Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Lawyer’s Tomatoes

Fresh veggies

I’d like to thank my first boss, Mr. Poole for the best summer job I ever had.  I guess it was a bit of a mercy hire, Mr. Poole and my parents worked down the street from each other.  It was really nice of him to give me the job for the summer while his regular secretary was on family leave.  Mr. Poole was the county attorney in the morning, and had private practice in the afternoon.  The job was simple: type up legal documents without making any mistakes, keep his files neat and organized, and answer the phone.

Most of his private practice was pleasant legal work such as real estate transactions and wills.  I was his sole employee.  I learned the importance of meticulous record keeping and discretion.  I liked the rigor of a lawyer’s office, that every file and paper clip was in its proper place.  And I liked Mr. Poole’s garden.

Mr. Poole’s office was a one-story, free standing building on the main street of a little Texas town, right across the street from the county court house.  The office had a fenced back property, and every spring Mr. Poole would plant an impressive garden.  By the time June arrived and I started working there, his crops were beginning to ripen.  Mr. Poole’s daily ritual was to set aside time for a coffee break in his garden.  “Hold my calls, I’m headed out back to counsel with the vegetables for a minute,” he’d tell me.  I’d cover the phones.

The garden was a glorious jumble of tomato plants, squashes, cucumbers, beans and corn.  That’s right, there were corn stalks growing back there.  Afternoon clients were often sent home with a few fresh, sun warmed tomatos or squash.  I’ll bet your lawyer doesn’t do that for you.

The mornings were a different tone and pace over at the courthouse.  The county attorney’s office was stately and old fashioned, with soaring ceilings, and heavy, dark wood desks, chairs and filing cabinets.  Mr. Poole had a theory about the summer heat.  He would solemnly enter the office after particularly sweltering nights, and announce “it’s going to be busy today, so get ready.  There’s nothing like 99+ degree weather to make this office busy.”  The first morning he told me this, I asked what he meant.  He explained that years of personal experience taught him that when the temperatures got too hot for several days in a row, crime went up along with it.  Men beat their wives, fights broke out between neighbors, etc., which in turn filled the jail, which in turn created a great deal of paperwork for the county attorney to process all the crimminal activity.  He was right.  My hands would ache from all the typing some days, but I was young, and happy to have a job and get paid.

So I’d like to thank Mr. Poole for letting me work for him those first couple of summers I was in college.  I learned invaluable lessons about the protocol and manners of a formal office.  I learned the importance of order, attention to detail, and triple checking documents.  And most importantly, I learned the value of taking a coffee break to step away from the work during a high stress day.  I prefer a crossword puzzle to a garden, but I still took the lesson with me all these years later and am happier at work because of it.

Musical pairing: “Ordinary Miracles,” Barbra Streisand version, 1994.

Footnote: This continues my thankfulness list – once a month I’ll post a thank you about someone I’m thankful for that’s outside my immediate family and close friends.  There are many people who have helped me that may not know how much their generosity, guidance or kindness affected me.

The Easter Egg Hunt, The Easter Dress

Easter, circa 1970

I hope it’s not too late to mark Easter Day this year, I love this holiday.  It just took me awhile to get my thoughts together.  GenXers have the perspective of being some of the first children to grow up experiencing the hyper-commericalization of most holidays.  We didn’t cause it I don’t think, but we enjoyed the childhood benefits and the sugar rush.

I was raised in a Christian family that didn’t celebrate religious holidays.  So Easter for me as a child was about getting a new dress for spring and hunting eggs that the Easter bunny had hidden in the yard.  These eggs were the brightly colored plastic sort that my mom filled with jelly beans and small chocolates.  I’ve always loved a good egg hunt and should tell you next Easter about the competitive egg hunts my sister and I had as teenagers if I don’t forget.  I loved hunting the eggs, I loved the candy, I loved re-hiding the eggs and playing again.  I was easy to entertain.

And THE dress.  There was great anticipation and excitement over the dress every year.  Our family was lower middle class, we didn’t have a closetful of clothes and they weren’t designer.  But my mom is a wonderful tailor, so she would sew my sister and I dresses for Easter.  Fancy dresses with ruffles and stitching and lace.  She usually bought a new pattern each year for it to be in the latest style.  We would often get to pick the color and would check on the dresses’ progress in the weeks before Easter, having fittings, and deciding about how we would do our hair.  Easter Sunday would be the first time my sister and I would get to wear the new dresses, and enjoy being pretty and fancy for church and Easter dinner with extended family.

