American VignetteEl Paso at the turn of the 1970s was blindingly bright. Even as I think of it now, my eyes start to squint at the memory: the relentless desert sun, the rows of white brick houses lined with white cement walkways and surrounded by white gravel yards.

They were matched by our white patio out back, the one with the small circular burn marks in the cement, a souvenir from the fireworks the neighborhood dads set off during Fourth of July parties.

Walking to the community playground, we’d pass the occasional cactus or spiky shrub, but shade was definitely in short supply. If a dust storm came through—and they often did—tumbleweeds would blow down the streets and sidewalks like a cliché. You didn’t get wet in an El Paso storm; you got grit in your eyes.

The playground itself was no oasis of greenery either, but who cared? There was a red-white-and-blue jungle gym shaped like a rocket, and metal swings shaped like birds.

The city seemed exotic even to a three-year-old. I knew this wasn’t typical. Checking your shoes and the bathtub for scorpions wasn’t what the average kid in America was doing. Looking out in the distance and seeing Mexico just over the river—this was different.

Outside our neighborhood, I was mostly a passenger. My favorite vantage point was the black leather back seat of Mrs. S’s cool, white Mustang. I was transfixed by my best friend’s mother, with her stick-straight, glossy hair parted perfectly down the middle, and her patterned ponchos of burnt orange, mustard and beige, their fringe dancing across the waist of her faded bell bottom jeans. In the rearview mirror, I’d catch her eyes smiling back at me through wide-framed sunglasses, a vain attempt to shield out the desert brightness.

Every Sunday morning my father and I would glide through the winding, prickly landscape in the family station wagon, off to pick up my brother and sister from Sunday school as he taught me to read the street signs along the way: Dawn Drive. Mesa. Southwind. Sunland.

On Sunday nights another ritual: We’d pass over the river to Juarez for a dinner of chile rellenos and tacos, my mother holding tightly onto my hand as we clicked our way up the crowded streets filled with music and candy and toys and chatter, both familiar and foreign all at once. Heading back to Texas with a full belly, I’d peer out the window as the soldier at the end of the hulking bridge peered back in, always asking the same question:

“What country are you a citizen of?”


When we moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, we moved from this world of whites and browns to one of blues and greens. We left behind the few, tiny one-and-a-half-year-old trees in our yard for towering pines and impressionistic oaks.

Dust storms were gone, replaced by thunderstorms and tornados, and the refreshing payoff of honeysuckle and puffy hydrangeas spreading across the spongy turf. We said good-bye to gravel and hello to bermuda. And I said adios to Sesame Street’s Spanish foreign language segments and bonjour to the Count reciting the numbers in French.

I was four. Cuatro. Quatre.


Because El Paso lies in the foothills of the Rockies, mountains weave their way through the city. Near our old neighborhood, there was a particular mountain that always served as my landmark for approaching home. It was topped with a rock formation that reminded me of a turtle.

When we returned to the city fifteen years later on a visit, it was so strange to come upon that mountain again. After so many years had past, it was almost as if I might have dreamed it up. Trees had grown. Playgrounds had moved past the space race. My friends had graduated and left the desert behind. Swaths of grass even covered a few lawns.

But there was the mountain, with the turtle on it, still pointing the way to the old neighborhood.



May 10, 2014 at 12:45 pm 5 comments

Take the Leap: Your Inspiration Is Waiting (But it Won’t Wait Forever!)

take the leap

This past spring, I had the unbelievable good fortune to be asked to interview 10 pioneering training industry leaders—dubbed the “legends” in the industry at the ISA-The Association of Learning Providers Annual Business Retreat—about their careers, motivations and staying power.

The interviews formed the basis for an article in this summer’s issue of Training Magazine. From Don Schrello, literally a rocket scientist, telling me how he “fell into” a new career in training after working on the Apollo program to Ken Blanchard’s tales of his winding road of ups and downs on the way to becoming one of the preeminent minds in leadership, the stories were, yes, the stuff of legend, but also in a way, completely relatable, even humble.

Pat McLagan may have been Board Chair of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation, but she wanted to tell me about a teenage job she had peeling potatoes. Gradually over the course of our conversation, the picture of how she got from potato-peeler to one of the most distinguished and honored women in her field became clear.


