A change: the Monthly Bucket List

Rethinking the bucket list

Good day, folks. Today I’m announcing a chance to the Something To newsletter. It’s now the Monthly Bucket List. Let me explain.

I’ve been kinda down lately and, as a “feeling blue” veteran, I’ve got a few coping strategies in my back pocket. One trick is to list things I’d like to do. Ironically, a bucket list of exciting goals — learn Japanese, visit Iceland — is often a compilation of the impossible, which only contributes to my rotten mood. So this October, I’m introducing the “monthly bucket list,” a collection of 10 doable, fun activities meant to be an easy win as well as a lot of fun. Between today and October 31, I mean to:

1. Carve pumpkins with the kids
2. Welcome trick-or-treaters with my wife on Halloween
3. Make “fire cider” (a recipe I’ve wanted to try for about two years)
4. Memorize the NATO alphabet. I’ve always wanted to do this.
5. Hike a new trail
6. Finish a book
7. See a movie
8. Make fresh pasta
9. Start a fire without matches
10. Visit a local attraction I’ve never seen

Everything on this list is achievable with minimal effort/cost. They also hit all my buttons: some solitary activities, some family fun, some stuff just for my wife and me. Some of my favorite activities are also addressed: cooking, being outside, micro-adventures.

Each month, this newsletter will feature two issues: one announcing the new Monthly Bucket List and a second in the middle of the month with updates on my progress, including photos of what I’ve accomplished, related links, recipes, thoughts, and actionable take-aways.

I’d also LOVE to see *your* Monthly Bucket Lists. What’s your collection of 10 fun, quick “wins” for October? I’ll share in a future issue.

I hope you’ll join me on this new adventure. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Onward!

One Small Butter

Something To #2

Issue 02: One small butter

Hello, it’s your internet friend Dave. You’re reading the second issue of “Something To,” a weekly newsletter about the fantastic things that you should read, eat, listen to, watch, play and think about. You’ll find a full archive of back issues here.

Something to read

As we stand at the precipice of October, yoga pants and PSLs in place, I’m ready for something scary. That means re-reading “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova.

In October, 2005 I spent eight hours driving from my Massachusetts home to my parents’ house in Pennsylvania. I wanted an audio book for company and since I was in that creepy mood, I went for “The Historian,” Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel, which was described thusly:

“Late one night, exploring her father's library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known — and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula.”

At 26 hours long it would more than cover my round trip so I downloaded it and hit the road. I was in love before I even hit Rhode Island. The audiobook features a full cast of actors, sound effects and creepy music. The story is a fun twist on the Dracula legend, mixing Stoker’s creation with the historical Vlad Tepes who lived in Wallachia, died fighting the Ottoman Turks in 1476, and whose live greatly inspired Stoker.

The book is part thriller, part historical fiction, part travel log and a lot about Carpathian monks. I mean, I hope you like Carpathian monks because this book has a lot of Carpathian monks.

It’s so much fun that I re-listen to it each October, which means I’ve now “read” this book 14 times. Download the audiobook or see if your library has a physical copy.

Something to eat

No one cooks like little old women.

I remember my five-foot-something, Italian-American grandmother who’d shoo my sisters and me out of her kitchen by plying us with half-sized cans of warm, diet ginger ale and fistfuls of Stella D’oro bread sticks, all the while smoking approximately 5,000 cigarettes per hour, yelling at my uncle and cooking up the most incredibly delicious food you’ve ever had. After one warm, salty, fatty bite of sweet sausage with fennel seeds you’d swear to sweet Mary in Heaven that it’s worth the heart disease.

For dessert she’d give us a bowl of “Ricotta and chips” — ricotta cheese with chocolate chips on top. I still make that every now and then and it takes me right back.

The intersection of food and family is profoundly important to me. Today my family and I eat sausages, Ricotta and chips, green bean casserole and countless other dishes to honor the women (and men, but let’s be honest, it was mostly women by a wide margin) who pulled off culinary miracles to feed hungry families on a shoestring budget night after night. As the beneficiaries of their inventiveness, their frugality, their creativity and their dedication to their families, it is our duty, our responsibility to keep those recipes alive, and to tell the stories and to eat that history with our own children.

I’m not lucky enough to have any more grandmas, and I’ll always regret that I didn’t collect their recipes. Fortunately my wife, who is much smarter than me, grabbed one from her grandma.

Hanging in our kitchen is the shadowbox pictured above. It contains my wife’s Polish immigrant grandmother’s recipe for pierogi, written on the back of a Bell Telephone bill from 1979. Every December we make this recipe and enjoy a starch-filled feast. Now you can, too. I’ll copy it here as written, including our favorite bit: “One small butter.” Good luck with that.

