Can I get a cape in here?

Every year I forget how much I enjoy fall until it comes around. There’s just a *feeling* to fall; that crisp, cool air that makes you want to wear something cozy and snuggle up with some tea.

Yes sir, fall is cape weather.

I am not exactly sure why capes fell out of fashion. How did having a blanket with you at all times that you don’t have to hold fall out of fashion? Quite frankly, it DIDN’T fall out of fashion, you bunch of liars:


And yet people would look at me funny if I started walking around in a cape.

A cape is the perfect article of clothing. Feeling chilly? You’re literally wearing a snuggly blanket. Too warm? Throw it off your shoulders and let it trail behind you, imperiously. Forgot your rain coat? No problem, put up the hood. Need to save the world and/or look awesomely bad-ass? All you need is a fan to stand in front of. Dramatic flourishes while exiting a room, hide your tender vampire skin from the sun, store your precious spell components, reap the souls of the damned, disappear into the shadows like a ninja…the cape does it all. What’s not to love?

In fact, I would argue a cape

“is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.”

When I was in college, I lived in a townhouse. A guy in one of the other townhouses wore an honest to god cape. Jet black, shoulder to floor, hood and everything. More than once I had quite a scare when looking blurry-eyed out the patio door over a bowl of cereal to see death stalking through the back yard the guy walking to an early class. After I ascertained he was not carrying a scythe, I kind of admired his pluck. People were going to mock him, but he didn’t care! The comfort and utility of never being without a blanket outweighed their scorn!

Go ahead and laugh all you want. I’ll be the one snuggling up in my nice, warm, always-at-the-ready blanket.

The car-free lifestyle

I have been getting about 10,000 times more exercise than usual, lately.

It starts with the commute, of course. Instead of sitting in a car for two hours a day, I am walking, walking, walking. It’s really not all that much walking, maybe 3 miles a day, but that just highlights how little I was walking before. Also, a thing I noticed about taking the train: I’m always running to catch it. It’s not that I’m always late; quite the opposite, in fact, which is what gets me in trouble. See, there’s always one earlier train.

If there is a train that doesn’t arrive for 15 minutes, I could say, “Nice! Plenty of time to get to the train.” OR, I could say, “Hmm, if I can get there in 5 minutes, I can catch the earlier one.” When I see a train pulling into the station, I could say, “Oh well, I guess I’ll catch the one, arriving in 10 minutes.” OR, I could say, “I bet if I sprint and take the stairs 2 at a time, I can catch that train.”

But what I’ve really noticed lately is just a shift in mindset. In just 2 months, I’ve already switched away from thinking car-first.

Since the kids are often riding their bikes, we can go a lot faster if I ride my bike too, instead of walking. Sometimes I have to go somewhere after work, but it seems stupid to take the train all the way home, and then turn around and go back the other way in the car. Instead I have sometimes been leaving my bike close to a train stop and then grabbing it on the way home. I’ve ridden my bike around the neighborhood more in the past 2 months than the rest of the time we’ve lived in Chicago, combined. The other day, I even walked to get groceries, then took them home on the train.

Around the same time, we also replaced one of our house locks with a key-free entry (to avoid being locked out again). OMG this is the most psychologically amazing thing on the planet. Between that and not using the car, I don’t even take my keys with me anymore when I leave the house. It’s really just kind of…freeing, to just walk out of the house and go on your way. I don’t know how to describe it. I wouldn’t have thought it would make a difference, but it really, really does.

The less I use the car, the less I *want* to use the car. It’s not a conscious decision, but it’s more like I just don’t think of using it. The car has started to seem like more of a hassle, rather than the other way around. And the more I use the train, or ride my bike, the more I realize how convenient it is. In the last two weeks I’ve ridden my bike home after 10 pm. It sounded cold, awful, potentially even dangerous. But it wasn’t! It was actually pretty easy, and, dare I say, even refreshing.

And it has to be better for me, of course. I mean, I haven’t really noticed a difference, but it has to be healthier, right? Two months ago, I certainly didn’t think I could have run a 5k, and now I did. So.

It really feels good. Freeing. Healthier. Good for my psychological well-being. I wonder how much of the general, unclassified “yuck” of our lives (stress, I guess?) really just comes down to not getting enough of the things our bodies really need: fresh air, exercise, healthy food.

You guys: every day that goes by, I turn into more of a hippy.

In which I run my first, and last, 5k

It’s time, once again, for our yearly tradition. Except this year, there was just one hitch.

If you recall, last year Sara promised Evelyn that she could run the 5k. Unfortunately, with Sara being hugely pregnant, the duty fell to me.


The racers, including Oliver in his “knight” makeup

I have to say that I had no ambition or desire to run a 5k, and I probably wouldn’t have even tried, except that if this tiny slip of a girl can do it, surely I can do it, right?

Of course, she had sweet headphones and a lightning bolt on her face, so it was kind of unfair to begin with.


