Friday, August 20, 2010

Cake and the sweet life.

Last Sunday was baking day for me. I entered red velvet and pineapple upside down cakes in the Kentucky State Fair and they were due by 5 o'clock Monday.

When I was a kid and in 4-H I entered lots of categories for the county fair. My sister did the same thing. Luckily our projects weren't just baking. There was sewing, silk thread embroidery, forestry, canning, meal planning and table design. Girls growing up on Indiana farms saw their futures as farm wives. My mother was a farm wife and when our daddy died she was a farmer. I won lots of blue ribbons during this time and even once a grand champion in the Indiana State Fair for an embroidered picture of the Lord's Supper on white linen.
I stopped entering things in the fair when I left home for school. I started again when we bought our first house. Dennis would help me and on the Sunday before the entries were due, I'd make six cakes. It was a whirlwind of flour, sugar, washing mixing bowls and baking pans. Then again I stopped after he died.

About eight years ago Reggie encouraged me to try again. He is a good baker and enters about ten things from yeast braided bread to herb plants and apple pie. He's won lots of ribbons over the years including blue ribbons. I have always entered just two cakes. I won a fourth place, second place and third place ribbons over recent years.

This year I had carefully planned to have all ingredients on hand and at room temperature; the mixer bowls and beaters were clean. The recipes were practically memorized. I was ready. I started with the red velvet cake because I could be whipping up the pineapple upside down while that one baked. I turned on the oven to preheat and had the butter and sugar creamed. I just added the paste made from dry cocoa and red food coloring when I checked the oven. It was cold.
I checked the plug, the connection from the cord to the stove, flipped the circuit breaker back and forth; no heat. It was about 9:40 a.m. by then. I covered the bowl and put it in the refrigerator and put everything away. I sat down and thought about the situation while reading the papers.

Reggie called to check how things were going. I told him of the dead oven. He said, "Well bring your things over and bake them here." What a prince! I completed the assembling of both cake batters, put them in the appropriate pans, figured how to get them the two miles or so to his place and spent the afternoon trading use of his oven for my cakes and his breads.

When I got home I removed them from the pans. I wrapped the layers and closed the kitchen door. Next morning I got up early and frosted the red velvet. About 11:45 a.m. we loaded up my truck with my stuff and his stuff. We drove out to the fairgrounds and got the exhibits entered. It felt good to be finished.

Reggie won two ribbons. This year I did not win a ribbon.

I will be getting a new stove in a couple of weeks. I'm already thinking of making more cakes for practice. I used to make cakes for neighbors when I was young. They loved them and that was like a reward to me because they would always want me to stay and talk to them. 

It is hard to describe what baking those cakes and entering them into a fair contest does for me. I had a good childhood. Learning domestic things felt good and if I had become a farm wife, I would have been happy for Dennis was the son of a farmer. But both of us left home and went to school, never returning. Perhaps making those cakes is a step back into sweet nostalgia for something that never was.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Take that job and ..... you finish the sentence.

A lot of drama has been reported surrounding the flight attendant who could not take anymore of his job at JetBlue. He gave reasons for his actions. Others gave reasons for the passenger being upset. Today it was reported he wants his job back.
Talking to a new medical assistant at my doctor's today, he spoke of the incident. I agreed with him that it was remarkable the flight attendant had gotten so upset he stole a beer and slid away. I told him it was my experience working for the general public was very hard work. He said he once worked at a fast food place and a customer spit at him because he was making change while trying to take an order and show a new employee how to do the job. He said at that moment he decided he wasn't going to work for the general public anymore. He went to school and was trained to work in a doctor's office. He currently is working towards an RN part time. I pointed out that he was still working for the public. He agreed but said, "Here the patient is aware that he needs the doctor and the staff as much as we need the job."

I hope he gets his degree and has a successful career. RN's are in demand.

I quit the job I had worked at for ten years and started a business. At the time I made that decision I was having lunch with the department secretary. We would gripe about how a woman at the same level as me was fucking the boss and that's how she got her title. It was obvious she wasn't as smart as those she supervised but would always be there as long as they were involved. My friend was an excellent secretary. Although I worked a year as a secretary at the same place, I was not an excellent secretary. This was the '70's before computers, spell check and all manner of helpful things to make typing accurate.

