Dec 30, 2008

What's that smell?

In my experience smell brings back the strongest memories. I can not smell Old Spice aftershave without remembering my father scooping me up and hugging me when I was a little girl. It was usually right after he had shaved. I would rub my cheek against his and then touch his cheek with my hand because it was so smooth.

Strawberry lip gloss brings back memories of being a pre-teen girl thinking she was all that and a bag of chips because my lips were so shiny and kissable. Smelling a little baby transports me back to holding my own kids when they were infants.

I was recently at a car show where some vintage vehicles were on display. I opened the door of a ~1970 Mitsubishi Colt and was instantly transported to the late 70's, summertime in Florida. The sun beating through the windows onto the vinyl bench seat creates a certain smell that can't be recreated in today's automobiles. I closed my eyes and it was like I was there.

As a teenager I spent many of my summers in Florida with my dear cousins. The girls were all older than me and at least one of them always had a car. We would dig in the couch for coins to buy gas and other necessary beach items, ahem. We would head down to the beach for a day of sun, sand and guy watching. We were trouble waiting to happen and we didn't care. Some of the best times of my life. Wish I could go back now that I know I should have appreciated it more.

And speaking of my dear cousins..... HAPPY BIRHTDAY BONNIE. Big Five-Oh on January 5th. How in the hell did that happen?

Dec 23, 2008

Oh me, Oh my !

Before I tell you about my adventure this week I feel the need to establish the fact that I am an independent woman. I watched during the 1970's as my mother broke the "yoke of domesticity" to become a bona fide, college educated working mother. The lesson was not wasted on my sister and me.

There are few things I am afraid to try or do. I have always believed that I could do anything I made up my mind to do. I am proud to say that I have never fallen back on the female ploy of fluttering the eyelashes and asking some big strong man for help. If I am giggling like a schoolgirl it's because I'm flirting not because I'm manipulating some man to help me out. I have never cried in front of a police office to get out of a ticket.

Having said all that... there are certain things that make me feel like such a girl. Number one on that list is a flat tire. I hate feeling helpless but I really don't know what to do. Actually, I do know what to do.... call someone for help.

The other morning I ran over a bungee cord. Please regard the picture below as your fair warning not to run over bungee cords if you can avoid it.

I should be able to change a flat tire. Lots of women do it. I just get all flustered and out of my element. First off, the tire is under the car. Am I expected to lay down in the middle of the road in the snow and unhook it. Exactly how is it connected to the car anyway? I'm sure that a tool of some sort is necessary. But I have no clue what tool that is or where I would find it. And the whole jack thing is complicated. It comes in several pieces and I have no clue where to position it under the car. It's much easier to just call somebody even at the price of feeling needy.

While we're on the subject of things that make me feel like a girl, number two on the list is any yard equipment that is started by a pull-cord. C'mon, after all these years we can't design a push button starter? I'm no conspiracy theorist but it's awfully suspicious that lawnmowers and weedwackers are not only difficult to start but are constantly cutting out on you. Is this some plot to make me feel weak and needy?

Dec 22, 2008


I would like to share my grandmother’s story. First, let me apologize to my mother, aunts and uncles if they remember any parts of this story differently. I am fully aware that this is your story too. My defense is that family stories are a subjective thing, for both the teller and the person hearing the story. Different things strike a chord with each of us so the story I tell will certainly be different in some ways than the story you would tell.

My grandmother’s name was Luise Wande Busse. She was born near Obornik, Germany on January 5, 1905. The story goes that she was very weak and fragile and my great-grandmother had to huddle near the cottage’s ceramic oven to keep her from dying.

I don’t know much about her childhood years. She met my grandfather, Wilhelm Lauchstaedt at a friend’s wedding. I remember my grandmother talking about him during one of her visits to the US. Even though she spoke no English and my German is patchy at best, I could tell that even after all these years he was the love of her life. She was a very calm, quiet and serious person but when she spoke about him she got a sparkle in her eyes and had a big smile on her face.

