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Helpful Technology Goes Awry, Again

Today’s guest columnist is Daughter Alicia.  After she read my column about my frustration with QR Codes, she shared a recent technology experience at her house.

Background: our laptop has a pesky habit of interrupting on-screen work with a multitude of notifications. It interrupts with no regard of manners or propriety. No doubt, there is a way to stop notifications, but I haven’t done that. 

When it was time for 15-year-old Elsie to take the drivers’ permit test, we learned it could be taken online. Hooray! How convenient!  I registered to become Elsie’s test proctor and jumped through the hoops downloading the TN proctor ID application, and we were good to go.

I welcome a second teen driver. Every time I get behind the wheel, my offspring share much needed tips in the form of side-eyed comments: “Blinker,” “It’s yellow, Mom,” and “Turn here.”   

Elsie had studied diligently; she was ready. Step one: scan a QR code, after my proctor ID app recognizes my face. In the two weeks since I had installed the app, my face must have morphed to a state of non-recognizability. I timed out three times due to ‘security concerns’ for having the wrong face.    

After a live chat with Josh, an online assistant, who verified I was who I said I was, we were admitted to the testing site. I tried to play it cool as my girl was a shade anxious, but I sweated from the effort of being recognized by the wizardry of biometric identity. 

Elsie read the instructions, which told her to not have any web-connected devices nearby and to not open other on-screen windows (presumably to prevent wayward teens from on-the-spot research/cheating/tom

foolery). Ever the rule follower, she put her phone and Apple watch several feet away. She began.

I sat quietly. No hints. No ‘Are you sure?’ mom-interference. About a dozen questions in, an email notification popped onto the computer screen.  To be able to see question behind the pop-up,  Elsie hit the x to delete the notification.

Immediately, the test screen blacked out and words in big red letters appeared: YOU HAVE FAILED.  Surely not. Oh, but yes. “An alternate tab was opened. This is against the rules. This test is marked FAILED.” 

We stared at each other in disbelief. I cannot think of one thing Elsie has ever failed, and to be suspected of cheating – devastating. I was gobsmacked when I realized she FAILED because she closed a notification: ‘You have a new email.’ Good grief.

Elsie buried her head and came out laughing. We laughed until we cried. I don’t know which was worse for my girl: failure or being found guilty of cheating without a jury of peers. She carries the burden of being the oldest daughter who has a rather high self-imposed bar of success.  The next chance to take this test is 24 hours later.  At which point, we’ll load up and head to the good ole Department of Motor Vehicles Office to test in person, just like God and Henry Ford intended.

Technology: Love It and Hate It

Technology makes life simpler by one definition:  methods, systems, and devices which are the result of scientific knowledge being used for practical purposes in industry and our everyday day lives.  Technology certainly proved practical when Husband, our 15-year-old Grand, Elsie, and I set off on a five-day trip. 

Holding my iPhone in hand, I said, “Hey, Siri. Get directions to Sandusky, Ohio.”  Seconds later, Google Maps showed three possible routes on my phone screen. We chose one showing 486 miles and 7 hours 35 minutes.  Because I wanted to follow our route on paper and I like to know the names of towns we travel through, I kept my Rand-McNally atlas close by as we followed a blue line and spoken directions from my phone.   

I appreciated detailed directions. “In ¼ mile, use the right two lanes. Turn left onto Interstate Highway 77.” As Google Map’s back-up navigator for Husband while he drove, I sometimes repeated directions, watched for highway and street signs, and looked up the name of the next town.

When we arrived at our destination, I praised technology.  We didn’t make a single wrong turn, although driving time was extended an hour due to road construction, and along the way Google Map had located and directed us to the nearest Chick-Fil-A.

As we travelled, we used technology in other ways.  Texts, emails and phone calls kept us connected with friends and family.  I played word games, and our Grand listened to audio books.

            The next day I encountered my bane of technology.  At a Cedar Point Amusement Park information booth, I asked for a park map.  “You can scan one,” said the park employee.  She pointed to a QR code, a black and white square, and immediately looked towards another park visitor.

Quick Response codes have been described as barcodes on steroids; they hold information horizontally and vertically.  Was I expected to see everything at Cedar Point, a 364-acre park, on my 3” x 6” phone screen?  Never understanding the park’s layout, I floundered for the next few hours and followed Elsie from ride to ride.

Finally, we saw the main information center so I again asked for a paper map.  The employee said, “You can scan one,” and pointed to a QR code. I gave her my best grandmother smile and said, “I’ve been frustrated all morning.”

