Sunday, December 8, 2013

DeDe's Steak and Egg Breakfast

Thirty-three years ago, nearly to the day, this young couple met for the first time.  They became fast friends.  This picture was taken a month after that first introduction at a Thanksgiving party in the barracks: 

Their friendship was quietly growing at the time of this photo, the last day of 1980.  Then, they were still months from their first kiss.  Months from the Sundays that they would wake up early and go over to the Top 5 club on Sheridan Kaserne, for breakfast.  Months from the walks around post and through downtown Augsburg.

She didn’t like eggs then, steak was “okay” but not one of her faves.  He loved them both.

In their first year of marriage, living in a small apartment off post, he introduced her to eggs, the way he cooked them.  He’d always loved eggs, it was one of the first things he learned to cook.  He mastered them as a cook in a good restaurant in his home town.  The first time she bit an over easy egg he prepared for her, he knew he had her hooked.

He loved steak enough to make it for Thanksgiving of 1981.  See they had no oven, but had a hibachi grill, and the Bavarian weather was surprisingly pleasant that day.  She humored him and ate every bite.  And her taste for steak grew slowly, steadily, perhaps in part because he enjoyed it, as it made him think of his dad, who he loved very much. 

The young man carried on his dad’s tradition of t-bone steaks for dinner on Friday nights, cooked on a charcoal grill, for years.  She loved the tenderloin side the most.  Steak became a less common meal as the young couple grew old together.  Beef in general declined, as he grew to love fish the way she did.

Through the births of their children, she followed cravings that would later emerge on the appetites of their children as they grew to adults, but they always came back around to the varied, eclectic diet they had grown to embrace together.

In early 2013, she was diagnosed with cancer.  Emergency room, surgery, doctor’s office visits, gave way to chemotherapy, which sometimes sapped her strength, but never her spirit.  She craved protein more and more.  Eggs became a regular breakfast.  Roast beef or steak or burgers frequently made the menu for dinner when the chemo was doing its worst.

Last Friday, the man took a day off to be with his lady.  Something he had loved to do their entire life together, cook her breakfast, was the logical way to start this day off.  “What would you like?”

“A poached egg and some hash browns would be great.”

He had an errand to run before breakfast, and he made a stop before returning.  He started to set up in the kitchen.  “I know you asked for a poached egg, and hash browns, but how would you like a filet mignon, an over easy egg, and hash browns instead?”

She lit up in a way he had come to know in their many years together.  She lit up like that first solid meal in April of 2013, after the touch and go surgery to remove the tumor that had all but stopped her from eating.  She lit up the way she did when she ate that first egg he had made for her decades before.  She lit up like getting a Christmas present she never expected might come.  She lit up the way people light up for a surprise birthday party (the good kind, of course.)

See, he had recalled how she’d said something about steak the night before, and he knew her well enough to know this was a craving, and that once a craving took hold in her, it had to be satisfied.

Life became more precious this year.  Every meal is a celebration.  Every day, whether it’s driving down Fair Oaks for a chemo treatment, or simply sitting in the living room and talking about shared and diverse passions, is a reason to be thankful.

Years and years of cooking breakfasts, first as a pro cook, then as a husband, as a father, went into making this simple breakfast, served lovingly on a paper plate (a good quality one, though.)  It was a breakfast she would have rarely desired in the past, but picture perfect, for this day:

We are not in a position to force the course of events in our lives to our specifications, any more than we can change the course of our respective pasts.  No, we have today, and we have now, and we have each other.

We have the people we love, and the things that bring us joy.  For example, the joys of making breakfast then sharing it with a life-partner.

And that is what matters most.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The first rule of Eat Club is, we do not talk about Eat Club.

The second rule of Eat Club is, WE DO NOT TALK ABOUT EAT CLUB!

I look around, and I see a lot of you eating.

Which means a lot of you have been breaking the first two rules of Eat Club…

Okay, I apologize to those of you not familiar with the movie Fight Club, but every time I get an email from Eat Club, this bastardization from Tyler Durden’s monologue goes through my head – I couldn’t hold it back any further.

What is Eat Club?  They take lunch orders over the web, offering a number of different options, and they deliver a meal to your door.  The company I work for now buys us lunch on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  Most of those lunches come through Eat Club.

The point?  Well, the point is about one of the unusual dynamics of working for a startup.  I’ve never had a company regularly buy me lunch.  There are so many things I’ve experienced here that are so different than any work experience I’ve had before.  As I look around from my little desk amidst the overcrowded office, another difference becomes clear.  90% of the employees are roughly the ages of my kids.  I don’t know if this is common among start ups, but based upon the way we work, I have to believe that, to a degree, this is young person’s game.

