these?" and she moved her feet a little bit at the appropriate place in the one song. At this rate, we'll have her participating fully about the time she's reading independently, but whatever. Baby steps are steps, and I'm marking them in the win column.

And hey, I got to spend quality time with my girl. Up [very] close and personal, mostly cheek to cheek, arms wrapped around my neck or buried in my coat. The perfect place to hear her little observations and questions ("Yook at doze flowers!" "Dere's two sqau-yuls!").

Where else should I rather be?

Monday, December 3, 2018

What's Happening Next Door

It's hard to keep track of all the apps and online communities these days. One of them is Nextdoor, an app that serves as a virtual community for physical communities. One of our new neighbors invited us on, and it's easier than actually meeting and talking to neighbors, so here we are. Connected to hundreds and hundreds of our "neighbors."

Not quite a week ago, in the wake of the first real snow of the year, someone posted a little rant to the effect of Why does hardly anyone around here shovel their sidewalks??

I saw this post as I was going to bed, and my first thought was "I know, right?" I fell asleep, not thinking any more of it.

By the next morning, the comments on this post had blown up. And not along the lines of "I know, right?" More along the lines of "Go f*** yourself" (where "f***" stands for "shovel," of course).

It's an interesting microcosm of the neighborhood site, and there are some things to learn from it.

How you say it is just as important as what you say.

So, the original poster (I had to go back and look, because I was, myself, rather vague on the particulars) didn't necessarily do himself any favors when he said

I mostly work from home and I see people out walking in this neighborhood all the time. I only had to pay my snow removal guy an extra $25 to do my front sidewalk for the winter. I suppose it's a waste of money since only one other property on my block shovels too.
Lots of people took this as some kind of snobbery. "Not everyone can afford to pay to have their sidewalks shoveled!" "Not everyone is able-bodied enough to shovel for themselves!"

Oh, and the other part of the original message that probably didn't go over so well? He cited the Ohio Revised Code, which was seen as brandishing the threat of legal action against offenders. A number of counter-posters seized on this to gripe about how lots of people don't park legally (i.e. blocking the sidewalk), and basically there are all kinds of laws that are on the books and don't get obeyed. And, oh yeah, you're holier-than-thou for acting like you're not breaking any such "laws."

So maybe there was a more constructive way to phrase it.

Some people got axes to grind.

Somehow, almost everything that anyone posts that gets more than a half dozen responses will inevitably get on the topic of the local schools and/or how high the local taxes are (and what are we getting for our taxes anyway??). Seriously, both of those topics drew their own sub-threads of this conversation. And once schools got brought into it, another sub-theme emerged: where are all the youth who could be shoveling all our sidewalks for a shiny new quarter? Back in my day, kids always said "yes sir" and "no ma'am" and shoveled out everyone's driveway, even though they had to shovel uphill both ways. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but it did verge on that, and spawn a sub-sub-thread about how noisy some of today's youth are in the library, playing their computer games after school, and by the way where are these parents who are letting their children run wild in the library?? And so disrespectful when they're corrected! And, oh yeah, why aren't these rapscallions out shoveling my sidewalk?

Side note: I've been to the library, I've seen the kids playing Minecraft and whatever else it is that kids are playing nowadays. And, yeah, they're kind of rowdy. Over in the children's section, on the computers that are set aside for them--on a whole different floor from the adult computers and books. But anyway, I'm not saying that there was a racial subtext to these comments, but I'm not saying there might not have been, either. Anyway, back on topic.

Which, of course, is how these discussions quickly veer off topic, to people's pet peeves, regardless of the original topic.

But just one more thing to say: there was also the suggestion that we should have juvenile offenders doing community service by shoveling out all our community's sidewalks. I mean, okay I guess, but is there really some kind of juvenile crime spree that's going to mobilize enough teen-aged offenders to clear the sidewalks? And with what shovels? And... well, never mind. It's not a solution without more problems is all I'm saying.

People assume there are bull's-eyes on their chests, and then get really defensive.

I mean, look, can we all agree that the ideal situation would be that everyone would make sure that their sidewalks are cleared in the winter, within some kind of reasonable time frame? (Well, no, apparently we can't, as the thread showed) And, sure, some people who live in our neighborhood can't afford to pay someone to do clear the snow, and some people are also not physically able to go out and wield a shovel against the forces of winter.

But it's also not like as many people are in those situations as there are sidewalks that don't get cleared. I'm on a different street from the poster, but I can tell you: a lot of my neighbors pay to get their driveways cleared out, but don't get the sidewalks done. I don't know exactly how much it costs to have a service do it, because I do ours myself, but if you can pay whatever it is to have someone clear your driveway, an extra $25 for the entire winter season probably isn't beyond your means, you know? That's far less than the cost of one peppermint latte per week, and I assume that people who pay to have their driveways cleaned drink peppermint lattes. And it's completely obvious whether you hire a service or not, because they put up sticks on your driveway so they know where they edges are, and so I'll just add that most of my neighbors evidently aren't paying the extra $25.

But again, if you are someone who can neither afford to pay someone nor do it yourself, why is it so hard to just accept that the original poster wasn't really talking to you? Especially after he responds and says so? Do you really have to be the martyr here?

People have to be the martyr. And they get really shitty to each other really quickly. 

