Category Archives: marriage

Aunt Margie’s German Chocolate Cake {a love story}

unnamedThis cake is brought to you just in time for Valentine’s. It’s special for three reasons:

  1. It’s my Aunt Margie’s recipe, who is now gone, but I have her cake and think of her whenever I make it.
  2. It has a very special ingredient that makes me laugh.
  3. It represents so many things I love about my husband.

Sometimes we don’t want to share our favorite recipes because then they won’t be special, but boy am I glad Aunt Margie didn’t keep this one all to herself – life is so much better with this cake in it.

If you want only the recipe, skip to the end. If you’d like the love story, keep reading…

Aunt Margie and Uncle Warren raised my father after both his parents passed away when he was young. He grew up on a dairy farm in my most favorite place ever: Bear Lake, Idaho. When we visited in the summer Aunt Margie cooked, and boy was she a good cook!

Aunt Margie was a farmer’s wife and made everything from scratch which is why this cake’s very special ingredient makes me laugh. Are you ready for it…the very special ingredient is…a…cake mix! When I showed surprise she whispered, “you can make the cake by scratch if you want, but it’s just as good with the mix.” I had a new admiration for a busy woman who knew a good thing when she saw it. I have the original cake recipe, but Aunt Margie was right – the cake mix is just as good and so much easier!

As for my husband? Well, way back when I was going through a sad time in my romantic life. I wanted to make a very special cake for a boy who had kind of broken up with me. But he kept coming around. To show him what a catch I was, I figured all he needed was a bite of this very special cake that I had made from scratch (hey, I was young.)

I biked to the grocery store on my green Trek bike and discovered that I hadn’t brought the recipe with me. Did the frosting call for evaporated milk or condensed? Oh well! What’s the difference (said the clueless bakerella)? I bought the condensed milk.

I baked the cake mix (even I could do that) and began the frosting. Stirring it on the stove, I could not get it to thicken. Doubt began to fester. I stirred and stirred until I figured it was good enough – and dumped the frosting onto the cake. It vaguely occurred to me that maybe there was a difference between condensed and evaporated milk.

It was a soupy mess. But I optimistically hoped it would miraculously thicken and be as delicious as Aunt Margie’s cake.

Then I went and did my hair.

The boy was late, not showing up until 10 o’clock. I had grumpily gone to bed (party animal way back then, too). My roommates followed me as I ever-so-glamourously carried out my very special cake and presented it to the boy. (um, this is beginning to sound like an embarrassing 50’s story but I assure you I was a feminist in other ways 🙂

The boy took a look at my cake, put his hand on his stomach and said, “Oh, I’m so stuffed. I really couldn’t.”

Before I threw my cake AT the boy my roommates ushered me into the kitchen where they assured me it wasn’t me or my semi-disturbing-looking cake, it was him.

This moment, I sadly realized, was THE END of that boy.

The next day I was quite ill. I had a cold and a broken heart was miserably missing Anatomy class to go lay down thinking I was going to fail out of school for missing class, a baking failure and no one would ever marry me (not dramatic at all, not me.)

As I passed a condo out popped The Professor who I had just met. Rather than walk toward campus he surprised me by walking me home. There are many funny details to this story, but I’ll cut to the most important part: he walked into my apartment and saw my cake on the table.

The Professor you see, has always been a man who appreciates good food. “Mmmm,” he said, eyeing my cake.

“You can have some,” I said, feeling very sorry for myself. “No one else wants any” (boo hoo…)

“Thanks.” And then he did an audacious thing: he didn’t politely wait for me to open the utensil drawer and hand him a fork. He opened every drawer in the kitchen until he found a fork and then rather than wait for a plate, he stuck his fork in the middle of the cake and took a huge bite. Oh my. This professorial boy who used very big words, was excessively polite, and infuriatingly sparse with his compliments was eating my cake.

It was rather horrifying.

And then he said the only words I needed to hear: “Mmmm, tasty!” And proceeded to take another large bite.

Oh, I could have cried. Which I did. After he left.

And maybe it was then that I knew I had finally found the right boy.

It’s the small things, isn’t it?

And so, on the eve of this Valentine’s, I’d like to give you my very special, most favorite cake recipe. Passed down from my dear Aunt Margie who knew when to substitute, and has been made with love every since, all these years later.

unnamed-2I had to take the picture with my iPhone due to computer problems. My photography, as with my baking skills, is always a work in progress.

