Thursday, October 23, 2014

Happy Ghosts

In my lifetime, I have seen very few horror movies. And there's a reason for that. I'm an easy scare and prefer sweet dreams over scary ones. Growing up, the Gremlins, Seymour the man-eating plant from Little Shop of Horrors, the head Witch in the film adaptation of Roald Dahl's the Witches, and the two hoodlums that engaged our Ford Taurus in a car chase around Squirrel Hill gave me my fill of fear. These were the images of my nightmares; the reason I didn't want to go into the basement alone; why the tropical plant room at Phipps Conservatory could be bypassed; and the rationale behind yelling at Peter for passive aggressive driving to this day.

At night, I would run into my parents room if I had a dream haunted by a Gremlin or Witch, hoping to be welcomed by my Mom's healing embrace. But before she could even extend an invitation for me to climb up next to her, my Dad was leading me back to my room, back to my bed. He would nestle me under the covers, pat my back, and sooth me into a sweeter slumber.

***

I often wonder what Mary dreams about at this young age. I have to imagine her stuffed bunnies and bears make appearances. There's likely lots of milk and a couple tea cookies from Kirschbaums. Chalk and crayons, red and yellow leaves, Dora and Diego, buses, trucks, trains, and bikes. Oma and her potato pancakes.
IMG_0137 IMG_0139 IMG_0142 IMG_0143

Mommy's icing. And the layers of pumpkin cake inside.  IMG_0150
IMG_0167
IMG_0164

Jooooooe.
IMG_0162

Walking and running with Nanny and Opa in the forest, crossing bridges, and quacking like the duckies.
IMG_0115
IMG_0121
IMG_0123
IMG_0127
I like to think she dreams of her family and friends and all the fun that life has already presented to her.

However, for the past three weeks, I've been alerted by a scream in the middle of the night to something else entering my little girl's dreams.

'Ghosts.'
'Ghosts.'
'Ghosts'

You might think or so I thought, she's one and a half, how does she know what ghosts are? And how does she understand that they are scary?

Oh.
Halloween
That's right. Throughout the whole month of October, my cushy neighborhood is staged like a horror movie. Million dollar homes have scenes straight out of hell displayed in their front yards. And I'm supposed to explain to my 19-month old that hey, that's not scary; those are 'happy ghosts' and 'nice witches' and they love you.

Every year, the suburban execution of Halloween seems to get more petrifying. The collection of skeletons in everyone's California Closets expands and by October 1, there is a mad dash to spew as much blood and gore on professionally pruned lawns as possible. I don't get it. And quite frankly, I'm getting mad about it.

Ironically, it was Opa, or the Notre Dame Leprechaun that Mary calls, 'Opa' that saved the day the past two nights. She demanded that he come to bed with her, and just like that, he used his Irish heritage to fight off the ghouls trying to get into Mary's crib.
Mary and Leprechaun
To set expectations for the rest of the babies and toddlers on the block. You will never find scares at the White House. Just treats. And they will always be the king size ones. 

Lo. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Somebody

I grew up with a Mom and Dad who were somebodies. Big wigs. Court champions. Life savers. Artisan bread winners. And I had a dream of reaching their ranks; basking in my own professional prowess.

As an enterprising youngster propped up by my Dad's proclamation that I'd be successful at whatever I decided to do, I felt that I was well on my way. I dabbled in the homemade greeting card business. I up sold my car washing capabilities. Playing restaurant was no game; there was always a bill and suggested tip for the only meal on the menu I could make. From an early age, I knew how to work. And I envisioned my entrepreneurial experiences adding up to something substantial someday. I wasn't going to be anybody. I was going to be somebody.

***

Last week, my right eye started bothering me. After eight hours staring at my computer screen, it was blood shot, dry, and headache inducing A couple drops and a night of firm shut eye later, it was still irritated so I went to see a doctor.

I had never been to an eye specialist before, so I wondered if he would find anything that I hadn't already detected. Vision checked out. Coloring was fine. But yeah, there was something on my eye. It was an ulcer. And I needed to take steroid drops to make it go away. Guarantee baby #2 will be bigger than Mary's slight 5 pound birth frame.

Toward the end of the exam and around the time I had finished explaining my current occupation as Burger Girl, he saw something else in me.

'So you're somebody,' he said.

I perked up at the classification and the novelty of it in my life. My ears rang with pride. Sure, I left out the layers of leadership above me making the real decisions, but I had done it. Even to a physician, I had escalated to a person of interest.

