Artist, Friend

Wilson, Martian, Jan Brady

Thank you, my hippie shake, hyper-creative girlfriend. The one who liked me even though I was preppie and shy. This photo explains a lot, we’re at a Halloween party in Marilyn’s studio. I went as Jan Brady and she went as a three-breasted Martian. We have an unlikely friendship, and I appreciate so much the time we spent together mixing two styles and having fun.

Marilyn and I met in college, she was an older sorority sister. We got to know each other much better after graduation. We lived in the same city and she washed and cut my hair for years. Marilyn knew how to cook too and she taught me how to make homemade pasta and we’d sit around the chiminea on her patio and drink wine and talk about everything and nothing.

I’m not quite sure what exactly I brought to the friendship, I just knew that I loved spending time with Marilyn. She was always buzzing around on an inspired discovery. She learned how to weld and made metal furniture, sculptures, and architectural pieces for businesses. Her house was an evolving work of art, with rooms changing colors, antiques moving in and out, curtains as doors, knocking down walls. Her style was something uniquely Bohemian, whimsical and dreamy. I loved watching her creative process, admiring her handiwork, spending girl time together. I enjoyed listening to her views on what was going on around us. I learned what the color ‘Dennis green’ looks like. I got comfortable with quirky.

I realize that most artists, and Marilyn is an artist, struggle with living in the little boxes and formulas of society. People like Marilyn can’t be in a box and be themselves or express their God-given talents. It broke my heart when she moved to follow her dreams, and get lost, and find herself again. But I understood, and wished her happiness and prayed for her to find space to create the things she had in her imagination.

And I’m so pleased to say Marilyn and I recently reconnected. Even though we’re apart and I can’t wander through her studio or banter about what she’s thinking about, I can still see photos of the finished product and marvel at how many ways she is beautiful. I’m thankful for my friend who appreciated having a Jan Brady type around. Because I appreciate Martian types.

Musical pairing: “Drops of Jupiter,” Train, 2001 and “Hippy, Hippy, Shake,” Beatles version, 1963.

Hand Cramps and Squinty Eyes

View at Work

GenX is the first generation to spend a great deal of time using computers at work, and I’m beginning to wonder how it will affect us physically. PCs entered the home and workplace as we came of age, and a large number of us have been staring at computer screens and typing on keyboards for a living for 15 to 30 years now. 30 to 60 hours a week, depending upon the demands of the job, times 50 weeks per year, times 15 years is a minimum of 22,500 hours of computer work for one GenXer and we are nowhere near retirement. This doesn’t count the recreational hours we spend with our computers either. What does computer work do to our bodies that might be different from the physical demands of a desk with no computer?

I do know that I’ve already had one hand surgery to fix tendonitis. I usually get sore, cramped hands on days that I do long hours of data entry, typing or mouse scrolling. So far it’s not arthritis or carpal tunnel, but it’s not fun. My eyes are fine, but I have friends needing three sets of clear vision: near, far and computer distance, which can be tricky for the optomitrist to solve. There’s also pain old eye strain too. Desk obesity is a problem for some of us. Earning a living at a computer also affects our joints, metabolism, mental agility, social skills, and other areas of health. Other documented problems include exposure to low levels of raditation and ion fields and internet addictions.

I chose my workpath, and overall have really liked the computer centered work environment. I think it’s a better fit for me than outdoor jobs, manual labor, or standing labor. Other types of labor have higher physical costs than desk or computer jobs. I was just wondering, as I rubbed by aching hands at the end of a long day, if computer jobs hold different health risks than we’ve seen in the past from other types of jobs. I don’t know, but GenX has been the guinea pig and we’ll let you know how it goes.

The next generation started using computers, phones and video games at earlier ages than we did, so the cumulative effects of heavy screen and button pushing usage will likely be even more pronouced for them. I hope they can be healthy when they reach middle age and older.

In the meantime, I need to be better about making space in my day for activity and motion, talking instead of emailing, and resting my eyes on something other than a computer screen… like people’s faces or the great outdoors.