A fundamental element that makes startups different is the entrepreneurial spirit behind them.  Like small established businesses, they can bear a strong imprint of their founders, but there is a temporary feel about this.  And this temporary sensation can be positive or negative.  But the temporary sensation is truly a part of the experience, at least mine.

Money comes from Venture Capitalists and clients, doles out to different aspects of the company to seed growth.  One area might get great attention, the other might be temporarily neglected.  There is a constant state of speculation.  Will it work?  What made it work?  Can we repeat it?  Is the road we are going down the right road?  If it isn’t, what does that mean?

The truth is, at least in my little corner of the startup universe, there is never a day when I wake up and know what I will do today.

Well, except for one thing:  On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I know I will eat well for free.  I know that around noon will come the delivery person with the bright orange bags that contain the lunch I ordered earlier in the morning.

Three days a week, I’ll have a good meal, and if I’m not too busy, I might have it on the big balcony with some of my coworker, and enjoy the mercifully temperate northern California weather.

So, I guess now I’ve broken the first two rules of  Eat Club.  I hope Tyler will forgive me.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Taking Chances

For years, I watched a company, where I had worked for many years, shrink.  The big old converted warehouse, which had once had problems fitting all of its employees, now had huge, empty rooms as far as the eye could see.

The possibility that they would close the offices I was working in had steadily grown to a sure bet.  Still, I had held onto the hope that this company would be the place I would retire from.

I finally had to be realistic about what my future might be.  I had to become one with the odds that today would be the day they called me into personnel and say, "sorry, we won't be needing your services," or possibly, "we'd like you to move to our New Jersey offices."

Neither of these prospects thrilled me.  And this isn't a dig against New Joisey, I just can't see living in the New York metro area. Just not my kind of place.

I knew many who had been part of the systematic diaspora that the company I was working for had created over the years.  Through them, or a kindly recruiter, I could find a company where my years of experience could be leveraged so I could continue to the end of my career on “cruise control.”  Certainly, I could find a job where all of my experience would put me in a nice, cozy office keeping a company’s marketing and merchandising aspirations growing.  Meanwhile, I could continue to channel the ambition that still remained in me toward my creative loves of writing and music and art.

And somewhere between all that, find some space to watch my kids get their adult lives into full swing, and enjoy the company of my amazing, creative wife.

I’d worked hard for thirty years, and built up a pretty nice list of accomplishments.  I knew others my age who were taking more laid back positions as they moved into the latter years of their careers.  Sounded good to me.  I was tired.

An opportunity presented itself to go to a company that was a vendor I worked with.   They were a small company with big aspirations.  Given my state of mind, I should have had some sort of reservations.

A move across the country at the age of 51?  Uprooting everything I had known for the past 17 years with a wife who was having some major health issues?  The rigors of selling a house, buying another house?  Going to a start-up business, and the attendant risks that came with it? 

But then again, I should have had doubts when I joined the Army at the age of nineteen.  Should have had second thoughts when I married at the age of twenty.  Should never have just resigned and uprooted my family from San Diego to move back to Idaho, when I didn’t have a job lined up.  Should have played it smart, and taken a cut in pay to have a job locally in Idaho, when the company that was contracting me from afar said they would no longer need my contracted services.  I had nothing on the line at that time.

I’m not a gambler in the wagering sense.  Taking a chance on slot machines, or the cards, or the horses, or the wheel, or the dice, just doesn’t hold any appeal.  But as I look back on my life, some of the things I do seem like I’m gambling.  Certainly, some of the things I have done had a numerous possible outcomes, not all favorable.

So, I picked up the dice…

Sunday, October 13, 2013


There are many startups in a person’s life.  Birth, first steps, first day of school, first day in the Army, first day on a new job.

But the startup that this blog is primarily named after is a type of business.

In December 2011, I suppose I had heard of startup companies.  I had certainly dealt with them, such as a software company in Boston that had started by a couple brilliant developers, at that time it had graduated to a beautiful office in the northern suburbs that I had the pleasure to visit.  A few years later, when having some problems with their software, we had to track one of the employees, who had scattered around the world, in Europe.

He was most helpful.

Such is the nature of many start ups.

I suppose I knew that the job I was being offered in Silcon Valley was a startup, in the most literal sense.  I’d watched it grow, as the company I was with at the time had been one of their first big clients.  The people of the startup company acted like they were big, but we knew after every meeting that at least one of the things they said they could do was going to have to be built “on-the-fly” in their offices, which were then in Connecticut.

But the owner was dynamic and charismatic, and obviously brilliant, and everything he said they could do, they somehow did.

By December 2011, I probably hadn’t ever used the word startup to describe a business, but I had an idea what it meant when the people in the company described themselves as one. 