Now that I’m a parent, and of boys no less, dressing up for Easter isn’t the focus.  We choose to celebrate Easter as a religious holiday.  I’ve shunned the commercialism for the most part.  No Easter bunny, but I don’t mind using it as a reason to restock the chocolate supply in the house 😉  And yes, I think back fondly to my childhood celebrations and am thankful for those moments standing in the sunshine, dressed in something lovely and hand made for me, about to head off on a hunt.

 Musical pairing: “Walking on Sunshine,” by Katrina and the Waves, 1985 and “Alive Forever Amen,” by Travis Cottrell, 2005.

Banned From The Kitchen AKA The Girls Are En Fuego

Baking Cookies with Mom circa 1969

Completely by accident I set my sweater on fire when I was cooking recently.  I had a pot cooking on the gas range, and I leaned across to set the oven timer.  I looked down and the girls were on fire!  Those who know me are thinking, no way, it’s impossible for size A breasts to get in the way of anything!  Well, being the graceful person that I am, I somehow found a way and there I am screeching for help and swatting at my chest trying to put the fire out.  My sons raced into the room just as I was patting out the last flame and they stood in the doorway with their mouths open.  Smoke was coming off my chest.  My brave Boy Scout jumped into action, “Get it off, we’ve got to get the sweater in the sink to make sure the fire is out!  Check your hair to make sure you don’t have sparks!  And by the way, what were you doing?!”

“Uhh, cooking dinner.”  He rolls his eyes at me while his little brother suggests maybe he could microwave something for dinner, it would be safer.  My cooking skills are legendary in our house.

Fortunately I cook almost exclusively for the male gender and they are a forgiving tribute to our species.  When our boys were little and would write those essays at school for Mother’s Day listing why they love their mothers, “her tacos” and “she cooks my favorite foods” were always near the top of my son’s lists.  The way to man’s heart of any age IS apparently his stomach.

Fortunately for me, the bar is set pretty low at our house.  And like I said, my guys are generous with their praise at my small successes and have simple tastes.  We eat very healthy, primarily because I CAN’T fry things.  Bad, explosive, dangerous things happen with frying.  It’s just not done in my kitchen.

Now I have to admit, I’ve kept it really simple since I stepped into my own personal kitchen as a young adult.  I stick mostly to the simple recipes that fit my limited and short success list.  I don’t try anything that doesn’t come from one of three cookbooks (listed below) or that isn’t clearly labeled “Easy” on The Food Network web site.  If it has more than about 9 ingredients, I don’t touch it.  And yes, I throw out about 10% of everything I cook, despite all the simplification.

By nature, I am not a good cook.  And I come from a family of excellent cooks, making me the ‘black skillet’ of the family.  One of my grandmothers made the cakes sold in the family grocery store bakery.  My mother has a degree in home economics, and she made straight A’s in cooking and was certified to teach cooking for heaven’s sake.  Yet from an early age I exhibited signs of kitchen clumsiness and befuddlement.  Requiring me to enroll in 2 full years of home economics in middle school helped with my ability to plan a shopping trip and menu, and I could measure things accurately most of the time.  Wow those classes were GPA killers for me and I was not a popular cooking partner.  Sadly, the classes didn’t improve my cooking to the level of not burning, breaking, spilling, scorching or otherwise destroying consistently 50% of all food I attempted to prepare.  And that’s not counting all the times I accidently burned or cut myself.

I was banned from my mother’s kitchen at about age 14 the SECOND time I set it on fire trying to make trail mix or pancakes or something.  From then on out I was only allowed to prepare green leaf salad or help clean up.  This has been a deep dark family secret until right now!  However, now that I’ve set the girls on fire, being banned from my mother’s kitchen doesn’t seem as embarrassing anymore.

On the bright side, I was not hurt during the latest incident.  And the sweater was from the 1980’s, maybe it was time for the sweater to self combust.  The experience did not dampen my enthusiasm for getting back into the kitchen and trying again.  Thanksgiving dinner went almost perfectly a week later, except for the jello that turned out like soup.  My little one sweetly went and got bowls and spoons and everything was fine.  Even my mother, who might never be able to understand my cooking impediment, still graciously helps me cook in my own kitchen when she visits.  I always learn something new that I sometimes can replicate later on my own.

Over the years, I’ve learned to enjoy cooking in my own personal kitchen with my husband and kids.  We have a lot of fun and I do well not cooking alone.  I love throwing dinner parties for friends and neighbors (my husband usually cooks on the grill, I do the planning, shopping and serving).  My older son is becoming very good cook and likes it.  He also is skilled at cooking for a couple dozen Boy Scouts on a camping trip.  I’m in awe of that.  Maybe my family’s cooking gene is generation skipping?