Musical pairing: “(Leave the) Great Indoors,” John Mayer, 2001.

Calculating Dinner Rolls and Other Kindness

Sitting with Liz and family

I’d like to thank the lady who taught me a great deal about hospitality. Liz is one of my mother’s dear friends, and from time to time we’ve been neighbors and the recipient of Liz’s amazing hospitality. Liz and Mom met on an Army base in Texas in the 1960s. When we were in dire straights and needed a place to stay, we stayed with Liz. Decades later, when my husband needed a place to stay while we were moving, he stayed with Liz. I know we’re not the only people who have benefitted from Liz and her crash pad.

Liz also likes to cook for the soup kitchen at her church, and has coordinated and served thousands of meals over the years. Her favorite meal is of course, Thanksgiving. She loves to exhaust herself cooking and serving turkey and all the love that goes into a great Thanksgiving meal for several hundred people.

When we were neighbors again for awhile, I liked to go help sometimes on her Wednesday morning warehouse shopping trips for her weekly soup kitchen meal. She had all these formulas for calculating how many pounds of meat, how many cases of vegetables, how many gallons of tea, how many dozens of dinner rolls would feed the crowd she and her team were expecting that night for dinner. Liz understands street level hospitality.  With Liz you get more than a hot meal, you also get a warm smile and some dignity.

I’m thankful to have Liz in my life for many reasons. Liz is very kind. Her home is cozy and filled with laughter. She’s a woman in constant motion, organized, practical, and has just the right Midwestern sensibilities to give excellent advice. She loves kids, she loves a good party, and she loves to help other people.

I’m just so thankful to have known Liz all my life and spend time with her when I can. I like to cook in her kitchen with her, tag along to visit her goldfish in the koi pond, and talk over coffee. Her gift for genuine hospitality amazes me and I’m blessed that she has a tenderness for strays like me and many others.

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


Sign, Sign Everywhere a Sign

Presidential Campaign Slogans: GenX Birth to the Present

In honor of the elections this week, I’ve compiled a list of the presidential candidate campaign slogans during our GenX lifetime.  Taking a look, political campaign slogans like to use the words ‘America’ and ‘Change.’ Often, Republican slogans focused on the candidate or feelings about the country, and Democratic slogans focused on the people or the future of the country. Sometimes candidates didn’t have official slogans, and informal messages were used on the side of campaign buses and in TV ads.  Some candidates used multiple slogans as the campaign developed.

My personal favorites, one from each political party, are: Reagan’s 1984 “It’s Morning Again In America” and Obama’s 2008 “Yes We Can!” I like them because they are positive, inspirational, and fit the time well.

My personal picks for worst campaign slogans are: Nixon’s 1972 “Nixon-Now More Than Ever” and Carter’s 1980 “We Did It Before, We’ll Do It Again.” Who are the ad wizards that came up with these slogans?!

Honorable mention for a third party campaign goes to: Ross Perot’s 1992 “Ross For Boss” slogan.  It’s awful from a marketing standpoint, but inspired some great SNL skit work.

Get out and vote! The longest campaign in our lifetime is almost over!

Year / Candidates Republican Slogan Democrat Slogan
1968Nixon / McCarthy Nixon’s the One To Begin Anew
1972Nixon / McGovern Nixon- Now More Than Ever Come Home America
1976Carter / Ford He’s Making Us Proud Again A Leader for a Change
1980Reagan / Carter Let’s Make America Great Again We Did It Before, We’ll Do It Again
1984Reagan / Mondale It’s Morning Again In America America Needs A Change
1988Bush Sr. / Dukakis A Kinder, Gentler Nation We’re On Your Side
1992Clinton / Bush Sr. [no official slogan] Save and Invest So We Can Win It’s Time To Change America
1996Clinton / Dole The Better Man for A Better America Building a Bridge to the 21st Century
2000Bush Jr. / Gore Reformer With Results Leadership for the New Millenium
2004Bush Jr. / Kerry [no official slogan]Moving America Forward Let America Be America Again
2008Obama / McCain Country First Yes We Can!
2012Obama / Romney Believe In America Forward

