Thursday, April 30, 2015

Burrocraziness

NOTE: THE NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED TO PROTECT... WELL.... TO PROTECT MY JOB.

I received the following message in my work email yesterday:

-----Original Message-----
From: Smith, Sarah L  ACE-IT CONTRACTOR
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 12:49 PM
To: Lawton, Crorey M MVN
Subject: rejection RE TT4309659

James

I have to reject this tt as it is a ias d1 request and needs to be submitted
on form 43.


Sarah L Smith
MSGI
CEIT-ISS-ID
Enterprise UPASS Administrator
Regional UPASS Administrator


Now I had an idea what this was about, but understood none of the terms.  And I had not contacted 'Sarah' at all.  No contact. 
So I wrote:
 
-----Original Message-----
From: Lawton, Crorey M MVN
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 11:15 AM
To: Smith, Sarah L  ACE-IT CONTRACTOR
Subject: RE: rejection RE TT4309659 (UNCLASSIFIED)

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE

"I have to reject this tt as it is a ias d1 request and needs to be submitted on form 43."

Is there a linguist in the house?  I need a translator, STAT!

Crorey Lawton
Plan Formulator
New Orleans District
 

The conversation did not improve for the entire time we were writing back and forth.
-----Original Message-----
From: Smith, Sarah L  ACE-IT CONTRACTOR
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 2:48 PM
To: Lawton, Crorey M MVN
Subject: RE: rejection RE TT4309659 (UNCLASSIFIED)


Here is a copy of the form 43.


Sarah L Smith
MSGI
CEIT-ISS-ID
Enterprise UPASS Administrator
Regional UPASS Administrator

-----Original Message-----
From: Lawton, Crorey M MVN
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 12:52 PM
To: Smith, Sarah L  ACE-IT CONTRACTOR
Subject: RE: rejection RE TT4309659 (UNCLASSIFIED)

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE

That's great.  But what I asked for was a translation.  I had never emailed
you anything, and the interaction begins and ends with terms that I don't
use, telling me that something has been rejected for reasons that are not
clear.

And you address me as James?

Can we start again?  Please tell me what "I" requested from you. Explain to
me why it was rejected.  Introduce the correct form, and ask if I have
anything that I need in order to re-submit my request.

Otherwise, I have to assume this is a phishing attempt.  Seriously.

Crorey Lawton
Plan Formulator
New Orleans District
 

-----Original Message-----
From: Smith, Sarah L  ACE-IT CONTRACTOR
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 2:54 PM
To: Lawton, Crorey M MVN
Subject: RE: rejection RE TT4309659 (UNCLASSIFIED)

Please ignore what I have sent you. I meant to send this to James Lawton. I
am so very sorry.


Sarah L Smith
MSGI
CEIT-ISS-ID
Enterprise UPASS Administrator
Regional UPASS Administrator



-----Original Message-----
From: Lawton, Crorey M MVN
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 12:55 PM
To: Smith, Sarah L  ACE-IT CONTRACTOR
Subject: RE: rejection RE TT4309659 (UNCLASSIFIED)

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE

I am James Lawton.  But anyone who knows me well enough to call me by my
first name knows better than to try.

I go by Crorey.

Crorey Lawton
Plan Formulator
New Orleans District
 


-----Original Message-----
From: Smith, Sarah L  ACE-IT CONTRACTOR
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 4:13 PM
To: Lawton, Crorey M MVN
Subject: RE: rejection RE TT4309659 (UNCLASSIFIED)

Crorey


I will remember that in the future. This is in regard to a tt that was
submitted in the service trak program requesting something be added to this
acct D1RSC7JL.


Sarah L Smith
MSGI
CEIT-ISS-ID
Enterprise UPASS Administrator
Regional UPASS Administrator



-----Original Message-----
From: Lawton, Crorey M MVN
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 2:32 PM
To: Smith, Sarah L  ACE-IT CONTRACTOR
Subject: RE: rejection RE TT4309659 (UNCLASSIFIED)

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE

And a tt is? And what was requested to be added?

Crorey Lawton
Plan Formulator
New Orleans District
 

-----Original Message-----
From: Smith, Sarah L  ACE-IT CONTRACTOR
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 4:34 PM
To: Lawton, Crorey M MVN
Subject: RE: rejection RE TT4309659 (UNCLASSIFIED)

Your d1 acct needed to be added to the RSC Active Directory.