I’m a big believer in the importance of the family dinner table, the place where so much more than eating is accomplished to make our house a home.  So I stay optimistic and keep cooking.  One day my sons will probably have to ‘take away the keys’ to my kitchen stove and oven.  I’ll become too forgetful or clumsy or dim sighted to safely continue to cook.  That’s alright, I’ll always have my love of the family table, no matter how the food is prepared or delivered.  And in the meantime I bought a kitchen timer, so I don’t have to reach across the burners to use the oven timer.  It’s safe to enter the kitchen again!

Musical pairing: “Burning Down The House,” by Talking Heads, 1983

Cookbooks for the cooking impaired:

  1. Calf Fries to Caviar, True Confessions of Two Texas Cooks by Janel Franklin and Sue Vaughn, 1983 (a wedding gift)
  2. North Country Cabin Cooking by Mary Brubacher and Margie Knoblauch, undated (a gift from my Minnesota cousin Judy)
  3. Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals 2, by Rachael Ray, 2003 (self-purchase includes years of watching her show on TV)

What We Miss Most About Her

In The Kitchen With a Granddaughter

I wrote and gave the eulogy at my Grandma’s funeral in 2005.  She was granted a peaceful death in her sleep, resting in her own bed on a Sunday morning.  After reading it again today, I still think it gives a nice description of her and how special she was to our family.  I’d like to thank my friend who sent me prayers for mourning, it was comforting while I was preparing for the funeral, and I selected the Psalms 16 reading from day 3 of the prayers.  Here is my eulogy, I’ve only removed her name for privacy and added the musical footnote:

The facts of a person’s life, when they were born and who survived them, mark a person’s time on the calendar and place on the map.  It speaks of the people they loved.  But there is so much more to my grandmother and these are the things we will miss most- her favorite past times, her routines and her character.

She was a farmer’s daughter and married a farmer.  They farmed at Seymour, Vera and Turkey for 44 years.  Her favorite smell was fresh plowed earth.  Nonnie married her high school sweetheart and enjoyed 52 years of marriage.  There was something special about their relationship.  I loved the way they would do anything for each other.  They truly enjoyed one another’s company and had a just wanted to make each other happy and I hope I can have a long, happy marriage as well.

From a young age, she enjoyed singing.  She loved to sing at church, listen to the radio and watch Grand Ole Opry.  She loved Charlie Pride, the Oak Ridge Boys, the Gaithers and other country and gospel singers.  She hummed when she cooked and did chores.  Her favorite part of church was the singing (we all know what she did toward the end of most sermons- doze off!) and I know she loved to worship God in song by the pure joy in the way she sang.  I’ll miss that.

She was an excellent cook and her kitchen was always a buzz of wonderful smells and country food.  She loved to bake cakes and brownies for people and take food to the sick.  She cooked her widowed father lunch every day for many years and walked it down the street to his house.  I love the way she could gently direct little children who wanted to help with the cooking and didn’t mind if there were messes.

She also was the crafty type and was always into the latest crochet, quilting or craft fad.  She showed great creativity in her projects.  She did lovely handwork.  She enjoyed crafting with friends and put her love for the recipient in every loop and stitch.  Her last project, completed only days ago, was an afghan for her new great granddaughter.

She was a very good gardener.  I suppose it would have been a liability to the family business if she did not have a green thumb.  She grew gorgeous zinnias and marigolds and daffodils in her flowerbeds and roses on the side yard.  She could coax giant amaryllis to grow out of milk cartons each spring.  I loved to help her garden when I visited and when I had my own home we would spend lots of time talking about planting and growing advice, suggestions for which plants to try.  The first time our peppers succeeded, she came and showed us how to can them.  Her favorite flower was the bluebonnet and I always thought it was too bad that the climate wasn’t kind to bluebonnets in North Texas.  Yellow roses were her favorite flower to give and receive.

Some of you may not know that she enjoyed baseball and softball a great deal.  She played softball in school and she and her husband enjoyed watching baseball together.  She spoke fondly about going to see Yankee and Cardinals pre-season exhibition games in Witchita Falls and Dallas.  She kept up with her grandson’s Little League games and when my son started to play, she enjoyed hearing the latest about his games and accomplishments too.

She also loved the sport of fishing.  She fished with her cousins and friends, she fished with her husband, and she taught all the kids and grandkids how to fish.  It was always one of the highlights of a trip to see them and it was so much fun.

She was a faithful follower of Christ for 72 years.  She regularly attended church, was a deacon’s wife and supported the fellowship of believers with her prayers, pies and handiwork.

She was proud of all her children, grandchildren and great grands and she openly expressed it on a regular basis.  She always said her greatest possession was her children.  I loved to watch her walk through the door with her arms open ready to hug the little ones and hold the babies.