Compiled from: and and

Bucket Lists and Touchpoints

I felt my own mortality a few days ago, and it’s unsettling. A good friend and neighbor of mine is dead. I had seen him the day before when he dropped off camping equipment he had borrowed to take our school’s Cub Scouts and their dads on a camping trip. We hauled the equipment into my basement, then stood in the driveway talking about the kids and the next camping trip. He said, ‘bye’ and I said, ‘see you later.’ The next day I got the phone call.

With heavy hearts, our community is absorbing the loss and drawing arms around his wife and 3 young sons. There’s that. And it won’t be over anytime soon.

There’s also the tough conversations with our own children, about how to behave at a wake, how to be a good friend to someone who is very sad, and focusing on good memories. The questions are hard to answer.

Looking around, I’m seeing something I’ve rarely seen before in the eyes of people my age, but will become more common. A questioning, a shock that this shouldn’t happen to someone our age, and could my spouse or I be next? A realization that we, the tribe of GenX, won’t all make it past middle age. The fact is, we’ll be grieving together from time to time, right now won’t be the only time. So here we are, standing around in black, holding cups of coffee, reaching out for hugs of comfort, searching for words to say to cover what we are thinking, sharing the silence.

I hope we’ll do a good job at this grief thing. That we’ll act in kindness, that we’ll support each other to fill in the missing spaces of practical helping hands. Not just now, but next Father’s Day, in a few years for the graduations, in all the ways this stone will roll into the future. Until it’s our turn.

Two things are rattling around in my mind about this, in trying to puzzle piece together what I feel. One is our bucket lists. My friend’s bucket list is complete. I know for certain there are specific items on his list that he didn’t get to cross off, I suppose there should always be something on the list to look forward to. But I think there’s a lesson from my friend here that time is not on our side to accomplish the list. Maybe we need to search our lists and reconsider making a few things happen sooner rather than the later that we might not be blessed with.

The other is taking more care with the everyday touchpoints. Not the business touchpoints, the interpersonal touchpoints. I’ve been thinking a lot about the last moments my friend and I spoke. I didn’t know it would be the last. Usually we don’t know. So did I take the time and emotional effort to look him in the eye? Did I speak a genuine thank you for his help with the camping gear? Did I smile and not rush? Did I take the time to communicate somehow that I was glad to see him? Of all the things I did that day, it turned out to be an important 15 minutes. Did I spend it well? I feel like the answers are yes. I don’t know, maybe I could have done better.

I want to live my life aware, and perhaps a little more slowly so I don’t miss anything, and find ways to connect in the touchpoints with people I share my day with. I can’t change mortality. But I can embrace the grace of the everyday moments and keep my bucket list in my pocket.

Musical pairing: “Don’t You Forget About Me,” by Simple Minds, 1985 and “Say,” by John Mayer, 2007.

Best Baby Whisperer Ever

Milk Break Time

Her home was a soothing nest for the daily routine of babies and toddlers. Of milk breaks and naps, blocks and baby dolls. I’d like to thank the first care giver of our first-born son, Mrs. Locke. As first time parents, we were nervous and excited. This was back in the days before the family medical leave act, so I was expected to return to work in about 6 weeks. Finding the right care giver was our largest concern.

We interviewed several recommended in-home care givers and day care centers, and fell in love with Mrs. Locke. She was a sweet natured older African American woman who had cared for babies and toddlers in her home for decades. We were lucky an opening would be available about the time our baby was due.

Over the next two years I grew to appreciate just how lucky we were. I was anxious going back to work, and while I wanted and needed to return to work, at 6 weeks, I wasn’t healed up and our little angel wasn’t in a routine yet. The way corporate America and insurance companies treat new mothers is crazy, don’t get me started. But Mrs. Locke was my saving grace. She understood. She obviously loved little ones. You could tell by the way she cuddled them, talked to them and herded her little lambs with watchful efficiency.

