Monday, May 26, 2008

I went on a gardening vacation, and all I got was rain

Well, half the week we had rain. I'm wrapping up my annual vacation week that's supposed to be dedicated to all things gardening, and while the beginning of the week was great, we've had rain 3 of the last 4 days. I did get 11 hand-grown tomato plants in the ground (3 better boys, 3 early girls, 2 brandywine, 2 black brandywine, and 1 jellybean) as well as a couple of bell pepper plants, bush bean seeds, onion sets, snap peas (I think it's too late for them, but Corrie wanted some peas) and also corn. (also not my idea but I was willing to give it a shot.)

It's a little difficult to see all of the tomato plants-Corrie installed cow fencing around most of them to serve as a really gigantic tomato cage.

When I couldn't garden, I did some minimal cleaning of the house and also worked on my Burnie fridgies. We also took Luther to his annual vet appointment which is no small undertaking, and we saw DeVotchKa in concert at the Slowdown in Omaha. It was a really good show, really nice club. There aren't many seats there, it's mostly set up for standing room, but we were lucky enough to get a high table in the balcony. (if you ever go and want a seat, get there really early!) I didn't take my camera because I get too distracted by it and forget to enjoy the live show, but there's one video on youtube right now of one of the last numbers. I'm not sure why they took the video from this angle rather than from a vertical perspective. You can't see us, but we were eye level with this woman at her highest point on the fabric.

I also finished watching season 1 of Flight of the Conchords. Thank you, Amy L. for introducing me to this show! I can't stop talking about how much I love it. The humor and songs are great! I think I might dress up as Mel, their lone fan, for Halloween this year. Unfortunately, I just figured out that they're performing in L.A. this Friday while I'm in town for BookExpo America, but their show is sold out! Maybe I'll run into them somewhere. I'm going to keep my eye out!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Remembering Kirt

Last Tuesday, I found out that my former boss and friend, Kirt Card, had died Monday morning. The initial shock and disbelief became sadness when I read his touching obituary in the paper Wednesday morning. Now that I've had a few days to think about this, I wanted to write a recollection so I could remember a few of the great things about Kirt.

Kirt hired me as the press receptionist ten years ago this month. I first interviewed with the assistant customer service manager, Marcy, who asked me standard questions, then I met with Kirt for a little while. He was very soft spoken and didn't have the firmest hand shake, and I don't know that he really asked me any questions. He told me all about the job and what kinds of things I'd do as part of the customer service department when I wasn't distributing mail or answering the phone. He mentioned their fulfillment program, Cat's Pajamas. I remember thinking that was a funny name for a computer program.

I learned a lot in my first few months with the press about the book publishing business. Kirt took the time to teach me all of the fundamentals, from the difference in retail discounts to how we create our entry codes in Cats. I think early on Kirt would ask me to bring a book record up on my computer screen, like Little Britches by Ralph Moody. I'd slowly think through the entry code formula: first three letters of last name, then probably the first three letters of the title, and if it's a paperback, it's two letters plus an X. By the time I'd come up with MOOLIX, Kirt would have already told me what it was. It amazed me that he could come up with those codes so quickly. I'm faster now, but not as fast as Kirt.

Early on, I remember entering gratis copy orders for our sales reps into Cats, and the first one Kirt showed me how to do was for Mary Mellow. As he was helping me find her customer account, he started singing that mellow yellow song. For a quiet and reserved guy, I thought this was pretty funny. I remember another time that first summer where he had me entering an exhibit invoice and I kept messing up part of it. Kirt never lost his patience with me; he'd come back and explain each time what I had done wrong. That was the first day I ever saw Kirt go get lunch-I was sure that my mistakes had driven him to eat.

As quiet as Kirt was, he set a huge example for his staff. His knowledge of our book list was extensive, and he also knew about any other publication that came out of the University. I bet on an almost weekly basis I'd take a call from someone who was looking for the weeds of Nebraska book, which I knew wasn't ours but I'd never remember which department published it-Kirt would always get the customer to the right place.