Sarah L Smith
MSGI
CEIT-ISS-ID
Enterprise UPASS Administrator
Regional UPASS Administrator


-----Original Message-----
From: Lawton, Crorey M MVN
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 2:36 PM
To: Smith, Sarah L  ACE-IT CONTRACTOR
Subject: RE: rejection RE TT4309659 (UNCLASSIFIED)

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE

I am sure that the RSC Active Directory means something, too.

Do you have anyone in the office that can explain to me what you want me to
do?  I mean, using real parts of speech, rather than acronyms?  I covet an
opportunity to either have a dictionary or a translator. 


Crorey Lawton
Plan Formulator
New Orleans District
 


At this point, she gave up and turned it over to her supervisor.
-----Original Message-----
From: Smith, Sarah L  ACE-IT CONTRACTOR
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 4:39 PM
To: O’Bannon, Sean L ACE-IT CONTRACTOR
Subject: FW: rejection RE TT4309659 (UNCLASSIFIED)

Can you assist with this. I rejected his tt because he needed the from 43
and it is going downhill from there and I have no answers for him.


Sarah L Smith
MSGI
CEIT-ISS-ID
Enterprise UPASS Administrator
Regional UPASS Administrator


Finally, her supervisor chimed in.

 

Hi All

I wanted to touch base with you about this ticket. 


When granting a user access to the DMZ we need a Form 43 to grant this
access.  I have attached this form to this email.  Once this form is
completed and signed then it will need to be uploaded to a Remedy ticket.
This is what is required when requesting D1 users access on any Sharepoint
site.

I understand that the procedures can get a little confusing, but these are
procedures that are passed down to the U-PASS team to follow.  I'm sorry for
any inconvience this might have caused, but the below email chain isn't
appropriate at all.

I'm available to talk if we need to discuss this. 



Thank You,

Sean O’Bannon
U-PASS Manager
MSGI, ACE-IT
ACE-IT Data Center - Vicksburg








Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cue the Music from Rocky


My garden was going along great. I had some popcorn starting to tassel, some sunflowers, the carrots were struggling a little, but doing OK.  My okra was strong, and I even had some cotton pushing through the tangle.

And then we had the storm.

Monday morning, we had winds gusting up to 110 mph in places.  I watched out the window as windblown debris smashed into streetlamps, making them explode in a shower of sparks. We had almost three inches of rain in less than an hour, and five tornadoes were reported within the metropolitan area. 

I had friends with real damage.  The only casualty we had, however, was the garden. Everything got flattened.  Not ripped out.  But everything - and I mean everything - was pushed over and laid down.

The horror!  The horror!

There were other items to take care of yesterday, and so I did not tend my garden.  Kathe worked pretty hard on the opposite side, shoring up roses, propping up hibiscuses, cutting back angels trumpets and cleaning up the debris.  But I left my okra, sunflowers, corn and cotton to their own devices.

This morning, I went back to my plot and smiled.  (Cue the theme music from Rocky).  My corn had gotten up off the mat.  


Every single plant that had gotten blown over, flattened by the storm, had its nose (well, figuratively speaking) pushed in the dirt, and seemed broken, beaten, and done....

And every last one had started to turn upright.  Not from the roots - those were still twisted in the dirt.  But the body of the plant - the stalk, the stem, the trunk - all of it had started to twist itself upright.  Some of them were pulling themselves upright solo, while some were being held up and pulled upright by their neighbors.

Seriously, somebody cue the music.

See, that is what happens.  I can go in with string and tape and supports and prop up the corn.  I can lift the stalk out of the dirt, and give it a better foundation by compressing the soil around its roots at the base.  I can add mulch and soil and tamp it down...

But the end results are no better than letting them rise.

I know this feeling well.  I had roots in the archaeological academic community.  The roots were shallow, but extensive.  And the storm came, and I was uprooted.  The people around me - my work colleagues, my friends, my family, my church, my wife - all helped me stand back up.  My posture is still not straight.  You can see the scars from the wind, and I don't stand up as straight as I once did.

But I am stronger than I was.  And I am up off the mat.  With the help of people around me who love me, I am even better able to withstand a storm than before. Even more importantly, I am already more prepared for the next storm - my body and mind are already streamlined to let the winds blow past and over, rather than simply resisting, fighting, and getting beaten back down.

I see that in the community around me, too.  For all of the insanity that goes on in Louisiana, I have seen people here who are more resilient than anybody, anywhere.  They get knocked to the mat, nose rubbed in the dirt.  Repeatedly told they are not worth the cost of rebuilding.  Wetlands carved up for profit.  Toxic waste and prisoners dumped in the state (seriously). Political powers, who look away from the issue of climate change, while lining their own pockets.


