Monday, July 19, 2010

Sorry to wake you, Mr. Secretary.

I'm driving myself batty these days. I've become a little obsessed with politics.

It happened innocently enough. I accepted a story assignment to do an election preview. It involves me interviewing the candidates running for office in my state.

Prior to this, I wasn't typically one to bury myself in political news, so I had to do some research before I sat myself in front of these people and ask them pertinent questions.

After surveying a variety of business people (the article is for a business magazine) as to their thoughts on the election and what issues are of importance to them, I hit the internet to find out everything I could about the candidates, the issues and in some cases...

What in the world the job even entails.

Seriously, who knows what the Secretary of State does? Pretty dull job, really.

Until you screw something up. Then you're on the front page of the news and suddenly everyone's mad and saying, "What the heck happened?"

Personally, after simply reviewing his job description, I was ready for a nap.

As far as the error he made, in all likelihood the guy probably fell asleep due to boredom. So he 'misplaced' some paperwork. Eh, it's probably in the stack he used as a pillow and it got drooled on so he pitched it.

But I digress.

After every interview, I'm more and more intrigued by the candidate and the job potentially ahead of them. And inevitably they use some word that I've heard before but never took the time to care what it meant, so as soon as I get home I'm Googling like a maniac.

Tort. You know, as in tort reform.

What a weird word. In case you were wondering, it's a French word that means "a wrong."

Or maybe I'm the only one who didn't know the real meaning of the word.

At any rate, as it turns out, it's kinda important.

And I'm sure glad I worked at a civil engineering firm for awhile because it helps a lot when candidates talk nonstop about "the need for infrastructure." Kept me from having to Google a lot of stuff.

But what might fascinate me more than anything is the persona of each candidate. You've got the guy who just wanted his name on the ballot to give another option to people who are fed up with the traditional candidates. He doesn't have much for answers, and he's not presuming he has any chance of winning, but you have to respect his efforts.

Then there's the guy who makes you feel like you're talking to the guy next door. He's friendly, funny, and down-to-earth. He's the kind of guy that makes you think you could possibly run for office someday, too.

And then you meet the guy who knows just what to say, pays little attention to the questions because he really just wants to give his pat answers and move on, and frankly, he has more important things to do than to talk to me.

So then I get wrapped up in all the issues. And I obsess about the economy, taxes, and stuff like tort. And I want to know more. I want to see what was happening with social security 10 years ago when the unemployment rate wasn't so high. Was it at risk then, or was it a non-issue because we had everyone working and paying those taxes to fund it?

It's consuming me now. But tomorrow I interview a Secretary of State candidate. Which is good, because after staying up late every night scanning the internet for more information, I'm going to need a nap.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Life in the "Past" Lane

They say home is where the heart is. I say it's where the good food, jokes and news-you-won't-find-anywhere-else-is.

I packed up the family and headed to the "Central City" this week to visit my parents and celebrate my Dad's 77th birthday. A couple of my sisters and their families were there too.

It never ceases to amaze me how I drift through a range of emotions spending a weekend with extended family.

From hearing stories of farmer woes, updates on aging family members struggling to hold on to some semblance of normalcy, and our former hometown seemingly in the crime news every other week, it's a reminder of all that is wrong in the world.

And sister shows up. With wonderful news. News that fills the entire weekend with an inexplicable joy.

It's not news of a baby.

Not news of a marriage.

Not even news of a free tropical vacation where she can invite her 10 closest friends and relatives.

Instead, it's news of...


Her husband is the new mayor of their town.


That brings to mind only one word:


Because that makes my sister First Lady.

Okay, so he only ran because some people begged him to and got all the signatures for him. And he ran uncontested.

Nonetheless. He's the mayor. And that's just cool.

I was having so much fun with her new title as First Lady all weekend that eventually even her own children were asking, "Mom, what did you just text the Mayor?"

Really wish the Mayor could have joined the family festivities. But hey, I understand.

He's a busy guy. He's got a town to run, after all.

And I'm a mere peon.

Maybe I'll get him to name a day after me. Like on American Idol. I'll get a key to the city and everything.

Or not.

Truthfully, since this fabulous news came, my real dream is see my sister and her Mayor hubby as grand marshalls of a parade.

You know. In a convertible. Sitting on the backseat in her sequined gown, 2-inch thick makeup and fake nails waving the elbow-elbow-wrist-wrist wave we've come to expect from royalty.

Yes, I get stoked about the little things.

Like a swollen jaw.

My poor nephew recently had jaw surgery and for some reason thought it would be a good idea to come to Grandma and Grandpa's house, smell my mothers outrageously good cooking and suffer through watching the rest of us gobble it down as he sipped on blended chicken noodle soup from a can.

He just turned 21. You'd think he'd be smarter.

I think the only reason he was able to do it is because he's been eating his own mother's cooking for about a month, so he's been getting good stuff. To miss a few meals at Grandma's probably is no big deal.