As you can see from the photo he was very handsome. I have also heard many people say that he had a great sense of humor and liked to spend time drinking and laughing it up with his buddies. He owned a butcher shop in Obornik. He and my grandmother had nine children. I think there may have been another one that died in infancy as well but I’m not sure about that.

My grandfather was a soldier in the German regular army during WWII. He wasn’t called to serve in the beginning of the war because he had five or six children by then. But as WWII worsened for the Germans the number of children needed for an exemption kept getting higher. Below is a picture of my grandomther with seven of her children.

My grandfather was killed by Polish Freedom Fighters while home for Christmas leave in 1944. His death was gruesome and violent. I won’t speculate about the atrocities against the Poles at the hands of the Germans that could have led them to such violence. Those were evil times all the way around. I’ll let history sort all of that out. This is the story of my family, not WWII.

What I do know, is that my grandfather was a loving husband and father. His family grieved deeply for him. My mother was the youngest of nine and was just 5 months old when her father was killed. She has no personal memories of her father. She has copies of some letters he wrote while away at the front. He always made a point to mention all of his children in his letters.

At about the same time my grandfather was killed the Russians were quickly making their way toward my family’s hometown. My grandmother made the decision to pack up her nine children and her elderly mother and travel by train to Berlin. Her brother lived in Berlin and she hoped to take refuge with him.

The trip to Berlin was difficult. It was the dead of winter and they traveled in boxcars. It was cold and crowded and food was scarce. My grandmother struggled to keep my infant mother from freezing. To this day my mother's skin still gets red and swollen if she’s out in the cold too long.

The family arrived in Berlin right before the Russians invaded the city. Those familiar with WWII history will remember that the Russians were brutal. Many Germans were murdered and many women were raped. None of my family speaks much about the fall of Berlin. During a trip to Berlin I saw the basement where the family huddled while Berlin was being bombed. The rumor was that the Russians wouldn’t rape a woman with a child so many of the neighbor women wanted to “borrow” one of my grandmother’s children to protect themselves.

The Americans came and things got a little better in Berlin. But there still wasn’t much food and they all lived in a very small apartment. My mother remembers playing in the ruins of the bombed buildings as a young girl.

My grandmother successfully got all of her children through those tough times plus the many lean years that followed. Berlin was a divided city with the each of the four allied countries in charge of a different section. Fortunately my family lived in the American sector.

In the early 60’s the Berlin wall was built. The Russian and US armies faced off while the families of Berlin caught on opposite sides risked life and limb to be together. My father was a soldier in the US Army stationed in Berlin. That’s how he met my mother. They married in 1962 and she moved away from her family to join my father in the States.

My grandmother ended up raising one of her grandchildren when her son was not able to. Late in her life she moved in with my Tante Rosi and her husband into a very nice apartment in Berlin. She died in October 1988. Her family loved her and honored her for her strength and goodness but whenever she talked about her life she never thought she had done anything exceptional. She said she had just done what she needed to do.

Dec 17, 2008

Kim and Henry ?

Text messaging is a wonderful thing. I don’t really like talking on the telephone, except to my sister for our periodic bitch sessions. And I mean bitch in both senses of the word. Texting is quick, to the point and allows you to multi-task.

I had a brief exchange with my husband this morning (no pun intended).

Me: Found my underwear!
Him: Boyfriend’s suitcase?
Me: Yep, right where I left them.

Seems I had packed my underwear in the super secret compartment of my suitcase. My husband and I had to make an emergency trip to Target to buy me some new bloomers. Imagine if I had sent that message to the wrong person.

Recently while sitting in a theatre waiting for a movie to start I was scrolling through my old text messages. Most were the mundane, taking care of business type of message…

What’s for dinner?(grrrr), Be home late. Need anything from the store?

I had a few drunken messages from a good friend of ours. I still can’t decipher them completely. I keep them as a reminder of how quickly some Jaeger can bring you to your knees.

There were three messages from a couple named “Kim and Henry”. I don’t know a Kim and Henry. I know a few Kims, but none of them have a Henry. Since May of ’08 I have received three text messages from this mystery couple. I had quickly forgotten each of them as they were received and never gave them another thought.