Returning to work, still trying to nurse, still on the mend, I was a mess. By day two Mrs. Locke gently suggested that I should come back to her house on my lunch hours. She let me nurse the baby in her private guest room during lunchtime. She patted my arm and told me the baby was fine and I was doing a wonderful job and everything would work out, not to worry. She answered all my new parent questions, and carefully taught me the ‘right way’ to bundle the baby in blankets, how to dress him in layers, and how to stop the hiccups. She supervised transitioning to food, crawling exercises, celebrated new words, let me know when it was time for ‘proper walking shoes because he’s ready to go’ and knew how to make my little guy laugh.

Mrs. Locke was our partner in raising a happy, healthy little boy, and our teacher in becoming the good parents we wanted to be. Sadly, my husband’s job transferred us to another city when our little boy was two. I never had a caregiver again that equalled her.  And bless her heart, Mrs. Locke had one fault, she allowed herself to fall in love with the children. She cried and was heartbroken he was leaving. I knew she cried even when the older ones headed off to kindergarten and away from her care. Mrs. Locke had a big heart and a gift for nurturing little ones. She was wise, experienced and I trusted her. And I will always be grateful for her role in helping our new little family flourish.

Musical pairing: “I Want To Linger,” a traditional Alpha Chi Omega song, repeated often in rocking chairs as a lullaby. Date/author unknown.

GenX Opens Tamper Evident Packaging

Ah the tamper evident packaging that makes it practically impossible to open a new bottle of eye drops in the morning when you’re groggy and your eyes are dry and won’t focus accurately. Remember the Tylenol scare person in 1982?  There’s the person that sent the American public over the edge of panic ridge and from then on, pill bottles were sealed safely shut. That person was never caught, by the way. Never mind that our generation was busy doing our fair share of swallowing entire bottles of Bayer baby aspirin because they tasted exactly like Pez (shout out to one of my cousins who won himself a trip to the ER with this one).

Over the following decades, more products joined the tamper evident packaging trend, including my eye drops. Which makes me feel safer, and I probably am safer. This extra packaging used to also make me believe that the product was indeed the product that it claimed to be on the container label.  Until I watched Slumdog Millionaire and realized that any kid with a tube of SuperGlu can easily counterfeit fresh bottled water. Great.

This is where being a GenXer makes tamper evident packaging worries tolerable.  We’ve been described as being cynical and untrusting. We learned how to walk in un-baby proofed homes.  We grew up without seat belts, bike helmets or antibacterial hand wash. We went to college without cell phones or the internet.  Sometimes we got hurt. That’s life and we’re realists.

These days it’s news of the week that beef, spinach, cantaloupe and the like are unsafe to eat, flame retarget chemicals are making us sick, and the list goes on. I vaguely recall that my Grandma had a wise saying something alone the lines of: “Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, and you’ll always have nice hair and skin!” Pretty hair and skin in a casket after I die from a contaminated cantaloupe rind. So here’s how GenXers view all this cantaloupe business: heck yea we are cynical and untrusting.  We’ve seen things go wrong and we expect things to go wrong because in our experience, um, they do. It’s nice when things go right, but there are too many crazy people and unscrupulous companies to expect too much from our sealed tubes of so-called Crest toothpaste.

Maybe I think too much, too early in the morning, annoyed that I can’t get into the new eye drops that I desperately need to rewet the contacts in my eyes that feel like corn flakes. At least when I did finally get the bottle open, surprise! The eye drops weren’t laced with acid this time. Because everyone knows from high school chemistry class that corn flakes + acid = ?? I can’t remember exactly. Anyway, my point is that the next time you try to remove a tamper evident seal, try not to think too much about it and be glad when products don’t hurt you. Or you’ll get a stress headache and need to open a new bottle of pain reliever with you-know-what on it.

Musical pairing: “It’s a Beautiful Day,” U2 (2000)