And still these guys pull themselves upright.  They fight their way up off the mat.  And each time, they shake off the blows, rebuild their community.  Leaning on each other. Helping their neighbors rise, too.  Go back to work.  Come home to rebuild again.  Urging one another to buy from the local drug store that got hit, and in the process re-investing in the community.

It is not that they don't need a helping hand.  No matter where it is, Haiti, Nepal, Indonesia, New York City - everybody needs a hand up when times are bad.  A way of fighting back against what are both natural and institutional odds.

But the magnificence of watching that community rise back from the receding floodwaters, and build back more resiliently than ever?

Cue the music.







Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Granddaddy "Stick-in-the-Mud" Lawton

My granddaddy was a pretty serious guy. Not particularly prone to silliness.

And yet I have a distinct memory of him telling me, "Having a long second toe is a sign of leadership.  In fact, there is a statue of George Washington where his second toe extends over the edge of the pedestal and runs down the front!"

I was eight.  I believed him.

So this morning, I found myself thinking of Granddaddy and his silly podomancy.  My second toe is DEFINITELY longer than my great toe. 

And leadership? 

My leadership-inducing Morton's toe led me straight to the chair leg in the pitch dark of the early-morning. 

Granddaddy can keep his long toes.

La Cucaracha, La Cucaracha!

The dogs were going berzerk.  Running from one room to the other, barking frantically, and more anxiously.

The dogs getting excited is nothing new. There are a couple of cats that set up shop under our house (I have this odd vision of a Cat Speakeasy underneath my floorboards, complete with a lookout to warn when the upstairs cops are coming out).  Kathe ignores the barking and goes about her business.

But then a sudden sense of urgency from the dogs made her change directions.

I feel that I should explain one piece of information before continuing with the story, O Best Beloved.  If there is one thing that freaks my wife out completely, it is a roach.  There is something about the unpredictable nature of their flight patterns that terrifies her. There is something about the look that they have that gives her the willies. But she hates them so much that she keeps hairspray in every room.

That's right.  Hairspray.

Apparently, hairspray will gum up the internal works of a roach, and 1) suffocate the roach, and 2) (much more importantly) make the roach unable to fly.  Once it is not flying, and not breathing, the roach is no threat, and you can scoop it up and dispose of it.   

Back to our tale:

The thing that has gotten the dogs so excited is a four-foot long cockroach.  We have had several weeks of heavy rain, and the inside of the house is dry...

...and we are a week from having our twice-a-year visit from the exterminators. So our house seemed as good as any for a sneaky meter-long cockroach to come in, so as to to get away from cats, rain, and wind. Kathe reached for the bottle of hairspray, and while trying to keep the attack dashchunds at bay, sprayed the roach.

PSSSSHSHHSSHSSS!

Hairsprayed roaches do not die an immediate death.  They linger.  And the simple truth is, lingering roaches do not put the dogs' minds at ease, so they were still very excited, showing off their powerful hot-dog wrath in a choreographed series of safe-distance lunges, snaps, and barks. Because my wife did not want the dogs to lunge and snap at the now-dying (and possibly poisoned) cockroach, she took matters under foot.

Skkkkkkquelch.

Grabbing the dogs (Lucie shrugged out of her harness in mid-lunge), throwing them out of the room, Kathe squared her shoulders to clean up the cucarachabbatoir. Toilet paper, paper towels, windex, bleach, ammonia (yes, I know), borax, Ajax, muriatic acid, whatever she could find went into making sure that there was no roach guts left behind.

She then called me to report her victory over the hated scarafaggio.

But I suspect she first made the call to schedule the exterminators.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Good Fences make Good Neighbors

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out.   - Frost

I need to get some bricks to mark off my garden.  My broccoli is gone.  So is my corn.  And my  peas.

Earlier this spring, I ploughed an ad hoc garden (described here), and I had planted some fun stuff in it. Red sweet corn.  Peas - both sweet peas and sugar peas.  Broccoli.  Whatever seeds I had left over from last year's planting got tossed in that area, too, with a little bit of miracle-gro topsoil placed atop.

The new plants had thrived.

My bottle gourd, with encroaching weeds.
The adjacent grass had started to creep in a little, but I wasn't worried.  I just wanted to give them enough time to get big, and then I would do some weeding.  They looked good, and I walked back to that area every morning to admire their progress.

