Foreground (Old), Middle Ground (Older), Background (New)


Something about the shapes of these rooflines in Downtown Milwaukee caught my attention while I walked between meetings this afternoon. One building sort of rolls away into the next, hopscotching among eras of architectural history as our gaze is pulled successively outward, from plane to plane, in the telescoping depth of field.

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Just a fluke, but still lots of fun

This is what my stats looked like shortly after 11:00 last night.


(Yep, I use the old stats page. The new one doesn’t give you this snapshot of “context.”) This morning I’m back on track to my usual numbers, lucky to break 100 views in a day.


That “best ever” day of 581 was also a fluke, just like yesterday—although more legitimate. That was the day, shortly after I’d started blogging, that my “Jonah Lehrer, and the ‘marvellous Boy'” post was Freshly Pressed. At least people who came to my blog that day were actually interested in reading what I’d written!

I have a feeling that people who came to my blog yesterday immediately clicked away again once they’d discovered their mistake.

So here’s what happened.

I think, anyway.

About mid-morning I noticed something strange. A post I’d written last December about how Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer teaches like a humanities professor (see it here) was suddenly getting more views than my usual heavy hitter, “What’s the difference between grammar, punctuation, and mechanics?”  Odd, but with the start of school and football season, possibly someone had stumbled across it and maybe shared on Facebook or something?

Then my stats really started to explode. It seemed I was getting several new views every minute.

What was going on?

I decided I’d better go look at that post to make sure any links I’d put in were still current. They were, but I put an “update” paragraph at the end, telling people that one of the blogs I linked to now had some kind of ad to sign up for an electronic newsletter that might dissuade them from reading that particular discussion.

For much of the day, as I passed 200 views and then 300 views, this whole situation remained a mystery. Finally I discovered what must have been the catalyst (see the UPI story here). Here is the “Update #2,” which I also added to the bottom of my old Urban Meyer post yesterday:

Update #2: I think I’ve figured it out. Apparently Urban Meyer made students do pushups who wore blue (arch-rival Michigan’s color, BOOOOO!) to his class today. I’m guessing that many people searching for that story have accidentally landed on my page instead. If you stuck around long enough to read my entire post AND this update, thank you! And good luck finding the story you were actually looking for 😄

Oh, well.  It was fun while it lasted!

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How Dion survived the day the music died

In the home section of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal—or, more accurately, the “Mansion” section (it is, after all, The Wall Street Journal :) )—singer Dion DiMucci talks about growing up in the Bronx, with parents who often fought over the $36 rent for their apartment.

That exact amount of money would later save his life.

In January of 1959, Dion says in the article, he was out on the Winter Dance Party tour with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valenz, and J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper). It was bitterly cold, −30°. The group had to travel from Clear Lake, Iowa, to North Dakota for their next appearance, and to save them from making the trip in their freezing yellow school bus, Buddy Holly chartered a small plane. Only problem was it had room for only three of the four young men.

You know what happened next. But probably not why Dion wasn’t on that plane.

We flipped a coin a few times and the Big Bopper and I won. When I asked Buddy how much it was going to cost me to fly, he said $36. I froze. It was the same amount as the rent my parents had fought over when I was a kid. I felt guilty about spending that much, so I gave my seat to Ritchie. That night, the plane crashed just after taking off, killing everyone.

Here’s the link to the article:

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Better Than Brownies (#tbt)

In the “First Course” column of yesterday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel food section, editor Nancy Stohs ran a story about a brownie recipe from “Miss Petey” that was so popular with readers that it was published several times over the years, its first appearance being April 10, 1958.

The recipe originated with Eleanore Peters, longtime cook and kitchen manager at the Lakeside Children’s Center (formerly the Milwaukee Orphans’ Asylum), who was profiled in a feature article that day. Known as “Miss Petey” to the boys who lived there, she was loved not only for welcoming the children into her kitchen to help peel potatoes or perform other tasks but also for making delicious desserts—especially her brownies, which were always the boys’ first choice when asked what they’d like to have.

The photo that accompanied the recipe in yesterday’s paper caught my eye and sparked a memory. Those brownies looked exactly like the ones my mother used to make from scratch, a childhood favorite.

But they weren’t Milwaukee’s Miss Petey’s brownies. My mom’s recipe came from my great-grandmother, a tiny Baptist schoolteacher I can barely remember, who lived in Newcomerstown, Ohio. I’ve written about her before. She was the one who made hot cocoa in a pan on the stove for her husband every winter’s evening before bed after he returned from feeding the coal furnace at the elementary school where he was the janitor. I was very young when we’d go to visit my great-grandparents, so I have only fragments of memories associated with them.

My great-grandfather was an ardent amateur photographer who kept his camera and gear in the trunk of his car so that if he saw a photograph-in-the-raw, he’d be ready to pull over, set up his tripod, and capture that fleeting image.  Once when my mother was visiting them as a girl, my great-grandfather caught wind of the fact that hanging around with reporters in the local newspaper office was none other than Cy Young! (The great baseball player after whom the award was named. His hometown, as a matter of fact, was Newcomerstown—just as it was also hometown to legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes. Go figure :) ) My great-grandfather grabbed my mom and hustled right over so that she could meet him. Then, of course, he also took Cy Young’s picture and asked for his autograph. My parents still have both photo and autograph, framed and mounted in a side-by-side matting, on display in their home.

