Tell Us a Story

My friend Fred
has the funniest ritual. When asked to bring dessert to a dinner party (or any party), he heads to Carvel to pick up an ice cream cake. That on its own is revelatory for me because, well, show me someone who doesn’t appreciate a chocolate-vanilla-crunchies-in-the-middle Carvel cake and I will show you an unhappy person. But the best part about his ritual is what he gets piped across the top. Instead of requesting “Happy Birthday” or “Congratulations,” or “Thank you,” Fred ups the ante with messages like the one above, “Thanks for the Spaghetti,” so prosaic that it’s funny. Or “To the Best Freakin Deacon,” when his niece became a Deacon at her church, not something people probably celebrate everyday. On his nephew’s 21st birthday cake, he asked a blanching Carvel employee to write a decidedly non-G-rated version of “Time to Mess Things Up.”

I’m telling you this story because I hope it makes you laugh, but also because it’s part of a little passion project that my friend Jodi (of Supermakeit fame) and I are working on, tentatively called “Treasury.”  We are in the process of collecting easy actionable ideas and rituals that might help us all live more — sorry for this word — intentionally. We hope they are ideas that help people connect…to their children, to their parents, to their grandparents, to their histories, to their communities, to something spiritual and mysterious that make us feel something a little deeper than what we feel when we are scrolling through our twitter feeds. We are looking for rituals like Fred’s that might briefly brighten someone’s day, or rituals that might crush a small part of your heart, or quite simply, rituals that just make you feel something. For her father’s 70th birthday, our friend Brooke had 70 of his friends and family members from all over send in postcards with a message; My friend Ingrid escorts her 100-year-old grandfather to Story Corps on big birthdays to record his memories. (“It brings him joy knowing we are getting so much joy from his life story.”)  Remember NJ mom Diane who tapes a “Welcome Summer” banner across the doorway for her kids to run through on the last day of school? Those are the simple, thoughtful, easily imitated kinds of rituals we want to find, and we were hoping you had some of your own to share.

We know it’s hard to come up with these things on the spot so we’ve taken the liberty of writing a few prompts that might trigger something brilliant. Please don’t be shy and please don’t be afraid to tell us a story, however long it is.

-What friendships mean the most to you and how do you nurture them?

-When was the last time you helped someone get through tough times and what did you do for them?

-When do you feel closest to a loved one who you have lost?

-What was the nicest thing someone gave you or made for you for a birthday present?

-What was the nicest thing you did for someone on a birthday or special occasion?

-How do you celebrate milestones large and small?

-Has your family invented any holidays? How do you celebrate them?

-What was the last personal item you sent or received through snail mail? Who was it to and what was it?

Do you have any traditions with your pet?

-Do you photograph/document anything specific about your kids or life in general?

-What have your grandparents passed on to you (recipes/heirlooms/rituals) that you cherish?

-What recipe/talent/skill did you inherit (or wish you inherited) from a grandparent?

-If you are from a divorced family, were there/are there rituals (meals/activities/holiday traditions) that are therapeutic to you?

-When was the last time you changed someone’s mind?

-Tell us a story about forgiveness.

Once you know your Treasury submission (or submissions!) tell us about it by filling out this form. We will share more details about the project with you as we know them. Not to sound like your third grade teacher, but THERE ARE NO WRONG ANSWERS HERE. Thank you readers! Jodi and I appreciate it so much. UPDATE: We are blown away by the response to this. Keep them coming (no matter when you are reading this post) and apologies in advance if we don’t get back to you right away. Please know that we are loving and appreciating every single story. 

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First of all, my mom has been getting Carvel log cakes for family dinners for as long as I can remember. She says the cake is the exact right size for our family; has everything everyone could want AND she can be funny with the decorations. Lately, she gets them to write “JUST BECAUSE” on the cake.

Second, I’ll be writing to you of our family holiday, Fishmas.


Our friends have held an Orphan’s Easter party every year for decades and someone brings a cake that says Happy Birthday Jesus! – always good for a chuckle. Also, for our wedding, instead of one wedding cake we asked our guests to name their favorite local cakes. We had a buffet of about 20 cakes, with custom cake boxes provided for leftovers. Not planned but the cake my husband and I ended up cutting into for photos was Carvel’s clown-themed Cookiepuss, so now we get a Carvel cake for our anniversary.

Jennifer O.

