Thursday, July 31, 2014

One Down, Two to Go

One of the things I love about my job is its proximity to the Test Kitchen. And with it, a certain redefinition of the typical corporate meeting. Powerpoints include stunning, mouth-watering visuals. Prototypes aren't etched on flip charts, they are edible. Speeches, even the long soliloquies, tend to be salivating. And there are less pen strokes, more fork lifts. Simply put, my job tends to be quite delicious.  

The problem is, earlier this month, the food quotient of my career became an enemy. Something in my stomach flipped and the charge to show, test, taste and take notes on burger after burger, thin patty after thick patty almost lead to several job-ending upchucks right in the middle of my beloved Test Kitchen. 

In the nearly three weeks since I have last written, headaches, nausea and fatigue have ruled the better part of my days. But in an effort to diminish the pervasive plague's role in my life, there were other great things that happened.

Mary learned how to go down a slide by herself. 
And alongside a friend.
We went to the Zoo. 
And to the beach. 
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We got to hang out with old friends. 
And meet some new ones. 
We had a short visit from one cousin. 
And a longer visit from another.
We boated with Kiki.
And plunged into chilly Lake Michigan waters.   
The grass grew. 
And it was cut. 
The house got dirty. 
And it was cleaned. 
The gherkins were harvested and pickled. 
And more bubbles.  
I held my breath as I tasted the control patty. 
I thought non nauseous thoughts when I tasted the thicker, juicier burger. 
I focused on just taking a bite of the pickle when I tasted the deluxe. 
I drank lots of water.
And I avoided several near projectile situations.  
My top button popped. 
I moved into roomier jeans. 
And I got a first glimpse of the little peach rapidly growing inside me. 

Yep, number two is 13-weeks on its way. And Peter and I couldn't be happier; both that Mary will be a big sister in February and that I'm finally over the rocky waters and back loving my McJob. 


Friday, July 11, 2014

Outstanding Camper

The year before I was inducted into dorkdom as the lone 17-year old camper, I thought I had aced Session 2, 1998. And I had high hopes on the last night. Following dinner, following the final skit which would reveal the team on top after two weeks of morning and evening competitions: Dragons, Tigers, Panthers or Indians; Gary perched on his signature stool in front of Camp's congregation to share a special presentation.

My heart was racing. I knew it was my year; I had done everything right. I fought for a couple green eights, carried the flag a couple inches; and helped get the watermelon out of the pool. I hugged all the little campers and gave piggy back rides. I braided some rope necklaces while singing Kumbaya. I shined in the JC skit, clapped my hands vigorously at Campfire and promptly mellowed out before chapel. I wore Birkenstocks, missed a shower or two, and shared my deepest thoughts after each excerpt of Chicken Soup for the Soul at Devotions. And unlike everyone else, I went to bed in time. I was a shoe in, come on.

Gary said it was a unique year; one camper had risen to the top; there would be no outstanding boy and outstanding girl camper; there was one star performer. Crap.

Gary continued, "it was someone who was humble."
"Someone who quietly leads"
I can be quiet.
"Always eager to share his warm smile."
His. Triple crap.
This year's Outstanding Camper Award goes to the unassuming guy who everyone loves. Chris.

I visualized myself taking center stage, accepting that coveted King James version of the Bible, hugging Gary, and absorbing the slow to fast claps echoing through the dining hall. I did everything right, how did I not win?

At this time of year, Calvary Camp, and the ten summers I spent there are always on my mind. And over the past couple years, I've tried to bring a little bit of Calvary to Chicagoland and share it with my family. Camp LaGrange was back in session with a record number of campers last week.

With the spike in attendance, I offered an increased number of electives. And hired a couple more counselors.

The four-day session was filled with yachting, Lake Michigan dipping, biking, and hiking; playground, pool, bubble blowing, and photography electives; camp fire songs, Chapel melodies, epic meals, canteen and of course devotions. 
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4th of July Baby on Boat Banquet Bikes Dad on Boat Diving Jan on Boat life preserver Me and Mary Peggy and Jan Photgrapher Pool baby Swimmers SGS Spider
 IMG_9579Before my campers set off to return home on Sunday afternoon, I declared an Outstanding Camper for 2014. I could tell everyone wanted the title. And trust me, everyone was deserving in their own right.

Nanny thought she was going to win after her bold triathlon performance on Saturday: 4 miles hiking, 14 miles biking, 1 mile swimming, and a trip down the twisty slide at the pool.
Erin thought her brave seamanship was award winning.
Opa thought his photography was his golden ticket.
Mary thought the prize was hers just because she was the cutest one at camp.
Cousin Meghan couldn't win, because she had won before.
And there was Aunt Dee. Unassuming Aunt Dee.

It was her attitude, perseverance, and genuine, modest leadership.
It was how she listened and made others feel like their stories were so interesting.
It was the fact that when her bum was sore, she kept on peddling.
In her presence, you might have overheard her saying something like,
"There's nothing like a cold beer."
"I just love when Mary laughs."
"These ribs are SOOOO good."
"I'll send you Grandma's recipe."
"This is Awesome."

The 2014 Outstanding Camper award goes to Aunt Dee.
Clap ... Clap ... Clap ... Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap! 

Mary, just seven more years until you experience your first sunset over Lake Erie.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Food Groups

Last week, I spent 36 hours in a dark room, behind a one-way mirror, spying on fast food consumers.