August 8, 2012 at 10:53 pm 2 comments

Only in Downtown Nashville

nashville music city

February 8, 2012 at 11:39 am Leave a comment

Don’t Make Me Send in the Word Police

Stop showing off how stupid you are.

The contraction of “you are” is “you’re.”

It is not “your.”

That is all.

January 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm 3 comments

Sherry-Glazed Apple Cake

I’m not a food blogger. I’m certainly no food stylist. I don’t have the skills (read: patience) required to take one of those beautifully lit, perfectly arranged photos that captures the essence of the delectable in question.

For proof, I give you Exhibit A, Sherry-Glazed Apple Cake, a tradition at our Thanksgiving dinners:

Sherry Apple Cake

The Tastespotting police would be all over this.

But this isn’t about photography. This is about cake. A cake that combines just about everything that’s great about fall all into one delicious bite.

A cake that allows you to pretend you’re eating something “healthy” because it includes fruit and nuts.

A cake that quickly reminds you healthy has gone out the window, what with all the sugar.

And the butter.

Oh yeah, and the booze.

Sherry Apple Cake

If you look really closely from this angle, you can spot the gap where a chunk of cake stuck to the pan. This is also something of a tradition, albeit an unfortunate one.

This cake began its chapter in our Thanksgiving history the first year we invited our Nashvillian-by-way-of-Guadalajara friends over for a taste of the holiday they normally wouldn’t even be celebrating.

It turns out that one of those friends, Pablo, has a birthday that always falls somewhere in the vicinity of Thanksgiving. Sherry-Glazed Apple Cake became not just the traditional Thanksgiving dessert (along with Helen Corbitt’s pumpkin cheesecake), it became the traditional birthday cake for Pablo.

This cake is the perfect combination of moist, nutty, aromatic and sweet-but-not-too-sweet (deceivingly so, though, once you realize how much sugar is actually in this thing). It personifies—to us, at least—Thanksgiving, birthdays, coziness and the tastes and smells of the season.

I could even make the case that it’s perfect for breakfast, assuming you want to start the day off with a sugar/booze high, and the more I think about it, the more I think that could be something to be very thankful for indeed.

Sherry-Glazed Apple Cake

For the cake:
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
3 cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3 cups peeled, chopped apples
2 cups chopped pecans
2 tsp vanilla

For the glaze:
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup dry sherry

  1. Preheat oven to 325°.
  2. Cream butter and 2 cups of sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well.
  3. Sift together flour, soda and salt; add and mix in cinnamon and nutmeg.
  4. Add dry ingredients to butter/sugar/egg mixture and mix well.
  5. Stir in apples, nuts and vanilla.
  6. Pour into a greased bundt or tube pan, and bake about 1½ hours or until done. Let stand 15 minutes, then turn out.
  7. Mix glaze ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly until syrupy. Pour over warm cake.

November 29, 2011 at 1:17 pm Leave a comment

For the rest of us…

AppleWhen I was a senior in high school, I was required to take a computer programming class. I’m probably dating myself by telling you we were learning the Fortran language.

Well, “we” might be overstating it. Some people in my class were definitely learning it. I wasn’t one of them.

Computer programming (and by extension, all things computer related) was just one of those things that didn’t connect up in my brain. And this wasn’t like Chemistry class the year before, when during the last two weeks of class, it suddenly hit me in a flash of comperehension. As Mrs. Hamilton droned on in the front of the room, I was staring blankly ahead, wondering why on earth she had decided on that hair cut, when just like that: It all made sense. The Periodic Table, the formulas, all of it. The proverbial lightbulb illuminating above my head.

There would be no blinding flash of the not-so-obvious for me in computer class. I only passed by the skin of my teeth and through the kindness (or exasperation—there was a lot of begging and pleading) of our teacher.

After graduation I headed to college with my Smith-Corona typewriter and never looked back. I did have a roommate who owned a fancy Brother typewriter that made me think computers might not be such a bad thing. It wasn’t officially a computer in any form that I’d ever seen (no strange lines of code required), but it stored what you typed and then waited as you fed paper into the roller, shooting out your beautifully typed pages one at a time. That was cool.