Random question, but is Carvel a regional company? I’ve never been to one or eaten one of their cakes. Is it like Baskin-Robbins? I grew up in the South, FWIW.


According to their website, they are nationwide including Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia. Do you live in any of those states? I’m a little traumatized thinking that you’ve never been to one, but maybe that’s only because it was such a huge part of my childhood.


I live in California and we didn’t have carvel growing up either. Recently we got carvel cakes in Safeway’s and other grocery stores. My husband is from ct and was super jazzed to see them. Also, I love this idea! I’m a mom of three young kids and love these ideas about how to make things special!


I live (and grew up in) Atlanta and I’ve never seen a Carvel STORE. They sell the cakes on the ice cream aisle of the grocery store, but you can’t get them personalized. For a personalized ice cream cake, I would go to Baskin Robbins.


I always thought Carvel was an East coast thing (when I moved to NY from SF), and it is like a Baskin-Robbins.


I love this story! Ice Cream Cake makes me so happy. Just emailed a Treasury contribution about friendship related to the passion project my friend and I started: Preheated, a Baking Podcast. I wouldn’t say starting a podcast has been easy…but having a weekly scheduled phone call with a friend is definitely easy, actionable, and intentional. It’s such a treat to look forward to! Can’t wait to hear other stories! And I am definitely doing the “Welcome summer” banner.


When I was pregnant, I would make my husband video tape the ultrasound monitor when my OB was doing my ultrasound. So it’s not just the ultrasound print out we get to keep, we also have her first heart beat video! Or of her holding her umbilical cord! Or kicking in my uterus! She turns 11 today, and I can’t wait to go home and find those videos to show her tonight 🙂 Speaking of her birthday, she requested that I make your lettuce wrap tonight for her birthday dinner, and Little Flower Baking’s Rustic Chocolate Cake for her dessert. I just discovered you this January (where I have been?!), and am working through your recipe both here online and from your books! Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your phenomenal, time-saving, impactful tricks of your trade! Love dinneralovestory! xoxo Monki

B Cres

Oh, the Carvel Cake. Every birthday without fail, we would celebrate with a Carvel Cake- you’re right, everyone loved it! I have no idea how/when it started but it became tradition. I have the best memories celebrating with my parents, grandparents, and brother & his girlfriend (now SIL!) . I cherish those memories – those small parties with just the ones I love mean more than any big to-do.


Love this idea and cannot wait to hear/read the final results! Have you read The New Book of Family Traditions by Meg Cox? It is ah-maze-ing and full of just these types of ideas. Worth tracking down for a read! Excited for updates on your own treasury of ideas!


I don’t think we have Carvel cakes in California! I got my daughter a Baskin Robbins ice cream cake for her 3rd birthday last month and I was kind of shocked at the price. Are Carvel cakes inexpensive? (The BR one was $45.)

A fun touch we did to personalize it was I told her to pick out a few of her plastic figurines she plays with, wash them in the sink, and we could stick them on top as decorations. It had a pig, a turkey, Maui (from Moana) and two Daniel Tiger characters. Haha.


I got my grandmother’s “fancy” dishes ( Franciscan Desert Rose ), her fondness for needlework (she crocheted, I knit), & her belly pooch. I generally still use the dishes only on special occasions like she did, but we keep her butter dish on the counter, in use, at all times. &, of course, I can rub my belly anytime and think of her with a smile!


Outside my kids’ daycare are some Japanese cherry trees that were apparently donated by the Japanese government as a gift (our daycare is in the federal building in a large city). When they bloom, they are absolutely stunning. Starting when our oldest was an infant, we took pictures of our kids under these trees each spring, trying to get them on the “puffiest” day. After 7 years of daycare, I took the last photo of the kids under the trees a few weeks ago. We’re off to public school, but we might go back in March to try to get that perfect shot. Or find a new tree. It feels like our way of celebrating spring, and a marker that winter is over: We need to get the puffy tree picture for this year, Mom! Spring is here!

I also am privileged to celebrate Passover with my very best friend and her family, even though no one in my family can claim any sort of Jewishness whatsoever. My favorite part is going around and saying what we are thankful for in the past year. Now the kids are joining in, and we love hearing things like, “That Santa always knows what I want,” at Passover.