Dough

6 cups of sifted flour

3 teaspoons of salt

3 eggs

1/2 cup of milk (whole) + 1/2 cup water

Lightly beat the 3 eggs, milk, and water in a large bowl. Add flour and roll out. You want this to be thin, but not too thin.

Filling

1.25 lb Farmer’s cheese. You may not substitute anything for this.

4 Idaho potatoes.

Savory seasoning. How much? Only grandma knew. We put in “some.”

8 oz. cream cheese

1 small butter. OK, I’m letting you off the hook here. Through experimentation, we found that 1 stick of butter is what you want here. Not sure how that’s small.

Instructions

Cook potatoes (peeled and diced) in boiling water until soft. Mash potatoes and add butter, egg, cream cheese, farmer’s cheese and savory.

Roll dough thin. If you have one, a pasta maker is very helpful for making the individual rounds. It’s also hardcore cheating, so don’t tell anyone. We consider a batch successful if it yields 100 individual pierogi.

Add a spoonful of filing in the center. Fold into a half circle and pinch the edges. Wet the rim of the dough before pinching if it seems dry. Boil *gently* for 15 minutes, then fry in butter.

Something to Listen to

This week I want you to go and listen to “The Less I Know The Better” by Tame Impala. You’ll find it on Spotify here, on Google Play Music here, on Apple Music here, on iHeartRadio here, and on YouTube here. It’s got a cheesy, white guy, sort-of-disco groove that I just love. The slightly distorted, snappy bass and tight snare are infectious.

The lyrics tell a simple tale of unrequited love — not exactly new ground for a pop song — but that’s OK. It’s a catchy song with simply rhymes and a chorus that’s fun to sing. Roll down the windows and enjoy this feel-good tune.

Something to watch

There’s a new, third season of “Travels With My Father” on Neflix and I’m going to tell you to skip it. Watch seasons one and two instead.

Season one isn’t bad, but it wraps up the series and is most enjoyable after seeing seasons one and two. And let me tell you, this show is as hilarious as it is heartwarming.

In the show, comic Jack Whitehall takes his aging, ultra-conservative father on a series of adventures around the world. It’s more than a fish-out-of-water series, and more of a fish leaves water hesitantly at his son’s behest. It’s absolutely, side-splitting hilarious. Just wait until Winston shows up.

It’s also about Jack’s relationship with his father Michael, which is genuine and sweet. It’s among my favorite shows.

Something to play

Gris from Nomada is beautiful in every way. It’s a narrative platformer that deals with loss, healing and rejuvenation is such an artistic, aesthetically pleasing way that playing it can be a moving experience.

Every chapter has something to surprise you. I found myself taking my time with the puzzles just so I could spend time inside each chapter, taking in the sights and sounds.

Something to think about

What did you do before the internet” by Leah McLaren for The Guardian. She writes:

“…quite soon, no person on earth will remember what the world was like before the internet. There will be records, of course (stored in the intangibly limitless archive of the cloud), but the actual lived experience of what it was like to think and feel and be human before the emergence of big data will be gone. When that happens, what will be lost?”

I worry about this all the time when I watch my children carry their devices around as if they were their morphine drips. Is that good or bad? On one hand they literally have the world’s information at their fingertips. On the other, they rarely see what is in front of their faces if it isn’t presented on a glowing screen.

I think each generation believes the younger crop is living in a detrimental way, so perhaps my attitude is a function of that. But I don’t know.

Thanks for reading. Next week I’ll be back with another issue of “Something To.” In the meantime, hit me up on Twitter at @davidcaolo.

You’re my friend. I like you. Have a good day.

U and I engaged

Something To #1

Issue 01: U and I engaged

Hello, it’s your internet friend Dave. You’re reading the inaugural edition of “Something To,” a weekly newsletter about the fantastic things that you should read, eat, listen to, watch, play and think about.

This week’s exploration begins with the last days of Prince, whose music was inescapable when I was young. He and author Dan Piepenbring began preparing to write Prince’s biography, only three months before Prince’s death (the book Dan ultimately produced, “The Beautiful Ones” is currently available for pre-order).

This week I also share a Japanese recipe for the greatest omelette you’ll ever have, get nostalgic for simpler times while listening to Bryce Vine with my daughter, watch a little sci-fi and play an iOS game that was so utterly, unyieldingly delightful that I’ve been listening to its soundtrack just to relive it. There are a few other goodies in here as well. Let’s start with the purple one.

Something to read

Prince was the first person I ever heard say “masturbating” out loud. Not in person. That would have been weird. In 1984 “Purple Rain” was a juggernaut of pop culture and like any self-respecting 80’s teen, I had a copy of the record. “Darling Nikki” was track number five, and it opens with this line:

“I knew a girl named Nikki I guess U could say she was a sex fiend.

I met her in a hotel lobby masturbating with a magazine.”