She was willing to quit and work for me but expected to be moving within the year with her husband when he was promoted. We both talked each other into my starting a typing service. It would be best if you paused for a bit and visualized two women who reminded you of Polly Anna.

Sometimes you hate your job so much you are willing to run down a hill into an abyss. It worked out fine. Thirty years later I'm not typing for a living and the business is entirely different. One thing I know is I am happy in my work compared to how I would feel thirty years later in a job I hated.

Today most people would say anyone starting a business should be evaluated for a mental illness or disease. In 1979 people were saying the same thing. Those reading this who were not born or unaware may want to Bing or Google the year. There was a recession. The economy was bad. The next year when we got our one and only business loan to buy equipment, we had to pay 23% interest.

My boss, the office lothario said when I gave notice, "You're going to make a living typing?" Less than a decade later he came to me to write his resume when he was "let go" for inappropriate expense games. That was a good day. No I did not giggle but when he left Dennis and I had a good laugh.

I cannot begin to describe how hard it was to grow, manage and endure in a small business. It was easier because my husband Dennis was in it with me. I'm not going to list all the mistakes I made and how many times I was scared and afraid we would fail. There were many.
When you work for yourself you work harder than you ever work for another. If you're working hard for someone else, they're getting extra value for your labor. A small business owner also has the responsibility for the business employees. I never fired an employee. I had to do too much of that working for the other guy. I had employees quit but not very many. I always realized that no matter how good a person was they weren't going to stay with us forever, so the best I could do was make the payroll and teach them something that would help them later.

When the economy is so shaky that 10% of the country who wants to work cannot find a job, employees stay in jobs they hate. This is the true definition of a wage slave. We as customers need to remember this when buying things. Whether the flight attendant gets his job back or not, he will find work, probably as a manager of some kind. Some of the unsatisfied workers need to start businesses though because that is the key to an expanding economy and work force.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Two stories and many lives.

This week in Louisville there were two stories all over the paper.

The first ended Friday about Noon when a woman was convicted of lying to the FBI when asked about phone calls made to the university basketball coach, swearing eternal silence about his indiscretion with her if he paid what was asked for. She knew who made the calls. She had asked the man to make the calls. She told the FBI she didn't know who did it.

The indiscretion had happened seven years before. She went to a local restaurant where it was well known the basketball coach would be with his buddies. To hear a description of this group of friends, I'm reminded of the famous "Rat Pack" though with bit players instead of famous men. She wanted a job working at the university and being intelligent she intended to become friends with the group and use that to get employment.

By the end of the evening she was in the basement of the restaurant with the coach. They had sex or she was raped. Being alone together it was she said he said. She did not go to get a rape test done. She went home. Months later the coach gave $3000 cash to another employee of the university and that man took the woman to a city 100 miles away for an abortion.

Between that time and the point where she lied to the FBI, she married and divorced the man who took her for the abortion. Before the divorce however, she told him the child she aborted was a product of rape. She asked another man to make calls to the coach demanding money for silence. That didn't work. She asked her soon to be ex-husband to give the coach a list of monetary demands for her silence. That didn't work. She asked her divorce attorney to write a letter to the coach asking for $10 million. That didn't work. The coach went to the FBI with the mess.

She was indicted for several things, basically lying to the FBI.

That was in 2009. In July 2009 she went to the local police and told them she was raped in 2003, and the circumstances of the rape. The SUV detective video taped the interview at the police station.

That same detective went to the coach's office and in the presence of his personal attorney interviewed him about the incident. No video or audio was used to record the interview.
There have been newspaper stories published; all the local television stations have covered every aspect of the case. At trial the Federal prosecutor called all the men involved in the case; her x-husband number one and the father of her children, the x-husband number two and former university employee, the coach, the divorce attorney and a man she had an affair with for several years during this time.

Her attorney called no witnesses. In his closing arguments he said the efforts to get the coach to pay money were all the idea of her second x-husband and former university employee. The verdict was guilty. The woman is not in jail, released on her own recognizance waiting sentencing in October. It is said by loads of lawyers and former federal prosecutors that she will get about seven years in the place Martha Stewart served her time.