Undoubtedly her greatest legacy is the faith in God that she lived by and shared with others.  She was blessed to be rocked as a baby with the sound of Jesus’ name whispered in her ear by her mother.  She was raised in a Christian home and regularly participated in church activities and worship.  She lived a life that brought honor to her role as a deacon’s daughter and deacon’s wife.  She passed her love of God and hope in heaven on to her children and grandchildren.

There is not a person in this room that she did not pray for, and some of us needed LOTS of prayers.  We were always covered with her petitions to the throne of God and I’m not sure that there is an adequate replacement for this loss to our lives.

She always advised me to depend upon the word of God to guide me and comfort me.  And so on this day of grieving I turn to her wisdom.  And so I look to the word of God for comfort and words to say when words are difficult to come by.

Psalm 16: “1 Keep me safe, O God, for I have come to you for refuge.   2 I said to the LORD, “You are my Master!  All the good things I have are from you.”  3 The godly people in the land are my true heroes!  I take pleasure in them!  4 Those who chase after other gods will be filled with sorrow.  I will not take part in their sacrifices or even speak the names of their gods.  5 LORD, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing. You guard all that is mine.    6 The land you have given me is a pleasant land. What a wonderful inheritance!  7 I will bless the LORD who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me.  8 I know the LORD is always with me.  I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.    9 No wonder my heart is filled with joy, and my mouth shouts his praises!  My body rests in safety.  10 For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your godly one to rot in the grave.   11 You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.”

When Grandpa was very close to death he told me that when he slept he went to a quiet place and stood in front of a shimmering river.  On the other side of the river was his deceased son sitting under a tree and they would talk.  He would be so disappointed when he woke up.  I know that this past Sunday morning that angels came to escort dear Grandma to the other side of the river to join her husband and her son and the rest of her family.  And though we will miss her presence with us in this place of worship, I know she is doing what she loved- worshiping her God and singing with joy.

Musical pairing: “Secret O’ Life” by James Taylor, 1977 and “Amazing Grace” the Chris Tomlin version, 2007

Before The Computer Club

Video Club 1984 Post, Texas

Look closely at the photo from my high school annual the year I graduated.  It’s 1984 in Texas and this is the closest thing pictured to a computer club.  And it’s not even a computer club, it’s the Video Club.  There is a TV and a camera in the picture- electricity was at least involved 🙂  The ratio of young men to young women is 5 to 1.  This is the same year that 19-year-old Michael Dell founded his company in his dorm room at the University of Texas.  Those of us a few years younger were not prepared.

Now I need to credit my Dad with buying us a home computer in 1983, setting my sister and I in front if it and telling us that this was the future, get comfortable with the box before you.  It was an IBM with a green screen and less computing power than my son’s current cell phone, costing God only knows what… and he was beyond right.

Dad realized that it would take awhile for the schools to catch up, if ever, considering that many schools in Texas put more money into their football programs than their computer programs.  And I’m certain he was scared shitless that I was spending all my time at age 16 with the band geeks and speech team and that would most likely never translate into a stable income skills (give my talent level).  So he bought me a computer, and I loved that expensive IBM.

By the time my younger sister was a senior five years later, there was indeed a Computer Club at the high school.  I had her look it up.  She said the popular people weren’t in the photo.  Who’s freaking cool now?!

Anyway, by my sophomore year of college I was a regular in the computer lab.  That wasn’t my major of study, but it was so fast and cool to do homework there.  At the time, Texas Tech University had one of the few state-of-the-art computing facilities for their general students.  It covered the entire basement of the library, one side was PC, the other was Mac.  I made sure to switch back and forth between the two sides, even though I favored the Macs.  Dad kept telling me that IBM would be the business standard.  The mainframe was connected in from another free standing building.  The temperature was kept freezing and there were dot matrix printers at the end of every row of computers.  They had a separate computer lab for the ISQS students.

It was an interesting time for college students in the 1980’s.  You could still turn in handwritten or typed work (on a typewriter).  Computer based testing was brand new at the college level.  This was before MS Office, before Adobe, before wi-fi, before cell phones, before Google.  During my tenure at college the library converted from the card rack system to the barcode and online reference system.  Wow.  I could have probably finished my thesis in 1/3 of the time if only barcodes on books in the library and Google had been around.

And now I, and many of my high school classmates work in the high tech industry.  I do market research for computer, software and smartphone companies.   Most of what I do, how I do it and who I do work for didn’t exist when the Video Club had their photo taken with the non-HD TV.  Our high school education did not prepare us for the future in the sense of hands on training or even a heads up for what was to come.