Kirt loved what he did-that was obvious in the enthusiasm he shared when talking about funny customer requests or complaints. He and I used to take turns coming in over Christmas break to clear the voice mail of hang ups and take notes on any legitimate calls, and we enjoyed seeing who would get the highest number of hangups on their assigned days.

I think I felt close to Kirt in part because Corrie worked with his wife, Cheryl, in university housing. She was equally kind, thoughtful, and cheerful-she'd always keep on Corrie's case to bring me to the annual residence hall holiday dinner that she was in charge of. Corrie also worked with their daughters, in particular Deb and also Deb's husband Josh, so the Card family and Corrie and me were intertwined quite a bit. Corrie and I were with Deb on her 21st birthday, and I thought it was pretty funny that I was helping get my boss's daughter drunk. We went to Deb's graduation party at the Card house, too, which was the same day as the 2000 volleyball championship game. Her party partly consisted of us watching Nebraska win that championship in a tight 5 game match. Kirt and Cheryl were huge volleyball fans, and it was fun to watch them get so worked up about it. Their house was so comfy-I felt like I was at my own family gathering.

I think I got to know Cheryl better because I went to a few Pampered Chef, tupperware, Partylite etc. parties at their house. Of course there was always excellent snacks and vodka slush if you were lucky. Corrie and I went to all of the daughter's weddings. I remember when Rachel got married, the first of the three weddings, Kirt had to take dance lessons for the father-daughter dance, and he was nervous about it. It all went well, though! I caught the bouquet at that wedding, too.

I felt bad leaving Kirt and the customer service department in 2001 for a job in the marketing department, but I wanted new challenges, and I had to take advantage of the opportunity when it became available. I still got to work with Kirt-I'd need a copy of a book for something and he'd personally deliver it to me within hours. It's just how he did things.

In 2003, Kirt left the press without any warning. My heart sunk when I came into work that day and his office was cleared out. I think it must've been September of that year because I remember shopping for fall plants at Earl May that night and out of nowhere had to keep from crying because the whole thing hit me like a ton of bricks. I focused on my asters and got the heck out of there.

I'd get updates on Kirt from his kids or other people over the following years. It must've been early in 2006 that I heard he had a serious lung problem, then I heard that he and Cheryl were going to Missouri to see if he was a candidate for a lung transplant. Then came the awful news from Corrie-they had been in an accident on the way back (after finding out that yes, Kirt was a good candidate) and Cheryl had died and Kirt was in critical condition. I kept hoping that somehow he had the story wrong-there was just no way it could be true. I remember it being particularly awful to have to share that news with my co-workers, not only because so many of them were also close to Kirt and Cheryl, but also because I think just the week before that our co-worker Richard Eckersley had died. Those were brutal weeks.

I've thought about Kirt and Cheryl and their kids a lot over the past couple of years. I constantly bugged Corrie to get updates on Kirt from Deb when he'd see her; I regret not just calling their house to see how he was doing. Even though I now know he probably spent a lot of his last time very sad about Cheryl, I'm glad to know that he was still taking classes and had all those great grandkids to play with. Kirt and Cheryl did a heck of a job raising those girls-they are so strong, and they're my heroes. Kirt's passing gave those of us still at the press who knew him another chance to give him a proper sendoff. Tish came up with the great idea to have a food day in honor of Kirt on Friday, and we brought as many of the things that Kirt used to bring to food days that we could remember. (tortilla roll-ups, fruit pizza, banana cake, and the same Knorr soup mix spinach dip that Kirt made.) It was comforting. I'm also asking anyone who worked with Kirt to add their fond memories to a book that we can later give to the girls.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Spectating is a Sport of its Own

The 31st Annual Lincoln Marathon and Half Marathon took place yesterday morning at 7 am. I had decided a couple of months ago that I wasn't going to be doing the half marathon for the first time in five years but I still wanted to show up and cheer on the runners I knew and the runners I didn't know.

