Archive for November, 2014

Cheers to Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

As I’m writing this, I can hear in the background “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name…” Some families have a tradition of watching football over the Thanksgiving holiday but in our house, “Cheers” is the go-to television entertainment.

I’m sure it’s true for most people that certain shows evoke memories of a specific place and time in their lives. “Mary Tyler Moore” is the show that I associate with my high school and college years, but “Cheers” spans the 11 years from 1982 to 1993 when I moved to San Francisco, worked in advertising, met Steve, got married, bought a house and started our family.

The characters were so well written and seemed so real that watching it was like eating comfort food. I always looked forward to it and it never failed to satisfy. I can still remember being in the coffee room at J. Walter Thompson on a Friday morning where a bunch of us were huddled together discussing the latest developments in Sam and Diane’s relationship from the episode the night before. “Do you think that they really won’t end up together?”

But back to the present day: how did we happen to introduce another generation to “Cheers?” Jennifer Lynn, our youngest daughter loves analyzing what works and what doesn’t work in popular media. She is a big fan of “30 Rock” and “Parks & Rec.” I don’t think I would embarrass her too much by saying that she aspires to be the next Tina Fey.

So one time, as we were discussing popular sitcoms with her, I started talking about TV series that I grew  up with; shows like “I Love Lucy,” (those were in reruns; I’m old but not that old) “That Girl,” “Mary Tyler Moore,” “Taxi” and “Cheers.” Since she appreciates good writing, I told her she would love these shows. She had come across “Cheers” while scrolling through Netflix.

Except for the shoulder pads in Kirstie Alley’s suit jackets, “Cheers” seems as fresh as it did the first time we watched it. It’s so refreshing to watch a show that isn’t filled with the snarky comebacks that are a staple of today’s sitcoms. There’s poignancy along with the humor so that we really care about the characters.

I’m hoping Netflix will expand its selection of old TV series so that we can share some of those other favorite shows with Jennifer. But in the meantime, I’m thankful that Netflix makes it possible for us to binge on “Cheers” and Thanksgiving leftovers at the same time.

Thanksgiving menu musings

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

We’re going to a Thanksgiving potluck tonight and based on how quickly everyone responded with their contribution to the meal, no one spent time scouring the internet for new recipes but instead signed up to bring a dish that is one of their traditional family favorites.

That is certainly true for me as well because I’m making the same Apple Crisp that I have made for dessert for Thanksgiving ever since Steve and I got married 30 years ago. Every time I make it, it brings back memories of our Thanksgiving celebrations; thoughts about where were we living, how old the kids were, who we shared it with, and on and on.

This got me started thinking about the Thanksgiving menu that I grew up with and the traditions in my mother’s household.

In the 1960s when I was growing up, brining a turkey was yet to be discovered. Everyone thought that the best technique to achieve a moist turkey was to open the oven door every 20 minutes and baste it.

We now know that doing this results in turkey jerky. But as a kid, I loved the responsibility of squirting the drippings from the bulb baster over the turkey’s caramel brown skin and listening to it sizzle when it dripped off the wings and hit the bottom of the roasting pan. I took my job as the baster very seriously. I felt so needed, like I was tending to a sick child and my regular ministrations were helping the patient get well. Unfortunately, the poor bird didn’t get well, but just really well done.

When it came to what to serve with the turkey,  Thanksgiving dinner always included some kind of Jello salad. I’ve always thought of those two words – Jello and salad – as an oxymoron, kind of like “fruit cocktail.” You can have one or the other but putting them together makes no sense.

Our traditional Thanksgiving Jello salad was a reflection of the place and time where I grew up: Salt Lake City, Utah (known for having the highest per capita consumption of Jello) and raised by a mother who loved the packaged convenience foods that became popular in the 1950s.

There were two Jello salad recipes that my mother alternated for special family meals. One was Tomato Aspic with pimento-filled green olives and diced celery and the other was – brace yourself – lime Jello mixed with cottage cheese, walnuts and pineapple. Both recipes were served with a dollop of mayonnaise.

Okay, so those combinations sound absolutely horrible now. But just like basting the turkey, at the time, I loved helping make them. Slicing up the olives in precise circles and saying a little prayer as I lifted the ring mold off the Jello, hoping that it had come out without cracking, are what I remember most about my Thanksgiving dinners as a kid.

It makes me realize that food is as much about the feelings that a particular dish evokes as the taste. True as that is, I think I’ll skip the Green Jello and stay with Apple Crisp.

Seoul: News from the Front

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

It had been more than two months since we had heard from Ethan. When we last we spoke to him in early September, he had just arrived at the army base in Korea where he will spend the next year of his military duty. He was so fresh off the plane that he hadn’t had a chance to figure out the one thing that he considers absolutely essential for survival: a high speed internet connection.

As the weeks passed and our emails to him went unanswered, Steve and I wondered if Kim Jong Un’s broken ankles and the talk of a coup followed by the release of the two captives from North Korea had caused the army base to suspend communication. We pictured Ethan working in an environment where high ranking officers met behind closed doors, the atmosphere was hushed and tense, and people rushed through corridors carrying folders stamped “Top Secret.” Yes, we’ve probably been watching too many “Black List” episodes.

So when the phone rang at 8:00 on Saturday morning and the caller ID showed a string of 13 numbers, we were excited to answer the phone and hear his voice – sounding very perky considering that it was 1:00 am Korean time. We couldn’t wait to ask him, “How’s life in Military Intelligence? If your answer is that you could tell us, but then you’d have to kill us, you can just say ‘fine’ and we’ll leave it at that.”