My great-grandparents’ Newcomerstown house was as ancient as they were. I remember a huge brass bed in their upstairs bedroom and heavy, velvet curtains hanging in all the doorways. These curtains must have been the fashion in the mid-twentieth century, judging from what I see in old movies  The light switches on the walls, next to dark woodwork, had little push-buttons, one higher than the other, in place of the usual lever you flip up and down. Under the stairs in the basement was a “root cellar,” where they actually did store “root vegetables” like carrots, potatoes, and onions in bins all winter long. There was also one of those evil-looking wringer washers down there, and a washboard, too.

There were chicken coops out back. My great-grandparents lived in town, but the backyards on their block bordered a farmer’s field, so there was a bit of a rural feel. Plus lots of people kept their own chickens then. My mom remembers my great-grandmother picking out a chicken for Sunday dinner and then chopping off its head. Have you ever heard someone with too much pointless energy described by the expression “running around like a chicken with its head cut off”? Apparently chickens really do just that. (I’ll spare you additional details.)

My great-grandfather wore dentures, so when we had corn on the cob for dinner, my great-grandmother would stand the ear of corn on end and then slice down each side, producing long strips of kernels that hung together in their gridded array instead of falling apart into separate pieces like you’d find in cans of corn. I was fascinated. Now I make a BLT salad in the summers (bacon, lettuce, tomato, with a mayonnaise dressing) that I top with squares of corn-on-the-cob kernel grids just like the ones my great-grandmother used to slice off for my great-grandfather.

But, finally, back to my great-grandmother’s brownies. Her recipe’s title is “Better Than Brownies,” and the frosted, fudgy squares truly live up to their name.  I compared her recipe to “Petey’s Brownies” in yesterday’s Journal Sentinel and found they are very similar. If I wanted to make a project out of it, I could bake both and conduct a taste test. But I think I’ll just stick with our old family recipe—tried and true, and full of memories.

Here it is, my great-grandmother’s “Better Than Brownies” recipe, slightly revised in format and incorporating modern technology (i.e., a microwave instead of a double boiler).

Throwback Thursday’s “Better Than Brownies”

  1. Melt 4 Tbsp cocoa (or 2 squares of unsweetened chocolate) with ½ cup shortening in a large, microwave-safe bowl. Let cool slightly.
  2. Beat in 1 cup sugar and 3 eggs (1 egg at a time).
  3. Add ¾ cup CAKE flour and 1 tsp baking powder (NOT baking soda), sifted together. If you don’t have a sifter, stir the flour and baking powder together thoroughly in a separate bowl first before adding to the brownie batter. (Note: CAKE FLOUR is sold in BOXES labelled as such and is found in the baking aisle somewhere near the regular all-purpose flour. Swans Down is a widely-known brand.)
  4. Add 1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans), if desired.
  5. Pour batter into greased pan (9 x 13 inch) and bake at 325º for 35 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

To make the frosting:

  1. Melt together 2 or 3 Tbsp cocoa with 3 Tbsp butter in a microwave-safe bowl.
  2. Add ½ tsp vanilla.
  3. Mix in powdered sugar (approx. 1 pound) and enough cream (or milk) to produce the desired consistency.
  4. Spread over cooled pan of brownies.
  5. Refrigerate in the pan until nearly ready to serve. Then slice into squares and remove individual brownies onto serving plate.
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The Magic of Light (on Porcelain Insulators)

porcelain insulators against dark clouds

As every photographer knows, the key to capturing beautiful images is light.

Even more important, also as every photographer knows, is having your camera ready at all times. This is the second time I’ve noticed a really stunning display of light on porcelain insulators and rushed for my camera—only to discover dead batteries :(  The first time was a couple of years ago, and I still managed to get a nice photo.

The second time was yesterday (or maybe the day before?). We’ve been having very overcast skies with no rain. As I let the dogs out the back door, I glanced up and noticed that a flash of unexpected sunlight had brightened the porcelain insulators, which positively glowed. The effect was stunning, that gleaming white against a backdrop of dark clouds.

I ran inside, got my camera . . . and then had to fool around with changing the batteries. By the time I got back outside, the light had faded quite a bit.

So much for my fabulous photo opportunity.

I snapped another couple of pictures, but it was largely a lost cause.  On the other hand, I later found it very instructive to compare the first photo (above) with another I shot less than a minute later (below).


While there was still a small amount of direct sunlight in that first photo, look at how flat and uninteresting that utility pole is once the light has vanished.

Below are the same two photos, smaller this time so you can compare them more easily.

porcelain insulators against dark clouds


I still appreciate the lines and all  in the second picture, so I don’t hate it. In fact, you can actually see the dark wires better in the second. But don’t you agree that the first is the better photograph?

If only you could have seen the one that got away :)

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Old Basement Stairway


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Morning Sunlight: Wall Opposite a Window


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