Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Commence rant. (This week is Mother's Day.  Indulge me.)

I was told today that it's unfair to stereotype millennials, and was reminded that (although I am not really a boomer or Gen X, but something between the 2) before we created a generation well educated but hip deep in student loans, they have become a generation spending more time on line and less time interacting with flesh and blood people, and dependent on social media for everything from pizza delivery to spirituality.   There have always been slackers, burnouts and disaffected types. But we created the folks you see sitting side by side in a coffee shop texting each other and sending LOL emoji's instead of actually just laughing.  Posting stupid stuff that should never see the light of day for everyone to see.  For the life of the Internet. We didn't mean to, but we did it nonetheless.

So, yes, Andrea, there **are** flakes in every generation, but in my world the flakiness differences between boomers, Gen X and millennials (particularly in terms of how they approach the entire concept of work and learning) are so clear that everyone and their brother has written (or is writing) a book on how to engage them, keep them engaged, and how to tell if they are learning anything useful. etc.  (I'm a technical instructional designer.  We talk about this stuff as nauseum.)  And even if you aren't a cranky old fart, you have to admit it is true. Millennials aren't necessarily worse, but they are DIFFERENT. Particularly in the US.  It's part of the reason why other countries are kicking our butts on standardized tests.

And most of the differences can be laid at the feet of -- not just the millennials themselves, but the folks a generation or 2 back-- so the biggest reason it makes me sad is that we created the issues with all the best intentions, and now we are bitching about the unintended consequences.

--Part of the shift is due to the changes in institutionalized educational processes from preschool on to grad school. (AKA "no child left behind" "common core" and the rise of homeschooling, and the holy grail of standardized testing, to name a few) (all pretty much ineffective in their own way)  And my rant on homeschooling will be reserved for another day,

--Part of it is the ubiquity of information--- most of it unvetted (which is a pedantic way to say "not everything on the internet is true or correct." Yet despite being inundated with "stuff" we no longer teach students critical analysis.  I was explicitly taught how to learn beginning at the primary level-- in a session called "study skills" -- We learned how to look things uphow to problem solve, how to validate information, how to identify opinion vs. fact.  Yes, I went to private schools selected for their academic results, rather than social status, religious affiliation or convenience, and they did a lot of stuff there that is no longer PC, but I got an excellent education.
--Another part of it is that the democratization of the classroom -- while done with the best of intentions, this has become a disaster for social learning. Kids are kids and teachers are teachers. They are not equals until you get to grad school, and maybe not even then.  Teachers, dress like you have an important profession and are in charge, not like you are going to a club or the gymn. You can be comfortable and still display respect for your self, your job, and your students. You can also be relevant and use proper grammar and an adult professional vocabulary.

There is a natural social order to classrooms and offices and factories and military units and football teams and every other group of people engaged in group activity.  If we don't teach young people how to interact with adults who are in positions of leadership, they leave school expecting the world of work to be an extension of the idealized family, where everyone loves you for the special little snowflake you are, and they make infinite adjustments for your quirks.

Unfortunately, that's not the real world in 98% of workplaces.

and... well, for all that to happen, someone has to be in charge and make and enforce some arbitrary rules to make sure that the water that comes out of the tap is safe to use, the bandwidth is available when you connect to the net, etc.

Sucks, but  it's just the way it is. 

When parents routinely criticise teachers in front of their kids, it undermines the teacher's authority in the classroom. When a student has a problem with something happening in school, the adults in charge need to work it out together, and then explain to the child how they are all going to work together to implement the agreed-upon solution.

Kids need consequences proportionate to their mistakes as much as they need encouragement for doing well.

It's really not the fault of the millennials...Their parents -- whether left or right leaning-- rebelled against traditional education processes, because it wasn't meeting their immediate needs.... but they threw the baby out with the bathwater and applied quick fixes to complex issues.

When folks like me say that millennials are "different" we need to accept our responsibility for making them that way.  They learned the lessons we taught them--- we just didn't think it through when we decided to change the curriculum.  (And before anyone of an older generation says "I didn't change the curriculum!" remember that 1. In public policy, silence is consent   2. You consented every time you complained to a teacher, principal or school board that "my kid's teacher is "old fashioned" or "arbitrary" when they gave Johnny a C because he only missed a few math problems, and most of the other kids missed them too" (ummmm...a C is average. The curve.) or complained that the dress code was too strict.  Or that getting detention or another punishment for repeatedly being late was unfair. Or that Janie will be embarassed if she is reassigned out of her AP class, because you know she can do the work, but she just forgets to turn in her homework. (Turning in your homework on time is part of the lesson she needs to learn.)