During my stroll down text message memory lane I saw the pattern of one way communication from Kim and Henry to me. In May they had texted “You’re getting married! Congratulations!” in July they had texted “Happy 4th of July” and then in November “Happy Thanksgiving”

I am intrigued. Who are Kim and Henry? Who were they texting? Were Kim and Henry invited to the wedding? If so, why couldn’t they come? Don’t Kim and Henry wonder why they don’t get a response? Gosh, I hope I haven’t ruined a friendship with my carelessness.

I was a little trigger happy when I was looking at these old messages so all the Kim and Henry messages got erased. I hope that Kim and Henry send me some Yuletide Greetings so that I can get some answers.

Dec 15, 2008

California Dreaming

Spending a few days in “not-so-sunny” California. Just my luck that when I visit the state renowned for it’s near perfect weather I get gray skies, a cold snap and torrential downpours. Sigh. Yesterday was a little better. The sun was shining and the 60 degree temps felt like summer to me.

My husband and I spent a wonderful day with his aunt. I love everybody on that side of my husband’s family. They are loud and funny and loving people. We went to the Rose Bowl flea market, then had a wonderful dinner at a Mexican restaurant and finished the evening with a drive through Hollywood. Sad to say we didn’t see any movie stars but I don’t think they hang out in Hollywood anyway.

I love California. There is a certain attitude out here, a general acceptance of everybody and everything. Everybody is so easy going and friendly. Complete opposite of the mid-west where we hustle and bustle about as if we are all the only people on the planet.

A few oddities I notice about California.

The trees out here are different than trees I have seen anywhere else. The big trees with the white trunks are my favorite. I don’t know what they are called. Their roots are exposed and they look as if they are hanging onto the earth for dear life.

They have two story strip malls.

Even though the freeways are crowded they are really good drivers, at least compared to Michigan. They use their signals, they know what the left lane is for and they let people merge into traffic.

A lot of the buildings and houses in LA look like they were built in the 50’s and 60’s. Not having made it out here until the 90’s, I am guessing that California had big growth back then. I’m going to have to research that.

This is a wonderful place to visit but don’t think it’s a retirement option because the prices are too high. Flagstaff is still in the lead for that one.

Dec 11, 2008

Scattershot Journalism

I read a NYT article this morning because the headline caught my eye, Illinois Scandal an Early Test for Obama Team. Oh really? Did Mr. Obama or someone on his team have some involvement in the Illinois Governor’s criminal attempt to sell the soon to be vacant Senate seat? I read the article and I have to tell you that it is lacking any substance at all. It was like a wisp, a ghost, a bit of fog captured on the page but fading in and out. I had to read it a few times to see if I was missing something. No, I didn’t miss the main point because…..there wasn’t one.

Here are some highlights from the article:

An Illinois hopeful for the Senate seat commented on how she couldn’t get any insider info out of Rahm Emanuel (Obama’s Chief of Staff) on what the Governor was thinking.

Obama and his advisers were keeping their distance from the Governor and not looking to influence his decision, partly because he was known to be under federal investigation.

Democrats have stated that Obama had strained relations with the Governor and made the decision to stay out of the decision process.

Two potential candidates are cited as saying that they never talked to Mr. Obama about the vacant senate seat.

This all sounds like A-Number-One judgment to me. Mr. Obama and his team declined to speak about something out of their control with people who had a direct personal interest in the outcome. Wow, what were they thinking? And, gasp, they didn’t trust or want to associate with the Governor of Illinois. Again I ask, where’s the story?

Then the article does a complete about face for no apparent reason:

Republicans have raised questions about Mr. Obama’s refusal to say more about his past ties with the main characters of the scandal.

Mr. Obama stayed out of sight on Wednesday, calling for Mr. Blagojevich’s resignation through an aide and only after other Democrats had done so.

Even if Mr. Obama remains untouched by the investigation, it shines a light on the corrupt politics of the state he emerged from.