German Chocolate Cake by Aunt Margie

For the cake:

1 German Chocolate Cake Mix (devils food works fine, too).

Bake and cool

Frosting Ingredients:

  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 egg yolk, whisked
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1-2 cups unsweetened coconut
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped


  1. Mix and cook butter, eggs yolks, evaporated milk, and sugar on low heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Remove from heat and coconut and walnuts. Spread on warm cake between layers or on top.

May you bake it with love, eat it with love, and enjoy it through the years, just as we have.


she wanted to be his passion

Still Alice is haunting me. Other than frequently losing my mind, there is another theme that resonated. I don’t like it. It comes from this passage:

“I wish we’d spend more time together,” she said.

“What do you mean? We just spent the whole summer together.”

“No, not the summer, our whole lives. I’ve been thinking about it, and I wish we’d spent more time together.”

“Ali, we live together, we work at the same place, we’ve spent our whole lives together.”

In the beginning, they did. They lived their lives together, with each other. But over the years, it had changed. They had allowed it to change. She thought about the sabbaticals apart, the division of labor over the kids, the travel, their singular dedication to work. They’d been living next to each other for a long time.

“I think we left each other alone for too long.”

“I don’t feel left alone, Ali. I like our lives, I think it’s been a good balance between an independence to pursue our own passions and a life together.”

She thought about his pursuit of his passion, his research, always more extreme than hers. Even when the experiments failed him, when the data weren’t consistent, when the hypotheses turned out to be wrong, his love for his passion never wavered. However flawed, even when it kept him up all night tearing his hair out, he loved it. The time, care, attention, and energy he gave to it had always inspired her to work harder at her own research. And she did.

“You’re not left alone, Ali. I’m right here with you.”

He looked at his watch, then downed the rest of his coffee.

“I’ve got to run to class.”

He picked up his bag, tossed his cup in the trash, and went over to her. He bent down, held her head of curly black hair in his hands, and kissed her gently. She looked up at him and pressed her lips into a thin smile, holding back her tears just long enough for him to leave her office.

She wished she’d been his passion.


Oh my, I adore this couple. (and people say I look just the same – ha!) This couple is so young, now changed, but better too. I think so. I hope so.

When I read the Alice passage, my heart beat abnormally fast. I felt a cold flash of fear.

It happens so easily and innocently, doesn’t it? The separating is so slow and natural that it’s hardly even noticeable. “Separate” is a necessary, normal, and healthy part a marriage. But there’s this passion thing I can’t stop thinking about.

Alice’s neurons are literally dying and she knows she’s going to lose even the memory of knowing her husband. It is the end of their life as it was. There’s that word: regret.

Alice’s husband loves her, but he’s not facing THE END. Maybe that’s the difference. Or maybe he likes their life and their space. Maybe his other passions are enough.

When we were first married I went everywhere with Gregor. In the beginning, they did. They lived their lives together, with each other. We always found each other. Everything was so new and exciting – I mean, I was living with A MAN! We taught and coached and then I’d come to his soccer field and we would shoot on the net. Then we would shower and go eat at the dining hall. I pitied those couples who entered and left the dining hall without each other, who were too busy to coordinate dinner together, who sat separately. I felt secure, that our love was strong and impenetrable, that we must like each other more than others. How lucky we were!

When we had our first babies, our love was even stronger. Children made us a family and we loved them more than we loved our own lives. There came a need for a division of labor. I wanted to be home with baby, and I was nursing. So I was the one getting up at night so he could work the next day. I still went to all his basketball games, even the away ones, even when they were in Roxbury Massachusetts and I drove for six hours trying to find that stupid gym.

But over the years, it had changed. They had allowed it to change…Then we had more babies and our older children started school. What a wonderful unit we were! And as was necessary as responsibilities were bigger. The “divide and conquer” method was needed for home, work, church, hobbies, and volunteer work.

They’d been living next to each other for a long time. 

Then came all those lessons of one kind and another: soccer, baseball, swimming, basketball, cross-country, dance, scouts, camp-outs. Our children made friends and went to their houses. And the mall! One of us was (is) always driving in the car, picking someone up and dropping someone off while the other was (is) at home doing bedtime, teeth-brushing, and homework.

And the work became even more important. I sometimes worry about this, all this time spent apart. But we make efforts. It’s been good. It’s been enough. We’re happy.

Aren’t we?

Nothing says passion like the wolverine beard...right?

Nothing says passion like the wolverine beard…right?

But this past fall, our friends: the “perfect couple” with the “perfect family,” with four children the same ages as our own, quietly divorced. It was shocking. Obviously, “the perfect” was not. I cried, got angry, asked really personal questions, and felt a sad soul-sucking hopelessness.