Once in a while you run into parents who get it and realize that the system isn't completely broken, but it does require some serious work and even more hands-on parental involvement (You can't outsource your kids' education to the public school system-- it has to be an adjunct to the hands on work YOU are putting in on an everyday basis)

The worst thing previous generations have done to millennials is that, now that they are becoming adults with kids of their own, we didn't prepare them to parent--not with hokey classes where you carry a doll or an egg around-- but by teaching them by example that learning is not something you go to a school building to get, like bananas at a market or discard when it is past the expiration date. That the lessons start when you rub the sleep from your eyes in the morning and never stop.  

My parents were complicated people and not perfect, but they were awesome when it came to education. They not only supported us academically, but they taught us how what we were learning in school applied to the real world.  Admittedly, Dad taught statistics and averages at baseball games and at horse races, geometry on a billiards table and percentages learning how to calculate a tip. Mom let me read trashy historical novels on the beach, and then made me pick out any anachronisms of language or setting or timeline.  I learned practical applications of physics, chemistry and algebra taking recipes for 4 servings and adjusting them to our much larger household.

None of this was stuff you learned to pass a test... it was stuff you learned to live your adult life to the fullest.

So, millennials, if we say "Sorry, we screwed up. We didn't mean to, but we were young and foolish and had the best of intentions." And if we promise to help you, can you please try to fix this before your own kids send your Mother's Day and Father's Day cards directly to the chip embedded in your brain in waveform because keyboards and voice to text have become "so early 21st century!" ? Because if cursive handwriting disappeared because people stopped putting real pens to real paper, when we lose our keyboards and voices, we could lose music, poetry, drama, and so much more.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


College as vocational school?

I read an article the other day about how few people really work in the field they studied in college.

And, after I stopped laughing, I realized that this article must have been conceived and written by someone quite young. It wasn't until post WWII that college was ever supposed to be a "vocational school." 

Oh, there were nursing schools, and teachers' colleges. and postgraduate "professional" schools for engineering, art, music, medicine and law, but a bachelor's degree was designed to prepare you for LIFE. To provide you with the background and language to solve problems, lead others, and become contributing members of society. To see the world in a larger perspective so you could understand and adapt to change. Ask any lawyer and they will tell you that law school doesn't teach you how to be a lawyer. (Or, you could just watch My Cousin Vinny) A degree in Medicine doesn't make you a working physician--- residency and internship does. A degree in music does not turn someone into a composer. 

Then, in the post WWII era, we began offering mainstream degrees in Business.  Oh, Wharton has been around since 1881 (the US' oldest b-school) and Harvard Business has been around since 1908, but, according to Forbes, he number of MBAs issued has jumped 623% since 1970; (education master’s degrees increased only 103% during that time.)  Suddenly, there are lots of MBA's out there, all shooting for the same jobs.  And suddenly, all those MBA's said, "well I have the credentials now, so I must be ready for the corner office and the golden parachute."
 But an MBA isn't-- and shouldn't be thought of-- as a vocational certificate.

The business world is changing faster and faster every year, and, if you treat your degree as "one and done" vocational education, your education cannot keep pace with demands.

When my grandfather was a young man, he learned a vocation-- he was a baker -- and he went through an apprenticeship and perfected that skill and became more competent, but, when he retired, the way he did his job was pretty much the same as it was when he was 20, or 40, or 50 or even 60. The best cinnamon buns ever made still took flour and sugar and raisins and yeast.

When my father was a young man, he learned many different skills--(so many, my grandfather despaired he would never find a career)  He worked in restaurants, he learned to hang wallpaper, he was a salesman, he worked in a jewelry store, and he worked in a steel mill. Then he went into the army, and discovered he had another set of skills-- he was a great leader, strategist and planner-- and when he came home from war he took the steel mill experience and the military experience and he took some GI Bill money and went to college, and he became a manager for a multinational company.

He worked at that job until he was fully vested in his pension-- 30 plus years-- and then he retired. He grew bored with retirement, and he took the people and logistics skills he learned in his corporate life and spent another 10 years trying to make government run like a business.

The world my grandfather and father worked in was not bequeathed to my brothers and I.
EJ started out studying engineering, then realized his calling was the law. He became an attorney, and has been practicing for  very long time, but though his title remains the same, the nature of the practice has changed as technologies and markets have changed. If he hadn't adapted and contunued to learn and grow as the world changed, he would not have been even a fraction as successful as he has.