Past ties? This is the Governor of Illinois, not some weapons dealing, drug smuggling, nefarious character. I’m sure many of these same unnamed Republicans also had “past ties” with the Governor since we’re not exactly being clear on the definition of “tie”.

And what exactly is being implied with the statement about the timing of Mr. Obama’s call for the Governor’s resignation? It seems to imply that he did it under some sort of pressure, almost against his will. At worst, this implies that Mr. Obama hesitated because he was somehow involved. At best it insinuates that Mr. Obama didn’t have the guts to do it earlier. They are kidding, right?

Then they deal the coup de grĂ¢ce, reporting that Mr. Obama is somehow tainted because he and the Governor both come from the same State. Well, with that logic, anybody from the State of Texas is a blithering idiot.

I seem to remember from my grammar school days that first you “Start with your main topic in mind and expand on it”. Now certainly the writers at the NYT have gone to grammar school and certainly they should be expected to collect their thoughts in a cohesive fashion and translate it to paper. So what is going on here? I know exactly what is going on. Throw enough chum into the water and the sharks are bound to show up. That’s today’s media for you. Throw a bunch of disjointed statements on paper, none backed by any named sources and hope that a public furor ensues because then you can really sell some papers.

Dec 9, 2008


There are a few questions I dread. The longest lasting and most recurring one is: "What's for dinner?" I used to joke with my family that I was the sun and they were each planets orbiting me on a 24 hour cycle. Each of them compelled to ask that question once per day. A little bit of a complicated analogy but it works for me. My answer "I don't know, whatever I feel like cooking when I get home from work."

Things have changed. Most of the time it's just me and my husband, with the youngest off at school and the oldest technically at home but spending a lot of her evenings with her boyfriend. To be fair to her, our daughter usually cooks one night a week. I am sure it is only because she can be assured of getting a good vegetarian meal that way. But who am I to complain, so long as I don't have to cook it. Truth be told, she has a few tasty recipes up her sleeve.

My husband and I have kind of a game going on. Whoever asks the other one first "What's for dinner?" wins. Even if the person asked doesn't end up cooking there is an advantage to be gained for the next day. That's the triple bonus, double whammy. Asking the other one "What's for dinner?", end up being the one cooking it and then asking again the next day "What's for dinner?". There ain't no way you're cooking then. Best case scenario, we go out!

Another question I hate is "What do you want for Christmas?" Hell, I don't know. Something you think I'd like. In my younger days I could come up with a whole list of things. But I pretty much have reached a point where I have all that I need. Whatever you get me is fine by me. I'm not picky. A gift certificate to Borders so I can feed my insatiable appetite for books, a scarf, some perfume, anything you like. How about you cook dinner for a whole month straight?

Dec 7, 2008


This beautiful creature was in our cherry tree this morning. I caused quite a bit of commotion going back into the house to get the camera and she very kindly stayed put. We recently cut down quite a few trees in the yard and I think it stirred up the local rodent population. That's like an Old Country Buffet for red tail hawks.

On a totally different topic.... Today my husband twisted my arm to stop in at WalMart because he heard some of their grocery prices were really good. I hate WalMart. Not for any high and noble reason like their questionable business practices. Not because of the alleged unfair treatment of their employees. Not because most of their goods come from third world countries. WalMart like any big company has it's fair share of skeletons in the closet but I believe a lot of the negative media they get was initiated by and is fueled by their competition.

I simply hate WalMart because it is aesthetically unpleasant. Their signs are too big. Their stores are too crowded and the atmosphere feels..... I don't know ..... crazed. After all, it was a WalMart where the shoppers trampled a worker to death trying to get to the bargains. (Part, if not most, of the blame lies in WalMart's lap for not maintaining some sort of control over the crazed shoppers.) Now, I love a bargain as much as the next person. But c'mon. Can we maintain a little common courtesy and human decency while pursuing that unbelievably low price?