The next day, still high on my somebody status, Mary and I pulled up to her great grandmother's house to take some fall photos. And as always, I was humbled in her presence.

'Gigi,' Mary said.

She welcomed us with her warm smile and sweet embrace. She showed Mary her bronze bull in the kitchen and her doll from Guatemala. She had cookies shaped like pumpkins all in a row, waiting for her little loved ones. Dozens of poses, snap shots and outtakes later, she was still smiling and laughing, surrounded by her bevvy of beautiful great grand children.
IMG_0111
IMG_0110
IMG_0108
When our little fall photo shoot was over, she offered to take all of her grands and great grands to the most magical place in the Western Suburbs - McDonald's. 'Gigi,' Mary said again with a glow. Yep, honey, that's Super Great Grandma Shirley, SGGS.  

It made me think of the way that Mary says, Mommy. When she points to my car in the drive-way. When she introduces me to her friends on the block. When she tells me to sit right there, next to her. When she needs a hug in the middle of the night. To Mary, I'm love, comfort, and care. I'm silliness and songs; explorations and adventures. Colors, happy ghosts, and chalk. I'm somebody, no matter what rung of the corporate ladder I'm able to reach. 

You're only somebody if you're somebody to someone else. And when I was snapping SGS' photo last weekend, I stopped and said, now that is somebody. 

Lo. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Food 101

Along the 101 in San Diego's North County, the surf reigns. At all hours of the day, its worshipers gently bob up and down on their boards as they commune with the oceanic energy that will propel them on the ride of their lives.

The mighty Pacific with its rough swells and gentle sunsets drives much of the culture up and down the coast of California. Schedules are flexed to catch the better wave. The pace of life reflects the need to come up for air. Fitness isn't so much vanity; but necessity. And the food scene is as casual as the region's dress code. No shirt? No shoes? Take a seat. 
IMG_9980
IMG_9973
IMG_0041
IMG_0028
This week, I traveled to Southern California to see my restaurant test in action and to observe exactly how it fits within the progressive food philosophies of this very distinctive part of the world. A place where the only thing stronger than the blond surf culture is the coffee served on shore. And generally speaking, it's not brewed by the green mermaid.
Pannekin Coffee
Cafe Ipe

Where the best brunch in town is bacon scented and exclusive to the campsite RVs lining the cliffs of the coast. Where the traditional American Fast Foodie flocks to one particular specialist with a cult following.  
IMG_9990
IMG_9994
IMG_9998

Where consumers in search of an authentic borderland bite pledge their loyalty to the taco shop that best fits their understanding of Mexicana. Where fast casual is fresher than any brand promise Panera can offer; fresh on the 101 inherently means it's imported directly from the Pacific and the farms that kiss its shores. 
IMG_0004
IMG_0002
IMG_0001

Where the fine side of dining isn't stuffy or stodgy and typically includes a sunset view. 
IMG_0022

And where the independent, family-owned, local, skateboard ride away destination is king. It's what's real. And honest. And good.

Which brings me to my dilemma: trying to figure out how the nation's largest restaurant chain can appeal to a consumer set that has been preprogrammed to find fault in the way we source, prepare and serve our food.

From what I've learned over the past seven months, there's no catch-all solution to improving the brand's reputation. Rather, a lot of small and big moves that the company needs to make to start shifting the pendulum. One very tangible response is the four-restaurant Build Your Burger test in San Diego and Laguna Niguel that I've been working on. It's a platform designed to deliver real and fresh personalization to customers; made-to-order burgers, stacked with premium ingredients, served to you table side with a smile. It's a bold leap for the brand, but one we have to make to appeal to the evolving tastes and preferences of the American consumer, led largely by the populations along the coasts of this country.

I don't want to say much more about this project, but I can tell you that its principals are the future of our restaurants. I can tell you the customer service experience is best in class. I can tell that the burger and its topping are fresh and delicious. 
IMG_0011
IMG_0009
I can tell you that the fries are better than ever. 
IMG_0008
And I can tell you that my little surfer girl will grow up lovin' it.
IMG_9967
IMG_9969
 Lo. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Holes

A couple weeks ago, I proudly strolled up to Gate F-10, holding Mary's hand, ready to show her off. She looked adorable in her new jeans and miniature boat shoes and her spectators confirmed it. After putting down their extensive collection of Sunday newspapers, Nana and Opa gushed. As their awws and photo taking died down though, I saw my Dad's eyes zero in on my Toms.
You have holes in your shoes! 
What? These are scuff marks? They don't go all the way through - they're just fine. 