My other brother began in the Telecom world, when that meant a landline phone in your house or office and offices still had switchboard operators, and everyone got their service from Bell.  If you think he didn't have to grow and change to remain viable, remember that when my brothers started college, there was no NASA, there was no internet, and even IBM didn't know why on earth private citizens would ever want a personal computer. (let alone one a wireless one you could carry in your pocket) 

I am a bit younger than they are  Bill Gates and I are contemporaries. Do you think the work world has changed a bit in OUR working lifetimes? I was in the computer bay today, waiting for my new laptop to be imaged. I handed the technician a 512 GB flash drive about the size of a tootsie roll midget, and watched him insert it and hit "run." At times like this I am reminded of the 3GB hard drive I replaced in my SOTA IBM desktop PC with a 12 GB drive, and wondering how I would ever come up with enough information to fill it.  Changes?  Constantly. Not just

Do you know anyone who is still working for the same company they were hired by right out of college?  If  you do, is the company still doing the same thing? Probably not.  

We typically hear that people will make 3 to 7 major career shifts over the course of our working lives. Personally, I've made about 4. Did I imagine this is how I thought I'd make my living when I was 20? Are you kidding me?  The career I have today didn't even appear as a separate option in college catalogues or HR manuals at the time.

So, if you (or your kid) are about to "complete" your education and are out in the job market, stop thinking of education as a thing you complete in order to prepare for a career. It hasn't worked that way for a couple of generations.  

Sunday, September 13, 2015


I must be a trial to my right-wing Facebook friends.

Get Your Facts Straight!

Church and State


Medical Matters

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Thoughts on Mother's Day 2015

Happy Mother's day....

I am not ready to be the Matriarch

This has become such a complex day for me in recent years...with Aunt Pat's death, my brothers and I became the oldest living members of my family-- Our parents and grandparents are all gone, their siblings are all gone, our spouses parents are all gone.....we became the grownups. And with Peg and Maryellen gone, I'm the only female of my generation left. (Not to discount Gail and Dianne) but it's weird to think of myself as the oldest anything.  But I have four grandchildren ranging from 14 years to 4 months, two spectacular sons, two nieces, two nephews, and two grand nephews and 2 grand nieces.  We are not a large family, but we are complex family. Despite pretty traditional values, our family tree would give graphic designers fits. 

My Mom

I spent 45 years of my life trying to earn her respect and approval. I never got it. As an adult, I learned enough about her to forgive her for resenting me and shutting me out. She wasn't evil, she was damaged. She probably was doing the best she could, and she probably couldn't even see the effect her emotional disengagement had on me.

But Mother's day brings it all up again. I simply don't have the kind of sweet stories others have been posting all week. No fixing my hair for the big dance, no teaching me to cook, no tender moment shopping for my prom dress or wedding gown. She just wasn'
t that sort of person with me. No matter how much I yearned for her to be. No matter that she was with my sister.  So I read all these sweet tributes to Moms here and ocer the rainbow, and I force myself not to make jokes to ease the ache in my heart or pretend that I know what that kind of thing feels like. 

My sons get tired of hearing me say it, but what my mother taught me about grandparenting and parenting is that I want more than going through the motions and writing checks. I want to know what books and music they love, who their friends are, what maked them laugh (and why) what scares them, and what their dreams are.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thinking about Thanksgivings.... 

1959-1966- Philadelphia-- we alternated between our house and Aunt Pat's....
1974, my first as a wife, and the first turkey I'd ever done solo. 1978, My first as a mom, and the ill-fated trip to Philadelphia to my parents' Swarthmore condo ... the saga of Aunt Pat and the Waterford relish jar. and 1 year old George nearly putting my brother Stan in the hospital with a well-placed kick with the white Stride-Right hightop leather shoes my mother insisted he needed to wear. 
1980... the last one I would ever celebrate with my sister, Peg. Three weeks later she would be gone forever.
1983- the beginning of the end of that phase of my life....Michael recovering from his accident, the last one hosting people at the house on Ohio Ave....My parents never spent another holiday in Ohio.
1985--- the first one of many with the Houser-Cable clan.  
Early 90's-- some in Atlanta, the last ones with my Dad....
2000- New Orleans with Michael....  I still smile when I think about that trip.
1997-2001....cooking for Mom and Aunt Pat in Florida The road trips to Naples with both of them in tow. One 80 year old backseat driver is a challenge, two was grounds for alcoholism. 
2003- Pittsburgh with Ed and Gail... they probably don't know how important that trip really was to me... I was hanging on by a thread

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Parenthood by choice

We have some family birthdays coming up, and a new member of the clan due soon, so I have parenthood on my mind.

I am Pro-Choice.... But I wonder if you and I define that the same way?

I do support the right for a woman to have control of her own health care, (and think the State needs to stay out of the examining room) but it is more than that. 