She nodded and ducked below the counter.  “Here you go. This should help.”  I triumphantly waved my paper map toward Husband and Elsie.

At suppertime, a hostess guided us to a restaurant booth and pointed to the tabletop.  “Your waiter will be right with you. You can scan our menu here,” she said. Another QR code.

As we looked at phone screens, the waiter must have sensed my frustration because she asked, “Would you like paper menus?”  Most times I think I’m moving along well (for my age, some would say) in this technology world, but I hope all the world’s information doesn’t get packed into black and white squares.

Curiosity and Determination

When a Grand asks to play our pump organ, I say, “Yes.” And I often say that my grandfather and his two sisters bought the organ about 1915 when they were young adults. 

            “Did one pump and one play?” eight-year-old Micah asked.  I shook my head.  Micah had played our piano and organ since he was a toddler – old enough to reach the keys.  Creating his own melodies, his little hands have run up and down the keyboards, and he learned to play with fingers, not fists. 

            He pumped the organ pedals and played, and like every other time, my Grand declared that you needed strong legs to pump.  When it was my turn, I played ‘Jesus Loves Me’ while Micah sat quietly studying my fingers and the hymnal propped open on the organ.  After I played the last note, he asked, “Gran, how do you know what key to play by looking at that book?” 

             I quickly found Lesson Book – Level 1A that Micah’s big brother and sister had used.  Knowing Samuel and Annabel used the same book made this young Grand throw out his chest. He asked to play the piano so he wouldn’t have to pump. 

            Micah is methodical – before he rides his bike, he puts on his helmet, arm and knee pads, and riding gloves – so when I flipped a few pages to one that showed black notes and finger numbers for ‘Merrily We Roll Along,’ he stopped me.  “Gran, what if I miss something important in the front?” 

            He practiced sitting tall and curving his fingers like a cat’s paw.  We both numbered and wiggled our thumbs and fingers. “Are thumbs always number 1, even in a different book?” Micah bent his thumbs.  What a relief that music books uses the same numbered fingers. 

            We counted quarter, half, and whole notes in a measure. Micah played all the black keys in groups of two; then those in groups of three.  Forty-five minutes after opening the Lesson Book, we turned to ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ and we sang the numbers over the notes: 2343 222 333 222.  (Keys are named as letters in later lessons.)

            Micah put three left-hand fingers on the three black keys below middle C, and I put my index finger over the first note in the lesson book.  “No, Gran. I think I’ve got this,” he said.  And he did.  Maybe because Micah is left-handed, playing with his right hand was more difficult, but he tried over and over to master ‘O’er the Deep Blue Sea.’  

            Micah took home copies of two pages from the lesson book. “I’ll play on our piano.  Everyone will be so surprised!  It’s kinda’ like reading.  When can I play the next page?”  Micah will learn the names of keys and he’ll understand that notes for ‘Jesus Loves Me’ are written on five straight black lines.  My Grand’s curiosity led to learning and his determination to success.  And I got to watch. 

Can We Just Stop a Minute?

We stood around a high-top table at a rooftop restaurant.  Telling stories.  Remembering days long past.  Sharing where we’ve been and what we’ve done during the last fifty-something years, since the late 1960s. A few of Husband’s college fraternity brothers and their wives or dates had gathered for supper and a long-overdue visit.

            We laughed as we reminisced about parties, one when a diamond engagement ring was thrown across the dance floor.  (The ring was found and the next day he put it back on her finger.  The couple married and will soon celebrate their 53rd anniversary.)

We talked about children and grandchildren.  About jobs and careers.  About trips. About moves from apartments to houses.  About upsizing and downsizing.  About retirement and the luxury of doing what we want, when we want.

“Can we just stop a minute?” Gil said. “Just stop and appreciate that we’re here together.  After all these many years – when we were students at Tech – we’re together right now, at this moment.”

We five around that one table stopped.  We nodded.  We looked at the clusters of others who were talking and laughing.  My eyes filled with happy tears.

I’ve carried Gil’s words for two weeks. Just stop and appreciate.  Right now, at this moment. I am thankful for that time with friends, some Husband and I have kept up with and seen regularly, some we hadn’t seen since 1969.  For that reunion, people had made plans and travelled distances and even though some of us will gather again, the next visit won’t be that moment.

Time with family and friends doesn’t have to be long planned and can be anywhere, anytime. 

As I drove a friend to Vanderbilt for a radiation treatment, we talked about the days when we were neighbors and our children were young and how we fed PBJ sandwiches to the kids who were in our backyards at lunchtime.  Those were happy memories and I was happy for the time just the two of us were together in my van.