It turns out that the reason we hadn’t heard from Ethan had absolutely nothing to do with a communications lockdown due to North Korea’s political instability. It was purely that there is a 15 hour time difference and he’s been busy…but not with the kind of clandestine activity that we imagined. Ethan works in operations which as he describes it, is “show up every day and put out whatever fire is waiting.”

Recently, there was a “big” fire that needed to be extinguished. As he explained it, there was an email from a high ranking officer that was overlooked requesting representation of some soldiers from his battalion at a fancy Thanksgiving dinner at a five star hotel in Seoul. Many, many apologies had to be sent up the chain of command and there was much scrambling to decide who would attend the dinner. Ethan happened to be standing in the right place with the right answer when his commanding officer asked if he had his ASUs (dress uniform) with him in Korea. “Son, you’re going to a party.”

He called us just after getting home and told us that he had had a great time; bottles of wine, pitchers of beer, gift bags with swag, and a buffet overflowing with smoked salmon – one of his most favorite foods.

Office harmony

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

We don’t choose our coworkers, yet on any workday, we find ourselves spending more time interacting with our coworkers than with our family and friends. A co-worker’s temperament, outlook on life, sense of humor, and even the way they move around the office, makes a big difference in whether being at work is a stressful, “grit your teeth and get through it” kind of experience or whether the feeling in the office is,“ it’s work, but I’m glad to be here.”

The nine seasons of “The Office” gave ample examples of how being at work is really more about the personalities in a company than it is about commerce.

The reason that I’ve been thinking about the impact that a coworker makes on the workplace is because one of the women I have worked with since I started at this job in January had her last day with the company on Friday. And frankly, I’m breathing a sigh of relief and actually looking forward to going to work on Monday in a way that I didn’t a week ago.

Was this woman malicious, lazy, or gossipy? Not at all, in fact, she is extremely bright and could churn out an impressive amount of work especially under a tight deadline. But her vibe was prickly and angry. The work would get done but there was always a lot of sighing, stomping around the office, and drawer slamming. I don’t think that she was angry about the work per se, it was just that her idea of being efficient turned into officiousness.

One day, she told the story of how a coworker at her previous job said that she typed like she was angry. It’s hard be to be a few feet away from that kind of aggressive intensity flying at the keyboard and not have it affect you. I would try to hunker down at my computer and keep focused on what I was doing but at the same time, I could feel my back tensing up and my shoulders rising up to my ears. Ask her a question and her typical response was a defensive “What’s going on?” which always made me feel wrong for asking the question.

In contrast, I am absolutely blessed to have another coworker who as Steve says, is the definition of a “Christian woman.” She is gracious and strong, always looking for ways that she can lighten someone else’s workload, provide honest perspective on a situation and support the office at every level, both practically and emotionally. Being trained by her is a privilege; what a wonderful woman to have as a mentor.

So, since starting this job 10 months ago I have worked with both ends of the spectrum – a coworker who is “lovable” because of her many wonderful qualities and someone who was challenging to like, let alone love. Reflecting on this gives me an opportunity to think about what kind of vibe I bring to the office. What better time than tomorrow…Monday morning… to start with the right attitude.

Car-less in college

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

I’m sure our college freshman daughter Jennifer Lynn never reads my blog. Ever since her sixth grade teacher commented to her that she had read about Jennifer Lynn’s stress over preparing for the school’s spelling bee in my blog, she ignores it so she doesn’t have to go online and find out that once again, her mother has revealed embarrassing details about her life.

It’s no wonder she always wanted to live like the kids on the Nickelodeon shows like iCarly and  Zoe 101 that she watched as a tween – they existed in a world with NVP – the acronym that Steve coined for No Visible Parents. So knowing that she doesn’t read this, I’m going to use this week’s blog to get my thoughts together about a change of plans that will impact her in a way that she probably won’t be very happy about. She might even still wish that she has No Visible Parents. But she is also a very practical girl, so I think she’ll come around it.

Here’s the scenario: Jennifer Lynn hasn’t had a car at college in Southern California for the first semester. The plan was that she would drive her car – or more accurately, one of our cars back to school after Christmas break. She has told us in many phone calls how she is tired of relying on friends for trips to Target and Ralphs.

But the fact of the matter is that I need the car more than she does.  The tires on my Volvo are so worn that they start hydroplaning on a foggy morning and it’s just not worth the investment to buy new tires for a car that at best  can be described as quirky and at worst, undependable.

The car we’re talking about not letting Jennifer Lynn have is a 2000 Honda which now that we’ve had the dents that the kids put in it, banged out, is a pretty sweet ride. It also has the lowest mileage of our four cars – 140,000 miles on a Honda Civic – hey, it’s barely reached its half-life. There’s a lot of positives about Jennifer Lynn not having a car at college including less distractions from her schoolwork so she can maintain the B+ average she needs in order to keep her scholarship AND the added expense of gas and maintenance.  Any money she earns from her on-campus job needs to go toward the expenses that she will have next year when she studies abroad.

I’m sure at first she’ll be disappointed that she won’t have a car for spring semester but I need to remind her that she has her sights set on a much, much bigger opportunity than being able to make an occasional shopping trip to the Sherman Oaks mall. Where will she be next year if everything falls into place? Shanghai. Yup, no reason for this girl to feel sorry for herself.