At that time, I had a much better idea what a “shutdown” was:  A company getting smaller and smaller by the day.  A company I had been with for a quarter of a century, that at one time had revenues of near 800 Million per year, but now was hovering at around 100 Million.  I’d watched a challenging job, creating new systems and new business functions with a team of up to ten dwindle down to just me.  Me, schlepping  code, biding my time from day-to-day.

My job had reduced to maintaining what was there, and often that meant shutting down system and functions that my team had created.  I hadn’t seen a raise in six year.  I’d watched the office we inhabited empty out from hundreds of employees down to around fifty.  Walking through it every day was depressing. Over a quarter of a century invested in the company, so many good memories, good friends, good experiences, wondering if tomorrow would be the day they'd call me into the office and say I'd been "downsized."

So when the brilliant man whose company I had watched grow from afar called me and told me how much he wanted me to join him in Silicon Valley, and made me a generous offer, I knew my choice was clear.  I knew it was a gamble.

In January 2012, my wife and I boarded a plane in Baltimore on a very cold Sunday morning.  When we got off the plane in San Francisco, the weather was beautiful, and the drive down the interstate to the town of Los Gatos, CA was perfect.

This was not the first time I had changed jobs.  It was not the first time I had moved my household.  It wasn’t even the first time I’d moved across the country.  But I knew that this particular startup would be different than any other in my life.

First, I had to really come to understand what the word startup really meant...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Beginning at the Middle

At the end of June, 2012, I was exhausted.  The prior month had been a roller-coaster-hell.  Working long hours at my new job, packing for a cross-country move.  Fighting with bad decisions about that move. 

(Tip, never rely on one of those PODS to move a household with five adults in it.  It won't end well, I promise you.)

The sale of the house in Pennsylvania, the logistics of buying the house in California, the long trip in front of us...

Well, you get the point.

It took us a month to get into our house in California, and there are lots of stories in between, but suffice it to say we were ready for a break in our new home when we took possession at the end of July.

And we tried to relax and stabilize, but the downward spiral of my wife's already fragile health seemed to color every moment.  We had known that it was almost miraculous that she made the one-month cross-country trip, with its many events, in such good shape (good being a relative term,) but that only seemed to be a stopgap in the reality of her uncertain condition.

So, what was to be a time for settling into our new lives in July 2012, descended into a trip to the emergency room in April of 2013.  The numerous things that they had attempted to attribute to her health over the years came down to a single diagnosis that we still marvel was not found before, despite all of the tests, all of the assumptions of what it might be by doctors along the way.

A CT scan showed she had an enormous mass in her abdomen.  "So that's pretty big news,"said the ER doctor.

Ahem.  True, that.

Less than a week from the trip to the emergency room, I held her hand in the operating room prep area, and waited anxiously for approval from our insurance for her surgery.  That is yet another a story unto itself, but the bottom line is that the approval came not long before they rolled her away.

If, upon the first time, watching a loved one get wheeled off, aware of the very real possibility that you might not see the light of life in those amazing eyes on the other side, does not change how you see things, I suggest you check your own pulse.

Despite what some people claim, life doesn't start at 50.  It doesn't start at 40, or 30.  No, it starts at 0, the day we squeeze out of the womb.  There are no expiration dates, and no assurances.  There are only days in front of us, and there will be as many as there will be.

When the Doctor came out and said that my wife had pulled through, after having six units of blood, I was full of relief, but within moments, I looked toward the future.

"Okay, what is the next step?" I said.

He shook his head.  "You have one job.  Get her healed from this surgery.  Nothing else matters to you."

"One day at a time?"

He nodded.  "Exactly."

If you've watched AMC's Breaking Bad, you've watched an extreme example of how a person can project their worry of their ever-shortening lives.  You've seen how they can find themselves in the wrong place when that mortality approaches like a freight train at full tilt, blazing onto the intersection the car stalled on.  Some pursue money, some pursue the approval of strangers, hell, there are a thousand places we can go when the sound of the ticking clock seems to go ever-faster, and ever-louder.

We believe we are indestructible when we are young, and that is probably a necessary perspective, but the longer measure of life brings mortality into focus.  I am probably well beyond the middle point of my life, but over the last fifteen months, I have experienced more changes than any other time.

It's an ages old cliche, take life one day at a time.  This is far from a new concept for me, but that phrase can have so many meanings, and our perspective on it, if we embrace it, can change and deepen. 

Every day with my wife, since that surgery, has been a gift that I awaken, and fall asleep, fully aware of.  My already swelling admiration for her has somehow found room to grow, as I hold her hand and walk with her in the evenings.  As we share our shopping chores.  As I take her to the inevitable treatments and doctors' appointments and learn more than any lay-person should know about the unusual cancer called soft tissue sarcoma.

Every step reinforces the notion that there is only one true way to live life:

One Day at a Time.

And we do.