When I sat at a restaurant with two friends last week, I stopped talking and just listened.  I took in their faces, their smiles, their concern for another friend who was sick.  

As I visited on the phone with a friend, I didn’t dust window shutters or empty the dishwasher.  I concentrated only on our conversation. 

Most days, when the weather allows, before or after supper and sometimes both, Husband and I sit in rocking chairs on our front porch.  We share what we’ve done that day and greet neighbors as they walk their dogs.  We watch neighborhood children ride bikes and scooters.

Last week’s heart-breaking news of the deaths of young children and teachers in Texas tells us once again to hold those we love in long hugs.  To appreciate each conversation.  To take in and cherish time together.

Can we just stop a minute?  Just stop and appreciate.  Right now, at this moment.

Savor a Sun-Warmed Strawberry

Roots and Wings

‘There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children.  One is roots.  The other, wings.’  When I researched to learn who wrote or said these inspiring words, I learned many people have used them:  Henry Ward Beecher, Jonas Salk, Ronald Reagan, and others. But I didn’t find out who first gave this sage advice.

            As 865 Putnam County high school students graduate this week, parents wonder if their children are ready.  Ready to move out of their homes.  Ready to take on the responsibilities of living with peers.  Ready for a full-time job.  Ready to study to attain the next degree.  Ready to measure up to the rigorous training in the armed forces.  Ready to manage their time, their money, eat healthy, even ready to wash their own clothes. 

            Yes, they are.  Because you gave them roots.  Roots that go all the way back to when your children were swaddled in small blankets and you attended to their every physical and emotional need.  When they fell on their bottoms as they stumbled to take steps and you clapped to encourage them to stand and try again.  When they started kindergarten and you threw an air kiss.

            Roots grew thicker and stronger when children learned to socialize with classmates and team mates.   Learned to adapt to teachers’ and coaches’ expectations that were different than at home.   Learned rules and consequences, and probably experienced consequences that taught life lessons.   Learned to compromise, to lead, and to follow.

            You parents encouraged wings to develop through root experiences.  When toddlers fell, they picked themselves up and wings fluttered.  When children felt unsure and scared, you encouraged.  When the world’s values didn’t match home values, you helped your children sort, discard, and keep what was necessary to be successful.

            And when children felt rejected or defeated, they knew a safe, secure place. At home, their wings could wave frantically and then rest to rejuvenate and grow.

            Roots and wings continue to develop even after most people think children are old enough to be on their own. When my children were young, Mom told me about giving roots and wings and years later she chuckled when Son showed both.  He was working his first full time job after college graduation and lived a four-hour drive from Husband’s and my home.  We planned to visit him for the weekend and Son asked, “Will you bring my camo coat? The one that’s hanging on the coat rack in the mudroom.” 

            Son’s wings had taken him to independent living.  His roots told him that home was the same. That his coat he’d hung on a coat rack when he was a high school student, years earlier, was still there.  The coat had been moved to a closet and we took it to him.

The greatest gifts parents give their children truly are roots and wings.  Gifts we continue to give, even after children wear caps and gowns and think they are all grown up.

Once is Enough

How did I miss National Cheese Fondue Day on April 11 and Chocolate Fondue Day on February 5?  Maybe because after Husband and I hosted a fondue dinner we both said, “Never again.”

            In a column recently, I wrote that by the time I had a fondue party, others had fondued for years.  Many of us long-time married folk received fondue pots as wedding gifts.  In the early 1970s, Husband and I heated cheese in our pot and dunked chunks of bread, but our only time to fondue with a group was about ten years later when we hosted a fondue dinner.

            In 1978, Husband and I and five other couples formed a supper club, that we named The Gourmet Group, and we began gathering in each other’s homes.  We cooked and served food from many countries, and fondue seemed like a fun and easy meal.

             Fondue originated in Switzerland in the 16th century as a way to use hardened cheese and stale bread during winter months.  So, melted Gruyere, a traditional Swiss cheese, and bread cubes was the logical choice for our appetizer.  As we six women planned our menu, we decided to make the whole meal fondue since each of us owned a fondue pot.

            Fondue appetizer.  Fondue meat.  Fondue dessert. 

            Husband and I set two tables so six people could share one pot. The cheese melted perfectly, we dipped bread and drizzled cheese on tables and our chins.  We dropped bread chunks in the pots and retrieved them with slotted spoons. We enjoyed every bite.