But it did nothing to really persuade me that computers would be in any way a part of my life. So when my California-born Econ professor, who was something of a mentor to me, kept trying to convince me to apply for a job at Apple Computers when I graduated (“It’s such a cool place to work! It’s on the cutting edge of everything! And Cupertino’s so beautiful!”), well, once again, I just didn’t get it. I knew what Apple was. Sort of. To me it was an enigmatic company with plenty of bravado, daring commercials and creations that were revolutionizing…uh, something. But in 1989, I wasn’t sure exactly what.

My professor wrote letters of recommendations for me to use when I applied for that job at Apple. If I look long and hard enough, I’ll probably find them in an old box somewhere in a closet.

About a year into my first job out of college, doing grunt-work in the Campaign Department at United Way, I befriended my counterpart in the Marketing Department. She showed me something magical. She was creating these documents with graphics and columns and all different kinds of fonts—these publications—and she was doing it on a computer that looked like no other computer I’d ever seen. The Macintosh.

I was a goner.

I learned to use the mouse. And then I learned to draw pictures. I learned to put words in beautiful type and make it look like the newspaper, or a book, or a brochure. It printed out just like it looked on the screen!

I never needed to type in one single line of code. I highlighted and double-clicked. I learned to organize my files by dragging them onto pictures of folders. Or get rid of them by dragging them over to the trash can!

I learned it all in about three days.

And I never looked back. My career moved in directions I’d never anticipated and never could have planned. And it was because of a computer, of all things. A computer for the rest of us.


October 10, 2011 at 10:29 am Leave a comment

Take THAT, Fashion Expert

the creative process

“Fashion alchemist” Frida Giannini supplied her top 10 Things Every Woman Should Have for a recent column in Allure Magazine, and it made me realize that contrary to what you might think by looking at the above photo of my office desk, I am sorely lacking in the “things” department.

What does Frida have that I don’t? Well, there are the $1,800 riding boots. (Like you, Frida is reminded of her childhood riding lessons when she smells the leather of those boots.) The $30 lip gloss that has “no color.” The tube of sunscreen that will set you back $155. The $4,500 python-and-bamboo bag.

All the essentials.

But consider:

Number 1 on Frida’s list is a vintage David Webb ring. (For the record, Frida tells us she actually owns two, both from the late ’60s.) I, on the other hand, happen to own not one but approximately 35 earrings from the past 20 years that are missing a mate. That’s right, individual earrings of gold-plate, “precious” stones and silver-like materials dating back as far as 1990. And not a one of them is of any use or in any way stylish. Now if that’s not “things,” I don’t know what is.

Number 2: Levi’s, Wrangler and Lee jeans from the ’70s. I would absolutely still have leftover jeans from the ’70s if my mother hadn’t constantly been making me clean my closet. She likes to remind me of my habit of stashing away my Halloween candy in my closet, apparently with plans to savor it slowly throughout the year. Every year while I was at summer camp, she’d find the bag of stale, sad old Smarties and Tootsie Rolls and throw it away.

I don’t live with my mother any more, though, so that means there are all kinds of old (vintage!) clothes clogging up my closet. If big blazers with dusty shoulders from the early ’90s come back in style, I’m in business.

Number 5 on the list is a perfect manicure. Frida gets her nails done once a week, she tells us, because it’s “one of the first things I notice about a person.”

One of the first things I notice about a person is whether or not they have a made-up nonsensical profession like “fashion alchemist” or “social media expert.” And yet I call myself the “Chief Word Nerd” at my company, so I really have no room to talk.

What does this have to do with manicures? Nothing. A perfect manicure is one of those things I only seem to have for about 5 hours every 6 months. I can get the manicure; I just can’t seem to hold onto it. And as any Seinfeld fan knows, it’s the holding that’s the most important part. Point to Frida.

A Gucci felt hat with feathers lands at number 10 on the list. (I’m not kidding.) You may be surprised to learn that I don’t have a Gucci felt hat with feathers. However, I will always have the fantastic story of how we spent hours convincing the decorator we hired (and later fired for obvious reasons) when we moved to Nashville that a bed made of felt would be impractical, particularly considering we have a cat.

I may not have a be-feathered felt hat, but that’s one thing they can never take away from me and that, let’s face it, we can never have enough of: true tales of the ridiculous.

September 6, 2011 at 9:45 pm 2 comments

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