I will shop at KMart occasionally. I mostly go for nostalgic reasons. I have a lot of memories of going there as a kid with my Mom. Back in the day some of them were called S.S. Kresge's and they had soda fountains. It was the 60's and my Mom had go-go boots and a bad-ass beehive. If I was good she'd get me something, if I was really good I might even get a hot fudge sundae. However, I view K'Marts as only a step or two above WalMart and consider them to be a Target wanna'be.

Now Target on the other hand is the BEST store in the world. They are marketing geniuses in my opinion. I invariably spend more than I intended. Quite a bit of it on "Dollar Spot" junk that I really have no use for but can't resist because it's only a buck. Their stores are clean. Their displays are appealing and it just feels better than WalMart. So, anyway, gotta sign off now because I am headed to Target right now with my daughter. Christmas shopping awaits. I wonder what stocking stuffers they have at the "Dollar Spot".

Dec 3, 2008

Where be the treasure?

The word pirate has several meanings. One of them, according to is:

a person who robs or commits illegal violence at sea or on the shores of the sea.

This is, technically, the appropriate word to use for the people who have been terrorizing ships sailing in waters near Somalia. Though I have to admit, for me anyway, Disney and Johnny Depp have successfully rendered this word unusable in any serious context. Every time I hear one of these stories about “pirates” I picture Jack Sparrow sailing up along side an unsuspecting ship and charming his way aboard. That is NOT what is happening.

In the last year there have been nearly 100 attacks on ships sailing the waters near Somalia. 40 of those attacks were successful, resulting in the ships being boarded and hijacked and the passengers and crew members being held hostage for ransom. The most recent attack was on a luxury cruise ship that fortunately was able to outrun their attackers.

Somalia is a country on the eastern tip of the African continent. The people of Somalia are starving and desperate. They have been caught in the crossfire of tribal feuding and all out civil war since the early 90’s. There is no central government in Somalia. Different regions of the country are ruled by opposing factions. The piracy trade has flourished there because it offers the destitute citizens a chance to make some money to feed their families. The pirate kingpins get rich and the local officials get their share of the booty. All other legitimate trade in the region is at a virtual standstill because of the danger associated with travel to that country, especially by ship. It’s like a vicious circle with no end in sight.

May I suggest we come up with a new word and permanently relegate the word “pirate” to the world of fantasy and make-believe. Let’s call them “sea marauders” or “sea bandits” instead. But, I guess even those words sound whimsical. Maybe there is no good alternative and I will just have to quit thinking about the Pirates of the Caribbean every time I hear or read one of these stories.

Dec 1, 2008

Debits = Credits

There was a big change at work today. Up until today I was responsible for managing HR and Administration. I have managed both of these functions for my entire career but until this current job I had also always managed the accounting function. When I accepted this job a little over a year ago I knew I would be giving up accounting. At the time I was excited to have the chance to focus all my attention on one thing for a change. I am a jack-of-all-trades kind of person and wanted to see if I could finally “master” one of them. I was also happy to get away from the monthly grind of producing financial statements.

But I have to admit I have missed accounting a little bit. The majority of issues that HR deals with are “gray”. Whenever some policy or employee issue is open for debate, discussion or interpretation it invariably ends up in HR’s lap. We are the fog lifters, the cheerleaders, the explainers and the comforters. It’s very challenging and rewarding.

Accounting on the other hand is a very black and white kind of thing. There is usually only one answer. The left side needs to balance to the right side. It always provided a nice balance to the HR side of things. After a tough day of dealing with people issues I could bury my head in numbers.

I work for a Japanese automobile manufacturer. Japanese companies are different than American companies in a lot of ways. That is a whole blog post in and of itself that I will save for another time. But I will say that one of the key attributes for success is the ability to wear many hats. There is a standard phrase put on job descriptions that goes something like “and other duties as assigned by manager.” This phrase really gets a workout in a Japanese organization.

So, after one year here and increasingly difficult times for the automotive industry I find myself in the position of taking on the management of the accounting department in addition to my current responsibilities. I am happy about this change and also glad that being a jack-of-all-trades gives me at least a little bit of job security in these tough times.