“The Brush”

I wasn’t very close to my Uncle Lenny growing up (although I did forget that he lived with us for a while while he worked on our house). I remember seeing his “Brush” logo on magnets and his van, I remember he was always wearing paint-splattered clothes, and maybe he used to have a thing at his house in the summer and we played volleyball? I don’t remember.

I don’t think I could really “see” Uncle Lenny until I was an adult.

In fact, I remember the exact moment: we had gone over to his house to pick pears, and he was showing us around his place. Evelyn was playing with the kittens, and at that time I think he had his turkeys? Anyway, it was one of the few times I was ever over to his place without a big crowd of people. He was showing us around, showing us around the barn. He just seemed so happy, and proud, and just…in the moment. Like he was where he was supposed to be, you know?

And I remember I just had this lightning bolt moment, like “Uncle Lenny has got his life set just exactly how he wants it.” I mean, most people spend all this time working and saving and striving, and we never really get there. But Uncle Lenny had cracked the code: he was more or less satisfied with his life. (This must have been in 2006, because I briefly mentioned it on the blog, so Evelyn and the kittens must have been later.)

I don’t think most people wanted to live Lenny’s life, and so they might have looked at it and said, “He must have been unhappy.” And as I’m typing this out I can almost hear him saying, “I don’t give a shit about what most people say.” And he’s right, because most people will never feel as content as Lenny felt when he was sitting out back of his house at a bonfire. Never.

I can’t even tell you how enraptured I was with Uncle Lenny’s yard, and it was 100% the catalyst for buying our property up in Michigan. In 2011 I wrote:

My Uncle Lenny’s yard has always been something of an inspiration to me. He’s got some awesome fruit trees, a little pool with a waterfall and actual, flowering lily pads, and a nice little cozy yet open area off the back deck. However, this time I got to see an awesome new (to me) feature, which I never knew about before.

A large section of his yard is densely wooded, and through this area winds a series of paths. You enter through a trellis-framed door, and if you follow the main path, you wind almost 800 feet to the little cleared camping area in the back. On the way you pass through a spooky wooded section, a more open back section, and even come upon a pine-tree-fairy-ring. I cannot tell you how cool the whole thing is! I enjoyed the first trip through so much, I took a second trip. Oliver apparently found it relaxing as well, since he fell asleep on my head.

The first thing Ollie said when I told him about Uncle Lenny was, “What’s going to happen to all the Santas?” Christmas was Uncle Lenny’s season. Whether it was decorating his house for the Christmas party, sneaking an unexpected gift into the dice game, or dressing up as Santa and giving the kids toys, he just had this grin on his face. I mean, who would have guessed the quiet guy off to the side in the cowboy hat had a house full of tiny Santas?

Lenny was kind of a man of contradictions. On the outside he was rough and tumble, but on the inside there was nothing he liked more than bringing joy to someone. If you didn’t know Lenny well, then you’d probably be surprised to hear it, but if you did know Lenny well then you’re not surprised at all.

Rest in peace, Uncle Lenny. World lost a true original.

Aunt Helen’s Apple Pie Cake

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

The Reason:

You’ve probably heard of people joining a CSA: you buy a “share” and then every two weeks you pick up a load of whatever fresh vegetables happen to be in season.

We have recently joined an apple CSA, which means every two weeks we get another 10 lbs of apples, straight from the orchard.

You call it an apple CSA, I call it PURE BLISS.


The Journey:

I love apple anything.

I love apples like a lazy house painter loves the rain. I love apples like Trader Joe loves pumpkin flavored food. I love apples like Evelyn loves solid color leggings with mostly matching solid color shirts.

I love apples.


If you really want to look like a genius, instead of using 2 eggs, you can use 1 egg + 3 egg whites, and parlay those 3 egg yolks into a batch of Charred Brussels Sprouts Carbonara.

The Verdict:

Nothing pairs better with cool, dim, slightly-rainy days and the crinkle of leaves under your feet than the taste of apples and cinnamon. Nothing tastes more sweaters and knitting and holding your loved ones close before the eternal Chicago winter steals your breath and settles in your bones.

So soft and moist, so fall-like. I definitely recommend a dollop of homemade whipped cream on top. Maybe a steaming mug of tea on the side.


The Recipe:

Recipe adapted from the 1999 Marne United Methodist Church cookbook, or previous to that, from Sara’s mom’s Aunt Helen.

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup chopped nuts
  • 5 cups chopped apples (about 4 large apples)
  • 4 Tbsp. hot water (forgot this, but it turned out fine, so?)
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Cream butter with mixer; beat in sugar and eggs
  3. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt, baking soda, and flour
  4. Add nuts, apples, water, and vanilla and fold together (with spoon, not mixer)
  5. Bake in 9×13 pan for 40 to 45 minutes.
  6. Serve warm or cooled with whipped cream or ice cream

9 Month Comparison Photos


You can see from Ollie’s photo that we actually missed taking his 9 month photo on the 12th, so we had to get it the next day.

You can also see that we had to give him a piece of paper to play with so he wouldn’t crumple the sign, and let me tell you, that was a good idea! This was about the only photo in which Alex wasn’t grabbing for the sign, crumpling the sign, waving the sign around…

He certainly is a mischief maker these days. One of his favorite things to do is to pull himself up to stand at the bookshelf and just pull all the books off one by one. If you clean them up he gets mad, like, “Hey! I just spent a lot of time doing that you know!”

He still crawls like a maniac and is often not happy being held (since, yanno, less mischief that way!). He can walk a bit if you hold his hands and lately he has been letting go of things while standing up. I counted a record of 4 seconds of free standing without holding on to anything.