Last week, the guys who cut the neighbor's yard ('my' garden was actually carved out of 'his' yard, meaning that I was already disrespecting some boundaries) came through with a weedeater to take care of the grass along the fence behind my garden.

In addition to the grass, they cut down the five-inch tall corn (which, to be fair, looks an AWFUL lot like five-inch tall grass).  One of the six plants might survive. They cut down the broccoli (which, to be fair, looks an AWFUL lot like a three-inch tall weed).  They did less damage to the peas, which were located in the center of the plot of garden.  And although they look like weeds, too, they also hug the ground better.

But every last plant got subjected to the scythe. What did I do wrong?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Job Interview

"So tell me why you are considering leaving your current job."

The question was asked about two-thirds of the way through the interview on Tuesday.  I was sitting in a conference room in the Walla Walla Corps of Engineers office, facing the three interviewers, trying to give the impression of confidence.

And this question was the hardest one to answer. 

Truthfully, I am looking for a different set of challenges.  I really like the current position I am in.  It is a temporary detail where I am managing a few small construction projects, and I get to see levees and floodwalls actually being built as a result of my efforts. 

So it is not job dissatisfaction that is making me look to the new opportunity.

It is not the boss.  Kevin is very supportive.  He has backed me up several times when I fully expected (and in some ways, deserved) to be thrown under the bus.  He is a good boss, and I like working for him.

It is not uncertainty.  This office is going to have work for the next few years, and I have always been able to finagle work, even in slow times.  In fact, last year, I brought in as much money for work as I cost in labor.  Maybe a little more.  So I am not really concerned about singing for my supper.

So what is it?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Hair on FIRE!

I need this information today.
 
Needed soonest. (Really?  A relational adjective made superlative?)
 
Hot.
 
!
 
Please provide by COB today.
 
 
Early in my career here in the Federal Burrocrazy, I had a couple of friends who helped me negotiate the difference between the 'urgent' and the 'important' tasks I found myself deluged with. There were  Form 17s, J-sheets, Budget data calls, Congressional Fact Sheets, form and data call after form and data call and they all end up blurring together in an impressionist painting from hell.
 
All of them, every single one of them, has to be done right NOW.  The urgency is so overwhelming. 
 
My two friends would help me negotiate the boundary between the urgent and the important.  I was freaking out daily because I was getting inundated with these data calls.  Trying to understand what was being asked of me, figuring out which way was up...
 
And any time that Bobby or Vic would see me with that wild look in my eyes, they would pull me into their cube.  "Whatcha working on, Crorey?  Yeah, that one is a pain.  But it is not terribly important.  Just make it up."
 
And that was the only guidance I was getting on what was important.
 
(Side note, one of those that I just 'made up' ended up getting me in a LOT of trouble with a congressional office.  But it got my project into the president's budget, which was an unheard-of feat at that time.  I accepted the ear-gnawing as part of the process.)
 
Later on, in one of the training sessions I was sent to, the image above was given to us, and we had explained the distinction between urgent and important. The instructor confided to us that our agency tends to over-emphasize the urgent-and-not-important data calls, and undervalue the not-urgent but important pieces.
 
The rest of my work does not pass through quite so smoothly. Last week, I got hit with a "Rogue Report".
 
This is new, I thought.
 
The RR is an enormous spreadsheet that details how much a project has scheduled in labor costs for the coming year. To make it work, you have to anticipate how much effort each office is going to put into your project in the coming year.  My office is managing about 35 projects, and they are either being designed or constructed.  For each one, I needed to go through and identify whether the offices charging were really expected to be charging in fiscal year 2015.
 
There were some obvious problems that I identified and corrected. 
 
Construction on BD-6b.4 (we have sexy names for ALL of our projects) begins in August of this year?  My guys are probably not going to spend $100k on developing Plans and Specs on that project. Cut.
 
Construction on MPB 14 completed in September?  October should not show us using $250k in Engineering During Construction funds.  Cut some more.
 
But then there are others.  Do we really support 12 people full time in the Construction office for these other two projects?  I don't know.  I asked the construction manager, and he said that it was justified.  His numbers were almost exactly what I was seeing on the infernal spreadsheet.
 
Is it too much?  Too little?  Should I cut?  If I do, can I give it back, or does that take an Act of Congress? (In my line of work, that is often exactly what it takes, so I have to be careful).
 