And that’s OK.  We’re fine.  We rolled with the changes and for the most part stayed curious and kept learning.  And now we point at cool stuff like Skype and iPads and nanobots and tell our kids to get comfortable with the next wave of technology.  Because there will be a club for some of this stuff in high school one day.

Musical pairing: “I Love Technology (LaFawnduh’s Song)” Napoleon Dynamite, 2004 and “Vogue” Madonna, 1990.

Scoring the Generation X Aptitude Test

X Saves The World

I’m reading this clever book again, and wanted to comment on the first question of the Generation X Aptitude Test:

1. Do you want to change the world?

A) Yes, and I’m proud to say we did, man.  We changed the world.  Just look around you!

B) Yes, absolutely, and I promise I will get back to doing that just as soon as interest rates return to where they’re supposed to be.

C) Omigod, Omigod, changing the world and helping people is, like, totally important to me!  I worked in a soup kitchen once and it was so sad but the poor people there had so much dignity!

D) The way you phrase that question is so freaking cheesy and absurd that I am not even sure I want to continue with this pointless exercise.

That’s the only question on this test.  If you answered D, you’re an Xer.  “X is more a sensibility than a rigidly confined demographic…It’s not that the world doesn’t need changing or that doing so would extract too much strain.  It’s that talking about it seems to undermine the effort.  Why be so obvious about it?  Why announce your intentions?  Why does changing the world mean that you have to put on your serious face and sing a power ballad with David Hasselhoff?  If the boomers were really so committed to sticking it to The Man, why were they always overnighting The Man a memo about it?” – Jeff Gordinier

Well put, Jeff.  Maybe that’s why we feel trampled by the workplace culture where shameless self-promotion is rewarded by bigger paychecks and corner offices.  Maybe that’s why we choke back hurl at the cause of the month with sponsor logos and matching t-shirts.  Changing the world should not include goodie bags.

Musical pairing: “Change the World” by Eric Clapton, 1996.

Observations on a Drive Through Wisconsin

This week I drove from Chicago to Napowan Adventure Base in Wisconsin to pick up my son early from Boy Scout camp.  He had a baseball tournament to get back home for.  I hadn’t driven this route before, so it was a new experience to set off alone into Wisconsin.  It’s a beautiful state, with rolling hills of corn and soybean fields tucked behind groves of trees and spotted by lakes with boat docks.  Of course there are dairy farms with red barns and silos as well.   Crossing the Illinois and Wisconsin state line, the highway heads along Lake Michigan toward Milwaukee, then continues north to OshKosh.

I started counting Harley-Davidson dealerships to pass the time.  In between the state line and OshKosh there are FIVE dealerships on the highway.  Being a weekday, there weren’t many motorcycles on the highway.  Perhaps they like to travel the county and state roads, and the motorcycle clubs prefer weekend rides.  The highway was predominately filled by semi trucks and RVs.

The Mercury Marine factory is on the highway in Fond du Lac.  There are a lot of fireworks stores.  The EAA Aviation Museum was a sight with biplanes and helicopters in the air, along with a blimp just taking off over the highway.  Hundreds of RVs and tents filled the space beside the airstrips.

To get to the camp, I turned west at OshKosh.  A few miles into it, GPS stopped working… I was off the grid.  It was a crazy maze of country roads that jogged and twisted back into the forest.  Thank goodness I had printed off the directions on Mapquest.  And finally I made it to the Boy Scout sign at the entrance and met my son at the main office.  The camp was bustling with groups of boys ranging from middle schoolers to high schoolers.

It was good to see my son, but not smell him 🙂  As I did a quick visual inventory, I noted the bug bites, the cuts, messy hair and dirty fingernails.  It looked like he had a great time.

We began backtracking the county roads and decided to take a different route, through Madison to avoid some highway construction that slowed me down.  He was trying to pull up GPS to get instructions, but couldn’t.  He asked me what in the world “E” network was, he’d never experienced Edge, but it can’t handle GPS.  So we made a guess off the paper map, and headed away from the camp.

And for four hours I got to hear the details of the wilderness survival badge, swimming in the lake, night time scavenger hunts and wall climbing.  I caught him up on what he’d missed at home while he was away, and we discussed the upcoming baseball game we were driving to make.  He asked me about work.

It was a very long car ride for me, but completely worth the effort.  It was relaxing to drive through a very beautiful part of the upper midwest, and to spend some captured conversation time with my son who is growing up so fast and learning to survive and thrive in the wild world outside our home.  Sometimes without GPS.

Musical pairing: “Roam” The B-52’s, 1989