The second story involved a new family now living in Louisville.

In 2000 a nine year old child came to our city. He was part of a group of children from Sudan sponsored by a Lutheran church. These kids had a terrible existence in Sudan and were known as The Lost Boys. He got an education, began working and going to a community college. As time passed he became an American citizen and got his degree from WKU. He got work with a local bank and reconnected with his mother and sister, still back in Sudan. In 2006 he went back and was introduced to his sister's friend. In 2008 he and she married. She stayed to work on her eventual immigration. He came back to Louisville.

Since then they have been apart. It's expensive to pay the fees to get the paperwork done, as well as the airfare and additional fees required by the Sudanese government.

She had a baby girl he has never met or held. He still works at the bank and has a second job, sending money back to support his mother and sister, as well as his wife and baby. Last year he spoke to a Rabbi here in town. The cleric was moved by the fact that this man and his family were apart. He asked the congregation at his synagogue what they thought should be done. They raised the money to pay for the plane and the fees. Yesterday afternoon he met his child at the local airport for the first time.

Members of the synagogue were there as was the rabbi and several local television cameras.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Others in the 102 degree heat.

I was almost home yesterday afternoon in the 102 degree heat here in Louisville. I had gone up to visit Anne to get my hair cut and chatter like a magpie for a couple of hours.

There's this part of I-65 before the Kennedy Bridge over the Ohio that goes from 70 mph to 55 mph. As I was slowly rolling in the midst of a major traffic tie up ahead, I saw an old dark green 70's era Bonneville stopped at the side of the road with a flat on the back right side. The wheel was on the ground and a man was kneeling trying to get the small spare tire on the axle. All the windows were down and the doors were open on the ditch side of the car. I could see two women and young children sitting there; the women fanning.

I pulled over ahead of them and walked back. They didn't have AC working and were hot. There were two children in the car. One was a girl maybe five and the other an infant. I had a bottle of water I'd bought up the road about 20 miles before. They shared it. The man came around to see what I wanted and he got a swallow. The younger woman said they were close to home; just 2 more exits and then into Jeffersonville. "I don't know why this kind of thing has to happen when we were almost home." There's no answer to something like that.

I said, "Why don't you all come sit in the truck? It has air conditioning." The two women did and held the kids in their lap. I had a couple wet wipes from a fast food meal. The older woman used those to cool of the baby. The man went back to the wheel. Shortly after I stopped a cop stopped and helped the man finish.

The policeman came up and told us it was done and they could go on home now. The man walked up to the passenger door and thanked me for taking care of his family. The women thanked me too and one of the kids, a little girl, hugged me.

I was thinking of the day in late June when I was on that same road going north, and had a flat tire. This was during the time Roger was driving nails into the tires of my truck, one at a time. I'd always been closer to home when this happened before, but even though I had checked the tires before leaving, there was another that slowly leaked and stranded me beside the expressway.

I had AAA then and a cellphone. I called and they asked the usual questions; type of vehicle, color, mile marker nearby. I got the tire unhooked from under the truck bed, and got the jack and was organizing things when the tow truck got there. The mechanic finished quickly got it changed. It was over 95 degrees that day and I had AC, but I often think of how it would have been if I'd had to finish the change or didn't have AAA or air conditioning in the truck.

I heard the other day that 99.9% of DNA in our bodies is exactly like 99.9% of DNA in every other human's body. Further more that the entire DNA in existence today is from 68,000 people a long long time ago. There isn't any new DNA. What we have is what we have. No matter what we look like or where our parents and ancestors came from, we are pretty much the same as the people next door, genetically.

If you come into contact with a stranger you are pretty much just like them. If circumstances allow you to spend a few minutes in their company, you will also discover they enjoy air conditioning or heat. You may find that they like to go to baseball games and movies. They like meatloaf or cookies, maybe the exact same kind as you like. It is said that we are all within six levels of separation in knowing every one. In Louisville I sometimes think it's four.

It is more important for a useful interesting life to get to know others individually than it is to be rich or live a long life. I know it is not possible to get to know "every" person. I do know that it is possible to get know one other person or ten other people. At least that's what I believe and I know walling yourself off so you are safe or keeping all your cookies for yourself, is not the most useful or interesting thing to do.