He was incredulous, telling me that I never would have gone around wearing those shoes before and that they would have been in the Goodwill bin when Mom and Dad were paying the bills.
Come on ... what could I say, they are my favorite pair of shoes; they're like wearing slippers.
The kid in Africa that has the other pair is probably still wearing hers. Solidarity.  
I just moved into stretchy waste band pants. Nothing looks good with that.
I'm pregnant. 
I don't care. 
Please direct your attention to my daughter; not me.  

***

When I was growing up, I would eagerly anticipate trips to Walnut Street with my Mom. They were more than opportunities to line my closet with the latest from Gap Kids; they were hours reserved just for us. Chit chatting, parallel parking, changing rooms, shopping bags, random run-ins, TCBY, Deliciousness.

Even if I had already made my one desired stop, she would encourage me to go into other stores. What about Laura Ashley? Ann Taylor? Later on E.B. Pepper and Dina Ellen? Shoes - don't you need shoes? It was a question that never needed to be asked. I always needed shoes. She would tell me to try it on. Keep trying stuff on. That looks great, you have to have it. We were at the counter, checking out in no time. It was glorious commercial gluttony.

After selfishly monopolizing hours of our outing with my wardrobe wish list, I would suggest we try Talbots for her. New jeans? A new pink sweater with flags on it? Let's just see what they have. She would walk in, do an unenthusiastic meander around the front of the store and decide we were done.
But what about this? 
Eh, no. 
Or this? 
Not at that price!
The crazy thing was, she had just spent double that on my new pair of shoes. I never understood it. She was the one making the money and going to the big meetings and fancy dinners, why was she so passionate about outfitting me? 

As I filled in some gaps in Mary's fall collection on Saturday afternoon, I got it. There wasn't one thing I could purchase for myself at the Oak Brook Mall this weekend that could give me as much joy as buying for Mary. Let's face it, pink corduroys look way cuter on her.
Mary Sliding
Mary Library

BUT as proof that I'm trying, Dad ... no holes in my shoes today, no stains on my dress, no snags in my tights. Yes, I need to buy brown shoes to match this hot maternity dress, but on Friday I was much more compelled to buy a pair for our baby boy instead.  
Me in mirror
Lo.  


Sunday, September 14, 2014

More

Mary graduated from nearly eight months of day care with several original pieces of artwork, a close-knit group of baby confidants. an iron immunity, and one piece of baby sign language: the word more.

While the framework for this language acquisition was likely learned around the Cheerio distribution circle, Mary has creatively applied the command to all aspects of her life. If she likes something, she offers immediate feedback by signing and asking for 'more.'  

Over the past week, as we vacationed in Seabrook Island, South Carolina, 'more' was the order of most every hour.

More bikes and more boats.
IMG_9804
More beach toys. 
IMG_9841
And more people to share them with. 
IMG_9844
More digging.
IMG_9860
Keep going.
IMG_9861
More poooooool. And more jumping in it.
IMG_9738
More corn bread.  
IMG_9772
And lots more ice cream. 
IMG_9811
IMG_9814 
Definitely more Yaya. 
IMG_9827
More everyone really.  
IMG_9933
IMG_9872
IMG_9930
IMG_9925
IMG_9923
IMG_9920
More horsies. More doggies. More feeesh.  
IMG_9822
IMG_9831
More board walking.
IMG_9803 
More big houses. 
IMG_9758
And more fun ways to reach them.
IMG_9890
More sun filled days with Mommy and Daddy. 
IMG_9736
More really big trees.
IMG_9903
And little bridges.
IMG_9900
Her enthusiasm eventually reached me as I found myself asking for more pink skies. 
IMG_9875
And more elegant wake up calls.
IMG_9877
IMG_9881
IMG_9882
IMG_9883
IMG_9884
IMG_9889
More stress free dinners
IMG_9866
IMG_9782
IMG_9773
IMG_9938 
And more time just to take my time.
IMG_9867
IMG_9891
IMG_9879IMG_9885
More days spent outside of my in-box. And with the people I love. 
IMG_9869
And just as I pulled up to the United ticket counter, packed and ready to go back to reality, I was ready to barter for a little more vacation. 
IMG_9788
Turns out it was an easier exchange than I thought. Vacation apparently worked. We had inherently lost track of time and with it, our flight. As we missed our boarding time and found a place to stay, Mary's final plea for more came true. So here's to one more night of vacation. 
IMG_9756
Lo.