It happens all the time. And it scares me. Couples “drift.” We “grow apart.” Over time, the little things become “irreconcilable differences.” Most couples who divorce probably wouldn’t say it was one big thing. They say, “we were too young,” “I don’t know what happened.” “He just wasn’t there for me.”

Or are those just things we tell ourselves?

So I’ve been thinking. This is what passion looks like to me:

  • find one another when you come through the door after being away
  • say good-bye with a kiss
  • date nights. and often.
  • get-aways. just the two of you.
  • small, considerate acts of kindness. (he scrubbed the carpet this morning. WIN.)
  • “I love you.” every day.
  • pray together. every day.
  • his interests are my interests – not because I like electronic stores, but because I love him.
  • when we speak to one another, it’s always with respect.

Nothing on this list is big. Everything is very small. And critical to a marriage. It’s this couple. It’s Exercising our Kindness Muscles. It’s the small things that keep the passion, not just the grand overtures, diamond rings, and over-the-top birthday parties (I mean, honey, those are nice too!)

I guess I don’t want it to take tragedy or feel a great regret that we could have done it better. I want to say he was the love of my life, because I chose him and he chose me. That we loved each other on purpose. While the neurons are still alive.

She wished she’d been his passion.

The heartbreaking thing here is, too much time had passed and Alice couldn’t do anything about it.


Exercising our Kindness Muscles

This summer I was spying on this couple. I was so taken by them that I surreptitiously took their picture. This type of activity is how I live out my Sydney Bristow double-agent fantasy life.


We were at a wedding, where everyone was either very hopeful as they watched the beautiful bride and her groom, or painfully cynical that love stories don’t really exist after all. I saw mostly happy people though, raising their glasses of homemade fermented honey, getting happy drunk on bees and love.

But mostly I watched the couple, and the great care they took for one another. They were older, with white hair and sun spots. On their faces they wore experience and life wrinkles. But oh, they were beautiful. They glowed happyHe put his hand on the small of her back. She smiled. He watched her with care. Right in front of me was the couple we want to be in forty years.

They turned out to be incredibly friendly, too. The woman must have known I was taking secret pictures of her under the table because she started up a conversation. Turns out, we had connections of knowing someone who knew someone who knew someone.

She was very chatty and he was very hungry. He said she should get something to eat. She said, “It’s alright, honey, you go on along.” But he didn’t. He stalled, waiting, until finally she followed. And so I continued to watch them. I was so very struck and how very kind they were to each other. That’s all it was. It was kindness.

A few weeks later, Cassie sent me an Atlantic Monthly article entitled Masters of Love by .

Turns out “science says lasting relationships come down to…kindness and generosity.”

Did you know? In June, about 13,000 couples will say “I do.” I imagine all of those couple are looking forward to a long happy life together.

Sadly, only 3 in 10 will remain in healthy, happy marriages.

The rest? Divorce, bitterness, dysfunction.

The article goes on to talk about psychologist John Gottman, who made a critical discovery — one that gets at the heart of why some relationships thrive while others languish.

It has to do with the word “bid.” Throughout the day, we are all making requests for connection. For instance, if I look out the window and say, “Look at that beautiful chicken in the yard.” I’m inviting Husband to respond – not about the chicken but to what I said. That’s my “bid.” If Husband responds kindly, I will feel like being kind back. If he grunts at his phone, doesn’t look up, or says my love of chickens is stupid, well then, I’ll probably want to kick him 🙂

I think this is what is meant when they say, “the greatest gift a father can give his children is to love their mother.” And vice versa. Because when we are kind to each other, the children get greater love from their parents.

If we wanted, we could become masters of kindness.

As I reflect on recent terrorist attacks, bullying, miserable marriages, and very sad children…I can think of very few others virtues we could “master” that would be of more worth to our world.

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

And did you know? Contempt is the NUMBER ONE factor that tears couples a part.

So, this is a marital post? Yes and No.

Today is Martin Luther King Day. I have always loved this day. I will never tire of watching his I Have A Dream speech or my favorite, I Have Been to the Mountaintop.

My kids will go to assemblies today and learn about equality and love. I hope it translates.

This video shows how kindness is easy to talk about, but hard to do. Especially in schools. “The Mean” just breaks my heart.


Wouldn’t this be a revolution? If we started being kind? Read Wonder and you’ll feel like starting your own revolution. Kindness glues couples together. I believe it can also glue our society together.

“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,” says Shakespeare’s Juliet. “My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite.”