            The cheese pots were removed and main dish pots were brought to the tables.  The person in charge of main dish had researched the size to cut beef cubes, the oil to use, and how much oil to put in pots   Each person’s dinner plate held raw beef and sides.  I don’t remember the sides, probably traditional Swiss vegetables or salad, whatever those are. 

            We waited for the oil to heat.  We waited and waited.

            Finally, the oil was hot. Each of us put a piece of meat in pots.  After the suggested time, the meat was raw.  Hardly warm.  Maybe just two people could cook, but cooking two bites at a time would make for a long evening.  

            None of us were that patient so I pulled out my heaviest deep pot, put it on the stove, and poured in oil. We stuck a few pieces of beef on forks into the hot oil and within seconds it cooked.  Not perfectly, but not rare. Forgoing forks, we dropped beef cubes into the oil, which splattered everywhere, and quick-fried.

            I don’t remember dessert.  Maybe we ate strawberries and chocolate hand-to-mouth.

            What Husband and I never forgot was the grease – on the stove, the floor, the tables. Now, about forty years later, The Gourmet Group continues to gather monthly and if the word fondue is even said, Husband and I shake our heads.  Never again.

Mother’s Day is a Day for Memories

When you think of your mother, where is she? 

            I see Mom in her kitchen and in her sewing room.  She’s standing in the flower shop in the basement of my childhood home.  She’s sitting in her brown recliner.  She’s driving a lawn mower. 

            Maybe you think of your mom at one place, and I first picture Mom wearing a dark green plaid apron tied around her waist and patting biscuit dough made with Martha White self-rising flour, Crisco, and buttermilk.  She’d sift the flour, cut in Crisco with a pastry cutter, pour buttermilk into a flour well, and gently stir with a wooden spoon just until the flour wasn’t dry.  Never measuring.  Never looking at a recipe.  

            Mom handled the dough gently, patting it on a flour covered pastry cloth and then making it about ½” thick with a rolling pin that didn’t have handles.  She cut biscuits the perfect size for two bites for Dad and three or four for me.  Smaller biscuits bake more evenly, she told me, and you can eat more. 

            That same biscuit dough became dumplings for my chicken and dumplings birthday meal and Mom made dessert butter rolls using the same dough.  (When biscuit dough is more than biscuits is a topic for another column.)

            Mom and Dad hosted many family holiday dinners and backyard cookouts.  She taught me to fry chicken, make vegetable beef soup, and use a pressure cooker for a perfect beef roast and all the trimmings.  When I made lumpy gravy, it’s because I didn’t follow Mom’s directions.

            Out of necessity, Mom learned to sew when she was a teenager and made clothes for herself and her two younger sisters.  During my growing up years, she made clothes for me, both my grandmothers, and herself; every seam was smooth and even and every garment fit perfectly.  Mom took up quilting to make each of her three grandchildren a quilt – machine pieced and hand quilted. 

            In 1960, Mom turned her love for flowers into a business to pay for my brother’s and my college educations when she opened Ruth’s Flower Shop in the basement of our home.  She arranged gladioli and pom-pom mums or carnations in white metal containers to take to the local funeral home and she made orchid corsages for Mother’s Day.  More than once, she dyed wild roadside Queen Anne’s lace for brides who couldn’t afford store-bought flowers for their bride maids’ bouquets. 

            Saturday house cleaning was finished by lunchtime so Mom could watched baseball games.  Leaning back in her favorite recliner she cheered for the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves. 

            When Mom’s grandchildren were young, one of their favorite things to do was ride in a metal wagon pulled by a riding lawn mower.  Mom drove all over Dad’s and her backyard, as long as the kids sat on their bottoms in the wagon.  

            Mother’s Day is a day to make and share memories and to celebrate with those you love most.  Happy celebrating!

What’s Your Favorite Family Story?

This Saturday, April 30, let’s go to Dogwood Park behind the History Museum between 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.  Storytellers will entertain us with tales of their growing-up years, travels, and their friends and families. 

            If I’ve learned anything writing this column, it’s that everyone has stories.  Like the time Husband left town for a four-day golf trip and a trampoline was delivered and nine-year-old Son found a snake.  It was harmless garter snake, the size of a yellow #2 pencil and a bit longer than an unsharpened one, but I put on Husband’s work gloves to handle it. 

            Daughter, age 11, wasn’t happy that Son and I punched holes in a metal screw-on lid and put Garter in a quart canning jar so Son could take it to school the next day.   (The teacher had agreed a little snake would be welcome.)  Daughter thought Garter should’ve been left crawling in the weeds near our backyard creek and Son thought Garter should sleep in his room.  We left it inside the jar on the kitchen table.