I was in 'Groups' as my team so fondly refers to the age-old form of consumer marketing research. And for the better part of three days, I watched average and above average eaters salivate over and sample new spins on classic cravings; I listened attentively (in English and in Spanish) as they talked about breakfast, lunch, dinner and every meal in between; I took notes on food choices, food pairings, and food afterthoughts; and I drove like a maniac at hour 36 of 36 to get out of Groups and into bed on Thursday night.

Despite all the different directions that conversations strayed, there was one thing that remained consistent. The better the food; the quieter the room. Lip licking and smacking spoke volumes of its own. And a follow up mmmmm hmmmmm gave full confirmation that one serving was the hands down winner.

It was a week of concentrated, organized food anthropology, and despite the hours associated with it, I found it fascinating. So interesting that I wanted to bring it home with me, to the consumers I care most about.

I realize that I'm raising a family in a fast food world. A place where our attention span for eating only lasts as long as the red light where we paused to take a bite. I've tried to fight it, but the pace of the world tends to win and generally only allots ten to fifteen minutes to eat as a family. The novelty of dinnertime ends when the next best thing comes to mind.

Say, a new book. Or bath time. Or the chance to keep playing with your cousins.
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The other night, at a little birthday celebration for Uncle Trent, Mary's tolerance for her high chair was particularly low. She shoved four pieces of strip steak in her mouth, said 'duh,' and wiggled her way out and back onto solid ground. Her cousins weren't having their hot dogs either. The kids wanted to play. That is, until dessert was served.

I had made a cake. Which quickly became a conversation and anticipation piece. And just like in Groups, the silence and calm it produced was almost magical. It wasn't that it was the best thing on the menu; the blue ribbon definitely went to Jan's steaks. But it was the fact that cake, frosting, and creamy vanilla ice cream are such a treat that it demands one's full attention.

The new found food anthropologist thought on. What about a celebration cake silences the chattiest crowd? What about it makes kids sit still and grin ear to ear? Oreos and Chips Ahoy don't have the same the effect; nor do their homemade counterparts. Cakes stand in a class of their own. Sure, it's the tasty layers and the pairing of a soothing dollop of ice cream. But it's more. It's the fact that it's outside of the everyday - a sweet privilege reserved for birthdays, graduations, wedding days, and anniversaries.
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It's the fact that there is a piece with your name on it. Your fair share. And if you don't get it quickly, someone else might snag it.
It's the fact that you're allowed. And you were good. And you deserve it.
And it's the sweet chocolate laced smiles that linger into the evening.
As you can tell I'm a big fan of cake. And taking a time out. If indulgence is the answer, I'm okay letting my little cakelette have it every so often.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Better Story

Albert Einstein said, 'I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a greater generation of idiots.'

On Friday afternoon, on a plane sitting on a stretch of tarmac where far too many planes have waited before, I witnessed absolute validation to Einstein's theory. As the stewardess asked everyone to turn off and stow their phones a conversation, typically reserved for the network, became audible when two chronic texters found seats next to each other.

My theory was that this generation of iAddicts couldn't communicate without their 'smart' devices. Turns out, they can. And let me tell you, what passed as conversation was bad. Real bad. For a little over two hours, Peter and I, and another vocally annoyed woman expressed outrage as the loud, inane conversation in row 24 roared on. It went something like this.

Love it.
Shut up.
No way.
BTW U R my new BFF.
Oh, we can use our phones now!
Snapchat me!

Einstein, if we haven't actually gotten dumber, our capacity to communicate and more specifically tell a good story has certainly diminished.

When I stepped off the plane and into a taxi cab bound for Manhattan on Friday evening, I vowed to come home to Mary with a good story to tell. So here it is; as told by me to Mary on Sunday night.

On Friday evening, Daddy and I landed on a Big Apple. Bigger than the green one you sunk your little teeth into the other day. It was a loud, crazy place. We were like little fish in a really massive pond. But the mermaids helped us get acquainted. 
After we settled in, Daddy and I went out on a long overdue date to a cozy Tavern in Gramercy Park. I wore a ruffly red dress. Daddy buttoned up a blue shirt. I clicked the heels of my gold shoes together and just like that, the bartender found a place for us to sit and cocktails that fit.   
Grammercy Tavern
The next day, Daddy and I ran around the biggest park, with the biggest pool, loudest playgrounds, and most panting dogs ever. We thought of you the whole time. And I actually caught myself barking, 'woof, woof' here and there.   
Later that day, after we went on too many underground train rides, smelled too many odd smelling odors and Mommy almost lost her s***, we found ourselves in Italy. And then China. And then Harlem as we shook down with some of the neighborhood's most energetic dancers. 
Jing Fong
Around bedtime, while Aunt Erin was reading a fairy tale to you, Daddy and I saw one come off the pages and into a Dim Sum Banquet Hall in New York City. Your second cousin once removed said, 'I do' in his own special Cousin Bill way. A dumpling and Peking Duck, break dancing, hula dancing, and kick line kicking, pants splitting, photo bombing, and all around good time way. 
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 Bill and Tiere.3
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And Mommy and Daddy helped him and his beautiful bride, Tiere, celebrate. 
bill's wedding
On the way back to our hotel that night, we took a detour to Mumbai in a cab that zigged, zagged, zoomed and swerved around town. This time, Mommy almost lost her dinner.

The very next morning, we climbed over the Brooklyn Bridge before all the ice cream vendors arrived, and into a different borough of the Big Apple. Just hours later, we were on the next flight home to see you again. 
As you and Aunt Erin ended your adventures together, Daddy and I came through the door with two missing days of hugs and kisses to give you.

Like so many of life's experiences, it was the kind of memorable weekend that doesn't translate to text. And never should.


*Wedding photos generously donated by Kristen Greenwood Reily (Thanks!)