I needed to get up at 5:45, not pleasing on a Sunday, but it was a little later than if I had to prep myself for the race itself. I got up, had a bowl of cereal, threw on my clothes, and got my bike out the door. As soon as I stepped out on the front porch, I could hear the loud speaker from the start of the race on campus, which was enough to pump me up and to get me off the porch and on the bike and not regret getting up so early.

The weather was absolutely perfect-upper 30s or lower 40s I'd guess, sunshine, no clouds, and hardly any wind. This was another record year for marathon and half marathon entrants; they had bumped up the entrant number to 6000, and last I had heard, they had less than 100 spots left days before the race. That's a lot of people to comb through at the start to find anyone you knew, but I found Tish and Joeth fairly quickly. After wishing them good luck, I wandered around and took a few photos and videos of the starting line. The race starts outside of our campus recreation center and the runners line up on the Vine St. loop that stretches around towards the football stadium and back towards Morrill Hall. It was hard to get a photo of the entire mass of people, but I took one with a view from the back of the starting line as well as the front.

If I watch one of these marathons again, I will do a better job of jockeying for a good spot to take photos and videos. I took a 15 second video of the start of the race. You have to look around this guy in the black to see the runners, I didn't realize he stuck out so much when I was taking it. After calling the runners to their mark, about 10 seconds went by, then finally the canon was fired. I completely forgot about the canon, thus you will note how the video shakes at that moment.

Recorded inspirational music such as the Chariots of Fire song played as the runners started their race. (I continue to be annoyed that a couple of years ago, they stopped asking Nebraska's National Guard band to show up and play some nice marches, which was my favorite part of the race. I guess not everyone shared my viewpoint on that.) There appeared to be an endless number of runners-the last ones crossed the starting line after 10 minutes had already gone by.

Luckily, the Lincoln Marathon uses timing chips that runners tie into their shoe laces. Their individual time doesn't start until that chip is activated at the starting line. So it's no big deal to be starting 10 minutes late.

After seeing the last runners begin, I headed out on my bike to 20th and Calvert, which is roughly around the 9 mile mark in the race. I forgot until I got out there that this is the end of one of the few hills of a relatively flat course, so the runners sometimes look pretty rough at this point. The spectators know this and seem to be even more supportive. Here's a clip of a stream of runners coming up 20th St.

I watched for awhile, then I headed back towards campus so I could see Tish and Joeth at the halfway point. I guess I must be a really slow bike rider because somehow I missed them only 4 miles farther into the course. This made me realize that these spectators who I've seen in the past go from one location to another and then another on the route to see their family and friends run by have it down to a science. It's very easy to miss someone unless you have an almost exact idea what time they'll hit each mile marker. I took a good video nonetheless at 10th and Q St. This is a pivotal spot in the race-those who have signed up for the full marathon continue down 10th Street, or if they need/want to, they can make the turn and finish the race as a half marathoner instead. (People who sign up for the half marathon can't make the choice the other way around.) For me I always knew I was turning that corner and was always ecstatic to be so close to the finish. But for some, they have a big decision to make there. It's the point of no return.

Unfortunately, I didn't see Tish or Joeth cross the finish line, but Tish and I were able to backtrack and find a pretty pooped Joeth on the course back by the capitol with a half mile or so to go. After breezing through various other races in the last couple of years, I think Joeth has finally found a challenging distance for herself.

I headed back home before noon and felt much better than I normally do on marathon day. It didn't stop me from having a tasty DiLeon's burrito for lunch, which would be my normal post-run reward. I had put in my 13 miles, it was on my bike instead of on my shoes.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

What does cashmere smell like?

Whatever it smells like, I guess I will be smelling like it for 24 hours at a time, 7 days a week. Because I had a coupon, I bought Lady Speedstick 24/7 "pure cashmere". Seemed odd to me.

Leo the Lion is back!

It was a slow news day in Lincoln yesterday. Here's the lead story in the Lincoln Journal Star's local section from Wednesday's edition:

There are about 10 comments following the online version talking about how great Leo the paper-eating lion is.

You can also listen to the story of the voice behind Leo here.