I think people who are parents should actively choose to be so. Because it is a tough job, without holidays or vacations or paid overtime. It is a full-time job for at least 18 years, and often much longer. And, even when the kids are "adults" you aren't out of a job, you just become a consultant, rather than a direct supervisor. 

I have 2 sons. Both amazing. Both loved more than life. And, in both cases, there was nothing even mildly accidental about their presence in my life or our family. In both cases, they were desperately wanted, anticipated, and unconditionally loved long before I ever held them in my arms. We became a family, and I became a parent, completely by choice. Twice.

With George, we became parents by adoption. Anyone who has ever been through an agency adoption knows that it is not a simple, casual, or non-invasive process.  If we hadn't wanted a child more than we wanted our privacy, self-esteem, time, effort, money, or anything else in the world, all we would have had to do, at any point in the process, was just stop turning ourselves inside out to please the agency, the court, and the social workers. No need to ever say "no"-- everything would come to a screeching halt if we'd just stopped saying, "PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE!!!" every time we were asked.

I physically gave birth to Mike, but Michael came to us, small and sick and way too soon, after a pregnancy that no one really believed could be or would be successful. We knew Michael was enroute to us before George's adoption was finalized. In both cases, had we not made an active decision to become parents, it likely would not have happened. 

If we hadn't wanted children, simply doing nothing would have been sufficient.

You see, in order to BE a parent by choice, you have to believe with everything in you that love trumps biology. That the heart and mind are more important than genetics or biology. That fate (or God or the Universe or whatever you call that entity bigger than all of us) intended for this particular small person in need of the strength and support of your hands and heart to fill the empty space in yours.

Doesn't matter how the children in your care came to be there. Traditional birth, adoption, surrogacy, marriage to a spouse who already had one or more kids.... kids need parents BY CHOICE.  People who are ready and willing and happy to be there of their own free will.

It's OK to make a different decision.  It's OK to decide not to have children, no matter what anyone else says. And it's OK to say, "I can't make that commitment," and allow someone who is willing and able to step up and care for them. 

Because children need parents who want to be there. 


Monday, November 03, 2014


Tortellini Spinach soup

OK, I write recipes like I cook....in context.  I'm going to assume you know the basics of making chicken stock. (You could also use the Turkey carcass after thanksgiving.)  I like to use chicken thighs for making stock (I buy them cheap when they are on sale) because they don't have lots of little bones that you need to pick out later. I like to cook, but I hate drudgery.

Make about 3 quarts of chicken stock. (I suppose you could buy it in a pinch, just buy low sodium stock) Add LOTS of crushed garlic, roughly chopped carrots, onions, celery, fresh parsley, rosemary, basil, oregano and -- this is important--red pepper flakes or other heat.  You should end up with a not-too-salty but rather spicy broth. If it doesn't make your sinuses clear, add more pepper flakes. It should have a definite kick.  The spinach and tortellini are bland, so the stock needs to be more intense than you would make for chicken noodle soup.  But don't oversalt it. (Yes, I say that a lot) 

When the stock is done, remove the chicken and other solids and set aside. Strain the broth.  If you like, you can chop the celery and carrots and add them back at the end, or put them in the bowl with the chicken and use it for chicken pot pie or something the next day.  (the cooked chicken gets great flavor from all the herbs and aromatics)  Let the stock sit while you rinse the stockpot. so you can skim off any excess fat. I use a cheap glass beer pitcher and a bulb baster for this. A tall container (rather than a wide one) seems to make it easier. My mother had a trick she used with ice cubes, but I never mastered it.

If you are making this for consumption later in the week, stop now, refrigerate the stock. Do the rest of the steps the night you are going to eat it.   

If you have premade stock in the fridge or freezer, you can skip all the previous steps and just season the holy crap out of it. Go easy on the salt, but anything else you like is fair game. Lemongrass can be nice, if you can find it, or even lemon pepper (salt-free)

Put the clear stock back in the pot. Bring it to a boil, then turn it down a notch so it's just simmering.

Add a bag of frozen or fresh tortellini.  I buy the mushroom or spinach ones, but you could use cheese ones, too. Tricolor ones make it look pretty. Cook according to the timing on the package. Frozen ones will take a little longer. When the tortellini is done, add  as much fresh spinach (washed and trimmed) as you want.  I usually do a 16 oz package of Tortellini and an 8 oz package of baby spinach, but that makes a pretty hearty soup. 

Add fresh spinach in handfuls, stir, keep adding. If the stock is hot, it will only take a minute or two to wilt the spinach. Don't overcook it. And don't do this part too far in advance. Once the stock is done, and you get it simmering, you can be ready to eat it in under 15 minutes

Add the cooked carrots and celery back to the pot just before serving, if you like. 

If you have vegetarians in your life, start with vegetable stock. 

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