            The next morning Son, Daughter, and I walked into the kitchen about the same time.  The jar was empty, except for grasses.  We searched, but we didn’t find Garter before school that Friday morning.  All during my teaching work day, I was eager to get home, find the snake, put it outside, and enjoy a calm weekend.  But that wasn’t to be.

            When we arrived home, three huge cardboard boxes blocked our front door.  I pretended I didn’t know what was in the boxes and thought when Husband got home, he could unpack those boxes and set up the trampoline. 

            After a thorough search, Garter wasn’t found.  Daughter and Son were disappointed so, in a moment of insanity, I suggested we look inside the boxes.  Long metal poles.  Heavy metal coiled springs.  Black mesh fabric.  Lugging all of that to the backyard was a chore. 

            Daughter, Son, and I applauded ourselves when a metal circle frame stood stable on level ground.  The children hooked the springs to the frame and laid the fabric on the ground inside the frame.  We began connecting the springs from the frame to the fabric and all went well, until the last few springs because the fabric tension was tight.

            I cut my finger on the sharp end of a spring and sent Son to the house to get the work gloves I’d left on the kitchen table.  We made a plan: Daughter and Son would pull the fabric and I’d pull on the spring to hook it into the metal ring attached in the fabric.

            I put on the gloves, grabbed the spring and said, “Ready, set, pulllll——oh, oh, oh, s***!”  My children dropped the fabric and stared at me.  In a shrill voice, I slowly screamed, “I’m okay.  The snake just crawled up my arm.”             Garter was returned to its outdoor home.  The trampoline was set-up.   Daughter and Son jumped and flipped and somersaulted.  And I knew this would be an all-time favorite family story.

More Than a Cheese Tray

It’s more than a cheese tray.  More than pepperoni and salami on a platter.  More than a fruit plate.  More than a basket of crackers and a bowl of nuts.  It’s cheese, fruit, crackers, nuts, and cured meats on a flat board, any size and any shape.  It’s a charcuterie board.

            When I first heard charcuterie, I asked, “A char what?”  I looked up the word in my online dictionary: cold cooked meats.  It wasn’t in my trusty paperback Webster’s New Dictionary, copyright 2002.  What’s the origin of the word?  When and how did charcuterie boards become the rage for entertaining? 

            According to online sources, charcuterie is from two French words: ‘chair,’ meaning flesh and ‘cuit,’ meaning cooked.  It was a way to preserve meat, before refrigeration was available, and to prepare meat products.  During the first century in Rome, meat was salted and cured, and centuries later charcutiers in 15th century France produced and sold bacon, sausages, head cheese – any pork that could be preserved. 

            Corkdining.com states that charcuterie is rooted in the belief that nothing from the animal should be wasted; not even the heart, lungs, kidneys, fat, or brain.  This takes me back to hog-killing day on the Friday after Thanksgiving when I was a kid when Dad and Granny certainly didn’t know cured meats were called such a fancy word as charcuterie.

             According to most sources, a charcuterie board must include meat, so add cured meat to a simple cheese tray and voila!  During the past few years, charcuterie boards have evolved into meals, party themes, works of art, and almost anything goes. 

            Wanting to learn to create a board from a master, I recently took a class taught by Diego Alvarez, the owner of the Royal House of Cheese.  On my working space, he placed a two-inch thick, eleven-inch diameter wooden disc and enough food to feed a family of six.  Grapes. Strawberries and raspberries.  Three kinds of cheese.  Salami, polish sausage, and prosciutto. Dried apricots and cranberries.  A sleeve of round crackers. Handfuls of bagel chips and nuts.

            Was it possible to balance all of that on something with no sides? And what went where?

Diego patiently explained the circle as a clock face and suggested the placement of foods.  As crackers slid, he expertly fanned them into a crescent.  He suggested food arrangements based on flavors that complement each other and said to vary textures and colors.

            Diego is an excellent teacher, as well as entertaining, and I created a charcuterie board that I proudly served to guests the next day.  Only one raspberry rolled onto the floor.  And Diego taught me how to confidently say charcuterie: char- like to blacken meat, cu- like cu when saying a cute baby, and erie rolls off the tongue to rhyme with rotisserie.

            Now that I can put together charcuterie boards, will they go the way of fondue?  Remember fondue parties in the 1970’s?  By the time I hosted one, they were going out of style.