Evelyn and I practiced a couple of times, first for 2 miles, and then for 3 the next week. So we were as ready as we were going to be, and we set a goal of 45 minutes.

The day of, Evelyn was so excited she woke up at 4 a.m.


At the end, Evelyn couldn’t be held up by her old, out of shape dad, and she whooped my butt.


I’m happy to say that we shattered our 45 minute goal, and I did not die, even if I wasn’t able to keep up with the little blond girl in the daisy print pants. Evelyn finished at 36:14 (11:41 per mile, average) and I finished at 36:38 (11:49 per mile, average).


Afterwards, while I was walking in circles clutching my chest and trying to breathe up all the oxygen in Chicago, Evelyn decided to go run the kids’ mile, for funsies. This was on top of the mile we walked there, and another home.

Kids, man.

Oliver also ran his very first race, running the mile all by himself. He was a little nervous at first, standing in the crowd at the starting line, but once the race got underway he was fine.


He finished at 12:38.

He was so excited after the race, and was telling us all about it. Some of the highlights:

  • “Sometimes I ran fast, and sometimes I ran slow, but I never jogged.”
  • “Did you see all those birds? All those birds flying? They flew right over me!”
  • “There was a dead dog in the road, but I jumped over it.”

Ba’scuse me?

We had some confirmation from a 3rd party that there was a bloody dead squirrel smeared all over the road (squirrel / dog, potato / potahto), and Oliver may well have jumped over it, because he was certainly able to describe it in great detail.

So, in the end, everybody got what they wanted: Evelyn got to embarrass her father, I got to not die, and Ollie got to jump over a dead dog.

Hooray for running!

Cinnamon Plum Cake

The first Friday of the month is reserved for recipes. You can see additional First Friday Food posts here.

The Reason:

I don’t remember if we made this the first time because we had plums, or if we bought plums to make it. But I can definitely tell you the second time, we definitely bought plums to make it.

I had another recipe for this week, but I was hoping to get this one out before the plums were completely done for the season!


The Journey:

I’m kind of ambivalent towards plums. I’ve got nothing against them, but I don’t usually feel like sitting down and just eating a plum, you know? HOWEVER, it turns out that if you put them in a CAKE, that’s a whole different story.


So, this recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, which is sort of an unprecedented amount of cinnamon. You may think that’s a typo, and it is. Kind of. From Smitten Kitchen:

I received a note from Amanda Hesser over the weekend giving me a heads-up that the 1 tablespoon listed in the Essential New York Times Cookbook was actually a typo, and should have been 1 teaspoon. In fact, the very original version in the Times had 1 tablespoon too, but all of the future ones had only 1 teaspoon, suggesting that it had been a typo there too.

Having made the 1 tablespoon version (repeatedly), I can tell you that I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is a lot of cinnamon, and I wouldn’t have thought cinnamon + plums = magic, but in fact, cinnamon + plums = magic.

2015_09_19_2326The Verdict:

I feel like this is a fancy-pants dessert that you could impress with at a party, and yet it is so delicious and easy to make, so you won’t mind just making it for yourself at home.

It is also the only dessert I know where you can literally PUT IN YOUR THUMB AND PULL OUT A PLUM. That’s got to count for something.

 The Recipe:

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Large pinch of salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar plus 1 to 2 tablespoon (depending on sweetness of plums)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 12 smallish plums (Italian purple if you can get them), halved and pitted
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  1. Heat oven to 350°F.
  2. Sift or whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. In a larger bowl, cream butter and 1 cup sugar together with an electric mixer until fluffy and light in color. Add the eggs, one at a time and scraping down the bowl, then the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.
  4. Spoon batter into a greased, 9-inch springform pan and smooth the top. Arrange the plums, skin side up, all over the batter, covering it. Sprinkle the top with lemon juice, then cinnamon, then remaining sugar.
  5. Bake until cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into a center part of the cake comes out free of batter (but of course not plum juice), about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool on rack.
  6. Leave it covered at room temperature overnight.

Helmet Head

Evelyn’s class has a pair of guinea pigs as pets this year, and Evelyn is very excited. Ollie seems to have an endless parade of cool classroom pets, but Evelyn had nothing last year, and a turtle the year before. (You know, a cuddly-wuddly wittile smooshy….turtle.) So the much more adorable guinea pigs have really captured her imagination.

Evelyn very sweetly decided to make a nice little house for the guinea pigs out of a box, with a little door that said “Home Sweet Home” above it. Her plan was to have every student in the class sign it, so the guinea pigs could remember them on weekends and holidays. She worked on it all night, and the next day wanted to bring it in to class.