That’s how kindness works too: evidence shows that the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves. Imagine if children witness kindness in their home – how much more likely would they feel kindly towards themselves and to others?

We might think that kindness is just something some people have naturally. “Or you could think of kindness as a muscle,” Smith writes. Some people may be naturally more sensitive and kind, but just like exercise, we can grow the kindness muscle. We can “MASTER” the muscle. Just like exercise, we have to exercise our kindness muscles to keep them in shape.

Good relationships require consistent hard work. No, this love stuff ain’t for wimps!

Read Masters of Love here. It’s worth the read. It’s geared toward marriage, but I think it holds huge lessons for family, especially parents, as we raise and teach children who observe and then mimic our every action.

Meryl Streep on: ‘Careful the things you say / Children will listen / Careful the things you do / Children will see,’

To paraphrase Carlos Slim: most of us think we need to build a better world for our children, but the reality is we need to make better children for our world.

I think it starts with kindness.


My Marriage Advice (in case you wanted to know)

Well, it’s the last day of the love month and it’s leap year.  I love leap year.  It’s like getting one freebie, one extra day, day 366.  What did you do with your extra day?  I checked out way too many books from the library (Wheat Belly, Jodi Picoult’s Lone Wolf, Brain Bugs, a Joan Didion memoir, and I’m still not done with 11/22/63.) But I also went on a date to the grocery store with my husband, when all the kids were tucked into bed.  I think it’s quite a nice state of things, to be able to leave a little here and there.  Maybe next time it will be Switzerland.  

We are quickly leaping towards 15 years of marriage.  It’s hard to believe.  This month I’ve seen posts on what makes marriage a blissful state, so I thought I’d add my own advice, mostly because it’s good for me to think about when I’m being a crab apple.

Amy’s Top Tips:
Marriage comes before the children.  The longer I’m married, the more I understand that a happy marital unit makes for happier kids.  What more does a child want, then parents who love each other?

“Do you want to be happy or do you want to be right?”  I read this recently and loved it.  Sometimes, you just gotta let it go…
Go to bed At the same time.  At my house this is the time of day where all electronics are off and many of the most meaningful conversations take place.

Pray. Together.  Everyday.

When your spouse gets mad at you and cries, give her a hug.  This works on me every time.  
Sandwich.  This is um, something I say often…meaning, if you’re going to criticize or tell me something you don’t like, then you better sandwich between two whopping compliments!
Don’t Complain about your spouse to others.  Keep it within the marriage. Women can be bad.  Then again, I’ve never hung out in a men’s locker room.
Remember that physical touch is powerful…the hand on the shoulder, the soft brush of fingers on hands, the arm around the waist.

As soon as you walk through the front door, find each other.  Give each other a kiss
Always remember to ask, “How was your day?” 

Is a shamrock shake important to him?  Then it’s important to me.  (Gross.  I mean, I’ll share one if you really, really want one).
Never publicly criticize, never in front of others.

Make one-on-one time a priority.  A goal we repeatedly fail at is putting the computers away at 9.  Still working on that one…

Little loves notes in bags, pockets, books, drawers…Hmmm…it’s been awhile.

Remember conversations and follow-up.  It will mean you’ve listened!

Never say the “D” word.  Divorce shouldn’t be thrown around a conversation, even in jest.

Small considerations are big things

Mother-in-law advice:  Never be down at the same time.  When one of you is down, the other needs to be pulling up.

The habits you make early in your marriage will stay with you.  Make good habits early on.  Advice from my father and something that has helped us tremendously.
Live on less than you make.  Financial stress is marital stress.
Go away on trips without the kids.

Back each other up in front of the kids.  United front.

Call and check in during the day.  Yes, I’m giving you permission to over-communicate 🙂
Let things go.  Focus on the current issue, not all the past offenses.

Remember Anne Shirley…”Tomorrow is another day, with no mistakes in it.”  Go to bed.  My worse moments are when I’m tired.
As an added bonus:  How to Annoy Your Husband:

Repeatedly tell your husband you need another baby.  Tell him you won’t bring it up again until he does.  Bring it up the next day because he “forgot” to.

Buy shampoo and conditioner even though you know an intervention is coming.  Justify purchases by claiming it’s, “Hair storage.”

Make sure the kids eat in the backseat of Daddy’s car.  Make sure they shake their crumbs out all over the seats before they exit.

Turn on the lights in every room and then leave.

Place the bed-wetting child on his side.

Well, I guess I’ll stop there even though there are so many more annoying tips I could share with you. Have advice for me? I’d love to hear.  Do tell.