Annie Green

I cannot think of anything that really comes under those headings but I would like to say that I am rather sad that we don’t do ice cream cakes here in the UK. When I came across one when visiting friends in the US, I was delighted. I would much, much rather have that than any other form of birthday cake. Sad face…


Fred is awesome & I love the project. Does anyone have a suggestion for a celebration or ritual to start off on the right foot in a new home? We are moving soon & one of my children is really struggling since this is the only home he has known since we brought him home from the hospital 10 years ago. Moving is stressful & messy & I’m looking for a way to make those first moments feel special & full of promise.

Elizabeth Vocke

We have moved a lot and I always buy my daughter a new pair of pajamas for her first night in the new house. To me, there is nothing cozier than a new pair of PJs.

Nikki B

Look at the military mom blogs. They have amazing ideas for their kids during PCS (permanent change of stations) . Anything I learned here would be a repeat of what I read there haha good luck. Just remember kids are adaptable and resilient. Usually the parents attitude completely determines the child’s aka parents are excited and happy to move during a PCS and so are their kids,


Every spring we take the kids to a farm that produces its own maple syrup and has an ultra-basic restaurant offering pancakes with maple syrup, OJ and coffee. The restaurant is only open during maple sugar season, so there’s always speculation about whether it’s time to plan the trip there. We’ve only been doing this spring ritual for a few years, but the farm has been in the same family for generations and they have a collection of vintage maple sugaring tools and old photos that are fun to see.


My husband’s family Christmas tradition is a Friendly’s Celebration Roll (also an ice cream cake). I love that it takes the pressure of creating a dessert literally off the table. And it’s a crowd pleaser!


When my step-sons were fairly little, I watched a video in bed about a child who was gay being bullied and struggling to fit in/feel loved, etc. I marched into the room of my nearly-asleep children, and pulled them out from under their covers to draw a heart on each of their heels with a sharpie marker. To tell them that no matter what they did, no matter who they are, I would always be their mother, and they would always be my babies, and I would always love them. Transitions between houses (ours and their bio mom) can be rough, so we also occasionally take a moment before they’ll be gone for a while to draw a heart (or sometimes a circle) on the bottoms of their feet or on the inside of all of our wrists to remind everyone that no matter what happens, they are safe in our love. We call it “the club.” Lifelong membership, no matter what! xox


Changing someone’s mind (about an ingredient)

For several months, a longtime friend from college and I would take turns making/bringing each other dinner. One time she brought Brussels sprouts in a sauce for the vegetable, and I was really nervous eating them. If I saw them in a buffet, I probably wouldn’t have taken them and just stuck with a vegetable I’m more familiar with, but you kind of have to try something your friend makes for you, right?! Long story short, I ate them and love them now, and just need to find a recipe to help my dear daughter feel the same. Mine had been a little on the slimy side when I cooked them in a skillet, but I’ve been happy with the ones I roasted in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper.

BTW, this is the same friend that turned me around about blue cheese as well as honey mustard sauce. Why did I wait so long before trying them?!!

I’ve been doing the same for her with seafood. She was apprehensive about eating the pan-fried Orange Roughy because she usually doesn’t like fish, but it was very mild and not fishy for her. Whoo whoo! Ditto with the steamed whole Dover Sole we enjoyed when we celebrated Chinese New Year. I don’t know if she’ll ever change her mind about shrimp and other shellfish, but I’ll keep thinking about what dish to share that will help flip the switch for her.

She’s unfortunately moved out of state, so now we just alternate between a meal at a favorite restaurant and a simple home-cooked meal while we catch up on things.

The next time we’re meeting up, though, we’re going to enjoy some chicken pot pie. (Some of you are already singing the ditty made popular by David Cross in the “Slow Donnie” episode of Just Shoot Me- Chicken Pot, Chicken Pot, Chicken Pot Piiiiiiiiiie!) If you’re not familiar with it, please visit

Thanks for starting such a fun post, Jenny!


I’m stealing this post—as I have with other posts—to use in my English classroom. I teach high school honors sophomores, gen ed seniors, and English language learners. Regardless of the vast differences in these preps every Friday my students write in their journals and I respond to each one every single week. Best thing kids can do is have a safe and consistent place to write about whatever the heck they want to write about!!!


In our house, when we make a cake, we usually put candles on it, and sing “Happy Tuesday to you” (or whatever day it is), and then the kids get to blow out the candles. Because every day is a gift and this helps us remember.