“Bad news, honey,” I said. “I’ve got to ride my bike today, which means you’ve got to ride your bike, which means nobody can carry the house.” Evelyn was crestfallen. In the following seconds I saw the whole thing flash across her eyes: her marching in with her guinea pig house, the oohs and aahs of the teachers, the other children picking her up onto her shoulders and marching around the room cheering, the inevitable fame and fortune as the world’s only guinea pig architect…except now, the teachers wouldn’t ooh and aah, and the children wouldn’t carry her triumphantly, and she would probably instead end up strung out and homeless, all because of her stupid dad and his stupid bike and the unfairness of life.

I knew it wouldn’t hurt to leave the box for the next day, but on the other hand, isn’t it every father’s dream to see his daughter become a famous guinea pig architect? Except I really didn’t know how to get it to school. It was a pretty big box. Technically I probably could have carried it, but riding your bikes on the streets of Chicago is taking your life into your hands at the best of times.

Unless… “What if you wore it on your head?”

Suddenly the parading children were back and the hand-designed guinea pig houses were flying off the shelves and she was retiring early to a villa on the Southern coast of France where she would drift to sleep every night under a blanket of warm, soft, furry, happily-homed, guinea pigs.

The box fit pretty snuggly over her bike helmet and, although it completely restricted her peripheral vision, it was reasonably secure. Absolutely hysterical looking, but reasonably secure. Problem solved.

I don’t think either Evie or I were thinking about the sheer number of people on the streets at that time of day. She was turning some major heads and people were calling out, “Hey, I like your helmet!” Kids would just stop and stare with their mouths literally hanging open. It was clear that most people thought she invented some kind of “cool” helmet for herself and thought she would enjoy the compliments.

Neither of us were expecting quite the reaction. She was obviously very embarrassed, and even though she didn’t say anything, she asked me to walk my bike and carry it as soon as was reasonably possible. I really wish I had gotten a picture, because it would have been something to save for posterity.

You know what, though? I’m proud of her. Even though she was mortified, she didn’t get upset, just kept her eyes on the prize and finished the job. I didn’t hear whether or not she got the triumphant parade, or the “Queen of the Guinea Pigs” tiara, but as far as I know we’re still on track for that French villa.

Quote Monday keeps an eye out for danger

Sara: “Did you understand what your swimming instructor was telling you?”
Ollie: “Not really.”
Sara: “She said that you’re doing everything right, you just need to do it faster.”
Ollie: “But why? There’s not any pirates around…”

Sara: “I’m sure a homeless man lives in our guest bedroom. That’s why I don’t go downstairs.”

I so wish that quote was out of context, but no, that one is straight up.

Ollie: “I feel more like a human being with a part in my hair.”

Evie: “I met a burr plant, and we had a long conversation.”

Ready for Kindergarten, at least from a sneakiness perspective

Ollie is having trouble letting go of summer. Every day we tell him to wear pants or a long sleeved shirt, and he resists. “It’s too hot!” he says. “No it’s not, it’s 60 degrees outside right now!” we say (to deaf ears). He swears he will die of heat stroke if we make him wear long sleeves, and he swears he’s never cold.

Now that Oliver is in kindergarten, we have been trying to give him a little more autonomy. Or maybe I should say, trying to force him to take a little more autonomy, because he in no way is asking for it! He would rather do pretty much anything else. Every morning when he wakes up it takes 5 or 6 reminders before he actually gets dressed.

So when he does get dressed by himself, it is a bit of a surprise. On this particular morning, he did just that, telling us not to come into his room and then suddenly coming out fully dressed. “Okay,” I thought, “if he wants to ‘surprise’ us, fine. Whatever it takes for him to get dressed.” We noticed that he was wearing a short sleeve shirt under his long sleeve shirt, but this is not exactly an unusual fashion choice for Ollie. As long as he is presentable enough to leave the house, I couldn’t care less (see also, persistently wearing his shoes on the wrong feet every day for the last 3 years).

Until I got this message from Sara:

“i am sure that he got dressed quickly in his room this morning, wearing the long sleeve shirt like i asked, because he planned to take it off and switch to the short sleeve shirt as soon as he got to school!  it’s in all the pictures!  what a stinker!  maybe he is more ready for kindergarten than i give him credit for!”

Unfortunately for Ollie, this is 2015, and teachers like to send pictures throughout the day. Sure enough, as soon as he was out from under our watchful eye, he switched to the short sleeves, and he had planned it all along, which is why he was acting weird and secretive when we saw the undershirt.

This does strike me as a particularly “kindergarten” thing to do. Sometimes he seems so young, but then he reminds me he’s not anymore. What’s next, sneaking out of the house at night?

Fast forward to this morning. I had forgotten all about the incident above, and I was double checking his tooth brushing skills when I noticed something blue poking up from his waistband…sure enough, he had a short sleeve shirt tucked down the front of his pants!!

I stressed to him that he should not try to hide things from us, and that if he wanted to take a short sleeve shirt in case he got hot, he should put it in his backpack, not down the front of his pants. In fact, he should probably not put anything down the front of his pants.

Sometimes I think the only reason we have any control whatsoever as parents is that kids are so terrible at fooling us…


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