The next morning, the woman I was working with sent an email that reduced our numbers significantly. 
 
I called her and asked her how she had decided.  "I just panicked.  I found some big numbers in the spreadsheet and cut them in half. Or more."  $1.4M in labor becomes a more reasonable $500k. (And yes, I do know how that sounds).
 
The result? We have not heard one peep about the results.  Apparently, we got underneath the red line, and nobody notices any more.  
 
I now have another file for the "Urgent, but not Important" folder.
 
Postscript:
I think it is one of the reasons I like the Emergency Operations work I do. The urgency is real - decisions are made that affect people's lives immediately. There is little patience with the unimportant - it is ignored or put off.
And then, once the threat is past, the preparations for the next work begin - all of which fall into the Important but not Urgent category.
 
 
 



Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Breaking the Cycle

This past week has been extremely stressful at work.  Deadlines, reports, people yelling and obstructing, demanding more information before agreeing to pieces of a project that have already been agreed to.

I have hopped through first one flaming poop-hoop and then dived through another. For a solid week.

And that is fine.  I like the pace of that kind of stress, but at a certain point, I cease to be productive.  What's more, I can't seem to break the cycle of stress; the stress from one interaction influences the next.  A high-tension public meeting, coming back immediately to a high-stress yelling match with a coworker over the wording of a change request, followed by...

I end up carrying the stress from one into the stress of another.

My next-door neighbor and I talk daily, and this has been a topic of conversation between us for the past few days.  How, exactly, do you break the stress cycle between events?  How do you keep the stresses from cross-pollinating and becoming more powerful for the cumulative effect?

How do you hit that emotional reset button?

I am reading about meditation, and I know people who use it as a mechanism for defusing these cumulative stressors.  (Note that I said I am READING about meditation.  I am not meditating.  So I cannot speak to whether it works.  For that matter, I have never heard of reading about meditation being a suitable substitute for meditation itself.)

But I also know my own mind, and external quiet seems to amplify the conflict within me, rather than quieting my mind.  My brain is a pretty loud place under the best of circumstances, with continual arguments and debates taking place. (The book I am reading also addresses that I need to quiet those voices...).  So although deep breathing exercises and meditation are powerful tools, they are not what help me.

I also know people for whom physical exercise is the best outlet.  A colleague walked by me today, muttering about the dire need for a punching bag to alleviate the tension in the office. The weight room is packed during the lunch hour, and those using the walking lanes around the building are constantly providing traffic hazards for those of us who don't.

I simply don't have enough shirts to work out, change shirts, sweat through the clean shirt, and change again. My workouts either have to come early in the morning, or after work.  Neither venue helps break the workday chain-reaction stress.

My go-to is different.  What it is will come as no surprise.

Today I realized that my cumulative stress was out of control, and I walked over to a friend's cubicle, and started talking.  We walked through some common frustrations, in a really good kvetching session.  And then suddenly, I followed the logic of the absurd situation we were dealing with to its conclusion, and remarked on how ridiculous it was.

And I laughed.

Suddenly, my chain of tension building from one stressful event to another was interrupted.  The cumulative effect of the stressors was broken.

Two things happened at that moment.  One is that I was forced to look at something from a different perspective, because of the unexpected consequence.  The other is that I took control the narrative of what happens to me. 

And I thought I was stressed...
The first key for me is that humor requires lateral thinking.  The essence of the humor is the change of perspective.  Whether it is language that provides the unexpected overlap (a pun, upon) or the disruption of an expected narrative (the tortoise gets flipped over on his back and can't compete in the well-known slow-and-steady race), it is the deviation from the expected that creates humor.

It is also the source of outside of the box thinking.  When I change perspective, I can see solutions that were not available to me in my 'flow chart mode'.  My job, as part of a military organization, and as part of an engineering organization, gets a little fixated on process, on direct, follow-the-template thinking.

And what happens to me when I inject humor into the situation, is that I provide access to lateral thinking - that change in perspective that is so critical to 'getting' humor.    But also for problem solving.

More importantly, perhaps, is that by creating humor out of the situation, I control my story.  As long as I am jumping directly from one by-the-books crisis to the next, I get to feeling increasingly out of control.

But once I make fun of the ridiculousness of it, then I regain control.  And in doing so, I can function perfectly well.

Then I take a deep breath, and dive back in.