As a 13-year-old Catholic school student whose experience with sex was limited to the time I saw half an inch of Annette Kernich’s blue underwear peeking out from the waistband of her plaid uniform skirt, I found the song scandalous, taboo and irresistible, if not a little confusing. Exactly what is happening with the magazine?

Ignorant as I was, I knew enough to never play “Nikki” when my parents were home, as I’d never see that record again. Elsewhere in America, 11-year-old Karenna Gore Schiff wasn’t so lucky, as her mother Tipper Gore was inspired to found the Parents Music Resource Center, or PMRC, after overhearing young Karenna singing “Darling Nikki.” You know those Parental Advisory stickers that were everywhere in the 80’s and 90’s? You can thank Nikki and her wanton display for those.

I thought of my young self huddled up close to my record player as I read “The Book of Prince” by Dan Piepenbring, which appeared in the September 9, 2019 issue of The New Yorker (and online here). Prince chose Dan as the collaborator who would bring his biography to life shortly after their initial meeting in January, 2016. Three months later, Prince would found dead in his home at the age of 57.

Piepenbring’s article is compelling for several reasons. At its most base appeal, it offers peeks into the life of a notoriously private celebrity. For example, Prince often paid for out-of-town visitors to his Chanhassen, Minnesota home — “Paisley Park” — to stay at an area Country Inn & Suites. It was something he did so often that, according to a member of his team, he could have “…bought the place four times over.”

There are also descriptions of his Minnesota home, from candle-lit alcoves to a massive conference room table emblazoned with the unpronounceable symbol he adopted as his name while battling his way out of a recording contract. But that’s not there real reason to read.

Piepenbring describes his encounters with a focused, disciplined, driven artist who knows exactly what he wants and controls his environment with ease.

At one point, Prince recalls the overt racism he experienced as a child and as an adult. He speaks eloquently about his music: “Funk is the opposite of magic. Funk is about rules.”

He also expressed his growing desire to start writing and stop playing. “I’m sick of playing the guitar, at least for now,” he told Dan. “I like the piano, but I hate the thought of picking up the guitar.” All I could think of while reading that passage is the footage of Prince simply owning “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony:

At no point does Dan point out any hint, any glaring clue that something was wrong. He got quite close to Prince, spending a lot of with him in various settings and, at least as far as he reported, saw nothing to suggest that an overdose would take the musician’s life about 90 days after their initial meeting.

I mourn the loss of a such a talented human being as well as the art he will not create. Rest in peace, sweet Prince.

Did you know that comedian and actress Maya Rudolph has a touring Prince cover band called Princess? She does, and they’re awesome. Here’s a video of the group performing, of course, “Darling Nikki.”

Something to eat

I have a lifelong fascination with Japan. I have an aunt who is Japanese, and as such my sisters and I experienced bits and pieces of that part of that culture when we were young. Today, my teenaged son recently returned from a week in the land of the rising sun and I’ve chosen to REPRESS MY SEETHING JEALOUSY by being happy for him.

As a fat guy I also love food, so I gave my young spawn instructions to bring snacks and recipes home. I’m glad to say he obliged me with lots of treats, including the following recipe for “omurice,” or omelette rice. It’s a western-style dish that’s popular with Japanese kids and features simple fried rice that’s lovingly enveloped in a thin, crepe-like omelet and topped with ketchup. You’re right, that doesn’t sound Japanese. But it is. Here’s how to make it.

Ingredients

1 chicken thigh

1 small onion

1Tbsp butter

1 tsp oil

2 cups cooked Asian rice

1/4 tsp salt

3 Tbsp ketchup

1/4 cup frozen green peas

2 eggs

salt & pepper

1 tsp oil

Instructions

Cut chicken thigh into 1" pieces. Dice the onion finely. Melt butter in a non-stick pan and add the oil over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add onion and cook until it becomes translucent.

Add cooked rice and mix for 2 minutes. Season rice with salt and pepper.

Make room in the frying pan by pushing the rice mixture aside and add ketchup. Cook the ketchup for 30 seconds and then mix it all together for about 1-2 minutes. Then add frozen peas and cook some more.

Here’s the slightly tricky part. Place half of the ketchup rice into a small bowl, pack lightly, and then unmold it onto a plate. You should have a bowl-shaped mound of the chicken and rice mixture.

Beat eggs and a pinch of salt together. Heat a non-stick frying pan with 1/2 tsp of oil. Pour 1/2 of egg mixture onto hot frying pan and make a crepe-like thin round egg sheet. Cover molded rice with the egg sheet, tuck it in around the edges and drizzle more ketchup on top. Lastly, @ me to say HOW UNBELIEVABLY GOOD THAT IS.

