Friday, December 27, 2013

Lessons Learned

In 2013, I lost three people who were very important to me. I’m not sure each of them knew how much they influenced my life, but I do know that their tremendous spirits will live on in me, in my life and in my home.

I first met Mr. Myers* at his home that Michael rented for years. I ended up living there for a couple of years, too. In fact, a few of us did and it always felt like family. The rent was cheap, the house had seen better days and we (the “tenants” aka his “kids”) were more than happy to be labor for any Mr. Myers project. And he had projects. To this day, when Michael and I are working on a project I ask: “Do we want to do it right or the Mr. Myers way?” Meaning:  Do we want to do it by the letter of the instruction, or get it done and working? Mr. Myers taught me how to solder copper pipe and other handy skills, but I learned more from him. I learned that a house doesn’t have to be perfect to be warm and full of love. I’m sad that I never had him over to see our home because I know that I would have been quick to point out every flaw and mistake we have made, and he would have been even quicker to overlook them.

Santo lived his life to the fullest. He ate well, drank well and everything tasted better when he was surrounded by family and friends. He was always a little louder and a little messier than everyone else. He captured everything in photos and felt true joy in sharing those photos with everyone around him. He was unabashedly himself… always. He was the husband of my father-in-law’s best friend from grade school. Clearly not a direct link to me, but he was my family and I was his. Knowing him and his family reinforced what we all already know—your family is in the friends you have and the family you make. And, your family will love you for you—crumbs, spilled wine and whatever else gets dropped or falls during the telling of a really good story. That, and take photos. Lots of photos.

John was a professional colleague of mine who became my mentor and friend. We were separated by generations and geography, but shared a passion for our work. When I first met John, there were a few of our colleagues that were not necessarily welcoming to me. John always met me with his kind eyes and a warm heart. He inspired me and encouraged me, and I think in a small way I reminded him of his past. John taught me focus. To focus on those who are supportive of you, to focus on your mission, to focus on friends and to focus on what matters. We live in a cluttered world, and John lived a very focused life.

While I realize I was so lucky to have these three amazing men in my life, it was hard to say goodbye this year. But, I won’t really. I promise to live out what I learned from each of them. This year, and every year.

* Even though he preferred that we call him by his first name, Michael and I can’t help but use the formal. While he was never a formal man, Michael met him when he was young and the name stuck.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Work Ethic (Apothecary, Part 1)

I worked for my dad for years at a pharmacy in Missouri. I still remember driving down Ward Parkway in his truck listening to talk radio and willing him to drive faster. I’m not sure why I was in such a rush to get to work, but I was young and almost always in a hurry. And, of course, I thought my dad was slow because that’s just how teenage girls are.
While working at the downtown location, I met some amazing people. I don’t remember all of their names, but they were hard working and loyal to my father and his business. They were because he was the example. He was always there earlier and then later than all of his workers. He would go the extra mile for his customers and he became part of the community. Even when really awful things (things that made the evening news) would happen, he would turn around and open up the store early the following day. 
Michael thinks this story epitomizes my father (there are many others, but this is a good one). On his way to work in my mother’s minivan, he was in an accident. Not just a fender bender--the truck in front of him lost his exhaust system hitting the car my dad was driving, taking out one side and causing it to flip, multiple times, and finally landing in a ditch. He climbed out of the driver-side window and was looking at the damaged car when help arrived. One person asked him if there were any survivors. “Ummm. Yes, me.”
 The tow truck arrived and pulled the disabled car out, and my dad asked if the driver could drop him off at his store on his way to drop the car off. The hospital? No. Work? Without question.
In the basement of this downtown location, there were these huge apothecary cabinets--painted green and scratched revealing many layers of paint and a deep stain. They smelled musty and showed years of wear. But, I loved them. Even as an impatient teenage girl, I saw something in these old cabinets and I knew that I would have them in my home one day. I told my father and he listened. Years later, when he closed the store, he moved those cabinets into storage. When they moved their home, he had them moved again.
A few years ago, Michael and I visited my parents and brought one of the cabinets back in a rented truck. The bottom cabinet is complete and I’m working on the top now (Apothecary, Part 2). Clearly, I’m not in a rush like I was when I was a teenager.
Part 3 and 4 are in waiting in the wings now. We brought them back this summer.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

15 million recalled, but ours wasn’t one

I woke up to the smell of an electrical fire. You know that burning acidic plastic smell? If you don’t, it’s a smell that you can’t easily forget. It was about 3 in the morning and it was strong . I had to first figure out if I was dreaming or awake. Unfortunately, I was awake and then really awake.

We had recently replaced outlets in the kitchen so I immediately thought I knew the source. I woke up Michael and that was his thought, too. We were wrong, and a little groggy, and concerned. He decided to check out the attic and crawl space while I went around touching around each outlet and petting the walls to feel for heat.

We quickly narrowed the smell to one room, but couldn’t figure it out. We started to unplug everything. Moved furniture to unplug the television components and were overwhelmed by the fumes. Our surge protector was melting (albeit slowly). We took it apart and the battery was fine, but the rest was self-destructing and it smelled horrible. We moved it outside to the driveway so that it could melt outside or at least cool off.

We tried to go back to bed, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what might of happened had we not been home, or out of town, or just didn’t have sensitive noses. The thought of your home burning down doesn’t really reassure you as you are trying to get back to sleep. After a few hours of fitful rest, I decided to google the product. There were years of complaints on message boards and big news of a recall just last month (October 2013). I strangely felt relieved, until I realized our model—the one smoldering in our driveway—was not included in the recall.

I’ve since sent an email with photos of the damaged product to the company. I may have used the words “catastrophic malfunction” in my message. I fully expect them to do the right thing… but I still can’t get that smell out of my head.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

I think I can

Right now we have 30 pints and three quarts of pickles. Dill, bread and butter, sweet and spicy, and old southern lime. In 2011, we didn’t even finish one jar of store bought pickles.

Our cucumbers took over the garden. It was my own fault. I started the plants from seed back in the spring. Planted them too early and they looked dreadful. I panicked in early May, post frost, and bought two plants and put them in the garden next to the two from earlier in the season.

They all grew. And took over the tomato plants. It was a jungle full of cucumbers. We had cucumber salad, a friend provided a wonderful cucumber/potato soup (but that can only be eaten for so many consecutive days…).

So then I made some pickles. It was fun, so I made some more… and so on. I bought more jars and made some more.

Then got overconfident and tried to make mint jelly. Oops. It was like hard candy, or strong cough drops. Yes, medicine. So that went down the drain after hours of soaking the jars.

Back to pickling then. I had so many pickle jars, I ran out of space to store them. I could have stopped, that would have been the obvious solution... But no, I made a new shelf. It’s 24 inches x 96 inches with 11 shelves. I had [detailed] plans.

But I did have power tools and a free Sunday afternoon.

* I wrote this post in August, and never put it up. The good part about waiting to post? I can add the update that the pickles made great Christmas gifts. And, I’ve had requests for seconds. In a note from Michael’s mother, she wrote: “Are you aware of how really good they are? You now have created a fallback business. Gourmet pickles – we’ll buy them!” So either the pickles are good or she likes me too much to tell me the truth. Either way, I’m happy.