Won’t be long until we look back at these crawling days as being so easy and relaxed…

Quote Monday has a good imagination

Ollie: “I know if there is a fire, we meet at the meeting place. But what do we do if there’s a war?”

::Ollie telling me a scary story::
Me: “You have a good imagination.”
Ollie: “No, I have a bad imagination! It always makes me think of this scary stuff!”

Evelyn: “What kind of apples are they?”
Sara: “Empire.”
Ollie: “Vampire??”

Unidentified Funny Objects 5 out today!

The Unidentified Funny Objects anthology is now out, including my story “The Lesser of Two Evils”!

I tell you, it never gets old holding a book in your hand with your words in it.


The fifth annual volume of the Unidentified Funny Objects anthology series features eighteen lighthearted science fiction and fantasy tales from the masters of the genre. Read about planetary adoptions, secret agent princesses, alien cooking reality shows, rigged elections, magical insurance agents, and much more.

That’s right, one of the “masters of the genre”, right here:


Available in paperback or for kindle.

Like Bacon, But Not

A while back, someone (several someones) alerted me to the fact that there was a “Bacon Critic” job up for grabs. Not one to pass up an opportunity like that, I went ahead an applied! Alas, I did not get the job. However, as part of the application, I did need to write “a short essay of fewer than 600 words recounting your favorite bacon-related memory”.

Favorite bacon-related memory…how can I pick just one? These are the tough questions that only a dedicated Bacon Critic can answer.

I now present to you, “Like Bacon, But Not”, my first (but probably not my last) bacon-flavored essay:

After college, my future wife and I spent a couple of weeks kicking around Italy. In general the food was the best I’ve ever had…with one significant exception.

We were staying at some out of the way hotel in the Italian lakes region. It was close by an Italian lake, but not THE Italian lakes, if you catch my drift. Very remote and un-touristy.

“No problem, we can do this,” we oh-so-naively thought. “The natives gotta eat, right? We’ll do as the Romans do.”

We asked at the front desk and they told us about the “restaurant on the island”, so we set off vaguely in that direction. We found a dock and stood there with no one else in sight until an old guy in a fishing boat pulled up. “Ferry?” he said. “Restaurant?” Despite the fact that those two words seemed to be the extent of his English, we did want to go to the restaurant, so we climbed on board.

About this time we realized that we were completely off the map, and getting further away. We tried asking about return trips and timetables, but this level of detail was completely beyond him. However, he did use hand gestures to insist, repeatedly, that we should take many pictures of each other in the boat. We did it too; no sense in pissing this guy off. Nobody knew where we were, we didn’t know if the restaurant was even real, and this guy didn’t have enough English to say, “I am not an ax murderer.” For all we knew, these pictures could be the only evidence they find when they inevitably dredged the lake for our bodies.

When we finally made it to the island, the menu was naturally in Italian. Eventually we managed to get a hold of the owner’s wife, who had taken some English in high school. She ran down the menu giving us our options: “fish from the lake”, “fish from the lake”, “fish from the lake”, and “like bacon, but not”.

Now, the way I figured it, you could literally not go wrong with “like bacon, but not”. I mean, best case it’s delicious bacon, and worst case it’s delicious ham.

When our food came out, I was presented with a plate of what appeared to be thinly sliced provolone cheese. “I don’t think this is what I ordered,” I whispered to Sara after the waiter had left. I slipped the menu back out and scanned to the item identified as “like bacon, but not”.

Lardo. Literally, a plate of lard.

Now, I didn’t exactly want to eat a plate of lard, but when in Rome, right? More specifically, we were trapped on an island in the middle of nowhere with a ferryman who may never show up again. This might be our last meal.

Gamely, I took some of the bread from the table and made a lard sandwich, spreading the lardo with a butter knife. I gagged with every bite, but I managed to choke down about half of the plate before finally throwing in the towel. I can only imagine that the wait staff was watching from a window, laughing at the dumb American who thinks that lard is something anybody ever consumed on purpose, much less ordered from a restaurant.

Adding insult to injury, it turns out lardo, being a delicacy, was expensive.

The moral of the story is, when it comes to bacon, settle for no substitute! If your bacon is even a little “not”, best to go with the fish from the lake.

Evelyn to appear on stage in Billy Elliot!

As some of you have noticed here or there, Evelyn is currently in the middle of rehearsals for her upcoming role in Billy Elliot!

For those of you not familiar with Billy Elliot:

Set in a northern mining town, against the background of the 1984/’85 miners’ strike, Billy Elliot is the inspirational story of a young boy’s struggle against the odds to make his dreams come true. The story follows Billy’s journey as he stumbles out of the boxing ring and into a ballet class where he discovers a passion for dance that inspires his family and whole community and changes his life forever.

Featuring a timeless score by Elton John, sensational dance and a powerful story that has captivated audiences around the world, Billy Elliot the Musical is a funny, uplifting and spectacular theatrical experience that will stay with you forever.

This role is quite a bit different than anything she’s done before, and is by far the most physically demanding (dance, dance, dance!), but she is having the time of her life, and the show is going to be really, really good.

The show runs the last two weekends in October and the first weekend in November, and tickets are on sale now ($22 if you buy before October 1st).

Two things I do want to mention, for all of Evelyn’s loyal supporters:

  1. The show is aaaaall the way up at Northbrook Theatre, just to forewarn you, and
  2. Those of you with small kids, I just want to make sure you notice this warning:

Note: Billy Elliot contains material that may be unsuitable for younger or more sensitive audience members, but please note that we have made every effort to remove the most offensive language, as permitted.

The show is pretty foul-mouthed, so if that’s not something you want to subject your little ones to, feel free to sit this one out and catch the next one (or make it a date night!)

However, if you do decide to make the trek up north, this is one Ballet Girl that is excited to see you!


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