Something to listen to

This week, go and listen to “Sour Patch Kids” by Bryce Vine, off of the EP “Lazy Fair.” (Here it is on Spotify, on Apple Music, on Play Music, on iHeartRadio and on YouTube). Yes, it was released in 2014. As a middle-aged man I enjoy some leeway on keeping up with pop music. Plus, these cool September evenings are the perfect time to indulge in this wistful, nostalgic jam.

“Sour Patch Kids” is just right for the end of summer, with its “driving with the windows down” vibe, retro-cool pop culture references, and reflective lyrics that speak to relatable stresses:

“But, now that I am older, I'll admit that I am over

All the stress and shit that comes

from holding life up on your shoulders

It's a chore, I'm sick of being bored

I'm sick of always stressin’ over shit I could ignore”

The song’s catchy chorus sticks with you in a feel-good kind of way while waxing nostalgic for the easy, breezy days of youth:

“I don't wanna worry bout nothin for a while

I just wanna play around livin' like a child

With old tunes jammin on my Walkman

And some Sour Patch Kids and a Coke can.

I don't wanna think about anything at all

I just wanna run around doin’ what I want

With a pretty-ass girl and a slow jam

And some Sour Patch Kids and a Coke can.”

Who hasn’t wanted to go back to those days? I sure have. Of course it’s impossible, and Bryce acknowledges that, too:

“I guess it's just my own immaturity

Burnin' through me internally

Take imagination and making it a reality.”

Yes, there are a few F-Bombs in “Sour Patch Kids,” so don’t queue it up with the kids in the car. Instead, listen to it with the windows down, the volume up, and a can of Coke in the cup holder.

Something to watch

My pick for something to watch this week is the sci-fi Netflix original “I Am Mother” starring Clara Rugaard, Hilary Swank and Rose Byrne as “Mother,” the android tasked with repopulating the Earth with humans after an apocalyptic event. It’s smart, well-acted (all three women are terrific) and tense throughout. Plus, the CGI is absolutely fantastic.

Young “Daughter,” played by Rugaard, is raised by Mother in a clean, sterile facility. As we watch her grow into a young woman she learns everything from home making skills to medical procedures, all at Mother’s hip. Of course it all takes a turn and I don’t want to give anything away, as it’s best to go into this movie cold.

I was surprised an impressed by the degree of parental emotion conveyed by the sight of Rugaard’s head resting upon a metallic shoulder, as well as the “been there” empathy I felt for the bot when Daughter was having a rebellious teenager moment.

It’s got a satisfying ending, too. Definitely check it out.

Something to play

Oh boy. Oooooh boy. Brace yourselves for this one.

First, a caveat.

I like the very specific genre of narrative-driven video games. The Life is Strange franchise is very dear to me, and perhaps I’ll discuss it in another issue. The point is I’m not a first-person-shooter guy, Fortnite doesn’t do it for me and I find Minecraft boring. But a story masquerading as a game? I’m in. That established, let’s discuss Florence, developed by Mountains and published by Annapurna Interactive.

Released on Valentine’s Day, 2018, Florence tells the story of 25-year-old Florence who is living a perfectly fine if uninspired urban life. She goes to work, talks to her mom on the phone, and browses social media.

While traveling home one afternoon her phone dies. Without that distraction she’s attracted to the sound of a busker playing cello in the park. She follows the sound to a young man called Krish. Eventually they go on a date, at which point one of the game’s most delightful puzzles is revealed.

As the two sit at a table, their conversation is represented by speech bubbles. The bubbles above Krish’s head are small, and suggest his short, nervous sentences. Even better is what happens when Florence speaks.

Her speech bubbles are presented to the player as puzzle pieces. You must assemble them to fit inside the dotted speech bubble above Florence’s head. This so beautifully depicts the uneasy, uncertain feeling of sitting at a first date. As the date progresses, the puzzle pieces get larger, fewer in number and easier to assemble. At last, both Florence and Krish are speaking freely and easily.

The story is broken into 20 chapters and I don’t want to give anything away. You can play Florence in a sitting and honestly, that’s a fun way to go. It’s sweet, charming and utterly delightful. A rarity. Florence is currently available on the Apple App Store and Google Play. As of this writing it is US$2.99.

Something to think about

I love this 2016 article by Sean Blanda: “The Most Defensible Thing You Can Do for Your Career: Build an Audience.” He says:

“Left unchecked, your natural instinct is to please your internal audience. After all, you see those folks every day and the feedback loop is strong. But you can’t take your internal audience with you if you move to the next gig. Communicate often with those folks, they are important. But don’t neglect the possibility that you have something to add to the broader conversation in your field.”

Thanks for reading. Next week I’ll be back with another issue of “Something To.” In the meantime, hit me up on Twitter at @davidcaolo.

You’re my friend. I like you. Have a good day.

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