May you leap into the new month with love in your heart, stars in your eyes, and sweet shamrock shakes…xoxo.


language of love

The other day I had a conversation with my sister-in-law about this book:
Have you heard of it?  This is the gist:
After many years of counseling, Dr. Chapman noticed a pattern: everyone he had ever counseled had a “love language,” a primary way of expressing and interpreting love. He also discovered that, for whatever reason, people are usually drawn to those who speak a different love language than their own.
Of the countless ways we can show love to one another, five key categories, or five love languages, proved to be universal and comprehensive—everyone has a love language, and we all identify primarily with one of the five love languages: 
1. Words of Affirmation (I love you, great work, you look beautiful, etc.)
2. Quality Time (putting down the fork, turning away from the t.v., undivided attention)
3. Receiving Gifts (The time and thoughtfulness behind a birthday present or anniversary)
4. Acts of Service (Vacuuming! Doing the dishes, getting up with the baby)
5. Physical Touch (Hugs, kisses, holding hands)
I read this book a long time ago, but think about it often.  All of the love languages are important to me, but “words of affirmation” seem to be what I need most from my spouse.  Every once in awhile I have to remind him of this too, so he doesn’t forget 🙂  My friend says her husband’s love language is “physical touch.” It used to be very hurtful when she would express her love with a gift and he wouldn’t appreciate it. 
From his point of view, she was just spending money.  To her, she was giving him love and he wasn’t appreciating it.  When she thought about how he was viewing her  “love” it helped her understand his point of view. And when he realized this was her way of showing love, he could appreciate the gift more.  However, he’d rather receive a hug and a kiss when he walked through the door than, say, a shirt.

My sister-in-law says this book has really helped her understand her children. I hadn’t thought about this regarding my children.  It makes sense though.  One of my children frequently asks for daddy-daughter and mother-daughter dates.  She needs quality time. Another child needs physical touch – hugs, kisses, and pats on the arm.  One of my children loves physical gifts – tiny little treasures to put in her special box.

It’s good to know what what our spouses and children need to feel loved.  It’s extremely helpful to figure this out early on in a relationship, rather than spending 20 years feeling hurt and wondering if they’ll ever “get it.”

Which love language are you?  Take the Quiz.



"Just Round Down!"

Have you ever felt guilty over spending money?  Have you ever had a pit in your stomach when thinking of how to explain a certain expenditure to your husband?  Or perhaps you don’t feel guilty, just get “creative” on how you present a new purchase to your spouse.

Recently I overheard some very funny conversation regarding this subject.  Of course I was an innocent bystander and wasn’t an actual participant.  I would never use such tactics!

Names have been changed to protect marital happiness.

Wilma:  “Fred is going to be so mad but I really needed this new pencil skirt!  And it was such a good deal!”

Cher:  “Come on girl, it was only 20 bucks.”

Wilma:  “Actually it was 30, well, 29.99.”

Cher:  (rolling eyes) “Don’t you know you have to round down?  When he asks how much it was you say, ‘Oh it was like 20 bucks’ like no big deal, (shrug shoulders, off-handedly casual-like).  Girl, you always round down.”

Cher’s not the only one with strategy.  Other women told me this:

After shopping you discover your husband has gotten home before you.  Uh-oh.  Easy fix.  Leave the shopping bags in the trunk until you can get them in unnoticed.

Dying to wear that new outfit you just purchased?  Show restraint!  Put the clothes in your closet for a few weeks.  When you finally wear it and your husband’s eyebrows scrutinize and ask, “Is that new?”  You can say, “Honey, I’ve had this forever.

When she grocery shops, Sonia uses the debit card.  Then she can get cash back for a different purchase she really wants other than oranges.

One husband says, “I hate when Sally and Sonia get together and start whispering!  Ugh.  Sonia is such an enabler.”

Sometime you have to pull out:  “You want me to look nice don’t you?”

When you go shopping together, make sure your husband buys something first or suggest a few things while shopping together. Then, later on, he’ll feel obligated for you to get something as well.

Sometimes it’s not entirely fair.  For the majority of families that I know, the woman is the one who does all the shopping – food, clothes, snow pants, home decor, paint, hair brushes, sticky tack, cleaning supplies, floss, etc. etc.  All those things add up.  And when you have to go to Target to buy toilet paper and pencils, and THAT’s IT, and there is that adorable dress you simply must  have or your child would look soooo cute in…  Oh, the spending temptations are everywhere!

Have you ever used one of the above statements?  Have any other good ones?

And who exactly are these women?  Oh, I’ll never tell.