Interestingly, the source of the laugh itself is amazingly ephemeral.  I carry a notepad so that I can jot down interesting ideas.  And twice in the past three days I have turned away from a relief laugh and gone to jot it down, only to discover that it is gone.  Completely erased from my memory.  Like a dream, it has served its purpose to my subconscious, and is no longer needed.

So I want to thank my 'laugh partners'.  You make it possible for me to survive every day.  You provide me with relief, and allow me to do my work.

Much more effective than a punching bag.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Fashion Police

"We have spotted a white male, 6-foot tall, thinning brown hair.  He is wearing a bolo tie.  I repeat, he is wearing a bolo tie."
______________________________________________________________
I was five.  I came into the kitchen, dressed and ready to go.

Mom barely looked up. "No, Crorey.  That doesn't match."

"BUT MOM!  IT'S GOT GREEN IN THE PANTS, AND GREEN IN THE SHIRT!"

"No, Crorey.  You can't combine plaid pants and a striped shirt."

So started my lifelong intimidation by fashion.  It isn't that I don't like looking good.  It is simply that I don't understand the rules.


So if you look at all of my school pictures - every single one - you will see a kid in what he knew as 'fashion safe' clothes.  Khakis.  Blue jeans.  Solid shirt.  What you see is a kid who does not understand the rules, and sits in a fashion place he knows is safe.

Before I heard about the 'no-stripes-with-plaid' rule.

Especially when the rules don't make any sense.

During her high school years, my sister, by sheer force of will, wore a lovely red Chinese dress (cheongsam?) with her black combat boots.  Astonishingly, in defiance of every rule that fashion has to offer, she pulled it off. You can't do that.  It simply isn't done.

I even asked my mom about it at that point.  "How does she make that work?"

Mom: "You can do just about anything if you wear it with enough confidence."

Ugh.  So not only do I not understand the rules, am afraid of breaking the rules, and so I have no confidence taking a chance at all, suddenly I find out that the rules simply don't apply if you don't want them to.

The five-year-old me is incensed.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Bake me a cake as fast as you can....

Patty cake, Patty cake, Baker Man.

My sister Caroline is an incredible baker.  She loves to make things for family and friends, and loves to feed them. I have seen her go from stressed to relaxed with the simple act of pulling out the flour.

She posted the picture below of a cake that she made for some friends.  And Facebook exploded. 

Wait a minute...why wasn't that backstage at OCEANSIDE?! 
OMG I want this in my face!
Family secret? Or can you post the recipe? Coconut cake is the best!
I want to make this!
Mmmmmmmm
That looks seriously delicious! Also can I please see you someday?My husband looooves that cake!!!
I'm making this for Easter! Thank you so much!
Wow! Looks so yummy!I should have had a piece when I had the chance!
I have had some of this cake that Patty makes! It is so yummy! I will have to make one for Easter.


The coconut cake is a recipe that my Mom (it is a real 'Patty Cake') has has been making for years.  And it is always a huge hit. And I have no idea whether it was just that I needed a connection to my family, or whether the feed-my-friends gene is also present in my DNA.

Or whether it is possible that there is a little competition there.

Nah. 

Whatever the reason, I decided I wanted to make the cake.  HAD to make the cake. Caroline had posted her recipe, which was really straightforward.

"Simplest recipe in the world. Yellow cake mix. Made as directed and baked in two round cake pans. Cool and cut in half (and level off tops) for four layers. Frosting = 1 pint sour cream + 2 cups sugar (stir and let sit for a few hours).


Friday, April 3, 2015

To-Do List (Broccoli redux)


This year, I planted broccoli in my usual way.  Which is to say, I churned up enough ground to disturb deeply buried archaeological sites (and likely nicked a septic system in the process) and chopped the dirt until I was tired of doing it.  And then scattered seeds roughly in a row, with very little attention being paid to spacing or exact placement.

And then I sat back to watch it grow.

My wife, who understands both plants (and me) better than I do, has devoted a few minutes each day to watering and fertilizing the 'row'.

And the broccoli has started to emerge. (Insert odd gleeful dance here).

Predictably, however, the seeds were spread in 'rows' that more resembled 'bunches' or 'clumps'.  And I have seen this before, and know what comes next.

I have to try and figure out which of the individuals are the most likely to give me good broccoli.  And then pull out all the rest.

This is a hard thing for me.  I want to see all of my seedlings thrive.  But without pruning, without thinning the herd, all of them end up puny, starved, or dead. Removing the competition (whether it is weedy competition or competition among healthy seedlings) is the only way to allow the final product - the 'keepers' - to do well.