I, on the other hand, have subjected myself to my own cooking for years and had someone told me I could not gorge myself with my mother's ham and scalloped potatoes or roast beef or sausage and all the fixings (plus don't forget dessert!) I would have had to find a way to rip out all my senses. How do you smell ham cooking and not sit in a corner whimpering knowing your meal will consist of yet another bottle of Boost?

It was downright inhumane.

But the mayor wasn't there to save him. And that First Lady was in line next to me filling her plate with all the goodness of I-didn't-have-to-cook-this-meal-so-it-tastes-10-times-as-good, too.

I rarely escape a trip back to my parents home without some sense of nostalgia. Even though this isn't the house I grew up in, it still has remnants of 50+ years of their life together...which eventually included me.

So as I help my mother prepare for mealtime, I get a bit misty.

I open a cupboard and get lost in its contents.

The red striped salt and pepper shakers. They were the "fancy ones" when I was a kid, because they were glass. The "everyday" ones were tall and plastic - unstable enough that they were forever dropping out of the overhead cupboard, dumping pepper just where we didn't want it.

Usually in the butter dish.

With no kids in the house, the striped ones are the new "everyday."

Even the aluminum canisters for flour and sugar remind me of many Saturdays sitting on the kitchen counter licking cookie dough out of the bowl.

Nearly every picture on the wall has a memory attached to it. Intermingled with them are the new things. Particularly the photos of grandchildren.

How did they go from splashing in Grandpa's kiddie pool to furnishing their own apartment so fast?

It's strange to see them grown. And then I think of my own aunts and uncles. I remember their look of disbelief to see I had become a young lady at one point too. I'm them now.

And I get it.

I get the "You've grown so much!" and the "How do you get your hair to do that?" and "What kind of gadget do you have there?"

They did it 20 years ago.

And I'm doing it now.

But I say, bring on the family reunion. Mom is cooking, my nephew will be healed up, and there could be an appearance by the mayor.

I don't care who ya are. That's worth coming home for.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Been Farmin' Long?

As I'm working diligently to not burn dinner, my husband arrives home from work, walks into the kitchen and says, "I want to go farming!"

At this point I don't care if the food is carcinogenously charred, I turn around with the hope that he is about to utter the punchline to his joke. But he's serious. He says he thinks it would be fun to do some farming again.

My gaze leaves him and is directed to our backyard, where a lawn in need of TLC or maybe even just a simple mowing stares back at me.

"Uh, you can't find the time to mow the lawn, and now you want to go farm?"

He smiles, gives me a hug and the conversation is dropped since a child or two is clinging to his leg, begging for some "Daddy time."

I know he won't really go do any farming, but I understand his desire to do it. We both grew up on farms in rural North Dakota, and the peaceful solitude that comes with farm life can be pretty appealing when you're in the midst of noisy neighbors and constant interruptions at the office.

I've even gone the "farming" route a bit myself. This summer is my first attempt at a garden. One of the amenities of our new home was a large garden plot. Just wish the previous owners would have left a green thumb behind.

Translation: I have no idea what I'm doing.

The only thing I really know about gardens is from a ghastly error I made when I was about 7 years old. My mother sent me to the garden to bring in onions for dinner. I didn't know what I was looking for, so she told me, "They're the things with long green stems sticking out of the ground."

Okay, that sounds easy enough. Except I failed to thoroughly inspect the garden before I started pulling up the first long-stemmed green things I found. Believing I was being a big help, I pulled up A LOT of them.

As I rush into the house, my mother gasps. "You pulled up my flowers!"


In my defense, they hadn't bloomed yet, and they indeed were long, and green. But she made a good point when she asked, "Didn't you notice there weren't any onions on the bottom?"

Oh yeah. That should have been a clue.

Again, whoops.

So flash forward 30 years to my own garden. I'm still having difficulty identifying the crop. For the first month I was afraid to go pull weeds because I was worried I would pull up the vegetables too. I don't know a weed from a green bean, to be quite honest.

Now I have an excellent grasp of what is a weed. And I've got a lot of them.

And not so much crop.

Not that I was expecting much on my first time out. But I am genuinely disappointed that despite all the corn I planted I don't have so much as a measley stalk. I had high hopes of making my way through rows of corn this summer, plucking ears for our dinners.

Just like when I was a kid on the farm.

I'll just have to use my imagination as I stroll the produce aisle in the supermarket instead.

On a positive note, I can grow lettuce. It's my pride and joy of the garden at this point. (Perhaps because other than the radishes, it's the only thing I can succinctly identify.)

My only problem is I have no idea when to harvest it. It looks nice right now, I hate to pull it up. Maybe it will get even nicer? Or am I missing out on delectable salads?

The whole process is pretty stressful, actually. Is it getting enough water? Enough sun? Did I plant them too close together? Not close enough? Are the weeds out of control?

This gardening thing was supposed to be relaxing.

That's probably what my husband was thinking when he said he wanted to go farming.

I also lived on the farm long enough to face reality. Which is, his first day out the grain truck would get a flat, the combine would need a part and just when things got going, he'd get rained out.

But that's farming for ya.