For instance, someone got all lawyer-ly about what the statue actually says and adds "if you shovel your sidewalk and dont salt, ice forms, and someone slips, you might be held accountable." Which immediately turns into the first of several posts to the effect of "who are these fancy folk who can afford to salt their sidewalks and driveways every time it snows??" And, thus, why bother at all, if you can't salt it after shoveling. But apparently that's how liability works? I'm a little lost, frankly. But seriously, there was one guy who just could not let go of the cost of salt (though he was egged on by someone giving him prices for salt at Costco... which of course made the cost of a Costco membership a pertinent issue).

Or a comment was made by someone who moved here from Chicago, about how in his or her old neighborhood, everyone shoveled their sidewalks. Oh my god. Talk about defensive. I'm pretty sure that the sentiments "then why don't you go back there?" and "well maybe you should have moved to a different community" were thrown as rejoinders to that, though not always so delicately phrased.

The original poster also got versions of "well maybe you should carry a shovel with you and shovel everywhere you walk" and "why don't you help all your neighbors by shoveling out their sidewalks instead of complaining." I mean, really?

But more generally, a certain percentage of people just get awfully nasty awfully quickly. It's like they've decided that it's all about them (because, you know, it is) and they get defensive, and then the gloves come off. And it's not like this is an anonymous forum. The "neighborhood" is large enough that I'm sure many people don't know each other outside of Nextdoor, but still, your name is attached to the things you're saying here.

But then again, I guess if you're the kind of person who doesn't shovel your sidewalk, you're probably the kind of person who... whoops, sorry.

But also, you can learn a lot more about the issues raised, and maybe make them better.

No, I didn't didn't need to hear about taxes again, or city services or the schools. But you do get a sense of what people are thinking and maybe a bit of the zeitgeist. And people do raise important points. I hadn't really thought of the extra burden on people with a corner lot, for instance, but after following this thread, I noticed how much sidewalk you can actually have in that situation. Other salient points were raised as well.

And there were also quite a few people who offered themselves or their children to help anyone who needed it. Or neighbors who mentioned other neighbors who routinely pitch in and clear off other people's sidewalks.

And maybe, after all the blustering is done, some percentage of people who are able-bodied or financially able will do some introspecting and decide that, after all, they could do more, starting with their own sidewalk, and maybe, just maybe, expanding to help other neighbors as well.

One can hope.

By the way, your thoughts--whether on shoveling sidewalks or on the discussion of shoveling sidewalks, or your own personal axe to grind--are always welcome in the comments section here. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Welcome back to Holidailies

I started writing a first entry last night for Holidailies, but then I realized I wasn't quite ready to dive into the topics that I was dipping my toes into there. So we'll back up and ease into it (maybe).

So anyway, it's been a few years since I did Holidailies. I didn't do it last year, I think I started it in 2016 but didn't get very far, didn't do 2015, got maybe half a month in 2014, and then 2013 was the last time I really did Holidailies successfully. And before that, 2012 was another season of half-measures, though 2011 and 2010 were pretty good. In the larger context of blogging, my Holidailies participation speaks to the overall trend line here. I think I started blogging in 2004 (on the now-defunct blog-city, which is why I'm not exactly sure), and the first several years were my own personal golden years of blogging. I had a year or two where I actually blogged every since day, and several more where I came close. I was part of a community of bloggers who read each other and kind of created larger conversations as events and topics and lines of thought rippled through our little community. It was a really exciting time to be a blogger, in no small part because of the active community (and even though most of us now blog very rarely, I've remained Facebook friends with many of them, and even met a few in person!).

I was also, it should be noted, unmarried and childless at the time. With children ages 8. 6, and 2 now, I'd be crazy to pretend that this change in my circumstances hasn't had a profound effect on my writing (or, ahem, my lack thereof).

So what is it that I write about here?

My blog got its most recent surge of renewed vigor in the spring of 2017 when it served briefly as a training log as I was preparing to run a half marathon (like, seven whole posts!). In general, I don't tend to blog a lot about health and fitness, though it is one of my big interests. I guess I suspect that most of the people who do read my blog aren't very interested in how far I'm running or what my bench or squat numbers are.

On the other hand, I have often posted about cooking, because yum. Who doesn't love a good recipe? Especially this time of year, when our genes are telling us to pack on the pounds to survive the grueling winter.

I used to post book reviews, but for years now I've just been posting them on Goodreads, with an occasional mention here of books I'm reading. I do love books though.

Music tends to come up a lot. It's always been a big part of my life since I started taking piano lessons in 3rd grade, then trombone in 5th grade, and continuing with band and choir in high school, a music major in college (singing, composing, and playing in band), and then graduate work in composition and conducting. Of course, given that Holidailies has been one of the bigger writing motivators these past eight years, it's also not surprising that music comes up, since it's so strongly associated with the season. I expect that trend to continue this year, especially since I'm singing in two choirs now.

Back in my early days of blogging, politics came up all the time. This month? We'll see. I have strong opinions, but as I've gotten older I seem to have less and less interest in arguing them. What can I say, I'm a uniter, not a divider? That said, there were a few ideas I've been kicking around that I might write up this month.

Philosophy and religion come up sometimes as well, though less and less frequently. History, sometimes. Personal anecdotes, more and more.

I missed out on NaNoWriMo this year: 1667 words per day was just too daunting right now. I'm hoping that some little blog entries each day will get me back to writing. Being part of the Holidailies community is fun, too, reading what other people are writing and bouncing ideas around. And if you're reading, I'd love to hear from you, too.

Happy Holidailies, everyone!